Sunday, November 10, 2019

Embarrassed to be a Christian?

Even though 4½ years ago I posted a blog article (see here) titled “An Embarrassed Christian,” once again I am speaking to this same issue with new illustrations. Now, even more than in 2015, I must admit being embarrassed to be a Christian—at least some of the time.  
Embarrassed to be a Christian
There are many reasons why I, among many others, find myself embarrassed to be a Christian today. A bulk of that embarrassment currently comes from the widely publicized support of DJT by conservative evangelical Christians.
This matter has become an oft mentioned matter in mainstream media—and as impeachment talk intensifies, so, it seems, does the rhetoric of highly publicized Trump supporters who blatantly wear the Christian label.
On October 29, evangelical leaders met privately and prayed with DJT in the White House. Robert Jeffress, who is pastor of the historic First [Southern] Baptist Church in Dallas, was one of those leaders at that White House meeting.
Three days later on Fox Business, Jeffress said, “Evangelicals understand that the effort to impeach President Trump is really an effort to impeach our own deeply-held faith values, and we’re not going to allow that to happen.”
(For more about this, see the Nov. 1 TV interview here and also this Nov. 4 article  titled “Pro-Trump preachers on message against impeachment probe.”)
On October 31, the White House confirmed that Paula White would join the White House staff to advise President Trump's Faith and Opportunity Initiative. (So now we have White in the White House?)
White, who delivered the invocation at DJT’s inauguration in 2017, is a flamboyant, controversial, "prosperity gospel" televangelist based in Florida. She is often identified as President Trump’s “personal pastor.” White, of course, was at the Oct. 29 White House gathering, standing closest to DJT as they prayed.
(For more about White, see this NowThis video, which is a collage of disturbing things she has recently said.)
When included in the same religion as Christian leaders such as Jeffress and White, I am embarrassed to be a Christian—and they are just two of many examples that might be given.
Not Embarrassed to be a Christian
However, I am not embarrassed to be a Christian when, for example, I read Jim Wallis’s new book Christ in Crisis, based on the “Reclaiming Jesus” statement of 2018.
Wallis is critical of both the Republican and Democratic parties, and “Politically Homeless” is a subsection of the seventh chapter. Throughout his book, he is highly critical of President Trump. But it is quite clear that in his criticism of DJT, Wallis writes as he does not because he is a Democrat but because he is a Christian.
In a recent NYTimes article about Paula White, Wallis is quoted as saying that he is repeatedly asked “how can these Christians support Donald Trump when so much that he says and does is literally antithetical to the person and teachings of Jesus?”
Wallis’s response is found in his new book. The answer to “bad” Christianity is more faithful allegiance to Jesus Christ. A statement of what that allegiance means is found in the “Reclaiming Jesus” document drafted during the Lenten season of 2018, and Wallis’s book is largely based on that statement. (Here is the link to that important document.)
So, am I embarrassed to be a Christian? Yes and no.
I am embarrassed to be a Christian when lumped in with people mentioned in the first part of this article. But I am certainly not embarrassed to be a Christian when identified with people like Jim Wallis and the Christian leaders who signed—and the many Christians who agree with—the “Reclaiming Jesus” document.

28 comments:

  1. Thanks, as always, Leroy. I am frequently embarrassed by most of my evangelical brothers and sisters. I am less so by others of my friends who hold to faith (who won't be mentioned here, because some readers might be so disturbed that I regard their faith as genuine, at least as genuine as mine). Social ethical implications suspended for the moment, I think the personal ethic for me is that expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus admonishes not to be like hypocrites who want to be seen for their giving and heard for their praying. Rather, we are to give in secret and pray in secret, confident the Heavenly Father will see and hear those, too. As the prophet Zechariah observed of the beginnings of the foundation of the second Temple (a far cry from the Solomonic temple), "For who hath despised the day of small things, for even they shall rejoice to see the plummet in the hands of Zerubbabel..." So should we see our secret good work, secret praying (not in alignment with the immoral status quo of Evangelical Christianity), even secret identity vouchsafed only to those who are like-minded, as a new foundation for a new order (and it may well be a post-American order!). Maranatha.

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    1. Thanks, Milton, for taking the time to read and respond by posting your thoughtful comments.

