Archive for category Say Something Nice

A question both ancient and modern: Whose side is God on? –

 

Molly MarshallMy Sunday school class has been studying Jeremiah for the last several weeks. We usually hear these searing texts in Advent, but out of lectionary season, we soldier on. This prophet had a tough calling, and his words were met with disbelief and scoffing. His time of service is during the fall of Jerusalem, and the worst possible thing descends upon the people. The book of Jeremiah chronicles the dismantling of the northern and southern kingdoms, Israel and Judah. The land promised by God will no longer be theirs – a grave, unsettling horizon.

The book of Jeremiah, which could cover up to 250 years of history, displays heavy editing by the Deuteronomists, those responsible for Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. The theology of the Deuteronomists is pretty concrete in terms of cause-effect. If you obey the covenant, you will be blessed. If you worship other gods, God will not protect you from your enemies. At times, God may be more with the enemy of the people of God than their ally, more against them than for them.

“At times, God may be more with the enemy of the people of God than their ally, more against them than for them.”

Such is the message of Jeremiah – more doom than comfort.

His nation could hardly swagger through the Ancient Near Eastern world as a super-power. A small nation, not particularly arrayed with the armies and weaponry that the Assyrian and Babylonian empires could boast, was vulnerable to attack. The location of the land, with its access to the Mediterranean Sea through its varied ports, made it even more attractive to those with plans for domination of the region.

Some scholars have suggested that one might read the whole of the Hebrew Bible through the lens of asking this one question: How did the covenant people fail to keep the land? And inexorably, these questions follow: Could not God preserve them from exile and captivity? Does all the blame fall on a faithless people?

Scholars of Jeremiah conclude that it is very difficult to find a coherent theme in this wide-ranging, prophetic text. Further, scholars of the Hebrew Bible struggle to construct any linear historical narrative out of the morass of judges, priests, prophets and monarchy. The episodes of covenant fidelity, followed by idolatry and everyone “doing what was right in their own eyes,” stain the pages that recount the roots of our present identity as Christians.

We know the challenge of reading ancient texts in a way applicable to our own context; yet, the questions raised by our forebears prompt our own examination of the times we are experiencing. We ask a similar question: Is the tumult of the nations an act of divine judgment or simply the working out of the fall to violence, which is the hallmark of sinful people? And, as Jeremiah queried: Whose side is God on?

Written as a retrospective analysis of what went wrong in the divided nation’s relationships with neighboring powers, the prophet and editors seemed to assume that God determined whoever won in the political-military fray. There are those who follow that viewpoint today, believing that God micro-manages the ongoing machinations of warring people.

“God has created space for us to do what only we can do, joining God’s side of justice and mercy.”

For example, President Donald Trump’s step into North Korea was viewed by many as a bold overture toward peace, prompted by God’s favoring of this elected leader, as many white evangelicals continue to aver. Others viewed the incident as a fool’s errand, intended only to provide optics for a leader whose next move usually serves a measure of self-interest, not national security for either nation. Which is it?

I believe it is an over-reach to conscript God’s favor for our political calculations, as if God has a pre-determined plan for each discrete nation, political party or individual leader. Instead, God plays the long game, seeking to influence all toward justice, mercy and flourishing. Our prayers to God about present circumstances should prompt our own actions to mend the world. God is always on that side.

In a day when nationalism is on the rise around the world, modeled blatantly by the United States, it would be dangerous to claim God’s complicity in policies that do not think about the most vulnerable in the social contract. In the biblical vernacular, widows, orphans, the poor and the alien are the focus of God’s concern, as attested by the prophets who refuse to “tickle the ears” of those listening.

God’s providence in the affairs of humanity requires that we are full participants. As my former colleague, Frank Tupper, taught generations of seminary students, “God always does the most God can do.” God’s engagement with creation is compassionate. This “transforming engagement” calls humanity to do its part, and in the process we become ingredient in a larger vision of interacting factors in nature and history. This suggests that God has created space for us to do what only we can do, joining God’s side of justice and mercy.

*Rev. Dr. Molly Marshall was the featured speaker twice at the Hamrick Lectures at First baptist Church of Charleston. She is the president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

 

 

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From her mouth to God’s ear? – Bill Leonard* – Baptistnewsglobal.com

From her mouth to God’s ear? Women’s voices, homiletical testosterone and radical redemption

 

First, the Bible: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Timothy 2:12-15, KJV).

