Public Respect

In a recent blog, I challenged President Trump to take the high road in his choice of language and to respect his opponents.  It’s only fair, especially in light of remarks of the last few days, that I call upon Democrats to do the same.  But as a pastor, my primary concern is that Christians take the high road in the way we talk about politics.

The issue that recently caught my eye was a newly elected Democratic Representative using extreme expletives to describe the President.  This is highly inappropriate, and I would expect Democratic leadership to publicly rebuke her.  The only response I have heard so far is something that I would equate to a kindergartener saying “He started it.”  (The representative has since apologized, but not for her words, only for being a “distraction.”)  We don’t accept that type of behavior from a preschooler.  We must not accept it from elected officials.

This week, I heard a Republican leader in Arizona calling voters an inappropriate name because a Democratic Senator was elected.  Putting down voters is not good behavior. I’m not a politician, but I don’t even think it’s good politics.

Both sides are now calling out the other side for immoral speech.  It is hypocritical to call out the other side for immoral speech while applauding it or tolerating it on your side.  Jesus taught us to take care of our own sin before we call out someone else for theirs, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

Is either political party going to raise the bar and begin to use respectful language?

Probably not.

So, Christians, we need to show them how it is done.  We can be deeply involved in politics without stooping to the ungodly behavior of many of today’s politicians.  So let me try and give some practical suggestions for believers in their political speech:

  • Be respectful in all your own personal political speech.  You can be bold, direct, and clear in stating your own opinion without putting opponents down and calling them names.

  • Refuse to use God’s name in vane or to use profanity when discussing politics.

  • Be willing to rebuke those in your own party who are disrespectful.

  • Refuse to applaud disrespectful behavior even when it comes from a politician you supported.

  • Refuse to break a personal relationship because you disagree politically.

  • Refuse to post or repost disrespectful speech, profanity, or lies on social media.  (And since there are so many lies going around social media, refuse to repost or retweet anything that you have not personally verified as true.)

  • Support leaders who can present their ideas in an honest, intelligent, and respectful manner.

I encourage believers to get involved in politics.  I encourage believers to run for office.  I encourage believers to clearly and even forcefully state their carefully reasoned positions.

But do it the right way, the Jesus way.

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Helping Refugees

On Wednesday and Thursday of this week (December 26-27), we accepted into our care 94 refugees from Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras.  Over half of them were children.  We fed them.  We gave them places to sleep for a night or two.  We gave them backpacks, clothes, towels, jackets, hygiene items, and other essentials.  We made bus arrangements for them, and then transported them to the Phoenix Bus Station.  From there, they traveled on to a friend or family member as far away as Chicago or Florida.

Our agreement to help was not a political statement; it was an act of love to people in need.

I know that in our church (and especially because we are a bilingual congregation), we have people of all political persuasions when it comes to border policy, immigration, and asylum issues.  I’m leaving that discussion for another time and place.  The people we helped had been processed by ICE and were ready to be released.  ICE had only two options: Release them to a church or release them on the streets.

We chose to accept them in the name of Christ and love them and help them.

We do this to all people, regardless of their skin color, nationality, faith, background, language, or immigration status.  It is what we mean when we say we love people.  It’s not just a statement or a motto; it’s a reality that often comes with an obligation to offer time, housing, food, clothing, and attention.  That’s the nature of love.

I couldn’t personally show them as much love as I wanted, because I couldn’t speak their language.  But I gathered a few stories through translators.  This is Juana’s story:

I’m 22 years old and I traveled here with my 6 month old daughter Liliana.  I’m from Guatemala.  I came to the United States because there is a lot of violence in my town right now.  The gangs are fighting with each other and innocent people are often hurt and killed.  I’ve been extorted for the last several months.  I’ve paid 1000 quetzals (equivalent to about $130, a huge amount in Guatemala) so that no one will hurt me or my daughter.  I knew the extortion would continue.  The police were powerless to help me.  I decided to try and come to the United States where I hope to work and be safe.

