Categotry Archives: current issues

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On Haiti, Pat Robertson, and What’s Important

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Categories: current issues

I don’t like to be provocative (believe it or not), so I hesistated more than once before posting this. But I now think that for whatever it’s worth, I need to speak up.

Like so many others, my heart has been breaking for the people of Haiti. Such a profound catastrophe–it’s hard to watch, but nearly impossible to look away from it. However, it has been awesome to see how many people are responding to their plight with compassion and generosity and prayer.

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Book Review: "A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church" by Warren Cole Smith

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Categories: books, current issues, theological questions, TheOOZE

I have to say, I had a pretty complex reaction to this book. I selected to review the book because its title and description suggested to me that it was an unflinching look at some of the issues of the modern church. (And for the most part, it was.)

I thought the book would give an honest assessment of the lasting fruit of the evangelical movement, and tackle issues like greed and corruption. (And for the most part, it did.)

I did NOT expect it to be a book largely centered around and promoting Calvinistic theology. And that killed it for me.

If I had wanted to read a book about Calvinistic doctrine, I would have picked a book whose title suggested it. While making some very valid points about the state of evangelicalism, its detachment from the broader history of the church, its failure to retain a large percentage of its converts over the long term, and its product/brand industrialism…the author’s main point seemed to be theological in nature, using the symptoms described above as evidence of faulty theology. Warren Cole Smith, a journalist, never specifically says he subscribes to Reformed theology; however, his multitude of favorable references to Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and Reformed doctrine (not to mention his negative references to Charles Finney and Arminianism) make his bias clear.

The problem I have with this is that the book was billed as a journalistic expose, not an argument of a theological viewpoint. And for this, I fault the author with the same bait-and-switch tactics he would no doubt accuse evangelicalism of. I simply do not like being taken in under false pretense.

I mentioned that Smith is a journalist. And to the extent that he functions as one, I think he actually does a good job of it. When he is presenting facts and sorting through the data, the information he presents is very helpful. While I didn’t concur that all the data points to a problem (he seems to believe the church’s use of modern technology is a negative, for example), there can be no doubt that the evangelical church has some major problems, and he presents that case pretty well. I found myself heartily agreeing with him on several of these points, and he filled in a lot of historical gaps for me along the way.

It is when he began drawing conclusions about the data that his true agenda came to the forefront, and his journalism began to fall short. Some of his conclusions were over-drawn, in fact. For example, he repeatedly stated that evangelicalism’s separation from the church of history flirted with denying the Incarnation of Christ–without ever really explaining clearly how the two were connected. Also, he gave two quotes (with no context) from revivalist Charles Finney to claim that Finney rejected the core doctrines of God’s sovereignty and man’s sinfulness–when in my view, the quotes did no such thing. I am neutral about Finney, myself, because I don’t know enough about his doctrine to say either way. But any journalist, especially Christian, should know better than to label someone a heretic without providing more substantive proof of such a claim.

But even more provocative than this is the fact that Cole’s overall conclusions about what should be done to rescue evangelicalism were more about theology than they were about methodology. What is surprising to me is that I would have thought someone having a “lover’s quarrel” with evangelicalism would lean to the liberal side of things; in fact, Cole does the opposite. To me, there was a clear “this-is-the-right-way-to-believe” vibe in what he wrote that left little latitude for other interpretations; and again, he did not properly tie the data to his claims.

It isn’t that I have a particular issue with or grudge against Calvinists or Reformed theology; I tend to take theology with a grain of salt, anyway, including my own. My beef was that I came away feeling utterly preached to and lectured, rather than simply informed. I thought journalists were supposed to be neutral.

BOTTOM LINE: Can’t recommend it, at least, not as a fair assessment of the issues tackled in the book. The strong Reformed bias overshadows the good information that can be gleaned. (At least, it did for me.) This is not the kind of book that convinces people to change their thinking–it will likely only rally those who already agree with it. Which means Calvinists would probably love it. 🙂 Thumbs down for me.

This review is posted as part of TheOOZE Viral Bloggers network.

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Women, Church Leaders and Affirmative Action

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Categories: current issues, healing wounds

If you’re just tuning in, you might want to read these posts for background:
There’s this one,
and this one,
and this one
oh, and this one here.

