Category Archives: Politics

Are Evangelicals Endangering Democracy?

“Don’t you believe that God inspired the Bible?”

“Yes,” I said, “but I don’t think God stopped inspiring people when the Bible was in its finished form. I’ve read some great books by women that I think were equally inspired by God, and they give me a perspective that the Bible doesn’t, since every book theologians decided to include was written down by a man.”

My hands on the wheel, I glanced sideways at my friend, who views God very differently than I do. She raised her eyebrows and then leaned back against the headrest, looking exhausted.

I went on at length to name some of the current books I’ve read and to say why I got more out of them than a lot of what I read in the Bible, especially those pesky chapters in Paul’s epistles that tell women to shut up. That doesn’t mean that I don’t read the Bible, I told my friend; in fact, I’ve read the entire Bible in three different translations, and I still read it every day, following the Common Lectionary.

My friend listened for a while and then said, “You’re making my head hurt.”

I laughed. “Is that because of my argument or the concussion?”

My friend had taken a tumble in a parking lot that resulted in a concussion, and I was driving her home from a check-up.

“Both,” she said.

That was a few months ago, and this week, now that she’s well again, we continued the conversation. Though she doesn’t agree with many of my views, we both find it interesting to discuss them, and we respect each other’s views.

I’ve also seen that concussed look, though, in the eyes of evangelicals when I try to explain to them why I do not believe the Bible is meant to be read literally. Having grown up in the Bible Belt, I have many family members and friends who do believe the Bible is both literally and historically accurate. When I have these conversations, they often end with a confused look and the pronouncement, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” Those who love me fear for my soul, but they are usually respectful enough to simply shake their heads and walk away.

Recently, though, a cousin who was frustrated with my argument finally gave up trying to reason with me. He resorted instead to telling me that much of what I say and write sounds “dangerously close to the apostate church.” For those who are unfamiliar with fundamentalist beliefs, Nathan Jones, an ordained minister who graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, describes the apostate church in this way:

The Church has become so seeker sensitive, and that can be a good thing in that we want unbelievers to come to know Jesus as their Savior, but we have ended up chasing the believers right out of their churches. We have filled our churches with unbelievers and now are putting unbelievers into the church pulpits. These new church leaders are not saved. They have no fruits of the Spirit. They have no signs in their lives that show that they are saved. These unbelievers in the pulpits keep writing their apostate books and they keep leading their apostate churches saying every kind of doctrine that has nothing to do with the Bible whatsoever.

Jones believes, as many evangelicals do, that apostasy is one of the signs that the end times are near and that Christ will soon return. My cousin—and many other fundamentalists—essentially believe that progressive Christians are the “apostate church.”

People like Jones are vocal, and they have learned to use social media to broadcast their message to a widening audience. Though I am a Christian and an elder in my church, when I try to engage them in conversation on social media, they openly and loudly doubt my salvation and the salvation of some of the most Christ-like people I know.

Because progressive Christians believe in the separation of church and state and are reticent to proclaim their beliefs in such public ways, any counter-argument to evangelicals is rare. In recent years other evangelicals, who are more focused on social justice and earth-care, have begun to speak up, but rarely does the average person in the pews of a progressive church challenge such thinking by bringing God into the conversation. As a result, extreme evangelicals—those who do not hear the arguments of science or social justice— have become an influence in our public dialogue out of all proportion to their percentage as part of the population, and they are aiming a wrecking ball at the separation of church and state.

Fundamentalists are not just dangerous to our democracy, however; they are even more dangerous to the human psyche of those who walk away from the fiery message of doom preached in their pulpits. I launched this blog five years ago because my mother, one of the most Christ-like people I’ve ever known, revealed to me that she was afraid she was going to hell. When I expressed my astonishment, she told me that even though she knew on an intellectual level that her fear made no sense, it was nearly impossible to reject something that had been beaten into her throughout her childhood.

Almost a year ago, I lost the second of two brothers to an opioid addiction. After a year in jail, my brother received help from a program at a mega-church in the city where he lived. They provided him with a bed in a group home in exchange for his work in the church and their thrift shop. They required that he attend Bible study every day and that he go out in a van with others to seek converts on street corners in some of the worst parts of the city. Church attendance was mandatory, and residents had to commit to six months in the program.

