Sermon: That’s Me In the Corner

Galatians 1:13-17; 2:15-21 and Luke 18:9-14
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Losing My Religion Sermon Series
May 21, 2016
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

Click here to listen to the audio.

It’s been about two years since our congregation voted to become an Open and Affirming congregation, meaning that we openly welcome Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered persons into the life of our church.  I think that’s a good thing, but over the years even long before our vote, I’ve been wondering about the quality of the pro-inclusion argument.  Whenever I’ve seen people argue in favor of LGBT inclusion, the main thrust goes like this: Jesus hung around undesirable and marginalized people and so should we.  

 

I get what this message is trying to say, but it feels sort of a flippant answer and not really delving into the question.  Too often, people cherry pick Scripture to find some verse on inclusion and maybe throw in that the rest of society is more accepting of gays and so should we.  But the thing is, it really doesn’t answer the deep questions that issues like this bring up.  Who belongs to God?  And why?  How are we accepted by God?

 

In today’s text, Paul is teed off.  Something is taking place that has hurt the Gentiles who came into the faith.  A leading founder of the church was exhibiting a two-faced behavior.  A delegation from Jerusalem is stirring up dissention.  Paul has to say something to put things right.

 

The problem here is similar to what we talked about last week.  A group of Jewish Christians have come to Antioch to persist that any Gentile Christian must be circumcised to be part of the faith. In some way they are being pushed by events in Jerusalem.  A nationalist movement is coming to fore in Jerusalem and demanding people follow a strict interpretation of the law.  This group is causing trouble especially with the church which had started welcoming Gentiles.  Peter who was in Antioch, knew what was going on back home. He had made it a habit to eat meals with the Gentile Christians.  Eating a meal with someone is a sign of a close relationship.  When, Peter sees these Jews from Jerusalem urging for purity, Peter decides to stop eating with the Gentiles.  Peter probably believed he was doing this to keep the Jewish Christians back home safe from persecution.  But he did it at the expense of the Gentiles who now made to feel like second-class Christians.

 

Paul is seeing all of this and he is mad and calls Peter out.  He rails against what Peter has done and how it led to other Jews to engage in the same hypocrisy.  This is when Paul goes into sharing what really matters in the faith.

 

Now in the past, this passage has been seen in a very simplistic terms.  Pastors tend to see this as Paul repudiating the Torah and saying that all we need is to just believe in Jesus.  In this view, it sets up Judiaism is the wrong faith and that Christianity is the good faith.  But at this point, the church was still a sect within Judaism. Paul and Peter and others didn’t see themselves as starting a new church, but probably more as reforming Judaism.  Paul’s words in chapter one shows he was a faithful Jew and didn’t see himself as leaving the faith.

 

So Paul isn’t arguing for a new faith, but and expansion of the old faith.  Paul is talking about covenant.  If you can remember way, way back to last September, God establishe a covenant with Abraham and the whole Jewish people.  God and Israel would be in a covenant relationship.  So in this way, the covenant was focused on one specific people, the Jews and these Jews would perform works like circumcision. These works were not done to please God, but were a sign to show that they belong to God.  So when Paul says in chapter 2, verse 16 that righteousness doesn’t come by following the law, but faith in Christ, he is not saying what you think he is saying.  The law was a way to mark you as a Jew.  But Christ’s death on cross means that this mark is no longer needed.  Righteousness was no longer limited to nationality, but was for everyone.  

 

When Paul talks about faith, it is again tempting to believe this is about mental assent.  If you really believe in Jesus, then you’re in.  Believing in Jesus matters, but the real nugget is what Jesus has done, not what we have done.  Yes, we should believe, but it is not about beliving in Jesus as much as it is to realize that God in Christ has already done the work.

 

Paul is talking about freedom.  We are not bound to a covenant that is only for one group, but a covenant for everyone. We are not bound to believe enough in Jesus to be saved, but realize that we are saved by God’s actions through Jesus on the cross.

This is why Galatians is called a book about freedom.  We are freed from the different barriers to be able to live as community who realizes it is free in Christ.

