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A Christian in America

This is the weirdest, saddest, most distressing time of my life, as an American Christian. I believe that the church has strayed so far away from the needs of the ethnic minority, the poor, and the disabled of our own nation, that my generation is forced to choose a strange paradox: Do we vote for and actively pursue equality, knowing that eventually the exclusivity of Christianity will come under very strong fire in American Liberal politics? Or do we cover our right to religiously assemble, and by default (if not intentionally) perpetuate the divide that sees a Klan rally justified by an anti-biblical expression of “free speech”, to say nothing of the horror that blatant racism and willingness to harm other ethnicities reveals about our nation and its systemic racism as a whole?

Yeah, I think those are the two options. And they both suck.

That is not to say that there aren’t Conservatives standing opposed to the events of Charlottesville, and rightly condemning white nationalism, white supremacy, and the groups that represent those ideologies. But for the majority of those standing up now, there was silence until a white woman was murdered as a peaceful protestor or the leader of the nation made outlandish claims equating the KKK with people demonstrating in response to them. And why the silence? I think because American Christianity has largely become a game of safety and security. But why?

Patriotism Run Amuck

George McKenna, in his book The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism, wrote that the idea of patriotism is in effect, “an affection rather than a syllogistic process, it is a highly evocative word, recalling all kinds of memories, stored up in images”. He goes on to address the origins and true adaptable nature of American patriotism in the 17th century. And I think he’s right on all accounts. My first image of patriotism is my grandfather’s Purple Heart, that he earned as a soldier in the Army, fighting in WWII. And I remember the first time I stood at the Vietnam Memorial, overwhelmed by the length of that wall, and the small print still needed to fit the names of soldiers lost on it. Oh, and the first time I read Letters from a Birmingham Jail, as a student at Elon University. These things, for me, ring of American patriotism.

But I also believe that the adaptability of American patriotism has neutered what it truly means to love our nation, and learn about and FROM its history. Somehow people have so bastardized American ideology that ethnic cleansing is taught by some as permissible and beneficial. And churches can recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but most don’t know the Nicene Creed, or even that it exists. We study the news, but not the Bible. We know what we are against, but we have abandoned so much of what Jesus was truly for. We’ve traded in true belief and biblical conviction, for memes, prejudice, and the conviction to be right and loud. We don’t evangelize because we don’t want to be offensive or counter-offended, or we’ve just completely forgotten how to. We can’t be real in the world or “do life” with people because we’ve been so busy condemning gay people and Muslims, or standing for things that Jesus apparently forgot to make as pillars of his ministry. In so many ways, we’ve just stopped being the church.

So if you’re still reading this, you’re either in agreement so far, completely fuming but hanging in there, or you just came to see the fireworks. No matter what, I do believe that social media has influence. And as unbelievable as it may seem, altogether, roughly 5,000 people ‘follow’ me. And because I make everything I post public, many more can follow along too. So while I’m a pretty insignificant cog in the machine, I have a voice. And this is what I think needs to happen in American church and within the hearts of Christians soon.

Evangelism Lost

My sweet and brilliant wife reads my posts. She proofs some of them, and parts of all of them. In the introduction, where I mentioned evangelism and our fear of it, she rightly pointed out that we largely misunderstand it too.

We’ve lost American evangelism to a handful of unbiblical ideas. Here are a few that drive me insane:

Attraction – Being well-liked, or in a pretty building, or having an affable reputation is nice. It would be a whole lot more effective if that was coupled with being engaged in the community, financially invested in helping the hurting within that community, or being known as a haven for the hurting through programs or availability. But even then… if we poured money into the poor, and had a beautiful building, and were well thought of… none of that is evangelism. None. It’s nice. But it’s not evangelism. It may be a tremendous catalyst TO evangelism, but if you think it’s enough, well that’s called an idol.

Moral Superiority – I don’t know where to begin here. Christians are not superior in any way to anyone else. The moral superiority of Christianity resides entirely in the person of Jesus Christ. To posture that the rituals, habits, and platforms of faith cast a shadow on our cities that compel people to Jesus is absurd. Again, a positive reputation might lead someone to you, but if your excellence is your platform, again, that’s an idol that you’ve made in your own image.

Anti-Secularism – I grew up hearing the phrase, “no one has ever been argued into salvation”, and I’m 37, so the phrase has been around a while now. But we’ve gotten so good at being against things, that I think we’ve convinced ourselves that a Facebook video about what we find unbiblical or evil is some kind of evangelism. But it’s not. It never has been. It never will be. At best, it’s my opinion, gleaned from interpreting scripture, but at worst, it’s bullying that pushes people away from Jesus.

