Category Archives: forcing Christianity on others.

What Does the Bible Say About Abortion? ( Long, but Enlightening for those of Us in the Middle)

 

OCTOBER 23, 2016 BY NEIL CARTER

When evangelical Christians first began debating the issue of abortion, they were nowhere near as unified about the topic as they appear to be today. Shortly after the Supreme Court made their landmark decision on the issue in Roe v. Wade (1973), influential Baptist minister W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, TX, and predecessor to FOX News darling Robert Jeffress, said: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”
As late as five years after the legalization of abortion, Southern Baptists were still listed among the denominations officially affirming the decision. Richard Land, who formerly headed up the SBC’s political action division, points out that in those days there was a clear divide between what Baptists and Catholics believed about the matter. They pretty much bought into the idea that life begins when breath begins, and they just thought of [abortion] as a Catholic issue.
In November of 1968, Christianity Today devoted an entire issue to debating the subject, including an article written by conservative biblical scholar Bruce Waltke (Dallas Seminary) who argues that the Bible gives no clear answer on the matter. In that article, Waltke explains that “in the absence of any biblical text forbidding abortion,” we are forced to look at the literature of nearby cultures at the time of the Old Testament to compare their laws with those of the people of Israel. He notes that while neighboring Assyria exacted punishment for performing abortions, no such prohibition existed among the ancient Hebrews. The fact that God did not set forth a similar law becomes even more significant when one realizes that in sexual matters the Mosaic Code is normally more extensive and more severe than other codes.
In Assyrian law, when a fight between two people resulted in a miscarriage, a life was demanded in return for a life. But no such reckoning was present in the Old Testament. If the mother’s life was lost, that would be a much more serious offense. But the termination of the pregnancy itself would only incur a fine, since an unborn child wasn’t yet considered a separate person from the mother (see Exodus 21:22-25, also see note about translation at the end of this article). The closest thing to a biblical definition of “when life begins” would most likely be found in Genesis 2, where it says that God breathed into the nostrils of the first man, at which point “he became a living being.” This kind of language is repeated in multiple places throughout the Bible, equating “breath” with “life” in a fairly unambiguous way (e.g. Ezekiel 37:4-10).
Evangelical Christians today (who seem to have settled on a much more uniform opinion on the issue) often quote Psalm 139 as if it answers a question it wasn’t even being asked: For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.I will give thanks to You, For I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
As Waltke points out, the writer here isn’t really spelling out at what time or place “life begins” (which is a misleading way to frame the personhood question in the first place). Taken in context, the writer of the psalm was marveling at the omniscience of Yahweh, who he believed could see everyone and everything before they even come into being. Reading the verses around it makes clear what he means to say. It is a poetic expression, as are the lines which follow: “My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written , The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.”
No Christian interpreter today would be so literal as to argue this passage teaches that babies are built “in the depths of the earth,” since the language is clearly poetic. The purpose of the imagery is to express wonder at the omniscience of God, who sees what happens everywhere and to everyone before it even happens. Time would mean nothing for such a being. For Waltke, and for most Protestant thinkers at the time, the literary genre at play here made this passage the wrong place to look in order to answer the question of “when life begins.”
One more passage about abortion in the Bible must be noted before we can move on. In Numbers 5 we are told there are circumstances under which Yahweh actually instructed his people to perform an abortion. If a man suspected his wife of having slept with another man, he could take her to a priest, who would give her “bitter water” to drink and then perform a curse over her in order to induce a miscarriage. Whether or not this ritual ever accomplished its purpose is difficult to say, since the only ingredients spelled out in the text are water, dirt, and ink (and of course “a curse”). But the intent of the punishment is clear: For her alleged infidelity, the pregnancy should be terminated.
As it turns out, this is all the Bible has to say about abortion. I must say, it’s not at all what I expected to find when I first set out to discover what it says. It’s not at all what people around me think the Bible says about abortion.
The Origins of the Pro-Life Movement
