Life After Elections

Friends, I have voted. It is a precious opportunity we never miss. And tomorrow, I want you all to know that I will STILL be your neighbor and fellow countryman. I will still do all in my might for good.

Vickie and I watched Henry Louis Gates’ series “Finding Your Roots” recently. In 2021 he did a show for singer and music producer Pharrell Williams. As he discovered the pain of his slavery past he was emotionally overwhelmed.

Then he said something that knocked me over. “I love America. I just want America to love me back.” That was a powerful insight. We are a country that has been filled with glorious and terrible truths. But we keep stumbling along.

That comment touched me. I want, I wish, I hope, I pray…that we can “love each other back.” That might be a way through. We have so much to be grateful for, so much possibility, such prosperity. But it will lie unrealized unless we love each other back.

See you tomorrow. Come what may.

Waiting to vote, 7 am

Writing Together

For over thirty years, I have been part of an extraordinary community of theological friends. In our careers we were pastors, missionaries, seminary and college professors, and a university president. All of us were productive writers and thinkers and published individually a great deal over the years.

We began coming together during the time that the Southern Baptist Convention was imploding over politics and theological disagreement in the 1980s. It was formed with three members and they soon began to invite the rest of us to join . This group became a wonderful place of freedom and fellowship. We found that we were able to voice any thought without judgment and have it tested by our colleagues and friends, sometimes quite intensively.

The Trinity group (some of us) in my home, many years ago. From left to right, Philip Wise, Paul Robertson, Paul Basden, me, Fisher Humphreys (seated), Dwight Moody (standing), Rick Wilson (seated).

As the years went on the group became more and more weighted toward deep friendship as we walked through losses, job crises, and suffering together. One of the founding members of our group passed away at age 60, but we have continued to meet for most of that time, twice a year and during Covid continued over Zoom because our relationships were a sustaining reality for us. But also we grew theologically by the instrument of mind sharpening mind.

It kept me alive as a pastor, made me read books I otherwise would not have known, and expanded my thinking which, I am certain, benefitted my congregations and listeners in various settings. There is something unavoidable in the statement of Jesus that “where two or more are gathered, there am I among them.” In the broadest sense, part of the defect of current Christian life is our compartmentalized and self-reinforcing orthodoxies that gather according to sameness and agreement rather than for genuine growth and maturity (which comes only through testing). Churches today look too much alike, conformed by politics, culture and a longing for security from the world instead of a fearless love for that world.

We do not agree with each other on many things theologically, but we are all Christians in our confession and the one unifying factor is that everyone in the group has a PhD degree and is a theologian by calling. We have also most interestingly published some books together.

The first one was at the time of the death of our founder and friend, Philip Wise, and it is called For Faith and Friendship.  (Fisher Humphreys, T. J. Mashburn, Richard F. Wilson, Editors.  Covington, Louisiana:  Insight Press, 2010). It is a collection of essays on a wide variety of topics.

We so enjoyed the effort that some years later we worked together again with a book entitled, Encountering God in the Prayers of Others Paul Basden, Editor. Cleveland, Tennessee: Parson’s Porch Books, 2014). Each of us wrote several chapters reflecting on a written prayer from Christian history that had become meaningful to us in our spiritual lives. It is a wonderful book and the chapters of other members blessed me as much as I hope mine blessed those who read it.

Most recently, we had conversation with Pat Anderson, the wonderful editor of Christian ethics. Today, one of our members, Dr. Fisher Humphreys is on the board of CET and pitched the idea of our group writing an entire issue of the journal and Pat immediately accepted. We had also done this once earlier when we did an entire issue of The Theological Educator (Spring 1998 No. 57) on the theme of theology for the church. My article there was “Intersections of Grace: Theology and Pastoral Care in the Local Parish,” about the importance of theology for doing the work of pastoral care in ministry with integrity.

My own article in this issue is entitled, “Bridge Builders: Turning the Wedges in a World of Division.” It is an expansion of a sermon that I also shared as a commencement address at Samford University last December about the peril of division and the work of reconciliation for Christians, in this divisive time.

