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On Monuments and Honor

I’ve been in the military for about 15 years now but have always been interested in history (except during high school when I failed my American History class!). Not long after I came into the Army as a chaplain, I began to wonder about Army posts like Fort Hood, Fort Hill, Fort Bragg and seven others that bear the names of Confederate Generals.

They were the losers, why did they get federal installations named after them?

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Sign at main entrance to Fort Bragg, NC (photo from official Army website)

When I began to talk about it with other chaplains, it was explained to me that the naming was part of an effort at reconciliation, bringing the people and states that were once at war with the United States back into the fold. Seeking to once again be the United States of America. That made sense to me, at least at the time.

Then there are the monuments of Confederate generals and soldiers. Honestly, I had less heartburn over those than the federal posts named after generals from the losing side.

Being a history buff, when I visit historical battlefields and sites, and even monuments in town squares and community cemeteries, not only am I interested in the history of the one being memorialized but also in the background of the placement of the monument itself. Just as future historians will likely find interest in their displacement or destruction.

It’s all part of our history.

At least for me, though I believe also for many who have fought in America’s wars, even the monuments honoring those who lost are still moving and worthy of respect. While, in the case of the American Civil War, their cause was immoral, the bravery and sacrifice shown in the face of combat is still something that stirs a sense of honor. Even more, when I consider the death toll -those who died in battle- I’m moved to grieve over the losses, even those of the “enemy.”

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Monument of Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, PA (photo by author)

In the military, tactics and strategies -even of the losers- are studied by soldiers and officers to become more proficient at war. General George Patton is said to have studied Field Marshal Rommel and his tactics. Often, the leaders of opposing forces are held in esteem for their battlefield prowess.

In wars past, captured or killed officers were often treated with a degree of respect, not because of any shared allegiance to a common flag or cause, but because of a common sense of duty and honor in service to one’s country.

The honor given to their bravery, the grief felt for their deaths, the esteem held for their prowess and the respect given for their duty, is not an affirmation of their flawed cause, but rather an acknowledgement of our shared profession as well as a remembrance that while at one time we were enemies, at wars end we needed to once again be friends.

However, in Germany following World War Two, it didn’t take long for any remnant of the failed Nazi regime to evaporate into history. When I was there in 2008-2010, it was still illegal to display Nazi symbols, even on historical items for sale. But we need to be careful not to equate too exactly their situation with our Civil War. The restriction on monuments to the Third Reich and their heroes in Germany (the losers) was mandated and enforced by the United States occupation force (the winners). There were no rogue states who needed to be welcomed back into the fold or any need to reunite brother who had fought against brother, as was the case with our Civil War.

In Germany, there was a very clear loser and an unquestioned victor. In our Civil War, while there were sides who won and lost, they were two sides of the same country; people who needed to come back together to once again be a common people, a united people.

But are any of these considerations reason enough to keep Confederate monuments standing? The removal of the monuments won’t erase the battle tactics and strategies from military text books. The absence of Confederate monuments will not prevent us, as Soldiers, from honoring the bravery of those who fought. Having no monument as a reminder will not remove the grief that wells up when considering the lives lost in battle. In short, are Confederate monuments necessary to accomplish any good that the study and memory of the Civil War produces for members of the military?

As a military, we need to be careful how much honor we place on those who took up arms against the United States. After all, the very fact that they became enemies of our country taints any honor they may have won on the battlefield.

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COL Claus von Stauffenberg (photo public domain)

Returning to Germany for a moment, their military has a place for tradition and honor, similar to the United States military, but as they trace their heritage, they bypass those who espoused the Nazi philosophy and instead place honor in those who resisted the Nazi regime. German Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, and the other officers involved in Operation Valkyrie for example, are held up as deserving honor since they worked against the Nazi regime to do the right thing. While they don’t have monuments honoring Nazi battlefield heroes, they haven’t erased their history but rather use it to teach properly placed allegiances and moral responsibility.

I realize that a very small percentage of the American public might associate with the views that those in the military may hold. That is why we have the current outcry against such monuments in public places. Many citizens view these monuments not as historical military figures but as symbols of the cause they fought for, reminders of enslavement and oppression, recognition of enemies of the United States who sought to fracture our nation. It is understandable that these monuments would come into question, especially now with the increased tension in race relations we have experienced over the last several years.

So if we’re going to think reasonably about the removal of monuments, there are a few questions we need to ask ourselves. We need to determine the reason we want to remove these monuments from public view and not just follow the crowd (or mob).

Do we want them removed just because they symbolize something or someone we disagree with? I don’t think that mere disagreement is a reason to erase the visible remnants of our history. The freedom to disagree is written into our Constitution so disagreement alone is not sufficient cause to remove a monument.

Would their removal return power to the people away from the government? If they produce or maintain a disproportionate power, perhaps. But we should tread lightly on the power issue. Our system of government gives power to the people, but within the bounds of the Constitution and laws. A mob tearing down a public monument isn’t power, it’s criminal. A government removing a monument legally still doesn’t shift power since the government controlled the removal.

Do we want to remove the monuments because they remind us of the evil of slavery and the oppression of an entire race? I wonder if we really want to erase that memory. People keep posting things about Nazi Germany in opposition to the U.S. white supremacist movement with the hope that remembering the evil, and results, of the past will help to avoid it in the future. Do these monuments help us to remember evil so as not to repeat it or do they just bring up a memory that is painful to maintain?

Do we want them removed because of a feeling it produces in some people? While this deserves a whole other post, here we need to realize that sometimes things make us feel uncomfortable but that isn’t always bad. Sometimes we just need to realize that we will experience uncomfortable feelings in life and learn to deal with them.

Finally, do we want these monuments removed because they place honor in a cause that was borne of evil and currently empower groups who consider their race superior to those who were enslaved? Are they a form of governmental sanction of the superiority of one race over another? If so, I think this concern, if any, should bring action on these monuments. If Confederate monuments equate to government endorsement of oppression of a race today, we need to seriously consider whether there remains any value in their existence.

I speak of consideration because I’m not convinced that every monument in every context should be removed. One exception is in cemeteries and grave yards. Often these monuments are memories of the person for the family. They honor a life lived and not just four years out of their life in a poorly chosen endeavor.

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Confederate Chaplain, Major Telfair Hodgson

Another exception is monuments on battlefields. As I recently read in a posted article (the source of which I can’t recall) battlefield monuments place them in the proper perspective of opposing forces; of good versus evil. If any monuments should be retained I think that these should since they’re in a context to remember the struggle that was the Civil War, more than the cause of those who rebelled.

Finally, I think monuments that highlight the service of non-combatants in war, even those on the opposing side, should remain. Instead of honoring the cause, these monuments honor the good that can be found even in the midst of war. Monuments to those who rendered medical and spiritual aid, for example, like volunteer nurses and chaplains should be honored and remembered.

As for the others, I’ll leave them to the lawmakers and civilians to decide their fate. For me, as a Soldier and historian, perhaps it is time to render a slow salute, maybe shed a quiet tear, and bid farewell to our fallen foes.

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Why This Racism?

Racism is sin.

