Sermon: Thirteen

This is the sermon I preached yesterday. You can read it here and you can also listen to the podcast. Yes, Thirteen is referring to Romans 13.

Exodus 20:17, Matthew 22:34-40 and Romans 13
Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Ten Words from God Series
June 17, 2018
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

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2yearoldcryingI’ve shared this before, but I first learned about the internment of Japanese Americans in high school. I can remember reading about the Issei and the Nissei, the names for the immigrant generation and the first generation of native Japanese Americans respectively.  They came to the United States seeking a new life and set up lives and communities along the Western coast of the United States. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the lives of these immigrants dramatically changed. All of the sudden, over 100,000 American citizens were viewed with suspicion.  In the days following the attack, the United States declared war against the Japan and we formally entered World War II. But our government also did something else. Executive order 9066, signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt allowed for the government to round up those 100,000 Americans and place them into Internment Camps across the West.  The United States government forced 100,000 people whose only crime was to share the ancestry of a current enemy, to give up their homes and businesses, to leave their hometowns to go to camps where they stayed until the end of the war.

We look back at that time with a sense of shock and shame.  We wonder how a government, our government would be willing to do that to American citizens.

And yet, here we are 70 years later at another point in history when our government is doing something that seems unimaginable.  

We have all seen and heard the stories about families who come to the border who are forcibly split up children from parents to go to special detention facilities.  Vox, the online magazine states, “Between October 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018, at least 2,700 children have been split from their parents. 1,995 of them were separated over the last six weeks of that window — April 18 to May 31 — indicating that at present, an average of 45 children are being taken from their parents each day.”

This is part of a new “zero tolerance” policy by the Trump Administration, an effort to make coming to the United States, legal or not, as so horrible that people will stop coming. Many of those coming are requesting asylum, escaping violence in Central American nations.  But it doesn’t matter to our leaders. No matter what, if a family comes to our Southern border, the children are separated, even to the point to taking a woman’s child as she is breastfeeding them.

When asked to justify this policy Attorney General Jeff Sessions responded by using a passage in the Bible. This is what he said:

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent, fair application of law is in itself a good and moral thing and that protects the weak, it protects the lawful. Our policies that can result in short-term separation of families are not unusual or unjustified.”

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Of course, I am speaking from Matthew, but I want you to remember that as we look at Romans 13.  This passage written by the Apostle Paul has been one of the most misused pieces of scripture in the BIble.  If you look at it alone, then it could be bent to excuse government policies which is what the Attorney General did this week. This passage has been used to justify government oppression which is not the intent of Paul.  Anglican Priest Fleming Rutledge has said that this passage has been used to keep people in oppressive situations. Today we are justifying the separation of young children by saying that Romans 13 says it okay.

Paul’s intent was to say that God created the world and that government is part of God’s created order.  Government is there to protect us, so we should be good citizens, paying our taxes and obeying the laws.

When you are reading Paul’s epistles which are letters to local churches, you have to understand it in that context. It is dangerous to take this passage whole as something that can be used in all times and places.  Yes, as Christians we should be good citizens and respect authority. But you can’t and shouldn’t use this to bless government activities. Romans 13 never tells us how to deal with a tyrannical government. You can’t really use this if the government is something like Nazi Germany. It is one thing to respect the authorities when the government is acting in a way that is just.  But Romans 13 has nothing to say when the government is unjust. The Attorney General also didn’t read the last part of this chapter where Paul tells the people not just to respect authorities, but to live in a certain way based on love. Paul says, “Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. 9 The commandments, Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have,[a] and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself.[b] 10 Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law.”

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Love is what is at the base of what we do.  If it isn’t seen as loving, then it isn’t love and it isn’t from God.  Ripping kids from their parents when they are already in a strange country where the language is different isn’t loving and it isn’t ordained by God. If someone tells you this, they are a liar. Even Paul knew that government even if it is good, is only provisional.  The ultimate power is not the Caesars of the Roman Empire or the United States, but it is found in God. When early Christians said that Jesus is Lord, that was dangerous. It was political, because in a place where the leaders were considered a deity, saying Jesus was lord was saying that someone else was challenging their power.

