The Dream Must Never Die

In his first address to the nation as president, following the resignation of Richard Nixon, who had been forced out of office by the Watergate scandal just ahead of likely impeachment, Gerald Ford opened with these words: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

I was a twenty-four-year-old fundamentalist pastor at the time, and like everybody I knew, I had voted for Nixon when he was elected to a second term in 1972. I had followed the Watergate hearings on TV, sort of, and I knew that all the “chattering class”—politicians and news analysts especially—regarded the matter as a constitutional crisis with the potential to destabilize our government, weaken our economy, and jeopardize our international influence. It would be years, however—after I managed to disentangle myself from that intellectually restrictive thought system—before I would understand just how serious the crisis really was and how much of a national nightmare it had really been. Continue reading

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MLK: He Taught Me to Dream

I grew up with a deep respect for persons, especially Christians, who refused to compromise their convictions even when standing firm cost them dearly. I remember sitting on the living room floor with my brother and sister while my mother read to us from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and Through Gates of Splendor, Elisabeth Elliot’s moving account of the death of her husband, Jim, and four others at the hands of those to whom they were attempting to bring the message of the Gospel. On those occasions, as my parents led us in prayer for a variety of concerns, I silently prayed for courage to be faithful to my convictions, even, if need be, to the point of death.

Nobody from the modern era embodies the idea of the courage of convictions better than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929. He was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968. In recognition of his role in the effort to secureMartin Luther King civil rights and racial equality in this country, and to celebrate his life as an example of courageous leadership in the face of overwhelming opposition, the US Congress in 1983 designated the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King Day. That is today. Continue reading

I Feel It In My Gut

Most people who know me would agree that I have a high regard for human intellect and the potential of the human mind. Many of those same people, then, might be surprised to learn that most of the really important decisions I have made in my life were based more on intuitive sensing than on cognitive reasoning.

For example, I met Shirley Clairmont on February 12, 1973. She played the piano for a series of meetings at which I was the guest preacher. We were married exactly three months later, on May 12, 1973. There were numerous reasons why it would have been prudent for us to postpone our marriage while we got to know one another better and worked out a variety of practical and logistical issues. More important than all of that, however—at least as far as I was concerned—was the sense, deep inside of me, that it was the right thing to do. She apparently agreed, and next spring we will celebrate our forty-third wedding anniversary. Continue reading

Please Change That Horrible Name

If I am totally honest, I will admit that the impetus behind my movement in a more progressive direction over the past few years has been more ethical than theological. I can illustrate what I mean with the following question. Why are so few people, especially conservative Christians, offended, embarrassed, or possibly enraged over the name of the NFL franchise in Washington, DC? Continue reading

Unemployment, Poverty, and Politics: A Personal Testimony

I grew up conservative in every way—theologically, socially, and politically. But things change. Circumstances change. Perspectives change. People change. I changed. And here, as succinctly as I can make it, is an example of how and why.

As a faculty member in my eleventh year of teaching at a small, conservative, Bible college in the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition, I taught a course called Peace, Justice, and Simplicity. Prior to that, I had preached several series of sermons on the text of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). When I taught that course, however, in the spring of 2005, I read that passage as I had never seen it before, and I heard Jesus saying things I had not previously understood. Continue reading

Lest I Be Misunderstood

Two days ago (on August 18), I posted a status update to my Facebook page which I described as an observation, not a comment. Here is an edited (for clarity) version of what I said there:

When it appeared the Islamic State was targeting Christians in Iraq, my newsfeed was full of condemnatory posts. When it became clear that the major target was Yazidis, the indignant and accusatory posts all but ceased. And I have read virtually nothing (from my white, evangelical, FB friends) expressing dismay at the shooting of a young, unarmed black man by the police in Ferguson, MO. When that local community subsequently erupted in an emotional demonstration of anger and frustration, the response of the mainly-white police force looked more like a military invasion than the reasonable reaction of “peace officers” whose motto is supposed to be “to protect, and to serve.”

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Today’s Church: Thermometer Or Thermostat?

MLK (1)Fifty years ago today, April 16, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote his famous “Letter From A Birmingham Jail.” He had been arrested on April 12 for participating in a non-violent demonstration against racial segregation in violation of an injunction, issued by a Circuit Court judge two days earlier, against “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing.”

Dr. King acknowledged that he had broken the law, but he defended his act (and rightly so) on the grounds that some laws are just and some are unjust. In his letter he wrote, “Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”

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