There’s no question about it, racism is destructive to a society and seeks to divide rather than unify. Racism is the antithesis to community. There is no place for it in a country that once boasted being a melting pot with immigrants from nearly every nation on earth.

Members of the Ku Klux Klan face counter-protesters as they rally in support of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, VirginiaAs the events in Charlottesville, Virginia unfolded Saturday, Facebook rightly exploded with condemnation against the racists who marched proclaiming the superiority of the white race and carrying Nazi, Confederate and KKK flags, the sight of which alone is sufficient to recall lynchings and fear the inevitable outcome of the return to power of any one of these groups.

Counter-protesters were also out in force with signs proclaiming “Death to KKK” and “F**K Nazi Sympathy” as well as the now familiar “Back Lives Matter,” sentiments that have also stirred up violence in past protests.

Local clergy got involved as a silent and peaceful protest to the hate and division that Saturday was in Charlottesville, but we’ve seen increasingly around our country over the last several years.

However, there are a few things that have struck me about the Facebook explosion against racism, both political and religious.

charlottesville-black-lives-matter-ku-klux-klan-charlottesville-virginiaPolitically, I found it interesting that Saturday’s white racism is what has been primarily denounced. I don’t mean to imply that white racism is OK, because it certainly is not, but neither is black racism (or what some have called “reverse-racism”). Some of Saturday’s counter-protesters carried signs just as inflammatory as the white supremacists. It seems that blacks who have violently protested against white privilegevandalized and looted businesses and blocked traffic barely got an “ahem” while Saturday’s white racism produced a national outcry. This may be mainly a media problem, but it’s also reflected in Facebook posts. Perhaps it’s that we’re afraid to “appear” racist by denouncing racism practiced by blacks but don’t have the same fear to denounce racism found in whites. Maybe since there’s such a long history of white racism in the United States (which has been institutionally empowered) we feel that it’s only natural that blacks should feel as they do, and so have the right to violently protest. Again, don’t misunderstand me, any form of racism is wrong and should be denounced, but all racism not just when it is practiced by whites.

But bigger than the racism, the hate that spews from the mouths and hearts of many of the protesters is alarming. Hate, along with racism, will continue to resist any form of unity or community. Hate will not allow relationships that could lead to a better understanding among different races. Hate will eat away at the haters, like a cancer devouring the health of its host.

Another political oddity is that it seems to have been decided by many that Saturday’s white supremacist march was not protected by the First Amendment. Our outcry suggests that these people need to just shut up, that they don’t have a right to speak. Everyone else does, but not them. I agree that what they believe is sick. What they say is despicable. What they do divides. But whether we like it or not, until it becomes violent it is protected by our Constitution. It is this freedom, along with all the others, which I and millions of other Service Members have fought for, and some have died for, over the years. It is this freedom that allows those who disagree with them to also have a voice.

Charlottesville-clergyLet me quickly say that I’m not proposing that citizens should be silent in the face of destructive attitudes like racism and hate. Just as those who espouse racism have a Constitutional right to hold their beliefs and protest, so do we have the right to hold contrary beliefs and counter-protest. What I am suggesting is that we should do so peacefully without name-calling, throwing back racial slurs or making violent threats. We should be more like the group of clergy in Charlottesville who peacefully and lovingly marched in protest of what they felt so strongly against.

On the religious side, it is interesting how it has fired up so many Christians to declare it as sin (which it is) and denounce those who practice it (which they should). But I have to ask, “why racism?”

Of course racism is sin, I’m not suggesting it’s not. I find it curious though, because over the last few years if Christians attempted to declare other things as sin and denounce people who practice those sins without repentance, they were rebuked by other Christians who said they should just love and let the Holy Spirit convict of sin; that it is not the Christian’s place to judge others but only to examine themselves; and that Christians should accept people as they are and just love them. They often go on to question why whatever sin is being spoken against is being elevated in importance over all the others, because sin is sin, Christians shouldn’t highlight any one over the others, they say.

I’m not saying that Christians should be quiet in the face of sin, but on the contrary, we need to declare it and denounce it wherever we find it. But not just the sin of racism, all sin. Not in the Westboro Baptist Church way but in a wise, loving, compassionate and Christ-like way. If we’re going to love sinners and let the Holy Spirit convict, then let’s love all sinners. Or does love just win with certain sins or certain sinners? I don’t think it does.

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Photo credits:

Photo with KKK flags from Reuters website.

Photo with Black Lives Matters from CSC Media Group website.

Photo of clergy marching from the CAIR website.

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Rhetoric, Non-Violence and War

Another day, another dozen Facebook posts about how wrong the President is. I keep reading how he is bringing us to the brink of War with nK. I’m curious what people think would happen if he remained silent. Would Kim suddenly back down? Would he stop developing nuclear weapons? Would he stop threatening his neighbors? Would he want to live in peace? I think not.

How many years has the U.S. been relatively non-confrontational toward nK and what good has it done? Kim continued to develop nuclear weapons and continued to threaten his neighbors. Now Kim is nearly to the point (if he’s not there already) that he has the resources to follow through on his threats.

It’s really irrelevant who the U.S. President is. If it was Obama or Bush or (Bill) Clinton, he still shouldn’t be silent. Bullies (like Kim) don’t back down any more when their opposition is silent than if they’re vocal. Does the schoolyard bully give up when everyone turns and walks away? No, he chases down the weak kids and hits them in the back. Those who walked away may feel good because they took the path of non-violence, but the kids who got hit in the back are feeling the pain. If the bigger and stronger kids in the group would have stood up to the bully, there still may have been some pain in the short-term, but at least the bully would have been stopped from continuing to inflict his painful will on the weak and defenseless.

It’s not the President’s rhetoric that is putting the region at risk, it’s Kim Jong Un.

Kim is the bully. The South Koreans, and other regional nations, are the weak kids. The U.S. and its allies are the bigger and stronger kids in the schoolyard who can protect the weaker kids by stopping the bully.

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A missile that analysts believe could be the North Korean Hwasong-12 is paraded across Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang in April. (Wong Maye-e/Associated Press)

The U.S. can’t be silent. The U.S. can’t be uninvolved. The U.S. can’t turn its back on its allies in the region. The U.S. can’t think only of itself and its own safety. Along with the wealth and strength of the United States comes the responsibility to protect our friends from aggressors like Kim.

Let me quickly add that I’m not rooting for war. As a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, I have no desire that our country enter another significant combat operation. But at the same time, we have a responsibility to “the least of these” who we have committed to defend. We can do nothing less. Diplomacy hasn’t worked. Sanctions haven’t worked. Partnerships haven’t worked. It seems that the only thing that will stop a thug like Kim is war.

War is costly. Cities and villages will be destroyed. Many Military members will return home lifeless. Civilians will die. There is a price that war demands, but it is the price for peace. Being a peacemaker sometimes means making peace through war. When everything has been tried without success and the threat continues to grow, we need to be prepared to resort to war to bring about peace. We have to be prepared to eliminate the threat, to defend our neighbors, to protect our friends, and to bring stability to the region.

