Breaking a child’s will: the idolatry of obedience

My youngest son when he was "blanket training" age

I read a really chilling blog post on Homeschooler's Anonymous about a disciplinary practice in the far-right homeschooling community I'd never heard of. It's called "blanket training." They put their toddlers on small blankets, tell them not to move off, and spank them when they do. Michael and Debi Pearl recommend putting an attractive object close to the blanket to bait the toddler. The idea is to "break their will" from a very early age so that they will do whatever you ask them without … [Read more...]

Real evangelicals don’t gloat about church decline

"Abandoned Church," Ben Salter, Flickr C.C.

 I'm not sure who's getting more mileage out of the Pew report on church decline: the atheists or the evangelicals? There's been a whole lot of hand-wringing and spin-doctoring in response to the survey which shows that while Christianity has declined overall in America, evangelical Christianity has held steady at around 25% of the population. This means that evangelicalism has dramatically increased its market share within Christianity, even if the evangelical culture wars have … [Read more...]

Sister Helen Prejean’s chat with the Boston Marathon bomber

"Helen Prejean," Don LaVange, Wikimedia Commons

This past week, our local New Orleans newspaper ran a story about Sister Helen Prejean's testimony to try to save Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber, from the death penalty. Prejean is the anti-death-penalty activist nun made famous by the movie Dead Man Walking. She had a series of conversations with Tsarnaev at the invitation of his defense team. She claimed that Dzhokhar showed remorse for what he had done. He had said, "Nobody deserves to suffer like that." Prejean said his voice … [Read more...]

Jesus’ holiness vs. our moralism (with Debra Hirsch)

"Thorn in my side," Andy B, Flickr C.C.

I've been reading Debra Hirsch's Redeeming Sex as part of the Patheos Book Club for May. It's one of the better books I've read by someone with a traditionalist perspective on sexuality. One of my favorite quotes from the book looks at the contrast between Jesus' holiness and the church's moralism today. What was it about the holiness of Jesus that drew people to him like a magnet? Sinners of all sorts were drawn into his orbit... What is it about more churchy forms of holiness that seems to … [Read more...]

What if churches were temples instead of programs?

"St. Ignatius' Altar in Rome," Lawrence OP, Flickr C.C.

The latest buzz on the Christian internet is the Pew research report about Christianity's decline in America. Mainline Christian denominations have imploded the most dramatically. I'm sure that many of my fellow Methodist pastors and bureaucrats are wringing their hands about these numbers. What's the solution? More polished audiovisual resources for sermon series, more exotic VBS packages, church basketball leagues? Or what if we went a completely different route? What if churches actually felt … [Read more...]

The self-critique of a social justice warrior

My social justice warrior drum

I am a social justice warrior. I mean that in the strictly pejorative sense of the term. Calling myself a warrior of any kind is utterly laughable. What I mean is that I interpose myself into other peoples' struggles as an ally with a mixture of good and bad motives. I don't think "social justice warrior" as a term applies to people who are directly fighting their own oppression. It's a legitimate and important critique of privileged people like me who need to be humble and self-critical when we … [Read more...]

How would Jesus behave on social media?

"Jesus is my buddy," wishmerhill, Flickr C.C.

Christians behave badly on social media. We're rude. We're arrogant. We gossip. We spread rumors. We're not nice like Jesus would be. Or would Jesus be nice? Based on how Jesus acted in the Bible, how would he behave if he were on social media today?1) He would be both kind and rude but never niceJesus was never nice to people, at least not in the southern genteel way that I was taught to be nice. He didn't practice the art of speaking delicately and inoffensively. He was very blunt and … [Read more...]

The woman who taught me what grace means

IMG_4377 5x7

This is my mom with my eldest son a few Christmases ago. She's an excellent grandma and an excellent mother. More than any other human being, she is the one who is responsible for the fact that I made it. She's the reason I have a tangible account of what grace means.My mother does not always approve of what I do, but she's always been on my side. She had high expectations for me and there were consequences when I broke her rules, but I knew that I started off every day with a clean slate. I … [Read more...]

How a core evangelical doctrine became my gateway heresy

"Bible with Cross Shadow," David Campbell, Flickr C.C.

The other week, a friend playfully tweeted out a warning not to mess around with "gateway heresies" since they lead to bigger heresies. I got to thinking about this and I realized that the core evangelical doctrine of justification by faith is precisely the reason why I'm not afraid to breach the walls of evangelical "orthodoxy." So I guess that means justification by faith was my gateway heresy.What does justification by faith mean? In evangelical youth group, we learned that nobody can … [Read more...]

“Wisdom is knowledge gained through suffering” (Elaine Heath)

"Thorn in my side," Andy B, Flickr C.C.

I've been reading Elaine Heath and Larry Duggins' book Missional. Monastic. Mainline. for a New Orleans clergy discussion group we've pulled together this May. Today I came across a quote that I wanted to ponder. Heath writes, "There are many definitions of wisdom but one of the best understandings I have received is that wisdom is knowledge gained through suffering... The wisest people I've ever known are those who have suffered the most and whose ministry is with those who suffer" … [Read more...]