Bad candidates, Big Pictures, and false prophets.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 October

I live in California. My state is two-thirds Democratic. Only liberal Republicans get elected to statewide offices anymore. Otherwise we elect Democrats, same as we have in the last six presidential contests. Barring some freak occurrence, we’re electing a Democrat to the Senate this year, and all our 55 electoral votes are going to the Democratic nominee for president.

So it’s out of my hands. Doesn’t matter whether I vote with the Democratic supermajority or against it.

I suppose I can concentrate on the other elections—which stand more of a chance of affecting my daily life. Got a city council race. A congressional race. State propositions.

But I keep coming back to the presidential race. Mainly because the candidates are so galling. The “third party” candidates are barely worth mentioning: One is greatly uninformed (and probably useless every day after 4:20 p.m.); one has demonstrated she’s more interested in being right than in making deals and bringing people to consensus, which is half the president’s job.

As for the institutional parties: The Democrat is largely competent, though I disagree with her in many areas. But she has a significant character defect: She’s willing to make serious ethical lapses, and justify them to herself because her intentions or goals were good. Let’s also not forget the level of grace ambitious people will automatically grant themselves—even though they’ll seldom grant it to others.

In any other election year, I’d easily lean towards her opponent. But it’s not just any other election year. She has great flaws, but her Republican opponent is vastly worse.

I likewise disagree with him in many areas. Particularly his xenophobia, his lack of knowledge of international issues, his tactless forms of diplomacy (and how he dropped his bluster during a trip to Mexico, demonstrating how he can’t be consistent in that either), his opportunistic switch to the prolife movement so as to appease Evangelicals, and his unproven economic and military beliefs. That’s in the areas where he’s expressed a coherent opinion. In most other situations his opinion is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.

I mentioned the Democratic candidate’s ethical lapses. The Republican candidate has the very same problem. But there’s more. Time and again he expresses little to no respect for the value of others; women in particular. Disagree with him, or challenge him in any way, and he responds with ridiculous insults, holds the grudge far longer than reasonable, and fires you if he can. If he doesn’t know, he lies; if he does know, he exaggerates; if he has to admit he’s wrong, he pretends he was never wrong to begin with. He makes foolish statements on a whim, holds no counsel with anyone but toadies, takes no thought no care to the international fallout.

He’s a manchild. His immature character renders him wholly unfit for any leadership position.

Doesn’t matter how “prolife” the president is.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 September

I’m prolife. By which I mean I’m anti-death.

I know: Most of the time when Evangelical Christians call ourselves prolife, we really mean anti-abortion. We’re against that kind of death. All the other kinds?…

Well, some of us are against the other kinds of death. The rest of us only care about preventing abortion. To them, the unborn baby is the epitome of innocence, and totally undeserving of death. The rest of humanity: Meh, they’ve sinned already. Screw ’em.

In case you’re not clear what I mean by “the other kinds of death,” let me spell out a few of them.

  • Death due to criminal or terrorist activity.
  • Death due to domestic violence or child neglect.
  • Death due to inadequate healthcare.
  • Death due to inadequate gun laws.
  • Death due to inadequate prison supervision.
  • Death due to unnecessary, unjust war.
  • Death due to unnecessary, unjust police shootings.
  • Death due to inconsistent implementation of the death penalty.

Christ Jesus came into the world to defeat sin and death. Problem is, your typical “prolife” individual only frets about one form of death. But has no problem with implementing death of all other sorts, for every other form of sin. Not only that, they’re annoyed when we don’t implement it. All murderers should be executed, they insist, instead of clogging our prisons. All terrorists should be shot. Forget humane forms of execution; draw and quarter them!

For that matter, they’ve no problem with death being the unfortunate side effect their other beliefs. They want unlimited access to guns, and lose their tiny minds over a 5-day background check, yet bellyache against unrestricted access to abortion because it’s “too convenient.” They want free-market capitalism to dictate how healthcare runs—even if it means the sick can’t afford healthcare, and die—but rage when the free market decides abortion services oughta be made available. But I digress.

