Faith: November 2005 Archives

iMonk's Confessional

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A couple of weeks ago I linked to Michael Spencer's essay "With Regrets, All My Love," in which he let us look over his shoulder as he wrote to his wife and children with regret about the way his pursuit of the ministry had hurt their life as a family. (Please don't bother trying to find it; it's not there.1 Actually, it is there, but password protected. Go to his home page and e-mail him if you want access.) I just linked to it, without comment, but I linked to it because I thought it had some important things to say about vocation and family.

For his openness, Spencer has been hammered by some of his fellow Christian bloggers. One jumped on a comment he made on another blog, on an unrelated issue (the "Emergent Church" movement), writing, "[Y]our hatred of the Christian life (starting with your own) disqualifies you from being a reasonable commentator." "With Regrets, All My Love" was the smoking gun. The same blogger wrote in a later comment, "It is my contention that because Mr. Spencer hates his life as it is, and hates the church which caused his current life, his opinions about the state of the church and church culture are suspect."

We Tulsans hear that sort of thing all the time, don't we? "Because you've voiced your frustration at the way the poor leadership of Tulsa's establishment has damaged our city's beauty, history, safety, and economic viability, you are disqualified for reasons of being a naysayer, a grump, a negativist, from voicing your opinion on city policy. Only contented people may offer criticism."

Without wading into the whole ugly argument, which I spent way too much time reading this afternoon, I will say it reminds me of what sharks do when there's blood in the water.

I for one am glad that Michael bothers to write the occasional confessional essays. For those of us who aren't perfect (and acknowledge the fact2), it helps to read that someone else has had the same struggles and trials and that nevertheless God hasn't given up on him or vice versa.

Michael has helpfully collected links to about a dozen of his confessional essays, including one about coming to terms with his dad's depression, and one about his marriage after 25 years.

Michael's writing reminds me a lot of Mike Yaconelli's essays in the Wittenburg Door, a magazine I discovered and read in college. The Door and Martin Luther, between them, helped me believe in Christianity when I could no longer place my confidence in the hothouse variety of the faith taught by our college campus ministry.

The victorious Christian life. The Spirit-filled life. Entire sanctification. Promise keeping. Covenant faithfulness. In a state of grace. The vocabulary changes from one century to another, from one denomination to another, but the illusion persists that we can make the brokenness go away while we are still in this flesh. And the corollary is that if I still see brokenness in my own life, I must not belong to Christ. And that notion drives some to denial and some to despair. We are taught to give our testimonies -- before Christ I was a mess, but now Jesus is on the throne of my life and all my dots are neatly lined up. You can get the impression that Jesus is only for those who can do a thorough job of cleaning themselves up and keeping themselves tidy.

I'm glad that there are writers like Michael Spencer who remind us that God still cares about us and even uses us in our brokenness.

Tomorrow is the First Sunday in Advent. It's one of the two penitential seasons in the church year. As we prepare to celebrate the Light entering the world, we need to prepare our hearts to appreciate that Light by considering the darkness that is in the world and still in our own hearts. It ought to lead us to give thanks for the First Advent 2000 years ago and to long for the Second Advent, when sin and death will be no more, and every tear will be wiped away.

Those of you who have managed to conquer your sin and weakness on your own, I don't imagine Advent and Christmas will mean much to you.

1It's too late to say they're sorry. How would he know? Why should he care?
2Confessing guilt for petty annoyances doesn't count. "Why, of course, I acknowledge I'm still a sinner. Sometimes I forget and leave the seat up, ha, ha."

UPDATE 11/28: Dan Paden at No Blog of Significance and Joel at On the Other Foot.

WWJHMD?

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It's a better question to ask than WWJD, according to a blogger who calls himself Father of Eleven:

One day I was out in a boat with the twelve (my wife and the eleven kids) when a storm came up. Seeing the ship starting to flounder and the panicked look on the faces of the twelve, I said "What would Jesus do?" Of course, remembering a story from Sunday School, I did exactly what Jesus did in a similar situation, I stood up in the bow of the boat and rebuked the waves. Suddenly a large wave crashed over the bow knocking me into the water and nearly swamping the boat.

This blogger, a former Tulsan, built his own family football team in part via adoptions, and he presents some theological insights drawn from his experiences with his adoptive kids. This, for example, about the two teenage boys they adopted from Russia, where children in the orphanage have two career choices -- the Army or the Mob:

One day we were talking about the future, and we were talking about what they were going to do. They kept asking about what the American Army was like. I kept explaining to them that "if" they went into the Army it would be like so and so. The word "if" kept confusing them. Suddenly it dawned on them what I was saying; they were not required to go into the Army. They began to realize that, with their new father, not only had their present life changed, but their future as well. They suddenly had a new hope in life.

I found Father of Eleven's blog via this comment on an entry at Phil Johnson's Pyromaniac about Mardel's, the local Christian superstore:

Mardel's always seemed a metaphor for the state of Christianity today. 50,000 sqft of store space and three shelves of theology, half of it bad.

