Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Culture War: Marketing

I've talked about "marketing the Gospel" a couple of times before, but in the commercial spirit of Christmas it's worth bringing up again. I admire those who emphasize the theological roots of Christmas by giving religious themed cards and gifts. One of the many Christmas letters I've received from family was actually divided into two parts- one giving the usual year-in-review, and the other encouraging us with the spiritual perspective. I've always wanted to be one who gives the religious card, but I find most to be cheesy. Of course, that's my problem- I have a regrettable bias against the overtly religious. So I got quite the kick when I saw this advertised at Family Christian. If you're in need of a last-minute Christmas gift, you can thank me later for the idea.

I love Guitar Hero. Ok, you got me, I can't play it. But I love watching it. I'm a total classic rock nerd. But some of the "satanic" stereotypes of rock and roll are overplayed in that game. If it's not the demon on steroids playing bass, it's the inflatable devil ripped right from Spinal Tap. So I thought a Christian version of the game would be pretty cool. Except that I can't think of any really rockin' Christian music. Sure, the game has P.O.D. and Thousand Foot Krutch, but also tobyMac, really? There are some I haven't heard of, of course (darn you XM radio for cutting The Torch station!) so one of my coworkers humored me and let me listen to his Pillar playlist on his MP3 player. Hmmm, not bad. But not Skynyrd or Rush.

Maybe I need to embrace this more. There are tons of products that are geared away from the World and I'm a sucker for what the major media cranks out. And who knows, maybe I'd be better trying to shred a Kutless lick instead of trying to imitate Hendrix.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Culture War: Ministry

If you've been out shopping this weekend, you've undoubtedly seen the bell-ringers for the Salvation Army who've become as much a part of the Christmas atmosphere as Courier and Ives and Santa Claus. There was a big flap a couple of years ago when some major retailers stopped allowing the bell-ringers to collect in front of their doors. The ban was in the name of political correctness and the infamous 'war on Christmas'. It just isn't the same for the bell-ringers to wish you happy holidays instead of Merry Christmas. But when all the fuss was going on, few made an issue of the little acknowledged, and seemingly little known, fact that the Salvation Army is more than a philanthropic organization, it's a church.

And that fact makes those kettles even more important in 'keeping the Christ in Christmas'. Those anonymous bell-ringers shine Christ's light brighter than I ever could. That's because as a church, their ministry extends beyond Christmas. Watch the second video- the 1901 San Francisco Earthquake, Third World disaster relief, soup kitchens- these have nothing to do with Christmas the holiday, but have everything to do with spirit of Christmas. What about your own personal ministry? Opportunities abound for charity during the holiday season- Toys for Tots, Angel Trees, Adopt-a-family, hosting Christmas dinners for the needy, serving at soup kitchens- in fact it's well known that charitable giving and volunteerism increases during the holidays. But what about the rest of the year? The needy that you feed this week will still be needy six months from now. But does your personal ministry reach out then as much as now?

Charity always, ministry to all. That is the spirit of Christmas, and is not limited by a calendar. Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive with no mention of when or how. If you're giving to the needy this Christmas, or serving in some way, use the opportunity to turn it into something consistent that continues throughout the year.

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' (Acts 20:35)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Culture War: Priorities

There are only a few shopping days left before Christmas. You're likely going to brave the weekend crowds at the mall, scramble to find something off the shelves that have been picked clean, struggle to come up with what to get your in-laws, and all the while forget why you're doing this to begin with. Then you'll head home, look at the pile of dishes in the sink and think about the family coming over in just a couple of days and all the cleaning and rearranging of furniture that needs to be done before then. And if you're like me, you still need to get that last string of lights up on the house and decorate the tree.

Can you relate? Do you feel hurried, stressed, overwhelmed? Do you wish there was just one more week before Christmas? I do. But then I'm a lot like Martha, who in Luke 10 is described as being "distracted by all the preparations that [have] to be made." (Luke 10:40) But then we forget what we're preparing for. Yes, we want Christmas to be memorable for our children and we want them to have everything they asked Santa for (within reason). We want to be warm and hospitable towards our family and friends. But what about "the reason for the season?" What about Jesus?

Are we reflecting Christ when we lose our patience at the store? Do we show the love of Jesus to our children when we lose our temper as they try to get into every present that's already been wrapped and hunt for the ones that aren't? Are we really being a witness to our families when what's most important to us is getting everything done?

I write this for myself. My wife reminded me this morning that we needed to take time and get into God's word, lean on Him in our stress, and not be overwhelmed with our "to dos". I need to be more like Mary, who knew that "only one thing was needed." (Luke 10:42)

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Culture War: Be Prepared- Gay Marriage, Continued

This is my last post on this subject. I hear Santa in the distance and I have a lot more ground to cover in the next week. But there are still some open arguments regarding Newsweek making the "Religious Case for Gay Marriage" that I haven't covered.

My first post went over the all too often poor examples of marriage in the Bible. I made the case that just because the examples aren't what we'd call today "traditional marriage" doesn't mean that we should discard the Biblical commands regarding marriage. I also defended these same commands against the argument of cultural relevancy- that the rules were for the time, and don't apply to us today.

My last post then went to define marriage both civilly and religiously using examples from the Bible for each. I left with the conclusion that because of the nature of the sacrament of Marriage, that there can be no Biblical justification for gay marriage.

Yet the author, Lisa Miller, makes the claim that, "scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be married - and a number of excellent reasons why they should." I already pointed out that scriptures actually do give us good reasons why gays and lesbians should not be married, but now I want to look at why you could make the argument that scriptures do, in fact, give many reasons why they should.
  • Old versus New Covenant
The first argument for the Bible not disallowing gay marriage is the fault of the Religious Right and their narrow reading of the Bible. Levitical Law calls homosexuality an "abomination" (Lev 18:22 -'detestable' in the NIV) but calls eating shellfish (creatures of the sea without fins and scales) the same. Yet, I doubt those who proclaim "God hates fags" would also say that God hates Red Lobster and everyone eating there. It is important to remember that we are not under Levitical Law. Jesus died "once for all" (Heb 10:10) and established a "new covenant" (Lk 22:20) and "fulfill[ed] them [the law]" (Mt 5:17) so the Levitical Law no longer applies to us today.

That's not to say there's not wisdom in those laws. These laws were written thousands of years before we understood disease and bacteria, yet there were laws about isolating contagious lesions, avoiding coming in contact with blood, not eating animals that died because of disease, not eating scavenger birds (also an abomination), or pork that we know today carries trichinosis.

So do we throw those laws out? Not if they're affirmed in the New Covenant. I already noted that Jesus explicitly defined marriage, affirming the Genesis account of a man leaving his family and becoming one with his wife. But Jesus never explicitly discussed homosexuality. Paul, on the other hand, does. In Romans, Paul describes how the sinful nature has driven those who have chosen to reject God and explicitly calls out homosexuality:

Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Rom 1:26-27)

It's worth pointing out after quoting this, that Ms Miller notes that the Anchor Bible Dictionary comments that the Bible never refers to sex between women. Yet the above passage does exactly that. She wants to use that reference to claim that the "unnatural relations" described above don't necessarily mean monogamous homosexuality. I've heard this argument elsewhere. Either it's claimed that this scripture refers to homosexual prostitution related to pagan ceremonies, or that it refers to homosexual acts between heterosexuals (that's a tough one to prove since homosexuality, as our culture defines it today, is never defined in the Bible).