In the course of the ongoing conversation on this blog about gender issues, both in the church and out, Erin posed a couple of interesting questions. Let me quote an excerpt of her comment here:

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Sexism by Default: Why Men Must Not Be Passive

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Categories: current issues, food for thought, healing wounds

I think every experience can provide an opportunity to learn; and the recent dialogue that took place on Jonathan Brink’s blog concerning the Origins project is no exception. (If you’re just tuning in, click these three links to catch up.)

First, let me make clear that this post is not to discuss Origins specifically; as far as I am concerned, the issue in question was resolved; I am very thankful for the action that was taken, and I support Origins’ efforts and wish them nothing but the best. Rather, it is the rest of us, the ones who participated in this discussion about the equality of women in the church–and the ones who continue to view it from a distance–who need to take a look at the bigger picture and learn from this experience.

I’m a student of human nature, so I read people’s reactions and comments with interest all the way through. And here is what I observed:

  • Among the women who commented, there was nearly 100% solidarity, not just behind Jonathan’s concerns about the Origins leadership roster, but (more importantly) the deeper issues it represented. I could pick up within their remarks a strong desire for their voices to be heard and understood, as well as an appreciation for the fact that this issue was being discussed so openly.
  • Among the men who commented…I found a mixed response between agreement and disagreement, maybe about 50/50. None of the men were in favor of sexism, per se; but I felt many of the responses actually tended toward deflecting the issue. Specifically, I observed examples of denial, avoidance, and even some shifting of blame. Some of the men (even among the ones who agreed with Jonathan) chose to take a more detached, philosophical approach, where the women (understandably) approached the issue more emotionally.
Allow me to summarize (and paraphrase) the gist of some of the objections raised by the men:
  • Origins is inclusive of women in leadership; you have misunderstood.
  • You are rushing to judgment.
  • You are framing a historical narrative and unfairly pinning it on Origins.
  • You have cast an unfair shadow on Origins on its opening day.
  • Maybe there just happened to be no women qualified to lead, or who wanted to lead.
  • Maybe the team that evolved just happened to be men, no exclusion of women intended.
  • Can’t we just assume the best and give them the benefit of the doubt?
Without putting words in anyone’s mouth…at times, I have to say I almost detected a vibe that said, “Hey–you guys are GUYS! These guys are probably okay and probably aren’t sexist; why are you picking on them?”

I bring this up not to fault anyone in particular; everyone has the right to their perspective and opinion. But when a line is drawn in the sand like this, our gut reactions can really show us something about ourselves, if we are willing to look. It was actually within these types of remarks that I realized a lot of the guys weren’t fully understanding why the question was even raised. The answer, I believe, is made clear when we understand the difference between passive agreement and acting on what we say we believe.

For many years, I have supported the idea of the equality of women, and done what I felt was appropriate to live that out. But until recently, mine was a passive agreement. I thought it was enough to let women have a place, rather than going the extra step of making a place for them.

But here’s the thing, men: we live in a civilization that tends toward suppressing women by default. If we are not purposeful and intentional in overcoming that, we will inevitably lean back toward the default without meaning to. It’s like standing on a slope; if you don’t intentionally lean against the grade, gravity will take over and your own weight will take you toppling downhill as a result.

When I recently came to the realization that even women in supposedly egalitarian settings were still being overlooked and wounded, I saw the danger of my passivity. I saw that not only was I still capable of suppressing the woman, but I probably had, many times, without even realizing it. In that moment, to my dismay, I realized that because of the slope we stand on…by being passive, I was still adding to the problem.

My passivity WAS sexism. It had just taken a more subtle form.

I knew in that moment I could no longer settle for being merely in passive agreement.

And neither can any man who truly wants to be part of the solution.

Here’s why I say all this: I believe that this entire incident–from the mis-step at Origins itself to the mixed reactions to Jonathan’s raising of the question–has revealed a deeper issue, particularly among the guys, that we must not ignore. Because the common thread running through all of it is…passivity.

I firmly believe nobody at Origins meant to create a stir by the initial depiction of their leadership; all they wanted to do was stir the hearts of people toward mission and engage them in the project. It was just that they did not see (at first) the potential for wounding in the way they depicted their leadership. And even after Jonathan raised the issue…many of the men involved in the discussion did not really see what all the fuss was about.

That is the key we must not miss: many men did not see it. Not seeing is the tell-tale sign that we have defaulted to the passive approach. Not seeing is what causes us to step on our sisters and add to their wound without even knowing what we did.

And guys: Not seeing is not an excuse.

