Saturday, August 19, 2017

Socialists to the Left of Me, Nazis to the Right – Here I Am.


Stuck in the middle with you all!*

You need not express a political opinion in an SDA gathering very often before you will be approached by some seriously concerned Adventist who tells you that Adventists should not be involved in politics. I am an Adventist and conservative political activist working with abused and emotionally disturbed kids, seniors, the homeless, people with disabilities, and low income families. As a community organizer I helped organize local initiatives on healthcare, transportation, and homelessness. My left-leaning SDA friends think I should spontaneously combust because, as everyone knows, conservatives don't care about people. And we're racists, so they can't explain all those black kids I run around with in my work.

I've worked for more than four decades in the nonprofit sector and as a teacher. I've helped start 5 nonprofit organizations and schools working with mentally and physically abused kids, special needs kids, low income families, people with disabilities, seniors and the homeless. My fellow SDAs aren't sure how to take me. I make them nervous, plunging into public advocacy around issues like transportation, homelessness, health care and politics. I became a conservative because I saw how the Democrat-controlled system in my home state was more about power than about helping the people it was supposed to serve. The causes I took up were about solving problems, not ideology. During my time as practising community organizer. I was in the public eye, as an activist, not as an SDA, though I never hid my religion from anyone. Some of the brethren in my church, however, were concerned that I might tie the Adventist gospel to my work among the Gentiles and Hottentots. As a fund-raiser, I raised millions for people with disabilities, the homeless, battered women, special needs kids and hungry folk. In the meantime, I ran the Pathfinder Club, was a Sabbath School teacher and did youth work at my church. Most of my church friends were supportive.

Because I'm a conservative, I am often charged with racism. There's not a racist bone in my body. I just think the government is too big and intrusive. I live in one of those regions that have "region conferences" for our black brethren. White people attend those churches all the time. The so-called white conferences have black and Hispanic officers and pastors and the East Texas church I attended had as many brown and black-skinned minority members as white folks. Nobody seems to notice skin color or minds at all when Hispanics, blacks or Filipinos take the podium. As to the black conferences, those are something of an anachronism – left over from Jim Crow days when SDAs didn't want their churches burned down in the Democrat South. The new Pastor is Samoan. Everybody loves him.

I asked a black pastor once whether we should abolish the black conferences and mix them altogether. He emphatically said no! The region conferences he explained were about the black culture and preserving a style of worship that many white folk could be uncomfortable with. I can see his point and don't feel the need to force my black brethren to sit in dull white churches and listen to homilies on stewardship. I can understand why they don't want to lose control over their churches and their cultural style, as my friend explained it. Am I racist for not wanting to force my black brothers and sisters to do something they don't want to do in the name of "optics"? The Texas (white) conference is anything but white. We have Hispanic churches where the preaching is in Spanish and the worship style is their own. The Texas Conference president is Hispanic. My beloved Tyler Church has a large contingent of people of Filipino heritage who are fun to hang with and who adopted me as one of their own. The guys wear these wonderful loose island-style shirts with no ties to church. I'm fine with that. In fact, I want to know where they get them so I can wear them too.

Race doesn't come into my church. I grew up in an SDA college town and we had kids from every corner of the globe coming there to go to school, thanks to the recruiting policies of the least racist man I've ever known - Leroy Leiske.  I stood with my black brothers and sisters during the civil rights marches because it was the right thing to do. Elder Leiske recruited students without any consideration of skin color. I and my fellow students, cheered when Leroy Leiske began recruiting black students to Southwestern Union College. We in "terribly racist Texas", in fact, embraced Leiske after one of the Southern conferences ousted him for his race-blind policies as conference president there.

As a conservative I have my own level of discomfort with my church's anemic response to the "issues of the day". To me, it seems we are beginning to lean leftward at the top of what has, unfortunately, become the most authoritarian Protestant church hierarchy in the world (with one more administrative level between member and world leader than the papacy). I grew up with SDAs being afraid of rock-ribbed Baptists and believing that those sorts of conservative Christians would be the source of the much-feared "Sunday Closing Law". When I look at the events going on in the world today, however, I don't find Baptists pressing for Sunday laws. I find the papacy building a relationship with charismatics, TV evangelicals, high church Protestants, and progressive socialists. I find the pope telling Catholics to press their governments to create Sunday laws. They have succeeded too. In Germany you can be arrested and fined for washing your car or mowing your lawn on Sunday. The German trade unions helped the Catholics get that one passed.

