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Say Something Nice Day and Say Something Nice Sunday

June i, 2019 – is Say Something Nice Day. Greet everyone you meet with a smile and a warm greeting.

Proclamations have been issued by: The City of North Charleston, The City of Charleston, the City of Cayce, Charleston County, the City of Columbia, and Anaheim, California.

June 2, 2019 – is Say Something Nice Sunday.

There are free materials and a new set of devotionals at www.fbcharleston.org.

Click on Messages/Resources at the top of the page. Then select Say Something Nice Sunday.

We urge everyone to join in and make this a wonderful day.

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Whose ‘principles of faith’ are being manifested on Trump’s watch?

 

White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney declared at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast this week that faith drives the Trump administration’s policy proposals, arguing that “the principles of our faith (are) being manifest” under the president’s watch. My shock threshold is high, but I reeled when I read Mulvaney’s remarks. As a Christian and a theologian, I believe the torrent of hateful words, brinkmanship executive orders, racist dog whistles, sexist behavior, malignant deceit and national idolatry are uneasily linked with anything we might call Christian.

Yet President Donald J. Trump’s popularity with evangelical Christians persists, and to their delight, he consistently says things out loud that they think but – with a few notable Baptist pastors among the exceptions – are too self-protective to say.

“When Trump mused that he could not remember ever asking forgiveness for anything, he basically forfeited any claim to Christian identity.”

Last month, Pew Research Center found that Trump had a 69 percent approval rating among white evangelical Protestants, compared to around 40 percent among all Americans. This is astonishing. Indeed, the willingness of Trump’s base to overlook the absence of a moral compass, much less Christian values and practice, only seems to grow with each passing month. With Trump’s judicial appointments and a flurry of policy changes and legislative proposals, moral traditionalists see their ends-justifies-the-means long game coming into view. For this, they will put up with reckless leadership that cares little for an authentic Christian theological vision for life.

In one sense, I concur with Mulvaney’s statement. The “principles of faith” that drive the Trump administration and its Republican sycophants in Congress are, indeed, manifest. But the principles on my list are different.

One clear principle is xenophobia, fearing and reviling the stranger, which is a stark contradiction of a prominent biblical theme. Welcoming the stranger is a way of remembering God’s providence in the life of an insignificant people; it is also a way of being enriched by holy presence. A corollary principle regularly manifested is racism, as we witnessed when Trump referred to nations where persons of color predominate with an epithet.

Immigration policies reflect both of these principles. Honoring every person as created after God’s likeness, bearing the image of God, is absent from the insulting rhetoric employed and actions taken.

Egregious in its impact, another principle is protecting the rich at the expense of the poor. The Bible’s prophetic literature and the ministry and teachings of Jesus accent justice for the poor and warn of judgment upon the rich who will be “sent away empty.” Current tax law is a windfall for those who least need it. The widows and orphans of our day are ground underfoot in wage disparity, lack of educational privilege and shrinking access to varied health and social services.

“Perhaps the most glaring of the principles I find to be antithetical to Christian theology is the arrogation of power to one individual.”

Similarly, the attempts to marginalize sexual minorities are growing. LGBTQ rights are in the cross-hairs, and for the foreseeable future case after case will wind its way through the appellate system on the way to the Supreme Court. A conservative majority will be predisposed to beat back recent gains as this central issue draws untoward attention in the current culture war. Clearly the New Testament makes space in the reign of God for non-traditional expressions of human sexuality, as the story of the Ethiopian eunuch attests.

Incessant saber-rattling and projected military growth ignore the biblical admonition to “be at peace with all, so far as it depends upon you” (Romans 12:18). Threats to bomb nations into oblivion go far beyond national security; these bellicose words are more about presidential swagger. Even the attempts at negotiation with other nations are so full of ego that every encounter is a win-lose drama rather than a genuine pursuit of common ground. Further, the “America first” quest arises from a distorted doctrine of exceptionalism, which includes claiming divine preference for national interests.

Policies that roll back environmental protection also defy God’s directive to humanity to care for this creation as God’s own representatives. Demonstrating an incomprehensible, dismissive attitude toward the consensus of climate scientists worldwide and the dire warnings from the United Nations and other international bodies – namely, that environmental disaster looms unless radical action is taken in the next two decades – this administration is accelerating its support of destructive practices. The unwillingness to curtail pollution of the atmosphere, to participate in global environmental accords or to prevent rampant oil and gas drilling and fracking, are having a deleterious effect. These profligate actions are tantamount to humanizing the eschaton, i.e., bringing about the destruction of the earth.

