Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bush, Faith, and the Culture

Last week President Bush was interviewed by Cynthia McFadden for ABC’s Nightline. The interview was intended to specifically focus on the President’s beliefs in regard to his Christian faith. His answers to some of those questions proved to be quite controversial; particularly among conservatives and evangelicals. [CLICK HERE OR ON PHOTO TO VIEW NIGHTLINE INTERVIEW]

Here are some comments from bloggers and online media sources that are reflective of some of the responses being generated by the Nightline interview:

“All it [the interview] proves to me is that Bush is an intellectual lightweight who doesn't have the capacity to defend his own faith.”

“I kinda think that Bush has lost his first love from being around political Washington too long; that is, if he was ever truly born again as claimed.”

“I honestly do not think President Bush intended to do this or meant what he said. At least, I hope he didn't. I do believe that this entire interview put tremendous pressure on Mr. Bush causing him to either compromise or reveal what he truly believes.”

“Can you believe that George Bush is a religious moderate? That’s the image he projected a few nights ago in an interview with Nightline’s Cynthia McFadden.”

Even this morning, a week after the show aired, I heard some comments on talk-radio still expressing disbelief at the President’s remarks. In case you missed the story, here is an excerpt of the parts of the interview that have upset so many.

Concerning the Bible, McFadden asked if it is literally true. Bush responded: "You know, probably not. No, I'm not a literalist. But I think you can learn a lot from it.”

Another exchange causing controversy came from a question regarding prayer. Here is that exchange:

McFadden: “Do you believe that when you pray to God that that’s the same God that a Muslim prays to?”

Bush: “I do.”

McFadden: “That’s gotten you in some trouble with your base.”

Bush: “I don’t know, maybe it does. I do believe there is an Almighty that is broad – big – enough, loving enough, that can encompass a lot of people. I don’t think God is a narrow…umm…a narrow concept, I think it’s a broad concept. I just happen to believe the way to God is through Christ, and others have different avenues toward God and I believe we pray to the same Almighty, I do.”

At minimum, the comments made by President Bush reflect a belief that other religions are valid paths to God, and that Christianity is, therefore, just one of many divergent ways to come to God. In a sense, when it comes to knowing God, this approach almost leads one to believe everybody makes it somehow or another – that is, unless you are a “religious” terrorists. The President, very candidly tells McFadden that those who practice hate aren’t really praying to God, so he excludes them in his assessment that we all pray to the same God.

My purpose in writing is not to be critical of President Bush. I actually tend to lean more toward the view that he may have compromised his beliefs for political correctness, or that he truly hasn’t thought through the ramifications of his statements. Maybe he’ll get a do-over, like so many before him who, when caught in the glare of the media, hedged on taking a clear stand on the gospel being that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ.

Maybe he would have been better taken the approach of the President-elect, who when faced with tough “faith” questions, brushed them aside with the comment he was not running to be the chief theologian.

Actually, the President’s comments don’t really surprise me. What I do find rather astonishing is that others are surprised by them. I don’t mean by this that Bush has given us reason to expect such comments from him. Rather, based on the cultural trends regarding faith, I am not surprised that the President wouldn’t be included in those statistical beliefs.

For example, when he said he didn’t believe the Bible was literal, Bush was expressing a view held by a large segment of the Protestant Church. In their 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, the Pew Forum found that while 77% of Protestants (89% of Evangelicals) and 62% of Catholics believe the Bible is the Word of God, 27% of Protestants and 36% of Catholics do not believe the Bible is literal (among Evangelicals, 25% said it was not literal).

Regarding there being more than one way to God, this same Pew Report found that 70% of Americans with a religious affiliation believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. Even among evangelicals, the number was an astounding 57% that answered many religions can lead to eternal life. Among Catholics the number was a staggering 79%.

I am not saying that truth is determined by polling and that since our President is in line with the majority, it is not a problem for him to hold to, or express, such views. What I am saying is, in light of such predominate cultural views, perhaps we should hold back somewhat on the shock and incredulity that is being expressed regarding this interview.

Maybe is it more reflective of the poor job we –the church – are doing in discipling those whom the Lord entrusts to us. Perhaps it is indicative of how much easier it is to sit back and complain about what the culture looks like than to be invasive in addressing it.

If one takes time to listen carefully to the entire interview with President Bush, you will find an interesting blend of right on statements about the gospel, mingled in with the comments that have created such a furor. At one point he even admits he is getting way out of his lane in answering some of these questions, stating, "I'm just a simple President". His admission indicates these are questions that may have been best left unanswered.

However, when asked about life after the Presidency and how his faith will enter into it, I think he makes an excellent observation, stating: “I’m going be trying to stay on the walk until the last day on the face of the earth. I’ve come to this conclusion, maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. The full understanding of Christianity is going to take a full life time of study.” On this I think we can agree with him; only, it will take this life and beyond.

Hopefully, here is something else we can agree on, as people of faith. The Nightline interview clearly shows that even the President is not excluded from the cultural trends we face. Rather than beating up on the President and his faith beliefs, let’s use this as an entry point to talk about what the Bible really says and what the gospel really offers, and to whom it is available.

Now that’s something to talk about.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Coming Soon to a Bus Near You

Atheism, the belief there is no God, is still a view held by a few Americans. In fact, according to a June 2008 survey by the Pew Forum, only 1.6 percent of Americans identify themselves as Atheists. However, though small in number, this is becoming an increasingly vocal group with an apparent interest in growing their number.

In October, British atheists announced a plan to place advertising posters on London buses proclaiming, “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” A website was set up to take donations and within a very short time over $80,000 had been donated to the effort.

