Donald Trump and his family made their way to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis, who seemed to be in no mood to be schmoozed by America’s top con man. The meeting seemed icy from the start.
From the press pool report of the initial meeting:
“Thank you so much,” President Trump said to Pope Francis when they shook hands.
After shaking hands, the pope and POTUS walked into the pope’s private study, which is just off the room where they shook hands. When pool entered the study, the pope and the president were seated across from each other at the pope’s wooden desk.
POTUS told the pope it’s “a very great honor.”
The pope did not say anything. He did not smile. He looked at [the] pool several times. We were quickly ushered out at 8:33 am.
You can see that moment in the photo below. Pope Francis seems to be asking God what he did to deserve this. We’re all asking ourselves that, Holy Father.
The image of the pope’s face while he is standing with President Trump (below) pretty well tells the story of his experience with President Trump:
[The editor of Columnist with a View wishes to thank the Reverend St Clair for this article which came in “over the transom.” St Clair submitted his article on our HOME page. Thanks!]
Last month, the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church ruled that the consecration of a gay bishop violates church law. The bishop is Karen Oliveto who was married to woman when she was nominated, elected and consecrated by the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC as a leader of the denomination.
UMC members in another region of the country objected. The decision caused some to raise their voices in protest, while others quietly whispered, “Amen”. There has been a fair amount of hand-wringing across the denomination about the effect the decision will have on the unity of the UMC. As a member of the UMC clergy, I offer humbly my observations.
We can probably agree the Gospels do not recount Jesus mentioning anything about homosexuality. I would add that Jesus did not ask his followers to construct church buildings, to appoint bishops, to make rule books and to set up health and pension plans for clergy. The Great Commission does not ask us to build institutions.
To me, those dissatisfied (disgusted) or satisfied (smug) with the decision are both struggling for one thing - control of the institution. Again, to me, this discussion and struggle is not about Jesus, does not involve the Gospel and diverts attention from the coming reign of God. Instead, the argument about same-sex relations leads inextricably to one side winning and the other side losing.
Jesus offers guidance in such matters, instructing against such “win-lose” discussions. Jesus told his disciples that when they run into people who oppose them, then they are not to argue and fuss, but instead knock the dust off their sandals and move on.
With that message in mind, the Methodist rule book, as interpreted by the Judicial Council, states that a bishop cannot be in a married same-sex relationship. So, should Bishop Oliveto consider knocking the dust from her sandals and move on? Such a move would require her to give up her $150,000 yearly salary, her house, her car, her travel, her expense account and other benefits, and look for another place to serve.
I anticipate the LGBTQIAPK community exclaim it is unjust that Oliveto and others sharing her situation are being run out of the church because of their orientation. The call is to stay and struggle against such injustice and systems of oppression. And the LGBTQIAPK community asks politely that we ignore that they who stay and struggle maintain their $150,000 yearly salaries, their houses, their cars, their travels, their expense accounts and other benefits while fighting against injustice.
With this stated, the question then is whether Oliveto and others sharing her situation will stay or go? I can imagine Jesus looking at that question and shaking his head, seeing it akin to children arguing over who gets to make the rules for the clubhouse in the back yard. But the children don’t see it as a clubhouse, but rather consider the institution as monumental and substantial, like the Titanic. UMC professionals are bailing frantically to right the institutional ship that is seemingly taking on water. They bail because their pots are filled with meat and they eat all the bread they want while aboard the institutional ship. Sinking means losing the safety and security of the boat and getting out on the water where they could take their eyes off Jesus and flounder.
Hopefully the UMC can regain some perspective, away from win-lose propositions, and ask different questions - more important questions - like:
Is the UMC serving the Gospel, or is the institution using the Gospel to serve itself?
If the UMC is serving the Gospel, then is it time to assess the continued usefulness of the institution?
Is the institution helping the project of making disciples, or is it getting in the way?
Jesus addressed another religious institution years ago that was getting in the way of bringing people into right relationship with God, telling his disciples that ‘not one stone will be left standing’. As stated in the movie Jaws, “I think we are going to need a bigger boat.”
