ChurchETHOS

Compassionate Moment

Posted in church leadership, cultural relevance, social justice, uncategorized by Nathan Creitz on October 16, 2009

I ran across this video recently from the Catalyst Conference and had some conflicting emotions as I watched it. As a communicator of God’s Word, I am intensely aware of the power of emotion and the importance of using it effectively (though I often make mistakes). Take a moment to watch this video (especially starting from 3:45) and get an impression and then rejoin me for thoughts after:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve made mistakes as a communicator so when I watch a video like this and comment on it I do so for my own learning experience (and perhaps my readers can learn from this as well). Let me also say that I have full confidence in the integrity of Compassion International and for everyone on the stage during this video. However, I think some steps could’ve been taken to avoid an awkward situation. This post is sort of like a case study for communicator’s.

Jimmy and Mark’s story was very powerful. I can’t imagine a more compelling story and I know the Holy Spirit was at work in this moment. Compassion International is a reputable organization and I have lots of friends who have attended Catalyst conferences. But after Jimmy meets Mark, I thought the way the MC handled this situation was distracting and misguided. Again, coming purely from a communicator’s perspective, I think we need to learn from this moment and be aware of the power of emotion. This was a powerful moment but at the end it felt like a commercial (even though he said it wasn’t. I’m always extremely sensitive especially to the way we ask for money even for a worthy cause).

Now, I know that hundreds of children got sponsored through this event, but my concern with this video doesn’t have anything to do with poverty. In fact, it doesn’t have anything to do with motives. I’m sure the people who coordinated this moment were hoping to persuade as many people as possible to sponsor a child and that they were doing so for the right reasons.

I don’t want to attack anyone’s motives, but I do want to caution about methods. To me the moment after Jimmy and Mark met I was longing for someone to whisk them off stage and then lead the crowd in a time of praise for the One who made all this possible. Of course, no one doubted that it was the Spirit who was working in that room at that moment, but it seemed to go way, way too quickly to a plea for money.

So, viewing this as a case study, I invite your insights. Should this moment have been planned differently? Maybe with videos or with more tact? Should someone have prepped the MC to feel free to go off script if the moment was too powerful to proceed? What lessons do we learn as church leaders about the power of emotion and our need to carefully consider what may or may not happen in a moment such as this?

You can also continue the conversation over at the  Compassion Blog.

You can become a Compassion International sponsor here.

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Please Disregard Wiley Drake’s Foolish Remarks!

Posted in christian thought, church reform, social justice, theology by Nathan Creitz on June 5, 2009

ImageServerDB “I am glad George Tiller is dead.”

Those words were not uttered by Tiller’s murderer (to my knowledge). Instead, they were uttered by someone who claims to believe in the Bible. They were uttered by a former VP in the Southern Baptist Convention. They were uttered by a pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, California. His church must be so proud. They were uttered by Wiley Drake.

Will the real Wiley Drake please sit down!

Who is Wiley Drake? I’ve been to maybe eight or nine Southern Baptist Conventions so I know a little bit about him. At the convention each year, resolutions are voted for or against. Some are good, some are bad, some are crazy.

Since it is a democratic process, anyone, and I do mean ANYONE who is in attendance as an official delegate to the convention from ANY Southern Baptist church around the world, can submit a resolution on the floor of the convention. I’ve heard Wiley Drake’s name for years because he is always proposing some resolution. His resolutions are always from way out in left field.

Though the SBC has been trying to redeem its reputation as a positive force for Biblical values and social justice and care for neighbor, Wiley Drake seems to be stuck in a hyper-fundamentalist funk. As far as the SBC has come in recent years, they still make mistakes. A couple of years ago, for some reason, the SBC voted to make Wiley Drake our 2nd VP of the convention. What?

For Drake to become an official officer of the SBC was amazing. For all those years I remember the following scenario played out many times:

Moderator: “The platform recognizes microphone #3. State your name, church, and resolution.”

Drake: “My name is Wiley Drake…

ALL SBC convention delegates: *sigh* *groan* *oh boy, here we go*

Except seven Drake supporters: *applause* *whistle* *hoot*

Drake: “I’m the pastor and messenger of First Southern Baptist Church, Buena Park, California.

ALL SBC convention delegates (except those same seven supporters): *collective roll-of-the-eyes*

Drake: “Be it resolved that the SBC and all Bible-believing Christians must overthrow the US government because they don’t know God. Let’s go get our guns people!” (this is a hypothetical example from my own imagination but trust me, the truth is stranger than fiction)

So what did we do? We elected him. WE ELECTED HIM! It was a beautiful strategy (some thought): Now, all of a sudden, for at least one year, Wiley Drake was unable to propose any resolutions because he was an officer of the convention. yeah!

The drawback was that now when he does something controversial and public (those very well may be his core values) he’s referred to in the news as “former Vice President of the 16 million member Southern Baptist Convention”. His title is given as if he speaks for all who call themselves Christian. As Richard Land said of Obama’s election recently, “Elections have consequences.” That was never more true than when the SBC elected Wiley Drake to be an officer of the convention.

So what did he do now?

