Doug Fletcher Blog

Bio. - Born and reared in Iowa, Douglas Fletcher received a B.A. from Drake University and Master of Divinity and PhD degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary.  He served Presbyterian (USA) congregations in Tulsa, OK, Austin, TX, and Hilton Head Island, SC.   Fletcher also has taught in the field of Biblical studies at universities in Oklahoma, Texas, and Zambia.  He was part of a Lilly Endowment Pastor-Theologian program with the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, N.J.  

A trained life coach, Fletcher is committed to working to deepen conversations and understanding in neighborhoods, communities and businesses.  He is involved in his local community on the boards of the Community Foundation and Neighborhood Outreach Connection, an organization with innovative afterschool educational programs.  His wife, Wesla Liao Fletcher, an ordained Methodist minister, teaches psychology at the University of South Carolina, Beaufort.  They attend Campbell Chapel, an African Methodist Episcopal church in Bluffton, S.C.  

Doug Fletcher Blog     August 24, 2020

My questioner didn’t want to offend or provoke, but when he found out I was a pastor, he couldn’t resist asking:  how could Christians support Donald Trump?

It wasn’t clear to me if he was alluding to Stormy Daniels, the Access Hollywood tape, or children separated from their parents in cages at the Mexican border.   In fact, he was not asking about Donald Trump at all.   He was asking about Christian voters.

After all, news reports suggest “evangelical” Christians are a fundamental element of his base, with some 80% of white evangelicals supporting Trump.  They had been cool to Jimmy Carter, a Baptist Sunday school teacher and carpenter for Habitat for Humanity.  But support for Jimmy Carter my questioner would have understood.  Trump, on the other hand, seems awkward and unfamiliar with the language of faith.  He has given interviews in which he suggested he didn’t really need much in the way of forgiveness.   And if the fruit of the Spirit is, at the very least, to be morally aspirational in the lives of believers, the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, these are not the things that Trump lifts up.   He prefers to describe himself as a counterpuncher rather than a cheekturner.  My questioner wanted me to explain the enthusiasm for Trump among Christians.  

I needed to explain that though Trump has very high approval numbers among white “evangelicals,” that is not all Christians.  And while the word “evangelical” has broad theological and historical significance for Protestants going back to the Reformation, it is used today more as a descriptor of a significant part of Protestantism, politically and socially conservative.  Language changes, “evangelicals” has come to include what once were described as Christian fundamentalists and dispensationalists as well as most nondenominational churches.        

Even so, “evangelical” leaders seldom have expressed any moral concerns regarding President Trump (though the separated children at the border brought protest from prominent evangelical pastors).   Instead, there is appreciation that Trump pays attention to this part of his base and promised to give them power and influence.  They appreciate his promise of supportive judges, especially regarding the issue of abortion.  They don’t criticize.

Understanding the support goes beyond simple alignment of interests.  There is a frequently made identification of Trump as a “Cyrus” figure in evangelical circles.   Cyrus was a Persian King who allowed the Israelites to return to their land.  The Babylonians destroyed Israel in 586 B.C. and took the people away into exile.  Cyrus conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Israelites to return home and to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.  He is uniquely described in the Old Testament book of Isaiah as “messiah” or “anointed one” (45:1).  Cyrus is the only non-Israelite so described.  It is a title typically associated by Christians with Jesus.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu compared Trump to Cyrus for having moved the American Embassy and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Many evangelical pastors had already drawn a connection of Trump to Cyrus, an outsider used for a divine purpose and described as “the anointed one.”  Some see Trump as a Cyrus figure for America.  It can be taken still farther.  Just as Cyrus sanctioned the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem 2500 years ago, in this time a new Cyrus could help in the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, which Christian Zionists believe would trigger the Second Coming.  

There’s more.  While the story of King David is often used to demonstrate that there is a way back from any moral failure, David was deeply sorrowful and repentant.  The story of Cyrus reads differently.   Cyrus was “anointed” by God, though he was not an Israelite but a worshipper of the idol god, Marduk.   His “anointing” and role eclipse all other concerns, moral and otherwise.  Cyrus and anyone in that role gets a pass.        

Such views create cynicism about the church as well as confusion.   Many see the church as irrelevant, immoral, hypocritical and captive to political agendas.  Religious polls show an accelerating percentage of people have no religious affiliation at all. 

Moreover, the use of Cyrus as a type for a contemporary political figure is troubling.  Cyrus’ story is ultimately about  God’s power and promise.  Even the unique labeling of Cyrus as “messiah—anointed one” has the authority of a prophet and Scripture behind it, not simply the judgment of contemporaries and supporters.  The New Testament outsider and “anointed one” is Jesus and his life was one of profound integrity.  He both taught forgiveness of one’s enemies and forgave those who crucified him.

