Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Lt. General Raymond S. McLain, Oklahoma Citizen Soldiers, and the 45th Infantry (The Thunderbirds)

    (PIECE of JAKE) Photo by Bell, Signal Photo Company, SC 18687. Credit NARA. 367. "MM-5-151943"

On Christmas Day 2020, the colorized photograph above appeared in my Facebook feed. I knew immediately that I was looking at something extraordinary. 

These were American soldiers fighting during World War II. 

The Thunderbird Patch
They were praying. 

The photo caption said it was Christmas Day 1943, and these soldiers were praying before Christmas dinner on the Italian front. 

After carefully looking at the photo, I realized these soldiers were not regular army soldiers. They were National Guard "citizen-soldiers."  

And they were from Oklahoma.

These men were farmers, lawyers, teachers, and businessmen back in Oklahoma. But on this day, Christmas Day 1943, south of Rome, they were fighting the Axis powers that they might "give humanity another chance." 

These soldiers were called Thunderbirds, members of the highly decorated Oklahoma National Guard and the 45th Infantry Division that helped the United States win World War II. You can see the Thunderbird patch on the left arm of the soldier that is standing just to the right of Chaplain Harvey Floyd Bell. Chaplain Bell is identified by the traditional chaplain's patch on his left arm,  a red cross on white cloth.

The Thunderbirds route to Rome
Six months before this photo was taken, the Thunderbirds had invaded the island of Sicily.  Using Sicily as their base, the Oklahoma boys stormed the Italian mainland, going ashore at the beaches of Salerno, Italy, on September 10, 1943 (see photo to the left).

The Thunderbirds then moved north, fighting their way toward Rome. It took several days to cross the Colore and Volturno rivers. After crossing the rivers, the soldiers found themselves involved in fierce battles near the Italian city of Venafro. Majestic mountains surround this picturesque Italian city. 

The fighting lasted 40 days and was known as "the days of mud, mules, and mountains." Battling the cold, the wet weather, fatigue, and the tortuous mountain trails that were too steep and winding for jeeps to pass, the Thunderbirds faced extreme peril. The Germans' fanatical resistance and the introduction of the "screaming mimis" - fierce artillery fire that issued screeching screams as it flew toward the soldiers -  it seemed impossible for the Oklahoma boys to take the town and the mountains filled with German troops.  Yet, against all odds, the Thunderbirds opened and secured a pathway to Rome.  The Oklahoma citizen-soldiers made the regular army marvel at their toughness and spirit. 

General Raymond S. McLain
The man responsible for preparing the Oklahoma National Guard to enter World War II was General Raymond Stallings McLain (b. 1890 - d. 1954). 

McLain himself served as a citizen-soldier in Oklahoma, just like the men he commanded. 

Born in Kentucky, McLain moved with his parents in 1907 to the new state of Oklahoma. He was seventeen years of age when he took a job as a clerk for an Oklahoma City abstract office. McLain also joined the newly formed Oklahoma National Guard. 

Although McLain's formal education ended in the sixth grade while in Kentucky, he never stopped learning. McLain taught himself the banking and abstract business, eventually starting his own title and abstract company in Oklahoma City in his early twenties. 

McLain fought with distinction in Europe as a captain, commanding a machine gun company.  Upon returning to Oklahoma City after World War I, McLain went back into the title business, later merging his small company with a larger one. In 1919, at age 29, McLain became president of that merged company. He then began personally buying and selling real estate in a small suburb of Oklahoma City called Edmond

McLain was an excellent businessman. He was even a better soldier. McLain remained in the Oklahoma National Guard after World War I. He became an original member of the Oklahoma Thunderbirds 45th Infantry Division at its formation in 1924. For the next twelve years, he served on weekends as a citizen-soldier. In 1937, McLain attended the Special Command and General Staff Class for Guard and Reserve officers at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Upon graduation, he became a Brigadier General of the Oklahoma National Guard. 

General McLain was appointed Chief of Staff of the 45th National Guard Division (Thunderbirds). In the years preceding World War II, McLain drilled the troops meticulously. He demanded that all his subordinate officers train their men knowing they might soon be in a very real war.

There could be no shortcuts and no compromise in training. McClain is the reason the citizen-soldiers of Oklahoma became such excellent fighting men. 

When World War II began, the Thunderbirds were ready. They fought with honor and discipline through the end of the war, eventually freeing the inmates at Dachau Concentration Camp

Normandy, where Gen. McLain distinguished himself as commander of the 90th Infantry Division

McLain himself fought with distinction at Sicily, in Italy, and on the beaches of Normandy. The Army needed his leadership. During the Battle of Normandy in August 1944, McLain briefly took command of the 90th Infantry Division, a division that had numerous command problems and was in need of a strong commander. He quickly transformed the 90th into a first-class fighting formation, just as he had done with the Oklahoma Thunderbirds. McLain led the 90th across France in the Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine, leading them to victory in numerous battles along the Western Front

In October 1944, McLain assumed command of the XIX Corps and remained the commander of the XIX Corps for the rest of the war. General Raymond Stallings McLain was the only National Guardsman to command a corps during World War II combat. McClain was the first guardsman to be given a battlefield promotion of two stars, and the first citizen soldier to command an army corps in battle since Dan Sickles raised a corps in New York and led it to Gettysburg. McLain's XIX Corps defeated the Germans at Julich, improbably conquering the 600-year-old German fortress that the Allied forces deemed near impregnable. General Dwight D. Eisenhower credited the Allied victory at Julich to General McLain's aggressive tactics.

Maj. Gen. McLain, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Lt. Gen. William Simpson at Julich Fortress, Nov. 1944


"General McLain in his person, elevated and gave great distinction to the term ‘citizen soldier, ” said General George C. Marshall in 1949.


