Tuesday, October 16, 2018

RECONCILIATION AND THE LAW OF PRAYER


Lex Talionis versus Lex Orandi.
  Say what?   These are Latin phrases standing for the Law of Retaliation versus the Law of Prayer.   I had never really thought about them in regard to racial reconciliation until I was listening to a lecture about Cyprian, a Bishop from North Africa, who had to deal with whether or not the Church should forgive those who had betrayed their faith (lapsi) during a time of persecution and made sacrifice or burned incense to the Emperor of Rome.

   We know the Law of Retaliation in terms of “An eye for an eye.”   The Law of Prayer is the one found in Mark 11:25.  In this passage Jesus is teaching about prayer. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  Or, as when Jesus taught his disciples to pray what we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” he adds, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Matthew 6:14-15.

    The Bishops of North Africa came to a decision about demanding “penance” for those who had betrayed their faith, but they also came to the conclusion that eventually they had to forgive them and receive them back into the Church.  Some of the Bishops had lost all their property, some had been in hiding during the persecution, some had been tortured and had not given in to the demands to deny their faith.  They had lost family and friends to the Roman persecution and seen fellow Christians slaughtered for their faith.  It must not have been easy to forgive these traitors.  There was another group of Christians (Rigorists) who felt that those who had betrayed their faith should never be forgiven or brought back in the Church.

    I confess that I have a problem with the teachings of Jesus about forgiving others, especially when I am praying or before I pray.  My problem is not with his authority, or the truth of it.  My problem is I don’t want to do it.  These are usually simply personal issues of offense; someone who has betrayed me, slandered me, said something mean to me or about me.  They have hurt me, and I can’t seem to get over it or shake it.  Then Jesus says, “when you stand praying…”  Which of course is every day for me, every day I come before the Lord to pray, or if you think he is speaking of formal worship then I have to face the issue every week.

   So how about those who bear the scars of racism and racist attacks?  How about those who have experienced loss due to prejudice and bias, or have been and are insulted, or who feel the suffering of their people as a minority in a majority world, read and hear a long history of oppression, see present instances of ignorant, mean, and harsh hostility based on race?  Suppose these people who have experienced suffering or are sensitive to this suffering are indeed Christians, and suppose some of the racists also call themselves Christians?

   It is one thing of course to call sinners to repentance, no matter what those sins might be.  This is what believers and the Church of Jesus Christ should be doing against all sin, racism and injustice included; calling for an end to it, calling for repentance for it, calling for evil and sin to stop.  What happens when there are people who do repent, at least in owning up to their sin, who are sorrowful for it, who confess it?

This is exactly I think where Cyprian found himself, trying hard to believe these people were really sorry for what they had done, trying to figure out how they could move toward repairing the damage, prove their loyalty, and make their way back into fellowship.  I think it reasonable for those of us who have been racist in our hearts and actions to bring forth fruit worthy of our repentance, and do the demonstrable work of pursing reconciliation- and not just ask for a “make me feel better” card.  I think Cyprian and the other Bishops were also trying to figure out a way inside themselves to let the bitterness go, to truly and completely forgive.

   The hurt inside us makes Lex Talionis seem so reasonable.  Justice demands a payment, a recompense, a pound of flesh.  Forgiveness often seems like a miracle, and it seems that way because it really is one, a miracle given by God inside our hearts and without which we can’t really claim to know God, or to love Him, not really.   We either forgive or we don’t get forgiven, and that to me seems really harsh of God and I personally wish he would cut us some slack about hating people and be more understanding about it.  I suppose a father who gave his only son to die for and completely forgive his enemies has a right to expect the same from us.  The really good news in the theology I believe is that not only does he demand it, but he provides miraculous grace to do it.  Lord, give us more grace!

Monday, October 1, 2018

THERE HAS GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS...

   I feel caught between a rock and a hard place in the conflict between sympathy for the victims of sexual assault or abuse and the rule of law.   Many of my friends cast this current conflict at the hearing for the Supreme Court in the light of power versus victims.  Many people are simply saying, “believe the victim!”   Others are reminding us that a person is considered innocent until “proven” guilty.

   I want to do both.  If someone is indeed a victim I want to believe them, love on them, protect them, and even avenge them.  Whatever in my feeble and inept ways I can I want to be there for them, try to understand, listen, and weep with those who weep. 

   In my own family I have seen someone ripped apart by the abuse they suffered, and I admit that I will never adequately know how that has affected their fears, feelings, self-image, confidence, sense of security, and ability to trust.  I have marveled at how they have clung to the grace of God, and by the power of God have been able to give of themselves, have courage, and even speak frankly about the effects of abuse on their life. It is undeniable to me that abuse radically shapes a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions.

   Some may say that the hearings are not a trial, so it is okay to bring accusations without proof or corroboration.  I have seen this kind of equivocal situation in the context of the church, usually in the case of church member versus pastor, or elder.  There too it might be looked at as a victim versus power.  When Ruling Elders of a church allow a member to come to a Session meeting and bring accusations against a pastor, or even another member, without witnesses or proof, but solely in the name of keeping the peace by allowing someone who feels aggrieved the opportunity to vent their feelings, it is not only destructive and detrimental to the protection of the church and its authority but simply wrong.  Equivocation between parties is not justice, though it might appear to be so by adjudicators thinking they are keeping the peace.

    There is a movement to erase all boundaries of protection for a person's reputation in the name of giving comfort and safety to those who claim to have been abused.  Ultimately this is corrupting to the rule of law and is more akin to lynch law where the mob makes decisions on their emotional response to a situation.  

   We obviously have a dilemma, as a society, when it comes to such things.   How much time should we allow victims to bring forward their stories?  Is it ever too late to bring something up from the past, especially if it is some kind of sexual abuse?  My answer would tend to be that there should be no time limit, but there should always be the limiting factor of who is told, and the limiting factors of standards by which people are believed.  We have to protect children, or those abused as children, and women, and we have to give them a way to bring their story and accusations forward, while at the same time not giving way to a flood of hysteria that takes away all safeguards for people who are innocent of those charges.

