Archive for November 2012

Evangelicals Unite to Argue for Justice in Immigration   Leave a comment

Wow. Maybe I just haven’t noticed, but I don’t remember seeing something like this story in the news for some time. When Evangelicals are in the news these days, it seems like it’s usually about some spokesman for the Religious Right embarrassing himself (and us), or it’s about h0w uninvolved the Evangelical movement is in doing social justice.

Anyway, I couldn’t be happier to see this group pressuring President Obama to work with others to pass immigration reform legislation that:

Respects the God-given dignity of every person
Protects the unity of the immediate family
Respects the rule of law
Guarantees secure national borders
Ensures fairness to taxpayers
Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.

Here is the list of those who signed the open letter to the President:

Leith Anderson, President, National Association of Evangelicals; Stephan Bauman, President and CEO, World Relief; David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World; Noel Castellanos, CEO, Christian Community Development Association; Robert Gittelson, President, Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform; Richard Land, President, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Samuel Rodriguez, President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Gabriel Salguero, President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Richard Stearns, President, World Vision United States; and Jim Wallis, President and CEO, Sojourners.

This is a fine hour for Evangelicals, and for each of these organizations. May there be many more to come as the church turns its sights on applying its faith outside the four walls of the church.

South Nassau Hurricane Relief   Leave a comment

It can be hard to know where to find help, where to donate, and where you can volunteer. Here’s a rundown of what I know as of now (November 12, 2012)*. I’ll be working as much as I can to keep this list current. Email me with corrections or additions please! This list contains both evangelical church groups, non-profits, and Occupy Relief groups. (Before you go out, I would suggest you call and make sure the information you’re looking at is current.)

The Bridge Church in Malverne (1 Norwood Avenue, Malverne, NY 11565) – They are accepting donations of these items only:  coats, hats, gloves, scarves, baby food/formula and diapers/wipes. You can volunteer with (or receive help from) their Mobile Soup Kitchen every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Long Beach. Finally, if you need assistance, or know someone who does, please call the church. Contact them at (516) 561-8101 or mainoffice@thebridgeli.com.

The Vineyard Church in Rockville Center and Lynbrook (Denton Avenue, Lynbrook, NY 11563) – The Vineyard church is partnering with the international aid organization Samaritan’s Purse (run by Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son). Organized crews of volunteers meet at the Lynbrook location at 7:30am and 12:30pm Monday through Saturday for orientation and then leave in crews to fulfill work orders. The work orders come from those in need that reach out to the church or vice versa. If you need sand dug out, mold remediation, a roof repair, a downed tree removed, or ruined furniture, appliances and carpet carried to the curb, they can do any of these things. To volunteer just show up at the times above. If you need assistance, or know someone who does, please call the hotline at (516) 568-3980. A volunteer will fill out a work order based on your need, someone will come to assess your home, and if at all possible, a team or workers will be sent out to work. There is no charge for this service. Preference is given to the elderly, disabled and those without insurance, but others may be helped too, so don’t hesitate to call. Rental property can be cleaned out, but for repairs to be made, you must be the homeowner.

clothing distribution in Long Beach, NY

Freeport Recreation Center (130 East Merrick Rd, Freeport, NY 11520) – Hot showers are available between 6:15am and 10pm. The Red Cross in this location is accepting and providing food and clothes. You can contact them at (516) 377-2314.

Church of the Transfiguration in Freeport (87 S. Long Beach Avenue, Freeport, NY 11520) – They are serving hot meals (sandwiches) from noon to 2pm Monday through Saturday, and dinner from 3:00-5:00pm. You can contact them at (516) 379-6226.

Word of Life Fellowship in Freeport (80 West Merrick Road, Freeport, NY 11520) – Shelter on a first come, first served basis (6:00pm to 9:00am), with preference given to families with children. Also hot coffee, etc. They are collecting and distributing outerwear, blankets, and nonperishable food. Contact them at (516) 546-3344.

First Baptist Church of Freeport (195 Pine Street, Freeport, NY 11520) – You can donate water and non-perishable food here. Call the church to let them know of needs, especially in Freeport. They are also providing shelter for volunteers coming from a distance. Work crews are going out daily. Contact them at (516) 379-8084.

