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John D. Pierce | Blog


Who believes in religious liberty now?

Photo by John PierceBy John Pierce

Often evangelicals, including many Southern Baptists, have fought the idea of genuine religious liberty during the growing ethnic and religious diversification that has swept the nation in recent decades.

They’ve whined about being here first and holding majority status. They’ve even revised American history to make the nation’s founders into clones of modern Christian fundamentalists.

And they were called out recently by one their own: Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

“You have some people who haven’t thought through that what our Baptist forebears were saying is right — that religious liberty is an image-of-God issue; it’s not a who-has-the-most-votes issue,” he said in a recent podcast, as reported by Associated Baptist Press.

“That means we’re the people who ought to be saying the loudest: ‘We don’t want the mayor and the city council to say that a mosque can’t be in our town,’” he said. “The mayor and the city council that can say that is a mayor and a city council … that has too much power.”

Moore went on to warn against Christians who cry “persecution when there is no persecution” — such as when being greeted with “Happy holidays!” at Walmart.

Will those conservative Christians — who on one hand want to wield their majority political clout and on the other play victim at every opportunity — hear this warning?

If so, why now and not earlier when so many other voices have called for full religious liberty for all?

What’s the real difference in perspective and historical understanding?

Well, it all it comes down to whether one is concerned about protecting religious liberty for everyone or simply for oneself. And whether one believes his or her own faith can flourish in the free flow of ideas without the helping hand of Uncle Sam.


More than a chaperone

By John Pierce

Whenever the Boynton Baptist Church youth group of my generation gathered — and we gathered often — Glenda Nichols was there. I don’t recall her (or any other adult who engaged with our fun, close group) being called a chaperone.

Glenda was simply an adult who befriended us and gave generously of her time. In fact, she not only tolerated our youthful silliness; she delighted in it. (OK, most of it.)

Whether it was hanging out on weekend nights to play Rook and watch the critically acclaimed “Shock Theater” on TV or having a picnic at Chickamauga Lake, Glenda was there. And if someone had a birthday to celebrate, she would often bring along a red velvet cake.

Glenda would go on retreats with us to Gatlinburg in the winter and to conferences at Ridgecrest in the summer. It is impossible to think about those good, growing years without Glenda being there as supportive and encouraging.

She knew all of our inside jokes and probably laughed at them the loudest. The stories come flowing back as we make plans to gather this Saturday to commemorate and celebrate Glenda’s good earthly journey that ended this week.

When telling family and non-Boynton friends about Glenda, it would be easy to say she was a chaperone for our church youth group. But that does not suffice.

She was our friend. A fun, faithful friend to all of us.

We knew that she cared. And we care as well.


A flood of opinions about Noah

By John Pierce

Noah has opened and I don’t care. It’s a movie and there are other things to watch this time of year.

But the high volume of Noah-related email I’m receiving indicates many others are quite interested.

Christian leaders, it seems, are lining up “for” or “against” the $130 million production about the shipbuilding, animal-gathering man whose faithfulness spared enough of earth’s inhabitants for continuation.

Imagine that, church people choosing sides?

For those who prefer primary sources, the Noah story can be found in the book of Genesis — with a similar flood narrative in the earlier Epic of Gilgamesh.

Nothing is sillier than expecting Hollywood or any other segment of society to somehow reflect specific religious values or to follow some literalist interpretation of scripture or to carry out any particular faith group’s mission.

The production company, to win favor from the National Religious Broadcasters, notes in the opening credits that the movie is “inspired by the story of Noah” but that “artistic license has been taken…”

Imagine that, filmmakers using “artistic license?”

According to one email, an evangelist is urging the faithful to watch an alternative film titled Noah and the Last Days — that “gives 10 scriptural signs of the end times.” Young-earth proponent Ken Ham and some others prefer this one.

Imagine that, using the buzz about a new movie to promote one’s own film or book or self?

Well, that’s the extent of my interest in the movie, Noah. I’ll just read the ancient story again — and perhaps catch a rerun of the 2007 movie, Evan Almighty.

Imagine that, the real Noah being more like Steve Carrell than Russell Crowe?


Fatalism just never seems to die

By John Pierce

Cousin Pearl would call my mother to express her high anxiety over “the way things are going.” Her alarm was not surprising; she was getting old and spending too much time watching daytime television.

