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It’s Been 50 Years, and Things Are Worse Than Ever

After Vietnam” 50 Years Later

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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The fiftieth anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s much-beloved (right wing extremists excluded) speech, “After Vietnam” occurred this past week. To commemorate this famous speech I will be posting this slightly condensed version today, particularly in view of the fact that it is at least as relevant today as it was back then.

MLK’s “After Vietnam” Speech at Riverside Church, Harlem, N.Y. (1967)

I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here tonight, and how very delighted I am to see you expressing your concern about the issues that will be discussed tonight by turning out in such large numbers…. And of course, it’s always good to come back to Riverside church. Over the last eight years, I have had the privilege of preaching here almost every year in that period, and it is always a rich and rewarding experience to come to this great church and this great pulpit. I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I’m in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” And that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on. And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burning of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King?” “Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people,” they ask? And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

In the light of such tragic misunderstanding, I deem it of signal importance to try to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church – the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate – leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight. I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia. Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they must play in the successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.

Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans. Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor – both black and white – through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.

So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such. Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. And so we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years – especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask – and rightly so – what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent. For those who ask the question, “Aren’t you a civil rights leader?” and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer. In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of America.” We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself until the descendants of its slaves were loosed completely from the shackles they still wear….

Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: ‘Vietnam’. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be – are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land…. This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men – for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

And finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place, I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of son-ship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them. This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers. And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the ideologies of the Liberation Front, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

For nine years following 1945 we denied the people of Vietnam the right of independence. For nine years we vigorously supported the French in their abortive effort to recolonize Vietnam. Before the end of the war we were meeting eighty percent of the French war costs. Even before the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu, they began to despair of their reckless action, but we did not. We encouraged them with our huge financial and military supplies to continue the war even after they had lost the will. Soon we would be paying almost the full costs of this tragic attempt at recolonization. After the French were defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come again through the Geneva Agreement. But instead there came the United States, determined that Ho should not unify the temporarily divided nation, and the peasants watched again as we supported one of the most vicious modern dictators, our chosen man, Premier Diem. The peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly rooted out all opposition, supported their extortionist landlords, and refused even to discuss reunification with the North. The peasants watched as all this was presided over by United States’ influence and then by increasing numbers of United States troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem’s methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictators seemed to offer no real change, especially in terms of their need for land and peace…..

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor. Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak of the – for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours. This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote:

Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism (unquote).

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy, and deadly game we have decided to play. The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war. I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do immediately to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:

[1] End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.


[2] Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.


[3] Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.


[4] Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and any future Vietnam government.


[5] Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement.

Part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country, if necessary. Meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible. As we counsel young men concerning military service, we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection…. Moreover, I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

Now there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. And so, such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years, we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisers in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing – embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response…. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate – ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another, for love is God. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.” “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight. Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message – of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise, we must choose in this crucial moment of human history. And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

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Another Warning From God About American Leadership

Think This Week Was Bad For America’s and Trump’s Reputation? Wait Until You See What God Has Shown Me About Her Future.

By Pastor Paul J. Bern

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Like any other person of faith, I read my Bible as often as I can. The Word says we’re supposed to read it every day, but even I can’t always do that. It’s like we all get so caught up in all the stuff that’s going on during our busy days that we find ourselves laying down to sleep nearly before we know it! This past week a colleague of mine showed me a passage out of Isaiah chapter 24 that directly applies to modern-day America and other nuclear-powered countries like her. The clarity and brutally frank language that’s used here by Isaiah, as he was prompted himself by the Holy Spirit, is startling and an ominous vision of the fairly near future.

The debacle inside the Beltway in Washington, D.C. this past week has made the USA and its president the laughingstock of the world! I see no way I can say this with too much emphasis. The Trump administration’s attempt to repeal Obama-care and replace it with what amounted to a forcible confiscation of the health care coverage of 24 million Americans – combined with yet another tax break for the rich – has revealed Donald Trump for what he is: an opportunist who is in the White House for his personal enrichment first, and America second. If the Trump administration’s failed efforts to repeal the ACA are any indication of how Washington is going to handle America’s domestic affairs, what will happen when it comes to America’s relations with the rest of the world? If America does not repent (turn away from) its ways, a great calamity will befall her, and that without remedy. Allow me to quote the first 6 verses of Isaiah 24:

See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants – it will be the same for priest as for people, for master as for servant, for mistress as for maid, for seller as for buyer, for borrower as for lender, for debtor as for creditor. The earth will be completely laid waste and totally plundered. The Lord has spoken his word. The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.”

The earth as we know it, it says in the very first verse, is going to be destroyed. I don’t think this means we’re going to collide with another planet or wayward moon or anything like that. This includes all the talk about the so-called “planet X/Nibiru”, or whatever other names there are floating around out there. This planet is currently located somewhere between Neptune and Pluto. Assuming that “planet X/Nibiru” is closer to Neptune than to Pluto, juxtaposed with Neptune’s orbiting the sun every 160 years, that means if “Nibiru” is traveling at a similar speed to Neptune it will take it another 80 years (give or take) to reach earth. Moreover,it has been proven by NASA, backed up with corroborating data from the European and Japanese space agencies, that this 9th planet in our solar system is not – repeat is not – on a collision course with earth. So all you “Nibiru” fear mongers can put your fears to bed once and for all.

“….. he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants.” The words ‘scattered inhabitants’ suggest that population centers – cities – will be destroyed, and that casualties will be high in number. “…. it will be the same for priest as for people, for master as for servant, for mistress as for maid, for seller as for buyer, for borrower as for lender, for debtor as for creditor. The earth will be completely laid waste and totally plundered. The Lord has spoken his word. The same fate will befall everybody, and there will be only a lucky few who escape. Moreover, the complete destruction of the cities of the earth is the only thing that will destroy economic inequality. To put that another way, the only way to destroy inequality will be to destroy the financial centers of the world, beginning with the US. Although I can’t say exactly how this will happen, it definitely will. “The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish.” There will be a huge global drought, crops will fail, and people are going to starve to death, even in the Western world where this normally never occurs.

