Ted and George - Dialogue




Ted Johnston and I were high school classmates at West Lafayette High School in West Lafayette, Indiana.   We have become friends on Facebook, nearly 50 years after our high school graduation.  We are very different from each other!   I admire a lot of what Ted posts.   Here is Ted's "autobiography".

Ted Johnston is a retired Christian minister. After graduating from high school in West Lafayette, IN, Ted attended college in Southern California, earning a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture at Cal Poly, Pomona. After a 15 year career as a landscape architect and urban planner, Ted entered vocational ministry. Over the years that followed he pastored churches for 10 years. During that time he earned two master’s degrees---one in Psychology from Regis University in Denver and one in Christian Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago. Over the course of the 20 years that followed, Ted served in the Northeast then the Southeast as a district then regional superintendent for a Protestant Christian denomination. In retirement, Ted continues to teach master’s level courses at a Christian seminary. He also blogs on Christian theology at  http://thesurprisinggodblog.gci.org/ and moderates two Facebook groups that deal with Christian ministry and theology:   https://www.facebook.com/groups/480011505381562/ and https://www.facebook.com/groups/174169545968632/. Ted lives in Foley, AL with his wife Donna, nearby their daughter Traci Calvert, her husband and two children. Ted and Donna’s son Joe Johnston and his wife and two sons live near San Francisco. 

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Hi George,

Great questions! Perhaps, over time, we can get to them all. I think a good place for me to start, is with your question #8, explaining my core beliefs as a Christian.

My most basic belief is that God exists. For me, that God is the one described in the Bible and revealed in the life and work of Jesus: a God who is a good and powerful spirit being who created all things, who cares about all of creation, including all people, who is involved in all our lives, and who offers all people an eternity, sharing in his goodness and love. Though we humans cannot understand this God in totality, we are given a solid beginning point for understanding God is and what God is doing in our lives.

Following is a summary of my understanding of the nature of God.

Evidence for God

Though many seek “proof” that God exists, I don’t think there is any way to “prove” that existence in a way that everyone would be convinced. For me, the issue is not proof but evidence that gives me confidence that God does exists and is the sort of divine being the Bible describes. Here is some of the evidence that is meaningful to me:

Creation. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Romans 1:20 says, “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” Creation tells us something about God. For me, it is reasonable to believe that something caused the earth, sun and stars to be the way they are. Scientists say the universe began with a big bang, and it is reasonable for us to believe that something caused that primordial explosion of matter out of nothing. I believe that cause was God.

Design. Creation shows signs of order, of laws of physics. If various properties of matter were different, the earth would not exist, or humans could not exist. If the size or orbit of earth were different that it is, conditions on this planet would not permit human life. I believe that the most reasonable explanation is that the solar system was designed by an intelligent Creator.

Life. Life is based on amazingly complex chemicals and reactions. For me, the existence of life is evidence of a Creator God.

Humans. We humans are self-conscious creatures who explore the universe, who ponder the meaning of life, who seek significance. Physical hunger suggests the existence of food; thirst suggests that there is something that can quench our thirst. For me, our intellectual yearning for purpose suggests that there is in fact a meaning to be found. I believe that meaning is found in a relationship with God.

Morality. I believe that our sense of right and wrong (morality/ethics) is reflective of God who gives definition to what is good and what is not. It is because of what God has placed in humans that we have reason to condemn racism, genocide, torture, etc.. The existence of evil is, ironically, evidence of God’s existence. If there is no God, there is no basis for authority except power. I believe it is reasonable to believe in God.

God’s greatness

What sort of being is the God the evidence above point to? If he created the universe, he must be bigger than the universe – and not limited by time, space or energy, for he existed before time, space, matter and energy came into being. God existed before time began. He thus has a timeless existence that cannot be measured by years. He is eternal, of infinite age. Mathematics is too limited to describe God’s existence.

Since God created matter, he existed before matter, and he is not made of matter. He is spirit – but he is not “made of spirit.” God is not made at all; he simply is; he exists as spirit. He defines existence – he defines both spirit and matter. God existed before matter did, and the dimensions and properties of matter do not apply to him. He cannot be measured in miles or kilowatts. Israel’s King Solomon said that even the highest heavens cannot contain God (1 Kings 8:27). God fills heaven and earth (Jeremiah 23:23); he is everywhere (omnipresent)—there is no place in the universe where God does not exist.

How powerful is this God? If God can cause a big bang, design solar systems, create the codes in DNA and manage all these levels of power, then he must be unlimited in power (omnipotent). It is in that sense that the Bible says, “With God all things are possible” (Luke 1:37). God can do whatever he wants to do.

God’s creativity demonstrates an intelligence greater than we can understand. God controls the universe, and is the cause of its continued existence (Hebrews 1:3). He knows what is happening throughout the universe; he is unlimited in intelligence (omniscient). God knows whatever he wants to know.

God defines right and wrong, and has the power and desire to always do right. “God cannot be tempted with evil” (James 1:13). God is consistently and perfectly righteous (Psalm 11:7), meaning that his standards are right, his decisions are right, and he judges the world rightly, for God, in his very nature, is good and right.

