Thursday, May 31, 2007

Catholic Politicians

One of the purposes of this blog is to give you some background behind various items of news, particularly in areas where I am knowledgeable, such as religion and spirituality. I will also give you news on those subjects that you might not hear or read in the mainstream media. This is one such posting.

The Roman Catholic Cardinal of Scotland recently indicated that he may recommend that Scottish Roman Catholic politicians whose policies are inconsistent with the Church’s teachings will not be allowed to receive Holy Communion. To my knowledge he hasn’t made that decision, but other Catholics over the years have suggested that pro-abortion and pro-gay rights politicians should not be allowed to receive the sacrament.

This presents an interesting theological discussion about the sacraments and means of grace, but I won’t bore you with it. Instead, I’ll try to explain where this Cardinal and other Catholics are coming from in this regard.

In Europe and the Americas, what religion you affiliate with is a matter of free choice. While there may be social pressures to belong to a particular religion, everybody is free to belong to any religion of their choosing, or no religion. One of the basic rights in the U.S. Constitution is the free exercise of religion without governmental interference (more on this in a future posting).

Since choice of religious affiliation is an individual and non-coerced preference, then it follows that anybody who chooses a particular religion agrees with its teachings. For example, the Pope recently visited Brazil, where just about everybody is baptized Catholic. However, quite a few people have left the Catholic Church and converted to various evangelical Protestant denominations. They freely chose to reject Catholicism and embrace a different form of Christianity.

One thing about the Catholic Church is that its teachings and policies are clear – there is little wiggle room and no ambiguity. So if a Catholic politician rejects his or her church’s clear teachings on social issues, then he or she has in essence rejected the church. If he or she has rejected the church, then why should this politician be allowed to receive the church’s sacraments, which are, to some extent, a reaffirmation of one’s loyalty to that church? Politicians, in particular, make laws, so what they do affects everybody. It isn’t just personal belief, as with you and me.

So for these reasons many Catholics believe the Church does have the right to refuse the Eucharist to politicians who defy their church’s teachings. I suspect they believe that if the politician is “voting his conscience” on abortion or gay rights rather than conforming to his church’s unambiguous teachings, then he should join a church which is more consistent with his conscience. Otherwise the practice of his religion is a sham. The Catholic Church in particular is not a “cafeteria religion” where you can pick and choose what you believe. You buy into the whole package.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Bible – Part II

As I mentioned in Part I posted earlier, Scripture convicts us of our own shortcomings and unfaithfulness to God. As we read the Bible, the Spirit tells us in what areas we can do better.

In addition, by reading the Bible we get to know God; we learn God’s plan for both ourselves and the human race; we understand how we are to live; and reading the Bible builds up our faith.

In the Bible, God tells us how important it is to study, learn, and properly interpret Holy Scripture. For example, God, through the Apostle Paul, advised us and Timothy to avoid being deceived, and the best way to avoid being spiritually misled is to:

…continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14b-15, NRSV)

Now that we know some of the functions of the Bible, let’s explore what the Bible is, and what it isn’t. The reason I want to do this is because the Bible is controversial and often misunderstood, so we need to address a number of issues:

·Some say the Bible is full of contradictions, which isn’t true, but there are some tensions and difficult passages in the Bible.

·Some say science and the Bible don’t mix, but each has its proper place. The Bible isn’t a science book and science shouldn’t be a religion.

·Some get hung up on some of the hard-to-believe stories in the Bible, and this can cast doubt on the whole book. Some obsess on how different miracles could have taken place and miss the point of the story.

·Some don’t know what the term “Word of God” means as applied to the Bible.

·Some attribute the Bible with almost magical powers, so we need to understand the work of the Holy Spirit with respect to the Bible.

Let’s tackle that last item. The Bible is special because it was inspired by God, as St. Paul wrote in today’s epistle reading (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NRSV):

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

The Bible is not God’s word-for-word dictation, but it communicates to us what God wants us to learn, using human intermediaries and various literary forms. Just as Jesus is both human and divine, so the Bible is both human and divine. God used men, but we believe the Bible’s message is a true and accurate representation of what God wants us to hear, learn, understand, and obey. Because of that, the Bible is truly useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, equipping us for every good work.

Many Christians believe that reading the Bible is a means of grace. Does that mean there is some sort of magic connected with the Bible? No, it means that when we are reading the Bible, the Holy Spirit works within us to fulfill one or more of the functions I mentioned earlier:
Convicting us of sin and our need for a Savior;
Getting to know God, especially in his Son Jesus Christ;
Learning God’s plan for ourselves and the human race;
Learning how we are to live as God want us to live;
Building up our faith in God.

Hebrews 4:12a says “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword…”

That statement does not indicate any magic powers either, only that what God is telling us through the Bible under the power of the Holy Spirit can transform our life. That’s why I encourage you to read the Bible and take seriously what the Holy Spirit is telling you when you read it.

We see the importance of reading and properly interpreting the Scriptures when Jesus provided the disciples with understanding in Luke 24:45: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” That’s what the Holy Spirit does with us today: the Holy Spirit opens our minds to understand the Scriptures, which is important for our spiritual growth.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Bible - Part I

Just about every religion has its sacred Scriptures. For Jews and Christians, it is the Bible. There are a number of important reasons why we should read, study, and know the Bible. Let me list a few of the benefits of reading the Bible:

1. Get to Know God

First, we get to know God by reading the Bible. The Holy Scripture is God’s partial revelation of himself to us, usually in language we can understand. I say “partial revelation” because there is still much about God we can’t really know or understand. While that bothers us, we have to remember this quote: “You must expect God to know some things which you do not understand.”