By beginning this post by referring to what people are saying, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t speak out. As citizens of a Constitutional Republic, it is our responsibility and duty to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions. However, we often act as though the information the news provides to us is as good as the intelligence our generals and President receive. It’s not. It’s easy (and safe) to be an armchair general and boldly assert that the President is wrong, that our foreign policy is faulty, and that our military strategies are flawed. But those assertions are based on incomplete data.

Jimmy Kimmel Show Green Room At The Super Bowl - Day 4Col-SandersIt would be presumptious of Burger King to try to tell the Colonel how to prepare his chicken because the King doesn’t know the Colonels secret blend of eleven herbs and spices. No, Burger King concentrates on his own business and lets the Colonel tend to his. The King shouldn’t meddel in the Colonel’s business, hoping his efforts will fail.

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The Gift of Oddity

Eric-FreyI am delighted to share a “guest post” with you from a FB friend, Eric Frey. Eric is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene and pastors two Churches of the Nazarene in eastern Central Ohio. He is also pursuing a D.Min (with an emphasis in Liturgical Studies) at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. I invite you to open your heart and mind to what he has to say about our church (the Church of the Nazarene in particular), worship and the sacraments:

Every once in a while, some fellow Nazarene reminds me just how odd a Nazarene I am. I understand that. I accept that. I am an odd Nazarene.

I am odd for lots of reasons. In a Nazarene world where practics reign the day, and where the ends always justify the means, I reject both firmly believing that if we want to get the practics right, we have to first get the theology right, and that the means are the end.

In a Nazarene world that is soundly embedded in the pietistic notion that grace is somehow mediated spiritually, I hold fast to the catholic notion that grace is mediated sacramentally through the physical world.

In a Nazarene world that clothes itself in the best practices of the business world, I clothe myself in the ecclesial garb of collars, cassocks, surplices, and stoles.

In a Nazarene world where worship is anything a local church wants it to be, and where programs are the key to making Christlike disciples, I am completely sold on the ancient understanding that worship is the shared practice of a catholic liturgy, and that rehearsing that catholic liturgy is the best tool the church has for making Christlike disciples.

As I think about these commitments that make me a very odd Nazarene, I am optimistic. I am optimistic because we just elected two General Superintendents and both of them have earned a PhD in a theological field. While both have proven to be excellent practitioners, they have the academic ability to guide us and shape us theologically. Maybe I’m not that odd after all.

I am optimistic because in recent years our denomination has moved from requiring the Lord’s Supper to be celebrated quarterly to encouraging all churches to celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently. At our most recent General Assembly we passed resolutions to rewrite both Articles of Faith on the sacraments to bring them more in line with a thoroughly Wesleyan (and soteriological) sacramental theology. Maybe I’m not that odd after all.

I am optimistic because when I left seminary was appointed to my current church, the first thing I bought was a collar, an alb, and a stole. I waited until I was ordained to wear them as these things are traditionally a sign of ordination. Back then I think Todd Stepp was the only person I knew who wore ecclesial garb, but today I see more and more people adopting and advocating these Christian practices. Maybe I’m not that odd after all.

But while I am optimistic for lots of reasons, I am also still a frustrated oddball. Frustrated because I see our denomination fracturing. Frustrated because I see our intentional choice to reject the single most formative tool in our disciple-making toolbox. Frustrated because while we are moving in the right direction in so many areas, our liturgical progress is backward.

If we are committed to making Christ-like disciples, we need to realize that liturgy is the single most formative tool in our tool box. Ritual studies tell us that people are shaped most profoundly by the rituals (habits) they rehearse over and over and over again. This isn’t a church thing. This isn’t a catholic-protestant thing. This is a human thing. A couple years ago I was perusing and airport bookstore while waiting to catch a flight. I discovered that among the top books on the best selling list was one called “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” The business world gets it — but we still reject liturgy as the necessary foundation of making Christ-like disciples.

If we are committed to being a unified denomination, we need to realize that liturgy is not only formative for persons, but for groups as well. Whenever someone suggests we need to move to a regionalized polity rather than a global one, someone else always reminds us that we are a global church, not a federation of smaller groups. But a united church entails far more than a shared polity — it entails a shared liturgy. Now that liturgy absolutely has to be contextualized, and liturgy alone will not hold us together, but just as liturgy is the most powerful tool the church has for shaping persons, a liturgy is also the most powerful tool the church has for maintaining unity amongst diversity.

Yes, I am still an odd ball Nazarene. And I am OK with that. I have learned to be content in my little corner of Nazarenedom. But please know that my little corner of Nazarenedom is a beautiful place to be. Ya’ll should come and visit a while. Who knows, maybe you’ll see the beauty and decide to stay a while. The door is always open.
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Copied from a Facebook post by the author. Used by permission.

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What I’m Not Celebrating on Independence Day

I am an American. I am a Patriot. I celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July.

By far, the majority of Americans will be celebrating the independence of the United States as well. Even with our many differences on political, social and religious issues, most people living in America are here because they want to be and are grateful for the freedoms that America provides not only for those living within her borders but for many people in other countries who the Untied States has liberated or protected.

There is a minority of Americans, however, who won’t be celebrating today. These are people who seem to take offense at what America is and stands for on behalf of other people who apparently are too ignorant to be offended on their own. They insist that to be proud of being American, to celebrate our country’s independence and birth is a slap in the face of people living in the U.S. from other countries. They suggest that being proud of our country and its ideals, to proclaim the United States as one of the greatest countries on earth demeans non-Americans and rejects the goodness of other countries.

I’m not suggesting that the United States is perfect and can’t be improved upon but there is much appeal in the rights and freedoms that it provides those living within its borders or else why do so many want to immigrate here? Why don’t more people leave (even when they promise they will if certain candidates are elected President)? With all its faults, America is a great country, a great place to live, and a favorite destination of many people who live in oppressive, dictatorial or non-democratic countries. We celebrate the goodness of the United States when we celebrate our independence.

There are other reasons that small groups of Americans refuse to celebrate on this day, or downplay its importance. Some of the reasons they give have some validity but none are sufficient to support a rejection of a celebration over 240 years a tradition, in a country that has overcome so much in its history and provides so much for people around the world. Space and time prevent me from expounding on each of them here, so let me simply provide a list (in no particular order) of what I, and the majority of Americans, are not declaring as we celebrate the 4th of July:

1. In my celebrating, I am not affirming my allegiance to my country as being above my allegiance to God and His Kingdom. I am first a citizen of the Kingdom of God and committed to Him above all else.

2. As I celebrate, I am not demeaning people from other countries who now live in the United States. Our “melting pot” is what has made America what it is and invite people from all nations who now live in the U.S. to celebrate our freedoms with us.

3. I am not celebrating what is wrong with the United States. As already stated, the U.S. isn’t perfect but we can still celebrate what is good about her.

4. As I celebrate our independence from Great Britain, I am not celebrating rebellion, revolution or violent uprising. It’s easy to criticize our Founding Fathers by looking at their situation through our pious 21st century glasses but they saw winning independence from GB as a moral imperative worthy of putting at risk their reputations, fortunes and lives so I celebrate their willingness and sacrifice.

