We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces. They don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church day after day. By the hundreds we would move out, and Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come. But we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.” [applause] Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” (Yeah) And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the trans-physics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. [applause] And we went before the fire hoses. (Yeah) We had known water. (All right) If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist and some others, we had been sprinkled. But we knew water. That couldn’t stop us. [applause]–“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”; Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
April 3, 1968; Memphis, Tennessee
Roy Moore fashions himself a Christian. His Christianity includes literally making an idol out of the Ten Commandments and doing all he can to harass and malign non-straight people. Now he’s one election away from the US Senate. Four women have subsequently come forward to accuse him of sexual improprieties when they were teenagers and he was a high powered state lawyer. One of those women was 14 when Moore allegedly groomed her for sexual abuse.
I began to imagine what I’d do if Roy Moore came to my church. Then I thought, we do kind of have a game plan. We follow the two-person rule for Sunday school, our nursery has a window for observation (I can see it from the pulpit), our UMYF follows the 2-adult rule. There is known within the church the rules and people to go to should there be a complaint. But it can be better, for sure. Not all of the what-to-dos are actually done at my church. This moment of notoriety for Mr. Moore is revealing some holes in the safety net. Nevertheless…
What to do if Roy Moore or any alleged sex offender comes into church?
Note: I am assuming Roy Moore specifically where allegations are well-known.
- The Pastor and the Lay Leader need to discretely pull him aside and let him know he’s welcome to worship, but we are committed to the safety of our children and youth. Hand him a copy of your child safety policy and mandate his compliance with the rules.
- The assumption is that 1) you have child safety policy and 2) you have it in writing to give out.
- Rules are:
- 1) He makes NO contact at all with any child or youth in the congregation.
- 2) He must accept the ministry of an escort, who will assure safety of the kids on premises while ALSO assuring Mr. Moore’s safety from his own temptations.
- 3) Any deviance from these rules is grounds for immediate removal from the premises, using law enforcement if necessary.
- Respectfully explain that while he is entitled to his due process rights under the law, the church out of an abundance of caution, must do what is necessary to assure the safety of children and youth.
- Assign him an escort, someone of the same gender who will stay with Mr. Moore for the entirety of his presence on church property. That escort will never allow Mr. Moore to be alone on church property (yes, even in the bathroom), never allow him to interact with children or youth but WILL extend Christian hospitality otherwise.
- In your welcome to the congregation as a whole, point EVERYONE to the safe sanctuary/child protection policy printed in your bulletin and/or posted in a public place. Assure everyone that children and youth are welcomed and their safety is paramount.
- In a follow-up letter to all parents of children and youth in the congregation, alert them to Mr. Moore’s presence in the previous week’s worship.
- Explain first the congregation’s child safety policy and the church’s strategy in ministering with sex offenders.
- Explain how the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness is especially pertinent to Mr. Moore.
- Invite people to share concerns, questions and comments.
- If real conflict arose with established parishioners, I would side with those parishioners, but would work with other faith-group partners to find him a suitable worshiping community.
- Barring any such conflict, I would allow him to continue worshiping as long as he remains with his escort and stays completely away from children and youth in the congregation. One strike rule would be in effect.
- Preach the real gospel.
- Preach on confession of sin and of repentance.
- Preach on the inherent dignity of children and youth.
- Preach on the inherent dignity of girls and women.
- Throw in a millstone reference or two.
- Do NOT withhold Holy Communion.
- Offer all other aspects of the worshiping body EXCEPT for interaction with children and youth.
I’m grateful to be in a denomination that has been thoughtfully confronting this problem for decades through the pioneering work of Safe Sanctuaries and the concern of the Annual Conference to make these policies mandatory. Roy Moore is a sick man who has never admitted ever being wrong on anything. I believe his accusers and his arrogance only strengthens my belief in them.
