I’m a sucker for religious debate.
It’s a passion for multiple reasons. A. I find 95 percent of religious dogma to be nonsense. B. I find 95 percent of religious dogma to be riveting. C. I’m fascinated how millions and millions of people place their faith in something that so often seems to disappoint. We pray for peace—no peace. We pray for health—people get sick. On and on and on.
And yet, folks keep coming back. Again and again and again.
That’s why Pastor Rick McDaniel of the Richmond Community Church is here, and that’s why I so respect the man. He agreed to do the Quaz knowing I have my viewpoints on his belief system, but he didn’t mind. Or flinch. He took the questions head on, and answered them quite well. One can visit Rick’s site here, and follow him on Twitter here.
I’m no Christian, but I recognize a good dude.
Pastor McDaniel, welcome to the Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: Rick, you initially contacted me in response to a blog post I wrote around Christmas, when I questioned why people continue to pray for world peace—when world peace never, ever, ever happens. I wrote that the whole exercise strikes me as a waste of time. You said you’d like to offer your take. Hence, question No. 1—what’s your take? Tell me what I’m missing here …
RICK McDANIEL: There are really two issues at work here; peace and prayer. In Christianity there are different kinds of peace. There is peace with God that comes through repentance, forgiveness and salvation. There is also inner peace despite outward circumstances. And there is peace between people. In the Bible we are promised we can receive the first two kinds of peace but not the third. We pray for peace between people because it is possible but world peace is not. So you are partially correct to say it is a waste in that world peace will not come on this earth but it is still possible to see people or even peoples have peace with one another so that is worth praying for.
The larger issue is the whole purpose and efficacy of prayer. Some of your followers commented that prayers are not ever answered so prayer is a waste. All prayers are answered, every single one. The answers are yes, no and wait. My personal experience is that about 80 percent of the time it is wait, 10 percent yes and 10 percent no. Consistent prayer works in many ways most significantly in making us able to receive what God has for us.
J.P.: Here’s what I know, Rick: You have three degrees, you helped build the Richmond Community Church, you’ve written a bunch of books and you speak all over the place. But what was your path—from womb to here. When did you know religion would be your calling? In short, how did you get here?
R.M.: I grew up outside of Hartford, Connecticut. I was a successful athlete and student with no plan on ministry as my life’s work. I wanted financial success and an exciting life. My mother is a DeBartolo so I was exposed to successful business people including my cousin Eddie who had gone from business to NFL ownership. But I received a “call” in a church service and that changed the direction of my life. The only time I had peace about my future is when I considered the ministry. So I went to Boston College and Duke University and graduated with theology degrees. Ultimately God took my entrepreneurial gifting, innovative thinking and motivational talents and used them to start a new kind of high impact church in Richmond, Virginia. I’m not a typical pastor type but I’m perfectly suited for the contemporary church. I have been pastoring Richmond Community Church for 20 years and along the way I have been married for 30 years and raised two sons who both played college football. I also have written four books, have a broadcast ministry and travel speaking. Lately I have been writing articles on current topics in culture. I see myself as an evangelical voice to the larger culture about faith matters.
J.P.: Rick, I’m gonna ask a few questions that might seem offensive to your beliefs, and I apologize. Not my intent to offend. That said … there’s a factor of Christianity that irks me to no end—the emphasis on the afterlife. Growing up in my little reformed synagogue, the afterlife was mentioned, oh, never. Literally, never. You strove to be a good person because it’s righteous. You help the old lady cross the street because she’s an old lady crossing the street. I don’t need the fear of hell to make me be honest, and I don’t need to promise of heaven to make me donate money. It strikes me as this overly simplistic method of behavioral control—follow our commands, enjoy bliss; ignore us, burn eternally. Rick, tell me why I’m wrong. Because I don’t see it.
R.M.: The afterlife is mentioned so much in Christianity because Jesus talked about it a lot. Beyond that the teaching of the resurrection is Jesus was raised from death so we will too. The Bible teaches there will be a judgment for every person but that is not the motivation for good behavior. Followers of Christ are to love God and love others. Our motivation is not fear but love, we want to do right not have to do right.
