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Anne Rice and the Exodus

Anne Rice

There is an exodus occurring in American Christianity.  This is not new. George Barna has reported a lot about disturbing trends in American Christianity, particularly Evangelical Christianity.  These trends span denominational lines and having watched them and seen a lot of anecdotal evidence myself over the past 20 or so years I believe that they are now having a cascade effect with visible effects.  Before the effects were covered over as mega-churches, seeker-friendly churches, the so-called “church growth movement” carved out rather large chunks out of denominational churches of all types.  The common charge leveled against “traditional” denominational churches by the new non-denominational start-ups was that they were out of touch with people, hypocritical, immersed in promoting “boring” doctrine and not keeping up with the times in their worship style, preaching or service format.  The new churches more often than not minimized the major doctrines of Christian orthodoxy, for all practical purposes reduced the Bible to a pop-psychology manual that Christians were to use to get all they wanted from God, particularly health and wealth but also self-esteem and just plain old feeling good.  Those that taught anything that deviated back toward orthodoxy usually focus on things like eschatology or on moral issues, the “culture war” and align themselves closely with political movements and parties, sometimes becoming more focused on winning the political war  than actually proclaiming the Gospel.

As a result much of the Christian landscape is dominated by churches that understand little of the Christian faith, no longer see value in practicing things like Baptism or Holy Communion and while they preach about “Biblical absolutes” in regard to abortion, an admittedly abhorrent practice and homosexuality they seem to gloss over other many moral issues including divorce, sex outside of marriage, materialism, greed and avarice, so long as those practicing them are on “our side.” Likewise they are prone to give people who actually oppose the Christian faith a pass if they fall on the same side of the political aisle.  We are simple selective literalists.

As Barna’s studies have shown Evangelical Christians have worse rates of divorce, teenage sex outside of marriage and other moral problems than those that do not claim to be Christians.  Likewise the lifestyles of many of the leaders of the Evangelical movement are prone to gross material excess and every year we see some Evangelical leader or leaders involved in some kind of sexual, financial or sometimes criminal activity.  To me it seems that American Christianity is doctrinally impoverished, politically intolerant and morally bankrupt.

So Anne Rice announces that she is leaving Christianity but not Jesus and catalogued a list of things that she found that she could not live with inside the church.  Since she announced this she has been the talk of the town. To those cynical to organized religion, though why we call any religion in America organized is beyond me, this is a boon.  For those defending the faith it is also a boon as they have an identifiable “traitor to the faith” to go after rather than some amorphous concept or idea.  Real heretics are so much more fun to go after.  I have been amazed but not surprised at the number of articles condemning Rice.  Most even if they don’t say it in the article they basically articulate the same thing that many of the early Church Fathers stated in regard to heretics and schismatics that left the church for the various heresies of the day almost all of which denied the nature of Christ, either his deity or humanity.

Rice has not done that. She has not denied the deity or humanity of Christ, his message of salvation or anything. She has protested and repudiated the outward actions of Christians and the institutional Church.  Now whether one agrees with her assessment is another matter but she has not necessarily denied Christ.  Her story is not yet completed, she may reconcile again with the Catholic Church or another Church.  To condemn her at this point would be similar to condemn Francis of Assisi when he walked out of the church.

In fact to condemn Ms Rice at this point is to miss the point of her protest.  Her protest is that the Church does not live the Gospel.  Her critics almost universally attack her for her support of homosexuals.  However a large part of that support is because her son is homosexual and to condemn her as a mother to that has lost one child at the age of 6 and is widowed for protesting the treatment that her son and other homosexuals have received from Christians is unfair to her and to them regardless of what one believes about homosexuality.  It seems to me that homosexuality is about the only unpardonable sin to many American Christians and that is the biggest criticism that I see in what her critics have written. They may talk about her separating herself from the Church and thus Christ but it really seems more to be about why she did so.   We Christians will tolerate about every sort of perversion and unfaithful action of people in the church to include leaders so long as it is not homosexuality. Divorce, no problem; gluttony, not an issue; murder, as long as it is state sanctioned; materialistic greed as long as we can link it to our own and the church’s prosperity; discrimination against people based on gender, race or religion, no problem so long as it is the name of national security or in the interest of our political party or church organization.  The argument against her is a red herring to divert people from the real issue which is the dismal state of the church, in belief and practice in the United States.