The earth is defiled by its people…..” What does this mean to our modern world? Do these words still have any meaning after all these centuries? The answer to this question is an emphatic ‘yes’! How have we managed to do this, you ask? When did I defile the earth? Every time we throw a piece of trash on the ground, or throw a wrapper or scrap of paper out of our car or truck window while driving, every time we throw anything (!) in a landfill, pour our old engine oil down a drain or elsewhere – need I go on? – we defile the earth. There is a gigantic flotilla of plastic bottles and other similar scrap items the size of the entire state of Texas floating in the middle of the Pacific ocean as I write this. Need still more proof we are in grievous sin?? The permanently damaged nuclear reactors at Fukishima, Japan (there are 4 of them) are leaking radioactive water into the north Pacific ocean at a rate of 400 million gallons per day! At this rate, the entire northern Pacific ocean from Japan to the west coast of North America will be devoid of life in no more than 10 years!

Suppose you (somehow) made a planet and inhabited it with 7 billion people, giving them life and the power and will to live it, and they turned around and destroyed it just because they could. How would you react? Now you know how God feels. “They have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth….” What laws? We could start with the 10 commandments. When you break one, you break them all, that’s what the Bible says. Or how about the two greatest commandments: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself’? As before; if we break one even once, we have broken them all as far as God is concerned. “Therefore a curse consumes the earth”. Does this mean God will curse the planet and everything on it? Of course not, don’t be so fearful! Is God going to personally intervene and cause all this to occur? No, it does not appear so, as we further examine this quote from Scripture. “Its people must bear their guilt.

Guilt for what, you’re probably thinking? For all the things I mentioned above, from ruining the Pacific ocean to the 10 commandments and so on, but that’s not all. Nope, sorry, there’s one more major thing – waging war. Although people will accuse me of being unpatriotic, and I do not wish to be offensive to anyone, the USA is addicted to war, and has been for at least the last 75 years. Our national economy depends on it and has been ever since I’ve been alive, and I’m 61. Moreover, we remain the only country in the world to have used nuclear weapons in a time of war. America has let the nuclear genie out of the bottle, and it cannot be put back no matter how great and well intentioned the effort. Meaning, we are indirectly responsible for the Fukishima disaster, as well as for any future nuclear conflicts regardless of who starts it. Granted, no one could have predicted an earthquake and tsunami of that magnitude, but the reactors should never have been located that close to the ocean in the first place. Not in an earthquake-prone country like Japan, at the very least! So in the end, the nuclear threat that we face globally is America’s fault, and we’re going to end up paying the price.

How? “Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left. Nuclear war. What else could this be describing, just read it and let it sink in. This is what the Bible says will happen to us if we don’ t change our ways. The heat generated by a thermonuclear explosion is 10 times that of the surface of the sun. Those who are caught up in what I suspect will be the coming nuclear conflagration – again, unless America changes its ways – will be instantly vaporized. Not a pleasant thought, to say the least. How do we stop this? By protesting in the streets and getting involved in our country’s political process. I see no other way. Besides, in the process of protesting, we’ll be siding with God. Suits me fine.

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More Injustice: Left In the Dust by Those Entrusted to Lead

Our Political, Business and Religious Leaders Are

Ignoring Their Taxpayers, Workers and Membership

by Pastor Paul J. Bern

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Sooner or later, it happens to each of us. There always will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot fix, control, explain, change or even understand. Maybe you’ve been laid off from a job you’ve held for years. Perhaps you’ve experienced a nasty divorce (been there, done that). Or maybe the crisis is more subtle: One suddenly realizes they’ll never have the life they dreamed of living. Any life-changing moment can knock a person down. But it can also open doors if one learns how to “fall upward.”

Older Americans like myself face a two-sided problem: many religious leaders are paying more attention to the collection plate than to us, and the government has been trampling its constituency underfoot for decades while pandering to Wall Street and corporate America. President Trump has already started renegotiating trade agreements, but in many states like Georgia where I live, the minimum wage is still stuck at $7.25 hourly. Much of contemporary religion is geared toward teaching people how to navigate the first half of their lives, when they’re building careers and families, a kind of “goal-oriented” spirituality. Yet there’s less help for people dealing with the challenges of aging: age discrimination in the workplace (which is rampant), the loss of health, the death of friends, and coming to terms with mistakes that cannot be undone.

God can function as a spiritual survival guide for hard times as millions of Americans young and old struggle to cope with “falling”: losing their homes, careers and status. The phrase “falling upward” describes a paradox. Nearly everybody will fall in life because they’ll be confronted with some type of catastrophic loss or abject failure. Yet failure can lead to growth if a person makes the right decisions. I’ve met people who, because of the loss of things and security, have been able to find grace, freedom and new horizons. They have learned to make the best of what can often be a bad situation.

If you’re falling in any area of your life, one of the first skills to learn is accepting surprises. It’s easy for people to turn bitter when things don’t go as planned. God sees such people all the time, whether throwing tantrums at the airport because of long lines or flocking to angry rallies in opposition to some form of social change. If one doesn’t know how to deal with exceptions, surprise and spontaneity by the time they’re my age, one become a predictable series of responses of paranoia, blame and defensiveness. These circumstances often teach similar lessons about hard times:

[1] Suffering is necessary,

[2] the “false self” must be abandoned, and –

[3] everything belongs, even the sad, absurd and futile parts.

People have learned these hard lessons for centuries, sometimes through myth, but most of the time by trial and error. They must first experience humiliation, loss and suffering before finding enlightenment. They are often forced on their journey by a crisis.

Events like the evaporation of a retirement fund or the death of a spouse can force us to summon strength we didn’t know we had. Forced liquidations of businesses that were once thriving enterprises is another example that comes to mind. The key is not resisting the crisis. We must learn to allow the circumstances of God and life to break us out of our egocentric responses to everything. If we allow ‘the others’ – other people, other events, other religions or cultures – to influence us, we just keep growing. That growth, though, is accompanied by death – the death of the “false self”. The false self is the part of our selves tied to our achievements and possessions. When our false self dies, we start learning how to base our happiness on more eternal sources. We start drawing from our walk with Christ. We learn to distinguish from the essential self and the self that’s only window dressing.

