Moral Contradictions

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Words we need to hear

Via Raw Story comes an article in Sunday's New York Times by Laurie Goodstein called "Disowning Conservative Politics Is Costly for an Evangelical Pastor".

The Rev. Gregory Boyd of St Paul, Minnesota's Woodland Hills Church lost 1,000 of his 5,000 members because he had the audacity to preach that the "church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.".

This is a topic for another post, but I wonder if Christians fixation on others' sins such as abortion and homosexuality is merely a distraction from more personal sins such as adultery, gluttony, and idolatry. That whole eye/plank thing.

“More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right,” Mr. McLaren said. “You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people.

“Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’ ”


“America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

“I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.”


Mary Van Sickle, the family pastor at Woodland Hills, said she lost 20 volunteers who had been the backbone of the church’s Sunday school.

“They said, ‘You’re not doing what the church is supposed to be doing, which is supporting the Republican way,’ ” she said. “It was some of my best volunteers.”

Folks - like it or not, America is not mentioned in the Bible. You can twist and contort Scripture however you want, but if you are serious about reading the Bible in a literal way, the literal text does not include mentions of our country, democracy, capitalism, or the Republican party.

But Nathan, homosexuality, abortion, and terrorism are the biggest threats towards America! Are you saying these aren't important?

No. Those are issues that Christians must engage - however, they must be derived from a full (not selected) Biblical stance, and definitely not from a political party's talking points.

There are many other issues that affect families of which our country needs a full Biblical perspective. Some off the top of my head are minimum wage, poverty, lack of health care, divorce, materialism, and business ethics.

But Nathan, you sound like a Democrat.

Well, I'm not one. I'm also not a Republican. However those issues along with the abortion/homosexuality/war issues need to be balanced. I sound like a Democrat because the Christians that currently dominate the Republican party are ignoring the parts of the Bible that other Christians feel are important. If national discourse swings too far to the left, I'll be accused of sounding like a Republican.

The church is not supposed to be supporting the Republican way. The church was created by God, for God. Period. The GOP does not have all the answers, and is fallible. It is not holy nor is it ordained. The GOP serves itself. The church serves God through worshipping him and educating believers how to follow Him and His word. God is eternal - His church will be around long after America is gone.

I refuse to be a part of a voting bloc like "soccer moms" or "Nascar dads". I will not be taken advantage of for political or corporate gain. We are not called for this type of shallow faith - we are called to be something greater than we are, and that means cultural and natural instincts must be re-examined.

I'm a Christian first, and an American second. Both are important to me, but in order for us to effectively have a voice in our country, we must give equal importance to all of Scripture, and must not let politics compromise our beliefs nor give undue importance to some issues over others.

I don't envy Christian politicians - how do you not compromise the integrity of God's word when the Speaker asks for support of a bill you strongly dislike and in return, promises support for a bill very near and dear to your heart? Politics is about compromise, and I don't want to be in that situation on a daily basis. That's why I don't see myself ever running for office.

I love our country. I love the fact that we can worship freely without retribution, and I will fight for others' right to do that. You cannot force God's love in someone's heart - conversely you turn them away from Him. The greatest religious movements in this country occured via the Holy Spirit through revival meetings. The Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening did not happen because of any laws passed, but because of faithful believers seeking the face of God.

As Rev. Boyd said, our country was not formed as a theocracy on purpose - the folks that came fled theocracies because they're inherently bloody and full of vengeance. See present day Iran, Afghanistan, or even the Inquisition. Heck, read about Baptists in colonial Virginia and ask them how they feel about state-supported religious coercion. The mixture of politics and our faith cannot be taken lightly.

Remember, when we die, we must account to God - not the President.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Business as usual

If you walked into the church business meeting last night, you wouldn't realize that the church is in crisis. Observant members know, but are afraid to say anything. As long as the pastor doesn't recognize and direct the church toward solutions, everything's peachy.

What's that saying about a frog in a frying pan?

The bottom is not close - the free fall has just begun, and the landing won't be pretty. Only one person has the ability to work the brakes, but his reality convinces him that this isn't so bad.

Meanwhile, Kristen and I met with the pastor of the church we want to start attending next month. We visited for a few Sundays before this "adventure", and absolutely loved it. The church once boasted the largest Sunday School on the Eastern Seaboard, but nearly closed years after consciously deciding to stay put downtown while 'white flight' took surrounding churches to the suburbs.

We were refreshed to hear a pastor speak of his church with passion and love - he knew what was going on, what would happen in the future, what they desired to see, and who they are. The church has a vision and is actively working toward it. The church was once on the brink of closing, yet has rediscovered it's mission and purpose to its community.

Our senses of justice and mercy will be stimulated as the congregation ranges from the almost-homeless to the fabuously wealthy. A different missions emphasis is presented each month through Sunday services, mission projects, and other venues such as movies or discussions concerning the topic. This month is the horrors going on in Sudan, and the church is helping refugees who have made their way to Richmond.

Much-needed healing will occur through simply just being - by being able to sit next together in the pew, through singing the hymns and studying the Bible without worrying about others' worship experiences. Heck, we'll get to worship. More healing will occur as our involvement, talents, and passions are encouraged and welcomed.

We'll be able to connect with folks our age and in similar stages of life. A young-adult study led by the pastor is held every Monday, and we're going next week. In five Sundays we can attend a worship service together - simply as participants. We'll grow. We'll serve. We'll love and be loved. We'll constantly be reminded we're a part of something bigger than us. We'll understand it's not about us.

It's about Him and Him only. Hallelujah.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Why haven't we stopped torturing prisoners?

Oh yeah, the Administration is still bent on using it, despite the fact that it's morally reprehensible and is indistinguishable from the tactics our enemies use. Silly ol' me.

But first, I have a question. If human-rights reports of the horrid conditions at Guantanamo Bay cannot be trusted because the prisoners are taught to lie and exaggerate abuse...

...then why do we still insist of torturing prisoners in hopes of extracting information?

If the prison camp is such a humane place, then why didn't the US allow the UN un-restricted access to check for basic humane conditions? Why?

Because we have something to hide - something that would embarrass us - something your everyday American would be ashamed of. I have not heard of a good reason why I should not assume that.

How again does this all fit within a Biblical and Christian world-view? Oh yeah... you have to ignore certain parts of Scripture to justify our disgraceful, reprehensible, and immoral actions.

So much for the whole 'Turn the other cheek/For God so loved the world' bit. Guess interpreting the Bible through Jesus' words is only applicable when vengeful Old Testament verses cannot be cherry-picked to justify our actions.

Do we need to lock these guys up? Yes. Do we need to torture them? No. Do we need to treat them as human beings? Yes. Do they want to kill us? Yes. Am I angry at them for that? Yes. Does it make me sleep better at night knowing that my tax dollars are going to torture people in the name of national security despite Biblical teachings that allude to the fact that we should accord even our vilest enemies basic human rights? Guess.

Does that make me a wingnut liberal who hates our country, uses strawmen, and doesn't believe the Bible?


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Back to church day - too late?

