Monday, June 30, 2008

The Ongoing Dilemma---Learning to Lose Labels

Many people often refer to the Lincoln-Douglas debates as a high point in American politics. Two individuals spent hours discussing and debating their points of view. If people attended the debates or read about what was said, in detail, they had a clear perspective on each candidate. The debates were serious, deep, and done very respectfully.

People often wish that this kind of debate could take place now. The difficulty of such debates, however, is that we live in a society that dwells in the trivial, superficial, and personal. We can blame, in part, political handlers who keep their charges from speaking in an unscripted and unplanned fashion. We can blame the news media for trivializing serious stories and dwelling on the silly. We can blame talk radio for its shallowness. It’s cruelty, and its pettiness.

We can blame others very easily. The problem is that we, as a society, have consumed all of this. We no longer seem to be interested in listening to complex explanations of complex issues. We respond and often delight in cruelty and pettiness and see nothing wrong with it.

A great part of the dilemma plays itself out in the use of labels. We delight in labels. We label someone ‘conservative’ and decree that it expounds conservative values or condemn these ideas. We label someone ‘liberal’ and decree that this person expounds liberal values or, in turn, condemn the ideas. What always strikes me is the use of the world ‘values’ in describing ideology. Ideological opinions are many things, but to label them as values suggest a limited desire to even understand what a value is.

This is a long, roundabout way of making a point. The words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are political words. They are words that, at least in their inception, were used to define a perspective and demonstrate that there are differences of perspective on subjects. The problem with the words now is that they are seen as having meaning in and of themselves. The usage of the words tends to presume that there are never more than two sides to any issue and that the world and its problems can be summarized briefly and quickly.

They are political words----and badly used political words.

The great dilemma within Christianity, however, is that the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ have crept into the vocabulary of Christians. We now have ‘liberal’ churches ‘conservative’ churches. We now have ‘liberals’ in a denomination and ‘conservatives’ within a denomination. A person’s expression of their Christianity is now couched in an ideological perspective.

There is a problem with this, however.

If the Bible is, indeed, a guide of faith and the source of how we know God, and what the priorities of God are, than the usage of the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ is problematic. They simply are not Biblical words. These two words actually never show up in the Bible. One translation uses the word ‘liberal’ but in reference to generosity and not ideology. The word, in one definition, refers to generosity and people are invited to be ‘liberal’ in their giving. Most translations render this as generous and generous is the better word.

If we are driven by the Bible, the usage of the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ just do not make sense.

Furthermore the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ did not show up in any sort of theological discussions until the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. It makes one realize (or ought to make one realize) that these are not historic theological terms. Christianity is based on faith in God and not on any ideological perspective. Actually, when we use the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ to describe or even define Christianity, we are making the presumption that Christianity is based on an idea or actually is an idea. One would like to think it is significantly more than that.

Jesus’ prayer that all may be one has become a sorry joke within Christianity right now. Christianity has become more sectarian and more polarized than it has been in a long time. People have embraced the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ and, frankly, have made these ideas the foundation of their faith rather than Christ. We, in the churches, have dug trenches where we sit and wait for....

Meanwhile, 80% of the American population under the age of 18 has never had any church affiliation whatsoever. A group of young people who are looking to make a difference and are searching for places that offer substance and meaning to life have found the Christian Church to be little more than a political machine which demonstrates little distinction from any other political group in society. Much of this is because we have embraced the words ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ and use them as much as possible.

What happens when you base your theology on what you want to base it on instead of where the Bible leads you is that you ultimately get lost. What happens when you define your theological outlook from an ideological perspective is that you have made an idea more important than God.

Frankly, Christianity will diminish and just get itself more lost clinging to labels that offer the world very little.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Ongoing Dilemma - Revisionism Christianity

One of the dilemmas of Christianity we have right now is that there is a great deal of revisionism taking place. What is most interesting in the debate between Dobson and Obama is that Obama is the first Democrat with the testicular fortitude to argue back and call what Dobson is representing for what it is. There is, however, a great deal more involved than the Obama/Dobson debate. This is a glimpse of the current revisionism within Christianity.