Those who break through the crisis and lose their false selves become different people: Less judgmental, more generous and better able to ignore the evil, selfish or stupid deeds of others. It may sound esoteric, but many of us have met older people like this. They possess what I call “a muted enlightenment” – they’ve suffered but they still smile and give. I’ve seen that in the wonderful older people in my life. There’s a kind of gravitas they have. There’s an easy smile on their faces. These are the people who laugh, who heal, who build bridges, who don’t turn bitter. This “muted enlightenment” shouldn’t be confined to older people. I’ve met 11-year-old children in cancer wards who are in the second half of life, and I have met 61-year-old men like me who are still in the first half of life.

I challenge the popular notion that success is a natural result of being religious. Our culture is prone to imagine that growth takes place in a sort of constant, upward movement. Even our religious culture tends to focus on success and stability as ideals for religious growth, while overlooking the grace of failure, from which far more growth originates. With Progressive Christianity tradition, loss, collapse and failure have always been seen as not only unavoidable, but even necessary on the path to wisdom, freedom and personal maturity. I know older people like myself, all of whom have vast work experience, who struggled to rebuild their identities after they poured much of their earlier lives’ energies into professional and personal success. That is what happened to me after 2008, when I found myself forced out of the technology profession after an 18-month absence due to several health issues.

Our culture tends to be youth-oriented, and a lot of spirituality is youth oriented. But our elders are the embodiment of the wisdom that life matters at a much deeper level than what we can achieve and produce. Imperfect people are sometimes more equipped than perfect people to help those who are struggling. The person who never makes a mistake and always manages to obey the rules is often a person devoid of compassion. He or she sees people for whom the wheels have fallen off and they wonder ‘what’s wrong with them’. But the person who feels that he or she has ruined their life often has more capacity for humility and compassion. I’m embarrassed as I’m getting older about how much of my energy and vitality as a younger man was driven by my ego and a win-lose mentality.

As I’ve gotten older I find myself driven by something altogether different: The need for rest, and a need for more time for contemplation. As a teacher once told me, “The first half of life, you write the text. The second half of your life is when you write the commentary. You have to process what it all meant.” I will be challenged to follow his and my own advice, and I encourage all of you to do the same. I will spend less energy on my “false self” as my old self dissolves. It will be a relief to me when the process is over. I am ready, though, to fall upward. If I lose my position as a web minister, author and respected church member, I would still feel secure. Most of us don’t learn this until it is taken away, like losing the security of your 401K as your entire career evaporates before your eyes. Then the learning either starts or you circle the wagons.

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This just arrived at the White House and every church in America, all at once…..

If God Sent An Email To Our Leaders

By Rev. Paul J. Bern

food-not-war

Given the state of affairs of leadership in general throughout the world, and particularly here in the US with the current crop of Christian “leaders” such as Sarah Pailin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckaby and Michelle Bachman, I can’t help but wonder what God must be thinking about all this. As you recall, Mr. Romney stated during the closing days of his 2012 presidential campaign that, if elected president, his first act as chief executive would be to launch an airstrike on Iran. Keep in mind that this is the same guy who is opposed to abortion and who calls himself “pro-life”. He fights for the rights of the unborn, but if you’re already alive and living in Iran, you’re toast. Go figure.

Of course, if you live in Syria, where the government is slaughtering the governed and where there is no oil, you’re on your own. Yet in Iraq, where there is plenty of oil, we have occupied that country since 2003 while killing over 1,000,000 Iraqi civilians, over half of whom were women and children. But that war was supposed to be different because we toppled a terrible dictator. Never mind that that same dictator, none other than Saddam Hussein himself, was a former CIA collaborator and “asset”. So much for loyalty among allies. Yes, that’s what our country has been doing in the Middle East since Gulf War 1 in 1990-91. And it is the American military-industrial-incarceration complex that has been doing this same thing throughout the globe since the Cold War of the 20th century.

Meanwhile here at home, one person in five depends on SNAP benefits to eat. Lots of people can’t afford medical care or insurance so they show up at emergency rooms, only when they absolutely have to, knowing that the medical bills they are about to incur will bankrupt them. Twenty four million Americans can’t find sufficient work (if any), but since they can’t afford to go back to school and get retrained because of the staggering cost of America’s for-profit higher education system, they remain stuck in their situation with no relief in sight. As I wrote in my first book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto” (scroll down after clicking the link), our country has more than enough money to pay for lifetime medical care and higher education for every single American who wants either or both. All they have to do is call off all the endless wars and bring our troops home.

As I explained in this 2011 book, if the US government took all the money that is spent in just one day on the wars/occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan and put it into an interest-bearing bank account, there would be ample funding for 4-year college educations for every school kid in America from pre-K through high school, including tuition, books, housing, food and transportation. Internet too. Yeah, just one day’s war expenditures would do that. Besides, there is sufficient legal precedent in doing this very thing in the form of the GI Bill that was passed by Congress after the end of World War 2. If they could reeducate G.I.’s back then (and that law remains in effect), they can do it for everybody now.

But what do we have instead? Overseas military adventures purely for the sake of economic domination by the US against any country regardless of cost. This is not just unsustainable, it is sheer madness! Our government has been taken over by a bunch of psychopaths. They operate from behind the scenes bent on world conquest at any cost, failing to understand that the “superpower” era is over, and they are an integral part of the so-called “new world order”. Unless they are stopped they will take the world over the brink of the abyss of World War 3. Yet these people are, by and large, religious conservatives of one church denomination or another. Their counterparts in the Muslim world are similarly conservative religious fundamentalists. Only their names for God are different. Yet, as far as I am concerned, there is only one true God who is undoubtedly far greater than the sum of all the world’s different religious faiths combined. If this very same almighty God, who is “The Great I Am”, sent us an email about all this mess down here on earth, I think it would be worded something like this:

“My children, I appear before you now to bestow upon you a supplemental to the New Testament. I offer this directly to the peoples of earth, without intermediary, cleric, or agent of any kind. Circumstances have compelled me to sever all ties, contracts and assignments with my earthly representatives. I have been, in fact, very dissatisfied with their performance of their duties for some time. Children get molested in some churches, adultery runs rampant in others, while still others have turned their churches into businesses and have enriched themselves with material possessions beyond all reason. You pastors and evangelists who drive around in cars with six-figure price tags while flying around in your own jets, you know who you are. There’s nothing wrong with having a nice car and a comfortable house, but a good bit of that plane money should have been used to feed the poor and house the homeless, whom you are ignoring. But the rape of Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan and other crimes committed in my name by the USA, not counting the additional war plans they have made, has forced my hand. All my earthly representatives are now terminated! They no longer speak for me.”

