Wesley Theological Seminary


Buchanan Advisory Group
3 April 1984
Invited guest: Ben H. Swett

1. What are the means by which you communicate with the deity?

Prayer and receptivity, like a two-way radio. I define prayer as an attempt to transmit a message to God, and receptivity as an attempt to receive a message from God. Transmission is not a problem, because God is always listening, but receptivity takes some practice. In other words, I'm not much concerned about sending messages to God, because He already knows our thoughts and feelings. Therefore, my prayer is usually a request for His guidance, followed by a short period in which I try to quiet my mind--my own inner thought--so I can receive a reply. That's what I mean by receptivity. It is a form of "listening."

The reply may come in any of a wide variety of forms, comparable to our earthly communication systems: radio, television, Teletype, motion pictures, etc.. It may come immediately or some time later. The content is usually some kind of insight or revelation, but what is a revelation to me may be old hat for somebody else. It's only a revelation to me because I didn't understand it before.

I don't know why some prayers are not answered, and I am not satisfied with any of the theological explanations. In my case, it is usually because I was so uptight about something that I couldn't have heard my neighbor talking to me, let alone a "still, small voice" in the back of my mind.

For me, prayer is not trivial, like playing with a CB radio. That is properly called "dabbling" and it can get you involved with any transmitter that happens to be on the air. I pray only to God or Jesus, and I listen only to those who manifest and lead me to manifest the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

I use seven specific steps in two-way prayer, like the checklist for a radio. If I follow them, they work. If I don't, I either receive no reply or pick up some other transmitter.

2. For you is the deity personal? immanent? transcendent?

Yes, all of the above. For me, God is personal, not impersonal, a being rather than a thing. I am not a deist: I do not worship the forces of nature, and I will not serve an indifferent deity. I serve only the God who cares.

Whether God seems immanent or transcendent depends on our point of view. The God in whom we live and move and have our being is both immanent (to us) and transcendent (to us) for being immanent in other realms of existence.

Therefore, it follows logically that God is one and God is all--in other words, the totality of everything and everyone that can ever exist. Yes, I know it's not nice to be a pantheist, but there you have it. I think any other theology merely deifies a portion of God. But for me, pantheism is only a logical inductive hypothesis--an intellectual exercise that is not satisfying. I can believe that All is One with my mind, but I cannot relate to that concept of deity with my heart. I cannot love "All" or worship "All" or serve "All." That is why I need Jesus--for my mind and for my heart.

As to the assertions of absolute monotheism, I don't think that omnipotence, omniscience or omnipresence are worthy of veneration. Those characteristics could describe a big, strong, smart monster that no one could ever escape. The two characteristics that make a person worthy of trust are impartial good will in action (kindness) and knowing what he or she is talking about (truth). These characteristics I find in Jesus and attribute to God.

Jesus describes God as a loving parent, and I find that "loving parent" also describes the attitude of every being I have encountered who manifests and produces the fruits of the holy spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, mercy, and self-control.

3. How do you relate your faith to the authority of the Bible?

Authority only exists in the minds of those who accept that authority; it is not inherent in anyone or anything. That is why we can accept or reject the authority of the Bible. We have that choice.

I choose to accept most of the New Testament and some of the Old Testament as authoritative, but I do not accept all of anyone's interpretations, and I no longer allow people to beat me over the head with the Bible. Most fundamentalists use the Bible as a weapon for their little power-and-dominance games, and I have had more than enough of that. Liberals are more subtle: they treat the Bible as if it were a bunch of ancient myths and superstitions, so they can feel superior to the fundamentalists who believe all that stuff. I have had enough of their games, too.

I have seriously addressed the issue: by what criteria shall I test the Bible, the traditional teachings, and the "faith once given"? I find that I cannot rely on blind faith in human authors, translators, interpreters and re-interpreters. Shall I use the worldly philosophers? Materialism? Humanism? Literary criticism? Higher criticism? Those who do so have merely substituted one dogma for another, and a lesser one at that.

