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Is the IFB Church Movement a Cult? Part Five

In part five of this series, I want to deal with the elevation of men in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement. (If you don’t know what an IFB church is, please read What is an IFB Church?) In the IFB church movement, egalitarianism is strictly forbidden. According to IFB preachers, God, in the inspired, infallible, inerrant Bible, has decreed a hierarchy that must be followed if a church or a family wants to be blessed by God. Failure to follow the Biblical hierarchy could result in the judgment of God, along with failed churches, marriages, and rebellious children.

Last year, in a post titled Are You a Real Man, I wrote:

The Bible, they say, teaches a hierarchy for the family. The husband is the head of the home. He is the provider and protector and he is the authority God has placed in the home.  The wife is to submit to her husband. Why? Because the Bible says so:

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22)

The Bible also says that the husband is to RULE over his wife:

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. (Genesis 3:16)

Not only are men rule over women in the home, they also are to  rule over them in the church:

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)

In the instructions that Paul gives to the young preacher Timothy, he tells him that elders (pastors) in the church are to be :

one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;(for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (1 Timothy 3:4.5)

The family hierarchy found in the Bible is explicitly complementarian. (each sex have separate, defined roles in the church and in the home)

Why do women need to be ruled? Is there something inherently wrong with women that they need someone to rule over them? The Bible has this to say about women:

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands…For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord…Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel… (1 Peter 3:1-7)

Why are women commanded to submit to their husbands, to be in subjection to them, to have men rule over them in the home and the church? Because they are the WEAKER vessel. Married women, women in the church, and daughters who live at home, all need men to protect them, care for them, and provide a covering for them. It is hard not to conclude, based on these verses, that women would perish from the earth if it were not for men.

The same kind of thinking applies to the church. In a post titled The IFB pastor, I wrote:

IFB pastors generally see themselves as a New Testament version of an Old Testament prophet. Called by God, given an inspired, inerrant Bible, the IFB pastor proclaims the Words of God. He is God’s mouthpiece. He has been given the responsibility to rule the church. He has been called by God to labor in word and doctrine. He is responsible for the care of the church. (deacons are given the responsibility of caring for the temporal needs of the church, Acts 6)

Next to God, the pastor is head of the church. As a man called by God, and as a man who God uniquely speaks to through the work of the Holy Spirit, the pastor is God’s authority in the church. (not much different from the Pope in the Catholic church)

Let me illustrate this for you. Here are a few excerpts from a noted IFB church’s constitution:

…The Holy Scriptures. We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the verbally and plenarily inspired Word of God. The Scriptures are inerrant, infallible and God-breathed, and therefore are the final authority for faith and life. The sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament are the complete and divine revelation of God to man. The Scriptures shall be interpreted according to their normal grammatical-historical meaning, and all issues of interpretation and meaning shall be determined by the Pastor. The King James Version of the Bible shall be the official and only translation used by the church (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter1:20-21)…

…On becoming a member of this church, in addition to the Statement of Faith, each one further covenants to love, honor, and esteem the pastor; to pray for him; to recognize his authority in spiritual affairs of the church; to cherish a brotherly love for all members of the church; to support the church in prayer, tithes, offerings, and with other financial support as the Lord enables; and in accordance with Biblical Commands, to support through a lifestyle walk the beliefs and practices of the church…

…This congregation functions not as a pure democracy, but as a body under the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ and the direction of the pastor as the undershepherd with the counsel of the board of deacons. Determinations of the internal affairs of this church are ecclesiastical matters and shall be determined exclusively by the church’s own rules and procedures. The pastor shall oversee and/or conduct all aspects of this church. The board of deacons shall give counsel and assistance to the pastor…

…Membership in this church does not afford the members with any property, contractual, or civil rights based on principles of democratic government. Although the general public is invited to all of the church’s worship services, the church property remains private property. The pastor (or in his absence, an individual designated by the board of deacons) has the authority to suspend or revoke the right of any person, including a member, to enter or remain on church property. If, after being notified of such a suspension or revocation, the person enters or remains on church property, the person may, in the discretion of the pastor (or in his absence, an individual designated by the board of deacons), be treated as a trespasser…

…The membership of any individual member shall be automatically terminated without notice if the member in question has not attended a regular worship service of the church in the preceding six months. Upon good cause being shown to the pastor, this provision for termination may be waived in the case of any individual member at the discretion of the pastor

This church’s constitution states very clearly who is in charge of the church when it details the duties and powers of officers:

(A) The pastor shall preach the Gospel regularly and shall be at liberty to preach the whole counsel of the Word of God as the Lord leads him. He shall administer the ordinances of the church, act as moderator at all church meetings for the transaction of church matters, supervise the teaching ministries of the church, and tenderly watch over the spiritual interest of the membership.The Pastor shall serve as the president of the corporation. He shall publicly inform all newly appointed deacons of the particular function and the responsibilities of their respective offices and perform such other duties as generally appertain to such a position. The pastor shall be free to choose the means and methods by which he exercises the ministry that God has given him.(B) All appointments for public worship and Bible study and the arrangements thereof, including time and place and the use of the property belonging to the church for purposes other than the stated appointments, shall be under the control of the pastor.

