Racism and Conspiracy Theories are Incompatible with Christianity

As I scroll through social media, I’m disturbed by much of what I see. What we’re seeing is an unprecedented time in world history where information is so easily shared and, at least for the most part, this is a good thing. Unfortunately, this also means that the ease of sharing false and misleading information is also easy. Constantly, I’m seeing Christians share articles that call into question whether or not COVID-19 is real and even how the entire virus was a conspiracy by the Democrats (how this would even be plausible, I have no idea). One video even went to great lengths to try and connect Kobe Bryant’s death to COVID-19 (the mental gymnastics needed for that gave me a headache).

The sharing of racism is also easier than ever. The killing of Ahmaud Arbery has exposed a lot of racism on social media. The father and son who claim they believed he was responsible for burglaries in their neighborhood have been arrested due to a viral video clearly showing that all that occurred was the senseless killing of an unarmed man of color who was only jogging through a neighborhood. Yet, people are defending the actions of these two men, actions that amount to a lynching, which were fueled by the ugly sin of racism. Ahmaud Arbery was shot for being a black man in a white neighborhood.

I’m shocked at the number of Christians who participate in these hijinks. And, pastors: Some of you are the worst.

People are dying because of racism and the denial of medical science. There have been numerous killings of young black men in particular simply for being black and for being in the “wrong place (people like Ahmaud Arbery have just as much right to be jogging down the street as anyone else). People are believing the pseudoscience and outright lies contained in conspiracy articles and videos such as “Plandemic” and are dying because of their distrust of valid, peer reviewed scientific fact (in addition to common sense). The Christians who are sharing these articles are bearing false witness, a false witness that can literally end with someone needlessly dying.

Scripture is clear about a lot of things and speaks clearly to the larger issues surrounding racism and the spread of conspiracy theories. Moses gave this as part of the law: “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16 NLT). Jesus further clarifies in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 that all people are ultimately our neighbor. In other words, to quote the great philosopher Harry Potter: “One mustn’t tell lies.” When we spread conspiracy theories or partake in racism, we are telling lies about our neighbors, in addition to putting our neighbors at risk. God’s law can be boiled down like this when he was asked which commandment was the greatest: “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 NLT)

When we hate our neighbor because of the color of their skin, we are breaking God’s law. When we share conspiracy videos that foster distrust of the medical community and are based on nothing more than a series of coincidences, quakary, and are motivated by personal gain from fame, we are breaking God’s law. We are failing to love our neighbors when we refuse to accept facts that don’t fit our wants and desires because we are putting them at risk.

Christians, we have to do better because to do otherwise is sin.

Pastors, I want to talk to you (and myself) for a moment: Our words have a lot of power. People will take what we say as gospel more often than we perhaps realize. If we use our social media to shed doubt on a racially motivated killing or to spread lies that deny established medical facts then we are leading our people astray. People could die because of your actions. Have you ever considered that? Have you considered that people could not take precautions against COVID-19 because you share a video or an article that sheds doubt on a global crisis? Have you considered that could lead them to their death? Pastors, stop spreading these articles and videos. Stop being silent in the face of racism. Doing otherwise does mean that you are neglecting your office, abusing your power, and being irresponsible with your flock. Fact check. It takes all of thirty seconds to disprove almost all of the conspiracy theories floating around by simply using Google. As for racism, scripture is pretty clear on that. If you cast doubt on racism, it’s not me you have a problem with.

Are we truly disciples? Are we truly committed to Christ? Then we must be committed to loving our neighbors regardless of the color of their skin. We must be committed to sharing the truth and encouraging people take pandemics seriously. We have to practice what we preach and claim to believe.

Racism and conspiracy theories are incompatible with Christian teaching and belief. There’s simply no way around that.

“We Don’t Need to Stream:” Lies Churches Believe

I want to tell you a story about a guy named Vlad. First, you need to know that Vlad is not this man’s real name, it’s an alternate identity he crafted for himself as part of his hard rock lifestyle. Vlad is a guy from Kentucky who found the Facebook page for the church I was serving while I was in seminary. At some point, I noticed that this guy named Vlad was liking the streams of the sermons from our services. Soon after that, he reached out to chat about faith and I came to realize that he had experienced a lot of judgment and hurt at the hands of the church due to his hard living. Finally, one of my final Sundays in Kentucky, he showed up to meet me in person and to experience a service in-person. We lost touch a while back but I continue to pray for him and give thanks for his being receptive to God’s grace.

