A reminder of what Jesus did when he was on earth – a reprise

As we enter the Christmas holiday season, it would be helpful to remind ourselves what Jesus did while he walked the earth and what he promoted while he was here. Variations of his overarching themes can also be found in other religious texts, so these tenets are important regardless of religion. His Golden Rule which paraphrases to Treat others like you want to be treated translates well to any religious faith.

Jesus spent most of his adult life with the disenfranchised people of the areas he traveled. He would visit and stay with those who were not the powerful leaders or church leaders of the day. He tended to be with those who needed him most – the sick, the disabled, the poor and the downtrodden. In fact, he was not welcome by church leaders in some places and became irritated when church leaders did not use his church for its key purpose.

If Jesus walked the earth today, he would likely be irritated with us for many things.

  • Jesus would not be too keen on the demonization of people who look, speak or worship differently than the speaker.
  • He would not be too keen on intolerance especially when advocated by religious leaders who preach a message of exclusion. Jesus welcomed everyone.
  • He would not be too keen on the commercialization of his birthday, which loses sight of why we are honoring the day in the first place.
  • He would not be too keen on treating the impoverished in the world as if they had a communicable disease. “There, but by the grace of God, go I” he would say.
  • He would not be too keen on turning our backs on people who are refugees from their war-torn land. He would be there welcoming them in.
  • He would not be too keen on people being killed in the name of any religion, especially when the perpetrators are twisting language from its true meaning.
  • He would not be too keen on abortion unless a mother’s life is threatened. And, while this may sound inconsistent, he would likely be in favor of using birth control to avoid abortions, lessen poverty and prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • He would not be too keen on the prosperity church leaders who live high on the hog after bilking poor and sick people of their money. If you hear the term “seed money,” understand you are being swindled to help someone buy a jet or house.
  • He would not be too keen on corrupt leaders who forsake their mission to govern wisely and judiciously.
  • He would not be too keen on people not being good stewards of our earth which is consistent across many religions.

We seem to have become a collection of cafeteria Christians, only picking parts of the bible we like and missing the overall context and message. We must treat others like we want to be treated, with no caveats. To prove my point, I want you to picture a mental image of Jesus and then go back to the first bullet point above regarding “demonization of people who look….differently than the speaker.”

Now, I want you to picture an adult Syrian refugee. Jesus did not look like Max Von Sidow, Jim Caviezel or Jeffrey Hunter (who played him in movies). Jesus looked more like the Syrian refugees look than how movies portrayed him. And, he did not speak English. If Jesus was among the refugees, we have folks who would be arguing to deny his entrance into America as he would be a single adult male with a mideastern appearance.

We must be better than this. We must understand his key message and live like he would want us to, even if he does not look like we do. It is the Christian thing to do….and Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Buddhist thing as well.

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An unsurprising, but concerning “deal with the devil”

In an article in Raw Story by Brad Reed called “‘Deal with the devil’: Evangelical pastor testifies about bargain Christian conservatives made with GOP,” an unsurprising, but still concerning agreement is revealed.

“The Rev. Robert Schenck, who was once a prominent anti-abortion activist, testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday that he and his fellow conservative Christians made a Faustian bargain with the Republican Party as part of their quest to overturn Roe v. Wade.

During his testimony, Schenck described a meeting he and his fellow evangelicals had with Republican operatives in which they were told that, in order to get what they wanted with Roe, they would have to accept and promote an entire package of right-wing policies that they otherwise might have found objectionable.

In that meeting that I participated in, the conversation went something like this: ‘You guys want Roe v. Wade overturned, we can do that for you, but you take the whole enchilada, you take the whole thing,’ he said. ‘You take everything else that comes with it. Because if you want Roe gone, you have to work with us.

Schenck then argued that, while Christian conservatives eventually got what they wanted from Republicans, it came at a great spiritual cost.”

