IN YOUR CHRISTMAS GIVING, PLEASE INCLUDE A FANTASTIC CHRISTIAN FRIEND AND SEMINARY IN NIGERIA

This Thanksgiving/Christmas, as you give thanks to God for so many blessings, please consider making a gift to a wonderful friend and seminary in Africa.

My good friend, Dr. Sunday Agang, is the Provost of the large ECWA Theological Seminary, Jos (JETS) in the part of Nigeria where Christians are under severe threat from radical Muslims. Literally thousands of Christians have been killed in the last decade in the middle belt of Nigeria where Dr. Agang’s seminary is located. (For details, see the June 15, 2020 report by a group from the British parliament called: NIGERIA: UNFOLDING GENOCIDE?[appgfreedomofreligionorbelief.org].

Dr. Sunday Agang is an amazing Christian leader. His family was so poor that he was not able to go to school until he was 18. Then an uncle provided some help and Sunday started to school for the first time at 18 years of age! After theological studies in Nigeria, he came to Palmer Seminary where he   studied with me for his MDiv. After that, he did a PhD at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Back in Africa, he soon became a theological leader in his large (10 million member) denomination called Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA). He started the first PhD program in Africa on Public Theology. He has written several books including NO OTHER CHEEKS TO TURN, talking about how Christians should respond with Christ’s love when attacked by radical Muslims. He started a program to help both Muslim and Christian widows (because when Muslims kill Christian men, Christians sometimes retaliate by killing Muslim men) 

 so Dr. Agang’s program helps both sets of widows, Christians and Muslims, to develop an economic base to care for their families.

In a recent email, Dr. Agang told me about 17 Muslims who disappeared for three days and were thought to be dead. But then they reappeared, praising Christians who had protected and fed them. That is what Dr. Agang and his seminary promotes.

COVID-19 has devastated Nigeria including JETS, the seminary which Dr. Agang  leads. The Nigerian economy is in recession. Student fees (the major source of the seminary’s income) have largely dried up for a time. Fortunately gifts from abroad have helped JETS  survive. But desperate poverty is everywhere. In a November 10 email to me, Dr. Agang told me that he had recently used his personal family’s  money to buy basic food for his hungry neighbors “because I could not watch them die of hunger.”

Dr. Agang and the seminary he leads is literally changing Africa. In addition to starting the first PhD program in African Public Theology, Dr. Agang has edited the first major African text on public theology called AFRICAN PUBLIC THEOLOGY. It will be used all across the continent. His seminary nurtures students with a passion for both evangelism and societal justice.

As you pray about how God would like you to partner with Dr. Agang and his seminary, remember that Saint Paul spent considerable time organizing an offering from Christians in Greece for poor Christians in Jerusalem. That was an intercontinental offering given by European Christians to Asian Christians! Saint Paul wrote to the  Christians in Greece urging them to give generously: “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality” ( II Corinthians 8: 14). I am sure the Nigerian brothers and sisters who are rich in faith will say thanks by praying for the Christians who share with them.

Dr. Agang and his seminary (JETS) have several needs:

1.      They would greatly appreciate major gifts for desperately needed student housing. The seminary has received a foundation grant  of $100,000 for this but they need the funds to match that grant.

2.     They need gifts to help with faculty salaries for some more months until they recover from COVID-19 and student fees return.

3.     Support for Dr. Agang – – his ministry with Muslim and Christian widows and his ongoing support for very hungry neighbors.

Please pray about joining my wife and me and giving a gift this Christmas to this superb, currently needy, very influential Nigerian evangelical seminary. Write your tax deductible check to Grace Fellowship Community Church, 3265 16th St., San Francisco, CA, 94103. Mail it to that address and mark the envelope “Attention Nigeria Donations.” In an inside note with the check, designate your gift for one or more of the three above needs.

You  can see more about JETS seminary at: www.jets.edu.ng.

Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

Please share this blog with your family and friends and invite them to join in empowering our sisters and brothers in Nigeria.

And as always, invite your friends to join my blog:  ronsiderblog.substack.com

COULD WE JUST LISTEN TO EACH OTHER?

A few days ago, I received an email from dear friends living in a very politically conservative state. They said they did not dare say “a word about anything that might be political.” They do not even dare share the most basic scientific facts about COVID-19 with their dear Christian friends.

We have a theological problem and a political problem.

