Monday, April 23, 2018

'Traditional' vs. evangelical

Those of us who run in evangelical circles have talked about younger folks leaving the Christian faith, some of us wringing our hands in the process. Last week, however, one of those people came forward to share by video that she was joining their ranks. My heart went out to her.

See, I knew her — she had briefly been a worship leader at my church. She described her childhood in her evangelical world as uplifting, had gone to a well-known Bible college and was married three weeks after graduating. All well and good, you might say.

But while she didn’t exactly say this, I got the suspicion that she felt that she was conditioned to fit a system that, in her view, didn’t allow her to grow — in particular due to her gender.

And that’s causing me to rethink some things as well. Now, over the years I’ve become more of a traditionalist when it comes to women’s roles in the church, in large part because I as a man was treated better in complementarian settings. That being said, having myself not sought a leadership position in my church, I haven’t had the power to subjugate them.

But that’s not the point I want to make here. Rather, I sometimes wonder if, for the sake of maintaining its authority, we’ve lost the ultimate mission of the Gospel — to call people to Jesus, not a religious system.

In most churches, of course, you have “insiders” and “outsiders,” with the folks who grew up in that system receiving primacy. Christian media often reinforce that trend, with a focus on “traditional” values as such that is never to be questioned. But more than simply possibly harming females, the system ironically has also driven teen boys out as well because the energy they would bring simply isn’t welcome.

In writing this, I may be saying that evangelicalism as generally understood is in more trouble than I thought.

My own church has done an excellent job of welcoming “outsiders” into the fold. Our annual Thanksgiving testimony service almost always has people sharing their stories about staying “clean and sober” and, while I’ve never personally had problems with drug and alcohol abuse respectively, I applaud right along with them. Of course, these generally were not “good church people” analogous to the older brother of the proverbial Prodigal Son — and that’s the point.

Perhaps, rather than maintaining a religious system to which people have to conform — in my Sunday School class, we’re discussing Galatians, a big part of the controversy in that epistle — we need to open up our doors and hearts and welcome people, warts and all.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

'I never knew you'

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

— Jesus, recorded in Matthew 7:21-23

It’s my contention that so-called Christians who support President Donald Trump as “God’s man in the White House” are going to get such a rude awakening when they actually meet the LORD.

I put it that way because of the phrase “in Your Name.” What that means, in effect, is acting according to His character and otherwise doing the things He would do. And there are a whole lot that Christians support these days that, if you look at the Word even a little bit, He would never authorize.

As many of you know, a heretical doctrine is going around in some charismatic circles that Trump has a “Cyrus anointing,” the reference to a Babylonian king who allowed ancient Israel to return to its land (read: try to get back to its original splendor). The trouble, of course, is that such a return would be predicated on soul-searching to determine where the people went wrong — and we all know that such introspection won’t happen. (Indeed, were some prophet to lay out all the ways in which Christians have missed the mark he or she would be labeled as anti-Trump or, worse, “liberal.”)

Then you have the apparent corruption by or at least on behalf of Trump, whether before he was inaugurated or going on today. You’d think that folks who are concerned about God would address that because they don’t want to be identified with something that He Himself would condemn, but that’s excused because they’re under the delusion that Trump would spark a religious revival. Of course, they have no clue as to what revival actually means or how it comes about. (Hint: Not by pushing people around politically or socially as they are wont to do.)

What we’re dealing with, and to which Jesus was also referring, is the sin of presumption — the idea that we know better than God and that He has to work in ways that make sense to us and for only our benefit. And, like King Saul, that comes from pride, leading to an unwillingness to repent.

Thus the literally damning words: “I never knew you.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The imminent revival, part 11 — a desire for justice


Fifty years ago today Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at a hotel in Memphis, Tenn. With that has come all kinds of tributes to his “dream,” among other things.

Here’s something not often understood: The movement was the result of spiritual revival in black churches in the South. That’s important, because when you step out in faith under unction of the Holy Spirit and with humility you will be hassled — or worse. Keep in mind the idea that when you bother the devil he will return the favor.

