The Lord wanted me to have nice things – a reprise

The following post was written about seven years ago, but still stands the test of time. With the prosperity tele-evangelists who have multiple homes, cars and airplanes, taking gullible people’s hard earned money to promote their own lifestyle is beyond poor stewardship – it is shameful. I have worked with many fine ministers who are wonderful public servants, but greed is something we all must guard against, even the most pious amongst us.

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.

Franklin was on the side of the Angels and got chastised

I have written before when Franklin Graham has used his pulpit to denigrate groups of people who do not worship, love or gender present like he does. I have added it detracts from the many good things his Samaritan’s Purse organization does, when he demonizes groups. Yet, this time he is getting flak from his own followers for suggesting that people get the COVID vaccine.

Here are excerpts from an article called “Franklin Graham believes Jesus would take COVID vaccine. He’s still catching grief”.by Joe Marusak of The Charlotte Observer. A link to the article is below.

“Evangelist Franklin Graham is still catching grief from some of his Facebook followers weeks after saying Jesus would have supported getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Based on the parable of the Good Samaritan, Graham said he concluded that Jesus would have supported getting all types of vaccines.

He said nobody should have to endure what some of his staff and their family did after contracting the coronavirus…

‘My wife and I have both had the vaccine; and at 68 years old, I want to get as many more miles out of these old bones as possible!’

Some of his followers, however, are still fuming about his COVID vaccine recommendation.

‘You my friend Franklin Graham are leading your sheep to slaughter,’ a woman posted Friday.

‘Satanic sell out,’ another woman posted.

‘STOP,’ said another last week. ‘It is NOT your job as a pastor to try and talk people into taking a vaccine that is considered experimental.’

Other comments were along these same lines. Just in the selection of these three, only one-half of one them raised an actual issue that gave him or her pause referencing “experimental.” The vaccines were rushed, but we have had the benefit of seeing the results of such along with the stops and starts. The J&J vaccine has some issues they are looking into, but for the vast most part the vaccines have been safe.

What amuses and concerns me is the vitriol used to share their opinions with the reverend, who is just trying to offer encouragement. He did exactly what I did after getting my vaccine and that is to share a positive experience. “Satanic” is a little harsh as a retort and offers no counter argument.

That is a bigger problem where people are replacing arguments with bullying and name calling. The latter does not improve anyone’s argument, even when they are a current or former politician. Being smug does not make one right, it just makes one smug.

Franklin Graham says Jesus would get COVID shot | Charlotte Observer

Judas Iscariot, really?

For all the good work Samaritan’s Purse does around the world, its leader, Reverend Franklin Graham, is prone to say very troubling things. He has indicted groups of people as well as supported causes politically. Ironically, his father Reverend Billy Graham swore off political statements and endorsements after some of his conversations with Richard Nixon (Nixon taped everything, which was his Waterloo) revealed Graham not pushing back on Nixon’s bigotry.

The younger Graham has not learned this lesson. Earlier this week, Franklin equated the ten Republican Congress people who voted to impeach the outgoing president with the traitorous actions of Judas Iscariot. Really? The following is a letter I forward to my newspaper. I also posted a variation on the Samarian’s Purse website, after I first complimented their work.

As an Independent and former Republican voter, as well as a Christian, I am appalled that Franklin Graham would compare the ten Republican congress people to Judas Iscariot for voting to impeach the outgoing president. He must read a different bible than I do, as I see ten people who showed political courage in the face of pushback and death threats to vote their conscience and remember their oath to the constitution.

What the two-time impeached president did last week was unforgivable, as five people died and he put his own followers in jeopardy. It builds on his planned and staged fraudulent claims of wide-spread voter fraud that he and his followers have been unable to prove in 59 out of 60 court cases and in several recounts. I applaud these ten Republicans and wonder why others did not join them.

God gave us a brain

God gave us a brain. Now why would he do that if he did not want us to use it? He also told us humans have dominion over the land and animals, so would it not be logical that a reason would be the brain he gave us? He would want us to use that brain to solve problems.

