Once Again, My Open (And Very Personal) Letter to the Mennonite Church

Columbus, Ohio

Originally Published June 21, 2015

Dear Friends:

There are two things I need to say to the Mennonite Church USA. The first is “Thank you.” The second is “I’m sorry.” Continue reading

Let Hypocrisy Roll Down like a River and Political Expediency like a Never-Ending Stream

As I sit down to write this morning, the news is all about two destructive forces unleashing pain and calamity on our nation—one meteorological, one political. Hurricane Matthew, a monstrous storm that caused widespread damage and loss of life as it swept across the day-9Caribbean and posed a major threat to the southeastern U.S., seems to be losing steam and veering away from the coast with much of its ruinous potential unrealized. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the Republican candidate for president.

As everybody knows by now, an audio recording has surfaced from 2005 in which the Republican candidate made vile and vulgar comments about women and spoke of his attitude and behavior toward them in terms that can only be described as predatory and demeaning. It is simply one more example, as though one were needed, to show that every time that man speaks, he hurts somebody. Continue reading

Are We On The Road To Ruin?

It happens after every major election, particularly when conservatives lose. Declarations of doom and despair accompany internecine recriminations and predictions that, as bad as things are now, they will, in all likelihood, get a whole lot worse.day-5

A few days after the presidential election in 2012, I opened the local newspaper to the editorial section where I read this headline spread across the entire op-ed page in large type: “Obama’s Leading This Country Down the Road to Ruin.” That was the title for a column written by a prominent conservative pundit who is also a well-known evangelical Christian. In the second paragraph of his column that day he wrote, President Barack Obama’s reelection mirrors the self-indulgent, greedy and envious nation we are rapidly becoming.

I know a lot of my conservative friends still embrace the sentiment conveyed by that headline despite concrete evidence to the contrary. And a red-meat sentence like that one surely rallies the troops. There’s just one problem. It was not true then, and it is not true now. Continue reading

A Pacifist Reflects on the Meaning of Memorial Day

American holidays like Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, and the Fourth of July pose something of a dilemma for me. Like Bruce Springsteen, I was “born in the USA.” I am grateful for the many positive and admirable qualities this country contributes to the family of nations and for Pic 4the benefits I have enjoyed as one of its citizens. But not everything about this country is positive and admirable. And I feel that tension most keenly on these distinctly American holidays.

I felt it again last night as I watched the annual Memorial Day Concert on PBS. I hadn’t intended to watch it, but there were a couple of artists whom my daughter, who was visiting, wanted to see, and before you could say Francis Scott Key, I was caught up in the pageantry. I was also really, really “conflicted.” Continue reading

Yet Another Place Where I Was Wrong

Dear Mr. Lough:

Okay, here’s a question I have wanted to ask you for some time, even before we decided to do this email series during Lent. I read something that you posted on Facebook, and it surprised me so much that I wrote it down and made a note to ask you about it. Today’s the day to pose that question, I guess.

The Facebook post I’m referring to appeared late last year on December 20. Here is what you wrote:

An odd post, I know, but prompted by several other posts I’ve read today, so it’s time to dispel any uncertainty. I now believe that every position or role of leadership ministry in the church, without exception, should be open to women as well as men.

Continue reading

I Don’t Want to Die Alone

Dear Mr. Lough:

Thank you so much for your last two letters in which you shared a thoughtful and heartfelt response to my question about how you would define the gospel. The more I have thought about what you wrote, the more I appreciate not only what you shared but also the courage it takes to change your mind about such important matters at this point in your career.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that you are old or that your ministry is over. I only mean that it is unusual to observe such dramatic change in perception in anybody, much less someone who has spent a lifetime in pursuit of a very different vision. Continue reading

What Exactly Is The Gospel? (Part Two)

Dear Kathryn:

I’m sure that my last letter raised more questions than it answered with regard to the way I define the term “gospel” these days. For that reason, I wanted to get this follow-up letter off to you with dispatch.

I don’t mean to suggest that everybody gets to define the word for himself or herself. What I do mean is that it’s possible we have not fully understood the meaning of the word in its original context in the New Testament, specifically in those first four books that we call “the Gospels.” Continue reading

The Role of the Bible in the Church of the Future (On the Road to Easter, #7)

Dear Kathryn:

I know you are eager to explore some of the specific topics and issues where my current thinking shows marked change from the positions I held a few years ago. I am too. Before we go there, however, just a bit more about the change in my attitude toward the Bible.

The Bible, especially the New Testament, is really the church’s book. The church produced it, in the sense that real human beings, presumably active in the life of the early church, wrote the documents that have been compiled into the form we have today. They each wrote at a particular moment in history, and their thinking was shaped by the political, religious, and cultural influences of their day. Continue reading

I Do What I Can

There is very little I can do about anything these days. I have no wealth, and I own no property. Financially, my net worth is roughly zero. I have no power and an extremely limited sphere of influence. Seven years without a paying job will do that.

I do have a loving wife who has stood by me without complaint for more than forty-two years, even when things have been really rough and our circumstances difficult to comprehend. I also have an eight-year-old grandson, whom I adore, and a beautiful daughter who is making me proud as a hard-working nurse and single mom. I am trying to do everything I can to pour myself into their lives and to use my limited means and resources to help make their lives richer. Their happiness is my reward. Continue reading

Some Thoughts About the Bible: Authority

I grew up with great respect for the Bible. Even more than that, really. I regarded the Bible with reverence. My grandmother would not allow anything to be laid on top of the Bible, and although I didn’t go that far, I understood her sentiment. After all, the Bible was a sacred book. Even though humans had produced the written the text of the Bible, it was somehow a record of what God had said. It was the Word of God.

As a Bible college student and then as a minister for many years thereafter, I championed the cause of “Biblical inerrancy.” If God is perfect, I reasoned, and if the Bible was the Word of God, then the Bible must bear the character of the God whose word it was. In its relation to God, the Bible was the literary equivalent of Jesus. As Jesus was the Word of God in human flesh (cf. John 1), the Bible was the Word of God in written form. I could no more consider the possibility of an error in the text of the Bible than I could imagine Jesus, during his earthly life, snatching a woman’s purse to get money to buy beer. Continue reading