pastoral authority

In most IFB churches, the church is under the control and authority of one man, the pastor. While some IFB churches have a deacon board or elder board, these boards often are little more than YES men for the pastor. This is especially the case in IFB churches where the pastor has been there for a number of years. (young IFB preachers are encouraged to pastor one church for their entire life)

Every major office in the IFB church is filled a man. It is men who have the final say on what goes on in the church. While women may be allowed to vote at congregational meetings, they have very little actual power in the church. They are relegated to  secretarial work, nursery duty, teaching children, playing the piano, singing in the choir, cooking food for fellowship dinners, or cleaning the church. Again, according to the Biblical hierarchy men are to lead and women are to quietly and submissively follow. (You might be interested in reading, Why Would Any Woman Want to be an Evangelical Christian?)

It should be readily evident to all but those blinded by their IFB beliefs, that this kind of hierarchical thinking leads to all kinds of mental, emotional, and, at times, physical abuse. Male pastors are given almost absolute control and power over the congregation. Husbands,following the teachings of their pastor tend to exert absolute control and power over their wife and children. In the church and in the home, women are often reminded that God put men in charge because they are a weaker vessel in need of a man’s protection. They are also frequently reminded that their role, ordered by God,  is to marry, bear children, spread their legs when their husband demands it, and keep the home.

Quite like the Catholic church, the IFB church is a male-only club. While women are tolerated because of the benefits they give to men, they are in no way equal or valued. While I am sure that most IFB preachers and leaders will strenuously object to this, all one has to do is sit down with former female IFB church members and ask them how they felt while attending an IFB church. Ask them about their preacher’s sermons on the home, marriage, pastoral authority, and God’s divine order. Their testimonies will bear witness to the truth of what I have written her.

Is this kind of thinking cultic?  Ask yourself, is it cultic to use a religious text to control, dominate, and demean others? Is it cultic to rob women of personal autonomy and self-esteem? Is it cultic to threaten church members with God’s judgment if they go against the pastor? Is it cultic for one man or a small group of men to control every aspect of a church member’s life?

I think you know the answer.


What is hard for many of us to admit is that we were once a part of a cult or a church that had cultic tendencies. This is doubly so for someone like me who was an IFB church member and an IFB pastor. While I was not as extreme as some in the IFB church, I must admit that some of my preaching and tactics had a cultic ring to it. While I left this kind of thinking behind years before I left the ministry, I still must bear the burden of those I hurt through my preaching. I must bear the burden of wives and children who were emotionally and physically harmed by men who took seriously my preaching on men being the authority figure in the home. I must also bear the burden of how this kind of thinking hurt my own wife and family. While I was simply modeling what I had been taught and I was ignorant of the implications of my beliefs, I am still accountable for what happened as a result of my preaching.

Published: April 23, 2014 | Comments: 0

Duke Energy Threatens Higher Rates over Proposed Coal Ash Regulation

duke energy coal ash
Consider this scenario:

I have a business located near the river where your city draws the water you drink. This business of mine makes a dangerous, toxic product, which is stored outside, that would ruin your city’s water source. The safest course of action would be to require me, the business owner, the one who makes this dangerous, toxic product, to move the production/storage of it to a different place. I refuse, saying that moving it would be cost prohibitive and it would likely result in you paying me money for moving it.  Instead of moving the production of this dangerous, toxic product that is stored outside near the river where your city draws the water you drink, I want to put a plastic tarp over it.

Would you be OK with me just putting a plastic tarp over a dangerous, toxic product that could pollute and ruin your water supply? I suspect you would say NO and you would expect me to move this dangerous, toxic product away from the river so there is no possibility of it getting into the water. Since I put the product near the river, I suspect you would expect me to pay the cost for moving it. After all, it is my business and my product.

In February 2014, CBS reported:

North Carolina officials said Tuesday that groundwater containing unsafe levels of arsenic apparently leaching from a Duke Energy coal ash dump is still pouring into the Dan River, which is already contaminated from a massive Feb. 2 spill.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources ordered Duke to stop the flow of contaminated water coming out a pipe that runs under a huge coal ash dump at its Eden power plant. A nearby pipe at the same dump collapsed without warning two weeks ago, coating the bottom of the Dan River with toxic ash as far as 70 miles downstream.

State regulators expressed concern five days ago that the second pipe could fail, triggering a new spill. The water coming out of that pipe contains poisonous arsenic at 14 times the level considered safe for human contact, according to test results released by the state on Tuesday.

“We are ordering Duke Energy to eliminate this unauthorized discharge immediately,” said Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources.