My brother told me that he loved the contemporary music at the church and that he enjoyed his small group Bible study. But he said that the sermons were very hard to listen to because they were meant to instill fear and to scare people straight, and according to their teaching, he was never saved. One of the leaders of the church told him that if he left the program, he was choosing hell and that he couldn’t come back. He left the program just shy of six months but still managed to stay clean for almost a year. Shortly before he died in a car accident with heroin in his system, he had hit a rough spot, and he told me that he felt God had abandoned him.

The reasons for addiction are complicated—and the way out even more so. I am grateful to the church for trying to help my brother. But I believe that message—that if we walk away from God, then God walks away from us—contributed to his death.

My fundamentalist acquaintances would say that I’m cherry-picking when I choose not to believe that women should be silent in church but then choose to believe this verse from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NRSV)

Perhaps I am cherry-picking. But when I look at the whole of the life of Christ, I can’t see how oppressing women, denying help to the sick and the poor, and lacking compassion for those fighting the demons of addiction are any part of the package. Nor is calling a compassionate Christian an apostate.

Even the early Christians thought that Christ would return in their lifetime. And for over 2000 years humanity has suffered from the doom and gloom of those predicting that Judgment Day is near but who feel they can ignore the plight of others because they will be swept up to heaven when the day comes.

I wish pastors and Christians like those I’ve encountered in progressive Presbyterian (USA) churches had more of a voice. They speak of a gentle and generous God but also a God who is angered when self-righteous religious leaders refuse compassion to the multitudes. And I wish more Christians were like my friend, who is willing to engage in a dialogue with those whose beliefs are different even when it makes her head hurt.

To those who suffer the wounds and bear the scars of judgment from a version of Christianity that Christ himself might not recognize, I would say that those religious leaders sound suspiciously similar to the scribes and Pharisees of Christ’s time.

And I offer you this thought that my pastors often use to end our Prayers of Gratitude and Concern: “In life and in death, we belong to God.”

Indeed, we do.

Can Christians Change the Climate on Climate Change?

This NASA graph provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution.
https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

Christianity isn’t under attack. But some beliefs of Christians are deserving of attack. Christians who deny climate change in the face of all evidence to the contrary cannot be allowed to wave the flag of religious freedom and force the rest of us to accept the misguided notion that God will somehow rescue us no matter what we do to our planet.

According to NASA statistics, 97% of scientists, after analyzing the evidence, have come to the conclusion that human actions are responsible for global warming. Many of these scientists are Christians. But they are being shouted down by evangelicals, led by a small group of powerful men who believe they have God on their side. Continue reading Can Christians Change the Climate on Climate Change?

School Vouchers Law? To Whose Advantage?

 

According to the Winter 2017 of Education Next, public support of vouchers is in steep decline.

Amid all the chaos of the new administration, Republicans in the House have quietly introduced a bill to use government funding for school vouchers:

H.R.610 – To distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students and to repeal a certain rule relating to nutrition standards in schools.

All arguments about the worth of vouchers aside, why do our representatives continue to introduce bills that are overwhelmingly unpopular among Americans? Continue reading School Vouchers Law? To Whose Advantage?

Righteous Anger or Inner Peace?

Peace on the mountain

Like many Americans, I am fearful for our country. I am angry—at the so-called president, at the people he’s choosing to fill his Cabinet, at his executive orders, at my fellow Americans who voted him into office—especially those I count among my friends and family.

Some anger is good, I think. Perhaps a little more righteous anger might have prevented a whole host of tragic historical events, from the Holocaust to that darkest period in American history that allowed an entire race to be enslaved.

At times I feel I need an anger translator—the kind comedians Key and Peele provided for President Obama—who will help me compartmentalize my emotions.

During the Christmas season, I was particularly angry at evangelical Christians, 81% of whom voted for a man who represents none of the values of Christ (as he demonstrated in his remarks at his first National Prayer Breakfast). I was so angry at those who share my faith that I wrote in a blog post,

Evangelicals don’t need the Baby Jesus this year.

They don’t even need the Jesus of the cross.

They need, above all, the righteously indignant Jesus who storms into a house of worship and knocks over every object in his path, his anger aimed squarely at the religious leaders of his time—all men.

But I also worry about what our anger is doing to us. Whenever I comment on social media in a way that seeks to understand the people I count among my friends, but who voted for Trump, I invariably get a storm of replies from liberal friends and acquaintances who are angry at me for not being angry enough.

At such times, I think of theologian Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister I admire. At one of the angriest times in my life, I printed out this passage from his book Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC and put it in a frame over my desk:

Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.

I ask myself on a daily basis these days how I can find a balance between righteous anger and inner peace. I want to make a difference. But I don’t want to become the skeleton at the feast.

