Moral Contradictions

Monday, February 27, 2006

Even yet another question...

I know we are commanded not to be of the world... but I didn't read anything about not being in the world.

We need Christians in school. We need Christians as teachers and administrators. When I grew up (not that long ago) I learned "secular" knowledge at school and about Jesus and the Bible at church. I turned out okay - I think.

The more certain Christians isolate themselves, the more irrelevant they become. How do you spread the love of Christ when you build up walls?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Gay sex at work?

Apparently that's what Bob Marshall, Virginian Republican Delegate from Prince William is worried about.

Governor Tim Kaine (D) continued an order originally issued by former Governor Mark Warner (D) that state agencies cannot discriminate against gays in their jobs. Attorney General Bob McDonnell (R) believes that order is unconstitutional on legal grounds.

Okay, that's pretty straightforward... I would like to think that no matter which side you fall on we can all rationally agree that one's sexual preference doesn't determine work performance.

"First, there's been no demonstration that homosexuals, as a class, are subjected to discrimination," he [Marshall] said. "Second, I see it as a way to give legal status to sodomy and other practices homosexuals engage in." (Article)


Apparently I wrote the word "rational", and well, I was wrong. Obviously one's sexual preference will affect their job capacity as they'll be too busy having gay unprotected sex in front of children at work, causing God-fearing married couples to divorce and all of us to go to Hell.

Wow, I'm glad that Virginia has Delegate Marshall and Attorney General McDonnell watching out for us. That was a close one.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Hmm... which company to go after?...

Here's a test...

1. Congress should investigate wrongdoing by an oil company if:

A. they post record-profits after the price of oil more than doubled,
B. they had any dealings with the Abramoff scandal,
C. they gave charitable donations of heating oil to the poor in colder areas,
D. none of the above.

Um... is there an 'A and B'? No? Oh okay... A? B?..... It's C? Really? No foolin'? Huh... okay, I think I understand... yeah I do!

I'd investigate company C (Citgo) too if I was in Congress. I mean, how dare they give that oil away!! The nerve! The shame!

I'm wondering if the lack of outrage (which in turn, outrages me) is due to the fact that the same Americans who voted Bush back into office and are now giving him a sub-40 point approval rating know that they picked him and it's their fault.

Pfft... what am I thinking? It's because many of the Bush's supporters who are Christians happen to think that criticizing him is akin to criticizing God. Jeez... I should know better.

Read the article about Citgo's persecution (and subsequent free pass on the greedy companies). [hat tip RiverCity Rapids]

/head back into the sand

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Why isn't this a "moral value"?

That "liberal" sociology class in college had the effect that so many right-wingers fear - it opened my eyes to reality. The reality is in the last thirty years, the richer are getting insanely rich - and the rest are, well... not.

Some strawmen argue that everyone's getting richer once you look at the numbers. In my class three years ago, which used numbers from 2000, that was true. The bottom 1/5 overall were making more than they were in decades past, although not by much.

The top 10 percent of households saw their net worth rise by 6.1 percent to an average of $3.11 million while the bottom 25 percent suffered a decline from a net worth in which their assets equaled their liabilities in 2001 to owing $1,400 more than their total assets in 2004.

I understand how statistics can be manipulated... however with this issue, no matter how the numbers are spun, the richer are always getting richer.

"This report shows a race between factors boosting net worth such as home ownership and factors pushing the other way such as weak wage growth," said Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. "Unless we start to see better income growth from jobs and wages, it is hard to see major gains in net worth for the typical family."


The article does not mention rising health or transportation costs that impact every family. I know I'm lucky to not be with the over 90 million people who either rely on Medicaid or go without health insurance. The only reason I hesitate going to the doctor when I'm sick is not because I can't afford it - I just don't like doctors.

I would like to add that minimum wage hasn't gone up in almost 9 years. I organized a movement at the library I worked at 4 years ago to increase wages for Pages. We were ineligible for raises only because the administration considered it a privilege for us to work at the library at all. The short version is that we got the raise, we earned respect, we took even more pride in our jobs, and the library did not anywhere close to going bankrupt.

