Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Rise of Church-less Evangelicals

I grew up, as many have, with the cliche that you aren’t a Christian just because you go to church. One saying went like, “Being in church doesn’t make you a Christian just like being in a garage doesn’t make you a car.” It can be a clever exhortation for regular churchgoers to follow James 1:22. I get it.

But it seems the times have really a-changed. There is a large population of people that call themselves “evangelical” or “Christian” in surveys and exit polls, but they don’t go to church

Perhaps the divorce rate among self-dubbed Christians is disturbingly high. But among those who regularly attend church, it’s “markedly lower” than the general population’s average.

According to exit polls, the vast majority of white self-dubbed evangelicals voted for President Trump. “But as Notre Dame’s Geoffrey Layman noted, ‘Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.’”

Because of this factor, there are potentially a lot of generalizations and assumptions being made about evangelicals and Christians. 

Could there be other things that we’re getting wrong?

For all purposes (statistical, theological, etc.), how should we define “Christian” or “evangelical”? Should church attendance really (still) be a non-factor?

P.S. I think you should go to church regularly. Research has shown that it does more than just lower your divorce probability.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

My Prayer For #NationalDayOfPrayer (2017)

(Originally posted for last year's National Day of Prayer, updated).

Dear Heavenly Father, Creator of All Things,

Thank you for our country. As I strive to worship You and serve the poor, I regularly am blessed by the fruit of our country’s founding vision of freedom, responsibility and humility. My children attend a very resourceful and culturally-diverse school and church, and there are many other ways my wife and I feel uniquely blessed by our community.

However, we have erred from what is right by Your commandments and what would continue to be deemed good stewardship and cultural flourishing in the land You have given us. 

We have sought self-fulfillment in the wrong places, storing up treasures on earth. Have mercy.

We have treasured our sub-culture and/or country more than Your love and grace. Have mercy.

We have had the over-confidence to disregard the notion of intelligence other than our own, pridefully refusing to be teachable. Have mercy.

Under a guise of justice, we have sought vengeance and victory instead of reconciliation and the common good. Have mercy.

Wanting to create a culture that we thought was better, we have ignored facts and believed heinous lies about people. Have mercy.

We have selfishly sought our own trivial good and ignored the significant plight of others. Have mercy.

We have continually mocked leaders and those in authority that You have ordained, and not prayed for them as You commanded. Have mercy.

Unlike many of Your children outside of our country, many of us continue to lack an adequate theology of suffering. Have mercy.

We ask, Lord, that You would give wisdom and strength to President Trump and all those who are given the difficult task of leading and shepherding a diverse and polarized country. 

May we have the strength to continue to serve You, help others and work for the common good. 

May we, following Your commands, in our relationships with one another, seek absolute grace and not relative justice. 

May we, following Your commands, be elitist about ideas but egalitarian about fellow children of God.

May we never forget, Lord, that You are not surprised or intimidated by actions of men. You are our perfect example of humble servanthood. Give us the strength and courage to serve our country.


Amen.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What Were The Other Passengers Doing?

So, everyone’s talking about United Flight 3411. Or at least they were. Now people are talking about the murder-suicide in an elementary school in San Bernadino, or about Russia and Syria. 

United Airlines had overbooked a flight from Chicago to Louisville. If what I’ve been reading is correct, they needed to remove four passengers to transport their staff. They asked for volunteers, offering $800 each as well as a night in a hotel (most likely the Hilton at O’Hare, which I’ve seen; it’s pretty nice). Knowing the plane was stationary until four passengers would vacate, still no one volunteered. So, it was announced that four passengers would be selected at random to get off the flight. The first three selected passengers complied. The fourth would not. After supposedly being diplomatic to no avail, security was called in to forcefully (and, unfortunately, bloodily) remove him from his seat.

So yeah, everybody’s talking. The following are themes of what I’ve read online, not my own personal view:

United is a horrible company, they’re systemically racist against Chinese, and they’ve always had bad customer service. They just kept a doctor from seeing his patients on time and beat him up. Boycott! No, no! They were diplomatic as can be for a long time, and he kept being a jerk. He’s not a practicing doctor anymore and has a criminal record. Maybe he deserved it. 

