Help for Louisiana

For about 18 years, I’ve worked with a group of people known as World Changers.  Not the church in Atlanta, but a group that initially came out of the Brotherhood Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention as a mission service ministry for junior and senior high age youth.  World Changers started with a few construction projects in the Appalachian region of the country, helping low income and elderly homeowners accomplish some much needed repair, weatherization and maintenance work on their homes.  It also offered opportunities to minister to neighbors and friends who came in contact with the youth groups.  Over its existence, hundreds of thousands of youth have participated, and thousands of homeowners in hundreds of locations, all across the country, have benefitted from this ministry.

World Changers were thrust into the disaster relief ministry business with a series of projects scheduled in the city of New Orleans following hurricane Katrina.  God had a different set of plans for those students scheduled to participate in a project in Joplin, Missouri when, just a few weeks before the project was scheduled, a tornado ripped through the town.  It changed many lives forever, and it changed the focus of the World Changers project that week as a couple hundred Southern Baptist youth helped residents recover.

Since then, World Changers projects have focused on recovery from disasters in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Moore, Oklahoma, and along the Jersey Shore following Sandy.  Now, they’re preparing to mobilize and help the residents of Baton Rouge and South Louisiana once again in the wake of their flooding.

This is not a time to play politics.  I remember when the Bush administration botched the relief for Katrina that was supposed to be helping the people in New Orleans.  Part of that was causes by administrative bureacracy, and part just because people wanted to find a way to be critical of a President they didn’t like.  From almost the first news of the flooding in Louisiana, the President has been on top of this, and the administration’s people whose jobs involve responding to such disasters, and providing assistance have been operating in Louisiana for over a week now.  They are in daily contact with the President, and the federal assistance is already making a difference for thousands of Louisianans affected by the flooding.  The fact of the matter is that getting the President into Louisiana now would be a logistical drain on their resources, as the governor pointed out.  And there would be critics who would simply say he’s grandstanding.  What is happening now is what is best for Louisiana residents affected by the floods.  They’re getting help, he’s providing the leadership through his people who are there, and that’s that.  It’s insulting and childish to do what the right wing extremist radio deejays want you to do, and that is to make a political issue out of everything that the President does.  Let’s let this be about what it should be about.

FInd a way to help, do it, and stop gossipping about the President.

What Really Matters to a Christian, American Voter

Albert Mohler and Russell Moore Explain Why They Can’t Support Trump

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-religious-rights-last-gasp_us_5790d94fe4b0a86259d0d897

Character is important.

The voting bloc that has become known as the “Religious Right” has done an excellent job of establishing its political position around what it defines as “Biblical values,” and it promotes this position largely through Republican party politics.  Formed out of common opposition to the legalization of abortion, with the Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court in 1973, the Religious right has influenced the platform of the Republican party, and the election of countless candidates for office, including the Presidency.  Though it has not always been successful legislating its values agenda, it has enjoyed some success as a political force since 1980.

There is no denying that the character of candidates has been a core issue among those in the Religious Right, and that it has been important to them to identify potential candidates for office who understand, and claim to have, a personal relationship with Jesus in the way that the Evangelical branch of Christianity defines it.  It’s not always been easy to do that, and in some cases, to get the support for the values in the political agenda, the definition of “born again Christian” has had to be expanded for political purposes.  But there’s been no doubt that the leadership of the Religious Right has made the Christian character of the candidates it supports a centerpiece of its agenda.

There’s been no point in history when that was made more clear than during the eight years Bill Clinton served as President of the United States.  Perhaps because Clinton was an active, and very visible member of a Southern Baptist church, the Religious Right leadership was relentless in its efforts to attack his character at every possible point, and make sure that all of his behavior which they considered inconsistent with what they defined as “Christian” was made into a major issue.  He didn’t always help his own cause, and though he succeeded in defeating their efforts, including winning two elections and then beat back an attempt to remove him from office via an impeachment, their eight year battle during his time in office crystallized their perspective.  It is quite clear, from that point on, that the Christian character of candidates who receive their support is equally important to their position on the issues.  They established a standard that defied the concept of voting for the “lesser of two evils,” and rightly so, by stating that evil is simply evil, doesn’t come in varying degrees, and that Christians who are committed to their faith are responsible before God for their nation’s spiritual life and reputation.

The conclusion of that perspective is quite clear.  Individuals who don’t meet those standards aren’t qualified to serve.  Period.  There’s no doubt about that.  The words of many leaders in the Religious Right, like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, D. James Kennedy, Robert Schuller, Al Mohler, Richard Land, cannot be taken back.

Mitt Romney’s Presidential candidacy posed a bit of a problem.  Romney’s Mormonism is as politically conservative as Evangelical Christianity in most ways.  Though Romney had departed from the faithful when it came to pushing Massachussett’s version of Obamacare when he was governor, from a values and political issues perspective, he was on board with most things.  But Mormons are not doctrinally compatible with Evangelical Christianity.  From the basic belief in salvation from sin, to acceptance and influence of the Bible, to belief that it is the written Word of God, Mormons and Evangelicals are religious opposites.  So, during Romney’s candidacy, there were some attempts by Religious Right leaders to change the religious aspect of the values position to allow for someone like Romney.  It was hypocrisy compared to their earlier view, but it worked, as more Evangelicals supported Romney in 2012 than had ever turned out for any specific candidate before.