I cannot go into much detail right now, but I'm wondering if Back to Church Day, scheduled for August 27th, may be too late. Every week more news comes which works against the whole point of the whole effort.

Will these folks ever get it? Before it's too late?

Who said faith gave us all the answers? I think faith is trusting that we may never know all the answers, but only God does - we are to pray that we remain humble and in His will so that we can be an effective instrument, no matter what happens.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Consistency... or lack thereof

Reading some articles, comments, and other writings about the SBC and the folks within it, I wanted to get a few things straight as I walk through my journey of faith and learning:

1. Slavery was culturally accepted in Biblical times and accepted in the Bible, but not accepted now.

2. Drinking alcohol in the Bible was culturally accepted, but not accepted now.

3. The subordination of women in the Bible was culturally accepted, but not accepted now... er, wait...

But Nathan, back then water wasn't fit for drinking, so they had to drink alcohol, and now we have clean water so we are to stay away from it. The cultural context has changed.

Then I submit to you back then women didn't have any rights and thus expected to be subordinate, but now they do have rights and hold positions of equality. The cultural context has changed.

1 Timothy 2:12 is the most oft-cited verse for contemporary "Biblical" subordination. As a lay person, if this verse holds water, then why aren't we following verse 9 and requiring women to not braid their hair or wear expensive clothes? The cultural context has changed.

Does this endanger Biblical authority? No. What then does endanger Biblical authority? Only following the parts of it with which we agree and conveniently ignoring the parts with which we don't. Additionally, calling folks who ask these questions "liberals" or accusing them of not believing the Bible helps no one.

Biblical consistency under the realms of Biblical authority that the average lay person can understand is a worthy goal, and one of which I'm striving towards. We must approach these questions with a Biblical view, and then carefully and consistently apply a cultural context - not the other way around.

If the SBC cannot easily and simply say why they throw out slavery and alcohol to the world and everyday believers, yet cling to the subordination of women, then charges of inconsistency will continue to be levelled as they conduct witchhunts and rumor campaigns against people that hold Biblical views as opposed to cultural views.

Dr. Bugg

I just noticed that Dr. Bugg is stepping down as Dean of the M. Christopher White Divinity School at Gardner-Webb University.

Right after I discerned my call and realized that seminary was in the future, Kristen and I visited her grandfather in Shelby, NC, just up the road from GWU. Events played out and the next thing I knew we had a nice 10 minute chat. Since he came from BTSR we had a chat about Richmond and all that, but what struck me was just how nice and gentle he is. Him alone just about sold me on the school!

One reason I didn't choose to go there was the coming firestorm in the North Carolina Baptist state convention. I have no desire to witness witch-hunts and the lies and deception that come with overtaking institutions. Kinda distracts our whole purpose now, doesn't it?

Lying and Dr. Page

Supporters of SBC President Dr. Frank Page are aghast that attacks from within are being launched against the newly elected President.

Should this surprise them? No.

The dirty and underhanded tactics that Benjamin Cole has written about and that are surfacing now are the same type of attacks that made the "Conservative Resurgence" possible.

It was never about theology or inerrancy - many good folks were hurt or had their lives destroyed through these tactics. The amount of carnage done in the name of "truth" smacks of arrogance and indifference to fellow Christian brothers.

Yet "truth" wasn't the reason - it was control. Deception, character attacks, outright lies, slander, and plain ol' dishonesty were the means for their ends of "truth".

Now, it's still all about control. Before these tactics were employed to rid the convention of "liberals", but now they're used to maintain control.

Yes, the folks that left and formed the CBF did contain some liberals, but many of the moderates and even conservatives that left chafed at the notion that their beloved Convention could be flipped on its head. Adrian Rogers was offered with a plan where the fundamentalists could control 3 of the 6 seminaries, but he denied it because that's not what their goal was. They wanted it all, and they got it all.

Can you blame traditional Baptists for leaving? Are you getting a sense of what they had to put up with? Baseless attacks that were simply not true, or blown out of proportion if it served their needs, were used to rally the "troops" under the guise of "saving the Bible".

How many local churches and other lives have been uprooted and displaced because of these non-Christian tactics?

One day the SBC will reap what is has sown - some of the seeds are already breaking ground, and maybe then the folks that accepted illicit means for a doctrinal end will wake up.

Friday, July 21, 2006

That durn liberal media

Scratch that - the subject line should read that durn liberal CIA.

Seems like all the bad news from Iraq isn't coming just from the media, but the CIA. Apparently if you ignore a situation, or try to distract and prevent others from analyzing it, then maybe it'll just magically disappear.

Not so, in my experience. Although President Bush seems to believe that you don't look at the facts, they really aren't facts.

Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte is preventing a thorough examination by intelligence analysts of the civil war in Iraq, RAW STORY has learned.

A report at Washington Babylon, the blog of Harper's Magazine's Washington Editor Ken Silverstein, indicates that Iraq analysts at the CIA have been pushing to complete a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the political situation in the country. NIE's are the most authoritative intelligence documents produced by the CIA, and the last NIE on Iraq was rejected by the Bush administration for being too negative.

But since the calls to analyze the Iraq conflict have emerged, Silverstein reports, Negroponte has tamped them down. One of Silverstein's sources explained that Negroponte didn't want President George W. Bush to be confronted with a pessimistic assessment of the war in Iraq.

So - the intelligence Mr. Bush used to send us to war has since proved faulty, at best; he smeared Joseph Wilson for not coming back with the "correct" intelligence, and now he refuses yet again to respond to intelligence.

I'm all for positive thinking - yes I know you cannot get bogged down in the day to day grind as you quickly lose sight of your goal. However - something that was supposed to "liberate" the Iraqis has killed over 50,000 of them. Even the casual observer can look at the newspaper over the course of the last six months and read about the daily bombings there.

President Bush, please, at the very least, acknowledge that things aren't going that well. please listen to what your CIA is saying, as opposed to what you want them to say.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Seminary presidents and websites

Inspired by a comment by Dr. Bruce Prescott over at Mainstream Baptist, I decided to visit Southern Baptist Seminary's website and look at the gender ratio of the faculty. I couldn't help but notice the link "President Mohler" on the front page.

I then got sidetracked and looked at Southwestern Baptist Seminary's website, and in an even more prominent spot was "President Patterson". Both links contain self-serving links, but no welcome to the website or to their respective seminary.

Mohler's page links to his full bio, personal website, radio show, commentary, writings, sermons and speeches, and even "Media Photos". Media photos?

Patterson's page links to a long bio, then an article from his inauguration, his academic bio, and then an article "SBC Leaders on Patterson". Disappointed that I didn't get to see Dr. Richard Land standing on his back, I realized this is an attempt to compliment onesself via a respected proxy. Nice touch.

Why do I gag at this self-serving patting on the back? Because it's not about us.

Do you understand what I'm saying? It's not about us. It's about Jesus Christ. Don't they get it?

Growing up, I first realized that some Christians just didn't get it when a new church was built on the road we took to church. The pastor was run out of another nearby church for cheating on his wife. He was caught and they got a divorce. He then married his mistress and bought her a new mustang and house just one block away from where I grew up. His actions ripped that church asunder and he took a sizeable chunk with him and started this new church.

