November 2009


This has been a long day, full of walking from the top of the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane, from the Dung Gate and Temple Mount through the Old City to Mount Zion. The sites seen along the way are almost overwhelming in their spiritual power, not to mention the way that they showcase the demonstration of Christians’ devotion to our Lord.

The day started in front the Seven Arches Hotel (where I stayed during my last trip in 1998) which sits on the top of the Mount of Olives. We took a group photo of the 28 people on our bus with the Old City spread out behind us. From there we walked the Palm Sunday road down the mountain, stopping to meditate in the largest Jewish cemetery in the world where over 65,000 Jews from across the centuries and around the world have been buried in the belief that when the Messiah comes and raises the dead, those on Olivet will be the first to rise. Continuing on down we stopped at the Dominus Flevit church, and then the rest of the way down to Gethsemane. As we walked, we could see the walls of the Old City, and the Golden Gate, walled up by Saladin in the belief that doing so would prevent Jesus’ second coming, which tradition says is supposed to involved entering Jerusalem through that gate. (There’s also a Muslim cemetery across the entire hill in front of the gate, beause the thinking is that Jesus would be prohibited from passing through a burial ground.)

Gethsemane, both because of the events that happened there and as one of the indisputably authentic sites of events in Jesus’ life, is an awe-inspiring place. The Romans destroyed much of the olive grove that made up the garden during the Jewish War of 67-70 AD, but left eight trees standing as a reminder of the havoc that they had wrecked and would wreck upon anyone who tried to stand against them. Those eight trees, now over 2200 years old, still live in Gethsemane, testimonies to the Man whose agonized prayer they witnessed so long ago. It is a peaceful place, and yet one whose tenor is conveyed by the Church of All Nations that stands next to it. Also called the Basilica of the Agony, it may be the finest piece of church architecture I’ve ever seen for evoking a particular mood. The stained glass is dark and foreboding, and the shadows and play of what light there is in the nave outside the altar area makes for a powerfully meditative place to contemplate the sins of ours that sent our Savior to the cross.

After Gethsemane we were taken by bus to the Dung Gate and the Davidson Center, which was built in 2002 as a museum of the remarkable excavations that have been done outside and around the Temple Mount. Among the things that have been uncovered are the “teaching steps” leading up into the Temple complex, which may well have been where Jesus was found by His parents at the age of 12; and the Second Temple level of masonry underneath the Al Aqsa mosque, which gives a graphic picture of how much has been built on top of the Temple destroyed by Titus in 70 AD. These excavations and others still on-going have been the subject of much conflict between Israelis and Muslims, who are convinced that the work is part of a plot to sabotage the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques. I’ve long thought from afar that this was a paranoid fantasy, and nothing I saw today has changed my mind—quite the contrary, they simply reinforce my view that the real reason for Muslim opposition is that they fear anything that will undermine the ridiculous claims some trot out from time to time that Jews have no historic connection to Jerusalem or indeed to any of Israel.

After this it was but a short walk to the Western Wall. I suppose it goes without saying that this is an enormously meaningful place for me as it is for any Jew—it is, for us, at the very heart of our identity as a people. Even as a believer in Yeshua as Israel’s Messiah, the last remnant of our Temple holds a dear place in my heart, and this time it was even more special. Before leaving, I received prayer requests from members of The Cove, each of which I prayed over at the Wall. Then, in accordance with an old Jewish custom, I placed the pieces of paper on which these and my own prayers were written in a crevice in the Wall. The Jewish belief is that since the destruction of the Temple and the Holy of Holies, the Shekinah glory of the Lord that formerly dwelt there has now moved to the Wall, so that prayers offered at the Wall are brought before Him with great urgency. Whether one holds to this belief or not, the privilege that a Jew experiences by praying at the Wall are inexpressible.

There’s more to tell of this day, but it will have to wait a little more. More shortly.

Today was a miscellany—archeology at Beth She’an, Palestinian life in Jericho, and a mob at Bethlehem. I’ll start with the archeology.

