January 14, 2006

Not In My Church!

Last Sunday, a large group of religious "fundamentalists" held "Justice Sunday III." This event, featuring religious leaders like Dr. James Dobson and Dr. Jerry Falwell, was held for the third consecutive year in one of the Southern Baptist "mega churches." It was essentially a pep rally for Supreme Court nominee Joseph Alito.

Messages were given from the pulpit, by ordained ministers, pointing out the absolute necessity of Alito's confirmation. According to the article I linked, Dr. Dobson went so far to say at the first Justice Sunday, "My goodness, I just cannot imagine anything more significant that what we are about to do."

In my opinion, any man who could say that influencing judicial appointments is more significant than winning souls for Jesus Christ has no business behind the pulpit of a church!. How can any religious leader with a heart and soul for Christ possibly feel that way! I offer the theory that anyone who could say that is focusing on THEIR agenda, not God's, and isn't much better than the Pharisees who had Jesus put to death.

There is only one thing that should be preached in God's house and that is His word! Men like Dr. Dobson and Dr. Falwell have every right to be politically active and support any policy they so choose. In their roles as pastors and heads of religious organizations, however, they have a responsiblity to follow the example of Jesus.

Check out the gospels one time and see how politically active Jesus was during his time on earth. I'll save you the trouble--he wasn't. There are several examples where people tried to trap Him into making a political statement that would have angered either the ruling Romans or the people of Israel. He never took the bait. That is worth emphasizing. Not only did Jesus not initiate any political activity as part of his ministry, he took great care to avoid even the perception of such.

My minister, Dale Jarrett follows that example very seriously. He is a member of Equality Maryland, a gay-rights group that I also belong to. Fortunately, Dale feels the same way I do--that it is not his place to preach about the activities of that or any organization. He will work with them, but he will not direct our membership to do so. BCF may rent its facility out to a political organization, but it will not be as part of a church service. Dale nor anyone else from the church leadership would not do anything remotely resembling preaching during any such activity.

There is only one gospel that should be preached in church. It has nothing to do with conservatives or liberals, republicans or deomcrats, gays or hetros. It needs to be about the love of God and the examples He set and the word that He inspired.

If it's about anything else, then step away from the pulpit and call it a political rally, because it's not church anymore.

January 11, 2006

Follow Up-Oklahoma Pastor Resigns

I want to close the loop on a story I wrote about a few days ago. Lonnie Latham, a church pastor and member of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, has resigned both positions. Latham admitted that the charges of him soliciting sex from an undercover policeman were true.

I don't want to pile on here. Instead, I ask you to join me in praying for Mr. Latham and his family. Specifically, let's pray that Mr. Latham opens his heart and mind to understand who he truly is. Also, ask that God helps him make any adjustments he needs to live a life that honestly represents how God made him.

January 10, 2006

If You're a Public Official, Get Real

One of the main themes I write about is how God wants us to be true to Him and also true to how He made us. I think of the New Testament example of the Pharisees, the keepers of the religious law whose sanctimonious actions were not representative of their hardened hearts. It was all about appearances with the Pharisees, and there are numerous examples in the Gospels of Jesus teaching how and why this was wrong. Actions don't mean anything in the kingdom of heaven if they don't have pure motives. Jesus had no tolerance for phonies.

When I look at the legislators and other public officials who will be involved in deciding issues of critical importance to GLBT individuals, I see a lot of people Jesus would have no tolerance for. There are far too many law makers and policy shapers who portray themselves as something they are not; loving family men/women who are having affairs, successful business leaders who obtain that status by using unscrupulous methods, and people who have portrayed their views one way to gain their office then act in a different manner.

I'm sure we can all agree about the damage people like this do to the process of forming and maintaining public policy. I would like to add one more group to this list--gays and lesbians who are in the closet.

I've heard the rationalization for this--a GLBT individual can do more to help the community's causes from the inside, and it's easier to gain that position if people think they are straight. That is, at least in most cases, probably true, but that does not make it right. How is that any better than the politician who campaigns with his wife and kids and sneaks out with his mistress when the cameras are off? Why do politicians who gain office by staying in the closet deserve more respect than ones who lied and cheated on the campaign trail to get there?

