What We Were Really Trying to Accomplish in Men’s Ministries

As sort of a follow-up to my last post, I’d like to defend something else that’s under attack these days: men’s ministries.  I actually worked in this field during my time with Church of God Lay Ministries, from when I started in 1996 until the department was abolished in 2010.  So I can speak with some authority on the subject.  When the department ended, I created a legacy web site from the site we had, so you and everyone else can see what was going on.

So what were we trying to accomplish?  The best way to start is to reproduce our own introduction to the topic and ourselves, from this page:

Sunday after Sunday, pastors and ministers in the Church of God go up to their pulpits and frequently preach to a congregation of mostly…women and children (assuming there’s no children’s church.) This is so common that we take it for granted. It is not something that is restricted to our denomination; it is the rule in many evangelical churches. Beyond the doors of the church—on the golf course, at the football game or bowling alley, or in the backyard—men absent themselves from the house of God. Today in the U.S. men represent the fastest growing portion of the population to abandon meaningful belief in God. They frequently embrace secularism, a “religion” in its own right whose growth threatens both the eternities of those who embrace it and the ability of everyone else to freely live for Christ. Why is this? One reason is that there is no organization in many local churches for men to find fellowship, to learn who God is and how they might live for Him, and how they might then serve Him in a meaningful way. By “organization” we don’t mean a quasi-governmental structure as has been common in churches. Our goal is to facilitate ministry teams, men bonded together in love for Jesus and each other, discipled in the essentials of Christianity, instructed to interact with people around them in a Christian way, and sent forth in service to the lost and hurting world around them. LifeBuilders Men’s Ministries—and the Church of God Men’s Fellowship that preceded it—have been ministering to men before such organizations as Promise Keepers and the National Coalition of Men’s Ministries. We have a long-standing alliance with both. But our world is changing, and we must change with it even as we serve “the Maker of the Lights in the heavens, who is himself never subject to change or to eclipse.” (James 1:17b) Men’s ministries must become more relational if it is to be meaningful both to men newly saved or for those who have walked with the Lord for many years.

To that I’d like to make some comments and explanation:

  1. Our Executive Director, Leonard Albert, is first and foremost a trainer of lay people for soul winning.  The LifeBuilders Men’s Ministries was deeply affected by that.  Our desire was for men to share the good news both in what they said and the way they lived.
  2. The Church of God, unlike some other churches, does not have a socio-economically privileged demographic.  Our men’s interests ran along those lines and we tailored our activity recommendations to that reality.  We had to promote the idea that men should read books.  We are also a multi-ethnic church; our men come from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, something that made working for the Department a real joy.
  3. On the other hand, neither Leonard Albert nor I were into the “he-man” ethic that some find so off-putting with men’s ministries.  When Wild at Heart was released, he was unenthusiastic about it, it took some time before we included it in our book store.  As I mentioned in the last post, the society we live in was militarised by World War II and the Cold War, but we never really pushed that nor pushed for men’s ministries to be organised in that fashion.
  4. In our last years we shifted our emphasis to a more discipleship/relational model for men’s ministries.  This was not only a more Biblical way to do it; it was also driven by the realisation that the “pre-discipleship” the culture may have given in the past was fading away.  To be honest a discipleship model was a hard sell in some places, but we partnered with Patrick Morley and Man in the Mirror Ministries in order to promote it.
  5. We never got pushback from the women of our church about men’s ministries.  To encourage men to be saved and responsible husbands and fathers resonated positively with many women.  The big pushback–and this included our entire agenda–came from some of our pastors, who were content with the model described at the start of the piece above.  They felt the presence of strong men in their congregation was a power challenge to them, so they resisted it.

More about how our idea of men’s ministries worked is here.  The Department came to an end in the wake of the church’s budgetary crisis caused by the cutback in remissions from local churches.  Today the legacy website is most frequently visited by Hispanics from all parts of the hemisphere, so men’s ministries is anything but a “white supremacy” project, at least in a Pentecostal context.

I was blessed to be able to be a part of such a ministry and also to explain and defend what we did.

The Episcopal Snobs and the John Wayne Evangelicals

There’s never a dull moment these days, and to shut off the possibility of one occurring we now have the food fight around Kristin Kobes du Mez’ Jesus and John Wayne.  The most recent volley has been around the illustrious Anglican Anne Carlson Kennedy’s review of same, with the usual suspects saying the usual things.  For du Mez and those of her idea Kennedy poses a special threat since she is a) a woman and b) an Anglican.  The first is obvious; the second will take some explanation.

