Holy (sounding) Crap!

This writer finds himself caught between two forces in a bit of conflict, his OneOldCop persona, and his AnOldSinner persona. What is a poor old ex-cop sinner to do? In this instance, I decided to punt. I published the piece on oneoldcop.com and added a link here in case sinnerswalk.com followers wanted to take a look. The title above gives you an idea of the message to be found at An Old Cop’s Place.

Holy (sounding) Crap!

 

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On the Altar of Convenience

In the interest of full disclosure, I resisted the idea of writing this piece. Part of me thought I had something to contribute to the debate. Another part of me said, “This issue is radioactive. Stay out of it!” Staying out of anything has never been my strong suit. Also, when God taps your shoulder twice in the same day, you might want to rethink your silence.

I am of course speaking of the debate touched off by the State of New York’s decision to legalize abortion up to the last minute or beyond. Some years ago I wrote about abortion. That piece discussed the real, in this writer’s opinion, understanding of the term sacred when applied to the life of an unborn child. While the debate over abortion has been ongoing for decades, the debate took a turn most could hardly imagine before New York’s actions.

Again, I was fully prepared to avoid this issue. Then God, or if you prefer; the universe, fate, or serendipity stepped in. The first tap was during discussion time at a men’s Bible study group. We were asked to share something reflecting how God had triumphed in our lives. One of the men at our table shared the story of his son.

His son is severely disabled. He is unable to care for himself and is confined to a motorized wheelchair. In times past, his son’s condition made him angry with God, and he said he often thought the first thing he would say when he reached heaven was, “Why did you let this happen?” Today, almost forty years later he realizes how much of a blessing his son was to their family and those around him. God used his disabled son in miraculous ways.

Later the same day, I was walking to my car on a Target parking lot. A lady was loading items into her SUV. A small child was sitting in the cart. As I passed, the child looked around and gave me a beautiful smile. It was a smile lighting up the child’s face and the face of anyone seeing it. It was the smile of a child with Down Syndrome.

The new legislation is only new for New York. Other states allow late-term abortions and more are considering such laws. New York made itself famous, or infamous if you will, by celebrating the legislation in a garish fashion. The governor ordered the tasteless display to celebrate the victory for what many call reproductive rights.

Believe it or not, this writer understands, as much as any male can, the dilemma someone faces with an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy. I have seen the problems, pain, and the aftermath of decisions in this area. I know that for many it is not a simple decision, and for others, it seems too easy.

I once held a grown man in my arms as he finally grieved the loss of the child he agreed to abort years before. I looked into the faces of women who decided to have a child or were forced to have a child they never wanted. I have comforted and counseled a woman who struggled with the knowledge that her mother gave her away to pursue personal success. I have a daughter who would not even be a memory if her mother had followed the advice of a doctor. Still, I am not here to judge or condemn anyone’s personal decision in the area of reproductive rights.

I am however here to make a point. It seems pro-choice advocates wish to make pregnancy termination as easy as having a mole removed, easier actually. A minor child cannot authorize a dermatologist to remove a mole. Parental consent is required. Yet, in many states, a child can authorize an abortion. No parental consent, or even knowledge in some cases, is needed.

No one, least of all this writer, should argue aborting an unwanted child, regardless of why it is unwanted, is a clear and easy choice. Yes, some people realize the situation in which they find themselves, yet seem unconcerned about the gravity of their decision to abort.

Such people may indeed be cavalier about the matter. They may also be scared to death, but fear admitting their anxiety would keep them from following through on what they feel is the correct decision. None of us can read their minds, see into their hearts, or know exactly why they think this termination is the right choice.

Years ago a friend discovered she was pregnant and decided to abort the child. It seemed she gave the matter almost no thought. Even when others offered to help her find a way to have the baby she brushed it off. One might have thought she was having a wart removed.

She was a single mom with a young child. I know she thought a second child was just too much to handle. Several years later while still the in same situation she faced the same decision and chose to have the baby. It makes one wonder what changed in the interim. Perhaps that first decision was not as easy as it seemed.