Trump’s nomination has served to completely undermine and discredit what integrity the leadership of the Religious Right had left.  Character is certainly no longer the issue, and attempts by some Religious Right leaders to turn Trump into a born again believer are becoming an embarrassment to them.  It’s not for anyone but God to judge, but when he makes public statements that are contrary to what Evangelicals believe about the salvation experience it doesn’t put those leaders in a good light.

But Evangelical support for Trump is also hypocritical.  How can character be so important, for 30 years, after convincing millions of voters that it is, and using it to contrast virtually every Republican who has run for Presidents since 1980 with every Democrat who has run, and then, suddenly, to throw your support to a candidate who is worse than any Democrat whom they’ve attacked in this regard, including Bill Clinton.  President Obama’s Christian faith has been criticized, judged, mis-judged, his church and former pastor attacked, and he’s been accused of being a Muslim.  If all of that is a problem for Religious Right leaders, but Donald Trump’s unrepentant adultery, use of bankruptcy to get ahead, lies and fraud, and promotion of, and earning money from gambling interests, strip clubs, and bars and nightclubs, is not, then you have an example of blatant hypocrisy.

I’m not going to paint with a broad brush.  I’ve included some links here to statements by some Religious Right leaders, including Russ Moore, of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Al Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  They’re not buying support for Trump, and they’re being consistent in not supporting Hillary, either.  I also have to mention David Rogers, who is the son of the late Adrian Rogers, of Memphis’s Bellevue Baptist Church.  David isn’t exactly a high profile leader in the political religious right, in fact, he served on the mission field for a number of years before returning to Memphis to work with a church plant and teach Spanish, but he’s been a powerful advocate of third party voting for Christians to demonstrate their integrity.

If you believed what the Religious Right once stood for, then be consistent.  Character of the candidate is important, and while you are not electing a pastor in chief, you are electing someone who needs to have a healthy dose of values and character, and a connection to the God who created the universe, and his son, the savior of it, in order to be an effective President.

 

 

Wayne Grudem is Wrong

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”  James 4:17

There is no such thing as the lesser of two evils.  At least, that is the case if you claim to be a Christian who believes that the Bible is God’s written word.  Evil is evil, without degree or status.  You can’t make a moral, character argument against Hillary Clinton without also making the same argument against voting for Donald Trump.  There’s no question that the difference that Grudem is citing boils down to simple politics, and that’s not enough to justify voting for Trump if you are a Christian, and if you accept the Christian right’s political premises and positions.  They can’t be justified with Trump’s behavior, nor with his potential to be a renegade and not pay much attention to his supporters if they wind up electing him.  He’ll pass legislation that allows the legalized robbery of the working class to get worse than it is, putting more money in the pockets of his own billionaire frends.  Sorry if you don’t want to hear that, but it is the bottom line.

If you can’t vote for Hillary, because she is a liar, and is of corrupt character, then you can’t vote for Trump for exactly the same, easily provable reasons.  And if you do go ahead and vote for Trump, while citing Hillary’s corruption and lies, then you are a hypocrite.

You can’t ignore three decades of religious right political history.  The Religious Right, made up mostly of Evangelical Conservatives, has rested its movement on a social agenda that features strong opposition to abortion rights for women, and on the character they claim that Republican candidates bring to the table, namely, having a born-again experience with Jesus as their savior, and sharing a similar, born-again, Evangelical faith.  There’s been a broadening of acceptance of candidates who practice their faith in more liberal, mainline churches, like George H.W. Bush, who was Episcopalian, and George W., who joined his wife’s relatively liberal Methodist church in Dallas.  Patrick Buchanan more or less made it acceptable for religious right acceptance of Catholics with the correct political agenda.  The only real departure from this guiding principle has been the acceptance of Mitt Romney, a Mormon, as the 2012 GOP nominee, and he shared the political values.

Trump has nothing in common with religious conservatives.  Nothing.  Nada.  Personally, I don’t think the adjustments he’s made in his political perspectives in order to win, instead of go down to defeat like he did early in the primaries in 2012, came from convictions, but from his tendency to say whatever he needs in order to get elected.  If he does manage to win, I think his Evangelical, and populist, followers are going to find out pretty quickly that he is not a man of his word, and he will do very little of what he says he’s going to do.  That’s been his pattern as a businessman for his whole life.  What is there about him that makes you think he’ll change?

I think it is irresponsible for Christian leaders to try to make a case for voting for him, based on some kind of Christian or Biblical worldview, or foundation.  It can’t be done, especially if the case depends on a comparison to Hillary Clinton.  If voting for her is bad, then voting for him is just as bad, based on the standard, “Christian” perspective that the religious right has consistently applied to Presidential candidates since at least 1980.

