This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


There is an overture to the PCUSA General Assembly from the Presbytery of New York City that expresses our complicity and remorse as a denomination for the persecution and victimization over the years of Gay and Lesbian people.  I believe it is an attempt to spark a process of reconciliation.  I believe it is an honest and heartfelt initiative intended to do a good thing.  I favor the principle of such a confession.  
In its present form, however, it doesn’t do anything like that.
This is because, unfortunately, it has to accommodate itself to, and make its way through, our parliamentary process, which is emphatically not designed for reconciliation.  Rather, our process, basically Robert’s Rules of Order (“RONR”), is more about artificially dividing a group into two adversarial parties and pressing towards an up or down decision by majority vote.  This process turns such an overture against itself, rendering it not about reconciliation at all, but a tool of antagonism, hostility, and division.  Using RONR to do reconciliation is like trying to cultivate flowers with a lawnmower. 
Now, I have been on the progressive side of this set of issues my whole career.  I always advocated and voted for inclusion and equality.  But I have to oppose this initiative.  In its present form it serves mainly to rub salt in the wounds of those who lost the 40 year ecclesiastical war over Gays in the church.  Rather than express love for those LGBT people whom we victimized and ask them and God for forgiveness, due to the RONR format, this overture comes across as self-righteous posturing by a smug and victorious majority.  It feels just plain mean.  It is not an adequate answer to centuries of meanness against LGBT people. 
We really do need to begin a process of truth and reconciliation.  But we will need to do it by means of some better process than RONR.  Using that process has left us crippled, polarized, and splitting apart already.  Healing those who were abused will have to include healing all of us from a fundamentally and intentionally abusive parliamentary process.  In short, we cannot use an inherently violent and antagonistic process to accomplish a reconciliatory task.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Give Us a King."

In 1 Samuel 8:4-18, the people of Israel clamor for a king.  The prophet Samuel reminds them that God is their king.  But this isn’t good enough for the people.  They want a human king so they can be like the other nations.

Here we meet the most perverse and rotten core of human ego-centricity: the desire to give up our freedom and turn our responsibility over to a Leader.  The German word for “leader” is most appropriate here: Fuehrer.  

There is in many of us a strong vein of authoritarianism.  That is, we value conformity, crave order, want to protect social norms and traditions, and are suspicious of outsiders.  When we are convinced to perceive some kind of threat, we are particularly hysterical about this.  And authoritarian leaders usually insist there is some kind of threat.

God spits out a warning to the people concerning exactly what they are bringing down on themselves.  It is a catalogue of abuse and exploitation that ends with God saying: “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

In other words, God says: “If you in your fear and anger insist on placing over yourselves an authoritarian Fuehrer, you’re on your own.  I will not save you.  You will have to suffer through to the end.  Only then, when you have fully experienced the dregs of destruction you have chosen to bring down on yourselves, will I relate to you again.”  After their 12-year infatuation with a strong leader, Germany was reduced to a pile of smoking ruins.     

The consequences of “strong leaders” are massive and catastrophic.  The Bible knows this.  That’s why strong leaders are generally viewed with disgust and aversion.  Think of Pharaoh, the prototypical strong leader who drives the Israelites into slavery, and brings ecological disasters down on Egypt.  Think of almost all the kings of Israel and Judah, those strong leaders whose self-serving corruption destroyed the people and sent them into exile.  Think of the emperors of Assyria and Babylon, who used the terror of gratuitous mass murder for conquest.  Think of Antiochus Epiphanies.  Think of Pontius Pilate.  Even when a strong leader does emerge who receives a generally good grade, they usually have some fatal hubristic flaw for which the people have to pay dearly, like David and Solomon.  

God hates strong leaders.  Clearly.  God gives the people a system that diffuses leadership among landless priests and local elders.  Leadership in the church begins and ends with Jesus Christ; politics in the church begins and ends with discerning his will.  The New Testament knows nothing of strong leaders, only good and persuasive examples of discipleship.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Defender of the Faith?

Philip Jenkins wrote this great book, The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia — and How It Died.  I got one big thing out of this book.  It is that Christianity is more harmed than helped by alliances with empires.  It is those who make of themselves protectors of Christians who ultimately do the most damage to Christianity. “Looking at the sweep of Christian history, we are often reminded of… the foolishness of associating faith with any particular state or social order” (p. 260). 
Christianity’s alliance with Rome made the church automatically suspect among the countries to the east that were Rome’s enemies.  Whenever the church endorsed a regime, it was the church that suffered when that regime fell, as all regimes do.  At one point the church was even close to allying with the Mongols; but even the whiff of such an alliance made it suspect when the Mongols were finally rebuffed (pp. 121-124).
Not only that, but the church has had to bear the blame for the atrocities of the governments it cozied up to and often apologized and made excuses for.  This is true even today.  Christians are now persecuted in places like Syria, Iraq, and Egypt because they were  protected by dictators who were overthrown. 
So when Presidential candidates make a point of stressing what good Christians they are, and how they will defend Christianity, it is very dangerous.  Christianity is already overly associated with the West and its values and policies.  To have a President asserting himself as Christianity’s defender and protector will only make things more difficult for Christians around the world.  People will associate Christianity with America, and Christians will have to suffer even more over things that America does.  This situation will only be made worse if the President carries out his promises to escalate the use of military violence and torture.  The persecution of Christians will be ratcheted up.
It is one thing for Christians to be persecuted for their faith.  This is something the church has often faced, and which God has always blessed.  But when Christians are victimized because of their association with the policies and atrocities of a particular secular State?  That is something else.  That leads to the death of the church.  
There were once thriving Christian communities across Asia.  Most of them are gone now.  Often these communities were wiped out because they were affiliated with governments, leaders, empires, and States that were perceived by the local people as enemies.  

When someone’s family is killed by an American drone strike, do we really want people taking revenge on the local Christian population?  If we have a President who has proclaimed himself Christianity’s advocate, this will happen more and more.