5. As I celebrate this 4th of July, I am not ignoring the plight of the poor or marginalized who live here. We should continue to provide justice for all and seek to ensure that all our inhabitants experience the rights and freedoms we celebrate on this day.

6. Celebrating our independence is not telling the other nations of the world that they don’t matter. Travel to other countries and you’ll see that most (if not all-I haven’t been to all) celebrate their independence and existence in similar ways. Celebrating the United States does not take away from the greatness of other countries where it exists.

7. Celebrating on the 4th of July is not an affirmation of our current Administration and all of its policies, it is simply a celebration of our independence as a country.

8. Celebrating Independence Day is not a celebration of militarism and warfare, it’s a celebration of freedom and independence.

9. My celebration of our independence as a country originally guided by Judeo-Christian principles is not a denial of the existence or rights of other faith groups. One of the freedoms we celebrate is the freedom to live and worship according to the dictates of our conscience. This is one of the things that makes the U.S. such an appealing country to come to, one of the things we celebrate.

10. As I celebrate on this day, I’m not suggesting that God blesses the United States to the exclusion of other countries. I believe that God has had a role in the development and growth of the U.S. to enable us to bless others (as He also did in biblical history) but we are certainly not the only country that God blesses and uses.

11. Finally, as I celebrate the 4th of July, Independence Day, I am not declaring that your opinion, values and priorities don’t matter. They matter as much as mine and everyone else’s living in these United States. Our freedom to have -and voice- our opinions is one of the things that makes our country great and one of the reasons we celebrate today.

I doubt that this post has changed everybody’s (or anybody’s) mind on celebrating this 4th of July, but hopefully it will enable most of us set aside our differences, to celebrate together the independence of the United States which has enabled us to grow into a country that cares for its citizens and aids citizens of other countries who need her. Hopefully, at least this one day, we can come together around what is good about our country and rejoice in what we have in common.

Happy 4th of July!

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Photo credits:

Flag with fireworks: https://www.techavy.com/4th-of-july-quotes-images-fireworks/

Signing of Declaration of Independence: Public Domain

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Why Am I Alive?

I sit here tonight crying, grieving really. The odd thing is that my breakdown was triggered by the death of someone I don’t even know. But it could have been me. Maybe it should have been me.

My car after the rollover

About seven weeks ago I was in a rollover car accident. People on the scene, the emergency room doctor and nurses, others who saw my car, could not believe that I walked away. In fact, my only injury was a compression fracture in my L1 vertebra which I’m told should eventually heal to the point of only occasionally feeling it on cold mornings (the fate of aging). I was thankful that it was not worse, that I did not sustain serious injuries or even die. I felt God’s presence with me as my car was rolling and believe that He protected me that day (as He has many other days).

Densel Ball

Rev. Densel Ball

About a week ago, Densel Ball, the pastor at Cornerstone Wesleyan Church in Overland Park, Kansas, was also in a rollover car accident. He was thrown from his rolling vehicle and sustained severe head trauma and other internal injuries and broken bones. He had been in a medically induced coma while the doctors worked at getting the brain swelling to go down. There was no brain activity except for the brain stem which controls autonomic functions.

I heard about it the day after the accident from a common friend’s Facebook post requesting prayer for him. I was immediately drawn to the situation having just been in a similar accident and survived. I prayed. Many others prayed: his family, friends and church. I saw on FB feeds that other churches were praying. Prayer chains were being alerted. God certainly heard all of those prayers yet Rev. Ball died today at 2:41 CDT.

It was when I saw the news of his passing that I began to cry and haven’t stopped. I scrolled through Rev. Ball’s FB page moved by the number of comments by people whose lives Rev. Ball had touched. I continued to cry as I read how he encouraged so many in their faith in Jesus. I could barely read through my tears the testimonies of lives changed because of the life of Densel Ball.

Ball Family

Ty, Michele, Densel and Jackie Ball

As I looked at the pictures of the Ball family is when I really lost it. The pictures seemed to portray the love felt by his wife Michele, daughter Jackie and son Ty. Now they have lost their husband and father. Gone, just like that. Without warning or time to prepare. Without an opportunity to exchange that last hug and “I love you!”. Gone.

Ball FamilyAs a Christian, there is some comfort in knowing that those who die knowing Jesus as their Savior are taken out of this life of pain and sorrow and into the joy and glory of God’s presence. But often that comfort does not adequately relieve the fresh pain of losing someone you love.

The Balls’ loss made me think of my own family. Had I died in my car accident, I would have been out of pain. I would have been living it up in the presence of my Creator and Savior, but my family would still be here…without me. I’m not suggesting that I’m that wonderful of a husband and father, but I am their husband and father so I would like to think they would miss me some. Thinking of their sorrow is what brings me sorrow and what I believe would have been the tragedy of my accident if I had died, not that I was dead but that I was gone.

I’m not sure if it is the same with everyone who comes close to dying suddenly, but my experience has made me think about my life and especially what I have given to others. As I read the testimonies of the people who Densel Ball had given so much to, I knew that he had made a big difference in the lives of many, many people. He had made a big difference in this world. It seems like if anyone should be able to continue living and loving and giving in this world it should be Densel Ball.

But these two facts are true: Densel Ball is dead. I am alive. And these two facts make me ask the question,

Why am I alive?

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Why Do Some Christians Think They Can Love Better Than Jesus?

or Why Sometimes Just War is Necessary

It seems like of all people, Jesus’ love would be the most effective to compassionately defeat hate, yet even his love wasn’t enough to overcome hate and violence, thus his death on the cross. So why do some Christians think that our imperfect love has any chance to overcome hate and violence today?

Likely they’d say following in the footsteps of Jesus, all the way to the cross, will display the kind of love that will overcome hate and violence. But after over 2000 years of Christians dying for their faith, wouldn’t we see at least a little decrease in the hate and violence? Yet, it just seems to grow.

Next, they’ll probably say that not enough Christians are loving and dying to produce any noticeable decrease in hate and violence. But even in those countries where large numbers faithfully die because they are Christians, the hate and violence continues. In fact, knowing what we do of the most prominent terror groups killing Christians today (and seeing what we’ve seen them do), if we assembled a mass crowd of believers to march toward the terrorist to love and serve and even die, the terrorist would just cut them down (or shoot them, drown them, burn them or behead them -after raping them) and move forward to the next group who seek to love, serve and die. It has been stated by experts as well as the terrorists themselves, it is not because we don’t love enough that they want to kill Christians, it is because of who we are, what we represent. In fact, sharing the love of Christ, just magnifies the reason of their hate and violence: that we are Christians.

The problem is that those Christians who believe love will overcome hate and violence are looking to the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God instead of the  “not yet” of the Kingdom, the period in which we are now living. Similar to the Jews of Jesus’ day, and even his disciples for a while, who were looking too far ahead in prophecy to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, many Christians today are looking too far ahead into the Kingdom, when the lion will lay with the lamb, instead of realistically looking at the world, and yet-to-be-fulfilled Kingdom, we live in today.

