President Obama is well known to weigh in on legal matters throughout the nation from the Trayvon Martin case to the Supreme Court considering gay marriage laws to the Court's deliberations over ObamaCare. Everyone knows that, right? Well, apparently Obama's press secretary, Jay Carney thinks that we do not know. Politico reports:
White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to comment Monday on the murder trial of Kermit Gosnell, a doctor who performed abortions in Philadelphia.
"The president does not and cannot take a position on an ongoing trial, so I won't as well," Carney told reporters, responding to a question from Fox News Channel's Ed Henry.
President Obama is "aware" of the case and, without weighing in on it, Carney added: "Certainly, the things that you hear and read about this case are unsettling."
When pressed by Henry, Carney again declined to comment. "The president's position on choice is very clear. His position on the basic principle that, as President Clinton said, abortions ought to be 'safe, legal and rare' is very clear," the press secretary said.
Ok. Let's unpack this "non-statement."
1. The President has taken positions on ongoing investigations before and in court cases. When did this new standard arise?
2. The question should have involved President Obama's opposition to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act of 2003 as I wrote about this morning. The question should have been something like, "Does something like what happened in the Gosnell case affect President Obama's view on the Born Alive Infant Protection Act that he voted against four times while a State Senator in Illinois?"
3. I am glad that President Obama thinks that over 100 babies who had their spinal columns cut and their feet put in jars is "unsettling." I wonder how he would define "horrific"?
4. "The president's position on choice is very clear." What does "Choice" have to do with Dr. Kermit Gosnell murdering babies? Once a baby is born, it is no longer an abortion but infanticide, which is illegal everywhere. Why bring up Choice? Shouldn't BOTH pro-choice and pro-life advocates be completely against and horrified by what happened? Is Jay Carney conflating "Choice" with what Gosnell did?
5. "His position on the basic principle that, as President Clinton said, abortions ought to be 'safe, legal and rare' is very clear." Um, no it isn't, Jay. Remember the Democratic Convention last year? That position was changed and the word "rare" was noticably removed. Interesting that he would appeal back to the previous platform's language. From the Democratic Platform of 2012:
"The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way."
What happened in Gosnell's clinic was neither "safe" nor "legal." Why not speak to that? President Obama could have brought the nation together by condemning the outrageous, illegal, murderous acts of Dr. Kermit Gosnell. Who would not condemn something like this? Who would not say, "If the accusations are true, this is horrible and disgusting and we need to make sure it never, ever happens again to anyone?" Carney said that it was "unsettling." Also, he could not even speak to it without bringing up the language of "choice" to pacify abortion-on-demand advocates. A statement like this from a man who opposed 4 times enhancing protections for babies-born-alive from failed abortions in the face of the Gosnell crimes should cause our entire nation to recoil in horror.
Of course, President Obama and Vice President Biden and many others have had no problem speaking about gun violence recently. Are the lives of the babies killed in the Gosnell Clinic worth less than others killed in gun violence? If so, how is that determined?
I feel like I am living in an alternate universe or something.
As I looked into the situation further, I decided to go to Left-leaning sources to find out what they said. I was shocked. Even Left-leaning news sources like the Washington Post FactChecker and Factcheck.org agreed that Obama had voted four times against legislation that would beef up protections for babies who were born alive after surviving abortion attempts. They disagreed with the charge that he was PRO infanticide, understandably, but they did agree that he did not support legislation that virtually every Democrat and Republican in the country said was reasonable.
The synopsis from the Washington Post FactChecker:
The 2001 and 2002 measures included a controversial line that proved to be a sticking point. It said, “A live child born as a result of an abortion shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law.”
Obama took issue with that part of the bill, saying it could interfere with a woman’s right to an abortion, as established through the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Here is an excerpt of his remarks from the 2001 floor debate:
“Number one, whenever we define a previable fetus as a person that is protected by the equal protection clause or the other elements in the Constitution, what we’re really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a child, a nine-month-old child that was delivered to term. That determination then, essentially, if it was accepted by a court, would forbid abortions to take place. I mean, it would essentially bar abortions, because the equal protection clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this is a child, then this would be an antiabortion statute.”
Notice that Obama referred to “previable fetuses,” or those that do not have a reasonable chance of survival outside the mother’s body. Obama’s primary concern seems to be that the born-alive act would prohibit aborting a fetus still inside the womb.Critics contend that this interpretation is not necessarily true because some previable fetuses survive after delivery from an unsuccessful abortion. They argue that Obama essentially opposed protecting the survivors.
Illinois lawmakers voted down identical versions of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act in 2001 and 2002 before a new iteration of the bill came before the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, headed by Obama. This new legislation removed the controversial line about recognizing live-born children as humans and giving them immediate protection under the law. It also addressed Obama’s concern about previable fetuses, adding a “neutrality clause” that said the measure would not affect the legal status of fetuses prior to delivery.
Nonetheless, Obama voted against the new bill, which happened to be an almost exact replica — almost to the word — of a federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act that passed in 2002 without opposition in either politial party. (Updated: The vote in the House was by voice vote and the vote in the Senate was by unanimous consent.)
So, what do we make of this? The facts are that Obama voted FOUR times against a bill that would have better protected babies born alive after abortions because of an assertion that it would have weakened abortion rights. Obama weighed the survival of live babies against the possibility of weakening the ability to abort babies in utero. While this might fall short of advocating for infanticide, it most definitely shifts priority from a live baby to the desire of the mother to have that baby killed. That is the philosophical jump necessary for Infanticide to be accepted in our society and our president made that jump and voted for it officially FOUR times.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell in his "House of Horrors," according to testimony, killed over 100 "born-alive" babies who survived the initial abortion attempt under the philosophy that the intent of the mother was to abort the child so that made it acceptable. This perspective is gaining steam as Marc A. Theissen wrote for The Washington Post on April 8th:
"Testifying against a Florida bill that would require abortionists to provide emergency medical care to an infant who survives an abortion, Planned Parenthood lobbyist Alisa LaPolt Snow was asked point blank: “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?” She replied: “We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician.”
No, Alisa. It is murder to kill a child that is born and is struggling for life. How is this even up for debate?
Kermit Gosnell. Planned Parenthood. President Obama. All have the same philosophy that Abortion "Rights" trump the Human Rights of a baby born alive at the result of a botched abortion. While maybe they are not going around and advocating for Infanticide, what they have all done is exalt the desire of the mother past birth when the baby is outside of her body and have decided that that desire of the woman is greater than the right of the defenseless baby to live. The ramifications of this are horrifying and the fact that our president, not some fringe political outlier, supports this view, should be of grave concern to every American. Is the Abortion battle now headed outside the womb? Is the Gosnell situation not as rare as we would like to believe? How far will America go in supporting a woman's "right to choose?" With a national health care system emerging, will decisions be made regarding viability for babies already born to not treat them or try to help them survive if they have difficult illnesses or if the parent decides they do not want them?
How far does this philosophy go?
And, please do not tell me that I am employing the slippery-slope fallacy. American politics tells us that the "slippery slope" is alive and well, as does an abortion clinic in West Philadelphia.
Oh, and one other question: Is this why the media might not be eager to run with the Gosnell story?
We are witnesses to history. Before our eyes, the Civil Religion of America that consisted of "God and Country" is being dismantled piece by piece. One might blame liberal activists as they go after cultural institutions that Christians have depended upon to bolster morality and the idea that America is a Christian nation. But, is that the right place to look? Al Mohler thinks so. Yesterday, addressed the Boy Scouts for changing their policy of forbidding Gay Scouts and Scoutmasters to participate in their organization. Mohler says that the Boy Scouts of America call for Scouts to be "morally straight" is undergoing a transformation under mounting pressure from the homosexual lobby.