I started out life as an Episcopalian.  In the Episcopal world we had the classic Episcopal Snob, which I have commented on before.  Such people believed and were convinced that the religion they had was superior to that which those around them practiced, especially those dreadful, hollering, money-grubbing fundamentalists.  A corollary to that belief was that those who gave up their antecedent religion and adopted the colonies’ best substitute for the religion our former dread sovereigns fashioned for us were likewise invested with the same superiority.  It’s not a very Biblical appeal for a church but it worked, and worked very well for the years immediately after World War II.

Such transitions were rougher than they looked.  Shortly after I was inducted in the Acolyte Order of St. Peter, my mother and I were in the narthex after a proper 1928 BCP service. I was wearing the cross keys of St. Peter, similar to those on the Vatican flag.  Our rector, Hunsdon Cary, pointed at each of the keys in succession and said, “This key is for Episcopalian and this one is for Baptist.”  I’m sure that my mother–only confirmed a couple of years earlier–was thrilled at being outed in this way.

On the other side of the lake (and later the tracks) were those impecunious fundies, with their lack of either liturgy or trust funds, believers’ baptism and Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology.  They’re the target of du Mez’s book.  Militarized by World War II (weren’t we all really?) and facing the onslaught of the sexual revolution, they adopted a response that angers people like her.  The old fashioned Episcopal snobs could have predicted this.  But they were unprepared for the onslaught of modern and post-modern theology that took over their church.

I’ve lived long enough and been in enough places and churches to have been on both sides of this divide.  I’ll also mention that I actually worked in men’s ministries for a long time.  Frankly our society was better off when such divides didn’t have much to do with each other; we see the results of when they spend all their time in a state of virtual war.  But I think I can make a reasoned estimate of which of these sides has the better merit.

There’s no doubt that, especially when conflict comes, one would wish that Evangelicals wouldn’t have considered the Sermon on the Mount a practical dead letter.  And it would be nice if they didn’t consider centuries of church history as a void waiting for them to show up.  But on balance the Evangelicals have the better case for being Biblical and having a viable path to eternal life than their counterparts to the left, including current-day Episcopal snobs.  A comparison of core beliefs will show this, but I’m going to concentrate on my favourite topic relating to this: the economic disparity between those of du Mez’ idea and her Evangelical opponents.

Evangelicals (and especially Pentecostals) are in the greater scheme of things an underclass.  That may shock some people but it’s true, not only in comparison to, say, the Episcopalians but also our very secular elites.  Donald Trump’s years didn’t change that, but you’d never know it from the endless howling you hear about him and his supporters.  And no one is more loathe to admit it than the Evangelicals themselves.  But when it comes to to helping others in need, Evangelicals are more sacrificial in their willingness to give of themselves and their substance than their liberal counterparts.  When I was a kid at Bethesda we had “mite boxes” but I’ve seen more “widow’s mite” moments as a Pentecostal than I ever saw as an Episcopalian.

Evangelicals’ biggest problem is their endless attempt to get out of the economic basement and move into the seat of power they think they’re entitled to.  That, I think, motivated them in part to support Donald Trump (his opponents’ obsession with adopting non-Christian and anti-Christian policies also fuelled that.)  It drives a great deal of what they do, even when they’re on shaky Biblical ground, such as the recent conflict I’ve gotten involved with about working in heavenIt hasn’t always been this way, but it is now.

But that leads us to the Anglican part: getting blowback from an Anglican woman is a real slap in the face for left-leaning evangelicals who aspire to move up into the Anglican world.  Even Rachel Held Evans figured that out: she became an Episcopalian.  The ACNA, stupidly I think, facilitated this movement with things like the Diocese of the Churches for the Sake of Others. (If that’s not pretentious, I’m not sure what is.)   To move up and then face opposition from people like Anne Kennedy is hard to take.

But that’s the difference between lay people and clergy.  Clergy–especially left-leaning clergy–expect the church they’re in to change to their idea.  Lay people only get to leave and go somewhere else, and that’s not always easy. People like du Mez would be better off if they spent as much time building the church they want people to be a part of rather than nitpicking the one that’s there, but these days that’s too much to ask.

Those Infernal Internal Passports

At the left is a passport cover, one of those things designed to protect your passport, especially if your home is really a pied à terre and you travel a great deal.  But look carefully: it’s from the old Soviet Union, complete with their national seal embossed on the cover, and “Pasport” at the bottom.