Bet She’an is the largest site in the country, a Roman city in which up to 40,000 people lived, one that came to an abrupt end after a devastating earthquake in the early 8th century AD. Among the buildings that have been excavated are the hippodrome at which the Romans raced horses and chariots, the theater where the put on spectacles of various kinds and which is still used for concerts and plays in the summers, public baths, private homes, and a pedestrian mall where merchants hawked wears of all sorts. One of the most interesting things about this place is that a lot of the elements of fallen structures have been uncovered and left in the position they dropped to in the earthquake, so that, for instance, we saw columns that had split into several pieces resting on the ground and one another just as they would have been seen by any survivor immediately after the ground stopped shaking. The folks I’m traveling with absolutely loved wandering around this old city, and raved about the context that it provided them for the times, and pagan culture, that the early Christians were immersed in once the gospel moved out of its native Jewish soil into the Gentile world.

From there we traveled south down the King’s Highway route to Jericho. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly one moves from a green and productive countryside to one that is among the starkest and most…silent in the entire world. The Judean wilderness, in which Jericho is situated in the midst of an oasis near the Dead Sea, is brown and hilly, with vegetation only rarely seen. One has no problem at all seeing Jesus being tempted by the devil in this lonely place, where in His day it would have been rare to see another human being unless one stuck to the main road through the region.

Jericho was a disappointment, and the places different from my previous trips. We made three stops, the first at a 2000+ year-old sycamore tree associated with the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus. This is one of those traditional sites that is also plausible, in that it meets at least some of the circumstances of a given event (in this case, the tree is certainly old enough to have been Zacchaeus’ perch, and it is in Jericho—beyond that, who knows?). This was our first encounter both with the “one American dollar” postcard and rosary salesmen and begging children. The latter, for reasons none of us can figure out, seem to make a beeline for me and then stick like glue despite my efforts to discourage them. It breaks my heart to do so—I’d like to take them all home with me and give them the kind of life they are unlikely to ever have in the Palestinian territories. But discourage them I must, because to give in to one’s instincts in this case could be positively dangerous, by encouraging more and more of them to surround not only me but my fellow travelers with kids whose dissatisfaction with the response can and has on occasion turned ugly toward past pilgrims. The second site was something referred to as “Elisha’s stream” that evidently is and has been for centuries a primary source of water for the area, but which really wasn’t interesting in any way that any of us could identify (the uninformative guide didn’t help—he temporarily replaced our Jewish Israeli guide outside of the town, which as Palestinian Authority territory is closed to Israeli Jews). Finally, we stopped at the largest pottery and glass outlet in the area, which features some of the most beautiful merchandise in the region.

Finally, from the 1100 feet below sea level of Jericho we made our way to Jerusalem, which is 3200 feet above sea level. We passed through the city, going past the Mount of Olives and the Old City, among other things, and headed on to Bethlehem. After lunch we went to the Church of the Nativity, traditional site of the birth of Jesus. Originally built at the instigation of Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, it has a fascinating and sometimes bizarre history, exemplified by the fact that the only door into or out of the main building is only four feet tall and three feet wide, a measure brought about by the walling up of the larger doors to prevent the stabling of horses and other animals in the church, something that had been done in a deliberate act of desecration by the army of the Muslim general Saladin after his triumph over the Crusaders.

We waited for what seemed forever to get down to the grotto (or cave) below the main sanctuary, a small area that has what is traditionally accounted as the manger in which Jesus was laid following His birth, which is marked by a gold star on the floor a few feet away from the manger. Regardless of whether one considers this site authentic (I’m doubtful, while one member of our group was quite certain that it is based on the spiritual feel of the place), it is a powerful reminder of the Incarnation. I especially found myself struck by one large icon on the wall near the entrance to the grotto, a Madonna and Child that was unusual in that Mary is smiling, a relatively rare occurrence in Orthodox iconography that seemed particularly appropriate for the occasion being commemorated.