(The next time Phil Johnson comes back to Tulsa and strolls through Mardel's doing running commentary, I want to tag along.)

Father of Eleven calls his blog Nihilo, the ablative case of the Latin word for nothing. He explains why in his initial entry:

So what is this Blog really about. It is more about the God who created everything out of Nothing. The God who has brought a man who hated Him and hated children to be raising eleven children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Talk about creating something out of nothing.

Mister Snitch!, a Hoboken, NJ, based communications consultant, has posted a response to my Urban Tulsa Weekly column about faith and political courage. It's an interesting perspective, coming from someone who has worked with Blue State politicians.

When I've finally caught up on sleep, I'll respond to his post and the earlier responses to my column, which you'll find here.

I sent out an all-points bulletin to fellow faith-n-politics bloggers, asking for their reflections on my column in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly, "Of Faith and Political Courage." As I spot responses, from them and from other readers, I'll link to them here.

Rick Westcott, a Republican running for Tulsa City Council District 2, wrote about another aspect of faith and political courage:

I also think that a personís faith gives them a sense of identity which helps ground them in times of trouble. Because I know who I am in Christ, who God made me, because I know He has a plan for me, it gives me a sense of identity that isnít shaken by those who might attack me. I donít need the external validation that some seek from others.

The other side of that same coin: I have known elected officials overawed, absolutely dazzled, because now important and wealthy people would return their phone calls and invite them to their homes. That shouldn't be true of someone who believes she's a child of the King of Kings. (For that matter, even someone who doesn't believe that, but has a proper regard for the people who elected her to office, should consider her position as elected representative as impressive as the wealth of any one constituent.)

Dan Paden, of the badly misnamed No Blog of Significance, asks and answers a broader question:

What sort of belief-system should be preferred in our government's office-holders? The atheist's? The relativist's (by this, I mean all relativistic religions,such as Hinduism, Buddhism, "New Age," Paganism and Neo-paganism, etc.)? The Jew's, or the Muslim's? Or the Christian's?

He examines how different worldviews would affect one's approach to government, then brings out some relevant quotes from America's Founding Fathers about the kind of belief system they thought was necessary to the system of government they designed.

Eric Siegmund of Fire Ant Gazette has some kind words for me and this blog and writes:

Michael's column is worth reading whether you care anything about Tulsa politics or not. It contains some universal truths about why Christianity and politics can mix without diluting the former or distorting the latter. If nothing else, perhaps it will give some critics of "religious politicians" a better understanding of why many of those politicians are not hesitant to refer to the role that faith plays in their lives...and politics.

manasclerk says that living within a faith community that holds its members accountable makes a difference, and draws a contrast between Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton in that regard.

Red Bug at Tulsa Chiggers compares the situation on the Tulsa City Council to power politics at work on a non-profit board.

Sean Gleeson has posted two responses in a planned series of three entries on faith in the public square: God and Bates in Tulsa, The Fool's Heart Inclineth to the Left. UPDATE: The third installment of the trilogy is up -- The New Devouter -- in which he says that I got it backwards, and he may have a point.

PCA pastor David Bayly, who has some personal experience with faith and boldness in the public square, writes:

Michael's vision of Christian action in the political sphere is both bracing and realistic--bracing because it is realistic in its view of the centrality of faith to action. In a Christian world where what matters politically is usually numbers and pragmatism, Bates speaks Christian realism: faith, not numbers, not connections, not wealth, is power.

Also linking: Caffeinated Musings.

I'll update this entry as I spot more responses to the column. Email me at blog AT batesline DOT com, if I've missed yours. And at some point soon, I'll actually respond to some of the responses.

An edited version of this column appeared in the November 2, 2005, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is available online via the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. My blog entry linking the column is here, responses from other bloggers are linked here and here. Posted online October 6, 2017.

Faith and political courage

by Michael Bates

It's been just over a week since "Tulsans for Better Government" launched their initiative petition to change the Tulsa City Charter to cut the number of City Council districts from nine to six and to add three super-councilors, to be elected citywide for four year terms. Already there's a strong backlash: An opposition group is getting organized, and it's drawing support from across the political spectrum. The Tulsa County Democratic Executive Committee has already issued a formal statement opposing the at-large councilor scheme, and grassroots Republicans are pushing for their party to come out against it as well.

Like so many other local issues, it doesn't divide along party lines. Instead you have certain privileged interest groups pushing for it, and ordinary Tulsans, concerned about fairness and equal representation in government, pushing back. Of the 22 members of the advisory board for Tulsans for Better Government, 18 live in the wealthy sections of Council District 9 or right next to Southern Hills Country Club in District 2. District 9 already has two City Councilors living within its borders -District 7 Councilor Randy Sullivan has lived there for nearly two years, preferring not to live among the people who elected him - but apparently that isn't enough for these people.

Of all the provocative things I wrote in last week's column on this topic ("Seeing the Light on City Charter"), this sentence has provoked the most comment: "Councilors Medlock, Mautino, Turner, and Henderson are all men of devout Christian faith."

