Monday, November 21, 2016
This is a reflection on athletes not saluting the flag during the Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of their games. This is a reflection from a patriotic veteran, a retired Colonel of 32 years with a couple of trips to a middle-east war zone. This is the reflection of an American who is deeply concerned about the issues of justice in our country, the relationships between ethnic and racial groups, and the increasing public political polarization of race.
When Colin Kaepernick, of the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL, decided to protest the injustices he was seeing and hearing about in the USA he decided to do so in a very public manner. He decided to use that patriotic moment at the beginning of a football game to register his concern about injustice. His protest was not at a rally or a march over one specific instance, but a general complaint about injustice in the country. This was not a protest, as I understand it, about how he has been treated personally. The way he did it was televised and controversial and remains so even till now. Other athletes in professional sports, college sports, and even high school sports have copied his example.
Let me state quickly that no matter how I feel about his protest I absolutely believe he has the right of conscience and free speech to make it. My military service is a testament to my commitment to the Constitution of the United States which means I have to defend the rights of people with whom I might disagree as to their opinions. If I only defend those with whom I agree my commitment to free speech and the right to protest means little or nothing.
I personally felt that those athletes who took a knee at the anthem were making a mistake. From some comments I have read the idea that since there is injustice in America we must therefore protest America as a country (which is what not honoring the flag implies) has taken root among some. The logic does not follow. There certainly have been times when protesting America as a country might have been in order, especially during the time of slavery or segregation by law. One of the glories of our country has been the painful and difficult process of self-correction in such ways as the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement. These were events where people were forced to pay with their blood in order to bring about change.
When I hear the anthem I don’t associate unjustified police killings with the flag. In fact if anything I associate the opportunity to change such unjust practices by protest, political action, and legal redress as being very American. There has certainly been injustice in our country, in every state, in every city. Unfortunately, in my estimation of human beings, I believe that there will always be instances of such behavior and cruelty. If the protests are to continue during the flag and anthem ceremony as long as there is injustice in the country, well, then it will continue through all our life-times.
Yet, it doesn’t matter if I think the object or the context of the protest is confused. If citizens are not breaking the law, damaging other people or their property, then they have the right to protest even if it annoys some of us. Annoying others is exactly the point so that some of us might get the message that there is something wrong in the Republic. Obviously the paying customers or viewers of such events have the right to protest back by not coming back to the games or watching it on television.
As to what these athletes are concerned about I have every sympathy and even agreement. There are things that need to be corrected when it comes to the relationships between authorities and minority communities. This is not just a matter of an administrative fix, this is a national dilemma and one that if not corrected will continue to get people killed. This is a matter of deep and pervasive attitudes revealed by fairly consistent and widespread behavior. These things are not just a one-time event but a sad historic pattern of fear, distrust, callousness, hatred, and racism. The purposeful killing of police officers because they are police officers is also part of this problem; it is an evil, horrible, and unjust response to someone’s fear and bitterness. Murder is not protest.
We live in a time when the right wing of politics has decided to take every opportunity to label and use racial protest or concern as a reverse form of racism. Since the left wing of politics has seemingly carried the torch about racial injustice the right wing has decided to trump their effort. If one brings it up, if one implies race or bigotry might be behind an action or event, then the strategy is to cry racism against the complainers. As if the mere mention of racism or ethnicity or culture was actually the cause of the problem. The message is that if it makes white people feel bad it will ignite racism in their hearts where there wasn’t any before.
That reaction will certainly take place if propagandists aid and abet the idea that anything that makes you feel guilty, confused, or defensive is just cause to label racial complaints as racism itself. This is not true, just, or logical. It is very political and very deceptive. It justifies people in their ignorance and instead of bringing people closer together in understanding it polarizes them.
So, though I think the context for the protest may be in error, I believe I have to have some tolerance for another person’s right to protest. I am not even sure what alternatives I would suggest to get the nation’s attention. I appreciate the respect shown in taking a knee and not just going about your business. I appreciate the respect of my fellow Americans to realize this is not a matter of law or of law breaking but rather a transgression against patriotism, which part of our culture has more power over us than we sometimes realize. It is not a sin against my religion, it is not blasphemy, and it is not even as egregious as burning the flag might be (which is still protected speech by the way). I am annoyed, and rather pleased to share simply by exposure or inconvenience in a very American moment of exercising one’s rights.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
I confess that not much of this is original, I am sure many others have seen what I have seen. These are my observations from the campaign and the post-election results. For the sake of full disclosure I was not able in conscience to vote for either of the big party candidates and did in fact write-in my vote. Let me also just put one pastoral or spiritual note here. The motto on our American money comes from Scripture, and it is upon that which my hope is built, “In God we trust!” I hope you will do the same.
