Faith

Billy Graham is NOT an Anti-Gay Bigot

The Rev. Billy Graham

The Rev. Billy Graham

Let me tell you about Billy Graham, just as he is, because based on what I experienced working for the man for six years, two statements issued under his name last week (and one earlier this year) significantly collide with the well-established values of this great humble faith leader.

The first statement I am referring to is the fundraising letter for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) that quoted Billy's late wife Ruth as saying, "If God doesn't punish America, He'll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah." The letter goes on, in Billy's alleged words, "My heart aches for America and its deceived people."

The second statement is Billy's statement of support for "my good friends [Chick-fil-A founder] Truett Cathy and his son Dan Cathy ... for their strong stand for the Christian faith." The statement actually continues, in Billy's voice, to say, "As the son of a dairy farmer who milked many a cow, I plan to 'Eat Mor Chikin' and show my support by visiting Chick-fil-A next Wednesday." (Update: BGEA issued a revised statement clarifying that Billy now "plans to enjoy his chicken at home.")

The earlier statement was a full-page ad for Amendment One and the North Carolina state constitutional amendment stating the only valid and recognized domestic legal union to be "marriage between one man and one woman." The ad was emblazoned with Mr. Graham's distinguished elderly visage, and appeared in 14 North Carolina newspapers in advance of the May 8 vote that established the amendment as N.C. state law.

At the time of the Amendment One ad, official Billy biographer William Martin told the Associated Press that he believed the words were not those of Billy's son and current BGEA President Franklin Graham: "Franklin has been more outspoken about it, but it sounds as if this is Mr. Graham expressing his own will."

I believe Martin was wrong then, and I'm even more convinced now. Mr. Graham had never made political statements like this in the 62-year history of the ministry, and BGEA's evangelistic crusades have never partnered with corporations like Chick-fil-A, although they easily could have. (Evangelist Luis Palau, a disciple of Billy's, uses corporate sponsors for all of his city-wide events these days.) Now, to have three of these statements come out in the past three months — and a very obvious commercial for a fast-food chain — causes me to wonder if this trickle will turn into a flood, right at the end of Billy's life.

Science, Faith, and An Ongoing Conversation

In a recent post here on God's Politics, Derek Flood suggested (as many have lately) that Christian communities need to start taking this whole "faith and science" thing seriously.

I posted some relatively snarky comment on my Facebook page about it (I apologize for the snark) suggesting that the authors of these recent posts about faith and science are ignoring about a century's worth of conversation and theology. Perhaps more.

Let me give you an example of what I mean in Harry Emerson Fosdick.***

As I said just yesterday, Fosdick was famous for lots of things, particularly the  sermon "Shall The Fundamentalists Win?" which he preached on May 21, 1922.

It was a call to arms of sorts within the church, encouraging tolerance and a willingness to engage the minds of believers and unbelievers alike in a time of incredible scientific discovery.

I Love How History Repeats Itself

Harry Emerson Fosdick, New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Wikimedia Common

Harry Emerson Fosdick, New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Wikimedia Commons

Okay... for all my friends out there. No, history does not repeat itself. Yes, history is a human construct. Now, if you will all just work with me, take a gander at this longish quotation from the Introduction to The Meaning of Prayer (1916) by Harry Emerson Fosdick (pictured here). The introduction was written by John R. Mott. It could have been written last week. 

These meditations and studies on prayer are most timely. Never have there been such extensive and such convincing evidences of the poverty and inadequacy of human means and agencies for furthering the welfare of of humanity; never has there been such a widespread sense of the need of superhuman help; never have there been such challenges to Christians to undertake deeds requiring Divine cooperation; never has there been such a manifest desire to discover the secret of the hiding and of the releasing of God's power. Interest in prayer is world-wide. This is shown in the prominence of this subject in addresses and sermons in all lands, as well as by the growing volume of books and pamphlet literature in different languages. The multiplication of Calls to Prayer and of Prayer Circles, and the formation of Prayer Bands and of Leagues of Intercession, constitute similar testimony. Among Christians everywhere, and even among those who would not call themselves believing Christians, there is being manifested an earnest desire to understand what prayer is and to engage more fully in its exercise.

... An alarming weakness among Christians is that we are producing Christian activities faster than we are producing Christian experience and Christian faith; that the discipline of our souls and the deepening of our acquaintance with God are not proving sufficiently thorough to enable us to meet the unprecedented expansion of opportunity and responsibility of our generation. These studies and spiritual exercises in helping men and women to form that most transforming, most energizing, and most highly productive habit — the habit of Christlike prayer — will do much to overcome this danger.

GODSPEED: Former Sudanese 'Lost Boy' Now Running for God (and Team USA)

Lopez Lomong. Image via LopezLomong.com.

Lopez Lomong. Image via LopezLomong.com.