Compassion and understanding notwithstanding, one thing remains clear. The decision to allow a child to be aborted up until it is delivered is a drastic move. If it is not infanticide, it is so close an objective observer might have trouble understanding the difference, and the fact it is a “reproductive rights issue” makes little difference in the long run.

Some on the right have cried this is not a slippery slope. Instead, it is the next step toward the legalization of euthanasia at any age if society decides that is the right course of action. While that may be an extreme point of view, it is possible they are correct.

Two decades ago many of us watched in horror as the Terri Schiavo case played out in Florida. There the question was can a life be terminated if the person is unable to decide for his or herself? It took years to come to a legal resolution of the situation by allowing  Terri Schiavo’s body to die, years after her brain died.

Today we are arguing over the question of a full term child’s right to life. If a society decides terminating a viable fetus just before, or as some have admitted, just after birth, it is little better than the societies in ancient times. Societies which left children out to die if they were unwanted, weak, or deformed. Societies which sacrificed children to their gods for one reason or another. Those practices came from superstition, tradition, or the harsh realities of primitive life.

The current crop of late-term abortion legislation deals with just one thing, convenience. Yes, the mother’s mental state can be an issue but is killing the baby at the last minute going to help or damage her mental state. I cannot think of a better opportunity for a reaction similar to buyer’s remorse. The difference here is the irreversible nature of the decision.

Likewise, dealing with a mentally challenged or disabled child can be a problem and an inconvenience. Is that really a legitimate reason for terminating it at birth? Yes, it is a problem if a child is put up for adoption and is never adopted. Such a situation inconveniences society in general and many people, including the child. Is that sufficient evidence to support late-term abortions on an otherwise healthy fetus, the chance it will be in the foster care or orphanage system?

Like it or not, people have come to worship convenience. We want telephones we can carry in our pockets. Not only do we want them to function as communication devices. We want them to operate as our payment system. We want them capable of documenting our life in pictures. We want them to help us find our way home. The old ways of doing business, communicating, and seeking directions were inconvenient.  We cannot have that. We want everything to be convenient.

It saddens me to think of what the world would be like today if we had the same attitude about life in the past as we seem to be developing today. The boy in the wheelchair mentioned earlier might never have been a successful wheelchair-bound man because caring for him and teaching him was certainly not convenient. The beautiful little Down Syndrome child who brightened my trip to Target the other day might not have been allowed to draw its first breath.

They might have been sacrificed on the altar of convenience.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

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Pray and Predation: Part 2

Heard the old bromide, if you snooze you lose, recently? If you haven’t, hear it now! It is still the way of the world. In this case, I did not snooze or lose, exactly. On the other hand, current events did overtake my planning.

Prayer and Predation started as a stand-alone piece to discuss an issue about which I feel strongly. It was ready for publication just before Christmas, but I had second thoughts. Was the week before Christmas the right time to bring up the topic of sexual predators? Deciding, that was not appropriate, I scheduled it for January.

Two days after Christmas the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published a story falling squarely into my area of concern. Sadly, the story concerned someone I know casually. He is a father, husband, successful businessman, and active member of his church. Now, he is charged with several sex-related crimes, including sexual assault of a child. The only difference between this case and the multitude of others one can hear about today is the way it is being handled.

The predator is not denying the charges, and not blaming the victim, yet. In fact, he reportedly confessed his actions to friends and family before the charges became public. Also, his church handled the matter in what some might consider an unprecedented manner.

According to media reports, someone close to the suspect advised church leadership of the allegations. The church took immediate and appropriate action to limit the suspect’s access to the church. Additionally, the church is cooperating with the investigation and made a public statement of support for the victim.

By this point, you may be wondering where this is going. If this guy has been charged, has confessed, and the church has taken action against him, why am I dwelling on the matter?

This matter is important for any number of reasons. My main concern is this type of predator is not the focus of church prevention and detection programs. Programs dealing with the issue of sexual misconduct within churches primarily focus on two areas. The biggest concern is the victimization of younger children involved in church ministries or activities. This focus is understandable, as these are some of the most vulnerable members of a congregation.