    We don't have to look far to see the danger, first in the Bible with the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, then to the stories of black men lynched at the word of white women that were later found to be lying, and even to present day as men are finally let out of prison when DNA proves they could not have done the crime for which they were incarcerated.  

    I feel ashamed as an American to see all this played out at the Senate hearings.  I am ashamed that the Senate would ever let someone step forward to make an accusation about someone without corroboration, prior to their public appearance.  This is equivocation of the worst sort, with political gamesmanship and the weaponizing of public opinion. 

     I am ashamed of teen-age drinking parties, where parental supervision seems to get lost or be abandoned.  I am ashamed of men who try to rape women, and most especially of those who sexually abuse children.  I am past shame and into anger when it comes to and kind of religious authority using their position to sexually abuse children.  I am ashamed of myself when I think of where, and how, I learned about sex and what I wanted and tried to do and get away with in my teen years.

   I am grateful for the cross of Christ where I found forgiveness and the power to be delivered from really intense sexual bondage.  I am sad that our society seems to know so little about forgiveness, or grace, and can't seem to provide either one to victims or perpetrators.  I don't think this reality TV has helped us very much, except to realize that there has to be a better way for the Senate to advise and consent to the President's choice.

   

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

ENTANGLING ALLIANCES


Someone has asked my opinion on local churches cooperating or interacting with other organizations, and possibly other ministries.  What principles should we keep in mind, what practical issues might develop, and what are some of the perplexing perils in fulfilling our mission?  I will try to integrate some of the “perplexing perils” (PP) as I articulate principles and practical issues.  Here is a start to discussion.

PRINCIPLES
   I write from the perspective of someone who was an urban pastor trying to reach and minister to poor people, and in a cross-cultural context.
1.     Know your own identity and mission as the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is unique, it is essential, and it must not be compromised as to its Gospel message, call to conversion and discipleship, and moral and ethical integrity.
(PP-If you care about the social conditions surrounding you the temptation might be to think the Church and its message are neither relevant nor practical enough to really help people.  Other social agencies may ridicule your call to faith as proselytizing and reject your involvement.  We must not be intimidated by the weight of social pathology nor by the social activist-despisers of our religion. Even (many) non-believers expect religious leaders and institutions to be moral and ethical as a standard of behavior, it is an important reputation to keep.)
2.    Remember that preaching and teaching (Grace, Gospel and Bible truth) are life giving and life enhancing moments to individuals, families, and thus the whole community.  Preaching Biblical sermons that meet real human needs are not irrelevant to the life of the community but essential to human flourishing.
3.    No interaction, collaboration, or cooperation with other institutions or agencies should move the church from its primary mission of proclaiming the Gospel and its care of souls.  This must be consistent throughout a congregation’s “owned” ministries.  The local church must protect its freedom to speak from a religious, spiritual, and dogmatic perspective within the realm of its own ministry.
4.    The leadership of a local church must consider the reputation of other institutions, agencies, and individuals when it considers an agreement or cooperating partnership.  There are some arrangements which are essentially neutral, and others which are compromising of reputation, and still others that are enhancing of reputation.  Leadership has to be wise and prayerfully discerning as to which is which. The attitude of the church should always be love, even when trying to protect its testimony, and should always have an attitude and practice of loving kindness even when it must keep distance from some involvements.  [I have probably taken more risks than others in such involvement, but tried to be bold in my witness at the same time.]
5.    The local church has to be mindful of the involvement of their pastor with other institutions and agencies, his reputation, his time commitments, and his freedom to serve Christ in every situation he formally and professionally places himself in.  (PP-when does a pastor represent only himself, or is representing his congregation?  He always represents God, or else shouldn’t be a pastor.)
6.    Local churches can interact with other ministry, institutions, and agencies in various ways and for various purposes.  A key principle for the local church is to know how this particular involvement moves the mission of the church forward, or is it a diversion of focus and resources? (PP-most non-profits want money and people from local congregations but not all of them further the mission of the congregation or enhance the ministry of the church, and some do not want any spiritual input from Christians.)
7.    While local church involvement in other institutions can be by way of volunteer hours, financial support, facility cooperation, etc. the practice of resource investment (especially that of church member man hours) must be weighed against how it brings people to Christ and into the membership of the body?  This principle must always be balanced against any other purpose, no matter how well meaning.  Ministries of mercy, helps, kindness, or any other noble or good thing people can do, as we “do good to all men,” are not a substitute for being “fishers of men,” but all can be a means to that end if we are intentional about it.
8.    It is good for church leadership to regularly, on some periodic basis, to reevaluate the stewardship of the resources of the church (especially the volunteer ministry hours of the membership) as to whether they are effective for…
·       The name recognition of the church
·       A proto-evangelism of the community
·       Direct evangelism of the community
·       In conflict with the functioning of the worship and activities of the church, including the shepherding of the children of the church.
·       The bringing of justice and mercy to the community in the name of Christ.
·       Doing what must be done to help the people of the community survive and thrive as an act of love.


