Monday, September 29, 2008

A Question of Authority

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Is it possible that He is a God who loves so completely that His love for us could actually be considered a weakness, even a fetish (ie, “obsessive devotion”)? Think about the crazy – and often irrational - things we’ve all done when we were, or are, so completely in love. The world is beautiful and scary at the same time. Life, in its chaos, suddenly makes perfect sense yet makes no sense at all. Food tastes better, but we never seem to have an appetite. Music makes sense, and we who held a certain disdain for poetry and Shakespeare in high school would suddenly find ourselves recalling and quoting from certain poems and even Shakespeare. Love may be a many splendor thing, but the mind that is completely engrossed in someone else is a whole other story and somewhat less than splendid.

In Tuesday’s Dem-Gaz editorial, it was written about a confrontation at the Peabody Hotel in Little Rock where editorial writers had gathered for a conference. The Phelps clan from Topeka’s (KS) own Westboro Baptist Church was also at the Peabody doing what they seem to do best: protesting. Exactly what they were there to protest was never clear, but it is presumed and inferred that editorial writers and other media types in general were in danger of eternal condemnation – or have already been condemned - because they do not express the level of hatred and disdain for homosexuals that Westboro folks have and do so often express. And the editorial quoted John 3:16 in the piece but emphasized John 3:17: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

Apparently the Westboro Baptists don’t read John very often – if ever. And it may be telling that Christians in general can easily quote John 3:16 but not much of what follows.

The American Church does not seem to be faring well in our contemporary society. When I was a child growing up in a small town, there was almost nothing happening on Sunday morning except for folks getting ready for church. Oh, there were pockets of those who would choose instead to play golf, go hunting or fishing, or stay home and watch a football game, and stores were closed but for the most part people were in church.

Over the years, there has been a dramatic turn. With the exception of die-hard denominationalists, people seem to have lost faith in the so-called “mainline churches” and have moved toward non-denominational settings or have moved away from the Church altogether. As a result of this apparent shift in priority, every generation or so has seen a shift in emphasis coming from the various churches except for those who have maintained a solid, if somewhat conservative line.

Telling the truth, as it were, should never go out of style, but truth seems to be relative to what is important in our lives. And what is important to us at a particular time is not necessarily as important to our neighbors.

It always seems to boil down to a quest. We are constantly in search of something. Whether it is something new or more of something we don’t seem to have enough of, we are always on a quest. During this time of such drastic and dramatic financial challenges, for instance, people young and old are looking for certainty and security. We all need to know that there is something we can count on, something that will never change and will never shift even as we are constantly changing and shifting. How we or our neighbors choose to embrace a certain reality may change somewhat, but the constant we seek in our lives must remain steadfastly unchanged and as sure and true as the floor we stand on.

So here is a little foundational truth for us all to stand securely on: the God and Father of the New Covenant has not changed and has not changed His mind. About anything. And the bottom line of this constant truth is that He may well be so madly in love with us that He is willing to reach out in whatever way possible to teach us, to show us, to nurture us, to remind us that He is still with us and that He has not given up on us even as we seem to have given up on Him.

According to the tenets of New Testament faith, He has made it somewhat easier – for lack of a better term – to meet Him or to be met by Him through the New Covenant. For some reason, however, and for far too many among us, even this is not good enough. And with this sense of dissatisfaction has come a certain, if profound, complacency and loss of respect.

What do people want? What is it that we seem to respond to more favorably? This is the compelling question that haunts pastors throughout the Church, regardless of denomination. Now I will grant you that there are some pastors who consider increased attendance and new membership as evidence of the fruits of their own individual efforts, and on a certain level it is probably true. People need to know that the pastor cares. And for the life of the church, it is important that the pastor see his role as far more than just a 9-to-5 “job”.