I have listed below the other titles in the issue and I would invite all of my readers, to take a moment, to go to the link, and become a subscriber. If you wish, there is no charge for either the online or receiving Christian ethics today, it’s always worth reading.

Sometimes CET will outrage you but it will always challenge your thinking. I hope you’ll go to the link and read mine and the other articles and thanks for being my readers. I would hope many Christian people would seek out the opportunity to grow through fellowship and gatherings that do not merely reinforce what we always think but by helping us to think more clearly, honestly, faithfully and humbly.

READ the issue free (click the link)

Introduction to the Trinity Group By Fisher Humphreys
The Dangers of Christian Nationalism
By Paul Basden
Afghan Refugees and The Honor Deficit
By Gerald Wright and Grayson Beemus
Bridge Builders: Turning the Wedges in a World of Division
By Gary Furr
A Christian Understanding of Punishment
By Fisher Humphreys
Approaches to Religious Dialogue (with Cautions)
By Richard Francis Wilson
Seeking and Speaking the Truth: Descartes, the Kung San Tribe, and Readers of Christian
Ethics Today
By T. J. Mashburn
Eating That Gospel Pie: Religious Rhetoric in the Songs of John Prine
By Dwight A. Moody
When Life Takes Your Song
By Roger Sullivan
Hospital Visits: A Primer
By Paul Robertson
Practicing Hospitality
By LaMon Brown

Responsibility, Freedom and Uvalde

It’s incomprehensible that 325 million people can’t figure out how to keep their 18-year-old males from killing us and our children and grandchildren. We will hear a barrage of excuses, arguments, high-minded rationalizations and fatuous fears in the days ahead. I am feeling the despair I had after the massacre of babies that happened at Sandy Hook. We will pit gun rights versus safety for children, argue about paranoid conspiracy theories and generally avoid doing anything. Because that’s how we’ve turned away from the crisis.

Here’s the deal for me. You let an 18-year-old stroll in and buy body armor, unlimited ammunition, and long guns designed to kill masses of people legally. Now, would not let a five-year-old do the same. Guns are already regulated. We just debate how. You can’t buy nuclear bombs legally or bazookas or hellfire drones, so we’re simply dithering about the line.

To me, regulation and freedom cannot be separated because it is really about responsibility and freedom. Freedom can only be entrusted to people responsible enough to have it. You have to prove you’re responsible enough to borrow money to buy a house, drive a car and fly a plane. Politically we simply decide how hard or easy that is.

Cars don’t kill people, people in cars do. But we still require that you take Driver’s Ed to know what your’re doing, understand the laws, demonstrate ability to handle it and have insurance to cover liability for it. You can’t drive drunk or you will go to jail. Yes, people can ignore the law, but at least the police have the teeth to get you off the road.

When any 18-year-old male (I haven’t noticed masses of 18-year-old women doing many of these killings) strolls into a gun store and buys these weapons, I’d say red flags should go up. What to do? Ban or limit the purchases of mass-killing weapons? Limit ammo? Strengthen enforcement? Universal registration? Raise the age of ownership or put limits on it? There are hundreds of ideas out there. What isn’t out there is real leadership that refuses to do nothing yet again.

This isn’t insanity. It’s cynical and cowardly calculation. The people who can deal with this won’t. And we put up with it. And that’s it in a nutshell.

The funerals in Buffalo aren’t even finished. And now we have to bury teachers and sweet children and grandchildren. The right to life counts, too. I believe in the right to own a weapon. But I also believe in the requirement that you be responsible enough to operate it safely, with training and accountability and liability that goes with it. Until we come to terms with that, we’ll just continue offering lamentations and grief and sit helplessly by in the richest and most powerful nation on earth and wring our hands helplessly and tell our children, “That’s just the way it is.” Otherwise, Senators and Representatives, and governors and mayors and state representatives, do something new. This isn’t working.