What is happening at the Southern border is not biblical.  It is not approved by God. The God that heard the cries of the Hebrew children killed by the Pharaoh, is not going to approve of destroying families.

I’ve spoken that the church is called to be a place where people of all backgrounds can come together at Christ’s table, especially at a time we are so divided.  But the church is also the church militant, it is called to speak out against injustice. We can’t remain silent when something like this is happening. We can’t allow the Caesars of this world to bend Scripture to justify their evil practices.

This is not about partisan politics.  This is not about bad Republicans and righteous Democrats. If you are thinking that way, stop it. We aren’t here to just speak out when we don’t like Caesar, we are called to speak out when the Cesar is unjust regardless if they have a D or R after their name.

You and I are called to speak.  This is a time to speak up. At the end of the day, we are called to love God and our neighbor.  Because to love God and neighbor are the foundation of every other commandment. If it isn’t loving it isn’t Jesus and if it isn’t Jesus we need to speak up.  Now is the time. Thanks be to God. Amen.


The Politics of Jesus

partisanpolitical.jpgOn Wednesday morning, Southern Baptist missiologist Ed Setzer tweeted the following:

This bothered a number of folk. Among them was theologian James K.A. Smith who replied with the following tweet:

I’m thinking that Setzer and those responding were talking past each other.  My take is that he was responding to a certain situation. He was at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, where, Vice President Mike Pence was coming to make a speech.  Setzer had his own opinion of the speech and the ideology behind it:

So, is politics and religion a bad mix or not?

I think Setzer is 70 percent correct and thirty percent wrong.

Setzer could have phrased this better. Of course, at a basic level, the church is political. It can’t be apolitical in the face of racism or sexism or name any other social sin. When liberation theologians say that God has an option for the poor, it is saying that God chooses sides. God is not sitting on the sidelines.

The church has been political, especially when people are being oppressed for who they are. In the book God’s Politics, Jim Wallis shares a story about former Archbishop Desmond Tutu and what he faced when he and religious leaders involved in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa:

“The former South African archbishop Desmond Tutu used to famously say, “We are prisoners of hope.” Such a statement might be taken as merely rhetorical or even eccentric if you hadn’t seen Bishop Tutu stare down the notorious South African Security Police when they broke into the Cathedral of St. George’s during his sermon at an ecumenical service. I was there and have preached about the dramatic story of his response more times than I can count. The incident taught me more about the power of hope than any other moment of my life. Desmond Tutu stopped preaching and just looked at the intruders as they lined the walls of his cathedral, wielding writing pads and tape recorders to record whatever he said and thereby threatening him with consequences for any bold prophetic utterances. They had already arrested Tutu and other church leaders just a few weeks before and kept them in jail for several days to make both a statement and a point: Religious leaders who take on leadership roles in the struggle against apartheid will be treated like any other opponents of the Pretoria regime. After meeting their eyes with his in a steely gaze, the church leader acknowledged their power (“You are powerful, very powerful”) but reminded them that he served a higher power greater than their political authority (“But I serve a God who cannot be mocked!”). Then, in the most extraordinary challenge to political tyranny I have ever witnessed, Archbishop Desmond Tutu told the representatives of South African apartheid, “Since you have already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!” He said it with a smile on his face and enticing warmth in his invitation, but with a clarity and a boldness that took everyone’s breath away. The congregation’s response was electric. The crowd was literally transformed by the bishop’s challenge to power. From a cowering fear of the heavily armed security forces that surrounded the cathedral and greatly outnumbered the band of worshipers, we literally leaped to our feet, shouted the praises of God and began…dancing. (What is it about dancing that enacts and embodies the spirit of hope?) We danced out of the cathedral to meet the awaiting police and military forces of apartheid who hardly expected a confrontation with dancing worshipers. Not knowing what else to do, they backed up to provide the space for the people of faith to dance for freedom in the streets of South Africa.”

