Trump, Evangelicals, and the Road Ahead

A very interesting and very truthful Christian view on one of our current political candidates and how he stacks up with traditional Christian views. This writing and a number of other things should prompt Christians to ask the hard question of whether or not Trump and his speech really represents the Christian qualities that folks claim to want in a candidate?

David F. Watson

In 1934, at the age of 28, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to a friend about an upcoming conference that would involve members of churches from several countries and denominations. In this letter, he wrote, “We must make it clear—fearful as it is—that the time is very near when we shall have to decide between National Socialism and Christianity. It may be fearfully hard and difficult for us all, but we must get right to the root of things, with open Christian speaking and no diplomacy. And in prayer together we will find the way.”[1] This was before the Holocaust began, before WWII began. But Bonhoeffer saw that one could not embrace the Christian faith and embrace the political tide of his nation that was so enamored with the Nazi party. The two simply were not compatible. On April 9th, 1945, he was executed for his part in the…

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Martin Luther King

So I wonder how many folks who posted quotes from King today really understand his theological/sociological views? How many are willing to go to jail or die to support them? Did you go do “service” today just to feel good about yourself or did you do it to establish a relationship with an organization and really try to change the community?

LGBT Issues in the Anglican Communion

As you might have read this past week, the Episcopal Church was sanctioned by the wider Anglican Communion due to its recent changes in acceptance and ordination of LGBT individuals. A report can be read here (New York Times) or you can do a search to find one of the hundreds of other reports. I think this is a highly telling event in the history of the Anglican Church and the wider Christian Church in general.

First, I do not believe this has come as a result of some kind of big lobby from the Archbishop of Canterbury. This has come from lobbying from the Anglican Churches in the Global South. In the NYT piece, it’s noted that the Bishop of Uganda walked out of the meetings. Given the general acceptance of LGBT individuals in the Church of England, there are reports about a transgender priest, it makes no sense that this comes from the Church of England. No, I believe this is coming from the large body of churches in Africa, Asia, and South America. In these places, having attended school with some African students, my general impression is that those who would be considered “conservative” on LGBT issues in America would be “liberal” in the extreme in many of these nations. This has significant implications for the global church.

There has been concern expressed, though maybe not publicly, in the United Methodist Church about this upcoming General Conference and how the African Conferences will react to potential changes on the UMC’s position on LGBT issues; this beyond issues that will be faced in America. While there can be no crystal ball for us to glance upon in order to try to get answers on all these issues, the conservatism seen in the Global South will likely complicate issues and proposed changes for global churches. It will also have an impact on those inclusive churches who would want to grow out into more global denominations.

This is a big issue for the various churches. American and European churches are expanding into the Global South and now those churches are finding themselves often at odds with the political, moral, and theological positions of those southern Churches. In the case of the Anglican Communion, the historical Church of England is still numerically superior in numbers to the rest of the church (when adding in churches in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Canada, and the USA even more superior) yet if one looks at the make-up of the Anglican Communion, the politics seem dominated by those churches in the Global South based on the number of voting Bishops. This should be something for other global churches to view with care. It will be interesting to see this summer how the Global South conferences work within the UMC General Conference.

The Global South is a huge power in the modern church. I’m not sure if the English, Western European, and American institutions are ready to truly acknowledge that fact.

