Why I Think Jim Wallis Pulled the Plug on the Believe Out Loud Campaign

The “religious left” is abuzz–and of course aTwitter–re Jim Wallis and Sojourners’ decision not to support the recent Believe Out Loud (an LGBT group) ad campaign this past Mother’s Day.  This has produced the predictable horror in places such as The Lead and some glee on the right.

Back when I reviewed Wallis’ book The Great Awakening I noted the following:

His stance on same sex civil marriage–that we need same sex civil unions–may sound good to him but will not cut it with his LGBT friends, or at least their leadership.  One thing he will find out the hard way–as many North American Anglicans have–is that the message of the LGBT community to the nation and the church is the same as Ulysses Grant’s to Simon Bolivar Buckner: no terms except unconditional surrender.  I expect that, sooner or later, he will sell the pass on the Christian sexual ethic, as his Main Line counterparts have done, but that is something he will have to deal with.

Although this blow-up doesn’t directly relate to same sex civil marriage, Wallis’ attempt to take a nuanced stance on any LGBT subject was sure to land him in trouble sooner or later, and now we’re there.

I think there are two things he is trying to say here that his opponents on the left–and probably those on the right too–are missing.

The first is the simple fact that the advancement of LGBT rights, in society or in the church, aren’t, as any real Marxist knows, “economic equality” issues.  Relative to that he informs us of the following:

But these debates (over LGBT issues) have not been at the core of our calling, which is much more focused on matters of poverty, racial justice, stewardship of the creation, and the defence of life and peace. These have been our core mission concerns, and we try to unite diverse Christian constituencies around them, while encouraging deep dialogue on other matters which often divide. Essential to our mission is the calling together of broad groups of Christians, who might disagree on issues of sexuality, to still work together on how to reduce poverty, end wars, and mobilize around other issues of social justice.

Jim Wallis, like any other activist, acts on what’s important to him.  LGBT people remind us that they are ostracised and bullied, but even they know better than to attempt to demonstrate that same ostracism and bullying has resulted in economic inequality. Same inequality, and the “injustices” that lead to it (and we can argue whether all of the causes are injustices or not) is at the core of the issues that Wallis holds dear.   To a large extent, making the LGBT cause into the ne plus ultra of social activism is the product of same people being visible and comprehensible to the privileged “movers and shakers” on the left whereas, in our economically polarised society, those whom Wallis wants to speak up for are neither except as the household or landscaping help.

The second reason is that Jim Wallis knows just how divisive and energy-dissipating this issue can be.  As he notes:

We have also suggested that the major differences of theology and biblical interpretation in the church with regard to issues such as the nature of homosexuality, gay marriage, and ordination are not issues that should be allowed to divide the churches that local churches should lead the way here, and that an honest, open, respectful, and, hopefully, loving dialogue should characterize the church on these very controversial questions.

It’s a typically American habit these days to endlessly live in the subjunctive when we need to face the indicative.  The simple fact is that the last decade has demonstrated that it is a deeply divisive issue, as anyone who has followed the Anglican/Episcopal world knows all to well.   That saga additionally puts the lie to the whole premise of the campaign: that “the church” should pitch the traditional Christian sexual ethic and embrace the LGBT way of life as Biblical.  The blunt truth of the matter is that “the church” doesn’t exist in the United States; what we have is a plethora of religious organisations (not always well organised) where some agree on some things with some others but where all of them basically don’t agree on anything.  Some churches are going to embrace the LGBT way of life and some aren’t, and the ones where unity isn’t there will split.  When a divisive issue like this arises, what we end up with is division, personal and institutional.  Although I don’t want to put words in Wallis’ mouth, with his Evangelical background he’s probably in a better position to appreciate this simple truth than those who believe that the real church is directed by those who can claim apostolic succession.

I think Wallis’ moment of truth on this issue is coming at last, and it will be interesting to see how he ultimately comes down on it.  If he sticks with his guns on this, it will be a major shift on the left.  But I think the deck’s stacked against him.

The Lightbearers with Esther Tims, and The Lightbearers: Going Dutch

Polder meets polyester suits as this Dutch group takes on many American Gospel favourites, along with some more “contemporary” fare. And they do pretty well at it, too. One of the few “continental” groups that UK label Dove/Musical Gospel Outreach featured in their line-up.

