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

God is not an American

I wrote the following piece about ten years ago. It is even more pertinent today with a few voices in the halls of Congress saying and acting out toxic things and behavior. We need our elected officials to represent our better angels, not our worse demons.

“And we pray to our Lord
Who, we know, is American
He reigns from on high
He speaks to us through middlemen

And he shepherds his flock
We sing out and we praise His name
He supports us in war
He presides over football games”

Don Henley of The Eagles in “Frail Grasp of the Big Picture”

I begin with these song lyrics as they come from a tongue and cheek song about how we lose sight of the big picture with misconceived beliefs that make us focus more on our differences rather than our common problems. The provocative title of this blog is to state an obvious point that is oftentimes lost on people of strong faith in our country – God is not an American – he is bigger than that and so must we be in our thoughts and practices.

Our country has been taken hostage by a very ardent religious right whose intolerance is causing us to be worse citizens of the world and in our own country. The greatness of our country is our diversity and we should embrace our various cultures and coexist in our vast melting pot. There is a reason our founding fathers believed in a separation of church and state. Their parents and the founding fathers themselves left religious persecution in England to begin a new life in our country. So, it was imperative to them to grant the liberty of freedom of religion, but separate that from the state of government.

We need to be more tolerant and respectful of everyone’s beliefs. I have observed in my 32 years as an adult those who are the least tolerant of others, tend to require the most tolerance of others in dealing with them. As we are human, we bring our imperfections to bear on every issue – we are all biased in some way, prejudiced to some degree and generalize when we should not. There is a body of people in our country who have tended to treat all Muslim Americans, for example, with a generalization based on the acts of a few who have imposed terror on the world.

The flak over Lowe’s and other sponsors dropping ads for a documentary about Muslim Americans is very unfortunate. The documentary is designed to be inclusive and show Muslims are not terrorists. The group who caused the issue has a mission of maintaining and improving the moral character of the US. To me, this group is hypocritical, as a key tenet of morality is treating people fairly and tolerating our differences. We teach our children this in our own home – respect people’s beliefs and treat people like you want to be treated.

The same holds true with other disenfranchised groups – such as gays and lesbians, immigrants or people of color who are still fighting an uphill battle. Or, even the Occupy movement. Each group deserves respect, the same freedoms and an attempt to understand their views. I am reminded of the WWJD bracelets asking “what would Jesus do?” From my studies of the bible, Jesus tended to hang out with the disenfranchised people more than He did the Church leaders. In fact, He had a disdain for the hypocrisy in some of the leaders of the day. I am not saying Church leaders are hypocrites as I work with many in our charitable efforts to help the impoverished, but I do believe we need to focus more on inclusion, compassion and tolerance rather than highlighting our perceived sins and imperfections.

When we witness intolerance, we should identify it as such and call it out. This is easier said than done. At a very minimum, we should not advocate such behavior or, if we can, help the person see the other side of the equation. That is the only way we can break down the barriers. If get people to see another’s point of view, that will promote greater understanding of our differences.

Finally, this is bigger than America. The world has looked upon us to be the “shining light on the hill.” They need us to be the moral compass we once were. That is one reason why those outside of the US favored Barack Obama 4 to 1 over John McCain. They saw him as a beacon of hope. That was an unfair burden to place on anyone, but for an African American to win the most important job in the world, showed many that we are a great country.

My wife likes to sing the old song when I make a comment about our lack of tolerance – “United we stand, divided we fall …” So, let’s relish our freedoms, embrace our differences, be inclusive in our mindsets and work together to solve our problems. And, let’s pray to God for help in granting us wisdom and compassion to address our problems and those of others. I hope He does not care who wins a football game.

Nice boys don’t ask questions like that said the minister (a repeat post)

The following post was written about seven years ago, but remains relevant today. As a person of faith, we should not shy away from askng questions. I truly love the encouraged dialogue in the Brown family.

