Thinking Out Loud

July 25, 2017

Church Funding in Europe

We almost walked by this little office, but the word “Evangelisher” caught my eye. A wonderful 15-minute conversation awaited us inside.

Actually, if a search engine brought you here and you’re looking for the definitive article on this subject this isn’t it. If you can deal with the pop-ups, this website is quite helpful.

But I do want to share some impressions we took away from a very brief meeting with an English speaking worker at Evangelisher Informationsladen in Nuremberg, Germany.

North American ears probably miss the significance of the phrase “registered church.” It’s part of life in many parts of the world. In Germany it’s significant in terms of the church itself being registered with the government, but also that members identify with a registered church. And here it gets interesting: 8% (in some areas 9%) of the members’ personal income is taxed and given to the church.

Solves the whole tithing problem, I suppose.  Or does it? Stay tuned.

If you did click the first link (above) you noted that a lot of people simply have themselves taken off the rolls in order to avoid the tax, even if they continue to hold a personal faith. That alone is enough to skew religious affiliation data. In both the Czech example mentioned a few days ago and this situation, it means potentially there might be more Christians in Europe than any official government stats show, just for different reasons.

But here’s another factor: Newer Evangelical or Charismatic groups don’t register at all. They meet in homes or find other spaces. Our contact was worried that these groups are becoming more numerous and more vocal.

It’s a concern for two reasons. First these groups have arrived on the religious scene under the banner of young earth, six day creation. Second, they have an extreme view of the sovereignty of God which leaves out any room for free will, even in more trivial details of life. We covered this a few days ago at this article. But it also means that numerically, some disappearing off the rolls of established Lutheran or Catholic churches are attending these newer churches, which would, by necessity, have to rely on something similar to a North American tithing model to meet any expenses that might arise, even without having to maintain an historical building…

…A few weeks ago Bruxy Cavey at The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario told the story of a visitor asking, “How do you fund all this?” I guess he thought there must be some support at one or several levels of government in order to maintain their megachurch auditorium and adjacent Christian education meeting rooms and classrooms. Bruxy explained the people support it, but we know statistically that North Americans, on average, are not tithing 10%, or even 8%.

According to The State of the Plate study, in North America, the state of tithing moving forward may depend on the behavior of “young (i.e., future) donors. But their habits may prove difficult to capitalize on. According to the survey, people in their 20s and 30s are much more likely to miss church in the first place, making getting in-person connections and donations much harder…”

The report continues, “Young people (the same demographic) are also more likely to give less frequently than other generations, with 6 in 10 giving no more than twice per month and sometimes only once every few months. Perhaps most damagingly, though, only about 3 out of 5 (63%) young people give 10 percent or more of their income to church. For everyone aged 40 or over, the average is 4 out of 5 (83%)…”

According to the website Charity Navigator, “Total giving as a percentage of GDP was 2.1% for three of the four years, 2013–2016… Historically, Religious groups have received the largest share of charitable donations. This remained true in 2016. With the 3.0% increase in donations this year, 32% of all donations, or $122.94 billion, went to Religious organizations. Much of these contributions can be attributed to people giving to their local place of worship.”

But comparing the 8 or 9% church tax in Germany to the North American 10% tithing ideal changes when you consider that it’s not 8% of income, but 8% of income tax. A 2015 article at Catholic News Agency (CNA) notes, “When Germans register as Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish on their tax forms, the government automatically collects an income tax from them which amounts to 8 or 9 percent of their total income tax, or 3-4 percent of their salary.”

Do Christians in Germany make additional contributions? Is the offering plate passed on Sunday morning? Giving is part of Christian worship, so we must assume that is the case, but would someone contributing through payroll deductions bother to put anything additional in the plate? That was a question we didn’t get around to asking.

According to a Wikipedia article on Religion in Berlin, “The largest denominations as of 2010 are the Protestant regional church body of the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia (EKBO), a united church comprising mostly Lutheran, a few Reformed and United Protestant congregations. EKBO is a member of both the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and Union Evangelischer Kirchen (UEK) claiming 18.7 percent of the city population.”

But that needs to be seen in perspective as the article also says, “About 60 percent of Berlin residents have no registered religious affiliation. Berlin has been described as the ‘atheist capital of Europe’ in 2009.”

Furthermore, the Roman Catholic Church in particular doesn’t retain the church tax it collects, as the infographic in our initial link reminds us that, “a sizeable portion of the Catholic money is also channeled to The Vatican.”  Catholics who opt out face other issues as the CNA article notes:

German bishops – who each earn an average salary of 7,000 Euro per month (some up to 14,000 Euro along with free housing and cars, according to Lohmann) – issued a decree in September 2012 calling such departure “a serious lapse” and listing a number of ways they are barred from participating in the life of the Church.