The Soviet Union had not only external passports (for those few who got to leave the country) but internal ones as well.  It was necessary to produce this passport for inspection upon request of the police.  As noted in Pipko and Pucciarelli (1985):

“The passport is a biographical capsulization of its bearer in booklet form. It contains a recent photograph of the bearer. It states, inter alia, his name, place and date of birth, nationality (based upon the nationality parents), information concerning his marital status and the id of his children, a record of his military service, his place of work, notations concerning his failure to make court-ordered alimony payments, if applicable, and, most importantly, a propiska.”

The last is the most important: this stamp and its annotations showed permission to the bearer to live in their specific dwelling place.  The internal passport’s most important function was not to limit the journey or the destination but to define (and control) the starting place!  I should note that the Soviets were obsessed with the passport concept: even pieces of equipment had their own passports, I have a few of these myself.

Today we’re debating the use of “vaccine passports” to restrict people from going certain places and doing certain things based upon whether they have been vaccinated or not.  The biggest problem with this is that, once we start with a passport based on vaccination status, we then proceed to something more comprehensive like the Soviets had.  Our problem is that we have a political and bureaucratic class which is no longer content to regulate and facilitate the society’s prosperity but to control it.

I’m not sure I really have the sword to cut this Gordian knot, but it will be interesting to see if whatever universal ID they eventually come up with will be useful when it is time to vote.

Reference:

Pipko, S., & Pucciarelli, A. (1985). The Soviet Internal Passport System. The International Lawyer, 19(3), 915-919. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40705651

The Catholic Church and the Dung Beetles

One of my Twitter followers referred me to this series of posts (Part I, Part II and Part III, and now he’s added a piece about the Trads) by one Larry Chapp, one time seminarian and academic.  (He uses the dung beetle analogy in the first post.)  A thorough response would be as long as his original series.  (I’ve addressed the issue of the Trads elsewhere.) The podcast video brought out many points that were hard to find in the long narrative, but it too takes a while to digest.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Roman Catholicism on this site, for two reasons,  The first is that its place in Christianity is important whether you think that place is deserved or not.  The second is that my years as a Roman Catholic were the central drama in my walk with God on this earth; here is where it all was transformed.

Chapp’s opening narrative about the bishops brings back to mind something that happened to me while an undergraduate at Texas A&M.  After my second year, I left dorm life behind for good and moved into a trailer with a friend of mine from “Newman/Answer” circles.  Early on we got into a discussion about the Church and its leadership.  Growing up Episcopalian acclimated me to less than stellar clergy leadership.  But he would have none of it, and basically forced me to read this from Ezekiel:

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them. Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock; Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them. (Ezekiel 34:2-10 KJV)

That was in 1975.

Chapp clears up a major reason for this problem: the episcopal appointments under Paul VI left a lot to be desired of.  Those appointments, and the whole leftward drift of the American church after Vatican II, left the church vulnerable to sub-Christian influences, a situation that I’ve discussed elsewhere.

My friend’s and my subsequent course as Roman Catholics was an exercise in navigating this swamp while at the same time maintaining a high level of Christian life that we knew God expected of us.  In the short run it wasn’t a problem, but after we left College Station things got interesting–too interesting.

We tried very hard to stay in the Church, I think he more than me.  But it wasn’t easy.  In his case he ended up in a Catholic Charismatic covenant community, one ultimately split by a Marian devotion controversy.  He even married a Roman Catholic in a Catholic ceremony (the last time I was a lector.)  But in the end he gave up and left.

Neither my first parish nor my years at A&M really prepared me for the miserable state of American Catholic parish life.  I tried and rejected the covenant community.  I moved to Tennessee and got involved in a Catholic Charismatic prayer group, which also split over the Marian devotion issue.  The church didn’t like Charismatics and ultimately wore down the group, not only for doctrinal issues but because it wasn’t really respectable in this community, and the Catholic Church around here craved respectability.  So I ended up leaving as well.  That wasn’t my original plan–and it wasn’t my friend’s either–but I really feel that the Church didn’t leave us with much choice, its ostensible representations notwithstanding.

The fact that we were both involved in the Charismatic Renewal was part of the problem.  With the accession of Pope John Paul II in 1978 a house cleaning was initiated.  Unfortunately that included much of the Charismatic Renewal, which was ecumenical in nature.  Covenant prayer groups and communities ended up either getting offers they couldn’t refuse, going “underground” or going away.  (I still am not sure how the People of Praise managed to dodge the bullet, but they did.)

