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?
If you are like me, you have been following with interest the Carnival Cruise Ship breakdown in the Gulf of Mexico where 4,000 vacationers have been stuck on a disabled ship with backed up bathrooms, no food, sickness, and oppressive heat. People who thought they were going to enjoy a great vacation on a floating hotel with endless buffet spreads, ice sculptures, gambling, drinking, and Vegas-style shows had their plans completely destroyed as a fire broke out in the engine room early Sunday morning leaving the ship basically lost at sea. Reports have been coming in of urine soaked hallways, almost no food, and people in misery. Now, after being pulled into port in Mobile, Alabama by a tug boat going 4-5 mph, one of the busses taking them to New Orleans to spend the night broke down. The nightmare just kept going.
Fortunately, Carnival Cruise lines is offering a reimbursement of the costs of the cruise, a 15% discount on their next cruise with Carnival (oh, really?), and a whopping $500 in cash for their trouble. I think that along with loved ones waiting to pick up the weary travelers, there were probably a host of lawyers ready to give their own version of aid, for a small fee, of course.
All of this got me thinking about how fragile our Fantasy Island/Love Boat existence in America is. We think that things will just keep chugging on toward the destination that we have charted out and we work for life to be as fun and simple as a cruise. A sense of entitlement grows and we have the expectation that we will be taken care of and happy and things will generally go our way. When they don't, we get frustrated, depressed, and wonder what is wrong. But, life is not like a Carnival Cruise ship. The reality is a whole lot more like that broken vessel that was pulled into port by a tug boat reeking of urine and sewage. Oh, great! I'm being all cheery today! But, it really is true. Real life is full of engine fires and things not working out. We use our wealth and power to try and insulate ourselves from it, but it never works. At some point, our best attempts break down and we are left waiting and wondering what comes next.
I think about what happened during Hurricane Katrina when I saw families coming into the shelter that we started with all of their belongings in a paper bag. I think about the families that we met when my son had cancer as they saw their own children taken by a vicious disease. I think about people that I have known who have been abused or who have seen their spouses leave them for no reason or who have lost jobs that they have poured their heart and soul into through no fault of their own. You are floating along and things are going well and then you hit an iceberg and it is every man for himself as the ship goes down. Nothing in life is guaranteed.
The Carnival Cruise Fiasco story is interesting for us on land and was a nightmare for those on the ship. While we have good days and there is much to enjoy and celebrate in life, the reality is that the Carnival fiasco is a metaphor for the unexpected tragedies that we face in life. These things will come. How will you handle them? Will you panic and give in to fear? Will you think that you don't deserve bad things to happen to you? In a world racked with sin and death, we have a Savior who has entered in to rescue and provide hope. We must cling to Christ and represent Him, even in the midst of tragedy. I hope that everyone who went through this past week is okay, but I also recognize that people all over the world right now are going through their own tragedies. Fortunately, God sees and knows and gives strength and comfort when we cling to Him. Grace is always available, even in the midst of disaster.
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.
We aren't just talking about raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans anymore, are we? As of January 1st, tax rates will increase for almost all Americans, with the middle class the hardest hit, comparatively speaking.
WASHINGTON (AP) - A typical middle-income family making $40,000 to $64,000 a year could see its taxes go up by $2,000 next year if lawmakers fail to renew a lengthy roster of tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, according to a new report Monday
Taxpayers across the income spectrum would be hit with large tax hikes, the Tax Policy Center said in its study, with households in the top 1 percent income range seeing an average tax increase of more than $120,000, while a family making between $110,000 to $140,000 could see a tax hike in the $6,000 range.
Taxpayers across the income spectrum will get slammed with increases totaling more than $500 billion - a more than 20 percent increase - with nine out of 10 households being affected by the expiration of tax cuts enacted under both President Barack Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush.
