Friday, October 24, 2008

Sacrifice -- a rare commodity

There is a lot more talk about sacrifice than there is evidence of the same. Sacrifice is the giving up of something valuable or important for somebody or something considered to be of more value or importance. Sacrifice is at the heart of both the Old and New Testaments. It is evident in most of the world's religions.

Sacrifice is the message of Jesus. In his life and words he reminds us that "greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.” The Golden Rule keeps punching us in our conscience and heart, that we should do to others what we would want them to do to us.

Someone is hungry and in need, Americans by nature come to their aid. It is second nature for most Americans to reach out and help others. Not looking for a reward or a crown. Just doing it because it is right. To each of us much is given, and much will be required.

Sacrifice is a core Christian practice.

Sacrifice was something we did during World War II. Many hundreds of thousands of families gave the ultimate sacrifice serving and dying in our military. Even if a family had the money, they could not buy a new automobile. None were manufactured for civilians from 1943 through 1945. Gasoline was rationed along with many items like butter, sugar. and rubber automobile tires. Re-treads on tires were common, costly and not too reliable.

Of all the questions put to those running for president and vice-president, sacrifice has come up only once. In the second Presidential Debate, NBC's Tom Brokaw ask both men that as president, "what sacrifices will you ask every American to make to help restore the American dream and to get out of the economic morass that we're now in?”

Neither of the senators running for president had an answer. We have become used to politicians side-stepping direct questions, but this time they needed to step up to the plate and speak the truth as they know it. Neither one wanted to go on the record and honestly tell us that rough times are ahead and we are going to be asked to sacrifice in one way or another.

Senator McCain went first and said some government programs may need to be eliminated. There was nothing concrete in his response. He is going to examine every agency and every bureaucracy of government since many are not working. Also he will eliminate earmarks. Nothing about sacrifice.

Senator Obama began his answer by criticizing President George W. Bush, after 9/11, urging the American people to go shopping. He then said that was not sacrifice when the people were hungry for leadership. Instead of addressing the question Obama used some of his campaign points. Nothing about sacrifice.

Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, asks "Why would two card-carrying Christians evade the issue of sacrifice in a nation where the overwhelming majority professes faith and a significant slice say the nation is Christian?

If our politicians do not attempt to lead, then men of the cloth, the "reverends," deacons, elders and laity must lead in this time of financial crisis. Religious leaders of every stripe need to call out the flocks to a deeper dedication and resolve. Some sacrifice is ahead and is time to wake up and take responsibility. Today is not the time for the lowest elements of our society to continue wandering in the wastelands.

Sacrifice for the common good has been in the back of the third balcony long enough. Sacrifice for the common good must be brought to the orchestra seats or even better, onto the center stage.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


According to the Religious News Service, four in 10 Americans believe religious leaders should be permitted to endorse political candidates from their pulpits -- and do so without losing their tax-exempt status. That is scary.

Some preachers are now promoting a political candidate from the pulpit. A few weeks ago some 30 pastors took part in what they called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday." One young pastor here in San Angelo was reported in the Standard-Times as planning to take part in such a "showdown." Those participating claim they have the First Amendment in their corner.

Claiming suppression of the freedom of speech was one of the battle cries from the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian law firm based in Arizona. This is the latest of many attempts to bring politics into the worship services of American churches.

Tax-exempt churches do not file returns and are under no obligation to divulge their finances to donors, the government or the public. This is the reason the televangelists left the non-profit category (where financial reports are demanded) and organized into churches. It is also why most mega-churches and all televanglist "churches" have more lawyers on their staffs than ordained ministers. And they have needed them in numerous law suits of moral cover-ups from adultery to fraud. Now they will need them as they attempt to break Internal Revenue Service laws.

Mainline churches and many religious organizations are 100 percent transparent in what they receive in offerings and how they use them. But not the televangelists. Their followers are so hoodwinked they see no problem with their leaders having jet aircrafts, Bentleys and outrageous salaries and mansions. Now they want to promote their political choices from their pulpits.

David Barton, president of Wall Builders (, a nonprofit organization dedicated to a reinterpretation of American history, wrote, while Texas Republican Party vice-chairman, that the United States is a "Christian nation" and believes the separation of church and state is a "myth." Barton visited hundreds of churches telling them it was not illegal for them to endorse political candidates from the pulpit. (See "Behind the Scenes," Trinity Broadcasting Network, August 22, 2006.)

Rodney L. Parsley, Ohio-based televangelist, spoke at a press conference in support of the "Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act." This an Ohio legislature bill that would lift the Internal Revenue Service ban on electioneering from the pulpit. These guys are serious. Most Americans are not even aware of their agendas, much less their existence.

Beside breaking the law, promoting a candidate from the pulpit would divide many church fellowships. Deacons meetings I have been in have enough possibilities for division without taking sides on political candidates. Talking about issues is not the same thing. Churches and pastors should be fully informed of local and national issues. Politics should be shared at the town square, grocery store or courthouse steps. (Sometimes it is not a good idea at home!)

The Washington-based watchdog group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has filed six complaints with the Internal Revenue Service after dozens of clergy participated in a challenge to rules that ban politicking from the pulpit.

"These pastors flagrantly violated the law and now must deal with the consequences," said the Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.

Earlier generations of fundamentalist Christians were on the margin of American churches. They did little social work and condemned those who did. But the last twenty years, their new approach is what Richard V. Pierard (professor of history emeritus, Indiana State University and Gordon College) calls a "political gospel." I call it a “false gospel.” Historic Christianity has proven that when church and state are united, corruption and wars increased. Keeping religion and government under different heads ensures both function better. Spirituality and civic pride enrich a church's service. Personal spirituality can enhance government and politics.

It is not a myth that government runs better without being tied to a religious establishment. If it were up to me, I would not give any tax exemptions to any religious bodies or churches, temples, synagogues or mosques.