The Scout Oath reads: “On my honor I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” As recently as 2004 the Boy Scouts of America declared homosexual conduct to be “inconsistent” with that oath. Just six months later, all that is to be swept away.
Faithful Christians are left in the excruciatingly difficult position of maintaining fidelity to moral judgments revealed in the Bible while the culture around us races in the opposite direction. While the Boy Scouts use language like “morally straight,” the church uses its own language of sin, grace, and obedience.
I write as a former Boy Scout, who retains great love and admiration for Scouting and all that it has meant to generations of boys. This new policy will transform the culture of the Boy Scouts. This is exactly what those who demand the policy change are expecting. As the announcement made clear, this is no small alteration or adjustment.
The new policy to be adopted by the Boy Scouts of America represents a revolution in what that esteemed organization understands “morally straight” to mean. We should not let that pass without taking notice of what that revolution will eventually bring about — nothing less than a reversal of what morality is understood to demand.
Mohler is right. We are seeing a revolution. But, of what kind?
My friend, Marty Duren asks some pointed questions along these lines today over at his blog. After questioning why there is an outcry from Evangelical leaders now regarding the Scouts allowing homosexuals and there was no outcry when it was recently revealed that the Scouts had been covering up for child sex abusers for decades, Marty goes on to hit the crux of the issue:
I did a little research into the BSA's stance on Racial Segregation up until the 1960's and it was as I expected. Boy Scout Troops in the South were racially segregated just like every other institution. We would consider that practice evil today but back then, it was considered "morally straight." Read the whole sordid history here.
In the South, with the "separate but equal" mindset of the times, black troops were not treated equally. They were often not allowed to wear scout uniforms, and had far smaller budgets and insufficient facilities to work with. The BSA on a national level was often defensive about its stance on segregation. "The Boy Scouts of America] never drew the color line, but the movement stayed in step with the prevailing mores." Even so, there was only one integrated troop before 1954 in the Deep South compared to the frequent occurrence of integration in the North. Also, the Scouts in the South did not support social agencies that were allies of the BSA. The YMCA was historically one of the BSA's strongest supporters, but in Richmond, Virginia, blacks were not allowed to use the Y's facilities to earn merit badges, specifically for swimming.
So, the Boy Scouts have ALWAYS reflected the "prevailing mores" of the larger culture. They are not a Gospel organization. Their god is the god of American Civil Religion which is not the God of the Bible. Their definitions of "morally straight" will change with the times and with what America ascribes to. Their ethos involves "God and Country" and a merging of the two. I was a Boy Scout and don't see anything wrong with being one, but it was not an exclusively Christian organization in any way that I could tell. We talked about God and morality and we had ecumenical religious services on our campouts, but there was nothing inherently Christian about our times of devotion. As Marty says, this is why Mormons have embraced the Boy Scouts so clearly.
I understand what Dr. Mohler is bemoaning. The loss of the Boy Scouts in the Culture Wars is another sign of the Great Unraveling of Christendom (the idea of a culture-supported and culture-friendly Christianity). I am all for institutions that support Christian values and wish that every organization did. I agree that Homosexuality is immoral and ungodly and is condemned in Scripture as are all other sexual sins and all sin, for that matter. But, I also recognize that we should not be surprised when an organization that has ALWAYS reflected and promoted the general moral consensus of America continues to do what it was created to do when the moral consensus changes. Churches in the South had no qualm with the Boy Scouts when they supported segregation for 60 years because we were doing the same thing, even though we would all see it as wrong, unbiblical, and immoral now. Why are we then so surprised at today's shift? When did the BSA ever repent of tying its moral stance to the larger cultural consensus instead of Scripture?
Prediction: Every single institution in America that was morally and ethically rooted in a cultural Christianity/Civil Religion is going to shift on the issue of homosexuality in the next 5-7 years.
As Christians, we have a chance for the Church to be the Church. We will be persecuted as the Culture leaves us behind and now turns on us as Jesus prophesied. Let's make sure that we hold to our convictions that are rooted in Scripture and the God of the Bible and not be surprised when those institutions that we thought were "with us" go the way that they were always designed to go. If we do not draw the distinction between their god of Civil Religion and the true God of the Bible, we will go with them and think that we are doing the right thing. Jesus came to save us from our sin, not to affirm it. Our task is to hold out the word of life found in the gospel which includes speaking to our sin as well as our only salvation found in Christ.
For a Biblical approach to how Christians should navigate the changing and increasingly hostile culture in regard to this issue, check out how Dan Cathey of Chick-Fil-A has sought to stick with his Biblical convictions on homosexuality while simultaneously seeking to love and pray for those who would be considered "enemies" in all this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shane-l-windmeyer/dan-cathy-chick-fil-a_b_2564379.html
Millions of Americans are headed to the polls today all across America to exercise our privilege of choosing a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. I am not under patriotic illusions that the people have as much say in things as we like to believe, but on this day, all of the media manipulations, posturing, corruption, and lies takes a back seat. On this day, the American people get to walk into a voting booth and choose. We vote our values, our hopes, our fears, and our own personal agendas and preferences. Much has gone into forming our opinions. Billions of dollars have been spent on campaigns, ads, and the political machine that stretches into every crevice of life in America. But, today, the people step past all of that and do what our Founders intended. We get to vote.
I have maintained for sometime that politics is actually spiritual, that it is an arena like marriage, relationships, our families, work, and our communities where people express what they beleive about life and how one can best live. In our vote, we attempt to throw our allegiance behind a particular worldview and vision of the future. Perhaps we are trying to mitigate some real or imagined evil or deal with some problem that we fear is getting out of control. Candidates run on the premise that they can represent our hopes and allay our fears and we invest them with that authority. It is all spiritual because almost everything that we hope for and fear finds its root in the human condition and our reconciliation or separation from God - whether we know it or not.
I am convinced that every person on the planet asks four questions:
These four questions form the basis for every world religion and and social and political movement. The Political process in America is simply a secular version of this attempt to find meaning, assess what is wrong, and to fix it. But, if it fills the role of religion for many (and all that you have to do is look at the political rallies and the intense hope that people place in getting their candidate elected) then it must spring from a spiritual desire for connection, safety, security, and a hopeful future. I think that we bring many of our spiritual longings to the political process and we open ourselves up for discussion of spiritual matters when we talk about politics and what we are going to do to address the problems of the world. Many people today will be expressing their most basic hope and confidence today as they vote.
As a Christian, I know that it is important that I fulfill my civic duty of participating in this conversation. However, I know that it does not provide me with the answers I seek. There is no savior in Washington. What ails us will not be fixed in Congress. We can participate in representing Christian ethics and values as we stand for justice and truth - and we should do that. But, we must recognize that while we are stand prophetically and point to Truth, that it will often be rejected because the carnal man cannot accept the things of God. While we prophetically tell the truth and stand for justice and righteousness and seek to protect the weak and vulnerable, we must also recognize that the real salvation that we are looking for can only be found in Christ. We live in the land "in-between" as ambassadors and witnesses to another Kingdom - a Kingdom of Heaven that touches earth through how we live and act and through the way we tell a different kind of story.
Vote. Pray. Engage in dialogue. Love your neighbor as yourself and put his interests above your own. And, always point to Christ, through whom the whole creation is being reconciled back to God.