      Yes, having a picture of oneself or one's inner-group praying with the President available for viewing around the world as is shown by clicking on the following link is hardly praying in secret. https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fcdn.christianpost.com%2Ffiles%2Foriginal%2Fthumbnail%2F23%2F36%2F233680.jpg&imgrefurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.christianpost.com%2Fnews%2Ffaith-leaders-pray-with-trump-at-white-house-highlight-presidents-accomplishments.html&docid=C-j4XQKqYKeQuM&tbnid=ryEzhebqXVImHM%3A&vet=10ahUKEwif-aTQr-LlAhUER6wKHeNjA1oQMwhCKAAwAA..i&w=966&h=603&bih=657&biw=1280&q=evangelical%20leaders%20at%20white%20house%20oct.%2029&ved=0ahUKEwif-aTQr-LlAhUER6wKHeNjA1oQMwhCKAAwAA&iact=mrc&uact=8

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  2. Wow, great photo, and troubling news about Robert Jeffress and Paula White. I re-read your 2014 post, and the Reclaiming Jesus statement. Very powerful, and very necessary for today. Even though it would be nice if all Christians agreed on "our" interpretations of scripture and "our" view of theology and social justice, I think it is a solid case study of how a single religion can produce such diversity of views and practical applications in politics, economics, etc. And why our implied tolerance of "erroneous" views of fellow Christians does not help us understand the quiet acceptance of progressive Muslims vis-a-vis Islamic fundamentalists.

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    1. Thanks, Phil, for reading and responding--and the only one so far to mention the picture that June took of me.

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  3. Thanks, Leroy, for bringing “Reclaiming Jesus” back to our attention in the current setting. As a Catholic dedicated to the reformation of Roman Catholicism, I am deeply disappointed and disheartened to know that many white, educated, Republicanized Catholics voted for Trump in 2016 and that a certain faction continues to go along in support of Trumpian programs. They are usually the same ones who actively oppose Pope Francis.
    None of us are perfect; we all struggle. But for some to be so far from imitation of Jesus, and to advocate for programs that are anti-migrant, anti-LBGTQ, while waving the banner of Christianity is disheartening for the falsifying effect it has on the popular mind.

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    1. Thank you, Larry; it was good to hear from you again--and to see you again last night.

      Yes, the problem of "evangelicalism" has a counterpart in Catholicism -- but, thankfully, there are many good progressive Catholics just as there are many good progressive evangelicals (or former evangelicals, as many have the same beliefs but have given up on the label). I was happy to see Fr. Richard Rohr's name on the list of the original signers of the "Reclaiming Jesus" document.

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  4. and then there are those of us who are spiritually homeless as well as politically homeless. American Christianism is just as sick as it is politically. I see a lot of "Tashlan" out there. Posers. I would reject most of it - left, right, and center. I don't find much of Christ in any of it (including Wallis - whom I have personally met on a couple of occasions). I know several who have dumped church, and like me, sojourn to find the true Christ and His Church who love like He does.

    And yet, I still find a remnant out there who actually follow Christ devoutly in faith and good works and exhibit grace to those around them. But one does not find that in the leadership or the split and splintered branches. God have mercy on us all - we are sinners. I'm glad that I do not have to be the Judge. 70 x 7 seems extreme.

    Until then, may we at least find some people of goodwill... They are certainly not Democrats or Republicans, or the "social gospel" or "laissez faire" American "Church".

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    1. Thanks, 1sojourner, for your comments.

      If there is anything that Jim Wallis--and the many people, including me, who agree with him--is fighting, it is "American Christianism."

      You said you have met Wallis, but have you read him, and have you read the "Reclaiming Jesus" statement that he help draft and on which his new book is based? After you have finished reading "Christ in Crisis" and/or "Reclaiming Jesus," let me know what it is you disagree with and reject because it is in opposition to "the true Christ and His Church who love like He does."

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    2. He was more of a rabble-rouser back in the day, which had nothing really to do with Christ or the Church, but he tried to draw a connection. He was really just a political advocate. I have heard him since, once, when he was a little more Christ-like in his love for the whole Church - even for some evangelicals who are very different from him. I don't know, I think the jury is still out. I have never read more than a few of his articles from "Sojourners" (A different concept from my moniker). Those seemed more from Jim the politician. We are certainly cut from a different cloth. But so were Christ's apostles - what a hodge-podge.