The message of Jesus was not about an interpretation of historical epochs, dispensations, or typology.  It was an intervention and a message of God’s passion for us, of the power of grace for new beginnings, of the hope set before us, of radical responsibility to and for each other.   It has profound relevance for our time.   It would be a great tragedy if now, of all times, it should be obscured instead of shared. 

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     August 12, 2020

In 1983, I sat in an airplane to Fuchow, China.  The elderly Chinese man sitting next to me spoke English and I soon learned that he had been a professor at Fukien Christian College, now Fukien University, where my wife’s grandfather, a Methodist bishop, had served as president.   The time on the flight passed too quickly.  He left me remembering these words from Wesla’s grandfather to churches in China in 1948:  “The world is going to change.  Life is going to change.  But God will not forsake you and I’m not leaving either.”  A year later, with hundreds of other pastors, he was arrested and the churches were all closed.

We are living in a time of accelerated and profound change in our culture and society.  Change isn’t always fun.  It can expose injustice, trigger anxiety, increase alienation, and ruin plans.    

While not always given much attention, the church in America has been going through profound changes.  Long before the pandemic, pollsters of religion noted the decline of denominations and their loss of influence in our culture.   The influence of mainline denominations in support of civil rights legislation in the 1960s may be hard to imagine today.   Nondenominational and independent churches now constitute a majority of protestants, but nondenominational membership overall has been flat.  The most significant trend to demographers has been the growth of a group labeled “nones,” none of the above.  America has become an increasingly secular culture and Christianity is often perceived negatively, captive to political agendas, marked by hatred of gays, and hypocrisy.  And then the pandemic arrived and church buildings closed. 

Moves to adapt to zoom church and zoom small groups and meetings have allowed churches to continue and will have impacts even when the Covid-19 virus is behind us. Church will be different, but these are simply the adaptations of institutions.  

The change that needs to happen is more fundamental.

Christian faith is not at its heart a doctrinal checklist to defend or a set of judgments to make about others.  It doesn’t require political favor to survive.   It is an experience of God’s grace in Jesus Christ to receive and share.  Receiving that grace is intended to make us more gracious, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control because God wants good for us.  It is a gift, an identity, and it is deeply attractive.

Churches were allowed to reopen in China in 1982 after more than 30 years.  When they reopened, they were filled, not only with older people, but also with young adults, families and children.  The faith had been shared and passed on.   God hadn’t left.  And something beautiful had been happening in thousands and thousands of homes.  For us, this time is not something simply to seek to survive or get past.  There is an invitation to deepen our life and wherever we have opportunity to share the grace and generosity of God.   

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     June 4, 2020

Today, James Mattis gave his second warning. The first was in his resignation letter as secretary of defense about an America which didn’t support our allies. It was a security concern for the future of our country. The second warning is about the failure of leadership in America. Secretary James Mattis said that there should be nothing controversial about a principle carved above the entrance to the Supreme Court building, “equal justice under law.” The death of George Floyd should grieve and disturb us all. He wrote about the right of protest and that the military should not be used against its own people who have the right of protest. That is not America. Mattis said that the president has always played to division, to his base, and has made no efforts, unlike any president in his lifetime, to reach out to be the president of all.

Two republican senators have spoken appreciatively of the words of Mattis. The rest are silent, because they have tied their future to the approval of the president. They are afraid of tweets. John McCain wasn’t afraid of tweets.

The republican party wasn’t always about the things it now seems to represent. It didn’t hold having guns of every sort as a core principle, as if we all need to have combat weapons as the solution to violence. It didn’t hold policies that were hostile to caring for the environment. It wasn’t against working to provide a great America—for the first time, for all.

The republican party was a party that encouraged entrepreneurship and productivity that could provide good jobs for American families. As a conservative party, it sought to respect the best from our past as we deal with the present and the future. It was a party that emphasized a strong defense, sought to be fiscally responsible, and believed that it was the constitution to which we made a common pledge. It believed in accountability and liberty. It promoted respect for the truth. It was a party that began with Lincoln and high minded principles. We need it still.

Mattis is speaking the truth. Some people think that criticisms cancel each other out. But they don’t. The President is responsible to set the tone, provide the maturity, set personal agendas aside and work for America’s best future and to seek to be the president of all the people. His tweet belittling Mattis is sadly predictable.