No, I’m not saying we need to abolish the death penalty, ban guns, never go to war, or nationalize healthcare. I wouldn’t mind way more responsible legislation regarding all these things. Stating, “The system has problems, so let’s be rid of the system,” is stupid. Doesn’t matter whether a liberal or libertarian says it.

But as we’re waiting for Jesus to return and overhaul our system top to bottom, let’s be good and faithful servants. Let’s do what we can to make it work as best we can. Let’s fight sin, and also fight death.

Reducing “prolife” to only being against one type of life, is also stupid. But let’s be blunt: It’s stupid because in its current form, it’s not actually a Christian movement. It’s political.

The prolife movement in the United states exists for the sake of winning the absolute loyalty of prolifers to the Republican Party. That is, so long that the party claims to be prolife. Claims is the vital word; in practice the Republicans do jack squat to reduce or prevent abortion. If they were serious, they’d’ve been successful. They’ve had the authority, the ability, and the mandate of their base. For eight years (from 2001 to ’09) they had control of the White House, and majority control of the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the statehouses. Eight whole years. Changed nothing.

Seriously. Substantively. Nothing.

Well, they did in that time finally get me to stop putting my faith in Republicans. I already distrusted the Democrats and third parties, so now I’ve been disabused of any naïve beliefs that any one party is any sort of savior. (Currently I’m registered as a Democrat, but only for pragmatic reasons. And yes, there are such political animals as prolife Democrats. Lots of ’em, actually. And unlike Republicans, you know they’re really prolife… ’cause they’ve very little to gain within their party for taking up that cause.)

“Can I pray for you?”

by K.W. Leslie, 20 September

When you don’t know what to do, talk to God.

Not only is this always good advice to follow, but it’s good advice when dealing with others. When other people share their difficulties with us, we don’t always know how to respond. Prayer’s one of the best responses—if not the best, period. It’s turning to God as our first resort.

I know; plenty of people think they know just what to do when they hear someone’s troubles. That’s why they immediately offer it: Advice. No, the person sharing their woes didn’t ask for it. Often they just wanted to vent to someone. But that’s not gonna stop people from inflicting bad advice upon ’em anyway.

Remember Job’s friends? For a week he kept his mouth shut, Jb 2.13 but then he made the mistake of lamenting in front of them, Jb 3 and it opened up their floodgates of bad advice, naive statements, sorry platitudes—you know, the same stuff people still offer as advice, which just goes to show they’ve never really read Job. It pissed the LORD off, ’cause nothing they said about him was correct. Jb 42.7 Like I said, shoulda gone to him first.

Me, I try to keep the unsolicited advice to a minimum. If you want it, I’ll offer it, with the usual disclaimer that I’m hardly infallible. But really, the best response is, “Can I pray for you?”

And when we offer to pray for them, let’s not do the similar platitudinous “I’ll pray for you.” Mostly because among Christianists, “I’ll pray for you” means one of two things:

  • “I’m really offended by what you just said. Go to hell. No, wait; I need to sound Christian. ‘I’ll pray for you.’ Yeah, that’s the ticket.”
  • “Oh Lord, I don’t care about all your miserable problems. I’ve got my own stuff to deal with. How do I get out of this dreary conversation? ‘I’ll pray for you.’ Good; now I can leave.”

It’s seldom based on sympathy.

Well, don’t be one of those unsympathetic jerks. If you’re offering to pray for them, no time like the present. Stand right there and pray. Doesn’t need to be a long prayer; doesn’t need to be perfect words. Just needs to be you, telling God to help ’em out.

Is it worth our time for me to be the advice guy?

by K.W. Leslie, 16 September
Questions? Comments? Email. But remember, my feedback policy means I can post it. Not as a regular advice column; that’s not what I do.

I don’t know how I turned into the advice guy. It just sorta happened. Years ago I was contributing to a couple different websites, and I had my own personal blog, and out of the blue strangers started asking me religion questions. Guess I sounded knowledgeable to them, so they figured they’d test my knowledge.

