Reflecting on Franklin Graham’s “Listen Up” Comments, Sojourner’s Open Letter, and the Reaction

I’m trying to think through this Franklin Graham situation that’s been filling my news feed and has been on mind for about a week now. In response to his comments was this Open Letter to Graham and now there’s reaction. I too, have a reaction.  And I hope it’s Christian, charitable and best-case, adds perspective and is on the side of peace-making.

In short, I feel that Graham missed an opportunity to contribute positively and for many, he worsened an already troubled situation. He is such a recognized figure in evangelical Christianity and I feel the need to begin at the obvious but still needs to be said, his Facebook statement is not a sufficient representation of all evangelicals, like me and many I know.

At the same time, I am not trying to throw Franklin Graham under the bus. What he said was not scandalous; it was short on mercy. When considering the scope of his platform and our cultural tension, it’s fair to say this lacked the necessary discernment and consideration. In addition to what Franklin said is the social media reaction of supporting Graham. Among them are those I regard as friends and/or have respect for. Again, I’m not looking for Graham to be punished or vilified, nor am I out to shame friends but I am taken back by all the “I stand/agree with Franklin” appearing on my various feeds.

From my perspective, this is part of the culture-war that in short, is a no-win situation for any side. I do think at the very least, Graham could acknowledge the insensitivity made in his comments (one can still regard him as a man of God and also say he over-generalized, more on that below).

As I have stressed in previous posts (like “Love Your Officer As You Love Your Protester and…”), I am among the many who are grateful for the brave men and women who serve in our police forces. I am also advocating for justice and the upholding of the American laws we have (like unnecessary use of force, innocent until proven guilty, fair-trials, just punishment, etc). This said, I feel a misunderstanding as it relates to justice-seekers: We/they are not trying to making criminal activity more convenient, but rather we are passionate/committed in making society fair, safe and just for everyone.

I know these conversations are in the public square, I know many are saddened when a believer critiques another and so on. And while no one person can speak out on each and every issue, I feel compelled to continue to contribute to our cultural conversation on race and justice.

If you are still catching up to what Franklin Graham said, this is what he wrote on his Facebook page:


Franklin Graham post

Then an Open-Letter to Franklin:

“… Frankly, Rev. Graham, your insistence that “Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else” “Listen up,” was crude, insensitive, and paternalistic. Your comments betrayed the confidence that your brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those of color, have afforded your father’s ministry for decades. Your instructions oversimplified a complex and critical problem facing the nation and minimized the testimonies and wisdom of people of color and experts of every hue, including six police commissioners that served on the president’s task force on policing reform.

In the nadir of your commentary, you tell everyone to “OBEY” any instruction from authorities and suggest that the recent shootings of unarmed citizens “might have been avoided” if the victims had submitted to authority.

And you bluntly insist, “It’s as simple as that.”

It is not that simple … ” Please consider reading the rest here.

A few things:

Part of me wants to critique the various aspects of Graham’s statement (like entering any tense conversation with the words, “Listen up!”) and the follow-up letter but I’m going to attempt to take a big-pciture perspective here.

While I am not crazy about the Open-Letter concept, as it is often over-used for the sole purpose of shaming, it actually feels appropriate in this case. Further, I recognize majority of the signers and regard them as God-honoring believers seeking to build the Kingdom of Jesus. Some will dismiss them as “liberal;” do so at your own peril. Just as I see the culture war as a poor investment in Kingdom energy, I also see these generalizations of conservative, liberal, right-wing, left-wing, etc. as generally unfruitful. The Kingdom of God is too big to limit our attention to only certain believers of specific tribes. Let us not shrink the Kingdom by categorically dismissing one another. [Read more…]

Those Who Live By the Sword Will Die by the Sword – Confrontation, Mercy, Enemies – Lent 2015 Reflections

Summarizing previously we cannot say we are people of mercy and allow our enemies/oppressors to persecute the defenseless. Can one really use force and mercy simultaneously? Is there really a such thing as “merciful force?” What would that really be? A punch that doesn’t hurt too much? Sounds ineffective. More on that in a little bit. But first, I want to continue processing this idea of mercy for our enemies and mercy for our friends.

Most of my thinking has centered on the Farewell Discourse (Jn. 13-17) and shortly after is this really amazing (and somewhat comical) scene in Matthew’s Gospel when Peter pulls out his sword and swings wildly and ends up slicing off an ear of one of the high priest’s servants. Just before Jesus heals the ear of the servant, he tells Peter, to put the sword away, “As those who live by the sword, die by the sword” (Slightly different response in John’s Gospel).

Though I am not a pacifist, I respect and admire many of them. I really do. In the big picture, they are a welcomed conscience. While I do believe there is a place for force, I do not believe that force will ultimately give the victory. But this verse is often cited tritely as a Jesus slam dunk stating that force is never to be used. After all, those who live by the sword, die by the sword.

