Archive for the ‘history’ Category

I’m in the process of redesigning this blog and working more intentionally on branding, so I haven’t been posting. But I couldn’t let this moment past. You can see the post below as a kind of follow-up to a brief post I did several years ago.

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Rochelle and I saw ‘The Help’ this weekend with another couple from church. They are wonderful people and gave me the book last year. Since the wife of the other couple, like me, is from the south, she thought I would resonate with the book, and in many ways I did.

 I was born in Jackson, MS, as were my parents and grandparents. Both of my grandmothers were maids in Jackson, working for multiple white families. ‘The Help’ nails the look of Jackson and its cultural and racial ethos  – both in the 60’s and today. From my read – visiting hundreds of times over my lifetime – Jackson remains two cities; one white, one black. Speak with contemporary Jacksonians, white and black, and you’ll get a completely different picture of the city, just like you do in ‘The Help’. The whites in the movie don’t see a racial problem in Jackson while it’s painfully obvious to blacks.

It’s been interesting to see the response of my white friends to ‘The Help’ (and I have tons of them and I love all of you). What has startled me is the amazement by which they look at the racial division in the 60’s. The white characters in ‘The Help’ are largely unlikeable. They want separate bathrooms, believe in separate stations in life, and mindlessly go along with the status quo; a status quo which occupies a social position of separate and unequal and the theological position that God did not create all people in his own image. When we see it in Mississippi in the 60’s we look back and marvel with confused awe and disgust. Some of us even think, “How could people be that way?” But many of us don’t think that most Sunday mornings when we sit in our segregated churches.

Our senses get offended when someone like Hilly Holbrook speaks of segregated bathrooms because “niggers carry different diseases than us”. But that’s hardly a concern at most congregations I know. There’s no fear of black butts on white toilets because there are no black butts in the building. If you don’t believe me, what’s the racial make-up of your congregation. I bet most of them are OVERWHELMINGLY homogeneous. As a matter of fact, that’s how the church-growth experts tell us is the best way to grow a church.

Once, in college, I sat in a ministry class and listened to a young white woman explain that segregated churches are better because different ethnicities like different worship styles.

Seriously?

It would seem that the apostle Paul didn’t consider the powerful importance of “worship styles” when he said that Jesus Himself was our peace and had destroyed the the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility between us (Eph. 2:14). Apparently, even the church is  inventing mythical reasons to keep the races separate. Shockingly, this is antithetical to the message of the New Testament, wherein one of the central questions is bringing Jews and Gentiles together as one under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Just this last week on Twitter, someone referenced seeing ‘The Help’ and asked, “I wonder what our kids will look back at and be embarassed?” I submit, it will be the same thing…at least if they’re better Christians than we are. Jesus Himself prays that all his disciples be one (John 17), and Paul works for it throughout his entire ministry, yet it is the least talked about issue in the church. We get all in a bunch about things we can’t do anything about; real important things like millennial debates, and hardly lift a finger to do what was critical to Jesus and Paul, bringing people from different backgrounds together to become one.

The difficult and deadly work of ending Jim Crow and segregation in the south was undertaken by courageous men and women, who under the banner of Christ, sought to end a wicked, demeaning system of life. Yet it was the white churches in the South who were last to the party. In fact, they openly defended the status quo, rebuked Martin Luther King, Jr., and called to uphold segregation and second-class citizenship. These churches and their leaders saw nothing wrong with segregation, with white, blacks, Latinos and anybody else all worshipping separately, though supposedly to the same God.

Some churches still do this.

Some churches maintain racists systems in the David Duke kinda way. But the majority maintain it by not caring at all, not working to end it, not standing up for others and by  sitting on their hands…in the theatre.

The Arrest

Posted: April 21, 2011 in Bible, history, reconciliation, words, writing

This is the devotional I gave at Redwood Church’s Passion Week service.

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That night itself was pregnant with the pangs of irony and opposites.  As the mob marched with torches and lanterns—in search of The Light.  Gathered in anger, anxiety and anticipation soldiers, Priest, police and Pharisees brandish their weapons to make war against the Prince of Peace.  Judas backed by army, but lacking integrity, leads the crowd in search of The Way.  Men connected by their own desire to snuff out The Life.

And of course, in a manner completely opposite of what anyone would suspect, instead of running away, Jesus steps forward.  After a night of praying that this moment would not have to come, Jesus does not hesitate to walk the road He and His Father have chosen.

The scene is so much different than you’d expect it to be.  In the recesses of my mind it has always been like a movie. They’ve got the building surrounded.  The roadblock is in place; the city is under siege.  Drop the bunker-buster. That’s how you arrest someone that’s dangerous.  It’s John Dillinger outside the movie theatre.  It’s Elliot Ness racing horseback across the countryside, while the Canadian Mounties rush down from the hills above.