What happened to Christians standing up for the poor and for the unprivileged? Have we completely conceded God's Word for that of our increasingly big-business religious and political leaders? Millions fight for unborn babies, yet who will fight for the baby once its born at a cost of $10,000 to its parents because they don't have health insurance? Who will fight for single mothers barely making ends meet? Who will fight for families with a disabled parent who can't work for months, years... never again? What about the families who work hard - over 50 hours a week, yet get nowhere?

Yes there a lot of heart-warming stories of those who made it out of the lowest neighborhoods and situations, but what about those heart-wrenching situations where folks couldn't escape the vicious poverty cycle? They couldn't get out of their ghetto or their Appalachian town... they couldn't finish high school because they had to work... they didn't have a chance.

I often hear something like "the government shouldn't be giving out handouts.". Well, if the government is "ordained by God" and is to be used to further God's Kingdom on this earth by outlawing abortion and gay marriage etc, then there is no excuse for the church from ignoring Matthew 25. There's a reason why Jesus said it's harder for a rich man to go to heaven then a camel through the eye of a needle.

That notwithstanding, Christians should be moved and compelled to help those types of people who fall in the bottom financial categories described by the article. We should question the means and motive of the $10 billion quarterly profits of the oil companies. We should question those who ignore the part of the Bible's teaching against greed. We should question churches who ignore the surrounding community that suffers around them. We should question ourselves.

God is bigger than this government, God is bigger than this world... God doesn't need capitalism or the American government to further His Kingdom, He's gone without them longer than with. I'm not a socialist of liberal at all, I'm just calling for balance.

I'm tired of certain religious leaders ignoring key portions of the Bible that just happen to go against their personal agenda. I'm tired of this society and government being hijacked by the powerful and wealthy, running roughshod over the very people Jesus hung out with and ministered to. I'm tired of our Christian leaders turning a blind eye to these sins in order to have their pet issues addressed by Washington. I'm tired of seeing God's Word being perverted for selfish reasons while the down and out struggle day-to-day to make ends meet. I'm tired of Christians ignoring our Bible and our Lord.

God is love.... are we?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Um... double standard?

U.S. ambassador warns Iraqi leaders: keep police, army out of religious hands

I don't remember the ceremony...

...or verse in the Bible that says God ordained government.

If you're curious as well, check out Marty's post: "Stuck Between a Lie and a Corrupt Place".

Whether or not God ordained government, it doesn't mean it or it's minions are perfect. Accountability, people! That's also in the Bible.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Does the Bible listen when he speaks?

The February version of the Baptist Studies Bulletin is out, and Mr. Bruce Gourley has a very fair and well-written response to Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler's belief that deliberate childlessness is an "absolute revolt" against God.

Gourley correctly points out what my pastor did his Bible Study on tonight: 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul says that celibacy allows one to focus on serving God and is preferable to marriage. Paul gives his reasons, although one does wonder if he was a bit bitter as in his earlier days as a 'good Pharisee' he was more than likely married. One can suppose that she didn't have a similar conversion experience and thus parted ways. Anyways...

Mr. Gourley notes that Mohler quotes a psalm extolling the virtues of having children. While not disagreeing with that, both he and I have a very large problem with someone of Dr. Mohler's stature completely ignoring one part of the Bible while favoring another to justify their belief. I guess the Bible really doesn't contradict itself if you ignore the parts of which you disagree.

The best quotes are:

Mohler seems truly convinced that without the added assistance of his self-appointed theological revelations that tell the Bible what it should say, the written Word of God is weak, wimpy, defenseless, and vulnerable to the horrors of anyone (read, “liberals”) in the world reading it and daring to interpret it for himself or herself.

...

And whereas Paul argues that such persons are freer to serve God without additional family responsibilities, Mohler is adamant that in order to be found righteous in the sight of God, one must first marry and then procreate (although he is gracious enough to excuse infertile couples for not procreating).

