Posts Tagged Baptists

An Apostolic Care Act – Bill Leonard* – Baptist News Global

Bill LeonardFirst a confession: As a result of recent healthcare debates, Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress got me to listen to Jesus in a way I’ve not listened before. And apparently I’m not alone.

On June 9, representatives of some 34 diverse religious groups signed onto a letter urging senators not to cut Medicaid as a lifeline to those with health needs. (Medicaid funds 64 percent of nursing care patients and 54 percent of childbirths in the U.S.)  The document declares: “Access to affordable, quality health care should not and cannot be a privilege; it is a requirement rooted in faith to protect the life and dignity of every person.” Signers include NETWORK, a Catholic justice lobby; the Islamic Society of North America; the Union of Reformed Judaism; and denominations such as the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Presbyterian Church USA and the National Council of Churches. (No Baptist communions are listed.)

I’ve long been haunted by the 10th chapters of Matthew and Luke, passages in which Jesus sends out his first apostolic reps, the Twelve (Matthew) and the Seventy (Luke). They are lessons in gospel minimalism, the first inkling of how Jesus understood and enacted his witness in the world, trusting those folks to help take the Story on the road. Teaching new generations of seminarians compelled me to consider the calling Jesus extended, the message he instructed them (and us) to declare, and the messengers’ inevitable vulnerability.

In classes and ordination services, I’ve warned would-be ministers that the “sent ones” are vulnerable from the start. Jesus advises: “Don’t take purse, shoes, a change of clothes, or an ATM card [postmodern update]. Depend on God’s Beloved Community to sustain you.” He even throws in: “And when you are arrested.” Not if, but when. That alone should scare a bit of the persistent hell out of us. I even got the part about their message: “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven [God’s New Day] has come near.’”

But after years of making a big deal out of Matthew/Luke 10, I mostly missed the depth of the passage, the first element of Jesus’ commissioning. “He gave them authority,” Matthew writes, “over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and cure every disease and every sickness.” Going out, they are to “cure the sick, raise the dead [?], cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Jesus demands that they confront human suffering as readily as they declare God’s good news!

Holy Obamacare! Two thousand years later, our nation confronts questions over caring for those who need healing from “preexisting conditions,” require cleansing from years of chronic pain — physical, mental, spiritual — and those whose demons of alcohol, opioids, or arrogance need to be cast out. No, we can’t raise the dead, but can we keep folks from dying too soon, or get them to hospice so they can die with dignity?

We still don’t know what our government will do about the Affordable Care Act, but we do know that from the very beginning Jesus mandated an Apostolic Care Act of all who would follow him, who would work for and with people who are suffering, overlooked, and underserved. Whatever else, the Jesus Story has both physical and spiritual implications.

National health care conversations and controversies force us to reexamine our own churchly mission and ministry. What if health care legislation becomes so draconian and human need so great that churches have to initiate or expand community clinics, not because Obamacare is repealed, but because Jesus requires it? Even that won’t be enough. A friend reports being in a meeting where someone declared that if churches would only do their duty, health insurance wouldn’t be necessary. To which my friend responded: “When you start doing surgery in the fellowship hall, call me.”

Some Christian communities are responding with their own initiatives. Medi-share is a Christian based program that asks participants to select the monthly amount they wish to contribute, and, if they do not need it themselves, to contribute it toward the care of others persons in the system. The needs of participants are published online and contributions to their health care are funded to them directly from Medi-share. I don’t know how effective this is, but it illustrates a faith-based alternative.

My own hesitancy to claim Jesus’ first-century healing admonitions inured me to the depth of his concern for persons’ physical well-being and its continuing imperative. He won’t let any of us off the hook. At the end of Matthew 10 Jesus sweeps us up with a minimal mandate for all disciples: We may be unable to hit the road for the kingdom, heal the sick, cleanse lepers, cast out demons, or get arrested for the gospel’s sake. But we can all give “a cup of cold water to one of these little ones” in the church and the world.

