About 10 years ago I got on a bus with about 30 college students to trace the life of Martin Luther King. The trip started at his birthplace in Atlanta, Georgia and ended in Memphis, Tennessee, staring up at the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel where he was killed.
The most moving part of the trip for me were stops at Selma and Birmingham, Alabama. Driving across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and sitting in the pews of the 16th Street Baptist Church where Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair were killed one Sunday morning. Their lives were taken by a man named Robert Chambliss who placed over 15 sticks of dynamite underneath the stairs leading to a room where they were changing into their choir robes.
After talking to the girls’ Sunday school teacher we walked across the street to the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum. There in the Museum I read King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail Cell as I stood in front a replica of the cell. In the letter he pleaded with his white brothers in Christ to stand with him against the injustices of racism.
King’s letter was written in April of 1963. Most Christian leaders who read it chose not to respond. King was just rocking the boat. He was too impatient. It wasn't a convenient time to address his concerns. The bomb went off on a warm September morning just five months later.
It took the deaths of Addie Mae and her friends help middle class white believers realize that fighting injustice is our spiritual calling. We don’t need to wait for a special call to fight injustice. God issued that call hundreds of years before Christ when over and over again he told us to stand with the poor, the fatherless, and the immigrant (literally, “the alien within your gates”). Jesus reinforced the call in his classic story of the Good Samaritan, a story that reminds us that those who have been robbed beaten, and left for dead by the world are our neighbors, and that we are to sacrificially love them.
Injustice didn’t end in 1963 and it isn’t limited to Birmingham, Alabama.
Injustice exists in Springfield Ohio. And in Dayton. And in Urbana. And in every other American town or city.
Let’s not just do something. Let’s do something just.
Also read "Something Strange happened in Birmingham"
At Central Christian Church we are committed to addressing issues of justice and standing with those in need. Jesus didn't put us in Springfield so that we could worship comfortably in a beautiful sanctuary. He put us in springfield so that give our most vulnerable neighbors a taste of heaven and a relationship with Jesus. Join us for worship at 10:30 Sunday Mornings. Join us in community service the rest of the week.
One trick to writing a good blog post is coming up with a title provocative enough to convince people to read what you have to say. An added challenge for pastors is picking a title that wont require reconvening the church’s “Search Committee.” This blog isn’t about my fall from faith. It’s about the problem of labels.
I grew up a fundamentalist. We didn’t drink, dance, or chew or go with girls who do. One old sage said that fundamentalists were people who loved Jesus but couldn't stand anyone else. The term “fundamentalist” originally defined people who believed a few fundamental things about God and the bible, things like the virgin birth and the literal resurrection of Jesus. They not only believed that Jesus would return some day, they were pretty darn sure they knew exactly when it would happen! (RememberThe Thief in the Night movie?)
Many fundamentalists also felt a need to improve upon God's list of sins by lengthening it to include just about anything they didn't like. High on the list were guys with long hair, women with short hair, and "mixed bathing" (a convenient way of making swimming sound lewd and vulgar).
If you have ever played with Rook cards or wondered if Billy Graham might be the antichrist you probably also grew up fundamentalist.
It was a huge relief to me when I quit being a fundamentalist. I was about 14 at the time. I left fundamentalism because I enjoyed swimming with my friends and had hair over my ears.
This week Pope Francis made news by declaring that Donald Trump is not a Christian. I posted an article about the Pope's announcement on my personal Facebook site and later deleted it due the heated manner in which friends were taking sides. Lost in the bluster are two important questions.
"Should a person's faith be the primary factor in selecting a political candidate, and how should we assess the faith-statements made by political figures?"
Pardon the pun, I would suggest that the personal faith of a candidate shouldn't trump all other factors. Christians should consider a number of factors when choosing their candidate, and there may be times when the best candidate does not share our particular brand of faith.
I would suggest that we consider the following four factors during this year's election.
First, we should consider character. Good leaders are people of character and integrity. They are honest, kind, and trustworthy. They treat people well and put the needs of others ahead of their own.
Second, we should evaluate their competence. Some candidates may have good character but little competence, the ability to accomplish objectives that help people flourish. We are told to pray for our leaders so that our lives can be quiet and peaceful. Enacting policies to help people flourish takes competence, especially in today's polarized political climate.
Third, we need to consider their policy positions. The things which candidates propose doing should be consistent with Christ-centered values about life and people. Specifically, their policy proposals should demonstrate a desire to protect and bless the most vulnerable members of our communities. Their policies should promote peace, personal sacrifice, responsibility, and self-control. On this matter, we also need to resist the thought that we can legislate Christian morality. Perfect laws won't produce Godly, Christ-centered people. Only Christ can accomplish that. Our laws shouldn't impede spiritual growth but they will never produce it.
And fourth, we should seek a candidate who fears God. By fear of God, I don't necessarily mean a candidate who shares all of my faith convictions. Rather, I mean a candidate who understands that he or she will answer to God for how they govern. Scripture teaches that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and that wisdom is a prerequisite for all forms of leadership.
Having established that one's religious position, or faith, isn't the only factor to be considered when voting, let's move on to the more vexing question, "Is Donald Trump a Christian?"
The picture to the right represents the tone of political discourse in the last two or three election cycles. A friend commented on Facebook, "I have observed, in this political season, that if I don’t adhere to your political reasoning, I am not only “very wrong, ” I am not just “uninformed,” I have no mind of my own. I am in fact, stupid.” This observation presents a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge for us, as people of faith, is to model the biblical virtues of gentleness, kindness, and grace, to restrain our words and only utter them if they will build people up. Lyons and Kinnamon have observed that Christians don't have a good reputation with young people who are outside the faith. For that matter, we don't have a very good reputation for young people inside the church. We are viewed as loud, overbearing and pushy. We have an opportunity to change that. My challenge for the body of Christ is to provide an example of civility in the realm of politics. Not a soft civility that doesn't stand for anything, but a thoughtful civility that understands the importance of engaging with people who hold different viewpoints and working with them to propose workable solutions to the most pressing problems of our culture.
Emily Shanahan is differently-abled. She has developed the unique skill of living, living well in fact, with cerebral pasly. I invited Emily to join me on a Sunday Morning (Feb 14, 2016) at Central because I think she has much to teach us about humility, endurance, tenacity, and most of all joy. Emily doesn't want or need our sympathy, she wants our friendship and our confidence. Emily's main goal is modest, she wants to change the world and she won't allow cerebral palsy to slow her down. Instead of being bitter about the challenge of living with CS, she accepts it as an opportunity to display God's grace and power. Click here to learn more about Emily's journey and her dreams.
A number of years ago a book by Dallas Willard changed my understanding of what it means to be a Christian. God doesn't save us just so that we can go to Heaven. He saves us so that we can bring a little bit of Heaven to earth. He saves us to be world changers, people who invest their lives in fixing things that are broken, giving people a taste of Heaven, and showing people what it will be like to be in the presence of Jesus. Salvation does result in the forgiveness of sins, but that's secondary to the fact that when God saves us he makes us Kingdom builders.
"This blog is my way of connecting with people at Central and beyond to encourage them to make their space in the world more like Heaven."
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog reflect my thoughts and opinions as an individual, not the formal positions of our church. Central includes people with a wide range of opinions on important issues like those addressed in my posts. It is also a place where we can discuss these issues with civility and grace.