Saturday, December 20, 2008

Barack Obama -- truly 'Wild at Heart'?

Over the last couple of years I've become a fan of John Eldredge, author of the runaway best-seller "Wild at Heart," whose subject is Christian masculinity. Eldredge's primary premise is that men need to be "initiated" -- trained, tested and readied for battle -- in order to become real men. Having done so, the truly Godly man, in his view, takes the reins of power not primarily for his own benefit but for others'.

After rereading the sequel "The Way of the Wild Heart," and especially the chapter referring to the "King" -- that sequel actually discusses the numerous specific phases of a man's development -- I think I now have a better idea of how and why now-president-elect Barack Obama was able to win the 2008 election. It's not simply that he ran a near-flawless campaign or that he simply wasn't George W. Bush -- in comparing the two men, I notice very different life stories.

Obama, the namesake son of a Kenyan economist and whose mother was a free-spirited white woman, certainly had his challenges, but even with his globetrotting -- his mother eventually remarried and moved them to Indonesia -- I think he was forced to find a sense of his own identity (one of these days I'll read his books, then I'll know for sure). Of course, we all know he graduated from Columbia University and, later, Harvard Law School; but instead of going to a posh law firm he moved back to Chicago to become a community organizer, eventually also teaching Contitutional law at the University of Chicago before entering politics.

While in Chicago he began laying that foundation by cultivating allies, first in the city's South Side and including Marquette Park, the scene of race riots 30 years ago (which I found impressive). All the while, by many accounts, in every instance he took the the time to listen to people, even those he didn't agree with. I see a maturity and security in that approach simply because life is that way, and he built that career while avoiding much of the notoriously seamier side of Chicago politics. That maturity connected with much of the public, which was convinced that he "has what it takes" to run a country -- and that cool will serve him well next month when he's inaugurated. I also see his foreign policy as progressive and even-handed, eventually regaining the trust of allies on virtually every continent. In short, with apologies to the campaign of John McCain, he is ready to lead.

On the other hand, when I consider George W. Bush, the current president, I see just the opposite -- an "unitiated" man who became president to try to prove himself as a man but eventually failed. And in fact, he's been pretty much a failure at whatever he's done -- a mediocre record at Phillips Academy, Yale University and Harvard Business School; part-owner of the Texas Rangers; governor of Texas (which has little real responsibility or power). Today we know that his priority No. 1 was to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in part because of a failed assassination attempt on his father when he was president, in my book an abuse of his office, and we are now witnessing the fruit of that flawed decision.

His advisers, furthermore, were little more than "yes-men" who uncritically subscribed to their common right-wing ideology and refused to consider other ideas. Eventually he was done in by his botched response to Hurricane Katrina's devastation of the Gulf of Mexico region, specifically New Orleans. All in all, Bush wanted the power and perks of the office but wasn't fit to take on the responsibility that came with it -- and, in the process, he has taken down the Republican Party and the conservative apparatus that runs it, not to mention besmirched the name of Christ (because he identifies himself as an evangelical Christian).

None of this, of course, is to say that Eldredge endorsed Obama -- I'm certainly not aware of Eldredge's political leanings or even whom he voted for (if he even voted at all). But I do see Obama as having gone through the necessary process of growth, which means admitting mistakes and correcting course when needed, that Eldredge has spelled out. I can't say the same for Bush, who seems to have everything handed to him and, at least during the first six years of his presidency, refused to admit he made errors.

In short, it could be that Barack Obama is truly "wild at heart."

Monday, December 15, 2008

The imminence of spiritual revival

I was attending a Bible study on Friday, and the leader -- who I didn't know until that night was a staunch conservative Republican -- said that, while he believed in the sovereignty of God, he couldn't see how God would use the Democratic Party's victory in last month's national election for His purposes. But I believe, at some point, it will be obvious.

For this reason: In God's time, spiritual revival within the Church of Jesus Christ will eventually break out.

Now, how can I make such an audacious claim, considering that the vast majority of white evangelicals supported John McCain and the Republican Party, who lost badly? But that's precisely why I do. Because you have to understand what "revival" is all about -- not that our nation will be purified because once again our laws and culture reflect a "Christian consensus" but that His Body will be. And that purification is taking place as I write.

You see, the rise of Barack Obama to the presidency has had the effect of unmasking considerable anger and bitterness toward him -- on the part of Christians. That attitude, of course, is unacceptable for followers of the Savior, who eventually will have to purge it from their souls.

That speaks to a deeper issue: Idolatry.

