Jesus of Suburbia

mahtomedi-mn_hvac-service-300x199It’s coming up to a year since I’ve been at First Christian of St. Paul which is in Mahtomedi, MN.  One of the things that was kind of hammered home to me in seminary is to learn to do ministry in a certain context.  And with this call, context matters, at least to me.

I’ve shared before that I’m a city kid that grew up with an antipathy towards the ‘burbs.  So as my mentor Bob Brite has said, “the Holy Spirit, the practical joker that she is” has me preaching at a church in the suburbs.

And I don’t think I’m prepared for it.

I’ve noticed over the year that our seminaries prepare students for one kind of context: cities.  The urban context has long been what our seminary education has been based on.  I can understand the need to focus on cities; it is where the majority of Americans live.  But most seminaries tend to ignore rural contexts and view suburbia with a sense of contempt.  In a blog post last year, I shared what an evangelical blogger wrote about the suburbs and it wasn’t a love letter.  A fellow Disciples pastor has said that the only message we seem to have for suburbanites is how they are bad people for abandoning the city.  Surprisingly, people tend to not be crazy to being called sinful because of where they decided to live.

A lot of the Christian antipathy towards suburbia mirrors the larger culture’s view of suburbia.  Hollywood has long depticted the ‘burbs as a place of conformity and blandness.  But the thing is, as I said in that posting from 2013, suburban America is far more diverse than we think:

Twenty years later, I don’t have the same hatred of suspicion of the burbs.  They are still not the places I prefer to live in (thought I did live in the Washington, DC suburbs of Arlington, VA and Silver Spring, MD in the years following college). Part that is because I actually started paying attention to what is going on in the suburbs.  Over the years, I’ve learned that hunger take place in suburbs like Maple Grove, Minnesota, which is just west of Minneapolis.  I’ve learned that domestic violence takes place and that there are shelters for women and children in the tony suburbs of Oakland County north of Detroit.  I learned that runaway youth who live in the burbs need a place to stay.  I learned that suburban schools are becoming more diverse, handling people from different parts of the world.  What I’ve learned is that the suburbs are not some fascist utopia, but are real places with real problems.

But many Christian leaders seem to choose not to care about what is happening there.  Instead, they brand suburban living as unChristian.  This is what someone said on the Fare Foreward blog last year:

Yet some forms of cultural resistance should be universal, because some aspects of “normal” life in America are deeply unChristian. Bradley laments that “anti-suburban Christianity” has lead to this kind of legalism. But there are some things deeply unChristian, and deeply counter to even natural virtue, in the suburbs. Will Seath does a good job of laying those out in his article from the winter edition of Fare Forward. Bradley suggests that the anti-suburban Christians advocate for urbanism at the expense of the suburbs. But, as the buzz around Rod Dreher’s latest book on moving home, a lot of the anti-suburban sentiment comes from people who support small town living just as much as from those who support city living. And the thing that unites the city and the country against the suburbs is the belief that the suburbs are not, as a matter of fact, ordinary, natural life, but a strange artificial construct that hinders ordinary live and ordinary relationships (see Seath for more).

And this was my response after I picked up my jaw from the floor:

Notice what’s being said here.  It’s not that suburbs aren’t optimal to Christian living.  No, suburban living is unChristian, it goes against what it means to be a Christian.  I haven’t read the Will Seath article, but even without reading it the above statement is astounding.  What is being said here is that nothing good comes from the suburbs, and that millions of Christians in America are basically committing a grave sin because they chose to live outside the city.

 

First Christian was in St. Paul until 1996.  I’m pretty sure they aren’t planning on moving back.  So that means learning how to do ministry in the suburbs. Being church here is not the same as in the city or in a small town.  But Christ is here.  There are needs.  Our church is involved in a coalition of suburban churches that staff a homeless shelter for families in the suburban counties east of St. Paul.  A large Lutheran church down the road tries to help some of these same people get back on their feet.  Suburbanites don’t have to go into the big city to do mission, it’s here at our doorstep.

I feel that seminary left me unprepared for how to do ministry in this context.  It’s not urban ministry and it sure isn’t rural ministry.  But how do learn to do church in this context?  How can we preach the good news in words and in deeds in these places far from the urban core?