I am not suggesting that Christians shouldn’t love since it can’t have widespread impact. We absolutely should be all about love and have a real and lasting impact on those people our lives and love can touch.

What I am saying is that it is counterproductive to rail against other Christians and policies that support limited military action and ordnance to protect innocent civilians who, despite all the love they may show, are unable to stop the hate and violence that threatens the safety and even civilizations of so many people around the world.

Certainly, however, Christians should speak loudly to ensure military engagements are just, proportionate and the last resort. Being the compassionate and ethical voice in a world which seems to be out of control is the best way to ensure hate doesn’t drive military action, but is rather a means to end the violence borne out of hate, that love alone can’t abolish.

We need to remember that going to war, even in limited engagements or isolated attacks, to decrease the number of those killing others unjustly and protect those who can’t defend themselves, can be the greatest -and most tangible- display of love we can show.

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What Critics of the “Billy Graham Rule” Are Missing

I remember as a young minister hearing about Billy Graham’s “rule” to avoid the appearance of impropriety by not being alone with a woman. I had heard that he would even excuse himself from an elevator, if it was only him and a member of the opposite sex. The explanation I heard was that he did not want to risk his, or the woman’s, reputation, by a misunderstood observation from across a room or a photographer’s hasty photograph. In his position as a minister of the Gospel and eventually counselor to presidents, he needed to be, as much as possible, above reproach and protect his reputation which can be sullied by even an accusation or question of immoral behavior. I’ve always respected Graham for his desire to keep his reputation pure and tried to model my ministry encounters after his “rule.”

Our current president, however, has received plenty of bad press following the release of a sound clip of him flippantly talking about having his way with women in a very demeaning way. Whether it was “locker room” talk or a play-by-play account of how he actually treats women is yet to be seen. Several women had come forward with accusations which if true, seems like would have buried him by now, but even if there are no culpable accounts of sexual harassment or abuse, the appearance of such has been cause for concern by women and anyone concerned for their proper treatment. When someone in leadership appears to do wrong, their integrity should be called into question.

In contrast, our current vice-president seems to be above reproach, which is unusual for politicians these days. I have yet to see an accusation of immoral conduct even spanning back to before he become a public figure. His devout faith in God and commitment to his wife and family seem to have kept him on the “straight and narrow” path, avoiding actual or perceived impropriety.

However, it seems that this lack of “dirty laundry” on President Trump’s No. 2 man is disheartening for a press that thrives on what can be dug up in the seedy underbelly of society. The most recent gossip making its way around the news feeds has roots in a March 28th Washington Post article by Ashley Parker where she states:

In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.1

Had I read this statement before the press got hold of it my first impression would have been that of respect, like I had for Billy Graham, in Pence’s desire to keep his reputation spotless and relationship with his wife unblemished. But many in the press, and surprisingly even in the Church, have taken offense at the Pence family’s desire to avoid situations that could taint their image and damage their marriage.

One of the first negative posts I saw about the Pence’s dedication to each other came from Theresa Avila in The New York Magazine, the headline stating, “The Only Woman Mike Pence Is Allowed to Eat Alone With Is His Wife.”The title alone seems to be a slam against the independence and authority of the Vice President, suggesting he is under the thumb of his domineering wife. The article concludes with a reference to a Rolling Stone article which recalled a dinner meeting with then Governor Pence and the Democratic leadership where Mike Pence called his wife “mother,” which fed the disdain liberals felt for him already. By all account of those who know the Pence family personally, however, these concerns of Karen Pence filling a domineering mother role to the Vice President couldn’t be further from the truth.

Having watched with amusement over the last several years (but especially during this past campaign season) the way mainstream media has attacked anything that smacks of Conservatism, I’m not surprised that they would latch on to anything that would portray the Vice President as “weird” or “unstable” but as Laura Turner confessed in a subsequent Washington Post article, “It is strange, as are many religious practices, and strange isn’t necessarily bad.”3  What I find most interesting with the criticism of the Pence’s concern over appearances is how so many find that laughable, that they would be so concerned about appearances, yet in the case of President Trump, the attacks were all about appearances.

Avila’s article was just the beginning of many more posts and columns, with Christians now pulling in the “Billy Graham rule” as a cause for a myriad of problems with Pence’s and now, ministers’, application of anything resembling Billy Graham’s rule. The arguments range from how this rule is discriminatory against woman and even portrays women as the seductress, and men as their helpless prey to how it denies Christians the opportunity to model proper male-female relationships to a world who needs to see it done right (highlighted in a Christianity Today online article that has started circulating again). I struggle, though, with many of the arguments being put forth by Christians against this rule, so I want to offer what I think critics of it are missing. If you saw the title of this post and decided to read it, you’ve probably already read many of the other articles and posts -both pro and con- about Mike Pence’s and Billy Graham’s rule, so I’ll limit the remainder of this post to a simple list, without many background references or explanations.

