Monday, June 30, 2014

So What Ever Happened to Diversity?

The public debate about everything from political scandals to economic and social issues is now on a vicious 24-hour cycle.   It’s not only persistent and constant it has also become vicious as in venomous.    A while ago I decided to intentionally stop watching what is too easily called ‘news’ today and stopped clicking on the ‘comments’ section of various blogs and news articles.  All too often what is posted in the news and comments is nothing but crude and ugly remarks that a few years ago would have been considered completely inappropriate.  Where I come from much of these comments if made in person, would have been considered ‘fighting words’.

As an antidote to this incessant debate, I recommend we individually and as a people consciously embrace diversity.  Diversity of our thoughts, our religious beliefs, our ethnic and cultural practices, our races, nationalities, genders, ages and physical capabilities needs to remain one of the cornerstones of our national, our political, our churches as well as our own personal identities.

Personally, I find it amusing if it wasn’t so sad that many of the people that talk about diversity, tolerance and acceptance are often the first people to demand conformity.   To them any deviation from their particular and ‘evolving’ point of view is a sign of archaic thinking or just plain abnormal and irrational.

Conformity, while actually natural and often healthy for society, can also quickly lead to latent discrimination, self-deception and forced consent.    When a group of people begins a campaign to get others to conform to their will, a social dysfunction occurs that is part of a bigger problem called ‘groupthink’.  The term, groupthink, was coined by psychologist Irving Janis back in the 1970’s.   Janis argued that groupthink leads to a deterioration of “reality testing, and sound moral judgment.” Groupthink can make groups ignore alternatives and adherents tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups.  Groupthink and other measures that ‘push for conformity’ lead to a deterioration of healthy public discussion and ultimately censorship through self-appointed conformity watchdogs.

No particular business, organization, religion, political party or group is immune to groupthink.  Groupthink stifles innovation in corporations, it cuts off debate in religion.  It rewards those that push their agenda forward, punishes those who voice a different opinion and can destroy a society….even a nation.

Diversity on the other hand and by definition embraces inclusion. Diversity is the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, backgrounds and directions.    While at one time people thought that diversity was the opposite of unity, in actuality, diversity is often an expression of unity.  All too often unity was represented by a conscripted conformity that was typically controlling, stifling and oppressive. 

Remember that I said that no group or person is immune to groupthink.  As you read this article you may be thinking, ‘that’s right…those guys are exploiting groupthink.’   However pointing out ‘those guys’ quickly becomes multidirectional.  In the word of the late cartoonist, Walt Kelly...“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

All of us are susceptible to the same issues with ultra-conformity and groupthink.  

One of the best ways to resist groupthink is to double our efforts in embracing diversity.  This great country, the United States of America, has been metaphorically called a ‘melting pot’ or more recently a ‘salad bowl’ and has had a remarkable track record of embracing diversity.  While we didn’t always get it right and often it took too long and included bitter fights, diversity has truly come of age in our lifetime.   We are today a great cultural mosaic.

Diversity respects that everyone may have his or her own opinion; however it does not mean that everyone’s opinion is necessarily correct or beneficial.  We need to recognize groupthink when we see it and refuse to allow ourselves to be intimidated into going along with a growing popular opinion, movement or ideology that groupthink advocates. 


Diversity is protected in our country’s “Bill of Rights” and includes our freedom of religion, speech and assembly.  It includes the right to bear arms, a freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to due process of law and freedom from self-incrimination.   While diversity may be protected it is our responsibility to be vigilant to stand up for our rights as well as the rights of others.  

Don’t allow others direct the way you should think, act or believe.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Mega Shift

There is a huge shift in Christianity in general and Christianity in the United States in specific.

I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in Europe in the 1990’s.  As a wanna-be historian I loved having the opportunity to visit some of the historical sites, particularly the magnificent and numerous cathedrals.  As a Christian however I was heart broken to see that  these great cathedrals that were once filled with people now sit almost empty on Sundays.  Cathedrals in Europe serve primarily as tourist attractions as more people go through them sightseeing than actually attend any worship service.  In fact, today, few Europeans worship any deity and the overwhelming majority of Europeans do not believe in God.

Studies have shown that in Europe less than 7 percent of the population attends church. In major cities like Paris, London, Berlin and Amsterdam less than 1 percent of the population attend church.

Christianity has come to an end in Europe.  Is America a few generations behind? 

Trends in the United States

Here in the United States, it is easy to be deceived into thinking that somehow we aren’t seeing the same shift in beliefs.  However if we examine the critical data, we will find a number of things: 

  • Christians are attending services less frequently. At one time the Catholics because of duty were attending mass three out of every four weeks but now report that they attend less than 40% of the time.  Researchers believe that overall only about 1 in 5 Americans or 20% of the general population are in church any given weekend.

  • The Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 2000, are now coming of age and are largely indifferent to Christianity.   They find spiritual matters to be largely irrelevant or anti-cultural.
     
  • The growth of mega Churches continues as these churches provide more services and opportunities however much of the growth has come from previously baptized Christians.  Many current attendees of these churches have not fully committed to Christ as evident in the common conversions among regular attenders in Church classes and services.
     
  • Non-denominationalism continues to grow throughout the country and in fact the nondenominational churches are often the few churches that are growing numerically as well.   

Fewer Christians

Despite some positive trends in our non-denominational and mega churches, based on the present trends the United States will have a diminishing number of Christians both in aggregate as well as a percentage of the population.   Many can argue that the decline in influence of Christianity in the United States has preceded the numerical decline.   Over the past 30 years we have seen prayers and Bibles taken out of schools, the Ten Commandments taken out of our public squares and recently the popular and accepted definition of marriage very quickly transformed.