I cannot stress this enough: when it comes to the men’s response to this issue…passivity IS sexism.

The slope leans too far in one direction, and if you aren’t purposefully being part of the solution, you will be part of the problem. There is no neutral ground on a slanting slope. You will lean one way or the other. It just can’t be helped.

This, my friends, is why this wasn’t a case of nitpicking; the issue needed to be raised–because overlooking it is passivity, and passivity is sexism by default. This isn’t about political correctness; our sisters deserve for us to see them, to see their wound, and take action to heal that wound. There is great treasure God has placed within them, and they need their brothers to stand with them, not passively, but on purpose.

To commend Origins once again…when they saw it, passivity went away; they took action. With one very simple move, they immediately transferred from adding to the problem to being part of the solution. Kudos to them.

This is the lesson I truly hope we can take away from this experience. May what has transpired these past few days move us from passivity to an active response. May God give us men the eyes to see, and the feet to act. May we be convicted and inspired to see our sisters, honor them, make room for them, and defend them when necessary.

They are worth it, after all.

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An Important Update

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Categories: current issues, healing wounds

I have continued to track the lively conversation that has been taking place on Jonathan Brink’s blog since he raised the question about the new Origins project and their all-male core leadership team. (You can check his first post here, and his follow-up post here.)

Since those posts went up, some interesting (and I believe, quite positive) developments have occurred.

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Standing Up for Our Sisters: The Conversation Jumps Up a Notch

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Categories: current issues, healing wounds

An important nerve has clearly been struck. And yesterday the conversation jumped up a notch.

Nearly three weeks ago, I was greatly moved by a post by Jeromy at A Mending Shift, talking about the suppression of women within the church, the ongoing wound, and the need for healing.

So I wrote “Why the Heart of Every Man Should Be Breaking“–which, in two weeks’ time, already has all appearances of becoming the most-read blog post I’ve ever written (which tells me just how deeply significant this particular topic is to people).

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Continuing the Conversation…

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Categories: current issues, healing wounds, theological questions

My new blogger friend Reina, in response to Thursday’s post, shared a link to something she wrote in her own blog in January. With her permission, allow me to share an excerpt:

“…one of the things that struck me [in reading through the Bible] is how many prominent women are mentioned in every culture but that of the Jews and Christians. It would seem that God, my God, the God of the bible, introduced the idea that women should be subservient to men, and his people have been busy making an example of that to the rest of the world. Christians especially, seem to have done a excellent job of setting this example, ultimately culminating in the dark ages, when women were worth less than cattle.

“Now, after 6,000 years of this, women are working hard to dig themselves out of this trench to demand equality and respect. Equality before men AND God.

“So what was the point of this? When I first read through the books of Moses, this really angered me. During the time God was laying out all 600+ laws and instructions to Moses, he couldn’t have said ONE DARN THING to protect women from what he, as God, should have known would happen? It seems clear to me that Jesus respected women, and treated them well, which is probably why he had such a following of loyal women. So why the disconnect? What was the purpose of being such an ass?”

I found Reina’s remarks to be honest and thought-provoking…so for no other purpose than it seems easiest for me to process my thoughts this way, I’m going to write my response here directly to Reina and you can just listen in. 🙂

I mentioned in Thursday’s post that the church’s oppression of women has happened “because we have basically interpreted a few Scriptures in the light of our male-dominant culture, instead of the culture in which they were written.” Reina, my opinion is that this is where the disconnect is–not within God’s intentions for you, or for women in general.

I want to suggest that the reason it appears to you that the Scriptures promote this idea of female subservience is likely because (although you greatly dislike it) you, too, are reading the Scripture through the lens of our culture, rather than its original culture. For most of us, both men and women, this is the only lens we have been given; and so the only options seem to be to accept what we see of the Bible through this lens–or to reject it out of hand.

But if you look at the Hebrew culture, out of which the Scriptures were written, you’ll discover that women actually had a place of honor in that culture. Women were free to own property and conduct business transactions independently of men, and in fact had far more rights and protections against sexual misconduct under Hebrew law than even American law provides. (You did not want to be a man accused of rape in ancient Israel.) And there are prominent females in Scripture; female leaders and “heroes of faith” can be found throughout the entire Bible, although they are not often preached about in churches. The primary focus of the woman was home and family, but as the home was the center of Jewish life (and even of spiritual activity), the woman’s place of leadership and influence was held in high respect, much more so than in our modern culture.