Earlier this week, Dan Brown the author of “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons” appeared on CBS Good Morning. It was fascinating to learn of his upbringing as he was raised by a mathematician father and a very devout mother who was the church choir director. Brown even sang in his mother’s choir. He said he was raised to ask questions and lived in a very healthy balance of science and religion.

Brown noted it was not uncommon around the dinner table to question all things, such as what if Jesus was not the son of God and was a mortal prophet? This type of questioning was encouraged as it opened his mind to discussion. It also let him gain a better understanding of religion in the context of greater scientific information. When he became concerned that the Big Bang Theory seemed to be at odds with the bible’s view on creation, he went to ask his minister. The answer he received was not welcoming of discussion. The answer resides in the title to this post. “Nice boys don’t ask questions like that,” said the minister.

He said this was a life changing answer. It had the opposite effect from what the minister likely intended. Brown said it told him that we should be questioning more things in the bible especially where the text doesn’t jive with scientific data and leading thought. Many who have discussed the Big Bang Theory have noted that it need not, by itself, contradict a divine hand of creation. But, that is not the answer he received.

Since he wrote “The Da Vinci Code” which is based on the plot that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child, he was asked on the show about the recent papyrus that indicated that Jesus was married, but was proven to be not authentic. Brown notes that religious scholars over time have discussed whether Jesus was married. The book and movie just made the issue more known to others. He was not saying Jesus was or was not married. Brown was simply noting that it has been discussed in religious scholar circles.

So, we should question texts such as the bible, especially when considering the context of when they were first written and later translated. I have written several posts about people of faith teaching against science and scientific exploration. For the home schooling mothers (and fathers) and owners of the Creationist museum that talk about the dinosaurs walking with man on an earth that is only 7,000 years old, this does a huge disservice to the children. They are being taught that others will try to dissuade you from these teachings, which will only alienate the kids from their teachers when the truths become more evident.

As someone of faith, to repeat a message that I have been noting in earlier posts, it is not possible that every word in the bible is true or any religious text for that matter. They each have good messages and teachings to live by, but even if divinely inspired, these texts were written by imperfect men, interpreted and reinterpreted by imperfect men, and translated and retranslated by imperfect men. God did not dictate, so the men related what they believed to be true in the context of their own biases, understandings of science, and human imperfections. And, they were men. Women are treated as second class citizens and even chattel in many religious texts.

For a minister to give the response to young Dan Brown’s question like he did, showed his own lack of faith in the document. The bible has many great lessons, but it also has parts that don’t get brought up much in sermons. We must question things. King Solomon, who is revered in the bible for his wisdom, implies God gave us a brain and we honor him when we use it. So, we should use it and ask questions.

We need to reconcile what the text means in the greater context of science and history.  For those who believe the earth is only 7,000 years old, when data literally beneath your feet refutes what you are saying about the age of the earth, then you should pause and think. If we don’t allow an updated understanding of the bible and religious texts, then people will pay attention less and miss the key messages that Jesus had for us. And, that would be a shame.

Bigotry is a lousy money maker (a reprise)

The following post has been dusted off from four years ago as a result of the current NC Lt. Governor Mark Robinson’s pride in his slurs of transgender and homosexual folks, that have gone largely unanswered by fellow Republicans. I will not repeat them here, but it should be noted his remarks have not set too well with many. The Charlotte Observer has two editorials from yesterday called “Lt. governor’s rants about fake issues do real harm” by the Editorial Board while the other is called “‘Filth’ sends an old message to LGBTQ in NC” by a columnist in the Raleigh News and Observer.

I have written before how coexisting and capitalism are not at odds with each other, in spite of the attempts of some through bumper stickers to show you should pick one or the other. History has shown, it is far more economical to coexist. Why? More customers. And, more customers means more jobs.