J.P.: Why do churches continue to ignore climate change? Everyone talks about loving God, loving God’s planet, the amazing nature of his ultimate creation—but nobody seems to give two craps about the earth melting apart. Couldn’t so much good be done for the environment if churches spoke up?
R.M.: Churches and leaders are speaking up more and more about the environment. Five years ago I did a message—“God Is Green”—and we implemented several strategies in our own church to be environmentally conscious. There is an entire organization, the Evangelical Environmental Network, that is focused on issues of caring for God’s creation.
J.P.: A couple of months ago you wrote a piece for the Fox News website on football and faith. You wrote, “One of the essential message of the scriptures is that Jesus wants us to be servant oriented. This is exactly what football teaches players.” I mean no beef (the writing itself was excellent) but, well, what are you talking about? I’ve covered much football through my life. It’s a sport that—with rare exception—encourages following orders with minimal thought; that has resulted in physical and mental injuries to hundreds … thousands of men; that has allowed team owners (and the NFL) to make millions while most players leave the game and, ultimately, lose their money, their marriages and their lifestyles. I get loving football—but, Rick, how can you support this endeavor as one that’s Christ-like? Seems like an enormous stretch.
R.M.: If football was only the NFL then maybe your point would be made but it is not. In fact the smallest percentage of football players are in the NFL. The vast majority of football players are at the recreational, high school and college levels. Many of your issues go away when we focus on these levels. I have experienced first hand the positive impact of teamwork, discipline and handling success/failure from football. Many qualities that mark you as a follower of Christ can be developed playing football at the non-professional level.
I worked with Sam Rutigliano when he coached college football at Liberty University after he had coached in the NFL. He knew football at every level and I saw him develop young men who could become excellent followers of Christ after having played football.
J.P.: I blame Christianity for making millions of gays through the years feel as if they’re lesser, unworthy, disgusting, wrong, sinful. Such sentiments have been uttered so many times, by so many leaders … and I don’t understand why. Even if you can argue that the Bible somehow condemns homosexuality, well, it condemns t-o-n-s of other things, too; things we largely pay no mind to. Rick, wouldn’t Christianity (as a whole) be better served moving off of this one?
R.M.: In evangelical Christianity there are all kinds of sermons, articles, books and conferences touching on sin issues of every type. We are not picking on one group or oddly fixated on one sin. We pay mind to many issues the Bible teaches are sinful and hurtful to our lives. You might be shocked at the sheer breadth of material on Christian living.
The reason why the gay issue has such prominence is because of gay rights groups not evangelical ones. The activism of these groups has been incredible. They have pushed the issue to the forefront of culture and have been extremely aggressive in pursuing their agenda. Of course they have every right to do so but Christians then have every right to state their position as well. What has taken it to another level is gay marriage. Christians define marriage very clearly and when you start redefining it there is going to be a response. It is tempting to just give in and be quiet but Christians are to resist temptation. This does not mean there are not people or groups who have been hateful to gays or that this issue is simple to resolve. But the reason it continues to be talked about is because the media keeps bringing it up. Not Christians.
J.P.: Rick, for the first time I recently watched Joel Osteen—a man you cited in a column I read. I have no reason to think he’s not a nice guy and a sincere guy. However, how do pastors/preachers/etc justify following Jesus’ words while wearing $5,000 suits, $3,000 watches, $1,000 shoes and living in million-dollar homes? Your church appears to be a large, beautiful facility. Shouldn’t you guys meet in a plain clubhouse, and that money—in the spirit of Jesus—be spent feeding the poor and supplying clothing and goods to the needy?
R.M.: You do have to be careful about assumptions. I have an Armani sport coat that I bought at the Westbury Outlet for 75 percent off. I have a well-known pastor friend who wears an expensive watch but it was a gift he did not buy it himself. Pastors with large influence many times write books that provide income far beyond their church salaries.
But there will always be disagreements about how to use money. Even Jesus’ disciples argued when expensive perfume was poured over Jesus when it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. In the case of my church’s building it is nice but also functional. The architecture is important in communicating the contemporary style of the church. As a church the local homeless shelter has honored us as volunteer of the year and I have been honored as hometown hero for leading my church in helping the poor. There are enough resources to do both.
J.P.: Serious question: Allow for a second (if you will) that you’re wrong. That there is no God; that this is all just the product of a big explosion. If that’s the case (again, just hypothetical), was this all a waste of time?