 

So, if I was going to talk about LGBT inclusion today, I would say something like this:  they don’t have to give up their sexuality in order to show they belong to God.  Instead, they are free by faith, not mental assent, but realizing that God has already done the work to make them, to make me belong because of what was done on a cross on a hill a long time ago.  Inclusion in Christian terms is not about trying to be hip or trendy or being on the right side of history.  It is about knowing that we, all of us are free. It is knowing and trusting that God has done the work of inclusion because of the work done on the cross.  This is why we are Open and Affirming.  

 

Our second text from Luke, is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.  You see how the Pharisee comes before God.  He stresses he has done all the things that show that he was a faithful Jew.  Then we see of the Publican or the Tax Collector.  He doesn’t really want to be there.  He doesn’t even look up to heaven and pleads for mercy.  If you remember, tax collectors were not seen as upstanding people because of their work with the Romans and because they could rip people off.  The publican can only rely on the grace of God.  Unlike the Pharisee, he couldn’t talk about all that he had done.  He knew he didn’t have anything that could make him righteous accept the mercy of God.

 

In a few weeks, we will be gathered at Loring Park in Minneapolis with our fellow Disciples churches, First Christian-Minneapolis and Plymouth Creek Christian Church.  We go there not to show how hip or “woke” we are, but to witness to a God that loves all of us, that God became like us and died on a cross for us.  Because of this means everyone is welcome.  I am welcomed, you are welcomed because we place our trust in God and we share that good news with others.  

 

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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The Politics of the “Other”

The Lord is for me—I won’t be afraid.
    What can anyone do to me?

-Psalm 118:6

In the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, I’ve been watching with some disgust the number of governors who have said they won’t take in Syrian refugees.  The chances that one a refugee could actually be a terrorist is pretty low.  

I was ashamed to be (at least nominally) a Republican at this moment.  But as I was upset at how these governors are going against common human morality, I remembered something:

Dubai Ports World.

For those that don’t remember, about a decade ago, a company based in Dubai was going to end up running several ports in the United States.  Congress got wind of the deal and members of both parties raised concerns.  It caused enough rancor not only on Capitol Hill but among the American public that the deal died.

I remember writing about this event back in 2006 and I actually still have the blog post.  This is what I wrote back then:

I don’t care if the majority of Americans were deadset against this. I don’t care that most of Congress was against it. This whole fight was never about security- it was about politics. Both parties want to look tough on terrorism and this was a slam dunk of an issue. We could cash in on fear of another 9/11 and throw in some xenophobia and get the American public to fear people with funny sounding names.

Sometimes I think that our country is incredibly short-sighted and fearful anything that is “foreign.” September 11 didn’t open us up to the world, it made us even more suspicious of anyone that doesn’t seem “American,” whatever that means.

The fear back then was that somehow a foriegn (read: Arab) owned company would not ensure the security of the ports. But I argued back then that we don’t have to fear the outsider as much as those already here.

Not much has changed.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley.

I share this because I think its important to remember that the politics of xenophobia are as bipartisan as apple pie.  Politicians do things like this because it works.  Looking on Facebook, I could see a number of people who were only barely hiding their fear of Muslims.  They were thanking the governors that had decided to not welcome the refugees.

Fear sells.

But the thing of course is that if there is ever an ISIS attack on American soil, it won’t come from some refugee, it will be conducted by people who already live here. People who live in our communities.

But fear of the other and politicians willing to play into those fears has been with us for a long time.  The grossly named Operation Wetback forcibly removed undocumented Mexicans during the Eisenhower years and we all know about the internment of 100,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.

Fear is all around and the temptation to give into the fear is great.  We all have trepidation on things that are not familiar to us.  In Paul’s letter to young Timothy, he says that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one that is powerful, “loving and self-controlled.” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Politicians are responsive to our own fears, but as Christians we aren’t to give into fear. We trust in the God that is our “light and our salvation.”  We have to believe that we won’t be saved by turning our backs on refugees, but only through God.

