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A New Call for Gun Control

2016 July 21
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Bishop David EppsOnce again, the opponents of the 2nd Amendment are using a national tragedy perpetuated by a radical Islamist to argue for additional gun control. Not even one day went by before the calls began. The simple truth is this: It is the constitutional right of Americans to “keep and bear arms.” In those places where this right has been abridged, illegally in my view, the murder rate is often higher, not lower. In Chicago, which has one of the nation’s strictest gun control laws, murder—by firearms—is rampant.

If outlawing certain practices worked, then America would be drug free, sex trafficking would not be taking place, and no one would be speeding down the highways. Bad people will always find a way to do bad things. Timothy McVeigh used fertilizer. The Boston bombers used a pressure cooker. The criminals of 9/11 used box cutters.

In 2012, “More people were killed with hammers than were killed with those guns (assault weapons).” FBI crime data doesn’t specifically define “assault weapons.” But the number of murders in 2012 committed by beating (aka “personal weapons”) was 678. That outpaced murders by rifles (322) and shotguns (303) combined. Cain killed Abel with a rock.

In 2010, there were an estimated 5,419,000 crashes (30,296 fatal crashes), killing 32,999 and injuring 2,239,000. The 32,479 traffic fatalities in 2011 were the lowest in 62 years (1949). Records indicate that there has been a total of 3,613,732 motor vehicle fatalities in the United States from 1899 to 2013. Should we not then outlaw automobiles?

In the state of Georgia, there are just about 10,000,000 residents. Some 400,000 of them have concealed carry permits, which is more than twice the number of U. S. Marines world-wide. In 2010, there were 376 gun fatalities. That’s a very low number considering the number of weapons in use. My bet is that a great many of those were committed by criminals who don’t obey the gun laws anyway.

Interestingly, most mass killings take place in so-called “gun-free zones.” Why? The answer is obvious. Law-abiding people obey the “gun-free” rules while criminals do not. Neither do terrorists. Any and every “gun-free zone” is a killing field waiting to happen unless armed police are on the scene and employed by whoever owns the “gun-free zones.”

I have friends who are rabidly anti-gun. Fine. That also is their right. My advice to them is to find a friend who has a legal carry permit, and if and when things go terribly badly, hide behind them and hope they protect you. Gun owners, the 200,000,000 in this country who own at least one, are not the problem. The National Rifle Association is not the problem. Evil people and evil ideologies are the problem, and they don’t obey any of the laws.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.

Biblical Myths We Hold Dear

2016 July 20
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Bishop David EppsMary Magdalene was a prostitute. There were three wise men who visited Baby Jesus at the manger. Jonah was swallowed by a whale. You sure about that? “Yes, it’s in the Bible.” You sure about that? Many millions of Christians hold beliefs, not because those beliefs are found in the Bible, but because they’ve been taught them all their lives.

Let’s take Mary Magdalene. A very large number of people believe that she was a prostitute before meeting Jesus, yet there is no biblical evidence of this assertion. Certainly Mary expressed deep contrition for her sins, whatever they were, and found acceptance and mercy from Jesus, but a prostitute? In 1591, Pope Gregory the Great, during a homily given at Rome, apparently sealed Mary’s fate as a notorious sinner.

Protestants, who generally reject all things Catholic, held on to this teaching despite there being no biblical or historical evidence. Indeed, Mary is numbered with the disciples, is present at the crucifixion, and is the first person to whom the resurrected Jesus appears. In an article in U.S. Catholic, “Who Framed Mary Magdalene?” reports are that her reputation, who was once known as the “Apostle to the Apostles,” is being restored.

The three Wise Men? Nowhere are there reports in the New Testament of three wise men, or Magi. There are reports of Magi, the number undetermined, who set out to visit this one they believed to be born King of the Jews. The confusion seems to arise from there being left three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. How many gifts? Three. How many Magi? Unknown. There may have been three. Or thirty. The record is silent on this.

