Category: Jesus

Franklin Graham and the black-white gap in American evangelicalism

Franklin Graham impersonates his famous father

By Alan Bean

I have never met Lisa Sharon Harper, but she’s been reading my mail.

Why, she asks, was Franklin Graham unwilling to apply the term “Christian” to president Obama?

Graham has trouble seeing the president as a fellow believer, Sharon Harper argues, because white Christians are rarely forced to wrestle with systemic injustice and are therefore uncomfortable with Christians who make this issue front and center.

I have a few minor quibbles with the argument below.

Many, perhaps most, black evangelical churches are just as fixated on personal salvation as white evangelicals.  Martin Luther King didn’t enjoy the enthusiastic support of most black Baptist churches in the South, and his social gospel remains suspect in many corners of the black church.

Secondly, Franklin Graham’s daddy, the iconic American evangelist Billy Graham, wasn’t quite as racially advanced as this post suggests.  True, he did open his crusades to black worshippers before most white evangelicals were comfortable with integrated evangelism, but as Darren Dochuk points out in his excellent study of California evangelicalism, Graham realized that segregation was becoming an embarrassment in America and thus an impediment to evangelism.  (more…)

Jesus Christ, Capital Defendant

Would Jesus Christ support the death penalty? Would a modern-day jury sentence Jesus to death?

Those exact questions were the inspiration for Director Joshua Rofe’s documentary, “JESUS CHRIST: Capital Defendant.”

Through his interactions  with Professor Mark Osler and Attorney Jeanne Bishop, Rofe was compelled to create the documentary. Both opponents of the death penalty, Osler and Bishop travel the country, holding trials in which Jesus Christ is the defendant in a death penalty case. One goal of these trials is to challenge audiences to use a faith-based lens to think critically about capital punishment.

In April 2012, Crossings Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma will hold a trial of Jesus Christ. The congregation will be the jury. Rofe will document the entire process and, from that, create his film. Check out Rofe’s video about the documentary here. MW

Wisdom and the public prosecutor

Mark Osler

By Mark Osler

Many of the problems dealt with by Friends of Justice are created by prosecutors behaving badly.  Part of my own vocation is to train prosecutors to act from principle in a public way, to avoid some of these tragedies before they happen.  This paper sets out a few of my thoughts on training future prosecutors so that they may show true wisdom in solving problems, rather than simply multiplying the tragedies inherent in criminal law.

When I was a federal prosecutor, I got to be a tangential player in one of the great and compelling dramas in American law—a beautiful juxtaposition of transgression and truth, violence and principle.

A man (it was nearly always a man) would run from the police.  He had robbed a bank, or sold narcotics, or fled the border, and was caught.  He would run across a street, a field, a frozen lake, pursued by three or four officers.  When he was caught, as he usually was, he would be thrown to the ground, rolled over, a knee would be placed roughly on his neck to hold him in place, and his hands would be shackled behind his back while he writhed on the ground.

It would be then—after the man was subdued but while he still struggled—that the most remarkable thing would happen.  One of the officers would reach, still breathing heavily, into his pocket, retrieve a card, and read aloud the Great Principles of the Fourth and Fifth Amendment:

You have the right to remain silent.

You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you.

If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed for you.

You can decide at any time to stop any questioning….

What a glorious, amazing thing!  There in that rough field or alleyway, the improbable is recited—that we do not force confessions, that we value counsel, and that we do not favor the rich over the poor.   These are principles.  These exemplify wisdom.  And, sadly, they are rarely addressed as such in law school, where we bury ourselves in rules that have come to encase those principles within a thick coat of opaque and hoary jurisprudence.

This article has a simple premise:  That if we are to teach towards wisdom in addition to knowledge, we must teach principles in addition to rules.  Principles, unlike rules, allow room for personal agency, inner conflict, and the entry of the Holy Spirit—a perfect recipe for wisdom. (more…)

A white preacher celebrates the black church

By Alan Bean

Eddie Glaude, a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton, set off a fire storm last year when he performed last rites over the black church.  “The Black Church is dead,” Dr. Glaude announced.  I didn’t notice it at the time, but Joel Gregory, the dean of Texas Baptist preachers, wrote a spirited rebuttal to Eddie Glaude for the Huffington Post.

In the course of a post-worship lunch this Sunday at Fort Worth’s Broadway Baptist Church, Joel Gregory’s name came up.  I learned that he was teaching a Sunday School class at Broadway a few years back but was forced to withdraw (the story went) when the congregation decided to publish pictures of gay couples in the church directory. 

