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Posts from May 2017

When Graduation Becomes a Protest

Students are putting on ill-fitting mortarboards and unattractive robes as symbols of accomplishment throughout our nation. It is that time of year where high school students receive their diplomas and college and university students are honored with their degrees. 

Commencement ceremonies, with all the pomp and circumstance, are wonderful events. They bring families and friends together for a time of celebration. For many parents of college students, the moment feels like their boss just gave them a raise (that is if they were paying for their child's schooling.) 

Yet, as we now know with our cultural and sexual revolution in full-swing, no public gathering will take place without a worldview divide revealed. Division has always existed among people, but the lines have shifted most recently and dramatically, at that. 

Everything is Political

Politics is divisive by nature. It always has been. Yet, now more than ever in the US with President Trump's administration in place and the Republican led House and Senate, the dividing lines seem to be painted more boldly. Of course, it may be due to the vast increase of media outlets online and the mostly left-leaning mainstream traditional news outlets. Thus, the battle for the news, whether it be real or fake.

Recent incidents have revealed the political and social worldview divide on the public stage. Recently, graduates from Bethune-Cookman University loudly protested the introduction of commencement speaker, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.  The disruption at the ceremony led the university's president to threaten cancellation of the ceremony with a promise to mail the degrees to the graduates. Secretary DeVos was allowed to continue her speech at that point. (Story here.)

Graduates-graduation-cap-and-gown

Most recently, the most popular Roman Catholic university in the United States, Notre Dame, held it's graduation ceremony. It too made headlines based on a student protest. Vice President Mike Pence was the guest speaker and when introduced, a large crowd of students stood and exited the room. It was noticeable and captured on video to be shared globally. News agencies picked up the story and while it was unprecedented, it was far from surprising. 

Why the protest of Pence?

News sites have numerous interviews with students and seem to be leaning on two stories as to why the protest occurred. One has to do with Pence's position in the Trump administration. Therefore, President Trump's immigration policies among many other things, were being protested by the students. 

The other issue had to do with Pence's positions on family, marriage, abortion and LGBT views that were center-stage when Vice President Pence served as Governor of the state of Indiana. Pence's views and opinions on these issues have not shifted and that is the problem.

 

It's strange, however, that the public views and policies of the Vice President actually line up with the stated views of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church and therefore, of the University of Notre Dame. Yet, it is at this university where a divide was viewed most clearly. That is what makes this even more intriguing. If this protest took place at the University of Florida, Florida State University or any other publicly funded university, there would be no story. But, this was at a religious university, affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. 

The New York Times reports...

“Of course we welcome and support free speech on campus,” Mr. Miranda (Luis Miranda - a 29-year-old masters graduate who walked out - DT)  said. “But commencement is not a moment for academic exchange or political dialogue. It’s a celebration of all of our hard work.”

Mr. Miranda added that Mr. Pence’s role in graduation was particularly unsavory for some students and their families — including gay people and immigrants — who might have been hurt by the policies favored by the Trump administration.

Protest organizers estimated that more than 100 people had walked out. On social media, many could be seen wearing rainbow pins or flags, which were also hung from windows around the campus as a symbol of gay pride.

And there it is.

A few things stand out to me, but primarily, as a parent who has funded one university graduate's complete tuition and fees and currently is doing the same for another, the statement that the commencement ceremony is "a celebration of all our hard work" reeks of self-centeredness. But, who can blame him. In a culture where child-worship begins at birth and lasts through adolescence into young adulthood, this is expected.

While I do not know Mr. Miranda, nor do I know how he paid for his education, I do feel it safe to say that the majority of graduates have experiences from childhood through elementary, junior high, high school and college that reveal others along the way who supported, provided and sweat along with them for this special day. Of course, I understand that the student is the one receiving the degree. The study, work, and testing was done by that student and it was and is hard. Believe me, I'm back in school as well.

Nevertheless, a self-centric focus that states that the event is "all about me" is asinine and wrong. 

Mr. Miranda's family may applaud his protest. I just wonder how many other parents of students who walked out felt betrayed, not by the commencement speaker (even if they disagreed with Mr. Pence greatly) but by their student for daring to do what they did? Truth be told - I have one child who would likely want to walk out as did the protestors at Notre Dame, for the very same reasons. I would disagree with just about every reason. Betrayal would be one feeling that would surface.

It's a mixed bag. I'm sure some were heralded as bold while others were chastised by loved ones. 

Yet, the point is clear - we live in a divided culture. Is it more so than in the past? That's hard to determine. We didn't live in the past with the age and experience we now have. Yet, historical analysis reveals that our dividing lines are pretty unique. The sexual and LGBT revolution have determined such.

I think back to my graduation from the university. It was a big deal. I finally made it. However, do you know what I don't remember?

I don't remember who the commencement speaker was. Neither do I remember what he or she said.

I do remember that I didn't walk out.