This is a little tip for seminaries: start thinking about what it means to do mission in the ‘burbs.  Because an ever larger share of American society is choosing to live there.  We have to find ways to help suburbanites join in the mission of God and not feel guilty because they happen to be in the wrong zip code to some urban-centric, snobby Christians.

The Jesus of the City and the small town is also Jesus of suburbia.

Sermon: “All In Due Time”

Matthew 13:24-43
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 20, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahotomedi, MN

 

I’m going to talk about my garden again.

 

Well, not about the flowers.  No, what I am talking about is something that is a constant problem no matter what I do.

 

I’m talking about weeds.

 

malaysian-airlines-mh17-candlelight-vigilFor some reason, my garden has been targeted by the weeds.  I’ve spent hours pulling them out by their roots, it doesn’t work.  Both Daniel and I have contacted an old fashioned mixture of vineagar, soap and water that is supposed to kill the weeds and it does just that; that is it kills the plants that it comes in contact with, but it does nothing to the roots which means in a while the weeds come back.

 

I’m not crazy about using a pesticide like Roundup, but I am become sorely tempted.  My fear though is that it could kill the flowers along with the weeds.  Sure, I’d get rid of the weeds, but I would also lose the flowers that I’ve taken years to cultivate.  So I’m not going to use Roundup.  Maybe.

 

This Sunday, we find another agricultural parable where Jesus describes the kingdom of God.  Last week, we talked about a sower who threw his seeds everywhere, not caring if they took root or not.  This Sunday, we find Jesus telling a story about a farmer that planted a field.  One evening, an enemy of farmer (farmers have enemies?) sneaks on to the field and plants weeds in the garden.  A few weeks later as the wheat that the farmer planted sprouted, everyone saw that weeds were also planted alongside the wheat.  The farmer knows who did this; someone that didn’t like the farmer and wanted to see him fail.  His farmhands, who were distrubed by the weeds marring this harvest, asked if they could go and pull up the weeds by roots.

 

You would think that the farmer would have said yes and gladly join in.  The weeds could choke his crop causing economic upheaval in his household.  Instead, he says to leave the weeds where they are,lest they damage the wheat.  The farmer tells his farmhands to wait until harvest.  The workers can come in and harvest the weeds to throw them in the fire.  All in due time, the farmer says.

 

Jesus later explains this parable to the disciples.  The farmer was Jesus and the field represented the world.  The enemy was the devil and the weeds are evildoers and all the evils of the world. Jesus tells them that for now the weeds will remain next to the wheat.  But the harvest is coming, and when that happens, the workers will gather all the sin in the world, bind it and thrown into the fire. All in due time.

 

We live in a world filled with weeds and they have been present this week in the news.  In the skies over Ukraine, someone shoots a surface to air missle, striking a passenger jet and snuffing out the lives of nearly 300 people, including a number who were going to an International HIV/AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia.  Families around the world are mourning the loss of a loved one and one nation especially, Maylasia, and the national airline are facing a second air tragedy in less than six months.

 

Palestinians and Israelis are at war again.  It began with the death of three Israeli teenagers and then the death of a young Palestinian who was killed in revenge.  Now there are rockets striking parts of Israel and the Gaza Strip.  Because Gaza is so densley populated, there are more casualities on the Palestinian side, more cries of pain.  Any hopes for some kind of peace settlement between the two peoples is shelved, again.

 

At our southern border, our nation is dealing with a massive influx of children coming from Central American countries where they are threatened.  Their arrivals places stress on an already stressed immigration system.  It has also for reasons I’m still trying to figure out, has lead to Americans protesting the arrival of these children who are in need of attention and need a place to stay as they are processed through our system.

 

In North Minneapolis, where I live, there happens to be an increase of crime in the area. The newspaper reports that even if there were a cop on every corner, the violence would not settle unless the community comes together to deal with some of the underlying issues of the perpetrators.

 

There are weeds everywhere.  We try to pull one out and another one takes its place.  We keep hoping this government program, that tough on crime measure, this peace agreement and so forth will stamp out the weeds of sinfulness once and for all.  It’s been a century since the start of World War One.  What was it called?  The war to end all wars.  Yeah, not so much.

 

If we only look at the weeds, if we seem them as intractible we can easily lose hope.  News surfaced this week about a something a Methodist minister did last month.  On June 23, Charles Moore, a retired Methodist pastor stepped out of his car in a shopping plaza in Texas, doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire.  He died hours later at a hospital in Dallas.