Dear Frank, Can I call you Frank? This is just pastor to pastor. Feel Free to call me Peter. Anyway, I have to say I was flattered when I learned that your Decision America Tour took a detour off the beaten path to call upon us “small community churches.” We are nothing if not small. We seat 30-40 on a good Sunday. And we are a century old fixture of our small community.
Most often we are overlooked and overshadowed by mega-churches and politically influential religious voices like your own. We don’t hold a candle to an auditorium filled with the music of a one hundred voice choir led by professional musicians. We probably will never be recognized in any nationally syndicated media. After all, we don’t do anything really “newsworthy.” We just preach the good news of Jesus Christ; love one another the best we can (which sometimes isn’t very easy); feed the hungry that come to our doors; care for the sick; comfort the dying; and bury the dead. So thanks for thinking of us. Rest assured, we are ready to respond to your calls to prayer and action.
I have to say, though, that I was a little confused by your summons. Of all the things that worry me, loss of religious freedom for Christians in America isn’t one of them. I can’t say I have ever experienced anything in this country that could reasonably be called a restriction on my religious liberty, much less persecution. When you started talking about attacks on Christianity, I thought you might have been referring to the racially motivated slaying of pastors and lay people at Mother Emmanuel church in Charleston some time back. Or I figured you were referring to the slaughter of Coptic Christians in Egypt this past Palm Sunday. That’s what I call persecution. But having to pay a judgment for refusing to bake a cake for a same sex couple in violation of the law against discrimination? This you call persecution? There’s a letter in the Bible, written by the Apostle Peter (ever heard of him?). He’s an expert on persecution, having been on the receiving end of it more than once. He says you don’t get divine kudos from suffering the consequences of breaking the law–even if you are a Christian. Moreover, there is a Christian fellow named Paul (aka Saul) who wrote a letter to a church in Rome nearly two thousand years ago. He said that if your enemy is hungry you should feed him (that’s in the Bible, too).
So wouldn’t it have been the Christian way to have baked a cake for the same sex couple in your example, even if you deem them enemies (another assertion I don’t quite understand)? I’m confused.
But in any event, Frank, let’s get over this persecution complex. Stop with the drama already? You are not under attack just because you have to follow the rules like everyone else. Look, I understand the owners of the establishment you mention in your speech don’t approve of gay and lesbian people getting married. They don’t have to approve of them. But if they are going to do business in this country they have to follow the law against discrimination–just like the rest of us. If you don’t like the rules, don’t join the game. It’s that simple. Furthermore, I don’t understand why baking a cake for people whose conduct you find personally offensive is such a big deal. Heck, Frank, if all of us small church pastors refused to bury everyone whose conduct we didn’t approve of, the country would be ten feet deep in corpses!
I am struggling, too, with your claim that Donald Trump is a champion (albeit an unlikely one) for religious freedom. What freedoms are we talking about here, Frank?
The freedom to lie with impunity? The freedom to grab young girls by the genitals? The freedom to discriminate against people of color in the sale and rental of real estate? The freedom to refer to women as “dogs,” “fat pigs,” and “ugly?” The freedom to call your opponents “idiots,” “losers,” “liars” and “frauds?” The freedom to slander people with accusations of criminal conduct based on absolutely no evidence? By my count, the above violate at least four of the Ten Commandments (you will find those in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy–both in the Bible). If Donald Trump is the champion of American Christianity, God save it from its enemies!
All kidding aside, you might be right about God putting Donald Trump in the White House–though your reasons for so believing are probably different from what I might conjecture. Still, how do you know that? Where did you get this info? I have to hand it to you, Frank, you sure do have the connections. As I am sure you know, God does not consult with us small church pastors on weighty issues of that kind. So it was kind of you to leak this classified intelligence to all of us who are evidently a good deal further from the divine pipeline. So let me see if I have this figured out correctly: God doesn’t give a flying fruitcake if we deprive twenty-million people, most of them poor, of access to health care. Nor is God particularly concerned about how men treat women in the workplace, how people of color are treated in the real estate market, how the hungry and homeless are cared for (or not), but God flips out if we bake a cake for a same sex couple to celebrate their wedding? I have to be honest with you, Frank, I’m just not seeing it. Not in the Bible, not in the realm of rational common sense.