“Humankind, however, remains in my affections and always shall. But it would be remiss of me not to explain why I have taken such drastic measures. War displeases me. Five thousand years of war among the humans over the right way to pronounce my name, not to mention the earth’s resources which I gave you, has exhausted my patience. I will no longer be responsible for any more murders committed under color of my authority. Although I do not require that you worship me in any certain way, I much prefer that you who claim to believe in me should put some legs on your faith. It’s good when you fast and pray, but it’s far better to go and find someone in need and doing whatever you can to help him or her.”

“Someone who goes to church every Sunday but does nothing more during the week is not as faithful in my eyes as someone who donates to charity, who volunteers their free time, who is a role model for the fatherless, or who visits the sick, the elderly and the prisoner, and someone who is a defender of the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the mentally ill, and other vulnerable individuals. I created you with a divine spark, in my image. But you persist in snuffing out that spark and destroying that image in those who don’t agree with you about whether or not it is permitted to draw my face. Until you prove you can worship the divine spark I put in all of you, and desist from the mayhem and slaughter that you love more than me, I will summarily reject and disallow all your claims to my providence.”

“You have banded yourselves into tribes, nations and races and the results have not been pleasing to my eye. I take some responsibility for this distressing development; I should not have given you an earth so large. But had I started with a smaller Eden, you would have corrupted and polluted it until it became uninhabitable millenia ago. You have proven your refusal to understand the panoply of laws and wisdom I laid down for you when I set you upon the earth. I have been mistranslated by your spirit guides and abused by your leaders. Perhaps I was too complex. Let us try to simplify. Respect my creation and all the inhabitants thereof. Any so-called religious leader who tells you otherwise is a false prophet and does not represent me, my brethren or any part of my Kingdom which is to surely come.”

“Those of you who find comfort in organized religion may continue to do so. I understand – I created you as vessels for love and love rejoices in the presence of others. Keep your churches, mosques and synagogues, but cease your bickering. And remember, when you engage in bloodletting in My name, you commit blasphemy. I realize that in severing my ties with so many of the sects, denominations and “holy men” that you rely upon for moral guidance, I have created confusion where there was once certainty in your souls. But that cannot be helped. Your certainties were almost certainly wrong and most certainly misapplied.”

“But do not despair, my children, for I have not abandoned you. There is a little piece of me inside all of you, a fail-safe guide to good and evil, a moral compass that never leaves you, a true voice you can hear amid the storms of fire that drive you mad with hatred and confusion. It is called your conscience and it always points upward. Follow it and you will be walking in my light. Ignore it and you’ll be lost in the darkness cast by your own shadow. Here is your New, New Testament, starting with Commandment One:”

I have given you a conscience. Use it.”

Sort that out to my satisfaction and maybe next millennium we can talk about the dietary laws.”

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To All My Haters, This Bud’s For You

My Open Letter to All Offended “Christians”

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

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Dear Offended Christians,

 

All of my regular weekly readers know by now that I can – and have – posted commentaries on my blogs, my website, and social media that has been sharply critical of the mainstream churches – both Protestant and Catholic – here in the US. While I have received praise from many of my readers for these postings, I have also been on the receiving end of no small amount of vehement condemnation from numerous ‘religious’ individuals, combined with weathering criticism from many (but not all) atheists. I’ve been told I’m going to hell when I die, I’ve been accused of voluntary stupidity, I’ve been verbally assaulted and abused on social media, and I’ve even had my personal safety threatened. So far, nobody has made good on any of those threats, which doesn’t surprise me at all. Still in all, I’m terribly sorry that I hurt your feelings. None of us likes to be criticized, so I totally get it. I feel badly about that. I know I’ve said some pretty hard words to many of you “Christian” folks, and maybe I’ve been somewhat less than gentle in my delivery, but that happens when you’re tired. And I am really freaking tired! Allow me to list all of the ways I am fed up to here with the hypocrisy shown by so many ‘religious’ people!

[1] You wrap yourselves up in the cross, your piety is second to none, and yet you have seemingly forgotten to read the Book you proclaim to set your moral compass to. I’m tired of hearing you telling gay people that they can’t simultaneously be both gay and followers of Christ. You quote Romans chapter 1, verses 26-27 and Levitical law when you condemn gay people, but you forget the counsel of the apostle James when he wrote: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2: 12-13) Instead of judging gay people, why not show them some mercy and compassion? Moreover, I’m tired of you regularly dispensing damnation on the queer community, and then offering empty “thoughts and prayers” before resuming your normal schedule.

[2] I’m tired of arrogant pulpit bullies who believe they’re entitled to tell people where they can pee, who they can marry, and whether they really love Jesus or not. I’m particularly tired of your demands for 10% of my income. You’re not going to get one stinking penny from me! After all, you preachers spend much of your churches’ proceeds on yourselves and your wicked and vain desires. You buy luxury cars for yourselves and your wives and live in extravagant homes while people sleep in their cars as they and their children go hungry. Rest assured that your punishment is coming, and it will be most severe!!

[3] I’m tired of you being more outraged by red coffee cups at Starbucks, or school and department store restrooms, than by poverty, racism and America’s crumbling school systems. Ditto for the hypocrisy of your homophobia, all that institutionalized racism, and the anti-science sentiments of many Christian groups. God gave you a brain! Try using the damn thing once in a while! You’d be surprised at how well it works. Thinking with your emotions instead of your brain always ends badly for you anyway. If you were using your head, you would be able to remember that.