1. As far as “Evangelicals” go I see two camps that don’t seem to hear what the other is saying, or seem to be somewhat deaf to what the other side is saying.
a. One side has listened to Mr. Trump and heard things that were anti-immigrant, anti-woman, and anti-Muslim. They have seen clips of his rallies and seen abuse of black people. They have seen who he is asking to be on his staff and see a racist being given a prominent position. They have heard him imply threatened violence if he did not win. They have seen the documentation of his immoral and worldly life-style. They have seen and heard him fudge the truth and be abusive to his opponents. These people have felt threatened by Mr. Trump and could not in conscience vote for him. Some of these same “Evangelicals” voted for Hillary Clinton, and some did not.
b. One side has listened to Hillary Clinton and seen the threat of four more years of a liberal slide into national immorality, especially in the area of abortion and an aggressive homosexual social agenda. They heard from her, and saw in President Obama, a threat to religious freedom. They were wary of coming Supreme Court appointments which would continue this liberal agenda. It is estimated that 81% of Evangelicals that voted, voted for Mr. Trump. Others voted for other candidates or did not vote. Many of those who voted actually voted against Hillary Clinton in their view of her as ambitious, lying, manipulative, and corrupt in her life as a chronic politician and the wife of Bill Clinton.
2. These two groups don’t seem to see the rationale in the other side’s position. Those Evangelicals who voted for Trump can’t imagine Christians voting for someone who supports abortion or homosexuality. Many of those Evangelicals who voted for Hillary don’t buy into the Republicans being sincere about fighting abortion or homosexuality due to scant evidence of fighting to change it within government previously, but they are fairly convinced that the Republican party isn’t concerned about issues such as racism or poverty or other kinds of injustice. In short it comes down to what each side fears and what each side ignores.
3. Many Evangelicals who voted for Trump are suspicious of his personal lifestyle and comments but seem to be willing to overlook warning signals of his instability, immorality, or incompetence in favor of a Republican government. In the past issues of personal character seemed to be a high priority for most Evangelicals, but not in this last election. Those Evangelicals who voted for Hillary are fairly convinced that the way Mr. Trump has lived his life and the things he has said should all be taken seriously as to what we can expect from his future behavior and see a bit of hypocrisy in Evangelicals who have overlooked character issues this time.
4. There is a split in the Evangelical world with some attempting even to distance themselves from that word and that group, even though they may have similar theological doctrine. It is still largely conservative and Republican but it will no longer be monolithic.
5. In the general population there have been some other dynamics at play:
a. One is the loss of those jobs for men that provide an adequate living. While employment has gone up it has not gone up in significant ways for working class men. They are not only concerned but bitter about it and haven’t felt government was taking their personal situations into account especially in international trade deals. They see competition not only with foreign countries but with immigrants. These men see feminism not as success for women but sometimes as an attack against themselves and their ability to support a family.
b. While there has been a kind of “triumphalism” in minority communities over the last decade about the rise of Hispanics as a minority, and the decline of the white population, (and the prediction that the white population will become the “largest minority”) there has also been a backlash against this dynamic. Since some of that rise is from a Hispanic population that is undocumented much of the white population doesn’t see it as legitimate or permanent.
c. One of the most dangerous things that could happen to our country is for white people to see themselves as a “tribe” in competition with other tribes. This last election has empowered racists and nativists into seeing themselves and the USA in just that way. They see every protest and complaint by African Americans as an attack against their privilege or somehow as a threat against themselves. They don’t sympathize at cases of injustice but usually blame the victim. A white tribe would be the largest, richest, most entrenched, and most powerful of all the tribes in this country and would create just the kind of tribalism that Africa continues to face and Europe still struggles against.
d. Many minorities assume that this is what the majority of white people already think about themselves as a group (that they are a tribe in competition with others), when in reality many if not most white people don’t think of themselves first as a race or a color.
6. Another dynamic of this election was the demagogue power of right wing conservative media that used slander, innuendo, ad hominem arguments, and fake news (much of this spread on the internet) to create a narrative or myth about President Obama. This myth was used to create a sense of “losing our country” to a suspected Muslim who lied about his birth so socialism could take over the government and control our economy. While there were plenty of legitimate policy arguments, and plenty of moral and justice issues to join with President Obama a great many conservatives were more concerned with aspects of this fostered and manufactured myth than they were with actual policy disagreements. These myths empowered the Republican congress to pursue a policy of non-cooperation so that possible compromises were hindered. Compromise became a nasty word to the radical right wing.
7. Those who voted for Bernie Sanders especially, those who are concerned with the power of banks and financial institutions to lead us once again into a national financial disaster unless they are regulated, those who are concerned with predatory companies that abuse and misuse the environment and fear that the unraveling of regulation will lead to ecological disasters are all very concerned with the direction that Mr. Trump may take us. Others think government regulation has strangled our economy and it will now be set free for a time of heightened prosperity.