And speaking of the Wise Men, did they visit Jesus at the manger, surrounded by shepherds and animals? They did not. This little myth seems to have crept into our pseudo-theology as a result of Christmas plays and artwork that tended to compact drawn out events into a single night. The Magi had to make a rather long journey to visit Jesus. It took time to arrange a caravan and even more time to make the arduous journey from where they were to where they were going. Travel by camel and by foot is not rapid transit. In fact, the slaughter of the innocents by King Herod, as a result of the visit by the Magi, indicates that Jesus may have been approaching two years old by the time the Wise Men made their appearance. Whenever they arrived, the Holy Family was now out of the manger, in a permanent dwelling, and the shepherds had long since returned to their fields.

But Jonah was swallowed by a whale right? Well, maybe, but not for certain. When God gave Jonah the mission of preaching to the city of Nineveh, Jonah balked. In fact, he felt that if the city was to be judged by God, then good. So be it. And, thus, he fled on a ship going away from the city. The Bible indicates that a great storm arose, Jonah went over board and was swallowed up and transported to the shores near Nineveh where he was vomited up safe and mostly sound. Getting the message, Jonah preached, the city repented, and God spared the people of the city.

However, no mention of a whale is found. The account reads that God “prepared a great fish” to provide Jonah the opportunity to be the world’s first submariner. What kind of fish? Again, this is not revealed. People have assumed it was a whale, but a whale is not a fish; it is a mammal, although some ancients may have considered everything in the deep a “fish.” In any event, the specifics are unknown.

And, as we see, some of our most sincerely held beliefs are just not true at all. The solution? Simply reading the Bible for one’s self, employing scholarly commentaries, and a fair amount of common sense works wonders. There’s enough powerful truth in the scriptures without resorting to believing myths.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.

Celebrating over the Slaughter in Orlando

2016 July 2
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Bishop David EppsThe people at Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, KS, emerged a couple of weeks ago with a statement celebrating the massacre in Orlando and saying that “God sent the shooter to Orlando.” You may remember these people as those who protest at the funerals of our military men and women killed in action saying that their deaths are caused by God because America supports gays and therefore God himself allowed for the soldiers to be killed on that account. It is telling that their church website page is www.godhatesfags.com. Their website proudly proclaims that “God is America’s enemy.” The group has been quoted as saying that the mass shooting was “only right for Sodom America.” Such an attitude is decidedly un-Christian.

The church, which was founded in 1955 by Fred Phelps, is unaffiliated with any denomination although it wears a “Baptist” label. The church is made up of mostly family members and is said to have about 40 members. The World Baptist Alliance and the Southern Baptist Convention (the two largest Baptist denominations) have both denounced the WBC over the years. In addition, other mainstream denominations, such as the Methodist Church, Reformed Church, and Evangelical Church have condemned the actions of the independent Westboro Baptist Church.

Phelps died in 2014 and there was no funeral because, as one of the church leaders said, “We don’t worship the dead.” Phelps was a disbarred lawyer who four times unsuccessfully sought office as a Democrat. In the election for U.S. Senator for Kansas in 1992, he received 49,416 votes (30.8%), coming in second after Gloria O’Dell (who subsequently lost to later presidential candidate Bob Dole).

Westboro has become infamous for its picketing of the funerals of soldiers, of Jewish organizations, and of number of prominent figures. It has launched vitriolic attacks on Christian organizations, including most mainline Protestant organizations, the Catholic Church, and Eastern Orthodoxy. Of Jews, Phelps said, “The Jews now wander the earth despised, smitten with moral and spiritual blindness by a divine judicial stroke … And God has smitten Jews with a certain unique madness … Jews, thus perverted, out of all proportion to their numbers energize the militant sodomite agenda… Jews are the real Nazis.”

The founder of the church also referred to the Prophet of Islam as “a demon-possessed whoremonger and pedophile who contrived a 300-page work of satanic fiction: The Quran!” Needless to say, few have escaped the WBC’s attacks, including Barack Obama, whom the WBC calls “the Antichrist.” Even Pope Benedict XVI was described as “most likely the Beast spoken of in the Revelation.”

As a result of the picketing of soldier’s funerals, The Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcyclist group composed mostly of veterans who attend the funerals of members of the U.S. Armed Forces at the invitation of the deceased’s family, was initially formed to shelter and protect the funerals from protesters from the WBC. In some areas, laws have been enacted to keep such protests at a respectable distance from funerals.

