The Southern Baptist Convention: One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

For the majority of my life, I considered myself a Southern Baptist. I was proud to be so identified, and even spent a great deal of my time and energy promoting the work of the SBC. That ended a few years back, so if you want to claim that I’m not qualified to speak on this subject, I’m willing to accept your criticism. But, I will speak anyway.

SWBTS

This morning, I saw the announcement that the Trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary finished what they started (and should have finished) last week—terminating their relationship with Paige Patterson. To be honest, this should have been done a decade ago since the incident that precipitated their action occurred that long ago. Any objective observer who didn’t have the need for Patterson’s tenacity to fight other unrelated battles knew that his actions and attitude disqualified him for the position.

However, it took ten years for the Trustees to see the need to nudge him aside, and then another, even more, disturbing revelation, to realize he needed to be gone entirely. It was a slow, hesitant step, but at least it was a step forward. Probably too little too late but at least a move in the right direction.

Then two steps back.

A sizable number of Southern Baptist leaders were accepting of the Trustees’ original move to nudge Patterson aside and even celebrated that he would be allowed to hang around and enjoy the seminary’s generosity. Talk about being tone deaf. Many failed to recognize that his attitude and actions were a problem. It’s like they were saying, “Ok, in order to hold off bad publicity, we’ll make it look like we solved a problem even though we don’t really think it’s a problem.”

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect some of these are the same people who think Donald Trump’s sexual dalliances don’t matter and that the women involved in the #metoo movement should just shut up. Their continued support for Patterson was one step back for the SBC.

Step number two was taken by Al Mohler. Mohler appeared as the new President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville about 25 years ago—a few years after I graduated. Since that time, he has become one of the leading voices for the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Breathe

My daughter-in-law, Jaclyn, recommended that Sharon and I watch a movie last weekend. I usually take her recommendations with a grain of salt because she’s a big fan of “Grey’s Anatomy” but it sounded like a good story, so Saturday afternoon we took the plunge. The movie is titled “Breathe” and is the story of Robin Cavendish.

He’s not a well-known historical character but was of interest to me for obvious reasons. He was paralyzed by polio from the neck down at the age of 28 and required the assistance of a respirator for every breath for the remainder of his life. His experience resonated with mine in significant ways and it was a painful movie to watch.

He was a pioneer in many ways in dealing with his condition. He lived outside the hospital against his doctor’s wishes. He developed a means of getting out of bed and traveling with a breathing machine. He accomplished a great deal against all expectations and odds.

I had polio as an infant, age one. I avoided an iron lung by a matter of a few days when my condition leveled out. I was almost paralyzed entirely, but I was able to regain the use of my body to a limited extent. I always relied on a wheelchair and crutches to get around. As I’ve aged, my strength and mobility have decreased.Breathe

One of the qualities of Cavendish was his refusal to let others discourage him. Everything he wanted to do he was told that it was not possible. I frequently faced the same. Every school I ever attended, from grade school through graduate school, I was the first student they had ever had in a wheelchair. When I sensed God’s call to be a church pastor, I was told countless times it would never happen.

However, I was taught that anything was possible. I remember my father forbid me from using the word “can’t.” He always insisted that I try with the promise that he would pick me up if I fell. One of the few times I remember Daddy being angry was when a man from the Cub Scouts sat in our living room and told my parents I couldn’t be a cub scout because of the wheelchair.

When I was a pastor, we had a man make a presentation to our church and ask people to join him on a mission trip to Brazil. As I thanked him for coming, I expressed that I thought some of our folks would go with him. He quickly asked if I was going. When I told him that I couldn’t go, he asked if I had prayed about it. Not until then. We did, and a few months later Sharon and I found ourselves in Rio de Janerio. I had to keep learning not to say, “I can’t.”

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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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A Challenging Mother’s Day

We’re coming up on Mother’s Day once again. It’s true, as you get older, time flies. It seems that it’s only been a year since we last celebrated Mother’s Day. Anyway, I’ve been pondering about mothers. It’s a subject that should interest all of us, since all of us have, or had, a mother.

I have mixed feelings about my own mother this year. I have written before how she has been a special person in my life (see it here), and I will always be grateful for what she has done for me over the years. But it’s been a hard year for Mama.