 

Why would someone set themselves on fire?  For Rev. Moore, the purpose was to send a message.  In notes left behind he was though his hometown and the nation had not repented of slavery.  He expressed anger at the continuing policy in the United Methodist Church towards LGBT people.  He was upset that the death penalty was still being used.  Rev. Moore saw what he percieved as weeds and was upset that he wasn’t able to get rid of them.  I don’t think suicide is ever a good thing, even in protest.  That said, Rev. Moore is not alone in wanted to get rid of the weeds all by ourselves.  I know of many people who are passionate about this or that issue and are always upset that the weeds remain.

 

For whatever reason, Rev. Moore did not have hope that things could change, that they would change.  The parable of the weeds is at its heart, a parable of hope.  The workers saw the weeds and wanted to get rid of them.  The farmer was not so eager, because it wasn’t time.  The farmer knew the wheat could get tangled and chocked by the weeds.  The farmer knew that the weeds ran right through the wheat.  He wanted to wait until it was time and then had a plan to get rid of the weeds.

 

God knows there are weeds in the world.  Not only in the big actions taking place in our world, but the weeds that grow up around each and everyone of us.  But we shouldn’t fear the weeds.  We shouldn’t think it is up to us to get rid of the weeds.  God has a plan.  It was the plan that sent God’s son to Earth in the form of a baby, who grew up, healed the sick, died on a cross and rose again.  In Christ’s death and resurrection, sin and death are defeated.  It might not look that way on this side of heaven, but at the end of days sin and death will not have the final world.  All of the weeds in the world will be taken away and burned.

 

As Christians, we are called to make disciples and help our sisters and brothers.  We are called to tend the garden.  There will always be weeds.  That doesn’t mean we ignore the sin taking place in our world or try to alleviate the pain.  We are called to do justice in the world.  But that doesn’t mean  it is up to us to get rid of the weeds.  The hope we have in Jesus is that the weeds of war and voilence and sadness won’t last forever.  They are defeated and just don’t know it yet.  All in due time.
Maybe this afternoon I will take to the weeds in my garden.  They’ll come back and I will still look longingly at that bottle of Roundup.  All in due time.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: “Better Living Through Grace”

Another sermon for this coming Sunday preached in 2005.

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23, Romans 8:1-11, Isaiah 55:1-5,10-13
July 10, 2005
Community of Grace Christian Church
St. Paul, MN
 

 

dupontWhen I was growing up in Michigan, I would always see these commercials on TV that made no sense to me. As most of you know, my hometown in Flint, Michigan, a small city known for its many auto plants. Flint is smack dab in the middle of two important parts of the state. To our south is the Detroit Metro Area, and we get a lot of the Detroit stations as well as the TV station from nearby Windsor, Ontario. To our north, are three small cities known as the Tri Cities and the agricultural region of the state. Flint also picked up those stations as well. It was during a certain time of the year, when I was watching some program on that particular station, that I would see it: an ad for Roundup.

 

I had no idea what this was. What did they mean that this product would give better yields? What was quackgrass?

 

For those of you who come from rural areas, you know that Roundup is a herbicide that farmers use to keep weeds from damaging their crops. But to a city kid like me, this meant nothing. For farmers, this was important, since a bad weed or a bug, could wipe out their crop and hence their income for the year.

 

Today’s Gospel text is a parable. Through the Gospels, the name we give for the first four books of the New Testament, we see Jesus using stories of everyday people doing everyday things as a clue to what God’s kingdom is about. Too often, though we tend to look at these parables, if not the entire Bible as a book of morals, a guide to show us how to live. Some people use the Bible in this way to lash out against those who don’t follow what they think is a moral way. Others see the Bible as a way to gain wisdom and to lead a good life. However, both assumptions are wrong. The Bible is not here to tell us how to live. Instead, it tells us about who God is, and what God’s kingdom is all about. If we become godly people because of this, great, but that isn’t the main point of the Bible.

 

Today’s gospel text is about a sower who throws his seed hither and yon, landing on different types of soil. We then see how the soil takes to the seed. There are some good results and some bad results. Now when I was younger, I remember how the pastor or teacher would focus on all the different soils. We would spend time figuring out how the different soils related to the spiritual temperment of the different people. Some people worried to much, some didn’t take the good news seriously and some were good adherents of the Word. The message here was that we needed to be good soil and work on not being bad soil to God’s word. For some reason, I can remember how I felt when we talked about this passage. There was a sense of dread. I mean, how could I ever be good soil? There was no way that I could be that perfect. I’m going to be honest with you: I didn’t want to even preach from this text today for the same reason.