While the 40 or so members of the WBC have gained national attention far beyond their numbers, their influence has emboldened some other small groups to take similar stands. However, their treatment of people with whom they disagree, is as far from the nature and character of Christ as it could possibly be.

Jesus was not shy about confronting sin, both in the people he met and especially in the religious leadership. Yet, he demonstrated love and care even for those caught in the web of sin, including sexual sin. Evidence of this is seen in his compassionate treatment of the woman caught in the act of adultery and with the Samaritan woman encountered at the well who had multiple partners.

Whatever one may think about the LGBT lifestyle, and most of Christendom would not approve, the 49 people killed and the 53 people wounded were men and women who deserve compassion, dignity, and prayers. They were someone’s sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and grandchildren. Christ died for them. And for me. And for you.

The attack in Orlando occurred at a gay nightclub but it was an attack on all Americans and should be seen as such. And for those who are inclined to persist in judging, it would be well to remember that with the measure that you judge, the same measure will also be used to judge your own sins. The WBC seem to have neglected that important truth.

My prayer is for mercy, not judgment. It is mercy that I need, and I have no desire to experience judgment. There is no occasion for celebration over this horrible tragedy. In my opinion, the people of the Westboro Baptist Church, and their ilk, are, in their own way, just like the radical Islamist who pulled the trigger in Orlando. They may not have pulled the trigger, but they stood by celebrating and rejoicing when the slaughter was over. God have mercy.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.

Lessons from a Sick Bed

2016 June 11
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Bishop David EppsLast week, I was sick. I mean really sick. So sick that in four days, I dropped 18 pounds. In fact, I didn’t eat anything during those four days. I did drink water (after becoming seriously dehydrated) and was able to deal with a bit of tea. I forced myself to attend church services on Sunday and, after delivering a brief sermon sitting on a stool and installing some folks into important offices, I left, leaving the second half of the service in more capable and healthy hands. But out of it all, I learned something valuable.

For the last year and a half, I have been in a course called Clinical Pastoral Education. All total, I have spent some 1200 hours in the hospital and have seen, perhaps, hundreds of patients. Unless someone is in ICU or the emergency department, I think that most visitors assume that sick people feel only slightly worse than the visitor does. After all, most patients talk with and put on a good face for visitors. What I learned from my several days of illness is that most sick people may be consumed by how bad they feel. At least, that was my experience.

For four days, I did not care about Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or any politician on the planet. I had no interest in sports scores, foul weather, North Korea, ISIS, or what the President was saying or doing. If the phone rang, I ignored it. Knowing my emails were piling up, I didn’t care. I tried to care. I just didn’t have the energy to care.

For most of the four days, the only energy I could muster up was to move from the recliner, to the bed, to the bathroom, and back. Even that was exhausting. I am a clean person. My wife, a medical and educational professional, tells me that I shower too much. For four days, I didn’t shower, brush my teeth, or comb my hair. I assume it pleased her that I finally took her advice.

I hate being sick. It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, I usually trudge along and push through. Not this time. People, including my wife, wanted me to go to urgent care. Frankly, I felt too sick to get up, get dressed, go downstairs, and do all that one has to do to go to urgent care. So I didn’t. Whatever had me, ran its course, beat me up, and finally left me alone.

What I learned is this: I cannot now go into a hospital room and assume that I know how someone is feeling. If they felt great, they wouldn’t be in the hospital. I can’t even assume that I know how someone is feeling when they are sick at home. In my case I felt too sick to make the effort to seek medical help. I probably should have been hospitalized, especially for the dehydration.

I have survived. I am not back to normal yet but I am cautiously eating and am tentatively back at work. I have decided, having stabilized at a loss of 15 pounds, to try to eat healthy and lose a lot more weight in a more reasonable and less traumatic way. I will never enter a hospital room without being aware of how really badly they just might be feeling.

On Tuesday, I watched speeches by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It almost made me nostalgic for those four terrible days when I didn’t care about anything.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.

