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    Friday
    Feb172017

    Baylor Sanctuary Movement Appeals to a Higher Law

    The following was written in response to an opinion column in last Saturday's Waco Tribune-Herald. I argue that a healthy society maintains room for dissent, disagreement, and ongoing political discourse concerning what constitutes a good law and can do so while upholding the Rule of Law. I also contend Christians have a moral obligation to act upon principle and under conscience when certain laws are determined to be unjust.

    Discerning How Best to Abide by the Bible
     

    In France during the 1940s, the citizens of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon risked their lives to harbor Jews who were sought by Nazi patrols and collaborators of the Vichy regime. The citizens of Le Chambon were Protestant Huguenots, led by Pastor André Trocmé and his deputy pastor Edouard Theis. The people of Le Chambon obtained forged identification and ration cards and helped the Jews cross the border to neutral Switzerland. By choosing to resist an unjust law they saved as many as one thousand lives.

    They did not head to the voting booth. Rather, they acted according to conscience and principled beliefs. Their decision was rooted in Christian conviction. Knowing the law of the land, they chose noncompliance and instead appealed to the will of God. They were also willing to accept the consequences if discovered by the state. Rev. Trocmé spoke publicly against the Nazis and was arrested. Daniel Trocmé, Rev. Trocmé’s cousin, was murdered at Maidanek concentration camp. 

    In a February 11, 2017 column, “Baylor Sanctuary Movement Ignores Rule of Law,” Jay Young argues Baylor University should reject a sanctuary campus petition. He asserts, “An individual must do what the law says and must not do what it says not to do.” I disagree. 

    His argument hinges on a particular understanding of the Rule of Law. Mr. Young represents the Rule of Law as a principle stating “that governance of a community is dictated by mandates from the state.” Mr. Young argues that this principle necessitates that the citizenry obey the law. But the Rule of Law does not require this, and instead is a political philosophy wherein a society is subject to law rather than the dictates and whims of a ruler. It does not necessitate obedience. A free democratic order should maintain space for protest and civil disobedience while holding those who protest accountable to existing laws. Human beings propose and adopt the laws; therefore, not every law will be good.

    In no way does the sanctuary campus petition deny the Rule of Law. Instead, the petition calls for noncompliance and direct political action challenging the legitimacy of legislation such as House Bill 12 or any federal law that could effect refugees, migrants, or international visitors. The petition does not “pick and choose” which passages of the Bible to abide by, but instead expresses an overall hermeneutic that seeks justice for the vulnerable. The petition asks the University to consider all implications of these laws for refugees, migrants, and international visitors who are part of the University community. It also asks that Baylor University respond publicly and with boldness. 

    Those signing the petition express concern, believing recent federal and state legislative actions to be unjust. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution supports the petitioners’ right to assert their view and to draw upon their religious beliefs as a basis for their convictions.

    The sanctuary campus petition is not calling for arbitrary action on behalf of Baylor University and its leadership. Rather, the petition calls for principled action firmly set upon the twin pillars of reasoned conviction and deep faith. To suggest otherwise is uncharitable.

    The United States is a nation of laws. Our laws grant certain rights, including the right to free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religious expression. I thank God for those rights. But I do not believe all our laws have always reflected perfect justice. I give thanks for those of Christian conviction who have resisted those laws, been held accountable, and pushed us toward legislative change. The life and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind.

    I strongly urge President David Garland and the rest of the Baylor administration to regard the petition as a courageous and thoughtful display of Christian witness and to consider this appeal carefully in determining the best course for the University moving forward. 

    In the event the University deems any law unjust it is my hope the leaders would abide foremost by a higher law and do everything in their power to resist and reform the laws of this nation so that we might become a more perfect union. As Peter and the other apostles put it succinctly in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than human beings!”

    Tuesday
    Feb142017

    Being the Best [ ______ ] You Can Be

    It is a challenging time to be a Christian. Has it ever been otherwise?

    I am not sure. It is a question I ask often. I do know that my experience of Christianity during adulthood has been engulfed by anxiety about the future. The United States has undergone an undeniable shift in the religious landscape. The old norms no longer apply, and new ways are sought in the face of these changes. Various proposals have been made with regard to the best way forward. There has also been a great deal of lament, and no shortage of hand-wringing.

    There are many traditions within Christianity. How do they help us to respond? Most traditions have developed distinctives that can present themselves as strengths when properly regarded. Yet the majority of the resources Christianity offers for abundant and faithful living are shared across traditions. Taken together, the unique bits and the shared bits, the storehouse is quite full.

