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Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Saturday, April 28, 2018

What it takes to be a TRUE believer!

If you want to be a member of the One True Boy's Club, the Grand Poobah requires that you perform certain rituals and follow the standards prescribed in the OTBC Manual (California Version). A brief summary follows:

You must apologize to your mother for stepping on the cracks in sidewalks and promise NEVER to do so again.
While standing on one foot, you must allow a licensed plumber (electricians, carpenters and bricklayers are excluded from performing this ritual) to spread chocolate pudding (Jello brand only) all over your body (including the top of your head).

You must follow the Seven Rules of Living Right for the rest of your life:
1) Never disrespect the President of the United States.
2) Never kill fireflies.
3) Never eat black jelly beans.
4) Always remember to silence your cell phone in movie theaters.
5) Never bump fists with women.
6) Never listen to music by the Swedish Pop group Abba.
7) Never watch television in your underwear.

True believers are also strongly encouraged to not wear pink shorts on Sundays, only eat turkey based hot dogs and give the IRS an extra $1000 every year.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

God can accommodate all of the names we attach to Him/Her/It

Have you ever noticed that it's not just the sacred name folks who get hung up on what to call God? Theists, atheists and every shade in between just can't seem to leave this one alone!

As long time readers of this blog know, it is the premise of this blog that God cannot be bottled up by our concepts of the Divine. In short, this blog advocates a bigger view of God - a view that surpasses our weaknesses, prejudices and limitations.

Unfortunately, many of the folks who are willing to take a more expansive view of God, religion and spiritual things still trip over names/labels. For many Judeo-Christian believers, God is ELOHIM or YHWH, "He" couldn't possibly be ALLAH! Likewise, many atheists and agnostics deride the use of YHWH as a moniker for God (if God exists, "He" couldn't possibly be equated with the vindictive and homicidal YHWH of the Hebrews). And let's not even get started on gender assignment - Is God our Father, Mother, Grandfather, Grandmother, Brother or Sister? Could God be all of those things?

In this connection, the account of God's conversation with Moses in the third chapter of the book of Exodus has always been interesting to me. We read there:  "And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I Am That I Am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you." (verses 13-14)

According to Blue Letter Bible, the Hebrew word translated into English as "I AM" is "hayah." It means "to be, become, come to pass, exist, happen..." https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=H1961&t=KJV
In other words, don't worry about it! I am bigger than any moniker that you could conceive of or attach to me!

Hence, while it would be appropriate to point out that the names ELOHIM, YHWH, ALLAH, ADONAI, FATHER, MOST HIGH, THE ETERNAL and FATHER are all inadequate, we can see that it would be equally foolish to exclude them! Yes, God is bigger than any of those names. In fact, God is big enough to accommodate all of them.

We (humans) are so arrogant and full of ourselves sometimes! Do you honestly believe that God cares what you call "Him"? Do you honestly believe that God doesn't listen to folks who call "Him" Allah or Mother? Really?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Is British-Israelism An Inherently Racist Teaching?

If you want to provoke the ire of folks in the Armstrong Church of God culture, then all you have to do is tell them that the doctrine of British-Israelism is inherently racist in nature. The staunchest defenders of this teaching take immediate offense at anyone who has the audacity to suggest that their belief is racist at its core. Sure, some of them will admit, that a "few" folks have carried the teaching "too far" and have manifested the classic characteristics associated with racism (they love to cite the dictionary definition of racism); but they will insist that they do not share those "extreme" views, and that it would consequently be inappropriate and unfair to characterize their belief as being racist in nature.

In February of 2005, the Church of the Great God attempted to directly address this question in an article on their website (https://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.CGGWeekly/ID/213/Is-British-Israelism-Racist.htm). In the article Is British-Israelism Racist?, Richard Ritenbaugh admits that some of the folks who adhere to this doctrine exhibit "a weak and prejudicial nature" and "could carry this to the point of snubbing, abusing, or persecuting individuals of these supposedly lesser ethnicities." He goes on to say: "Sadly, some advocates of British-Israelism have done just this, shining a bad light on other believers who do not share their racially motivated hatred and violence."

Unfortunately, this line of reasoning has obscured the issue of racism for many years and has allowed the phenomenon to continue to flourish among many "white" Americans to this day. It's a neat trick - If you define racism as extreme and associate it with hatred and violence, then you can disassociate the more subtle manifestations of the phenomenon as having anything to do with racism.

