Blog

The Post-church, Church Part III

Finally, I’m getting to my point. I will restate my original premise. The Church in America is dying (and has already died in Europe). Unless God works in some mighty way, I don’t see how the hemorrhage of Millennials and iGens will stop and after this present generation is gone, the church buildings will be up for sale as museum spaces. I have this pessimism, not because the challenge is so hard, but because there is a lack of will to do anything about it. I hope that I’m proven wrong.

The reason there is a lack of will, is human nature. We humans, to simplify and organize life, we create methods. Methods mature into traditions. The traditions is where behavior is considered automatic around some mutually accepted framework or mores. Traditions age into culture. Culture takes over all aspects of our lives, whether it is the corporate culture of our employer, our local club subculture, and certainly our concept of church. The problem is, to preserve this culture, we tend to institutionalize this culture as absolute.

Image result for millennials

We have been warned to not do this with the way that we think, Christianly. One of my favorite verse is Col 2:8, See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. Despite this warning, it is very hard to escape culture. Like my previous example of wanting to create a “bar-church,” the response I got was anger, pure anger (in other words, a subdued rage).

First, we must discriminate between the baby and the cultural bathwater. If our church culture is mostly bathwater, then it is extraneous, but not necessarily evil. But if it stands in the way of adapting to be inclusive to these younger people, then it could be evil.

Don’t Blame the Customer!

At this juncture, I must be clear. Whenever I start this conversation within the walls of a traditional church, they start to misinterpret what I am trying to say. I’m not saying their sense of church is wrong. I’m not saying we need to tear down the ancient institutions that they love. As long as they are alive on this earth, the old structures (both physical and organizationally) can remain to meet their needs and wants. The older generation should not feel threatened. What I am saying is, don’t force the younger generations to conform to your ideals of good church. They have already rejected that culture. Don’t take it personal.

The chatter, which I often hear from my generation, is to blame the younger people. They criticise them on the rejection of our culture. But we are tempted to make it a moral issue. The best example is the negative label of the Millennials as “snowflakes.” I see them very differently. I see values and morals that exceed my generation. They have less tolerance for bigotry than the Christians of my age. They have more respect for God’s grand creation. I could on and on.

But to blame them would be akin to the Coke corporation creating a new drink. They give away free samples across the country. They put millions of dollars into advertisement into this new product. Then, no one wants it. It taste like cat pee. So, in this metaphor, the Coke company gets really angry at their customers and calls then names. “Idiots, don’t know a good drink when they have it.” Or, “the customers are too lazy to enjoy our new drink.” But the real Coke company would never do this. They are too smart.

Natural Christianity

What I call “natural Christianity” in my book Butterflies in the Belfry, is that very raw form of original Christianity. To find it, simply read about Jesus’s ministry on this earth, without seeing it through our cultural spectacles. So, Jesus wouldn’t be walking around with his hands folded and his head surrounded by a halo. He also wouldn’t be speaking in poetic or mystical rhyme. Think of an organic Jesus, a man who walks on this physical earth like any man. Look at his relationships with his disciples. They hung out together, they ate together, and learned from him in the context of real life. It was relational. That’s it. That’s the baby. That’s the essence of the church. A relationship with other people, centered around the person and teachings of Christ. This is not what the Millennials and iGens are rejecting. They are rejecting the bathwater, the institution.

There must be a great resistance to adding to this raw center, at least not adding from what now exist. Allow the Millennials and iGens determine if they want to add any extraneous. I suspect that they would not choose a brick and mortar church or professional staff. They would not create new programs or projects. This would release them from the time and money it takes to sustain such a huge human institution. From my conversations with this group, they would not have the traditional Sunday morning worship service. If this seems strange, then go back to the raw ministry of Christ.

I have said many times, if the present generation could meet Jesus, they would adore him. What he teaches is still the ideal of what they desire … at least for the most part. This generation has a keen sense of fairness, and justice. They have a deep compassion for those disadvantaged. They devalue the material wealth that my generation was taught to strive for. If the real Jesus was known, he would instantly go viral.

The danger with such a loose interpretation of the Christian Church, is deviation from true Christian doctrines. However, with the present system of strict theological training, well-worked out theological positions unique to each domination, and the great emphasis on Bible study and Sunday school, most churches still get it wrong at points, some very wrong. There is probably more danger with having too much certainty, in areas that God is not so clear.

So, the essences of Christianity could be simplified in the same way that Robert Fulghum simplified life in his classic book, All I really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten. God has done this in His Ten Commandments and in the verse, which I often quote, Micah 6:8, He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. That’s it! I can see the hair starting to stand on the backs of some people’s necks. They are getting pissed.

I could add a few caveats to the absolute, theological, limits of Christianity, outside which, it would not be considered Christian. I would lay out the boundaries as the following;

  • God exist. He (pronoun without sexual identity as God doesn’t have a penis or a vagina) is personal Vs simply an impersonal universal force. Such a universal force is typical of pantheistic ways of thinking, which are not Christian.
  • Jesus was given by God, fully human and fully God, coming to take away the consequences of the failures of the whole world, and teaching us how to behave within a society.
  • All humans have failures, and all who have confidence in Christ, have been fully exonerated.

That’s it. I will not be tempted to add more to the simple essence.