PRACTICAL ISSUES
9.    The Pastor especially may be called upon to serve on community boards of various sorts.  He is asked because he is a pastor of a specific church and not usually simply because he lives in the neighborhood.  Some of these activities are neutral, that is they don’t hurt the pastor or church’s reputation.  However, every involvement takes time and pastors need counsel from church leaders to be careful about their commitments. He needs to humble himself to ask others to speak into these decisions so he doesn’t hurt himself, his family, or the congregation.
10.Taking money from anyone, or any agency, that hinders the church’s ministry or message has to be rejected.  Thankfully there are government programs, and grants from foundations and businesses that don’t prohibit churches from their message or ministry, but these must be carefully assessed and evaluated.  Many institutions want to do good, and are willing to do it through a congregation, and these may coincide with a congregation’s own vision and mission for ministry.  Things such as the feeding of children, tutoring or after school programs, sports programs, arts and music programs, health and medical programs, housing, etc are all possible areas of collaboration.  A church has to ask what it wants to accomplish in such programs, and if or when does it feel its primary purpose is being compromised.
11.Once money is taken from an agency with commitments as to its use and reporting congregations must be strictly ethical in fulfilling their commitments and not funnel money into some other use, no matter how seemingly good or necessary that use may be.
12.Congregations have to ask themselves if their building is “holy” and is totally and only committed to their doctrinal identity?  Will the church let a public school rent the building, or use the building for a ceremony?  Will the church let another denomination rent space to worship there, even if there is not total doctrinal agreement? How about a cult?  How about AA or some other 12 step program?  Many Evangelical congregations have rented space from Synagogues and other religious institutions, will we be reciprocal in their hour of need?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

GOD BLESS THE DEACONS!


I like Deacons.   I honor the office of Deacon.  I love the men and women who serve in the ministry of mercy throughout our churches.  May the Lord bless them and give them a reward for what they do.

    Pastors and Elders need to value the ministry of Deacons, and they need to be thankful that they have them.  Pastors need to brag on them and give them honor, encourage the congregation to hold the Deacons up in prayer, and to give them their cooperation as well as the physical and financial resources to do effective work.

   Some pastors simply want the Deacons to protect them from facility surprises, as in maintaining roofs, heating and air conditioners, grounds keeping, snow removal, clean bathrooms, etc.  Some churches want them to make sure there are ushers, money counting, good budgeting, security, and parking lot attendants.  All of these things are important, and the larger and more middle-class the congregation is than the more important these things are going to be. 

   In some of our congregations we have CEOs of major corporations serving as Deacons (really, this is not hyperbole).  They know how to get business done, and the title is nice on their resume for community involvement.   Everyone appreciates a congregation that maintains a healthy, safe, and welcoming facility and has a positive sense of good organization and administration.   I appreciate these things too, but I know that they are not enough if our goal is to be faithful to Jesus and his kingdom.

    Some churches have Deacons and never use them in ministry to the poor.  The pastor and church secretary seem to do all of the benevolence, or else simply bar the door and send strangers asking for help away to other “agencies.”  (Deacons should strongly discourage any pastor from being the “Sugar Daddy” in dispensing aid to people.  Pastors should delegate that direct ministry to the Deacons.) As a former pastor I am very much in favor of having people “wait on tables” as it were so I can focus on prayer and the Word.  At the same time I would very much like to see Deacons mobilize a congregation so that any and every poor person seeking help from our church would be met with love, compassion, kindness, wisdom, prayer, and effective help.

   I yearn to see Deacons organize themselves, train themselves, and create effective ministry plans so that they are able to stay motivated, refreshed, and multiplied so they don’t burn out, drop out, become cynical, or waste their very precious time simply going to meetings.

    So, in this short article may I make one plea…  Deacons, stay humble enough to want to learn how to do your ministry in more effective ways.  Keep asking of yourself, and of your team, “how can we do this better, how can we do mercy so we actually lead people to Christ and bring them into discipleship, how can we do this so people actually come out of poverty?”

    If you ask those questions of your team you will begin to realize you need help, and so you will start praying more, identifying and recruiting more saints with more of the gifts needed to accomplish the mission, communicating more with the Pastor and Elders, and encouraging more financial liberality from the members.

    When Deacons start seeing the lives of poor people being truly turned around they will hopefully begin to have a larger vision for the neighborhood and community.  Hopefully they will begin to be proactive and create ministries and programs that help poor people create strategies for themselves that move them to self-sufficiency. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

MALPRACTICE IN CROSS CULTURAL MINISTRY


FAILING
There are ways we can fail in our pursuit of cross-cultural ministry.  I refer to this as “malpractice.”   I am not speaking simply of not achieving our goals but of going about ministry in ways that actually hurt people, hurt the reputation of the church, and possibly bring slander to the name of Christ.

    Cross cultural ministry has to be defined by the cultures one is trying to cross or bridge. There are ministries that are multi-ethnic, and that is (merely, or only) what they want to be.  Sometimes these groups think of themselves as “multi-cultural.”   That is they don’t really want to “cross” over into someone else’s culture but they do want to have a mixture of kinds of people in their group or church.   They would prefer everybody to be comfortable in “their own skin” and not force anyone to “walk in someone else’s shoes.”

MISSIONAL VERSUS DOMINANCE
      To settle for this model usually means there is a dominant culture for worship, or a dominant culture for leadership, or an acceptance of cultural assimilation in some form.  There is usually compromise on some things, for some time, until some particular thing brings the friction or competition.  The option is always for separation into cultural groups. This is not what I mean by cross cultural ministry, and to insist that this is the only way (i.e., multi-ethnic or multi-cultural) for people to become part of one body is malpractice.

    If cross cultural ministry is more missional, where a person or group intentionally seeks to become like the other, or give up their personal or cultural rights so as to win others to Christ, or to become one in unity, there are some things one should bear in mind to do so with some integrity, honesty, and humility.

   Cross cultural ministry done biblically is intentional servanthood (slavery) to others.   Therefore it cannot be done with arrogance or superiority lest it be malpractice.  We have some powerful spiritual weapons to help us when it comes to culture but I think all of the various pieces of ordinance come under one main heading and that would be love.  Part of love is telling the truth, but one can tell the truth without love.  A scalpel can heal you or kill you, it depends on how it gets used, in what circumstances, and with what skill. Obviously, if a doctor uses a scalpel carelessly he commits malpractice.

SEEING THE LAYERS OF SIN AND SINFUL OPPRESSION
    I will use two scenarios with which I am somewhat familiar.  The first scenario: If I as a white man come into the poor black community (and please notice that I am specifying that there is a “poor” black community as opposed to wealthier parts of the black community) and want to serve Jesus there by serving the people there, then how do I approach it?   The way we approach things begins with the way we see it, and that very act of failing to see things properly, or truthfully, can result in malpractice.   Take the case of a surgeon who is losing his eye sight but wants to operate on my nervous system; scary thought.