  1. The loudest complaint about the rule seems to be that it is discriminatory against women in a male-dominated world. This could be, and I don’t want to belittle the possibility. Women should have every opportunity as men to excel and advance in their careers and if a policy prohibits that, it should be reconsidered. But when it comes to Mike Pence’s application of the rule, we’ve yet to hear from women who have worked with him who feel this way. They may be yet to speak up, but all that I have seen so far is by one woman who worked for then Congressman Pence who said that not only did she not feel limited by Pence’s policies, but she felt that she excelled under the climate he created.It very well could be that a hard-and-fast application of the rule has inadvertently limited the success of women in some organizations including the Church. But the rule is not at fault, but rather its application. The wise leader will work to be inclusive in his/her dealings with subordinates and colleagues to ensure that this doesn’t happen. It’s harder than blindly falling a rule, but will prevent anyone from being left behind.
  2. It has been suggested that living by the rule objectifies women, making them out to be on the prowl for a sexual conquest. To be honest, this had never crossed my mind in all of my years of trying to live by the rule. As my wife and I have discussed our “limits,” my being alone with a woman was seldom about the woman but more about me. I’m a man. The idea that not wanting to be alone with a person of the opposite sex is to protect you from the other person misses the point. It’s about protect each other from what it could become or appear to be.
  3. Some people from my tradition argue that as holiness people, filled with the Holy Spirit, we should have the integrity, self-control and professionalism to handle these situations. Certainly “holiness people” have the ability to choose not to sin, but to assume that being sanctified will prevent us from sinning assumes an eradication of the sinful nature which, if true, would remove our free-will on the other side of the equation. We have all seen ministers who at one time had lived a holy life with spiritual fruit to confirm their sanctification, but have fallen away. I’m not suggesting that one lunch with a person of the opposite sex will do that, but it could be the beginning. Being sanctified does not relieve us of the obligation to protect ourselves and others, keeping in mind Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians to be careful not to fall when we think we’re standing strong (I Corinthians 10:12).
  4. Some contend that not even Jesus lived by the Billy Graham rule, with the primary example being his meeting of the Samaritan woman at the well. This is comparing apples to oranges. Graham’s and Pence’s rule is about meeting alone with women. I don’t recall an instance in Holy Writ when Jesus was alone with a woman. His meetings with women were in public spaces (like the well) where passersby are likely; or with groups of people.
  5. The rules critics seem to focus on temptation and betrayal. They are correct that this is part of it, but appearance is also a big part of it. Billy Graham stepping out of an elevator alone with a woman at a hotel could look like he was coming down from a room with her. Eating dinner alone with a person of the opposite sex could appear to be a date, even if innocent in the minds of the two eating together. While many may say, “God knows!”, we are still responsible for what we do and how it could hinder or influence others as it hurts our witness. Paul urged the Thessalonians to avoid even the appearance of evil (I Thessalonians 5:22), though modern translations translate “appearance” as “forms” but if a couple meeting together in isolation, perhaps for a meal, appears to be a date or an intimate encounter with someone other than their spouses, it is a “form” of evil that we’re to avoid.
  6. All of this discussion about the Billy Graham Rule of late reminded me of a conversation I had with a teenage boy when I was a youth pastor. Even back in the early nineties, I would plan my route when dropping of the teens after an activity so that it was always a boy I took home last, avoiding being alone with a female teen. One night one of the teens, who was usually the last to be taken home, asked me about it and I thoughtfully explained the rule and how it was to protect both me and the female teens in the youth group. He then caught me off-guard with his response: “Well, what if I’m gay?” Most of the current conversation about the rule seems to neglect the fact that men-women interaction isn’t the only relationships that we need to be concerned about. It was good to read this morning that Turner does address the LGBT issue in her Perspective noted above, but she goes on to suggest that this new element further alienates gay people and increased the rule to potentially include everyone! But if one is going to properly and compassionately apply the rule, whether male, female, gay or lesbian, they should all consider who they meet with alone as well as the ramifications, benefits and potential detriment of doing so.
  7. Some have suggested that if this rule is applied across the board, it would prohibit women from effectively serving as ministers since one-on-one meetings are an essential element of pastoring. Why must this be so? Is it necessary to toss out the rule to make ministry easy? Is meeting in seclusion the only way to meet one-on-one with others? Most offices and churches have private areas to meet without having to be completely alone but still being able to maintain confidentiality. The rule, as I understand it, doesn’t mean you can’t be in a room alone, when observation by others is possible and interaction remains professional. As a military chaplain, we have strict rules to protect the chaplain and the counselees. This includes having windows in our doors and usually having a Chaplain Assistant in the office when meeting with people of the opposite sex. As a pastor of a small church, I would always leave my door open and tell my wife who I was meeting with so she could drop in during our meeting to say “hello.” One-on-one meetings do not mean secluded meetings. The rule can work if we’re willing to work at it and keep sensible precautions in place.
  8. Perhaps the most dangerous attitude I’ve seen in the discussions about the rule is how lightly many people in ministry take the risks that Graham and Pence have tried to avoid. They speak of their marriage being strong and transparent, how their ministry model is effective, and how modern times call for different methods than those of Graham and Pence. The danger with this attitude is that they refuse to recognize the common relationship dangers that come from a growing intimacy that meeting alone produces, especially in ministry contexts when the counselee is often discouraged with their marriage and spouse and sees in the pastor an ideal mate (which can also be felt by the minister, if their marriage is going through some difficulties). Colleagues can also begin to see each other as better than their spouses since they only see them at their best, so intimate times alone, like a meal, could just advance those feelings.
  9. Naysayers of the rule seem to believe there’s only one way to have a good working relationship with people of the opposite sex: spending time alone with them. Why does that have to be? Is there ever anything so private, so personal, that there couldn’t be at least one other person included? Wouldn’t that also foster the concept of a “team” which would be good for the organization? Grant it, counselling requires a degree of privacy, but as noted above, there are ways to keep the rule while maintaining confidentiality.

I think Progressives have taken the Vice President’s and Billy Graham’s efforts to remain pure and protect their reputations and marriages as another Conservative pillar to knock down without giving due regard to its value. Instead of commending them for seeking a holy life, they criticize them because of those they may inadvertently hinder. Instead of offering a way of compromise that could preserve the sought-after purity in relationships while also being inclusive of both genders in personal and professional encounters, they maintain the only response is to do away with the rule altogether.

If the “controversy” over the Billy Graham Rule as Vice President Pence has applied it has done any good, it is that it has encouraged a conversation. Since it has come up, I have reengaged conversation with a female chaplain who I supervised in a previous assignment to learn how my application of the rule may have hurt her and how I can better apply it in the future.

I clearly do not have all of the answers, but I do believe that with enough effort, a way forward is possible that allows for the maintaining of a rule that protects one’s reputation and relationships while also empowering subordinates and colleagues of both sexes in any organization, including the Church. Instead of seeking the easiest way forward while criticizing those who are pursuing righteousness, we need to find a godly way to work together while honoring our commitments to our spouses, families, subordinates and colleagues. I believe there is a way forward that is faithful to God’s call to purity, holiness and to not even provide the appearance of evil, while championing equal opportunity for men and women alike.

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If you’re interested in moving forward, watch for me to post in the near future, Ideas for Keeping the Rule While Empowering Others.

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Notes

Washington Post online article, “Karen Pence is the vice president’s ‘prayer warrior,’ gut check and shield” accessed 3 April 2017.

NYMag.com online article, “The Only Woman Mike Pence Is Allowed to Eat Alone With Is His Wife” accessed 3 April 2017.

Washington POst online Perspective,The religious reasons Mike Pence won’t eat alone with women don’t add up” accessed 4 April 2017.

Washington Post Perspective, “I worked for Mike Pence. Being a woman never held me back,” accessed 3 April 2017.

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Oh My God!

The front passenger side door was open here, but I couldn’t get it open from the inside. I crawled out the back door behind it.

As I opened my eyes I really did believe that this was it. I was just waiting for the roof to crash in on me, crushing me beneath the weight of the car, doubting that I would survive. All I could say was “Oh my God!” as I gripped the steering wheel and braced myself for the inevitable.

This day began not much different from any other. I had been sick for the last several weeks but had been getting better. All that remained was that irritating residual cough which, I guess, kept me from getting a good nights sleep. I didn’t feel any worse than most days so it didn’t occur to me that I shouldn’t leave for home as planned.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial at one of the rest stops in Maryland.

I was equipped with my normal traveling stock: a book to listen to, Coke to drink and crunchy snacks to keep me awake. I was just five hours into my trip and was doing pretty well. I had even stopped for breaks twice already which made me alert since it was so cold. One was in western Maryland at a rest area that boasted a Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The next was just west of the Eastern Continental Divide, for gas.

I remember beginning to doze a bit and kept alternating between my pizza flavored Combos and dill flavored potato chips. This was my routine. My life. I get behind the wheel and struggle to stay awake the whole trip, so plan ways to keep myself awake (as I did this trip). It had worked so far in my 40 years of driving (the last 25 or so being prone to sleeping at the wheel), only occasionally being awaken by the roar of the rumble strips on the side of the road. But I guess there was too much working against me this trip having been sick and not sleeping well, driving alone, growing tired of the Combos…

So I dozed off.

Someone got the front passenger side door open to turn my car off. As I was in the ambulance I heard my book on CD still playing!