The pastor, however, is not the Church nor is the pastor the final “authority” of the Church although too many do believe that if the pastor is not “right”, then the church cannot be “right” and so they choose to leave. But even these well-intentioned people are on that same perpetual quest, looking for something, anything, that will add or enhance the meaning and purpose of their lives without disturbing their sense of security, failing to see what is right before us – and always has been - waiting to be embraced.

In the confrontation recorded in Matthew21:23-32, Jesus is being challenged in the very same way and in the very same vein in which the Lord God Himself has apparently been challenged according to what is written for us in Ezekiel 18. It seems to be a question of authority and to whom, or to what, we choose to offer and show our respect. Man has created his own system of justice the standards of which are inherently in conflict with the Holy Father. How can this be in a system of justice that presumably has its very roots in a legal system commanded by the Lord God?

What is the difference in two such systems that seem to strive toward the same goal of an ordered society? Notice its profound simplicity: man is loathe to forgive and rarely – if ever – gives second chances. Not really. We talk a good game, but I don’t think we really believe that.

Listen again very carefully to the words of Ezekiel 18:27-29a: “When the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is unfair.’”

So what is unfair in the eyes of Israel? It surely cannot be the “wicked” who call the Lord “unfair”, the “wicked” who have turned from their sorry ways and have finally found peace and fulfillment in their lives by turning to the Lord. I don’t think those who have experienced the Lord’s forgiveness find Him unfair at all. So who is it? Who is doing the asking? Who is issuing a direct challenge to the Lord Himself by such an accusation?

I think it is a safe bet that these allegations against the Lord are not being spoken aloud as much as they are being lived, acted upon, and played out. When someone breaks the law, we expect and demand that they pay the price. Fair enough; the law stipulates penalties. For man, however, it goes much further and deeper than that. We don’t want the transgressors to merely pay; we want them to S*U*F*F*E*R for what they’ve done. This, to man, is true justice and the way things ought to be, and anyone who suggests otherwise is not being “fair” or reasonable, including the Lord Himself.

Yet according to Israel’s objections, the Lord is being unfair because He is allowing even the “wicked” to come to their senses, turn from their evil ways, and live. Why are we not so inclined?

Could it possibly be that the Church is in decline because we cannot seem to make up our minds about the Lord? Or that we have somehow come to the conclusion that the Lord is unfair because He offers salvation to ANY and ALL who come forward so we therefore have a hard time taking Him seriously because transgressors don’t openly suffer and pay to our complete satisfaction?

Yes, it is true enough that we must meet the Lord on His terms and not our own; this is the essence of repentance. But does it have to mean that we who call ourselves faithful can choose to stay away, having somehow justified ourselves to the point that we no longer feel the need for the support and the fellowship of the Church? Or believing in our own piety to the point that we choose not to worship with “sinners” who are not worthy to be in our presence?

It is entirely one thing to find a church with a congregation one can be comfortable with. It is another to be on a constant quest for the “ultimate” church without being willing to bring something, such as one’s life and devotion, to meet the Lord on His terms. It is His authority by which the Church proclaims the Word of Life and not death. Surely we do not, or dare not, demand anything more or offer anything less.

We are specifically denied the authority to judge, but we have been granted and blessed with the authority and privilege to proclaim the Good News of Christ. We must therefore be willing to use this authority to offer to a seemingly hopeless world the same Word of Hope we seek and desire for ourselves for it is in the proclamation of hope and redemption by which we are redeemed.

It is solely His authority to grant; it is our privilege to receive. It is a safe bet, dear friends, that if we need to hear a Good Word of Hope, so does someone else.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Clay Aiken, the former “American Idol” runner-up and current recording and Broadway artist, has finally come out of the closet, as is so often referred, and acknowledged/admitted/announced that he is gay. Upon this stunning revelation, folks are lining up to congratulate him on his courage and for “setting an example” to so many.

I only have a couple of observations. First, it seems to me that it might require more courage in the show business culture to announce one’s heterosexuality considering that prevailing culture which seems to celebrate anything outside the norm, but then again, exactly what is “the norm” anymore? I don’t mean to take anything away from Mr. Aiken and I am the last man on the face of this planet in a position to pass judgment on anyone, but I am wondering how he has been “freed” or “liberated”? In what way will his life or his religious faith be enhanced by publicly announcing his orientation?