She has been slowly (sometimes it seems quite rapid) losing touch with reality for several years. Consequently, she has moved from independent living to assisted living to memory care and finally a nursing home over the past few years. My brothers and sister have all been supportive of taking care of her needs, and my youngest brother has gone the extra mile of tending to her day-to-day requirements.Mama and Me

However, today was kind of a new low. Sharon and I went to the nursing home where she lives (a very nice place) to wish her happy Mother’s Day and give her a flower. She is typically in the TV room slumped over and sleeping with her head on a table. I think they try to keep her out of bed.

Today she was at the nurses’ station sleeping in her wheelchair. The nurse was joking with her apparently trying to liven her up. We greeted Mama and took her to her room so we could visit.

She was not happy to see us and kept asking why we were there. I tried to hand her the flower vase, but she wasn’t interested. In the past, I’ve always felt like she knew who I was even if she couldn’t call me by name. But this day was different. For the first time, I asked her if she knew who I was.

She replied, sounding quizzical, “You’re my old man.”

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Staring Death in the Face

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. (Proverbs 3:7)

During my seminary days, I had the unique opportunity of living next door to my pastor. He was my neighbor first. We were both students living in seminary apartments. Fuller Hall was a first-class apartment building, or at least it had been about a hundred years ago.

Our two apartments were located in the corner of the basement, isolated from the remainder of the building. Fred latched on to us the day we moved in. He helped carry our stuff into the apartment and then he assisted me in maneuvering the campus in my wheelchair.

Because of his servant heart and our developing friendship, we became interested in the church he served as pastor. It was a small congregation on the edge of Louisville; a typical seminary pastorate. We joined the church and immediately began to serve alongside Fred and his wife Valeria.Grim-Reaper

One afternoon, Fred knocked on our door. He had been called to make an emergency hospital visit to one of the church members and he wanted me to go along. We hopped into Fred’s little yellow car and drove to downtown Louisville.

I have never enjoyed hospital visitation. Showing compassion is not one of my strengths. I really do care about people when they suffer but it is difficult for me to express those feelings.

The family we needed to visit was in the lobby, waiting for a report from the doctor. We exchanged greetings, expressed our concern, shared in prayer, and joined the wait.

A woman who was causing a commotion in the hospital lobby caught my attention. She was bouncing from person to person, requesting money for a pay phone. I watched for a few minutes and then started toward her in order to provide a quarter. Before I arrived, someone else gave her the change. She walked over to the phone and everything quieted down to normal.

The doctor finally arrived with good news for the anxious family. We shared a short prayer of thanksgiving, excused ourselves and walked to the car. We had successfully accomplished our ministry objective. Like experienced pastors, we had comforted the family, blessed the Lord, and left everyone with renewed faith. Even though we were still students, we sensed that we had a real grip on ministry.

As Fred maneuvered through the parking lot, he turned into the driveway that led to the street and immediately slammed on the brakes. The boisterous woman from the hospital lobby had jumped in front of our car, waving her arms for us to stop.

Relieved that his reactions were quick, Fred got out of the car to speak with the woman. She was even more excited than she had been earlier inside the hospital. Sorting through her ramblings, Fred determined that her greatest need was a ride home.

He opened the door to allow her to climb into the back seat. From the front passenger seat, I smelled that her immediate problem was alcohol. After a few moments, the woman was finally settled into the seat, holding a large leather bag in her lap.

The woman provided directions to her house and Fred, being somewhat familiar with the city, drove toward her destination. The woman, sitting in the back seat, continued her aimless conversation.  We were still several blocks away from her house when she began to talk as if life were not worth living. Fred and I both thought that she was contemplating suicide.

As her words became more serious, we tried to reason with her but she was not interested in listening to a couple of inexperienced seminary students. As her words revealed more and more despair with her life, she began to rummage through the large bag in her lap. We were convinced that she was going to pull a gun from the bag which meant our future was also in question.

I quickly positioned my crutches between the front seats so I had a clear shot to hit her hand the moment I saw a gun. Fred was reaching underneath the driver’s seat for a tire tool. We thought we were ready.

Suddenly, without any warning, the woman shouted: “Stop!” We did. Fred slammed on the brakes and I tried to crawl underneath the seat. We were convinced that life was over.