8. Those who are concerned with foreign policy and the rightful use of our military are concerned with the things Mr. Trump has said about our allies, about our war heroes, about our military leadership, and about our potential enemies. What lies ahead is anybody’s guess as those principles which seemed to be America’s way of looking at the world may be radically changed. War and certainly the threat of war seems possible.
We are entering a very different time for ourselves as Americans. Many are unnerved and others feel a nativist and even racial boldness which some have felt gives them license to be abusive to others. There will be racial violence and at least an atmosphere of ominous threat in various places over the next year. No matter what Mr. Trump says to silence it, and we certainly hope he continues to speak out against it, there is a spirit of racial hatred not seen in public since the days of George Wallace.
No Christian should excuse sinful, wicked, or unjust behavior. All of us should be quick to condemn that which is evil. All of us should pursue love and live our lives with faith and not fear. Our Lord and master is Jesus Christ and our mandate for how we live our lives is the Word of God. We certainly respect our Constitution but neither it, nor its interpretation, provide the absolutes by which we set our course. We are confident in the Lord of nations to protect our souls, our future destiny, and help us through whatever times may come. So, if anything, we should all determine to do a lot of praying.
Monday, November 14, 2016
This last Sunday I had the joy of preaching from Colossians 3:1-17. I entitled the sermon, “What you wearing?” with the subtitle, “Wha’d you call me?” Please don’t worry about the spelling or grammar.
I don’t usually write my sermons, and don’t have very extensive notes, but I thought I might want to share some of my sermon thoughts on my blog. This passage I find especially pertinent to the recent presidential election as it has affected the unity of some of our congregations.
In brief, one can look at this passage and see Paul’s argument built first on who we are in Jesus Christ, that we are joined to Christ in his resurrection, and that our life should now have a focus on things above, not on earthly things. He makes a big deal of this union with Jesus in the idea that we died with him, our life is now hidden with Christ in God, and that he is our life. This of course reminds me much of Galatians 2:20, which you can look up as it is one of the great verses in the Bible.
That is pretty total and complete in our association with Jesus. We are not just following him, we are certainly not just remembering what Jesus did or imagining what he would do, we are not simply imitating him. We are all wrapped up in his death, burial, and resurrection, and future appearing. This is just an amazing and glorious set of ideas and it is rich in what it means for us, as to the power available to us to live a new life. This all happened by grace through faith, it all happened by the will and power of God at the cross. It is a victory God accomplished for us.
So then Paul begins an application of this truth by telling us about not setting our minds on “earthly things.” He tells us to put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature. He gives a list and it comes at us in two parts. First is a series of sins that are very personal in our behavior: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. These, as well as those sins I have yet to mention, Paul says are part of the life we used to live.
I like telling people here that the means to see these kinds of sins “put to death” does not come about by effort, or will power, or determination, or from strong feelings of guilt and regret from constant and even addictive falling into sin. Our liberation comes from the same grace that saved us. In justification (when we are saved) it is an act of God’s free grace that saves us, through faith. In sanctification it is a work of God’s grace, but get this clearly, it is grace and not our strength that delivers us from sin. Faith gets us the victory! This is so important, and so wonderful, and so freeing from the frustration that we experience when we attempt to make ourselves holy. Of course I get a lot of this theology from the book of Galatians and Romans, but it is important to remember it when we read such commands such as to “rid yourselves of all such things..."
Now the second list begins, and note here that these are sins done in the context of community: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. Then he tells us not to lie to each other (again a social sin). Paul uses the language of taking off and putting on, like clothes, as a metaphor of how we are to deal with our sins.
Later he will tell us what clothes to put on: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. He will tell us to bear with each other, and to forgive whatever grievances we have, and he trumps it all with this, “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” That pretty much does us in as there is now no room for excuses or justification about an unforgiving heart. He tells us to put on love, which binds everything together.
You may have noticed I seem to have jumped over verse 11, which may seem very out of place in this passage about behavior. Actually it couldn’t be more on target. I have mentioned the distinction between personal sins, or internal ones, as compared with social ones. Notice in verse 11 Paul says, “Here.” I believe, as he is writing to the church at Colosse, he is referring to the church of Jesus Christ. In other words, here, in the church, we don’t look at each other (or call each other) simply by our earthly distinctions such as our ethnic, cultural, or gender designations. These of course are important and God given, but these are not ever an excuse to have us abuse each other. Our social sins can be actively engaged when there are differences in a church, differences of any and all kinds, and right now we can be aware of political differences.
We are not color blind when it comes to racial or ethnic distinctions; that is not the application of this text as it is not the application of a similar verse in Galatians. We know that because the context of the book of Galatians is Paul’s defense of the Gentiles from having to become Jews. We all can see color, we can all hear language, we can all usually tell gender. Yet he proclaims this new unity which supersedes all others because Christ is all, and is in all, and this refers to Christians in the Church of Jesus Christ.
