“Moshe’s Heroes” | Exodus 1:8-14 [15-2:10]; 3:1-15 | Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost | October 4, 2015 | Dennis Sanders,preaching
“Moshe’s Heroes” | Exodus 1:8-14 [15-2:10]; 3:1-15 | Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost | October 4, 2015 | Dennis Sanders,preaching
When I heard the news about yesterday’s mass shooting in Oregon, I knew what would happen next. I knew that my Facebook and Twitter feeds would be clogged with my pro-gun control friends sharing their outrage. I knew I would see an article about what happened in Australia after a mass shooting there 20 years ago. I knew I would see a ton of gun control articles I’ve seen every time a mass shooting occurs. I knew that my friends on the right would offer prayers for the victims and I knew I would see some article somewhere about how this gun control tactic wouldn’t have stopped the shooter.
It’s interesting that in the same week the GOP hauled Planned Parenthood to the Capital for a show trial congressional hearing, we would also deal with a mass shooting. I say interesting because these two events highlight our culture which based on rights and not just rights, but maximum rights, body politic be damned. We live in a country where we place a big emphasis on rights. That is a good thing in many ways or else I wouldn’t be in a such a good spot being both African American and gay. But I think at times, we tend to make our rights into idols, things that become sacrosanct to the point that it doesn’t matter if someone gets hurt.
I will say right off the bat that I tend to have libertarian views on social issues, which means that I tend to support gun rights and I’m moderately pro-choice. But because I am a Christian, neither of those rights can or ever should be absolute. We also have to think of our fellow person.
Let’s start with abortion. While many liberals seems to favor restricting if not eliminating gun rights, they tend to want the maximum rights when it comes to abortion. The old attempt at moderation, keeping abortion “safe, legal and rare” has given way to shouting your abortion. Many European countries have some restrictions on abortions after the first trimester. But such a law would never pass here. Liberals don’t want to give an inch to the pro-life side (sometimes with good reason) which means they end up supporting abortion even well into the third trimester. What is bothersome is the fact that even in the church there is no talk about balancing the needs of the woman and the needs of the growing presence inside of her.
Now to guns. I don’t think we should ban all guns and I’m not the type that says only law enforcement or the military should have them. I think there are safe ways to use a gun. Even though I don’t own one, I have no problem with concealed carry of handguns. In essence, I think guns are ok to possess. (You can read about my evolution on guns here.)
That said, having a right to bear arms doesn’t mean not doing anything concerning guns. I get increasingly bothered by fellow conservatives and libertarians who seem to think that when mass shootings happen, the only thing they can do is offer prayers to those killed and wounded. That’s cowardly. There are ways to retain gun rights and have some laws that might prevent mass shootings from happening. But it’s the same thing as with abortion, the pro-gun side sees limiting rights as the same as surrender.
As a Christian, what should matter is how we treat our neighbors. Are we treating our fellow human being with respect if just abort fetuses whenever we want or push for extreme gun rights when people are being mowed down? For Christians, the talk is not about rights as much as it is responsibility; how we treat our sisters and brothers. And in my opinion, we have ignored this. As important as rights are, there is a danger inherent with rights, because it is focused on the self. Legally that is a good thing, but we are not simply Americans, we are also Christians who are called to not live for ourselves. We are called to live for others and that means thinking about the humans around you. Or inside you.
So as we get on our soapboxes, let’s think about what matters here and who is god. We should be worshipping God, not Planned Parenthood and the NRA.
Genesis 32:3-31 | Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost | September 27, 2015 | Dennis Sanders, preaching
“…the good thing is that God gives us a new name. Because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are able to have a brand new name; one that isn’t shameful, but that reminds us who we are and whose we are.”
Every so often, I’ve heard an argument that goes like this: “the press only talks about the Christians vs. the gays as if all Christians are against being gay. Don’t they know that there are Christians who support gays?”
The frustration comes from being ignored by the wider culture, especially the media. When we think of Christians, we are more likely to think of evangelicals or Catholics, but never liberal Protestantism. This has long been a problem. Some, including former evangelical-turned liberal Christian Randall Balmer, think there is a conspiracy afoot inspired by groups like the Institute for Religion and Democracy.
I will agree that liberal Protestantism does get ignored in society. While groups like the IRD tend to go after liberals, I don’t think they have as a big as an impact as we would like to think. I think that there is something else going on, something that we in progressive churches are doing to ourselves and it is this: I believe we are so uncritical of socially liberal society that we blend into the woodwork. In essence, when you say the same thing the wider society says, you tend to cancel yourself out.
I’ve been think about that after reading Ross Douthat’s latest piece for the New York Times. In this essay, he focuses on Pope Francis and the hopeful revival of liberal Christianity. Could it happen? Douthat says yes, but it has challenges:
But there are deep reasons why liberal Christianity has struggled lately, which a Francis-inspired revival would need to overcome. One is the tendency for a liberal-leaning faith to simply become a secularized faith, obsessed with political utopias and embarrassed by supernatural hopes, until the very point of churchgoing gradually evaporates. (It’s not a coincidence that the most resilient of left-leaning religious communities, the African-American church, is also the most frankly supernaturalist.)
The other is religious liberalism’s urge to follow secular liberalism in embracing the sexual revolution and all its works — a move that promises renewal but rarely delivers, because it sells out far too much of scripture and tradition along the way.
The first tendency is one that this pope’s example effectively rebukes. However “left” his political impulses may be, they are joined to a prayerful and devotional sensibility, an earthy, Satan-invoking zeal that has nothing arid or secularized about it.
The second tendency, though, is one that Francis has tacitly encouraged, by empowering clerics and theologians who seem to believe that Rome’s future lies in imitating the moribund Episcopal Church’s approach to sex, marriage and divorce.