Grace and Reconciliation

This was a very unique week. Strangely, I think I found a great deal of spiritual knowledge and development in professional wrestling this week. My best friend and I traveled to New Orleans this weekend for WrestleMania and all the events the surround that. Saturday night was the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. There were two very big stories with this that I believe can have theological meaning.
The first is a story of reaching out to someone and that someone coming back from a terrible situation. The second person to come out during the ceremony goes by the name of Jake Roberts, though that is not his real name. He goes through a reasonably brief chronicle of his life, talking about how he was unfaithful to every woman he ever knew, except for a wrestling ring which he compared to a lady, and that once he lost the physical ability to compete in wrestling, he turned to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of not being able to compete. He also said that he was often jealous of some of his friends who had died before him and often asked God why he was still here when all he wanted to do was die. He said that he didn’t want to commit suicide because of the additional pain it would cause his children. But through all this, a good friend of his reached out to him, helped him get back on track, and really recreate his life. He’s made amends with all of his children and the rest of the people he hurt over the years. Not to go too far in comparing Jake’s friend to Jesus Christ, but that really is something of an indication of how far Christ will reach for us. We are never too far gone down a path of self-destruction for God’s love to be available to us. It is always there and will always be there. This was a man who was determined to end his own life and be done with it all, but a friend reached out to him and quite literally saved him. That’s Christ, always there. But even closer to home, how much can I do personally to help someone who is in need? Well, given the situation, I don’t see why I couldn’t be just as much help to someone as Jake’s friend was to him. In fact, I strongly suspect that would be the Christ-like thing to do.
The last speaker at the Hall of Fame spoke a lot about forgiveness. His wrestling name is Ultimate Warrior and he legally changed his name to Warrior; this has become something of a running joke among fans. Warrior went into the Hall of Fame this year after basically not speaking to WWE leadership since about 1996. Warrior had several disputes with them over the years and one of the worst came when WWE produced a DVD about his career that was basically 2 hours of other wrestlers badmouthing him on camera. He came back with some fairly terse rebuttals. All in all Warrior was generally not well regarded for several years. However, late last year, that changed. Both sides came together, mended their past difficulties, and determined that Warrior would go into the Hall this year. Theologically, this is a good example that we should forgive each other of wrong doings and that we will never be satisfied if we are seeking vengeance against another. If we are unable to forgive others and move on from the situation, we will never have closure on that particular situation. Sometimes forgiveness is difficult, but it is almost always possible. Secondly, if we seek vengeance, there will never be satisfaction. I think that vengeance is something that we will never find enough of. We will continually seek it until it consumes us.
Finally, something that doesn’t have a happy ending. Three days after Warrior was inducted to the Hall of Fame he died. We really aren’t guaranteed anything. Not the rest of today, not tomorrow. All these theological teachings that float around, do I follow them? Do I live in such a way that dying tomorrow would be no problem? Can I do better? Nothing is promised to us on Earth. I sometimes forget that.
Strangely (or likely not) the reading this week in Intro to Theology was on salvation. What is salvation to us? What does it mean? To me, salvation is not about getting a big mansion on the big side of Heaven. Salvation, to me, is about taking on the name and mission of Jesus Christ and helping others, just as Christ did. I can be the person who reaches out to a friend who is in dire need of help. I can be the one who forgives even when it doesn’t seem like forgiveness is deserved. Theological lessons can come from many places, some of them quite unexpected. Certainly professional wrestling is as unexpected a place as one might ever find. But this week, I found a lot of spirituality in professional wrestling.

Comments: It’s interesting reading back through these. Talking about Warrior and forgiveness, I have come to see that forgiveness can mean many things and will not look the same for all people. As we see with this story, forgiveness also might not come quickly; in this case it took 17+ years. Also, I see my writing as being different now. I try to rarely refer to Jesus Christ as simply “Christ” because that’s not his name, but rather a title. So my preference now is to always call Jesus by his given name. Not that it’s wrong either way, I don’t suppose, just something that I have done.

Ask me in Ten Years and Politics in Church

So, as a preliminary comment here, this is the weekly reflection I most worried about posting when I started posting these each week. I didn’t know how I would edit the original text to fit into this format and still seem fairly friendly. I ended up just removing about a paragraph worth of stuff. Congregational politics are tough. Sadly, I think many church goers are apt to blame the victim when he or she stops attending church rather than taking a long look in the mirror and asking what caused them to leave. People, generally, don’t leave church for no reason. Some people find information about a church’s history and that causes them to leave; those are difficult situations. Some are wronged by other members of the congregation, yet we choose to blame the person who stops attending for being offended by the comments. “Well, he/she chose to be offended” some might say. And while that is true to a certain degree, there must still be some hard looking in the mirror to determine what went wrong. In this particular case below, a person was wronged in ways I won’t mention, he was shunned, and stopped attending. Yet many want to place blame on him for leaving even though he was wronged by a huge portion of the congregation. The details don’t really matter. It’s the concept. Ask why people leave the church…I just deleted a sentence…I was going to say, again, that “you” should look in the mirror to determine if you did anything to cause this person to leave, but then I remembered that you’re perfect and that you’d never under any circumstances do anything that would cause a person to leave church. So, don’t worry about looking in the mirror, just point some fingers and find out how everyone else caused this person to leave, and then make sure to place the blame back on the person who left because he dared by offended by your perfection.

