The Church’s Response to Postmodernism

By Rick McClatchy

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Introduction
Barna found that 48% of the USA population were post-Christian, meaning they either disbelieved in God or they were no longer participating in the life of the church.[i] Of course many of those who are no longer participating in the church do identify themselves as Christians, and a better term to describe them would be post-Church, meaning they have left the church but not necessarily Christianity. Their number is growing according to Pew at about 1% per year.[ii] A significant portion of these people have adopted a postmodern perspective, to which the church has failed to adequately respond. My desire is to suggest ways that the church can reach out to the growing postmodern population that has left the church.
The Postmodern Challenge
Postmodern people desire to experience God in their daily life rather than to simply know theology. Therefore, churches must change their practices of spiritual formation from a rational approach to an experiential approach. A recent study on Christian practices of spiritual formation found the top three responses were—prayer, Bible Study, and reading a book on a spiritual topic. That same study found that those not connected with the church engaged in spiritual formation in another manner. Their top three responses were spending time in nature for reflection, meditation, and practicing silence or solitude.[iii] This study reveals that postmoderns are not wanting to go to a Bible study where they spend a short time in prayer and then study biblical/theological data. That whole approach is too rationally oriented. They are looking for ways to experience God in their life now. 
The church will need to do two major things to connect with the experience-oriented, post-modern population: 1) change its processes of spiritual formation and 2) develop a group of lay people capable of becoming spiritual friends to the disconnected postmoderns.
Changing the Process of Spiritual Formation
Churches would be more effective in connecting with postmoderns if they made their spiritual formation process more experience oriented. One way to do this is to use nature as part of the church’s spiritual practice. The biblical writers were well aware of how nature can connect us with God, e.g. Psalm 19, Romans 1:19-20. Examining the Christian mystical tradition would be a good place for churches to enhance their understanding of a spirituality connected to nature.[iv] A two-volume work by Steven Chase provides exercises on how to use nature as part of one’s spiritual practice.[v]              
Also, expanding the use of contemplative practices such as Lectio Divina and centering prayer would be very helpful, since these practices use solitude and a more meditative approach. Lectio Divina’s practice of scripture reading, meditation, and prayer to promote communion with God is better designed to appeal to people’s desire to experience God than the traditional Bible study class which is designed to convey biblical information. Centering prayer is a method of silent prayerful meditation and openness, which enables one to be aware of God’s presence in and around us.
Developing Lay Spiritual Friends
Certainly, the above additions of immersion in nature, Lectio Divina, centering prayer, and other practices from the Christian mystical tradition would be great additions to the Church’s move from a rational-oriented spirituality to an experience-oriented spirituality. However, those changes are only helpful if one can get postmodern people to participate in the church’s spiritual formation exercises–a prospect that is not too likely. In most cases, one will have to make initial spiritual connections with these people outside of church settings. 
To make these connections outside of church settings, the church will need to develop the practice of reversed hospitality by going into the community and receiving the hospitality extended by others to them. This was the general practice of Jesus, and he instructed the seventy in this method.[vi]                       
Therefore, most churches would be wise to develop a large pool of lay people who could become spiritual friends that could assist people on their spiritual journey and comfortably engage with the spiritual questions that arise in everyday conversations.[vii] One of the major challenges facing lay people who become spiritual friends is that they will need to be very comfortable and competent in dealing with the emerging postmodern spirituality. This postmodern spirituality works with four major values:
      • Spiritual living embraces awe and wonder.[viii]      
      • Spiritual living is a journey of growth and discovery.[ix]  
      • Spiritual living accepts doubt and mystery.[x]        
      • Spiritual living moves toward community life that is accepting and non-institutional.
Also, these spiritual friends would need to be people who learn to ask important questions in spiritual conversations that arise, such as:[xi]
      • When was the last time you experienced awe?
      • Do you think that feelings of awe and wonder are opening us up to deeper dimension of human experience and reality?
      • Do you think doubt plays a role in our spiritual journey?
      • What gives you hope?
The assumption behind such questions is that the Cosmic Christ, the agent of creation who fills the universe (John 5:1-5, Eph. 4:10, Col 1:15-17, Heb 1:1-3), has already been at work in a person’s life. This will require intense and deep listening by the spiritual friend, which in turn will allow the other person to do some deep listening of how God is communicating with him/her.
Another issue that spiritual friends will need to realize is that some of the people who they engage with outside of the church may never become a member of the church. The trend of the deinstitutionalization of spirituality will make it difficult to connect the church with these people’s spiritual journey. However, strong personal spiritual friendships with people in the church, along with the offering of spiritual formation practices as outlined above will provide the church the best opportunity of connecting with postmodern people.
Conclusion
The church can reach the growing postmodern population but it will require that the church adopt new ways of connecting people with the message of Jesus. The church has done this many times in the past and can do so again.