Video taken last week by a robot sent inside the 36-inch-wide concrete pipe showed wide gaps between seams through which groundwater is gushing in, likely from the toxic dump above.

Tests on water from the pipe before it goes under the dump showed none of the dangerous contamination detected at the other end. The concrete inside the pipe is heavily stained around the numerous leaks, suggesting the contamination is likely not new.

A state inspector received the video recorded by Duke during a Feb. 11 visit to the site, but did not review it until Thursday.  On Friday night, the state agency went public with concerns about the pipe’s structural integrity.

Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan quickly issued a statement, downplaying the risk.

“After reviewing the videotape, we determined that no immediate action was necessary,” it said…

…Meanwhile, Duke Energy announced Tuesday that its fourth-quarter profits jumped 58 percent after officials in North Carolina and other states approved hikes in the rates customers pay for electricity. The company had revenues of $24.6 billion for 2013.

George Everett, Duke’s director of environmental and legislative affairs, told state legislators this week that the company is sorry for the spill and will be accountable.

Any costs incurred because of the cleanup will likely be passed on to ratepayers, not shareholders, he said…

The North Carolina legislature is considering requiring Duke Energy to remove all of its coal ash away from state rivers and lakes. To me, this is the prudent, responsible thing to do, but as we all know, prudent and responsible is not what Duke Energy is known for. Instead of acting in an environmentally and socially responsible way, Duke Energy is only concerned with maximizing shareholder profits.

According to state officials:

…all of Duke’s 33 unlined dumps at 14 coal-fired power plants scattered across the state are oozing out contaminants into groundwater. All told, Duke has more than 100 million tons of the ash, which contains potentially harmful chemicals including arsenic, lead, mercury and chromium…

CBS reported today:

Duke Energy told North Carolina lawmakers Tuesday that removing all of the company’s coal ash away from the state’s rivers and lakes would take decades and cost up to $10 billion, with its electricity customers likely footing nearly all the bill.

In a presentation to a state legislative committee, Duke’s North Carolina president Paul Newton suggested the company needs flexibility to consider more cost-efficient options. The company’s proposal is to remove the coal ash from unlined dumps at four of its power plants, but then leave much of what is stored at 10 other sites in place after covering it with plastic and soil…

…Earlier this year, Brian Williams, a conservationist with the Dan River Basin Association, took a CBS News crew 20 miles downstream of the coal ash spill at a retired plant in Eden, N.C.

“It was just giant, gray sludge pouring into the river,” Williams said. “It’s down here on the bottom and it’s mixing with the sediment and it’s constantly leeching out the toxins that are in the coal ash.”..

The company has said it will pay for the spill cleanup, but may ask state regulators to raise the rates it charges customers for any additional costs incurred as a result of new regulations or requirements at its other sites…

Molly Diggins, speaking on behalf of the North Carolina Sierra Club, had this to say:

“Despite being a Fortune 500 company, with profits of $2.7 billion last year, Duke Energy has successfully been allowed to manage its wet coal ash waste as if the clock had stopped half a century ago. Coal ash is a can that has been kicked down the road for far too long. The Dan River spill was a terrible disaster, but it’s opened all our eyes to the reality that we need to deal with our state’s coal ash problem now. “

Duke Energy should be required to move the coal ash and pay for it from their company profits. It is Duke Energy, not the people of North Carolina, that are culpable for the pollution and environmental damage done to the state’s rivers, lakes, and ground water. What remains to be seen is whether North Carolina officials have the backbone to stand up to Duke Energy.

The governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, worked for Duke Energy for 28 years, and from 2000-2012, received $98,000 in direct contributions from Duke. The Institute for Southern Studies reports:

…Other analyses have turned up even larger figures for Duke Energy’s giving to McCrory, in part because they included donations from North Carolina-based Progress Energy, which is now a Duke subsidiary. For example, a 2013 report by the campaign finance watchdog group Democracy North Carolina found McCrory received over $300,000 in direct contributions for his 2008 and 2012 gubernatorial campaigns from Duke/Progress-related donors. In addition, Duke/Progress gave an additional $761,800 to the Republican Governors Association, a major GOP committee that helped McCrory’s campaign.

And earlier this year, Democracy North Carolina released a follow-up report that detailed an additional $437,000 in contributions from Duke/Progress donors to Republican causes in 2013. Meanwhile, how much the company may have contributed to Renew North Carolina, a pro-McCrory shadow campaign committee, is not known because the 501(c)(4) nonprofit is not legally required to disclose its donors and to date has not done so voluntarily.

Duke Energy, which became the nation’s largest utility following its merger with Progress Energy, has also contributed over $1 million to the campaigns of North Carolina lawmakers. In addition, a recent analysis by Facing South revealed the company contributed $175,000 to a Washington, D.C.-based Republican super PAC that played a major role in a 2012 North Carolina Supreme Court race. Duke Energy is current embroiled in two legal controversies — one over cleaning up its coal ash and the other over its merger with Progress Energy — that could eventually end up before the state’s high court…

It remains to be seen if Governor McCrory and the North Carolina state legislature will put the safety and welfare of North Carolinian’s ahead of the campaign donations they receive from Duke Energy.