Since 1980 many Christians have made a god out of the political process, believing that electing the "right" people to office will turn this nation around morally and bring it back to what they consider its former splendor, similar to what Israel was hoping for when Jesus came. However, from the start doing so was contaminated by secular interests, many of which made alliances with nascent "Christian" organizations, the late Moral Majority probably the best known. Do you think that the issues of abortion and gay rights were chosen because they're "biblical?" Please -- they simply raised the most money for the cause, which didn't in the least bother the secular conservatives who couldn't care less about those two issues just as long as they got into office. And conservative Christians ended up being left behind -- because the secularists knew full well they couldn't get the evangelicals' program enacted as it was and thus never really tried.

More to the point, however, the rash of political activity in the 1980s spoke of, really, these same Christians' unwillingness to engage in spiritual warfare. Part of that is connected to the lack of self-examination to determine what, if any, wickedness -- such as arrogance, selfishness, resentment and racism -- was lodged in their own hearts. But that's what happens when you put labels on sin and specifically point out those of the "other guys" without dealing with your own because it's simpler to discern an enemy and try to defeat him.

At some point the "enemy" was bound to triumph -- witness Bill Clinton's presidency. The only thing that conservative attacks on him did in the long run was to expose the seaminess of the conservative apparatus, which Christians couldn't counteract because we were such a part of it. We were also not prepared to address the corruption of conservative Republican politicians -- the most obvious being former Rep. Tom DeLay of suburban Houston who reportedly was converted at a Billy Graham crusade -- that cost the GOP its majority in Congress two years ago. We said virtually nothing about the plight of the poor or immoral foreign policy, even though we are commanded to "walk in all of God's ways."

And that's why we're today on the outside looking in. Remember that our God does not allow His people to trade on His name to ignore good and countenance evil for very long, which explains the TV evangelist scandals of 1987-88. Think that resulted from the "liberal" news media attacking Christians? Not for a second -- God Himself arranged that to make a point.

So, what needs to happen? Well, coming to prayer and worship with an attitude of humility would start. But it also means digesting the whole of Scripture, not just the parts we use as prooftexts for what has been exposed as a bogus ideological agenda. It also means not being yoked with non-believers and taking secular money to do "ministry," which means withdrawing from the so-called culture war, now permanently lost.

This is not to say that Christians shouldn't be involved in politics; however, we need to get away from assuming that "God is on our side" and using Him for the sake of our own power. After all, doing so tells the world that God is interested only in being the Boss, thus sabotaging the Gospel of grace.

Because that, more than anything else, is what the world needs. There can and will be no revival unless and until we recognize that we are, have and can do nothing other than by the Holy Spirit. Fortunately, more and more believers are coming to that conclusion; as a result, I think that long-awaited revival is coming. Very soon.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas wrapping

Some of my thoughts on the Christmas season:

http://www.post-gazette.com/forum/20001221ednowlin4.asp

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Some thoughts on codependency

Occasionally -- in fact, far more often than I should or I like to admit -- I think about my last girlfriend, whom I left over seven years ago. When a relationship fails the normal person retraces the steps, replaying the mistakes he or she made, the things that should or shouldn't have been said etc. and makes the adjustments to progress to the next relationship.

However, the codependent person, which my ex-girlfriend was, doesn't do that -- he or (more likely) she continues down the same path and ends up with the same results.

In my research, I've learned a few things. One, codependents believe that they have more power than they do to cause change in other people and try to exercise it. Two, and related to the first, they and their emotional needs take prominence and they often use guilt in the process to get them met. Either way, life surrounds what they believe and, as a result, they are often unwilling to adjust to their partners' views. In other words, they cannot live life on life's terms, which is why they often get so frustrated in their relationships; they live to possess.

This worked out in numerous ways with my ex. In our relationship I was supposed to have no real opinion on anything, whether on politics, theology or any other issue that interested me; in fact, the only time she ever solicited it was about our upcoming wedding. That alone, in retrospect, should have told me that a wedding shouldn't take place -- but I hoped that, with maturity on her part, things might change.

Anyway, because I'm somewhat of a traditionalist, where the husband/father holds ultimate responsibility for the family (she had three sons by previous marriages that ended in divorce), in this particular situation I knew that the only way our relationship could survive was that if we as a family attended my church, a metropolitan, multicultural fellowship of around 3,000 through whose singles ministry we met. On the other hand, because she feared both change and the loss of control, she wanted me to attend her small, suburban, mono-cultural neighborhood assembly that, if I did go there consistently, I probably would have split in about a year. That impasse finally caused me to bail out.

