Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Price of Conscience in the Black Church

This week The New York Times printed a provocative article showing how the acceptance of homosexuality, an issue that has roiled most of the predominately white mainline denominations in recent years, can carry a steep price tag in African American churches as well.

Citing one pastor, they note that he lost almost all of his congregation after he supported same sex unions in his mainline denomination, the UCC. In an Atlanta church attendance has fallen from 6,000 to 3,000 over differences with the senior pastor on convictions regarding human sexuality.

For some, the issue is more existential still. Recounting the tale of an African American pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, the Rev. Dennis Meredith, the article chronicles how his son’s coming out of the closet led he and his wife to reconsider the biblical teachings on homosexuality. Their pilgrimage brought them into contact with materials by American Baptists such as Harvard’s Peter Gomes, a gay man in ministry and chaplain at Harvard.

“. . . five years ago, his middle son, Micah, told him that he is gay. Mr. Meredith and his wife began to read liberal theologians like Mr. Gomes and to look at Scripture again. What matters most in the Bible, Mr. Meredith said, was Jesus’ injunction to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself, and that includes gay men and lesbians. As he preached greater acceptance of gay people, Mr. Meredith saw the face of his congregation change.

About three years ago, many older members, those who had hung on through the church’s waning, and who drove in from the suburbs because they had attended Tabernacle as young people, gradually began to leave. They took with them their generous, loyal tithing. The 90-year-old church had money to cover salaries and utilities but had a hard time paying for properties it had bought nearby. In September, Mr. Meredith held a commitment ceremony in the church for two lesbian couples. More people left after that." http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/27/us/27churches.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

Heretofore, many African Americans have been reluctant to join with their white colleagues in upholding traditional views of human sexuality against the revisionist interpretations. Some see it as a civil rights issue. Others find it difficult to make common cause with evangelicals since many still suspect them of racism. The more progressive social liberals in the mainline denominations who took leadership in the civil rights movement are often the same ones who have been defending the cause of homosexual unions.

Evidently, the stand of conscience by some African American pastors will not always be applauded by their own congregations, particularly those in the church who see the Bible condemning same sex unions as immoral. It will be interesting to observe whether our sisters and brothers in the black church will be able to uphold biblical authority AND a compassionate ministry to hurting persons without tending toward organizational schism.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Fascists are Coming!?! We have met the enemy and he is us?

Chris Hedges, author of the provocatively titled American Fascists: the Christian Right and the War on America, has predicted that at the next 9/11-like crisis, evangelical Christians are ready to take over the United States: “Those arrayed against American democracy [i.e., evangelical Christians] are waiting for a moment to strike, a national crisis that will allow them to shred the Constitution in the name of national security and strength” (pp. 201–202). Already, claims Hedges, “this minority … is taking over the machinery of U.S. state and religious institutions” (p. 19).

Yikes! Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, we must be afraid of the shark of evangelical Christianity. In fact, Hedges declares that the plot to take over the reins of power can be observed in everything from what he believes to be a pervasive “dominion theology,” to televangelists, to the modern creationist movement, to the very existence of Focus on the Family and the advocacy of James Dobson.

Not only does Hedges find sinister motivations behind most things evangelicals do and say, he fears they will employ the tried techniques of fascism, particularly violence, to accomplish their ends. Just when Hillary assures us this week that there really is a vast right wing conspiracy, Hedges identifies the major players: the evangelicals!

Such paranoid ruminations would be easy to dismiss but for the fact that the author is a Harvard Divinity School alum who served on the Pulitzer winning 2002 team of the New York Times and was released by uber-publisher Simon and Schuster.

Beyond the “blue” and “red” labels in our country, evangelicals need to be cognizant of the viciousness of some of those with whom we disagree. We battle not only with Islamo-fascism but with secularists who count us among the fanatical fringe.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

NCC Releases 2007 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches - Numbers Up Modest .82% Overall; Mainlines All Book Losses

The 2007 Yearbook reports the largest 25 denominations/communions in the U.S. (noting an increase or decrease in membership since the 2006 Yearbook reports). Mainline* statistics highlighted in blue.

1. The Catholic Church, 69,135,254 members, reporting an increase of 1.94 percent.

2. The Southern Baptist Convention, 16,270,315 members, reporting a increase of .02 percent.

3. The United Methodist Church, 8,075,010 members, reporting a decrease of 1.36 percent.

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5,690,672 members, reporting an increase of 1.63 percent.

5. The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members, no increase or decrease reported.

6. National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., 5,000,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.

7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,850,776, reporting a decrease of 1.62 percent.