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    3. I have a bound copy of the first issues of "The Post American" (the predecessor of "Sojourners") published from 1971 to 1974. Jim Wallis wrote the first article in the first issue, published in Fall 1971.

      In part, Jim wrote, "We contend that the new vision that is necessary is to be found in radical Christian faith that is grounded in commitment to Jesus Christ. 'If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; the old has passed, the new has come.' We believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a liberating force which has radical consequences for human life and society. However for the radical nature of the Christian faith to be realized, it must break the chains of American culture and be proclaimed to all people.
      . . . .
      "Christians must be active in rejecting the values of our corrupt society, radical in our resistance and activism against the injustice of a racist society, warfare state, and materialistic system. We must be people of God, 'salt and light,' those of a new order who live by the values and ethical priorities of Jesus Christ and His kingdom. We must be radical disciples applying the comprehensive Christian message to all areas of life, culture, and human need--committed to reconciliation, justice, peace and faith which is distinctly Post-American."

      I have read Wallis, and generally agreed with him, from that first issue in 1971--and he has consistently talked about the same sort of thing. (The last chapter of his new book is titled "Becoming Salt, Light, and Hope."

      On this basis, I strongly disagree that in what he has written and preached through the years has "nothing really to do with Christ or the Church."

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  5. Some years ago I read an article that argued that the two tablets of the law were two copies, each a complete contract, one copy of which was kept by God, and the other by Moses. Now this messed with the common Baptist understanding that the two tablets were the separate tablets of religious and secular law. So, I went back to reread the law, to see what I could make of all this. I came to the conclusion that there were actually three groups within the law, and that they covered what was needed to maintain the Baptist understanding of the separation of church and state. The ten commandments open with a direct statement from God, a declaration not so much of a law as of a relationship, a message to the reader's conscience. Then followed a group of religious commandments with a fair amount of commentary. Then came the third section, short statements of secular law.

    Religion begins with that first contact with each person's conscience. Anyone who has not been shaken by a powerful experience with God will have a hard time making any sense of religion. On the other hand, those who have will often have a hard time understanding what others have found in that experience. So we get together, and form religions, trying to make sense of our experiences. There is something divine in that process, but it is still a human institution, and anyone who thinks they have found the one true church (or even religion) is just fooling themselves. Freedom of conscience is at the root of true religion. There is a kind of unity under all that, but our expressions of that unity in various religions and churches are going to be very varied indeed. Then there are the secular laws, which define common sense parameters for group living. Commandments not to lie, cheat or kill are obvious starting points, but even here every culture has to figure out how to implement them. For instance, killing includes everything from justifiable homicide to first-degree murder. Implementation changes. If we are honest, we look back and carefully consider how honor and how we change.

    There is another kind of change that happens in religion. This is the change that comes from outside, not from the font of conscience, but rather from economic and political interests that seek to use religion as a cloaking tool, rather than as a pilgrimage. Christianity, for instance, has been co-opted in various ways through the centuries by nationalism, imperialism, and various secular theories like capitalism, socialism and political philosophies. Some of these fit better than others with Christian thought and the Bible, but none should be allowed in unexamined. What does this mean? I think 1sojourner is correct to speak of "those of us who are spiritually homeless as well as politically homeless." The Son of Man had no place to rest His head, and neither should we. This does not mean that we should hide in the wilderness like the Essenes, but rather, like Jesus Himself, we should meet the world as we find it, and join together with other pilgrims as best we can along the way. Jesus and Paul both dealt with various religious groups and viewpoints, and so will we. Is the prosperity gospel so different from the Sadducees? Is careful science that much different from the voice of conscience? God has always worked through fallible people, and always will. God is love.

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    1. Thanks, as always, for your erudite comments, Craig.

      To pick up on only one point, you said that "we should meet the world as we find it, and join together with other pilgrims as best we can along the way." I heartily agree--and it seems to me that the "Reclaiming Jesus" statement fits in with that sentiment. It was not drafted by one part of the organized church with the intention of helping one faction against others. It was drafted and signed by people from various Christian traditions joined by only their desire to find and to follow the authentic Jesus in today's troubled world.