Richard Dawkins, an Oxford Professor and author of the bestselling The God Delusion, pledged to match all donations up to 5,500 pounds (approximately $9,300). Dawkins, who is a member of the British Humanist Association (atheists also refer to themselves as humanists), said, “This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think – and thinking is anathema to religion.”

Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist, describes the message as a positive one that is not intended to bring in new recruits but to communicate it is okay not to believe in God and to dispel the idea presented by the religious that atheists will burn in the “lake of fire”. According to Stinson, “It’s about reassurance.”

Despite the protestations otherwise, it sounds more like it is about “recruitment”. Could you imagine, for example, a Christian organization placing a billboard proclaiming, “God is real – Trust Jesus” and saying it is only for the purpose of reassuring believers? Of course not, any such claim would be viewed as ludicrous by humanists.

Whatever one believes about their real motivation, they plan to start the campaign in January, 2009. Not to be undone, their American brothers have also jumped on the bandwagon, or maybe we should say the band “bus”.

On November 11, members of the American Humanist Association held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. and announced they will be placing advertisements on Metrobuses in the D.C. area during the holiday season. Their message: “Why believe in God? Just be good for goodness’ sake.” (Image of interior bus signage above.)

As with their British counterparts, they claim the campaign is not intended to proselytize. Rather, the Communication Director for the American Humanist Association, Fred Edwords said, “Our message is that all of us can have moral values as a natural result of who we are as a species and who we have become as a civilization”; adding, “Each of us knows what it means, generally, to be ethical.”

Specifically, there is a problem when he throws in the word, “generally” to his statement of man’s ethics. Do you want to do business with a person who is ethical, or one who has some “general” sense of ethics? Also, what is the standard this “general” sense of ethics is based upon?
Typical of the humanist view, Edwords states it comes from “who we are as a species and who we have become as a civilization”. This, at minimum, implies that mankind has some innate sense of ethics, or morality that has grown and developed as civilizations have developed.

Does that mean less advanced civilizations have not developed the same degree of ethics? Do we have better ethics than less developed countries? Were older civilizations, such as the Roman civilization, less ethical since they were less advanced?

If the answer to these questions is yes, it means the standard of ethics is evolving and varies depending upon where and when one lives? Without an established standard for ethics, each person and each civilization is left to establish their own standard. Therefore, one could not question the ethics of any society, even though it disagrees with one’s own.

Thus, based upon such an assumption, how could anyone dare say someone else is unethical when they are only being true to their own established ethics? Were an atheist to be cheated by someone, how could he legitimately complain when that person was only being true to their own sense of morality? For an atheist to question another’s ethics would be judgmental. Interestingly, an allegation they love to apply to Christians who promote a biblical standard of morality.

Atheists maintain morality is not established by a deity or found through religious belief but comes from within and its standard is established and changed by evolving civilizations. In stark contrast, the Bible teaches the standard for morality is not self-determined but is established by God and is constant no matter where and when one lives.

Furthermore, the Bible teaches that man is not inherently moral, but derives his morality from being made in the image of God and that morality has been corrupted by sin and can only be restored through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Apart from such a relationship one cannot be “good for goodness sake” no matter how hard he tries. As the Apostle Paul states, ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)

The British campaign declares God probably doesn’t exist, so enjoy life. The American campaign more assertively asks, why believe in God, just be good? A better question for each group to ask is, “What if God does exist?”

God does exist and He doesn’t call us to be good for goodness sake, but to come to His son, who is “good”. Our greatest need is not to be good, or to have fun, it is to know our Creator.

Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.” (John 14:6-7) Now that is good news – put it on the bus!

Read our article on Atheism
For Nonbelievers, Reassurance on Wheels, Washington Post
Taking Atheism for a Ride Around Town, Washington Post

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Okay, I admit it. I have been remiss in posting to this blog on a timely basis.

Do I have an excuse? You betcha!

Is it a good one? I don't know, let me try it out.

Earlier this year, I was approached by Dr. Bob Terry, the editor of the Alabama Baptist Newspaper, with an idea he had for a series of articles to help their readers understand more about the diversity of religious sects in our nation. This was to be an eleven week series and he asked if I would be willing to write the articles. I agreed to take that on and, while it has been a great ministry project and well received, it has also taken up a lot of the time I have allocated to writing. Thus, a decrease in attention to this blog.

To make amends, here are links to the first six articles (maybe these should count as six blog posts, which would mean I haven't been remiss in my blogging after all):

Spiritual Buffet

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Christian Science

Atheists and Agnostics


It is my understanding that the remainder of the topics (New Age, Wicca, Occult, Nation of Islam, and the Word-Faith Movement) will be placed online once they have all been published in the print edition of the paper. This should be sometime in December.

By the way, I may get a little behind in my blog again next year. A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Terry contacted me and told me this series was being so well received by readers, he would like to extend it with a second part, next year.

Don't worry, if I do get behind, you can count on me to come up with a lame excuse. Now, don't you feel better?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Say It Ain't So Reba!

Grammy award winning, country singer, Reba McEntire has had numerous hit records. She’s been in movies, had her own television show, and has several product lines she endorses. Without question, she presents that down-home country likability. In fact, you might say she’s everyone’s “country darling”.

However, even she must realize that what she confessed to believe, during a recent interview in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette (Oct 16), will be so startling to many that it will dramatically change how they regard her. The interview starts out innocently enough, with her talking about her sitcom, movies, and even her foray into horse racing.

She even gives a nod to God acknowledging her talent is, “a gift from God”. And that if she didn’t use it, she, “wouldn’t blame Him one bit if he took it away and gave it to someone else”.

Nothing all that controversial so far. However, her answer when asked to reveal a secret for her fans will surprise many of them. The “secret” seems innocent enough when her response is an admission that she has Annie Lennox on her iPod.

