Dr. Jerry Falwell (en, d. 2007), the founder of Liberty University (en), was a Christian pastor and televangelist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We have seen the pictures and videos (or, preferably, read the headlines) about the horrible atrocities committed by ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalist groups (plenty of Muslims oppose ISIS). They do so to appease their god and to keep the land/movement holy. They do so because the believe in the wrath of their malformed god.
Christians long ago gave up beheading for crimes. Indeed, the last major spate of beheadings occurred during the French Revolution. Many of us consider the death penalty wrong. Some do not. Many Christians in those two various camps, however, believe in caring for the poor, healing the sick, and extending a hand of mercy to the downtrodden.
However, there are some Christians who believe every great sign of misfortune is the Wrath of God. These are closeted Supralapsarianists; these are fatalists. For Pat Robertson, every time the wind destroys his combover, he is sure it is because of the LGBT community. For others, such as Jerry Falwell, diseases such as HIV/AIDS are sent by God to destroy this or that demographic and even those who support those demographics! Indeed, because of Falwell’s influence, the United States was slow and failed to help contain the AIDS epidemic that brought death to gays and straights. We are left to wonder how much of our foreign policy is set not by what is best for the country, but because some believe the end of the world is near.
In Congress, however, the Republican Party is deciding right now (or has decided) to gut the President’s request for funding to fight and contain Ebola. Led by Hal Rogers, the committee will cut more than half of the funding request. He is known as the “Prince of Pork,” so why doesn’t he support this bill? We do know he is unfriendly to any paradigm shift in the American cultural landscape and supports religious exemptions to Obamacare.
I am not speaking of Christians who identify with the libertarian spectrum, as they have a philosophical stance against government involvement. Rather, I am speaking about those Christians who would rather support the military-industrial complex than help those they believe are under the judgment of God. Their goal, seemingly, is death.
While Christians do not behead our enemies — rather, we do not behead those we believe suffer under or cause God’s wrath — we have other ways to allow for their death. Christians get elected as Republicans, or Tea Party members, and move to block funding to prevent diseases in some way. Indeed, while Christians no longer behead, we have found a perfectly easy way to reach the same goal. We just let them die and call it God.
Come on y’all, I was the one who wrote the Shorter Catechism. Why ain’t you using it?
Just a short post on a quick idea…
The UMC is held to be non-confessional. I’m generally okay with that, except we have such wide ranging views there may in fact already exist numerous UMC denominations without the larger one. I am now ready to admit that. I do not think, however, schism is healthy, biblical, or going to happen.
But as for us, we have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do any one an injury, and lest we should sin against God.1
The early Christians not only would not expose their children, deformed or otherwise, but they would rescue the exposed and make them a part of the community.
I have, lately, seen a lot of articles about attracting others to Christianity. Everyone is worried about number$. We need to do X to attract demographic Y to us or else we will die. No doubt, this is what has led to the extremes forming. The Conservatives are becoming more entrenched, almost to the point of fundamentalism* because they fear the changes (from technology to any form of biblical criticism) while Liberals have nearly completed their march to the great oblivion of inconsequentiality. Why? Because too many seem focused on attracting new members.
Christianity has become something less than a hope for a grand do-over (the cosmic conflagration), ethical impulses, and philosophical considerations about our place within God’s plan all made possible because of the death (and resurrection of Jesus Christ). Rather, it now focuses on megastar pastors (and, more importantly, their downfalls); the latest theological trend (or lack of theology); and the number of people in your bean=bags, folding chairs, or other cool, hip seating circles. We focus on ourselves. Or, worse, we focus on the perceived sin of our neighbor because somehow the only verse we take super-literal and super-missional is James 5.20.
This is the great con of Christianity. We need members to make congregations grow — we measure vitality not by the immeasurable (i.e., the good we do) but by numbers. We need new members; we need new buildings — we need bigger buildings to attract new members to give us new buildings to attract members. It is a vicious cycle Mainliners, Evangelicals and others have fallen into. Fundamentalists, such as independent fundamentalist Baptists and oneness pentecostals, do not focus on this so much as focus on saving souls from the pit of hell using every ounce of fear they can muster. Neither of these approaches work. Instead the approach we must relearn is the method of the early church, something Wesley I believe saw and try to implement.