So what changed? Absent a clear biblical prohibition of abortion, and in light of the ancient definition of life beginning at first breath, how did evangelical Christianity come to embrace the Catholic denunciation of abortion? Evangelical opposition to abortion was crafted by political operatives as a way to co-opt the Christian church into the Republican party in order to save it from extinction after its landslide loss to Lyndon Johnson in 1964 (see map above). Far too few people realize that the pro-life movement was essentially cobbled together by opportunists seizing upon a sudden voter vacuum in the Republican party following the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the summer of 1964. They needed something to unify a group of people under one banner, and it took a decade and a half to make it happen, but they were eventually very successful. At first, they were stuck with appealing to the white Southern disgust toward federally mandated racial equality (“It should be decided by the states,” they argued). But shifts in U.S. population demanded a more broadly acceptable issue, something more noble and universally appealing to an increasingly diverse demographic landscape. Randall Balmer explains how Paul Weyrich, founder of both the Heritage Foundation and ALEC, initially struggled to find a unifying issue around which he could piece together a coalition of both Protestants and Catholics, who traditionally were at odds with one another on numerous issues, into a single monolithic political force. …this hypothetical “moral majority” needed a catalyst—a standard around which to rally. For nearly two decades, Weyrich, by his own account, had been trying out different issues, hoping one might pique evangelical interest: pornography, prayer in schools, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, even abortion. “I was trying to get these people interested in those issues and I utterly failed,” Weyrich recalled at a conference in 1990.
His big break finally came in 1975 when the IRS moved to rescind the tax-exempt status of fundamentalist Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC, for failing to maintain racially equitable admissions policies. Both Catholic and Protestant schools alike were alarmed at the threat to their financial status this move represented, and out of that panic grew a more unified coalition of political operatives ready to declare this an infringement on their religious freedoms. Weyrich at that time tapped Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell to head up his new “Moral Majority” movement. Falwell’s associate, Ed Dobson, would later corroborate Balmer’s reasoning for the formation of this new political entity: The Religious New Right did not start because of a concern about abortion,” Dobson said. “I sat in the non-smoke-filled back room with the Moral Majority, and I frankly do not remember abortion ever being mentioned as a reason why we ought to do something.” Perhaps after accepting the regional limitations of his own Southern Strategy, Weyrich proposed the abortion issue again a few years later. Given the growing Southern Baptist disdain for feminism and the sexual revolution, Weyrich sensed an opportunity to use opposition to Roe v. Wade as a rallying cry to unify Catholics and Protestants into a single powerful coalition.
Incidentally, Bob Jones University would go on to lose their “religious freedom” case in the Supreme Court in 1983 in an 8-to-1 decision against them. The court’s lone dissenter, Justice William Rehnquist, would later be elevated to Chief Justice by President Ronald Reagan, who was propelled to electoral victory in the South twice thanks to the support of Falwell’s Moral Majority, despite having passed the nation’s most liberal abortion bill in 1967 while he was still governor of California. Abortion wasn’t always what the Religious Right was about, but it certainly is today.
Pawns in a Political Game
In the 2016 presidential election, American evangelicals, who naturally detest virtually everything about Donald Trump, declared they are reluctantly willing to elect the reality TV star to the greatest position of civic responsibility in the country despite his never having held public office of any kind. Why? Because he has promised them he will appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade .
Evangelical Christians today are willing to overlook Trump’s “foibles, peccadilloes, and metaphorical warts” because they have become deeply convinced that “life begins at conception,” and that abortion is murder. It has become a black-and-white issue for them, a clear case of right versus wrong. Anyone who would appoint SCOTUS justices who uphold Roe v. Wade must be “worse than Hitler” since he or she would then be responsible for the taking of millions of lives. It’s an issue so central to the way they view their mission in the world today that some of their most outspoken representatives (e.g. James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Robert Jeffress, and Eric Metaxas, who has taken to calling Secretary Clinton “Hitlery”) have been unwavering in their support for the “thrice married owner of casinos with strip joints” who has lately come under fire for allegations of sexually assaulting more than a dozen women in precisely the manner in which he himself boasted on a hot mic before the filming of an Access Hollywood segment.
Leaving aside the biblical and historical problems of this argument, there are at least three significant semantic problems inherent in this contention that abortion is murder, and that life begins at conception.
