It’s Hot in Hell

My conservative brothers and sisters– real meal deal, red meat conservative evangelical Christians– often claim that America is going to straight to hell.

They are the ones who nod in agreement when preachers blame the latest devastating hurricane (e.g. Katrina, Irene, Sandy, et al) on American LGBTs; rail against government spending while warning against anyone taking their Medicare; roll down their car windows upon seeing a homeless person and yell, “Get a job;” and, claim to believe in the in the “right to life” while staunchly upholding the death penalty.

I used to roll my eyes at their beliefs, but am coming to believe they are right, at least in their conclusion about where we are headed. If it is not to hell, than it is to someplace equally as dreadful.

Several events of the last two weeks well illustrate our national downward journey.


Gianforte: A kick butt kind of guy

Yesterday, Montana elected a temperamental, violent man as their congressman. The night before the election, he assaulted a reporter. Here is a recording of the assault.

When the news went public, his press office issued a dishonest explanation. Meanwhile, some applauded his action and others justified it. The best Republican leaders could do is whimper, “He should apologize.”

No, they should condemn his physical attack on the free press.

Ironically, as they ignore or attack freedom of the press, this man, his supporters and Republican leaders beat their chests about the freedoms of speech, religion and bearing forearms and how their opponents are trying to subvert them.

We need freedom of the press far more than we need another hothead in Washington.

The assault took place after he was asked about our second revolting item of the week– the CBO score on the cruel-hearted Republican take-away-healthcare bill.

That score said that, if the bill is enacted, 23 million Americans will lose healthcare coverage and millions of others, including many with preexisting conditions, will be priced out of coverage.

Instead of owning these outcomes and their real goal of using the resultant savings to hand a tax cut to the rich, Republicans have the temerity to run a series of national ads claiming that the bill increases coverage and reduces premiums while also protecting those with preexisting conditions.

In other words, they lie and present night as day and fact as fiction.

These have also been the weeks the Seth Rich conspiracy theories have circulated, a conspiracy born in conservative minds with no basis in fact. The claim has aired on Fox News, the Sean Hannity show, other conservative media and interviews with former House speaker and should-be felon Newt Gingrich.

The story has been thoroughly debunked, but some undoubtedly still hold onto it.

Its airing was devoid of decency and unneeded misery for the Rich family.

Our president has been abroad during much of this. His visit to Saudi Arabia, including a meeting with numerous Arab heads of state, reportedly exceeded expectations.

Apparently, our gets along well with autocratic despots, including those in Saudi Arabia and Qatar who excel in exporting their vicious version of fundamentalist Islam that radicalizes young minds.

Leaders Meet For NATO Summit

Trump at NATO meeting

By contrast, however, Trump embarrasses us among our European, more democratic allies (do they still let Erdogan in?) by lecturing them on his misguided understanding of NATO funding and shoving people aside to get in front of cameras.

At least we were spared seeing Trump respond to revelations about his son-in-law’s entanglement with the Russian investigation and the release of his budget requested that balanced the United States budget by double counting $2 TRILLION.

This is Republican America were up is down and bad is good.

If it is not hell, it is close enough.

And it not the fault of LGBTs or any other liberal bogeyman.


Who You Are

This is a sermon from Acts 7:55-60 and I Peter 2:2-10 that I preached on Sunday. It has been reworked a bit before adding it here. It speaks to an issue that confronts many of us today as we get “siloed” together with our group and drown out other opinions and don’t see other people.


Stephen’s execution is a horrific example of a widespread human tendency that sometimes turns lethal.


Before he was martyred, Stephen was one of those who came to believe in Jesus sometime after the day of Pentecost. After that, he rose to be a deacon in the Jerusalem church. His primary work there was to distribute food and other aid to the poor.

Unfortunately, as happened with Jesus, and continually happened to his early followers, Stephen became controversial. He did so basically because he talked and taught Jesus’ resurrection and Jesus’ being the long-awaited messiah.

Over time, his beliefs and actions upon those beliefs gained a growing number of enemies. Some of them accused Stephen of blasphemy, of saying untrue and profane things about God.

Stephen’s trial

We don’t do it in America these days, at least not formally, but back then in Israel, there were people who policed blasphemy. You might remember them. They were who arrested, tried and convicted Jesus of blasphemy. We know them as the Sanhedrin, the group of men who together ruled and enforced the Jewish religion. So, just as Jesus had been drug in to respond to charges, Stephen was drug in to respond to similar charges.

To be fair to the members of the Sanhedrin, I left out of today’s reading some verses that tell some hard and harsh things Stephen said to them. He spat out that they were traitors and murders who were unfaithful to God.

