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The Myth of A Righteous America

Many ACOG leaders believe they have a solemn duty to warn Americans away from their sins as a nation. Of course, a large part of their motiv...

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Genealogy in Scripture

Many theologians have speculated about the relative importance of so many genealogies being recorded in the Judeo-Christian Bible. Many more lay folks have labored through those same genealogies or have simply skipped over them altogether. Why so many genealogies? What is their significance?

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, genealogies were important to the Hebrews because: they had to prove their tribal and familial descent to own land, kinship carried certain legal rights and obligations, priest and Levites were entitled to their positions or status based on their descent, and the messiah was prophesied to spring from the tribe of Judah and the house of David. The folks at Compelling Truth, on the other hand, inform us that these genealogies: "confirm the historical reliability of the Bible," "reveal the importance of family to God," were useful "in determining who could serve in certain roles," "prove many Bible prophecies," and they demonstrate "how God has used a wide diversity of individuals throughout history."

Now, while serious students of the Bible will be able to discern some validity in these various reasons that have been advanced for the importance of these genealogies, if we take just a moment to think about how these genealogies are employed in Scripture (and how we use them today), a number of common-sense reasons for their inclusion in the Bible come to mind. First, they demonstrate descent from a particular ancestor and kinship with other individuals. Second, they demonstrate a person's right to exist within the community, their place within that community, and the individual's right to inherit their ancestor's estate. Third, they provide continuity and context to the larger narrative. Fourth, they demonstrate the messianic line of descent. Fifth, they demonstrate that God is our Creator and ultimate ancestor - that all humans are God's children (Adam was the son of God).

Thus, while some of us may have regarded these genealogies as distractions/intrusions in times past, we can see that their presence in Scripture makes a great deal of sense. Hence, in the future, perhaps you will take the time to appreciate all of those instances where this one begat that one, and so-and-so was the son of so-and-so!

The Church of God International's Messaging Problem

Over the years since leaving CGI, I have watched the evolution of that organization with fascination. For those who are unfamiliar with this history, CGI began as a reaction to the autocratic and intellectually stagnant atmosphere within the now defunct Worldwide Church of God. Unfortunately, one of the "founding fathers" of the organization was the morally flawed son (Garner Ted Armstrong) of the autocrat (Herbert W Armstrong) who ruled over the parent organization. Eventually, the moral failings of GTA became so egregious that some folks abandoned CGI (like Ron Dart) while others (like my own father) forced GTA out of the organization and attempted to institute a more spiritual and democratic direction for their organization. It is as they say, however, good intentions so often go astray.

Like many of the other organizations which descended from Herbert's Worldwide Church, CGI began as a mix of true believers who sought to perpetuate the "core" doctrines of Armstrongism and those who recognized that there were real problems with some of the teachings of the parent organization. Over the years that followed those major disruptions within the organization caused by GTA's indiscretions, these two groups grew further and further apart. Unfortunately, the conservative forces within the church (those loyal to Armstrongism) came to be led by Pastor Bill Watson of Ohio. The reformers, on the other hand, were represented by men like Charles Groce, Vance Stinson and (more recently) Jeff Reed. The illusion of unanimity between the two groups has been preserved by the desire of the men in both camps not to further dilute the already diminished resources and reach of the organization. Both sides recognized that a rupture between them would effectively destroy the ability of the church to promulgate its message to a wider audience.

More recently, this uneasy truce between the two camps has been sorely tested by the radicalization and extreme polarization of American society at large. In short, the larger tensions between liberals and conservatives within the United States have exacerbated tensions between the two camps within CGI. Indeed, the same denigration of the motives, morals and intellectual capacity of the other side which has characterized the larger society has excited those same kinds of recriminations within the church. The reform camp sees the other side as stubborn reactionaries that are preventing the church from reaching a wider audience. Likewise, the Bill Watson camp sees the other side as being caught up in the same deception and wickedness that is afflicting the larger culture and views them as an obstacle to getting out their message of warning.

Of course, for CGI, this tension is further underscored and exacerbated by the fundamental differences in the way the two camps react to those "core doctrines" of Armstrongism. Watson (and most of his supporters) still embraces Anglo-Israelism, and its attendant notion that the church's primary mission is to proclaim a warning to the "nations of Israel" (chiefly the English-speaking peoples of the earth). Hence, for these folks, the message of the church should be one of warning against the evils of socialism, homosexuality, globalism, gender identity, abortion, immigration, etc. In other words, the culture war on steroids! Most of the reformers, however, reject the teaching of Anglo-Israelism and believe that the church's messaging should be focused on the commission to preach the gospel which God gave to his disciples. For the Watson camp, the thirty-third chapter of Ezekiel is paramount. For the Groce/Stinson/Reed camp, the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew is supreme. Sure, both camps claim that their objective is to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to the world. Nevertheless, we can see that their respective understandings of what that encompasses is fundamentally different.

