Leadership Lesson from the Trump Administration

wh-pressThe Trump administration has certainly moved with great effort and rapidity since taking office. I usually do not comment on political issues as such, but I was caught by one item that I could not shake.

The issue is the temporary halt to refugees and/or immigrants from seven specific countries. Many have labeled this a Muslim ban. Many have taken issue with that characterization. I am not going to comment on the policy decision in and of itself, but rather how the administration has reacted to the responses to it.

First, I am amazed that the administration would use the “lemmings” defense for justification of the executive order. This is also knows in my house as the “six-year-old” defense. It goes like this:

Everyone else is doing it. Why can’t we?

Rather than make a decision and stick to it, the administration pointed to all of the other administrations that have also enacted similar policies to try and justify its actions. This is actually not the mark of strong leadership. (I was also amazed at how the Obama team won its first election on the “Bob the Builder” platform of Yes we can!, but that is for another time.)

Actually, this response shows the real leadership lesson I wanted to point out. When a leader makes a decision, it is not just the decision itself that is debated or analyzed. It is the perceived character or intention behind the decision that is debated. The fact that other administrations may or may not have made similar decisions and did not face the same repercussions in the public sphere is exactly the point. It is not just the policy that is in question, it is the intention and character of the person creating the policy that is the concern.

For leaders at any level in any organization, whether it is civil service or the church, our character matters. Our character matters even more than our decisions at times. This is because we can make all the right decisions our entire lives, but if people suspect our character of being self-serving or antagonistic or hateful, they will not agree with the decisions on principle.

The Trump administration has reminded me of this leadership lesson every time I turn on the news. My character counts in my leadership and my decision making.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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Polarization Damages the Church

conservative-liberal-281x300In America we are seeing the increasing polarization of our country. This is especially clear in this election year. The polarization, though, is not just in politics. It is in the Church.

The right/left divide is harming the Church in subtle ways. Christians who are on the left of social issues mistrust Christians on the right, and vice versa. We now have a Church culture where people who advocate for evangelizing and converting others are suspicious of the motives of those who want to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Those who want to help the immigrant and foreigner among us are wary of those who adamant about the fundamentals of the faith.

Christians paint caricatures of each other as either being so open-minded their brains fall out or so closed-minded that they want to establish a theocracy in the US. (Unfortunately, there are fringe groups on the extreme right and left that live up to these pictures, but the vast majority of Christians do not.)

Now, I do not believe that unity is a virtue that ought to be held no matter what anyone believes or how anyone acts. Denying the divinity of Christ is not Christian, nor is killing an abortion provider. But we in the Church have allowed the political polarization in our culture to affect us.

It is now uncommon to hear from the same Christian that we have a bounden duty to not only offer Christ to the lost, but to seek justice. We not only are called to proclaim the Name by which all may be saved and offer a cup of cold water in His Name. We are to care for the widow, orphan and loose the bonds of oppression as well as seek and save the lost.

We have a responsibility to care for the poor and to protect the unborn.

If Christians do not find ideas, policies, and platform points from both the right and the left with which they agree, they are not reading the whole Bible. If Christians do not find ideas, policies, and platform points from both the right and the left with which they disagree, they are not reading the whole Bible.

Put another way, Christians ought to equally offend the right and the left as we follow Jesus.

Think about this and listen carefully to what each side is saying, in politics and in the Church. You may be surprised by what you hear.

Texas Planned Parenthood Decision and a Christian Response

Before I begin this post in response to the indictment decision of the grand jury in Texas against the anti-abortion activists instead of Planned Parenthood I would like to make two points very clear.

40th Anniversary March for Life in 2013. My family was here and did the March.

40th Anniversary March for Life in 2013. My family was here and did the March.

  1. I am against abortion. I was adopted at birth in 1975, two years after Roe v. Wade, and have a personal stake in the decision not to abort unplanned pregnancies. I am also a father of four and cannot even conceptualize having ended any of their lives before they had a chance to live.
  2. This is one response, not the only response, a Christian can have to this news. Obviously I believe I am correct, otherwise I would not be posting this piece. Yet I am not narrow-minded enough to think that my opinion is the only one that matters in the world.

