How Evangelicals Can Regain Our Superpowers


When I was four, my mom took me to see Superman II at a drive-in theater. Neither the awesomely bad, late-1970s special effects nor the tinny audio from a speaker hanging on the car door could stop this enthralled little boy from wanting to be Supes.

I jumped off the living room furniture wearing a red cape for the next several years. In spite of new incarnations, to me, Christopher Reeve is still the real Superman, and I’m sure somewhere deep in my psyche there still lives a four-year-old boy ever-aspiring to be a superhero.

In Superman II, the plot thickens when Superman, determined to love Lois Lane as a normal human, steps into a mysterious, clear chamber in the Fortress of Solitude and surrenders his superpowers. He emerges as a very human Clark Kent, but even more vulnerable than he realizes, as he now overestimates his strength. Having only felt super-human confidence his entire life, he fails to realize how weak he really is. On a subsequent dinner date, forgetting he is no longer the Man of Steel, Clark sticks up for Lois and gets bloodied in a bar fight.

Trying to make authentic disciples through a theocratic government

Around the time Superman II was filmed, conservative Christians began enjoying political power in the United States. The Moral Majority (also known as the Religious Right, Values Voters, Christian Right, etc.), led by televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, attempted to legislate their Southern Evangelical version of Christian values. Recently defeated in his support for school segregation, Falwell led others to build a coalition united against women’s rights and gay rights.

You read that last sentence correctly. In 1967, Falwell started a whites-only “Christian” school named Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg, Virginia as an alternative to the recently desegregated public schools of the South. Ten years later, he blamed born-again Christian President Jimmy Carter for making it harder for these “Christian” segregation academies across the South to remain tax-exempt. Throughout the 1980s and all the way up to the presidential election of 2004, conservative evangelical Christians wielded impressive political power.

That level of political influence is now gone, and the memory of it seems as outdated as the Superman II special effects. When a favorite of Christian conservatives, Indiana governor Mike Pence, endured that humiliating press conference last month in which he sheepishly stated that he never expected such a backlash following his signing of Indiana’s so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, he was probably telling the truth…

Read the full article here.



Are Followers of Jesus the Kind of People Who Put Someone to Death?

This Holy Week, Shane Claiborne, Brandan Robertson, and other faith leaders are collecting signatures for a “Christian Faith Leaders Lenten Statement Calling for an End to the Death Penalty.”

You can sign the petition here.

The U.S. is among the last countries on earth to retain the death penalty. Of the 195 countries in the world, the United States is one of only 36 countries (18 percent) still enforcing the death penalty in law and practice. In 2013, the U.S. was the only country in the western hemisphere to carry out an execution. Pharmaceutical companies in the European Union are no longer supplying U.S. states with certain chemicals after they discovered their medicines were being used to put inmates to death.

We are known by the company we keep, and the list of 10 countries executing the most persons annually is one many Americans are not proud to make. The U.S ranked fifth in the number of executions worldwide in 2013, behind China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. The other countries rounding out the top 10 are Pakistan, Yemen, North Korea, Vietnam, and Libya.

The majority of executions in the U.S. take place within a small number of states. In 2014, U.S. states executed 35 persons, with 80 percent of these executions taking place in Missouri, Texas, and Florida. Texas has executed, by far, more inmates than any other state (522 since 1976), comprising 37 percent of all executions in the U.S. Since 1976, 81 percent of all U.S. executions have taken place in the South.

As we approach Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion of Christ, it is worth noting that the Catholic Church opposes the death penalty, as do most mainline Protestant denominations. Evangelicals, not so much. The National Association of Evangelicals continues to support capital punishment…

Read more at On Faith here.


Why Evangelicals Don’t Want Brandan Robertson to Be an Evangelical

Brandan-RobertsonBrandan Robertson is a twenty-two year old blogosphere phenom.

His activism has scattered his posts, photos, and tweets all over social media. Last year, he started an organization called Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, and a few days ago he almost broke the Internet machine when he lost a book deal with an evangelical publisher after coming out as queer.

Brandan is committed to his evangelical faith. He entered Moody Bible Institute a wide-eyed conservative evangelical and left Moody an intellectually honest, progressive evangelical. He maintains a blog called Revangelical “to help others rethink, reform, and renew what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus in our post-modern, post-Christian world.”