In the steeple column, above the front door and just below the steeple, a huge dark window was placed. The church was deeper than wide, and this was the only visible window from the road. Both me and my music minister often wondered what it was, as we both drove by it to church. It took a few months to realize that this was the pastor's study. Once my minister told me, we both looked at each dumbfounded and shook our head. The pastor didn't get it.

Think about that. One thing I've learned through my wife's education is that everything you do in church has a theological background. Everything - from where the pulpit is placed to when and how communion is served, and beyond. This includes where the pastor's study is. What am I supposed to think when I pull up and walk under the pastor's study that sits below the steeple to get inside? Does this mean that he's between me and God?

I also will never forget seeing an old beatup car - and when I say "old" and "beatup", we're talking it's one rock away from a trip to Car Heaven. I saw it three times in Fredericksburg, Va, and the part I won't forget is the message scrawled in spraypaint on the back: "I am humble". Kinda defeats the whole purpose, doesn't it?

Thus I launched a quick survey of how various Baptist seminary websites introduced their President or Dean, and how easy it was to find the Faculty & Staff (F/S) page. Note the word "quick", as if I was a potential seminary student looking for information about the faculty. I'll save the gender disparity for another time.

First, Southern Baptist Convention schools:

Southern - "President Mohler" clickable on homepage, see above for more. Strictly biographical. No welcome letter. Difficult to locate F/S page, and even then it's just email addresses.

Southwestern - "President Patterson" clickable on homepage, see above for more. Strictly biographical. No welcome letter. F/S farther down.

Southeastern - Under Who We Are after clicking Prospective Students, there's a link to President Akin's welcome (although I'm not sure who he's welcoming). F/S harder to find, which was finally found under Quick Links.

Golden Gate - F/S easy to find under Academics. President found under there, plus President's Letter under "Welcome".

Midwestern - Faculty & Staff a small link midway down. Under "About" there is a Welcome from the President and an about the President page.

New Orleans - "From the President" on the homepage, which I expected to be a welcome 'from the president', but is actually about the president. Faculty listing right off the home page with "Faculty".

Non-SBC schools:

BTSR - F/S on home page, with bios and pics. President not found until you look at his bio in F/S. No Welcome letter.

McAfee - "Faculty" on homepage, and the Dean has a welcome letter.

M. Christopher White - Welcome from the Dean, "Faculty" with bio links.

Campbell - Greetings from the dean, "Faculty" under Academics

Truett - Under Academics, Words from the Dean and Faculty link.

Logsdon - Future Students --> Greetings from the Dean, F/S under About Logsdon

Wake Forest - "Meet the Faculty" - Dean listed there, much like BTSR. Dean's message under History.

North American - nothing on front page, found after clicking Academics, then "Our Faculty", President listed first. No welcome letter.

Central - About Central --> President's message. Links from that page to Dr. Marshall's work.

The unofficial results: Three out of six SBC schools replaced a welcome letter with a "our President is great and awesome!". The other three had welcome letters, although Dr. Akin's at Southeastern doesn't seem to target prospective studeints.

Three out of nine non-SBC schools did not have a welcome letter, nor highlighted the dean or president in any special way, choosing to list them among the faculty. Central's president had 'self-serving' links off her page, but unlike Southern, Southwestern, and New Orleans, it is framed in a "message/letter" format. The rest had welcome letters, and more information about the president or dean could be learned from their faculty listing.

You have every right to disagree with me, but for at least Dr. Mohler and Dr. Patterson, the President's office seems merely as a feather in the cap - a "yay for me, yay for the school for having me" deal. New Orleans president's page reads the same way.

I was just recently a prospective student, and with that view in mind, the differences are stark. A welcome letter says "thank you for taking a look at the school, we hope and pray you like it, we'd love to work with you in your calling" etc. What good does media photos do for a prospective student? I'm not interested in the accolades of the president - that won't draw me to a school. Maybe I'm different and there are folks who go to a particular school because of the president. I'm more interested in what the school has to offer and the overall purpose and strength of the seminary. The very least these presidents could do is offer a welcome to prospective students and give a word of support for their institution. Do they exist for the school, or does the school exist for them? I'm not sure after seeing those sites.

Again, you may not agree with my characterizations, but as someone who just recently scoured websites in preparation to go to seminary, something struck me as odd about those three particular schools.

Arrogance. Self-promoting. President X on the front page. Pastor's office below the steeple and above the front door. Everything you do makes a theological statement.

We are here to humbly give glory to God - seminaries exist to train up Godly men and women to lead others to Him through churches and other ministries. We are not here to promote one another, or check off a box on the resume, or boast about how many countries they've visited or their hobbies. We're not here to distract others away from God or His will. We are here to serve God.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. - James 4:10

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. - Psalms 25:9

I struggle daily with this trying to act in a humble way, and that's part of why I rail against those who are entrusted with Christian leadership yet put themselves ahead of their calling. It's not about us - it's about Him.

Eat your cake

Let me get this straight - for marriage, the argument that the majority of Americans want gay marriage banned is used to rail against "judicial activism" and other efforts to block that ban...

...yet, over 70% of Americans support stem-cell research, but the President used his first ever veto to block it?

How convienent. Claim the majority's will for an issue that they agree with you on, but ignore the majority on another issue - on something that saves lives.

Mr. Bush, thanks for taking the high and democratic, wait. Apparently the American people know what they're talking about in regards to gay marriage, but need a lecture about stem cells.

You can't have it both ways.

Play it straight

One of the lessons I'll learn in Dr. Cecil Sherman's "Life of a Pastor" class next spring is to play it straight. A pastor should love his people, be honest, and admit mistakes. Congregations will forgive mistakes, but they won't forgive lies and deception.

Obviously a pastor is different from President, but they're both leaders. The last two Administrations have had difficulty playing it straight - if Bill Clinton had simply admitted what he did was wrong, the country would've moved on. Yes, it would've been messy, but his dishonesty only dragged the country deeper into the mud.

President Bush's 37-some-odd reasons why we had to invade Iraq along with 1984-ish programs that dive into the unconstitutional realm are less than forth-coming, not to mention several other instances where a little more truth could've gone a long way and not jeopardized the President's efforts.

Under the leadership of folks like David Addington and Alberto Gonzales, the Administration is playing the end game, yet morality, conscience, and the Constitution seem to get in the way.

In regards to detainee rights, or lack thereof, according to last week's Newseek article titled "The Gitmo Fallout", the White House wanted to "'find the legal equivalent of outer space' - a "'lawless' universe". The executive branch was looking "to create a system where detainees would have no legal rights and U.S. courts would have no power to intervene."

I don't know about you, but when I sat down and read that article, as a patriotic American who happens to appreciate the separation of powers our forefathers worked so hard to establish, I just about spit out my Mountain Dew.

The beauty of our Constitution is that everyone is supposed to follow it - only then can it work. If our leader says "I had to ignore it in order to defend it", what good is it?