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, KJV).

Then the question: Considering recent Baptist-related pontifications regarding “women in the pulpit,” one might ask: “Why should Christian women keep silent when in church?”

Answer: “Because if they speak, God might think they are preaching!”

“My hermeneutical approaches are surely those of an unabashed egalitarian where women and pulpit are concerned.”

That revised standard question arises from certain dictums recently made public by the Reverend Dr. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in response to an inquiry regarding women preachers during his “Ask Anything” podcast. In extended remarks on the subject, Mohler distinguishes between “egalitarian” approaches by which men and women share in the call to preach, and “complementarian” approaches that set divinely ordained “boundaries” regarding the role of men and women in home and church. He cites the Southern Baptist Convention’s confession of faith and the evangelical-based Danvers Statement (1988) as advocating, indeed requiring, complementarian biblical interpretations.

The manifesto notes that:

  1. Both Old and New Testaments also affirm the principle of male headship in the family and in the covenant community (Gen. 2:18; Eph. 5:21-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Tim. 2:11-15).
  2. Redemption in Christ aims at removing the distortions introduced by the curse.
    • In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership (Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; Tit 2:3-5; 1 Pet 3:1-7).
    • In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men (Gal 3:28; 1 Cor 11:2-16; 1 Tim 2:11-15).

Mohler concludes: “If you look at the denominations where women do the preaching, they are also the denominations where people do the leaving. I think there’s just something about the order of creation that means that God intends for the preaching voice to be a male voice.” In his view, 1 Timothy, chapter 2, means that since Mother Eve “was in the transgression” in the Garden, “biblical authority” for the church’s preaching office must be measured by homiletical testosterone, males only.

Mohler is therefore an unabashed complementarian who has every right to apply that specific biblical interpretation (hermeneutic) as he chooses. (Ironically, his assertion about declines in women-ordaining denominations came the week Southern Baptists acknowledged their own enduring statistical deteriorations in membership and baptisms, reflecting the loss of over a million members in the last decade.)

“God hears any voice that preaches Jesus.”

My hermeneutical approaches are surely those of an unabashed egalitarian where women and pulpit are concerned, views Mohler might consider “hermeneutical oddities devised to reinterpret apparently plain meanings of Biblical texts,” as the Danvers Statement calls them. Truth is, a variety of “hermeneutical oddities” have enlightened and divided the church from the beginning, dueling texts that demand decision of all of us.

My own homiletical egalitarianism rests with texts like Romans 8:1: “There is therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus….” In those words, all curses die, even the one 1 Timothy lays on Mother Eve and her OB-GYN descendants. For if women are too cursed to be called, they may be too cursed to be redeemed. Paul applied that radical declaration to the first-century church, often in the face of similar arguments about keeping Gentiles from entering the church without their becoming part of “the circumcision,” a bio-theological assertion apparently expanded with Christ’s resurrection! (See Colossians 2:11.)

The last thing I want to do is reengage in theological disputes with Al Mohler, who, if memory serves, was a student in at least one of my church history courses at Southern Seminary during my professorial tenure there, 1975 – 1992. He and I have been there, done that. Instead, I’ll defer to Jarena Lee, (1783 – ca. 1864), one of the first recorded African American female preachers in United States history.

In her autobiography, The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee, A Coloured Lady, Giving an Account of her Call to Preach the Gospel (1836), Lee asked:

O how careful ought we to be, lest through our by-laws of church government and discipline, we bring into disrepute even the word of life. For as unseemly as it may appear now-a-days for a woman to preach, it should be remembered that nothing is impossible with God. And why should it be thought impossible, heterodox, or improper for a woman to preach? Seeing the Saviour died for the woman as well as the man.

She continued:

Did not Mary [of Magdala] first preach the risen Saviour, and is not the doctrine of the resurrection the very climax of Christianity – hangs not all our hope on this, as argued by St. Paul? Then did not Mary, a woman, preach the gospel? For she preached the resurrection of the crucified Son of God.

“It’s not about testosterone; it’s about grace.”

