How We Having The Same Debate After All Of These Years

The Rev. Dr. Phil Snider has overnight become an internet celebrity.   A video of him giving a speech at the Springfield, Missouri City Council has gone viral on the internet.  The city was considering a motion that would have  added sexual orientation and gender identity protections in the areas of employment, public housing and accommodations.  As one would think it was a highly contested issue.  Many people took their turn on the microphone addressing the Council, but none stood out more than Snider’s.

I am glad to see a minister from the Disciples of Christ taking a stand in such a public venue.  His argument is not one that is bashes people over the head with the Bible, rather it makes the hearer recall previous ways the Bible was used for the segregation of people.  Too often the Bible is used as a weapon of separation and not unity.

Enjoy the video.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan


Football and the Bible

The tiny town of Kountze, Texas was placed on the national radar this past week.  After a series of court cases and injunctions, the Kountze High School Cheerleaders are allowed to continue to use Bible scriptures as part of their pre-game, run though banner.  (read here) Because of their actions it has caused a firestorm of press, debates and protests.  The central issue (as I understand it) is whether or not it is appropriate for the cheerleaders to use Bible scriptures at a school event.  The superintendent of Kountze ISD stated that he barred them because the banners violated school policy and so the debate started.  Do the banners that the players run through before kickoff amount to school sanctioning of religion?

I am not a lawyer by profession but I believe there is a different issue at the forefront here.   The cheerleaders in my opinion are walking a very fine line.  Yes they are student lead and under the letter of the law they should be “ok” to continue, but what about doing it in uniform on the field of school sponsored football game?  Does that change the context and thus change the nature of the event?  I believe it does.

What this boils down to is that in a predominately Christian area of the state, Christianity can not be professed everywhere and this upsets people and any push back is seen as an attack of freedoms.  The fact of the matter is that at Kountze ISD there is an amalgamation of people from various faith backgrounds, contexts and ideas.  By having the cheerleaders promoting their brand of religion is stating that their way is more correct than the others.  Since they have the platform to promote their voice to a wide audience, they have the opportunity to broadcast what ever they want.  This is not fair or correct.

People have been arguing that this issue is centered on the notion of freedom of speech.  While I agree with this, would the fine people of Kountze be ok with an uplifting passage from the Koran or from the Bhagavad Gita?  If you open the door under the notion of freedom of speech then you open it to all.  You have to give the same platform for Muslims, Jews, Atheist, Agnostics and even Satanist.  It has been reported that the cheerleaders take turns choosing the uplifting message; would the parents who fought so hard to get a Philippians 4:13 banner, fight just a hard for a Hindu cheerleader to promote her religion?  Maybe, but maybe not.

There is this idea that society is assaulting Christianity or that the world has some vendetta against Christianity.  I do not believe this is the case.  I believe that some people have an issue with religion being shoved down their throat.  This has been an issue with Christianity for centuries.  Some followers of Christ believe that they have a moral imperative to make sure that everyone believes their version of Christianity.  I believe that Christianity is multi-faceted and complex; it is rich and layered with multiple ways to interpret and act upon the scriptures.   Yes there will be those who will claim that their foundation is in the Bible and the Great Commission, but I think this is pushing it past the limits of its intent.  The Great Commission calls on all who follow Christ to spread the message of love, hope, peace, joy and reconciliation.  Christ had many enemies but it was his changing of social structures and acceptance of those who society had cast out that helped the movement to grow.  No where in the Bible does Christ ever command his followers to many banners and have padded football players run through it.

Don’t the scriptures deserve better respect than to have a team of players tear it to shreds?

Faith is something that is inherently personal and for some Christianity has left a bad taste in their mouth.  Maybe it was a bad experience with a minister or perhaps they were told that because of their life choices they were not accepted in the Kingdom of God.  How would it feel to then see a banner proclaiming the best virtues of Christianity when those were not shown to you?    Instead of making a situation worse, why not live your lives in a way that expresses the faith that you hold so dear?  This will be the biggest witness that you can ever have.  I understand that to many this is a ‘non-issue’ but for the church to be seen in a positive light, people must know that just because a banner is not raised does not mean that Christianity is dead.