The stories are touching and the need is great.

Before I close, I want to thank our members for their response.  We had more volunteers than we knew what to do with.  And people outside of our congregation showed up in a big way.  High School Spanish teachers came to translate.  Hickman Farms donated breakfast (and cooked it) one morning.  The Fire Department gave us car seats.  Avondale City Council members volunteered.  Our State Representative (Diego Espinoza) showed up, translated, and even cooked omelets.  Gathering Humanity, a non-profit group that works with refugees provided cots, clothes, backpacks, and more.  A volunteer from Duncan Farms made repeated trips with groups to the bus station.  A Phoenix Synagogue brought us blankets.  The Arizona Disaster Relief Team of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention set up a shower trailer and gave us cash.  It was truly much more than just a church effort.

I’m not sure what the future holds.  We may do this again next week.  It is who we are when we say we Love God, Love People, and Follow Jesus!

 

 

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An Open Letter to President Trump

Dear Mr. President;

One of the things I teach as a pastor, a father, a grandfather, and a volunteer basketball coach is that we need to respect our national leaders.  I believe that this is Biblical, moral, and a necessary ingredient of a healthy democracy.  As a result, I teach both Republicans and Democrats to respect you because of the office you hold as the President, and I have taught them to do so whether they voted for you or not and whether they agree with you or not.

This is not a new teaching for me.  I taught the exact same thing when President Obama was in office.  I will continue to teach that we offer respect to Presidents, Senators, Congressmen, Judges, other leaders, and all people.  I will teach these things to my congregation, my children, my grandchildren, and my community as long as I am able, regardless of the political situation.

Respectfully, however, I feel compelled to tell you that you are making my job much tougher.

Your continued disrespect for others in your choice of words leads to diminished respect in all avenues of American life.  Words used by you recently (like “horseface” and “Pocahontas”) are merely the latest in a long line of insults that you seem to enjoy and that escalates a growing level of disrespect across American culture.

I am not claiming that this disrespect started with you.  I am very much aware that many Americans refuse to give you the respect a President deserves, so I will continue to teach respectful behavior to the best of my ability.

I’m asking you, though, to set a much-needed example of respect.

Remember the words of Jesus to “turn the other cheek” when disrespect is offered to you.  Remember also the words of the Apostle Paul, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”  A stronger example of respect coming from the oval office would make it much easier for all Americans to live respectfully.

You are the president, my president.  I will continue to respect you because of the office you hold.  And you have my continued prayers that you will lead our nation with great wisdom and ability.  But I also respectfully request that you live by a higher standard of decency and that you offer others a higher level of respect.

I’m not asking you to do so for political purposes.  It may or may not lead to higher popularity, more votes at reelection time, or a better chance at getting the results you want.

I’m asking you to do this because it is the right thing to do.

Respectfully submitted,

Pastor Jack Marslender

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To Boycott. Or Not.

I have been besieged with requests to boycott the NFL.  And to buy burgers at In-N-Out.  (Except that other people have asked me to stop buying burgers there.)  I’ve been told that I need to support Chick-Fil-A, while others are offended if I do.  I’ve been told that I need to avoid Starbucks.  I’ve been asked to burn my Nikes.  Today, I even received a request to boycott Willie Nelson music because he’s singing at a fundraiser for a democratic politician.

The requests, boycotts, and demands are based—in every case—on the politics of the business, the business owner, or the entertainer.

I don’t want to offend you, but I typically ignore these requests.

I don’t make business decisions based on the political status of the business.  I recognize that many people agree with my politics.  And many do not.  I’m okay with that, so I won’t make business decisions based on politics.  And neither will I be offended if you decide to do so.

One of the things I love about America is that we have freedom.  The freedom to take a stand.  The freedom to state our opinion.  The freedom to affiliate.  The freedom to do business with those we choose.