I believe that both science and religion are arrogant in presuming we now have "better" answers to the "miracles" reported in the Bible. Debunking may have been needed a century ago, but it has more than outlived its usefulness. I think it is high time for serious consideration of the spiritual realities that most modern philosophers and theologians either ignore or attempt to ridicule.

From my personal background, I choose to believe that much of the Bible is inspired writing, but the degree of inspiration varies from one book to another and one section to another. I have taken it upon myself to try to sort it out.

I believe the sermon on the mount is more highly inspired than the mundane genealogies of Christ, and I believe the New Testament is more highly inspired than the Old Testament. Some of the writers are more helpful than others in this regard. For example, Paul very nicely informs us when he is speaking from his own wisdom and when he believes he is speaking from inspiration.

Finally, I know I will be studying the Bible, plus the languages of its authors and Webster's Dictionary, until the day I die--primarily because I enjoy it.

4. What is distinctive about your group or belief? What do you consider its strengths and weaknesses?

I have come by an odd road. Some call it mysticism or religious experience, while others call it psychic research or dabbling in the occult. To be more specific, my beliefs are based on twenty years of two-way communication with discarnate beings. This communication has proved to me that life after death is a fact.

When people die, they leave their bodies and take their desires with them. Some desires can be fulfilled without a physical body, and some cannot, so discarnate beings are happy or unhappy according to their desires.

I find the foregoing fact provides the rationale for most of Jesus's teachings, and especially his teachings on ethics. It informs my reading of the Bible and my evaluation of doctrines, my personal ethics, and my view of life in general.

The strength of this approach is that I know what I believe and why I believe it, and where I have held both belief and disbelief in abeyance.

The weaknesses of this approach are:

(1) Experience is not transferable. Other people should accept or reject any such testimony based on their own estimate of the credibility of the witness, unless and until they have similar experiences of their own for comparison.

(2) Usually, I cannot discuss my religious experiences. Many fundamentalists think I'm practicing abominations to God: their eyes get wide, the pupils get small, and they start quoting Deuteronomy 18. On the other hand, most liberals think I'm practicing self-delusion: they smile sweetly and make some remark that shows their utterly condescending disbelief.

(3) I must disassociate myself from occultists, spiritualists, psychics, and most of those who claim to speak for God, because they do not serve my God. For example, Ruth Montgomery is putting forth a doctrine that claims "walk-ins" are superior beings who therefore should be welcomed. My experience is that any discarnate who is even the slightest bit interested in operating a human body must never be trusted, or listened to, because whatever he says is likely to be a smoke-screen for his desire to possess a physical body.

As an example of those who claim to speak for God, the top leader of one very large Protestant denomination said, "God does not hear the prayers of a Jew." I don't know his god, but mine does.

5. What emphasis or emphases do you give to sacrament?

Not much, personally. Rites and rituals do serve to perpetuate a religion from one generation to the next. They mark milestones in a normal life-cycle; they provide opportunities for spiritual exercise, and they apparently comfort those who ascribe some mysterious power to the ceremonies. However, there is no power in the rituals themselves and ceremonies are not necessary for salvation. Any and all of them can be form without substance, ceremony without sincerity, and therefore essentially meaningless.

6. How do you relate your position to other religious groups or denominations?

There is much that is meaningful to me in most religions and denominations, but no, I am not an eclectic. I haven't merely selected bits and pieces here and there, or tried to synthesize religions. My thinking is my own, as my experience is my own ... and as I said, experience is not transferable.

I am a Christian by choice and not just by heritage. I have studied most of the other religions, and they have much to say to me, but Jesus of Nazareth is the only one I am willing to call my Master.

I am not a fundamentalist or a liberal. Fundamentalists are blindly dogmatic in what they believe, and liberals are equally dogmatic in what they refuse to believe. Perhaps I am an increasingly militant moderate.