On the core issues of importance to religious conservatives, Trump is probably not on board at best, and couldn’t care less at worst.  He says he’s changed his mind about abortion, but his charitable contributions don’t reflect much of a change.  He’s not opposed to same-gender marriage, or to any LGBT rights, including the right of transgender persons to choose the bathroom they want to use.  Rejecting immigrants based on their religion isn’t a Biblical principle, nor is it constitutional, particularly not from a strict constructionist, or originalist view.  And there’s nothing particularly Christian about his tax proposals which are basically robbing from the working and middle class to give to the wealthy. So what’s the attraction again?

The character issue is where I fail to see why anyone who claims to “vote their values” would even give him a second look.  Though billed as a real estate mogul, he earns most of his fortune from gambling interests and strip clubs.  He’s proud of his third wife’s nude photographs.  His bankruptcies affected thousands of workers, both his own employees, and those of contractors that he didn’t pay, while pocketing millions in his own personal fortune.  He’s admitted, but not apologized for or repented from, the adultery that cost him two marriages.  His business dealings are not the kind of thing that make him an example to younger people.  And while some Christian leaders have tried to be convincing regarding the fact that he’s made a “profession of faith,” it’s not that convincing in light of his behavior.

Honestly, this is the way I look at it.  Vote for whomever you think will be the best person for the job.  Do what Ted Cruz encouraged at the RNC, vote your conscience.  But don’t try to convince me, or anyone else for that matter, that there’s a distinction between the two major party Presidential candidates when it comes to “voting values,” or voting based on some kind of acceptable Christian standard, because there isn’t one here.

 

Free to Vote Your Conscience

My early October birthday allowed me to register to vote in the presidential election of 1976, when Jimmy Carter ran against incumbent, but appointed, Gerald Ford.  I voted for Carter, who won a close election, though he didn’t carry my home state of Arizona.  Part of the reason for my support was Carter’s Southern Baptist faith, and the way it seemed to permeate his life.  He was an honest man, and a genuine one, and I think a lot of people who normally wouldn’t consider themselves Democrats supported him because of his honesty, and because, in the wake of Watergate and Nixon, Ford represented the corrupt past of the GOP, regardless of his lack of connection to it.

Since becoming involved in politics in relatively large numbers, the character and faith of the candidate has always been at the core of the argument for supporting their election.  Particularly in Presidential politics, Evangelical Christian leaders have gone to great lengths to convince their followers to vote for a particular candidate because they were “one of us.”  Of course, the social agenda, particularly opposition to abortion, and then as it became more prevalent, opposition to same-gender marriage, are bottom line deal breakers.  But the evidence is overwhelming when it comes to the character issue.  So Wayne Grudem’s recent post, which makes the rounds on social media, laying out a moral argument for supporting Donald Trump, is a complete and total departure from where Evangelicals have been in politics at almost any point in the past.

Attempting to turn candidates into born-again Bible thumpers has been, in fact, a key component of Evangelical involvement in the GOP.  While none of the last three Republican presidents would ever actually use the term “born again” to describe their faith experience, it was not for lack of trying to tag them that way on the part of Evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Ralph Reed.  In fact, it was the election cycles in 1992, 1996 and 2000 that made this component of Evangelical involvement in right wing politics virtually dependent on the candidate’s religious beliefs, because the opposition party nominated Bill Clinton, a genuine, water-baptized, born again Southern Baptist who sang in the choir of Little Rock’s largest and most influential Southern Baptist Congregation during his term as governor, and then Al Gore, another born-again Southern Baptist from Tennessee who even attended seminary for a while.

The Republicans have even managed to nominate at least one Evangelical Christian during this long stretch of talking about it.  John McCain was raised Episcopalian, but when he was nominated, was regular in his attendance at the Southern Baptist church where his wife was a member.  He chose another active Evangelical, Sarah Palin, as his running mate.  During the campaign, Evangelical leaders in particular did their part to support him by attempting to tear down the relationship between Barack Obama and his UCC pastor at Chicago’s largest United Church of Christ congregation.

Things have changed.

The nomination of Mitt Romney in 2012 forced Evangelicals to decide if they were going to abandon their “born again” criteria as a qualification for presidential candidates, or at least abandon attempts to convince people that the Republican nominee was born again, or support Romney.  Turns out, it wasn’t all that difficult a choice for them.  After some noise at the outset of the nomination, Evangelicals turned out for Romney in a way that they never had for candidates of their own faith family.  Neither Mike Huckabee nor Ted Cruz, both Southern Baptists and prominent Evangelical leaders, got the kind of support that Romney, a Mormon, did.  Evangelicals lost a lot of credibility with that move.  If the faith of the candidate really does matter in an election, citing James 4:17 as scripture support as they have for years, then supporting Romney was a clear departure from that position.

And that’s when all the self-justifying responses started.  “We’re not electing a pastor, we’re electing a President.”  That was one of them.  “I certainly wouldn’t want Romney to serve in my church, but being President is different.”  It paved the way for the kind of pitiful justification for voting for Donald Trump that has been put out by Wayne Grudem, and others.

Evil is evil, and the Bible doesn’t measure it by degrees, it measures it for what it is.  If it is wrong to vote for Hillary Clinton, and you list moral character as a reason for it being wrong, then Donald Trump is certainly not a “lesser” of two evils.  Evil is what it is, and if you believe it is morally wrong to vote for Hillary, then you are a hypocrite if you turn around and vote for Trump.

