Where the church is headed now

I am not catholic but the resignation of the pope today got me to thinking.  I was reading a commentary on the irony of the pope’s resignation.  The irony is that he has been labeled as conservative, or more accurately, a traditionalist.  But in resigning, he broke with longstanding tradition in becoming the first pope in 600 years to resign.

The rest of the commentary had to do with the church’s resistance to embrace modern ideals.  This wasn’t an article that was for or against the idea, just rather a statement of fact.

This brought me to thinking about where the church is headed in the future.  Is the death knell being sounded for traditional Christianity?  I would emphatically state that the church is not dead nor is it dying.    Its influence upon modern culture may be waning however.

In the United States a majority of people still identify themselves as Christian.  I’d offer actual numbers but the numbers differ depending on one’s definition of Christianity.  And that is the first major problem that we have.  While many identify themselves as Christian, many of these same people don’t hold to the traditional ideals of Christianity.  So, one must question whether people who call themselves Christians but don’t act like Christians are really Christians.

The so called culture wars have been lost.  I am in no way saying that we give up and embrace things that we consider to be sin.  But there should also be some recognition of where we stand.  Gay marriage has been passed by a majority vote for the first time in the United States.  While several states had previously passed laws, it had never been upheld in a statewide vote before.

The issue of abortion has likewise become a losing battle.  Once it was a battle cry for Christians to stand against.  Now, the same issue has become a rallying cry for the other side as they see the pro-life agenda to be an attack of women’s rights.

So, let’s assume that those two battles that have unfortunately defined conservative Christianity for some time are now lost.  Where do we go from here?  The answer is that we go back to what we should have been doing all along.

I believe that we have been fighting political battles far too much.  And it’s obvious that these battles haven’t gained us much.  We have been fighting to change laws rather than change hearts.

There are good reasons to oppose the things that we’ve opposed.  I don’t want to self righteously declare that Christians know better than others because that sounds foolish and arrogant.  On the other hand though, we do not believe that these are arbitrary rules that we’ve created.  Instead, we believe that these rules come from God and that disobeying them will lead to consequences.

I’m not talking about hurricanes striking cities as a result of God’s judgment.  Instead, I’m talking about individual consequences.  A sinful lifestyle will have bad consequences for the people who lead such lives.  And that is where the church needs to stand.

Sin will lead to consequences of sin.  As society embraces more sinful lifestyles we will see the fallout from it.  Indeed we’re probably already seeing the fallout from it.  Rather than offer a lecture and a stern “I told you so” we need to act with love as the father in the story of the prodigal son.

There will be people who discover that the things that are now being accepted in our culture are empty and worthless.  And when people are ready to turn from sin, the church needs to be there and it needs to show the fulfilling life that is found in Christ.

This doesn’t happen by the church compromising its values.  We must continue to stand for what is right, no matter how unpopular it may be.  And eventually some will discover that a life of sin isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.  When that day comes, we need to accept them with forgiveness and lead them to true repentance.

Why I hate the Christian gun debate

If you’re like me, you’ve seen so many articles about gun control and why it’s a great or terrible idea that your head is probably ready to explode.  My apologies for adding one more voice to the din.  On the other hand I haven’t read a single well thought out approach on the issue from a Christian perspective.  Mostly it has been “I’m a Christian so I’m a Republican, so I’m pro-gun” or “I’m a Christian so I’m a Democrat, so I’m anti-gun.”  Pinning this debate to politics is one of the stupidest things I’ve seen in a while.  And that is saying a lot.

For starters, I’m not going to throw out a lot of statistics.  Statistics can be used and twisted to say anything that we want.  87% of all people know this.  (See what I did just there?)  There are obvious cases where statistics are important but as Christians we should know that we answer to a higher authority and not just what seems statistically right or what might be the most popular option.

And just because I’m sure that some will want to know my history on this issue – I grew up in a household with guns and held a hunting license for a couple of years before I decided that sitting in the woods in the cold without seeing any wildlife was pretty pointless.  I am currently a pastor serving in a pacifist denomination but I also serve under a bishop who served in the active military.  So go ahead and try to figure all of that out.

Unsurprisingly, the Bible doesn’t say anything directly about guns.  Guns came around centuries after the Bible.  But we are told about murder and how we treat our fellow man.  This really isn’t the issue of debate here.  I believe that we pretty much universally agree that murder is wrong and it doesn’t matter if it’s done with an assault rifle, a knife, or any other weapon of choice.

At the heart of this debate is an issue of liberty.  Do we have the “right” to own a gun?  According to the Second Amendment, which has been consistently upheld by the court system, the answer is yes.  Now the debate is whether we have the right to own any gun that we choose and what, if any, responsibilities we have that go along with those rights.  While it’s cliche and not directly from the Bible, the statement “with great power comes great responsibility” may be rather applicable here.  In other words, we have plenty of rights but that doesn’t mean that they should go unchecked.

The most applicable passage of scripture to this debate would be Galatians 5 where Paul writes about freedom in Christ.  Galatians 5:13 tells us: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”  While we are free to own and use guns we obviously should not be using them in a sinful manner.  This doesn’t apply directly as there aren’t many instances of Christians committing mass murder because of their freedom to own guns.

