Toward a Theology of Mental Health and Wholeness (1)

My project for the new year has been to make an attempt at a theology dealing with mental health. While the church has gotten better at recognizing mental disorders and being a healthy part of their treatment, what has stuck me is how there really is not a whole lot of theological statement or reflections about it. My hope is to perhaps, in some small way, fill that void, in the hopes that those much more wise will improve upon what I will be writing here, and in numerous more postings, over the next bit. When beginning this, I thought that the idea of a theological exploration of mental health and wholeness  would be a fairly simple thing, but as I read, and delved deeper, I realized that not only was it not very simple, there were no new answers (not a surprise to me), but there were a lot of very old ones taking us back to the time of creation itself. This is not a medical offering, though I will, on occasion, use medical findings and treatments as examples, so it should in no way be read as a replacement for professional care. I hope that, if you are willing, you will continue to read this, and following posts, and share them with those you know who might think upon such things sharing with me their thoughts and opinions that I may ponder them.  So, without any further disclaimers, let us begin this journey from the place where all good journeys start: “In the beginning, God created the Heaven’s and the Earth”.

Fundamental to my exploration has been the creation narrative. To follow along here, you are not required to believe in a particular method of creation, be it young earth, old earth, theistic evolution, or what have you, but to simply hold on to and believe the eternal truth, that God is creator. In this simple truth, Saint Irenaeus (you will hear from him a lot in these pieces, so some background on him may help) begins his defense of the Christian faith against the Gnostic beliefs of his day, as well as establishing a beautiful trinitarian theology that has some fairly serious ramifications to us as the pinnacle of creation. Irenaeus describes the very act of creation as being trinitarian in origin. “In this way, then, it is demonstrated [that there is] One God, [the] Father, uncreated, invisible, Creator of all, above whom there is no other God, and after whom there is no other God. And as God is verbal, therefore, He made created things by the Word; and God is Spirit, so that He adorned all things by the Spirit, as the prophet also says, “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the power by his Spirit”. Thus, since the Word ‘establishes,’ that is, works bodily and confers existence, while the Spirit arranges and forms the various ‘powers’, so rightly is the Son called the Word and the Spirit the Wisdom of God.” (Irenaeus “The Apostolic Preaching”) In this small paragraph, beautifully worded (I am a little jealous of its simple beauty if I am being honest), the establishment of the trinity as present, and responsible, for creation, in three parts, equal in power, each performing an essential duty. Irenaeus separates these duties into the source of all creation, The Father, that which brings creation into existence, The Son (The Word), and the ordering of creation into a cogent whole possessing meaning, The Spirit. Irenaeus would also describe The Son and The Spirit as the hands of God to illustrate a point, and also to speak to us today. We use the same language and idea when we describe ourselves as the hands and feet of Christ. As an interesting note, this idea is rendered in 2 Enoch from the Pseudepigrapha and the language has similar meaning and structure to Genesis 1:27 as well as to Wisdom of Solomon 6:7.  As the work of 2 Enoch is used by Irenaeus in other areas, it has been a speculation of mine that it influenced him here as well, but that is a different rabbit hole for a different day.

Humans however, after this referred to as “man” as a generic term and not a term to denote gender, have a special place in creation. Man is created possessing the Imago Dei. We all talk a lot about the Image of God, but few of us, it seems to me, have any sort of understanding of what that is and what that means. Part of that is simply that we have lost, or tossed aside, the wisdom of the ancients. A brief exploration at thoughts regarding this becomes necessary. Ancient Jewish scholars such as Saadia Gaon and Philo would argue that being made in the image of God had no physical aspect, instead meaning simply that it meant the God had bestowed special honor upon man as the pinnacle of creation. To them, the image of God was not a tangible idea other than man was different, and above, all of creation. It was more of an idea to be accepted instead of a mystery to be explored and understood.  A Platonic understanding made the body  a transitory vessel of no real importance, the Gnostic understanding was that matter was evil, but that Spirit was good, thus the image of God was spirit and only spirit was good, others would claim the Image of God was the whole person, leading to a type of anthropomorphism of God binding Him to one form of matter alone. Enter Irenaeus, and a very new understanding of the Image of God.