My second thought is more attuned to Mr. Aiken’s sense of religion and faith since he has also publicly acknowledged that he is a “born again” Christian. As a Methodist Christian who is somewhat conservative I have my own thoughts about the whole issue of homosexuality, but I am conflicted between my sense of libertarianism which holds that we are free to do and be as we choose and live by the blessings or consequences of the choices we make and my sense of faith which holds that homosexuality is sinful behavior specifically referred to in Scripture.

While we may blame society for fostering the idea that homosexuality is perfectly natural or normal for those so inclined, I cannot help but to wonder if it is the Church that has done more harm in its awkward and often feeble attempts to speak to this issue as the Body of Christ. Within the United Methodist denomination the issue seems to have split us right down the middle as is evidenced by the narrow voting margins at General Conference in upholding the current language in the Book of Discipline which affirms the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christianity and biblical principles. The difficult and, I believe, proper balance Methodism tries to maintain is also evidenced in our acknowledgment of the sacred worth of every person.

There are other Christian churches, and Topeka KS’s own Westboro Baptist must be included in this category, that seem to promote the fire and brimstone approach to homosexuality in wishing and seemingly praying for the painful death and destruction of homosexual persons, churches that seem to overlook the Gospel According to St. John in which Jesus is quoted as saying that His very presence among us was, and is, intended for our salvation and not our condemnation (John 3:17).

On the other end of the spectrum are those churches such as the Episcopal Church in the US that seems to be falling apart ever since its own election and consecration of a homosexual bishop a few years ago. The conservative elements are seeking to align themselves with more conservative unions while others are feverishly seeking to maintain any sort of union which obviously no longer exists.

I envy those denominations for which homosexuality is a “non-issue”. A Nazarene pastor once told me that the few times it even comes up in their Conferences, it is almost as quickly dismissed. There are no discussions in how to approach the issue or seeking to find compromising words and positions that will satisfy all sides because the Bible seems clear and is affirmed as the final word and authority. Putting such issues aside and refusing to give them serious consideration frees them up to talk about the things that should matter to the Church: worship of the Lord God, making disciples, and being in fellowship with one another. If this pastor’s perspective is accurate, and I have no reason to think otherwise, then these fine brethren truly are “set apart” in Word and Deed against the worldly culture that seems to promote the adage, “If it feels good, do it”.

Jesus did not condemn, nor should we. But being tolerant of a particular practice that is clearly incompatible with biblical teachings does not mean being accepting. Rather, being tolerant only means a willingness to acknowledge a certain reality that a) it exists, and b) we cannot physically stop it. Tolerance does not mean that we have to surrender to it because once we do, we lose our distinction and become assimilated into a world that is clearly hostile to the Kingdom of Heaven. The true sanctuary that should be the Church will cease to exist.

Clay Aiken, like so many others, has made a choice. Whether he considers himself predisposed to such same-gender inclinations is irrelevant to the Church since we should recognize that we are all predisposed to sin, but we are all forced by our knowledge and faith to make certain choices to abide by the biblical principles that have guided the faithful for thousands of years or surrender to a culture that will give in soon enough to another, more attractive choice as it suits itself.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Real Political Heavyweights

Chevy Chase, Matt Damon, Lindsey Lohan. Now these are people we should be paying attention to during this election season, especially when they enlighten us with such clever zingers as “like a bad Disney movie”. Yep, these are people who really have something to say that we need to know. They have that keen, acute political insight that gives us the knowledge and perspective we might otherwise have tended to overlook, living as we do in our utter ignorance and confusion.

None of this is to say that these celebrities, presumably all US citizens, do not have a right to speak to the upcoming election but do the media believe themselves to be offering up any “news”, they the self-appointed “watch dogs of democracy” they believe themselves to be? How do these actors acquire the political pedigree that enables them to speak so intelligently and offer to the debate genuine political discourse that we do honestly need? And to have the press follow them in search of such wisdom?