My mother would listen to her long lament, then offer this remedy: “Then stop watching Geraldo.”

That was in the ’80s. Pearl and Mom are gone now — and Geraldo Riviera still lingers in the shadows of television.

An even older relative, whose letters I once found, would write to my aunt about how bad things were getting in the ’60s. The problem had to do with African Americans gaining the same rights as everyone else.

One can go to any point in human history and find those who romanticize some segment of the past and worry over the “way things are going.” Doom gets predicted, again and again.

All sociological change, it seems, is worrisome to some.

Alarmist preachers and others have been telling us for longer than we have lived that “America is descending into Hell" over whatever is happening at that moment that they don’t like.

Often, it is nothing more than the personal disappointment in seeing that one’s own politics of fear and discrimination are not winning the day. So judgment is called down on those that are feared.

Slipping on the rosiest of glasses, these alarmists declare how wonderful things were “back then” (even though “back then” was once considered a worrisome time) and how awful things are headed now.

Uttering some forthcoming of God’s judgment as part of their fatalistic cries seeks to give more legitimacy to their hallow warnings. Also, it helps mask their fears as well as the realities of the issues they overstate and find so threatening.

Each era brings its own concerns and challenges as technology grows and society changes. But I don’t buy the notion that America is descending into Hell in some wholesale fashion today and needs to return to whichever time an alarmists chooses — knowing that other alarmists back then were warning that America was descending into Hell.

Such warnings are often ploys to rally other fearful people to a particular cause — whether it’s opposing equal rights for whichever group is perceived as threatening at the time or another issue in the news. And this repeated generational alarmism appears to be timeless.

There is a more honest approach. It involves calming down and admitting that many fearful warnings over social unrest in the past, and young people resisting authority, didn’t actually destroy our nation.

And that extending constitutionally promised equality to those who were formerly excluded from such rights by law didn’t bring the promised demise. (Pick any group and era.)

So I quickly scroll past such fatalistic online postings from modern-day alarmists. And I delete emails such as a recent one from an alarmist preacher who claimed that “the USA is descending fast” — due to the familiar litany of gay rights, “turning our backs on Israel,” and so on.

Spare me your alarm. However, honest and reasoned assessments are needed — and are found somewhere between Pollyanna and religious/political alarmists.

Taking a thoughtful, constructive approach to change helps us identify and address the real challenges of the day — while admitting that many sociological and technological changes that were once feared have actually made this a pretty darn good time to live in America.

However, it is easy to see why some people are so worried and riled. Handling defeat in the public arena is hard for alarmists who have tied their opinions to “God’s truth” — shifting the loss from a personal one to one that calls out the wrath of the Almighty.

Perhaps there will always be those who wring their hands and lament “the way things are going” — although there is nothing constructive in that defeatist perspective that sees the past as better than it was, the present as worse than it is, and the future as something to always fear.

Continually hearing that the sky is falling will cause the wise person to stop looking up. And there are such better options to fatalistic alarmism.

Here are a few:

Face one’s own fears with faith.

Confess that every change once condemned and feared didn’t turn out so bad.

Separate one’s own opinions and disappointments from God’s will and wrath.

Honestly acknowledge the challenges to be faced by every generation.

And turn off Geraldo.



It didn’t take long

By John Pierce

Talking heads fuss about how the U.S. should or should not respond to Putin’s bullying.

Unannounced political candidates announce how they would handle the situation far better than current political leaders.

And modern-day profits…, excuse me, prophets, point to these sure signs that the world is coming to an end, again. It didn’t take long for them to jump to the forefront, again.

Bearlike TV preacher John Hagee drones on about the Russian Bear. A publicist offers to connect me with a theologian and religious radio host whose new book “delves into the Book of Revelation,” in light of this crisis.

The tension between Russia and its neighbor raises legitimate concern. It also raises up those who always seek to exploit gullible believers with their esoteric, end-times theories.

Predictions about the end of the world don’t interest me, but there are other topics of interest coming my way each day. One publicist is pushing “uplifting temporary tattoos” that allow believers to “arm themselves with the Word of God.” (Now, that’s punny.)

Let us take the political conflict in the Ukraine and other places seriously.

Let us take seriously those clear, hard things Jesus told us to be and do.

But let us be seriously skeptical of those who come on the scene at such times trying to sell us something that Jesus said no one, not even himself, knows.