I remember being awakened by the bumpy route I was now on. The smooth road was no longer under my tires as I careened into the median. When I opened my eyes, I saw ground (I guess heading down the “V” shaped median from my side of the highway). In those few seconds, I briefly heard what has become a common command from my children on family trips: “Dad, wake up!” but realized I was alone and may not hear those  voices again. 

Next came a loud and hard “thud” as the front of the car hit the opposing turf. I gripped tightly to the steering wheel as in slow motion the world before me began to rotate, no longer feeling the rough ground beneath my tires. Then a crash, then smooth sailing, then a crash, as I rolled over three or four times before the car came to rest upside down.

Once I realized I had stopped rolling, I looked out and noticed clear fluid leaking from the engine compartment and wondered how long I had to get out before my car burst into flames. Interestingly, before my last deployment, my unit underwent “rollover” training where we were instructed what to do in the event of a rollover accident. We were strapped into a HUMVEE rollover simulator where we actually rolled several times and stopped upside down to be tested on our training to get out of a wrecked vehicle. That training kicked in as I braced my self against the roof of my car and disconnected my seat belt. I tried to open my door but it was jammed. I tried the front passenger side door but couldn’t get it open either so I crawled into the back seat and was able to open the back door, then crawled outside (just as I had done in the HUMVEE training!).

You can see the wheels all out of alignment from being hit repeatedly.

By the time I was emerging from my car, there were already three or four people who had stopped to help. As I crawled out, I heard someone calling in from the other door. Those I encountered asked if I was alone or if there was anyone else in the car. Still shook up a bit, I had to think for a few seconds before I said I was alone.

I crawled to the top of the hill and sat down, noticing how bad the car looked and realizing how fortunate I was to be sitting there. Had the car kept going into the oncoming lane, I likely wouldn’t have survived. Had there been something in the median like another car, guard rails, a light pole or a bridge, things could have turned out much worse. But as it was, there was just the ground and air that I encountered, both giving way sufficiently for me to survive.

Within less than five minutes, an EMT vehicle showed up, returning from another run, and noticed the commotion. By then I was up and walking around, tossing back into the car some things that I had dragged out as I crawled to safety.

In the ambulance almost to the hospital.

The EMTs had me come to their vehicle to check me out. They didn’t find anything noticeable but a couple of abrasions. My only complaint was some back pain, though my back had been aching for a while (though not so much this day). One of the next things they discovered was that my blood pressure was sky-high, which seems like a normal reaction to flying through the air in a vehicle intended to stay on the ground!

Within a few more minutes there were several more emergency vehicles there and I was telling my story again. People kept bringing my luggage to me and the back of the ambulance was getting full! They kept asking if I needed anything else out of the car. It occurred to me that I would need my phone so asked for it and asked the guy (who turned out to be the Fire Chief) to get a few pictures of the car for me, which he seemed glad to do.

In the hospital waiting for them to finish all of the tests so I could get that brace off!

They encouraged me to go the hospital to get checked out, which seemed like the wise thing to do. I needed to get to Charleston anyway to work out getting home. I spent the next six hours or so at the Charleston Area Medical Center sitting in pain with that awful neck brace, while they took blood, x-rays and CT-scans. After all the results were in, the doc told me that all that was wrong was a “minor” compression fracture in one of my vertebra which was what was causing my back pain. He said that I was very lucky. I think it was more than luck.

Just as another example of the kindness of the people who cared for me, the nurse realized that I had too much luggage to carry with me as I walked the two blocks to a hotel so volunteered to bring my stuff there when she got off work!

The next day, I waited for the car rental store to open so I could drive out and get the rest of my stuff out of the car and get home. By the way, the doc gave me pain medication, so I slept very well and felt in good shape for the rest of the drive home. I picked up the rental and drove the hour or so to my car. On my way back, however, I realized that I must not have slept as well as I thought I did. I began dozing again and decided that after what I had gone through the day before, it wasn’t smart to push it, so I made a reservation to fly home, returning the rental car at the airport.

As I have reflected on my accident, I have realized that at any moment I am just a whisper away from eternity. I was thankful that in what could have been my final minutes on this earth, that when I said (repeatedly) “Oh my God!” that He was -and is- my God. Those weren’t just idle words said in a traumatic moment but a response to my relationship with God and a prayer that meant more than normally could be contained in three words. In those three words I was affirming Him as my Lord and Savior. In those three words I was confessing my need for Him and asking for his help. In those three words were wrapped up my faith and dependence in the God who has watched over and protected me for almost 54 years. In those three words resided my trust that my future was in His hands. If He had called off his angels and let that crash be the last event of my life, I believe I would have seen him face-to-face and cried out again, “Oh, my God!”

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Here are some more pictures, if you’ve ventured this far down my post!

Not quite the feet on the beach view, but I was ready to go!

One of my abrasions, I guess this one is from my leg hitting the car door repeatedly.

An interesting bruise pattern that I noticed after I got to the hotel.

One last picture of the car at the crash site.

At the wrecker yard. You can see evidence of the roll-over on all sides.

The side curtain air bags all deployed. I’m glad the back seat ones weren’t needed!

Where I rode it out. Notice the front air bag didn’t deploy. Hmmm.

The roof crushed up pretty good but didn’t give way.

I think this front corner may have taken a lot of the impact.

The windshield didn’t survive. I’m glad I did!

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What Does a “Healthy” Church Look Like?

Abandoned, broken down churchMany churches today cannot be considered healthy because they have too many unhealthy members for the church to be considered “well.” Just about any church you go to, there is a mix of healthy and unhealthy members. To what proportion the healthy and unhealthy members exist in a church, to a large extent determines the health of that church as a whole. The ideal, of course, is a church that is heavy on the healthy members, with the unhealthy members getting better, becoming healthy members to contribute to the overall health of the church which leads to a greater effectiveness in not just the continued “healing” of the unhealthy members, but also in what should be the focus of the church: the salvation and integration of new members.

As followers of Christ, church members should be doing all they can to maintain their spiritual health. Unhealthy members should be setting aside those things that have made them ill and be seeking spiritual healing. Unbelievers should find in the church healthy members who can introduce them to Christ and wellness.

In my over half-century of life, I have had the opportunity to either attend or serve dozens of churches and chapels in the United States and in several countries around the world. This has given me a certain amount of insight into the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy churches as I have at times been able to observe from the periphery while other times have experienced it from within. I have discovered many people are confused over what a healthy church looks like…or would rather not deal with their illness, preferring instead to maintain the status quo for some reason. The unfortunate part is, when members choose to remain unhealthy, their lack of health can infect other members whose immune system may still be weak, or else they pull down new members who have not yet achieved a mature health, contributing to the decline in the overall health of the church instead of the ideal growing health.

While no list can be all-inclusive, I offer these ten characteristics of a healthy church from what I have learned and observed over the years, with the prayer that the healthy members will grow healthier and the unhealthy will find new health.