I know that many of you do not share the same view as I do and that’s ok.  Its not about who is right and who is wrong, rather it is about the conversation and the examination of widely held beliefs.  Many people might consider me (like many do about the Superintendent of Kountze ISD) un-Christian or even anti-Christian, but that is off the mark.  I am just expressing a theological opinion, the right of every person.

This situation is far from over, but the fact remains that Christ’s central message was love.  Let’s remember that.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Evan

What’s next? Chick-Fil-A Boycott Day?

Since my move and start of a new position in Houston,  I have been busy and have not updated as much as I had before. Thank you to you my faithful readers for sticking with me. Hopefully once things settle down I will get back in the grove. Below is a piece I wrote a while back about Chick-Fil-A ceasing their funding to organizations that are anti same sex marriage.

Thanks again for your support.


In a major announcement, months after the company was embroiled in a public debate, Chick-fil-a according to a LGBT support group has stopped making donations to organizations that are against same-sex marriages.  You can read the full article here.

Chick-fil-a in an internal memo stated that the company will treat every “treat every person with honor, dignity and respect-regardless of their beliefs, race, creed, sexual orientation and gender.”  How about that… Chick-fil-a finding their Christian roots again.  So now what are the throngs of people to do that went out on August 1 to support Chick-Fil-A’s right to “free speech” (read: believe same-sex marriage is a sin.)?  Are these God-fearing Christians now going to boycott this institution because they have gone back on what they one stood for and claimed to be Christian?  I wonder if now the leaders of Chick-Fil-A will now be allowed to get divorces and have second and even third wives.

The fact of the matter is that this is a step in the right direction.  For me, Chick-Fil-A’s original comments and actions were against my understanding of what the gospel is calling the Church and followers of Christ to be and become.  In the entire Bible, there are about 6 verses that actually in some way talk about homosexuality… that’s it… six.  No long discourses from prophets or even Jesus or even one of the dedicated disciples.  These verses are found throughout the Bible in different testaments and writings.  There is no unified voice on this.  There are more verses about proper eating habits and dietary laws than verses about homosexuality.  Where are the protests of the McDonald’s or other fast food restaurants for making people fat and indulging them in guilty, which by the way it is a sin.  But no mention of that from people in society.  Sadly the some followers of Christ have made the singling out of this small segment of the population their sole focus.  No mention of unconditional love, no mention of free grace, nothing just righteous indignation and self-righteousness, the complete opposite of what the gospel calls us to be.

If Christ was of the radical embodiment of God and acted as such, then why aren’t all followers of Christ?  Today people focus too much on one particular issue that they believe is at the center and forefront of what is means to be a follower of Christ.  In the end, does is matter if someone loves someone else of the same gender?

Chick-Fil-A has the absolute right to run their company the way they want, but the problem that many people had is that they drug all Christians into the mix.  It made all Christians look bad and it gave Christianity a bad name.

 

In Christ,

 

Rev. Evan

The Gospel According to Facebook

My latest article for the Orange County Record.


Facebook is one of the most popular websites to date with nearly 500 million users from all over the world.  From its humble beginnings in the dorm room of Harvard University, Facebook is now everywhere.  From your personal computer to your Smartphone, one is never too far away from social “interactions” found within Facebook (or as a friend of my calls it ‘faceless book’).

Facebook connects us to the world around us and we are able to share things from vacation pictures to memorial pages for those who have died.  Facebook at its core is a social networking site, connecting people across various socio-economic statuses, education levels and even religions.  Facebook in my opinion has moved past its original intent of just social networking between friends.  Businesses, churches, civil groups, clubs and even TV shows all have a presence on Facebook.  Breaking news is reported, shared, liked and commented on, all within the confines of one website.  The goal has moved from friendly conversations to specific advertisements and mass information around like issues, causes and beliefs.

