The culture of LIFE

It’s is incredibly unfortunate that “pro-choice” people are now recycling a quote from Catholic nun Joan Chittister from back in 2004:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”
—- Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B

It’s a huge mistake for “pro-choice” people and especially Christians who don’t like the 1980s version of the Pro-Life Movement. The reason it’s a mistake is it only puts the conversation back into the political trenches where it DOES NOT BELONG. We all go back to our trench warfare lobbing our bumper sticker grenades at each other.

So, the “pro-choice” answer to “pro-life” people who really seem to only be concerned with allowing babies to be born is: KEEP ABORTION. It’s foolishness.

What’s more, it fails to understand the deep underpinning of a true PRO LIFE ethic. It’s not a political answer alone. So, for my 1980s style “pro-life” friends, PLEASE don’t make this about “electing the right people so we get the right judges who will overturn Roe vs. Wade” and be done. Let’s not stop there.

And for “progressive” Christians who are hiding in the shadows and whisper oh so quietly, “Um… I’m pro-life,” but not too loudly, I invite you to a better discussion as well.

And let’s start here: Sister Chittister’s remark about tax money alone is stupid. I said it. STUPID. If you think all it takes is tax money… PUH LEEZE.

So, to my 1980s pro-life friends… it DOES take some tax money. And to my “progressive” friends hiding in the weeds, it takes MORE than tax money.

I beg all of us to get out of the bunkers as believers. QUIT the Republican and Democrat mantras! PLEASE!

It’s being horrified by these Planned Parenthood videos. PLEASE allow yourself, my progressive friends, to be horrified. Let something sear your spirit once again.

THEN… let’s get to work. For a true PRO LIFE ethic to work, we have to demand better use of our tax dollars. When it comes to “funding” I think it doesn’t just mean defunding Planned Parenthood. It means FUNDING another source.

For my progressive friends, think more broadly. Since you want to parrot back, “How many so-called pro-life people are adopting?” I will challenge you: more than you want to admit or research. And I ask this favor: YOU have the ear of the Democrats right now. And while you have it, why not lobby them for better adoption laws? Why not make lobby them for easier adoption procedures… and CHEAPER adoption procedures? Why does it have to be so doggone expensive to adopt a child in America?

For my 1980s pro-life friends, quit making the public schools your enemy. Get in there and help. To my “progressive” friends, quit squawking. There are PLENTY of true pro-life people IN the public schools slogging it out. It’s true. So, for ALL of us, let’s demand better education and let’s HELP with delivering better education. Mentor some at risk kids. Every week. Don’t just go for the big splash events or school rallies and feel good. Make a difference. One kid at a time.

This is way too long, but I am so tired of the trench warfare we’ve been engaged in for 40 plus years. It’s time for a better way, and it’s the CHURCH who should rise up and lead the way.

Please… let’s do this.

The gods of our culture and the mark of the beast

I was listening to a teaching on eschatology given at a church camp by one of my favorite all-time teachers. Gordon Anderson has been president of North Central University for many years, but I was privileged to have him as a teacher when I was a student in my undergrad program before his appointment as president. Listening to his teaching on “end times” reminded me of his teaching as his student.

One thing he would constantly talk about in those days was the symbolism and how we get it wrong. We go around looking at our right hands and checking our foreheads saying, “Whew! No mark of the beast today!” But, he speculated, what if it wasn’t a “mark” but a selling out to the world’s system? We can go around all day long saying, “No mark yet!” and have sold out to the allegiances of the gods of this world.

I reflect on that today as I continue to be stirred by the insanity of our culture and what gets us upset… or not. And quite frankly, what gets us upset in one area often dictates we somehow can’t get upset in another area. And THAT, I would contend, is a sign we’re wavering in our allegiances and we may have a bit of the “mark” in us.

For instance:

Why is it we can’t be horrified by the actions of Planned Parenthood selling human body parts AND be upset by “Cecil the Lion” being killed?