How have both sides handled this dilemma? Heretofore, the reformers have told themselves that the conservatives are simply stuck in the past and haven't seen the light yet. They pride themselves on being inclusive and not censoring the messaging of the conservatives with which they disagree. The conservatives, on the other hand, feel like they are being stifled and censored! They feel like the impact of their messaging has been thwarted and diluted by the reformers. Of course, for those of us on the outside, it just appears that this organization is speaking out of both sides of its mouth. The messaging is mixed, and both sides have only succeeded in engendering a great deal of cognitive dissonance in their audience! 

Friday, January 21, 2022

Clement's Epistle to the Saints of Corinth

"Ye see, beloved, how great and wonderful a thing is love, and that there is no declaring its perfection. Who is fit to be found in it, except such as God has vouchsafed to render so? Let us pray, therefore, and implore of His mercy, that we may live blameless in love, free from all human partialities for one above another. All the generations from Adam even to this day have passed away; but those who, through the grace of God, have been made perfect in love, now possess a place among the godly, and shall be made manifest at the revelation of the kingdom of Christ. For it is written, "Enter into thy secret chambers for a little time, until my wrath and fury pass away; and I will remember a propitious day, and will raise you up out of your graves." Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven us. For it is written, "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him, and in whose mouth there is no guile." This blessedness comes upon those who have been chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." - Clement of Rome to the Corinthians

Clement of Rome, First Epistle

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Importance of Kindness

Although kindness is a rare commodity in some quarters these days, the Judeo-Christian Bible makes very plain that it is an essential quality for Christians to exhibit. However, even in the Old Testament, the importance of this quality (kindness) to God is underscored in numerous passages. In the 145th Psalm, we are informed that "The Lord is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness" (17). Indeed, in the book of Proverbs, we are warned that "Your kindness will reward you, but your cruelty will destroy you!" (11:17) Kindness is one of the central themes of the book of Ruth. A lack of kindness was one of the things for which the prophet Hosea reprimanded the Israelites (4:1).

In the New Testament, however, kindness is shown to be an essential feature of being a Christian. In fact, the Apostle Paul included kindness as part of his famous definition of love (I Corinthians 13:4), and every serious student of the New Testament knows that Christ made love the hallmark of his people. Indeed, in his letter to the saints of Galatia, Paul identified kindness as one of the fruits or evidences of the Holy Spirit (5:22). Likewise, he enjoined the saints of Colossae to "clothe" themselves with kindness (3:12) and told the Ephesians to "be kind to each other" (4:32).

In this connection, Strong's informs us that the original linguistically related Greek words that appear as "kind" or "kindness" in English translations convey the sense of benignity, usefulness, helpfulness, gentleness, and/or mildness. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines the adjective "kind" as "of a sympathetic or helpful nature, of a forbearing nature: gentle, arising from or characterized by sympathy or forbearance." Hence, we see from this definition that our English words "kind/kindness" perfectly convey the sense of the original Greek. In other words, even without the context of Christ's teachings on meekness, forgiveness, empathy and helpfulness to others, it is clear that Christians were/are expected to eschew harshness, aggression, and the kind of judgmental attitudes which are, unfortunately, all too often a common feature of the world around us. Clearly, the God of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures expects better of his people!

“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
― Mark Twain 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Slippery Slope to Perdition

Not to be outdone by UCG's homophobia, the Church of God International has published a post by Mike James titled Slippery Slope decrying a bill which was recently enacted by the Canadian Parliament to outlaw conversion therapy. Of course, Mr. James doesn't even mention the fact that a consensus has developed among mental health professionals that the therapy doesn't work, and that it is potentially very harmful to those who are subjected to it (see In the Aftermath of Conversion Therapy). James sees the law as taking away the rights of Canadian Christians to treat homosexuality and transgenderism as sins. He wrote: "In other words, a minister counseling a child or a parent counseling their child could be in violation of the law if they try to dissuade the child from following a path to changing their gender or taking part in a homosexual lifestyle. We are beginning to move faster down the slippery slope to destruction."