This illustrates something else that Chapp brings up: the tone deafness of the current Occupant of the See of St. Peter about the needs of the American church.  To some extent all of the Occupants have this problem.  I’m sure that the ecumenical, free-form Charismatics here got under John Paul II’s skin (I have reason to believe they did in Poland, too.)  But during the Anglican Revolt days of the late 1990’s and 2000’s, the Charismatics furnished some of the heft the “reasserters” needed in that effort (although the Reformed and Anglo-Catholic types are loathe to admit it.)  Their Catholic counterparts would have been very helpful in the current struggle.

But now we are back to the future: the American Catholic church, with the help of the Vatican, is drifting back into a classic “go along to get along” stance with our culture.  As Chapp notes, they don’t really believe much of what they supposedly teach.  And that’s a sad commentary.  But there’s more to it than that.

Chapp brings up something that you don’t hear much about: ultramontanism.  Ever since the Restoration in France, the Church has been an ultramontane institution, i.e., one governed by the fiat of Rome.  In one sense that should improve the accountability of the lower ranks, but their lack of accountability to their flocks (a ditching of a hallmark of Vatican II) only makes them “little Caesars” in their parishes and (especially) dioceses, with cover from above.  They can build their own empires and cushion their own positions with impunity, if they can survive storms such as the molestation scandals.

Sooner or later, however, the leadership of the Church will experience this prophetic passage of Bossuet, given about a century before the French Revolution:

Let us listen to our law in the person of Jesus Christ, as long as we are priests of the Lord. If it was said to Levi, on account of his sacred ministry: You are my holy man, to whom I have given perfection and doctrine; and for that, he must say to his father and to his mother: I do not know you; and to his brethren: I do not know who you are, and he has no children but those of God. If it is thus, I say, about the law of Levi and the Mosaic priesthood, how pure, how detached from flesh and blood must be the Christian priesthood, with Jesus Christ as author and Melchizedek as model? No, we must know of no other task, no other function, nor have any other interest than that of God, teaching his law and his judgments, and continually offering him perfumes to appease him. If we keep this law of our holy ministry, one would not see the invasion of the rights and authority of the priesthood, which are those of Jesus Christ. God would become our avenger, and the prayer of Moses would have its effect: Lord, help your ministers, uphold their strength, protect the work of their hands; hit the fleeing backs of their enemies, and those who hate them may never rise again. But because, more carnal than the children of the age, we only think of making ourselves fat, of living at our ease, of making successors for ourselves, of establishing a name and a house, then everyone sets upon us, and the honor of the priesthood is trampled underfoot. (Elevations on the Mysteries, XIII, 6)

I’m Featured in the New Humanist About Working in Heaven

It’s the topic that never seems to go away (sorry!) My first post on this topic was in 2012, but just a few weeks ago I wrote this in response–and amplification–to an article which featured my first post in, of all places, MEL Magazine (a secular publication for men.)

Now Ralph Jones has written a piece for the New Humanist which once again examines this question. And once again my pieces and also an email interview we did are featured.

There are two questions which bother me about this whole issue, at least the way I’ve been involved with it.

The first is this: why are secular publications seemingly more interested in this topic than Christians are? I think the answer is that churches and ministers, thinking that people are more interested in the immediate benefits of following Jesus Christ in this life than the reward on the other side, have emphasised the former at the expense of the latter. The interest in this topic by secular publications such as these challenge this assumption.

This isn’t the first time that a topic of interest has had secular people call out those who profess and call themselves Christians; it happened in 2007-8 when Brendan O’Neill called out Rowan Williams on environmentalism, which I documented in my piece Messing in Our Own Box.

The second is this: am I the only Christian to actively oppose the idea of working in heaven? Or are there other closeted saints who read the Scriptures the same way that I do who are afraid to voice their opinion? That, by definition, is a form of cancel culture.

Things Going Your Way? A Holy Week Reflection

Many of you know that I used to work for the Church of God Department of Lay Ministries.  One of my colleagues, who did most of the graphic design work, was a good friend in addition to being a coworker.  Sometimes he’d greet me with the phrase, “Things going your way?”

It’s an easy way to say “how are you” because you just assume that, if things are going your way, they’re good.  But the more I think about it the more I realise that there’s something missing here.  The assumption that, if things are going your way they’re going the way they should, needs some review.  I was raised in an environment where I was told that it really didn’t matter whether things went your way or not; you just dealt with what was thrown at you.  Finding out that much of the world doesn’t see it that way–especially Christians–has been a life long struggle.

