Thursday, August 21, 2008

Faith & Politics - The Civil Forum

Only a church like Saddleback would be able to arrange a conversation with our current presidential candidates. I found this civil forum fascinating. Does this suggest a significant shift in the relationship between "the church" and "the state"? Probably not... but it is encouraging to see Democratic leaders engaging evangelicals on a much deeper level. That, I'm sure, does reflect some significant shifts.

Something Warren said in the introduction intrigued me. He stated, "We believe in the separation of church and state. But, we do not believe in the separation of faith and politics. Because faith is just a worldview and everybody has some kind of worldview and it is important to know what they are." It is an interesting statement... I'm not sure what to make of it yet. I suppose that he is suggesting that there needs to be institutional and organizational separations - but we cannot bifurcate our personal lives into private and public or the faith side and the political side. If that is what Warren is saying, then I agree.

I don't know if this will affect your opinions in any way, but I thought I would post the candidates responses to each question. Enjoy!

Q: Why do you want to be president?

Q: Does evil exist?

Q: Define "marriage".

Q: What is your stance on abortion?

Q: What is your stance on stem cell research?

Q: What does being a Christian mean to you?

Q: What do you think about religious persecution?

Q: What is your stance on federal funding of faith-based organizations?

Q: What do you consider your greatest moral failure to be? What is America's?

Q: Who are the three wisest people in your life?

Q: Name one instance when you went against your party loyalty.

Q: Name one instance when you flip-flopped on an issue.

Q: What is the most gut-wrenching decision you've every had to make?

Q: Which existing Supreme Court Judge would you not have nominated?

Q: What is your stance on merit-based pay for teachers?

Q: Define "rich".

Q: What cause is worth our troops dying for?

Q: Would you consider creating an emergency plan for orphans?

Q: What do you say to the people who oppose you answering these questions in a church?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Gift of Opposition?

We don't often think of opposition as a gift. "My grace is sufficient." Those words sound nice on the surface, but in their proper context they can be quite unsettling. This difficulty isn't going away... you just have to deal with it. Toughen up.

The spiritual rule is that growth happens through opposition... it becomes the fertile soil for genuine formation. We can thrive if we begin to view opposition as an opportunity instead of an obstacle. John Ortberg had a helpful article on this topic in July's Leadership Journal.

The Gift of Opposition
Not everyone enjoys conflict. But everyone can benefit from it.
by John Ortberg

I was thinking the other day about a class I took in seminary called "How to handle opposition, criticism, resistance, and passive-aggression." Come to think of it, I think I missed that course. The class I took was on source criticism, not criticism per se. Not that understanding source criticism hasn't been useful. I have new attenders coming up to me all the time to ask why J, D, P, and E couldn't all just get along.

Still, I think the other class would have been more useful.

Opposition is an inevitable reality of pastoral life. Not just spiritual opposition ("we wrestle not against flesh and blood"). Not just the intellectual opposition of Richard Dawkins/Daniel Dennet/Samuel Harris/Christopher Hitchens readers. I'm talking about friendly fire. The deacon board who votes to wish you a speedy recovery 13-12. The e-mail writer who wonders about your orthodoxy, theological literacy, or citation of unsafe authors. The helpful critic who wonders why you don't do more altar calls. The champion of worship/missions/children/evangelism/discipleship/prayer/stewardship/marriage/expository preaching/praisercize who wonders when you will get your priorities straight.

There are radically different temperaments when it comes to opposition response. It's been observed that Teddy Roosevelt required opposition in order to be fully energized. If he didn't have any opposition, he'd stir some up. Winston Churchill got bored by agreement. Criticism—from his own party, from the opposition, or from his nation's enemies—fueled him like a double espresso. When Hitler appeared, Churchill found the opponent he'd been waiting for his whole life. His finest hour was the courageous fight against a truly evil adversary.

Some leaders are not intimidated by opposition; they actually thrive on it. It wakes them up. It energizes them. It calls them to battle. It causes them to mobilize their thoughts and energy.

But not everybody.

Neville Chamberlain, for example, is historically associated with the word appeasement. "Peace in our time,' he said at Munich. He thought that if he could just give enough ground to Hitler, conflict could be avoided and everyone would be happy (except the Poles, the Czechs, the Austrians, and the Jews).

I wonder where you are on the Churchill—Chamberlain spectrum? My guess is that most pastors fall on the appeasement side.

I don't know that either temperament has a spiritual advantage. A friend of mine served as an elder in a church that hired a pastor who made General Patton look like he needed assertiveness training. But this did not mean the pastor was a fearless leader. It just meant he was an ego-centered stubborn little tyrant whose fated ended the same as Yertle the Turtle.

On the other side, I know a pastor in the southwest who has faced mean-spirited, ill-advised, bad-hearted opposition from a key lay leader for years. He's been trying appeasement the whole time (although he would not admit that even to himself). And it has cost him effectiveness, energy, joy, and self-respect.

I have given up the idea that there is an opposition-free church out there. But I have gained something else—an appreciation for the gift of opposition. When it comes, I learn something about my motives. When it comes, I get to test my courage. When it comes, the truth about my humility (or lack thereof) is revealed. When it comes, blind spots get exposed that would otherwise do damage. When it comes, I am given the opportunity to grow strong. When it comes, I discover that I am the opposition in more lives than I ever would have guessed.

And then I meet the force stronger than any opposition. The force that can call opponents a brood of vipers. The force that can also forgive opponents because "they know not what they do." In opposition, there is grace.

John Ortberg is editor at large of Leadership and pastor of Menlo Park (CA) Presbyterian Church.

You can find the article in it's original context here. Until next time - Blessings in Christ ~ RLS

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Family life and ministry life has kept us extremely busy these days. Sometimes you just need a little demotivation. I thought I would share some of my favorite demotivators with you. Enjoy!

Have a productive week!