Category: Apologetics

Apologetics

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How Soon Will the #UMC Split?

Annual Conference is just around the corner. I'm excited, mainly because I will be comissioned as a probationary elder this year – something that has been nearly 10 years in the making. I will also be taking a new appointment shortly thereafter. It's an exciting time.

Unfortunately, the upcoming Annual Conference season has caused many in the UMC blogosphere to turn their attention to the incipient rumblings of a schism.

Dr. David Watson – Academic Dean at United Theological – wrote this thought-provoking piece.

John Lomperis – IRD director of UMAction – wrote about a group who claims schism has already happened in theory.

Joel Watts questions – among other things – the witness of a church that would schism.

To be sure, there are other things over which a church split could be fought. However, the ideological extremes (isn't is telling that phrase is germane to the discussion?) appear willing to pull the church apart over the issue of LBGT inclusion into the life of the community of faith. Since the 1970's, this issue has been pulling at the edges of the denomination – fraying and tattering the fabric of the church.

In the meantime, the culture has not stopped it's slow-but-sure turn away from the church. We are all aware that the Western church as a whole – not to mention the UMC – has spent the last 5 decades in decline. Each of the ideologically opposed sides has spent considerable amounts of time blaming each other for it, or they will point to their own numeric success as proof that their side has the market on righteousness cornered.

The fact is that the church's multi-decade, numeric decline has much more to do with cultural shift and the church's refusal to respond in kind, than it does with how the church acts on this issue. Yes, the church's stance on issues of LBGT concern effect the church's witness in the world, but church renewal folk will tell you we have bigger fish to fry.

In my opinion – and the opinion of many others – schism would only further kill the church's witness.

I spoke about the frayed edges of the fabric of the denomination. However, there is a vast middle. In this vast middle lives the majority of the denomination. These people see the same disagreements everyone else does, and they probably have their own opinions on this and other issues – with varying degrees of passion ascribed to them. What they see, however, is their local congregation and the communities into which they must minister.

Those in this vast middle see the ministry that needs to be done, and not their pet ideological issues for which they need to doggedly advocate. They are congregations who tend to be more conservative, being led by pastors who tend to be more progressive – or vice versa – and they see opportunities for ministry. They are communities of faith, and they understand that our minor disagreements over pet issues should not overshadow the vital ministry they could do together.

How much more effective and vital could our ministry be if we learned to live and love together? Could our disagreements be used to enliven our community, instead of being used as a way to divide it? Could we make ministry about the love and grace of God, and not about how we've learned to deny it to each other?

Even with General Conference being a couple of years away, there are rumblings of a schism proposal (or two) being floated around. It won't pass this quadrennial or next, but there are plenty of us who hear these rumblings and think it could be sooner rather than later.

I prefer never.

What do you think?

 

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Pope Francis Is Bringing “Traditional” Christians Back to Christianity @Pontifex

Pope Francis I, shortly after being elected as pontiff

As if on que, “traditional” Christians and their respective news sources raced to their computers – in order to quell their own fears that the first South American Pope was pulling the rug out from under their feet.

They have a point.

In my post from yesterday, I praised the Pope for calling out “traditional” Christians and their dogged obsession with what happens in people's bedrooms. His point was not to change Catholic doctrine concerning the LBGT community, abortion and the like, but to say that Christians are making themselves obselete by hatefully obsessing over the same social issues.

Since the Sexual Revolution of the 1960's – at least in America – Catholics and evangelicals have been obsessively fighting the advance of people's rights, especially in there areas. In a mostly hateful fashion (I use that adjective unapologetically), Christians have fought, wailed, whined and cried “Persecution!” whenever they don't get their way in these matters.

I still hold that it is this and other of their actions that contribute greatly to the church's decline over the last 10 years.

Anywho…

In a statement I thought I wouldn't hear for quite some time, The Christian Post correctly points out that Francis hasn't changed church doctrine – neither has he indicated as much.

So, what's the big deal, then?

Francis has sought to change the church's tone on matters such as these. If alien life forms set foot on our little rock – and looked at the actions, demonstrations and sermons in the typical Catholic or evangelical church today – they would be forgiven for thinking that the only issues that matter to this population segment are the cultural hot-buttons. All Francis is doing is saying the church has been doing it wrong.