They have called the "Bush Tax Cuts" temporary, but they have been in place for over a decade. Since most Americans only have around four decades of work to look forward to, there has been nothing temporary about these tax cuts. It is the world we know and have budgeted for. Raising taxes by this level on January 1st would hurt the middle class is a particularly hard way and would really affect their buying power, hurting a fragile economy even more. I understand that the Federal Government wants more money, but perhaps we should look at entitlement reform, pulling back from the wars-with-no-end that we are fighting, and putting more people to work. There are solutions to be had if we would work to do the things that make sense.
If you want to understand the financial crisis that we are in as a nation, we spend $2.2 Trillion on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, other safety net programs, and debt service. We take in $2.2 Trillion in taxes. That means that we borrow $1.6 Trillion for Defense and every other penny the Federal Government spends out of a $3.6 Trillion budget.
Looking at this, we can see that we are spending way more than we can possibly take in and there is just not that much that we can cut - unless we engage in entitlement reform, which no one wants to do because the people receiving entitlements are also those who vote. But, the debt that we are incurring in this situation is horrible and getting worse every day.
This is the situation that we are really in. What will we do about it?
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 hate hurricane season. Growing up on the Gulf Coast equidistant from Biloxi/Gulfport, MS and New Orleans, it is always a stressful time of year. You watch every disturbance in the Gulf and even in the Atlantic. I first learned about the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa by tracking tropical disturbances as a 10 year old. Meterology would have been a cool profession to have gone into. One thing that I have found is that people in Louisiana and Mississippi know how to read this stuff better than even some meterologists from other parts of the country. It is literally life and death for them.
That is why when The Weather Channel reporters and other weather reporters come down for a storm, I often laugh out loud. I sometimes cry. The hype and sensationalism and overreaction is often epic. Yes, this is a big deal. Yes, Isaac will cause flooding and storm damage. But, it almost seems as though many of the reporters are just hoping that this will be something so they have something to report. I saw a weather reporter yesterday pointing to the waves in Gulfport that were already picking up, he said. The camera moved over to the Mississippi Sound and I only saw a few whitecaps and just a handful of ripples in the water. There were no waves. But, he said it was picking up. Ok. One day, a lawn chair is going to hit one of these guys at 70 mph and we are all going to think that they shouldn't have been out there to begin with.
Eventually, we are going to have weather reporters hanging onto light poles with rain and wind in their face. Hurricane/Tropical Storm Isaac will have Jim Cantore getting blown around and he will be telling us that it is bad out there. And, we will all watch. But, we need to beware of underreaction as well as overreaction. If we don't get people to evacuate, some folks could get killed. We need to be careful. But, if we cry wolf for every Tropical Storm or Category One Hurricane because The Weather Channel has been freaking out for a week, that is also a problem. It costs money for people to evacuate. They have to find places to stay and they sit in traffic for hours and hours. They have kids and there are elderly people that struggle with this. The problem with overreacting for a smaller storm is that the next time a hurricane comes, people will remember when they sat in traffic for 14 hours to evacuate their homes and nothing happened. Then, for the next storm, they will stay put and that could be the big one.
Lots of people stayed behind for Katrina seven years ago who should have evacuated. But, the thinking for many was "we've heard this before. We are always fine." So, they stayed. Almost 2,000 people died as a result. Sensationalism from previous storms played a part in this mindset. People are still on edge from Katrina and that is why the media is all over the Gulf Coast. They are looking for a story. But, Isaac is a Tropical Storm or Category One Hurricane. It's a big deal and precautions should be taken, but the whole Gulf Coast doesn't need to freak out. I kind of get the feeling that sensational reporting only serves to desensitize people for when the Big One comes again. And, that is a problem.
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.
As you have no doubt heard, the Supreme Court in a landmark 5-4 ruling declared that the individual mandate in ObamaCare was in fact constitutional - not under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution (the ability of Congress to regulate commerce (buying and selling) in the United States, but under the power of Congress to tax. Effectively, ObamaCare is now considered a tax, and on that basis, it is Constitutional.