And so my choice is simple.  I won’t boycott you or ignore you or stop doing business with you based on your politics.  My political disagreement with you doesn’t mean that I must separate myself from you or your business.

If I decide to drink coffee, I will choose it based on taste, price, and convenience.  (That means, usually, that I make it at home.)  If I decide to buy a burger, I will choose a burger place with good food, good service, good prices, and a good atmosphere.  I don’t care if the business owner gave money to the Republicans or the Democrats.  I will buy chicken based on the same factors.

I will watch sports or listen to music when I find it enjoyable and when I have the time.  I won’t watch or listen (or refuse) because a politician asks me to do so.  I know that there are good people on all sides of every political viewpoint in every business, sports league, and musical genre.

If I bought shoes, I bought them because I liked them, I could afford them, and they do what I need them to do.  I’m not going to burn an otherwise good pair of shoes because of an advertisement.  It has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the fact that I’m too cheap to burn money.

Understand, I won’t judge you if you do boycott.  Please don’t judge me if I don’t.

That’s enough writing.  I’m going to buy an In-N-Out Burger AND some Chick-Fil-A nuggets and sit down with a hot cup of coffee.  And I’m going to put on my Nike shoes, my Adidas shirt, and my Reebok socks and listen to Willie Nelson while watching the Oakland Raiders.

Don’t judge me.

 And I won’t judge you.

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Before I Vote for You . . .

Some find it easy to choose their candidate and make their vote.  I don’t.

Maybe it’s because, as a Christian, I have unusually high expectations for leaders, and we aren’t always offered high quality candidates.  Maybe it’s because I’m disgusted with our two-party system, for I don’t identify completely with either party.  And maybe it’s because I’m not looking at the same things that others look for.  Honestly, I often find myself disagreeing even with other believers on who to vote for.

Or maybe it’s just supposed to be hard.

I’m only one person with one vote, so I don’t expect a candidate to cater to me.  Nevertheless, if you want my vote, this is what is important to me:

  • The most important thing I look for is character.  Do you have personal and public integrity?  Are you honest and do you tell the truth?  Are you a person with high moral standards?  Can I trust you to do what you say you will do?  Do you do your homework so that when you speak, you have the facts?  Are you willing to tell me where you stand and what you believe on the hard issues?  Can you run on your integrity rather than participate in the name-calling and mud-slinging that are common in today’s politics?  Can you resist bribes and pressure from others?  When you’ve been wrong, can you admit it?

  • One way I examine your character is to look at your personal and business life.  I don’t need all the details, but have you released enough information about yourself that I understand your family, your values, your morality, and your finances?  I’m not looking for perfection.  I’m willing to vote for people who have made mistakes and who have done dumb things, but I want you to admit it and move on rather than hide it or lie about it.

  • I want to see integrity in your voting record.  Did you vote the way you promised, or at least give an honest reason on why you changed your mind?  Does your voting record show that you’re not a clone of another politician or your party?  Are you more interested in doing the right thing for your country than in pleasing your political party?  Are you a strong enough person to resist the inevitable pressure to conform?

That’s where I start.  Character is the most important issue, and I will not vote for you if you don’t meet my character test.

If there are no candidates in a race with that kind of integrity, I’m completely willing to leave that portion of the ballot blank.  I want candidates and political parties to nominate men and women of character.

There have been multiple times in recent years in which I didn’t vote in a particular race.  I’ve been challenged by friends—and I understand what they’re saying—who tell me I’m letting others decide for me. But that’s not how I look at it.  You have to earn my vote with your integrity.

I may still choose to vote for you if I disagree with you on issues—but I do want to know your stance.  (I won’t bore you in this blog with my own stances.  I keep most of my political opinions—but not my moral opinions—out-of-the-pulpit and church publications, but if you ask me in person, you might get an earful!)  I do expect candidates to openly share their stance on abortion, religious liberty, immigration, the border, the budget, Dreamers, the environment, gun control, the military, racism, public education, wages, crime, health care, terrorism, the safety of our schools and public areas, government regulation, and a whole host of other issues.

