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[218] Who Do You Trust?

According to a recent poll by Morning Consult, reported in Christianity Today, evangelicals trust the political endorsements of Donald Trump and Barack Obama more than they do the likes of Joel Osteen and Jerry Falwell, Jr.  On the face of it, this may not seem all that surprising.  After all, Trump and Obama are pretty good at politics, and the parsons are in another line of work.

But there appears to be more to this.  For as long as most of us can remember, presidential candidates have thirsted for the endorsement of evangelical leaders. The reason is very simple.  Those leaders had powerful credibility, and in a very real sense, were the key to millions of votes.

This poll suggests something different is going on.  Evangelical Christians are not taking the lead from the more famous pulpiteers.

But there is more.  Neither Trump nor Obama claims to be an evangelical.  Their personal spiritual lives are unclear—murky if you will.  Yet evangelicals will take their political leads (49% for Trump, 33% Obama) over ostensibly spiritual leaders (Osteen 28%; Falwell 27%).  In fact, 39% said an endorsement from Pope Francis would have no impact at all.  While known political evangelicals, Mike Pence, and George W. Bush did quite well—46% and 43%, respectively—both trailed Trump.

Is there any takeaway here?  Two come to mind.  First, political leaders who speak to evangelicals and their concerns do well, irrespective of the candidate’s personal religiosity.  More important, however, it appears there is no prophetic voice coming from the evangelical world.  Billy Graham is gone.  Osteen is coiffed in prosperity (“this world”) preaching, and Falwell ministers in the shadow of his polarizing Moral-Majority-of the-‘80’s father.

Without a vision the people perish, says the Psalmist (29:18).  There seems no real political vision coming from those on whom so many depend to translate God’s word to our times. DC

[217] Sex

Bill Hybels, Frank Page, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and who knows how many other well-known evangelicals, have been ensnared in real or alleged sex scandals. Forget about who is and is not guilty.  That is not the point here.  The point is that we are no longer surprised when a new allegation of sexual misconduct is leveled against a high-profile Christian.

It keeps happening and it ought not to be.

Why?

I think one reason is that many Christians are very uncomfortable about sex. In many Christian homes sex is not discussed.  Never brought up.  That was the case in my home. Nary a word from either of my parents. I found out the facts of life from a neighborhood peer.  Curious about the mysterious but much-used F-word, I asked what it meant, and taking me aside, he told me in a very candid and enlightening fashion.  I think you will find that in many Christian homes children learn two things when it comes to sex: don’t “do it” until you are married, and then only with your marriage partner.  So much for sex education.

Of course, that approach (or better yet, non-approach) prepares no one for real-time navigation in a secular world.  Yet courageous attempts to address the matter of sex in the Christian world can engender a peculiar form of bullying.  Decades ago Christianity Today published a sort of “sex and the single Christian” article. In it, were the results of a survey on the sexual behavior of single believers.  The purpose of this less than fully scientific survey was to get a sense of “what is,” not what should or should not be.  Not surprisingly, the results revealed that many Christian singles were having substantial difficulty managing their sexuality, with many having lived lives of less than vestal virginity.

The reaction to the article was radioactive.  The good folks at Christianity Today were all but damned to outer darkness by readers enraged that the magazine had the temerity to print the survey.  On the heels of these seething subscribers’ advocacy of the “Mushroom Syndrome” (keep them in the dark and feed them garbage), I don’t recall seeing many more such articles in Christianity Today.

Which brings us back to the question above. When Christians grow up in a sexually-repressive, paranoid environment the result is not always going to be restraint.  It is often going to be curiosity about this unspeakable, off-limits world, coupled with a lamb-like naivete upon entering what is a sexually wolfish culture.

But there’s more. Some of these same people grow up to become rather powerful “professional Christians,” frontrunners in Christian organizations.  Trained in leadership and other necessary skills, and ready to build God’s kingdom, too many go off into their careers still naïve–wholly unprepared to deal with the often very available sexual “benefits” of power.  Hence, as they—especially males—accumulate power and the elevated regard of others, they become prey to the Delilahs.  In fact, some may find themselves internally pulled in forbidden directiosn, growing out of lingering adolescent fantasies and excitement about exploring unbounded sex.

The point is this.  Seminaries and other Christian institutions cannot assume their students have a mature and comprehensive understanding of sex, all the while disregarding those students’ future vulnerability as they traverse a sexually-obsessed culture.  These organizations must address the issue of sex in their education and training. To do otherwise, is to ready their graduates to navigate God’s kingdom with their seatbelts unbuckled. The issue of sexual temptation and availability is as old as Samson and David, and as current as today.  It is time for Christians to cast off fear, paranoia, and Victorian discomfort, and–pulling their heads out of the sand–take this issue on. DC

[217] MLK, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered 50 years ago today.