But, then it takes a completely unexpected turn when she reveals a secret concerning which she says, “I will get flak from Christians who will say I can't be a Christian if I believe this”.

So, what was the “secret”? After telling of her appreciation for Lennox, she added, “I believe in reincarnation…I believe I've gone both ways – that I have been here before as a man.” (Reincarnation is the belief that when one dies he/she will be born again as a different person.)

It was at that point McEntire recognized she would get “flak” from Christians, adding, “…I'm sorry, but this is how I live my life, this is what I believe”. In fact, Reba goes on to say, Maybe I’m part Buddhist”.

Maybe she is, but what is the other part? It seems she’s not sure.

Her view should not be surprising. Reba simply joins a growing list of Hollywood celebrities who embrace the belief in reincarnation, or a religion that teaches reincarnation. Celebrities like: Oprah, Shirley MacLaine, Madonna, and Tom Cruise.

Now, lest we believe Hollywood has cornered the market on reincarnation, a 2005 poll by Gallup found that 20% of Americans believe in it. Another 20% said they were not sure if it was true.

So, here we are, a nation that was supposed to have been founded as Christian, with 40 % of the people not sure whether reincarnation is true, or not. At least Reba knows it’s not Christian.

Truly, this is not your grandfather’s country.

Click Here to read the Post-Gazatte article.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Crosswinds in the Military

Our country has been involved in the war in Iraq since 2003. This war and our military are constantly on the minds and hearts of the American people. It has also been a topic of debate during this presidential election, revealing just how strongly Americans disagree about the war.

Even if we may disagree about the war, we all agree that our service men and women have done a magnificent job and we are indebted to them for their service. And though we are aware of the duty they are performing and are glad to hear of their many successes and are pained by the too many losses of loved ones; I think we, too often forget the intangible personal costs and struggles they are experiencing, such as those involving spiritual issues.

Being in the military, especially in an active conflict, probably heightens one's awareness of such issues. Also, we shouldn’t forget our soldiers come from a country that developed out of a Christian culture and now serve in a theater were the religion of Islam is predominate. Surely, this must bring its own spiritual struggles.

That is one reason we have our own military expert serving with us at Crosswinds. Don Malin who serves with our staff, is a military chaplain. In January he will be deployed to Afghanistan for his second tour of duty in the Middle East. While there Don will help us to have a better understanding of some of the spiritual issues our service folks face while serving in the Middle East. He’ll also be able to address some of the spiritualities he encounters there.

While in Afghanistan, Don will also provide reports to us through our blog, Crosswinds in the Military (http://christianmilitarychaplain.blogspot.com/), and through our website. Hopefully, he will also be able to occasionally post video for us. I encourage you to check out Don’s blog and if you have friends in the service, send them a link, as well.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Got Some Cheetos? Blog Me!

It has been a few weeks since I opened a bag of Cheetos (a must have for bloggers according to Joe Scarborough), got out my computer and wrote on my blogspot. It’s not that there hasn’t been anything of cultural importance occurring during the past few weeks (quite the contraire); I’ve just been tied up with other writing and organizational projects and plans.

For example, I have been asked by the Alabama Baptist to write an eleven week series of articles on pseudo-Christian religious groups and worldviews. The series includes how to recognize and respond to such groups and includes articles on: Scientology, Mormonism, Christian Science, Atheism, New Age, Jehovah's Witnesses, Agnosticism, Word-Faith Movement, Wicca and the Occult. The series begins next week and can be read online the following week.

In addition to this, the front page of our website is now online so you can view it. I am furiously in the process of writing content so all the links can be activated and in the next few days you’ll start seeing content appear. You can view it at: www.crosswindsfoundation.org

One other thing we have devoted a lot of attention to the past few weeks is developing a presence on Facebook. We have been amazed at what an effective tool this is for communicating with others. If you have a Facebook account visit our group and sign up at: http://www.new.facebook.com/group.php?gid=38535861146

Our associate staff member, Scott Shoop is overseeing this project. Right now we are discussing the recent Pew Research Report finding that a high percentage of Americans, including Evangelicals, believe there are many paths to eternal life. This includes a discussion of what is shaping such beliefs.

By the way, all of our staff also have individual Facebook pages. If you want to add them to your friend, just search for: Ron Carter, Don Malin, Scott Shoop, David Grubbs, and Bob Waldrep.

So, there is a quick update on some of the things we have been doing, in addition to speaking and counseling, and an explanation of our seeming disappearance from the blogsphere. We're back now, and don't worry, we have lots to talk about. Oops, just ran out of Cheetos!

Blog you later!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Running With Scissors

Everyone knows what not to do if you are holding scissors – run! It seems we all have that valuable piece of information in our database because it was drilled into us as children by every adult who saw us holding a pair of scissors. “Don’t run with those scissors in your hands!” It is right up there with, “You’ll put your eye out!”, as one of the most popular warnings for kids.

Now that I have kids, I have even issued both warnings myself, on occasion. In fact, in writing this I asked my 13 year-old, “What should you not do if you have scissors in your hands?” His immediate reply was, “Run!” Apparently, my wife and I have successfully parented in that area.

It is not that scissors are inherently dangerous. In fact, they are quite useful and harmless if used wisely and, especially for children, with proper supervision. So, why my sudden interest in scissor safety? Well, blame it on one of the subjects of my last entry – Oprah.

Now, I don’t want to just make this a blog about Oprah, but when I saw a release from Publisher’s Weekly that Oprah is going to add a list of recommended books for kids on her website, I thought, “Why not just give the kids scissors and tell them to see how far they can run”. Now, I realize that running with scissors is much more dangerous, physically, than reading books recommended by Oprah; but, what about spiritually?