So why am I talking about this today? Well, there was an Associated Baptist Press article about Drake’s interview with Alan Colmes. Many of his comments are disturbing. Drake had been praying for Tiller’s death because he thought some of the prayers David prays in the Psalms means God wants Tiller dead. Colmes asked him if he prayed those sorts of prayers about anyone else. Drake said, “The usurper that is in the White House is one, B. Hussein Obama.”

Colmes: “Are you praying for his death?”

Drake: “Yes,”

Colmes: “So you’re praying for the death of the president of the United States?”

Drake: “Yes.”

I want to ask: Are you praying for his salvation? his forgiveness? his family? his policy making? his soul? his redemption?

Here are a few more quotes from the interview: “I think it’s appropriate to pray the Word of God,” Drake said. “I’m not saying anything. What I am doing is repeating what God is saying.”

“I believe the whole Bible, Alan,” he explained. “I don’t just preach part of it. I don’t just preach the soft, fuzzy, warm stuff where we’re supposed to be nice to everybody. I preach the whole Bible.”

Does the Bible really say that?

Let me make a few points in response to Drake’s hate-prayers from the Bible of which he claims to know so well:

Romans 2:4 Do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (HCSB)

The fact that God doesn’t immediately wipe EVERYONE off the face of the earth is a miracle. Now, why is He holding back? So they might repent and turn to Him.

John 3:17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (HCSB)

Jesus, for some reason, didn’t act vindictively against those who rejected Him. Maybe it was because of His love. In fact, when they nailed Him to a cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Did you get that, “forgive them“. Chances are, Tiller simply didn’t know what he was doing either. So, we pray for people’s souls and for their forgiveness, not for their death.

When someone takes matters into their own hands and murders someone like Tiller, they are taking away the possibility that Tiller might repent, turn from evil, choose good, and follow Christ. That’s why God restrains Himself. Imagine how many people are rejecting God and working against Him, even cursing Him. But does He want them dead? No, He wants them to repent!

Matthew 5:44-45 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (HCSB)

I’m not saying I have any enemies or that we should consider the Tiller’s of the world to be enemies, but what Jesus is saying is that it’s not enough to simply love your friends and family, if you are going to be children of God you have to act like Him and learn how to love everyone. I feel like loving people (not asking God to kill them) is a pretty strong commandment somewhere in the Bible…I’ve definitely heard it somewhere before…oh yeah: Matthew 19:19; 22:37ff, Mark 12:29ff, Luke 10:25ff, 1 John 4:21, Leviticus 19:18, etc.

An enemy of a Christian should receive more love and prayer and forgiveness than the friend of anyone else. An enemy of a Christian should benefit from that relationship in some way.

1 Timothy 2:1-3 First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (HCSB)

I could say a lot about this verse. Suffice it to say that a) prayers and thanksgivings should be for “those who are in authority”, not against. b) Wiley Drake isn’t modeling this passage. c) Drake’s actions aren’t leading anyone “to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (he certainly doesn’t seem to be living a tranquil and quiet life either). d) This doesn’t mean we can’t disagree with our leaders, but the focus here is on prayer for them and not on political activism.

Romans 13:1 Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. (HCSB)

I disagree more often than not with what Obama does, but I recognize that he, along with Pilate (John 19:11), and Nebuchadnezzer (Jeremiah 27:7) AND King David (1 Samuel 16) before him were given authority according to the counsel of God’s own will. Good rulers and bad, through the history of the world (and I’m suspending judgment on which kind of ruler Obama will be) have come along and we are to pray for them and recognize that God has a plan in allowing them to be in positions of power.

A call for a response

I’m not sure how to get in touch with Wiley Drake but I encourage him to respond to this post. You can find my email address on this blog. I will even allow him to write a guest post for ChurchETHOS to explain more fully his remarks about George Tiller’s murder. I prefer to go to confront someone in private but when someone damages the faith so publicly I take it upon myself to make it known to MY friends and family that I am not a follower of Wiley Drake (or of King David for that matter). I am a follower of Jesus and I refuse to stand by quietly and let the name of Christ be stained so publicly.

A lot has been said about George Tiller’s murder in recent days. The only thing that needs to be said by children of God and followers of Jesus is that murder is wrong and that we will be praying for his family. Drake’s comments are careless, theologically misguided, and damages the churches reputation with the unchurched.

In all fairness I should say that Drake did make a few qualifying remarks; like the fact that he hadn’t been praying for Tiller’s murder, just his death. Not much better.

He also had this to say:

“This whole concept that we’re always to pray little, nice, soft, fluffy, prayers — that we’re not to pray imprecatory prayer — has been something that just, in all honesty, that Southern Baptists have lost, and we need to regain imprecatory prayer,” Drake said. “It is in the Bible, and we are proud to say as Southern Baptists that we believe the Book. You’ve got to believe the whole Book, brother, or you don’t believe any of it.”

You got one thing right, Wiley, most Southern Baptists, to their credit, have lost this judgmental sort of prayer life.

I ask for my reader’s forgiveness

I don’t usually call someone out for their errors in such a public way and I pray my readers forgiveness for this post, but I don’t apologize for what I’m saying. If Wiley Drake can so publicly defame the name of Jesus with his careless comments I will exhort him publicly to return to Christ-like love, forgiveness, and grace. Wiley, I will pray for you and I offer these comments for your edification, not your destruction. My prayers are for your repentance and not your death. I can only hope that those who desire to reply to this post on this humble semi-private blog will reply with more tact and grace than I have exhibited in my reaction to the story that is playing out much more publicly in media outlets around the country.