OK, on to the original text…

I read some interesting passages in different books. The first passage was in James Cone’s Black Liberation Theology. I got a very strong through the chapter that I read that Cone was doing everything he could to change God into a 1970’s African-American. To me he was walking a very, very fine line of molding God into his own image rather than working to mold himself in God’s image. When we do that in our own lives, I feel like we start walking a dangerous path. I also suppose this is why there are so many different denominations out in the world. Each group interprets God just a little differently. The question, however, is whether or not denominations or individuals are trying to mold God into their personal theological image or if they are molding into His? I have to remind myself of this. God is not necessarily who I want Him to be. He is who He is and has always been. I have also had to try to separate my own personal views from my theological views.
Second, in my Christian Ethics class, we read about genetic embryo modification, in vitro fertilization, and other forms of “unnatural” pregnancy. One of the questions our professor asked was how would we deal with a person in our congregation or our lives who came to a different moral/ethical conclusion than we hold? This question is very relevant for me given that my goal is chaplaincy. I may have individuals come into my office seeking council who have very different ideas of what is moral or immoral. Within this context, I think I will have to recognize that my moral/ethical opinion really does not matter. It does not matter if I think a particular situation a person is going through fits into my definition of what is moral or immoral, so long as it does not violate any regulations or laws, of course. My job will be to make sure each person gets the help that he or she needs regardless of whether or not that persons moral/ethical standards line up with mine. That was the comment I made in the discussion online with the semi-humorous side comment about asking me in ten years how this approach has worked for me as a chaplain. I really hope that this is one of those ideal views I can hold onto and remember as I go about ministry. It doesn’t matter what I think is moral, it matters that I can give a person the help that he or she needs at a given time.
Keeping in line with this, I made another comment in that same class about how we must simply be someone who facilitates the Spirit guiding others. We are not able to cause a real conversion in someone, we simply have to give them the “water” so that they can drink it. But if they decide not to drink it, we simply have to keep providing for them until they make the decision to change. We have to show each person that we are there for them and care about them unconditionally.
Beyond this reading, I met with a man this week who has not been to church in several years. His reason for not coming is that he was driven off several years ago by a particular family in the congregation and how they treated him. [comments removed] This is really my first experience with how congregation politics can damage others. It really is quite sad to have to sit and listen to a story like the one I heard and not be able to do anything to change the local culture going forward. I wish there was more a I could do to change things.
It was very interesting how the different readings came together for me this week and how I can see how relevant those readings and principles will be for me in my ministry. I certainly think the ministry involves much more gray area than I had originally anticipated.

Week 3

This week I saw a very interesting mix of school and real life. In the Christian Ethics class I am taking, the material this week is on euthanasia. We visited a family who’s son suffered a gunshot wound to the head in November and is now paralyzed, can’t speak, and is minimally functional in a way that we might call normal. It is very interesting to deal with that as a real issue rather than some abstract concept. Now, this is not to say this family ever considered taking him off forms of life support, he seemed to be able to breathe on his own while we were there (he is stable enough to live at home). Nor am I trying to say that I would recommend what the discussion this week would have called passive euthanasia, that being stopping medical treatments necessary to prolong life. However, that does not mean, to be sure, that another family may not have considered that. It does not mean that a well-meaning physician or even, perhaps, a pastor would not have recommended they abstain from additional treatment at some point in time during the previous few months. Seeing ethical things like this in real life is interesting. Before the reading week, the topic was abortion. Thankfully, I did not have any first hand knowledge on one of those. But I have to sit and ask myself how will I deal with these issues once I am, hopefully, a chaplain somewhere?
Along these same lines, I met with the Navy chaplain on my base during the reading week. He and I discussed some professional development ideas and also talked about some of the unique aspects of military chaplain ministry. We talked about how some folks are “spiritual hypochondriacs” in that they always feel like something is wrong ,are always negative about life, and so forth. He told me with some real honesty that these people can be very difficult to deal with on a regular basis but that we have to be sure that their needs are being met. He also told a story about one of the most unique situations he’s dealt with. He was chaplain on a deployed ship a few years back and had a situation where a male member of the crew had sexually assaulted a female crew member. He said that on the first night he spent quite a long time in the hospital with the young lady who had been assaulted and the next day he had to go visit the young man in jail. Both of them were under his care and he had to help them both. He, again, was quite honest that this is something that would virtually never happen in the civilian counseling area, but is something that chaplains can have to work through. This was one of the more productive professional development conversations that I have had since beginning this journey.
Finally, I had to help on Thursday with some transportation of missionaries. I drove for an hour with this one good young man and it was interesting to hear him talk about things. Asking questions like “can we try to be too perfect and is that a bad thing?” Certainly I don’t really have the answer to that but my opinion is that, yes, we can try too hard to be perfect if it starts to take away from family and life in general. Our basic conversation on this was that you can try to be dedicated in following the commandments from God without trying to go well above and beyond in attempting to be perfect. He and I also talked about what he wants to do after his mission in life. He wants to be a doctor…noble career, but I find that virtually all folks who are serving want to be something like a doctor, dentist, lawyer, or upper business type. Though I would never say this to them I sometimes ask myself “doesn’t anyone just want to be a ditch digger?” Not literally a ditch digger, of course. Then again, I have to suppose that it depends on where they are from, most of the guys we have now are from urban areas in Utah (though this particular person was not) so have that mindset. I suppose a young man coming from rural Wyoming or somewhere like that would have a different idea of great work. Also, when I talk to these folks, my pride in my military service comes out. I almost always recommend folks try for military service because of the education finance benefits that come from what we do. I actually find this quite rewarding, giving brief counseling to these folks. I sometimes wonder if they even remember what I say (or perhaps if they even care) but I like to think that I have a reasonable amount of experience that I can share with folks. Hopefully they think I’m intelligent and find a little bit of value in what I say. This was certainly a good week for personal and professional growth.

