“A Piece of My Mind”
October, 2016 Newsletter from
Advancing Christian Faith and Values,
Defending Religious Liberty for All,
Supporting Civility and the Common Good
through Preaching, Teaching, Writing,
Activism and Reasoned Conversations
Here Lies Contemporary
Dodger Baseball’s legendary announcer Vin Scully, 88, will sign off for the last time in a few days, after 67 seasons as “The Voice of the Dodgers.”
When Vinny turned 80 in 2007, sportswriter Paul Oberjuerge wrote of him. I was fascinated by how his characterizations of Scully could compare with ministers—my career. How do we preachers measure up to Vinny?
• Vinny has “relentless goodwill” and contagious love for the game. He makes every game seem important and convinces you of the same. How many times haven’t I heard him say late in the game, “Good ball game!” You actually don’t mind hearing him speak for three hours (no call here for three-hour sermons, but do we convey each sermon is important?).
• He is personable and free of pretense and ego. He is pleasant and reassuring. He is smart, but never comes across as a “know it all.”
• He makes his message personal. It’s as if you, the listener, are the important one and he has invited you to “pull up a chair” so he can tell you about the game. Do people feel such intimacy with our sermons?
• He doesn’t follow fads and never uses jargon. That’s a challenge to us preachers, in whose trade there’s always a new fad to talk about or new lingo to use to show others we know something they don’t.
• He can be critical without being irritating—like it really hurts him to report hooliganism at the park or a player’s excessive aggression.
• When you meet him you feel he likes you as much as you like him.
• He conveys a sincere feeling of gratitude to God while knowing that baseball’s good times won’t last forever. “If you want to make God smile, tell him your plans.”
And I especially like this tribute: “He makes Los Angeles a better place to live.”
Religious Liberty Vigilance –
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
– 1st Amendment
1. Massachusetts Restricts Freedom of Speech and Religious Free Exercise by its Policy on “Public Meetings” at Churches
Now, most reasonable people would recognize that church events are always for a “spiritual” or “religious” purpose. But what if the state can classify certain church events as “secular” or “public”?
Eugene Volokh reports this: “From the official Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination’s Gender Identity Guidance, just released last week: ‘Even a church could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public.’”
(The Volokh Conspiracy, August 8, 2016)
Result: the church then becomes subject to the state’s public accommodation laws. So if we do as Jesus said, and invite the poor and needy to gather with us for a meal, and we bless the meal with prayer and hope to meet both physical and spiritual needs, our gathering might nonetheless be a “public gathering”! At such a gathering it would be punishable discrimination to use a pronoun to address a person if it differed from their gender identity.
The antidote for this extremism is to recognize that religion, not the state, identifies what is truly “religious” in words and deeds. And if a church or other religious body deems a practice or gathering or personnel position to be a “spiritual” one, the actions of the state must stop there. To go further would be unconstitutional “entanglement” with religion (Lemon v. Kurtzman, 1971). Government is simply unqualified to determine this matter.
2. Good for the ACLU, which said Christians must have the same rights Muslims have!
(Taken from “The Volockh Conspiracy”, August 31, 2016; italics mine)
Plaintiff [in Allen v. English] Yvonne Allen is a devout Christian woman who covers her hair with a headscarf as part of her religious practice.
In December 2015, Ms. Allen sought to renew her driver license at the Lee County driver license office, where officials demanded that she remove her head covering to be photographed. When Ms. Allen explained her religious beliefs, the County officials responded with a remarkable claim: They admitted that there was a religious accommodation available for head coverings, but contended that it applied only to Muslims.
The American Civil Liberties Union argued that Ms. Allen’s religious freedom rights, guaranteed under the U.S. and Alabama constitutions, were violated.
“The county’s interpretation of state rules blatantly violates the First Amendment,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. “The government cannot discriminate between faiths in granting religious accommodations.”
Now, I won’t argue in favor of the plaintiff based on any “headscarf theology”, for I don’t know of any. And I also believe the State of Alabama might have a case if it argued it has a compelling government purpose in having headgear removed for a driver’s license picture. But to grant an exemption to one religious group and not to another is certainly wrong, and the ACLU is certainly right.
3. A Win for Freedom of Speech at the University of Chicago
(When Freedom of Speech loses, Freedom of Religion easily loses too.)
“The University of Chicago recently sent a letter to incoming students explaining why they do not restrict potentially offensive speech, or give ‘trigger warnings’ when potentially sensitive issues are going to be covered in class. As Dean of Students John Ellison puts it, ‘[o]ur commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called “trigger warnings,” we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces” where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”
“Chicago’s policy is commendable. Not only do trigger warnings inhibit free discussion of difficult issues, social science research suggests that they cause more pain and anxiety than they alleviate.”