 

Then I started to think about something. This is called the parable of the Sower, but we never really talk about this sower, who is God. We talk about us, but God gets the short shrift. Has anyone wondered just how incredibly wasteful a sower God is? I mean he is just throwing seeds everywhere, without any regards as to whether the seed grows or not. I know there are a lot of gardeners among us this evening and I know many of you would never, never do this. I mean, if we saw someone throwing seeds everywhere, on the lawn, on the sidewalk, on the parking lot, we would wonder about the wisdom of this person. And yet that is what God does. For those of you who come from farmer backgrounds, you know that seed is precious. A farmer takes care of their crops so that they can have a plentiful harvest. The farmer in this story was probably considered a poor, tenant farmer who has to have a good return to feed his family. Now with all this substandard farming practice, throwing seeds wherever they may go, you would probably think that this farmer would get a poor return.

 

You would be wrong.

 

The seeds that did fall on good soil produced a harvest beyond anyone’s expectations.

 

So what was Jesus getting at here? Well, it’s that God’s love is extravagant. It seems wasteful to some, showing love to those who might not love back. It seems even dangerous to others, showing love to those who are different or who are our enemies. Why would God waste God’s time on such people?

 

That is the message here. We all receive God’s love, no matter if we are deserving or not. Yes, some will ignore God’s love. But that’s not the issue; what’s important is that God gives love to everyone.

 

This message of extravagant abundance is out of place for us because we live in a world defined by scarcity. If you’ve filled up for gas recently, then you have some idea of what I’m talking about. If you are like me, then you’ve probably set up an IRA and/or 401k to prepare for retirement, again, because money is scarce and because Social Security can’t fund all of our golden years.

 

We live in a world where resources are scarce. That’s a reality. What is sad is that we allow this valid principle to seep into our faith. Love becomes conditional and limited. Followers of Christ decide who is worthy of God’s love and who is not. We open our churches to those who are acceptable and close it to those who are not. Better to now waste our precious seed on “bad soil.”

 

But while scarcity is an important part of the science of Economics, it has no place in faith. God’s love is abundant and is freely given to all-good and bad. In Isaiah 55, we are given a clue to God’s abundance when the prophet proclaims that all who are hungry and all who are thirsty can come to God. Don’t worry about money; because God will take care of you.

 

My prior understanding of this text was one where I had to do all the work. Be a “good Christian” and the seed planted within will grow. That is a gospel of works, of trying to do good things so that God will like you. The thing is, none of us will always be good soil. We are human; we sin. We are tempted by the things of the world. We worry about the future. There are always “weeds” that will interfere with our seeds.

 

But if this parable is about God, then it doesn’t matter as much about my condition. Through the good times and bad, God’s love is always present. In times when I’m a wonderful garden and in times when I’m a weed infested backlot, God always love me.

 

And that is how God’s people should be. Let us go out and love the world regardless of how good or bad people are. Let us throw open our churches and our hearts to people.

 

Years ago, the chemical manufactuer Dupont, used to have a slogan that went “Better Living Through Chemistry.” I propose that as followers of Christ, we enter a life of “Better Living Through Grace.”   God’s grace is abundant, and we need to enter into that reality-one where scarcity doesn’t exist. Amen.

Sermon: “Better Churches and Gardens”

This is the sermon I wrote for this Sunday back in 2008.


“Better Churches and Gardens”

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
July 13, 2008

Lake Harriet Christian Church

Minneapolis, MN

Last Thursday night, I decided to do something that I haven’t done in a long, long time.

Long before I could drive.

Long before I graduated from high school.

I played kickball.

Yes, I played that simple game where we tried to kick a plain, red ball and run around bases. It was fun, but I was reminded of something. I know that many of you are “more mature” than I am, but I can say that playing kickball at 38 is a lot different than playing it at 13. When I was 13, I could play kickball forever. These days, not so much. And my muscles feel it the next morning.