Child-focused programs include background checks and training, as well as close supervision of volunteers and staff. The goal is to limit the risk of potential predators gaining access to the children. This is accomplished through policies and procedures designed to help gatekeepers detect and prevent risky activities or situations. For instance, a system may dictate that children are never alone with a volunteer or staff member. Policies may also attempt to prohibit known grooming behavior.

The second area upon which churches focus is older potential victims who come in close contact with staff and volunteers through various programs and activities. One example that comes up too often is the young male pastor who mistakenly or intentionally chooses to meet a congregant in a private setting to counsel the person on emotional matters.

Many making this mistake became former pastors by involving themselves with vulnerable members of their flock. In some instances, these cases evolved spontaneously. In others, the pastor or staff member used their position to prey on vulnerable members of the church. Regretfully, some of these cases, including intentional predatory behavior, were swept under the rug by quietly relocating the perpetrator to a new hunting ground.

The details of the incident leading me to write Part 2 are not clear. For example, nothing published or available to date indicates the alleged criminal behavior occurred at his church. In fact, one source stated the criminal acts did not happen on the church campus. That does not mean the grooming process did not begin at church, but it is one reason this sort of predation is not higher on the list of concerns for churches.

Should the church be held responsible for actions by congregants that did not take place on church grounds? For instance, two people meet at church, develop a relationship, and at some point, one commits a crime against the other. Can the church be held legally responsible for the criminal behavior? On its face, that would appear to be unlikely, which is why churches, their insurers, and advisors do not look more closely at the possibility of an adult on adult predation of this nature. On the other hand, does a church not have some responsibility in this area?

Answering that last question in depth is beyond my paygrade, so to speak. On the other hand, a review of readily available information on singles ministries and intimate knowledge of prayer and counseling programs seems to raise a few red flags.

So-called Christian dating sites are designed for matchmaking. They also, to varying degrees, offer warnings, caution statements, and advice on how to avoid problems when making a connection through their site. I could find very little such cautionary verbiage on church singles ministry pages. On the other hand, both the dating sites and church sites prominently display information that might lead one to believe finding a match is possible.

Only one website concerning singles ministries included any cautionary language concerning social matchmaking. In that case, the information was contained in a briefing paper or white paper designed for the churches within that particular tradition or belief system.

Is it reasonable to assume that an organization offering spiritual education combined with social engagement opportunities should recognize the possibility of matchmaking or hookup activity? I would think it should be, as I have yet to meet someone attending a singles ministry who is not looking for something more than a social engagement opportunity, in addition to spiritual growth opportunities. However, everyone I have approached concerning the risk factors inherent in singles ministries feels it is not an issue they can or need to address.

I fear most churches and other ministries will only decide this is a potential problem after a scandal breaks or a horror story emerges. That has been the pattern with churches, schools, and similar institutions for decades.

Church security was not a huge concern for many churches until the late 1990s if not later. Law enforcement and security professionals recognized the threat to churches earlier, but their concerns were ignored in many cases. Churches were of the same mindset as educational organizations, and other entities dealing in goodwill and service. These organizations could not recognize the threat until a tragedy occurred.

In Texas, a mass shooting at a church in 1980 should have been a warning sign. Unfortunately, it was considered a random act that would not be repeated. For almost two decades, that thinking seemed to be acceptable then seven people were killed by a lone gunman at Westside Baptist Church in Fort Worth. With the Columbine High School shooting earlier that years, awareness and caution increased. Still, those, including this writer, who recognized the vulnerability of churches were voices crying in the wilderness, or crying wolf if you prefer.

The 2007 shooting spree including a church camp and a large church in Colorado opened the floodgates as far as church security is concerned. Still, some churches were reluctant to take the steps necessary to secure their campuses and protect their congregations until something happened in their area. The 2012 killing of a young pastor during a robbery at his church in North Texas was the trigger for more and better security at many Texas churches.

Today, church leaders have taken steps to minimize the possibility that a predator can hunt within specific ministries. Churches have programs and protocols to avoid predatory behavior or deal with such action if it involves or is a threat to children, especially younger children. They have programs, procedures, and safety measures to help protect vulnerable congregants from pastors or counselors who might take advantage of someone. Those programs are essential, and the necessity for them is clear.