And I want to know more than simple platitudes.  Before the primary election, Dawn and I (who recently moved and are in a new legislative district) researched the official web pages of a host of candidates.  Every candidate said they loved their country and they supported the constitution, local businesses, faith, family, and morality.  That sounds nice . . . but I needed to know more.  (I also emailed their campaigns for more details on specific issues.  The only response I received was of the “I thank you for your support and please send in your much-needed contribution” type.)

If you can’t tell me where you stand on the issues, I can’t vote for you.

I’d also like to hear what you plan on doing about some long-term issues that most politicians avoid.  How are you going to deal with the long-term stability of Social Security?  How will you deal with growing racial tension?  How do you plan on dealing with Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria and other international issues?  How will you deal with our serious environmental issues?  We have a very large—and growing—prison population.  Is there anything we can do to reduce this population and still reduce the crime rate?  Healthcare costs continue to rise more rapidly than the overall cost-of-living.  Do you have a plan to deal with this before many Americans are priced out of the healthcare system?  Our education system needs to be improved if we are going to keep up with other nations.  Do you have a plan?

I know ahead of time that I won’t agree with you on every issue, but I do want to know that you’ve put some time and energy into solving the issues we face.  And I want to see something much more intelligent and nuanced than you can give me in a 30-second soundbite or in a one paragraph webpage.

What am I saying?

It’s simple.

I probably won’t agree with you on every issue, but I won’t vote for you until you’ve earned my respect.

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A Daughter’s Tribute

United States Senator John McCain passed away this weekend.  As a pastor who wants to focus on Jesus, I usually don’t say too much about politics and politicians.  Nevertheless, I was deeply moved when I heard the news.  I didn’t agree with him on all things, but I deeply respected him as a man who lived by his convictions and stated them when they were popular and when they were not.  The fact that even his political enemies considered him a friend says a lot about the type of man that he was.

I was even more moved when I read the words that his daughter, Meghan McCain, penned for her father at his passing.  I don’t know that I have ever read a better tribute.  If you have not read them, let me offer them to you in their entirety.

 My father, United States Senator John Sidney McCain III, departed this life today.

I was with my father at his end, as he was with me in the beginning.  In the thirty-three years we shared together, he raised me, taught me, corrected me, comforted me, encouraged me, and supported me in all things.  He loved me, and I loved him.  He taught me how to live.  His love and his care, ever present, always unfailing, took me from a girl to a woman—and he showed me what it is to be a man.

All that I am is thanks to him.  Now that he is gone, the task of my lifetime is to live up to his example, his expectations, and his love.

My father’s passing comes with sorrow and grief for me, for my mother, for my brothers, and for my sisters.  He was a great fire who burned bright, and we lived in his light and warmth for so very long.  We know that his flame lives on, in each of us.  The days and years to come will not be the same without my dad—but they will be good days, filled with life and love, because of the example he lived for us.

 Your prayers, for his soul and for his family, are sincerely appreciated.

My father is gone, and I miss him as only an adoring daughter can.  But in this loss, and in this sorrow, I take comfort in this:  John McCain, hero of the republic and to his little girl, wakes today to something more glorious than anything on this earth.  Today the warrior enters his true and eternal life, greeted by those who have gone before him, rising to meet the Author of All things:

 “The dream is ended; this is the morning.”

Did you catch the quotation at the end of her words?  They are part of the final paragraph in C.S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle,” the last book in his “Chronicles of Narnia,” undoubtedly, my favorite writings (other than the Bible) of all times.

In the closing, the lion Aslan (representing Jesus,) says to those who are now in heaven:

Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead.  The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

That’s the hope and the ending—which is really the beginning—of every believer in Jesus Christ.  We put our faith in God and in Jesus and we do our best in this life, only to find out that this life is only the title page to real life.