In my home state of North Carolina, we have forgotten this equation. In early 2016, our General Assembly rammed through a discriminatory law called HB2 in a special session taking just ten hours. I recognize fully the transgender bathroom portion of the law gets most of the press, but the piece which has caused the most consternation in the eyes of businesses looking at our state and ruling bodies of the NBA, NCAA and ACC, is the elimination of LGBTQ people as a protected class who should not be discriminated against.

The transgender portion was sold on fear without much data to support its issues. So, it is hard to back away from something its supporters made people scared of. But, let’s set that part aside and focus on the LGBTQ part. While there are proponents of HB2 who will argue the bathroom law should remain, the denial of protection to LGBTQ folks is flat out unconstitutional.

The proponents of the law said it is only the cities that are impacted by this law due to larger populations of LGBTQ people. Legislators in rural NC say what does it matter if Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro don’t get sporting events or new businesses? The economic dilemma for the rural parts of the state is this concept of revenue sharing. A portion of sales taxes from larger cities are distributed throughout the state to help finance smaller investments and pay for services.

The less money in the big cities means less money for the state. And, our entire state has damaged its reputation not just around the country, but around the world. I have read that some members of the General Assembly say they had no idea there would be such a backlash. The answer to these legislators is you did not take the time to know passing the law in ten hours.

I firmly believe HB2 should be fully repealed. Its treatment of transgender people using a sledgehammer approach to legislation is unjust. There could have been a more surgical answer. So, short of a full repeal, let me offer a compromise.

  • eliminate the LGBTQ discrimination feature in its entirety before you are made to by the courts. This feature is unconstitutional. Period.
  • eliminate the feature on restricting a city from having a higher minimum wage; cities who have larger economic competition and cost of living should have the right to allow a higher minimum wage than the national one. This feature needs to be vetted more than it was by itself.
  • change the transgender portion of the law to do the following; if a person has a formal document indicating a gender different from his or her birth certificate, he or she should legally have the right to use the bathroom he or she identifies with.

Again, I believe the whole law should be repealed. Yet, this compromise should help the state move forward before these business decisions not to move, expand or hold events here are more recognizable in our economic growth. The scary part, as shared by Chamber of Commerce recruiters, is we have no idea how many organizations did not consider North Carolina.

Jesus told us to treat others like he we want to be treated. It is the right thing to do as well as the economical thing to do. Bigotry is not much of a money-maker.

As a Christian and independent voter, one of my pet peeves is when so-called leaders, misuse their mantle and convey bigotry. Whether they are ministers, CEOs or elected officials, we need them to be among our better angels and be inclusive. To me, a chance to be inclusive has been missed by the relative silence of others leaders in the same party. The same goes for the other party, when one of its elected officials goes astray.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye – a review

My wife, two boys and I watched “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” this week which is out in theaters. It is about the rise and fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Baker of the PTL Club. For those who may not know, PTL stood for Praise the Lord, and the club was a very popular Christian tele-evangelical show that raised a lot of money. Unfortunately, the money brought in could not keep up with the money going out.

The movie stars Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye and Andrew Garfield as Jim, along with an excellent supporting cast, including Cherry Jones as her mother and Vincent D’Onofrio as Reverend Jerry Falwell.The movie was directed by Michael Showalter and written by Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato and Abe Sylvia. Chastain wanted to produce the movie after seeing a documentary that painted Tammy Faye in a different light.

The movie is excellent, but our main reason for wanting to see it is we live in Charlotte where the rise and fall took place in the 1980s. We remember the award winning newspaper articles in The Charlotte Observer and a radio DJ who had a recurring comedy segment called the “Pass the Loot” club. Tammy Faye was mercilessly teased for wearing an awful lot of make-up and crying on camera. As Chastain said in an interview, I watched many hours of footage and I never saw her cry so much that her make-up ran, which was a popular spoof.

Her husband was a narcissist who had to have things his way, even forcing his wife to apologize to him on air when she strayed (his straying at the same time would come up later). And, all the negative press about his fraud on his “partners” as he called his faithful, were, per Jim, reporters out to get him or who just did not like him (he was later found guilty on 24 counts of fraud and went to prison).

