Q & A – Fundamentalist family fun

Q: Any ideas about how to convince half of the people I care about not to soak their children in fear culture, not to hate or abuse people who aren’t like them, and not to support the destruction of the world?

A: Couple of ideas . . . quote the Bible better than they do. There are dozens of examples of helping aliens and widows and children in scripture. Nearly no examples of opposing aliens dwelling among us. How do they support capital punishment, for example, when Jesus was executed? They want to raise their children “Biblically?” But they don’t want to take disrespectful children to the gates of the city to stone them? Then they are picking and choosing which verses they follow.

(As an aside, I had unsolicited advice from in-laws this weekend on the helpfulness of James Dobson’s book on disciplining children. Coincidentally – for non-believers – or by Divine intervention, I later found notes on a blog post about beating children. I’ll get that posted soon.)

Another point, when it comes to Biblical interpretation – are they reading in Greek or Hebrew? Then do the words really matter, if you don’t know what they mean in the native language?

The message of the Bible is the totality of the message. In the beginning was the Word. And the Word made form was Jesus. Nothing else matters. If people want to believe that other things matter, that’s fine, but then they are worshiping a book or a lifestyle or a culture, and not the actually teachings of Jesus.

They may never understand that. I’m not as concerned with the damage they do themselves, and the sad lives they may live, as I’m concerned that they obstruct the benefits that can be found in finding and following Jesus in an authentic and sincere way. They are welcome to get in their own way, but when they do, they make it harder for non-believers to see Jesus. And that sort of damage is exactly what Jesus says not to do, because it’s the sort of behavior that drives people away.

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“To be spiritual is to be amazed”

Rather than try to teach my two and a half year-old how to see the world through my eyes, I strive to see the world through her eyes.

“Look, Daddy! I’m a frog! Ribbit! Ribbit!”

Every day we look at the horses in the field. We stop and listen to the birds and cicadas.

We feel the wind on our faces and look for the moon at night.

Every moment is a miracle when you’re two years-old. There will be time enough in the future to rush from place to place. Today we take time to connect to God through the moments that make up the day, and be amazed.


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A letter to a local church

I sent this e-mail to an area church this week. I’ve redacted the church’s name for reasons that will be apparent.

To XXX XX and the leadership of XXX XX XXX :

My family lives less than two miles from the church.

We first visited for Trunk or Treat last October.

We’re members of another XXXX church, but we’re exploring options in other congregations. Before attending the service a few weeks ago, I visited the church website, and was pleased to see you support CBF and affirm women in ordained ministry. You appear to being doing good work as the hands and feet of the Lord through your many different ministries.

The congregation’s love of God and love of others, as Jesus directs us, is obvious all over your website.

So as the service began, I was dismayed to read in the bulletin that XXXX XXXX was supporting Franklin Graham’s “Decision America Tour.”

My dismay turned to shock when Graham’s video began playing. We immediately left.

The “Decision America Tour” is sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Graham is compensated $258,667 to lead the BGEA, a position he inherited from his father. Adding his additional compensation for his other full time job at Samaritan’s Purse, his total annual compensation is more than $880,000.

(For more about his compensation: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/why-franklin-grahams-salary-raises-eyebrows-among-christian-nonprofits/2015/08/18/023ce940-45f2-11e5-9f53-d1e3ddfd0cda_story.html)

I wonder if the people who donate to the “Decision America Tour” know that their donations help to pay his $258,000 salary?

More importantly, your website focuses on the love of God. Graham focuses on dividing people into groups— gays, Muslims, non-Americans. He supports discrimination against Muslims because of their religion, while claiming that Christians are discriminated against in ways we aren’t.

Scroll through Graham’s Facebook posts, and you can see his focus is nearly never on the Love of God, it’s nearly always focused on sin and attacks against other people— people made in the image of God, just like you and me.

We show our love of the Lord in how we love others— something we recognized by the way we were welcomed by your church during the Trunk or Treat.

As one who was a non-believer for most of my life, people like Graham, with their divisive attitudes and comments, do much more damage to the Kingdom of God and the message of Jesus than they do any good.

Speaking of the Kingdom of God… Graham is touring the country, handing out American flags, focusing on voting and the future of the United States. Which part of this is the message of Jesus and the Kingdom of God?

The message of Jesus is found in the mission work your church does for XXXXX XXX, for children in the neighborhood, for those hurting after divorce or broken in addiction. THIS is the work of the Lord.

And on that Sunday, all of your efforts and good works were overshadowed by a man who has suggested “we are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled.”

