Car Talk, Gay Marriage, and the Death Journey

By LeRoy Lawson

The Reckoning
David Halberstam

Available via Kindle; first published in 1986

God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships
Matthew Vines

New York: Convergent Books (reprint edition), 2015

A Long Letting Go: Meditations on Losing Someone You Love
Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015

For decades America’s automotive industry dazzled the whole world as it drove itself to the pinnacle of creative, organizational, and mechanical success. No other nation could compete. Detroit ruled supreme.

07_FMB_JN2That was then.

This is now.

David Halberstam’s The Reckoning was published 30 years ago. It still captivates a reader like me who loves cars. The author takes us behind the scenes—and the rumors—to facts I hadn’t even guessed could be true, even though I sensed something was rotten in Michigan. My father was an avid Ford fan, and his son now drives a 2012 Fusion hybrid—but it’s the first Ford I’ve owned in almost 60 years. The reason I deserted the company? “They just don’t make ’em like they used to.”

That was the truth then. Now there are two Fords in our driveway, after many Japanese cars parked there. The reason? “They just don’t make ’em like they used to.” They are better now.

When Nissans first appeared on the streets of America in the 1950s, usually under the Datsun nameplate, Detroit scoffed. They’re junk, the car barons snorted. And they were pretty bad. But just a few short years later, American automakers were flying to Japan to learn how Nissan, Toyota, Honda, and Japanese car builders could manufacture high-quality cars for such low prices. They were almost too late. By then the Detroit giants were losing billions. They were staring at extinction.

How that could happen in the industry Henry Ford built is David Halberstam’s dramatic story. General Motors was too big for his research, he said, so he focused on Ford Motor Company, recounting the near-tragic tale of how a genius adapted the assembly line to build cars—and in the process build the richest corporation in America—and then how that same genius’s stubborn arrogance nearly killed his creation. The founder’s grandson, Henry II, rescued the company from imminent death and then, after several successful years, nearly killed the company again.

There’s much more to the story. A few highlights:

• Japan’s recovery from near-annihilation in World War II to become a leading industrial nation

• Japanese cultural values that put state before self, teamwork before individual prerogatives, willingness to humbly imitate—and then improve on—Detroit’s products

• America’s love affair with overgrown, expensive, rear-wheel drive vehicles

• America’s risky dependence on foreign oil and the ensuing chaos when the Mideast oil countries drove their prices through the ceiling

• The disastrous effect of the race for profits while disregarding quality and customer satisfaction.

The Reckoning is history that reads like narrative journalism. For those alive during the years covered here, it is a walk down memory lane. In addition to the Henry Fords, it features Lee Iacocca, Robert McNamara, Walter Reuther, W. Edwards Deming, and many of Japan’s most prominent industrialists and labor leaders.

You may find yourself wondering, as this reader did, how our nation has survived with political and industrial leaders so greedy, so arrogant, so careless of the welfare of their workers and customers, and so blind to reality.

Somehow America is still in business. I can’t help wondering, though, whether there might not be another reckoning coming.

Gay Marriage?

From the making of automobiles to the challenge of finding our way through one of today’s major social issues we turn to Matthew Vines’s God and the Gay Christian. So many changes in one lifetime. When I entered the ministry, serious controversies sent us ministers to the Scriptures for answers:

• If a Christian divorces, for whatever reason, can he or she remarry?

• If a Christian man is divorced, can he serve the church as a deacon or elder?

• If a minister is divorced, can he ever be reinstated in the ministry?

• Should Christian young people be allowed to dance? To go to movies?

• Can a Christian smoke or drink?

We don’t hear these issues raised much these days. Most churches have come to peace on all of them, just as the church finally decided, after fighting Copernicus and Galileo and their descendants, that it’s OK for the earth to revolve around the sun and not the other way around.

And in more recent times, Christians concluded that the Scriptures don’t insist, after all, that slavery of fellow human beings is a good thing.

And that churches can let white people and black people sit in the same pew and partake of the same Communion.

What are we going to do now with the insistence of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people that they, too, are humans for whom Christ died and that they should be granted all the rights of straight people, even to the point of being allowed to enter into loving, intimate, lifelong monogamous relations with persons of their own sex?

Matthew Vines, who wrote God and the Gay Christian, is gay. He is also an Evangelical Christian. He fully accepts the authority of the Bible. His book turns to the Bible for answers to questions that are very personal with him and his churchgoing parents. Together he and his lawyer father pored over every verse pertinent to this issue, and many others, that help him build his case which concludes, unsurprisingly, that the verses quoted most readily by most nonaffirming Christians (that’s his term for people who insist that his position is wrong) have been incorrectly interpreted and applied for centuries, that their original meanings and intent do not say what we have come to think they say.

Through investigations into the background behind the verses and the meanings of certain key words themselves, and parallels with the Copernican and civil rights revolutions, Vine carefully builds his case in favor of gay marriage that should enjoy the sanction of the church. Here is the heart of his argument: “We can embrace gay relationships and maintain a traditional view of celibacy, or we can change our understanding of celibacy and keep a traditional view of gay relationships. But we cannot do both. Christians who hold, as I do, to a high view of Scripture must decide which tradition to modify.” He then adds, “I propose that we make the modification that is most in keeping with sound doctrine, good fruit, and God’s nature.”

I’m in a peculiar place. I have deeply regretted the church’s treatment of people of same-sex orientation. I have been influenced by many friends who love Christ, respect the Scriptures, and would like to find a home in a church but have experienced rejection, even hostility, at the hands of church members. We have been wrong.

On the other hand, I put down Vines’s book more perplexed than persuaded. I am not ready to conclude that all I’ve been taught has been wrong. But not all I’ve been taught has been right, either, about a lot of subjects. Still, the book engages in Bible study that would do most pastors proud. Vines does take Scripture seriously, and this book forces me to be equally serious in my own study.

Of one thing I’m certain, though. There is no getting around Jesus’ summary of the law and the prophets: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Even if your neighbor is gay.

To the Next Life

And finally, a book on the subject that puts everything into perspective: Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s A Long Letting Go. The subject is dying. The author is one who knows about it. She has let go of family members, friends, and many she has cared for as a hospice worker.

Accompanying a loved one on the journey from this life to the next is never easy, but McEntyre’s quiet assurances, her candid reflections on what she experienced as she let go, and her deep, unclichéd faith make this little volume the ideal companion for companions of the dying. As you read, you notice your heart pounding less anxiously. Your hurried pace is lessened, your breathing more regular. You are, in fact, experiencing the peace you have wanted to give your loved one.

McEntyre writes as a Christian for Christians, but her comforting words reach beyond the confines of tradition to the universals of love and faith. Each chapter includes a brief, pertinent quotation, the author’s reflection and prayer.

LeRoy Lawson serves as international consultant with CMF International.

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