Irenaeus, understanding and knowing the flaws of the various interpretation of the Imago Dei, would speak of the Imago Dei as the image and likeness of God in the same way as Genesis did. Irenaeus speaks of the image and likeness of God in this way: “Now God shall be glorified in His handiwork, fitting it so as to [EDITED to add a ‘space’] be conformable to, and modeled after, His own Son. For by the hands of the Father, that is by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not [merely] a part of man, was made in the likeness of God.” (Against Heresies) Saint Paul would support this assertion, though before Irenaeus, when he, in the epistles to the Corinthians and Colossians, would write that Christ is indeed the image of God. (Second Corinthians 4:4 and Colossians 1:15). We are, in effect, the image of the image. For Irenaeus, this was the physical image. Our bodies and human form as designed after the eternally begotten and eternally incarnate Son of God. This understanding allows us to avoid the trap of binding God to our form, thus avoiding the anthropomorphic tendency.  Adam, being the first crated human, becomes not the archetype of humanity as many of us think him, but rather the first created image of The Image.

The likeness of God then becomes our spiritual self. At the time of creation, this was simply the way it was intended, but today we recognize this as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the faithful, but more on that later. Now the temptation is to divide the body and spirit (image and likeness of God) into two separate things that are independent of each other, but that is not  what Irenaeus does at all as this was central to the heresy of the Gnostic faith. To Irenaeus, Adam, as the first image bearer, has these two parts, body and spirit (image and likeness), of the same whole both contained in harmony. In God’s plan of creation, the two are never intended to be separated. This is key to the nature of man, as God intended, and we must, at all costs, resist the temptation of artificially trying to separate the two as it relates to God’s intent in creation.  The image and likeness of God are reflected in God’s two hands, as Irenaeus described them (The Son, and The Spirit), and tied intimately to our creation as God intended at creation.

There is a third aspect of our creation that should be mentioned, the ability to reason. This too separates us from the rest of creation. We can form complex thoughts and ideas. We can rationalize and use logic to come to greater understanding of the world around us.  I think that you get the point. This third aspect of our creation completes the trinity of human creation, not to be confused with The Trinity. Just as the Creator God is only properly understood and explained through The Trinity, for mankind to be properly understood, as the created being at the time of creation, the trinity of this creation must also be understood. The very idea and structure of the Trinity is found through out all of creation. For Irenaeus this is even reflected in the natural world as there is indeed the realm of the physical, that which we can touch, the realm of the spiritual (God, the Holy Spirit, the adversary, etc.), and finally the very nature of God in the form of the natural law that governs the function of the universe. For us, as humans, the three parts of our created selves, the physical, the spiritual, the rational, must be in harmony for us to be as God intended us from the beginning.

This wraps up the first part of moving toward a proper theology of mental health and wholeness. I realize that it may seem basic as it is a reflection upon creation, before the fall, but to understand the very nature of humanity from that time as God intended, and thus to be able to understand what proper mental health and wholeness is, and how we can work toward it, we must start with the blueprint (Christ) and proceed from the first creation (Adam). We find then that, for us to be able to exist as God intended, and indeed as we will exist upon the return of Christ to usher in the Kingdom in full, there must be a harmony of image and likeness of God as well as our ability to reason.  From a theological stand point then, we must conclude that a theology of mental health and wholeness involves bringing, to the best of our ability, those three parts of our essential nature back into harmony with one another, and with God. Next we will explore the fall from grace, the effect that this has upon us, original sin and what it is and isn’t, and how all of that comes together as it relates to mental health and wholeness.

 

 

Can We Talk Intelligently Please?

I don’t like a double standard. I don’t really think any of us do, unless of course they favor us, and that is human nature. Our best selves however recognize that we all needed to be treated with the same dignity and respect. We all need to be treated equally in the eyes of the law, and we all need to be able to be treated with equal expectations, at the very least at a base line level, in what is and is not appropriate behavior in society at large. Basically what I am trying to get at here is that the expectation of how we act, what is and is not appropriate to say, etc. should be norms, no matter who we are all in all.  Before I get into this, let me say a few things. Bullying is wrong. Harassment is wrong. Sexism, racism, etc. are all wrong. If you read anything in this that you think says otherwise, one of two things is true. It is possible that you misunderstood what I was attempting to say. It happens to all of us, me a lot in truth, so it’s not a condemnation. It is equally possible (I am being generous to myself as it is much more likely) that I did not do a very good job of trying to explain the point I am trying to make. If, after reading this, you would care to comment, please do. Keep it classy though please, because in the last few days I have had enough of what can only be called unproductive conversation based in ignorance.