So what’s the best bible translation? Or what do I know about a particular Christian denomination? Or what have I heard about this or that book?—this or that preacher?—this or that theological idea? Am I Arminian or Calvinist, and why? Pretrib or posttrib, and why?

It’s not a new experience for me. I got questions like this from my students in Sunday school classes or Christian school. Or from newbies in my church who found out I knew stuff, and consider me less intimidating than our pastor. (Intimidating for no reason, I should add; he’s a very friendly guy.) I joke all the time, “I learned all this stuff so you don’t have to. If you’ve got questions, go ahead and pick my brain. That’s why God gave it to me.” So they do.

But writing stuff for the internet means now I also get email and direct messages from friends and strangers, also wanting to pick my brain. I don’t even have to solicit it. It just comes.

Since I’m always coming up with topics for TXAB, I’ll take some of my answers and turn ’em into full-blown articles. Lots of TXAB’s posts are the result of someone asking me, “What do you know about [subject]?” I even used to have a regular question-and-answer feature. (On my personal blog, back when I had one, I called it “Questions and Rants.”)

Only problem with having a Q&A feature: Certain other people take it upon themselves to rebuke my answers and offer their own. They do it in the comments section. Sometimes actually try to get ahold of the person who emailed me the question, and try to respond to them directly. It’s not a matter of people correcting me ’cause they disagree with me. It’s people who object to me offering any answers. They wanna be the advice guys. Not me.

There’s a paranoid belief you’ll frequently find among dark Christians. It’s that if any Christian teaches any error, it‘s intentional, and they’re knowingly working for Satan. That’s what I’m pretty sure I’m dealing with: People who think they’re “liberating” my questioners before they fall under my spell and believe every single thing I teach, and are thus led astray. Even though I regularly make a point of teaching I’m hardly infallible.

So they keep trying to hijack my advice. I used to think this was just a bizarre form of jealousy. I told ’em: Create your own blog, wait for people to come to you, and answer their questions. Since their unsolicited advice is often impatient and jerkish, I can certainly see why nobody goes to them for advice. But their misbehavior quickly became tiresome, so I banned ’em. They adopt new usernames and try again, and I ban ’em again. After I switched to the Disqus comment system, I’ve been blacklisting ’em as soon as they pop up again, and so far so good.

Now it’s fine if you don’t agree with something I write. I can be wrong, y’know. When I am, I honestly do appreciate the constructive criticism. Not so much when the criticism is more hostile than constructive, but still.

I never bothered to create a Q&A feature for TXAB. I usually give the answer and don’t post the question. Some people are really anxious about my posting their questions (and certainly their names) anyway. Fine; I’m not out to embarrass anyone. Well, not out to embarrass most people. Some of you could use a little embarrassment. Namely these wannabe advice guys.

When we remake Jesus in our image.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 September
PROJECTION prə'dʒɛk.ʃən, proʊ'dʒɛk.ʃən noun. Unconscious transfer of one’s ideas to another person.
[Project prə'dʒɛkt, proʊ'dʒɛkt verb.]

When we’re talking popular Christian culture’s version of Christianity, i.e. Christianism, we’re not really talking about what Jesus teaches. We’re talking about what we’d like to think Jesus teaches. We’re talking about our own ideas, projected onto Jesus like he’s a screen and we’re a camera obscura. We’re progressive… and how about that, so is Jesus! Or we’re conservative… and how handy is it that Jesus feels precisely the same as we do?

Y’know, the evangelists told us when we come to Jesus, our whole life would have to change. But when we’re Christianist, we discover to our great pleasure and relief our lives really didn’t have to change much at all.

We had to learn a few new handy Christianese terms:

“I think…”“I just think God’s telling me…”
“I strongly think…”“God’s telling me…”
“I feel…”“I just feel in my spirit…”
“I don’t wanna do that.”“We should just take that to God in prayer.”
“That scares me.”“I just feel a check in my spirit.”
“That pisses me off.”“That just grieves my spirit.”
F--- you and the horse you rode in on.”“I’ll pray for you.”

and we learned a few handy ways to act more Christian. Like learning all the Christian-sounding justifications for our fruitless behavior. Like pointing to orthodox Christian beliefs as the evidence of our new life in Christ; it’s way easier to learn and repeat than to develop fruit of the Spirit. Like how to act like Christians when surrounded by Christians, but be your usual pagan self otherwise, and never once ask yourself whether this is hypocrisy.