In all these ways, God is so different from us that we have special words that we use only for God—only God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, eternal. We are matter; he is spirit. We are mortal; he is eternal. This great difference between us and God, this otherness, is called his transcendence. God transcends us, is beyond us, is not like us. Other ancient cultures believed in gods and goddesses who are like us—who fight one another, act selfishly, cannot be trusted. But the Bible reveals a God who is in complete control, who needs nothing from anyone, who therefore acts only to help others. This God is perfectly consistent, his behavior is perfectly righteous and completely trustworthy. When the Bible addresses this by saying that  God is holy, meaning morally perfect.

God’s goodness

The Bible tells us that God is not only great, he is good. One of Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Show us the Father” (John 14:8). He wanted to know what God was like. He knew the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians refer to as The Old Testament) of the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire at Mt. Sinai, the fantastic throne that Ezekiel saw, and the whisper that Elijah heard (Exodus 3:4; 13:21; 1 Kings 19:12; Ezekiel 1). God can appear in all these ways, but what is he really like? I believe that to know God as he actually is, we must look to Jesus who said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). We can learn a bit about God from nature; we can learn more from the way he revealed himself in the Old Testament, but we learn the most from the way God reveals himself in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth.

In the Bible, Jesus is called Immanuel, which means God with us (Matthew 1:23). He lived without sin, without selfishness. He is a person of compassion. He has feelings of love and joy, disappointment and anger. He cares about individuals. He calls for righteousness, and he forgives sin. He served others, even in his suffering and death. God is like that. In the Old Testament, God described himself to Moses in this way: “The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:6-7). The God who is above all creation is also free to work within creation. This is his immanence, his being with us. Although God is larger than the universe and everywhere within the universe, he has come close to us (humanity)—he dwells with us and in us.

In Jesus, God entered human history, space and time. He worked in human flesh, showing us what life ought to be like in the flesh, and showing us that God wants more for our lives than mere flesh. Through Jesus, God has offered us all eternal life—life that transcends the physical limits we now experience. We are offered spirit life, as the Spirit of God comes into us to live in us and make us children of God (Romans 8:11; 1 John 3:2). God continues to be with us, working in space and time to help us.

The great and powerful God is also the gentle and gracious God; the perfectly righteous Judge is also the merciful and patient Savior of all humanity. The God who is angry at sin also provides salvation from sin. He is mighty in mercy, great in gentleness. This is what we should expect from a Being who can create the codes in DNA, the colors in a rainbow and the delicate wisps on dandelion seeds. We would not exist at all, except for the fact that God is kind and gentle.

God describes his relationship to us in several ways. In one analogy, he is a father and we are his children. In another, he is the husband and all who trust him are his wife. Or he is a king and we are his subjects. He is a shepherd and we are his sheep. In all these analogies, God puts himself in a situation of responsibility to protect and provide for our needs. God knows how tiny we are. He could obliterate us in the snap of a finger, in the slightest miscalculation of cosmic forces. But in Jesus, God shows us how much he loves us, how much he cares for us. Jesus was humble, willing even to suffer, in order to help us. He knows the kind of pain we go through, because he has felt it. He knows the pain that evil causes, and he accepted it, showing us that we can trust God.

God has plans for us, for he has made us to be like himself (Genesis 1:27). He invites us to become more like himself – in goodness, not in power. In Jesus, God gives us an example to follow: an example of humility, selfless service, love and compassion, faith and hope.

“God is love,” wrote the apostle John (1 John 4:8). God demonstrated his love for us by sending Jesus to die for our sins, so barriers between us and God might be removed, so we might live with him in eternal joy. God’s love is not wishful thinking – it is action that helps us in our deepest need. In the crucifixion of Jesus we see that God is willing to suffer pain, even pain caused by the people who are being helped. His love invites us, encourages us. God forces no one to do his will. God loves; he does not coerce.

God’s love for us, shown most clearly in Jesus, is an example for us to follow: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11). If we live in love, then eternal life will be a joy not only for us but also for those who live with us. In and through Jesus, God is teaching us to love, giving us a perfect example, changing our hearts by the Holy Spirit working in us. The Power who controls the nuclear furnaces of the sun is working gently in our hearts, wooing us, winning our affection, winning our allegiance. God gives us meaning in life, direction for life, hope for life eternal. God’s goodness is backed up by his power; his love is guided by his wisdom. He has all the forces of the universe at his control, and he is using them for the benefit of all people.

My response to God

My principal response to God is a life of worship: awe at God’s glory, praise for God’s works, reverence for God’s holiness, respect for God’s power, repentance(change of thinking and heart) in the presence of God’s perfection, obedience in the authority found in God’s truth and wisdom. To Gods mercy, I seek to respond with thankfulness; to God’s grace, with my allegiance; to God’s goodness, my love. Through worship, I admire God, adore God, seek to give myself to God even as I wish I had more to give. I also seek to respond to God’s love for me by letting him change me so that I, more and more, will love the people around me unconditionally—the way I see God loving all people in and through Jesus Christ. I believe God has proven himself faithful and loving in Jesus. God, as revealed to us in the life and work of Jesus, exists to serve, not to be selfish; to heal, not hurt. God’s power, seen operating in Jesus, is always used in love and for love. God, as revealed in Jesus is supreme in power and supreme in love. I believe that I can trust that God in absolutely everything.