I was doing this all for a reason. I am part of a group young church folk, ordained and not ordained in the United Church of Christ and the Disciples that were looking for ways to get young adults in their 20s and 30s who were not really connected with a congregation involved in the life of the church. We’ve called the group Come Thirsty and to start things, we are meeting every Thursday in July at a local park in Minneapolis for a game of kickball and then going to the nearby Bryant Lake Bowl for fellowship and maybe a game of bowling.

There is very little that makes it seem like a church event, with the exception that we start things off with prayer. Other than that, it looks like a normal gathering of 20 and 30-somethings.

To some, it might not seem like much is going on to further God’s work in the world. What does kickball have to do with Jesus? Well, maybe everything.

In today’s gospel, Jesus decides to tell a story about the kingdom of God. Now, I love the parables and have since I was a child. But I have not really like the parable of the sower, the first parable. It reminds me of my time in college when the campus pastor would use this sermon to talk about our spiritual lives. The message is that we need to be really good and have open hearts to recieve God’s message. This story had been turned into a moralistic tale and it seemed to lose its mystery and power.

But these days, I have a different understanding of the parable. I’ve said this before, but parables are not really morality tales, but peeks into what the kingdom of God is like. That is what is going on here.

Jesus tells a tale of a sower who throws the seeds here, there and everywhere. Now, I don’t have a green thumb, but I know well enough that any farmer or backyard gardener, is very careful where the seeds go. They take care to plant then in the right place and in the right soil. Seeds are precious and have to used with great care.

But this sower is not that careful. In fact, he is not careful. This person just throws seeds anywhere, even though there is good reason that such a process isn’t going to be that fruitful. And it looks like such a prophecy is becoming true, because the seeds get eaten up birds, choked by thorns or simply die on the rocks. As if by luck, some of those seeds fall on good soil and they produce a bumper crop beyond anyone’s imaginations.

So, what is going on here? Well, let’s imagine that the sower is God or Christ. God decides to just spread God’s seed, or God’s word anywhere, not caring if it produces fruit or not. This is a wonderful example of grace. God’s love is extravagant, it is wasteful. God is hardly stingy when it comes to sharing love with creation. In some cases that love will be shared and not returned. In others, it will produce and abundant harvest that will seed another generation. God is willing to take the risk and flings seeds far and wide.

What you don’t see here is the message that we normally hear: that if we work hard and are dilligent, things will work out. I am not saying that we should ignore that message. What I am saying is that in God’s economy this rule doesn’t apply as much.

When Jesus was on the earth, he was always sharing his life with others. Some took that message and ran with it, becoming faithful disciples. Others refused to hear the message. Now matter what, Jesus still shared, like a sower sowing seeds every which way.

As Christ followers, we are called to do the same. Churches are called to share God’s love in word and deed. Now sometimes, that will be warmly recieved, and other times it will not. But like God, we just keep on doing what we are doing.

As this congregation readies itself for a new pastor, we are reminded in this parable that we are to go out and start planting seeds. We don’t have to wait for a pastor to do that. We are called to do that NOW. We are called to share God’s love in word and deed to the world outside the doors of this church. When we gather to pack food packets for the hungry, when we gather weekly for prayer, when we show concern with our sisters and brothers in our workplaces, we are planting seeds. The sower went out to plant seeds. So did Jesus. And so are we. The church is not a club, there to serve only the needs of each other, but a staging ground where we prepare to go out into the world.

We will encounter problems. Some of those seeds will fall on hard soil or deaf ears, some will fall on those who worry about everything, some will be taken by the birds or get concerned other things. But we still plant away because in the end, the harvest is going to be plentiful. Lives will be changed.

So back to that game of kickball. To some it might seem like a waste of time. But I have to believe we are planting seeds in the lives of young adults who might not have thought about church before. Our work is having an effect in that local congregations are starting their own groups, some after a long dormancy. I believe seeds are being sown, here and there, and some of it will not take root. But some of it will. But it really doesn’t matter; because we place our trust in God who will produce a bountiful harvest, far beyond our imaginations.

Amen.

We Call Ourselves Disciples

My wife Jan and I have been members of First Christian Church of St. Paul for nearly 20 years.  We love the congregational focus.  We particularly embrace the dedication to the principles of wholeness and inclusiveness of the Disciples of Christ, that welcome everyone to the Communion Table with no exceptions.  We have recently rededicated ourselves to mission based activities.  Our work with food banks, homeless shelters, and job programs is very important to us.  If we are making sandwiches for the homeless, staffing a homeless shelter, packing food for the hungry, or just raising money for local support organizations, it helps us realize our goal of furthering God’s plan and Christ’s love in our communities, local and world wide.  When someone asks about our church we say, “Open, active, and loving.”