I’ve been scanning through various articles, and so many of these articles (e.g. CNN, Chicago Sun-Times) donate space to the most cleverly-written (and opinionated) tweets about the issue, some of them not even a witness or a relevant source, in order to show “the public’s reaction on social media.” Really? If I wanted to see the public’s reaction on social media, I’d go on social media. Where can I read about the facts of the incident? But I digress.

Amid all that people are talking about United 3411, I have a question: what were the other passengers doing?

It was a full cabin, and four people were offered $800 and a night at a hotel to wait one day to go to Louisville, and everyone refused the inconvenience. I guess I can understand that. What worries me is that, when the situation seemed to be escalating and getting violent, still it seemed nobody volunteered to give up their seat to spare the man the visit to the hospital, the humiliation, and maybe even his trip to Louisville that night. 

Yes, hindsight is 20/20, but was there really no way for any passenger to foresee the fiasco? When the violence started, other passengers just sat there. I wonder what would have happened if just one passenger said, “You can take my seat! Leave that man alone!” What happened instead is that all the other passengers stayed on the flight, landed in Louisville when they wanted to, and posted on social media about the injustice afterwards. It’s slacktivism at its finest.

Recently, in one of our country’s own cities, a group of black boys were being a bit noisy on a public train. Someone called security and the train stopped. An officer got on the cab and attempted to shoo out all the black boys on board. One brave fellow passenger took a risky stand to clarify to the officer that one boy was not, in fact, with the rowdy group and should not be shooed. This passenger sent a message that prejudice does not control this country.

A few years ago in Kenya, a group of Islamist gunmen stepped onto a public bus and asked the Christians and Muslims to separate, as the former were very likely to be executed. The passengers refused, and the Muslims among the passengers responded to the militants, “to kill them together or leave them alone.” Thankfully, the Islamist gunmen then left the bus. It was a statement from the passengers that religious terrorism does not control that country.

One columnist said that the incident of United 3411 shows that it’s really corporations that are in control of this country, because of the power they have and what they’re willing to do to keep and get money. Whether that idea is the heart of matter, I won’t address. But I’d say that it’s really easy to control a group of people who don’t stand up for each other.


Maybe I’m way off base, and many fellow passengers on United 3411 did indeed stand up for the unwillingly removed passenger when they saw the situation going sour. If so, nobody (not even the press) is talking about it.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Clarifying the Billy Graham Rule

A recent piece in the Washington Post had some questions and comments about the “Billy Graham Rule,” now that it’s been brought back to the public eye by its use by Vice President Mike Pence.

Recently, a Washington Post article about second lady Karen Pence has brought the Billy Graham Rule back into the public eye. The article cites a 2002 interview with Vice President Pence — who has called himself an “evangelical Catholic” — saying that he “never eats alone with a woman other than his wife,” and that he doesn’t attend events serving alcohol unless she is with him as well.

I’ll answer the question and comments as best I can.

In this case, the Billy Graham Rule risks reducing women to sexual temptations, objects, things to be avoided.

Women should not be objectified. However, if there was an official list of Top Things That Dehumanize Women That Should Be Challenged, the Billy Graham Rule wouldn’t even make it into the first one hundred. What about the rampant pornography on the internet and sex appeal in the media? If anything, the continued practice of the Billy Graham rule is a reaction to our increasingly pornified culture. It really can’t be blamed for perpetuating it. 

If a woman at work cannot meet one-on-one with her boss or colleague, her options for advancement (or even being taken seriously as a colleague) are extremely limited.

Do these career-necessary meetings have to be one-on-one, behind closed opaque doors and completely unaccountable, even to the rest of the business?

In this conversation, we also have to keep in mind the fact that Pence is the vice president of the United States. He is not a pastor and does not act in that capacity. How on earth can he be expected to represent half the country if he won’t eat at the same table as us? Not to mention that his ideological purity is called into question by his support of our current president, who has bragged about committing sexual assault.

Again, the Billy Graham Rule is about private, individual and completely unaccountable meetings, which are not necessary for any affirmation of human dignity or career advancement. The Billy Graham Rule is not just for pastors avoiding scandals for the good of their jobs. It’s for maintaining integrity within marriages and institutions. I think it’s a good thing that one of our elected leaders is practicing it.