First, when opponents of war or capital punishment cite the 6th Commandment (“Thou shalt not kill”) in order to support their causes, hawkish conservatives are quick to call out the absence of nuance in the translation of the word for “kill.” Because there are many different contexts and motives for the taking of a life, better translations render the commandment as saying “You shall not murder.” Why is a different word for killing selected in this case? Quite obviously it is because in the larger context of biblical ethics there are circumstances under which the taking of a life, even a human life, is morally acceptable (e.g. war, self-defense, capital punishment). In order to distinguish this kind of “taking of a life” from other kinds, the word “murder” is chosen, as it denotes a more brutally violent and life-devaluing choice. For some reason, when war or capital punishment is being discussed, evangelical Christians demand context-sensitive interpretations for words that signify the taking of human life, but whenever the subject of abortion comes up, they drop every form of nuance and lurch directly into calling it murder. Why would they do this? They certainly aren’t deriving their positions from the biblical passages that relate to the topic, as we’ve seen above.
Second, they stack the deck in favor of their desired outcome whenever they frame the discussion by asking: “When does life begin?” Is that really the appropriate question? Exactly what kind of “life” are we talking about? Conscious life? Intelligent life? Self-aware life? Even plants and trees have life, as do bacteria. Other animals have not only organic life but also consciousness, thanks to brains that look and function in ways virtually identical to ours. Once again, nuance and clarification fly out the window whenever this exceedingly complex topic is oversimplified into a matter of “protecting the unborn.” The reality isn’t nearly so simple as that.
Third, whenever we talk about the morality of abortion, the most passionate opponents of the procedure tend to lump every form of terminating a pregnancy into the same category, again jettisoning any trace of nuance. But should we really be using the same word for terminating a pregnancy at six weeks that we use for week thirty? Is any effort being made to understand that virtually anyone who elects to terminate a pregnancy in the third trimester (which is extremely rare) would only do so because of an imminent threat either to the health of the mother or to the viability of the child? [Related: “There Are No Nine Month Abortions“] These oversimplifications are unfortunately effective tactics of emotional manipulation employed by well-funded political operatives intent on preserving the national dominance of a political party with very deep pockets, and they themselves frankly don’t care a bit about abortion, gay marriage, or fighting pornography (Do you suppose Donald Trump cares?). These are all handles on the church which they have seized upon in order to steer a large group of potential voters wherever they choose, even to the electing of the least qualified presidential candidate ever to top a major party ticket. In other words, evangelicals are being played. They have fallen for a strategy devised by desperate people with money to spare who were looking to stitch together a coalition of trusting people who would go on to serve as a reliable voting base for a half a century, right up until this election. It is the last gasp of the Southern Strategy finally playing itself out on a national stage.
In continuing to support Donald Trump simply because he says he will outlaw abortion, evangelical Christians have effectively given up their right to speak to moral issues in American life. Five decades of well-coordinated political action has programmed them to draw a line in the sand over issues about which the Bible says virtually nothing, even while turning a deaf ear to the cries of the less fortunate, the marginalized poor and the socially disadvantaged in our country (something the Bible speaks about voluminously). In so doing, as Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe so aptly put it, they have forfeited their right to claim moral authority over matters of public life.
A couple of months ago on her own blog, Rachel Held Evans, a Nashville resident who was once an evangelical herself but who no longer claims ownership of that label, wrote a persuasive piece arguing that consistently pro-life voters who seek to reduce the number of abortions happening around the country should vote in this election for Hillary Clinton. In the eight years since we’ve had a pro-choice president, the abortion rate in the U.S. has dropped to its lowest since 1973. I believe the best way to keep this trend going is not to simply make it harder for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies but to create a culture with fewer unwanted pregnancies to begin with. Data suggests progressive social policies that make healthcare and childcare more affordable, make contraception more accessible, alleviate poverty, and support a living wage do the most to create such a culture, while countries where abortion is simply illegal see no change in the abortion rate. [emphasis hers] By focusing exclusively on the legal components of abortion while simultaneously opposing these family-friendly social policies, the Republican Party has managed to hold pro-life voters hostage with the promise of outlawing abortion, (which has yet to happen under any Republican administrations since Roe v. Wade), while actively working against the very policies that would lead to a significant reduction in unwanted pregnancies. She’s absolutely right. The best way to reduce the number of abortions nationwide is to vote for progressive healthcare policies which approach the subject of birth control from a realistic standpoint rather than an idealistic one. The states with the highest rates of teen pregnancy, STDs, and poverty (including my own) are not-coincidentally the same states which teach “abstinence only” rather than comprehensive sex education, and they are the states that generally make every form of birth control more difficult to procure. In essence, they are exacerbating the very problem they are trying to remedy.