-John Paulson, member of First Christian-St. Paul.

IMG_1294This past weekend, First Christian-St. Paul did something we’ve never done before: took part in the Twin Cities Gay Pride Festival in Minneapolis. Joining two other Disciple churches in the area, we shared a booth and handed out fans and information to the passersby. It was great to see our little church on the hill take part in this joint effort.

But we were doing more than just handing out fans. I mean, yeah we did hand out fans; but it was for a far greater purpose than getting our name out there. What we did in Loring Park on a warm weekend in June was an act of evangelism, telling the good news of Jesus to people passing by.

Evangelism is something that tends to scare people, especially those in moderate to progressive congregations. We fear it because of the stereotype that plays in our mind’s background. We envision someone yelling at people and making them feel bad. I get that. The actions of a few have kind of ruined that work for many.

And yet, we are called to evangelize. Actually, we are called to make disciples, followers of Jesus. Handing out fans at a gay pride festival doesn’t seem like evangelism, but in God’s economy it most surely is.IMG_1292

You see, to be an evangelist is to be someone that tells the good news: the news that Jesus is with us and worked to set things right through his life, death and ressurection. We tell the good news of a God that loves, because we have seen it in our own lives and want to see it in the lives of others.

Some of the people who passed by the booth might have kicked out of their church after admitting they were gay. Maybe they were told that they were going to hell or something. Our handing out brochures and fans helped them to see that this God that they thought hated them, welcomes them to the Welcome Table. The body of Christ is truly for them.

We small d- disciples are called to live like Jesus and sometimes that meant being in places we haven’t planned for. Disciples of Jesus are called to share the love of God with others and remind them that this Jesus who lived, died and rose again is concerned about YOU. This is a God that loves everyone and we called to make more people become disciples of a loving and caring God.

I don’t know if we will get people to come to church. That would be nice, but that’s not what mattered. We are called to do more than that; we are called to love the other as if he/she were our only kin.

Evangelism isn’t about getting people saved (though that does happen). It is about relationship; about knowing that this God of the universe does truly love us.

I say to those who volunteered, thanks for letting God speak through you. We aren’t done yet. We have more work to be done to show people God’s kingdom.

-Dennis Sanders, Pastor

Crossposted at the First Christian Church of St. Paul website.

Musings on the Hobby Lobby Affair

HobbyLobbyStowOhioSo, as we all know, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Olkahoma based Hobby Lobby in a case involving the affordable care act.  The family owned company sued the government saying that being forced to pay for certain birth control violated their religious freedom.

Before I get to the imbroglio, I wanted to share my own views on this, limited as they might be.  When this suit first went to trial I thought it made sense that Hobby Lobby not be able to drop health care when it violates religious beliefs.  It’s not for any ideological issues, just that if every company could decide to opt for religious reasons, we would have chaos.  However, after learning more about the case, I think that the decision reached was appropriate. It was tailored very narrowly to the issue at hand and Hobby Lobby wasn’t asking to ban all birth control, just 4 out of 20 that were in the view of the Green family (Hobby Lobby’s owners) what has been called abortificients.  I don’t have to agree with the Green family’s view on birth control, but I do see the logic in this case.

So, now that that was done, let’s talk about  how Christians have reacted to this.

One of the critiques against the Progressive Christianity is that it seems to only exist to combat Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christianity.  I don’t think that’s totally true, but it is really close.

Knowing many progressive Christians, I have followed their reactions on this decision and it was all against Hobby Lobby.If you want to know why I tend to have a tenuous relationship with Progressive Christianity, one doesn’t have go any further than the response to the decision.  Progressive Christians are very good in telling everyone that they should live a certain way when following Jesus.  I agree; I just wished they would practice it.

More and more, I’ve come to believe that Progressive Christians really, really hate evangelical Christians.  Any talk of religious liberty by evangelicals has to be nothing more than a thinly veiled excuse to discriminate.  No thought is given to how some Christians might have to go against their consciences.  There never seems to be any thought in some form of pluralism, to allow people with different views to live along side the majority in peace.  No, it seems at the times that I guess I prefer to give the other side the benefit of the doubt.  Yes, there are people who will want to take advantage of kindness and we do need to be vigilant, but do we have to treat the other side with such contempt?

