Do Not Take the Name of Lord In Vain: A Commentary on Louisiana’s HB71

Louisiana is now the first state in the U.S. to require the Ten Commandments to be posted in all school classrooms. The news has left me with questions and a gnawing sense of foreboding. The foreboding arises from what seems to be the misappropriation of faith in the public sphere for the singular goal of acquiring legislative power. Said differently, faith is being used as a club, a deterrent of difference. I think faith (one’s assumptions about reality) should be an implicit part of the public sphere – we all have starting points, assumptions that frame reality for us that need the challenge of different perspectives if we discuss maintaining a civil society.

While the text of HB71 in Louisiana is careful to guard against partisan language in the guise of educational outcomes, the interviews conducted with those who supported the bill reveal the more troublesome misappropriation of faith I mentioned above. In this blog, I attempt to isolate the source of my foreboding and explain why I think any legislature’s attempts to promote a worldview exclusively are dangerous to any form of civil discourse other than a dictatorship. I have questions.

  • What is the intention of the Louisiana legislature?
  • How will the stated educational intention be measured for outcomes?
  • Is there a stated social agenda in adopting the Ten Commandments as a classroom tool?
  • Does posting behavioral guidelines help change classroom behavior?
  • Does HB71 address a measurable educational outcome or serve as a behavioral guideline for classroom behavior?

What is the intention of the Louisiana legislature?

“The Legislature intends to apply the decision set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States in Van Orden v. Perry,” the Louisiana law reads, “to continue the tradition and ensure that the students in our public schools may understand and appreciate the foundational documents of our state and national government.”[i] (Emphasis mine.)

For those unfamiliar, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 5-4 ruling in Van Orden v. Perry declared that a Ten Commandments monument outside the Texas state capitol building, while having religious content, was not violating the Establishment Clause. This ruling is the basis for the Louisiana legislature’s decision.

When I read the Legislature’s intent, I interpret the words “understand” and “appreciate” considering Bloom’s taxonomy. In 1956, Benjamin Bloom, with collaborators Max Englehart, Edward Furst, Walter Hill, and David Krathwohl, published a framework for categorizing educational goals: the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Familiarly known as Bloom’s Taxonomy, this framework is used by K-12 teachers and college instructors in their teaching. It comprises six major categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. The categories after Knowledge were presented as “skills and abilities,” with the understanding that knowledge was the necessary precondition for putting these skills and abilities into practice.[ii]

I think the outcomes described in HB71 are appropriate. However, I question the genuineness of the intention, hence my unease with the bill. I expect a true learning outcome to be measurable, but HB71 fails in this regard, and further commentary by those who wrote the bill betrays a different agenda.

How will the stated educational intention be measured for outcomes?

HB71 has no mechanism for measuring its stated purpose. It places a document in a classroom without expecting additional action to follow its posting. This is evident not only in the text of the bill itself but also in the defense of the bill against critics, in which Louisiana legislators insist that students will not be forced to read the document. Essentially, HB71 dictates posting a document for no apparent measurable purpose other than to take up wall space. So why go through the motions to write this legislation in the first place?

Is there a stated social agenda in adopting the Ten Commandments as a classroom tool?

A clue to one alternative agenda of HB71 is stated by Dodie Horton, the state representative who sponsored the Louisiana bill, who said that having the commandments posted would allow students to “look up and see what God says is right and what he says is wrong.[iii] Horton infers that one use of the Ten Commandments in the classroom is to offer behavioral guidelines students may routinely refer to.

HB71 does not specifically address the idea of behavioral guidelines for the classroom. However, the indirect implication is part of the law’s explanation when it states, “Recognizing the historical role of the Ten Commandments accords with our nation’s history and faithfully reflects the understanding of the founders of our nation with respect to the necessity of civic morality to a functional self-government. History records that James Madison, the fourth President of the United States of America, stated that “(w)e have staked the whole future of our new nation . . . upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments.”[iv]

But, here, I oppose the Ten Commandments serving as a behavioral guideline. Why? Classroom rules play a significant role in classroom management. They set clear expectations for behavior and provide a framework for the daily operations of the class. This structure fosters a sense of safety and stability, allowing students to focus on learning rather than navigating social uncertainties. Classroom rules contribute significantly to a productive learning environment. They help minimize disruptive behaviors and encourage desired behaviors, contributing to a positive atmosphere beneficial to learning. Rules provide students with clear guidelines on what is acceptable and what is not, fostering mutual respect and cooperation among students and teachers.

The Ten Commandments fail this task in a pluralistic society. Given that they were to guide Israel in their covenant relationship with God, they met all the criteria of good behavioral guidelines because of the monism of Israel. Christians adopted the Ten Commandments as a foundation for their thinking personally and politically, as HB71 points out. But we don’t live in a wholly Christian society or monotheistic society.

The Religious Landscape Study by Pew Research, conducted in 2007 and 2014, surveyed more than 35,000 Americans from all 50 states about their religious affiliations, beliefs and practices, and social and political views. At that time, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and other religions comprised roughly 6% of the population, while unaffiliated, e.g., Atheist, Agnostic, or Nothing in Particular, comprised nearly 23% of the population.[v] So, the Ten Commandments fail to provide a sense of social safety and mutual respect. The Ten Commandments are exclusive and apply to the one God of Israel and Christianity.  

Consider for a moment what it takes to use behavioral guidelines effectively in the classroom. Then consider the compounding negative impact the Ten Commandments might have on a student who is not from a Christian or Jewish family.

Does posting behavioral guidelines help change classroom behavior?