[4] I am thoroughly exasperated with your simultaneous condemnation of abortion while you beat your war drums. The US military has killed 2 million people in the Vietnam War and 1 million more innocent civilians in Iraq. The fact that all those dead Iraqis were Muslim is besides the point. Have you forgotten what Jesus said at the Sermon On the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God”? (Matt. 5: 9) Yes, it’s true, there are roughly 50,000 abortions performed each year in the US alone, not counting the rest of the world. While I am by no means pro-abortion, I refuse to condemn those women who have abortions for the same reasons as #1 above. Why? Because there are two main reasons why women are having abortions. First, the last time I checked, a month’s supply of birth control pills costs many hundreds of dollars here in America thanks to our greed-based medical care system. Second, if America’s employers paid a living wage, a lot more women could afford to use birth control, hence fewer abortions. Oh that’s right – America doesn’t have any more jobs that pay a living wage because our brilliant leaders outsourced all the good-paying jobs overseas for pennies on the dollar so they could make a whole lot more money!!

Please excuse me, I just realized I probably hurt your feelings yet again, Mr. and Mrs. Churchperson. So I really do get that your feelings are hurt. I understand that you’re offended, and that’s not my intention. The thing is, if you’re going to tell an entire segment of the population that they’re going to Hell simply for existing, and if you’re going to continually target those people through the Church and the Law and your social media accounts, don’t get angry with me when I tell you you’re being hateful and judgmental and ignorant. It could be worse. At least I’m not damning you for all eternity. You know, like you do to others every day of the year?

Sincerely,

A Very Tired Christian

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What’s Gone Wrong With Our Churches?

Three Reasons Millennials Are Abandoning Christianity

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

live together or perish

Chances are that if you are in your 20’s or 30’s, you are not a church member. Polling is now a highly sophisticated industry, and religious organizations are being fed some irrefutable numbers about what is happening among their congregations. In a single generation, the Catholic and Christian church dropout rate across all denominations has increased five-fold. The Barna Group, a leading research evangelical Christian organization based in Ventura, California that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture, says 80 percent of the young people raised in a church will be “disengaged” before they are 30. The fault for this lies with those same denominations, and particularly their leadership as far as I am concerned. These churches – and I’m not going to name any denomination in particular – and their members spend every Sunday morning being religious for an hour, and then spend the rest of the week doing whatever suits them. They call themselves Christians while isolating themselves from the very people they are supposed to be ministering to! We as believers are charged with this very duty, as Jesus has taught us: “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark chapter 16, verses 15-16) As to whether one believes or not, that is between them and God. My responsibility lies with teaching about Jesus Christ and the Bible. I cannot force anyone to believe, since force is never the way of Christ anyway. But the outcome of disbelief is clearly spelled out.

In the past 20 years, the number of American people who say they have no religion has doubled and now exceeds 15 percent. Those numbers are concentrated in the under-30 population. The polling data continues to show that a dramatic exit is taking place from Christian churches, both in America and globally. Is it any wonder? There are too many churches I have been to that look more like fashion shows than places of worship. Many others insist that the members must “tithe” 10% of their income as specified in the Old Testament. Never mind what Jesus taught us, which was that he was the fulfillment of the Old Law (see Matthew 5: 17), the sacred Law of Moses, and that He continuously represents a new covenant between God and mankind. Yes, we should give to our churches as much as we can, when we can, but I disagree with the teaching that one’s donations must be exactly 10% each and every week. If that were the case, then only rich Christians could obey the law. That’s why I came to the conclusion many years ago that this teaching is a distortion of what the Bible says on this subject, meaning so-called tithing is a thinly veiled excuse for procuring the maximum amount of donations to church coffers. It’s all about the money. Then there are the Christian TV stations (speaking of money), which I used to watch some of them, where some of the women have enough makeup on for three people, and where some of the musicians are obviously gay and doing a poor job of hiding it. Still others are preaching the so-called “prosperity gospel”, which is a bogus teaching if there ever was one, and a gross distortion of what the Bible actually says about that topic.

While denominations across the board are acknowledging loss of membership, it is worse than they are reporting. Many churches report numbers based on baptized members, yet actual Sunday morning attendance doesn’t come close to those numbers. Once baptized, always a ‘listed’ Christian! Simply put, denominations are no longer a reliable source of membership information. If they can’t even be trusted for something as basic as accurate reporting regarding their attendance, is it any wonder good Christ-seeking people are leaving in disgust? The mega-church movement also has flattened, with people leaving as fast as they are recruited. The only real growth among Christians appears to be in the home church movement in which small groups of independent believers gather in a house to worship. While the polling numbers are in, the debate about the reasons for lack of attendance is only just beginning. When a pollster asks if a person has left the Christian Faith and a church, the answer is answered “yes” or “no.” However, when the pollster asks “why?,” the answers become mushy and the numbers lose their significance. Why, then, are people leaving churches so fast?

I am not a pollster, but rather an observer of the religious scene looking in from the outside. Speaking as an independent minister who is unaffiliated with any denominations, entirely too many churches today – from the pastor on down – have a credibility problem because of all the things that I mentioned above. My impressions are anecdotal and in no way scientific. I receive personal responses to my blogs and other postings, and I carry on conversations with a steady flow of people by e-mail. I strongly believe we Jesus worshipers and especially the clergy need to look at ourselves for at least some of the reasons for the decline in membership, and probably most of them. Allow me to offer three observations:

[1] Churches are no longer intellectually challenging, if they ever really were to start with. I can still remember being sent to Catholic school as a child and being “taught” not to think for myself, or to just obey. Christians who think for themselves are considered weird at best, or dangerous at worst in today’s churches. Obedience is good and personal independence is (allegedly) bad. Organized religion has always been like this and critical, independent thinkers like myself are shown the door without just cause way too often. More and more of our young people are college-educated, and in the future an overwhelming majority and will accept the challenge of post-high school education. They are thinking people who are expanding the limits of their curiosity and knowledge. Some of them will be the first American generation to establish outposts throughout our solar system, and eventually beyond. I have often wondered what will happen to organized religion when life is inevitably discovered on other planets and their moons. It is no surprise to me that these young people often conclude that they are not willing to accept the Church’s rigid catechism, an educational method that teaches all the right religious questions and the correct answers. As an educational tool, private religious schooling has become outdated and provides no challenge to students eager to question and discuss. Ministers must take the responsibility to re-establish themselves among the leaders of the intellectual community.

