Sunday, December 14, 2008

WMU provides creative, biblical response to the growing recession

Three cheers for Woman's Missionary Union and its willingness to act creatively and biblically during times of economic uncertainty and belt-tightening!

Instead of acting in the usual church-bureaucratic fashion—following the secular world's lead of laying people off or camouflaging its actions as some sort of reorganization—WMU has provided some important new groundwork for how to cope with the economic turmoil facing the United States and the rest of the world today.

According to Baptist Press on Friday: "During a Dec. 10 meeting at the 120-year-old organization’s Birmingham, Ala., headquarters, WMU Executive Director Wanda S. Lee told employees about the measures, which include budget reductions, streamlining expenses, a hiring freeze on vacant positions, a reduction on employer contributions to employee retirement plans, a freeze on merit pay increases, elimination of incentive bonuses in 2009 and the implementation of four weeks unpaid furlough for each staff member between January and August 2009."

News reports say WMU leadership sought to avoid layoffs and keep health insurance affordable for its about 100 employees, most of whom are female.

Putting individuals and families first and refusing to succumb to kneejerk business patterns which make some individuals and families suffer more than others, WMU acted in ways more consistent with biblical teachings about how Christians are to treat each other.

As the current economic recession continues to unfurl, church groups across the country are continuing to react in various ways, some more consistent than others with biblical principles.  Many are amping up their pleas for more donations even as their donors' home values, retirement accounts, and incomes slide. Some such as Focus on the Family have cut jobs and laid off people. (See my previous blog on this.) And still others are quietly going about reorganizations, which do the dirty work of layoffs but with a "positive" public spin put on it.

These are difficult times mostly because even governments don't seem to know exactly what to do to halt the declines. And predictions about how long this recession is going to last and how deep it eventually will become keep growing.

Interesting to note in WMU's actions is that most measures are short-term and time-limited. Most seem to be confined to 2009. That pattern seems to argue for optimism that the current situation will soon turn around. We can only hope WMU is right.

Meanwhile, individual Christians, churches, church institutions, and parachurch organizations would all do well to take note of WMU's biblically based creativity in addressing the current situation. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Both Religious Right and Religious Left have much they could learn from one another

After riding high for years, the Religious Right is about to see its sun begin to set on political influence in this country. Meanwhile, the sun is rising for the Religious Left's influence on American political life.

January 20 marks the day. That's when Barack Obama officially takes the oath of office as President of the United States.

The Religious Right opposed Obama, though some in that crowd tried to praise him for breaking the glass ceiling imposed by racial attitudes in this country. The Religious Left supported Obama about as subtly as the Religious Right tried to oppose him.

Already signs of the shift are everywhere.

I keep a watchful eye on this shifting landscape through two very important news sources for me—the Southern Baptist Convention's news agency Baptist Press, and the National Council of Churches' NCC News. Together they represent the ying and the yang of political/religious life in America today. For the naive, the SBC is very much a part of the Religious Right, while the National Council is very much part and parcel of the Religious Left.

One can almost see the teardrops falling in the daily SBC postings and the bright smiles emanating from what is becoming almost daily news releases from the NCC.

Sadly, both groups seem to limit their interests to a few select issues. Reading Baptist Press regularly and exclusively could lead one to believe the Bible is mostly concerned about only two political/social issues: the pro-life movement and the anti-homosexual movement. Reading NCC News regularly and exclusively could lead one to believe the Bible is mostly concerned about those prisoners at Guantanamo and Global Warming.

The truth is the Bible is filled with a lot more than just these four issues. The Bible contains information on just about every moral, ethical, economic, social, and relevant issue today. Name an issue, and the Bible offers up an applicable verse or a teaching that relates to it.

The Bible is also neither a Republican nor a Democratic handbook, though regrettably both the SBC and the NCC seem to have a penchant for skewing biblical teachings toward the party of preference of each.

Both the Religious Right and the Religious Left stand correctly on different issues—sometimes on the opposite side of the same coin. The Religious Right is correct in its strong pro-life stand on behalf of the unborn. But while the Religious Left is wrong on sanctity of human life issues, it does score well in reminding us that once a person is born, medical care, education, and other necessities matter much. I wish the Religious Right was as passionate for children living in poverty without adequate education and medical care and in troubled environments as it is about the unborn. The Bible is clear that both the unborn and the born are precious in God's sight. 

The same could be said for a number of other issues. The Religious Left is more right than wrong on environmental issues; the Religious Right would do well to stop arguing about global warming, reread the book of Genesis about the Creation,  and start emphasizing God's commands to be good stewards of the world He has given us.

I know members of the Religious Right who cannot see a bit of good in Obama's uncoming inauguration. For them the demise of the Religious Right's influence will be a disaster of unfathomable porportions. 

I also know members of the Religious Left who will not for a moment concede that the Religious Right has done anything correct. To them the Religious Right's influence on political life for the past eight years has been a colossal disaster.

Both groups need to take some deep breaths and try to put things in perspective. Each brings to the table perspectives that deserve to be heard. 

And each could learn from the other. In listening to each other and in genuine, above-politics dialogue both the Religious Right and the Religious Left just might learn some important biblical lessons and truths from the other. Neither has a complete lock on the truth.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Focus on the Families' layoff raises biblical questions

Two news events this past week raise serious questions about how ethically Christians and non-Christians alike will muddle through these tough economic times. They also make me wonder whether when it's over in a few years anyone will be able to tell the difference between the Christians' responses and the secular world's responses to the current turmoil.

Case in point #1: By flying into Washington, D.C., on private jets and displaying uncommon opulence at the very moment they were begging for a government bailout, the leaders of the Big 3 Automakers looked like spoiled children whining for ice cream after being served a huge dinner and large pieces of cake for dessert. 

Their PR staffs blew it by not advising those fat-cat corporate execs to drive their smallest, most fuel-efficient models to the nation's capital and proclaim every mile along the way their commitments to cutting the blubber from their own budgets as well as to energy conservation. 

Instead Detroit's automakers looked like a bunch of greedy pigs gathering at the feeding trough. They looked unwilling to make the changes necessary for their bloated, debt-ridden businesses to survive.

Case in point #2: Focus on the Family announced that after "looking at October trends and talking to donors who are not in a position where they can give", it was cutting 202 jobs now to prepare for the shortfall later. On the surface the announcement sounded like good business sense. Had I not attended Focus' 25th anniversary several years ago in its fabulously opulent, new, palatial facilities in Colorado Springs, CO, I might not have stumbled so quickly on the announcement. 

Let's re-frame Focus' announcement another way: The supposed family-oriented Focus on the Family ministry is going to lay off 149 workers (and rid itself of 53 vacant positions) to balance its books quickly while creating financial hardships for the 149 or so families impacted by the decision. With unemployment escalating, people's nest-eggs shrinking, and property values declining, what person in his or her right mind believes all 149 people will find new jobs quickly? Won't Focus' actions negatively impact not only the 149 people involved but also their families, including spouses, children and maybe even grandchildren?

With the ill winds of economic problems blowing across our country and around the world right now, expect other Christian organizations, denominational agencies, and even churches during the next year or two to follow Focus' lead.

I can't help but wonder whether anyone at Focus stopped and said, "Hey guys, let's look for some creative, biblical solutions here, like maybe all 1,150 of us, including James Dobson and the other top execs, taking a 20-percent pay cut so our fellow Christians will not have to face the economic hurricane alone out there."

In times like these, Christians may need to go back and re-read the Bible, starting with the Book of Acts. When the chips were down and persecution rampant, Acts reports that the early church "had everything in common" (see Acts 2:43-47).  No where can I find a passage that says when the going got tough, the early church threw nearly one-sixth of its members overboard so the rest of them could continue to eat well and live lavishly.

Too often today the church--especially in its business practices--reflects too much the world's culture.  Making money and the things money will buy has become far too important for churches and church organizations than they should be. Focus on the Family has grown its ministry based on challenging the world's standards and assumptions on many important issues; today that organization needs to look in its own mirrors.

After living for far too many years like people with heads in the sand, Detroit's pitiful jet-led campaign into Washington, D.C., could be expected. Buying first-class, round-trip tickets on American's Airlines next time won't undue the damage their stupidity has cost them. But at least those executives can plead ignorance of any ethical handbook for operating their business.

Churches including para-church organizations, on the other hand, can't plead the same ignorance. The Bible is supposed to be their moral compass. That book makes very clear many ethical matters, including how one is to treat fellow believers especially in difficult times.

When prosperity returns, will anyone be able to tell the Christians from their mortal enemies, the secularists? I sure hope so, but without radical solutions and actions no distinction may be apparent.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Keeping Secrets in the Church, part 2

(When Terry Mattingly interviewed me for his excellent column on my new book, Witness to the Truth, he said he was writing two columns about secrecy in the church. For column #1 he used my book to zero in on secrecy in the Southern Baptist Convention. For column #2 he used Russ Shaw's new book to hone in on secrecy in the Roman Catholic Church.  He found the fact to be interesting that both books came out simultaneously and focused so clearly on the lack of truth telling among church leaders and institutions today.