I am too Christocentric for the Unitarians, and I plan to stay that way.

I draw a line between what I believe and what many religious people appear to believe. Those I refer to as "churchians" are more interested in the form than the substance of religion, and they are more concerned for the institution than for the living members of the institution. In that, I am their opposite.

I have been called a maverick, a heretic, a self-deluded fool, and a warlock who practices abominations to God. I was booed off stage by people with electronic bull horns shouting "baby-bomber, baby-bomber"--and I have been told that I cannot possibly be a Christian--because I serve in the military. I know I have a lover's quarrel with many church doctrines, but I still feel there is, or ought to be, some room for people like me in the mainstream of Christianity.

7. What is your definition of and position toward spirituality, charismatics, speaking in tongues?

I define spirituality as attention to, interest in, and concern with things that are not limited to this world or this physical, material universe. I contrast spirituality with atheism, materialism, humanism and all other mundane, this-worldly ideologies. I believe that life, even in this world, can be properly understood and appreciated only from the larger perspective that spirituality affords.

I maintain that the difference between "natural" and "supernatural" is a human invention. In other words, human beings created both of those concepts, and the difference between them does not exist in reality. The fact that many people deny the existence of anything they deem to be "supernatural" I consider to be only a sign of their intellectual self-limitation and spiritual blindness.

I have encountered, entered and to some extent explored realms of existence that other people consider "supernatural." I cannot prove that statement, so you may take my word for it, or not, as you please.

Charismatics tend to make the mistake the early church at Corinth made: they think spiritual gifts are the sign of genuine Christianity, so they make spiritual gifts their status symbols. Jesus said not say, "By their gifts you will know them;" he said, "By their fruits you will know them"--and Paul very nicely lists for us the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, mercy, and self-control. These are indeed important, but spiritual gifts are not proof that one is a Christian, much less a special Christian. All sorts of pagans have spiritual gifts.

Speaking in tongues is famous for splitting churches, but it isn't the speaking in tongues that does it. What splits churches is the arrogance of those who make this little psychic phenomena a test of faith or membership or status. Unless it is faked, or a product of emotional hysteria, the gift of tongues is in fact automatic speaking and thus a direct parallel to automatic writing, but the charismatics seem determined to believe that automatic speaking is given only by the Holy Spirit and automatic writing is given only by the devil. Their position would be funny if they weren't so serious about it.

The gift of tongues can be given by a holy spirit, but any truly holy spirit is more interested in the message than the emotional fervor, so the "tongue" will almost always be a human language that someone present can understand--without the "spiritual gift of interpretation"--and that is exactly the type of "tongues" that were spoken through the disciples at Pentecost.

Unintelligible sounds can be the result of a reverent joy too deep for words, but they can also be faked, or caused by emotional hysteria, or the result of possession by low-astral discarnates. The basic problem is in trying to discern what level of the spiritual spectrum unintelligible sounds are coming from, and the problem is not trivial, due to the risk of possession.

8. What do you think of human nature? It is bad? good? sinful?

Human nature has been too narrowly defined. We are not merely meat and bones. It is not even correct to say people have immortal souls: we are immortal souls, temporarily housed in mortal bodies. Until people understand that, and grasp its implications, they cannot really understand the teachings of any great religion, because most truly religious teachings rest on that premise.

I think human beings are naturally selfish at birth, and that is good for them. Self-preservation is the first law of nature, and thus of human nature. But we need to learn, because we are not born knowing, that survival (in all senses of that term) is enhanced by nurture, mutual support, caring for one other, carrying one another's burdens. That is what has so far ensured the survival of individual human beings and thus survival of the species. It is the Lord's commandment. He demonstrated it by his own life, and it is the primary characteristic of the Kingdom of Kindness--otherwise known as the Kingdom of God.

