You Have Heard That it was Said…

‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you:  Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your faiher in heaven.  He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  Matthew 5:43-45, NIV

When I first learned those verses, as memory verses in Sunday School, I could only imagine that my enemy might be other kids in my class or school with whom I didn’t get along.  There were a few kids in my class who were more or less everyone’s “enemy”, some more than others, and it was difficult to practice this principle with them in that situation.

There were two kids in my school, a boy named Ben who was one grade ahead of me, and a boy named Steve, one grade below, whom I considered to be my “worst” enemies.  Ben was the kid who could instigate trouble and walk away, leaving others to catch the punishment.  Steve was the guy who you saw two or three times a week making the trip down the hall to the principal’s office.  I can’t really recall why we didn’t get along very well.  I just remember that they were the only two kids with whom I ever got into a fight.  It was really more of a pushing and shoving match, but the consequences that were handed out were the ones that went with fighting, and I remember that the humiliation and embarrassment of having to go to the principal was moderated considerably by the feelings of satisfaction that came about as a result of seeing both of them enduring the same punishment.  Of course, later on I felt guilty about it, a little bit, but I remember thinking how hard it was to love my enemies, and at that particular time, I wasn’t interested in doing that.

So how does this particular part of Jesus’ teaching fit in with beheadings and immolation that are brought to us through modern electronic images from a part of the world that is as foreign to most of us as the dark side of the moon?

The same kind of cruelty existed in Jesus’ day.  In fact, in Judea, during Jesus’ lifetime, it was probably a daily part of life.  The Romans were, after all, the ones who instigated crucifixion, and they had little humanitarian concern for the people they subjugated.  And it would not be long before many, if not most of the followers of Jesus through the first century of the church would be subjected to horrific torture and murder, for the purpose of deterring any more followers from joining them, and to eventually wipe them out.  We’re talking literally tens of thousands of Christians, over 150 years, being burned at the stake, thrown to wild animals, crucified, tortured, and otherwise subjected to extremely cruel persecution.  Against that backdrop, are the words of Jesus, exhorting his followers to “love their enemies.”

He set the example for doing this.  While in agony on the cross, he prayed to God, asking him to forgive those who were crucifying him, because they did not know what they were doing.  I believe his church is now facing a time during which this particular core teaching of Jesus will be challenged as much as it ever has been in modern times, at least since the Second World War.  In the face of persecution which may not directly affect us, but which will become visible because of the instant transmission of video information and the ease of accessing it, the church will be required to respond in a way that is completely consistent with its claim, and with this particular teaching of Jesus.  How well will it hold up?

Ken Whitaker is the author of a book entitled Murder by Family.  It is the story about how his oldest son conspired to kill all the other members of his family, wound up hiring a guy who was willing to do it, and make it look like a burglary attempt that was foiled when the family members came home.  All four family members were shot, the oldest son a superficial wound to make him look innocent.  Ken, the father, was also not fatally wounded, though his wife and youngest son both died.  Eventually, the oldest son was caught, convicted in court, and is now on Texas’ death row.  During the punishment phase of the trial, Ken pleaded with the jury not to give him the death penalty, and testified that, in spite of the fact that his son had done this horrendous deed, he had forgiven him, because Jesus required it.  Reading his account in the book, Ken writes in such a way that you can see how this has come about, not through his own strength, but through the Holy Spirit.

That’s a very hard concept to understand, but this particular book had a way of explaining it in a way that I could understand.  That’s because I knew this family well.  I had taught both boys in high school.  In fact, both of them had accompanied me and our group from the school on a summer mission trip to Kentucky.  When the youngest son and the mother were murdered, I had trouble feeling any kind of compassion for the murderer.  When I found out who had done it, and why, it was even more difficult.  But after reading what Ken wrote, the kind of forgiveness that was required was understandable.

I think that what’s coming down the road in the Middle East will be a major challenge to this core teaching of Jesus.  But I think that, through these events, the world will have a huge, very visible means of viewing one of the core principles of the Christian faith, up close and personal, so to speak.  It may be, perhaps, one of the greatest witnessing opportunities we’ve ever had.  Imagine the impact of seeing Christians practice a life-enhancing, genuine principle of Jesus that is a demonstration of his absolute love for humanity.

Imagine the contrast that is to the destructiveness and inhumane faith of the enemy.

