Wednesday, August 28, 2013


  I have friends who are so ideologically opposed to civil rights leaders that they find it hard to give any praise to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   I have friends who have hated Republicans so much that no matter if Reagan  or George W. Bush had done even one good thing (can you imagine it)they could not bring themselves to acknowledge it.  There are those who hate the Democratic party and President Obama to such an extent that if he says something (anything) that is righteous they will find a way to interpret it as meant for evil, that there is some nefarious agenda at work behind it.
    During the time of Dr. King there were many among theological and political conservatives who thought he was close to Anti-Christ.  The John Birch society had him pegged as a communist.  J. Edgar Hoover considered him to one of the most dangerous men in America.  To some degree ideology makes people idiots, they stop thinking clearly, logically, honestly.  It is certainly true that there are ideological agendas, and not all of them are equal.  Some ideas are just wicked, evil, and destroy people.  Sincerity of belief has nothing to do with truth or soundness of thought.  Yet, even among the wicked God lets himself be known.
    On this anniversary of the March on Washington and the famous "I have a Dream" speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.I find it hard to accept the opinions of those who would belittle, demean, or attempt to marginalize its significance for our nation.  I, like millions of others, love this speech.  I love it for its American ideals, I love it for its hope and its honesty about the reality of our nation's struggles with race.  I love it for its comprehensive call to all of us as citizens.  I love it for the way Dr. King delivered it and the glory it reveals of the African American church and the giftedness of the black preacher.  I love it because the man who delivered it strove to implement the principles he espoused with non-violence.
   The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4: 8..."Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things."  On this day all Americans should be grateful for one of the great moments in our history.  One might say, "it is nothing but words."  True enough, but if you will consider it that is all America ever has been, words that capture ideas, hopes, beliefs, and dreams.  Look what God has wrought out of those lofty hopes.  We are not perfect as a nation, nor has any man been who helped it shape as such, but we have so much for which to be grateful and if your demand for perfection keeps you from seeing what is in fact good, and praiseworthy, you are truly blind.
   If you are one of those who just can't seem to get past all the problems you had with Dr. King, or that you have with present day Civil Rights spokesmen, or our present black president, maybe you could just think about the words and ask yourself if they do or do not correspond with your vision of what America is supposed to be about.  I think it might even be a good day for someone who was a bigot during that time to say to someone, even someone of another color, "I was wrong for what I thought."  Maybe you could even bring yourself to say, "America is better, America is greater, because of what Dr. King called us to be, and to do."  I am glad, as a preacher, that sermons do make a difference; if they are right, pure, lovely, admirable, and heeded.   

