No Labels!

 Someone said in conversation this week that they consider me a “liberal” Christian, which I suspect means I practice “Christianity Lite.” This amused me. My husband is convinced I’m a natural conservative!

Actually, I’m neither. I listen to the pulpit. I think, ponder, pray, debate and study the Scriptures to see if those things are true.

So how’d I get a liberal label?

Maybe because I resist the idea that everything in the Christian faith is black and white. Obviously, the essentials of the faith are unambiguous and non-negotiable. But there also are things that are less clear cut. Not “gray” areas but things requiring wisdom and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit as to life application.

Or maybe because I’m a vocal critic of the nonsensical behavior of self-proclaimed conservative Christians:

  • Randomly cold-calling strangers at their front doors with the three spiritual laws
  • Standing outside “women’s health clinics” with bullhorns and poster-sized pictures of shredded babies shouting that abortion is murder
  • Arguing with queer theory people about whether sexual identity is fixed. (Note: Please don’t take me to task for referring to homosexuals as “queer.” My college-age insider assures me the LGBQT community now embraces the term as a means of self-identification.)

I’ve seen people do these things, and I’m pretty sure it brought no glory to Christ.

Christianity lived well, it seems to me, is not a matter of leaning left or right but of holding love and truth in a balanced tension. This is accomplished only by walking in the Spirit, something every believer is instructed to do.

We struggle because living this way requires reliance on God rather than hard-fast rules for human interaction.

I will admit that, over time, I have become more liberal in extending grace. Not because I have become soft on sin, but because I have learned this:

There is a wrong way to be right.

Nothing in Scripture instructs Christians to categorize ourselves as liberal or conservative. We are told:  “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith.” (2 Corinthian 13:5a)

THE faith is historic Christianity; not the modern-day version that is speculating about whether Jesus married and had children or rewriting gender references in hymns and Bible versions or redefining the nature of man as “basically good.”

Historic Christianity is the faith first delivered to the apostles and affirmed in the Christian creeds. A sampling:

One God, the Father, Creator and maker of the heavens and earth. Man a sinner in need of a savior whose name is Jesus, the Christ, Son of God and Son of Man. Foretold by the prophets, born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried; descended into hell, rose bodily on the third day, ascended into heaven and seated at the right hand of God to one day return to planet Earth to judge “the quick and the dead.”

It’s possible to give mental assent to all that and still be a hard, graceless person. It’s equally possible to be a kumbaya personality dedicated to the social gospel while conveniently forgetting that our citizenship is in heaven and we await a savior from there.

The Jesus of Scripture is neither. He eats and drinks with sinners. He visits their homes and welcomes tax collectors, zealots, prostitutes, Roman soldiers, the blind, and the lame – basically, all the undesirables — into his company. His message is frank, powerful and uncompromising. Yet, He is loving, compassionate and forgiving.

He heals people who don’t even know His name. He pardons the guilty. He’s upfront about the price to be paid for following Him. If people choose to walk away, He lets them go. There’s no coercion.

I don’t know anybody else like that.

Jesus doesn’t do liberal or conservative. He came to save every kind of sinner, from the inside-out. Jesus only had issues with Pharisees, the religious conservatives of His day, who didn’t think they needed saving. Their beautiful labels spoke of life, but Jesus said they were whitewashed tombs filled with dead men’s bones.

Labels can be misleading. Intel had it right. It’s what’s inside!

 

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What Do You Like?

Facebook is one of those places where I occasionally learn very surprising things about people I thought I knew.

A number of my Friends, for example, “Like” Mitt Romney and have declared their intention to support his candidacy for President of the United States in the November election.

This is a rather curious revelation, given that these people are quite fundamental in their Christianity. Romney, you may recall, is a Mormon. And there is some controversy about whether Mormons are Christians at all. 

Generally speaking, I like Mitt Romney, too. He seems like a clean-cut, family guy, John Q. Citizen. He’d probably make a great neighbor.

Yet, it strikes me as incongruous that Bible-believers “Like” a guy whose religion may not even line up with the Bible. Mind you, these are people who have made religious positions a litmus test for determining a candidate’s suitability for office.

That said, let me make a couple of things clear.

  •  I don’t hate Mormons. I’ve had Mormon family members. My children’s Mormon school friends have slept-over at my house and vice versa.
  • I don’t fault Mitt for being a Mormon. We have religious freedom in this country. We are free to practice any religion we choose or no religion at all. That’s the American way.

