Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thinking in short supply

There are always difficulties when a new man/woman comes on the job. It is only natural that he would use his personal talents and traits as he shares his own vision in his own way. His skills and manner may be different from his predecessor. And there are always those who are "put off" from the new guy's ways. This is nowhere more true than in the delicate choosing of a new pastor in those Protestant churches who "call" their new shepherd.

Two years ago D. James Kennedy, the founding pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and known throughout the country as the preacher of the television worship program, The Coral Ridge Hour, died. He founded the church in 1960. Today it sits on a multi-million dollar campus with well over 2,000 members in attendance.

Kennedy, according to the Miami Herald, was also a co-founder of the Christian lobby known as the Moral Majority and declared he wanted to "reclaim America for Christ.''

Last March, after two years of searching for a shepherd for the flock, 91 percent of the voting members chose Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of evangelist Billy Graham.

Pastor Tchivdijan -- his full name is William Graham Tullian Tchividjian -- was named after Tertullian, a Christian theologian of the second and third centuries.

That high an acceptance vote is a welcome sight for a pastor beginning a new pastorate. But the majority is nothing but the majority, nothing more (see today's Democrats in House and Senate for an example). Sometimes the smaller the dissent, the more power the dissenters are able to engender, especially when the famous founding pastor's daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy, is among those objecting to the Pastor Tchivdijan.

Mrs. Cassidy, along with a few hundred, was upset, according to Religious News Service, that Tchividjian, unlike her father, shunned a clerical robe and the fact he had chosen not to focus on political issues from the pulpit. He also insisted on an invitation at the close of the service for those wishing to join. One of his first actions irked some longtime members when he unplugged the TV program. (Just a wild guess: Mrs. Cassidy may not have known how to pronounce his rather different name.)

My thought was anyone as closely related to the best known and loved evangelist of the 20th century, and already an experienced pastor, would be welcome in many a pulpit.

After going through channels, the dissenting minority was given a chance to air their objections to the 2,000 plus membership. On Sunday, September 20, the complaint to oust preacher Tchividjian was defeated with a 69 to 31 percent vote.

Billy Graham's grandson is wise to stay out of political debate when at the sacred desk. His worshippers will have many varied slants on politics, but a good pastor does not take sides. His job is to share the lessons of the scriptures and history that will make for a better society and church.

Had it been me, I would have disagreed on doing away with the robe in the pulpit. I often wore a deep navy blue mandarin gown, made by a gifted local tailor in Taiwan. In those days, the 1950s, you would see many men in the mandarin chang'pao, as the robe is called. It was not an unusual site. (It might have been unusual-looking on me, but no one said anything –- to me. Their fun over Sunday dinner was probably over my spoken Chinese, or missed inflection (every word has one or more tones in addition). Mandarin with a Texas accent was rare in Pingtung County.)

What is the reason for sharing these far out stories, events or opinions week after week? I received one answer from a friend at church who urged me to continue writing them. He confessed my writing sometimes causes his blood pressure to go up, but it makes him think. We need to be able to discern the petty from the serious; the difference in being smart and being intelligent; having knowledge without wisdom.

We are blessed in this country with a freedom to share our different perspectives. All of us are a part of those we have met along the way. We are usually unaware of God's hand in sending someone across our path --- at home, in church, in work or school, who caused us to think; made us aim higher.


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