Billy Graham – may he rest in peace

The world is learning of the death of Billy Graham today. He had a life well-lived lasting ninety-nine years, most of which with his beloved Ruth who passed a few years ago.

Graham touched many lives during his career as an evangelist. And, he walked the talk. Some evangelists let their faults show through, but outside of his lamenting of letting a politician take advantage of him, he was true blue.

He counseled many Presidents over the years and even Queen Elizabeth. They needed him more than he needed them. Yet, after the Nixon tapes of all Oval Office conversations, he lamented not doing more to countervent Nixon’s language and bigotry. He cautioned religious leaders to be wary of aligning with politicians as a result. Unfortunately, his son Franklin has not learned that lesson, which detract from his own good works.

I admire the elder Graham for staying true to his beliefs and convictions. I took pride in seeing three living ex-Presidents (Bush, Clinton and Carter) attend the opening of the Billy Graham Library here in Charlotte.

I hope other leaders can live closer to his standard. We will be in a better place if they do. Bless you Billy.

So, it is not OK for the Pope to talk about poverty and climate change?

There have been a series of comments by Republican presidential candidates and leaders directed at Pope Francis for having the nerve to talk about helping people in poverty and doing something about climate change. They have basically told him to stick to religion and one even said “helping us be better people.” I am having a hard time coming to grips with these comments, but I guess these folks felt like they had to say something to counteract the veracity of the Pope’s message. And, some of the candidates are even Catholic, no less.

Let me first say I agree with the messages of the Pope who is probably the greatest leader we have on the planet today. No, he is not perfect, but he is speaking about issues the Catholic Church has always stood for, helping people in need. More global charities to help the poor have been started by the Catholic Church and other churches for that matter than any other source. So, for the Pope to speak on poverty is part and parcel with the history of the church and Jesus’ teaching to look after who he called “the least of these.”

Further, the Christian bible and other religious texts are filled with passages about taking care of the environment, so speaking to climate change as a source of concern is also part and parcel with the history of the church. The Pope has noted that people in poverty are more impacted by climate change and environmental problems than other folks. So, his message on climate change has a dual purpose. Yet, with him coming to speak to Congress, we will witness a mountain of public relations unleashed on his right to speak to these issues. To be frank, this will backfire on the assailants and should.

But, to make these comments even more bizarre are the comments that are seemingly condoned by religious leaders who support the Republican Party. So, by virtue of the Presidential candidates’ silence, the following comments must be OK.

– Reverend Franklin Graham’s consistent indicting rhetoric toward Muslims and LGBT people. Contrast this to the Pope’s comments of a year ago when asked about gays, when he responded, “who am I to judge?”

– A minister in Maiden, NC who says we should put gay people behind an electrified fence, so that they will die off, a message which was reinforced by a minister and public official in Alabama.

– Pat Buchanan who says the Supreme Court gay marriage ruling could start another Civil War.

– The State of Oklahoma GOP’s statement on Facebook equating feeding wild animals and people in need, which is particularly offensive  (see link below).

– Pat Robertson’s comments that hurricanes are God’s response to various civil rights changes. I always find this one of interest, as the last two GOP Conventions have been shortened a day by hurricanes. While one was in Tampa, the other one was in Minneapolis, MN not known for its hurricanes. So, Reverend Robertson, does that mean……

We have a global poverty problem which is also apparent in the United States. It is a shame that so many Americans go hungry and cannot make enough money to live. Also, climate change is real and is man-influenced. It does affect those in need more, as people’s livelihoods are being washed away. And, the Pope not only is right to speak about these issues, it is well within his rights to speak about them. By the way, he has a Masters in Chemistry, so he also has a scientific mind which adds some gravitas.

My strong advice to these candidates is to watch what you say. Your current position is in the wrong and if you follow the advice of your funders, it will haunt you. You are definitely barking up the wrong tree on this. This Pope has far more credibility than any Presidential candidate throwing mud at him.

https://mountainperspective.wordpress.com/2015/07/14/republican-christians-an-oxymoron/

A tale of two religious leaders

One of my greatest pet peeves is bigotry from the pulpit. I feel that it is a misuse of power to use influence from the pulpit to promote exclusion or put down another’s religion. Two religious leaders made the news yesterday about statements they made online or in public. They show the good and bad side of religion. It is my belief when religion is inclusive it is at its best; when it excludes it is at its absolute worst.