The theological problem is (as I have tried to say in several blogs) that biblical faith calls us to believe and live the theological truth that our oneness in Christ is more important than any ethnic, racial, gender or economic difference. That is what it means when Paul says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus“ (Galatians 3:28). Surely that applies to Christians who are both Republicans and Democrats, both pro-Trump and not-Trump Christians.  If we believe the Bible, then our oneness in Christ must be far more important than even this huge political difference.

The political problem is that the nation is almost equally divided. (Trump won more votes than he did in 2016 although Biden won even more votes.) We listen to different sources of news – – different TV news, different Facebook, Twitter, etc. accounts. The result is that some people have a vastly different sense of “the facts” (for example, what exactly happened in this election; what science says about COVID-19, or global warming; etc). So we shelter in our separate camps, not truly listening to, and not even talking to, each other. It is not surprising that effective political action dealing with major national problems grinds to a halt.

Genuine political differences explain some of the division. There is legitimate disagreement in the nation about abortion, the size of government, and religious freedom for people with a traditional view of marriage. (I actually largely agree with conservatives on the first and third of those three issues.) But our dangerously huge division comes from much more than just valid political disagreements. We listen to different sources for our news and we no longer talk together or even have serious friendships across the political chasm.

Democracy simply will not work and our country’s future is very bleak, indeed exceedingly dangerous, unless we can start talking and really listening to each other.

I wish I had a good set of solutions. I don’t. So if you have concrete ideas or even successful stories, let me know.

But I intend to pray fervently, and often, that God will show me how to become friends with, and truly listen carefully to the views of those who voted for Donald Trump. We need to pray together. We need to explain respectfully to each other why we think so differently.

That kind of listening does not mean succumbing to relativism. Some statements are true and some are not. I will continue to work hard for the political changes I believe are right.  

For example, I continue to be certain that structural racism continues to exist in education, policing, etc. in ways that benefit white Americans and hurt others, especially African-Americans. I believe that widespread white racism is a terrible sin that makes African-American Christians  and other non-white Christians turn away in disgust. It makes non-Christians refuse even to consider—in fact despise— Christianity. And it is driving many of our younger Christians away from the church and even our Lord. We must speak the full force of truth against the terrible sin of white racism. Furthermore, at the center of any honest conversation on racism must be humble listening to African-Americans tell their experiences of racism. We must listen to them tell us why they are almost ready to totally give up on any relationship with white Christians who do not work to end racism.

At the same time,  I believe that many white Christians with racist ideas truly want to follow Christ. And I want to listen to those who do not believe that structural racism exists and then sit down together and search together to help us all understand and embrace the actual facts.

I simply do not know how to do both honest truth-telling about racism and genuine listening to white Christians who reject even the idea of structural racism. But somehow we must try.

The same kind of insistence on both truth-telling and genuine listening across great differences needs to happen on many issues.

I would hope that followers of Jesus would find a way  to model honest truth-telling and careful, humble listening  across the huge divisions that threaten our democracy. Unless we beg God to help us do that, we deny the central biblical truth about Christ’s one body. Please Lord help us.

Please share any  ideas you have.

As always, invite your friends to join my blog:ronsiderblog.substack.com

WILL WHITE EVANGELICALS UNITE TO COMBAT RACISM?

I believe that if large numbers of white evangelicals of all political persuasions would unite in a solemn pledge to work against racism and promote racial justice, we could seize an historic opportunity to finally move our beloved nation toward the Beloved Community that Dr. King dreamed about.

I have wept (not literally but I truly wanted to literally weep) as I listened to black brothers and sisters express their despair at the failure of white evangelicals to clearly and decisively oppose racism and demand racial justice. I have prayed and begged God for wisdom on what could be done.

Quite honestly, I do not know how to end the racism that continues in our country. But here are my best thoughts at the moment. Attached is a statement that I wish large numbers of white evangelicals would sign and beg God to help us implement.

Here is what I would like you to do:

1)    Pray about this statement and think about how it could be improved.

2)    Share your suggestions with me by commenting on this blog.

3)    Share this pledge with others – – especially evangelical Christians who differ with your politics. Ask them how they would change this statement so they would gladly sign it.

If the statement is to have any real significance, it must be one endorsed and acted upon by white evangelicals of  all political views. This dare not be a “pro-Biden” or “anti-Trump” statement. It must be one that a large number of white evangelicals will endorse.