The decree specified that those who do not pay the church tax cannot receive the sacraments of Confession, Communion, Confirmation, or Anointing of the Sick, except when in danger of death; cannot hold ecclesial office or perform functions within the Church; cannot be a godparent or sponsor; cannot be a member of diocesan or parish councils; and cannot be members of public associations of the Church.

If those who de-registered show no sign of repentance before their death, they can even be refused a religious burial.

And while these penalties have been described as “de facto excommunication,” the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, wrote in a March 13, 2006 document that opting out of taxes in a civil situation was not the same as renouncing the faith, and thus excommunication did not apply to such persons.

So while a cursory reading of a statement like, “The church gets 8% of the personal income tax collected;” seems to indicate a measure of financial strength and stability, declining membership and secularization would seem to threaten the future of that source of funding.

 

 

 

 

March 2, 2017

Christians Should Study Mormonism

A reader wrote asking if I’d ever reviewed any books by Denver Snuffer. I get requests to review self-published books all the time, but this time I found the name intriguing and next thing, I was reading a number of articles on his blog. He’s written a number of books, and has an additional website commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. According to my contact, “He was raised baptist and is now an excommunicated Mormon.  He’s a lawyer who is qualified to practice in the Supreme Court.” But it was this article below, which I thought readers here might find interesting.

 

Christians Should Study Mormonism

by Denver Snuffer

Between the death of Christ’s apostles and the Council of Nicaea, Christianity changed dramatically. It is impossible to account for all that happened to cause the changes. Although some of the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers (Christian leaders before Nicaea) have been preserved, the records are wholly inadequate to understand everything that happened, and why it happened.

A new religion rarely appears in history. When one does, it presents a unique opportunity for us to study the process.

Religions begin with an inspired leader whose confident vision opens new light and truth into the world. If there is no new vision then the religion won’t survive. But an original, inspired leader is difficult to replicate. Within a short time, the founder’s work is overtaken by others. Their insecurities and fears leave them without the confidence once present at the foundation. Believers donate, and contributions aggregate. A new generation of believers begin to notice the wealth of their movement, and aspiring leaders who would never sacrifice their name, reputation, security and lives are drawn to management, seeking personal benefit from the institution. Bold claims become hollow echoes, and leaders’ insecurity results in defensive and protective steps. Instead of moving forward with inspired new light and truth, the established religion fears and fights against threatened losses.

William James explained the process:

A genuine first-hand experience like this is bound to be a heterodoxy to its witnesses, the prophet appearing as a mere lonely madman. If his doctrine prove contagious enough to spread to any others, it becomes a definite and labeled heresy. But if it then still prove contagious enough to triumph over persecution, it becomes itself an orthodoxy; and when a religion has become an orthodoxy, its day of inwardness is over: the spring is dry; the faithful live at second hand exclusively and stone the prophets in their turn. The new church, in spite of whatever human goodness it may foster, can be henceforth counted on as a staunch ally in every attempt to stifle the spontaneous religious spirit, and to stop all later bubblings of the fountain from which in purer days it drew its own supply of inspiration. Unless, indeed, by adopting new movements of the spirit it can make capital out of them and use them for its selfish corporate designs!” (The Varieties of Religious Experience, being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902, Lectures XIV and XV: The Value of Saintlessness.)

Mormonism was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith who claimed that ten years prior to founding a church he had been visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ. In the intervening years between the first visit and the time a church was organized, Joseph claimed to have been visited by an angelic messenger who delivered to him a new volume of scripture, the Book of Mormon. He claimed to have received revelations before founding the church, and then many more after its organization.

mormon-article-3-2Whether you believe Joseph Smith’s claims or not, he and his followers give a unique opportunity to witness how founding a religion sets in motion a series of predictable events that happen every time a new religion begins. Perhaps the best way to decipher the transition of Christianity from the original Primitive Christianity to its replacement, Historic Christianity, is to study Mormonism. Similar to the way the Primitive Christian church passed away after the death of the apostles, Mormonism has passed away following the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. The same process was at work in both.

Primitive Christianity and Mormonism set out to change the world, and after some initial success, both enjoyed worldly success. Their success diverted attention from saving souls to managing people and property. Paul observed, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Tim. 6:10.) A new religion is not profitable for the first believers. They are persecuted. They sacrifice their lives and property to follow what they believe to be God’s burden laid on them. Because of their sacrifices, they have faith and know they please God. Without sacrifice, it is impossible to obtain the faith required for salvation. Founders make sacrifices, successors enjoy the fruit of those sacrifices.