The real issue is this: For Christians, Christianity is supposed to inform our politics, not the other way around. My Facebook friends seem to have put their “Like” of Romney’s politics ahead of their love of traditional Christian belief, which contradicts core Mormon tenets.

Consider three points of disparity, corroborated by the official site of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints:

Baptism in the Bible is said to depict our identification with Christ’s atoning sacrifice, signifying our death to sin and resurrection to new life in Christ.

  • Salvation: Can we choose to follow Christ after death? Mormonism teaches that after death and judgment “those who never learned about Christ’s teachings or received his ordinances will have an opportunity to do so.” (see Postmortal life (Afterlife) topic).

The Bible teaches the decision to accept Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice for sin must be made on this side of  the grave. “Now is the day of salvation, now is the accepted time.” (2 Corinthians 6:2) After death, our fate is sealed. “It’s appointed to man once to die and then the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)

  •  Marriage: Mormons believe that temple marriage “seals” families for eternity. In contrast, Jesus considered marriage temporal. Confronted with a woman who had married seven husbands, Jesus was asked whose wife she’d be in the resurrection. He said the question revealed error and ignorance of Scripture and God’s power.

For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.” 

We Americans are free to support the political candidates of our choice. Christians, however, have dual citizenship and a higher allegiance. Our responsibility, as Christ’s ambassadors, is not to represent ourselves but to “Like” what Jesus likes — even on Facebook.

 

Choice & Consequences

Four weeks into a re-exploration of the book of Genesis, I am still mulling over God’s conversation with Adam about his freedom in the garden.

This prototype man was free to eat from every tree – but one. God specifically commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The consequence of disobedience? “In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.”

Complete freedom with a solitary prohibition and with it, a choice.

Choices are the stuff of which life is made. We live and die by the choices we make. Free to choose, but with every choice comes consequences. Forgiven or not, we still bear responsibility for the choice.

Human nature, our fallen nature, rebels against this arrangement. We want freedom without responsibility for what happens next. Adam explained his disobedience by blaming Eve, “the woman you put here with me,” he began.

We’re still blaming other people for our choices. In Washington, at this very moment, House Republicans are blaming Senate Democrats for their unwillingness to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling that required a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Democrats in turn are blaming Republicans for their refusal to support any bill that raises taxes in addition to cutting spending.

Closer to home, cheaters blame the one who caught them cheating. Employees who unleash expletive diatribes at horrible bosses blame the boss for firing them. The nightly news is a parade of people accused of killing a child, shooting a politician or dismembering a spouse  whose lawyers insist their clients are not responsible because they “heard voices.”

Messy as it is, giving human beings freedom to choose (aka freewill) was God’s decision.  A God capable of making choices – but not mistakes – created beings in his own image, capable of doing the same.

As the parent of teenagers, I am conscious of freewill as a wild card. We spend years making decisions for our children and training them, by precept and example, to make wise choices for themselves.

Somewhere in the teen years they begin to choose whether to abide by what we’ve taught or to go their own way.

Children can, like Adam, choose the very things we counsel them to avoid. The preacher’s kid can choose to date and marry an unbeliever. The home-schooled child raised in Sunday School can choose substance abuse. A prep school kid can choose the thug life and land in the penitentiary. It happens.

At some point, children become free agents. When they make a few disagreeable choices, it’s tempting to take back the reins. With the wisdom of years, we realize bad choices can have a long shelf life.

Yet, we cannot choose for our children. They must live their own lives. And we aren’t going to like every choice they make. It’s at this point that we parents must choose to entrust them to God and to develop a deeper prayer life.

God gave human beings freedom of choice knowing we sometimes would make destructive, even fatal choices. He loves us even when we screw-up royally, and He uses our failures as teachable moments. Experiencing the outcome of our choices, painful though it may be, is part of growing up emotionally and spiritually.

God help us to love our children in this same way and to entrust them to Him who is able to keep them from stumbling and to guide them safely home. Genesis, after all, is only the beginning of the story.

United We Stand

There’s nothing like shared misery to restore human compassion and a sense of oneness, that we truly are in this thing together. At least I hope so. Because the litany of misery just keeps coming.

  •  Tonight the Mississippi River is three miles wide in some places.
  • Last week, the President declared a state of emergency as flood waters rose in Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.
  • The week before, April 27 to be precise, monster storms tore through five states. More than 300 people died and thousands were left without homes, neighborhoods or jobs and missing friends and family. About a million people were left with in the dark.
  • Ten days before that, Raleigh was ground zero for its own devastating twisters.