...

At the very least, Mohler’s revelation is in the tradition of the New Testament Pharisees who substituted their opinions in the place of scripture and condemned anyone who disobeyed their proscriptions.

In the end, one cannot help but wonder: does Albert Mohler truly believe the Bible listens when he speaks?


Click the link above for the entire article and references to read Dr. Mohler's opinions. The Bible 1, Mohler 0.

The Baptist Curmedgeon

The other week I heard from a reliable source about something familiar, yet disturbing, happening at the International Mission Board (IMB) here in Richmond. First, some background:

Creed: a brief authoritative formula of religious belief. (Merriam-Webster)

From my understanding of where Baptists came from, the Bible was the one source. No longer did priests tell us what to think, we could read the Bible. Baptists were jailed and killed because they refused the authority of a bishop telling them what to believe or how to worship. The printing press nixed the idea of having the higher ups interpreting the Bible for everyone.

My wife is currently in seminary and got a 99 in two semesters of Greek. She loves it and loves translating. Through her and other seminarians, I've seen that certain verses, especially those considered controversial. I learned why they're considered controversial - because the Biblical translation can be difficult, especially some of the more controversial verses. Unfortunately that doesn't stop certain folks from using their interpretation to force their interpretation and subsequent will on others.

I did my fourth grade state report on Rhode Island, only because it's the smallest state. I was intrigued as to how it began and survived - why didn't Massachussetts or Connecticut invade? :) I learned about Roger Williams and how he was forced out of Massachussetts Bay Colony by the Puritans for not toeing the line. Some of the charges levied against him? He respected the Indians and believed that they owned the land - he believed that "the civil magistrate's powers extend only to the bodies, and goods, and outward state of men" - among other things. I was shocked that I did not learn until recently that he in fact started the first American Baptist church.

I'm auditing Dr. Sherman's Baptist Heritage class and thoroughly enjoy what I've learned. I came to like the Puritans more than I previously did (kicking Roger Williams out and that whole Salem Witch Trial charade soured my opinion) because they forged many of the principles that we take for granted. However, they assumed many of the characteristics from the Anglican church that they fought against: oppression, persecution, and arrogance - all characteristics not found in the Bible and which led to the founding of the First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island.

I grew up in a very stable Southern Baptist church that remain isolated during the hell the convention went through in the 80s and 90s - and today. Growing upI was told the great thing about Baptists was that each church was independent - free from a bishop and similar oversight, and that the concept of the priesthood of the believer pervaded - we don't have to confess our sins to someone in a little box, we go straight to God. Each church was independent and each believer was independent, as that was how we are going to stand before God when we die - by ourselves. It was further explained to me as a "big tent" - we can have differences between each other and each church, but again, we don't answer to a pope or bishop, only God, making it a little more difficult to ascertain His will.

The church exists to teach, to build up, and to encourage each of us - the pastor stands up and preaches, we compare what he says to what we know, and if it jives, he keeps his job. If not, we consult the text ourselves and try to understand what they said, and if we still don't get it, we talk to them about it, or let it go. If that keeps happening, then the pastor is invited to go quail hunting... The whole concept of "the pastor is the head of the church" rubs me the wrong way. Yes he's the leader and he carries the weight, but as I've learned in the past few years, ultimately the power is in the laity.

I remember growing up and being proud of my Southern Baptist heritage - however that started to wane when I learned that our denomination was born because of slavery, and we weren't on the right side. That in itself wasn't so bad, except that I seem to remember reading we were the only denomination not to re-join their Northern counterparts after the conclusion of the Civil War. That piqued my curiousity, but I didn't think about it until I heard about a SBC leader saying something to the effect that "slavery was misunderstood". My level of pride also went down some when I learned that my denomination was on the wrong side of civil rights. These factors led me to start questioning my place in this denomination and to start questioning those that lead it. If the SBC was born on the wrong side of an issue and stayed on that side for over 100 years, were there any other issues that they were wrong about? When they tell me to believe something and not to ask questions, why should I?

