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A Terrorist is a Terrorist – No Matter WHO It Is!

We are all reeling from yet another atrocity – the massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland, Texas. The fact that someone chose to mow down people worshipping on a Sunday is an anathema of all this country professes to be. Unfortunately, we live in a world that is sadly marked by increasing violence and terrorism. It seems like very few days go by, if any at all, without some horrible act of terror or random violence. It has become such a ‘normal’ occurrence that some in the country hardly react any longer. There is surely something wrong in our society when the solution to a problem or reaction to anger is to not only kill the offender, but also massacre innocence people in the process.

But equally disturbing to me is that whenever there is a terror attack, the natural impulse is to blame a Muslim or ISIS. Are we so influenced by the national attitude that we can’t wait to immediately attach the nomer ‘Islam’ or ‘ISIS’ to the word ‘terrorist’? Perhaps it is easier to accept that a foreign element is responsible for our mounting atrocities than to accept the perpetrator may be the person next door, but clearly that is not so.

It is human nature to seek scapegoats for the causes of evil – it is far easier to look upon the things that come from without than the things from within. That chosen scapegoat suffices only until another deadly attack happens; then we repeat the blaming (mental health, access to guns, foreign agents).

If you look at the last six massacres, each one was perpetrated by a home-grown, All-American citizen – not some foreign boogey man. They may have had mental health issues, but they grew up and lived as a citizen of the United States. We are reluctant to admit that ‘we’ have spawned this monster.

We do not call their actions ‘terrorism’ . . . but terrorism is terrorism. . . – no matter who the person is. Whether they have a mental problem or are seeking revenge for a perceived slight, when one kills and maims dozens of innocent people, they are still ‘terrorists’. And until we accept that their actions are not solely, ‘mental health issues’, or ‘gun control issues’, but ‘acts of terror’, it will be nearly impossible to address these actions.

Living among us as law-abiding and patriotic Americans are thousands of Muslims. In a knee-jerk reaction, to continually label them as a group as being the cause each time we have an incidence of terror in our midst, is unfair, unjust, and weakens our ability to address the real causes behind the terrorist’s act.

We, as Christians, need to begin to address the causes of terrorism. We need to provide services for those who feel they have been a victim of injustice. And we need to be a strident, but loving voice against those who spout hatred against those who are not ‘like us’, whether ethnic, racial, gender, or religious. If we begin to ‘love one another as we love ourselves’, maybe we can begin to change the world.

We can pray this will be so – and put our prayers into action.
 

written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington & Parts Adjacent, OH; 12 November 2017

Moving toward the Promised Land: The Reforming Catholic Confession

About 500 years ago, as the legend goes, a small-town German Augustinian[3] friar named Martin Luther nailed his ’95 Theses’ on the door of the Wittenburg Cathedral. This action was the most obvious of many events during the 17th century that marked the rejection of the many of the tenets and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, and led to the Protestant Reformation.

Luther believed that Scripture alone was the sole authority (Sola Scriptura) for doctrine, and that Christ’s death fully satisfied the penalty of sin. The Protestant mantra became: justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. This was a sharp divergence from the Roman Catholic doctrine that salvation came from works and faith (Sola Fide).

Luther had no intention of leaving the church he hoped to reform, but his theological fury led to his inevitable excommunication as a heretic and the splintering of Christendom. As a result, with the help of Philip Melanchthon, Luther precepts became known as the Lutheran religion. From this Reformation Movement what developed was the church known today as ‘protestant’.

Now, 500 years after the Protestant Reformation, one of the most common charges against the Reformers is that they divided the Church. What’s more, once the division came, inevitably division after division followed, with fragmentation, splintering and dissension; there are now approximately 33,000 different protestant denominations in the world.

On September 10, 2017, over 250 prominent scholars, pastors, and church leaders drawn from every continent and spanning most Protestant theological traditions and Communions (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Free Church, Nazarene, Pentecostal, etc.), released a theological statement affirming the essentials of the Reformation. Its Protestant authors contend that in this 500th anniversary year, the document must be a “catholic” statement in the best sense of the word.