PublicSchoolWORKS, a provider of K-12 staff and student safety compliance programs, offers the following guidelines for implementing effective classroom rules.[vi]

  1. Post Classroom Rules Prominently: Display the rules prominently in the classroom, making them easy to find and remember. Put them up on the wall or use visuals like charts, posters, or videos to reinforce the message.
  2. Review the Rules Regularly: Review the rules with the class to ensure they know and understand them. This can be done through class discussions or role-play activities.
  3. Model the Rules: Model the desired behavior to show students how the rules should be followed. This helps create a positive learning environment and reinforces the importance of following the rules.
  4. Provide Positive Reinforcement: Reward good behavior with positive reinforcement. This could be verbal praise, stickers, or small rewards, which can help to motivate students to follow the rules.

HB71 provides only one of the four guidelines mentioned above. No review, no modeling, and no positive reinforcement guidelines are provided. Modeling the rules may be a sticking point regarding the Ten Commandments. Among the many questions that come to mind, the first is whether we are to interpret the Ten Commandments from the lens of Christianity or Judaism (my apologies to my Jewish friends for dragging you into this conflict). It is impossible to go past the first of the ten without nailing down the question since the Christian claim that Jesus is God ends up failing the test of Commandment One from a strictly Jewish perspective. And what about my atheist friends? They also have input into the interpretive grid from which these commandments are interpreted.

Does HB71 address a measurable educational outcome or serve as a behavioral guideline for classroom behavior?

It should be clear by now that HB71 fails as an educational tool. So why codify the Ten Commandments into State Law?

The horrifying reality is that some Evangelicals seem to insist on building a theocratic society with themselves in power. For anyone who follows the news of Evangelical moral lapses, Evangelicals should use the Ten Commandments as a tool of personal and collective confession and repentance – not governance.

HB71’s failure to outline how it measures its intended outcome suggests that the law’s passage is more theatrics geared to the so-called culture wars than education. This is the root of my foreboding. In a crazed political environment, I (ironically, it may sound) hold to the foundation of the Ten Commandments.  I am committed to not taking the name of God in vain. This doesn’t mean I loathe swearing, which is how it is popularly treated. The idea has much more to do with how we carry ourselves as representatives of God. It is a warning about putting God’s name and approval on anything violent and harmful to our fellow creatures, such as claiming God’s approval for war, injustice, dehumanization, or the desecration of creation.[vii]

Ultimately, I lament the Ten Commandments’ use as political fodder rather than their intended use of affirming fidelity to a covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Ray.

[i] Source:; Accessed 24 June 2024.

[ii] Source:; Accessed 24 June 2024.

[iii] Source:; Accessed 24 June 2024.

[iv] Source:; Accessed 24 June 2024.

[v] Source:; Accessed 22 June 2024.

[vi] Source:; Accessed 22 June 2024.

[vii] Source:; Accessed 24 June 2024.

Knowing History

Many are familiar with the well-worn adage that those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. It seems almost trite, but it bears investigation in a day when memories are often no longer than the latest news cycle. This short-term memory contributes to duplicity in our social interactions and public policy. Politicians blatantly contradict themselves from moment to moment in ways that defy intelligence. But what if we could use history to understand these contradictions, to see the patterns and learn from them? Interpersonal relationships also contain contradictions that slide from accountability and investigation with the blithe use of gaslighting and vituperative denial. But what if we could use history to navigate these complexities, to learn from the mistakes of the past?  

Historian Joseph J. Ellis advocates the study and use of history.[1] He notes that reading history is like expanding one’s memory further back in time; the more history one learns, the larger the memory bank one draws on when facing the unfamiliar. For Ellis, history is an ongoing conversation between the past and the present from which we all have much to learn.

The idea that there is wisdom rooted in the study of history is part of the reason we give such reverence to the study of the Bible as followers of Jesus. Reading of the successes and failures of David, Moses, Ruth, Naomi, Abraham, Hagar, Isaiah, and Elijah, or the victimization of Tamar, Bathsheba, Esther, or the daughters of Lot helps us grieve, raise our awareness of injustice, bolster our courage to confess our wrongdoing, and give us hope for redemption and healing.

Ellis’ book on the history of America’s founding and its lessons for the present is filled with wisdom applied to the present. One of the many lessons I gleaned from its pages is the need for humility and the willingness to have my assumptions and convictions challenged with alternative points of view. Ellis discusses four primary topics relevant to today’s public debates: race, equality, law, and foreign policy. He describes the debates the founders had among themselves on how these topics should be handled; our founders were not at all on the same page on these. He describes the awareness they had of their contradictions, e.g., declaring that all men are created equal while possessing slaves and relegating women to little more than chattel.

The United States’ founders were secular and biblical history students. Their conversations helped them clarify their views and see more clearly where their perspectives were flawed. I admire their ability to articulate disagreement and a learning posture. I long for a similar experience.  Ellis reminds us that questions posed of the past are inevitably consciously or unconsciously shaped by the historical context in which they are asked. We acknowledge this in our technical hermeneutics of scripture but often fail in our use of hermeneutics. We fall prey to the temptation to generate evidence supporting our preferred outcomes and ideological prejudice.  I contend that the awareness of our context and the questions we are asking of history and the scripture helps us generate a hermeneutical humility and, hence, a learning posture rather than simply bolstering our ammunition to condemn a perceived opponent.   

As we enter another election cycle, I aim to be part of the church in action by thinking and reflecting on public policy and its tertiary elements. Simplistic ideological formulas, regardless of their origin, are destructive in their impact. They result in toxic public policy, the consequences of which cost lives, as is being seen in ideologically moribund laws regarding abortion—the larger health consequences are ignored. As a follower of Christ, I understand that the gospel will not domesticate to my preferences but will challenge me in the most profound ways. It may be easier to ignore that challenge, but ignoring it won’t lead me, or those I influence, toward a deeper intimacy with Christ. Instead, avoiding the challenge of Jesus would set me firmly on the broad path of destruction. Church let’s do the work of being history and scripture students. Let’s grapple with the complexities and contradictions inherent in public policy. Let’s exercise grace and humility as students of Jesus. Let us abandon the idea of culture wars and hostility, not so we can be wishy-washy reflections of culture but as catalysts of cultural transformation.