So, now that I have made those two points, here is my take on what Christians ought to do in response to this issue.

STOP trying to have the government regulate everyone in the country to follow a Christian outlook on life! Abortion is morally reprehensible. That is a given. Any society that would willingly kill its own children is a weak and selfish society. It is a barbaric practice that we sterilize by performing it in a medical setting and calling it a procedure. It is infanticide, plain and simple.

Yet we Christians would not have to bring legal action if we would spend more time discipling the people we have to live by a higher standard than what is legal in our country. We would not have to bring legal action if Christians took seriously Thou shalt not kill and Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me. And We would not have to bring legal action if we not only lived this way, but encouraged others to convert and live this way with us. Planned Parenthood would disappear if there was no market for their services because there was no demand by potential patients and customers. It would not matter that abortion is technically legal in the US if our society did not avail themselves of the procedure.

We need to quit trying to have the government, at whatever level, try to force us by law to live a certain way. If something is morally wrong and sinful, convert others and train ourselves to live to the higher standard God calls us to live. This is how the Church functioned in the first 300 years of its existence. We did not petition the Roman government to change laws. We simply lived according to God’s vision of life. And at that time we were persecuted, had our property confiscated, our rights revoked, imprisoned, and killed. Yet we never led a legal drive to change the laws of the Empire. We simply lived as Christ taught us. That was what converted the Empire, not law suits.

Just a thought.

1 Timothy 2:11-12 and Paul’s Opinion of Women

no-girls-allowed1Paul’s opinion of women is a difficult topic for people in the Church who do not take the time to dig into it fully. So many people get an idea or opinion on their own and then go to the Bible and find texts to support their opinion, or they read the Bible in such a way that they get passages in short snippets and out of context, which can say something completely different.

Take the passage in Romans 7, for example. There are people who read this and think that a defeated struggle against sin is what Paul experienced in his life, doing what he did not want to do. Yet that thought runs absolutely counter to everything Paul preached and taught throughout the rest of that letter, as well as everything else he taught. When we remember that Romans is a letter that was meant to be read all at once, we can see that Paul, in Romans 7, is using this language to describe someone who knows s/he needs a savior, but is not yet in Christ. The life for those who are in Christ is described both before and after this chapter. In context, Romans 7 says something completely different than what many claim it means.

The same is true for the status or allowed roles for women in the Church in 1 Timothy 2:

11 A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. 12 I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener.

This seems fairly straightforward, yet it is completely contrary to Paul’s injunctions to women in 1 Corinthians that when they pray or prophesy in Church their heads should be covered. It also ignores the women deacons and apostles commended by Paul in Romans 16. Not to mention the fact that this flies completely in the face of the spiritual truth Paul loudly proclaimed in Galatians that in Christ there is neither male nor female.

This passage is a part of a particular letter written to a particular person in response to a particular issue. It needs to be read as a letter–all at once. When that happens, one can see this passage is linked to a larger issue throughout the letter:

(1:3-5) When I left for Macedonia, I asked you to stay behind in Ephesus so that you could instruct certain individuals not to spread wrong teaching. They shouldn’t pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. Their teaching only causes useless guessing games instead of faithfulness to God’s way of doing things. The goal of instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

 

(2:11-12) 11 A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. 12 I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener.

 

(4:6-7) If you point these things out to the believers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus who has been trained by the words of faith and the good teaching that you’ve carefully followed. But stay away from the godless myths that are passed down from the older women.

 

(6:20-21) 20 Timothy, protect what has been given to you in trust. Avoid godless and pointless discussions and the contradictory claims of so-called “knowledge.” 21 When some people adopted this false knowledge, they missed the goal of faith.

