Onlline Sermons

We have posted a lot of sermons from our Universal Life Church ministers. Some are Christian and some are not. You are welcome to use them or just enjoy them as you like.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Universal Life Church

By Bob England

(with apologies to Forrest Church!)

Forrest Church’s excellent book with the same title as this sermon, has nothing to do with what I am going to say to you this morning. In the advertising business, this is called a ‘teaser,’ a half-truth to promote interest in something else. A few weeks ago, I became involved in shopping for a couch. I found that the $299.00 model, advertised in the paper, useful for getting people off the street and into stores so intrepid sales agents could direct interest to much more elegant—and much more expensive—models. So I have done the same to you this morning with no shame and with no apology. Forrest Church makes an extraordinary and convincing argument and I urge you to try it on.

Most of you know, by now, if you have followed my talks to this group, that I am a Christian and a believer in biblical truth. As the resident theistic conservative, the surrender of The Bible to political reactionaries appalls me. When those harsh voices from the right agitate for prayer in the public schools, for the dismemberment of the separation of church and state, and loudly proclaim the Christian nature of the country, most liberals blandly retreat to the verities of the Constitution and a succession of court rulings to state our case. After all, the great difference between liberalism and conservatism, from the time of the Roman Republic forward, lies in the odd fact that liberals originally appealed to sensibilities informed by law while conservatives advocate the supremacy of tradition. Never mind that liberalism can become overpoweringly legalistic and that conservative tradition might be a lie. Constitutional arguments don’t carry weight with those who sculpt monuments to The Ten Commandments or who frame arguments based on so-called Biblical texts. We need to follow Billy Graham’s advice and “Get back to the Bible.”

First, some history needs to be dredged up. Our origins lie in Christian thought which predates the great imperial church councils held in the glory days of Rome. As a denomination in the United States, our earliest churches grew out of the same Calvinist soil which nurtured Puritanism and its successor, Congregationalism, and a host of other bodies. Our theological cousins handle snakes, proclaim the subordination of women in marriage, deny Choice, and angrily denounce those who disagree with them. They argue with the Bible which is not the same as understanding its great message of love and compassion says Forrest Church.

Secondly, our surrender of scripture has not gone un-remarked by our leaders. Rev. William Sinkford, who presides over the Unitarian-Universalist Association regularly uses his column in our magazine to advocate the serious consideration of the spiritual nature of our religiosity. The Unitarian-Universalist Christian Fellowship even titled its second national meeting ‘Revival’ in recognition of humanity’s need for faith of some kind or other.

So I propose something radical. We need to embrace The Bible—both orthodox Testaments and the original Canon—as well as the teachings of the early founders like St. Augustine of Hippo and the wonderful mystics, St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and St. Hildegard of Binden. The Bible possesses more ammunition than I can load into my liberating artillery this morning but I’d like for you to consider some examples.

Reactionary thought demands some sort of crisis to rally people for political action. The crisis can be social or cultural, might be immediate or of long duration. When confronted with this sort of stridency broadcasting “a great evil in the land” or something similar, the thoughtful Biblical student should recite these verses from ‘Ecclesiastes,’ Chapter I, v. 9-11. “What was, will be done again, what has been done, will be done again and there is nothing new under the Sun! Take anything which people acclaim as being new: it existed in the centuries preceding us. No memory remains of the past, and so it will be for the centuries to come—they will not be remembered by their successors.” This is, of course, an argument for historical knowledge. When tradition provides the foundation for argument, then real truth might get lost. How did others respond?

In American history, examples growl at us from all directions. In the 1790s, the United States and France fought a vicious little undeclared Naval war. In response, the Federalist congress passed the so-called Alien and Sedition Acts which made it a high crime to criticize any governmental activity. By 1800 and the end of the war, the hateful Acts vanished and the Federalist Party followed within a score of years. During the Civil War, the Republicans, frightened at the thought of pro-Confederate terrorists lurking behind every courthouse, adopted a whole slew of repressive acts designed to curb dissent and root out the Southern evil. But the Supreme Court ruled in ex Parte Milligan that Lincoln and boys reached too far, that violating the rights of peaceful citizens was beyond contempt. This bell rang out eventual radical defeat over Reconstruction and the irony of Lincoln’s policies lies in the continued perpetuation of race hatred and segregation in the land due to the discrediting of Republican policies. In World War I, Woodrow Wilson’s government made ‘The World Safe for Democracy’ by stifling dissent at home with a replay of the old Alien and Sedition Acts. War protestors, radicals, and communists were deported in droves. Our own Helen Keller thought she might get a free trip east across the ocean. The Democrats lost the election of 1920 and Wilson’s noble idea for a League of Nations never enjoyed the support of the United States. This, of course, led straight to World War II. The so-called Patriot Act needs a check from history, starting, of course with the introduction from Ecclesiastes.