Except, the Obama Administration argued all along through the whole debate - endlessly and with precision - that it was not a tax. It was NOT A TAX. Those arguing against ObamaCare could not do so on the basis that it was tax, because the proponents said that it wasn't. Those arguing against it said it was and on that basis, do we really want to raise taxes in America by TRILLIONS of dollars over the next decade? Do we wannt to penalize Americans who do not want to buy health insurance with a fine (i.e., TAX)? We ARE effectively forcing Americans to buy something by threatening to tax them if they do not. Land of the free?
George Stephanopolous interviewed President Obama Sept. 20, 2009 and argued with him about whether or not this is a tax. Obama flatly rejected the notion:
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you reject that it’s a tax increase?
OBAMA: I absolutely reject that notion.
Obama maintained that it was not a tax. But, it is found constitutional as a tax. I guess that Nacy Pelosi was right - we have to pass the law to know what's in it. Apparently, even Obama and the proponents of the law didn't even know what it was - they had no idea that it was actually a tax. The Supreme Court had to tell them it was. If you don't know what you are voting on and you argue for it/against it on completely separate grounds, how can the Supreme Court then step in and say, "Well, what you really meant was . . . ?" We won't even talk about the bribes to states so their Senators would pass it as NOT A TAX.
This whole argument is illogical. When I was a kid growing up, Louisiana had really strange drinking/alcohol laws. The law was that a place could sell alcohol to anyone over 18, but you had to be 21 to buy it. It was a conflicting law that created a loophole in favor of the drinking establishment and put the burden on the 18-21 year olds for breaking the law. ObamaCare has the same feel. They can't make you buy it, but if you don't they can tax you. If you don't pay your tax, they can take all you have and ultimately imprision you. It is twisted logic.
Even worse than ObamaCare, what will happen next now that the Supreme Court has invented this new way of controlling the American people? What else can Congress tax us on (with the threat of heavy fines and/or imprisonment if we don't pay those taxes)? With as much corporate money as we have flowing through our government, what other products are we going to be forced to buy in the future under the threat of taxation if we don't?Can Congress decide that every vehicle must get 35 miles to the gallon and if you buy one that gets 30 miles per gallon they can tax you? Can they do this to our food purchases? The neighborhoods we live in? Do we now think that lawmakers can decide for us what to do and buy? The implications are mindboggling. I really am not trying to be alarmist, but when the Supreme Court finds a new power for the government in the Constition, the people never end up with more freedom - but always with less.
Chief Justice John Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court in the decision on McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) said,
"The power to tax involves the power to destroy."
This Supreme Court just gave the Federal Government the power to tax if we do not buy the product that they had decided we should buy. If you don't pay that tax, you will be fined and/or imprisoned - because that is what happens to people who do not pay their taxes.
Liberty died a little today, helped along by the results of greed and sloth as one group tries to make as much profit as they can and another group wants the government to pay for everything. Because healthcare prices are out of control (greed) and because there are many people who don't take care of themselves (sloth) and are not able to provide for themselves for other reasons (systemic injustice), we need Big Government come in and provide for us. We will be provided for, like all children are, but we lost our freedom in taking the provision.
The power to tax involves the power to destroy. Think about it.
Yesterday evening, I questioned why Southern Baptists have a political lobby group, called the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). In the comment stream, Robert Masters said that the ERLC is able to do things in the political realm that churches cannot do because of tax laws. But, that causes me to ask why churches are paying for a political lobby to represent their interests if we are not able to speak to those things ourselves. Have we just created a go-between? Aren't their other ways to influence the process? If we are saying that the ERLC is the voice for Southern Baptists in Washington, but individual churches are percluded by law to speak for themselves, then is it really ethical to create a go-between that does what we cannot do? I am not saying it is, because I don't know if Robert is right about that. But, it does bring up the question.