I remember it well.  The announcement that interrupted normal television programming was chilling.  King had been in Memphis supporting a strike by sanitation workers, yet another of his many self-sacrificial efforts on behalf of the powerless. In a fleeting moment this larger than life public figure was gone.

It is hard to describe the impact of this 39-year-old martyr for the cause of the Second Great Commandment.  Upon news of his death, cities exploded in violence, people—black and white–were plunged into despair; the civil rights movement—of which King was all but the incarnation—appeared over.  Everyone was in shock.

His death did all but mark the end of the turn-the-other-cheek non-violent form of political resistance.  His official successor, Ralph David Abernathy, had none of King’s charisma, and the divisive Jesse Jackson, who all but hijacked King’s mantle, has always seemed more in a quest of the nearest camera and the attendant self-aggrandizement, than the cause of justice.

It has never been the same since King died.  He was a unifier, a man of the people, shunning celebrity and a life ease in favor of the less traveled path of genuine servanthood.  Though quoting from scripture and often in prayer, some evangelicals criticized him as a theological liberal for his emphasis on social rather than specifically spiritual causes.  Yet many of the very seminaries from which those critics graduated would not admit King, because there were on the wrong side of the Second Great Commandment—the one King was living out.

His work was rooted in faith and a call to God’s work.  “Before I was a civil rights leader,” said King, “I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.”

The man who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” was a giant—clearly among the most important figures in the second half of the 20th Century.  Like Moses and David, Martin Luther King, Jr. had his imperfections, but I shudder to think of where our nation would be without his brief but shining presence. DC

[216] Arnold

My recent blog about the possibility of OJ Simpson having CTE got a bit of a reaction from the readership.  A discussion with a reader underscored how important it is to factor in possible brain abnormalities when we see aggressive acts. The case of my friend’s long-departed father, we will call him Arnold, offers a stark illustration of this point.

In his youth, Arnold had been hit by a car while walking his bike home at dusk. The pre-frontal lobe of his brain was severely damaged. His brain literally protruded through the gap in his forehead, the result of a severe skull fracture. The overmatched physicians tried to push the brain back inside Arnold’s skull, but could not stuff it all back in. They then cut off the part of the brain that did not fit back in. For years Arnold experienced fits of anger and emotional outbursts (normal symptoms for CTE), and at age 57 he was committed to a state mental hospital. Upon his death his brain was donated to a state university for further study.

What makes Arnold’s story particularly sad was that Christians in his small town felt Arnold’s wife had married a demon-possessed man. The result was overt and covert rejection for Arnold, his wife, and his family.  Yet today, if you speak with Arnold’s son, you will not hear about what a sadist his father was.  In fact, you will not hear a single negative word about Arnold.  Rather, his son will regale you with many happy stories of affirmation, encouragement, and father-son outings.  Arnold’s son did not live in fear of his dad. Yes, he saw some outbursts, but the son also sensed they were not the true Arnold.

Nonetheless, there are lifetime emotional scars for Arnold’s family. But they were not put there by Arnold. They were put there by the graceless judgments of the Christian community that did not make the effort to get to know him and his history. DC

[216] Reffing

The reffing in the NCAA tournament is terrible.

Every year.

I coached boys high school basketball.  I was an Athletic Director at an NCAA championship school.  I love March Madness.  I watch as many games as possible.  I simply cannot understand why the officiating is not more competent.  Replays are living testimony to how bad it is.

Go to almost any playground in America and you will see youngsters playing basketball without refs.  And these can be rich, poor, black, or white, or mixed participants—in other words, groups that have great potential for conflict.  Yet with all this diversity and desire to win, they are able to officiate their own games, often without a single argument.  Players know what a foul is.  They know off whom the ball went out of bounds.

The NCAA officials do not.  Perhaps the games should be played that way, with officials in the stands solely to resolve any disputes; of course with the help of replay.  DC

[215] Hell, no

When is the last time you heard a sermon about hell?  Even a part of a sermon about hell?  I grew up watching the Billy Graham Crusades, and I remember the dynamic, physically-imposing evangelist waving his bible in the night air as he rendered stark descriptions of hell.

No more.

Every once in a while you will hear a speaker say that this life is but a “dress rehearsal” for the next.  But it pretty much stops there, making it a rather tame statement.

When there are no sermons about hell—and frankly, that seems to be the case today—we leave people with the sense that how one lives one’s life here has no real consequences beyond the grave.

So why are there no sermons about hell?  For one, it is not politically correct.  To tell someone he will be damned if he does not believe what you believe invites the retort, “Are you telling me that if I don’t believe in Jesus I’m going to hell?”  All that is missing in that angry question is “you intolerant —–?”

