Fatalism and the Disciples of Christ

Does the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) deserve to live?

Fatalism2I’ve been talking with folk about the current state of the denomination. We agree that all is not well in Disciple-land.  But in all off the conversations I’ve had, there is the belief that the tradition is dying.

And that’s where the conversation ends.

I agree with them in someway that the movement that was born two centuries ago is dying.  What is so odd is that at least among some people any drive to do something to preserve the tradition.  There seems to be a creeping fatalism that just accepts what will happen, instead of seeing it as a wake-up call to take stock of where we have been and where God is calling us.

I know that all things come to an end. I understand that things (and people) die and we shouldn’t avoid death.  But I wonder if in this case, it is premature to give up, to start performing last rites.  Especially in Mainline Protestant churches, we have become accustomed to accepting the death of programs and churches, so why should the denomination be any different?

I think some people have decided that nothing can change and just accept that this denomination will go away.  Maybe that’s the best course. Just accept that things can’t be changed and that all good things must come to an end.

But what if this isn’t the end?

What if God still has a lot for Disciples to do in the world? What if this dying can become resurrection? Why is there this prevailing mood of fatalism?

I’ve shared some of the structural problems that are facing the Disciples. But there are deeper problems that need to be solved like the need for more effective leadership when it comes to church planting and church renewal.  Too much focus on political agendas and not enough on resourcing churches to more effectively preach and teach the gospel. More and more focus on telling people what they should think about social and political issues and not enough on giving people the tools to think through issues themselves and come up with solutions the bring for God’s peaceful kingdom.

I could go on.  The point here is that it is not time to give up and live a life of quiet resignation.  I think this tradition means too much to me to just not care.

It’s time for change.  Maybe that change will come from the inside, as people in Disciple institutions see the need for renewal.  Or it could come for outside, where independent affliliated groups model a different way to be church that can influence the whole.

There have been times I’ve wanted to leave the Disciples for greener pastures, but I’ve decided to stay because I don’t think God is done with us yet.  If the case is that we are dying and nothing can be done about it, then let’s just shut it down now. There is no sense in letting the corpse shamble on like a zombie.

I think it’s time for a reformation of the Restoration.

Moshe’s Heroes

“Moshe’s Heroes” | Exodus 1:8-14 [15-2:10]; 3:1-15 | Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost | October 4, 2015 | Dennis Sanders,preaching


“It was God that propelled two lowly midwives to go up against the mighty Pharaoh and win.  It was God that even used the king’s own daughter to thwart his plans of getting rid of the Israelites. In short, this is a God that is willing to risk for the greater good. “

Guns, Abortion and Christian Witness

People take part in candlelight vigil following a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg Oregon

People take part in candlelight vigil following a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon October 1, 2015. A gunman opened fire at a community college in southwest Oregon on Thursday, killing nine people and wounding seven others before police shot him to death, authorities said, in the latest mass killing to rock an American campus. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

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.


What’s Your Name?

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.”

The Invisibility of Progressive Christianity

Church-You-Can-See-Through-10Every 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.