A significant issue has been the rise of Fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is actually a relatively recent phenomenon in Christianity. Its roots go back to the latter part of the 19th century and much of its growth came because of people responding to Darwin and the industrial and scientific revolution. People’s world view began to change and grow more expansive. Fundamentalism became a way to address the complexities of an ever-changing world by giving very simple answers to very complex questions and issues.

Part of the problem with the rise of Fundamentalism is that for it to survive it must survive despite the fact that facts often get in their way. They have, as a result, begun to practice revisionism. They practice a revisionist science, revisionist history, and ultimately revisionist theology.

The first book of the Bible is the Book of Genesis. Genesis is, on its own, an interesting read in the fact that it chronicles the origins of Judaism and points out some of the conflicts of the era. It mostly chronicles the life of one family, beginning with Abraham and ending with Joseph of the amazing technicolor dream coat fame. It is, on many levels a character study and there are some incredible characters in the narrative. All of this begins on Chapter 12.

The first eleven chapters of Genesis, however, are a theological reflection on how the world came into being and how things ended up the way they are. Much of it was written while in captivity by several different authors with actually two divergent views of how human beings came into existence within the first three chapters. It was not written from a scientific vantage point----it was written to make a theological point. God created and God’s creation is good. For most people within Christianity and Judaism the conflict is not about believing God created but more on how that creation actually came to be. Genesis put forth a world view 500 years older than Jesus.

The story of Noah and the ark was a theological response to, at that time, a 200-year-old Sumerian epic poem entitled the Epic of Gilgamesh. The story has a boat, a hero, and destruction. The ancient Jews, in great conflict with the influence of the Babylonians on their children, culture, and even religion, used this as a theological resource in response to this ancient epic.

It wasn’t until about a year ago that I began to truly grasp the extent of the revisionism that is growing within Christianity. In reading this from a Fundamentalist perspective they have revised the history of the era and now claim that Genesis was written before Gilgamesh. The anthropology and history to demonstrate this is, frankly, made up. They are attempting to change facts rather than to follow the evidence as to where the facts actually lead them.

We were all taught in school about the age of dinosaurs and how long before humans they wandered the earth. Revisionist science is now placing them living together. There is now even a museum in suburban Cincinnati calling itself the Creation Museum so that people can know the ‘truth’ about God’s creation. For $21.95 admission one can see this tribute to a world view we haven’t seen since we watched Fred Flintstone and Barney.

My sarcasm comes from deep anger. Christians are now often seen as ignorant fools who turn a blind eye to science, who change history to suit them, and who have no ability to adapt to the modern world. Ultimately they have been reduced to simpleton status because of the fervent desire to respond to complexity with simplistic responses.

Oh, and yes, those Christians who embrace complexity and are willing to grapple with complexity in a serious manner are labeled as ‘liberals’ and ‘elitists.’

This, however, is one piece of revisionism within Christianity. Christianity does not have a history of ignorance. Many of the finest colleges and universities in the United States were founded by Christians who demanded and longed for great educations. They longed for great educations where research led them to ideas and theories rather than allowing opinions to drive their research. Albert Einstein, as an example, did research and taught at Princeton University----an institution founded by Presbyterians. There is a long list of great schools built by people within Christianity; places of serious learning where complexity is allowed to flourish. Lots of places where ambiguity is not only accepted but celebrated.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

In Today's New Albany Tribune

Two men accused of stealing copper from church

Two New Albany men were arrested at about 9:05 a.m. Monday after allegedly trying to sell copper down-spouts they had reportedly stolen from St. Marks United Church of Christ on Spring Street in New Albany.

Church officials first noticed two down-spouts missing June 15. Last Sunday night, they noticed five more missing.

A church trustee said he took a foot-long piece of copper to two local recycling places and told them to be on the lookout. He said that about an hour after he went to Riverside Recycling in New Albany, two men came in with shopping carts filled with crushed pieces of copper matching the description of the down-spouts stolen from St. Marks.