I believe that its failure to walk in the light of truth and honesty severely hinders the church and denominations today. Obviously Russ Shaw and Terry Mattingly believe along parallel lines. Spin-doctoring and and media manipulation in their own midst are serious problems that church leaders refuse to address.

(Read below how Terry has condensed quite nicely Russ's book.)

WASHINGTON BUREAU: Terry Mattingly's religion column for 11/12/08.

If you want to cause trouble for American bishops, stick them in a vise
between Rome and the armies of dissenters employed on Catholic campuses.

But the bishops had to vote on Ex Corde Ecclesiae ("From the Heart of the
Church"). After all, they had been arguing about this papal document
throughout the 1990s, trying to square the doctrinal vision of Pope John
Paul II with their American reality. Rome said their first response was too
weak, when it came to insisting that Catholic schools remain openly
Catholic. Finally, the bishops approved a tougher document on a 223-to-31

Soon after that 1999 showdown, someone "with a good reason for wanting to
know" emailed a simple question to Russell Shaw of the United States
Catholic Conference. Who voted against the statement?

"There was no way to know. In fact, the Vatican doesn't know -- for sure --
who those 31 bishops where," said Shaw, discussing one of the many
mysteries in his book, "Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication and
Communion in the Catholic Church.

"The secret ballots were destroyed," he noted. "These days the voting
process is even more secret, since the bishops just push a button and
they've voted. Even if you wanted to know how your bishop voted, or you
wanted the Vatican to know how your bishop voted, there's no way to do

Professionals have learned to read between the lines of debates held in the
open sessions that the U.S. bishops choose to schedule. Outside those
doors, insiders talk and spread rumors. Some bishops spin the press and
others, usually those sending messages to Rome, hold press conferences,
publish editorials or preach sermons. But many of the crucial facts remain
cloaked in secrecy.

Of course, noted Shaw, few leaders of powerful institutions enjoy
discussing their crucial decisions -- let alone corporate or personal sins
-- in public. When Catholic insiders complain about "clericalism" they are
confronting a problem that affects all hierarchies, from government to
academia, from the Pentagon to Wall Street.

"It's a kind of elitism, a way of thinking and behaving that assigns to the
managerial class a superior status," he said. "They are chiefs and everyone
else is an Indian. They set the agenda. They always make the final
decisions. They get to tell everyone else what to do."

Of course, there's truth in the old image that puts the pope at the top of
an ecclesiastical pyramid, with ranks of clergy cascading down to the pews.
Catholicism is not a democracy and there are times when leaders must keep
secrets. That's "a truth," said Shaw, but it is "not the only truth," since
the whole church is meant to be knit together in a Communion built on a
"radical equality of dignity and rights."

Part of what is happening, he explained, is that some bishops are
protecting a "facade of unity" that hides their doctrinal disagreements
with the Vatican. While Shaw believes the bishops are more united with Rome
now than they where were about 25 years ago, some bishops may be pushing
for more and more closed "executive" sessions as a subconscious way to
protect themselves.

Take, for example, the brutal waves of scandal caused by the sexual abuse
of children and teens by clergy. For several decades, argued Shaw, the
bishops have been afraid to openly discuss "the causes of the dreadful mess
-- nasty things like homosexuality among priests, theological rationalizing
on the subject of sex and the entrenched self-protectiveness of the old
clericalist culture."

That's the kind of scandal that creates global headlines. But, for most
Catholics, more commonplace forms of secrecy shape their lives at the local
level, said Shaw.

Consider another story reported in Shaw's book, about a woman who quietly
confronted a priest after a Mass in which he omitted the creed. When he
failed to acknowledge the error, she said, "Father, you teach your people
to be disobedient when you disobey the Church."

The offended priest was silent. Then he leaned forward and whispered, "You
know what honey? You're full of it." The priest walked away, giving the
woman and her husband what appeared to be "the single-digit salute."

Truth is, said Shaw, "clericalism is often alive and well at the local
level. That's the kind of secrecy and dishonesty that really cuts the heart
of many local parishes, destroying any hope for real Communion there."

Terry Mattingly ( directs the Washington Journalism Center at
the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Keeping secrets in Southern Baptist, Roman Catholic churches

(My book, Witness to the Truth, contains about 80,000 words.  In about 650 words Scripps-Howard religion columnist Terry Mattingly did a masterful job capturing the essense of what I said in the book. Terry's column will appear in Scripps-Howard newspapers across the country for the next several weeks. Normally, I post only my columns on this blog. However, Terry did such a fine job that I asked his permission to post it here.) 

WASHINGTON BUREAU: Terry Mattingly's religion column for 11/05/08.

EDITOR'S NOTE: First of two columns on keeping secrets in church.

Reporter Louis Moore didn't know much about the Lutheran Church-Missouri
Synod when he began covering its bitter civil war in the 1970s.

Nevertheless, as a Southern Baptist with a seminary degree he knew a
biblical-authority battle when he saw one -- so he caught on fast. Soon he
was appalled by the viciousness of the combat between "moderates" and
"conservatives" as the 2.7 million-member denomination careened toward

Things got so bad he told a Houston Chronicle colleague that if the
Southern Baptist Convention "ever became embroiled in such a heinous war, I
would rather quit my job than be forced to cover it," noted Moore, in
"Witness to the Truth," his memoir about his life in the middle of some of
America's hottest religion stories.

"Regrettably, years later, I was an eyewitness to SBC behavior that made
the Lutherans' battle look like a Sunday school picnic."

The Lutheran fight was his "learner schism" and Moore witnessed many other
skirmishes in pulpits and pews before -- like it or not -- he was engulfed
by the battle to control America's largest non-Catholic flock. He also
served as president of the Religion Newswriters Association during that

The Southern Baptist Convention's return to the theological right would be
near the top of any journalist's list of the pivotal events in American
religion in the late 20th Century. This Bible Belt apocalypse also affected
politicians ranging from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan, and anyone else who
sought national office in the "culture war" era following the 1960s and,
especially, Roe v. Wade.

After leaving daily journalism, Moore saw the Southern Baptist world from
the other side of the notebook for 14 years, serving as an SBC media aide
on policy issues and then with the convention's giant foreign missions

Moore said that in the "best of times" he saw believers in many flocks who
were so "servant-hearted and so demonstrative of Godlike virtues" that the
memory of their faithful acts -- in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for
example -- still inspires tears. But in the worst of times?

"I have seen church people ... violate every one of the Ten Commandments,
act boorish and selfish, be prejudiced, broadcast secular value systems and
in general behave worse than the heathen people they tried to reach," noted
Moore. In fact, just "name some sin or some act the Bible eschews, and I
could pair that vice up with some church leader or member I have known."

Moore said his career affirmed basic values that he learned as a young
journalist, values he saw vindicated time after time in the trenches. Wise
religious leaders, he said, would dare to:

* Adopt "sunshine laws" so that as many as possible of their meetings are
open to coverage by journalists from the mainstream and religious press.
"When you're dealing with money your people have put in the offering plate,
you should be as open as possible," he said. "The things that belong on the
table need to stay on the table."

* Acknowledge that "politics is a way of life and they need to make it
clear to the people in the pews how the game is played," he said. "I truly
admire the people who let the covert be overt."

* Come right out and admit what they believe, when it comes to divisive
issues of theology and public life. "Say what you mean and mean what you
say," he said. "Way too many religious leaders take one position in public
and say something completely different somewhere else."

It's easy to pinpoint the root cause of these temptations, said Moore. At
some point, religious leaders become so committed to protecting the
institution they lead that they are driven to hide its sins and failures.
There's a reason that clergy and politicians share a love of public
relations and have, at best, mixed feelings about journalism.

"People who get caught up in this kind of group think spend so much of
their time testing the waters and floating their trial balloons," he said.
"I prefer to deal with the people who are honest about what they truly
believe . . ..

"Of course, the other side of that equation is that these authentic
believers are often politically naive and that means that they don't
survive the realities of the political process."

NEXT WEEK: Why Catholic doors kept closing.

Terry Mattingly ( directs the Washington Journalism Center 
at the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Layoffs require honesty, ethical behavior, and moral justification

With layoffs predicted and unemployment expected to climb in the next months, businesses and churches need to be reminded that honesty is always the best policy.

Times like these usually spawn all sort of silly, unethical games and immoral behaviors that employers sometimes adopt.

The reason for the layoffs is obvious: Banks blew it by lowering lending standards, then played fast and loose with the mortgages they secured from people not able to pay back the money they borrowed. Those rotten mortgages, sold in packages as supposedly excellent investments, have resulted in a meltdown of the entire financial system. This has required massive government intervention not seen since the Great Depression. All this has tightened credit, lowered sales of everything from houses to cars to toiletry items and heightened the possibility of a prolonged deep recession or even an economic depression.