Before the, “Don’t-you-talk-about-Oprah” crowd gets all up in arms, I’ll readily admit that Oprah has done many good things and helped many people, including children. She is without question a terrific humanitarian. I also acknowledge that her kids’ booklist is, reportedly, going to be compiled by the American Library Association's Quick Lists Consulting Committee, rather than being a list of Oprah’s favorite children’s books. And, I also agree that getting kids to reads books is a very good thing.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is that Oprah’s “spiritual” beliefs are, not only intensely held, but also actively promoted by her; particularly on her website – the same website on which this kids’ list will be found. While reading books can be a very good thing for kids, their being on Oprah’s website is not. In my opinion Oprah.com just isn’t “spiritually” suitable for kids.

For example, as it is currently set up, a visit to the “Kids Reading List” page finds the following links – in the order presented – on the left panel of the page (orah.com/article/oprahsbookclub/kidsreadinglist/pkgkidsreadinglist/20080701_orig_kids_books):

Oprah’s Book Club
A New Earth
Past Selections
Kids Reading List
Starting a Book Club

When one clicks on the “Oprah’s Book Club” link, they are immediately greeted by a promotion for the book “A New Earth” and asked the question, “Are you ready to be awakened?” This is followed by several links to get you into the book.

Similarly, the “A New Earth” link takes you to a video teaching series with Oprah and the author of “A New Earth”, prominent “New Age” author/instructor, Eckhart Tolle. There you are invited to view a message from Eckhart, who is billed as, “the man who will be guiding you toward spiritual awakening”. If you read the book and/or take the video course, you’ll find this so-called “spiritual awakening” is much more in line with the teachings, beliefs, and practices of the Eastern religions than with those of the Judeo-Christian faith.

On numerous occasions, Oprah has blurred the distinctions of these historical beliefs of the Christian faith with those of a new cultural or metaphysical “Christianity” promoted by her, and many others, that espouse each of us are god, or part of a divine being/consciousness (see last week’s blog, "Branded by Oprah"). Parents who are going to direct their children to Oprah’s website should be aware of this, particularly parents raising their children in the Christian, Jewish, or Islamic faiths.

Due to the inherently “spiritual” nature of Oprah’s website, if she wants to publish a booklist for kids, it would be better for her to create a website particularly for that purpose; or, at minimum, strip off the links to other portions of her website on that page. Doing this should not be problematic if she and/or her developers truly do not have a spiritual agenda in this matter.

By taking this step, she will help ensure parents that kids visiting the website are less likely to run with the “spiritual-scissors” offered on Oprah.com. Of course, that’s my view, what’s yours? Ouch; Watch out for those scissors!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Branded By Oprah

How well have you been “branded”? Not branded like cattle in a Western movie, but able to recall the slogans, jingles, and logos that companies bombard us with daily in order to “brand” their product into our life.

See if you can name the products that go with the following advertising slogans/campaigns: (You can check your answers at the end of today’s entry.)

1. “They’re Grrreaaat!”
2. “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.”
3. “A little dab’ll do you.”
4. “It’s the real thing!”
5. “Finger Lickin’ Good!”
6. “For those who think young!”
7. “Just Do It!”
8. “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is!”
9. “Where’s the beef?”
10. “The Quicker Picker-Upper!”
11. Ask any mermaid, you happen to see, “What’s the best tuna?”
12. Double your pleasure, double your fun.

Even though some of these slogans haven’t been used for decades, they became so embedded in the culture that many of us still remember the commercial and/or jingle that contained the slogan. If you fall into the category of those who could identify eight or more products, you have been effectively branded by corporate America.

However, the goal is not simply to get you to know about the product, but to buy it and promote it; in other words, the goal is to develop “brand loyalty” – to prefer and support a particular brand over other brands of the same product. There is still some degree of brand loyalty today, but certainly not like it once was. This is due, in no small part, to the economic downturn in the 1970s which caused many people to put more emphasis on value than on brand loyalty, allowing smaller companies to compete with the big, name brands.

This paved the way for the introduction of generic brands. Today we know these as “store brands”, but when initially introduced they were packaged in white boxes, or cans with white labels, typically with green or black lettering that simply started what was in the container – coffee, for example. Within a few years, almost every major grocery store had a “generic” aisle.

Certainly there was some skepticism about buying a white can simply labeled, “coffee”. But after thirty years, and the white label being replaced by packaging similar to that of the brand names, most of us don’t have any problem picking up the “store brand”. It certainly doesn’t hurt that these also usually cost much less than the comparable name-brand product.

This “generic” branding carried over into prescription medications, electronics, and almost every other product line. But does this popularity of the “store brands” and willingness to stray from the “name brands” only apply to the goods that we buy? Or, are Americans also less likely to practice “brand loyalty” in other areas of life, such as religion?

Once, Americans were passionately loyal to their Church, religion, or faith (Historically, this was almost exclusively Judaism or Christianity – Protestantism or Roman Catholicism). However, by the 1970s, the U.S. was experiencing an increase in the number of, what might be called, “generic” religions. The popularity of Eastern religions was on the rise and by the 1980s “metaphysics”, or so-called “New Age” religions, were becoming entrenched in the mainstream of American culture.

Americans were proving that not only did they want options in product consumerism; they wanted to be able to pick and choose among their religious “brands”, as well. Many were replacing, “Jesus is the only way” with, “Jesus is one of many ways.” And, while one can certainly believe whatever they want, such statements are particularly troubling as many who make such claims, say they are doing so as Christians. A good example of this is Oprah Winfrey.

In the mid 1990s, I recorded one of the Oprah shows and released a few clips from it on the Internet. One, that has garnered much attention lately, features Oprah stating (in reference to the statement, “Jesus is the only way”), “There can’t possibly be just one way.” Following is an excerpt that contains this statement and others that are revealing as to her beliefs.