You see the argument used against Ms. Rice that by separating herself from the Church that she has separated herself from Christ and is “in schism” itself is disingenuous.  Every church body in this country can be accused of being in schism from someone and that includes the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox who to this day believe the other to be in schism.  Likewise for Protestants, especially those in independent churches to call her into question is hypocritical, many of those churches were born in schism and have few discernible beliefs or practices that link them to historic Christianity except that they “believe in Jesus.”  Protestantism itself is a “protest” against the Church and its practices, the Catholic Church to be sure but nonetheless at its heart a protest that is little different from that of Ms. Rice.

You see that is the problem with American Christianity. We want to selectively apply scripture and the teachings of the early Church to other Christians that we don’t agree with and that is something that we all do to one degree or another and it does not matter if we are conservatives or liberals, Catholics or Protestants, seeker friendly or traditionalist. No matter who we are or what our theological stance we all somehow ensure that we exclude someone else or some group from the Kingdom of God and to make it more fun we can all find something in Scripture or tradition to buttress our position.  As much as we want it to be the issue is not belief or doctrine, but practice and just who we allow the grace of God to extend to.

I don’t think that it is right to single Ms. Rice out after all let’s be truthful if a person has left a church for any issue including doctrine they are in schism.  If a person has been part of a church split at the local or the denominational level where they have left their “mother church” they too are in schism.  If someone leaves their church for a season or forever they have done the same thing that Ms Rice has done and I don’t see anyone out there making this point or going after all of us that are in schism from someone.

Let’s face it there are in the United States alone anywhere from 25,000-40,000 distinct denominational groups depending on your source. David Barrett lists 34,000 separate faith groups in the world that consider themselves to be Christian (David B. Barrett, et al., “World Christian Encyclopedia : A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World,” Oxford University Press, (2001)) In fact, many consider themselves alone to be the only “true” Christian church. Now if you ask me that sounds like a whole lot of schism going on and just looking at the numbers there are a lot of people outside the walls of someone else’s church and therefore outside of the grace of God.

So with all of this in place I have to go back to some of my original statements of how we got to where we are and why Ms. Rice’s “defection” is symptomatic of a far bigger problem for American Christianity. We have over the past 40 years or so since the societal revolt of the 1960s been collectively as Christians been laying turds in our own punchbowl. We have renounced any semblance of coherent doctrine because “doctrine is boring.” Thus when we look at the most popular preachers in the country we see that one, T.D. Jakes holds a position on the Godhead (Jesus only modalism) which has been condemned by the church for like 1700 years or so. The there is Joel Osteen who seems like a nice guy but seems to have no recognizable Christian doctrine in his preaching, except that God loves us. I have no problem with that but that isn’t all that there is. Of course there is Rick Warren and before him Bill Hybels both of whom have taken the non-denominational identification to new heights.  I won’t even go into morality as I mentioned that in a recent post about the marital problems of another big time preacher, Benny Hinn who has promulgated more heresy than I can list.  On the Catholic side we have a church that despite official statements seems to still be protecting criminals and sexual predators and silencing those in the Church who raise their voices in protest to include the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schoenborn the driving force behind the current Catechism of the Catholic Church.

For better or worse the church in the United States has become the “Church of What’s Happening Now.”  We have tossed out the riches of 2000 years of faith, replaced them with religious mumbo jumbo that most closely aligns with our special interest and when people go from church to church or drop the faith completely we wonder why?

As a military Chaplain I have had a unique perspective on the state of Christianity in this country. My experience of how people classify themselves religiously nearly mirrors what is seen in the work of the Barna Research Group and the American Religious Identification Surveys of 2001 and 2008, by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. What I have seen in almost 20 years of being a chaplain is both a decline in those that identify themselves as Christians and those that while they identify themselves as Christians have no consistent practice or identification with any particular denomination or group. The numbers claiming “No Religious Preference” and “Christian No Denomination” seem to go up every year.  Likewise the numbers identifying themselves as Wiccan or any number of other more earth based or eastern religions is increasing.  Many of these young men and women were raised as Christians or had some kind of “Christian” experience before going off to what they are now.