 

 

The Lesser of Two Evils

There is no such thing.

Do you read and study the Bible?  Is that what you use as your standard for measuring truth?  Where, within its contents, do you find the place where it determines that some evil is worse than other evil?  On what page, or in what scripture reference to you find sin measured by degrees of its separation from God?

Oh, I’m sure there is some wording, some nuance of a phrase, or a prophet’s description of a concept that was difficult to put into words, where it might appear that God placed more weight on one kind of evil, as opposed to another.  Something that he called a particular kind of abomination, as opposed to just a regular abomination.  But that was in the interpretation, not the definition.  There’s that bothersome list over there in Exodus 20 that forms the crux of the Old Testament law and puts some definition to those measurements that God intended for us to know.

The other problem is that Jesus, in the other testament, makes a statement about being the one sent to fulfill the law, not abolish it, and introduces the concept of grace.  That really makes it tough to figure out different degrees of evil, because grace is simply and plainly grace, and if there are degrees of it, then it isn’t grace any more.  If grace is the remedy for evil, and it only occurs when there’s a need for it, then there can’t be evil that is more or less evil.  It’s evil.  It’s sin.  It’s separation from God, and if you are separated, you can’t be any further away than you already are.

This presidential election is giving me a headache, and causing a heartache.  Christians are valuing the secular power of a possible Supreme Court nominee, and their perception and perspective of other secular political positions against their own integrity and reputation as the church.  Christ’s church.  They are finding excuses to dismiss, or ignore, one candidate who has displayed evil, immoral behavior while vilifying another candidate for the same thing.  They are using arguments like “We’re electing a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief,” and “I have to support the lesser of two evils” as justification to endorse and support a candidate whose political position, demeanor and treatment of others, and moral life, is visibly contrary to the values and principles that define life in Christ, led by the Spirit.  At the same time, they are joining in the spewing of hateful, slanderous and often exaggerated rhetoric against the other candidate.  It looks like hypocrisy to me.  Frankly, it is.

“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.  The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.  You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors a bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”  Psalm 5:4-6. 

I spent too much time this week watching the RNC.  I don’t care what you think about Hillary Clinton, or her candidacy, or Barack Obama, or how passionate you are politically, there was absolutely no excuse for the kind of character assassination that took place during that convention.  It gives a whole new definition to the term “mudslinging,” which is actually no longer adequate to describe the experience.  I understand that Hillary Clinton is the opponent, but spending the entire week doing virtually nothing but attacking her says, in tones just as loud as the chants, that the Republicans have absolutely nothing to offer the American people that will change anything.  If they had something, they’d have invested some time in telling us about it, instead of how bad she is.

They gave a whole boatload of credibility to her claim that the attacks on her are a sign that the Republicans have nothing to offer.  The point has been reached where the constant beating of the drum is tiresome.  They are actually pushing voters in her direction, rather than convincing them to vote for their guy,  among independents, by almost a 2 to 1 margin.

I’m no big fan of Ted Cruz.  But the man has integrity.  That pledge he signed, to support the nominee, was made before the slanderous falsehoods were made by Donald Trump against his family, who should have been off limits for comments.  Trump’s statements released Cruz from that obligation, legitimately and morally.  And I believe that Exodus 20:16 trumps any reference to remaining loyal to an oath.  Sorry for the pun. Watching the convention turn on him, so quickly, and angrily was surreal.  Who are these people?  How in the world did they become the delegates to the convention of the party of Lincoln.

I’m sorry I watched.  But I won’t be sorry that the RNC nominee won’t get my vote.

Convention Watching

Some interesting observations.

The hurricane that cut off the first night of the GOP convention in Tampa in 2012 also cut out some important television coverage.  There’s still debate over whether than might have been a critical factor in Romney’s loss, though the results of that election, not nearly as close as some predicted it would be, indicate that it probably didn’t really hurt the candidate or the party.  But figuratively, the hurricane that blew through downtown Cleveland on the first night of the RNC 2016 was much more devastating from a political perspective.

The last thing you want to see is a floor fight over the rules, but that was characteristic of the first images of the convention.  Ultimately, the Colorado delegation walked out, and delegates from several other states, while not drawing attention to themselves, also left.  An NBC reporter sent to get comments from a Virginia delegate found their section empty well before prime time.  The lineup of speakers, while popular among some segments of Trump supporters, weren’t enough to draw viewer ratings anywhere near what was expected.  And then there was Melania.

Since Monday, we’ve gone from “there wasn’t any plagiarism, the phrases are common” to “well, she didn’t really go with the original speech that the writers came up with,” to “OK, she did plagiarize because she likes Michelle Obama and liked what she had to say, but its no big deal, really, is it?”

It’s a big deal.  Not just the plagiarism, but the attempted cover up.  Then they call Hillary Clinton a liar.  Really.