This emergence of accusers of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, the #MeToo confessions, etc. has allowed me to see how nonchalant my congregation’s preparations are. And has allowed me to hone up on our preparations. Most Roy Moore’s aren’t named Roy Moore and aren’t plastered all over the news. If anything is to be learned from these rash of revelations, it’s that there is something fundamentally wrong with manhood that needs to be recognized and healed.
What do you think?
Find Your Character.
While reading the Bible, determine which character is most like you. It may be that a main character is like you. It maybe that you are actually more like Jesus than the one he’s talking to. It may be that you are more like a character that is a bit off-screen (more on that in a second). The purpose here is enliven the scene by placing yourself in it. The Bible has enough distance to it: culturally, historically, etc. Reading it from a “third-person” perspective only adds to the distance. Finding your character may open up more questions than clarifications. That is a good thing. Each new question is an avenue of further exploration.
Consider the Jonah story for example. Are you Jonah running away from God? Perhaps not. Are you more like Jonah’s fellow passengers when a storm arises: just trying to do what’s right in a bad situation? Are like actually like God: desperately wanting someone to trust you enough to do something difficult but good? You may find that you are actually more like God.
Switch Characters, Uncover characters
Often we read the Bible from a single point of view. It may be a third-person perspective that takes us out of the story altogether. Once you Find Your Character in the story, you can then begin to play with other characters. Playfulness is a great tool for reading the Bible. Take for instance Jacob’s rivalry with his brother Esau. Maybe you identify with the younger Jacob always striving against your older brother. That’s great. But take some time to enter Esau’s world: he had to take care of his widowed mother who sold his blessing to his brother. And yet, when Jacob and Esau meet again years later, Esau seems at peace (Genesis 25 and following).
As you’re playing with characters in the text, look for unnamed characters. This could be simply groups of people like bystanders or background people like the Innkeeper in the Christmas story. One that shocked me was revealed to me in seminary: when Herod ordered the killing of all boys age 2 and younger in order to eliminate Jesus, the unnamed characters are the people who carried out the killings (Matthew 2:16-18). Were they fathers? Did they have sons?
Play with the untold story.
The Bible is big and at times the details can be so tedious. But there are also plenty of holes in the plot line. It is okay to play with the untold stories within the Bible. This is a great approach to test out your own experiences, morals and questions. Continuing with the Esau example, one of the untold stories is what happened to Esau after Jacob stole his blessing from their dying father. Esau disappears for the better part of 5 chapters while Jacob grows his family into an army. When they meet again famously in Genesis 33 Esau is successful and at peace. Of all the stories I wish the Bible told, the story of how Esau made peace within himself over his brother would be at the top of the list. The next best thing is for us to imagine how did Esau forgive his brother? What became of his relationship with his mother Rachel? You can make similar imaginings with the Samaritan woman, Pontius Pilate, Mephibosheth, Ruth, etc. (There is a great book called Barabbas by Pär Lagerkvist which does this very thing).
Switch from Me to We
One of the problems of the Bible in English is that English renders the 2nd-person singular pronoun (you) the same as the 2nd-person plural pronoun (you). Reading the Bible in English means you don’t know when God is talking to you personally or you collectively. And American society is biased toward the individual. This means that when we see “you” we see the singular first. Our ‘default’ setting means we are prone to miss when God is talking to the community, the town, the nation, the family, the church, etc.
One way to unlock the layers of the Bible is to discover the communal aspects of it. When you can see that God is talking to a nation rather than a person…a whole new level of understanding emerges.
This may require a bit of technical assistance, unless you know biblical Hebrew or Greek. By technical assistance, I mean a good study Bible with footnotes that can help you know when the ‘you’ is singular or plural (NIV Study Bible does this well). Or you can try the Texas Bible App which is a plugin for your Chrome browser. The Texas Bible app will swap all plural ‘you’ for “y’all”. Yes, it’s a cool as it sounds.
Read in blocks.