I'm also reeling from an anecdote that a close friend recently told me. He didn't name names and I haven't independently verified this, but one leader of the Southern Baptist Convention apparently mused something to the effect of "if only we had a translation of the Bible that we could control". Woah.

So when I hear about a missionary couple that had the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message sent to them, only to be ordered on a plane home 2 days later when they refused to sign, I get angry. Extremely angry. Why?

They weren't sent home because they weren't lacking in skills or didn't have a call from God. They weren't sent home after a discussion of beliefs or because they were teaching heretical thought - they were sent home because they wouldn't sign a creed. Who knows, they could have agreed with what that piece of paper said, but they may believe as I believe, and as the American Baptist church was founded, that the Bible is the sole Word and that each believer through the Holy Spirit could discern its meaning. They could have agreed that we as Baptists do need to have some sort of common ground, such as the 1963 Baptist Faith & Message, yet if there was a disagreement that was okay, because we have a big tent. Or they could have understood that some of the phrases in the BF&M are based on verses where the Greek isn't clear, or at least where a rational person can come up with multiple meanings, and disagreed with the interpretation. Again, the 1963 version allowed for that.

Did they even have time to pack? The have a sense of closure? Where does the concept of grace, mercy, and compassion come into this situation? Do these actions compare more with what Pharisees did or what Jesus did?

Look at political parties. Over 100 million Americans voted in the 2004 election for only two parties. Did each voter agree with every single plank of their chosen party and their candidate? No, of course not. If either party came out and said "in order to be considered a Republican or Democrat, you must sign that you agree with every single issue", their party would considerably shrink.

That's what's happening - the SBC is losing good people, not just "liberals" but good and decent people called by the Lord to do His work. Our heritage comes straight from the belief that the Bible is the one written source of which we base our faith, and the priesthood of the believer allows us to read it and interpret it for ourselves - not a bishop or a pope, but us.

I'm also of the belief that arrogance has no - I repeat - no place in our faith. None. Jesus washed His disciples feet - we must be prepared to act in a similar manner. Denying our heritage by imposing your will and interpretation without any discussion at all smacks every historically aware Baptist in the face.

Dr. Sherman told a story last night where he sat down with a Catholic bishop 35 years ago and was asked "how do you deal with laypersons?". He chuckled because he told him that Baptists and other Protestants worked that question out 300 years ago. The leadership of the Catholic Church was starting to have their authority questioned, and they figured that short of an outright rebellion or split, they had to bend and start working with their congregations. Their word was no longer final and they had to adapt. Fast forward to 1990 or so where Dr. Sherman was in an ecumenical conference in which a few Catholic priests attended. They reported that they had to work with laity all the time. Welcome to the club.

So when I hear such statements as "the pastor is the ruler of the church" or "sign this or your out" or "we need a translation we can control", I get very upset. I'm also saddened to - this whole Wade Burleson incident shows that a contingent of the SBC is still out for blood. How many times can you cleave sections of your denomination before you run out of people?

You may not agree with me on some or all of this, but again, I cling to the Baptist notion of priesthood of the believer - this is how I was raised and taught and this is why I think the way I do. You cannot speak for or against me with God when I stand before Him one day, only I. I chafe when folks start assuming the duties of the Holy Spirit and start speaking for God, and I feel my reaction is fair and just.

You can call me a liberal or a heretic, although neither are true - I am a traditionalist, I am a perserver, I am a Baptist.

UPDATE: Just stumbled across a link via Mainstream Baptists that deals specifically with SBC missionaries forced to resign because they refused to allow the BF&M be used as a tool to force them to conform. I haven't gone through it all but I bookmarked it and will very soon.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Excuses excuses...

Yeah yeah I said I would have a post concerning a piece of news that extremely bothers me up today - however, a couple of church related activities went longer than planned. Valentine's Day and Dr. Sherman's class also interuppted.