In my opinion, really, really, REALLY wrong.

So, then, why are so many people warming to this Pontiff?

He's a straight shooter, grace-filled listener and honest arbiter in the conversation. Far too much of the debates surrounding our cultural hot-buttons are dominated by religious conservatives screaming to get their way, then crying “persecution” when it doesn't.

Francis calls all Christians to be more grace-filled, and to practice much less toolbaggery.

So, traditionalists, rest easy and don't have another conniption over Francis increasingly grace-filled words. You can rest easy, because he still believes like you.

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White, Male Pastor Responds to @GOPBlackChick

Before today, I had never heard of Crystal Wright. That was until the Christian Post published an op-ed by her, entitled Unlike Dr. King, Obama is Not Black.

In case you are wondering, no, I'm not kidding.

The title of the article is what drew me in – which was the point. The article doesn't really live up to the über-inflammatory title, though it does go off the deep-end.

It is, of course, what you'd expect from a conservative person who has decided anything from this president must be – in the words of Kathy Bates in The Waterboy – “ub da debil.” However, more specifically, Wright takes aim at the themes of race and how the POTUS has “used” and/or responded to them. As you'd expect, there is nothing positive to be found.

Essentially, her editorial remarks come down to this:

Sadly, dignity is far removed from discussions on race today. After a jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin in cold blood, Obama blamed Martin's death on racial profiling…[r]ather than acknowledging black men are committing most of the killing in America, Obama continues to feed blacks the lies they want to hear to keep the support of his most loyal, blind constituents. After all when it comes to Obama and blacks, it's about the color of his skin not the content of his character.

Not only are these things inflammatory, almost none of them are true.

First, the only real conclusions that can be drawn from the verdict on Zimmerman is that Florida's gun laws are far too lax and George Zimmerman ignored police advice and followed an innocent, black teenager in the middle of the night. Oh, and there's some pretty damning tape of George Zimmerman's thoughts about how “they always get away.”

Second, Wright chooses to ignore the actual things POTUS has said on race, or what he's said when addressing the issues within the black community. Though this is a quote from yesterday's speech, it is indicative of the way Mr. Obama has addressed black Americans during his presidency (note the dignity in this particular quote):

 

 

Rather than placating blacks with reasons they should remain in a constant state of victimhood, the above quote speaks to the opposite effect.

In addition to that:

 
Again, rather than calling blacks to continued victimhood or to be permanent wards of the state, the implication is that one must actually do something in order to change their circumstances.

As I've said in previous social media engagements, the clever misuse of facts can make anybody's case – and that's what we're dealing with here.

Unfortunately, the issue of race – especially since the passage of the '64 CRA – has gotten more complicated. That is, finding broad swaths of racists or racism is difficult to do nowadays. As I told someone on Facebook yesterday, “It doesn't look like racism because it's done from afar and is based loosely on facts.”

Certainly, strides have been made on the issue of race. However, that does not mean racism has ended – nor does it mean that it doesn't still need to be identified and weeded out of the shadows.

Racists have become a savvy lot. The shining example remains when Regan identified “welfare queens in Cadillacs,” but code words and misused and misunderstood statistics have become the weapon of the racially biased.

What Wright does in her piece is to apply the GOP formula of “everything about Obama is bad,” and add in the digs on race. She added nothing new to the discussion, and nothing that we didn't hear from any number of black conservatives on August 28th, 2013 – disappointingly, I might add.

My belief isn't that you can't be black and conservative, but that you can't talk about events and twist them in a way that meets your ideological needs. This is the problem with Wright's article.

Now, I'm a white guy. I'm also a pastor. I'm a white, male pastor. Why do I choose to blog about this?

Having been a history major at Ball State University – and having taken classes specifically on the black experience in America – it has become far too easy to see when people are choosing to gloss-over the more painful and disgusting portions of our history.

Glenn Beck and his lackey, David Barton, are the best at it.

The trick is to appropriate all the “pick myself up by my bootstraps” and “rugged individualism,” while dismissing and ignoring important facts about the poor and marginalized. Unless it speaks to American Exceptionalism – which has become a dangerous and idolatrous religion for too many people – it has no place in our history, nor does it belong in our collective conscious, according to people like Beck and Barton.