I am not sure this is a significant thing to do.  I worry that it may be just “words, more words.”  How do we make sure it is much more than that?

So pray about this. Talk about it with your friends. And tell me what you think. Hopefully our common prayers and reflections can lead us to do substantial things  together that can truly, decisively, bring us to much greater racial justice.

Here is the statement:

A WHITE EVANGELICAL PLEDGE TO REJECT RACISM NOW

We are Republicans, Independents and Democrats. Some of us voted for Donald Trump, some for Joe Biden, and others for someone else or no one. Regardless of our political views, biblical truth compels us to speak together about racism—whether directed against African-Americans, Native Americans, Latino-Americans or Asian-Americans-- in our beloved nation.

We confess as white evangelical Americans that  we have played a major role in  centuries of racial injustice. And we pledge before God that we will now do all in our power to end that violation of our biblical faith which teaches  the innate dignity and equal value of every person.

We confess that many of our ancestors have devastated and killed vast numbers of Native Americans.

We confess that many of our ancestors defended and participated in the brutality of slavery and argued that black Americans were less than human. We confess that many white evangelicals participated in or at least tolerated the lynching of thousands of African-Americans in the hundred years after the abolition of slavery. We confess that most white evangelicals were either silent or hostile when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the great Civil Rights movement.

We confess that in more recent decades, white evangelicals have continued to benefit from and failed to oppose policies and structures – – in housing, education, policing and more – – that discriminated against African-Americans.

We acknowledge that housing policies have discriminated against African-Americans: the government agencies  that implemented the G.I. bill after World War II that helped millions of white GIs afford good housing  did so in a way that discriminated against black GIs; similarly, for decades, redlining by banks (refusing housing loans in black neighborhoods) and racist covenants (preventing sales to black buyers) made it much more difficult for African-Americans to own their own homes.

We confess as white evangelicals that our children have often benefited from educational opportunity not available to many African-American and Latino children. We know that the education available in poor, largely minority, urban school districts is much poorer than the education available in more wealthy, largely white, suburban school districts.

We are grateful for the many police who are honest and fair. But we acknowledge that African-Americans are much more likely to be shot and killed by the police than are white Americans.

We confess that these structural injustices in housing, education, and law-enforcement have contributed to the unfair situation where today the average black family has only one tenth the wealth of the average white family. We acknowledge that part of our failure to act against continuing racism has been our failure to understand the reality of structural racism embedded in our institutions.

We do not know all that we must do to end racial injustice and live out our biblical faith that every person is created in the image of God and deserves equal opportunity. But we declare before God and the world that we now repent of past racism and resolve to do all in our power to end our nation’s long racist history.

We will teach our children to reject racism. We will develop close friendships across racial lines. We will demand that our churches and religious institutions remove any hint of racism and truly model racial inclusion and cooperation. And we will insist that all our politicians reject any hint of racism and support structural changes that finally, effectively, promote genuine racial justice.

We weep as we acknowledge, as white evangelical Christians, that vast numbers, especially of our black brothers and sisters in Christ, do not trust us. But we hereby promise that as our Lord helps us, we will now do all in our power to finally end racism in our church and nation.

You are welcome to join my free blog:ronsiderblog.substack.com.

BIDEN WON. NOW WHAT?

The presidential election is over and Joe Biden has won. Donald Trump will mount numerous lawsuits but they will fail.

But the most important take away from this election is not that Biden won. It is that this country is deeply, dangerously, divided. Donald Trump won more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016! The Democrats lost seats in the House. And they failed to take the Senate (it is extremely unlikely that the Democrats can win both Senate seats in the Georgia runoff on January 6).

Our country desperately needs people who can listen to and negotiate respectfully with people who disagree deeply with their politics. The extremists  in both parties do not offer a way forward. We need honest careful listening and negotiation that will lead to wise compromise.

I have been reading Harvard sociologist Robert D. Putnam’s superb new book, THE UPSWING. And I think it suggests a way forward.

Putnam describes an amazing improvement and then reversal in a wide range of areas in American life from the late 19th century to the present. In the 1890s, the culture embraced a radical individualism with little concern for the common good. Political partisanship was severe. The wealth/income gap between the rich and the rest was huge. The marriage rate and church attendance were relatively low.