Friday, August 23, 2013

Parents Supporting Wicked Children

  Two stories have been in the Chattanooga papers recently.  One was the continuing legal complications of a family that are all locked up in prison.  They had appealed their sentences which came about due to a plea bargain over aiding and abetting a known fugitive, supplying a felon with weapons, etc.  Said felon was the son, brother, boyfriend of the family members now in prison.  The appeal was denied.  The crime of the "son" was killing a policeman in the midst of an armed robbery.
   The second story was the story of a female police detective who had applied for benefits for her lesbian lover/partner from the police authority/government where she works.  This story was about how the church in which her family were members had exercised  church discipline against the family due to their support of their daughter while she appealed for family benefits for her partner.  The disciplined the family not because they supported their daughter, but because they seemed to publicly support her lifestyle in appealing for family benefits.
    The local newspaper editorial of course mocked the church for taking the stand that it took.  This editorial actually referred to a a caricature used in a fairly liberal television drama as if it were a legitimate religious argument.  The news reporting typically interviewed a cross section of religious leaders who took different views concerning the decision of the congregation in question.
    One note about religious news reporting; it is simplistic if not misleading to quote religious leaders as if they are all equally qualified to speak for a certain religion.  Most religious leaders know that the religion of those who believe the Bible is a different religion from those who don't believe it.  Those who hold to a conservative theology actually believe and hold to the Bible as authority, while those who hold to a liberal theology use the Bible's words but only give it authority when they agree with it.  These are two very different things.
   I doubt most people have a problem with the condemnation of the family that supported their murderous relative.  I imagine most parents would find themselves in a horrible emotional state if one of their children broke the law, and while trying to maintain a tie of love and emotional support they would hopefully condemn the crime.
    This must happen frequently, seeing how many people we have in prison.  It is obvious that any parent can be in a situation where they don't approve of the moral choices of their children but don't want to completely end the relationship.  Most everyone is somebody's child, and all human beings have moral failings.  Sometimes they are fairly benign, but all too often they leave parents in a tough spot.
     How many parents have seen their kids strung out on drugs and alcohol and have had to struggle through co-dependency so as to love their child but not enable them in their addiction?  How many parents have watched their children get married, have children, and then commit adultery and leave that first spouse?  The parents (now grandparents) might have loved that first spouse, hate it that their grand kids are now in a divided family, and know they still have to somehow love and emotionally support that grown child that they feel has failed to have the character they had hoped to see.
    Yes, as in our first example, we have seen parents who have taken entirely the wrong approach.  When the police come they hide the child, even fight the police, and help the child break the law.  Some parents have so wanted to be accepted by their children that even though the child is isolated, morose, and bitter they keep buying them violent video games.  That hasn't turned out too well either.
    Over the last decade or so we have seen public figures whose children came out as homosexual take public stands to support them.   Even though these parents had never seemed to advocate this behavior they now seem to give public acquiescence to it based on the family relationship.  "I can't disown my own child," seemed to be the message.  I think the congregation in Chattanooga did the right thing.  They didn't condemn the loving and supporting of a child, even the child who the church considered to be living in known sin.  They did condemn the idea that a Christian family would stand with their child in the attempt to normalize and make acceptable that sin.
      This has been a dilemma many parents have found themselves in during this present cultural climate, and many have made the wrong choice.  We should always love our children, even the ones who are breaking our heart as we turn them over to the police if necessary.  Our children cannot determine our morality, that is left to a much greater family relationship, namely our Heavenly Father.  It is his opinion that counts not the Supreme Court, the President of the United States, public opinion polls, and certainly not the newspaper.
     People in the United States who think this is a passing commitment of conservative Christians needed to be disabused of that idea.  Though we hope to speak with greater and greater compassion, the idea that those who believe the Scriptures will somehow grow out of their stand against the practice of homosexuality is naive.  Some will lose their faith, that has always been a reality, but the Faith will not change.