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Liberal I Am, Sam I Am, and Christian Too, Why Aren’t You?

Lori Gallagher Witt                                                                                  Lynn Coffinberry                                                                                                Eileen Norman

This was started by a woman named Lori Gallagher Witt, the brilliance is hers, the rest has been edited to best express similar, though not identical, opinions of those passing the main ideas on.

An open letter to friends and family who are shocked to discover I’m a liberal… I’ve always been a liberal, but that doesn’t mean what a lot of you seem to think it does.
Let’s break it down, shall we? Spoiler alert: Not every liberal is the same, though the majority of liberals I know think along roughly these same lines:
1. I believe a country should take care of its weakest members. A country cannot call itself civilized when its children, disabled, sick, and elderly are neglected. Period.
2. I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Somehow that’s interpreted as “I believe Obamacare is the end-all, be-all.” This is not the case. I’m fully aware that the ACA has problems, that a national healthcare system would require everyone to chip in, and that it’s impossible to create one that is devoid of flaws, but I have yet to hear an argument against it that makes “let people die because they can’t afford healthcare” a better alternative. I believe healthcare should be far cheaper than it is, and that everyone should have access to it. And no, I’m not opposed to paying higher taxes in the name of making that happen.
3. I believe education should be affordable and accessible to everyone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be free (though it works in other countries so I’m mystified as to why it can’t work in the US), but at the end of the day, there is no excuse for students graduating college saddled with five- or six-figure debt.
4. I don’t believe your money should be taken from you and given to people who don’t want to work. I have literally never encountered anyone who believes this. Ever. I just have a massive moral problem with a society where a handful of people can possess the majority of the wealth while there are people literally starving to death, freezing to death, or dying because they can’t afford to go to the doctor. Fair wages, lower housing costs, universal healthcare, affordable education, and the wealthy actually paying their share  would go a long way toward alleviating this.  Believing that  does not make me a communist.
5. I don’t throw around “I’m willing to pay higher taxes” lightly. I’m retired and on a fixed income, but I still pay taxes. If I’m suggesting something that involves paying more, well, it’s because I’m fine with paying my share as long as it’s actually going to something besides lining corporate pockets or bombing other countries while Americans die without healthcare.
6. I believe companies should be required to pay their employees a decent, livable wage. Somehow this is always interpreted as paying fast food workers enough to buy a Mercedes.  What it means is enough for them to have at least transportation to a job and that no one should have to work three full-time jobs just to keep their head above water. Restaurant servers should not have to rely on tips, multi-billion dollar companies should not have employees on food stamps, workers shouldn’t have to work themselves into the ground just to barely make ends meet, and minimum wage should be enough for someone to work 40 hours and live.
7. I am not anti-Christian. In fact I am a born again Christian who believes Jesus died to save us from our inborn human selfishness.  I have no desire to stop Christians from being Christians in whatever way they see that playing out in their own lives.    (BTW, prayer in school is NOT illegal; *compulsory* prayer in school is. Besides, no one can keep anyone from praying, which is just conversation with God.) All I ask is that my Christian brothers and sisters recognize *everyone’s* right to live according to *their* beliefs.  I believe in “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I don’t want anyone trying to force me or anyone else to live by their particular religion’s rules. Besides, you cannot force Christianity on anyone. It doesn’t work that way. To be real it has to be a free choice.

8. I don’t believe LGBT people should have more rights than anyone else. I just believe they should have the *same* rights as everyone else.