Tulsa McLain High School
The Oklahoma Hall of Fame inducted Raymond S. McLain in its class of 1945. McLain Magnet High School for Science and Technology in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also known as Tulsa McClain High School, took its name in honor of General McLain. 

Fort Leavenworth inducted Raymond McLain into its Hall of Fame. To this day, General McClain remains the only National Guardsman so honored by Fort Leavenworth.

The prestigious LIEUTENANT GENERAL RAYMOND S. McLAIN MEDAL was established in 1999 and is awarded annually to a serving or former member of the United States National Guard who has contributed most to the advancement of the goal of the Association of the United States Army, the goal of a seamless and component-integrated U.S. Army.

For McLain's distinguished service in the war, he was appointed a brigadier general in the Regular Army. Later, he became the comptroller of the United States Army and was appointed the army's first statutory comptroller general. At the time of his death in 1954, he served on President Dwight D. Eisenhower's National Security Training Commission.

Raymond Stallings McLain died at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C., on December 14, 1954, at 64.

Lieutenant General McLain's ribbon bar:

Lieutenant General McLain's decorations include Distinguished Service Cross with Oak leaf Cluster (Sicily, 1943 and France, 1944), the Army Distinguished Service Medal with Oak leaf Cluster (France, 1944 and Germany, 1945), Silver Star (Italy, 1943), Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with Oak leaf Cluster (Italy, 1944 and Germany, 1945), Mexican Border Service Medal, World War I Victory Medal with two battle clasps, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one silver and three bronze service stars and Arrowhead device, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, French Croix de Guerre 1939–1945, Grand officer of the Order of Orange-Nassau with swordsCommander of the Order of Leopold II and Belgian Croix de Guerre.


Robert McLain had an eye for real estate. While scouring far north Oklahoma City in the late 1920s, about three miles south of downtown Edmond, Oklahoma, McLain spotted an ideal property to buy for himself and a group of six investors, all fellow officers in the Oklahoma National Guard. McLain described the large property as "a beautiful piece of wooded high ground." General McLain would build for himself a "two-story log cabin" near Eastern Avenue, calling his home Tree Tops. McLain, his wife, son, and daughters all lived at Tree Tops during the 1930s. The family remained behind at Tree Tops when General McLain went to Europe to fight during World War II. 

Tree Tops - The Home of Raymond McLain - Hand-painted for a Mrs. Akright Christmas Card

According to the official biography of General McClain, written by Raymond's daughter, Dr. Betty McLain Belvin, Tree Tops House played a vital role in the formation of McLain's leadership skills and ultimate success on the battlefield during World War II. Betty Belvin writes:
"McLain would study military problems long into the night at Tree Tops, at first by gaslight and then by windmill-generated electric light. He talked over historic battles with his friends (the other officers who owned homes at Reveille Retreat), knowing full well that rumors of genocide and of madman Adolf Hitler's theats in Mein Kampf would have to be reckoned with." 

Tree Tops was McLain's dream home, reminding him of his roots in Kentucky. But after World War II, when the Army asked General McLain to serve as the United States Army's comptroller with the rank of Brigadier General in the Regular Army, McLain decided to sell his log home and move to Washington D.C.  The McLain family sold Tree Tops to the Akright family. 

Though seven Oklahoma National Guard officers built their homes in the wooded area the men called Reveille Retreat, I will highlight only two more.

Raymond McClain's son, Ray Jr., became fast friends with oilman Baird Markham's son, Baird Jr. The elder Markham had been promoted to Brigadier General of the Oklahoma National Guard in 1923. General Baird's son and General McClain's son would often play together in the Reveille Retreat woods. 

The McClain and Markham houses were joined by many footpaths through the woods. In 1937, at age 21, Baird Markham Jr. would make national headlines after he was kidnapped for ransom while out examining an oil lease for his father near Ada, Oklahoma. Baird Jr. was kidnapped by Charles Chapman and Pete Traxel, two men at the top of America's Most Wanted list, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Markham Kidnapping, as well as the Charles Urschel kidnapping, were instrumental in saving J. Edgar Hoover from being fired as FBI Director by President Franklin Roosevelt.

Col. Bolend, Chief Surgeon, 45th Infantry
Another home, just northwest of McLain's Tree Tops log house, was built by Colonel Rex Bolend. Col. Bolend, a private practice physician (urologist), served as the Chief Surgeon for the 45th Infantry. Bolend built a log home similar to the two-story Tree Tops house that McClain had built. 

Rex Bolend called his home at Reveille Retreat the Dormar House. The name came from the first three initials of Colonel Bolend's daughter Dorothy and the first three initials of his wife Martha.  Colonel Bolend, General McLain, and General Markham, were close friends, as were the other four officers who built a total of seven homes in Reveille Retreat. All of them were outstanding soldiers for the United States. The road that connected Tree Tops with Dormar House and the other officer's homes was appropriately called Reveille Road.

The elegant and peaceful log homes built in the beautiful woods north of Oklahoma City, about three miles south of downtown Edmond and just east of Eastern Road, are a tribute to a much simpler time in the life of America.  