[2] Churches are no longer leaders in moral and ethical discussions. Young people have grown weary of churches that cannot get past issues such as homosexuality and abortion. Although I personally am not in favor of either abortion or gay marriage, God has given me enough wisdom to know I can’t persuade everybody to think like myself. Instead, I choose to follow the Bible, which warns us not to judge others (see Matthew 7: 1-5; James 2: 12-13; James 4: 11-12) and to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2: 12)! My job is to bring the good news message of Jesus Christ to everyone I can. I cannot ‘save’ souls, only Christ can do that. Once I have presented the message of the Gospel, I have fulfilled my responsibility. If the Gospel is presented any other way but that, it starts to sound like a sales pitch. Moreover, millennial Christian drop-outs are still very interested in alternatives to the selfish, hedonistic and violent society we live in. More and more, they are catching on to something I have been preaching and teaching for years – namely the unilateral rejection of materialism and the trappings of wealth, and a rejection of violence and hate. Success in life is not defined by how much money and possessions we have accumulated! That type of “success” is only an illusion. Instead, success in life depends on what kind of legacy we leave behind when we’re gone. Justice, fairness and compassion are supposed to be high on our agendas, and looking for opportunities to serve as a way of worshiping God should be the priority of people of good conscience. Life is all about how we treat other people as well as how devoted we are to serving the less fortunate. It’s not just about religion. Today’s generation of young people want to be involved in solving environmental problems, ending poverty and homelessness and their root causes, and in peacemaking. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, Jesus said, “for they shall be called ‘sons of the living God’.” (Matthew 5: 9)

In contrast, pizza parties and rock concerts – techniques that have been used to make churches appear more relevant to the young – are not high on the agenda of young people concerned about society’s deep-seated problems. In other words, too many churches are concerned about the hot-button issues of today, such as same-sex marriage or abortion, when the preachers should be talking about the extreme immorality of waging war! Or, how about pointing out the extreme immorality of 50,000 children per day dying of starvation globally? What about the fact that fully one fourth of the world’s population has no access to clean drinking water or electricity?? If the same amount of passion were devoted to protecting and upholding the living as has been said and written about protecting the unborn, the world would be a markedly better place in which to live. As for same-sex marriage or abortion, Jesus never said anything about either. The Bible does teach that being gay or bisexual is wrong, but it also warns us repeatedly not to judge other people. I don’t hang around gay people, nor do I approve of their “lifestyle” – as they call it – but that does not give me the right to hate gay people, nor is it an excuse to hold them in contempt, and never to condemn them. “Love your neighbor as yourself”. By showing disdain for gay people, I would lose all hope of ever persuading them to believe in Jesus and all he stands for.

[3] Churches are no longer visionary for the reasons I have stated above. They have remained focused on offering rituals, dogma, pomp and circumstance, tied to perpetuating theologies while not bothering to explain to people how they should live once they have left church for yet another week. That’s because many of these theologies aren’t based on what the Bible says, and can even contradict it, and people who take the time to pick up their Bible and read it see right through that. Too much religion today is taught from the perspective and viewpoint of the extreme right-wing of American politics, and as before it is a glaring contradiction of the teachings of Christ. If the teachings of Jesus could be compared to modern political ideology, its closest comparison would be to what we call socialism today (see Acts. 2: 42-47; Acts 4: 32-37; 2nd Corinthians 8: 13-15). This is one Biblical fact that invariably infuriates the conservative extremists who have invaded America’s pulpits. Read the above passages of Scripture and you’ll see what I mean (If you have no Bible and want one, send your email address to webpreacher@pcmatl.org and I’ll send you a free one. Seriously.) People are figuring out that God is not a conservative Republican, and that he never was. For all these reasons, churches are no longer significant players in shaping the life of our communities. If priests, ministers and their churches will not lay out what the kingdom of God on earth might actually look like, young people will continue to look elsewhere for other models. In that sense, I don’t know who to be concerned about more – the young adults who are leaving churches, or the churches they are leaving behind. In the meantime, the rest of the world is rushing at top speed towards World War 3. Millions will be killed instantly in what is bound to be a nuclear conflagration, and then they’ll be out of time. Maybe we all will, who knows? The best we can do for now is to start praying – a lot – for peace.

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A Memo From Jesus to the USA

If Jesus Wrote A Letter To America, I Wonder What He’d Say?

By Rev. Paul J. Bern

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If Jesus wrote a letter to America, and particularly its leadership (I’m using ‘leadership’ in the loosest possible terms), I wonder what would He say to us? Would He give America two thumbs up for being the richest country in the world, or for having the most powerful military? Would He congratulate us for a job well done when it comes to race relations in our country? Would He praise America’s business community for its shrewdness and cunning for shipping all our middle class jobs overseas, leaving its constituency destitute, or in some cases homeless? Or, how about the fact that 1 in 4 US school children goes to bed hungry each night? Would we receive accolades galore? On the contrary – it would go something like this: Woe to you American Christians! You say I’m the “Son of God” and yet you bully the defenseless, shoot unarmed civilians, wage religious wars disguised as anti-terror campaigns, and trample the vulnerable underfoot in my name. Do you not understand the parable of the Good Samaritan? Allow me to refresh your memory.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus then replied with what I’ll call a modernized version of the parable of the good Samaritan:

“A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Washington to New York when he was attacked by carjackers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road after driving off in his car. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A rich man walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then an African-American came along, one who had just been released from prison, and when he saw the man he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the ex-con soothed his wounds with hydrogen peroxide and bandaged them. Then he used his transit card and took him by bus to the homeless shelter where he was staying, where he took care of him. The next day he paid for a single night, telling the folks running the shelter, ‘Here is the money for a night’s stay here. I’m going to work as a day laborer early tomorrow morning, so please take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by thugs?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