The Lightbearers with Esther Tims
(Dove 14, 1974)

The group’s own instrumental and vocals provide a nice backup for Esther Tims, the Surabaya, Indonesia native who puts on a good performance of several Gospel classics (along with Larry Norman’s I’d Wish We’d All Been Ready.) All but one of these songs is sung in English, and that (Hij leeft) is of American origin.

The performers:

  • Esther Tims (vocals)
  • John (vocals, guitar, piano, organ)
  • Marike (tambourine, vocals)
  • Arjan (percussion, guitar, vocals)
  • Efie (twelve-string guitar, vocals)
  • Henrie (bass guitar, vocals)

The music:

  1. I wish we’d all been ready
  2. A poor poor rich man
  3. God I love you
  4. Through it all
  5. A song for the Man
  6. I was born to serve my Lord
  7. All I want to be
  8. How can you refuse Him now
  9. I should have been crucified
  10. Hij leeft
  11. Only Jesus
  12. What a day that will be

Going Dutch
(Dove 22, 1975)

More music from the Lightbearers, now on their own. In addition to American Gospel music, they include some original compositions and a surprise adopted from the secular music world.

Note: from an organisational standpoint, this is a strange album. The song order on both the sleeve and record label is completely different from what’s pressed into the red vinyl (normal for Dovetail/Dove releases.) The order below is what’s on the sleeve.

The performers:

  • John Gosselar (piano)
  • Henrie Workala (bass)
  • Adam and Eve Knevel (guitars)
  • Mike Wade (drums)
  • Ken Freeman (string synthesiser)

The music:

  1. Born Again
  2. Hey you friend
  3. If I can practice what I preach
  4. Before He calls again
  5. Yes He will
  6. I will serve thee
  7. My tribute
  8. In the valley
  9. You’ve got a friend
  10. I am to blame

Just Talking With a Palm Beacher is All It Takes

My old home church has gotten into short-term missions. Although there’s no doubt it broadens their horizons, the old Palm Beach attitude goes with you everywhere.  Consider this statement from Rick Miessau, one of the leaders of their mission to Haïti:

“Just sitting there and talking, we raise their social status,” he said. “Kids are hungry for inspiration and ideas. We tell them stories about our lives and how we do things.”

I’m not sure that Mr. Miessau, working at the South Florida Water Management District, lives on the island or not, but being at Bethesda he’s certainly acquired the attitude.  Just talking with a Palm Beacher moves you up in life, let alone becoming one.

Now if my church people here in east Tennessee would only grasp this simple truth…

When Title IX is Unnecessary: A Mother's Day Tribute

Originally posted in 2006, reposted with some modifications.  I ran the LifeBuilders Golf Tournament until we putted our last hole out in 2010.  I still play golf as often as I can.

Some people think that everything good and beautiful in this life comes from a government programme. Others just get the job done, and in the process inspire others. This is a story of the latter.

One of the things that exasperates me about the society we’re in today is the underlying assumption that the only way to make progress is to have a government programme both fund the process and shove the results down everyone’s throat. This is especially true in the educational sector, one dominated by either government entities (public schools and universities) or NGO’s (private schools and universities.) “Waiting for the next grant” (and obtaining that grant) is “the game” with these people.

One of the mantras that people repeat over and over is that women’s athletics wouldn’t be what they are today if it were not for “Title IX” of the Civil Rights Act as amended in 1972. Today we see women happily competing in virtually every sport and getting recognition for it. We are told that our society is so hopelessly racist and sexist (and now we’re told it’s full of bigoted homophobes) that this would not have happened without the Federal government forcing schools to make this possible.

I cannot agree with this. It’s become too easy to lead by coercion and manipulation, but that doesn’t make it the right way to do it. What’s really needed is an example, or more than one. To consider one, in a supposedly “retro” place like Tennessee, Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols are so successful in basketball that the men’s team spends most of its time trying to live up to the women’s reputation!  (And then we have the Aggies this year…)  Growing up in South Florida, when my all-male prep school admitted women, the school was able to organise a creditable women’s tennis team alongside the men’s even with a very small pool of candidates. Tennis was “the thing” amongst men and women alike; just down the coast in Ft. Lauderdale, Chris Evert was beginning her spectacular career on the pro circuit.