Maybe what bothers so much is that Progressive Christians seem to see faith as nothing more than a hobby, something we do in our spare time from real life.  There is no questioning, especially on religious grounds, about birth control.  No, I am not suggesting that we should be against it, but shouldn’t there be some talk about the wisdom of some forms of birth control and how they do or don’t run counter to our Christian faith?  Hobby Lobby was willing to allow other forms of birth control and refused to support the others because it felt like an abortion which they are against.  So it seems like the conservative Christians we lash out against were more thoughtful and discerning than the Progressive Christians who are supposed to be more mindful. Hobby Lobby wins the right to not cover 4 versions of birth control and it’s treated like we are seeing the beginning of Republic of Gilead.

Moving forward, there will be more clashes. Same sex marriage, abortion and other sexually-related issues will pit religious liberty against sexual rights.  Right now, progressives are treating it like a zero-sum game; we win, they lose.  I think we have to find ways to allow conservatives the freedom to live as they believe without harming my freedom as a gay man.  There is something rather unChristian about forcing people to violate their consciences just because we don’t like their views.

Ross Douthat wrote in a recent op-ed about a company that was given high praise by a liberal think tank for its socially conscious actions.  It’s not Whole Foods or Ben and Jerry’s.  It’s…..Hobby Lobby, the same company that is being demonized this week.  Douthat notes the drive to push faith out of the public square can makes us a less vibrant and just society.  Sometimes the people we don’t agree with can be the ones who save us- if we let them.

 

 

 

Let Africa Be Africa

china-africa-france-discourseRecently, there was a report on National Public Radio about how China is coming into Africa and making deals in various nations. The story focused on Chinese business ventures in Zambia and Tanzania, but widens it’s scope to the entire continent which will be come a market of 3 billion by the end of the century.  A question was asked where the United States was when it came to investing in Africa.  Here’s how the interviewee Howard French answered:

One of the things I came across is the existence of American funding through the Millennium Challenge Account. These are projects whose financing is guaranteed by the American government. Very large-scale projects – $200-million projects to build a new airport, or some road system or something like that. And I was stunned to discover American companies simply didn’t bid for these projects. And so in a city like Bamako, Mali, I was stunned to emerge from the old airport and see right next-door, with this American funding, the Millennium Challenge Account, a Chinese company was constructing a new airport.

You know, the American media, by and large, doesn’t cover Africa in terms of a place of economic activity. We think of Africa, typically, as a place of disaster and conflict and humanitarian interests. And so our own public is not conditioned to think, as the Chinese have come to think, of Africa as this place of huge demographic expansion where much of the growth of the future may occur. We’re sort of stuck in a old, outmoded view of Africa, and if you don’t have a vision of opportunity, you’re not likely to pursue these sorts of things.

In short, we Americans see Africa as a basket case, a place that needs aid, not investment.

For a few years now, we’ve been hearing stories about how American evangelicals are spreading their homophobic policies to African nations like Uganda.  I don’t doubt that there aren’t some church people here that are stirring up the pot on the African continent.  But what has bothered me greatly is that the media and others spin this story that presents Africa as a poor defenseless waif being manipulated by the evil evangelical.  In essence, in the same way that the American media and business community write Africa off, Africa is not viewed in some parts of the America as a moral actor that can do good or bad things.

I also have some related reasons for being bothered by this.  In the same way that gay activists here in America are focusing on white evangelicals exporting their gay-bashing to Africa, some gay activists have said that African Americans have been influenced by white evangelicals to hate gay people- as if African Americans are incapable of homophobia lest some white person tell them so.  A lot of the homophobia I faced as a kid was not because whitey wanted to keep me down.  It was because there is homophobia present in the African America community.

African nations have had a problem with gays long before evangelicals arrived.  Luckily things are slowly changing or will change in the future.  No, you can’t hold evangelicals blameless, but we should also condemn African leaders who support restrictive policies.  These are not puppets, but leaders trying to keep in power at the expense of LGBT populations in Africa.

So, let’s let Africa be Africa.  And instead of sending aid, let’s send investors and open up markets.  Because the more African economies are open to the world, the faster attitudes on homosexuality will change for the better.

But we need to let Africa be Africa.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,239 other followers

%d bloggers like this: