Dividing people through song

Posted by Elijah Friedeman 2 comments
At the school I attend, Asbury University, we have a chapel service three times each week. This past Wednesday in chapel we celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I attended the service ready to learn how we as Christian college students could embody the biblical teaching of unity in Christ.

Instead, before the speaker even walked up on stage I was so offended and disgusted that I walked out of chapel.

Walking out of chapel during a service dedicated to the memory of the most well-known Civil Rights leader carries with it a certain danger of being branded as a close-minded person, or worse, even a racist.

The fact that I am from Mississippi, one of the few states castigated by name in King’s “I have a dream” speech, only exacerbates the negative opinions people could form at seeing me walk out of chapel. But while I knew the potential risks, I refused to sit through the exercise in disunity that was performed in chapel.

During our time of singing in chapel last Wednesday, we were told that as a congregation we were about to sing a song known as “The Black National Anthem.” As most everyone else stood up to sing or at least stand there while the song was played, I gathered my stuff and left Hughes.

In a chapel dedicated to the memory of a man who stated he had a dream that his four kids would someday “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” we were singing a song billed as the national anthem for a single group which is defined by skin color. The irony was striking.

Ask yourself a question: how appropriate would it be to sing the White national anthem in chapel? How about the Latino national anthem? The Native-American national anthem, then? Would the Pacific-Islander national anthem be better? The correct answer is that none of these songs would be appropriate because they separate us along ethnic divides.

Consequently, there is no event at which it is appropriate to sing a song entitled “The Black National Anthem.” And there shouldn’t be a question as to whether a race-specific song should be sung at a Christian service; doing so is never acceptable.

As Christians we are called to unity. In his letter to the Galatians Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Writing to the Romans, Paul had the same message: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all.” Paul also proclaimed to the Colossians that in the Church “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all

“Jew” and “Greek” are references to races which had a long and divisive past. Paul was not suggesting that who we are and where we have come from doesn’t matter; he was emphasizing the fact that as Christians despite our physical differences and pasts, we are supposed to be unified.

Anything that separates us as humans along racial lines is harmful. Anything that separates Christians along racial lines—like singing “The Black National Anthem”—is even worse.

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Christopher Hitchens and Us

Posted by Elijah Friedeman 0 comments
Christopher Hitchens held views diametrically opposed to mine and spent most of his life fighting against that which I hold most dear. He was an avowed atheist always ready to attack belief in anything other than science and reason.

But in the end he looked much like any other person fighting cancer. He had sunken eyes, a gaunt look in his face, and hair loss due to the chemotherapy he was undergoing. But despite these characteristics he still retained his pugnacious spirit towards all things related to faith and God.

I had held out hope, as slight as it was, that Hitchens would bend a knee to God before he lost the battle with cancer, because I knew he wouldn’t have that choice after he died. I prayed for Hitchens, that God would heal him of the cancer that was wreaking havoc on his body and that Hitchens would recognize God as Lord. But Hitchens passed away without seeing God as anything more than a myth.

It has, unfortunately, become the practice of many Christians to exultantly proclaim that such an end as Hitchens experienced--one filled with pain and suffering due to esophageal cancer--is fitting for anyone who defies God for his whole life. While I cannot do anything to silence such foolish and repugnant Christians who seem to have forgotten the meaning of grace, I can offer another viewpoint.

I won’t deny that the Bible clearly clearly teaches that unless Hitchens experienced a death-bed conversion--a highly unlikely occurrence no matter whom you ask--he is condemned to hell. That sentence is certainly not one that I delight in or wish for, but it is reality. However, I want to temper that harsh statement with a softer view of Hitchens.

When I read Hitchens’ articles or viewed pictures of him as he fought cancer, I couldn’t help but be overcome with a sense of compassion. I empathized with Hitchens. He was not the anti-Christian monster that he was sometimes made out to be. Rather, he was a man who didn’t recognize his need for salvation but had just as much worth than any of us and much more talent, intellect, and influence than most of us--and certainly me.

I don’t mean to be condescending to Hitchens as a man or thinker when I say that he was lost. He, like all of us, needed a Savior, but he couldn’t recognize that need or see the Fulfillment of it in Jesus.

Upon hearing the news of Hitchens’ death, I was taken aback. He no longer had a chance to turn to God. Then I started thinking about all of those around me who don’t know Jesus. As Christians there are three possible reactions we can have to the news of Hitchens’ death: we can celebrate it or be indifferent, we can mourn it, or we can let it break our hearts like it breaks God’s heart.

Any Christian who fits in the first category is a disgusting excuse for someone who claims to have been saved by grace. It is understandable that someone could fit into the second category of mourning his death, but that person is missing the whole picture. Where we need to be, where I believe God wants us to be, is in the third category. We must let Hitchens’ death break our hearts.

At this point you and I have no control, no influence, no ability to change Hitchens’ temporal or eternal end. But we do have some control, some influence, some ability to change the eternal outcome of those around us.

God loves Hitchens no more or no less than your coworker who doesn’t know Jesus, your family member who denies God’s existence, or the person in your church who hates his fellow Christian. While have no ability to help Hitchens come into contact with the life-changing power of Jesus, we can help those in our sphere of influence meet Jesus, and then let Him take control of their lives.