– Ilya Somin, The Volokh Conspiracy, August 26, 2016
Years ago Chuck Colson gave this warning in a “Breakpoint” broadcast:
The greatest danger to a free society is suppression of the free expression of ideas.
Don’s Upcoming Ministries
October 1 (8:30 a.m.) – Speak on “Anger” to the Men’s Fellowship of Grace Community Church of Seal Beach.
October 23 – Speak in morning worship services (8:00, 9:30, 11:00) at Grace Community Church of Seal Beach.
Message: “Time for a Great Reformation” (Nehemiah 13).
Listen to my Recent Sermon (click below and go to the date indicated): http://www.gracesealbeach.org/sunday/sermons “Giving Thanks-A Missing Jewel?” (August 7, 2016)
Message of the Month
Are We Seeing the Death of
in “Contemporary” Worship?
I could have lost control of my vehicle as I listened to the ad on Christian radio. The ad for a concert was narrated by someone who introduced herself as a “Worship Artist.”
The job title is another sad sign of the professionalization of worship. In many venues worship has moved from congregation to performers on the platform. And in this transition we are seeing the death of congregational singing.
Often the congregation can’t hear itself sing because of the sound level of the professional singers and instrumentalists. So people don’t sing.
Then there is the worship setting. Mike Harland cautions: “In many churches, we’ve created an atmosphere that everything about the room says you’re here to watch, not worship. If you set up your facility to feel like a theater, don’t be surprised when your church members act like a theater audience.” *
Then there’s style. My wife and I attended “worship” led by a singer-guitarist with a beautiful voice. Her singing style made it impossible for anyone to sing along, so they just watched. So did we, as we enjoyed her short concert.
Concerts may be wonderful, but shouldn’t be confused with worship services. One non-negotiable, essential sign of a Holy Spirit-filled worship service is robust congregational singing. “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” (Ephesians 5:18-19 ESV)
“Special Music” (solos, duets, choir, etc.) is optional in biblical worship—congregational singing is not. “Special Music” is what a lot of contemporary worship really is—a group singing and playing in front of others.
Can we yet bring worship back from the shadow of death? Yes we can!
First, make this commitment:
“We will restore congregational singing to our church!”
Then ask, “What steps must we take to achieve this essential goal?”
• All worship leaders must commit themselves to being just that—truly engaging others in worship rather than doing it for them. “If they ain’t singin’, you ain’t leadin’!”
• Make sure most of the worshippers know most of the songs.
• Turn up the lighting enough so worshippers can see each other and to remove the feeling that people are attending a show.
• Keep the “difficulty meter” to the “low” end so songs are more singable. For example, Chris Tomlin’s “God of This City” is a meaningful, important song I love to hear. But for most it simply is not singable because of its range.
• Keep the volume of the platform music at a level where it actually enhances the singing congregation rather than drowning it out (this includes both platform singers and instrumentalists—even the organ if you still use one).
“We’re rehearsing for the Celestial Choir” is a great mindset to have while worshipping (Revelation 5). Think that way and you are on track.
Let’s make sure “contemporary worship” is not an oxymoron!
Notes: * Mike Harland in a podcast of Rainer on Leadership, April 12, 2016.
I’m working on a list of “10 Commandments for Worship Leaders” which I look forward to completing and sharing sometime in the future.
Bible Insight: Nehemiah’s Economic Reforms
Pastors at my church have been speaking on the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. He was Governor of Judea after the people returned from exile. Nehemiah served under the authority of the King of Persia (c. 445 BC).
It’s a great book to read all the way through. We think of Nehemiah as primarily a “wall builder” but he was much more. One task he did was to bring economic reforms. These reforms are in chapter 5.
What were the problems?
• Hunger – leading to mortgaging of homes and grain fields
• High Taxes – leading to borrowing at usurious rates in order to pay
• Slavery – as families had to take extreme measures to survive
And rulers who lived “high on the hog” at the expense of the little guy! *
Nehemiah had the political power to live at that level, but he refused. “Neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor” (verse 14). His reasons for doing so were his brotherhood with the people and his reverence for God. He saw his role as one of service to others, not self-serving lordship.
He also generously invited many “common folk” and officials to eat at his table. Not that the menu was skimpy—“Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds” (verse 18). Yet none of it on the taxpayers’ dime!
What would happen in our country if something like Nehemiah’s economic reforms were enacted and his servant attitude toward rule was modeled? What if every officeholder saw his or her position as a sacred position exercised before God and in the service of people?
