God is Talking to Republican Presidential Candidates Again.

Lots of candidates for President have told us God told them to run. I can’t even remember all of them now. I recall Michelle Bachmann was one.

All the candidates who claimed they heard  instructions from God to run for President were defeated. That has to mean 1.) they were lying and did not hear from God, 2.) God is not all powerful, cannot accomplish even the smallest of tasks, so therefore could not have created the universe or 3.) God plays games with people setting them up so he can humiliate them by making sure they lose.

Now, candidate, Ben Carlson, has joined those who have heard from God he should run for President. I predict others will get the same message from God.

To cut these candidates some slack, however, it should be mentioned it is very difficult to know when one has “heard from God.”  There is no universally agreed upon standard for what a voice from God sounds or looks like.

Things like this have been in a state of confusion since the beginning of the faith. It has never been made clear which events actually happened and which were visions or dreams.

The confusion even confounds Pat Robertson who thought God had told him Rommey would win the last election. He later said he must not have heard that from God after all.

It would refreshing if a Republican candidate would say, “I believe in God. I pray to God. But, I never really hear anything back from him.”



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When Christians Make Light of Themselves.

Last night I attended a charming performance of the famous musical, Guys and Dolls. It was an abbreviated version, done at a Junior High School in Rochester, Minnesota. A cast member was our Granddaughter, Mali.

The setting for Guys and Dolls, which premiered in 1950, is New York City.  This minimalist production had only a couple of building fronts and a door with the sign, SAVE A SOLE,  with a Christian cross. It was a skid row mission.

 Much of the story involves women in the mission trying to save the play’s Damon Runyon type characters from their moral downfalls, gambling and drinking. It amused me that in  1950 people, apparently Christians included, could laugh about considering gambling and drinking to be “sins” to be taken so seriously. I looked in Wikipedia and there is no mention of a Christian backlash, even though the play clearly made fun and did parody of a certain branch of Christianity.

It got me to wondering where else in the arts Christianity has been taken so lightly and Christians joined in the fun. The character, Harold Hill in The Music Man referred to the game of pool as the path to the downfall of youth. I don’t remember any reference to religion but what we would call today “values” were chuckled at.

What Christian issues taken very seriously today will be chuckled at by Christians themselves a few decades from now?

My guess is Christians will, in time, chuckle that gay marriage was once a sin.


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There Are the “Nones”, Then There are the “Dones”.

“They quit the church. Mostly, they don’t come back.”

These are the words of an analyst in the Baptist branch looking into declining church membership. He was referring, not to the young people, who are disinterested in church at twice the rate of their parents, but the parents themselves. An important group in the decline of denominations are people who have spent decades in church and, for one reason or another, stop.

The nonbelieving groups I have participated in are made up mostly of people past twenty years old. They are the “dones”.

The pace of change seems to increase. This may be an illusion since there has always been change to one degree or another. There can be no mistake, however, some kind of change is taking place in religion.

There are those who say this disinterest in church life in but a cycle that happens and then reverses. Countless columnists on the web say we need another Christian revival like happened decades ago. One can never say he knows the future, but a revival does not seem in the offing today.

For those who need a church down the block to fulfill their lives, I hope for you it will remain there. The number of church closing signal the make the odds somewhat in question.

The “nones” and the “dones” may have the last word.


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One Thing We Can Predict in the Faith, Splintering.

I remember being surprised years ago in adult Sunday School at First Presbyterian. A lay member had dug into the history of Presbyterianism and touched on its great events. Previously, I had no idea how many times down through the centuries different groups had splintered off.

This past decade we have seen quite a bit of splintering over the gay marriage issue. So far, the United Methodist denomination has not broken up.

There is an irony in this splitting off. The people who are so upset over issue A. or B. are VERY serious about their religious views. The result of all the splitting, however, is that many others can no longer take religion seriously because the splitting signals a chaotic brew of opinions without an ultimate truth.

My own view of human nature and social change is that splits of religious groups cannot help but continue. That is because social change must keep chugging along like it always has. Some people like the changes and some do not. Within a denomination it means some are fightin’ to leave the others.

Of course, the Christian people themselves don’t see the splintering in this way. They see it as following the letter or the intent of the Bible.

The link, written by the New York Times religious writer, even considers the potential for a schism in the Catholic Church. He is not recommending it, only pointing out that the unexpected often happens in religion.

Pope Francis is exhibit A.


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Mormons Need to Man Up.

One of my favorite writers on religion is Johanna Brooks. She was raised as a Mormon and has maintained an interest in it. She writes especially insightful articles about her church.  Where many look at their church and walk away entirely, she stays and fights.

She makes the case that Mormon hierarchy does not fully acknowledge the moral failings and false information of its history. Only very recently, for example, did it acknowledge, not on the front page of its website but on a back page by a non credentialed author, that among the many wives of Joseph Smith was a 14 year old girl. The church does not morally condemn Smith, but reflects on how much suffering his original wife went through.

The Mormon church has a theological governing board which seems much like the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. It is all male and once it draws a line in the sand it is difficult to erase it.

To this day, a divorced Mormon man can remarry with the full blessing of the church. A divorced woman cannot. As one would expect, the role of women in governance matters is almost nonexistent.

There is also the matter of racial segregation in its past. Like the Catholic Church refuses to completely acknowledge the Church was wrong in its dispute with Galileo, the Mormon hierarchy refused to acknowledge its past racism. They did so only when forced to during Mitt Romney’s Presidential campaign.

So much wrong to apologize for. So few apologies.


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The Christian Right’s Message: More Judgement is Needed.