Alabama was hard hit by those monster tornadoes. I noticed because it’s a state where my roots run deep.

My maternal great-grandmother, a former slave, was living in Alabama “when the Yankees came through” in the Civil War and rests in an Alabama cemetery where Bellamys have been buried for more than a century. My Alabama kin survived the storms with only property damage, according to the family newsgroup.

You may not know anyone in the path of recent storms. Still, the traumatized people in news footage and YouTube videos could easily be any one of us. Fact is, they are all Americans so it is “us.”

What troubles me is that many storm victims live in red vs. blue states where elected officials have locked their legislatures and our nation’s Congress and Senate in combative budget debates over potentially lethal cuts to the very services these people will need to recover: education, unemployment benefits, health care, social services and affordable housing.

The aftermath of an historic storm series is a good place to take stock. Does my ideology sync with reality?

Some churches in the storm zones are rethinking business as usual and are working together across denominational and racial divides after years of ignoring each other. They are  newly aware that they’re on the same team.

May that revelation come home to the mind of every American.

You see, it’s all very well to support cutbacks in services you personally don’t need, while blaming the nameless needy for their troubles and insisting they help themselves. It’s quite another to need (through no fault of your own)  immediate shelter, food and medical attention, only to find that:

  • the nearest shelter or soup kitchen is 50 miles away
  • the home insurance is too little to rebuild from the ruins
  • the job has blown to Kingdom Come and there are no unemployment benefits

Becoming starkly aware of our own neediness, vulnerability and (dare I say it?) sin changes the conversation. A couple of quick biblical examples:

  •  Judah was quick to order the stoning of his widowed daughter-in-law when she was found to be pregnant with no husband… until he was revealed to be the child’s father. (He unknowingly had relations with her believing she was a prostitute. And, yes, this is in the Bible.)
  • When David was told that the rich owner of many flocks had callously taken a poor man’s only ewe lamb, as precious to him as his own child, and served it to a dinner guest, he ordered the man’s execution. That was before the prophet Nathan added, “Thou art the man.”

When we personally hurt, we begin to develop humility and compassion. It becomes easier to understand the pain and failings of those around us. Our hearts and hands open, voluntarily.  That’s a good coming out of something bad.

Of course, I hope it doesn’t take more storm-induced misery to bring us together as a nation. We are the “United States of America,” after all.

Maybe we will simply choose to open our eyes and declare with the Psalmist, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity….” Psalm 133:1

Labor Pains

It’s Labor Day in these United States. I plan to enjoy the collective day off to rest, relax, maybe barbecue or mow the grass. We laborers need a break, but I’m not sure what we have to celebrate.

Jobs are being eliminated, mine included. Some companies have cut pay or laid off workers and left the jobs vacant to save money. Workers who have found new employment don’t always have something to sing about.

A relative started a job riding the back of a sanitation truck in Russell County, Alabama. This guy has been out of work nearly two years, so he’s grateful for the work, but it sounds more like legal slavery to me.

His day starts at 6:30 a.m. on the back of a smelly, jerky garbage truck and ends whenever the route is finished. He gets no bathroom breaks, no lunch stops, no air-conditioned rides in the cab. The ice-water that’s supposed to keep the workers hydrated in the record Dixie heat, is lukewarm after only a few hours.

He’s hanging from the back of a truck 8 or more hours, lifting one rancid, maggot-infested garbage can after another. If the route’s not finished by 3:30 p.m., the crew is clocked out anyway. Some of them have been on the back of a garbage truck for 15 years… and still make the minimum wage – a whopping $7.25 an hour!

Small wonder workers staged a “sick out” this summer, complaining of faulty truck brakes, low wages and no AC in stroke-inducing temperatures. It’s also no surprise some lost their jobs for daring to speak up. It’s like Memphis 1968 all over again!

Martin Luther King Jr. went to Memphis to support black sanitation workers who were on strike for job safety, better wages and benefits, and union recognition. King was assassinated in that city while planning a march on their behalf.

Seems our respect for the American laborer is equally dead. The well-fed dump their garbage for the poor to carry away with little regard for their humanity. The office bureaucrat eliminates jobs with no concern for people’s futures or the sacrificial contributions they may have made to the company’s long-term success.

As the child of a union organizer, this maddens me. As a Christian, what troubles me most is our blatant disregard for biblical admonitions not to cheat or mistreat workers.