Layoffs are inevitable in such a free-market cycle. They are not the fault of individual employees (except in the case of some immoral high-up bankers and Wall Street types who created the mess) who are now likely to lose their jobs in the midst of the meltdown.

Businesses and other entities, including churches, will have three options:

1. Tell the truth to their employees: The truth is that sales and other methods for securing funding are down. Less revenue means less money available for salaries and other things. This means some people will lose their jobs. The decisions of who will be laid off need to be based on clearly defined moral, just, and ethical guidelines administered in the fairest and best way possible.

2. Set up immoral or unethical scenarios where certain employees are targeted as people to be laid off because of arbitrary and random plans not easily explainable to them or anyone else. (These can range anywhere from personality conflicts to such arbitrary matters as whether a person participates in the office drinking parties to hidden illegal discrimination based on race, gender, religion or age.) Following this scenario, employees losing their jobs will be set up for failure. They will suddenly find themselves criticized for work that previously might have even received commendation. The persons losing their jobs will be made to feel that they somehow are to blame for the decision. The company will try to present itself as dealing with troubled employees instead of the soured economy. Churches are expert at this; they will tell staff members that they are "not spiritual enough" or don't exhibit Christian attitudes in their work, when the truth is, the church can't afford to pay their salaries any more. 

3. Camouflage the whole nasty situation as some type of "reorganization" in which people suddenly find their positions eliminated. People will know they have been laid off, but the company (or church or entity) appears to be merely adjusting to a new organizational scheme. Churches and church institutions particularly use "reorganizations" as ruses for layoffs--presenting to the public an image that is both dishonest and unethical. Regrettably religious groups are not the only ones that follow this behavior. Mergers, such as those occurring in the banking industry right now, provide great covers for these kinds of scenarios to happen, too.

Over the years I've been a part of both secular and church institutions that have gone through these layoff cycles. I've seen all three of these options carried out by bosses who range from highly ethical to downright deceptive. I've seen bosses struggle gallantly with ethical dilemmas involving who goes and who stays; I've also seen bosses who refuse to own up to the realities of the marketplace and instead turn to blaming and shaming others to cover their own tracks and perhaps save on unemployment payroll taxes (which escalate when employees are fired without just cause). Sadly, churches and church institutions and businesses run by people who call themselves Christians have not always been the ones taking the high, ethical roads.

Thanks to the Internet and the transparency of the current economic crisis worldwide, we all are able to discern clearly that this is a dangerous time for employees as well as for employers. No one likes to lose his or her job; no ethical boss likes to have to lay off anyone.

Nevertheless, religious leaders need to take the initiative in making sure:

1. That they act in moral and ethical ways when any layoffs occur inside their institutions. Remember the old saying: actions speak louder than words. In this environment, pretense will easily be seen for what it is and only add to the growing lack of trust people show in institutions of all kinds today.

2. Speak out boldly about the need for layoffs to occur in morally just and ethically fair ways. Now is the time for religious leaders throughout the country to identify criteria that should be used and pinpoint unethical behaviors that ought to be carefully avoided.

Neither making certain employees scapegoats for the current mess nor whitewashing layoffs as some kind of innocent reorganization ought to be tolerated during the current crisis. We got into this situation because of unethical business practices by banks and Wall Street types; allowing other unethical business behaviors to be perpetuated during this crisis ought to be nipped in the bud quickly.

Openness, honesty, and truth are always the best options. Otherwise, the public will continue to lose faith in our system and way of life, which will birth far greater problems than will a declining stock market and slipping economy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Time for churches to step up to the plate with some answers

In this time of national economic crisis, Americans need more than just the facts about how many points the stock market is up or down each day, how many billions the government has spent today trying to free up the credit markets, which bank or financial institution totters on the brink of collapse, or what a Presidential candidate says about this or that federal rescue program.

This is a time when church leaders need to step up to the plate with good, solid perspective on what to do. The meltdown raises all sorts of ethical and moral issues that need to be addressed.

So far I've seen mostly the traditional, to-be-expected comments from church leaders. The real nitty-gritty, solid advice is not yet forthcoming.

Oh yes, some have stepped forward to remind folks about tithing (which sounds at this point more than a little self-serving), the need to get debt-free (a little late to be preaching that one, isn't it?), and the importance of investing by keeping one's eyes on the long term (which sounds too much like stockbrokers). And some others have stepped forward to remind us of  "the poor" and less fortunate who are probably going to be squeezed much more than the rest of us in this bizarre situation (duh! Isn't that what always happens went the rich create a mess and then run for cover on faraway, exotic islands?).

Where are the fiery sermons on God's punishment on a rich nation that has squandered its rich heritage on riotous, lavish living including that occurring in faraway lands?

Or sermons on God frowning on Big Bankers, Wall Street brokers, and their cohorts for getting drunk on the smell of money exuding from  those highly profitable (so they thought) adjustable-rate mortgages taken out by poor, innocent people, many of whom couldn't even read the legal papers in English that they were signing?

Or just a good ole moralistic sermon on "Be careful; your sins will find you out"?

The Bible abounds with sermon materials for times such as this.  For starters, one need look no further than the so-called Minor Prophets including Amos and Hosea. The Sermon on the Mount is another fount of information.

Actually the Bible says more about money that about any other issue.  If you thought it says more about sex than anything else, you'd better get out your Bible and start reading again! Money is far more often pictured as the culprit that leads to a fall than is sex.

Times like these demand some precise answers on all sorts of ethical issues. When layoffs occur, what is the appropriate criteria for deciding who has to go?  Or are, from the biblical perspective, layoffs even an option for Christian employers? 

During the current economic upheaval churches and church institutions will model in word as well as in deed. Most staff layoffs will occur quietly and behind the scenes. Is that biblical or only the Southern American way of passively aggressively dealing with life? Do better ways—such as uniform across-the-board staff salary cuts—exist to illustrate Christ's teachings?

Church pantries are no doubt gearing up for increased applicants. Are they also thinking about shelter for families who lose their homes? Or will they leave all this, as usual, to specialized ministries such as the Salvation Army?

Too many churches in America have too often succumbed to the materialistic tendencies and behaviors of our culture as a whole.  What they do during the next six to 24 months will tell whether they have learned any lessons from re-reading the Bible in times such as these. I certainly hope they will display that they have.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Lessons learned from another economic collapse are worth remembering

While most Americans feel numb and disoriented by the shocking economic news flowing out of Washington, D.C., these days, we Texans only need search our memories back 20 years for first-hand knowledge of what such turmoil can produce.

After rising at the time to unfathomable heights, in the mid-1980s oil prices—our state's key economic base then—stumbled dramatically. Then Black October 1987 occurred; this sent the U.S. stock market crashing down. While we tried to digest these serious blows to our state's economy, the savings-and-loan crisis unfolded beneath us. This sent the commercial and residential real-estate markets in Texas and nearby Oklahoma plummeting dramatically. Suddenly unemployment in Texas leaped to 11 percent. Large numbers of houses across both states went into foreclosure. Daily prominent citizens filed for bankruptcy while leading state bankers headed off to jail. "Quite a mess" only begins to describe that situation. Most of the nation remembers those times as a "mild" recession. Except for a few Pollyannas, most Texans remember the late 1980s as our version of the Great Depression. We also remember how so many outside of the state refused to understand our intense pain at the time.

Our family was impacted economically, socially, physically, and spiritually by all the turmoil swirling around us and eventually engulfing us. Lessons we learned extended far beyond just how to invest wisely and how to manage money in the midst of a wild economic hurricane. You can read more about that in my new book, Witness to the Truth, published by Hannibal Books in June. Chapters 18 and 19 (pages 204-238) focus on those tumultuous years.

Today--two decades later--I am glad now that I have those memories to guide me and my family during the current economic difficulties our country faces.  Here are some lessons for survival we learned during those economically tough times:

1. God is still at work around us even when every thing appears to be falling apart. Our faith needs to remain in God, not money or the things money will buy.

2. Out of economic turmoil God can help us change, stretch and grow for our long-term good and His ultimate purposes for our lives. Sometimes painful economic situations help us make choices we've been needing to make but haven't for one reason or the other.

3. Remember that God's timetable is not ours. Unless some unexpected miracle occurs,  the economic shocks of the past few weeks will linger for at least several more years. Despite the $700-billion bailout now before Congress, times ahead will probably be tough. When the Texas collapse occurred in the 1980s, too many of us thought incorrectly that things would get back to normal quickly. Instead, the fix took nearly a decade. 

4. Be prepared for economic turmoil to spin off other social, physical, and spiritual problems. Friends, including church friends, find it easier to provide a casserole when you're sick than to minister when unemployment knocks. You can't always rely on friends and fellow school alums to help you find new employment, especially when their own work situations are shaky. Unstable family finances produce more divorces and marital difficulties than do adultery or other attacks on marriage. Avoid compartmentalizing economic issues as if they are somehow separate from the rest of life. Expect that these economic issues will impact other aspects of your life (both for good and for evil).

