Some Random Thoughts: Election 2014, Immigration Reform and the State of the World We Live In

None of the things in this title are necessarily related, and yet, they probably are in some way.

The 2014 Mid-Term Election

If you think that the 2014 mid-term was either a repudiation of the Obama administration’s policies, or an indication of a swing of the political pendulum back to the right, you’d be wrong on both counts.  Nor was it a “landslide” or a “mandate” as some media outlets are reporting.  Let’s look at this factually and honestly.

Across the board, the Republicans picked up some targeted senate seats.  In fact, they put the bulk of their PAC money into the races in Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, New Hampshire, Arkansas and Alaska, several of those being considered “Red” states with a rising Democratic voter base.  Outspending the Democrats and their PACs in those states by about a 10 to 1 margin, they were successful in all but two, Virginia and New Hampshire.  In those states, ironically, the candidates tied their re-election bid to the President and his policies, and won, and both of those states are considered swing states, not reliably blue, though they have been moving that direction.  In Colorado, Senator Udall decided to distance himself from the President, and lost, while Governor Hickenlooper tied his re-election bid to the Obama administration, and wound up winning by five points.

Overall, the total Republican vote on that November, 2014 first Tuesday, was not in the range of a landslide.  Across the country, they picked up just 2 percent more of the generic vote than Democrats did.  And in some states, including some that are deep red, the Democrats picked up some wins, such as Nebraska and Arizona, where tea party candidates were defeated, and of course, in swing state Pennsylvania.  So I think what we have in this mid-term is a typical mid-term, and a milder response than in some recent mid-terms.  Every two term President since Reagan has faced a shift in power during mid-term elections, some of them much more dramatic than this one.  Keep in mind, in the elections of 2008 and 2012, when more than twice as many voters went to the polls, the Democrats had outstanding nights, both solid presidential wins and significant congressional gains.  We seem to be in a pattern now where quick and sudden change is becoming a regular part of the electoral cycle, which to me indicates a growing selfishness among voters.  It’s no longer about issues with long term effect, it’s about what affects me tomorrow.

Ferguson, Missouri

The first time I ever went to St. Louis, as a student summer missionary in 1977, there were racial issues in North St. Louis, and across the city limits line in St. Louis County.  The African American population there is large, and in the 70’s was concentrated in the northern part of the city of St. Louis, and was spilling over into the older suburban areas between the city and the airport.  Ferguson was an upper middle class, predominantly white community back then, though it did have an African American minority.  In the 70’s, there was still a lot of tension from school integration.  For North St. Louis county, it doesn’t seem like it has ever gone away.  And as the African American community has migrated to the north, and Ferguson has become a predominantly African American community with a predominantly white police force, it is now the epicenter of the tension.

This is 2014.  And while the tension has been built around a tragedy, there is an opportunity here to get beyond the problems, work through them, and set an example for the rest of us to follow.  There are voices, including Michael Brown’s family, who are advocating for a peaceful resolution to the problem, and a way forward.  Regardless of the outcome of the grand jury hearing, there are people who have the power in their hands to take this issue away from the agitators and from those who are looking to capitalize on it for their own benefit, and make it a turning point in America’s racial history.  May God empower them.

Executive Orders on Immigration Reform

I think it is pretty clear that a President’s executive orders are not the ideal way to bring about immigration reform in 2014.  But it’s the only way progress is made with regard to this issue.  And it’s not just the current president that has had to take action this way.  It’s hypocritical to criticize this action, which is one of the better attempts at getting this issue under control and back under the law than previous ways of enforcing immigration policy have been, and not take note of the fact that virtually every President since Reagan has had to take executive action on some aspect of immigration policy.  They’ve not been popular actions, they are mainly stopgap measures, but that’s been the direction we’ve gone.  Why?

In modern American history, immigration laws have taken on a draconian and pernicious character.  We’ve either done an extremely poor job of teaching history (which we have), or we have short memories.  Either way, we have forgotten that this country is a nation of immigrants, from its very foundations and beginnings, and the unity that has come out of that diversity has produced a strength that has made this country into the greatest one in the world.  Somehow, people seem to think that their kind has always been here, and that anyone who doesn’t share their cultural, religious, and even economic heritage and values doesn’t belong here, and is some kind of foreigner.  And while a third of our population had relatives that came through Ellis Island, the rest had relatives that came from somewhere else, unless they are native Americans, and even their ancestors migrated from Asia.  I don’t understand why we can’t get this right.

Obviously, current immigration law is not adequate to handle the issue.  The United States has been, for a long time, the bright hope of mankind.  It’s certainly not perfect, but the world would be a much different place today than it is, if it weren’t for America’s development and influence.  And while things have become more complicated by available communication and technology, this foundational element of American history and development needs to be fixed.  The existing laws and the problems they create are a clear indication of this. If existing laws are not working, and are, in effect, creating circumstances that make them difficult, if not impossible, to enforce, then that is an indication of their ineffectiveness, and the need for change.  This is, after all, a constitutional republic.

Some of what I consider to be the greatest moral failings of America as a nation relate to immigration.  We certainly talk a lot about the Nazi’s, their racial policy, and particularly their murderous rampage against the Jews of Europe.  But how much talk do we do about the tragedy of US immigration policy which prevented tens of thousands of European Jews from seeking refuge in the United States.  Immigration law from the previous era, designed to restrict Southern and Eastern Europeans from coming to the US in large numbers, and then, to slow down the numbers altogether when economic prosperity gave way to the depression during the Hoover administration, became a virtually immovable obstacle to Jewish immigration.  In spite of the fact that, among all potential immigrants, Jews would have been the easiest to take, because the American Jewish community was willing to produce the resources to care for them in almost any magnitude.  Even after the war began, the US could have taken in large numbers of Jews who fled German-occupied countries, and landed in Switzerland, Sweden, Spain and Portugal, opening up “room in the lifeboat” for those who were still able to reach their borders, but we didn’t do that.  The President, and the Congress, focused their attention and resources on a strategy for winning the war.  Immigration fell through the cracks.

I’m not going to argue the merits of the President’s executive orders.  All of his predecessors, back to Reagan, issued executive orders related to immigration policy and some of them, most notably George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, were more aggressive and less consistent with existing law than this policy is.  Until I hear fair and balanced criticism of their actions, including Reagan’s signing an amnesty bill, this aspect of the issue isn’t worth discussing.

The Middle East, Syria, Iraq and ISIS

For most of my adult life, we’ve been dealing with Islamic terrorism, insurgencies, and some kind of war in the Middle East.  It’s the nature of the region, and its historical, religious heritage.  It has been exacerbated by British imperialism and European colonialism, because the region provides important trade routes to China and East Asia, and now, in modern history, because of its oil reserves and mineral wealth.  With few exceptions, most notably the Israeli-Egyptian accord negotiated by President Carter, US efforts to bring the peace have either failed to accomplish their objective, or have made things worse.