But that’s not really what happened here.  Sure they thought, no they knew, that Jesus was dangerous.  So they send a “detachment of Roman soldiers” to make sure that nothing went wrong.  And just in case that wasn’t enough the Jewish Temple police came along for the ride.

A detachment of Roman soldiers?  That could have been up to 600 men.  The chief priest and the Pharisees?  That is serious religious and political power.  Not to mention all the hangers-on and rubber-neckers.  What they were doing tonight was too important.  This arrest couldn’t go wrong!

The last thing they needed was this arrest to go like the first six times they tried it.  Sometimes they were scared that the crowd would revolt, other times Jesus just walked through them because it “was not time.”

But then the one thing they hadn’t planned on happened.  When Jesus reveals who He is, it is they who step back and fall to the ground. It in all there clandestine proposals to rid themselves of Jesus, through all the late night planning sessions, back-room deals and political back scratching when the moment comes to apprehend Jesus they find it is they themselves who are arrested.

It’s not our Lord who shirks back in the moment of confrontation.  It’s not the Christ who suddenly feels the thunder of His heart pounding away in His chest.  It is not Jesus whose hands and voice shake and crackle with nerves in the moment of truth.

Jesus is captured, not because of their might, but because of His strength.

But the question is “why”?

One of the things that is so often lost is the fact that Jesus, is not murdered or assassinated. Judas doesn’t hand Jesus over—Jesus hands Himself over.

Sure there’s a mock trial and cruel beatings.  But it’s Jesus who says in John 10:18, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “the one way to show love to an enemy is to refuse to defeat him…if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and transform them.”

And the Thursday arrest that lead to the Friday of pain, was the mark of our redemption.  Because we all live as enemies to the cross. Jesus chose His capture that night.  Because in that night, He chose you!

Knowing that you weren’t going to be everything that you could have been.

Knowing that in your brief time on Earth you would turn away from Him countless times.

Jesus knew that we’d speak harsh words to one another, seek out our wants before the needs of others. Jesus knew that we would read and study God’s word and still not do it.  He knew that we would break our promises to people we care about.  He knew that we would be inclined to make other people suffer before we chose to sacrifice.  He knew that we’d rather take than give.

I suspect that if Christ had wanted to he could have walked out of the garden on Thursday and avoided the pain of Friday.  He could have rallied His supporters and fought the powers.  He could have done all of those things and much more and still been Jesus.  But He couldn’t have done those things and been Hosanna—the one who saves!

Make no mistake about it. Jesus suffers to save us from our sin…and from ourselves.

It is His unfailing love, His great compassion that blots out our transgressions.

Without Jesus’ choice to suffer the fierce suffering of the cross, we are lost in the woods.  We cannot help ourselves.  No one here, no one anywhere is good enough to save themselves.

D.M Stearns was preaching in Philadelphia.  At the close of the service a stranger came up to him and said, “I don’t like the way you spoke about the cross.  I think that instead of emphasizing the death of Christ, it would be far better to preach Jesus, the teacher and example.”  Stearns replied, “If I presented Christ in that way, would you be willing to follow Him?”  “I certainly would,” replied the stranger without hesitation.  “All right then,” said the preacher, “let’s take a first step.  Jesus did no sin.  Can you claim that for yourself?”  The man looked confused and surprised.  “Why, no,” he said. “I acknowledge that I do sin.”  Stearns replied, “Then your greatest need is to have a savior, not an example!”

In the wake of Jesus’ death, our Lord leaves us with a lot of things. An example, a comforter, a source of strength in times of weakness.  But in the garden, He willingly leads the crowds to His own death, because we need a Savior.  He has heard our deepest cry to the heights of Heaven: “Hosanna!  Save Us!”

Once you see how an Anabaptist approaches baptism, it becomes easier to understand why and how s/he makes determinations about other issues. At the heart of much of anabaptism is choice, more accurately, at the heart of anabaptism is the lack of coercion.  For many Anabaptists, Jesus is the one who humbled Himself unto death. He forced no one to embrace Him, to follow Him, to worship Him. This is more than a type of libertarian freedom, but a commitment that Jesus does not force His very self on anyone, even knowing that the curtailing of such freedom is in the individual’s best interest.

One of the places this is evident is in Anabaptists’ approaches to church/state issues. Since both the Catholic and Protestant churches continued to baptize infants, which made citizens of the baptized, when Anabaptists refused baptism to children they were also making a statement about empire, kingdom and state. The early Anabaptists (and I’m compiling three separate groups in the 16th Century Radical Reformation) saw the state as antithetical to the kingdom of God. In response, the church was to remain distinct from the state (we’ll talk about The Schleitheim Confession next time). The early Anabaptists witnessed how devastating the entanglements of church and state had become and they wanted no parts of it. At all!