If someone knows how to get in touch with Wiley Drake for his comments, please send this post on to him.

Related Post: Terminating Tiller’s Life is Worse than Tiller Terminating Lives ::  Subscribe

Terminating Tiller’s Life is Worse than Tiller Terminating Lives

Posted in christian thought, politics, social justice by Nathan Creitz on June 1, 2009

art.tiller.kakeCNN reported Obama’s statements following Dr. George Tiller’s murder: “However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.”

I AGREE WITH THE PRESIDENT (on this issue)!

The senseless murder of an abortion doctor or of an unborn baby will not resolve our differences. Recently, Obama said we must find a common ground on this issue of abortion. Maybe our common ground should be that proponents on both sides of the issue would cease the heinous acts of violence.

Let me be clear, I believe most abortions are not justified and it is a huge problem in our country. I am pro-life with the understanding that a small percentage of abortions might be justifiable! Even Obama believes we should work to lower the abortion rate. Convenience should never be a motivation for an abortion (not saying that’s the only motivation, don’t misunderstand me).

On the other hand, as one who finds school and church shootings especially deplorable, and as one who thinks advocates for the unborn should be especially peace-loving and life-loving, and as one who sees martyring an abortion doctor as particularly unraveling to the anti-abortion cause: I am more outraged by the murder of George Tiller than I am of all the crimes against humanity Tiller has performed in the past 40 years of performing late-term abortions.

I am joining with the President, Planned Parenthood and other Pro-Choice activists as well as fellow peace-loving Pro-Life activists in condemning this act of violence. On the issue of abortion, this may be the first (and perhaps last?) time I will be in such whole-hearted agreement with these groups.

My heart goes out to Tiller’s family, to his church, and to his friends and community. You are in my prayers!

Do Right Beliefs Get in the Way of Good Works?

Posted in book review, christian thought, social justice, theology by Nathan Creitz on May 19, 2009
DSB Logo

DSB Question 2 of 10

The second question that Michael Wittmer asks in his book Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough is, “Do right beliefs get in the way of good works?”

Wittmer asks this question because he felt like his very conservative background “reduced the Christian life to little more than an information dump”. His church encouraged people to come listen to about three sermons per week but there was little action that transpired as a result. There was truth but not much love.

On the other hand, he contrasts the conservatives with the “postmodern innovators”. This group seems to be practicing a faith that is exciting. The only problem is they seem to have love but no concern for truth. Wittmer writes, “I appreciate this renewed turn to practice, but wonder why we must turn from doctrine to get there.

So, conservatives might answer the question, “No, our beliefs carry over into good works.” but their lives would not be a reflection of that “belief”. Postmodern innovators might answer the question, “Yes, right beliefs do get in the way of good works” and their lives would be a true reflection of their answer. At least the postmodern innovators are being true to their convictions. Sad, that the conservatives who strongly focus on right doctrine are often the ones being untrue to their convictions.

There’s “nothing that excludes faster than belief” in the minds of the postmodern innovators. They have even gone so far as to say that God’s love is accessible to everyone. The only ones He excludes are those who themselves exclude others or those who opt out and want nothing to do with God. This is seen as a loving position by postmodern innovators.

Wittmer illustrates the two positions like this:

DSB conservativesDSB postmodern innovators

As you can see the conservatives have strong, exclusive beliefs, but are they showing love? On the other hand, the postmodern innovators seem to be showing love to their neighbors, but do they really believe in anything? Peter Rollins, a postmodern innovator said, “When it comes to God, we have nothing to say to others and we must not be ashamed of saying it.” Rollins even eschews evangelism to be evangelized by others, as if other beliefs have as much (maybe even more?) value than does Christianity. Wittmer disagrees and says, “Those communities that downplay the specific, historic doctrines of the Christian faith in order to ‘share experiences and encounter God in other traditions’ will soon become a baptized version of a Rotary or Kiwanis Club.”

So is it really belief if you don’t act? Is it really love if you just accept?

Wittmer does a great job of showing the deeper love that comes as a result of true beliefs. Only Christians can express God’s love to others. He asks, “But what if love is broader than inclusion? What if it means to seek the best for the other, to sacrificially give of yourself so that the other might flourish, and what if the unique items of the Christian faith supply both the model and the motive for doing this?”

As Christians we should believe that we were once living in sin. We believe that God’s grace has rescued from that life of sin and He has forgiven us. This leads, not to another belief, but to an expression of gratitude to God. So, our beliefs have turned into an expression but it doesn’t end  there. This gratitude causes us, as Wittmer suggests, to ask “How am I to thank God for such deliverance?” We soon discover that good works are a natural way of showing our gratitude to God. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” What commands? Without a correct understanding of where we’ve been (sin, death) we will never adequately share with others where they could and should be (grace, life).

We’ve seen the mistakes of the conservatives and the postmodern innovators. So what should it look like to have good doctrine and good deeds? Here’s another illustration from DSB:

DSB right belief

Sometimes it is loving and necessary to exclude. Wittmer gives the example of parents who lovingly push their child out of the “nest”, a coach who demotes a player until she begins training harder, or a church that removes an unrepentant member from the privileges of membership. Sometimes, love excludes if love is acting in the best interests of the other.