Most men get their initial interest in athletics from their father. And this makes sense. It’s a good way (when done properly) of bonding a father and son together. In my case, my father was frankly indifferent to whether I achieved anything athletically or not. He did not make the automatic connection between success on the athletic field and success in business that most American men do. This had its downside but it did save me the agony of being cursed out in front of God and everybody in Little League and other team sports, a practice the Boomers disliked only to inflict it on their own children (and now it’s passing down to the next generation.)

One sport that did get support in our family was golf. All of us played it at one time or another. Although my father (and brother) were reasonable golfers, the one person for whom golf was a passion was my mother.

No, we did not three-putt: my brother and mother coming off of the green.

She took up the game after she moved from Arkansas to Chicago. She took to it with enthusiasm, although the time she could devote to it varied with her children’s age and health. After we moved to Palm Beach, she made it a serious proposition. For the next two decades she was not only an active player, she was active in her club’s ladies associations, first at the Breakers in Palm Beach and later at Delray Dunes. At the Breakers she helped to start the Tee Lambert tournament which benefited the Visiting Nurses’ Association; at Delray Dunes she assisted with the Delray Dunes Pro-Am for Bethesda Hospital in Delray Beach. She would have recourse to the visiting nurses when a congenital defect in her back gave out and she had fusion surgery; her golf was part of her therapy, and before she was back in the game the Palm Beach Country Club was gracious enough to allow her to walk the course. She won a tournament now and then and was (I think) the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club’s first “Lady Member.” (They survived. So can Augusta National!)

My mother was a stickler for the rules of golf, which is necessary when you run tournaments, as she frequently did. She was a USGA member until the time of her death. She drilled into her sons the importance of proper etiquette on the course in addition to playing well. She made sure we got proper lessons, even as a senior in college. Sometimes she overdid it on that score, which could drain the fun of the game.

To some extent, golf (and the country club experience that went with it) was a kind of religion with my mother. (It was handy to have course and church next to each other, as was the case in Palm Beach.) One reason why I quit playing for so long (in addition to being a poor golfer in a world of achievers) was because I only acknowledged one religion.

But then there came the time for synergy. Working for the Lay Ministries Department of the Church of God means working for a department with a golf tournament as a major fund raiser. Until her last year she wasn’t much on me being in a Pentecostal church, but when she found out I was working for a ministry with a golf tournament, she doubled her donation to the tournament from what I asked for! Golf is as big a thing amongst ministers in the Church of God; it’s not just a rich kid’s game, something that was hard to see in Palm Beach.

Having taken up the game again initially to play in this tournament, this year I am responsible for running it. Without my mother’s exhortation and occasional prodding, I would not be able to do it. Every time I tee off, I owe a little something to her inspiration to play (I actually used her old putter until last year).

I’m glad that she lived long enough to see the eternal and temporal come together on the tee. “Weigh well the example of him who had to endure such opposition from ‘men who were sinning against themselves,’ so that you should not grow weary or faint-hearted.” (Hebrews 12:3) As is the case with us and Our Lord Jesus Christ, women’s athletics didn’t and don’t need a government programme as much as they need examples, and there are plenty of them out there. Even for their sons.

Month of Sundays: Light

The ground of his condemnation is this, that though the Light has come into the world, men preferred the darkness to the Light, because their actions were wicked. For he who lives an evil life hates the light, and will not come to it, for fear that his actions should be exposed; But he who acts up to the truth comes to the light, that his actions may be shown to have been done in dependence upon God. (John 3:19-21)

It was getting late. The customer was desperate for their large piece of equipment, the truck was waiting, and the final assembly had to take place out of doors at the factory. So the pieces were brought out and the “home stretch” started.

With the dark came the need for some additional light. So the foreman ordered the light trailer to be fired up and turned on. Surrounding the factory was a run-down neighborhood. The residents didn’t appreciate the additional brilliance, so they started shooting at the men doing the work!

When the light is turned on—physical or spiritual—all kinds of things come into view. Some are good; the crew couldn’t do its work without some additional light on the subject. Jesus’ workers likewise need his light to do their work: “We must do the work of him who sent me, while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4)

But some are not good. If God turns the light on your life and everything becomes plain, will you welcome the light? Or will you, in a spiritual way, start shooting at the light source? Today we’re concerned about the general loss of privacy in a world where just about everything about us could be stored on a flash drive. On that flash drive, what would you want erased before someone stuck it their USB port and browsed it?

God already knows the contents of our “flash drive.” If you want those less than happy parts erased, you must ask for his forgiveness and that your life be filled with his light.

