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Guest Blogger Eugene Cho: A Conversation About Prayer with President Barack Obama   Leave a comment

I’m pleased and honored to have guest blogger Eugene Cho share with you this month. Sometimes someone else just says it so much better than I could. Thanks Eugene.

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Unless it’s Justin Bieber, I don’t get star-struck but I have to admit, it was pretty cool to meet President Barack Obama yesterday. During his visit to Seattle on Friday, February 16 (and this weekend), I had the opportunity and privilege to attend one of the events he was speaking at. Specifically, it was an event at Boeing Everett to celebrate the work of American workers, Boeing, and the culmination of the work of the Dreamliner 787.

Light to the World.

As you know. I don’t run in these circles.  Sitting in a special section with dignitaries and politicians including mayors, various council members, business bigwigs and the Washington governor was awkward to say the least.  How I got invited to this event is a little unclear but over the past couple years, I’ve been building relationships with the White House via their Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It’s also from a commitment I’ve had – as a Christian, a pastor, and a leader – to be a light to the World and not just merely light to the Light. Translation: As we serve and love the church, we must also look outward and engage the larger culture. Folks notice and when opportunities arise, they sometimes ask for input and involvement or just merely your presence and that’s what happened.

Because of this theology and ecclesiology to be a light to the world, I’ve tried to obviously love and serve my church but to also engage both local issues and national issues – including the messy business of politics.

Why Politics Matter

I care about politics not because I obsess over politics.

Rather, politics is important to me because it involves policies and policies, ultimately, impact people. We have no choice: we must be engaged in our civic responsibilities and affairs.

I am a staunch independent when it comes to political parties and urge Christians to not be played, swayed, and seduced by the powers to be. For this reason, I’ve tried to urge others to be cautious of the politicization and manipulation of Jesus, Christians, and religion.

But back to the story.

After the larger event to feature the Dreamliner 787 and listen to President Obama’s speech, a small group of folks were invited to a more intimate gathering (more like meet & greet) with the President. I was told I was going to be invited but I had no idea what to expect.

A conversation about Prayer

In my mind, I had envisioned the opportunity to share some convictions of my heart that would dramatically impact President Obama and alter the trajectory of his leadership, presidency, and country. Go big or go home, right?

Unfortunately, the opportunity for a long conversation wasn’t to be. Had I had that opportunity, I was hoping to talk policies, justice, human dignity, womb to tomb, Linsanity, family, marriage, compare pictures of our kids, and challenge him to a one-on-one basketball game.

Rather, it was a few minutes amongst a small group. When folks were introduced at this smaller gathering, they all had “important” titles. I was simply introduced by “Eugene Cho” and I’m certain many were asking, “Who is this and why is he here?” In fact, President Obama, himself, had a puzzled look as he said, “Hello Eugene.” So, I had to introduce myself to him and explained to him that I was a pastor here in Seattle and involved with some other work. We chit-chatted briefly about stuff  but there is something I very specifically remember and I don’t know if I’ll ever forget this portion of our conversation.

I shared with President Obama that I occasionally but regularly prayed for him and this is how he responded:

“Thank you, Eugene. I really appreciate that. Can you also please pray for my wife and children? Pray for their protection.”

His demeanor changed. Perhaps, this is just me. Perhaps, I’m reading and analyzing too much into all the non-verbal cues but then again, I’m a pastor and after 21 years of doing ministry, you develop a “pastoral sense” and I genuinely sensed his gratitude for prayer and his request for prayer for his family.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about our short conversation – and a sense of the burden and weight of his job and the ‘calling’ of the Presidency. In many ways, we ought to commend the courage of all those who step into leadership – on any level – including the highest level. We can criticize all we want about our current presidential candidates but we must commend them for their courage to place themselves in such vulnerable positions.

On a more micro level, I too have experienced harsh pushbacks and criticism in my leadership as a pastor. Several years ago because of a controversial blog post I wrote (and a subsequent public spat with a cultural figure in Seattle), we had a rock thrown into our church building, phone call threats to my home, and anonymous hate email. It was a scary time and after assessing the potential danger to my family, I called the police to explain and seek advice, deleted our home phone line, and removed all pictures and names of our kids from the interwebs.

Now, imagine that. Multiply that 100,000,000 and then, consider that every day. Imagine this not just for yourself but for your spouse and for your children.

You see, it doesn’t matter what your political leanings, affiliations, and affections may be. I’m always amazed by those who so often quote 1 Timothy 2:1-4 as an encouragement to pray for our leaders but we hesitate when it’s someone we disagree with and instead start quoting Psalm 109:8

“May his days be few; and let another take his office.” 

This of course was the recent (and nebulous) encouragement of Kansas GOP House Speaker Michael O’Neal to his supporters. As you can imagine, a great deal of brouhaha erupted because that verse (if you read onto the next verse) is literally about “may his days be few.” It’s about death…

And then there are those absolutely crazy stories like that of Pastor Wiley Drake who shared and continues to share very publicly that he is praying for the death of the president of the United States. Wow. Dude…

An endorsement for prayer

This post isn’t an endorsement for President Obama or a political party. As an active pastor of a congregation, I believe it to be wise not to make endorsements but rather, I’ll talk about issues – particularly from the framework of my Christian faith.

However, I am making an endorsement on this blog post and it is an endorsement for prayer and specifically, prayer for President Obama, First Lady Michelle, and his daughters – Malia and Sasha.

As we shook hands and shared this brief conversation, I was reminded that despite President Obama being arguably “the most powerful man in the world” – beneath it all was simply another broken and fallen man with doubts and fears – just like me and all of us. All in desperately need of the grace of God. All in need of the comfort and strength through prayer. Our brief conversation reminded me of the words I heard from President Obama himself when I attended the 2011 National Prayer Breakfast (Feb. 3) in Washington DC:

“And like all of us, my faith journey has had its twists and turns. It hasn’t always been a straight line. I have thanked God for the joys of parenthood and Michelle’s willingness to put up with me. In the wake of failures and disappointments, I’ve questioned what God had in store for me and been reminded that God’s plans for us may not always match our own short-sighted desires.