Another example of mine is that I personally would hate to believe a lie, live for a lie, and die for a lie. Sadly, we must realize that with all the religions in the world believing all sorts of different things, someone is believing a lie. There is either no god, one god, or more than one gods. Only one of those can be true. The truth hurts but it is an act of love to help people to see the truth.

Our beliefs should generate loving deeds to our neighbor. If they don’t then we’ve got a big problem with our beliefs. Our love should be rooted in our belief that God has forgiven us and that He loves us. If it isn’t then our love is empty and worthless (filthy and rag-like I’m sure). Right belief produces right practice. If we leave one out then we don’t have enough respect for Jesus to follow Him the way we should.

This post is the third in a series of posts that will answer the ten questions that Michael Wittmer raises in his book “Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough”. Learn how you can get a free copy of the book here.

Must You Believe Something to be Saved?

Posted in book review, christian thought, social justice, theology by Nathan Creitz on May 15, 2009
DSB Question 1 of 10

DSB Question 1 of 10

To my conservatively raised ears, this question really sounds irrelevant. Just off the top of my head I think of things like: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16 HCSB) and “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 HCSB) and finally, “if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 HCSB)

So what’s the problem? Why ask that question?

In his book, Don’t Stop Believing, Michael Wittmer tells us why we have to ask this question. He brings up the question that all conservative Christians have been asked at one time in our lives. Like the father who asked “Would your God send my boy to hell because he never said, ‘Jesus save me,’ but he’d let Hitler go to heaven for saying the magic words?” To my knowledge, Hitler never did say “the magic words”, but this hypothetical scenario gets to the heart of what it means for God to be just. Is it really a few words spoken with sincerity that can make “the everlasting difference between me and the guy in the next cubicle”?

The question about Hitler was posed to postmodern Christian thinker Brian McLaren. He responded by saying that the man’s son “acted a lot like Jesus,” and that “God must be proud of your son.” All this because he did a good deed. Does Brian McLaren know the heart of the son? It seems to me that this enabled the father to conclude that Brian’s God respects good behavior – never mind about good beliefs. God doesn’t need that kind of PR because it doesn’t adequately respect who God is!

And by the way, my answer to the question about Hitler is that God has a track record of redeeming violently evil people. Think of the apostle Paul. What about Sam Berkowitz? To believe that God couldn’t save someone like Hitler shows a lack of faith in God. Had I been in Brian McLaren’s place I would’ve assured the father that God sent His innocent Son to die so that his son could live an abundant life fully in favor with God. Does that sound fair?

It makes me sick to think that a so-called Christian leader could dismiss the justice and mercy and the grand story of God so casually and make it sound like it’s up to your own good behavior to find favor with Him. Again, that’s not the kind of reputation that God Himself presents to us, so why would we spread those lies to others?

These are the reasons why we must answer the question: Must you believe something to be Saved? It’s because of people like Brian McLaren and Spencer Burke (who believes that we begin life accepted by God and that we “stay in his grace, unless we opt out”). Wittmer even describes meeting another influential “Christian” leader who said that we must update our theology to stay relevant to our culture.

There is nothing more relevant than the timeless Truth already given to us by God: We are hopelessly incapable of pleasing God, but God loves us and offers His Son as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. Hitler doesn’t deserve that kind of forgiveness, but neither do I. I hate to say it, but without God’s grace and forgiveness, I would be closer in morals to Hitler than I would be to Jesus Christ. There is no comparison between my good behavior and God. That’s why good behavior will never be enough.

So why did God decide to let it be about belief and not behavior?

Why won’t He allow us into His kingdom if we can answer affirmatively the questions, “Did you experience joy in life?” and, “Did you help others to experience joy in life?” Why won’t He allow us into His kingdom if we simply follow a good path, but not necessarily the “Jesus path”? Why won’t He allow us into His kingdom simply because our good behavior outweighs the bad?

God made it about belief because His favor cannot be earned. He could’ve made it about love, or acts of kindness, or compassion, or mercy, but those things would then be a source of pride to us. Only belief says we are completely at His mercy. Only belief is humble enough to admit our own weakness and trust in His strength. No one can boast in their belief, as if they have more belief than another. Belief is belief. You either believe or you don’t believe. It doesn’t matter how much or how little belief you have, it’s not about you. Belief admits that it’s all about Him.

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 HCSB)

I guess some like McLaren and Burke can easily dismiss God’s revealed Word casually, but I can’t. Does that make me a fundamentalist? Well, according to Wittmer, I’m more of a postmodern conservative. I agree with him that it needs to be about belief and behavior, faith and works. Wittmer asks, “Doesn’t God demand right belief and right actions?”

What should we believe?

The part of this chapter in Don’t Stop Believing that I really like is the section on what believers must believe. We must believe that we are sinners and that it is through Jesus that we can find forgiveness. Not too complicated.