If anything, this legacy of respect was extended, if not expanded, into the early church. You mentioned Jesus’ respect for women; there is also the fact that female prophets and apostles are mentioned throughout the N.T., and that Paul even mentioned some of them as his “co-laborers”. In fact, it was Paul who stated that in Christ “there is no male or female…” It’s highly unfortunate that a few of Paul’s other statements (“women keep silent” for example) have been greatly misinterpreted. If you study that statement in historical context, it reveals that he was addressing some specific issues surrounding that particular church–not establishing a doctrine to exclude women from leadership.

Taken in this light, I believe the Scriptures may seem a lot less male-dominant. I think the reason it might feel otherwise is because our own culture lends that bias, not the Scripture itself.

To shift focus a moment…one question you raised was of particular interest: when you asked why God did not write into the Law of Moses more protections for women against their inevitable oppression. I think it’s important to look at this, because your honest words reveal a deep feeling of injustice about this that may be felt by many women–and anger not just at men, but at God. If God is supposed to be a loving Father, why would He leave His daughters so unprotected? I have a couple of thoughts about this…

First–it occurs to me that this is a question that any oppressed or marginalized segment of humanity might ask. It would be just as relevant to ask why God didn’t write something in to protect people from becoming slaves, or being hungry, or conquering each other. We could bring it into the modern era: Why didn’t He do more to protect the Jews from the Holocaust? Why doesn’t He do something about the horrors of sex trafficking, or poverty, or plague?

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not making light here at all. I’m just saying there are many examples of injustice that seem for the moment to go unanswered, things we don’t understand. And the answers are hard to come by, because we are finite people trying to understand and predict an infinite God who sees a bigger picture. But one thing I do believe confidently is that just because these injustices happen, that does not mean that God does not see, does not hurt over them, or does not care. By the same token, what I’m saying is that when you see what seems to be a lack of protection here against the male oppression of women…it does not translate to “God doesn’t care about me”, any more than it does in any other case of injustice. Nor does it mean God approves of that oppression. I believe He hurts deeply when a woman is mistreated or marginalized–and just because it looks to us like it goes unanswered does not mean He isn’t going to do something about it.

Second–and this part is just a guess–perhaps the Law doesn’t address female protection more directly because, as I mentioned before, the surrounding culture already honored and respected women. It wouldn’t make sense to make laws or warn a people about the suppression of women if they simply didn’t think that way. It was not until the New Testament, when the church expanded into the Greek culture (which was far less favorable to women) that gender issues were addressed more specifically, and probably (ironically) for the purpose of bringing some protection there. Unfortunately, as we know, these Scriptures were misinterpreted over the years and, used as an excuse for man to outclass and suppress woman, rather than protect and respect her. Just an opinion…

Thank you again, Reina, for being open about your struggle and your thoughts about all this, and for allowing me to share my response in such a public way. Please take my long, rambling response here for what it is…a brother adding his perspective to the conversation, for whatever it is worth. 🙂

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What These Days Call For: Thoughts on Faith and Hardship

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Categories: current issues, faith

(This post is part of a synchroblog on “Faith in Times of Trial.” Other participants will be listed below as the links are provided and the list grows.)

If there’s one thing we can be certain about, it’s uncertainty. 🙂 And these days we’re living in seem to be proof.

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This is a Bit Sobering

7 comments

Categories: current issues, food for thought

I know I just posted something (and please comment on the discussion question)…but I’ve been hearing about this news item all day concerning the increased number of people in America now claiming “no religion”…so I went and found this article from CNN.com.

Of particular interest to me is the following quote from the article:

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Change

3 comments

Categories: current issues

You may, or may not, agree with his ideology (and I don’t)…

You may, or may not, be caught up in all the media mania hoopla concerning him (and I’m not)…

You may, or may not, have a hang-up about the color of his skin (and I don’t)…

You may, or may not, think he can keep all his promises (and I don’t see how he could, and some things I hope he changes his mind about)…

You may, or may not, have voted for him (and I didn’t)…

…but all of that aside…today, this man takes on the most burdensome and difficult job on the planet, with a set of expectations set on his shoulders that would make the strongest among us buckle under the pressure. He will have to make decisions that will affect the lives of millions, if not billions, of people. And he will have to live with the results, good or bad.

Just like the last guy did.

Today, this man becomes my President. And I will pray for him.

And considering the burdens he bears and the potential impact of his choices…so should you.
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