Monday, May 30, 2005

Persecution or Failed Evangelism?

This Memorial Day morning, I was sitting on the couch with my wife and daughter. My daughter had loaded Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs into the DVD player. During one of the scenes my wife commented, "There is something you don't see much anymore." Not paying attention to the movie, I asked her to what was she was referring. She said, "A cartoon character praying." My immediate response, without really thinking, was, "that's probably because the cartoonists themselves don't pray anymore."

Now I have no way of knowing if an individual cartoonist, artist, or story creator has a faith or not. However, judging by content, I would say many do not, excluding Christian based media. I think most of us believe, and with good evidence, that the United States has changed a great deal from when we were younger -- let's say the 1950's through the 1970's, and maybe even into the early '80's. That is, that the majority of people had a belief in God and participated in some form of Christian religion. This had the side effect of Christian activities and thoughts being benignly inserted into TV, books, cartoons, and other media. I use the word benignly as a double-edged indictment. Benign as in harmless and accepted by those that might not have a faith. They did not seem offended by the presence of such attributes. In addition, benign in the fact that such inclusion had little impact on changing someone without a faith.

What is my point? First: perhaps Christianity is not under attack solely because it is a threat, but because so few have any meaningful exposure to Christianity, therefore have found no practical use for it, and see no relevance for it in today's world. Second, there is not some large-scale, organized attack on Christianity, but we are seeing the aggregate effects of a mass of people without Christ in their individual lives.

Maybe Christians must bear much of the responsibility for our society's turning away. I was spurred to think this morning about the real threat to Christianity, about the real cause of the demise of Christian attributes in public arenas, and about the perceived persecution of the Christian faith in the United States. There is certainly a concern, maybe even fear, among the Christian community that we are being persecuted by large segments of our society—that our freedoms to express our Christianity are being taking away or are being challenged.

I am not saying this is not the case. Nevertheless, this morning's exchange with my wife made me think about the root cause. I have often felt there is some hidden movement or some unnamed conspiracy that is at work in our nation attacking Christianity and seeking to remove its influence. Other times, I feel as if I have succumbed to the conspiracy rhetoric of the so-called right wing. (Does such a group really even exist?) I know the reasons for these feelings are that I cannot ignore the fact that Christianity is being challenged and removed from many elements of daily life where it was once present. We deal with the badly misunderstood issue of the separation of Church and State. Public prayer has been removed from public schools activities. We are forced to openly deal with the issues of homosexuality, sexual intimacy outside of marriage, infidelity in marriage, abortion, and pornography. We argue about creationism, evolution, and intelligent design and which should be taught in our secondary school systems.

Yet, I wonder if the Christian community is not fighting a perceived threat? Is an organized attack truly present? Is a wave of persecution really building? Or, is the truth the fact that we are living with the aggregate effects of lives without Christ. Just maybe the methods, or lack thereof, that Christians have implored to spread the Good News has not been so good. Maybe we have failed to show society that Christ offers healing and hope; that the moral tenants of Christianity are not heavy-handed, burdensome rules, but that they lead to personal freedom from the tyranny of sin. That imitating Christ eliminates much suffering for others. Do the majority of Christians even really believe these themselves? Do we really believe that Christ is the light and the way?

If you believed in Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say? -- John 5:46-47.

Jesus challenged the Pharisees that they did not really believe their own faith thus they could not recognize Him for the truth He was. Do we really believe in our hearts the words and methods Christ delivered to us? If we did, would we not live them out in our lives and show the world a better way.

I do believe that Satan is the true enemy. I also believe that a primary component of his strategy is to have Christians' focus on an unseen, global enemy thus robbing them of their focus on the Message of Christ, on the Truth. Our challenge is to stop fighting the darkness so much as spreading the light, to preach not about avoiding sin as a rule, but to show the freedom and inner peace that one can have outside of sin. Satan, by robbing our focus, has undermined our message. I don't believe we can win the war by fighting large battles. We win the war by winning one heart at a time. After all, the choice of life or death, of accepting salvation, is an absolute personal one. Each individual heart must believe and confess. We can pressure someone to say the words and to be baptized, but if these actions are not a manifestation of their heart, then the actions are void. Christ called us not only to spread the Good News, but also to live it. If we do not, then we will foster greater and greater numbers who do not have Christ in their lives and they will see no value or relevance of Christianity, thus they will naturally resist its presence in the world.