One of the difficulties with reading only in worship is that we tend to read in very short segments. Sometimes not even whole chapters. But the scriptures were written as whole units, even the books that are pieced together from multiple sources. Furthermore, the minute dissection of scripture in church can literally cut out the drama in the text.
Take Mark’s gospel for example. Mark is a fast moving text where Jesus’ baptism is followed immediately by temptation in the wilderness followed immediately by Jesus calling the 12, teaching in the synagogue, healing a man with an unclean spirit, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, praying in the hills at night and healing a leper. That’s just chapter 1. The immediacy of the storytelling unlocks the desperation in Mark’s message. Mark really needs you the reader to pick up the mantle and finish the work Jesus started.
So read in larger blocks. This is easier than it sounds. Mark is readable in an hour. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) can be read in one sitting, too. The movements within help unlock the power of the storytelling. Each of the Psalms ought to be digested as a whole given their poetic nature. Rainy Sunday afternoons are great opportunities to break into the larger characters.
Read in Community.
It would be dishonest for me to say the Bible is easy. It would ALSO be dishonest for me to say that you can’t get it. Reading scripture with other people is one of the best ways to unravel the layers, discover new connections and air your questions. Different people are going to see different things. The point is NOT to all agree. In fact disagreeing is almost guaranteed. The point is to deepen your understanding of scripture and unlock its power to transform your life and your world.
Consider learning a new musical instrument or a second language. You can practice from the book all you want. But it’s when you join other players that your own skill can elevate. It’s when you get off the plane in Paris that you can really know how good your French really is. Your community will help you suss out your biases, reveal new angles of understanding, help you in living out what you’re learning and share in the joy of scripture.
Have fun reading the Bible. It’s a pretty good book. I hope these tips help.
What has been helpful to you?
An Evangelist is someone who brings a message of good news. This is the opposite of that.
Gun violence and mass shootings like the one in Las Vegas are not going away. We can’t even call them the new norm anymore. They’re just the norm. And the norm is increasing gun violence.
President Obama famously noted that we have a routine for mass shootings and their aftermath. We hold vigils. We offer prayers. And we ultimately do nothing. “We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved one because of our inaction,” he said two years ago after Roseburg.
Guns are the true American idols. We worship them. We grant them salvific powers. We credit them for our nation’s existence. We treat one gun law as untouchable and sacred while calling any other gun law pure evil.
Identifying the idolatry of guns in America is part of the healing in the sense that step 1 of 12 is to admit you have a problem. Sadly, we cannot even agree that we have a problem. Even if we were to agree that there is some problem, Congress won’t even allow the matter to be studied. We value our ignorant adherence to unfettered gun ownership more than basic truth. You can psycho-analyze this reality all you want, be forewarned that your head might begin spinning rapidly.
Idolatry, sadly, does not go away easily. When I think of idolatry, I think first to YHWH’s famous screed against it in Isaiah (44:12-17):
The ironsmith fashions it and works it over the coals, shaping it with hammers, and forging it with his strong arm; he becomes hungry and his strength fails, he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line, marks it out with a stylus, fashions it with planes, and marks it with a compass; he makes it in human form, with human beauty, to be set up in a shrine. He cuts down cedars or chooses a holm tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it can be used as fuel. Part of it he takes and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Then he makes a god and worships it, makes it a carved image and bows down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he roasts meat, eats it and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Ah, I am warm, I can feel the fire!” The rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, bows down to it and worships it; he prays to it and says, “Save me, for you are my god!”
God must be having a really painful laugh at us Americans right now. Laughter over the absurd faith we put into our firearm culture. Painful, because God hurts over the pain of her children. And we are hurting.
Isaiah is not fully chronological. There are themes that weave throughout the book. In section 1, YHWH lays out the charges against the nation. “Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made” (Is. 2:8). God later chides the people for trusting in chariots to save them when trouble arises (Is. 31:1).