So, let the Millennials create their interpretation of the church, with the freedom to meet whenever they meet. To get to know the real Jesus of history and to put their confidence in his being and his method of living.

The Post-church, Church Part II

I have thought about this a lot. I’ve spent years working on answers and trying to put some of these answers into practice, but without success. While my focus now are the Millennials and the iGens, which includes kids born during the 30 years that span from 1982 to 2012, I will share a true story at a time when the concern was the “unchurched” in general. If you are wondering why my shift to this younger group in my concerns, go back and read my Part I of this series.

In the early to mid-1990s, I was an elder in a mid-sized (300 member) evangelical church. There were several articles published during that time, which focused on the growing number of “unchurched” in America. Because of this, it became a concern of our church, especially the pastor. We started to brainstorm what we, as a church, could do about this problem. There were thoughts about door-to-door evangelistic thrust. One idea (not mine) was a float representing our church in the Forth of July parade. That idea came to reality as an exercise in vanity (in my humble opinion). It required a lot of work.

There was another effort and it was to create a preschool program for the public. That project was probably more successful. It took a huge amount of work, getting a state license, getting background checks and etc. for those involved. But I think it did bear some fruit.

However, I felt that something was very seriously wrong in our thinking as I observed the discussions month after month. I suggested that we had to think far outside the box to have any hope of reaching this group of people. Most of this group of unchurched had been raised in the church, but had voted with their feet to leave. We can’t bring them back by doing the same things they had originally rejected.

I met with the pastor and described a scheme I came up with, to reach these people. I tried to put myself in the shoes of those who were not coming to church on Sunday morning. I had spent years researching church structure, from the first churches during the Ante Pacem (time before 313 AD, when Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire). Much of this research became part of the base of my book Butterflies in the Belfry. What I discovered was a wide spectrum of church experiences in the early history, and very few mandates for church structure. However, culture (not always so pure culture) had a drastic impact on the Church over time.

In my plan, I wanted to go to where the unchurched lived (metaphorically). I decided to create a “church” that met in the main town bar on Saturday night (their busiest night). I went to that bar several times and just sat around and spoke to people. I spoke to the bar manager and described my idea. He was intrigued (this was in a relative conservative area when Christians did not drink alcohol and would never, ever be seen in a bar), and gave me the permission to do this. The bar had a line of walled booths, with sliding doors for private parties. Each booth area would hold about 5-7 people. My plan was to show up each week, take a booth. I envisioned that this is a new kind of church would have a picture of beer on the table and where people were welcomed to sit and talk about their personal lives. I had already been listening and most were already talking about their personal lives, especially after a few drinks.

Image result for church in a bar

In my bar church, after we discussed each other’s personal problems; being laid off, wife leaving, kids on drugs, or whatever, we would then turn to scripture in an impromptu manner. This was at least my plan.

With the pastor’s support, I presented this idea to the rest of the elders. The point I wanted to make was that this bar church, would be a “church plant” by this established evangelical church. This bar church would be under the supervision of the evangelical church’s board of elders.

However, as I was sharing, I saw the look of displeasure on the faces of many of my fellow elders. Bob, the chair of the elder board, had an angry look on his face. He could not believe what he was hearing. He saw a bar as a filthy place of Satan’s domain (not listening to my content).  He finally asked me point blank, “Will you require these people to come to church on Sunday morning?”

I responded, “Require? How can I require them to do anything, they’re adults? No, for most the Saturday night group will be their church.”

The board of elders, overwhelming, voted to not support my idea. I gave up on that project before I got it off the ground. But I decided to take another direction.

I noticed that the public library had adult education courses on math, history, how to do your taxes, and etc. I decided to create a class on, the comparison of the philosophical perspectives between eastern (Hinduism, Buddhism and New Age Spirituality) vs western (Christian) traditions. To my surprise the library allowed this class. I did this class completely on my own for 12 weeks without even mentioning to people at my church, fearing their rejection. I thought it was successful.

But I started to become disillusioned with the traditional church. This was after I had a crisis of faith a decade earlier and had come back to the church. But I felt this sense of hopelessness growing. It really was a problem of wineskins (look that up if you are not familiar with the concept).

I must admit that something is wrong with me. I am a thinker, writer and idea person. But I am poor at implementing ideas. I lack the gift of charisma and the ability to get people, especially church people, to follow my ideas. So, I gave up. I did focus on writing my book with the hopes of reaching those, like me, who have become disillusioned with the faith or the Church.

Image result for millennials in a coffee shop

So now, back to the Millennials and the iGens. That group, as I have shared in m previous posting, is leaving the church in droves. The American church is on death row. We must first look at the whys. Because I don’t want to take up more time here writing about all the whys, and because others have done a good job writing about them, I will give two links where this question is answered: 1 (http://www.recklesslyalive.com/12-reasons-millennials-are-over-church/ ) and 2 ( https://exponential.org/5-things-millennials-wish-the-church-would-be/ ). From these links and other places, I want to just focus on a few of  the important reasons. Then I want to translate this into what the post-church, Church, should look like in my next post.

I keep hearing the following three themes as to why the young are leaving; A) lack of authenticity or honestly. B) not making important, what Jesus made important, C) not having the freedom to discuss tough things at church, and D) being far too demanding of our time.