Barna notes that “There does not seem to be revival taking place in America. Whether that is measured by church attendance, born again status, or theological purity, the statistics simply do not reflect a surge of any noticeable proportions.” (“Annual study reveals America is spiritually stagnant,” Barna Research Group, Ltd., at: http://www.barna.org/) and that “evangelicals remain just 7% of the adult population. That number has not changed since the Barna Group began measuring the size of the evangelical public in 1994….less than one out of five born again adults (18%) meet the evangelical criteria.” (“Annual Barna Group Survey Describes Changes in America’s Religious Beliefs and Practices,” The Barna Group, 2005-APR-11, at:http://www.barna.org/ )

The American Religious Identification Survey 2008 notes other troubling facts for American Christianity.  Among them:

The percentage of American adults that identify themselves with a specific religion dropped from 89.5% to 79.9%:

Americans who identify themselves as Christian dropped from 86.2 to 76.0 — a loss of 10.2 percentage points in 18 years — about 0.6 percentage points per year.

Americans identifying themselves as Protestant dropped from 60.0 to 50.9%.

Catholics declined from 26.2% to 25.1%

The Catholic population in the Northeast fell: From 1900 to 2008, it went from 50% in New England to 36%, and from 44% to 37% in New York state. Apparently to immigration, it rose during the same interval from 29% to 37% in California, and 23% to 32% in Texas.

Religious Jews declined from1.8% to 1.2%

The fastest growing religion (in terms of percentage) is Wicca. According to Religion Link “Specifically, the number of Wiccans more than doubled from 2001 to 2008, from 134,000 to 342,000, and the same held true for neo-pagans, who went from 140,000 in 2001 to 340,000 in 2008.”

Finally 15.0% (14.1%) do not follow any organized religion. There are more Americans who say they are not affiliated with any organized religion than there are Episcopalians, Methodists, and Lutherans combined. (Cathy Grossman, “Charting the unchurched in America,” USA Today, 2002-MAR-7, at: http://www.usatoday.com/life/dcovthu.htm)

The ARIS survey noted the following about those that left or switched churches:

About 16% of adults have changed their identification.

For the largest group, the change was abandoning all religion.

Baptists picked up the largest number of any religion: 4.4 million. But they also lost 4.6 million.

Roman Catholics lost the greatest number, 9.5 million. However, they also picked up 4.3 million.

Those are just the numbers. To look within we have to look at behaviors and we find that American Christians on the whole are very similar to those with no religion whatsoever. Rates of divorce, teenage pregnancy and other social indicators often show that American Christians differ little from and sometimes are in worse shape than their non-Christian neighbors.

If we look at reasons for people leaving the faith Barna has the answer. To put it in Padre Steve terminology “we don’t treat people well.”  Barna notes: “Based on past studies of those who avoid Christian churches, one of the driving forces behind such behavior is the painful experiences endured within the local church context. In fact, one Barna study among unchurched adults shows that nearly four out of every ten non-churchgoing Americans (37%) said they avoid churches because of negative past experiences in churches or with church people.” (http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/362-millions-of-unchurched-adults-are-christians-hurt-by-churches-but-can-be-healed-of-the-pain)

Instead of condemning Anne Rice maybe we as Christians, Churches and Church leaders need to get over defending ourselves and get ourselves and our churches right with God, one another and our neighbors. Maybe Anne Rice is a prophet and we should thank her even if we don’t agree with all that she says. Maybe we should stop referring to her as a traitor to her faith.

Maybe Dietrich Bonhoeffer had it right when he wrote from prison:

Religious man] must therefore live in the godless world, without attempting to gloss over or explain its ungodliness in some religious way or other. He must live a “secular” life, and thereby share in God’s sufferings. He may live a “secular” life (as one who has been freed from false religious obligations and inhibitions). To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man–not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Jousting at Windmills: The Quixotesque Life of Padre Steve

I believe that I have reached a rather Quixotesque stage in my life.  I have in my passion for moderation decided to be fair and balanced and with a rather unexpected result. I now joust with windmills. Some of my fellow Christians have gotten upset at me for doing so as they rather seem to like those windmills. It seems that in the current political climate for a Christian to offer criticism of other Christians or for that matter the conservative political movement is something akin to denying the Deity of Christ or worse.