What does Facebook do or has done for Christianity?  Has Facebook helped or hurt the gospel message?  Recently I began to see more and more pictures shared that read “Like if you Love Jesus” or “Keep scrolling if you love the Devil, like if you love God.”  If you are a user of Facebook like I am, you have more than likely seen these pictures (or others like it) before.  These pictures call for Christians around the world to share their faith boldly and proudly on their Facebook page so that all who may grace it will know that they are a follower of Christ.

To be honest, I can’t stand them.   They clutter my news feed and are not the reason I get on Facebook.

I do not like them for a number of reasons.  First, it makes Christianity something to do, not something that is done.  Followers of Christ are called to continue the message of Christ in the world around them.  Often in churches there are talks of “letting your light shine before others,” but there is also a warning about doing things just to get attention in the name of faith.  Does it really mean I am “less of a Christian” if I decided not to click the ‘like’ button on a picture?  Does this mean that I have sold my soul to the internet Devil because I am too consumed with posting pictures of my children?  Absolutely not.  Its one thing to have a faith and have that faith inform your life, but it is another to have a faith and guilt trip others into following your actions.  Christ did not call for us to plaster our faith across the internet.  Christ calls us to be the presence of God at all times, in all places and to all people.  A person’s faith or commitment to God/Christ is not contingent on whether or not they share a Facebook photo with their friends.

Facebook and other social media outlets like it have made the gospel a bumper sticker, for good or for ill.  Since the interaction happens in cyber space the relational connection is lessened.  Because of this the scriptures, quotations, theology and sermons can all be taken out of context and promoted as truth with little or no dialogue, conversation or explanation.  Of course this can happen anywhere, but for some reason the internet has brought this to the forefront.  Is this the 21st century model of evangelism?   I sure hope not.  Social media has it place in the propagation of the gospel, but evangelism at its core is grounded in relationships.  Evangelism is a scary word for some people because they believe it means inviting people to church or knocking on people’s doors and passing out ‘salvation tracts.’  While some people believe this is the best way to promote ones faith, I believe that being in a relationship with someone first helps to “open the door” to evangelism.  One does not even have to speak the name of Jesus Christ to get the message of Christ across.  This is what Facebook and these “like if you love Jesus” pictures fail at doing; there is no relationship, just a pretty picture with a cute font.  The gospel demands more than that.

And You Wonder Why People Aren’t Christians: Part VIII (Prayer is Not A Weapon)

My latest article for the Orange County Record. It seems to fit in my “And You Wonder Why People Aren’t Christians” Series as well.


As the Republican and Democratic National Conventions have come to a close, we are officially in election season.  Between now and Election Day (November 6), we will be inundated with attack ad after attack ad on why one particular candidate is better than the other.  Each will tout their record, their plans, their reasons for why they believe they can move this country into an era of prosperity and greatness.  Since the beginning of this Presidential election cycle, debates have been held, mud has been thrown, and names have been called.  To be honest, I believe it has gotten completely out of hand.  One can not access social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter without being bombarded by other people’s advertisements for the person they support.  Some have taken to engage in serious conversations, while others are advocating for Tim Tebow or even Jesus Christ himself to run for President.

Well in Victoria, Texas some one as taken upon themselves to buy a billboard in honor of the President.  No, this billboard doesn’t thank the President for his service or one promoting his policies or even supporting electing Gov. Romney; this particular billboard is one that is passive aggressive attack all under the guise of religion.  The billboard reads “Pray for Obama- Psalms 109:8 (sic)”  (Before we get into why this is an undermining of religion, I need to point out that when you refer to a particular Psalm, there is no need to refer to it as “Psalms”, rather refer to it in the singular.)