    Alan Jacobs did a little riffing yesterday on thoughts from Rod Dreher, who is writing a book about a "genuinely countercultural form of Christianity." Mr. Dreher's proposal has become known as the "Benedict Option." Mr. Dreher is approaching an old challenge in an old way, though in a new time. The call to reject the norms of the present age and wholeheartedly seek the life of the kingdom is an ancient one. The fresh difficulty is found in being faithful to that calling in light of present circumstances. Dreher recently asked whether each tradition had the resources necessary to live a countercultural form of Christianity. Jacobs picked up the ball and ran.

    Professor Jacobs spurred my thinking about my own tradition, or traditions. I am a Baptist. Molly, my wife, is a Methodist. We are now part of a Methodist congregation. As we have each served in our traditions, we have always sought to equip our congregations with the knowledge to live faithfully within those traditions. We believe the traditions possess a kind of strength, and that they are worthwhile. We have wanted our people to be found faithful as Methodists, or Baptists. We have desired that they know their traditions, appreciate their heritage, and can rely on the tradition to help them live faithfully to Jesus.

    However, based on my observation, that has not always been enough to inspire a countercultural, robust expression of Christian faith. Something has been missing.

    This is where I found Jacobs helpful. He argues that you must find a point where you can no longer be content with life as you know it as a Christian. The old word here, I would suggest, is zeal. He writes:

    You have to get to the end of your rope, you have to come to the point where you can’t live any longer as everyone around you is living. If you come to that point, then every serious Christian tradition, from Pentecostalism to Orthodoxy, has what it takes to nourish and support you. But none of those traditions can, in itself, bring you to that point. (I am not yet at that point myself: I am too caught up in the various rewards that this present age has to offer.)

    Depending on where you live, you might look around you and find charismatics who are faithfully seeking to make their own countercultural way, or Baptists, or Presbyterians, or Catholics — heck, even Anglicans. It depends on whether in a given place there is a critical mass of people whom the Holy Spirit has moved to say: Enough. Lord, now give us the living water.

    The traditions of Christianity are of great value. They help to preserve theological and moral knowledge and the wisdom captured in certain forms of praxis. But the tradition is not enough. The traditions are like containers, which we must pray that God not only fill but overflow by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

    It may be a helpful step to be the best Methodist or non-denominational Christian or whatever you can be. But becoming the best disciple of Jesus may be the only place where a countercultural Christianity can begin to take shape, one allowing for the prophetic challenge of one's own tradition, while also stretching outward to those of other traditions, binding and bringing the church together as one, just as Christ intended.

    Monday
    Oct172016

    Can Kingdom People from All 50 States Pitch In and Help a Church in Rural Texas? Let’s Find Out.

    St. Paul United Church of Christ - Marlin, TX

    This past weekend the Waco Tribune-Herald published a feature explaining the current dilemma faced by St. Paul United Church of Christ in Marlin, Texas.

    St. Paul’s building is 97 years old and the foundation of the structure is in jeopardy. The congregation is made up of senior adults, some who have been members their whole life long. On an average Sunday 10 to 15 people gather for worship. Their pastor, Ludy Manthei, drives from Bryan to be with them. He is 70 years old. They need $300,000 to renovate a lower wall that is in danger of failing and bringing the structure down with it.

    St. Paul is located on FM 2307, off Highway 6 and in between the communities of Riesel and Marlin. I have driven by, though that was years ago. The church has been photographed and featured in a couple of books (here and here). The structure is also listed in the register of the Texas Historical Commission.

    I read the article above in the Trib on Sunday morning. By the time I was through I had resolved to send a gift, and I asked my Sunday school class to pray for this congregation. Sure, St. Paul is a rural congregation. It is small. The Trib describes their fundraising task as “daunting.” But is anything impossible for God?

    While exercising this morning I had this thought: if I shared this story with my friends, how many states would be represented if those I had encountered through the years decided to join me in sending a gift of any amount to this small congregation in rural Texas? I have an acquaintance in Alaska, friends in Kansas, a pastor friend in Alabama, an artist in Tennessee, some buddies living in Missouri. An old neighbor of mine lives in Denver. I have relatives in Georgia. A guy who lived on my hall in seminary works in D. C. Beyond my direct connections, I am sure that those people know people, or have friends, in other states.

    Sure, this idea is whimsical, maybe even a little goofy. But that’s me.

    Who knows? Maybe if we partnered together, did something a little out of the ordinary, a tad generous, the result might be surprising and wonderful and joyous. Plain fun.

    So here is the deal. If you want to join me in blessing this congregation, with no strings attached, write a note, enclose a gift, stick it in your mailbox, raise the flag and smile. Say a prayer, too. I don’t care if you stick a George Washington in an envelope with a sticky note on it that says, “building” and “the kingdom of God is big.” Maybe you are someone of extraordinary means and you want to reach out to the church to fund a piece of history. Either way, do good and grin big.

