Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Forwarded e-mails

I love these, I really do. Especially when they take a Christian theme and end with something like, "if you really love God, you'll forward this to 500 people. I won't know if you forward it or not, but God will." But seriously, they are usually encouraging (at least until that last sentence) or are pontificating on an issue or issues I somewhat agree with. In fact, because I often agree in principle with many of these emails I tried to start one several years ago citing statistics about the number of so-called Christians in this country versus the number who read their Bible or attend church regularly, the numbers of teen-pregnancies and abortions, and the percentage of the population who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. I was curious to see if I'd ever get it back and what transformations it would take before it got back to me. But it never did. Perhaps it hit too close to home. Or perhaps I failed to attribute my rant to a celebrity.

I just got one of these. Maybe you've seen it. It's titled, "Paul Harvey on Prayer." I'm always suspicious whenever I see one of these credited to someone famous. So I checked it out on Snopes and sure enough, it's not true. It is a real article, but not by Paul Harvey.

What gets my goat, is that even though I agree with the thoughts contained therein and the desire to forward it to the whole world, at some point some well-intended Christian flat out lied when he or she originated this email. And for all the times it's been forwarded, how many Christians have actually checked to see if what is written is true or if it is credited to the right author? In fact, this particular email dates back to 2000. So just think about how many times it's been forwarded, or how many times it's shown up in your inbox, in those seven years!

Here's my email in all it's glory (minus the Meg-or-so of graphics that came with):

Keep this going around the globe....read it and forward every time you receive it. We can't give up on this issue.
Paul Harvey and Prayer

Paul Harvey says:
I don't believe in Santa Claus, but I'm not going to sue somebody for singing a Ho-Ho-Ho song in December. I don't agree with Darwin, but I didn't go out and hire a lawyer when my high school teacher taught his Theory of Evolution

Life, liberty or your pursuit of happiness will not be endangered because someone says a 30-second prayer before a football game.

So what's the big deal? It's not like somebody is up there reading the entire book of Acts. They're just talking to a God they believe in and asking him to grant safety to the players on the field and the fans going home from the game.

But it's a Christian prayer, some will argue.
Yes, and this is the United States of America, a country founded on Christian principles. According to our very own phone book, Christian churches outnumber all others better than 200-to-1. So what would you expect -- somebody chanting Hare Krishna?

If I went to a football game in Jerusalem, I would expect to hear a Jewish prayer.

If I went to a soccer game in Baghdad, I would expect to hear a Muslim prayer.

If I went to a ping pong match in China, I would expect to hear someone pray to Buddha.

And I wouldn't be offended. It wouldn't bother me one bit. When in Rome ...

But what about the atheists? is another argument.
What about them? Nobody is asking them to be baptized. We're not going to pass the collection plate. Just humor us for 30 seconds. If that's asking too much, bring a Walkman or a pair of ear plugs. Go to the bathroom. Visit the concession stand. Call your lawyer!
Unfortunately, one or two will make that call. One or two will tell thousands what they can and cannot do. I don't think a short prayer at a football game is going to shake the world's foundations.

Christians are just sick and tired of turning the other cheek while our courts strip us of all our rights. Our parents and grandparents taught us to pray before eating; to pray before we go to sleep.

Our Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. Now a handful of people and their lawyers are telling us to cease praying.
God, help us. And if that last sentence offends you, well . .. just sue me.

Credited to Nick Gholson, sports writer for the Witchita Falls, Texas Times Record News.

And the rest of the email, not written by either Gholson or Harvey, but by some Christian somewhere who lied about its authorship...

The silent majority has been silent too long.. It's time we let that one or two who scream loud enough to be heard that the vast majority don't care what they want. It is time the majority rules! It's time we tell them, you don't have to pray; you don't have to say the pledge of allegiance; you don't have to believe in God or attend services that honor Him. That is your right, and we will honor your right ... But by golly, you are no longer going to take our rights away. We are fighting back ... and we WILL WIN!

God bless us one and all ... especially those who denounce Him , God bless America, despite all her faults. She is still the greatest nation of all.

God bless our service men who are fighting to protect our right to pray and worship God.

May 2007 be the year the silent majority is heard and we put God back as the foundation of our families and institutions.
Keep looking up.

If you agree with this, please pass it on. If not delete it.

And now you know, the rest of the story!

And one last nitpick while I'm here. It mentions that Christian churches outnumber all others by 200-1. For that to really mean anything that would imply that only 1 out of 200 Americans are not Christians. Or in other words, 99.5% of the population are Christians. You and I both know that's not anywhere close to the truth. The reason there are 200 Christian churches for every one of some other is because there are 200 takes on "one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Eph 4:4-6) If we were really following just Jesus and not some historical theologian or church leader, there would only be one church and that would be that.

Now forward that last paragraph to everyone in your address book. I won't know if you forward it or not, but God will.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Two's Company, Three's a Crowd

Last week it was reported that leaders on the Christian right agreed that if either party fails to nominate a pro-life candidate, they would throw their support behind a third party. The biggest problem I have with this stance (and the Christian right movement in general) is that it draws a line in the sand relative to only two, very narrow, issues with the attitude of you're either with us or against us. In two interviews I saw with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, he painted these issues as, "non-negotiable" and, "black and white." These two issues? Abortion and gay-marriage of course.