In time, the founding gives way to popular approval. John Wesley observed the price that is paid for popular acceptance is the loss of the Spirit.

“It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian;… From this time they almost totally ceased;… The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other heathens…. This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church; because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left. Churches all come to depend on money for survival.”

Churches, like the men who belong to them, are just as vulnerable to the “love of money” which leads to “all evil.” People can have the gifts of the Spirit, or they can acquire riches in this world, but cannot have both.

Catholicism grew wealthy from the offerings of its members. When it owned most of the European lands and ruled over all people within Roman Catholic boundaries, it was cold, corrupt, violent and cruel. The transition from persecuted minority to dangerous majority took three centuries. With that status the original was lost.

Mormonism has followed the same path and achieved the same end in less than half the time. If a Christian wants to know how Primitive Christianity was lost to apostasy, the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is where it can be found. Mormon beliefs are so unstable that they now “unequivocally condemn” 10 of the first 11 of their church presidents, including Brigham Young, John Taylor and David O. McKay.

In order to progress forward, we must go back. Since we have no way to recover enough information to understand Christianity’s trek from Jerusalem to Rome, Mormonism allows Christians a view into the transition from Nauvoo to Salt Lake. Both paths followed the same tragic topography.


Go Deeper: In a more recent article Denver Snuffer draws a parallel between the time of Irenaeus and the doctrinal path of Mormonism. Check out Christian Apostasy.

October 27, 2016

Why I Fear Islam

Filed under: Christianity, Religion — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:51 am

Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor and is also the regular mid-week contributor to Christianity 201. Recently I asked him to consider writing something for readers here at Thinking Out Loud…

img-102716Why I Fear Islam

by Clarke Dixon

I fear Islam because I am a Baptist.

Now before we go any further, I should point out that I don’t fear Muslims. I have yet to meet a Muslim in person that I felt the need to fear. I remember one Muslim gentleman lamenting to me how his children were not attending Mosque as he would like and were instead becoming too secularized. It sounded all too familiar, being the kind of thing I hear from Christian parents. As people, we share much in our humanity.

What I fear is the religion of Islam. I fear what it can do to a society. I fear what it can do to Muslims.

I fear Islam because I am a Baptist. I figure that if Christianity is true then the most original version is the best example. So as a Baptist, I stand in the Protestant tradition of protesting against the excesses of the Roman Catholic tradition and against conformity to the Church of England.

There is a lot of history leading up to the birth of the Baptist movement in 17th century England, but it can be basically summed up with: “Let us get back to the Bible and strip away all the traditions that have accumulated over the years. Let us do our best to model our faith and practice after Jesus and the earliest of Christians we learn of in the New Testament.” Obviously we don’t always do this very well, but at least we try.

As we do this, we discover an inherent separation of Church and State. Jesus never tried to take political control over a state. Instead he called individuals to follow him, even calling them to pick up a cross and follow. Pick up a cross and not a sword, as most revolutionaries would have called for instead. Die by Roman power, rather than fight against it. Jesus also warned his followers not to get caught up in the Jewish rebellion against Rome that was to happen soon (Mark 13:14). They were not to get caught up in a political rebellion. The earliest followers of Jesus were not about setting up political machinery. They were concerned with reaching every individual with the Good News that Jesus is Lord and Saviour. Yes, that meant sometimes not listening to the authorities and preaching up instead of quieting down. Yes, that included reaching and preaching to the political leaders themselves. Even Caesar should realize that Jesus is Lord, not he himself. But there was not a sense of political revolution in the air. This was a revolution of the heart and there was no compulsion. The Gospel was an offer to be preached, not a movement to be enforced. Christianity was not spread by military means but by preaching and teaching, even though military members were welcome, too.

So as a Baptist I want to get back to the original. To do that, I study the Bible, doing my best to understand the context in which each part was written, getting back to what the original readers would have understood.

My fear of Islam arises when I look to the original Islam. This past year, I spent some time reading an abridged chronologically arranged version of the Qur’an along with a biography about Muhammad.1 Islam started out as a religious and a political movement. It was not just about individuals coming to believe in the teachings of Islam but also about entire tribes coming into the political machinery of Islam. Muhammad himself was a political leader as well as a military leader and strategist. It seems he was personally responsible for many deaths. Proponents of the “Islam is peace” motif will point out how Muhammad rode peacefully into Mecca. That may tell us more about Meccans seeking peaceful political resolution than about happy conversions to religion. While there is debate on precisely what the original versions of Christianity and Islam looked like, there is little doubt that, historically speaking, Jesus bore a cross while Muhammad bore a sword.