But with a codependent willing to get involved with me, what does that then say about me? Apparently I came across to her as someone who could or needed to be "fixed" or otherwise changed to meet her expectations. Though I don't myself drink, my late father was an alcoholic, as are are many members of that side of the family, which means I myself have struggled in my intimate relationships. So after things ended with my girlfriend I took six months off of dating to figure out my mistakes, one of which was not being more forceful about what I was and where I stood, demanding respect and drawing boundaries. (I haven't dated anyone steadily since.)

I've never been married and would like to be; however, today I understand and recognize some behaviors that I will not tolerate. And though I know that no relationship can ever be perfect, I hope that I would be able to work out my difference with my partner so that we can develop a sense of unity and purpose. That's what I believe God intends.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The grace of God -- in practice

One of my favorite books is Philip Yancey's "What's So Amazing About Grace?", which was recommended to me by a former Campus Crusade staff worker who once attended my church and now is a seminary student in Los Angeles.

I was reminded of that book -- and was prompted to reread it -- because last week I was actually banned from a Christian blog for, basically, challenging its established ideological orthodoxy.

This particular blog promotes Reformed theology, which its supporters refer to as the "doctrine of grace" and which happens to be my heritage. But, with the way I was treated by the owner of this particular blog and his syncophants, in this case "grace" remained nothing more than a theological concept that didn't translate into affirming, mutually beneficial relationships with others who think differently.

I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. After all, the history of Calvinism has always been one of seeking political power under the guise of religion -- indeed, the Protestant Reformation was as much about power politics as recapturing the historic Christian faith. In fact, some extremists of that persuasion subscribe to the "reconstructionist" movement, which believes that nations can and should be governed by Biblical law. (The Puritans came to these shores to do just that, after they were unable to do so in Europe.) Trouble is, such a conviction leads to the idea that "only our side is right" and that we don't even need to talk to anyone else.

That, right there, violates the grace of God, which is a shame.

After all, in my view Calvinist theology is absolutely right at its heart. The acronym TULIP -- which stands for the five primary maxims of Reformed theology: Total depravity (sin entering into every area of life), Unconditional election (God Himself "selecting" whom He will save), Limited atonement (Jesus dying only for the "elect"), Irresistable grace (God eventually turning the "elect" towards Him) and Perseverance of the saints ("Once saved, always saved") -- is as good an understanding of the soteriology of the Christian faith as I've ever seen or read.

However, Christianity is far, far more than just "salvation" -- God always intended to create an alternative community set apart for Himself, originally with ancient Israel but now with the church of Jesus Christ, to bless the world through Him. For that reason God saves not just, or even primarily, for our benefit -- that's just a side issue -- but, ultimately, to glorify Himself by the way we treat others, especially other members of the Body.

That's the part we Calvinists tend to forget. Yes, God is to be worshipped "with all [our] heart, soul, mind and strength"; but the same God also orders us to "love [our] neighbor as [ourselves]" -- which is where "horizontal" grace comes in. This is of course impossible when the focus shifts to ideological and cultural domination and, ultimately, the denigration of other views which ultimately creates resentment. That's why the Reformed were run out of every country in Europe where they had a presence, and whenever they became dominant they themselves became oppressors -- in America, yes, but most notably in South Africa (where Calvinists supported the immoral political system of apartheid).

One problem is that, with all the theology that we Calvinists study, we often don't allow the Holy Spirit to saturate our being and cause the kind of sea change that God requires, so that we can do the works He has for us. In fact, it seems that everything has to be done "by the book" -- consulting only "approved" sources in order to maintain the tradition -- with the danger being, of course, that we can love our traditions more than the God Who gave them. Worse, we sometimes forget what we were like before God got a hold of us, which can cause us to look down on others not of our party -- however, Paul, who many times talked about his former life, including his persecution of the church, refused to do so.

The people who frequented the blog I mentioned earlier apparently didn't have a clue about any of these things. The owner not only consistently denounced even fellow Christians who didn't follow the Reformed line (even though some of those criticisms were actually warranted) but even posted a commentary from a conservative talk-show host who by position and temperament is at direct odds to the Gospel of grace -- and I got slammed for bringing that up. I was ultimately banned for supposedly "disrespecting God" with an off-hand remark I made and not apologizing for doing so in the time frame in which he wanted.

So much for God's grace.