Perhaps the most glaring of the principles I find to be antithetical to Christian theology is the arrogation of power to one individual. While in humility Christ Jesus gave power away, the current president presumes to be the final arbiter on most matters of governance in our system of democracy. With Caesar-like imperiousness, this administration claims a kind of sovereignty that eschews bowing the knee to any higher authority.

When Trump mused that he could not remember ever asking forgiveness for anything, he basically forfeited any claim to Christian identity. The very heart of authentic faith is knowing the gap between what God’s righteousness calls us to do and what we actually do. Forgiveness is that shattering experience that acknowledges our sinfulness and the grace of God that draws us near.

Mercy, justice and humility are the marks of authentic Christianity. I see none of these in the principles of faith by which the president of the United States operates. Indeed, the only thing worse than the failure or refusal of people of faith to see this reality is to remain silent.

*Rev.Dr. Molly Marshall spoke twice at the Hamrick Lectureship at First Baptist Church of Charleston. She is a congregation favorite.

 

 

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5 things Protestant churches in the U.S. can learn from Eastern Orthodoxy

Easter has come, and the season of Eastertide has arrived.

For Western Christianity, that is. Eastern Christianity, which operates on a different liturgical calendar, observes Holy Week this week and celebrates Easter this Sunday, a week later than churches in Western Christianity.

The difference in liturgical calendars at this season of the church year provides an opportunity to consider some lessons for American Protestantism from the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christendom.

“Beauty is viewed as essential to all dimensions of Christian spirituality, and this value is reflected in Orthodox places of worship.”

In terms of demographic trends, Orthodox churches in the U.S. share similarities with Protestant denominations, but also reflect interesting contrasts. Orthodox membership is in a decline. Retention rates are low. Marriage rates are also falling. At the same time, the most recent “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” study by Pew Research Center found that Orthodox churches have the highest percentage of members ages 18 to 29 among all Christian groups. Orthodox Christianity is tied with Mormons for the highest percentage of adherents ages 30 to 59. On average, Orthodox are the most highly educated Christians. Interestingly, even though Eastern Orthodoxy is largely the antithesis to the Prosperity Gospel, America’s Orthodox are the wealthiest Christians on a per capita basis.

Here are five things Baptists and other Protestants can learn from Orthodox Christianity:

1. Tailoring worship style to popular culture is overrated.

For many American Protestant churches, it has become almost an article of faith that worship style needs to match popular culture. This is an effort to ensure that unchurched people can “relate” to Christian worship. That may be convincing for many church and denominational leaders, but does experience corroborate this widespread notion? While many Protestant congregations bend over backwards to fit their worship to popular tastes and trends, many of these churches are no longer growing. Orthodox churches do not even use any musical instruments in worship, yet they still have the highest percentage of adults under 30 among their adherents compared to other Christian groups.

2. Life is liturgical.

Liturgy, the Eastern Orthodox term for worship, has Greek origins and literally means “work of the people.” A major purpose is to form habits that facilitate a life of faith that is meaningful and good. One does not need to understand all the fine points of Orthodox liturgy to realize that our daily activities mold us. James Smith, a Calvinist theologian influenced by Eastern Orthodox thought, reminds us that even the most casual or ordinary activities, such as going to a shopping mall, attending a sporting event or just hanging out with friends, contribute to our character formation. A better awareness of this contribution can make us more selective regarding the activities we engage in and more intentional about shaping our character. This awareness can shape our spiritual formation, which, in turn, may make our churches more vital.

3. Images matter.

In its zeal to combat idolatry, much of Western Christianity removed images, statuary and art from its churches. Eastern Orthodox Christians chose a different path. Icons reflect what the Christian life is like, and one does not need to venerate them in order to realize the importance of images for worship and spiritual formation. American Christians are constantly bombarded by secular images of the “good life” on television, in magazines and on social media, not to mention shopping centers. We need to be cognizant of the power of images and look for ways to use art and other imagery in our worship and spiritual formation programs.

4. So does beauty.

Unlike Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, Protestants do not have a major female figure to venerate. Although many Protestant churches in the U.S. recognize the importance of art, aesthetics largely remains an acquired language. Often the importance of art is limited to its potential to evangelize, and that seems to lessen the value of Christian art in the eyes of the wider public. Not so in the Orthodox tradition. Beauty is viewed as essential to all dimensions of Christian spirituality, and this value is reflected in Orthodox places of worship. Orthodox Christianity understands that human nature yearns for the beautiful. An appreciation for beauty permeates Eastern cultures as well as Eastern Christianity. Many Protestant churches in the U.S. need to be more purposeful about making our spaces beautiful.

