On Senator John McCain

The senior Senator from my home state of Arizona wasn’t actually born and raised in the state.  But then, neither were a significant number of the other six million people who live there.  But then, most of the people who have moved there over the years have done so because they love the place, and it has provided them an opportunity to start a new life.  So Senator McCain was the perfect person to represent the state in Congress.

Whether you agree with his political perspective or not, the fact that he served in the military, and endured a term as a prisoner of war is enough to command the respect of any American citizen.  He knew the risks he was taking when he signed up for military service, and his service helped pay the price for my freedom.  Thank you, Senator, for the sacrifice you made for this country.

Politics being what they are these days, Senator McCain was a statesman, and an honorable one.  He was a Republican because, in this day and age, identification with a partisan perspective is almost mandatory for getting elected, but he was also a “maverick,” and while his personal views did line up with the Republican party on many occasions, he was one of the few members of Congress who was willing to part ways with a partisan agenda when he thought a different view was best for those whom he represented.  He had integrity.  And he let it show.  I don’t think anything demonstrates that more than the night he gave a thumbs down to the repeal of the ACA.  He was the people’s representative, and a clear majority of the people in the state he represented were not in favor of its repeal.  So he voted as their representative.  He got berated and criticized for it, but that’s what integrity in politics looks like.

He has passed on, and so the time for stating disagreements with his position has also passed.  He can’t hear them, and they are no longer relevant.  He has earned the respect of people on both sides of the political aisle.  To say that he wasn’t a war hero because he was captured is as disgraceful an act as failing to lower the White House flag to half staff in his honor, and are despicable acts and words that reveal the true character of the one who used them.  They stand in contrast to the honor and character of Senator John McCain.

 

Late Night Thinking on Random Topics

Football has returned, the NFL pre-season is going strong, and the college season started.  There are a lot of things going on there.

There’s the high profile suspension of Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer for not reporting an awareness of spouse abuse by one of his staff members.  I’m not sure what to think of that.  Is this an incident where a person’s value to the coaching staff meant more than what he was doing to his wife?  Was it an oversight?  Is this a case of a football coach who is clearly the highest paid, and most visible person on a university campus, and in a community and state where the sport is revered getting away with something that others wouldn’t get away with?  Or is it an awkward situation related to a personal matter that should be handled in another way?

I like Urban Meyer, and what he’s done at Ohio State.  But I really don’t like the fact that this appears to be more than just an oversight.  I can’t imagine how the wife of the assistant coach who was abusive felt, not only because of the abuse, but because she must have also felt like the whole world was against her, and that because her husband worked for a high profile, popular coach in a revered football program, he was going to get away with it.  Meyer did apologize, though it was after the fact, and got suspended for three games, which amounts to a slap on the wrist. How much responsibility Meyer had here is up to his supervisors to decide, but I don’t think this was handled with the kind of seriousness it should have been.  There are a lot of people to be considered, including the players who committed to come to the school, and the fans and alumni who support the program, but those are considerations that the guy who runs the program should have taken when this action first became known to him.  The life of a coach’s wife is far more valuable than the whole football program combined.

Then there’s the ongoing issue of what to do with NFL players who continue to take a knee during the national anthem as a means of protesting what they perceive as unfair treatment by law enforcement.  They have a right to their perception which is based on accurate statistical information.  The question is whether taking a knee is disrespectful to the veterans who fought for the country, and the anthem that represents it.  Those who are doing this as a protest say, rather vehemently, that it is not intended to be disrespectful, that it is a protest against injustice that would otherwise be ignored.

The injustice they are protesting is real, and can be backed up with statistical information.  As a Caucasian male of a mature age, I can’t claim any authority to know how those who face this kind of injustice feel, nor can I understand the background behind it.  I know the history of racial discrimination and prejudice in this country, and I know that in spite of our best efforts to overcome it, it’s still there.  The NFL players who are doing this have moved into a position of wealth and influence as a result of their talent and the venue in which they use it.  The constitution guarantees their right to free speech.  They’re the ones who get to decide the meaning and purpose of their actions, and accept the consequences of their choices.

Do the club owners have a right to regulate their behavior?  On the field, absolutely.  They are employees, being paid to do a job by an employer.  The employer has the right to be represented as he or she decides, and they also have the right to decide to be respectful of their employee’s rights.  There is a line in there somewhere.  But free speech is as much of a constitutional guarantee as the right to bear arms and religious liberty, which many of their critics claim.  And those veterans, who are invoked as being victims of an act of disrespect of the flag and the anthem, fought for the right to protest.  The players taking the knee have made it clear that their actions are not intended to be disrespectful to anyone.  Maybe the focus does need to be directed toward their obviously deep feelings and convictions.

