Archive for January, 2009

Religious Conservatives/Liberals?

What is a religious conservatism or liberalism?

How do we define these??

Is a Socialist who believes that acting on homosexual feelings is a sin a conservative?

Is an open theist who believes in closed borders and very limited immigration laws liberal?

Is a social justice advocate conservative if they believe in the inerrancy of the Bible?

Is a Five-Point Calvinist who excepts female pastors liberal?

Is someone who has multi-cultural friendships, but believes it is wrong to curse or swear conservative?

Is a person who believes drinking is a sin, but doesn’t have any problem with divorce liberal?

Is the person who believes in “saving the planet”, but also believes in low taxes conservative?

What equation constructions conservatism?

What equation constructions liberalism?

What purpose do these labels serve in our complex society?

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Pro-Life

USA Today published an article about the evolving of the pro-life movement to include human trafficking, immigration, health care, disease prevention etc.

Also finding room on a more broadly defined “pro-life” movement are poverty, torture, immigration, health care, disease prevention and climate change. With that has come more talk of respecting the humanity of gay men and lesbians and new interest in cooperating with progressives and non-evangelicals (including the new president) on strategies to reduce the incidence of abortion.

As suggested by popular evangelical leader Rick Warren, progressives who support abortion rights would be mistaken if they interpreted all this as a sign that evangelicals are dropping the abortion issue. “They’re not leaving pro-life,” Warren told Beliefnet recently. “I’m just trying to expand the agenda.”

The categorization of “Pro-Life” has been utterly pigeonholed and politicized in previous years. Both the media has attempted to reduce the efforts of “conservative” groups to a “pro-life” agenda and “conservative” groups have played into that characterization.

I am excited to see that more Christians (off all bents) are realizing the greater, biblical,  pro-life agenda, and hope that the media will continue to recognize the breadth of the “pro-life” agenda (something that they have missed in past years).

Ethnic Diversity in UndiverCity – Chinatown

My wife and I were engaging on one of our favorite activities, our weekly shopping trip to Aldi. We had gotten our cereal, fruit, and other necessities and were heading to the checkout. However, before we made it my ADD kicked in and I decided to go back and grab some other items.When I returned to my wife I noticed that she was talking to an older lady. When I joined my wife the lady responded in a surprised yet excited manner, “this must be him” – I think she was scouting us. As we chatted, the lady, stereotypical of many older women, was quite inquisitive, thought our olive oil was wine, was overbearingly sociable. Our conversation ended by her saying that she was, “very glad that we were in Huntington” and like many “good” Christian women, invited us to visit her church.

Alyssa and I pushed our cart up to the checkout lane, packed our bag and then headed to the car. Then Alyssa filled me in on the first part of her conversation. While Alyssa was walking through the frozen food section she almost bumped into this lady. The cordial, “its Okays” came out and Alyssa assumed that the incident was over. However, the lady had other thoughts. She asked, “Oh are you from the college?”, which is what most of the people in Huntington assume about us. It is a logical assumption: 1) we are young and most of those who are under 25 and live in Huntington are students at Huntington University, 2) when in non business clothes we (I especially) dress more Urban and 3) we are minorities and basically all the minorities that live in Huntington are affiliated with the college.

Post-assumption, Alyssa informed the lady that she was not from the college and that  I actually worked at the university. The lady then asked where we lived – I think assuming that we didn’t actually live in Huntington. Alyssa responded by telling her that just moved from Fort Wayne and that before that we lived in Champaign, IL. That is when the great awkwardness began. In an effort to connect the lady responded, “I lived in Chicago”, Alyssa appropriately responded by saying, “Oh, I am from the suburbs of Chicago. The lady, in all genuineness  . . . and ignorance said, “What Chianatown?” Alyssa’s face immediately expressed, “are ya serious?”. The lady must have noticed  Alyssa’s chargrin because she quickly recanted her statement, “That was a stupid and dumb thing to say . . . but you are Chinese right?” and Alyssa prompted said, “Kinda , I’m Taiwanese”.

The complexity in this situation comes from the lady’s honest naiveté. She has probably never interacted with an Asian-American in Huntington; she was probably nervous and somewhat dumbfounded; she was probably hopeful about the prospect of diversity yet unsure of how to embrace it.

