Monthly Archives: July 2012
Is it just me, or do the leaders of today’s Church seem paralyzed by their own fear of conflict?
Last week, Reverend Stan Weatherford, pastor at the First Baptist Church in Crystal Springs, MS, canceled a wedding (with one day’s notice) because he didn’t want the “conflict” of marrying a black couple in his predominantly white church. After coming under fire by community groups, he claimed that the congregation told him he would be fired if he did it. Good try, Pastor Weatherford, but I’m a pastor myself and I’ll tell you what really happened. My guess, based on experience, is that one or two church members told you they were upset and you caved. And anyway, the Huffington Post reported that most of your several hundred-member church never even heard about the wedding until they read it in the news.
Instead of setting boundaries on his difficult church member and riding out the storm of parish disapproval, Pastor Weatherford did what many pastors do: he avoided the conflict. I have seen this behavior repeatedly among my colleagues. Pastors who support same sex marriage but refuse to officiate at one for fear of “upsetting” church members. Pastors that accept salaries below appropriate standards because he or she is afraid to “upset” the congregation by asking for a raise. Pastors who won’t speak out at a school board meeting because it might “upset” their church board. Unfortunately, this behavior seems to have become more the norm than the exception.
My question is why? What has happened in our culture that has allowed the voice of the pastor to change from prophetic to whimpering? I find it especially curious when the head of the Church is Jesus Christ– the one who cleared the temple, stood down the pharisees, and made friends with tax collectors. If you ask any UCC pastor to name their heroes, they will most likely respond with the names Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Oscar Romero, or Martin Niemoller. But how can we claim these individuals as our heroes, when our litmus test for parish decision-making is the question “do you think this will upset someone?”
Every mainline protestant pastor knows by heart the statistics on denominational decline. Every big denomination is getting smaller. Rapidly. Frighteningly. I think that we have allowed the downward decline to make made us cowards. The fear of our future (or the lack thereof) is driving a once brave clergy into ethical surrender.
Here is the problem: upset church members often leave the church. And if you live in a culture of decline anything that reminds you of decline is scary. But a good leader does not act out of fear (nor does a good leader deny their fear). Pastors need to stop worrying about decline and start living out the Kingdom. Kingdom living is not about the size of your congregation. Kingdom living is following Jesus — a guy who never backed away from the truth. Personally, I think decline is the challenge God called me to when I was ordained. And I translate “decline” as “grass roots renewal”. But mostly, I don’t really believe you have to decline. My church is growing in a community that is not growing, in an economy that is dismal. We are growing because our vision has nothing to do with keeping everyone happy.
Pastor Weatherford could apologize and re-commit to leading his parish without fear and racism. So far all he has said is that he is going to do is “pray to the Lord.” A nice idea, Pastor, but I think the Lord wants more from you than a prayer.
There are obviously lots of good reasons to avoid eating food from Chick-fil-A. The most compelling of which are the anti-gay statements by its owner, Dan Cathy, and the company’s multi-million dollar support of anti-gay groups such as American Family. But here is a reason that no one seems to be addressing: you shouldn’t eat Chick-fil-A because the food is just plain awful for you.
Let’s say you went to your neighborhood Chick-fil-A and ordered the following: a classic chicken sandwich, small fries, and a chocolate milkshake (OK you could get a diet coke. But seriously, would you?). Here is what you would really be eating:
fat: 54 grams
saturated fat: 19 grams
cholesterol: 130 grams
sodium: 1900 grams
fiber: 5 grams
Each total for fat, calories, sodium and cholesterol is near the limit for an entire day’s intake. And it is woefully low on fiber. I guess if this meal were my only meal of the day, I could almost justify it. Almost. However, we all know that food like Chick-fil-A is never one’s only meal. Three hours after eating a fast food overload of fat and carbs, I’m opening the fridge and staring at the shelves.
But exercise helps, right? Well, kind of. Not as much as you’d think. If you are a runner, you would need to run 6 mph for 2 hours without stopping or slowing down to burn off the calories from your Chick-fil-A meal. If you walk for your exercise, you will have to walk for 4 hours nonstop to get ahead of your meal. Or if you are a swimmer be prepared to resemble a prune–no less than 3 hours in the pool.
Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas and ordained Baptist minister, has surprisingly come out in favor of Chick-fil-A. I say surprisingly because he once wrote a book called Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork and before his 2008 presidential campaign, Huckabee lost 108 pounds. He has declared August 1st Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day and so far 341,000 RSVP’s are on his Facebook page. One of his biggest fried chicken allies is Billy Graham who has promised to show up at Chick-fil-A on August 1st to “eat more chikin”.