The repercussions of that decision were immediate.  The congregational infighting became so intense that the Rev. Brett Younger (a fine preacher in his own right), was forced to submit his resignation.  Broadway had already been expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention and withdrew from the Baptist General Conference of Texas to spare everyone an ugly fire fight on the convention floor.  Finally, I was told, Joel Gregory was asked to withdraw his membership at Broadway.  He was teaching homiletics at Truett Theological Seminary on the campus of Baylor University at the time and pressure was applied in high places.

Dr. Gregory is full of surprises.  I was surprised to learn that he had been a member at Broadway, one of the flagship “moderate” churches in Texas Baptist life.  There was a time when Gregory was the fundamentalist camp’s most articulate frontman.  I’m not sure his core theology has changed much over the years, but his spirit has softened considerably. (more…)

The passion of the prosecutor

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has issued a stay of execution in the Hank Skinner case so relevant DNA evidence can be tested.  The prosecutors in this case remain adamant that Skinner should die with the evidence untested.  Mark Osler (a Friends of Justice board member who teaches law at the University of Saint Thomas in Minnesota) says that what looks like baffling intransigence from the outside springs from the best of motives.  But then, so did the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Osler’s insights originally appeared on the CNN site. AGB

Texas prosecutors won’t stop rush to execution

By Mark Osler, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mark Osler, a professor of law at the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minnesota, is a former federal prosecutor and the author of “Jesus on Death Row,” a book about capital punishment.

 As the nation and the world’s attention turned to the impending execution of Hank Skinner in Texas before a late stay by a Texas court, one question seemed paramount: “Why the rush?” The answer to that question is buried deep inside the psychology of prosecutors and the culture of Texas.

Skinner was scheduled for execution on Wednesday for the 1993 killing of his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two sons, until the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (the top criminal court in that state) issued a stay late on Monday. (more…)

Have we domesticated discipleship?

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (La pêche miraculeuse) - James Tissot - overall.jpg

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” (Luke 5:10)

By Alan Bean

This week we consider Jesus’ calling of the first disciples. In Mark’s gospel, the subject is covered in five short verses; Luke’s account is twice as long and doubly detailed. The evangelists (a fancy word for the men who write the four gospels) inherited scores of traditional stories about the life and work of Jesus and used this material with great freedom.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus appears to two groups of fisherman busy casting their nets into the sea. “Follow me,” he says, “and I will make you fish for people.” Without a word, the men drop their nets and follow.

In Luke, the action if far more complex. Right at the end of John’s gospel, we find a story about a miraculous catch of fish. Luke gives us the same story, but he places it in a very different setting. In John, the risen Christ appears to his disheartened disciples and asks them to let down their nets for a catch. In Luke, this request is extended right at the beginning of Jesus’ teaching ministry.

As a teenager growing up in McLaurin Baptist Church in Edmonton, Canada, I discussed Mark’s story with Sadie Beggs, an Irish Baptist. “Jesus just walks up and tells these guys to follow, and they do,” I said. “I wonder what was going through their heads.”

Sadie told me she had always been mystified by the disciples’ willingness to follow a perfect stranger. “It must have been a miracle,” she said.

In Luke, the decision to follow Jesus is more understandable. Jesus heals the mother-in-law of a soon-to-be disciple named Simon just shortly before the two men meet by the sea of Galilee. The call to discipleship doesn’t come from a complete stranger, in other words, Simon has already seen Jesus at work. (more…)

Jesus ain’t your home boy

By Alan Bean

If you can’t trust Jesus, who can you trust?

Unfortunately, you can’t trust Jesus.

Unless, that is, you are open to shocking new ideas about God, a counter-intuitive take on the created order, and a topsy-turvy understanding of the human condition.

When Jesus arrived in his hometown of Nazareth, everybody wanted to be impressed.  When a local boy makes good, small towns announce their association with the local-boy-made-good for the edification of passing motorists.  “We might look like just another hick town,”  the sign suggests, “but Bob Wills grew up here.”

Even if you’ve never heard of Bob Wills, you can’t help being a little bit impressed. 

Immediately after his wilderness encounter with the devil, Matthew tells us, Jesus took up residence in the little fishing village of Capernaum, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, (or the Sea of Tiberias as Herod Antipas insisted on calling it).  From there, he moved into the surrounding communities, eventually arriving at his home town of Nazareth.

By this time, Jesus had acquired a reputation as a teacher with, it was widely rumored, the power to heal.  Nobody was thinking “Messiah” or “Son of God” at this point; but Rabbi was a distinct possibility.  Which explains why, when the hometown boy showed up for Sabbath worship, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and asked to read a passage of his choosing.