Published: April 23, 2014 | Comments: 0

April Blog News

blog news

It’s the time of month when I share what is new on The Way Forward and I remind readers of the various ways they can access this blog, contact me, or make a donation.

Health News

Two simple words this month, not good.

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Guest Posts

I am always looking for people to write a guest post. Do you have something you would like to write about? Please let me know and I will gladly publish your guest post on The Way Forward.

You don’t have to be an atheist to write a guest post. Maybe you disagree with me on something and you want to set me straight. Write away… I am especially interested in publishing your deconversion story. If you need to, you can write anonymously.

Please use the contact form to send me your guest post.


Each month, a handful of people make a donation to the Bruce Gerencser Relief Fund. I appreciate each donation, regardless of the size. I view the donations as an act of kindness to me by my friends.

When I started blogging six years ago, I decided I did not want to have advertising on my blog. I don’t blog to make money. I blog because I need to write. Donations are always appreciated, but they will never determine whether I blog. In other words, you can’t buy me! :)

The donation form is on the sidebar if you would like to make a donation.

As always, thank you for reading The Way Forward. Your kindness and support mean a lot to me, and I know my life is richer because of it.

Until next month…


Published: April 22, 2014 | Comments: 0

How Well-Intentioned Healthy People Hurt the Chronically Ill

new chronic pain chart
pain chart by Allie Brosh

People who are chronically ill want to be thought of as being “normal”,no different from those who are not sick. They don’t like the focus being on their sickness, pain, or debility. They want to be part of the crowd, part of the family. Yet, they know that their sickness, pain, or debility has changed their life dramatically, making it impossible for them to have a “normal” life. For the chronically ill, their life is dominated by their illness, by doctors, tests, medications, and the daily physical/social reminders that their life is anything but “normal”.

The chronically ill person wants to be perceived as “normal”, even though they are not. It is this perception that often results in well-intentioned healthy people hurting the chronically ill. Often a well-intentioned healthy person knows how things really are for the chronically ill person, but they let the person’s perception dictate how they respond to them. We see a similar situation with elderly people who want to give the perception of being self-reliant when, in fact, they need the help of their family.

My life is dominated, controlled, and ordered by the chronic health problems I have. I don’t have the freedom to have a “normal” life. My body is in charge of my life, and even when I fight back, it punishes me for my disobedience. While this is my battle to fight, it often becomes complicated by the expectations and demands of others.

Over the years, I have been tortured by medical professionals who had no regard for my physical condition. They had a job to do and the pain and suffering it caused me was of little concern to them. (even when small concessions would have greatly reduced my pain and suffering)

I must have blood drawn 4-6 times a year. A couple of weeks ago, I went in for what I call my big draw. Seven tubes of blood are required to do all the tests ordered by my doctor. I am hard to stick and I usually request a specific person, if they are working at the time of my appointment, to do my blood draw. She is very good, always hitting the vein on the first try. For my most recent blood draw, she wasn’t working so I had another phlebotomist draw my blood. For ten minutes she tortured me before getting someone else to draw my blood. She went to my hand to draw the blood, which is painful and very, very slow. When I got home, I was exhausted and had to take a nap. On top of that, the band-aids they used caused my skin to break out.

Could the lab have done things differently for someone like me? Sure. They could allow patients to schedule with a specific phlebotomist. They could also invest in a vein finder that would make it easier to find the veins on people like me who have thick skin and deep veins. They could also use Lidocaine to lessen the pain from the blood draw.  They did none of these things because they had a job to do and my personal suffering and pain did not matter.

On my part, wanting to be perceived as a “good” patient, I gritted my mental teeth and endured. No one wants to be considered a pain in the ass patient, so the chronically ill often endure great pain and suffering at the hands of those who have little concern about the pain and suffering they cause others. (it is a myth that everyone who works in the medical profession loves to help others) This is why medical professionals need to be trained to look beyond how the patient wants to be perceived and see how they can best help them. Sometimes, suffering and pain is a part of the process and there is no way to lessen it, But, in many cases, the suffering and pain can be reduced if the medical professional is willing to take the time to do so.

The same goes for family. The chronically ill person wants to be perceived as a good spouse, parent, or grandparent, so they will often do things for their family that they shouldn’t. Because their family is focused on perception rather than reality, they will sometimes ask their chronically ill family member to do things that hurt them. They don’t intend to do so, but regardless of intent, their actions can and do hurt the chronically ill family member.

chronic pain

Family members need to pay attention to what is REALLY going on in the chronically ill person’s life. In my case, if they KNOW that certain things are quite painful for me or cause me to bedridden for days, they shouldn’t ask me to do those things. I know when I bring this issue up with my children, they often tell me that it is up to me to draw the lines. If I say YES, they assume I can. What they often fail to understand is that I say YES because I want to rather than because I can or should. I don’t want to be left out of family events and  I am, at times willing to pay the physical price of admission, but sometimes my children forget how things really are for me. (and I can’t remember the last time a family member asked me how I was really feeling) They need to look beyond how I want to be perceived and see how my life REALLY is.