    There are debates about what created the poor black community, or the typical inner-city neighborhood.  If I arrive as a preacher and I see pathology, I see sinful behavior, and think the answer is a prophetic voice to call people to repentance for their wicked lives I might be seeing an aspect of the truth.  I can pretty much guarantee you that the people there won’t be feeling much love from me. For me not to love the people to whom I seek to minister means I am guilty of malpractice. At the same time, to deprive the people there of inherent dignity by excusing their sinful choices, of not recognizing individual moral responsibility, and blaming everything that happens in that community on racial history and present racial injustice then I would be equally guilty of ministry malpractice.

    Fundamentalists seem to have gone one way with the blame game, social action folks seem to go to the other extreme of blaming others who are somewhere else.  As someone who grew up in the projects of Newark, NJ I would have to admit that if I had kept going the way I was going I probably would be dead or in prison, or living off what I stole from you, (I might have been a success in crime, one never knows).  I was culpable in my own dysfunctionality.

    My father abandoned me, so my failures must be his fault.  The city was corrupt and the way they administered city housing was corrupt so my failures must be their fault.  The schools weren’t that good so it was the fault of the Board of Education.  I am not reticent to say that some of the blame might belong to them, but my soul and heart’s condition could not have been changed by them.  I am white, and would later find that I had white privilege in other places, but at that time I wasn’t aware of any privilege except to try and earn the respect of the gang I ran with and stole with.  I needed Christ, I needed a change of heart, I needed to be born again and converted, I needed to repent of the way I was living and the way I was headed.

   Did my city need to be fixed?  Oh yeah, it needed justice and just government.  It still does.  Maybe if my heart was changed by grace I might actually get to be part of that change, might help to be a conscience to the forces that make a city what a city should be.   For the church to neglect my soul’s salvation would have been malpractice.  For them not to have called me to care for the values of the Kingdom of God, such as justice and mercy, would have been malpractice.  For me not to have compassion on the misery of the people who suffer from economic injustice (racial and/or simple economic exploitation), or to stay silent about it when I become aware of how it operates, would be malpractice.

   My point is that the way we approach things, the way we see things, has a lot to do with whether or not we are ministering appropriately. I first have to see the city with compassion, the way Jesus did, as sheep without a shepherd.  God had compassion on Nineveh, that wicked city, where people did not know their right hand from their left. The Ninevites were morally responsible for their sins and that is why God sent Jonah to proclaim judgement yet God had compassion on them and recognized their ignorance.

MORAL AGENCY
      Is there immorality in the inner cities of America?  Way too much sexual immorality, pregnancies without marriage, abortions, drugs, gangs, violence and sexual violence, a collapse of family, a satisfaction with ignorance, a loss of aspiration and thus a poor work ethic.  Too deny these things and not see the exercise of personal choice at work, or to excuse them as merely by-products of history or oppression, is to rob human beings of moral agency. To not preach a redeeming character changing Gospel to people who desperately need to be born-again is malpractice.  At the same time to see these things as if they all just happened overnight by the choice of the people and that there aren’t historic and systemic forces that perpetuate it and not seek to change those forces; that would also be malpractice.

   The second scenario: If a white person seeks to be reconciled with black people, to stop worshiping and living in a segregated by choice church and community, and seeks friendships and relationships that are deep, meaningful, and honest then how should that be pursued, and how is that achieved?  If this particular white brother (and let’s begin with the idea that he is saved) comes to a cross cultural church, or a black church seeking to learn, how is he to be treated?

    We go back to what and how one sees as an approach is made.  What are the assumptions we make when someone attempts reconciliation?   If we see this white person as simply a victim of his raising or his culture, that he doesn’t know any better about being a racist because he learned from a racist family, we deprive him of the responsibility of moral agency.  He is responsible for what he thinks, says, and does, no matter where he comes from or how he was raised.

ANGRY VERSUS PIERCING ANALYSIS
    If all we do is bombard people with the rhetoric of angry racial analysis (and I am an advocate for piercing racial analysis), hold them off from friendship until they admit to or make some steps to dismantle white supremacy (or worse not even care if they should make such an effort but just blow them off), mock them for their white privilege, and ridicule them when they seem confused or disturbed by what they are hearing by referring to their white fragility then we are committing cross cultural malpractice as well.  

BRIDGES OR BARRIERS?
    Racial rhetoric carries emotional power, but is not always substantive especially when disconnected from biblical foundations, and not usually nuanced enough to help people know where the bridges to healing might be.  Depending on how it is delivered it doesn't always hint at an invitation to relationship but rather a sad inevitability toward segregation.

   If we allow, and even encourage, people to come to emotional closure over feelings of racial and social guilt without repentance, without pragmatic strategies for peace making, and without commitment to a justice that mends, heals, and restores, then that too is malpractice.   Cross cultural ministry has to face the realities of history, of race, of oppression, or a purposeful racial economic disparity, and of social science statistics in the various fields of urban sociology, the criminal justice system, and the role and activity of the church in that reality.

   It is cross cultural ministry malpractice to simply dwell on the failures of humankind and not to remember that reconciliation is God’s work, beginning at the tearing of our relationship and alienation from him in the Garden of Eden.  It is malpractice to forget the healing of the cross, between God and people, between Jews and Gentiles (and thus all sub-ethnic groups) and our becoming one new man in the body of Christ, through the work of Christ.  It is malpractice to despair of the hope of reconciliation, as if it is an effort on one group to simply feel better about themselves, and not to remember it is given to all of God’s people as a message and a ministry.  It is malpractice to dismiss the reality that reconciliation, especially cross cultural reconciliation, takes a conscious choice to be another people’s servant, and requires a death to self.  It is also malpractice to give up the hope that it is possible, and wonderful, and the future of heaven.