She goes on in her argument that Paul's condemnation is "really a critique of the worst kind of wickedness: self-delusion, violence, promiscuity and debauchery." Funny, those words could be used to define the culture around homosexuality today. But she quotes the scholar Neil Elliott who argues that Paul is referring specifically to the Roman emperors Nero and Caligula and that the condemnation isn't against someone who commits any of these acts individually, but rather those who commit these acts collectively. Uh, huh. I won't quote it here for space, but read the first chapter of Romans and tell me honestly if you can reach the same conclusion. Besides, Paul can't be referring to specific people in this passage. This passage sets up the definition of our sinful nature and our shared need for salvation. If this only applied to Nero and Caligula, then I guess he's writing the whole book of Romans just so those two can be saved. I wonder then why he talks about Mosaic Law since neither of them were Jews. Hmmm.
  • David and Jonathan

It's an old argument that David and Jonathan had something else going on than just fighting along side one another. The quote "he loved him as he loved himself" shows up a couple of times in 1 Samuel 18 and again in 20 referring to Jonathan's affection for David. However, isn't that phrase just a re-wording of the Golden Rule? And is it that uncommon for two people who share battle to develop a kinship that words cannot describe? Ask a veteran of WWII if they "loved" any of their fellow soldiers in this way and I'll bet you'd get a unanimous response. Besides, there's nothing wrong, or even unexpected, for men to have bonds with other men that seem to go beyond the bond these men have with the opposite sex. Think about drinking buddies, bowling night, Monday Night Football, paintball, MMA, and so on and so on. There's just something about bonding with the same sex and it has nothing to do with sexuality. Women have it too- gossip, fashion, scrapbooking, etc. You can then relate to David's feelings upon hearing his best friend had died. "I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women."

  • The Gospel of Inclusion

Perhaps the strongest case for permitting homosexuality is the inclusion preached by both Jesus and Paul. It is often pointed out that Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery in John 8. That is then used as a blanket example that Jesus does not condemn sin. Yet that ignores the ending of the story where Jesus explicitly tells the woman, "Go now and leave your life of sin." (Jn 8:11)

Paul wrote, "there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ" (Gal 3:28). Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann is quoted in the article using this scripture to support gay marriage. I guess if we're neither male nor female, then it doesn't matter who we marry. But again, that is contrary to the sacrament of marriage, as described earlier. In addition, that also takes that quote out of context because Paul is relating that the New Covenant applies to all, not just Jews, and that supersedes the Jewish customs of circumcision and diet.

Yes, the Gospel of Jesus is inclusive. He did not tolerate sin however, and neither did Paul. "What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!" (Rom 6:1-2) "But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature." (Gal 5:13) God's grace that comes from Jesus' death on the cross is the Gospel of inclusion. Jesus died for all, and that includes homosexuals. But he also called on all of us to repent of our sinful nature, whatever that may be. There is no religious case for gay marriage, and to argue that there is ignores much of the Bible and reads meaning into verses that isn't there. But in order to refute that, you need to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (1 Pt 3:15-16)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Culture War: Be Prepared- Gay Marriage, Continued

I left off with the notion that we discard the whole Bible, since if it's culturally irrelevant in a few things doesn't that make it irrelevant in all things? That's not really what the Newsweek author meant. A better way of putting it would be that the specifics of the Bible aren't culturally relevant, but the general themes are. That's a dangerous argument to make, for where do you draw the line? Many want to discard Paul for his teachings about women's roles in church. But if you throw him out completely, you lose the linchpin of Evangelical theology regarding salvation- faith alone. Martin Luther actually wanted to get rid of the book of James because it focused too much on works- "faith without deeds is useless" (James 2:20) And Thomas Jefferson wrote his own version of the Gospels omitting all of Jesus' miracles and claims of deity, leaving Jesus as no different than Confucius. And if Jesus is just a good man who taught some good things that we should generally apply to be good people, then I'm wasting my time on Sundays and hundreds of martyrs throughout history died for nothing.
  • The definition of marriage

If the Biblical definitions of marriage are culturally outdated (Ms Miller calls them "throwaway lines"), and the teachings of Jesus are reduced to good advice, then how do we define marriage? Ms Miller would argue that we cannot rely on the Bible for our definition since neither Jesus nor the Bible as a whole "explicitly define marriage as between one man and one woman." Although she quotes where the Bible does, in fact, define marriage: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." (Gen 2:24, Mt 19:5, Mk 10:7, Eph 5:31) If this doesn't define marriage as between a man and a woman, then I don't know what does. But Ms Miller makes the strong statement that, "scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married- and a number of excellent reasons why they should." Yet, I failed to see these numbers of excellent reasons. Instead I only saw justifications and reading meaning into the text that isn't there.

But she does bring up a good point that marriage has two definitions- civil and religious. Let's look at each.

  • Civil marriage

The article does well to spell out the civil benefits to marriage, none of which by the way are denied where there are "Civil Unions". And the only Biblical references to civil marriage are related to dowries and divorce laws. Neither of which are good examples. Dowries were common at the time (and for a few more centuries) but are rare now. (I know I'm contradicting myself on the argument of cultural relevancy, but I'll go into this more when I talk about the Old Covenant.) Yet our Biblical definition of marriage is of the man leaving his family, contrary to the custom of a dowry and even contrary to our current convention of the wife taking the husband's name. As for divorce, it was never meant to be an easy option, and definitely not "no fault" as it's legally argued today. In fact, Jesus had to correct the current practice of divorce because it strayed from its original intent. And I can't help but agree the author that we, as Christians, don't exactly set the bar high with our own marriages. But I don't think that means we should have no say in the matter.

  • Religious marriage

This one is hard to define Biblically, especially since good examples are few and far between. So we need to look beyond example and look at the theology of marriage. Ms Miller calls it the "frustrating, semantic question," which I certainly agree. She goes on and asks, "should gay people be married in the same, sacramental sense that straight people are?" What's important here, is how you choose to define 'sacrament'. (And I admit in advance, that I am as far as you can get from a seminary student.) If you're Catholic, there are seven sacraments during which (and I can't think of a better way to put this) something supernatural happens. More generally, sacraments are earthly attempts to participate in spiritual 'mysteries'. This eliminates Holy Order, Anointing of the Sick, and Last Rights which leaves us with Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, and Marriage.

For the sake of this argument, I'll lump Confirmation in with Baptism. Each of these are physical rights, or ceremonies, that reflect spiritual realities that are beyond (easy) explanation, hence, a mystery. In the case of Baptism, this is a physical act that represents our spiritual transformation as being 'born again' (reference Romans 6:3-4 among others). (I'll spare the baptism for salvation argument.) For Marriage, the physical relationship between a husband and wife reflects the relationship between Jesus and his church. Ms Miller defines it where "two people promise to take care of each other, profoundly, the way they believe God cares for them." This is a great definition, except that it intentionally leaves out genders for the sake of her argument. But Ephesians 5 specifically relate the role of the husband to Christ (sacrificial, providing) and the wife to the Church (submission and respect). In gay marriage, there is no husband and wife, so the definition breaks down and the sacrament can't reflect the spiritual truth of Jesus and the Church.

So from this I the case can be made that there is no Biblical justification for gay marriage, in the religious sense. A case could be made however for gay marriage in the civil sense, or at least you can't make a clear-cut case against it. But there's still more to the story- the relationship between David and Johnathan, Old vs New Covenant, and both Jesus and Paul preaching about inclusion. I'll cover those next time.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Culture War: Be Prepared- Gay Marriage

The Cover Story of this week’s Newsweek is titled, “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage.” Of course we should expect magazine covers to invoke sensationalism in order to catch our eye, and there’s really no more sensational a headline than using the inspired word of God to defend a social change that I believe is contrary to not only the letter of God’s Word, but also the Spirit. It would be one thing if that was the headline on a journal of theology, where such a headline would be appropriate, but this is one of the “big three” main-stream media news magazines. The headline raises this issue to the same level of newsworthiness as war or the economy. By doing so, requires Christians to be able to defend their opinions on this issue and we cannot do so unless we know our Bible.

The portal, On Faith, has several responses to this article from authors, ministers, rabbis, and theologians. For a balanced and reasoned response, I recommend reading Susan Jacoby’s and Irwin Kula’s. I read Al Mohler’s first, expecting to agree with his case. But I think he glossed over the arguments and as several comments noted, he also cherry-picked his use of scriptures to justify his position. Truth is, both sides are cherry-picking, and neither acknowledges the broader theological implications of gay marriage.

In an effort to avoid cherry-picking myself, I’m going to address “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage” point by point. In advance though, I need to define my own ground rules. I’m not a Sunday pew-filler, or a cafeteria Christian. Nor am I a literalist fundi, or a Bible-thumper. I do believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, but that doesn’t mean I take it all as literal (for example, see this post from one of the primary debates). I also hold to the scripture that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." (Heb 13:8) And that "the word of the Lord stands forever." (1 Pt 1:25, Is 40:6-8) Most importantly, I believe the underlying purpose of the entirety of the Bible is to relate God’s attempt to have a heart-felt relationship with his creation. Because of that, I don’t look at it as a set of rules, or of ancient anecdotes, but instead of a comprehensive history of the relationship between Him and his people.

I also want to throw out a couple quotes from On Faith that also helps set the tone:

“Faith-based arguments on behalf of gay marriage actually give aid and comfort to the sort of right-wing religious groups… because they legitimize the idea that religious belief is a proper test for determining legal rights.” –Susan Jacoby from On Faith

“There is a difference between what the Bible prescribes and what it describes.” –Leith Anderson from On Faith

“Here is the sad truth about the unimportant, uninteresting, irrelevant, add no value and unfortunately polarizing and divisive way in which religion and scripture is used in contemporary culture. Everyone simply brings their religious views and their scriptural passages to prove, legitimate, and affirm their already held political and psychological positions. This is religion as apologetics and proof texting.” Which, he later says, “basically makes contemporary religion a whore for political positions whether liberal or conservative.” -Irwin Kuls from On Faith

All that said, I humbly submit my takes on the points Lisa Miller makes in the article. This ran long, so I'm going to split it up.
  • The Old Testament Example

Lisa Miller opens up by giving the examples of Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon as a case of the Bible not endorsing what we consider today to be "traditional marriage". Each were polygamists and in some cases were deliberately unfaithful. But as the quote above notes, just because it's described, doesn't mean it's permitted. In fact, the polygamy of David led directly to his struggles with his sons and Solomon's willingness to marry for political gain compromised Israel's spirituality and ultimately resulted in the country's split. There are more examples than can be counted of God's people not obeying God's Law. She tries to turn the argument around when she uses the cases of Moses and Esther who disobeyed God's law against marrying foreigners as examples of breaking convention that ultimately benefited the greater community. But these cases are the exception, not the rule, as there are several books in the Bible dedicated to the poor examples of Israel's kings who, more often than not, disobeyed these rules on marriage.

  • The New Testament Example

Just because Jesus wasn't married doesn't mean that he didn't value marriage. Remember his first miracle was at a wedding (I don't believe in coincidences in the Bible) and also that an angel had to intervene to convince Joseph to marry his pregnant fiance, Mary (so marriage was obviously important to someone). And Jesus' statements "against" family (Mk 3:31-35, Lk 9:57-62) were really to stress the importance of the spiritual over the temporal.

As for Paul, it is argued whether he actually was married at one time. But despite that, why would he speak so strongly against marriage in only one of his letters (1 Corinthians) yet give explicit instructions regarding marriage in several (1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Timothy) if he was opposed to it? Any an examination of what Paul writes about marriage (beyond what Ms Miller limits to 1 Corinthians 7) affirms, not denies, traditional marriage.

  • The cultural example

Ms Miller asks who in this day and age would "turn to the Bible as a how-to script?" But isn't that what every couple who is married in a church does? Isn't there a sermon, or a brief message, or at least an invocation in every religious marriage ceremony that uses the Bible as a guideline for marriage? And I also know from personal experience that some denominations recommend The Song of Songs (or Solomon, depending on your translation) as honeymoon reading.

She later comments that, "the Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it's impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours." This is a common argument for everything from gay marriage to ordaining women and even including the abolition of slavery. But think about what this statement implies. It is essentially saying that since our world is so far removed from what God intended, that God's word is irrelevant today. But if we are striving to do God's will and seeking a relationship with him, shouldn't the opposite be true? Shouldn't we long for the world to be as God intended and shape our lives to conform to that? (This is different than forcing others to conform, which is a fundamental difference from the Religious Right.)

This is sobering, considering how far our world today as strayed from God's ideal. Gay marriage aside, regardless of denomination, liberal or conservative, fundamentalist or casual, it's hard to argue that our culture isn't overly materialistic (you can't argue recent headlines), sexual (turn on prime-time TV, or listen to popular music), and selfish (do you know your neighbors by name). Does that mean we should just throw out the Bible altogether? From Ms Miller's argument, we might as well.

More to come later....

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Culture War: Be Prepared

Last time I wrote about the incident in the Castro District in San Francisco. I want to relate a similar instance that happened to me. This wasn’t a case of persecution, but instead of how to answer those who would seek to twist my faith for their purposes.

I was part of the wedding party for one of my best friends and his reception was downtown. We had to park in a parking structure across from the reception site. As we were getting ready to cross the street we saw a parade coming our way. It was a Saturday in the summertime, so it could’ve been anything. We rushed as fast as we could to cross the street before the ‘parade’ passed by. As we did so, the crowd gathered opened up in cheers. You see, the parade was a march for gay rights and a group of guys in tuxedos obviously were taking part in the march for the sake of gay-marriage. Um, no.

So we got to the reception, and the Evangelist who ministered the wedding was holding the door for us with his right hand while his left clutched a Bible. As the crowd passed and they saw the Word in his hand, they began to shout obscenities towards him and some even started throwing things at him. Then a gentleman came up to us with a video camera and asked him about his thoughts regarding homosexuality. In my mind, I was itching for a fight, but the brother responded by simply saying that we should love the homosexual community just as much as Jesus does and not treat them any differently because “we all sin and fall short of the Glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) The cameraman jumped on this opportunity to pontificate about the sins of homosexuality. This guy claimed to be a Christian! I figured from his arguments that he was possibly part of Fred Phelps church, but I didn’t see a counter demonstration.

He argued that we should not tolerate sin and should be vocal against it. The evangelist countered by pointing out that we should condemn sin, not the sinner and reach out to others with love. The cameraman responded with the example of Jesus’ harsh words regarding sin and that he wasn’t afraid to get under others’ skin. But the example he used was where Jesus was speaking out against the religious hypocrites in the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law (Matthew 23) and a better example would be how Jesus reached out to the woman at the well (John 4) or the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11). The cameraman then tried to use the example of Jesus losing his temper in the Temple courts (Jn 2:12-17). But again, his righteous indignation was against the religious legalists and those taking advantage of others.

Eventually the cameraman ran out of examples and arguments, thanked the Evangelist for his time, and walked away. This brother earned a new level of respect from me, and humbled me in my attitudes and willingness to fight instead of reason. This was a perfect example of “be[ing] prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15)

Culture War: Persecution

I’ve written before about how Christians in this country suffer a persecution complex. A good example of this is the book Persecution by David Limbaugh, where he opens with a very well-written summary of the role religion played in this country’s early years but then spends the second half of his book listing anecdotes of trivial cases of persecution. The example that always comes to mind is of a public librarian who was reprimanded for wearing a Cross on her necklace. You see, the public library is an institution of the State and I guess the librarian is an authority figure so had to leave the Cross at the door. I'm sure that's the exception, not the rule. Compare that with the physical life-threatening persecution Christians suffer across the globe. Remember, when Jesus sent his disciples out to evangelize, he instructed them to shake the sand of their feet if they were rejected and walk away (Mt 10:14). Hardly the example of the legal, political and media retaliation we see today.

But sometimes persecution in this country can turn violent. Take the case of the recent "riot" in the Castro District of San Francisco. If you haven't seen the video or heard Bill O'Reilly rant on about it, the story goes that a group of Christians who weekly reach out in the Castro District were "assaulted" by a larger group of gays about a month ago. The girl heading it up was hit with her own Bible, knocked down and kicked repeatedly, and I guess hot coffee was also poured on others. The videos don't capture the incident, but instead follow the group as they're being led out of the area by police escort.