Over the years, I have advocated a position that I call Prophetic vs. Political when it comes to a Christian's relationship with the political realm. What I have meant by that is that Christians should not be beholden to a political party or be involved in grasping after power on this earth, even if they think that they can use it for good purposes. Having worldly power in the temporal sphere almost always happens through worldly means and eventually, corruption is the result. The Christian siding with one political party or another is eventually led down the road of compromise as his allegiance is used for whatever the Party wants to do. So, I have advocated a Prophetic stance. What I mean by that is that Christians should affirm righteousness wherever it is found and should denounce evil and injustice wherever it is found - no matter which party is doing either right or wrong. We see this when John the Baptist denounced Herod's immorality and when the prophets of Israel called the Hebrew Kings to account for the evil that they tolerated and promoted in turning against God and oppressing the poor and powerless. The Church is to be Salt and Light (Matthew 5:13-16) and we do that best when we are independent of political party allegiances, but we are engaging our Prophetic role.
But, I want to revise this a bit. Being Prophetic does not mean that we eschew the Political arena. "Politics" comes from the Greek word "Politikos" and it means, "of, or relating to citizens" and it applies to the art or science of running government. Politics is simply how a society organizes and governs itself. It involves how a society makes decisions, what it declares to be right and wrong, how it takes care of its members, and how it develops a vision of who/what it is and what the future will look like. Politics involves decisions on justice and economics and how the poor and vulnerable will be treated and how order will be created and preserved in society. These are all important issues and they are all things that are addressed in Scripture. Christians should be a part of making these decisions and, even though we live in a society that does not recognize Biblical truth as authoritative, we should be "Salt and Light" and work to bring the ethics of the Kingdom of God into every area of life, leavening the loaf with the yeast of God's Truth, as it were (Matt. 13:33). Salt gives flavor and preserves meat, keeping it from decay. Light illuminates so we can see where we are going and so we do not wander around in darkness. Christians are to give flavor, to preserve and keep from decay, and to guide the way into the right direction. We are not to dominate or coerce or force our views upon others - rather, we are to be ambassadors another Kingdom - the Kingdom of God which is not of this world (John 18:36).
The way of Jesus is the Way of the Cross. This means that we are willing to suffer and die and lay down our lives for others. We are not trying to grasp power so we can use it to force others to do what we think they should do. Jesus could have taken over the world with a snap of his fingers and turned us all into robots. But, He did not. He came and suffered and died for us, taking the place of a servant, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death on a Cross (Phil. 2:5-8) so He could be our salvation. So, the way of Jesus is the way that we are to represent Him in the world. In this, we are called to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). We are to witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ, which involves not only how we get to heaven when we die, but also involves how we live here on earth (see Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount for starters). The political arena is a place where we can witness to the truth of Jesus and where we display where our hope lies. Politics is where we talk about life and death and everything in between and Jesus has something to say about that. He is not just concerned with life eternal, but He also speaks into how we can live life now, and Christians have a prophetic role in witnessing to society the character of God as sovereign over all things. But, we must tread carefully.
We must do this without thinking that getting society to reflect Godly priniciples is going to solve things. We cannot get the Kingdom to come by force or by getting a law passed or by cleaning up corruption. We stand for justice and peace because that is how we witness to who Jesus is. As Stanley Hauerwas once said, as His followers, we can imagine no other way to live. He is the God of Justice. He is the Prince of Peace. But, we know that the heart is wicked and we know what is in a man. We know that we cannot "reclaim America for God" through the political sphere because only when a man's heart is transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ can anyone be changed. Law does not bring change. It only reveals and punishes sin and shows us what righteousness is. We still need the Gospel to bring real change and the proclamation of the Gospel is our great mandate. Salvation only comes through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, not in establishing moral law.
But, as Christians who are also citizens, we have a role to play in our society. We reflect Godly ways and we bring fairness and ethics and justice with us wherever we go. We reflect mercy and humility and we care for the poor and the weak and the oppressed (Micah 6:8; Isaiah 58; Matthew 25:31-46). In our role as citizens, we witness to the ethic of Jesus' Kingdom and we call upon our social, political, and economic structures to reflect this reality - not because we think that we can usher in some kind of utopia, but because this is part of how we witness to who God is. How does the world know that God is a God of Justice who cares for the poor and punishes the corrupt and the evil doer? Not just because we read those passages in the Bible, but because we, as His people, reflect this attitude in society now and the political realm is one place that we can reflect God's character because it is the place that we all decide together how we are going to live.
Political discussions are ultimately spiritual discussions because they deal with meaning and how we best live life on this planet. Every time we talk or think about politics, we are talking about truth and justice and how we live and organize ourselves. Christians should speak into this with great hope and imagination. All people everywhere are asking the worldview quesitons of who/what is ultimate reality, who/what is man, what is wrong with the world, and how do we fix it? These spiritual questions are what world religions seek to answer, but they are also the questions that we try to answer through our politics. Christians know how to answer these questions. The political realm is just one more arena to witness to the truth of God and we should not shy away from it even when we place no faith in it at all - even when we are persecuted for doing so, because when we are persecuted for righteousness' sake, we are also blessed (Matthew 5:10-12).
Huffington Post is reporting this morning that Chick-Fil-A is ceasing to support pro-family groups who lobby to oppose same-sex marriage, such as Exodus International, the Family Research Council, and Focus on the Family. The organization, The Civil Rights Agenda, states in a press release:
September 18, 2012 – Chicago, Illinois – The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA), Illinois’ leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights advocacy organization, has learned that Alderman Moreno has finalized his negotiations with Chick-Fil-A. Alderman Moreno has confirmed that Chick-fil-A will no longer give money to anti-gay organizations and that they have clarified in an internal document that the company will treat every person equally, regardless of sexual orientation. The Civil Rights Agenda worked closely with the Alderman in an advisory role as he negotiated these concessions with the executives at Chick-fil-A. Additionally, members of TCRA spoke directly with executives at Chick-fil-A during negotiations to aid in educating their decision makers about anti-discrimination policies and issues affecting the LGBT community.
In a letter addressed to Alderman Moreno and signed by Chick-fil-A’s Senior Director of Real Estate, it states, “The WinShape Foundations is now taking a much closer look at the organizations it considers helping, and in that process will remain true to its stated philosophy of not supporting organizations with political agendas.” Winshape, a non-profit funded by Chick-fil-a, has donated millions of dollars to anti-LGBT groups, including some classified as hate groups, such as Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage. In meetings the company executives clarified that they will no longer give to anti-gay organizations.
My take: This is the world we live in. I am not supporting giving to these organizations. But, that is beside the point. There are many companies that give money to groups who are pro-gay and pro-gay marriage, even though the concept is illegal in over 80% of states and is against Federal Law, so supporting companies who take a side on this issue is clearly not taboo. Many religious groups and pro-traditional-family groups have opposed these businesses with boycotts, but that has not stopped the growing tide of acceptance. With an initial small minority, the pro-same-sex marriage position is gaining steam and by labeling all who disagree with them as hate groups, they have won the emotional argument. This approach is catching on. My guess is that Chick-Fil-A, while maintaining a pro-traditional marriage stance, does not want to be associated with culture warriors who are oppsing the swelling tide. This could come from a principled position of a desire to stay neutral, or it could be because they know which way the winds are blowing and don't want the backlash.