Like any parent, we want our children to learn to make their own decisions after we teach them right from wrong and lessons to keep them safe, healthy and prosperous. My guess is we would become annoyed if our children continued to ask us questions that they should know the answer to. And, yet we pray for miracles or guidance when we have the power in our hands or the hands of a skilled surgeon. Maybe the surgeon’s skill is the miracle for which we pray.

The minister John Pavlovitz writes a blog worth reading regardless of the relative faith you may possess. He breaks things down in simple terms. The attached link is a good example of his writing and guidance. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read this piece.

https://johnpavlovitz.com/2020/08/18/christians-opposing-science-is-opposing-god/

The power of forgiveness and inclusion, even a killer

We have come far, but it troubles me that we have stepped back a little. Racial injustice has lessened since the terrible days of Jim Crow, but we are not where we need to be. Some folks feel emboldened to react to Black Lives Matter protests, with All Lives Matter retorts. Yet, there is a percentage of Americans, whether it is 5% or 10%, that do not feel All Lives includes Black Lives. We should not cater to that ugly voice, but understand it is present in a limited few.

Five years ago, one of those limited few was invited into a church in Charleston, South Carolina. After listening to the prayers for a period of time, this person stood up and killed nine of the people present. The killer was a self-professed white supremacist, while those dead were African-American. The killer said he wanted to start a race war.

An article called “Five years after Charleston church massacre: How ‘Emanuel’ reveals the power of forgiveness” by Rashi Ali appeared in the USA Today last month on the fifth anniversary of the mass murder. The story highlighted a movie called “Emanuel” which was released the year before. Here are a few excerpts from the article, which can be linked to below.

“Five years ago today, Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, opened fire and murdered nine people. Roof, a self-admitted white supremacist, was found guilty on all 33 counts lodged against him and sentenced to death.

Through this tragedy, many of the people affected by the hate crime were able to forgive Roof. ‘Emanuel,’ a documentary released last year on the fourth anniversary of the shooting finds a beacon of light in the tragedy and puts the spotlight on the power of forgiveness. The film was directed by Brian Ivie and produced by Stephen Curry, Viola Davis and Mariska Hargitay.

‘I never thought I would be able to forgive somebody for murdering my mom,’ Chris Singleton tells USA TODAY about choosing to forgive Dylann Roof for gunning down his mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and eight others at church.”

Watching footage of the families of the murder victims forgive Roof is one of the most powerful acts of faith I have ever witnessed. I am in awe that they could look the killer in the eye and forgive him. Yet, we should not lose sight that the people who were killed by Roof and the ones who survived invited the killer into the church to worship with them. They included him. Think about that as well.

I am reading a difficult book which looks into the mind of a white supremacist. I will share more on that at a future time. To say it is troubling to read what this character believes is an understatement. But, I would want to read this character the above paragraph and ask what is his reaction. These people that Roof and this character think are so inferior and bad, forgave their killer and invited him in to worship with them. When Christians ask that question which appears on bracelets and bumper stickers as WWJD? – What would Jesus do? – the answer is what these African-Americans did.

The God I worship is color blind. The children’s song we sang so proudly, – red and yellow, black and white, Jesus thinks we are out of sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world – still resonates. If you know people who are in that limited few, tell them this story and ask them what they think. If they claim God favors WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), you might want to add that Jesus would likely have looked like people in the Middle East as that is where he was from. He was a Jewish rabbi and a carpenter, and would have likely had sun worn skin.

Jesus preached inclusion and forgiveness. He spent a lot of time with those who have been excluded and disenfranchised. We should not forget those lessons in the bible. Inclusion. Forgiveness. Treat others like you want to be treated (with no caveats).

https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2019/06/17/emanuel-explores-power-forgiveness-after-charleston-church-massacre/1478473001/

Forget the original Jesus, follow the new savior

It saddens me the US president is the most corrupt and untruthful president in my lifetime, including Richard Nixon. It further saddens me that some Christian leaders are whitewashing his indecency saying he is God ordained. Really?