So is this what the Culture War has become? Should we expect violence in response to the Gospel of Jesus? Instead of asking, "what would Jesus do?" in this circumstance, I ask "what would you do?" How would you go about sharing the Gospel in a predominantly gay community right after the passage of Proposition 8? How would you fight on this front in the Culture War?

The girl, Christine Cloud, was on a local talk station recently and the host opened it up for calls of encouragement and support or questions about the incident. One gentleman called and asked exactly what their form of evangelism was there, since in the video it doesn't look like they're acting Christ-like. I'm not sure what he was talking about since I don't see any actual interactions with the Christian group. But the host turned the question around by asking what he'd do, if he was a Christian at all. Pretty insulting if you ask me. But the gentleman responded much like I would.

He encouraged those reaching out in such an area to live there and let their light shine, not to street-preach or cause confrontation, but to invite others into their homes and practice hospitality, express love instead of condemnation, and let their lives reflect the Gospel. Sound doctrine if you ask me, and this group did just that. They were singing Amazing Grace when they were assaulted, not street preaching and the girl lives near the area, has friends there, and frequents the coffee place where this all happened.

So in this battle, it sounds like the Christian group was fighting fair, so to speak. But the other side? Police were required to get the group out of the area. The mob repeatedly tried to push past the police, disrespecting their authority, and hundreds followed the group out chanting, "shame on you!" Shame on them? Really? If you watch the full video, you even see someone trying to overturn a car. Shame on who?

On this particular front in the Culture War, the only effective weapon is the love of Jesus. The video bears out the hostile party. Could things have been handled differently? Hard to say without being there, but the Christians handled the aftermath correctly. They turned the other cheek. The girl even refused to press charges and offered forgiveness. Contrast that with the curses from the mob.

Truth is, something like this is unlikely to happen to Average Joe Christian (no relation to Joe the Plumber). But we should look at it as an example of a compassionate ministry turning the other cheek.

For the "official" story from the ministry, you can go here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

'Tis the Season

So Thanksgiving has passed so we're now officially in the Holiday Season. If you braved the crowds on Black Friday, you no doubt saw the Salvation Army bell-ringers in front of your favorite store, indicating that Christmas is right around the corner. If you're like me, your neighborhood is increasingly illuminated by Christmas lights, but yours aren't up yet. And soon we'll be facing one of the hardest decisions we'll have to make before the New Year. No, not what to get our wives or children for Christmas. Instead, the struggle over how to great people we meet in the checkout lines, at work, and even at church. Do we say Merry Christmas, try and guess by wishing others a Happy Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, or stay PC and just wish others a Happy Holidays?

That's right, it's peak season in the Culture War, where we'll be bombarded with headlines about Christmas trees being taken out of airports, Nativity scenes being stolen, and renewed calls to "keep Christ in Christmas." So I'll be doing a series of posts regarding the Culture War and how we should fight it.

The Culture War has many fronts:
  • Politics
  • Finances
  • Possessions
  • Pop-Culture
  • Language
  • Ministries
  • Evangelism
  • Persecution
  • Example
This isn't comprehensive or authoritative or in any particular order. But between now and Christmas, when the battles in the Culture War seem most fierce, I'm going to describe each of these and give examples. By doing so I hope to prepare ourselves for the battles ahead, encourage our hearts with the Word of God, and train our minds to see the battles the world wants us to take for granted. And through all of this, the ultimate goal of the Culture War is to "be holy because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16, Lev 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7).

Sunday, November 09, 2008

God is Uncomfortable

Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. We should all set aside some time to pray for those brothers and sisters in Christ who don't live in countries with the religious freedoms we enjoy here in the United States. I posted earlier about how we take our freedoms for granted and suffer a persecution complex and gave a couple of examples of real persecution. I want to add to that that the American Church (TM) is also lazy and comfortable. And our faith suffers for it.

Below is a controversial sermon brought to my attention a while back by another blog. If you don't have the patience to watch the whole hour of it, I posted an interview of this brother (that's right, I'm calling him 'brother') with Kirk Cameron that's only ten minutes. And if YouTube isn't your thing, check out his ministry.

And the interview that cuts right to the heart of it (check out Kirk Cameron's reaction at the end!)

And if your faith isn't challenged enough by all of that, check out what's really going on overseas, where it's not comfortable to be a Christian. Voice of the Martyrs catalogues persecution in the global church and HOPEworldwide gives inspirational stories of Christians serving where it's least comfortable to do so.

Today is a day to challenge our comfort level, to challenge our faith. Pray not only for the Persecuted Church, but also for our own faith, and for God to provide the opportunity to be uncomfortable for the cause of Christ. That's a hard prayer, and we might not like His answer, but that's the only way for the American Church (TM) to grow, Christ to be preached, and God to be glorified.

"Everything is possible for him who believes."

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mk 9:23-24)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Fifth of November

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I can think of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Reaction to yesterday’s election are still being sorted out, and there will be countless analyses and debates over what worked and what didn’t and what role the infamous “value voter” played in the results. But there are two contradictory reactions to last night’s results. On the one hand, the passing of anti-gay measures in California, Arizona, Florida, and Arkansas signals continued intolerance by “Christian bigots, which is redundant” (quoted from a message board earlier today) towards the homosexual community. On the other hand, the divine providence expected by Governor Palin in her interview with Dr. James Dobson and again to reporters after she voted yesterday in Alaska didn’t come to pass, signaling to some the end of the influence of the Religious Right.

Which is it? Are we still teetering on the edge of a theocracy driven by intolerance and bigotry, or is this country literally going to Hell in a hand basket? This irony is highlighted in California where voters supported defining marriage as between a man and a woman for the second time while defeating a measure requiring parental consent for abortions, also for a second time.
If anything, it shows that no one can be pigeon-holed by a single issue. And whatever comes out of these results, hopefully the “value voter” will no longer be defined by a short list of wedge issues. I believe this is the dawn of not only post-partisan politics, as noted by President-elect Obama, but also post-partisan Christianity. That’s my prayer anyway.

So what does all this have to do with my invocation of Guy Fawkes above? That both sides of the culture war today feel slighted, disrespected, devalued, and defeated reflects the irony of the cultural versus historical Guy Fawkes.

If you’ve never heard of him (and I teased a friend on Halloween who was wearing a Guy Fawkes mask for no other reason than its use in V for Vandetta) these entries on wikipedia (Guy Fawkes, Gunpowder Plot ) are worth reading. The poem above, and the celebration of Guy Fawkes Night, are celebrated by anarchists, were used symbolically in V opposing fascism in Britain, and continue to inspire anti-government sentiment.

But the poem continues:

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

You see, the poem wasn’t celebrating his treason, but was celebrating his getting caught. And it continues further:

A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o' cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A fagot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah hoorah!

Why did he do it? His treason was in response to discrimination by the British Monarchy towards Catholics. That’s right, this treason was over religious freedom. Even more ironic was that the Monarchy was a borderline theocracy led by King James, the commissioner of that version of the Bible bearing his name.

As Christians of a different stripe, we should never hope for, pray for, or vote for a theocracy (despite what many Evangelical leaders may tell you). There’s too much opportunity for abuse, and too little opportunity to glorify God’s name.

As you burn your “guy” in effigy, launch a firecracker, or light a bonfire tonight to celebrate the new world order in American politics, remember that it was for religious freedom that this country was settled, for freedom from tyranny this country was founded, and opposition to theocracy that inspired the Gunpowder Plot. Remember, remember the 5th of November.

Monday, November 03, 2008

"I am the LORD your God...

You shall have no other gods before me." (Ex 20:2-3)

For fun, Google "Obama worship" or "Obama Messiah". Over four million hits for the former, over three million for the latter. In fact, some of the Obama worship is downright scary (see the "Obama children" for example).