5. It’s not Jesus and me; it’s Jesus and all of us, living and dead.

“Me and Jesus got our own thing going; me and Jesus got it all worked out,” says a popular evangelical song. This individualistic mindset, which seems to reflect much of American Protestantism, relegates the church to secondary importance after individual salvation. If me and Jesus, in this order, have it all worked out, it is not clear why we need our brothers and sisters (or even our pastors and other ministers). The link between this mentality and empty pews on Sunday mornings seems apparent.

In contrast, this individualistic ethos is quite alien to Eastern Orthodox spirituality. According to Orthodox teaching, attending worship is essential for salvation, which has a robust communal dimension. In addition, liturgy is a place where not only the living are present, but the souls of the dead are also there, strengthening worshippers in their journey of faith.

One does not need to share Orthodox dogma to realize that giving due recognition to the communal dimension and other strengths of Christian faith and worship in Orthodox Christianity can have a positive influence on Protestant churches in America. Perhaps more dialogue between leaders of these two traditions could prove fruitful for both.

In the meantime, it seems we Baptists and other Protestants can affirm again the joyous refrain of “ is risen!” with our Orthodox sisters and brothers as they celebrate the resurrection this Sunday.

*Andrey Shirin

Andrey Shirin is associate professor of divinity and director of transformational leadership at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, Virginia. A native of Russia, he lives with his wife, Olga, in greater Washington, D.C.

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Why Rev. Amy Butler is talking politics, sin and loss this Lent March 12, 20199 Min ReadTh

March 12, 2019 The Rev. Amy Butler preaches at The Riverside Church in New York. Photo courtesy of Riverside Church – Jack Jenkins – Share This! (RNS)

During this year’s season of Lent — a time when Christians commemorate the biblical story of Jesus Christ fasting in the desert for 40 days — Riverside Church, a historically liberal congregation in New York City, is focusing on a theme of sin and loss. Riverside’s head pastor, the Rev. Amy Butler, spoke recently with Religion News Service to explain why the influential church is honing in on topics she says progressive Christians sometimes gloss over, and why she hopes examining ancient scriptural stories about sin and loss can speak to the modern-day challenges facing Americans in general and Christians in particular.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What does it mean to offer a series at your church about sin and loss?
Riverside is a very progressive Protestant congregation, and progressives are notoriously reticent to speak about sin. Because of that, we often cede responsibility for that kind of conversation, theological dialogue and exploration to our conservative brothers and sisters.

I think that’s a mistake.

So we’re going to take the season of Lent, which is a time of the church year for penitence and repentance, and see if we can’t reclaim some of the language for sin.

I’ll be defining it as separation from God and from each other — the things we do and the systems that we participate in that hurt other people, that diminish our relationship with God and with each other, that harm our world and our fellow human beings. We’re going to cover all of that in six weeks.

What do you think is distinct about the way your congregation is going to engage with sin compared to how your “conservative brothers and sisters” might approach the same question?
I’m going to try to steer us away from a transactional understanding of sin. I grew up in a conservative evangelical background, so I understood growing up — as I think many of my conservative friends do — that God was the judge and there’s a certain balance sheet. You get points for this, a point for that — I’ve been watching “The Good Place” — and the way things balance out in the end.

I just don’t think that we live in a world with that much control over the divine. I think that our lives are formed and ordered by the relationships that we build and nurture both with God and with each other. And I think taking a good, hard look at the things that impact and impede those relationships is where I really want to go. That’s going to be a distinction between, you know, “If you dance or drink, you get certain demerits, and then if you bring your grandmother flowers, you get more (positive points).”

The Rev. Amy Butler greets congregants at New York City’s Riverside Church during her candidacy weekend in Aug. 2014. Photo by Dave Cross Photography, courtesy of Riverside Church

You said you’re not just tying sin to a personal action or a personal offense, but also systems and communities. Are you talking about systemic or communal sin?
Yes. And you know, I think it’s a very dangerous bifurcation when we decide that sin is either individual or systemic. This is generalizing, of course, but: (the idea that if) every sin is individual, so that means we don’t look at things like racism. Or that if everything is systemic, that we don’t look at our own anger, our own pride.

We have to find some way to look at both because they both impact our daily lives.

Why do you think progressive Christian communities have shied away from explicit conversations about sin?
I think there are a couple of reasons. One is that for some reason, somewhere along the line, the narrative was co-opted by a much more conservative storyline. Because the general perception of the concept of sin is what we see on TV, or when we hear about hateful protesters at abortion clinics — well, we don’t want to be associated with that.