[1] Joseph J. Ellis. (2018) American Dialogue: The Founders and Us. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Bad Theology Makes Bad Public Policy

Tom Parker, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court explained the rationale of the court’s recent ruling stating that embryos were people.  “God created government, and the fact that we have let it go into the possession of others, it’s heartbreaking,” Parker said. Parker went on to explain that he is calling and equipping people to step back into the Seven Mountains Mandate — the belief that conservative Christians are meant to rule over seven key areas of American life, including family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government.[1]

Parker’s thesis is faulty from the start. His extrapolation has devastating consequences as anyone aware of the history of the Western church will understand. I have written on the Seven Mountains Mandate and its undergirding dominionist ideology elsewhere. Did God create government, or said another way, is there a singular governance model that can be identified in the Bible as the ideal government model? As a biblical scholar, I am hard-pressed to identify a model. Government as used in the Bible doesn’t designate a form of governance – rather it identifies a function of governance. The distinction is important.

As to forms of governance, the Bible contains tribal alliances, warlords, strongmen, monarchies, familial alliances, Imperial dictatorships, stratocracy, plutocracies, and theocracies.  None of these are set up by divine mandate, other than the theocracy. At best it can be said that God worked despite the form of governance. The history of a true theocracy was short-lived as Israel rejected their theocratic form of government in favor of a monarchy. The cultural, geographical, and chronological diversity of the Biblical record makes it a fool’s errand to try to pick out any particular form of governance as divinely mandated.

Regarding the function of governance, in whatever form it takes, the Bible is abundantly clear. Governance is to care for the marginalized, ensure the ability of people to flourish, protect the weak, include the outcast, provide for health and wellbeing, work for justice, reject false reports and malicious witnesses, reject partiality and bribes, provide a social safety net, pursue knowledge and wisdom, ensure the rights of immigrants, protect the poor from exploitation, and work toward peace (Ez. 34:1-6, Ex 23:1, Lev. 19:15, Deut. 10:18, Proverbs, Deut. 27:19, Ecc. 5:8, Is. 59:8).

Does the church have a charge to be the focal point of governance over any nation? What form of governance would the church use? The history of the church and its relationship to the state is at best complex and no wonder given the cultural, geographic, and chronological diversity of the church’s experience. I am not opposed to the influence of the church in its social setting, I expect it. What does give me great reason of pause is the insistence that the church should be the locus of the state and governance. Why? Because in my experience the church has difficulty maintaining its moral center in local settings, I can’t imagine what the church would do with the full power of governance at its disposal – start a new inquisition?

Wise leaders in the church have recognized that church and state live separate and complementary existences.   Parker’s statements seem to conflate the two, dominionist ideologies like those expressed in much of what is written in the Seven Mountains ideology distort the church with tortured definitions of what it means to be given dominion over the earth.

I’d rather see the church exert its moral and spiritual influence in holding itself and the government to the outcomes of governance the bible provides. I’d rather see the church think in deeper terms about moral and legal issues than make simplistic statements about the “law of God” as Parker does. What law? Are we talking about the application of Levitical law, a natural law? Here the apostles recognized that in the expansion of the church, it was too much to ask the Gentiles to adhere to the Levitical law. (Acts 15)

Instead, the apostles summarized the expectations they had for the church. The Levitical law had little or no functional bearing on the Gentiles. James summarized the Jerusalem council’s advice, “that we should not trouble those gentiles who are turning to God,but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from sexual immorality and from whatever has been strangled[d] and from blood.” (Acts 15:19, 20 NRSVUE).

Paul later expanded what it meant for the church to enforce its morality, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons, not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world.” (2 Cor. 5: 9, 10 NRSVUE). To restate, I cannot expect those who don’t know Christ to live as though they do. The mission we have to the world is to live in a way that reflects the love of God and to be those who help the world reconcile with God. Reconciliation is not accomplished through dictating moral law. It is accomplished by living in the transformation brought about by Christ’s resurrection.

In my view, attempts like Parker’s to apply moral law to contemporary issues result in both distorted theologies and bad public policy that cannot see beyond the gnat at which they strain. As I’ve written elsewhere, public policy emanating from pro-life proponents fails to take into account the myriad of tertiary healthcare issues that have to be addressed.  The decision in Alabama fails the biblical function of governance while purporting itself to be biblically based. My brain hurts at the contorted reasoning.

A quick survey of the overwhelming amount of scholarship on the relationship between the church and state recognizes that simplistic answers cannot begin to address the complexities around healthcare or other social challenges. Being the church in the community takes a deep commitment to reconciliation, learning, humility, courage, engagement, dialogue, and love. Pompous proclamations and ignorance not only fail to meet the challenge they stand condemned by the God who is often cited as one’s ideological legitimization.

If Parker wants to work on public policy that involves a theological influence, then he should sponsor a workshop with real theologians represented in his community, not just Christian theologians, but also Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Atheists and medical providers on how to address the complex healthcare issues around right to life. Right now, Parker sounds like he’d rather set up a predominately white theocracy where his views dominate. Does he want to claim that kind of divine fiat?

[1] Suorce:; Accessed 23 February 2024.

Welcome 2024!

What a year we enter! Uncertainty, suffering, joy, injustice, and grief surround the experiences of many of my friends around the globe. My stage of life and the experience of friends have taught me to make room for a wide variety of experiences, disappointments, victories, defeats, gladness, and grief. But isn’t that life? How do I approach this new year? My resolutions this year take a different turn, I’m not as concerned about what I will do as who I will be. Facing all that life brings isn’t rooted in what I plan or don’t plan to do, but in who I am amid my pursuits. So, here are my resolutions for the new year.

