Love is easy –
is one of the biggest myths
of our day and age.
If love were easy,
we'd war no more.
If love were easy,
humans would no longer
starve to death.
If love were easy,
wouldn't freeze to death
while our government devises
new ways to give money
to the rich.
Love is never easy.
by Mark Sandlin
Salvation Army kettles and the ringing bells that dot storefronts every Christmas have become something of cultural icons. When my kids were younger, one of the true joys of Christmas was each of us grabbing a handful of coins as we headed into the grocery store and joyfully stuffing it all into the kettle as we exchanged our “Merry Christmases” with the kettle workers.
We don't do that any more.
As my family and I learned more and more about the church's stance on homosexuality, we decided to share our money in other places. It was a difficult decision. We know how much good the Salvation Army does in our own town. Even our little church receives references from the local Salvation Army for people who need aid as we partner with them to help those who are struggling.
by Mark Sandlin (and friends)
"That's not Christian! You're using Jesus to promote your liberal agenda!"
I'm getting this a lot. I've spent a good deal of my life reading and studying the Bible (even going to graduate school for it). One of the things I do now is write this blog about what I've learned.
The interesting thing is, I very frequently get accused of promoting a progressive agenda. Frankly, I think that says more about the Bible than it does about me. It's also been said that "the truth has a liberal bias." So, there's that too.
Well, if I'm going to be accused of having a progressive agenda, I might as well know what it is. So, I asked my friends on The God Article's Facebook page what their "#1 priority as a progressive Christian"? Then, using their thoughts and mine, I put together this little "To Do" list. I wouldn't exactly call it a complete list -- but it's a good start. I don't get it right every day but I am trying.
by Mark Sandlin
In response to my last article, “10 Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus,” I was accused multiple times of being political. All I was trying to do was follow Jesus. So, I thought it'd be interesting (and generate tons more hate mail) to show what a list would actually look like if I were being political intentionally. Like the first list, this is not a complete list but it's a pretty good place to start.
There will be those who comment and send me messages berating me for “making Jesus political.” It's okay. Fire away. Jesus didn't worry much about stepping on political toes and the Bible insists that governments be just toward the least of these (the books of the prophets alone make this point very clear). Frequently, people who are the most vocal about not making Jesus political are the same people who want prayer in school and laws based on their own religious perspectives. By a happy little circumstance that brings us to my list:
10) Force your religious beliefs and practices on others.
One of the strengths of the faith Jesus taught was in its meekness. The faith he taught valued free will over compulsion – because that's how love works. Compelling people to follow any religion, more or less your personal religion, stands over and against the way Jesus practiced his faith. If you are using the government to compel people to practice your spiritual beliefs, you might be the reason baby Jesus is crying. This does get tricky. There is a difference in letting your beliefs inform your political choices and letting your politics enforce your religion. This article is about the first part.
9) Advocate for war.
There's a reason why he was called the Prince of Peace. Sure, you can quote, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” and even two or three other verses but they don't hold a candle to the more than fifty-some verses where Jesus speaks about peace and peacemaking. It's funny how things keep coming back to love but it needs to be said, it is way far away from loving a person to kill them. I guess there's a reason why we say, “God is love.” In the end, love wins.
8) Favor the rich over the poor.
This is actually related to #4. Favoring the rich over the poor is a slap in the face of Jesus, his life and his teachings. In terms of the teachings of Jesus, it is bad enough when we allow the rich to take advantage of the poor, but when we create laws which not only encourage the behavior but also protect it? Well, let's just say it becomes crystal clear how ironic it is that we print, “In God We Trust,” on our money.
by Mark Sandlin
Lots of people claim to be “following Jesus” and then they do stuff like this. Sure, people who follow Jesus do these things all the time but you can't say you are doing them because you are trying to follow Jesus' example.
(Clearly, this is not a complete list but it's a good place to start).
10) Exclude people because they practice another religion.
Jesus was constantly including people and he did it with a radical disregard for their religion. We do not have a single recorded incident of Jesus asking for a person's religious affiliation before being willing to speak with them or break bread with them. We do have several records of Jesus seeking out those who happen to practice faith differently from him. There was even this one time when he used a hated Samaritan as an example of how we are supposed to take care of each other.
9) Exclude people for what they look like, how they were born or things beyond their control.
I may have mentioned this already but Jesus was constantly including people. Jesus had this rebel streak in him that actually sought out folks who didn't “fit in.” People who were different, people who were marginalized, people who were made to feel unwanted in one way or another held a special place in the heart, life and actions of Jesus. I suspect he did it because he understood they weren't actually different at all. Touch the lepers (the “untouchables”). Do it.
8) Withhold healthcare from people.