Consider the profound wisdom of Chevy Chase. He wants Tina Fey, the actress and former “Saturday Night Live” performer, to “decimate” Sarah Palin in her portrayal, a portrayal Gov. Palin herself found to be quite funny. Said political guru Chevy Chase: “This woman is, I can't believe there hasn't been more about it. ... It's just unbelievable to me this woman is actually running for vice president." ( Well said, Mr. Chase. Sheer brilliance and insight. Stunning clarity. Now that I know what you think, sir, I had better rethink my entire life.

Now I have a question, actually two. First, Mr. Chase is quoted by Fox News as saying, “This woman is, I can’t …” He was apparently about to say something about Gov. Palin but did not. Now did he get cut off by the reporter, or did he just have nothing to say at all? Secondly, he “can’t believe there hasn’t been more about it …” What, exactly, was the “it” to which he refers? Was “it” the pregnant daughter who is not married? Was “it” the challenges Gov. Palin and her husband will face with their youngest child? Was “it” the trooper-gate thing some are trying to hang on the Alaskan governor? What, exactly, is “it” that there has not been more about? I think it is safe to say that the media have all but shown us telephoto snap shots of Gov. Palin taking a shower. What about Gov. Palin has not been covered? What is the “more” Mr. Chase thinks we are lacking?

The real issue, however, is not that Chevy Chase or Matt Damon apparently have nothing of substance to say even as they have a perfect right to say it (or not). The issue is that these snippets of political wisdom were newsworthy enough to pursue. They each got a headline in major news outlets as did Lindsey Lohan’s Myspace blog deriding Gov. Palin’s VP candidacy. Lots of words but little else.

If they support Obama’s candidacy, very well. Sad to say, however, that they have even less to say supporting Obama but would, instead, prefer to be quoted feebly attempting to be clever in derogatory comments about Palin. Sadder still that the media find this worthy of time and attention.

Panoramic View

Proverbs 3:5-12

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20

Sitting in my office the other day, a young man came in with the usual litany of things wrong with his car, the same litany that seems to be customary to those who move from church to church and place to place seeking financial help, only this one didn’t say he was on his way to a job interview in Portland OR. Sometimes these requests are legitimate and sometimes not. Sad to say, it is impossible to tell though I would suspect many would claim they can tell “just by looking”. The truth is, however, that we cannot always be sure that we are seeing everything we need to see in order to make a sound judgment.

It has long been a dilemma for many Christians to deal with those enterprising people who sit on street corners holding signs that say, “Will work for food”. Oh, and they always add, “God bless you.” Ever wonder what they’re thinking as so many drive by without even a glance? I wonder if they wish God’s blessings on them. I’ve only heard of one man who claimed to have offered some fellows just such a job cleaning his yard. According to this man, they had to turn down his generous offer because of a bad back. Darn the luck!

If I sound cynical, it’s because I am. Often I’ve wondered if my heart is so hardened to certain realities that it is impossible for me to empathize with these people. Part of me reasons that there are better ways to go about getting money, ways that will defend one’s integrity and sustain one’s dignity. Another part of me wonders if the reason I cannot empathize is because I’ve never known a day of hunger, not really. Even after a job loss, which is traumatic enough, I didn’t worry so much about where my next meal was coming from. There is, of course, extended family that will never allow a loved one to go hungry, and there are also family connections to help find jobs. With all this surrounding me, I cannot see myself being reduced to such a state in which I would sit on a freeway exit ramp with a coffee can asking for money.

There are several proverbs that speak to the way of a lazy person who will truly reap what he chooses to sow and if the lazy is unwilling to work, they should not expect pay. And if you don’t get paid, you don’t eat! But are we called to make a distinction between those who are just lazy and those who really are down on their luck? It’s not easy to think that someone could be playing us for fools, but are we left then to determine whether or not someone is just taking us for a ride? The bottom line is: if we have it to give and we choose not to give, what else would we do with our excess?