At any rate, if this is true, it is another sign that the legalization of gay marriage is almost a certainty. I have stated before that Christians long ago abandoned a principled position on marriage when we acquiesced to the idea that marriage is about romantic love and the right of two people who love one another to choose to be together. When we made marriage about us and about love, no-fault divorce was the eventual result. If two people don't love each other any more, then why should they stay married? Christians, believing that marriages should stay together because the Bible says so, then tried to get married couples to be "in love" with each other so they would stay married. But, this idea is based on a fallacy. Biblical marriage is not based on romantic love. It is based on God's covenant love and commitment to His own glory and to us - which transcends feelings of romance or satisfaction. Biblical marriage is relationally between a man and a woman and it originates in God. Sure, love is involved - even feelings romantic love as a result. But, that is not the proper foundation, at least in a human sense. Biblical marriage begins is worship of God. The covenant between God and man illustrated through Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross is the true picture of marriage and that covenant is irrevocable. Marriage is a picture of this heavenly reality. But, when we stop worshiping God and looking to Him as our Source, marriage falls apart. We made marriage about us and not about God or Christ and His Church and so we philosophically lost the whole thing. Then, when two gay men or lesbian women come together and say they want to get married because they love each other and marriage is about two people loving each other and why can't they have what straight people have, Christians have no idea what to say except that it is wrong - which means nothing. They have us at our foundational argument. Gender doesn't matter because "love" is supreme. God is love and love conquers all and who are we to say who can love someone else? So, our argument falls apart because essentially, we agree with them. We have no strong argument against divorce except the negative argument that God hates it. Then we try to get couples to fall in love again and when they no longer have feelings for each other, they throw in the towel and we say, "how sad." Our argument against gay marriage is essentially a gender argument which is not compelling because gender lines were erased a generation ago.
The Biblical answer is found in a true picture of God and His creation, Jesus and His Cross, Salvation, the Church, and what Christ's inviolable covenant with man actually is. But, most Christians don't know this, so how can we expect them to understand covenant marriage? All that we are left with when it comes to the gay marriage argument is that "it is wrong." Once you throw out absolute truth and locate the moral governor within the individual, what is right and wrong becomes relative to what makes someone happy or not. And, if it makes you happy, you should do it - right? Christians eaten up with various forms of the prosperity gospel and humanism and a belief that God really does want us to be happy, stumble off stuttering under their breath, "But, but, but, it's wrong . . . isn't it?" Then, when the culture says that they are hate-filled hypocrites because they don't want people to be happy and follow their heart, the once strong opponent to gay marriage caves completely, not wanting to be on the wrong side of what society declares a good person to be. Our own definitions of good and bad are based in society's approval and not in any transcendent sense. After all, if society does not approve of us, then we are no longer relevant and irrelevancy means we have no identity and no success and favor is based on success and acceptance and if we don't have that, then God is no longer with us and if God is not with us, then we are condemned, or so it often seems. So, to be declared a hate-filled hypocrite by society is essentially a judgment of damnation and of being "cast out into utter darkness." It makes us wonder who our god really is. Think about it. As people who subscribe to Divine Revelation, this is a strange set of circumstances we find ourselves in.
So, this move by Chick-Fil-A will be the move of the rest of culture, including the church - eventually, because any opposition to gay marriage is only now seen as hate. There can be no other reason for it in people's minds. Unless we recover a transcendent, Biblical view of marriage that is based in Christ and His Church instead of our feelings and personal experience of love, romantic or otherwise, we won't even understand what is happening. We will continue to demonize gay marriage supporters without ever seeing that we are part of the problem, that we vacated this playing field generations ago, and that what is happening now is a natural result of our own abandoning of truth and fidelity. When "Christianity" dominated the culture, we did strange things with it (slavery, racism, greed, power-plays, oppression) to support our own way of life instead of losing our life daily, and now that our consensus has fallen apart, the chicken sandwiches have come home to roost, so to speak (pun intended).
I understand that it is hard to keep this view in mind. We all fall short. Grace is needed. Christian marriage is hard because it requires a daily dying to self. It is attractive to fall for the larger culture's definition of marriage based on romantic love. That feels better. But, it does not last. Romantic love in marriage is a gift of God and is a by-product of other things. But, it is not the foundation of marriage. God is. And, God is faithful and true, even when we fall short in our understanding and practice. So, we need grace and hope and that is found in God too.
Yesterday, a video of Mitt Romney from back in the Spring speaking to supporters made the news in which he declared that a good number of Obama's supporters would never vote for him anyway and that he was going after the 5-6% of independents that would decide this election. Then, he said that the 47% of those who would vote for Obama no matter what, were largely made up of those who depended upon the Federal government. Here is one summary of Romney's words:
Mr. Romney describes how his campaign would not try to appeal to “47 percent of the people” who will vote for Mr. Obama “no matter what.” They are, he says, “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.”
He says those people “pay no income tax,” and “so our message of low taxes doesn’t connect.” Mr. Romney adds: “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Now, this raises an interesting point. I agree with Romney in the sense that we have far too many people in America who are dependent upon government and who pay no taxes. We are better off as a nation when everyone contributes to the greater good and we would be much better off if we had 70-80% of people with good jobs making good money and creating wealth and paying taxes off of that wealth. That is the ideal and generational poverty and dependence is a scourge upon our society, not just because there are others footing the bill, but because we have generations of people who know nothing but government dependence. That is a scandal in America and it should be addressed.
But, along with those issues that stems from personal dependence come the issues of state welfare. Some of the states with the lowest state tax structure are also the states that take the most money from the Federal Government on a per capita basis. Take my state of Alabama for example. Alabama is a very conservative state with some of the lowest state taxes in America. Yet, Alabama takes $1.66 from the Federal Government for every $1.00 it sends to Washington. Alabama, a very conservative state that is proud of its low taxes, is actually a welfare state in that it takes money from other states to be able to function. Alabama can only afford to have low state taxes because it takes money from other states to pay for its services. This is wrong, in my opinion.
But, it is not just Alabama that does this. As a matter of fact, the truth is that the majority of conservative (Red) states are welfare states living off of the surplus that the majority of liberal (Blue) states send in to the Federal Government. It appears that the more liberal states are not just paying their own way, but they are also footing the bill for the "Low taxes or no taxes" conservative states to be able to function. Check this out:
Now, I am very conservative politically, but I do not think that it is right for Alabama to have low state taxes and then take money from California and New York for its education, highways, and infrastructure. Alabama ought to pay its own way first and then send money on to the federal government for what we all deemed as the common good. As a matter of fact, what would our government look like if all social services, education, roads, and infrastructure that did not serve a federal purpose was handled by the states? What if there was no Federal money flowing into the states for anything other than what was needed for Federal purposes? Then, every state paid in 10 cents on the dollar for military defense and other projects that were Federal responsibilities and had interstate jurisdiction? We would end up with a much smaller, more efficient Federal Government and the states would have to get their house in order, fix themselves both economically and socially, and get off of the government dole.
The other scandal is that in many of these "Red" Conservative states that are so dependent upon Federal tax money, you have the Church playing a prominent role. Unfortunately, the South, which is historically the Bible Belt, is also the area with some of the worst social indicators, which are a primary reason for much Federal spending when it comes to social programs. One of the best ways for the States to get their act together is for these states with a large preponderance of churches to actually clean themselves up of the negative social indicators like teen pregnancy, divorce, drug addiction, obesity, etc. and put themselves on a more solid social and cultural footing.
All of this makes me think that Conservatives are not really serious about fiscal responsibility in a way that works. It seems that what they really want is for THEM not to have to pay taxes and for someone else to provide for them so that they can live the life they've always wanted. They will forgo a responsible state tax structure as long as the Federal Government provides for them while at the same time working to diminish the Federal Government. If they would first start with their own house and start paying themselves for what the Feds (i.e., other states) provide them, then maybe they would have a leg to stand on. As it is, it just looks like selfishness.
I love Chik-Fil-A. My family does too. If I am not in the right frame of mind, diet-wise, you will see CFA bags or a sweet tea cup in my car. The chicken sandwiches are amazing and the waffle fries are perfect and every once in a while, there is nothing better than a cookies 'n cream milkshake.
I also love their customer service and their stand for Christian values and their support of traditional marriage and the family and their scholarship programs and charity work and, well, just about everything.
In addition, I think that Dan Cathy, the Chik-Fil-A CEO had every right to answer a question about his support for traditional marriage and the family the way he did. That is his belief and he should be able to speak it. He was also right to speak out in favor of his Christian convictions on marriage and the family and more of us should do the same. I also think that it is totally wrong for the mayors of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and other protestors around the country to try and keep Chik-Fil-A out of their cities because of their beliefs and positions.