And let me tell you, these past two years, they have deepened my faith. The presidency has a funny way of making a person feel the need to pray. Abe Lincoln said, as many of you know, ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.’”

Agree or disagree. Like or dislike. Republican or Democrat. Tea Party or Coffee Party. It doesn’t matter. Lift a prayer for President Obama and his family. Lift a prayer for this fellow brother-in-Christ. Pray for strength, conviction, and courage. Pray for safety and peace.

My Postscript:  You may also be interested in this interview between Christianity Today and President Obama from January 2008.

Is the Church Impotent to Help the Poor–Really?   Leave a comment

After I read Mark Galli’s article on fighting poverty I had a sense of unease that wouldn’t go away – an unease that only increased with further readings. This post is my response to his article, and an attempt to contribute to the critically important discussion on Christians and the poor.

I’d like to begin with the provocative list of assumptions and arguments made by Mr. Galli:
1) Government economists and bureaucrats making top-down macroeconomic decisions play the most significant role of all in fighting poverty, not the church. (“The government is by far the best institution to raise the poor’s standard of living.”)
2) The church is “ineffective” or “impotent” when it comes to fighting massive poverty or helping the poor.
3) We can sometimes improve social conditions, but ending poverty can never happen, and will never happen.
4) Poverty will never and can never be ended because of the nature of man.
5) A Christian approach to helping the poor should not be only or mostly “pragmatic.” To focus on making “a difference in the world” is a sinful, misguided, eg0-driven enterprise.
6) What is important about the Church’s “antipoverty efforts”, most of all, is it’s witness to “Jesus’ final antipoverty program.”
7) The church’s “irreplaceable calling” is to give witness (as in #6), and to care for poor individuals “in our midst.” (We are “… to show forth the good news – in deeds of justice and mercy, and most importantly, in gospel words.” [my emphasis]

The Role of Macroeconomics
As the article demonstrates, macroeconomic forces have powerfully worked to decrease extreme poverty in our world. This is seen in the last thirty years in the developing world, especially in China and India. Mr. Galli doesn’t mention it, but macroeconomic forces have also powerfully worked in the U.S. (and Western Europe) during pretty much the same period of time, but in instead to increase poverty (as those who were formerly reasonably financially secure have slid down and out of the middle class.) And, although I’m no economist, it seems to me that the same forces – globalization and outsourcing of jobs – are what account for these movements both out of and into poverty. I don’t mean to equate extreme poverty in the developing world with the poverty of those formerly in the middle class in the U.S.! I’m simply comparing the opposing trends. (Mr. Galli doesn’t even mention today’s tough economic times in the U.S. and in the E.U. – especially in Greece. He only states that “if you’re concerned about poverty, these are indeed the best of times.” ) We can hardly put our trust and hope in macroeconomics to eliminate poverty when macroeconomic forces can lead to less poverty in one place and, at the same time, more poverty in another.

The author’s argument is also based on a historical snapshot covering a relatively short period of time. He demonstrates that macroeconomics has really made a difference, but then turns it into a principle when he asserts that macroeconomics really “makes” a difference. If macroeconomics has always been the most significant force in eliminating poverty, and always will be, that still needs to be demonstrated. It’s not proven in this article. Mr. Galli admits this when he points to “recent economic developments” as the basis of his argument.

In many times and places in the past (and now again), economic prosperity in a nation has been enjoyed by only a few individuals at the top – individuals who had no interest in letting it “trickle down” (the author’s term) to those below. The author doesn’t discuss whether in India and China, the gains that have been brought on by macroeconomics were shared equitably. Were the extremely poor simply rescued from that state, but helped very little otherwise as others were enriched, or was the transformation more of the “rising-tide-lifts-all-boats type?” No matter, it seems to me that we must conclude that macroeconomics is an impersonal, unpredictably fickle savior. We can be thankful for such forces when they are positive and helpful, but we can hardly put our faith in them as the Answer. (And even then, to say macroeconomics is what works best is merely “descriptive” rather than “prescriptive” language. It tells us only what happens, but not what should happen, or what anyone should do or can do to encourage it. Hopefully “sheer economic growth” will benefit the poor wherever it occurs, but is our job merely to sit on the sidelines, waiting in hope to see where such growth will occur next, marveling at its causes, and giving thanks when things go well? If “Government economists and bureaucrats making top-down macroeconomic decisions play the most significant role of all in fighting poverty.”, then we better either place skilled Christians into these places of influence or “occupy” the people who are in these positions now (or both!), to see that they use this transcendent power wisely and equitably. (That’s obviously a separate discussion.)

The Impotence and Insignificance of the Church

I’ve already suggested that the overall sense of Mr. Galli’s article is that the poor are substantially helped to rise above poverty, not by the church’s anti-poverty initiatives or her lobbying of governments, or by “Christian activism”, but by the forces of macroeconomics. He says, “When huge poverty reduction strides have been made, it has been due not to every person doing their little part, but to government economists and bureaucrats making top-down macroeconomic decisions. Doing our little part makes very little difference when it comes to large-scale poverty.” and thus, “… it is not micro but rather macroeconomics that really makes a difference.”

In his discussion, Mr. Galli doesn’t maintain a clear distinction between “fighting poverty” and what could more simply be called “helping the poor.” (To be fair, he implies a distinction between the two he qualified some poverty as  “huge” or “large-scale”, but the distinction blurs when he deems the church’s efforts in both endeavors as – “impotent” and “insignificant.”) Perhaps I’ve misunderstood him, but I don’t think so, since in the end his main prescription for the church is mostly about making neither macro or micro efforts, not “fighting poverty” or “helping the poor”, but mostly about something else.

I see this failure to maintain a distinction between “fighting poverty” and “helping the poor” as a problem which skews the discussion. “Fighting poverty” targets a problem and can be measured by results. “Helping the poor”,  can convey a more personal activity – the poor are people, after all. I would agree that you can give significant help to the poor and not necessarily accomplish much in fighting poverty. You could bring groceries to your disabled, recently unemployed neighbor who is a single mom. It probably would be ironic to refer to it as fighting poverty, but there would be no doubt that you had helped the poor.