Singles ministries, on the other hand, are the vulnerability no one wants to address. In some ways, that is understandable. Having singles ministry information which includes cautionary information for participants about the possibility of sexual predators in their midst is not what one wants to see in the church bulletin or website. That, and the fact no scandals seem to have made headlines or the national news in this area provides a bureaucratic comfort zone for church leaders.

Hopefully, I am crying wolf, or overreacting because of an isolated incident from several decades ago. If I am, this may be the only time anyone reads or hears about this possibility. If my concerns are legitimate, a scandal will hit the news at some point.

I love being right. Here, I pray I am wrong.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

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Of Prayer and Predation: Part 1*

Wow! Unless you’ve been entirely off the grid for the last few weeks you know there are new sex-related scandals in the headlines. No! I am not speaking of some new accusations coming out of Washington, D.C. Those things have lives of their own, and anyone who believes sexual misconduct is not a regular occurrence throughout all levels of government is not in touch with reality. Unfortunately, it appears the same can be said for organized religions.

The latest scandal in the religious arena came from a splinter group within the Baptist faith or tradition. Of course, sexual misconduct related to religion is nothing new. From David and Bathsheba to this latest investigation and scandal, Judaism and Christianity have suffered from the sinful acts committed within the church community. In some cases, the problem is sexual misconduct. In others, it is the conspiracy to conceal the misconduct.

That is the bad news. There are sex crimes in churches, and like other organizations churches may attempt to conceal those crimes. The good news is many churches have taken steps to reduce the risks of misconduct. The sad news is churches and those advising them are leaving a gaping hole in the fence erected to protect their flocks.

Many churches and church organizations nationwide instituted or are instituting programs to protect children in their ministries. Organizations such as Ministry Safe provide training and screening services designed to help churches protect the most vulnerable within their congregations.

Are those programs completely effective? Probably not. Still, they are good faith efforts to keep children, youth and counseling ministries as safe as possible. These efforts include procedures to restrict access, rules to reduce the chances of one on one contact, and background checks. Still, there is a hole in their protective net.

Churches have made great strides in securing their facilities against one class of sexual predators. In spite of their efforts, according to publicly available information, sex crimes in churches appear to be on the rise. The reported numbers are still relatively low in some ways, but given the fact most sex crimes are under-reported, the trend should be concerning. What should be the most concerning, but is the least discussed, even within church security circles, is the overlooked vulnerability alluded to above.

This particular vulnerability came to my attention many years ago when a member of my family became a victim of a predator hunting within a church. This predator did not volunteer in the children’s ministry. He was not on staff. He was not a volunteer in any capacity. He was not counseling anyone or leading a group of any sort. He was just a smooth-talking pedophile hunting within the singles ministry.

Singles ministries can be a fertile hunting ground for predators. Whether the predator is interested in sex, money, or control a singles ministry is a target rich environment. And, just for the record, this piece focuses on male predators. Female predators exist, especially when one speaks of financial predation.

At this point, I have a choice to make. I could turn this into a long-winded, or even longer-winded some might say, piece on why this is or should be a concern. Instead, I choose to go against my academic nature and cut to the chase. After all, this piece is not about anything more than sharing my concerns. If it rings true to you, I would suggest you take steps to deal with the possibility in your own church before some investigative reporter comes snooping around.

Predators who target children must deal with the adults responsible for the children. Experts in this field label the adults as gatekeepers. Gatekeepers are parents, older relatives, teachers, day care workers, or child ministry staff. Predators become experts at “grooming” gatekeepers. Their goal in this process is to build trust to the point they have unfettered and unsupervised access to their prey.

If you take, or took, the time to refer to some the links concerning grooming, you will see the primary focus is on schools, children’s ministries, and the like. While that is logical, it also supports one point of this piece, groups such as singles ministries are not considered an issue. To be fair, there are reasons for that oversight.

One reason singles ministries and similar group activities are overlooked is distraction or misdirection. A pickpocket is not successful because he or she has excellent skill and quickness. A pickpocket is successful because he is a master of distraction and misdirection. Such a thief makes sure something else has your attention while your wallet is slipped out of your pocket.