Obviously, the second Iraq War, the one we got into on the heels of the emotion from 9-11, which Iraq had nothing to do with, is the major cause of the current insurgency.  The Assad regime in Syria has certainly been a contributor, but the second Iraq war left the door open for the Sunni Muslims, who were under Saddam’s control, to become renegade jihadists.  The question is, what happens if the US, and the British, stay out?  Islamic insurgencies are aimed at eliminating population groups, including Muslim population groups, that don’t accept their totalitarian authority, or hold different religious views.  Can we allow something like that to commit mass murder while standing by, doing nothing?  That’s a tough question.

If we go back in there with our military boots on the ground, how far ahead are we thinking?  We will defeat ISIS, or at least, scatter them and weaken them, and to do that, we will have to go into Syria as well.  Then what?  Do we fight Assad as well, since fighting ISIS will benefit his regime?  And what happens in the vacuum that will be created after that?  Do we try to put another unsuccessful puppet regime in power, in both Iraq and Syria?  Or will our involvement just contribute to the further destabilization of the region, and bring the problems right to Israel’s doorstep?

The world we live in needs the presence of the Prince of Peace.

 

Let’s Talk Football: First “Committee” Poll Due Out This Weekend

Enjoy reading this.  It’s my perspective.

It seems like the teams in the “Power 5″ conferences, along with most of the others, aren’t really interested in lining up and falling in as far as the format for the new four-team playoff to determine a “mythical” national championship.  There’s a lot of parity, which has been visible from the first of the season when Alabama struggled to beat unranked and unhailed West Virginia, when a Virginia Tech team that has more or less fallen apart took out Ohio State in Columbus, when unranked Arizona went into Eugene and knocked off Oregon, well, you get the picture.

There are still a few undefeated teams, but I think we’re down to three, now.  Florida State remains unbeaten largely because it escaped a loss to Notre Dame on a bad call, and because it has played absolutely nobody else.  Mississippi State actually has a good, contenting team, got one big win over Auburn, knocked off a moderately decent LSU team, and though they struggled against a fairly decent Kentucky team, they’ve earned their spot at the top.  Marshall, in C-USA, has hired a PR firm to press their case, and while they do play outside the Power 5, I’m not as convinced as ESPN’s analysts, and College Game Day’s team, that they shouldn’t be eligible for one of those four spots if they win out.

I’m also not on board with the fascination of the SEC, especially all of the hype around the SEC West.  With the exception of Alabama, who did pick up a game with a Big 12 opponent, though a carefully selected team that finished in the lower half last season, no one in that division has played anyone of significance outside the conference.  Alabama is riding on reputation, and is certainly not the team it has been in the past.  It picked on a much over-rated and overblown Texas A&M team, but other than that, it escaped lowly Fayetteville with a one point win, and lost in Oxford.  I can see the Tide losing a couple more games, including the upcoming clash with Mississippi State, and maybe Auburn, before the season is over.  The only legitimate contender for one of those four playoff spots out of that group now is Mississippi State, if they make it through unbeaten, or if, even with a single loss, manage to get into, and win, the SEC conference championship.  On the other side, if Georgia wins out and wins the conference championship, are they good enough to be one of those top four?

The idea behind the committee is to get beyond the biases of the sports media, and the coaches, as far as polls go, and pick the “four best” teams to play in the “championship” while the bowls get the rest.  How that will happen, without the prevalent biases and opinions about “strength of schedule” and the rankings will be interesting to watch.  I’m sure my picks won’t match those of the committee, at least, not completely, but if I were going to pick the four best teams in the country as things have developed to this point, this would be what the bracket would look like:

Texas Christian University.  TCU has one loss, to an at the time top ten Baylor team on their home field, after a scoring marathon.  They lost late in the game, having to depend on an exhausted defense, on the road in a hostile environment.  But their bounce back has been nothing less than spectacular, scoring more than 80 points against Texas Tech yesterday.  They have another knock down, drag out game facing them Saturday in Morgantown, West Virginia, and if they can get past that, look out for the Horned Frogs.

Mississippi State University.  It seems like we’re obligated to put an SEC team in place.  Well, they’re the only unbeaten SEC team so far, and if the selection were made now, they’d be in.  But they’re it, as far as I am concerned.

Florida State University.  Based solely on their record, I would put the ‘Noles in the final four now.  They’ve got some tough games ahead, by ACC standards, and I am hoping that someone knocks this over-rated team out of the picture.

Marshall University.  “Prove it on the field.”  That’s the mantra of SEC boosters who fail to recognize the flotsam of non-conference foes most SEC teams line up (and they get four of those, whereas most conferences only allow three) are the same teams that Marshall has been beating the stuffing out of for the past seven or eight weeks.  Unbeaten, Division 1, at the end of the season, they deserve a shot. It’s not their fault that the money in NCAA football has left them out of the “Power Conferences” that have been built.

Four other possibilities:

West Virginia University.  If the Mountaineers win out, that would mean they’ve won another game against a top 10 opponent, and at least one more ranked opponent.  They have an advantage, now, in that they play the higher ranked teams in their conference at home.  Can a team with two losses early on to top 5 teams show the kind of improvement necessary to be one of the best toward the end of the season?  If they win out, they would be 10-2 against arguably the toughest schedule in the country, with only one “cream puff” opponent in the mix.  They’d be the Big 12 champion.  I would put them in.

Michigan State University.  The Spartans will most likely win the Big 10 title, and while there’s been a lot of talk about how bad the conference is right now, there’s a lot of parity in this league.  There’s really not a “break” week to week in the schedule, especially if you have to go on the road.

The Pac-12 Conference Champion.  Whoever wins this conference deserves a spot, regardless of their record.  This is arguably the toughest football conference in the country, top to bottom, and its champion deserves one of the playoff spots.  Right now, this could be Oregon, Arizona State, Arizona or Utah, with UCLA having an outside shot.

Kansas State University.  Winning out, the Wildcats would be the Big 12 Champion.  The key will be their Thursday night clash with West Virginia in Morgantown, and their visit to Baylor in Waco.  If their QB stays healthy, they could be one of the four best by the time the choice is made.

Maybe, by the time the dust has cleared, there will be a few others.  At any rate, until there is a playoff, conference champion facing conference champion, with the Mountain West, CUSA and American conferences involved, there won’t be anything we can genuinely call a “National Championship.”  What we have now is a farce.  Championships are one on the field, not in the polls.