I have been taken to task for a number of things such as defending the rights of Moslems, women’s ordination, the rights of homosexuals, criticizing conservative talk show hosts (I criticize liberals too but seldom get attacked for that), criticizing the almost incestuous relationship between the “Christian right” with the Republican Party and even more conservative political groups and ideologies and the equation of nearly all things American with the Christian faith by some.

This attitude starts at the top of the Church; Pope Benedict gives a great example to follow when he censured Cardinal Chrisoph Schoenborn of Vienna for criticizing the retired Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Soldano for his handling of and interference in the discipline of clergy in the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church. The Pope censured Schoenborn, not Soldano and made the pronouncement that only he could criticize a Cardinal.  Not long afterward the Vatican released a document that supposedly makes it easier for the Church to go after the sexual predators in the Church while at the same time declaring women’s ordination to be a “major crime against the church” which I think is what pedophilia is.  Others have determined that since the world seems to be attacking Jesus, the Christian faith and the Church that criticism of Christian leaders by other Christians is off limits.

I commented recently on the case of Shirley Sherrod an official in the Agriculture Department that was smeared by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart and made to look like the very face of racism in America.  A number of hosts on the Fox News Channel ran with the story before checking it out only having to recant a day later, a day after Sherrod had been forced to resign by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilseck and the White House.  It turned out that she was the victim and a story from her life of redemption and reconciliation presented as her being a racist by crafty editing of the video of a 45 minute long speech.  My comment that no matter whether it was Dan Rather using faked documents to try to damage then President George W Bush or Brietbart and his action against Mrs. Sherrod that these actions were both dishonorable.  A now former Facebook friend (she dropped me) and lay member of my denomination took issue with me and in what turned into a rather personal and harsh exchange I was called a number of names and accused of comparing me to her mother and stepfather like them having a “distortion of reality.” This individual chose not to deal with what my comments were but to take my posting as an attack on her conservative views, which they were most certainly not.  I tried to keep on point but this woman would have none of it.  I found the exchange as fascinating as one would a car wreck.  Now to be fair this woman was the only person that acted this way but her passion was to defend the actions of Breitbart and Fox News because “the country was hell bent on socialism” and that she was going to “do whatever she could to make people aware of it.” It was clear to me that she was so tied to her ideology that she could not be objective and I finally left the conversation. Now I know some liberals that are the same way to be sure, but for Christians to somehow almost equate a political and economic philosophy with the faith is somehow rather un-Jesus like.

Obviously in the interest of the truth I was looking for this confrontation, if not with her with someone else because I know that with some people and it does not matter whether they are conservatives or liberals there is no reasoning, no room for differing opinions.  In the religion and politics of 2010 there are no longer opponents but enemies, yea verily mortal enemies who with their repugnant ideologies must be crushed and in fact those close to them that deviate are even worse for they have betrayed the respective orthodoxy of the zealots of the left or the right.  In my rather brief public life writing on this site I have found the nastiest to be the religious conservatives that take issue with what I write.  The attitude reminds me of the Moslem extremists, militant Ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Hindu Fundamentalists, all of whom have no tolerance for those different than them and often bent on enforcing their beliefs on those that do not follow their religion often violently.   Please know that I am only comparing attitudes not results as with the exception of a few people American Christians have not resorted to violence to achieve their ends though I would posit that the more radical and politically committed conservative or Fundamentalist Christians that have become with more extreme right wing groups have this potential.

Now as far as matter of criticizing big name Christian leaders which I did last week with the knowledge that some would be upset with me and I confess that I am guilty as charged.  I decided to joust with this windmill by posting a link to an article in that bastion of truth and moral turpitude the National Enquirer which showed the incredibly popular televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn cavorting in Rome under an assumed name with the rather sultry female televangelist and pastor Paula White. Now White is divorced and Hinn’s wife has filed for divorce but it is not final. In old fashioned fundament talk this is called adultery.  Add to the mix that both are under investigation by a Senate Committee for financial dealings in their ministries.