I think this article, which can be read in full with the following link, speaks for itself. To me, simply holding up the former president as a paragon is insulting to the religion and drives people away. To be frank, Schenck’s comments are an indictment of the religious leaders who bought into this as well as the Republican leaders who sold themselves as hired guns.

We need religious leaders not cult leaders

One of my pet peeves is witnessing bigotry from the pulpit. To me, it is one of the more egregious abuses of power, as we look to our ministers to be among our better angels. One thing I have sadly learned over my worship, volunteer and business life is just because one is portrayed as pious, does not mean they are without fault.

To be frank, we need our ministers, rabbis, priests, imams, and other faith leaders to be religious leaders not cult leaders. We need our religious leaders to inspire us, counsel us, and guide us to be on and remain on a good path forward. We do not leaders to tell us who to hate, who to distrust, or who is less deserving of grace, using religious text as a weapon.

Former president Jimmy Carter is arguably one of the best ex-presidents we have ever had. His good works and good deeds around the world have helped eradicate exposure to a parasite in some third world countries, have helped shape peace agreements, and have bolstered Habitat for Humanity as he has been an ambassador for his country and the disenfranchised. He has also written around thirty books and taught Sunday school on a routine basis.

He is the kind of religious leader that we need. He often cites the context of the Christian bible rather pulling excerpts to demonize people with. He notes, taken out of context, almost any religious text can be used to put people down. In his words, that misses the point. He would look to those words in red in the Christian bible that say something like he who is without sin shall cast the first stone.

There is a reason some churches are seeing fall off in membership. Some of it is a self-fulfilling mission – when you teach a message of exclusion, people feel excluded and stay away. Even those who feel included may stay away as they don’t like the exclusive messaging. Religion is at its finest when it includes, but it is at its worst when it excludes.

A religious leader can make that kind of difference.

Two Proverbs I find of interest – a reprise

The following is a reprise of an earlier post. The gist is in bold. Please know as I mention below, all religious text is imperfect and biased as the passages were written and edited almost entirely by imperfect men.

A definition of a proverb that I find most telling is “a simple and concrete saying.” If we could be so communicative every day on matters of import, what a more wonderful place it would be. While we have English, Chinese, Hindu, Italian, Greek, American et al proverbs, I wanted to pull a couple from Proverbs in the Christian bible that resonate with me.

From Proverbs 1:7 – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

I have often said that God gave us a brain, which in and of itself is a miracle. To not use it, would be a waste of a glorious resource and would dishonor Him. King Solomon, who is known for his wisdom, uttered the quoted proverb above. He said “fools despise wisdom and instruction.” People pray for a miracle, but often they have the ability to take steps to solve their own problems, if they thought about it more. In fact, I would suggest we pray that God give me the wisdom to determine for myself what needs to be done. And, if I cannot do so myself, I should pray for wisdom to find good help.

Some religions do not want to use current doctors or medicines to cure their family members. To my way of thinking, this is an insult to God and even arrogant, as the miracle you are praying for to cure your loved one may be the one standing in front of you wearing the doctor’s clothes and holding the iPad. I am truly saddened when I see a young person die because they are denied help based on a religious belief. Modern medicine is a miracle and we should use it judiciously at the hands of a capable doctor.

From Proverbs 8:11 – “For wisdom is better than rubies, and all things one may desire, cannot be compared with her.”

I like this quote as well, as God is instructing us to value wisdom more than personal possessions. He is encouraging us to become learned and cherish our wisdom. Coupling these two quotes together to me says, continue to seek instruction to gain wisdom and value it once obtained. I mention this, as in our country, we have an ultra-conservative group of people who are not valuing science like they should. The reason is it is conflict with our limited understanding of what the bible is telling us. When data flies directly in the face of what the bible is telling us, it does not mean the science is wrong, it means when the bible was written by men, they did not have the advanced knowledge of science we have today. In the Jewish faith, one of the reasons shellfish and pork are unclean as people were dying from the spoiled or bacteria infested meat for medical reasons, not biblical ones.