This Reforming Catholic Confession (A “Mere Protestant” Statement of Faith to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation) is a document which outlines the main theological commitments held by a large majority of Protestant Christians since the Reformation. The purpose of such a statement is to “demonstrate the remarkable commonality that exists throughout the world among Protestants on the core elements of Christianity”, claims Jerry Walls, an author and professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University.[1]

The Reforming Catholic Confession contains 12 articles that outline shared beliefs in such basic Christian tenets as “The Triune God,” “The Atoning Work of Christ,” “The Gospel,” and “The Church”.

The beliefs are followed by 25 “why we say what we say” explanations that capture key cornerstones and dimensions of the Christian faith. The final section of the Confession states the resolve of the authors to honor the distinctions among the variety of Protestant traditions, but to aim for even greater unity in the Body of Christ.

It is much like the creation of the Nicene Creed, developed in 325 CE, as a statement of faith that could be professed by all the faithful. It is a negotiated statement among the leaders of the various factions of the church at that time, and is still used by a majority of Roman Catholic and liturgical churches.

As in 325 CE, no single group of participants gets everything they wanted to express in the document, but they nevertheless arrive at a mutually agreed upon declaration. “The question is not ‘Does this statement say everything you would want it to say, but ‘Can you agree with us thus far?'” Walls said.

It is called a “catholic” confession, to reclaim the word (little ‘c’) “catholic”, meaning the church universal. The document is an attempt to recover the speaking of truth in love between divisions of the church, Too much dissension and negative rhetoric between members of the Protestant churches has come down through the ages. This is an attempt, much like the Nicene Creed, to emphasize what we all share, rather than how we are different.

Phyllis Tickle, a renowned authority on American religion once said:

“Every 500 years, the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered so that renewal and growth may occur. Now is such a time.” [2]

In a PBS interview, Tickle referred to this

 “[e]very 500 years” theory and said, “the church has a giant rummage sale.” She said, “Christianity is in the midst of a new reformation that will radically remake the faith.”

There is still much analysis to be done on The Reforming Catholic Confession by varied denominations of the church universal, but this may well be the beginning of a ‘modern’ reformation, working to bring disparate factions of God’s faithful into closer communion with each other. The statement has already been translated into French, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish.

The complete document can be found at http://reformingcatholicconfession.com/.
 
[1]      http://www.christianpost.com/news/over-250-protestant-leaders-sign-reforming-catholic-confession-on-essentials-of-christian-faith-198747/?utm_source=newsletter
[2]      Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Emergent Village Resources for Communities of Faith), Baker Books/Emergent Village-Emersion Books, 2008
 

[3] Thanks to Tunney Lee King, who corrected me: Luther was an Augustinian friar.
 

Written for Connections, Diocese of Southern Ohio, 1 October 2017

7 Things Christians Need Remember About Politics

This is an article published in Relevant Magazine, written by Bryan Roberts. In light of the current primaries, I felt it was noteworthy. The original article can be found at the URL at the bottom of the page.

How to be in the world, not of the world, in a culture of political vitriol.

political boxingPolitical discourse is the Las Vegas of Christianity—the environment in which our sin is excused. Hate is winked at, fear is perpetuated and strife is applauded. Go wild, Christ-follower. Your words have no consequences here. Jesus doesn’t live in Vegas.

Not only are believers excused for their political indiscretions, but they are often applauded for committing them. Slander is explained away as righteous anger; winning arguments are esteemed higher than truthful ones (whether or not the “facts” align); and those who stir up dissension are given the pulpit. So I balk when pastors tell me the Church should engage in the political process. Why would we do that? The political process is dirty and broken and far from Jesus. Paranoia and vitriol are hardly attractive accessories for the bride of Christ.

Rather than engage in the political process, Christians have a duty to elevate it. Like any other sin, we are called to stand above the partisan dissension and demonstrate a better way. Should we have an opinion? Yes. Should we care about our country? Yes. Should we vote? Yes. But it’s time we talk politics in a way that models the teachings of Jesus rather than mocks them.

It’s time we talk politics in a way that models the teachings of Jesus rather than mocks them.