You know, Frank, I would like to think that we are brothers. I would like to believe that we are on the same side. I would like to believe that, beneath our differences, we worship the same God and follow the same Savior. But quite honestly, I don’t recognize the Jesus I learned from my parents, my Sunday School teachers, my pastors or my years of study and reflection on the Bible in your angry, fearful rhetoric. Yes, I will answer your call for prayer. But I will be praying for the real victims of persecution–the victims of racial discrimination, sexual violence and bullying.
I will answer your call to action. But I will be acting to establish health care as a right for all people; making the college campus and the workplace spaces where women and girls need not fear being called “pigs,” “dogs” or “ugly” nor will they need to fear rich, white celebrity males who feel entitled to grab them by the genitals. I will respond to your call for action by working for a society in which no one needs to worry about where she will sleep at night or where the next meal is coming from. You want prayer? You want action? You’ve got it.
Well, thanks again, Frank, for thinking about us small church folk. I appreciate your concern about our being persecuted and under attack. But don’t worry about us. We don’t have your money, your access to the halls of power or your seeming direct connection to the Almighty. But we have the scriptures, we have prayer, and we are learning every day what it means to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That’s all we need. You can keep your champion in the White House, thanks just the same.
Christ’s servant and yours,
[This letter to Rev. Franklin Graham first appeared in TRINITY’S PORTICO, the blog site of Rev. Peter Olsen, a “small church” Lutheran pastor. We appreciate the opportunity to give it more widespread readership through Columnist with a View.” Our thanks to Rev. Peter.]
In times past, Christians were seen as catalysts for change. The Books of Acts traces the impact of Christians on a preponderantly pagan society.
When St. Paul encountered the worship of idols, he called the people out, challenging them to turn to the “one true God.”
According to church history, wherever the apostles, who were scattered by the Great Diaspora, wound up, they preached the gospel (“good news” of God’s love), a new way, and consequently thousands of people adopted a new ethic and a new lifestyle.
Ostensibly, twelve men (the Bible leads us to believe) were ultimately responsible for altering the way of thinking and believing in the first and second centuries.
The least we can say is that after the fall of Jerusalem and the spreading of this newborn faith throughout Eastern Europe, the world was never again the same. Yes, there was change, but the central question is: Was it for the better or for the worse?
A study of religious movements, disputes, outrages and wars provoked by Christianity (the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Reformation and Puritanism, to name a few) raises valid questions.
Today, Christianity has a tremendous worldwide presence. The twelve have become 2.18 billion! A substantial majority of Americans claim they are Christians. Christian missionaries are proclaiming the gospel in all parts of the modern world.
And a new question is raised. Has Christianity lost its power to significantly affect society? As I see it, that appears to be the case. And largely, I suspect, because modern Christians have perverted the message of Christ. What the modern church, in general, espouses is neither attractive nor effective!
If it were attractive, hundreds of thousands of new converts would flock to the churches annually. Sanctuaries would be overflowing–not half full. Churches, not the government, would be the most visible, successful protectors of the impoverished.
If it were effective–that is, if it had the power and the authority to change society–most of the prominent issues the church occupies itself with would be moot. It is unlikely that terrorism would be a major concern, and crime blotters might take up a column inch in our local newspapers.
Something is radically wrong with modern Christianity. It ought to be making an impact in and on our daily lives, but it isn’t. It should be changing our society, but it isn’t. It should be a proactive force for what is just, right and good, but it isn’t.
Is the church no longer a major, positive force for change in our society? I’m afraid so.
If you have doubts about this, consider the number of social issues where the church establishment is on one side and the majority of its congregants are on the other. The church needs either 1) to re- invigorate its message or 2) stop slighting its relevant, major message with minor irrelevancies.
It might also practice what it preaches!
[This article first appeared in the Huntington, West Virginia Herald-Dispatch a number of years ago. It seems as relevant today as it was when it first appeared. Readers can find a weekly column by this writer in the Monday morning issue of the Herald-Dispatch.]