Letters to the editor: Keep focus on helping others, not church institution



The parable of the Good Samaritan as related by Jesus in Luke 10:30-37 has been on my mind as we approach another General Conference of The United Methodist Church. Most often when we think of this parable, we think of the Good Samaritan and rightly so, because he is the central and an attractive character. On his way on the road to Jericho, he found a man lying on the side of the road, bleeding, wounded and left to die. He was a victim of the cruelty of some evil men.

The Samaritan stopped, had compassion for the poor man, poured the oil of healing into his wounds and took care of this man. Jesus is saying to his followers that he intends that we have compassion, an open heart and a helping hand for our neighbors who have been wounded by life and who need help; physical help and spiritual help.

However, I have my mind focused on the “priest” and the “Levite” in this drama. Why did Jesus include a priest and a Levite in this parable?

It is important that we keep in mind exactly what this priest and this Levite represented —institutionalized religion. They were active in organized religion of that day. They both served in the temple worship. The priest presided over the services of sacrifice, while the Levite was an associate or assistant to the priest and the temple activities.

It is rather plain to see that the priest and the Levite failed to stop and help this poor man there on the side of the road for one of two reasons. Either they did not care about this wounded soul or they were under pressure to keep their schedule to attend a meeting in the pursuit of their “ministry.”

I believe that Jesus deliberately included these characters in order to speak to those of us who are a part of the organized church. I think Jesus is saying to us, “If you become more concerned with an institution than you are for the casualties of suffering humanity, you are wrong!” And I think Jesus is saying, “If you spend more time and resources oiling the machinery of a bureaucratic institution than you do pouring the oil of healing and salvation into the wounds of human souls, you are wrong!”

Let us hope and pray that this next General Conference will restore “joy” to our church by giving us the inspiration and the direction to go forth and minister to the needs of a fallen humanity, to win lost souls to Christ and His salvation and speak his word to a suffering world. I pray that the work of the church will become more important than church work. After all we, are still under the Great Commission to “go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. ... teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you... .and remember, I am with you even unto the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Jesus ended the parable of the Samaritan, for the benefit of all priests and Levites, by saying, ”Go and do likewise.”

Robert L. Kates


In his Aug. 1 guest column, Mark McClain calls attention to the spirit that threatens to send humanity back to the Dark Ages. As he observes, some in the church are “downright eager to use their swords” against what they see as a threat. From the Encyclopedia of Religion we get a picture of how the church once dealt with this kind of problem.

Any community that was “reputed to harbor heretics was visited by an inquisitor who, in a sermon that all were required to attend, preached about the iniquities of heresy. After the sermon, the minister urged all who had such tendencies to confess and if they knew of those who did have such tendencies to report to him. If those suspected of such tendencies did not confess they were arrested and interrogated. If the suspects refused altogether to confess... the inquisitor announced the sentences in a sermon (and) they were handed over to the secular arm for punishment at the stake.”

When we consider the violence perpetrated against homosexuals and others who are “different,” coupled with the way many are clamoring for the “remarriage” of church and state, it is indeed cause for alarm.

C.E. Swain


I got yet another one of those e-mails the other day.

This one, forwarded by a dear and deeply spiritual friend, told of how Oliver North warned us about Osama bin Laden way back during the Iran-Contra hearings. The senator questioning North was Al Gore, no less. The e-mail went on to allege that one of the terrorist pilots on 9/11 had been earlier released by the Israeli government due to pressure by the U.S.

A few clicks of the mouse showed that the whole thing was false.

As I looked through the chain of who forwarded this fabrication, I saw the names of people whom I respect for their commitment to their Christian faith, folks who would never think of purposely spreading gossip, rumors and slander. Yet these folks were doing just that.

How can we expect our brothers and sisters who don’t know the Lord to listen to us when we propagate untruths because they reinforce our own beliefs? It is clear from both the Gospels and the letters of the apostle Paul that we should “speak the truth to one another.”

How is my message received by others when I use half-truths and downright lies to make my point? How do we further the Kingdom of God by spreading false rumors and ignorance across Internet cyberspace?

For this latest e-mail, I went to truthorfiction.com, clicked on search, typed in “Oliver North Osama” and saw clearly that the e-mail was false (for instance, Gore was not on the Senate Iran–Contra hearing committee and there was no mention of Osama in the transcripts). Another few clicks debunked the 9/11 pilot story. The whole thing took about 30 seconds.

God calls us to speak the truth. Brothers and sisters, check these e-mails before you pass them on as “gospel.” Better yet, question whether God’s will is done by forwarding the message at all, even if it is true. Truthorfiction.com and snopes.com are both excellent sources to verify or refute such messages.

Thomas a’ Kempis, in his devotional classic  The Imitation of Christ,  speaks clearly to us when he says, “Oh how good and peaceful it is to be silent about other people, not to believe indiscriminately all that is said, and not to gossip about what we have heard.” As we share through the medium of e-mail communication, let’s make this a guiding principle.

John Reed