Then there was Pat Smith.  Wasn’t it the Republican party which leveled scathing criticism against the Democrats for trying to gain political capital by riding on the grief of mothers of young, black men who were shot by police?  And for using the grief of Eric Garner’s wife and family to try to gain political advantage?  I have a lot of sympathy for Mrs. Smith, and her family, but her blaming Hillary Clinton for the death of her son was not only way out of line, it wasn’t based on any factual information produced by the Republican party’s own investigations of Benghazi.  The accusation of the alleged “stand down” order has been proven false, as have the accusations that requests for increased security were “ignored.”  And in fact, the terrorists who attacked the embassy did indeed plan for their attack to coincide with the disturbances and protests in Egypt, in order to cause a deliberate distraction.  It wasn’t a good move, and from what I’m seeing in social media, and bloggers, it didn’t go over as planned.

If you’re going to focus on magnifying allegations related to criminal investigations (which didn’t turn out like most Republicans wanted) it is probably not a good idea to use the New Jersey governor who is presiding over the most corrupt administration in that state’s history–and that is saying a lot–to be the one to deliver the charges.  With investigations of individuals he appointed going on for everything from corrupt bank and money deals, to cover ups of criminal activity, to Bridgegate, which is a big deal, it turned out to be the pot calling the kettle black.  Christie sounded, and looked, like a New Jersey thug.

Of course, by the time Christie got to the podium, prime time had passed, and many delegates had already left the hall, some in disgust.  Even as late as Tuesday night, there were efforts by Never Trump supporters, who seem to be a significantly large segment of the convention delegates, to overturn the rules and move for an open convention, including Colorado on Monday, and Alaska on Tuesday.

The apparent highlight of the convention up to that point was the speech by Donald Trump Jr.  He’s a good speaker, and he had a lot of good things to say.  Unfortunately, his speechwriter missed some quotes from a newspaper reporter, and failed to insert the citations.  Not as big a deal as Melania, because it was just a reporter, so there wasn’t any potential admiration of “the enemy,” but plagiarism is plagiarism, and he should have known better, or his speech writer should have.

I haven’t heard any talk about issues.  Maybe here and there, but this whole think is about attacking Hillary Clinton.  Perhaps the best strategy that the Democrats, and particularly that the Clintons, have had in their favor over the years comes from the exaggerations and accusations made against them.  As Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake said, it is “jumping the shark.”  It’s going to come back and bite them.

Ironically, the convention is meeting in Ohio, selected because of its visible importance to the electoral vote, and the state’s governor, along with its senators and congressmen, are staying away and not being seen.  What does that say?  And as I think about that, I wonder, given the circumstances of this election, how it was that the party of Lincoln nominated the reality tee vee guy, and not the lincolnesque, well reasoned, experienced governor of Ohio, who, looking at things now, would be a relatively easy walk-in to the White House.

The Silence of Jesus

If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.  But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?  John 5:46-47

Jesus didn’t address the issue of homosexuality directly, at least, not in the record of his preaching and teaching in the New Testament.  It is referenced in the Old Testament law, including Leviticus 18, among a whole list of sexual sins.  The argument against using this particular reference is that in the church today, we don’t literally follow the laws in Leviticus.  Yes, we do accept the principles that are found there, but we don’t execute unbelievers, or tear houses down because of mildew, or consider it a crime to wear clothing made from more than one kind of cloth.

Homosexual behavior is also referenced in the New Testament, most notably by the Apostle Paul, in Romans 1.  There is some disagreement over his use of the term “arsenokoites” in the passage, though in the context of the passage, the meaning seems pretty clear.  However, these are the words of the apostle Paul, and not Jesus, and therefore, at least goes the argument, they don’t constitute a conclusive doctrine on the subject.  Jesus himself didn’t address the issue, and that speaks volumes about whether or not homosexuality is sinful, and requires repentance and forgiveness like adultery, or other sexual sins do.

Jesus didn’t address a lot of issues.  However, his teaching is very clear, and the principles he taught are illustrated by parables and examples.   Of particular note are his words recorded in Matthew 5-7, in a body of teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount, in which he states that the purpose of his coming was to fulfill the law, and in which he lays out an interpretation that took the law out of the hands of those who had modified and adjusted it with tradition, and put it back into the realm of self-evaluation and soul freedom.   And the biggest change that he brought, the most radical shift in the practice of the Jewish faith as it had developed and evolved since the Babylonian Captivity, comes in that particular record of his words, most notably those statements which begin with, “You have heard that it was said…” and ended with “but I say unto you…”  But he never abolished the law, and in fact, he showed his acceptance of its principles, while at the same time going to a sacrificial death on the cross to pay its penalties on behalf of everyone else.

Marriage

Jesus isn’t silent on the issue of marriage.  In Matthew 19:4-6, he references the book of Genesis, citing a statement supporting the fact that marriage is between a man and a woman.  The context of his remarks are related to a question he was addressing regarding divorce, but that doesn’t change his reference to the Old Testament principle, which he clearly considers authoritative.  No other recorded statement of Jesus would support the claim that he also considers same-gender marriage legitimate.