Donald W. Bruce, 45, of New Albany was arrested for receiving stolen property, a class D felony. Thomas M. Eaton, 30, of New Albany was arrested for theft, also a class D felony. They could face six months to three years in prison with up to a $10,000 fine if convicted. They are being held in the Floyd County Jail, and bond is fixed at $10,000. Each must pay $1,000 cash to be released.

The trustee said damage was done to the bricks holding the spouts as well. He said that if the thieves would have used screw drivers, there would have been no damage to the building.

The trustee said replacements will cost $4,500, not including installation costs and the cost to repair the bricks. He was told the thieves would have made about $290 recycling the copper.

The church plans to replace the pipes with a new metal. Copper theft has become a problem nationally with the price of copper soaring in recent years.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Dobson Obama Debate

James Dobson has attacked Barack Obama for Obama’s interpretation of the Bible. Dobson has referred to it as a fruitcake interpretation.

Two examples that Dobson cites are the fact that Obama referenced the codes in Leviticus as things we do not follow, ie, the not eating of shellfish and keeping of slaves. Then Obama referenced the Sermon the Mount stating, it is "a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application."

Here is some of what is said in the Sermon on the Mount, which are chapters 5-7 in the Gospel of Matthew:

38"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Obama is making the observation that our Defense Department would not survive its application. Is Dobson suggesting that the ‘turn the other cheek’ reference of Jesus ought to be the policy of the Defense Department and Obama is wrong about this?

Or the Beatitudes which, at their core, are about the need for God and anything that happens to us, even or especially dreadful, reminds us of our need for God:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Obama reference the codes in Leviticus because many people in the anti-gay movement within Christianity quote these very passages in their arguments for Biblical marriage. Of course, they leave out the shellfish and wearing clothing of mixed fabrics. Obama’s point is actually quite accurate. You can’t apply only the codes you want to apply and ignore the others.

Dobson does have a problem with all of this however. And this is the problem.

Dobson and Focus on the Family have two major ethical agendas that they try to promote as Christian. (Using it as an adjective.)

First, they are anti-gay and are looking to promote Biblical view of marriage. I would suggest that anyone who is looking to promote a Biblical view of marriage actually read Genesis from cover to cover and ascertain if that is really what they want to do. Most contemporary ‘Biblical’ views on marriages are less Biblical and more 1950's perception of what life was like. The Bible barely speaks about homosexuality and Jesus mentions it as often as he mentions the Internet. For those who are slow, there was no Internet back then and he never mentioned the Internet. He also never mentioned anything about homosexuality.

We have codes in Leviticus and we have writings by Paul on the subject but in reference to the Greek culture and the very odd understandings they had on human sexuality. There isn’t much to hang your hat on with this and it is very, very clear that homosexuality and homosexual behavior was not a front and center issue in 1st Century Christianity.

Secondly Dobson’s other agenda is abortion. Again, abortion is not mentioned in the Bible. It was not a medical procedure of that era and, as a result, it was never an issue. One might connect abortion to ‘life’ issues, but Dobson doesn’t choose to do that. He’s not on record as being consistently pro-life as much as he’s anti-abortion. As an aside, I’m not promoting abortion, I’m merely pointing out that it’s not a Biblical issue and to make it so by linking if with other ‘life’ issues is off the political reservation of James Dobson.

Dobson, frankly, has a political agenda more than an ethical agenda of Christianity. He cherry picks the Bible to find passages that say what he wants to say and ignores the rest. Barack Obama had the audacity to point this out. Whether one likes Obama or not is not really relevant here. He actually knew what he was talking about and simply pointed out that much of what has been labeled as a ‘Christian’ agenda (the usage of adjective again) is not really so.

Much of the agenda of the so-called Religious Right is not a theological agenda but a political agenda with Bible quotations. It’s about time that people began calling them on this.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Vandalism Follow Up

To follow up about the vandalism/theft at St. Marks...