I appreciate Paul’s admonition greatly since he seems to be pointing out that in a multi-ethnic church there might be great temptation to stress the differences. Paul stresses Christ, and the personality of Jesus Christ, as what ought to define us.
So, Paul calls us to unity, and encourages us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, because we are called to peace. We have to live our lives in every part, with every word or deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus. If peace is our calling then everything about our political discourse as Christians ought to keep that in mind.
So, for some people who bother us we might see something “earthly” about them that makes us doubt them, or be afraid of them. Maybe like people in Paul’s day were afraid of Scythians. Maybe people might see me as an old white man and suspect my racial attitudes, or some might be afraid of a young black man, or despise someone else because of their gender, immigration status, etc.
If you are going to call me something I suggest you call me a Christian first, and I am commanded by Paul here to let the life of Jesus be all over me in the way I act and treat others so the title of “Christian” would have validity. I am not hiding my ethnicity, age, or gender. These are part of me, but they come after my union with Jesus. Certainly my politics come after my union with Jesus, and if that is what I lead with, and condemn you because your politics don’t agree with mine, then I am living in the old life and not the new. Honest and sincere discussion is fine, disagreement is fine, but sin is never fine while love is always the finest thing we have and the finest way to live.
I challenge you to read the lists in the passage, both the negative ones and the positive ones. Compare your diatribes on Facebook and the internet; compare your comments about others to the list that reveals the personality of Jesus. How do you measure up? If it has been anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lying then you have been living in the old self and you need to repent. God doesn’t care how “right” you feel about your political opinion. You need to remember where “here” is, it is the church, and that kind of stuff doesn’t have any place “here,” in God’s house with God’s people.
Monday, November 7, 2016
Lord, I come today to pray for my country. I believe you are my Father, the mighty God, ruler of all mankind and all creation. I believe you are King of time and history, the Ancient of Days, but also the controller of the days to come. You are the One who is able to see the end from the beginning; you are sovereign and work all things after the counsel of your own will. Yet, you tell us to pray, and teach us that you make future events in history dependent on our faith and prayers, working both your will and our needs and requests together.
Your ways are not our ways, and I confess I don’t always understand why you do what you do, or even how you can do them. I am content Father in you being God and in my being your creature. I believe you love me, I believe you mean me good and not evil, even when trouble comes into my life. I believe you placed me in this country in which I was born and live, I believe your hand has been at work in the history and development of this nation, I believe you care about all nations and call each one to righteousness as you do for the United States of America.
Father, I also know and believe that you judge nations. I know that your revealed will is that all the nations be discipled in the following of Jesus and what he has taught us. I confess Lord that I see much in my country that is not obedient to Christ. Father there is much in America that is not obedient to Christ in its laws; it is not discipled in its culture, nor discipled in how we treat one another. Oh Lord, I confess that there is in fact much evil in our land, and blood on our hands. Our fathers have sinned and we have sinned. I confess you have every right to judge us and take vengeance for the slaughter of unborn children, vengeance for our racism, vengeance for our neglect of the poor, vengeance for our arrogance and pride, vengeance for our celebration and encouragement of immorality.
I confess Father that this nation which talks so much of you, has the motto that we actually trust in you, believes more in itself. I confess that we are a land of adultery, our men abandon the children which they produce and thrust the mothers and the children into poverty. Father, I also confess that sometimes we believe and act as if this nation is the greatest of all upon the earth, and that even those of your own people who say they worship you seem to set our nation even over your Word and truth. Forgive us for loving our wealth, our security, our power, over your Church and over your name. Lord God you know that there is much unbelief in this land while we have worshiped the god of money.
So, I come Father pleading for my nation. You have told us to pray for the place where we dwell, you have told us to pray for all in authority, and you have also told us that government is ordained by you and that you in fact set the people who govern over us. You have told us to show them respect and honor. This confuses me Lord, as sometimes evil people rule over us, so I assume Lord that you are working out your will, either for good or ill, either for blessing or curse. I’m praying for mercy today Lord, and asking you to forgive our sins so that we might actually be blessed.
I’m asking you today Lord not only for an eventual good ending, but for good people to run this country. I’m asking Lord that you give us good leaders, leaders who do the right and good thing, leaders who will be a model and example to our children, leaders who will do justice, punish evil doers, and reward those who do right. So Lord, I am asking you even to over-rule the choices we have before us and give us good leaders.
Father, I confess we don’t deserve good leaders. I confess we have sinned enough, disowned you enough, rebelled enough, and mistreated the oppressed enough that we should get only wicked and deceitful leaders who will take us further and quicker to the precipice of justice. Dear God restrain your hand and turn the hearts of our countrymen back to you the living God! Please Lord, for the sake of your great name, for the sake of the many that have loved and followed you in faith in this land, for the sake of the lost yet to be saved, and for Jesus sake, forgive us and don’t treat us as our sins deserve.