Things in a Christian Worldview No Christians Really Want to Talk About

You’ve always been warned not to talk about religion and politics.  Well, the term “Christian Worldview” gets thrown around a lot these days, and I’ve discovered that when it is used, few people really know what it means.

A Christian Worldview is a pretty simple concept.  It is a term which defines the way people who have made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ live their lives.  It is based exclusively on the Bible, as the written word of God, and its concepts relate to all areas of life.  It is not always easy to discern, given the differences that occur when attempting to interpret and apply scripture.  But Jesus reveals God to humanity, and through that revelation, along with the word of the prophets made certain in his coming, and his word interpreted by the apostles and writers of the New Testament.  So it is up to us to find out what he wants us to know, and use every resource available to continue developing a Christian worldview that becomes enough of a part of your life to see the world that way, live your life consistent with what you see, and make the kind of difference that God desires for you to make. 

What a “Christian Worldview” Isn’t

In American culture, many Christians equate the term with a specific and prescribed partisan political position.  It’s not that.

I have news for you.  Not everything can be made to neatly fit with politics.  And in Christian faith, if we’re really honest, and we really do consult the scriptures to learn something or discern God’s will, there’s very little that can be fit into the political box.  Colossians 2:8 warns us about being taken captive by worldly philosophy and empty deceit.  And while there are Christians involved in politics (in several different political parties, mind you) the origins of most political philosophy is definitely not Christian.  Be careful here.  Too many Christians aren’t, and it gets them into trouble.  “Do not put your trust in princes,” says the book of Psalms.  I’ve discovered that prayerful consideration, on many occasions, leads me to a scriptural and spiritual conclusion that wasn’t exactly consistent with what I wanted it to be.

God promised to bless Israel when they were loyal and obedient, and he punished them when they weren’t, but the promises of restoring a nation to righteousness were made to them, not to us, and if you are placing your hope in restoring the righteousness of America, and ushering in revival by voting the right way, you are deceiving yourself and distorting the written word of God.

War and Human Conflict

This is a tough topic that is most often avoided in sermons, lectures and other means of teaching a Christian worldview.  We are fascinated with images of a God who, because our country is so faithful (yeah, what?), will hold our coattails and cheer us on as we bomb cities and factories, and use war as a means of asserting our will, a.k.a. “protecting our interests abroad,” especially if it involves a non-Christian population, such as Muslims or Buddhists.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ”  Romans 12:14-21 ESV

Wow.  Take that and apply it to your attitude toward militant Islam, or better yet, to your fellow American “liberals” who don’t share your politics, and who you think are stupid ignoramuses because they don’t agree with you.  This passage is a very pointed illustration of what it means to lack selfishness, and when you can get to this point, you can claim an understanding of the term, Christian worldview.  Until then, you’re not there, yet.

About eight miles down the road from my house is a small town called “Harmony.”  It was established by a group of Christians who lived communally, and believed they were literally putting into practice the Bible’s teachings about both getting along with others, and in communal living which led to economic and social equality which they also believe is a Biblical principle.  Similarly, there are several other townships and towns in Pennsylvania that bear the same name, largely due to Quaker influence, a group which more or less followed the same literal interpretation of the scripture when it came to this particular issue.  These are groups which, for most of their history, succeeded in resisting the social norms, and practiced their beliefs for generations, including successful resistance to mandated military service.  The “Harmony Society” that established the town no longer exists, but their legacy lives on in their descendants, many of whom make up Mennonite and Amish communities in the area, along with the Quakers, who still exist, and who are still putting this principle into practice in their own way.  How many other Christians are that consistent with this belief?

Money, Wealth and Prosperity

It may be a personal opinion, though I’ll claim that it is developed on theological framework, but one of the passages most Christian preachers pass over, and one which is uncomfortably tucked in a prominent place, is Acts 2:42-47.  Usually, that text is used when a pastor wants to inspire his people to increase the attendance in church.  But there’s a bit of discomfort for those who insist on a literal interpretation of scripture when it comes to this passage.

“Oh,” I’ve heard, “The Book of Acts is history.  It’s not didactic.”

Uh huh.

And all who believed were together, and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. ” 

There are several other places in the early portion of this particular book which make note of this practice, including a story about a couple who wanted recognition for being givers, but lied about what they had done.  Oh, and then there’s Paul and his words to the Corinthian church about the offering that was being collected for the Jerusalem church during their famine.

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance should supply your need, that there may be fairness.”  2 Corinthians 8:13-14

Later on, Paul tells the Corinthians that their generosity would inspire the Jerusalem Christians by meeting their need, but the Jerusalem Christians response would be joy that would “glorify God.”  And he calls that a “fair” exchange. The NIV uses the term “equality.” What kind of economy could operate on those kind of principles?  Wouldn’t they go broke thinking that way?  Isn’t that communism?

Well, that depends on your bottom line.

No Other Gospel

So isn’t it somewhat exclusive and arrogant to believe that what you believe about Jesus is the only way to be saved from sin and reconciled to God?  Isn’t that intolerant?

Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  John 14:6

“But even if we, or an angel from Heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again:  If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”  Galatians 1:8-9.

This is a really difficult worldview concept to hang on to because there’s no mention here of different treatment for people who don’t share our beliefs.  We’re still compelled, according to the scripture, to treat all people with respect, and not as enemies.  That’s a separate concept, not changed or altered by this one.  Putting those two things together is simple enough to understand, but pretty hard to manage.

The first time I heard this particular verse interpreted, the preacher was Dr. Walter Martin, author of “Kingdom of the Cults.”  Dr. Martin was doing a presentation on Mormonism, and he outlined the specific teaching of the Mormon gospel, along with the author and source of the teaching.  His citations for Mormon teaching all came from excellent research in discerning the application of passages from the Mormon church’s standard works, including The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price.  Dr. Martin clearly delineated the stark differences between the Mormon gospel and the Christian gospel from which the verse in Galatians is drawn.  Though much of the language is similar, the teachings and doctrines themselves are not compatible.

Deception, especially when it came to religion, was going on during the time that Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians, as it was elsewhere in the Roman world, and people in the church were falling for it, lacking, in many cases, a proactive pastor and access to written scripture. There were those who sounded good, and who had latched on to something specific that made them sound like solid Christian preachers.  But Paul put it in simple terms, defining the gospel as what he had already preached to the Galatian Christians, making it easy for Christians to have a standard by which the could determine whether preaching they were hearing was consistent with what they knew.