The whole world is wondering after the beast these days and it's not the Baptists or other conservative churches that are doing it. The folk who are trying to organize the "United Religions", a sort of United Nations for religions proposed by Israel's Shimon Peres, are not conservative Christians. They are high church Protestants (Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, etc.) and liberal "television-based" churches.And yet, my positions on the constitution, free speech, second amendment rights, small government and freedom of religious expression seem to make a disturbing number of my SDA brethren uncomfortable. I really don't understand. Are we not studying Daniel and the Revelation anymore in our schools and churches.

I am not nearly as disturbed by conservative Christians as I am by progressives. The forces of "progressivism" are far better organized and supported and are doing very well at marginalizing conservatives by lumping us all in with extremist alt-right white supremacists. They own the media for the most part and control the political narrative.

As an Adventist, who has spent 50 years studying scripture, the sheer dominance of the political left worldwide sends up all sorts of flares for me. The preachers back during my youth used to try to frighten us into the pews with terror stories about not being "ready" for the time of trouble. SDA evangelists, unlike their Baptist counterparts, didn't have hell fire as a useful tool for that sort of fear-mongering, so they used the time of trouble instead. I actually studied prophecy as a result. The great “righteousness by faith” message of the late 60s early 70s was an awakening for me.

But I still remember the scary end-times stories. Today, as I watch the news and see the rise of Babylon before my very eyes, I cannot help but see who the players are who "wonder after the Beast". It's a little unrealistic for my church to tell us all about the frightening prophetic events to come and then ask us to passively sit by and not resist when we see it coming.

Keeping quiet and not making waves is NOT the example we see in Scripture. Eleven of the 12 apostles died at the hands of angry governments. The only one who died a natural death was imprisoned and boiled in oil before he did die of old age. Jeremiah was murdered by the government. Elijah ran off into the wilderness to escape the government he criticized and had to be fed by crows from God. Elisha was surrounded by an army that was unhappy with his prophesies. John the Baptist was beheaded for criticizing the king. Jesus, Himself, was crucified by politicians and priests because he was upsetting the political balance of the times.

I find it difficult to believe that so many of my fellow Adventists and even church leaders advocate a policy of appeasement, if not a practice of actually embracing the agenda of the very folk who booed at the mention of the name of God at their most recent national convention. We seem to want to not offend those who stand ready to join a global government "with teeth" (Pope Benedict's words in his call for global government). Luther's Protest is over according to Pope Frances. It's time that we come home to the Catholic church. He often affirms Pope Benedict's call to organize a world government. Want to know who the pope has suggested organize that government? World political and religious leaders, economic organizations (like the the WTO, ITO and IMF), trade unions, and international political parties. When Shimon Peres proposed the creation of the United Religions organization, guess who he asked to head it up (as the logical choice)? If you guessed the pope, you are at least not in denial. Is anyone's hair standing up yet?

So, I am a problematic Adventist. I don't remain quiet. I call myself a conservative because I belong to no political party. None of them suit my beliefs. Every one of them contains a small poison pill within their ideology. I see my role, rather, as a watchman on the wall and as I look out over the world from my perch in the Adventist tower, I see dark masses of evil men approaching. We are called to sound the alarm. The trouble is, too many of the watchmen are not looking outward, but looking inward and picking fights among ourselves over unimportant issues and drawing our attention away from the gathering darkness outside our lovely walls.

We should be throwing open our gates and shouting a warning to the world to come in and join us as the forces of evil approach. Sadly, we seem to be more interested in shooting our own people off the walls. We ban Doug Batchelor from speaking in Florida because he's “too controversial”. The editor of The Review talks about marginalizing independent ministries in an editorial. The GC administration manipulates data at the General Conference to influence a vote which shifts power away from the Union Conferences and back to the central authority in direct opposition to the 1903 GC. That conference, attended by Ellen White, created the union conferences as a buffer between the local conferences and the GC. Sr. White said that angels walked the aisles of the conference where that was done. She pointed out that the GC leadership should not exercise “kingly power” over the brethren.