Let’s get the ball rolling with the elephant in the commercial, Gillette. In a rare twist, most of my issues with it can be summed up by VOX. Believe me, I was as surprised as any of you who know me are. I am in no way justifying any of the poor behavior that is shown in the advert. It’s terrible behavior. I desperately want to be able to seriously talk about the problem of reducing important social issues to an advertising campaign designed to make a large corporation money. Now, I freely admit that this is my, perhaps overly, cynical view, but it is an educated view based upon the shrinking profits of Gillette over the past several years and their inability to regain market share from competitors, combined with the current social awareness of these matters. Really, the VOX piece describes much of my concern better than I can, so please read it and think about it. The one thing not mentioned is the portrayal. In the advert, the majority of men are portrayed as those who encourage poor behaviors, while it is the minority that stands against them.  No, that is not my fragile male ego talking. I promise my ego is neither fragile nor is it small enough to be bothered by a commercial. It is my concern that the wrong message is being portrayed from that standpoint however as I reject the narrative that the majority of men are somehow terrible. That was the impression that I got from the ad personally. Read the VOX piece, consider it, and give it some real thought. After doing that can we have an intelligent conversation? You know, one that involves a little bit more than ugly accusations spewed and devoid of negative assumptions?
Something else that I found interesting about the people who think that Gillette was brilliant and being socially responsible and that more corporations should do this, and to be clear, I have no problem with holding that opinion, though I do disagree with it, when asked about Citizen’s United, the SCOTUS case that allowed large amounts of corporate money into the political process by declaring campaign donations protected speech, the answer was a resounding no. I do not see a logical consistency here. If corporations should be socially responsible and push for positive, or perceived positive, societal change, then should not those same corporations be able to support the candidates and policies that can bring that about? If not then aren’t we saying you should have a voice, but no influence politically? Isn’t that downright unamerican? Can we have a conversation about that? Can we intelligently discuss this? Can we talk about if we really want a bottom line profit driven corporation to control general societal morality and behavior? Please?

The second story is about a Gm plant in Toledo, Ohio and some overtly racist actions that occurred there. I hope that you take the time to read it as it is disturbing to say the least. Let’ take a few minutes to talk about what this is and is not. This is not about free speech. Yes, hate speech is protected as free speech, however the workplace has policies in place against such language and treatment of individuals that they apparently did not follow as they should have. Your employer has the right to limit your speech, during your on the clock hours. Not only that, an employer is ethically obligated to apply company policy equal to all. What happened here (according to civil action) is continued racial harassment. It’s wrong. Period. That, and under no circumstances is a noose hanging from a rafter free speech when used as an obvious threat. Never. That’s a threat, which is illegal, and likely constitutes a call to action, neither of which is protected speech. Can we have an intelligent conversation about this? Can we talk about how amazing it is that the two gentlemen who were treated so horribly did all that they could, every step of the way, to try and resolve the problem rather than immediately jumping of the cliff of civil actions like so many do? Can we talk about how sick it is that they had to? Please? Intelligently and not trying to cloud the issue with free speech arguments that do not apply? Please?

Finally we get to the piece i came across accidentally by virtue about reading a lot of news regarding sports. It is about a German Men’s Soccer Team. The very first line of the article reads: “The first woman to coach a men’s team in one of Germany’s top five leagues is tackling sexism by sarcastically suggesting her selections are based on penis lengths.” Read the whole article please, it is short. I am perfectly willing to accept that this is a sarcastic remark. Let’s change the first line slightly though by reversing the situation. We will, in our thought experiment, change it to a woman’s team and a male coach. The first line of our imaginary story for the purposes of our thought experiment reads “The first man to coach a woman’s team in one of Germany’s top five leagues is tackling sexism by sarcastically suggesting his selections are based upon breast size”.  Again, this is not my fragile male ego, but rather my research and experience, that tells me that, even if it were an obvious joke and sarcasm, that the imaginary comments in the thought experiments would be called out as at least inappropriate, by some sexist, and by some others to rise to the level of sexual harassment. Now, to me personally, I have no issue with the woman making an obvious sarcastic comment like this. I chuckled honestly. Then it dawned on me that while I would chuckle about the same basic comment made by a man about women, I do not think that many, and maybe most would. I further think that there would be very loud calls for him to quit or be fired. If the comments are inappropriate, then they need to be inappropriate for all. Can we have a serious conversation about how being treated equally includes this? Can we thin have a conversation about some of the “male rights” types that I find basically silly, in this have a point? Please?