Todd Littleton raised an interesting point when he said,
Our structure seems to inhere the perception, if not the reality, that we outsource our missions to the IMB and NAMB. We outsource our ethics and ethical positions to the ERLC. We outsource our theological education and ministry habits to the Seminaries.
Then, when another entity like Lifeway presents statistics consistent with other researchers that our evangelistic efforts are falling short, our ethical actions in public spaces show little difference to those not self-identified as Christian, and our theological positions are all over the map, the church is to blame.
This is part of the problem in SBC life, I think. Our local churches keep passing all of our responsibility up the line and we pay someone else to do it. Those people then continually ask the local churches to send more money so we can support "missions" and if we don't send more money to the Cooperative Program, then we don't care about the work of God or something like that. But, what does the ERLC have to do with our mission? Perhaps Bob Cleveland captured the real issue when he asked:
I'd like to know if anyone has collected .. or even measured .. the results produced by the ERLC. We seem to track Baptisms, attendance, and things of that sort. But can we tell whether the ERLC has had any effect?
Aside from making headlines for taking a stand on something or other (or maybe worse), I don't know anything concrete that's been accomplished. Do you?
So, that leads us to the ultimate question: Why have the ERLC? What is it doing that the ethics departments of our seminaries or our state conventions or the Executive Committee or the office of the president of the SBC or any number of pastors or parachurch ministries are not already doing? Do we need a separate entity to be our voice in Washington? Or, can we have a multitude of voices do the same thing and save over $3 million a year. I am not saying that the ERLC is not doing some good, but isn't it the same good that is already being done by others or could easily be done by others at a fraction of the cost?
Still wondering why Southern Baptists have the ERLC.
This election cycle is something of a disaster for what remains of the Christian Right in American politics. On the one one hand, you have Mitt Romney, a Mormon, running against Newt Gingrich, a thrice married, newly converted Catholic with a history of ethics violations including leaving 2 sick wives for mistresses. Rick Santorum is also a Catholic who has strong conservative moral credentials, but he cannot get any traction. Ron Paul, a Baptist, is a libertarian and he also cannot get any traction among Conservative Christians. He was booed in South Carolina for trying to apply the Golden Rule to international relations.
There are no Ronald Reagans, George W. Bush's, or even Mike Huckabee's out there. So, where does what is left of the Christian Right go this November in the presidential election? If history is any guide, whoever is running against President Obama will be re-baptized as a legitimate conservative with bona fide religious right credentials and be voted for en masse. But, what has happened to the movement overall?
The New Republic has an article out by Michael Kazin that says that the Christian Right is dying and is no longer influential in American politics. He says, "In fact, the Christian Right is a fading force in American life, one which has little chance of achieving its cherished goals." A counterpoint to this is found in the Salon.com article by Peter Montgomery where he says that the Christian Right is alive and powerful. So, which is it? Is the Christian Right still a political force to be reckoned with, or is it a shell of its former self?
Pesonally, as a Baptist pastor in the Deep South, I think that there is no doubt that the "movement" as we once knew it is in steep decline. The energy of the 80's and 90's culminating in the election of George W. Bush and the Republican Senate and House in 2000 has given way to a great deal of apathy and resignation regarding the idea that taking over the political process is not the best way to "restore" America or even make much of a difference. The drum-beat towards America embracing a more liberal present and future continues on, almost unchecked. Sure, a law is passed here and there in a state legislature or in Congress, but overall, things are continuing to unravel for the Christian Conservative, at least according to the standards put forth by the Christian Right.
I remember when I was younger and The Christian Coalition led by Pat Robertson or the Moral Majority led by Jerry Falwell or Focus on the Family led by James Dobson would issue statements on the next big fight over abortion or gay rights or a supreme court justice nomination. People would talk, letters would be written, preachers would preach, and rallies would occur. No more. Those days are gone. No longer do we believe that winning a battle over a piece of legislation is going to make a major difference.