Writer Michael Gerson notes that the refusal to help people fleeing from war is helping ISIS, the very people we don’t want to help:

All our efforts are undermined by declaring Islam itself to be the enemy, and by treating Muslims in the United States, or Muslims in Europe, or Muslims fleeing Islamic State oppression, as a class of suspicious potential jihadists. Instead of blaming refugees, we need to make sure our counterterrorism and intelligence policies give us a chance to screen and stop any threat (which means keeping the post-9/11 structures of surveillance in place). But if U.S. politicians define Islam as the problem and cast aspersions on Muslim populations in the West, they are feeding the Islamic State narrative. They are materially undermining the war against terrorism and complicating the United States’ (already complicated) task in the Middle East. Rejecting a blanket condemnation of Islam is not a matter of political correctness. It is the requirement of an effective war against terrorism, which means an effective war against the terrorist kingdom in Syria and western Iraq.

Ten years ago, I said Osama bin Laden was smiling of the Dubai Ports World fiasco. Now I think the people in the so-called Islamic State are smiling as well.

And Jesus wept.

What Does It Mean To Be Prophetic, Part Four

message-from-god

About a week ago, the church I am pastor at voted to become an Open and Affirming congregation, meaning it openly welcomes LGBT persons into the life of the church.  I think it was a big step for the church.  It might help people who were thinking of visiting the church to take a second look.

But while I think it was a good thing and while I think it helped stressed God’s love for all, I don’t think it was a prophetic move.

Do I think we were trying to witness to the world our intent to be like Jesus and seek out those on the margins?  Yes.  But that doesn’t mean it’s prophetic.  It means we are trying to be faithful.

And therein lies a problem.  These days, if a pastor says something edgy on race or sexuality, or if a congregation is exhibiting “radical hospitality,” we somehow think this is prophetic.  But I wonder if at times this is a big misunderstanding.  Are we giving ourselves too much credit?

For one thing, most of the prophets of Israel were chosen by God.  And they were chosen by God to say hard things to people.  And the thing is, they usually aren’t happy that God chose them. Read the story of Elijah or Jeremiah and you find people who don’t really want to be doing this job. When Jonah (as in Jonah and the “Whale”) was so excited to be go a preach repentance to the people of Nineveh, that he ran- in the other direction.

Prophets were sometimes called to do odd things like the prophet Hosea who was called to marry a prostitute.

What I’m trying to get at is that the people who were called to be God’s prophets were not eager to be prophets.  They didn’t want to be picked.

The problem with modern Christians who want to see themselves as prophets is that they have taken the whole role of a prophet out of context.  Instead of trying to understand what the role of the prophet was in ancient Israel, people just plop it into modern America without a thought.

But that’s not all.  The prophet is then made to fit the person’s political ideology, so that the prophet strangely is saying all the things you would say regardless.

I think God still sends prophets.  But just because you believe #blacklivesmatter doesn’t make you a prophet, no matter how worthy the cause. Theologian David Watson reminds us that prophets probably didn’t have many friends on Facebook:

The prophetic life is not an easy one. In fact, it is likely to be quite difficult, even painful, because the prophet will inevitably conflict with a world that does not acknowledge the identity and demands of the one true God. Think of Elijah despairing in the wilderness. “He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors’” (1 Kings 19:4). Think of the sad fate of John the Baptist.  If you find your message lines up nicely with the values of secular culture, you’re probably not being prophetic.

I’m not a prophet.  I don’t think I’ve ever been prophetic.  And there is nothing wrong with that. What I am is a disciple (and a Disciple).  I try to follow God, to do justice and love mercy, but I’m not Amos with a laptop.

My job as pastor is not to be a prophet, but to be a disciple that helps make other disciples for Christ.  I will leave the prophet business to God, since God is the one that raises prophets anyway.

Read past posts in this series by going here.

What Are We Being Inclusive For?

inclusivecommunity

There has been something that has been bothering me for a while.  Usually when people start talking about gay ordination or same-sex marriage, someone on the pro side will say something to the effect: “Jesus was inclusive,” or “Jesus welcomed everybody.”