Three stories, three topics, and three different types of situations, but they all have one thing in common. We can not talk about them like adults. As an example, in a conversation about the Gillette story, after I had affirmed that the behaviors they are presenting as bad are indeed bad, when I mentioned my concern that such serious topics should not be reduced to profit was suddenly a misogynist idiot that hated women and was simply attempting to mansplain myself. If voicing a concern is reduced that that, we can not talk. Similar things happen in various discussions about the other two stories. The question of being able to have an actual conversation goes far beyond these stories, but let’s start small. Can we talk about this please?

 

Heads Meet Tails

  • There has been a large dust up in Arizona about the science curriculum and evolution and intelligent design (creationism). Here is a short report on the story. It is sad that it is unnecessarily political, but that is the world that we live in.  A United Methodist pastor was asked about the topic, and he had this to say. There is the background. So, before you read on, I want you to do so with the following four things in mind.
  • I am not a literal interpretation type as it is currently understood, but I do believe in a literal spoken into existence creation.
  • I do not believe that the mechanism that God used to create is an essential of the faith.
  • I do believe that those who insist that the mechanism is essential do great harm to the faith.
  • The point of the creation narrative is that God created, not how God created.

If you have not taken the time to read the links provided, I hope that you do. They are important for understanding. I am going to start my comments with the news story, specifically some of the comments made by those seeking the school superintendent position.

“I already put out there that I teach for Liberty University (a Christian school). I also teach for Grand Canyon University (a Christian school), so how do you think I feel about this question? The reality is I wholly believe it. So the reality is, it should be taught … ” There is a very troubling implication here, namely that if you do not believe in the literal seven day creation that you are obviously not a Christian. This is simply not the case. The second troubling issue is that he seems to think that his belief is all that is required for a thing to be taught as science. The reality is that the best scientific data we have points to some sort of evolutionary process, even if my thoughts happens to differ. The point is that God created, not how God created.  The same person went on to say “Two years ago, three years ago at Walmart, it was not even allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ We showed that we, as Republicans, can change this world. We, as Republicans, can make this happen.” I really can not express how much I detest all of this boycott stuff over what ends up amounting to nothing. If you want to know the truth of the story, you can do it here. Republicans need to stop trying to claim the moral high ground when they support practices and policies that are not moral. So do Democrats. Republicans also really need to stop trying to claim a monopoly on the Christian faith.

 “We used to be able to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ We used to be able to say ‘God bless you’ with no fear. I will tell you, should we teach intelligent design? Yes, definitely. There are teachers that do it. They’re the ones that shut their door and say, ‘Yes, this is our curriculum, but you know, we have more here.’ … Do I feel that science should be amply supported and looked at from both sides? Yes. But we’ve got a problem here in this state, and it’s reading and writing. Would I get rid of science and that subject area and focus all on reading and writing? No. But that’s something we have to look at in this state. These kids aren’t ready to go to college. Then we can look at how we’re going to intelligently insert God back into the classrooms, because that’s going to be a tough one. But yes, I think it should be done.” Where to begin…well frankly I still say Merry Christmas and God Bless without fear. There is no reason to have a significant amount of fear when saying such things at all. That said, the disturbing part is about putting God back into schools…that is disturbing because it requires a couple of beliefs that simply are not accurate. The first big problem is that the idea that God is not in a class room means that somehow a law of man kept Him out. i think a lot more of the power of God than that. My son’s classroom is holy ground. I know that because my son believes, and he has the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so everywhere he goes is holy ground. There is also prayer in my son’s school because he prays. Look, God is in school. The reality is that we live in a religiously pluralistic society, so prayer should not be led in school as a part of the day, nor should theology be taught there. If you think that God is not in school, I dare say that reflects more on what you think of Christian parents than what you think of current law.