2. Get to Know God’s Plan

The second reason why we read the Bible is that in doing do, we get to know God’s plan for both ourselves and the human race. Not only do we learn God’s plan for the world, but we can also discern God’s plan for us as individuals through prayer and Bible study. If you aren’t sure what God has called you to do, both short-term and long-term, pray about it and read the Bible. You’ll be amazed how God answers your questions and gives you discernment.

3. Get to Know How We Are to Live

The third reason why we read the Bible is so that we learn how we are to live. God created the world and God created us. As the Designer, God knows how we should live, and the Bible spells that out. If we live according to biblical principles, we will have fewer troubles in this world, society as a whole will be better, and our lives will glorify God. God knows best – read what God has to say in the Bible about living life. As we read in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT) in a paraphrased translation:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

4. Builds Our Faith

The fourth reason we should read the Bible is that it builds up our faith. Faith is a gift from God, and God uses the Bible as an instrument of his grace to build up our faith. It says in Romans 10:17:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. NIV

So when we read the Bible, we should look at it as an exercise in faith: God is using what we read to build us up. There is nothing magic about it. When God has our attention, such as when we are praying or reading the Bible, God can work in us to build up our faith, direct our ways, and give us understanding. Do you read the Bible frequently?

Let us pay attention to what God is telling us personally through the inspired Bible. We don’t worship the Bible, but we trust it to tell us what we need to know about God, ourselves, Jesus, faith, salvation, and the world. As it says in Acts 6:2b: “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God…” NRSV

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Meaning of Pentecost

We recently celebrated Pentecost. What is the meaning of that special day?

It commemorates the coming of the promised Holy Spirit to the disciples on a permanent basis (see Acts 2 and John 14). God’s Spirit is now always with us, and guides us, empowers us, gives us comfort, provides joy, and helps us in our spiritual walk. The Holy Spirit guides and empowers us both individually and as a body of believers called the church. The Holy Spirit empowers the church to be God’s agent of change in the world, a counter-cultural entity battling the forces of evil.

As the Spirit of God flows into us, it also ought to flow from us in the way we treat one another; in the way we speak to one another; in the way we treat others in our community; and in the way we live out the new life we receive when we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. With the Spirit’s help, we can be effective in pointing the unchurched to Christ and doing other works as the Spirit directs us.

The Holy Spirit is with us continuously to melt us, mold us, fill us, and use us. Let’s not ignore him, let’s obey him in doing God’s work as we are called.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Evolution – What’s Wrong with It?

The Theory of Evolution has been a contentious issue for quite some time. Some wonder what all the fuss is about, and others think that those who reject it are ignorant fundamentalists who ignore “science” and rely on myths and fairy tales. Let me make a few points about the debate for your consideration (especially if you have children).

(1) The Theory of Evolution is not “science” in the classic sense. Science in its purest form is the study of repeatable and observable events or controlled experiments. The formation of the universe and the appearance of various species on the planet are neither repeatable nor observable. Those who reject evolution are not necessarily rejecting “science” but are rejecting one particular explanation of historical events that many scientists believe (but still is not categorically proven – otherwise it would be a “law” such as the law of gravity or the laws of thermodynamics).

(2) Nevertheless, evidence of these events, sketchy as it is, has been studied in a rigorous way to try to determine how they occurred. Since this is “science” in some form, any conclusions involving God (or an “Intelligent Designer”) are not allowed, no matter how obvious they may be. Therefore, evolution is the only “scientific” explanation for now.

(3) Creationists believe God created everything in the universe. At one end of the spectrum are those who believe the literal six day account in Genesis. On the other end of the spectrum are those who say God used some sort of evolutionary process for his divine purposes, and was in complete control of the process. Creationists look to the incredible complexity of life, especially higher forms, as proof of an “Intelligent Designer.”

(4) “Pure” evolution excludes God entirely – everything resulted from random mutations over millions of years. The whole purpose of evolution is to come up with a way of explaining creation without the Creator. If you don’t believe me, read some of what Darwin wrote about God and Christianity – he hated both.

(5) Since the study of evolution is not “science” in its pure sense as explained above, then it is really a form of faith, similar to any religion. It worships the god of science and evolution is its creed. Why do I say that? Because the theory is unproven with many gaps in the fossil record and no transitional species found. Looking at the complexity of human beings, it takes more faith to accept that this happened through random mutations than it does to believe in a Divine Designer. It takes a strong faith to look at a porpoise and say it evolved from a land animal (especially since no transitional fossils have been found). If you really know all of the holes in the theory and still believe in it, then you have more faith than most religious people.

(6) I believe in adaptation, since it can be readily observed. However, I can’t buy Darwinism (meaning one species turning into another) because its sole purpose is to exclude God from the equation, it has more holes in it than Swiss cheese, and it can’t adequately explain the complexity of life. It also has in it the seeds of racism (“some races are more highly evolved than others”). Hitler was an avid Darwinist and used Darwinism to justify his persecution of “inferior races” such as the Jews and Slavs.