Maybe It's Time for the Scots to Go

In the midst of all the other excitement going on these days (especially the demise of Osama bin Laden, which cheers 9/11 victims but doesn’t get us any closer to the end of the war on Islamic careerism) we have some voting in the UK to consider.  Topping the list is the change in the voting system they use, but we also have local elections going on, and their results are mostly known.  The Liberal Democrats, now in coalition in Westminster, took a beating at what has been heretofore their home turf (much to Cranmer’s glee) but beyond that the Scottish Nationalist Party made significant gains, which raises the spectre of independence (sort of, I’ll get to that shortly) from England and the end of the UK.

The whole business of a United Kingdom isn’t a given, even less so than a United States.  And the causes of division, past and present, within the two are very much related.  That division has its roots in the basic nature of Great Britain, which is in simple terms geographically divided into two parts: the English lowlands extending westward from London to the Severn and northward from same to Yorkshire, and everything else, including the North of England, Scotland and Wales.  That division was made human by the two series of invasions that took place in the first millennium after Our Lord’s time on the earth: the Roman invasion, which civilised England and Wales but not Scotland, and the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the fifth century, which drove the largely Celtic populations into the rougher parts of Great Britain.  That division, in turn, was replicated in our own country: the English predominate in the North and the Celts in the South.

The Celtic parts of the island, as is the case here, were and are the poorer parts.  So why would the English be so concerned with conquering them, only to be a drain on the realm?  It should be obvious that the English like to conquer things, having been taught the importance of same by William…the Conqueror.  But a more cogent reason is strategic.  The only land border Roman Britain had was its border with Scotland, one that concerned it to the extent that it built Hadrian’s Wall to contain the horde from the north.  This investment paid off; the Scots invaded on a sporadic basis, and the invasion that put paid to post-Roman Britain came from the east, not the north.  In more modern times an independent Scotland was always making cause with France, and that alone made it a high priority for the English to deal effectively with.  The Union that resulted when James VI of Scotland became James I of England, and subsequently solidified by both legislation and more military action, secured England’s rear border (along with their rule over Ireland) and allowed them to face their Continental opponents in a more focused way.

That strategic gain was replicated on these shores during the War Between the States.  Lincoln had the option of letting the Confederacy go, which would have immediately raised the per capita income of the United States.  But to do so would have left an independent nation to make cause with European powers such as the UK and France and trapped what was left of the Republic between British Canada and a Celtic Confederacy.  (The French were already making trouble in Mexico with Maximilian, and the Union victory was that unhappy emperor’s death sentence at the hands of Benito Juarez.)  Like his English counterparts vis à vis Scotland, Lincoln evidently felt that the long-term security of the United States lied in its control of the Southern states, and that’s an important consideration that has gotten lost in all of the back and forth concerning slavery.  (The Russians weren’t so fortunate in their loss of the Ukraine.)

In any case, in our current situation it’s unlikely that Scottish hordes (except those which follow football matches) would be invading England from an independent Scotland.  It’s equally unlikely that Scotland would achieve full independence, as it would simply join the EU.  And all of the Celtic parts of the UK–Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland–are the poorest parts of the Union, which follows historical experience but is also in part the product of the typical European trend to centralise wealth and power in the capital.  So why not just give them the boot and be done with it?

There’s obviously a good deal of sentimental feeling towards the Union that this the UK just as there is in the US, given the long-term success that both unions have achieved.  But an independent (or more accurately separated) Scotland would be one more voice to once again gang up on England in places like Bruxelles and Strasbourg.  It would also be one more place for European financial powers to control via debt, as the Irish have found out the hard way.  And the experience of the Irish is instructive; the Irish fought long and hard for their independence, only to give it away in the financial crash.

But it’s probably time for the Scots to make up their mind one way or another whether they’re better off in the UK or not.  The Celts have always had independence as their battle cry, but making it work is another story altogether.  The English just might come out ahead for the bargain, but this is one of those great “what-if’s” of history that just might get played out in our lifetime.