Why is it we somehow have to “choose” between being ALL for the police or ALL for #BlackLivesMatter?

What is it we have to be ALL for Israel (as evangelicals) and never for Palestinians?

Why can we not be deeply concerned by poverty in our country and still desire people to earn a good living and live a good life?

Maybe the “mark” of the beast is seen in blind loyalty to such marks as “Planned Parenthood” and the “NRA” and yet we go around thinking we’re still somehow totally loyal to Christ at the same time.

Maybe the “mark” of the beast is seen in blind loyalty to a political party or being labeled “progressive” or “liberal” or “conservative” and that has become more of our “mark” than our allegiance to Christ.

We are really struggling in our Christian walk these days and it’s not because Christ is confusing. It’s because we’ve allowed marks to be applied to identities other than that what is the “mark” of Christ… and we’re confusing “brand” loyalty with “CHRIST” allegiance.

If we don’t get this figured out soon, those identifying too closely with any other allegiance than Christ will find themselves swept under in the next wave of whatever liberal or conservative garbage that washes ashore.

My greater fear is so many may have taken a mark and just not realized it yet. Then, the cost will come. Not a pretty day.

God help us.

Hitch your wagon to a political movement…

Hitch your wagon to a political movement and watch that party fly off, dragging you along, letting the wheels fall off, and you’re left barely hanging on.

Evangelicals did this with Republicans in the 70s and 80s. It took into the 90s and then early 2000s before the realization hit: “Hey, they’re not paying very much attention to us.”

It was too late, we had then raised another generation that saw that mistake… then went and made the opposite mistake. They have hitched their wagon to the Democrats and now the same thing is happening with them.

What is funny is that in both instance we all swore at the time, “Oh, no! I don’t vote lock, stock, and barrel for…” (insert political party here). But truth be told, we did.

So, when the GOP came knocking and gave serious air time and platform time to evangelicals because we were “pro-life” (which is a misnomer I will explain), we sucked it up. Power is heady stuff. Then… nothing happened. We would blame the Democrats. (“Well, if we had Republican majorities we would get things done!”) We got that in 2000 and guess what? Nothing.

The next generation saw the hypocrisy of that… and went right out and made the same mistake. This is where we are currently.

Correctly, the next generation saw that the “pro-life” movement gave all the attention to the unborn but did nothing for the poor and the marginalized. So… be born! And then… good luck!

The Democrats came calling. They let evangelicals into the national conventions. Pastors prayed at their big events. They weren’t so “anti-Christian” as they seemed before.

But then, evangelicals who really did still believe that unborn life was still life found out something: Democrats didn’t want to hear it. At all.

So, we’ve reached another dilemma.

We get these horrific stories like Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia who was an abortion doctor doing horrific things. It should have raised the flags then. While all this time pro-abortion (and that will be my label. I’m not bowing to the “pro-choice” moniker on this one) touted the need for Roe v. Wade to be held up as law in all cases so there wouldn’t be any more “back alley” abortions, here was Kermit Gosnell doing procedures that acted like back alley abortions. 

Then this week, the leaked video of the Planned Parenthood exec talking matter of factly about selling body parts from aborted babies.

The progressive Christians and evangelicals who have cuddled up to the Dems are now in a tight position. They truly hold a pro-life position, but if they speak up to the horrors of this particular issue, the PRESSURE from their liberal friends will be awful. The shaming on Facebook!

Here is the crux of the matter: social shaming is tough stuff. For the left to make fun of Christians and say, “Hey! You’re not being persecuted!” I agree. Not like in the Sudan or Syria. But the social shaming in our context is awful.

Don’t believe me? Fine. But on my Facebook feed I have friends all over the political and theological spectrum, and I have good numbers in all camps. I’ve had ONE friend post a blog post from someone else who was progressive and made a case for being pro-life. (And it was a good case.)

But friends I have who are quick on the trigger (and rightly so in my view) on racism… silence.

Friends who were quick to put the rainbow meme on their Facebook picture… silence.