I saw XXXXXX XXX as a congregation that would open their arms in a loving embrace of refugees, as Jesus commands us. Instead we found a congregation supporting a man who would reject suffering women and children because of their religion. Is there anything more un-American than Graham’s attitude? Or Un-Christ-like?

I hesitated to send this at all, but it’s important that your board and your members understand how some other Christians see Graham’s vitriol.

Jesus came to gather us all to Him. I don’t see that in the words and actions of Franklin Graham.

As we continue to visit churches, we’re disappointed that XX XXX XX isn’t an option. May God continue to bless your ministries that help others,


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Signs of God’s mercy


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“God is truth”

“God is Truth. The way to Truth lies through Ahimsa (non-violence). Sabarmati, 13 March 1927, M. K. Gandhi.”


Born Oct. 2, 1869.

We need a world full of Gandhis.


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Nature is party to all our deals


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The Creator is ever present in Creation


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“Hillary Clinton— the Character Question”

Increasingly, evangelical Christians are neither. The term is simply the alias of a group of committed Republicans whose politics have no connection to Christianity. Unfortunately, this marginal minority of the faith community receives a disproportionate portion of media coverage.

They twist their theology beyond anything that Jesus would recognize to justify voting for a thrice-married liar who boastfully breaks more of the 10 Commandments than he can name.

Somehow, they’ve convinced themselves that Democrat Hillary Clinton is a ‘threat’ to Christianity. They want to believe that the Republican who never attends church is a better Christian choice than the Democrat who’s a life-long Christian.

This is the political climate in 2016.

Thankfully, we need not take Clinton’s faith at her word. Her former minister voluntarily offered his testimony.

Hillary Clinton— the Character Question

Hillary, her mom Dorothy, and her brothers, Hugh Jr. and Anthony, in their Park Ridge, Illinois, yard.

Hillary, her mom Dorothy, and her brothers, Hugh Jr. and Anthony, in their Park Ridge, Illinois, yard.

By: Rev. Dr. Phil Wogaman

I thought I was having a heart attack. During a family birthday dinner in September, 1998, I suddenly felt several of the symptoms. “Are you all right?” I was asked. “I’m not sure” I said. A son immediately took charge, calling the rescue squad. Loaded into an ambulance, I was whisked off to a hospital. I was there overnight, with a variety of tests. Happily the tests were mostly negative; it didn’t seem to be a real heart attack after all. Perhaps something I’d eaten. But a ministry colleague at Foundry United Methodist Church reported my hospitalization to the congregation that next morning, during the Sunday worship service.

My bedside phone rang. It was Hillary Rodham Clinton, then First Lady. She expressed genuine concern, hoping that the stress of ministering during the 1998 White House crisis hadn’t caused whatever this was. I thanked her, telling her that I seemed to be all right.

Was this an unusual act of caring on her part? Just because I was Senior Minister of her church? It might seem so. But there had been other occasions, involving other people. For instance during my hospital visit to a church member who was terminally ill, he had received a call of support from Ms. Clinton. Then there was the time at the conclusion of a service when the Clintons were about to leave, and she spotted a woman afflicted with cerebral palsy who was having difficulty being understood. Crossing the narthex she reached out to this woman, whom she could not have known previously, to offer support. Then there was the special Christmas greeting she and her husband sent to an elderly woman in a nursing home, whom they could not have known—a greeting card that remained pinned to the woman’s wall until her death a year or so later. And her reaching out to the parents of a young man who was killed in the Ron Brown plane crash in Croatia.

On a more personal level, she backed her daughter Chelsea’s participation in the youth Appalachia Service Project, which involved very hard work repairing homes of poor people deep in the woods of Appalachia.

Such things help to show why I am deeply troubled by the misguided questions being raised by some about Hillary Clinton’s character, and the relentless attacks that will continue. She is not perfect. None of us are. But she is fundamentally a very good person!

As a lifelong Methodist, she embodies (and often quotes) the teaching of Methodist founder John Wesley that we should do all the good we can, to all the people we can, wherever we can. Wesley advised us all to strive for perfection in love. We should try to be more loving persons. We all fall short of that, but that is the enduring life purpose, in which we are aided and encouraged by God. She also spoke of Wesley’s observation that there is no holiness that is not social holiness, so love also entails social justice and public policy.

Ms. Clinton exemplifies another Methodist principle that may be more reassuring to non-Methodists and, for that matter, non-Christians. We recognize that God is at work among all people everywhere. We must not reject others whose beliefs differ from our own. God’s grace is given to us all. We can warn one another about destructive attitudes and actions, but it is not our place to condemn other persons. Obviously anybody in high office has to make difficult decisions, facing dilemmas and sometimes employing tough actions. She is no stranger to that. But underneath, the guiding principle is how to advance the good–for everybody. She is no stranger to that either. Her tireless efforts in behalf of women and children are well known, reinforced in my mind by personal conversations with her.

