Paige Patterson, the SBC, and Women

Growing up in the South, we were surrounded by Southern Baptists. They went to church a lot; Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night. They would typically ask if you would want to come with them. We did go to a few Vacation Bible Schools with neighborhood friends. It was a good way for mom to get us out of the house during the summer. The first time someone asked it I was saved, I told the story of falling out of a whitewater raft and the guide pulling me to safety. This was clearly not my scene

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The practices and habits of Paige Patterson regarding the counsel he gave women are alarming. However, if we are surprised it’s only because we haven’t been paying attention. After all, he and other leaders of the SBC have been making similar proclamations in sermons for years. I’ve had several people come into my office, fleeing their Southern Baptist tradition because they were told either not to get divorced for any reason or that they were unworthy of God’s love because they were divorced. I’ve seen the revelation on a person’s face when they discover that women can be in leadership in our tradition and in fact, many of our churches have more women in leadership than men. I’m amazed that so many are just now becoming aware of this abuse of the scriptures and people’s lives so that the privileged males remain in power. After all, Patterson leads a school where women are not allowed to teach men and they must take homemaking classes, all in the name of following the teachings of Jesus. It’s not about Jesus, because these ethics are opposite the teachings of Jesus it’s about control and holding power over another, specifically women. It’s marginalization of one gender so that another may be lifted. “Women can’t preach or teach” is a gateway ethic that promotes the abusive ethic of toxic masculinity running rampant through the SBC.

Beth Moore writes, “I accepted the peculiarities accompanying female leadership in a conservative Christian world, because I choose to believe that, whether or not some of the actions and attitudes seemed godly to me.” There are countless others that have felt the same way. Let me be clear; there is nothing godly about the disregard, disrespect, or abuse of women or any other human being. The central themes of the Scriptures are the exact opposite. The Scriptures proclaim that all people are children of a loving God and all people have enormous value. We are equals, partners with God in the ongoing creation of the world.

I’m confronted by two realizations, First, we in the mainline church have got to learn to tell our stories and share our vision of the Gospel in a more effective, compelling way. If we are upset over how other faith traditions treat others, we cannot be bystanders. We have stood by while others have created a narrative of Christianity that is not faithful to the love of God. Inclusive churches where are all are valued are not a new phenomenon. We cannot be passive about sharing the good news.

Second, we must continue to examine our lives and our institutions. I know in my tradition it is often an advantage to be a male clergyperson when it comes to our call system. I imagine on average my male colleagues are paid more than female colleagues. I suspect many of our congregations do not have adequate family leave policies in place. You see where I’m going here; we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back while we are even the least bit complicit in implying that all people aren’t equally loved by God. Mainliners have work to do too and the urgency should be even greater now.

I do not know if leaders of the SBC are taking a longer look in the proverbial mirror. The God I know calls me to do so. It seems if you aren’t willing to be a part of the solution, you become complicit in perpetuating the problem.

One Pastor’s Prayer for National Day of Prayer

What are you praying for today? It is, of course, the National Day of Prayer. This day was signed into being by Harry S. Truman, originally as a Spring counterpart to Thanksgiving. The idea was that Americans, from all faith backgrounds, would take a day to give thanks and to offer prayers for the United States and her leaders.

 

 

Today I’m struck by how this interfaith and ecumenical celebration has been dominated by more fundamentalist Christian messages. To be fair, those of that ilk of Christianity are great promoters and unashamed about talking about their faith, something others streams of Christianity and other religions don’t do quite as well. It’s not a bad thing that a nation as diverse as the United States comes together to pray to their own understanding of the holy. So what might you pray for today for our nation. Here is my prayer list on this National Day of Prayer

That our nation might honestly deal with both individual and systemic racism. This will require each of us to do honest self-reflection on our complicity in acts of racism.

That the church may be a place where people find the fullness of life. The church holds such promise for being a powerful community in people’s lives. The opportunity is present for us.

That we might pay more attention to those who are marginalized and vulnerable in our midst. I pray that we see the gifts and graces they have to offer and that we might see our collective responsibility to care for those on the margins. 

That we truly follow God’s command to care for creation. Many our actions and policies reflect God’s call to care for creation.  

That people of differing faiths come find common ground so that we can work together to bring God’s shalom to this nation and the world. 