9. I don’t believe illegal immigrants should come to America and have the world at their feet, especially since THIS ISN’T WHAT THEY DO (spoiler: undocumented immigrants are ineligible for all those programs they’re supposed to be abusing, and if they’re “stealing” your job it’s because your employer is hiring illegally). I’m not opposed to deporting people who are here illegally, but I believe there are far more humane ways to handle undocumented immigration than our current practices (i.e., detaining children, splitting up families, ending DACA, etc).  And since it became illegal to hire non-citizens, many industries are having to shut down some of their production lines because of labor shortages.  It seems Americans don’t want the jobs the illegal immigrants were taking from them.
10. I don’t believe the government should regulate everything, but since greed is such a driving force in our country, we NEED regulations to prevent cut corners, environmental destruction, tainted food/water, unsafe materials in consumable goods or medical equipment, etc. It’s not that I want the government’s hands in everything — I just don’t trust people trying to make money to ensure that their products/practices/etc. are actually SAFE. Is the government devoid of shadiness? Of course not. But with those regulations in place, consumers have recourse if they’re harmed and companies are liable for medical bills, environmental cleanup, etc. Just kind of seems like common sense when the alternative to government regulation is letting companies make their bottom line the deciding factor on what is in the public interest and what is harmful.
11. I believe our current administration is fascist. Not because I dislike them or because I can’t get over an election, but because I’ve spent too many years reading and learning about the Third Reich to miss the similarities. Not because any administration I dislike must be Nazis, but because things are actually mirroring authoritarian and fascist regimes of the past.
12. I believe the systemic racism and misogyny in our society is much worse than many people think, and desperately needs to be addressed. Which means those with privilege — white, straight, male, affluent, etc. — need to start listening, even if you don’t like what you’re hearing, so we can start dismantling everything that’s causing people to be marginalized.
13. I am not interested in coming after your guns, nor is anyone serving in government. What I am interested in is sensible policies, including background checks, that just MIGHT save one person’s, perhaps a toddler’s, life by the hand of someone who should not have a gun.
14. I believe in so-called political correctness. I prefer to think it’s social politeness. If I call you Chuck and you say you prefer to be called Charles, I’ll call you Charles. It’s the polite thing to do. Not because everyone is a delicate snowflake, but because as Maya Angelou put it, when we know better, we do better. When someone tells you that a term or phrase is more accurate/less hurtful than the one you’re using, you now know better. So why not do better? How does it hurt you to NOT hurt another person?
15. I believe in funding sustainable energy, including offering education to people currently working in coal or oil so they can change jobs. There are too many sustainable options available for us to continue with coal and oil. Sorry, billionaires. Maybe try investing in something else.
16. I believe that women should not be treated as a separate class of human. They should be paid the same as men who do the same work, should have the same rights as men and should be free from abuse. Why on earth shouldn’t they be?
I think that about covers it. Bottom line is that I’m a liberal because I think we should take care of each other. That doesn’t mean you should work 80 hours a week so your lazy neighbor can get all your money. It just means I don’t believe there is any scenario in which preventable suffering is an acceptable outcome for the sake of profit or corporate savings.
So, I’m a liberal.
(I didn’t write the above from scratch but edited and added to a similar post to reflect my personal beliefs. Please feel free to do the same with this post).

Giving the Devil His Due: Senator Alexander’s Response to My Letter on Same Sex Marriage

A Mother’s Plea to Not Reinforce Prejudice and Precipitate Violence

My Letter to our National and State Congressmen and to the Editor of the Tennessean and our Senator Lamar Alexander’s letter in response.

1. Freedom for and from religion are the same thing. We need to protect that freedom.

2. Homosexuality is not a choice. My great-great aunt became a pediatrician and established a clinic for the poor in the early 1900’s. She lived with the same woman all her life. My brother has been in a twenty-five year monogamous relationship with another man. My son and his partner of seventeen years teach children born HIV positive in South East Asia. Legal recognition of same gender commitment relationships is crucial on many levels, from health insurance to the same degree of acceptance and safety from persecution that heterosexuals have. A return to legal reinforcement of prejudice could very well precipitate violence.
3. I want all people to experience the unconditional love of God expressed in Jesus, so He can become their Lord. History shows that making people pretend Christians by law, violence, judgment, or discrimination does not accomplish that. If we could make and enforce secular laws against making pleasure a God, many heterosexual people would be in legal trouble. The purpose of marriage is a committed relationship, not just pleasure. Let’s support that.
4. Married to the same man for fifty-eight years, I have come to believe marriage is designed not to just populate the world, but to challenge and enable us to really know and love another imperfect (not abusive) person. Let’s not limit anyone by law to deceit in order to experience that.

Alexander’s Response possibly indicates he may have actually read my letter.

Dear Eileen,
Thank you for getting in touch with me and letting me know what’s on your mind regarding the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage.

I believe that the states, not the courts, should be responsible for deciding how to define marriage. However, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruing is now the law of the land. Congress will have to carefully consider the effect of this ruling on religious liberty and religious institutions.

I’m grateful you took the time to let me know what is on your mind regarding same-sex marriage and I’ll be sure to keep your comments in mind as this issue is discussed and debated in Washington and in Tennessee.,

Sincerely,

Lamar Alexander

Maybe he read my letter and this response is his and not an aide’s. It’s the only response I’ve gotten from Senators or Representatives at state or federal level that even slightly sounded like someone actually was responding to what I said. It encourages me to continue writing on other issues also.