If This is Diversity, I'd Hate to See What Homogeneity Looks Like

Gary L’Hommedieu puts things in stark figures, based on the Episcopal Church’s own figures:

The real story in the recent release of statistical data by TEC is in the demographic profile of the Church that heralds itself as the living symbol of a diverse society. On the same page amidst self-congratulatory rhapsodies about antiracism, advocacy and justice, TEC was naïve enough to publish a colourful pie-chart illustrating the demographics of inclusion: The Episcopal Church in 2009 TEC is 87.0% White/Non-Hispanic. In other words, if ever there was a bastion of Anglo-American culture, this is it — just like it always was. The remaining 13%, divided among five separate demographic categories of the population, gives meaning to the word “tokenism” in a modern society.

What does 87% signify, and compared to what? The only figure to compare it to as a measure of “diversity” would have to be the US Census. This gives us a demographic average with which to compare specific aggregates of American citizens, religious and otherwise, randomly distributed across the population. The national demographic profile is 65.6% White/Non-Hispanic. In other words the “inclusive Church” is less inclusive than the kingdom of this world in the area of race.

Probably few statistics (other than a breakdown of personal gross income relative to the population) puts the lie to the last forty years of the Episcopal Church’s attempt to remould itself as a progressive institution.  If you’re the WASP church par excellence (the waters being muddied by the Scots-Irish you pick up along the way) and you want to show how you’re really reaching out to other groups, the success of that effort will show up in your attendance.  In the case of the TEC, it isn’t.  In fact, TEC’s biggest challenge these days is to get anyone to show up.

Back in 2007 in my reply to Susan Russell, I outlined the difficulty TEC was going to have in getting members of the LGBT community to arrive on Sunday morning.  I rest my case.  If after forty years of “social justice” emphasis TEC can’t do better with racial diversity, how can it expect a better performance when it comes to sexual orientation?

Being a part of (and especially working for) a Pentecostal church has really driven home what it’s like to be in a really ethnically diverse body of believers.  Nothing shouts the fulfilment of the promise of Pentecost than this.  My biggest concern of late is that, given the general siege mentality we’re seeing in the sons and daughters of Albion these days, we’ll blow the advantage that God has given us, and that’s one reason why I took my leave from church employment last year.

Bill Atwood: 3:25 A.M.

Bill Atwood
3:25 A.M. (Dovetail DOVE 35) 1976

It’s hard to conceive of a mellower production than this, with Bill Atwood’s smooth vocals and the excellent backing instrumentation from John Pantry’s production (Cloud’s backup vocals add the mix.) This is a favourite of mine, and it’s too bad that the follow up from the UK wasn’t up to it. One thing the UK did follow up on: his description of the USSR…

Atwood is today a Bishop in the Anglican Church in North America.

As Ken Scott, the “Archivist” would say, throw another log on the fire…

The song “I Will Build You A City” is used in this video slideshow:

The songs (for individual download:)

  1. He Called Me A Rock
  2. 3:25 AM
  3. Colours
  4. I Will Build You A City
  5. Pentecost
  6. Sitting At The Table
  7. He Will Answer You
  8. Lonely Man
  9. Lonely And All Alone
  10. Father I Hear Music
  11. USSR

For more music click here

Month of Sundays: Foundations

In fulfilment of the charge which God had entrusted to me, I laid the foundation like a skilful master-builder; but another man is now building upon it. Let every one take care how he builds; For no man can lay any other foundation than the one already laid-Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:10-11)

In 2004-5, the Gulf Coast of the U.S. was battered by a series of storms whose names have passed into American history: Ivan, Rita, and the worst of all, Katrina. Images of Mississippi coastal towns reduced to rubble and a flooded New Orleans, never to return to its former state, are etched in our memories.

In Louisiana and Texas, much of the economy is centred on the oil industry. Offshore are hundreds of platforms, producing the oil and gas which literally fuel our economy. All of them were evacuated during the storms, and some of them were damaged or destroyed. After the storms had passed all of them were inspected to make sure that they were intact, or to recommend repair or removal if they weren’t.

One amazing fact came out of these inspections: none of them had failed due to a failure of the foundation! Some of the platforms were designed in the 1960’s, when there was no experience to back up many of the designs. Foundation failure would have been the worst disaster, since the whole platform would have been overturned, risking losing the blow-out preventers that prevent massive oil spills from uncapped wells.

A building, bridge or other structure is only as good as the foundation it’s placed on. That’s the way it is with a life, too. If a life is based on the pleasures and impulses of the moment, it won’t last through the storms that come our way.

Jesus Christ is the only foundation that will last because he is God. He was there before we were and he will be there when we arrive at our eternity. What foundation will you choose to build your life on?