Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Try To Re-think Bible and Gays

A corrective biblical word to Church and society.

Southern Baptists, America’s largest Protestant denomination, has announced through its Executive Committee of a “welcoming and affirming resolution on homosexuals.” In an extraordinary emergency committee session, the resolution concludes that “the sanctity of marriage for all unions joined in love under God’s grace is holy and should receive marriage rights by the Southern Baptist ministry regardless of sexual orientation.”

For all you startled, shocked and surprised readers this news report turned out to be a hoax. So there is no need to upset your blood pressure. Having a stroke over this is certainly not worth it.

Roger Oldham, a spokesman for the official SBC Executive Committee, said last week the report was a hoax and “… is clearly not an action of the Southern Baptist Convention or the Executive Committee.”

Gay rights activists did meet with SBC President Bryant Wright during the Southern Baptists’ recent annual convention in Phoenix. They reportedly had a civil 35-minute discussion but the two sides were running on separate tracks; evidently even going in opposite directions. Making it impossible for either side to be heard with any modicum of understanding. Dr. Wright maintained the Baptists’ stance that homosexuality is a sin.

Bruce Lowe, 96-year-old retired Southern Baptist pastor, wrote a thoughtful article in the Spring 2011 issue of Christian Ethics Today titled: Important Considerations Regarding Homosexuality: Why Churches Should Welcome and Affirm Gays-Lesbians.

In his article Pastor Lowe considers six important truths about homosexuality that have been generally overlooked. I would not recommend anyone swallowing his opinions whole, but neither am I able to digest what the SBC and many other churches proclaim about sex. Some of Pastor Lowe’s thoughts I feel deserve more attention:

• Sexual orientation is innate and is not a choice. In a Dec. 14,1998, American Psychological Association release concluded: “There is no scientific evidence that reparative or conversion therapy is effective in changing a person’s sexual orientation. … there is evidence such therapy can be destructive.”

• Homosexual people are often highly gifted. Theologian Helmut Thielicke found the homosexual “is frequently gifted with a remarkable heightened sense of empathy.” Think of the great music, books, poetry and works of art we lose if we exclude the contributions of gays and lesbians.

• Peter Gomes, the late Harvard professor and chaplain wrote: “The combination of ignorance and prejudice under the guise of morality makes the religious community, and its abuse of scripture in this regard, itself morally culpable.”

• No sex act has morality in itself. When the Bible speaks of “good” and “evil” acts it is speaking about the people behind the acts. God does not judge the sex act itself, but the hearts of the people involved. Any act involving sex is perverted if the heart is lustful, unloving. Lust in any sex act (adultery, fornication, same sex, etc.) degrades the participants. That is the sin the New Testament condemns.

The sin in Lot’s Sodom in Genesis, chapter 19, is explained in the words of the prophet Ezekiel (18:49). He compares the days in Israel as worse than those of ancient Sodom. You daughters, he calls them, live a privileged life of careless ease with abundant food, refusing to help the poor and needy. Their arrogance and lack of concern for those poor among them was the sin of Sodom, not homosexually. I find I can never truly grasp any message of the Bible in isolation.

It is time to stop making the homosexual the whipping boy. The Bible is concerned with the root problem – that is, the condition of our heart. There are occasions when we need to speak a corrective biblical word to the churches and our society.

Friday, June 24, 2011

JULY FOURTH: A Great Day, NOT A Holy Day

Sidelights of celebrating Independence Day

On this particular weekend, which ends with the Fourth of July celebrations next Monday, there is much good to remember and to be thankful about.

But the original inhabitants of this land, the few that are left, may not necessarily look upon the occasion in a celebratory spirit.

As a general rule the Founding Fathers of our fair land had little respect for the earliest residents -- on good days they were obedient Indians and on bad days, red-savages. There were more bad days than good. (“The only good Indian being a dead one” was not said in jest.)

There were a few missionaries who went to the American wildernesses with the worthy motive of converting the Indians, while back home in Boston, Philadelphia, New York and later Washington, D.C., most laws and actions were to rid the land of the Indian tribes, one by one. Our “thanksgiving day” myths have twisted history’s story a tad.

Since the white population of the thirteen colonies were predominantly from the British Isles, their religious traditions, along with free church Germans, Swedes and Dutch had definite European roots. It was a time in which the radical Protestants of the Reformed tradition sought release from church-state clerical domination.

By the late 18th century and the forming of the United States government, many if not most, of the founders were found to be taking lightly the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Sunday, they might worship a loving God, but Monday through Saturday they were busy: (1) attempting to exterminate the Indians, and (2) blatantly ignoring the inhumane institution of slavery.

For every one of our early ancestors who saw the horror of treating Indians and slaves as “not really human,” there were hundreds who only wanted to be rid of them; work the slaves till they drop, drive the indigenous people from their villages.

So the Revolutionary War brought a new and free nation into being, it also brought death to the indigenous people. This phase of the events of those days was little stressed, if at all, in my school books from elementary to high school to college and even seminary. It simply did not fit the developing myths that made our ancestors “supermen.”