Clearly, some Anabaptist groups have taken this impulse to separation to an extreme; the Amish for instance. Behind the Amish itch to create a separate world is a deeply held belief that intermingling with “the world” would corrupt the church. History, including the Reformation itself, has given us much evidence that they were and are right. However, the limitations of separatist movements is nearly self-evident.

The way this instinct in Anabaptism gets played out among mainstream Anabaptist like myself is predominately in the political realm. Caricatures of evangelicals are what they are, but I have never been a congregant of a church where American Flags adorned the walls; though you would see flags from  countries where the church supported missionaries. In Anabaptist churches you will be hard pressed to find church leaders advocating a particular political agenda, or suggesting to congregants who they should vote for. As a matter of fact, in most of the churches I have been a part of, if someone were to do so, many people would be offended, even if they agreed with the politics themselves. In Anabaptists churches You will not typically find big to-dos on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and the 4th of July. We find ways to both honor the service of our members who have sacrificed for America and acknowledges that all humankind are our brothers and sisters. 

Our instinct is that church and state don’t mix. What’s more, for many Anabaptists, open political discussions in church would be considered coercive. Politics change, Jesus does not! We make our camp on Jesus, everything else is too transitory. Anabaptists see the church as a kingdom within a country, and while you are free to advocate in whatever way you like outside church life, Anabaptists are suspicious and uncomfortable with political advocacy inside it. As a matter of fact, early leaders in my tribe, like David Lipscomb, abstained from participation in civil government and, believe it or not, some of our current thought-leaders do so as well.

This approach to church and state is strange to many evangelical and Catholic believers.  But Anabaptists have never minded being thought of as strange.

More to come…

I was raised, and remain, in a somewhat Anabaptist faith community (Churches of Christ). Most people don’t know what Anabaptism is, even people who are a part of Anabaptist’s communities and hold Anabaptist’s commitments often don’t know. This has happened because true, historic Anabaptism hasn’t ever been terribly popular. What remains in the 21st-Century are vestiges and fragments of 16th-Century Anabaptism – Mennonites, Churches of Christ, Amish, Brethren, etc…. This is unfortunate, because I, for one, believe recovering that the heart of Anabaptism is crucial for communicating faith in Jesus as we lean into the future.

Therefore, I want to give some space to articulate the best parts of Anabaptism. I want to describe what Anabaptism is and how it differs from popular, American evangelicalism and the emerging and strengthening, hard-edged, mean-spiritedness NeoReformed movement in America.

Let’s begin with the most obvious commitment of Anabaptists: Believer’s Baptism. Anabaptist means “re-baptizers.”  During the Reformation, as Martin Luther was breaking with the Catholic Church, many, particularly in Switzerland, believed Luther’s Reformation wasn’t going far enough. Thus the “Radical Reformation” was birthed.

The root issue was pedobaptism (infant baptism). Anabaptists, through their reading of scripture, determined that baptism was a practice for people who choose trust in Jesus for themselves, rather than received faith as a family heritage. In days when baptism into the church was tantamount to becoming a citizen of the state/empire (we’ll talk about Anabaptist’s views of church and state later), Anabaptists  said “No,” and began to “re-baptize” one another.

At the time, the church the world over baptized infants, making them both citizens of the church and the state. Anabaptists believed this to be improper. Luther and the Reformers, for their own theological and sociological reasons, maintained the practice of infant-baptism. This simple commitment that discipleship into the way of the Lord should be volitional is what made the Radical Reformation radical.

While lots of groups now practice “believer’s baptism” this wasn’t the case in the 16th-Century. The early Anabaptists were counter cultural, bucking the established church, the emerging Lutheran church and the state all at the same time. This instinct towards anti-institutionalism remains part of me and Anabaptism. And if you think the mode of baptism isn’t or shouldn’t have been a big deal, I will only point out that many of the Radical Reformers were hunted down and killed for believing it was.

Earlier in my pastoral career I attempted, as many have, to distance my theology from the hard, sectarian stance on baptism I inherited as a youth. Fortunately I did. And fortunately, I didn’t. I maintain that God enters a relationship with a person whenever God chooses and it’s not my place to say when that is (Through the years, some Anabaptists had come to believe that baptism was somehow magical and was the only hope anyone had of knowing God). Yet at the same time, I think there is something vitally important about each person making a personal decision to take on Jesus for themselves. Faith is not something your parents can bestow.

There you have it, the beginning of what it means to be Anabaptist. What do you think?

