Tuesday, July 14, 2009

America's Past Time...

Inning by inning commentary:

Pregame: Men come together and formulate rules of the game, including equality before THE Head Umpire.

1st Inning: Red team shows up. Umpires show up. No opponent for Red team found. Unopposed, the Red team scores 15 runs. Score: 15-0

2nd Inning: Red team needs another team on the field, so procures Blue team from across the field. While Blue team is trying to learn the rules, Red team scores 9 runs. Red team considers giving bats to Blue team but decides against it. Score 24-0

3rd Inning: Red team continues to dominate, scores 12 more runs. Umps force Red team to let Blue team use bats instead of sticks. Score 36-0

4th Inning: Umpires confer. Home plate ump announces that it is unfair that Red team gets 6 outs each inning while Blue team gets 1. 3rd base ump disagrees and continues to call all Red team base runners safe. Blue team shows a little defiance, still only gets 1 out. Score 43-0

5th Inning: Umps confer again. This time umps agree--the 3rd base ump reluctantly--that out situation is unfair, implement "3 outs each team each inning" rules supposedly guaranteed in original rules developed in pre-game. Red team refuses to share aluminum bats technology with Blue team. Score 46-1

6th Inning: Umps force Red team to share bat and ball technology. Also decide that in order to rectify past unfairness, Blue team will get 4 outs for 1 inning. Score 47-7

7th Inning: Several Red team members complain to umps about extra out. Cry "reverse unfairness." 3rd base ump suggests Blue team goes back to 2 outs as penalty. Score 49-8

8th Inning: Many Blue team members give up on the game as hopeless to win. Red team doesn't understand and calls Blue team "lazy."

It's now the top of the 9th. What happens from here?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

My response to Brandon's question...

For my Facebook friends who will read this, my friend Brandon asked me to clarify my last note about what it means for Baptists--really all followers of Jesus--to be prophetically living in grace, love and liberty. My response was too long as a comment, so I had to do a separate post.

Brandon, I would love to clarify. First a disclaimer or two: I am not a member at Broadway Baptist in Ft. Worth, so none of my information is firsthand account. I do have several friends there, and of course most of us have access to the news from both sides of the discussion.

Here are the facts as I know them:

1. Last year (or perhaps the year before--can't remember how long this has been going on) the church was working on a pictorial directory.

2. At least one same-gender couple wanted to appear as a family in the directory.

3. As a church, Broadway struggled with how to respond in both grace and holiness. In the end their decision was to not have individual or family pictures, but pictures of the church folks engaged in various ministries and fellowships.

4. During the church's wrestling with the decision, at last year's SBC, someone from South Carolina who had no direct relationship with Broadway, nor to my knowledge ever sought one, moved that the Convention disfellowship Broadway. The motion was sent to the SBC Executive Board for further study.

5. During the past year, the church has been in dialogue with leaders of the SBC, and many on both sides hoped any disfellowshipping would be averted. Much scrutiny was given to Broadway, and more conservative Baptists pushed for some sort of open declaration that Broadway opposed homosexuality. During that time, it was discovered that the church had homosexuals on some committees or involved in some ministries.

6. At the SBC in June, the Convention voted to disfellowship Broadway.

7. After the SBC's decision, the University of Cumberland, a SBC-related institution, contacted the youth minister of Broadway and informed them that they would not be welcome to stay on campus and serve in a ministry to the poor in the Appalachian region as they had originally planned to do.

Now, these are the facts as best as I can tell. Here is why I take issue with this. The issue is not over the church supporting or condemning homosexual behavior. The church, who does care what homosexuals think about them and their reflection of Jesus, decided that a high road choice was to change their pattern on the directory layout. I happen to think that was a good option. They were able to maintain relational status with the members of the gay community they were connected to without being supportive of homosexual behavior or being used by strongly activist members of the gay community. In other words, they decided, in my opinion, that prophetically bearing witness to grace and love and liberty and yes, holiness is done in relationship, not from a distance. I have written extensively on that in other blogs, so I won't go into much more detail here.

Let me bring it to a personal place. I struggle with one of the most obvious and accepted sinful behaviors in American Christianity, gluttony. I can almost hear you laughing right now my friend. But gluttony is a sin, and it is the sin I most struggle with. I'm often encouraged by friends and family to be more gluttonous, a challenging place to be to say the least.

So let's say I as a person struggling with gluttony was either unaware or rebellious about it, and had not repented of my gluttonous behavior. Should my church not allow me in the directory? Should they only show my face and not my too large gut? Should they avoid pics of me pigging out at the potluck?