Really guys? Billy Graham has a history of coronary heart disease and Mike Huckabee was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I understand the theology that drives these men to be anti-gay (I don’t agree, but I get it). What I don’t understand is why they feel OK about eating 54 grams of fat in one meal. Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity for high profile clergy to model good stewardship of their “created in God’s image” bodies?
Or if all else fails them, they could do what they do best and quote the bible. Here are some interesting biblical statements, commandments, and laws about eating: Leviticus 3:17; Genesis 1:29; 1st Corinthians 10:31; 1st Corinthians 6:19-21; Proverbs 23: Romans 14:21; Romans 12:1; Psalm 63:5; Isaiah 55:2. There are many, many more.
Unfortunately, for Huckabee and Graham, none of these texts support over-eating. In fact, it turns out that gluttony is a sin (maybe even bigger than being gay).
“Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.” John 6:11-13
Feeding people was obviously a priority to Jesus. Too bad it isn’t to our government. The government would like churches and other nonprofits to take over the lion’s share of feeding the country’s poor. At Zion we try. We have a very active food pantry; every day of the week, individuals come to the church needing food and we load them up with cans of vegetables and fruit, a jar or two of peanut butter, a box crackers, and some other nonperishables. We do it without restrictions or income requirements and if you want to come everyday for food, you can. Often the recipients of our food are very grateful and sometimes they are like the crowd Jesus fed, they take the food and leave without a word.
We started a food pantry because it is just one way to model our ministry here at Zion after the ministry of Jesus– feeding the hungry was basic to who Jesus was. Something we need to remember when we vote. I’m not telling you who to vote for; I’m telling you to vote for a candidate that understands “feed my sheep”.
Do you know how your candidate stands on Farm Bill 6083? The House Agriculture Committee passed this bill last month and it may go before Congress as early as August. Farm Bill 6083 should be an urgent issue to those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus because it severely cuts food assistance to low-income families. It slashes the food assistance budget by 16.8 billion dollars and consequently eliminates 2-3 million children and elderly from food programs.
In the text for this week, Jesus sends a clear message–feed the poor. If you really want to feed the poor, then don’t vote for a congress that cuts food to little kids and old people. Find out what your candidate thinks about food to low-income families. See what your candidate has to say about the farm bill. Ask questions.
Don’t pray for a solution to hunger. Vote for it.
Several ministers in Burlington have responded to my letter of two weeks ago called What the Bible Really Says. They are calling their letter Healing and Deliverance. Here is the letter (my response to their letter is at the very end).
We clergy persons in the city of Burlington make this reply to the letter of the Rev. Jane Willan printed July 13 in The Hawk Eye. Rev. Willan was responding to a June 27 letter in which Margarette Jackson states “being gay is a sin because the Bible says it is.”
Rev. Willan disagrees with Margarette Jackson. We agree with the conclusion of Margarette Jackson.
How do we approach this matter?
We start with the statement in 1 Corinthians 6: 18 that we should “Flee sexual immorality,” just as Joseph in the Old Testament fled the improper sexual advances of Potifer’s wife.
Our next task is to search the scriptures to find what God calls “sexual immorality” and we find that God is quite strict in these matters. Rev. Willan should not take issue with Margarette Jackson, but should understand what God permits and what God does not. God does not approve of any sexual contact outside of the marriage covenant, marriage being one man and one woman.
We should be sobered up by the realization that our American culture is overwhelmed by the nature and amount of sexual immorality that has become all too commonplace in recent decades.
In that same sixth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul tells us, “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, not homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the Kingdom of God”. (1 Cor. 6: 9-10).
Jesus Christ can bring healing and deliverance to every person. Jesus died on the cruel cross so that we can have new life in him.
We are appalled to find that Rev. Willan states the Bible “mandates” rape, slavery and human sacrifice. God hates sin and God hates rape, slavery and human sacrifice and all the other sin that enslaves human beings. One hundred fifty years ago Southern slave owners attempted to say the Bible approved slavery and we all know how wrong they were.
Finally, Rev. Willan states that Jesus healed an openly gay man, that man being the servant of the Roman centurion. Various versions of the Bible call that man a “servant” or a “slave,” but no standard translation of the Bible calls him an “openly gay man.”
Of course, had the man been a slave, a victim of human cruelty, that would not have barred him from being healed. Nothing bars any person from being healed, saved, forgiven, justified and sanctified. Jesus frequently told people who were healed at his ministry that their faith had healed them, their faith had made them whole, and that they could go and sin no more.