It’s true, the church often lacks clout when it comes to influencing politics, and historically it probably hasn’t often been the driving force in macroeconomic development. But to say that the church has been impotent when it comes to helping the poor is obviously not true. Every time the church helps the poor, it helps the poor! And when it helps the poor, it is neither “impotent” or “insignificant.” Just ask your neighbor who now has something to eat whether what you did was “insignificant.” Your neighbor was hungry and now she’s not! You have given more than a “cup of cold water” in Jesus’ name, and loved your neighbor as yourself. (Remember the story of the boy and the starfish? That’s what I’m talking about.) It’s not only macro-results, but micr0-results which are important. Helping an individual is always important and significant, even if it doesn’t show up in a trend or a statistic.

The Impossibility of Ending Poverty

Mr. Galli reminds us that Christians will sometimes speak of “defeating poverty” or “ending extreme poverty.” But, he says (and in spite of all the surprising and encouraging statistics he mentions about what has been happening in the developing world) that can never happen:

“… it is a stretch to suggest we can end any sort of poverty. I asked a number of Christian economists about this, and all agreed: No, we can’t. When I asked why, every one of them said, ‘Original sin.’ Until the coming of the kingdom of God, greed, sloth, oppression, corruption, and the like—all of which breed poverty—will persist.” He continues, “… we can indeed improve social conditions in some regards. But the human capacity for sin is relentless and will find ways to subvert even our most stellar progress.” [my emphasis] His example of slavery illustrates what the author means in this regard:

“… it is much better to live in a time when every nation on the planet has outlawed slavery. But as experts today acknowledge, slavery (defined as people enduring forced labor, including sex) is still endemic worldwide. There are more slaves today (estimates range from 12 million to 27 million) than ever. By contrast, even at the apex of American slavery, the United States counted only 4 million slaves.” This illustrates what Galli means when he says it’s impossible to end poverty. He means we’ll never succeed in doing that – and what’s more, apparently were doomed to live with widespread slavery (and who knows what else) on our planet as well. It’s like pulling dandelions. You do your best to improve your lawn, but it’s futile, and you’ll probably only make it worse.

In my opinion, there are several problems in the argument at this point. One having to do with “original sin”, and the other having to do with making a logical leap. If by “Original sin”, the author means the Christian assessment of man’s nature (I assume he means the Calvinistic concept of “total” or “radical” depravity.), then there is nothing in that doctrine that proves his point. Men and women are created in the image of God, and therefore have potential for greatness in many ways. They also have sinned and fallen, so that, while still bearing God’s image, they reflect it in a dramatically marred way – and have the potential for great sin against God and inhumanity to man. Radical depravity doesn’t mean though, that a person can do nothing good. It means that everything a fallen person does, even his most noble and selfless acts, is still touched by his depravity. Just think of Charles Schultz’s character “Pig Pen” who can’t make a move without making a mess. Everything a man does will have the fingerprints of depravity on it, but that doesn’t mean he can do nothing of great value. (“Pig Pen” still makes for a great, often wise friend.) It’s true that our race will always be characterized by greed, sloth, oppression and corruption, but it will also always be characterized by generosity, love and the desire on the part of many to help others. Obviously, we must wait until God’s Kingdom comes in fullness for any kind of utopia on earth. But to say that something quite short of that – the ending of “extreme poverty” – is impossible in this age, is not only begging the question, but minimizing what the God of heaven is able, and perhaps willing, to do through his people (and others). And yes, I know that Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.” I just don’t think that his words must mean that the immense global issues of extreme poverty are unavoidable. That’s making the text walk on all fours.

Secondly, and to reiterate from above, to say that because of sin, there will always be “poverty” (Jesus says as much.), and not only that, but that because of sin, there will always be “extreme poverty”, is two different things. The latter simply asserts an opinion. There is no way to demonstrate the truth of such a statement. This is important because of the fatalism involved with Mr. Galli’s interpretation. (The author’s fatalism is manifest when he suggests that “… the church in fact cannot defeat poverty, and … the church’s efforts make an insignificant dent in macropoverty….”) [The emphasis is mine.] We’ve already seen that these sweeping generalizations are based on a very small sampling of time, and remain to be demonstrated before they become gospel.

Focusing on Making a Difference in the Word is Sinful and Pointless
Mr. Galli suggests that a “uniquely Christian approach to poverty” will not be “pragmatic.” At one point in passing, he says that “impact is indeed one important criterion for how we invest ourselves”, but otherwise, he most forcibly and consistently argues that it shouldn’t matter to us whether our Christian activism and efforts to help the poor are ineffective or impotent. (In the end, this doesn’t seem to me to be mostly a warning against the real pitfalls of pragmatic thinking, which he clearly names. Instead, it seems like a corollary of his position on the impotence of the church. If we’re doomed to failure in most, or perhaps all that we touch, then we certainly can’t afford to focus on results!) What should matter to us, he says,  is “simple obedience to Jesus.” Our sinful egos might motivate us to try to do something “significant” or to make “… a difference in the world … so that we can go to bed at night feeling good about ourselves.” What we need to realize is that our efforts can only be insignificant, and that “… our selfcenteredness has sabotaged our ability to make any fundamentally sound contribution to our lives or to others’. This God speaks to us the frank word that not only do we not make a difference in the world, day to day we threaten to make the world worse by our sin.” [my emphasis]

I have to say that this is the most jaundiced Christian view of redeemed humanity that I’ve ever read, and as I’ve already argued, I think it’s theologically indefensible. I’m not certain what the motivation for such a view would be, but it certainly eviscerates what I think is an appropriate sense of human responsibility. What if we were to interview some Christian activists from the past – starting with John Calvin? Think about his story. Would he subscribe to this author’s view? Or would Martin Luther King, Jr, or Mother Teresa, or Martin Luther, or William Wilberforce? The list could be endless. This is truly a “unique” approach, but in my opinion, falls short of a “Christian” approach. As his people, we are God’s hands and feet. If the all-powerful God of heaven, has determined to use his church to in some ways bring about his will on earth, then how can we say it can only be ineffective, insignificant or impotent? This is a maddening theology if there ever was one.