Father, I know that no earthly man or woman is Jesus except Jesus. As you use broken and forgiven preachers so you use broken and forgiven, and even unforgiven, politicians. Lord, turn the heart of whomever you have chosen to be our next president to do right, no matter what their own evil heart, plans, or manipulative party wants them to do. Save us from confusion O Lord! Save especially your people from being taken captive by the evil scheming of men so that they give up love and faith and become so partisan that they destroy fellowship in the body of Christ. Save your people from being malicious in their slander, save them from believing or spreading gossip, save them from unbelieving cynicism or skepticism. Save them from compromising their Biblical principles in the name of political victory.
Thank you Father for the great blessing of being in a nation where we the people have the right to vote, (and please Lord give us wisdom in that vote) to speak and advocate, to gather, campaign, protest, march, and call for change. I pray for peace in this nation, and peace between nations, Lord that whoever takes office we, your saved people, will still be able to preach and proclaim the Gospel with boldness. I pray that even if leaders insufficient for the times, leaders incompetent for the task, leaders of which we become ashamed take office that your agenda will still be accomplished. I pray that our confidence will not be in rulers, nor that we will on man depend, but solely on you, the Lord and the One who rules heaven and earth forever and ever.
Father I ask that you will give your people grace to be saints, to live as salt and light, to love and be kind, to be merciful, to proclaim an unpopular Gospel and Biblical morality with courage and humility, to comfort those in distress, and to speak truth to power with confidence and faith in your mighty will and strength.
I ask this for myself, my family, the people who are called Christians, for my fellow citizens, for all the people in the world that this nation will affect, and for the sake of your great and holy name. I ask it in the name of Jesus,
Friday, November 4, 2016
Sad again in my dismay,
All and each time I see
One more act of violence gratuitous:
An act of rage
Here one of murder
Victim by mob
Bullies at it again.
Blood oozes out of
Kinetic invasive holes,
Suffocated by the weight
Shot for revenge, shot by mistake
Instigated by a petty diss.
Whether by policemen
Wardens, prison guards
Or gang banger,
Against the innocent,
Against the guilty,
Against the non-resisting,
Against a person robbed
Against a person black
Against a person poor
Against a person white
Against the gay
Against a person Latino
Against a person Asian
Against a person aged
Against a person young
Against a woman.
What it is
Is an attack against justice,
Against the nation
Against our peace
Against our future;
Against us all.
We all can get mad enough
To harm and kill,
When will we get mad enough
To stop it?
When will you stop worrying
About your own damn self
And give a damn
About the soon to be dead?
When will you stop believing
It never happens here?
When it comes to your own porch,
Your own house,
Your own son,
Your own baby girl?
When will we stop excusing
Those with badges
Those ones who protect only
When in fear they beat our children,
Shoot them, lie, and cover up?
When will we stop being afraid
When policemen pull us over,
Or walk on a street
Filled with young black men
Who pass us by?
When will uniforms
Dance with tattoos
And studs and rings?
When will hoodies
Be a style without guile
Meant for cold and rain?
When will men who make babies
Stay home to raise them?
When will courage
Replace machismo insecurity?
When will love of neighbor
Replace our callous disregard?
When will risk
Be what we take
To protect another
Instead of saving ourselves?
We live in a land
Where our soldiers
Don’t abuse us.
They carry no weapons here
They don’t rob or terrify,
We do it to ourselves.
Stop letting baby boys teach
The way of the street;
Its fathers who make boys into men!
Nor cruelty, mean or harsh control
Will stop this bloodbath.
Family, dignity, identity, self-respect,
Love that lead to confidence,
Strength that affords kindness
Power that protects.
Give me some damn men in these
Show us a better way.
When will uniforms
Dance with fades and homies
And pride be found
In workman’s clothes
And not in sagging pants?
When will cops and black men see
Beyond what they expect,
Find a treasure in the other
Change those feared into friend.
Enough with this eye for an eye shit,
Or soon we’ll never see our way
Out of it.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
We once again face a national election. As an Evangelical Christian I watch along with my fellow countrymen at some of the political dynamics of our national parties and government and wonder just what is wrong with us?
I suppose some can observe the political drama and think American democracy is healthy since many people seem engaged, and that things will continue to move along as usual. I don’t necessarily share that opinion. I do have other opinions that I would like to share, for what they are worth.