Psalm 109:8 reads, “May his days be few; may another take his office.”  This is a completely disingenuous use of prayer and use of scripture.  For starters, this piece of scripture is not referring to an American President or even anyone from the last 2000 years.  This Psalm is a cry to God from King David.  Dr. Robert Cargill, Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Iowa stated that “The fact that the context of Psalm 109 is actually recounting the words of a righteous King David, who is complaining about the lies and threats his enemies are making against him is apparently lost on the individual who placed this ad.”  This ad was a direct attack against the President.  This is why the Secret Service was called to investigate.  Some will say that this is free speech and it should be left alone.  Others will say that is a threat and all threats should be taken seriously.  I am not a lawyer, but a follower of Christ, this is making prayer and scripture a weapon.

Is this the prayer that God wants to hear?  Is this the way that God wants humanity to act toward another person?  I do not care if you disagree with the President or even Governor Romney, the fact still remains that we are all called to live out the gospel each to our own understanding and conscience.  No one person, no one denomination, no one pastor or anyone has a monopoly on God and on how the gospel is to be carried out.  Does this mean that I agree with all expressions of the Christian faith?  Absolutely not.  Does this mean that I am going to spend money and buy a billboard passive aggressively “praying” for them.  No, I will not.  Imagine what good could have been done, how many people could have been helped, how many bellies could have been filled if that money that was used to incite and divide was used to complete and make whole.

One day while listening to the radio I heard someone call in a show and say that they believe that God was calling all followers of Christ to vote for a particular political candidate.  I believe that God does not care who wins the election of the President of the United States of America.  I believe that God has bigger things to worry about.  This does not mean that our faith does not inform our decision making, but to say that God is trying to direct all Christians in the United States to vote for a particular candidate is stretch for me.

Many followers of Christ learn from a young age that prayer is an important spiritual discipline.  People go on spiritual prayer retreats/walks to get back in touch with the Divine.  Prayer is not a weapon that is to be pulled out when someone thinks differently than we do.  No, it is a gift that has been given to us so that followers of Christ may continue to have a close, personal, relationship with God.  People refer to the ‘power of prayer’ and how prayer sustains them and fulfills them.  There a beautiful quality to prayer.  Karl Barth, a Swiss theologian, once wrote, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”  Prayer is powerful when it is used to stop the disorder in the world.  I do not mean political leaders, but the disorder or disease, famine, hate and malice.  This is the disorder that Jesus Christ came to put and end to, this is the mission that all followers of Christ are called to embody.  So as we draw nearer to November 6, 2012, let us remember to at least try to be civil with one another.  It’s the only we are going to get through it.

Christianity and 9/11: 11 years later

Below is an article I wrote for the Orange County Record. It will be published tomorrow but I thought I would post it today on the anniversary of September 11, 2001.


Yesterday marked the 11th anniversary of the terror attacks that took place across the country on September 11, 2001. On that day nearly 3000 people lost their lives. Every year the country is called to stop and remember those who perished in a senseless act.

Since then the world is a much different place. Wars were fought in remembrance of those who died; soldiers gave their lives defending the freedoms that we have here in this country today. But one of the biggest things that happened because of 9/11 was that Islam was put on the map and under a microscope.

Christians have had a choice to make sense that day: live in fear and hatred of another religion or learn and find way to connect via common ground. Many people, many Christians have made all Muslims the enemy of the United States and even of Christianity itself. This is a tragic outlook for Christians to take; this makes all followers of Christ look bad and it is still happening today.

Since 9/11 a number of anti-Muslim websites, rallies, posts and possibly sermons have taken place. Most of them have been based in the fear, assumptions and thinly veiled truths. The other day I saw a bumper sticker that read “Mohammed is dead, Jesus is Alive!” This got me thinking, would this sticker have ever been produced if 9/11 never happened? Why are some Christians so afraid of this particular religion? Why are debates being held on whether the President of the United States is or is not a Muslim? It is unfortunate that all peaceful Muslims here in this country are lumped into a class of people that advocate to the death of innocent life. Most Christians do not want to lump together with Westboro Baptist. If we do not want to have this done to us, then why are some so quick to do it to others? Where is the grace? Where is the love? Where is the notion that all of humanity is created in the very same image of God that you and I are created in?