In my view, it is not any better and they don't deserve any more respect. The most important qualities I want in political leadership are intelligence, honesty, and sincerety. Too often in this country, the second and third items are severely compromised if not entirely ignored. I want to know what a public official stands for, and the fact of whether they are hetrosexual or gay/lesbian has to be a part of that equation.

Please don't misunderstand me, I am not advocating outing anyone. I believe very strongly that is wrong and a gross invasion of privacy. People who are representing me or deciding policy that will affect my life, however, give up some of their privacy rights for that opportunity. If someone is unable or unwilling to be honest about who they are, I feel they need to stay in private industry and have their private lives.

ANYONE who is in a position of public influence will not earn my respect unless they show me enough respect to tell me who they are. I'm an educated man and want to make educated decisions about the people who represent me.

January 08, 2006

Beware Rhetoric with Absolutes

In the latest outburst Jerry Falwell sent to his supporters, he takes on one of his favorite targets-Hollywood. He started out stating his opposition to the new NBC program, "The Book of Daniel," then goes into a condemnation of Hollywood in general.

One of the important lessons I learned as a young man was to be sceptical of anyone who spoke or wrote in absolutes. By this, I mean that when someone uses the terms "always" or "never" or any of their derrivates, they are likely exaggerating their point. If you take a moment and think about that objectively, how many things can you accurately use those phrases to describe when discussing human behavior? Very, very few I believe.

There is only one absolute in the lives of my wife and myself, and that is the love of God. He is ALWAYS there for us and he will NEVER stop loving us. Everything else on earth is pretty much up for grabs.

That's why it aggravates me to see a religious leader like Dr. Falwell speak in absolute terms when condemning his latest target. In the quotes I refer to here, he does not use the acutal words always and never, but he clearly implies their meaning.

For example, Falwell states, "I guess since the networks long ago deemed that morality is an ever-changing mood, it was determined that Christian characters would also need to reflect a sense of moral imbalance and fundamental corruption. So if Christians aren’t portrayed as complete lunatics, they are shown as being just as confused about life as network executives. These depictions of 'Christians' are wholly dishonest."

Wholly dishonest? Christians are human beings, Dr. Falwell, and some of them do terrible things. No portrayal of Christians can be "wholly dishonest" because there's some element of truth in the most and least favorable ones. Of course, the good doctor only wants positive portrayals. I suspect that, like any other pastor of a large church, Dr. Falwell can look out from his putpit toward his congregation and see drug users, adulterers, and yes even homosexuals safely tucked away in their closets.

It also seems to me there HAVE been some good views of christians on television in recent memory. How about "Seventh Heaven", "Touched By an Angel", and "Highway to Heaven" as three examples. I'm sure there are others, but I don't watch a lot of television where there is not a sporting event involved.

I'm sure Dr. Falwell was uncomfortable watching parts of "The Book of Daniel." Brenda and I watched the entire two-hour episode since I knew it would be a topic of discussion and I wanted to be informed. I think the best way to sumarize the program would be calling it a soap opera with Jesus. There are some twisted characters on this program. The Episcopalian priest has a very dark side, although he showed a good side as well. It seemed the most well adjusted person on the show was the homosexual son, which I'm sure really ticked off fundamentalits.

Dr. Falwell referred to the portrayal of Jesus in this show as a "kind of inane wise guy." I don't believe that is totally inaccurate, but is conveniently taken out of context. Jesus speaks to us in ways we can understand it. Sometimes the messages He sends me would fall under the category of wise guy, but that's where I am too.

If we seek Him out, He will come to us and meet us where we are to share His message in a manner that we can process it and use it in our lives. I believe that is how Jesus was communicating with the lead character in "The Book of Daniel." To acknowledge that, however, would give more validation to the program than would serve Dr. Falwell's purposes.

This is another clear example of the danger people run into when they try to view the world as only black or white. There are an infinite variety of shades of gray that we might miss and learn something from, which would conflict with the absolute message of "leaders" like Dr. Falwell. Instead of "toeing the line" like his ilk of fundamentalists would have us do, we can greatly enrich our lives and, more importantly our faith, by opening our minds and hearts.