5. As Annie sang in the musical by the same name, "The sun will come out tomorrow". With all the gloom and doom political leaders and media representatives are spreading right now, remember that  barring a nuclear holocaust (very unlikely) life will go on and eventually become "normal" again. That's how God created the Earth--for the sun to rise, seasons to occur, and life to go on until He alone calls a halt to it.

Twenty years after Texas' Great Depression, my family and I have stretched, grown, matured, and in so many other ways benefited from lessons learned during those difficult years. We can look back and be thankful, as the old saying goes, for burnt toast.

Monday, September 15, 2008

So why didn't all those people heed the coastal evacuation orders?

Like many other Americans I am puzzling over why so many people refused to heed the mandatory evacuation orders along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf coasts last weekend as Hurricane Ike bore down on the region. I am also hoping and praying the rescuers won't find a large group somewhere of drowned victims.

But as I puzzle over the scene, my mind keeps racing back to two situations that help me understand what was going on with those people who refused to leave their homes and businesses.

First: Several years ago I served on the administrative committee of board of trustees for a national church agency. That committee recommended sites for the board's future meetings. (This particular board  met six times a year.)  The previous year we had spent several icy days in Virginia in January and had met in the Florida Panhandle a few days after Hurricane Katrina arrived in New Orleans. Later after reflecting on those two incidents, I told fellow committee members I thought we ought to exercise better judgment and travel to Florida in the winter and to the East Coast in the spring or autumn. Another board member, a pastor in Nevada, ridiculed me unmercifully both during and after the committee meeting for my lack of faith and for even mentioning such an idea. Despite his verbal abuse I could not figure out why he was so opposed to what seemed to me to be pure common sense.

Second: I spent more than a third of my life living in Houston. My family and I are survivors of Hurricane Alicia, which made its way through our West Houston neighborhood 25 years before Hurricane Ike made his grand entrance. I recall how trees in my yard were literally yanked up from the ground by Alicia's violent winds. But I also recall the many times I taped up and/or boarded up my windows in anticipation of other hurricanes, only to be greeted the next morning with beautiful, clear skies and news that the hurricane had suddenly and without warning veered south and gone into a less-populated area of Mexico. In one such situation I recall standing in the hot Texas sun the day after a near-miss from a hurricane and fuming because the tape had some how fused itself to my living-room windows and I couldn't scrape it off.

One illustration reminds me how difficult getting people to understand the predictability of weather during certain seasons is. (Is understanding that hurricanes don't happen in January along the Gulf Coast and ice and/or snow storms happen frequently all along the Eastern Seaboard in the winter that difficult to comprehend? And if you want to avoid either, you simply stay away in seasons where these things happen!) 

The other illustration reminds me of the difficulty we experience in getting precise weather reports on what hurricanes, tornados or even ice storms are going to do. Despite all the remarkable progress meterologists have made in recent years in understanding our weather, storm tracks are still often an imprecise science.

No wonder then at least 100,000 people refused to heed the warnings and evacuate quickly out of harm's way.  I can just hear them arguing before the storm like my colleague on the committee or my own mind after Houston experienced only bright sunshine on the day a hurricane had been predicted.

Common sense, however, needs to prevail in situations like this. Maybe the government and private enterprise need to pump more money into meterology in hopes of making weather forecasting more reliable. And maybe we all need to take deep breaths and then start discussing calmly and sanely the wisdom of building homes and businesses in areas that historically have endured some of the worst storms on this planet. (In case you haven't heard the fact enough times, the worst weather disaster in U.S. hisory was the Galveston hurricane of 1900, which prompted the Houston Ship Channel and the growth of Houston 65 miles inland from the Galveston coast.)

I've spent many memorable nights and days in New Orleans, Galveston and even on the Bolivar Peninsula. Despite my affection for those sites, I just wonder whether maybe God never intended for us humans to spoil these places' natural beauty with our homes, our hotels, our businesses, our cars, and all the other things that make up our modern civilization. Maybe in God's original plans these places really were supposed to be beautiful beach-front property and natural preserves--created to look at but not possess.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sarah Palin is a reminder neither Jesus nor Paul opposed women, including mothers of small children, working outside the home

With all the hubbub these days about an Evangelical Christian mother running for Vice President of the United States, some in the media, the church, and elsewhere act as if the issue of Christian women/mothers holding outside-the-home employment has never been addressed seriously, previously or positively. That's simply not so! 

My wife, Kay, and I addressed the matter 26 years ago in our first book, When You Both Go to Work, published in hardback by Word Inc. in 1982 and re-released in paperback earlier this year by Hannibal Books. In 1982 we appeared in numerous newspapers and on TV and radio coast to coast, including the then-popular Jim and Tammy Bakker Show, discussing the issue of married Christian women in the workplace. Most interviewers and commentators zeroed in on Chapter 3, which spells out the what the Bible says on the issue. Even though the chapter is lengthy, given the current national interest, I offer it below as my blog today. The topic is as fresh today as when we wrote it more than a quarter century ago.

When You Both Go to Work
By Louis & Kay Moore

Chapter Three

Some Biblical Dimensions

I could hardly wait to get Pastor Jones on the telephone. In searching for two-paycheck families to interview for our book, we often contacted pastors such as Jones to get the names of active members of their churches whom they believed coped well with the two-paycheck lifestyle. I had zeroed in on this pastor because he was known in his community for his theologically liberal stances on a variety of matters.

He was affiliated with the United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a denomination noted for its stand on the equality of women. I assumed he would quickly spiel off the names of several employed couples among his membership. Then Kay and I would be in business to start our interviews.

I couldn't have been more shocked at his answer to our request. He was quiet a long time, muttering, “I’m thinking. I’m thinking . . ..” Finally, he blurted out, “I just can’t think of a single two-paycheck couple in this entire church.” Furthermore, he seemed to have some trouble even understanding why two-paycheck families in the church could possibly be an appropriate subject for a book.

Just the converse was true in the case of Pastor Smith.

I had dallied around for days before I contacted this minister because he was pastor of a Southern Baptist Church and was noted for his heavy fundamentalist leanings. Every time I picked up the phone to call this minister to get the names of two-paycheck couples in his congregation, I would put it down and tell myself that I just wasn’t ready to listen to what I was sure would be a sermon on “why women should stay at home where they belong.”

Finally, I bit the bullet and contacted him. Again, as with Pastor Jones, I couldn’t have been more surprised, but for an entirely different reason. Instead of the lecture I expected, this pastor tuned in immediately with our project.

“Why, that’s an excellent idea,” he said. “I know lots of couples in our church just like the people you are seeking. I am sure people really have a need for a book like yours.” He then rattled off a long list of names of employed couples—far too many for us to use from any one church.

What a reversal! The theological liberal couldn’t tune in with our project, but the fundamentalist almost bowled me over with his enthusiasm. And I had thought just the opposite would occur. After we completed our interviews and research, I continued to mull over these two contradictory conversations.

Finally I realized that another highly significant factor was involved besides the theological leanings of the ministers. The Presbyterian church was situated in an affluent section in its community, near a neighborhood populated by prosperous bankers and oil-company executives. The Baptist church, on the other hand, was situated in an economically and socially changing neighborhood. In the wealthy sector in which the Presbyterian church had its ministry, the right of women to work outside the home was more of a philosophical idea. In the Baptist church’s neighborhood, two paychecks were an economic necessity for many families.

These two phone calls also shed some new light on the way church friends had responded when Kay first returned to her newspaper job after our son was born. We had been members of a conservative Baptist church which was not far removed theologically from the fundamentalist church whose pastor eagerly helped with our book project. But it was situated in the same type of neighborhood as was the Presbyterian church whose pastor could barely tune into our subject matter. Suddenly we could see why Baptist residents of this affluent neighborhood had responded in the same way as did the reluctant Presbyterian pastor.

The two-paycheck issue is often presented as a theological one. The women of the church who prayed that Barbara would not follow Kay’s example of returning to work after her child was born did so, they thought, for theological reasons. They believed God’s will was for a mother to stay home and tend to her husband, children, and house. But, as our experience with the Presbyterian and Baptist ministers taught us, the issue often transcends theological lines. It often has as much to do with the culture in which people live as with their theological bias.

Cultural Attitudes Vary, Too

Before we go further, reflecting on how cultural attitudes toward two-paycheck families have varied during past centuries is important. The concept of working couples is not a new idea developed in the 1980s. Centuries ago the Industrial Revolution brought women out of their homes and into the marketplace to work alongside their husbands in business and industry. In 19th century England, for instance, the two-paycheck marriage was a matter of class: having a wife at home instead of in the factory was a luxury Englishmen of the poorer classes could not afford.