Anyway, part of any revival necessarily entails social justice, aping the Prophets — the desire to make things right for everybody. The kind of “pie-in-the-sky” personal faith to which many subscribe cannot last long because it has to be shared with a world that’s falling apart. More to the point, you have to be willing to give your life — as Dr. King once said, “Even if physical death is the price that some must pay, nothing could be more Christian.”

And this is why folks who are calling for revival in this country really don’t know what they’re asking for. They seem to have this idea that a revival consists of the Holy Spirit merely sweeping people into churches and changing the moral temperature of the culture so that they can live in it and simply say that God is with them. Such a mindset deliberately avoids warfare, including the spiritual kind, which He will never allow. That’s why much of the American church is so feeble.

Dr. King is dead today precisely because he obeyed the LORD; remember that he never saw his 40th birthday, and he spoke many times that he didn’t think he would live very long. “But that doesn’t matter to me now,” he said the night before because, quoting from “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the LORD!”

And when you have you can face death with no qualms. So may we do so in working for justice.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The loss of koinonia

An unhealthy focus on politics over the past few decades has created the kind of divisiveness in American society that I haven’t seen in my lifetime. Families don’t speak to each other and even churches have lost membership (including mine).

You can add to the list of casualties the now-defunct all-Christian Latin-jazz-fusion band Koinonia, in its heyday a sextet with half-Anglo and half-Latino members. (The band’s name roughly translates from the Greek as “fellowship.”)

The whole thing started last night with a post on the band’s memorial Facebook page by keyboardist Harlan Rogers, who is Anglo; he says that he had rebutted a statement the band’s saxophonist Justo Almario made supporting gun control and was subsequently attacked by the wife of bassist Abraham Laboriel Sr.; Rogers said that she had posted lies and wouldn’t participate in any band reunion unless she apologized. Rogers went farther in his post, however, denouncing “liberals” and “progressives” and insisting that what he believes represent “truth.”

That was the problem. (The post has since been taken down.)

It’s been my experience that white conservative evangelical Christians treat their worldview as something never to be challenged and get bent out of shape whenever someone does. They don’t seem to understand that probably the majority of people of color don’t agree with it — in fact, they often don’t bother to ask. Though Almario comes from Colombia he would be considered black in America; I don’t know Mrs. Laboriel’s ethnicity, but her husband is a native of Mexico and would also be considered black. Christians of color already generally reject the conservative worldview for numerous reasons, but try telling that to white conservatives.

And it’s that lack of understanding the lens through which most Christians of color filter their faith (and everyone has such a lens) that causes much of the misunderstanding — and division.

So how do we address this? By understanding the context in which the other operates. Were this to happen we could reestablish the “koinonia” that is often lacking especially today.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The president and the porn star

Of late an adult-film actress and stripper named Stephanie Gregory Clifford, professionally known as Stormy Daniels, has said that she had an affair with President Donald Trump about a dozen years ago and that he has tried to buy her silence, per a recent interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” As I understand it, part of the controversy is that the $130,000 figure thrown out may have been paid out of campaign funds, which would be illegal.

Several female Trump supporters who I believe to be evangelical Christians have said in response, “You’re trying to impeach our president.”

That’s rich.

Here’s the problem: Would they say the same thing about a Democrat in this kind of pickle? I think you know the answer to that.

What I’ve believed for nearly 30 years is that Christians have maintained an obvious double standard when it comes to sexually immoral activity. When a conservative “messes up” that transgression is often covered, but when a liberal does it they want him removed. (I don’t recall any of these same believers calling for now-former Rep. Tim Murphy’s head after his mistress revealed that he had asked her to get an abortion. Murphy, who formerly represented a district here in southwestern Pennsylvania, resigned on his own.)

Anyway, other believers have referred to Trump as a “baby Christian” and for that reason alone don’t hold anything he does against him. The truth be told, I haven’t seen any concrete evidence that he’s changed his ways, and he certainly hasn’t said about this situation, “What I did was wrong.”