Turning to what we call the 61st Chapter (there were no chapters or verses in his day), Jesus intoned a startling message that, like the Lord’s Prayer, had been domesticated by frequent repetition. 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

 Then he handed the scroll back to the attendant and sat down.

Folks were impressed.  “He reads very well for a kid from Nazareth,” some thought.  “Good intonation, not too fast or too slow, and he fills the synagogue with his voice without appearing to shout.  Not bad for a rookie.” (more…)

Mustard seed conspiracy?

By Charles Kiker

Matthew 13:31-32: “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds but when it is grown it becomes the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

One necessary preliminary observation regarding “the kingdom of heaven” in this—and other—parables of the kingdom: this same parable as reported in Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18-19 has “kingdom of God” rather than “kingdom of heaven.” It is customary for Matthew to refer to the kingdom of heaven and for Mark and Luke to refer to the kingdom of God. At any rate, Jesus in this parable and other parables is not referring to heaven as a place where good people go when they die (or people who have prayed the right prayer and/or believed the right things). It is about the kingdom of God which is coming on earth. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It is about the kingdom coming on earth, and the will of God being done on earth where the will and ways of humankind have sway, as well as in the heavens where God and only God has sway. (more…)

How to join the conspiracy

By Alan Bean

When I tell people about Friends of Justice they sometimes ask how they can get involved.  I tell them that all donations are gratefully received, but that’s rarely what they have in mind. They want to know how they can get involved in the work of Friends of Justice.

And here’s my answer: If you want to help Friends of Justice you need to understand the spirituality that drives our work; you need to get involved with the Mustard Seed Conspiracy. If you live within reasonable driving distance of Arlington, Texas you are invited to attend our weekly study which will begin on Wednesday, September 7.  A few days prior to each gathering you will find that week’s reading assignment and a brief commentary on the Mustard Seed Conspiracy blog. (more…)

An informed conversation about the religious right, politics and dominionism

By Alan Bean

Sarah Posner and Anthea Butler understand the religious right because they attend actual religious gatherings and talk to people.  When they sit down for a conversation about dominionism, the New Apostolic Reformation and politicians like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann you get the straight goods.

Dominionists aren’t poised to take over America.  The religious right is an exceedingly complex social phenomenon.  Most of the folks in Houston’s Reliant Stadium for Rick Perry’s The Response had never heard of dominionism.  All of this is true, but that doesn’t mean something big isn’t afoot in the world of conservative evangelicalism.  Something big is afoot and it is already impacting the political process and the way social issues are debated in the public arena.

When I was attending university in the mid-1970s, my parents, Gordon and Muriel Bean, were suddenly wrapped up in the charismatic movement.  They continued to attend McLaurin Baptist Church (then a very non-demonstrative congregation), but they were much more excited about groups like the Full Gospel Business Men International and Women Aglow (of which my mother eventually became Alberta president).  Like the dutiful son I am, I attended these meetings but was never tempted to get involved.  I saw the usual “signs and wonders”:  folks speak in tongues as if it was the most natural thing in the world, worshipers healed of chronic ailments (usually having one leg longer than the other), worshippers  “slain in the spirit” (that is, lying in ecstasy on the floor as their bodies twitched with Holy Spirit electricity).

Like I say, it wasn’t my cup of tea.  But I learned that this kind of religion can be extraordinarily powerful for those on the inside.  As Posner and Butler point out below, it is the ordinary people who attend religious conferences and buy books and DVDs that drive the movement.  The names of the preachers change from generation to generation; the spiritual hunger driving the movement abides forever.

The GOP has learned to tap into that hunger; Democrats lose elections, especially in the South, because they haven’t.

This is a long piece, but I offer this little clip as an indication of the fresh insight you will discover throughout a fascinating conversation.  This is Anthea Butler:

For the last 30 years, journalists have had an easy time reporting on the religious right, because all they did was pay attention to to white male leaders of big organizations like Focus on the Family, National Association of Evangelicals, or Family Research Council. The days when a nice soundbite from Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, or Ted Haggard would suffice are over. If journalists and others want to understand the last 10 years of the religious right movement, they will need to pay attention to the theological, religious, and ethnic diversity among evangelicals, Pentecostals, and non-denominational churches. They will at least need to recognize the old and new leaders of the religious right, and the complex network of leaders, conferences, and teachings if they want a reductionist argument they can spin out in 800 words. As someone who has studied and written about Pentecostalism for over 15 years, their lack of basic knowledge is staggering, and although I don’t expect people to get it like I do, I do expect reporters and journalists to do their homework! (more…)