This method is very simple. We work. We work at correcting the ills of society where we can — depending not on the Law of Empire but on the Law of Grace. When the church was powerless it had the most power. It was not protected and thus it protected. The church led the way in changing morality in the Roman Empire. When the old religions fell, when immorality was worse than we can imagine today, when Christian was persecuted for doing these things it was the faith and religion it should have been. Creeds, doctrines, and our finely expressed theology all matter and must be taught. However, if we are only there to attract people into our buildings rather than serving as a means of delivering God’s reconciling and reforming grace to those around us, we are nothing more than a less successful Amway with prettier, more stationary market stations.
BTW, my local UMC church is awesome at service projects for the sake of service. I’m not bragging. I’m boasting.
Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe; vol. 1; The Ante-Nicene Fathers; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 1172. ↩
The above is a link to a Huffington Post piece about racist phrases. Some of what is said here is valid, some is not. The problem is that it is sloppy, and makes things which have no racial connotation, or do not have an origin in or about racism, racist. Some of the phrases here are just plain wrong. Before I continue, I want to make clear that yes, I am aware that racism exists. No, I do not look for it under every rock or phrase. None of us should. Here we go on some of the inaccuracies in the piece.
“For example, did you know that Hip hip hooray! used to be a Nazi war cry used to invade the Jewish ghettos during the Holocaust?” This is blatantly false. The phrase hip hip hooray was used as an expression of praise and admiration for someone. Thomas Moore used this phrase in the 18th century far predating Nazi attacks on those who are Jewish. I can only assume that the author seriously confused this phrase for the Germans who did indeed used to chant ‘hep hep’ in reference to the Bavarian riots against ethnically German Jews in 1819. While many claims have been made linking the two phrases, there is no credible evidence or documentation that there is a link. A phrase for admiration and praise is now sullied in nonexistent racist origins irresponsibly.
“The word “gyp” now means “to cheat or swindle.” It is essentially a condensing of the word “gypsies,” who throughout history have been stereotyped as a group that cheats and swindles people.” Again, an accusation of a word with no credible evidence. There is no known link between these words at all. Is it possible, yes it is possible that this began as a slur regarding the gypsies, but it is somewhat unlikely actually. The first known usage of gyp was in 1750 and it was used to refer to a British college student. Hardly a derogatory term. The current usage of the word as in to cheat or to swindle has it’s origins distinctly in America, seemingly odd for a racial slur about a group not known for having a significant presence in America. The origin of the word the word gypsy or gipsy itself was given to itinerants in Britain when they arrived from continental Europe in the sixteenth century; the word is a contracted form of Egyptian by a process called aphesis. It was thought that those itenerants were from Egypt, which was not true. Nothing in the word origins of gypsy actually refers to the Roma, as they call themselves. More likely the word stems from the obsolete gippo, a menial kitchen servant. If anything it is disparaging of fast workers, not a racial group. Further more it is unlikely at best that anyone using the word gyp in this day and age has any intention of connecting it as disparaging to the Romani people.
“Technically, the current definition of “ghetto” (noun) is “a part of a city in which members of a particular group or race live usually in poor conditions.” Whether intended or not, the user is essentially implying that minorities are low class.” Maybe, or maybe it is a descriptive word. I am a Caucasian Anglo Saxon protestant male. I live in the ghetto. This is not offensive, it is a descriptive term that is understood to mean a poorer section of town. Yes, there is a connotation of this being forced by economic pressure, but this does not at all imply that a minority is somehow inferior, it does however state fairly bluntly that there is a poor section in town. If you want to be outraged about the ghetto, be outraged that it exists at all and that there is poverty in the world, don’t obsess over how it is somehow offensive to give a name to the neighborhood. ghetto is no more racist that suburbia. Just so you know, that is not offensive either, just descriptive.
““Peanut galleries” (which now means “a source for hecklers,” usually used in a joking manner) were the upper balconies that African-American people sat in in segregated theaters.” The peanut gallery originated in the days of vaudeville and was a nickname for the cheapest (and ostensibly rowdiest) seats in the theater. Nothing more. The peanut gallery now is used as a term for those who would heckle. Neither the origin of the word, or the common usage of the word, has anything to do with racism…just the cheap seats and I hope that all of us have sat there before.