If any of them were sleeping, those words woke them and flipped their anger switches. You can imagine that as Stephen spoke those words, he got their full attention and they leaned forward to hear what else the man might say.

It was then that Stephen crossed the line. The Bible says it was the Holy Spirit who led him to do it. Medieval paintings portray the moment the Holy Spirit did that, with Stephen looking worshipfully and beatifically up to heaven where he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Stephen then voiced his vision. His words transformed his judges into his executioners.

Stephen’s execution


Stoning of St. Stephen, Saint-'Etienne-du-Mont

Stoning of St. Stephen, by Saint-Etienne-du-Mont

To use a modern term, they got weaponized. They covered their ears, shouted to drown out his voice and charged toward him as one. Then they dragged him out of the city and stoned him until he was dead. As the stones broke his bones and tore his skin, Stephen prayer his last words, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”


In those words, he echoed words Jesus prayed as he hung from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” It is likely that none of his executioners heard those words. They had long since quit listening to him, devoting themselves instead to ensuring that his voice was permanently stilled.

The Human Condition

The horrible irony is that Stephen did not die for blasphemy nor did he die for speaking falsely about God. Quite the opposite, he was stoned for speaking what he believed to be the divine truth of Jesus Christ.

Another way of looking at it is that he died because he said some his judges and executioners disagreed with. He offended them and they hated him and killed him because of it.

Friends, be careful if anyone who offends you. If anyone does, be careful how you react to them.

This mob shows us what people are capable of when we judge others; think of them as beneath us; consider them to contemptible or unworthy. Oh, what horrors can happen when we see a person or group of people in those ways.

The long, sad history of America’s tolerance and practice of slavery, followed by decade after decade of hard-hearted, dehumanizing and sometimes murderous racial discrimination bears sad witness to this.

Of course, racial discrimination continues in the United States as we speak. On Saturday, white supremacists demonstrated in Charlottesville. Va. with KKK-type torches blazing while they chanted that they would not be replaced. Never mind that the term “white supremacist” alone defines them as a hate group that menaces others and that the torches linked them to the viciousness of KKK lynchings and terrorism.

To be sure, people in other countries also are guilty of dehumanizing, demonizing or murdering others.

The most-cited example is the Holocaust and Nazi incineration of millions of Jews and others they considered inferior and unworthy. Last week, we also learned of Chechnya’s brutal and often torturous or murderous treatment of LGBTs. Yesterday, we learned of Syria’s mass murder and incineration of its own people.

We have the same human tendency

We might absolve ourselves not only of the stoning of Stephen but also of the examples of hate I just listed. Unfortunately, we have the same seeds within our hearts and minds. We have the same tendency to judge, belittle, condemn others.

Oh, I wish I could escape that fact for myself but I cannot because I am guilty, too.

The ugly truth is that no matter what Jesus might tell us, we still judge people. And, no matter what Jesus might tell us, we are not good at loving our enemies or praying for them. Even worse, we sometimes we do not even try. And, we sometimes we can even pick up a prejudice or even hatred without noticing. It comes naturally. It is as if we inhale from the air around us. Indeed, in some way that is just what we do. I know because I was born into a racist family and early in life had no idea there was another way to be.

It would be nice if we could be like Stephen and remain faithful to God in all things, especially as the worst happens to us. And, I understand that we might still consider ourselves above all the things I have described. After, we rightly think that we did not raise stones at Stephen, we did not own slaves, and we do not hate anybody that we know of.

Some questions to consider

Let’s look at ourselves though.

Do you refuse to listen to perspectives that challenge your opinion or worldview and look dimly on those who voice them?

Do you narrow your eyes and fur your brows at people who practice other religions?

Do you look askance at foreigners or undocumented immigrants and consider them unworthy?

What are your views of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals?

Whatever your answer to these questions, when we look at the world around us we see that there are many people who have fallen prey to judging, demonizing, and hating not just individuals but entire groups of people.

In fact, we in America are good at judging people and dividing out people who are not like us; people who do not believe what we believe; people who look or act differently; anybody who are different from us in some way that we think is significant.

We in the church are part of that. We cannot ignore that. It is for sure that recent polls indicate many people think we are the worst ones about clinging to our views and shutting our minds to those of others.

We may not be that bad, but we are likely just about as guilty as the rest of this fallen world. We’re just as guilty of dehumanizing, even demonizing, those people we deem to be “the other,” those people who fall into our definition of evil,

I think of the growing Republican-Democrat, Liberal-Conservative division. And the noticeable way many people regard those with different skin color or those who follow other religions.