However, if we look not to Graham for an example of how to treat women but to Jesus, we will find a different path to follow. Jesus consistently elevated the dignity of women and met with them regularly, including his meeting with a Samaritan woman in the middle of the day.

While Jesus elevated the dignity of women in many more examples in Scripture, one could make the argument that Jesus followed the Billy Graham Rule, as he never had a one-on-one and completely unaccountable meeting with someone of either gender. 

As for Billy Graham, he has always been a non-partisan, non-denominational, scandal-free, charitable man of prayer and integrity. He’s been a friend to all sorts of presidents for decades. Billy Graham always released his ministry tax returns to the newspapers so he could be held financially accountable, and the Billy Graham Rule is another simple way he (and now our Vice President) keep themselves accountable to the public.


What’s really wrong with that?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Life As A Moderate

I’ll just announce it to the world without shame. I am moderate. Extremely moderate. Viciously moderate. When it comes to political and cultural issues, I strive to be a mediator and peacemaker. And it isn’t easy. It’s always complicated.

Will McAvoy, for example, claimed to be moderate in Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom. (Sorkin has at least twice written about LGBTQ-friendly Catholic geniuses who were abused by their jealous Protestant fathers). But while McAvoy was a good team leader who empowered and sacrificially loved his staff, his supposed and self-dubbed centrist journalism seemed to be mostly left-leaning snark that did not strive for unity and helpful reform.

So what is a true moderate? Not a revolutionary, but a reformist. As I look through the narrative of the Bible, the life of Jesus, the socio-cultural strives of the early Church of the Roman Empire, and God’s work in my life and the lives of people in my church, I can’t help but endeavor to be a true moderate. Would you be interested in joining me on my journey? Here’s what true moderates all should strive to do:
  1. Listen first, talk later (if at all). Be a soundboard for people as they tell their stories of felt abuse, abandonment, pain and/or fear. (How “slow to anger” can we be?). A moderate has the ability to feel another’s pain. May our hearts bleed for victims of all forms of suffering, no matter how much your worldview may think such suffering is deserved. Life can be tough for a moderate because it is one that helps carry a lot of others’ burdens.
  2. Be teachable and wise. Things are always more complicated. Know and understand the depth of the issues at hand, as well as the credible arguments of the other side of the ideological spectrum. Reform is very difficult (nigh impossible) when conversations are cycling through the same kitschy cliches that have little research (e.g. in history, science, statistics, religious study) or compassion.
  3. Strive for unity, despite differences. What’s a moderate’s goal in reform? Holistic peace by the sanctity of human life, from conception to the deathbed. (That may be my “religious views” coming into play here). I believe that us country-mates can strive for that within our communities and nation despite the divisions that are more eye-grabbing, emotionally-satisfying and maybe even individually-profitable for some. Do you believe that, too? Or are you checking my profile now to guess where I “really stand” on some issues so you can maybe write me off?
  4. Just serve. We live in a pathetic world of virtue-signaling and slacktivism. A status (or even an argument!) on your social media account does nothing for the true victims of socio-cultural and political change. So you’re against police brutality and urban poverty? What have you done to serve the charities and organizations working to build bridges in broken city communities? So you’re for or against President Trump’s proposed travel bans. What have you done to help the persecuted refugees and American-born Muslims within your community? For every single issue, there’s a type of healthful activity to engage the problem (regardless of where you even stand on it, in some cases) rather than just angrily talk about it. I, personally, abstain from partisanship and look at each issue individually with the attitude of a Chick-fil-A employee: “How can I serve you?”
It’d be easier if I just picked a side. That way I could read a lot more subjective news and editorials that make me feel more justified in my views, and I’d get a lot more post likes on Facebook. But, in becoming a moderate, I’ve “listened” and heard too many heartbreaking stories from people on both sides of the ideological spectrum add to the growing and unnecessary division.

Life as a moderate isn’t easy, but it’s what I feel called to be: not a revolutionary, but a reformer. Anyone interested in joining me?