In 1950, Colonel Rex Bolend sold Dormar House to my grandfather Frederick Tinsley Donne Cherry and my grandmother Virginia (Salyer) Cherry. My grandfather, a former All-Big 6 tight end for the University of Oklahoma, scored the first touchdown in the newly opened Cotton Bowl when Oklahoma played Texas in the fall of 1930. More importantly, my grandfather joined the Reserve Officer's Training Corps (ROTC) while at the University of Oklahoma, and he drilled under all the Colonels and Generals who built their homes in Reveille Retreat. Fred T. Cherry joined other Oklahoma National Guardsmen in fighting the Germans during World War II. My grandfather drove a jeep with John 3:16 emblazoned on the side, and fought with other 45th Infantrymen (The Thunderbirds) from Oklahoma in the southern portion of the Battle of the Bulge

After the war, my father used his petroleum engineering degree to take a job in the oil fields of East Texas. That's where he met my grandmother. Soon, my father decided to give up "the oil business" and become an evangelist. His friendship with the ROTC officers at Reveille Retreat, and his notoriety as an Oklahoma football and track star, probably helped secure the purchase of Colonel Rex Bolend's home for this young, but growing Cherry family. 

My mother, Mary Cherry (Burleson), was a young girl when she and her siblings moved into what they came to call "Cherry Hollow." She and her brothers and sisters have fond memories of walking down Reveille Road (see the modern Google map below), fishing in the man-made muddy lake at the bottom of Tree Tops, and exploring the creeks, woods, and hills of the Reveille Retreat. 

My mother first met my father, Paul Burleson, when he visited my grandfather Fred Cherry one afternoon in late 1957 at the Dormar House.  Fred Cherry had become an evangelist after his Oklahoma football days and short oilfield career. My father was a young music evangelist scheduled to lead music at one of Fred Cherry's evangelistic revivals. Paul Burleson walked into Dormar House  to talk with Fred Cherry about the evangelistic meeting and met Fred's daughter, Mary Cherry, on Christmas Day 1957. Two nights later, December 27, 1957, my mother came to hear her father preach and her future husband lead the music. Their relationship began at Dormar House.

A red rose by the long gravel drive that leads down to Cherry Hollow in Edmond, Oklahoma.

I have many memories of spending holidays with my maternal Cherry family at the house. I remember repairing a fence with my grandfather Fred Cherry, one of my clearest memories of spending time with him as a boy. My grandparents are now gone, and my uncle, Fred Cherry, now lives at Dormar House, the place we now call Cherry Hollow. Fred has turned the property into a one-of-a-kind country showpiece. 

The wooded Reveille Retreat area is no longer in "the middle of nowhere." In 1957, Oklahoma Christian University built its campus a half-mile north of Cherry Hollow. Modern subdivisions now surround the old Dormar House, but the oak and blackjack trees remain so thick, and the driveways so long, once you arrive in the woods, it still feels like you are in the middle of the woods. It must be close to the same feeling that General McLain, General, Markham, Colonel Bolend, and the other National Guard officers felt when they built and lived in their homes nearly a century ago. All of these men of Reveille Retreat played a significant role in the Allied Forces winning World War II.

Of the seven homes that the officers of the Oklahoma National Guard built at Reveille Retreat during the late 1920s and early 1930s, only Dormar House remains (now Fred Cherry's home). General McClain's home, purchased by the Akright family, burned to the ground in a fire caused by a floor furnace during Thanksgiving Week, 1975. General Raymond S. McLain, the original purchaser of the property he and his friends called Reveille Retreat, died of leukemia at Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, D.C. on December 14, 1954. To this day, Raymond McLain remains the most decorated National Guard officer in the history of the American military.

Dormar House, now maintained with exquisite country beauty by Fred Cherry, the author's uncle.

A back bedroom on the second floor of Dormar House (now called Cherry Hollow)

One of the advantages of knowing history is the ability to have one's soul anchored by the past and built for hope in the future. Reveille Retreat in Edmond and the old Dormar House (our Cherry Hollow), does both for me. 

The Burlesons eating dinner at Cherry Hollow on Labor Day, 2020

As 2020 comes to a close and we begin another year, I am grateful for God's grace in being a Christian, an Oklahoman, an American, a historian, and someone who never takes for granted the people of our past, the special moments of our present, and the marvelous hope for a bright future because our God is good and gracious all the time.

I leave you with a memorable violin solo played for us on the second floor of the Dormar House by Fred Cherry as we ate dinner there on Labor Day 2020. As you listen to Fred Cherry play, say a prayer for all the men and women serving in the United States Armed Forces. As I listen, I'll give thanks to God for all those who've risked their lives that Americans might be able to live in a country of peace and liberty. Thank you, General McLain, General Markham, Colonel Bolend, and all the other Oklahoma National Guard officers  (Thunderbirds) who built your homes at Reveille Retreat. Thank you for defeating the Nazis during World War II that we might enjoy a peaceful, family dinner at the place you once called home.  

Happy New Year to all my family and friends! 

Friday, December 04, 2020

20 Questions for a Pastor Who Doesn't Wear a Mask Unless He's Sick or Around Sick People

That pastor is me. If you don't know me, you can read about me here. These 20 questions are all good. I've been asked them during the last six months. I thought I'd summarize my answers to give some encouragement to those who think like I.

1. Why don't you wear a mask? 

In short, I believe wearing a mask when I am healthy is an unwise act scientifically and socially. However, were I sick and had to go to the pharmacy or store for medicine,  I would wear a mask to help mitigate the spread of my 'dis-ease.' 

2. But what if every other healthy person is wearing a mask?

I don't try to change people. We have a man who wears a dress, women's jewelry, painted nails, and pantyhose when he attends the church I pastor. I don't force him to dress like a man, nor will I dress like a woman to make him feel more comfortable. I do not force anyone to take off their mask, nor will I wear a mask to make people feel more comfortable.

3. Can't you spread Covid-19 without having symptoms?

The Great Barrington Declaration and leading epidemiologists believe "there is no scientific evidence that symptom-free people without cough or fever spread the Corona disease."