My point is we should not substitute what exists in the bible for science, no more than we should substitute science for a person’s faith. We believe because we do. I personally recognize a number of inconsistencies, but I also hold true to the good that is represented in the bible. But, before people jump all over me about the bible being a strict interpretation of God’s word and will, I would ask a simple question – have you really read all of the bible? Including the parts the ministers don’t talk much about that show a fearsome God.

There is an old saying “if you want to create an Atheist, have them read the bible.” There was actually a study done a couple of years ago by Pew Research; the conclusion is Atheists know the bible better than Christians do. If someone wants to read the bible, I would suggest they start with the New Testament and add in a little Proverbs and Psalms. Reading it start to finish will not be as comforting.

With that said, I would add that Atheists also know the bible differently. There are many things therein which are more parable than fact. Jesus often taught us using parables and often used agrarian ones because of his audience. Further, the bible was written, edited, translated and rewritten several times by men, who even if divinely inspired, were imperfect and who wrote in different languages and long after certain events happened. The gospels were written between 30 and 75 years after Jesus walked the earth. They were also men, so their biases are reflected therein. There are many good teachings in the bible, just as there are a few things that are not as applicable anymore and some which should be set aside.

God gave us a wonderful brain and we should use it to the best of our abilities. He did so as He wants us to think for ourselves. We have done and can do so many wonderful things to help people and advance our lives. Let’s pray we use our wisdom for the greater good. And, let’s treat others like we want to be treated.

That is what I believe. I would welcome your thoughts and impressions.

There are no caveats – a mantra from a help-oriented church

We were catching up with an old friend whose wife had passed away earlier this year. He is a devout man who sings in the choir of his Baptist church. His church is not an evangelical church as he notes their mantra is “God loves everyone.” He added, “there are no caveats.”

As evidence of their mantra, his choir will be singing with a LGBTQ+ choir at an upcoming event. I think this is very cool. It is a big tent approach to sharing their faith. They are walking the talk so to speak.

As further evidence, a charitable organization I was involved with has benefited greatly from working with this church. The organization helps homeless working families to get over a rough patch and place them in housing with a temporary subsidy and social worker support. The church provides space for the administrative staff of the organization and one of its shelters which can house seven families until they get placed.

In my advocacy work with churches for this organization seeing churches who focus on outreach to those in need is a joy to see. I have seen exemplars like this one. I have also seen some that are not so organized. That is unfortunate.

To me, there is a psychic income to helping others. The giver gets as much good out of the encounter as the recipient. So, when I see churches focus on being exclusive, it makes me sad. Using the Bible as a weapon to divide does not serve its mission very well. Using it to invite and connect with people is a far better message. The same goes for other religious texts. Inclusion is a much better sales approach than exclusion.

We should remember our desires as humans are the same regardless of religion – love and raise our families in a safe environment where we can feed, clothe and house them. That is the mission we should enable. Remember, there are no caveats.

Christianity without Jesus is an empty suit

John Pavlovitz is a minister who writes a blog that speaks to the key tenets of treating people like you want to be treated. He is not too keen on performance religion which is too closely aligned with politics. A recent blog called “Actual Followers of Jesus Don’t Want Conservatives’ Compulsory Christianity” is a good example of his work.

“There’s nothing more dangerous than professed Christians who have no real interest in Jesus. They’re rather easy to spot if you’re paying attention.

They’re usually the ones most loudly claiming things like religious liberty while methodically swallowing up the personal freedoms and elemental rights of other people.

They incessantly broadcast their devotion of God on their bumpers and bellies, while living antithetically to the compassionate heart of Jesus actually found in the Scriptures.

Their spirituality is largely performative: a showy firework display of culture war talking points and religious buzzwords that distracts from the truth that their lives are yielding almost nothing truly loving to anyone but people who agree with them on everything.