Now to the United Methodist pastor’s response. To begin, the overall tone is confrontational and frankly rather rude. It alludes to the commonly spread idea that somehow those who believe in the modern literal understanding of scripture are somehow less intelligent and less willing to look at facts and evidence that others.  In my experience that, on the whole, is simply not true.  “Today, a big chunk of American Christians attend churches that claim the Bible is inerrant (without error) and infallible (a safe and reliable source in all matters). I want to believe that most of them don’t actually believe this – considering that they live in the 21st century – but enough of them do believe it to make it a problem for the rest of us.” A problem? I am a problem? Now this particular pastor is at The Fountains UMC, and I personally have been a problem for him as I have written much about the poor theology taught there. In all truth, any orthodox Christian is a problem for the beliefs taught at The Fountains, but that is a different rabbit hole. My faith regarding creation is not a problem for anyone because I am in a faith tradition that does not require me to hold any particular belief other than God created. So does this pastor. He is describing his fellow Christians as a problem while at the same time preaching and demanding acceptance of his aberrant theology. I know the theology that The Fountains teaches, so I am comfortable saying this. “And you’ve got to feel a little sorry for them.” All I can think of here is the Pharisee that prays he is not like that sinner. To me this sounds like “thank God I am not like that literal interpretation guy”. Different words, same self righteous and sanctimonious idea. “As an outside observer of this phenomenon, it appears that they believe that “real” Christians are somehow spiritually superior for their ability to, despite evidence to the contrary, deny reality. Obviously, this has clear parallels in our current political reality.” Funny how this complaint by him describes exactly what he is doing. Here, if you are a literalist, you are completely disconnected from reality, and not only that, but also a political opponent. Democrats need to stop claiming the monopoly on Christianity as well. We all know Jesus was a Libertarian anyway. (That’s a joke folks, relax) “Here’s the problem: despite the very real and urgent societal issues challenging humanity, many literalists continue to fixate not on solving the world’s problems, but on “proving” the Bible is literally true. They are enabled by theological carnival barkers like Ken Ham, who wastes people’s time and resources on building a full-size ark in Kentucky (complete with dinosaurs to account for and then misrepresent the fossil record) – all to shore up their doubts and insecurities.” Assuming motivation is generally a bad move, as it is here. Assuming that a person who believes a literal creation, is unconcerned with the problems of the world is also false. This idea has surfaced that conservative Christians, and conservatives in general, are somehow less concerned with the issues facing the world and somehow less charitable is pure bunk. It’s slander really, and a pastor should be above such things. I am no fan of Ken Ham, but he has a sincere faith, though I believe he does over emphasize the importance of literal creation, and should be treated with respect for it. A theological carnival barker supports things like “I do believe that Jesus was divine, and that he’s the 2nd person of the trinity. Christians rightfully honor and celebrate Jesus as a unique and fully incarnate manifestation of God. I don’t believe that he’s literally God (at least not what most people tend to mean by that word). We live and move and have our being in God, so did Jesus. The trinity as a beloved Christian poem of who God is to us. But poems don’t literally define things. Like all art, and theology, they point to what is beyond them.” and this: “And it isn’t particularly necessary for Jesus’ resurrection to have been a physical one for it to be a real and meaningful one.” An actual theological carnival barker leads away from the orthodox faith, which the pastor in question does. Finally, “So, put Young Earthers in the same category with Flat Earthers, Vaxers, and those who believe the moon landing was faked: all of them people who, for their own reasons, have decided to live in a world disconnected from evidence-based reality. It would be funny if it weren’t for their attempts to try and impose their antiquated worldview on everyone else.” This is way out of line in it’s entirety, bit I am running out of space, so I will simply say this. I am not what is meant in the modern day, a literal interpretation type. Those who are love Jesus and know, at the very least, that He is more than a poem. They know He was bodily resurrected. They know the orthodox faith, though to be fair, some do try to add to that which is required belief. When your beliefs are outside that, and you teach, and allow to be taught things contrary to the orthodox faith, you should be more careful in throwing stones, because you are indeed in a house of glass. (Get it? Glass is super heated sand, shifting sand…I crack me up…especially when talking about glass houses and rocks…I’m done now.)