Like with any position, there are various degrees and nuances to be found; pacifism would be an obvious example. “My frustration with “live by the sword, die by the sword” is the claim if we don’t use force, we’ll have peace. It’s just not true.” Even in this case, Peter puts down his sword. Later he will still be executed by “the sword” (church history tells us he was crucified).

Is Jesus wrong? It seems that those who live by the sword, die by the sword and those that do not live by the sword, still die by the sword.

A few things here. Though Jesus is likely implying that this is a macro-truth, he is speaking into a very specific situation. Further, it is very likely that he is saving Peter’s life that night. Thus Peter is saved in different ways that weekend. And lastly, Jesus knows he must be arrested that night. As John describes it, this is the cup he must drink from. 

But Jesus is not promising Peter any type of safety. Nor is this any basis for any foreign policy, or a Jedi-mind trick (“They let you live if you put that away”). If anything it’s a confirmation of the coming persecution and the tradition of martyrdom. But what Jesus is also telling Peter (and to all those that believe in the power of might/force) is that there is a power greater than the sword. Jesus conquering the grave and being raised to life again will demonstrate that. It’s almost like you can hear him saying “You have heard it said, that he who has the most swords has the control but I tell you, in me, there is a power greater than any sword.”

And here’s where I think some of my pacifist friends and I can agree. The themes of this power include peace, love, mercy, restraint, and forgiveness. Where we might differ is that I still believe there is a place for force, or at least the demonstration of the potential of it. And in the next post, I’d like to make the case that Jesus thinks so too.

Mercy For Our Neighbors, Mercy For Our Enemies – Lenten 2015 Reflections

My word this Lent is mercy (context is in previous post) and I’ve been trying to process what that means.

In doing so, the logical place to begin is to consider how mercy has been shown to me (and you). But I don’t feel like starting there. Perhaps the second worthy thought would be to consider who around us needs to be shown mercy. I’m drawn to that, confident I’ll get there soon but I’d really like to cut straight to the chase and ask, how do we show mercy to those, to say it politely, we’d rather not? To remove the etiquette – How do we show mercy to those that hate us, despise us, work towards our pain and destruction? Or as it’s often put, how do we show mercy to our enemies?

The problem of Isis and Boko Haram and the countless others who mean harm to you, me, countless others needs [Read more…]

My Word is Mercy – Lenten 2015 Reflections

Many of us at Grace Chapel have been connecting with different aspects of our Lenten series “At the Table” which is a look at the Farewell Discourse of Jesus from John 13-17. As part of this year’s Lent, we’ve encouraged everyone to gather and process this together for 5 consecutive weeks. As in give up isolation and schedule and add community and friendship. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to gather for 5 consecutive weeks but it’s often at or during the third one, you start experiencing the fruit of such an effort.

We’ve created some short in-house videos to take a look at aspects of respective chapters and serve as a conversation starter. Last week’s teacher was Dana Baker, who is our East Lexington Campus Pastor. She took us through what Jesus was saying about abiding and how Jesus prepares a place for you. Then towards the conclusion, she encouraged us to discern what one word was coming to mind in all this. Dana mentioned that one of our former pastors, Cynthia Fantasia, would keep a word and mediate on it for the year. And so, Dana’s word this year is “trust.” A very good one. I nodded my head.

The next thought I had after nodding my head was “Only one word for a year??” Are you kidding? I’d be content [Read more…]

The 21 Copts, Evil, & Forgiveness – Lenten 2015 Reflections

I still have not found the words to post on the brutal deaths of the 21 Coptic Christians (I literally have 4 lengthy drafts that have been emotionally cathartic, way too angry, and hardly appropriate for sharing).

I find myself angry that people are killed, profiled, or treated unfairly based on ideology, ethnicity, or some other arbitrary reason. The persecutor may use justifications from religion, some type of national/tribal history, or draw from a certain set of their own felt persecutions that they believe allows them to act in vengeance. I’m over-symplyfing but the main reason for their evil action is to either create or maintain power.

Last year, my Lent was informed by the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. To me, that incident represents the tragic nature of life that we cannot control. Despite our advancements, humanity will always be limited and vulnerable to death. Processing that last year also included the nature of disease, the victims of the evil-doers who traffic, manipulate, attack, conceal and murder and all who grieve the loss of life, love or freedom. I believe Jesus came to end all this and give us something better. 

This Lent, I am processing these 21 Copts, the nature of persecution and the different types of martyrs in [Read more…]

Review of Christ Plays in a Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson

I recently finished reading Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson and I find myself with the same feeling after watching one of the Lord of the Rings films, “That was bigger than I thought it could be.” I’ll get to why in a moment but a bit about the author. Eugene Peterson is regarded as one of our modern day church fathers (I’d add N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard and Richard Rohr to that conversation but that’s for another day).