No where is this more evident than full gospel Christianity, with prosperity teaching following.  The idea is very current that, if you’re in God’s will, things will be going your way.  If they’re not, something is wrong with you.  Many people who experience adversity decide that it isn’t them, and that’s the unrolling theodicy disaster we’re seeing now.  The practical application of this is that people–Christians and others–are conditioned to go to pieces when things don’t go their way.  We’ve seen this play out in the past year with the COVID pandemic, but it antedates that.  This kind of attitude makes life in the U.S. very difficult to endure.

Such an attitude is profoundly unBiblical, and the whole story of the Passion and what follows shows this.  From Palm Sunday things go downhill for Our Lord.  First Judas sneaks off, first to make the deal with the Jewish leadership and then to make good on that deal.  The other disciples are erratic at best; they can’t stay awake when Our Lord needs them the most and bail on him when the going gets tough.  He endures gruesome torture and ultimately death by crucifixion, taunted by things like this: “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! He is the ‘King of Israel’! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He has trusted in God; if God wants him, let him deliver him now; for he said ‘I am God’s Son.'” (Matthew 27:42-43 TCNT)

But then things change: he rises from the dead, turns disciples into apostles by commissioning them to take the good news to the world, ascends into heaven, and sends the Holy Spirit to start the church.  (The church, sadly, has tried to do the job without the Paraclete, and has the results to show it.)

The lesson of this is simple: just because things aren’t going your way just now doesn’t mean that they aren’t going God’s way.  Our first objective in our walk with God is to follow him, not to expect him to follow us.  When we do that we can find the happiness he has for us, both here and on the other side.

Why Did They Cancel Charles and Mary Beard?

I recently completed reading Charles and Mary Beard’s The Rise of American Civilization, which at one time was one of the most influential texts on the subject.  The Beards, as is typical with textbooks in general, frequently revised the text, mostly adding to the end to keep that up to date.  The version I read ended with the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt, which is an interesting point for me because this narrative started around that time.  Before I get into the subject of “cancellation” (which is somewhat but not entirely anachronistic) I’ll start with a few general impressions.

The first is that the general impression one gets is that the Beards consider the American nation as above all an economic arrangement, with different propertied groups (and later groups without property) competing for primacy in the system.  They’re a little too close to the events to apply this analysis to the Progressive Era (they could have if they had really wanted to) but overall that’s the impression one gets from the way they handle the facts.

The second is that much of the way I was taught American history (at least up to my high school days) followed the Beard idea in many ways.  That makes sense, because having grown up at the top of the society, an economic interpretation of the history of the Republic is a congenial one to the winners.

The third is that this interpretation gives a cynical tone to the narrative.  It was their idea that this Republic has never had true originalism in Constitutional interpretation, even when the Founding Fathers were alive.  They also note that we were good at waiving the rules when it suited us.  An example of this was the way the Federal government forced Latin American countries to make good on the debts of failed revolutionaries to American banks even when we wrote the repudiation of Confederate debt into the Constitution!

Today the Beards are out of fashion, or cancelled as we would say these days.  Cancellation isn’t anything new, as anyone familiar with damnatio memoriae in Roman history knows.  The difference now is in the speed and method of the cancellation.  But their idea is definitely isn’t what is being presented to Americans–academic or otherwise–on either side of the political spectrum.  The reason for this reflects both the nature of academia and the desires of Americans in how we would like to see ourselves.

As the Beards note, American universities adopted the German model towards the end of the nineteenth century.  That model was driven by research: graduate students conducted research in original topics, defended their idea, and by that process human knowledge is advanced.  The system was developed for the hard sciences, where such advancement, be it in large or small increments, takes place.  That system displaced the classics based system that the British set up in Colonial times.

That system doesn’t always translate to disciplines outside of the hard sciences very well.  It is subject to being driven more by revisionist desires rather than the advance of knowledge.  In the case of history–and it has been this way since Herodotus–the narrative of history is frequently based on the ideas of the historians–and the times they lived in–as much if not more than the facts in the period under study.