Be present. The greatest gift I can give in today’s world is simply to be present. It doesn’t matter about the context. The surgeon general’s report on the epidemic of loneliness and isolation in the United States notes that nearly half of U.S. adults report experiencing loneliness, with some of the highest rates among young adults.[1] I live in a mixed urban/rural setting. I frequent crowded coffee shops and stores. Yet, I never cease to be amazed at the bubble people seem to exist in sometimes never acknowledging the people right next to them. When I smile, when I warmly greet another, I break down the isolation. I’m a bridge to friendship and health! Why health? Again, the surgeon general wrote that,

“The lack of social connection poses a significant risk for individual health and longevity. Loneliness and social isolation increase the risk of premature death by 26% and 29% respectively. More broadly, lacking social connection can increase the risk of premature death as much as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. In addition, poor or insufficient social connection is associated with an increased risk of disease, including a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke and with increased risk for anxiety, depression, and dementia. Additionally, the lack of social connection may increase susceptibility to viruses and respiratory illness.”[2]

When I am present, I actively participate in the ministry of Jesus Immanuel, e.g., God with us who comes with healing and reconciliation.

Be generous. Janice and I find many occasions to respond to needs. We see homeless people who have inadequate clothing and food. So, we bought winter coats and supplied them with hats, socks, and other personal items to give away as we encountered the homeless. This has led to some powerful emotional encounters. I work with leaders around the world who don’t have the same access to resources I do. I give away hard-earned intellectual property to help them in their development as leaders. There are so many ways to be generous. We find that being generous with our time to our children and grandchildren presents a way to make a difference and live out our purpose right at home. There is something about generosity that makes a powerful difference.

Generosity has all kinds of impacts according to research on the topic, from increased sense of well-being to better mortality rates – generosity seems to have far-reaching psychological and physical impacts for good.[3]  Here too, I live out the ministry of Jesus whose generous grace I find transformative in my own life.

Be grateful. The power of gratitude has long been documented. I have experienced a much clearer awareness of purpose and meaning through the exercise of gratitude. My friendships seem to grow deeper and offer a greater sense of intimacy as I practice gratitude. Like the other characteristics I have described, gratitude also has measurable impacts according to research. Studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.[4] Gratitude decouples us from toxic emotions. The more we practice gratitude we may help train our brains to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude in the future, and this may contribute to improved mental health over time. 

Be inquisitive. Knowledge is moving at rates I find it impossible to keep up with. My oldest granddaughter asked me how I used ChatGPT last summer. I had to ask for a definition, she showed me this aspect of artificial intelligence and how she used it. I started peppering her with questions. Wow, I learned! I find the older I get, the more important it is for me to exercise curiosity as a therapeutic intervention for fear and feelings of being overwhelmed. I’ve found a correlation between the lack of curiosity and toxic cynicism and depression among men and women my age. I don’t want to exist in an emotionally caustic state relative to those around me.  I want to participate in the growth and discovery they experience even if it means disentangling myself from the anchors of the familiar to drift into the uncomfortable. What I have found, especially in my conversations with my grandchildren, is that the new things they teach me take on a depth of application as I learn they learn something from me that expands their horizons. This has led me to be very attentive to intergenerational mentoring opportunities. They find I respect who they are and what they know, and they discover a deeper respect for who I am and what I know.

Be candid. There is a reason I list this last – its effect and its affect depend on exercising the above characteristics first. By candid I mean truthful and straightforward, and I use it to describe how I relate to those around me and how I answer their questions. Sometimes I run across those who claim to be candid but are simply opinionated bigots unwilling to consider views, facts, and insights that are different from what they are familiar with. In my relationships with generations younger than I – which occurs with far greater frequency as I age – I find little tolerance for dissembling, ambiguous, and vague responses on my part. I find even greater intolerance of unsolicited opinions. The greatest gift I can give to the various generations and orientations I run across is candid responses to their questions as I have understood those questions in the context of their experience. Truth in this context sets people free.

Each of these objectives requires effort. The more traditional goals of exercise, diet, reading, networking, etc., are given. But these objectives transcend and give meaning to the kinds of resolutions I have often posted for myself. If aging has a significant benefit, it is the realization that who I am has a deeper and more meaningful impact than anything I have ever accomplished. I am ready for 2024.

[1] Source:; Accessed 1 January 2024.

[2] Ibid, 8.

[3] Source:; Accessed 1 January 2024.

[4] Source:; Accessed 1 January 2024.

Well, I’m Still Here

Waking up from a medical procedure to the anxious faces of the medical team and my wife, when we had been told she wasn’t allowed in recovery because of residual COVID protocols, is – well I’m not entirely sure what it is. It was surprising, sobering, disconcerting, a little humorous, thought inducing, and eerie. There was no narration by Rod Serling. There was no sudden panic, on my part – I was out until revived.

“Raymond!” The voice was Greg, the nurse anesthetist. His was the first concerned look I was aware of.

One of the other nurse’s announced my blood pressure was returning to normal, a collective sigh of relief seemed to waft across the tented room, yet still the level of anxiety was palpable in the room.

The doctor explained that she had to abort the procedure midway because my blood pressure had fallen so low.

“Well,” I announced, “that should make me memorable.”

“We don’t like memorable,” Greg said, I was still looking at the doctor.

“How was your blood pressure through this?” I asked the doctor.

Her response was one word, “elevated!”

“Well,” I said, “I hope the rest of your day is boring.”

She appreciated the sentiment with a nod of agreement.

I was her first procedure that day.

The first thing to enter my head after this exchange, the team was still focused on my blood pressure and were darting about adjusting wires and stuff, was, “I’m still here.” I wasn’t surprised, nor did the thought have any particular drama in my head. It was just an observation.

I didn’t expect to be anywhere else, though I had noted that in the many lists of disclaimers, death was the last thing on the list. At the time I thought, “well there’s a sales pitch.”