We started out early this morning, hitting the Sea of Galilee by 7:30 am. The waters of the lake were kind of choppy—nothing like the storm that Jesus calmed that the disciples thought was going to sink them, but enough to give one a feel for what fisherman regularly experience. It was calm, and peaceful, even worshipful, helped by Susan Service as she led us in the singing of several songs of praise to the Lord. One thing I have to mention was when our bus captain, a United Methodist pastor from Florida named Thom, started his introduction of the Scripture reading that we did in the middle of the lake by saying, “Yesterday we found ourselves in several places where Jesus walked. To which I, naturally, responded, “Just like this one.”

From the dock at Tiberius we headed to the Mount of Beatitudes, which has changed quite a bit since my last trip. In 1998, there was a monastery house for the Franciscans (who staff the church) and the Church of the Beatitudes. In the intervening years they’ve built a guest house that is used for retreats. There is also a great deal more agricultural activity on the mount, with what had been a grassy hill leading down to the lake now covered by a variety of crops. It is still a beautiful site, green and meditative, though it is now a little bit more difficult to picture Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount in the theater-like setting that was clearly visible before the planting.

Our next two stops were a pair of churches associated with two events that happened around the northern shore of the lake, even if not at the exact spots. The Church of the Multiplication commemorates the feeding of the five thousand, and contains one of the best known and most recognizable features of any religious site in the country, a mosaic of the loaves and fishes that dates from the early Byzantine era. Unfortunately, it seems another monastic order—in this case, Benedictines—have built a new church on the site of the former Crusader building that allowed one to get a close look at the mosaic, which is now roped off and must be viewed at a distance.

In contrast, the Church of St. Peter’s Primacy is still as I remember it. A late 19th century Franciscan building, it commemorates the episode in John 21 in which Jesus asks Peter three times if the latter loved Him, with Jesus in response telling Peter to feed His sheep. Folks here didn’t spend much time in the church, however, because it is built quite close to the lake, and so just about everyone went down to the shore and, in some instances, took off their shoes and socks and got in the water. It’s as though it was one thing to sail out on the Sea, but another to actually get your feet wet.

We still had two other places to go before lunch. The first was the Ancient Galilee Center, which is primarily the facility housing the  2000-year-old boat. If you haven’t heard of this, it’s a fascinating thing, one of the most remarkable archaeological finds of recent years. In the early 1990s, a pair of Galilean fishermen who also happened to be amateur archaeologists found something completely unexpected—a fishing boat made of wood (12 different kinds of wood, as it turned out) that was dated to the first century. No one knows, of course, if this boat belonged to one of the fishermen among Jesus’ disciples, but it is virtually certain that they would have owned something very much like it, and used it in the various episodes that take place on the Sea of Galilee recorded in the Gospels.

We then headed to Capernaum, in Jesus’ day a prosperous town of some size on the northern shore of the lake that was both Jesus’ primary base for His Galilean ministry and the home of several of His disciples, including Peter, Andrew, James and John. The highlights of Capernaum are two: the 4th century synagogue that is built over the foundation of the synagogue that Jesus is recorded as having preached and taught in, and the house of Peter’s mother-in-law, which sits less than fifty yards from the synagogue and has been identified with Peter by inscriptions that also indicate that it was a house church. The synagogue is awe-inspiring—while many of the other sites of the Holy Land are traditional (and thus surmises or approximations, even if plausible ones) the fact that Jesus actually and unquestionably preached on the site we stood on this afternoon was a humbling experience for one whose calling is preaching, one that couldn’t help but be a reminder of the centrality of the preaching of the Word both in the life of the church and the life of the minister. That the Petrine house is almost certain to be the site of one of Jesus’ miraculous healing is also remarkable, though the site is somewhat spoiled by the presence of a plug-ugly Franciscan church that was built over the house, and thus makes getting a closer look impossible. One wishes that someone had had the sense and good taste to prevent this, but what’s done is done, and in the meantime it is still with more than a little awe that we gazed upon a home into which Jesus entered on a mission of mercy, and under the roof of which He may well have stayed.