 

 

In the Name of God…

At the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, President Obama made reference to the violence and murder being done in the name of religion.  He began with references to various instances of Islamic terrorism committed by the Taliban, and by ISIS, including the Charlie Hebdo headquarters killings, and then expanded his remarks to include religious violence in Africa, waged against both Christians and Muslims, and finished with remarks about the Crusades and the Inquisition.  That unleashed a firestorm of criticism about his “comparison” of the two, and the launching of a variety of apologetics among many Christian conservatives, and non-Christian political commentators like Rush Limbaugh.

Are you kidding me?

“Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this:  to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”  James 1:27 HCSB

The President is not blaming the crusades or the inquisition for either Islamic extremism, or the violence that it brings.  He’s simply making a statement that beheadings, torture, kidnapping, and burning people alive are not characteristic or definitive of any true religion.  And whether you agree with him on much else or not, he’s right about that.  The criticism that is coming from some sources is misplaced, silly, and pointless.  And frankly, it makes those who are making those criticisms look stupid.

Defending the crusades, and the inquisition, doesn’t make the point.  It doesn’t matter that there were hundreds of conquests of Europe and the near Middle East four hundred years before by marauding Muslim armies, and comparatively fewer crusade conquests by armies who believed they were fighting under the cross.  They were not an expression of true religion, as it is defined in the Bible, or revealed by God.  Many of the crusades turned out to be exercises in sacking and burning towns and cities, murdering people and carrying off their belongings for personal gain, not to advance Christ’s kingdom.  At least one crusade lost sight of their cause early in their journey and wound up sacking and looting the city of Venice, rather than going on ahead to Israel.

The inquisition was also not an example of the church’s best moment, and is, in fact, part of its worst history.  Those of us in the Protestant and Evangelical traditions of the church should recognize the inquisition for the evil that it was.  It wasn’t the church’s best moment.  The President made his point, that what we are seeing with ISIS is not worthy of the use of the term “religion.” To go anywhere else with that, pull it apart and use this to criticize him is asinine.

When you believe God is holding your coattails and cheering you on in your crusade to run the world, you’re dangerous, plain and simple, and it really doesn’t matter whether you’re Islamic, or Christian, or Buddhist, or Jewish or Hottentot.  You’re also not doing God’s will.  

I heard a long discussion today, on talk radio, about how the Koran is very inconsistent on this subject, and that it actually promotes violent behavior on behalf of Allah.  I’m not familiar enough with it to have read those passages, but I’ll take the word of experts on the subject.  Apparently there are several contradictory verses in the Koran where followers of Allah are exhorted to kill infidels, or to “even the score” against infidels who are enemies by executing in the same manner in which they were attacked, which would explain why ISIS chose to burn the Jordanian pilot instead of beheading him.  But then, without a lot of training or study, or a clear understanding of the difference between the Old Covenant and the New one in Christ, there are a lot of places in the Bible that could easily be misunderstood as God’s universal instruction to believers to act against those who are described as the enemies of God.  And there have been, and still are, people who are quite willing to cite those passages to justify criminal behavior, even in our day and age.

The term “religion” is a rare one in the scripture, in fact, from a New Testament perspective, appears twice in this part of James, and then only one other time, when Paul uses it to describe the people of Athens after looking at what they had.  In the contest of the passage in James, while he is clear in demonstrating that good works do not “save souls,” he is making the point that pure religion is evidenced by righteous attitudes that come from God, and that doesn’t include violence and hatred.

The attitudes that most American Christians have toward their brethren who do not share exact doctrine or interpretation of scripture are bad enough.  But there was a time, in Christian history, when one could be burned at the stake or executed in some other cruel way for not believing and acting the way that church leaders thought they should.  And I think Jesus made is crystal clear that kind of behavior did not belong in his church.

There is a lot of senseless violence in the world, much of it justified by invoking God’s name or will.  Though none of it will be resolved until the Prince of Peace returns, it seems that our time could be better spent doing something to bring people to Jesus, rather than trying to be critics of those who are in a position to address the problem.

Pushing Intolerance has become a Business Venture

Radio.

Growing up in the sixties and early seventies, it was my preferred form of media, and the source of most of the music I listened to.  I must have been about nine years old when I got a portable radio in a blue plastic casing for Christmas.  It could pick up both AM and FM stations, but in the small town in the part of Southern Arizona where I lived, we were too far away to pick up any FM signals.  It did pick up the stronger stations from Tucson, including a couple of them that played “rock” and a few stations in some of the surrounding towns, mostly country music.  The night air carried signals from more powerful stations on the West Coast, and from the Midwest.  In the daytime, I’d switch back and forth between AM stations in Tucson, but at night, I could go from KOMA in Oklahoma City, to WOAI in San Antonio, to KFI in Los Angeles, with a swift twist of the fingers.