Look - do what you have to do to protect us yet can't reveal what you're doing, but do it in a legal way. Is that so hard to ask? The FISA court was created for this purpose, and if that didn't work, petition Congress for a new law. Heck, you convinced everybody to go to war in Iraq, you can probably get a new law passed pretty easily.

I guffawed, and then cringed, when I watched the exchange between Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Alberto Gonzales over at Crooks and Liars. Feinstein caught Gonzales in a bind, because this President claims nearly absolute war powers, allowing him, in his mind, extra-Constitutional powers. Only, Gonzales is forced to admit that the Authorization for Military Force does not carry the full Constitutional weight of a declaration of war.

How convenient - President Bush declares our country is at war and that affords him nearly unlimited war powers, yet technically Congress hasn't declared war, so he is not bound by provisions in laws as FISA that specifically say 'when war is declared'. How clever - and how unethical.

I'm not comfortable with any Administration intentially seeking 'legal outer-space' to pursue its goals unchecked and without oversight by anyone. Does that make me a liberal?

Flip the coin. President Gore or President Kerry's head would be skewered on a stick for extra-legal maneuverings such as this.

Oh, right. President Bush talks to God, so we automatically give him a pass.


Play it straight - you can't have it both ways. Defend the Constitution, defend us, but don't compromise our governmental system and then claim to defend it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Ralph Reed loses

Things don't look good for Mr. Reed's chances in winning the Republican nomination to run for Lt. Governor in Georgia.

With 65% of precincts reporting, Reed trails Casey Cagle by about 26,000 votes, or about 11 points. At 9:55pm, he conceded with: "Tonight my candidacy for lieutenant governor comes to an end,".

What was once considered a shoo-in and possibly golden ticket to a 202 area code at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. has turned into a double-digit loss.

Mixing politics and religion is very, very tricky, and is only for those of high, ethical standards. I think ethics won today.

Changing hearts

Part of the reason I blog here is to help myself clarify my opinions and boil them down to something I can remember should I need to pull them up quick. In other words, I'm learning about myself.

Inspired by comments over at Michael the Leveller's blog, I discovered a powerful yet concise way to convey my thoughts on the power of the church and government.

Government has the power to restrain evil, but only the church can change hearts. God gave us the Holy Spirit and Church to change hearts, as that naturally restrains evil. Thus, as Christians, if the same amount of money and effort that is poured into political campaigns were diverted to local missions and evangelism, perhaps we would be able to realize the full and awesome power of the Holy Spirit and Church to affect society. Changing hearts invokes willing spirits, while coercion is the government's tool for restraining evil.

Okay, I'm not sure if that made sense, but it seemed profound at the time. God didn't give us the government - let's start using what He did give us.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Holding Christians accountable

We need more Christians to run for office. I whole-heartedly agree with that. I also know and understand that all Christians are sinners.

I have problems with Christians running for office who compromise their beliefs and our common faith for political gain. Just as I cringe when a non-Christian politician quotes Bible verses to play to those of faith for political gain, I cringe when Christian politicians engage in shady backroom maneuverings for political gain.

The GOP primary in Georgia is tomorrow, and Ralph Reed will find out if he will be the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor. Questions have dogged him about his dealings with Jack Abramoff and the millions he gained.

The facts are damning, and have been widely reported. In fairness, the following questions must be asked:

- In 1999, why did Ralph Reed first work against gambling legislation in Alabama (which benefited the Mississippi Choctaw tribe's casinos) only to work for legalizing internet gambling on eLottery, Inc.'s case in 2000 (which James Dobson and the Moral Majority opposed), and then back to killing gambling legislation in 2001 which benefitted the Louisiana Coushetta tribe's casino?

- Why did Abramoff turn to Ralph Reed to "bring out the wackos" to help kill the anti-gambling bills?

- Why was Ralph Reed paid through shell organizations, when in the eLottery, Inc. case, Reed's "teammate" the Rev. Louis Sheldon was paid directly?

- Why did Ralph Reed knowingly get paid from organizations he knew did not exist, directed money to those organizations, and why was he so loathe to receive money directly from casino and lottery operators?

- Why has Ralph Reed only provided a token defense, which has done nothing to dismiss these questions or any other ones that I have missed?

The Rev. Billy Graham famously will not close a door when only he and someone from the opposite gender are in the same room. Why? So no one can legitimately accuse him of impropriety and thus jeopardize his ministry and witness.

Is it scandalous of me to ask that Christian politicians act in such a manner? Does this make me stark-raving mad to ask that we as Christians hold each other accountable? Is that just too much?

I believe we need more Christian politicians, yet they must be of the upmost character as the temptations inherent in those positions can imperil our common faith. The higher the standard one claims, the more scrutiny they invite, and the farther they have to fall.

I refuse to be a "wacko" that does the bidding of a politician simply because he claims to be a Christian, yet does not live as one. I have a fundamental and constitutional right to hold politicians accountable, and a further right to hold those that claim to be Christian to the most important standard, the Bible.

We'd all be better off if folks stopped claiming Christian culture and started living out their Christian faith, especially those aspiring to lead our country.


Previous posts:
Walking in the light
This guy's still running?
Concise summary of Reed's misdeeds
Ralph Reed lied
Who's your general?
Ralph Reed and Jack Abramoff
Righteously cast out?
Fundie Watch: Ralph Reed

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Walking in the light

I grew up learning that as Christians we were to not only be the light, but walk in the light. Our lives were supposed to reflect the love of Jesus.

Sounds pretty simple - hard to live up to? Yes. I'll be the first to admit that it's quite difficult at times. Suppressing carnal instincts, such as expressing choice words for the folks I encounter on I-95, is so tempting, yet we are called to overcome those temptations.

Temptation of money can be difficult too - but still, we need to walk in the light.

Ralph Reed not granting interviews or allowing for even casual encounters with the press smacks of "what is he hiding?". Only everyone knows what's in his dark corner, and are looking for a light to reveal related details.

Honestly - if his boyish good-looks and his Christian Right connections weren't in his favor, the only place in public life he'd occupy would be one of disgrace.

Mr. Reed - for not only Georgia's sake, but for that of all Christians who struggle daily to walk in the light, please step out of the darkness and tell the truth about your dealings with Jack Abramoff, among other dealings. Please honestly tell us that you are not manipulating our common faith for personal gain. To accomplish any of that in the light is simply amazing, and if so, I commend you. Yet, from what little I know about politics, forgive me for being skeptical.

Read a very well-written and researched article about how Reed convinced God to agree with his politics and to where he is today.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Back to Church Day

The first question Kristen and I asked when we stepped into Hillcrest was "What is going on here?" The answers we found were disturbing, disappointing, and quite frankly, scary. Worship and education are the two primary functions of the Church - proper emphasis must be placed on giving glory to God and perpetuating the faith and discipling believers.

Due to a combination of complicated factors, including lack of visionary leadership, the church is declining in a growing community. Sunday School attendance is down 30-40% in four years while during that same time new schools and churches just down the road have been built and planted. Notwithstanding the church is in a very visible location on the road to the courthouse - non-Baptists and non-Christians alike know where the church is.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but from my observations I see church membership (generally) as concentric circles:

Center: The "core" group - these church members rarely miss an activity and will volunteer for activities without prompting. You can count on these folks to keep their word.

First outer-ring: These folks are at church 70-90% of the time. Everyone knows them, they may hold a post or two in the church, and will be happy to help out when asked.

Second outer-ring: These church members are present more often than not, most people know them, but not all, and they may be slightly unreliable. When asked to help, there's a good chance they'll accept, but have to ask to find out.

Third outer-ring: Never really sure when they'll be at church - they still may help out, but not everyone knows them, or knows them well. May show up for Sunday School and worship once every 4-5 weeks

CEO ring - Christmas and Easter only: There faces are recognizable, but very rarely do they show up.
The rest of the residential community surrounds the "circles" of the church, much like it surrounds the physical building.

Ideally, folks on the outer rings and from the community are moving toward the center of the church, or the core. Healthy churches have a "positive flow" and strong ratios between the core and the CEO's. Until a positive flow is achieved, outreach to the community is futile - if a positive flow is rooted in the surrounding community yet rams into the negative flow coming out of the core, conflict ensues.

Laity leaders are agitating because the decline in numbers is palpable, even without the assistance of a spreadsheet. A movement to reach out to the community was begun, yet my suggestion was to shore up the folks that are already connected to the church. In business the same principle stands: satisfy the needs of your current customers before you look for new ones.

If we're not meeting the needs of the current members of the church, how can we guarantee we'll meet the needs of new ones coming in from the community? First things first.

Thus, I suggested a "Back to Church Day" to coincide with the "Back to School" time of year. Parents are making Fall schedules and getting ready to get "back in the grind". The parking lot will be paved by then, providing a visual reminder that stuff is happening at church, as well as the day will be the Sunday after Kristen and I leave. The church, whether most realize it or not, is entering a "now or never" stage - thus this effort needs to happen now.

My idea is that this will be a "renewal of committment" day. Publications and postcards will be sent out detailing service and ministry opportunities for folks to get involved with. I'm hoping a "fair" type thing can be set up after services where representatives from various ministries can have a table with an interest signup sheet, more information, and a visual (sound committee = microphone). Church members can then visually see all of the opportunities in the church and get more information from the folks who are already involved.

Anyways, this is the project I'm sinking my teeth into as we transition out of the church. I pray that church members can find 2-3 hours out of the 168 hour week to serve their God through the opportunities offered at Hillcrest. I pray the pastor will set the tone for this effort by challenging the church to become more than it is, to challenge members to grow and stand up from their comfortable pews, if they come and sit in them at all. Church members must be willing to serve, but also partake in opportunities to be fed. They must take responsibility for properly teaching new members and youth and children what it means to be a Christian and responsible church member.

I pray the "negative flow" of frustration and disappointment can be stopped and reversed - Hillcrest has so much potential, yet it will be up to the leadership to challenge church members to recognize the opportunity and train them to seize God's will for "the little church on the hill".

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Vote adultery for President?

Big Daddy Weave has an excellent post up about how adultery is becoming more accepted. He details how both Rudy Giuliani and John McCain left their wives for different women. McCain left his wife after she raised their children while he was a POW in Vietnam and married a 25 year old woman and used her family's money to launch his career.

BDW asks "After impeaching Bill Clinton - are the Republicans ready to nominate a confessed adulterer???? Will the Evangelical-wing of the GOP support the candidacy of a cheating man???"

Call me old-fashioned, but isn't "thou shalt not commit adultery" a commandment?

With all this hype of saving marriage from homosexuals, maybe efforts should be focused on strengthening traditional marriage. How strong is marriage these days when folks like Rudy Guiliani have been married four times?

Are we focusing on a speck and ignoring the 2x4 in our own eye?

My feelings about gay marriage are mixed - I may never find an opinion that I'm 100% comfortable with - but I am sure that adultery is doing more harm to marriage than it gets credit for and I believe it's time conservatives start recognizing that fact.

Not doing so presents a moral contradiction and merely equates one sin higher than another.

This guy's still running?

Ralph Reed's troubles just won't go away - in fact, they're continuing to get worse, but how is he still a contender for Lt. Governor of Georgia?

A Texas Native American tribe filed suit Wednesday alleging that ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed and their associates engaged in fraud and racketeering to shut down the tribe’s casino.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee has evidence that leads them to believe Reed was in the middle of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's scheme to pit Indian tribes against one another through the help of Christians.

Oh yeah, he got paid $5 million.

I'm sorry, but I received $5 million for my work, I'd like to think that I have a pretty good idea of where it came from - especially if I was a leading Christian leader.

He stinks worse than 4 day old fish.

Authoritarianism plus conservatism = kinda scary

A few days ago I posted a Sinclair Lewis quote, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross." I was lambasted, quite unfairly, for posting that as a warning. I did not state that fascism would come to America, but I do agree that if it does, Lewis nailed the vehicle on which it would arrive.

Last night I came across a clip from Keith Olbermann's Countdown with John Dean. The clip is over 10 minutes long, but compelling.

First, a bit of an introduction. The person Keith is interviewing is not Michael Moore or Al Franken or even Hillary Clinton. John Dean was the former counsel for the Nixon White House - that's right - Nixon. He's a self-described "Goldwater conservative". I saw him on The Daily Show and he joked that in today's spectrum, that probably puts him just left of center.

He wrote a book, "Conservative Without Conscience", in which he explains how little-known studies on how authority figures have effected and are shaping the course of conservatism. The studies were began over fifty years ago to determine how events such as Communism in the Soviet Union and fascism in Italy and Germany took hold. Communism of course, is authoritarianism from the left and fascism is from the right.

Dean's conclusions could very well reveal the forces behind the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. An enemy was used to coalesce the group - liberals. Anyone who dared question the leaders were named liberals and thrown out on the street. The ends justified the means - meaning that Christian principles, or consciences, were put aside as individual's careers and lives were sacrificed for the greater group.

Please do not comment until you watch the entire video. You may read a rush transcript and follow along, but you must watch it. Besides, it's compelling to hear how someone from a group starts asking questions about that group and finds answers that are not what they expected - and are open-minded enough to share them.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Shock and awe

Believe it or not, I'm patriotic - I read all of Tom Clancy's books in high school, love American history (got a degree in it), love visiting the battlefields and historic sites minutes from the house I grew up in, and love visiting DC and checking out the monuments. Additionally, I love serving the Marines and military from our boot store in Quantico, VA, as I look up to them for their daily sacrifice and love of country.

I grew up reading war stories and admired how American soldiers were "different", in a good way. Prisoners of war often expected harsh treatment or instant execution, because that's how their army dealt with their prisoners. (How many of us understand what "Hanoi Hilton" means?). Yet, they were surprised.

Americans clothed and fed the prisoners - they didn't coddle them by any means, but definitely exceeded their expectations. Yes they were trying to kill us, and yes they probably hated us, but they were still human beings and deserved dignity.

