Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Christianity Hijacked: A look at the Christian Action League of North Carolina

The Christian Action League of North Carolina; the state's very own Westboro Baptist Church.

The political lobbying group titled Christian Action League of North Carolina has been getting some press recently regarding it's opposition to a school anti-bullying bill. Yes, you read that correctly.

A recent anti-bullying bill called the School Violence Prevention Act passed the State House but failed to pass the Senate by one vote. The Christian Action League of North Carolina was very active in lobbying against this bill, which reads:

(a) As used in this article, "bullying or harassing behavior" is any pattern of gestures or written, electronic, or verbal communications, or any physical act or any threatening communication, that takes place on school property, at any school‑sponsored function, or on a school bus, and that:

(1) Places a student or school employee in actual and reasonable fear of harm to his or her person or damage to his or her property; or

(2) Has the effect of substantially interfering with or impairing a student's educational performance, opportunities, or benefits.

Bullying or harassing behavior includes, but is not limited to, acts reasonably perceived as being motivated by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, gender identity or expression, physical appearance, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory disability, or by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics.

(b) No student or school employee shall be subjected to bullying or harassing behavior by school employees or students.

(c) No person shall engage in any act of reprisal or retaliation against a victim, witness, or a person with reliable information about an act of bullying or harassing behavior.

(d) A school employee, student, or volunteer who has witnessed or has reliable information that a student or school employee has been subject to any act of bullying or harassing behavior shall report the incident to the appropriate school official.

The Christian Action League was against this bill because it includes a provision against bullying and harassment based on "gender identity or expression" and "sexual orientation." They felt this would somehow legitimize what they perceive as an "abomination."

It is a sad day for the church when Christianity is used to support discrimination and bigotry. When Christians are standing on the wrong side of civil rights, we need to reevaluate our beliefs. Who would Jesus bully? Who would Jesus discriminate against? Our religion has been hijacked by these radical right wingers who want to force their twisted and immoral interpretation of the Bible and morality on everybody, even if it means being against a bill aimed at preventing schoolchildren from being harassed and bullied.

Think about it; this isn't even about the hot-button wedge issue of gay marriage. This is about how we treat children, and the church is teaching our children that bullying and discrimination are okay. When I was in the 4th grade I was known as "J.R.", and some of the boys thought it fun to call me "gay R." Though they lost interest in this taunting after a week or so, I can only imagine what it must be like to endure years of degrading verbal and possibly physical abuse. Try to put yourself or your child in their shoes for once. Is is no wonder that suicide rates are so incredibly high for gay teens. And it seems some in the church would be smugly pleased at that. I would not be surprised if next Christians spoke against an anti-bullying policy because it protected students who wore turbans, or had brown skin. After all, the Southern Baptist denomination was founded on the right to own slaves.

Churches and groups like the Christian Action League have traded the message of Jesus’ “love your neighbor” and do "unto the least of these" for the message of “persecute your political enemy.” The way these opportunists stay in power and hold sway over churchgoers is simple:

"But after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship....All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
--Hermann Goering statement at the Nuremberg Trials

That's right. The Religious Right has taken a page right out of the Nazi's playbook. Think about it; how do you keep a mass of people under control? Tell them they are being persecuted. Convince them they are under attack from some enemy, and that their way of life is threatened. Fear is a powerful tool, and the church has grown very efficient at it. That's how you get people in the seats and money in the offering plates. According to their own website, the Christian Action League is funneled tens of thousands of dollars from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

I was really moved today by a posting on The Friendly Atheist that really calls out us Christians who aren't doing enough to stop all the false prophets like the morally bankrupt Christian Action League.

To liberal and mainstream Christians: Bigots are co-opting and hijacking your religion. They’re promoting their hatred, abuse and domination of gays, atheists, the followers of other religions and anybody else who doesn’t exactly agree with them including you, all under the guise of God’s word, the one that you say you value so much. They’re doing despicable things in your God’s name. Your response to this is so small, so weak and so quiet that you will have no effect in stopping them. If you let them keep going they’ll bring back all the vehicles of hate they used to enjoy: racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and despotic authoritarianism. To them, Jesus is just a source of credibility and power. Following his example is not even considered.