Here's an example of what I've been working on: (http://ebeacon.hbchanover.org)


Our church only has a monthly bulletin and weekly announcements are printed in the bulletin, so this e-newsletter will be emailed to folks who already receive the weekly prayer list. Additionally, copies will be handed out at Wednesday Night Dinner and at the prayer meeting for those who are technologically disadvantaged.

The purpose of this is to make sure everyone knows what's going on and making sure the church at large is on the same page. Or, a slightly negative view would be to decrease the number of excuses people can make in not showing up, as there's a bit of a 'committment problem'. Or, as the pastor says, some folks just forget we meet on Sundays.

So yeah, e-newsletter. Woo. Here's to hoping that this takes.

I'll start typing out that post now so I can have it up by tomorrow. I admit I'm loathe to begin as it's easier to bottle those emotions and frustrations up and not have to deal with them.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A genuine question...

...although in this day and age anyone asking the following is immediately flogged by a squad of fundamentalist midgets bent on sock stealing and world domination. Oh yeah, and labeled as either a liberal and/or heretic. I personally would rather be flogged.

Okay, enough crack. Yahoo!'s most popular article today is by Rob Borsellino titled "What has happened to America's Jesus?" Wow. First and foremost I would like to point out that we live in a 'God Bless America' country, yet it should be 'God Bless the World'. God doesn't have a dog in the Olympics.

The writer travels to visit family in Italy and sees a very different Jesus than he's used to. He contemplates what the 'American Jesus' has turned into and thinks of ways to explain Him to his folks. The full article is great, but here's the gist:

I remember when Jesus Christ was about religion.

That goes back to when he was caring and compassionate all the time, not just during the political campaign season.

He used to bring people together and give them hope. He wouldn't have his people get in your face and tell you to fight gay rights or you'll burn in hell. That's not what he was about. That's not the Jesus who made folks such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson rich and famous. He was a different guy from the 21st-century American Jesus Christ.

...

They say Jesus is "pro life," but he doesn't seem to have a problem with the death penalty. And he thinks stem cell research - something that would save lives - is no different from murdering babies. They say he's the embodiment of kindness, love, decency and compassion. But he hates gays, lesbians and Muslims. And he's not too crazy about Buddhists, Hindus and the rest. Jews? He can put up with them if he has to.

...

All week I went over that stuff in my head and decided not to mention any of it to the family.

It would make America look ridiculous.

Sometimes we need to get our heads out of our butts and humble ourselves before the Cross.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

grrr

Have you ever heard or read something that made you so angry that you wanted to comment on it, yet felt that whatever you wrote wouldn't justify just how wrong it is?

Whether you have or not, look for something in a few days once I fully and rationally chew this particular instance over in my head - right now I'm afraid the raw emotion I'm feeling would hurt the message I would want to get out instead of help it.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The wide gate of the narrow path

I must recommend the Super Bowl Theology post over at Streak's Blog:

Selling something, promising celebrity, and the promise of door prized free things to get people inside the door. Christian faith just another consumer item to be packaged, marketed, sold, and consumed.

Folks, we as Christians must recognize that advertisers and entreprenuers target our collective faith as a profitable market. Companies and movie studios realize that if they make products that appeal to us, there's a good chance we'll give them our money. We must be skeptical of the motive behind products and services offered to us... is it truly to advance God's Kingdom, or is it because someone's just trying to make a buck?

Lately I've observed a situation where some don't understand what church is truly about. Somehow they were denied the definition of what being a Christian really means. Everyone involved is suffering by the lack of accountability present. "Christianity Lite" may be good to get people to church, but once there, they need to be taught exactly what that means - what it means to walk daily with the Lord, what it means to serve and love one another, what it means to grow as a fellowship.

Powerful people "use" us for personal and political gain (*cough cough* Jack Abramoff *cough* Ralph Reed) and the church must honestly examine the consequences of these actions.

Jesus said the path would be narrow - there's nothing wrong with widening and advertising the gate to that path. What I do have a problem with is the church and fellow Christians failing to equip and instruct those with the knowledge of what "narrow" means. Masking the journey for the sake of counting heads inside the gate completely goes against Biblical teaching and sabotages the call of the church.