rick mcclatchy

Dr. Rick McClatchy is State Coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas and an adjunct professor at Baptist University of the Américas.
[i] https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016/?utm_source=Barna+Update+List&utm_campaign=12907b5d15-The_State_of_the_Church_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8560a0e52e-12907b5d15-180567977&mc_cid=12907b5d15&mc_eid=f12eac33ff#.V9wB_5grI_x
[ii] Pew Research Center, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” (May 12, 2015) http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/.
[iii] Jeff Brumley, “Contemplative practices can lure the ‘spiritual but not religious’ to Christianity, expert says”, Baptist News Global (April 21, 2017) https://baptistnews.com/contemplative-practices-can-lure-spiritual-not-religious-christianity-expert-says/#WP4vlVKZOu5
[iv] A good book to examine those in the Christian mystical tradition is Carl McColman, Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints, and Sages (Charlottsville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing, 2016). Another book to introduce laity to the thinking of the Christian mystics is a daily devotional book by Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2011). 
[v] Steven Chase, Nature as Spiritual Practice (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2011), and A Field Guide to Nature as Spiritual Practice (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2011).
[vi] This insight of reversed hospitality was provided to me by Michael Gregg, pastor at Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas. He did a D.Min. project on this topic, “Becoming Strangers: Discovering the Presence of God by Receiving Hospitality Communities Outside Northside Drive Baptist Church” at MacAfee School of Theology in 2014.
[vii] A good book that explores the concept of becoming a spiritual friend to others is Joseph A. Stewart-Sicking, Spiritual Friendship after Religion: Walking with People while the Rules Are Changing (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2016).
[viii] Jason Silva’s video “Awe” demonstrates this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QyVZrV3d3o&list=PLF7eeGkHcenROE1QnONFRzSRWCBh6LCCx&index=2
[ix] Jason Silva’s video “We Need to be Lost to Find Ourselves” demonstrates this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GlKdGZcP1E
[x] Lesley Hazleton’d book Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto (New York: Riverhead Books, 2016) demonstrate this and her Ted Talk “The Doubt Essential to Faith” https://www.ted.com/talks/lesley_hazleton_the_doubt_essential_to_faith.
[xi] I am deeply indebted to Christopher Mack, minister at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, for his insights in this area.

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Finding God’s purpose in the little things