All of this happened because of streaming.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, I’ve had some conversations with pastors who simply do not see the value in streaming. The excuses run the gamut from a lack of equipment to “my people don’t use Facebook.” I get that there are true challenges for some churches and people to be able to stream but the vast majority can be overcome with a little creativity. We don’t need fancy productions and equipment. As for people within the congregation not using Facebook or being receptive to streaming, my experience has been that that is not entirely true. In fact, when I first started to really look, I was surprised at the people within a congregation that do use social media more than I was at who does not. I can promise you, if you believe streaming is of no value because your people aren’t using social media, you might be surprised.

Also remember that we don’t stream only for the people who are currently in the church. Consider the Vlads of the world who might discover your stream and decide to check out your worship service or even Jesus for the first time.

There has been much discussion on how the church will come out of the pandemic and whether or not we will cling to the lessons we have learned during this time. I pray that we do. I pray that we continue to embrace new ways of doing worship and discipleship. Your website and social media are the virtual front doors of your congregation. Continue to welcome people and to invite them to your physical doors but know that virtual you is the first taste most people will get of you and your congregation.

“We don’t need to stream” is a lie straight from the enemy to keep you from reaching more people than you ever could only from your pulpit.

May we not forget these lessons and may we continue to embrace them. Only by continuing to embrace these new opportunities will the church come out of the pandemic stronger than when we entered. The Vlads in your midst are not going to come to you, you must go to them. From the largest congregations to the smallest, it’s time for us to embrace new opportunities at reaching new people for Jesus.

An Open Letter to Pastors Still Having In-Person Worship Services

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

First, you need to know that this comes from a place of deep love in Jesus Christ. My intention is not to start a fight or to bash you. However, I need to have some real talk for a minute. If you’re continuing to have worship services with your congregation in your building, you’re not making good decisions. These choices are anything but faithful or loving. You’re putting your people in danger and for what? To show how devoted to God you are? If that’s your idea of faithfulness, you’re doing it wrong.

I’m a Methodist and, like any good Methodist, I believe there is credibility in John Wesley’s General Rules for the early Methodist Societies. Wesley came up with these rules as a summary of the teachings of Jesus Christ. The rules are:

  • Do no Harm
  • Do Good
  • Attend to the Ordinances of God (or: “Stay in Love with God”)

How can we justify placing our people in harm’s way? How are we doing good when we expose our parishioners to a disease that could kill them? How are we attending to God’s ordinances by taking such a big risk? The short answer to all of these is, “We aren’t.” Thinking that we are somehow immune to a disease like COVID-19 is arrogant and prideful. As I saw on social media post just this morning:

“The blood of Jesus is a vaccine against sin, not against viruses.”

COVID-19 does not care how strong your faith is. COVID-19 does not care big, small, or loud your church is. There has been a direct link to churches and the spread of COVID-19. Again I ask: Why are we being so reckless?

Pastors, we have got to love our people enough to shut this down. We have got to love God enough to not put our people in harm’s way. Doing so does not please God. Frankly, you can throw all the scripture (and I’m sure a lot of it way would be used way out of its context) you want at me but we do not please God when we mistreat our flocks in such ways. Are we not shepherds, whose jobs it is to care for the flocks that we have been entrusted with? Sometimes being a shepherd means doing what’s best for our people even if they don’t like it. Sometimes it means saying no. In this season, being a good shepherd means telling our people to stay home.

If you’re having drive up services and think this will keep the virus from spreading, well, I don’t believe you’ve thought this through. I considered doing this at Easter and then I researched it further. Upon studying, I decided that even a drive up service was not a good idea. Mississippi’s United Methodist Bishop, James Swanson, sent a note to pastors strongly discouraging such gatherings. First, depending on who you ask, these gatherings may violate shelter-in-place orders and bans on gatherings over ten people. Second, let me give you a hypothetical situation to consider:

Let’s say there are people in cars next to each other and have their windows down (reality is not everyone is going to leave their cars cranked even if there is low power FM). One of them coughs and the droplets go into the next car. Say someone walks through the droplet field when they go to the bathroom. And say any of them have severe underlying conditions. You’ve not only infected people but probably killed someone all in an attempt to be faithful.

Even if you give instructions to remain in vehicles or to keep windows up, there’s no guarantee that people will do this. And, really, what can we do to compel people to follow these instructions? Not much, and really nothing concrete.

Is this blood really what we want to have on our souls and on our hands?

I love being together as much as anyone else and I miss this terribly, but I love my people more. I want them to be as safe and healthy as possible, which is why I have indefinitely called off all in-person activities at my churches. My love for my people is why I’m taking advantage of modern technologies like Facebook Live, which I count as a gift from God, to facilitate worship and discipleship. Keeping my people away is the best way I can love them right now. This does not mean that I like making such decisions but these decisions are ones I know needed to be made.