The Church’s Job is Witnessing to Jesus’ Coming Anti-poverty Program

In Mr. Galli’s view, the efforts of the church are not about making a difference in our world. As we’ve seen, we will only muck that up because of our sin and selfcenteredness. The efforts of the church on behalf of the poor, we are told, are really about witnessing to what God will do later, when Jesus returns. And thus, “… the church’s most characteristic antipoverty efforts are those that are utterly personal” – like child-sponsorship, which is “not only a proven strategy for making a difference” he says, but one which “works.” (It’s surprising to me at this point to hear the author talk about a “proven strategy for making a difference” – and one which works! It seems out of place after everything else he has said. (Perhaps this means that he himself is too sensible and hopeful to embrace his own view of the “church’s irreplaceable calling” –

The Church’s Irreplaceable Calling

The author ends by saying (and again in spite of all that he’s said that may seem to indicate to the contrary) that as the church of Jesus Christ, “We still have our irreplaceable calling”, which he says, “… begins with responding to the divine and gracious call” to follow Jesus. What troubles me about Mr. Galli’s definition of what it means to follow Jesus in this regard is that it rests upon his view of the church as a powerless, impotent society of well-intentioned bunglers. It arbitrarily limits what the God of heaven and earth is able or willing to do in this age (when the Kingdom is “not yet”), and absolves the believer from the need to respond to the call of Jesus with any kind of vision or courage as it applies to the poor. People are marching in the street to protest injustice and advocate for the rights of the poor (among other things). Are Christians just to sit on the sidelines, settling into their padded pews on Sunday, and supporting an orphan in Somalia so they can feel significant at the end of the day? (And I’m not suggesting that many of the protestors are not Christians, because they are.) Are we only responsible for the poor individual that God “providentially puts in our midst?” That seems like such a small calling to me, and so inconsistent with the commands to love our neighbor and to do good to all people. It also seems like the kind of Christianity that asks so little from God’s people that it receives almost nothing from God’s people. It’s not when Christians practice activism and make great efforts to help the poor that they are insignificant, but when they don’t. Just ask many of those protestors, or listen to young people in the twittersphere. They already believe that the church of Jesus Christ is insignificant and impotent. They’ll tell you that as a Christian you have no credibility with them or others. All I can ask is, please don’t tell these critics that, according to your faith, trying to help would be sinful (self-centered), and pointless, but that they should still be encouraged because in the eschaton things will be different. (I think this is reminiscent of the offer of “pie in the sky when I die.”, and definitely not what Christians are told to do in the book of James and elsewhere.)

Jesus wants us to make a difference – like salt does, and like light does in the darkness. He wants unbelievers to see what we do, and glorify our father in heaven. I think I can promise you that this “unique Christian” approach will not lead to that.

Mr. Galli and I are both evangelicals, so we probably have a lot more in common than a reading of our two articles would suggest. He wants the best for the poor. He wants the church to be as effective as possible. And he wants the good news of the Kingdom to be made known. I wholeheartedly share these concerns, but I differ with him on the way he has explained all of it. I’ve taken the time to write this response, because many who claim to speak for God today seem, not only cold-hearted towards the poor, but insulting and demeaning towards them. (I’m not including Mr. Galli! I’m really thinking about, for instance, what I’ve been hearing lately from GOP hopefuls.) Perhaps we all need to remember, like I did in a small group meeting lately, that the Bible describes Jesus himself as “poor.” Remember that the next time someone tells you that the poor only deserve what “trickles down” to them, or that they’re parasites, or lazy people who aren’t willing to work. It just might be, that someday macroeconomic forces will catch up with you, and that one day you’ll be looking in the mirror at the poor. Don’t wait until then to have a heart of compassion. Don’t wait until then to do what you can to advocate for and help the poor. Remember, when you do it unto them, you do it unto Jesus himself. Now that’s significant.

POSTSCRIPT:  seven responses from Christian Humanitarian organizations (like World Vision and Habitat for Humanity), and a response by the original author Mark Galli

11 Things to do Instead of Occupying   Leave a comment

… and by “instead of occupying” I mean, “instead of becoming involved to make our country a better place. I’m thinking  of what the Occupy Movement is doing in that regard, but there are obviously other, similar or parallel ways to be involved – so I mean “instead of any of that.”

Instead of “occupying” you could…

1) Watch a lots of movies. I love a great movie. Lately my wife and I have been watching old ones. (One evening it was an early version of Dicken’s Oliver Twist.) It was great. We also caught up on some newer ones (and great ones) that everyone else has already seen – Avatar, and Disney’s/Pixar’s Up.

2) Work on your house or car. All I ever do for my car is wash it occasionally, and fill the tank. Oh, once I tried to change the wipers, but my son had to end up helping me. The house is just one big project though. Lately I replaced a faucet and wired two new light fixtures in the basement. So far no floods, but I’m holding my breath, and I need to buy another smoke detector.

3) Read some good books. I love to read. One of my most recurrent thoughts lately is that I wish I were either young again (with all those years ahead of me to read), or retired (to have more time to read). How does anyone find the time? And I have a long list “to read.” (See my Amazon cart if you want to buy me anything – and thanks ahead of time for your generosity.) BTW, please don’t misunderstand the book by Lenin. Just curious about almost everything.

4) Watch your favorite teams’ complete season. Those who know me know that I’m no good at this. I wear an Indians sweatshirt but don’t follow them, and I like the Steelers, but only watched them win the Superbowl last year. I’ve watched the Giants more this year, but that’s really about spending time with my Father in Law. And now, my wife is getting interested in football. Great.