And suppose they choose to put in the directory--should the SBC then decide that because my church allowed a picture of a known sinner into the directory that they should be disfellowshipped? Should my church be uninvited to attend a mission trip and serve impoverished people because they posted my fat picture in the directory?

I say no. I say that those who wish for churches to be 100% squeaky cleaned and scrubbed of sin before other churches can work with them are more like the religious Pharisees of Jesus' day than they are like Jesus. Should church communities want to be holy? Of course. But Jesus didn't say to the woman caught in adultery "I condemn your sin until you stop." He said "neither do I condemn you, now go and sin no more."

I hope to not be condemned for my gluttony (fortunately or unfortunately, I'm not sure which, I don't think anyone's ever condemned me for this). I think it would be silly for my church to be disfellowshipped for having me serve on a committee or in some ministry because I'm a glutton. Perhaps if they called me as pastor that would be a different story (somehow I think if I could preach and teach and lead and raise money my gluttony wouldn't matter to most Baptists).

But Broadway does not have a gay pastor. They have not publicly supported any kind of statement that says homosexual behavior is not sinful. In my opinion they have tried to find a prophetic Jesus-like way.

To disfellowship them was scandalous, as was uninviting their youth group to do mission work among the poor.

Just my opinion. Thanks for asking the question. Looking forward to Friday morning in Amarillo!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Those rare moments when I think "I am a Baptist..."

Let's be honest. I've often not been proud of my Baptist heritage.

I grew up in Texas Southern Baptist (SBC) churches. Multiple generations of SBC members and ministers in my family. But in the past couple of decades as an adult, I've shied away from self-identifying as a Baptist.

Part of it is my postmodern bent, I guess, or the times in which we live. Brand loyalty is gone, especially in religious communal choices. Our pro-choice, consumeristic church world has left us skeptical of any labels. Especially labels that come with the baggage of Southern Baptists.

Last week I read Christine Wicker's book from last year called "The Fall of the Evangelical Nation." I thought I was cynical. Wicker, who I heard speak at last year's Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) general assembly, was for more than a decade the religion editor at the Dallas Morning News. My guess is you learn enough in a job like that about the human frailties of supposed holy men and women that cynicism almost sounds optimistic.

The book by and large was good, written primarily to introduce a non-evangelical-church-going world to the realm of Evangelicalism. She makes the case that the conservative Christian movement is not what it has claimed to be, not a powerful force of maybe 50% of the population, but in reality something more like 7% at best. But that's not really the point of this little thought. Just wanted to note that I read that back and was reminded again of my shame at my traditionally Baptist brethren, or at least at some of them.

But tonight, back at this year's CBF assembly, I heard a man speak that always makes me think "I AM a Baptist." His name is Bill Leonard, and he's the founding dean of the divinity school at Wake Forest.

Bill Leonard is a historian, maybe the premier Baptist historian of our time. Okay, not maybe. I say he is. The first time I heard Dr. Leonard speak at Baylor University a few years ago, it was at a conference discussing among other things, how the Baptist influence has waned and the Christian light has dimmed at several traditionally Baptist schools, and Wake Forest was listed among them. This physically small man in a bowtie stood before the crowd and challenged the supposition that because a university no longer touts a certain line, it means that God has departed and the light has left. He basically said that he would wait right there for a few moments for an apology, and if one was not forthcoming he would return to North Carolina without delivering anything further of his speech. An apology was offered, and he continued, showing only grace and wisdom in the rest of his speech.

As a Baptist historian, he understands about the last 400 years since the first self-identified Baptists returned to England and opposed the state church there. (NOTE: Happy Birthday, Baptists.) Baptists have from the beginning been dissidents, who believe that religious liberty is not true of anyone if it's not true of everyone. Baptists were kicked out of most of the colonies, tried and often killed as heretics. My forbears believed that the church was a local community of believers who were called to prophetically bear witness to the grace and love and liberty found in Jesus Christ.

When I hear Bill speak, I think that perhaps I am a Baptist.

Perhaps. But then I think of stuff like this, and I think perhaps not. At least not in today's vernacular.

True this...

I have to admit, as a former collegiate athlete who has been around the sports world for decades, the amount of illegal activity and behavior that famous athletes (and really all famous people) get away with disgusts me. This guy at CT Online writes a great open letter to Dante Stallworth in light of Dante's alcohol/marijuana induced DUI killing of a man with his car.