There are two forces at work in this world - one which centralizes power in the hands of humans in an attempt to create a human utopia free of God as much as possible. The other is a system in which individuals serve God, not the state and which believes we should take care of our own business without the need to enslave others through excessive law and regulation.

As we see prophecy being played out on the six o'clock news, should we be sneaking around pretending we do not object to the horrific things being done, while those doing them cry "Peace, Peace!". The Bible is filled with preachers, prophets and political activists. It doesn't always work out well for them. They often die singularly ugly deaths. Governments are notoriously touchy about being criticized. Not many kings took kindly to being upbraided by some upstart holy man. We should expect nothing less than to be persecuted, jailed and silenced for our trouble.

And the genius of Satan's plan is that he has both extremes of the political and religious fence working against each other. for the same ends. As an old 60s era rock song once proclaimed, “Satan, Satan is my name. Confusion is my game.

© 2017 by Tom King

* I had to change the name of the photo because blogger.com rejected my use of the "N-word". NO NOT THAT ONE.  The word Nazi in a photo apparently gets you rejected. As the Wicked Witch of the West so eloquently put it, "What a world. What a world!"

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Loving God's-Eye View of the Ten Commandments

One of the reasons God said, "Have no other gods
before me." Gods like Molech weren't very nice gods.
Too often we think of "commandments" as harsh and arbitrary orders. In all of history, the only time God has actually spoken to mankind was to deliver ten of those commandments to the children of Israel. These commandments have been recorded in Scripture and have heavily influenced jurisprudence throughout the Christian world.

And yet, in Scripture we find God portrayed as the very embodiment of love. So how do we reconcile a loving God who also barks commandments that brook no nonsense.  Thou shalt not steal, lie, murder or be greedy are pretty straightforward commands. There isn't a lot of wiggle room. They are so blunt, in fact, that some denominations of Christendom (who shall remain nameless) have had to revise the ten commandments by deleting one altogether and revising two others so that one doesn't say what it used to say and the other becomes two separate commandments to fill in the hole where they took out the one about graven images. Left as it is in the original Hebrew text, however, those church practices are clearly not permissible.