This blog caught my eye as the key tenets of Christianity surround that Jesus fellow. Absent that, Christianity is just an empty suit. Gandhi once said, he admired Jesus, it was just Christians he was not too keen on. I understand his point as too many ministers in our history had a fear-based ministry, rather than a love-based ministry.

Teaching people to fear the other is not inclusive. Religious scholars have noted Jesus probably spoke four languages. He needed one language for trade as a carpenter, as well as others to communicate as a Rabbi and to his followers. Where he preached and worked had numerous types of people. So, he spoke inclusively. It is a message we should emulate.

There is an old line that speaks the truth to me. If you want to create an atheist, have them read the old testament. In Pew surveys on religion, atheists did better on biblical quizzes than Christians did. If you want to reach more people with a message of love, start with the new testament. That is the part where Jesus’ words are found in red. Those are where the messages of love exist. I might throw in a few Psalms as well from the old side.

Treat others like you want to be treated. This rule of Jesus’ is so important it called “golden.” It is also found in other religious texts in one shape or another. Also, he threw in a few messages about taking care of your neighbor and the downtrodden. Nice words and actions he spoke and he followed. Those are among the words in red.

If you are not a Christian, the last paragraph can still offer governance of a good life. Maybe that is the beauty of what Jesus said. Something that can touch others. Inclusivity.

Check out the rest of this and other posts on johnpavlovitz.com.

Interesting quote about church going

Sometimes quotes come at you from surprising sources. The following quote comes from a good movie called “Burning Bodhi” about old friends grieving the sudden death of one of their own from an aneurysm. The character was from a God-fearing community in West Virginia with a number of churches. When asked if she went to church, her reply was priceless.

“Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than hopping into a garage makes you a car.”

The profound simplicity of that statement floored me. It also reveals the act of going to church is not as altruistic for everyone as it is for a group of truly devout people. Having grown up going to not only church, but Sunday school as well, I saw all kinds of people there. Just like in general society it was a collection of imperfect people with biases, faults, and sins.

There were good lessons to be learned as well as some that were not so good. This church had an excellent youth program called “Tell it like it is,” where young people could get excited about their faith. Yet, on the flip side the church eventually split in half over an argument regarding the overt nepotism of the pastor in hiring practices. I have seen churches and synagogues have active outreach programs even starting charities to help people in need, while I have also seen churches led by ministers whose ego and greed got the best them.

Having worked with church and synagogue leaders on outreach programs to help those in need, I have witnessed both sides of the coin as well. I have met the most wonderful and kindest people who want to help, but I have also witnessed some who were there for themselves, not the people in need. The charity has to be about helping people help themselves, not doing something that makes you feel good about yourself.

I am no longer a church going Christian, so many would not even call me such. I am imperfect just like everyone else, but I do feel we should walk the talk. I do feel it is more important to help people climb a ladder out of the hole they find themselves in. I do feel we should treat people like we want to be treated with no caveats. And, if a church leader does not espouse those things, I would suggest finding a different place to worship.

When religious and other leaders are intolerant – a reprise post

I wrote this post almost ten years, so some of the references are dated, but the gist is still relevant in today’s headlines.

I have written several posts in the last few months around the subject of intolerance and exclusion in religion. The issues have tended to be around my support for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Like many Americans, I am religious, but not evangelical. I am less strident in my views and favor inclusion and treating all of your neighbors well. These are the greatest teachings of Jesus and the themes find their way into other religions, as well.

When religions are inclusive they do wondrous things for people. They lift the spirits of those who worship and send them off to do good deeds as stewards of this inclusive mission. When they are exclusive and intolerant, they can become about as bad a group of people as you can find. They are bad in that their piety and general kindness overshadow the intolerance that lies beneath the surface. Last night, my daughter and one of my sons joined my wife and me as we watched “The Help,” a movie that looks at how African-American maids were treated before the Civil Rights Act in the early 1960’s. There are many lessons therein, but the one that strikes me most is how presumably pious people can treat others the way they do and how people who have distaste for this treatment remain silent. These silent witnesses are how intolerance foments and grows into something more.