I fear that this current generation will have to pass before the wisdom of peace will be known. I know that the money protecting our current lack of gun legislation is a mighty force. Presidents past and present have decided that taking on the gun lobby was either too tough or against their ideology. And it is well-known that mass shootings often lead to a spike in gun sales. I’ll never forget after Sandy Hook, going to my local Wal-Mart and seeing AR-15s on sale with a queue lined up. Rather than be abhorred by the slaughter of first graders…we chose to make money and double-down on our gun-worship.
That to me was the moment of truth. The funny thing about moments of truth is that they reveal the truth. President Obama wept openly. A panel led by VP Biden recommended many changes. Obama signed numerous executive orders but Congress ultimately could not pass any action. The NRA spent ~$800,000 lobbying Congress that year. It worked.
Now after Las Vegas, with far less concerned leadership at the federal level, the prospects of even a debate taking place seem slim. Surprisingly, there is some chatter in Congress this time. Joe Manchin says he will revive a previous effort with Pat Toomey. The bump stock ban seems to have some steam. (But, then there’s this.) I know that Wayne LaPierre practically lives at the US Capitol building. He’s certainly waving his checkbook at vulnerable Senators. I would welcome any progress…but I can’t bring myself to hold my breath.
What now then?
Basically, a weird thing Jesus said comes to mind. When asked about a recent tragedy where a tower fell on top of the builders, killing scores of people, Jesus simply responded with a call to righteousness (Luke 13:4-5).
Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
None of the victims in Las Vegas deserved their fate. And it’s not like God picked a few to protect. They just got lucky. And it’s not like I can free myself from the fate of dying in an idiot’s hail of bullets. Rain falls on the just and unjust. So too does gun violence. What can I do given this atmosphere in which I live? Basically, all I can do is live as well as possible. Eliminate any regrets. Heal all broken relationships. Purge myself of all vices and fears. Love as fully as possible. Raise my kids well. Hold my wife tightly. Walk the woods a lot. Preach more boldly. Listen to people more carefully. That kind of thing.
Certainly, I can fight the lobby and call my representatives, etc. John Oliver is right about that. But I cannot ignore the immensity of that particular hill, either.
When someone gets a killer disease, they typically make a bucket list: things to do now that life is precious and fragile. Well, gun violence is a disease that is killing our society. As it stands, we’d rather die and let our neighbors be killed than to find another diety. The doctors with the power to heal are in bed with the disease makers. If they wake up, great. But you better have a contingency plan otherwise.
I can remember [applause], I can remember when Negroes were just going around, as Ralph has said so often, scratching where they didn’t itch and laughing when they were not tickled. [laughter, applause] But that day is all over. (Yeah) [applause] We mean business now and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.
What is the rightful place for black people in God’s world? The naturally-following question is more blunt: How are non-white Americans ‘forced to live’ today?
Just this week, a story emerged locally of a man deported in February leaving behind a wife and 7 kids. He is only 2 years older than I am. I cannot imagine being ripped from my family and removed thousands of miles away. I would probably die of sadness. Compare this to the relative ease with which Irish immigrants came to the US 100 years ago: granted ease of passage for being white. The notion that the road is equal for white and non-white Americans is simply not supported by statistics.
- See HERE for disparities in the criminal justice population.
- See HERE for income disparities.
- See HERE and HERE for educational disparities. See HERE (pdf) for a huge federal report from 2013.
Add to these realities the function of historical trauma. This refers to the difficulties of particular groups of people to escape the pains of their ancestry. You can see this trauma in Native American groups where addiction has decimated entire tribes, essentially finishing off ethnic-based atrocities begun generations earlier. The black community is still feeling the economic ripple-effect of slavery. They are feeling the economic ripple-effect of segregation. they are feeling the economic effects of mass incarceration.