So, I sat there, awake, feeling a little perturbed that my nice nap had been interrupted. I eagerly accepted the offer of juice. The doctor was going over all the events that unfolded while I was under, the faces were still quite concerned. I sucked on the juice box and thought, “this is – well, I’m not sure what this is, I’ll have to think about it.”

We checked out, I was given a ride to the car in a wheel chair by a nurse I encouraged to make the journey feel more like Mr. Toad’s wild ride – she ignored my suggestion. Once in the car Janice cried with relief, I held her hand. I still didn’t know how to categorize the experience.

I’m home, the question that has emerged is simple but contains a stronger sense of urgency. What do I want to leave behind for my children and grandchildren? I feel compelled, in a deeper way, to give them something to hold on to in life. Life is uncertain, it can be scary. It is always challenging. All of us exist after beating incredible odds just to be born – it is reported that scientists estimate the probability of any one of us being born is one in 400 trillion. (I think I will buy that lottery ticket.)

I want to invest my faith. But, I can’t. Faith can be modeled, it can be demonstrated, and communicated but no one can live by my faith. It is evident in looking at the matriarchs and patriarchs, for example, the faith of one’s mother or father has to transition, be experienced and be encountered for oneself. I live a faith in the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob….and now, Ray!

When I think about investing or communicating faith, I see it as a summons or invitation to engage a living God personally. To wrestle, as did Jacob, with the reality of the almighty. It is to question God’s work, as did the prophet Habakkuk, it is to agonize over the injustices of life like the prophet Micah, it is to question whether God is concerned at a personal level at all like the king, David. It is to ponder life’s meaning and purpose like Mary. And sometimes, it is to laugh at the absurdity life contains like Sarah.

I can explain my faith to my children and grandchildren, and I have. But I can’t magically invest my faith in them. I realize instead that I can testify to it. By that I mean I can share my experience with the mystery of God. I can demonstrate the phenomenology of faith that condensed into a creed cannot be contained in one.

So, this story is one more attempt to testify to my experience and awareness of the love, care, compassion, hope, and power I know in walking with God. There is nothing particularly dramatic in this story. It is another paragraph in an unfolding novel about one who encountered Jesus who rose from the dead. Read this story, debate its perspective. Analyze its argumentation. But, above all, I hope you see it is a consistent aspect of who I am, how I live, and it contains a still small voice that calls to you, “I love you.” It isn’t just my voice, there is a deeper voice, a timeless and incomprehensible one that speaks under, around, and through me. “I love you.” It is the voice of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Ray calling to you. “I love you.”

So what did I experience? I experienced another event in life when I was not forsaken, forgotten, dismissed, or minimized. I was, and am, loved – so are you!

Social Myopia and the Church

We have been attending churches in Salem to find our new home church but also to familiarize ourselves with the tenor of the spiritual community here in Salem. A comment in this Sunday’s sermon at Brand X church with a history dating back to the Second Great Awakening caught my attention.

The speaker’s aside about his property taxes caught my attention. He noted two things. First, he had adopted gratitude over his taxes noting their distribution recognized his contribution to the community. Second, he made a rather odd statement, “I can control what I pay, but I have no control over how the money is spent.” Everyone in the audience chuckled. I was disappointed in the statement. Voting is the way we influence how our tax money is spent. It is the first step of stewardship with our form of government.

It seems to me that Evangelicals are often wimps when it comes to community engagement. There is a lot of bemoaning about the direction of the country, a longing for “family values,” a longing for a return to an unspecified period of greatness, and a rather odd lament that the church is facing horrendous persecution. Concerning the latter what passes for persecution here in the United States would be laughable except I know individuals in the global church who do face persecution, the risk of their lives for their faith. What we face here in the United States, i.e., people who disagree with us and who are at times hostile in their initial encounters with us, is not persecution it is social interaction.

For as long as I have been around the Evangelical world, the Evangelical church has suffered from social myopia. They simply cannot see what is right in front of them and hide behind platitudes, fear, and legislative sticks. In my first pastoral assignment, I remember being instructed by members of the congregation to steer clear of certain places in the city because people there were ready to persecute any Christian they happened upon like a cougar stalking unsuspecting deer. I went to those places in town, and I found people who were trying to live their lives, people who struggled to make sense of their experience, and people who had questions and wanted to engage those questions without having preconceived formulas framed as “answers” thrown at their situation. My conclusion then, and still today, is that enemies have no faces. Once you give face to an enemy it is much harder to reduce that person to an object of scornful suspicion. These alleged enemies transformed into names, Bill, Sue, Wally, and others I got to know.

On the one hand, Evangelicals act like they should dominate all political discussions and suppress any dissenting voices. This assumes that Evangelicals have comprehensive knowledge and experience in all matters of personal and public policy – they don’t. On the other hand, Evangelicals talk like they are victims of some large far-reaching leftist conspiracy – they aren’t. Perhaps a few lessons on how to be involved in our civic process would be in order. So, let me offer a couple of suggestions for engaging people who may hold opposing views.

First, approach your community with a commitment to service rather than dominance. If Jesus came to serve, and if Jesus commissioned us to fulfill his incarnational ministry, then it behooves us to be humble listeners. It can be difficult; I have been loudly told off for simply walking into a room. I remember volunteering to sit on a curriculum review committee at a local school district. I walked into the room, introduced myself, and was immediately cornered by an angry district employee. “I am sick,” he shouted at me just inches away from my face, “of you holier than thou Christians coming to these meetings to tell the rest of us how to live.”

He carried on with a few other raw emotive statements while the room stood awkwardly transfixed by his rant.

“I am not here as a Christian telling you how to live your life,” I began when he finally took a breath. “I am here as a father who has the best for my sons and the children of the district at heart. If you’d like me to take an antagonistic approach, I can mobilize the entire church community in a matter of hours, I can make calls that will plant television and radio media at your doorstep along with an army of demonstrators. Would you rather I contributed to making your next two weeks a media circus or may I participate as one voice, the voice of a father, a parent, or a volunteer, and work with you in designing a curriculum that will give our children the greatest opportunity for success?”