It’s two sides of the same coin in trying to force beliefs upon others, one through legislation and one through insults and bully tactics. Both are wrong in the approach. The big difference is that one actually knows the faith, and one follows something that has the appearance of faith, but not the power of it.

 

Prophets, Walls, and Trump

A recent trend has developed, no, not recent, but rather an old trend, that is taking a new form, of comparing the wall which President Trump is calling for and the wall which Nehemiah built in the Old Testament. Much of this has been in response to the claim that somehow the building of a wall on the southern border is inherently immoral. I do not hold with that opinion, though I do believe it to be unnecessary and and potentially immoral in the sense that it is not good stewardship of the resources that have been provided because there are better options. I wanted that clear from the start. Yes, I think it is immoral due to poor stewardship, but I do not find a wall to be inherently immoral. The problem is that there are certain religious leaders, and those who listen to them, who are making the claim that a wall along the southern border is inherently moral.  Take, for example, the words of Robert Jeffress who says: ” “The Bible says even Heaven itself is going to have a wall around it. Not everybody is going to be allowed in. So if walls are immoral, then God is immoral.” The logic of this is so incredibly flawed that I do not feel the need to comment upon it. The problem though is that he does not stop there, but continues on into a political tirade. “There is nothing immoral about a wall but what is immoral is for Democrats for political reason to block the president from fulfilling his God-given responsibility to keep our country safe and it’s certainly immoral for Democrats to support sanctuary cities which are nothing but havens of lawlessness. Instead of vilifying and demonizing President Trump, we ought to thank God every day we have a president like Donald Trump who takes his oath of office seriously and is willing to do whatever it takes to keep this country safe.”  In reality, the entirety of his inauguration day sermon, “When God Chooses a Leader”, is full of these comparisons. These are not Godly statements, but worldly ones cloaked in religious parlance.  Never the less, a large number of people have begun comparing Trump’s wall to Nehemiah’s wall, based largely upon comments like this. Because of that, a brief examination should be made of the two for the sake of comparison.

So, to start, Trump is not Nehemiah, or any other Old Testament figure. I really can not stress that enough. There is always some comparison to leaders from the past, but with Trump, those willing to anoint him as the next Nehemiah, and thus a prophet, or the next Cyrus, the next conquering ancient king. If one looks hard enough, comparisons of any leader to ancient leaders can be found, and might even be useful, but there is a difference between a comparison and treating the ruler as one of the ancients. This is really the first problem. Trump is simply Trump. He is his own man, and he makes his own decisions. He is no more appointed and chosen by God than any other president. That gets into a very long conversation about free choice, free will, and predestination as well as how the sovereignty of God manifests itself, but suffice it to say, for my part anyway, that God does not hand pick our rulers. He has given us the reason necessary to choose our own however. If you believe that God divinely appointed Trump, then one also believe that God has divinely appointed Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Lenin, etc. If you want to justify that, I welcome your thoughts as it makes no sense to me.

The second problem, specific to Nehemiah, and his wall, is that not only is Trump not a prophet as stated above, the circumstances are completely different in numerous ways. First, Nehemiah sought the permission of the ruler to return to Jerusalem to build the entire city back up, including the wall. The Jews at this time are under the rule of the Persians, specifically, King Artaxerxes. Here is our first significant difference. We are not under the rule of any foreign power seeking to return to our homeland.The second significant difference is that Nehemiah makes a request of the King, the one who has the ability to let the wall be rebuilt, and asks permission to do so. There is a similarity here as Trump can not simply decree the wall be built, he must ask those tasked with the responsibility of allowing it to happen. He has asked several times, and the answer has been largely “no”. Nehemiah asked, and received a “yes”.  This yes was not a result of manipulation, or shutting down parts of the Persian government. Again, the comparison falls very short.

Let us back up just a little bit to understand another large difference in the situation.  We are not the descendants of a theocratic state. Religion does not govern our civil law, nor is it required of our citizens. Part of his mission in Jerusalem is to, with the help of Ezra, enforce the law of Moses, not allowing those not of the Jewish faith to do business in the city, force the divorce of Jewish men from their wives if they were not Jewish, etc. One would hope that such a purification is not in Trump’s plans after the wall. The necessity of these things being done in the Old Testament is another topic for another time. I mention them here simply because if we are comparing Trump to Nehemiah and Trump’s proposed wall to Nehemiah’s wall, then we must look at not only the men, but their missions, as well as the circumstances. The circumstances in a religiously pluralistic society and the circumstances in a Jewish society that is theocratic are completely different.