As for what Jesus actually teaches, for actually following him: Christianists figure we do follow him. ’Cause we believe in him. Jn 6.40 That’s how you get eternal life, right? Jn 3.16 Just believe. Nothing more. So we do nothing more. We’ve got faith, God figures this faith makes us righteous, Ro 3.22 and being righteous means we’re right. God rewires our minds so everything we think is right and good and usually infallible.

Problem is, that’s not how we become right. That’s how we stay wrong. That’s how we wind up arrogantly assuming the way we think, is the way God thinks. That all our depraved, self-centered motives are spiritual insights into how God’s gonna bring glory to himself. How God’s sovereignty and God’s kingdom works. How God’s sense of justice and wrath is gonna affect all the people in the world who, coincidentally, are the objects of our ire, spite, and disgust.

God’s ways are not our ways. Is 55.8-9 All the more true if we never bother to study God’s ways. But when we’re Christianists we think we know his ways, ’cause we have his Spirit (whom we barely follow), learned a few memory verses (some even in context!), skimmed a bit of bible, heard Sunday sermons for the past several years… and all our Christianist friends believe the very same way we do. There’s no way we could all be leading one another astray.

Priests, under Jesus our head priest.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 September

Every Christian is part of God’s nation of priests. Elders especially.

Priest /prist/ n. Person able to perform a religion’s rituals, and therefore intercede between God and his followers.
[Priestlike /'pris(t).laɪk/ adj., priestly /'pris(t).li/ adj.]

Protestants tend to translate presbýteros as “elder,” by which we mean the senior Christians in a church.

Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and some Lutherans, translate it “priest.” Properly “priest” would be the Greek word yeréfs—but for the most part, I don’t disagree with this translation. Y’see, the elders of the church are our priests.

Technically every Christian is a priest, for it was after all God’s intention to create a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. Ex 19.6, 1Pe 2.9 Jesus made his followers, us Christians, a kingdom of priests to our God and his. Rv 1.6, 5.10 Elders in particular happen to be able and mature enough to perform priestly functions. They can preach, prophesy, lead us in worship, perform baptisms, anoint sick people, distribute communion, lay hands on people for dedication or commission or anointing, intercede for others in prayer, and perform weddings.

Although the state tends to get picky about who can do that last one—separation of church and state regardless. It’s primarily for that reason certain churches only permit priestly duties to ordained elders, certain leaders who’ve been carefully selected and prepped. In those churches (and they aren’t just the Catholics, Orthodox, and so forth) not just any Christian can serve as a priest.

And a lot of us Christians are really picky about who can serve as priest. A new believer can anoint and heal a sick person, same as any elder. God can use anybody, y’know. But whenever we’re sick, and we want a fellow Christian to pray for us, whom do we usually go to? Right you are: An elder. A mature Christian. Not some newbie, who doesn’t yet have the hang of hearing the Holy Spirit; not some longtimer who lacks spiritual maturity. We want someone whom we know can minister to us properly. Some Christians won’t permit anybody to minister to ’em but an elder; and in a lot of cases they only want the senior pastor of their church, ’cause they’re sure that guy knows God. (Hopefully so.)

That’s why, when a newbie came running to the front of the church, hoping to preach a little something, they’re not automatically gonna get the microphone. We tend to keep priestly functions in the elders’ hands. We permit newbies to do it only under an elder’s supervision and training.

Or when there’s absolutely no one else available. Or when they’re the pastors’ kids. Or when nobody else knows how to play the piano so well. Or when they’re interns who’ve been really good at hiding their hypocrisy whenever the grown-ups are around. Let’s be honest; we’ve got cracks in the system. But generally we’ve screened people before the minister as priests.