4. But if so many people are infected with Covid-19 unknowingly, shouldn't everyone wear a mask?

One of the fundamental rules in infectiology is the necessity to differentiate between “infection” (invasion and multiplication of an agent in the host) and “infectious disease” (infection with ensuing illness). If you have Covid-19 and have no symptoms, you are not sick, and you are not infectious

5. But if an unmasked infected person 'coughs' for the FIRST time, can't Covid-19 spread?

Yes. But the science seems clear. Masks do not prevent the spread of coronaviruses. Covid-19 and other coronaviruses (there are many) are spread even when masks are worn. Washing hands, practicing good hygiene, staying home when sick are the best ways to mitigate the spread.

6. But since nursing homes and hospitals require masks, shouldn't everyone else wear a mask?

Even with full Personal Protection Equipment, complete isolation from the public, and strict sanitization, the vulnerable and elderly still get Covid-19 in nursing homes and hospitals. Extreme mitigation efforts rightfully take place in these facilities to stop the spread of Covid-19, but people still get infected.  That's the nature of a pandemic. But for your information, the spread of coronaviruses occurs often in hospitals and nursing homes with influenza and colds, just like Covid-19. The vulnerable are susceptible to coronaviruses, and targeted restrictions to help mitigate the spread in nursing homes and hospitals are appropriate. The best thing we can do for the elderly and vulnerable is to never enter a care-center with a cough or fever or without washing our hands. 

7. But wouldn't Jesus wear a mask in public if there was even a small chance it would help others?

No. I do not believe Jesus would wear a mask because I believe He would know masking healthy people would do more damage than good. However, I do not fault you for your belief that Jesus would wear a mask because you believe He would know that doing so would be for the good of others. We both agree that Jesus would think of others. We are also both thinking of others though we act differently. We just disagree over whether it is "good" for others when healthy people wear masks. We both want to do the good and the right thing. Let's agree to disagree. 

8. But what 'damage' could possibly exist by demanding healthy people mask?

Outside of potential damage to one's personal health, covering the faces of the healthy brings social damage. The face is a place of grace. A smile lightens the day. Being around people with faces covered is like drawing the shades on a sunny day. More importantly, once healthy people acquiesce to government mandates to cover their faces, then governments further encroach on civil liberties by locking people in their homes, restricting travel, shuttering churches and schools, and demanding vaccinations and tracking mechanisms. Social conformity is the mother of socialism and communism. Liberty is the mother of America. 

8. But what if the government decides to mandate (by law) that a healthy person must wear a mask at all times?

I will break the law. 

9. But Jesus told us to "obey the government in all things"?

No, He did not. In fact, Jesus "broke the law" of the land to feed His disciples on the Sabbath. If a government's actions are unjust, it is incumbent upon the people to violate the law. In the history of America, one generation's lawbreakers are the next generation's heroes. Moral people break the law for the higher good.

10. But how is wearing a mask unjust?

You misunderstand. A person freely choosing to wear a mask is not an unjust act. It's a mandatory law that requires healthy people to wear a mask that is unjust. It is forced compliance on a matter that violates the conscience. It's like the government forcing me to say 2 + 2 = 5, even if I don't believe it. 

11. But what if a business owner requires a mask to enter his shop?

I will politely put on a mask if I need something in his store, or I will politely leave. I believe it is the business owner's right in a free enterprise system to demand that a mask be worn in his shop, and I will not oppose the owner but might decide to shop elsewhere. Cakes and masks have much in common.

12. So you never wear a mask if you are not sick?

There are a few exceptions. If I must go into a hospital, a nursing home, or minister to a family where that family requests to wear a mask because they have vulnerable people in their home, then I will wear a mask if requested. 

13. Do you believe the pandemic is real?

Yes. However, Covid-19 is not nearly as deadly as previous worldwide pandemics. SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) barely meets the classical standards of a pandemic.

14. Have you lost friends because of your stance?

Yes, but I will always be a friend to them, even if they de-friend me. I "sometimes offend but am never offended." Meaning, I don't expect people to think, act, or live like I, but I recognize that some people base friendship on their expected conformity of those they choose to befriend. I understand and accept their decision to no longer be my friend. I will always have a spirit of friendship for them.

15. Would you ever change your position on wearing a mask in public?

Sure. If science persuaded me that covering the mouths and noses of healthy people kept people from getting sick. I am not persuaded by science.

16. But don't you care what other people think of you?

I care more about people and what's best for them. And right now, I believe it's best that they see a pastor who is uninterested in being popular, unconcerned about being accepted, and only concentrating on living by a principle of doing what is best for others, even in the face of opposition. Refusing to wear a mask when I am healthy is what I believe to be best for society. I'm thinking of others.

17. But people think you are selfish, don't they?

Some do. I don't blame them. They believe that they are wearing a mask for "the good of others." But they either don't take the time to see that I think I am not wearing a mask for "the good of others," or they disagree with me and wish to force me to be like them. If I believed for one moment that putting on a mask when I am healthy would save ONE life or would bring "greater social good," then I would wear a mask. I do not believe that to be true. However, I'm uninterested in forcing others to see it my way. I accept and encourage people to be free to do what they believe is best and to not judge the motives of those who think, act, and live differently than they think, act, or live.  I am also unfazed by others who wish to force me to see it their way. I change when I am persuaded by science and the common good.

18. But could you not wear a mask so others would not be so angry?

No. I would be living a lie and would be violating my conscience. The Bible calls me to not be concerned about pleasing men. Anger is never the problem; it is only the surface symptom of a greater underlying and unseen issue. I believe I'm dealing with bigger issues. 

19. How do you lead your church to worship in public gatherings?

We tell people if they have a cough, fever, or other symptoms to stay home. We provide online services. We also encourage people to wash their hands and provide hand wash at every entrance. For those comfortable wearing a mask, we provide masks if they don't have one. We've added additional services to provide comfortable spacing for people to sit. But we don't force anything. We encourage people to respect other people and their boundaries, not to judge people for why they are doing what they are doing, and not to force your views on others. Our motto is: "Feel Free. Stay Safe. Love Loud."