The New Testament

While it is true that Jesus doesn’t mention homosexuality specifically, that fact doesn’t subtract from the authority of other Biblical authors, who were guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit, and who make statements under that authority.  Paul, who was an Old Testament scholar in his own right, spoke with spiritual authority when he penned the verses of Romans 1, describing and contrasting the wickedness of human unrighteousness with the truth that originates with God.  Romans 1:26 and 27 are specific definitions of depravity related to same-gender sexual activity, described in this passage, while in other places, I Timothy 10, and I Corinthians 6, the Greek word arsenokoites is used, and is translated to generally mean “homosexual.”

Paul’s apostolic authority comes from Jesus, whom he encountered on the road to Damascus.  It’s not contradictory to the teaching of Jesus, and who better than Paul would have an understanding of the Old Testament scripture and of Jesus’ interpretation of the role of the law in Christian faith?

What did Jesus Think?

Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin.  He didn’t abolish the law, he fulfilled it.  Paul explains how this works.  The law defines the boundary between human sin and God’s perfection.  Though it is impossible for fallen, sinful humanity to live up to it, salvation, and a relationship with God was once only possible through obedience, and when that didn’t happen, payment of the penalty through personal sacrifice.  Once Jesus did that for us, we were set free.  The law still defines sin, and sacrifice still pays the penalty.  We are obedient out of gratitude for the penalty that Jesus paid, not in an attempt to try to earn salvation or appease God.

But Jesus still demonstrates respect for the Old Testament law, and still uses it to define that boundary between God’s perfection and human sin.

“And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God commanded, ‘honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘whoever reviles father and mother must surely die.  But you say, if anyone tells his father or mother , ‘What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.  So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” Matthew 15:3-7, ESV

So how does that apply to this discussion?  Jesus doesn’t set aside the law for human tradition.  The law emanated from God.  Tradition emanates from human wisdom.  Human wisdom is blind to sin, especially in itself, and can’t find the pathway to the truth, and to salvation.  Jesus gives us all kinds of ways to find the truth, including pointing to the scriptures in an authoritative way.  God’s eternal power and divine nature are observable in creation, according to the Apostle Paul.  The written word, which Jesus affirms, provides a lot of fine tuning when it comes to understanding God and his will.  So Jesus isn’t exactly “silent” on any subject, whether it is mentioned by name or not.

Beyond mere understanding

We need to pay attention to what Jesus taught.  Christians should be known by their love for others, but we are, unfortunately, more often than not, known for what we exclude, judge and attempt to change with our own power.  Probably nothing illustrates that fact more than the way most of us handle this issue.  Sin is the condition of fallen humanity, but we’re the ones that categorize it into degrees, and make some sin worse than other.  God doesn’t do that.

Many Christians aren’t comfortable dealing with this issue.  They lack understanding of those who struggle with it, and can’t empathize, so they condemn it as a character weakness or a choice, and then ignore those who are suffering as a result of it.  Others have somehow determined, through their own wisdom and reason, or from that of the cultural influences around them, that there is nothing inherently sinful or wrong with same-sex attraction, and think they are doing right by affirming the individuals who struggle with it.  Both of those positions fall outside the parameters of Christian faith, and not only fail to adequately address the issue, but they condemn gays and lesbians to spiritual death with their thinking.  Condemnation denies people the opportunity to hear the gospel, while affirmation bypasses the necessity of conviction and repentance which blocks the work of the Holy Spirit.

There are a lot of places where the Bible provides counsel on dealing with this, but John 15 is where I’d go.  The fact of the matter is that Jesus does prune our branches, so to speak, getting rid of those things in our life that need to be taken out in order for us to grow and develop in our faith, while nourishing and feeding those which are necessary for our growth and development.  Jesus will, in his own time, and in his own way, take care of the sin problem we all have, if we are willing to allow him to do so.

 

 

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE SBC REGARDING THE CONFEDERATE FLAG — Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr.

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE SBC REGARDING THE CONFEDERATE FLAG From “Hearty Support” 1863 to “Discontinue the Display” 2016 BY WM. DWIGHT MCKISSIC, SR. At the near beginning of the 21st Century, The Southern Baptist Convention recently made the decision to address a heretofore unaddressed aspect of her history, and that is the SBC’s historic identity and […]

via THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE SBC REGARDING THE CONFEDERATE FLAG — Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr.

Be it Therefore Resolved: The Confederate Flag and the Southern Baptist Convention

“Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.”  Acts 10:34 NRSV

“Our new government is founded… upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”–Alexander Stephens, Vice-President, Confederate States of America

An Arlington, Texas pastor, Dr. Dwight McKissic, is proposing a resolution for the SBC to consider at its 2016 annual meeting that would put the denomination on record as being opposed to the use of the confederate flag in public life.  Dr. McKissic states that his proposal is “not a move toward political correctness”, but is, rather, ” a move toward biblical righteousness.”  (https://dwightmckissic.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/response-to-requests-to-withdraw-the-confederate-flag-elimination-resolution-at-sbc-2016/)