There is one reason why the comments sections following his blog posts call to mind the Inquisition, and why he lost his book deal. It’s the same reason that evangelicals don’t want Robertson to keep calling himself an evangelical. If he is allowed to be part of their group, it means they’ve not only lost the culture war, but now they’re losing their own definition of “evangelical”…

(Read the full article at Convergent Books here.)


How Lent Can Help You Reconcile Your Faith and Doubt


Even though Lent is a spiritually attentive time of year, for thinking people, this season of preparation for Easter can also remind us of the unanswered questions we have about faith.

Is there really a God?
Does organized religion do more harm than good?
Why does God allow suffering?
Why is religion in America so political?
Do miracles happen?
Does Bill Maher actually know something we don’t?

And, oh yeah, with Easter approaching…

Was Jesus really raised from the dead?

The loss of faith in America has become a cliché. The percentage of “nones” — those who claim no faith — recently grew by five percentage points in as many years. The Pew Research Center found that a whopping 32 percent of 18-29 year olds are unaffiliated with any religion.

It’s not difficult to understand why.

Pew put it bluntly, “Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”

The so-called “culture war” reminds many (including me) of what they find repulsive about religion. This is in addition to the age-old philosophical questions. The perpetual presence of culturally backward, anti-intellectual religious voices makes it almost embarrassing for curious, forward-leaning people to search for guidance within the vast, rich Jesus tradition of mysticism and spirituality.

I believe in thinking deeply about faith. I’m currently writing a Lent sermon series informed by Richard Dawkins and other New Atheists in which I acknowledge the hardest questions for Christians to answer. At the same time, I find myself agreeing with Frank Schaeffer’s assertion in Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God, “Scientists and theologians can’t offer better than circular arguments, because there are no other kinds of arguments.” As subjective humans, we can’t seem to escape our own presuppositions.

Lent doesn’t answer all of the questions, but perhaps Lent does suggest the initial reason human beings found value in spirituality in the first place.

When Oprah interviewed Rob Bell for Super Soul Sunday last November, she referenced Rob’s suggestion in his book What We Talk about When We Talk About God that the starting place for spirituality is to be open…

Read the full article here at OnFaith, the religion blog hosted by Faithstreet.


How Evangelicals Can End the Culture War

Billy Graham

I remember how tears streamed down my face when I prayed the “sinner’s prayer” with Billy Graham.

I was only 11 years old, sitting on my parents’ couch. About 30 minutes earlier, I had run downstairs from my bedroom out of boredom and flipped through the channels using this new handheld device called a “remote control.” I landed on a channel where a man was talking about Jesus in a stadium full of people. I didn’t know his name until the announcer said it at the end of the program.

After the man sincerely and vividly described the pain Jesus experienced on the cross on my behalf, in my child-like faith, I remember thinking, “If Jesus loves me that much, He deserves for me to love Him back.” Even though I was only 11, while the choir sang “Just As I Am,” my experience with God was real, and it changed my life.

Twenty-seven years later, as a pastor, I feel the same call that Billy Graham felt. It’s the call to be an evangelist. I don’t try to convert people like they have a target on their backs — like Billy, I believe that God’s Spirit is already active all over the world, calling people to Him, and we are all just privileged to present the invitation. In my relationship with Jesus, I have experienced a beautiful beckoning toward loving wholeness that I have never experienced anywhere else — and to me, evangelism is simply sharing my experience.

Evangelism means good news. The name evangelical means something like, “people who want to live according to the good news of Jesus Christ.” While evangelicals will go to the ends of the earth to proclaim the good news in other countries, it is the tragedy of our time that when unreached young people in the United States think of Christians, they do not associate us with good news.

According to Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons in unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity . . . and Why It Matters, when 91 percent of people between the ages of 18-29 hear the word “Christian,” they think “anti-gay.” These are the people evangelicals say they are trying to reach with the Gospel. “Anti-gay” is the number one impression unreached young people have about Christians in the United States.

No matter what your view of same-sex marriage is, I know you agree with me that this is an absolute tragedy. Even worse, it is devastating to the cause of Christ and to the Great Commission. When younger unreached people hear our proclamation of the Gospel, it does not communicate the good news of the grace of God to them.