And I think I know why. Their goal was never really the propagation of the authentic Christian faith — it was always about maintaining conservative Christian hegemony. In such a case, however, the two are mutually exclusive because Godly standards don’t change.

This might be one of the reasons younger people are leaving churches. Christians who wink at sin for the sake of political power end up selling out God at the end. And thus we sabotage our own efforts to share the Christian faith — doing so comes off as inauthentic, let alone hypocritical.

It’s one thing for a Republican president who ran “the most secular campaign in [recent] history” not to trust God. It’s something else entirely when His own people don’t, either.

Monday, March 26, 2018

What's in a name?: Why we just can't 'forget' about slavery

A couple of weeks ago I saw a meme on Facebook saying that, because no one living today is or owned a slave, we should simply stop talking about chattel slavery of African-Americans before the Civil War. Here’s one reason we can’t and in fact better not: Our surnames.

Did you notice that the vast majority of African-Americans’ last names are European? Indeed, to be exact, mostly from the British Isles (mine is Irish) but also in some cases Dutch and French, and we ended up with those names because our cultural heritage is unknown to us. Not for no reason did Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X, né Little, reject his “slave name” when he got started.  And he created quite a bit of consternation in the process.

Plus, we also recall that white masters often sexually abused female slaves, indeed in many cases getting them pregnant, so not only do with have those names but a large number of us also have DNA. Occasionally you’ll see some blacks with blond hair or blue eyes — guess how that came about?

Well, can’t we just change our names to those of more African orientation today? Well, we don’t know what they’d be and, as we all know, names give a sense of self and belonging. And our nation has always had issues with cultural identity anyway when it doesn’t fit the “American” norm — for example, studies have demonstrated that African-Americans with more “African”-sounding names, in this case primarily first names, on their résumés get fewer calls for job interviews.

Now, I’m not speaking of maintaining resentment toward folks, and few are actually encouraging such. But before we can heal we need to recognize what is and has been — one reason we study history in the first place is to understand how we got to where we are today.

“Forget?” Not on your life.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Children’s Crusade, version 2.0

Since the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., student anti-gun activism has risen, most notably with a massive walkout that took place exactly one month later. And some who are criticizing their goal of reducing the number of guns available to cause such carnage are also complaining that they’re being manipulated by others—liberal groups, the media etc.

There’s actually historical perspective here — the 1963 Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Ala., during which children and teens cut class to protest segregation. On the surface it may have appeared to be a cynical ploy as was charged, but the kids themselves took to it as ducks took to water. Martin Luther King Jr., the spiritual leader of the movement, wrote that for the first time they were able to put into practice the Gandhian maxim “Fill up the jails.” (It got to the point that police couldn’t even arrest most of the students, thus forcing the politicians to negotiate with demonstrators to address segregation.)

It seems to me that many of the critics of the student activists really don’t want their voices heard at all if they differ from their own; it isn’t new, of course, because academia has been under attack for decades for similar reasons. And in fact, many movements — the anti-Vietnam-War movement most notably — started on college campuses; students had the energy and the passion to get their message across.

I found it amazing that many of their opponents who actually are politicians said publicly, in effect, “We know better.” Oh, really? The kids are the ones who are having their schools shot up, so they’re the ones actually living the nightmare. Why don’t the people in power actually listen to them? Oh, that’s right — they don’t want their pet agendas challenged.

Some have said that the Second Amendment encourages an unfettered right to firearms, which, as some courts have ruled, is a gross overstatement. Or that it would keep people safe from a “tyrannical” government, never mind the tanks, bombs and assault weapons at its disposal. Being armed to the teeth doesn’t keep the peace; it can in fact turn into war, and students are living that reality today. So perhaps their critics need to quit blaming outside groups for publicizing and helping the students out — and perhaps learn something in the process.

Dr. King quoted one Birmingham teen demonstrator as telling his parents that he wanted freedom for them too, “and I want it to come before you die.” He understood the stakes, and thus so do these students. Ignore them at your peril.