Too, no one today can accurately compare the lifestyle of farm couples during the last century or early in this century with the “husband at work, wife at home” model emphasized today. The farmer and his wife were much more akin to the employed couples of today than to the housewife who “stays home” in the suburbs while her husband goes off to earn the family’s living in the city.

The modern notion that the wife belongs at home all day with the children while the husband goes off to work to provide an income is largely a product of the post-war 1950s. During World War II, wives made the bombs and the airplanes and staffed the plants and watched the homefront while their husbands went to fight in the war. Rosie the Riveter became a national symbol of women at work in wartime. When the GI’s returned home, they wanted to repay their wives by retiring them to the luxury of new homes equipped with the latest in modern conveniences.

In that box of old pictures and memorabilia my mother recently gave me was a letter my father wrote to my mother from the Pacific, where he fought in Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s gallant effort to regain the Philippines and other territories seized by the Japanese during World War II. In the letter, Dad pledges to Mom that when the war is over, he will return home and get a job and that she will never have to be employed again. My father, I believe, was expressing an attitude that prevailed among many servicemen during World War II. Those men looked forward to a postwar prosperity that would enable their wives to give up their war-enforced duties and stay home with the “baby boom” babies of the late 1940s and early 1950s. In the 1950s, the men went off to the offices or factories to get ahead. They often left their wives with small children and with a new life that was much easier than earlier generations had known.

This cultural background is important to observe as we look at today’s struggle between those who believe (based on their concept of biblical premises) that a wife shouldn’t work and those who think a woman has a right to be in the marketplace.

Economic Necessity or Personal Fulfillment?

Another experience just after Kay returned to work served to affirm for us this dichotomy of culture and Bible. About the same time Kay went back to her newspaper job, another young woman in our Sunday-school class put her small child in a day-care center and took a clerical job.

Unlike Kay, however, this woman, named Jan, made it clear to one and all that she was working strictly for economic necessity. Career goals had nothing to do with her decision.

She and her husband needed the money. Her going to work at an outside job was the only answer for them. Curiously, Jan said she never felt the same type of criticism from other church members Kay had felt, although her circle of friends was the same as ours. In fact, we recall that Jan experienced only sympathy and even pity from other members of her Sunday-school class. For several weeks during that time, no one referred to Jan without calling her Poor Jan—poor almost becoming a part of her name. If the groups that criticized Kay had attacked Jan for working, Jan probably would have chimed right in with their criticism. She preferred to be at home but could not financially afford to be. So she took the only route open to her.

For members of this affluent church we attended, economic need seemed to be the only “valid” reason for a two-paycheck family. Although Kay’s course of action was no different than Jan’s was, somehow the women in the Sunday-school class implied that God looked less kindly on us because Kay returned to work for reasons of self-fulfillment rather than financial need. Jan became the “good working mother” because of her motivations, while Kay was pegged as the “bad working mother.” Therefore, Jan did not hear implications about God’s will, but Kay did.

Kay and I realize that this story of Jan reflects the broader issue of hypocrisy in churches, but it also shows how theological issues are used—not always consistently—against the two-paycheck family.

We were not the only couple who encountered opposition to their lifestyle based on theological grounds. And, as in the cases we cited, the opposition did not necessarily occur along denominational lines.

Bracing for Theological Battles

I called long distance to set up a personal interview with Rita and Jack Newton. But the moment I explained our project, Rita began pouring out her troubles over the telephone lines. She had been an elementary-school teacher before their child was born; she wanted to return to outside work as soon as the child was in grade school. In the meantime, she wanted to enroll in graduate study.

But Rita was alarmed by some hair-raising tales she had been told about what had happened when other mothers in the Church of Christ congregation she attended resumed their jobs.

According to Rita, women in their California congregation who returned to work with children at home were visited by elders of the congregation and were instructed not to continue their outside jobs. In one case, the elders even visited the babysitter of a woman who had just taken a job and told the sitter she was doing wrong by keeping the children of women who work outside the home. The elders claimed the church teaches that a woman who sits with the children of other women who work outside the home become something akin to an accomplice to a crime.

Just before I called, Rita had stopped attending the church’s women’s Bible class because of her teacher’s statements about the role of women. The teacher, wife of one of the church’s elders, went to visit Rita after the two had had a disagreement in the class. “She (the teacher) left in a state of shock at what I said,” said Rita. “I disagreed with several things she mentioned about the role of women. I told her so. She said it was a pity that I didn’t realize how great motherhood is and what woman’s role should be in the world.”

Rita said a woman at her church who is a employed wife and mother was offered a management position in her company. A few days after news about the promotion got out, two women from the congregation arrived to tell the friend that she should refuse the job. They claimed the Bible teaches that women should not be in a supervisory position over men.

Rita refused to return to the women’s Bible class at her church. At last report, she and Jack were frantically reading the New Testament, especially the letters of Paul, to better equip themselves to answer criticism and to counter arguments about employed women in the congregation.

Gay McFarland, a writer, says one of the main reasons she stopped attending her Bible church before her marriage to writer John Scarborough was the church’s teachings on employed wives. The large church she attended taught that the Bible says women belong at home with the children and not in the workaday world.

At the time we interviewed them, John and Gay were “sitting out” church for a while. Like many other couples, they were not sure how they would deal with the churchless situation when children arrived. But one thing was certain for them: a tolerant attitude about two-paycheck families likely would be their strongest criterion for choosing a church when they do reach a decision. “I’m just not going to belong to a church where I feel I’m a second-class citizen for working,” said Gay. “There are too many stresses already associated with working. The church shouldn’t add to them by making women feel bad when they earn a paycheck.”

Linda and Eric King, both attorneys and parents of three children, say they have received criticism of their lifestyle at their Church of Christ in Oklahoma. “Many people, including our present preacher, still believe a woman’s place is in the home. They view it as a religious matter. Thus, to some extent, a woman is usurping a man’s place when she leaves her domestic domain. We have had sermons intimating this, along with paeans to housewives,” said Linda.

Since the matter is so often bandied about, let’s look at what the Bible truly does say about the two-paycheck family and whether it really teaches that the woman’s place is always in the home. But before we look at some key Bible verses on this matter, let’s first review our understanding of what role the Bible should play in our lives and how it is to be interpreted.

Understanding the Bible

The Bible is our record of God’s revelation of Himself to humankind. It contains the truth about God. It was written by people whom God guided. We like the way Christianity Today, the evangelical fortnightly publication, described this revelation to the biblical writers: “No evangelical scholar defends the idea that God dictated the Bible by a method analogous to the way a businessman dictates a letter to his stenographer. The few who (unwisely, we think) use the term dictate mean only that the end product is just as much the word of God as though the whole Bible had been dictated by God.”1

The Bible is also our guide for living. It is divine authority. With the help of the Holy Spirit for interpretation, it is the most important book we have to help us understand God. We believe the Bible should be read, studied, and followed.

But we must not make the Bible more than what it claims to be. It is not a scientific textbook. According to that same article in Christianity Today, “Inerrancy does not mean that the Bible always uses exact language. It does not require that the Bible employ up-to-date scientific terminology. Evangelicals are not trying to make the Bible into a science textbook; they mean only that it is true.”2

We also understand that the Bible was written in the context of its culture. No one (at least in our circle of acquaintances) believes that, because King David had many wives, men today should be polygamous. By the same token, no one we know believes that, because Abraham fathered a child by a mistress, men today are free to pursue such activities. The Bible records the actions of sinful people who lived in various cultures—some that are alien to our present way of Christian living.

We must take care that we do not remove the cultural patterns which provided the environment for the writing of the Bible and superimpose them indiscriminately on our culture today.

So how then are we to we read the Bible? We can approach our study with an attitude of prayer and seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We do not need any key, such as Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures or Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon to unlock the Scriptures. Modern commentaries can help us understand the background of the Bible. But such commentaries do not take precedence over the Bible.

Let the Bible Speak to You

We have two ways to read the Bible: (1) letting it speak to us in ways that were intended, or (2) making it speak to us in ways that we want to hear. Theologians have two fancy words to describe these methods: exegesis and eisegesis. Exegesis means to understand what the Bible is saying to us. Eisegesis means to read in the Bible things we want it to say. Be careful that you do not use the Bible to say what you want it to say.

In Oklahoma, where I was reared, an uneducated Baptist preacher seemed to fall into the second category. This preacher strongly disliked a popular hairstyle of the day—the topknot, formed by wrapping a woman’s long hair into a bun on top of her head. In order to preach against the topknot, this preacher studied the Bible intently and looked for the key verses. He found what he was seeking in Mark 13:15, although he had to adjust his spelling a little. In the verse, Jesus was speaking about turbulent time ahead. Jesus said, Let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house. By adding the letter “k” to the word not and by doing a little surgery on the verse the pastor had the text of his sermon: “Top (k)not go down.”

He projected onto the Bible what he wanted to find. We can read the Bible in context to avoid making the same error.