I said that the whole economic bent of the Beards’ viewpoint–one which they shared with their classical Marxist counterparts (as opposed to the cultural kind we have these days)–got to the point where it didn’t sit well with Americans, so they rejected it.  The “point” was World War II.  It’s hard to convince a generation to go, fight and in some cases die for a country that is primarily an “economic arrangement.”  The Beards themselves saw this kind of backlash during World War I and the push towards teaching “Americanism” in schools, and the wake of World War II, especially with the Cold War, this went on steroids.  Americans came to prefer a more “America as an ideal construct,” which went in a number of directions that we now know are seriously at cross-purposes with each other.

Beyond that, an economic view won’t sit well with those who are left behind.  One of the major lacunae of the Beard saga is the South after the Civil War, which just about falls off of the radar screen.  Southerners had to face the hard question, “How did we get left behind?” Instead of focusing on the weaknesses of their own cultures–planter and Scots-Irish together–they changed the subject to things such as states rights, or their problems with the black people, or whatever.  Needless to say those who were on the wrong end of their way liked it even less, which is why we had the civil rights movement sixty years ago and Black Lives Matter today.

It’s interesting to note that one of the Beards’ main detractors was Forrest McDonald, who with Grady McWhiney came up with the “Celtic South” hypothesis, which I have discussed at length on this blog.  While that explains many things that the Beards don’t, it doesn’t change the simple fact that those who do not properly apply themselves to economic advancement are eventually going to be left behind, something that bears repeating in these days of uninformed ideology.

Today our discourse is dominated by people who are driven by their own moral vision, which they think is what this country is all about.  Sooner or later we’re going to have a reality check which will put a stop to this.  The Beards’ economic vision of the United States isn’t one that sits well with many people, but it’s an improvement over what’s being presented now.

The Problem With Social Justice is That It Always Involves Changing Someone Else

Anne Kennedy makes an interesting observation in her piece “What is Really the Problem?”:

Second, human people are wicked. All people. ALL have sinned and fallen well and catastrophically short of the glory of God. All of the cries about white supremacy, white evangelicalism, patriarchy, and racism all illumine the very false and foolish idea that if you or I were able to fix “other” people, and the systems they inhabit, that all the bad things would not any longer happen.

I recently illustrated the social justice thread in the 1928 and 2019 Books of Common Prayer.  But the whole idea of “social justice” has bugged me since the 1960’s for various reasons.  I think that Anne has put her finger on the problem: social justice involves changing someone else rather than yourself.  For someone who came to a religion where the change was personal first, that’s never set well.

One of the things that evangelicals have always said about everyone else who claims the name of Christ is that they are basically cultural Christians who have never made a personal commitment to the Lord Jesus.  Although these churches are good at producing people like that, it’s not universally true.  Growing up as an Episcopalian, I internalised many things from the New Testament, especially the Sermon on the Mount, and found that others had done the same.  Evangelicals in this country tend to ignore the Sermon on the Mount and concentrate on things like the Great Commission and the moral requirements of the faith.  The two trade insults along these lines; both are right and wrong at the same time.

With social justice warriors, it’s always the same: someone else is doing wrong, or is just inherently wrong.  Someone else is bigoted, homophobic, transphobic, the wrong race, the wrong religion, whatever, and must be beaten into submission, cancelled, or thrust into the outer void at the first opportunity.  There’s no real requirement for the warriors to be paragons of virtue at all: as long as they shove their righteousness down everyone else’s throat, they’re fine in their own eyes.

Some of the problem is that we have democratic process.  To get anything done, for better or worse, we must create a bandwagon effect, coupled with bribery at the right places, to achieve our purpose.  If our self-righteous elites would be honest with themselves and the rest of us, stop touting democracy as the ideal and rule in their self-righteous confidence by decree, the dynamic would be different.  But things like that are why our society is fundamentally duplicitous.

Evidently we have conveniently forgotten the following:

And why do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, while you pay no attention at all to the beam in your own? How can you say to your brother ‘Brother, let me take out the straw in your eye,’ while you yourself do not see the beam in your own? Hypocrite! Take out the beam from your own eye first, and then you will see clearly how to take out the straw in your brother’s. (Luke 6:41-42 TCNT)

But in our post-Christian society, self-righteousness is no longer a sin, but a virtue.  Why Christians of all types blindly go along with this is beyond me.

Casting the Seven Mountains Into the Sea

David French’s piece on the “Seven Mountain Movement” is in intriguing look into something that I’ve heard discussed over the years but never really spelled out.  He describes the basics of the movement as follows:

In its distilled essence, the Seven Mountain concept describes seven key cultural/religious institutions that should be influenced and transformed by Christian believers to create “Godly change” in America. The key to transforming the nation rests with reaching the family, the church, education, media, arts, the economy, and the government with the truth of the Gospel.