Now, I’m all for welcoming people into our churches in the way that Jesus did.  I’ve been fighting for LGBT inclusion in the church for years.  But when someone says something like the sentences above, I get a weird feeling, like something isn’t right.

Recently, after reading a blog post, I finally understood what was bothering me.  In the contemporary liberal church, the highest goal, the highest good is to be “inclusive.”  As I’ve said, being inclusive matters to me.  But should our faith be only about inclusion?  What are we including and why?  Why are we being inclusive? What are we being inclusive for?

Rod Dreher linked to an article from Slate on the controversy brewing among Catholics in San Francisco.  The bishop wants to make sure that teachers working in Catholic schools don’t say anything that contradicts church teaching on issues such as homosexuality.  Needless to say, this has bothered a lot of people.  But the problem is less the bishop’s policy, but the response to the bishop.  The protestors want the church to be nonjudgemental- something that Will Saletan from Slate believes is impossible:

The protesters are confused. They reject morality clauses but call the archbishop’s behavior sinful, shameful, and wrong. They belong to a church but seem to think it shouldn’t forbid anything. They insist that no one can be judged, except for issuing judgments that contradict their own. They can’t explain or even acknowledge the moral differences between homosexuality, contraception, and abortion. The nonsense of nonjudgmentalism has turned their brains to mush. It’s clouding their ability to think and speak clearly about society’s mistakes—and their own.

Saletan isn’t a conservative, he agrees that the bishop is wrong.  But he thinks that many of the liberal Catholics don’t understand their own faith, ignoring church teaching and thinking the highest goals in Catholicism are inclusiveness and tolerance. He argues:

The dictionary says churches are supposed to teach doctrines. But the campaign against Cordileone says they shouldn’t. Students at one Catholic school “are very upset” by the new policy, says a teacher. “They’re afraid it’ll lead to indoctrination.” A statement signed by more than 200 opponents of the policy says Catholic leaders should follow their flocks: “Most U.S. Catholics believe very little of what is in the Archdiocesan document and actively reject much of it. The role of the bishop is to articulate the faith of the people.”

In place of morality or doctrine, the archbishop’s critics preach acceptance, inclusiveness, tolerance, affirmation, and diversity. An online petition, signed by more than 6,000 people, says his proposed rules violate “Catholic values of inclusion and diversity.” “By forcing morality clauses, you’re taking away all inclusivity and diversity in these schools,” adds a supporter on Twitter. Haider-Winnett says students need “affirming environments.” The campaign’s hashtag is “#teachacceptance.”

Of course people can argue against church teaching.  And teachings change over time.  But it’s one thing to argue that teachings must change, it’s another to say that things like doctrine have no place in the life of faith.

Which gets me back to why we need to be inclusive.  What is the theological reason for this?  I think we should, but why does it matter that churches have to be inclusive and diverse?

I tend to think that in many liberal churches (the tribe that I hang with) gay and lesbian inclusion and indeed, all inclusion is based on moral therapeutic deism (MTD), the defacto civil religion in the United States.  Writer Damon Linker explains what MTD is all about:

1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”

2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”

3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”

4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”

5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

I think this is what drives inclusion these days.  Now there are some outliers, liberal Lutherans have enough classical Christianity that they still talk about sin, cross and grace.  But this what my side of the debate on LGBT issues tends to believe in, which I think is pretty thin gruel.

The church should be open to people of various sexual orientations and gender identities.  Church should be tolerant of differences. But if we want to include them into the life of the church, there has to be some there there.  We can’t just talk about being inclusive, because Christians are supposed to be nice.

Churches can and have become places where all that matters is to be nice and tolerant, but I wonder.  Is this what we fought for?  I think people sacrificed a lot for us to join a church that simply teaches one to be nice.