What we learned from the newspaper reports, national interviews and his trial, that the Bakkers had a lavish lifestyle built off the hard working donors who sent their money. As Jim famously told Ted Koppel in an interview, “the Lord wanted him to have nice things.” He arguably is the first prosperity preacher at least on air. Now, there is a whole flock of them. But, the key to his fall was his taking in more money based on promises of lifetime stays at a Christian resort that he could not possibly fulfill. So, the only answer was to sell more, in his mind, not unlike a Ponzi scheme.

There was a sex scandal with a young woman, who I won’t name, that was more scintillating than his fraud. Per the movie, we also learned Tammy Faye’s infidelity was a due to an inattentive husband who had wandering eyes for men and women. Forcing his wife to apologize to him on the air was unnerving given what we learned about Jim later. And, per earlier segments, the apology appeared to be a ploy to raise money.

Yet, a key takeaway is Tammy Faye actually had a more progressive view of treating everyone fairly, like Christians should, as she noted on air. A key example is she had an AIDs patient on her show whom she interviewed via satellite. She was outwardly moved by his plight and told her viewers that everyone is the same in God’s eyes. It was very touching. But, that seemed to be par for the course even though her willingness to help was frowned on by Falwell’s Moral Majority.

The part that seemed surprising in the movie is her lack of awareness of the fraud going on. She did ask questions and got poor answers, but she did not follow-up. She was too trusting of her husband when he had abused that trust. His narcissism was, in part, a defense mechanism.

To their credit, you have to applaud their rise through the ranks of tele-evangelists. More than a few of the old guard scoffed, but at their height of fame they had 20 million viewers. Yet, it truly was all smoke and mirrors. God may have wanted them to have nice things, but he sure did not mean for them to take donations from poor people to buy them.

The movie is worth the look. It can be silly at times, as Tammy Faye was an over-the-top personality. Yet, Chastain does an excellent job of showing some depth that needed more exploration. And, Garfield plays Jim Bakker quite convincingly.

Simple stuff for the Sabbath

Having been raised a Southern Baptist and married to a Catholic woman, I have been exposed a great deal to two different types of Christian sects. Further, my best friend growing up was Catholic, another good friend was a member of the Church of Christ, I had a Jewish roommate in college, and I have spoken in front of other church and interfaith groups to advocate for working homeless families. These churches include Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Universalist.

With this context, I offer a plea to ministers, Rabbis and imams, to keep it simple. Too often, the message gets overcomplicated and even taken out of context. Too often, the message has too many herbs and spices thrown in that ruin the mission. Here are a few simple thoughts or stuff for this Sabbath, recognizing my Jewish friends will have to wait a little less than six more days.

  • Treat others like you want to be treated. There are no caveats to the word “others.” Full stop.
  • Take care of those folks that Jesus fellow called the “least of these.” He also noted in so doing, we honor Him, which is a nice “pay it forward” suggestion.
  • Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, which almost every human simply cannot do, but the thought is nice. It goes hand in hand with that Golden rule noted above, but my suggestion is to walk away or diplomatically pushback for yourself or others who get slighted.
  • Always remember, the religious books were primarily written, interpreted and translated by “imperfect men” even if divinely inspired. So, we should remember, these imperfect men wrote in the context of the times, with knowledge of the science of the times.

While this last point may seem out of place, I mention it because it behooves the religious leader to update the references to today’s times. Medical and scientific advancements are truly a miracle in their own right, but compared to when these religious texts were written, would look God-inspired. Plus, while women played a key role in keeping families faithful, the rights of women have advanced to equal footing with men in many societies. To continue to diminish women using religious texts is not only wrong, it is economically suppressive to a community.

That is all I have to say on this Sabbath. These are my opinions, so they are not the gospel truth. I would love to hear yours.

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.