I know you love your people too. I know you want what’s best for them. But please consider suspending in-person activities as an act of love. Perhaps you’re afraid of resentment, being undermined, or losing your job. I get it. But, as I stated above, sometimes being a shepherd means doing what’s best for our people whether they like it or not. If you decide to start using Facebook Live and I can help in any way, please reach out. You can also read some thoughts I’ve already posted about streaming here.

Do no harm. Love your people enough to tell them to stay home.

We're Not Called to be Selfish

True disciples of Jesus are not selfish people; we are called to be selfless

Yesterday, I ran across an account of a priest in Italy who was stricken with COVID-19 and on a ventilator. USA Today ran an article about him and his sacrifice.

Don Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, was the archpriest of Casnigo, a town in northern Italy about 50 miles northeast of Milan.

According to Italian news site Prima Bergamo, Berardelli died sometime between March 15 and 16 and was being treated at a hospital in nearby Lovere, as his condition worsened.

A health care worker at the hospital told the Italian online news outlet Araberara that Berardelli was given a ventilator but the priest refused it so someone who was younger than him could use it.

USA Today https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2020/03/24/covid-19-italian-priest-who-donated-his-ventilator-has-reportedly-died/2906351001/

This is who I want to be when I grow up.

We’re not all called to give up a life-saving machine for the sake of another but Christians are called to show sacrificial love to our neighbors. After all, sacrificial love is the example that Jesus gave during His ministry in this world and at the cross. This is love in action, proving that love is not a mere emotion. To draw inspiration from prominent theologians Toby Mac and dc Talk: “Love (I can’t misspell it like they did, sorry) is a verb.”

COVID-19 has revealed a lot about the world. As for whether these things have been good or bad, I believe we can agree that the result has been a bit of both. We have seen so many people coming together for the common good, doing whatever they can to make sure children continue to have food and that other vulnerable persons are taken care of. Unfortunately, we have also seen another side: Jacking up prices on essential items in light of a crisis. And, perhaps even worse, we have seen people hoarding items such as bottled water, frozen food, and even toilet paper out of fear of the items running out. I have found myself at a major loss in light of these events. The term I used just today in response to Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick saying that our grandparents should be willing to be sacrificed for the good our economy was, “I’m out of evens. Completely out.”

Last week, I took to Facebook Live to encourage my friends not to respond to our current crisis with fear but out of a place of love. I used the account out of Exodus 16 to illustrate how God had always provided for our needs and always would. But God something something else: He instructed the people to to take only what they needed for the day and no more. If they gathered more than they actually needed…

Then Moses told them, ‘Do not keep any of it until morning.’ But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. Moses was very angry with them.

Exodus 16:19-20 (NLT)

God gave them the instructions to only gather what they actually needed for a reason: He was always going to supply the manna (bread) and the quail that they needed and would never forget to feed them. If they gathered more than they needed – that is, if they hoarded – then the leftover would rot and no one would be able to benefit from it. Later, Jesus said to His disciples (yes, that includes those of us who want to be His disciples today), “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19 NLT)

Friends, disciples don’t hoard. We are people of faith, not fear. We know that God is always going to look out for us and that he will never forget to feed us, clothe us, or to give us implements for the cleanliness of our tush.

We are called to share, to give sacrificially. I encourage you to please only take what you need so that others can benefit. God could be using you to enable the provision for one of your neighbors. We are not creatures of fear, we are creatures of hope and love. This is the example that our Lord gives us.

Let us go and do likewise.

To Pastors and Churches Having Online Worship Today

“O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” Psalm 95:6 (NLT)

Dear Pastors Leading Worship Online Today:

I see you. More importantly, God sees you. I’m in this boat with you so I’m experiencing this “new normal” with you. And, like you, I will get the experience of leading prayer, proclaiming scripture, and preaching a sermon in an empty worship space (minus two musicians and our worship leader) to only my cell phone and whomever watches on Facebook Live and our website. Like you, I’m having to fumble my way through and figure things out. Like you, I’m nervous, yet excited at what God is going to do through our efforts today.

It’s going to be weird. It’s going to be different. It’s also going to be OK.

God sees you as you have had to make difficult decisions, often while receiving flack from your congregation and other clergy. Claims of your “lack of faith” sting but hopefully ring hollow. God knows better. He knows that your first concern is for the safety of your flock, the flock that He entrusted you with when you were called or appointed. Calling off in-person worship today and for however long is necessary does not make you a poor pastor, nor does it mean you lack faith. Making these tough decisions means that you are being a good shepherd. Not exposing your people to a disease that could kill them means you love them. You’re not reckless with your flock. Instead, this is how you love them. If some in your congregation don’t realize this now, they will. And they will be grateful.