The thing is, inclusive churches don’t have to give up orthodox belief.  In this blog post from 2014, an Episcopalian priest named Matt Marino noted that he is getting a number of calls from gay Millennials that are looking for a place where they can talk about Jesus, resurrection, evangelism and the like.  They were in churches where such talk was not cool and longed for community that talked about a faith worth having.  Here’s what one such gay Christian said to the priest:

“Well, when I talk about ‘Jesus, and the power of the Resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings,’ I get raised eyebrows. When I talk about evangelism, historic doctrines, or believing the Creeds, people tug at their shirt collars…and clergy their clerical collars. They are very excited about Spong, Borg, Crossan and the Buddha, but they get the willies when I want to talk about Augustine, Aquinas, NT Wright and the Messiah.” They tell me ‘we welcome questions,’ but it seems that orthodox answers are the only ones not tolerated.

Marino continues wondering why such “inclusive” places are not so inclusive to those who they don’t agree with:

Imagine that you are a twenty year old Episcopalian. You view the world through post-modern eyes…you place high value on maintaining relationships with people, including those with differing viewpoints from your own. Whether gay or straight, you are coming of age in a world in which, chances are good, that you have not fought over sexuality.  In that world, young Gay Episcopalians seem to be seeking out the theologically orthodox for supportive Christian discipleship.

My snarky side wants to whisper, “Gee, that sounds like actual tolerance.” You know, from before “tolerance” was code for “progressive,” when it was a word that presumed disagreement. After all, I don’t have to “tolerate” those I agree with. We already agree. Much has been written about the exclusivity of “inclusivity” – How the only idea that is out of bounds is the idea that some ideas are, in fact, out of bounds. The old and inherently contradictory notion that there is no objective truth except, of course, the statement that there is no objective truth. But now my iPhone call log is showing a growing list of indicators that at least some of the group the Episcopal Church has most tried to enfranchise are feeling disenfranchised. What kind of inclusivity is it that is gives Gay Millennials the experience of being excluded for simply wanting to follow Jesus according to the traditions and doctrines of our faith, as set out in our prayer book and Scriptures?

I can understand back in the day that one might want to tone down on the sin talk since many gays were coming from places where they were considered sinful, if not damned to hell.  I can understand the need to talk up the love of God more than God as Judge.

But I’m beginning to think that many LGBT folk are yearning for a more robust faith, something that asks of them.  Yes, they know God loves them for who they are and they want to share that love with others.

For LGBT folk and their allies, it is time to move beyond MTD to something stronger.  Jesus didn’t call us to simply be tolerant, we are called to be disciples.  Inclusivity is about welcoming LGBT folk to become disciples of Christ or at least it should.

That’s why we should be inclusive.  That is what being inclusive is for.

Photo by Matt Meltchley.

 

This Matters.

church-for-saleAs Jesus and his disciples traveled along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One[a] has no place to lay his head.”

59 Then Jesus said to someone else, “Follow me.”

He replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead. But you go and spread the news of God’s kingdom.”

61 Someone else said to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say good-bye to those in my house.”

62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand on the plow and looks back is fit for God’s kingdom.”

-Luke 9:57-62 (Common English Bible)

 

Yesterday, I stumbled upon an article on Patheos wondering why Liberal Protestantism is dying.  The writer, Connor Wood, is not the usual writer that tends to look at the downfall of Mainline Protestantism as the fault of social justice or a more friendly approach to gays.  He actually sees a need for this species of Christianity and would like to see it preserved.

Wood wonders why Liberal Protestantism seems like its going down the tubes while conservative and evangelical Protestantism are at least holding its own or thriving.  He thinks he has zeroed in on the answer; Liberal Protestantism doesn’t do as a good a job of forming community as its more conservative brethren.

Before I go any farther, I have to say there is a lot of truth to this.  While there is a lot of talk against individualism in liberal churches (and castigating conservative churches for being individualistic), the talk is more focused on the role of government in society, not the spiritual community.  People are allowed to believe mostly what they want.  Wood explains:

Well, the first thing we have to realize is that conservative churches are almost always stricter than their liberal counterparts. They demand more investment, require their members to believe in more rigorous, exclusionary creeds, and don’t look kindly on skipping church four Sundays in a row to sleep in.