Some would say, “Well, I could give it to the church or some other charity.” Indeed we could, but would we? And if our conscience bothers us and we don’t drop some money in the coffee can and we don’t give it over to charity or to the church, then what is our conscience trying to tell us? That maybe we should have dropped some money in the coffee can or written a check to the church? Or is our conscience that inner voice that suddenly recalls Jesus’ words: I was hungry and you did not feed Me; I was naked and you did not clothe me. I was in prison and you did not come see Me.

It hardly seems fair that Christians should be made to feel guilty so much of the time. There is that part of us that would never dream of turning our backs on those who need, but soon we become overwhelmed at the reality out there that there are MANY who desperately need. How can we, with our limited resources, possibly see to all the need which exists? When is it ok to free ourselves from these pangs of guilt that should bother anyone with a conscience? After all, we cannot see by looking if we are dealing with a lazy bum who needs a swift kick more than he needs a dollar, or a con man who should be sitting in prison instead of on the side of the interstate exit ramp, or if we are looking at a desperate soul who is at the end of his rope and honestly does not know which way to turn.

I wish there could be one pat answer that would cover each scenario on an equal basis, but the truth is there is not one. All we can do is try to be faithful with what we have. If we have a lot, then we should be giving a lot. If we have a little, we should be giving a little but ALWAYS we should be willing to give because no matter how little we think we have, we always have something someone else could use. This is especially true for the Christian who has Christ in his or her heart.

You and I know that money has NEVER, EVER solved a problem – not a real one. Money comes in handy and money will buy extra soup for hungry mouths, but we also know – or should know – that there is not enough money in the entire world that can fill a hungry soul. We cannot buy enough to redeem those who are truly lost.

Sometimes a cash gift can go a long way for those who do truly need. More importantly, however, it is important for us to remember John Wesley’s admonition and encouragement to always “offer them Christ”. Money fulfills man-made needs and desires; Christ the Lord fulfills the real need always and forever. AMEN.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Absent Substance, Remove Rhetoric

“Change is not a destination, and hope is not a strategy.”
- Rudy Giuliani, Republican National Convention, 2008

Barack cannot be written off as inconsequential simply because he lacks genuine leadership experience in business or politics. The fact that he has such charisma in the absence of anything of substance, and given the fact that he does in fact have a large gathering, means that those who will vote for him in November are either die-hard Democrats who will never vote for a Republican – or they are non-issue Democrats who hate war, see unemployment headlines, and are generally dissatisfied with their lives; these are the ones who can be, and who have been, swayed and swooned by the empty rhetoric of Barack Obama.

The fact remains, however, that Barack has selected a running mate with a substantial public-service resume and has also posted some policy developments of his own that he would like to see come to fruition should he become the next US president. What this means to Republicans is that it is time to stop pointing out the apparent flaws of Barack Obama and begin talking about the real issues that matter and exactly – in layman’s terms, please – how these issues will be addressed.

How, for instance, can we convince American manufacturers and producers that as they continue to try saving a buck by firing workers and moving a substantial part of their operations overseas that they are actually producing the kinds of citizens who can no longer shop, can no longer spend on life’s little extra’s and that these new, unemployed folks no longer have disposable income after food and shelter and are unable to buy the products that will now be imported from these newly established foreign operations?

I know that such rhetoric is oversimplified, but this is a real issue for the American blue-collar worker and white collar, middle-management types. This is something that is completely beyond their control. What are they supposed to do if the entire industry in which they had once been employed chose to do what their particular employer did: pack up and leave the country? Who will be left to buy their products? Can government offset the job loss? Should government even try? Unemployment benefits will keep groceries on the table and gas in the car for the job hunt but not much more than this. What will we do in the meantime?