I observe various views in the Evangelical camp (and anyone who claims to believe the Bible is true I would pretty much include in that camp) about how to engage or not engage with politics in our country. Some have the view (I will call them Group 1) that politics don’t really matter because essentially America doesn’t really matter, that we are just one among many countries in the world and certainly not the Kingdom of God on earth. This group takes umbrage at those Christians (I will call them Group 2) who keep claiming the Bible verse from 2 Chronicles 7:14,
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Group 1 doesn’t like this use of Scripture because they insist that America is not Israel, and not the people of God. They believe that is healthier for believers to see themselves as a minority in the nation, as a “peculiar” people within the nation, and that we are here to love the sinners and preach the Gospel and win as many as we can to Christ. We are not necessarily to want (politically), nor to hope, and neither to expect that the government or the majority of sinners will ever do right. We are not here to tell sinners to live righteously because in essence they can’t, so we should win souls and stop getting so upset about how evil things get. This group does tend to preach “prophetically” against social injustice but does not necessarily preach “prophetically” for social morality. This group is a combination of folks who think, “it is all going to burn,” and those who are intimidated by unbelievers despising their Christianity because it seems to have cultural implications. They want to sneak up on sinners and not tell them about righteousness until the Holy Ghost can help them actually have it.
Group 2 believes that America has a special place in the plan of God, and that the country can be changed both through the conversion of the masses and by the reformation of our laws so that evil is condemned and prohibited and righteousness is increased. To them it is important that abortion be made illegal, homosexual marriage be outlawed, and that Christianity be allowed to flourish if not by government protection then at least not by hindrance. They see America as great when mostly closely aligned with a Biblical and Christian cultural influence. Group 2 tends to align with conservative political parties.
Group 2 tends to preach morality but leaves social justice alone, and tends to see those issues as outside of the role of the church. It can be very political in terms of morality and yet almost apolitical when it comes to justice, thus sustaining the status quo. Group 2 believes that judgment will come on the United States if it keeps getting further and further away from Christian morality but that it will be blessed and protected if it stays true to that morality. Group 1 pretty much feels that the judgment is inevitable, but they seem to act like the judgment is not their fault and will not affect them, even though they live here. Group 1 tends to disdain any political party affiliation.
I would suggest that some Evangelicals don’t fit either group exactly, while holding on to a little bit of both. Let us call them Group 3. These folks think America isn’t Israel, and is not the Kingdom of God, but that since it is the country they (we) live in it is important. They like the verse from Jeremiah 29:7,
“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
These people think America is not only important for those of us who live here, but that America is a significant idea and experiment in the history of the world. That America’s success affects the world because we are, at this time, the most powerful nation on earth. These folks do think the American people personally need Jesus Christ, but they also think even sinners need to practice justice and morality. They like the verse, and take it to have universal and world-wide application, from Proverbs 14:34,
“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”
People from this group think it is wrong to abdicate political responsibility solely based on the idea that our views might not be popular with unbelievers, or that it will offend them. Folks in this group don’t think having an opinion about public justice or morality is tyranny or condemnation of others but essential for the prosperity of the nation. People in this group tend to feel they have as much right to the formulation of law, public morality, and positive culture as any other voter. Accusations from non or anti-Christians that we might wish to impose our beliefs on them are to some degree correct, or at least as much as they have been imposing their moral and cultural beliefs on the rest of us.
Group 3 doesn’t equate political success with the advancement of the Kingdom, but they do think the advancement of the Kingdom coincides with public justice and morality, as well as conversions. They also realize that sometimes both the conversion of unbelievers and a call to righteousness comes in the context of not only opposition but persecution. Group 3 tends toward activism, sometimes with liberal parties and sometimes with the conservative ones.
One of the complications for all of us is that it is very difficult to have one's political desires met unless it is through a political party. Once a party decides on its candidate and platform we are all pretty much stuck to take the bad with the good. Political parties are of necessity coalitions with people who have some similar opinions and agendas as well as some fewer that are in conflict. It is the tendency of political parties to give influence to the most ardent and radical of its followers, to allow them to filter out candidates (through the primary season) who are not as vigorous on the issues as they insist, even if that means they end up with some of the worst personalities and offensive personal histories.
What has happened in this cycle is that many good candidates were rejected, though they were better people, but they did not have the most extreme opinions, even if they had name recognition and deep pockets of cash. The candidate that captures the anger of the people best, the lust and arrogance of the people, or whose message resonates with the fears of the people seems to have the best shot in this country. So, in a sense, we get the government we deserve. Christians have to be true to their conscience as to when a party or a candidate can or cannot be supported. Some tend to be more utilitarian in their voting decision, “I will take this bad in order to get that good since it is better for all in the long run.” As is usually true with Utilitarianism some cannot give up their principles so easily.
Evangelicals have been caught up in the anger against liberalism in this country, and it is a deep anger. Unfortunately that anger has been played by demagogues who have used all kinds of simplistic issues to galvanize conservatives and thus prevented them from having any ability to govern through reasonable nuance or compromise so as to gain traction for their causes. In my lifetime I don’t remember such a recalcitrant conservative effort to oppose a sitting President or his agenda. It is as if conservatives have their hands over their ears while yelling and abusing those who make any objection that they might be mistaken or overreacting.