It’s weird, I don’t see anyone forcing black people to live poorer than me. But the invisibility of these disparities is designed into the disparities themselves. I don’t see the income gap, because I live in a lily-white town. I don’t see the disparities in education. I just happened to go to a private Christian college and saw the percentage of black classmates drop from 40% to 1%. I think you get the picture.
In this context of systemic disparities in America, what then is black America’s “rightful place in God’s world”? What then must be done for the black American to gain that rightful place?
The first is a spiritual matter. The second a spiritual-political one.
Spiritually, it seems obvious that black Americans ought to be free. Free to be who God is calling them to be.They ought to have equal access to housing, healthcare, education, opportunity, etc. as anyone else. It seems to basic and obvious to me that it seems almost shameful to have to say it. Why would a nation who so values money NOT want to unleash the productivity of half of its population? Why would a nation who prides itself on opportunity not want to grant full access to the creative powers of its peoples?
The simple answer is the best one, in this case. Black America’s rightful place in God’s world is to be free and to seek and find the abundant life God has for them.
Closing the gap between current realities and God’s will for black Americans is a lot tougher (The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates remains the seminal work). I’m not sure its because the answers are all that complex. I more think that the pathway to true freedom and equality for all people is BOTH spiritual and political. And often the political is dominated by current matters. Spiritual matters are slower and elusive. Of course, public policies need to eliminate disparities in the public sphere. But spiritually, there needs to be a further growth within white people for black equality to be a reality. The growth is in terms of awareness of black inequality, honesty within white America regarding our complicity in systems of oppression, a deep concern for non-white Americans that leads to radical change in white Americans and an collective effort to acknowledge wrongs and commit to set those wrongs aright.
As I encounter Dr. Kings’ last speech in light of an ascendant white power movement embodied at Charlottesville, I see so much about what he writes that is still unresolved 40 years later. This intersection of black America’s “rightful place in God’s world” and the powers forcing black Americans to live dramatically less free is today’s enduring work for enlightened and conscious people. The work is multifaceted: artists, politicians, clergy, educators, historians each have their role. I worry that there is too much work and too little will power for true equality. But ultimately, these spiritual matters are God’s will. Don’t I want to be in that will?
The nation is sick, trouble is in the land, confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. (All right, Yes) And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men in some strange way are responding. Something is happening in our world. (Yeah) The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee, the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.” [applause]
How is God moving today? Is it not the case that the world is still “all messed up”? As Martin Luther King, Jr. surveyed his world in 1968 he identified some of the chaos of his time as God’s doing. What was deemed by the mainstream society (i.e. white society) as chaos or upheaval, Dr. King saw as a holy UNsettling: by which African-Americans were shaking off their resigned acceptance of second-class citizenry. What looked like chaos on TV, with sit-ins often devolving into fisticuffs, was really an unmasking of reality: people of color were still compelled to a lesser-than role in society. This unmasking was God’s work, not because it was a serene matter, but because it was a holy exhalation of decades of frustration and a holy inhalation of dignity and self-determination. The chaos mostly sprang from the ways white society resisted the expanding freedoms of black America. It wasn’t chaos-inducing to sit down for lunch. It was chaos-inducing for white America to not accept their black neighbors as equals.
Dr. King, like much of black America, had one eye on the international scene, thanks in no small part to black newspapers in major cities. They regularly covered freedom movements on the African continent and found thematic similarities in the black struggles for freedom in African nations and the US. They also found strategic information for how to utilize media and confront heavily armed and highly motivated oppressors. It is no mistake that MLK heard harmony between specific struggles in Memphis and struggles in Johannesburg, Nairobi and Accra. By this section of “I See the Promised Land,” King had already drawn parallels between ancient Egypt and 20th century US south. A sense of history was always a driving factor in the black freedom movements, both in the post-Civil War era and in the 1950s and 60s.