Sometimes I wonder if children really want to know how things are for their parents. I know it is hard for some people to watch their parents fall apart right before their eyes. Perhaps they see their own mortality in the lives of their parents.  Perhaps my children wonder if someday one of them will be chronically ill like me. They wonder if they too will someday have the dark passenger of ever-present pain.

I am not without fault. I want to be perceived a certain way. I don’t want my life to be measured by my suffering and pain. But, how can something that is so central to my daily existence not be a prominent part of any discussion about doing this or that?  Several of my children have told me that I need to make my needs known, and that if I just ask they will gladly help me. The problem, for me anyway, is pride. I don’t want to be a bother, a burden. My children have their own lives to live, so I don’t want to burden them with my problems and needs. So, most often, I say nothing.  Yes, the house might be on fire, but I don’t want them to be bothered with getting the hose.

When I was a pastor, I taught the church to pay attention to others. People aren’t going to advertise their needs, be it due to pride or embarrassment. Instead of waiting for the poor person to ask for help, pay attention to their life. Take a look at the tires on their car or how their children are dressed. Pay a visit to their home, paying attention to how they live. Enter into their life, helping them when and where they need it.

This approach can also be used when helping the chronically ill. Look beyond perception and see how their life really is. Take the time to find out how they really feel and what needs they really have. Don’t let my favorite word FINE stop your inquiry.  You might have to press them in order to force them to abandon their pride and admit what their needs really are. It is not easy for the chronically ill person to admit that they need the help of others. Like the “normal” person, the chronically ill person wants to pilot their own plane. They want to be the master of their own universe, needing nothing from anyone. But, their physical reality tells them that they need the help of others to survive and to live the best possible life.

If I had two words of advice to give to those who have family members who are chronically ill it would be, PAY ATTENTION!

Published: April 22, 2014 | Comments: 3

The Global Cost of Violence Containment

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) released a report detailing the worldwide cost of containing violence. According to the report, “the global economic cost of violence in 2012 was US$9.46 trillion, which represents 11% of Gross World Product.”

The IEP defines violence containment spending as:

economic activity that is related to the consequences or prevention of violence where the
violence is directed against people or property.

The percentage of GDP cost for violence containment:

violence containment gdp

biggest contributors to violence containment

per capita expenditure violence containment

According to the IEP report (page 18), in 2012 the United States spent:

  • 1.2 trillion dollars on national defense, including homeland security
  • 131 billion dollars on police, justice, legal, and corrections
  • 227 billion dollars on other public sector security
  • 602 billion dollars for private violence containment

Military and security costs in the United States have increased dramatically since 9-11. War has proved to be good for business, and I see nothing on the horizon that leads me to believe that this will change any time soon. The U.S. government operates under the illusion that military might and war bring peace, when in fact, highly militarized states are the greatest threat to peace and prosperity. Every tax dollar (and borrowed dollar) that is spent on violence containment is a dollar that is not being spent on infrastructure, education, health care, combating global warming, and improving the general welfare of the American people.

Listen to the war hawks in Congress, as they demand that the United States send military aid to Ukraine while ignoring the genocidal bloodshed in South Sudan. We should want nothing to do with a military provocation of Russia, which easily could result in WW III. On the other hand, we should be at the front of the line of nations helping to put an end to the slaughter of innocents in South Sudan.

I am a proponent of drastic cuts to the US military and homeland security budget. These cuts will make it hard for Congress and the President to hastily wage war. If they have to go to the American people to justify imperialistic incursions in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq and  the CIA’s involvement in a majority of the countries of the world, I suspect they would be less likely to meddle in the affairs of sovereign states.  Do we really need military bases and installations in:

  • Germany
  • Japan
  • Bulgaria
  • Isreal
  • Italy
  • Kosovo
  • Kuwait
  • South Korea
  • Afghanistan
  • Australia
  • Bahrain
  • Brazil
  • Cuba
  • Djibouti
  • Greece
  • Guam
  • Spain
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Greenland
  • Oman
  • Netherlands
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Pakistan
  • Portugal
  • Quatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Singapore
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom

Even more astounding is the fact that in some of these countries we have dozens of military bases and installations. The United States is the world’s policeman and other countries are quite willing to let the US be the world’s only superpower. Meanwhile, at home our streets are crumbling, our utility grid needs upgraded, our sanitary sewers are failing, and we live in denial of what we need to do to combat global climate change. We are too busy doing nation building and regime change to figure out a way to protect east coast cities and New Orleans from the next hurricane and flood that is sure to bring Sandy and Katrina-like destruction. Millions of people are out of work and declining unemployment statistics hide the fact that the reason they are declining is because unemployed workers are dropping off the unemployment insurance rolls and are no longer counted. Insanely, politicians demand cuts in social spending while demanding that the military and homeland security budget be increased.