5.”The word “uppity,” a word beloved by conservative news pundits, originated as a word used by Southerners in reference to African-Americans that they deemed didn’t know their place in society.” This is quite frankly bull excrement. The word uppity originated, according to Merriam Webster (the dictionary used for other definitions in this piece) in or around 1880 and had nothing at all to do with race. It had everything to do with those interested in social climbing and not knowing your proper station in society. It was used most often in reference to Caucasians incidentally.
So what is the point you ask? Whomever put together the article for the Huffington Post did not do a lot of research, but did make a lot of accusations about common phrases that can not be substantiated. It is my belief…notice the belief…that they were looking for racism. We have allowed a culture to form where the possibility of offence is treated more seriously than evidence of actual offence. Here is what I learned in Sunday school a long time ago. God has promised that if we seek Him we will find Him. Maybe we all should stop looking for offense and start looking for Him. I do believe that we will find that which we seek, so let’s seek something that is worthy of the time instead of trying to seek offense at every opportunity.
The most puzzling part of the verse consists in the final four words (ἀγάπη καλύπτει πλῆθος ἁμαρτιῶν). While the notion that love covers sin is common in the Bible and early Christian literature, the closeness of this formulation to the Hebrew of Prov 10:12b* and its almost identical form in Jas 5:20* point to the proverbial status of this phrase, a status probably antedating both uses in the NT.1
Using a certain resource, I found a connection to several Clementine letters.
Blessed were we, dearly beloved, if we should be doing the commandments of God in concord of love, to the end that our sins may through love be forgiven us – 1 Clement 50.5
Now I do not think that I have given any mean counsel respecting continence, and whosoever performeth it shall not repent thereof, but shall save both himself and me his counsellor. For it is no mean reward to convert a wandering and perishing soul, that it may be saved. – 2 Clement 15.1
Almsgiving therefore is a good thing, even as repentance from sin. Fasting is better than prayer, but almsgiving than both. And love covereth a multitude of sins, but prayer out of a good conscience delivereth from death. Blessed is every man that is found full of these. For almsgiving lifteth off the burden of sin – 2 Clement 16.4
and for my friendly gnostic fellow,
All those who anoint themselves with it (.i.e, Truth) take pleasure in it. While those who are anointed are present, | those nearby also profit (from the fragrance). If those anointed with ointment withdraw from them and leave, then those not anointed, who merely stand nearby, still | remain in their bad odor. The Samaritan gave nothing but | wine and oil to the wounded man. It is nothing other than the ointment. It healed the wounds, for “love covers a multitude of sins.”2
In reviewing the ancient instances of this quote – even those making use of James/1 Peter, it looks like it is a recognized proverb (pardon the expression). We shouldn’t think Peter and James are at odds with one another. While James has the reputation of supporting “works righteousness,” I believe they are both saying the same thing. Both are about rescuing the less-than-sober/self-controlled Christian from sins. One calls this love, one calls this repentance. Same thing. Even the Gnostic version alludes to the recapturing of Truth.
So, maybe the early Church didn’t have too divergent a theology at the beginning? And, maybe that theology included the notion that we can aid in (co-responsible for) one another’s journey?
Paul J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter: a Commentary on First Peter (ed. Eldon Jay Epp; Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 295. ↩
Wesley W. Isenberg, “The Gospel of Philip (II, 3),” in The Nag Hammadi Library in English (ed. James M. Robinson; 4th rev. ed.; Leiden; New York: E. J. Brill, 1996), 155. ↩
Some of us would like this so consider pre-ordering it…
The Liturgy of the Hours, together with the Mass, constitutes the official public prayer life of the Catholic Church. A canonical obligation for Catholic clergy and the basis of prayer for monastic and religious life, the Liturgy of the Hours also incorporates a wide participation of laity across the world. It’s also known as the Divine Office and informally referred to as the breviary, although many other modern breviaries exist in other traditions as well.