Regardless of what our kids are told in school, I believe Christian parents need to inform them that God is the Creator and evolution is an unproven theory, not a scientifically proven fact as they are led to believe. They obviously have to play the game at school in order to pass exams, but let them know that there is much more to creation than the godless theory of evolution. The more we move God out of their thinking, the further down the wrong path our children will go.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A President Other Than a WASP?

Among the many candidates for president are Catholics, an African-American, a woman, a Latino, an Italian-American, and a Mormon. Those of us of a certain age remember the fuss that was made when John F. Kennedy, a Catholic of Irish heritage, ran for president in 1960. Now we have a diversity that is remarkable (and long overdue).

This diversity is good because it indicates that certain groups now have opportunities that had been denied to them, or had hurdles that were difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. Let us hope that this is a sign that the old barriers are falling, and everyone will have equal opportunities in all aspects of American life.

There is also a wide diversity of worldviews and positions on issues. I encourage you to focus on the issues, and not on peripheral things such as a candidate’s gender, ethnicity, or religion. We need to make sure the candidate we vote for:

(1) Clearly articulates his or her positions on issues that are important to you. I might also suggest that you shouldn’t be a one-issue voter, but look at all of the positions of the candidates. Make sure you understand a candidate’s values, character, and stands on the key issues, not just your favorite issue.

(2) Has a history that is consistent with what he or she claims are his or her positions on issues that are important to you.

(3) Has doable solutions to the major long-term problems facing this country: energy policy, social security, health care, unfavorable balance of trade, and exporting American jobs overseas (especially to China). All I hear is complaining about these – never a workable solution.

(4) Is, in fact, thinking strategically and long-term about such problems as Iraq and the Middle East, and is not suggesting quick fixes that will ultimately do more long-term harm than good.

(5) Is unwilling to be swayed by opinion polls, but is ready to stand up for his or her principles and beliefs despite what the polls say.

Let’s pray that the next president will not be a “politician” but will be a true leader that will address the critical issues facing us. And let’s also elect senators and congressmen who have vision, who will tackle the tough problems and not just take potshots from the sidelines. We have enough blowhards in Congress who are doing the public a terrible disservice by their lack of action. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to make them accountable.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Our Children

Our children are subjected to many influences that aren’t consistent with how we are trying to raise them (see my Mother’s Day posting). I believe parents need to take charge of their children’s lives and control what they are exposed to. I know this is extremely difficult, especially with older children, but it has to be done.

I heard a talk recently that discussed the kinds of sex and violence that our kids are exposed to that we don’t have a clue about. Incredibly violent games. Terrible song lyrics. Magazines aimed for teens that have inappropriate articles on sex and other subjects. Things on the Internet we would rather they not see. Movies that go well beyond scary (I don’t even like seeing the ads for them on TV).

No wonder the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred for some kids. No wonder kids want to have sex at earlier ages – their world is saturated with it. No wonder kids shoot up schools – they have been exposed to so much graphic violence most of their young lives. To many kids, sex and violence are normal, reasonable, and acceptable.

Not only must parents take control of their children’s lives, but they should start sending them to Sunday school or CCD. Those are about the only places where your values are reinforced. However, if you do send them to Sunday school or CCD, you should also attend church. If you just drop them off and then do something “more worthwhile”), it tells them that it isn’t really important to you. It also won’t be important to them, and they will tune it out. Remember, they often follow your example or pick up clues from you.

If you don’t believe me that we need to do a better job as parents, just read the article that I read recently (May 22) in the Poughkeepsie Journal. It had to do with five sixth-graders in Saugerties who planned to slit the throat of one of their schoolmates. I don’t know all that is behind this planned violent act, but if sixth-graders believe it is OK to slit someone’s throat, we have a serious problem.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

God in Your Life

Without God in your life, you are missing something. People spend an entire lifetime trying to become fulfilled, to have purpose, to find what they sense is missing but can’t quite figure out what it is. What’s missing is God, who created in us a desire for him. Without God, we can never be completely fulfilled as human beings.

Today there are so many things seeking our attention that we might think we are living a fulfilled life – but we really aren’t. Busy, yes. Fulfilled, no. Unfortunately these many things crowd out God so that God becomes marginalized in our life. We’re the ones who suffer as a result.

If you feel something is missing, try bringing God back into your life. God is there for you. God never moved – you did.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Voting Your Values

The recent death of Jerry Falwell reminded me of the discussions that have taken place regarding the role of religion in the public square, especially the reactions to his efforts to mobilize voters with “traditional values.” Let me make a few points on the subject for your consideration:

(1) People vote their values. What’s wrong with voting values that are informed by a person’s religion?

(2) Some people make the ridiculous statement that “you can’t legislate morality.” Think about it. Every law is a reflection of someone’s concept of morality, ethics, or fairness. So of course we can and do legislate morality with every law we pass.

(3) In Western society, laws have been traditionally based on the Bible’s concept of morality, ethics, or fairness. Why eliminate biblical thinking now?

(4) Many secularists invoke the separation of church and state erroneously. This is a large topic, but let me just say that the current interpretation of the First Amendment is far from what the Founders had in mind. This revisionist interpretation of the Constitution is being used to suppress a segment of the population from expressing their opinions, misusing one part of the Constitution in an attempt to restrain the constitutional rights of a segment of the population.