There are still millions of Christian Conservatives out there. But, by and large, I think that they are disillusioned. While they still have enormous potential political power, they have lost their political will, by and large. I think that most Christians have realized that winning elections does not equal winning the hearts and minds of people, and that is where the battle must be fought and won.
I see a return to grass-roots activism and a more holistic witness among Christians. I think that we have finally realized that we cannot take America back for God, whatever that means. I am seeing a return to an embrace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as our only hope and a greater desire to live out the implications of our faith in real and tangible ways. Personally, I think that Christians should be involved in politics just like we should be involved in every arena, since we should all play a role in how we govern ourselves. But, I think that our future engagement is going to look much different than it did in the past.
No, the Christian Right is not dead in America. But, may be less Republican and less "Right" and perhaps it is more prophetic in that it is not as beholden to any political party or ideological perspective. Perhaps we are better off if we lose our power here on earth so that we can exert influence derived from God's Kingdom instead of man's. Maybe if we are not tied to one party, we can critique and offer alternatives rooted in the Way of Jesus to BOTH parties.
Maybe we can be more prophetic than political, and in that, point to Christ as our only hope and the Savior of the world.
Christmas Day is on a Sunday this year, and just like in 2005, we hearing about churches cancelling their Sunday services because it is Christmas and they want to free people up to be with their families. I understand that the secular version of Christmas is about family and friends and gift giving and what not, and I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with that - those things are worth celebrating and Christians should celebrate them too. But, the Christian version of Christmas is obviously about Jesus and it just seems like a big cave to the secular nature of the holiday for churches to cancel their weekly Sunday worship service because it happens to also be Christmas Day.
Of course, the vast majority of churches ARE having worship on Sunday, but it is the ones that aren't that are attracting attention. Many of the churches that are not having worship are REALLY large - like of the 10,000 to 20,000 members variety. I say something about this here not to cast judgment on other churches (admittedly, I do not know every reason why every church cancels worship on a Sunday). But, since the megachurches usually set the trends for the rest of Evangelical Christianity (what the megas do one year, others seem to do in following years thinking that if the big churches do it it must be a good thing), I think that it is worth considering if this is the best approach.
My view is that it is better for churches to go ahead and have worship on Sunday (radical, I know), even if, perhaps ESPECIALLY if, that Sunday happens to be Christmas Day. Christmas is the day that Christians have chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ. It is when we celebrate the Incarnation, when God put on flesh and made His dwelling among us, when Jesus
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8)
Jesus went through a great deal to be our Savior, including being born very, very small, as a human baby, to live among us and take our sins upon Himself and die so that our sins would die with Him and raise from the dead to give new life to all who believe in Him. Worshiping Christ with the church on the day that we set aside to honor His birth, especially when that day is a Sunday, the day each week that we gather for worship to celebrate the Resurrection, seems like the appropriate thing to do.
It is not my intention to reduce our relationship with Christ to attendance at a worship service on a certain day. Obviously, that would be a mistake. I also do not take aim at individuals or families who, for different reasons, are genuinely not able to be in worship on Sunday - Christmas Day. I am not anyone's judge and do not intend to decide in every case whether an individual or family should or even could attend worship on Sunday. But, I do find it ironic that churches are cancelling their worship services on Sunday. Why would you cancel outright? Maybe a reduced, scaled down worship service would be appropriate. Worship in church on Christmas used to be one of the biggest days of the year. Now, we are cancelling services because some pastors/leaders say that it is better to stay home with our families and enjoy the day. What if there are even better ways to celebrate than spending the entire day immersed in consumer electronics, wrapping paper, and rich food? What if being in God's presence with the Body of Christ was actually better?