As it turns out, the woman did not pull a gun from the bag. Rather, she did not want us to miss the turn to go to her house. “Stop” was her way of giving directions. Fortunately, the house was only a block further. Fred pulled into the driveway, helped her out of the car, and we sped away.

Ministry can be frightening. Or, at least our feeble attempt at ministry scared us. Hopefully, this woman’s despair was eased by sobering up. It was a very sobering experience for two seminary students who thought they were ready to handle any problem the world had to offer.

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Gullible Christians

There have been far too many articles written explaining why Christians have thrown their support behind Donald Trump. There’s nothing about his lifestyle, attitude, demeanor, language, or actions that should be appealing to anyone who professes a commitment to the “narrow way” Jesus called us to follow. Yet, polls make it clear that it was Christians who provided the margin of victory in his election and even today polls show that the majority of Christians continue to stand with him.

Why?

There are many reasons but let me offer one that I’ve not heard from anyone else. I’m not professing to any political brilliance or unique insight. In fact, I’ve always lived by the concept that if you espouse an idea no one else holds, then it’s probably wrong. But I’m going to throw caution to the wind, as they say, and put it out there anyway.

The first thing I need to say is that Donald Trump is nothing more than a con man.

A con man like Victor Lustig who lived in the early part of the 20th century. He is known for selling the Eifel Tower to a scrap metal dealer for $70,000 (a handsome sum in 1925), a box (several of them, actually) that printed genuine hundred-dollar bills, and even conned gangster Al Capone out of thousands of dollars.Snake Oil

Lustig has long been considered at the head of the list of con men. But now, Donald Trump has taken the art of the con (pardon the pun) to even greater heights. Rather than scamming a scrap dealer out of thousands of dollars he is scamming the entire country (probably even Russia at the same time).

He won the election with promises to accomplish whatever people wanted to hear. If health insurance was your concern, then he was going to replace Obamacare with a plan that would cover everyone for less money. If jobs were an issue, then he promised to reinvigorate the coal industry, bring foreign jobs back home, and provide money for big companies to invest in employees. If worry about safety kept you awake at night, then he promised to eliminate terrorists, crack down on drug dealers, and throw more people in prison.

“Step right up, folks, I’ve got the miracle cure for whatever ails you.”

You can hear the medicine man hawking his elixir every time Trump holds a rally or press conference.

Everyone knows he lies incessantly. He tells people what they want to hear, and they leave happy, and he forgets he even had the conversation. He tells people what they need to hear in order to give their support.

Unexplainably, Christians are his most passionate supporters.

I think it’s because Christians are the most gullible people in the world. The dictionary definition of gullible is “easily persuaded to believe something.”

Let me provide examples of Christian gullibility.

  • Jim Jones. The infamous cult leader who led 918 of his followers to commit suicide, began as the pastor of a Methodist Church. Many of his followers thought they were following a Christian teacher, even to the point of killing themselves.
  • Joel Osteen. Tens of thousands of people gather to hear him preach every week and hundreds of thousands buy his books. Osteen is nothing more than Norman Vincent Peale on steroids. He has taken the notion that everything is good because God is good and turned it into a multitude of devoted acolytes who line his pockets with gold.
  • Prosperity Preachers. They twist Scripture to support some cockamamy doctrine that God wants all of us to be prosperous. They then use that teaching to sucker people into sending them millions of dollars, even though they spend it on private jets and luxurious houses. The real doctrine they preach is that God wants them to be wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
  • Christian Businesses. I learned years ago not to do business with anyone who promotes themselves as a Christian business. It is often used as a gimmick to make people feel like they are doing something spiritual when they buy their product or utilize their service. Over the many years of my life, I’ve been cheated more times than I can count. However, the clear majority of those times it was by a professing Christian. Even in the work I do now, I have a policy of not doing a job until I’ve received payment primarily because I’ve been cheated by Christians I wanted to help.
  • Amway. This company deserves special consideration because they turned soap distribution into a multi-billion-dollar business with the help of a Christian-infused pyramid scheme. When I was a teenager, I was recruited by a man to sell Amway. I paid the fee, ordered some soap, and got to work. He wanted me to contact all the women in the church where my father was pastor and get them to sign-up. It was one of my first lessons about doing “Christian business.” I’ve heard folks describe Amway meetings as revival meetings, complete with Christian testimonies and altar calls. However, I’ve never met anyone who actually made money as an Amway distributor, but Christians keep signing up.