One more thing: I also think that today's support of Chik-Fil-A is generally a good thing and I am glad that people have a desire to see businesses who stand for the right things do well.
But . . .
I am feeling a bit uneasy as the day goes on. Something in my gut is wondering if those supporting Chik-Fil-A by eating a chicken sandwich today did not end up accelerating the culture war to a new height, and not in the way that is best. Here is what I mean: Dan Cathy did not specifically say anything against gay marriage. He simply said that he supported the traditional family and marriage. But, this protest is very clearly a response to the backlash against Cathy and Chik-Fil-A by homosexuals and their supporters. So, by nature, the long lines of people at Chik-Fil-A today are counterprotesting the protestors, thus, making a statement against them that Cathy and Chik-Fil-A still have not made. They have just kept doing their work. Is this what Chik-Fil-A would have wanted?
Secondly, buying a chicken sandwich and waffle fries today and standing in long lines to do so does not really support the things that Cathy and Chik-Fil-A said they were in favor of. It can come across more as a show of power to those who would try and exercise power against us. Where does Jesus' teachings on "do not resist an evil person" (Matt. 5:39) come into play here? Granted, this is not resisting in a negative way, but instead, it is a positive affirmation of Chik-Fil-A. It is almost a silent protest of support. No problem there - it can actually be a good thing, but I wonder if in the contest of protests and counter protests, it doesn't come across as a show of power, especially when we get really excited about the long lines and how many people are on our team?
"It used to be that taking a bite of a chicken sandwich just meant you were hungry. Now it has become a symbol of whether you stand for or against same-sex marriage, or – alternately – the right to express your personal views without fear of retaliation."
Chik-Fil-A will now forever be known as the "anti-gay" restaurant chain, which is not who they are at all. They are not "anti" anyone nor are they discriminatory. They have no policy in either hiring or service against homosexuals. Instead, they are "pro" traditional marriage and family. But, I wonder if that message is being lost in the sound and fury of the culture wars?
A lady in our church, Molly, updated her status on Facebook today by saying something very poignant, I think, which stopped me in my tracks and got me to look at the larger picture here. While not criticizing those at CFA today to show support, she asked how many people would be at Chik-Fil-A on Friday night when the homosexual protest took place to show love, concern, compassion, and to engage in conversation and share the gospel. That got me thinking and I have not been able to shake the thought all day. Standing in line to buy a chicken sandwich and support the business of Chik-Fil-A can be seen as more about us (not saying it is, but it could be construed that way). It could be seen as Christians and Conservatives trying to protect those institutions that promote our way of life and to give them more power - economic power. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, per se, but I wonder if Jesus would have shown up to buy a chicken sandwich today, or if he would be sitting in a booth on Friday night dining with "sinners?" I wonder if the way of Jesus here is not something altogether different - not exercising power to build up Chik-Fil-A or attack sinners and also not saying that homosexuality is the right course and the issue doesn't matter. Perhaps the way of Jesus would be to bring something altogether different to the conversation - the new life found only in Him, forgiveness, and the crucifixion of our way of life so that we can walk in His way.
These are just thoughts. This blog is the workshop of my mind and it is often a big mess. I am not questioning the motives of a single person who went to Chik-Fil-A today. I am NOT criticizing anyone who went to CFA today to show support for their family friendly values. I would have gone there too and was pretty excited about the whole thing this morning. I might go tomorrow. But, I am attempting to think "big picture" here. I am trying to see this through a gospel lense. If it wasn't for Molly, I probably would not have thought too much of it. But, apart from the individual motives of all the people who went to Chik-Fil-A today because they wanted to do something good, I just wonder if collectively we didn't fall for the world's old ploy that tries to get us to protect our way of life through trying to hold onto our place in the world instead of realizing that we already have a place in God's Kingdom and we are free to lay our lives down in love - even for those who would take action against us?
A few weeks ago, Lifeway Christian Stores made the decision to pull the movie, The Blind Side, from its shelves because of the protestations of a Florida pastor over some crude language in the film in one of its scenes depicting the urban life that the main character, Michael Oher, was living in at the time that he was found by the Tuohy family. I saw the movie and understood the scene and what was being depicted. There were also warning labels on the movie at Lifeway. But, some people thought that a Christian book store should not be selling it, apparently believing that the depiction of rough urban life was stronger than the message of redemption, adoption, sacrifice, and faith that the entire movie was about. Interesting.
Eric Metaxas, author of Amazing Grace and Bonhoeffer took Lifeway to task for pulling the movie from its shelves saying,
The film’s offense, according to a Florida pastor who started the campaign to have LifeWay stores pull the DVD, is that the movie contains “explicit profanity, God's name in vain, and racial slurs.” It doesn’t seem to matter that the objectionable language is used to depict the palpably unpleasant world from which the young black man, Michael, was rescued by his adoptive family.
What seems to matter to this pastor is that if we “tolerate” the presence of this movie in Christian bookstores, our children and grandchildren will “embrace” this kind of behavior. I’m not making this up – this is the exact reason given by the pastor. And frankly, I think it’s insane. I saw the movie myself. I even let my 12-year old daughter see it. That’s because it is a great film and I recommend it highly.
But sadly, LifeWay caved in and removed the “offensive” discs from their shelves.
For outsiders looking in, the moral of the story is that “there is no pleasing Christians. They always seem to be looking for something to be mad about.”
We complain about the calumnies and caricatures of Christians on the big screen; and then, when an Academy-Award winning film shows us at our very best, we complain that scenes depicting harsh, inner-city reality are too true to life!
We are, in effect, making our participation contingent on all our possible objections being met beforehand. Since there are many people who would be happy if we stayed within our cultural and religious ghettos, it’s difficult to imagine how we Christians can hope to be taken seriously in cultural discussions and debates with this kind of an approach.
Concerns about the language in the film also miss the larger point: what made the Tuohys—the family depicted in the film—such great Christian exemplars wasn’t their non-use of profanity; it was their willingness to reach out and embrace someone in need.
If we Christians can’t get this, then maybe we really should refrain from commenting on culture in the first place.
I agree with Metaxas' critique. Movies like The Blind Side and Soul Surfer are exactly the kinds of movies that Christians need to embrace in the culture because they show how Christian families handle difficult circumstances in a Christ-like, redemptive way. They are also mostly true and therefore, realistic. They deal with difficult things and show how Christians can handle trouble in a different way from the world. I think that Lifeway made a mistake here.
But, I want to give another perspective on this. While I don't think that Lifeway should have caved to the demands of this pastor, I also want to shed some light on the cultural situation among Southern Baptists. We were heading to a convention where all kinds of strange resolutions and arguments have the potential to be brought up on the floor. Lifeway leadership responded to the protest by saying that they did not want the focus of the convention to be on this and they were hoping to just avoid the controversy - so they pulled the movie ahead of time. Instead of being satisfied, Pastor Rodney Baker of Hopeful Baptist Church in Lake City, FL, decided he was going to bring the resolution anyway to make a statement about the future. Instead of being happy that his concerns were heard, he wanted more. What does this tell us? It tells me that there is an attitude of dissatisfaction within Southern Baptist life in particular, and Evangelicalism in general, that is almost impossible to appease. It is not enough that you listen to our demands. You also need to know the rules for the future and don't cross them. Lifeway tried to head this off and it did not work. I seriously doubt that they will make the same mistake in the future. At least I hope they won't.