We have much to live for in this life, and it is a great adventure.

But the greatest adventure will be the one we experience on the other side.

 

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Public Behavior

Many celebrities, politicians, athletes, and social media users seem to be having trouble determining what is right or wrong.  (Or they just don’t care.)  As a result, we are seeing an abundance of racist tweets, name-calling on Facebook, and putdowns in speeches and interviews.  These remarks are widely condemned and then widely defended.  Unfortunately, the condemnation and defense usually has more to do with politics, religion, or race than with right-or-wrong.

Apparently, it’s wrong when they do it but it’s okay when we do it.

The worst part?

Believers are beginning to act exactly like those who don’t profess Jesus.

Right-from-wrong is not complicated.  Jesus’ standard-of-behavior is easy to understand.  It’s called the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  It’s easy enough that preschoolers can understand it; simple enough that no one who violates it can claim ignorance.

Treat others the way you want to be treated.  Don’t let the behavior of others determine how you act.  Instead, determine how you want to be treated and treat others in that way.  That is what Jesus taught.

Do you like it when people put you down?  Then don’t put others down.

Do you like it when people call you names?  Then don’t call others names.

Do you like it when you are judged because of your race, your sex, your looks, your accent, your education, your political party, or your income?  Then don’t judge others.  Then don’t make racist or sexist comments.

Do you like it when people post false things about you on social media?  Then don’t post incorrect or misleading things yourself. 

Do you like it when people use profanity in conversations with you?  Then don’t resort to profanity when talking to others.

Do you like it when you can’t make a political, moral, or religious point because the person you are talking to resorts to yelling and screaming?  Then don’t yell to others.

I’ve heard all of the excuses and all of the justifications, but none of them pass the Jesus test.

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

It’s Jesus’ Golden Rule, and it’s not complicated.  It applies to personal conversation, political conversation, religious discussion, and social media posts.

If you are serious about following Jesus.

 

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Abusive Relationships

The words of a prominent Southern Baptist leader (made several years ago but brought to public attention in the last few weeks) has caused a firestorm of anger, accusations, debate, and defense.  The leader essentially said that in the case of physical abuse, a woman should rely upon prayer and the help of the church and stay in the relationship.

He was wrong.

I believe in marriage and the family.  I believe in prayer.  And I believe that the church can and should help strengthen marriages.

But I also strongly believe that a woman should get out of a physically abusive relationship immediately.  And she should stay out until her spouse has sought and received real help.  I’m not counseling divorce.  I’m saying that a woman in an abusive relationship needs to protect herself.  There will be time later to talk about reconciliation, but she shouldn’t be reconciled until there is real evidence and an established pattern of change.

An apology is not enough.  Tears and deep regret are not enough.  Promises are not enough.

The truth is that in a huge majority of cases–even when apologies, tears, and promises are offered–the pattern repeats itself and the abuse becomes a cycle.  And usually the cycle grows worse each time around.

Women, my advice is simple.  Get out of an abusive relationship until help from outside the family is sought and received.  It’s good that you want to believe his apology.  It’s appropriate to believe his tears are real.  It’s loving to believe his promises.  But an abuser needs to do more than apologize, cry, and promise to be different.

Men, my advice to you is also simple.  I know that your apologies are sincere, your tears are real, your shame is genuine, and your promises are heartfelt.   But you need outside help.  Start with your pastor.  Go to the classes and counselors he suggests.  Join a men’s group.  Make deep and honest changes–before you try to talk your wife into coming back.

My prayer is always for reconciliation.  But no woman should feel that she has to stay in an abusive relationship.  It’s not the right thing.  It’s not the Christian thing.  It’s not a helpful thing.