Although stuff like this has induced panic into the left over the years, even with Trump the left has overestimated the ability of those who espouse this movement to make it a reality.  Looked at from a purely objective standpoint, the whole Evangelical movement to “take America back for God” has floundered along for too long, having its biggest triumph too late in the game for the results to stick.

French himself put his finger on the core problem, but I don’t think he realises its import:

Astute readers will by now have noticed two things…Second, you’ll note how much it emphasizes the importance of placing people in positions of power and control.

The left understands completely the importance of power and control, and has from the start.  They’ve played the long game to get where they’re at, even though many, in typically American fashion, have been impatient about results and frequently have overplayed their hand because of their impatience.  The left’s biggest problem is that, as I noted at the end of my novel, they don’t have a strong leader to really get their agenda over the top, contenting themselves with collectivistic gumming of their opponents.

Evangelicals have up until now lived in a country where you didn’t have to have power to have a good life.  The legal and political system allowed people to live well without having to have some kind of “inside deal” to get along.  They didn’t understand, unlike the left, that you have to “play for keeps” to really get where you want to go, and the game is not won by winning elections or getting many people on your side, but the right people, in which case the other two come eventually.

That’s all changed, and now Evangelicals have woken up to the fact that their opponents have been engaged in asymmetric warfare with a superior strategy.  So now they now try to target the right people, which is a game changer for Evangelicals, usually engaged in an eternal popularity contest.  In the course of this they have set as their objective control of society, because the left has taught them that, to do what you want, you need to have power.

I honestly think that it’s too late in the game for Evangelicals to attempt this.  I also think that Evangelicalism isn’t designed for societal domination in the way that, say, the Main Line churches were.  The latter, descendants for the most part of Old World (and some New World) state churches, lived in a world where the church and state set the agenda (subject to disputes as to what that agenda was) and everyone went along with it.  The Main Line churches dominated the scene in this country, not now the state church but comfortable with bringing people to cultural Christianity.  With the decline of Main Line churches, Evangelicals have tried to fill the void.  But Evangelical churches are, by definition, about a decision.  To be a truly national/societal church isn’t about decisions; it’s about setting the pace in a society.  Those who don’t like the pace they’ve set either must revolt (with the consequences of failure) or leave.

At this point, instead of playing around with “influencer” games, Evangelicals have only two choices.

The first is what I call the “Jehu Option,” i.e. a revolt until their opponents are gone.  Some would like to think that the riot at the Capitol 6 January 2021 was the beginning of such an option, but given the desultory way the rioters assaulted vs. the inadequate response of the Capitol Police, we’re a long way from that happening.  In any case I doubt Evangelicals (or any other dissidents) could pull it together to make it happen.  I’ve always felt that the fall of the Republic will come from outside taking advantage of internal weakness and division; the idea that we can replicate the American Revolution against ourselves is a non-starter.

The second is to recognise that we have lost control of the levers of secular power and plan accordingly.  In reality Evangelicals have not had their hands anywhere near these levers since at least World War I.  The events of the Trump era were an aberration; Evangelicals were forced to go along with someone who was very different from their idea of a good, respectable human being.  The fact that some tried to apply adoration to their icon only shows that it’s easier to try to get away from the apostolic churches than it is to actually do it.

I don’t think that the New Testament supports the “Jehu Option” in any form (the Old Testament wasn’t really happy about the outcome of that bloodbath either.)  Getting Evangelicals past their defective concept of the relationship of the Old and New Testament–which makes options like that and the American Revolution morally plausible–isn’t going to be an easy task.  Getting American Evangelicals past their a)conflation of their faith in God with their love of country and b)their idea that Evangelical Christianity is the “way up” isn’t going to be easy either, although the latter should be obvious in a country where there isn’t much of a way up for most of the population.

What Evangelicals need to do is to is to quit trying to scale/conquer the seven mountains and try to move one:

And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. (Mark 11:22-23 KJV)

To which the great Bossuet commented as follows:

Behold the wonder of wonders: man clothed in the omnipotence of God.

Go, said the Saviour, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, case out devils: freely have you received, freely give.  (Matthew 10:8) Who ever gave such a command?