That people of faith be allies to and advocates for those in the LGBTQ community. 

Remembering that Jesus healed those on the margins, let us not forget those on the margins when talking about healthcare. 

May we reclaim what it means to be a neighbor.

Lord, in your mercy, hear your prayer

Thursday- A Difficult but Important Meal

I can’t help but wonder if the Passover meal that Jesus shares with his disciples seems odd to them. In Mark’s Gospel, it is the twelve disciples who seem to be the last to understand what is going on around them. Jesus has been trying to teach them about his upcoming death, but they don’t seem to get it. They are simply relaxing and enjoying a fulfilling meal when Jesus starts to give a speech, telling them that one of them will betray him and that this is his body and sharing a cup that is supposedly a new covenant. I don’r know about you, but after a big meal my attention span is pretty short.

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl[with me.  For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 

Mark 14:17-23

Jesus is teaching a lesson about spiritual fullness and what keeps us from being the person God has created us to be. Each of us is held captive by some view of self, neighbor, or the world that cuts us off from the grace of God.

Each of the disciples, like each one of us, are held captive to something that kept them from true discipleship. Jesus knows they will not be at the foot of the cross the next day. They are held captive by their own fears, their own doubts, their own concern for self.

But Jesus invites them to be set free, to be a part of this meal, of this moment. Even Judas is invited, because all are welcome.

Today’s work is to be open to Jesus’ generous invitation to share in the bread and the cup. Partake so that you may be set free.

 

 

Tuesday-Jesus’ Final Exam

 

We come to Tuesday of Jesus’ Final Week. Much of Tuesday will be spent teaching in the courtyard of the temple. Mark’s Narrative of Tuesday covers almost 3 chapters, a total of 115 verses. It is by far the longest of the days in scripture. Almost two-thirds of the time is spent in conflict between Jesus and temple authorities, with the authorities questioning his authority and his knowledge of Jewish Law, on things like resurrection, marriage, and taxes. In many ways, Tuesday is Jesus’ Final Exam before both those who follow him and those who fear him. As things become really heated, a scribe steps up and asks Jesus a question. Here is where we pick up our scripture for today

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Mark 12:28-34

The truth is that we the most important commandment. Many non-religious people can tell you the most important commandment. We struggle to live this commandment. Let’s be honest, it’s a tough commandment to live up to. Knowing it and living it are two entirely different things. Jesus could not have given a more difficult answer to live up to

I love this interaction between Jesus and the scribe. The scribe is different, he is taken by Jesus and really wants to know what Jesus thinks. I suspect if he has paid close attention that he knows what the answer will be. In some ways, the answer to love God and love our neighbor is so familiar to us that it has become cliché. Jesus is answering this question in the most challenging, yet life-giving way possible.

“You are not far from the kingdom of God” is Jesus’ response to the scribes’ answer. That is his to answer to me and you during this Holy Week, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of the God.” Our challenge is to draw ever closer to living into God’s way each day.

Monday- Turning the Tables

As we begin the second day of Jesus’s Last Week, he has entered into Jerusalem and drawn a big crowd for his parade which proclaims that the kingdom of God, God’s way of life is here. He concluded that day by going into the Temple in Jerusalem and looking around. The temple was the holiest place, it was the place that people believed God on earth. It was the center of both religious and community life.

 

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Mark 11:12-19

What lengths would you go to get people to pay attention? Jesus desired to gain the attention of temple authorities and religious people. So he shuts the temple down. He drives out the buyers and the sellers, overturns the tables of the money changers, overturns the seats of the dove sellers and does not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. All of these are regular daily activities in the temple. If he wanted to get people’s attention, shutting the temple down is a pretty good way to do it.

The temple was intended to be” a place of prayer for all nations.”  Instead, only the few were allowed to come in and do business in the temple. Religious leaders of the day had turned it into a place of commerce for the select few. It hardly resembled what God intended for it to be.A place of justice had been turned into an unjust place. Jesus moves his demonstration and the arrival of the kingdom of God  from the streets of Jerusalem to the temple.

The assumed reality is  the Roman imperial power and the corrupt religious officials have created a power that cannot be broken. The truth is something much greater. The kingdom of God is here. Jesus has spent his first two days in Jerusalem making this truth evident.

