Category Archives: Legalsim

The Handmaid’s Tale: Is It Fact or Fiction?

I confess. I got hooked on watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” the past two seasons. I’m not sure of the original attraction, especially since it’s a hard show to watch. I don’t mean the acting or production is terrible; what I mean is that the story is painful to accept. For some, it seems like the setting is too far-fetched to suggest the possibility, but it is possible to see strands of realism flowing throughout the setting and plot.

Margaret Atwood who wrote the story that inspired the TV show said that she had a rule in place as she wrote. She did not “include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time.” In other words, she wasn’t making this stuff up. She merely rearranged attitudes and events that already exist and bundled them together in a new story.

Perhaps that explains my fascination with the show. To be honest, as I watched, I kept seeing the fringes of fundamentalist Christianity. Listen to how Atwood described the Nation of Gilead which is the setting for the story:

The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights—all had precedents, and many of these were to be found, not in other cultures and religions, but within Western society, and within the “Christian” tradition itself. (I enclose “Christian” in quotation marks, since I believe that much of the Church’s behavior and doctrine during its two-millennia-long existence as a social and political organization would have been abhorrent to the person after whom it is named.)Handmaid

            It’s almost as if the story is ripped from the headlines as they say. The underlying premise is that men seize control over women. Look at the current issues as they are dealt with in Gilead.

  • Abortion – In Gilead, men determine how and when a woman becomes pregnant. A woman does not even have access to birth control without a man’s approval.
  • Children – In Gilead, children are separated from their parents and given to those who are more deserving. After watching what our government did recently with immigrant children is it far-fetched to see something like this happening. The Attorney General even defended the practice by quoting Scripture.
  • Rape and Sexual Assault – The lot of a Handmaid is to be raped by the man of the house where she has been assigned. If she is fortunate to become pregnant, she is removed from the child once the baby is weaned. There was no “metoo” movement in Gilead.
  • Subjugation of Women – The nation of Gilead is divided into various castes, and in each class, the women are subservient to the men in that level. This is not unlike many fundamentalist Christian churches today. They allow the Pastor’s wife to be considered an “equal” with her husband, but she is not equal in the sense of function or authority. A favorite Scripture is that there is “neither male nor female” in Christ except when it comes to function within the church.
  • Streets are patrolled by heavily armed guards. Several times they shoot and kill those who step out of line. How often do we hear similar stories today – a man killed by police for being in the wrong place, being somewhere he should not have been.

All this is happening under the guise of God’s Word. When the commander was raping his handmaid (with his wife’s assistance I might add), he quoted Genesis 30, “When Rachel saw that she could not give Jacob children, she became jealous of her sister. She said to Jacob, Give me children or I’ll die!”

When one of the handmaids is being disciplined by holding her hand over a hot stove, an allusion is made to I Peter 5:10, “…but only in suffering will you find grace…”

At a marriage ceremony the words recorded in Genesis, “be fruitful and multiply” are cited as the primary focus of marriage.

As I watch the show, I can’t help but see a possible future for our “Christian” world. I also choose to use the word in quotes like Atwood because I see much of what is happening today under the banner of Christ as being abhorrent to Jesus.

The TV show has already gone past Atwood’s novel, which I’m also reading. For the sake of my own sanity, I hope the current writers choose to bring in a happy ending. However, I’m not sure how that can happen without a complete revolution taking place in Gilead. Perhaps there’s also a lesson for our nation about what has to happen before we can expect everything to be fine in the end.

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Remembering Christ’s Death with Chicken Soup and Gold Fish

One of my earliest memories is sitting around a tiny wooden table, actually, a table my sister used in playing with dolls. On the Sunday evenings after our little Baptist church served the Lord’s Supper, my father, who was the pastor, brought home the leftover wafers and grape juice (we were Baptists, so we didn’t use wine). The wafers were those tasteless tiny white squares of water and paste that came in a box from the Baptist Bookstore. My sister and I didn’t pretend to mimic a religious ritual, we simply enjoyed what we considered a treat.

I’ve had a lot of experiences with the Lord’s Supper since then. My father, who was a highly influential man among Baptists in Colorado refused to recommend me to pastor a church upon graduation from seminary. One of the factors was my belief about the Lord’s Supper (the other was baptism). Consequently, I never served a church in that state.