(5) There are many different voting blocs and lobbying groups representing every kind of special interest, including gambling interests and pornography. Why shouldn’t people of faith have a voting bloc and lobbying groups so that what they feel is important can be discussed in the public square?

Before you start believing some of the idiotic statements made in an effort to suppress people of faith from expressing their views, think about the intent of the Constitution and the document upon which it was based, our founding document, The Declaration of Independence. The Constitution was never intended to be used to limit what people of faith could do or say. Instead, it was intended to protect people of all faiths from an oppressive government that might try to silence them or outlaw the practice of their particular faith.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Mitt Romney’s Mormonism – Part II

All of the considerations mentioned in Part I disqualify Mormonism from being considered “Christian” in the traditional sense of the term, according to most orthodox (with a small “O”) Christians. Because of the rather unorthodox theology of Mormonism, some are bothered by the prospect of having a Mormon as president. Of course when we elect a president, we should remember that we are choosing a secular leader, not the theologian-in-charge. So in my opinion, we should be less concerned about a candidate’s theology than his or her character, values, ethics, and policies (some of which, of course, are defined by his or her theology).

When it comes to values, the Mormons generally practice what Evangelical Christians tend to call “traditional values” or “family values.” Therefore, it is quite possible that a Mormon might do a better job in the values department than many Roman Catholic or Protestant candidates. For example, some Catholic politicians advocate policies that are clearly against the unequivocal teachings of their Church. Therefore, the voter can’t make a judgment regarding a Catholic candidate’s positions on abortion, gay rights, capital punishment, and a host of other issues based solely on his or her religious affiliation.

So I feel we should not only look at a candidate’s formal religion or denominational affiliation, but specifically at his or her character, values, ethics, and clearly stated stands on various issues. While a person’s religion, if they take it seriously, will inform their views, the whole person must be understood to get a complete picture of what kind of a president he or she would make.

By the way, this is by no means an endorsement of Mitt Romney, only an attempt to put the “religious question” into proper perspective when considering any candidate. I believe the same consideration should be given to Joe Lieberman, who is Jewish, should he choose to run for president. I care much more about a candidate’s character, values, ethics, and policies than I do their formal religion, be it Mormon, Jewish, Catholic, Episcopalian, or Methodist.

However, I have to admit that I do prefer a candidate who practices his or her religion – whatever it might be – and takes its teachings seriously. The reason for that is that such a person usually believes he or she is accountable to a Higher Power, and therefore may stand a better chance of being moral, ethical and in favor of traditional values (even though, as we all know, “the church is full of hypocrites”). Better someone who is trying and falls short, than someone who isn’t trying at all, in my opinion.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mitt Romney’s Mormonism – Part I

There have been questions raised recently by some Christians regarding whether a Mormon should become president. The reason for this is because Mitt Romney, a “top tier” Republican candidate, is a Mormon. This issue reminds me of when John Kennedy was a candidate for president back in 1960. Some Protestants were concerned that a Roman Catholic president would be taking orders from the Vatican, ridiculous as that sounds to us today. Now a similar concern has arisen with Romney. Should Christians be concerned about a Mormon as president?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the official name of the Mormon Church (sometimes abbreviated “LDS”), has the name “Jesus Christ” in it, but it is quite different from mainstream Christian churches (i.e., Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox). There are three aspects of the LDS church that make most mainstream or orthodox (with a small “O”) Christians consider it not truly “Christian” in the usual sense of the term:

(1) It has the Book of Mormon and several other books as its scripture in addition to the Bible;

(2) Its theology is quite different from mainstream Christianity in many different ways;

(3) Its eschatology (final judgment and end times) is also very different from mainstream Christianity and what the Bible has to say on this.

You can go to or other religious websites for more details on Mormonism and its beliefs.

In a future posting I’ll discuss whether a person’s formal religious affiliation is something that a person should consider when choosing whom to vote for in an election.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Homosexual Debate – Part IV

After writing my earlier postings on the subject of homosexuality, I came across an article that examined the two sides of the debate from a slightly different theological viewpoint than I had. While the article is clearly coming from the traditionalist side (that the practice of homosexuality is a sin), it does highlight the contrast between the opposing views from a theological perspective. The author, James V. Heidinger II, explains another way of understanding the debate and how Christians reading the same Bible can arrive at quite different conclusions on the subject. Below is an excerpt from that article:

Dr. Les Longden, professor of Evangelism and Discipleship at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, notes that the controversy … reflects what biblical scholar Karl Donfried describes as the struggle of “two contrasting work in much of mainline Protestantism: a theology of acceptance versus a theology of redemption.”

The “theology of acceptance” has reduced the mystery of God “to one who simply wants us to love one another with an emphasis on the affirmation of the other, especially those who have been marginalized by society.” A “theology of redemption,” by contrast, “recognizes the power of sin, acknowledges that evil can only be overcome through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and accentuates the call to a call to holiness” (Donfried, “Who Owns the Bible? Toward the Recovery of a Christian Hermeneutic,” p. 7. Donfried cites Philip Turner, “An Unworkable Theology,” First Things, June/July, 2005, p. II).