The Liturgy of the Hours consists of psalms or psalm-like Scriptures accompanied by hymns, readings, and prayers, sectioned out by hour of the day. Since Pope Paul VI’s revision of the breviary right after Vatican II, these hours are broken down into seven offices for intentional times of day: lauds (morning prayer), terce (mid-morning), sext (midday), none (mid-afternoon), vespers (evening), and compline (night). The seventh is the Office of Readings, which—in addition to its psalms, hymns, prayers, and longer Scripture readings—includes non-biblical readings, usually from the writings of the Church Fathers, the saints, or theological Church documents.
English: Joel Osteen at Lakewood Church, Houston, Texas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A lot of folks are sharing that Al Mohler article rebuking Victoria Osteen for her and her husband’s bad theology. We can go on and criticize the Osteen’s “consumeristic theology” and say ne’r a critical word about Christians marrying capitalism to Christianity as Mohler and the SBC have done. I have taken the Prosperity Gospel to task, and I will continue to do so, but let us not kid ourselve here, just as Mohler impugns the Osteens’ for claiming that “mere happiness” cannot “bear the weight of the gospel” neither can the fearmongering of total depravity Neo-Calvinism of the SBC.
For what it is worth, the Osteens’ come close to talking about God’s goodness as the impetus of being in relationship with God. I have actually visited Lakewood Church, and it is a multicultural setting. The center of the service itself is NOT THE PREACHING OR THE PASTOR OR THE SERMONS; the locus of the theology of the church (which is conservative evangelical) is the music ministry itself. They play contemporary Christian and Contemporary Gospel songs. Also, Lakewood Church does discipleship through small groups. Discipleship, ever heard of it, NeoCals? I don’t think I can stress this enough. Analysis such as Mohler’s lack #TrueNuance ,and at the same time, the Neo-Calvinist perspective lacks any form of self-criticism when it comes to bashing other Christians for manipulating people’s emotions. That’s the sword they die on.
But the really shocking revelation, that will confirm the worst fears of critics among the fundamentalists at Bob Jones University and elsewhere, is that Graham told one reporter that if he was starting over again he would be ‘an evangelical Anglican’.
I usually don’t post snippets anymore, but this is indeed something to consider… who we are now, even the most famous of us, may not be who we really are (or who we will be) if we give it major reflection…
The price to pay for being a former Pentecostal preacher is often high and it comes in all sorts of currencies. People often look upon you as “a little of that, but not much of that other” as in “too Pentecostal for the Calvinist and too Calvinist for the Pentecostal”, a phrase that causes a few to laugh but that it is a huge roadblock if one wants to change his image into a reasonable and well balanced Christian. Bearing in mind that if you are a Christian many will find you unreasonable anyway is not something that soothes the pain of being stuck with a label that is not only slanderous but it is also an impediment for any progress in the denominational circles in America Evangeliville. There is one softer side, however, which often assuages one’s ire of such unfair state of affairs, though: That’s when people still look upon you as a superstitious Pentecostal (if there is any other kind…), and when they meet you in a public place, as a restaurant, for example, they feel that they should come to you and tell stories upon stories that are completely insane, to say the least, that cannot be substantiated, that, if true, the whole world would have known, believers and unbelievers alike, the latter, a kind that would be nothing but extinct if these stories could have been validated and authenticated. Indulge me in presenting to you a recent event and the way it ended so, perhaps, I can contribute to your day laughing quota.
Here it goes:
I am sitting in this rather popular restaurant chain and all of sudden I am reminded of what a teacher told me once about undesired encounters: “You turn on the lights and you won’t be able to control what kind of bug crawls or flies in.” A person who recognized me as a former Pentecostal preacher, but who knows how diametrically opposed I have become on the superstitious nature of Pentecostal/Charismatic faith and felt that they have to “witness” to me a few things that are happening in their hallucinating world. Needing a few inward laughs in that busy and hard day, I gave ears to the story about a certain preacher whose name I will leave off the story, in whose services God is doing something that unquestionably He is capable of doing, but one can hardly find a purpose for Him to doing it and also the results whereof, should He have really done it. “Oh, and God is filling tooth cavities in those services; the anointing (as they call not knowing that references to “anointing” in the Bible are references to the Anointed One), is so heavy that some people had their cavities filled! Isn’t that wonderful? (Expecting me to respond…) Since my silent is deadly, they continue: “Oh, and there was a diamond rain in the service! The Lord poured down a rain of diamonds in that service”. What a wonderful thing the Lord is doing through the ministry of (names the person). Now, at this point it is useful to mention that the person relating these purported Godly feats to me is doing so as if “it” was there in person (I don’t want to reveal whether “it” was a man or a woman); in other words, I was made, by the emphasis and detailed exposition of the facts that this person was there and saw the tooth fillings and the diamond rain, perhaps having picked up some gems, and all the other miracles that “it” mentioned to me and that I don’t mention here because they are common in Pentecostal/Charismatic conversations.