The blessing of this situation, odd as that may sound, is that Alyssa was given the opportunity to offer grace. When dealing with racial issues – reconciliation as a whole – grace must remain preeminent. This doesn’t mean that words don’t hurt, people aren’t insensitive or that people aren’t bitter, but it does mean that as Christians we don’t have the liberty of getting and staying mad at someone. Grace is sometimes difficult. Saying something racially offense – in either its insensitivity or its brazenness – not only brings up all the previous negative incidents of racism , but also the experiences of others, of  family, and of ancestors. This is a deep litany of pain. It is much easier to choose the ways of anger or apathy rather than the third way of grace.

The words that this lady spoke were wrong, they were insensate, but Alyssa had the opportunity to show her love despite her shortcomings. What do you think the effect would have been if Alyssa snapped back and said, “NO, I am not from Chinatown? Are you serious?” I believe that would have negatively influenced this lady’s tolerance for diversity and understanding of others unlike her. Alyssa’s face said enough to suggest that the comment wasn’t proper. Let me be frank, Alyssa was upset and she should have been. Grace does not eliminate frustration, but rather channels it to a productive response.

A graceful response both dissolved Alyssa of bitterness and hopefully influenced this lady, an expectant participant in diversity, towards a greater perusal of reconciliation.

For a great text on this pick up David Anderson’s book “Gracism”

Are they THAT different?

I posted a very similar post called Another Side, but feel the need to rehash it.

I have heard praises (and gripes) about Obama’s choice of Warren and Lowery as the bookends for his Inauguration. The general consensus is that Obama’s embrace of Warren and Lowery shows his bi-partisan desires and his inclusiveness. But I don’t totally see how Warren and Lowery are that different. Warren and Lowery both pursue social justice issues, though perhaps in different avenues. Lowery is a Civil Rights legend and is the namesake of a social justice institute in Atlanta, and Warren has a great passion for fighting Aids and Poverty in Africa.  Neither accept homosexual “marriage”, both also believe that those in the LGBT community should have rights. So what is so different about them? Am I missing something?

I know that even Lowery believes that they differ,

“I differ with [Rick Warren] sharply on his position on this issue,” Lowery told MSNBC’s David Shuster. “I don’t think we ought to put into law any discriminatory action against people because of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. I oppose that. But that doesn’t stop me from being on a program with him.”

“I’ve never said I support gay marriage,” he added. “I support gay rights, and I support civil unions. Like a whole lot of people, I have some difficulty with the term ‘gay marriage’ because…deeply rooted in my heart and mind, marriage is associated with ‘man and woman.’ So I have a little cultural shock with that, but I certainly support civil unions, and that gay partners ought to have all the rights that any other citizens have in this country.”

But it seems like this characterization is more from the media than what Warren actually believes.


What is the apparent dissonance, why do so many assume these two pastors, from the same religious background and similar believes are so different? Is it skin color? Is it tone? Is it age? Is it civil rights legacy? Is it the stigma of “evangelicalism”? Is it assumed political party affiliation?


The Faith & Redistribution

Michael O. Emerson wrote an article about redistribution on the Urban Faith website and Ed Gilbreath put up a post asking for comments on the merits of redistribution. From the responses, and the anecdotal rejections I often hear about redistribution, it seems that many equate our current system of American capitalism with a Biblical precedent.

Emerson and those like myself who see vast inequities and how we distribute money suggest that everyone should make a flat rate. I am in Graduate school and plan to pursue a Ph.D., and I expect to make more than some of my friends who decided not to go to high school, but not several times as much. I don’t deserve 100,000 if my friend who is a garbage man, with his family of four is only making 25,000. Why should I be able to purchase luxuries – even if modest – when my fellow citizen can barley make all of his payments, transfers healthcare from family member to family member (I had to do that growing up, it is stressful not being able to go to the dentist or doctor and praying no one gets hurt or sick), etc. The issue isn’t that people are paid differently it is that the scale is so inexplicably wide.

Personally, I don’t understand how one can claim that our system is sufficient when most of those who make minimum wage can’t even make enough to stay out of poverty. I also don’t understand how the dramatic economic disparity in the US (more than any other industrialized country) can be looked upon so flippantly. In order to support that view one must be willing to say that all of those in or close to the federal poverty level (which is a several thousand dollars lower than what it should be) are lazy, irresponsible, and undeserving.