I don’t agree with everything Douthat says here, but he is on to something. Douthat says that religious liberals have sold out to the sexual revolution and that has cost it in many ways.
And I think he’s right.
Now before the pitchforks come out, I should explain. Being gay, I am thankful of having a church and denomination that welcomes me. The sexual ethics I grew up with was not something I would share with others, at least the ways it was taught. The problem is this: liberal Christianity asks nothing of us when it comes to our sexuality. It never asks how we should live as Christians when it comes to sex. It never asks when abortions are necessary and when it is morally questionable, it just follows the line that comes from secular feminists. It talks about same sex marriage as “love wins” but doesn’t ask what is marriage for as Christians.
I’m not urging that we create a lists of dos and don’ts when it comes to sex. But like so much of the modern liberal church, we don’t think theologically about sexuality. What liberal Christians have done is just tacitly accept what the wider liberal culture has accepted with out thinking about it critically.
So, if a journalist is writing a story and he or she has a choice to talk to either a liberal pastor who supports abortion on demand or the local abortion rights activist, they are going to go with the activist. Why go to a pastor who will say the same thing when you have the real thing?
I will say it again: I am not advocating for liberal Christians to give up their support for a more liberal attitude towards sexuality. What I am calling for is to start to think about the whys more often. We need to be thinking theologically and not culturally.
Having been trained as a journalist, I can tell you that writers want to get an interesting angle and we don’t have one. And part of the reason is that liberal Christianity has lost or squandered it’s theological tradition. In it’s place we have used culture-talk or politics, which make us sound like the Democratic Party at prayer. If that is what we are, then I can see why people would rather stay in bed and get some extra sleep than go to church.
If mainline/progressive/liberal Christianity, especially the Protestant kind, wants to stand out more, then it needs to be a unique voice in society instead of an echo.
Just before I left for the 2015 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Columbus, Ohio back in July, a special appeal was sent out via Facebook about the upcoming event. Registrations were well below what was expected and there was talk about what to do concerning the 2019 General Assembly which was supposed to be in Des Moines, IA. It was decided at General Assembly to at least for now not sign the contracts for Des Moines and start giving some thought about future General Assemblies. This makes sense since attendance at these events have been steadily declining.
But as the denomination starts to look at General Assemblies, I have to wonder if there is a bigger concern going on. It may mean that it’s not just General Assembly that needs to be changed- indeed I’m thinking the entire denomination needs to be changed.
It’s been almost 50 years since the Disciples of Christ reorganized its structure. Before 1968, the Disciples were not a formal denomination, but a loose association of churches and state coventions. After 1968, the Disciples became more cohesive, less informal and more formal.
Of course, this restructure happened a year before I was born. About two generations have passed since this plan was approved and many of the leaders involved have since died. The restructure came about in an age where we placed trust in institutions and not just institutitions, but large institutions. It was an age where things were centralized. It was also a time when denominational labels mattered. I think that restructure was designed to take care or maintain the church. None of those things matter today. We don’t automatically trust institutions. We are suspicious of centralized power. We don’t care as much if someone is a Baptist, Presbyterian or even Bhuddist. We have a structure that I think was great at keeping the ship going steady, but we don’t have a structure that is designed for innovation in spreading the gospel.
I remember seeing a video around the time of the 2013 General Assembly in Orlando. One of the things that I remember from that video was that only 18% of Disciple congregations are sustainable according to the 20th century model. I was astounded by that number though not surprised, partially because I’ve seen churches struggling. My own congregation is not sustainable to the old model. Our churches are need of updating. If they aren’t sustainable according to the 20th century standards, then what is the new standard? This is something our denomination as a whole has to answer; because the key to restructuring our denomination starts from the bottom up. It starts with churches, moves to Regions and then to the General Church.
Yes, we should entertain ideas of what to do about General Assembly. Maybe it needs to be every 3 years instead of two. Maybe we meet at a college instead of a convention center. But frankly none this matters if we don’t get the churches straightened out.
But even more than churches, we need to figure out what it means to be a covenantal people. Disciple pastor Lee Hull Moses shared what that means and how General Assembly fits into that:
What I do know is that we are a covenantal church; we are obligated to one another only by our relationships. We need time and space to nurture these relationships—in person, where we can hug each other and meet each other’s children and stay up late together. We need the time and space to connect with the manifestations of the church that enable us to do ministry more deeply and widely than any one congregation could ever do on its own. There were nearly 4,000 people at the assembly in July. Not one of them would have come if they didn’t love the church, and that is an incredible thing to behold.
Part of the problem I believe is that the covenant is in some ways frayed if not broken. Churches feel on their own. Regions can at times do their own thing spurning advice from the other two manifestations. General Church bodies seem distant and don’t always seem to connect to the local church.
It will be interesting to see what we decide about future General Assemblies. But I think we need to do more than reboot GA; we need a reboot of the Disciples. It’s time for Disciples 3.0
Genesis 18:1-15; 21:1-7 | Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost | Dive In Sermon Series |
September 20, 2015 | Dennis Sanders, preaching
“God is not a concept. God is real; God cares about creation and works in our lives-even when we doubt God will show up. This is something mainline Christians need to believe again, because when we do, we will have a joy that get us through the hardest times. “
Genesis 2:4-25 | Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost | September 13, 2015 | Dennis Sanders, preaching
“Adam and Eve were able to be truly themselves with each other before their eye were opened. But on this side of what is called the Fall, we tend to hide from each other. We hide our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities and dress ourselves up in fig leaves hoping no one will see the imperfection. And we have learned well from Adam and Eve because we try so hard to cover things that might be embarrassing or shameful; the addiction, the domestic abuse, the miscarriage. We don’t want to share our hidden pain out of shame, so we put on a happy face and tell the world it’s okay.”