I often viewed Christians in the same way - we're "different" from the world. We respond to bad situations in different ways - for instance, instead of dismissing and telling homeless folks to get a job, we're called to treat them with dignity. Growing up I remember the question "when you die, if the saints held a trial, could they convict you of being a Christian?". We were taught that we should be able to show that we were a Christian through our actions and our words - we shouldn't have to say "I'm a Christian". Natural human reactions, or those of the world, were supposed to be replaced by a "What Would Jesus Do?" attitude.

I'm disappointed in those who justify torture. I see the issue in simple terms - if we are at war, and we take prisoners, then they are prisoners of war. To say anything else creates a paradox. I also believe that torture has no place in Christianity. None.

Dr. Richard Land disagrees with me and is quoted in an Associated Baptist Press article about the Supreme Court's invalidating President Bush's denial of rights for prisoners from the war on terror.

"Make no mistake, we are at war with an enemy that loathes with every fiber of its being everything that we stand for as a nation," he said, adding that the court's invalidation of Bush's policy toward the detainees "weakens presidential powers in a time of war and betrays a serious and perhaps fatal misunderstanding of the nature of the threat we face…."

Land said the most troubling issue was the ruling's premise "that terrorists, representing no nation and wearing no uniform, are somehow deserving of being accorded the protections of the Geneva Convention covering prisoners of war, protections which exceed those afforded an American citizen arrested for a crime and incarcerated in the local jail."

Am I the only one to see a paradox in his statement? His words "we are at war" and concluson that prisoners of the "war" are not "prisoners of war" baffles me. Read that sentence out loud. Doesn't that sound a bit silly?

Yes I know that these folks want to kill us - you don't need to remind me of the deep anger I felt when I crested the hill in Arlington, VA on I-395 and saw the blackened hole of the Pentagon three weeks after September 11. You don't have to remind me of knowing that plane hit the Navy section of the Pentagon and that my dad works for the Navy and occasionally goes to meetings at the Pentagon. You don't have to remind me of my frustration of trying to call back east to make sure everyone was okay. I can't imagine the grief and anger of folks who lost loved ones that day.

I'll be the first to admit that I wanted to string them up and have them experience the pain that they caused - yet deep down, I knew that wasn't right. My spiritual convictions were trying to replace my visceral human reaction. I have to repeatedly tell myself that the terrorists deserve dignity. Why?

Believe it or not, even God loves them, and because Jesus taught "love your enemies", I would hope and pray that the Southern Baptist Convention's ethics spokesman would forego his natural humanistic instincts and attempt to follow Christ's teaching. It's hard - oh man is it hard - but what part of our faith is easy?

Furthermore, I buy the argument that the ceasement of torture will actually help the United States.

Jeanne Herrick-Stare, senior fellow for civil liberties and human rights at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, agreed. According to Herrick-Stare, the administration has been treating "individual human beings" at Guantanamo in ways it would not tolerate for Americans. The Friends Committee is one of Washington's largest peace lobbies, and was founded by the pacifist Christian Quaker sect in 1943.

"The administration's cruel and brutal treatment of detainees shows the world an ugly picture of the United States, a picture that reinforces the terrorist recruiting efforts," Herrick-Stare told ABP.

She said that when it comes to Christian ethics, the end of "ridding the world of tyrannical despots and those who would kill and maim innocents" does not always justify the means of circumventing international agreements on the conduct of war.

Justifying the means by the end is a human and wordly mode of operation, yet religious organizations such as the Southern Baptist Convention exude this mentality. Long-cherished teachings and values are thrown in front of the bus and justified as being good for the overall group. Individuals are often sacrificed for the supposed greater good.

Herrick-Stare goes on:

"While the goals the administration says it is pursuing may be considered worthy or even admirable to many…the means that the administration has utilized to achieve those goals will forever sully the good intentions with which the goals have been pursued."

Simply put, by crossing the line into unethical conduct, Herrick-Stare said, the current administration has "shocked the conscience of the world."

To make it clear - I'm not disputing the ends, I'm disappointed and shocked by the means. Justified war is unfortunate, but necessary, but so is following the rules, even if the other side does not.

How can we proud of a country that justifies torture? More importantly, how can we be proud of our faith in Jesus and His teachings when fellow Christians endorse torture?

I am a Christian. I am an American. I interact with Marines and soldiers everyday and pray for them. I love my country. I do not like terrorists. I want our cause to succeed over their cause.

I do not want to stoop to their level and compromise what makes us different, special, and unique. We're called to a higher standard - it's time to stop taking the easy highway and start down the narrow path.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Glimpsing mountains in the valley

Last month marked the year anniversary of my wife's position as Youth & Children's Minister at Hillcrest. We were excited when we began because we had a place where we could both find our niche and really plug in and serve the Lord. Kristen, obviously, carried out the duties of her job as I helped out with various communication-based ministries (fancy words for sound, newsletters, and the website). We both worked with the after-school program each Wednesday, and pitched in where ever needed.

Yesterday she announced her resignation effective August 20 to the surprise of some, but not to others.

There's a flier outside the church office that says we are not to come to church just to be fed, but we must bring a spoon. In other words, we must be willing to serve, to work, and to sacrifice so as to glorify the Body, and in turn, receive spiritual nourishment. Or so my amateurish theology impacts my faith and works.

I won't go into much detail, but suffice to say, the past year has been very difficult for both of us - emotionally, physically, and most important, spiritually. It's time for both us and the church to move on. In many ways, we have a lot of healing to do.

One thing we noticed from the start was that Hillcrest is a church very much in transition. Once a rural church, suburbia is fast closing in. Unfortunately, due to past malformation and lack of a vision, the church is searching for an identity yet doesn't know how to find one. External growth factors are very positive - internal factors are styming potential for growth through discipleship, fellowship, and outreach. Just recently serious efforts have been initiated to foster spiritual development, and we pray that they will "grow legs" and help Hillcrest realize God's will. Exciting times await the church, yet the process will still be difficult. I know we will be praying for them as well as checking in with folks in the church as time goes on to see where they are.

We leave with mixed feelings, for positive lessons have been learned - about ourselves, our faith, and the universal church. Strangely to me, I've felt a call to go into some sort of ministry and will start seminary in September. (Wow. Me? I still can't wrap my head around that one) I feel like I have been able to make a "mark" in that church, and through serving in a behind-the-scenes way, discovered my passion for serving God's church and His people.

Kristen struggled to reach the youth and the church, as she had to combat a lack of discipleship and understanding of what church is. (I thought everybody knew!?) However, members were sweet Sunday as they are sad to see her go because progress has been made and she has made a mark as well.

While there, she re-discovered her love for urban ministry, and through a required internship with school she is assuming a position with Embrace Richmond, a great organization that ensures at-risk families do not find themselves back in a homeless shelter. In just a short amount of time this ministry is having a significant impact in inner-city Richmond, and I'm excited for her and this opportunity.

God works in very strange ways - one lesson I keep having to re-learn is that we cannot waste time wondering "I wish this would have happened differently" - we must learn from the past and push on forward. I have a hard head and oftentimes God has to work around that and teach me lessons the hard way.