No matter what happens on Wall Street or how many jobs are created next quarter, the U.S. economy cannot truly prosper while we muzzle the ox that treads the corn and pervert the justice due to the working poor. Scripture is clear:  The laborer is worthy of his wages.



Give and take?

This morning, I pulled up to a Cadillac bumper plastered with stickers decrying the “socialist” government in Washington. One read: “The problem with socialism is you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

I hate to sound like a civics teacher, but any money the U.S. government has or ever will have is collectively “somebody else’s money.” Lincoln described our nation as “government of the people, by the people,  for the people.” And, like it or not, we the people pay to run our government with taxes as provided for in the U.S. Constitution.

Article I section VIII states that  “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”

Yet, we love to hate taxes. We want good roads and free-flowing traffic, but we don’t want the bill. We demand law and order, but we complain about the cost of paying policemen and building prisons. We want fast ambulance service when we need it, but we insist lawmakers cut the very taxes that pay for it.

Where did we get the idea that we can enjoy the collective benefits of community and pay ala carte?

It may come as a shock, but Jesus paid his taxes. When someone questioned whether they should pay Caesar tribute, a sum of money, Jesus didn’t encourage a Tea Party rebellion. He said to give Caesar what was his. Mark 12:17

At the heart of tax grumbling is selfishness: less money for taxes theoretically means more money for me. In reality, to borrow a sound bite from the Reagan era,  there is no free lunch.

With fewer tax dollars to distribute in a tough economy, governments at every level are facing massive budget shortfalls. The remaining expenses are headed to every mailbox in America in the form of higher fees-for-service.

The bill already arrived at our house as letters from desperate boosters.  My daughter’s choral performances are threatened by less money to buy sheet music and rent concert halls. At a son’s school, we are being encouraged to buy a nearly $200 family athletics pass because Wake County no longer will pay to water, seed and fertilize athletic fields or provide sports medicine kits and several other things necessary to field athletics.

If we want education with some arts and athletics thrown in, we’re being asked to pay for it. At schools where parents won’t or can’t pay, these things likely will become a memory.

No one is thrilled to pay taxes, but it’s biblical to pay what’s due. Want lower taxes? Expect less. Accept fewer services, more potholes, longer lines, shorter hours. We have no right to ask more from our government than we are willing to invest.

After all, the Bible says: “Give, and it will be given…. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

Here’s to Your Health!

I spent a chunk of Sunday watching debate of the health care reform bill on the House floor. Today, that bill was signed into law. Whatever your politics, it is an historic moment. And it’s one that I personally celebrate.

Health care debate is not abstract for me. I was a grad student when Bill Clinton tried and failed to pass health care reform. Back then, I wrote a treatise on the absurd economics of American health care. Since then I’ve lived those absurdities.

  • My husband lost a job once and was offered COBRA health care coverage with a price tag higher than our mortgage payment.
  • A teacher changed jobs in the midst of medical problems and learned her new insurer would not cover continued visits to doctors who had treated her for years.
  • Relatives who didn’t qualify for affordable preventive care to remain healthy at home found they could get higher-priced nursing home care at government expense.
  • Seniors I drove to pharmacies for multiple prescriptions left empty-handed when they saw the bill.

Health care is a conundrum for small business owners, too.

  • The mother of my child’s middle-school classmate was diagnosed with cancer. The family owned their own business and nearly lost their home because of the illness. She survived, but became uninsurable because of her “pre-existing medical condition.”
  • A guy I know wants to offer employer-sponsored health insurance but can’t afford it. His workers buy their own insurance; and he pays for it. It skirts the law but is the cheapest way to do the right thing.

In all the debate, we’ve lost sight of these flesh-and-blood people. Congressmen and senators have talked in soundbites, denouncing government “take-over” of health care, invoking the image of illegal immigrants benefiting from a system for which they have paid nothing.

Several Congressmen sermonized about the unborn who might be aborted at taxpayer expense. One called his fellow lawmaker a “baby killer” for supporting the legislation. Mind you, some of these people claim conservative, Christian, family-values credentials.

I asked myself, “What would Jesus do”?

The Bible has much to say about the poor, the orphan, the stranger among us and how love for God should translate to “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus cares about all human life – before and after birth. He cares that people get sick and sometimes die in misery because they cannot afford care in a country whose medical care arguably is the best in the world.

The new health care law, like all man-made things, isn’t perfect. But it is a start. Some in Washington have vowed to repeal it, insisting the American people don’t want health care reform. The sick ones do. The rest don’t yet realize the difference one illness can make.