Mike went on to note that France and twenty of these United States had already banned the practice. With Canada's action, Mr. James makes clear that he believes that the collapse of Western culture is at hand. For Mr. James, Christian opposition to homosexuality is essential to preventing the decline of civilization. Although he admits that "Homosexuality and transgenderism are complex issues." Mr. James believes that "God tells us what sin is in His Word, and we must work to fight and overcome it regardless of what the state says. When the Bible is clear on a matter, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)." Unfortunately, Mr. James appears to be completely unconcerned with the rights of LGBTQ folks!

Nevertheless, in the Canadian Government's discussion of the bill, it is interesting to note that they made clear that the law was/is intended to protect the rights of these folks. With regard to LGBTQ rights to freedom of religion and expression they state: "Section 2(a) provides that everyone has freedom of conscience and religion. The freedom of religion guarantee protects sincerely held practices or beliefs that have a connection with religion. A law or government action that interferes with the ability to act in accordance with such practices or beliefs in a way that is more than trivial or insubstantial will engage section 2(a). Because the prohibition on causing another person to undergo conversion therapy may affect the ability of individuals to engage in practices that have a connection with their own sincerely held religious beliefs, it has the potential to engage the freedom of religion.
Section 2(b) provides that everyone has freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. Section 2(b) has been interpreted broadly to encompass any activity or communication, aside from violence or threats of violence, that conveys or attempts to convey meaning. It protects the rights of both speakers and listeners. Because the offence of providing conversion therapy would prohibit discussions between providers and recipients of conversion therapy, it engages section 2(b)." (see Bill C-4) You don't mean to tell me that freedom of religion and expression also apply to LGBTQ folks?

Mr. James is also apparently unaware of the fact that the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity are foreign to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Likewise, he appears to be unaware of the fact that conversion therapy is not mentioned in the Bible. However, that book does have somewhat to say about the dangers inherent to someone going against their own nature and conscience. In other words, NOTHING of Spiritual value is gained by a homosexual or transgender person pretending to be something they are not!

Finally, I believe that the institutions of marriage and the family are threatened by a number of real problems which these kinds of discourses ignore and/or dismiss. I'm talking about things like adultery, divorce, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, lying and the many things which divert our attention away from our families (and take away from the time we spend with them). If we're really serious about saving our society, let's talk about the materialism and pursuit of entertainment which consumes us. In other words, while the LGBTQ community might serve as a convenient scapegoat and diversion, our society has real problems to confront. And, if we're really worried about that slippery slope to perdition, we may want to address those problems and leave homosexuals and transgender folks alone!

Saturday, January 15, 2022

UCG Returns to Sodom

Darris McNeely of the United Church of God asks Are We Returning to Sodom? in an article posted ten days ago on their Beyond Today website. McNeely opens his piece with a reference to the archaeological dig at Tall el-Hammam (a nod to his colleague Peter Eddington's article titled What If Sodom Has Been Found?) which some folks have proposed as the site of the city of Sodom referenced in the book of Genesis. Laying aside the problems inherent in transforming the Bible into a historical textbook, both men acknowledge that even fellow Fundamentalists have problems with assigning these ancient ruins as the site of the biblical Sodom (see Biblical Problems with Identifying Tall el-Hammam as Sodom). Even so, whatever the merits of the speculation surrounding Tall el-Hammam, McNeely sees this as an opportunity to resurrect Sodom and use it as an example for modern America.

In the article, McNeely stated: "What the Bible tells us about the sins of these cities is a sobering indictment of the direction of modern culture, as today’s culture is much like that of Sodom. At issue in the culture wars that have spread through America and other nations is the intent of many to alter the essential fabric of the family and society as we have always known it. It’s critical that you understand what God’s Word teaches us about Sodom, its sins and the connection to our modern culture." Is McNeely right about that? Is America following in the footsteps of Sodom and Gomorrah?

To make his point, McNeely references the story found in the thirteenth and nineteenth chapters of the book of Genesis. Students of Scripture will remember that Abram and Lot decided to go their separate ways, and that "Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar," because "the whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt. This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah." (Verse 10) A little later, however, we are informed that "the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the Lord." (Verse 13) So far, so good - many of us can see the similarity between the fertile, prosperous and sinful Sodom and modern America; but McNeely took an unfortunate detour at this point in his article which threatened to undermine his entire narrative.