I have been calling, emailing, and writing letters and post cards. The responses to my emails didn’t make sense. The calls were answered
by interns politely and were hopefully at least counted. Letters get slower responses because of security checks, but they may be what actually gets read. I plan on keeping on doing all of the above.

A Mother’s Plea to Not Reinforce Prejudice and Precipitate Violence

My Letter to our National and State Congressmen and to the Editor of the Tennessean  ( An Edited and Condensed Previous Blog Post )

1. Freedom for and from religion are the same thing. We need to protect that freedom.

2. Homosexuality is not a choice. My great-great aunt became a pediatrician and established a clinic for the poor in the early 1900’s. She lived with the same woman all her life. My brother has been in a twenty-five year monogamous relationship with another man. My son and his partner of seventeen years teach children born HIV positive in South East Asia. Legal recognition of same gender commitment relationships is crucial on many levels, from health insurance to the same degree of acceptance and safety from persecution that heterosexuals have. A return to legal reinforcement of prejudice could very well precipitate violence.
3. I want all people to experience the unconditional love of God expressed in Jesus, so He can become their Lord. History shows that making people pretend Christians by law, violence, judgment, or discrimination does not accomplish that. If we could make and enforce secular laws against making pleasure a God, many heterosexual people would be in legal trouble. The purpose of marriage is a committed relationship, not just pleasure. Let’s support that.
4. Married to the same man for fifty-eight years, I have come to believe marriage is designed not to just populate the world, but to challenge and enable us to really know and love another imperfect (not abusive) person. Let’s not limit anyone by law to deceit in order to experience that.

Our Historical Era: Post-Christian or Pre-Christian?

Scholars say we live in the Post-Christian era. I say we still live in the Pre-Christian era. To me Jesus represents a turning point in human growth(evolution) from survival of the fittest to sacrificial love for the weakest. And anyone with eyes to see, can’t help but recognize that we haven’t gotten anywhere near to the kind of spirituality that God calls us to through Jesus. Perhaps, by finally giving up the warped worldly view of Christianity as “top dog” by force, we may finally be entering the bare beginnings of a true Christianity.  That is, a Christianity which doesn’t focus on winning or controlling, but on learning to risk loving instead. The worst set back Christianity has experienced was when the Emperor Constantine converted and made it the “state” religion, a religion of privilege instead of sacrifice.

Jesus Loves Me, but I Suspect that I’m Not Playing with a Full Deck.

Many years ago after a long and very disappointing search for spiritual meaning in most of the major Christian denominations and even some other world religions, I was encouraged to say a prayer, “Jesus Christ, if you are who you claim to be, I want you to be my Savior and Lord.” This was not connected to any denomination. I didn’t expect anything, because as I explained to the woman challenging me, I didn’t believe in God and I thought Jesus was a very good man, but a delusional idealist that got himself killed. At first, nothing happened and I felt pretty safe that nothing would.

Then suddenly I simply knew with my whole self – mind, heart and spirit, that I was loved unconditionally by God, even though for some years like Madalyn Murray O’Hair, I had opposed anything Christian in the public sector. Suddenly, things from Scripture, which in my search I had read from beginning to end, came together with things I had learned when recently getting a degree in Psychology. And I was filled to overflowing with total mind blowing joy.

That was forty-seven years ago and my journey has since been centered on the person of Jesus as the Love of God fleshed out so we can understand it, experience it, and learn to love like that. I have found that there are some people in all the denominations who “get” that. But all the denominations have pieces of the puzzle that they emphasize to the detriment of the whole picture. Most of humanity including nominal Christians- have simply missed the point of Jesus Christ. To me the greatest tragedy I see in today’s broken world is that Christians are turning people off before they can discover the Love of God in Jesus.

To discover that Love of God in Jesus we pretty much need to put everything we were taught or heard on hold in a mental file, and spend some serious time getting to know the man Jesus personally, discovering in the New Testament that he grew and changed in how he understood his faith and even his ministry over and over until He “got” it and was God’s perfect expression of Love that we could know in the flesh. Then we too will be able to live that process of becoming Love…..never perfectly……sometimes falling under the weight of our human imperfections, but mostly inching closer by seeking grace. It will not be exactly the same or on the same schedule as anyone else, because we are all different. We weren’t all dealt the same hand. Frankly, I think I am one of those who isn’t playing with a full deck.

But God, and only God, knows what we each have to work with, so only God knows how well we are playing the hand we were dealt. We can’t even judge ourselves, never- the-less anyone else. I also learned in my search that the mystics (those that have encountered the Love of God powerfully and personally) of all the world’s religions say pretty much the same thing, “We are all one and whatever we do to anyone, we do to all.”  Jesus said, “Whatever you do to the least, you do to me.” You would think that we would be a lot more careful how we treat people, even those we may unfortunately be inclined to consider outsiders or sinners.

I can’t help but wanting to share the Love of God I have experienced through Jesus.  But I have learned the hard way, that trying to force our own particular Christian beliefs on those who have not experienced the Love of God, is the mostly likely way to prevent them from becoming open to that experience of Love. We can let the world know what we believe. We can teach our children what we believe. But when we force those beliefs on those who have not experienced the Love of God, we risk being responsible for closing their minds and hearts to God.

I have seen over these forty-seven years that each person’s journey is different and though saying that particular prayer has validity and meaning, it doesn’t always have an immediate impact like it did for me at that point in time in my search. Each person is different and each person’s timing on their journey is different. I think some of us are like the prodigal and some of us are like the older brother. I have seen truly kind and good church going people who believe in the Love of God, but only finally experience it with that explosive joy through a personal encounter with Jesus in their seventies or even later.

“Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” It’s a lifelong personal journey of growing and learning and the high points come at different times and in different ways for all of us. Perseverance is the key.

Disclosure Form for Counselors to Fill Out and Give to Prospective Clients at First Meeting

If you were seeking a counselor for yourself or a family member, what would you consider important to know about their beliefs and values? Please comment on these possibilities and add any other ones you would include.

Disclosure  Form for Counselors to Fill Out and Give to Prospective Clients at First Meeting

(And for the client to fill out if they choose after reading the Counselor’s answers.)
I (believe, don’t believe, not sure whether I believe) in a higher power, we call God.)
I (believe, don’t believe, not sure) in a God of unconditional love
I (believe, don’t believe, not sure) in a God who keeps score.
I(believe, don’t believe, not sure about) life after death.
I (believe, don’t believe, not sure) we must accept Jesus as Savior and Lord to get to heaven.
I(believe, don’t believe, not sure) the 10 commandments are the basic requirements to be a good person, worthy of heaven.
I(believe, don’t believe, not sure) all a person has to do to be good is not purposely harm others.
I(believe, don’t believe, not sure) we are called to love all people the same as Jesus did.
I( believe, don’t believe, not sure) there’s a hell for sinners after life.
I(believe, don’t believe, not sure) that there is a God that is actively involved in human lives.
I (believe, don’t believe, not sure) that God allows consequences for our choices and actions while we are still alive so we will become better people.
I(believe, don’t believe, not sure) that marriage is valid only between a man and a woman.
I (believe, don’t believe, not sure) that marriage is valid only when neither party has been married before.
I (believe, don’t believe, not sure) that sex outside marriage is sinful for anyone.
I( believe, don’t believe, not sure) in abortion.
I(believe, don’t believe, not sure) in abortion under certain circumstances.
I( believe, don’t believe, not sure) that it is wrong to kill even in war.
I(believe, don’t believe, not sure) in capital punishment.
I(believe, don’t believe, not sure) it is all right to kill in defense of my property.
I(believe, don’t believe, not sure) that mercy killing or assisted suicide is wrong in any circumstances.
I(believe, don’t believe, not sure) that suffering is part of life for everyone.
I(believe, don’t believe, not sure) in the efficacy of prayer. I(believe, don’t believe, not sure) in what we call miracles because they are beyond our understanding. I believe in (all, most, none, don’t know) of the teachings of (Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus, etc.) I(believe, don’t believe, not sure) we are both forgiven for the harm we do and called to forgive others. I(believe, don’t believe, not sure) a person must belong to a particular religion to have eternal life.

Letter to Politicians on Four Issues Relating to Anti-gay Marriage Resolutions

1. I believe freedom for and from religion are the same thing. As a “born again” Christian in America, I want to protect that legal freedom.

2. Homosexuality runs in families. It isn’t a choice. I had a great-great aunt that became a pediatrician in the late 1800’s and established a health clinic for the poor. She was our family’s best kept secret, because she lived with the same woman all her life. I have a kind and deeply spiritual brother who has been in a 25 year monogamous relationship with another man. I have a son, who with his partner of 17 years, teaches at an orphanage for children born HIV positive in Cambodia.

3. The most important thing in my life is my relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. I want all people to have the chance to accept the unconditional love of God expressed in Jesus as Savior, so He can truly become their Lord. But I think history shows that making people be nominal Christians by law, violence, fear, family tradition or cultural pressure doesn’t accomplish that.  Jesus died for sinners and He spoke against judging others more than any other sin.

4. Having been married to the same man for 57 years, I have come to believe that marriage is the institution designed by God to not just populate the world, but to challenge, teach and enable us to learn to love another imperfect human being up close long enough to love them as they really are. (Admittedly, some people need more practice than others, but it is still our best bet.) I want that choice for all people. I do not want to limit any people by law to promiscuity or deceit in order to experience human love.

I realize that the way that I have come to understand faith in the love of God is not necessarily shared by all Christians. The freedom for that diversity of how our faith is lived out is part of what I am wanting to protect. But, I also understand that you are elected officials who live with the tension between what your conscience says and what your electorate wants.
All I ask is that you seriously consider all sides, and if you are a person of prayer, that you will prayerfully listen to the many ways God speaks to our minds and hearts.

Maybe I Haven’t Really Tried Christianity Yet (Edited and Expanded )

I have struggled off and on throughout my life with the statement: “Christianity hasn’t failed. It just hasn’t been tried yet.”
Because over the centuries there have been individuals that took Jesus literally about not killing, even in self-defense. Many more have been willing to lay down their own lives by serving others. In my own times, I remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie Ten Boom and her family, the lone unarmed Chinese student standing in front of a line of tanks, the students killed while protesting at Kent State.

There are unsung heroes that have given their lives in different ways for others in every century, of every gender, from every nation, religion and walk of life.  In the 13th century when the church with the help of the King of France began a crusade to wipe out the Cathars, a  heretical group in the Southwest of France, the Cathars’ Christian neighbors and friends tried to protect them by joining them when they sought sanctuary in the Cathedral at Beziers. Unfortunately, the “Christian” military leader decided to let God sort them out and burned the Cathedral down with both heretics and Christians inside it.

On the public stage three people come to mind immediately who changed governments by putting their lives on the line for justice and mercy without counting the cost.  They inspired others to do the same. One, Gandhi, admired Jesus, but didn’t claim to follow him, though his actions spoke louder than his words. The other two, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela did claim to follow Jesus. None were perfect, but they all were willing to lay down their lives for others and not to return evil for evil. And they changed their worlds.

Frankly, when I look at history and listen to Jesus Christ, this is what true Christianity looks like to me.  Yet most Christians cannot seem to accept the reality that not only was Jesus non-violent,  but throughout history violence has never put an end to violence.

The main difference between Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and militia protest groups now on our front pages is that the first three didn’t come to confrontations armed and Mandela came out of prison determined to lead people to forgive and reconcile.

The difference between Jesus and some of our loudest nominal Christians is that he invites, “Come and follow me.” He was never deluded, as centuries of Crusader Christians continue to be, that people can be forced to truly follow Him by law or fear or discrimination.

Who are the “bad” guys in your eyes? ISIS?  Obama?  Militia Groups?  Gays who want to get married?  Donald Trump? Muslims? Immigrants who take our jobs. American companies who out-source American jobs to foreign countries? Christians who want to deny other Americans religious freedom. Tea party members?  Liberals who risk putting compassion for foreigners above Americans’ safety?  Billionaire CEO’s of Conglomerates whose greed threatens America’s economic survival? Gun toting Christians who think violence is the answer to conflict of opinion? All of these are the “bad” guys in someone’s eyes.

As a follower of Jesus  I’d like to think I’d risk my life at least for those I love or admire and hopefully for a helpless child.  But Jesus died for the bad guys, everybody’s “bad” guys.  Isn’t that a bummer?

I admit that I’m not there yet. But, I’m not comfortable with just accepting that. My struggle isn’t over. Maybe I haven’t really tried Christianity yet.

The Blind Leading the Blind

I simply can’t help weeping as I watch Christians crucify Christ all over again. I feel like if I identify with Christianity as it is so loudly and cruelly being forced on people, I am joining in that crucifixion. Yet my very heart lives in the gift of unconditional love that is Jesus Christ. Getting to know Him as friend, companion, healer, source of forgiveness and grace has changed my life, continuing to free me from my fears and to challenge me to grow in love for all of creation, including wounded, frightened, hate filled Christians and Muslims. I can only pray, “Father, forgive us for we know not what we do.”