Coming Together and Growing Apart

Continuing the Weekly Reflections from earlier in the year…
This week was interesting for me. I saw what I consider to be a rather significant breakthrough in myself and the concept of sin as I see it during a conversation with a friend. I also found out that one of the men we baptized late last year has effectively stopped attending church, though I have not yet found out exactly why that is the case. Also from Sunday I heard of a conversation with some of our leadership which fits in like with my opinion of the above mentioned member stopping attendance and it makes me glad that I left church early.
The basis for the conversation I had with my friend comes from a blog post I wrote about youth homelessness in the LGBT community in Utah. Roughly 40% of the teenage homeless population in Utah are both LGBT and self-identifying as from active LDS families. I said flat out that I feel like some of our lower level church culture, directly opposite of leadership teachings, is either directly responsible for this figure and if not directly, then responsible in an enabling role. It’s quite frankly a bad situation and I both do and do not wish I was out there to help. My friend, this was not a private conversation, it was posted on Facebook for the world to see, brings up his familiar point about acknowledging and condemning sin. He also brought up his go-to Bible passage, that of the woman taken in adultery. He always likes to whip on the final passage of ‘go and sin no more’ while basically skipping over the first part about casting stones. He believes that by my focusing on the final sentence that I do not want to acknowledge that sin is present. Over the course of the conversation, I eventually came to see, surely not an original view, that while Christ certainly admits that she was a sinner, he was willing to let them stone her to death after all, he forces them to admit that they are not perfectly clean either and they decide not to stone her. It really occurred to me that we can acknowledge sin without casting the stones at the person. We simply are not clean enough to cast those stones at another. Saying that something is a sin is completely different from saying it’s a sin and also casting someone off out of society. I had never really thought of it this way. In many ways this ties into something that I read this week in my Intro to Theology class, though I just thought about it right now as I am writing. In our book we read about something called a “principle of correlation” and part of this is that you are unable to receive answers through study if you are not asking questions. I had a question answered this week about sin. We can admit that something is a sin but still invite that person to our table as a friend. Admitting is not the same as condemning.
Secondly I had noticed for a few weeks that one of our newly baptized members had not been coming and for the few weeks before that he had been coming late. I asked the missionaries who had worked with him about it last night and apparently he has stopped returning their phone calls as well. This is the man I likened to Eeyore. I feel like two things have happened here; this is complete speculation right now, I will try and get some more facts this coming week about it. First, I feel like the missionaries tried to promise him that if he joined everything would just be “spring daisies and cinnamon.” I was slightly uncomfortable with this at the time and I have to wonder if my discomfort was correct. I feel like he was promised a great many things and those things either have not happened at all or he is in too much of a Eeyore mindset to see them. I’d like to be wrong in this, maybe he’s working three jobs every day of the week and is unable to come to church because of that, but I strongly suspect he feels like he’s been sold a load of garbage. Of course this fits in with my ever evolving concept of God as a being who is effectively unable to wholly deliver you from a situation but is able to give comfort during that situation. That seems to me to be a better message, but I don’t know. Second, I feel like we failed him as a congregation. We put this huge pressure on getting convert baptisms but them once they are baptized, we basically let them roam and do their own thing. I feel like once they see the true colors of the congregation and how we treat each other, they leave. It’s quite sad, really. I feel like I do everything that I can to make people feel welcome but there is only so much one person can do.
Finally, my wife told me today that she and her friend were talking and that there was a conversation during the third hour of our church services on Sunday that might have gotten rather heated. Apparently, a member brought up to some of the leadership that we have this huge push for new baptisms and converts but what are we doing to keep the people who are already coming? Certainly this goes right in line with what I just said about the man who stopped attending. I left after our primary worship service and did not attend Sunday School or the combined men/women’s group meeting (where the conversation happened) because my kids were being fussy. Looking back, I think perhaps God’s way of saying “you should probably leave now, stuff’s about to happen and you’ll say something unkind.” Maybe I am interpreting that wrong and they really needed to hear exactly what I might have said, but I feel like no matter how much they might have needed to hear it, they would not have wanted to hear it and would not have accepted any of it. I know it’s a poor attitude to have and I think it’s not as blunt as it seems typed in words, but I’m really glad I leave here in 3-4 months, biting my tongue every day only works for so long.
It was good to see how things came together this week. I feel like I really see the different in “seeing” sin and condemning it. I feel like I have seen the damage that making promises you can’t keep can do and it is a disservice to all parties involved. Finally I feel like I heard God speaking to me this week in a very strange, almost illogical way. Sometimes things happen and we don’t understand them. I’m becoming more and more comfortable with that and the thought that God can’t reach His hand down and deliver me from something, but he can give me the comfort to get through it and that is significant. I hope we can pass that on to more people (if it’s “correct” anyway).