We must look to the reality of this time in Israel. Israel is surrounded by the Samaritans, the Philistines, Ammonites, and various Arab tribes, all of which actively sought the destruction of the Jews. Now, there is a similarity here between Nehemiah and Trump is that both have used the idea of being surrounded by enemies seeking our destruction in their justification of needed a wall, but that similarity ends quickly because Nehemiah was telling the truth and Trump has lied. We are not surrounded by enemies and armies on all sides that seek our destruction. We simply, despite some of the rhetoric, not. The issues that Jerusalem faced in the  days of Nehemiah are simply so drastically different than the issues that we are facing today on the southern border that there can be no proper comparison between the circumstances, let alone the individuals involved.

If you support a wall, so be it. If you are a Trump supporter, I am not, but again, so be it. We are all privileged to live in a society that allows for disagreement. If you are a Christian and support both these things, then we have some differences, but I assume those differences are not about the salvation offered in Christ, so be it. What I am asking is, that for the sake of whatever witness the church has left, to stop claiming that this or that candidate belongs to God Stop calling any president a modern day prophet. Stop claiming that walls are inherently moral, or immoral for that matter. Let’s be honest, Nehemiah may have built a wall, but Joshua tore one down, so at best the Bible is ambiguous to their inherent morality or immorality. For the sake of the Bride, just stop.

IS the WCA Violating It’s Own Principles?

I, as well as many others, have pointed to the United Methodist Church Judicial Council rulings in criticism of the various caucus groups, especially Reconciling Ministries, encouraging entire churches and congregations to join them. The ruling in question is 871 and the digest reads “A local church or any of its organizational units may not identify or label itself as an unofficial body or movement. Such identification or labeling is divisive and makes the local church subject to the possibility of being in conflict with the Discipline and doctrines of The United Methodist Church. The ruling of Bishop Alfred J. Norris is reversed.” (http://www.umc.org/decisions/41763) Now, to be fair, I can not find anything in their beliefs that says they are bound by the UMC Book of Discipline, so they are not breaking their internal rules, but they are breaking the rules of the UMC, their primary recruiting ground, as are the local congregations that are choosing to become a part of the WCA. I can only help but wonder how many of them know that they are breaking the rules. So that we are clear, there is nothing that would prohibit individuals from joining any group, just local churches and their organizational groups. (Annual Conferences too, but that is a separate ruling) 

The question then is that if the WCA is allowing and encouraging congregations to join, then aren’t they, in that specific respect, working against the church and it’s teachings by encouraging congregations to break the rules? Many in the WCA have asked these very same questions about RMN, as have I, so it seems fair to ask them now as well. For my part, because I have asked these questions for the groups I disagree with theologically, it is vitally important that, for my own internal consistency and in my attempts to avoid hypocrisy, I ask them now. So, put simply, if it is wrong that groups like RMN allow congregational membership in defiance of the Judicial Council, then it should be equally wrong the the WCA does. If pastors who have led their congregations to become Reconciling Congregations have broken the covenant by breaking the rules, then pastors who do the same for the WCA are the same, are they not? If the Bishops that have allowed. and support, RMN in doing this are guilty of not living up to their responsibilities, then the Bishops allowing and supporting the WCA are just as guilty are they not? If you are a pastor and member of the WCA, can you in good conscience, be a part of an organization the encourages congregations to break rules? If you are laity and a member, can you? 

I want a vibrant Wesleyan Christianity just as the WCA does. That is why I am asking the questions and being critical. A vibrant Wesleyan faith can not start with the same tactics that a few short years ago were decried as covenant breaking. The solution is not to become that which we have argued against, but to be better. Integrity and character matter and if the foundations are built upon the hypocritical use of the same tactics and rule breaking that we have collectively opposed, then whatever is put on top of it will fall. There is really only one question that needs to be asked, and answered, by those involved at the end of the day. Is the abyss staring back?