Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Search for Humanity in God's Country

For reasons known only to God, the Ozarks Angel has for several years been the recipient of multiple mailings from the Assemblies of God movement. I call it a movement because, in the beginning years at least, it was more of a movement than a church - driven by a charismatic adherence to the Pentecostal system of belief and worship. The congregations were poor to middle-class in those days. One need only check out the parking lot at James River Assembly some Sunday morning to see how that's changed.

The Assemblies of God in 2005 is a large international church and publishing company that hauls in a tidy sum in tax free revenue. It's big business - and let's not even talk about tithes. One can only imagine the holdings in their Ministers Benefit Association fund, which claims that it specifically screens out those companies that are predominately known for and/or derive significant revenues from abortion, alcohol, gambling, pornography, or tobacco. Praise the Lord!

But hold on . . . that sounds sort of neutral, doesn't it? They don't really say they won't invest in companies that gain revenue from tobacco, abortion, gambling and alcohol. It says they won't if these companies are predominantly known to gain revenue from these sinful endeavors. Seems like some equivocation going on here . . . especially for those who proudly adhere to and rely on literal translations when citing other documents.

Anyway, I'm reading up on some resolutions that will pass before the 51st General Council of the Assemblies of God that is coming up in Denver during the first week of August. In a recent mailing, General superintendent Thomas Trask covers some of the talking points at the upcoming convention, and it's clear that the denomination's official positions on abortion and homosexuality are at the forefront.

"It should give us great concern to listen to the verbal attacks of the U.S. liberal media against the newly elected Roman Catholic Church Pope, Benedict XVI, for his strong stand for the doctrines of the church," Trask said. He then characterized the new pope as "the chief custodian of the RCC position on abortion, homosexuality and other controversial issues which liberals were hoping to change with the election of a new pope." Trask went on to say that "the spirit of compromise and tolerance has worked like termites, undermining doctrinal foundations."

Sort of sets a certain tone for the General Council, don't you think? Forget this compromise and tolerance stuff, we're right and they're not! And isn't it interesting to see how common political rhetoric finds its way into church documents? But how nice it is to see the pentecostals are now making nice with Catholics. Around here, it wasn't too long ago they were calling them Catlickers and Mackerel Snappers. I guess all that animosity is now held for gays and unfortunate women.

Back to the General Council. There's a lot of unfinished business on the agenda, most of which deals with honoring various General Presbyters, establishing a Korean District Council and other boring stuff. But a couple of other resolutions were interesting.

Resolution #1 Credentialing of Divorced and Remarried Persons
Resolution #5 Humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ

On divorce, the resolution states that "we maintain a desire to impede the lowering of morality within our churches, where divorce rates approach those of the world . . . " There was some quibbling over pre-conversion and post-conversion divorces until they resolved to "disapprove of any married minister of the Assemblies of God holding credentials if either minister or spouse has a former companion living."

This should either clean up the divorce rate or increase the murder rate among A/G ministers. (Or, if you're one of those brethren who's particularly sensitive to public opinion, you could fake your own abduction, move to Memphis and start up a new life with your girlfriend. More on that story later.)

Resolution #5 is much more political in nature. It's basically the church attempting to clear up some messy language and beliefs regarding the conception and birth of Jesus our Lord in an attempt to blend their political position on abortion and stem cell research with the infallible word of God.

It seems that over the years, as the good brethren have proclaimed from the pulpit the absolute deity and sinlessness of Jesus, they have either implied or asserted that he had no genetic link to any other humans. The local Catholics have a church and school named after this belief . . . Immaculate Conception. While determining all this may seem like a mere technicality, it does become important when the church adopts a public stance on political issues like abortion. It all gets very confusing at this point

"The assertion that the Holy Spirit created the human body of our Lord in the womb of the virgin Mary without using one of her ovary eggs denies that He has human ancestry and . . . this would make Mary a surrogate mother and Jesus a surrogate son."

Surrogate son . . . has a negative ring to it. And it's important, given all the proprietary talk among the righteous about embryos and fetuses, that the church firmly establish that Jesus was made from a human egg. Never before has the egg gained such lofty status.

Recently, on the similar convoluted topic, President Bush held a White House photo-op with a group of conservative Christians in the East Room in an effort to undermine a bill that would have expanded the use of unused embryos from fertility clinics for stem cell research. The children in these families had all been conceived through a Christian adoption agency that promotes the practice of one couple donating its frozen embryos to another.

"The children here today remind us that there is no such thing as a spare embryo," Bush said, evoking a few "Amens" from parents. None other than House Republican leader Tom DeLay was also moved enough to chime in on the matter. "We were all at one time embryos ourselves. So was Abraham. So was Muhammad. So was Jesus of Nazareth," Mr. DeLay said.

Yes, the lines are blurring . . . a church leader complains about the liberal press and quibbles over the wording of a document, while a calloused, cut-throat politician emotes on the lives of Jesus and Mohammad. And all this talk about wombs and fetuses by a bunch of old white guys. What does it all mean?

I saw a bumper sticker that asked a good question about this obsession with pre-birth issues and the fact that most of these espoused pro-lifers are okay with cutting benefits that help poor children.

Does Being Pro-Life
End at Birth?


Soprano2 said...

Or, if you're one of those brethren who's particularly sensitive to public opinion, you could fake your own abduction, move to Memphis and start up a new life with your girlfriend. More on that story later.

LOL I love to tell that story to my conservative Internet friends who get up high on their horses about how religious people have higher morals than non-religious people. After a lifetime spent living in the Ozarks I find exactly zero difference between those two groups of people, other than that the religious use religion as an excuse for doing stuff they wanted to do anyway.

RSmith said...

I still have one of the Missing posters. It's a great story.

Rich Tatum said...

Just to give you a little more information, resolutions, such as the two you mentioned, are typically sponsored by one of the 20,000+ ministers who are eligible to attend the General Council's business meeting. A resolution does not articulate a formal position of the General Council in any way, nor does it necessarily articulate the position of all of the ministers representing the A/G or its adherents. Only once a resolution is passed does it bear any formal relationship to offical General Council policies, procedures, or doctrines.

Incidentally, both of those resolutions failed in the voting process. Divorcees are still eligible to remarry and retain their ministerial credentials as long as their divorce occurred pre-conversion (that was the issue in the resolution); and the resolution to reword our Statement of Fundamental Truths regarding the nature of the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ also failed. The wording stands as-is.



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