Rockville Centre Recreation Center (111 N. Oceanside Rd, RVC, NY 11570) – Donations of most items (clothes, cleaning supplies, food, etc.) are being received between 9am-6pm M-F. You can contact them at (516) 678-9238.

Postscript:  These don’t apply to South Nassau County, but I wanted to include the one because of the Occupy connection, and the other because shelter is harder to find. If you have friends and family in the boroughs, this is how to find help for them:
“Occupy Sandy” (the Relief arm of Occupy Wall Street) –  You can help by donating your time with feet on the ground, or material items that they insure will get to the places needed most. For information go to: Go to  http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/ If you can’t volunteer your time you can help by making a financial donation at https://www.wepay.com/donations/occupy-sandy-cleanup-volunteers. For more information simply google “Occupy Sandy.”

The Queens College (65-70 Kessena Blvd, Flushing, NY 11367) – They are providing shelter in their gym and dining hall. Contact them at (718) 997-5000.

*I want to thank my wife Martha Ramirez for all the hard work compiling this list. Any errors or omissions are my doing.

“Watch Out,” Says Jesus: Ten Warning Signs That Religion Has Become Evil   Leave a comment

It’s my honor and pleasure to present Daniel B. Clendenin as a guest blogger this month. His blog, Journey With Jesus is widely read internationally, and always worth seeing. I like this so much that I asked him to make it available again here.

When our daughter went to college three years ago, I emailed a friend about churches she might visit. His response caught me off guard.

After a few suggestions, he warned: “There is one church she should avoid. It is cultic, and its members work very hard to get unsuspecting college students to come. Then they love-bomb them and they become members, and then they distance themselves from their family and other believers. It is hard-core, legalistic, and authoritarian, but people get sucked in because the people are very hospitable. I went there for a long time growing up, and even today we get shunned by members for having left.”

Religious sincerity is no guarantee of spiritual authenticity.

At the end of his thousand-page history of the Crusades called God’s War (2006), Christopher Tyerman warns of the dangers of sentimentality and naiveté about religion: “It is a fond myth of the religious that piety excludes greed, coercion, conformity and lack of reflection, that it is freestanding. The language of transcendence should not distract or dupe.” Tyerman’s book is about the Crusades, when genocide and forced conversions, butchery and baptisms, were construed as works of God. The church not only justified and sanctified the Crusades, it even canonized them as meritorious deeds that earned one remission of sins and eternal salvation.

Tyerman’s warning is as applicable today as it was to medieval Europe. Even in Jesus’s own day and among his closest followers religion could turn toxic.

At least four times in the gospel for this week Jesus warns his followers: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and deceive many… You must be on your guard” (Mark 13:5–6, 9, 23, 33). These “false prophets and false Christs” would, if possible, deceive even his most intimate associates, said Jesus (Mark 13:22).

Further examples of religion gone bad haunt the gospels. Jesus’s disciples argued about who among them was the greatest. They asked Jesus for seats of glory in paradise. They wanted to exterminate a Samaritan village that had shunned them. They tried to prevent children from coming to Jesus, objected to an anonymous healer who was not part of their inner circle, and in the garden of Gethsemane they defended him with the violence of the sword.

In the name of God’s love Christians have slaughtered Muslims (the Crusades), Jews (the Holocaust), Native Americans (see The Conquest of America by Tzvetan Todorov), and certainly each other (the Thirty Years War). We have humiliated and exploited slaves, women and gays. Here in America we’ve aligned the gospel with nationalistic and political ideologies of both the conservative right (evangelicals) and the liberal left (mainline denominations), all in the name of Jesus.

Some critics vilify Christendom as the worst of all religious offenders, but I’d make two observations.

First, religious violence plays no favorites, either with perpetrators or victims. Child sacrifice (eg, Aztecs sacrificed 20,000 people in four days at the consecration of a temple in Mexico in 1487), widow burning, caste systems, female genital mutilation, witch hunts, ritual abuse, ethnic cleansing, suicide bombers, apartheid, and mass suicides — the list is depressingly long and includes virtually every religion.

