Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Evil Church Vs. Good Church: The Unfair "Truth"

I am a pastor of a church on the Westside of Indianapolis.  We are not a big church (130 worship weekly).  I am passionate about my job and my church, and I truly believe I have the best occupation in the world.  However, after watching/reading the news this past week I have been left with a feeling that all pastors and churches are a bunch of bigoted whack-jobs. 

Just within the last month we see news stories of Priests suing the President over birth control, and pastors advocating extreme and violent methods against homosexuals.  Every time I see Priests/pastors in the news I hold my breath and prepare myself for the worst.  The headlines for spiritual leaders have gotten so bad that sometimes I wonder why I even do what I do.

Somewhere in the middle of being flooded with ethically suspect clergy, I realized that media is extremely biased.   Now I am not saying they are biased against all forms of religion, or even a specific religion (they may or may not be).  But media is biased toward the audacious, the corrupted, scoundrel, catastrophe, and the tragically ironic.  Media shows the worst of the worst.  Media is not about reporting facts or truth in of themselves, but they seek to report rating boosting headlines.  It is about the money from commercials they receive from gathering an audience.

Now I am very well aware that there are many self proclaimed religious leaders who callously take advantage of the susceptible and weak.  I know great crimes have been committed by those who are held to the highest standard.  However, the reporting on churches and leaders has been so outrageously slant, that it makes me wonder if it is the Priests/pastors that are corrupted or the reporters.

The priests who molest people should be held responsible.  The pastors who steal, cheat and lie for gain should be called out, and spiritual guides who make provocative violence endorsing speeches should be removed, but we should also call to remove those who misinterpret the truth through slanting stories against certain peoples.
Of every corrupted pastor who commits some crime I know hundreds who give up so much to help so many.  Of every church that sweeps things under the rug, I know hundreds that expose the truth and offer comfort.  I know hundreds of churches that give food to hundreds of people in their communities on a regular basis without using government funds that come from taxes (of which we are one).  I know hundreds of churches that provide clothes to those who need them for free (which we are also one).  I know many churches that donate money, gifts, and time to hospitals for the sick (which we are also one).  Yet the members of our church who make this possible are not in the news, only those who are doing something morally disgusting are. 

There are hundreds of churches I know that help addicts recover without the use of public funds.  I know churches that provide homes for the homeless, schooling and training for the unemployed, assistance to struggling families, and counseling to hurt relationships.  When someone passes away a church is always there to comfort the family (we even provide meals to families).  When someone is in the hospital the church is always there.  When there are hungry, homeless, naked people, the church is there.

I am not saying we are perfect, and I am not saying we should ignore the ugly sides that rear their heads, I am only advocating for honest reporting; I want some truth in the news. 

A local church daycare got in trouble for a boy who accidently drowned.  The news began reporting that Churches do not follow regulations or guidelines that other daycares must.  This is the dishonesty that saddens me.  We run a Preschool ministry, and our teachers are highly trained, highly qualified people who follow all the procedures and requirements every day.  One of our children stopped breathing due to a severe seizure episode, and our teachers saved the child's life.  No where was that in the news.  Our preschool prepares the children more (according to teachers, staff, and administration at our local elementary school) than any other that feeds into the school.  We offer the 2nd lowest cost in the area with the best care and education, and we are strictly non-profit.  Any family that is struggling receives discounts so that no child is without a place in our building.  Our church and many other churches are helping hurt communities. 

I do not expect accolades, nor do the saints in the church that work hard every day.  We simply want people to know, that many of us, most of us, are not about hate; we are not about judgment, but we are about the love, reconciliation, and acceptance of God.   

Let us stop pretending that all Christians are terrible people.  Let us do the unpopular thing and show what real churches, real pastors, and real lay people are doing everyday in small local churches.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ethics of Food: Hungry for Justice

Did you hear about the man who was forced to leave an All-You-Can-Eat Buffett because he ate too much food?  You know you are too big for any britches when you are removed from a buffet.  While I skimmed the story I must admit I could not stomach to read the whole article.