Did you ever play the game “Follow the Leader"? If you don't do what the leader does, you are out. Following means you should imitate as closely as possible. When people who were sick needed care, Jesus gave it to them. If we are following Jesus, we will imitate him as closely as possible. No, we can't repeat the miracles he did but I've seen modern medicine do things that are about as close to a miracle as I expect to get.
7) Exclude people.
Last time. Promise. Jesus was constantly including people. It's a little concept called love. He was pretty big on it.
6) Let people go hungry.
When Jesus said, “feed my sheep,” it was about more than just a spiritual feeding. As a matter of fact, if Gandhi was right (and I suspect he was), you can't have one without the other: “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” There is not a food shortage in the world -- there is enough for everyone. There is not a problem with having a distribution system capable of handling it; I can eat lobster from Maine while looking over the Pacific ocean. The problem is that we aren't very good at sharing.
by David Henson
Don’t forget to feast this Lent.
In the midst of the almsgiving, praying and fasting that traditionally mark this season, remember also to feast.
But only on Sundays.
For Christians, every Sunday is a feast day, and fasting is forbidden at a feast. And, it would be downright rude — to the host, to others at the feast, and to yourself — to fast in the midst of a feast.
Of course, feasting isn’t the first thought that comes to mind in Lent, especially in the popular imagination. But, in many ways, it is the most important part.
Some Christians tend to think of Lent only in terms of deprivation, discipline and rigorous religiosity. Others might malign it as encouraging a kind of mind-body dualism in which the body is battered into submission or the spirit edified at the expense of the repression of the body. Others have criticized Lent, explaining they don’t need the Church to dictate a special season for them to draw close to God.
These criticisms tend to forget about that one critical element: the Lenten feast.
Now, before anyone protests, the feasts of Lent are certainly on the more somber side of things, with all the minor chords and buried Alleluias. But the Sundays during Lent are still celebrations. The Eucharist is never a dirge. It is always a celebration and not just of God’s love and of Jesus’ life. It is also a celebration of our participation in that divine mystery. It is an invitation to a party in which we can touch the hem of divinity — and sometimes more. It is an embodied celebration and a celebration of bodies, particularly God’s own body.
by Randy Walker
If you think your way is the only way, you might be “stuck in the details.” If you belittle those who do not look like you, act like you, or think like you, you might be “stuck in the details.” If dogma rules your life, you might be “stuck in the details.”
First, what is meant by the idiom, “stuck in the details”? Has anyone encountered someone who is obsessive-compulsive over certain things in his or her life? This person becomes consumed with a minute detail, or details, that have little impact on the person’s quality of life, and in doing so, misses the “big picture,” or the things that do matter and affect the quality of life or the outcome of something in particular. I once worked for someone who displayed this quirk to the extreme. He and I worked in construction. This man would obsess over visible brush strokes left on a painted surface, imperfections in trim molding, or other minor blemishes to the point that he would miss obvious things, such as a missing storm door, blatant damage to an outside wall or other similar but what should be easily detected flaws. In other words, he was “stuck in the details,” and he missed the “big picture.”
I believe it is easy for many people to do, essentially, the same thing when it comes to religion or worldviews. To me, religious dogma is an example of details, and people tend to focus on dogmatic “details” and miss the more crucial “big picture.” Stated another way: the doctrine and the rules included in the dogma become more important to some people than how they view and treat people they encounter. They will argue, vehemently, about a minute point of doctrine and proclaim that if other people do not believe just as they do, such people are inferior, hell-bound, unfit, outcast, ex-communicated... the list goes on.
by Mark Sandlin and the Admin Team of "The God Article."
“Being a slave to your own truth,” might be one reasonable way to define extreme fundamentalism.
On September 22nd two years ago, CNN ran an investigative report titled “Ungodly Discipline.” It takes a look at a history of biblically “justified” abuse in one specific school. It would be easy to walk away from the report and think it's nothing more than a he-said/she-said piece on spanking in schools. It is so much more than that.
It points to the dangers of fundamentalism. These children were not just spanked, they were abused. People who presumably loved them, hurt them. They justified it using the Bible. Fundamentalism frequently requires a devotion which is so blind that its adherents find they are nothing more than pawns in a game whose only purpose is to keep the game going. They are slaves to their own truths.
My heart goes out to each child who has grown up in this church and school. I have little doubt that some of them have escaped it relatively unscathed, but I know without any doubt that many have been wounded deeply.
The school is Fairhaven Baptist Academy which is associated with Fairhaven Independent Baptist Church and Fairhaven Baptist College in Indiana. Their founder is Pastor Roger Voegtlin. His two adpoted children are among those who were abused and they are speaking out about it.