But Wittmer takes it a step farther by talking about the truths that a Christian must not reject: the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Jesus, and the “historical truth and significance of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and return”. Finally, he advocates for some truths that we all should believe: perfections of God, humans are the image of God, Church is Christ’s body, Bible is God’s Word, Biblical story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Of course, these beliefs may not be understood when someone first receives Jesus as Master of their lives, but if they trust Jesus enough to follow Him, these other truths will be easy to accept.

Wittmer writes, “Contrary to what some postmodern innovators believe, those who reject these foundational doctrines of the Christian faith cannot be saved, no matter how swell they are and how well they behave. Being good is not good enough. We must know and believe something – the basic facts about salvation – to be saved.” He is referring to the “must believe” and “must not reject” categories as essentials to being a Christian. Indeed, it is not enough merely to do good deeds. However, our faith leads to works. Because we recognize the love God has for us, we freely show others grace and compassion and love.

Good belief without good behavior is like mixing in all the ingredients for a loaf of bread but forgetting to put it in the oven. Good behavior without good belief is like putting a loaf pan in the oven without filling it with ingredients. Either way, the world doesn’t get to benefit from the Bread of Life because of our unwillingness to believe or behave in a way that brings glory to God. Belief isn’t really belief if it doesn’t inspire living like Jesus in the first place.

This post is the first in a series of posts that will answer the ten questions that Michael Wittmer raises in his book “Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough”. Read my introductory post to the DSB series here, and then learn how you can get a free copy of the book here.

The Christian Response to Prostitution

Posted in christian thought, cultural relevance, social justice by Nathan Creitz on April 23, 2009
Rembrandt "Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery

"Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery" by Rembrandt

On Tuesday I wrote a post about the legalization of prostitution. The response to that post in the comments, on Facebook, and other social sites like Twitter and Reddit has been very interesting. Everyone from fundamentalists to sex workers have been voicing their opinion on the matter. Some have voiced their opinions on legal grounds and others have been on moral grounds (though I tried to do a fair job of keeping it on the legal side for the sake of discussion).

So, what do we do about it? ChurchETHOS is meant to help the church think about it’s habits and it’s reputation in the world. Churches have a lot of bad habits and as a result many people have rejected the teachings of Jesus because of our poor reputation with outsiders. When confronted with an issue like prostitution what can your church do to make a positive difference?

» Show Some Love

Whatever you do, don’t get out your Sharpie and poster board and start thinking up catchy slogans about how much God hates certain groups of people. For one thing, He doesn’t! For another thing, it’s exactly the opposite; God loves prostitutes, homosexuals, murderers, and fundamentalists even if He doesn’t condone their actions. So, if we are in fact, children of God who bear the DNA of the Creator, then we will love people. I’m not going to say, we should love them, because that sets up an us vs. them mentality. I’m not going to point to Bible verses so that we feel obligated to love people who aren’t like us. There is no obligation; there is no need for exhortation; a child of God loves people! It’s part of who we are.

» Preach the Word

Pastors and other church leaders need to preach and teach the Word to the church. Emphasis should be on God’s love in giving us sex and intimacy and marriage and family. We need to talk candidly and frequently (but tactfully) about the blessings of sex but we shouldn’t shy away from talking about the dangers physically and morally of engaging in sex outside of marriage. More than that, we need to cast vision for husbands and wives that they can be faithful to one another. We need to cast vision for parents that they can raise their children to avoid moral pitfalls. We need to cast vision for teens that even though they are inundated with sexual images daily they can find ways to live a victorious life through Christ.

» Make it Personal

The church has thrown away it’s street cred by trading in it’s relational mission to the poor and the marginalized for a seat of power in Washington. It is debatable whether that seat has done more harm than good for the kingdom of God. Our collective denouncement of the world has taken its effect: we got our seat for a time but people got tired of hearing what we stand against. Not to mention that the fundamentalists failed to consider what happens when the White House no longer cares what the church thinks. The social capital that once belonged to the church is spent.

I’ve written elsewhere that our faith shouldn’t be a public faith (or private). Instead, our faith should be personal. If your church leans more towards boycotts than towards building relationships with people who don’t watch Pat Robertson on TV then change needs to happen in your church. I’m willing to let our voice in Washington fade if we renew our Gospel mission to our neighbor on a more personal, relational level.

» Show Compassion

A lot of people who are involved in prostitution don’t want to be involved in it. The church can help them find something better for their lives. The church can help counsel those who have sexual addictions. The church can take troubled teens into their homes who may have been trafficked for sex. The church can provide a non-judgmental atmosphere for people to ask questions about God. The church can raise money and awareness for social issues.

Laws only take us so far. They are given primarily to protect society. The church can do more through compassion than the government can through taxes and policies and legislation. That will only work, though, if the church actually addresses issues like prostitution. If we just try and get more control in Washington then the real mission work will never get done.

» A Parable

Once, a group of religious leaders brought to Jesus a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3-11). I always wondered about that story. Didn’t they catch the man in the act of adultery, too? Why didn’t they bring him to Jesus? What would Jesus have said to him? It seems unfair that the woman is the only one who is blamed.

To anyone wanting to legalize prostitution I promise I won’t try and fight you on it. I’m not going to stock up on poster board and Sharpies. Of course, my personal vote in the ballot box is one thing but I’m not going to try and mobilize an army of voters against you. Legally, I would rather see us place more emphasis on those who kidnap, abuse, and exploit women and children for their own monetary gain than on the women who often feel ostracized from society.

