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Dragging Fosdick Into the Present

While preparing for an upcoming sermon series that deals with the cultural polarization that has infected our churches, I reread Harry Emerson Fosdick’s famous sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”  I found the following sentences as applicable today, in our current controversies, as they were in the 1920’s.

Here in the Christian churches are these two groups of people and the question which the Fundamentalists raise is this – shall one of them throw the other out? Has intolerance any contribution to make to this situation? Will it persuade anybody of anything? Is not the Christian Church large enough to hold within her hospitable fellowship people who differ on points like this and agree to differ until the fuller truth be manifested?  The Fundamentalists say not.  They say the liberals must go.  Well, if the fundamentalists should succeed, then out of the Christian Church would go some of the best Christian life and consecration of this generation – multitudes of men and women, devout and reverent Christians, who need the church and whom the church needs.

Within my own denomination, all inclinations are that we are becoming incapable of staying at the table with those with whom we disagree.  We are talking, but at one another and past one another, not to one another.  We have fallen into camps that are little more than a sad mime of cable news.  As Adam Hamilton asks in Seeing Gray, “Are Jerry Falwell and John Shelby Spong our only options?”

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The Funniest Thing I’ve Read Lately

Bishop Jones has described Methodism as “The Extreme Center,” but but I’m not sure this is what he meant:

 

The Methodists are sort of the in-between church – not as formal as Episcopalians, yet not as rollicking as Baptists.  “Methodists are frustrated Baptists who’d like to be Episcopalians,” said Lucy Mattie Trigg.  That is: they’d like to whoop and holler, but they are  not deaf to the clarion call of upward mobility.

-From Being Dead is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies’ Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral

 

Don’t make fun of me, this was read to me by my mother, who (as an ex-cemeterian) was given this as a gift.  Hysterical.  It hits a little close to home, too.  At my seminary, there were a good number of Methodists who ended up Episcopalian (and a good number of Episcopalians who could out-Rome all but the most ardent Catholics).

On another note, I really enjoyed Annual Conference this week.  Bishop Palmer is an astounding preacher.

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What Sports Would Jesus Watch?

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In one of my seminary classes dealing with gender issues and Christian faith, we read Chuck Palahniuk’s remarkable Fight Club.  Interestingly, this was the one male-oriented book we read for the class (like most gender classes, “gender” really means “women”).  I recall the women in the class, including the professor, being horrified at the popularity of the story and the movie.  Many questioned how people could be attracted to such naked violence.  There was poo-pooing all around until I brought up the fact that many people in the room like violence in a form that most of us consider innoccuos: sports.  The point was valid; even ardent pacifists that I know enjoy inherently violent sports like hockey, football, and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

Thanks to a post over at Sherdog, I found the following quote in a piece by Adam Groza at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in California (which I’d never heard of until reading this post):

UFC and MMA amounts to violence porn, a term which has been applied to movies with wanton violence such as “SAW,” where violence is not part of the plot, it is the attraction. Violence for violence’s sake, as opposed to instrumental or redeeming violence, desensitizes the viewer to the graphic horror of watching two people pummel each other for the sake of entertainment. UFC and MMA offer exactly the kind of violence condemned in Psalm 11:5. Ezekiel 7:23 decries, “the city is full of violence.” Why are Christians supporting violence in the city?

I think the comparison of SAW is ignorant and egregious.  I can’t stand the SAW franchise, but that is a matter of taste more than morality.  Futhermore, what Groza calls “violence for violence’s sake” I would simply call honest violence.  Much of the attraction of our favorite sports stems from the violent aspects: fights in hockey and wrecks in NASCAR come to mind.  UFC fighter (and compelling wordsmith) Chael Sonnen makes this point about football:

The UFC is the only thing that has violence that isn’t fraudulent. Football…they put up these end zones, but you take the end zones out people will still come. You take the tackling out, and it’s gonna be a ghost town in those stadiums. UFC will tell you what you’re going to get – straight ahead – and you can buy a ticket if you like the ride.

Groza goes on to say that the UFC exploits women because of the ring girls.  I suppose he’s never seen cheerleaders at any other sporting events? Another glaring omission is any mention of boxing.  Anything true about the violence of MMA – if you know the sport – is even more true of “the sweet science.”  And yet, for numerous reasons, people who are horrified by MMA still see boxing as a gentleman’s game.  Such views only showcase a lack of exposure to the emerging sport.

I think Groza has a point when he shares some of the more disturbing examples of churches using MMA to market evangelize.  While some churches host sporting events like Super Bowls and some will have basketball leagues and even karate classes, as a pastor I would not be comfortable making a UFC pay-per-view a churchwide event.  However, I think there are many things an individual Christian can do that a church ought not sponsor (like watch reality TV, for instance).

This is another example of a severe bias against MMA in the larger culture, and more evidence that the sport has yet to arrive.  From an ecclesial perspective, it is true that Christians should always hold a critical eye to their society; that much in Groza’s piece is useful.  But if MMA is untouchable because of its violence, so are many other of America’s favorite pastimes.  In other words, if one argues that MMA is anathema for the church, then we can only say that a larger blindspot has been uncovered.

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Follow Up: Wallis on Beck

I don’t often agree with Jim Wallis – he is too much of a run-of-the-mill liberal Baptist for my liking – but it’s worth letting him have his say on the Glenn Beck statement I recently commented on.  Agree or not, Wallis is a passionate, intelligent man who practices what he preaches.  Literally.  As for Glenn Beck, well, let’s hope he catches severe laryngitis very soon.

See Rev. Wallis’ comments here.

Wallis is right: justice is at the heart of the gospel, of all the Biblical witness.  But there is both distributive justice and retributive justice.  For one, few of us have room in our political philosophies for both (most of us pick one).  For another, the distributive justice envisioned in the prophets and in the Kingdom have little bearing on how or if the power of the state should be used to those ends.  For those of us who are suspicious of both the power of the state and its ability to do anything effectively, the way that the church should effect distributive justice is through the church, and not the heavy hand of Caesar.

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Boozin’ it up with Jesus

I ‘ve been preaching through Ephesians the last 7 weeks, going with the RCL’s secondary reading.  A few weeks back, part of my pericope was Ephesians 5:18, part of which reads, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.”  It is one of those places where the Bible is clear on drunkenness.  It was also quite convicting.

My background is fundamentalist and Southern, which means I was raised on the idea that alcohol is, in the words of Adam Sandler in The Waterboy, “The DEBIL!”  When I went to college, I realized quite simply that the people who insisted that drinking alcohol of any kind was “unchristian” were quite simply talking out of their anuses.   They didn’t drink because their parents didn’t, they claimed it was based on “the Bible” but could never account for why Jesus enjoyed wine so much that he provided a last round for everyone at  little soiree in Cana.
So I started to drink, once I turned 21.  And it was fun.  I partied with my friends…never did anything too stupid, never drank and drive, but I did enjoy partying to the point of intoxication.  This *maybe* even happened in seminary.  I know the dangers of alcoholism because my family is rife with it, but it’s never been a burden to me in that way.  I never drank when I felt bad or drank to get courage, but it was quite simply a way to enhance my enjoyment of good company.  Such days are over now, largely, though I enjoy my occasional glass of scotch or beer.

But the Bible Belt is, even though my church is not fundamentalist, essentially all Baptist.    Among many people in my pews and others around North Carolina, alcohol is still a touchy and sore subject.  I’m not sure how to account for it, because certainly (like abortion and the gay marriage issue) the Bible is not nearly as concerned as we are about booze.

The best I have surmised is that this sentiment is a leftover, a sort of long-term nuclear fallout, of the Temperance Movement.  Of course, the great irony of the temperance movement was that it took a word which meant ‘moderation’ and changed it to ‘abstinence’.

Most people around the world and throughout history have simply had alcoholic beverages as part of their everyday lives.  I was surprised to learn recently that even the Puritan settlers of the early New England colonies drank primarily homemade beer (and their children drank a diluted version of this).  The lack of clean water made this medically necessary.  How we got from that everyday, staple understanding of beer and wine to “alcohol is the devil” is interesting.  I would ask my Baptist seminary friends why their churches were so against alcohol and none of them could ever give me a real answer.  Even many of the more liberal ones that I know still did not drink alcohol.  This is all the more interesting because Baptists have no unified structure to declare a top-down policy on alcohol; this stance is simply assumed at all levels.

So, WWJD at a bar?  Would he sit in the corner with upturned nose as the heathens drank their Guinness and Cabernet and Johnnie Walker?  [Note: this image is modelled after my Campus Crusade friends’ actions throughout college]  Doubtful.  Wine is, after all, still preserved as part of the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis.  Generally it is not things themselves which are evil, but their ill use.   As Ephesians points out, the problem is not the wine but the drunkenness.  The problem, usually, is not with the things themselves but with us, within our bent and twisted and ego-driven souls.  So, I contend that Jesus would probably have a beer with us (he touched lepers, after all)…but, in the immortal words of Cal Naughton Jr, I doubt he would ” get HAMMERED drunk.”

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