Thursday, July 30, 2015

Vote Pandering in GA

So the speaker of the GA House of Representatives wants to make sure no clergy is forced to perform any gay weddings. Ok. But let’s be clear: the law already protects clergy from being forced to perform any wedding, and no house of worship is ever required to allow its facilities to be used in a manner it doesn’t want.

This is vote pandering, plain and simple.

Let’s get some examples from history here.

Remember when women won the right to vote? No? Well, many churches – particularly those in the South – were opposed to women participating in the electoral process. In fact, many churches didn’t even allow their women to participate in the voting systems in church matters. Few women were in ministerial positions and I personally know of several churches where even today women are not permitted to speak in the church’s business meetings. And the cry of that time was that if women were allowed to vote in civil matters, then the government would force churches to have women preachers, deacons, elders, etc. Never happened.

Then there was Prohibition with the fundamentalist religious groups leading the charge to keep the Liquid SIn out of the hands of all people – people who would be captivated by its seduction and immediately place them in the fast lane of the highway to hell. These religious groups yelled loudly that if Prohibition were repealed, it would be only a matter of time before churches would no longer have the option to preach against the dangers of Beelzebub’s Brew; that Uncle Sam would be in league with Satan so that no member could be disciplined for drunkenness. Never happened.

And how could we forget the end of segregation! Many Southern Baptist churches (and I’m certain other denominations did this too) claimed that when school segregation and other Jim Crow laws were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the logical next step would be churches forced to integrate their membership. Never happened. Even today, 60 years after the Civil Rights Act passed, Sunday morning at 11AM is the most racially segregated hour of the week.

How about a very similar Supreme Court ruling: Loving v VA, where interracial marriage could no longer be outlawed by the individual states. This case was identical to the gay marriage ruling as far as the application of the 14th amendment. The screams of outrage and the predictions of doom, are the same as we hear today regarding gay marriage. Pastors were convinced they would now have to perform weddings they believed God didn’t bless (after all, Jesus may have died for all, but that doesn’t mean He saw All People as equal, right?) Churches claimed they would be forced to open their doors to interracial couples who wanted a church wedding. Many charged that their freedom of religion was being trampled on and there would be lawsuits against clergy and churches. Never happened.

Why did were no lawsuits against pastors or churches over these examples? Because churches and their religious leaders are protected by the 1st amendment and government may not decide matters of doctrine or practice, nor force actions onto a religious group. Can’t do it.

The very idea that a pastor would be forced to perform a religious ceremony, or that a church would be mandated to give use of its facilities is simply absurd and without any basis whatsoever. None.
Now there are some caveats here. If a pastor is running a business where performing religious ceremonies is part of the business, then that is a different story. A business – complete with a tax ID, business license, advertising, etc. – is subject to the law just like any other business, and in those states where sexual orientation is a protected class, then a clergy member cannot discriminate. However, that is a major distinction: a wedding business is far different from a clergy member performing a wedding as one part of her many religious duties. The same would be true of a religious organization / church that has a facility marketed for weddings. If the organization is running a business, then it is subject to the rules just like any other business. Granted, there may be instances where this is a really grey area since many religious organizations have wedding venues that are quasi-business, but that have to be decided by the courts later on with specific circumstances. Of course, there is an easy fix for these churches / organizations: don’t comingle faith and for-profit practice.

There have been no lawsuits over this, much less any court rulings against pastors. Massachusetts legalized gay marriage more than a decade ago and not a single lawsuit. Not any lawsuits in any state for that matter, has forced any pastor to perform any wedding she didn’t want to perform. None. Not just any gay wedding, but any wedding whatsoever. A pastor may simply say “no” and that is that.

This is just a maneuver by David Ralston to play to the masses who are ignorant on these matters. It is nothing more than playing on the fear and emotions of people in order get votes.

Shameful, David Ralston. Shameful. This would be a good time for you to show leadership and just speak some truth – that this Pastor Protection Bill is just not needed and a waste of time. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Southern Baptist Convention and Refusing to Move

Al Mohler is not exactly someone I would consider in line with my thinking. In fact, I think it is safe to say that Al Mohler and I are very different and rarely agree on much of anything except the fundamentals of the faith. Without question; we disagree.

So when Mohler says something that I agree with, it's big.

Mohler recently said that no church or minister will be compelled to marry a gay couple should gay marriage become the law of the land. He's right. Many states have legalized same-sex marriages and there have been no cases where a minister or church has been sued for refusing. A church and / or minister are free to set those parameters for themselves and it is a protected right in the First Amendment. So there is no reason to think nationally anything would change if same-sex marriage is allowed.