There are some things that should not be on the market: drugs, machine guns, sex, etc. They can all be dangerous because of their power even though they aren’t bad in all contexts (like in medicine, military, and marriage respectively). The buyer should be just as accountable as the seller when it comes to such dangerous commodities. However, I want to address issues like prostitution the way Jesus would address them. He spoke personally to the woman caught in adultery. He challenged her not to live in sin. He went beyond the law that demanded her death because he knew her accusers couldn’t live up to the law either. He spoke to her heart. He loved her. He connected with her. He forgave her.

May we the church begin acting in a way that is pleasing to our Lord and that brings about transformation in the hearts and lives of our neighbors!

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Should We Legalize Prostitution?

Posted in christian thought, cultural relevance, social justice by Nathan Creitz on April 21, 2009
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image courtesy of wili_hybrid

Should we legalize prostitution? As far as I can tell the answer to that question in most people’s opinions is basically either “yes” or “no”. An astute observation on my part as you can see. But maybe there’s another response to the question? Before we can arrive at a conclusion let’s look at the various complexities and reasons for these two choices.

Yes! Let’s legalize prostitution.

The major legitimate arguments in favor of legalizing prostitution are summarized as follows:

1. What two consenting adults choose to do behind closed doors is their decision, regardless of the consequences. Prostitution is a victimless crime.

2. Legalized prostitution would allow better regulation and protection for women who would otherwise keep quiet if they suffer abuse in any way.

3. Since prostitution is outlawed it is often done in shady locations. Legalizing prostitution would cut down on “back-alley deals”. Besides, our jails are overcrowded. We should focus on the real crimes.

No! Prostitution should remain illegal.

The major legitimate arguments in favor of keeping prostitution illegal are summarized as follows:

1. To decriminalize prostitution would send a mixed message to society that this is acceptable behavior.

2. It destroys families. Trust between a husband and wife are broken. Finances that could be used for the family are spent recklessly.

3. The prostitutes themselves are the real victims, often suffering abuse or are the victims of other crimes such as trafficking.

4. Prostitution, for obvious reasons, is one of the major contributors to the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases.

Hopefully, the reasons given above are fair to both sides. In the comments section you are free to add other reasons why you might choose to answer “yes” or “no”, but now I want to give my commentary on the issue and hopefully make a case for a “third way”.

What Do I Think?

At this point, you might expect me to pull out a few Bible verses to support why I would say “no” to legalizing prostitution. However, since our society consistently rejects Biblical values, I want to argue my position on their terms. Secondly, my answer isn’t “no” to the legalization of prostitution…but it isn’t “yes” either. There is no question that prostitution is morally wrong on Biblical grounds. The question is, should it or should it not be illegal? We are not discussing the morality of prostitution, we are discussing it’s legality.

So what is my position? Leave prostitution alone until we’ve done something about the men (primarily) who are raping, demeaning, and enslaving women through prostitution! In other words, I’m not as concerned about the selling of sex (Again, we are debating legality not morality) but paying for sex should’ve been illegal yesterday. Let me explain:

Legislation is passed for several reasons, but primarily it is for the protection of the members of society. The quick “yes” or “no” answers to the question of the legality of prostitution have led to a stalemate. Those who answer “yes” to our question believe the “workplace conditions” would be safer if prostitution were legal. Those who answer “no” believe the practice of prostitution itself is unsafe, and therefore should be illegal to keep more people from engaging in it.

But consider the following statistics:

– 92% of women prostitutes said they wanted to leave prostitution immediately, but couldn’t because they lack basic human services such as a home, job training, health care, counseling and treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. (Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation)
– The average age of when a girl enters prostitution is 14. (Prostitution Research)
– Females in prostitution have a mortality rate 40 times higher than the national average. (Factbook on Global Sexual Exploitation)
– 68-80% of prostitutes are raped during prostitution. (Prostitution Research)
– A compilation of sources suggests that about 60% of all prostitutes are forced into prostitution against their will, 38% are forced into prostitution due to hardship and economic factors, leaving only 2% that willingly engage in prostitution and (apparently) love their job. (Prostitution Research)

These statistics (and others that could be cited) show that primarily the buying and selling of sex is of most harm to the woman. I would surmise that, emotionally, the person that is harmed most besides the prostitute is the wife of the man who is paying for sex. This isn’t a crime against the man, the man is the criminal. He is primarily the one who is doing the damage to society in this case.

We pass laws to protect society. I’m not suggesting that we legislate every issue that might be harmful to a person or to a society. We all make stupid decisions that may or may not have an effect on others. But the preponderance of issues like rape, drug abuse, physical abuse, adultery, murder, incest, sex trafficking, child exploitation, alcohol abuse, theft, low mortality rate, female exploitation, divorce, and kidnapping that are linked with prostitution give weight to my argument. We need to make it illegal to pay for sex in America.

What Now?