Race is still a problem in this country. Not only in this country, but it still exists here. As a product of my faith, I believe it is the job of people like me – and people who are unlike me – to persist in the march for social justice.

I don't care if that phrase has come into disrepute in certain circles, I will always believe in the importance of social justice. The issue of race is still in need of attention, even when it comes to social justice.

Someone left me a wonderful and beautiful comment on Facebook yesterday. It is written by a friend and colleague in ministry. I treasure it. I wanted to share it with you, because it speaks in direct opposition to the unwise and misguided words of the aforementioned CP contributor:

Chris, I have appreciated your posts and support in regards to racism, (particularly towards black people) since we've become fb friends. I continue to appreciate it. It is so healing to have racism not only acknowledged (named) by a white person, but, understood (so to speak). The fact that you have educated yourself about the history of racism in this country speaks volumes during a time when everyone is suddenly, “color blind” and “so over it.” I pray that those who read your posts will understand, as you seem to, the deep wounds that racism has caused us as a people, and more, to the human race and that it will help some of us to work more closely and purposefully towards healing them. God bless you my friend and brother.

The wounds of racism are still real and raw for many. In part, that is the reality because racism is still alive and well in our country – despite people's desire to deny it.

The good news is you don't have to agree that something exists for it to actually exist (lucky for us Christians, huh?), so Wright's article isn't all that big a deal. However, in the wake of #MLKDream50, let's not faulter in continuing to seek out the dream.

We've made some strides, but let's not mistake that for a job well done.

 

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Are App Developers Persecuting Christians?

The iPad Mini

I love my iPad!

Here's a list of things I do with my iPad: prepare my sermon, write my sermon, deliver my sermon, waste time, return parishioner emails, waste time, chat with ministerial colleagues, complete seminary assignments, run a Facebook page dedicated to expressing United Methodism through the meme, and waste a little time.

With all the things I get accomplished on my iPad – including, admittedly, wasting just a smidgen of time – I completely forgot that Satan was also working on my iPad.

I forgot, that is, until Tim Challies reminded me. Mr. Challies is a Christian apologist in the reformed tradition. I am familiar with his work from the time I spent listening to something called Wretched Radio. This radio show – hosted by someone called Todd Friel – is also commanded by an understanding of God in the reformed tradition.

The show grew out of a ministry headed by Kirk Cameron (yes, that one) and a New Zeleander named Ray Comfort. Essentially, they believed it was their mission to seek out those who knew the least about their faith, and call them “lying, thieving, blasphemous adulterers at heart.” Di-rect quote. It also made nearly everyone look like a biblically illiterate nincompoop.

They are also big fans of Ken Ham – the Creation Museum guy. Which I hope, one day to visit – sarcastically, of course.

Essentially, for those not familiar with reformed theology and what it is, nothing has value if it didn't come directly from scripture.

And that's about it.

Anyway, Mr. Challies article got my attention. In his “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Apps?,” Challies gives a short-if-unhelpful review of some of the most content-rich, premium apps for your moblie devices. Including The Elements: A Visual Exploration (a very visually and intellectually stimulating look at the Periodic Table of the Elements) and Poems by Heart (an app that helps you memorize poetry).

His argument goes like so many others who can't seem to find enough of their faith being mirrored back to them in the popular culture. First, God isn't given any credit in any of the more scientific apps. Second, Christian app developers aren't doing enough to honor God. His closing arguments go like this:

People are increasingly gravitating to their tablets to learn new things and to discover new experiences. Yet the best of the apps are not achieving the best of purposes in directing hearts and minds to the God who created and sustains it all. Christians should be the ones leading the way in exploring the planets and the atoms; Christians should be the ones exploring God's gift of music and language. I want this to be a call to Christian app developers to explore, exploit and master this new medium. Look at these apps, and see the possibilities!

He says this as if Christians are always ready and willing to explore science in the way God designed our brains to discover things we don't yet fully understand.

The most troubling aspect of Mr. Challies article is the fact that he believes that if it isn't directly attributed to God, it (whatever “it” might be) is automatically “the Devil.”

That's not how “it” works.