I pray that, in my walk with Him, He will point out the ways in which I fall short. And that's the point of God's gift of Jesus Christ -- not simply to be the recipients of His grace but also to dispense it toward those who need it. And that could be anyone.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Abortion and the culture war -- why they didn't mix

With not just Barack Obama's rise to the presidency but also Democrats gaining seats in both houses of Congress as the result of the last general election, the anti-abortion movement today has some serious issues -- to say the least. I can only imagine the weeping that took place when those election results were posted, and (since I myself am "pro-life") I confess to being somewhat sympathetic.

I say somewhat advisedly, because it's the movement's own fault for tying its fortunes to the Republican Party in the first place.

Anti-abortion activism really got started in the late 1970s when Moral Majority and similar groups were founded in the wake of the 1960s-born culture war and the then-ascending modern conservatism that was taking hold in the GOP. However, it was in the process sheared off from other issues surrounding the "sanctity of human life" -- things like poverty and racial justice, which don't really raise funds -- and became just one more interest group clamoring for a megaphone and the power it hoped would result.

Moreover, the conservative movement always took a faux-libertarianism to an extreme, leading to a general incompetence in governing, which originally wasn't a problem because the strategy was simple -- let the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that obliterated abortion laws in virtually every state and move from there. But as years went on without any significant action frustration set in, with many "pro-life" activists questioning the party's commitment and spawning such radical groups as Operation Rescue. (That was more a function of the political process than anything else.)

Eventually, anti-abortion sympathizers were reduced to symbolic victories. The "partial-birth" abortion bill that President Bill Clinton vetoed (because it didn't contain an exception for the life or health of the mother) always was designed to generate more outrage -- such abortions were already illegal in most states, and the bill that President George W. Bush signed criminalized only about 2,500 abortions annually, a pittance compared to the over 1 million we see today.

But, as I said, conservatives were pretty indifferent to, and thus incompetent in, governing. The ill-advised and badly-prosecuted war in Iraq was the first salvo; the botched response to Hurricane Katrina added fuel to the fire; and, especially, the Jack Abramoff-fueled lobbying scandal that entrapped a number of congressional Republicans who had used their positions for the sake of power and perks, finally woke the populace enough to vote out GOP politicians -- probably most of them anti-abortion. (The situation became so serious in 2006 that Focus on the Family's James Dobson convened a number of ultimately unsuccessful "Stand for the Family" rallies in battleground states.) As a result, the anti-abortion movement today is basically on the outside looking in.

What's obvious to me in light of political reality is that the "pro-life" movement needs a new strategy. It needs to 1) Get back to focusing on the sanctity of all life; 2) Become more ideology-free and non-partisan; and 3) Insist that the politicians it supports actually know how to run a government. That may take more time that folks want to take, but anything should be more effective than the old ways.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Conservatives forgot their history, not their "principles"

With the disaster of the last general election, conservatives are taking stock of their future prospects for success — or at least they think they are. But as things stand now, get ready for the same old, same old.

As New York Times columnist David Brooks pointed out in a recent piece, the traditionalist school believes that conservatism lost because of its hypocrisy, preaching “smaller government and lower taxes” while spending gobs of public money on even their own pet projects and becoming entrenched in the ways of Washington.

That sounds good, except for one thing: It isn’t true.

What really killed the conservative movement was that its tactics of divide-and-conquer, reducing campaigns to class and culture wars as far back as the Nixon years but which found the motherlode in 1980, finally stopped working. Its political class from the start acted as though power and authority were its birthright, and its propaganda machine was exposed about a decade ago. In short, it never intended to answer to anyone else, let alone the public — and that cultural arrogance brought it down.

In fact, what we call modern conservatism had four distinct pillars that normally didn’t mesh: 1) libertarians, who really do believe in less government; 2) social conservatives, including the “religious right”; 3) business groups; and 4) neo-conservatives, including Cold Warriors. That coalition hung together as long as the Federal government remained the target, but things started to crumble with the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Iron Curtain.

As a result, libertarians became at odds with the neo-cons, who were often former liberals who believed in using governmental power to promote conservative ideals; the business groups, who contributed highly-paid lobbyists to subvert the process; and the social conservatives who, they believed, wanted a theocracy. Corporate honchos ran afoul of the social conservatives because of their tomcatting. And so on, and so on…

That’s why Bill Clinton became a threat when he ran for president in 1992.