I know that regardless of our methods, even if we perfectly imitate Christ, we will face rejection and persecution. However, we must not let Satan use this realization to manipulate us into less effective methods, off-target battles, or from staying the course. We cannot let him rob us of our focus. We cannot change the world if we cannot change individual hearts.Please provide your comments, arguments, and insight. Am I off base? What have I missed? Is there validity to my concerns?

In our Savior's name,


Friday, May 20, 2005

Discipleship, Confederate, and $50,000

A recent development in an on-going case involving Vanderbilt University has inspired this post.

History: On the Peabody Campus is a building named Confederate Hall, a name stipulated in a contract with the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) who donated $50,000 in the 1930's to Peabody College to build the dormitory as a memorial to fallen Confederate soldiers. Its members see the building as a memorial to the South's fallen soldiers of the Civil War--"a way to honor the deceased, not offend the living." (Can honor and memorial really apply to Americans and Christian brethren killing each other over political, social, racial, and economic conflict?) In 2002, Vanderbilt announced its plan to rename the building and have Confederate removed. The UDC filed a breach of contract suit and earlier this month the state Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the UDC. Vanderbilt has not decided whether to appeal further, but is free to continue negotiations with the UDC.

Recent Development: A local African-American and VU alumnus has volunteered to donate $50,000 to help Vanderbilt remove the Confederate name and to motivate other alumni to get involved. Dr. Eddie Hamilton is a 1985 graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and he heads Centennial Pediatrics, one of the state's largest private providers of children's medical services. His late father-in-law, Ed Martin, was the head basketball coach at Tennessee State University and an assistant at Vanderbilt (a great and kind man). Today, Hamilton's healthcare company provides opportunities for Vanderbilt medical residents to learn their profession in bilingual settings.

Discipleship: As I reviewed the recent development in the local paper, I tried to consider what the different parties' actions should be as motivated by Christian Discipleship. Well, at least from my understanding and viewpoint of Christian Discipleship. I also felt that this is a real world situation to frame a discussion of actually applying Christian Discipleship in our decision making.

I have mixed emotions about removing the word Confederate from the building. As a Vanderbilt alumnus and loyal supporter, I am proud of their stance on this issue. Vanderbilt was not pressured to take action at this time. In fact, Dr. Hamilton admitted that during his 7 years of medical training at VU he was so busy he never noticed the word on the building. Also note that Vanderbilt has not always been a champion of the African-American struggles, quite the contrary at many times in its history. Current Chancellor, Gordon Gee, took this initiative from his own motivation to create a more united and welcoming atmosphere at VU.

On the other hand, I am a born and raised Southerner and proud to be one. My modified mantra (in deference to Lee Camp) is American by birth, Southern by God's providence, and Saved by the Grace of God. As a southerner, I lament the fact that the Confederacy carries such negative connotations. However any resentment is reserved for those who have perverted Southern heritage by using its symbols in their demonstration of hate, racism, and bigotry, especially under the false guise of Christianity. Woe be unto you brood of vipers.

So in the Light of Christ, I believe Vanderbilt is doing the right thing. From a discipleship decision we must consider the good of others and defer. Everything is permissible--but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. -- I Cor. 10:23-24. I Cor. 8 also discusses deference to those offended and encourages us to not create stumbling blocks for others (I don't feel the term weak brother has any relevance in this case, but I do feel the spirit of the scripture applies). The word Confederate is offensive to many of our black brothers and sisters and therefore in the spirit of unity and Christian love, it is best to remove this barrier.