One of our Trustees had given some metal samples to local recycling, scrap yards to alert them that our copper pipes had been stolen. Well, the rocket scientist who did this showed up at a local establishment this morning to sell the scrap copper he took from our building. While they were processing his 'order' they called the police and a person from St. Marks to verify that it was our's. It was. The fool who did the vandalism and robbery was arrested. We ended up with the money for the scrap copper, which, of course, is less than it will be to repair the damages.

I do delight, however, that they arrested the fool.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Downtown Vandalism...

I'm really annoyed and angry. St. Marks has been a victim, twice, of downtown vandalism.

Our Sanctuary building was built in the late 1950's and we had copper rain spouts. Notice the use of the word 'had.' We HAD copper downspouts. Early last week they were all stolen from the alley side of the building. Last night they finished the job on the Bank Street side. Copper, I know, is valuable and obviously what will be going back up will not be copper.

Some things to bother me.

If people are hungry we feed them. If people need clothing, we have given it to them. We have given away a ton of blankets this year. I like to think that St. Marks is good to and good for downtown New Albany. We are genuinely trying to do as much as we can for people.

I'm really angry that the church was vandalized. How can people live, work, or worship downtown if they need to endure vandalism, theft, and destruction?

I don't have a solution, I'm just ranting at the moment. If anyone sees some long copper downspouts please call NAPD and let them know.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Dilemma of Christianity in America, continued. How the Word 'Christian' is Used

To me, part of the dilemma of modern day Christianity is trying to see what it actually is as opposed to what it isn’t. It actually comes from how we use the word ‘Christian.’

First, the word ‘Christian’ has come to be defined as many things most of which it is not. A Christianity, plainly, is one who professes faith in Jesus Christ. It’s actually quite simple.

It is important to note that the word Christian is a noun. It has become an adjective. We now have Christian books, Christian music, Christian colleges, Christian camps, Christian clothing, Christian diets, Christian breath mints, etc. Maybe it is tolerable to refer to a specific kind of Worship as Christian, or a specific type of religious institution (like a church) Christian, straining it as an adjective.

There are books about Jesus and about Christianity. There is music praising Jesus and God. There are colleges founded by churches that follow basic tenets of Christianity. These places are not Christians. They might all be great and good and accomplishing much good. They are not Christian, per say. They are written by Christians often for Christians or potential Christians, but to use Christian as an adjective seems, to me, to diminish the word. Jesus died for people and the people who follow Jesus are Christians. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for books, colleges, music, or breath mints. He died for people.

Christian is also a foundational belief that is beyond the realm of theological opinion. Quite often the word ‘Christian’ is used to define a series of set beliefs and set behaviors by some group within Christianity. I was raised Roman Catholic in New Jersey. When I was growing up, we were taught that we were the ‘one true church.’ A good friend and colleague of mine was raised Southern Baptist in Texas where he was taught that he was a member of the ‘one true church.’ We were both taught that we were part of the ‘one true church’ in different churches and vastly different traditions. It was based on an idea that the set beliefs of our groups made us the only real ‘Christians.’ That’s putting theology ahead of faith. (Side note: My friend and I might not be very bright as we both left the one true church and are now United Church of Christ clergy...)

My point on this is actually quite simple. The word ‘Christian’ isn’t about a theology and it isn’t about one group stating who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’ It is a great deal wider and more pervasive than we often like to admit.

Lastly, the word ‘Christian’ is often defined by one very specific behavior. Very often people refer to things as ‘Christian’ or un-Christian based on one very simple little thing. Being ‘Christian’ is seen as being nice. Not being nice is often seen as being un-Christian.

Over the years at wedding receptions I have had the opportunity to sit at tables with someone’s great-uncle Waldo from Nebraska who has enjoyed the benefits of the free alcohol at the reception. More often than I’d like to admit, great-uncle Waldo finally gets up the nerve to come over to me, put his arm around me, look me in the eyes and say, “You know, I’ve never been a churchgoer but I do know what it’s all about. God wants us to be nice to each other.”

One of these days I’m going to leap to my feet and thank him for this great insight that reading the Bible, numerous theology books, and going to the seminary for a lot of years never gave me. No one ever told me that it’s all about being ‘nice’ and that the word ‘Christian’ is a euphemism for the word ‘nice.’ That is usually the time when I determine it is time to leave before I have a violent impulse toward Great Uncle Waldo.