Second, political atheism has had catastrophic consequences. The exterminations of 100 million people in the last century have come in the name of “liberations” by Soviet and Maoist atheism.

Why do people do evil in the name of religion? Why do we talk about love but torture and annihilate? After studying the Crusades all his life, Tyerman concludes that it’s an “irreconcilable paradox” why medieval crusaders who followed the Prince of Peace endured unimaginable personal risks and privations in order to slaughter fellow human beings with such sincerity. In his book The Most Dangerous Animal (2007), David Livingstone Smith argues that violence is more a function of biology than religion. He says that war is deeply embedded in human nature, that it’s innate, and our natural impulse. As such, war is not a pathology or aberrant choice but “a normal feature of human life.”

None of these “explanations” mean that we should ignore, excuse, or rationalize religious violence. Far from it. We should not remain silent when we see religious fraud. We should name it for what it is. We can all learn and reflect upon some of the signs that religion has become evil and that evil has become religious. Here are ten warning bells.

  • Fanatical claims of absolute truth. I don’t mean the belief in absolute truth(s), which I think is both tenable and admirable, but rather the doubt-free and uncritical confidence that one has understood absolute truth absolutely.
  • Identifying the gospel with nationalistic ideologies, partisan politics, state power, and ethnic identity.
  • Blind obedience to totalitarian, charismatic, and authoritarian leaders, personality cults, or views that undermine moral integrity, personal freedom, individual responsibility, and intellectual inquiry.
  • Ushering in the “end times” in the name of your religion.
  • Justifying religious ends by dubious means.
  • Any and all forms of dehumanization, from openly declaring war on your enemy, demonizing those who differ from you, construing your neighbor as an Other, to claiming that God is on your side alone. Do you believe that God loves Iran as much as Israel? There shouldn’t be the slightest hesitation or qualification in the answer — of course he does.
  • Pressure tactics of coercion, deception, and false advertisement.
  • Alienation, isolation and withdrawal from family, friends and society, whether psychologically or literally (eg, David Koresh’s Branch Davidians or Jim Jones’ “People’s Temple” in northern Guyana).
  • Exploitation and all forms of unreasonable demands upon one’s time, money, resources, family, friendships, sexuality, etc.
  • Oddball, sectarian interpretations of Scripture that have little or no support from the broad, classical Christian tradition, or that disregard the best of historical-critical scholarship.

Often these danger signs combine and overlap.

About the same time that my daughter was heading off to college, I read two disturbing memoirs about damage done in the name of religion. In An American Gospel; On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God (2009), Erik Reece describes the fundamentalist faith that he inherited from his grandfather and father (both Baptist preachers). His father’s suicide at the age of thirty-three had medical roots, he admits, but it was badly aggravated by the “acute self-loathing,” “life-negating principles,” “oppressive faith,” and “repressive morality” of his fundamentalist heritage. When Reece himself experienced a nervous breakdown at the same age of thirty-three, he headed for a Buddhist monastery to purge himself of the demons of his family faith.

Veronica Chater’s memoir, Waiting for the Apocalypse; A Memoir of Faith and Family(2009), centers around her father Lyle Arnold, for whom the modernizations of Vatican II were not fresh winds of change but “the smoke of Satan.” He spent his entire adult life in a self-styled “counter-revolution movement” to return the Catholic church to its original purity. His honorable intentions, dictatorial faith, religious earnestness and sheer stupidity all backfired. Only one of his eleven children remains a practicing Catholic; otherwise the entire family paid a steep price in bitterness, resentments, banishment, drugs, teenage sex, and school drop-outs. In the last pages of her book, the Arnold family of fifteen is living in a dilapidated three bedroom, one bathroom house. Hell had descended to earth in Arnold’s kamikaze quest for heaven.

Don’t be deceived or duped, said Jesus. Watch out. Be on your guard against the many false faiths that masquerade as true religion.


Image credits: (1, 2) Arthur Frederick Ide’s Blog.

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