The Working Couples in the Bible

The central theological question working couples need to answer is this: What does the Bible say about the two-paycheck lifestyle?

Our answer: The Bible is essentially silent on the matter. Working couples were simply not an issue when the Bible was being written. Scripture, however, has two important examples of working couples—Priscilla and Aquila in the New Testament and the “virtuous wife” in Proverbs.

Acts 18:3 says Priscilla and Aquila, a husband and wife, were both tentmakers. Paul stayed with them in Corinth because, the Scriptures say, he was of the same trade. Besides their work with tents, Priscilla and Aquila also worked together as teachers. They were instrumental in the doctrinal education of Apollos. Acts 18:24-26 describes Apollos as a Jew . . . a native of Alexandria . . . an eloquent man, well versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. The Scriptures say that Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos, then they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately.

From the story of Priscilla and Aquila, we know that at least one working husband and wife were actively involved in the early church.

The other example of a working couple is found in the Old Testament. The description of the virtuous wife in the 31st chapter of Proverbs seems to describe an ideal woman of early Bible days who does the same kind of balancing act between home, family, and career that many modern working couples do. According to Proverbs 31:10-18:

Who can find a wife with strength of character? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will never lack profit. She does him good and not harm all the days of her life; she seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands; she is like the merchant ship; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night, and gives food to her household, even a portion to her maidens; she considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She girds her loins with strength, and makes her arms strong. She sees that her merchandise is profitable; her lamp does not go out at night.

Whether the virtuous wife described here was an early real-estate person, a produce grower, or a garment-maker who sewed for the public, we do not know. But clearly she seemed to be engaged in a business of some sort. She also was capable of performing superior intellectual tasks. The Scripture does not seem to view this capability as an indication of masculinity in a woman.

Except for these two brief examples, we see little direct biblical reference to two-paycheck couples. Jesus does not address the issue of working couples directly; neither does Paul, nor do any other biblical writers. But while the Bible is essentially silent on the issue of working couples, it does offer some pertinent teachings on several related companion issues—the use of God-given talents, the role of women, Christian marriage, and how Christians are to treat each other.

The Use of God-Given Talents

Christian vocalist Cynthia Clawson had just returned from one of her frequent out-of-town engagements when we met. At home in their living room, she and her husband, composer and actor Ragan Courtney, who are Baptists, discussed their hectic and unorthodox lifestyle. Several weeks out of each month, Cynthia travels to various American cities and gives vocal concerts. While she is gone from home, Ragan stays home with their toddler son, Will, and writes and composes.

How does Ragan feel about his wife’s travels and about her being in the spotlight so often? Ragan’s answer was simple and straight from the teachings of Jesus. “The biblical parable of the talents teaches that you do not bury talents,” said Ragan. He believes God has given Cynthia talents he wants her to use.3

The story of the talents is found in Matthew 25:14-30. Although the word talent in the parable actually refers to a coin, the implication is wider and could also refer to God-given abilities. In the story, Jesus encouraged His followers to use wisely what God has given them. In this parable, the follower who failed to use God’s gifts was punished.

Both men and women are given talents by God. Those talents are not limited to what any one culture labels as male or female. Some men have a special knack for cooking. Some women have a talent to manage business matters. God was no respecter of gender when he distributed abilities.

The Bible makes clear what happens when special gifts are allowed to lie dormant; this admonition was not merely directed at men.

I was especially impressed with Ragan’s response about his wife’s talents, because I identified heavily with his feeling. I encourage Kay to pursue her writing career because I believe her ability is from God; that’s the way I feel about mine, too. If we did not use our talents, we would be like the servant in Jesus’ parable who ran and hid his talent for fear of losing it. When questioned by his master, that servant replied,

“Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground” (Matt. 25:24-25).

Then the master said to him: “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest” (vv. 26-27).

Then the master took the servants talent from him and gave it to another, casting “the worthless servant into the outer darkness” (v. 30).

Employed Women in the Bible

Another companion issue to that of working couples is the issue of working women. A couple today usually becomes a two-paycheck family when the wife joins her husband as a breadwinner. The idea of employed men is neither new nor controversial; the idea of employed women is the one that generates controversy in some quarters today. Our purpose here is not to argue the whole feminist issue of equal pay, equal opportunities, or equal rights. We are specifically interested in what the Bible says about women—especially wives—being employed outside the home.

We recognize that many of the women in the Bible were homemakers and not business women. But contrary to popular misconception, several career women are mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments.

Deborah is described in Judges 4:4 as a prophetess. She was the wife of Lapidoth. She also was a judge of Israel, which means she was the ranking Jewish leader of her time. We could call her the Golda Meir of the Israel of her day. Judges 4:5 says Deborah sat on a hill under a palm and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. Deborah became a great military leader when the leading Hebrew officer, Barak, refused to go into battle without her at his side. According to Judges 4:8-9, Barak said to Deborah, “If you will go with me, I will go: but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And Deborah said to Barak, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory. For the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Of course Deborah won the battle and gained fame as a leader in battle.

One of Paul’s first converts was an employed woman, Lydia, from the city of Thyatira. Paul met her while he visited with some women who had gathered for prayer outside the gate to riverside of Philippi, the leading city of the district of Macedonia. The story of that encounter is told in Acts 16:11-15.

Lydia is identified in the Scriptures as a seller of purple, which is generally interpreted as meaning purple cloth. Although the Bible does not state whether she was married, Lydia clearly seems to be a prosperous woman, because she maintained a household and had her own home.

Acts 16:15 says, And when she [Lydia] was baptized, with her household, she besought us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Paul must have been impressed with Lydia, for he returned to her home after his time in the Macedonian jail. Acts 16:40 reports, So they went out of the prison, and visited Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they exhorted them and departed.

Phoebe was another leading woman of the New Testament. We do not know what career she pursued, but we know that she played a key role in the early church and had duties beyond that of homemaker. Several scholars believe Paul entrusted his letter to the Romans to Phoebe for deliver. Austin H. Stouffer, in a Christianity Today article on the ordination of women, calls it a “task many of our churches would delegate only to men.”4 Stouffer and others also point out that Phoebe was a deaconess in the early church—possibly the only female deacon in the church.

In Romans 16:1-2, Paul says, I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well.

What Did Jesus and Paul Say About Employed Women?

Any biblical discussion about working women must include a discussion about what Jesus and Paul said and taught about women employed outside the home.

Jesus never said that a woman’s place is in the home.

Nor did He say a woman’s place is in the marketplace. He did not speak directly to the question of two-paycheck marriages. But Jesus, in both words and deeds, did say much about the value and worth of persons male and female.

From these teachings we draw our understanding of what He might say today about employed women.

Many writers and theologians have pointed out that Jesus’ attitude toward women stood in sharp contrast to the customs of His day. A clear example of this is John 4:7-42, in which Jesus tells the woman at the well in Samaria that she had five former husbands and a current live-in boyfriend. For two reasons, the woman was shocked that Jesus would speak to her: (1) she was a Samaritan, and Jews had no dealings with these people, who were actually their relatives; and (2) she was a woman, perhaps of ill repute.

Jesus treated this woman of Samaria with respect, understanding, and forgiveness. Her testimony later served to tell the people of her village about Jesus. Jesus knew and respected the worth of this woman and violated traditional customs in winning her admiration forever.

The Mary, Martha, and Lazarus story in the New Testament also gives us a clue as to Jesus’ attitude where women were concerned. As Jesus went to visit this brother and two sisters who lived in Bethany near Jerusalem, Martha became so busy preparing the meal for her houseguest that she could not listen to all that Jesus had to say. Mary listened intently. Finally Martha asked Jesus to tell Mary to leave His side and to help her with meal preparations. Jesus scolds Martha and reminds her that values greater than a well-prepared meal exist. Here, Jesus had the perfect chance to lecture Mary on the role of women and to tell her to stay at home and tend to the culinary and domestic arts. Instead, He told Martha that she, too, should be listening and using her God-given thinking and reasoning abilities.

In Luke 8:1-3, we learn that women as well as men were instrumental in Jesus’ ministry. After this he [Jesus] went journeying from town to town and village to village, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. With him were the Twelve and a number of women who had been set free from evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, known as Mary of Magdala, from whom seven devils had come out, Joanna, the wife of Chuza a steward of Herod’s, Susanna, and many others. These women provided for them out of their own resources (NEB).

The use of the term own resources indicates that the women did more than just offer their talents and physical labor. They offered funds.

Apparently, these were women of some means who shared their financial resources with Jesus and His disciples.

Later, at the time of Jesus’ death, some of these women were standing near the cross. In Luke 23:49, we learn that His [Jesus’] friends had all been standing at a distance [watching the crucifixion]; the women who had accompanied him from Galilee stood with them and watched it all (NEB). Then, after Jesus’ body was removed from the cross, these women were the ones who followed . . . took note of the tomb and observed how his body was laid. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes (vv. 55-56, NEB).