20. Do you believe any good can come from this 2020 pandemic?

Yes. I believe that people are awakened to the truth that they are not in control of their lives as they once thought.  The LORD is. Trust in the LORD and lean not to your own understanding of what is happening. God has a way of bringing proud people low so that He might exalt humble people who trust in Him. 

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Presidents, Vaccines, Mr. Edwards, and Confidence

I read today that President Barak Obama said he will be taking the new Coronavirus vaccine and allow national television to film and broadcast the vaccination "to build confidence in the US about vaccine safety." Former President George Bush later said he would join Barak Obama and do the same thing to encourage the American people. 

I'm not against vaccines. I've historically taken the flu shot every year. All of my children have been vaccinated. But I do respect parents, families, and individuals who shy away from vaccinations for health reasons. I'm uninterested in changing their minds. That said, I respect our two former presidents' efforts "to build confidence" in vaccine safety. 

I also know about the history of America. I know the LORD. And the LORD seems more interested in people placing their confidence in Him than in a vaccine. Using a Targum of Psalm 20:7 (be sure to look up the definition of a Targum), here's a message for America in 2020 from a verse for Israel in 1000 BC.

"Some trust in vaccines and some in doctors, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God."

By the way, just as soon as that statement of trust was made in Psalm 20:7, King David got on his "horse" and led "chariots" of soldiers (the two Hebrew words that I've Targumed as "vaccines" and "doctors") and went out to fight a battle. There's no argument in the Bible against using instruments like vaccines and doctors or horses and chariots. The Bible teaches that you're in trouble if you trust in those things rather than the LORD. 

The LORD has used infectious disease to bring down a nation that did not trust in Him. He could do it again. The LORD's stated purpose is to "bring low the proud and raise up those who trust in Him," a theme established throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as well as in the New Testament.  

Allow me to introduce President Obama and President Bush, as well as the rest of you, to the story of the death of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1755). 

Edwards was the most well-known colonial American of his day. At age 54, he died with newspapers tracking and reporting on his experience in taking the newly invented smallpox vaccination "to build confidence" in the American people about vaccine safety. Jonathan Edwards trusted in the LORD. He was, from all accounts, a most humble man. 

Unlike the 2020 RNA vaccination for Corona, the 1755 smallpox vaccination was primitive in nature. A pustule from a sick, infected victim of smallpox would be cut open. The pus would be squeezed out and mixed with a rubbing matter.

The infected matter would be carried by a doctor to a house where healthy people lived. The doctor would make small incisions between the thumbs and index fingers of those who had never been infected with smallpox. The rubbing matter would be placed over the open cuts and wrapped with cloths. If all went well, those vaccinated would endure a mild case of the pox and go on to live healthy lives without fear of catching the full-blown disease.

The American people in Edwards' were afraid of the new smallpox vaccination like many American people today are afraid of the new Coronavirus vaccination. 

The 54-year-old newly elected President of Princeton University wasn't afraid. He trusted the LORD.

Jonathan Edwards was the closest thing to a celebrity that America had in 1758. Serving as a pastor before his appointment to Princeton, Edwards' preaching had become the spark that led America to a Great Awakening.

As a teenager, Jonathan Edwards had written 70 Resolutions for Life. Every New Year's Day,  Edwards personally renewed his pledge to live by his resolutions for life. The ninth one states:

"Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death."

For most Americans today, that resolution sounds morbid. That's because we've lost the art of dying well. Actually, if applied, this resolution #9 would help all of us die as well as Jonathan Edwards did in the prime of his life.

Dr. William Shippen, a Princeton doctor who would later serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress, administered the smallpox vaccination to President Jonathan Edwards. The newspapers reported the event, hoping to encourage other New Jersey citizens to get the treatment themselves.


At first, things went normal. Edwards came down with a mild case of the pox, and he appeared to be on the mend.

But then smallpox spread into his mouth and throat, making swallowing difficult.

Jonathan Edwards knew that he was dying. 

He'd moved to Princeton only a few months earlier to serve as President of the school (then known as The College of New Jersey). His wife had not yet made it to Princeton. Jonathan Edwards had co-founded the school with his good friend Aaron Burr, Sr., whose sudden death by fever in the fall of 1757 had precipitated Edwards's appointment. Edwards' daughter, Esther Edwards, had married Mr. Burr, and their son Aaron Burr, Jr. would go on to become Vice-President of the United States. Most Americans only know of Jonathan Edward's grandson, Aaron Burr, Jr., for his killing of Alexander Hamilton in a famous duel, an event made even more memorable by the Broadway musical play Hamilton.

As Jonathan Edwards lay on his death bed, messengers sent for his wife. But Sarah Edwards would not make it to Princeton to see her husband before he died. When Jonathan Edwards realized his wife wouldn't make it, he called for Lucy, his daughter, who'd moved with him to Princeton. He said to her:

"Dear Lucy, it seems to me to be the will of God that I must shortly leave you; therefore give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature, as I trust is spiritual, and therefore will continue forever: and I hope she will be supported under so great a trial, and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children, you are now like to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all to seek a Father, who will never fail you. And as to my funeral, I would have it be like Mr. Burr’s; and any additional sum of money that might be expected to be laid out that way, I would have it disposed of to charitable uses."

Jonathan Edward's had attended Mr. Burr's funeral the previous fall and was impressed with its simplicity and charity. There were no ornate decorations, nor an ornate casket or headstone, both customary in Edward's day.  Mr. Burr had instructed all the money that his family would save to go to charitable causes.