On the good side, Pope Francis continued to show that he is a new kind of pope. His interest in addressing the needs of the impoverished and disenfranchised and promoting peace are exemplary. He is slowly turning the battleship in the harbor which is the Catholic Church. He noted that freedom of speech is important, but he cautioned that when one speaks of religion they need to tread more thoughtfully. He is not condoning terroristic actions by extremists, but he is just sharing the counsel of wisdom. The old rule of thumb for peaceful family dinners is you don’t talk about religion or politics at the table comes to mind. The same can be said on a broader scale.

Freedom of speech is valued, but it is not fully understood around the globe what that entails. I remember the line from one of my favorite movies “The American President” when Michael Douglas noted America is advanced citizenship. You have to want it real badly. You have to tolerate someone shouting at their lungs against what you have been shouting at your lungs in favor of. Many around the world are not ready for that. So, when you add the extra passion of faith and someone makes fun of that faith, it is hard to swallow and extremists can be influenced to do unreasonable things. This is a different way of saying there is great power in freedom of speech, so you may want to use it more judiciously at times. You can still indict unenviable and unreasonable actions, but tread a little more cautiously when speaking of a religion.

On the negative side, Reverend Franklin Graham is at it again with his vitriol condemning the entire religion of Islam rather than the extremists. His organization, Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelical organization do so much good around the world, that he only detracts from these efforts when he espouses condemning language. The fact he has 70,000 likes on his comments is also disturbing, which validates my argument. When a faith leader espouses bigotry from the pulpit or from his website, he is misusing his influence to divide. He is actually doing the exact opposite of what I would prefer a religious leader to do. And, to be brutally frank, when I think of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?), I do not think the Jesus from my bible would condone denigrating others. In fact, Jesus was consistently more irritated with the religious leaders of the day, who in His mind misused the church power and resources.

In my simple mind, it is pretty straightforward. Treat others like you want to be treated. That is Jesus’ advice to the world and echoes that of other religious leaders. The Pope gets this. Even though I am not Catholic, I feel Pope Francis is one of the most important leaders in the world right now. Previous popes had forgotten this power and focused on less important things which diminished the focus on helping people. This Pope is walking the talk and I hope other leaders follow his lead down the better path forward.

The Lord wanted me to have nice things

These words were uttered by Reverend Jim Bakker, who founded the Praise The Lord (PTL) Club, shortly before he went to prison for defrauding donors and accounting irregularities. He was being interviewed on a local TV station at his home when the focus came on his solid gold faucets. “The Lord wanted me to have nice things,” he said on camera. For several years before that moment, one of the local DJs used to do a skit called the “Pass The Loot” Club, as many locals caught on to his act before the national TV audience did.

This week, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta has come under fire for building a $2.2 million, 6,400 square foot home. His house was built primarily with funds donated to help those in need. After the notoriety, the church will likely be selling the residence. This is on the heels of the even larger spend in Germany by Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst on his residence mansion, whose repairs totaled over $40 million in US dollars.

Pope Francis has been a staunch advocate for the impoverished and has not been too fond of over-indulging priests and bishops. By taking the name of St. Francis who focused his life on helping the poor and by choosing to live in more austere settings than the Pope’s usual residence, Pope Francis has sent a clear message that is still being heard. My guess is many church leaders are laying very low. Hopefully, the message will resonate with all members of the Catholic clergy and other religious sects.

But, as Bakker has shown, the indulgences are not limited to those leaders in the Catholic faith. The minister of a prominent and growing church in my metro-area has come under fire for his opulent house, which exceeds the price of the Atlanta Archbishop’s. Two years ago, two married ministers in my area went to jail on tax evasion. The congregation is still in disbelief after they were arrested for not reporting their very fine way of life. And, not to be outdone, even Reverend Franklin Graham came under fire for receiving two million dollar (approximately) salaries for two different organizations he leads. He has remedied this to my knowledge, once it became public, but it did not seem to bother him before the press.

However, the one who takes the cake is Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh of Oregon. He was eventually arrested in Charlotte for immigration fraud, but had a knack for courting wealthy donors who would give up millions of dollars to his organization. When arrested, he had a fleet of many Rolls-Royces and several private jets. You can read more about the Bhagwan with attached link: http://www.ohs.org/the-oregon-history-project/biographies/Bhagwan-Shree-Rajneesh.cfm

As someone of faith, I do not begrudge ministers and religious leaders for receiving a reasonable income. They work long hours and are constantly on call. Yet, I do feel it is hypocritical to take advantage and live extravagantly at the expense of others. Like the above, some have been too keen on living well. It likely starts as self-justification for doing good. This happens in politics, business and other organization leadership, as well. That is why “stewardship” is a key word to me. The people who oversee these leaders and the leaders themselves have to be good stewards with peoples’ money. Otherwise, you breach their trust and sometimes, break the law.