      There is no need to be "spiritually homeless," for we are not limited to two "parties" (plus one more rather insignificant minor party). We can be spiritually linked to people of faith from various traditions working for the optimal well-being of all people on earth--which some of us would call the Kingdom of God. There are many people seeking the same thing in the name of Christ (and many who are seeking the same thing without naming Christ), so why can't we see ourselves as part of that definite, but invisible, body of people and feel a sense of belonging, and empowerment, rather than homelessness?

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  6. Here are comments received yesterday from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, as always, for your comments and observations.

    "I view DJT as a sort of anti-Christ, not in any apocalyptic sense, but because the demeanor, policies, and life style of DJT seem almost totally antithetical to what Jesus exemplified and taught. These 'Christian' evangelicals may be right to pray for DJT, but to support him politically strikes me as something of a disconnection."

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    1. Thanks for your comments, Eric. Certainly, I have no problem with people praying for the President. But the problem, it seems to me, is for them to do so in a blatantly public manner that allows them to use the President for their religious ends and for the President to use them for his political ends.

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  7. Local Thinking Friend Bob Leeper, who is one of my few TFs who is actually older than I, sent the following much-appreciated comments:

    "Leroy: thanks for this heart-felt personal sharing! I must admit that my U-turn at age about-24 (Dr. Bob Jones Senior called us from the pulpit, 'YOU DIRTY DOUBLE CROSSERS.'... I was then about 1957 nominally on the board of directors of Kansas City Youth for Christ. I found myself embarrassed at the idea that I had been so naïve in believing unbelievable stuff all those years from the cradle up to the age of adult responsibility. The board had written a required-to-sign statement of beliefs; the first year I squinted my eyes and signed; before the next year of signing came around, I had absented myself from the board (and from my Assembly of God church).

    "I like your duo response ... taking note of the idea that there are multiple wings of folks self-identifying as Christian. Good job!"

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing your personal experiences/thoughts, Bob. I much appreciate your honesty--and your openness.

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  8. And then I also received the following comments from a Thinking Friend in California:

    "I am a little confused with your stance and statements about being embarrassed as a Christian.

    "GOD tells us to accept & Pray for those in power because He is the one who allows them to be in office and it brings Romans 8:28 to mind.

    "I am Never embarrassed to be a Christian and I too disagree with some other Christians like you, but that does Not embarrass me."

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  9. I have often heard Christians in the U.S. speak about the importance of accepting and praying for those in power because that is God's will. But rarely, it seems, is/was that sentiment ever applied to the Christians who lived under Hitler in Germany or the Christians who lived under Tojo in Japan. And since most of those Christians have been strong supporters of the war against Germany and Japan, seeking to destroy the Nazis under Hitler and the Japanese militarists under Tojo, I wonder how they think that God allowed them to be in office and how Romans 8:28 applies to the Christians, and many others, who suffered greatly and who lost their lives under "those in power."

    Hitler was supported by the majority of "German Christians," and many Christians in post-WWII Germany, were for good reason embarrassed by the complicity of the "Christians" who supported Hitler. I have heard Germany theologians lecture in Japan, and it was quite clear, although they might not have used that word, that they were embarrassed to be identified as a member of the same religion as the majority of German Christians in the 1930s.

    I, too, am never embarrassed to identify as a follower of Jesus and as one who, however imperfectly, is seeking to follow the teachings of Jesus. But, yes, I do find it embarrassing when all Christians are considered to be a part of the same religion and therefore much the same--and are spurned because of the outrageous things people like Rev. Jeffress and Rev. White declare so publicly.

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    1. I think this concept needs to be more completely discussed about Christians in various difficult situations. We may yet come to some similar crisis in our own land. Major cultural and political and theological issues are splitting us (the Church) already, and there is no valid forum for discussion within the Church. Islam, Judaism and Buddhism are in much the same boat - I'm sure other religions are too.

      I have seen the Church act as one, despite there differences, twice in my life-time. Both times they eventually disintegrated back into their preferred variances with strong-willed leaders intent on their preferred variation. I am feeling it even within my own local church, but also see the tearing within other denominations. The evil one is good at what he does. Dissension and grudges are much easier than forgiveness and love - I know that personally as well.