By Craig Bird

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Somewhere in the 1960’s a prophet wrote to me. I hear him still.
 I do not remember his name or the newspaper column or anything more than these few words: “I saw the beginning of the decline of our civilization today on a trip to the grocery store. In the parking lot an able-bodied man, pulled into a clearly marked handicapped space. Inside a person with maybe 15 things in her cart checked-out at the register posted ‘10 items or fewer.’”
He was not unaware of all the chaos and turmoil of that fateful decade. John Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinated. Vietnam and more Vietnam on the evening news. The British Invasion on teenagers’ radios. Killings at Kent State. Cities burning in race riots. The Cuban Missile Crisis. The Sexual Revolution. Time Magazine cover asking, “Is God Dead?”
But he was speaking the truth in irony and insisted that an inconsiderate driver and a few extra boxes and cans marked the tipping point toward our collective self-destruction. And I think he was right. When a critical mass of any group/nation/congregation/family begins to discard its shared commitment to kindness and fairness, that group/nation/congregation/family heads downhill.
Of course, the concept of small things leading to big things is all over the place: mighty oaks from little acorns grow . . . for want of a nail a kingdom was lost . . . a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Most of us encountered them in our childhood reading time. (See “The Princess and the Pea” and “The Little Engine that Could.”)
But my prophet was not talking about motivational speeches or heart-warming success-against-all-odds stories. What struck him was the casualness of these actions. An unwillingness to tolerate the slight inconveniences by putting someone else’s needs first.
Maybe the refusal of 2017 Americans to discuss calmly their differences and the unrelenting politics of seek and destroy really were born in that Houston parking lot 50-plus years ago.
Wherever its small beginnings, that is the world students at Baptist University of the Américas face after graduation. Which is the reason I am glad that three of the university’s Core Values—and much of scripture—speak to this issue. 
  1. We are Christ-centered rooted in our faith in the person of Jesus Christ.
  2. We are Baptists to our core.
  3. We have a Holistic commitment to Teaching and Learning.
  4. We insist on Integrity, Responsibility, and Respect.
  5. We create Cross-cultural competence.
  6. We practice Hospitality.
  7. We focus on Community.
So what does all of this have to do with grocery stores, scripture, and BUA?
Let us start with Philippians 2:1-4 (NIV), paying special attention to the “ifs” and to verses three and four. “IF you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, IF any comfort from his love, IF any common sharing in the Spirit, IF any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Plain enough. Anyone who has enjoyed ANY benefits from his or her relationship with Jesus Christ are to, as The Message puts it: “Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” The “humility” (Greek: tapeinophrosune) Paul is talking about was stunningly radical in his day. The Romans, like the Greeks, considered humility an abhorrent sign of weakness. Any man worthy of being called a man considered himself superior to others—and made sure, others knew it.
But the New Testament turns the word into the highest compliment.
The Greek in the text makes plain that we do not mean we lose sight of our own value before God. It is not that we think badly of ourselves, but because we love our fellow humans and Christ first loved us, we want to sacrifice for their benefit.
It is a love that does not demand its rights but ask for the privilege of serving. Verse 4 really drives the point home. It is about more than grocery store parking lots.
When Paul writes about “looking” to meet the needs of others, he makes two points that do not carry over clearly into the English translation. First, believers are to be both pro-active in noticing others’ situations and do so on a continual basis. Second, we are not to sacrifice our own needs and responsibilities. Rather the idea is that we do not focus so hard on what is good for us that we are oblivious to others.
Living examples of this are all over the place at Baptist University of the Américas.  
When the Spanish program was launched, the textbooks were expensive because they covered two semesters. In an early class, three students were venting about the high cost when another student defused the situation. “Some friends just sent my wife and me a love offering,” he explained. “I think it would honor their gift if we used it to pay for your books.” He had financial needs and wants that he probably had targeted but he saw someone whose needs were greater. Therefore, he met them.
Another student, struggling financially himself, learned a young Moldovan desperately needed a computer. Therefore, he gave him his laptop—meaning he had to use the computers in the library. To top it off, the Moldovan did not even attend BUA.
The best part about BUA is also the hardest part. We draw students from so many different cultures that we are always running into different viewpoints, different definitions of “normal” and different ways of doing things. Often it is the emotional equivalent of a sharp elbow in the ribs.
But those differences are what make the learning environment so rich, what allow us to expand our understanding of servanthood, to see new depths in familiar Bible passages.
However, all this enrichment happens only when we are true to our Core Values. To combine #4, #6 and #7: while we respectfully practice hospitality to build community, we get many opportunities to live out tapeinophrosune.
We truly believe BUA graduates are changing this world for the better. Not just because of the academic knowledge and spiritual training they receive, but because they know, too, the joy of “looking out for the best interest of others” in the small moments of life as well as the grand encounters.
The redemption of our world begins with small steps.  I think my prophet would agree.

wilderness point mug

Craig Bird is Assistant Professor of Missions and Cross Cultural Communications.