The Rev. MORRIS HURD, the Rev. DAVID SELMON, the Rev. WAYNE RYAN and Superintendent FRED STARLING
Thank you, gentlemen, for your thoughtful reply. Here is the difference between us. You think God wrote the bible. I think people wrote the bible (lots of people over a few thousand years). You think the bible is without error. I think it is full of error. That’s what I like about the bible—fallible people like you and me wrote the thing and I can relate to these people; they were struggling on a journey of faith and so am I. You think being gay is a sin. I think it is a part of being created in God’s image. You think Paul is an authority. I think he said some good things but sometimes, the guy was just insufferable. I have a proposition for the four of you. Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in Burlington is putting together a panel of clergy called “Gay or Nay: Where Does Your Church Stand?” There will be several mainline liberal Protestant clergy there so we need a little “leavening” (as Jesus once said). Would you participate on the panel? Call me. You would be very welcome. REV. JANE WILLAN
Here is a Letter to the Editor that the Hawkeye published and that I wrote. Thanks Hawkeye for printing it.
I am writing in reply to Margarette Jackson’s letter of June 27. Margarette stated in her letter being gay is a sin because the Bible says it is. She’s right. Leviticus 18:22 clearly states a man is not to lie with another man. By the way, the Bible never once mentions same-sex relations between women.
I admire Margarette for seeking truth from scripture. What I don’t admire is that she chooses certain biblical texts, ignores the rest and acts as if she is “just following the Bible.”
If you want to follow the Bible, you had better be prepared to follow all of it. For example, are you ready to “follow” when the Bible condones the rape of women (Numbers 31:7-18) or the practice of slavery (2 Kings 23:20-25) or human sacrifice (Leviticus 25:44-46)?
Biblical mandates concerning rape, slavery and human sacrifice are much more explicit and appear many more times than any mention of a man sleeping with a man. And yet, in the argument against homosexuality, these commandments are never even mentioned while Leviticus 18:22 is quoted repeatedly.
There are more than 600 commandments in the Bible that could inform our behavior, including murder (sometimes condoned, sometimes forbidden); theft (generally forbidden, but not always); fashion (lots and lots of fashion advice); working Saturdays (according to Exodus, yard work on Saturdays is pretty much an abomination).
My question for Margarette is: If we are going to claim the Bible as our moral compass, don’t we have to claim all of it? And if we don’t have to claim all of it, what is our criteria for the selection of some texts over others?
What makes Leviticus 18:22 more important than 1 Timothy 2:12 – women should not express themselves but be silent. I am certain that writing a letter to the editor is a clear violation of 1 Timothy 2:12).
I also wonder if Margarette knows Jesus once healed an openly gay man. In Matthew 8:5-13, a Roman centurion comes to Jesus and asks him to heal his servant. The writer of the Gospel uses the Greek word “pais” to describe the servant. Pais is a particular kind of servant. A pais was a male lover.
What does Jesus do? Condemn the centurion for being gay? Tell him he is going to hell? No, he heals the servant and then announces to the crowd, “I have not found faith this great anywhere in Israel.” (information for the last two paragraphs from a great book The Children are Free by Jeff Miner and John Connoley)
Margrette’s God could be summed up in the words, “God is judge.” The God I worship is summed up in the words, “God is love.” God is judge means you and I must oppose evil, and if we don’t identify it and fight it, we will be condemned ( inspired by an excellent workbook called “My Mind Was Changed” published by Auburn, Fenton, and Goodwin Simon)
God is love means we must welcome as Jesus did, promote inclusion and show compassion. God is judge is supported by all the “thou shalt not” commandments in the Bible. God is love is supported by all the “love your neighbor” commandments.
In Margarette’s letter, she said she “weeps” for her gay relative. I weep for Margarette and everyone else who goes through life haunted by a loathsome, destructive God happy to create evil human beings so they can be saved only by means of the torturous cross.
Just as I hope our gay sisters and brothers are someday freed from the hell the church has put them in, I hope Margarette can be freed from her own her oppressive theology.
THE REV. JANE WILLAN
Sometimes it is embarrassing to be a Christian. You get lumped in with everybody. Even the Tea Party.
A new bumper sticker and t.shirt produced by the Tea Party (available online) calls for the death of the President. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the Tea Party members have used scripture to make their point. The slogan is “Pray for Obama” which seems innocuous enough, even nice, but then cites Psalm 109.8. Here is what you read when you turn to Psalm 109:
May his days be few; may another seize his position.
May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow.
May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit.
“May his days be few” could be interpreted as “few days in office” and “may another seize his position” could just be a hopeful wish for a Romney victory. But you know it’s not. The Tea Party is openly racist, homophobic, and Christian fundamentalist. I doubt they have decided to be decent all of a sudden.
Eighty-five percent of the Tea Party members identify as Christian. I would say that threatening a life is a sin ( also a Class D Felony, btw). And using the bible to do it is just ugly.
I have a better idea, if you want to pray for President Obama (and you should), check out 1 Timothy 2:2.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,
for kings and all who are in high positions,
so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.
A much better prayer.