I get the allure of wanting to relive the original, of seeing it as the best and normative version, so I get it when Muslims are “radicalized” and turn to violence. If it is true, then the original is the most true. I understand that sentiment as I seek to live it myself within the Christian path.

Some have called for a Reformation within Islam, patterned after the Reformation that altered the trajectory of Christian history. There is a call for the kinder and gentler versions of Islam to be known as true Islam, with the violent versions to be labeled as wrong, corrupt, and “Islam hijacked.” The trouble is that there has already been a kind of Reformation within Islam that is patterned after the Reformation within Christianity. There has been a movement, called Wahhabism, that seeks to get back to the original just as Protestants did in the Christian Reformation. Consider this quote from an interview with Karen Armstrong, who had this to say as part of an answer given to a question about “Wahhabism – the Saudi-based sect of Islam that informs ISIS fighters”:

Wahhabists encouraged people to read the Koran [sic] directly, and ignore the centuries of interpretation by learned scholars. Now that sounds great and liberating, but people were then licensed to come up with many wild interpretations. In the past, no one read the Koran [sic] on its own; it was enmeshed in a wide swath of complexity that actually held radical interpretations in check. Now that check’s been lifted, and all kinds of freelancers like Bin Laden, who is no more qualified to issue a Fatwa than I am, have free reign to come up with these extraordinary interpretations.2

As a Baptist pastor, I rejoice when people read the Bible directly. So it struck me as odd that encouraging Muslims to read the Qur’an directly should be a worrisome thing. With this “back to the basics” approach of the Wahhabists, you could make the case that Osama Bin Laden had been to Islam what Martin Luther was to Christianity. The Reformation did not get started with Luther, but Protestantism went big with Luther. My fear is that just as any Roman Catholic today can “get back to basics” and become a Baptist, a good peaceful Muslim can also “get back to the original.” For the sake of world harmony, I hope the kinder and gentler versions of Islam are ascendant. For the sake of every Muslim, I pray that each would come to know Jesus for who he really is.

There are reasons that Islam is torn between peacefulness and violence around the world. We need to be quick to hear and respond to those reasons. When suicide bombers turn to violence, it is because they believe the original version of their religion is best. I get that. That is why I fear Islam.

 


1 The Islamic Trilogy, Vol 4 — An Abridged Koran: The Reconstructed Historical Koran, Bill Warner, ed.; CSPI Publishing, 2006; see also The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad, Leslie Hazelton; Riverhead Books, 2003

2 link to Karen Armstrong’s quote

October 20, 2016

When the Saved Need Saving

Earlier this summer I was given an advance copy of Saving the Saved by Bryan Loritts. First of all, the bright cover (i.e. The End of Me by Kyle Idleman or The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist by Andy Bannister) set it apart from other review books in the stack, but more importantly, I recognized the author’s last name; he is the son of Crawford Lorritts who I believe was connected to some national rallies James MacDonald (Walk in the Word) hosted.

saving-the-savedThe subtitle of Saving the Saved is long, but sums up the book well: How Jesus Saves Us from Try-Harder Christianity into Performance-Free Love. I am continually amazed at the number of Christians — even among Evangelicals — who believe their ticket into heaven is something they’ve done. (We’ve written about that here.)

So the author puts a Christian spin on the often government-related noun meritocracy, and certainly the church is complicit in this, giving a higher place or value to certain people “chosen not because of birth or wealth, but for their superior talents or intellect.” (See the 2nd definition here.)

Because I read the book earlier, but wanted to post the review closer to the release date (it’s now available) I relied on a some other reviewers to refresh my memory. One noted some key themes:

1.  Jesus did not try to prove Himself and gain acceptance from others.
2.  How we view eternity affects how we live in the present.
3.  The futility of works-based acceptance.
4.  Moving from performing for approval to abiding in Christ.
5.  Letting peace have the priority over worry.

While another reader broke the book into three sections:

After introducing with a call to arms against a supposed meritocracy of works-based morality, the first part of the book looks at what goodness isn’t–reflecting on soul songs and the longing for the good life, pointing out the universal need for grace, reminding the reader that man-made goodness doesn’t cut it, criticizing the human tendency for pride, and looking at the transformation that results from independence as we reflect on our higher and lower natures, in five chapters.  The second part of the book looks at authentic goodness by changing the focus from performing to abiding, reminding us that our failure is never final, and pointing our attention to the resurrection and its implications for us in three chapters. The third and final part of the book looks at how we practice performance-free love in our own lives by setting a difficult and painful example of forgiveness towards others, practice generosity, practice peace over worry, practice graciousness in marriage, and see genuine love as being a way of being saved from ourselves and our own bent towards inhumanity towards others in the book’s last five chapters, before a thoughtful acknowledgments section that provides some context on where the author was when he was writing this book.