Mormons and Disagreement

This writing comes from two separate conversations/thoughts. First, there is this idea that runs around that if one doesn’t agree with every single thing that the LDS Church teaches on every single matter, then that person is not a true Mormon. Second, I had a great conversation on the golf course a few days ago with a pastor from Texas and some of the ways that he described various things really stood out to me. Since the first point really needs no expansion or discussion, it simply stands on its own, I will talk more about my conversations with the pastor.
So, the way this particular conversation came up is that I asked him about an article that I had seen online where the writer of the article made it clear that he does not believe that the Presbyterian Church is a Christian church anymore because they are now open and accepting of homosexuals. In that same sense, the writer is also saying that churches like the MCC, UCC, and ELCA are not Christian either. The pastor said that he strongly disagreed with this line of thinking because Christianity is not, in his view, defined by one particular doctrine or sin, but that being Christian is defined by an affirmation of the Creeds. He noted that the creedal documents never mention homosexuality. I found this interesting and also very applicable to the LDS context.
Now, some are probably saying that we have no creeds. Yet, I believe that we do. At least we have one of them. That would be the Articles of Faith. In the Articles of Faith, we see our base definition of the Godhead, the organization of the church, priesthood, revelation, and other things. So, to me, if a person affirms those things that are in the Articles of Faith, he or she is a “Mormon.” What would make a person not Mormon? Well, if a person does not believe in the Atonement of Jesus Christ, that person is probably not “Mormon.” If a person does not believe in the three members of the Godhead, that person is probably not “Mormon.” If a person does not believe that God can speak to us and guide us today, that person might not be “Mormon.” These things are key factors in the definition of the LDS faith. However, I think other things have happened, at least among members.
It would seem that the definition of Mormon has been expanded to include all things related to any doctrine of the faith. Meaning we would say that if someone supports homosexual marriage then that person can’t, in good conscience, claim to be Mormon. If a person doesn’t believe that wearing white shirts to church has somehow been commanded of God and that white shirts must be worn every Sunday, then that person cannot claim to be Mormon. If you think thoughts and opinions like this do not exist, just go troll around on some of the Mormon Facebook pages or blogs. This stuff is out there. If you drink coffee or smoke a cigar, you can’t call yourself a Mormon.
Now, I want to make sure I am clear here, I’m not trying to say one way or another that any of these previous beliefs or actions are right or wrong. I’m not trying to say that following commandments isn’t a profession of faith and a sign that we believe things. But I am saying that one single commandment, or even several of them, are not what makes one “Mormon” or not. Someone could be a homosexual who drinks a pot of coffee a day but believe in the statements contained in the Articles of Faith and still in good conscience consider himself or herself a Mormon. Certainly a debate would be had as to whether a person who drinks a pot of coffee a day is a “good” Mormon, because he or she is obviously breaking a commandment, but that single commandment is not what determines whether one is Mormon. Perhaps we should keep this in mind when thinking about what makes a person Mormon or not. And, as always, this is simply my opinion. Peace be with you.