There are others whom we might judge, too. The homeless, even though most are veterans or children. The addicted, even though many are those who have given up hope or fallen prey to something they cannot fight alone.

And we judge the poor or the sick or the inmate, even though Jesus tells us that when we seem them, we see him.

Who we are and what we are called to do

Peter tells us, though, that we are to fight against this all too prevalent human tendency. He says we are to aspire to something better, something higher, something divine.

He says that God calls us to be the kind of people who hear, see and remain open to “the other.” He says God calls us to see them as God’s children who are made in his image just as we are. He says we are called to do that because God has made us to be his living gospel.

Let’s remember together today’s reading from I Peter 2:

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Peter says that once we were not a people, but now we are God’s people. For us, that means in part that we are called out of the darkness of judging, dividing, hating, resenting, and demonizing and into the light of love, acceptance, conciliation and reconciliation. We are called not to live out of our basement selves but our highest selves.

Peter tells us who we are: God’s people. God chose us and united us so we might testify to the greatness of God’s work. Through the power of the gospel, all of us are brought together into one holy nation. That is Peter’s version of what Paul said that we are the body of Christ.

Irrespective of whether we think of ourselves as a part holy nation or part of the body of Christ, it does not mean that are to bask in our glory. It means that we are called to do the demanding work of offering love, grace and mercy to all of God’s children. It means that we are God’s people knit together by our experience of God’s love; that we are God’s people knit together by our experience of God’s grace; that we are God’s people knit together by God’s mercy. And, that of our common experience of God’s grace, mercy and love, we are called to show that some grace, mercy and love to others.

Stephen’s prayer shows us that, in Christ, there is another way. We do not have to succumb to the human tendency to judge, belittle or demonize the other Instead, like Stephen praying for his murderers, we are free to love people whom the world around us say that we should reject or even hate. That love doesn’t make our differences and disagreements fall away, but it allows us to accept and hear others despite those differences or disagreements.

As the Sanhedrin did, it is easy to cover our ears, and it is hard to keep our hearts and minds open to people we do not understand, people who are different from us, people who challenge our ways of thinking, people whose existence might even require us to change our ways of thinking.

But “the mighty acts of God who called us out of darkness and into marvelous light” call and empower us to take on this holy work.

If we look to him, like Stephen did, God will give us the strength to love and show grace and mercy . . . and live out the truth that we are his people.


My Sin and Societal Sin

There have been a number of striking events the past few weeks, but none have affected me more than the mass murders in Orlando and the so-called “Stanford rape” case in Palo Alto. Of course, two horrors cannot be equated with each other but should stand on their own. These certainly do. I wish could make some wise and timeless observations about the two horrors, but have come across two related stories that point me in a different path.

In one, the Lieutenant Governor of Utah gave a speech to a vigil held in Salt Lake City the night of the Orlando massacre. You can find one report about it here.  He spoke simply and honestly about his past discrimination against gays . . . and he apologized for it. He also spoke about how he came to soften his views, and about the societal need to reject hate and turn to love.

At one time, I would have said his views on turning to love were trite and simplistic. There are not. They are the essence of Christian belief and should be the essence of our life ethic. Too many Christians shame Christ because of their continued bigotry behind the fig leaf of biblical sanction. I have been guilty of that, too, and apologize to all LGBTQs for my past disrespect and discrimination against them. May God also forgive me. Thank you, Lt. Governor for your honesty and for opening my eyes.

You can find the second story  here. It is a story of brutality, courage and accountability. It also contains an apology for past sin. In 1998, a woman named Brenda Tracy was brutally raped and sodomized by four football players, including two from Oregon State. Tracy’s fear and shame led her to drop charges two weeks after she filed them. The then OSU coach, Mike Reilly, suspended his two players for one game explaining, “These are really good guys who made a bad choice.” His words diminished her and trivialized her experience similar to what we saw happen more recently to the young lady in the Stanford case.

Fast forward sixteen years, though. Two years ago, the former OSU head coach, Mike Reilly, became aware of Ms. Tracy’s experience and also became head coach at the University of Nebraska. He invited Ms. Tracy to address his team about the particulars of the incident and its impact on her. When she came to Lincoln to do that, Ms. Tracy and Coach Reilly met and embraced. Reilly also apologized to her. He also stood with his football team as she told the story from her point of view, including the impact that Reilly’s prior nonchalance had on her.

Most males in America, including me, also owe apology to women for our past treatment of them—the objectification, teasing, lust, minimization, etc. All of those things that so many males do contribute to this greater issue of societal failure to recognize the horrors of sexual assault and rape. As with any degree of LGBTQ discrimination, we need to repent and be part of turning our society in a different direction.