At this point an administrator had sided up to me, “The latter,” he interjected, “We appreciate you taking your time to work with us.”

What happened to the angry guy? He learned over the course of the next couple of hours that enemies have no faces. Once one gives a face to an enemy, they often become friends. He and I didn’t become great friends, we did, however, learn to appreciate each other’s point of view.

Second, get involved in the political process. It may be obvious, but the first level of involvement is voting. I shouldn’t have to list this but, as I learned in 2016, some Evangelicals are of the persuasion that not voting at all somehow makes their point that the system is broken. The only point this makes is that the person making this decision has elected to remove themselves from participating in democracy – ergo, they have no room to complain. Every candidate is flawed, just like everyone voting is flawed. In voting, read arguments for and against candidates and ballot measures. If you read Christian voting guides, then also read non-Christian voting guides. Why? Because we all have blind spots, we need to hear why opposing views exist.

In 2008 many Evangelicals in California supported Proposition 8, called the Same-Sex Marriage Ban Initiative. I was serving as part of a leadership team at a church in Southern California at the time. I was asked to support the bill and I refused. The vitriol I faced from good “Christians” was educational. “Let me tell you why I don’t support this bill,” I offered. “You claim to be making your decision to support Prop 8 based on biblical arguments regarding morality. More specifically you apply your biblical interpretation to society generally. Why? Paul is clear in his letter to the Corinthians that our to move the public to live a biblical morality, but the moral character of the church. What if Muslims wrote propositions based on the Quran? Would you support the adoption of Sharia law? Wouldn’t a pluralistic society be better served with broad guard rails that inhibited the loss of personal choice, or loss of property, or loss of opportunity, be a better approach?”

Every historical attempt to establish a theocratic government in church history has resulted in abysmal failure. We are not called to force “kingdom government” onto existing political/national structures. We are called to invite people into the love and transformative power of God modeled and demonstrated in Jesus Christ. We are called to be a new humanity (Ephesians 2:13-16). The ideal Paul outlines is highly attractive. The experience many have in being derided, ridiculed, insulted, diminished, and rejected by Evangelical norms is not.

Third, engage in discussions with opposing views, not rants, not proclamations, not truth claims, but discussions, i.e., a give and take of various views and perspectives. A discussion listens to understand, a rant listens for the opportunity to obliterate the opponent’s proposition. It is work to engage in discussions, emotions run high when our core beliefs are challenged. But here too Paul is helpful in getting us to recognize that our claim to truth must be carried humbly and open to critique because our perspectives are all limited and cloudy at best. (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).

I once served as an administrative pastor for a congregation in Southern California. In chatting one day with our attorney, I made a bold proclamation about some subject. She looked at me curiously, “an interesting point,” she began. “Can you argue the other side?”

Her question left me stammering like a dunderheaded imbecile. Her smile grew and she graciously offered this sage advice, “If you cannot argue the other side, it is doubtful you fully understand your own.” She then peppered me with questions that demonstrated that my confident assertion did not have as solid a foundation as I first asserted.  I thanked her for the great lesson, and we went on to have many discussions about faith and its impact on life.  

As Christians, we claim to have a corner on truth, but the truth by its very nature is self-authenticating. Often the problem with our claim to truth is that we don’t allow it to demonstrate itself, we get in the way and pollute and diminish its impact in our own inconsistency of action and attitude. If we see through a glass darkly, it behooves us to allow what we think we know to be challenged.

Ultimately, I think it behooves us to see that we all live in a bubble of sorts that needs to be expanded. We need to see the community around us, hear their stories, endure the painful critique of our own failings as a Christian community, and fearlessly engage in discussions that allow our relationship with Jesus to shine as attractively as it is by nature. Sure, not everyone will engage, sure some with remain hostile. But, some will be gracefully drawn to the salvation you live and you will be surprisingly enriched by getting to know someone new.

The Great Evangelical Failure: A War on Abortion

Two of the most disappointing characteristics of evangelical engagement with the public square are the inability to listen and the pervasive tendency toward truncated single-issue harangues. For example, two issues predominately drive evangelical social engagement. First is the simplistic condemnation of abortion. Second is the condemnation of gay marriage or anything related to the LGBTQ+ community. In this article I address the Evangelical rhetoric about abortion.

“If you vote for a democrate you vote to kill babies.” This was the response of an acquaintance of mine when I challenged his single issue view of the last presidential election. He continued to question my faith and fidelity to Christ. With the emergence of the “culture war” mentality among evangelicals there began a decline in some Evangelicals ability to comprehensively address social issues. Evangelicals have always been at a handicap in social issues because of the emphasis on personal salvation and condemnation of so called “social gospel” perspectives. The distinction is not found in scripture, but it does emerge culturally as fundamentalists reacted to the emergence of modernity. Rhetoric on abortion that classifies all abortions as baby killing is sensational – but harmful and misleading. In the Evangelical rant there is no discussion of high-risk pregnancies, birth control access, screening and treatment for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases in rural areas that already face limited access to these services. According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 50,000 people in the U.S. experience severe pregnancy complications yearly. Overall, Black people are about three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white people.

Factors contributing to high-risk pregnancies include preexisting health conditions, pregnancy-related health conditions, and lifestyle factors, including smoking, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and exposure to certain toxins. The social factors attending these in rural areas suggest that not all preexisting conditions are a matter of personal choice. The Rural Health Info Hub reports that income level, educational attainment, race/ethnicity, and health literacy all impact the ability of people to access health services and to meet their basic needs, such as clean water and safe housing, which are essential to staying healthy. Rural residents are more likely to experience some of the contributing social factors that impact health, such as poverty. The impact of these challenges can be compounded by the barriers already present in rural areas, such as limited public transportation options and fewer choices to acquire healthy food.