Conclusion: a Christian definition of God

My understanding of who God is, as revealed to us in and through Jesus and in accordance with the testimony of the Bible is this:

God is one divine Being who exists in three eternal, co-essential, yet distinct Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This three-in-one God who is good, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, is unchanging in his covenant love for humanity.
God is Creator of heaven and earth, Sustainer of the universe, and Author of human salvation.
Though transcendent, God freely and in divine love, grace and goodness, involves himself with humanity directly and
personally in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, so that we all might share in God’s eternal life as his children.

MY RESPONSE:

Ted,

For me the world(s) of "God" and Judaism are much less significant than they are for you, at least related to theology and philosophy.   I will try to respond to some of what you have said and express my own beliefs below.

I must confess in starting that I have never read (any of) the bible; old or new testaments.

Jesus within Judaism, and from within my beliefs, was a most interesting, but "mortal" human being, not a god.     I don't believe that "God exists".   I believe that a deity, a god, may exist.    I have my doubts, but do not spend a lot of time dwelling upon them.   I believe that various religions have various images of a god and that I may best take what I can from them, appreciating, while not necessarily totally believing, a lot of the details that are significant within religions.   I do not believe that a "Jewish god" is any more valid or better than the god that you believe in within Christianity.   I believe that Buddhists, Hindi, Moslems, Christians, Jews and others such as (non-Christian) Native Americans, have many useful ideas that come from their spiritual beliefs.

My problems with your descriptions of God begin within your use of the word "he" in describing God.    For me, that single word, though not necessarily intentionally, posits a world where men and boys are seen as superior to women and girls.    I remember being at the funeral of my aunt Shonnie (Shoshanah),.  In my estimation she was much more "powerful" than my uncle in many significant ways.    We sat men, with other men and older boys, and women similarly (, with younger children and all girls), following the beliefs of their Orthodox Jewish faith.

The three surviving sons all spoke movingly of their mother.   The daughter who was present (her sister was in Israel and could not attend) did not speak.

My aunt told me that women were the equal of men within Orthodox Judaism.  I did not and do not buy it.   Regardless of whether Lyba chose not to speak, or was not allowed to speak, I think that sexism within Judaism was relevant here.

I do not know what your beliefs are related to why God is "he".    I have lived my entire life in a world where being male has given me privilege.     This privilege is highly significant to me in the same way that being white, has given me privilege.   I have spent far more time in my life dealing with issues relating to sexism, than I have dealing with God and Judaism.   I helped co-found Men Stopping Rape, Inc. of Madison, Wisconsin in 1983.   MSR and the pro-feminist men's movement has affected my life significantly.

My big problems with God and religion are not with the core beliefs which you speak of.   I have big problems with how Judaism is used as a force, by many, to oppress Palestinians.    I believe that Jewish people, should understand, from the oppressions that our brethren have faced over many centuries, that Palestinians and specifically Moslems (though their are Christian Arabs and Palestinians also), are our equals, deserving respect and support.

I believe that the Evangelical Christian right-wing is the heart of U.S. support for the Israeli oppression of Palestinians.  I have big problems with this.    I have a problem with the belief that Israel, as a Jewish state, is important and valid now, but that its Jewish citizens will all be killed, unless they become "true Christians" 
when the rapture occurs through the second coming of Jesus,   I find such beliefs abhorrent.   I believe that the acceptance of this support by the Israeli government (and by association the Jewish majority of the population) is hypocritical and short-sighted.

I also am aware of a history where Jews and other "non-believers"  have been killed and treated very unjustly for many centuries, because of their continued refusal to become Christians.   I have serious problems with this.   I note that the treatment of the Jewish minority by the Ottoman empire, a Moslem based entity, was commonly much more accepting of Jews, than the Christian run Western European governments were.

While I have problems with the Jewish self-definition of being "the chosen people" where in rare instances it has lead to discrimination against non-Jews, and no doubt is used by some currently related to how Palestinians are treated, I appreciate very much that as Jews we do not seek to convert others to our beliefs.

I do not know who to fault for the great hurt that has been caused in the name of Christianity.   I feel like some of he core beliefs have, at a minimum, allowed the misuse of power, if not made it highly likely, due to core beliefs within Christianity.

I believe that religion can be used for both good and for evil.   Jews were slave owners.   Jews have exploited black people as shopkeepers in predominantly black communities.    Jews also were the heart of the white leadership and involvement in the civil rights movement.   I do not think that this was an accident.  I believe that at its core, Judaism speaks more clearly towards supporting the oppressed, the downtrodden, than Christianity does.   Obviously, this isn't "enough" in that Jews in Israel, as well as many in the U.S. and other places, act in genocidal fashion related to Palestinians.   Israel and American Jews also have serious issues related to racism both in the U.S. and in Israel.

In saying all this, I am not saying that your Christian beliefs, necessarily support much of which I find problematic.   I am saying that there are clearly a lot of Christians whose actions support: racism in various areas, Islamophobia, sexism, homophobia, classism and similar.   I find this very problematic because of how so many are hurt and killed because of such beliefs.