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Moses Made Me Cry: Reflections on an Alien’s Moment of Weakness

By João Chaves

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Those who know me know that I am not an emotional person. Not too long ago, however, Moses made me cry. The text was Exodus 2:22, which is not widely taken as an emotional text: Zipporah “bore him a son, and Moses named him Gershom; for he said, ‘I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.’”
I cried over Exodus 2:22 not just because I am an immigrant in the U.S. who is a father of two American-born children, but also because I saw in Moses’ naming of Gershom, the illusion that he had belonged in Egypt despite his alienized body, alienized name, and hybrid cultural background; an illusion that was dissipated only when Moses’ burning-bush experience prompted him to come to grips with what it really meant to be Hebrew in Egypt.
I know the end of the story, of course: Moses was powerfully used by God to set the Hebrew people free from Pharaoh’s Egypt-first policies. I also know that Moses’ late identification with his people was key to the story. Yet, Moses’ realization that Egypt was not a place for him and his people involved a negative crisis prompted by Egypt’s treatment of the aliens in their territory—and these alien Hebrews were, in terms of their birthplace, Egyptian through-and-through. Characterizations of belonging in terms of birthplace, however, are generally too weak to garner wide support from dominant cultures.
As the plot of the book of Exodus shows, what prompted Pharaoh’s Egypt-first policies was the growing number of aliens in Egypt that, in turn, threatened Pharaoh’s concept of an ideally pure Egyptian dominance. When such dominance was threatened by Hebrew numeric growth, Pharaoh imposed rules to oppress alien Hebrews. Moses, however, was sheltered from these harsh measures and found favor with Pharaoh’s daughter. When Moses grew up, he went to where his people lived and killed an Egyptian man who was oppressing a Hebrew man. Moses then fled when he realized his life was in danger (Exodus 1:1-2:15); it turned out that the life of one pure Egyptian man was worth much more than those of Egyptian-born Hebrew children Pharaoh had previously killed.
Given this background, I am amazed by Moses’ sadness in naming his son Gershom because his naming suggests that Moses’ self-understanding was one that highlighted that he once belonged in Egypt: “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land,” he said in his exile. But belong in Egypt he did not! Moses was a Hebrew in a land made by Egyptians for Egyptians. Sure that previous Pharaohs, those who remembered Joseph, had policies of Hebrew inclusion, but then, as the Bible tells us, “a new king who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt” (Exodus 1:8) and things became harsh for aliens under the new administration, an administration that was condemned by the God who heard the cries of the aliens in Egypt.