In the case of predators, they are not creating a distraction. Some of them are the distraction. Everyone is so focused on children’s ministries, they forget that a single mom is a gatekeeper. Everyone focuses on a pastor becoming too close to someone needing prayer and emotional support, overlooking the fact other congregants have shoulders upon which a person in distress can lean.

It is not possible to know how many children or adults have been victimized by predators working through a singles ministry. It is not possible because no one is looking carefully, victims will be afraid to report the situation, and it may be years before the truth comes to light. That does not mean it is not a problem


*This post was originally a standalone piece written after the Fundamentalist Baptist report broke.  Due to the timing of the reporting on the scandal, it was ready for publication at Christmas.  I postponed posting it until after the first of the year. In the meantime, another matter came to my attention which will be discussed in part 2 next week.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2019

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Tales of Christmases Past

AnOldSinner is not what one might call a sentimentalist. There are reasons for that, including my childhood, three decades in law enforcement and many years helping others deal with the world they created for themselves. Yet, there are tales from all of those eras that can make AnOldSinner tear up and OneOldCop choke up a bit if not cry. For example, the year my brother and I received our first new bicycles.

Our household was not the most economically stable place to live as a child. Dad was a bit of loose cannon. Jobs, business ventures, income streams, and home addresses came and went on a semi-regular basis. Still, he loved Christmas, and he did everything he could to make Christmas special for our little family. My tenth or eleventh Christmas was one of his best efforts.

For reasons likely related to our nomadic lifestyle, my brother and I never had bicycles.  We had tricycles, dad made us a near life-sized rocking horse one time, and there were other fun toys over the years.  Having our own bikes were not in the cards until that Christmas. Talk about a surprise! Of course, there was a bit of catch.

We lived in a rural area on a gravel road. We had these beautiful new red bicycles, and could only ride them up and down about a quarter mile of gravel road. Keep in mind this was long before the days of BMX and mountain bikes. These were Schwinn street bikes, and gravel roads were not their friend.

Still, the ruts in the road were relatively smooth, and in a year or so we moved back to a town with paved streets. One of my fondest memories is of us riding as fast as we could up the gravel road to try out our new bikes. It was a typical Texas Christmas, shorts and tee shirt weather, making the day even better.

Fast forward a few decades and bicycles were still a part of my life. I was a street cop in Denton, Texas, and I became a bicycle cop before bikes became standard in U. S. law enforcement. Of course, I was not patrolling on my bicycle as officers started doing later, I was commuting on my bike.

We’d just built our first house, which cost less than most economy cars today. Yet, even with both of us working money was tight. Commuting to work by bicycle kept me in shape and saved gas money. It also got a lot of stares when a police officer cycled by on his red ten-speed in full uniform, but bicycles are not part of my Christmas story for that period of my life.

One evening just before Christmas the dispatcher called me to the office. Someone was there asking if Officer Jackson still worked for the department. Those sorts of calls came in occasionally, usually because someone wanted to know about an incident or wanted to complain about something. This one was different.

A nice looking young man was sitting in the lobby when I arrived. It turned out he was home for Christmas break from his studies at Baylor University. It also turned out I met him and some of his friends when he was in junior high school.

Some of them filched different sorts of alcoholic beverages from their folks, and they were sneaking out to have a party at another kid’s house whose parents were out of town. Instead of a party, they had a ride in a squad car, and an awkward wait at the PD until their parents could retrieve them.

At the time, I gave each of them a business card and told them they could call me if I could help them in the future. This young man kept the card. He also remembered the little bit of a lecture I’d given them. Unfortunately, he said, some of his friends did not keep my card or heed my advice.

He came by that evening to wish me a Merry Christmas and thank me for the way I handled them. He said I changed his opinion of police officers, and the incident was a wake-up call. He was confident it helped him make it to college. It was touching, and nice to hear until he told me he was studying to be a lawyer. Oh, well! You can’t have everything.

I wish all of my Christmas memories were like the bicycle story and the visit from the young man. That would be nice, but that is not the way life works. As I wrote in Ghosts of Christmas Past and Not So Silent Night, police officers and other first responders know holidays, even Christmas, can be anything but blissful at times. Which brings me to the point of this piece.