Then from about 1900 to 1970, things slowly changed. There was much greater concern for the common good. “We” increasingly replaced “I” in public discourse. Political cooperation across the parties became much greater. Economic inequality dropped dramatically and the lower economic levels of society received a larger share of the growing economy than did the top. More people were married and church attendance increased greatly. And African Americans enjoyed major socio-economic improvement.

Then about 1970, all the trends started to reverse. A radical individualism grew stronger. Economic inequality increased dramatically. Bitter political partisanship returned. African-Americans stopped experiencing significant socio-economic progress. Marriage collapsed and  church attendance declined as the “nones” slowly, and then more rapidly, increased. We are back to a situation similar to 1890 in many ways.

But I take heart from Putnam’s analysis. (I highly recommend the book.) This nation moved beyond a bitterly divided, self-centered period 125 years ago and we can do it again. What we need is religious and political  leadership  that calls us to embrace community rather than radical individualism; economic well-being for everyone, not just growing wealth for the top 10%; and wise,  respectful political compromise.

Politically, for me, that means I will try to do several things in the next few months and years. I will work hard with the Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden which I helped organize  to urge the Democrats to say that as they continue to believe that abortion should be legal and safe, they will also want abortion to be rare and will embrace policies that promote that. I will urge Democrats and Republicans to support national legislation that both guarantees LGBTQ civil rights and also protects the religious freedom of faith-based organizations that continue to hold the historic view of marriage. I will also urge Republicans (especially evangelical Republicans) to demand health insurance for everyone; to insist on an economy that benefits everyone, especially the bottom 50%; and to reject racist rhetoric and demand that we finally put an end to structural racism.

But I am even more worried about the huge divisions in the church – – especially among evangelicals. Theologically, the black church is just as evangelical as the white church that calls itself evangelical. But the behavior of white evangelicals for centuries and especially recently has led black Christians not just to reject the label “evangelical” but  also to despair of any cooperation with, or even respect for, white evangelicals. Furthermore, just this year, white evangelicals have said awful things about each other. Too often, we have not lived the theological truth that our oneness in Christ’s one body is far more important than any political differences.

I still believe the basic message of the book I edited, THE SPIRITUAL DANGER OF DONALD TRUMP. But if there are things in that book that are untrue or unfair to white evangelicals who voted for Trump, I  apologize. I hope and pray that pro-Trump and not-Trump evangelicals can somehow – – in God’s grace – – find ways to listen to each other. I hope we can explain to each other why, on biblical grounds, we reach divergent political conclusions. I hope we can pray together. I hope I will listen so carefully that I will change my political views wherever our Lord wants me to do that. At the very least, I hope and pray that we can listen to each other well enough to stop distorting each other’s positions. Jesus weeps over the way we have talked about each other. I don’t want to make my Lord continue to weep.

Please do not misunderstand me. I have not abandoned the political positions I promoted this year. But I want to be ready to change wherever my Lord calls me to change. And I want to listen to and understand brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with my politics even when the respectful conversation does not change my conclusions about the right political direction.

This society will descend into chaos,  and perhaps even widespread violence, unless we can develop a new respectful dialogue across our political differences. Is it too much to hope that those Americans who confess Jesus Christ  as their Lord will model a new kind of respectful dialogue that provides a model for the larger society?

Please God make it happen.

As always, invite your friends to share my free blog: ronsiderblog.substack.com

PRAY! PROTECT! PARTICIPATE! PREPARE!

Final thoughts before the most important election since 1860.

[But first, a note on my blog. I have added people to my blog who have liked and joined in signing the recent document, “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden” which I initiated. But please feel free to unsubscribe if you do not want to continue receiving my blog. TO STOP GETTING MY BLOG, click on “2020 unsubscribe” (this box is just below the SHARE bar at the end of the blog). After the election, I will get back to discussing a wide variety of topics on culture, church, theology and of course, politics.]

I have believed for many months that November 3 is the most important presidential election in 160 years. Now, just a very few days away from that momentous day, here are my final thoughts. Pray. Protect. Participate. Prepare.

PRAY

November 3 poses unprecedented dangers. Powerful voices say that the vote will be corrupted by massive fraud. The President has refused to say he will accept the results. There are reports of armed militia groups preparing for violence. Massive numbers of citizens are buying guns (at about twice the rate of a year ago). The winner may not be known for several days – – resulting in massive, swirling rumors about alleged fraud. The respected polling operation, PRRI, has just reported that 86% of Americans are somewhat or very worried that there will be widespread, violent protests after November 3.