It is time for the American people to demand that Congress reign in military and security spending, including the outrageous contracts granted to military-industrial complex corporations that fill their reelection campaign coffers with donations. It is time to demand that the Great Eagle retract her claws and reduce her imprint on  the world. While I support the right for every state to defend itself, the United States has not engaged in a military act of self-defense in over 60 years. (including Afghanistan, where we could have used specialized military teams to go after Al Qaeda rather than invading Afghanistan)

The path to world peace requires that the major powers of the world reduce the amount of money they spend for violence containment. Until we are willing to make world peace our number one priority we should not expect global violence to decrease.

Published: April 22, 2014 | Comments: 1

Email Subscriptions


A small number of people, 96 to be exact, read The Way Forward via email. The email subscription function has been a pain in the ass for me, but I am doing my best to make the email you receive is functional and easy to read. Originally, I used Feedburner to handle email subscriptions and then I used WordPress’s Jetpack plugin. Both proved to be quite unreliable and lacked the ability to customize the email or add/remove subscribers.

A few weeks ago, I started using to MailChimp to handle email subscriptions. As far as delivery and managing subscribers is concerned, MailChimp is working great. However, I am having some template design problems that are proving to be quite frustrating. For those of you that read the email with Gmail in a browser or with the iOS client, you might have noticed that many of the pictures were scrunched. It took me a week to finally figure out that there was a value in the code that was setting the maximum width to 300px. This means that when I posted a 600px by 400px picture, it was scrunched to 300px by 400px. Unfortunately, it took a week of email back and forth to MailChimp support to figure this out. I think they thought I knew what I was doing…

I have a working knowledge of CSS and HTML. I am self-taught, so there are some gaps in my knowledge base. I am doing what I can to become more proficient. I think I finally have a basic, no frills MailChimp email subscription template designed so that it will no longer scrunch the pictures. If you are an email subscriber, I would appreciate your feedback about the new design. (starting with the Tuesday, April 22nd mailing)  Please email me via the contact form.

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Published: April 21, 2014 | Comments: 2

A Risky Life

taking risk

Life is full of risk. Every day, we do things that could hurt or kill us. There is no possible way to escape the risk that comes from being among the living.

If you eat food you could choke to death.

If you drive an automobile you could be in an accident and be seriously injured or killed.

If you climb a ladder you could fall off and break your neck.

If you go swimming you could drown.

If you have unprotected sex you could get an STD.

If you are at the wrong place at the wrong time you could be killed by a terrorist’s bomb.

If you ______________________ you could _________________________. This is the substance of life.

Race car drivers drive around race tracks at breathtaking speeds, hoping that they survive. Most of the time they do, but every so often a Dale Earnhardt hits a retaining wall and dies. He knew the risk, he chose to drive a race car anyway.

Football players  play a violent sport that often results in injury or death. Every football player knows the risk, yet chooses to play anyway.

As parents, we want to protect our children from injury, harm, or death. But, we also know, for their sake, they need to learn to assess risk. They need to learn how to judge a circumstance and act appropriately. They need to know that everything they do in life has the potential to harm, injure, or kill them.

One of the riskiest things we do in life is go to the doctor. While doctors heal people, they also harm, maim, and kill people. Doctors make mistakes. Every drug, test, or surgery has a relative risk.  Yes, only 1 out of a 1,000 people die from _________________ procedure, but you or I could be that 1 in a 1,000.  It is not always someone else that dies, gets an infection, or has a negative outcome.

The careless person does not assess risk. They act on a whim without thinking of the consequences. The Bible admonishes us to count the cost, to consider the outcome of our choices. While this should not paralyze us, it should cause us to pause for a moment before we launch into something that could harm or kills us.  Countless people die every year because they failed to assess risk. Instead of thinking or investigating before doing something, they just ran forward with reckless abandon hoping everything turned out OK. Sadly, everything turning out OK emboldens them and they think they can continue to live their life in this manner. They can…until it kills them.

Sometimes, we wrongly put our trust in others. We think, Surely, my doctor wouldn’t advise me to have this surgery if it wasn’t safe. Safe is relative and nothing in this life is 100% risk free. Careless people ignore the statistics, thinking that they don’t apply to them. They do, and some day it won’t always be someone else facing a negative outcome.