So we just prefer to step away from the conversation.

The other trap that progressives fall into all the time is we think that claiming our own banners of belief is somehow … oppressive to other people, which is flatly untrue.

We’re not doing the world any service if we can’t fully express what it is we say we believe and what standards and convictions animate our work in the world. So it may be a little provocative for my congregation — and I always like to push them a little bit. But I really want to bring sin (to) the fore this year, give us an opportunity to reclaim the language around it and have some honest conversations.

You mentioned racism as one example of sin. Are there other examples that you plan to lift up?
We’re telling the stories of the Book of Genesis, which are story after story of sin, right? I’m trying to take some of the stories that we don’t normally tell in a pulpit and taking a different look at them. We’re telling the story of Noah. We’re telling the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. These are stories that either people don’t know, or they know in very surface-y ways. And as we look at each of these stories, we’re trying to look at what the sin is in the story and then what is lost.

So sins like pride and violence and corruption and othering and lack of hospitality. And then the things that we lose: intimacy with God and with each other, innocence, community, things to sustain life. And in those broader categories, surely there are things that are going to come up — systems that hurt and oppress. Racism is one of them. Misogyny, sexism — I mean all this stuff about institutions that hurt people.

This Lent is (also) going to be a powerful time of reckoning for the institutional church. For example: the United Methodist Church, the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Church.

But also, I don’t want to let our progressive selves off easy now, holding sin out at arm’s length. Let’s look a little closer and see where these sins are coming to be in our own lives, in our relationships with each other, even in our own community here at Riverside.

You also mentioned that loss is a part of this project. Can you unpack that some more?
I wanted to reframe (this topic) because so many times when we talk about sin, we talk about sin and punishment. I don’t want to talk about sin and punishment. I want to talk about sin and loss, because what really happens as the effect of sin is the loss. It’s not punishment, which (brings) along with it shame that further alienates us from each other and from the possibility of redemption.

But if we talk about it in terms of loss, then I think it gives us more of a handhold for finding our way back to reconciliation. When we participate in sinful systems and sinful actions we are losing trust, relationship, accountability, all of these things that build this up and make our better community and better relationships.

The Rev. Amy Butler of The Riverside Church in New York. Courtesy photo

You represent a historic progressive congregation whose messages can carry a lot of weight among progressive and liberal Christians. Is there some part of this that speaks to the rest of liberal and progressive Christianity to inform their spiritual life in this specific political moment of 2019?
Oh, there’s so much to say.

One thing I said often after the 2016 presidential election was that my immediate personal spiritual response was a deep sense of conviction that I needed to repent. That’s a very uncomfortable word for us progressive Christians. But I think for so long — particularly under the Obama administration — we had just sort of been like, “Oh, you know, everything’s fine. There are a few bad things, but in general, society’s moving toward a more just place.”

What we have learned is that we weren’t speaking out enough before, that we hadn’t separated enough our call to be gospel people from the systems of our government that often oppressed and harmed, even if we believed in the ideology of the ruling party.

I think repentance is a wonderful place for us to start as we think about how our actions are shaped moving forward in this moment.

Certainly, if the church doesn’t stand up and speak up and act in the way of Jesus, then I don’t know why the church continues to exist.

This is always a dangerous question that I ask a preacher: Do you think your congregation will be receptive to this message?
I expect people will be uncomfortable. I have one congregation member who says to me often, “You know, I come to church on Sunday morning, I get all uncomfortable. Then I go home and watch Joel Osteen and I feel better.”

Really?
Yes, yes.

Even at Riverside, we are guilty of wanting to be entertained or comforted. And I don’t think Jesus was really in the business of making us feel comfortable. I don’t think it’s my job to entertain people, but particularly during this season of Lent, this is a moment for us to really challenge ourselves to look hard at some very deep and hard places.

When we have national theological conversations about Lent, is there something that you think gets left out or glossed over or forgotten?
It’s interesting that you say that, because I’m advocating for us to take a good, hard look at individual sin. I think this year in particular, as Americans, we have an interesting opportunity to look at some of our institutional sin, because we’re seeing it on a national scale every single day.

Let’s look at what we’re doing around immigration policy, around violence, around government corruption. But then also, what about the institution of the church? Look at what just happened in the United Methodist Church. Look what’s going on in the Catholic Church.

All of our institutions have failed to reflect our highest aspirations for who we can be as a people of God or just as decent human beings.

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