I view people as good or harmless or bad, according to their beneficial or neutral or detrimental effects on the lives of other people. And by "lives" I include both physical life and spiritual life. Of the two, only spiritual life can be eternal. I know we all are apt to go astray, to miss the mark, to become detrimental to ourselves or others, but I don't think "sinful" should be translated "criminal." I don't subscribe to the doctrine of original sin as it is usually taught, or the universal depravity of mankind. Some people are good for others, some are bad for others, and most of us produce a mixture of beneficial and detrimental effects.

I believe that God and those who work for Him are leading us to transcend the inherent selfishness of our human nature, not because it is evil, but because it is not good enough for survival either here or hereafter. There is a higher, better way to live, and it is essentially based on the kind of impartial good will that motivates mutual support, nurture, and caring for one other.

9. How do you relate your faith to social issues?

I think we need to practice both of the great commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Many pious people are so heavenly-minded they are no earthly use: they love God but not their neighbors. Many altruists either burn themselves out or do terrible things with good intentions: they love their neighbors but do not seek guidance or strengthening from God. I believe that, if we really love God and listen to Him, He will tell us to love to our neighbor--and if we really love our neighbor, sooner or later we will find out that we don't know enough to help him without the guidance of God.

I believe, if we were following Jesus as he went about his ministry on earth, he would lead us in a repeating cycle: out to the desert to pray and rest and worship, and back to the villages to help and heal and lift and mend; up to the mountain-top for communion and revelation, and then back to the valley to serve human needs.

Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath," and I also believe that society is made for man, not man for society or state or nation or church or economic system. Individual people are important. Institutions are instruments, not living things, but we tend to forget that, and this-worldly philosophers do not remind us of it.

10. How do you relate your faith to moral issues, such as abortion, smoking, drinking, drugs, etc.? How do you teach this position?

First, I take the two great moral commandments in the first person singular. That is, I try to love God, and I try to love my neighbor as myself. Mostly, that keeps me too busy to worry much about other peoples' morality.

Second, although I believe abortion is a moral issue, most of the other so-called "moral issues" are just little contemporary social issues in disguise. For example:

Fifty years ago, my mother was considered an immoral woman, because she was the first woman in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to wear "men's pants" in public. Somebody remembered that at her funeral.

I have been told that one could not be a Christian if he or she did not support the boycott of Farah slacks and seedless grapes and Iceberg lettuce.

When I was asked to serve on the board of a Methodist Church in New Mexico, they handed me the so-called "temperance" pledge. But it was not a temperance pledge; it was a pledge of total abstinence from alcohol. I said that I would not sign it, because my Master was neither a drunk nor a teetotaler. The senior minister smiled softly, quietly took back the paper, crumpled it up, and said, "I can't argue with that." I enjoyed serving in that church.

Third, I respect individual free will. I try to explain why it is good for us to love God, and good for us to love our neighbors. Then I let the other person decide.

Fourth: I tell stories of moral courage and the cost it incurs. For example:

My mother-in-law inherited $78,000 when her second husband died. It was all in joint ownership stocks, so it was legally hers. However, after much inner struggle and against the advice of her lawyer, she sat down and wrote a check for $26,000 to each of her two stepdaughters, because, "It's the right thing to do."

I know a supervisor who had a really bad employee who gave him nothing but trouble. Finally, to his great relief, the employee applied for a job elsewhere. But then the prospective supervisor called and asked his opinion of the employee. If he told the truth, he would keep the employee. If he lied, it would hurt his conscience as a practicing Catholic. What would you do? He told the truth and kept the employee--and the employee made him pay for his honesty, as he expected.

What can you say to a young man who lost his job at an automobile repair shop because he refused to "make his own business" by sabotaging customers' cars and charging them for work not done, in order to bring more money into the company? I told him that, for whatever it was worth, he had the respect of men like me.