END.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Danger of Following an Ideological Line


    It is hard not to say something about this latest activity by our President, and I speak of the comments President Trump made in Finland about Russia.   I recently heard a lecture by Professor Peter C. Mancall of the University of Southern California (Audible –The Teaching Company) in a lecture on the American Revolution.  In it he spoke about political ideology.  He described it as a road map, a bunch of street signs, which guide our thinking. It explains and seems to reflect a reality we desire. I picture it as one of those single line maps someone draws on a table napkin which seems to correspond to reality but it certainly is not an above the earth view like GPS.  Nor is it like a biblical world view which gives you godly principles.

    I am afraid way too many people are following line maps drawn on a napkin, and they get angry with anyone saying there might be other factors to consider before one continues in this direction. These political line maps seem to compromise virtues such as honesty and honor.  I love my country, and I think every country is important to God.  I believe God is sovereign and he rules the destinies of each nation.  He can use the Chaldeans, the Babylonians, and the Persians to accomplish his will for Israel.  He can use evil men to bring about his will, like Pharaoh in Egypt for Israel, and then destroy Egypt.  He can use good and great men in such a way that they bring their own nation into disaster, even though they were good.

    At the same time God’s revealed will is actually what we have to deal with; that’s the stuff that we can obey or disobey.  God’s revealed will of truth, justice, mercy, and righteousness is our business, not what he plans to do in a hidden way, except that we must learn to have faith when that hidden plan means our nation comes to an end, or disaster overtakes us.  I want our nation to do right, and be right.  I sincerely don’t want it to be destroyed, corrupted, or brought into shame.

   Conservative political ideology has some correspondence to truth.  Liberal political ideology has some correspondence to truth.  Following their ideology is still only a line drawing.  Yet, adherents seem willing to sacrifice other things to keep following that ideological line.  I am afraid this President may be one of the worst things to ever happen to the Republican Party and the Conservative movement.  In a desperate desire to finally have some conservative judges and conservative influence on law and legislation the Conservatives are selling their soul, and maybe the prestige and honor of the nation with it.

   The victory may be short lived, unless they are willing to use the muscle they presently have to be honorable.  Being a sycophant to this President means you only take your turn waiting to be thrown under the bus, it guarantees you nothing.  One never knows how a narcissist will interpret how sincerely you are kissing his posterior.  Will they hold their President, our President, accountable?   Or are they so afraid of losing what little they have that they condemn their (our) future? I am wondering if our citizens even realize what may be at stake.

   Political ideology is a map to nowhere if it is not a map to justice and goodness.  If it is only a map that prevents the opposite party from influence or participation then it is a map to delusion and confusion.  In their fear of undermining a powerful leader whose agenda they sometimes like they may choke when it comes to recognizing and denouncing a Quisling. We don’t just need men and women of courage in Washington, we need men and women of integrity with enough courage to tell the truth about their own party, and enough of them to finally get good things done.

Please Lord, help our nation, and confuse all tyrants!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

WHAT IS YOUR POLITICAL POSITION?



 
 Where do I stand?   I don’t think the middle is a proper understanding of my position.  I am trying to stand on the Rock, on the Word of God, from his “fixed” position.  This is opposed to partisans in America, whose positions shift, though they are often referred to as “being on the right,” or “being on the left.”  “Being in the middle” is often dismissed as a real position because people think that to oppose their point of view means you are siding with their opponents, so in an election you are declared to have hurt the vote if you don’t vote for their side, even if you can’t in good conscience vote for either side.  Most political partisans hate the people in the middle and seek either to radicalize them or to dismiss their legitimacy.  Ideology despises compromise.

   I don’t think my position is the “middle.”  Though at times, for political understanding, it might seem that way.  I want to be in the correct position, God’s position, and I want to know what he thinks and what he wants, and that’s where I hope you will find my opinion.  There is of course a danger to even saying such things, as some might find it outrageous that anyone could know God’s position on any particular thing concerning politics.  Actually, for those who believe the Bible to be God’s Word it is not outrageous at all.  It is certainly true that those claiming to believe the Bible have often come out on various sides of an issue, and so things can get a little tricky in deciding a political opinion.  Yet, I maintain there is a God side of things, and it is that side to which we must conform no matter what party to which we belong.

As I have tried to ascertain God’s position on things I have sometimes found myself agreeing with those on the right, and sometimes agreeing with those on the left.  People on either of those sides tend to assume, if I agree with them on one issue, that I will therefore accept all of their ideology and all of their venom for those on the other side.  Far too often I have found fellow believers selling their minds to an ideological drift and becoming fairly nasty in their partisanship.  These people will often tell you they are discerning, that they vote for the person or the particular issue, but their track records don’t reflect much independence (in my opinion) especially as I watch them spread “fake news.”

I am not always sure about things, not always educated about issues or personalities.  There is plenty of ambiguity in the political realm and therefore plenty of room for humility, though that seems hard to find these days.  If I am wrong in my understanding of Scripture or of what may be deduced by good and necessary inference from it when it comes to righteousness (moral and ethical), then I want very much to be corrected.   I don’t want to be stubborn, proud, or arrogant before the Scriptures and its truth, and neither do I want to be those things before people.  I need wisdom, knowledge, prudence, and discernment, continually and increasingly.

Let me be specific about some of my stands on things so the reader can understand the dilemma of position.   I am opposed to abortion, so I am declared therefore to be a conservative.  I am opposed to the practice of homosexuality and opposed to homosexual consensual relationships given the title of “marriage.”   So, now I am even more conservative, and called other names.   I am opposed to racism, I am for human and civil rights, I am for the protection of the poor and the weak, therefore I am called a liberal.

I think having a position on such things is important because when one fears God they are supposed to “hate” evil.  Some things in our culture are evil and should be opposed.  If I oppose an evil someone will remind me that America is not the Kingdom of God and my very opposition to certain behaviors and political opinions might lose me a hearing for my preaching.  I agree about America, it is not the Kingdom of God.  Yet, I believe that nations count, they are important to the life of the people who live there.