In his article The Easiest Way to Get Rid of Racism? Just Redefine It, Greg Howard noted how the definition of racism has evolved in America. (see the full article here https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/21/magazine/the-easiest-way-to-get-rid-of-racism-just-redefine-it.html) He wrote: "Soon, nearly everyone could agree that racism was the work of people with hate in their hearts - bigots. This was a convenient thing for white Americans to believe. Racism, they could say, was the work of racists." He went on to say: "Racism ceased to be a matter of systems and policy and became a referendum on the rot of the individual soul. Calling people racist was no longer a matter of evaluating their opinions; it was an accusation of being irrevocably warped at the very core."

In his article defending British-Israelism against being labeled as inherently racist in nature, Ritenbaugh states that "the irrationality of a handful of kooks does not - or should not - malign the majority of sincere believers who base their understanding and practice on true biblical principles." He must marginalize the "handful of kooks" who hold extreme views so that the vast "majority of sincere believers" aren't tainted with the label of racism. For him and the other "sincere believers," it is crucial that we recognize that their beliefs are based on "true biblical principles."

Hence, we can see that Ritenbaugh's apologetics for the doctrine of British-Israelism depend on what I consider to be two very dubious premises: 1) a narrow definition of racism which eliminates any association of the term with systemic policy/thought, and 2) the notion that the doctrine is derived from God/the Bible and consequently cannot be characterized as racist. Ritenbaugh explains that: "God did not choose Israel because of anything they had going for them - in fact, they were a small, insignificant people. He chose them because He loved them, and that love has its basis in His relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Most Israelites have lucked into God's blessing, as it were, by being born of Israelite stock; they have done nothing to deserve what God has bountifully given. Their receipt of the blessings is based solely on God fulfilling the promises He made to the Patriarchs."

According to Ritenbaugh, the belief cannot be characterized as racist because the special status which these folks enjoy is derived from God. They simply "lucked" out! God decided to love them more than anybody else. How then can anyone dare to question God or characterize them (or anyone who accepts this teaching as legitimate) as racist? These folks enjoy this special status by God's choice - they don't have any voice in the matter. Hence, it is absurd to question their status or characterize anyone who recognizes this "truth" as racist!

Oh sure, Ritenbaugh goes on to state that the Israelites "are bound by their 'lucky birth' to be a model nation to the rest of the world of God's way of life," but that constitutes their responsibility in the matter as far as he's concerned (and he does go on to acknowledge that these folks have largely failed to do this). In fact, he goes on to say that "Because of Israel's rejection of God, He is now working with select individuals whom He calls, makes a New Covenant with, and converts to His way of life. To these He gives His Spirit, and they become His witnesses among the nations." In other words, Israel's failure to be that example to the world has resulted in a change of plans.

Even so, Ritenbaugh continues to be oblivious to the implications of what he's saying and returns to the importance of the special status of these folks. He asserts that "God is not finished with the Israelites," and that the Gospel of the Kingdom of God was intended mainly as a message for them. For those acquainted with the racist teachings of Herbert Armstrong and his Worldwide Church of God, that should sound familiar. And, if you still can't see that such a view is inherently racist, then you must be one of the unfortunate few who still adheres to the teaching of British-Israelism.     

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Things I would tell a young me

God loves you, and that love is unconditional and without end. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for all of your sins, so that you could appear before God without guilt and shame. God and Jesus Christ want you to learn, grow and be happy; and they want you to be a part of their kingdom.

Don't make an idol out of the Bible! Do not regard it as inerrant and without contradiction. Remember that men wrote the Bible, and that those writings reflect the times in which they were written and the personal prejudices and human imperfections of the authors. Remember that God is the ultimate authority, not a book about him. 

Question any religious doctrine, interpretation or teaching that is not consistent with science, common sense or personal experience. In fact, never stop questioning and exploring everything. Always be willing to entertain the possibility that you could be wrong. Be very suspicious of anyone who claims to have all the answers or professes to be the conduit of God's truth.

Remember that love is always appropriate. It is good to love God, yourself and others. It is always good to be patient, tolerant, kind, compassionate and empathetic. It is never OK to be hateful, spiteful or mean to yourself or others. Always strive to remember what it feels like to be human - what it feels like to be judged, rejected, lonely and isolated. Strive to be quick to forgive yourself and others, because you and they will make mistakes.