Islam has been around for centuries but until 9/11 I really did not know much about the religion. I knew that Islam’s holy book was called the Koran, followers of Islam or Muslims had a very strict prayer life and their prophet was named Mohammed. That was it- like many I was pretty limited on my understanding of this particular religion. Some have still not taken the time to learn more or get to know their fellow Muslim neighbor. Protests and rallies are held across this country to stop the building of mosques. Remember the big uproar that was caused when an Islam Center was going to be built near where the World Trade Centers once stood? People who were against the mosque cited that it was because of Islam that the towers fell. This is a poor analogy. If that is the case then across Europe there should be no new churches because of the atrocities of the Crusades.

When I was in seminary in Kentucky I took a World Religions course. As part of the requirement I had to visit various centers of worship across different religions. Next door to the seminary was an Islamic center. The class was invited to visit the center and witness daily prayer. After the prayer session I was able to speak to the Imam about Islam and the center itself. One of the questions I asked was “Since 9/11 how have you seen a change in the way you are treated here in Kentucky?” The Imam stated that he wished that more people understood that the terrorists did not follow what was written in the Koran and that not all Muslims acted the way they acted. He followed that up and said, “Never before have I ever had to defend my faith.”

This country was founded on the notion of religious liberty and freedom. Christians are called to be the hands and feet of God in the world at all times and to all people even those of other religions.

September 11, 2001 was one of the worst acts of violence ever enacted and we should remember those who lost their lives. But making all of Islam the villain of freedom and Christianity is wrong.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

When One Door Closes…

I haven’t really mentioned it here or on the various social media outlets but tomorrow will be my last day at my current church in Orange, Texas.  Due to the decline of church attendance and the economy, the church informed me back in May that come September 1 I would no longer be able to be paid.

I have spent the last few months interviewing and traveling trying to find a new placement; it hasn’t been the most pleasant of summers.

I guess it didn’t really hit of the finality of it all until last week when I was writing my second to last sermon.  It wasn’t like I didn’t know that the end was coming, but like most things we dread, we try to put it away from our mind; I think the professionals call it “denial.”

And now on the eve of my last sermon at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orange, Texas I am struck with the notion that it truly is the final one.  I struggled at times to craft the right parting words and realized that no such words exist.  So I composed a hope filled sermon based on the final words and commands of Christ in John.  (I’ll post the sermon audio tomorrow).  Through it all I was reminded that the words that I write do not matter, rather it is the Spirit’s movement in the moment and in the hearer’s life that makes the difference.

It has been a roller coaster of emotions- anger, fear, sadness, grief, etc. and I am not sure what the future will hold.  I am hopeful and I there are good things on the horizon (more of that to come later).

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

Sermon- The “Harsh” Message of Jesus

Today I preached a sermon entitled “The ‘Harsh’ Message of Jesus” based on John 6:56-69 (Common English Bible).

Enjoy!

Sermon Link

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

When Did We Stop Caring For People?

Latest article for the Orange County Record


Humans in general are pretty predictable.   We drive to work the same way, we go shopping at the same store, we drink our coffee at the same time in the morning, etc.  However, it generally when things are out of the ordinary that people start to take notice.

A couple of weeks ago, “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day” was met with Facebook posts, tweets, blog posts, rants and more than likely sermons all centered around the notion that a company can support anti-same sex marriage policy.  Many people agreed with this and many people did not.

Like I mentioned in my previous article, the problem with this debate is that no one actually talked about the real issue, same sex marriage.  People were marginalized and stereotyped based on prejudices.  Throughout this entire ordeal I became aware that humanity indeed is quite callous and ego centric.

Only a few days after this outpouring of support for Chick-Fil-A, an armed man opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.  Six worshippers and the gunman lost their lives.  It was a tragic and senseless event.  However, while there were news reports, there wasn’t the outpouring that was seen with Chick-Fil-A.  This, my friends, is quite disturbing.