For all the good Daniel Boone did in founding the white settlement of Kentucky, there were thousands of innocents forced from their land, driven to resist and die. To expand meant getting rid of the inhabitants. The senators and representatives did what they usually do down to this day – ignore the problem, hope it will go away.

Even when laws were passed to treat the Indians with fairness and equality, they were ignored on the frontier. Reconstruction after the Civil War did not fulfill the promises made to the slaves. That took another 100 years and there is still much to do.

For those who want to believe America is a Christian country and special to God are hereby allowed to remain in their ignorance. But such stuff is not in the records of history nor in the United States Constitution. A document which wiser men than I have shown to be a flawed and non-divine document, created by flawed men like you and me. How they got so much right of it right is an amazing miracle.

To take the Hebrew Bible as the basis for our government is not a good alternative. Theocracies are anti-democratic and as unsuitable now as they have always been.

Celebrate the Fourth and rejoice we have the freedom to do so. Leave such celebrations out of Sunday’s worship. Worship is to the lord, not to the flag or nation. For those who have read this far and are still reading, I add one little bit of advice: Take those American flags out of the sanctuary and put them in a place of honor in the fellowship hall.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Walk Across Taiwan, 1959

This bunch of guys took it upon themselves to walk from the foothills east of Taichung, Taiwan, across the mountains to the east coast town of Hua Lien. It was Springtime in the rockies, 1959.

On the right is our patient and very helpful guide, a tribal man who knew the mountains. The two on his right were provincial officials and men involved in the building of a highway across the mountains. We stayed in camps like this one along the way. Men of President Chiang Kai-Shek's mostly retired mainland army did the building.

From left standing is Harlan Spuregon, Taiwan SBC missionary, later president of a college in Missouri. Next to him on his left is Oz Quick, World War II chaplain that was on the invasion of several islands, later missionary to mainland China, in the Guilin area (one of China's many beautiful scenic spots) and then Taiwan. Next to him, a laymen with the Conservative Baptist Missionary Society and working with the U.S. government. I regret my records do not have his name.

Kneeling in front, left, is Richard Morris and on the right is this humble writer, Britt E. Towery, Jr. missionary at that time in the northern port city of Keelung, Taiwan.

The trip gave us some idea of the beauty of the island. Orchards were plentiful along the trails. Some of the cliff side trails made us wonder if this was a good idea. At the end of the walk was the great marble country in the cliffs and valleys that open up to the Pacific Ocean. That area now a great tourist spot.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Another Cry for National Day of Prayer

Some might call him "Big Tex" or by some such catch phrase, but to most he is not big and does not represent Texas. Not the real Texas, even if he did come from Paint Rock in west Texas.

I refer to Texas Governor Rick Perry. The longest lasting governor ever for the Lone Star State is now turning to religion in his politics. He is calling for a Day of Prayer and Fasting for Our Nation, on Aug. 6. The date the bomb fell on Japan. Don't know if there is any connection with that 1945 event or not.

Bro. Perry, like numerous conservative Christians of the far-right, likes to quote the founding fathers and how they were such dedicated conservative Christian leaders. For example Perry uses a quote from Benjamin Franklin in which old Ben implored the framers to pray for guidance. The irreverent Old Ben did say lots of things, but his urging prayer at the Constitutional Convention to open with prayer never happened.

H.W. Brands, University of Texas historian, in his Pulitzer Prize finalist book ("The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin") says Franklin ask for prayer was a "psychological move more than anything else." According to Patricia Kilday Hart in the San Antonio Express-News, "It was mostly getting people like Alex Hamilton to admit there might be a higher intelligence than their own." If there were too many prayers going around it might frighten the public into believing they were desperate. "So the idea was quietly shelved," writes Isaacson.

Always get the context, not just the loose phrase that pleases you when you expound of the founding fathers. No one is missing the boat (on purpose) than self-proclaimed "historian" David Barton, the Aledo, TX, Republican activist and founder of WallBuilders, another of those pro-family groups who think America is going to the dogs.

For Perry to embrace Barton and his mis-guided views on history is to show once again that he is not the one to be caling for prayer. He is inviting all the governors of all America. Whose job is it to pray, anyway?

Hart also recounts how other presidents turned down appeals for national prayer. In the cholera epidemic in the 1830s, a group of Protestant ministers appealed to Andrew Jackson for a National Day of Prayer. Jackson did not see any reference to prayer in the Constitution so he told them to go back to their congregations and pray themselves. Why did he tell them that: It wasn't his job.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Integrity of messenger enhances the message

NOT TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY: God's message is enhanced and believable with messangers of integrity ! !

Family-founded church dynasties seldom last more than one generation. The latest evidence of that being the resignation and retirement of Rev. Robert H. Schuller, famous for his television “Hour of Power” and the beautiful Crystal Cathedral worship center.

Last October the Crystal Cathedral church filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. At the time of filing, the church owed $7.5 million to creditors. Not the best testimony for being good stewards of the Lord’s money. Not the best example of how to spread the Good News propounded by an unemployed carpenter (some say stone mason) from Nazareth.