5) Learn to cook. I set a goal for 2011 to master four new recipes. I learned none. I have at least 20-25 cookbooks, and the book Cooking for Dummies, which seems particularly appropriate. Maybe this year will be different. It’s really not that hard.

6) Invest time in your marriage. This is a tough one, since now we’re approaching real work – and leaving one’s comfort zone even more than for plumbing, electrical work or cooking. It’s so hard to communicate (“love languages”, “Venus and Mars”, etc.). I don’t like confrontation, or sharing my feelings, and in spite of lots of messages I’ve preached over the years on “grace”, “patience” and stuff like that, I’m still really not very good at it.

7) Spend time with your children. As I grow older, I’m more and more motivated to do this. The problem is, they have their young lives (four boys in their 20s and early 30s), and for that reason and others that we won’t go into here, they’re not that interested a lot of the time. It has to be something really good like Christmas, Mets tickets, or kayaking. (I remember with shame only now how I was the same way at their age.)

8) Go golfing, fishing or boating – or perhaps some combination of the three. Isn’t it amazing how some people take their clubs everywhere, golf or fish in the rain, or go out in the same bay for a ride over and over? It’s just not me. Avoiding this one is the only easy task for me on this list.

9) Work on advancing your career or building your business. I started a business in 2005, and I’ve been nurturing it ever since. The economy has made it endlessly interesting and pretty challenging. I have a blog for that to maintain, and I’ve had to learn about “search engine optimization”, networking, designing a website, marketing, and how to effectively generate leads. Anyway, just thinking about it makes me tired – and each year, when my tax guy shows me my taxable income, I wonder why I try. Lately it’s a little better.

10) Go to church meetings. You can imagine, as someone who was a full-time pastor for 20 years that I’ve been to a lot of church meetings. Sunday worship, Bible studies, lots of prayer meetings, Vacation Bible School, conferences, food pantry, etc. The church needs workers, and you just gotta help when you can. I appreciate great worship times, and I love good teaching from the Word. I appreciate what God has done for me and want to give back.

11) Stare out the window. I not sure if you’ll know about this one – if not, then you really owe me. It’s like staring at the ceiling but more dynamic. The goal is checking out, going blank, forgetting everything, settling into a wonderful stupor. You’ll see, sometimes it’s just the best.

By now, if you’re still reading, you may be excused for wondering what my point might be. I’m just trying to say that we all have a lot of things we need to do and want to do – an endless amount of things. And I’m no different than you. If I wasn’t willing to sometimes make occupying more important than some of the things on my list, I could never do it. We could all easily leave occupying for someone else to do, but that’s not only pretty self-centered and short-sighted, but it also means that we’ll never harness the power of the 99% to bring about change. We’re all needed for that. Look at what people movements around the world have managed to do in the last few years – but it took masses of people joining together against the powers.

If the US were a person, we’d say it had “real issues.” It really needs some love. I’m asking you to think about how you can show it some love. For instance, become more informed, vote more faithfully, stand up for others when you see their rights being trampled, advocate for those who are less fortunate than you, speak truth to power, spread the message – just stuff like that. We’re all in this together. We’ve been given many precious gifts which we routinely take for granted. If we can’t be bothered to do anything to protect them, then one day they’ll be lost, and our remorse won’t be enough to bring them back.

It was Martin Luther King, Jr., who said “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” He was speaking of his own day, and hopefully, not also or ours.

Martin Luther King’s Disappointment with the Church   Leave a comment

Martin Luther King’s letter from his jail cell in Birmingham, originally begun on the margins of a newspaper, and upon completion, widely disseminated, is an articulate, courageous, masterful work appealing to reason and common sense, to history and to the Bible. Dr. King was imprisoned for his part in non-violent demonstrations against segregation. The letter should be read thoughtfully and often, and is quite long. At a few places it took my breath away. It’s courage is balanced only by its civility. Except for the ending, I’ve included only the section where he addresses his disappointment with the “white Church and its leadership.” Dr. King explains that his letter “… would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else is there to do when you are alone for days in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell other than write long letters, think strange thoughts, and pray long prayers?”

I have abbreviated even this portion of his letter at times (as indicated by marks for an ellipsis – ….) I also want to note that all the italics are mine, marking phrases or sections to which I want to draw special attention. (Originally I planned to comment on these, but I decided it would be much better to let Dr. King speak without commentary.) I would also like to make clear that, like Dr. King, I do not speak “… as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the Church. I say it as a minister of the gospel, who loves the Church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.”

These words are extremely painful to hear, and I don’t want to pretend that, if I had been a pastor at that time, I would have done better than those that perplexed and grieved him so. (For instance, Richard Beck reminds us elsewhere that most Christians, not only during the Civil Rights Movement in the South, but also during those terrible years in Nazi Germany, stood by and didn’t get involved.) Perhaps though, by thinking about the church of our day in the context of Dr. King’s words, we can avoid making those same mistakes again.

Birmingham City Jail
April 16, 1963

My dear Fellow Clergymen,

… Let me rush on to mention my other disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white Church and its leadership. Of course there are some notable exceptions. …

But despite these notable exceptions I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the Church. I do not say that as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the Church. I say it as a minister of the gospel, who loves the Church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

I had the strange feeling when I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery several years ago that we would have the support of the white Church. I felt that the white ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be some of our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of the stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and with deep moral concern, serve as the channel through which our just grievances could get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous religious leaders of the South call upon their worshippers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers say follow this decree because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother. In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard so many ministers say, “Those are social issues with which the gospel has no real concern,” and I have watched so many churches commit themselves to a completely other-worldly religion which made a strange distinction between body and soul, the sacred and the secular.

So here we are moving toward the exit of the twentieth century with a religious community largely adjusted to the status quo, standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading men to higher levels of justice.

I have travelled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at her beautiful churches with their spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlay of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over again I have found myself asking: “Who worships here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave the clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when tired, bruised, and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the Church; I love her sacred walls. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson, and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the Church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and fear of being nonconformist.

There was a time when the Church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

Things are different now. The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the Church as never before. If the Church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the Church has risen to outright disgust.