One of our most sacred duties is to praise God whenever we can. However, the fact that our iPad apps don't directly attribute anything and everything to God is no indication that “it” is of the Devil.

Personally, I believe we too often use the Devil as a crutch to excuse away our smaller or more incredible personal failings.

So, you might notice the title of this post has very little to do with the content of it. Essentially, Mr. Challies article does the same thing – which is why you're reading this article now.

And now you're done:)

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Is @JohnLomperis “Skeevy” or “Hateful?”

"Irony" ft. John Lomperis

 

Before today, I wouldn't have characterized the IRD's UM Action Director John Lomperis as “skeevy” or “hateful.”

That was before today.

For, you see, I've read his latest diatribe against his fellow creatures of sacred worth in the LBGT community.

In response to Arizona laws that discriminate against and criminalize the behavior of transgender brothers and sisters who identify as a sex other than the one they were born with – by preventing them from using public bathrooms according to the sex they identify with – the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church passed a resolution stating the following:

  1. the Desert Southwest Annual Conference and the United Methodist

  2. 42 Churches of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference make the public statement that our

  3. 43 Churches and facilities (building, gathering spaces and bathrooms) are safe places for all

  4. 44 regardless of gender identity and that transgendered people may use the bathroom of their

  5. 45 choosing in our churches and affiliated buildings.

As you can see, this policy is designed to treat with dignity all of God's people – not just the ones people like John Lomperis are weirded out by.

Mr. Lomperis, however, decides it isn't enough to say he disagrees with it – he has to demean an entire class of people to get his point across.

Such an “open bathrooms” policy is ripe for abuse by a few perfectly heterosexual, non-gender-identity-disordered, perverted individuals who now seem to have an invitation in Desert Southwest UMC congregations to go into the opposite sex’s bathroom. If anyone questions them, they simply need to claim (perhaps with a sarcastic smirk) that they identify with that sex, at least that day. The resolution suggests no safeguards or concerns for such abuses.

Any church worth anything already has a “safe sanctuaries” policy that is designed to deal with such individuals to which he refers. In other words, it's a non-starter and an attempt to emotionally manipulate the reader into siding with him.

Along with using dog-whistles such as the term “gender-bending,” Lomperis just takes his shot (by lumping transgendered individuals into the same category with heterosexual abusers) at anything with which he doesn't personally agree – pretty skeevy, if you ask me.

He even tries to co-opt the argument of an LBGT activist to mislead his readers (a tactic he isn't new to, as you will see me address in the closing paragraph of this Huffington Post piece).

Overall, his piece demonstrates just how hateful he and his ilk can be when they try to approach an issue that both upsets them and weirds them out.

The policy he rails against is designed to treat all persons with dignity. His attempt to pervert the idea or make it into something it isn't shows just how weak his argument truly is.

P.S. Lomperis is likely to treat this type of article as a badge of honor, rather than criticism he should listen to, so I don't ever really expect a reply. The fantasy of living as some type of martyr is very appealing to the conservative, evangelical elite.

 

@eJoelWatts & Myself Respond to @JohnLomperis on @HuffPostRelig

A quick post to direct you to a response I penned with Joel. John Lomperis of The Institute on Religion & Democracy wrote a Washington Post op-ed, and we believe it is woefully incorrect.  

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Joel is Right, but Needs Further Clarification

The Cross, the Church and the Flag

My friend, Joel, posted an interesting theory about the decline of the mainline church and the anti-intellectual streak within evangelical mainline enclaves.

How much better would we be if we had taught questioning our faith instead of absolute intellectual surrender when the New Atheists and Ken Ham arrived?

Essentially, he suggests that this “intellectual surrender” has forced the church to surrender credibility in order to maintain uniformity of thought. When a person with a question is told to “just believe” or that their question represents a lack of faith, why wouldn't that questioner find somewhere else to be? This is my paraphrase, but I think this is what he's saying.

I believe his theory to be correct, but insufficient.

We in the church must, first, disabuse (this word not used accidentally) ourselves of the notion that commercial success and the American Dream are synonymous with faithful Christianity.

They're so not.

They may even be the antithesis.

However, those who foster an unquestioning faith tend to experience the greater numeric church success.

