Musings of a Recovering Lutheran: April 2010
O LORD, God of my salvation,
         I have cried out day and night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
         Incline Your ear to my cry. 

Psalm 88:1-2 (NKJV)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Raising Arizona

The debate over the recent Arizona law (SB 1070) that makes it a crime to be in the state illegally has generated a great deal of heat - but not much light. Many of the news stories have been negative (if not openly hostile), but in view of the fact that most of the American media tilts rather openly to the political Left their reporting needs to be treated with some skepticism.

I do not know what is in SB 1070, so I will refrain from either endorsing or opposing the new law. But it is very hard to take seriously the accusations that the bill is an act of racism, and that proponents are xenophobic reactionaries. Much political debate seems never to rise above this kind of hysterical fear mongering, and I have learned to be cautious.

Unfortunately, the dust up in Arizona has attracted the attention of the ELCA. Their denomination may be disintegrating as congregations and members head for the exit, giving is down with no relief in sight, the rest of the Lutheran world is appalled at the rejection of the Gospel, but it seems that the ELCA is not willing to pass on the oportunity to do what it loves best - immerse itself in secular politics.

The ELCA has set up a Facebook page dedicated to immigration and refugee issues. Some of the links on Facebook caught my eye, since they lead to websites like DailyKos and the Huffington Post. Are these really the voices the ELCA wishes to echo? Abandoning the Gospel for political activism is nothing new, and I don't expect the ELCA to provide a forum for points of view they disagree with (name me one political party or lobbying group that gives equal time to its opponents), but it's hard to maintain the illusion you are still a religious organization dedicated to peace, love and tolerance when you ally yourself with voices that do little beyond shrieking how much they hate those they disagree with.

The issue of immigration is of more than passing interest to me. My wife and I have lived through it.

In 1999 I went to Tanzania as an ELCA missionary. The individuals at the Division for Global Mission (DGM) were wonderful. No matter what happened - delays in getting work permits, lost paperwork - they always stood with me, and I never felt abandoned. It was in Tanzania where I met and married my wife, and I owe DGM a deep debt of gratitude. But by the time we left in early 2005 things had changed drastically at DGM - and not for the better.

During my tenure as an ELCA missionary, DGM seemed to undergo a radical change. Many whom I had known either retired or left, and were replaced by others who seemed to have a different concept of mission. Worse still, communication between ELCA missionaries like myself and DGM became less and less frequent, as the new leadership seemed to turn to other matters they found more worthy of their attention.

My wife and I were married in September of 2003, and immediately we began the process of applying for her visa. Working with USCIS is like existing in a kind of purgatory. You are never sure where you are in the process, and always you are made to feels as though you are some guilty of ... something.

Feeling in over our heads, I contacted DGM asking for help. We were ignored - no response whatsoever. We tried again - same (non)response. It was as though we had ceased to exist in the eyes of DGM.

So bad did the situation get that when my wife was hospitalized I never bothered to contact DGM. Why bother? Why would this time be any different? Why would they care now when they didn't before?

My wife's case was so tangled that it took the efforts of two different Members of Congress - one Democrat and one Republican - to finally get her visa and her I-551 ("green card"). There was nothing unusual about her situation (she is not a criminal or otherwise attracted the notice of US authorities), but as a citizen of Tanzania she was considered a major risk. I found out later that what happened to us was not out of the ordinary. Apparently US Embassy staff are so terrified of letting in a potential terrorist through the regular immigration process they will try to throw up one roadblock after another in an effort to discourage applicants.

The ELCA's Lutheran Immigration and Relief Service's website has the following:

Since 1939 Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has worked to create welcoming communities for newcomers—immigrants and refugees who have been forced to leave their homes and begin anew.


One expat told me, "The reason that the ELCA won't help you is that your wife is an immigrant from Africa trying to enter the USA legally. If she came from Central America and was an illegal alien things would be different." At the time that struck me as too cynical. But given the overheated rhetoric on the LIRS Facebook page concerning both the opponents of immigration "reform" and SB 1070 I have come to the conclusion they were probably right.