No, I don't think that you are going to hell if your church cancels worship on Christmas. But, I do think that it sends a message, as a church, about what your priorities are, and that is important too. I will not be looking around my church to see who is there or who isn't and judging anyone. I have no idea what each situation is and why people come and why they don't. But, I will worship God with whoever does come and thank Him for Jesus' birth and life and death and resurrection, as we do every Sunday as a worshipping community of Christ.
I know that some might say that I should not talk about this, that it is better to live and let live and not to make a big deal out of what others do. I am supposed to be positive all the time, especially at Christmas. Ok. But, I also know that Christ is a scandal, a stumbling block, and even an inconvenience. He messes with our traditions, customs, and cultural practices. He calls us to reorient around Him, not the other way around, and perhaps this seems strange to us. But, we are in good company if it does. 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 says,
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
We live in a country with complete freedom to worship how we choose and that can sometimes be a mixed blessing when choices are made according to what we prefer or what seems easiest to us. Everything is very convenient for us. We have air conditioning and heat and automobiles and comfortable seats and nice sound systems and messages tailored for us that are not too long with video and pastors who are entertaining and relevant and coffee and donuts and good friends and greeters and smiling faces and nothing that would make us uncomfortable. And, we have constructed a religion that does not really require us to sacrifice anything at all because it is all so wonderful and easy and hey, let's just spend time with our families at home in our pajamas and I'm sure that Jesus is okay with that. Maybe He is and I've got it all wrong. Maybe it doesn't matter to God if we cancel worship on Sunday because it is Christmas Day. Maybe God doesn't care if we celebrate Christmas at all. I don't know. I'm not trying to speak for God here. But, it just strikes me as strange, odd even, that those who are known by the name of Christ, as Christ-followers, would be ones who find it too inconvenient to worship Christ together on the day we celebrate His birth.
It just seems to me, that if we are Christians and if we are going to do a bunch of Christmas stuff because it is the time that we celebrate the birth of Christ and we say that Jesus is the "Reason for the Season," that it is contradictory to cancel worship on Sunday because it happens to be Christmas Day and we are used to having that day off. We only get a chance to have worship on Christmas day once every 6-8 years. Maybe instead of seeing it as an inconvenience, we could see it as a great blessing - something our children will remember and be thankful for. Perhaps we should see it as a chance to make a prophetic statement about what we value most - that we are people who orient our lives around Christ and the worship of the Saints together.
At the time of Christ's birth, there was no room for Him in the Inn and he was born in a stable among the animals. Let us make room for Christ in the midst of our traditions and festivities so that we can celebrate Him with the Body of Christ, His family, the children of God. Let us reorient around Christ, even at, no especially at Christmas.
"Let every heart prepare Him room . . ."
Christopher Hitchens, writer, philosopher, and iconic atheist died yesterday (12.15.11), the same day that President Obama declared the U.S.-Iraq War to be officially ended. Hitchens, is best known by many as one of the "New Atheists," a breed of militant deniers of God's existence who did more than just silently disbelieve - he was passionate about spreading unbelief everywhere he went. He was eager to debate Christians and did so with wit and ferocity, angering many, but often winning respect, even from his opponents.
One thing that I liked about Hitchens was his desire to speak about things without pretense. He did not believe in God and was ready to live with the implications. He did not cling to God as a security blanket or a comfort as he continued to live life how he wanted. In many ways, Hitchens was more honest and forthright than many who claim to be Christians or Deists, but live as they see fit. Hitchens believed that we are alone in the universe, but was content to live with the consequences without developing philosophical escape hatches that he called "God." Many who claim to be God-fearers are actually just people who are scared of being alone in the universe, so they cling to an idea of "God" without any real desire to know Him or follow Him or live under His demands. "God" becomes a force that keeps away the terror of night and who, perhaps, can help them out in a pinch, when they have exhausted their own resources. Hitchens saw through all of that as a sham and had no use for it. For the record, I don't believe in that God either.