Then Mohler made a great statement that is worthy of consideration.

The real danger is we’re going to pay an enormous social, cultural price for not doing a same-sex ceremony….We’re going to be considered to be morally deficient. Let’s admit it: We’re much more accustomed to being accused of being morally superior. They’ve said we’ve been ‘stand-offish,’ meaning better than them. Now a large part of this culture thinks we are morally deficient. And we’re going to find that’s a very different way to do ministry.

Exactly. The SBC is already considered backward in theology, but when it is considered homophobic and in support of institutional discrimination, the view changes to being one of immorality.

That's right. The SBC is now viewed by the majority of people not as being steadfast in our convictions, but as being completely stuck in the discrimination of yesteryear, hiding behind the cloak of religion as an excuse. Rationalizing bigotry with faith statements won't convince anyone to listen to our massage --- not tomorrow, not ever.

Society has moved past such ignorance and unfairness.

Unless the SBC re-thinks it's interpretation of the related passages, the image being presented is not Christ-like but Un-Christ-like.
It is one thing to be consider irrelevant; it is another to be considered immoral.

And the SBC has shot itself in the foot once again.


Former Judge Amanda Williams Facing the Music

Couldn't happen to a nicer lady. Really. What a first class heffer she is!

Can't wait to see the outcome. Finally some justice for the people she treated like dirt.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

About RFRA

So Matthew throws this party. A big party. Lots of people with sordid pasts and even more scary presents were there. Matthew was not the best guy to bring home to Mom anyway, being the lowest of lows 'cause of his work with the Romans in the Extortion Called Taxation racket. Bet a lot of Drama Queens were there, too. But that carpenter from Nazareth fellow - who had begun an itinerant preaching tour recently - also attended. Mark (on his 2nd page of the story) briefly mentions that the Self-Righteous Pharisees questioned how that Jesus guy could violate his religious teachings by going to that party. Didn't that new comer to the Faith know that going to that party was like he was condoning their actions?

That carpenter pulled a quick wit out of word-toolbox to hammer home the point to the Pharisees: "I don't deal with the people that think they are religious, but the people that are capable of hearing what I have to say."

I bet that Jesus fellow brought a cake and flowers to celebrate, don'cha think?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How the West was Won with Religious Liberty

Excellent chapter!

Religious Liberty didn't emerge in the West set-in-stone as we have it today. It evolved. It went back and forth. It was messy. It was dangerous. It was a radical idea for the early 17th century Baptists as Thomas Helwys with his 1613 "Mystery of Iniquity" found out. People who espoused the idea of religious liberty were met with derision, persecution, scorn and death. But that idea evolved from earlier ideas and was a pragmatic approach with a theological discipline. That radical notion took nearly 200 more years to be crystallized in the first phrase or the first sentence of the first amendment, something that were it not for Baptists - particularly John Leland - may never have found a foothold in the Bill of Rights. From there the idea spread and was the basis of most Civil Rights laws in the US. But it was in the West that religious liberty matured over 400 years. It was not just the battle between faith and non-faith, or Christianity verses other faiths; it was the battle within Christianity itself. The West has gone through this fight and settled on religious liberty. The Eastern cultures have yet to do that. Until the Muslim world (and Hindu and all other cultures / governments centered around a faith idea) go through this same 400 year struggle the then-Christian West did, there will be serious strife.

History is a good guide in this regard, and an even better gauge as to the outcome.

Chapter 1 -- How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West by Perez Zagorin

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Greece Decision

Baptist Joint Committee: Legal and practical implications of Town of Greece v. Galloway

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (home page) has a good analysis of the Greece Decision. While Baptists for nearly 350 years opposed government sanctioned prayer onto anyone as a matter of theology and secular liberty, the last 30 years has seen a significant shift in that position, a shift that coincides with the politicization of faith. The next 50 years will see either: 1) an eventual vindication of the dissent penned by Kagan; or 2) the Christian community backtracking on their affirmative position to this ruling as other faiths begin to exert their right to have their prayers on the Christian taxpayer's dime.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Death At Death's Door

It's hard for me to accept what happened in OK last night. It's even harder to hear what people are saying about it.

Clayton Lockett committed a violent, horrible crime. No one denies this. He admitted it.

And he was sentenced to death. In my estimation, he deserved it, too.

What he didn't deserve was: 1) the way we administer capital punishment in the US; 2) the cocktail used in OK; and 3) the ultimate means by which he died.