After a lunch of St. Peter fish (which was identified for us as tilapia, though unlike the tilapia I’ve had before it doesn’t come from Thailand or Vietnam, but from the lake beside which we ate), we went to our last stop for the day on the River Jordan. Though the baptism of Jesus by John almost certainly occurred much farther south in the Judean wilderness, this spot has been set aside for use by Christian groups for baptisms in the river in which our Lord was baptized. It is lush and green, the water was cold, and most of our group took the opportunity to reaffirm their baptismal faith by immersion, pouring, or sprinkling. Pastor Thom explained that we were not re-baptizing anyone, but were using water to bring to mind what we had experienced previously. He handled the three immersions, while I stepped into calf-deep water and poured or sprinkled water on those who wished it, calling each person by name and saying to them, “Remember your baptism, and be renewed by the Spirit of God.” It was a moving time for everyone, and a privilege for me as well to be used by God in such a fashion.

We’re now back at out hotel waiting for the Shabbat dinner to start in the dining hall, and tomorrow we’ll be on to the archaeological site at Beth She’an, Jericho on the West Bank, and then to Jerusalem. More later.

PS—The Internet connection here is very slow. I’ll try again to post pictures tomorrow in Jerusalem.

After recovering from our flight, we spent our first day in Galilee in four sites: Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea, Megiddo (the site referred to in Rev. 16 as Armageddon), Nazareth, and Cana.

Caesarea is a marvelous site for getting a feel for how the aristocracy lived in the first century. It was where the Roman governors had their main headquarters, in a large and prosperous city by the sea. There we saw the Roman theater that seated (and sits—it is still to all evidence used for events, because there are seat and row numbers in Hebrew that are obviously of recent vintage) about 7000 people, and that on this day accommodated the voices of dozens of Christians who sang songs of praise to God. We then saw the remains of the palace of Herod which sits close by the theater, ruins that were only uncovered about four years ago. From there it we went to the aqueduct which brought water from Mount Carmel near modern-day Haifa down the Caesarea, much of which has been covered by sand lo these many centuries. There we also had the opportunity to touch the water of the Mediterranean, and I collected sea shells to bring home to the children at The Cove.

Our next stop was unscheduled and remarkable. On a non-descript two-lane road between Caesarea and Megiddo, we pulled off to the shoulder. On the other side of the road was a family tomb, complete with the kind of flat, circular stone that was used in Jesus’ day to seal such tombs. This one had several burial spaces in it, and in most of it you had to keep your head ducked by bending over almost 90 degrees. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is that it wasn’t marked in any way. Our guide happened to know about it from traveling that road, and wanted us to see an example of what a typical family burial tomb would have looked like in the first century.

From there we were on to Megiddo, which proved to be a bit of a letdown for me. The site is at Tel Megiddo, a man-made hill that contains a number of archaeological digs. One of them, which you had to do if you were going to see the whole site, is a water tunnel that runs under the tel and once came up outside the city walls to provide the city with water in case of siege. The tunnel is at the bottom of abut 190 steps, and about 90 are required to get back out. My knees being what they are, I passed, but the folks who went said it was fascinating. I’ll be checking their pictures when I get a chance.

Next up was Nazareth, now a large modern city of almost entirely Arab population. Our destination was the Church of the Annunciation, a Roman Catholic church built in 1964 on top of one of the traditional sites of the angel Gabriel delivering God’s message to Mary regarding the birth of Jesus (the Greek Orthodox have a church over the other location). The Church of the Annunciation is the largest in the Middle East and the third largest in the world. Though it is a modern structure—a good portion of the stained glass practically dates the time of its construction—it is built over the grotto that had formerly been contained with its Byzantine and Crusader predecessors. It was a beautiful place to pray for the Lord to give to His people the same spirit of obedient servanthood with which He blessed the Virgin Mary.

Finally, after wending our way through the worst traffic this side of the Beltway at 5 pm, we arrived in Cana, a town of about 15,000. There we visited the Roman Catholic Church of the Wedding, where seven married couples from among our 28 pilgrims participated in a reaffirmation of their wedding vows in the garden chapel. It was a lovely liturgy. I also had the pleasure of seeing what looked like a group of Filipino Catholics in the main nave who were either all getting married or reaffirming their vows—it was hard to be certain which, because the women were all dressed quite formally, but the rest of their group was treating it more like a photo op.