We are now in a time of testing—of who we are. Racism is America’s original sin. We have ignored it, denied it, diverted from it. But the nation that we can build as we prevail over Covid-19 can be a truly better America. This agenda has been given to us by history, one more tragic injustice, the death of George Floyd. None of us would want this to happen to a member of our family. It is one of a long chain that has reinforced a picture we cannot ignore.

We need to build a better future. As General Mattis indicated, we need better leadership for our country. We need two real parties. And we need to support justice for all. We need to provide better training for police and better pay. We need to expect them to act in a professional way in every circumstance. The acts of bad actors hurt everyone.

We need a renewed vision of America. A house divided cannot stand. Lincoln quoted it from the Bible. The principle of the equal worth of every person is also derived from Scripture. The Bible does not need to be defended or held up, it needs to be lived.

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     May 3, 2020

So where is God? Isn’t that an important question in this time for what insurance folks used to uncharitably call an “act of God?” Somehow, talking simply about personal blessings in such a time seems too self centered and too small.

Does God not care about all the suffering in the world or that this hits the most vulnerable most severely? Or does God lack the power to remove this pandemic scourge from the earth? Is there a lack of will or power? Does this demonstrate for some that even if God exists, it is fundamentally irrelevant? Somehow, to leave God out of this and then to pick up again with a gentle God when this is over seems too convenient, if not dishonest. If God is here, God is here all the time.

I have wondered if this is judgment. Not the Last one nor simply God’s hitting of the smite key for irritating God or a pastor one too many times, but judgment as withholding part of the gracious protection that keeps us from fully experiencing the consequences of our own actions. Judgment can function as a mirror that lets us see what otherwise we might not. Divine judgment has the intention of restoration. It offers us the possibility of recovery of a better perspective on life, God, friendship, love, everything. Judgment can be the trigger for new beginnings, for the resolve and commitment to live life more as a gift to be shared.

As I watched a YouTube clip sent to me of pandas mating after ten years, the conclusion seemed inescapable: They had needed some privacy. And that Nature flourishes when we get out of the way. Perhaps this moment will give us the eyes to see the environmental damage and danger before us and the vulnerability of the least. Perhaps this time, that reminds us painfully of the limits of our own power, can also help us notice things about ourselves, about how we care for others, about the world, and can help us to recover a deeper sense of our purpose.

There are lessons for us in these things. It should not leave us unchanged.

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     April 19, 2020

We are in a most extraordinary position - isolated in homes - no sports on tv- worries about life, job, money, vulnerability. Is it possible that this will be a moment when we will rediscover the importance of life together? Is the isolation the occasion for us to realize how interconnected we are, how dependent we are on the sacrificial work of others for our well-being?

A famous sociologist, Robert Bellah, suggested that there were two things that created the secret sauce of American success: entrepreneurship and the church- stressing creativity and initiative but also recognizing that capitalism contains no moral values and that the church reminds us of the responsibility and relationship we have with others. Together they built America. Bellah was concerned that people had forgotten the importance of the church in this equation.

Perhaps this is a moment for us to remember. It honors those who have made sacrifices for us and are taking risks for us today that personal freedoms are not enough.

I have been working on a book on the Lord’s Prayer. It has struck me how it teaches us to pray for “us” and not just for “me.”

The question that this weird experience we are living through invites us all to ask is: how can the next chapter of our life together be a better one-and what’s the part I can play.

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     April 15, 2020

I have been thinking about "essential workers." I think many of us are making special efforts to thank grocery checkers and stockers, pharmacy workers, delivery people, and so many more. And then, of course, there are the hospital workers, doctors, nurses, cleaners, food service, laundry people, all putting themselves at risk for others. There are those who work in nursing homes. The list goes on and on.

Many of them, front line essential workers, people who make the sheltering in place possible, are among the lowest compensated people in our economy. Many struggle to make ends meet. Many lack health insurance, paid sick leave. And yet they care for us. It sounds like a Biblical parable, someone said. It ought to make us think.

Doesn't gratitude need to be concrete? Shouldn't we be reflecting on this experience and letting it touch us with a vision of what can be better, of what must be better, when the all-clear whistle blows? Should things return to "normal" or should it become the moment to aspire and work for a better world?

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     April 10, 2020

I watched an interview with Peggy Whitson, an American astronaut who set all kinds of space records, including a total of 665 days in space. She was asked by a reporter how she managed the isolation and social distancing.

She described keeping busy with little tasks. Then there came a sense of the fundamental meaninglessness of all the little tasks. While I could identify with both stages, it was what she said next that captured me. She said that she needed to remember the larger purpose and the larger story of which she was a part, the exploration of space and pushing the frontier of knowledge. Remembering the larger story made the little chores endurable and meaningful.