Here are seven things to remember about politics:

  1. Both political parties go to church
    There’s a Christian Left and, perhaps even less well-known, there’s a secular Right. Larry T. Decker is a lobbyist and head of the Secular Coalition for America. He’s an “unaffiliated Christian,” but his entire job is devoted to keeping religion out of the U.S. government. Party lines are drawn in chalk, and they’re not hard to cross. The Church must be engaged in politics, but it must not be defined by the arbitrary lines in politics.
  2. Political talk radio and cable “news” only want ratings
    When media personalities tell you they are on a moral crusade, they are lying to you. These personalities get rich by instilling fear and paranoia in their listeners. If we give our favorite political ideologues more time than we give Jesus, we are following the wrong master. There are unbiased, logical and accurate news sources out there. But it’s up to you to be a good steward of information—to fact-check for yourself, take ideology with a grain of salt and make decisions based on facts rather than gossip.
  3. Those who argue over politics don’t love their country more than others
    They just love to argue more than others. Strife and quarreling are symptoms of weak faith (Proverbs 10:12; 2 Timothy 2:23-25; James 4:1) and are among the things the Lord “detests.” We need to rise above the vitriol and learn to love our neighbors the way God commanded us. We need to love our atheist neighbor who wants to keep creationism out of schools; our Democrat neighbor who wants to keep gay marriage and abortion legal; our Republican neighbor who celebrates death penalty statistics and gun ownership; and yes, even the presidential candidate from the other side.

    If you’re mocking your governing leaders on Facebook, the Holy Spirit is grieved.

  4. Thinking your party’s platform is unflawed is a mistake
    The social policies of your party were constructed by imperfect politicians fueled by ambition. It’s nearsighted to canonize them—and it will make you obsolete in a few years. Every four years, the parties adopt a current, updated platform at their respective conventions. And while they stay on general tracks, every four years the platform evolves to meet the needs of a growing, modernized and changing party. The Republican party of today doesn’t look like it did 10 years ago. We need to know when to change our views to meet a changing culture—and when to stand by them.
  5. Scripture tells us to pray for our governing leaders (2 Timothy 2:1-4) and to respect those in authority (Romans 13:1-7)
    Translation: if you’re mocking your governing leaders on Facebook, the Holy Spirit is grieved. We should spend more time honoring our leaders and less time vilifying them. This doesn’t mean praying the President will be impeached; it doesn’t mean praying your candidate will win. God commands us to pray for our leaders—for their wisdom, for their hearts and for them to be led by Him.
  6. Don’t be paranoid
    The country is not going to be destroyed if your candidate loses. As 2 Timothy 1:7 says,

      “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

    Stand up and demonstrate what God has given you. America has functioned—albeit, at varying levels of success—for years under the direction of alternating Democrat and Republican control, and at every flip, the other side thought it was the end of the world. It’s not. And if we’re a Church that believes God is in control, we have to believe that He is the one in control of the end times—not whoever’s in office now, and not whoever succeeds them.

  7. Stop saying, “This is the most important election in the history of our nation”
    It’s not. The most important election in the history of our nation was when Abraham Lincoln was elected president. Before that, we thought it was OK to own people. Every generation thinks it’s living in the most important moment in history. We’re not, our parents were not and our children probably won’t be. And that’s OK.

 
Bryan Roberts, Relevant, February 1, 2016
7 things Christians need remember about politics

Tempest in a Coffee Cup

I could not have said it better:
 

starbucks red cup“I’ve found in life there are many, many things we become better people by having patience about. Crazy Christians who want to make a coffee cup a symbol of their “oppression” are not one of those things.

Color me flat out of patience with people so blind to their own entitlement that they see a Starbucks cup as a war on Christianity while black churches are being burned, Christians are fleeing for their lives in Pakistan, Syria and Sudan, and Muslims in this country live with the daily scourge of Islamophobia.

Religious persecution is a very real thing — a thing way too real to be diminished by this kind of foolishness. And if Christians who get that don’t speak out then the ones who don’t get it will speak for us.

So here’s my “final answer” on the Starbucks Cup Controversy as a priest, a pastor and a life-long fan of Christmas: It’s a cup. For coffee. And if you find yourself getting whipped up about it you might consider switching to decaf — and volunteering somewhere to work to address actual oppression. (I’ve got a list if you need it.)”
 
 
By The Rev Susan Russell
Tempest in a coffee cup