So, yeah the church gets political and it has to. But I don’t think that was what Setzer was getting at. He was more concerned with how the church bows down to Ceasar, meaning how conservative and progressive Christians bow down to the current makeup of American politics.

We often tend to look at the mixing of partisan politics and religion as something that occurs on the right, but progressive politics and religion are also in bed together.

The thing is, the church in America doesn’t really know how to be political without being partisan. What churches in America tend to is ape what happens in Washington or name your state capital. From Sojourner’s on the left to Focus on the Family on the right, we tend are politcally engaged not as the church being the conscience of the society, but as another interest group a political party must deal with.

This is what Setzer is getting at when he says mixing religion and politics means you get politics.  It means that what happens is that you become the spiritual wing of the political parties.  Instead of transforming politics, we allow politics to transform the church.

This is what Episcopal priest Frederick Schmidt gets at in his latest post observing the different plans being put forth ahead of the 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist Church.  The denomination is trying to find a way to both open up ordination to LGBT Methodists and keep traditionalists in the church. Schmidt thinks that the individualism of the culture, the lack of any kind of ecclesiology or theology of the church is destroying the modern “body of Christ:”

The language of ecclesiology (a theology of the church) has slipped to the margins. Instead, Methodists draw comparisons with Starbucks[3] and talk about the church’s “constitutional” polity, and everyone assumes that whatever needs to be done, it should take the form of national legislation.[4]

This behavior and this way of navigating decisions in the church is now the standard. There is little room for theological deliberation. There is even less room for theological struggle, and there is no room for pastoral care and attention to the individual or community.

That is, in large part, because both by design and by inattention the politics of the culture have invaded and overrun the life of the church as the body of Christ.

That loss of talking about the body of Christ has been evident in the discussion on homosexuality. I can remember back in the mid-90s when churches were really dealing with this issue. When a church was deciding to more publically welcome gays, there was usually a vote and after that hard vote, it was not uncommon to hear a pastor say that they now must attend to healing. They knew there were good God-fearing people on both sides of the issue and that for the body to move forward, attention had to be paid to the losing side.

When the state of Minnesota approved same-sex marriage five years ago, I commented to friends that we must think of the other side who lost. They looked at me as if I had come from Mars. The church is no longer was interested in dealing with those who were on the losing end. We have sucumbed to the politics of the now.

Maybe one of the most important things that can happen in these times is for the church to recover its ecclesiology. It is only then we can really recover what it means to be the church political and not the church partisan.

The Trouble with “Normal”


It has been sometime since I wrote something on autism/aspergers, partially because I didn’t have anything I wanted to write.  But I stumbled accross an article on Facebook that reminds me of the situation that I face on daily basis.

It’s been nearly 10 years since I was diagnosed with Aspergers or High Functioning Autism.  When I got the diagnosis, I was relieved.  It was something I could hang all of the difficulties I faced as an adult in relationships and employment. I was hoping that I could explain to my employers what was happening with me and that they would understand.

Boy was I wrong.

The problem with having High Functioning Autism is that you don’t look like you have autism.  I can “pass” well enough for people to think I don’t really have any issues.  But that’s not true.  A recent article on the challenges those of us with High Functioning Autism face explains:

If the media is to believed, the high end of the autism spectrum is peopled largely by eccentric geniuses—Bill Gates and Albert Einstein are often mentioned, along with Dan Aykroyd and Daryl Hannah—who by and large do very well indeed, though they march to the beat of their own drummer. The reality, however, is that “high functioning autistic” and “genius,” “business tycoon,” and “Hollywood star” rarely go together…They may also have significant challenges which stand in the way of living a comfortable life, succeeding in work or romance, or achieving a sense of self-worth. Those issues are made more challenging, in part, because they surprise and upset others who don’t anticipate odd behaviors or reactions from people who “pass for normal” in many situations…

While people with more severe autism are not generally expected to just suck it up and get through difficult moments, people on the higher end of the spectrum are expected to do just that…

Lastly, people with high functioning autism are, in general, very aware of their own difficulties and extremely sensitive to others’ negative reactions.