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A Snarky Note:

Oddly, many people in my tradition have come to practice a defacto infant-baptism as we press harder and harder to baptize children younger and younger. Parent’s who won’t let their kids choose their own order off the menu at Chili’s are baptizing their children at terribly young ages out of a fear that, “They might not ask again.”

Please!

Unboxing the NIV 2011

Posted: March 17, 2011 in Bible, history

Just received my new NIV 2011, which replaces the NIV 1984 (the most popular English translation ever) and the TNIV (which was better than the NIV, but ruffled some feathers). At any rate, for serious study, I still prefer the NRSV (widely thought of as “the scholar’s Bible), but for teaching and preaching on the popular level, the NIV is a safe choice (because that’s what most people have).

Here’s my unboxing:

New nuclear doctrine a step toward a morally sound nuclear policy

Evangelical Christians call Nuclear Posture Review a “welcome attempt to marry idealism and realism”

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Today, Evangelical Christians welcome the Obama administration’s long-awaited Nuclear Posture Review as a step toward a morally sound nuclear policy.  Coming just a year and one day after President Obama’s historic speech in Prague, where he articulated a firm commitment to seeking a world without nuclear weapons, the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review represents the administration’s first comprehensive outline of the precise ways in which that commitment will impact U.S. nuclear policy.
“The Nuclear Posture Review is a welcome attempt to marry idealism and realism. This is Ronald Reagan’s vision, translated into policies that meet the needs of our post-Cold War, post-9/11 era,” said the Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, an expert on the ethics of nuclear weapons policy and Director of the Two Futures Project, a growing movement of American Christians dedicated to the moral imperative of nuclear abolition.
“In an age of global terrorism, the Nuclear Posture Review recalibrates our nuclear policy around the preeminent goal of non-proliferation and takes seriously the need for U.S. leadership in that global effort,” Rev. Wigg-Stevenson said.
Among the changes in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review:
·      No use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Nuclear posture

·     Significant reductions of the role of nuclear weapons in the U.S. national security strategy
·     Changes in nuclear command structure to help prevent accidental launch
·     A commitment to reduce Cold War-levels of nuclear arsenals
·     Firm restrictions on when nuclear weapons can be used
·     Elimination of obsolete weapons systems
·     Rejection of new nuclear weapons programs
“The stated retention of first-strike capacity against states caught violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty seems to be a tactical move to deter nuclear breakout in states like Iran. But for this policy to have any claim to a moral foundation, it must move us toward the position where proliferation crises are resolved and the sole purpose of our nuclear arsenal is to deter nuclear attack against us or our allies—which must in turn serve as an interim ethic that seeks the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons,” Rev. Wigg-Stevenson said.
The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review was released just days before President Obama and Russian President Medvedev will meet in Prague to sign a treaty committing to deep reductions in each country’s nuclear arsenals—and a week before the President convenes a meeting of 47 heads of state in Washington to seek their commitment to secure loose nuclear materials.
“The use of even one nuclear weapon would cause indiscriminate death and destruction and threaten uncontrollable escalation, both of which are anathema in the just war tradition,” said Rev. Wigg-Stevenson. “The moral imperative is to do everything possible to ensure that no nuclear weapon is ever used, whether in war, terrorism, or by accident—which requires taking concrete, threat-reducing steps toward their multi-lateral, verifiable, and complete elimination.”
Founded a year ago, the Two Futures Project has already ushered in a new era of engagement from American Christians on nuclear issues.  The organization has garnered endorsements from a long list of nationally-known figures, including church leaders like Bill and Lynne Hybels, founders of Willow Creek Community Church; megachurch pastor Joel Hunter; Rob Bell, influential communicator and founder of Mars Hill Bible Church; and Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals; Christian media elite, including Cameron Strang, publisher of Relevant magazine, and David Neff, Editor in Chief of Christianity Today magazine; leaders of national organizations and denominations, such as Samuel Rodriguez, President of the 16-million-member National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners; Noel Castellanos, President of the Christian Community Development Organization; Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church; and political leaders like former Secretary of State George Shultz, Ambassador James Goodby, and former Congressman and Ambassador, Tony Hall. (See http://twofuturesproject.org/endorsements for a complete list.)
“In the past year, I’ve crisscrossed the country, meeting with thousands of Bible-believing Christians who share the conviction that the threat of nuclear weapons is antithetical to the claims of our faith in the twenty-first century,” Rev. Wigg-Stevenson stated.  “Just as Evangelicals have been at the helm of historic movements to abolish slavery and fight global poverty, Christians are at the vanguard of a new movement to lift the nuclear shadow once and for all.”
For more information about the Two Futures Project, visit http://twofuturesproject.org — Twitter http://twitter.com/2FP — Facebook: http://facebook.com/twofuturesproject