Lawless Love – My last one is the one I’m generally most accused of. As a registered Democrat, now living in Washington State, I get it. Since I don’t rail against things that are not permissible from Scripture, maybe I appear complicit. Maybe it seems that I treat people as though they are sinless, and that Scripture doesn’t really say hard things. But that’s not true of me, nor is it evangelical. The Bible is true for Christians, and it says hard things. In my experience, the best way to talk through them with people who do not view Christ as I do, is through (1.) earning the right to be heard, through loving them as they are and as I am, (2.) being humbly honest about Scripture, (3.) and reminding them that we are all on the same footing, as sinners. And then, after that, be consistent and steady. Scripture guides me as the Lord is my Savior. To reduce Scripture for the sake of love is not love at all.

Evangelism Reclaimed

It simply means that we bring the Good News. That’s it. And since, for Christians, that good news is the story of Christ and his sacrificial atonement, it means that evangelism is telling someone about Jesus. That’s it. All of that other stuff is either secondary or self-centered.

Period.

Choose For Yourselves

So yes, I’ve stepped beyond that crossroad of choosing which fight I’ll fight. But I do understand the real angst over potentially losing our freedom of religious assembly. I’ve been to countries where my function as a pastor and teacher was illegal. I’ve heard the knock at the door and watched a few dozen faces turn immediately from focus to fear. I have shaken the hands of a man who was disavowed, then condemned to die, and then martyred for simply believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And America is a long way away from that kind of existence… I think. But I could be wrong. I laughed at the idea of Trump as President.

Whether I’m right or wrong about the trajectory of faith in America, I’m captivated by Joshua’s call for covenant renewal: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the god that your fathers served… and serve the Lord… choose this day whom you will serve.” [Joshua 24:14-15a]

My dad loves Jesus. It’s a humble affection that I’m forever grateful to have grown up under. But it’s not my faith. Same Jesus. But I’m not my dad, and his faith doesn’t save me or fuel me. It saves him and only him. And for me, I choose the God that says we are all equal (Gen. 1:27; Eph. 2:14; I John 2:2), and that our chief aim is to glorify God (Isa. 43:7; Hab. 2:14; Ps. 115:1) through loving one another (Rom. 12:9, 13:10; Mk. 12:31; I Cor. 13:1-3), even those who feel the need to oppose me for my faith (Luke 6:35), because I must fight as someone that has been called out by God to those who need him, need hope, and need help…

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Aggressively for the Love of People

Maybe you still disagree with me. That’s fine, but I think I’m standing on Scripture here. So unless you can convince me that Jesus isn’t real (& you cannot), that we have not been called to bind up the broken-hearted (Isa. 61:1) and that somehow does not include black Americans right now, but other minorities, the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the refugee, the imprisoned, the homeless, and the foreigner, and that the eventuality of religious persecution in America is justification to hide, or defend the love of Christ that cannot be thwarted (Rom. 8:35)…. what are you standing for?

A fight just broke out in the cafeteria of the American consciousness, and everyone wearing a WWJD? t-shirt just collectively stood up and picked a side. And with the whole world watching, but more importantly, our neighbors, classmates, family, and friends saw us rise, and they saw us run to defend the hurting, as Jesus did, or to the defense of anything else.

So if one day, I lose the right to freely claim that Jesus alone is the way to God and that the Bible is uniquely true…. well ok then. I’ll go to jail for that. I’ll go to the mat for hope and faith. And until then, I’ll stand for Christ’s love for all people.

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Filed under America, Christianity, Discouraged, faith, Goals, Growth, Leadership, Ministry, Social Justice, Storm, Uncategorized

Dear Trump Supporters & Voters

The immediate shock of the election is wearing off. People are still protesting, arguing, name-calling, & complaining about the people protesting, arguing, name-calling, & complaining. And we all blame the media for not saying what we want them to say the way we want them to say it. And then we get online so we can be mad at other people for saying what they want to say however they want to say it. 