Unless these ideas are separated by as much ground as we can get between them, the numeric success experienced by anti-intellectual evangelicalism will motivate the defense of the status quo – and his theory will wither on the vine.

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Persecution Schtick Makes Christians Look Like Dopes – @TheIRD

A screen-grab from the 'Fortnight for Freedom' website

A screen-grab from the ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ website

 

If it weren’t for @TheIRD, I would have no idea what the above event is.  I’m talking about Fortnight for Freedom – an effort by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to bring attention to what they feel is a war on religious liberty.

There is, of course, no war.

At all.

It.

Doesn’t.

Exist.

That hasn’t stopped the USCCB from creating this event from whole cloth.  What is it?  It’s a two week event that begins today, and ends on July 4th – which isn’t heavy-handed in the least.

Independence Day.  Get it?

What does @TheIRD have to do with it?  Nothing.  They just featured a blog post from one of their interns about it.  The thing is, @TheIRD uses any excuse to add another layer to the myth – yes, myth – that religious liberty in this country is under attack.

It has become no more than a schtick to them – or any of their ilk.  The phony cries of a “war on religious liberty” are more often fundraising pleas, than actual concern for actual instances of incursions on those who seek religious liberty.

Whenever some semi-prominent religious person is shouted down by someone with a differing opinion – or some small town nativity scene is forced to move from city hall to the church grounds – certain Christians hit the airwaves to cry foul.

It also doesn’t help that pompous media figures posing as journalists bring the offended parties on their FOX News shows and ask questions to get answers that aren’t actual journalism – but shilling to a particular population subset.

Why does this persecution schtick make us look like dopes?

This story from Patheos recounts 6 recent stories of actual persecution against Christians in portions of the world where Christians face actual opposition.

American Christians are so spoiled and weak.  Is it any wonder that the church continues it’s decline, considering that a mere disagreement with a Christian is construed to be an attack on religious liberty?

It seems silly to have to explain this, but your First Amendment rights mean you have the right to say what you want.  It also means that others have the right to say what they want.  Free speech rights do not protect you from people saying they disagree with you.

When we don’t act like we understand that, we look like dopes.

Now, the Fortnight for Freedom has more to do with the USCCB’s snit with HHS over reproductive issues. It’s still not a war on religious liberty.  It’s figuring out that your religious rights stop at someone else’s reproductive system.

So, I mean, come on.  Let’s act like adults who understand that we don’t always get our way, and not petulant children who throw fits when we don’t.

*dismounts soapbox*

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Oh Yeah, @rickygervais? Well, I Won’t See Your Movies Anymore

Tweet from @rickygervais

 

I am a fan of this man's work on the big and small screen.

I love both the US & UK versions of 'The Office.' I love his tiny roles in the 'Night at the Museum' movies. And even though it has a slightly anti-Christian message, I love 'The Invention of Lying.' In fact, I ink that movie was brilliant.

But I'm growing tired of his distinctly negative view of Christianity.

Yeah, much of Christianity has and continues to treat atheists – such as he is – like less than dirt. It's laughable how their arguments against atheists can so easily be made about them. I often find myself agreeing with many of the quips and retorts atheists make against my Christian brethren.

However, Ricky Gervais has used up all the good will I'm willing to give.

One of his latest rants was the gem pictured above.

I'm guessing he's avoided Satanists because of the sheer lack of them. I would also venture to guess that there might just be more Pentecostal, Lesbian UCC members (yeah, that's a thing) than there are Satanists.

Additionally, I've never heard Ricky speak an ill word against Satan.

It could exist, but it's the “Unicorn that farts glitter” of Ricky Gervais tweets.

The problem with Ricky Gervais – and others like Hitchens (God rest him) and Bill Maher – is the very large and largely ignorant brush with which they paint people of all faiths. That's the point where their idea of “tolerance” looks exactly like the intolerance they purportedly hate so very much.

I won't say I'll never see another one of his movies or TV shows. However, it is safe to say I won't be seeking out anything by him.

Thanks for reading.

 

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SERMON from 5-5-13: “Those Who Love Me…” (VIDEO)

This is my first attempt to record and share a sermon on YouTube. It will not be the last.

I appreciate your patience as I tweak the sermon podcast to make it more visually and audibly appealing.

 

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