We all can look to a larger frame when thinking about a moment. We may think to a difficult period in life that we navigated or survived, or to family stories that remind us that others have gone through tough times with grit and courage. These stories can help to steel the soul and to keep us from despair and anxiety.

In this Holy Week, we are reminded of a larger story that is bigger than family stories and frames our life and purpose. It is a story of sacrifice, of love, power, surprise and joy. It is a story that has helped people endure through tough times and recover with resilience and grace. It is the story of who we are and the destiny for which we were created. It is the story that can help us to come out of shelter into a new chapter of promise. It is the story of a God who loves each of us and all of us more than we can ever imagine. It is also the invitation to live a bigger life.

God bless you!

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     April 4, 2020

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, a day that recalls a story of profound relevance to the stress of our present national emergency.

Palm Sunday is about more than a parade. Jesus knew that his enemies were waiting for him in Jerusalem to do him harm. He could have stayed away. Instead, he went forward, into the heart of the storm. The stress he felt, though people cheered at the time, is conveyed in the account of a prayer he made in the garden of Gethsemane. The story operates on many levels.

I am grateful that because of Jesus' life, we can believe that God understands what human life is like, our worries and fears, our anxieties and concerns. We can believe the evidence and message of Easter's triumph, that love ultimately wins. We have reason for trust that we are not alone through our life. We have reason for a profound hope. We have reason to live with courage, generosity and grace---even when, especially when, life is hard.

It will be strange for me not to be in church for the services of the coming week. But the story of this week is for all of us. It is about evil, death, despair and brokenness. It is about courage, trust, faithfulness, even when things are difficult. And it is about the triumph of love---and joy. Sometimes, we find ourselves in places where this story is able to touch us with particular power. May you be touched and blessed!

Be well!

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     March 29, 2020 

There have been a lot of moving stories about the medical front line facing the COVID virus. Hospital staffs are dealing with a dangerous situation every day. It is stressful, frightening, and ominous. Many of them are doing it without the full protection of the personal protective equipment they were taught always to wear. The failure to protect first responders puts us in a circumstance often more associated with the third world, not America. They and their families deserve not to be put at such risk. That’s obvious.

And yet they serve, and volunteer and work and care. It is not self interest that drives them. It is empathy. And it is character. In a society that often suggests that self interest is the highest principle, and that those who operate from something else are foolish or misguided, doctors and nurses and cleaning and cooking staff who are serving are modeling something different from those who operate from or celebrate self-interest. It is not foolishness to care. There is nobility in it and even the suggestion that we were made to care for one another, not simply ourselves. Self interest may be cultivated into an art form but it doesn’t exhibit character.

Character used to suggest the cultivation of virtue and not just refer to a crusty uncle. It meant living with an understanding of the value of others and so to be willing to make sacrifices for others. It still does. Character understands that we are more connected to each other than we realize and calls us to reflect on the part we can play for good. It challenges us to bring discipline to the aspiration to become a better human being.

In the middle of this crisis, we have seen great courage and kindness and generosity. It is a gift to all of us. It is also a model and calling for a better world.

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     March 22, 2020

It has been a week since Wesla and I started staying home as a part of the corona virus protocol. It has been slow to sink in that we are living what we never imagined (though the government should be imagining the unimaginable -- isn't that the lesson of Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and why we pay taxes for our troops to prepare for unexpected scenarios? Responsibility and accountability aren't just lessons for teenagers; they matter for government and for the rest of us. They help us make necessary changes and to regain trust.

I have felt what I suspect many have---a range of emotions, bursts of energy to tackle projects around the house, a sense of social isolation and wanting to get out and be with people, anxiety about savings and investment losses, amusement that our children are going crazy locked up with their kids full-time, watching the news and then switching to the weather channel way too much, and awareness that there are many who are in desperate situations, without income, groceries, afraid about not being able to pay the rent, and dealing with profound anxiety and stress.

When I think about those who are living on the edge, I feel some shame about worrying about myself. I remember something my mother once said about her Alzheimer's condition and her faith: "The Lord has seen me through a lot of things (and I knew her life had been tough) and it's no time to change ponies now." There are stand up moments in life. We can show courage whereever we are.

We all have the power to make a difference in the lives of others. Interestingly, it is one of the best ways both to get perspective for our own life and to get out of the self-preoccupation that diminishes us. For every one of us, there are places we are uniquely positioned to help. It may require some inquiries. But you and I can be an answer to desperate prayers. Helping someone who is hurting can both concretely change circumstances and also be a source of encouragement that may help them face the next challenge. It also helps to make us truly alive because we have the power to to make a difference, and were made to live a life that matters, even in challenging times, perhaps especially in challenging times.

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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