While being a "disbeliever" or skeptic to religion and through that to God is not an answer, in of itself, I believe that those of us who question a lot, may get to the heart of a lot of these issues more effectively than most organized religions do.    The leadership of the Catholic Church, despite a horrific, long-term, sex abuse scandal, has to date not shown itself capable of truly condemning sex abuse and doing the necessary healing and reparations work.   Jewish and Protestant leadership hasn't similarly been effective in helping limit or stop sexual abuse.

Domestic violence and the abuse of children continue to be a huge problems, despite decades of meaningful work by many to stop them.   Organized religions have remained patriarchal and oppressive in far, far too many areas.

These types of things help make me question both "God" and religion in general.   I have much more faith in personal religion than in organized religion, though personal religion can be horrible also.

I think that I've gone far enough here.   I have no doubt that your response will help clarify much more about your Christian religion and beliefs.

Thanks Ted!  I know that you are a "good Christian" in the sense that the Berrigan  brothers were true American heroes as active Catholic priests, despite the pressures put upon them by the Catholic Church and others.

TED’S RESPONSE:

Thanks George for sharing your thoughts. I think it’s important that people who hold different perspectives be able to dialog openly and respectfully. We may not agree on all matters, but perhaps we can grow in understanding one another. Sadly, it seems that open, yet respectful, dialog is rather rare in our polarized culture.

I am grateful to have had over the many years friends who are atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Jews, American Indians, Christians, etc. One thing I find among most all of them is a sense of spirituality—though they might define what that means in different ways. I’ve often wondered where that sense comes from, and find a meaningful answer in the Bible, which tells of God imparting to the human family something of his own “image.” I take that to mean (at least in part) that God has given us all a sense of the transcendent. I think it’s a key aspect of what makes us truly human, though sadly, we seem to be losing something of that sense in a world fixated on materialism.

I appreciate you mentioning your concerns about God being called “he.” The God described in the Bible is said to not be a man (i.e., not to be human) and so is neither a “he” or a “she.” However, God describes himself using gendered metaphors---both male and female. Because the Bible was written in largely patriarchal contexts, male metaphors are the most prevalent. However God is also said to be, for example, like a chicken who spreads her wings to protect her chicks.

In Scripture God is found working within patriarchal cultures to help them take significant steps forward toward being more inclusive and so respectful of all people, no matter their gender. For example, the law God gave ancient Israel extended to women rights and protections far beyond those experienced by women in surrounding cultures at the time. Then when Jesus arrives on the scene in the first century, we find him treating women with a degree of respect and inclusivity radically different than the Jewish and Roman cultures found in Palestine. Then comes Paul, the great theologian of the New Testament, who famously proclaimed that in Jesus there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). In saying this, Paul was not overthrowing human distinctions—he was declaring that the way of Jesus, the community of Jesus, tears down barriers, levels the playing field, giving equal opportunity to all. It was this ethos (when people were faithful to it) that led, in many parts of the world, to the overthrow of slavery and the expansion of women’s rights. Such expansion is, of course, a yet unfinished project, even within the context of the Christian church, which is called to teach what Jesus modeled and Paul proclaimed. As a Christian, I have tried to be help advance that project, though I certainly do not claim to be perfect in my efforts. I am also painfully aware that some Christians have done things that, in my view, are directly contrary to what Jesus and Paul taught (and modeled). We all have to face our weaknesses and admit our faults and seek to grow if there is to be meaningful, sustainable progress.

MY RESPONSE:

Thank you very much for your thoughtful response!

I am glad to see you open to learning from and accepting others faiths (or lack of a faith)!   Being inclusionary and through that not creating “us verses them” or “we’re better than they are” visions is very important to me.

I think, though, that you may want to examine (or explain) how Christianity, with respect to its being quite dominant in our lives in the U.S., is in some ways qualitatively different from other religions.

How frequently, for example, do you use your “Christian Privilege” with respect to other religions.   Do you, for example, make significant efforts to confront Islamophobia both in your local community and in larger communities.   Do you speak out when Sikhs are confronted and “accused” of being Moslems, being doubly falsely labeled/insulted/attacked.

Commonly, those who speak out are those who are directly impacted by religious intolerance.   Perhaps I’ve not gotten a balanced perspective, but I’ve heard more Jewish voices (though not enough) speaking out in support of Moslems, than Christians, though there are a lot more of “you” than “we”.
I am unclear as to your Christian views related to women.   I see three broad areas one can be in related to gender.    The first way seems very simple to me.   Orthodox Judaism and the Catholic Church both posit clear hierarchical distinctions between men and women.   The pope and papal leadership are exclusively restricted to men.   Priests have authority, while nuns, while being important, are clearly at a “lower level” than priests.

Within Orthodox and probably most, if not all, Conservative Judaism, men clearly are the “religious” ones, the leaders, and women are “the followers”.   Despite my aunt’s indication that she saw herself as a woman in an equal role with men, it is obvious to me, as it was when she said the words to me years ago, that the feminine role within her type of Judaism is subservient to me.
My wife, step-child and I attended a service at a synagogue whose entire leadership was female.   With both men and women in the congregation, these people clearly viewed Judaism, and life in general, in a view that was not only accepting of women in extraordinary ways but treated women fully equally.

In some parts of my life, I have tried to strive for what I would call “complete equality” with women.   When I married for the first time, I convinced my then fiancé to keep her “maiden” (sic) name.  