The Faith and Redistribution

Theologically the Bible gives a good argument for redistribution (sabbatical year, year of jubilee, tithing, gleaning etc.) and says a lot about lopsided systems (Ezekiel, Isaiah, Hosea and the other prophets). The Bible doesn’t speak so much about us being charitable, but about us being just. If we are in a system that is unjust – which I believe we are – we don’t fix that by have unbalanced pay scales and then allowing those that can afford it to simple give their money away. What God commands is that we have a government and society which is justice focused and beyond mere charity. *

There is also a role for a joint effort of Government and Church in redistribution and further in areas of social justice. Let me establish a fictitious example to prove this point. If in 1810 White Baptist churches in America said that American slavery was unbiblical and Baptist Christians decided to free all their slaves that would have been a significant and proper response. But, if White Baptist Christians really believed that Blacks were as important and truly equal to Whites they would additionally pursue creating a government that treated Blacks as humans and afforded them their civil rights. The White Baptist church shouldn’t wait for the government. The Church should influence – by example and legislation – the government to be just. I think the same can be said was far redistribution goes. Christians (especially evangelical) have no problem advocating abstinence or a pro-life position in the public square, why can’t we advocate for a financially just society?

Financial Benefits

There are also certain financial benefits that come from redistribution. Although we often think of economics as linear, in reality they are dynamic and complex. We all are socially and financially connected. Let me give two quick examples.

Poor communities often have higher crime rates. More money is put into enforcement of those areas and even if the money is not put in there, police officers are taken away from other responsibilities to be in the neighborhood. If the neighborhood has more financial stability it would probably have less crime and then the police could spend additional time policing other areas of the city and being more effective in the entire city. Additionally, criminals from these neighborhoods go to jail and prison, are put though the legal system, and never make it out to put money back into the economy. Imagine even half of the criminals that are in jail making money, spending money and being POSITIVE, influences in the world.

Poor communities have low high school graduation rates. This leads to young adults who don’t contribute as much as they could to the economy and are overall not working at their highest potential (this doesn’t mean every student needs to go to college to have a good life, I think that is a great American misperception).

Redistribution may be a departure from the norm, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong. We need to further examine which ways our economy represents Christianity and which ways it represents Americanism. We are wrapped up in a system and systems can be as unjust and unbiblical as individuals. When system becomes unjust we must work both on the system and the individual so that God might be glorified.

a President. a Nation. a Hope. a Progression. a Prayer.

Below is a prayer that my colleagues and I – at Huntington University – prayed.

As a Christian, I am commanded to pray for my government and those in authority. For those who take the time to read the prayer, please consider the importance of continuously placing our faith as preeminent. Before we as Christians are anything else, we are Kingdom people. God is our highest and ultimate authority In as much, we must commit our concerns, worries, passions, desires, struggles and joys to Yahweh (God)

Heavenly Father, you are high and inhabit eternity, your name is holy, you have promised to dwell with those that are of a contrite and humble spirit: cleanse our hearts, we ask, from every stain of pride and selfishness; that though the heaven of heavens cannot contain you, you would choose to abide with us forever, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let us pray for our country. Almighty God, we humbly ask you that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and gracious conduct. Save us from violence, unnecessary conflict, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Bind the multitudes that have come to our shores into one, united people. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, we ask that our trust in you may not fail.

Let us pray for the President of the United States and all in civil authority. We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your Providence, we may dwell secure in your peace. Give to President Barack Obama, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people with respect to your authority.

As the Psalmist writes, may you fill our leader with your justice, may he lead your people in righteousness, and may he defend the afflicted among the people. May we constantly remember to pray for him and seek your blessing on his behalf. May he constantly seek your face and your Scriptures for your direction and may he learn to revere you, our Lord.

Let us pray for our sound government. Please bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth. May you give wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties. Lord, keep our nation under your care.

Guide, we ask you, O Lord, all those who are committed to responsible governance of this nation; and give to them at this time special gifts of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and strength; that they may consider all questions calmly in their deliberations, and act wisely and promptly, upholding what is right, despising what is wrong, and performing that which is just, so that in all things your will may be done.

Almighty God, who has given to men the capacity to search out and use the wonderful powers of your universe, grant to us also the sense of responsibility to use these powers rightly; not for destruction but for the benefit of all mankind.