Naturally, this statement has also received much notice and commentary from Christians. One group, a small consortium of Christian news publishers, contracted for an article to address Winfrey’s theology. The resulting article was released to a number of Christian newspapers and distributed through other venues, such as churches.

When Ms. Winfrey’s production company, Harpo Productions, was approached about the story, a spokesman affirmed Winfrey is a Christian, stating: "Oprah was raised Baptist and has stated many, many times that she is a Christian and that she believes in only one God," said the spokesman, who asked not to be named. "She has also said, 'I'm a free-thinking Christian who believes in my way, but I don't believe it's the only way, with 6 billion people on the planet.'" (USA TODAY, www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2008-07-07-oprah-christian_N.htm )

In supporting the validity of Ms. Winfrey’s views, her spokesman referred to the findings of a recent report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that 70% of Americans said, "many religions can lead to eternal life". This spokesman must not realize that the Pew report was reporting what Americans believe, not which beliefs are true. Truth is not determined by a poll, or vote.

For example, 200 years ago the majority of Americans believed Jesus was the only way to enter into a relationship with God. Did the fact that the majority believed this make it true? And if so, does this mean “truth” is fluid, or changing, based upon majority views, or cultural trends? Of course not. While how many people believe something might be a statistical fact, it is not proof that what they believe is true.

As Americans, we are guaranteed the right to believe and practice any religion we want, as long as it does not harm or interfere with the guaranteed rights of others. Ms. Winfrey has the right to believe many ways lead to God. However, to do so while claiming to be a Christian is somewhat disingenuous; as the Christian Church has, since its inception, proclaimed that Jesus is the only way. It is our “brand”, you might say. To proclaim otherwise, is to deny the faith.

If Coke wants to reach Pepsi customers, it can’t do it by putting Coke labels on Pepsi products, or by promoting Pepsi as a Coca Cola product. To do this would violate the truth in labeling and advertising laws. In the same way, one cannot simply place the “Christian” label on their beliefs and claim to be Christian while proclaiming beliefs that are anything but Christian. The product, or beliefs, in this case, must match the label.

Without question, the Christian “brand” is being greatly infringed upon, as are those of other world religions. A new brand is being substituted as evidenced by statements like those of Ms. Winfrey, who attempt to blur the distinctions between Christianity and these new religions. If the findings of the Pew Forum are correct, it certainly seems to be working.

Therefore, it is especially important that Christians are able to articulate our beliefs and accurately represent them in the marketplace. It is also time for Winfrey and others to admit that theirs is not a “free-thinking Christianity” but an entirely different religion, or spiritual understanding.

Answers: 1) Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, 2) Chiffon Margarine, 3) Brylcreem, 4) Coca Cola 5) Kentucky Fried Chicken, 6) Pepsi, 7) Nike, 8) Alka-Seltzer, 9) Wendy’s Hamburgers, 10) Bounty Paper Towels, 11) Chicken of the Sea Tuna, 12) Doublemint Chewing Gum

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Holy Book! Does This Feel Good?

This month the Barna Research Group released the results of a recent poll concerning what books Americans consider to be “sacred/holy” texts. Their findings aren’t all that surprising when considered in light of the findings of other researchers regarding Americans and their faith, religious, and/or spiritual beliefs; namely, that while we are becoming an increasingly pluralistic society, Americans tend to cling to a “cultural” Christianity.

Barna found that only one book was considered a sacred/holy text by more than five percent of those polled – the Bible. In fact, eighty four percent included it as sacred literature (the same percentage as those identifying themselves to be Christian.) Only three other books were listed by more than one percent of respondents, with the highest being the Koran, at four percent. The other two were the Book of Mormon, at three percent, and the Torah, at two percent.

Obviously, these numbers pale in comparison to that of the Bible; but, despite their low percentages of recognition, it should not be lost on us that the “sacred” text of Islam, the Koran, is now more widely recognized as “sacred” than those associated with the Mormons (Book of Mormon) and the Jews (Torah). This is, despite the fact that Muslims represent less than one percent of the U.S. population, while Mormons and Jews are each about 2 percent of the population. Also, in addition to outnumbering Muslim adherents in America, Judaism and Mormonism predate Islam as significantly established religions in the U.S.

Without question, these findings would be vastly different, at least as regards these three texts, were the polling done in 1908. A definite shift is occurring in the religious culture of our nation.

In evaluating the data, Barna observed, “Although most American adults are only moderately committed to Christianity and to the church they attend most often, they have no inclination to embrace anything besides the Bible as sacred, especially if it originated from a different faith tradition. Christians may not know much of what’s in the Bible, but they are not at all likely to investigate the religious books of other faiths or to refer to them as holy."

This is not to say that Americans are unwilling to flirt with other religions, as evidenced by numerous polls regarding American spirituality; rather there is an unwillingness to abandon our long-held esteem for the Bible. This often results in an attempt to incorporate the Bible into, and in support of, their flirtations. (An example is Oprah Winfrey who, though having long abandoned the beliefs of Christianity, still considers the Bible to be a sacred text and often quotes from it to support a particular view.)

Two findings in Barna’s report are particularly telling regarding the “spiritual” shifts occurring in our nation. First, the poll found that adults under the age of twenty five are among those most likely to experiment with other religions. And secondly, in addition to texts that are associated with organized religious movements, such as the Bhagavad Gita (Hinduism), the Talmud (Judaism), and Teachings of the Buddha (Buddhism), some respondents included in their list more moderns works, like: Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau, Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard, Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, and Quiet Strength by football coach Tony Dungy. While these books were statistically less than one-half of a percent they are reflective of the willingness of Americans to find “spiritual” truth in a great diversity of sources.