Before the burning bush, Moses seemed to have missed Egypt as if he belonged there. But under Egypt’s current administration there would be no space for a path toward full belonging, and Moses needed a divine “wake-up call” in order for him to turn away from his mentality of Egyptian-in-exile and become an agent for his people’s liberation. It is only in the burning-bush experience that we clearly see Moses taking a knee to the Egyptian anthem. That is, it is in the presence of the I Am that Moses is irreversibly turned towards his oppressed people, and, as a necessary consequence, turned against the state that oppressed them.
The experience of the naming of Gershom, however, came before God revealed his plan for Hebrew liberation and it uncovers a dynamic not uncommon to those who live in hybridity. Moses, as a Hebrew, did not belong in Egypt—especially under Egypt’s new administration. Moses, however, could not think of a land to which he could fully attach his identity. The divine call to liberation, therefore, came with the promise for a land that Hebrews could call their own. But the possibility for liberation had to pass through the path of Hebrew unity and organization; unity against the Egyptian administration and organization for the implementation of initiatives that would facilitate Hebrew freedom.
It is precisely in terms of unity that Martin Luther King, Jr. evoked the image of Pharaoh in his sermon I’ve Been to the Mountaintop and urged African-Americans to fight against the injustices perpetuated by the most powerful sectors of U.S. dominant culture.
The possibilities of unity against the current Egyptian administration and organization for Hebrew liberation, however, just became a reality in Moses’ mind when he realized he did not belong. He did not belong not because he wasn’t born in Egypt; he was. He did not belong not because he didn’t speak the language; he did. He did not belong not because he was not proficient in Egyptian culture; he was. He did not belong because the new Egyptian administration, which was reflected in Egyptian culture, was drowned in Egyptian supremacism and, as such, alienized ethnicities such as the Hebrews did not find their best interests reflected in the administration’s policies. But Moses, in Exodus 2:22, still thought he belonged, it seems to me. It was that Moses who made me cry.
The Moses who made me cry was not the liberator, but the Moses who thought he belonged in Egypt. The Moses who made me cry was the Moses who, partially because of his privileges, failed to act for the benefit of the least of Egyptian society even when the least of Egyptian society was his own people. The Moses who made me cry was the Moses who attached his identity so strongly to Egypt that he did not realize the extent to which the Egyptian administration had shown, again and again, that his people were perceived by the leadership as inconveniences at best and threats at worst. That is the Moses I see in Exodus 2:22; the Moses who regrets his son is not born an Egyptian, even if his current Egypt represented a state that despised him. This Moses, the Moses before the liberation, is the Moses who made me cry. The Moses who was so enamored with connecting his identity to the biggest empire on earth, that he was blinded to how such empire hated him.
And, if ethnic minorities ever find themselves living under an antagonistic administration, the God-given, post-burning bush strategy of Moses seems to offer a timeless path: believe, organize, resist, and overcome!