Evangelicalism, as just about all previous Christian traditions eventually become quite dishonest, emotionally. Everyone on the church wants, so much, to look like decent people that they try their best to bury their faults. They feel that they must have the exact right doctrines and culturally approved behavior. It becomes such an artform of pretense, that the younger generations see through it and it makes them nauseous. They want no part of the Christian games.

They also see a real inconsistency between Biblical ideals and the group’s aspirations. The teachings of Jesus are about compassion, caring, sacrifice and the devaluing of the material (meaning money, not the physical earth). The Bible sums up its greatest agenda in the verse, Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Yet, the American church is often consumed in political conservatism. This conservatism now means hawkish on war, anti-people who don’t follow your sub-cultural mores, and now, “anti vagrant.” I use vagrant in the broadest terms to include refugees, homeless, immigrants, mentally ill, drug addicted, etc. This political conservatism also values material possessions. The young people see clearly the contrast between what Jesus taught and what the church often emphasizes.

The other things that relates to this idea of authenticity, is the importance of talking about hard things within the context of the church.

When I was in Minnesota, I was the main adult Sunday school teacher in a very large church. For some strange reason, as soon as I came to our little island, I was not seen as qualified to be a teacher. I am often seen as unspiritual because I don’t follow the evangelical mores.  I am also not an effective self-promoter. The last time I attempted to teach a Sunday school class, was a high school class at my previous church. I wanted to have a discussion on the real reasons the kids believed in God and in the Christian faith. I discovered, as I expected, that most of the class believed in Christianity only because they “ought to.” In other words, they were raised in the church and that was their only basis of faith. That is a horrible foundation of faith and it will not sustain anyone.

I thought the class was going swell until the pastor got work and quickly ended my Sunday school teaching career, once and for all. For reasons that I can’t explain, my new church has never allowed me to teach Sunday school, even though I had asked to several times when I first came to it. But I digress.

But, I believe these younger generations are desperate for this stirring of their thinking. If it is not stirred within the walls of a church, where possible good answer can be given, it will certainly be stirred outside the church.

The last reason, which I want to discuss, is the modern church’s approach to any problem is a very labor-intensive project. The Fourth of July Parade float is one example. This younger generation wants to avoid getting roped into time-consuming task after task after task, and these tasks make up virtually all modern churches. The problem is, within the church setting as compared to a social club, is that it is often turned into a spiritual matter. “We need you to help the in the church’s basket-weaving ministry, which meets three times a month. We’re sure that God would be very disappointed if you turn down all of these opportunities to get involved.”

In the next post I will finally get into what the new church must look like if this younger generation is to be saved (I don’t mean “saved from hell’s fire”). But I will say at this juncture is that this new church must stop approaching every problem with time-consuming projects. This generation would much rather have a spontaneous relationship-centered meeting. A group of this new church people and their unbelieving friends, spontaneously going out to a coffee shop or bar and talking about their lives, rather than an “evangelistic thrust” project.

Mike

 

P.S. Once again I only had time to type as fast as I could. I will proofread tomorrow. If I had to proofread every writing project before I posted it, I would never have the chance to write.

 

The Post-church, Church; Part I, Restating the Problem

 

The Christian church (small “c” intended) is dying, at least in the western parts of the world. It is inevitable. When I say this, it pisses off all my Christian friends.

This whole idea came home to me once again recently, when I expressed this concern within the walls of a church. The response was denial and . . . well not quite hostility . . . but, an unease toward my comments. It wasn’t just seeing me as the bearer of bad news, but a bad guy, who was trying to stir up trouble with cynical news. This is the attitude I have always faced when I have attempted to have this discussion from within the church. That’s why I have given up. It left within me this haunting feeling that the church cannot be saved. It is as if you could go back in a time machine and board the Titanic. As soon as she struck the iceberg you would be screaming for people to board the lifeboats, but they in turn, lift their champagne glasses into the air and dismiss you as a negative person who was unlearned in the fine arts of nautical engineering. For truly the Titanic was indestructible . . . or was it?

Image result for old church ruins

Most of us have seen the statistics from the Barna Group1 and Pew studies.2  They show a decline in church goers in general, evangelicals in particular, and basically all labels for Christians in America. The great exodus has already occurred in other parts of the world, such as Europe. In these new studies, not only does it show a mass exodus from the church of children who were raised in the church, but—different from the past—these young people are not returning when they get older and “settle down.”

I have said before that the church, which I presently attend, is one of the healthiest I have ever been associated with. I am not a big fan of the American Sunday morning church service tradition, but I enjoy this church’s Sunday morning service more than any before. I think this church has the most dynamic youth program than I have seen in a long time. The youth leaders and pastors work hard. Yet, like all other churches, this church has a big hole in the 20 to 39-year-old group.  Sometimes, like at holidays, some of the twenty-something children come home and attend, but they do not associate with any church the rest of the year. So, this means this church will not be viable in 20-30 years, when us old farts are all gone.