When we were trying to conceive a child, we discussed, at length, last names.  I suggested that the three of us have a new last name, with our birth last names as our new middle names.   This seemed to me the best way to show equality in this small, but sometimes significant area.   In the end, because of my wife’s resistance to this, we decided that our child would have a regular first and middle name, and would have my last name (we knew it would be a boy early on) as a third name, and her last name as his fourth, and final name.   As a result, my last name is nearly always excluded.
I have heard of couples who use the father’s last name for male children, and the mother’s last name for female children, but have not heard of others doing what we did.   Honestly, one factor in our decision was that my first wife was the last one to carry her last name, and absent having a child with the name, the name would have died out in her family.

This is, however, an example of what I would call “affirmative action”.   We (and I) stepped out of our/my privilege, and symbolically at least pushed towards true equality.

One can, of course, never do “enough” towards ending inequality when one comes from a position of privilege.   There are frequently situations which relate to a variety of “isms”.  Besides dealing with religious privilege and sexism, there is racism, classism, ageism, homo/transphobia, different-ablism and more.

I would, however, posit that there is really a third middle area, besides these two areas, where most of us commonly are in.   With respect to sexism, for example, as men, we do strive to outwardly not be sexist to others.    Our efforts are limited in various ways.   We may speak out in favor of women’s rights (occasionally), but we rarely, if ever, interrupt and confront sexist statements of others.

Our examination of sexism is limited.   We may not do much, if anything, in really examining how sexist we are.   We may, for example, say “he” in most general situations, but switch to “she” when, for example, referring to nurses or teachers.

I would argue, that absent being in some ways “radical”, we tend, where we aren’t clearly “very” sexist, to be in this middle area as men.   It is difficult not to be.  It takes a lot of work, both on oneself, and outwardly, with others to really seriously move here.

I think that I have said enough in these two significant areas.

TED's RESPONSE:

Hi George,

You’ve raised two significant topics: 1) how Christianity differs qualitatively from other world religions, and 2) gender equality.

In addressing how Christianity differs from other religions, I hasten to note that Christians come in all sorts of varieties. I would not presume to speak for them all. I personally have experienced Christianity in multiple forms and what I have come to embrace is what some call Christianity without the religion, or perhaps more accurately Christianity without the religiosity. Perhaps this is where I see what I consider authentic Christianity differing most substantively from other world religions, as well as some forms of Christian practice.

For me, at its core, authentic Christianity is about a relationship with the divine-human person Jesus, and real sharing in the relationship that Jesus has with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit (a tri-personal relationship that is known as the Trinity). Thus Christianity, as I view it, is a relationship with the relational God. In that way, Christianity is not fundamentally about a book, or a set of religious rituals, or an institution. In that way I see it as dissimilar from other world religions. However, Christianity certainly has some similarities with all other religions, including in the way it is about seeking after transcendent truth. But in Christianity, truth is found fundamentally in a person not a set of precepts, and it is truth that is experienced in relationship.

That observation about the nature of Christianity then leads me to the second issue you raise--gender equality. For me, men and women stand as fundamentally equal in relationship with Jesus. In that relationship there is no hierarchy of gender, race or socioeconomic class. Moreover, all people of all religions (or of no religion) have equal access to experience that relationship. This is seen clearly in the story of Jesus’ life told in the Bible—he loved all, embraced all, reached out to all and accepted all in relationship. Any form of Christian practice that sets up barriers in the way Jesus operates, or establishes hierarchies that repudiates his way are, in my view, not faithful to Jesus, and thus are not authentically Christian (defining here a Christian as a follower of Jesus).

You have asked what I, as a Christian, do to address practices within and without the Christian church that lead to an “us vs. them” prejudicial environment. First and foremost, I try to live in a way that reflects the inclusive, unconditional love of Jesus for all people. I then try to teach that way to others through various teaching media, including social media. I also seek to befriend people from other genders, races, religions, ethnicities, socio-economic classes, etc. Within the Christian denomination I worked for as a minister for 32 years, I had a leading role in helping us abandon a form of legalistic fundamentalism that, in many ways, was not faithful to Jesus. As part of that reformation, we opened the ordained ministry to women and now we have many female pastors and governing board members. I see similar progress in other Christian circles, and for that I’m grateful, though, in my view, much more is needed.

-Ted
MY RESPONSE:
Ted,

I find your religious core – fascinating!    I can understand others being influenced by you in substantive ways.   I have seen examples of what you spoke of – above – in writings you have posted over the past several years on various issues.  

I have difficulty imagining others getting really deeply into what you speak of without a lot of in depth, instrospective work.   I see it also involving dialog and outreach with others.  I see it being tough for many people to do a lot of good, introspective work.   To move beyond this and to reach out significantly to others, using their insights, takes a lot more effort.

I think, for example, of one experience I had at a men’s gathering in the 1980’s. Gay, bisexual and heterosexual men were gathered for a major presentation on racism.   A man spoke eloquently of the importance of other men understanding what he went through as a black, gay man.   His words challenged us white men.

There was a clear split, most visible amongst the gay men, some of whom felt personally attacked.   Some welcomed the challenge   Others were defensive and several men spoke out.   Their message was that they had grown up being abused.   They spoke of being victims and of not in essence “owing him (/blacks) anything”.

