Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Singleness — one male’s view

Something I’ve noticed about the literature available on being a single Christian in a couples’ world: Virtually all of it is written by women. It’s as if we single men don’t exist except for the possible sake of being a partner.

Now, I readily admit that part of that has to do with men generally not being writers and thus probing deeply into the question, but a part of me still feels somewhat marginalized with a male perspective on singleness being virtually non-existent. (Perhaps I should be the one to start, so here goes.)

I’m a rare breed — a middle-aged Christian man who has never experienced matrimony. I could get into several legitimate reasons why that’s the case, but as much as people (again, mostly women) say that singleness is not a sign of spiritual immaturity, for us never-married men it really might be the case.

Much men’s ministry often doesn’t help us because it tends to be geared toward guys with families and thus focuses on “leadership.” Nothing wrong with that, as I’ve myself gone through a leadership course that my church offers; the trouble is that such leadership gifts often have yet to be cultivated in us and we often can’t spend time with other godly men because they just don’t have it to give. It's even worse if you’re not into sports (though I am).

Moreover, the reason we’re single is that, for the most part, women just haven’t been romantically interested for one reason or another. Asking women on dates is nerve-wracking as it is, and taking the chance of being turned down — and, in this context, it really does represent personal rejection whether a woman who says no means it that way or not — is too great a risk for many of us, especially since we’re the ones supposed to take the initiative, so we do spend a lot of time alone or in unfulfilling singles groups. (This is why, for us, “waiting on God” is impractical.) We tend to be more socially inept than women anyway precisely because we’re men and thus need tutoring and practice in such matters; many of us simply don’t know how to operate.

Lest you think I’m being self-pitying or cynical, I’m speaking mainly from past personal experience because things have begun to change of late. Some years ago I did get to spend some good one-on-one time with a godly woman; though that’s no longer the case, I can’t underestimate the effect it — more accurately, she — had on me. Later I got back into social dance, which apparently the ladies think I’m pretty good at. (To be truthful, sometimes the attention they give me even makes me nervous.) And more recently I’ve become involved in a singles group at church that does focus on dating, with everyone encouraging everyone else on his/her respective journeys.

I wish to stress that I haven’t “wasted” my single years pining for a spouse; I took the time to finish college and, after graduating and getting a job in my field, began to develop a parallel music career; a man especially needs something to bring to the table, I know now, and there’s no time like the present to develop it. I just wish we in the church would pay attention to guys who haven’t “arrived” yet; we could use the encouragement.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Tilting at windmills

In the 1999 book “Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America?”, Cal Thomas, vice president of communications for the late but hardly lamented Moral Majority, mentioned something I didn’t know: James Dobson, founder of “Focus on the Family,” once threatened to run for president as an independent because the Republican Party wasn’t moving on “social issues,” specifically gay rights and abortion, as quickly as he wanted. His intention was to pull social conservatives out of the GOP to show just many supported that agenda and the party had better heed.

Except for one thing: He apparently grossly overestimated that support, which is likely why I and others hadn’t heard.

Earlier this week, according to Right Wing Watch, Dobson predicted “civil war” were the Supreme Court to favor same-gender matrimony, and I understand that cases are coming to the Court to be decided soon.

Of course, Dobson’s been wrong before and since. Before the 2008 general election he wrote a hysterical screed giving predictions as to what might happen by 2012 were Barack Obama to become president — and virtually none of those predictions have come true. So why would anyone believe him now?

Not only is the idea of “civil war” far-fetched, but just whom would his supporters fight? And with what? I suspect that if his supporters were to do that they would end up utterly isolated, with no allies to speak of; if anything, we're virtually there already.

Here’s the problem: According to the op-ed “A Christian Nation? Since When?” by Kevin M. Kruse, a professor of history at Princeton University and the author of “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America” and published in the New York Times, business groups, in reaction to the New Deal — which they despised — reached out to a number of Christian clergy and successfully married capitalism with the faith to a point where, by the 1980s, evangelicalism was tied to, shall we say, “what’s good for General Motors.” I’m sure that conservative Christians were counting on the support of big business to fund its social concerns.

Big mistake.

The first chink in that armor: The business-friendly Democratic Leadership Council, in 1988 headed by Bill Clinton, reached out to business to a point where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which had endorsed Republicans before, declined to endorse a presidential candidate in 1996. Today, the Koch brothers, who announced that they plan to spend nearly a billion dollars in the next campaign mostly on “conservative” candidates and are thus despised by the political left, nevertheless support abortion rights and gay marriage.

And when the state of Indiana passed a “religious freedom” bill that would essentially allow business run by Christians not to serve gays for religious reasons, a number of business groups decided or threatened to pull out of the state, the capital Indianapolis especially being endangered because it’s now a popular convention hub.

Why? Because appearing to discriminate against gays would be bad for business — due not to any anti-Christian “gay lobby” but personal relationships and the money that gays could bring in. Money talks, remember, and for that reason the understanding of a “quid pro quo” turned out not to be viable.