If you know anything about the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, then you know that it came into existence because of the issue of slavery.  Some Baptists in the south objected to the restriction on serving as missionaries that was placed on slave owners by the existing Baptist denomination, and in 1845, met in Augusta, Georgia, and formed a separate denominational body.  Many of its churches, through the years, have practiced segregation by restricting membership only to Caucasians, and many of its institutions also did the same.  In recent years, those practices and policies have been reversed, African Americans have been welcomed into the denomination and into individual churches, and in 2012, the convention elected Fred Luter, an African American pastor from New Orleans, as its President.  As the churches have become increasingly diverse, African Americans, Latinos, Asians and others are being elected to, and serving on the Executive Board of the SBC, in state conventions, and in related institutions.  In 1995, the convention passed a resolution that essentially apologized for its past segregation and actions that were considered racist. (http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/899/resolution-on-racial-reconciliation-on-the-150th-anniversary-of-the-southern-baptist-convention)

The discussion about the use of the Confederate flag has come to the forefront because of the murder of nine people attending a prayer meeting and Bible study inside a Charleston, South Carolina church.  That prompted the state government there to finally remove the flag from the grounds of its state house.  Since the SBC has lagged behind most other Christian denominations in racial reconciliation, this resolution will be something which will allow it to be a prophetic voice on this issue.

At the beginning of this article, I cited a quotation from Alexander Stephens, who served as Vice-president of the Confederacy.  Stephens was not the only one who articulated this idea.  Jefferson Davis, the President, echoed those sentiments, as did other legislators and leaders of the Confederacy, and there is plenty of supporting legislation to indicate that this is a founding, core principle of that particular nation.  You cannot separate that from the symbolism of the Confederate flag.  And why would the flag be the only symbol that represents the historic culture of the American South?  The Confederacy lasted a mere four years, and was a relatively short period of time in its whole history.  There is a lot more “Southern-ness” that is unique to the South, but not connected in any way to the Confederacy, than its brief, troubled history.  Let the flag go, and use something that doesn’t have all of that baggage to be the symbols of history and culture.

If the Confederacy was, indeed, about states rights, as some of its historical apologists claim it was, then it turns out that such an approach was a failure when it comes to building a nation.  The Confederacy abandoned the balance of powers between states and federal government in the United States in favor of a very weak central government, with states that almost functioned as independent countries.  The military goal of the Confederacy was not to conquer and occupy the Union, but to fight long enough and hard enough to hold on to their territory, and make the Union quit, in order to preserve itself.  But it was not able to achieve that goal because its central government was not able to function.  It couldn’t levy enough taxes to provide adequate supplies.  It had difficulty planning an organized military strategy because individual states could veto plans, or simply not provide the necessary troops.  While Grant was marching on Vicksburg, and Sherman marched across Georgia, some states held their militias, and their supplies, back to protect their own territory, allowing the Union forces to concentrate on defeating the larger, more effective Confederate forces.

The primary right of the states that the Confederacy aimed to preserve was legislation which allowed whites to own negroes as slaves.  Historically, there is no evidence that anything else rose to the level of inciting rebellion against the United States.  Not all of the states that allowed slavery opted to rebel, by seceding, which makes the issue of what the Confederate flag stands for even less related to Southern culture than it should be.  The flag represented a government in rebellion, with a perspective on humanity that was different from the “all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights” of the Declaration of Independence, codified in the constitution’s Bill of Rights.  It did take a while for Americans to come to a resolution of the application of that Biblical principle, at least from a government, legal perspective, though we still have a way to go socially.

I have ancestors who fought, and died for the Confederacy.  I understand the historical context of the Civil War, and I understand what the Confederate flag stood for.  Robert E. Lee signed the surrender at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865.  The Confederacy ended, and its flag should be retired.  And beyond a resolution which addresses its use in public life, the SBC should continue to renew its commitment to Biblical righteousness.  It is a denomination which is recognized for its heart for global missions, and that heart needs to extend to reaching into the cultural diversity that is America.

 

 

 

A Visit to Hiroshima, and some other places…

You shall not murder.  Exodus 20:13, NRSV

Set the politics aside for this one.

The President’s historic visit to Hiroshima, something which was long overdue and needed to happen, was not an apology.  That’s been a common criticism, but the critics need to set aside their politics and pay attention to what happened, and what was said.  Criticism of, and obstruction of this President has become so commonplace, that reason has been a hard goal to reach in discussing events such as this one.  I watched the entire event twice.  Let it be what it was.  It was a well stated position which, more than seventy years after the fact, recognizes the bombing realistically, set in the perspective of the most destructive conflict in human history, and points to the need for peace and away from war as the means to resolve problems between nations.  Any of the last four Presidents could have done the same thing, and would most likely have made similar comments.  President Obama’s visit was non-political, and its significance needs to be considered in light of what it really was, and it’s not about whether you like his politics or agree with his presidency.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki taught humanity a lesson.  We were at the end of a long, drawn out, and costly war, costly not only in terms of resources, but in terms of the number of lives lost, and the especially high percentage of civilian, non-combatant casualties, mostly due to the air war.  Initially, there was fear that Hitler would push his German scientists to build what his propagandists constantly promoted as “wonder weapons.”  The Germans were much further along in the nuclear development process than either the Americans or British, and if Hitler had got his hands on an atomic bomb, it would have been a very critical and grave situation for his neighbors.  As it turned out, his racial policy and his hatred of Jews drove out many scientists who came to the United States and helped accelerate our development of it.