Instead of following the biblical narrative, McNeely decided to introduce the notion that Sodom was all about homosexuality (which has been thoroughly discredited by serious biblical scholarship). However, before he proceeded to the events of the nineteenth chapter of Genesis, McNeely decided to interject a misleading portrait of modern America. He wrote: "Today more than half of Americans are accepting of same-sex marriage, made legal in all 50 states via a Supreme Court ruling in which five men and women overruled the holy Word of God." Horror of horrors - a majority of Americans and the Supreme Court believe that homosexuals should be able to settle down into monogamous relationships that enjoy the same protections and benefits afforded to heterosexual couples! Let's keep these depraved people in the bath houses and bars where they belong!

McNeely went on to cite a study conducted by the "Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University" which "found that over 30 percent of Millennials, and a shocking 39 percent of 'young Millennials' (aged 18-24), now <identify themselves> as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer or questioning.)" However, these findings that homosexuals are taking over the ranks of our young people are not supported by more reputable and scientific studies. In an article published in February of last year (LGBT Identification Rises to 5.6% in Latest U.S. Estimate) by Gallup, we are informed that 9.1% of Millennials and 15.9% of Generation Z folks identify as LGBT. Moreover, this is consistent with broader findings that older adults are much less likely to identify as LGBT (could this have anything to do with the stigma and persecution experienced by older folks?). Now, while all of us should be willing to acknowledge that this is a significant group of people, we should also be willing to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of young people still identify as heterosexual. In short, America isn't gay!

After that little diversion, McNeely finally returned to the subject of Sodom. He went on to note that the whole society of the city was corrupt - that not even ten righteous people could be found therein. Although McNeely briefly hints at the fact that Sodom is the story of a host of sins (with being inhospitable to strangers as chief among them), he inevitably returns to the fact that the young and old men of the city wanted to gang rape the two angels. Like many before him, he seems completely oblivious to the fact that there NEVER has been an instance in the annals of human history where an entire population of people were homosexuals! Mr. McNeely also appears to be oblivious to the fact that rape has always been more about power and control than having anything to do with sex. Moreover, although he referenced the scripture earlier in his article, McNeely seems to ignore that Ezekiel characterized the iniquity of Sodom as being spoiled, not helping the poor and needy, being haughty and practicing "abominable deeds" before the Lord (see Ezekiel 16:49-50). And, for the record, most Bible scholars would characterize gang rape and being inhospitable to strangers as "abominable deeds."

For McNeely, however, Sodom is a story about sexual depravity - more particularly, a story about the wickedness of the LGBTQ community! In his article, he noted: "Western society is having a 'Sodom moment.' The cultural perversity against the natural order that is sodomy and homosexuality has recently expanded to include the gender identity war encapsulated in the LGBTQ label." He then proceeded to launch into a diatribe against those folks whose mental gender does not match their physical gender. Instead of demonstrating an awareness that human psychology and physiology are prone to experiencing anomalies from time to time and reflecting the empathy and compassion that one might expect, McNeely sees gender identity as just another instance of willful sexual perversion and sinfulness.

Now, while we can all agree that things like male prostitution, pedophilia and promiscuity could rightly be characterized as sinful behaviors, many of us would disagree with Mr. McNeely that all homosexual behavior is perverse and sinful. Many of us believe that all homosexuals who follow the biblical principle of fidelity to another individual (as embodied in one of the Ten Commandments and Christ's instruction to love one another) can be Christians and should NOT be accounted worthy of suffering the same fate as the Sodomites of long ago! Indeed, we believe that it is NOT good for any human to be alone, and we believe that marriage is an honorable estate that is appropriate for people everywhere.

Nevertheless, if we look at how materialistic American society has become over the course of our history as a nation, many of us can see similarities to the situation extant within the ancient city of Sodom. Likewise, if we look at the pride and widespread lack of empathy and compassion for other folks which currently permeates American society, we can definitely discern some parallels with the circumstances that existed in Sodom before its infamous fall. Finally, when we consider the dearth of hospitality that currently exists within many quarters of the United States, we can see why Americans might have some trepidation when we consider the fate of Sodom! However, by focusing on the LGBTQ community, Darris McNeely undermined his narrative that Sodom has much of anything to teach modern Americans. In other words, the story of Sodom probably does have some pertinent lessons for modern nations, but a blanket condemnation of homosexuality is NOT one of them!

Friday, January 14, 2022

Francis of Assisi

A Prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

Some Admonitions:

The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.

We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.