Some pastoral, theological, and personal reflections from Christian theologian N.T. Wright:
Did you watch Joe Biden’s speech last night after his primary victories in Michigan, Mississippi, and Missouri?
Last night Wes Granberg-Michaelson, a churchman who has had a distinguished career in denominational life, politics, letters, and academia, wrote this on his Facebook page:
Listening to Joe Biden give his speech this evening, he impresses me like a strong interim pastor who comes into a congregation devastated by conflict and finally has removed its pastor, but needs someone who projects calm, confidence, trust and allows for healing. But then, the effective interim pastor has to open up space for the congregation to clarify again its values, its core mission, and its vision for the future. Pastor (or Father) Biden will have to do both things.
I know that many Bernie fans are upset tonight because the Democratic Party does not seem to be listening to the youth vote. Perhaps this is true. I am sure that a new, young, contemporary pastor is finishing seminary right now and he will soon take the pulpit. But right now it looks like the country just needs a good interim pastor.
Thanks to Wes Granberg-Michaelson for allowing me to quote him.
John Haas of Bethel University (IN) responds on Facebook to my post “Civility and the Search for Common Ground Are Important, But Sometimes We Need a Prophetic Witness“:
So, if this “spade” is what you say, is it enough for para-church institutions such as CT to call it out, or must churches not do the same? Let’s be frank: Most evangelical churches are doing what CT says it can no longer do–dodge the unpopular task of actually drawing a line–and they’re doing so in large part for reasons that have to do with protecting the institution as a going concern.
Indeed, I think it’s the case that we are where we are now–the 81%–because so many churches have been doing that all along. At best they insinuate at the line during sermons, but they don’t draw it so explicitly as to make it offensive.
Should the preaching of the Gospel at this time be *offensive* (not just to Trump supporters, but others too, of course)?
Good question. I think the primary role of churches is to bear witness to the Gospel and help form the faithful in Christian teaching. In other words, speaking out on politics is not the church’s primary role.
A magazine, it seems, is something different. The church should engage the political culture, but it will often do so by addressing the symptoms–power, fear, idolatry, etc.–that might lead members of the congregation to support someone like Trump. Each church will do this in different ways and in accordance with their local circumstances. A magazine such as CT will put out a position based on clear Christian thinking and then local pastors who agree with that position can translate it to their congregations as they deem appropriate. It seems like there must always be a pragmatic dimension to all of this.
But I need to think about this some more. Is there a way to be prophetic and “offensive” from the pulpit without diving directly into the specifics or naming names? Or should pastors be naming the name of Trump?
Here is the flying pastor:
Read more here.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 48% of Christians trust members of the clergy. This means that they have more trust in nurses, military officers, grade school teachers, medical doctors, pharmacists, and police officers.
Here is a brief summary:
WASHINGTON, D.C. — For the 16th consecutive year, Americans’ ratings of the honesty and ethical standards of 22 occupations finds nurses at the top of the list. More than eight in 10 (82%) Americans describe nurses’ ethics as “very high” or “high.” In contrast, about six in 10 Americans rate members of Congress (60%) and lobbyists (58%) as “very low” or “low” when it comes to honesty and ethical standards.
Read the entire report here.
Christianity Today puts the story in context here.
Donald Trump thinks so. Or at least that’s what he told a group of evangelical pastors today in Orlando. But is it true?
Amy Sullivan has some solid reporting on this issue at Yahoo News.
Here is a taste:
You’re the most powerful lobby there is,” Trump told the American Renewal Project, an effort to get conservative pastors more involved in politics, even as candidates. “Yet you’ve been totally silenced, like a child has been silenced.”
It was the same message he delivered to evangelicals in his acceptance speech last month at the Republican National Convention: “You have so much to contribute to our politics, and yet our laws prevent you from speaking yours minds from your own pulpits.”
What Trump is talking about is something called the “Johnson Amendment,” a change to the U.S. tax code that was proposed by then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson in 1954 to prohibit tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. Some, but not all, religious institutions claim tax-exempt status and are therefore technically required to abstain from using their resources on behalf of candidates.
Over the past decade, political speech has become a rallying point for many conservative Christians, including the group Alliance Defending Freedom, which encourages pastors to engage in “civil disobedience” to challenge the tax code. Given Trump’s ongoing campaign against political correctness, as well as concerns among conservative Christians over his bona fides on other issues, like abortion and same-sex marriage, it’s no surprise that he made free speech for pastors his main appeal to that constituency.
There’s only one problem: Pastors and other religious leaders can, and do, already engage in political speech, including candidate endorsements.
The fact is that no U.S. law prevents church leaders from endorsing candidates. What the law does not allow is endorsing on behalf of a church or using church resources — such as making an endorsement from the pulpit during Sunday services — while also claiming tax-exempt status.
Church leaders can even endorse using church resources at any time; they are simply expected to forgo their tax-exempt status in order to do so. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, but it does not provide a constitutional right to tax-exempt status.
Perhaps the best rebuttal to the idea that religious leaders operate under a clergy “gag” law is the fact that the Johnson Amendment is currently unenforced. So regardless of whether a pastor follows the tax code by separating his personal endorsements from his role with a church, the IRS is not investigating or penalizing churches for political speech.