I should add many of the same Christians who claim presbýteros means “priest,” never bother to translate the feminine presbytéra/“elder (woman)” 1Ti 5.2 as “priestess.” Relax. I’ll get to that.

My favorite End Times novel.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 September

Years ago, I was complaining about one of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’s Left Behind novels. Don‘t remember which one, but I do remember my complaint—for once—wasn’t about the terrible Darbyist theology, but about the poorly-developed characters. Caricatures of characters, really.

The fellow I was ranting to was a bit of a Left Behind fan, so he didn’t appreciate my critique… although he admitted the writing “felt rushed.” There, I don’t agree. My beef wasn’t with how fast the Left Behind novels were cranked out. Some authors only need a month, start to finish, to produce a book. But they produce three-dimensional characters, whereas the Left Behind books produced melodramatic heroes and villains.

“Well fine,” he said, “what’s your favorite End Times book?”

“Easy,” I said, The Stand.”

Yep, this book.

When I realized I meant the Stephen King novel, he was outraged. Which I get. After all, King uses swears in his novels. And some Christians have never forgiven King for his depictions of manic dark Christians in his previous novels Carrie and The Dead Zone. (His Christian characters are way better in The Stand and The Green Mile. But I digress.)

Yes, I have read other End Times novels, books, and so forth. I may as well tell you about a few of ’em, so you’ll know why I picked The Stand over the others.

Lukewarm Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 September

Revelation 3.15-16.

I give youth pastors a bad rap sometimes. Okay, often. Because I believe a lot of them fundamentally misunderstand their job. As did most of the youth pastors I’ve had to deal with, both decades ago as a teenager, and in the years since as I’ve worked with kids and young adults. Their job is to minister to the young people of the church, and share Jesus with the young people of their communities. You know, like any other pastor. Only with youth.

Problem is, many of the YPs I’ve run into, don’t think that way at all. Sometimes because their churches don’t think that way. My church, growing up, thought of the YPs as our babysitters. They were to make sure the church’s members’ kids behaved ourselves, and stayed Christian—at least till college. Once we graduated high school, we weren’t the YP’s responsibility anymore. My YPs made this fact quite clear to me when, shortly after my 18th birthday, they asked me to leave the high school group. Just like those parents who tell their offspring, “You’re 18; you’re outa here.”

Others of ’em think of the YP job as an internship, or “paying their dues” before they get their real ministry working with adults. Meanwhile they get to practice on us kids, and hopefully not screw us up too much. My first youth pastor was one of these. He really did make an effort with us kids… till that senior pastor job opened up in Colorado, and off he went.

Anyway, he was the one who first introduced me to the concept of out-of-context scriptures. He quoted the following Jesus statement from Revelation, then talked about how his fellow YPs typically misinterpreted it.

Revelation 3.15-16 KJV
15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Y’see, this is a verse which comes up in youth ministry a lot. It’s because a lot of us kids are identified as “lukewarm.” Because the term, it’s believed, describes our lack of zeal.

And let’s be honest: Kids aren’t always all that zealous about God. See, the bulk of us had grown up Christian. We were led to Jesus when we were little kids—which is great; never stop sharing Jesus with your kids!—but children tend to believe most of the things adults tell ’em. Then they become teenagers, and learn to doubt. Which is fine: Let’s get those doubts out into the open, and deal with ’em! But babysitter YPs don’t deal with them. They tamp down the doubts with platitudes and quick fixes. After all, their job is only to keep the kids Christian till college. Then, in college, like so many other kids who grew up Christian… they can unthinkingly embrace those doubts and become pagan. Or even atheist.

Our YP, at the time, addressed some of those doubts. Good on him. And he made sure we’re aware of the existence of out-of-context scriptures, by correcting a few of the misinterpretations. Like what it means to be “lukewarm.”

Coming together. Or not.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 September
ECUMENICAL ɛk.jʊ'mɛn.ə.kəl adjective. Representing multiple Christian churches or denominations.
2. Promoting unity among Christian churches, regardless of affiliation.
3. Representing all Christian churches, regardless of affiliation.
[Ecumenism ɛ'kjʊ.mɛ.nɪz.əm, ɛk.jə'mɛn.ɪz.əm noun.]