Let's take them one by one and examine how such a command might also be an expression of love by a God who wants only the best for his children.
  1. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." -  Human beings are always searching for God whether they know it or not. Some have described it as having a "God-shaped hole" in our very being. We search for God in all the wrong places at first - in our selves, in powerful leaders, in science, and in nature, all with unsatisfying results. We search for God all our lives until we allow him to find us. The first commandment is just God encouraging us to skip all that fruitless searching and come straight to the only God who can fill that empty place in our hearts.
  2. "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments." -  I've always believed that a human being is not really a complete human being until he or she has become a parent. When we were tossed from the Garden of Eden, God began immediately to teach us. Our first homework assignment was to "be fruitful and multiply." Remember, God was angry when He said it. I'm not sure you can fully understand why a loving God will be a jealous God unless you have experienced the terrors of being a parent. Who among us parents hasn't issued some form of this commandment to our own children. "If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you just jump right off with them?" God, like any good parent, doesn't want to see his children do that which is harmful and let me tell you, idolatry is almost inevitably vicious and cruel. That gentle Mother Goddess all the New-Agers maunder on about, wasn't so gentle back in the day. She demanded rivers of blood to make the crops grow or the rains to come. At the time the Israelites took over Canaan, some 23,000 children were placed in the fires as a sacrifice to Molech EVERY SINGLE YEAR. We tell our children not to play with fire lest they get burned. That's what the second commandment is all about. God doesn't want his children playing with stray dogs or the sadistic little boy who lives down the street and tortures squirrels for fun.
  3. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."  - As a parent have you ever told your child to "Watch your mouth when you speak to me!" Why do you as a loving parent demand that your child respect you?  It's because you know that if you do not require respect, your child will soon not listen to your teaching and follow after other teachers who probably won't have his best interests at heart. If you are a shepherd, you carry a staff and have a dog with you because unless the sheep respect your authority, they may wander off and get eaten by a bear. The third commandment is for our safety. 
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." - The Sabbath command basically says, take a day off every week and spend it with me. Do you have a family night with your children?  Why do you make them go through the torture of spending time with Mom and Dad? It's because you wish to maintain a lifelong relationship with your kids and to spend quality time with them when you are NOT punishing them for misbehavior, making them do their chores and getting ready to go to school. Well, God wants to spend quality time with His children and like many a human parent, he has to make it non-negotiable or the kids won't do it. And like many a parent, God has to 'splain why he chose the day and time he did or the kids start shifting family night around so nobody can schedule the rest of their week around family night and pretty soon everybody's off water-skiing or watching a football game or anything besides getting together with their parents. 
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you." -  Remember that God told us to have children for a reason. Parents are a child's earliest peek at what the character of God is like. He wants us to respect our parents who created us in the same way He wants us all to respect He who created the world and all that is therein. In this way, all our lives we are taught to respect our creators, both human and divine. And the family unit is by far the most effective nurturing and training organization for children ever conceived. God wants you to go to a good school. Mom and Dad, however flawed they might be, are the best we've got.  
  6. “You shall not murder." - This one is kind of obvious. God does not give any man the arbitrary right to kill other people. Otherwise the world would descend to chaos. Even atheists recognize this rule as a good thing. It's not like God is trying to spoil your fun, although if you're Vlad the Impaler, you might see it that way. 
  7. “You shall not commit adultery." - Let's go back to God's first lesson study - "Be fruitful and multiply."  Adam and Eve blew the first educational opportunity they had so God set up an alternative educational system. It's said that if you really want to learn a subject, teach it. I can tell you that this is true. Our first parents likely learned a lot from their kids. They had successes and failures, tragedies and triumphs. The prohibition on adultery goes back to a reflection of the "Have no other gods before me." If the family unit was to follow the divine model, the faithfulness has to be a key element. If you begin to be unfaithful to your spouse, who is with you every day and whom you can see, then you are all the more likely to be unfaithful to your God, whom you cannot see either. God's not spoiling your fun. He's preserving your character and helping you understand the nature of the relationship you must have with God that Jesus later said, was the way to gain eternal life.
  8. “You shall not steal." - This one's easy to understand, especially if you've raised children. Stealing leads to chaos. Property rights are an essential key to a functioning society. Everywhere the Marxist idea of all property belonging to the workers has been tried, the infrastructure breaks down. If it belongs to everyone, nobody wants to bother to maintain it. Why mow your law if it's not your lawn and anybody who wants to can dig holes in it if they want to? We parents love our kids, but we don't let them steal from one another. 
  9. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor." - As a parent, we have all admonished our children not to lie. And why not? Society would collapse if people weren't basically honest. We have plenty of trouble as it is with people lying, even in court. That's why we punish them for perjury. If we didn't society would soon become unmanageable. Besides it's not nice!
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” - Here's another one where God assumes the parent role and has to explain just what he means. Don't be greedy isn't terribly specific and greedy people automatically begin looking for loopholes in any law, because greed is THE way to achieve power and control over others. And the lust for power my friends was the original sin - wanting to be gods ourselves; a job for which we are ill-suited. The tenth commandment is often the most overlooked and probably the most violated one, even more so than adultery, which sin also includes elements of both #7 and #10. One can almost see God standing there tapping his foot going, "No you can't covet his car. I know I said donkey, but the principle still applies. And no not his power tools either."  The point is God wants us to be satisfied with what we've got. He doesn't mind if we acquire things, just so those things aren't acquired at the expense of others. That includes our children and family too. We loving parents deny ourselves all sorts of thing in order to provide for our children. This is how God purges the tendency toward greed from us. Some of us, sadly, don't learn the lesson.
So God gave every single commandment out of love. Not one is from some egomaniacal demand by God that we bow down and worship and make sacrifices. God gets no pleasure from the blood of sacrifices or from our sore knees in church. While we might kneel or give generously to the church, but we do so because we recognize that we have a loving God and wish to be more like him. Our hearts are opened to the needs of others and like God, we desire to give to others, to relieve suffering and to bring comfort to those in pain or in want.

I just don't understand why people think that the application of Grace makes the ten commandments go away, as though Grace makes it okay to lie, cheat, steal, screw around and be greedy, or, more often, skip the Sabbath and use God's name as a curse word.  Grace gives us the will to do good. And what is good?  See the above commandments. That's what good looks like.

© 2017 by Tom King