 The government of any nation is important as to whether or not the people who live under it are allowed to live in a context of moral and ethical righteousness, and evil will prevail when good people say and do nothing about it.  Though America is not a “Christian” nation many people live here.  They are all made in the image of God, each one is important and significant, their lives matter. 

As a Christian God’s love compels me to care for the well-being of all people, and that not just in an individualistic relational sense, but as a society. The Kingdom of God is active in any society when justice reigns, when love prevails, and there is peace or shalom.  Righteousness is indeed where wisdom walks. These are marks and aspects of the Kingdom.  Not only that but America is one place where the government takes it shape from the opinions, consensus, and vote of the people and so Believers are able to help shape it.  As an American Christian I am more responsible for the government of my nation than people from many other countries simply because I have more of a possibility to change it.

So we must pray.  I must pray for our President, even if I didn’t vote for him or if I don’t like the way he acts much of the time.  I am thankful for him when he does something right.  I must pray for the next Supreme Court Justice and I hope he is opposed to Roe vs. Wade, but I don’t want him to hurt the civil and human rights of people of color or to hurt the poor by allowing them to be exploited.  I support obedience to law and the rulers over us, but demand they be held to account when they break the very laws they are sworn to uphold, and I believe that some laws are in fact unjust and should be changed, and in some cases disobeyed for conscience sake until those laws are changed.  I am for love and against violence, and deeply thankful for the freedom I have to advocate, practice, and vote for these things.

END.

Monday, July 2, 2018

MISTER BIG STUFF, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

   Do you ever get bothered by pictures of young white people surrounded by little black children, whether American or African, as they send out stories and messages of their latest mission trip or urban experience? 

I’m all in favor of “best practices” when it comes to community development and ministry.  I am in favor of a discerning and growing “cultural intelligence” while working in cross cultural contexts and across economic strata.  This sounds a bit stupid but I,  in a very simple way, am in favor of justice.  That leads me to being against paternalism. Consequently, I am opposed to exploiting the poor for the purpose of fund raising, marketing, and publicity whether it be for the aggrandizement of my personal name or the enrichment of my organization.

    The bottom line in analyzing my behavior is of course love; to be continuously asking the question of myself and my organization, "are we, am I, showing love to the the very people I say I am trying to help."  The pertinent question is not simply how I feel about the people whom I serve but, “am I loving in the way I am trying to love?”   This question should become intuitive for those of in cross-cultural and trans-social ministry.

     Sound confusing?   Well, it can get confusing in the world of missions and ministry across ethnic and social lines, in the world of professional or semi-professional “helping” via faith-based non-profits, church mercy and ministry programs, and mission trips, etc.  The confusion comes from several different sources.

     It is confusing because I don’t think there is such a thing as “missions” worthy of the Biblical name that isn’t resisted by the Devil.  Part of that resistance is often false accusation, and resistance and anger from people with whom we are sharing the Gospel.  Do you realize that no matter how well we do things some people still hate the truth, they hate the Gospel message, and therefore they hate us?   Some of the resistance is internal, through inner self-doubt as to whether we are doing the right thing, in the right way, and for the right purpose.  What makes this complex is the fact that all of us make mistakes and sometimes with the best motives we screw things up.

    Another complication is the criticism we are liable to get from others who are doing similar work in community development and urban ministry based on certain principles.  Even if an organization or person might theoretically agree with the principles there is discrepancy and variation in their application across the ministry spectrum. Some people are what we might call ‘purists.”   Frankly there are some who have developed a new legalism and it comes across in a judgmental attitude when it comes to an evaluation of others, especially novice workers, in the field. 

     One of the principles of community development is learning how to listen to the people who live in the community, listening with understanding, and listening with empathy.  That principle doesn’t mean we always agree with the people of the community.  How could we if they say, “we don’t need your religion or works of mercy or good deeds (done in the name of Jesus) here?”  Missions is an invasive experience, an intrusion into the culture of a community so we have to try, and try very hard, to not insult or demean the dignity of the folks to whom we go.

    One of the sources of conflict or misunderstanding comes by way of publicity, prayer letters, and photographs.  I learned very early when I was beginning urban ministry in Chattanooga that I needed to be circumspect about having my name and picture in the newspaper.  I am a white man, and here I was working in an inner city African American neighborhood.   White churches, from whom I needed support, wanted me to tell the story of the good work we were doing, they wanted drama, they wanted testimony, they wanted pictures. 

     Black churches were trying to figure out if I was just one more “do-good” white boy who was having a transient savior complex, or worse, trying to build a reputation and earn a living on the plight of inner city folk.  I often had to check my own motives, and I had to live with the gossip and mean accusations of people who made assumptions about me and the work we were doing.  Longevity is sometimes the only defense one can make in ministry.

   Really, I sometimes wanted to ask?  I live and try to raise my family on inadequate income with few if any benefits, working at three jobs to do it, constantly being libeled and mocked, sometimes in physical danger, suspected by my professional peers as being inadequate to hold a “real church,” while living in a run down apartment in a run down neighborhood to accomplish or gain what? Fame, fortune, power and leverage?  Seriously?

     What is ironic is that living like I did does get you a reputation, it does cause people to think of you as a hero, and sometimes it brings about envy and resentment from people who wish they had that reputation.  I am no messiah, only the Lord Jesus is that, and anyone in ministry has to constantly take whatever hardships or trials they have been through and lay it at the cross of Jesus and not hold onto it as glory for themselves.  Anyone can have such a reputation if they are willing to earn it and live it.  What is silly is for any of us in ministry, white or black, is to covet a reputation we haven’t earned yet.  Our lives are supposed to make Jesus famous, not ourselves.