Later that day I was in a smaller workshop with this man.   I asked him (privately) about his experience.   His response was simple: “I, too, was abused as a child.”   He had chosen, rightly in my estimation, not to escalate non-productive dialog at the prior workshop.

I am also reminded a lot of the differences that we face as humans.   We have privilege, and commonly we also lack privilege in other areas.  

Where we have privilege, we have no need to confront the issue.   As an upper-middle class white man, I have no need to confront issues of classism, racism or sexism.

White, upper-middle class women face sexism while being privileged in these other two issues.    Affirmative action programs were developed primarily for black people.   Gender was brought into the law as an afterthought.    White women have been the big beneficiaries of affirmative action, while black people have been blamed in the backlash against it in recent years

You clearly do take on oppressions and privilege in your work and your life in general.   You use your insights and are significantly (also) externally focused  You really  reach out to others.   

Many people take in the some of the significance of issues like racism, sexism and homophobia.  The depth of their internal work varies greatly.   Lesser numbers work outwardly on these issues.

Racism remains a “black issue” for most white people.   Sexism remains a “women’s issue” for most men.  Homophobia seems to becoming less acceptable in recent years.   We heterosexual people haven’t “turned gay” with marriage equality and gays/lesbians openly “out” in the military.

I see a hierarchy here.   Racism seems the most endemic issue.

I admire very much what you do and how you do it!   I feel that I lack “the total package” that you’ve developed, no doubt with a lot of hard work.   I do have pride my accomplishments.  I haven’t, though, done enough of the internal work (yet).   As I do more of it, hopefully my external work will be more consistent and effective.

I’m curious as to how you best reach people, both in your ministry, and outside of it?    The question is basic.  I don’t know if the answer is simple or complex.

Charlie Varon (charlievaron.com) is a (very political, leftist, comedic) solo theater artist in the San Francisco Area who I admire greatly.  Sometime in the 1990’s I remember asking him how to best reach people politically with a message. 

Charlie surprised me with his answer.   I think that he used abortion rights as a sample issue.   He said that one should speak publicly in a very humorous, direct way.   He said that onne should extoll the “virtues” of the opposite position in an exaggerated, satirical manner.   

With this example, one should talk of the wonders of having more and more children, with handouts reiterating the (satirical) message.   The key point that he made was that one should trust one’s audience to think and decide how to take the message forward in their lives.

If your response leads to what will be an obvious, detailed response on my part, fine.   If, as I expect, it will not merit much more than perhaps brief accolades, please feel free to ask me one or more questions (in another, different area).   Then, we can move on in our dialog in a different direction.

Thanks again!

TED'S RESPONSE:

Good points George and thanks for your kind words about my life and ministry. I find myself at an interesting, though somewhat frustrating crossroads in my life due to my retirement from full-time employment in ministry last January. Couple that with a move to a new community a few years ago and I am at a new point of beginning, not sure what my next steps should be. I do want to be involved in the community in a helpful way and am looking for opportunities. It is a time of searching and discernment for me that calls for patience. We’ll see what bubbles up.

One more thing, while we sometimes have opportunity to influence many people at once, I think our primary opportunities come one-on-one. And so I try to keep my eyes and heart open to what life brings then act accordingly. What has been your experience?


MY RESPONSE:

“I think our primary opportunities come one-on-one. And so I try to keep my eyes and heart open to what life brings then act accordingly. What has been your experience?”

While I think that one-on-one is the easiest way to have an effect on the surface, I think that oft times it is ineffective because it reaches too few people.   I can’t say that I’m effective in my efforts.   I think that we need to choose basic areas to work on, and to try to find as many ways of being effective in those areas as possible.

I think that we often are up against forces far stronger than us which resist the issues we are concerned about.   I can talk until I’m blue in the face about racism, however we need millions of white Americans to seriously “wake up”.   Voices helping make racism continue to be a major problem are oft times  far stronger than those of us who speak up against racism.

I think that creativity and multiple modes of reaching out are important.  Networking with others working, both on the issue, and on other issues, is very important.    Figuring out multiple ways of working on our issues seems important to me.   Social media can reach quite a few people.   Organizing groups to work on the issue one faces may also be helpful.  An example for me is trying to start a Meetup group on racism.

I’m open to comments on what I’ve said above.   I also think that it’s time to move to a new subject.

One area related to religion that bothers me a lot is the seeming power of the Evangelical Christian Right. I see a movement that on the surface is a “religious movement”, but really has become a political movement that extends far beyond simple religious areas.

I see this movement pushing a narrow, but extensive political agenda.   Areas that may be pushed include: opposing unions – supporting big business at the expense of small businesses and workers and their families; supporting the Israeli government in resisting the rights of Palestinians;  being xenophobic opposing Moslems, immigrants and others; resisting gays/lesbians/trans peoples’ rights; pushing a view of “family” that gives virtually total power to fathers, allowing for abuse, etc.

I see little organized opposition to the Evangelical Christian Right.   It seems like their “religious” side gives them cover from serious attempts to confront them.  It also seems like they have power, similar to the NRA, that is disproportionate to their numbers, based upon how vehemently they act on some of their issues.   It also seems like their power is strongly in the south, where they help keep Republicans in office who support much of their agenda, and often appease them when they may not agree with them.