According to the Religious News Service, The Crystal Cathedral has announced plans to sell its iconic glass-walled church in Southern California to pay back creditors and overcome bankruptcy.

The tall pastor Schuller built a mega church from a humble drive-in church service. I say “tall,” because at 6 feet 2 inches I had to look up to him when we met in Shanghai years ago. He was and probably remains one of the most positive and charming people you would ever want to meet.

Schuller’s Hour of Power television program is not only one of the longest-lasting, but one of the more respected family-owned Protestant religious gatherings.

When the founder Robert H. Schuller retired he did not bestow the preaching mantle on his son, Robert A. Schuller. This resulted in the son leaving the father’s church. Robert A.’s sister, Rev. Sheila Schuller Coleman, was made senior pastor and primary preacher. Neither of the siblings had the drawing power of the father. Crowds and offerings are not up to expectations.

The reorganization plan has Senior Pastor and Chief Executive Sheila Schuller Coleman receiving a salary of around $70,000 a year. The church also hired a chief financial officer for $300,000 a year. It cost a lot more to live in Southern California.
The Crystal Cathedral has been torn by controversy since the departure of Robert H. Schuller. Such is often the unfortunate situation with the demise of religious family dynasties.

The prominent ministry and organization of evangelist Billy Graham had a sixty year run. He and Ruth Graham’s children were normal kids and so are their grandkids; not involved in carrying the organization on. Graham’s example of a minister called for a special task during a special period of time is unique. He and his team still stand head and shoulders above any public ministry in the 20th century. Such is the great need for evangelism in the 21st century.

After Billy Graham’s son, evangelist Franklin Graham, recently questioned if Obama was a Christian, Dallas mega church pastor T.D. Jakes urged the young Graham to apologize.

Jakes said: "I wish [Franklin Graham] had the diplomacy of his father, who brought the gospel to people without being nuanced by politics because when you do those things you offend people that you are actually called to save and to serve, … and I would hope that he would see the rationale in apologizing for such statements – because if the president's faith is suspect, then all of our faiths are suspect, because the Bible is quite clear about what it takes to be saved and the president has been quite open about his accepting Christ and him openly confessing it before men."

Bishop Jakes knows whereof he speaks. In the history of American Christianity, no evangelistic team has had as long and as scandal-free a ministry as that of Billy Graham, Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea. These men were not setting up a dynasty. There was integrity in their method which advanced the integrity of the message. “I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy; for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:45)

Life Is A Comedy of Errors

“What America Needs” in an era that proves life is a comedy of errors.

UPDATE: As a reader points out in the comment thread of Dana Milbank, a Washington Post columnist, swore off writing about Ms. Sarah Palin for at least a month. The pledge went something like this:
“I hereby pledge that, beginning on Feb 1, 2011, I will not mention Sarah Palin – in print, online or on television – for one month. Furthermore, I call on others in the news media to join me in this pledge of a Palin-free February. With enough support, I believe we may even be able to extend the moratorium beyond one month, but we are up against a powerful compulsion, and we must take this struggle day by day.”

FURTHER UPDATE: As astute readers know, February, 2011, has long passed us by and the drought-ridden hot summer awaits those of us on the plains. While the former half-term governor of Alaska is still the hottest item in every newscast and entertainment segment available on television or in magazines.

I know not how the pledge-maker of last February is doing. Seems not to matter if reports of the Star of the North (S.P.) continue fluffily and brazenly showing herself as being possibly as smart as a fifth grader. It also shows an over-the-top or up-the-wall shame-faced ignorance of those who picture her as what America needs.

At one time folks thought Mae West was what we needed and on and on.

At one time all America needed was a five-cent cigar.

Cigars have disappeared and Mae West is but a life preserver and some still think America needs something.

MORE RECENT UPDATE: I will vote for “What America Needs” to be led by men and women dedicated to integrity, especially if they are running for some political office.

My vote goes to the person who does a good job, if just flippin’ burgers or cleaning sewers, or trimming trees, and the good job, however unpleasant makes other folks life easier.

My vote goes to those who after doing a good job do not have to go on television and tell us how humbly grateful for what they did. They do it and sit down, not expecting a gold chain or medal.

One thing I find hard to do these days is to stop writing about S.P. for she is so full of stuff we never expect a person would express so openly. Like when she was blessed by her pastor to take out demons. All that talk about President Barack Obama’s former pastor and never a word about this Alaska preacher S.P. was spiritually guided by. (Like many fundamentalist Christians S.P. believes humans and dinosaurs were on earth at the same time.)

FINAL UPDATE: How Mark Twain and Will Rogers would have had a field day had they lived with the rest of us in this glorious 21st century. They would have us rollin’ in the aisles as they humored us along.

If only William Dean Howells, the unsurpassed master of urbane comedy were with us today. His characters’ mutual misunderstandings in “Indian Summer,” make for an unrivaled comedy of errors.

Apparently life is more fun when seen as a comedy of errors. What America may need most of all is a good rockling sense of humor --- while revealing to us once again there is a real world out there—somewhere.