Bigger progressive voices in the evangelical world? They’ll eventually figure out how to say something with all kinds of qualifiers. But for now, on this date… silence.

You know why? It’s not “persecution” but it’s unbelievable pressure.

And THAT is what we’re left with when we hitch our wagons to political movements lock, stock, and barrel. We lose our PROPHETIC voice… and we have only become PATHETIC.

I will readily confess it.

I am far more “pro-life” in my ethic than most conservatives. I am womb to the tomb pro-life. But there was a time when it meant more to be pro-life in the Republican sense. So, when I hitched my wagon to that issue and voted, I was rabid.

Then, I began seeing the poor. I began talking about the poor. I began asking about how to meet the needs of the marginalized. And things got quiet on the GOP front.

Since even saying the label “pro-life” (and not getting an opportunity to explain it) gets me sniffed at with derision by any Democrat, I’m a man without a party.

And I don’t care. It may not make voting easy, but I have found an uncomfortable place in the prophetic where I can raise a voice for justice on many issues… and get accused of being liberal… or conservative… or Green Party… or Tea Party… at just about any given moment. I have lost “friends” on Facebook with regularity because of all kinds of things. I’ve spoken against actions Israel took, I’ve raised questions on the changing of the meaning of “marriage,” I’ll say something about gun control… you name it… it just doesn’t fit neatly into any one party.

That’s not a comfortable place to be. But when a young white man walks into a black church and starts firing away, I call for justice and a conversation on racism. I want to learn more. And when a Planned Parenthood exec is caught on tape spewing out their basic philosophy of death and it’s finally exposed, I am calling for justice again.

Dear friends, we have lost our way. To the right… to the left… we have lost our way. Years ago, it was my turn to walk away from the “right” politically. I am making a desperate plea to my friends “on the left” to PLEASE make your move away from the Democrat Party. Don’t allow their death agenda to mute your heart’s cry. You KNOW what you saw in that video was wrong. You KNOW how valuable life is… even in the womb. You KNOW the unborn are as marginalized.

YES, there is a greater conversation to have that goes beyond “Well, you guys don’t care about them once their born!” Let’s quit the bumper sticker politics. We need a deeper conversation.

But it will only start when WE as BELIEVERS rise up above the political trench digging and call for JUSTICE.

Let us LOVE GOD! And, dear friends, let us love one another. 

I plead with you.

Theology becomes therapy

Following up on my re-read for Chan’s book Liturgical Worship has come my re-visit to Harper and Metzger’s book Exploring Ecclesiology. 

Written by evangelicals, it is an excellent tool for me as I re-think ecclesiology in my own life.

In the chapter dealing with “The Church as a Serving Community” they still bring forward the evangelical concern of “preaching the Word.” Their conclusion, though, is that even though we’ve called ourselves “evangelical” based on “preaching the Word,” for several decades now we’ve done everything BUT preach the Word. We’ve slid into preaching self-help.

The ultimate consequence of Christianity centered on personal issues and self-improvement is that theology becomes therapy, the search for righteousness is replaced by the search for happiness, holiness by wholeness, and truth by feeling, and God’s sovereignty is diminished to whatever it takes to have a good day. Christians become consumers who shop the church like they do a shopping mall, delighted to find something to meet every felt need.

There is a serious need for an increase in biblical teaching and literacy. And it’s not just an evangelical problem anymore.

God won’t fit your tiny theology

In all of our disagreements about “wedge issues,” we continually allow arguments to be reduced to sets of verses. If an argument can be reduced to particular verses, theology then fits on a bumper sticker. God, and what he is communicating through Scripture, is far more complex and beautiful than reducing theological arguments to a set of verses.

We want a god that fits us. We’re simple. We like things in 140 characters or less. That’s about the size of my god these days.

I saw this quote attributed to Tim Keller:

If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.

The way of Christ is far more complex, far more frustrating… and finally, far more beautiful than sets of verses I neatly pick out to disagree with in my tiny mind. When Jesus called people to follow him, he bid them “come and die.” That just gets complicated after a few days of walking with him. Perhaps it’s the reason that out of thousands he touched in his ministry there were only 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.