Evangelicals believe that we are called to obey the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:18-20, the resurrected Jesus says to His followers:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Over the past few years, I have heard less talk about the Great Commission among evangelicals. Talk of the Great Commission has largely been replaced by talk of the “culture war,” “true conservatives,” and the “definition of marriage.” Can anyone disagree that, over the past 30 years, culture war politics have, at least partly, co-opted the cause of Christ among evangelicals?

Especially later in his ministry, Billy Graham avoided partisan politics. He stayed out of the “Religious Right” political fights and even refused to sign the 1978 Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, viewing it as overreaching and unnecessarily divisive among Bible-believing Christians.

Now, many evangelical churches have ceased to proclaim the Gospel to the unreached, and instead function as politically conservative enclaves, where “values voters” huddle together, easily manipulated by politicians for funds and votes.

Traditionally, evangelicals have believed in the forward advancement of the Kingdom of God and in the life-changing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t retreat from society in apocalyptic fear and self-righteous entrenchment. Doug Pagitt has reminded me that reactionary separatism was a feature of the fundamentalism that Harold Ockenga’s neo-evangelicals rejected in favor of cultural engagement the 1940s. Evangelicals have a history of winsomely engaging culture, as it was said of Billy, with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

Rachel Held Evans posted a blog last year about the phrase, “The Bible was clear . . . ” She listed some of the ways that phrase has been used throughout American political history — to justify war against Native Americans, to keep slaves obedient, to relegate women to the kitchen, to attack science, to oppose civil rights for African-Americans and, yes, to clobber people who are gay.

Consider Alabama. Last Monday, an Alabama judge’s order to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage harkened back to 1963 when Governor Wallace nullified the federal government’s order to desegregate schools. The repeated pattern is hard to miss. No evangelical today wants to be remembered for opposing civil rights in the 1960s, but many did, and many are repeating the same mistake now.

Some Christians feel the need to defend the Bible because they assume that when culture changes, the Bible loses. That’s the essence of the so-called “Culture War.” They feel like they have to win a cultural “battle for the Bible.” But that is simply not true, and it’s easily disproven by our own American history.

It is true that when American culture changes, some parts of the Bible are interpreted more clearly in the light of other parts. We have seen evangelicals learn to interpret the Bible differently regarding slavery, science, women’s rights, civil rights, and now gay rights. How can we reinterpret and adjust to societal progress and greater human rights?

Because there is a part of the Bible that always wins. Take a look at Matthew 22:34-40:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Despite heroic portrayals of some Civil War era politicians, according to historian Mark Noll, verse 39 is what really ended slavery in America. When Christians realized that the African-American slave was their neighbor, the teaching of Jesus was activated, and slavery was on its way to being defeated. The teaching of Jesus ended slavery in the United States.

This Great Commandment is the central teaching of Jesus Christ. It’s also the foundation of all ethics. It is empathy. It is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and realizing that we all need love and that we are called by Jesus to love, not to win politically manufactured culture wars.

Perhaps we evangelicals need to pray a different kind of sinner’s prayer, a prayer of repentance for allowing partisan politics to supplant the good news. Regarding the perception that Christians are anti-gay, I welcome and affirm those who are gay because of the Great Commandment. Because of Jesus, I love members of the LGBTQ community as I love myself. For me, the clear teaching of Jesus trumps the six or seven highly debated “clobber passages” that were certainly influenced by the culture in which they were written.

Closer to home, in a time when many evangelicals fear the future, the core teaching of Jesus heals society and creates a better world for our children. As a dad, I want to partner with God to create a more loving, just, and righteous world for my son, whose name is, for reasons you now know, Graham.

Jesus is inviting evangelicals — re-empowered by the Great Commandment and Great Commission — to get back to our roots and repair the damage partisan politics has inflicted on the cause of Christ in our country. In a time when many evangelicals defensively feel the need to help the Bible win, there is a part of the Bible that never loses.

Jesus always wins.


This article was originally posted at OnFaith, a religion blog hosted by Faithstreet.


The Unevolving Relationship between American Christians and Charles Darwin


Charles Darwin, like Abraham Lincoln, was born 206 years ago today.

Had Darwin lived an incredibly long life, he would be able to see that some religious persons in 2015 still have trouble with his theory that species evolve over time.

Christian groups like the Southern Baptists and Missouri Synod Lutherans believe that the theory of evolution is incompatible with the Bible’s teaching of creation in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 (Roman Catholics and mainline Christians see evolution as compatible with Christian faith). The groups who reject evolution do so because the Genesis creation accounts (there appear to be two creation accounts edited together) have God creating the heavens and the earth.