Indeed, in behalf of the “little ones,” we may even need to get prophetic. In Prophecy without Contempt, Cathleen Kaveny says that prophets provide a “kind of moral chemotherapy … a brutal but necessary response to aggressive forms of moral malignancy.” Should legislators link healthcare cuts with tax breaks for the rich, some prophet might remind them that Original Sin is a preexisting condition.

*Dr. Bill Leonard spoke at the Hamrick Lectures at First Baptist Church of Charleston. He speaks with a clear voice.

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Dr. Linda McKinnish Bridges Elected Pres. of Baptist Seminary of Richmond

I met Dr. Bridges at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York State in the summer of 1991. She was the Chaplain of the Week. She is one of the many reasons I fell in love with the place. Her sermon, “Grace upon Grace,” describes my life and has stayed with me to this day. She grew up in the area above Greer, South Carolina. Her father was a well-known mountain preacher. At the time Joan Lipscomb Solomon, a classmate at Furman with me, was writing the Daily Religion Column for the Chautauqua Daily. Joan and I met Linda for lunch one day and had a great time exploring our South Carolina connections. I have continued to follow Linda’s career and her outstanding Christian service.

“On Tuesday morning (March 21), trustees voted unanimously to welcome Dr. Linda McKinnish Bridges as the third president of BTSR. Dr. Bridges was selected after a comprehensive nationwide search led by a BTSR committee consisting of trustees, faculty and staff, with assistance from AGB Search. She will serve as the third president of BTSR, and comes to the seminary at the culmination of BTSR’s 25th anniversary.

In her comments, Dr. Bridges vowed to, “listen first, revere the symbols of the past, all the while ruthlessly renewing and revisioning theological education for the future.” Rev. Dr. Linda McKinnish Bridges will transition to her new role as President-Elect in May 2017, and will officially begin as president of BTSR on July 1, 2017.

The trustees at BTSR have chosen wisely. I am thrilled with the choice. She joins Dr. Molly Marshall, President of Central Baptist Seminary, as a second woman president of a Baptist Theological Seminary. “The mills of the Gods grind exceedingly slowly but exceedingly fine.”

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Great Reception at Charleston Baptist Church Forever Young Seniors

There is one thing all Baptists have in common. We like to eat and fellowship. You can never go wrong by attending a Baptist Pot Luck meal and the Forever Young Seniors at Charleston Baptist Church are no exception to the rule. These folk have a great time together.

If the truth be told, they do not need a guest speaker. Their fellowship is enough to carry them through. Today they were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. My friend Randy Moody took a fair amount of grief over his green Dollar Tree hat.

I was flattered to be their quest speaker for the meeting. They were extremely receptive and polite while I talked about what I learned while writing, Our Father: Discovering Family. They even bought copies of that one and, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. We had a good exchange of ideas. I always have more fun around church people. My friend Phyllis Haynes from First Baptist was also there.

Randy Moody introduced me. Randy, Sarah, his wife, and I have been friends for more than thirty years. They are marvelous Christians who make life better for all who know them.

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Our Father: Discovering Family at Charleston Baptist Church

My friends Sarah and Randy Moody have invited me to speak to the Forever Young Seniors group at Charleston Baptist Church on Wednesday March 1. I am looking forward to this event with these delightful folks. I have visited their group before.

My topic is, “What I Learned Writing a Spiritual Autobiography.” Believe me the learning did not stop when the book was sent to the publisher. Learning from the experience continues. Our lives are not static. We continue to grow as human beings and hopefully we continue to mature spiritually. The direction of all life is growth.

Our Father; Discovering Family, records a moment in time when I paused long enough to discover where I am on my faith journey. I hope my experiences are helpful to others who struggle with some of the same circumstances that I faced. We are all more alike than we are different. We often feel that we are alone in our struggles only to learn later that others have walked through the same or similar troubled waters.

I was fortunate as a young Christian to have a pastor who said to me, Mitch, God is not bothered by your questions.” He went on to assure me, “God made all of you. That includes your brain. He did not intend for you to park it at the door when you come to church.” What a blessing.

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