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  10. Here are comments received today from local Thinking Friend, and good personal friend, Charlie Broomfield:

    "Want to try to respond to your 'Embarrassed to be a Christian' blog.

    "First I don’t like to see my old friend’s sorrow as shown in the picture.
    Leroy, you don’t need to be this way. You need to get Mad. I know this is not your way, but it sure relieves my frustration.

    "I think that my response to our predicament, as it relates to those 75 to 100 million evangelical/fundamentalists, who make up the Religious Right
    is anger, frustration and forthrightness in pointing out that they don’t have the faintest idea of what Jesus was trying to teach.

    "And I think they should be EXPOSED! To paraphrase my old friend, Frank Schaeffer, when he was on the Steve Kraske show a few years ago, said, when assailing the Religious Right, 'They hate America!' I think the really do.

    "Kraske challenged Frank on this statement, by saying something like, 'Frank, they say that they love America….' to which Frank replied, 'Then tell them to
    quite lying, tell them to quite misleading Americans,…tell them to start acting like Christians and tell them to start following the teachings of Jesus!'

    "Frank was right! And true Christians should 'get off their rumps' and start telling the truth about the Religious Right. We are only about 40 years late in doing so, and as I keep saying, if we don’t get it done in the next year, I fear that American democracy is doomed.

    "So don’t be embarrassed, get 'Mad as Hell,' and 'start telling it like it is.'

    "P.S. Thanks for sharing the Paula White site. I can’t believe it!"

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    1. Thanks for your concern and encouragement, Charlie. But being embarrassed is only half of my article; the last half is about not being embarrassed.

      And as you know, I have spoken out, and continue to speak out, against fundamentalism. After all, I wrote a book titled "Fed Up with Fundamentalism," and by the end of the year I plan to publish an updated edition of that book.

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  11. And then an hour or so ago I received the following comments from Thinking Friend Bob Hanson in Wisconsin:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your witness this morning. It certainly is a time for those who are embarrassed to radically act to change things. Oh I wish I could hear Wallis more clearly. He has even spoken at the Parliament of World Religion, but I have a hard time getting through his ego. Many of us radicals see the fine work he has done, but he keeps coming back to Jesus. This a block for many of us, and millions in the world of infinite communities of spiritual practice, including myself a retired Lutheran pastor and a practitioner of Zen Buddhism and active in the Interfaith community."

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    1. Thanks for your frank comments, Bob. I would remind you, though, that Jim writes mostly for a Christian audience and I, for one, find no problem in Christian authors speaking about Jesus when writing to a Christian audience.

      In other settings, Jim has worked, for example, with Rabbi Michael Lerner, and Eboo Patel, a young American Muslim, has written regularly for Sojourners. Jim's emphasis on "reclaiming Jesus" doesn't mean disregarding or disrespecting those of other religious traditions.

      I would also point out that Richard Rohr was one of the signers of the 2018 "Reclaiming Jesus" document--and there are probably few Christians who are more ecumenical (in the broadest sense) than Fr. Rohr.

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  12. Damn it, damn it, damn it… As one who is “Spiritual homeless” cast out on the streets from the SBC I live with deep embarrassment (and anger as reflected in my visceral response). When a group surround DJT with the agenda of endorsing him and his agenda. I am angered and embarrassed to be put into the category of Christian or Baptist (I am baptist with the small b).

    To bow a knee and pray for the country and the needed change is to ask for God’s will to be done. Not the will of a man who continues to display contempt for Christ. When an individual or group willing disparages or marginalizes people for the sake of demonizing them, he/she neither represents Christ or love for humanity.
    On a recent trip from Phoenix to Albuquerque I sat in front of a politician and his assistant. The conversation went as follows. “We need to get the religious right behind us. They will be able to influence the outcome of the elections.”. My Jesus is not for sale nor can I be bought by political rhetoric that is laced with just enough Christian lingo to make me feel good.

    I cry “damn it” because Christian, political and market structures have wedded. For the sake of prosperity and pleasure throwing people to the wayside without regard is routine. Forgetting that if we destroy people, we destroy that which was created in God’s image. When people are destroyed for any reason we stand against God and what he calls Christ followers to be!!!