Even those who hold to a more literal reading of the Bible have proposed that Genesis 1:1 leaves room for a gap of unknown time, making it possible to reconcile evolution with a literal reading of the Bible. This is not the only way of reconciling faith and science. In a post I wrote for the religion blog OnFaith entitled 10 Things Evangelicals Aren’t Supposed to Say, I cited evidence that there are actually two creation accounts in Genesis chapters 1-2.

This evidence, however, is unconvincing to a significant percentage of American Christians. The Pew Research Center found that:

Only a minority of Americans fully accept evolution through natural selection. About two-thirds (65%) of U.S. adults say humans have evolved over time, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey on science and society. But only a little more than half of that group (35%) expresses the belief that humans and other living things evolved solely due to natural processes. About a quarter (24%) of U.S. adults say that evolution was guided by a supreme being. The same survey found that 31% of Americans reject evolution entirely, saying that humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

As to the role of religion, a full 64% of American white evangelicals reject the evidence accepted by 98% of American scientists, that humans and other species evolved. According to the Gallup Poll, the percentage of Americans who reject evolution has remained relatively unchanged since 1982.

Evangelical Christian scientist Francis Collins believes that it doesn’t have to be this way. As head of the Human Genome Project, Collins argues that DNA essentially proves the theory of evolution to be true, and that evolution does not have to be a threat to any religious person’s faith. As a believer in theistic evolution, Collins writes:

But I have no difficulty putting that together with what I believe as a Christian because I believe that God had a plan to create creatures with whom he could have fellowship, in whom he could inspire [the] moral law, in whom he could infuse the soul, and who he would give free will as a gift for us to make decisions about our own behavior, a gift which we oftentimes utilize to do the wrong thing.

I believe God used the mechanism of evolution to achieve that goal. And while that may seem to us who are limited by this axis of time as a very long, drawn-out process, it wasn’t long and drawn-out to God. And it wasn’t random to God.

Even though secular scientists may not agree with his explanation, Christians can. It is a better alternative to denying evidence-based science and human discovery, altogether.


10 Things You Want to Know Before Going to War with ISIS

_80845714_kaylamueller01 With the recent brutal murders committed by ISIS, President Obama has asked Congress for a new war authorization against the terrorist organization.

For centuries, Christians have debated the most Christ-honoring position regarding war. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas developed the doctrine of Just War, and the Catholic Church includes their concepts in its catechism. Conversely, pacifists generally trace the origins of their nonviolence to Jesus.

One of the titles Christians use for Jesus is “Prince of Peace.” While living in a violent empire, Jesus taught his followers:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Mt. 5:21-22).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 543-45a).

As conflict with ISIS escalates, how should followers of the Prince of Peace think about war? What questions should we ask before supporting a war? And how should we respond to those Americans who seem to be eager to go to war?

Here are 10 things followers of Jesus should keep in mind about a war with ISIS.

1. ISIS wants perpetual war with the United States.

ISIS intentionally releases slickly produced videos of gruesome murders like beheadings and the burning of the Jordanian pilot. They want their videos to be viewed by as many people as possible. Why? Perhaps ISIS releases these videos as propaganda in order to enrage the U.S. and other world powers with the goal of drawing us into a war.

ISIS is fueled by rage and fear. The more rage and fear they can create toward the United States, the more terrorists they can recruit. In their warped view, warring with the U.S. legitimizes them and helps them grow more powerful.

2. The American news media profits from war coverage.

I believe that there are many honest and decent news journalists, and I most appreciate journalists who are willing to give a self-critique of the American news media. The advertising profits of commercial television channels depend on advertising that is driven by ratings. When a war begins, news channel ratings go up. When news channel ratings go up, so do advertising profits.

Psychology Today suggests that fear-based news follows a two-part formula – 1) Create fear with the headline, then 2) Suggest that the fear can be relieved by watching the newscast. What could possibility create more fear-based ratings than a war with terrorists? Again, I deeply appreciate honest journalism and responsible media. We must be aware, however, that war financially benefits those who give (actually, sell) us information.