If all that you do is to pray about this, forgive me but I don’t think that is going to be enough. I know you don’t rely entirely on prayer to respond to crises; I’ve watched you. You may pray for God’s help with many things, but when the river overflows you also fill sandbags. When your kid is sick you also take her to the doctor. When your neighbors are hungry you also give them food. When someone is being beaten you also drive off the attacker. When your house is on fire you also fight the fire.

Christians, your house is on fire.

This is a living example of Edmund Burke’s maxim, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Ask yourself which is the greater sin: to commit an injustice against others because you believe it is what God wants, or to see what you know is an injustice and stand by doing nothing to stop it.

Fellow Christians, it is time we take back our Religion from the radical right wing bigots and those who only lust after money and political power such as Christian Action League. It is a disgrace and shameful what they do in the name of Jesus. I urge those of you who live in North Carolina to find out if your church supports this hate group. If you are a in a Baptist church, demand your church to leave the Baptist State Convention. We must speak out on this important issue. We must not back down. Contact the Christian Action League of North Carolina and tell them that you DO NOT support the evil they do in the name of Jesus. Together we can bring about this next reformation and restore the church to one that actually follows Jesus' teachings.

Christian Action Network of North Carolina

Contact Online

809 Spring Forest Road
Suite 1000
Raleigh, North Carolina 27609

Phone: 919.787.0606

Fax: 919.786.1509

Director, "Reverend" Mark H. Creech


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dinner with Clarence

"Why are you poor?" It isn't a question we tend ever ask of a beggar or homeless person we meet on the street. Often we ignore them or tell them we can't help, or at best give them a few dollars with the least amount of interaction as possible. We as the church in America have a problem with "loving our neighbor." "But I give money to the homeless," you reply. "I even give to charities and collect canned food!" That is what the majority of the church seems to do today. Why? Because it is easy. It is easy to give out of our abundance. But what about this word "love" in the commandment "love your neighbor?" It isn't love to just give something to someone. Love is built through relationships. Love engages. Love asks questions. If one of your best friends was in need, wouldn't you talk to them? "How did this happen? What can I do to help?"

In the book Poor People the author, William T. Vollmann, poses a question to those living in poverty around the world: "Why are you poor?" We need to listen to their specific stories and only then will we be in the best position to help. I'm sure we've all heard the phrase "Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." But what if we're not listening to the poor when they try to tell us they can't fish because the river is polluted and the fish are dead, or they can't afford the government fishing license?

Just after I had read The Irresistible Revolution, I had an encounter with a man while walking down Tryon St. in downtown Charlotte, in front of Ruth Chris' Steakhouse. "Uh, excuse me mister, do you know where a soup kitchen is? I'm trying to get something to eat." My first reaction was one of sadness, because at the time I didn't even know where any soup kitchens or homeless shelters were in the city. In the past, I would have just said I'm sorry and given him a few dollars. Instead, I decided to engage him. "I don't know, sir, but I do know a sandwich shop on the next block we can go to." His reaction was more of surprise than anything else. As we went to get some subs, my unexpected response had spurred him to talk open and candidly. His name was Clarence and he had been to several churches that day but was told they couldn't help him. He had finally gotten a job in hopes of getting off the street, and he would be cleaning office building late at night off of Independence Blvd. Clarence's main concern was getting to work. "I don't know if I'll have bus fare every day to get to work." I then offered to go with him to the terminal and get him a bus pass. By meeting very specific needs, we remove any temptation the poor have to spend money on a temporary comfort like alcohol. Clarence was very grateful, and never actually had asked me for anything, other than prayer. "It's a struggle to keep yourself off the streets. Will you please be praying for me?" I told him I would, and then we parted ways.