Certain women in Ephesus were teaching myths that were contrary to the faith. They were teaching these things in the Church and Paul left Timothy to put an end to it. It is these women that are forbidden to teach in the Church and are told to learn from their husbands, because they themselves do not know enough yet to be teachers. Otherwise they would not have gotten tangled up in these godless myths.

When we find a passage in Scripture that does not seem to make sense with the rest of the tone of the Bible, we must try to read it in context and see if it says what it seems to say. Many times, by reading the passage in the full context in which it was written, we will find that it agrees with everything else we read in the Bible. Paul’s opinion of women is case in point.

Philippians 1:27-30 and Christian Victory

PWPaulInPrisonI have listened to many people who want Christian Victory in America. By this they mean that the culture and society will return to Christian values and morals, and that the congregations around the country will be full again. They see Christian Victory as laws being passed in Washington and state capitols that reinforce and support Christian ways of living. Paul seems to have a different vision for Christian Victory. In Philippians, he is writing this letter to a church he loves, and of whom he is proud, while he is chained up in prison. Here is what he says about Christian Victory in that situation:

27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Do you see Paul’s understanding of Christian Victory? Christians are struggling under persecution but holding fast to the mind of Christ, loving God whole-heartedly and loving their neighbors as themselves. By not being intimidated by those in the world who are against such actions and attitudes, and who would imprison or persecute those who have perform such actions or have such attitudes, Christians prove their victory and their opponents’ destruction.

We have victory as Christians, according to Paul, when we continue to live and act like Christ in the face of persecution. While the rest of the world would cower in the face of hardship and pain, we continue to serve and love. This is because we prove to the world in such circumstances that our hope and our allegiance are still to Christ and his Kingdom.

There is one other aspect of Christian Victory for Paul here. Christians united together. Those who are in Christ are united together in love and service to each other and the communities around them. No divisions. No one-up-man-ship and political positioning. No cliques or factions. Christians united in love and service.

We must be careful, though, that we do not reinterpret this as a call for unity for the sake of unity. Unity is in Christ and in the Gospel. There are some, mostly those who introduce novel, new interpretations on the Christian tradition and Scripture, who claim that no matter what they preach or teach about changing morality or theology, Christians ought to be united. Unity becomes a god for which all else ought to be sacrificed. This is much of the rhetoric coming out of the United Methodist Church (my former communion) right now (see many of the blogs here). Paul is clear in this passage–our unity is in Christ, which is through our mutual love and service in our faithfulness to the Gospel. It is the Gospel that informs us of the basis of our unity, and then we show the world our victory through our faithfulness to Christ and his Gospel together.

When we are united in our faith, and we show that unity through love and service despite how the world reacts to us or threatens us, then we prove our Christian Victory over the world.

1 Corinthians 14:32-36 and Women Speaking in Church

Probably one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament is the one in 1 Corinthians about women speaking in Church. This is difficult for one main reason–Paul had already spoken in the same letter about how women should be when they pray or prophecy in Church. Not only that, but at the end of Romans, Paul lists several women who are leaders in the Church (deacon, apostle, and others).

So, here is the passage that seems different:

32 And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, 33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?

This comes at the end of a long passage concerning orderliness in worship, with only one prophet speaking at one time, and only one speaker of tongues speaking at one time (and even then only if someone could interpret the tongue for the rest of the congregation). Then there is this passage. Some segments of the Church have used this passage as one of their essential texts for preventing women from doing anything in a worship service. Never mind the fact that women are obviously prophesying and praying in the Church. This passage forbids it, they say.

Or does it?

Ancient biblical text that has no lower case letters, punctuation, or spaces

Ancient biblical text that has no lower case letters, punctuation, or spaces

Interesting thing about our English Bibles, they are all translations based upon what the translators believed the text to mean. All of the modern translations go back to the original Greek and translate it fresh, so the anti-Christian criticism that “the Bible has been translated so many times there is no way to know what the original said” is completely ridiculous and false. Nevertheless, each translation team has to make certain judgments about the text when they translate. Case in point is this passage.