There is no such thing as a safe life. The best we can do is carefully consider our options before doing something. And even then, sometimes the outcome is still negative. Sometimes, no matter how well we assess the risk and prepare ahead of time, bad things still happen to us. Somewhere, some day, a small chunk of meteorite will fall and plunk someone in the head and they will die. Their bizarre death will be featured on 1,000 Ways to Die and people will laugh, saying to themselves, talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

As I get older, I am more adverse to risk. I suspect that experience has taught me that life can be dangerous and there are countless ways die. Years ago, I went to New Orleans to preach on the streets of Central City. My mother-in-law begged me not to go, fearing that I would be killed and leave her daughter a widow with three children. I laughed off her concern and told her that I could just as easily trip and fall off their porch and break my neck. I was young, fearless, invincible, and full of life. Would I preach on the streets of New Orleans today? Not a chance.

When Polly and I were first married, we drove the best car $200 could buy. Rolling pieces of junk, these cars were, yet we drove them all over the place. Bald tires, loose front end parts, cars sure to fail a safety inspection. So foolish, yet we luckily survived. Would I drive cars like this now? Not a chance.

Sometimes older people like myself laugh at the safety precautions people take today. Ride a bike? Wear a helmet!  Car seats! Seat belts! The government is now requiring automakers to put backup cameras in every car. How did we survive without all these things keeping us safe? We like to think these things are unnecessary, but perhaps the real reason we survived is because we were lucky. We seem to forget the countless kids that suffered brain damage from hitting their head on the pavement after  falling off their bike or were killed after being ejected from a car.

It is impossible to idiot proof the world. There will always be those who give no regard to safety or the outcome of what they plan to do. We can only hope that their stupidity doesn’t maim or kill us.  They will have to bear the consequences of their foolishness, and if it kills them I guess they won’t do that again!

How about you? How do you assess risk? Do you find yourself being more risk-adverse as you get older? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Published: April 21, 2014 | Comments: 5

My Life as a Missionary Kid Part Eight

guest post

What follows is part eight of a series by ElectroMagneticJosh, a man whose parents were Evangelical missionaries. This series will detail his life as a Missionary Kid. (MK) I hope readers will enjoy this series. Please leave  Josh your comments in the comment section.

Part 8: Easter in the Philippines

Imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment.

Imagine you are a man in his thirties.

Now picture yourself outside, the hot afternoon sun beating down on you. You are walking through a dusty street while a crowd watches on.

The walk is difficult. You are encumbered by a heavy wooden object you need to carry. It is called a cross.

You feel exhausted and dehydrated but, as you near your destination, you know the worst is still to come.

When you reach the designated place the cross is taken from you and placed on the ground. Obediently you lie on top as rope is wound around your arms securing you to the cross-beam.

Then come the nails.

Quickly, indeed efficiently, they are driven through your hands and feet into the wood you rest on. You wince, maybe even cry out, but you already knew what to expect. You had known this was coming for a while now.

The cross is raised upright with you fastened to it. Perhaps you might be getting used to pain.

Perhaps not.

You look skyward knowing that this will end. It will be finished. You just need to endure a little longer.

From your lofty position you survey the crowd and notice there are more people than last year. A few of them appear to be foreigners. Perhaps they are tourists – but you aren’t sure. All you know is that now you must wait for before you are let back down off the cross.

And once you are down you know it will another year before you have to endure this again. Another year until next Easter.


Okay you can stop imagining. Feeling alright? Good. Hopefully that “exercise” wasn’t too horrible and, for the record, I was trying to make it jarring – not grotesque. If I achieved that then great but, if not, blame my writing.

Because this is Easter time I thought I would talk a bit about how Easter is celebrated in the Philippines. And before anyone asks, yes, that description above does portray something very real that goes on there. But I will get to back to that later.

In a lot of places Easter is a big deal. In New Zealand it marks a long weekend where both Good Friday and the next Monday are public holidays. We celebrate by taking a short vacation and eating a few specific foods. On Good Friday it is traditional to eat hot-cross buns and on Easter Sunday chocolate eggs and rabbits are consumed – mostly by children. That is how we do things in NZ. If you are not Christian, and most of the country isn’t, it is low-key holiday.

In the Philippines it is a big deal too. But more so. And it is very religious.

Remember how around 90% of the population are Roman Catholic? Well this has a big impact on their Easter celebrations.

The Holy week begins on Palm Sunday and then, on Maundy Thursday (for those not familiar with the nomenclature it is the day before Good Friday) most of the business close down through Black Saturday until Resurrection Sunday – when the whole country celebrates Jesus rising from the dead. Those of you familiar with Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity may not know the names for all those days but, believe me, the Catholics do. They also know how to exhibit devotion.

By that I mean: they know how to put it on. This goes beyond mass every day and special homilies. I am talking about pilgrimages, processions and penance (yes, I realise there are three “p”s – that was actually on accident).

The pilgrimages are exactly what they sound like. During holy week people will make their way to sacred shrines or large cathedrals in their area. My family lived near a one of these Cathedrals in an area called Cainta. Every year thousands of people would flood the main highway on route to the Cathedral. The highway would get so crowded that you couldn’t actually drive on it – not that there was anywhere you could go during this time.