A quick overview from the publisher:

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places reunites spirituality and theology in a cultural context where these two vital facets of Christian faith have been rent asunder. Lamenting the vacuous, often pagan nature of contemporary American spirituality, Eugene Peterson here firmly grounds spirituality once more in Trinitarian theology and offers a clear, practical statement of what it means to actually live out the Christian life. Writing in the conversational style that he is well known for, Peterson boldly sweeps out the misunderstandings that clutter conversations on spiritual theology and refurnishes the subject only with what is essential. As Peterson shows, spiritual theology, in order to be at once biblical and meaningful, must remain sensitive to ordinary life, present the Christian gospel, follow the narrative of Scripture, and be rooted in the fear of the Lord – in short, spiritual theology must be about God and not about us. The foundational book in a five-volume series on spiritual theology emerging from Petersons pen, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places provides the conceptual and directional help we all need to live the Christian gospel well and maturely in the conditions that prevail in the church and world today.

What makes Peterson special? Great writers have a way of making difficult concepts relatable. Peterson, who gave us “The Message” translation, may be among the best at this. I would not say that Peterson makes things simple, but instead relatable. He brings you in, invites you to sit down, encourages you to take a bite, asks you “What do you think?” You probably haven’t thought of it in this way before.  [Read more…]

Why Did Judas Take the Bread?

I gave the message this past Sunday on the rich passage of John 13. It was entitled “Loyalty Tests and Dirty Feet” (you can listen/watch it here) and it’s the familiar scene of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples during their meal on the week of Passover. This is the night where he gives the “Farewell Discourse” (John 13-17) and shortly after will be praying in the garden where he will be arrested. This is the night that Peter will deny Jesus three times, the other disciples will also disappear and this is the night that Judas will forever be known as the betrayer of Jesus.

As you read the Gospels, Jesus keeps trying to prepare the disciples that this is coming. But it’s unimaginable to them. They know Jesus is a “spiritual guy” but they cannot get past the idea that this Kingdom he keeps talking about is not an earthy kingdom. I mean, who wants a spiritual kingdom?

One of the moments that has gripped me is after Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, he tells them that one [Read more…]

Ash Wednesday: 5 Quick Thoughts on Lent (Reposted)

Some quick thoughts for this new Lenten season:

1. Lent is about preparing our hearts for the journey of Easter.
It includes themes like brokeness, redemption, self-denial, forgiveness, death and life and many more. I have found that if focus on only one of these themes and neglect others that I miss out on part of the goodness Lent can offer. A Lenten journey that covers a lot of ground is the way to go.

2. Whatever you do, don’t become a legalist.
What to give up, what to add, which devotional, how much do I say or not say to my right  [Read more…]

My Review of Flipped by Doug Pagitt

Doug Pagitt is releasing his new book Flipped this Tuesday and I hope you check it out. I was able to obtain a pre-release (without any promise/payment of a review/endorsement). Like with any pre-release I try to get my hands on, I was hoping I would like it, but with high expectations sometimes comes disappointment. In this case, I’m happy to say Flipped delivered and I really liked it.

The basic premise (from Author/Publisher):

“We all have stories in our heads about God, humanity, life, and the meaning of it all. One of the most common—and misleading—stories is “If I’m faithful in doing this, then God promises to do that.” Jesus didn’t believe it and neither should you. God does not insist that you play by the rules before he will respond to you. A careful reading of the Bible will free all of us from trying to make a deal with God, inviting us instead to live in God.”

And a thought from Doug:

[Read more…]

Brian Williams, Preaching, and “Everyone Loves a Good Story”

Brian Williams is the cautionary tale of the week. As you probably know, he’s taken himself off the air and has admitted to being untruthful in his accounts such as his helicopter being shot down while he was covering the war in Iraq. Many of his other stories are now under suspicion as well and it’s likely going to be a long year for him. And of course, when you are found out today, you get made fun all over cable and flogged on social media.

There’s a lot in this story for me. One his actions represent to me why we cannot take the media to be a reliable source of information and truth. At best, it’s a system of partial half-truths. The news business is compromised with its competition for ratings, advertising dollars, reputations, status and more. In a world uncontrolled by business and status, could we get better news? I believe so but the question still remains, how well we can actually know something?

This of course sends me back to the posts from last week, “I don’t know what to believe” from the significant to the trivial, to current events, to the spiritual, etc. I used to think if I just had the right data, I could arrive to reliable conclusions. If I applied the right hermeneutics, and prayed just enough, I could understand this particular passage of Scripture. The experience of life has taught me (and probably you), that this is not a reliable strategy and being Spirit-led is more for the journey than the occasion. 

Back in college, there was this guest preacher who came and gave these messages filled with some amazing stories. On this particular night following the chapel service, the campus pastor invited me [Read more…]