Please pray for us as we make yet another life-change and move on beyond Hillcrest. My boss recently told me he wants to make me partner, which is a huge blessing financially as our budget is facing shrinkage. :)

Kristen's currently in Louisville at Passport with the youth until Saturday. Please pray for her as the youth group works through this transition and that they can learn to love Jesus more this week despite the distraction.

We feel very blessed by God as He has been very faithful to us throughout our marriage. Hopefully when Kristen has more time next month she can stop back by here and contribute a bit more, especially as she begins her new job.

I would like to thank all five of you for making it this far and for stopping by here to read my random musings and rants.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Concise summary of Reed's misdeeds

Power + money corrupts. Power + money + Christianity corrupts the Body of Christ.

Ralph Reed has a very weak defense against charges of corruption as he runs for Lt. Governor of Georgia.

Via Jesus Politics, Garrison Keillor wrote a concise summary of Reed's dealing with Jack Abramoff.

If a preacher secretly accepts a bucket of money from a saloonkeeper to organize a temperance rally at a rival saloon and maybe send in a gang of church ladies to chop up the bar with their little hatchets, this would strike you and me as sleazy, but others are willing to make allowances, and so Ralph Reed's political career is still alive and breathing in Georgia. He has bathed himself in tomato juice and hopes to smile his way through the storm.

Isn't that a page out of President Clinton's playbook? Ignore scandal and try to use charm and looks to get through?

The difference is Reed has the support of many evangelicals because they view him as a potential Christian statesmen. I would have thought that more people in Georgia could see that the actions and the words of Mr. Reed don't quite match.

The fact that Ralph Reed is using his faith, despite damning evidence, is under-handed, sneaky, and sinister.

I have nothing against Christians running for office - I just want them to actually act like a Christian.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A question

Inspired by reading comments at another blog, along with visiting the Hanover Tomato Festival, I thought this question was appropriate: How much better off would our country be if more folks stopped claiming Christianty and started practicing Christianity?

Clear and present danger

The more I learn the history of Christianity, the struggles of the original Protestants, and the struggles of early, particularly Virginia, Baptists, the more I concerned I become in making sure contemporary society understands those struggles.

Vivian Paige
alerted me to a Virginian-Pilot columnist, Betsy Wright Rhodes, and her latest column "God in government 'a clear and present danger'".

The article gives a concise history of the early Christian church and a brief summation of the paradigm shifts that propelled our faith to that which we understand today.

We must guard our heritage, for those who control the past control the future. No matter what spectrum we hail from, honest discourse must be fostered so we do not jeopardize lessons learned.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Incredible power

Via religious right watch comes a Sinclair Lewis quote:

"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."

The gut-pulling emotional power of both nationalism and our faith is great - combining the two must be done carefully, if at all. How easy would it be to forego our humbleness in favor of arrogance derived from being convinced we're right? Where did Jesus display an arrogant attitude? Even under pain of death, with no friends, He still accepted the free will of the people to not accept Him.

Our Constitution allows for debate, and God is big enough to accept our questions. We must not force conformity by handling dissent with accusations that one isn't patriotic or religious enough.

Nazism thrived under those types of conditions - we must maintain the integrity of our Constitution and the protections they provide for all Americans to prevent national discourse from diving down that slippery slope.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Polar opposites

I'm still undecided on the mixture of patriotism and my faith - yes Judeo-Christian principles played an important role in the founding of our country, although I believe the Enlightenment played a signficant role as well; and yes as a Baptist who understands my roots, I believe the separation of church and state is *gasp!* a good thing.

I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this statue. If it works for those folks, so be it.

The $260,000 price tag does gets to me. (Kind of reminds me how a couple years ago the International Mission Board spent so much money installing a huge globe statue in the lobby among other "renovations" that missionary candidates had to be turned away due to funding shortages.)

However, I can't shake the thought that the opposite would be a statue of Jesus waving an American flag.

Since I know I would be opposed to that (Jesus died for all sinners, He's for all countries, the American flag isn't in the Bible, etc etc etc), I'm thinking that this statue crosses a line.

Again, those folks can do whatever they want - I'm thankful that's over 800 miles away from me.

Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond

Earlier this year when I began to sense a call to ministry, whatever that would look like, I fought God like a... well, I was hoping for something witty there, but it's too late. Suffice to say, I resisted, yet was affirmed through diverse sources. Before I knew it I was looking at various seminaries, yet neglected to take a good look at the one in my own backyard.

My tendency is to be a bit of a home-body, but I didn't want that to be the reason why I would pick BTSR. I wanted to ensure that wherever I went I would be equipped with the necessary tools for ministry in a setting which fostered diversity, encouragement, and community.

Today I had a great meeting with Dr. Rodgersons-Pleasants, Professor of Church History at BTSR. Time flew by as we discussed numerous items. In a sense we interviewed each other - me seeking to learn more about the school, her learning about me and affirming how church history should and could fit into my education and calling.

I have been incredibly blessed, yet I feel like I totally do not deserve any of it. I struggle daily with my walk with Christ. I'm my own worst critic - I know intimately of my shortcomings and failings, yet realize that God knows me way more than I know myself. How can God even consider using me?

One of the many lessons I've learned in the past few years is how to accept grace. God has proven that He can and will use anyone He wants to achieve His will, even me. I just pray that I can be the best steward of the gifts and talents entrusted to me and look forward to a 'holy pat on the head'.

So, please excuse me if posting frequency decreases a bit as I work to get my application complete. This blog was started and solely exists as a gift to my wife so her ears don't explode from my rantings and ravings. Truthfully I could care less how many people read my amateur attempts to sort my brain and heart out. Whether three or three thousand people read this thing, MC exists for me.

Would I mind more readers? Yes and no. At times I would like the chance to appeal to larger audiences, but most times my opinions are not fully worked out and I don't want to be pinned down on an issue on which I'm still chewing.

I'm a bit interested to see what direction MC will turn once I start classes September 7th.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Jesus would applaud

For the humor-impaired, the subject line drips with sarcasm.

Via Crooks and Liars, check out how forcing Christianity down non-Christian's throats affects this 6th grader: "I feel bad when kids in my class call me Jew boy." Oh yeah, and his family felt so threatened for challenging the coercion that they moved.

Jesus never forced anybody to accept His message, much less use the government for His Will, and neither should we. We are given the Holy Spirit and the Church for a reason. Maybe it's about time we start using it?

We all should be watchful for racism masked in Christianista dominionist terms.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Interstates, government, and church

I hope everyone had a great Independence Day - I definitely did. To be able to celebrate a free country in which we are able to freely worship is something that's too easily taken for granted.

I talked to my dad for awhile tonight, and I have to give him credit for the basis of this post. We both live within a few miles of I-95 - one of the busiest highways in the nation. In fact, I was so jaded growing up that I thought all interstates had three lanes and thus considered two-lane routes to be equivalent to dirt roads.

The speed limit through non-urban stretches in Virginia is 65 mph, yet the average speed routinely tops 75. The state and local counties can spend millions on traffic enforcement, but they will never slow everybody down or even stop a majority of speeders.

Sure they will have an effect, but they won't fix the problem. Drivers have to police themselves.

