Four Questions Raised from Saturday’s News

1) Why do any Saints fans attend ball games in Chicago?

The last several times the Saints and Bears have played in Chicago in the dead of winter, the Saints fans have been harassed and cursed, snowballed and even abused. Furthermore, many who attended those games have indicated the stadium security people were unresponsive when they complained.

We’re not saying all Saints fans are “saints.” And competitive spirit is even fun. But there is such a thing as carrying it too far, and from all we hear, the Bears fans have exceeded that line.

The best seat in the house is the couch in your own living room. The temperature in New Orleans is in the 50s this weekend, and my fireplace will be getting a nice workout.

2) Why do African-American churches celebrate Kwanzaa in their services?

This question was raised on the religion page of Saturday’s Times-Picayune. The writer for the Religion News Service told how many black churches in America wrestle with that issue. I don’t want to push my own opinion too hard here, because I’m mixed race myself–mostly Irish, I expect, but mainly “Heinz 57”–and have no clue what it’s like being a minority in this country. That said, I do know something about the Christian faith and I know a good deal about churches.

My opinion is this: if African-American churches want to celebrate Kwanzaa and do not mind alienating non-blacks in their congregation, have at it. More and more, particularly in the part of the world where I live, ethnic churches are drawing people from mixed backgrounds. The Chinese Baptist church here, for instance, is thinking of putting an associate pastor on staff who would be Anglo, in order to minister to their members who do not speak Chinese. In the Vietnamese Baptist church, you’ll see bi-racial families in the congregation, indicating that the son or daughter of first-generation American-Vietnamese has married an Anglo. To a lesser extent, the same thing is happening in African-American congregations. More likely, it’s non-black families or singles who have been attracted to the congregation because of their music, preaching, or ministries.

Celebrate your cultural and racial heritage if you want to, but recognize the effect may be to build a barrier between people.

3) Why would a spokesmen for Baptists run down Baptists?

A small item in the T-P religion section announces that the Baptist Center for Ethics has named former Vice-President Al Gore as Baptist of the Year. The website for that organization––quotes Robert Parham, the center’s executive director: “(Gore) has pressed for the global good with a compelling message about the danger of climate change and a clear call for moral responsibility, knitting together science and faith, reason and passion.”

Okay, no problem. But then Mr. Parham decides to offend the people who pay his salary. “Regrettably no Baptist has received less applause from Baptists than Gore, a shameful, but not unexpected reality from a people snarled in religious fear, suspicious of science and stuck in the rut of spiritualized reading of the Bible.”

I have never been happier to say that his organization is not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, and does not speak for any of us. My hunch, however, is that once the word gets out as to what he has said about Baptists–not just those of us who take the Bible seriously, but Parham’s constituency, too–you will be reading one of two things from that website: either an apology (they’ll call it a clarification) or his resignation. If neither happens, it will be a tribute to the irrelevancy of the organization and a sign that no one is reading their pronouncements and that no one cares.

Either way, he ought to be ashamed. And this from a man supposedly an expert on ethics. What are the ethical considerations of slandering the good people who hired him and entrusted him with such a crucial responsibility?

I do not doubt for an instant that there are among our Baptist people some “snarled” in religious fear, many who are suspicious of science, and others stuck in “the rut of spiritualized reading of the Bible,” whatever that means. Check into the matter more closely and I expect you would find every denomination has the same problems, some more than others. But Mr. Parham painted with a broad brush, and his caustic analysis of his own people brings dishonor to Baptists everywhere and undermines the value of the very recognition he offers to Mr. Gore.

4) Why exactly do churches pass the offering plates?

According to the Associated Press article on the religion page, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati is encouraging its people to make their church contributions “on line.” That means members can contribute from home, using the internet, or even have monthly deductions made automatically from their bank accounts and transferred to the church.

Even though it made the news, there is nothing new about this approach. Every year or so, we’ll read that some church has installed ATM machines in the foyer and that others are accepting credit and debit cards. The newspaper or television station will act like it’s revolutionary and interview the “reverends” about what this means for the future. Yawn.

It’s not a good idea and here’s why. If the goal of the offering is merely to pay the bills down at the church–and I’m all for that, believe me–then this will do the job. However, I recommend (for those of us “stuck in the rut of spiritualized reading of the Bible”) that one check out what the Scriptures say on the subject.

“Not that I seek the gift itself,” Paul wrote in Philippians 4:17, “but I seek for the profit (or fruit) which increases to your account.”

And in II Corinthians 12:14, referring to the use of one’s finances, Paul said, “We do not seek yours but you.”

A quick story.

Over 30 years ago, I was pastoring the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi, a wonderful church in a terrific town. One day a wealthy member dropped by my office to ask if we could arrange for his tithe to be deducted each week by the bank and automatically deposited to the church’s account. He said, “The amount is so large that when I fall behind, the amount soon becomes so big it’s hard to pay.”

We agreed–you didn’t think I was going to say ‘no,’ did you?–and that seemed to settle it. A few weeks later, he called to cancel the arrangement. See what you think of his reason.

“I miss the personal experience of praying over my gift and personally laying it in the offering plate,” he said. “It’s like I’m not even giving it.”

No newspaper article heralded the “new and innovative” way we were using technology to allow members to make their contributions conveniently without the bothersome task of attending the services and actually writing a check. In fact, no one else knew of this except the member and his wife (I presume). But it was not a good idea then and is not now.

We’re left with the impression that if some churches had all the money they needed to pay their bills, they would never mention the offering at all. They would never take the first step in helping their members deal with proper stewardship of God’s resources, the fatal diseases of greed and materialism, or the opportunity to invest their money in kingdom work now and the kingdom of heaven later.

A good question to raise in your Sunday School class this week is “Why exactly do churches pass the offering plates?”

2 thoughts on “Four Questions Raised from Saturday’s News

  1. The only way Parham should have even approached this subject (and he did not need to in my opinion) would have been by giving an equal argument to Gore’s position. No one is more confused about “the dangers of climate change” in our nation than the experts. There are plenty to line up on all sides. Just because Al Gore has taken this as his cause, neither gives it credence nor does it give him credibility in the eyes of all scientists, let alone any of us “common folk” who do not know what or who to believe about this subject at this point in time.

    About Gore being a Baptist–have we forgotten the lessons of the past when believers from several denominations–Quakers, Southern Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, etc. have not demonstrated their faith well? At the very least, mixing politicians and religion is dicey. Surely, Parham would not be so blinded by the “Baptist Al Gore” that he refuses to see being a Baptist gives him no more credibility, gives the issue no more credibility, and certainly gives Baptists no more credibility on this or any other issue! Parham is welcome to his opinion; but as a spokesman for a Baptist group of people, he has no standing on such matters. I have a feeling, he will find this out in due time.

  2. Joe: Reading the section about Robert Parham and his comment on Al Gore reminds me how glad I am to be a Baptist. I am speaking from the historical position of Baptist. We do not have a “Baptist Church” that speaks for everyone as do other denominations. We are a group of many churches that are tied together by our common bond in supporting a great missions program.

    We are individual members bound together by our love for the Lord and our mission in reaching people with the Gospel Message. No one can speak for another member.

    Former Vice President Al Gore took on a very large task. The issue which he addresses is still not settled. Yes we do need to be better stewards of the land and taking care of the environment. Mr. Parham is free to express his opinion and has that right. However it is his opinion and he cannot and should not chastise others who do not see things the same way.

    Proud to be a BAPTIST! I speak for no one other than myself and the Lord Jesus Christ!

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