I spent my Labor Day reading Saving the Saved; I rarely binge read like this, but like the cliché says, I couldn’t put it down. While the core subject is countering the belief in performance-based faith, I think many of the reviewers missed the underlying scrpiture text, the book also serves as an insightful commentary on Matthew’s gospel.

It also occurred to me that this title falls into a select category of books which would be a great first Christian living book for someone to read, though it is also applicable to the rest of us who’ve been on this journey awhile. A good mix of personal stories and material from other sources. 

Finally, while perhaps this is more reflective of the fact I’m based in Canada, I could not help but not how few books I get to read from the black community. Their voice is often heard in other media, but not so much in print, and the black pastors and televangelists most people see are usually decidedly Charismatic; which does not describe Bryan.  Therefore, where the book gets autobiographical, it reflects a unique perspective.


A copy of Saving the Saved was provided by Mark at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Canada.

April 30, 2016

The books that didn’t make it into The Book

Occasionally, I get asked about non-canonical literature; the books which for one reason or another are not included among the core canon — either Protestant or Orthodox or Roman Catholic — available in modern Bibles.

My first piece of advice on this is really basic: Don’t get interested in any of these unless you know for sure that you’ve read each and every book in the Bible you already own. There is a tendency among some Christians to want to grab the remote control and see what else is on. As an Evangelical, my Bible contains 39 books in the first testament and 27 in the second. I believe that’s a minimum prerequisite for going off-road to look at things like The Gospel of Thomas or others of that genre.

Once we’ve got that out of the way, I confess that I’ve often struggled with reading the non-canonical books. Either the form is unusual, or the content is bizarre, the available text is fragmented, or there’s just something about the tenor of the book that suggests it’s out of place. But I say that knowing that believers in past centuries felt the same way about Esther or Revelation or James or the R-rated Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs, aka Canticles).

The Bible's Cutting Room FloorEnter Jewish researcher Joel M. Hoffman, writer of The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor (2014, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press).  What I appreciated here was instead of reprinting and analyzing the texts, the author tells me about the various narratives in his own words. While purists may question the attraction of this second-party account, to me, it fits the bill perfectly.

Not that the texts themselves are not problematic to one raised in Evangelical Christianity:

  • Abraham’s dad was an idol-maker
  • The snake in the Garden of Eden had a crush on Eve and wanted to marry her
  • Cain was the world’s first materialist
  • The Tower of Babel was built for height, not fame; it’s a post-Flood account, after all.

There are other stories as well, some more fanciful than what I’ve listed here.

There’s also background on confirming documents.

  • The Dead Sea Scrolls may be been discovered, but it’s more of an ongoing story to this very day
  • The Septuagint is fraught with unusual word choices sometimes hinging on a single vowel or letter fragment, or a combination of word meanings that create a completely different reading of a particular phrase
  • Josephus was great when he painted in broad strokes, but sometimes a bit off on details; and to call him an opportunist is a bit of an understatement.

A week later, recalling the book from memory, these are just a few things that come to mind.

I found the writing a bit uneven, though a friend who bought the book praised the author’s writing style. Another person who borrowed my copy for several chapters objected to the author presenting something very academic on one page, and then being too casual and informal on the next. In fairness, there was much disparate material covered here.

The book did whet my appetite for reconsidering collections such as The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden (a title I’ve held in my hands on a few occasions, but didn’t get more than a dozen pages in) but I’d be more likely to return to this one than to attempt to navigate through the original writings (the opposite choice of many, I realize).

Hoffman has other books, such as And God Said, but this title is the one most easy to access or afford to purchase.

…Just because it’s on the cutting room floor doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; but what we can be confident in as that God has given us in the core canon the books He wanted us to have.

 

March 14, 2016

Untitled*

Filed under: Christianity, culture, parenting, Religion — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:41 am

*Because of the large amount of traffic this blogs gets from search engines, I did not want to add to the frenzy described below. I’ve deliberately left this article completely without tags and without a title, which means perhaps only subscribers will initially see it; but we’ll also link to it on Wednesday and on Twitter.

img 031416

This article started out as part of my weekly scan of blogs and news sites looking for material for the Wednesday Link List, a process which usually starts late on Sunday afternoon and continues right up to Tuesday evening. In the process this week I discovered that much has been written lately about the suicides of gay Mormon teens, youth who are part of the LDS Church who are also LGBT, or perhaps LBGT-friendly.

I started to type the link item:

  • Trend-Spotting: Suicides among LGBT Mormon teens under-reported?