Such as it is with how our government affects our moral values - we can set restrictions and try to enforce them until we're blue in the face, but ultimately whether or not someone follows those restrictions is up to them. They have to want to obey society's standards. Coercion rarely works in moral circumstances as placing faith in one-size fits all laws ignores the Church's purpose.

The Church must teach and encourage folks to police and discipline themselves. Those folks should be able to find accountability for their actions. As more people look to God-given institutions for moral guidance and assistance, more people in our society will start setting examples and spread Godly values.

I sense that many Christians expect our nation's next "Great Awakening" to derive from the government. We can no longer blithely ignore God's given church and the power of the Holy Spirit to profoundly shape the course of our nation. To do so limits God's power and places trust in man-made institutions.

We can make all the moral laws we want, but until the Church fosters a spirit of obedience and acceptance of Biblical teaching, the government's actions will ultimately be for naught.

A cynical ploy

House Majority Leader John Boehner describes a plan by Democrats to use minimum wage as a campaign issue a "cynical ploy".

So - considering a way to provide relief and dignity to those at the bottom is a cynical ploy?

I would much rather have a party use the minimum wage freeze as a moral issue to build support than preying on the prejudices of Americans.

With Republican leaders denying a straight vote on the issue, don't you think this issue deserves an up or down vote?

But... maybe I'm just a little cynical.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Unsettling divisions

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church and started my questioning of the denomination once I learned the history of its beginning. Splitting over slavery, not theology, didn't sit well with me. Furthermore, other denominations that had done the same thing came back together after the Civil War - except the Southern Baptists. Thought it took the Methodists more than a century, they still reunited with their northern brethren.

During a random Google search tonight, I stumbled upon an Associated Baptist Press article from Februrary. The part that stuck out to me was:

The Baptist battles have left an enduring legacy of polarizing divisions between north and south, black and white, liberal and conservative, right and left. What we have tried to articulate is a dynamic center that offers alternatives to the polarization that exists in our culture and our churches.

"Enduring legacy" - in other words, we as Baptists have emotional and theological baggage centering around extra-biblical separation and disunion.

Much, if not all, of the divisions within the Baptist world centers around cultural differences, including those listed in the quote along with urban versus rural, educated versus uneducated, and the have's versus the have not's.

I'm not ashamed to be a part of an organization that seeks to cut through the worldly crap and focus on Biblical principles for winning the lost, perpetuating the faith, and serving God. If we and other Christians disagree on how to go about those things, then so be it, but I have no tolerance for division based on superficial criteria such as skin color, economic status, or political beliefs.

God made all of us - how difficult is it to accept that and try to seek common ground to achieve His will?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Erosion of Baptist principles

As I sit here uploading VBS pictures to the computer, I noticed Wade Burleson had just posted for the first time in a few days. He noted that former Alabama Governor, Don Siegelman, was indicted for receiving political bribes among other things. Burleson notes he was involved in Christian activities and issued a warning that:

...[I]t is a reminder to us all that people with power, left unchecked and unguarded, become addicted by their power to the point of being anesthetized to their own immoral actions.

Amen. He went on to say:

Our founding fathers of the United States understood the safety in the separation of powers, and even religious denominations and organizations should be aware of handing too much power into the hands of any one person or oligarchy of people. The same principle applies to the local church, and I'm afraid that in the future we may be finding that several congregations will have to deal with pastors who have assumed total authority of a church and have abused the trust. I am still one, unlike many of my friends, who believe congregational authority in major decisions is still best philosophically, and yes, even Scripturally (the priesthood of every believer).

Okay - on that issue we're on the same wavelength. What really bothered me, though, was the last sentence: "I am still one, unlike many of my friends, who believe congregational authority in major decisions is still best philosophically, and yes, even Scripturally (the priesthood of every believer)."

Unlike many of my friends... *sigh*. This issue strikes at the core of the differences between traditional Baptists found in organizations like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and those who took over the Southern Baptist Convention. By and large, folks running and within the CBF understand that congregationalism is a fundamental Baptist principle, and from that, the priesthood of every believer.

The question comes "Who determines our theology?". Our theology is not determined by a pope or a denominational leader or even our pastor - but through our own interpretation. That's why we're unique as Baptists - or at least supposed to be.

One of the first goals of the fundamentalists was to use the office of the President to pack seminary trustee boards with like-minded folks. Once a majority was attained, they replaced the school's President and started witchhunts to weed out professors who wouldn't submit to their beliefs.

Who determines our theology? Not a trustee board.

Once the seminaries were firmly in the grasp of the fundamentalists - namely Southern, Southeastern, and Southwestern, the new professors could focus on perpetuating their skewed view of Baptist principles on their students. The students then would graduate and assume pastorates with a loss of respect of the congregation and a belief that they were in charge of the church. By sheer numbers, churches would be expected to steer more conservative than before with these new graduates.

Who determines our theology? Not a pastor.

Think I'm a bit alarmist? Read the yearly review of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia's Baptist Banner. It reads like a war report. T.C. Pinckney details every state and how conservative efforts are going and sizing the strength of the CBF, as if they were gauging the power of the enemy. North Carolina's report from 2004 in part reads "Conservative Southeastern graduates are being called to pastorates and are having a growing impact."

What is that growing impact? Generating support to remove North Carolina's state convention's unique giving plan is part of the answer. Baptists in NC can choose one of four plans to send their money - one that's all SBC entities, one that's all CBF, and the rest are hybrids. As Baptist churches are supposed to be locally run, this sort of plan makes sense. Let the local church decide where they want its money to go.

Who determines our theology? Not a state convention.

By ignoring congregational authority and the Baptist and Scriptural principles that form its undergirding, fundamentalists are continuing to seek control on anything that currently remains out of their grasp. This includes state conventions (North Carolina will fall soon), agencies (the Women's Missionary Union escaped again this year), and local churches.

What we're seeing is the latter stages of the plan hatched more than 30 years ago by Paul Pressler, Paige Patterson, and the like. Baptists have historically formed organizations as a way to network the local church to provide money for missions, seminary training, and educational materials. The focus has been a "bottom-up" endeavor as the various agencies and boards were called to support the local church. The fundamentalists, in their quest for power from the top-down, were forced to give realign to the SBC in a similar fashion to consolidate their new-found control.

Traditional Baptists balked. The majority of Baptists stayed within the SBC simply because they did not understand what it means to be Baptist. I would venture to say that some do not even care as they wholly agree with the aims of the SBC.

I, for one, do care. I understand the persecution our Baptist forefathers endured, both in Europe and here in America. Virginia Baptists were especially persecuted for their beliefs. I cannot remain idle while I watch fellow Baptists throw out those hard-fought principles in an arrogant quest for power.

Baptists did not come together to compel one another to the same interpretation of doctrine - they came together to pool resources for perpetuating the faith through missions and education. Organizations such as the CBF understand this, and many will continually to malign it until they understand why it must exist.

And that's where I feel called to come in.

//For a quick reading of traditional Baptist principles, visit this page. To read what's important to Southern Baptists, read this page at the Founder's Journal, which self-proclaims itself to be "Committed to historic Baptist principles". Notice what's important and what's left out. More will be written on this in the future.