The bottom-line is, though Americans – for the most part – still identify themselves as Christians, many are merely giving a polite nod to the Bible while finding their “spiritual” truth in any number of sources, both ancient and new. Ultimately, this means that rather than holding to a belief in an objective truth, Americans are turning to a feel-good – truth is in the eye of the beholder – approach.

This is illogical when one considers that these various “sacred” texts are often in conflict with one another and thus, some of them must be wrong; and, if wrong, they cannot be classified as sacred. Unfortunately, for many today, it’s not really about finding truth but finding what makes us feel good and then labeling it as “my” truth.

We would do well to remember that the test for truth, whether it comes in a book, an organized religion, or any other source, is not whether or not it makes us feel good. In fact, maybe we need to remember that sometimes the truth hurts.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Silence is Deafening

Our judicial system continues to turn a deaf ear to States that try to return prayer to our public schools by beginning the school day with a moment of silence. The Courts take this posture despite the fact that each day it is in session the U.S. Congress is opened with a verbal prayer. Illinois, the state of Presidential candidate Barack Obama, is the latest to feel the Courts' indignation over having a moment of silence.

Last October the Illinois’ state legislature passed a law requiring a moment of silence in public school. Suit was promptly filed by an atheist challenging the law on the basis of the First Amendment establishment of religion clause, which prohibits the establishment of a State religion. The case is in the U.S. District Court, and though the Court has not yet issued a formal ruling, it has found that the law is “probably” unconstitutional. As such, the Court has mandated that this law shall be stayed until a final ruling is made.

This would have been unheard of prior to the 1960’s when prayer and reading the Bible in public schools was an accepted norm. However, that changed in 1962 when the Supreme Court ruling in Engel v. Vitale placed a prohibition on public schools sponsoring prayer in the school. At issue was the following prayer that teachers in the Union Free School District (New York) were required to lead at the beginning of each school day:

"Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country."

How the Court found that this prayer established a State religion seems beyond rationale thinking. In fact, it is difficult to believe that this prayer would even be controversial; especially today, when recent polling indicates some 93% of Americans believe in a divine being, or divine presence. Surely, even Oprah, would not find such a prayer offensive, as it has more of a universal appeal rather than one that is tied to a particular faith tradition. (To read more about this case go to: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=370&invol=421)

Having successfully removed prayer, the following year, the court issued another ruling which prohibited Bible reading in public schools (Abington School District v. Schempp). In this case, the Schempp family, who were Unitarians, filed suit in opposition to a PA Statute which required: "At least ten verses from the Holy Bible shall be read, without comment, at the opening of each public school on each school day”. This statute further provided children could opt out of participating with a written request from their parent or guardian. (To read more about this case go to: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=374&invol=203)

I was still in grade school in the “Bible Belt” when these rulings were issued and can remember teachers continuing to have Bible reading and prayer in class for years afterward. These teachers were simply reflecting the “faith” beliefs and traditions of the community – the same beliefs and traditions that were honored and present at the founding of our nation and that are still widely held today.

In fact, a 2005 Gallup poll found that 76% of Americans favor “a constitutional amendment to allow voluntary prayer in public schools”. The Gallup researchers concluded “[the survey] confirms that whatever arguments political leaders make about separation of church and state in the public schools, most Americans don't seem to be persuaded. Large majorities continue to favor allowing voluntary prayer in public schools, and believe that religion has too little presence in them”.

Like Illinois, a number of states have tried to maintain the right to pray in public schools by passing statutes providing for silent prayer. But the Courts have often intervened on the basis of a ruling that such laws must have a non-religious, or secular, motivation. So, "secular" or "non-religious" praying is okay?

My own state, Alabama, found that out in the case of Wallace v. Jaffree, 1985. In this case, the Supreme Court affirmed an Appeals Court ruling that an Alabama Statute – allowing public schools to have a one minute period of silence, “for meditation or voluntary prayer” – “is a law respecting the establishment of religion and thus violates the First Amendment”. (To read more about this case go to: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=472&invol=38)

The journey to remove God from our schools has been a relatively short and efficient one. It is also one that has been carried out despite being out of step with the will of the majority and often under the ridiculous assertion that these laws were meant to establish a State religion.

In a country where freedom of speech is a guaranteed right, it seems odd that the Supreme Court finds a moment of silence to be so offensive and out of step with our guaranteed rights. Perhaps people of faith need to exercise that right to free speech more often and make known the “will of the people”.

That's my toughts, what are yours?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Christian Nation, Melting Pot, or Honey Pot?

For several decades there has been a continuing shift from the historic faith, values, and traditions upon which this country was founded. We have drifted from being a Christian Nation to a Nation that is said to be founded on Christian principles. We have absorbed and birthed a number of religions and, as a Nation, have embraced religious pluralism.

During the presidential primaries, faith and its place in today’s society has become an important part of the debate. Media, journalists, and voters, have frequently asked candidates about their religious views. The presumptive presidential nominees of each party also had to address their own views of how, or where, “Christian” fits into our heritage.

“I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles.... personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith. But that doesn't mean that I'm sure that someone who is Muslim would not make a good president. I don't say that we would rule out under any circumstances someone of a different faith. I just would--I just feel that that's an important part of our qualifications to lead.” John McCain 1

“Given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.” Barack Obama, Call to Renewal Keynote Address June 28, 2006 2

From centuries past you can hear the gasp of disbelief from the founding fathers of this Nation, as regardless of who wins, our next President has acknowledged this is not a Christian nation; but, at best, a nation established on Christian principles. These were certainly not the views expressed by men such as John Jay, (President of the Continental Congress and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) who wrote:

“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”

It would be hard to imagine in this age of political correctness that a political leader or candidate would give voice to such thoughts. Perhaps even more difficult to imagine would be those expressed by our second president, John Adams, who wrote:

“The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity, and humanity.”