The Christmas my brother and I received our first brand new bicycles I was a newly baptized Christian. I had a crazy home, but I knew Jesus loved me. He loved me so much, he gave his life just so I could come to faith in Him and be saved. Between that Christmas and the Christmas when the young man dropped by to see me, life, family, and the reality of what police officers see and do every day drove the faith of that boy on the bicycle into hiding. By the time, the young man came to see me, God was a childhood fantasy like Santa Claus.

Decades later in December of 1993, I was given a gift that put all my other Christmases into the proper perspective. I had done my best to abandon God, but He had never forsaken me. Instead, He waited until I was in the right place, and in the right frame of mind to listen. Then, He put people in my life who helped make Christmas 1993 the best one in almost forty years. It was the Christmas I went to my knees in prayer. I let down the walls and asked Him back into my heart.

This Christmas, please remember there are others like I was at that time. They are lost but think they are in control and too strong to need God. They have seen too much pain, and cannot trust a God that would let those things happen. They did things they believe can never be forgiven, and they are afraid of being rejected by the God they once thought loved them.

This Christmas pray for those who lost their way, and if you have the chance, reach out to one of them. You might be the one touch needed to bring them to their knees.

© sinnerswalk.com – 2018

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Sunday After Church

Not long ago the pastor of a large evangelical church spoke on the topic of hypocrisy. His sermon defined hypocrisy, the charge that Christians are hypocrites, and discussed the truth of that charge. It was, to say the least, an interesting sermon. For many, It was likely an uncomfortable sermon as well.

For AnOldSinner, it was nothing new. Hypocrisy within the Church was one of the excuses I used for years to justify my skepticism concerning churches and those who called themselves Christians. I wrote about my position on the subject some years ago in Seeking an Excuse, but the pastor’s sermon on this day brought another question to mind. What makes so many people see Christians as hypocrites?

No! I am not speaking of those Sunday Christians who turn into pushy, possibly not so honest business people when they go to work Monday morning. Nor, am I speaking of the Friday night partier who will be front and center on Sunday morning. Neither am I speaking of the individuals or couples around whom gossip swirls regularly. Though I might be speaking of those contributing to the chatter.

Of course, one might consider the people in the previous paragraph to be hypocrites if the charges or perceptions are valid. On the other hand, hypocrisy is not defined solely by a Christian’s sinful behavior. The Bible teaches we are all sinners. If we are all sinners, we are going to sin. It is one’s denial of sin or condemnation of others who sin that can push someone across the line from simple sinner to sinner and hypocrite.

My argument to this point may or may not make sense to you. It may or may not fit with your view of theology, religion, Christianity, or the world in which we live. However, the question at the moment is not whether Christians are hypocrites. Instead, it is why they are so universally viewed as hypocrites.

In this writer’s opinion, it is not the way one conducts his or her business dealings. It is not the way one wind’s down on Friday night or celebrates the end of the week. It is not when people violate their wedding vows. Yes, those things can contribute to the way Christians are perceived, but even the harshest critic should realize not every Christian behaves in that manner, sins in those ways.

As noted above, I was one of those folks who took every opportunity to find hypocrisy in the actions of those who claimed to be Christian. Yet, I have come to understand there is more to the matter than whether someone decided to have one too many on a Friday night or commit some other act that many would consider a sin.

Big sins are a problem. I am not attempting to minimize the impact of significant inappropriate behavior on the part of a Christian. Instead, I would like to emphasize what I have noticed over the last few decades of attending church regularly. It is the little things that make us look bad.

Whoa! That sounds a bit extreme, doesn’t it? What do I mean the little things make us look bad? I mean exactly that. It is things we do without thinking. The things we regularly do that may not even to be sinful to anyone but a Pharisee. Still, they are the kinds of things that raise an eyebrow, make someone look petty, or project an image that does not match the image Christians want to project. In fact, it was a little thing, that triggered this piece, a spoiled Sunday lunch.

The details of the lunch are to some degree unimportant. Suffice it to say, there was a group in a small neighborhood restaurant acting in a less than civil manner. Oh, they were not being foul-mouthed or having a drunken, ribald time. They were merely allowing, in some cases inciting the children in the group, to yell, laugh at the top of their lungs, run around the restaurant like they were in their own backyard, and make it almost impossible for those around them to enjoy their Sunday lunch.