It seems to me like the one group that could logically work to lesson the power of the Christian Evangelical Right is other Christians.   I see little or no such efforts existing.

I’d appreciate hearing your reaction to much of what I’ve said above and how you see Christians such as yourself in relation to the Christian Evangelical Right.

TED'S REPLY:



In reply to your comments about the Evangelical Christian Right as a political movement in the U.S., my general comment is that it was ill-conceived and has largely failed in its political agenda.

I have never been a fan of the movement because I think history shows that when religion turns to politics (and vice versa) the results are often disastrous on both sides. The founding fathers of the United States understood this and were careful to separate church and state for the benefit of both. I think this separation needs to be maintained. That is not to say that religion should be kicked out of the state houses, but that churches should focus on what they are called to do and the state should do likewise, taking care not to overstep appropriate boundaries.

Sadly, some of the Christian left are trying to do what the Christian right tried to do (and failed). 

MY RESPONSE:


Ted,

Thanks again!

I would appreciate if you could reply to my concern that Christians (perhaps including yourself?) rarely seem to speak out publicly against the Evangelical Christian Right.  When "liberals" (non-Christians), such as myself, speak out in such areas, our effect seems to be readily discounted. 

It would seem that weakening the effectiveness of the Evangelical Christian Right will be much greater if and when such positions are no longer viewed by many as either  "The Christian Belief", or as an influential Christian belief.   While perhaps there has been a weakening of the Evangelical Christian Right, I see no evidence that it still doesn't wield a lot of power, particularly in its influence on support of Israel against the rights of Palestinians.  Until and unless this is seen as a "Christian issue", that Christians such as yourself feel strongly enough to significantly speak out about, I believe that a lot of their power will remain. 

Related to this, but a somewhat different issue, how do you explain the substantial "Christian" support for President Trump?    He seems to readily acknowledge that he has been (and perhaps continues to be) a "sinner".  He certainly has never repented for his sins.    He is caught in continual lies and deception.   I could say more here, but I think that you get my point.

I have trouble believing that so many "Christians" are fooled by Fox News or other such simplistic beliefs.     I guess, perhaps incorrectly, that they seem to feel that things such as Trump strongly opposing abortion rights and appointing extremely conservative judges, is much more important than Trump "being a Christian".

Perhaps I am mistaken, but I see "Christians" in this context as including, but not being limited to the Evangelical Christian Right.  I think that there are a lot of people whose self-identity is strongly tied to being a "Christian" .   
I see such people as being different from others who might for example identify as being: "American and Methodist".    

I identify as being "an American who is Jewish".   I do not identify as "Jewish" in the context I am referring to "Christian".     I think that many, but not a majority of American Jews identify as: "Jewish".  I think that such beliefs can easily lead to supporting Israel's government, regardless of what they may do to Palestinians.  I think that such American Jews see The Holocaust as the defining event for Judaism today.   They live in fear of another holocaust wiping out Israel.

I see Israel as around the fifth strongest military power in the world.   I see a current reality where Palestinians are killed every day, or nearly every day, mostly for no other reason than (unjustified) Israeli Jews' fears.   I see a world where "Palestinians" and "Arabs" and "Iranians" are not seen as "people", but as caricatures or "animals".   I see a world where Israeli Jewish deaths and injuries from Palestinians are tiny.

An example of this is shown by the following figures:

"Current Palestinian and foreigner violence in Israel and the Palestinian Authority and Gaza Strip (since 19 January 2009) including Operation Pillar of Defense (excluding Operation Protective Edge) "   = 18 military deaths,  53 civilian deaths, 322 military and civilian casualties - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli_casualties_of_war (note - these are based on Israeli Government and Anti-Defamation League figures).

In the Gazan protests in 2018:

At least 110 Palestinians were killed between 30 March to 15 May,[31][15] a number of whom have been members of various Palestinian militant organizations: an independent United Nations commission set the number of known militants killed at 29 out of the 183.[1] Other sources claim a higher figure, of at least 40.[32][17][33][18][34] Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and live ammunition.[35] According to Robert Mardini, head of Middle East for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), more than 13,000 Palestinians have been wounded (as of 19 June 2018), the majority severely, with some 1,400 struck by three to five bullets.[36] No Israelis were physically harmed from 30 March to 12 May, until one Israeli soldier was reported as slightly wounded on 14 May,[4] the day the protests peaked. The same day, 59 or 60 Palestinians were shot dead at twelve clash points along the border fence,[37] Hamas claimed 50 of them as its militants,[38][39] and Islamic Jihadclaimed 3 of the 62 killed as members of its military wing.[40


My simple arithmetic shows that over a period of 9-10 years, 61 Israelis were killed, or at the most an average of at most 7 per year.  322 total injuries over 9-10 years would average at most 36 per year.

I am aware that approximately 200 Gazans were killed over the first year of protests (using 110 for 1 ½ months would translate into approximately 880/year) and there were, I think 30,000 injuries.

Let us presume that the Palestinian deaths and injuries were exaggerated (I think an erroneous presumption) and take the much shorter periods of time as being a yearly figure.  

We now have 110 deaths verses 7 deaths = over a 14 to 1 ratio of deaths.