The Truth Comes Out
Well, still being warm-hearted to this person, I preamble a question and then asked it as so: Wow, how interesting. Listen I write in a blog in the Internet with a certain degree of readership and it wouldn’t be wonderful if I could meet some of these people with tooth fillings, obviously with their dentist records that the tooth was unfilled so as to avoid the mockery of skeptics (heh heh), and interview them, and also have someone show me one of those heavenly diamond rocks, or dust, or whatever, and photograph it since I think it would be such a blast to have these great things published and allow the public to know of them and of your preacher?. Silence! Total silence! One can expect the other to be in awe at these stories or object to them, but, ASKING EVIDENCE??? O, no, that is unusual and in the Pentecostal/Charismatic circles it is the same as “persecution and unbelief”. After all you don’t question miracles do you? Well, I don’t question miracles; I just want evidence because the miracles in the Bible had evidence that others, including unbelievers could verify!
Then, after the silence, the truth comes out: O, brother, I am sorry if I gave you the impression that I was there… that was related to me my so, and so, daughter. Okay, I continue my pursuit of authentication, and say: My I have an address, a name that I can search of this person so I can verify these miracles and publish them? A few seconds of the same silence as before and then… “Well, I don’t know if “their” daughter was there, I think someone who was there told her. But why in the world do you want to publish this?” Well, beloved, (see I am nice), don’t you think that if God is doing these things today they shouldn’t be in the papers, on TV, on Bill O’Reilly, Oprah, so the world could know what a mighty God we serve (alluding to one of their chorus)? Don’t you think that would be good for people seeking God to “seek him even harder”? (I am NOT entrapping anyone… I am looking for authentication). O, brother, (here we go again), unfortunately I can’t tell you because it is something that I heard from a very good person who is really a powerful sister in the Lord… (and then the illogical challenge): “Why do you want to see proof anyway; don’t you believe that God is capable of doing these things?” I have a prepared answer for this kind of question that I used to Mormons when they ask me if I doubt that Jesus had power to come to the Americas and present the Gospel to natives): “O, I believe He has all the power, He is all powerful, including the power to end the world right now and kill us right now, but, is He doing it or has He done it already?” Usually I get silence, but what I got was a shift on the conversation to the political situation in this country…
How it spreads and become believable?
What I am trying to relate here is a true fact. People will relate these things to others of the same like faith (or what they call faith) and it will spread as uphill fire or and downhill water, just as fast and deadly. People who believe as this person does will never challenge anything and will hurry in relating to others the same story and always presenting it as if they were physically in the place where these events took place. As such, these stories spread and the breath, width, heights that they go are now damaged by something involving the name of God and the faith of Christians that cannot be substantiated by facts and not supported by evidence. What they really want, as all sycophants want, is to convey the idea of familiarity with the minister in whose services these things are happening and find a social acceptance among those who believe the same way they do… As dogs sniffing the other dogs backside, these people use these stories to find their pack (no offense to the dogs).
How it ended?
I could finish my meal with the certainty that such person would go home and reflect on the meaning of evidence as I enjoyed my so much needed inward laugh aware that I was laughing at a tragedy and not at a comedy; the tragedy of misplaced faith and the deceitfulness in the ministry; I was also aware that I was mocking and mocking is a often a sin and took the opportunity to pray for that person, asked forgiveness for mocking, as I thanked Him for exclusively by His Grace, removing from the circles where people think that God needs to endear Himself with miracles so people can believe Him, and that the message of the Gospel, in its less adorned and sugarcoated way is not enough for Him to do His work in saving those whom He will save, and that I am no better than that person other than the Grace that God bestowed upon me saving me when I was a disgraceful sinner occupying His pulpit! While I chewed another bite of a baked salmon, since God doesn’t mind me speaking with my mouth full, I prayed for the story teller in front of me and I prayed for me that I would never feel compelled, by any situation in my life to go back to the vomit of Pentecostal/Charismatic superstitions.