Longden correctly notes that this whole controversy provides us with the opportunity to test whether the principle of “inclusiveness” is rightly normed and informed by a “theology of redemption” or is in competition with it.

For sure, the theologies contrasted above reflect more than just nuances of difference. They refer to, essentially, two different gospels.

From “Good News Magazine,” May/June 2007, Vol. 40, No. 6, page 9. © 2007, Good News, Wilmore, KY 40390

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Homosexual Debate – Part III

Before continuing, you might want to read my earlier postings, The Homosexual Debate – Part I and Part II, to give you some background as to what I am trying to accomplish.

In Part II, I explained where the traditionalists are coming from when it comes to the role of homosexuals in the Church, and the issue in general. In this posting I’ll explain where the Christian non-traditionalists (my terminology) are coming from in their belief that homosexuals should have “full inclusion” in the Church and in society (including “same-sex marriage”). Again, views differ among proponents of gay rights within the Church, so I’ll be speaking in generalities. I hope, however, to give you some idea of the thinking behind the non-traditionalist viewpoint on the subject.

I said in my earlier posting that the key to understanding the traditionalist viewpoint is that they consider the practice of homosexuality to be a sin based on the various biblical prohibitions against it. The non-traditionalist view is the exact opposite; that the practice of homosexuality is not a sin, but is a natural, God-given alternative sexual expression. If you believe that it is not a sin, then the issue is one of fairness. The question then becomes, why should practicing homosexuals be excluded from “full participation” in the life of the church (i.e., marriage and ordination) just because of what must be considered cultural prejudices? The non-traditionalists equate “prejudice” against gays with prejudice against women and minorities.

What about all of those biblical prohibitions? The non-traditionalists explain that they are expressions of deep-seated cultural biases which found their way into Scripture, and they do not reflect God’s will on the subject. The reasoning is that if God created certain people as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, why would God then consider such a lifestyle to be a sin? It doesn’t seem fair that God would make certain people with a certain sexual orientation, and then condemn that orientation as sinful. Regarding the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, non-traditionalists claim that it is more about hospitality than sexual sin.

Traditionalists consider this non-traditional interpretation of Scripture to be revisionist and misguided, reinterpreting the Bible to fit an agenda. On the other hand, Christian non-traditionalists say that the love of Jesus Christ supersedes any moral prohibitions in the Bible, so we should reflect Christ-like love to all by not excluding gays from full participation in the church.

As you can see, this is a difficult topic, and I have barely scratched the surface. I hope I have at least shed a little light on the debate and where each side is coming from. May God bless you in your search for answers to these difficult questions.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Homosexual Debate – Part II

Before continuing, you might want to read my earlier posting, The Homosexual Debate – Part I, to give you some background as to what I am trying to accomplish.

The traditionalists (my terminology – see Part I) base their position primarily on what the Bible has to say about the practice of homosexuality. In both the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and the New Testament, the practice of homosexuality is condemned as sinful. It is specifically addressed as a sinful act in a number of places, and it is implied as sinful in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18 & 19). While traditionalists may differ somewhat on the subject, many believe that “we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:13) and homosexuality is no worse than any other sin. However, the belief is that if somebody persists in anything that the Bible considers a sinful act, then he or she is unrepentant and therefore should not be allowed to be in leadership positions in a church or be ordained as clergy. So the key factor of the traditionalist viewpoint is that the practice of homosexuality is a sin based on numerous references to it in the Bible.

Notice that I say “the practice of homosexuality” is a sin, not necessarily being a homosexual. Again, traditionalists differ on this subject, but many believe that a homosexual doesn’t necessary “choose” to be of that sexual orientation, but it occurs through other factors, either born that way or the result of environmental factors (lack of love from a parent, molested as a child, etc.) So theoretically a celibate gay person could be in a leadership position or ordained as clergy because they aren’t “practicing” that lifestyle.

This is a brief overview of the traditionalist viewpoint. In a future posting I’ll explain where the non-traditionalists are coming from and how they justify their position.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Humorous Look at Mother's Day

We recently celebrated Mother’s Day. It is a day when we not only honor mothers, but celebrate the family, which is the basic building block of any society, and parenting, which is the most important job in the world (and may be the most difficult).

There comes a time in the life of every parent when the harsh reality sets in – you have become your parents. How do you know? You start saying the same annoying things to your children that your parents used to say to you. That realization hits you when you blurt out: “You ask why? I’ll tell you why. Because I said so, that’s why!” You are shocked when you hear yourself saying to your kids: “Do you think money grows on trees?” You cringe when you hear yourself say, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, clean your room!” Then there’s that all-time favorite: “Don’t make me come down there.” If you’re in a car, then it becomes “Don’t make me stop this car.” Without thinking, you say: “Stop crying, or I’ll really give you something to cry about!”

Then there is my personal favorite, “I’m doing this for your own good.” At the dinner table you say: “Eat your broccoli. It’ll put hair on your chest.” Of course little Suzy looks up at you and says: “But I don’t want hair on my chest.” You say to her: “Don’t talk back to me! Finish that broccoli now!”

My mother’s ultimate revenge was, “Wait until you have children of your own.” That was a frightening thought to me. What if my kids ended up just as bad as I was as a kid? That really scared me. Fortunately my kids were much better behaved than I was, so we dodged the bullet on that one.