Now I have a rather unique take on this as I worked for a television ministry the last couple of years of seminary and while waiting to enter into a Clinical Pastoral Education.  While the ministry that I worked with was definitely above board we occasionally had other televangelists including the previously mentioned Benny Hinn visit our studios and basically act like they were better than the people that worked there.  At conferences that our ministry hosted which included many of the top preachers of the day there were some speakers that acted the same way but thankfully some that exuded grace and kindness.  One of the things that I noticed was the vast amount of money involved in Christian Television and some of the rather cutthroat programming and financial practices of the largest network, the Terrible Blond Network.

Since the late 1980s and early 1990s scandals, financial, sexual and sometimes criminal have engulfed many of the largest names in the television ministry and mega-church world.  Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Larry Lee, Bob Tilton, Peter Popoff, Ted Haggard, Earl Paulk, Todd Bentley and others now including Reverend Hinn and Reverend White.  Others have become involved in politics up to their ears or have made incredibly thoughtless and asinine statements on events like the 9-11 attack and Hurricane Katrina. Still others organize book burnings of various types or other thoughtless and even un-Christian displays of hatred and ignorance.  Now this is a pretty impressive list by anyone’s standards and it does not include the host of lesser known others that have had affairs, financial and even violent encounters.  No wonder the name of Jesus is reviled by so many and that the church is held in such low esteem. We bring it on ourselves because we have forgotten the “Big 2,” you know the commandments that if you do them fulfill all the rest, love God and love your neighbor. I think that it was Jesus that suggested that this was important.

I was criticized for posting a link about the Hinn and White story by three ministers and I do not entirely disagree with then nor think that they were out of line to criticize me.  The biggest concern of all three was that with the Church under attack from many quarters as well as attacks on Jesus and Christian beliefs and values that I should not do it especially because of the source of the story, the National Enquirer. Now mind you that that Enquirer is actually, despite its rater sleazy reputation actually breaking stories that the big media initially missed such as the John Edwards affair and the current investigation into possible sexual assaults by former Vice President Al Gore one of which as of yesterday was closed by the State of Oregon but there are other investigations.  However that was not the point of posting the story. You see I figure that if the Church and its leaders did a better job of conducting itself in a Christian manner then there would be a little more love for it and also Jesus. I believe that much of what we call persecution is in large part due to how badly we as Christians have behaved and treated those in our care before the watching world.  I believe that it is better for Christians to police themselves so that their conduct may be seen as something to emulate, in fact I think that is what the early church did. They had no power, no money and no social status but in spite of real persecution that usually ended in death by crucifixion, being crushed to death by heavy stones, being burned at the stake, shot through with arrows, having their heads whacked off, getting flogged to death, drowned until dead and even tickled to death.   While this was taking place they were commended by Roman leaders as model citizens because of their behavior.  They were known by their love, not just for one another but for their non-Christian neighbors, the very ones that persecuted them.

That is not an isolated example, when I was in Iraq I had Moslem Iraqi Army Officers tell me of their respect for Christians because Christians were seen to be more trustworthy and caring than their Moslem brethren, and by the way Iraqi Christians often face persecution and death.  I was told by one officer that the Iraqi Army needed Christian Priests to take care of their soldiers and families, like the Americans have because they did not get this from their Imams.  In spite of persecution which includes the real possibility of being killed by Moslem extremists most Moslems see Christians as good citizens that they can trust their lives, families and property to.  This is not the case in our country despite the fact that there are a lot of really good Christians who still follow the “Big 2.”

But now in this country we seem to be more concerned with our power and social status and despite all the scandals willing to give these folks a pass on their actions and pony up more money to feed their ministries, usually money that comes from some of the poorest people in the country while many live in luxury.  I think that this is something that the Reformers had against the Catholic Church during the Reformation. May be we need a new Reformation to make things right again, after all only 56% of Americans rank the ethics and trust of clergy as very high. Honestly, we should do better than that and if the world exposes our leaders for compromising themselves and the Gospel then more power to them, we should take care of it ourselves ending our support for such “ministers” and “ministries.”