Really, we are all a little absurd right now. And sensitive. And good God in Heaven, we all think we are right. But I know that for some of you…

You’re Mad At Me

I think I’ve lost a few friends over this election & my responses to it. Now, when I say friends, I use the term broadly. I’ve lost the respect of a few people I knew a long time ago, connected back up with on social media, & recently had them call me names or argue with me, & then disconnect. I think it means we’ve broken up. But I don’t know the rules for internet friendships. Others have silently deleted me or used the brilliant ‘unfollow’ option wherever available. I’ve also found myself at a distance from people I know back home in NC or people that know me as a pastor, etc. Those are challenging losses for my heart to handle. And I’ve also lost some folks that I call true friends, which is painful. And so far, the number one reason I can gather for the disconnect is this…

You think I’m calling you a racist because you voted for or support Donald Trump.

To be clear, I’ve never said that to anyone. Almost half the people who actually voted, voted for Trump. So I can’t make that accusation & consider myself an intellectual or a thoughtful person.  I also know people that voted for clear reasons that don’t have a direct racial implication. We disagree, but I know their reasoning. So my bottom-line statement is this: if I know you, I love you. I’d never call you a disrespectful name & never accuse you of hate. And racism always comes from hate… & insecurity. If you are a racist, you probably know it, but I don’t. 

But it begs the question, what’s a racist? Literally, a racist is someone that believes a certain race is superior to another, & inversely, they believe that a certain race is inferior. And it’s more subtle than stating the belief itself. In fact, I believe you can say racist things without recognizing yourself as a member of a superior race. Think of this: If you think white men are better drivers than anyone else… well, that’s racist & sexist. It’s broadly assuming that one race & gender is superior in an area that you have no data to prove. The assumption is based on stereotypes & prejudice, & the bias is almost always in the favor of the person expressing the assumption. 

My example is a small one. And there are thousands of other examples that are equally valid. Some are seemingly harmful, while others are outright demeaning, dehumanizing, & godless assumptions about other humans because they look or sound or come from a place different than you do.

I can also be honest & admit that some of the things that we call racist can also be seen as overreaching. I see that. I know it can get silly. But does Brad think you’re a racist? Brad does not give a crap. You be whoever you are, & if a real look at humanity & faith permit you to be that person, carry on.  

Voting for… Not Supporting

Tonight I got to hang out with some people that I like. As is the case with everyone in Washington, they are new to us, but our kids like each other, and as a couple it’s kinda rare that the husbands are buddies, the wives are buddies, & together there’s an ability to talk funny, talk family, & yes… talk politics or other serious topics. And we don’t agree on present political issues. They cast a vote… but it was cast in hope.

And if you’re reading this, voting as I voted, but believing that a lot of good people voted for the new President-elect, then there’s only two reasons they (the good ones) could have done it: belief or hope. 

  • They believe in the guy. They believe his record, his speeches, his plans & his promises. And candidly, I don’t know a ton of these people. 
  • Or they have placed their hope in this guy. They are worried about our nation. Our security, our economy, & maybe even our marginalized, & they think that his plans helps better, & if he does what he says he will do, America will be better for it. 

They voted. They may or may not be supporters. But they’re voters. And if I’m honest, & I’m usually honest to a fault on here, I’m a Bernie guy that placed my hope in Hillary Clinton. I’m not a Clinton guy. I just liked her plan better, trusted her D.C. connections better for her Cabinet, & really didn’t like the other guy. 

And right now it is super important that we see each other, because I’m not in this to be right or a Democrat or smart or any of that useless garbage. I’m in this for hurting people. 

Someone Needs Help

For me, that’s the bottom-line. People need people, need encouragement, need a hand, need support, & need… love. 

And yes, for some of us, we struggle with the marginalized people groups that need help right now. And that must be so awkward. And I don’t have a lot of really good advice for that. Maybe just get over it. Maybe pray about it. Or fight to see past their skin or orientation, gender questions or income, disability, poverty, addiction or whatever they have that makes you see them & want to look away. But see them.

See them like Jesus sees them. Made in the image of God, imperfect & sinful, but created for a purpose. The have a divinely inspired purpose. They matter. They matter to another human, & they matter to God. And if you’ve ever held open a Bible for personal growth, direction, hope, or guidance through hardship, you should know more than anyone that people need the Lord… but before the Lord reveals himself to anyone, His Word says that he sent divinely appointed humans to love others, encourage them, sacrifice for them, share their lives together, & to go to the hard places & find them. He sent you, Christian. And as a pastor, here’s some advice: step out of the homogenous mess that you call church, where everyone looks the same, talks the same, & hopes the same because right now, somehow is hoping for a meal. Someone is praying for a sign that they aren’t damaged goods. Someone needs hope. And you’re supposed to be the light of the world. Go shine. 