3. War will likely not stop terrorist attacks.

In Matthew 26:52, Jesus famously tells Peter, 52 “Put your sword back in its place… for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

In other words, Jesus says that violence begets violence. With every bomb that falls, ISIS terrorists are emboldened to kidnap and execute more hostages and attack more innocent people. The perpetual conflict in the Middle East is an illustration that the cycle of violence can last for hundreds of years.

4. Christians who do support war cite Just War Theory, not a desire for vengeance.

Just War Theory began as a doctrine of justifiable war created by followers of Jesus such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. While I am not Catholic, I find the catechism of the Catholic Church enlightening regarding war. Criteria include:

The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;

All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

There must be serious prospects of success;

The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

The second criteria of “All other means…” could be endlessly debated, but it demands the question, “Are there any other means by which to address this conflict other than violence?” Certainly followers of Jesus should lead the way in suggesting alternate means of addressing a conflict.

5. There are potentially more effective ways to decrease extremism than war.

If one criteria for war is “All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective,” we must ask, “What are some other means to put an end to conflict?

ISIS appeals to disenchanted young people who feel marginalized by using a twisted interpretation of Islam that moderate Muslims reject. Consequently, perhaps the two most effective means of confronting ISIS are to 1) Address the reasons for marginalization and 2) Promote the voices of moderate Muslims.

6. Children and other innocent people will die in a war.

This is a fact we would like to ignore, but innocent people are killed in every war. The innocent dead will include children who are every bit as valuable to God as your children and mine.

7. Our children will be the ones fighting the war.

Those sent to fight will be the sons and daughters of peace-loving Americans. While the murders committed by ISIS are horrendous and inexcusable, a war will lead to the deaths of more people.

8. Four Americans have been killed by ISIS, while thousands of Americans are killed annually within the United States.

To date, ISIS has killed four American hostages, including aid worker Kayla Mueller (pictured above), who ISIS claims was killed by a Jordanian air strike. As reported by CNN, at least 17,049 Iraqi civilians were killed in Iraq last year, but not all were killed by ISIS. Comparatively, 11,208 Americans were killed by gun violence within the U.S. in 2013, the majority drug-related. The number of Americans killed by preventable heart disease was an astronomical 611,105.

According to CNN, U.S. officials are not sure how many Americans ISIS is currently holding hostage. One official said there may be “a number.” The article states that approximately 80 journalists from various countries are now held. Every life lost is tragic and horrific, but the number of Americans killed by ISIS is small relative to common causes of death within our own country.

Just across our southern border, staggering violence is occurring that is largely ignored by the American media. According to the Huffington Post, over 100,000 people have been killed in gang related violence since 2007 in Mexico. Why do we see daily reports from the Middle East and far less reports about horrific violence closer to our country?

Motivated by love for our neighbors, followers of Jesus want to relieve misery, protect the innocent, and save lives. Relative to the causes of misery and death in our world, is a war with ISIS warranted?

9. A war with ISIS will cost American taxpayers.

Much of American politics is an argument over how much the government should collect in tax revenue and how it should be spent. The Harvard School of Government found that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost U.S. taxpayers $6 trillion. That’s $75,000 for every American household. How much would American society benefit if that sum of money were to be invested right here in the U.S. in the form social programs, infrastructure, education, etc.?

10. It is probable that more Americans will die in a war with ISIS than the number already killed by ISIS.

ISIS has killed four American hostages. It is probable that more than four Americans will be killed in a conflict with ISIS.

On September 11, 2001, 2,996 Americans were tragically murdered by terrorists. During the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 6,802 U.S. service members were killed, over twice the number of Americans killed on 9/11. Several thousand more U.S. contractors were killed in the two conflicts, and the number of civilian deaths is massive, perhaps between 100,000 and 200,000 people. Many times more people lost their lives in the wars following 9/11 than in the terrorist attacks themselves.

While I, personally, accept Just War Theory, I believe that Christians should sober-mindedly consider the teaching of the Prince of Peace regarding violence– do not murder, pray for those who persecute you, and those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

Whether you support the war against ISIS or not, as the drumbeat of war intensifies in the media, those who follow the Prince of Peace should march to a different beat.



https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/two-takes-depression/201106/if-it-bleeds-it-leads understanding-fear-based-media


http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/10/24/world/middleeast/the-fate-of-23-hostages-in-syria.html http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/01/world/meast/iraq-civilian-deaths/