I believe that it is the disunity of the church that has run rampant in America for the past 200 years with arguments and Church splits over race, nationality, worship and the role of women that has led to the present state of the Church.  Recently, rather than trying to embrace healing in the face of declines we have seen wholesale attacks on the entire Charismatic movement, one of the only growing branches of Christianity (Strange Fire Conference October 2013).

True Hope for Unity

Jesus prayed for our unity in John 17.  His prayer was that we not be divided but that we would be as one, "So that the world may believe".  

 “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.  I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. (John 17:21-23)

Christian unity is not an option but must be true in the Church. The Apostle Paul understood this well.  He wrote to the Philippians, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose," (Phil. 2:2). He wrote also to the Corinthians, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Cor 1:10)”

The problem with disunity is not only that we are disobedient to the Word of God but we become less relevant in the world.    Who can blame the Millennial generation when they see the Church of Jesus Christ as irrelevant as well as weak, divided and split?

Persecution on the Rise 

One of the quickly growing outcomes of these trends is the rise of persecution.   If the powerful and wealthy founder and CEO Brendan Eich can be fired from Mozilla because of a small donation to Proposition 8 that was overwhelming popular in California in 2008 but considered “anti-gay” and “racist” in 2014, then it will not be long before your local pastor is also silenced in some similar fashion.

There is a lot of evidence for the persecution of Christians in the United States.  What was once true for Hollywood where Christian actors, producers and writers were often discriminated against has become true now for many in leadership or in public life that openly support historic and conservative Christian viewpoints. 

We are to be one Church because we have one gospel and one Lord Jesus Christ.    True Christian unity is not about a conformity of our worship or appearance but truly embracing the various cultural practices and non-essential differences as expressions of our diversity. 

Unity is not an option....not if we pay attention to the mega shift in Christianity in the United States. 


  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Educated beyond their own intelligence

The university I attended for business school had a very large and obviously popular Early Education Major for undergraduates and a popular MS program in Early Childhood Education as well.  

The philosophy of what some may call ‘modern’ or ‘progressive’ early childhood education was apparent to many of us.   Many of the Early Education Majors became fully indoctrinated into this philosophy and were convinced of some of these modern educational ideals.  For example they believed and taught that competition was harmful to child development, or that saying ‘no’ somehow wounded the little tyke’s spirit, and that all toys should all be ‘unisex’.

One of my friends that already had children remarked that some of these students and graduates had become ‘educated beyond their own intelligence’.  As a first-time dad a few years later I learned that there were indeed many competing philosophies in child rearing. Some worked, some did not.  Many were just the ‘new thing’ that typically had disappointing results.

Religion can often be similar.  First of all, Christianity isn’t supposed to be a religion but a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  However, there are a lot of opportunities for philosophy to become a guide in our spiritual practices and just like the disappointing results that can be consequences of bad child development philosophies, the same is true with many philosophies that are called Christian.

In Colossians 2:8 the Apostle Paul warned us, “Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.” (HCSB)

Notice that in the above warning Paul combines philosophy, deceit and human tradition.  The Apostle Paul was the one that told us that the truths of the Bible can only be ‘spiritual discerned’ (1 Cor. 2:14) so we have to be careful adding to what God starts off with His Holy Spirit and taking it to its illogical extreme.

One of the trends I’ve seen in the church today is that which has a theological term called, “antinomianism”.    The word antinomianism is combination of two Greek words, anti meaning ‘against’ and nomos meaning ‘law’ or Against Law or Lawlessness.

Because grace is such a major topic in the New Testament many struggle with the Christian’s obligation to adhere to moral law.  Antinomianism is found when the Biblical teaching of “Grace” is taken to an unbiblical extreme.  

In many ways antinomianism is the opposite of legalism.    While I abhor legalism in the Church and I am quick to quote that, “Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:2 HCSB), I also teach that Christ fulfilled the law --He did not do away with it.   

The great command that Jesus taught was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

The Bible teaches that we to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us; we are to be truthful in all of our dealings; we are to be honest, we are not to lie, we are not to covet, we are to not murder.  Further, we are to forgive “as we have been forgiven” The Ten Commandments highlight these as well as other aspects of the moral code.  These are not just mere suggestions for Christians that are covered under God’s grace.

This can be confusing for many as indeed there are many Old Testament Laws that seem to be not applicable.  Many of these laws were ceremonial laws designed to point the nation of Israel to Christ or they were civil laws for the nation that were appropriate for the times.   Christianity’s focus is on the Kingdom of God.  While we live on this earth, both for our own sake as well as the sake of others, Christ taught us to live a life of integrity, virtue, and of love for our neighbor. 

While Jesus Christ accepts us into His Kingdom “just the way we are” he doesn’t expect us to stay there.   One of the ways of looking at this is that we trust fully in the finished work of Jesus Christ at Calvary as well as the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

Becoming a Christian is as easy as accepting a free gift.  God’s gift of salvation is said to be to ‘everyone’ and ‘whosoever will’.    At the same time, Jesus continually challenged the Jewish people that knew the law to go beyond what was minimally required and live a life that was exemplary.

We have to be careful to make sure that our moral standards and objectives don’t become absolute moral imperatives, nor can we require that these moral imperatives are fully met before God's grace is extended.  That is legalism.   In the same way, we need to make sure that the grace that has been freely given doesn’t become a license for sin.   Christian maturity is the process that accepts the Grace and rejoices in being reconciled while at the same time understanding that this is the beginning of a journey that demonstrates that we become more and more like Jesus and less and less like our old self.




WHY A NON-DENOMINATIONAL EVANGELICAL CHURCH?

Our small Christian non-profit ministry recently requested and received approval from the IRS to be re-classified as a ‘church’.      ...