After Cana we returned to Tiberius, with most going to a diamond factory (I passed, as I had the first two times I came, and it sounded as though my folks were not particularly impressed, so I’m glad I did). We had a delightful dinner that included turkey, and then everyone headed to their rooms. They’ll need the rest, because tomorrow should be a pretty busy day, including stops in Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, and several others, beginning with a boat trip across the Sea of Galilee.

I arrived in Israel this afternoon along with eight members of The Cove and Faith churches. It’s a trip I’ve made twice before, but it never fails to be an exciting adventure. My Internet access is going to be kind of limited (since you have to pay for it, and I’m cheap), but I’m going to do my best to get pictures up at least every other day. Barring that, I’ll include commentary, and get the pictures out when I get back. In any case, check back here for what’s going on with me and my fellow pilgrims in the Holy Land. Shalom!

Americans United got out the first reply to the Manhattan Declaration (it came out so quickly afterward that I suspect they just cobbled together random expressions from their Viewing With Alarm Phrase Generator), but other Viewers With Alarm no doubt have or will also jump with their warnings about the coming Theocratic Apocalypse. One such VWA is Robert Parham, editor of EthicsDaily.com and director of the Baptist Center for Ethics:

Before reading the latest moral declaration from the Christian Right about their troubled souls and moral priorities, I e-mailed early Friday morning a national religion reporter about the statement. I wrote that if these leaders’ “hierarchy of issues” were abortion, homosexuality and religious freedom, then they “are neither reading from the Bible, nor listening to Jesus.”

Yeah. Everybody knows that Jesus was most concerned about climate change and government-financed health insurance, which He discussed, per what follows, in His “Ethics for the 21st Century” discourse that has been inserted when nobody was looking at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, at least in the Green Version.

I suggested, “These issues are secondary to what Jesus said in his Nazareth Manifesto in Luke 4, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, the Great Commandment in Matthew 22, and the Great Judgment passage in Matthew 25. And let’s not forget the 10 Commandments and the prophets.”

None of which had anything to do with either issues of life and death, or marriage. For instance, love of neighbor couldn’t have anything to do with abortion, since the unborn aren’t yet my neighbor, right? And Jesus’ condemnation of divorce and adultery couldn’t have any bearing on how we conceive of Christian marriage or sexuality. Jesus had no concern for any of this modern stuff at all. I mean, Jesus never even heard of embryonic stem cell research, so how could He be against it?

When the “Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience” was released on the DeMossNews.com Web site, after an event at the National Press Club, I found nothing really new. The document centered on abortion, gay marriage and anxiety about Christians being persecuted, having their consciences coerced.

While the declaration does have to do with the three items he mentions, it is by no means about those alone. I suspect Parham didn’t read it carefully, but simply put mental check marks whenever he saw something he expected to see, and skipped the rest.

Yet again, the Christian Right bypassed the Nazareth Manifesto, Sermon on the Mount, the Great Commandment and the Great Judgment passage. While they did cite Jesus from John 10:10 and Matthew 22:21, they made Jesus a secondary moral guide to their political agenda of criticizing President Obama and shrinking the Bible’s moral vision.

On the other hand, maybe he didn’t read it at all. The president is only mentioned in it twice, Congress only twice, and the “present administration” only once. The concern expressed is much more of a cultural one than a narrowly political one, and isn’t even concerned exclusively with the United States. For instance, the section on life concludes:

Our concern is not confined to our own nation. Around the globe, we are witnessing cases of genocide and
“ethnic cleansing,” the failure to assist those who are suffering as innocent victims of war, the neglect and abuse of children, the exploitation of vulnerable laborers, the sexual trafficking of girls and young women, the abandonment of the aged, racial oppression and discrimination, the persecution of believers of all faiths, and the failure to take steps necessary to halt the spread of preventable diseases like AIDS. We see these travesties as flowing from the same loss of the sense of the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life that drives the abortion industry and the movements for assisted suicide, euthanasia, and human cloning for biomedical research. And so ours is, as it must be, a truly consistent ethic of love and life for all humans in all circumstances.