Today, anyone expressing such views would be quickly labeled as intolerant or an extremist, if not both. Yet, these were the views held by many, if not most of the founding fathers; rooted in their Christian faith. And, they were views that were openly and oft expressed.

Today, many Christians still hold the beliefs expressed by Jay and Adams, but no longer dare express them in public discourse; especially in the political arena. Even noted Christian leaders have at times backed away from sharing such beliefs before secular audiences. It makes you wonder why beliefs that were prominently expressed by our founding fathers are rarely part of the public discussion today.

In his Call to Renewal Keynote Address, Senator Obama made an interesting observation relative to the discussion about religion going on today:

“Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew…when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.”

He is correct that there is an ongoing debate about the various religious views held in our country. He is also correct that the discussion often leaves a vacuum to be filled. And, perhaps, he is even correct that it is too often filled with those who “use religion to justify partisan means”. But, it is also true that, increasingly, missing from that discussion are those that represent the religious convictions expressed by John Jay, John Adams, and other founders of our Nation. If Christians still hold these convictions dear then they must become part of this discussion.

Integral to this debate must be the realization, by all sides, that the litmus test for being an American is not whether or not one is a Christian; nor does being an American mean that a Christian must give up long-held expressions of their faith anymore than a person of another faith must give up theirs.

Tolerance does not mean only speaking about areas where we find common ground. Neither is intolerance measured by the degree to which one expresses views that are opposed to those of another. In fact, faith demands that one hold firm to his/her convictions and express them consistently and truthfully. Those who claim to be followers of Christ must also, as Christians and Americans, discuss areas of disagreement with civility and respect; something that is all too often missing in our Country today.

While we may disagree who has the honey and who is the fly, the old adage, “you can catch more flies with honey” is still true. So why not join me in a jar of honey and let’s sit down and have a conversation.

2 http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/ObamaonFaith.pdf

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

When It Comes to Religion, It Seems to Be a Toss-Up

This month the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a 268 page report entitled, The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. It is not surprising that the trends it reports reflect a continuing shift in the views of Americans relative to matters of religious beliefs and faith.

The response to one question is particularly revealing regarding the blurring of distinctions among the various “faiths” held by Americans. The question asked was:

“Now, as I read a pair of statements, tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views even if neither is exactly right.

(a) My religion is the one true faith leading to eternal life, OR Many religions can lead to eternal life.

(b) There is only ONE true way to interpret the teachings of my religion, OR There is MORE than one true way to interpret the teachings of my religion.”

In an age when brand loyalty is marketed and emphasized, one might think that Americans would be particularly loyal to their own faith of choice. However, only 24% of those polled believe that their religion is the one true faith leading to eternal life. Even among Evangelical Churches, only 36% said their religion is the only one that leads to eternal life.

The Pew Report found that, “Seven-in-ten Americans with a religious affiliation say that many religions can lead to eternal life. In fact, majorities of nearly every religious tradition take the view that many religions can lead to eternal life, including more than eight-in-ten Jews (82%), Buddhists (86%), Hindus (89%) and members of mainline Protestant churches (83%), and nearly eight in ten Catholics (79%). Fewer members of evangelical and historically black churches (57% and 59%, respectively) agree with this, as do 56% of Muslims.”

While this was but one finding of a very extensive report and doesn’t appear in the report until page 58, it is garnering many of the headlines relative to this survey; headlines such as:New Findings About U.S. Religious Life (Christian Science Monitor), Most American Say Many Religions Can Lead to Eternal Life (Dallas Morning News), Christians: No One Path to Salvation (Time), and – perhaps the most telling of a cultural shift in this area – Survey Shows U.S. Religious Tolerance (New York Times).

Neela Banerjee of The NY Times astutely reports, “[It]reveals a broad trend toward tolerance and an ability among many Americans to hold beliefs that might contradict the doctrines of their professed faiths…The findings seem to undercut the conventional wisdom that the more religiously committed people are, the more intolerant they are, scholars who reviewed the survey said. ‘It’s not that Americans don’t believe in anything,’ said Michael Lindsay, assistant director of the Center on Race, Religion and Urban Life at Rice University. ‘It’s that we believe in everything. We aren’t religious purists or dogmatists.’”

David Van Biena, of TIME, drew a similar conclusion but emphasized the breadth of this stating, “Even more remarkable was the fact that 57% of Evangelical Christians were willing to accept that theirs might not be the only path to salvation, since most Christians historically have embraced the words of Jesus, in the Gospel of John, that ‘no one comes to the Father except through me.’ Even as mainline churches had become more tolerant, the exclusivity of Christianity's path to heaven has long been one of the Evangelicals' fundamental tenets. The new poll suggests a major shift, at least in the pews.”

Clearly, with the influx of Eastern religious views during the past several decades and a simultaneous withdrawal of the Church from the marketplace, Americans have become softened to the idea of religious pluralism. We have been conditioned to be a tolerant society, particularly when it comes to matters of religion and faith. And tolerance, it seems, has been redefined as accepting any belief as valid, even if it is in conflict with your own belief.

So, what this survey reflects, in part, is that Americans have concluded to hold one’s personal faith as the only “true way” would not be acceptable in a “tolerant” society. Michael Lindsay is correct in saying we believe everything. However, we should add, we’ll also believe “anything”. Unfortunately, this survey also indicates this is becoming increasingly true in the Church, as well.

While we have no problem promoting our favorite soft drink, fast food, movie, etc. as being the best on the market, political correctness demands that we do not hold to such a hard and fast commitment to our faith. It appears that when it comes to religion “brand loyalty” is being thrown under the wheels of “political correctness”.