Let's set some ground rules about the discussion of capital punishment. First, I don't think many would argue there are some crimes so heinous that death is the best -- most just -- response. (If your conscience sways you otherwise, I have no problem with that as it is your right to work to that end as part of the national policy.)

Second, there is zero argument that there is a racial and economic disparity in America over who gets tried, convicted and sentenced as part of a death penalty case. So if you're poor or a minority, you're pretty much gonna rank at the bottom of the Justice Ladder under, say, a Wall Street banker that nearly caused the world's economic system to collapse by taking advantage of unsophisticated investors with complex and dangerously-flawed products designed solely to make money for the bank and -- eventually -- rip everyone else. As of today, not a single person has been charged for that, something that killed real livelihoods, real dreams, real families, real jobs and in some cases real people that killed themselves or delayed medical care to the point of harm. But, hey, the Apostle James warned us of the wealthy who take advantage of the poor for personal gain under the guise of good business.

So, while I have no problem with the death penalty being just, I do have a problem when it looks like most of the people who receive the ultimate sentence do so because of something as arbitrary as race and money. Yes, money talks and money buys privilege but our system should not give the completely obvious appearance of such an evil. Sadly, it does.

What bothered me about the OK event was the way in which Lockett died. It was a cocktail solution that didn't kill him: it tortured him. It was inhumane.

So? He is an animal! He deserved it!
A bullet would have been cheaper and quicker!
What about the victim? He should have died as she died!
Who cares? He was sentenced to die and this will be a message to criminals!

All of those responses sadden me. As a human being, I really cannot imagine that a human being will feel that way as a matter of policy. Yes, I would be angry to the point of wanting to kill the guy myself had it been my daughter, but that wouldn't make my feelings right. As a matter of policy, I have to think beyond myself.

See, I know that we make mistakes. We get the wrong guy. Our prejudices get in the way. Innocent people are often convicted. Death is the ultimate means of depriving someone of liberty and we don't do that lightly.

That is why the process is set up to take a long, long time: mistakes here are more than an oopsie and can't be fixed with an apology and money.

But in the end, we are better than the way Lockett died. Our society cannot prostitute its soul on the altar of revenge, applauding such an awful way for someone to die. We have to maintain humanity even for inhumane crimes. We have to be kind even in the unkind act of administering death. We have to act morally no matter what.

We cannot. We cannot become the very thing we find repugnant in the criminal.

We are better than that. We have to be.

We just have to be.

Botched Execution - CBS News

The Horrific Crime - The Mirror (UK)

Questions About the Execution - NPR News

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Resurrection:" An All-to-Familiar Show

I've been watching ABC's "Resurrection" since its premier. Not bad. I actually like it. I know, I know ... it's a little like "Lost" that keeps everyone guessing (and a little ticked off). And, yes, it is based on the French TV series "The Returned" but I don't care about any of that. I'm interested in -- and enjoy watching -- the development of the society around the people who have returned from the dead. The "why" and "how" will be up to the writers and I'm sure they will, in due course, explain all that. What has fascinated me is the response of the community to the circumstance. Really, I've enjoyed that development.

Some people pull together and want to learn and understand. Some react with fear. A few turn violent. There are those that react in mob form and those that react rationally.

Some are opportunists that will use the occasion consolidate some power, especially in a church setting.

It is the last person I want to discuss. Helen Edgerton - played by Veronica Cartwright -- is such a character. I've seen "Helen" many, many times in the form of a church member who seeks to use whatever means possible to bring drama, dissention, and harm. This person will take a truth (usually a half truth) and beat people up with it, under the guise of "telling you what I feel," which is really just an excuse to be rude and very, very mean.

Yes, "Helen," the script writers put you out there in all your glory.

Pastors see these "Helens" (or "Harolds") all the time. These people are a thorn in the pastor and church's side. These individuals keep things stirred up to the point where it is not worth the effort because the church / pastor is sabotaged almost constantly. These people are not recognized until they come out from the shadows, filled with rage, discord and strife. Once they raise their head to strike, the pastor will be able to recognize their subtly, but by then the poison is already injected.

And they use "truth" as a weapon. "The church has the right to know." "Just be honest, right?" "I believe in openness and transparency."

Let's remember the Prodigal Son (LK 15:11-32). According to the older brother, the Prodigal wasted the Father's inheritance money on prostitutes and wild living (Lk 15:30).  Think about it: we never would have know that fact had the older brother not told it. The truth can be just an excuse to be mean, when the Grace Thing would be to just keep it to himself.