Preston Sprinklewith the link, and then realized I had a much bigger subject to wrestle with. Coincidentally, last week I picked up a title in a recent review book box, Living in a Gray World: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality which I have to assume is the youth edition of People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue released the same week in December by the same author, Preston Sprinkle, and the same publisher, Zondervan.

I’ve been reading the chapters a little out of order, though I did listen to the interview Preston did on the sometimes irreverent Drew Marshall Show (scroll down to February 13) which discussed the adult version.

I realize that for everyone this is the biggest social issue facing the church right now. It’s to the present generation of Christians what divorce was in the 1960s and ’70s. And for a variety of reasons, it impacts tweens, teens and twenty-somethings in a major way, though many of those reasons have either a direct or indirect connection to the social changes that have been brought about because of the internet.

Recognizing that much has already been written on this elsewhere, I want to return to the present item, the impact on Mormon teens. Here are just a few stories from January and February and some opening paragraphs.

The first is a general news story that has been reproduced in various forms in various media over the past two months:

Unraveling the Truth Behind Gay Mormon Youth and Suicide

While there are conflicting reports regarding numerous suicides involving LGBT Mormon youth, there’s no question that there’s been an increase of suicidal teens and twenty-somethings following the Church’s new antigay policy.

Instituted in November, the new rules label any Mormon in a same-sex marriage as an “apostate,” which could include excommunication from the church, and bars children of all same-sex couples from being baptized. Reaction to the new rules was swift, with thousands severing ties from the Church of Latter-Day Saints in response.

Three months on, the mental effect on Mormon youth is becoming clearer. “Therapists have seen an uptick in clients who reported suicidal thoughts,” the Salt Lake Tribune reported recently. “Activists have been bombarded with grief-stricken family members seeking comfort and counsel.” …

[…The substance of this article also appears here and here.]

The second piece introduces the official change that took place in the church that has triggered the present situation.

How the Mormon Church can (and will) overturn its new policy and embrace LGBTIs

[Note: This article is from a gay website]

I’m not your typical gay man – but I’m also not your typical Mormon.

From 2011 to 2013, I served as executive secretary in the bishopric of my home congregation in San Francisco as my authentic self – an openly gay man.

A major emphasis of what I’ve worked to accomplish over the past several years is mending the fences between the LGBTI community and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the wake of the Church’s misguided and damaging involvement in California’s Proposition 8.

And progress was indeed being made…

…But that took an abrupt turn in November of last year, when the church announced a new policy making apostates (people who renounced or abandoned their belief) of any LGBTI individual married to someone of the same gender.

…If that wasn’t bad enough, in January this year, a talk given by Russell M. Nelson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and next in line to be prophet and president of the entire church, pronounced the administrative policy a revelation from God, elevating it to near doctrinal status…

The third item indicates the problem is very widespread and goes beyond the number of kids who resort to suicide.

“Safe and Sound” seeks to get LGBT teens off the streets

A disproportionately high number of homeless youth trying to survive on the streets in Utah identify as something other than “straight.”

Homeless youth counselors say a large number of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens also come from Mormon homes — kicked out because they are gay.

“It’s awful. The stories we hear are just terrible,” said Marian Edmonds, the director of Ogden OUTreach, an LGBT community center in northern Utah.

At a panel discussion Tuesday night, Edmonds and others who work with these children spoke out about the problem — noting that as many as 40% of the estimated 1,000 homeless youth in Utah identify as LGBT…

I do not for a minute believe that the problem is limited to the LDS Church. I think it is a microcosm of what’s taking place when we extended the broadest definition of Christian, but that the recent Mormon pronouncement simply caused rapid acceleration of a trend that was already there.

img 031416aFor the rest of us, the issue is fraught with complexity. We don’t want to drive kids away from the church or from Jesus. Condemnation does that. On the other hand, we want them to see God’s ideal for family life. I often discuss this people in terms of

  • good
  • better
  • best

It avoids the use of “wrong” and is in fact closer to the Biblical definition of “missing the mark” (sin) which I touched on briefly in this article.

But we also don’t want to see parents, grandparents, siblings and extended family go through the pain and loss caused by suicide; or live with the knowledge that their son or daughter’s perceptions of the Christian message drove them to that act.

It’s easy to dismiss this as a “Mormon problem” when in fact I believe we haven’t yet seen the full impact of today’s Junior Highs and Middle School children who daily face social realities that are 180-degrees opposite to traditional Christian teaching.

I don’t — and I hope you don’t — believe for a minute that the intention of Jesus is that the standards set in Leviticus or in the Sermon on the Mount or in Paul’s writings were ever intended to drive children to live on the streets or even end their lives.