As a pastor in the Texas panhandle, we had a young mother named Rosalinda discover Jesus and begin attending our church faithfully, sitting on the front pew every Sunday morning. In today’s climate, we would be expected to report Rosalinda to the immigration authorities, but we chose to enjoy her presence instead. Several weeks after she began attending, we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. As the platter filled with the tiny wafers was passed around the room, Rosalinda assumed we were collecting an offering. She placed her gift of a dollar bill on top of the wafers. We heard snickers as the tray containing cash and stale crackers circulated around the room.

Lord's Supper

On another occasion, one of our resident legalists came to my office in the days preceding a scheduled Lord’s Supper the next Sunday and offered to sit in the back and point out who should not be allowed to participate. I’m not sure how he would do this, but I refused his offer as graciously as I could.

One of the more memorable experiences was watching my son who was sitting beside Omer Ritchie. Omer was a well-known fundamentalist pastor in his heyday, long before this event. My son Matthew was wearing a ball cap, and his arms are covered with tattoos, an unlikely duo for most churches. Omer and Matthew loved each other, and it was a touching moment to see Matthew’s large inked hand stretch out and place the loaf of bread in Omer’s frail shaking hand and say, “This is Christ’s body broken for you.”

A few minutes later, with the cup of juice moving the other way around the room, Omer said to Matthew, “This is Christ’s body shed for your sins.”

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Conundrum

I posted this article five years ago. Unfortunately, it’s still relevant. 

It has been nearly a month since the terrible tragedy of the school shooting in Connecticut and the debate over gun control is still raging. That is a good thing because it is a discussion this country needs to have. However, like with many other issues in this country (abortion, gay marriage, federal deficit, taxes, et. al.), we have a difficult time with discussion. Most of us simply fortify our current beliefs and try to shout louder than those who believe differently.

One of the culprits in this inability to discuss issues is that we have lost the art of compromise. When two sides are unwilling to make any compromise then we are wasting our time trying to negotiate anything. When everything is either right or wrong, black or white, then we have no room to give, even an inch. Often, Christians are the worst. Since we believe that we hold the corner on all truth then anyone who disagrees with us must be wrong. If you have the “right” position on an issue, compromise would be foolish.

Now, before we dive into the issue of gun control, I need to state my own bias. I am not a gun fan. I do not own any guns. There is a handgun out there somewhere registered in my name but it was stolen years ago (a long story). I wouldn’t be surprised if someday the police knock on my door and say a gun registered to me was used in a crime (although I hope not). I witnessed a man accidentally shot by policeman’s handgun many years ago but it was only a minor injury. I have never fired a gun other than a BB gun. For several years I worked at a police department but I never got comfortable even though I was surrounded by guns.conundrum

Our family did not have any hunters. My father was not an outdoorsman. We never talked about guns and I have always suspected it was because of his war experiences. He saw enough killing to last a lifetime. But I have never been an advocate of banning guns completely. I understand the sporting use of guns for hunting and recreation. That is the sum total of my experience with guns.

When it comes to the debate about gun control, the most basic starting point of agreement is that all of us, unless you are an extreme radical, believe in gun control up to a certain point. In other words, if there was absolutely no gun control, we would have inner city gangs and redneck militias walking around with rocket launchers and other methods of mass killing. The question is not do we want to control guns but where do we draw the line.

Before choosing up sides on the issue, let me advance the notion that there are really two foundations that determine our decision making. It is a problem because United States Christians find themselves with a foot on both foundations. Let me try to explain.

As a citizen of this nation, it is important to protect our rights and fulfill our obligations. It is frequently and perpetually pointed out that the Second Amendment gives us the right to own guns. If the criterion for decision making is the necessity to protect constitutional rights, it is hard to argue for gun control. All the arguments citing self-defense, hunting, maintaining order, protection against tyranny, and others make a good point if you are a citizen of this country.

On the other hand, as a Christian, our source of authority for making decisions is not what is good for this country. We live as residents of another kingdom and we arrange our lives according to a different standard. Consequently, if we make a decision based solely on God’s Word, it is possible (and quite likely) we will come to a different conclusion than if our sole criterion is our United States citizenship.

I am somewhat disturbed that so many Christians are passionate in their stand against any type of gun control. My concern is that they make the same arguments made by non-believers – self-defense, citizen rights, constitutional provisions, etc. I have been a student of the Bible for many years and I have a difficult time finding much justification for being so adamant about owning a gun.

Jesus spoke of loving our enemies, forgiving those who wrong us, turning the other cheek, laying down our lives. Historically, His followers have been persecuted, even to the point of torture and death, without fighting back. I don’t like it and I will be honest, my human inclination is to fight back when confronted. Turning the other cheek and giving up my “rights” is not easy. I can understand the urge to fight to protect those we love. I get that!