While online worship is not a replacement for in-person community, it will have to do for now. Thanks be to God for modern technology that He can use to keep people connected to Him and to lead them in worship. My prayer for you – for all of us – is that we remember that God can be glorified anywhere and in so many more ways other than sitting in a pew or on a chair. Like you, I long for the day when we can return to our worship spaces but for now I will lead in the best way that I can. My encouragement to you is to seek to do the same. God is with you. God is with your people. And God will be worshipped and glorified today and for however long this is our “normal.”

Press on. Be bold for the Kingdom. Preach the word just as strongly as you would in front of a congregation. The truth is, you still are preaching to a congregation, only for now they are disbursed. Try to ignore the criticism and outright shaming. God is proud of you for pressing on in spite of what the world is enduring right now. God is using you.

Most of all, God loves you.

Offered to you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by a fellow preacher in the trenches…

Got a Smartphone? You Can Stream Your Service

If you have a smartphone, you have everything you need to stream your service.

With COVID-19 causing many congregations to shut their doors to the public, there has been a lot of discussion of streaming worship. There have been articles about everything it takes in order to stream, several of which includes a laundry list of expensive equipment to buy. I’ve been streaming my sermons since 2015 and when it comes to needing an expensive set up in order to stream effectively, I only have this to say: Bullbutter.

If you have a smartphone, you have everything you need in order to stream your worship service.

Typically, I go with a very basic set up using my phone. Here, I will lay out what I typically use and give some tips. I will also talk briefly about copyright issues.

A note: I’m not a “guru” or some other expert. I’m just a pastor who has been doing this for a bit and can offer some tips. I will also list the equipment that I employ and provide links for you to look at these for yourself but know that this is only for information – I receive no compensation at all so feel free to buy or not buy what you wish.

“Why Should I Stream?”

Some believe that streaming the service will keep people from attending in person but the opposite is actually true. Streaming the service is a way in which new people can find us in order to connect in community. Online worship is not a replacement for physical community. Unless someone has a reason that they simply can not attend worship physically – such as frequent travel or health issues – most people will use a streamed service as a “first look” at a congregation they are interesting in visiting. Putting a stream online can reach new people and act as an invitation to join the community in person (after the pandemic is over, of course).

Equipment

Again I emphasize that you do not need a fancy set up to stream. As I stated above: If you have a smartphone, then you have everything you need in order to stream. Seriously. Typically, I use my Apple iPhone X on a small tripod made for smartphones placed on the pulpit (here is one similar to the one I use). This works since all I have been typically streaming is the sermon. You will want something adjustable so that you can make sure your shot is level and steady. If you plan to stream more than just the sermon, I would recommend a bigger tripod such as this one so that you can make sure to include shots of worship leaders and the choir.

Another important thing on using your phone: Turn your orientation lock off and turn your phone to landscape (sideways). Doing this will provide a wide shot which will make the video look better on many kinds of screens. You want your video to give the best possible presentation for you and your congregation. Taking this step will go a long way in improving your quality.

When it comes to sound, if you’re only streaming the sermon you can likely use your phone’s built-in microphone and be just fine. However, if you want better sound quality or if you plan to stream more than just the sermon, you will want to invest in a better microphone. The one I use and have found to be of amazing quality is the Shure Mv88 iOS Stereo Microphone. This microphone plugs directly into your lightning port and provides excellent sound quality. If you choose to use audio recording for podcasting – something else you can do straight from your phone – you can use the Shure app to adjust the settings on the microphone and to capture audio. For Android phones, there are several options that will plug into your USB port. I can’t speak to these so I encourage you to consult an audio professional for guidance. My personal recommendation would be either a local music supply store or the amazing folks at Sweetwater.

EDIT: I’ve since exchanged emails with a sales engineer at Sweetwater who has educated me on feeding sound directly from a mixer/soundboard to your device. The audio interface he recommended is the PreSonus AudioBox iTwo and even included a tutorial on how this works. I am going to look into this and will provide a follow up should I work this out.

Internet?

With most cell phone plans having unlimited data, this should not be a major hurdle. I use my carrier’s LTE signal and this works just fine for streaming. If your church has any kind of wifi that reaches your worship space, you should also have enough bandwidth. The more bandwidth you have available – that is, the faster the connection – the better quality of video you can stream. If you have no cellular signal or wifi available at your church, don’t let this stop you from putting your worship service online. You can use your smartphone’s video recording feature to record the service and then upload it afterward.

Which Streaming Platform?