But it wasn’t long before FM radio began taking over the airwaves.  By the time I went off to college, there were several FM stations in nearby towns, and even one in my hometown.  AM had strong signals, but they couldn’t duplicate the sharp sound of an FM signal, and a lot of people, including in the radio business itself, thought that the day of AM radio was over.  But while the FM signals could carry music with a much sharper, clearer sound than an AM signal could, change came to the radio business that would allow at least some of the more valuable and powerful AM stations to remain viable.  The change became known as talk radio.  And while there were a few all-news stations in existence during the era of AM radio, a lot of stations found ways to convert their formats successfully, and maintain a large enough audience to survive, and in some cases, thrive.

Talk radio provides a great service, and a lot of valuable information.  However, a lot of station owners realized that even in some of the larger cities, providing traffic reports, a fifteen minute news cycle, the weather, and a sports report every hour on the hour, only required one station.  But radio is a creative business, and over time, the radio stations developed programs that attracted listeners, a sort of “tabloid” approach, or “Jerry Springer meets the CBS Radio Mystery Theater.”  Incorporating entertainment with topics drawn from the news, and building on a foundation of some earlier, similar programming, plus technological advances that allow dozens, and even hundreds of stations to pick up and broadcast a satellite signal, the radio talk show evolved.

Some of the programs have been pure entertainment, like Phil Hendry.  I picked up his broadcast one night while driving home to Texas from a meeting in Nashville.  It was being carried on one of the old AM stations I used to listen to at night when I was a kid, and I picked it up right around Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and listened to it all the way to Laurel, Mississippi where I stopped for the night.  I was delighted when I found out I could pick up the same station in Houston, at night, and even more so when I found out he was carried on a local station.  And of course, there was Larry King.  If you ever had insomnia, Larry, in his earlier years, was a great companion at two in the morning.

Of course, now, in the daytime, and early evening, we have plenty of four hour programs that blend entertainment, of a different sort, with politics and commentary.  We have the leaders in the business, and we have plenty of wannabees.  There are some excellent, local hosts on some stations, who have the job of more or less following up locally with the direction the “big boys” have gone during the day, and then there are others (one in particular that I can think of on one of Houston’s AM talk shows) who have no tact, and very little respect for the intelligence or integrity of their audience.  But this is America, and we do have protected free speech.  The relatively low overhead cost of radio makes it possible for one individual behind a mic to reach a large enough niche audience to pay quite well, and provide station owners with the means for expanding their business.  The lack of tact, and the “nasty little man behind the mic” approach, is actually a means of attracting an audience that would otherwise probably be listening to old ZZ Top or George Jones and Tammy Wynette.

You don’t have to listen very long, daytime or evening, to understand what really drives the business.  Just delivering political commentary would be boring.  And with the number of local and nationally syndicated programs sharing what is really a relatively small audience compared to other media, particularly television, and limited by both time, and geography, talk radio has become tabloid sensationalism.  And mixed in with all of that is an approach that appeals to people’s prejudices and biases, tendencies to believe the worst about others, and permission to be intolerant.  Yeah, I know we are all accountable for our own actions, but when a radio personality can help us vent frustration by name calling those who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum, and using disrespectful terms to characterize “the other side,” they are pushing our buttons.  They are also encouraging the same kind of behavior, in some cases perhaps even prompting it.  But while we are most definitely responsible for our own behavior, don’t think for a minute that one of the radio personalities after whom you’ve modeled your behavior will either accept the responsibility for leading you where you’ve gone, or for something  you may have done at their urging.

Because most of these radio hosts function under the self-proclaimed category of “entertainment,” (loosely interpreted) they have determined that they can take liberties with facts.  To maintain some credibility, they do, at times, put a few of those forward, but not before setting the context in a completely different direction on both sides of the issue.  But there’s also an element of deception and sensationalism woven into the presentation.  In most cases, at least among those that are nationally syndicated, they are careful to avoid actually being completely exact, or clear, in the wording of something they want to communicate.  It’s sort of like saying “Betty White dyed in Hollywood today…”  Unless you were reading the message, and saw the spelling of the word, you might draw a completely different conclusion.  Such is the art of talk radio.