At any rate, it is hard for me to take seriously the ELCA's claim of compassion with respect to immigrants. I don't believe that the ELCA meant my wife any harm: it's just that we did not fit the preferred political narrative. And it's politics (not the Gospel) that has become the ELCA's true passion.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Phillips Craig & Dean: I Want To Be Just Like You



For my son, James. Your father on Earth and your Father in Heaven both love you.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Laugh 'till you get beheaded

I am not a fan of either Comedy Central or South Park. Too much of their programming is enjoyable only to those who thinks that dirty words scrawled on the walls of public toilet stalls represents the highest form of comedy. For the rest of us - meaning most of us - we prefer our laughs to come another way.

You may have heard the story by now. South Park, which is supposed to be an "edgy" show, was recently censored by Comedy Central. I did not see the episode in question, but South Park is supposed to have showed the Prophet Muhammad in a bear costume (I don't think I want to know why). What caused the uproar was a death threat made against the show's creators by a radical Islamist website, and Comedy Central's decision to block out the offending part.

Many writers and commentators have pointed out that in the past Comedy Central has gone out of its way to attack Christians and Christianity (Jesus seems to be a favorite target). Some will dispute this, but frankly the facts are not on their side. Other's have suggested (tongue in cheek, I hope!) that if Christians lopped off the heads of a few heathens and heretics, they would get similar respectful treatment from Comedy Central and others in the entertainment industry.

I have to dispute the second assertion. Leave aside the fact thak killing the enemies of Christ is not an option: far from gaining respectful treatment, any remote hint of violence by Christians against Comedy Central and South Park would bring instant nuclear retaliation. Lawsuits, protest marches, attack journalism, violence directed against Christians, legal crackdowns - you name it.

I believe that the real reason the entertainment industry and the media will attack Christianity at the drop of a hat but avoid anything even remotely critical of Islam and other religions is simple - they just don't like Christianity. They view Islam and other religions as competitors to Christianity, and are willing to cut non-Christian religions a tremendous amount of slack.

I am not suggesting that many in the entertainment industry and the media are Muslims, or even sympathetic to Islam. But it is clear that their humanistic view is directly at odds with Christianity. Christianity holds that humanity is fallen, and is in need of a Savior. Many secularists do not believe in any Savior at all (expect perhaps Barack Obama). "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" seems to be the operating idea here, not a deep attachment to any non-Christian religion.

I think that Christians often underestimate the hatred than many in popular culture have for Christianity. Often I hear Christians call for "engagement" with popular culture (whatever that means). While I am not suggesting that Christians head for the hills and squat in heavily-fortified compounds, it is clear that "engagement" has brought forth no fruit whatsoever. The danger is that Christians will become corrupted by popular culture rather than have any moderating influence. It is best to keep more than a little distance.

Some have suggested that fear also played a role in Comedy Central's decision to avoid controversy. There may be some truth to that charge. Hollywood and the media have for a long time loved to portray Christians as theocratic terrorists, and that shows like South Park represent a heroic stand against the reactionary forces of darkness. This creates the illusion of courage under fire while not actually facing any danger. Some Muslims, on the other hand, have shown the ability to enforce their murderous threats - Van Gogh's death being just one example - and this presents a problem. It's one thing to bravely face down an imaginary legion of angry, bloodthirsty Christianists on the rampage. It's quite another to face a real threat that does not quite fit into a preferred political paradigm.

Still ... I doubt that Comedy Central's primary motivation was fear. Even without the threat of Islamist extremism. I think that the pressures of multiculturalism (and the belief that Islam is a useful weapon against Christianity) was behind the self-censorship.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Witnesses to the Faith: North Korea

North Korea Sentences U.S. Christian to 8 Years

Witnesses to the Faith: Pakistan

False Charges Filed Against 47 Christians in Pakistan

Coexist?