11. What is ministry?

I define ministry (with a small "m") as "that way of life in which one continually elects to serve rather than be served, as Jesus did." Thus, a minister is one whose personal purpose is to benefit other people. This concept of ministry starts with the most immediate of neighbors--parents and siblings and spouse and children and friends--and then expands to become more and more inclusive. I believe that ministry, thus defined, is the only ordained way of life.

12. What does theology have to do with sexuality, in your opinion?

That depends on the theologian. For example, I recently picked up a book that began: We cannot dismiss the possibility that Jesus may have been a homosexual. "I can," I said to myself as I closed the book and put it back on the shelf.

I'm not interested in dissertations on the sex of angels, much less the sex of God. I don't think God is a sexual being. I use masculine terminology in reference to God because "it" refers to a thing and "she" is more specifically sexist than "he".

Yes, I believe in and advocate sexual equality, but I'm not impressed by the people who play "inclusive language" power games. In fact, most of the women who play those games are more sexist than the society they are trying to manipulate.

As a biological fact, sexuality is not related to spirituality. There are both male and female saints, and I'm willing to bet that more real saints have been parents than celibates. Celibacy is a special calling, as Jesus said.

I think that both traditional and modern societal images of sexuality (macho man and fluttering female, or macho gal and little boy blue) must be abandoned before we can see people as people. None of those images are really sexual or spiritual; they are only passing bits of contemporary mythology.

Sexual attraction is biological in origin, and it responds to societal images, but it can also be a symptom of the lust for power and the desire to own or possess another person. Though I don't think it's particularly wrong to focus interest and attention on members of the opposite sex, that is not an avenue to holy spirituality, because any sexual thoughts tend to drive other thoughts out of the mind.

Puritans say sex is evil, but I don't think so. I think it is good, but strictly limited to this life. The real problem is that sexual pleasure can be terribly addicting. Thus, it is not the fact of sexuality, but sexual lust, that is dangerous.

Sexual lust is an addiction to one's own hormones and brain chemicals, plus the desire for a sense of conquest. It is absolutely selfish. Sexual lust is not good for us whether it is heterosexual or homosexual or bisexual, because it can distort and dominate our lives like any other addiction. It makes us vulnerable to tempters, and places us in the power of anyone who controls the objects of our lust.

If you can take my word for it, there are sexually obsessed ghosts. They burn with their own frustrated desire, because they took the lust with them when they left the means of satisfying it behind. That is why I know the teachings of Christ on this subject are correct: all those who stimulate or encourage the stimulation of sexual lust--including some theologians--lead those who follow them into a smoldering hell of their own frustrated desires.

His teaching also applies to societies. The other religions condemned in the Old Testament were fertility cults. They sanctified sex and sorcery. Their religious services were orgies and their temples were brothels. When they wanted to get rid of the natural by-products of sexual lust, they sent their unwanted infants to the god Moloch by throwing them into the fire. See Mitchner's book "The Source" for a detailed description. This societal abomination took place in the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) for hundreds of years, and this is the kind of religion that any society can fall back into if they sanctify eros instead of agape).

13. What is the structure/administration of your group, position or denomination?

I am a Christian layman, an elder of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but I am speaking for myself and not for my denomination or my congregation.

I started as a Southern Baptist, and was preaching revivals when I was fourteen, but got "churched" for asking too many questions about fundamentalist doctrines. For several years I stayed away from churches. I joined the Disciples in college because they had "No creed but Christ," became president of the Disciples Student Fellowship and married the vice-president. (In 1983, she was elected the first woman chairman of the board for our congregation). I preached every Sunday night on circuit to four little Presbyterian churches during my senior year in college.

My wife and I have worked in Disciples churches in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, California and Maryland, and Methodist churches in New Hampshire and New Mexico. In addition to my stint as a Baptist youth evangelist, I have preached for Presbyterian, Disciples, Methodist, and Unitarian churches, served as chairman of elders for our congregation, and as a member of the board for the Region. I have led numerous seminars and elders' retreats, and a few ministers' retreats. I hope to continue serving within the mainstream of Protestant Christianity.