In the early 1990s, a political economist named Laurence Iannaccone claimed that seemingly arbitrary demands and restrictions, like going without electricity (the Amish) or abstaining from caffeine (Mormons), can actually make a group stronger. He was trying to explain religious affiliation from a rational-choice perspective: in a marketplace of religious options, why would some people choose religions that make serious demands on their members, when more easygoing, low-investment churches were – literally – right around the corner? Weren’t the warmer and fuzzier churches destined to win out in fair, free-market competition?

According to Iannaccone, no. He claimed that churches that demanded real sacrifice of their members were automatically stronger, since they had built-in tools to eliminate people with weaker commitments. Think about it: if your church says that you have to tithe 10% of your income, arrive on time each Sunday without fail, and agree to believe seemingly crazy things, you’re only going to stick around if you’re really sure you want to. Those who aren’t totally committed will sneak out the back door before the collection plate even gets passed around.

And when a community only retains the most committed followers, it has a much stronger core than a community with laxer membership requirements.

 I thought that was an interesting look at modern religion and I tended to agree with it.  I saw this article on Facebook and decided to share it with no comment.  It was interesting what the response was.  I think the respondents were focused on Woods use of the word strict, because most of them saw his prescription in negative terms.  I tend to think when liberal Protestants like myself see the word strict along with any mention of conservative or evangelical churches, we tend to think of a religion centered in works with no mention of grace.  The implicit thought here is that our churches are filled with grace and are not so ruled-centered.
Coming from an evangelical background, you can see in some place an emphasis on following rules over grace.  But I think my friends were not really looking deeply at what Wood was talking about here.  He is not saying that liberal churches should give up what makes them liberal to be like conservative churches.  What he is saying is that liberal churches have to be able to demand something from their members.  There is an old fancy word for this: discipleship.  Liberal churches tend not see their faith extending past the doors of the church or beyond the voting booth.  Conservative churches tend to see that all life is under God’s rule and we have to live up to those demands.  Does that mean there is no grace?  No.  I think conservative churches can be places of grace, of that unearned love from God.  Liberal churches tend to say they are based on grace, but I wonder if a grace that doesn’t ask or compel us to be better is nothing more than cheap grace.
Liberal churches tend to fear any change, thinking any change will be to make them a carbon copy of conservative churches.  I don’t think that has to be the case and it shouldn’t be.  We have to create our own unique way of discipleship, not just copy what has been done.

Can Christians Support Torture?

 

This week, we saw the release of the Senate Democrats report on torture in the CIA.  I’ve already written a post about my views on the Torture Report at another blog and you are welcome to read it.  One note, if you are looking for a clear and ringing viewpoint, you won’t get it from that post.  You probably won’t get it here either.

What I want to talk about here is something more related to the church in relation to torture: can someone be a Christian and support torture?

One pastor, Brian Zahnd makes a bold claim; no, you can’t be a Christian and support torture at all:

You cannot be Christian and support torture. I want to be utterly explicit on this point. There is no possibility of compromise. The support of torture is off the table for a Christian. I suppose you can be some version of a “patriot” and support the use of torture, but you cannot be any version of Christian and support torture. So choose one: A torture-endorsing patriot or a Jesus-following Christian. But don’t lie to yourself that you can be both. You cannot.

(Clearly you do not have to be a Christian to reject the barbarism of torture, you simply need to be a humane person. But to be a Christian absolutely requires you to reject the use of torture.)

I remember when Pew Research released their findings in 2009 revealing that six out of ten white evangelicals supported the use of torture on suspected terrorists. (Patton Dodd talks about that here.) The survey stunned me. I spoke about it from the pulpit in 2009 and have continued to do so. I said it then and I’m saying it again today: You cannot support the use of torture and claim to be a follower of Jesus.

Any thoughtful person, no matter their religion or non-religion, knows that you cannot support torturing people and still claim to be a follower of the one who commanded his disciples to love their enemies. The only way around this is to invent a false Jesus who supports the use of torture. (The Biblical term for this invented false Jesus is “antichrist.”)

Those who argue for the use of torture do so because they are convinced it is pragmatic for national security. But Christians are not called to be pragmatists or even safe. Christians are called by Jesus to imitate a God who is kind and merciful to the wicked.