Don’t get me wrong, I love, and deeply appreciate the religious freedom that is part of being American.  But religious freedom requires personal responsibility to know the scriptures and to be able to rely on the Holy Spirit to help discern truth.  And frankly, determining that someone else’s religious beliefs, which do not stand up to the measure of truth of the canon of scripture, are incorrect is not being intolerant.  Intolerance is an attitude that Christians shouldn’t have.  You can evaluate other beliefs against the scripture, and determine that they are not true without being intolerant, and you can be tolerant, but not come to mutual agreement on a particular belief.  It’s the attitude again, and it is selfish ambition that leads to conflict.  Avoid that, and it will be hard to be critical of you and the way you are.

It’s certainly worth some thought.

 

 

So, 35 Years Later, What’s Happening in the Southern Baptist Convention?

In 1979, I had just graduated from college, and for the first time, would attend the Southern Baptist Convention as a messenger.  I’d been a couple of other times before, but never as a voting participant.  Of course, the 1979 gathering, in the Houston Summit Arena, now used by Lakewood Church as a worship venue, turned out to be a major turning point in the denomination’s history.  At the time, it was viewed by those inside and outside the convention as the “splitting” of America’s largest non-Catholic denomination.  As it progressed, it became quite clear that the sides, labelled “conservative” and “moderate” by the media, were not equal in terms of number, support, and ability to use the convention’s relatively backward, provincial system for selecting leadership.

There were cracks and flaws in the denominational structure long before the “controversy” became front page news in 1979.  Arguments over Biblical interpretation, the degree of Biblical authority which was reflected in the denomination’s doctrinal statement, the Baptist Faith and Message, at the crux of the argument, whether or not the Biblical text, in its original form, was without error.  While the moderates claimed that it is irrelevant to declare originals which are no longer in existence, inerrant, conservatives insist that since the process of translation and transmission is incredibly accurate, an inerrant original is vital to the substance of the scripture, and ultimately to what is believed and taught about Jesus himself.

What transpired, which is seen by some as remarkably complex, is actually pretty simple.  The convention, as I mentioned, had a very backward and provincial system in place for choosing its institutional and committee leadership.  Over time, during the late 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s, the moderate leadership had developed a process which shielded institutional leaders like seminary presidents and the presiding officer of what was then the Baptist Sunday School Board, now Lifeway, the world’s largest and most influential Christian publishing house, from direct scrutiny or accountability to the churches that supported them through the Cooperative Program.  The gateway to the inside was through the individual elected President of the convention, who directly and individually appointed the committee on committees, which in turn, nominated the members of the committee that chose the institutional trustees, as well as the members of the executive board and leadership committees of the convention itself.  By the 1970’s, virtually all of the boards, especially at the seminaries and at the Sunday School Board, were packed with individuals who had been hand picked by the institutional leadership.  Many of them were wives, relatives, in-laws and close personal friends of the leadership, which was shielded from any question or scrutiny involving what they were doing.  And most of them were doing as they pleased, hand-picking faculty and staff which shared their views.

The problem, as it was perceived by many Southern Baptists, was that the influence of liberal theology was drifting into its educational institutions, and they had little voice or means to question it, or to stop it.  There was plenty of evidence of the leftward drift, particularly as it related to Biblical authority, and prior to 1979, the distinctions between moderates and conservatives were well established in this area.  The real question in the controversy was whether the SBC would continue to move to the left, with the mainline Protestant denominations and their theological schools, or whether they would remain, as they always had been, committed to a belief in the inerrancy, infallibility and full authority of the Bible.

Moderate Baptist Mistakes

The initial moderate reaction to the election of Adrian Rogers as SBC President at the 1979 convention was incredulity that conservatives could establish a level of participation in the convention that they hadn’t had before.  Their sense of entitlement and the exclusivity which had been carefully established led to a series of reactions that eventually sealed their fate.  Initially, they attempted to deny that anything was going on in the seminaries that wasn’t square with the convention’s expressed views, or with what its church members believed, something that didn’t go over very well when the conservatives produced evidence, from a wide variety of textbooks, classroom objectives and teaching, and class notes from seminary professors.  The attempts at redefining what was on the record didn’t go over well, nor did the attempt to convince Southern Baptists that what was now being taught in the seminaries was what they had always more or less believed.

It also took a while for moderates to realize that the conservatives were drawing messengers to the convention from a constituency that hadn’t been very active in that regard prior to 1979.  From the Houston meeting in the Summit, to the 1989 meeting where trustee board control was secured by conservatives, the number of churches sending messengers to the SBC over a decade was four times greater than it had been during the previous decade.  The moderates discovered they didn’t have those kinds of reserves on which to draw.

The moderates also relied heavily on their good-ole-boy protocols to try and hold on to control of the convention.  Once the conservatives gained the presidency, the committee on committees appointed like minded conservatives to the committee on boards, and they, in turn, replaced moderate trustees with conservatives.  One of the moderate protocols was a “customary second term” which basically allowed them to keep their hand-picked buddies on the boards for an extended period of time.  Another protocol was recognition of “good” service as a trustee by being rotated to another board when term limits restricted re-appointments to the same board.  The conservatives more or less ignored the protocols, and appointed the people they determined would hold the institutions and agencies accountable to the convention’s constituency.  That earned charges of being “unfair,” or “unethical,” but those won’t hold water.

Perhaps the greatest gap between the direction moderates wanted the SBC to go, and the conservatives, was revealed through the ill fated “Peace Committee.”  This group, which operated from 1985 to 1987, put together a comprehensive statement about Southern Baptist interpretation of beliefs regarding the authority of scripture, and the scope of the statement in the 1963 BFM stating that the Bible has, for its matter, “truth without any mixture of error.”  In the interpretation of that statement, several prominent moderates distinguished themselves from the majority of the convention by asserting this meant only in “matters of faith and practice,” whereas the broader interpretation extended to all areas of theology, history, science and philosophy.  Several moderate members parted company from the committee before it rendered its final report, which established for the record the position that the Southern Baptist Convention holds regarding the Bible.

Not a “Takeover”

Criticism of conservatives by moderates, over time, included allegations that they employed “unethical” tactics in their efforts to get messengers to the convention meetings.  Some patterns were established during this time that hadn’t been employed previously, but there is nothing inherently unethical about announcing a presidential candidate in advance, nor establishing your own news outlets and journals when the standard, moderate controlled Baptist press refused to carry the stories of conservatives announcing candidacies for SBC offices.  I’ve asserted for years that you cannot “take over” an organization in which you already hold membership, are supporting with your finances, and are entitled by your participation to run for elected office.

If there were irregularities, they were never reported, and the registration secretary, Lee Porter, a self-identified moderate, confirmed that there were none.  The conservatives got the majority of votes because they were the majority of Southern Baptists, a significant one as it turns out.  If the peace committee report establishes the characteristic view of Southern Baptists regarding the Bible, then I would assert that there are few Southern Baptists, less than half a percent of the sum total, who are not in full agreement with its conclusions.  If you don’t believe this, I challenge you to comb the spectrum of SBC affiliated churches today, and see if this is not the vast majority view.  You don’t have to take my word for it.