But this shouldn't come as any surprise. The quarterback picked in the first round of the draft is usually hailed as the Messiah for their team. And America is full of false idols, from money and fame, to celebrities, to gadgets.

So I take "Obama worship" as more of a figure of speech. But is it? I've already said much about our over reliance on our politicians to fix everything that's wrong with this country and how we expect legislation to define our morals. While we may not be worshipping our politics, we are putting our faith in them. We may not be praying to a political candidate, but I'd be willing to bet that there are many who have given more to campaigns than they've given to their church.

It's the eve of the election, and there's nothing I can post here to change anyone's mind. But I will continue to warn against turning politics into an idol, be it the celebrity of a candidate as in the case of Obama, or the platform held as in the case of the Religious Right.

A couple of images to give you chills before you head out to vote.

After looking at these, ask yourself if you've put any other gods before the LORD. If you can honestly say that you have not, praise God! But look around, and pray for the many who have.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sovereign God

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:1-7)

It's tempting to rely on our government to fix all of our social ills, be they education, poverty, health care, etc. And even moreso as Christians when considering issues such as abortion or gay-marriage. But is that really the government's role?

The scripture above was written to Christians living in Rome. Not exactly a culture that allowed them to exercise their religious freedom. But here Paul is instructing persecuted Christians that even the worst rulers are put there by God. How can that be? Because the purpose of government is to enforce the rule of law, and as Christians we are to obey those laws.

We expect too much from our politicians. God warned Israel against being ruled by a king, and there are six books in the Old Testement that describe how well that went when Israel insisted upon one anyway. Their first king, Saul, was haughty and disregarded the commands of God. Their second, David, was a man after God's own heart, but he committed aldultery and murdered one of his soldiers to cover it up. Their third, Solomon, was blessed with wisdom, but he was blinded by lust. And it was all down hill from there.

Ultimately God is sovereign. He uses rulers and authorities as he wills. Habakkuk asked God how long he would allow the wickedness in Jerusalem to continue. God replied that Habakkuk needn't worry because the Babylonians would come and conquer them to work out God's justice. That answer confused Habakkuk, and he called God on it. Again, God said not to worry because the Babylonians too, would eventually fall. (Hab 1:2,6,12-13, 2:4,8-9)

God uses kingdoms, governments, and authorities to carry out his justice, not to define morality. God's Word does that. Yet we continually rely on our political leaders to fix everything, and pass bonds, initiatives and propositions to try and fix ourselves that where our politicians fail. This is wrong. You don't need a loaded Supreme Court to bring an end to abortion, you only need to obey God's Word and not commit sexual immorality or aldultery. You don't need gun control, you only need to obey the Ten Commandments and not murder.

Easier said than done. Especially in a pluralistic culture where not everyone shares the same standards of morality. But keep in mind, the Christians Paul was writing to above were in the minority. Jews under Babylonian rule were in the minority. And their culture was most depraved when they ruled over themselves. Be careful what you wish for.

A Matter of Perspective

No matter how Tuesday's election turns out, we need to keep things in perspective. One of the fear-mongering tactics frequently used to rally the "christian conservative" base is that liberals want to curtail our rights as Christians to practice our faith. Issues like limited prayer in schools, removal of displays of the Ten Commandments, and (gasp) even gay-marriage are used as evidence that we, as Christians, are on the verge of persecution not seen since Nero. Puh-lease. It's often noted by political commentators and atheist antagonists that the Religious Right has a persecution complex, and I couldn't agree more.

I don't really think that if Sen Obama is elected president on Tuesday that I'll have to start worshiping in secret for fear of being arrested or killed. To use such hyperbole disrespects Christians across the globe who do face such persecution.

For example, take the current situation in India. What situation, you ask? Exactly. While our media is focused on the political campaigns and the war in Iraq, there are other things going on in the world. And while our religious leaders are urging votes in one direction or another and topics such as gay-marriage and abortion take center stage, few talk about what's going on in the real persecuted church. In fact, this poll from Voice of Martyrs shows how oblivious we are.

It's similar to the crisis in Sudan, which didn't really come to the western world's attention until celebrities started to speak out about it. Nice that they noticed a couple years after the crisis began when the Muslim government from the north region started singling out and killing Christians in the south.

Of course Christian-aid workers are always at risk, recently making headline when a British aid worker was killed in Afghanistan.

So the next time you're tempted to think that you're being persecuted in this country that still holds to the First Amendment, think again. And say a prayer for the persecuted church.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Mud Slinging

We're down to the home stretch. That's why I'm on a posting marathon here and I'm not out of topics yet. But this headline caught my attention and I couldn't let it slide. I guess file it in the "what the?" drawer.

The North Carolina Senate race is a tight one, and like most races this season no one wants to talk issues but everyone wants to sling mud. In this case it's Liz Dole, who I just lost all respect for, putting out an ad against her opponent, Kay Hagan, accusing her of being "godless." This article includes the videos and hers is definitely over the line. If I didn't know better (and most voters don't) I'd think the voice that says repeatedly "there is no God" was hers. But then I read the article and find out that she's an elder in her church and teaches Sunday school. Hagan responds with an add of her own calling out Dole for "bearing false witness" and follows that up with a lawsuit against Dole.

Have we sunk so low that this is the substance of our political debates? Do you base your vote on who is most religious, has the most faith, is the most righteous? If so, you might as well stay home because we are all sinners and Jesus reminds us that "no one is good but God alone." (Mk 10:18) That's not all we need to be reminded of.

If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers!

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. (1 Cor 6:1-8)

"Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs..." (2 Tim 2:3-4)

They say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In the same way political power corrupts politically and drives out whatever spirituality was there to begin with.

Gay Marriage

There are a few measures on state ballots regarding same-sex marriage and there’s still a desire by the Religious Right to pass a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage. This is a touchy subject that I’ve so far avoided. But in light of these initiatives, I want to offer some thoughts.

I’m not going to judge the morality of homosexuality here. I think citing Leviticus is a tenuous argument in light of the New Covenant and also that eating shellfish is also an “abomination.” There’s plenty in the New Testament however, that one can refer to if so inclined. Instead I want to focus on the marriage issue itself, and rely on history, the Bible and reason to make my case.

First, this is not a Civil Rights issue. I understand the “Separate But Not Equal” case being made relative to Civil Unions, but I disagree with that premise. There’s a difference between being afforded the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, but under a different name, and having separate bathrooms, restaurants, schools, and buses. The only “separation” is in name only. There is no physical separation as was the case in the Civil Rights Movement. And that physical separation resulted in a risk to welfare and safety, which is also not the case with this issue. There’s nothing stopping a City Hall from officiating a “civil union” and even calling it a marriage. Just as there’s nothing stopping churches from having “marriage ceremonies” for civil unions. Both of these have happened and will likely continue to happen. The only “separation” in this issue is being able to get a “marriage” license and to be able to check a box that says “married” on official forms. Where civil unions are present, that’s it. That’s what this fight is over. There is no Separate But Not Equal.

Second, even if you assume that homosexuality is ok according to the Bible (based on condemnations against homosexuality being motivated by pagan practices), allowing divine marriage calls into question the very nature of God. (Note, despite this being argued by the religious community, marriage is not a religious institution. It is a civil recognition of being able to share property, name, and responsibility. If this was all there is to it, I wouldn’t oppose gay marriage so long as churches were protected from having to recognize them.) Even if you don’t take Adam and Eve as literal, few argue the fundamental point from those passages that we’re created, man and woman, in God’s image. Marriage is then later defined as, “for this reason…they will become one flesh”. (Gen 2:24) Feminine qualities of God unite with the masculine qualities of God (refer to the books Captivating and Wild at Heart, respectively) to create a complete reflection of God’s character. “This is a profound mystery.” (Eph 5:32) This is impossible in same-sex marriage. Also, the metaphors of God and the nation of Israel and of Jesus and the Church break down if same-sex marriage can be “blessed” by God via a religious ceremony. In that case, you might as well throw out the whole book of Hosea.