What about a Christian discipleship decision from the viewpoint of the United Daughters of the Confederacy? One's identity as a Christian must supersede all other loyalties and therefore one must defer to those offended, regardless of whether any offense was intended. Also, the UDC could use its contract rights to further the Christian spirit and glorify God with its actions. Why not agree to have Confederate removed, but with the stipulation that it is replaced with Freedom Hall, Unity Hall, or Reconciliation Hall, etc.? Any other stance casts doubt on the UDC's motivations no matter how principled they may seem internal to the organization. Why spend their resources to create bad press when they could spend nothing and gain much?

Now what about a discipleship decision from the viewpoint of Dr. Hamilton? First, I cast no dispersions on his decision or stance. I respect his motives and believe them to be forthright. However is it the best decision in the context of discipleship? I would be very surprised if Vanderbilt had not already offered $50,000 or more to settle the dispute and remove the name. It has cost them at least that much in legal defense without a known end. So I don't think the $50,000 will help change the tide. Wouldn't a better action be to donate the $50,000 to a group that positively affects the African-American community. I do not see that removing the word Confederate is going to have any impact on the immediate needs of a young black person living in Nashville. Will there be one less violent crime, one more hungry child feed, one less child abused, one drug-addict recovered, one job provided, or just one child educated with the removal of the word Confederate? However, these positive actions could occur if the $50,000 were donated to the Wayne Reed Christian Child Care Center, to Youth Encouragement Services, to the Charles Davis Foundation, toward a VU scholarship, or to a myriad of other positive options.

This is not just my view. "The Rev. Sonnye Dixon, a member of the local chapter of the NAACP, wasn't sure if buying back the naming rights was the best option. Money might be better spent on scholarships or diversity studies, Dixon said, that would announce to the world: "Here's our commitment, even in the shadow of this building, so that we make sure that those attitudes don't exist anymore.'" [ 5/18/2005]

What are your thoughts? What am I not considering? Where am I straying from discipleship? I hope that I have some responses from African-American Christians who can provide a more personal view on this issue. Thanks in advance for aiding in our walk with Christ.

Note: Charles Davis Foundation
615 Main St.
PO Box 60429
Nashville, TN 37206
(615) 254-0396

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Still Not Entirely Back and JS's blog

I am still suffering the effects of the virus I had (or have). I have terrible joint pain at the moment. It is amusing to watch me walk however. I look like a 90 year old man in a 40 year old body. On top of that work has demanded so much time. But I will be back to writing very soon. It is off to the drug store for a steriod pack (no I am not trying out for baseball). I sure hope it provides some relief.

Thanks to Matt, Wayne, and Jonathan for giving me such perspective on enduring pain. I would not dare complain. I don't know how they get through their days. They are truly inspirations to my faith.

Also, check out Jonathan's blog, he wrote for the first time today!!!! All glory and praise to God! I wept with joy reading his post.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005


I have not posted in a while. There are several reasons: (1) work is intense right now. (2) I am also busy preparing for a worship program at a men's retreat. (3) Home life has been busy as well. (4) On top of 1-3, I have been ill since Sunday and trying to do 1-3 at the same time. I am not feeling so well at the moment. I suspect a nice, little virus has taken up lodging in hotel Tony.

Anyway, I do intend to blog but it will probably be after this weekend. I plan on starting a series of blogs that brings some past journaling to life. Last summer, during a retreat at Gethsemani Abbey, I journaled about my faith walk over the last year or so. A period of spiritual growth, spiritual trial, and spiritual commitment that was greater than any other period in my life so far. Greater in terms of development during a specific time-frame. Something on the order of of 25% of the spiritual development in my life occurring in a 1-2 year period. Hard to quantify, and I am not really trying to do so. I am just trying to provide a feel for the effect of that time frame. At then end of the series I plan to summarize the events since the retreat, where I am, how things have worked out, etc. This period of time has led me to a deep commitment to understand true discipleship, and to put this understanding into dailypractice. One effect this period has had on me is starting this blog.

But the best laid plans...

Anyway, I hope I start feeling better soon and make some time to start writing again.