So that’s where we stand.

In the 1980s many believers, thanks to Ronald Reagan, took for granted political power that they thought they had but really didn’t. So now we’re facing court decisions that may not favor us — and we’re facing them alone because, as it turns out, most people never cared about the social issues that we do. I predict that Dobson’s “civil war” will fizzle out quickly, if it gets started at all.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Lessons from Indiana

With the amending of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana and the vetoing of a similar bill in Arkansas, it’s become clear to me that American “culture warriors” have lost yet another battle. And, truth be told, there are more losses to come.

Now, such people can complain all they want that the gay-rights movement is acting like “bullies” in getting major business to reconsider doing businesses in such states for what they consider an encroachment on their "religious freedom."

There are several problems with such a stance.

One, when the act was enacted on a Federal level during the Clinton Administration its aim was to protect specific religious rituals — in essence, the “free exercise” of religion; one case in particular surrounded the use of the controlled substance peyote by certain Native American tribes. And the law already contained provisions for churches, ministries and affiliated groups to bar active gays from positions in the organizations.

Which leads to another issue: What the culture warriors have always really wanted was not so much “freedom” but privilege, that only their views would be unquestioningly paramount in society. Trouble is, Christians in general and the church in particular were never instructed to become part of any “establishment,” perhaps because when you become establishment you tend to want to remain such and thus get hooked into the world’s way of thinking. That does more to damage the church’s effectiveness than anything coming from the outside because the faith is often liberalized in its own right.

Not helping matters is that gays over the years cultivated allies, whether in business, government, culture or, today, even some churches. And contrary to popular opinion, that wasn’t the result of some nefarious campaign from any gay lobby — it’s just that when people “came out” to their families and other places they gained sympathy in their respective worlds. In such an atmosphere blood ties and friendships often trump any “moral” concern.

In other words, the modern acceptance of gay rights and especially same-gender matrimony came as the result of, essentially, an underground phenomenon that has now bubbled up to the surface. We didn’t see it because, frankly, we didn’t want to, and now many of us complain that our country is abandoning Biblical “values.” (Which was dubious in the first place.)

Let me say that I do oppose same-sex marriage and would have a serious problem with, say, baking cakes or pizzas for such a wedding were I as a business owner asked to do so. But conservative Christians have never made a strong case as to why they feel homosexuality is morally wrong; as things stand now — especially since they do have a history of race- and gender-based discrimination on “Biblical grounds,” even though they don’t really exist — we can expect such controversies to occur again and again.

And I suspect that Indiana was just the first salvo.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Some "common sense" on race and racism

“Hey, we all know there’s been some bad history in our country. We know that racism exists. I’m extending a hand like, ‘Hey, we want to get past this. We’ve been bullied, we’ve been beat down, but we don’t want it anymore.' ”

Rapper and actor Common, who said those words recently on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” ended up taking some abuse for also saying that ending racism can begin by “extending [a] hand in love” to whites. And, frankly, I don’t understand that.

Because he’s right. That’s the only way racism has ever been ameliorated.

Last month I picked up the book “Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epic Challenge to the Church” by Edward Galbreath, and in reading it I got a considerable surprise: As a teen Dr. King himself went through an “I hate Whitey” period.

Which tells me that, like Nelson Mandela after him, he underwent a time of transformation and, by the time he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., he was able to refer to “our white brothers” in sermons.

We all remember what happened next.

And as the campaign for voting rights in Selma, now 50 years old, made national news, whites — even some religious leaders — even got involved. One of them, Boston minister the Rev. James Reeb, who was beaten to death, is listed in a hall of martyrs at alma mater Princeton Theological Seminary; Viola Liuzzo, a housewife, lost her life at the hands of Ku Klux Klansmen when driving demonstrators back.

I respectfully ask militants out there: Kindly explain to me how we’re supposed to attain “equality” without relationship-building, what Common was getting at. Tough talk has never availed us anything but further social, economic and political isolation.

Many African-Americans often ask: Has there ever been this level of disrespect for a sitting president as there is today toward Barack Obama? The answer is yes.

Remember that Bill Clinton was gossiped about, with unsubstantiated allegations of corruption, and eventually impeached — illegally — on phony charges. And if you want to go back in history, consider that 11 Southern states left the union as the direct result of Abraham Lincoln being elected president — and he eventually ended up dead. To say that people hate Obama simply or primarily due to his race is thus an overstatement.

One other thing to remember: Dr. King’s adoption the Gandhian-style nonviolence served to expose the bad guys as bad guys. And it certainly worked like a charm because “We’re not going to play their game — we’re bigger than that.”

I find it interesting that Common’s former stage name was “Common Sense.” Which he displayed that day.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Franklin Graham: Back to the dark ages

When evangelist Franklin Graham announced that he was coming to Pittsburgh I thought about going — when his father Billy held a crusade here in 1993 I went every night but the first.