Here’s a video that might change your mind about the whole thing.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2018/aug/22/beto-orourke-nfl-protests-texas-video

The NFL is not suffering, as some have claimed, and no professional sport in this country ever will.  Player salaries will set an all time record in the 2018-19 season, television revenue and viewership during the pre-season is up over the previous year, and winning or losing had a much greater effect on NFL franchises last season than this did.  No winning team will ever have trouble filling its stadium, and the Super Bowl will remain the top sporting event annually.  Whether you agree or disagree with their actions, the fact of the matter is that the atmosphere that surrounds professional sports in the United States gives the players the upper hand on this issue, and that’s just the way it is.  No “boycott” will bring about a change, and no owner action will be more than just a scolding.  The morality of idolizing sports figures is a whole other discussion, but it is clear that on this issue the players hold the power.

The injustice they are protesting is also another discussion, one that requires honesty, and cannot take place in the emotional turmoil that currently exists surrounding it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Aretha Franklin

I discovered Aretha Franklin listening to the radio I got for my 12th birthday.  That was a time when the best music was on the AM side of the dial, and my radio got switched back and forth between the two pop rock stations from Tucson, Arizona that we could pick up in my hometown, at least during the day, KTKT and KIKX.  Of course, you switched back and forth to listen for your favorites, and those stations mainly played just the top 40 current hits, so you could hear your favorites several times a day on each one.

That was also back in the day when you collected records of your favorite songs.  The local drug store sold 45’s for 99 cents and I had a pretty good collection of Aretha Franklin’s songs.  The flip sides were pretty good, too.  She had a remarkable voice, and the combination of that with the songs she sang was just something special.  Listening to her now brings back memories from that time of life.

She had a rough life.  Her music reflected that in many ways, though it was “g” rated compared to much of the music of the day, and especially compared to much pop music now.  It was approved to be played at our school dances, and in those days, not all songs passed that standard.  She was a genuine celebrity who used her celebrity status, and gave a good portion of what she earned to make life better for people.  If you knew anything about her, you thought about that when you listened to her music.

She will not be replaced.

Grieving…

So what do you do when someone who knows better decides they’re going to go ahead and do something to make themselves look more important, or better, in someone else’s eyes?  When they decide they are going to open their mouth, and say something that really has no purpose other than to put someone else down?

One of the strictest rules in the house in which I grew up was that you always told the truth, and there were times when even the truth didn’t need to be told by you because it wasn’t any of your business, it was someone else’s.  Both of my parents had some pithy, Southern colloquialisms, or more specifically, West Virginia hillbilly colloquialisms, to make their point.  “None of your business” was put in pretty succinct language, one of their favorites being, “So when did you become God?”  I got the point.

So why is it that some of the most damaging gossip, and some of the most vicious treatment of another human being that I’ve seen in my lifetime has come from people claiming to be Christians, and has taken place not only among Christians, but in some of the places within the context of the Christian community where there’s an expectation of the existence of a more mature faith?  The grief?  That’s come because what I’ve seen and heard came from someone who made an effort to build a trusting relationship with the person that they ultimately betrayed with their gossip.

What really hurts, in this case, is that the victim is someone I really care about.  And the gossip that was hurled to intentionally do harm and damage took place following the worship service in a church.  

Some people have simply said that the best resolution to this is to simply move on, and let those who said the damaging words face accountability to God for their words.  The Bible says that the kind of person who would engage in such conversation is not exhibiting any characteristic of Christlikeness, and they are “empty tombs”.  I’m not in a position to judge, but I have a hard time understanding how a person whose life has been transformed by Christ can so quickly and easily return to the flesh.  There’s a selfish motive there that we can’t see, I’m sure.  And selfishness is the ultimate evidence of a heart full of sin.  It’s not hard for Christians to fall in this particular regard.  But how can you build a relationship with someone, trust them with helping you to provide an education to your children, invite them to your house to spend holidays, and then so easily believe something that someone else told you without question, and withour any real reason or evidence and then condemn that person by telling someone else what you think they did.

Yep, pretty specific.  It is a real situation.  And it’s personal.

Forgive them.  Seventy times seven.  I hear those words.  Faintly, reluctantly, wanting to find a way not to have to hear them, or act on them.  Looking for an exception, but realizing that the only way to put this in God’s hands is to be obedient to them.

 

 

Declining Membership in the “Nation’s Largest Non-Catholic Denomination”

Or the Nation’s largest Protestant denomination if your view of the reformation includes influences that led to the beginnings of the Baptist family of denominations.

Southern Baptists are intoxicated…with numbers.  The pause there works better when that statement is made verbally, rather than in writing.  It’s probably not as prevalent now as it was when I was growing up, and every church had the same register board up front with Sunday school enrollment, attendance, offering this week, last week, and worship attendance.  The Sunday school enrollment figure in the church where I grew up was always somewhere around 140.  It would fluctuate a bit, usually going up at the beginning of the new church year in October, and would drift back down by the end of the year.  It was located in a community where a lot of people came in to spend the winter months, so while summer attendance averaged around 50, from January to April it was not unusual to have a month with an average attendance of 70.  Church membership was always around 225 and the worship service would average about 80 in attendance.

As a kid, I always wondered who the other members were, if they didn’t come every Sunday.  If the whole membership ever showed up, we’d have to set up extra chairs in the auditorium, since it could only seat about 150.  And every week, the “outreach” director of our Sunday school class would report that he’d called the members of the class who had a card on the roll, but always got marked absent.  On occasion, someone would respond, but not often.