Monday, June 16, 2008

One Nation Under Who…or, Should We Say, What

Over the years, the Gallup Poll has conducted a number of polls regarding religious trends in the US. One question they have asked annually for several decades is: “How important is religion in your own life?”

In 2007, an all-time low of only 56% of respondents stated religion is “very important”. While this is not a dramatic decrease from recent years (the percentage who gave this response has hovered in the upper 50s to lower 60s since the 1990’s), contrast it with the 1950s when those responding “very important” was consistently in the upper 70 percentages.

Another question polled annually has been: “At the present time, do you think religion as a whole is increasing its influence on American life, or losing its influence?”

Again, in a 2007 poll, those responding, “losing its influence” was 62%, the highest percentage since the early 1990s when this number reached 68%.

These are interesting numbers when considering a poll taken last month by Gallup found 78% of those polled said they believe in God and 15% said they believe in a universal spirit. Thus, those acknowledging a belief in the divine totaled 93% with only 6% responding they do not believe in either (1% had no opinion).

It would seem logical to think that with such a high percentage believing in God, or a universal spirit, those who believe religion is having a greater influence would be much more significant. However, the polls indicate that most Americans do not think the belief, or faith, of those who express a belief in God, or a universal spirit, is having a recognizable influence on society.

One factor contributing to this view might be that the belief in a universal spirit, as opposed to a personal God, is on the rise. In the last decade, there has been a decrease in those who believe in God (86% in 1999) while those who believe in a universal spirit (only 8% in 1999) has increased. This means there has been approximately a 9% decrease in the belief in God and an increase of almost 200% in the belief in a universal spirit during that same period.

This certainly might impact how Americans view the influence of religion, since those who believe the divine is a universal spirit, tend to separate “religion” from what they view to be the much more all-encompassing, “spirituality”; in fact, they tend to believe that “religion” should not be the focus at all since they think it tends to divide people and create problems.

Therefore, while they may not see religion as having an influence they would believe what they hold to as the higher “spirituality”, pervasive in this country, is making a difference. Thus, were the question framed as, “Is American spirituality increasing or losing its influence”, this segment of the populous might have a different response than that regarding religion.

What this poll is probably most indicative of is the diminishing role of the Church in American society. In a 2007 Gallup poll, Americans who indicated they were a member of a church or synagogue revealed an all-time low of only 61% (this was 70% in 1992). Without question, the Christian church is being seen as having less and less relevance in our society. Perhaps this can be mostly attributed to the church having lost its voice in the marketplace of ideas over the last 40-50 years.

As it was in the founding of this nation, the Church is an important part of our society. It is imperative that it again finds its voice and becomes the influencer that it is meant to be. Until that happens, the polls will continue to reflect that this “one nation under God” has lost its way.

That’s one person’s opinion, what’s yours?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Three Little Pigs and a Barbque Sandwich

Do you remember as a child reading the story of the three little pigs? Recently, I was driving to a meeting and I began thinking about this story. Actually, I was driving past a barbeque restaurant and thinking about how great it would be to stop and get a pork sandwich – inside chopped, oozing with sauce, a side of potato salad and baked beans and....you get the picture; barbeque pork naturally leads one to think about pigs which leads to reminiscing about those most famous of pigs – the three pigs (or, perhaps, Porky the Pig for some).

But, I digress. Anyway, you know the story, the three pigs each build a house to protect them from the big bad wolf – one of straw, one of sticks, and one of brick. The ones of straw and sticks were quickly disposed of by the strong winds blown by said wolf; but, the one of brick withstood the winds and protected the little pig that constructed it. The moral, of course, is to build with strong materials that will withstand the attack and protect you from that which would harm you.

In other words, the building materials we use in life are important, as is the foundation that we build on. Long before the story of the three little pigs, Jesus had taught this lesson to those who would follow him. He didn’t speak of three pigs, but of real life situations. Here is how he put it:

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." MT 7:24-27 (NIV)

This is why the Crosswinds Foundation was established, to help recognize that the cultural winds are blowing and to help build our faith and culture with the best materials on the right foundation – Jesus Christ. It is this same Jesus who is the “Foundation” in Crosswinds Foundation.

Just like the big bad wolf, it is not a question of whether the rains and winds will come; the question is, will the faith, beliefs, values, and practices that we hold and pass on to our children withstand the cultural winds that blow against them? The answer depends on the foundation on which we are building and the materials that we are using.

Jesus words are clear; believers are not simply to rest on the foundation but to build on it by living out the words of Jesus in the culture. We should not fear the cultural winds but withstand them. While the winds can be quite strong, let us not forget that the foundation is stronger and secures us in the midst of the storm and will prevail.

The big bad wolf huffed and he puffed but he could not blow the house down. Why? Because the foundation and building materials were too strong. Should our faith be any different?

Our forefathers established the “foundation for faith and culture” of this country on Christ and His teachings, so much so that we have long referred to ours as being a Christian Nation. I think most would agree this is no longer the case.

Cultural winds have been blowing a new course – shifting the very foundation and fabric of our society. Beliefs and practices that forty years ago would never have been part of who we are, as a people, have now been mainstreamed into our society. One of the reasons for this is that somewhere along the way, the voice of the Church was lost to the discussion; thus, in many instances, these social, political, and philosophical changes went unchallenged.

As believers, it is essential that we turn this around and again become intentional in shaping the conversation in the marketplace and to be the influencers of the culture that Christ intends us to be. Jesus was very clear on this:

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. MT 5: 13-16 (NIV)

We cannot be salt unless we are engaging the world. We cannot be light unless we are where there is darkness.

And he huffed…. And the rains came down
And he puffed….And the winds blew
But he could not blow the house down… Yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

I ain’t afraid of no big bad wolf…are you?