It is easy to suggest that the government will pay for retraining, but will the retraining be toward work within another US industry that is also looking at foreign land as its home base where labor is cheaper and workers have no rights or life? Where government regulations and restrictions are not nearly so regulatory or restrictive and governments themselves do not seek to choke the very life out of an industry or tax it to its grave?

We are completely and entirely dependent on foreign oil. During the embargo of the 70’s, the US vowed that such a thing would never happen again. President Bush has made several proposals about how to diminish our dependence and actually create new jobs right here in the US, but his detractors continue to argue that such proposals will take ten years to make any real economic impact, so it is discarded. Imagine if our illustrious “leaders” of the 70’s had given as much attention to such prophetic forethought in the 70’s when forward thinking was needed? Instead, demand is made to pump oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for “immediate” relief for the consumer, never minding that the Reserve was established for the very possibility of a potential, future embargo, and never minding that refining capacity does not seem to exist to handle the additional crude. Unless I am mistaken, then-President Clinton also attempted to release oil from the Reserve to help push down prices and unless I am mistaken, it didn’t work any better then than it will now.

My point is simply this. We have a bona fide need to diminish our dependence on foreign energy sources, and we now have a 6.1% unemployment rate. Why can we not enhance our own drilling capacity, our exploration endeavors, our research and development even toward “green” as well as other energy sources and put people back to work instead of talking smack about a “windfall profits” tax? The government does not need additional revenue sources; people need jobs.

This government and too many of our state governments have their thinking caps on backwards but, sadly, too many citizens no longer even notice that their governments have worked diligently to enhance its own revenue rather than focus on what it will take to get employers to put more people on the payroll. Who is talking about this on the campaign trail? Merely acknowledging our “pain” or sharing in it on some level does nothing to put people back to work.

Citizens can demand it, and demand it we must because it will not just happen unless or until the cozy employment situation of some congressmen and representatives becomes tenuous. Maybe then, perhaps only then, will they finally come to understand our “pain” and understand that more government programs are not always the answer.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Was it a Dream?

It seems like yesterday, yet so long ago. It was a day like any other: grown-ups at work, kids at school. Nothing special was supposed to happen this day; it was just another day. Now this day is so close and yet still sometimes fades like some distant memory or a very bad dream. At some point we stop and wonder if it really happened at all. Watching the chaos and confusion on the TV news made it all surreal, and yet there was no denying what was being seen live, moments and events unfolding before us as a movie’s very strange and twisted plot. So real, so very real, and yet …

The first plane had crashed into one of the Towers, so there were TV and video cameras trained on the already aflame Tower and broadcasting live around the nation, around the world. It was during this time as we watched the first Tower burn that another plane came from seemingly nowhere and … wait. Did it crash into the second Tower? Did we just see what we thought we saw? This could not be real; surely there could not have been two such occurrences on the same day at virtually the same hour! What was happening? My Dear God, will it end?

Working in a rather loud and chaotic environment, suddenly everything got quiet. There was little talk, hardly any movement. We sat transfixed on the TV screen trying to take in what we all thought we had just seen. Once in awhile, a glance at a co-worker hoping for denial but seeing instead confirmation. The phones that were usually constantly abuzz fell silent, and time stood still. For an eternity yet for a moment, life ceased. It was a dream, surely a dream. This cannot happen to us, this should not be happening at all!. Those poor people. Had they any idea what they were walking into? Did they somehow know that such a day as this would ever come?

No one can possibly be prepared for this. The TV news showed us people running away from the scene while police and firefighters rushed in. Utter chaos and confusion even as some were walking along some street away from the Towers as in a daze, not quite sure what to do or where to go. Suddenly, just as time seemed to begin its forward march, something else. Wait. Am I seeing a nightmare intensified? How can a whole Tower fall like that? And then the other. This is not real! Dear God, what is happening? Those people inside the buildings, those poor people … and the brave police officers, rescue workers and firefighters. Hadn’t they all just rushed inside these buildings to render aid? Who will save them?