The statement was in the middle of a paragraph about how these four reform-minded councilors have withstood relentless pressure from the defenders of the status quo. All four have said publicly and privately that their faith in Christ has sustained them through all the trials they have faced.

Over on my blog, batesline.com, Michael Sanditen commented that my statement was "off base and makes you appear a bigot. I will remind you that without the Jews in Tulsa, this town would be extremely pitiful. They are the quiet givers, the anonymous ones, many more than just the Kaisers, Schustermans, and Zarrows!" I'm amazed that the statement, intended as a compliment to the four councilors, would be read as an insult to adherents of any other faith. I concur that the contribution of the Jewish community to the prosperity and welfare of Tulsa far outweighs its numbers, but that has nothing to do with what I wrote.

Other commenters objected to any mention of religion in this context. One wrote, "Whether these men are Christian is irrelevant. Whether these men can perform their duties as city councilors is much more important." Another said, "Religious persuasion (or a lack thereof), for me, is not a litmus [test] for the qualifications for public service. I don't need to know what faith these Councilors follow to know that they are good men.... I hope you will realize bringing religion into the debate will most likely divide us more than it unites us."

I think I understand the root of their objections. If you think of faith as just professing agreement with certain doctrines, then what I wrote would be irrelevant to the discussion. If you confuse faith with religion, then you might well wonder what a Councilor's position on the propriety of infant baptism, which foot to lead with when genuflecting, or whether musical instruments have a place in worship has to do with his performance in office.

But faith is more than reciting a creed or performing certain rituals. Faith involves confidence and trust. During a worship service you profess certain things to be true about God's nature and character. During the rest of the week, your true faith - what you really believe about God and his dealings with you and the rest of the humanity - becomes apparent in the way you live your life, and particularly in the way you deal with adversity.

For that reason, what an elected official really believes about God's nature and character affects how he conducts himself in office. Someone who has genuine confidence and trust in God as He is revealed in the Bible will have courage and persistence in the face of discouragement, danger, hostility, oppression, and injustice. From the Torah, he knows that God delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, made a way of escape through the Red Sea, provided food for them in the wilderness, and settled them in the Promised Land. In the prophets, he reads of God's hatred for injustice, favoritism, and false dealing.

The politician who believes in the God of the Bible knows that he is in office not because of his brilliant campaign strategy, but because God put him there; in Psalm 75, he reads that "promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another." He reads Jesus' parable of the talents and knows that he is accountable first to God for what he does with the office which has been entrusted to him. He reads Mordecai's appeal to Esther and knows that he too is where he is "for such a time as this" - that it is not by accident that he is in office at this particular moment. There is something to be accomplished now, not put off until after the next election.

The usual pressure tactics won't succeed with the politician who reads and believes the Epistle to the Philippians. He turns his anxieties into prayers to his all-sufficient Father. You can threaten his job or his wife's job, but he reads that God will supply all his needs. You can threaten him with removal for office, but he is learning, with Paul, to be content in any situation. You can threaten his reputation and position, but he is a follower and servant of Christ, who forsook his heavenly throne, "made himself of no reputation, and took upon [himself] the form of a servant." You can threaten his life, but he knows that "to die is gain" - the worst you can do is send him on to his heavenly home earlier than he expected. He expects to share in the sufferings of his Lord, but also in his Lord's resurrection.

If you're a Councilor steeped in Scripture you aren't going to be deterred when a big donor threatens to fund your opponent, when someone from the Chamber or the Home Builders corners you to cuss you out over a vote, or when the World does another front-page hatchet job on you.

History is filled with men and women whose faith gave them the courage to persist in the political realm. One example: William Wilberforce, a member of the British parliament in the early 1800s, was driven by his faith to push first for the abolition of the slave trade, then for the abolition of slavery itself. His faith sustained him through the18 years it took to accomplish the first aim and another 15 years to accomplish the second. He spent most of those years as one lonely voice trying to overcome apathy and the opposition of powerful commercial interests.

There are and have been courageous politicians who are not Bible-believing Jews or Christians, and they draw their strength from other wells. But the Scripture is a deep well from which to draw.

Please understand that I am not talking about the sort of politician who wears his religion on his sleeve, who flits about from one megachurch to another, more in search of votes than spiritual nourishment. And I'm not talking about where a politician stands on any particular issue, although a worldview shaped by Scripture is bound to affect one's platform. I am talking about men and women who have learned through hardships, setbacks, and disappointments that the God of the Bible is still present and is worthy of their complete trust.

We say that we are weary of run-of-the-mill politicians. We are tired of compulsive people-pleasers who can't make a decision and stick with it. We are fed up with officials who abandon reform at the first sign of resistance. We have had it with "public servants" who seek only to serve themselves. If we want elected officials who are fearless to do what is right, we ought to look for men and women whose character has been shaped by confidence in a God who is bigger than any adversary they may face.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Faith category from November 2005.

Faith: October 2005 is the previous archive.

Faith: December 2005 is the next archive.

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