Baptism is only the beginning, yet too many treat that as the end.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Who's your general?

After reading Max Blumenthal's article Abramoff's Evangelical Soldiers, I am more convinced that politics and Christians don't mix. For some of those who disagree, as I'm not entirely persuaded of this (ie 'more convinced') I'll hedge and say 'they don't mix well'.

Do I believe Christians need to be in government? Yes, of course. Do I believe that Christianity needs to be a force in our society? Yes, of course. Where I differ is not over what needs to happen, but how it needs to happen. Look at the SBC's fundamentalist takeover: I would respect the goals of the so-called conservative resurgence more if the process had occured in good faith and had not been so focused on the end result. However, many wounds still exist on both sides because inevitably politics got involved. What started as a noble call turned into a power struggle, causing many to lose sight of what we're here on this earth to accomplish. You can't just ask "how many left the convention?" but rather "how many left the church altogether?" How is that Christ-like?

So if what this article says is true (many sources have verified Ralph Reed's involvement), how are the "solider's" actions justified in Christ? The Jesus I've read about in the Bible lived under both a powerful and imperial Roman government and a local religious government focused on enforcing very strict and stifling rules. Jesus didn't petition the Pharisees or rustle up support to speak out against these rules or other issues in a town hall-like meeting. He didn't travel to the Roman Senate as a lobbyist for God. Nor did Jesus form a political action committee or appear on television to speak out against the moral sins of the day (okay, maybe sponsoring wine jugs or a 10 shekel a plate dinner could be imagined as an appropriate contempory example). All (bad) jokes aside...

He served. He washed others' feet. He healed. He listened. He cared. He taught. He explained how to pray, how to love, how to forgive, and how to extend grace and mercy. These teachings came directly from God, as He is God. The Holy Spirit can be trickier to hear, but he was very clear in his use of repetition of the above actions and concepts. Overall He set an example of how to live life in the fullest for God.

Just as the Jews were misguided in thinking that their Messiah would come in the form of a triumphant King ready to smite the evil Romans, why is so much faith placed in our government? The politicians nestled in the District of Columbia are not going to save this country, no matter how many moral laws they pass. We were called to follow Jesus and his example - that's not the government's responsibility. Moral reform must start in the church and be carried out through the church. By passing the buck and punting the Church's responsibilities to the government, we are setting aside the model started by Christ and explained by Paul of the Church's duties and calling. Call me strange, but that doesn't sit well with me.

Look at the raging success of Prohibition in the early part of last century - they didn't just pass a law, the passed an amendment. Just to show how hard it is to pass an amendment, the last one was ratified in 1992 (originally proposed in 1789) and the one before that was last ratified in 1971. Prohibition was pushed by that era's religious conservatives out of concern for the family life of our country. Their intentions were excellent; the execution, however, was lacking.

Or, for instance, think about the number of divorces occuring in our country. Where was the Christian Right, heck any Christians, when Britney Spears had her little 80-odd hour marriage? What example did that set for today's youth culture? Likewise, a debate about gay marriage should include an honest look at the Church's role in the overall state of marriage. There's bigger fish to fry, yet we've got our boat in the wrong pond, and until we make some changes we'll continue to be perceived as mere hypocrites.

Some folks linked off this blog are concerned about certain churches who overtly stretch the First Amendment and campaign for politicians outright, or hold voting drives, etc. My biggest concern is not that of separation of church and state, but rather our call and mission are overshadowed by the time, energy, and resources invested in pursuing moral beliefs through political means.

We must ensure that we are not making the same mistakes made over eighty years ago. On the same token, we cannot ignore the effect Jesus had on this planet by simply serving people for a mere three years.

When we as Christians allow ourselves to be agents of evil in the name of good, unwittingly or not, we are just as guilty as the instigators. If we want to consider ourselves soldiers for Christ (my jury is still out on that term) then we need to remember who we take orders from.