Injuries we have 13,000 vs. 36 – a ratio vastly over 14 to 1.

Other figures might show ratios that are not as extreme, however I think that virtually all would show death and injury ratios at or above 8 to 1.

AIPAC – the strongest American Jewish voice pushing support of the American government’s support of Israel is not the strongest American voice supporting Israeli government policy.

Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is an American Christian organization that supports Israel. Its statement of purpose is "to provide a national association through which every pro-Israel church,  parachurch organization, ministry or individual in America can speak and act with one voice in support of Israel in matters related to Biblical issues." It is the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States,[1] with 4.1 million members.[2] It operates under the leadership of John Hagee[3] as founder and Chairman along with Diana Hagee and Shari Dollinger as Co-Executive Directors.[4]


Perhaps I’ve gone a little overboard on talking of Israel-Palestine!   At the same time Christian support for Israel’s government is critically important to American support for the Israeli government.

I wonder about “Christians”.   I do not wonder about you supporting “Christians”.  I know that you do not support them.  I do wonder, though, about what you do to oppose policies that kill many Palestinians in terms of opposing publicly The Christian forces which both support President Trump and especially Israeli government policies.

To me inaction is tacitly supporting the status quo.   I often hear of the purported Anti-Semitism of the two Moslem congresswoman and the other noted critic of Israel-Palestine, also a woman of color.    I hear them courageously speaking up for Palestinian rights.  

At the same time I hear very little criticism of Republican congressmen who say clearly Anti-Semitic statements.   A lot of Americans are ignorant of a lot of what I’ve tried to say to you.   I know that you know a lot more than many Americans do in these areas and I hope that this writing has opened up even more for you.

Please excuse my use of the word: “Christians” in this writing.   They are not the same thing as Christians.  I don’t have a better word to use.

I would appreciate you clarifying for me:

1.)  What you are doing, if anything, to show your opposition to the Evangelical Christian right?
2.)  To what you attribute significant “Christian” support of President Trump (as I have discussed above and
3.)  Anything else that comes to mind related to this lengthy diatribe of mine.

I apologize for any seeming harshness in what I say.   It is a rather emotional issue for me.


Hi George,

I understand your frustrations with the Religious Right (which is made up of both some Evangelical Protestants plus some Catholics. I think I share many of your frustrations, though I have one you perhaps may not have considered: The press tends unfairly and inaccurately to lump all Evangelicals into the one “bucket” of the Religious Right (i.e. the Moral Majority and others with similar political agendas). The reality is that not all Evangelicals (and certainly not all Catholics and other non-Evangelicals) buy into the agenda of the Religious Right, not by a long shot. My point here is that we must be careful how labels are used (and abused), leading to unwarranted conclusions.

Perhaps it surprises you to learn that there are a large number of Christians in the U.S. (and elsewhere) who consider themselves “evangelical” but do not ascribe to much of the political agenda of the Religious Right. I’m afraid that the term “evangelical” has taken on a meaning today that makes the label quite confusing and thus unhelpful. For that reason I tend not to call myself an evangelical, though I am, by the historic definition, an evangelical Christian.

A related question you ask is “Why did evangelicals vote for Donald Trump?” Part of my answer is to point out that many evangelicals did not vote for Trump (myself included). However, many did and so your question remains. Why did they vote for Trump? I think there are many reasons they did---many (most?) that I personally would disagree with. I think some realized that Trump is not a good example of Christian behavior, yet they were willing to overlook that because they felt he would do some things policy-wise they wanted to see, and so they compromised. For others, a vote for Trump was a vote against Hillary Clinton. And there are many more reasons, to be sure. I must say at this point that the idea of Christians of any stripe pointing to Trump as an exemplar of Christian values seems quite odd to me.

Personally, I’m like you in that when it comes to voting (and other citizenship responsibilities, I am an American who happens to be a Christian. Therefore, my primary concern in deciding who to vote for in any election comes down to matters related to such things as character, experience, wisdom, skill, and the like. I see Trump as lacking in all these areas, but I know many people who feel otherwise (which baffles me, given his track record).

You then wonder why Christians don’t speak out against Evangelical Christians more openly. I would reframe your question, per my comments above, to put it this way: “Why don’t more Christians speak out against the politicizing of the Christian church, allowing major parts of the church to be co-opted by a particular political agenda?” When the question is stated that way, my answer is that there are major parts of the Christian church in the United States (many of them Evangelicals themselves) who have been speaking out and continue to do so. They tend to get less press than the Religious Right, but that is a problem with the press, not with the church. Many influential Christians have and continue to say to leaders of the Religious Right—“You don’t speak for me!” (see https://www.vox.com/first-person/2016/10/24/13361582/trump-religious-right). There are large movements within the Christian Church like Sojourners who seek to show how bankrupt the Religious Right agenda truly is (seehttps://sojo.net/).

MY RESPONSE:

I find your response compelling!  I will accept what you have stated as it seems reasonable and well thought out.

I would like to try to move on to a different question.

How do you think that we, as Christians and Jews can better work together, both in the support of each other’s religious practices/beliefs, and related to political issues that affect us such as:  ending poverty, supporting immigrants, and other political issues?    Related to this, how can we work together to learn more, and help change the political “scene” if appropriate/relevant to Israel-Palestine?





  





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