joao-chavez

João Chaves, BUA adjunct professor, is a Brazilian-born historian of Christianity. He loves trying to catch up to his marathon-running wife and playing board games with his two American children. João is the author of Evangelical and Liberation Revisited (Wipf & Stock, 2013) and of several peer-reviewed articles and book chapters.

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A Living Faith

By Howard Anderson

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 What is faith?
“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1, NLT).
According to Gordon W. Allport, “Faith … seems to carry a warmer glow of affection than does bare belief. It suggests that though the risk may be greater, still the commitment is stronger and the outcome of the wager more precious” (The Individual and His Religion). Faith seems simple and easy when all goes right. It may even stand up against some drastic event that would seem to shake the foundations.
It is easy to say “I will be faithful to death” when there are no clouds on the horizon. The trials of earthly life can be overwhelming—Aids, cancer, drug and alcohol addiction, babies born out of wedlock, and a government that seems determined to “Make America Great Again” by reversing the Civil Rights of black and brown people, and cancelling the health care for over 24 million Americans. Life conditions are accompanied by socioeconomic stratification. Our faith may not enable us to see as clearly into the future.
A living faith will help you to see yourself as God sees you … children of the living God. We need guidance every day of our lives. Psalm 139 is a marvelous comment upon God’s wonderful knowledge of us and His profuse love for us, just the way we are. With all our objectionable baggage… we belong to God—lock, stock, and barrel. God desires to gain intimacy with us through a living faith.
We can be secure about our spiritual lives. The unknown writer of Hebrews tells us that through faith and because of the blood of Jesus, our sins can be forgiven and we can experience the presence of God in a new and life-giving way. Faith is important for salvation.
The priesthood of Christ is superior to the Levitical priesthood, which was made at Mount Sinai. The Levitical priesthood could not bring the people to perfection. There was no permanent reconciliation between the people and God through the temporary animal sacrifices. The people needed the perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ, who gave His life once to restore the people to a relationship with God.
The Levitical high priests atoned for all sins of the people on the Day of Atonement. Every year, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies where he made a sacrifice for the nation’s sins. A curtain prevented anyone from seeing the inner sanctuary. When Jesus died for the sins of humanity, the curtain was torn open, permitting anyone to enter the holiest of all—God’s presence. The high priest was no longer required for believers to be forgiven. By a “new and life-giving way” (Hebrews 10:20), believers can go directly to God through faith in Christ.
Christ shed His blood to give humanity the ability to come before God’s presence by faith. Our High Priest is Jesus Christ, who experienced the pain, temptations, and trials that we face as believers. By the righteousness of Christ, the Superior Priest, “we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19). Through the shed blood of Christ, we can come before our Creator by faith.
Through Christ, we can freely enter into the presence of God. Through faith in Christ’s work on our behalf, we come “fully trusting,” that our sins are forgiven. The believer must be cleansed before he or she can come before the Holy One. While we are declared “not guilty” because of the work of Christ, we need to cleanse ourselves daily by turning away from sin and turning to God to experience the fullness of relationship with Him. We must give ourselves completely to God and maintain a personal relationship with Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews encourages believers to “hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm” (Hebrews 10:23). God reveals His promises and truths through His Word; therefore, we must embrace God’s Word and resist temptation and opposition. His promises are our treasures that we believe with a confident expectation. The foundation of our faith is based upon the integrity and righteousness of Christ. We have hope because “God is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:9), and God can be trusted to keep his promise (Hebrews 10:23).
But this salvation affects not only our spiritual lives, but all of our existence. Therefore, we cannot be discouraged by the alternate facts and the willful sin against God’s people. Believers must stir up the qualities of love and good works toward each other (Hebrews 10:24). Believers can have an impact on one another by loving and doing good deeds for each other. The fellowship of believers is a source of encouragement; it is an opportunity to share faith and grow stronger; promotes accountability; and it is the opportunity to worship and pray with others. Praising God through thanksgiving and through acknowledging His character and attributes is one of the best ways I know to break the bonds of willful sin.
Have you accepted Christ by faith and experienced a relationship with God that is only available through Christ, the Superior Priest? The world is temporary, but our life with God is eternal. Each day we must trust God and hold on to our faith and then share our faith with others. When we share our love for God, we can encourage others and introduce them to a new life through Christ.

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Dr. Howard Anderson is celebrating 39 years in the gospel ministry—theologian/spiritual director and an Ordained Baptist minister. In his third year, he serves as an adjunct professor in biblical/theological studies for the Baptist University of the Américas. He is a certified spiritual counselor. He is currently serving as the Executive Director for the Community Churches for Social Action, Associate Pastor at the St. Paul Baptist Church, and Senior Vice President at the San Antonio Theological College.

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The Church and Political Engagement