At the National Prayer Breakfast last week, the US president followed a speaker who rightfully shared the teachings of Jesus about loving your enemies. He was followed by the US president, who forewarned the first speaker that he might not like what the president was about to say.

The president then proceeded to trash and ridicule all of his critics. With disdain, he took aim at Senator Mitt Romney denigrating his use of a faith to come to a conclusion the president did wrong. He then ridiculed Speaker Nancy Pelosi for saying she would pray for the president.

Conservative author and pundit David Brooks has described the president as lacking empathy and common decency. When we need someone to galvanize Americans or lament over a tragedy, he is not up to the task. He has followed the Machiavelian tactics of dividing and conquering. Even at a prayer conference.

I am not alone in saying the president is a threat to our democracy, running the country in a regal fashion. Yet, he is also a threat to the teachings of Jesus that Christians adhere to.

What may have been even more sad than a corrupt and indecent person trashing and ridiculing his enemies are two things. First, Mitt Romney delivered a heartfelt speech about voting his conscience following his religious upbringing. Second, after the president trashed Romney, people at the prayer conference cheered.

Jesus said to treat people like you want to be treated. The new savior said to make people fear you and destroy your critics.

A brief, but profound sermon from a surprising movie

In the early evening of Christmas Eve, my wife and I watched for the second time. the movie “Chocolat” starring Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Hugh O’Conor among others. While it seemed a strange choice to show on Christmas Eve, the movie is about the ugliness of exclusion toward newcomers who do not fit in and the redemptive power of kindness and inclusion.

The mayor played by Molina, led a town who used overt piety as a means to treat a single woman and her daughter poorly, even trying to close down her sinful chocolate shop. The mayor even edited the young priest’s sermons.

After the realization he was on a bad path late in the movie, the mayor and others see the error of their ways. Freed from the mayor’s editing, the priest, played by O’Conor, offers an off-the-cuff homily on Easter Sunday. Its brevity should not betray its profound message.

“I’m not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of Our Lord’s divine transformation? Not really, no. I don’t want to talk about His divinity. I’d rather talk about His humanity. I mean, you know, how He lived His life, here on Earth. His *kindness*, His *tolerance*… Listen, here’s what I think. I think that we can’t go around… measuring our goodness by what we don’t do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think… we’ve got to measure goodness by what we *embrace*, what we create… and who we include.”

Amen. This is the overarching message of Jesus, which is so profound, it can be found in other religioius texts. Treat others like you want to be treated.

Let me close with the other key message of the priest and the movie theme. When religion includes it is at its finest. When it excludes it is at its absolute worst. Welcome people. That is what Jesus did.

The torch passes to us

Our friend Jill wrote an excellent post (see link below) called “Why do we need bigotry?” In the comments, she and I discussed the passing of Holocaust survivors, at a time when white nationalism is on the rise along with hate crimes.

The torch passes to new generations to speak the hard truths about history:

– the Nazi movement purposefully captured Jews, intellectuals, gypsies, homosexuals and expunged multiple millions of human beings calling them less than human. This is genocide.

– the American settlers committed genocide, as well, on Native Americans first claiming rights to land and killing the Native Americans when they rose up in protest.

– Slavery has never been right dating back to the bible. It matters not who is being enslaved. It is wrong. Watching the movie “Harriet” about Harriet Tubman, the cumulative asset value of the slaves could exceed the value of the land, which is why people wanted to maintain this sinful way of life.

– Then, there are the enslavements and genocides around the world and over history. Sometimes the enslavement is tying low wage jobs to people at risk. This is economic slavery. This occurs today in the US and other countries and is not restricted to the Jim Crow period. Whether it is sex trafficking or suppressed migrant workers, it is wrong.