For us who are under the authority, we ask that we would live as servants of God and show the proper respect that is due to their offices.

And now let us pray for current issues facing our nation and world at this time.

Let us pray for times of conflict. O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual respect and compassion.

Let us pray for times of national anxiety. We ask you to please give us, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, a greater realization of our brotherhood and sisterhood, man with man, woman with woman. May we put aside all anger and bitterness, and deepen in us a sense of truth and equity in our dealings one with another.

Have pity upon our ignorance and upon the confusion of our efforts. Help us to understand the anxieties of others and to know our own limitations. By your Holy Spirit raise us above all strife and prejudice, scorn and bitterness, that in the calm light of your wisdom, we may be drawn together in a common will to serve you and set forward your kingdom.

Let us pray for the unemployed in our nation. We commit to your care and compassion the men and women of our land now suffering distress through lack of work; support and strengthen them. Guide the people of this land to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor.

Let us pray for those without a home. Father, may we have compassion on the multitudes who have no place to call home, or are overcrowded in poor housing situations. Bless and inspire those who are laboring for their good. Stir the conscience of our whole nation, O Lord, and both break the bonds of greed and make plain the way of deliverance.

Let us pray for racial cooperation. You have made all people in your own likeness. Please help us to not separate ourselves from you and from our brothers and sisters by building barriers of race and color. Break down all that divides us one from another. Shame our jealousies and lay low our pride; do away with all racial prejudice, so that the connection of fellowship and mutual service may unite all peoples, and may we live in peace together. May we look with compassion on all who suffer on account of their color and share one another’s burdens, that we may fulfill your purposes and set forward your everlasting kingdom.

Let us pray for peace in our world. O God, look in your mercy and fold both heaven and earth in a single peace: let the awareness of your great love lighten upon our hearts so that we may have peace to your church, peace among nations, peace in our dwellings, and peace in our hearts.

Let us pray for our divine guidance. Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings, with your most gracious favor, and strengthen us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As we close this time in prayer, please attend to our intercessions, answer them according to your will, and make us the channels of your infinite care. With our prayers, accept also our lives, which we present to you anew for your service and for the glory of your holy name. Be pleased to accept these, our petitions, and answer them, not according to the smallness of our faith, nor according to the greatness of our need, but according to the riches of your grace and for the glory of your name.

You have shown us, O Lord, what is good: enable us to perform what you require, to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with you; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.

(This prayer was written from Scripture, “The Book of Common Prayer” and “Parish Prayers” edited by Frank Colquhoun and with Bob Henry in the Huntington University Campus Ministries office)

MLK

It has been interesting to observe this MLK holiday with the underlining of Barack Obama’s election. One thing that I have recently noticed – that particularly bothers me – is the temptation that many have to exalt the life of MLK. I am not by any means denigrating the legacy of MLK, but rather questioning how high a view of him we should hold. As a Christian, MLK is not my ultimate example. Though I respect his thoughts, actions and passion, MLK is human, fallible and sometimes wrong.

Some believe that King would have supported LGBT marriage and acknowledged the LGBT lifestyle as valid. I disagree, society often assumes that one who avidly pursues social justice – racially and/or socio-economically – must promote the LGBT community. I don’t believe that is true and believe that that either/or dichotomy is dangerous. MLK probably would have thought that those in the LGBT community deserves rights- as I do -, but that doesn’t mean that he would advocate it as a Biblical/Christian lifestyle. I actually think that in some ways his beliefs would be similar to Rick Warren’s. Regardless of what MLK would have thought, what is more important is a Christian and biblical sexual ethic – concerning the LGBT lifestyle.

MLK was wrong in some of the ways that he approached life – he sinned against his wife and betrayed his relationship with God by having affairs and was not perfect in all his ideology. As we Christians pursue social justice we should allow MLK to be an example of an imperfect, yet genuine pursuit of justice. But we musn’t allow his life and beliefs to be the template or the measuring stick with which we examine our own lives. That role is alone God’s.

–  I say this as one who spent the day celebrating and examining the life of MLK and who is one who grateful to work of MLK. This is not to be a condemnation of the celebratory reactions those have  in relation to MLK. It is to assure that we are aware of the exaltation that we may be unconsciously attributing to a man.