Regularly the scripturally inclined trumpet that this is a Christian nation founded on Christian values. Then how can this passage from Paul’s ‘Letter to the Romans’ be explained? “Everyone is to obey the governing authorities, because there is no authority except from God and so whatever authorities exist have been appointed by God. So anyone who disobeys an authority is rebelling against God’s ordinance; and rebels must expect to receive the condemnation they deserve.” This is from Chapter 13, verse 1 and 2. Is George Washington languishing in hell today for leading a rebellion and not repenting of his sin? Back in England, a number of members of Parliament supported the rebels in America as protecting traditional English liberty far off in the colonies. In this, these guys like Edmund Burke, darling of modern conservatives, and Johnny Bourgoyne, failed Redcoat general, resemble Teddy Kennedy and the congressional leaders who opposed the Viet Nam War. But the most important of the politicians who supported the country—and who the founding generation thought of us a genuine patron—was John Wilkes. Historically, Mr. Wilkes has two strikes. First, he was the great-uncle of John Wilkes Booth. Secondly, he was a card-carrying Satanist who was once arrested for performing a Black Mass over the nude body of a young woman in a deconsecrated church. He organized a sophisticated protest movement admired by Ben Franklin, our own dedicated libertine, which became closely linked to colonial protests and eventually, to the congress movement in the 1760s and early 1770s. The founding generation of patriots thought so much of him that all sorts of places are named for him: Wilkes County, Georgia, and Wilkesboro, Vermont are just two. Most importantly, those who proclaim that this is a Christian country ignore history: every nation from the Roman Empire to the present, which has established Christianity by law, has failed. Judaism is the religion of God’s Chosen People. Islam is the religion of a conquest state. Christianity is the religion of individuals gathered together in voluntary associations called churches. Nowhere in the New Testament is any reference to any political division—city, town, or country.

Prayer in the public schools gets promoted as a sure fire path back to virtue. Name a cultural ill in the country; prayer in classrooms in the morning will solve it! Forget the Supreme Court ruling back in the early 1960s! Throw away all the arguments used in courts from that time forward to prevent me from praying with students. Matthew, Chapter 6 verses 5 and 6 commands us to pray silently. “And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them. In truth when you pray, go to your private room, shut yourself in, and so pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.” You can count football games, morning prayer in churches, and even saying a blessing at a public event as being against the teaching in Matthew.

“Traditional Values” is a bottomless well of intellectual vacuity. The so-called Christian marriage gets invoked to accomplish all manner of interesting tasks like subjugating women, establishing the inferiority of children, and even promoting the old double standard of sexual conduct. But in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus is quoted as saying “…..a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife and the two become one flesh.” This comes from Matthew, Chapter 19, v. 5. It is repeated in Mark. Genesis, however, also says the same thing in Chapter 2, verse 22. Does this mean that all Christians have to do be married is move in together? This sure is the implication. So perhaps our astounding divorce rate—among fundamentalistic and evangelical Christians, by the way—comes from the failure to honor the admonition of Jesus which resonates with simplicity and puts a lot of dress makers, gardeners, and even preachers out of work.

On a higher shelf of consciousness than the future of the so-called Confederate Battle Flag, Helen Keller’s politics, and the status of Alabama football flops Judge Moore’s epic monument to his political future, a stone engraving of The Ten Commandments, in English, of course. Ignored in the cultural conflagration raging out of control from Montgomery to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court by all sides are the words of Jesus on the subject. Again, Jesus, quoted in Matthew, simplifies all of this for us. “…You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole law, and the prophets too.” This also shows up in Mark All of this is pretty clear except for one small detail. Who is our neighbor? How about anybody who is not us? This, then, includes everyone regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion, racial views, or politics. Don’t we believe this? Doesn’t this sum up our vaunted principles we recite each week? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if Judge Moore took this seriously?

My father, the late colonel, used the dinner table and the long road trip to argue. He didn’t care about belief, he valued logic. He cherished the way in which a conclusion arrived. It is his thought that I leave with you. “You don’t have to believe any of this. But you do have to know it and respect that knowledge.” I think he was talking about Jean Jacques Rousseau and his idea of the General Will while we drove to Texas in a snow storm back in 1963. But he could just as easily have been speaking of The Bible. Our heritage intersects with our beliefs and demands that we respond when we are challenged or confront errors leading to hate and a lack of toleration. Thanks.


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