A broad swath of the faith is appalled at the new view. This view is that there really is no sin and no hell. In other words, there is no judgment.

This focus on sin and its consequences is so ingrained in the mind of the conservative Christian, Catholic or Protestant, it cannot be pried loose with a crowbar. The faith to them is about sin and their own expertise at identifying it. It’s not about this soft and cuddly idea that by following certain steps one can be forgiven.

It is tough to make a business model out of hammering on sin. If the preacher/priest hammers away on sin, he/she will eventually be asked just what exactly constitutes a sin? Coming up with an answer when the collection plate needs money is not a good idea.

A woman who lives on a farm near a small Iowa town told us her Methodist church is now running in the red to the tune of $1,100 dollars a month. With the recent higher farm prices there are enough young people in the community, often children of the members, to support the church. They have no interest.

I would guess those young people have no interest in hearing about sin. Especially, they are not interested in hearing things they think are fine being called sin, either by preachers or by fellow members.

By not accommodating cohabitation, gay marriage, skepticism about miracles and rejection of hell, the church has an uphill climb.


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Muslim Prayers in the National Cathedral.

The National Cathedral in Washington, DC, is a religious place where various events that involve our government or its politics play out. Presidential funerals are held there. President W. Bush appeared there following 9/11.

Besides being a tourist stop, the National Cathedral is an Episcopalian church. An Episcopalian congregation gathers there every Sunday.

My friend, Avrahaum Segol, has done a lot of research as to how the National Cathedral came to be a close buddy of our national government. Avrahaum is a Jew and objects to the place the Protestant Christian Cathedral plays in our national life. He makes a good point.

Originally, what is now the Cathedral was not supposed to have been a church at all. When George Washington was working on the project to move the nation’s capitol from New York City to Washington, he included in the plans a meeting house. It was to be a place where citizens could discuss various views and work out their differences. The original plan, developed by Charles L’Enfant, included such a building.

Ultimately, there was not money for President Washington’s idea. The Episcopalians came along and said, “We have money to put up a building with the same intent as President Washington had in mind.”

The other day, Muslims held prayers in the Cathedral. I would guess Native Americans have held religious events there. Now, some Episcopalians are acting like their church has been soiled.

If it is going to be called a “National Cathedral”, American citizens who are Muslims should pray there.


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Why People Don’t Believe the Gospel.

What is surprising to me is how little those who do believe understand those who do not. I’ve seen several explanations of why some do not believe. The explanations from believers are always about why they believe, not why others do not.

I’ve attached such a list. He lists things such as that nonbelievers do not study the Bible closely enough. This is contrary to surveys in which nonbelievers claim they study the Bible more than believers claim they do. I recall seeing Bible quiz results where nonbelievers do better on average than believers.

The ten reasons he gives for why some do not believe focus on three things, nonbelievers do not understand, they don’t like Christians and find the gospels simply too far out there to believe.  Only the last one is valid.

That nonbelievers find the gospel to far out to believe could be stated more accurately. It is that when a person applies the same standard for believability she applies to information in everyday life, the Bible does rise high enough to qualify.

The other two reasons, that nonbelievers have not read the Bible or dislike Christians, would by set aside if it were possible to believe in the magic that is presented as truth by the faith.

If people do not take the Bible stories seriously, they will not acknowledge the concept of sin nor the fear of hell. The entire case is lost.


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Some Thoughts About Housing.

Demographically, where we live influences the values we acquire. To some degree, I’m sure we also tend to live in places that fit our beliefs and values.

Lots of low income folks in cities used to be crammed into “boarding houses” or “rooming houses.” It was a way to pack lots of revenue into a small space. When we first moved to Fargo in 1968 there were still lots of such places above downtown stores left over from the railroad days.  They were called hotels but would have been rooming houses elsewhere.

Stricter fire and building codes left behind that kind of inexpensive housing. I resisted some of these code improvements when I was a Mayor.  Incomes have risen so perhaps  more expensive housing has worked has worked until recently.

It seems to me, however, that the benefits of these codes became worth less and less to the consumer and cost more and more. Now we have a growing lower class trying to live in housing that is safer but less affordable.

That’s why people are moving in with each other. Recently going door to door campaigning I learned how many apparently single people are packed into the same house or apartment.

It seems inevitable to me that this variety of housing arrangements will play or has played some role in the political thinking about what constitutes an orthodox household. It is less a husband and wife and children with a back yard.

Perhaps this postmodernism and variety in housing arrangements influences peoples acceptance of other different views on gender, race and religion.


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As The Middle Class Gets Smaller, So Does the Church.

Those in the pews must like what they hear from the pulpit or they don’t put money in the collection plate. That is, they leave for another church they like better. In this way, those in the pews determine what is preached from the pulpit.

The economics of religion begin even before the opening hymn, however. The target audience for the sermon must be one with discretionary income. If that population gets smaller, the number of believers declines as well.

Articles have appeared recently showing the church is doing better among college graduates than among high school graduates and lesser educated. This is an inevitable result of start-up churches with big parking lots being carved out in affluent neighborhoods.

Christians often refer to their religion as a rebellious one, a group that defies authority. It is true there as aspects of this in its history. And, there are many different brands of the faith. Its leadership, however, from its Popes to Martin Luther carried a big sign around their necks, THE ESTABLISHMENT.

As income distribution has become increasingly less equal, the number of people joining and attending churches has declined. The church cannot make a living on the small number of wealthy people. Poor people have neither the time or money for it. The church’s source of revenue, the middle class, is getting smaller.

If the church is serious about spreading its word, it should support the politics of a growing, instead of declining, middle class.


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