Monday, May 7, 2018

It's a gift, not an entitlement

In the mid-1980s I was part of the now-long-disbanded post-college fellowship at my then-church, founded and led by the church’s parish assistant who had put together a “relationships seminar” (my, and likely others’, gateway into the church in the first place).

Through it I began to understand something I had not considered before: A relationship with a woman was and is a gift, neither earned nor something to which I was entitled. Indeed, one of the women in the group composed a song, “You’re a Gift,” that was sung at many weddings within that group.

I bring this up because of the recent incident in Toronto in which one man plowed car his into a group of women; it turned out that he was an “incel” — short for “involuntary celibate” — who was angry that he wasn’t getting the sex that he felt he deserved. We in Pittsburgh have seen such an incident, as nine years ago a man named George Sodini shot up a suburban LA Fitness before turning his gun on himself for similar reasons.

But before we denigrate such people for their murderous rampages, how often do we do the same thing — feel entitled to what we have or get angry when we can’t get it? Some reality must come into play because it gets into comparing yourself with everyone else. I often wonder about the social skills, or likely the lack thereof, that causes such men to feel left out. (I left the aforementioned group in part because of so many weddings.)

I got back into social dance in 2009 after some time away and, while I understood this instinctively, after a dance you’re supposed to thank your partner — because she could have said no. (I will often bow to her.) Indeed, I recently read an article on a West Coast Swing site where part of the atmosphere is to allow your partner “an amazing dance.”

In other words, it’s not always about you and what you want — you need to think about the other person as well.

But back to the relationship aspect. Recently one woman I met at a singles dance asked me why I wasn’t married; I told her, without rancor, “It just never worked out for me.” I’m hoping it will someday, but it isn’t something that I “deserve.”

It’s a gift, folks, not an entitlement.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

'Understanding' Trump supporters

Leonard Pitts Jr., a columnist for the Miami Herald, recently wrote about a woman who insists that the rest of the country learn to “understand” those who supported President Donald Trump. He said that he wasn’t prepared to do that.

Nor am I — for one solid reason: Many of them don’t care to understand anyone else. And that’s the reason why we have such discord in this nation.

In one sense, this doesn’t surprise me. In the 1980s I was a regular subscriber to Christian media, which continually referred to anyone who disagreed with the conservative worldview as “anti-Christian.” Clearly, they (and likely their adherents) didn’t want to “understand”; they just simply saw enemies all around and in many cases sought to defeat them by raising money and outrage. That, folks, doesn’t take much to understand — if you're not with us you are the enemy.

See, we who aren’t conservatives really do understand them. Most of us do talk and listen to people not like ourselves; I understand that liberals comprise a quarter of the audience of the Fox News Channel. Part of being fair is listening to the other side.

That being said, we do believe, and can generally prove, that “conservatives” really do get things wrong, but if we say that we’re often accused of being “biased.” This is the reason they complain that the mainstream media delivers “fake news,” though responsible media never use fewer than two independent sources for any story they publish or broadcast. During his administration Trump has consistently refused to be called out on his consistent malfeasance and his supporters go right along with him for reasons I don’t understand except that he’s simply their guy. Moreover, many of these “Christian” leaders don’t confront him on his abuse of power and immoral behavior, cheapening their own message in the process.

And that’s why I’m not prepared to “understand” Christians who support Trump; there’s really nothing to understand except that they simply wanted people they didn’t agree with pushed out of power by any means necessary. All they do in the process is create resentment and anger — not toward Jesus Himself but political power brokers misusing His name.

Monday, April 30, 2018

What Stephen Carter doesn't say

Recently author and Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter wrote an essay, published in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in response to a fairly snarky piece in The New Yorker about the firm Chick-Fil-A’s alleged “infiltration” in New York City because of the founders’ explicitly Christian beliefs, specifically that homosexual conduct is morally wrong. Trying to suggest that Christians of all stages — young, old, those of color — might have been offended, Carter writes, “When you mock Christians, you’re not mocking who you think you are.”

The trouble is that Carter seems to paint all evangelical Christians with the same broad brush. When most people criticize “conservative Christians,” it’s understood that it isn’t the faith itself that they find chafing but their desire for cultural supremacy, and most of the people demanding such supremacy, overwhelmingly white and who have the wherewithal to run large-scale political campaigns, have themselves stated that they speak for so many millions of people or even God. While not explicitly stated, that was the intent of The New Yorker’s piece, which is likely why African-Americans and other “Christians of color” likely weren’t at all offended — they understood that it didn’t apply to them.

Carter mentions that the African-American population is more likely to attend church and, according to polls, believe that their faith informs what they do. But keep in mind that it was the African-American church from which the civil-rights movement sprang two generations ago — and which at the time was generally opposed and today generally ignored by white evangelicals. That’s because black and white American Christians have different histories and cultures and thus interpret the Gospel through different lenses. Not for no reason are the vast majority of African-Americans registered Democrats.

And when you consider the 1980s “golden age” of media so-called ministries, almost all of them were run by white male baby-boomers whose audiences were, among other things, frightened by their cultural privilege slipping away. Since black Christians never held such privilege we never paid that any mind, which is why so few of us were involved in the anti-abortion or anti-gay movements (despite that many of us actually agreed with them).

Carter also writes that large number of “millennials,” including Asians and Latinos, adhere to the Christian faith.  But again, they don’t share the political/ideological views of the previous generation, with fairly large numbers accepting “gay marriage” (a view I don’t share) and adopting a pro-life position greater than just opposing legal abortion (which I do agree with).

Basically, Carter’s concern is way off-base. The response to Chick-Fil-A in The New Yorker was based not on the Christian faith itself but on the fear that certain Christians have felt a need to shove their cultural agenda down the throats of others — and when you do that, pushback becomes inevitable.

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.