Chaplain James C. Taylor Elevated to Canon

2016 June 8
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The Reverend Doctor James C. Taylor, Peachtree City, was installed as a Canon of the Church in services at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA on 5 June, 2016. Although Dr. Taylor has a long and storied history of service both to the nation and to the general church, it has been his impact and contributions to hospital and spiritual care ministry over the past decade that singled him out for this recognition.

Father James Taylor installed as Canon

Beginning as a hospital volunteer chaplain at Piedmont Fayette Hospital, Taylor earned Board Certified Chaplain status by completing four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), the first unit at Emory University hospital under the auspices of the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) and the remaining three units under the auspices of the College for Psychotherapy and Pastoral Supervision (CPSP).

Each unit requires 20 weeks of intensive study which includes 400 hours of clinical and academic training in the actual hospital setting. During this process, Dr. Taylor became a part-time staff chaplain at the hospital. When the senior chaplain left the hospital for ministry in another state, Taylor was hired as the full time staff chaplain at Piedmont Fayette Hospital.

Completing yet a fifth unit of CPE, Taylor began and completed the process of becoming a CPE instructor himself and, along with another chaplain at Piedmont Fayette, has been training potential chaplains for four years, offering four units each year.

In addition to being a Board Certified Chaplain, Dr. Taylor is also a Board Certified Clinical Chaplain, a Board Certified Pastoral Counselor, a Board Certified Palliative Care Chaplain, and is in process to be named a CPSP Diplomate.

Taylor has earned a number of degrees, including a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, Auburn University, Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering, Auburn, Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering, Auburn, Master of Organizational and Group Psychology, Marymont University, Doctor of Science (a.b.d.) George Washington University, and Doctor of Pastoral Counseling, Andersonville Theological Seminary.

He served as a officer in the United States Air Force and worked under the Department of the Navy at the Pentagon. He is a member of two engineering honor societies and was the Outstanding Engineering Graduate at Auburn University. He is a member of the Mensa Society.
The Rev’d Taylor is an ordained priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church of North America and serves on the Commission on Ordained Ministry of the Diocese of the Mid-South. He is a Priest-in-Residence and Teacher at the Cathedral of Christ the King.

The elevation to Canon was announced by Bishop David Epps and is the first such appointment in the Diocese in eight years. His official appointment is as “Canon of Hospital and Spiritual Care Ministries.” He will also serve on the Diocese’s Endorsement Board for Hospital, Hospice, and Law Enforcement Chaplains. Taylor is also a chaplain for the Peachtree City Police Department.

Dr. Taylor is married to Karen Romano-Taylor, herself a Commissioned Minister in Hospital Ministries and the director of the cancer care ministry at Christ the King.

Not All Lives Are Equal

2016 June 4
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Bishop David EppsA serious tragedy very nearly happened this week at the Cincinnati Zoo. Somehow a four year old child escaped from his mother and wound up in the gorilla compound where he was snatched up by a 17-year old male silverback gorilla. Zoo officials quickly made the decision to shoot the gorilla. The child was rescued and is in good condition.

What happened on social media and on television was a very public outcry over the death of the gorilla. Some were calling for the imprisonment of the parents of the child while others were threatening lawsuits against the zoo. Reportedly, the parents have received death threats. Conspicuously absent from most of the discussion was relief that the child survived the encounter.

And here is where I marvel at how far we have fallen in valuing human life. In the Old Testament book of Genesis, God determines to create humankind in “the image of God.” Whether history or allegory, the point is that, of all the created life on Earth, only humans have a spark of the divine in them. We also read in Scripture that humans are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” It is even declared that they are created “a little lower than God (or ‘angels’ in the KJV).” No other beings have that distinction.

Lest I be misunderstood, I love animals. I cried when I buried my cat of 20 years and I daily feed the local birds, chipmunks, squirrels, opossums, and raccoons that wander into my back yard. I don’t even kill the backyard snakes unless they are venomous. My wife says that I provide a buffet for the hawks, but I see little evidence of that. I haven’t been hunting in over 20 years and I would much rather look at a deer than shoot it, but I take no issue with those who hunt for food. I support animal cruelty laws and believe that all animals should be treated humanely. Not because they are human-like but because humans are God-like.