People have drawn a parallel to 1994 in South African when Nelson Mandela first ran for president. Many people expected massive violence in the weeks around the election. In response, vast numbers of religious leaders joined together in widespread fervent prayer for peace in the days surrounding the election. And the result was very little violence and a peaceful transition—with major papers around the world speaking of a “miracle”!

All religious leaders – – whatever their politics and political preferences – – must join together in the next few days to beg God for a miracle, to beg God to bring us through the next dangerous seven days without violence and with near universal acceptance of the results of the election.

I do NOT pray that Biden wins (although I fervently hope he does). And I do not want you to pray that Biden wins! God has not sent me or anybody else an email or “word from the Lord” on who God wants to win this election. But I know God wants an outcome that will be the best for our nation and the world. And so I pray vigorously that people will vote in a way that will advance God’s desire for justice, truth, freedom, respect for life – – shalom in every area. I also pray for a free, fair, safe and peaceful election.

Pastors, please have non-partisan prayers in your worship service Sunday. Lay leaders, encourage your pastors to make that an important part of the service on November 1. If you want examples of very short prayers, a longer prayer, or a liturgical prayer, go to: https://act.sojo.net/page/23663/action/1

PROTECT

It seems likely that there will be substantial, perhaps widespread efforts to threaten and intimidate minority voters coming to the polls on November 3. Pastors at the Polls can be a great help. Barbara Williams-Skinner has put together a fabulous, huge effort to organize pastors (in clerical garb – – collars or whatever) to be present at the polls. Their visible presence will discourage intimidation.

Go to www.turnoutsunday.com and offer to volunteer. They will provide training and tell you where to go.

Also hundreds and hundreds of clergy of many different persuasions have signed a non-partisan letter supporting free and fair elections. I have signed. If you have not, go to https://faithandelections.com and add your name.

PARTICIPATE

Astounding numbers have already voted. My wife and I have already received confirmation that our “mail in” ballot has been received. (We took them personally to one of the designated places where you can drop off those ballots.) It is now too late to request a mail in ballot. If you have not yet returned a mail in ballot that you received, it is much safer now to personally take that ballot to one of the designated drop off places rather than mail it at this late date. Also, in many places, you can still vote in person before November 3. And certainly, if you have not voted earlier, vote safely on November 3.

There is an excellent website that can answer all of your questions about voting: where to drop off your mail in ballots; when and where you can vote early; your local polling place on November 3; etc. etc. Just go to https://iwillvote.com (it works for every state and county!) and you can put in your name, etc. and find out anything you need to know about how to vote in your area.

If you or your friends are still undecided about how to vote, go to the excellent document by the National Association of Evangelicals. Their document says that “faithful evangelical civic engagement and witness must champion a biblically balanced agenda.” Go to www.forthehealth.net to see the full document. You can also add your signature (scroll down to “Sign-On Statement”) as I have done.

PREPARE

Know where you can go now and after Nov 3 to get reliable, accurate answers to all kinds of questions related to the election.

The National Task Force on Election Crises (www.electiontaskforce.org) is a totally non-partisan group of very diverse, prominent leaders from a wide range of political perspectives. They have answers to almost any question you may ask about this election. There is also a place to contact them with your specific question. This will also be an excellent place to get reliable, up-to-date information in the likely turbulent days after Nov 3: go to TFrequest@protectdemocracy.org.

We need a miracle in the days after November 3. A miracle that brings patience, demands truth, and ignores rumors. Pennsylvania is a swing state that could determine the next president. And final results may very well not be available for several days. Worse, early results may be reversed by later results. Vast numbers of people in Pennsylvania have used mail in ballots and in Pennsylvania, mail in ballots cannot start to be counted until November 3! Almost everyone thinks that more Democrats than Republicans have used mail in ballots. More Republicans will vote in person on November 3. That means that by the end of the evening on November 3, Donald Trump may be leading in Pennsylvania, only to have that reversed in the next couple days as all the mail in votes are counted. Will the President urge everyone to remain calm, wait until every vote is counted, and accept the final results? Pray that he does and that everyone rejects violence and waits patiently. Pray for a miracle!

Pray, pray, pray—without ceasing!

And as always, invite your friends to join my free blog: ronsiderblog.substack.com.

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