I do know the man paid for a service, and that service was not delivered.  And I am sure the man gluttonously took advantage of their offer, but the restaurant should have at least given him a full refund, if he couldn't leave with a full belly.

 We American's sure like to eat, and apparently this man takes the cake on buffets.  We Americans also like to sue, which I was relieved to not yet hear of a pending lawsuit (but won't be surprised if one is filed).  Besides eating, and suing, we like to rectify wrongs, insure justice, calling out the power hungry institutions that take advantage of the little guys (and obese ones).  So this man decided to picket the restaurant.  This man decided to stand outside the restaurant with sign in his hand until he got his just desserts (he was finishing up appetizers when they escorted him out). 

If you allow me, I would like to digest this all for a moment.  Around the world 11,000 children die of hunger every day.  Millions go without food on a daily basis.  Parents watch their children waste away slowly and helplessly.  We live in a country where our complaints and picketing are reduced to not getting to eat all we want, when many don't get to eat what they need.  Why do we give such a story any credence?  Why do we seek out the little injustices when there are so many great one's happening throughout our world?  Why are we so focused on our full platters and never notice the empty plates of the poor?

Jesus says "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Matthew 5:6). 

11,000 children dying around the world, and 1/3 of children in our own country who suffer from insufficient food, are certainly hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  Yet, we have been blinded by the petty things of this world.
If those who hunger for righteousness now will be filled later, what about those who are full now?  What about us who turn the blind eye and eat our fill?  Will we who have the means but not the passion end up empty? 

 I believe the greatest injustice, and the first issue that needs to be addressed is the ethic and justice of food.  If we end terror, if we take down drug cartels, if we rectify the false promises of our business, if we construct amazing hospitals, cathedrals, and global markets, but we still watch children starve, will all our accomplishments please our maker?

Let us stop the charade.  Let us stop pretending that we don't get what we deserve in life, and let us turn our attention to those who have had nothing.  Let us be the ones who assure justice and bellies are filled.  Let us be caretakers of the children of God.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Marrying Gays and Divorcing Politics

Did you hear, after NC voted against allowing gay marriage, and after VP Joe Bidden spoke in favor of gay marriage (and then did some back tracking) President Obama came out and said he supports gay marriage.  I have no issues with Obama, I didn't vote for him last election (I wrote in "Jesus") but I have nothing against him.  However, Obama's stance for gay marriage seems to be more of a calculated move toward reelection than a confession of social ethics.  States have voted against gay marriage before (California, New York) yet Obama was silent in those times.  Joe Bidden has opened his mouth before, and Obama was silent then.  The question we must ask then, is why does Obama speak out now?

Some may argue that Obamam had time to think over his feelings on the issue, and now has come to a conclusion.  Some argue that Obama's position has completely changed and now he must speak up about his new formed convictions.  Unfortunately, I see his statement as nothing more than a power play for the upcoming election.

The calculated timing of the statement is pretty genius.  Obama wanted to create a new political battle topic that detracts from the former fighting points that neither politician was winning.  Economy, war, and spending are all areas of government that the GOP and the Democrats have failed on in the past 8 years.  With the election heating up, a new topic was brought in, a topic that would certainly raise the ears of young apathetic voters, a issue that would create a driving force to the polls, not an economic issue, or a militaristic issue, but a social issue.   

In essence what is happening is that Obama is using gays and lesbians as a tool to generate victory for his campaign.  Our President is simply using people as a means to the end, which is his reelection.  That is the overwhelming problem with our world, people merely become a means to an end.  We assign value on people dependent upon their ability to serve our agendas.   This election and everyone before is about using people to accomplish one party's aspirations.

Obama is not alone.  Right after the President's announcement Romney went on to say he is against gay marriage.  Romney is using the people who are against gay marriage to serve as his means to get elected.  Our government, officials and Presidents all do this.  The people have simply become a means to their ends.  We are used to accomplish their place in the history books, we are used so they can amass wealth, gain authority, accomplish prestige, and ascertain power.  This is the worst act of humanity because it diminishes all people to sub-human entities. 