Of course, I'm sure my speaker wasn't as politically connected or globally popular. Nevertheless, I graduated and my wife and parents were there with me. They celebrated along with me because my walking across that stage in Denton, Texas was as special a moment for them as it was for me.

Worldview Division

News stories like this come and go. They get shared on social media. Radio and television talking heads dissect the details. Christians get caught up in the stories as well and the danger is to not become that negative stereotype that blasts the younger generation. Seriously - being that old guy standing outside yelling "get off my yard" to the next generation is not the model we should follow.

Yet, as Christians, we must see things for what they are.

Worldviews matter. The sexual and moral revolutions in our culture have and are happening at breakneck speed. It's evident in these graduation ceremonies. More things like what happened at Notre Dame will happen and will eventually not make the news - because it will be so common.

Christians are forced with hard questions of faith and biblical truth. When the dividing lines have been drawn (regardless who drew them,) on what side do those who seek to follow God's Word stand?

Loving people is not up for a vote. It is a mandated command from Christ. Nevertheless, love does not mean total absolution of biblical truth. In fact, it means just the opposite. Love does not mean affirmation for sin. This is the challenge of the church—how to love God, love people, and make disciples of Christ without compromise or becoming the negative stereotype that those on the other side of the divide are devising? 

It is possible. It is happening. One protestor held a sign that said "Love Trumps Hate" with obvious intonations toward the President. Even in the snarky protest, the truth is on that placard. Love does trump hate. Love does win. Just not the version of love that culture defines. 

The win is found in the Gospel—the Good News. The good news is that God loves. So. Very. Much. And that love through Jesus Christ gives us hope. That love is not self-centric. That love is God.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (ESV)


Is Wednesday Really a Church Night?

Here in the South, the previously known "Bible Belt," many local schools and youth sports leagues used to avoid scheduling games and practices on Wednesday evenings. Some leagues and schools still avoid this day for sports. For those who live anywhere else in the United States or Canada, this seems odd. 

WHY IS WEDNESDAY ANY DIFFERENT THAN OTHER WEEKDAYS?

The answer is simple, and it has nothing to do with it being "Hump Day"! (You just said that sentence like the camel in the GEICO commercials didn't you?)

For decades, Wednesday has been viewed as the "other holy day" on the evangelical church's weekly calendar. 

Sundays have been the gathering day for churches for, oh about two thousand years, but Wednesdays? That's another story.

I found an online forum where someone asked "When did Wednesday church become a thing, and why?" Here are some of the most common answers...

  • Growing up Lutheran in heavily Catholic Buffalo, I never heard about church on Wednesday. In the various cities where I've lived, same thing: church services were held on Sunday, with the popular Saturday night services for Catholics. I never heard of church on Wednesday until I moved to northeast Ohio. When I tell others about it, the response is generally along the lines of "Well, duh!", as if I told them I didn't know people went to church on Sunday.
  • Never heard of it. I've lived in Philadelphia, Miami, Houston and several countries other than the USA.
  • A Wednesday evening service is standard in the Protestant South.
  • I've always associated it with the Baptists. Seems all my Baptist students have some church activity or another scheduled for Wednesday night. Never any other denomination, to my recollection.
  • Most Baptist and Evangelical Christian churches that I'm aware of, both east coast and west coast, have Wednesday night services. I've been to them in California, Ohio, Atlanta and Florida.
  • When I last attended public school (Iowa, early 1980s), I assumed Wednesday was the night for church youth groups. Didn't know it was part of any denomination, altho our district was probably 75% mainstream Protestant and another 20% Holy Joe.
  • I grew up in South Dakota, and Wednesday nights were always 'Church Night', and there were no activities related to school (such as sports, besides practices) pretty much statewide. In fact, the calendar included with the monthly school bulletin had all Wednesdays marked as 'Church Night'.
  • Relatively few churches around here have mid-week services. A few have contemporary services and I suppose some of them are held on Wednesdays, but not to the extent that it would have a big impact on secular scheduling. I suspect it may be more a tradition in Baptist churches, though I'm basing that on the one Baptist family I'm friends with....and that is more their Awana night, which I think is like an intensive Sunday School for the kids. I suppose if there is a large concentration of Baptists in your area then it may be tradtional to schedule around that night. But us United Methodists don't block that day out permanently.
  • I grew up in Texas. My family was Methodist, and our church did nothing special on Wednesdays. However, Wednesday evening services seemed nearly universal among the local Baptist* churches, of which there were many. Wednesday was "off the table" when setting the practice schedules in the local youth soccer league, for example, and the reason why did not normally need to be explicitly mentioned in conversation; it was considered common knowledge.

Well, it seems the South is not the only Wednesday church area, but as the comments reveal, there is an obvious reality here. For highly churched areas (where Baptists are a majority it seems,) Wednesdays have been a staple for decades. The comment that the local youth soccer league had Wednesdays "off the table" regarding practices and games is more common in southern and midwestern areas. Yet, even that trend is changing.