Living in North Carolina, I was not surprised, but discouraged by the recent vote to reiterate that the LGBTQ+ community cannot marry in this state. The equally troubling part of this Amendment One gives the license to deny civil unions in place for both gays and non-gays. The lone positive to be taken away is the Amendment was defeated in the larger Metropolitan areas (Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Greensboro) where centers of education are located. At the same time, I am very encouraged by the stance of President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of Education and NAACP on gay marriage in the future. I just wish the President had made his statement before the NC vote.

During the lead-up time before the NC vote and since that time in early May, let me reiterate some of the less tolerant things that have been reported, some in NC and some elsewhere. These trouble me as they are forewarning of how intolerance can manifest into something ugly. As citizens, we need to call out this intolerance. We can say you can choose to believe the way you do, but you cannot denigrate and step on the freedoms of others. For the Constitutionalists out there this is for what our Bill of Rights stands.

Here are a few lowlights of late from my perspective:

  • Reverend Franklin Graham besmirched the name of Billy Graham, his father, by demonizing the gays and lesbians and promoting intolerance. I realize Billy Graham is still alive, but I personally feel he has always been about inclusion and tolerance and if he were alert, he would not let Franklin do this. Franklin’s earlier stances against Muslims showed how intolerant he can be. When Graham says things like this, it detracts from the all the good his ministry does.
  • The day after Amendment One, a county commissioner in NC’s largest county requested the elimination of domestic partner benefits for the county employees. This was less than 24 hours after the vote. This commissioner has a public record of intolerance, so his personal stance is not unusual, but this is the kind of action that was feared by those who were against the Amendment as they saw similar examples in other states.
  • A minster in a less metropolitan, but not rural NC county advocated this past Sunday about putting homosexuals behind an electrified fence. This is fueling a fire and could be construed as abetting a future crime in my view and he should be called out on this.
  • In Mississippi, a commissioner and reverend posted on his website his belief that the only ruling on gays is Leviticus 20:13 which advocates the killing of both men who are gay sexual partners. When pressed, he said he does not advocate the killing of gays, but this occurred after the backlash he received. Some say if you ever want to create an Atheist, have them read the bible. In my view, the bible was written and re-written by a lot of imperfect men who sometimes placed their imperfections in the bible to interpret God’s word. I personally do not want to worship a God that people believe feels this way.
  • Finally, after the Amendment One vote, I was doing some prep work for a meeting in a hotel lobby. A nearby conversation between two lesbian women started as they lamented the passing of this discriminatory amendment. One asked the other if her mother was supportive of her efforts against this bill. She responded that her parents no longer speak with her due to her sexual preferences. This made me terribly sad as no parent should disown a child for who she loves. This is your child.

We must call out intolerance. We cannot remain silent when we see it. Otherwise, the intolerant ones will feel more emboldened. Whether it is the people above, the Koran burning minister in Florida or the family of bigots whose church pickets military funerals because it allows gays to serve, let these people know intolerance does not have a place. As Americans, we must support the right for people we disagree with to voice their beliefs. That is one of the tenets of our Bill of Rights. Yet, when their rights damage or infringe on the rights of others, that is when we must step up.

When leaders, religious and non-religious, are intolerant and exclusive, they will drive people away. Even the silent witnesses will eventually vote with their feet and leave. The Catholic Church is seeing that as their church is on the demise north of the equator. More and more Catholics are staying home due to its intolerant positions not to mention its hypocrisy in masking criminal pedophilia in its priests. Please remember, religious leaders are human just like the rest of us. They can be full of crap just like you and me. So, when they are, tell them just like you would tell one another. I think if you said, “Minister, I hear what you are saying, but I don’t think that way,” you will get your message across. If he does not get your message then you can make an informed choice to leave. There are many inclusive, tolerant ministers who would welcome you.