When I have been able to get past the first couple of sentences about this problem, (at the last 4-5 churches I have attended), the verbiage that I hear in return is always the same. First, there is a defensive statement how that particular church has a fantastic youth program. Then, there are comments of how bad the youth are, in general, today. Next, they quickly attempt to put the blame on anyone, but ourselves. It’s the media they are exposed to.  It is the non-Christian colleges they attend. It is the temptations that youth face now. It might be cell phones or Face Book (I think the Millennials have moved beyond FB by now). I grow distance, as the chatter continues, knowing that I am not making sense to them. Then, the conversation always ends with them telling me that when a child is raised in a good Christian home, he or she never leaves the faith. This is wishful thinking and simply not true. Being unsinkable was the wish of the Titanic passengers too. The same rate (>80%) of leaving applies to the kids from the best Christian families, hauled week after week, to the best youth groups. I see this both in the studies and in personal experience.

This simplistic attitude is exhibited by the “Answers in Genesis” website. Unlike many, they at least do see the problem, but blamed in on the kid’s training, as shown by this statement, “The above results [same ones I quoted] are alarming. They indicate that there has been a failure on the part of Christian homes and churches to teach the Christian faith. The results of this research have been compiled into a new book that we will release in the fall.” 3

I had this same conversation recently with a good friend, who is an elder in a PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) church. He pointed out that this was not true in his church, where they have a very dynamic and growing 20-30 year-old group. He implied, or I wrongly thought he was implying, that it was because of being a good denomination. However, I think the reason his church is doing so well, (and I’m glad they are), is that they just sit off campus of a major university where 18,000 on-campus students reside. This is also in the Bible-belt, where church attendance is the highest in general. But the vast majority of the 18,000, maybe 17,000 +, don’t go to any church. I will also give him credit that his denomination is one of the few growing churches in America, at least for the past 4 years (previous it, too was in decline).  However, to be fair, his denomination as a whole is also the oldest one in America (average age 59) with the least number of members in the 20-30 age group, (see figure 1). While his church is oldest, they barely beat out my own denomination, which is the second oldest.

It is too early to measure, but I suspect that the exodus of the Millennials and the iGens (those born from 1995 to 2012), has greatly accelerated in the past few years. During the election of 2016, it became clear that the younger generations did not share the values of the evangelicals. In 2016, 27% of Millennials identified as being Republican and 26% as conservative. As few as 7% of the non-white Millennials voted for Trump and at the top end, 32% of non-educated, white male Millennials voted for Trump. At the same time, 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. This separation of values can only fuel the exodus from the evangelical churches.4

In Part II I will start to look into the future of what the church of 2050 will have to look like, in order to survive.

FIGURE 1

Age structure and median age of U.S. religious groups

1 https://www.barna.com/research/americans-divided-on-the-importance-of-church/#.V-hxhLVy6FD

2 http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

3 https://answersingenesis.org/christianity/church/yes-we-are-losing-millennials/

4 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/09/exit-polls-show-white-evangelicals-voted-overwhelmingly-for-donald-trump/?utm_term=.7579f79228df

Waters of Bimini–Under Serious Consideration by Major Publisher

Many of us are writers-wannabe. We are like the many teenagers who want to be NBA, rock, or Movie stars. Very, very few make it. It is a hard road.  J. K Rowling talks about many (lost count) of publishers that rejected her first Harry Potter manuscript.  I’m reading John Updike’s autobiography now and he is that point, in the story of his life,of craving to be a writer.  I know that it is the greatest aspiration of my life.  It is not to make money (only in my dreams) but to break even so I can continue to write. It cost at least $5,000 to get a book to the public. My previous book has sold hundreds and my royalties are around $500. So, you can see that using a small press (were the author funds the printing) is not a sustainable enterprise, unless you are wealthy. I am not.

Waters of Bimini is scheduled to be published in the winter by a small, local publisher. But this puts the book in a small corner and it will cost me far more money than I will ever make from it.  So, I did start approaching agents and major publishers, as I have for other books. Of the major publishers, only Penguin will entertain any new author, and that is under their science fiction label. They have thousands submitted each year, and they publish 2-4 novice authors.

I submitted Waters of Bimini to them in July. They said they would get back in 90 days. I never heard from them so I had to inquire (I was assuming they looked at the first page and threw it into the recycling bin–yes, they accept only hard copies of the manuscript). Yesterday, I did hear from them. I heard that this is taking so long, because they are seriously considering buying my manuscript.

Getting a book published by a major house would be like winning the lottery. Not the money part. The payment would still be very low for a new author. However, it would mean that I can keep on writing. There is nothing on earth I would rather do than write. Now, I have to write, as I’m doing now, when I am very busy working my day job. I have constant distractions. But, if I could make a little money by writing, I could focus on it. I could cut back on my day job and have more time to focus on writing . . . without interruption.

Okay God, are you listening? Help me get a publishing contract.

 

Why Pro-lifers Should Not Vote for Moore

I am reposting an old blog post from the presidential election last year, because I keep hearing people in Alabama saying that they must vote for Roy Moore because they are Christians and pro-life. This morning Donald Trump posted they same, that they have a moral obligation to Moore because he is pro-life.

Disclaimer: I am an independent. I have mostly voted Republican in the past. However, at this point in history, I believe that Republican Party is at a dismal place morally and would be happy if it just collapsed and vanished.

So, it is timely to review this part of the blog post once again:

Isn’t the Republican Party God’s Party?