Not much else happened that day, at least at work. The TV news continually replayed the crashes, the collapses. And it seems that the more often these awful moments were replayed, the further removed we were, the less real it seemed. We watched it over and over so much that it no longer seemed real at all. There were no coherent thoughts, nothing was happening. We, sitting so far away in relative comfort, could feel and share the confusion as we watched New Yorkers, our fellow citizens, walking out of Manhattan on streets and bridges normally cluttered with cars of all kinds. So many, moving so slowly and yet not moving at all.

I was awakened from my daze around 3:30pm CST by a phone call from my 13-year-old daughter. “Daddy, why did they do this? Is it true that there are Muslim terrorists who have attacked America and are out to kill American and Christian children? That’s what I heard today in school. Daddy, who are these people who want to kill us? Daddy, I need you to come home. Daddy, are you there?”

“Lots of people are confused right now, baby girl, but there are no terrorists out to get little children. What you were hearing is what happens when people are frightened and don’t know what’s really going on. You’re perfectly safe, dear child. You are protected by the Lord, and He will watch over you especially while you’re so afraid. I’ll be home before you know it. Just do your homework; turn the TV off. There is nothing you need to see right now. Daddy loves you.”

Suddenly I was violently shoved from my daze and confusion. Now I was angry and hurt. My precious child had been violated. The innocence of her age and youth had been shattered. Everything she had come to believe had been challenged by some notion that hers was no longer a safe world. New York was so far away and yet so near. If it could happen there, it could happen anywhere. It’s up to you, New York …

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Fight not worth Fighting

IRS rules are clear: churches and pastors must not endorse political candidates lest they risk the tax-exempt status of those churches. Beyond this legal restriction, however, there must surely be more very good reasons why it is better for everyone if churches, as entities, and their pastors stay out of the electoral process. And being removed from this process includes, in my humble opinion, candidates for public office speaking from these churches’ pulpits, ostensibly to give their “testimony”. Not to suggest that candidates do not have their faith stories to share but if they had never been invited to any churches prior to their declaration for office, why the invite after such a declaration?

The Alliance Defense Fund is set to challenge these IRS rules and is reportedly recruiting “several dozen” church pastors to endorse political candidates from their respective pulpits on September 28, according to the Washington Post. In the name of “free speech” these pastors are going to be asked to preach, from their pulpits, about faith in certain human beings who happen to be political candidates for public office. And while these pastors put perhaps their own professional credentials and their respective churches’ tax-exempt status on the line, they risk serving no purpose other than that which has been established by the Alliance Defense Fund. In other words, fighting a fight that does not need to be fought. At the very least, this is not an issue churches should be so concerned about.

None of this is to suggest that church pastors cannot be involved as individuals in the political process nor should church members – as individuals - remove themselves from the political process. It is the duty of responsible citizens, clergy or laity, to inform themselves as best they can and then cast their vote accordingly. It is ok to become involved in some political action committee or partisan party if one so chooses. We as individuals are not only protected during this process but are actually urged to get involved and become informed. The more we know, the less likely we are to get hood-winked by a clever campaign slogan.

This fight that the ADF is choosing to stage, however, is going to cost a lot more than many are seriously considering. And churches which allow their pastors to get involved (surely these pastors are not making such a monumental decision to get the church involved without conferring with some church council or committee) are asking for trouble they have not seriously – if biblically – considered. It is not a matter of merely standing up to the IRS, which may always be a bad idea, but is also a matter of getting the church off track and misstating or misrepresenting the mission and ministry of Christ’s Church, none of which includes politics.

The biggest problem I see in this is misrepresenting the candidates themselves. We reasonably know that there are enough weak-minded and weak-spirited folks in our churches who can easily be misguided into believing that candidate X or candidate Y is ordained of God to lead us or represent us or even save us (save us from what will depend entirely upon the group being addressed, of course) while drawing our focus away from the Only One who can save and suggesting that we put our faith in this or that candidate instead, insinuating that the “other” candidate, the Russians, the Iranians, the terrorists, etc. is the true and genuine threat to our well-being, and that our candidate is the only one who can protect us from these threats.