Hitchens' brutal honesty was no more clearly on display than in one of his last essays for Vanity Fair where he writes about his impending death. (Picture accompanies the article and is taken recently, after cancer has taken its toll). He says,
I am typing this having just had an injection to try to reduce the pain in my arms, hands, and fingers. The chief side effect of this pain is numbness in the extremities, filling me with the not irrational fear that I shall lose the ability to write. Without that ability, I feel sure in advance, my “will to live” would be hugely attenuated. I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true. Almost like the threatened loss of my voice, which is currently being alleviated by some temporary injections into my vocal folds, I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking.
Hitchens was wasting away. The part that struck me was when he said, "I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking." That is what death is - the slipping away of personality and identity - everything dissolving away from its original intent. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about St. Athanasius from the 4th century and his work on The Incarnation of the Word of God. He says something similar when he links the concept of sin and its effects:
For God had made man thus (that is, as an embodied spirit), and had willed that he should remain in incorruption. But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.
Even though Hitchens was not one to believe in God, he was having the same experience that we all have - he was wasting away because of the toll that sin has taken on the human race. It causes us to disappear, to dissolve, to lose everything. Sin is the great solvent that sends us flying into bits and pieces all over the universe, alienated from God and ultimately from one another. Turning from God leads to death and death is manifested in non-existence, just as Athanasius said (I am speaking here of the affects of sin on humanity, not affirming annhilationism - we will all live forever somewhere).
But, the truth is, we are all subject to this. We are all bound over to unbelief, rebellion, and destined to come apart and dissolve, just like Hitchens. He is no different from us. His life, as accomplished and well-intentioned as it might have been, demonstrates that good arguments, conversation, and evidence does little to bring a person from death to life. We cannot will another to reappear and escape dissolution. Hitchens dissolving and disappearing is the fate that awaits all of us. Without the grace of God - without God supernaturally saving and revealing Himself, we are all atheists fundamentally.
Many say they believe in God even though they do not know Him. But, if we do not know Him, what good is cognitive belief? Even the demons believe and tremble and they are headed to eternal perdition. Real life is not about what you think to be true - it is about Who you know. The tragedy of Christopher Hitchens is not that he did not believe in God. The tragedy is that he did not know God and find his life in Him. There are many who believe in God who, not knowing Him and finding their life in other, lesser things, will face the same fate as Hitchens when they too dissolve and continue, as Athanasius said, "on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again."
Jesus Christ makes God known to us. That is what the Incarnation is all about - "The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made His dwelling among us." That is what Christmas is all about. I wish that Christopher Hitchens would have believed in God. But, even more than that, I wish that he would have truly known God through Christ. Unless we truly come to know God and are reconciled to Him through Christ, none of us are really better off than the atheist who denies His existence altogether.
I do not condemn or judge Christopher Hitchens for his unbelief. God is his judge, not me, and it was God that he rejected. He was honest about it and did not continue with the pretense that many do of claiming to believe in God while living entirely for himself as a functional atheist. As I think about his life and influence, it is important for me to realize that but for the grace of God, I would effectively be an atheist just like he was.
We all remember where we were, what we were doing, and how the vicious attacks on America ten years ago today affected us and changed us forever. Horrified, we watched, cried, prayed, and expressed anger, frustration, and desire for vengence. Ten years later, America is a different place. Many died that day. We have been at war with terrorists for the past decade in far away places like Iraq and Afghanistan and many more have died in the pursuit of justice and protection for our country.
All these years later, a question comes into my mind: Is forgiveness possible? Can we forgive those who attacked us? Can we love our enemies? As a Christian, I know that Jesus tells us to forgive. He tell us to love our enemies, to pray for them, and to bless those who persecute us (Matthew 5:38-48; Matthew 18:21-35). Jesus tells us that we are not to just love those who love us, but we are to love those who don't love us, who hate us even. If we don't, we will be tortured. These are strong words, and while they might contain a certain sentimentality (love everyone, forgive everyone), in the face of unspeakable evil and violence, we find them to be impossible to actually carry out.