I’m puzzled about something else. Ms. Clinton is criticized for, her speaking fees. They’re certainly way above my pay grade! But little is said about her generosity in sharing her economic good fortune with others. She and her husband were among the top givers to the Foundry Church during their White House years. Such giving is without fanfare. Her income tax forms, available on-line for all to see, show that the Clintons give more than 10% (the biblical tithe) of before-tax income to charitable enterprises. The Clinton Foundation, which has received a good deal of her speaking fee income, has done enormous good in Africa and India, probably saving thousands of lives.

I must reiterate that nobody is perfect. In positions of high responsibility any leader will make mistakes. But it matters whether you can learn from experience. And even more, whether your guiding star is to “do all the good you can.”

Dr. Wogaman taught Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC where he also served as Academic Dean. Before retirement, he also served as Senior Minister at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington D.C.

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Losing our religion

A new study seeks to shed light on why people are leaving religion in the United States.

https://i1.wp.com/www.prri.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Exodus-cover-SMALL-233x300.pngFrom the summary,

“The American religious landscape has undergone substantial changes in recent years. However, one of the most consequential shifts in American religion has been the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans. This trend emerged in the early 1990s. In 1991, only six percent of Americans identified their religious affiliation as “none,” and that number had not moved much since the early 1970s. By the end of the 1990s, 14 percent of the public claimed no religious affiliation. The rate of religious change accelerated further during the late 2000s and early 2010s, reaching 20 percent by 2012. Today, one-quarter (25 percent) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest “religious group” in the U.S.

(For the executive summary, visit: here http://www.prri.org/research/prri-rns-2016-religiously-unaffiliated-americans/)

“Today, one-quarter (25 percent) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest “religious group” in the U.S.

According to the study, of the 25 percent of the country that are non-religious, 72 percent don’t spend much time thinking about God or religion. Although they don’t think about God, many still believe in God.

“Despite their lack of connection to formal religious institutions, most unaffiliated Americans retain a belief in God or a higher power. A majority of unaffiliated Americans say God is either a person with whom people can have a relationship (22 percent) or an impersonal force (37 percent).”

I’m reminded of this quote from Marcus Borg,

“When somebody says to me, ‘I don’t believe in God,’ my first response is, ‘tell me about the God you don’t believe in.’ Almost always, it’s the God of supernatural theism,” wrote. Marcus J. Borg.

“When somebody says to me, ‘I don’t believe in God,’ my first response is, ‘tell me about the God you don’t believe in.’ Almost always, it’s the God of supernatural theism.” ~ Marcus J. Borg

Of the 25 percent of the country that isn’t religious, more than half believe God is something. Borg’s quote is perfect. They either believe in a God that doesn’t exist, or they reject a wrong version of God that some others do believe.

It’s important to ask what God they don’t they believe in. Especially in the context of why people leave religion.


They are leaving religion in steady and growing numbers, probably because as their faith grows, they reject all religion, instead of just rejecting primitive, undeveloped theories of God.

When most mainstream Sunday school classes teach idiotic, dumbed-down versions of Bible stories, young people reject the interpretations when they are old enough to read scriptures themselves. (It’s like mini Reformations, as young people read the Bible for themselves and reject what they were previously taught about religion.) If they don’t reject the simple version of God, they can often retain that version of God, into adulthood. The result is Biblically familiar but contextually ignorant ‘Christians’ with faith an inch deep and a mile wide. Unfortunately, these are the sorts of ‘Christians’ who make headlines, worship scripture and ignore the teachings of Jesus.

I don’t fault the people who are leaving and never coming back. The surprise is how low the numbers are, not how high. In the coming decades, the numbers will only increase. Because the God they are taught isn’t who God actually is.

“It is a way of being Christian in which beliefs are secondary, not primary,” writes Borg. “Christianity is a “way” to be followed more than it is about a set of beliefs to be believed. Practice is more important than “correct” beliefs. Beliefs are not irrelevant; they do matter. But they are not the object of faith. God is the “object” of commitment—and for Christians, God as known in Jesus.”

borg-beliefAmericans are leaving religion?


Once free of religion, perhaps they can finally see the Way of Jesus, the message of love and compassion and sacrifice.

The Way of the God who created us in love, to be loved and to love.

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“When there is a conflict, Jesus is Lord”


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