“Love your enemies! Do good to them.…and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” –Jesus (Luke 6:35, 36)

I don’t know of a greater indictment against American evangelicalism than the fact that a majority of its adherents actually admit they support the use of illegal torture on suspected terrorists!

The issue of torture has always been at least in public a very black and white argument, even though there are surveys where the general American public seem to view this in more shades of grey. This one issue tends to inflame passions, to have people drawing lines in the sand and determining who is moral and who is not.
I will say up front that I don’t support the use of torture but I also think those that it has “worked” on occassion (which doesn’t mean it should be used).  I think the torture done a decade ago was shameful.  But I am hesitant to go the next step that Zahnd does because if we start to decide that someone who holds a certain view is no longer a follower of Jesus, there are consquences that have to back that up.
Maybe it is the literal nature of my autistic brain, but I tend to believe that words have consequences.  If we say something, especially if we say something like Zahnd does, then it can be just left there.  If you are saying that someone who supports torture is not a Christian, then we have to ask some hard questions.  If this is the line that if crossed you are no longer a Christian, are you allowed to come to church?  Should such a person be expelled from the fellowship?  Should we do as evangelist Charles Finney did (he banned slaveholders from communion) and bar these folks from the communion table.
It’s one thing to say that if one supports torture that you wonder about their faith.  It is quite another to say that someone has created a mortal sin, one worthy enough of no longer being in fellowship.
I get where Zahnd is coming from.  I do wonder about the faith of those who might support torture.  But before I start excommunicating people, I want to understand why they support this practice.  How do they think it lines up with Scripture.
But I also wonder where grace fits in.  Or are these folk too far gone to save?  And what about other unsavory practices like the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists?
What I’m getting at here is that if you are going to point a gun at folks, you damn well better be ready to pull the trigger. Don’t sit here and talk tough but then fail back your words with action, because that is basically saying you don’t really mean what you say.
Maybe there are cases where you have to draw the line.  But I want to at least hesitate before I pull the trigger, because this is not a simple thing.  Not a simple thing at all.
Note: The cartoon is by Brazilian artist Carlos Latoff and is called, “It’s not torture when U.S. forces are doing it…”

Is Discipleship Quibron or Dimetapp?

ZFVTV.jpgWhen I was a kid, I remember having to take two different liquid medicines for my asthma.  One was called Quibron.  It. Was. Nasty.

Quibron had to be the most foul thing I have ever tasted.  It was hard to keep it down as Mom tried to dispense it.  I can remember one scene from my childhood where Mom kept giving me a dose of Quibron and I would keep spitting it out.  I wasn’t trying to be mean, it was just a reaction to how gross this medicine was.

Then there was Dimetapp.  This medicine is used mostly as a cough medicine, but it could also be used for allergies and asthma as well.  Dimetapp was heaven compared to the hell of Quibron.  It was grape flavored, which was good in helping kids take their medicine, but possibly bad if kids start pretending they have a cough or an allergy to get another taste of that grape elixir.

Both medicines helped me when I was younger.  The only difference is one tasted really good and the other tasted foul.

For some reason today, I’ve seen a few things on the internet that dealt with the costs of following God.  God wasn’t all sweetness and light, no, God expected things from us and to follow God, it meant more about sacrifice than success.

All of this sounds good to me.  And yet, each time I heard this I felt uncomfortable and remembered my past.  When I was in college, the God I dealt with seemed to be one that said “no” a whole lot, especially when it came to anything sexual.  But it also seemed that God would make you do things you didn’t want to do.  God wasn’t fun.

I’m not advocating for a nice, benevolent God, one that is part and parcel of the Moral Theraputic Deism that seems so prevalent in American society.  And yet, I don’t want a God that is a joyless taskmaster, one that is calling me to a joyless life as well.  I don’t want to live with the guilt I faced as a young man, but I don’t want a God that has no impact on my life.

Is discipleship all about what we can’t do?  Or is it something more?  Can God expect more from us and it not always be about what we must give up?

I don’t have answers.  I just wanted to share my own thoughts.