Nevertheless, I do not in any way believe that human life and animal life are equally precious. Do I think that some life is more valuable than other life? You bet I do. There are federal criminal penalties for tampering with the eggs of a bald eagle.

And when it comes to sea turtle eggs, federal law provides even greater protection (and criminal penalties as severe as $100,000 and a year in prison) if you “take, harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, or capture any marine turtle, turtle nest, and/or eggs, or attempt to engage in any such conduct.” The law recognizes that the life in the eggs is something that should be given the same level of protection as the animal itself. We do not give the same protection to “pre-hatched” humans. We value humans less that we do eagles or turtles.

It is, then, no surprise that the outrage is not that a human child was in danger of being mauled to death but, rather, that a gorilla possessing the strength of ten men was killed to save the child.

It is sad that such a magnificent beast was killed. It is sadder still that a great number of people apparently believe his life is thought to be equal to, or even superior to, the life of a four-year old child.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.

Shall This Republic Stand?

2016 May 29
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Bishop David EppsSeveral days ago, I attended the annual Department of Georgia Marine Corps League Convention. I served as an enlisted Marine for a tour and received an Honorable Discharge. Later I served a year with the Tennessee Army National Guard and, again, received an Honorable Discharge. In 1993, I joined the Marine Corps League, a veteran’s organization open to Marine Corps veterans who have been honorably discharged and to U. S. Navy medical corpsmen who have served with The Fleet Marine Force.

At the convention, each event opened with, among other things, the MCL members standing at attention and saluting the American flag as they repeated the Pledge of Allegiance. For some reason, each and every time we came to the phrase, “And to the Republic for which it stands,” I would get choked up and my eyes would tear up. That had never happened before and now it was happening every time we recited the Pledge.

As the conference wore on I began to realize that I was uncertain that my Republic would be able to stand. Would we still have a country in the years ahead? Would it radically change to be something else that no one could now imagine? Here I was in the presence of Marine Corps veterans who had served from World War II to the present day. There were even 15-18 year old young men wearing the uniform of the Marine Corps Junior ROTC from Each Coweta High School as they presented the Colors. Would the nation be there for them?

The Veterans Administrations estimates that 7.3% of all living Americans have ever served in the armed forces of the United States. That means that 92.7% of Americans have not. Only 7.3% of Americans have any experience with offering their lives, if need be, so that this Republic may endure and survive.

All it take is one visit to a local high school football game to see the disrespect and dishonor that the average attendee offers when the National Anthem is played. Most teens go about their business as if nothing is happening. Even adults remain sitting, talking, laughing while a very few immediately stand to the feet, remove their ball caps, and offer a proper salute. Others, seeing the example set, reluctantly stand to their feet during the playing of America’s secular sacred hymn.

The nation is in a shambles politically. Some 13% of Americans believe that Congress is doing an acceptable while a majority of Americans dislike or distrust the two likely candidates for President. Having felt betrayed by their leaders, the Democrat voters, were it not for so-called “super-delegates,” might well select a Socialist as their nominee! Having rejected 16 politically experienced contenders for the office, Republican voters would rather have a businessman with no political experience as their nominee.

The nation is in a mess. Most people don’t vote. Of those who do, a large percentage have not a clue about the issues or the challenges this nation faces. The military, the only force that stands between the country and the forces that would destroy it, are at the lowest level of strength since before Pearl Harbor. Currently, only 0.4% of Americans are on active duty. Less than 1/2 of 1%! It is no wonder that I, and many others, wonder if the nation has a future as a free people.

We are about to honor the nation’s war dead. We are not about to celebrate fishing, swimming, back-yard barbecuing, or the right to lounge in front of the television. We observe the day because 1,313,118 American soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and coast guardsmen have been killed so that this Republic might have a chance to stand.

Frankly, I do not know if this nation will endure. That’s why the catch in my throat and the moisture in my eye at the MCL Convention. A mere 0.4% of the population is the only insurance that we have that we will not be overrun by forces that wish to end our existence on this planet. They are willing to die to protect this country. Some will die this year. The other 99.6% need to recognize their debt and support our active military. The 92.7 % of Americans who have never served, along with the veterans, need to offer homage to those who have given their last full measure of devotion. It’s the least they can do. The very least.

David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.