Maybe again I have been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Maybe I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual Church, the church within the Church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone through the highways of the South on torturous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been kicked out of their churches and lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have gone with the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. These men have been the leaven in the lump of the race. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the Gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

… If I have said anything in this letter that is an overstatement of the truth and is indicative of an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything in this letter that is an understatement of the truth and is indicative of my having a patience that makes me patient with anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader, but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of
Peace and Brotherhood,
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Guest Blogger Richard Beck: “The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity”   Leave a comment

When I read Richard Beck’s recent blog I felt compelled to ask him to appear here on my site, and he gave his assent. I thought this was too important to just be linked in one of my posts. I wanted what he wrote to be available to my readers in its entirety. Thanks Richard.

To start, a story.

A few years ago a female student wanted to visit with me about some difficulties she was having, mainly with her family life. As is my practice, we walked around campus as we talked.

After talking for some time about her family situation we turned to other areas of her life. When she reached spiritual matters we had the following exchange:

“I need to spend more time working on my relationship with God.”

I responded, “Why would you want to do that?”

Startled she says, “What do you mean?”

“Well, why would you want to spend any time at all on working on your relationship with God?”

“Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?”

“Let me answer by asking you a question. Can you think of anyone, right now, to whom you need to apologize? Anyone you’ve wronged?”

She thinks and answers, “Yes.”

“Well, why don’t you give them a call today and ask for their forgiveness. That might be a better use of your time than working on your relationship with God.”

Obviously, I was being a bit provocative with the student. And I did go on to clarify. But I was trying to push back on a strain of Christianity I see in both my students and the larger Christian culture. Specifically, when the student said “I need to work on my relationship with God” I knew exactly what she meant. It meant praying more, getting up early to study the bible, to start going back to church. Things along those lines. The goal of these activities is to get “closer” to God. To “waste time with Jesus.” Of course, please hear me on this point, nothing is wrong with those activities. Personal acts of piety and devotion are vital to a vibrant spiritual life and continued spiritual formation. But all too often “working on my relationship with God” has almost nothing to do with trying to become a more decent human being.

The trouble with contemporary Christianity is that a massive bait and switch is going on. “Christianity” has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed “spiritual” substitute. For example, rather than being a decent human being the following is a list of some commonly acceptable substitutes:

  • Going to church
  • Worship
  • Praying
  • Spiritual disciplines (e.g., fasting)
  • Bible study
  • Voting Republican
  • Going on spiritual retreats
  • Reading religious books
  • Arguing with evolutionists
  • Sending your child to a Christian school or providing education at home
  • Using religious language
  • Avoiding R-rated movies
  • Not reading Harry Potter.

The point is that one can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being. Much of this activity can actually distract one from becoming a more decent human being. In fact, some of these activities make you worse, interpersonally speaking. Many churches are jerk factories.

Take, for example, how Christians tip and behave in restaurants. If you have ever worked in the restaurant industry you know the reputation of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Millions of Christians go to lunch after church on Sundays and their behavior is abysmal. The single most damaging phenomenon to the witness of Christianity in America today is the collective behavior of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Never has a more well-dressed, entitled, dismissive, haughty or cheap collection of Christians been seen on the face of the earth.

I exaggerate of course. But I hope you see my point. Rather than pouring our efforts into two hours of worship, bible study and Christian fellowship on Sunday why don’t we just take a moment and a few extra bucks to act like a decent human being when we go to lunch afterwards? Just think about it. What if the entire restaurant industry actually began to look forward to working Sunday lunch? If they said amongst themselves, “I love the church crowd. They are kind, patient and very generous. It’s my favorite part of the week waiting on Christians.” How might such a change affect the way the world sees us? Think about it. Just being a decent human being for one hour each Sunday and the world sees us in a whole new way.

But it’s not going to happen. Because behavior at lunch isn’t considered to be “working on your relationship with God.” Behavior at lunch isn’t spiritual. Going to church, well, that is working on your relationship with God. But, as we all know, any jerk can sit in a pew. But you can’t be a jerk if you take the time to treat your waitress as if she were your friend, daughter or mother.

My point in all this is that contemporary Christianity has lost its way. Christians don’t wake up every morning thinking about how to become a more decent human being. Instead, they wake up trying to “work on their relationship with God” which very often has nothing to do with treating people better. How could such a confusion have occurred? How did we end up going so wrong? I’m sure there are lots of answers, but at the end of the day we need to face up to our collective failure. I’m not saying we need to do anything dramatic. A baby step would do to start. Waking up trying to be a little more kind, more generous, more interruptible, more forgiving, more humble, more civil, more tolerant. Do these things and prayer and worship will come alongside to support us.

I truly want people to spend time working on their relationship with God. I just want them to do it by taking the time to care about the person standing right in front of them.

Richard Beck is Professor and Department Chair of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. He is the author of Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality and Mortality. Richard’s area of interest — be it research, writing, or blogging — is on the interface of Christian theology and psychology, with a particular focus on how existential issues affect Christian belief and practice. Richard’s published research covers topics as diverse as the psychology of profanity to why Christian bookstore art is so bad. He blogs at Experimental Theology, where this post originally appeared.

Guest Blogger Jeremy John “The Occupation of the Lord’s Prayer”   1 comment

I’m honored to have guest blogger Jeremy John contribute this post to OccupyEvangelicals. Thanks Jeremy, and keep up the good work for Occupy (OccupyDC) and for the faith.

 

The occupation is like Jesus’ parable, where a king invites all of his privileged, first-tier guests to the wedding. But nobody came. So the king takes the invitation out to the streets, inviting all who would come, the good, the bad, the homeless, and those with homes. And they came.

For it is written, God can make children of Abraham from the very stones of the earth. If the Christians will not occupy, God will make into his children the anarchist and the hippie, and whoever will answer his call.

The Lord’s Prayer calls us to participate in a movement confronting the dominance of Christ’s ancient foe, the love of profit above the needs of people, Mammon, in our own selves and in our government and economies.