Whether the myth of the “birther” movement, or the claim that President Obama is a secret Muslim, or a communist, or that he is an inciter of racism because he, as a black man, has not forgotten he is black, or the nascent racist idea in some that since he is black he is wrong for America, (added to the opposition many Evangelicals feel for his social policies) it is an embarrassment to the Republican Party. Their leadership has not tried to police such decidedly ignorant buffoonery but thought that it simply aided them in opposition.
In my opinion none of these things are the primary issue with President Obama. One doesn’t have to believe, speak, or repeat unproven slander or innuendo to have cause to oppose him. In fact such behavior undermines the credibility of his critics. His views on marriage, homosexuality, abortion, and the view that sexual rights are more important than religious rights are a much greater problem. His view of cultural change through the power of the courts is in some ways a subversion of true democracy. Unfortunately this is the drift of modern universities, Law Schools, and thus jurists.
His attempt to not alienate Muslim populations and countries does not make him a Muslim. By his order we have killed many Muslims who are fighting for their particular view of Islam and radical Islamists hate him as much as they hate anyone else. I think his particular view as to how to use military force is a problem. In an effort to prevent large scale mobilization and cost in money and lives his slow, piece-meal approach and his failure to move toward decisive engagements and clear decisions (except in the termination of leadership) has prolonged and perpetuated the wars we are in. I think the rhetoric about how he wanted to end these wars was a bit naive and even though he would like to distance himself from the previous administration the present wars are in fact his wars.
How about his being a socialist or even a communist? The conservatives were so committed in opposition to the President’s efforts for enlarged medical insurance that they effectively sabotaged its success, with terrible results for the American people. It was a supposed ideological battle that left us without a pragmatic American strategy (which we are usually pretty good at) that could have given us an effective compromise. Many Evangelicals were split on this issue but having chained themselves to conservative causes they were carried away by it and lost any voice of compromise. The Republican Party took this opposition to Obama-care as its main cause, miscalculated that Obama would lose his second election, assumed that no governance was good governance, and made themselves the party of “no.” Aside from their candidate, this public perception may very well prevent them from capturing the White House in 2016.
It looks now as if the Insurance Industry has prevailed, and the working class is suffering. We cannot solve the medical crisis without a unified and coordinated approach not only between both parties, but with the full cooperation of the states. It is only a crisis for those who cannot afford adequate care and until the whole country sees it as a crisis, and feels it, we are not going to solve it. Free enterprise does not have to lose for the common man to be protected; both can be accomplished if we could learn to speak with one another.
Many Evangelicals are not necessarily champions of unrestrained capitalism when it comes to Banks, Pharmaceutical companies, Insurance companies, or Utility companies. Their voice is often silenced though by their conservative representatives in Congress who think the mandate they have been given is exclusively an ideological capitalistic one. In the resistance of Congress to give the nation meaningful reform they lay the foundation for the next financial crisis.
Evangelicals are usually not champions of Unions, which are often seen as bullies to their workers and chokers of freedom when they keep people from working and force dues that pay for political partisanship, but this does not mean they are against worker’s rights. Many Evangelicals are those workers, but not usually those who are suburban middle-class Presbyterians.
I can’t pretend it is easy to be both a Christian and an American. Yet, in some ways it is the easiest and happiest of problems. Our freedoms are many and great and we live in the context of such freedom without always realizing its blessing. Since we live in a democracy we are all responsible here, and it is wrong to abdicate that responsibility. While we have it this is a government of the people, by the people, and we must always work to make it for the people. This is a responsibility for morality, for justice, for goodness, for love. We do (and I think must) have opinions, hopefully truly Biblical opinions, and if those opinions are good for all people then we should advocate them, and that means political involvement, at least as far as voting but most likely all the way toward party and office.
If one advocates for the poor and is a Democrat, if one advocates for the unborn and is a Republican, if one advocates for good policing and is in Black Lives Matter why should the rest of us despise them for sincere acts of conscience? We certainly have a right to ask questions of each other, to see if our involvement means we agree with every extreme thing the group around us seems to advocate, but it is hard to be involved in any movement without being misunderstood. We need fewer assumptions about each other and more charity from each other.