My church was torn apart a few years back by the actions of bishops who had made unwanted sexual advances another that bilked the church nearly bankrupting it through his financial wheeling and dealing and by others that exploited the chaos in a most un-Christian manner.  The Church is slowly recovering and those that were the primary culprits are no longer in the church.  Many were haughty and arrogant and it came back to bite them and it nearly destroyed the church.

So I will continue to joust at windmills knowing that like the legendary Don Quixote that nothing will really change.  The windmills of religious and political machines will continue to turn and more than likely result in people sending me hate mail for saying what I say and unfortunately the vast majority will be my fellow Christians thinking that they are defending the faith.

There have been others like me that have done some good. I do think that Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans Kung rank up there so what can I say? Wait I know…Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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I like Jesus very much, but He no help with Curveball

pedrocerrano

“Ahh, Jesus, I like him very much, but He no help with curveball.” – Serrano (Denis Major League)

Note:  This is one of those particularly passionate posts brought about by hearing about the abuse of a friend by his church and remembering things that happened to me and other friends at the hands of supposedly Christian leaders, ministries and organizations.  So I probably hit a little harder than usual. Please excuse this, it is an old wound that got opened up again this week as I saw good Christian people lose a baby and a friend be maligned by ministers in his church.

I think I agree with Serrano in Major League.  I like Jesus very much but He no help with curveball. I believe that God loves and cares for us but I do not believe that God servers at our command.  I also strongly believe that Jesus died to redeem us and that we need to have some kind of walk with God.  I know that I am too much of a screw up to get by without the grace of God and God’s mercy.   Hopefully we  follow as best we can God’s will for our lives and obey the commands to “love God and love our neighbor.”  Patently, while not Rocket Surgery, this can be surprisingly difficult as all of us to some degree or another.  I and I’m sure most who read this complicate the matter by narcissistically assuming that if we ask God something for any reason that God owes us.  We  are often taught that is we pray the right prayer, serve on the right boards in church, figure out what miraculous spiritual gifts that we assume the Holy Spirit has given to us, gave a certain amount of money, vote for the right political candidate, support the right cause, ad infinitum, ad nauseum that God is obligated to do what we want. The mandatory and obligatory tithe from the Old Testament Law is frequently used by Christians as a means to determine how much we have earned God’s blessing, by our obedience of course, among other things.  There are plenty of other means by which Christians are held in bondage but this is common and unfortunately too often there is no accountabilty by ministers and minstries across the ecclesiastical spectrum for the sums that they recieve from those who support them.

What I find fascinating is how much many people assume that God is involved in the minute to minute details of their lives.  It is as if some supercalifragilisticexpialidocious narcissistic form of hyper-Calvinism, baptized in Pentecostal fires has overtaken the faith. In fact I believe that we in the west, particularly the United States have gone to ludicrous speed in pursuit of self absorbed faith in which we use God as a cosmic vending machine of individual blessing.  Evidence of this belief abounds in what is blatantly misidentified as ”worship” songs in which our needs, our desires and our love for God are magnified above God’s Holiness and condescension to become incarnate of the Virgin Mary and become Man.  Somehow I think that we have the paradigm upside down.  Do I believe that God loves us?  I patently do.  I know for a fact that I can never love God or serve God as much as God loves and cares for me, but I base this on God becoming incarnate in Jesus, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate was crucified, died and buried, descended to the dead, who rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven and will come to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom has no end.  So yes, indeed, even to death I will believe this.  However, this does not mean that I believe that if I do the right stuff that God is obligated to do things for me.  Likewise I do not believe that God really cares a whit if I ever hit a curveball. He speaks to me through baseball but only through hard work and the coaching of my dad was I a decent utility player.  When I told my dad when I visited him in the nursing home that he didn’t teach me how to hit, he told me that “you have to have the natural ability, lots of people can’t hit.”  Despite his advanced Alzheimer’s disease dad understood that no amount of instruction or even prayer was going to make me a good hitter.