My advice to this Christian leader at the heart of this firestorm is also simple.  Rethink your words and your advice.  Repent of your remarks.  You’ve backed down somewhat from your original statements, but you didn’t go far enough.  No woman should feel like her church is leading her to stay in an abusive relationship.  And as a leader, you need to make that abundantly clear.

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Things I’d Like to See . . . Respect

I believe in respect.

Unfortunately, I don’t see much of it anymore.  American culture seems to run on disrespect.  Politicians show complete disrespect to other politicians.  Crowds at ballgames disrespect the players, the referees, the coaches, and fans of the other team. And disrespect aimed at teachers, police officers, retail clerks, waiters, the flag, and drivers is rampant.  We have become a disrespectful society.

I’d like to make a strong call for a return of respect and civility, especially in Christian circles.

I know all of the standard excuses for not offering respect.  “You have to earn my respect” is a common refrain.  I’m often told, “He isn’t worthy of my respect.”  And in a silly justification that makes adults sound like preschoolers, I often hear, “He disrespected me, so I don’t have to show him respect.”  That’s the same argument of “he started it” that drives parents crazy when it comes from their children.  And it’s less justified among adults than it is among children.

I’m calling for respectful behavior whether or not it is earned, and especially when it is unearned.  As believers, we are not responsible for the behavior of others.  We are responsible for our own behavior.  And respectful behavior is part of the character of the Christian.  Peter told the church,  “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”   (1 Peter 2:17, NIV)  And he wrote this in an era in which the emperor was unworthy of respect.  His point is not to respect those who have earned it, but to offer respect to all people–to be respectful in all situations and not to just act respectfully in certain situations.

Now that I’ve introduced the topic, let me be specific about what I want to see in a return to respect and civility:

  • I want politicians to STOP calling other politicians names. I want an end to Twitter wars between governmental leaders.  Disagreement is to be expected; disrespectful behavior is not.

  • In a similar fashion, I want to see respect shown by all people for all political leaders.  Right now, conservatives show respect to conservatives and call liberals disgusting names.  Liberals show respect to liberals and call conservatives disgusting names.  Respect doesn’t require agreement and shouldn’t be offered just to those agree with you.  Political discussion today now sounds more like the name-calling and spitting contests that occur between kindergartners when there are no adults in the room.  And that description may be unfair to kindergartners. 

  • I want to see police officers shown respect.  I’m not saying that all police officers are always right, but they deserve our respect because of the job they have been hired to do.

  • I want to see sports figures, coaches, and referees shown respect.  I am deeply disgusted when I’m in an arena or ballpark and the entire crowd is shouting an obscenity–in unison.  It’s repugnant and barbaric behavior.  We have forgotten that our opponent in a contest is not our sworn enemy.  And the referees charged with running the game will often be wrong, but they still deserve respect.

  • I want to see ballplayers and crowds show proper respect to our nation, our leaders, our ideals, our national anthem, and to the flag.  I know there are real issues that need to be addressed.  I know that people have a right to protest and share their opinions.  And I want to hear (and I even agree with some of) those opinions.  But if you want your protest to be heard respectfully, you need to first offer proper respect.

  • I want to be able to have political and even religious discussion on social media without name-calling and falsehood.  In today’s world, because of the widespread lack of respect for the opinions of others, it’s almost impossible.  I often keep my mouth shut, not because I’m ashamed of my opinions, but because it starts a war of words that I want nothing to do with.

When I lead Children’s Camps, I give the children 3 basic rules for a good camp.  Rule number 1 is “Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there!”  Rule #2 is “Respect all nouns!”  That includes the camp, the counselors, the other kids, the camp pastor and musicians, the vehicles we travel in, and anyone else we meet.  And rule #3 is simple, “Have Fun!”

Those are pretty comprehensive rules for anyone at anytime.  And rule number 2, “Respect all nouns” is deeply needed in the Christian community of today.

Respect.  Civility.  Dignity.  Courtesy.

They are almost forgotten American characteristics.  But they should never be forgotten by the true follow of Christ.

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