But I can’t envision Jesus “packing heat.” I understand some will point to Jesus’ words in Luke 22:36 where He instructed His disciples to sell their coat and go purchase a sword if they did not have one. That would make a pretty strong statement if that is all He said. However, I don’t know of any reputable biblical scholar who would use this verse to advocate having an armed citizenry. (For a thorough discussion on this verse read here.) When one of His disciples actually used a sword in self-defense, Jesus told him to put it away with the warning that those who use a sword will die by a sword.

Without going into a protracted theological discussion and biblical exposition, I will simply say that I can’t find any justification for followers of Jesus having weapons with the purpose of harming others. I am not talking about guns that are used for hunting or even for sport, but to carry weapons around in our vehicles or strapped to our belts just in case we need to shoot someone (or even scare them off), does not seem like a justifiable position for a servant of Jesus. (For a good discussion about Christians and self-defense read here.) Personally, I have no problem with military or police who are armed, even if they are Christians. They are acting as agents of the state, which has been given permission by God to avenge evil (see Romans 13).

So, here is the conundrum faced by believers who are also citizens of the United States. Is our source of authority going to be the U.S. Constitution or the Word of God? In most instances, they are not at odds with one another, and we should rejoice when we can live consistently with both. However, when they are, we must make our decision carefully. When we chose to follow Christ, it was a choice that superseded any other authority in our lives. It was a choice to give up our rights and claims and to follow Him only.

My non-Christian neighbor may have the right to arm himself in self-defense. However, do I have that same right to keep a weapon around the house for the sole purpose of killing another person if necessary to protect my family and my stuff? Does my choice to follow Jesus override my freedom to be armed?

I don’t know how to guarantee that another school shooting will never occur again and I am pretty confident no one else does either. I hope the discussion of the issue continues and I pray our politicians will find the wisdom to make good choices along with the courage to make difficult decisions. I also hope that as followers of Jesus we can make a clear statement that His way is often much different from the ways of the world.

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American Christianity and Dementia

During the past couple of years, my family has walked the difficult journey of Dementia with my mother. She has moved rapidly from a healthy alert woman living by herself, to a senior living environment, to assisted living, to memory care, and now to nursing care. Perhaps the thing that is most difficult about the process is knowing that improvement is not going to happen.

I have often wondered what it must be like not knowing who you are or where you are. Forgetting your past and even your identity makes you do things that are totally out of character. A couple of times Mama has slapped one of her caregivers and even used inappropriate language. These are things that are completely unlike who she is and has been her entire life. Most of the time her caregivers speak about her kindness and sweet personality, but those ugly responses have appeared a few times.Dementia

I bring this up because Dementia seems to be an accurate metaphor for the American church. It seems as if the church is experiencing a similar debilitating disease, forgetting who it is and what it’s supposed to be. Let me clarify by stating I’m not referring to the church identified in the Bible as the body of Christ. I’m speaking of the American church—the church that embraced the notion that being a follower of Christ is equivalent to being an American.

It came on almost imperceptibly. For several years, Daddy talked about Mama losing her memory, but since none of us were with her every day we thought he was exaggerating. After he died, and we were more involved with her life, it was obvious she was struggling.

In like fashion, almost imperceptibility, the American church began to lose its identity and history. I’m certainly not qualified to write a history of the American church, but I can offer one example that suggests this might be the case—the issue of abortion.

It wasn’t that long ago, at least in my lifetime, evangelical Christians were not as singularly focused on the issue of abortion. The Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Decision allowing abortions was issued in 1973. Speaking about that decision, W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, spoke out in support of the ruling with these words: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” Continue reading

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I’m Embarrassed to be a Christian

I was born a Christian. That’s not a theologically correct statement, but it is a reality. There was never a time in my life when I could not be identified as a Christian. My father was a preacher, and even though I don’t remember, obviously, it’s likely the first place I was taken after birth was to church. That was the only place my parents ever went in those days.

I grew up in the church. There was no such thing as a nursery or a children’s program. I went to “big church,” held in my mother’s arms until I could sit and then I was placed on the pew next to her side. I stayed there until I was old enough to get permission to sit with a friend and his mom, but it was always at church.Embarrassed

I was eight or nine years old when I was baptized into the Christian faith after I made a public profession of faith. However, that experience did nothing to change my life. I had always lived my life as a Christian, so the fact that I was now “official” made no difference.