The one thing I don’t repeat is: “You want to have your cake and eat it too.” My parents used to say that all the time, and I never understood what it meant. It doesn’t make any sense! Why else would you want cake – just to look at it? Of course I want my cake, and I do want to eat it too!

Despite their often annoying expressions, you could turn into someone a lot worse than your parents. Honor them, not only on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, but all year round. If they are no longer with us, honor their legacy. They may have been flawed, but they still are our parents.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Mother’s Day Message for Christian Parents

Raising children has never been easy, even under ideal circumstances. When your circumstances are less than ideal, it becomes even more challenging. All I can say is that the best thing to do is to look to Jesus for your help and strength. We can consider God the ultimate parent – God invented parenthood and will help us through it.

Our earthly mothers were flawed, and we are flawed. That’s why we need to pray early and often for the strength and wisdom we need to get through the day and do the right thing. Remember what it says in Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. NIV

Jesus was on this earth for over 30 years, and for most of that time lived the life of an ordinary person, so he understands what we are up against. We don’t often think about the fact that Jesus lived in a single-parent household. Some time between when Jesus was 12 and when he was 30, Joseph died, leaving Mary a widow and Jesus as the man of the house.

While Mary had the unspeakable privilege of being with Jesus for 30 years, she also experienced heartache. Of course the worst heartache was suffered by Mary at the cross, where she watched her firstborn son suffer and die. We also face trials and heartache, and I believe the best thing to do is bring them to Jesus – to lay them at the foot of the cross. Jesus died for us, so he is not going to ignore us when we cry out to him.

Spiritual Warfare

The Bible is very clear that we are to train our children properly, even though they will often resist. Studies have shown that children not only need boundaries, but actually want them (although often it doesn’t seem like it). Proverbs 22:6 is not a promise, but it is a pretty safe bet. It says:

Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray. NRSV

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 tells us to teach our children about God’s ways:

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (NIV)

Today it is especially critical that parents (and grandparents) pass on to their children the right values. This is necessary because of all the terrible messages our children are receiving though TV, movies, music, games, and cartoons. Years ago, the values we taught our kids used to be reinforced, at least to some extent, in the culture at large. Children used to be shielded from images and messages that were considered inappropriate for them. No longer. Today, anything goes, even during the so called “family hour” on TV.

There are forces in the culture that are working hard to shape the next generation in ways that most parents would object to. Because of that, we and our children are given messages that are contrary to the Judeo-Christian ethic and traditional morals. Today the only place where your values are being reinforced is in Sunday school or CCD. The culture tells us that traditional values are repressive and obsolete, and we need to enter the brave new world of freedom from these oppressive moral codes.

I am not telling you about this spiritual warfare to discourage you, but rather to let you know that much about parenting has a spiritual component to it. I also want to assure you that you are not alone in this battle. Paul explained spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:12, and then went on to tell us that we have available to us the full armor of God so we can fight this battle:

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. NRSV

We can be encouraged by what the Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:4b (NRSV):

For the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

We have God on our side – all we have to do is seek his strength, wisdom, and guidance. Jesus assured us in John 16:33 (NIV):

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

We can and will win this spiritual battle by godly parenting, prayer, and discipline. And as adults let us honor our own parents by giving them godly grandchildren as a legacy.

TV Viewership Down

A couple of days ago there was an article in the Poughkeepsie Journal stating that fewer people are watching network television. The article went on to say how network executives are trying to figure out why. Isn’t the answer obvious?

There’s nothing worth watching on network TV. Some parents are trying to shield their children from what passes today for family entertainment. Some people are offended by the continuous put downs of traditional family values and faith, and the glorification of promiscuous lifestyles. The popularity of such shows as “American Idol” shows how desperate the public is for entertainment that doesn’t offend.

The media elites today sneer at the programming of the “Golden Age of TV” as being naïve, unrealistic, and boring. However, they don’t call it the “Golden Age” for nothing. Those programs portrayed decent values, good family relationships, and were actually entertaining. If you wonder why society has deteriorated so much, just look at what you children and youth are exposed to on network TV. It isn’t a pretty picture.

The media and their apologists say that what children see on TV really doesn’t really affect them. I disagree. If what we see on TV has no affect, then why do those same media executives spend billions of dollars on advertising? Again, all you have to do is look at the direction society is going to realize what affect the sex, violence, and other negative things have on our children and youth.

If more people and their children stop watching the garbage on TV, maybe the media elites will finally get the message.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Homosexual Debate – Part I

In my introductory posting, I said that I would give you background in areas where I could contribute information not readily found in the mainstream media. As a pastor, I have made it a point to understand all sides of the issue concerning what roles practicing homosexuals should play in the Church.

This debate has been making headlines for quite some time, and this emotional issue has divided denominations and individual congregations. The consecration of Gene Robinson (who is a practicing homosexual in a long-term relationship with a man) as an Episcopal bishop has caused serious splits within the worldwide Anglican Communion, for example. The issue of gay “marriage” and whether gays should be ordained are also being debated within various denominations of the Church.

My goal is to inform you of where each side in this debate is coming from. I will be discussing this topic from the religious point of view, that is, how believers on each side of the debate justify their views from a Scriptural, moral, or ethical point of view. I will not be discussing the many other aspects of this complex issue, nor will I express my own opinions. My purpose is to give you background as to the thinking behind each side’s position. You can then make your own decision as to where you stand.