As the hour of his death approached, friends and Dr. William Shippen stood near President Edwards and discussed the significant loss of coming to the college, the American colonies, and the world at large through President Edwards' death. Nobody thought Jonathan Edwards could hear the conversation, but he raised his head up from his bed and spoke clearly to the group:

"Trust in God, and ye need not fear."

At 2:30 pm, the afternoon of March 22, 1758, Jonathan Edwards died of smallpox at 54. Dr. Shippen sent a letter to his widow:

"This afternoon, between two and three o’clock, it pleased God to let him sleep in that dear Lord Jesus, whose kingdom and interest he has been faithfully and painfully serving all his life. And never did any mortal man more fully and clearly evidence the sincerity of all his professions, by one continued, universal, calm, cheerful resignation, and patient submission to the divine will, through every stage of his disease, than he; not so much as one discontented expression, nor the least appearance of murmuring, through the whole."

Sarah Edwards would later write to her daughter these words of comfort and encouragement: 

"My very dear Child, what shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud! …The Lord has done it. He has made me adore His goodness that we had him so long. But my God lives: and He has my heart. Oh, what a legacy my husband and your father has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be."

In our day, when families are panicked over the possible death of loved ones and when individuals are anxious and fearful over their own mortality, it's good for us to reflect on the past lives of God's faithful servants and the art of dying well.

It's also a reminder that people who trust in the LORD may die of Covid-19. People who trust in the LORD may die from vaccination. People who trust in the LORD will die, just like those who don't trust in the LORD.

But when you trust in the LORD, you don't fear your death

I wish President Obama and President Bush success, but if the LORD is bringing down a proud nation, the new Corona vaccinations may not turn out the way we desire. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Save Our Children, Justice, and the Bold Journalist Who Shook the World and Died on the RMS Titanic

W.T. Stead (1849-1912) 
There is a child sex trafficking pandemic taking place in the United States in 2020.

The moral depravity of a culture more focused on preventing Covid-19 than putting an end to covert sexual trafficking of children or preventing the deaths of innocent and powerless children through abortion should turn the stomach of every American.

The words of a London policeman about child sex trafficking, words spoken while being interviewed by the subject of this blogpost in 1882, are just as appropriate today as they were a century and a half ago:

"Although it ought to raise hell, it does not even raise the neighbors."

Pedophilia and blatant disregard for the lives of children infect the backrooms of Congress, the boardrooms of Wall Street, and the back alleys of small-town America.

To grasp the moral courage it takes to shut down child sex trafficking and the evil practice of abortion in our country, one needs to look no further than the most famous man to die during the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

His name was William Thomas Stead (1849-1912). His friends called him W.T. Stead.

In 2012, one hundred years after his death, the first biography of Stead's remarkable life came to the public market. Famous in his day, Stead's name had faded from the collective conscience of British and American societies.

Stead's anonymity is unfortunate. Tristam Hunt, a member of Britain's House of Commons, wrote of W.T. Stead in the foreword of that 2012 biography:
"Imprisoned for abducting a child in the course of exposing the vicious sex trade that existed in Victorian London, Stead realized, as few before him had, that governments are powerless to resist the coordinated voice of the public – when harnessed by a newspaper – to help put an end to such evils."

Substitute the words "social media" for newspaper and the words of Tristam Hunt are an inspiration for every person who uses social media to drive out evil through social activism on behalf of the powerless and voiceless.

W.T. Stead Memorial at Central Park, New York

My cousin and his wife live on 5th Avenue in New York City. Across from their townhouse, set on the east wall that surrounds Central Park, there is a bronze statue of W.T. Stead. Thousands walk by every day and have no idea who this man is. 

To know him is to grasp the courage it takes to change a culture of complacency.

Born the son of a clergyman on July 5, 1849, in Embleton, England,  William Thomas Stead learned to read and write both English and Latin by the age of 5.

Thought by loved ones to eventually follow his father's footsteps in becoming a preacher, Stead instead took an interest in journalism and worked his way up the newspaper management ladder. He became the youngest newspaper editor in England at the age of 22. 

Deeply spiritual and well-versed in the Bible, the day before his 26th birthday, W.T. Stead records in his journal how God called him that year to use his gifts and talents for the good of society:
"The great event of this year has been... (through) reading Victor Hugo's The Man Who Laughs, a sense of my prophethood returned. I felt once more the sacredness of the power placed in my hands, to be used on behalf of the poor, the outcast and the oppressed. It was a gift of renewed faith. I clearly and decidedly grasped the idea that everything is given to one to be employed on behalf of those that have nothing, and that only by the patient laborious unselfish labor of the good can the bad be extinguished, and that my mission was to labor unceasingly, by all methods and in every season, to help on the social regeneration of the people of the world."

For the rest of his life, W.T. Stead laboriously worked for the good of those who had nothing. He became Britain's first investigative journalist

In 1885, Stead shocked the world with a series of articles he wrote on the seamy practice of child prostitution in London, England. W.T. Stead spent months investigating child trafficking before publishing the articles that stunned newspaper readers of Victorian London. W.T. Stead researcher Owen Mulpetre observes about Stead's articles:

"(He wrote) in graphic detail about the entrapment, abduction and 'sale' of young under-privileged girls to London brothels. Written in successive installments, Stead's "infernal narrative", as he called it, revealed to a respectable readership a criminal underworld of stinking brothels, fiendish procuresses, drugs and padded chambers, where upper-class pedophiles could revel 'in the cries of an immature child.'"

London prosecutors had Stead arrested for breaking "decency laws" (his articles) and for "kidnapping" a child (his research and activism) that Stead had rescued from a child sex trafficking house. In jail for three months awaiting trial, the jury acquitted Stead of any criminal behavior in the infamous Eliza Armstrong case.