Or see them like you’re an actual patriotic American. Yes, I’m calling out the flag-waving folks too, whether you practice a faith or not. If you stand for the pledge of allegiance & boast that men & women have died for our unique freedoms, then stand for the people that aren’t experiencing those freedoms to their fullest. Some of those people have made mistakes, I know that. But so have we. We just didn’t get caught & go to jail. We didn’t get pregnant or get her pregnant, so we don’t live that life. We aren’t addicted to whatever it is that has crippled their joy, but we could have been. And beyond those who’ve made mistakes, their are people that really do believe they were born to love someone that shares their gender, & it’s not un-American to love someone. And please, fight for the people of this country that make us the coolest, most diverse, most beautiful nation in this Earth’s history. You are an American, beholden to a constitution that says all men & women are created equal. And the ideals of our nation proclaim that for all whatever their language or faith, the pledge is to fight for the them. On the Statue of Liberty, where all who hope to become Americans one day can pass by, an inscription boldly calls the world to give us the tired, hungry & poor; those huddled masses yearning to be free. And we are called to embrace them. So embrace them.

The Road is Long

Yes, I know there will be disagreements. I know we will fight. You will try, & jerks like me will call you to try harder or do more. You might offer help & get met with rejection. You might offend someone or be offended in the process. 

But you might also find an ally where an enemy was just standing. You might find some hope that you didn’t know you needed. And four years from now, when we are yelling once again, I hope we are fighting together, with different ideas of how we reach the same goals. That’s actually what our politics is intended to do.

And I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I’ve offended you by the things I’ve posted. But I’m going to keep posting. You matter to me, I promise. But Christ compels me to the hurting, & I’m jumping in. And maybe one day people will no longer care about what I have to say, but today that’s not the case. People are listening & reading. I hear about it every day. And while I’m a little overwhelmed, I’m not going to back down from using the privilege of being an educated white, middle-class, straight man for the good of humanity. God made me this way. Now I just want everyone else to feel the same privilege, without having to become someone they aren’t. 

So even if you’re mad at me. Go ahead & cut me off. But love someone that isn’t like you. And know that some of you already do! And keep at it!! It matters. Here’s a quick story, & then I’ll leave you alone…

I have a heart for homosexuals. That’s a weird sentence, I know. And it isn’t because I have family that are gay, but I do. And it isn’t because I have friends that have come out to me or shared life with me after they came out, though I do have those people in my life. And it isn’t because of any gay person at all. 

I took dance as a kid. And my dance instructor was a loud, hilarious, radiant, married straight lady with a daughter I was in school with. She had so much faith in me & my friends. And given the nature of her profession, she was surrounded by a vast diversity of people. The first ‘out’ gay man I have ever met danced beside me for 3 years before I ever had a clue. And he called me clueless for not knowing. But he was just one of us. Ok, he was significantly better at all things dancing than all of the other guys, but he was just a guy. So when I found out he was guy… I didn’t care. Yes, I know what the Bible says. But he was a guy. My friend. Someone so ridiculously gifted at a thing I struggled to keep from embarrassing myself in. And I liked him. I like good people. Always have. But that dance instructor is a conservative Christian! I haven’t seen her voter registry ID, but I’m certain she’s a Republican. So what in the world is a conservative Christian Republican doing with a dance school??? Loving people. That’s what she does. Oh, she’s demanding, but she’s demanding to everyone. And she compassionate… to everyone. And that’s how we do it. We love people. We have our beliefs & our opinions, & we love people. And Nina, if you get around to reading this, thank you. You taught me that a person was a person no matter what. And while we may disagree on politics today, we love people. And I will take that every day, all day, any day.

I’m not upset that I live in a country that nominated & will appoint a candidate I didn’t choose. I’m upset that there’s more to be done & not enough people doing the good work that’s waiting to be accomplished. 

So I’m in this fight. And I will call out discrimination & prejudice when I see it. And if you’re up for it & feel compelled, I’ll still argue with you. And whenever I can, wherever I can, I will help the hurting & maringalized that are right here in America. And I believe in my heart that some of you already do, & that more will come. Because I don’t think you’re a racist or horrible. I think you’re human. And the election is over, but people still need one another. 

So to a better future on a wider, fairer road for my country…

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Filed under America, Christianity, faith, Goals, Growth, Leadership, Uncategorized, Vote