One of Jesus’s commands was that we Christians love one another, Jn 13.34, 15.12, 1Jn 3.23 and one of his prayers was that we be one, like he and his Father are one.

John 17.20-23 KWL
20 “I don’t only ask about these, but about those who believe in me by their word,
21 so they could be one—like you, Father, in me, and I in you.
So they also could be in us. So the world could believe you sent me.
22 The honor which you gave me, I gave them, so they could be one like we are one.
23 I in them, you in me, so they can be perfected as one,
so the world could know you sent me, and love them like you love me.”

Originally we Christians were one group. Or at least every Christian church was affiliated with every other Christian church. Didn’t take long for that to change; for individual Christians and church leaders to insist, “We’re real Christians, but they aren’t.” Happened among Jesus’s students; Mk 9.38-39 happened among the Corinthians; 1Co 1.11-13 happened throughout Christian history. The reason there are a thousand denominations is because we Christians don’t obey Jesus’s command to love one another.

Well, ecumenism is about undoing all that. It’s about overcoming our differences and recognizing we all share and follow the same Lord. It’s about loving one another, like Jesus ordered. Sometimes working together; certainly not working against one another.

Yet there are many Christians out there who insist ecumenism is devilish. (And they’re in every church, so don’t go blaming the Fundamentalists for this one.) Not only that, many of these isolationist Christians insist one of the tricks the Beast will try to pull off during the End Times is to get all the churches to recombine into some devilish one-world religion. It’s based on a profoundly out-of-context interpretation of Revelation 17-18, which you can read for yourself and notice it says no such thing.

In any event, these isolationists insist we’re not to overcome our differences. We’re not to love one another—’cause those other churches aren’t real churches, and the Christians they consist of aren’t real Christians. They’re phonies who’ll do nothing but corrupt us. So keep ’em at arm’s length. Interact with them only to try to win people away from their compromised, poisonous churches. Stay separate and independent and pure.

The sucky starfish story.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 September

I grew up Christian, as some of you know. As a result I’ve heard hundreds of sermons.

Seriously, hundreds: I grew up Christian, and never took any longer than three-month break from attending a church. (And during that time, I was going to daily chapel, which was mandatory in seminary.) So, since I grew out of the childcare program at the age of five: One every Sunday, and sometimes two. One during many a midweek evening service. One every time I went to chapel, both in school, and when I taught school. Three to ten during conferences. At least one every time I listen to preacher radio, or download a church’s podcast. I listen to my own pastor’s sermons twice: Once on Sunday morning, and once again as I scrub the audio for podcasting. So no, I’m not kidding when I say hundreds. It’s possibly thousands.

Since many of these preachers tap the very same sources for sermon illustrations, the result is I’ve heard thousands of clichés. Some of these preachers haven’t been Christian as long as I, so they don’t know these stories are clichés, and even if they do, they inflict ’em on people anyway. Sometimes they love these stories, so if they weren’t clichés already, by golly these preachers would make them their own personal clichés if they could. They’ll trot ’em out over and over again, like a dog breeder who loves to show off his prize-winning poodle, and doesn’t notice the poor thing is 15 years old, covered in bald spots, and limping.

About a decade ago I was obligated to listen to some Christian radio, and the announcer decided to tell the starfish story again.

If you haven’t heard it by now, your church attendance sucks. It’s a mainstay of maudlin preaching. Goes like yea: Starfish washed up on the beach; there’s a kid throwing them back into the ocean; an adult notices this and comments, considering the number of fish, how futile this activity is, and “what difference will it make?” The kid, undeterred, states, “It’ll make a difference for this one,” and flings that starfish into the sea. And this is a parable to encourage us to plug away at any impossible-looking task. We may not change every life, but we may change one.

Now all it needs is to be made a poem, and people will put it on posters. Well, I beat y’all to it.

With a bit of a twist. See, when I tire of things, or grow irritated with them, I deal with them by parodying them. If you were expecting my poem to warm your heart… that’s not gonna happen today.