I’ve experienced this situation over and over. I can work to try to fix my mistakes, I can go over and above to show that I can do my work well and at the end of the day, it is not enough. I am told things that sometimes cut to the heart, even though you know that you’ve tried to be the best worker in spite of my shortcomings. But you have to suck it up and try to function even though you’ve been shamed and told that you aren’t a good worker. The thing is, you can try as hard as you can and at the end of the day, it. is. not. enough.

You have to suck it up, because you don’t look autistic.  Which means that people don’t take your autism to account.  Instead you are looked at like a giant f**kup.

And when your high functioning autism isn’t taken seriously, it affects you in future situations.  Work becomes a place where you are waiting for someone to point out a mistake you made and then, you overreact, fearing that it’s all downhill from here.  You end up not trusting people, because you fear them- you fear they will judge you and that your job will be in jeporady.

So, work becomes a minefield, one that can become of your own making.

What I would like to see from people at work not just for me, but for anyone with high functioning autism is to stop assuming things. As Ashlea McKay notes:

Don’t think because I’m a successful adult female that communicates verbally that my existence is ‘mild’ or that I ‘don’t seem that autistic’ to you. That is insulting to both me and every other autistic person on the planet. I know you’re just trying to understand and have probably heard a number of things about autism over the years, but instead of assuming what it means to be autistic, just ask.

If someone tells you they are autistic, ask a damn question as to how you can help them be the best employee. Don’t assume. Don’t just automatically go to belittling them. Sometimes people are just not good employees, but sometimes we just need help and encouragement.

One thing that I am learning over time is that I need to be willing to advocate for myself.  Simply telling folk isn’t enough. At times I might need to politely push back.  Because I think sometimes people don’t understand things unless they are hit metaphorically by a 2×4.

So, when an employee tells you that they are autistic, talk to them. Learn all you can about autism and how to be a good manager to them.  Just because they appear “normal”doesn’t mean you can treat them as normal.

The Fate of Facebook


sociala-medier-2017After a decade of being the latest thing, social media is now longer seen as the savior of society.  Since the Cambridge Analytica story broke last month, Facebook and its creator Mark Zuckerberg have went from hero to zero.

It’s taken us a while, but we are finally coming to terms with social media and Facebook in particular.  It is not what we were promised.

I myself have mixed views about social media. One the one hand, I think social media has become a play where people can enter a sphere where everyone agrees with you.  Especially when it comes to politics, there are groups on Facebook whose sole purpose is to take your political beliefs and make them become the most virtuous thing around while other views smell of the brimstone of hell.  This rancor makes it a lot easier to demonize others that have a different viewpoint on things.

Social media also seems to bring out the ugliest part of ourselves.  For some reason we seem willing to say things about others that we would never say in polite company.  Social media is a place without filters and in without manners.

Overall, I think Twitter and Facebook have made society coarser, meaner and less hospitable. It is threatening to democracy and not simply because of Russian bots, but because when we see those of another viewpoint as someone that needs to be destroyed instead of talked to, it makes for a politics of winner take all by any means necessary.

I can’t blame those who are tempted to leave Facebook if not all of social media. Life would be better without it.

Or, maybe not.

While the thought of leaving Facebook has crossed my mind, I can’t.  Not because I’m addicted, though it is a big time suck, but because it is a part of my job.  I work to make sure the nonprofit where I work part time has a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’ve done this for other non profits and churches, so social media is a way that I make money.

But the larger reason I can’t leave it is because of all the good people I’ve met over the years. I’ve been able to reconnect with dear friends that I’ve lost contact. I’ve made new friends with other people. I’ve learned about various issues by asking questions of other followers.  Through my work, I’ve helped people get to know about a group they never heard of and maybe find a way to get involved. It isn’t simply trivial.

Social media is not all that it is cracked up to be. But I don’t know if that’s a reason to shut down all of our accounts.  Privacy concerns aside, I think we have to learn how to put social media in it’s place.  Maybe not check Facebook every five minutes and take sometime to read. Maybe we can do more with those people we’ve reconnected with, like write a letter or give them a call. Maybe we can start to learn that the manners we learned in the real world, apply in the virtual one as well. And maybe, just maybe we can use social media to expand our understanding of the world instead of confirm our biases.