I feel like I've made an investment in the future of my city, albeit small. And more importantly, I feel like I've made a connection with Clarence, and I hope someday I have the opportunity to run into him again. This is where "love" starts to replace "giving;" when we try to connect with somebody. But that is what makes it so hard for Christians to actually do, because it forces us to get out of our comfort zone on a daily basis. Honestly, it can be hard. I have to admit, I actually had the though cross my mind "I wonder if people are staring at me eating with this guy." I hope we Christians will have the courage to start getting out of our comfort zones more and more and start to truly "love our neighbors" by making relationships with them, and listening to them. As Shane Claiborne says in The Irresistible Revolution,

"When people begin moving beyond charity and toward justice and solidarity with the poor and oppressed, as Jesus did, they get in trouble. Once we are actually friends with the folks in struggle, we start to ask why people are poor, which is never as popular as giving to the charity. One of my friends has a shirt marked with the words of late Catholic bishop Dom Helder Camara: "When I fed the hungry, they called me a saint. When I asked why people are hungry, they called me a communist." Charity wins awards and applause, but joining the poor gets you killed. People do not get crucified for charity. People are crucified for living out a love that disrupts the social order, that calls forth a new world. People are crucified for helping the poor. People are crucified for joining them."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Evangelicals Turning Their Backs on Dobson as He Attacks Obama

Right-wing fundamentalist leader James Dobson again attacked Barack Obama, and indicated he may flip-flop and support McCain. Dobson said,
"Barack Obama contradicts and threatens everything I believe about the institution of the family and what is best for the nation. His radical positions on life, marriage and national security force me to reevaluate the candidacy of our only other choice, John McCain."
Contradicts everything he believes about the family? Hmmm, like families having affordable health care and clean air to breath? Maybe Dobson would prefer McCain because he is a fan of adultery, divorce, and publicly swearing at your wife?

Obama's radical positions on life? I think Obama, like myself, is pro-life. Being pro-life means I am against war, against the death penalty, against discrimination, against destroying Creation through pollution and oil addiction, in favor of welcoming the alien, reducing unwanted pregnancies, and against policies that lead to violence and poverty around the world. (Matthew chapters 5, 25, etc.) Perhaps some, like Dobson, think that life begins at conception and ends at birth?

Obama's radical positions on marriage? Like wanting civil rights for everyone? We've heard that old song and dance before. Dobson's ilk, 1958: "Protect the sanctity of marriage: no interracial marriage." Dobson's ilk 2008: "Protect the sanctity of marriage: no gay marriage." Time and time again, conservative "Christians" have been on the wrong side of civil rights issues. After all, the Southern Baptist Convention was FOUNDED on the principal of the right to own slaves.

Obama's radical position on national security force? Reminds me of the Shane Claiborn quote I just posted yesterday:

"We in the Church are schizophrenic: we want to be good Christians, but deep down we trust that only the power of the state and its militaries and markets can really make a difference in the world."

Maybe Dobson's interpretation of Scripture doesn't include these teachings; blessed are the peacemakers, love your enemy, turn the other cheek, thou shalt not kill, do not return evil for evil, etc. How else can he justify supporting McCain's plan of extending an immoral and unjust war that has cost the lives of over 4,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis? How can we win a mistake?

But... there is hope. Evangelicals have been turning their backs on the misguided rants of Dobson and his ilk. The website www.jamesdobsondoesntspeakforme.com has over 12,000 signatures and growing daily. The side lays out Dobson's distortions of Scripture in his politically (and financially?) motivated attacks on Barack Obama. Also, there is the website Faithful America. Another interesting website is for Matthew 25 Network. A recent email from their mailing list:

Dear Friends,

There’s a little saying I’ve referred to often over the years: The proper response to misuse is not disuse, but wise and proper use. The saying helped me a lot in my twenty-four years as a pastor, and it still helps me in my current work as author, speaker, and activist.

It’s particularly appropriate in this election year. A lot of us feel that we’ve watched large sectors of our Christian community in the U.S. engage in several decades of divisive, ineffective, and downright counterproductive political engagement. At best, many attempts at engagement have been superficial, simplistic, and subject to binary thinking where one or two wedge issues easily distinguish the “good guys” from the bad. At worst, we’ve watched too many of our fellow Christians slip into a “culture war” mindset where neighbors became enemies to be defeated and silenced, not loved as we love ourselves. In addition, we’ve watched too many members of our faith communities be manipulated by cynical politicians who knew what tune to play to get people of faith marching obediently in their parade.

Many of us - sadly, I include myself here - stood on the sidelines and complained about the wrong being done by “the Religious Right.” In private, we might say that the major media figures didn’t speak for us, but we responded to faith-based misuse of the political process with faith-based disuse. We didn’t realize, as we now do, that disuse tends to favor those in power and support the status quo.