Compassion, not condemnation is what is needed at this stage.


title slide: Patheos

 

 

January 11, 2016

Do We Even Worship the Same God?

Filed under: Faith, God, Religion — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:41 am

Note: In some respects this is a part two to Saturday’s post, Can People of Other Faiths Be Worshiping the Same God?

Google-GodOn Saturday morning, my wife and I set out for the big city to help our oldest pick out what will be his first automotive purchase. The day resulted in completed frustration and failure, and ended up with our own car breaking down on the freeway and requiring towing back to our home.

But earlier on, when the mood was lighter, we were discussing Saturday’s blog post regarding the shared history of the Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) and the question as to whether or not we worship the same God or simply seek the same God; and all of this in light of the Larycia Hawkins/Wheaton College situation in the U.S.

We wondered if perhaps there is not a more common, pedestrian use of the phrase “Are we even worshiping the same God” which comes up more often.

It comes up when you encounter people whose drive for success and wealth and material prosperity overshadows their understanding of scripture.

Are we even worshiping the same God?

Or people whose devotion to a particular Bible translation seems to overshadow their love for God.

Are we even worshiping the same God?

Or those Americans who somehow manage to equate the gospel with a particular particular party or view on a touchy political subject, such as gun control.

Are we even worshiping the same God?

Or church members whose busy-ness about the programs of their local congregation mean that you can’t see Jesus for the church activitees (think forest, trees)

Are we even worshiping the same God?

Or those friends whose conversation reflects constant references to their love and admiration for a particular author or televangelist but little in the way of references to Christ.

Are we even worshiping the same God?

…We have enough struggles in the church sometimes with clarity of identification; we often don’t adequately define our terms. I also think we also completely obscure our message when we put other things in the place of Christ, or God, or the Holy Spirit, or all three.

I have acquaintances with whom I disagree on a doctrinal point here and there. But I also have acquaintances whose faith is comprised of so many things that are so very different from my own understanding of the character and nature and ways of the God I serve that I do in fact find myself asking sometimes,

Are we even worshiping the same God?

 

 

May 14, 2015

Christianity Fares Poorly in Recent Polls, Surveys

Religion in AmericaNumerically, Christianity is in decline in North America. If the U.S. wants to see its religious future it needs only to look to Canada, which although it has its unique characteristics (different mix of ethnicities, historically stronger Roman Catholic population) is very much a “20 minutes into the future” window on what the U.S. is facing. And in some respects the UK provides Canada with a similar preview of increases in secularism.

We wrote about the implications for the church a few months ago in a review of the new book, The Church in Exile.

Dr. Russell D. Moore heads the Ethics and Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and is always very clear and forthright in framing the Evangelical position on issues for wider culture to comprehend. In an article titled “Is Christianity Dying” he writes:

  • Bible Belt near-Christianity is teetering. I say let it fall
  • Secularization in America means that we have fewer incognito atheists. Those who don’t believe can say so—and still find spouses, get jobs, volunteer with the PTA, and even run for office. This is good news because the kind of “Christianity” that is a means to an end… is what J. Gresham Machen rightly called “liberalism,” and it is an entirely different religion from the apostolic faith handed down by Jesus Christ.
  • The Pew report holds that mainline denominations—those who have made their peace with the Sexual Revolution—continue to report heavy losses, while evangelical churches remain remarkably steady—even against some heavy headwinds coming from the other direction.
  • Christianity isn’t normal anymore, and that’s good news. The Book of Acts, like the Gospels before it, shows us that the Christianity thrives when it is, as Kierkegaard put it, a sign of contradiction.
  • We do not have more atheists in America. We have more honest atheists in America.

To read the entire article — recommended — click this link.

Meanwhile, USA tapped another Baptist writer, Ed Stetzer for an article titled “Survey Fail: Christianity Isn’t Dying.” The articles subtitle confirms what Moore is saying, “Fakers who don’t go to church are just giving up the pretense.”

  •  Rather than predict the impending doom of the church in America, this latest study affirms what many researchers have said before. Christianity isn’t collapsing; it’s being clarified. Churches aren’t emptying; rather, those who were Christian in name only are now categorically identifying their lack of Christian conviction and engagement.
  • If evangelical Christianity is growing, or at the very least remaining steady, why is Christianity as a whole shrinking and why are those who claim no religious affiliation increasing at such a rapid rate? In short, nominals — people whose religious affiliation is in name only — are becoming nones — people who check “none of the above” box on a survey.

To read the entire article, click this link.