The fame of W.T. Stead spread after his acquittal. It wasn't long until Americans knew Stead's name too.  

In 1894, Stead traveled to Chicago to attend the World’s Fair. He was horrified by the conditions that he observed in the streets around the glamour of the 1892 Columbian Exposition, called by the people, the World's Fair. He decided to thoroughly investigate for himself the streets of Chicago. 

Stead's Vice Map of Ward 1, Chicago (1894)

W.T. Stead went block by block in Ward 1 of Chicago (see map), noting and mapping the brawling bars, the brothels, and the barbaric human behaviors behind the World's Fair. 

His findings, published in If Christ Came to Chicago!: A Plea for the Union of All Who Love in the Service of All Who Suffer (1894), is recognized by the prestigious Britannica Encyclopedia as a model of journalistic research.

Every article Stead wrote had the goal of reforming a society held hostage by "the powers of darkness in high places." 

It sounds like 2020.

One of the prized possessions I have framed in my writing office at home is a handwritten postcard to W.T. Stead from Charles Spurgeon, the famous London preacher and contemporary of Stead. Spurgeon congratulates W.T. Stead for his written portraits or character sketches in a magazine, profiling men and women of courage and character who were making a difference in the world during the 1880s and 1890s. Stead called the magazine he founded, and the one to which Spurgeon subscribed,  The Review of Reviews.

For 40 years, W.T. Stead laboriously worked through his writings to bring justice, to practice mercy, and to live humbly in the corridors of power. 

W.T. Stead made a difference for good in the world of child sex-trafficking in his day. We need more men and women of courage, people like W.T. Stead, in 2020.

Biographer Sydney Robinson recounts how William Thomas Stead spent the last hours of his life: 
Shortly before midnight on Sunday 14 April 1912, a stout, prematurely aged gentleman with crystal-blue eyes and a shaggy grey beard appeared on the foredeck of the Titanic. ‘What do they say is the trouble?’ he innocently enquired. No one seemed to know. ‘Well, I guess it’s nothing serious; I’m going back to my cabin to read’. These were the last recorded words of William Thomas Stead, the famous investigative journalist who, thirty years previously, had shocked the world by purchasing a thirteen-year-old girl on the streets of Victorian London. Two hours later he would be plunged into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean, never to be seen again.
It was a bizarre end for a man who had made his name smiting ‘the powers of darkness in high places’ on behalf of the ‘disinherited and outcast of the world’. The magnificent ship, legendary in its vast scale, luxury and exclusivity, represented everything he had campaigned against during his long career... It was somehow apt that W. T. Stead had last been seen turning the pages of a penny Bible in the first-class reading room of the world’s most expensive cruise liner. (Sydney W. Robinson, Muckraker, Kindle Edition)

William Thomas Stead is an inspiration for any who wish to drive out evil by laboriously doing good. Jesus made it clear that when we care for the fatherless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, speak for the voiceless, and stand for the powerless, we are actually serving Him (see Matthew 25:40).

"This life will soon be past and only what's done for Christ will last." 


Sunday, February 16, 2020

The 2000 BFM and the Theological Triage Tragedy

SBC Women: Image by Melanie Grizzel, Christianity Today
American Christians are impatient.

Like American culture as a whole, we Christians want answers to complex problems in 140 characters

Especially Southern Baptists. 

But there are no quick solutions to the problems that Southern Baptists now face regarding resistance to gifted Christian women in ministry and church leadership. 

The clear teaching of Scripture is that Christ alone is the Head of His church (Colossians 1:18). Christ gifts all men and women in His church according to His pleasure (I Corinthians 12), and there are no "render by gender" spiritual gifts. That means, Christ never gives the gift of teaching, or prophesying, or preaching, or any other spiritual gift to only males.  In fact, the sacred Scriptures say just the opposite:
"In the last days, God says,  'I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy'" (Acts 2:17). 
Every Christian is called "to use whatever gift you have received in order to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms" (I Peter 4:10). 

But some Southern Baptists leaders now teach that Christian men have  “spiritual authority” over God's people, and only Christian men should lead others in the home and church. Christian women, they say, are to have “submissive attitudes” and stay in the background - not exercising their gifts - while the Christian males "take the lead." 

That teaching is directly contradictory to the infallible and inerrant teaching of the New Testament which states that Christ alone has all spiritual authority in His Kingdom (Matthew 28:18), and that leadership in His Kingdom is based on a spiritual gift, not a specific gender; humble character, not hubistric control; and a spirit of service, not a position of power.

Jesus called His disciples together and said:
"The Gentiles exercise dominion over people, exercising great authority over them. But it shall not be so among you (Matthew 20:25-26).
The Bible clearly states that all Christians  - both males and females - are to “submit to one another” and are to ”love one another” (Ephesians 5:21; John 13:34). 

Nobody rules over anybody in Christ's Kingdom but Christ. 

Shared leadership between men and women in the home, the church, and the Convention is the New Testament norm.

So what happened to the Southern Baptist Convention?

The Southern Baptist Convention and Female Leadership Prior to 1998

Southern Baptists have always been known as "people of the book." That's why from its formation in 1845 to the end of the 20th century, gifted and humble Southern Baptist men and women shared leadership in our Convention.

American Baptists revered Ann Judson (1789-1826). Her grave is still maintained by a small Baptist church in Myanmar, where she and her husband Adoniram Judson served as missionaries to the Burmese. While her husband was imprisoned and awaiting execution during a war with Britain in 1824, Ann kept Adoniram alive for two years through her constant advocacy of his case. During this time, Ann taught men the Scriptures, translated the Bible into Thai, and served the Burmese for Kingdom purposes on an equal basis to that of her husband. 