How did the Republicans become part of the Evangelical movement? Believe it or not, prior to 1980, the Democratic Party was most closely aligned with Evangelicalism. Jimmy Carter (elected in 1976 and defeated in 1980), was the first self-declared “Born Again” candidate. He won the 1976 presidential election thanks to the help of the vote of the Evangelical bloc. That year in politics was called the “Year of the Evangelical” and that bloc grabbed the attention of both parties. The Republicans worked hard to steal the Evangelical vote over the subsequent four years because of their clout. They were successful and by 1980, the republicans used the Evangelical bloc to elect Ronald Reagan.

How Did the Republicans Become the Party of Evangelicals?

My personal Christian hero is the late theologian Francis Schaeffer. He was the one voice crying in the wilderness in the 1960s-1970s that in our post-Christian cultures, we Christians should push against the loss of human dignity. He pointed out that the most vulnerable in our societies, the poor, the unborn, the old, the disabled, and the minorities would be the first to lose their humanity in the post-modern world. He made this point very clear in his films, Whatever Happened to the Human Race and How Shall We Then Live. In the first film, he used a very graphic illustration of hundreds of dolls laying in the salt on the Dead Sea to illustrate the horrors that the unborn face in saline infusion abortions. He put this issue on the map for Christians and quickly Evangelicals and Catholics alike responded with a healthy concern.

In his book, Crazy for God, Frank Schaeffer (son of Francis) describes how he and his father came to the U.S. from Switzerland to promote the films in the late 1970s. Both he and his father were appalled when they were quickly used as pawns in the secular politics of America. The republicans saw abortion as the key issue they had been looking for to bait and lure in the Evangelical voting bloc into their side. This is not a conspiracy theory but is an accepted part of the political history of the U.S.

Over time, the republicans reeled in these voters and started to blend conservative political ideas (see the 9 principles above) with rightful Christian concerns about the dignity of human life. The democrats do the same with their special interest groups and voting blocs.

Only a couple of these principles have any Biblical connection whatsoever. You can argue, as Schaeffer did, that in defense of the dignity of humanity, we must stand on pro-life principles. However, having read all of Schaeffer’s books (some many times), listened to hundreds of hours of his lectures, worked with his organization including his friends and family, I am convinced that he defined “Pro-life” in a much broader range than just the Republican narrow label of abortion. Along with protecting the unborn, if Schaeffer were here today, he would confirm that the Biblical perspective also advocates for loving people of all genders, races, religions and sexual orientation. Against criticism of the Presbyterian Church in the 1960s, he invited gays to come and stay at LAbri in Switzerland. His son will testify, that he showed them great respect. He was also very concerned about how we treated the earth and if he was here today, I am confident that he would be concerned about global warming and fighting against corporate misuse of the planet. The Republican-Christians-American National view is the opposite. The same is true for his view of immigrants. It is a contradiction to love the unborn but to hate the born who are immigrants or who are Arabs or Moslems.

I don’t believe this pro-Israel view is one of the true Biblical-Republican principles. The pro-Israel idea was not part of the Church for its first 1800 years.  This notion was introduced by a shady lawyer named Cyrus I. Scofield, in the late-1800s. He persuaded Americans that Israel was still part of God’s unique plan (and sold a lot of Bibles with that in it). Evangelicals adopted that new viewpoint. By seeing humans in their dignity, the real Biblical concept is to treat all humans with respect, Arab and Jew.

In the real Bible, Colossians says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” When the Evangelicals absorbed the other non-Biblical principles into their theology, it was a huge mistake.  Now, people like this preacher on the radio, can no longer find the line of demarcation between simple Biblical concepts and Republican-Christians-American National ideals.

I am not saying the Democrats are any better in this process but I just wanted to debunk the manipulative language by the Republican Party and some Christian leaders that you must vote for Trump because he is the Christian candidate. The DNC cannot be trusted any more than the GOP as exhibited by them favoring Hillary (rather than Sanders) during their primary.

How Can You Vote for Hillary as Christian?

The first thing that Evangelical friends say to me, “How can you vote for Hillary when she wants to kill babies and Trump wants to save them?” The answer is simple. I try to live in reality as a comprehensively pro-life supporter (meaning that I support all lives and all of creation because they are made by God). If you look at saving the unborn, then a vote for Hillary makes sense. If you look at statistics (real statistics by the CDC and not political-motivated-statistics on either side) you will see a downward trend in abortions (figure 1). This downward trend started during the presidency of Bill Clinton with a bump-up during the Republican George H. Bush term in 1990 and a second bump up during the Republican George W. Bush term in 2005.

abortion-draft

If you are talking about saving the lives of the unborn, the trend has been more downward under Democratic presidents. How can this be true if they are Pro-choice?  The reason is that in reality, the 15-year-old Evangelical pastor’s daughter is having sex with her boyfriend whether the pastor likes it or not (and would probably be the last to know). If she has a harder time getting access to birth control, then there is a higher likelihood for her getting pregnant. Knowing that her pregnancy would make her parents look bad to their church, it is more likely she will get a quiet abortion. I have met girls with these stories many times in my medical practice.

Trump and the Republicans want to defund Planned Parenthood because of the abortion issue. This would cause the rate of abortions to go up and I’m pro-life and do not want that. Of course, you can dream about a world where the under-aged and the unmarried are not having sex, but unless you can create that world, sex, pregnancy, and abortions will happen. You cannot create this idealistic world by legislation. It must be created in the hearts of people who see fidelity as a better way of living. Christians have lost the hearts of mainstream America. It did not come about due to some clandestine devil working behind the scenes but due Evangelical hypocrisy.  For example, fighting to block gender-neutral bathrooms claiming that someone would get molested, yet making a man who boasts about molesting women, their political hero, and role model.