Yes, this sort of disturbance can be caused by people who are not churched. Atheists, agnostics, Christians, Scientologists, and Wiccans can all be guilty of failing to control their children. Still, the folks who go out to lunch on Sunday looking like they just went to church are likely to be seen as some form of Christian. Based on that perception, those around them expect them to behave in a somewhat civilized manner. That was not the case on this particular Sunday. Everyone around the party above likely went away with a less than positive feeling for them.

Of course, unruly kids are not the only possible blemish others may see in Christians. Consider a Sunday lunch conversation in which this writer was a participant, not just a witness. In this case, there were no unruly children. Instead, there were adults, discussing a mutual acquaintance. None of us thought there was anything wrong with the discussion until I noticed an eavesdropper. To be fair, the individual did not have to work very hard to hear us. We were not secretive about our discussion.

The person’s face and body language radiated a level of disdain that was impossible to miss. I realized immediately that from the eavesdropper’s standpoint we were a bunch of gossips. Not only were we gossips. We were gossiping about a fellow Christian. At first, I was amused, if a bit put out that the individual was judging our conversation. Then I remembered a conversation I overheard years ago while attending a Bat Mitzah.

A group of older ladies sat around a table commenting on every person walking by. It could have been a comedic skit on television or a scene in a black and white movie. A group of matriarchs sitting around critiquing the children, cousins, and other relatives of the ladies sitting at other tables. They did not think a thing about what they were doing. It was just part of their culture. Still, to a non-Jewish guest, it spoke to every stereotype I’d ever heard.

Christians are supposed to be “the light unto the world.” (Matthew 5:14) That does not mean we will be perfect, but it does imply people will be watching us. Accordingly, on Sunday after church, we might want to be a little more considerate of those around us in a restaurant. We might want to avoid topics of discussion that might be misunderstood or intentionally twisted. We might want to be a little more forgiving of the harried server who forgets to bring a tea refill in what we consider a timely fashion.

I could go on, but you either get the point, or you don’t. It sends the wrong message when Christians, or any group identified by its faith, occupation, culture, or ethnicity, engage in behavior that can allow others to see them in a negative light.

Are we going to make mistakes? Are we going to be hypocritical at times? Of course, we are! We are human, and humans are not perfect. Still, Christianity holds itself out to the be the hope of the world. If we’re the hope of the world, one would think we could manage to behave in a way that leaves a good impression with those around us on Sunday after church.

© sinnerswalk.com 2018

Posted in Faith

Engage Your Brain

There is an old saying about engaging your brain before putting your mouth in gear. Unfortunately, many people do not seem to know or give credence to this bit of folk wisdom. Instead, many of us, including this writer at times, have the tendency to say the first thing that comes to mind.

Sometimes, that tendency makes one seem quick-witted. At other times, it has the opposite effect. This seems to be especially true in social media. There it seems unthinking responses often rule the day.

For the most part, unthinking comments via social media or across the dinner table are not a major concern. Yes, someone’s feelings can be hurt. Yes, someone can feel foolish for making such a comment. Yes, someone can find him or herself socially ostracized for a time. Still, it is normally not a big deal, with one or two exceptions. The exception of interest here is when someone claiming to be a Christian fails to heed the wisdom of thinking before speaking.

This point was driven home not long ago after the death of a police officer in Texas. The officer responded to a disturbance call, only to be murdered upon his arrival.  The report of the murder generated a massive social media response. Messages expressing sympathy, support, and prayer were everywhere. Everyone it seemed was coming together to support the fallen officer’s family, friends, and department. Then someone shared “The Final Inspection” on the PD’s Facebook page.*

It seemed the poem was poignant, appropriate, and thoughtful. At least that seemed to be the consensus of those responding to it. There were a string of thoughtful, sympathetic comments, and then someone felt moved to post something less positive.

Given the atmosphere in the United States today it would not have been surprising for someone to use the post to bash the police or promote a cause of some sort. Also, given the nature of social media, a tacky comment from a self-appointed poetry critic or grammarian would not have been surprising. In this case, the comment came from a self-appointed Bible expert.