What does this have to do with ChurchETHOS? Remember, ethos has to do with the habits or customs of a group or society, and it also has to do with the character or reputation of an individual, group or society. How we respond as a church to this issue will reveal our character to those outside the church. So, I will be posting a follow up post with some practical things I think the church can do to tackle this issue responsibly that strengthens our reputation with the unchurched. There I will describe exactly why this issue will help us think through our habits and customs and how to improve our relationships with those who don’t share our convictions. Meanwhile, feel free to share why you would say “yes”, “no” or “prostitution isn’t the main problem” in the comments below.

Related Post: The Christian Response to Prostitution ::  Subscribe ::  Why Subscribe?

Spread the Wealth

Posted in christian thought, cultural relevance, social justice by Nathan Creitz on October 23, 2008

After learning about the global crisis of poverty in a previous post we are left with the question, “What now?” When we consider all of the problems in the world that are brought on by greed, materialism, or quests for power many of us are left despairing that we can’t do anything to help. Poverty is a problem that only big organizations or governments can handle. Let them deal with the problem. And yet, it’s my belief that when confronted with issues of social justice or the environment that it is precisely “we the people” who can make the difference and not the government. I’m not wealthy, but when it comes to sharing what I have with others, I would prefer to do that with my own hands and not through the government as intermediary.

When dealing with the issue of poverty, there are several things that each of us could do right now! Short of “selling all and giving it to the poor”, what are some things that we can do to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves? Though we may not have much, is there something we can do to help?

Show Some Respect

The first thing I would suggest is that when it comes to interacting with people less privileged than ourselves we need to show some respect. The person asking for money on the street corner may not have a college degree or a nice car like you but that doesn’t mean they are any less valuable. For some reason, we get the attitude that a person living on the street is irresponsible, wants to use my money for cigarettes, and is incapable of holding a job. That may be, but do we have to assume it to be true (unless it’s written on a sign)? Why not assume the best rather than the worst in people. Who knows, maybe they do have a college degree but they’ve gone through a tough time? Who are we to judge based on a person’s appearance?

Buy a Meal

If you still have hesitation about a person, take them to lunch and find out what sort of person they are. Don’t just make a sack lunch and give it to someone as a gesture of charity. Instead, invite them to lunch just as you would a fellow colleague. You might say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any cash on me right now, but my lunch break is at noon, would you like to meet me at that diner over there and I’ll buy you lunch? It would be my privilege.” We are quick to throw money at a problem when if we took a few minutes to get to know someone, we might be able to help in the context of a relationship. Pay for their lunch and spend time in meaningful conversation. Let them be the human that they are without being prejudged as incompetent.

Give A Gift of Love

There are dozens of organizations that help us realize that some people’s standard of living is so low that if we gave just $20 a month (for example), we could help feed, clothe, and educate a child in a poor region of the world. I’ve always appreciated what WorldVision is doing to get people to sponsor children but there are plenty of other organizations that you can research to find out their effectiveness. I also value the initiatives that help people “sponsor” cows, chickens, or sheep to help a family get milk or eggs or wool for themselves. Others get involved by donating money to dig a well that will give clean water to an entire village. Blood:Water Mission says, “$1 = one year of water for an African.” Check out globalgiving.com for even more ideas.

Volunteer
Habitat for Humanity is one organization that I can highlight here that has a proven track record of helping people through volunteerism. To own a home through Habitat for Humanity, the home owner builds sweat equity into his or her own home but he or she is helped by dozens of others who work alongside them as a way to show their love for their neighbor. This is love and service in action. You can even take a volunteer vacation through organization like the Sierra Club or Globe Aware. I’ve been able to work with Habitat for Humanity and International World Changers (a faith based organization) on dozens of projects all around the world. Travel is fun, but travel with a purpose opens your eyes to the need of the world.

Do Something Now

Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically with love, respect, and humility…and do it now! Don’t wait for the government to do something. Spread your own wealth. I love what Paul the Apostle says, “I have learned the secret of being content – whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Poverty can hit any of us at any time, so if you are in a position to meet a need, do it!

What are your thoughts on what can be done to end poverty? What are some of the experiences you would like to share as you have fought against poverty in the world?

Profile of Poverty

Posted in social justice by Nathan Creitz on October 21, 2008
Mr. Butch was a well known street performer in Allston, MA. He died July 12, 2007. His absence is still felt to this day. Image courtesy of <a href=This post is the first in a two part series on poverty. This first post seeks to understand the desperate need of the homeless and our collected complacency to do anything about it. The next post is linked at the bottom and will help reveal some practical steps we can all take to alleviate poverty locally and globally.

The City

To begin with, what is that status of poverty in the city? According to the UN (.pdf), Approximately half the world’s population now live in cities and towns. In 2005, one out of three urban dwellers (approximately 1 billion people) was living in slum conditions. According to the US Census Bureau the top 10 poorest cities in America are the following (with % living below the poverty line included):

1. Detroit, 32.5%
2. Buffalo, 29.9%
3. Cincinnati, 27.8%
4. Cleveland, 27.0%
5. Miami, 26.9%
6. St. Louis, 26.8%
7. El Paso, 26.4%
8. Milwaukee, 26.2%
9. Philadelphia, 25.1%
10. Newark, 24.2%

What about America?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau: “The official poverty rate in the US in 2007 was 12.5%, that is, 37.3 million people were in poverty. The Observer states, “America is the most unequal society in the industrialised West. The richest 20% of Americans earn 9 times more than the poorest 20%.”