    What is also mean and harsh is to slam people who are well-meaning but sometimes ignorant about how they go about things.   There are lots of mistakes made on any battlefield, but if you are not or have not  been on it, I would be cautious about acting like you are an expert.  Even if you are on the battlefield, are you so arrogant as to despise those God is sending as reinforcements (maybe even your replacement) to help you, but are beginning at a very elementary stage?  They don’t know yet (or why) their sincere and sometimes sickly sweet story telling about how much they are loved by the poor people, with whom they are currently taking a selfie, drives you crazy.

 Too many people in the field of charity show little charity with folks who don’t get all the principles right.  These clumsy novices need correction, yes, but they also need our patience.  If all we have to give is criticism about all their wrong motives and their bad of way of doing things we should not be surprised when we call for help and no one comes.

   Won’t their stupid and clumsy acts of mercy and mission cause harm to the people to whom they are going?  I assume that this is true, they will sometimes cause harm.  As far as I have seen it isn’t usually the worst harm the kids and people with whom I have worked are going to face, especially if no one comes to tell them about Jesus.  We can do better, we must do better, in educating God’s people who sincerely want to serve, but I think we all need to remember how much we needed to learn, and have learned, over the years in doing this type of ministry.  Man, I mean, who do we think we are?

Monday, June 18, 2018

IMMIGRATION


    There are many folks writing and speaking out against the Trump Administration policy of separating children from their parents, those who have sought to enter the U.S. without permission, or illegally.  I am sure my voice will not add much to what is being said, but I do feel it right to say something about it and not remain silent.

   Every once in a while our government does something it thinks is necessary to solve a problem and makes a choice to do something that is immoral, wrong, and/or even a crime against humanity.  We are a very “legal” nation so the government usually takes pains to declare something to be legal, even when it is morally wrong.  One example was the policy of torture during the Bush administration.

    Much of the time the executive branch is responsible for creating a “policy” to define how laws will be carried out.  The Legislative branch is supposed to be the branch that makes laws but many people are affected by how the Executive branch defines and executes those laws, or by how the Supreme Court interprets them.  Again, torture was a policy, not a law passed by Congress.  Abortion was allowed due to a SCOTUS decision, not by a law passed by Congress.

   Expediency and politics often are the driving forces in creating such policies.  The internment of Japanese citizens was such an expediency, the removal of Native Americans from their own lands was such an expediency.  History gives us more perspective years after an event, and after destroyed lives and bodies too.   Law enforcement is put into a dilemma as its personnel have to carry out such “laws” even when some of its members might have some conscience about enforcing things which cause obvious outrage among many of our people.

   Politics becomes a hindrance to moral considerations because parties don’t like to be criticized by the other side, and thus political parties attempt to discard moral arguments as mere political leverage in an argument.

   We have an obvious problem in our country when it comes to immigration, both legal and illegal.  Even the legal side is confusing, onerous, cumbersome, and intimidating.  Our present policies bear little resemblance to what is written on the Statute of Liberty or to the spirit and history of the land of freedom and the beacon of liberty from those who come from oppression and poverty.

   We have varying views of how to handle the flow of immigrants and it has been one that has flipped and flopped, ebbed and flowed, over the years.  At one time America had pretty wide open borders for some, and absolutely closed for others.  It was wide open for white people who came with guns and took the lands they wanted.  It was a border not wanting to be crossed by Africans who were brought here against their will.  It was a border already crossed by Spaniards in lands settled by them well before the Americans got to the West.  It was a land closed to the “yellow peril” except for labor to build the railroads and do mining, up until the 1960’s.  People from Asia of varying countries were not welcome until the second half of the Twentieth Century.

    Immigration has had an effect.  The idea that it is always good and helpful is certainly debatable. Beside a secular idea of individual freedom what culture do we already have that is worth protecting and preserving?  There has always been some sort of fight going on between Deism, the Enlightenment, Secular Humanism, and the ideology of the Protestant Reformation.   Without religious liberty, without religious morality and ethics, would America be America?  Can our culture, if our culture is worth maintaining, survive mass influxes of Muslim and Eastern thought and philosophy? 

   Jews and Catholics have been absorbed into our American culture and have made it richer, while adjusting to the reality of what was already here.  In short they gave up things to survive while America has had to come to grips with protecting their rights.  So, when our government policy became more liberal in the openness of immigration to all nations, religions, and groups some of our people become alarmed at changes perceived to be taking place around them. 

    Job competition, religious competition, linguistic competition, and the downright mobbing of borders by people refusing to be slowed by procedure and process has caused a reaction.  Some of that reaction is xenophobic, and some of it is sort of a righteous indignation that people are “dishing” the line.  Stories and incidents of terrorism and crime are alarming, and violent foreign ideologies and individual criminals need to be identified, resisted, and rejected.

    None of us should be blaming people for wanting to come here.  We as a nation should be the destination for anyone seeking a better way of life on this planet.  Our hope would be that every other nation could have such freedom and prosperity so its people would not want to leave where they are.  Unfortunately there are too many places of violence, oppression, and desperation.  Immigration has always brought enterprising and risk taking individuals to our shores.

   Once again our present Executive branch is making policy on top of the laws that exist, and some of those policies are inhumane.  They are expedient, they are an attempt to frustrate and discourage people who cross the border without documentation, but they are not all good policies.  On top of that the current President sends confusing signals to his own party, blaming others for what his erratic and ambiguous leadership creates.  Our Attorney General misapplies Scripture to defend government as he falls into the same trap as the “Divine Right of Kings” and disconnecting the creation of American law from the source of the greatness of American history.  

   Americans appealed to a “higher” law to resist the King who claimed that same Biblical authority.  Abolitionists appealed to a “higher” law to fight against legal but unjust slavery. Civil rights advocates violated state laws of racial segregation based on a “higher law” of justice.  Pro-life people appeal to a “higher” law to resist abortion policies.  Certainly some laws are unjust and don’t deserve to be law, they need to be changed.  In this case something weaker than law is being fiercely defended by the Administration and that is simply expedient policy to help meet a practical political goal. 