Building the atom bomb was certainly not without consideration of what might happen if it should be used.  No one really knew.  The escalation of a long war against dictators who were committed to the principle of “total war” pushed development of the bomb, and limited speculation about what would happen if it ever were used.  Those who are quick to criticize need to understand that for the better part of the four years that the US was engaged in World War 2, the prospects for an Allied victory were not great, and no one really knew what the outcome would be.  The development and almost immediate use of the atom bomb were just an extended progression of horror, and advancing a threshold that had been moving in that direction for years.

In all fairness, the thresholds of morality and ethics when it came to dropping bombs on civilian non-combatants behind the lines in cities were broken by the dictatorships early on in the war.  The Japanese built a bomber fleet with the intention of using it against designated enemies to build their “Co-Prosperity Sphere” in Southeast Asia, and had been dropping explosives and incendiary firebombs on the Chinese for several years before the Germans copied their air force strategy, building a heavy bombing fleet instead of a fighter force, and turned it loose on Poland in 1939.  Several hundred thousand civilians had died, and acres and acres of cities in China and Eastern Europe had been laid waste before the Japanese navy sent their aircraft carriers west, and destroyed Pearl Harbor.  Technology changed the rules of war, and the change happened at a time when madmen had the power to change it.

War is a symptom of a fallen world.  Think about it.  As far as human civilization has advanced, by the time World War 2 came around, even with the experience of a previous war that had been more destructive than any prior to it, the same old, unresolved human problems were still seething beneath the surface.  Unfortunately, human advances in science and technology had gone further than human wisdom was able to handle.  Prejudice, jealousy, oppression, and hatred were fed by selfishness and greed, and the technology became a weapon to be used with the deadly intention of forcing people to bend to it.  You don’t have to look any further than the Second World War to see that humanity is fallen, as the Bible’s writers reveal.  The fact that the most destructive and brutal war in history, caused by greed, inhumanity and racial and social prejudice, occurred at a time when most people would think that human civilization had advanced to its highest point is proof of that point.

“Defending righteousness makes us feel virtuous, even as we undertake that which is utterly lacking in virtue.”  Phillip Gulley, “Living the Quaker Way”

The Nazi government of Germany, and the military dictatorship of Japan were both driven by “master race” philosophies.  In their own way, connected to their own culture, they believed, and used their resources to promote and teach, the superiority of their own national and racial heritage over others who were considered inferior.  It was a driving force in the actions of both countries which led to the initial start of the war.  The United States initially stayed out of the conflict, in both Europe and Asia.  The American people were frustrated by the Allied Powers’ lack of objectivity, and insistence upon feathering their own economic and political nest with the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I and had adopted a policy of isolationism as a result.  We largely ignored the Japanese invasion of China, and continued to sell oil and scrap metal to the Japanese military.  When war broke out in Europe, President Roosevelt was far sighted enough to realize that the conflict could escalate, and that Nazi expansionist policy would eventually threaten the United States, but the people weren’t ready for another “European fracas.”  By late 1941, the way things had developed had indeed rung the alarm bells, but even while the United States was contemplating “undertaking that which is virtually lacking in virtue,” that is, figuring out how to get into the war and answer the desperate request of the British for military help, the Japanese resolved the issue by attacking Pearl Harbor.

We must not make the same mistake by giving in to the philosophical mess that led Japan and Germany to believe the rest of the world was inferior, and to use that to motivate their people to support a global war against their neighbors.  It’s tempting to justify acts of war by weighing the value of one race or nationality of humanity against another, but that is wrong.   The American ideal that “all men are created equal” is rooted in scripture.  America itself is a melting pot of culture, ethnic and racial diversity, national origin, and even religious belief, and that fact is a strength that has proven to be far more powerful in building national unity than any “master race” theory ever could.  Yes, we suffered in World War 2.  Somewhere around 420,000 Americans, almost all of them military personnel, were killed, and about 12,000 civilians, mostly merchant marines, also died.  But there’s no quid pro quo here.  Comparing the value of American lives to those of the Japanese or Germans, or any other enemy, puts you in the same philosophical category as the master race theorists.  One of the lessons we’ve learned from Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that we can’t go there.

The other lesson is, perhaps more valuable.  Technology is moving forward with science, and with it has come the development of even more powerful, dangerous, and horrible weapons.  The first atomic bomb leveled most of a large, industrial city, and killed 130,000 people within a few seconds of the flash of its explosion. Nagasaki fared better, because the hills that enclosed its city center protected most of its residential neighborhoods from the blast.  But we have bombs available now that can travel on rockets to anywhere in the world in about 15 minutes time, and can wipe out whole metropolitan areas, destroy infrastructure, and create a wasteland that won’t support human life.

These things are in God’s hands, but he has given us his wisdom, and from it there are principles that we should be able to discern, regarding our very existence.  One of those principles is that the weight of the value of human life, created in the image of God, is far greater than the ability that we have discovered which has the capacity to destroy us.

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”  Matthew 5:44-45, ESV