To coincide with the opening of the 2012 London Olympics on Friday, Christianity Today had an insightful profile of Team USA member and former "Lost Boy" — runner Lopez Lomong, who was abducted from his home in Sudan during the 20-year long civil war.

According to the profile:

That story starts in 1991, when Lomong's home village of Kimotong was attacked by rebels in the second Sudanese civil war. "I was 6 years old when I was abducted at church, which met under a tree," Lomong told Christianity Today at his training base in Portland, Oregon. "They ripped my mother's arm from me, throwing me and other boys into a truck; they blindfolded us, then drove us to a prison camp that trained rebel soldiers."

Lomong and a small group of boys managed to escape from the torturous conditions they found themselves in, and found their way to a refugee camp near the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, where Lomong “remained for 10 years.”

http://youtu.be/ks0AlHzLFbM

More Than Words

“Words! Words! Words!

I’m so sick of words!

I get words all day through, first from him, now from you. Is that all you blighters can do?” 

So, Liza Doolittle challenges the hapless Freddy Eynsford-Hill at the height of a dramatic confrontation in My Fair Lady. Freddy has come to her rescue, with his flowery, long-winded protestations of love, but poor Liza is fed up with words:

“Don't talk of stars, burning above. If you're in love, show me. Tell me not dreams, filled with desire. If you're on fire, show me.” 

And you know, Eliza has a point. A well-turned phrase won’t keep you warm at night.

It’s ironic that this drama was penned by one of the great wordsmiths of the English language. The play turns on the transformation of a poor Cockney girl into a proper English lady through the manipulation of her ability to master the English language. One argument put forth in the course of achieving this goal is that it doesn’t matter what you say as long as you say it properly. Style can compensate for the absence of substance.

In contrast, I listened this week to a powerful sermon preached by the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber to a gathering of some 34,000 Lutheran youth gathered in assembly in New Orleans.

Poll: Most Americans Would Vote for an Atheist Presidential Candidate

For the second time in less than a year, the Gallup poll reports that a majority of Americans would vote for an atheist for president.

The latest survey, from June, found that 54 percent of those asked said they would vote a “well- qualified” atheist into the Oval Office — the highest percentage since Gallup began asking the question in 1958, when only 18 percent said they would back a nonbeliever.

On the other hand, the survey showed that those who do not believe in God still come in behind every other group polled for, including gays and lesbians (68 percent) and Muslims (58 percent).

Still, an imaginary atheist candidate passed the 50 percent threshold for the first time when Gallup asked the question in August 2011, so the trend is upward.

“We have seen an enormous change over time in the willingness to vote for an atheist,” said Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, which reports the numbers in its current newsletter.

“But I think the numbers also remind us that this is a deeply religious country. That doesn’t mean we are all going to church on Sunday, but that having religion in your life is valuable to most Americans and I think that explains the resistance.”

What Christians Mean When They Bless You

Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

Pastors at Little Church By The Sea in Laguna Beach, Calif., bless the Vanderveen family. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

Christians toss out blessings like beads at Mardi Gras. They get offered so often and in so many contexts that it’s hard to know what exactly it means. So I thought I’d break down at least some of the kinds of blessings floating around out there.

The Post-Sneeze Blessing: This is a weird one, because we don’t bless people for coughing, yawning or any other bodily function. So why sneezing? No one is exactly sure, though some believe it dates back to Pope Gregory in the early first Century AD when the bubonic plague was everywhere in Europe. As the plague got closer to Rome, myth has it that the Pope ordered perpetual blessings around the city. So when someone sneezed, offering them a blessing was like a small insurance policy against the plague.

I actually heard a different one growing up that I liked better. There was an old superstition that sneezes were a means the body used to expel evil spirits from within. So once the bad mojo was on the outside, it was incumbent upon others to bless the sneezer, in an effort to keep them from sucking the demons or whatever back in.

The Backhanded Blessing: I grew up in Texas, and this was a real favorite in the south. It was generally offered in someone’s absence, and immediately following some kind of gossip or insult. An example might be, “Poor Mabel Jean’s husband has slept with everyone in town except for her, bless her heart.” Apparently the blessing neutralizes the damage of the bad stuff....

Religious Roots of Trees Branch into Many Faiths

Tree illustration, Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Tree illustration, Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Whether churchgoers realize it or not, the trees in their churchyards have religious roots.

Those tall, thin-branched trees on the corner of this city's Episcopal Church Center of Utah, Purple Robe Black Locusts, were probably named after a biblical reference to John the Baptist eating locusts and honey.

Nearby, the crab apple tree just outside the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. Mark produces a small, sour fruit used by 15th-century monks to treat diarrhea, dysentery, and gallstones.

And the flowers of a nearby dogwood tend to bloom around Easter.

“My hope,” said University of Utah biology professor Nalini Nadkarni, “is [worshippers] will realize that nature and trees are as much a part of their sacred ground and worthy of reverence as what goes on inside a cathedral or church.”

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