Yes, "Helen," I recognize you, but you have had a lot of real-life names in real-life churches, and each time you have caused much harm to real people.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It's People. That's How Jesus Did It.

I'm prolly gonna get shot at for this one, but here goes.

The blog post below takes about 7-10 minutes to read. Read is slowly. Catch the significance of each sentence. It's really powerful.

It's also not politically correct for most circles -- at least, most Baptist Circles in this part of GA. Why? Well, it basically says that most of our Christian efforts are not effective, and they are not effective because -- well, really -- the ethic of Christ that is relational to those on the margins is lost in the American church. The church today is more concerned with politics, saying "no" to just about everything, or throwing money at programs / politicians / powermongers. In the end, the eternal ethic of Christ is something talked about, but not lived. While most in the church are fighting against the legal contract of marriage being open to all citizens, the least among us are treated with an insidious contempt by neglect. The powerful abuse the poor while we watch the latest mid-term polling forecast.

Worth the read.

Experimental Theology (Richard Beck)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Daily Blog

I remember well Ms. Dell Wilson. She was my high school, sophomore year, Literature instructor. I actually liked her. She was smart and, I know now, a really good teacher. And for a student like me that loved high school but despised lit class, she was a God-send.

Ms. Wilson would make us "journal" every day. I do mean every day. Usually for only 10-15 minutes, but we had to write. She didn't care what we wrote, but it had to be grammatically correct, with proper sentence structure, and a cohesive theme. Now, understand that Ms. Wilson would not assign a topic, unlike Ms. White, who would assign those esoteric and ambiguous ideas of "love" or "happiness" or "fear." I suppose being part of the human race should have automatically qualified me for speaking to those topics, but I wanted something more real, more practical, more tangible ... something along the lines US policy on the Middle East, or perhaps the legalization of marijuana. Those were topics that I could analyze and present some facts to support. But "love?" Geeeesssshhhhhh.

So everyday I had to come up with something to write about. Every day. Did you hear that, EVERY DAY. After about 2 weeks I had exhausted my arsenal of hot button political topics. What was left? What do I write about when the Arab Oil Embargo is only 5 years removed, the reinstatement of the draft is being discussed, and I've already talked about all those things?

This day she gave the standard 15 minute assignment. I look at my paper. I look at my pen. Nothing. It wasn't happening. So here I am two weeks into the semester, and I had nothing. Nothing. It was crunch time. Ten minutes left. Now, only 5 minutes left. A blank paper before me. Sweaty palms and a lot of fear as to what a grade of zero would do to my GPA. I had to do something ... anything ... but it had to be NOW.

So I wrote exactly what I was feeling, warts and all. I don't remember everything I wrote, but I do remember my first line specifically:

I'm tired.

That's it. That was my first line.

Second line was a bit more dramatic:

I have no idea what I need to be writing about.

Third line was a bit more personal:

I have a date Friday night with a girl that I really, really like.

Those lines I remember. I didn't number them but I treated each line as its own paragraph. And I kept writing those lines. While I don't remember all of them, I remember some others were along the lines of: "I wonder what this world will be like in 25 years?" "I have a test in math I need to study for." "History is my favorite subject."

Honestly, I believed I would get an "F" on the paper. It was simple. It had no depth. There was no analysis or development of thought or argument. It was just words on a paper that told what I was thinking and feeling in the most succinct manner possible.

The next day we have to do it all over again. So here I am --- again --- trying to come up with something to write about. And, again, nothing.

Then Ms. Wilson says something while she is sitting at her desk, out loud so everyone can hear. She is reading the journal entries from the day before and she calmly says, "Ryan, that was a very good journal entry you wrote yesterday."

That's all she said. She never looked up. She never made eye contact with me. She did not do anything but say that. THAT. 

And it clicked. 

In my mind, I got it. It all made sense. The point of daily journaling is to write, not to always develop a term paper with footnotes and arguments that looked like a legal brief. No, the point is to be simple and cathartic. Somehow, just putting down the words of exactly how I felt, what I feared, what I anticipated, and what I was thinking ... THAT is the whole point ... and it does ME good. It is not for anyone else, though that is a great thing when others can involve themselves in the expression, but the point is to write an express my own Whatever in a way that organizes my own thoughts and for my own benefit.

I can't help but think that blogging on the internet is nothing more than the culmination of Ms. Wilson's 10th grade lit class.

Thanks, Ms. Wilson. You done good ... er, uh, well.