In case you missed the point of that parable as I’m quoted as telling it in the Book of Luke (see chapter 10, verses 25-37), it was that the theologically correct evangelical born-again “saved” person passed by on the other side of the road when confronted with a human being in need. Ditto for the priest. It was the “unsaved” theologically incorrect Samaritan, today’s equivalent of agnostics, Muslims, gay men and women, minorities and people of color, the unloved and the outcast who stopped and did my Father’s will and took care of the injured man. To put it another way as only Jesus could have: “Did you miss the point when I said that those who come to me saying ‘Lord, Lord we followed you and believed correctly’ are the very ones that I will cast out of the Kingdom of Heaven, since they did not care for the least of these, the downtrodden, the poor and the oppressed? Didn’t you get it when I said that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the humble, and the outcasts; those who mourn and to the poor in spirit? Who do you think will inherit the earth: the wealthy leaders of your colossal mega-churches, or the downtrodden gay people, minorities and people of color, peace activists, “occupiers”, foster kids, ex-cons, the mentally ill, and others who are scorned and mocked by society? Whose side do you think God is on: the bullied and outcast or the powerful religious leaders with their false smiles? Who will qualify for calling themselves my sons and daughters: The meek who mourn or the proud who say: ‘Lord, I thank you that I’m not like these gay men and women and these illegal immigrants, and these lazy poor people who deserve no health care and these Muslims?’ You hypocrites! Don’t you get it?”

“You say you take everything in the Bible seriously and yet you ignore all the many verses about loving each other, divorce and adultery, and somehow paper that over because a majority of America buys into divorce now and you don’t want to lose your congregations! And half your pastors and religious leaders are divorced and remarried. But you stick it to gays and minorities because they are easy to pick on! Why wax moralistic about one thing you call sin and yet stick it to a minority? For instance, I actually broke the biblical law when I said that the people who brought me the adulterous woman should not stone her to death. In other words I said: ‘forget what the Bible says, only kill her if you’re perfect.’ Well, no one was such, so they quit picking on her and left her alone. Then I did the most important part – I forgave her and told her to sin no more. Since then I’ve given my followers that very thing as a reason to ignore the harsh, and sometimes mistranslated, parts of the Bible. Didn’t you get it when I said that if you lust in your heart towards a married woman or man that it’s the same as committing adultery? You twisted my words to make it seem as if I’m a moralistic “church goer” like you idiots, but I intended the exact opposite! What I meant was that since everyone lusts anyway, the difference between how we think and feel regarding temptation and what we do is painfully obvious in terms of how God sees us. The whole point was that we’re not to judge other people because we ourselves think the same thoughts. So no one is better than anyone else. Remember what I said in my sermon on the mount? “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7, verses 1-2, NIV)

You judgmental holy rollers are like banks always making a mistake in their own favor! Why do so-called religious conservative Americans always pick on the little guy, the disenfranchised, blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, women or gay people? I’ll tell you why! Because you are bullies! You are the Pharisees passing by on the other side of the road, those who are so sure they’re saved because of some nonsense that they believe in my name. Wrong! You American Christians utterly deface the name of Christianity with your racism, your economic slavery and your discrimination against women! And now you’re doing it again in your war against gays and Muslims, your bogus, hypocritical drug war, and in your economic war against the poor and working class people. Some of you even have had it as part of your wicked program to reestablish the Biblical law demanding death to gay people that I clearly showed must be broken by the greater law of love. Well, as you judge so you will be judged. Good luck with that!

Do you think the Kingdom of God is more likely to belong to a wealthy “Christian” leader who preaches hate and exclusion (even when saying “hate the sin but love the sinner”) or to the least of these, the poor and disenfranchised who want nothing more than to enjoy the same rights of other citizens? Do you think God does not see that the poor have no care and die because your greedy (lying) insurance lobby has your so- called Congress in their pockets? You hypocrites and liars! You say you’re preaching my gospel when my Gospel never was about correct belief or correct behavior. My gospel was about loving God, not judging others, making room for everyone at the table, and loving your neighbor as you love yourself. If gays and minorities are your enemy then, as you know, I commanded you to love them! And if they are asking to be allowed to marry I commanded you to give to him who asks of you! Besides, you don’t own America. This is a democracy and yours is just one opinion. How did it come to this?

How do those who claim that they serve and represent me misuse the Bible to the extent that they make bumper stickers and coffee mugs calling for the death of the President by misquoting Psalm 109 verse 8? (By the way, in case you want to know, he’s doing his best to follow the law of love right now, even though it’s almost impossible to do that because the fool who ruled before him – talk about a burning Bush! – left the biggest mess since the fall of Roman Empire!) Do you think I am on the side of a those who want to make the First Lady of the United States (who happens to be a daughter of mine!) a widow and the daughters of the President orphans as this Psalm is misconstrued to “call for”? You American Christians utterly deface the name of Christianity with your racism, economic slavery and your bigotry against women and minorities. And now you’re doing it again in your war against gays and minorities, your “drug war” which is little more than open warfare against your own citizens, and in your economic war against the poor, the homeless, the elderly and particularly your children. You are like the Pharisees I used to know and who strained out the smallest gnat of others’ so-called misbehavior while turning a blind eye to their own wickedness, hypocrisy and lies! Remember what I said about taking the beam out of your own eye before removing the speck from your brother’s?

Quit worrying about gays and minorities and start worrying about your so-called churches, those ash heaps of stinking bigotry and hate. The way you hate your first black president is all I need to know about you. So is the fact that your courts dish out life sentences to people who trade in the marijuana plant my Father created! So stop worrying about other people’s “sins” and start worrying about all the lies you are telling your children in my name! And all your talk about patriotism will do you no good unless you love every American as you love yourself – including gay Americans, poor people, the mentally ill, the disenfranchised and yes, women who have abortions and the “illegal” immigrants. And who do you think you are criminalizing my Father’s creations in the first place? They ask mercy of you! Give to them! Or did you miss that part of my teaching too?