And it doesn’t take much to convince this particular niche audience.  Usually, the distortion of facts and truth, the deceptive tactics, the sometimes outright lies and then later denials of “I didn’t say that, exactly,” and the belittling and name calling makes me change stations pretty quickly.  When I have listened to most of a particular program, I’m appalled at the thought that there is anyone in the world who could not only listen, but actually believe such twisted, inaccurate garbage.  But there are a lot of people who are unable to discern the world as they see it, from the way their favorite radio deejay wants them to see it, and they’re pretty much already on board.  If the guy says the sky is pink with purple polka dots, they agree, and then avoid looking at it because even though they know it’s not, they don’t want to see the evidence that their favorite radio commentator is wrong.

After having listened to several of these guys on a fairly regular basis, as much as I can stand, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.  1.  These guys have a high level of contempt for the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.  They are bottom feeders who are treating the soldiers who fought and died to keep that right protected with the utmost contempt and disrespect, and are selling their integrity for money.  If that’s harsh, so be it.  2.  They have bottomless disrespect and contempt for the intelligence of their listeners.  They must get a lot of laughs when they discover that their fact twisting, and in some cases outright falsehoods, are treated as inerrant and infallible scripture.

I still listen to AM radio.  I’ve found, in Pittsburgh, a great station, in fact, the oldest broadcast station in the US, that carries all local talk hosts.  No national syndicates.  And even though they sometimes get into politics, local, state or national, there’s no contempt, no disrespect for those who hold other views, and their tone of voice is reasonable.  It is also pleasing to note that their ratings exceed the FM talk station that carries some of the more popular national syndicates, as does the local ESPN station, and several of the music stations.  You don’t have to turn your radio off, just switch it over.  It’s radio.  You can listen to whatever you want to.  Get your politics by thinking for yourself, and leave your radio for music,

Too Much Going on in the World…

…for me to comment on the NCAA playoff selections.

I think most college football fans could come up with a better, more fair means of recognizing the best team in the country than what we have.  But in the long run, that’s not really an important issue, worthy of much in the way of cyberspace.  Money runs that show, and it always will.  I can think of thousands of ways that it could be better spent, and the sport returned to its pure state.  I’ll leave it at that.

Back to Ferguson, After the Grand Jury: Is This a Setback?

Leaving the comments on the rightness or wrongness of the grand jury’s verdict in the Darren Wilson case to the media, and the court of public opinion, I’d like to give some of the other elements of this event a closer look, because I think that’s where the real progress can be made, and some real good done.

First of all, I feel the most sorrow for the business owners who placed their trust in the community, and located their businesses in a place where they found themselves in the middle of something they didn’t plan, or expect.  They were serving the community, investing in it, and while they were benefitting from it, they didn’t deserve to bear the brunt of a jury decision they had no control over, nor the wrath of a community blindly lashing out to vent its anger and frustration.  More than any other aspect of this event, they have a legitimate complaint regarding what happened to the protection they were promised, and why the instructions they were given to stay away, and the protection they were promised, did not materialize.

I feel sorry for Michael Brown’s parents and family, because while they seem to understand the differences that come about from being part of a racial minority in a predominantly Caucasian culture, and seemed to know the dangers and prepared themselves and their son for them, they really didn’t expect him to be another victim, and they really hoped that he wouldn’t.  I’m not in a position to judge his character, his parents say he was working to build a better life for himself, and that he “wasn’t a thug” and I’ll take their word for it.  It’s just that everyone, or at least most everyone, does have a measure of hope that things are different now than they were then, and there’s hope that while its still not a perfect world, and it never will be, hope leads people to think that maybe things will be just different enough to be better for them.  There was hope in Michael’s family.  His mom was beginning a new marriage, he was going to school and learning a trade, his Dad had become re-committed to his Christian faith.  And then, suddenly, after making a poor choice in a situation that many kids of his age face, and in which they fail, he was dead on a nearby street as a result.  That shattered all hope, all good feelings about the future, and became a major setback for a community hungry for positive change.

I feel sorry for Darren Wilson, and for the entire Ferguson police department.  It will be a long time before he and his family are able to live a life without always looking over his shoulder, and will perhaps never be able to live without worrying about a breach in the security that protects him.  It’s doubtful that he will ever be able to return to his job with the Ferguson Police Department, and perhaps whether he will ever have an opportunity to work as a police officer again.  A civil lawsuit and a possible investigation into civil rights violations and a federal indictment are still possibilities.  As far as the Ferguson police go, their job will now be much more difficult than it was before.  They will be in more danger, and their ability to get the kind of results they need to protect a community will become much harder because of the loss of community respect.  I can’t imagine how their family members will feel, every time an officer goes to work and is out on patrol.  And how many lives will be disrupted as police officers decide Ferguson is just not the place for them, and they look for employment elsewhere, uprooting their families in the process?