If you search Google for streaming services, you will be overwhelmed with the sheer number of services out there that cater to churches. Many have their advantages and disadvantages and if you hope to grow your streaming later on these services may be worth investigating. But if you’re only wanting to get through the pandemic or do something very basic, you need not worry about this. If you didn’t know, you don’t have to pay for a streaming provider because you can access Facebook Live or YouTube for free. If your church has a Facebook page, I would highly recommend streaming via Facebook Live from the church page. YouTube may be nice if you want to reach a different audience but Facebook is where I would start. All you need is the Facebook mobile app and you can go live on your church page from your smartphone.

Edit: I have since found out about a service offered by Outreach.com that allows churches streaming their services on Facebook Live or YouTube to provide a stream to their church website. The best part: It’s free! Click here to check it out.

Staying Legal

If you’re only streaming the sermon along with other spoken parts, you will be fine and won’t have to purchase any sort of license. However, if you plan to stream any music, you will probably need to purchase a streaming license in order to be covered. Copyright is a tricky thing and I won’t discuss all of the ins and outs of the laws here. Unless all of the music you use in your church is in the public domain – and I can almost guarantee must of it is not – then you will need to ensure that copyright is protected and you make sure that royalties are paid.

There are several options to be in compliance and, thankfully, this is not overly complicated. If your church already has a CCLI license, you can add on a streaming license for a small additional fee based on your average worship attendance. One License is another organization that you can also utilize in order to be compliant. One License is also offering a free month of stream licensing in the wake of COVID-19. The license is good until April 15, 2020. Click here for more information.

“Wrap, Wrap, Wrap”

To wrap up, I hope you see that streaming your worship service is not as scary as you may think it is. In all likelihood, you already have most if not all of the things you need to stream well. If you have other questions, fee free to reach out in a comment or by my social media and I will gladly give any help I can. Engaging with the world through social media is vital to ministry in the 21st century. Streaming our services is an important way to connect.

One More Time: “Why Should My Church Stream?”

“The world is my parish.” – John Wesley

Pastoring in a Pandemic

This has got to the most challenging time for ministry so far, at least in my short career. When I began candidacy and seminary, I never imagined that I would find myself ministering in the midst of a global pandemic. There were no classes offered on how to manage a congregation in the midst of a true global crisis. And yet, like so many other clergy, here I am learning as I go. Trial by fire has been a constant in my life so why not now? I’m here, do the best I can, making mistakes, but trying to learn from them. It helps to know that I’m not alone.

And as a reminder: Neither are you. You are not alone.

So, at least for this season, this is our new normal. I’m having to get use to doing nearly all of my pastoral care by phone since I can not go visit any of my parishioners right now. I’m having to navigate coordinating an online worship service and making sure we do things like stay in compliance with copyright and have the best sound possible on a shoestring (thankfully, I believe we’ve figured this out). I’m resigning myself to the fact that, for the first time in my career, Sunday I will be preaching to only the musicians and to my phone while people watch on our Facebook page. It’s absolutely different but it’s also the best we can offer to our folks, all things considered.

I’ve come across some people who have said that online worship streaming is invalid. To them I say: Save it. Streaming is not meant to be a permanent replacement for a community of faith but also it’s simply not safe to gather as a body at this time. In the early church, the body was disbursed and had to meet in small groups in houses. They used what they had available to them to continue worshipping in the face of persecution. In this situation, we must do the same but, thanks be to God, we now have modern technology whereby God can work in ways we never imagined. The awesome part about that is, he is using everyday people to do this. I have long been a proponent of using streaming technology for worship and we are now at a place where this can truly become mainstream.

I have no sage advice to offer from a ministry standpoint. Like everyone else, I’m fumbling my way through this and learning how to do ministry in the face of a pandemic. But I will say this: I am a former healthcare worker and, while I was no doctor (I was a paramedic), I learned a few things in school and educated myself on many topics that school did not cover. I’m no epidemiologist by any means but I can say this: COVID-19, and diseases like it, is no joke. This is highly contagious. The numbers are honestly frightening. Reuters did a great graphic that illustrates how COVID-19 spread in South Korea. One person attending worship ended up infecting over 1,000 people. You can see the data for yourself here. If this happened in your congregation, how many would that impact? How many outside of your congregation could it impact? How many people could die as a result?

Shut it down.

Please, take the warnings seriously. Do your part to flatten the curve. Swap to online worship and discipleship with the knowledge that this is not permanent. Reach out to your parishioners and make sure they’re cared for. Do visits by phone and FaceTime. Is all of this different? Absolutely. But it’s also necessary.

“And the best of all is, God is with us.” – John Wesley