 

 

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Reflections on the week it was – intimidation and bigotry abound

Looking back at a few occurrences over the course of the week, I observed Vladimir Putin is quite good at influencing outcomes and bad behaviors. Even ministers are not immune from his lessons of bigotry. This is a key reason he is unlike other Soviet leaders (word intentionally used) as he is a very skilled, scary and corrupt politician.

Crimea election shows 96% plus favor joining Russia

History has shown when you intimidate voters, the election results will favor your cause. A few weeks before, North Korea voted to continue with Kim Jong Un with 100% of the vote. Something about killing your own Uncle for not bowing low enough or clapping hard enough has a tendency to sway voters. Saddam Hussein used to win elections with 98% of the votes as well. Hussein was not too tolerant of dissent, but was smart enough to allow 2% vote against him to show the world he is fair. I would not want to be in the 2% in Iraq back then or 4% in Crimea this week, as you might not be around much longer..

In Crimea, the native Tartars and pro-Ukrainian voters decided to stay home, since there was evidence of dissenters disappearing and having big “X’s” marked on your door can make you feel unwelcome. Yet, I found an interesting statistic. One district had 124% turnout. That is a turnout any Tammany Hall politician would love. It appears, if you had a Russian passport, you could vote. So, people who are not even citizens of Crimea voted to join Russia. You could have sensed something was amiss when reporters were having their cameras thrown to the ground and independent election officials were not allowed in to verify results.

Two final comments. First, if Crimeans want to join Russia, I understand that, but at least have a fair, democratic, and constitutionally (Ukraine’s not Russia’s) supported vote and not one that looks and smells like it was rigged as this one was. Second, as I said in an earlier post, I would not put it past Putin to send in his own thugs to stir up trouble in a community and then send in troops to provide security. This is an old school strong-arm tactic and I believe it was used in Crimea and is being used in other parts of Ukraine. PBS Newshour corroborated this with their belief last night when they spoke of a seemingly orchestrated set of eleven demonstrations in an Eastern Ukrainian city at the same time. It is too much a part of Putin’s nature to believe he did not puppeteer this outcome in the manner I described.

Franklin Graham applauds Putin for denigrating the LGBT community 

Reverend Graham published an article that said he admired Putin’s stripping away the rights of the LGBT community in Russia. He did not support other things Putin has done, but he took a shot at our President and Attorney General for supporting non-discrimination of gays and lesbians and heralded Putin for discrimination. From the bible I was taught, Jesus was inclusive. In fact we used to sing a bible song, “Red and yellow, black and white, Jesus thinks we are out of sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I have searched my memory banks, but cannot recall an exception on whether they were gays or lesbians in the song or in Jesus’ Golden Rule.

I have a very low tolerance for bigotry from the pulpit and have written several posts about my distaste for when ministers misuse the faith the congregation has placed upon them. Per the song from the movie “South Pacific,” you have to very carefully taught to be a bigot. My mantra has been when religion is inclusive it is at its best and when it is exclusive it is at its worst. Let me go one step further. When religion is bigoted, it is wielded as a weapon to divide. I have known many ministers in my day and they are by and large the most wonderful people and give much of themselves. But, just because someone is a minister does not mean they are immune to biases and mistakes. They are imperfect just like everyone else.

What disappoints me about the younger Graham is his father was so admirable in cutting a path of inclusion for all. Using an old phrase, he was a “Big Tent” preacher who wanted everyone to come and hear the word of God. That is the way it should be. Franklin would ask you to complete a survey and if you checked the wrong boxes, you would not  be allowed to enter the tent. He needs to spend some more time with his father and ask for guidance on how to be inclusive.

I will reiterate what I said before. Vladimir Putin is a thug, but a skilled one who uses people’s biases to divide and achieve his purpose. Franklin Graham took the bait and tried to appeal to a base of bigotry that is being cultivated in our country. I am hopeful many will see Putin’s true colors through this process and will not tolerate bigotry from anyone, but especially a religious leader.