Chairman of the business-friendly Democratic Leadership Council, Clinton managed to shear off the business wing of the Reagan coalition, causing no end of consternation for the conservatives desperate to regain dominance. They thought they had succeeded with the gimmickry of the 1994 “Contract On” — whoops — “With America” during the midterm election and became sure that they could build on it. However, the next year Clinton booby-trapped the freshman House Republicans in a showdown over the Federal budget, offering a balanced budget but saving the social programs they wanted to be cut, the standoff leading to two government shutdowns for which the GOP was blamed. That skirmish ensured Clinton’s reelection and prompted the conservative apparatus to trigger a failed impeachment, in part because it now understood that the populace really wanted Social Security and Medicare, among other programs. Eventually, thanks indirectly to Hillary Clinton’s complaint about the “vast right-wing conspiracy” (which was true for the most part), the right-wing media machine was exposed.

Ultimately, however, it was conservatives’ failure, especially under George W. Bush, to govern properly that has driven them into exile — the debacle of the war in Iraq and the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, plus the Jack Abramoff-fueled lobbying scandal and James Dobson’s ineffective “Stand for the Family” rallies in battleground states during the 2006 general election. Still reeling, the early “October surprise” of the September financial meltdown not only finished off John McCain but, perhaps more importantly, gave more seats in both houses of Congress to the Democrats.

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum was quoted in an article, “The Fall of Conservatism” published in May in The New Yorker, as saying that “the problems in the Republican Party will not be fixed.” I think he’s right, because the political right is now in denial — trying to figure out how to sell its ideology to a public that has clearly rejected it. Incredibly, congressional Republicans have hunkered down and remained committed to the cause, evidenced by their unanimous opposition to the financial bailout — but for the foreseeable future they will continue to be little more than irritants with no real power. Serves them right.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A spiritual stronghold broken? Maybe

During services this morning and in response to the election of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency last week, the pastor of my interracial church invited all the African-Americans, myself included, to stand. He then directed the rest of the congregation to lay hands on us because he believed that a spiritual stronghold had finally been broken with Tuesday's result.

I need to chew on that for a bit, but I think he may be right.

There's no question that racism, especially against African-Americans in this country, has been a social and cultural problem throughout its 400-year history. But because it has affected the church of Jesus Christ, it also became a spiritual issue as well. Especially my church, which 30 years ago froze out every black person who tried to visit.

Indeed, racism has been a large, if generally unspoken, issue in evangelicalism in general. Theologically conservative churches were virtually nowhere to be found during the civil-rights movement, which of course was born in the historically black church, and those few evangelicals who supported it (most notably evangelist Billy Graham) caught considerable heat for doing so. Even as recently as the last decade, Bill McCartney, founder of the Promise Keepers movement and a staunch anti-racist, experienced the cold shoulder for bringing up the subject at PK rallies; he was quoted in Christianity Today as saying that attendance actually dropped because of it.

However, I see positive signs in the generation behind me, not simply that folks are learning about racial and cultural differences but also looking past them to see -- and judge -- people by the content of their character. More frequently they seem to be crossing those lines in intimate relationships as well, including dating and marriage, which I see as a positive sign. My white senior pastor has a Filipino son-in-law, and from what I can tell no one cares that they belong to different races. That's as it should be.

More importantly, "salvation" is becoming less and less the be-all and end-all of the purpose of the church. I see a movement toward building community; a concern for the health and welfare of the world that, while fallen, God created for His glory; and a desire to break away from self-centered "boomer" theology, in many cases by recapturing a sense of the holy.

I hope I'm around in 20 years to see what the evangelical church looks like, which I hope will be more like heaven (I'm not ready to go just yet). And should another black man, or even a black woman, become president it won't be a big deal -- and that what happened in church today will and should never happen again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Exposed: The myth of the black conservative

One thing the candidacy of Barack Obama has done when it comes to race relations is to begin to put to rest the myth of the black conservative.

That became clear when J.C. Watts Jr., the former quarterback at the University of Oklahoma and in the Canadian Football League who later represented Tulsa in Congress and who was considered a rising star in the Republican Party before leaving official Washington in 2003 and even a possible vice-presidential candidate, told the Associated Press that he was toying with supporting Obama because the GOP was not really reaching out to African-Americans.

If Watts didn't know it before, he knows it now: The Republicans -- or perhaps more accurately, the conservatives who have dominated the party since the early 1980s -- from the start never had any intention of doing so. When he was elevated to the No. 4 position in congressional leadership it was only for the sake of putting a black face on their policies, with the real target white "moderates" possibly put off by the overt racism of Southern conservatives, most of who were former Democrats, that had opposed the civil-rights movement.