Hitchens is gone from this earth, his eternal destiny decided. But there are millions of people around us whose eternal destinies are still undecided. It is our job--yours and mine--to lovingly share Jesus with them. Eternity is on the line.

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Before last week I like most of America had never heard of the Florida Family Association. Suddenly, in the space of a few days, the small, unknown organization was making national headlines because it called for a boycott of the TLC show, ‘All-American Muslim’.

The Florida group says that the reason for the boycott is that ‘All-American Muslim’ only features Muslims who are ordinary people, not the bloodthirsty, suicide bomb-wearing, militant caricatures of Muslims that the FFA has come to view as the norm.

Muslims have apparently become so dehumanized in the eyes of the FFA that the group just can’t seen to fathom that there are millions upon millions of peaceful, law-abiding, yes, even good Muslims.

Terrorists or role models?
Since there is only a small minority of Muslims in this world who want to spread hate and destruction, why spend time spreading their message in the media? It would be better to show the peaceful and respectful Muslims in the media so that they, and not the militant Muslims, are recognized as the rule and not the exception.

Instead the FFA seems to want only the negative elements of Islam to be shown. But if in reality the large majority of Muslims are peaceful, why complain when they are portrayed that way on a reality TV show?
Speaking of reality TV, are some Christians really getting bent out of shape about a TV show that, from my understanding, depicts relatively healthy families in a positive light? Last time I checked that’s what we wanted more of in the media. It shouldn’t make that much of a difference that the healthy families are Muslims.

The FFA states that its mission is to “educate people on what they can do to defend, protect and promote traditional, biblical values.” Family is a traditional, biblical value. To stay true to its mission statement the FFA should at the very least be leaving ‘All-American Muslim’ alone, if not supporting it outright.

Instead, the FFA is castigating the show and giving Muslims even more reason to steer clear of Christians. The FFA should be reaching out to Muslims with love, not criticizing the healthy Muslim families that are appearing on ‘All-American Muslim’.

One of the families depicted on the show is a newly-married couple, Nader and Nawal Aoude. During the course of ‘All-American Muslim’ the Aoudes have their first baby, Naseem. The new dad, Nader, wrote a letter relating how he felt when Naseem was born. Here is a brief excerpt.
It dawned on me: I am no longer priority number one. The most important thing in my life was not myself, but the beautiful baby boy staring up at me. Every decision I made from here on out was in the best interest of this perfect, precious little life.
Any TV show that helps spread that message of the sacrificial love of a father for his family, no matter the religion of the father, is a show worth supporting in my book.

Not too long ago I was talking to a missionary who will soon be heading over to an Islamic country to minister to Muslims. He told me that after going to a certain Muslim country he realized how much we as Americans have to learn from Muslims about hospitality and about honoring and respecting other people. Perhaps the FFA could learn a lesson or two from Muslims about honoring and respecting others.

Judging Herman Cain

Posted by Elijah Friedeman 0 comments
The details surrounding the allegations of sexual impropriety from Herman Cain are flying fast and thick in the 24-hour news cycle.

First there were two women, then a prominent conservative talk show host came forward alleging that Cain acted inappropriately towards several of his female employees, and now, on top of the other allegations, there is a third woman accusing Cain of misconduct. To make matters worse for the Cain campaign, we now find out that there were apparently witnesses to several of these incidents.

Cain claims that during his 2004 run for Senate he divulged the - according to him - baseless allegations of sexual harassment to a campaign consultant, just so the campaign could be prepared for all eventualities. That consultant, incidentally, started working for the Perry campaign just over a week ago, right before the story broke.

Now if Herman Cain knew about these allegations back in 2004 and recognized them as an issue even at that stage, one would think that his presidential campaign would have been prepared to deal with and diffuse the story. This is one of the reasons why Herman Cain's cryptic and combative initial response did nothing to inspire confidence in his version of events. He is now trying to place the blame on the Perry campaign and his old campaign consultant, but it just doesn't add up.

I know that there are a lot of Herman Cain fans who are probably livid that I'm even considering the possibility of Herman Cain being guilty of sexual impropriety. I know that it's our tendency as humans to discount anything that goes against what we believe. But if Herman Cain is guilty of wrongdoing, we have to call him out on it.

At the same time, there's no point in jumping to conclusions - as the media tries to force us to do - until we have all the facts. Cain fans and opponents alike need to keep an open mind about his innocence or guilt. Everyone, no matter which candidate they support, should recognize that at this point, it is virtually impossible for us to know what the truth is.

If these allegations turn out to be more than just mostly anonymous claims by several women who profited financially from accusing Cain, then conservatives should condemn him with vehemence. The same is true for all politicians: if President Obama were guilty of sexual indiscretions, we should condemn him as well; but Cain is the one on the hot seat, not the president.

When it comes to matters of morality and fairness, we should not discriminate based on political affiliation in either our accusations or defenses of politicians. What's wrong is wrong, regardless of who the culprit is.