Now, you could argue from that point that churches don’t have to recognize gay marriage. Fine, but my third point is a legal one. Many on the Religious Right like to point to the “slippery slope” allowing same-sex marriage could create. This is based on the motivation for gay marriage being able to marry who you want and that preventing two people in love from marrying is denying them fundamental rights protected by the Constitution. But where do you draw the line? The Mormon Church outlawed the practice of polygamy in order for Utah to be admitted to the Union over a hundred years ago. To this day, polygamy is still illegal despite offshoots of the Mormon Church openly practicing it. Such a blatant violation of the law opens up the possibility of legal action, as was the case in Texas and the trial and conviction or Warren Jeffs earlier this year. Aren’t their rights being infringed upon by not allowing them to marry who they choose? The legal argument however, is to protect the welfare of minors, but the age of consent varies state by state and the present definition of “adult” is relatively modern, coming about in the last century in response to child labor and the industrial revolution. The definition is also very inconsistent when you consider the ages of being able to drive, vote, enlist/be drafted into the military, smoke, work full time, drink alcohol, and even graduate college (the youngest person to earn a Ph.D. was 14). Isn’t preventing one from marrying a minor, even if older than the age of consent, infringing on these same rights? You can see where this is going.

Taking it even further, some commentators have even made the leap in logic to apply this to being able to marry animals, as if such hyperbole would strengthen their point. While this sounds ridiculous, it’s not too far off. Spain’s parliament granted the human rights of “life and freedom” to apes last June. Note the absence of “pursuit of happiness” as stated by the Declaration of Independence, but with this legal precedence, can that be too far behind? After all, apes can learn language, use tools, problem solve, and build so with legal rights, there’s nothing preventing them from positively contributing to society. And if they have the legal rights to life and liberty, can they be legally prevented from marrying? And if not, what would legally prevent cross-species marriages? Again, the argument for same-sex marriage is that being able to marry the person you love falls under the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The catch is you can’t marry an ape if you limit this to “persons”. But that legally requires you to define “person” and that then gets you back to the issue of minors but now also wades into the abortion debate. So where does it end?

Semantics. That’s what this is really over, the definition of a word. A word, not defined by religion, but by cultures over the course of thousands of years. I hate that we even have to consider this on the ballot, it is so stupid to me. I’m not opposed to civil unions despite being opposed to the lifestyle. I am opposed to what legally and culturally approving gay marriage could lead to. I am sickened that we live in a world where this is even an issue. And I’m angered by the foolish debate comparing this to Civil Rights Movement and calling opponents “homophobes” as if opposition is equal to racism or anti-Semitism. You can then guess which way I’m going to vote.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Choose Life Pt 2

This is for the many who define their politics from forwarded emails. And I know you're out there, because you send these emails to me!

One hot topic recently in the presidential race has been Barack Obama's opposition to "Born Alive" legislation while in the Illinois legislature. I remember this issue coming up in the primaries but didn't pay it much attention. Support or opposition of abortion legislation is a tricky thing to weigh considering all the fine print that usually is needed for such legislation to pass. This case is no different.

If you want to look at it in black and white, supporters of Sen McCain (not officially the McCain Campaign) put out this ad. As usual, there's more to the story, so I checked out politifact.com and the had a very comprehensive article on this. The truth of course, is grey, with both sides misrepresenting the issue. This shouldn't come as any surprise.

But what is interesting in this article is the bureaucratic red tape that's necessary in abortion legislation. You usually hear about "health of the mother" clauses which are tricky because what is "health"? It is usually left undefined, opening up mental anguish or physical pain (the promise of painful labor from Genesis) as legal reasons to allow for abortions.

But this article introduced me to the "neutrality clause" where the legislation essentially promises that passage won't change the legal status of a fetus. It's like a disclaimer that preserves Roe v Wade. The reason these clauses are necessary is because the Pro Choice side insists that any restriction on abortion will lead to an outright ban. Not an unreasonable position, in fact this is the position the Gun Ownership side of the Right to Bear Arms debate take. Any restriction to gun ownership opens up the possibility to outright prohibit any ownership at all.

But these word games are silly. Do you think anyone really believes a baby born from a failed abortion would be refused medical care because they're not supposed to be alive? Or that there's really a "health" reason (to the mother) to abort a child 8 months into a pregnancy that wasn't there in the first three months?

Regardless of how you feel about either of these issues, the truth is Roe v Wade won't be overturned via legislation. There will never be the votes to make it happen, no matter who is president. Even hoping to load the Supreme Court in the hopes to overturn the ruling is a stretch with Justices serving life terms. So to me as a Christian, the only way to stop the disgusting act of abortion is to face the issues that lead to abortion in the first place: a casual view of sex, rampant single parenthood tied to poverty, and the cycle of teenage pregnancy that runs generation to generation. And these can only be addressed through supporting, not condemning, those in these plights, living our convictions, and applying the word of God.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Choose Life

I'm going to go a bit off topic and get personal here. Right now my wife is with one of our good friends about to welcome a new life into this world. From the world's perspective, our friend is (about to be) a single mom, with no job, and health issues. A perfect candidate for an abortion right? To quote Lee Corso, "not so fast, my friend!" Or better yet, to quote Paul, "By no means!" (Rom 6:1) It wasn't a "Christian value" issue for her, or even a question about convenience. She wants to be a mom, and I think she'll do great at it. She didn't let the fact that the father (this will be the last time I mention him) bailed on her dissuade her from valuing life over convenience. For that she should be commended.

At the same time, another friend's niece just passed away at less than two weeks of age. She was born with heart problems and they did everything they could to save her. Again, life was more important than convenience.

I'm reminded of the flack John Kerry took for being pro-life, but voting pro-choice. Personally I understand it, but couldn't understand why the Catholic Church would not serve him the Eucharist while I know there were multiple adulterers in the parish I grew up in. His wife, Teresa Heinz-Kerry related their own personal story of a baby doctors feared wasn't going to make it, but she chose not to abort, trusting that God was in control. When she miscarried, she knew it was meant to be. Politically, she's grateful she had the choice to make, even though she chose life.

Similarly, a couple from our church was having a baby ultrasounds showed would be born with deformities and tests showed would have serious issues. Doctors encouraged an abortion, but they too, chose to trust in God. And God knew what he was doing when the pregnancy ended in miscarriage.

These are painful experiences, to be sure. But I also know of other families who would give anything just to be able to get pregnant. The brother who officiated my wedding and his wife just welcomed twins into this world. They were trying to get pregnant for years. Finally, they chose to adopt embryos. What? That was my reaction too. But this is becoming increasingly popular. Just as First Century Christians rescued babies from infanticide in Rome, many Christians today are rescuing embryoes that would otherwise be discarded. Our friends adopted embryos, leftovers if you will, from a couple who did in-vitro fertilization. These are the same types of embryos at the center of the stem-cell debate.

Another family at my church returned a month ago from China after adopting their second child from there. In China, you're limited in the number of children you can have. So if one is born with a defect, or God-forbid is a girl, the baby is usually discarded like an old pair of shoes. Their first child was born with a clubbed foot. This child, with a cleft palate. Both now can overcome these "hardships" with first-world medical care. And a family who couldn't bear children are blessed with two beautiful girls.

Meanwhile yet another family at church has adopted two black children with family histories of drug abuse. Unfortunately, no one wants a black baby, especially one with that kind of history. They can't wait until they have enough saved to adopt again.

And one of the biggest things that's keeping me from supporting Obama is this clip where he states he doesn't want his children "punished" with having a child if they make an irresponsible decision. Now, I get where he was going with this, but as a recovering addict I understand the difference between a punishment and a consequence. And as a Christian I understand the difference between justice and mercy. But those words from the likely future President of the United States burn me bad.