Silence abetted the denial of the civil rights of African-Americans for the longest time. Let’s not be silent on the denial of the rights of LGBTQ+ citizens. Our children read history about the civil rights movement and ask how could people have tolerated that behavior? They see injustice and they know treating LGBTQ+ people differently is not right either. Let’s make our children proud and do the right thing. Don’t be silent.

Happy Easter, too – a reprise of an old post

While I did not grow up Catholic, my best friend did. So, one of our rituals that lasted about ten years was going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. One of the traditions of that mass was the Father would also wish Happy Easter, as he knew he would not see more than a few parishioners until next Christmas.

While fewer people are church goers than before and some check the box “none” when surveyed, Christmas remains an important holiday for the promise it brings. Whether you believe that Jesus is the son of God, there was a man by this name who walked the earth and spoke to gatherings of people of all sizes. He reminded us of four key themes among his many parables and lessons. And, these themes can be found in other religious texts.

– Treat others like you want to be treated.

– Help people less fortunate than you.

– Recognize each of us is imperfect.

– Forgive those who trespass against us.

To me, if we live our lives doing our best to remember these four things, Jesus’ words will help us be better people. And, if enough of us do this, the world just might be a better place.

Mormon leaves the church taking his money with him

A technology billionaire has sent a letter of resignation to the Mormon church noting the reasons why he and his family are leaving. Jeff T. Green notes while there are some fine people in the church doing good things, the church itself is doing harm to people. He said the Mormon church is antagonistic to women’s rights, civil rights and the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

In an article in Newsweek called “Utah Native Billionaire Jeff T. Green Quits LDS, Says Mormonism ‘Hindered Global Progress” by Danny Villarreal, the following excerpt can be gleaned:

“Jeff T. Green, thought to be the wealthiest person hailing from the state of Utah, recently wrote an open letter to Russell Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), announcing his resignation from the church along with 11 family members and a friend.

I believe the Mormon Church has hindered global progress in women’s rights, civil rights and racial equality, and LGBTQ+ rights,’ Green’s 900-word letter stated.

Although the Mormon Church has made modern efforts to publicly atone for its past policy positions, the church has funded anti-LGBTQ initiatives, including a 2008 ballot measure to overturn same-sex marriages in California. The church also has a long history of demonizing people of color. Official LDS policy banned Black people from entering Mormon temples until 1978.”

Green will be making an immediate $600,000 donation to support LGBTQ+ issues, but has promised the lion’s share of his $5 billion fortune will go to causes shunned by the church.

In another public display to get the Mormon church to treat the LGBTQ+ community better, Mormon Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons, helped lead a concert for at risk youth in the church. He has been trying to push the church in the directions that Jeff Green sees far too slow movement. Here is a write up from the online press Vulture in 2018 about Reynolds’ efforts.

“Dan Reynolds did everything right. He served as a Mormon missionary and attended the Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He then got married and fathered three children. Reynolds also started a band, and now, at 31, he’s the singer in Imagine Dragons, arguably the biggest rock band in the world. Plenty of rock stars have nontraditional pasts, but Reynolds is different: He’s using his platform as a very famous straight man to advocate for LGBTQ rights, and in the process he’s alienating his band from its fans and himself from his own faith.”

This is how change occurs. It takes a grass roots effort embraced by some very public figures who can use their money and gravitas to get people’s attention. Regardless of faith, the words of Jesus can be found in multiple religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated. No caveats. No ifs, ands or buts. Let’s truly honor Jesus’ birthday by doing our best to remember those words.

https://www.newsweek.com/utah-native-billionaire-jeff-t-green-quits-lds-says-mormonism-hindered-global-progress-1661959

https://www.vulture.com/2018/11/why-imagine-dragons-is-fighting-for-lgbtq-rights.html