Until we know more I'm not jumping to Cain's defense as so many conservative pundits seem inclined to do. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter both made strong statements in defense of Cain which, if he turns out to be guilty of some sort of impropriety, will look really foolish (not that either of them haven't looked foolish before).

I'm also not willing to condemn Cain based on an as-of-now vague charge of sexual harassment that supposedly occurred in the 90s. There have been too many good men whose careers, families, and lives have been destroyed because of false allegations of sexual impropriety. I'm not going to be part of destroying Cain's political career, unless I know that he is guilty.

Politics is a team sport, which is often good for politicians, but bad for all of us plebeians. Whoever is behind this story getting out wants voters to attack Cain, even if the allegations are false. Cain wants everyone to join his side in opposing the allegations, even if they're true and a cause for serious concern.

We have to refrain from making strong statements until all the details are brought to light, at which point we will have to make a judgment about Cain's character.

It is our responsibility to put justice and fairness before politics.

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The local church is where it's at

Posted by Elijah Friedeman 0 comments

It may not be exciting, but it's important.
Last month, as part of a local missions experience, my youth group went to serve at a local para-church organization.

In the midst of personal, family, and community brokeness, this ministry was an incredible witness to the love and restoration of Jesus.

In the space of six years, God had used one family to start a movement that was transforming a section of their city. The ministry - with two ministry centers, on-campus staff, a neighborhood garden, a clothes closet, and dozens of regular volunteers from local churches and groups - obviously would not have happened without the direct blessing of God.

This para-church group served hundreds of drug-addicted and broken people in the neighborhood, reaching out in very tangible ways to help those in need. Lives had been transformed, families had been brought back together, and the love of Jesus was being spread.

The staff members who were working with us, attributed the success of the ministry to prayer. And it was hard not to notice that everything - from the buildings to the neighbors - were constantly being prayed for.

During our lunch break that day, one of the volunteers who was a regular with the ministry, shared how she had become involved with that para-church organization.

The volunteer talked about how she had attended one of the largest churches in the area for years, and was involved by serving on committees and leading a small group. But through it all, she felt like something was missing. So, at the encouragement of the church's outreach coordinator, she began to volunteer at different local ministries, and eventually became involved with the organization we were working with that day.

She told us how she could never go back to being a "church person" and that being at the ministry where she currently was just felt right.

Part of her testimony struck me wrong - something about how she talked about her church experience in the past tense and how she seemed to mention "church people" with a sort of veiled derision. So I decided to check it out with her later.

After lunch, as we were working together, I asked the volunteer who had shared her testimony, whether or not she still goes to the church she had talked about.

She admitted that she didn't. Then, as if defending her decision leave the church, she explained how she considered the para-church organization that she volunteered with as her church home now. She quickly added that they do have a service once a week.

Since I was probably 40 years her younger, I didn't say anything in response. But what she had said troubled me.

At the end of our day, our youth group had a debriefing of sorts to talk about our day of work and the ministry we had partnered with. Most of the youth talked about how they had a renewed appreciation for the power of prayer which was completely understandable after seeing how God had literally created a ministry of restoration out of nothing.

I had a completely different take on the day, though. I had been reminded about the importance of the local church.

The fact was, the ministry where we were working was funded by and largely run by church people. Without the local church, para-church organizations wouldn't exist.

There is no doubt that para-church groups are very important, and can sometimes fill needs that the church can't. But no group, organization, or movement can, or ever will, be as important as the Church universal, especially the Church's manifestation at the local level.

The local church isn't always the most exciting thing. Often, after years of involvement, it's not something we want to devote ourselves to with zeal. But the Church is what para-church organizations can never be; the Church is the bride of Christ, a community of believers redeemed by the blood of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and commissioned by God to make disciples and be a culture-changing force for justice and righteousness.

Has the Church always lived up to that calling throughout history? No.

But it remains the bride of Christ. And we should treat it as such. If you brazenly ignore someone's wife, don't expect to have much of a relationship with the husband, who, in this case, is Jesus.

Society doesn't respect the Church like it used to. But as Christians we should love and respect the institution of the Church and prioritize it over any other group or organization.

Damian Mulinix / Chinook Observer

Last Friday a Washington youth group went to the beach for the day. While they were there, two boys were caught in a riptide. The other boy, Dale Ostrander, was sucked out into the ocean. Ten minutes later, rescue swimmers were able to find him, but by that time Dale was no longer breathing.

While this was happening, the other kids in the youth group were on the beach praying.

Damian Mulinix / Chinook Observer
After dragging his body out of the ocean, the rescuers tried to resuscitate Dale for ten minutes, before taking his body to the hospital. At this point, said photographer Damian Mulinix, "everyone was certain (Dale) Ostrander was dead."

When they arrived at the hospital, miraculously, Dale had a weak pulse.

After spending several days in an induced coma, Dale woke up. He was able to put together complete sentences and respond to questions from his doctors.

The photographer, who doesn't seem to be a Christian said, "This boy was dead for upward of 20 minutes, easily...if ever there were a miracle, this would be it."

You can read the full account from the photographer Damian Mulinix here. And keep up with Dale's recovery at prayersfordale.blogspot.com.

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