Two days later, on that first Easter morning, these were the women who reported the resurrection. So their role in the conclusion of Jesus’ earthly ministry was crucial.

Could some of the first bearers of the Good News of the resurrection have been businesswomen? We don’t know for sure. The Scriptures only tell us about Joanna’s husband’s job. The idea that Mary Magdala was a reformed prostitute is merely conjecture. We don’t know whether she had a husband or how she supported herself. We also don’t know any of these details about Susanna and the “many other” women who traveled with Jesus. The fact that these women traversed the country freely with Jesus and His disciples and had their own money to underwrite the journeys indicates that these were not typical homemakers of Jesus’ day.

We might speculate that these were businesswomen, or maybe partners in some two-paycheck lifestyle.

We won’t commit the same error the Oklahoma preacher did and try to read too much into Bible verses. But one thing is certain: Jesus did not encourage these women to hide their abilities and intelligence; He associated with them freely.

Paul was the bridge between Jews and Gentiles in spreading the gospel; he took the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and interpreted them to the world outside of Judaism. Paul was “the man most responsible for carrying Christian faith to the Graeco-Roman world beyond Palestine,” says one source book. “Beginning his career as a fierce persecutor of the earliest followers of Jesus, he experienced a miraculous conversion, and from that time on he practiced Christian evangelism so zealously and successfully that he went down in history as the revered ‘apostle to the Gentiles.’”5

An entire book could be written on Paul’s views on women. In fact, Paul’s is the name that usually pops up when the discussion turns to women’s roles. In an editorial on “Women’s Role in Church and Family,” Christianity Today says, “The role of women in the home is more difficult to determine because of the interlacing of scripture and cultural patterns both in ancient and modern times.” Every example the editorial used after that statement is from the writings of Paul.6

We have neither the time nor the space to go into every detail of what Paul said about the role of women. We want, therefore, to concentrate on Paul’s attitude toward women working outside the home.

Paul is like Jesus was on the issue of working women. He never said a woman’s place is always at home, nor did he say that a woman’s place is never in the marketplace. Some people read certain passages from Paul and conclude that he was opposed to employed women. We believe these are only interpretations of people who set out to prove a certain premise.

When Royce Smith was preparing to take her job as truant officer, she and husband Skip, a purchasing supervisor, decided to enroll in a seminar on financial management offered at a neighborhood Baptist church.

To Royce’s shock, the Baptist pastor who taught the course kicked off the opening-night talk by attempting to “prove,” using two verses from Paul, that women should not work outside the home. Part of his text was 1 Timothy 5:8: If any one does not provide for his relatives . . . he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

The other part of the minister’s text was Titus 2:3-5: Bid the older women likewise to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, chaste, domestic, kind, and submissive to their husbands, that the word of God my not be discredited.

Royce said that pastor’s words at first made her apprehensive: “I felt like my decision (to go back to work) had been God’s will. My first reaction was, ‘Maybe I didn’t pray hard enough.’ So I prayed again and got the same answer—that this was the right step for me.”

The two verses from Paul quoted by the pastor at the financial seminar in no way exclude women from working outside the home. We believe modern women can use their talents outside the home and still meet all the requirements of the two verses: loving their husbands, caring for children, and being sensible, chaste, domestic, kind, and yes, even submissive —terms that get tossed around a lot in discussions about working women.

We’ll pick up on the subject of submission in a few pages when we explore the meaning of Christian marriage.

Back to Paul’s specific comments about employed women: We have already cited two passages that indicate Paul had golden opportunities to lecture employed women about their lifestyles—the cases of Lydia and Priscilla. But these passages concerning Paul’s relationship with Lydia contain no indication that would indicate he frowned on her career. In fact, one could argue that he willingly accepted the hospitality that her income and status allowed her to offer him. Lydia is, moreover, immortalized in the Scriptures as the seller of purple, just as professional women today want to be remembered as journalists, doctors, lawyers, real-estate brokers, and so on.

In his relationship with Priscilla and Aquila, Paul had the perfect opportunity to lecture or scold Priscilla about working alongside her husband in the tent-making business.

Paul never seemed to hesitate expressing his disapproval of other customs or behavior he considered wrong. Yet we see no indication whatsoever that Paul disapproved of this two-paycheck marriage.

In both cases, we believe Paul’s silence on the issue of employed women is significant.

Several other women played key roles in the life and ministry of Paul. We do not know whether all these women pursued careers outside the home. But we do know that women were not excluded from a vital role in the early church. Said Austin H. Stouffer in his article on the ordination of women, “Of the twenty-nine people Paul greets in Romans 16, many are women he addressed by name, contrary to Jewish custom: Phoebe, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Julia, Mary.”7

Though Paul is often placed in the role of an opponent to modern employed women, we believe that image is unfounded. Our study of Scripture does not show Paul to be opposed to women being in the marketplace, as some would have us believe.

What the Bible Says About Marriage

Another biblical issue that relates to the two-paycheck family is that of Christian marriage.

Reflecting on two passages from Genesis in the Old Testament which set forth the principles on which Christian marriage is based is important. In the Genesis creation story, we find: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them . . .. (Gen. 1:27-28). Then, a few verses further, we find the second creation story of man and woman, in Genesis 2:7, 21-24:

Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living being . . . So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh: and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.

In these beautiful verses which tell us of the first marriage and the first couple, we see that God created each of us—male and female—in His image. That means we each have value and worth, regardless of whether we are male or female. Many people have pointed out that God did not choose to remove a portion of Adam’s foot to make Eve, to show that woman is beneath man. Nor did he remove a portion of Adam’s head, to show that woman is above man. God instead chose to remove a portion of Adam’s rib to show that woman stands beside man. Man and woman are to be together, side by side.

We believe this side-by-side partnership is essential for a two-paycheck marriage—and any marriage—to work.

In a successful two-paycheck lifestyle, husbands and wives must see themselves as involved in a partnership in which both persons benefit from the relationship and the marriage, just as Adam and Eve benefited from each other. A husband and wife must work together—side by side—to make the lifestyle work.

Understanding Submission

Now, back to the verses from Paul on submission. These verses continually pop up like a jack-in-the-box as the theological basis for opposition to women working outside the home. The key verses on this subject are found in Ephesians 5. To understand Paul’s teachings on the roles of husbands and wives, reading these verses in context and in their entirety is absolutely essential.

Paul wrote, Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and himself its Savior. As church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. At this point, many opponents of the two-paycheck lifestyle stop reading their Bibles and start preaching. But Paul’s thoughts do not stop here. They continue on:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
(Eph. 5:25-33)

In these verses, Paul was talking about a mutual relationship between a husband and wife in which both are treated with respect, appreciation, and love. Paul was not advocating a tyranny in which a husband walks all over his wife. He told a wife to respect her husband and his place in the family. He told a husband to respect his wife and treat her with love.

We concur with Paul in saying that any major decision in a family must be made jointly and with love and with respect. The decision to become a two-paycheck family must be made in an environment in which the husband loves his wife enough that he wants what is best for her.

The husband must love his wife enough to want her to be fulfilled as a person and to view her role as important. If being employed will help her find that fulfillment, then a husband should understand and work with his wife in order to achieve that goal. And the wife should love her husband and respect him enough to understand his wishes on the subject and to seek his counsel about the venture before she makes the decision.

Paul was correct: Marriage includes two people, two opinions, and two sets of standards and feelings to take into account. We say amen to Paul’s statement, Let each one of you love his wife as himself and let the wife see that she respects her husband. To us, it seems to affirm, not contradict, the basic premise of the two-paycheck marriage.

How Christians Are to Treat Each Other

We see a fourth companion issue to any discussion about two-paycheck families in the church. As we have shown, the Bible never directly addresses the issue of employed couples. But it is clear as a bell about the way Christians are to treat each another—even those who disagree with them.
The biblical standard for relating to others is love, patience, and a nonjudgmental attitude. This applies both to the churches and the two-paycheck families.

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged,” says Jesus (Matt. 7:1, KJV). At another point, Jesus said, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mark 12:31, KJV). These are verses that must always be recalled when Christians are discussing issues on which they disagree.

Churches as well as one-paycheck families have an obligation to refrain from making cruel and unnecessary judgments about two-paycheck families. And two-paycheck families have an equal obligation to understand and love those who disagree with their style of living. We’ll write more about this later in the chapter on how to deal with criticism.

An Issue Each Couple Must Decide

We believe, in view of the Bible’s essential silence on this issue, that becoming a two-paycheck family is a matter for each couple to decide together after prayer and discussion.

(To read further on this subject, locate a copy of When You Both Go to Work by Louis & Kay Moore. The book is available at,, and other online and physical bookstores.)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Media's treatment of Sarah Palin is shameful, disgusting

Let me start by being perfectly clear:  Many who work in the news media in this country are not liberal.

Now let me quickly add:  Many who work in the news media in this country are very liberal.