I write all of this because this is a very personal issue for me. I am the product of an unwed, teenage mother that probably got pregnant on spring break, based on my birthday. I'll never know the circumstances because I was adopted at two weeks. But I remember debating abortion in my high school civics class when one girl said that men shouldn't have any say in the abortion debate because it doesn't effect them. I beg to differ as living proof of "choice". In a different era, under different circumstances, would I have been aborted? Probably. And that thought sends chills down my spine and brings me to my knees to thank God for my very breath.

After seeing my own children develop in their mother's womb and being there as they drew their first breaths, I could never, ever, support "choice" for the sake of convenience. Is that the only "political" issue important to me? Of course not, but no other is as personal.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jesus is my Campaign Manager

I made the mistake last night at church talking politics with one of my friends. Actually, she brought up how she can't wait for it all to be over; she's tired of hearing the same arguments over and over. Then she said something that totally boggled me. She commented on how Jesus never talked about abortion or homosexuality. Now I understand where she was coming from. The Religious Right is too narrowly focused on these issues above all else. But the case she makes doesn't apply to her point. She commented on how the world was more "jacked up" in Jesus' day, yet he didn't bring up these issues. The Romans practiced infanticide, but Jesus didn't say anything against it. Homosexuality was common in pagan worship and temple prostitution, but Jesus didn't say anything against it. Well first of all, Jesus ministered to the Jews who lived in and around Jerusalem. He never went to Rome or Corinth or associated with Greek prostitutes. So why would he bring these subjects up? But here's a twist on the argument. Slaves were present all around Jesus' ministry. In fact, the Old Testament gives instructions regarding slavery. And Jesus never said a word about the practice. Should that mean that slavery is not a religious issue of concern to Christians? Someone should've told that to William Wilberforce.

I mentioned that and she side-stepped it by then saying that Jesus never preached politics anyway. Well yes, and no. He comment on "giv[ing] to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" was both a theological and political statement since Caesar claimed divinity. At the same time, he didn't take any side to the dismay of the religious leaders. The same was true when Jesus instructed his disciples how to pray by saying "Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name." The first comment personalized the God of the tetragrammaton, YHWH, which would've upset the religious leaders, but followed that up by praising his name which usurped the divinity of Caesar. If anything, his politics were indirect. But because he wasn't the political leader many thought the Messiah should've been, it was easy to entice Judas to betray him.

The extension of my friend's argument, that she didn't mention, was that Jesus preached about the poor more than anything else, so that should be a political priority. I don't disagree, except for the political aspect of it. Jim Wallis, in his book God's Politics, dedicates a section in his first chapter titled, "The Political Problem of Jesus" and then goes on to turn Jesus' teaching into a political argument. This is where I disagree with him. I don't believe that because Jesus said to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" that that should apply to foreign policy. That is a personal command. Not a political one. And there's a difference between being under attack and persecuted. But he argues that if a political leader claims to be a Christian, then they should apply that to their politics. I agree that faith should guide morality applied through politics. But to apply faith directly to politics turns this pluralistic country into a theocracy, which I believe Jesus would've opposed. A political leader needs to consider the big picture and the good of the country and balance that not against, but rather on, their faith. In other words, their faith should be the fulcrum of their lever, not one side of the balancing act.

Back to the personal aspect of Jesus' teachings. His commentaries on the poor, lack of explicit political stances, and teachings on the Kingdom of Heaven are personal, not national. So we can't apply "love your enemies" or "blessed are the peacemakers" to policy. That's not to say I'm pro-war. But whether or not to go and participate in war is a personal decision that would have to be informed by a personal faith. Whereas the decision to engage in war on the national level must be policy driven. At the same time, I believe our Freedom of Speech also obligates us to speak out against war if our conscience leads us to.

This would then imply that a Christian politician cannot effectively hold an office and still keep Jesus first and God above all. And I think there's truth to that. That's why I'm suspicious of any politician who says I should vote for him or her because of their faith. And that's also why I don't expect our moral problems to be "fixed" via politics, but instead through individual Christians actively living out their convictions.

As for abortion and homosexuality, I told my friend that sin is still sin. That doesn't mean that morality at that level should be legislated. But if my vote gives me a voice, I want to cast it to make a statement of my faith. And that is what I will continue to wrestle with up to, and beyond, November 4.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

God's Politics

With the general election only a couple of weeks away, I’m finally getting around to reading “God’s Politics” by Jim Wallis, requisite reading for the topics I cover on this blog. Reading it is like I wrote it myself, if only I was a better writer and could expand the depth of my thoughts enough to fill a book. I agree with much of what I’ve read so far; in fact, his motivation for writing that book is the same as my motivation for this blog. But I do disagree with him in some areas, most notably with regards to the war in Iraq and his faith in Christian values shaping our political system.

I was hoping to share more of my thoughts as I go through the book and relate to the current election. But not only have I run out of time, but that book is packed! With small font, margins that run nearly to the edge of the page, and pretty dense prose I’m only a dozen or so pages in after a week. At this rate, I might finish the book this year. So don’t hold your breath for any reviews.

In the meantime however, I do recommend you click over to his website, Sojourners (also linked over on the right). The God’s Politics Blog has a rotation of writers and consistently offers pretty strong insight. In the spirit of remaining “fair and balanced” I also suggest checking out Breakpoint, the ministry started by Chuck Colson. The articles there are more in-depth, so there aren’t as many and are updated less frequently. Regardless, these articles are very insightful. I feel that the two frame a strong Christian socio-political worldview.

We’re in the home stretch and there are too many topics to try and squeeze in before the election. But I’m going to try. I mentioned before that I don’t want to make this blog politics-only, but in this case the calendar takes precedent. I’m going to try and hit on some hot topics and continue to post regarding headlines as I see them. As we head towards the General Election remember what country you’re a citizen of and put your faith in its ruler. Referencing the "Faith Hall of Fame" in Hebrews 11, “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." (Heb 11:15-16)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The End of an Era?

There’s an article in last week’s Newsweek on America’s Branding in light of the recent financial crisis that I read in a doctor’s waiting room yesterday. The article itself isn’t necessarily relevant to this blog, but a statement caught my attention that I want to spend some time on.

“Many commentators have noted that the Wall Street meltdown marks the end of the Reagan era. In this they are doubtless right, even if McCain manages to get elected president in November. Big ideas are born in the context of a particular historical era. Few survive when the context changes dramatically, which is why politics tends to shift from left to right and back again in generation-long cycles.” (emphasis mine)

The article then goes on to describe how the Reagan era came about in response to ballooning governments and economies that grew out of Roosevelt’s New Deal and were beginning to collapse under their own weight, as evidenced by the fall of the Soviet Union and the widespread economic failures in Latin America in the 80’s.

I’m not an economist or a political scientist, but the idea of political and social paradigms being shaped by historical context that endures over a generation gets my wheels turning. As a Christian who is only old enough to have voted in the last three presidential elections, it seems to me that we’re at a unique point in our history that I believe could result in a new Christian political movement or at least a revitalization of the Church.

First, some historical perspective. The permeation of nationalism and patriotism in our churches dates back to the Second World War. At that time, faith-based politics were in the middle of the political spectrum, leaning left supporting the social programs that rose out of the New Deal as well as right supporting post-war patriotism and nationalism. Faith-based politics took a left turn in the era of the Kennedys and the Civil Rights Movement, steered more sharply left with the Jesus Movement and Vietnam, but then took a sharp right turn with the rise of the Moral Majority in the Reagan years. I think it’s interesting that this cycle follows the economic-policy cycle noted in the Newsweek article. Faith-based politics then took another sharp right turn with the election of George W Bush and the poorly coined “value voter”.