As I’ve watched with sadness what has happened in recent years, I’ve promised myself again and again that I wouldn’t just stand on the sidelines complaining this election season. That’s why I’m so thrilled about positive, constructive initiatives like the Matthew 25 Network. Drawing from Jesus’ powerful parable about his solidarity with “the least of these,” this network invites us as people of faith to step beyond individual self-interest, and even beyond the interest-group politics of “what’s best for us” - whether “us” is our denomination, religion, party, or nation. It invites us to consider how to use our vote on behalf of the neediest, the most vulnerable and poverty-stricken … so that their concerns are our own when we vote. For us, this is inherent in what it means to be followers of Jesus.

Based on these values, the Matthew 25 Network has chosen to support Barack Obama. Does that mean that every one of us is in full agreement with every detail of Senator Obama’s campaign? Of course not: we’re electing a president, not a Messiah! Blind, uncritical support is part of the misuse that we’re trying to move beyond.

But it does mean that a wide array of committed Christians - Catholic, Evangelical, Charismatic, and Protestant - are mobilizing pastors, seminarians and theologians, women religious, Sunday school teachers, religious educators, and faithful church-goers to seek to model wise and proper use of the political process this year in hopes that Senator Obama will be our next president.

Learning from past mistakes, we realize it’s not just who we support that matters - it’s how we show that support. So the Matthew 25 Network will be creating honest and positive messages for broadcast on Christian radio, and for publication in Catholic, Evangelical, and other periodicals. We’ll have a vigorous online presence, and we will organize voices on the ground to speak out in appropriate ways and venues. In everything we do, we will seek to model wise and proper engagement in the political process for people who are deeply rooted in Christian faith.

Here are three ways you can help:

1. Go to Matthew25.org right now and SIGN-UP.
2. Please make a DONATION. This is a brand new effort and we can’t do it without support from people like you.
3. TELL your friends about Matthew25.org.

For nearly 2000 years, followers of Christ have sought to live out their faith in the real world - under a variety of political systems: empires, feudal systems, tribal systems, monarchies, totalitarian regimes, anarchy, and democracy. In our American democracy, we have struggled, stumbled, fallen, and gotten up again, and again, learning each time as we moved forward. We have grappled with how our faith related to declaring independence, opposing slavery, confronting child labor and economic depression, embracing the dream of overcoming racism, and so much more.

Now we face unprecedented global crises: caring for our fragile and wounded planet, building a just peace in situations of conflict and fear, and eliminating extreme poverty. Electing the wrong president will set us back even further in these crises - something we cannot afford to do. Electing the better president will not solve everything; it will only be a first step in the next chapter of our history, but it is an important step.

We invite you to step off the sidelines as an observer or critic. We hope you’ll join us … praying for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven and seeking to be humble makers of peace, joyful workers for the common good, and dedicated servants of “the least of these.”


Brian McLaren
Author and Pastor

PS. Learn more at www.matthew25.org

Monday, July 21, 2008

An introduction - My Testimony

I grew up in a typical Southern Baptist church. From the time I started school I was in church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. After years of Sunday school I could pretty much recite every Bible story and eventually came to understand my need for Jesus as my personal Savior shortly before entering my teenage years. Throughout my life I was heavily involved in my church, having attended the same church from Kindergarten through college. A few years ago I started to see what I was learning in Church and what I was hearing fellow church members say and do was not matching up with what I've been learning from the Bible.

Over time, these convictions became so great I simply could no longer be a member of my beloved Church, so I stopped attending regularly over two years ago. I felt very betrayed and untrusting of the evangelical church in the United States. It has become so corrupt and morally bankrupt that it no longer resembles any of the teachings of Christ. The Southern Baptists and conservative Christian fundamentalists of the Religious Right have become a misguided group who traded the Gospel of Jesus for the Gospel of American Empire; who traded Jesus' calls to end poverty and violence for the Empire's call to wage war and to profit from the underprivileged. I became so sickened at the notion that I didn't want to have anything to do with their version of God. I felt like the character John Proctor in the Crucible, in my heart screaming out "GOD IS DEAD!" God is dead, and the Church had killed Him, I thought. I wanted nothing to do with the corrupt Church or their "god." I wanted to give up religion and live and do as much good to help the needy of the world as a secular progressive atheist, even though deep down I couldn't truly deny my believe in God.