So where are we today? A new surge for freedom is rising. It seems to have multiple fronts. The pursuit of LGBT rights, environmental activism and immigrant rights have vied for the nation’s attention and have both made waves and suffered setbacks in their various pursuits. And we had a potent, revelatory intersection of race and environmental matters at Standing Rock last year, where mainstream powers met creative resistance along an old front: the strife between the federal government and the rights and dignity of indigenous people. Burning hotter than it has in a long time is the struggle for black freedom, embodied in the Black Lives Matter movement and inflamed around issues of police brutality and a resurgence of white nationalist groups. The killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Philandro Castille and Alton Sterling, as well as many other killings recognized in various localities (for example: this list from nearby Portland, OR) have exposed disparities in how municipalities police communities of color. The failure to even bring most of the killers to trial further reveals disparities in the justice system. Add to this singular and convoluted issue the resurgence of white nationalist groups following the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and emboldened by the fierce rhetoric of Donald Trump. The massacre of churchgoers in Charleston, SC and the brutal murder-by-car in Charlottesville, VA lays to rest any notion that white supremacy is a thing of the past.
If the world is still “all messed up,” where is the hand of God, today? Recently, in preaching on the Eagle Creek Fire, I remarked how Eagle Creek will ‘rebuild itself’: that the earth has built into it a reproductive power that can generate life out of chaos and destruction. I am writing this on 9/11. In place of a site of destruction and death, a tower has arisen as a symbol of resiliency and strength. I saw a great video yesterday of a LAFD fire truck with a trailer of boats heading to south Florida as Hurricane Irma was striking. I believe, ultimately in the creative and benevolent power of humanity.
As in 1968, the evidence of the hand of God is not found in a pristine community devoid of strife. Today’s evidence of holy presence is found in the ability of people to proclaim goodness, beauty and freedom in spite of opposition from an emerging white power population. Godliness is found in the courage to say No to hate. This is coming in direct ways of marches and demonstrations. It is happening through art and music. It is happening on political and public policy levels. It is happening as people are gathering together to resist hate. It happens when white people become more enlightened to racism as a system that oppresses our black and brown neighbors and suppresses our own sense of freedom and peace and find the courage to dismantle these systems in their localities.
I fear that it is from a position of privilege that I can say “Yes, God’s outstretched arm is over her children.” I sense two present truths: that awareness is increasing. (I don’t have quantifiable proof of this, and such statements have often been false security blankets for white people.) It is also true that ignorance dominates white consciousness. We are ignorant of what people are talking about when people talk about racism. We are blind to the institutions that drive white privilege. We are irresponsibly defensive when these greater truths are stated.
So, it’s a muddled reality. I know that God works in times of upheaval and change. This is history. And I know that God’s ultimate will for my black neighbors is the same as for me: to love each other abundantly and to find the abundant life God has for us.
As in 1968, perhaps it is the convenient desire for a neat and tidy God that prevents me from the confidence to say “Look, God’s hand is certainly upon the black and brown bodies crying out for justice!” I think MLK would have the confidence and the historical sensibility to say God is working to further the freedom causes of black and brown Americans…and is calling white people to a greater sense of their own history and their complicity in the injustices black and brown Americans are facing.
On September 1st, I began my 3rd year in ministry with you here at Orchards. It has been an honor to have been with you for 2 good years. I just want to briefly mention my love for you and this congregation.
You may not realize it, but 2.5 years ago I was looking for work outside of the church. I am glad that circumstances have changed that allowed me to come here. And I am forever grateful for the myriad of people who advocated for my arrival here. It has truly been a reprieve on my life in ministry. And I still feel a great burden to make this reprieve count.
I am proud of what have done together so far: Village Support Network, WHO, Project Transformation, camping ministries, Covington breakfasts, LifeGroups, etc. And as the Church Council meets soon to set a course for the following year I have both confidence and enthusiasm for the work ahead. I have begun describing you to my colleagues and friends as a “small but mighty” congregation. I think there is a power within you from God that has yet to meet its limit. Here’s to finding that limit together.
To God be the glory. AMEN.