Digital-tablet-and-computer-on-wooden-table

WEDNESDAYS NIGHTS - THE SACRED COW OF MANY CHURCHES

In a recent conference I attended led by Tony Morgan, he asked about the very real issue of "sacred cows" in our local churches. Borrowing the term from Hinduism, the Baptist and evangelical sacred cows have nothing to do with the walking beef we see in fields and on ranches. The sacred cows that develop in our churches are ministries or programs that have developed in our churches having most likely experienced their era of usefulness, but still remain in the budget or on the calendar. They remain because no one in leadership is bold enough to say "that needs to go or change." One pastor at the conference responded that Sunday School was a sacred cow in his church. You could almost hear the air leave the room. For many Baptists, Sunday School has been untouchable. It is the the one program that must never be eliminated or changed, it seems. At least that's how many feel. Yet, this pastor mentioned it and many others in the room (myself included) agreed that in some cases, even Sunday School may need to change or be eliminated based on a church's structure, model, and culture. 

I'm not saying Christian education and discipleship need to go, but an ineffective model may.

Wednesday night programming is something that also may need to be addressed. 

The same questions many churches are asking about Wednesday evening programming were asked about Sunday evening programming not that long ago.  I see very few churches in our city pushing a traditional Sunday evening service schedule. While some do (and it works for them), most are going to home groups, special events, committee meetings, or simply nothing on Sunday evenings. 

One pastor I know says that the sign of a dying church is when they cancel Sunday night services. Try as he may to prove that statement correct, many churches have proven that wrong. Ultimately, a calendared event is not the sign of a healthy, growing church.

But, what about Wednesday?

I do believe there is validity in having a mid-week gathering for Bible Study, fellowship and other things for the local church. However, those gatherings do not have to be large group settings. They also do not have to happen in a church's facility. For student ministry, a mid-week worship service or Bible teaching time is great. In fact, many teenagers may connect mid-week where they would never on an early Sunday morning. Yet, just because a youth service gathered 100 students ten years ago does not mean it will today. That is true for all ministries. As long as we are organized and structured to do what worked a decade or two ago, we will continue to develop ministry strategies designed to reach people that existed a decade or two ago.

With the growth of church plants and churches who rent space in schools and other locations on weekends, the idea of a mid-week gathering at a church building is not an option.

WEDNESDAY IS NOT REALLY A CHURCH DAY

We categorize church days as those when the church meets for worship and gathers together. For the vast majority of us, that day is Sunday. Though, with changing schedules and church space issues, some churches have "church day" on Saturday or another day of the week.

When speaking of Wednesday as a "church day" it hearkens back to an era when even those not in church agreed that church activities (mostly children and youth activities) were on Wednesdays and should be. Therefore, nothing else would be scheduled to compete with that.

Those days are gone.

Perhaps church leaders should put Wednesdays on the table for evaluation and have honest discussions regarding the mid-week schedule? I am not advocating the cancellation of Wednesday activities. However, I am advocating an honest discussion on the viability of such mid-week gatherings. If a church holds Wednesday services solely because it always has...that's the making of a sacred cow at worst, or a frustrating ministry at the least.

BUT, WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?

Once you start talking about ministries, programs, and schedules in church, people get really concerned. The good thing about such concern is it often pushes church members to the point of asking questions that were never addressed prior. Questions like "Why?"

Does the Bible say that we need to gather together as a church? Does the Bible say that we need to do that twice on Sunday and again on Wednesday? What does it say?

The writer of Hebrews gives us this information that should be taken to heart when considering the need for corporate worship and the gathering together of the church.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. - Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

The Christian should not be seeking ways to NOT gather together and meet as the church. The Hebrew writer makes this clear. There is value and power when two or more are gathered in Christ's name. As Christians, we do need each other and there is much value in coming together for worship, fellowship, study, and prayer. In fact, these should be non-negotiable.

There are numerous examples of the church gathered throughout the New Testament. In fact, each letter of Paul written to a church was to be read to the people as they were gathered, which was considered normative and expected.

In the book of Acts, we see a snapshot of one of these gatherings with Paul

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. - Acts 20:7 ESV

Therefore, the question is not "Should the church gather often?" That answer is a resounding YES and the Bible speaks of that. In a culture where interconnectedness occurs in various ways through personal interaction (still the best) and through telephone, texting, social media, etc. there is even more need for the church to be connected. Yet, the question must be asked by each church regarding weekly schedules.

Oh, and just because you ask "Should we meet on Wednesdays?" does not mean the answer must be NO. In fact, for many churches the very best time to connect during the week with fellow Christians and community members remains Wednesday evenings. Just don't allow the long-held traditions of what Wednesday church has been become a "sacred cow" and leave you perpetuating a broken model that does not help make disciples or engage an unsaved world.

Oh, and don't be that church that looks down on other churches for having the gall to change the weekly schedule. That's how Pharisees are made.