Trump implies that he will overturn Roe Vs Wade. I’m sorry that cannot happen and he says it like he says a lot of things, to get votes.  There is just no way to revert to the pre-Roe Vs Wade world. If several Republican terms of presidents, and Republicans controlling both houses couldn’t do it over 33 years then Trump can’t do it. He would not pick judges like a dictator. Likewise, it is impossible for Hillary to take away everyone’s guns. Such stories about that being her intentions are very dishonest. She cannot change the constitution.

Under the presidency of Donald Trump, I see the loss of more innocent lives than just the unborn. I suspect that he would be far more likely to get us in wars due to his paranoid fear of looking weak (especially since all of his chest-beating during the election). Since he devalues the lives of other people he would be more prone to use violence against them (drones, bombs) indiscriminately.  Therefore, there will be more terrorism under Trump. You cannot control terrorism with bombs. You can create terrorism with bombs, especially when you are bombing the innocent. He is also unenlightened when it comes to foreign policy. His sound bites are appealing to us who hate terrorism. However, everyone who has spent time in the Middle East, as I have, or knows the history will tell you that the dumbest thing anyone could say is that we want the Arab oil and should take it. This is what the imams at the radical mosques have been saying for years and is one of the chief motivations for terrorism against the west. It is a reckless thing to say and would be impossible to do anyhow due to logistics.

Politics and the Loss of Truth

The last issue I want to talk about is truth. I define truth as that which is. In other words reality. Truth is not a particular teaching of a particular church or political party. So, if God is there, and I believe that he is, he dwells in reality. The more detached we become from reality the more obscure God becomes. I will say clearly that both the Democrats and the Republicans are liars at times. That, unfortunately, is part of the nasty business of politics where you must win at all cost.

It is not just my opinion, but the opinion of everyone who does unbiased fact checking that Hillary has lied at times (like no classified information being  on her server) but the Trump people have lied much, much more. Most of what Donald Trump says is factually wrong.

There has been a constant spewing of hateful videos to demonize Hillary Clinton. I am perplexed how much hatred there is for Hillary from so-called Christian sources. You cannot hate Hillary whom you see and love God whom you cannot see. These videos are such horrible quality, showing Hillary with poop stains on her pants, of turds coming out of her mouth, of her personally selling arms to terrorists, of rigged voting machines. There has been conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory. This is shameful behavior and in this case, the Democrats have been far godlier than the Republicans in their behavior. I don’t hear Democrats shouting “Lock Donald up!” or “punch him in the face” or “grab her by the pussy” or if they lose the election “it’s rigged.”

So, what about Hillary’s flaws? How could you vote for someone who has done such horrible things? What are the horrible things without the propagandistic twist? I have mentioned the server at home. This was for convenience and not to sell secrets to the Russians (a criminal act).  This was in poor judgment. What else has she been hated for? Benghazi?

Imagine at worse, Hillary was responsible for Benghazi (and the hearings did not prove that) then her error of judgment cost the lives of four outstanding heroes. That is shameful and one of the reasons that I wish there was another candidate running for which I could vote. I respect those who can’t vote at all for this reason.

However, let’s remove the Hillary hate from the Republican agenda. Look at the facts. Most experts, and most Republicans (including Trump), now say the invasion of Iraq was a mistake by George W. Bush. The consequences of his mistake resulted in;  4,486 decent, heroic American soldiers’ deaths, 32,226 soldiers’ wounded (and many wounds are not counted such at PTSD), more than 500,000 Iraqi civilians died, over two million civilians wounded, and America will spend close to 5 trillion dollars paying for that war. Also during Bush’s administration, there were ten embassies attacked and sixty embassy personnel killed. So the republicans say that Hillary should be locked up for Benghazi and they show videos of her with turds coming out of her mouth for making a mistake that cost the lives of 4 great people. George W. Bush caused the lives of a million people, yet somehow he is loved and adored?  This war also created the void, which gave birth ti Isis. Obama didn’t create the group.  I don’t think George W. Bush is the devil. He meant well but was just not very smart. But this is hypocrisy at the greatest level.

So the republicans say that Hillary should be locked up for Benghazi and they show videos of her with turds coming out of her mouth for making a mistake that cost the lives of 4 great people. George W. Bush caused the lives of over a million people, yet somehow he is loved and adored?  This war also created the void, which gave birth to Isis. Obama didn’t create the group.  I don’t think George W. Bush is the devil. He meant well but was just not very smart nor had good judgment. But this is hypocrisy at the greatest level.

So I rest my case in how a good Christian, in good conscience, can vote for Hillary Clinton.  Next time, in four years, we must make sure we have better choices than we do now. There is not a correct candidate to vote, especially this year and no one should be ashamed for making the best choice they can. Vote for Trump if you want. Vote for Hillary. Vote for Johnson and live in peace with that decision. We must all honor who is elected and this hate, especially the hate and misinformation, which is coming from Christians, must stop.

 

 

The Cult of Republicangelicalism

I have said this before and I will say it again, I am non-partisan. I have never been a member of a political party, worked for a candidate or had other interest in political issues. To be candid, I have mostly voted for Republicans, voting for Obama as my first  Democratic vote. However, I have always been concerned about truth especially how how the Church deals with truth. I therefore have been very concerned and vocal about what’s happening in our country at this time.