The problem with taking a stand on a platform of two issues, is that it considerably narrows your base, rendering it ineffective. In a more plural government, where there are many parties such as the Green Party, Communist Party, Labour Party, etc, that is fine because they often form coalitions on issues outside of their platform. But the American government is a two party system, and with good reason. The public frequently complains about the extremes of each party and how Congress is unable to compromise in the middle. This is the point of a two party system. The framers of the Constitution didn't want extremists an opportunity to seize control over any branch of the government. They provided a system where there will always be a dissenting voice. When it comes to issues near and dear to a particular party, it requires compromise in order to receive favor from the opposition party. The complaint that nothing ever happens in Congress is actually a good thing. We don't want Congress doing a lot. If our Senators and Representatives can't reach a compromise on an issue, that is better than approving something on the fringes of either side. Now I admit that lately there seems to be an overwhelming unwillingness to compromise and meet in the middle with many issues, most visibly immigration reform. But the lack of compromise keeps the debate going.

By narrowing all you care about to two issues and giving an ultimatum to the major parties eliminates any possibility for each side to meet in the middle. And a majority of Americans are in the middle on most, if not all, issues. Many Christians, I would argue, oppose abortion but aren't necessarily in favor of Roe v Wade being overturned. Similarly, I would argue that most Christians oppose gay-marriage, but wouldn't support a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting it.

So a two-issue party isn't the answer. History shows that in the two-plus decades conservative Christian voters have been rallying around the pro-life banner, there has been little to show for it on a national scale. The issue has created the "litmus test" for judges and political candidates. It is the first question asked of any Republican running for president or really just about any other office. And it is what is keeping the "Christian Right" from supporting either Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney. And what has that gotten us? Not much. And the reason is that the issue isn't a political one. Even when a candidate is chosen based on who they would nominate to the Supreme Court, that judge still has to be approved by a divided Congress. So how much power does a President or a single Congressperson really have? The Constitution intended for not a lot.

On the issue of gay-marriage, that's even stickier. That's why some would favor a Constitutional Amendment. Because that's the only way an all-out prohibition would stick without being overturned by the courts. There needs to be a compelling public interest in limiting the legal right to marry. Such is the case for polygamy, pedophilia, and common-law marriage. And despite your personal views on the issue, such a case has not yet been made when it comes to gay-marriage.

So no matter a candidate's view on any single issue, he or she will always face political opposition, the separation of powers, and constitutionality. That's why I could care less about a candidate's view on those two issues. In the end, they really can't make that much difference.

I believe the battle for the "culture of life" is not a political one, but a spiritual one and is therefore not fought in Washington, but in the heart and soul of the common individual. And the way it is fought is by preaching and living the Gospel and, "watch[ing] your life and doctrine closely. Persever[ing] in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers."

As for a third party, I admit that part of me longs for a legitimate "Christian" party with a tent big enough to include both the social gospel and the culture of life. One that is beyond only two issues, but also addresses poverty, the importance of family, the culture of greed so evident in this country, sex permeating our culture and influencing our children, and on and on. Yet, there's a reason we still have, after over 200 years, only two parties. We need the debate. And we need to prevent radicals on all sides from gaining too much political power.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

What is a "True" Christian?

Well, what do you think? Is it the means by which you believe you are saved? Whether your doctrine is based on sola scriptura or apostolic tradition? Do you speak where the Bible speaks and silent where the Bible is silent, or is it the other way around? If you're faith-alone, grace-alone, Calvinist, Swedenborgian, or Arminian? Are you premillennial, postmillennial, or
amillennial?

Or is it how you vote? Your stance on the "big two" wedge issues, abortion and gay marriage? Whether you subscribe to the social gospel or the culture of life?

Do you need the Ten Commandments hanging somewhere in your house or a crucifix instead? Do you have a family Bible, or one held together by duct-tape that you read every day? Do you pray with your head down or hands raised? Are you sold-out, evangelistic, and fruitful?

There are literally thousands of Christian denominations out there divided over issues such as these and some even more mundane like whether or not your church building has a kitchen. This is despite Paul's admonishment to, "3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Eph 4:3-6) Count the "ones" in this passage and compare that to the cafeteria of choices we have when it comes to choosing a church.

Yet Jesus was very clear in telling us what is really important when asked, 36"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Mt 22:36-40)

So what is a "true" Christian? I would argue one who loves God with all their hearts, mind, soul and strength, and who love their neighbors as themselves. I couldn't tell you if someone I pass by on the street loves God with all their heart. Or even the person I sit next to at church every Sunday. Only God knows the answer to that one. But loving your neighbor as yourself is more evident in the way we live our lives.

My wife gave birth to our second child and first daughter a week ago today. Since then there's been a deluge of visits, phone calls, gifts and prayers from brothers and sisters in our church. Not to mention a steady diet of home cooked food prepared out of the goodness of someone else's heart. (Honestly if not for that, we'd be living off of fast food as we're too much of zombies to do much else.) Many of those who have brought us their specialty dish we're not necessarily close to. But they are loving their neighbor nonetheless. This is despite the fact that a couple of our best friends gave birth to their firstborn four days prior and they have been the recipients of the same warmth and service. It's not as if our church is full of people with the means to do this on a regular basis. And it's not as if this level of love and selflessness is apparent on a weekly basis when I see their faces on Sunday. Yet I know that when I step into church tomorrow I will be greeted warmly with many congratulations, hearty hugs, and sincere smiles. I will feel at home and I will feel surrounded by genuine Christians who truly love their neighbors as themselves.