But, again, if we do not answer, others will come to struggle for a world that is rational, that does not rape the earth and the poor. But will they struggle for a world that is loving? Do we?

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

But how will we struggle? Will we struggle in nonviolence, as the lamb marches to war, with love, conquering repenting darkness with forgiveness? We need Christians in the movement who care about not just the souls of the 99 percent, but the those of the 1 percent. Because the 99 percent is mobilizing, and their anger is righteous, like the prophetic anger of Amos. Our movement has and is choosing peace and nonviolence. In a nationwide, long-term movement, there are only a few isolated instances of violence, breaking our commitments. We are a movement that seeks reform, not revolution. So far.

But the world is writhing in the grip of a terrible nightmare. A tiny elite dominates our economies, while billions across the globe scratch for a living in the gasoline-sodden muck, fired when their factory employers have used up their bodies, perhaps even infected by AIDs or malaria. Medicine for them is too expensive because of drug patents. And anyhow, factory wages are too low because multinational corporations can shift from country to country when unions begin to form. And we are destroying the world, heating it with our carbon emissions. Soon, we will see even greater signs and portents as creation herself struggles against our bonds.

Americans ignored this problem as long as money and goods flowed freely into their homes. Until, of course, the Wall Street speculators inflated the price of housing in this country, then tanked the economy, sending America’s own children onto the streets, homeless. There were plenty of problems before, but suddenly, we care.

So when will we practice stewardship of the environment? When will we take care of the poor? When will we forgive the debts of the least of these? When and how will we, as the body of Christ on earth, begin to work towards meeting the material needs of the poor, and, in the process, save ourselves?

I believe that Christians are called to occupy in two ways, as priests, and prophets.

Give us this day our daily bread

Occupations across the country are caring for the homeless in ways I never thought I would see. In Occupy DC, nobody is turned away from the encampment. They have food, shelter, free tents and tarps, and, most importantly, community. Last Friday near the prayer tent, at the occupation, my wife overheard this conversation between two men who appeared to be homeless:

“This is your home. Welcome home, man.”
“Oh man…” he says, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Isn’t it great to have a home?”
“Yeah, it’s so great to have a home.”

And we are brothers and sisters together in making the daily camp decisions according to an adaptation of Quaker decision-making, formal consensus. I will not trumpet, as some have, formal consensus as the answer to our problems. I love it, but in my life of consensus evangelism I’ve also seen it break down in sad ways. It is an incarnation of a radically inclusive force, but it has its flaws, and can be a long and difficult process.

This is where Christians are called as priests and chaplains, to participate in caring for the material and mental health needs of a community that lives out of doors among (and including) homeless people, some of whom are mentally ill or drug-addicted. And because our occupy community believes in love by inclusion, we cannot turn them away. The occupy movement cares for its crazies, as we call them. The church has been caring for the spiritual and mental needs of her own, now let us care for the needs of the poor.

Thy kingdom come

Christians must also play the role of prophet, both to the powers, and to the movement itself. To the powers, our message is that we will no longer tolerate a political process where the needs of large-scale investors are put before the needs of ordinary people. Instead, we will support a system that values the voices of even those who have nothing, materially, to offer. A system where we can make decisions about what is really best for people in our society without the suborning influence of lobby monies.

Deliver us from evil

Getting elected is a powerfully thirsty business, money-wise. Few make it without selling out. Later, politicians take care of their friends. Some lobbying efforts pay out as high as $220 for each $1 spent, a wise investment by any standards. When political clout can be purchased, what happens when there is a conflict between public interest, the interests of ordinary people, and alien-minded transnational corporations? Who has more access to the levers of power? Who will hear the still voices of the poor and marginalized, both nationally and abroad?

Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors

We need Christians that can speak from the near-forgotten sabbath economic values that caused Jesus to drive the moneylenders from the temple with a whip of cords, an act that led directly to temple authorities handing him over to the Roman establishment for crucifixion. We need to speak our Jubilee values and act from the Lord’s prayer which exhorts us to forgive the debts of others. We need Christians who have read but didn’t somehow miss the witness of the twelve prophets and the Psalmists in advocacy for the poor and environmental stewardship.

We also need Christians who are spiritually grounded in hypomone, that virtue of Revelation’s church in crisis which translates as the ability to retain your beliefs while sustaining blows, or, “iron intransigence,” which comes from a Greek verb root which can mean “to dare to do.” which has been translated, rather limply, “patient endurance.”

But we don’t need Christians to come and convert us to a gnostic, hyper-spiritualized brand of Christianity that forgets Jesus’ messages to the poor, equating Christianity with assent to a proposition of belief or even a simple acceptance of Jesus into your heart. An apathetic, intellectual faith that will not interrupt the worship of the self, if it stops there.

We need Christians who share in a prophetic anger that calls for a repentance not just in the 1 percent, but in our selves. Because I believe, as the scripture teaches, that we ourselves, just like the powers and principalities, are created good, have strayed from our original inherent goodness, and are in need of redemption.

We need people among us who live out the Gospel, whether they identify as Christians or not.

The movement, as an institution, is a child. It’s still navigating it’s identity. But as I hear the way people talk about greed, I believe that occupy is the site of a kind of remembrance of our humanity. A place where people come together, in real space and time, to forge real relationships and to articulate the particularity of a grievance that we collectively share: that corporations have robbed something precious from us, a portion of our humanity. Now is the time to hear, as in the indigenous traditions, the story of each person, and to value our identity as a group, where we come from, our faiths, and our journeys, and through it, share in the holy Eucharist of community.

And thine, oh God, is the glory, the power, and honor, for ever and ever. And when we affirm this we affirm that Caesar and his money are neither masters of our hearts nor this earth.

Amen

Posted January 31, 2012 by occupyevangelicals in Uncategorized

Dr. King’s Legacy, Evangelicals, and Occupy Wall Street   Leave a comment

Shortly after the Martin Luther King holiday, the Washington Post ran an article about the African American church’s support for OccupyDC. I would like to comment on a few statements made in the article by some of the pastors quoted there, because I think in a very short space, they covered a lot of important ground.