And he sent them to preach the Kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:2) Who ever sent his ministers with such commands? Go, He said, into this house and heal those whom you will find there.  All were filled with wonder at such commands. And yet, he proceeded even further: All that you ask in my name, you shall receive. (John 14:14) You will be able to do all that I am able to do. You will do all of the greatest things that you have seen me do, and you will do even greater things. In fact, if one was cured on touching the edge of the robe of Jesus Christ while He was wearing it, weren’t even greater miracles being performed by St. Paul, when there were even brought from his body, to the sick, handkerchiefs and aprons, and the diseases departed from them? (Acts 19:12) And not only the linens which had touched the apostles had that power, but their very shadow: when Peter came, his shadow at the least, might overshadow any of them, and they might be delivered from their infirmities. (Acts 5:15)

Here, therefore, is the greatest miracle of Jesus Christ. Not only is He all-powerful, but here He renders man all-powerful and, if possible, more powerful than He Himself is, performing constantly greater miracles, and all through faith and through prayer: and all things whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive. (Matthew 21:22)  Faith, therefore, and prayer are all-powerful, and they clothe man with the omnipotence of God. If you can believe, said the Saviour, all is possible to him who believes. (Mark 9:22)

The performance of miracles, therefore, is not the difficulty.  Rather, the difficulty is to believe.  If you can believe.  This is the miracle of miracles; to believe absolutely and without hesitation. I believe, Lord, help my unbelief (Mark 9:23), said the man to whom Jesus said: If you can believe.

Work in Heaven? Rubbish!

I got this shout-out from MEL Magazine’s Miles Klee about my 2012 piece on working in heaven:

I was thankful to turn up one guy, Don C. Warrington, who, though a practicing Christian and once employed by the Church of God, wasn’t having this bull****. “The Scriptures are not very detailed on what our life with God on the other side will be like,” he argued in a 2012 blog post. “They speak of rewards, crowns, ruling and the like, but none of this suggests work. The whole idea of ruling is that someone else gets to do the work while you take the credit.” Moreover, he asserts, we won’t have to develop the infrastructure of heaven when we arrive: “Jesus promised that he would go and prepare the place.”

As I did then, I think the whole concept of working in heaven is profoundly unBiblical.  I laid out the case in that post and won’t go through it again.  What I want to concentrate on here is how this kind of belief got into Evangelical Christianity in this country.  Klee leads off with FBC Dallas’ Robert Jeffress pronouncement on the subject, but as he shows this kind of thinking has been embedded amongst our ministers for a long time.  (My original post nine years ago was in response to some pulpit pronouncements.)

I think this is a classic example of Evangelicals “engaging the culture” which ends up becoming “following the culture.”   Traditionally (in the South at least) Evangelical Christianity has always had an escapist streak in it, as anyone who’s experienced a “heaven song” medley will attest.  Americans, however, have a bad habit of defining themselves and their worth by what they do for a living, be that independent business or working for someone else.  Churches have not only picked up and tried to Biblicise that, they’re also playing to a bad dynamic amongst our ministers which makes the congregation essentially employees of the pastor, there to fulfil the pastor’s vision for the church.  This last point is weird considering that the money flow in a church is opposite to that of a workplace.

I think my own pushback to all of this, in addition to reading comprehension of the Bible, is assisted by my own status as a combination of old money snobbery and Scots-Irish laziness, the former of which is virtually unknown in Evangelical circles.  To begin with, I think it’s bad that Americans invest so much of their concept of self worth in their work. It’s bad from a career standpoint, as I point out in Advice to Graduates: The Two Promises I Made to Myself, and it’s also bad from a workplace operation standpoint.  In many workplaces everyone is trying harder to show that they’re up to their inflated publicity rather than doing the task that is in front of them.  Changing that would not only make our workplaces more productive; it would get rid of many of the gender bias issues that we seem to obsess so much about.

It’s also shocking that Christians invest so much of their self-concept in their work and that their ministers aid and abet this mistake.  Isn’t our first identity in Christ?  How can we oppose the critical race theory jockeys and still look to somewhere else other than our creator for our identity and worth?  I discuss this on a elevated social plane in my piece A State of Being.

That being said, I am one of these people who believe that we should come to work and do our best, and apply our mind to effectively do the task that is in front of us, up to and including challenging the concept of “we’ve always done it this way.”  But when it’s time to “lay our burdens down,” it’s time, and heaven ultimately is that time.  Klee laments that one Evangelical says that there will be no orgasms in heaven.  The Evangelical is right, but what we will experience in the presence of God will be far more intense and sustained than any orgasm we experience here.

At that point, the work will cease and the celebration will begin and never end.  Don’t miss it.