Some seem to look back almost fondly to living under the tyranny of Rome, where Christians had no say in the government over them. Yet, even there the Bible taught the difference between right and wrong, the advantage of freedom over slavery, the necessity to obey God (and this not only to preach the Gospel but to be moral and just no matter what the society taught or tolerated) rather than man, the determination to worship the true God no matter the cost or opposition. This has always made Christianity a restless, resisting, and reviving culture under any government. We might be obedient citizens to some degree, but we have always had to march to God’s agenda and we will and must do so until He comes again or they eliminate faith on earth.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
I wanted to take a few moments to speak to an issue that I see bedevil pastors and church planters. I think it is a very old issue, but one that feels new every time it happens. The old issue is one to which the Apostle Paul spoke when he said to the Philippians,
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The later do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:15-18)
How does it feel when you are doing your best to find a decent place to start holding worship services and everything seems too expensive? How does it feel when you are striving to recruit a music team to play decently and lead the people in worship, but you find it beyond your budget and talent doesn’t seem attracted to your new church? How does it feel when you have made great strides in meeting the people of the community, have relationships with neighborhood leaders, have a good rapport with those pastors who have been serving in this same place for years, yet the rate of visitors and growth is agonizingly slow?
And then, just a few blocks away, a mega-church from out in the suburbs buys an old warehouse and plants a new site with an instant congregation. It seems that within a few weeks or barely a month they have remodeled the place, have a great band and light show, smoke machines, a café, ATMs in the foyer, and a staff to handle the information desk, greeters, ushers, parking lot attendants, nursery, child care, and youth workers from the very first week they hold services.
This new church is great at social networking, they have ads on radio and TV, and people are giving testimonies in all kinds of media about the great preaching, small groups, and body life just after the first couple of months. Yet, they have never once come by to say “hi ,” they have purposely not networked with community leaders and area pastors, and they consistently and indefatigably create new ministries to compete and outclass what anyone else might be doing. They don’t consult, they don’t ask, and they don’t fellowship. What is more galling is that some of the people you have gathered to be part of your nucleus, or long standing members of your congregation, mysteriously disappear only to be reported now attending this new church.
People who once took vows with you, people who seemed to hold to a confessional faith and seemed serious about their theology now seem to have no real theological or missional commitments at all. People who once confessed that accountability mattered now seem to thrive in a place where there seems to be none.
So, is this the way the Gospel works? Is it for young men who are trying to “make their bones,” attempting to establish themselves as preachers and pastors of renown; is it righteous for them to parachute into communities with an invading colonizing force, with no cultural or neighborhood commitments (let alone sensitivity) and seem to act as if all else before them were failures? Is this the drive and passion of the Gospel, or is it American marketing technique, corporate franchising, and basic hucksterism? Isn’t it hard to argue with success, packed parking lots, and a packed out auditorium? The next thing you know their pastor writes a book, gets on the speaking circuit, and puts the speed of their growth on their respective bios and speaker notes.
Or, is this really the migration of disgruntled and tired souls, or those disconnected young adults looking for a spouse, or for those seeking church as entertainment that requires no commitments except one’s own pursuit of fulfillment? Or, maybe, God might be in it, even just a little bit? In America, and actually many places in the developing world as well, religion is a means to power, status, notoriety, and wealth. There is no shortage of selfish ambition in the clergy, whether they be seminary trained with doctorates or laymen who feel suddenly “called.” There have always been some who mixed their ambition with immorality and corruption, but by no means have all of the ambitious been anything but ambitious, as annoying as they tend to be.
Certainly these developments are discouraging to those who have come before, who struggle without deep pockets of outside cash, who don’t arrive in comfort to grow even more comfortable. And the Devil can just take this kind of situation and use it to convince church planters, and pastors, and faithful church members that they are now vestiges of the past, inept, untalented, and unappealing. So, we examine as far as we are able the theology of this new work, the integrity of these new leaders and the ethics of how they do business in the possible hope that if we can discredit them, at least in our own minds, it won’t make us feel so bad.
We might be angry, angry at God, angry at folks we once thought loyal who have now left our church, angry at the insensitivity of this new group, angry at the innocent sheep who seem so easily taken in. Okay, let us admit it is a kick in the gut, and even if everyone “over there” is celebrating about how great it is, it makes us feel like failures. So, this feels like a bad thing, at least to our own self-esteem and emotions. Can God use bad things for good? You know the answer to that. Can God use something that feels bad to us but might be good to and for others to accomplish his purpose? You know the answer to that as well. If Romans 8:28 works for a cancer diagnosis it ought to work with a competitive church plant.
Is Christ preached? Are people being saved? Then rejoice, though through gritted teeth. You cannot stop free enterprise in religion, and you will only ruin your own reputation if you are a cynical despiser and a gossip. Pay attention to your own vineyard, let God sort things out as to motives, he can do that much better than us. You don’t have to compromise truth, you don’t have to align with what is truly evil, but stop wishing for fire to fall down from heaven on brethren, though they be those who don’t recognize your achievements and status. Keep your hand to the plow, and stop asking Jesus, as Peter did, “what about him?” “What is that to you?” Jesus said, “you must follow me!” (John 21:21-22)