Rev. Graylan S. Hagler of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Northeast Washington, said  “This is the continuation of the [civil rights] movement. It was the economic movement that King was killed for.” I think what Rev. Delman Coates, pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton said, clarifies what Pastor Hagler meant by “economic.” Coates said, “When Dr. King was killed, he was . . . fighting for the rights of sanitation workers. It is critically important that we relate our faith to issues of economic justice and systemic inequality.”

Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, who ministers to many in the Maryland suburbs, and co-founded Occupy the Dream with former NAACP leader Benjamin Chavis said. “I think the Occupy Wall Street movement has held the legacy of Dr. King and has brought the church back into accountability. … Dr. King would be here today.” Speaking of the church, Rev. Jonathan Weaver, founder of the Collective Banking Group,  said, “Overall, people have reached a level of complacency, and that concerns me. There is a growing sentiment that much more needs to be done well beyond worshiping on Sunday morning and getting people engaged.”

I’ve been comparing OWS to the Civil Rights Movement for some time, so I’m glad to hear these pastors doing it. I’m sure they have a much better understanding than I do, and more credibility. It’s an important point. We may not know what exactly is ahead for OWS – how long it will last, what techniques it will use, how extensive its influence will be – but there is no denying that their concerns about “economic justice and systemic inequality” are those of Dr. King. Someone said to me that “Occupy Wall Street was destined to be a footnote in history … but no more.” Time will tell, but the footnote should at least read that individuals in the 21st century claimed and championed the legacy of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. If all it amounts to is a footnote – and I pray that won’t be the case  –  it won’t be because today’s protestors weren’t true to King’s courageous legacy. It won’t be because they weren’t willing to raise their voices or enlist their bodies in the fight. It won’t be because they didn’t care enough to face down the police and be arrested.

Again, like Doctor King, these pastors relate their OWS activism to their faith. This also is an important point. There is no dichotomy here between faith and works, between the “gospel” and the “social gospel”, between issues of “justice” and “social or economic justice.” Pastor Bryant says that Occupy Wall Street “…has brought the church back into accountability.” I don’t know how he might elaborate on that exactly, but I think he means that OWS is reminding the church about it’s rightful role in the world. I think he means that OWS has created a situation where, if the believing church doesn’t step up and do the right thing, that it will be obvious – and odious. The implication is that the church has forgotten part of God’s call, and that the mostly secular OWS group is not only reminding the church of God’s priorities, but making it very difficult for her to go on doing business as usual. Pastor Weaver speaks of a “level of complacency” in the church, and this is part of that. How can we look at what’s happening in our nation, and be content with just “… worshiping on Sunday morning?”

Only one pastor quoted in the article had objections to the church’s involvement in Occupy. Rev. Joe Watkins, pastor of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Philadelphia, said that churches should stick to their primary mission. “The role of the church is to lead people to Christ and to tell them the good news and to live the good news.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Pastor Watkins that the church is to “lead people to Christ” so that they will “live out the good news.” But his comment begs the question, and raises so many other questions. For instance: What is the “primary mission” of the Church? What is the “good news?” What does it mean to “live the good news?” Can the “primary mission” be reduced to just one or two tasks? Does “living the good news” involve mission work, educational ministries, worship, and an emphasis on prayer in life and ministry? If not, then in my opinion, it’s reductionistic and unbiblical; and if so, then it doesn’t necessarily rule out other Biblical tasks being added to this list – like a concern for social justice – that is, justice. (Can you imagine the God of the Bible making a difference between justice and social or economic justice – a distinction where one mattered to him and the other didn’t? I can’t.) Is the “good news” only about forgiveness for me, and then me telling others how to be forgiven, so they can tell others, and etc.? No more than that? Clearly no, and Pastor Watkins own remarks make this evident. We have to “live out” our faith, he says. Can you imagine Moses, the prophets, Jesus, the Apostles Paul or John, or James (who provocatively measures true religion by care for widows and orphans) – can you imagine any of them suggesting that “living out” our faith didn’t include caring about justice in our world and attempting to do something about injustice? I can’t.

One of the most prominent topics in the Scripture is God’s concern for the poor, and consequently his expectations for his people to be his hands in caring for them. If this is at the heart of the Bible, and so prominent on the heart of God, it must be at the heart of our mission. We are to “lead people to Christ”, and then what? Many things – worship, witness, growth in faith and virtue, discipleship of others, hospitality and caring for those who are disenfranchised, disadvantaged and downtrodden (widows, orphans, foreigners, etc.) There’s really nothing on this list we can leave off – and if we do, at that point we have forgotten our calling.

My point is not that the Evangelical church has to support or become involved with Occupy Wall Street – although I think that could be mutually beneficial. My point is that the church can’t afford to continue in it’s “level of complacency” in this regard. (If you and your church cannot support OWS to address these issues, then what will you do instead?)

Our nation stands at a crossroads. This is the time to act. Of course, injustice is ever-present, but in our nation now, it’s tearing us apart. It’s not only bad for us as individuals (including congregants in your church), but it’s wrong. It’s offensive to God and to his glory. An overstatement? I don’t think so. When someone made in his image is treated like a slave or sharecropper, when the weak and poor are exploited by those who are obscenely rich, when speaking “truth to power” is enough to get you beaten up and locked up by the authorities – then God is not only angered, but his image or glory in those abused individuals is attacked. That’s why Jesus could say, “… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (In the context he’s talking about the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the one needing clothes, the prisoner.)

The Evangelical church can do better. In the past it hasn’t always been as it is now. We just need to rouse ourselves, listen for his voice (in his Word and in our world), and follow where he leads. To do otherwise won’t accomplish anything. To do it for Dr. King isn’t good enough. To do it out of guilt isn’t good enough. To do it solely to help the needy isn’t good enough. But to do it in response to God’s great love for  us – a love which we then extend to others –  and ultimately for his reputation – to make him known as the glorious Savior God, that will be a good thing, and only that will be enough.

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