Southern Baptists and the Republican Party

By nature, as religious conservatives, Southern Baptists are predominantly Republican.  But this tendency extends well back into the 1950’s, if nor before then.  The allegation that the conservative resurgence was aimed at turning SBC support toward Republican politicians is not provable by an objective standard.  There’s not much question about the high percentage of Southern Baptists leaders who are in the GOP, or the high percentage of their membership which is as well.  But even among the moderates, their “bastions” of more liberal religious thought are also major contributors and supporters of Ronnie Reagan’s Republican Revolution.  And while schools like Baylor, Wake Forest, and Mercer are known as bastions of Baptist liberalism, they are also known as bastions of conservative, right wing politics.   Go figure that one out.

In Conclusion…

Once conservatives gained control of the SBC, completely over the trustee boards by 1989, the SBC headed toward its highest numerial achievements in personnel on the mission field, total membership, and total receipts through the Cooperative Program.  The battle of more than a decade had little to no effect on this great missionary denomination.  And even when moderates splintered off, few were actually willing to completely sever their ties with the SBC, and few Southern Baptist churches or church members decided to follow the path they wanted to blaze.  These organizations are, by and large, moribund rescue operations, designed for providing jobs and a position of some prominence in leadership to the displaced and disaffected Lords of the Old SBC Manor.  People who have once been in the limelight don’t like it when it goes away, and no matter how small the venue, money was raised to give them a place to strut.  The money and numbers of churches participating in these groups has been minimal, with virtually no effect on the SBC.

In recent years, the effect of post-denominational thinking has had more impact on the SBC than the moderates did with their attempted split.  In spite of the change of leadership, the SBC is still quite provincial and backward in its organizational thinking, and it may be a while before those who are crawling out of the traditional boxes begin to be noticed enough to change denominational policy and structure to be more effective in the post-denominational, modern world.  Circumstances may do that, but sometimes that is harder on a group than realizing there’s been a change, and thinking about how to deal with it.  I cannot predict where the SBC will be in twenty years, but I can predict where it would have been today had the conservative resurgence leadership not started its campaign to lead the SBC until much later.  It would be in a struggle for survival, like the Methodists and the Disciples of Christ.

 

There Will be no “National Championship” WIthout Games Played on the Field

For many years, the “mythical” national championship in college football was considered to be the team that finished the football season, and their bowl game, ranked #1 in the AP and UPI, or coaches polls.  There was a trophy, though officially, there was no real recognition from the NCAA and the champion could lay claim only to the conference, or bowl game championship, that they had won.  Over the years, there was a lot of discussion as to how to go about determining a “national champion” but the ever expanding bowl system was a huge roadblock in the way.

Enter the BCS.  Stepping outside the NCAA boundary, a way of determining a national champion through the rankings and the bowl system was developed.  It was a monumental failure, with several teams laying claim to deserving higher rankings and national titles virtually every year, and the overall attitude of coaches and sportswriters essentially devaluing the glass football trophy.  Not much changed when two teams were invited to play a game for the trophy outside of the bowl alignment.  The argument over who deserved it, who played a tougher schedule, and who was the best team still persisted.  The BCS didn’t really produce a “national champion”, but could only claim for the winning team the “Bowl Championship Series Title”.

So the BCS ended, and there is now a “committee” that will meet, somehow objectively determine who the four best teams in the country are at the end of the season, and have some semblance of a playoff.  Good luck with that working much better than the BCS, or with ending the arguments of who is a “national champion.”

There are now five “power conferences” with the bulk of the NCAA in tow, due to recent expansion.  Outside of that, there are four or five conferences, and some independents, who make up what we used to call Division I-A.  Eight teams, straight up, would do the trick.  Each power conference champion, and three at-large teams, could be from the power conferences, might be from the outliers.  Four games, four weeks, to the title.  Plenty of time, plenty of competition.  Use the rankings to seed the teams one through eight.  Play the games at the bowl game sites.  The minor bowls get their pick of the teams that remain.  Then you’d have a true national champion, and the NCAA could control the process and award the trophy.  The bowls wouldn’t be able to manipulate the selections and favor teams and conferences with big money.

That would also open the door for increased “big game” non-conference match-ups.  The SEC could stop having to bully Florida International and Western Carolina and some inter-regional matchups with schools from the other power conferences would boost early season enthusiasm and attendance.  I think that would help the schools in conferences like CUSA and the Mountain West as well.

The likelihood of such a playoff is probably pretty low.  There’s too much money in the bowls, and the lack of commitment to excellence has been part of the system for far too long.  A mismatch between a mid-level SEC team and a CUSA team in Charlotte or Jacksonville that fills the hotel rooms and other money-making venues is much more likely to occur than the top teams from each conference squaring off, week after week.  I don’t think that would take away from the relative excitement of a bowl game in a place like Boise, Albuquerque or Shreveport.

Real History: An Honest Approach or Flag Waving Patriotism?

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/colorado-students-prep-more-protests-ap-history

AP US History is a very difficult course.  I know, because I taught it for quite a while. The students who took the courses in my classroom were, for the most part, the cream of the crop.  They were interested in both the historical facts, and their implications.  And they wanted to know the truth.  Fact is, when I was learning history, I did too.

I’m not sure at this point whether the disruptions to the educational process are the best way for the students to get their message across.  This is school, and people are going to look at it as students attempting to find a way to just get out of it.  Schools have closed as a result, and students are planning to stay away on “count day”, when enrollment and attendance figures are taken to calculate financial allocations.  On the other hand, civil disobedience that is respectful of boundaries and other viewpoints, is certainly an effective means of getting your message across.

I’m opposed to sanitizing history, or leaving things out deliberately, for the sake of “patriotism” or political correctness, and basically, that’s what’s going on in this incident.  There are things in our past history that should be open to question.  Treatment of Native Americans over the course of our entire history is absolutely open for discussion.  So is the use of the atom bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I would add to that other strategic bombing in World War II, particularly Dresden and Wurzburg, Germany.  The people in those cities had no control over their government, and could not affect war policy.  It was late in the war, and the outcome was a foregone conclusion.  What’s wrong with high school students having that discussion?  How will they ever be able to avoid repeating mistakes, if they’re not allowed to study all of history, not just the parts that make our ancestors look good?

From the college board, which develops the curriculum guides for AP courses:

“Civil disorder and social strife are at the patriotic heart of American history – from the Boston Tea Party to the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement. And these events and ideas are essential within the study of a college-level, AP U.S. History course.”