In fact, the most prominent recent example of a pastor’s free speech may be thebenediction delivered by Pastor Mark Burns at last month’s RNC, the most explicitly political prayer ever offered at a party convention. In his prayer, Burns declared Democrats to be “our enemies” and praised God for “giving [Trump] the words to unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party.”
Read the entire article here.
“The vocation of pastor(s) has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.”
–Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir, p. 8
Evangelical pastors love to talk about “doing life together.” This phrase is basically used to describe the practice of spending time with members of their congregations in order to build relationships. Some pastors like to “do life together” with their pastoral staff by planning elaborate “retreats” in exotic locals under the guise of “team building.”
The article is entitled “Pastor Admits ‘Doing Life Together’ Just an Excuse to do Whatever.
KENOSHA, WI—Pastor Doug Gosport, 53, admitted that his recent forays into “doing life together” with people in his church and community were really just an excuse to do whatever he felt like doing, sources confirmed Monday.
“Frankly, it’s genius,” Gosport reportedly crowed to three of his friends during a weekend golf outing. “Normally, you get all sorts of flak from the family if you want to go grab something to eat and just watch the game, you know? But if I tell my wife I’ve got some guys I need to ‘do life with,’ she instantly approves, no questions asked. That’s actually what I told her I’m doing right now!” he laughed, before stepping up to the tee box and driving the ball.
“So basically, it’s a ticket to do whatever I want,” Gosport continued. “I just call it ‘doing life together,’ and boom—I can do no wrong. The other day, I was supposed to paint the garage, but I put on my concerned face and said I really needed to go ‘do life’ with Jerry. So Jerry and I got to go fishing for five hours instead. Jerry’s a Unitarian. We talked about John Wayne movies the entire time.”
According to sources, Gosport went on to note that the applications of “doing life together” are essentially limitless.
“Basically, whatever you want to do becomes a church-endorsed evangelical activity—write-offs and all—as long as you use those magic words. This month alone, I’ve used it to go to Ed’s Pub three times, a ball game, bowling, and the Boat, Sport, and Travel Show. The elder board even told me the other day that they’re super-impressed at how I’m ‘continually coming alongside’ others.”
The group was reportedly planning to go “do life” at a local Buffalo Wild Wings after the conclusion of their round.
In a world in which ministers are encouraged to run for office and bombarded with claims about religion and the nation’s founding, Beth Allison Barr of Baylor University has written a very useful post titled “A Pastor’s Guide to Reliable Historical Research.”
Barr challenges members of the clergy to critically evaluate websites, check their sources, and check their own bias. Maybe she will turn her post into a book!
In the meantime, here is a taste of her post at The Anxious Bench:
A friend of mine was preparing his sermon. We happened to be at the same social function, and so he casually asked me what I knew about medieval illuminations (i.e. fireworks). To be honest, I didn’t know much. From my years of teaching world history I knew that gunpowder and fireworks had originated in Asia and spread rather slowly (along trade routes and through military ventures) to Europe. Hence European fireworks are really an early modern/modern phenomenon.
My friend’s question, however, was fairly specific: when was the earliest use of fireworks for a royal event in England? This was beyond my general knowledge.
I wasn’t worried. I knew I could quickly find the answer. So I did, and told my friend what he needed the next day (late fifteenth century, for those of you interested).
I am a professional historian. But the methods I employed to help my friend are not monopolized by my profession. Most of the tools pastors need for basic yet reliable historical research are readily available in our digital age.
Read the rest here.
The deeper I go into academic life the more I lose touch with the passions that led me to pursue a professorial career in the first place. After reading Jake Meador’s recent essay in Christianity Today, a part of me wants to leave academia, move to a small town, and pastor a local Protestant congregation. I think I could be happy doing this.
In “Why We Need Small Towns,” Meador draws upon the work of Rod Dreher, Wendell Berry, and Wallace Stegner to encourage evangelical pastors to think about pursuing vocations in small places. It’s a great piece. Here is just a taste:
Of course, American Christians know something of the little way. The evangelical movement has always had its share of what novelist Wallace Stegner famously called “stickers.” In the words of Wendell Berry, a student of Stegner’s, stickers are people who “settle, and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.” America’s first great theologian, Jonathan Edwards, spent much of his life serving in a single small parish. Presbyterian theologian B. B. Warfield spent nearly his entire adult life in Princeton, New Jersey, where he taught at the university and cared for his sick wife. The late Dallas Willard taught and ministered in the same philosophy department for nearly five decades. Just recently, my pastor interviewed a dozen fellow pastors who have served in Lincoln, Nebraska, for over a decade. All of them are committed to staying at their churches indefinitely.
Here is the synopsis of a recent Barna Group survey of Protestant pastors:
- There are approximately 315,000 Protestant churches in America. (As compared to 13,000 McDonalds and 4000 Walmarts).
- Pastors buy 3.8 books per month per person
- 92% of pastors by at least one book per month
- Pastors buy 8-13 million books per year.
- Pastors buy more books than the general population.
- Younger pastors buy more books than older pastors.
- Pastors buy books on topics that interest them or that are recommended to them.
- Half of pastors are reading biographies.
- One-third of pastors are reading business books.
- Pastors buy most of their books at Christian bookstores and online.
- Half of pastors read books on an e-reader of an iPad.
- 90% of pastors recommend books to their congregations from the pulpit.