Just a thought.

How did we get “wedge issues?”

In American politics, we call them “wedge issues.” These days, it can be just about anything. But, generally, it’s throwing something out there for “discussion” that won’t get discussion because the person throwing it out knows everyone has a pre-fabricated response.

Gay Marriage
Racism
Poverty
Immigration
Abortion

Wedge issues.

When did we get “wedge issues?” 1970s, when Roe v. Wade was decided?

I would really invite all believers to read N.T. Wright’s challenging book Surprised by Scripture. (He takes on Christian wedge issues there, like women in ministry and more.) His last few chapters are challenging in regards to how we see the founding of the United States and how western Europe in general has been since the Enlightenment.

Wedge issues, in his view, didn’t start in the last few decades for Americans. They started from the founding. The “Enlightenment settlement”, as Wright calls it, allows for “Christian witness” in some arenas, but shuts it off in other arenas. The contract we signed? The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. His argument is the church is told to step back from public life and do its own thing in private.

Again, it comes from the Epicurean philosophy our founding Fathers, especially ones like Jefferson, followed: God exists, but he’s a long way off. The world will now get along under its own steam.

The church can “purchase its independence by colluding with the implied pagan philosophy.” So, people get their “private religion” and can practice as they choose, but leave the spirituality behind when the “big people” issues on how the system runs are discussed.

Then delivers this bomb:

I suspect that one of the reasons why the creation/evolution debate generates to much heat in America — far more than anywhere else — is that people can hear all the overtones, social, cultural, and political, that it throws off. The idea of God having anything to do with the ongoing process of the world flies in the face of all that Western culture has stood for — including Western Christian culture.

And this:

Have we fostered a culture in which the lordship and teachings of Jesus, for instance about poverty or human dignity or war, have been honored, studied, taught and practiced? Or have we been content — as so many Christians on both sides of the Atlantic have been content — to drift with this or that prevailing political wind, to trim our sails so that only one or two real distinctives are left, related perhaps to sexual and family life, only then to complain when the principalities and powers, having quietly gained our cooperation in other spheres, such as rampant individualism and the neoliberal vision of the good life that goes with it, now come to attack those last remaining strongholds?

Is it possible America didn’t “fall” with the Supreme Court decision about gay marriage, or Roe v. Wade, but the church abdicated some responsibility leading into the very founding of a nation we thought we could call “Christian?”

Honestly, read Wright’s book. It’s a LOT more to dive into than just this simple post!

The immense value of the Church

I am enjoying a bit more time for reading, so this summer I am revisiting some recent gems I’ve read on ecclesiology. I walked through Simon Chan’s Liturgical Worship last week. This week it is Exploring Ecclesiology by Harper and Metzger. Chan is a Pentecostal while Harper and Metzger are evangelical. Their journey helps me frame my own journey.

In my own “tribe” we are poor on ecclesiology. The church has become something that caters to my needs. As I pastor, I am supposed to go find out what people outside the walls need in the way of a service (and services) to come darken the doors of my church building. If I, as a believer, don’t find a church that “meets my needs,” I am free to wonder on to the next one.

The church as a unit, a body, a family, just simply has escaped us as evangelicals. Maybe we like our church, meaning the one we try to get to on a Sunday, but often we have no idea what it means to love the Church, the Body of Christ. As a matter of fact, if we can somehow detach ourselves from it, and then make fun of it, all the better. The more angst driven we are about the Church, the better it plays on social media.

But we need the Body. Just as we need the Head, the Head needs the Body. You don’t get to worship a “head” sitting on a table.

So, as I work my way through Harper and Metzger’s book, I will probably put up some interesting quotes from them.

For today:

The church becomes the new family unit because it is God’s family unit, God’s household, and God dwells in its midst… Jesus shares his name with us and makes the church a dwelling place in which God dwells through his Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16).