Laughed with me?
If I really contributed to your laughing quota of the day, I have also contributed to your need to pray for yourself as it happened to me; so use this post as an opportunity to do so.
In the thick of the street festival, some demonstrators used the occasion to get their message out. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have heard about your dilemma. Trust me, I have. You’re sick and tired of hearing about how you can’t criticize your senior pastor, because “Touch not my annointed.” Every Sunday you feel like you want to leave, but you can’t. Once you make the decision to leave, this open letter will be for you. So, here’s a few pieces of (unsolicited) advice for when you make the drastic move.
Fundamentalist churches rely on closed cultures. Not only do fundamentalists believe that their religious beliefs are absolutely true, they believe that the surrounding culture is evidence of those beliefs, for better or worse. Cultural hegemony is a part of fundamentalist religions, whether they be Christianity or atheism. The best way to resist the idolization of culture, say the dominant cultural norms in the U.S., for example is to learn to appreciate diversity. Many seekers who desire to leave evangelicalism/fundamentalism will begin to see a whole new world open to them, but unfortunately it will not be from a cross-cultural perspective. My advice would be to seek out friendships not just with persons who look like you, but also persons who you probably despised as a fundamentalist. Take risks, reject the cultural boundaries and the racist stereotypes you heard about from congregants, and not only become friends with Persons of Color. Listen to our concerns, fellowship with us in our communities. Consider perhaps the more nuanced perspective that the problem with fundamentalism was not just about much of the legalism that goes on, but also the promoting of American empire that goes with it.
As an aspiring pastor someday, I understand the need for both self-care and pastoral care in people’s lives. So I am not going to take it lightly when I say this: if you feel that you need to take a break from attending institutional church services, then do it. A number of persons who leave fundamentalism is because of the spiritual and sexual abuse found within the culture of fundamentalist churches. If the local churches in your surrounding area are not likely to be safe places for you to seek the LORD, I would suggest going the organic church route. Be sure that you stay in a spiritual community, because we can’t do it alone. No one can. Find at least one person you believe you can confide in. If this is a case of abuse, I would recommend contacting the local authorities.
The thing to remember is that if you are a person searching for an escape out of fundamentalist bondage, is that you are never alone. There are thousands of persons like you with a similar story. That being said, be discerning in who you read after you have “officially” arrived in PostEvangelical Land. When it comes to millenials especially, there is not ONE person who represents or speaks for us. Not. One. A number of postevangelical leaders see themselves as the future of Christianity. Having a blog and a couple of book deals, or speaking at a few conferences does not entitle anyone to having a monopoly on what it means to be an ex-fundamentalist. There are many ways to be in community with others without having to adopt labels like “missional” or “emergent” etc. Evaluate all of your options, but don’t pat yourself on the back for it. Learn. Grow. Move on.
There are a number of toxic communities that hate-watch Christianity. Do not be a part of them. Your healing does not need to rely on hating the very person you once were. The key is to accept a nuanced and critical view of yourself in the past, and not to live there. You don’t want to be shamed into hating your former life, and therefore shaming your probable family members/friends who are still caught up in fundamentalist culture.
Fifth, I would ask that you give peace a chance. Given the fact that fundamentalism requires a culture of violence, and sometimes even pronounced admiration for warfare, the traditional nonviolent ethics first embraced by the early Church and on through the centuries is a valid alternative to fundamentalism’s violence, epistemological, or other.
Lastly, go to a library. Google. Research. Study the early church. Learn Hebrew or Greek. Know that your story of leaving fundamentalism is more than about you. It’s about recognizing that Christianity is a centuries old tradition that was birthed out of Judaism. The story of Christ and his work is much larger than we can ever express or imagine. God is bigger than our idols.