The modus operandi was simple -- put feelers out to any African-American who seemed at all amenable to modern conservatism, make an outsize offer to join their "club" and pay him or her handsomely (leading to the somewhat accurate charge of "sellout"). But once they got on board, the conservatives often reverted to their race-baiting ways.

One example was at the American Enterprise Institute, which had hired Glenn Loury and Robert Woodson as fellows on that basis. They decided to leave when AEI fellow Dinesh D'Souza published the controversial book "The End of Racism," which they considered racist in its own right, in 1996.

More importantly, conservatives never talk to, let alone work with, African-American leadership to determine the issues people face and how to address them -- and why would they? Their ultimate goal was always domination and capitulation, not cooperation, and in their view the idea that the conservative approach is "wrong" is, somehow, unthinkable. But that's what the black community has always told the political right, which is why 90 percent usually vote Democratic, with that percentage going up this time around. Too bad conservatives haven't gotten the message.

Recently a number of conservatives have suggested that blacks were being racist for their solid support of Obama. They ignore two issues: 1) Until Hillary Clinton began playing the "race card" during the primary season, the black community actually was split because much of its leadership initially supported her; and 2) The black community historically has never supported conservative candidates of any hue or ethnicity. In other words, it's not race that's the defining issue here -- it's ideology.

That reality puts black conservatives in a difficult spot, to put it mildly. Blacks don't take them seriously and the conservative establishment doesn't respect them even with all the money it pays them. Maybe someday black conservatives will learn that they're simply being played -- and some may already have done so.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Separation from the world -- in an unexpected sense

Recently the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, one of the most conservative theologically around the nation, seceded from the American Episcopal Church and allied with another part of the Anglican Communion based in the more traditionalist "Global South." By numerous accounts, the break occurred because the American church has abandoned basic biblical doctrines, most notably when it consecrated an overtly homosexual bishop.

I sympathize with that view, even though I'm not Anglican -- I'm Presbyterian by nurture (though today I attend a church in a more conservative denomination), and that branch of Christendom has also struggled with similar issues among its clergy. Anyway, focusing on homosexuality can miss the point.

When the Bible speaks against homosexual conduct, only a half-dozen times, it does so only in the context that it's something in which God's people do not participate. Ancient Israel was certainly a minority in the known world of that day; He called it out from among the nations to demonstrate who He was, and it is for that reason that biblical law existed. The same goes for the greater church today -- while we Christians aren't obligated to follow much of the Old Testament law, the overall concept of "holiness," which refers to an attitude of being set apart for His purposes, still applies. For that reason alone, it's entirely appropriate to bar active homosexuals not only from church leadership but also from membership. (Some have asked why Jesus never spoke about homosexuality. He didn't have to -- the Jewish people in first-century Palestine weren't practicing it, at least openly.)

However, since Christianity, which started out as an insurgent movement within Judaism and was originally persecuted from all sides, has become the predominant religion in the Western world, there was always the danger of having the strong demands of the Gospel watered down for the sake of popularity. Some would say that started with the emperor Constantine's adoption of Christianity for what were often considered political purposes, and not even the Protestant Reformation -- which was as much about power politics as recapturing the historic Christian faith -- escaped compromise with the world's way of thinking.

So what does this have to do with gays in the church? Well, if it weren't such a huge part of Western establishment culture, with many of them even growing up in some congregation, they would have no incentive to think about coming in. The real problem, therefore, is that joining a church is a fairly easy process in most cases, with little (if any) examination of personal doctrine and conduct -- just say the right words and you'll be approved. As a result, such things as divorce, sexual relations outside of marriage, greed, slander, gluttony, racism and other sins noted in the Scripture are rampant even in "conservative" churches -- but they simply don't raise outrage the way homosexuality does.

An excellent book I picked up several years ago was Ron Sider's "The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?". I don't know if Sider intended to throw the phrase "the Rest of" in the title, but we shouldn't be like the world at all because our LORD calls us to be distinct. Sider wrote correctly, "We would almost certainly strengthen the church if we made if harder to join." Perhaps pastors should preach sermons that drive away everyone except those who really mean business with God -- yeah, some churches might close in the process, but God can certainly use a "remnant."

Though some have questioned the motives of the diocese -- I personally know some people who were highly critical of the bishop's maneuverings -- in leaving, I understand the overall idea. It's not about highlighting certain sins as particularly heinous; rather, it's about maintaining basic standards so that the church can carry out the mission of not only telling but showing the Good News of Jesus Christ. That said, however, Christians should never use truth as a battering ram to maintain cultural authority, so let's not pick on any group of people who aren't professing Christians just because they're not acting like Christians.