Most of the pilgrims would simply walk, often praying and clutching rosary beads, but there were always a few who didn’t make things so easy on themselves (as if walking a long distance is “easy”). Whether it was for penance or to show devotion there were those who elected to go barefoot, crawl on hands and knees, or simply walk while whipping their bare-backs.

Students of church history will note that there is a long tradition of these sorts of displays dating back to the middle ages. To see it in the modern world can be quite startling.

As intriguing as the pilgrimages are to watch they are quite mundane compared to the Easter Processions. Throughout the holy week large Easter parades are organized through the main streets of cities, towns and even small villages. Different Dioceses and Archdioceses have them on different days so if you timed it right you could travel through the country and see a local procession each day.

These are not small-scale either. Hundreds of people will march in the procession wearing coordinated costumes or driving elaborate floats. These aren’t for commercial or entertainment – these parades are purely religious. Candles, crucifixes, statues and icons are all on full display. While a lot of the objects are supplied by the local church there will also be private items that local politicians and wealthy families will bring from their personal collections. The statues can range from the small Barbie-doll sized figures to human sized carvings of Jesus, Mary and revered saints.

The size, amount and lavish design of the items in a procession are often a way of gauging the relative wealth a small town possesses. Are there only a handful of smaller statues and a banner or two? Probably a poorer area. On the other had are their numerous statues with the main Jesus statue being life-sized, carved out of ebony , seated on a gold-plated throne and inside an ornate box with panes of glass on all four sides? That’s probably a wealthy area indeed.

Finally the penance. Easter is a great time to get one’s soul in order and there are a wide array of options for the penitent. I have already mentioned the pilgrims whipping themselves or crawling for miles but if those don’t interest you – I can supply other some others. Try a large donation to the church – either cash or the commissioning of a new statue. If that is too expensive (which means you are poor) then you could forego a particular pleasure for the next year or maybe undergo a public act of contrition. If you want to really show your commitment though; there is always the crucifixion option.

And here we are back to the beginning.

Yes indeed. You can – if you are really super-duper penitent (or just want to shave some years off your time in purgatory) – get crucified for a while. I have seen a couple of people have this done to them and, I will be honest, it is quite freaky. This isn’t something that just faded into the darker recesses of my memory. Seeing someone carrying a cross, being whipped (in fairness – not scourged), and then actually being nailed to a cross for an hour or so is something that stays with a person – especially when viewed as a teenager.

Crucifixion, while rare, is something that is done around Easter in some areas of the Philippines (including mine). Often it is a form of repentance from sins but there are other reasons too. Some of them are very devout and consider it to be following in Jesus footsteps. They are true bible literalists after all didn’t Jesus say “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27 NIV)? Then there are those that do it out of obligation. Think of this scenario; a father finds that their child is dying and they can’t afford to get the medicine necessary to save them (the Philippines is a capitalist paradise after all). He prays day and night promising God that if his child recovers he will be crucified every Easter for the next five years (for example). His child pulls through and so this man, in turn, fulfills his promise.

Obviously in none of these cases is the crucifixion supposed to kill the participant. This is purely an outward sign of an inward truth (I suppose in the same way baptism isn’t literally killing and resurrecting the participant). As strange as it may sound to those with different Christian traditions this isn’t just made up whole-cloth – it does have a biblical basis (arguments about interpretation aside).


So why talk about that? Well, first of all, it’s something most westerners (which is the demographic of the readers here) probably won’t know about these other ways of celebrating Easter. Hopefully those of you in that camp found it interesting. The other point I want to make is this: the way NZ (and most of the west) celebrate Easter is actually more, not less, secular than the Filipino Roman Catholics. Almost everything done in Filipino Easter Celebrations is part of their devotion to the Christian gospel story.

Protestant and evangelicals will dismiss these practices as “works-based” but that is not a fair picture. If you asked the average pilgrim, penitent or procession member they would all say their actions are reflect a deeper reality, their statues are symbols and their pain (if they go for that side of things) is to glorify God. Those willing to be crucified are extreme examples, to be sure, but even they have a scriptural basis for the practice.

So next time a pampered, prosperous Christian appears on TV bemoaning the creeping secularization of the holiday – ask yourself how committed they really are to making Easter more religious. Would they walk for miles to show their devotion? Would they crawl? Would they get whipped let alone crucified?

I doubt it. I doubt they would want to change anything that would make them less comfortable. They may claim unending devotion to God but only if it means their traditions being upheld. Realize that there are other, more hard-core, ways of celebrating Easter that the Christian culture warrior wouldn’t have the courage to touch.

Perhaps that is overly harsh on my part but I have to admit that I have seen the true face of devotion and it wasn’t standing behind a pulpit.

Anyway if you want to know more I am sure there are articles online. And on that note – have a great Easter.

Published: April 21, 2014 | Comments: 0