But none of that has anything to do with that love-your-neighbor, caring-for-the-least-of-these stuff, so why pay it any mind?

Some 18 of the 149 listed signatories are members of the fundamentalist-controlled Southern Baptist Convention. Two of the drafters are Southern Baptists, including Chuck Colson, the perennial right-wing spokesman. Other signatories are James Dobson, Gary Bauer and Tony Perkins. Among the mostly white, elderly evangelical males are a few Catholics–William Donohue and a couple of archbishops, as well as conservative Presbyterians and Anglicans.

This screed wouldn’t be complete without an ad homimem attack on the usual boogeymen. The mention of the Southern Baptists is simply a bigoted stereotype. One of the Southern Baptist drafters, Dr. Timothy George, is a widely respected church historian who is anything but a fundamentalist (if, that is, we use a definition of “fundamentalist” that means something other than, “anyone to the right of Robert Parham”). There are at least 21 Catholics (including eight, not “a couple,” of archbishops) among the signers, maybe more–not all were identified in such a way as to make their denominational affiliation clear–and at least half a dozen Orthodox, including the head of the Orthodox Church in America. Yeah, I know, details, details.

The document, albeit predictable, does offer a surprising note, one of utter theological and historical misdirection. The signatories seem to align themselves with the Christians who opposed slavery, supported women’s rights, led the civil rights movement and spoke up for those with AIDS.

Talk about mendacity. Many of these signatories are the spiritual heirs of the Christian slaveholders. They are the ones who opposed the civil rights movement, abandoned public schools for private Christian schools, demonized government funding for the poor and disadvantaged. They are the ones who said AIDS was a gay disease and refused to address the issue for 20 years. As for the rights and equality of women, for heaven’s sake, the Southern Baptist signatories believe women should be homemakers, helpmates to their husbands who are the breadwinners. Southern Baptist fundamentalists believe women are unworthy of ordination.

And at this point Parham simply descends into name-calling. He makes no effort to distinguish between individuals, no effort to acknowledge what any of them may have done in the past, or what they have believed or taught, and simply tars them all with the most odious brushes he can come up with. Makes you wonder if Parham isn’t actually the director of the Baptist Center for Lack of Ethics.

That’s the title of a new statement that was released today bearing the signatures over 125 Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant evangelical leaders. It focuses on life issues such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and assisted suicide; marriage; and religious liberty, especially in terms of the encroachments of government mandates that would override the beliefs and teaching of religious groups. The whole thing is absolutely worth your time, and if you agree with what you read you have the opportunity to sign it by going here.

It’s too long to look at in detail, but I have to say that my favorite passage, and the one that is making heads explode at places such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is the very last paragraph:

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.

This seems to me to be a pretty straight-forward statement of what even the Rev. Barry Lynn of AU supposedly professes, which is that there are laws that Christians are bound to disobey is they conflict with what God requires of His people. But to AU, this is all about the theocracy:

At a press conference today, Religious Right leaders and Roman Catholic bishops unveiled a joint statement criticizing laws that allow reproductive choice and same-sex marriage. The “Manhattan Declaration” indicates that participating religious leaders will defy such laws if they conflict with church doctrines.

Americans United charges that the real agenda is not protecting the religious freedom of churches, but rather attempting to impose those doctrines on all Americans by government decree.

Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “This declaration is certain to be deeply divisive. These religious leaders want to see their doctrines imposed by force of law, and that goes against everything America stands for.

Because as we all know, the only people who are allowed to impose their religious doctrine are the religious left, whose positions on issues are those of the staff of AU, and whose lobbying efforts on behalf of those positions are, therefore, hunky dory with the so-called First Amendment watchdog.