When did we stop caring for people?  Can you imagine the outcry if someone would have murdered people in a church in small town America?  There would have been candle light vigils, facebook pictures of memorial, tweets of support and prayer and blog posts flooding the internet.  What does it say about our country and even followers of Christ when more time and effort is spent on a chicken sandwich than on seven lives lost?

People sadly only care about what they believe affects them or threatens them.  Because of this many people failed to have the one thing that Christ himself calls us to have, compassion.  If we believe that all of humanity is created in the image of God, then our hearts should break over the loss of life, no matter their religion, belief system, sexual orientation or background.  Christ’s compassion is given to all people, in all place and all times, not just to people who think like us, look like us, work like us or come from the same background as us.  This goes against the gospel message.  When did the gospel of love turn into the gospel of conditional love?  Was God’s love given to us on conditions?  No it was not.  The love of God is given to all of humanity as a free gift.

As followers of Christ, we are to live our life in a way that reflects that divine, perfect and wonderful love.  For followers of Christ we believe that this divine love was perfected in human form in the person of Jesus the Christ.  As we journey throughout our lives we are constantly trying to find ways to show and give this love away to other, with no strings attached.  Unfortunately, humans have yet again found a way to marginalize ‘the other.’  Too often in churches around the world, people are not met with open arms they are met with a list of ways they need to change before they are allowed to enter the congregation.  While this may not be explicitly said, there is however, an undercurrent of moral superiority that takes place within the four walls of some church buildings.

How is it fair to have been given unconditional love but fail to give it in return?

We cannot claim that God’s love is for everyone and then try to put conditions on it.  That is like saying to someone, “I will only love you fully if you do this for me.”  By giving unconditional love we then are opening ourselves up to the possibilities of what God can do through us.  We are able to see someone for who they are, who they were created to be.

I pray for comfort for the families of the seven who died in Wisconsin.  The loss of innocent life is one of the worst things that can ever happen to a family or community.  May the compassion of God rain down.

Opening Ceremonies = Acceptance?

Every two years the world sets its sights on a different location in the world for either the summer or winter Olympic Games. The Olympics Games showcase the best of athletic skill and poise. As the games begin the Opening Ceremonies show the world that despite the differences between cultures, religions, belief systems and even war conflicts, the spirit of competition and sportsmanship prevail.

Perhaps we as followers of Christ can learn from these Olympic athletes, not in the sense of striving for athletic perfection but for acceptance. Too often we can have preconceived notions regarding a group of people or even a religion. We jump to conclusions, we make wild accusations and claims, all because we believe we have superior views or concepts over others.

Jesus Christ calls us to a different standard. We are called to welcome the stranger, love the other, and pray for our enemy. Jesus’ command is one that made the law of God harder and for some it too difficult to follow. It is easier to think we have it all figured out and that our ways are the best but as followers of Christ we cannot act this way.

If we claim to be followers of Christ, then we must show it all people at all times in all places; we cannot show the love of Christ when we want or when it is convenient, or when we like the people we are around. By doing so we are putting conditions on love, something God did not do to us. I John 4:19 reads “we love because God first loved us.” The author of I John is stating that the only reason you have the capacity to love another human being is because God first loved you; by putting conditions on love we are limiting the unconditional love that was shown to us and squandering a free gift that was given by God. What makes us the moral standard for people? We are sinful and prideful and arrogant, just like other people. We have been given grace and we must show grace, we have been given love and we must show love, we have been given acceptance and we must accept others no matter their race, creed, skin color, socio-economic status or sexual orientation. All are children of God and deserve our love, respect and care. By denying that from people, we are effectively denying the love of God from them. Who are we to deny people the love of God? It was given to us freely, so we should give it freely as well.

Loving others despite differences is hard and it something that can take a life time and some hard work, much like the life of an Olympic athlete.

Let us remember to love one another because God has loved us so much.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan