Monday, October 22, 2012

Bill Clinton and Internal Christian Politics

I travel on a fairly regular basis in my ministry. To be sure I am no jet setter and there are some weeks I never leave my county.  But I do get to travel across the state often enough that I have taken to listening to audio books on my trips.  It has provided me the opportunity to "read" or listen as the case may be, to books I would not normally read.  I am currently listening to "Back to Work" by Bill Clinton.  You can check out my hyper link below to preview it in Amazon.

No matter your politics or your personal opinions of him, I find him to be intelligent and engaging.  And my roots are Arkansan so I have a soft spot for him.  The book "Back to Work" is full of great insights and an explanation of the political history from the past 30 years. As I listen to his explanation of our political history and rhetoric, I cannot help but make connections to my personal experience with American Christian politics from the same time frame.  Here is the quote that began my connections between the two topics.
“In other words, our constitution was designed by people who were idealistic but not ideological. There's a big difference. You can have a philosophy that tends to be liberal or conservative but still be open to evidence, experience, and argument. That enables people with honest differences to find practical, principled compromise. On the other hand, fervent insistence on an ideology makes evidence, experience, and arguments irrelevant: If you possess the absolute truth, those who disagree are by definition wrong, and evidence of success or failure is irrelevant. There is nothing to learn from the experience of other countries. Respectful arguments are a waste of time. Compromise is weakness. And if your policies fail, you don't abandon them; instead, you double down, asserting that they would have worked if only they had been carried to their logical extreme.” 
― Bill ClintonBack to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy

What a powerful quote.  He is referring to conservative republican viewpoints verse democratic ones.  I find the same basic principle to be easily applied to Christian internal politics.  To many denominations have suffered fights and splits over ideological issues.  There is a huge difference between being ideological and being idealistic.  Being idealistic still leaves you open to conversation and debate and a willingness to compromise that is lacking in an ideological stance.  We measure our denominational and Christian loyalties based on a few ideological points.  The points will vary from church to church or denomination to denomination, but the essential unwillingness to have civil conversation caused great divides over the past thirty years, many of which were and still are avoidable.

In her Christian Ethics Today article, "Baptists Bank on Fire and Brimstone" Valarie Tarico lays out why the changing of the Southern Baptist Conventions name to "Great Commission Baptists" is not going to change their image and only further isolate them.  She gives 4 very good points as to why this is.  They are all ideological points not idealistic.  By focusing solely on the Great Commission as their standard: 1 Every member becomes part of a sales force.  Great Commission Christianity is first and foremost about recruiting members.  2. What is sold is a package of exclusive truth claims.  Inter spiritual and interfaith perspectives are wrong, and all need to be wooed from misguided beliefs.  3. The measure of a spiritual person is right belief.  Specifically: You deserve hell, Jesus died for your sins, accept him as your savior so you can go to heaven.  4.  Other Religions and denominations are competitors not partners. In a world that requires cooperation this move isolates them as being the only right and true group.  That is the great flaw in their name change. 

The SBC is not the only group going through this.  Every major US denomination, especially those with international connections are working through a variety of issues even today.  My hope and the purpose of this post is simply to call for more idealistic conversation and less ideological ones.  Because if all we are ever doing is "doubling down" on misguided behaviors what can we possibly accomplish?

I have a hard time praying sometimes.  In fact I have tried a variety of different prayer models and have read a variety of books and articles on the topic.  It never really comes naturally for me.  Here are a few articles on the topic I came across this week that are at least interesting.

Some may be aware of the dust kicked up around Racheld Held Evans' new book, "A Year of Biblical Womanhood," but in case you have missed out on this popular debacle being called, "vagina-gate" read this article by Christian Piatt to catch up.

Preaching and applying "best practices" in ministry are always good topics for discussion.  Here are a couple cool reads from this past week.

  • How to Minister in the 21st Century from Out of Ur is an interesting article about preaching from manuscripts and how the 18th Century Theologian Isaac Backus hated it.
  • The Gospel of Loneliness by David Finch has a brief paragraph on reaching out to the "least of these."
  • The Difference Between Floating and Falling by Scott McClellen.  Not actually about preaching or ministry but certainly an illustration regarding how tightly we hold onto our own convictions that may not be the most accurate.
  • Waiting for God's Direction by The HighCalling discusses the notion of having a very specific call compared to a general call to do good and love your neighbor.
I found a cool new website that has some interesting videos on it. The site is called UPWORTHY and its stated mission is "make meaningful videos go viral."  Here is one such video you have to watch the whole video to get the full impact.

I try to read a variety of things.  Here are a few things I have been reading lately
Back to Work by Bill Clinton
The Lords of the Land by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar
Divide by Faith by Michael Emrson and Christian Smith
The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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