The point is that discussions about abortion are not simple; they are complex and include issues such as poverty, access to healthcare, economic development, and women’s healthcare. Abortion is not reducible to infanticide and to do so is to sweep contributing social and environmental factors neatly under the rug of deliberate ignorance. Simply saying that the desire to save babies is the panacea to all abortion concerns fails those who cannot access health care or who have faced the trauma of abandonment.

Until 1970, Evangelicals had no problem with the idea of abortion in part because the discussion had yet to become political fodder and in part because the Christian tradition has not always held the unborn to be persons. W.A. Criswell W.A. Crisell, president of the Southern Baptists, (1969-1970) commented on Roe v. Wade, “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” While Criswell later reversed his position, his stated position was common among Evangelicals at the time. Many denominations opposed to abortion at least carried exceptions in cases of high-risk pregnancies where the life of the mother was threatened. But in the latest renditions of Evangelical rhetoric, concern for the mother is absent, awareness of the father is conveniently ignored, and women are awarded the status of non-persons.

Hence my rejection of the Evangelical argument against abortion. I see pro-life arguments as a strawman that avoids the awkward discussion of poverty, women’s health, racial bias, and access to healthcare that are closely related to Jesus’ ministry of bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, and freedom for the oppressed.

Already, antiabortion state legislation hasn’t saved babies as much as it has encouraged abortion providers pack up and leave states with bans. The unintended and/or unseen consequence is that providers take with them expertise in managing high-risk pregnancies as well as routine deliveries, particularly in less-populated areas, plus access to long-acting birth control and screening and treatment for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.

Similarly, medical students and medical residents avoid trainning in states where they can’t learn abortion techniques, which are often the same as care for miscarriages. In an already strained rural medical system these moves exacerbate the shortages of people trained to help patients give birth safely just as more people are being forced to carry pregnancies to term.

Also affected, at this point as much by accident as intent, is birth control. In Missouri, a hospital system temporarily stopped distributing the “morning after” birth control pill, which is a contraceptive that does not cause abortion, before reversing the decision.

That is its own sub-myth — that the Plan B morning-after pill is the same as the abortion pill mifepristone. Plan B is a high dose of regular birth control that prevents ovulation but does not interrupt an existing pregnancy. Mifepristone ends a pregnancy if used in approximately the first 10 weeks.

And it’s not just pregnant women who are affected by the uncertainty. People with severe psoriasis, lupus and other autoimmune disorders are already reporting difficulty obtaining methotrexate, a first-line medication for those ailments that can also be used as an abortion medication.

So, what is my hope? I hope Evangelicals actually engage the related social issues around abortion, exercise awareness of the connected and needed medical procedures that reqire abortion, and engage the large issue of women’s health holistically, not as a culture war but as an expression of the hope of the gospel. I hope Evangelicals stop voting with a single issue myopia and begin to engage the complexities of social issues. Myoptic voting is not helping families – it is robbing them of health and wellness. It is time to move from “culture war” to being a redemptive influence.

Source:; Accessed 27 September 2022.

Source:; Accessed 27 September 2022.

Source: Carlson, Allan C. “Children of the Reformation by Allan C. Carlson”Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, Accessed 27 September 2022.

Retired and Still Developing

“There is no retirement in the Bible,” said yet another colleague when I announced I was retiring. I categorized the statement with other credulous truisms neither reflected in the scriptures nor the realities of aging, but which permeate the evangelical culture in which I predominately worked. I have always looked forward to retirement, in part my expectations were shaped by my dad, and other mentors who in retirement developed their mentoring, teaching, and relational skills. These mentors contributed to the development of others in retirement in ways they could not before retirement because of the demands on their time in the positions they held. My dad moved from a full-time professorship to pastoral ministry and adjunct work that had him working with young emerging professionals, prisoners, and other pastoral and lay leaders. Another mentor left the corporate world as an internal development coach/engineer to become a friend to pastoral leaders and a discipler of emerging professionals he found in his engagement with a local congregation.

Allow me to lay out two recurring themes in my reflection on retirement. First, what biblical foundations exist for shaping a healthy view of modern retirement and second, what developmental tasks do retirees face?

The modern Western concept of retirement isn’t found in scripture, nor is it possible in many developing contexts. However, transitions that come with aging are modeled in scripture for leaders and there are healthy and unhealthy examples. On the healthy side, I look to the instructions given to Levitical priests regarding temple service.

This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they[a] shall come to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting.  And from the age of fifty years they shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more. They minister[b] to their brothers in the tent of meeting by keeping guard, but they shall do no service. Thus shall you do to the Levites in assigning their duties.” (Num. 8:24-26; ESV)

The reasons for the restriction of older priests from temple service allow for a release from the taxing physical labor of temple service. But it also codifies a continuous transition of leadership/service to a new generation of priests. God established a pipeline of multi-generational leaders. Many organizations could benefit from such a pipeline that captures the experience of its aging workforce and invests it in the emerging generations. Nothing in the text presumes older priests are ineffectual or irrelevant. There is an indication that their value as individuals and priests are celebrated in releasing them from the demands of the job while encouraging their ongoing participation in supporting an emerging generation.

The benefit of this forced transition stands in contrast to poor transitions of leadership also found in the Jewish Scriptures. The transition of Saul to David is a poignant case study of a transition poorly done. Yet, David apparently didn’t learn as much about transitions as he could have as the end of his reign is filled with unnecessary conflict and intrigue. When transitions away from active leadership do not occur in a healthy way conflict, relational damage, organizational dysfunction, and broken generational links often occur.