By Patricia Villarreal

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Is it enough to “love one another” by giving food and clothes, or by providing an after-school club, or does “love” include speaking out on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves?
Is it an act of love to vote or speak out against an institution or a system that places its citizens or citizens of the world in living conditions that they need food, clothing, and assistance in education? 
Recently I had to wrestle with these questions as I participated in the Advocacy Day sponsored by the Christian Life Commission (CLC), the ethics and public policy agency of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. This event is held while our state legislators are in session at the Texas state capitol. Advocacy Day is generally attended by Texas Baptist church leaders, members, and pastors who gather together within a 2-day period to hear the latest issues that affect the greater good for fellow Texans. The different issues range from abusive gambling practices, protection of the unborn, human trafficking, pay day lending, to school reform.
I have taken BUA students from my social work classes for the last four legislative sessions. Under the guidance of CLC staff, we were equipped with basic Texas civic lessons, the process of an introduction of a bill, how it goes through a committee, then how the bill eventually becomes a law or dies in committee. CLC staff then instructed us how to make an office visit with a senator or representative. We were provided with the names of our legislative representatives and guided to their offices where we brought our concerns or presented issues that Texas Baptists were concerned about.
Without exception, every student during the debriefing on our way back to BUA commented on how easy it was to speak to an elected official or to their staff. They felt empowered with this experience to return to their homes and address communal issues that in their view require attention. This year, BUA staff member Luis Juarez took 10 students. They also served as workshop assistants to the Advocacy Day presenters. They did a great job. I was so proud of their involvement.
But this year, it was a different experience for me. In preparation for our state capitol visit on Wednesday, the Tuesday Advocacy Day group time (break-out sessions on special issues) included two social analysts: Gabe Lyons, author of The Next Christians and founder of the Q learning community, and Vincent Bacote, director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College and author of The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life. They provided thought provoking general sessions as to why we, as the church and as Christ followers, should even get involved in political engagement. These two Bible believing social analysts basically said we must, if we believe one of God’s greatest commandment “Love one another.”
I had not looked at the “Love one another” verse to include political engagement. We are familiar with the Matthew 25 text that encourages Christ followers to feed, clothe, and visit the poor and oppressed. However, there are many Biblical texts that call us to do more than benevolence giving. Biblical references in a call to action include speaking against unjust practices or broken systems such as in the Old Testament (Proverbs 31:8 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves….”; Isaiah 1:17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed….) as well as Jesus’ examples of calling out the political and religious authorities to stop taking advantage of the people (Matthew 18: 7 “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble!”; Matthew 23 chapter is a warning to Pharisees and religious rulers of the day. He begins with a reprimand “woe to you teachers of the law, you Pharisees… you hypocrites… you snakes, you brood of vipers” and continues this theme throughout the chapter.)
Jesus was very vocal when he spoke out against leaders who were in power and misled and mistreated those they governed. 
I grew up in a culture that was ambivalent about Christian engagement in social action. Initially, teachings in church concentrated on the “things of heaven since we were not of this world.” Other than benevolent actions, the church was not to engage in any political action. I don’t even remember the importance of voting.
Fortunately, those messages are changing. Our general speakers introduced a broader theological framework as to why we must be involved in societal injustices that affect individual potential. They introduced a macro perspective to consider for the first great commission.
In Dr. Bacote’s book The Political Disciple, a Theology of Public Life, he states “…. there is more than one Great Commission in the Bible. While Matthew 28:19-20 commands us to make disciples of the nations, Genesis 1:26 and 28 reveal that humans were commanded to cultivate the creation, to lead it to flourishing as the result of the best kind of stewardship. Human beings were created in God’s image, and an essential part of demonstrating this divine image is working with the creation in a way that displays the best sense of ‘rule’” (p. 29)
In other words, healthy systems are to maximize the potential of God’s creation. Any barriers to that potential must be addressed both in benevolence and in political engagement.
In conclusion, what I learned is that silence and lack of action are not options! Now is the time to be aware of unjust laws that deny opportunities of growth or protection to individuals. It is time for Christ followers to get involved by getting to know their legislators, learn about bills under consideration, and advocate for human rights. I, for one, pray for political leaders, and have made my initial visits to my state representatives. More visits will follow! How about you?
Patty's pic 2016
Patty Villarreal, LMSW celebrates 40 years as a social worker this April. In her 11th year, she serves as an adjunct professor in social work for the Baptist University of the Américas. She co-founded the Latina Leadership Institute where she serves as their development director. She is currently serving on several boards that deal with community development, anti-human trafficking efforts, social work education, and health issues.