Among the signers are Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals, Joseph Bottum of First Things, Bryan Chapell of Covenant Theological Seminary, Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship, Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church in North America, Maggie Gallagher of the Institute for Marriage, Dr. Robert George of Princeton, Father Johannes Jacobse of OrthodoxyToday.org, Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, Dr. Peter Kreeft of Boston College, Bishop Martyn Minns of the Convocation of Anglicans of North America, Dr. Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Seminary, David Neff of Christianity Today, Dr. Thomas Oden of Drew University, Dr. Cornelius Plantinga of Calvin Seminary, Dr. Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, and the Catholic archbishops of Denver, Kansas City, Louisville, Minneapolis, Newark, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. In other words, a high-powered cross section of both leaders and thinkers among conservative Christians in America. Check it out.

So have you seen this nifty little Christian item:

Sounds like it’s based on the call to pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2), right? Not exactly: here’s Psalm 109:8 with some context:

May his days be few;
may another take his office!
May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow!
May his children wander about and beg,
seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
nor any to pity his fatherless children!

(Psalm 109:8-12)

It seems former Southern Baptist Convention vice president Wiley Drake has started a trend with his practice of “imprecatory prayer” directed at those he considers his enemies. Drake has prayed for bad stuff to happen not only to the president, but to abortionist George Tiller, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and others, in the latter instance at least based on what look solely like political differences. Drake isn’t alone in his vengefulness towards those whom he thinks are God’s enemies, though this is hardly a widespread thing among conservative Christians. The real point is this: if Paul could tell his readers to pray for those in authority in the Roman Empire–a pagan state that persecuted Christians with some frequency, and obviously didn’t operate according to Christian principles–without suggesting they pray for bad stuff to happen to their rulers, nether should we. We can disagree as fiercely as we can with anyone in authority, without wishing personal ill to come to them because of our disagreements. Millions of Christians throughout the world, living in far worse conditions than Rev. Drake has ever had to endure, refrain from doing so, instead praying as Paul directed, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Rev. Drake and his allies should try that instead, and keep their death fantasies to themselves.

(Hat tip: Alan.)

The United States Roman Catholic Bishops always have a hidden agenda, which is to impose their faith and value systems on the rest of the nation.

–Bishop John Shelby Spong, apostle of tolerance and future presidential candidate of the Know Nothing Party

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (lobbying arm of the god of child sacrifice) has put together what it is calling a “Stop Stupak Toolkit for Clergy and Congregations.” It’s full of abortiony goodness–a sample bulletin insert, guide to the “Interfaith Weekend of Action for Women’s Health” (a lobbying effort, but not the kind the Catholic bishops engaged in, we swear), etc. What I liked best was the suggested prayer to the god of dead children:

A SAMPLE PRAYER FOR CHOICE
As People of God We Seek Justice, by Reverend Roselyn Smith Withers

Leader: Today, we pray together in the presence of one another and the people of God. We remember the words of the prophets and the great teachers. We call upon the spirits of our ancestors and ask for the blessings of the Creator of us all.

All: As people of God, we seek justice.

Leader: We pray together, not because we must but because we may. We pray together because our commonalities are greater than our differences and because in our togetherness, our differences are honored and God’s vastness is praised.

All: As people of God, we seek justice.

Leader: We stand together, recognizing the risks of solidarity, affirming the power of our presence and celebrating the pro-choice legacy of courage and commitment, justice and peace.

All: As people of God, we seek justice.

Leader: We stand together, remembering the doctors, health care workers and the other innocent people who have given their lives in the struggle for our right to choose.

All: As people of God, we seek justice. We are praying people who are pro-choice. We accept the responsibility, claim the tradition and we embrace the right to choose prayerfully with the knowledge that God is with us in all things. AMEN. [Emphasis added.]

Three observations: 1) Considering there are no Confucianists or American Indian groups involved with RCRC, who exactly is supposed to invoke “the spirits of our ancestors”? Do even Unitarians do this? 2) There is no mention of abortion–it’s as if these people are upholding the right to choose chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Maybe it makes them feel better to not mention what it is they want the choice to do. 3) Notice what’s missing in this “prayer”? Any words at all addressed to the Almighty! Any congregation reciting this is just a bunch of people talking to themselves.

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