The Facebook scandal is an opportunity to re-examine our use of social media.  But going cold turkey is the easy way out.  Learning how to manage it?  That’s an art.  But I think at the end of the day, I’d rather learn how to use social media and not let it use me than to just give up.

So, I will take inventory of my social media usage. I might not be “on” as much, but I will be around.  After all, I have to pay my bills.

Red Idol, Blue Idol

libcons120416_opener_560I received a message from a friend in the ministry the other day indicating that he was stepping back from things, because he was noticing that politics was becoming an idol in his life. The claim at first struck me as odd, but as I thought about it, it started to make sense.  I started to think that we live in an age where we have made politics an idol.  Idols have a way of separating people from each other; turning mere disagreements into winner-take-all battle royale.

We live in an age where politics are no longer just a thing, we do, but a way of life, something we are willing to give our all to, something we are willing to die for. Few of us will admit it, but we have made politics a god.

Maybe what’s more disturbing is that this sort of politics has slowly crept in our churches and other ways of life. There are pastors that are not shy about expressing their views.  People of the cloth become shills for prevailing ideologies. In the wake of Trump, we all know how many evangelical leaders fell in line all to make sure their interests are noticed by the President.  What we don’t see as much is how progressive Christians have also succumbed to the gods of this age.

I don’t think anyone intends to make politics their idol.  Even the conservatives who have sacrificed their faith to Trump didn’t do it because they loved politics more than God.  But the idol of politics has a way of seeping into our lives and starts to be the thing that gives us moral meaning and purpose.  It’s not long before the idol takes the place of God with us not even aware this took place.

Writing in late 2017, columnist David Brooks writes about the dangers of idolotrous politics and how to put it back in its proper place:

As Andy Crouch points out in his book “Playing God,” idolatry is seductive because in the first phase it seems to work. The first sip of that martini tastes great. At first a new smartphone seems to give you power and control. The status you get from a new burst of success seems really sensational. But then idols fail. What seemed to offer you more control begins to control you.

As Crouch puts it: “All idols begin by offering great things for a very small price. All idols then fail, more and more consistently, to deliver on their original promises, while ratcheting up their demands. … In the end they fail completely, even as they make categorical demands. In the memorable phrase of the psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover, idols ask for more and more, while giving less and less, until eventually they demand everything and give nothing.”

Politics these days makes categorical demands on people. It demands that they remain in a state of febrile excitement caused by this or that scandal or hatred of the moment. But it doesn’t actually transform life or even fill the hole left by the lack of other attachments.

If politics is going to get better we need better myths, unifying ones that are built on social equality. But we also need to put politics in its place. The excessive dependence on politics has to be displaced by the expulsive power of more important dependencies, whether family, friendship, neighborhood, community, faith or basic life creed.

I think one of the biggest problems in our society today is that politics is front and center in too many people in our lives. The wider culture has walls set up to block those who aren’t like us politically. But the divisions of culture should stop at the doors of the church.

But we don’t. Our churches are split the same way, there are red churches that voted for Trump and blue churches that voted for Hilary.

In some cases, churches are providing places of belonging, but it isn’t grounded in God as much as it is in politics.  Liberals find community in liberal churches, conservatives find community in conservative churches.

Upon hearing a National Public Radio report on evangelical pastors getting engaged in conservative politics, Canadian theologian John Stackhouse wrote why pastors should avoid politics. He’s not saying that pastors be apolitical, but he is talking about the place we clergy give politics. Here are a few of the reasons he gives ( Tommy Douglas was a Canadian politician and is consider the founder of the country’s single-payer health care system):

7. Because the Scriptures (your main area of intellectual expertise—right?) are, at best, only suggestive and regulative over the field of politics (a quite different area of intellectual expertise—right? See #10 again).