Pastor Voegtlin's adopted son, Frank Voegtlin, contributed the following introduction to the CNN video for this article. In part, it explains why I believe it is still important to continue to tell their story.
This CNN video was a liberating moment for my sister Catherine and me. Having been adopted at a young age into the home of Roger Voegtlin, the minister of Fairhaven Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church, we were quickly taught that he was the definitive authority of God’s word. After living in his home and being abused by him for many years, we eventually left.
I like calling North Carolina home. (I know, it sounds like I stole a line from James Taylor or the Allman Brothers, but I actually think it's from a old PSA for traveling to N.C. ... sung by none other than North Carolina's own: Andy Griffith). But seriously, I like calling North Carolina home.
I mean, what's not to like? We have majestic mountains for snow skiing. Beautiful, uncrowded beaches that are perfect for sunbathing or bodysurfing. Over 120 colleges and universities. We are “first in flight” with the Wright Brothers and we are the site of the Woolworth Sit-in (which is now the home of the International Civil Rights Museum). We also have the preacher who told his congregation to knock the gay out of their “limp-wristed sons” and the guy who became a YouTube sensation by blowing holes in his teenaged daughter's laptop for complaining like a... well, teenager. And, we are voting in just a few days to make same-sex marriage, which is already not legally recognized in the state, a constitutionally prohibited thing. Ah, soak in the goodness and machismo of the Tarheel State. Come in and stay awhile. Ya'll come back now, ya' hear?
Oh... and our state bird is the Cardinal (almost forgot).
Yep, the Cardinal is a gorgeous bird, particularly the males who are a brighter red than the females. Considering the beautiful landscapes of our state, what a perfect bird to represent us! And the Cardinal is a terribly aggressive bird. Considering the machismo of some of our residents (even some of our preachers), what a perfect bird to represent us.
Don't get me wrong, I really do like calling North Carolina home, but I'm not going to pretend like we don't have our problems. As a minister, some of the problems are terribly concerning to me. Recently, one particular problem keeps floating to the top – machismo.
My concern began growing stronger when this guy started blowing holes in his daughter's laptop as a way to teach her a lesson:
I'm not sure what lesson he was trying to teach her, but the one she was likely to walk away with was: Violence solves problems. Or maybe: Many men prefer to solve problems with violence. The first conclusion is sadly wrong and the second is sadly sometimes true.
But that's not what I found most concerning about the whole thing. What bothered me the most was the way the dad was cheered on by so many other parents. Even those of us who tried to point out the aggressive and violent nature of his actions received aggressive and violent responses from people who were defending their right (need/desire?) to be... well, aggressive and violent.
Then, along comes Amendment One. An attempt to make it constitutionally illegal for two people who are in love but happen to be of the same sex to get married. Which is a stereotypically hyper-masculine thing for which to advocate all by itself, but the language of the amendment is so vague that it actually makes it harder for a woman, who is being abused by a man she is living with but not married to, to get protection via the state. Fantastic, a constitutional amendment that not only tries to normalize the false Christian notion that the Bible prescribes marriage to only be between one man and one woman, but also makes it easier for one man to abuse one woman (or quite frankly, more if he feels so moved). Seriously, whoever picked the aggressive Cardinal as a state bird was some kind of a soothsayer... or, more probably, male and he simply self-identified.
The most resent national display of this hyper-masculinity of the Tarheel soul comes from Pastor Sean Harris who in a sermon which told his congregants to vote for Amendment One (can someone please get the IRS to revoke their tax exempt status?), also told them to knock the gay out of their “limp-wristed” sons. Yes, really. He, of course, now says it was just a joke, has apologized and even sort of retracted his statement, but why don't we let you decided if it was a joke or if it sounds like he didn't really mean it. You can listen to him here (as welll as the laughter of the congregation). Or just read the transcript below:
You can almost feel the testosterone oozing through your computer can't you?
Well, I'm tired of sitting by and simply shaking my head over all of this or just posting a particularly well worded Facebook status update to express by deep sense of disdain. So, Rev. Zac Bailes of libsandcons.com and I came with a campaign to let people like Pastor Harris know that there are Christians out there who not only disagree with advocating for bullying LGBT folks (particularly kids) but that the bullying frequently has horrible outcomes.
We are asking you to send a letter (even if it's only a few lines) to Pastor Harris and along with it, send a page from your Bible or a photocopied page with a verse highlighted. It might be the verse that Zac and I are using, Micah 7:8, or you may chose Micah 6:8 or Mark 12:31 or even Psalm 23. Then across the page write the name of a child who committed suicide due to bullying. I added the age and date of their death to mine. Here's picture of the page I'm sending to him and the page Zac is sending.