I think another reason is that many people just cannot wrap their head around the idea that a loving God would damn people for all eternity.  It is an extraordinarily difficult notion to accept. But so was the Holocaust, American slavery, and many horrifying natural disasters.  In any case, I include many pastors in that group.  Some believe hell is metaphoric. Others think God may give people a second chance in eternity.

God can do what he wants to do, but his son, took hell pretty seriously.  Jesus spoke of it more than he did of heaven.  DC

[212] Why not Jesus?

It seems there aren’t a whole lot of atheists around these days.  Everyone is “spiritual.”  Not in the biblical sense of course.  That would require commitment, giving control of one’s life over to someone else.  That violates perhaps the first, and arguably the only doctrine of postmodern–that truth is some ephemeral energy that is unique to each individual, and to be determined solely by that individual.

It’s a comfortable have-one’s-cake-and-eat-it-too notion.  You can be in touch with whatever spiritual force there may be in the universe—you decide of course—and you can do so free of any accountability.

It is also nonsense.  It is a lie.  Gravity exists, arithmetic exists, physical reality exists, chemistry exists.  And truth exists.

What is interesting is how the postmodern population meanders off into fantastical other-worldly Alice-in-Wonderland notions, all the while walking past a simple gospel—one that works for everyone.  Consider just that—how incredibly simple the gospel is, yet how all-encompassing it is.  Everyone has the same choice to make.  There are no buyouts for the rich who want to opt in or out, no monthly payments for the poor who want in, and no “good works” side roads for the middle class who want the benefits of faith without turning over their lives to Christ.  In short, the foolishness of the gospel is indeed confounding to the natural human mind.

My question to all those spiritualists traveling their own path to nowhere is this.  Why not Jesus?  Or is that too simple? DC

[215] Billy Graham

Billy Graham died this week, and we will never see his like again.  He was the ultimate evangelist.  In his heyday he would fill sports stadiums night after night with his Crusades.  Think of that word—crusades. For Graham, that word perfectly described his ministry.  He was God’s soldier on a campaign to bring lost souls into the kingdom.  From a human standpoint, a major key to his astounding success was likely his riveting focus on that goal.  He was an evangelist, not a pastor, not a megachurch builder, and though he ministered to presidents, not a politician.  He was all about bringing the gospel to the lost.  That is what he did, and few if any, have done it as effectively.

Handsome, dynamic, and all-in for Christ, Graham radiated a spiritual charisma.  Lamar Johnson, formerly of the Chicago White Sox told me he could feel an unnatural spiritual power emanating from Graham’s person when the evangelist spoke to a group of assembled players in a small room at what was then Comiskey Park.

He was also wise.  To avoid even a hint of impropriety, Graham took a salary rather than stuffing his pockets with the cash that rolled in to his Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Amid the scandals that have made too many televangelists little more than salesmen and carnival barkers with a bible as their prop, his organization has always been above reproach and open to audit. His personal life could hardly have been more honorable.  His policy was never to meet alone with a woman–not his wife—to insure that his character would never be questioned.

Perhaps, most of all, he preached a pure gospel.  Though sought by the powerful, Graham’s message of sin, grace, forgiveness, and salvation was undiluted.  And it was the same for every person.  For Graham, the old saw, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross,” was not a mere cliché.  It was the driving force of his message.

For those of us who remember this saint so well, the earthly ground he walked will never be the same again. DC

[214] OJ & CTE

What if the despised OJ Simpson had CTE? What then? We know that the brain of many football players have been permanently damaged. We know that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is associated with erratic, aggressive, and even violent behavior. Player after player with CTE spent much of their post-playing career behaving “out of character,” engaging in uncharacteristically self-destructive, unhealthy, and antisocial behavior.

Terry Long, Ray Easterling, Andre Waters, Junior Seau, and Dave Duerson all committed suicide. Incidents of domestic violence litter the lives of CTE victims. Dave Duerson, once honored as NFL Man of the Year for his community and volunteer service lost his Notre Dame analyst job for roughing up his wife. When he took his life at age 50, he left a note requesting that his brain be examined. I don’t have to tell you what the neurosurgeons at Boston University found with respect to the condition of Duerson’s brain.

So back to OJ. What if he suffers from severe CTE? He took a ton of football hits. His post-career behavior was apparently much different from the earlier years. No one is justifying murder here, but there may be more involved than simply sociopathic narcissism. DC

[213] Education

Education is not good.  It is not bad.  It is just education.  It is simply the objective process of transmitting knowledge and developing the capacity to think critically.

Education becomes good when it stimulates a Christian worldview.  It is also good when it is transmits knowledge to Christian learners, and teaches them to think critically.  No other education is inherently good.

My father use to say, to educate a Christian person is to create a potentially powerful disciple.  To educate an evil person is to create a devil. DC

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