1.  In a healthy church, members enjoy coming together to worship. I remember one Sunday when I was a child of about 11 or 12 coming out after church and telling my dad that I really enjoy going to church. There was something about that church of my youth that drew me in and satisfied me. With me not knowing what I needed, the church met my needs and gave me a sense of satisfaction. In a healthy church, people want to be there. People want to be a part of the Body of Christ that is the church. Whenever the doors of the church are open for services (or service), the healthy members are there because they want to be. There are times when either sickness or obligations keep members away, but healthy members guard against those times so they are few and far between. Unhealthy members, on the other hand, look for reasons to not be there instead of clearing the way to ensure they are.

2. A healthy church is not necessarily large. Many small churches are healthier than larger ones. It is not the size that makes the church healthy, but a preponderance of healthy members, and they doing things in a healthy way. I recall a church I attended that seemed to continually get more healthy as a whole as it shrunk in size. The decrease was caused by unhealthy members leaving (not willing to move on to health) which enabled those who remained to grow more healthy. Eventually, that church likely would have also grown in size since a healthy church is introducing new people to Christ, though again, large does not always equal healthy.

3. In a healthy church, conflict is dealt with biblically, which is probably why members enjoy coming together to worship! In a healthy church, when someone is offended, they follow the biblical instructions and properly deal with the offense. When someone sins, the church follows the biblical instructions to help that person be restored. When there are attitudes or actions for which the Bible requires discipline, it is done Scripturally and in love. When there are disagreements, they are discussed and there is reconciliation even if not agreement. The problem with unhealthy churches and, in fact, the modern church as a whole, is that it is easier to just go to the church down the road or across town instead of dealing with problems or issues that arise where you are. In the same way, church discipline is less effective since there’s nothing to keep the offending member part of the church. But a healthy church is able to deal with whatever problems arise in a biblical, loving and healthy way so that reconciliation takes place and the family, the Body of Christ, is restored. When conflict comes (and because the church is made up of humans, conflict will come), the healthy members run toward each other while the unhealthy members run away.

4. In a healthy church, members come to give instead of to receive. Healthy church members have discovered that their relationship with Christ means that they have become servants. They serve. They give. When it comes to worship services, the healthy come to offer worship not to receive a blessing. The healthy members do not judge the “success” of a service by what they got out of it but rather by what they put into it. However, unhealthy members come to a service for what they can get out of it, to have their needs met. You often hear them say, “I just don’t get fed there!” The ironic thing about it is that those who come to get seldom are satisfied while those who come to give receive more than they ever expected!

5. In a healthy church, the pastor and his family feel loved & blessed and are sufficiently cared for. Healthy church members realize the role of the pastor is a difficult one and understand the Scripture mandate to care well for him and his family. Healthy members are an encouragement to the pastor, even when they may have disagreements. Healthy churches are generous with their pastor and family on birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. Healthy members accept the role of the pastor in the church and give him freedom to minister as God leads; and if they do have a difference with the pastor they go to him instead of others to discuss it. Unhealthy members often try to squeeze the pastor into their mold instead of allowing him to be faithful to God and his calling. Unhealthy members try to manipulate the pastor instead of blessing him. Unhealthy members resent the use of church funds to provide a reasonable subsistence, not to mention “extras” for the pastor and family. When an unhealthy member has a problem with the pastor (often as a result of a misunderstanding or difference of opinion) unhealthy members talk to others about it instead of going to the pastor as Scripture instructs.

6. In a healthy  church, members serve in areas where they are gifted and are satisfied with their service. I have always been of the opinion (and probably read it somewhere) that a church should only do those ministries that it has healthy members gifted in those areas to do. I firmly believe that God “gifts” a church to do the ministries that He wants it to do. When the church tries to fill positions with any warm body regardless of their gifting, not only does the ministry suffer but also the people who are squeezed into the wrong positions. The healthy members will have a sense of their gifts and will serve in those areas where they then receive confirmation from the church and satisfaction from their service. However, even if a member has been gifted in a particular ministry, if they are not healthy, they are unlikely to be satisfied. Because of their unhealthiness, they won’t put sufficient effort into preparation or presentation and it will become a drudgery for them, not to mention to those to whom they are trying to minister.

7. In a healthy church, finances aren’t an issue. There are a number of reasons for this. First, money just isn’t the focus in a healthy church; seeking God and doing his will is. Second (and likely a cause for the first), healthy members give generously (and cheerfully) so there is always enough. Third, since a healthy church only does the ministries that God has gifted that church to do, there is plenty of money to go around. It is the unhealthy members who make money an issue. They sometimes feel they need to control where every dollar goes to make sure nobody is getting an advantage; or else they feel like since they have given some of the money, they should have a say where it goes, complaining if funds go toward a project they don’t agree with. The funny thing is, often the people who are most controlling over how a church’s money is spent are the ones who give the least, or the least cheerfully.

8. In a healthy church, gossip, division, dissension and discord do not take root. Healthy members shut down gossip from unhealthy members before it begins. Instead of sowing discord and dissension, healthy members strive for unity. Unhealthy members, on the other hand, seem to thrive on gossip. It’s like they have to make sure everyone knows what someone did wrong or even what someone may have done wrong. Unhealthy members get together with other unhealthy members to form sides to get their way. Extremely unhealthy members even continue to influence other unhealthy members after they have failed to biblically deal with disagreements or offenses and instead have left the church.

9. In a healthy church, there aren’t hostages. Unhealthy churches, or unhealthy members, will “hold hostage” their tithe & offerings, their attendance, or even their membership to get what they want. If they don’t like what the church is doing with their money, unhealthy members will withhold their tithes and offerings. If an unhealthy member doesn’t like how a particular ministry is being run (or the person who is running it), they’ll withhold their attendance. If an unhealthy member doesn’t like something the pastor does, they’ll withhold their membership and maybe attend the church across town. The healthy member, on the other hand, remembers that it’s all about giving and not receiving, so they don’t have to approve of how the church spends its money, or how a ministry is run, or what the pastor does. The healthy members are there to give, to serve, to bless others, not for what they can get or to have their way.

10. A healthy church realizes that sometimes unhealthy members will never become healthy. This is a sad acknowledgement, but sometimes unhealthy members are so ravaged with their spiritual illness that there is little hope of recovery. Grant it, God can do more than we can ask or imagine, but the unhealthy  have to want to become healthy for God to bring healing to their lives. Many times they have their own will so ingrained within them that they have long since mistaken it for God’s will and won’t see things any other way. It is at this point that the healthy church needs to be willing to let go of unhealthy members for the sake of the church’s survival. To continue to enable unhealthy members to bask in disease or allow them to hold the church hostage to get their own way is to prevent the church from truly becoming healthy.

There is, what a former District Superintendent of mine called, blessed subtraction. When an unhealthy member refuses new health, discipline and/or reconciliation in favor of remaining unhealthy or getting their way, it can be a blessing for the church to let them go (or even to ask them to leave). When the doctor discovers cancer in a human body, he first tries to heal that part of the body. If the cancer hangs on, if healing isn’t possible, the doctor cuts it out, completely removes it, eradicates it in order to save the life and restore the health of the rest of the body. Sometimes, this type of radical surgery is necessary to save the life and restore the health of a church.

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