I do not love my enemies. I do not love those who try to hurt me or hurt people that I care about. I admit it. I want to take vengence and see those people suffer. This is an area where my Christianity becomes very hard and it all seems wrong. I have to confess that if I want to move forward.
But, the more that I look at Jesus, the more that I see that the only way to overcome evil is through forgiveness and love - the very acts that I have no power to engage in. I recognize that I cannot be a loving person with people that are unlovable. I cannot forgive people who hurt me. But, Jesus did. And, He does. He forgave me. Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." When we were only rebels against God - sinners against Him, Jesus died for us. He died for His enemies, out of love.
Through prayer, I can confess that I can't love people who are my enemies. And, I can then experience God's love for me for I was once an enemy of God. His love and forgiveness has changed my heart and brought me to Him. In the same way, the only way that we can overcome evil is with good. The only way that we can stop the cycle of violence is to step out of it and replace violence with sacrificial love. This is where we need a miracle and where we have to see things through God's eyes - eyes of love.
This is not a position of weakness. We are actually entrusting ourselves to God and trusting that He will judge justly. And, He will. We forsake retribution because we know that God will enact vengence. We forgive because we have been forgiven. We love our enemies because we are loved. And, in that exchange of anger for peace and hate for love, we find that we are triumphing over the cycle of evil that would seek to draw us in and consume us in violence and despair.
Please note, that I recognize that there is a role for government here to keep order and to execute justice on the earth. Romans 13 tells us that God has instituted government to wield the sword and bring punishment upon wrongdoers. So, when the American military went after Al Quaeda and the Taliban, they were doing the work of punishing evil and executing justice. It was the order of things that God established. So, forgiving your enemies and loving your enemies does not mean that justice is not done and that punishment is not applied appropriately. With sobriety, we recognize that these things must be done. But, we release our hearts to God and we still pray for mercy for those who have engaged in evil acts, in the hope that even they will turn to Christ and find the forgiveness, love, and peace for which every heart longs.
Is forgiveness possible for the terrorists of 9/11? Only through a miracle. We can only truly forgive if we have been truly forgiven. And, to forgive and to love our enemies is the only way that we can finally triumph over evil. Victory is not won when we exercise our own freedom to live as we choose. Victory is only won when we forgive and love in the face of evil because we live according to a new reality - the order of the Kingdom of God.
From MSNBC: The Day the 21st Century Began (HT: Denny Burk)
I am generally not one to point to things going on and say that they are signs that we are in the End Times. I don't do that because, as a pastor, I really don't want people trying to interpret Scripture through watching the nightly news. I also don't do it because these types of things have been so overblown. But . . . stuff is happening and it has me wondering.
Wars all over, riots and civil unrest, economic troubles, mass migrations, large hurricanes, earthquakes in strange places, false teachers, a large turning away from God while people on the edges of global culture turn to God, persecution of believers, strange phenomenon - there are certainly a lot of signs.
Here is what I think: whether Jesus is coming back tomorrow or two thousand years from now, the signs that accompany the end are upon us. God is real and Jesus is coming back and there will be a Day of Judgment where God will judge the quick and the dead and the sons of men. So, when you see these things happening, they should cause you to pause and think about your own mortality and if you are ready to meet God. The Bible says that the end will come quickly and many will be unaware. It will just come upon us. But, if we know the signs, we will be ready. I don't get into trying to predict the return of Christ - no one can know the day or the hour. But, when an earthquake or hurricane hits the East Coast or a tsunami hits Japan or there is civil unrest and war in the Middle East - I stop and remember that Jesus said that these were signs of the end and I prepare my heart to meet my Maker. It causes me to repent and to turn to God in that moment so that I will be ready whenever the day comes that I meet God either through death or the return of Christ.
The real question is not if all of these things mean that Jesus is about to return. The real question is, "Are you ready to meet Him when he does come back?"
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
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.