Relativism v. Fanaticism

In recent decades, churches were often accused of being too relativistic and not standing up for anything.  Now congregations are being accused of being fanatical and not allowing diverse opinions.

Which do you think is the greater danger in the church: relativism or fanaticism?  Which extreme have you experienced more in churches?

Northeast Baptist Church Suspends Assistance Program

For the last several years, we have referred persons coming to our door needing assistance to Northeast Baptist Church.  They do not have a school, do have one major building with all of their staff, and do  have sufficient staff to help those who drop in.  We are not in the same situation and have not been able to provide as much help.

We learned this week that because of reduced contributions, they are suspending their assistance program for now.  We will need to find another local resource to help people.

Even though the economy is supposed to be doing so well, many churches continue to struggle with inadequate funds to do what they have been doing.

Legal and Illegal Immigration

Until the last couple weeks, we were told our government in Washington intended to support legal immigration but fight illegal immigration.  But with the announced intention to reduce legal immigration in half and give preference to educated people who can speak English, legal immigration is also being reduced.  

With fewer legal immigrants being allowed in the country, I wonder if we will see more tragedies like the truck filled with people at the south side Walmart a few weeks ago.  How are employers to get the workers they need?

I also wonder if we would have a Lutheran church in the United states if we always gave preference to educated English speaking immigrants.  Nearly all Lutheran immigrants spoke languages such as Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German or other continental European languages when they came to the United States.  Few spoke English and many lacked significant formal education.  Under the new proposed guidelines, most Lutherans would not have been welcome.

Do you think the country would have done as well if Lutherans had not been allowed to come here because of language or education?

Tim Kaine and Joe Biden

While President Trump has been critical of a number of Republicans and Democrats, I remember little criticism of these two men, even though their views are in the mainstream of the Democratic Party and differ little from the views of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  Why are these two men getting off so easy while Clinton and Obama continue to be repeatedly criticized?

I wonder if the reason is that these two men are white male heterosexual Christians, the core of the Trump political base.  To criticize them would not stir up Trump's base as much as criticizing women, African-Americans, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, or gays.

What do you think?  Why are Kaine and Biden getting off so easy?

Public Education

A Baptist recently told me the problem with public schools is not a lack of funding but a lack of prayer.  Schools would be much better if the Supreme Court decisions of the 1960s were overturned.   

t think this Baptist does not know his denomination's history well since Baptists have traditionally been big supporters of the separation of church and state.  I know of Lutherans who also do not know much of their history, so I cannot be critical of this man.

Do you think schools are suffering because of a lack of prayer?

Who Speaks for the Church?

Should the public pay attention to the social statements of denominations or to the beliefs and behavior of church members?  They are often quite different.  

Large numbers of Roman Catholics behave differently from what their church advocates on issues like abortion and birth control and the same is true for many Protestants.

One of the big challenges in the current political environment is for clergy to have to decide whether to speak for their congregation or for their denomination.  There is often a big gap.

Immigration and LGBTQ Concerns

A Catholic nun recently asked for my opinion on whether people working on immigration concerns should get involved also with the immigration situation of a transgender person.  Many Catholics are liberal on justice issues but conservative on gender issues. I understand why the question was asked.

I said persons working on justice issues today need to be allies for all who are in danger.  We need to be equal opportunity advocates.

What advice would you have given the nun?

The Complexity of the Russia Investigation

The investigation centering on the 2016 election is not likely to end soon.  I read recently 20 people associated with the Trump campaign met with at least 23 different Russian entities or people.  This is news which has been released publicly.  We have no idea what additional information Special Prosecutor Mueller has learned and who else may be involved.  We slowly keep hearing more and more.

We cannot wait until the end of this investigation to attend to what needs to be done.  Other concerns cry for our attention.

Current Concerns in the Middle East

While most of America's international attention has been focused on Russia and North Korea, significant events are taking place in the middle East.  Christians in Egypt and other nearby countries continue to suffer,  Living conditions in the Gaza Strip and West Bank are not improving.  A major famine is growing on the Arabian peninsula and in East Africa.  Wars and genocides are common.

I hope you have a good way to get international news.  Many things are happening which are not covered in our national news.

Setting a Goal for a Fund Appeal

A major challenge for a capital campaign is deciding on a published goal.  If the goal is too low, people may not feel challenged to make a significant gift.  If the goal is too high, failure to reach the goal may be interpreted as a fund raising defeat.

Our Rooted and Growing leadership team is considering a number of factors in establishing our congregational goal.  If you are interested in working on this capital appeal, I encourage you to contact Beth Borstad who is chairing our effort.  Melissa French-Stephenson will assume more council responsibility during the campaign.

Sponsor a Stud

Habitat for Humanity is starting a new Sponsor a Stud campaign.  This program allows smaller groups like Sunday school classes or youth groups to decorate a stud which will be used later in a Habitat for Humanity house.