Honestly, the word ‘nice’ is not in the Bible. Being ‘nice’ is not a Biblical concept and not a particular element of Christianity. Truthfully, Jesus was incredibly loving and incredibly honest (maybe too honest) and honesty and niceness don’t always walk hand in hand. Jesus wasn’t always very nice. He wasn’t always particularly pleasant to be around. If people actually read the entire Gospel accounts, they’d discover that Jesus was often incredibly difficult. To use the word ‘Christian’ to mean ‘nice’ doesn’t even come close.

Being a Christian means something. It is one who follows Jesus Christ, nothing more and nothing less. Part of our modern day dilemma is that we use a very foundational word and label to mean things far differently from what it actually is.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Must See for Giants Fans!

Some Observations about Tim Russert's passing

I have some observations about the passing of Tim Russert. I have never seen such press coverage on the death of a news media person such as Tim Russert. His death was sudden and shocking and it has obviously shaken the entire media. I think that part of the reason for this is that Tim Russert was an anomaly. He was smart, competent, and fair. Sadly, in the world of media, he was the exception to the rule----which is rather sad.

Here are some observations.

First, Russert was a friend to everyone and a friend to no one. He was gregarious and friendly and treated everyone with dignity and respect. On the other hand, he was beholden to no one. It didn't matter what party you were from or what biases you had. Russert wanted to find out about the person and not spin what the person was saying. His questions were hard and fair. The interesting thing is that he was, in his own way, a great professor who gave great exams. Great exams are not about trickery, but about helping a person to process knowledge. Russert enabled knowledge to come forward.

Russert was also smart and capable. If you were going to get interviewed by him he will have read everything about you that he could find and would be quite aware of comments you had made on a variety of subjects. His interviews were actually easy to prepare for; you just had to know your stuff. He was insulted if you didn't.

Russert was also the kind of person whose faith was prominent and real and not there to 'spin' a perspective. I lived what he believed and didn't force it down everyone's throats. He was simply a very decent man who did his job well, practiced his faith, and delighted in his family.

One thing I have learned from all of this and one thing I do sincerely attempt to practice is to seek the truth where it actually is as opposed to where I want it to be. Anyone educated in a Jesuit school or in an institution that followed some solid Jesuit principles, learned some foundational things. Having had the opportunity to be in that kind of setting, I try to follow that.

The biggest thing of all is to search for the right answer, to search for the truth, and to appreciate the process. The key thing is that you have to search for the truth where it actually is as opposed to where you want it to be.

The most common method of 'truth seeking' now is not done in this manner. People, both in religion and politics, tend to follow the same path.

First, they determine what the truth actually is, cement it in place, decree it to be their principles of life, and then go about trying to prove that they are correct. The only time you read or listen to the ideas of another person is to find good ways to refute them. Increasingly looking at other perspectives has become something people do less and less.

Finding the truth does not work like that. Finding the truth starts at a starting point that is no where. It is not beginning with the conclusion, it's beginning with the search for facts to ultimately find the real answer as opposed to what we want it to be.

It was a process that Russert learned and used. It's a process I like to believe that I try to follow.

It is also a reminder to us, and a lesson to us, that it's not always the conclusion that is important, but the journey.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Dilemma---continued

I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and my college education was received in a Roman Catholic Seminary/College and my Seminary training was in a Roman Catholic Seminary. I was preparing to become a Roman Catholic priest and decided not to do so. The reasons are many and varied and not really the point of this passage. I do want to say something about how part of the crisis we face today came by way of Rome.

When John XXIII was elected the Pope he began a series of reforms which continued under Paul VI. The 1960's was a decade in which the Roman Catholic Church was seeking to rediscover its identity. Up to that point it very much was a medieval denomination in a modern day world where things were changing. The spirit of reform was in the air.

One of the major issues facing them was on the issue of contraception, or best stated, artificial means of contraception. Many people believe that the Roman Catholic Church is opposed to birth control. It isn't. It is opposed to using artificial means of birth control, better known as contraception.