In 1863, the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention appointed Joanna P. Moore as the first female SBC Home missionary. Her assignment was to go to Island #10 in the Mississippi River. It was there Joanna P. Moore taught "African American pastors encamped on that island the truth of the Scriptures."

Lottie Moon (1873-1912), a gifted Southern Baptist evangelist among the Chinese, is so revered today that the Southern Baptist Missions Offering is called "Lottie Moon." Her church in China, Wulin Shenghui Church of Penglai, is protected by the Chinese government as a "historical and cultural site." 

I could go on and on. From Annie Armstong to Beth Moore, from Alma Hunt to Paige Heard, from Hazel Brannon Smith to Sheri Klouda, Southern Baptist women have used their gifts to encourage God's people. 

The graph to the right shows the growth in the average church membership per church from 1920 - 1990. 70 years of growth and 70 years of women leading according to their gifts.

The Effort to Remove SBC Women from Kingdom Leadership Began in 1998

Paige Patterson's views of women are well-documented. He believes "it indicates a wicked society when women lead."

For over 150 years, Southern Baptists were doing fine with shared leadership of Christian men and women. But in 1998, things began to change. 

Paige Patterson appointed a Committee, a group of 13 men and 2 women to "rewrite  the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message." The men on the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message Committee included Al Mohler, Richard Land, T.C. Pickney, and Jerry Vines, men who strongly aligned themselves with Paige Patterson's doctrine.

Al Mohler's article "A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity" shows how he advocates for the concept of "doctrinal triage," an intellectual method by which different doctrines are sorted into various priority levels, like a doctor would triage patients according to the severity of their sickness. The word "triage" comes from the French language and means "to sort." 

“A discipline of theological triage would require Christians to determine a scale of theological urgency that would correspond to the medical world's framework for medical priority.
First-order theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith (examples: the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, etc...)
Second-order theological issues would include the meaning and mode of baptism (which separates Baptists and Presbyterians) as well as other issues that resist easy settlement by those who would prefer an either/or approach. 
Third-order theological issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations (examples: eschatology, church governance, and other issues where believers are able in a Convention to accept one another when third order issues are in question.”
Al Mohler and his fellow committee members moved the question of gifted women serving Christ's Kingdom in leadership roles from a third-order theological issue to a second-order theological issue. 

 I call this a theological triage tragedy.

Never before in a Baptist Confession of Faith, from a time period that encompasses AD 1500 to AD 2000, did a Baptist confession ever limit the role of gifted women in the Kingdom of Christ.


Other denominations like Anglican, Episcopal, and Presbyterian have systematized their limitations of women. But never Baptists - until AD 2000.

Shared leadership of gifted men and women is the New Testament way, and it also has been historically the Baptist way.

I understand that some in the Southern Baptist Convention today disagree with me on the role of women being a third-order theological issue.

I can - and do - cooperate with those Southern Baptists. However, those who have wrongly made "the role of women" in the SBC a second-order theological issue have a hard time cooperating with those of us who disagree with them on this issue.

It's a problem of their own making.

Let's review what has happened in the last twenty years in the Southern Baptist Convention (2000-2020) since a third-order doctrine was suddenly elevated to a second-tier theological issue level.

Southern Baptist Convention membership has declined precipitously.

Attendance is at historic lows.

Paige Patterson has been terminated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for treatment of women that the chairman of trustees called "antithetical to the core values of our faith."

The Southern Baptist Convention has endured the largest sexual abuse scandal among pastors in the history of the evangelical church. Spiritual power trips often end in sexual predatory trysts.

There are many more issues, but I'll stop listing them.

Southern Baptists have a long and strong history. I am a third-generation Baptist preacher, and the Burleson extended family has even more historic roots in the Southern Baptist Convention than my immediate family.

I care about Southern Baptists.

When God says, "I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy" (Acts 2:17), but Southern Baptists say "NO!" to God's Spirit, then one might expect to see what we are seeing in the SBC.

I saw the same thing in 2005 when the trustees of the International Mission Board tried to limit those they sent to the mission field by exalting third-order doctrines (e.g. "who baptized you?" and "do you have a private prayer language") to the second-order doctrinal triage tier. I warned the SBC then, and I'm warning the SBC again.

Christian Fundamentalists get their identity from fighting "others." Fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention were successful in ridding the convention of alleged "enemies" in the 1990s. Most everyone opposed to their control left the SBC.

There was nobody else to control or to fight in 1998. That's when Paige Patterson turned the  SBC toward controlling the "others" among us - our women.

In 2007, I predicted the Southern Baptist Sexual Abuse crisis and tried to do something about it.

Today, the Southern Baptist Convention is facing another crisis. We are subjugating, stifling, and silencing our women.

Twenty years ago the Southern Baptist Convention leadership elevated “the role of women” in the
SBC from a third-order doctrinal issue to a second-order doctrinal issue.

Until "the role of women" in the Southern Baptist Convention is reverted back to the third-level doctrinal tier to which it belongs, the Southern Baptist Convention will continue its precipitous decline.

If you are a Christian man and you can't listen to a woman teach the Scripture, then you may have a hard time hearing the Spirit for yourself (see Acts 2:17).

At this year's Pastor's Conference, Hosanna Wong will speak the Word of God to pastors who gather for the annual Southern Baptist Pastors Conference.

Followers of Jesus who gather to hear Hosanna will be blessed by her proclamation of God's Word and the exaltation of Jesus Christ through the spoken word.

Some Fundamentalists are upset. That's expected. They have to fight someone.

This conservative, Bible-believing pastor is thrilled that finally the SBC is beginning to recognize the truth that when the Spirit moves, "your sons and daughters shall prophesy."