    I wish I could affirm Christendom, but I cannot, damn it!

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    1. Thanks for sharing your honest, heartfelt comments, Frank. I, too, identify as a "baptist with the small b," so I don't have to be embarrassed as a (Southern) Baptist, which I once was, because of Rev. Jeffress. Still, as you, I am embarrassed as a Christian because of him and many others who think/act similarly.

      In my reply to TF Eric yesterday, I wrote, "I have no problem with people praying for the President. But the problem, it seems to me, is for them to do so in a blatantly public manner that allows them to use the President for their religious ends and for the President to use them for his political ends."

      I hope you will also read what I posted (above) this morning in response to 1sojourner.

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  13. I'm not sure embarrassed is the word that I would use to describe my feelings when thinking about others' thoughts about my being Christian in our present division in our America. I have found myself distressed and disturbed at times with others who claim to be Christians, when I am unable to see any reflection of the Jesus I see as the center of the Christianity I have believed and known most of my life. I have become unsettled and upset at times to the changes I have witnessed within the churches of America since my return from Japan in 1995. I no longer recognize the Christianity of my youth and early adulthood. I no longer see Jesus in many who I loved and respected. I at times feel ashamed when hearing their shallow words and lack of love not only for Jesus but their lack of love for their fellow human beings. I have felt anger toward those who I believe played such a horrible role in changing the focus of Christianity away from Christ and merging it into some patriotic beast that has no resemblance to my beliefs. I have been dismayed to hear what was suppose to be a sermon in a Christian Church but never hearing Jesus ever mentioned

    I am not embarrassed to say that I am a believer in Christianity, but I must also back that up with a statement that I am not an Evangelical. I use to be proud to say that I was a Southern Baptist, and I can no longer find them. They are now Fundamentalists. I am deeply saddened. I am not saying that all of those who have remained Southern Baptist are not truly devoted Christians. I know that many are true believers. I just cannot understand their apparent backing of our present government leadership. I am at times perturbed that so many Christians cannot see that they are being manipulated and used with promises by politicians.

    I use to be proud to be an American and looked upon our flag with devotion and patriotism. I have cried with love when singing our National Anthem. That pride, devotion, and love has been stomped into the ground by those who use our flag, our anthem, and constitution for their own political gain. They have wrapped it tightly around their so-called Christianity and are sucking the life out of both.

    I try daily to try and understand what has happened and is happening to my faith as a Christian and to my citizenship as an American. I want to point my finger and place blame. As a nurse, I often asked my patients who were complaining of abdominal pain to please point with one finger to the place of pain. You may be wondering wondering why I would ask my patients to point to the pain. If they could point to one area, then I could most of the time know what needed to be fixed.

    I so badly wish I could point with one finger to the pain that I feel. I want to place blame, because I want it to be fixed.

    This has become longer than your blog. I apologize.

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    1. Thanks, Jamea, for sharing your lengthy, heartfelt comments. I will write you personally about the important matters you mentioned here.

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  14. Yesterday I received the following comments from Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona. (He was named after George Truett, pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas from 1897 until his death in 1944):

    "Interesting that you mention Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of FBC in Dallas. He is featured in a recent interview by Mark Tapscott, a writer for THE EPOCH TIMES. It appeared on the front page of the Oct. 31-Nov.6, 2019 issue (No. 276). LifeWay Research is also quoted to support Dr. Jeffress comments. He was also pictured shaking hands with DJT. He is quoted in bold type as saying, "We can only select a president based upon his politics." He is obviously attempting to justify support of the president in spite of his immoral, crude and scandalous behavior. Then he justified the support of DJT's supporters by saying, 'The have evolved in realizing that there are no perfect presidents . . . we shouldn't base our selection of presidents on the basis of personal shortcomings.' I could hardly believe those comments coming from the pastor of the church of Dr. George Truett! I can understand his lineage with W.A. Criswell.

    "I'm presently working on an essay about the 'evolution' of morals in the Christian community. Christianity has survived persecution, and even thrived in it, but surviving assimilation, such as in Constantine's time, is another matter."

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