In the late 1960's the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on this were being challenged for two reasons.

The first was that there was a world wide population explosion and limiting the number of children being born seemed to be an excellent and socially responsible and moral thing to do.

The second was that the classic teachings were based on a medieval understanding of human sexuality and conception. The 'rules' had been made under some biological premises which were not accurate.

Paul VI established a commission to study this and ultimate write an encyclical on the subject. He had some of the finest minds in the world come to Rome for a variety of sessions to debate and discuss this. One person on the commission who never quite made it to the meetings was a man from Poland name Karol Wotija.

The commission, according to many who were part of it, agreed to a change in the policy. However, Wotija traveled to Rome and convinced Paul VI that this was a bad idea and Wotija wrote the encyclical Humanae Vitae, the encyclical that affirmed traditional Roman Catholic Church teachings on contraception. Paul, upon reading it, ended his address with the words, "Let the lively debate begin." He had no idea.

Frankly, Humanae Vitae was a disaster. Much of it was brilliant and well written and even well argued. It had one huge problem. It came to the wrong conclusions and came to those conclusions in the face of a world wide population explosion that was dangerous and it continued to be based on a medieval biological perspective. Wotija, who later on became Pope John Paul II had begun, in many ways, reversing the reforms of Vatican II.

The release of Humanae Vitae launched a major exodus of priests and nuns and plunged the Roman Catholic Church into chaos. Pope Paul VI, a highly underrated Pope and a very good man, ended up being shattered and almost frozen in place. He no longer pushed for reforms, to the anger of many, and no longer pushed for traditions, again, to the anger of many. When he died and John Paul I was elected there was a sense that he was going to begin the reformation process again----but his reign ended quickly and John Paul II had no desire for further reform.

I was in the Seminary from 1977-1980. He was elected in 1978 and by the early 80's most of th faculties of Catholic seminaries were purged of anyone with progressive thoughts and replaced by hard lined traditionalists.

This movement within Catholicism has been met with a wide range of responses.

Some are delighted and believe that the 'old' church is back.

Many have left.

Some are still there, hoping for reform.

Many are still there, hanging out, pretty much ignoring what they want to and choose to ignore. The reality of Humanae Vitae is that most Roman Catholic ignore it and have gone on to live their lives guided by their own consciences.

The reluctance/failure of this reformation in Roman Catholicism still is present.

The recent abuse scandals have come from, in part, the celibacy teachings and, in part, of a failure to address the psycho-sexual development of priests. This abuse had been targeted only at those who had sexual relations with minors. Clergy abuse is really not only about that, but sexual abusing church members who are adults, seeking comfort from clergy, and ending up in a sexual affair. Within most denominations this is an issue that has been and is constantly addressed and dealt with. The Roman Catholic Church has not ventured there in large part because they have a dreadful shortage of priests.

Most of the priests are extraordinary people doing amazing work and are deeply talented. They are, however, being overwhelmed with demands because there are simply not enough of them.

Much of this is still residual impact from Humanae Vitae. When a modern day church remains medieval it impacts everyone.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Dilemma of Christianity in America, continued.

It has been an awesome time to be a Minister. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have had their 'clergy problems' and have distanced themselves from clergy. Delightful. Sadly, both Obama and McCain were right to do so....

This 'trend' does point out the continued dilemma of Christianity of America. Christianity has been more interested in perpetuating Christendom than it has in growing Christianity. There is a huge difference.

Christianity, at its core, is not an institution but a movement. If you read the Gospels, Jesus did not articulate a 'plan' for the growth of a church. Matthew's Gospel refers to his movement as 'church' but that's about it. Instead, if you read the Gospels, Jesus was preaching a reform of his own faith, Judaism, in attempting to have people move in different directions. He actually wasn't the only one doing this. That era had several rabbis, such as Gamaliel who were preaching very similar themes.