6. Because you’ll alienate a considerable part of your constituency who see political matters differently, and will hold that difference against you, thus losing the benefits of your pastoral care and authority.

5. Because you need to consider the troubling fact that you’re not alienating a considerable part of your constituency, so why is your church so uniform in its politics?

4. Because governments come and go, and you need to reserve the sacred right to prophesy to whoever is in power.

3. Because politicians come and go, and you need to reserve the sacred right to comfort whoever is not, or no longer, in power.

2. Because politics brings out the worst in people, and you’re supposed to bring out the best in people.

1. Because politics brings out the worst in people, and unless you’re an exception (like Tommy Douglas), politics will bring out the worst in you.

Here’s the thing. If you are a pastor you preach about a guy named Jesus who lived among us and died on a cross. It’s a cross that levels things, because it doesn’t matter who you voted for; the cross shows how far God would go to show love to all of us. We gather around the communion table, again a place where all Christians are welcome to attend.

Justice is important. I’ve marched against police brutality against black men, because my politics is informed by my faith. But my faith isn’t limited to those who agree with me. My politics will place me on the streets, the grace shown by God on the cross, makes me reach beyond boundaries to befriend that Trump voter, it should allow a conservative to reach to their Planned Parenthood loving neighbor down the street.

In 1 Samuel 8, the Israelites complain to Samuel that they wanted to a king.  Up until then, Israel was ruled by judges, who would come during certain crises to lead the nation. The people looked at other nations and wanted to follow what they did.  God spoke to Samuel and told him that this wasn’t about him as much as it was about him.  God is the one being rejected, not Samuel.  God then tells them to be careful what they ask for: a king will take and take and when they have nothing to give, the king will still take:

“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

Politics can take and take. Right now, there are pastors on both sides of the political divide that are making politics their god, and the thing is that god will require everything from you, even when you have nothing left to give.

At the end of the day, we have to learn how to engage in politics with a Christian mind-set. It is a politics that puts God first freeing us to love each other even when we are passionate on the issues. We need to learn to show Christ-like love on social media, where it is too easy to act like little devils.

I think the church has to learn how to be a community grounded in the cross in a world that is riven by ideology.  We have to find ways to talk about politics in churches that fosters people to think about the issues before them instead of having their ideological views affirmed in churches.  Pastors especially, have to find ways to model a ministry that isn’t based on ideology, but based in Christ.  We have to model ways where we can create communities of people who have different views and can learn that their views on immigration or the deficit aren’t ultimate, but it is learning to put God first.

We need to do this not just to show a different way of being in the world, but to guard ourselves from watering down Christian theology.  The polarized church is always tempted to reduce Jesus to a moral and ethical figure to fit our ideology. As Michael Sean Winters notes, maybe we need to focus on more on how we love Jesus instead falling for the sirens heresy:

the Church is not beholden to an ideology because it does not worship an idea, we worship a person. For those who dismiss dogmatic theology as “medieval hair-splitting,” the proverbial “counting angels on the head of a pin,” I would remind them that the great early Councils, not any medieval Councils, rejected the various heretical understandings of who Jesus is and that the consequences of those rejections remain important, even vital. There may not be any genuine Gnostics around any more, but there remains a gnostic sensibility in certain varieties of spirituality. There may not be any Arians around any more, but there remains the tendency to reduce Jesus to a great ethical teacher and not as the son of God. There may not be any Pelagians around any more, but there remains a pelagian tendency to think if we follow Jesus’ teachings we can earn our way to heaven. There may not be any Jansenists – oops, there are plenty of Jansenists around. My point is that these heretical tendencies are ideological invitations and they are perennial in the life of the Church. We all have our Pelagian or Gnostic moments. The antidote to those moments is the person of Jesus Christ. In Him, all was created, contra the Gnostics. In Him, we discern the Son of God, contra the Arians. In Him, we are saved, contra the Pelagians. Instead of hurling epithets at one another, perhaps we need to create the space for people to answer the question, “Tell me how much you love Jesus” and then see where those conversations lead.