But, the larger issue is that a statement was made that this movie is somehow inappropriate for Christians to watch and Lifeway went along with that statement. That is the bigger problem. We have a lot of serious problems in our culture, but this movie actually tried to show Christians giving their lives away to help someone in need. After seeing the movie, I wanted to show it to every women's ministry in Alabama. We need Christian families to engage the problems in our culture, to take in neglected and abandoned kids, to give hope where there is little, and to help bring redemption instead of constantly separating from the pain and alienation around us. We need to stop running away and being cowards. The Tuohy's gave hope to Michael Oher by sacrificing their lives and comfort and entering into his situation. I am glad that Jesus was not afraid to enter into our pain, but incarnated Himself into our world. The Blind Side shows how Christians can do that and it is a message that all of us need to pay attention to, especially affluent Southern Baptists who like to get away from problems and have their churches support them in their flight by meeting their perceived "felt needs." What we need to do is get over ourselves and care more about the hurting and dying and hopeless than we care about ourselves and protecting our way of life.
I am not concerned if Lifeway carries this movie or not. There are a lot of things that Lifeway carries that I wish they wouldn't - starting with most of the "art" in their stores. But, that is beside the point. I think we need to consider the larger message that we are sending what what we protest and what we do not. The world is watching and we just told them that The Blind Side is not a movie that we approve of because it had a few bad words in it - nevermind that it was about a Christian family crossing racial and socioeconomic lines to change the life of a young man forever.
Maybe I should bring a resolution next year asking Christians to stop running away from problems in our culture and be more like the Tuohy's. Or to stop straining at gnats and swallowing camels.
I ran across an old book today on the The Search for the Twelve Apostles by William Steuart McBirnie (1973). In it, he quotes from a special publication that was "published to commemorate the visit to India of the Patriarch of the Church of the East" (145). This volume was called Souvenir of India, In Honour of the Visit to India of His Holiness Maran Mmar Eshai Shimun XXIII and was written and published by the Editorial Board of the Publicity and Information Committee of H.H. The Patriarch Reception Committee, Enrakulam, Kerala State, India, 1962.
Here is the quote that I found interesting from the foreword of the commemorative volume:
More than one thousand and nine hundred years ago, the holy Apostle St. Thomas, after establishing the first Christian Church among his own people in ancient Babylon, turned to India, led by the Holy Spirit, and with an evangelical zeal traversed this subcontinent preaching the good news and baptising those who believed in Him. His words 'had fallen into good ground, bearing fruit bringing forth a hundred-fold' and spreading to countries all over Asia. But by the vicissitudes of history, through all the centuries, this Church, founded on the blood of martyrs, has become almost extinct, leaving a scattered remnant.
India, in the 30-40 years right after the time of Christ was considered good ground for the gospel and it was planted there and grew rapidly. That is amazing when you think about it. What made India "good ground" for the gospel so that there was a huge harvest? One can only think that God's soveriegn power worked mightily through the Holy Spirit, the preaching of the Word, persecution of believers, prayer, miracles, and faithfulness. God sent Thomas and likely others to India very soon after the Ascension of Christ and many believed. How different this is from the India that we have seen over the past several hundred years - the Hindu India, steeped in Caste and idolatry. (See an interesting article from Time Magazine on St. Thomas from 1953).
If India was once responsive to the Gospel, what happened in history so that the church there was almost snuffed out of existence before the arrival of missionaries from the West in the 1600's? Why did India then rise up and push Christianity out? What made the good ground go bad?
I'll look at this more in depth in another post.
The riots in Great Britain last week are eliciting some interesting reactions across the pond. I am so used to unrest in America always being attributed to poverty or injustice or bigotry of some kind, that I was taken aback when Prime Minister David Cameron blamed Britain's problems on moral decline - and he is being taken seriously instead of being mocked in the media and by the late night comics (as far as I can tell). Cameron said,
“This has been a wake-up call for our country. Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face,” Mr. Cameron told an audience at a youth center in Witney, his Parliamentary district in southern England. “Just as people last week wanted criminals robustly confronted on our street, so they want to see these social problems taken on and defeated.”
Social problems festering for decades. Interesting. We have been told for decades that how you live really doesn't matter. We have an entire social system set up to alleviate the consequences of moral relativism. Want to have sex outside marriage? Sure! Abortion and birth control can take care of the consequences. If you do happen to get pregnant, we have a massive safety net available. Want to drop out of school and not get an education? No problem! You don't really need to work. The government will provide. Truth doesn't matter. There is no right and wrong. Fathers are not needed in the home (they can actually be quite a bother). Do whatever feels good whenever you want to do it and there are no consequences.
As long as you don't hurt someone else (and who can really define that, anyway, at least in the long term?) be free and pursue happiness, as you define it. THIS has been the popular, accepted religion of the West for the past 5-6 decades now and it was brewing in academia and the arts long before that. Finally, it seems, some are realizing that there are consequences to removing any sense of a moral foundation from Western culture. Eventually, you are left with a society of thugs.
Cameron goes on to say,
“We have been too unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong,” Mr. Cameron said. “We have too often avoided saying what needs to be said, about everything from marriage to welfare to common courtesy.”
“Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged — sometimes even incentivized — by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally demoralized,” Mr. Cameron said.
What the social libertines among us fail to recognize or admit is that there is a right and wrong and choosing wrong over and over again usually leads to some pretty severe consequences. When you actually incentivize wrong behavior and alleviate natural and societal consequences of wrong moral behavior, you end up with a broken society that does not know its left from its right and ends up calling up down and down up. When anger swells and riots break out, or when investment bankers swindle a nation driving it into economic collapse without any real consequences (and they actually make money off of it), we find that our entire society is bankrupt with little to stop it from spiraling out of control.
The same thing is happening in the US. Unreported riots are occurring in Wisconsin, Kansas, Birmingham, AL, Chicago, etc. They are being spread through social media and the regular media is not reporting it. The real driver behind these riots of young people attack pedestrians or creating flash mobs to rob stores is not poverty or lack of opportunity. It is the lack of imagination and moral certainty. There are no lines to cross anymore. Bradley Green, professor at Union University, points us to CS Lewis in The Abolition of Man predicting this turn of events by saying that when one generation changes the meaning of things from objective to subjective truth and ideals, then eventually, you will create "men without chests," or men who have no inner strength or moral fortitude. That is where we are. Still, the poets and prophets of our age tell us to continue on as if all is well when clearly it is not.
The truth is, the West has a 1500 year moral foundation that created the society that we now benefit from. Over the past 100 years or more (longer in some respects), that foundation has been systematically removed with the belief that the progress, prosperity, and cultural attainment built on that foundation would survive, because, after all, philosophical foundations are interchangeable and really don't matter much, right? We are now finding that not to be the case. Ideas have consequences and the removal of foundational ideas has consequences as well. There will still be a society and culture in the West - it will just look VERY different than what has come before.
More on this later . . . with some solutions.
See also the New York Times: Britain Debates Slow Motion Moral Collapse and Agenda: With George Friedman on a Crisis of Political Economy from Strafor.
Is there real, widespread poverty in America?
The National Review put out an article that claims that those classified as poor in America (approximately 40 million people) are actually much better off materially than we might think. They have things like air conditioners, DVD players, big screen TV's, X-Boxes, computers, internet, refrigerators, adequate shelter, plenty of food and clothing, etc. Yet, they are still considered poor. Why is this?
Data from the Department of Energy and other agencies show that the average poor family, as defined by Census officials:
● Lives in a home that is in good repair, not crowded, and equipped with air conditioning, clothes washer and dryer, and cable or satellite TV service.
● Prepares meals in a kitchen with a refrigerator, coffee maker and microwave as well as oven and stove.
● Enjoys two color TVs, a DVD player, VCR and — if children are there — an Xbox, PlayStation, or other video game system.
● Had enough money in the past year to meet essential needs, including adequate food and medical care.