Tump as Cult leader

Each time I try to express my concerns to my fellow Replublicangelical (Republican Evangelicals) I am immediately labeled as a “liberal,” Democrat or “Hillary lover.” None of those are true.

The most perplexing thing that I grapple with, is how these evangelical friends support Trump so much. He is the antithesis of what we have always been taught as the ideal human character. The things that these Christian friends have said to me is mind boggling. “This whole Russia thing is just a conspiracy put together by the liberal, godless, elite.”  or “Donald Trump is the most truthful and godly president we have ever had.”

These conversations remind me of something that I found equally as perplexing. It was an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. It was with a lady who had written a biography about her experience within a cult. I can’t remember the name of the book, or which cult. But I think it was about David Brandt Berg and Family International. If I had time to do more research, I would try to figure it out.

So, in her story, she had had sex with the leaders and pastors within the cult (and had  children by them). Then one evening one of the pastors came to pick up her daughter, who was 10 or 12 years old. The lady knew that the request was to have sex with her daughter, but she still let her go with him. Today it is hard for her to imagine how she did this. She said, in her eyes at the time, this pastor was the most godly person on earth and anything he said or wanted had to be from God.

So, this was a good window into the psychology of a cult. It is dawning on me, that this new unholy alliance between the Republican Party, especially the present administration and the far-right political movement, and the evangelicals, is behaving like a cult.

Friends, who are smart, who were kind and humble, now believe the most ridiculous things and cannot see reality, which is right in front of them. Donald Trump is the stereotypical, champion cult leader. So now, I approach these friends in the same way as I would if they had been taken in by a cult. With love, kindness, and soft reasoning. You cannot hate someone out of a cult . . . such as arguing with them day and night. But you can, by the grace of God, win them back into reality over time.  Below I will post the typical psychological traits of a cult, which have been established by people who work with ex-cult members.

CULT CHARACTERISTICS

by Janja Lalich and Michael Langone

Concerted efforts at influence and control lie at the core of cultic groups, programs, and relationships. Many members, former members, and supporters of cults are not fully aware of the extent to which members may be manipulated, exploited, or even abused. The following list of social-structural, social-psychological, and interpersonal behavioral patterns commonly found in cultic environments may help you assess a particular group or relationship.

Compare these patterns to the situation you were in (or in which you, a family member, or friend is currently involved). This list may help you determine if there is cause for concern. Bear in mind that this list is not meant to be a “cult scale,” or a definitive checklist to determine if a specific group is a cult; this is not so much a diagnostic instrument as it is an analytical tool.

  • The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader, and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
  • Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
  • Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, or debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
  • The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (e.g., members must get permission to date, change jobs, or marryor leaders prescribe what to wear, where to live, whether to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
  • The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and its members (e.g., the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avataror the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
  • The group has a polarized, us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
  • The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders, or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
  • The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (e.g., lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
  • The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and control members. Often this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
  • Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
  • The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
  • The group is preoccupied with making money.
  • Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
  • Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leaveor even consider leavingthe group.

 

John Updike: Redemption

I’m reading John Updike’s Self-Consciousness. He is a poetic writer. I have to share one paragraph. This is his autobiography, so he is telling his own story. He suffered terribly from psoriasis and it seemed to take a big part of his energy to fight the disease. In those days, the sun was the best treatment. Living in New England, the winters were brutal to his skin, so he started to take weeks or months in the Caribbean to find relief. I wanted to share this paragraph from chapter two, At War with my Skin.

 

To be forgiven, by God: this notion, so commonly mouthed in shadowy churches, was for me a tactile actuality as I lay in my loathed hide under that high hard pellet, that suspended white explosion, of a topical sun. And the sun’s weight on my skin always meant this to me: I was being redeemed, hauled back into mankind, back from deformity and shame. The sun was like God not only in His power but also in the way He allowed Himself to be shut out, to be evaded. Yet if one were receptive, He could find you even at the bottom of a well; one could board a plane in a blizzard, bounce for a few hours in the fuselage’s pasted tunnel, slide far down the lines of longitude, and get out, and He would be there, waiting.

Moore and People at Our Door

I had two things on my mind this week. The most evangelical politician in America (if you look at his agenda) is Roy Moore. I can remember, even in my evangelical days of the 1980s and early 90s, that Judge Moore was known as a great champion of the Christian cause. That was a code word for 1) against homosexuals, 2) for guns, 3) against liberal atheism (such as the establishment in Hollywood), 4) against abortion, and 5) against feminism. These, were the issues that we were taught that God was concerned about. We did not realize that this was a narrative that was created by the conservative, political, movement to entice evangelicals to join them . . . in votes.

I don’t know for sure if Judge Moore is guilty. There is strong evidence that he is, as I read the articles. I was also greatly disappointed in his interview on Fox where he had a hard time remembering if he dated teenaged girls in his thirties and if he did, he had their mother’s permission. To me, that was condemning. If you were to ask me or the 99.99% of men I know, if we dated or tried to date teenaged girls in our thirties, or even in our late twenties, we would all say with great confidence, “Hell no!”