The spiritual descendants of Jarena Lee continue that homiletical tradition. On May 9, 2019, “Woman’s Day” at our Winston-Salem congregation, I heard Reverend Sherine Thomas-Spight preach on Luke 8:26-39, the story of the Gadarene demoniac whom Jesus healed. Citing the man’s demon-inspired query, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” Thomas-Spight declared:

You see, when Jesus shows up it makes some folks uncomfortable. You know, sisters, there are some folks who just don’t like you because you carry the presence of Jesus with you. It doesn’t matter what you do, what you wear, what you say, they will always take issue with you because you carry the power of Jesus with you and it makes people uncomfortable because the darkness doesn’t like the light. But I challenge you today to keep coming around anyway.

Sister Jarena preaches still!

Across the years, women in my family, in my classes and in the church have taught me this: Christ’s gospel isn’t measured by biology or hierarchy, but by radical redemption. Joel 2:28 said what Simon Peter echoed (Acts 2:17): “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons, and your daughters shall prophecy.”

God hears any voice that preaches Jesus. It’s not about testosterone; it’s about grace.

*Dr. Bill Leonard was one of the speakers at the Hamrick Lectures at First Baptist Church of Charleston.

 

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Tearing Others Down is Easy; Say Something Nice Instead

By Mitch Carnell Nay 30, 2019 -Ethicsdaily.com

Every one of these privileged students wrote from a negative viewpoint. One or two did contrast positive speech and negative speech. The verbal abuse these young people have already experienced is heartbreaking.

Parents, teachers and coaches should be about the business of inspiring these students as opposed to tearing them down.

I know how hard it can be to always say the right thing. My grown son has made me painfully aware of the times when I failed to make the right remark.

When he cleaned his room as a child and waited for my approval, I tried to be honest and yet encouraging. “You’re getting there. It’s looking better.”

What he heard was so different. “You failed. It’s not good enough. You’re so messy.”

I never uttered one of those statements, but those are the ones he heard.

Forty-five years later, those words are still there and no matter how sorry I am or how much I try to explain, they are still in his nervous system and color our relationship.

I am proud of my son and all that he has accomplished in spite of my poorly chosen words.

How many other words did I say with good intentions but that hurt instead?

I carry deep within me words that were spoken to me with good intentions 75 years ago. I can still recite them.

When I let my guard down, they surface and contribute to a feeling of worthlessness – of never being good enough. My father confided to me things that were said to him years earlier that, even at his advanced age, still carried a barb. Words once spoken never die.

He did not know how to pay a compliment even when he was very pleased with some event or success.

Norman Vincent Peale is one of my heroes; however, he was ridiculed as being “religious light.”

His successor, Arthur Caliandro, became a friend, but this remarkable man was painted with the same negative brush.

When we first celebrated Say Something Nice Sunday (the first Sunday in June), the editor of the Florida Baptist newsletter wrote a front-page editorial referring to it as “Gospel Free Sunday.”

According to him, we were watering down the gospel. Does his Bible not record that Jesus said, “You are the light of the world?”

In her recent book, “Call It Grace,” Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, recounts in painful detail the verbal abuse she received from her mother.

This brilliant theologian still carries those wounds into one of the most respected religious positions in the world.

In contrast, she received uplifting words of encouragement from her famous father, but he could not erase what had been done.

Unfortunately, I know how to verbally slice you up, and I am good at it. I was a member of a successful debate team in college and taught debate as a faculty member.

I am sorry to say I have used those skills all too often. I am trying to get as good in demonstrating and teaching a better, more productive way of communicating. It isn’t easy.

Being positive is a challenge. Being negative is easy. People expect and accept negative criticism, but they are suspicious of positive comments. They are silently asking, “What does he want?”

As this year’s “Say Something Nice Day” approaches (June 2), I hope you’ll think back to those people who encouraged you. Think of those who said the right things. Think of the verbal gifts they gave you.

Then, bring their remarks into the present. Speak them aloud. Use these images to replace those of people who put you down and belittled your efforts.

There is wonderful Scripture that supports this practice: “From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely and all that is worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8)

Mitch Carnell

Mitch Carnell is a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina. He is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com.

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Women as Pastoral Leaders Render a Different Vision of God

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