Of course, discussions like this tend to move from the sublime to the ridiculous. So we have, at Billboard of all places, this article: “Bill O’Reilly Blames Hip-Hop for Decline in U.S. Christianity.” Here’s a snippet:

  • Obviously, these statistics were gonna get an entrenched conservative like Bill O’Reilly upset. And when Bill sees a problem, Bill needs a scapegoat — and when you’re a conservative talking head, what better scapegoat is there than black people? … “There is no question that people of faith are being marginalized by a secular media and pernicious entertainment,” O’Reilly said. “The rap industry, for example, often glorifies depraved behavior. That sinks into the minds of some young people — the group that is most likely to reject religion.”

What’s deplorable about this is that O’Reilly is missing the point entirely as to what Christianity is and sees it as moralism instead belief in the deity and atoning work of Jesus Christ.

If you feel you must, you read the story at this link.

Yesterday, we also linked to a story at Huffington Post, “The Surprising Sacred Gathering Spaces That Are Moving Into Your Neighborhoods” which you’ll find at this link.

Finally, CBC television in Canada jumped into the discussion last night, but as their charter mandates, were forced to look at all religions.  I’m not sure if their content is available in the U.S. but you can try to view the 12-minute piece at this link. (There was also coverage this week at ABC World News.)

with additional research from Clark Bunch at The Master’s Table blog and Flagrant Regard

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 12, 2015

From The e-mail Forwards Archives

Filed under: ethics, Faith, Religion — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:48 am

In the days before Facebook and Twitter, people would e-mail things like this to each other.

I grew up with practical parents. A mother, God love her, who washed aluminum foil after she cooked in it, then reused it. She was the original recycle queen, before they had a name for it… A father who was happier getting old shoes fixed than buying new ones.

Their marriage was good, their dreams focused. Their best friends lived barely a wave away..

I can see them now, Dad in trousers, tee shirt and a hat and Mom in a house dress, lawn mower in one hand, and dish-towel in the other. It was the time for fixing things.. A curtain rod, the kitchen radio, screen door, the oven door, the hem in a dress. Things we keep.

It was a way of life, and sometimes it made me crazy.. All that re-fixing, eating, renewing, I wanted just once to be wasteful. Waste meant affluence. Throwing things away meant you knew there’d always be more.

But then my mother died, and on that clear summer’s night, in the warmth of the hospital room, I was struck with the pain of learning that sometimes there isn’t any more.

Sometimes, what we care about most gets all used up and goes away…never to return.. So… while we have it….. it’s best we love it…. and care for it… and fix it when it’s broken……… and heal it when it’s sick.

This is true. for marriage……. and old cars….. and children with bad report cards….. and dogs with bad hips…. and aging parents….. and grandparents. We keep them because they are worth it, because we are worth it.

Some things we keep. Like a best friend that moved away or a classmate we grew up with.

There are just some things that make life important, like people we know who are special…. and so, we keep them close!

I received this from someone who thinks I am a ‘keeper’, so I’ve sent it to the people I think of in the same way… Now it’s your turn to send this to those people that are “keepers” in your life. Good friends are like stars…. You don’t always see them, but you know they are always there. Keep them close!

TEN THINGS GOD WON’T ASK ON THAT DAY

1…. God won’t ask what kind of car you drove. He’ll ask how many people you drove who didn’t have transportation..

2…. God won’t ask the square footage of your house, He’ll ask how many people you welcomed into your home.

3…. God won’t ask about the clothes you had in your closet, He’ll ask how many you helped to clothe.

4…. God won’t ask what your highest salary was. He’ll ask if you compromised your character to obtain it.

5…. God won’t ask what your job title was. He’ll ask if you performed your job to the best of your ability.

6…. God won’t ask how many friends you had. He’ll ask how many people to whom you were a friend.

7…. God won’t ask in what neighborhood you lived, He’ll ask how you treated your neighbors.

8…. God won’t ask about the color of your skin, He’ll ask about the content of your character.

9…. God won’t ask why it took you so long to seek Salvation. He’ll lovingly take you to your mansion in heaven, and not to the gates of Hell.

10…. God won’t have to ask how many people you forwarded this to, He already knows your decision.

January 31, 2015

Faith Itself is Not a Destination

Bruxy Cavey:

“We treat faith in our culture much like a painting that you hang on the wall. It’s something you go and look at. Look at my faith. Faith is a beautiful thing. But biblically faith is a connecting concept to connect you with something else. It’s not an end point destination that you stare at but it’s something you stare through. In other words, faith is more like a window that you install in a wall, not a painting you hang on a wall. It is something designed to help you see through the wall or whatever barrier is there to see … the outside of your particular world.”


~Bruxy Cavey, author of The End of Religion and Teaching Pastor of The Meeting House, an eightteen-site church in Ontario, Canada from the series Get Over Yourself, part six, December 13, 2009

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.