It is a very fine line these pastors may choose to walk, first, by hijacking the pulpit from which only the Word of the Lord should be proclaimed; secondly, by misleading people into believing that there are men or women who can “save” us; thirdly, by trapping some who have come to worship the Lord God and not be subjected to a political speech; fourth, by perhaps using these political candidates as a means of self- or church-promoting, somehow insinuating some air of legitimacy and importance to the pastor.

Regardless of motive, there is little of any lasting value that will come from such challenges. It is not unlike the challenge for prayer in public school in which some believe their “right” to pray has somehow been infringed when actually the only thing restricted is one’s “presumed” right to subject others to one’s own prayer. No court has declared that one cannot pray, and no court or the IRS has stated or ruled that individual clergy or church members cannot be involved in the political process.

The Holy Church of the Lord is called to be a sanctuary from the world. The Church should not attempt to assimilate itself into the world through the political process lest the Image and moral authority of Christ’s Holy Church become distorted or compromised. The Church cannot be the Body of Christ and a political action committee at the same time. I would actually suggest that the church make a choice and become one or the other, and then let the chips fall where they may.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

More Press, More Shame

I don’t think sarcasm is one of my better qualities and I also don’t think sarcasm serves much real use, but I have to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the press for exposing the teenage pregnancy in the Palin family. I have to say that I feel much better about life in general now that this scandal has been brought to light, and I am especially thankful that these self-appointed “guardians of truth” and “public watchdogs” are ever vigilant and prepared to inform me of things I really need to know. And the fact that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter is pregnant (and currently unmarried) is one bit of information I really needed to be aware of as I continue to judge for myself whom I will vote for in this coming election.

Thankfully, the true gentleman from Illinois barked his take on the media’s vigilance in the matter of Gov. Palin’s daughter and her situation: FAMILY IS OFF-LIMITS, ESPECIALLY CHILDREN. Is it funny or rather, scary that presidents and candidates must make a public declaration before it is understood that one’s spouses and children are not candidates for public office and are therefore exempt from the cruelty and scrutiny of such leaches hungry for a story, any story, that will make headlines and produce a byline? Isn’t it sad that such items actually make the news, having been submitted by overzealous reporters but also having gotten past presumably more seasoned and experienced editors? This is news?

Senator Obama is not going to get my vote for president this time around, but he has certainly earned my respect and a second look for his willingness to step up in this case and hammer the media for going into that which should be perpetually off-limits without public declaration. It is not necessary that we know such things about anyone, and the person or persons who “exposed” this earth-shaking information should be brought to light and called on to explain what they hoped or expected to achieve from such a shameful display.

Is this kind of reporting the sort of thing we simply have to learn to live with, sort of like the military’s collateral damage regarding those innocents who are harmed incidentally, for the sake of the bigger picture? I say absolutely not. Putting a muzzle on such reporting in the mainstream media – which is fast showing itself a follower of such trailblazing reporting as that of "The National Enquirer" – will have to be done by we who expect more from these self-appointed “guardians”. They hide behind the US Constitution in such matters and will suggest that we must learn to live with such things in the name of “freedom”. It is fast becoming more and more evident that it is the media, perhaps, from which we need to be protected.

Be aware that we do ultimately have the power to control this monster and help harness their self-declared “power” and independence. Stop demanding such shameful displays. Stop buying the publications that print such drivel. And for pity’s sake, stop taking such stories so seriously. These reporters give it because far too many of us willingly take it, and eagerly. Boy, do we love scandals.

Still, they who brought to light this “expose” should be ashamed of themselves even as there is virtually no way they can be held accountable for what they’ve done to a 17-year-old who did not deserve national attention on a very private situation. It is not my business that she and her boyfriend had a lapse in judgment. Why are the media trying to make it the nation’s business?