There is no doubt that a particular spin can be put on the curriculum objectives of a history class.  But there’s a big difference between “spinning” interpretations of historical events, and allowing students to draw their own conclusions after hearing the facts.  I taught AP History within the context of a Christian high school which integrated a Biblical worldview into the curriculum, and we had no problem dealing with the content.  My biggest concern regarding the public education system is an overall lack of control and order of student behavior, and a lack of sold objectives in the curriculum which has “dumbed down” the student population, and taken away their ability to think critically and evaluate the facts.  It seems that this is exactly what the Jefferson County school board is attempting to do.  If those board members who think this is the right thing to do were educated in the schools they now governed, they should be ashamed of the outcome.

The American Revolution would never have occurred had it not been for the ability of those involved to raise an army, select a governing body called “Congress,” and march at Lexington and Concord.  Under British law, which was the law of the land at the time, that was treason.  The civil rights movement would never have happened if Dr. Martin Luther King had followed the existing racial rules and society’s expectations, and “stayed in their place.”  And unless American leadership has been perfect, and we know that it hasn’t, its mistakes and misjudgments should be discussed in order to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.  Suppressing the facts never leads to the desired result, anyway, and these are elected officials who should know that.

I can recall several excellent discussions (and some debates and arguments) in my history class around the topic of the Bible’s teachings on the sanctity of human life, and the justification for dropping an atom bomb on two large Japanese cities, for the purpose of breaking their will and ending the war.  We also had some great discussions about how people could be as familiar with the Bible as so many Americans were in the nineteenth century, and yet came to the conclusions that Native Americans were subhuman savages, and worthy of death and destruction of their culture.  I don’t think the discussion, or the criticism of the act itself, undermined anyone’s patriotism or love for their own country, on the contrary, several of them made note of the fact that if we can’t learn from our past mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them.  Some of them observed that perhaps the fact that so few Native Americans profess faith in Jesus may have to do with the treatment that many of their ancestors, and many of them, have endured.  I’d say they got it.

Conservatives have accused liberals of using the public education system to advance their own agenda.  This smacks of hypocrisy, as it is clearly attempt to advance a conservative agenda and use the public schools to do so.  Don’t be afraid of the truth, because “it will set you free.”  This can all be taught without strong-arming students to accept a “conservative” perspective and hiding the facts that don’t support it.

Ferguson: A Summer Rerun

It was the summer of 1977.  I had just arrived in St. Louis, fresh from a week of orientation for summer missions, inspired, and anticipating my first real summer of full time Christian mission service.  The four hour drive from the retreat center where we spent the week getting ready offered some time for visiting, reflecting and preparing for the summer, but wasn’t much of a buffer between the protected, sheltered environment of the retreat, and the inner city where we were about to be dropped off.  The team of about 20 college students were split between three housing units, one in the center part of the city at a ministry center called “Friendship House,” in an older, Victorian style home used for neighborhood ministry by a local church, the second group upstairs in a couple of rooms with a bath in a church’s former parsonage that was currently vacant, and myself and six others in two first floor flats of a four family building on St. Louis’ north side.

It was going to be a hot summer.

It was the first time I had ever encountered racism.  And I mean, genuine racism.  There was a line across the city of St. Louis that separated African American neighborhoods from white neighborhoods, and the church where I served for two summers was right on that line, trying to minister to both communities.  There was a sense of Christian responsibility to share the gospel and minister in the community, but there was very little trust, especially among the African American community, and not much interest in the church to go further than a Vacation Bible School that brought in about 500 kids from the housing projects down the street.  A couple of former pastors had staked their ministry on integrating the congregation, instituting a bus ministry and a summer project that required assistance from the mission board, hence my involvement.  But they had left in disillusion, and the remnants of their attempted ministry hadn’t actually integrated the church.

But in the surrounding community, the racism was worse.  It’s not something that I can explain, even now, but the hatred and oppression was visible.  And while there was a level of that kind of feeling toward the whites on the part of some in the African American community, it was nothing like the attitudes and actions expressed the other way.  There really was limited opportunity for African Americans based on the color of their skin, and they were treated differently.  And I never really did see the justification for that.

I guess, because I didn’t know any better, I made my way around the city like most people did, on foot or on public transportation.  It was about a forty minute bus ride from our flat in North St. Louis to the church, on Lafayette Square.  It took one transfer, downtown at Washington and Grand.  Most of the time, in the late afternoon, I was the only white person boarding the bus headed north that stopped a block from our flat.  And of course, we stayed in the Hyde Park neighborhood, which was about two thirds African American.  Over the two years I spent making that trek almost every day, I never felt threatened, and people were friendly and talkative.  Most of them warmed up quickly when they discovered I was a Baptist “missionary” and I had a lot of conversations about Christian faith.  The only time I felt uneasy was the first time I came home late one night after a Cardinals game, and the bus was almost empty.  I worried a bit about who might get on, or what might be going on in the neighborhood, but after the first time, I never worried again.

Sometimes, a local church would prepare a meal for us, and we would walk the mile to Fourth Baptist Church, where they used the kitchen and fellowship hall.  And one of my mission partners and I would sometimes go to the playground at the school around the corner on a Saturday night and play basketball with the neighborhood kids.  They invited us, after seeing that I was 6’4″.  Sometimes, I suspected that some of the guys we were playing with could be rough, and they were certainly street wise, but with us, they were always friendly.

And it was from these relationships that I slowly came to understand that as a white person, I would never be able to relate to the circumstances in which these people lived, what they and their families had endured because of racism and discrimination.  In fact, I learned a lot.  I learned that these are people, just like me, and they have the same desires and dreams that I do.  I learned that skin color and racial background is most definitely an impediment to freedom and progress, that discrimination is real, and that our culture has figured out a lot of different ways to perpetuate it.  And I learned that while discrimination and racism have caused some African Americans to become defeated, and to react in ways that aren’t productive, and only serve to make things worse, most of them are working much harder than I am to make things better for their children.

In 1977, Ferguson, Missouri was one of the suburbs where whites had fled to avoid sending their children to integrated schools, and to escape the inner city, where they felt that blacks had “taken over.”  But as things in this culture slowly changed, more African Americans became affluent enough to escape the inner city as well, and Ferguson was one of the places they headed to find opportunity.  They still weren’t welcome, and they’ve encountered the racism and discrimination that moved out of the city a couple of decades ago.

I don’t know how to evaluate the death of Michael Brown, because I don’t know all of the facts.  What I do know is that this is an incident that is a symptom of a much greater problem that has existed for a long time.  It’s a problem that the Christian church has had ample opportunities to resolve, or at least to put itself in a position to be the resolution.  It can’t do that until it stops worshipping at the throne of wealth and power.