Living in a college town, I often see a variety of bumper stickers on the backs of cars. Today two of them caught my attention.

A particular car had several bumper stickers on the back. Some referred to causes and individuals I had never heard of. However, two caught my eye because of their popularity among both Christians and non-Christians. The first simply said, "Coexist", and was spelled used religious symbols. The other was a famous quotation from Mohandas Gandhi: "I like their Christ. I do not like their Christians. They are so unlike Christ."

Let me begin with an admission: Gandhi was correct. Many who call themselves Christians do not act at all like their Lord. From the Inquisition to the recent sex abuse scandal by some Catholic priests; from the military support some Christians gave for Marxist terrorists in Central America to the defense of apartheid in South Africa and the support of Jim Crow laws, the record of Christians being guided by the love of Christ is problematic. Fidel Castro, Daniel Ortega, Adolph Hitler, Hugo Chavez and Joseph Stalin are just a few of the monsters that have enjoyed unqualified worship and adulation from some Christians. Churches have raised uncertain banners in fighting against slavery, abortion, pornography, divorce, and other societal ills.

But despite what Gandhi may have liked to believe, not all Christians engaged in the ill behavior he deplored. Many Christians are in fact very much like their Christ.

I wonder if the owner of the car with the two bumper stickers recognized the incompatibility of the two sentiments being expressed. How can you call for coexistence between religions and also make a demonstrably false charge against one of them? Would the car owner be scandalized if (for example) they saw a bumper sticker saying, "I like their Mohamed. I do not like their Muslims. They are so unlike Mohamed."?

Christians should be aware of the ideas and beliefs behind the two bumper stickers, and be prepared to answer them. Christians will be told that in order to "coexist" with other beliefs they must give up many of their own. They must not publicly challenge the homosexual lifestyle, the disintegration of public education, the pornographic industry, the rise of radical Islam, the sexualization of society, the coarseness of popular culture, and many others. With supreme illogic Christians will be told they must accept other beliefs without question while not defending the Christian faith against challenges. In short, Christians are being told to be quiet.

Do you intend to be quiet?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter 2010

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices, that they might anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, "Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?" But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away - for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! Here is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go and tell his Disciples - and Peter - that he is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you." And they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.


Mark 16:1-8


In Biblical times the weight that the testimony of women was given was half that of a man. If Christianity were an invented religion, then it would be a source of embarrassment to the early Church that women were the first witnesses. Why not Peter? Why not have Jesus appear to all of his enemies and strike them dead, like something out of a Hollywood movie?

Within a few weeks the disciples - the same ones who could not run away from Jesus fast enough - were proclaiming the fact of His Resurrection. One by one they died for their faith. Some, like Stephen, were stoned to death. Peter was crucified upside down! Only John apparently avoided execution, and he spent time on the island of Patmos in exile.

Only one thing could have brought about this change: the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead and they saw Him alive.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday 2010

Perhaps those who consider Christianity a made-up religion have not fully read the story of Good Friday.

Consider just the basic facts of the story. Even after traveling with Him and hearing His teachings firsthand, Jesus disciples still did not seem to comprehend the chain of events that must happen. The Last Supper seemed to be a source of confusion to them, and the disciples who accompanied Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane preferred to take a snooze rather that stay awake with their Lord. One of the disciples betrayed Jesus (for cash, no less), another publiclly denied Him, and none stood trial with Him. After His death, His body was buried in a tomb borrowed from a member of the Sanhedrin - the very people who were loudest in the demands to kill Him.

None of the disciples looks like anything more than a poltroon or a traitor. A very odd, uninspiring story if your goal is to fool people into believing a false religion so you can exploit them.

But if you understand the human condition, that humans are more likely than not to run away from danger and to look out for Number 1, then the actions of the disciples makes sense. Uncomfortable sense, but sense.

Within a few weeks of the events of Good Friday, these same disciples (except Judas, of course) were fearlessly proclaiming the Gospel. They were heckled, beaten, thrown into prison, and even executed. What changed?

To be continued....