Parkland: What I Would Say this Morning

A clergy friend called me the other day, wrestling with what to say to his congregation this morning about the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Our conversation got me thinking about what I would say to a congregation on this day. So, here is a close approximation to what I would share. 

We gather here after a week where 17 people lost their lives in yet another school shooting. Violence of this nature in our schools was once an unthinkable tragedy, yet now seems like an almost regular occurrence, to the point where we are numb, wondering when and where this will happen again. Our thoughts and prayers are important, but it’s time we realize that our prayers, no matter how deep and heartfelt, are not enough to bring back or save lives. On Thursday morning, I hugged my kids an extra time or two before putting them on the school bus. I imagine many of you did the same.

Parkland

 

We have now entered the familiar pattern of figuring out who and what to blame. We do this without any real conversation or any real acknowledgement that something in our collective lives needs to change. Life is too precious to God and should be too precious to us for us to continue doing the same things.

Every time I speak about guns, I offer this caveat. Guns have never been a part of my life. We did not have a gun in the house growing up. I’ve never been hunting or sport shooting and have no intention to do so. We don’t have a gun in our house. I’ve been to a shooting range twice and most likely will not go back. I personally don’t like guns and don’t understand our fascination with them. However, many people whom I care about deeply feel differently and I respect that. Guns are an important part of their lives and I seek to honor that.

I know that people not only in this congregation, but in most congregations, have widely different views on guns. Many of us own multiple guns and use them for sport and recreation on a regular basis. For some, a hunting blind on a crisp fall morning is a holy place. On the other hand, some would not think of owning a gun. Some feel very strongly about the 2nd Amendment while others would be fine with it being rewritten or repealed all together. I wonder if that is what makes conversation around gun violence so difficult to have. It invoke a strong emotional reaction in us one way or another.

No matter what point of view we carry, it’s time to begin having serious conversation and reflection around the role guns play in our lives and communities. Jesus is quite famous for saying “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The church and those seeking to follow the way of Jesus must be peacemakers. Jesus spent a large portion of his ministry tearing down systems of violence and oppression so that all may have life. We cannot be faithful to that call if we are not at least willing to have conversation and do some self-reflection. Our kids’ lives are too important for anything less.

I realize there are other factors that go into this type of violence other than the gun itself. By many accounts, the shooter had a difficult life that was further complicated by a spirit of fear, anger, and hatred towards others. Our nation, from the highest levels, is riddled with spirits of fear, anger, and division. These spirits permeate our communities and our institutions. These are sinful and the church cannot fall into being about these things. The church must be about love for all, hope, and unity. The church must be welcoming to all, no exceptions. We have to create the space necessary for difficult conversations. We, through the love of God, must be a place of healing of hope for people and for our community. We cannot underestimate our power in being a force for good. This is no time for us to shrink back. We have an important role to play in the healing of our community and nation.

So today, we do offer our deep prayers. Our prayers of lament and our prayers of hope. May those prayers convict us to be peacemakers. Lives are too important for anything else.

The President Who Would Not Welcome Jesus

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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These words have stood through time on the to remind us that all are welcome in the United States. We are, for the most part, people from somewhere else who’ve made this our home. We are a nation of immigrants, a melting pot of culture. These truths make us who we are when we are at our best.

The current President does not embody us at our best, he embodies us at our worst. He intentionally seeks dark places where fear takes over. The President deals in fear, fear rooted in racism and classism.

As a citizen, his words trouble me on many levels. As a Christian, I find them to be in direct conflict with any teaching or ethic of Jesus. That this President continues to be lifted as a “Christian” example by several Christian leaders is incomprehensible and disgusting to me. It’s proof that a few will go to great lengths to use religion to curry favor and gain power (Yes, I am talking about you Franklin Graham).

If the President’s racism and classism had its way, he would not welcome Jesus into this nation. Jesus was a poor, dark-skinned person from the Middle East. Sounds to me like the kind of person the President loathes. The truth of the Gospel that all are created by God and all are loved by God is a great threat to the President’s worldview. It’s past time for those who believe in the power of God’s inclusive love to speak up. I know I have too often been silent. No more.

This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about human decency. It’s about speaking for the dignity of God’s beloved. It’s about creating a nation that embodies the very words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. We are better than this.