– Finally, we had the Lavendar Scare in the US, where homosexuals were fired from government jobs, even if they were highly proficient and experienced. This is after Brit Alan Turing helped shorten WWII, but had to hide that he was gay. He was arrested and humiliated before he died after being outed after the war.

Bigotry is not right. It is also unwise. If people are treated as possessions or suppressed then their intellectual capital cannot be allowed to flourish. Countries that suppress women and girls are competing in a world with half of their talent.

Let me leave you with the key line from Oscar Hammerstein in “South Pacific.” “You have to be carefully taught, by the time you are seven or eight. You have to be carefully taught to hate the people your parents hate.” Bigotry is not DNA driven. It is taught.

Why Do We Need Bigotry?

Former pastor on concerns over Trump for Christianity

A concern that evangelicals should have is casting a person who does not exhibit their ideals as a Godsend. For too many evangelicals, the ends justify the means. Yet, when the means pervert your religious doctrine, the ends are not realized. They are bastardized.

The attached link is from a former pastor who lost his faith because of this. As a Christian, the overarching message in the bible is called the Golden Rule. Treat others like you want to be treated. It is pretty basic.

So, when the Godsend does not act or speak this way, it damages credibility. When the Godsend is not living up to those ten other rules, it makes it worse.

In short, the ends do not justify the means. How we act is important. How we treat people is paramount.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/ex-evangelical-pastor-says-supporting-trump-has-been-damaging-to-church/ar-AAJP9v0?ocid=spartandhp

Religious freedom laws give me concern

As a Christian and American citizen, I have concerns over the religious freedom laws and movement. Why? There is a subtle, but important difference between being given the freedom to discriminate and those seeking protection from discrimination.

While our forefathers purposefully included the separation of church and state in our constitution, religious mantras have caused troubling discriminatory practices in our country as well as others. During the unfortunate Jim Crow era, too many ministers preached exclusion and segregation, with some even speaking of white supremacy, using the bible as a weapon not as an invitation.

The following example happened in the UK, but is germane to the US as it easily could have happened here. Alan Turing is a key figure in the creation of computer analytics. During WWII. Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower said Turing led a group of people who shortened rhe war by two years and probably saved 750,000 lives. They broke the Nazi Enigma code. Yet, Turing had to hide the fact he was gay and was even arrested after the war. If he had been arrested before breaking the code, we may be speaking German as a second language.

Vivien Thomas was a black carpenter who was quite skilled with his hands. This led him to wanting to be a surgeon, but his efforts were frowned on, he was denied access and was grossly under paid due to the Jim Crow south, even at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Thomas was not allowed into operating rooms, until a white doctor (he partnered with) said he needed Thomas there. Thomas’ delicate hands and sharp mind helped pioneer the repair of hearts of the “blue babies” in a way that the repair grew up with them. Before, these babies turned blue due to poor citculation and died early on in their lives.

The Vivien Thomas story is captured in the movie “Something the Lord Made” given the groundbreaking nature of the heart surgery. I cite this title, as contrary to ministers who faclitated Jim Crow, a black man was the messenger of a miraculous technique. Overcoming Jim Crow discrimination is also the theme of the movie “Hidden Figures,” as three black women helped NASA land on the moon with their mathematical, engineering and leadership skills.

Along these same lines, a significant amount of groundbreaking mathematical ideas evolved out of predominantly Muslim countries. And, after European Jews escaped fascism before WWII and fueled a piece goods industry in New York city, a high percentage of their offspring became professionals – doctors, lawyers, etc.

Religious freedom laws permit and have permitted unhealthy discrimination in our country. Lately, these laws are permitting discrimination against LGBTQ and Muslim, Jewish and Hispanic Americans. My mantra is when religious leaders promote exclusion, religion is at its absolute worst. When they preach inclusion, religion is at its finest. Jesus said to treat people like you want to be treated – he did not list any caveats. We should not add any to this beautifully succinct golden rule.