I don’t know if we can learn to talk to each other calmly about issues. But it might be time for some of us pastors to step out and try to reach out to each other, with evangelicals reaching out to mainline Protestants and so on. Because in this divided time, there needs to be a witness to unity and love.

Just As He Was


America’s pastor, Billy Graham, died this morning at the age of 99.

Graham was a hero to me.  Not because he was perfect or because he agreed with me on issues. He was hero to me because in his own quiet way, he was a rebel at a time when not just American evangelicals, but American Christians picked sides and demand a certain kind of theological and political conformity.

In many ways, he was like Johnny Cash, someone that was an iconoclast.  This is probably why the photo with the two is going around the internet. Neither man was interested in conforming. Graham was someone who sought to follow Jesus in the best way he could, which meant at times stepping on the toes of his friends.

Take race relations. Graham, a Southerner, slowly but surely moved against racial segregation and towards reconciliation. He invited Martin Luther King to one his crusades in 1957. I want to share this story of what happened in the mid-50s in Chattanooga, Tennessee:

By 1952, the 34-year-old evangelist was deeply distressed by the racial prejudice he saw among Christians and wondered whether his failure to speak up was part of the problem. Graham saw an opportunity to take a stand during his Jackson, Mississippi, crusade. When Governor Hugh L. White insisted that Graham hold separate services for whites and blacks, the evangelist refused.

“There is no scriptural basis for segregation,” he told the crusade audience. “It may be there are places where such is desirable to both races, but certainly not in the church.” Though defiant, Graham still acquiesced on the issue of segregated seating.

A year later, however, he stunned the sponsoring committee of his Chattanooga, Tennessee, crusade. Graham railed against the practice of segregated seats. Then the committee watched in astonishment as he personally tore down the ropes separating the black and white sections at the arena.

That is pretty bold.

Graham also boycotted South Africa because going there meant having to submit to the apartheid system and holding segregated crusades.

Graham was someone that was willing to follow God that would shake things up.  He wasn’t perfect, he made mistakes.  I do think he probably had more “traditional” views on LGBT issues (though I don’t think he was a rabid homophobe). But he had a passion for justice.  It was there not just on race, but on other issues like nuclear weapons to going to preaching in the then-Soviet Union.

I went to see Billy Graham in 1996. I went to the old Metrodome in Minneapolis.  This was kind of a homecoming for Graham, since the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was based in Minneapolis. He was 77 then, and could no longer stand at the podium like he used to. Instead, he had a chair that he sat on as he preached.  By that time, I had left evangelicalism and was now a mainline Protestant.  But I still loved Graham and I was excited to go to the Crusade.

Graham was a preacher that could cross theological and ideological boundaries, something that you don’t see these days among pastors of Graham’s stature, especially his son Franklin.

When I was at that Crusade 22 years ago, Graham had a his well known altar call where the choir began singing the same song that ends his crusades, “Just As I Am.” It summed up his life:

Just as I am – without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – though toss’d about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Billy Graham was a gentle rebel for the Lord. I will miss him. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Sign You Up?

EASTERN_737-800_N276EA_MIA_1214BK_JP_I haven’t shared this on the blog save an article I wrote two months ago.  I am trying to collect signatures for something that is near and dear to my heart, an airline.

Yes, it’s weird, but hear me out.

You can read the longer story, but long story short is that I am trying to get a charter airline named Swift Air to keep the name of the company it acquired a few months back named Eastern Airlines.

If the name seems familiar, that’s because it was a major airline in the US until it folded in 1991.  Fast forward to 2015 and a new Eastern airline emerges.  Along the way there were some issues that came to fore where the founder left the company either by choice or by force.  In 2017 the new Eastern was looking for a buyer and found one with Swift Air. They bought the assets and there seem to be some talk that Swift would rebrand itself using the Eastern name.  To this date that hasn’t happened.

The petition is asking Swift to use the Eastern name in some form.  To that end, I have created a petition asking just that.

This is where you come in. If you follow this blog, I hope you will consider signing it. It will mean a lot.

You can sign at two places. You can choose this one or this other one.