Do you really think I’m on the side of those who hate others? Have you forgotten what my Apostle John wrote? “If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1st John 4,:20, NIV) It’s as if you are crucifying me again! The point is to have a chance to sanctify love in every generation – unconditionally! If I walked here on Earth again with you, you’d kill me again, just as you are going to kill all that is good in my name, just as some of you are praying for the death of your president who you even call “Anti-Christ.” Let me tell you who is Anti-Christ: Christian “saved” America, meaning those who are too busy taking care of themselves to have time for anyone else (see Revelation chapter 18). You are so religious on Sunday mornings, and yet you all turn into selfish, demonic pigs during the week. So depart from me, come up with a new name for whatever you are, and drop the word “Christ” out of your name. You’ve destroyed my reputation!

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It’s Time for Churches to Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

Seven Hard Truths Pastors and Their Churches

Need to Hear

By Rev. Paul J. Bern

dead men in pulpits

There were once two parents with a little secret. They managed carefully to hold this secret down for several years. “Santa is coming!” their children sang. “It’s almost too good to believe!” With their mouths, the parents said, “How exciting!” But with their minds, they said, you’ve got the right idea: It is too good to believe. Then one day, the children came home with tear-streaks. They knew the truth. Lots of parents don’t tell their kids that Santa isn’t real. They don’t tell their kids the hard truth because they’re concerned: can their kid can handle the truth? You have undoubtedly noticed that our government teats us the same way about just about everything. Like kids that believe in Santa, people believe certain things about God because that’s what they’ve always been told – or because they want them to be true. You know, like, “God is good all the time”. But eventually, plodding through the mud of life, we discover the real truth: life is hard, and not everything is as it seems. Was God good when over 1,800 people drowned during Hurricane Katrina? Is He good when somebody’s child dies? No, but God allows tragedy and sorrow to occur because it is in the most difficult times that God uses our misfortunes and our tragedies to strengthen us and to build our character. In the same way, at some point as a parent, you have to tell your kid the hard truth that Santa isn’t real. And at some point, as pastors, we have to tell our congregations (or our readers in this case) the hard truths about God.

1) God isn’t Santa

Dr. David Pendergrass articulated this hard truth well: God is not a cosmic Santa Claus. You don’t get put on a nice list for doing the “right” things and, in turn, get whatever your heart desires from God. Whenever we feel entitled to a reward, or to “what we deserve”, we cease to view God as the King of the universe and begin to view Him as our personal Santa.

2) You Won’t Always Be Healed

There is so much good in praying for healing – healing for others and healing for ourselves. And while it’s true that God is able to heal, he’s not obligated to. (Click to Tweet) Think about it: if God were obligated to heal and answer every prayer of healing, no one would ever die. The hard truth is that at some point, this life will end. But that’s not the end of the story. There is hope. Our great hope is not that we won’t experience death, but that death is not the end of life – it’s the beginning. (Click to Tweet)

3) You Won’t Always Be “Blessed”

When someone says they’re “blessed,” they usually mean that they’re doing well financially or their kids are on the honor roll. The implicit suggestion is that they’re “blessed” because those things have happened. Conversely, if those things weren’t true, they would not be “blessed”, or at least not by human standards. Though there was a time that “blessing” and “wealth” and “good living” were tied together, I seem to recall this lesson from a Master Teacher about 2,000 years ago: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matt. 5:11, NRSV) Or when this same teacher’s cousin asked for Him to save his life, and He didn’t. But instead Jesus sent word in Matthew 11: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” The hard truth is that “blessing” is not about what we have accomplished, but what God is accomplishing in & through Jesus, who resides in the hearts and minds of all who truly believe. (Click to Tweet) We’re truly blessed when we are used by God for the betterment of all.

4) Church Isn’t About You

It’s so easy for churches to become like country clubs. Not in the stuffy, elitist sense. But in the “church is for us” sense. It’s about what we want – our preferences, our comforts. It’s our little world that we control, and we determine who gets in and who stays out. But Pastor Jordan Easley says the hard truth is that church isn’t about us and our ‘holy huddles’. It’s about seeking and healing the lost. The church should be a refugee camp for the lost and those who are hurting. That in itself is a whole lot of people! Church is supposed to be a place where hurting people are brought in to be made well, and then sent out to bring others who are hurting back in. We weren’t brought in to simply socialize.

5) Silence is OK

Christians like the celebration of Sunday’s resurrection. After all, it’s the reason Christianity exists. That said, there is great value in the silent awkwardness of Saturday – you know, the time when Jesus was in the grave, his disciples were scared out of their minds, and they all thought they had wasted the last three years of their lives backing the wrong messiah. Sometimes God is going to be silent. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t “Christian enough” or that you are somehow “broken.” It means God is being silent. And the hard truth is that silence from God is OK.

6) Christianity Isn’t About a Feeling – It’s About Choices

How many times have you been asked, “How can I get that fire back? I just want that awesome feeling of being connected to God!” That question usually follows some awesome spiritual experience. This question isn’t all bad – it just misses the point. When we pursue and desire the “feeling” of being on fire for God, we begin to worship that, and not God. (Click to Tweet) The hard truth is that being a Christian isn’t about getting warm fuzzies when the band is rocking, or the pastor preaches an exciting sermon. It’s about daily choosing to pick up our cross, even when we don’t feel like it.

7) There is No 3-Step Formula to Guarantee a Certain Outcome

I get it: it’s easy to help people remember and understand things by formulas and clever mnemonics. They have their place. But we must be clear: there’s no guarantee to happiness, success, a great prayer life, or anything else. The Bible doesn’t offer “a good/efficient/successful/rich life”, but “new life.” And the hard truth is that that “new life” might look different than what we might expect. We might do everything the Scriptures say and have a business fail, be poor (which is no sin), struggle with depression, and/or not become the “next big thing.” What Scripture does say is God will not leave us as orphans (John 14:18). That whatever we have to go through in life, we won’t have to go through it alone. That’s the kind of guarantee we can count on.

In closing, parents make excuses for not telling their kids about Santa – and they feel good about it. But the hard truth is this: they are lying to their kids. ? And pastors, no matter what reasons they have for not telling their people these hard truths – the end is the same: we’re lying to them. They’re going to find out eventually. The question is this: Do you want to tell them the hard truth? Or do you want them to be blindsided by it?

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