 

While I’m Talking About Race…

…I picked up this statement from Dr. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas.  Cornerstone is a large, predominantly African American congregation that is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and Dr. McKissic has served as a trustee at my alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, not far from his church.  This was in a blog discussion about Ann Coulter’s recent insensitive and uninformed remarks about Dr. Brantly, the missionary who was recently returned home after contracting the Ebola virus in Liberia.  They will lead me to a different discussion here.

“As a National Baptists lady said to me recently, ‘Southern Baptists are doing a lot better, but they still are not there yet'; that pretty much tells the story of how those of us who are Black SBC’ers are viewed by those outside of the SBC, who are Black. We are viewed as belonging to a group who is “not there yet” . So there is some level of rejection, ridicule, and disdain for those of us who are Black SBC’ers, in the same way Black political conservatives are rejected and ridiculed.” –Dr. Dwight McKissic

You know, I surprised myself by getting his analogy.  Without getting into personalities, African American political conservatives are used by political conservatives to make a point, because they deviate from the expected norm.  But among those who are known in this category, when they express an independent perspective that doesn’t tow the party line, their view is discounted and devalued.

Likewise, it seems to be becoming increasingly important for Southern Baptists, and other conservative evangelical denominations, to demonstrate a level of inclusiveness that allows them to reach into the African American community with evangelism and missions, and open the door to African American churches to join the denomination.  That is happening.  But in spite of the election of Dr. Fred Luter, an African American pastor from New Orleans, to the SBC presidency, and an increasing presence of African Americans on committees and boards, the prevailing attitude toward African American involvement still seems to be that they must change and adapt to the status quo if there’s an expectation of being included in the leadership core.  Dr. McKissic has experienced that himself, in expressing his view on speaking in tongues and private prayer language.

I think the question that Southern Baptists, or any other denomination wanting to increase the involvement of African Americans, need to ask is “What do we need to do in order to ‘get there’?  And then, after asking, they need to listen, and to take what they hear to heart, and do it. I think the realization that it would require equal sacrifice and equal effort is what is “not there yet.”

National Baptists, a historically African American denomination, and the SBC, have a lot in common.  They have a fraternal relationship, have had some shared ministries, including support for a college and seminary in Nashville, and share more dually-affiliated churches than any other denominations.  What would happen if the two denominations, and their institutions, merged?  And beyond that, worked toward merging churches?  Who would be expected to give up a level of leadership in order to make it happen?  Could a predominantly Caucasian church in, say, Selma, Alabama accept the leadership of an African American pastor, or accept merging their congregation with a larger African American church?  Because those are the places where the change will have to take place.

I’ve worshipped in SBC affiliated churches that were racially diverse, and led by a pastor who was a racial minority.  Just a few weeks ago, we visited a church in Maryland, in the DC suburbs, pastored by an African American, and as racially diverse as any congregation I’ve ever been in.  There were equal numbers of African Americans, Caucasians, and a Korean-speaking worship service, along with a half dozen other racial backgrounds represented in the congregation.  Of course, just visiting a worship service doesn’t tell you much, and this is the DC suburbs, in a community where racial diversity has been a way of life for a long time.  But the worship worked well, the congregation was quite friendly, and they seem to have a well established ministry.  The associate pastor was also African American, and the worship leader was Chinese.  Someone is doing it, so it can be done.

“Separate but equal” isn’t a Christian principle that I can find.  This is the kind of thing that attracts more excuses why it can’t be done than reasons why it can.

 

A Change of Perspective: Eschatology

The first time that I ever did any serious Bible study was in college.  At the small, Baptist, liberal arts school that I attended, the courses were available, the professors were interesting and knowledgeable, and having a Bible class each semester helped me get through my other coursework.  After four years, in addition to my history major, and English minor, I also had a minor in Biblical studies.  It came in handy when I attended a theological seminary for a master’s degree, and across a thirty plus year career in Christian education and discipleship.

If you’re a serious student of the scriptures, then you know the feeling of discovering something that God placed in his written word for you to know, and to find.  The other thing that I discovered is that the scripture doesn’t always support my presuppositions, nor those of the people in the churches where I grew up.  It can be quite disconcerting to discover that something your childhood Sunday School teacher, or home church pastor, taught or preached doesn’t quite find support in the Bible.

More than anything else, my view of eschatology and “the end times” has changed considerably from my own study of the scripture.  Though my course of study in seminary was Christian education, hermeneutics and systematic theology were still required courses, and I had excellent professors who taught more about how to study the scripture than insisting on having their students adopt their perspectives and interpretations.  The only thing I knew about eschatology prior to seminary was what I’d read from authors like Hal Lindsey, Salem Kirban, John Hagee and Pat Robertson.  I’d never really looked closely at the scriptures, which those authors and other premillennial dispensationalists take out of context, and even separate from their context.  I didn’t even know that there was more than one theological vein of eschatology, other than pre-wrath or post-wrath related to where to place the “rapture.”  After a seminary course which exposed me to the other views, over time, I’ve done a lot of reading, applying the hermeneutical principles I know to the study.  The end result has been a gradual, but steady change of view.

In looking at this subject, the main change I’ve encountered is something that I never really thought much about before, and that is the nature of the concept of “Israel” as a spiritual house of God, and the concept of “chosen people” not being racial, but spiritual.  After all, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and the four women who bore his children, were all Mesopotamians, descendants of the Sumerians, Chaldeans and Babylonians.  “Semitic” is the commonly used term.  The fact of the matter is that in the Old Testament, it wasn’t necessarily race that made one eligible for participation in the Tabernacle, nor the Temple once it was build.  Israelites who failed to demonstrate faith by following the religious law, or who were disobedient or rebellious against the family community were cut off and excluded, while gentiles who accepted the faith, believed in God and submitted to the law, known as proselytes, were included.  If it were a matter of race, the intrusion of Ruth, a Moabitess, into the genealogy of Jesus, would nullify the “chosen people” claim.  But Ruth accepted the old covenant, and became a believer and follower of the one true God, and was included.

God’s plan for Israel was to make a spiritual nation, not necessarily a political one.  That was their idea, when they fretted about not having a king.  God’s prophets pointed out where this was inconsistent with his plan, as he relented in allowing the creation of a political state.  That, from the record of Kings and Chronicles, didn’t turn out well, but they’d been warned.