On the other hand, I think that the issue is more like alcohol.  There are plenty of churches that frown upon drinking of any kind and I would never want to advocate it.  On the other hand, we are never forbidden from drinking, only from getting drunk.  It is possible for a Christian to drink responsibly and not violate God’s commands.  However, that personal liberty may set a bad example for others and cause them to actually sin.  In such instances, Galatians 5 applies.  This same idea may be applied to gun ownership.  A Christian has every right, or freedom, or liberty, whatever term you want to use, to own a gun in the United States.  However, we must ask the question of whether that liberty comes at a price that we shouldn’t be willing to pay.

As Christians we are used to dealing with a lot of issues in black and white.  The Bible provides absolutes that we should follow.  Gun control is not a black and white issue because all guns are not created equally.  Many people are treating the issue of gun control as an all or nothing debate and this is just foolish.

There is a big difference between people who own a gun for hunting use (and most hunters own several guns for different hunting purposes), people who own a gun for self defense, and gun enthusiasts/collectors.  All three of these groups have guns for legitimate purposes.  There is a fourth group who own guns for nefarious purposes.  These people own guns with the intent to threaten or harm human life.  It might be with the goal of committing crimes or in order to form a militia to keep the government out of their business.  In either case the intention is not to follow the laws that are already in place.  Additional laws would seem to be a minimal deterrent to people who already don’t intend to follow the law.  It only allows for additional prosecution once those laws are broken.

The problem that we are encountering is making laws that can be properly applied to only one group without affecting the other groups.  It is not a secret that assault weapons are the ones that are being targeted in pending laws.  Assault weapons are not used by hunters and they are not the preferred weapon of those who want a gun for protection.  But there are many gun enthusiasts and collectors who own these guns and have never used them improperly and have no intention of ever using them to cause harm.  Should these rights be trampled upon just because there are a very tiny fraction of gun owners who desire to use  their guns to cause harm?  Or should these people be willing to give up their rights to own such a gun because there is a small percentage of people who abuse that right and cause a great deal of harm?  This is really the core of the gun debate.

As Christians we have a lot of freedoms but we also have many responsibilities.  American citizens likewise have many freedoms but also responsibilities.  Many times these freedoms and responsibilities are the same but there are times when they come into conflict.  We have seen government intrude into religion at times as it upholds the “rights” of others to not come into contact with Christian ideals – such as the removal of nativity scenes on public property.  Christians have upheld the freedom of religion while also fighting against the construction of an Islamic mosque.  We can’t have it both ways.  Our American freedoms say that people are free to worship as they please while our Christian responsibilities say that Christ is the only way to heaven and we cannot advocate any other way.

So the question that we must answer is whether our rights and responsibilities as Christians coincides with our rights and responsibilities as American citizens or if they are at odds with one another.  Can we stand for our American gun rights knowing that those rights will be abused by some for some very sinful actions?  Or do we stand by another Christian ideal that we are only responsible for our own actions and no matter what laws exist we cannot stop someone from sinning if they are determined to sin?  I don’t propose to have the absolute answer to this question but I wish that Christians would stop pretending like this is a black and white issue.

Peace, at what costs?

I rarely post on political issues because frankly I don’t like religion and politics to mix.  They intersect in a number of ways but often people are just as if not more dogmatic about their politics as their religion.  That being said, I’m rather bothered by what is going on in the Middle East.  Obviously I’m disturbed by people being jailed, beaten, and even killed for peacefully protesting the government.  But I’m equally disturbed by the American and internation response to all that is going on.

Middle Eastern politics are very dangerous waters to wade into, I understand that.  It would be bad to bet on the wrong horse so to speak only to have the wrong party end up or stay in power.  It’s certainly not a stretch to imagine a vindictive leader saying that they will no longer supply oil to the US.  With all of that in mind, it should still be a no brainer that killing one’s own people in order to stay in power is wrong.  Why hasn’t these actions been forcefully decried?  It took about a week from the start of unrest in Libya for the president to even issue much of a statement condemning it. 

We aren’t dealing with a leader who is new and unknown.  This is the same headcase that has been in power since 1969.  His response shouldn’t be a surprise.  At the moment of unrest a travel alert should have been issued and all non essential US personnel should have been removed from Libya because we know what this man is capable of.

Shortly after entering office President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.  This was obviously given on the basis of the hope that he brought rather than anything that he had actually achieved.  He marked a clear change from the Bush administration and the international community was greatly in favor of this.  But now it’s time to earn that prize.  So far the response has been peace at all costs.  And by peace, I mean that the US won’t get its hands dirty.  Let’s do nothing while Libya’s cities are bombed from the air by its own leader. 

I’m not suggesting that the US invade Libya or any other Middle Eastern countries.  We can’t afford another war financially or with the price of lives.  But right now peace only means that the US isn’t fighting.  The leaders of our country and the world should condemn what is going on in the strongest way possible and make it abundantly clear that any leader who attacks his own people must go.  Sometimes peace has to be fought for as thousands of demonstators are doing in several countries.  Unfortunately the US response appears to be that peace means not causing a stir.  There is a difference, just ask those who are dying.