Of course I will be speaking in generalities, because there is a continuum from the extreme on one end of the spectrum to the extreme on the other end. I will use the terms “traditionalist” and “non-traditionalist” to describe the opposing viewpoints (for lack of better terms). Again, I’m not trying to affirm or justify any particular perspective, but just inform you of each side’s thinking as to how they arrived at their respective positions on the subject.

There has been so much name-calling and misunderstanding that I would like to provide at least some clarification. You may not agree with one side or the other, but I believe it is important to have a grasp of how each side is thinking. I’ll start with the “traditionalist” viewpoint in a future posting, and then in a later posting after that I’ll elaborate on the “non-traditionalist” viewpoint.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Doing God's Work

I read something recently that says:

“It is impossible to love Christ without loving others, and it is impossible to love others without moving nearer to Christ.”

So if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, commit to moving nearer to Christ by serving others. And also commit to praying for guidance as to what we, both as individuals and as a church, should be doing for God’s kingdom. After Jesus had ascended into heaven, two angels appeared to the disciples and said to them in effect: “Stop staring and get busy.” So let’s take that advice – let’s not be bystanders but active participants in the work of the Kingdom.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Cheers to Vassar Hospital

Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie instituted a program called “Clinical Pastoral Education” (CPE). I was privileged to be in the first class going through this intensive program, which is nationally accredited. I would like to commend Dr. Aronzon and staff for their forward-looking understanding that healing not only involves the physical, but also the emotional and spiritual. This unit of CPE started in early October, and ended at the end of April. There will be another unit offered in the fall.

CPE chaplain interns are considered interfaith chaplains, which means we minister to people of all faiths, or no faith. We are there to visit, offer emotional support, and to pray with patients and families if they so desire. Patients, their families, and the staff were appreciative of the support we chaplain interns gave them. Vassar’s CPE program is the only one in the Mid-Hudson Valley. The nearest other ones are at Westchester Medical Center and Albany. I believe initiating this program speaks volumes about the care that VBMC gives (but then, I’m prejudiced, since I’ve had the privilege of observing their care first hand).

Cheers also to Rev. John Simon, Director of Pastoral Care at VBMC, who worked hard to bring this program to Vassar, and whose organizational skills made this initial unit a success. Rev. Trudi Hirsch deserves much credit as well. She was brought in by the hospital to be the CPE supervisor, and her experience and professionalism was much appreciated by we interns.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Shock Jock Part II

I recently read that the disgraced shock jock Don Imus is suing his former employer, CBS, for breach of contract. Apparently there is a clause in his contract that says he is supposed to be irreverent and controversial, among other things (Poughkeepsie Journal, May 4, 2007). It appears that Imus was fulfilling his contractual obligations, and got fired for doing what he was supposed to be doing.

Now I have absolutely no sympathy for Imus, but I also have no sympathy or respect for CBS, who encouraged such disgusting behavior on the part of Imus. He was a money-maker for CBS, which makes me seriously question the taste of millions of listeners who tuned in regularly. If nobody tuned in, Imus would have been quickly off the air. As I said in an earlier posting, Imus catered to our baser instincts, and it is a sad commentary on the American people.
In that earlier posting, I complained that while Imus’ coarse insults got him rightfully fired, Rosie gets away with all sorts of similar verbal abuse against those with whom she disagrees. As I was writing that blog, I didn’t realize that Rosie was in the process of leaving “The View” for which I am grateful. Another bigoted loudmouth off the air. Maybe we’re making some progress

War and Peace: Part III: Further Considerations on Iraq

In addition to the moral and ethical considerations mentioned earlier about Iraq, there are very practical reasons why we shouldn’t “cut and run” as many politicians (and much of the American public, if polls are to be believed) want to do. If we abandon Iraq, we then will have absolutely no credibility in the world. We will be viewed as a “paper tiger” (to use the Chinese communist phrase from earlier days) and will have lost any clout we might have had in world affairs. We would be viewed as spineless weaklings, starting fights we don’t have the will to complete. It would be a foreign policy disaster. The unfortunate effect of being viewed as a paper tiger is that we will be fair game for any and all terrorists, and US citizens will be at tremendous risk, both at home and abroad. A government that allows that to happen to its citizens is irresponsible in my opinion.

We not only destabilized Iraq by our invasion, but we are also at risk of destabilizing the whole region. If we cut and run, we will leave behind a power vacuum in Iraq and the whole Middle East. With the US out of the picture, a fully-blown multi-party war will then erupt in that unfortunate country, with Iran, Al-Qaida, probably Syria, and others fighting to take control. Such a conflict will jeopardize moderate states in the region (Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan, and Turkey), not to mention our oil supply. You think the price of gas is high now? Just wait and see what happens if the whole region blows up. We have to stay, for our own good, the good of the region, and ultimately the good of the world.

Lastly, even when Iraq stabilizes, as it eventually will if we see it through, we will have to maintain a significant military presence in the area for the foreseeable future. We kept a significant military presence in Europe since World War II, and that kept the Soviets at bay. We have had a presence in South Korea for over 50 years, and kept the North from doing something foolish (so far). Because the Middle East is so vital to us (mainly oil, but also Israel) and we want to protect the moderate states in the region, we will have to keep at least one carrier group in the gulf and a significant land-based presence. Such a presence will make Iran think twice before doing something foolish, one would hope. Right now, I think Iran is a bigger risk than any other country or terrorist group.