Friday, August 16, 2013


    I really like good people, I really want good government, I enjoy good ideas and wish I could think of some.  What brought this on was being invited the other day to our Mayor's "prayer breakfast" with some our city's  pastors.  Our Mayor is Jewish, most of the pastors in attendance were African American, two Rabbis, and a couple of us white Protestants. 
    Now I have been invited by politicians before, to hear about faith based initiatives, community problems etc.  Most  politicians don't listen in large meetings, they usually deliver their strategy as a way of engaging community leaders and I imagine they hope to get political backing for their ideas.  I was therefore wary of getting my hopes up of having a real discussion about things.  We did have some time for input, some questions were asked and some input was given.  I was still glad it was happening.
   I am encouraged by our new Mayor.  Most of all I am excited because he has hired some good people.  Now, I imagine previous mayors have hired good people before, it is just that I didn't know too many of them or much about them.  This mayor seems to be on a deliberate campaign to hire exceptionally smart and talented people, with a record of good performance, and many happen to be Evangelical Christians and several were members of my own congregation.  I am also encouraged because I think this mayor is seeking good ideas, and at least at the start is attempting to establish good government.  He believes, as I do, that good government can make a positive difference, and he also believes that it should be done as economically constrained as possible.  I liked it when he referred to the rate of taxation as a "burden." 
    A city is blessed when it has good leaders, and not just the man at the top, but the team of people they recruit to administrate, lead, and execute what we all hope is a good agenda and philosophy of government.  Good people aren't just talented people, Lord knows we have enough of them in prison, and some we wish were in prison.  When I refer to the Mayor hiring "good people" I mean that they are talented, but they are also people of good character, and they are people of good will.  These folk intend to do good, and they intend to be good while they are doing it, and they intend to do things in a good way.  Being nice while doing good doesn't hurt either.  The phrase, "nice guys finish last" is a quote from the cynical who think being nice is a synonym for being a chump and a sucker.  Actually most of the successful people I know happen to be nice, and maybe that has something to do with their success. 
    Every city has problems, and every level of government has perplexing challenges.  While confronting those challenges, every political leader is surrounded by the electorate, who serve as critics, complainers, condemners, cheer leaders, influencers, beggars, demanders, etc. depending on the issue and their mood at the moment. I think it is important for us to pray and hope for every leaders success, even if we don't agree with all their policies and agendas.  We might dislike, even oppose, certain policies according to our conscience and I think that is fair.  However, to hope for the failure of a government or a leader I think is not only Biblically disobedient but also stupid.  It is stupid because it is self-destructive.  If one party says, "our only agenda is the defeat of this leader in the next election" then I think they have forfeited the right to serve in government, they should never be re-elected.  Not that I don't think there should be a loyal opposition, nor do I think there aren't some incumbents we would wish out of office from time to time.  That is different from not trying to make the best deal out of what elected leaders give us or propose, while we resist those ideas which are unjust, evil, bad, or dumb.  If they succeed in anything that is good then that success belongs to all of us.  If we see their success in anything as simply an endorsement of their party or candidate then I think we fail to see the nature of our cooperative society, and we are simply saboteurs.  In this case folks have put party over country.
    So, I have some ideas to offer, and maybe you have some you could add, and I hope they are good.  Ideas usually have to be discussed, and shaped and criticized, before they can be implemented.  I certainly hope the things I mentioned can be improved upon.
1.  We need a public, private, and faith based partnership strategy for summer youth employment.  We need the city to identify work that needs to be done that would improve our city, then we need to recruit teens and young adults, put them into teams with a mentor/foreman, give them the training and tools that need to be done, and pay them even the minimum wage.  If the city has any funds for these improvements that can go into the employment fund, more funds should be solicited from corporate and private donors, and faith based organizations (even churches) can supply mentor/foreman support for the work teams.
a.  Railroad right of ways that are no longer used can be trimmed and made into public use trails and jogging paths.
b.  Widows and elderly who need summer yard care or house painting, or even house cleaning.
c.  Local forest clearing and trail restoration and improvement.
d.  Landscaping and beautification of intersections and public spaces.
e.  Tuck pointing for the elderly (on their brick home, not their bodies) or public buildings.
f.  City and downtown hosts who welcome tourists and hand out information.
2.  We need a public, private, and faith based partnership for charter schools.  Whereby public money can be used, supplemented with private funds, and chapel and religious courses can be held prior to school day and classes taught by teachers paid by public funds:
a.  Action Academy where everything is built on activity.
b.  Physical participation required in hiking and knowing all our trails.
c.  Knowing the names of all trees and fauna (Latin names included), all the birds, all the animals.
d.  Knowing how to swim or drown proof.
e.  Knowing how to camp, wilderness survival, orienteering.
f.  Knowing tools, automotive, aeronautics, .
g.  All activities with a math and reading component.
h.  Gender segregated, at least in middle school.
3.  Public, private, faith based partnership in creating environmentally friendly church properties.  With some of the largest roofs and parking lots these spaces are heat generators and potential energy makers.  Most churches can't afford to make solar panels for their roofs, but could be leveraged into it with some outside financial help.  Better pavements for parking lots that are less heat generating.  Energy generation can be sold back to the city or Electric Power Board.  More water run off planning for church parking lots would be helpful.  Separation of church and state is fine, but can't we do some things together that are mutually helpful since we all breathe the same air and collectively use up our resources?
4.  Comprehensive effort to help every teen age mom learn to read to her children.  Reading mentors can be hired, children's books can be purchased and distributed.  The first three years of the child's life are crucial for later learning.  The whole city needs to deal with this as this will affect our schools over the lifetime of that child's education.
   Well, that's a few.  Give us some more.