   I absolutely believe in obeying Romans 13, but I see that text in the context of a nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  We the people get to choose our laws, and we get to choose our leaders, and we desperately in my opinion need to choose to change the leaders we have unless they get to a reality of justice, compassion, and wisdom, none of which they are exhibiting at the moment. 

   If we detain families at the border they should be kept intact and held together.  This is not the same as arrest for criminal activity where children are taken from parents by the state system  Detainees don’t even get the rights of people arrested in criminal cases such as quick hearings, adequate and provided legal representation.  If they are not applying for asylum, if they have no good argument for seeking shelter here then we need to send them home quickly, as families. If they are seeking asylum they should not be treated as criminals in any way.  All this money sought for a wall is nowhere as needed as money needed for a good system of examination, decision, and repatriation, with adequate provision for such families who are in that process.

   The President is correct that Congress needs to act, but it obviously has a hard time doing so with such a mercurial leader. he should stop making suggestions and then changing them, hoping for more political advantage.  He needs to paint a picture of justice, one that he really believes in, and sell that to Congress and lead them toward it. Somebody needs to lead, and we are a country desperately in need of one, a good one.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

WHITE FRAGILITY AND PASTORAL CARE


   One of the struggles I experience in the world of racial reconciliation and peacemaking is to hear people say pretty stupid things.  Sometimes I get to hear people express their fears, and sometimes their anger, and sometimes just their ignorance.  In all of these expressions I am still called on by God to love people.

    Most of us are exposed to different spheres of thought, or activity.  Those of us who are Christians live, or ought to, in the world (environment) of the Church.  We also live in the world of politics, media – including both news and editorials.  We live in our cultures, we live in our families, in our vocations, and our opinions are formed.  Sometimes those opinions are well founded, and sometimes they are not.  Sometimes those opinions are held without pride or arrogance, they are held loosely, and are open to change.  Sometimes we tie our opinions to our egos and then we entrench ourselves against all comers, even the truth.

   Pastors are called to shepherd folks, and part of that shepherding is the pastoral care of people with racial opinions.  I have been thinking of how to do that, and how we can do that well.  I realize of course that even pastors like to choose sides, and sometimes it is necessary and right to do so.  I have decided to follow Jesus and therefore I am for righteousness, justice, mercy, and love.  I am against oppression, and evil, and racism.  I make no apology for that.  Yet, my weapons are not the weapons of the world, nor am I allowed to become so self-righteous in my causes that I being to mistreat people with whom I disagree, although at times that is hard.

    One pastoral issue within racial discussions is the subject of “white fragility.”  Now, there are other names for this and varying degrees of it such as…denial, defensiveness, anger, confusion, blaming the victim, creating false narratives about intents or motives, etc. The phrase is often used in a pejorative sense especially by People of Color to dismiss those white people who react negatively to various racial and justice issues.  In some circles there is little patience for white folks just coming into awareness about issues, especially when that awareness results in resistance to change or even in na├»ve celebration of their new realizations.

   When I say little patience there is slight willingness to hear people say dumb things, either as they try to learn and understand, or actually resist listening to truth.  This is where the phrase becomes pejorative, and speeches are made about how people should know better, should know by now, and allowance is not going to be made for very elementary discussions to teach these folk.

   This is exactly where pastors live, in a world of people being dumb, and saying dumb things, and doing dumb things.  It is like the world of parents who only hang on to their children because they are in fact blood relatives, otherwise they couldn’t continue to put up with such immaturity.  One can only try to imagine what it must be like for God to put up with any of us.

    Pastoral care for folks caught up in “white fragility” has to begin with a love for sinners and patience with them especially when their ignorance and racism is exposed.  It must be coupled with a determination not to excuse racism nor its buttressing of injustice, but with a willingness to begin with people where you find them.  It means answering a lot of very simple questions, hearing erroneous statements made boldly and not being intimidated by them, and gently correcting people.  Pastoral care is always about not losing the patient while trying to bring them to healing and that can usually only be done by maintaining the relationship.

    Why bother with putting up with such folks?  I like the bumper sticker I once saw that said, “we don’t make peace with our friends but with our enemies.”   Making peace is hard, and one has to be tenacious to do it.  Making peace is safer for everyone in the long run.  In a multi-ethnic society establishing allies across racial lines is essential for progress, and protection.

    Isolating ourselves and defining our “sides” and our parties while  demonizing our opponents is sort of an American political tradition.  The triumphalism of gaining ascendancy as our ethnic and ideological groups gather strength is often an illusion and very often temporary.  We reinforce ourselves in our rhetoric as we mock not simply our ideological opponents but those asking questions, even if they are sincere in their ignorance.

   White fragility is a way of thinking that sees white people as being set upon, as if gains for POC will mean less freedom for white people.  White fragility is fear because it finds the tables turned and white privilege (often assumed but not identified as such) seems at risk, socially, politically, and financially.  White fragility is anger at being made to feel guilty often before that guilt is specified and understood. We live in a blame culture and white people especially resist unspecified guilt.  When that guilt is accepted they know it will cost them something.

     No one likes to feel guilt, or accept guilt, or be blamed for things that happened long ago or about which they struggle to see a direct link to their door, or to their personal decisions.  When assailed by such blame without an understanding of how they could possibly be at fault they are like people about to be sued by someone assumed simply trying to make some money for themselves, without justice, in the legal system.  People get ready to fight back in such circumstances.

    Good pastoral care means helping people see that repentance for real guilt is actually a doorway to joy, freedom, and fellowship. Good pastoral care means helping people own up to history, and to be delivered from illusions about living in a completely merit based society with everyone beginning at the same starting line.

     Pastoral care for people working their way to racial reconciliation means seeing and hearing sinful things from people, and from people on both sides of issues.  It means loving them through it, seeking to maintain relationships, to keep the discussion going, to reducing the heat in the words and conversation, listening to the hurt, anger, and panic, and pointing people always to Christ and the Scriptures.  It means at times repenting in ourselves as pastors as we feel like giving up, or cutting some folks off, or just getting to name calling.   Lord have mercy!