8. National Baptist Convention of America, 3,500,000, no increase or decrease reported.

9. Presbyterian Church (USA), 3,098,842 members, reporting a decrease of 2.84 percent.

10. Assemblies of God, 2,830,861 members, reporting an increase of 1.86 percent.

11. African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.

12. National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, 2,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.

13. Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., 2,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.

14. The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), 2,440,864, reporting a decrease of .93 percent.

15. Episcopal Church, 2,247,819, reporting a decrease of 1.59 percent.

16. Churches of Christ, 1,639,495 members, reporting an increase of 9.30 percent (This increase reports the church's growth since its last reported figures in 1999.)
17. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 1,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.

18. Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc., 1,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.

19. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1,440,405 members, reporting an increase of .53 percent.

20. American Baptist Churches in the USA, 1,396,700, reporting a decrease of 1.97 percent.

21. United Church of Christ, 1,224,297, reporting a decrease of 3.28 percent.

22. Baptist Bible Fellowship International, 1,200,000, no increase or decrease reported.

23. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, 1,071,615 members, no increase or decrease reported.

24. The Orthodox Church in America, 1,064,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.

25. Jehovah's Witnesses, 1,046,006 members, reporting an increase of 1.56 percent.

The total members reported in the largest 25 communions is 149,222,807, an overall increase of .82 percent.

The 2007 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches costs $50 and may be ordered at


Although the total numbers of members reported rose by a modest .82% in the most recent survey, none of the mainline communions listed in the top 25 denominations (only the Disciples of Christ did not qualify for that criterion) showed growth figures. All of them posted loses ranging from 1.36% to 3.28%. The United Methodists reported the smallest percentage of decline among mainline groups.

* The word “mainline” is a term of art to describe seven predominately progressive Protestant denominations: ABCUSA, DoC, ECUSA, ELCA, UMC, PCUSA, and UCC. They are also sometimes known as the "seven sisters."

Friday, March 02, 2007

James Cameron -- Raising the Titanic; Sinking Christianity?

I purchased the Simcha Jacobovici/Charles Pellegrino book, The Jesus Family Tomb: The Discovery, the Investigation, and the Evidence that Could Change History (Harper Collins), companion to the Discovery Channel documentary to be screened on Sunday evening. These guys are really serous!

James Cameron, writing portentiously (or was that pretentiously?) on December 24, 2006, allows that he is not a "historian by training" and has "absolutely no credentials as a biblical scholar." Nevertheless, he concludes baldly that this investigation "proves, I believe, beyond any reasonable dobt that a first-century Jewish tomb in Talpiot, Jerusalem, in 1980 is the tomb of Jesus and his family." "One and a half billion Christians -- more than one-fifth of the world's population--believe they know exactly who Jesus was. But what do they really know for sure?" What do you expect from a guy like Cameron who calls history a "consensus hallucination" and a "myth upon which we all agree to agree"???

Wowie, zowie. More to come.
BTW - Dr. Witherington has done it again with his Thursday blog, "The Smoking Gun--Tenth Talpiot Ossuary Proved to be Blank" (http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/. Check out his arguments, particularly the lengthly report by Prof. Richard Bauckham. Darrell Bock has similarly augmented his posts with several new entries (http://dev.bible.org/bock/).

Thursday, March 01, 2007

From Stats to Facts: Problems Multiply for Talpiot Tomb Theory

Last week , before the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” story broke, I was standing on the hills overlooking Talpiot at the Haas Promenade. Little did I know that so much controversy would surround this same Southern Jerusalem neighborhood within so few days. But the Talpiot Tomb has now rocketed to center stage as the Discovery Channel prepares to air their documentary on March 4.

My two favorite Jesus scholars are Ben Witherington III of Asbury Seminary and Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary. Each has a host of books to his credit and always seens to offer the most sane comments on Jesus theories. Their writings are well-informed, grounded in committed belief, and on the cutting edge of the latest scholarship.

This week Witherington has added to his already impressive blog on the Talpiot Tomb a number of other sound reasons for rejecting the “Lost Tomb of Jesus” theory. Cf. his “Problems Multiply for Jesus Tomb Theory” at http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/.

Darrell Bock has already weighed in with no less than four blog entries on his http://dev.bible.org/bock/.

Additionally, Paul Maier of Western Michigan University has provided a quick summary reaction to the theory. I once read his prescient “A Skeleton in God’s Closet” thriller posing the question what would happen to Christianity if someone claimed to find a tomb containing the bones of Jesus (http://theologica.blogspot.com/2007/02/skeleton-in-gods-closet-paul-maier.html). Who is in a better position to address the issue than someone who actually wrote a book on the subject before the present controversy?