This is a setback.  And unless we recognize it for what it is, and are willing to discuss it honestly, the progress our culture and society has made in this area will continue to be set back.  There are voices, some of whom have a prominent platform, that represent interests which represent a perspective on race and culture that is interested in setting back progress, and clings to false ideas about racial inferiority and superiority, and use events like this for whatever advantage they can gain, usually a monetary profit or a political perspective.

Are we willing to consider a genuinely Biblical, Christian worldview on this topic, or is that just lip service we use to gain an advantage or support our own prejudices, which can be conveniently dropped when things need to get real?  I was raised in a relatively conservative tradition of Christian faith, Baptist to be specific, Southern Baptist to be exact, a denomination formed out of a complete misinterpretation of Biblical principles that led to the support of slave owning on racial grounds, and which didn’t have a Biblical worldview of race or humanity for over 150 years before finally repudiating its past.  Even now, I’m pretty sure that a Biblical worldview on this subject is neither accepted by all Southern Baptists.  However, in the church where I grew up, teaching that all people, regardless of skin color or racial background, were children of God, and were equal in his sight.  There was a recognition that things in society were not that way, and that part of the church’s responsibility was to minister to people who experienced the pain and humiliation of racial prejudice, as well as to advocate to change the culture.

Whether we ever get to the facts in the Michael Brown shooting or not, this incident is one of many that indicate there is a problem.  Finding fault with those who have supported his parents, and who advocated for an indictment of Officer Wilson from the grand jury is only ignoring the problem.  Criticizing the protesters is turning a blind eye to the problem.  The reaction to this shooting is built on years of frustration, repeated similar incidents, and increasing evidence that there is a definite pattern of inequality of treatment when it comes to racial origin, particularly if the victim is an African American male.  That doesn’t mean that the police officer was necessarily wrong in making a judgment about how to perform his duties in this situation.  What it does mean, however, is that the system that trained him to do it was flawed, and that’s what needs to be changed.  Michael Brown was followed and confronted by a police officer because he had allegedly stolen cigars from a nearby liquor store, and the confrontation became violent because both individuals involved were operating out of preconceived ideas about the person they were encountering, and out of fear of where the confrontation would go.  It is very correct to conclude that if the victim had been white, the police officer wouldn’t have bothered with the confrontation and that conclusion can be drawn by the myriads of similar confrontations, in America, in St. Louis, and probably even in Ferguson.  The officer’s automatic response that he would have handled it the same way if the kid were white is an obligatory response, not fact.  The fear and mistrust wouldn’t have been the same.

As a Caucasian male, past middle age now, I can’t even begin to pretend to understand the feelings of people of color, or different racial heritage, when it comes to living and working in our culture and society.  I have been privileged because of my racial background, and my gender, and while I strive to understand and care about people, and desire to treat everyone equally, I have accepted the benefits of privilege naturally, in many cases never recognizing them for what they are.  I certainly hope that I do not react as some do, when this status is rightfully challenged as being both unfair, and inconsistent with a Biblical worldview, with anger, accusation of motives, or expressions of hatred simply on the basis that the challenger is of a different race or national background.  I grew up with friends who were of Mexican descent, or Native American origin, and I hope, that as a child not understanding the privilege I had because of my race, I didn’t treat them in a way that was demeaning or condescending, and since several of them have remained close friends into adulthood, I feel better about it.  But I must acknowledge that I cannot understand the frustration and the feelings that come out of growing up in America as a person of color.

As a result, when something like Ferguson happens, it needs to get the attention of everyone in our society, and the voices that are raised in protest need to be heard.  Instead of automatic discrediting, or picking out the flaws and faults in their position, the response should be to listen, and then to hear what is being said.  And in acknowledging that our understanding won’t reach their experience, we still need to be willing to make room for their perspective, and make some changes which will show a level of respect for their feelings, and their experience.  Of course, there are those who are looking for personal advantage amid the chaos, who see an opportunity to loot a store, or vent their anger by setting a fire.  But that wasn’t limited just to the protesters.  Apparently some white supremacists also took advantage of the anonymity provided by the chaos to burn a church and loot the home of the protest organizer.  We are a fallen, sinful people and selfishness will always rise to the surface, like scum.  The real problems, and the real solutions to them, lie well beyond those distractions.

Add this verse to consideration of your Biblical worldview:

“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all.”  Colossians 3:11, NIV.

Let the listening, hearing, and healing begin.

 

 

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.