Habitat is struggling with an aging work force and fewer congregations able to sponsor a house financially.  Since the Great Recession, San Antonio congregational support of Habitat has been cut in half.

Jeanette Pierce is the San Antonio Lutheran Habitat coordinator.  She can answer questions for you.

First Baptist Church of Dallas

This large church in Dallas continues to be a bastion of fundamentalism and controversy.  Recently the senior pastor of this church said God would support an attack by President Trump on North Korea.  The Book of Romans (I am assuming chapter 13) was said to justify a horrific attack on North Korea.

This church gets coverage because it is large.  I have seen no mainline church leader advocating going to war under the current circumstances.

Size matters in our culture.  Because the ELCA does not have many large congregations in this part of the country, I do not expect to see the media pay much attention to us.

Be careful when church leaders quote one verse from another context to declare what God wants done today.  Revelation 13 offers a different perspective on empires than Romans 13.  A Bible study contrasting these two passages would be useful, especially if we move closer to war with North Korea.

Ask the Doc

My favorite workshop at the mental health conference was an opportunity for participants to ask anything of two well-known psychiatrists.  I realized many people in our culture are suffering from mental health issues and need a safe place to talk, including many people who attend church.

We were told about 30% of the population has a mental health issue in any given year, much of it undiagnosed.

Confederate Statue in Travis Park

As luck would have it, I had lunch next to this statue on the day before the protest about removing it.  I ate with a Presbyterian woman from Mississippi who was attending the mental health event and who felt deep pride in the confederacy.

Part of the challenge we face in removing these statues, associated with slavery and Jim Crow for many, is finding something else about the South for people to celebrate.

When you think of the South, what do you find more worthy of celebrating instead of the Civil War (or War Between the States as I was taught)?  

We cannot change history.  Slavery was a reality.  But can we reinterpret history and find something else for the South to be proud of? 

Adjustment Disorders

At the mental health conference, I asked a psychiatrist about adjustment disorders.  Not that many years ago, if a person wanted to get any kind of talk therapy, the person had to have a clinical diagnosis of a mental health issue for insurance companies to pay.  Consequently, people with minor issues were afraid of seeking help for fear of being labeled with a mental illness.  Adjustment disorder was often the diagnosis given in these situations to satisfy the insurance companies, even though the person may have just been under normal stress from typical life events and not experiencing any unusual symptoms usually associated with mental health issues.

As I noted a few months ago in this blog, part of our current drug problem in the country developed as people were afraid of being labeled with a mental illness and sought medications instead to solve their problems, or at least make them more tolerable.  We all need to continue to fight the stigma associated with a mental health diagnosis, also as a way to help with the current drug crisis.  We also need to establish safe ways for people to get help.  With all of the problems we are having these days with computer hacking, confidentailaity is getting harder to provide.

The Danger of Being a Good Samaritan These Days

I feel like I am hearing of more stories these days of people trying to help people in distress and ending up in deep trouble themselves.  I hope we do not stop trying to help accident victims or victims of crime because we might be in danger.  I wonder if we are having more problems with being good Samaritans or if the problems are being reported more.

The Symptoms of Clinical Depression

At the mental health conference I attended last week, I was told depression is a common diagnosis among the clergy.  Pastors have a much higher rate of clinical depression than most other professions.

Depression has been around for centuries and the best example of depression in the Bible is Elijah in 1 Kings 19, a text I have preached on several times.

We were told a person is probably clinically depressed if at least five of the following nine symptoms persist for two weeks or more:

1. feeling depressed or being irritable

2. lack of interest or pleasure in activities which used to bring pleasure

3. sleep problems

4. feeling guilty, especially among people of faith

5. fatigue

6. confusion or difficulty concentrating

7. changes in appetite either way

8. restlessness

9. thoughts of suicide

People of faith need to be reminded depression is an illness and not the result of personal sin or lack of faith.

If you would like more help with a mental health question, Pastor Heather and I can recommend resources.


"Why do preachers not use the pulpit as much as they used to?"

Communication styles change with the passage of time.  When I remember the old Walter Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley newscasts, the reporters were seated behind desks and never moved.  In those days, preachers never moved out of the pulpit either.

Today, reporters make reports standing up, seated in living room settings, walking around a newsroom, and in other settings doing a variety of things.  Pastors are imitating what people are used to seeing in the media.

I have been told extroverts tend to get out of the pulpit more and introverts tend to stay in the pulpit more.

Democracy v. Oligarchy

I am reading more articles saying the United States has become more of an oligarchy than a democracy.  An oligarchy is where a relatively small group of rich and influential people make most of the major decisions.

Does the United States feel like an oligarchy to you?

More Verbal Blog Feedback

Though I am getting fewer written responses to what I am writing here, several of you have told me orally you are reading what I write.  The feedback encourages me to keep going.

What topics would you like me to spend more time on and which topics do you not find helpful?  You can tell me orally if you wish.

2903 Nacogdoches Rd.     San Antonio, TX 78217    phone: 210-824-7135  fax: 210-826-5146