R.M.: Pascal’s Wager comes to mind. If I am wrong and God does not exist I spent my life helping people. I lived morally, was happily married to one woman, raised two great sons and made lots of great friends. If I am right I will rejoice over all the people I helped get to heaven and I will enjoy a great eternity with God.
J.P.: I’ve never understood the certainty that comes with religion. I mean, you seem certain. My orthox Jewish friend seems certain. Mitt Romney seems certain. My atheist pals are certain. You can’t all be right. So how do you know your answer is correct?
R.M.: I have a strong intellect and a great education. I am a thinker by nature and a researcher by training. I am enough of a pragmatist to look at the results. My experience has been so positive that God exists, that Jesus’ teachings work and that the spiritual is real it just adds up. I know most of the arguments and the ones for Christianity are the strongest.
J.P.: I don’t understand how science and Christianity can coexist. Scientists agree the earth is 4.54 billion years old, and man is probably 400,000 years old (in one form or another). This clearly doesn’t jive with the whole New Testament Genesis thing. What to do?
R.M.: I have spoken a number of times on why science and faith are not in conflict. I could say a lot about this subject but here are a few thoughts. The scientific revolution was ushered in during the reformation of faith. Many of the great scientists of history were men of faith (Bacon, Boyle, Dalton, Fleming.) Both science and Christianity deal with evidence. Science cannot be proved, a hypothesis can be made with evidence to support it, so too with Christianity. Science is about reason and faith is reasonable. Science describes the what—God describes the why. The laws of nature are descriptive not prescriptive. They do not determine what must happen they describe what normally does happen. Science deals with the natural, Christianity with the supernatural. Dr Collins (genome project) Dr. Sandage (leading cosmologist) and many other scientists are strong followers of Christ and there is no coexistence problem for them.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH RICK MCDANIEL:
• Tim Tebow loves Jesus. Tim Tebow throws a spiral like William Howard Taft. Does he have an NFL future?: Tebow may not have an NFL future but he has such great leadership, charisma and character he will be a success in whatever he does.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Rodney Dangerfield, Renee Zellweger, TMZ, Todd Helton, chocolate milkshakes, Toledo, Joe Flacco, Death Cab for Cutie, Pope Francis, bacon, Milk Duds, Jose Guillen: Pope Francis, chocolate milkshakes, Dangerfield, Helton, Milk Duds, Flacco, bacon, Zellweger, Toledo, Death Cab for Cutie, Guillen and TMZ.
• Three memories from your first date?: Friendly’s, the smell of her hair, the kiss.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Never thought I was going to die in a plane crash. I like flying.
• One question you would ask John Keeble, were he here right now?: Did you ever get sick of playing the same music over and over?
• I’m an agnostic Jew who will never accept Jesus. How certain are you that I’m damned to hell?: My life is dedicated to keeping people out of hell. Hell is the absence of love because God is love and He is not there. In heaven we will have a whole new existence without all the problems of this life. Heaven is not going to be boring it is going to be fantastic.
You use “never” and that is a big word. I would like to think you are more open than to say you could never accept Jesus. God is perfect, we are not, which is why we need Jesus to be accepted by God. God is patient with us; some take longer than others to come to Him. His forgiveness is available to us always. Hopefully the next time I am in New York City we can have lunch and continue our conversation.
• Five greatest religion-themed movies?: Passion Of The Christ, The Apostle, Doubt, 10 Commandments, Chariots Of Fire.
• God visits you tonight. You’re 100% certain it’s him. No doubt about it. He tells you you need to move to Las Vegas and open a shrine for Celine Dion in the MGM Grand parking lot. What do you do?: There is a story I think you may know of Abraham and Isaac. God told Abraham to do something crazy and sacrifice his son. Abraham obeyed and passed the test so his son was not killed. God guided me to Richmond, where I moved with my young family having never lived there a day in my life. It turned out pretty well for me. If God told me to do it I am sure there would be a greater plan.
• Can you do me a favor and pray hard for Taylor Swift to stop making music?: According to www.dosomething.org Taylor Swift is the “most charitable star.” So she is using some of her music money for good works.
• What’s the greatest non-Jesus word in the English language?: Excellence—because it honors God and inspires people.