But after the first night of the three-day gathering, which I couldn’t attend anyway, and I heard about an interview with Franklin that aired that night on the Fox News Channel complaining about Muslim persecution of Christians in the Middle East, I decided not to (he has made numerous anti-Muslim statements over the years). In fact, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that he insisted — falsely — that Muslims had never spoken out against Islamic-based terrorism.

And of late, that’s not the only pronouncement he’s made that has offended many. Last month, according to his Facebook page and quoted by blogger Bill Chandler, he asked, “Why is [President Obama] seemingly continuing to protect Islam and refusing to open his eyes to the truth?” And just last week he basically told “people of color” that they should obey the police to keep from being roughed up or shot.

What I think we’re seeing is a return to the bad-old days of the 1980s culture war, where enemies real or imagined were played up by media “ministries” for the sake of power, using some bogeyman to raise money to maintain their empires. In 1980 it went from “secular humanism” to communists to “abortionists” to liberals; in the 1990s President Clinton and the media were the whipping boys; these days, of course, it’s President Obama, gays and Islam.

And the problem was the same then as it is now: Just as did Moral Majority and other groups did back then, Graham, with such pronouncements, is neglecting the spiritual war — which is the war in which he’s supposedly enlisted to fight. Doing so actually causes divisiveness in the church.

Graham’s statements about African-Americans and the police have to be especially insulting considering that Billy was one of the few conservative Christians who supported Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil-rights movement (Billy supposedly said to Dr. King, “You take the streets; I’ll take the stadiums”). Modern political conservatism has a reputation, which frankly is deserved to a certain extent, for racism; while I’m not calling Franklin a racist, he’s probably alienated black supporters of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, under whose aegis Franklin works.

People might be saying, “But Franklin is preaching the Gospel.” I would ask: What kind of Gospel is he preaching? Are we asked to commit to a God Who needs to be propped up by the culture, or is He beyond all that? He is not a tribal deity that we can call upon to defeat perceived enemies; remember that Jesus was crucified in part because He refused to go that route.

A number of people, most notably Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, have called Franklin out. And I think it was the right thing to do — because he’s making things more difficult for the rest of us.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Forgiving ISIS

While [members of the Sanhedrin] were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

— Acts 7:59-60

The world took note when the Coptic Christian community in Egypt announced that it had forgiven the Islamic State terrorist group that beheaded 20 of its members a few weeks ago.

I learned today, however, that a tract was circulating that part of the world with the same sentiment — and it’s getting notice, with even Muslims reading it according to my source.

And do you know what? If this kind of thing is happening, it really could mean the eventual end of Islamic-based terrorism.

You see, one distinction between Christianity and Islam is the concept of forgiveness, a major part of Christianity but foreign to Islam. Indeed, it probably makes little if any sense to Muslims, who likely believe in retribution for the wrongs done to them (I confess to some ignorance about Islam, so I can’t say that for sure).

Moreover, in this case the Copts understand and accept something that we American Christians often don’t: Following Jesus may very well cost you your life. We’re often the first to complain about mistreatment from the world when He Himself said it was inevitable — so, why worry about it? Heck, He would know about unjust treatment, since He was falsely convicted of a crime against the state and hanged on a cross.

Here’s what might be happening: The Copts didn’t react the way most people expect, and that distinction is turning people’s heads around in that part of the world. And the dictum “The tree of faith is watered with the blood of martyrs” truly applies here, for the reason that if someone were willing to die for something it must be worth it.

Will the Copts’ stance sway Islamic terrorists? It actually might. Remember, the church grew rapidly as a result of Stephen’s stoning and eventually captured a anti-Christian Pharisee named Saul, with the Roman name of Paul — who of course became the greatest missionary the world has ever known.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Rhetoric vs. reality

For years I’ve heard complaints from the political right that people were being “unfair” to it when the topic turned to race relations and politics. Those folks insist, probably to this day, that the Republican Party eliminated slavery in the 1800s and Jim Crow 50 years ago and complain that African-Americans reject them because “they don’t understand the history of the Democratic Party.”

I heard today, however, that not one — not one — member of the congressional leadership of the current GOP is participating in tomorrow’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma, Ala., that resulted in the Voting Rights Act. I would think that if they were so proud of that achievement they would be the first to laud it.

Perhaps the reality that the folks who now run the Republican Party had absolutely nothing to do with civil-rights gains made then (if anything, they opposed them) has finally hit the fan. I wonder just how many of their constituents told them not to bother — or even if they took a poll because they represent districts that tend to be hostile to folks voting who don’t think the way they do. (Then again, they didn’t attend the golden jubilee of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 2013, either.)

After all, who was it that has always tried to gut that law? Who today is passing voter-ID laws that would keep people from voting? If the shoe were on the other foot they would scream bloody murder.

Bottom line, talk is cheap.