When Paul wrote his letters, there were no upper case and lower case letters; there were only upper case letters. Likewise, there was no punctuation. Nor were there any spaces between words. The text flows on and on in a long string of capital letters across the page. This means we have to make a judgment call on how to break up the text to translate it into English. Look at this example:

GODISNOWHERE

Does that say God is now here or God is no where? We have to make a decision. It is the same with the above passage. The phrase as in all churches of the saints is a dependent clause. It can be attached to an independent clause and make a complex sentence. It can be attached to any independent clause. These translators have chosen to attache it to verse 34 so it reads As in all churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. Yet it could equally be attached to verse 33 so it reads for God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. If the punctuation was there, then it adds emphasis to the argument Paul was making that worship ought to be orderly in the churches in Corinth because it is orderly in all the other churches of the saints.

If it is placed there, then the following injunction to women becomes a very specific and targeted statement to a specific group of women in Corinth, not a universal declaration across all time and churches. There was one group of women disrupting the worship service by simply talking or asking questions. This would obviously not include the women who were praying or prophesying in church, nor would it include female deacons or apostles (see the link at the top of this post). This was a specific instruction for a specific group of women in a specific city at a specific time.

Given the fact that elsewhere Paul also declares that there is, in Christ, no male or female, I would also venture to say that this injunction would also apply to men who would disrupt the worship service by needless chatter or questions. This passage is not a blanket condemnation of women speaking in Church. Rather, it is an injunction for certain women to pay attention during the worship service.

Romans 16:1-16 and Women in Ministry

phoebeThere are a lot of Christians, from Roman Catholics to Fundamentalist Baptists, who do not believe that women should be in ministry. They each have different reasons for this belief. For the Catholics, the priest stands in the place of Christ, and since Christ was a man a woman cannot be a priest. For Protestants, they try to base this belief on certain passages in the New Testament, but in order to do so they ignore other passages and do not read the ones they use in the context of the whole letters in which they are written.

Case in point is the conclusion to the Book of Romans. In sixteen verses Paul identifies ten women who are leaders in the Church. One he explicitly identifies as a deacon and one he identifies as an apostle, along with another that is known as an apostle:

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

Ever bold name is a woman. Phoebe is declared a deacon. Junia is called an apostle along with her husband Andronicus. Prisca is also an apostle along with her husband Aquila.

There are some translations of the Bible that do not call Phoebe a deacon, but merely a servant. This is the work of translators who cannot bear to have a woman explicitly called a deacon, as the word in Greek is diakon, which is the word deacon–a Greek word that translates to one who serves. In other places in the New Testament, if the text mentions men, the translators have no problem using the title in its untranslated form, deacon. Here, because it is used of a woman, the translators obscure the plan meaning that women had this leadership role as well and translate the title to its English equivalent.

Some translations of the Bible change Junia’s name to Junias, a completely made-up male version of the name. This is because the translators cannot allow a woman to have the title of apostle. Paul used the name Junia because he was speaking of a woman named Junia, not a man with a name no one in the entire history of the world had ever heard. The equivalent today of what the translators do when they change the name would be to say that someone named Sarah was really Sarah-o, a new male version of the name.

Prisca, also known as Priscilla (the difference between Anna and Annie) is the same one who met Paul and worked with him in Corinth. She is also the same one who took Apollos aside and taught him the Christian faith more clearly.

The rest of the women listed here are known to be hard workers in the Lord. Given the fact that Paul had not yet been to the Church in Rome, he either knew these women by reputation or because they had moved to Rome and were already working in the churches there. Either way, it would be difficult to assume that these women’s work is not in  helping lead the communities there. Reputations for hard work do not usually spread across an empire if that work is only setting the table and cooking food. Rather, it is because they are hard-working leaders in the Christian communities that are known around the empire to the extent that Paul uses this opportunity to identify with other ministry leaders as he is trying to introduce himself to those communities.

The next time someone suggests women ought not be in ministry, point them to Romans 16 and ask for a good explanation.