    My letter goes in the mail today and is addressed to St. Paul United Church of Christ, FM 2307, Marlin, Texas 76661.

    If you plan to join in on the fun leave a comment and let me know what state you live in. I will keep track.

    And feel free to share the idea with friends and family.

    This little congregation has been bearing the light of Christ in rural America. They need help in preserving their gathering place. Who knows what God might do with them yet?

    Finding out could be fun.

    Friday
    Sep302016

    Guides and Companions

    A Christian’s need for personal spiritual direction cannot be delegated to books or tapes or videos. The very nature of the life of faith requires the personal and the immediate. If we are going to mature we need not only the wisdom of truth, but someone to understand us in relation to this truth.

    - Eugene Peterson, "On Spiritual Direction"

    For a three year period while serving in ministry I met monthly with a spiritual director. Martha is a faithful Christian, a Presbyterian, enjoys gardening, radiates joy, and is a person of prayer. Martha listened to my story and helped me to pay attention to where God was at work. Her ministry was a gift to me.

    I know many people who are following Jesus. They listen to sermons, take part in a Sunday School class or a midweek study, read their Bible, and pray. The most crucial concern for Christians, however, is not how much knowledge we accrue or how many practices we take up as a matter of convention, but instead the overall health and maturation of the soul. These things can help, and skilled teachers and preachers can inspire us from afar. But as my teacher Howard Hendricks observed, "You can impress from a distance, but you can only impact up close."

    What our lives often lack are guides who can speak to us concerning our inner life and do so in a personal way. We lack those who will help us face ourselves and ask if our actions align with our held convictions. We are masters of self deception, and without an outside observer who listens and tends and prays alongside us, a person with whom we can be vulnerable and who assists us in remaining accountable to God, we will often choose to serve the gods of our own making rather than the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

    Good guides always know where they are heading, and they also know those they are leading. A good guide knows the destination and discerns exactly what is required to deliver those in their company safely to the end of their journey. Good guides are familiar with the terrain and carefully observe those who traverse it with them, seeking to help along the way. They know when to rest, when to push, when to lend a hand, and when to change course. Good guides also know the names and faces of those in their company, and as they travel together, they learn something of their story, abilities, temperament, dreams, struggles, fears, and hopes. They are able to apprehend the context of their companions, and are thus better able to help.

    With Martha, I was better able to see and discern where I stood on the path. I was also able to see and understand that the path of discipleship, of following Jesus, is not only meant to be perceived and comprehended, but is foremost meant to be walked.

    We all do well when we have such guides.

    Monday
    Sep262016

    The Ascension and the Defeat of Shame

    One of the central ideas within Christianity is that of forgiveness. Christians proclaim the forgiveness of sins, and exhort disciples of Jesus to “forgive as they have been forgiven.” But it is not uncommon to encounter those within a congregation who cannot embrace the forgiveness that has been offered to them, or experience guilt because of their inability to forgive those who have wronged them.

    This is most often so because of the belief that our forgiveness is contingent upon our acceptance of forgiveness, or that an offer of forgiveness hinges on our ability to forgive.

    I am not denying that our acceptance of forgiveness lacks importance, nor that forgiveness is a responsibility and command that Christians should obey. But I am arguing that forgiveness received and granted are acts of faith given in response to the action of God accomplished in and through Jesus Christ. In forgiveness, the emphasis should first be upon what God has done. What we do then naturally follows.

    When we do not forgive as we ought, or when we fall prey to the belief that we are not worthy of forgiveness, we do well to consider Jesus. We consider his action upon the cross, where sin and death was put to death. We think of his great love for us, but also for all of humanity. We consider what he has done, and then find the grace we need to act.

    But we also do well to consider the ascension. On the third day, God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. Our redemption was accomplished on Good Friday and established on Easter Sunday. And even now Jesus reigns.

    In The Face of Forgiveness, Philip D. Jamieson writes:

    The resurrected face of Jesus reveals the finality of God’s victory over sin and death. The empty tomb reveals that there is no return to the downturned face. The Father has lifted Christ’s face and we are now called to look to him. He is no mere example of a good man. He is the living Lord who has overcome all things that would harm us. His is the face that would not look away, even on Friday, and now we know on Sunday that we never will stop looking.

    A verse:

    Our guilt and shame no longer rule,
    We need not look away.
    His face of grace beholds us.
    Emboldened by atoning love, his truth it now enfolds us.
    Dying, rising, reigning now,
    It is Thee, Thou art the way.