Supposedly, the SBC meeting in Phoenix will issue a new declaration on racial discrimination within the Convention that will be multifaceted. This is really important and I am glad that my denomination is continuing to see this as a gospel issue. Dave Miller at SBC Voices explains how he has pushed for this and is excited to see what the SBC is doing here. I responded to Dave with the following comment that I wanted to lift out post here. I think that racial division in the body of Christ is a gospel issue, not just a social issue (but, of course, the two are related).
The last strong vestige of racism in the SBC is found in the realm of “personal preference” and “worship styles.” That has become code-language for, “I don’t want to be with “those” people.” We will be with them if they become just like us, but that then becomes a kind of circumcision-separation in the body of Christ. If they take on our culture, our customs, our vocabulary, our way of doing church, and our music, then we will fellowship with them. That is just like the Judaizers saying that the Gentiles had to be circumcised, obey dietary laws, etc. to be accepted with the people of God. Of course, we don’t make our preferences soteriological like the Judaizers did, but we do make them ecclesiological and even missiological, and if you understand the implications of the gospel in Ephesians 2:11-22, Christ is our peace and tears down the dividing wall – there is neither Jew, Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, male, or female. We are all one in Christ. So, that Oneness must be our priority, not our preferences, styles, methods, and approaches. All of those divisions are products of the Fall and are erased in Christ.
The only way through this is Agape – Sacrificial Love. If I truly and sacrificially love my black brothers and sisters in Christ, I will recognize that the divisions that we have are all from the institutional and cultural sins of racism, slavery, and segregation – sins that my Baptist ancestors promoted and codified. So, love for God and others requires that I not wait for them to come to me and become like me – rather, it requires that I go to them and identify with them, bringing the Incarnation of Christ into the still-existing broken relationships.
Could the healing of America be found in white, Baptist (and other), Southern Christians going to black, Baptist (and other) Southern Christians and laying down their lives sacrificially to communicate something other than our personal preferences? What if we truly laid down our lives for them in every way – for the health of their churches and communities and their future? What if their concerns became our concerns? What if we did not leave the cities because there were problems, but instead joined together with our black brothers and sisters and pastors and churches to identify with them and to carry their burdens? Might we then see the healing that we so desire. Isaiah 58 seems to say so.
Yes, Dave. This is crucial, but true healing requires much more of us than we can imagine. This is the work that we are doing in Montgomery, AL and it requires every bit of our lives. But, the witness of the Kingdom is at stake and Christ demands it of us.
I sincerely hope that we will see the tearing down of racial divisions in the body of Christ in America in the coming years to the point that we no longer consider a church to be a "white" church or a "black" church, but simply a church made up of followers of Jesus. May it be.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
That America still does not exist, although we are much closer to it now than we were when he gave his speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, at least in many ways. I grew up in the post-Segregated South, where the legal barrier between blacks and whites had been torn down, but a more invisible barrier still existed. This barrier existed economically and politically, but it was most obvious spiritually. Many of these barriers still exist and they are almost impossible to deconstruct unless there is heart transformation on all sides.
I have often wondered why racism was/is so prevalent in the American South, a region of the country considered to be the Bible Belt. Why, in a land full of churches, do we still have so many sinful barriers between people that manifest racially, culturally, economically, and socially? Why is there still so much anger and isolation? Is the Church capable of being a force for good and for healing apart from the occasional Saturday foray to the rescue mission downtown for an hour or two to volunteer? Is there some greater manifestation of what it means to be peacemakers, ministers of reconciliation, and ambassadors for Christ?
All of this brings me back to a central question that I have been pondering for many years: How Christian was the Segregated South, really? I do not deny the proliferation of churches and "god-talk" that existed. I do not deny that people saw themselves as Christians and I don't even deny that many were truly saved, in the biblical sense. But, how was it possible for the South to be the Bible Belt, yet so clearly dismiss what the Bible said about how people were to be treated? 1 John 3:13-18 says,
13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
Maybe the reason that white Christians saw no issue with supporting a segregated South was because they did not see blacks as their brothers. If you dehumanize a person, you can get away with not loving them and with seeing injustice happen to them without being affected personally. That is what Nazi Germany did to the Jews. You always dehumanize a person or a group of people to justify treating them with inequality. To dehumanize someone, you strip them of their God-given dignity and you assign them worth based on some outward status or requirement. During segregation/Jim Crow and slavery, worth was assigned to a person based on their skin color. Elaborate theories were created to justify the inferiority of blacks and people of color all over the world. These theories caused whites to feel superior based on the color of their skin, not the content of their character. Whites were not finding their identity in who God had created them to be, but rather in a racial identity that they had constructed for themselves. This was the sin behind the sin of racism: finding their identity in something other than God. Once they found it in race, they were able to dehumanize anyone of a different race or ethnicity to justify exalting themselves and oppressing others. They then created a dehumanizing society to support these values. (Photo taken from Dr. Russell Moore's post today)
One day, the desire of every beauty pageant contested will come true: there WILL be peace on earth. Of course, it is also the hope and prayer of all mankind. We all long for peace. We want the absence of war and striving, of hostility, pain, and death. We also want to see interpersonal conflict cease and to see people be able to get along. Most of all, we need peace between us and God. It seems like we are all at war with one another, with ourselves, and ultimately, with God.
The idea of peace comes from the Hebrew word, shalom, which is more than just the absence of conflict. It is the presence of right living, right relationship, and everything in life being ordered correctly under God's benevolent rule. The message of peace is the very work of Christ to put right a world gone wrong. It is a cliche to say that we want peace, as illustrated in the remark about beauty pageant contestants. We all want it, but we don't know how to get it. And, we don't understand the price that had to be paid to secure it.
Isaiah 9:1-7 says,
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
Advent is about looking back to Christ's first coming, recognizing that He has come into our hearts, and looking forward to His second coming. He has come and He has come to bring peace. There will be no end to the increase of His peace. His peace just keeps increasing and increasing in all who submit to His Lordship. In other words, everywhere that Jesus goes and everywhere that He is invited, He makes things right. He makes crooked paths straight and He fills in holes and levels mountains. He sets us all on firm foundations and He reconciles us to Himself and to other people. We get to experience this now, but it is all not yet fulfilled. But, it will be one day.
Christmas is a time that we recognize that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and He has come to bring right relationships and right living into the world. Armies have stopped fighting on Christmas to recognize the birth of the Prince of Peace. People put aside their differences and give to one another. Peace comes into our lives when we stop grabbing for control and we surrender our wills to God. Kris, one of our elders, said it that way this past Sunday. He was right. We have conflict because we want control. We receive peace when we quit trying to control our lives and we live rejoicing in Christ and trusting Him with all that we are and all that we have. For many, Christmas reflects this.
What if we lived this way all year long? What if Christians embodied the spirit of peace everywhere they went all year long and helped spread shalom (right living, right relationships) all over all year? This is what Jesus is ultimately bringing when He returns. He will establish His reign and there will truly be peace on earth. But, maybe we could help bring that into our daily experiences now. Maybe we could give witness to Christ by being in right relationship with God and others and by being peacemakers. I think that Jesus said something about peacemakers being blessed.
What if we gave gifts of peace at Christmas and all year round?
With the emergence of Black Friday as an unofficial American holiday (holy day), I have been giving some thought to the purpose of holidays in the experience of a culture/people. The word “holiday” comes from the concept of a “holy day,” or a day of commemoration, celebration, or observance. Every religion has its holy days and feast days that commemorate different aspects of their religion or cultural/national story. America, being a secular culture, also has no shortage of holidays to mark the year, give meaning to people’s lives, and to serve as touchstones for our shared cultural experience. Watching the crowds of people overwhelm shopping malls and stores today causes me to the think that Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving when retailers put on massive sales to clear out inventory and put their books “in the black”) has now been added to the pantheon of American holidays. Some of these days are purely secular and some have religious overtones, but all exist currently because they support some aspect of the American story.