Send your pages and letters to:
Berean Baptist Church
517 Glensford Drive
Fayetteville, NC 28314
Here's the letter I'm sending:
Finally, while I will not ever address it directly from the pulpit. I would like to make my position clear on Amendment One. As I've referenced once already, the idea of many Christians that same-sex attraction and acting out on it are against what the Bible teaches is simply and utterly false. While it is true that our English translations were made to read that way, as I have demonstrated in my blog post “Clobbering 'Biblical' Gay Bashing,” which draws on the best scholarship available on the topic, it is also true that the authors of the Bible never tried to address homosexuality as we understand it today, nor could they have.
Amendment One, not only tries to push this false Christian belief on the rest of society regardless of their own religious beliefs or lack thereof (which seems like a very unloving and unChristian thing to do), but because of it's poorly worded dictates it also further marginalizes folks who are already looked down upon by certain groups of people and it opens the door for those who are abused to find themselves less protected and more at risk than ever before. When I read the teachings of Jesus, a man who reached out to those society marginalized, I find no way to justify supporting Amendment One.
Amendment One is nothing more than hate on a page, legalized discrimination. It is divisive, damaging and disingenuous for those who truly seek to follow the teachings of Jesus. There is nothing loving, supportive or nurturing about it. Its end results will only be to limit love, to hurt those who are already being hurt and to further divide the Body of Christ. As a Christian and as a minister, I cannot, I will not, vote in favor of it. I will be voting against Amendment One and I am asking you, in the name of the One who loves us and asks us to love one another, to do the same.
I really do like calling North Carolina home. I just want it to be a place everyone would like to call home.
(This article is also posted as audio file read by the author at the end of the post).
Ah.... I LOVE this time of the year!
Some people wait with bated breath for duck season, some for deer season, but for me it is all about Christmas season. That's right I'm one of those lefty, liberals that have declared a War on Christmas. That's right! Sign me up for the War on Christmas! … but maybe not for the reasons you might imagine.
You see, while I am signing up to help in a War on Christmas, I'm not on, what by default gets called, the “non-Christian” side. I’m also not signing up for the side that news pundits falsely purport as the “Christian” side. If anything, I’d make the argument that the dominant face of Christianity, as it is seen on television and promoted through news programming, is itself far from what Christianity is supposed to be about. It is a sort-of white-washed, sanitized version of Christianity that every year presents an increasingly cleaned up version of the Christmas story to the viewing public.
You see, the baby we remember this time of year, was not part of the dominant culture the way the religion he started now is. The religious stories that were told in those days were told under the shadow of the dominant culture. They were stories of oppression and hardships, stories of overcoming unthinkable odds, stories of hope for a people living in times and cultural positions that – well, quite frankly felt hopeless.
But today, our stories are told from places and positions of power. Today, Christianity is the dominant culture. So, instead of story of a olive skinned middle-eastern, unwed, pregnant mother, who was seen as little more than property, giving birth to what the world would surely see as an illegitimate child who was wrapped in what rags they could find and placed in a smelly, flea infested feeding trough in the midst of a dark musky smelling animal stall… instead of that story, we end up with a clean, white skinned European woman giving birth to a glowing baby wrapped in impossibly white swaddling clothes and laid to rest in a manger that looks more like a crib than a trough in the midst of a barn that is more kept and clean than many of our houses.
So, “War on Christmas?,” sure sign me up. I'm pretty sure I'd prefer the elimination of what our modern “celebration” has become to the increasingly white-washed version we hear every year.
The Christmas story has been hijacked by a dominant culture. Places of power and positions of prestige have warped the comeuppance sensibilities of the original Christmas story. God’s vision of liberating the oppressed, the down trodden, has been slowly replaced year after year with a story that no longer brings fear to the Powers that Be, but rather supports the big business agendas of profit and mass consumerism.
“War On Christmas?” – come to think of it – they’re right. There is a “War On Christmas,” but it is actually waged by many of the very people who think Christmas is getting squeezed out of our culture in the name of plurality and other religions. If the Christmas they support wins – well, I for one, would have to say all is lost. So, yes, there is a “War on Christmas” and we Christians have been supporting it. If the present day, white-washed version of Christmas continues to be the dominant version, then I believe a great darkness will smother us in a sea of privilege and perverse oblivion to the struggle of those most in need – the oppressed, the downtrodden.
If the Christmas Present, with it's full on worship of consumerism, continues to masquerade as Christmas Past, our Christmas Futures will increasingly become a time when we give out of our abundance rather than out of a response to need and out of a response to God’s love – the kind of Christmas where we give to those who already have abundantly while the oppressed, the downtrodden, watch our overindulgence and rightfully judge us by actions that run contrary to our words of a child born to bring light into the dark corners of the world.