The reason I know Christians are most gullible is because I’ve been one of them. It’s built into our beliefs. We want to be giving, help the underdog, minister to the needy, and care for the poor. Those are all good things. But in doing so, we have allowed ourselves to be gullible.

Neither am I suggesting that Christians are the only ones who are gullible—there are gullible people all over the place. It’s just that Christians seem to excel as this skill.

Every pastor has a file cabinet filled with stories of people who came to them or the church for assistance only to learn that they are running a scam. It happens every day. The reason is because we are gullible. We fall for con men often.

Donald Trump understands this as well as anyone. He knew if he promised to appoint a Supreme Court justice who opposed abortion, Christians would flock to his side. He allowed preachers to gather around him with anointing hands because it made a great photo opportunity that would make its way to churches around the country.

He’s selling snake oil and Christians are drinking it by the gallon.

Victor Lustig convinced Al Capone to give him $50,000 to invest in a sure-fire project that would double his money. Lustig took the money, stuck it in a closet for two months never intending to invest, and then returned it to Capone explaining that the investment failed but he wanted to return his money. Impressed with Lustig’s honesty, Capone gave him $5,000.

Trump is running the same con on Christians, and they are so gullible that they praise his honesty and continue to provide support.

I have little hope that things will change. At this point, Christians are so far out on the limb in support of Trump that they would have to swallow too much pride to turn away. In fact, in order to cover the fact they were scammed, they say things like pastor Robert Jeffress recently proclaimed that Trump’s immorality doesn’t matter. I can’t think of one previous pastor of the church he pastors who would have said anything resembling that remark.

We should all be aware of the danger. Sons of some of the most influential moral Christian leaders of the past, i.e., Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell, have become some of the most gullible.

The phrase “snake oil” originated with Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. They brought a medicinal product that was made with oil from a Chinese snake, and it actually had beneficial properties. However, an entrepreneur, Clark Stanley, used rattlesnakes to create his own medicinal oil which was eventually proven to be useless. In fact, his product didn’t have a drop of snake oil. Before he was exposed, he sold thousands of bottles to gullible customers.

P.T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum and Baily Circus reminded us “there’s a sucker born every minute.” After more than 100 years, the Barnum and Baily Circus folded the tent last year. Yet, the circus didn’t really shut down, it simply moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Con men always leave bruised and battered people in their wake. Our country will survive, and we’ll find a way to regain our integrity and reputation in the world. However, I’m not so confident the American church will be as fortunate.

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Fight or Flight

As a writer, I spend a great deal more time writing for other people than for myself. I’m not complaining because it pays well, and it also forces me to research stuff I would never think of on my own. During some recent research, I learned something about the brain.

I’ll readily admit I know little about the physiological aspect of the human body. However, I do know enough about the brain to recognize when people are using theirs or when they have left it in the garage. This recent research led me to the discovery of how the brain reacts in frightening situations.

Specifically, I wanted to know what happens when a police officer, soldier, or any person is confronted with the possibility of death. For example, when a police officer responds to a shooting situation and hears gunfire or sees an armed suspect. The sympathetic nervous system is activated, caused by the sudden release of hormones. This results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. Perhaps you have heard of this condition labeled as “fight-or-flight.”Fear

What is happening is that tiny part of the brain that controls emotion asserts itself over the much larger frontal cortex which controls rational thought. You can imagine what happens when emotions are more powerful than reason. I was surprised that the conditions of tunnel vision and tunnel hearing are common for a person in that state. In other words, their attention, both sight and sound, are narrowly focused, to the point they miss out on everything in the periphery.

This can be a good thing if there is only one source of danger and that danger is the object of your focus. However, it also means you fail to consider other pieces of information. There might be other dangerous people in the area, or you might be focused on the wrong thing, or there might be an even greater threat.

This condition can be exacerbated for the person who frequently faces the threat of danger. If a cop is frequently in dangerous situations or a soldier is in combat for an extended period, then the ability to cope with everyday life is reduced.

I described all of this to suggest our country might be in a prolonged period of stress and danger. I’m not a historian or psychologist, but it might be correct to say that this period of stress began in September of 2001 (you remember what happened then). Here’s how it has gone since then. We spent an intense time learning who attacked us and then watching our military exact revenge on two countries.

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