Obama may truly believe in gay marriage, but that is not the point of his statement, and that is not the point of Romney's follow-up.  Their statements are geared at using the citizens as pawns in a power play for election.

The really tragic part of all this is that we will all fallow suit.  Churches will now regrettably standup to support Romney because he is against gay marriage, we will fall into their power plays, and in the end the election is never about social issues, economic issues, or military, it is about who can win.  It is never about what is best, or about what the people need, it is only about what will get people roused up and divided.  Election is about division, dividing politics, dividing up the candidates, and dividing the people.

Jesus did not come to figure out the best strategic way to get our biases to serve his agenda.  When Jesus came it was not about us serving him, instead it was about him serving us (Mark 10:45).  Jesus came to be the means for our end.  He became the way through the cross and the resurrection so we could have the end, eternal life.  Servitude is leadership, it is true power. 

We lack this in our politics, in our churches, and even in our own communities.  The fabric of our nation is wrapped up in having others serve us.  Jesus created a new kingdom for those who wish to join.  This kingdom is not like democracy.  This kingdom does not look to serve self, but others.  This kingdom rests in the example and power of Jesus the King.  This kingdom is the kingdom of God, and door is opened to all who wish to enter.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Where is Jesus? Where is his Church?

Where would we find Christ today?  If Jesus came to live on the earth again in this age, where would we find the Son of God spending his time? 

Certainly would find him among the poor.  But would we find Jesus in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen?  Could we find him volunteering his time at a food pantry or rescue mission?  Could Jesus be hitting up the street corners with beggars handing out food and blankets with his 12 disciples in tow?  With what kind of poor would we find Jesus?  Would he be around those who lost their jobs due to downsizing?  Would we find him with the poor who greatly mismanaged their resources?  Would we find him with the poor who spend their money on alcohol and drugs?  Would he invest his time with those who succumb to poverty due to their languid attitudes accepting welfare, disability, food stamps, and assistance when they are able to work?

We know Jesus would certainly spend time with sinners as he frequently did 2,000 years ago.  But with what kind of sinners would Jesus associate?  Would we find Jesus frequenting the local pub, The Checkered Flag, down the street to share stories with the debaucheries of society?  Would he converse with those working in the red light districts as they try to attract clients and turn tricks?  Would he visit the corrupted CEO's, the Bernie Madoff's in prison?  Would he ride into gang territory and share the love of God with Hell's Angels?  Would he knock on the dilapidated homes turned into meth labs for a visit?  Would he visit the East Side of Indianapolis known for its violence, and rampant drug use? 

We know Jesus would enter into intense discussion about the nature and will of God.  But what kind of leaders would Jesus disagree with the most?  Would he oppose the Catholic Priests, the Baptist ministers, the Episcopal clergy, the elders, deacons, or lay Christians around the world?  Would he argue against the Imams, Clerics, Rabbis, and other leaders of religious organizations?

We know Jesus avoided the political spotlight as much as possible.  Would Jesus again avoid the liberal and conservative pulpits and platforms?  Would Jesus preach a new political association that rises about right wing left wing dominance?  Would he preach a new Constitution, a new Bill of Rights, a new government that was not democratic, or republic, but monarchy in nature where God ruled?  Would he criticize the monetary and violent powers we utilize like he did under the shadow of Rome?

Jesus' message was simple "The time has come.  The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15).  What time are we in now?  Is the kingdom of God not now here?  What would Jesus call us to repent from?  What sin must we ask forgiveness today?  What path have we lost that must again be found? 

These questions are important to ask.  The reason we ask them is because Christ is here among us.  The answer to these questions is resoundingly yes!  Jesus would do all these things, and even more.  The Church is the body of Christ, if we would find Jesus in such places, with such people, preaching such messages, should we not also find his Church there as well?