Many wise people warn of the dangers of anger. The Dalai Lama, probably the world’s most well-known Buddhist, says this:

Whether we will be able to achieve world peace or not, we have no choice but to work toward that goal. If we allow love and compassion to be dominated by anger, we will sacrifice the best part of our human intelligence—wisdom, our ability to decide between right and wrong. Along with selfishness, anger is one of the most serious problems facing the world today. (How to See Yourself as You Really Are)

Literary giants, too, have warned us about anger:

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. (Mark Twain)

Angry people are not always wise. (Jane Austen)

Anger…it’s a paralyzing emotion…you can’t get anything done. People sort of think it’s an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling—I don’t think it’s any of that—it’s helpless…it’s absence of control—and I need all of my skills, all of the control, all of my powers…and anger doesn’t provide any of that—I have no use for it whatsoever. (Toni Morrison)

As a Christian I remind myself that the Christ I seek to follow achieved that balance, though even he sometimes found it hard. The Gospel of Matthew describes him as so “grieved and agitated” that he went up on a mountain and threw himself on the ground to pray. The Gospel of Luke describes him as praying in such anguish that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” But when he came down from the mountain, he had found a divine peace that helped him hold on to love in the face of unspeakable hatred.

I have to remind myself that even Christ, in his lifetime on earth, did not achieve the justice he sought. But he never gave up his humanity. He never became like the religious leaders who hated him. He was never the skeleton at the feast.

Perhaps I, too, should take more opportunities to walk away from the madding crowd and find my way to the mountain to pray. I can’t stay away too long, but perhaps I’ll come back more ready to go on.

One Percent of Travelers “Inconvenienced”?

“Inconvenienced”? “Inconvenienced”?! This is the word chosen by the government to describe their perspective on those who have been stopped in airports around the world as a result of Trump’s executive order:

The Department of Homeland Security noted that ‘less than one percent’ of international air travelers arriving Saturday in the United States were ‘inconvenienced’ by the executive order… (Washington Post)

One percent. That doesn’t sound like much. One percent of a dollar is one penny. Losing a penny is an inconvenience. Continue reading One Percent of Travelers “Inconvenienced”?

Stop Telling Me to “Get Over It”!

“Get over it. There’s nothing anyone can do about it now.”

This sentiment has been expressed by many of my friends and acquaintances who voted for Trump and even by a few who did not.

Three men in my life, about whom I care deeply, have voiced variations on this theme to me since the election. All three voted for Trump. Two of them are my age, but one of them is fifteen years younger than I am. I have known all of them for decades, and I love them. All are men of character who are good to their wives and who would give up their lives to protect their daughters.

Yet they voted for Trump.

And now, all three seem confused by the fact that some of the women they care deeply about get angry when they suggest we should “get over it.” Continue reading Stop Telling Me to “Get Over It”!

Open Letter to Leaders who Share My Christian Faith

To: The President, Senators, and Representatives Who Share My Christian Faith

I firmly believe in the separation of church and state. But I do believe that one’s faith, whatever that may be, should inform one’s thinking and actions. Because Christians hold a super-majority in both houses of Congress—a majority greater than either political party holds—one might expect that our leaders should be working together more than they do.

Instead, for much of my lifetime, you have sought to undermine the other party with actions that look nothing like the example that Christ set for us. Continue reading Open Letter to Leaders who Share My Christian Faith

A Tribute to President Obama

An official photo of the First Family by Pete Souza at whitehouse.gov

Of all the things President Obama has done in service to our country, I am most grateful for the model he has been as a husband and a father. Whatever part of his legacy is dismantled by the incoming administration, they cannot take that away from us. He has been a stellar example of what it means to be a good man.

Of all the things he said last night in his farewell address, his tribute to his family will linger in my mind for years to come: Continue reading A Tribute to President Obama

A Culture of Domestic Violence?

South Carolina’s House chamber, where Chris Corley will continue to serve after being re-elected

No sane person would deny that domestic abuse is heartbreaking. Why, then, do rational people allow a man accused of domestic violence to continue in public office?

A teacher accused of physically abusing a student—or anyone employed in public service, for that matter—would at the very least be placed on paid administrative leave until the matter is resolved. Not so with elected officials.

According to the Charleston Post and Courier, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on domestic violence, South Carolina state representative Chris Corley stands accused of first-degree domestic violence and pointing and presenting a firearm, charges which constitute felonies. Continue reading A Culture of Domestic Violence?