The American Dream, as introduced by James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book, The American Epic, went something like this: "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement." This opportunity was to be available to all irrespective of race, creed, gender, or class. In other words, America was to be an egalitarian society where anyone could achieve their goals of personal advancement, prosperity, safety, and security. This became the definition of freedom and was, in many ways, a good thing. Basically, the American Dream involves the hope that every person can advance, improve themselves, and live their best life possible in a nation that is established for that purpose. All of society is to align itself with the goal of helping the individual live out the American Ethos of the pursuit of personal happiness. As the Dream has grown, it has slowly pushed out care for the other. Consumerism and individualism have become manifestations of this pursuit, and education, family, community, and even God/religion are seen as valuable so long as they help us achieve the fulfillment of our dreams.
Because of this, I firmly believe that the American Experience is not secular at all. It is highly religious in the ways that all religions are. Regarding consumerism as a manifestation of the American Dream gone mad, Anthony B. Robinson says,
Is it too much to suggest that consumerism has become a kind of alternative faith, a religion of sorts? Religions are characterized by some vision of a good life, by their rituals and by a particular language. Consumerism seems to be developing all three apace.
Consumerism's vision of the good life is the gaining of goods and experiences. Consumerism also has its own rituals that form and promote consumer character. The acquisition of credit cards and debit cards by the young becomes some sort of rite of passage. The Friday after Thanksgiving is consumerism's high holy day, the No. 1 shopping day of the year. How much we shop during the Christmas season is an indicator of our national health. Television offers the liturgy of consumerism 24/7, and wonder of wonders, we consent to having it piped into our homes!
One might even do a compare- and-contrast between religion's historic and characteristic virtues and consumerism's virtues or qualities of character. For faith and religion, the crowning virtue is love, a capacity for other regard. For consumerism, self-regard would lead the list. No. 2 in a listing of religious virtues would be joy with the associated notion of contentment. Yet for consumerism, discontent is essential. One must be in a constant state of anxiety about keeping up, having the newest and the latest. Virtue No. 3 of the spiritual life is peace and harmony with others. But for consumerism, envy is to be preferred. (http://www.seattlepi.com/local/350593_faith09.html)
Of course, the immediate answer is yes. But, I am asking the same question I asked about a year and a half ago in this post: http://www.downshoredrift.com/downshoredrift/2009/07/can-the-christian-church-help-montgomery-alabama.html.
Not much has changed in Montgomery in a year and a half except that more people have moved to bedroom communities and more Christians have congregated in megachurches. It will be interesting to see what the new census numbers reveal about regional migration. White flight and middle class flight continue to take hold in Montgomery and Christians continue to run away to nice, safe, secure environments. I really wonder about this. Jesus didn't run away to environs that were safe for Him. He ran straight into a deadly situation out of love for us. Yet, we continue to run away from problems in our community and make decisions based on "what's best for us and our family." Is that a Christian response to the problems in our neighborhoods, our schools, and our community? If there is crime in a neighborhood, where is the church? Can't we run in and address it? If there is family breakdown, fatherlessness, and hopelessness, shouldn't the church be there?
Anyway, read the post above, if you like. It was written last year, but is still pertinent for today. I think that the days are urgent and we have a generation that will be lost if we don't engage them with the gospel. If the church does have a future, it will be a future of missional engagement instead of entrenchment for our own safety and security.
In a follow up post on White Flight/Middle Class Flight, I said this: "we should not just cede other people to the enemy without collective engagement." It is hard to take the gospel to people who are set against it. It requires sacrifice - maybe even our lives. But, isn't that what we're called to? Where does the church call for that? Scripture does - but, do we?
Alan Hirsch has a great message on the need for the church to be a community of missional engagement with the powers of darkness. I posted it on Facebook the other day. Check it out:
Our church is sending a team to Haiti next Spring and a lot of our youth are going. We have also been very active in India over the past few years and have also done a good deal in our own community to try and alleviate poverty and give aid to the poor. Jesus commands us to do this (Matt. 25). Still, it is good to think through how we are to really help the poor and not make things worse. Lots of times, our best efforts can be things that we do to make us feel better instead of things that really provide long-term solutions for long-term problems. Plus, we need to consider what our view of "poor" is. Economic inequality does not necessarily mean that someone is poor. Compared to Bill Gates, I am very poor. But, my basic needs are met, my quality of life is good, and I do not consider myself to be poor, even though I can in no way match his lifestyle. The presence of wealty people in the world does not mean that everyone else is poor by comparison.
At the same time, if basic needs are not met related to food, water, health, housing, clothing, etc., then we have issues. Becoming a real source of help for the poor in these situations means that we need to think through things and provide real solutions that make a real difference. More money, education, and services can be helpful, but if a dependency mentality is created, it does little long term good. At the same time, if someone is sick, hungry, thirsty, or dying, you don't stand over them and preach about long-term solutions. This is what Jesus was getting at in his parable of the Good Samaritan. You help right then.
I am reading a book called "When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . And Yourself." You can join me in reading it if you like. Here is the website for the book that expands the discussion. I think it might have some good insight on how Christians are to really be involved with the poor and help bring transformation. At least it will initiate some good thoughts and discussion. Along with Tim Keller's Generous Justice that I am also reading, this focus might be a good way to discipline our minds during the Christmas season, where so much buying/spending/feasting seems to be focused on ourselves.
Another great resource is Walking With the Poor by Bryant Myers.
I just got Tim Keller's latest book, Generous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just. If it is like the rest of his writings, I am sure that I am going to learn a lot. At the beginning of the book, he talks about his motivation to consider the Biblical view of justice. He recalls how he was greatly affected by the hypocrisy of white Christians in the 1960's when they defended segregation instead of siding with those fighting for justice. He thought that "justice" was a secular concern until he was taught more fully on what the Bible taught about justice and God's concern for the oppressed.
While getting a Doctor of Ministry degree, he was challenged to write his thesis on deacon ministry in the church. His concept of the role of deacons, God's concern for justice and the poor, and the role of the church in all of this was radically changed. He says,
Deacons had historically been designated to work with the poor and needy in the community, but over the years this legacy had been lost, and instead they had evolved into janitors and treasurers . . . I did historical research on how church deacons served as the first public social service structure in European cities such as Geneva, Amsterdam, and Glasgow.
What if deacons in our churches revived the role of being ministers of justice and mercy to the poor and needy in their community? This happens in some churches, and to a great degree it happens in our church. But, I didn't know that this had been a formal approach to how deacons functioned. Keller is right. In many churches, deacons serve as an administrative council for the church and primarily function as custodians of the church building and grounds. But, what if they led us out in mercy ministry to those in need all over our community?
Gateway has a very vibrant benevolence ministry. We have been privileged to help people in all walks of life, from the sick, to stranded travelers, to those needing food, shelter, and basic provisions. We have helped lift people up from the clutches of poverty and have seen them regain a place in society where they are able to take care of themselves and begin to help others. Our deacons have led this ministry and have prayerfully administered the gifts of God's people to the poor and needy. In December, our deacons will lead our entire church in our annual multi-event outreach effort called, "A Time to Serve." We will have 6 or so service oriented, outreach events that enable us to give to others during the holiday season instead of just focusing on ourselves.
I am really excited to read more of this book. I just wanted to stop and acknowledge the ministry that our deacons do concerning the poor and needy in our community as well as those who are in our church. It is good to know that they serve in a long, historical tradition of deacons who have been a blessng to others as they reflect the heart of God for the poor.