I say self-appointed because no one posted a comment asking if the poem was theologically correct.  There is no indication this person was asked to comment on the poem or the post in general.  The comment just popped up in the thread stating,  “That sounds good, but look again, God’s Word just doesn’t read that way.”

Let that sink in for a minute. This poem was not posted as a theological or exegetical statement. It was clearly posted as an homage to the fallen officer, expressing the hope that his sacrifice had not been in vain. Yet, this individual felt it was necessary to claim the poem was misrepresenting God’s Word.

Truthfully, one can argue with some thoughts expressed in the poem. It may have taken some liberties with God’s Word. Still, it did not seem to call for castigation or a snotty comment. The person making the comment may disagree with me on that point, but in all likelihood, the comment was more of a knee-jerk reaction than a well thought out critique.  Either that or this individual is exactly what the remark seems to indicate, a zealot or boor.

Is there a time and place for someone to respond directly, even bluntly to the misuse of God’s Word? Certainly! This was not the time and place. People in mourning, in crisis, or simply confused, do not need a legalistic, sanctimonious lesson in Bible knowledge. They need to hear a message of hope and support, or they simply need to know we are praying for them.

Criticizing the poem served no real purpose. Most people likely ignored the criticism or shook their head while thinking something less than complimentary about the author of the comment.  One person did reply to the comment, politely noting it was unnecessary. Everyone else simply expressed their thoughts and prayers for the officer’s family, colleagues, and friends.

Admittedly it is hard to know exactly what triggered the naysayer’s reaction to the post.  The poem did not claim the officer considered himself a Christian. On the other hand, it did not say he wasn’t a believer. It simply gave the author’s image of what it might be like when the officer faces God. Possibly, that was the trigger. One can have a fairly lively debate about who will face God, what will happen, and when it will happen.

It might be that the critic felt the poem claimed one can earn his or her way into Heaven with good works. If that is what the author of the poem meant, it is certainly not sound New Testament theology. On the other hand, there are those who believe good works will be rewarded in some fashion. Whatever one reads into the poem, it is, theologically speaking, more than a little ambiguous. Still, was that the place and time to criticize the theology of the writing?

Attacking the poem in this setting simply reinforced the negative stereotypes many people hold about believers. It made the person making the comment seem legalistic and insensitive. I would hope that was not their intent, but intent is of little consequence in the modern world of instant communication. Perception counts, and it is likely this comment was perceived negatively by many.

In conclusion, allow me to offer a couple of thoughts. Proverbs 29:20 says, “There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.” (NLT) The aphorism used to open this piece seems to echo this bit of scripture. Thinking is how one engages his or her brain before putting the mouth in gear.

My hope, no my prayer, is that anyone who considers him or herself a Christian will keep 29:20 and my little saying in mind. This would be even more true, for those of us who hold ourselves out openly as churchgoing or practicing followers of Christ. When we express our faith openly, we are making ourselves targets for every skeptic, unbeliever, and modern-day pharisee around. Let’s not give them any more ammunition than necessary.

So, the next time someone feels the urge to explain how something is biblically inaccurate, it might be wise if he or she counts to 10 or 100 while considering if it is the right place and time to discuss the matter. In the case of social media, it might be appropriate to wait until the next day, or even later to comment. The post and comments causing the offense will still be there, and after a good night’s sleep and a little prayer, it might be clear a direct response is unnecessary. If some response or comment does seem to be appropriate there are other options. This piece, for example, is one such option.

I decided, as I normally do, to share my thoughts here. Readers then have the option to accept my thoughts, discard my writing as drivel, share them with others, or reach for the aspirin bottle. Another and biblically correct approach would be to reach out to the person directly, opening a dialogue of some sort.

The bottom line, to AnOldSinner, is something else I heard quite often as a child.  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  That is not in the Bible, as far as I know, but there is a verse I feel touches on that thought.

James 1:26 says, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.” (NLT)


*An internet search found this poem in many places with the annotation “Author Unknown.” However, it seems to be an adaptation of a poem written by Sgt. Joshua Helterbran some years ago.

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