A Global Crisis

Citing facts from World Bank, author Anup Shah writes an article for globalissues.org stating that 80% of the world lives on less than $10 US Dollars per day (based on purchasing power parity, PPP). The children especially get hit hard with 1 billion of the 2.2 billion children in the world living in poverty. According to UNICEF, nearly 30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”

Out of Control Spending

What is most disturbing about the issue of poverty is that around the world only about $5.6 billion dollars is being spent to ensure that water and sanitation services are available to all. Contrast that with the $9 billion dollars spent at Starbucks each year. Of course, Starbucks is very environmentally and ethically responsible, and they are creating lots of jobs around the world. Still, it leaves me feeling like those who are growing the coffee because of our indulgences and high taste are basically begging for scraps from the master’s table. The point is not that Starbuck’s is evil (I buy a frappuccino occasionally, and their donuts are amazing) but that our priorities are completely misaligned.

Take another example: Only about $13 billion dollars is being spent to ensure that people around the world have basic health and nutrition but $780 billion dollars are being spent for militaries around the world. With just 2% of military spending we could more than double our global spending on health and nutrition initiatives. What’s more essential to a person’s health: food and medicine or guns and bombs?

So why do we not live within our means? Why do we not give to those in need? How can we expect to be a country blessed by God when we refuse to live justly, seek mercy, and walk humbly with Him? I didn’t crunch the numbers but I wonder what it would be like if the richest 10% “tithed” 10% and bought food or medicine or clothing or shelter or education for the poorest in our country? Not to pick on Starbucks but what if we reduced our consumption by one beverage per week. At current prices, that would be $3-4 per week or about $200 per year. There are thousands of things we can do right now to help end poverty around the world.

Next Post: Spread the Wealth

Related Post: Main Street Solutions for the Economy

Organic and Sustainable Christianity

Posted in church reform, environment, social justice by Nathan Creitz on October 16, 2008
An Intended Meaning
Organic and Sustainable Christianity has a double meaning. One meaning has to do with what a Christian believes, the other is how a Christian responds because of that belief. What do we believe about the world? That God created it? That since creation, humanity has fallen and has brought suffering in the world? If so, how does that cause us to act? Do we seek to fight injustice? Do we desire to protect the environment? Do we care for people’s physical and spiritual needs? Faith should lead to Action!
Faith

To begin with, a Christian needs a strong organic faith that is characterized by growth. Our faith must be nurtured through prayer and Biblical reflection but it must also be pruned by God’s Spirit and accountability and fellowship with other Christians. Jesus lived in an organic way. He created few traditions but he was always sensitive to the leading of the Spirit. He walked where he was supposed to walk and did what he was supposed to do. Today, our churches tend to be program driven and not driven by natural relationships. We have a routine when it comes to our Christianity: Sunday service (2 hours), Weekly Bible study group (2
hours), the freedom to spend the rest of our time the way we want (priceless). Jesus calls us to discipleship, not to sit back and watch the world suffer. Every moment is an opportunity to grow personally or to respond to a need or to engage in discipleship. 

This sort of approach to our walk with Jesus will also lend itself to sustainability. Sustainability doesn’t depend on a faith that is informed only by a 20 minute sermon on Sunday and one quick time of Bible study with a small group. Our relationship with God is sustainable
because of the deep intimacy that we have with him and with others. Our faith should be growing organically and that natural growth will cause us to be like a “tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does
prospers.” (Psalm 1)
Action
That leads us to the other meaning of living an “organic and sustainable faith”. Our world is suffering. Jesus identifies with our suffering. He was born into poverty, was a refugee in Africa for a number of years, spent years bringing about healing and hope to the marginalized, and finally was forsaken and rejected by even some of his closest followers and put to death. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that
brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53) He brought not only physical healing but more importantly he brought spiritual healing. Our world is hurting because of poverty, slavery, violence, disease. We are facing economic and environmental crises. As Christians we are called to action! Assuming that we are already focused on
spiritual issues (sharing our story about our relationship with God), the Church needs to do much better about addressing physical suffering in the world. The terms “organic” and “sustainable” are usually associated with environmental issues, but if we don’t also address
social justice issues, people’s hope will not be sustainable. Our hope in each other is beginning to fade and we need to share with people that God loves them and we love them so we are going to help them. 
Ecology is the interrelationship between organisms and their environment and we need to begin demanding an ecology that focuses on those interrelationships between “organisms”, with priority being placed on our relationships with other humans.
Our action must be organic in that it must respond naturally to the needs of those around us. When you see a need, meet a need. You don’t have to be involved in every issue that our world faces, but find some that resonate personally with you and work on them. You might be fighting to end breast cancer. You may decide to compost. You may decide to volunteer at an animal shelter or work with the homeless or the orphaned. You may feel led to put solar panels on your roof. Whatever you do, don’t do it because it’s trendy but because it comes natural to you. Again, this will lead to sustainability. Sustainability for the environment and sustainability for the relationships living in that environment. If you care about something, you tend to do it long term. Our suffering world needs something they can hold on to and if we are showing love then a person can be sustained by that love. If we are like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, men and women of faith, then we can believe that whatever we do for God’s kingdom and for His creation will prosper. So let’s start working on it.