Much as I hate to see our troops dying in Iraq, I firmly believe we have to see this through for the reasons mentioned above. Not only Iraq’s but also our future depends on it. Rather than bailing out, we have to devise better strategies to protect our troops, reduce terrorist incidents, train the Iraqi forces, and win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis so they will turn in suspected terrorists or tell the authorities when they see an explosive device being assembled by a roadside or put into a car. Once these terrorists realize we aren’t leaving, that we have the will to see this through and we aren’t crawling home with our tail between our legs, the bombings will become less frequent and we will prevail. Let’s just pray that fewer and fewer American lives are lost in the months and years ahead, and that our leaders will have wisdom in their decision-making, thinking strategically, not just short-term.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

War and Peace: Part II: The Question of Iraq

I don’t consider myself an expert on Iraq, but I do have some thoughts on the subject. I don’t plan to discuss whether or not we should be there, or how we got into this mess in the first place (George Tenet’s new book may help to answer some of those kinds of questions). Instead, I want to share some thoughts on the reality on the ground, and what consequences our actions now might have for the future. I also want to explore the subject of our possible actions in Iraq from a moral and ethical point of view, something that I feel is missing among all the rhetoric. Bear in mind that I am firmly against war, unless absolutely necessary to protect our citizens from a clear and present danger. I was in the Army during the Viet Nam era, and came very close to going over there. Despite my aversion to war, I firmly believe that once we are in a war, we have to see it through, distasteful as it may be.

The fact is, we destabilized Iraq by our invasion. Terrible as Saddam was, he kept the country from dividing into factions. I believe Saddam could have been contained, and didn’t have to be eliminated. Now Humpty Dumpty is broken, and all of Bush’s horses and all of Bush’s men, can’s put Humpty together again (so far).

If we pull out troops before the nation is stabilized, we will have done something immoral and unethical to the people of Iraq who have already suffered enough with Saddam and now the instability precipitated by the United States.

Too bad, you might say. They are doing it to themselves. The fact is, most of the terrorist acts are caused, as I understand it, by outside sources. Iran’s proxies are the Shiite terrorists, and Al-Qaida’s proxies are the Sunni terrorists (bin Laden is a Sunni). Most of the terrorist acts are done by a relatively few people, most of whom are not Iraqi, and most of whom are under the control of Iran, Al Qaida, and other groups. Most Iraqis want to get on with their lives and live in peace, free of the tyranny of Saddam and free of the anarchy that currently exists. Contrary to what some are saying, this is not a civil war. It is a policy of attrition by way of terrorism, influenced by non-Iraqis as mentioned above. To abandon the people of Iraq to a potentially terrible future would be a horrific injustice. More on this in a future blog.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Movie “Amazing Grace”

I saw the movie “Amazing Grace” recently, and I highly recommend it to you. It is the story of William Wilberforce, who, as a member of the British Parliament, almost single-handedly convinced Parliament to abolish the British slave trade. It took many years to accomplish, but he did it. This movie is his story. It is a very well done movie, and is something you can take the kid to. It is still playing in the area, or you can rent it when it comes out on DVD.

Below is a review of the movie from World Magazine if you would like to know more about the movie:

As an agnostic, director Michael Apted likes studying people of faith. That interest lured him to direct “Amazing Grace” (PG for thematic material involving slavers and some mild language), a film about 19th-century abolitionist William Wilberforce. What he found was an intriguing, almost paradoxical historical figure, both devout Christian and shrewd politician.

Portraying this “brilliant balance,” Apted told WORLD, was difficult. “You don’t want to dim his faith, nor do you want to make him look politically naïve.”

Apted had Wilberforce’s words and historical record to keep them on track. They scoured his writings and speeches, as well as the work of Wilberforce biographers. The result is a beautifully lyrical story, in which Wilberforce’s faith is the gently guiding motor. They are mindful of the fact that few Americans have even heard of Wilberforce, 4 percent, to be exact.

Apted’s goal was to make “a heroic story about politics,” he said. The film’s opening (Feb. 23), mostly in independent theaters, coincides with the day Wilberforce finally succeeded in pushing an abolition bill through Parliament, with an overwhelming vote in the House of Commons in 1807.

The film follows Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) over the 20 years it took to achieve this “great object.” Following his conversion, he grappled with how to serve God and remain a politician. “We humbly suggest that you can do both,” one abolitionist remarked, as Wilberforce first learns of slavery’s horrors.

The film also does well to explain Wilberforce by powerfully portraying his closest friends and guides, including witty Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai), whom Wilberforce marries, and John Newton (played by Albert Finney).

Finney’s moving Newton matures alongside Wilberforce, even as he encourages his protegé’s fight. First fearful of his “20,000 ghosts”—the slaves Newton once transported— he eventually exorcises them by making a historical record of his murderous old work. Along the way he remembers two things: “I’m a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” So summarizes the film: Great grace makes great men. Whether Christian or not, viewers will find a rich, inspiring narrative of an effective man of faith. And that makes an amazing story. © World Magazine, Feb. 24, 2007, Vol. 22, No. 7