[* The Associated Press reported on September 21 that California’s legislators were receiving a per diem of $196 from taxpayers, when they were not really fulfilling their legislative duties on many of the days they were paid. California legislators “over time crafted loosely worded rules for themselves that allowed them to collect those payments regardless of whether they ever showed up for work.” Nehemiah would say something about this!]
My Website: www.donaldshoemakerministries.com
Important Addendum for Pastors and Church Leaders
Churches and Political Action—What Pastors and Churches Should and Should Not Do
With October looming as a very big month in American politics, what’s a pastor or church to do? Or not do? I offer these thoughts to assist you.
Chair, Social Concerns Committee
Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches
1. From a LEGAL STANDPOINT, here are the “Do’s and Don’ts”:
• Churches MAY NOT endorse or oppose a candidate.
• Pastors MAY as individuals support or oppose candidates, but MAY NOT convey that they speak for their churches. And they should not proclaim their “personal decision” in any church medium (like the pulpit or church newsletter). No preaching, “I’m not telling you who to vote for and I’m not speaking for the church, but here’s where I’m putting my support…”)
• Churches MAY NOT use their resources (like facilities, property or equipment) in contexts that endorse or oppose a candidate.
• Churches MAY invite candidates to speak if done even-handedly and not selectively. Their presence in a service or in the pulpit must not convey the church’s support of any candidate.
• Churches MAY distribute voter guides, but I don’t recommend it because almost all have a “slant” to promote. I also would not allow members or outside groups to bring literature to the church or blitz cars in the church’s parking lot with flyers. If outsiders show up or blitz the parking lot, it may be wise for the pastor to disavow the activity.
• Churches MAY schedule a forum where the candidates for an office are invited to speak and answer questions. If only one shows up that’s not a legal problem, but it may not look the best and the church would need to be careful not to have the occasion appear to be an endorsement of the candidate who appeared.
• Churches MAY spend money and lobby and encourage members in support of or in opposition to a ballot measure or a piece of legislation (like many did in California recently on Senate Bill 1146). The limitation is that the resources expended not be “substantial”. This may be interpreted as “not more than 5% of resources”, which would almost never be exceeded in churches as reticent as many evangelical churches traditionally are. The limit applies not just to money spent but also to other factors such as pastoral time.
2. I DO RECOMMEND these points of guidance:
• Always maintain a distinction between the ultimate issues of the Kingdom of God and the penultimate possibilities of the political process. The latter are genuine but not perfect. They are secondary but not primary. They need the church’s voice and attention but must not get top billing.
• Preach on morally laden issues and proposals like good or bad legislation or initiatives. But be sure that the biblical “connectedness” is made clear. Of course we preach sensitive to the congregation and visitors in such matters, but avoiding the topics should not be considered an option.
• Have the church’s official body (Elders, board, or congregation) take positions on issues subject to the above qualifications and when the issue is important (as Grace Community Church of Seal Beach did on SB-1146).
• Do voter registration at the church before and after services. This is a non-partisan activity.
• Have a forum to educate church members on ballot initiatives.
• Have your facility used for voting, subject to acceptable rules (for examples, I wouldn’t accept a demand to cover the cross but removing a literature table may be acceptable). This is a natural way of showing interest in the wellbeing of your community.
• DO NOT politicize your message. By “politicize” I mean stridently or subtly speaking for or against a particular party or political stratum.
• Remember, the spiritual upbuilding of the saints is always the goal in a worship service. This influences sermon style and content immensely.
• Politically activist Christians must remember that the unity of the church must transcend all political and secular unities.
• Remember the admonition (I’ve made it often and sometimes it’s been heard with much irritation, but at least the point wasn’t missed):
“The church is the one place where a very liberal Democrat and a very conservative Republican should be able to join hands and sing, ‘We Are One in the Bond of Love’.”
3. Topics to Proclaim:
Churches have a powerful communication instrument known as “The Pulpit” (even if “pulpit” is now a metaphor). Here are some topics, which could be sermons, sermon points, or discussion points:
• Immigration from a biblical perspective
• The Sovereignty of God over the Governments of Man (“The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.” – Daniel 4:25)
• Religious Freedom and how it is eroding
• How healing can come to fractured race relations
• The duties of good Christian Citizenship (we now live in a participatory republic rather than in the Roman society that disadvantaged and even persecuted believers and where few had citizenship rights)
• The need for fiscal wisdom and accountability in government
• Godly men of the Bible who served the secular state and society of their times (Joseph, Daniel, Nehemiah)
• How God works peace and justice through governments he establishes, be they ever so fragile and faulty
• What God expects of secular rulers and those who “bear the sword”
• The Issue that Won’t Go Away—Protecting Unborn Human Life
– end –
Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org