Unfortunately this is often the faith as marketed by alleged Christian “ministries,” churches and retail establishments.  All you do is have to go down to whatever “Christian” bookstore chain has a outlet in your town.  I remember a day when actual Bible studies that dealt with God and not us were available in Christian bookstores.  Now if you actually like me, have walked around one of these places of edification you will fill racks upon racks of “Christian” fiction, often romance novels without any hint of sex or sensuality, which is a shame since the Bible doesn’t leave it out;  variations on the theme of what happens to the poor suckers who  forget to pray the prayer to get saved in time before the rapture when the slick Anti-Christ comes after them.  Likewise they are filled with all manner of “Jesus junk” usually made in China because the alleged Christians running the company care more about the almighty dollar than they do caring for workers in their own country.  Allegedly Christian television networks and ministries consume hundreds of millions of dollars in money, given by people who actually believe that the people running them are actually hearing from God, This money could actually be used to plant churches, do mission work, care for the poor and sick  and also pay Christian workers a living wage.  I have lost count of the number of friends who have sacrificed everything including their lives to support ministries which threw them away when they were spent.  I have seen workers in Christian ministries have to rely on charity because they were not paid enough while the “Christian leaders” that they worked for lived in luxury on the donations which came from the toil, labor and love of people who trusted them.  The litany of the names some of these people reads like a sorry story out of Inside Edition.  Peter Popoff, Creflo Dollar, Larry Lea, Bob Tilton, Benny Hinn, yes Benny, while others have turned themselves into almost purely political power players.  I could go on, but to what purpose?  My point is that many ministries, and not just the big ones, will hold their workers in near servitude and attempt to manipulate intimate details of their lives.

I find the message of many of these alleged “ministries” or ministers to be in absolute contradiction to the Gospel, which if I recall was to set us free from the bondage of sin, death and the Law.  In fact if I recall Jesus didn’t go beating on politicians, tax collectors, prostitutes, and a host of other undesirables, but instead went after judgmental, legalistic and self serving religious leaders who abused their power and position.  I have seen in person such people curry the favor of the rich and neglect the poor. I have seen people, including faithful Christian workers be ostracized and abandoned when they experienced circumstances and tragedy that do not fit the narcissistic prosperity gospel theology of their churches or ministries. Even worse is what happens when one of the lesser people falls into “sin.” Especially sexual sins while things like greed, gluttony, dishonest business dealings and a host of other things are ignored.  It is onerous when the Church refuses to take care of its own.  To save embarrassment of people who might read this I will not go into specifics only to say I have seen this happen and even experienced it myself.

The unfortunate underside of this is the effect that the theology has on the people who buy it hook line and sinker.  Such people are victims of predators dressed as ministers.  I’m sure that even if the ministries that they serve do not honor or care for them that God will still honor their work and sacrifice, if not in this life the next.  Yet, it is criminal for church leaders, ministers and heads of supposedly “Christian” organizations and ministries” to leave faithful servants of God in the lurch when things don’t fit their theology.  When we were in absolute crisis in 1989, wife sick, house and car lost, and all coming apart while in my second year of seminary I hit the wall.  I decided to call the prayer line of the Terrible Blonde Network.  I was desperate and hurting as I saw all I had sacrificed for going down the toilet.  When I told the female “prayer partner” my story and asked for prayer she said something that I will ever forget.  It is etched in my mind to this day.  In a sickening sweet voice, this woman who did not know me from Tommy Lasorda, or Adam for that manner said: “Well it’s obvious that God can’t be calling you into ministry otherwise he would be blessing you.”  I was stunned, but something rose up in my heart that said that she and those who thought like her espoused a theology from the pit of Hell.  I told her that I didn’t need her prayer and that I would be content to suffer as the saints before me.

Now do I believe that God cares about details?  Yes. Do I believe that God loves each of us with an undying and everlasting faithful love?  Yes.  Do I believe that he is obligated to do anything for me other than the gracious love that he bestows every day? No. Do I think or presume that God must do things my way because I have somehow got the formula of some preacher’s personal interpretation of a few Bible verses right?  No way.  It is unscriptural, is not supported by the testimony of 2000 years of the church and is nothing more than the deception and abuse of good people who really want to serve God.

I pray and trust that someday Christian leaders and churches will have the integrity and character to care for people, especially those that serve in subordinate positions.

Do I think that Jesus needs to help me hit a curve ball?  I think so, but I think that this might be unreasonable on my part, and so far he hasn’t.  Thus, if I want to hit the curve ball, I’ll have to do it myself.

Peace, Steve+

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