But backlash from the 2000 and 2004 elections saw a different faith-based politics forming on the Left in the form of Campolos and Wallises to counter the Dobsons and Robertsons on the Right. Over the last couple of years, even before the release of “An Inconvenient Truth”, Evangelicalism began to embrace a form of environmentalism based on being good stewards to God’s creation (Barna has an update on this movement here) . Political and religious headlines were dominated a year ago by the issue of illegal immigration, bringing the so-called Social Gospel to the fore. The “homosexual agenda” is also forcing a political fight in our churches with marriage on the front line. All of this puts faith again in a front-row seat in our presidential debate. And now, we’re seeing the collapse of our greed-driven, debt-based economy that is responsible for much of the worldliness we see in our churches today. (See this post from OnFaith that breaks down this false deity.)

Combine all these factors, and I see an end to the Religious Right, just as Newsweek notes this is the end of Reaganomics. Honestly, I could care less about the political consequence of all the above, but I care deeply about the state of the Church. While all these social, economic, and political issues collide, the American Christian Church ™ suffers from lukewarm conviction and commitment as heretical teachings such as the Prosperity Gospel and Black Liberation Theology rise in strength. So I see all of this converging to a paradigm shift in our churches. I only pray that it leads to a revitalization of the Church, de-emphasizing politics and instead “fixing [our] eyes on Jesus”. If so, this could lead to another Great Awakening of sorts, where God will truly be glorified in our churches and in our culture. And prayerfully this influence will last past a generation.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Palin Paradox

It’s been a few weeks and I’m still not sold on Governor Palin. Nothing personal, but she hasn’t given me anything substantive enough to support her. I’m still dismayed at her ascendancy in light of her infant with special needs. If she wants to see the consequence of pursuing a high-profile/high-demand career with a special needs child, she should look no further than Sharon Stone. But I digress.

What she has given us, is an odd paradox as a conservative Christian woman, in a position of authority, who by the opinion of many is pretty hot. What, you were expecting me to break down her policies? Nah, you give me too much credit. But I’m not going to analyze her physical features either. Why this interests me is because it exposes a paradox (or hypocrisy in some cases) in the conservative christian (intentional little-c) church.

On the one hand, you have the stance of the Southern Baptist Convention (and many others) that a woman can’t hold a position of authority in a church. This stance made headlines recently when the cover of Gospel Today featured several woman pastors and as a result was pulled from the shelves of Christian bookstores across the Bible-belt. A couple weekends ago, I watched a feature on ABC news that called attention to this while noting the irony that the same Christians who oppose women in ministry support Gov. Palin as Vice President, one heartbeat away from being the Leader of the Free World.

On the other hand, you have Gov. Palin’s feminine, ahem, assets being praised. An article in Slate goes so far as to say her publicity shatters the stereotype of the prudish Christian woman. (Consider a preemptive warning if you click the link, the language and imagery is pretty crude.) The media had the opposite response to the mothers involved in the Texas polygamy case. I guess the expectation continues to be that a devoted Christian woman should look like Maude Flanders.

Meanwhile, there are many caught the middle who wonder how the same conservative christians (little-c) that back Palin were the same who loudly criticized the portrayal of Murphy Brown as a professional single mother.

Both extremes unfortunately fail to capture the Biblical view of femininity. I’m not going to try and stir up a doctrinal debate on perceived misogyny throughout the Bible. Rather I want to point out that women of Godly character are praised by having their own books (Ruth and Esther), chapters (Judges 4), and sections (Proverbs 31) in the Bible. A lot of people focus solely on a single statement from the Apostle Paul and call him sexist, yet forget that women deaconesses (regrettably often translated as “servant” even though the original Greek is the feminine form of what elsewhere is translated as Deacon) are the first to be praised by Paul in Romans and Corinthians for their ministry. In fact I know a few people who opposed getting married in a church based entirely on Paul’s teaching that a wife should be submissive to her husband. Never mind that the context is an analogy to the Church’s relationship with Jesus and is preceded with the command for the husband to love his wife (and elsewhere is instructed specifically not to “lord over” her).

Not to say sexism in the Church doesn’t exist. It certainly does. The praise of the “Proverbs 31 woman” has evolved into an expectation no woman can meet, but wives and mothers are expected to slave over their homes to achieve that perfect standard.

At the same time, many churches elevate the “trophy wife” as standards of beauty and femininity. In the name of being “sharp”, young men pursuing ministry are encouraged to date the prettiest (and most chaste) sisters. At one point at a church I used to attend, the wives of the ministry staff all looked alike—above average height, thin, blonde, and bubbly. All the while the demands of women’s ministry drove women across my denomination to the ground. I can’t count how many Women’s Ministry leaders I know are now burdened with chronic illnesses. All in the name of being that perfect picture of a Biblical woman.

I don’t want to go as far as the feminist movement has in America, but there needs to be a culture change in the American Church with regard to the role of women in the Church and the value (and measure) of beauty and femininity. John Eldriege, in his book Wild at Heart, puts this well.

Walk into most churches in America, have a look around, and ask yourself
this question: What is a Christian woman? Again, don't listen to
what is said, look at what you find there. There is no doubt about
it. You'd have to admit a Christian woman is. . . tired. All we've
offered the feminine soul is pressure to "be a good servant."

In fact his wife spun off her own book aiming to change the status quo and together they have built up an entire ministry with the goal of redefining masculinity and femininity in the church. Amen for that!

While I may have a hard time backing Sarah Palin as a Vice Presidential candidate, I can at least hope that the publicity she’s receiving sheds light on these issues and empowers women in the Church. After all, women too are made in God’s image and in the Church there is “neither… male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Debts and crisis

Following up on the largest single day point loss in Dow Jones history (ironically mostly recouped today) it's important to keep things in perspective. When it comes to religion and politics, all we seem to hear is how one party wants to turn the United States in to a theocracy. Of course, the argument is narrowly focused only on a couple issues. No one wants to apply it to a bigger picture.

But say we apply a theocracy across the board. Would we be in this financial mess? Proverbs is full of wisdom related to money and finances. One proverb in particular predicted this. "Rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender." (Pr 22:7) But let's glorify in God and turn to the Psalms. "The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously." (Ps 37:12) Does that sound familiar? Would we be in this mess if our government or our banking industry was actually righteous? Instead we borrow and borrow and borrow, but we do not repay. But in our theocracy, "good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice." (Ps 112:5) The key here of course is generosity and justice. Two things that lack in our materialistic world but God possesses in abundance.

You could argue that Psalms and Proverbs are just fluff without authority. But a majority of Jesus' parables relate to money. And Deuteronomy is full of specific instructions on how to run "the financial sector". Deuteronomy 15 gives instructions for the "year of cancelling debts." Imagine that, every seven years all of our debts being cancelled. Not a big deal for my 5-year car loan. But my 30 year mortgage or those student loans that never go away no matter how many years pass? Of course banks would be wise to not give loans for longer than six years. Do you think the markets would be as volatile if loans were handled this way?

Deuteronomy 15:6 gives further insight into our current mess. "For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you." The parallel passage (p.p. in the margin of your Bible) takes us to Dt 28 where the same statement is followed with "The LORD will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the LORD your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom." (Dt 28:13) But God's blessings always come with a warning. "However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you" (Dt 28:15) And the corresponding curse reverses the roles above. "The alien who lives among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower. He will lend to you, but you will not lend to him. He will be the head, but you will be the tail." (Dt 28:43-44)

One of the biggest fears in this economic crisis, besides Wall Street collapsing, is foreign nations buying up most of our debt. Will we one day be ruled over by China? It is a possibility and we honestly have it coming since America is far from paying attention to the commands of the LORD our God. But this is a covenant between God and the Nation of Israel, it doesn't apply to us today under the New Covenant, right? Well, that may be true, but God's nature doesn't change and his wisdom makes foolish the wise. I think it would do us well to heed these instructions. We may not be in positions of authority and have no real say how loans are given or repaid. But we can use scriptural wisdom to keep our own financial house in order. We can be righteous in our spending (borrowing, really, since we spend so much with our credit cards). We can give generously, conduct our affairs with justice and in doing so bring glory to God.