But through all of those growing up years, and through the time I spent at an SBC state convention related college, and an SBC seminary, the SBC was always touted as the “Nation’s largest Protestant denomination,” and the membership growth was always pointed to as a sign of the theological correctness and the “health” of the denomination, compared to those “liberals,” who were declining.  Of course, the Catholic church was booming, explained away by “immigration,” and in the community where I grew up, the two Mormon wards were, by far, the largest churches in town, and were also growing fairly rapidly.

But time has passed, and there’s been a lot of change.

Membership growth peaked in the SBC in the mid-1970’s.  The increases each year following that are numerically smaller than the previous year, and the percentage increase also drops each year.  It is interesting to note that while the “Conservative Resurgence” came along in 1979, with an aim of turning the denomination back to its conservative “roots”, and to avoid declining membership that mainline churches were experiencing because of their “liberalism,” and abandonment of evangelism, the percentage of membership increase in the SBC continued to decline, the decline in baptisms began to steepen, and the numerical increase in membership grew smaller every year following 1979.  During the 90’s, the “growth” was actually statistically insignificant.  But over the past decade, the number is no longer a membership increase each year, it is a decrease, and it is getting larger each year.  The number of members is now more than a million less than it was a decade ago, and there have been years when more than 200,000 members have been subtracted from the membership.  That this is not just some reporting or statistical anomaly is evidence in the fact that attendance has gone down by a similar percentage, and other statistical categories, including church income factored for inflation, are declining by similar percentages.

So what’s going on?

Generational Decline

The Baby Boomer generation is still the largest among the current American population. With half of this group now past 60, and Baby Boomers making up approximately 50% of the current church membership in conservative Evangelical churches, including Southern Baptists, we are seeing a statistical “aging” of churches (the median among Evangelicals, according to church researchers, is past 65) and the number of member deaths exceeds the number of new converts baptized.  The Southern Baptist Convention is seeing its churches baptize approximately 250,000 new converts each year, though 80% of that number are the children of church members, and are, for the most part, already included in attendance figures.  The only estimate I could find on the number of member deaths was somewhere just south of 300,000.

Evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, have been losing their young people since the 80’s.  I remember Lifeway sounding the alarm bells when a study came out that showed 70% of the youth who were raised in church and active in their youth group during high school were leaving the church during or after college.  That was a staggering figure then, representing mostly the beginning of Generation X.  But as time has passed, awareness of the situation has brought about a whole series of changes in church programming and ministry that has failed to stop that departure.  In fact, among the latter half of Generation X, and into the Millennial Generation, the figure has increased to 85% leaving.  Unlike their Baby Boomer parents and grandparents, many of whom returned to church in adulthood, these kids aren’t coming back.

The influence of the humanism that now dominates the public education system is one of the main reasons for this exodus.  Students who attended Christian schools in either grade school, high school, or college seem to be far less inclined to leave than their counterparts who did not have that instructional opportunity added to their experience.  Those are not guarantees of fidelity to church membership, but the percentages are much higher.  And it is in these younger generations where the church membership is missing, and where the membership decline is being felt.

Evangelism, Outreach and Ministry

Since people seem to be attracted to megachurches, that might not be a place where you’d look to explain declining membership.  But while many megachurches appear to be growing in number (though the decline among Evangelicals has hit even some of the largest and most venerable churches) they are growing by attracting members out of smaller congregations which is where the ground work of evangelism is being done.  The SBC is a good example of this.

Megachurches grow by attracting members from smaller congregations.  Other than children, most of these folks are already baptized.  But as smaller churches empty out, disband, and close, the groundwork of evangelism ceases.  People that might be reached by a smaller congregation are overlooked or ignored by larger ones.  The personal touch is gone.  From a generational perspective, Baby Boomers are the ones attracted to these large, impersonal congregations because they are interested in the theatrical style worship and the celebrity pastor.  Younger people aren’t brought in by those things.  Millennials in particular appear to be much more attracted to non-traditional congregations that are small and personal, and where their own expression of faith can be seen, discussed, helped and encouraged.

Politics

The overwhelming support of Evangelicals for Trump has become a leading cause of the drop in church membership and attendance among Evangelicals.  Accelerating declines in attendance have steepened since 2016.  Oh, yeah, I know that for many evangelicals, abortion is still the bottom line, and for those who are white, fear of immigration and refugees, and fear that the rest of the world is after their money is pushed along by the conservative media sources they watch.  But when you narrow your issues down, you get lip service to grab your vote, and you wind up electing terrible leadership.  And a lot of Evangelicals are deeper thinkers than they are given credit for, and they see that support for an immoral playboy like Trump, who hasn’t held back on either his unrighteousness in the form of lying, or his crude attitudes and words.  Churches where leaders have been particularly active in right wing politics are seeing members drain out like water through a sieve.  And it is no coincidence that the declines in Evangelical church membership among whites parallels the 2016 election.  People are leaving because churches are too political.

I have to say that I’d walk out the door of any church where a pastor brought any political content into the service.