In fact, it would be by an atheist website that I would come back to fully embracing my faith in Christ. I found an interesting posting on an atheist blog, that lead to a blog called Revolution in Jesusland, which had a review of a book called Jesus for President. This book, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, is put out by Christian mega-publisher Zondervan. "Uhg," I thought when I saw the title. "Another book about how Christians are supposed to 'take back this Christian Nation with the evangelical church as Head of State and force our twisted view of morality on everybody, and maybe bomb a few heathen countries while we're at it.'" Then I read part of a liturgy from the book:

“With governments that kill…
…we will not comply.
With the theology of empire…
…we will not comply.
With the business of militarism…
…we will not comply.
With the hoarding of riches
…we will not comply.
With the dissemination of fear
…we will not comply.
But today we pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of God…
…we pledge allegiance.
To the peace that is not like Rome’s…
…we pledge allegiance.
To the Gospel of enemy love
…we pledge allegiance.
To the poor and the broken…
…we pledge allegiance….”

Wait. What? What?! After having reread it a 3rd and 4th time, I knew I had to look into this. I rushed out and bought the book, and read the entire thing almost a once. The message of this book hit me so hard I had to catch my breath and reread it to make sure I wasn't imagining it. The introduction says a lot to frame the message of the book:

"This book is a project in renewing the imagination of the church in the United States and of those who would seek to know Jesus. We are seeing more and more that the church has fallen in love with the state and that this love affair is killing the church's imagination. The powerful benefits and temptations of running the world's largest superpower have bent the church's identity. Having power at its fingertips, the church often finds "guiding the course of history" a more alluring goal than following the crucified Christ. Too often the patriotic values of pride and strength triumph over the spiritual values of humility, gentleness, and sacrificial love."

"We in the Church are schizophrenic: we want to be good Christians, but deep down we trust that only the power of the state and its militaries and markets can really make a difference in the world. And so we're hardly able to distinguish between what's American and what's Christian. As a result, power corrupts the church and its goals and practices. When Jesus said, "You cannot serve two masters," he meant that in serving one, you destroy the relationship to the other. Or as our brother and fellow activist Tony Campolo puts it, "Mixing church and state is like mixing ice cream with cow manure. It may not do much to the manure, but it sure messes up the ice cream." As Jesus warned, what good is it to gain the whole world if we lose our soul?"

"So what we need is an exploration of the Bible's political imagination, a renovated Christian politics, a new set of hopes, goals, and practices. We believe the growing number of Christians who are transcending the rhetoric of lifeless presidential debates is a sign of this renovation. Amid all the buzz, we are ready to turn off our TVs, pick up our Bibles, and reimagining the world."

"Over the last several years, the Christian relation to the state has become more dubious. The most prevalent example is the Christian language coming from the State Department of the United States. Professing Christians have been at the helm of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, implicitly or explicitly referencing faith in God as part of their leadership. Patriotic pastors insist that America is a Christian nation without questioning the places in distant and recent history where America has not looked like Christ. Rather than placing our hope in a transnational church that embodies God's kingdom, we assume America is God's hope for the world, even when it doesn't look like Christ. Dozens of soldiers who have contacted us confess a paralyzing identity crisis as they feel the collision of their allegiances. At the same time, many Christians are questioning whether God is blessing these wars and whether it's enough for our money to say "In God We Trust" while the daily reality of the global economy seems out of sync with God's concern for the poor."

I've been incredibly inspired by the message of this book, and I encourage every Christian to read it. I feel the call to take back my faith and to in fact take back the church from the powerful leaders that have corrupted it. We need a new Reformation in the church today; to take back the church for Christ and follow His true and righteous teachings; to love God, and to love our neighbor. For He says in Matthew 25: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

I don't claim to know everything about theology and the Bible. One thing I've learned over the years is that the more I learn, the more I learn that I don't know much. I have more questions than answers. I just want to share my ideas about Christianity and hopefully we can learn together on this journey. If you are reading this, I hope you will ask questions and share your opinions; I enjoy educated debate and discussion of issues. I pray the church's eyes will be open in this next reformation.