Characterizing all members of the media as liberal or affiliated with the left-wing of the Democratic Party is unfair.  But somehow since last Friday those who are on the left-wing of the media seem to have grabbed the microphones and the writing assignments to cover the biggest breaking news in the Republican Party. They look like one motley, wild-eyed liberal, crazed crew.

As a former staff member of one of the largest newspapers in the United States, I feel embarrassed by what many of my colleagues have said and done since Friday. I'm talking, of course, about the treatment of Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin.

What I don't understand is the irrationality of the media's behavior. I understand pack journalism. I've always found such herd mentality a contradiction to the independence and freedom reporters say they crave.

But what has occurred since Friday noon goes beyond all common sense and decency. Take Yahoo's lead story today: the story said Sarah had "seduced" her Republican and prime-time TV audience.  If someone had used that word with a sexual connotation to describe Barack Obama's or Hillary Clinton's speeches at the Democratic Convention last week in Denver, he or she would have been lynched professionally. Or at least fired. That was a purely sexist, intolerable use of the word "seduced". The only good thing I can say about Yahoo!'s story is that it was better than anything else the organization has published about Sarah since Friday. Since Saturday I have filed numerous complaints with the outfit about its offensive and irrational coverage—something I have never done previously.

Even the stately and usually sedate Dallas Morning News today chose a headline that said, "Palin plays up part of outsider". Come on, folks! Is this all you can think of to characterize last night's knock-your-socks-off, electrifying address? One gets the impression the headline writer at the paper thinks Sarah's an actress. I thought she was the governor of the largest (geographically speaking) state in the union. 

And then, of course, we see the obsession and compulsion the news media has displayed about the five Palin children, particularly one teen-age daughter and the family's new baby. Like the Kennedys and Carters before them, when Bill and Hillary Clinton first headed toward the White House, they made clear the fact that Chelsea was off-limits to the media. For the most part, members of the Fifth Estate respected the Clintons' request.  The Obamas have for months made that same request. Even though I am a voracious reader of the news, I know very little about the Obama children, because once again members of the media have agreed to their request. But the poor Palin children?  God help them! They are being ridiculed and maligned every day in the press. Why? Because their mother is running for Vice President of the United States? 

This behavior smacks of discrimination against a mother who works outside the home.  If so, where are the so-called liberals on this one? I thought they advocated women with small children having the right to have outside jobs. When my wife, Kay, and I wrote in 1982 our first book, When You Both Go to Work, about churches and their attitudes toward employed women, we expected to find that conservative religious groups discriminated against mothers with outside employment and that liberal religious groups supported them.  Instead in our research we found that churches in affluent areas tend to frown on or discriminate against employed mothers while churches—of whatever theological stripe and denominational persuasion—in blue-collar areas and lower white-collar neighborhoods tend to be much more tolerant and supportive of women who have outside work. It really seems to be a matter of class rather than theology.

So is this horrible treatment of the Palin family a result of discrimination by rich elitists against a blue-collar, working family? One can surely make a case for that.

Or is this because the children's father is a blue-collar, oil-field worker who doesn't have the political know-how to muster his highly paid professional people to call a few select media moguls on the phone and threaten them with invasion-of-privacy suits on behalf of his children? Libel laws protect the news media when its members report on public figures.  And yes, Sarah is now a public figure. According to the laws of the land, members of the media can say almost whatever they want in print about her without facing a libel suit, because she is a public figure. But her children are not covered by those same laws, or at least they should not be. They are citizens and individuals in their own right—citizens who deserve to be treated respectfully.

I thought the family on stage last night at the Republican Convention looked absolutely precious. And very courageous!  Not too long ago families hid their out-of-wedlock-pregnant teen-age daughters to keep the neighbors from knowing.  And their boyfriends who did the dastardly act were banished with a shotgun aimed at their backsides. And small children with Down Syndrome were hidden in back bedrooms. Not so in this family. Here they were—warts and all—on the public stage. They were so much more refreshing and looked so much more natural than all the millionares' children with choreographed waves and sculpted hairstyles at other Republican and Democratic Conventions in the last several decades.

I don't condone teen-age pregnancy, but it happens. And the Bible is clear how we are to treat each other when we sin or make mistakes! Obviously, many of my colleagues in the news media haven't read any of those Scriptures--or even Miss Manners--on such things.

The flip side of this media debacle is that the nation is getting a chance to look in the mirror and see a family that looks an awful lot like families all across America. And in so doing, the media may reap the opposite of what these ill-mannered reporters have desired. And, if Sarah can withstand the scorching heat of prejudice and irrationality, she may accomplish what many of us have wanted for a very long time: a woman in the White House or at least one heartbeat away from it. 

Saturday, August 30, 2008

In Roman Catholic baptized and reared Sarah Palin, Southern Baptists will find a strong ally; and she will in them, too

As the presumptive Vice-Presidential nominee of the Republican Party, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who was baptized a Roman Catholic but now attends Assemblies of God churches, will illustrate how much the nation's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, has changed over the past 50 years.

Forty-eight years ago when the Democratic Party nominated John Fitzgerald Kennedy for President of the United States, Southern Baptist pastors and leaders recoiled at the nominee because of his Roman Catholic background. Ignoring Kennedy's impressive credentials and bright mind, the Baptists argued forcefully in sermons, church newsletters and every forum they could find that the election of Kennedy would de facto turn the country over to the pope in Rome.

Weeks before the election Kennedy recognized the seriousness of the situation and met with key Baptist pastors and leaders on the second floor of the Rice Hotel in downtown Houston. There he pledged his loyalty and fidelity to the American concept of the separation of church and state. After that the Baptists and their cohorts in other denominations calmed down and stopped fighting against him. (Many actually even voted for him!) 

During that same time period, Southern Baptists pastors and leaders declined to interact with Assemblies of God pastors and churches, because they rejected their neo-Pentecostal theology. SBC churches or pastors in that day that leaned Pentecostal soon found themselves ostracized or even evicted from the SBC fold.

Nearly a half-century later, much has changed in the country and among Southern Baptists.

For one thing, in 1960 when the brouhaha over Kennedy's Catholicism occurred, Southern Baptist pastors and leaders mostly were affiliated with the Democratic Party. Southern Baptists' disaffection for Kennedy threatened a serious schism in that party. 

Today, a significant majority of Southern Baptists and Evangelicals register as Republicans. That means they will be mostly loyal to their party's nominee, John McCain, even when they have some reservations about him.

Beyond party affiliation, however, another factor will trump many things in this election. Back when Southern Baptists fought against Kennedy, they and the Democractic Party were not at odds over one of the major social issues of our day—abortion. Until the early 1980s, Southern Baptists were mostly either benign toward or mildly supportive of abortion. The key escape-hatch phrase for the Southern Baptists back then was "abortion for the mental health of the mother". The Democratic Party then as well as now was comfortable with a pro-abortion stance. It became even more so after the Roe v Wade decision in 1973.

Today, Southern Baptists, Roman Catholics, and Assemblies of God are more united in their opposition to abortion than they are divided on many theological points.

Sarah Palin's strong pro-life stand—including her living personal testimony in favor of it—no doubt will grab the attention of a large majority of Southern Baptists as well as other Evangelicals. It will override any concern they might otherwise have about her Roman Catholic roots and her current Assemblies of God affiliation.

Many Evangelicals already have expressed dismay at John McCain's lukewarm opposition to abortion, while they express horror at Barack Obama's wholehearted support of it. Illustrating this attitude, the SBC's Richard Land recently likened McCain to a "third-rate fireman" and Obama to a "first-rate arsonist".  Land left no doubt about his concern about both candidates' positions on abortion, but his comments also left no doubt McCain would get the nod—though a weak one—over Obama.

Some Southern Baptists even have considered boycotting the election altogether because of McCain's tepid approach to the pro-life movement.

Now enters Sarah Palin, the pro-life Roman Catholic-turned Assemblies and relatively unknown governor of Alaska. While Obama-oriented political writers at CNN, Yahoo and other media outlets roast McCain for choosing a relatively inexperienced Vice-Presidential running mate, they completely fail to note how much support Palin instantly will draw for her pro-life stand. Many voters will prefer a candidate with the right (and very strong!) stand on pro-life to a candidate with a tepid approach to pro-life issues but with many years in political life in Washington! 

When Kennedy was running in 1960, many political commentators ignored and even laughed at those Southern Baptists preachers who were up in arms over Kennedy's Catholicism. Kennedy didn't laugh. He took the matter seriously. Had he not done so, he probably wouldn't have occupied the Oval Office, given his tiny margin of victory in the general election.

Today, some news commentators are laughing at Palin's limited credentials (ignoring, of course, how even Hillary Clinton not long ago poked fun at Obama's lack of experience, too). On election day, those same commentators may find that in Sarah Palin's nomination McCain pulled off a John F. Kennedy-like move that won him the election.

Time will tell.