I was taught, and I memorized scripture. It was pounded deep into my consciousness, and God’s word became the guiding moral code of my life. It continues to be my guide for living to this day.

All my friends were Christians. I had friends at school, of course, but in my younger days, even those school friends went to our church. We didn’t do extracurricular activities that interfered with church plans. I’m not complaining. I had many friends from church, and I still have contact with many of them. I have always been a Christian among Christians.

I’ve worked a few non-Christian jobs over the years, but none of them stuck. Most of my life has been spent working for the church or Christian organizations. Even now, as I’m self-employed, much of my work is focused on Christian stuff. I am most well-known in Christian circles, and most of my friends are Christian, even on Facebook. Continue reading

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When My Fist Meets Your Chin

I had a friend in High School named Rocco Bomareto. I’m not kidding, that was his real name. He was Italian, like many others in my high school, but I don’t think his family belonged to the Mafia even though it would have been a great name for a local mob boss. Rocco and I shared a locker for a couple of years, and we were an unlikely couple. I was a skinny kid in a wheelchair, and he was the state heavyweight champion wrestler for two years.

We had a new kid show up one year at school. You remember how it is with new kids—they have to make their way, so they often do strange things. This kid came in as a tough guy, wanting everyone to know he was not to be messed with. It only took a few days for us to realize the new kid needed to be put in his place, so Rocco took it upon himself to do so.

Rocco climbed on top of a covered walkway between two buildings. Three or four boys on the ground took the news kid’s motorcycle and lifted it up to Rocco who reached down with one arm and pulled it up to the roof. There it sat for the rest of the day. I don’t know how he got it down; we all went home after school.punch

Looking back now I can say that Rocco was wrong in putting the motorcycle on the roof. It was not a very caring thing to do, although it was kinda funny at the time. At the same time, the new kid should not have been surprised that something like this happened. After all, if you attend a school with the state heavyweight champion wrestler named Rocco, it is probably a terrible mistake to try and be the tough guy.

When I was in school, they taught us about the interconnectedness between freedom and responsibility. It was drilled into us that we could not continue to enjoy freedom if we were unwilling to accept responsibility. It seems that most of us understood that and we continued to enjoy the freedom of being an American.

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The Unholy Use of Money

An entirely unsurprising announcement came out this week that a mega church in the Dallas area has decided to escrow their mission money. I’m not going to identify the church, but if you type these four words into Google it will pop up quickly – Dallas, church, escrow, money. The reason cited by the pastor is that he felt disrespected. That’s correct, a leader for the Southern Baptist Convention said something he didn’t agree with, so he has instructed his church to hang onto the one million dollars that would have probably been given this year.

At first thought, it sounds like a reasonable decision. After all, why should we support someone who disrespects us, or give to an organization that doesn’t share our values and opinions?unholy-money

What causes me concern is the use of the word “escrow.” The dictionary definition is “a bond, deed, or other document kept in the custody of a third party, taking effect only when a specified condition has been fulfilled.” What this church is doing by escrowing money they had originally intended to give to the Southern Baptist Convention is to allow someone else to hold the money until the issue has been resolved. (I seriously doubt if the money actually goes anywhere other than the church’s bank account.)

In this case, it appears the use of the term “escrow” suggests a threat—if you don’t change we are going to punish you by withholding our money. This money, a significant amount, is being used as a financial club to get their way.

I don’t have any problem if this church decides the Southern Baptist Convention does not represent your values and beliefs and then simply stops the support. Quit giving—plain and simple. However, once they use the term “escrow,” it suggests the money will still be there whenever the Southern Baptist Convention sees things your way.

Don’t try to force a mission agency to do things your way. Go find someone else you can support. Find someone who shares your values and is already doing the things you desire.

The concept of escrowing money intended for the Southern Baptist Convention has been a favorite among churches for decades as they have sought to gain and control power. The big irony for me is pastors get extremely upset whenever church members do the same thing to them. Have a significant contributor to the church walk up to the pastor after a Sunday sermon and say, “Pastor, I didn’t appreciate what you said this morning. I’m not going to give another offering until you apologize.” We would learn quickly if that pastor believed what he preached.

Using money to manipulate people is not right. Money is a tool to help others, to provide for the needs of others. It is not to be a source of power and control. That is exactly why money is so dangerous.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24)

It is next to impossible for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. It makes me wonder if the same can be said about a rich church.

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