The early Christians were not about building churches, but growing a 'church,' a movement. They articulated who they were and what they believed and went out and shared the Good News. It took them almost a century to even begin the process of writing the New Testament. (Many people seem to miss the fact that the Bible is a product of the early church, not visa versa. the church existed before the Bible and it was the church that chose what was in the Bible.)

In the 4th Century, after a long period of persecution and theological chaos, the Christian movement encountered Constantine, Caesar, who united the movement within the empire. This was a mixed blessing. It provided the movement with a freedom to teach and preach without fear of reprisal. It also began an era of Christendom.

Christendom is not a movement or even a faith. It is an attempt to make society live according to the principles of Christianity. It's not that the principles are bad----it's that the principles are choices people make about faith----they are not about imposing laws on a society.

Christendom perpetuated itself. For many years, much of Europe was ruled from the Pope in Rome. Some of the Popes were great but some were corrupt and awful.

England established a state church to benefit Henry VIII's proclivities----and spent years after his death battling back and forth between London and Rome. A Separatist movement came to the American colonies to gain freedom from that----and established its own form of Christendom.

We see that now when we see clergy and politicians standing together and clergy making public proclamations on how the government ought to be run and what laws ought to be made.

Many are saying that they are beginning to see the demise of Christendom. The influence of the Christian Church on modern society is being challenge and, interestingly enough, Christianity is in a major numerical decline. A large swath of baby boomers have long since left churches and following generations have often not been church goers. Christendom is in decline to the dismay of many.

However, something interesting is beginning to take shape. Christianity, recognizing that its political influence may be waning is beginning to see itself less as an institution and more as a movement. Many churches are often smaller than they used to be, are less influential in the public forum, and are more valuable to the neighborhoods in which they live in because they are serving the community instead of trying to change laws. Churches are actively feeding people, building things for people, and interestingly enough, rediscovering themselves not as an institution, but as a movement.

Clergy can and ought to vote. Clergy can and should speak of issues that they see as important. Clergy also should not be seen on stages with politicians or be preaching a particular political position in their congregations.

Christendom may indeed be in decline....but the decline of Christendom may be seeing a rebirth of Christianity as a movement, and ultimately be more faithful to the mission of Jesus.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Jesus Called....

I found this bumper sticker the other day and I just had to get it.

Jesus Called. He wants his religion back.

This has been, from a clergy person's perspective, a pretty awful year for clergy involved with political candidates.

John McCain has had to distance himself from John Hagee who referred to the Roman Catholic Church as the great whore in the Book of Revelation and who made bizarre statements about Hitler, God's will, and Judaism.

Barack Obama has distanced himself from his former pastor and, I presume, now former friend Jeremiah Wright. Wright was defended by many of his colleagues and then he went to the press club and found a wall to completely go off of.

John McCain has had to distance himself from Rod Parsley, a mega church pastor in Ohio who knows it all and seems to enjoy hating others.

Barack Obama has distanced himself from Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest who preached at Trinity Church a couple of weeks ago and, frankly, sounded like an lunatic.

I am a strong, a very strong believer in the separation of church and state. I vehemently want the church to be able to have the ability to speak the truth to power and to not bed itself with that power and become indebted to the power. Besides, I firmly believe in the freedom of religion for people who choose to be a people of faith; and a freedom from religion for those people who do not make that choice.

These members of the clergy, in my mind, ventured into a territory that no preacher ought to venture. McCain and Obama were right to disavow these guys; their comments were dreadful and unbecoming of who they ought to be.

Often Christianity bears little resemblance to the teachings of Jesus. I was reading some of Rod Parsley's comments on poverty and the war on poverty. He made the observation that poverty has won that war. True enough. He spends the rest of his time decreeing that the Gospel tells us that government shouldn't be feeding the poor and providing social programs for the poor, but churches and individuals ought to be doing that.

Actually, the Gospel doesn't say that. It speaks about feeding and aiding the poor. Period. It doesn't say how. How is a political issue. Feeding the poor is a Gospel issue. How we do it is a political choice----and the Gospel doesn't tell us how we ought to do it, just that we ought to do it.

Jesus called. He wants his religion back.

I hope he gets it.