Is there a definitive developmental task for retiring leaders – or retirees generally speaking? One of my mentors, J. Robert Clinton, analyzed leadership transitions throughout their careers. He codified stages of development and the developmental tasks of those stages in his landmark book, Leadership Emergence Theory (1989). So, while reflecting on my retirement, I returned to his book to review what he said about retirement or what he calls “After Glow.” I was disappointed in the summary he offered, “honor God’s faithfulness.”[1] My disappointment rests in the lack of specificity, not my disagreement with the general statement. To be fair, Clinton assumes that a leader builds upon each successive stage of development so that prior developmental tasks are not forgotten but become an indelible part of how a person addresses their career/calling.

In reflecting on my own experience, I identify four core development tasks in Afterglow.

  1. Refine and define core life lessons. The initial shift in daily routine is shocking to every retiree I know, myself included. The move from direct responsibility for organizational and financial competitive health to the loss of power, prestige, and privilege inherent in leadership or a successful career is jolting. The jolt is amplified by the ageism of our culture that seems swift to relegate the retired to irrelevance. We live in a competitive society, business, jurisprudence, and governance all have a fundamentally adversarial (competitive) flavor. I include religious governance/service in this as we are not exempt from the cultural influence in which we live. The initial task then of retirement is how to conceptualize and then reproduce those life lessons that transcend the functional skills of leadership and the market in which we worked that helped us define purpose and meaning rather than mere success. This takes work since for many the formation of purpose and meaning was done on the fly and not always with a conscious enumeration. To the degree that purpose and meaning were consciously defined and conceptualized the initial stage of retirement seems less jolting because the transition to retirement is not a movement away from one’s primary contribution but a movement toward its undiluted and unfiltered expression.
  2. Process disappointment and regret redemptively. I don’t know an honest person who hasn’t experienced disappointment in their expectations around their career nor some regret at things they would now approach differently. Processing disappointment and regret redemptively is rooted in the act of forgiveness. This includes forgiving others as well as giving/receiving forgiveness for oneself. We can process disappointment and regret because we are dynamic rather than static individuals. If retirement had no developmental tasks the exercise of deliberately defining disappointments and regrets would be an act of futility.
  3. Exercise gratitude for a career well done. The power of gratitude is thoroughly documented. Being grateful for the successes, failures, relationships, resources, connections, and potential inherent in a life-long endeavor is an important transition exercise. Janice and I have had some fun doing this and have found that our perspective has shifted from past to future as we see an increasing sense of expectation commensurate to our gratitude. The nature of this expectation no longer frames itself in the sometimes-limited sense of our past (career growth, income, recognition, etc.), but has branched out to the recognition of the significance of friends, the contribution of experience, and the satisfaction of enjoying the fruit of our labor and the new relationships this enjoyment is generating. While many of our expectations about where we would go in our careers were radically assailed and changed by events, people, and circumstances well out of our control, hindsight gives us a wonderful perspective of the diversity and impact we have had on the lives we have encountered. Gratitude isn’t limited.
  4. Be present. The steps of reflection and transition represented in the first three developmental tasks lead to the most exciting task, being present. As we have engaged in new avenues of endeavor including local and state government, clubs, a  new city, grandchildren, neighbors, and new professionals in our orbit, we have found the most exciting task is simply being present where we are. It is amazing what doors of encouragement, coaching, and friendships. The only limit we have discovered to our current influence is the failure to actively engage in the developmental tasks of this stage of life.

Retirement isn’t a process of mothballing our existence or influence. Instead, it has become a means of amplifying our influence and our flourishing in life. We have found the promise of John 10:10 to be at work. There is a task retirement engages and the satisfaction of this stage is dependent upon whether one openly engages in that task.

[1] J. Robert Clinton. (1989) Leadership Emergence Theory: A Self-Study Manual For Analyzing the Development of a Christian Leader. Altadena, CA: Barnabas Resources, 313.

A New Year…Again

The New Year is a time I use to reflect and anticipate. This year offers both a familiar and unfamiliar journey for me. As I reflect on the past year, I have deep gratitude for friends with whom I have related, their help in keeping me honest in faith by asking questions and observing behaviors of which I am not conscious, sharpens me. I love the laughter inherent in a good friendship – the good-natured ribbing and unabashed love encourage me. I am thankful for colleagues with whom I serve who have promoted my abilities and offered opportunities for me to further develop my skills as a leader. I am deeply enamored and thankful for Janice who walks with me in my most vulnerable times and helps me gather my angst, fear, and concern to the feet of Jesus. All of this is familiar to me and each year I am amazed at the number of experiences and relationships that have influenced and encouraged me.

The unfamiliar aspect of this year emanates from a sense of uncertainty. The post-COVID world is unfamiliar to me, I am left feeling like the scenery is familiar, but the compass directions have all changed. It is not unlike the feeling I had on my first visit to China when I could not find anyone who spoke English and I had to navigate a plane change in an unfamiliar international airport. Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret capture my sense of disorientation in describing the impact of COVID as a great reset of our economy, social order, geopolitical order, technology, industry, mental health, and view of humanity.

Schwab and Malleret define my sense of disorientation by pointing out that the speed with which things have changed can be baffling to our ability to assess both challenges and opportunities. I have more information and analysis than ever before and less time to decide. As I look toward 2023, I see more opportunities and greater challenges than I can wrap my brain around. At times, I just want to retreat to a cave, with a fire, a cup of coffee, and a good book.

While the new year trudges irrepressibly at me I hear the invitation of Jesus, “follow me.” In past years I mapped out concrete plans and strategies replete with key performance indicators and defined milestones. And, I have some of them for 2023 – I am myself after all. But the invitation Jesus gives comforts me. I don’t know the ultimate direction of the next year, Jesus does. And so, I accept Jesus’ invitation. I am invested in doing the work of God’s kingdom. I am expectant, I am humbled, I am comforted. And I give a similar invitation to those around me, let’s follow Jesus, let’s do the work of the kingdom not just in word but in action. Let’s be the healing, comforting, and delivering presence of God to one another and the world around us. Happy New Year!