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Honor God’s Word: Treating Each Other as Equals

By Mario Ramos

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Imagine Paul the apostle visited a local church. He found out that the pastor had a slave. She was held against her will to clean, cook, wash and keep house for his family. When Paul asked the pastor why he had a slave, the pastor quoted what Paul had written in Ephesians 6:9: And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him (NIV). How do you think Paul would respond? 
I’ve asked the question to several people and no one has ever said that Paul would respond, “You are right. That is exactly what I believe you should do as long as you treat her well.”
I use this scenario to make the point that we cannot honor God’s word by applying it directly across the centuries and cultures without considering the context. Earlier in Ephesians we read, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior” (Ephesians 5:22-23, NIV). And yet, it seems like some of my fellow Christians believe that one can apply that Scripture the same way it was done in the first century.
In Galatians 3:28 Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NASB). He lays the theological foundation of our standing before God and each other on what Jesus Christ has done for us.  Christ’s redemption makes us equal before God and each other. Some suggest that this is limited to our standing before God. I would argue that this has sociological and ecclesiological implications. The “dividing wall of hostility” that separated us, our ethnicities, our social/economic class, and our gender, Jesus Christ destroyed it on the cross (Ephesians 2:14-16). 
Paul confronted Peter for not eating with the Christian Gentiles, but only with the Christian Jews (Galatians 2:11-13). Peter’s behavior showed signs of hypocrisy and disobedience to the gospel. Salvation through Christ has sociological implications. Before, according to Jewish law, Jewish Christians were not allowed to eat with Gentile Christians, but now in Christ, everything has changed.  Not only are Christians allowed to eat food that was formerly forbidden by the Old Testament law, but also they are to relate in new ways. Now Jewish and Gentile Christians are to eat and fellowship together.
We see Paul’s dissatisfaction with the status quo of inequality in his letters. He seeks to point out the freedom women and slaves have in Christ. When writing to the Ephesians and the Colossians, he addresses the women and the slaves before the men and the slave masters. This was a breech in etiquette in patriarchal society. I can imagine that the men felt insulted. When speaking to the women, Paul instructs them to submit to their own husband, which was a requirement already in place by cultural norms and the law of the land. However, they were to do it out of reverence for Christ.
Paul then addresses the men. One would anticipate Paul saying that the men are to “rule” the women. After all, the opposite of submit is to rule or to lead. But Paul throws them a curve ball and shocks his male audience by saying, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, NIV). By this one statement Paul reverses the role of husband and wife for that time and place. The wife’s role is to make sure her husband (the man who has all the legal, economic, political, social and religious power) has his needs met, first and foremost. She is there to serve her husband. But now, Paul’s apostolic command is for the man to love/serve his wife, the way Christ served the church, even sacrificing his own body for her. Paul uses Jesus Christ as the prime example of that. Can you see how revolutionary, how ridiculous that must have sounded to the church in Ephesus? I wonder if some of the men stormed out of the church in disgust. 
If you think this is bad, go to 1 Corinthians 7: 3-4. The place where patriarchal culture was most clearly exercised in New Testament biblical times was in the bedroom. The man, first and foremost, had all the authority when it came to sex. It was the woman’s (wife’s) duty to fulfill the sexual needs of her husband regardless. And it was nobody’s business to tell him otherwise.  She was his property. But Paul again breaks custom when he dares speak of the sexual relationship between husbands and wives. Because we are now Christians, and Jesus has made everyone equal in salvation, we are also equal in our relationships. This truth has sociological implications. The issue of authority has now changed. Before men had all the authority but now women have equal share in that authority. Thus, Paul writes, “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife” (1 Cor. 7:4, NIV).
Clearly, we no longer abide by the cultural norm of owning slaves. Even though it was considered acceptable in Paul’s day, it is no longer acceptable today. In the same way, we no longer encourage social separation of Christians based upon one’s ethnicity, social class or gender differences. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice has changed the way we relate to God our Father and to each other. Treating each other as equals before God and each other should be the new Christian norm. As we do this, we are indeed honoring God’s word. 
Mario Ramos
Dr. Ramos teaches Practical Theology courses at the Baptist University of the Américas. He earned his Master’s degree in Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theology Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas and his Doctorate in Ministry from George W. Truett Theology Seminary at Baylor University. Mario has pastored in different churches in South Texas for more than 15 years. He is married to Linda for 40 years. They have three grown sons of which two are married and have four grandchildren.

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