But, once again, the evangelical church wants to come to his defense. Why? Because he has been such a strong supporter of the evangelical agenda over the decades. But are those really Christian standards?  Does Jesus really hate the gays, and I mean hate. The evangelical attitude that I remember was clearly hate.

Once again, just like with Trump, the Evangelical church as been duped and brain-washed to the point that they cannot see truth. They don’t want to seek truth anymore. It is no longer an issue of political party. There are many Christian Republicans who have not taken the bait.

Hearing about Judge Moore’s personal history,  apparently he was always a man of hard-core (meaning tough) standards. From the time he was in the military (a very strong disciplinary) through his years as a lawyer and attorney general. He was tough as nails. Usually this position, if you look from Freud’s perspective, is a position of great insecurity, much like Donald Trump. We you have great personal insecurities, you act out by condemning, harshly, those who are not like you. This is almost always combined with a narcissistic slant, that leaves you totally blind to your own faults. It’s not partisan. Bill Clinton was like this. One of the most disciplined Christian leaders that I knew, when I was in graduate school and involved with campus ministry, was also having affairs with college girls and he was in his forties. He had no remorse because he saw himself (I think) as so important to God that God allowed him to behave like that.

The second issue was that we got to church late this morning. It is a big, healthy church with about 200-300 in attendance. Standing outside the door of our church were two protesters. I could only observe  them from a block away because, despite my desire to talk to them, they took down their stuff and left before I got there. If I have it right, the man was video-taping people walking into our church and the lady had a large sign saying that those who enter that church are on “the road to hell,” and then she had two verses ( I couldn’t read them from my distance).  The great irony is that our pastor is preaching on grace and how there should be unity among God’s people.

I can, –barely–relate to these protestors. When I was in college I could see one of my friends doing the same, such as going to a “liberal church” and telling them that they were all going to hell. We would do so, thinking that we were being prophets acting on God’s behalf.  The the Freudian view is that we were proud. We thought that were the only ones smart enough and good enough to know the real truth and everyone else were either idiots, or sinners (thus on the path to hell). It would make us feel good, stroking our ego, to have such a protest.  I think Judge Moore would have approved.

But what about the Alabama girls? It must do great harm to a 14 year-old girl, still a child in many ways, losing their innocence to a 30 something year old man’s lust. Give them grace.

 

Writing Transition, from Christian, to Fiction

When I wrote Butterflies in the Belfry, I thought it could be the first step in a long series of thoughtful books from a Christian perspective. I had mentioned in other places I already had titles in my mind such as the A Christian View of Nature. I also wanted to write a series on the dark gifts. I only use the word dark because others would assume that they are dark, but they are not. For example, The Gift of Fear, The Gift of Doubt, The Gift of Anger,  and The Gift of Grief.  However, I was a bit naive about Christian writing.

People who know theology and I respect (such as some people that I personally know plus the likes of N.T. Wright) read the manuscript and seemed to indicate that it was well-written and important. However, I had a very hard time promoting it. Most Christian bookstores didn’t want it (fear that it could be unorthodox) and the secular bookstores didn’t see the point. While I sold hundreds, I didn’t sell thousands or tens of thousands. I had sold thousands of a previous book, A Kernel in the Pod. Those who read Butterflies in the Belfry, liked it. But so many were fearful to read it, fearful that it would challenge what they consider “Biblical” or orthodox beliefs. Then, while the book should be an interesting read for all people, the non-Christian crowd,  including my own non-Christian friends, saw the book as weird or reading it would be like inviting the Jehovah Witnesses into your house.

The other thing that I did not consider is that Christian writers are a dime a dozen. You have 500,000 thousand pastors and 200,000 Christian professors in America and many of them are writers or writers wanna-bes. So the field is crowded. For all of these reasons, I am putting my Christian writing ambitions on the back burner.

My novel, Waters of Bimini, is a new direction. I’ve always enjoyed writing fiction. I enjoy it more than nonfiction. With Butterflies in the Belfry, I had to go through layers of fact checking, including lawyers fact checking, before a publisher would send it to print. Not so with fiction. I can imagine any world that I want.

I have been asked if my novel would then fall into the genre of “Christian Fiction.”  Not in a heartbeat. I detest , so-called Christian Fiction. It is like the Hallmark Channel. It is a world that is woven of only positive things, lollipops and sweetness.

I tried to present a novel manuscript to Christian publishers back in the 1990s (a children’s book). I was sent a list of standards by each publishing house. Those standards included the rules (for acceptance). These rules included that the story has no “bad words,” no reference to sex, no alcohol, no smoking, and the list went on and on. The worst point was the story had to have a happy ending. I did challenge an editor at one of the big Christian publishing houses. I made the point that C.S. Lewis, the archetype of Christian fiction writers, used drinking, smoking , and the lack of happy endings, at least on this earth. That editor wrote back that the problem was in their market. If they published books that did not follow these rules, the evangelical community would not buy the book and Christian bookstores would not carry it.

However, the problem with Christian books is that they do not live in the real world. If you do not live in the real world, then you cannot see the face of God clearly. If God is there, He dwells in the real world.

So, while I consider myself a Christian and therefore anything I write or do has to be defined by that, my fiction writing is not “Christian” as in the American genre, by any measure of the term. Waters of Bimini, and future books, will reflect reality as best as I can, including the darkness that does occur within the real world.