The Jewish religious leaders missed the Messiah, because instead of reading the signs in their scriptures that formed an arrow pointing straight to Jesus, they were looking for a political leader to restore the political state, and free them from Roman rule. I can see where circumstances of the times would lead to misinterpretation of the prophecy in hand.  But I see nothing in scripture where God’s promises of restoration ever meant a political kingdom.  The King that the major and minor prophets refer to, and the restoration of Jerusalem and Israel that they predict all point to the spiritual kingdom that Jesus established, not to a resurgent empire of David and Solomon.  Jesus was the only heir to the throne of David, and that’s a huge context clue to direct the restoration references in the prophets to his kingdom, the Christian Church.

That puts Peter’s words in a clear context:

” For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” I Peter 2:6, ESV

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  I Peter 2:9-10, ESV

The chosen people were now as they always had been, those who believed, and accepted God’s covenant in he way he offered it.  Jerusalem, Zion, had been restored, and the Kingdom of God was established, as the prophets had said.

“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”  Matthew 21:1-11, ESV( boldface emphasis mine)

Now, how did that crowd know when to be out there on that particular road, on that particular day and at that particular time?  The words of the prophet.  A lot of premillennial theology connects the book of Daniel to Revelation, but the context of Daniel points to the time of the coming of the Messiah.  This particular prophetic reference is in Zechariah, but Daniel speaks of the “seventy sevens” which puts this time in its perspective.  People of God’s covenant, Jews in Jerusalem, lined the road from Bethphage to Jerusalem in anticipation of seeing the fulfillment of Zechariah’s words, and they weren’t disappointed. And I believe that some of them believed that they were seeing the Messiah.  They were the ones who knew the scripture, and understood that what God meant was the restoration of his spiritual house, not a political kingdom.

So when Jesus told his disciples, not many days later, that the temple would be destroyed, not one stone would be left standing on another, and that some of them would not taste death until those things had come to pass, he set the context for interpreting what is known as his “Eschatological Discourse” in Matthew 24.

 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”  Matthew 24:34 ESV (emphasis mine)

A futurist interpretation of Biblical eschatology hinges on interpretation and translation of the term in bold as “this race,” meaning the Israelites, or Jews.  But remember, the context of God’s chosen people isn’t about race, it’s about the spiritual kingdom.  It always has been, and as far as I can see in the scriptures, it always will be.  So these words, with which I will close, from Revelation 1, have a meaning and a context for the first century church, and confirm the accuracy and infallibility of God’s written word, interpreted in consistent context with all of the rest of it.

“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”  Revelation 1:1-3, ESV (emphasis mine)

Blessed are the Peacemakers…

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”  Matther 5:9, ESV

 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”  James 1:22, NLT

There is a great tragedy unfolding in the Middle East.  Regardless of who is justified, who is wrong, who is right, what you believe about eschatology, or your political convictions, what is happening in Israel and Gaza is a tragedy.  All war is.

Keep in mind, this isn’t the first time Israel and Gaza have been involved in a war.  The area is a tinder box.  Gaza is a small strip of land that lies between Israel and Egypt, and circumstances have made it what it is.  Most of its native Arabic population has lived in peace with Israel since the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and the establishment of the independent State of Israel in 1948.  But because of its location, and the political circumstances of attempting to create separate Arabic and Jewish states in Palestine, Gaza has become a place where militants, extremist Islamics, and refugees have blended into the population.

The extremism of the militant Islamic groups in the Middle East is dangerous, no doubt, not just for Israel, but for the native Arabic populations whose ancestry and ownership of the land in the area goes back to the fourth century.  It’s like attempting to figure out a Byzantine maze.  Three of the world’s major religions have their origins in the small piece of desert that is now primarily occupied by Israel.  There’s a long history of war and conflict between all three, and a long history of intolerance, and the inability of the adherents of any of those religions, Jews, Christians and Muslims, to share control of the region.  Christians were eventually relegated to second class status, and became a small minority of the population.  Likewise, the Roman conquest and destruction of Jerusalem ended the political presence of Jews, scattering most of those who survived into Asia Minor and Europe.  Muslims conquered an empire, and then divided over religious and political control, fragmenting into warring factions that are almost as hostile to each other as they are to those of other religions.

The interference of European imperialism further complicated the situation.  Modern “colonialism”, which has taken the form of political alliances with various sheiks and political dictators in order to gain access to the area’s mineral wealth, primarily the oil, has contributed to the rise of militant Islam.  International politics, with the great powers choosing sides and helping one or the other, in the hopes of getting their hands on the mineral wealth of the region and having a dominant political influence, only makes things worse.

Think about it in terms of how you would feel, if your family lived in a particular region, with ancestry that goes back for centuries, under the political control of people whose religious beliefs, language and culture is similar to yours, and suddenly, by a decree forced by a foreign power, you are deprived of your property, and forced to move into an unfamiliar city or area, with no compensation for the life you and your family have built.  And in the new place were you are forced to move, you are treated as a refugee, and an unwelcome guest because the presence of your family, and thousands of others who have also been forced to move, has created overcrowding and shortages of food and goods.  Would you be resentful of your circumstances?  Would you be susceptible to a militant movement that tells you their aim is to get what is rightfully theirs?

It’s presumptive to take the view that what transpires in the Middle East is all part of the plan of Biblical eschatology from a premillennial, dispensational perspective.  First of all, that would be claiming to know a future that Jesus plainly told us he doesn’t even know.  Second, it would be stepping out of our position as redeemed, forgiven sinners and into the role of self-appointed prophet.  Prophecy doesn’t just involve predicting the future, it involves proclamation of God’s word, and the prophetic voices that are needed in this situation are the peacemakers, not the self-proclaimed eschatologists.  Prophets are called by God, not by those who assume that their interpretation of scripture is superior to other interpretations of it.

We only get the perspective of what is going on from brief sound bytes and video clips provided by news media, so it is impossible to make a judgment about who is right and who is wrong.  The militants in Gaza claim that they’ve been wronged by Israel, who dictates where they can live, who have taken homes and businesses away, limited access to their communities, in their process of building a nation.  The Israelis claim they are defending themselves from unprovoked attack.  Knowing the history of the Middle East, including the steps leading up to the establishment of the independent Jewish state, I don’t think anything in the Middle East can be called “unprovoked.”  And I doubt whether any news media report we get is objective.

The people of Gaza, most of them natives who aren’t Hamas, or militant Islamics of any kind, are caught in the middle.  It seems like this is a great place for the peace of Jesus and his gospel to speak.  These are two groups of people caught in a religious conflict that is outside of the will of God, and both religions, all three if you want to consider that most Israelis are not practicing Jews, but are generally agnostics and atheists, have rejected Jesus.  The way I read and interpret scripture, the most effective ministry Christians can have is the one that we’ve been charged with from the beginning, to love others the way Jesus did, and to look past the labels.  Do our actions and words related to this conflict reflect Christ?  Think about it.

What does God’s word say about how to treat people?  Then do it!