Sunday, January 20, 2008

For Martin Luther King Day

Not long ago I was getting an oil change and car wash and passing time in their convenience store. Among the greeting cards and postcards were some short books on Martin Luther King, Mother Theressa, and Nelson Mandela. They were compilations of inspirational quotes, meant to be easy encouragement on a low budget. Thumbing through both the King's and Mother Theressa's, I found few quotes relating to their religion. Sure there were the feel good quotes about God and love, but nothing reflecting the sharp edge of Rev. King or the desolate conditions surrounding Mother Theressa. I found that odd, but it called another observation to mind. I grew up reading in the history books about Reverend Martin Luther King. But in the headlines tomorrow, you'll read about Doctor Martin Luther King. Very rarely do I see "Rev" next to his name anymore. Maybe there's an etiquette behind it; doctors in any field don't like it when you call them "mister". Or maybe it's further evidence of the secularization of our society. You'll likely read or hear many quotes celebrating Martin Luther King Day. You'll probably hear snippets of his "I had a dream" speech. But will you hear him invoke the name of God? Credit God's glory? Express God's will?

I'll close with a quote, taken from part of his letter from a Birmingham jail dated April, 1963. I hope in this era of the Separation of Church and State, that his words light a lamp in your heart and soul that will not be covered by a basket. That his words call us back to arms in the ongoing culture war. But most of all that his words cause us to pause, look around, and ask ourselves, "where is the Reverend King of this era?"

A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or
the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.
To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks, before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman empire.

I'm grateful to God that, through the Negro church, the dimension of nonviolence entered our struggle.

Was not Jesus an extremist for love -- "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice -- "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ -- "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist -- "Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God." Was not John Bunyan an extremist -- "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist -- "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice--or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment.

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators." But they went on with the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.

We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Lies, Darn Lies, and Statistics

It was reported on Thursday that the abortion rate in the United States is continuing to decline. I'm not going to hit on the abortion debate or talk about candidate's views or any of that. Instead I want to talk just a sec about an article from Newsweek that attempts to discern why the rates are going down. First of all, the rate is reported as a number per 1000 women. The article doesn't say per 1000 pregnancies (for there's really no way to count that) so the drop could be attributed to a rise in population alone. But that point is never brought up. Instead it brings up the reduced number of abortion clinics, more restrictive legislation, the increased use of RU486, and increased use of birth control; all of which have measurable statistics. But the article tries to reason if attitudes towards abortion in this country have changed from both the pro-choice and pro-life sides. But there's only one quote and one three sentence long paragraph dedicated to the pro-life view. All in a two page article. Biased much? And as a number cruncher by trade, I don't think it's very hard to answer the question of whether more mothers are carrying their babies to full term. One you can compare the drop in the rate of abortions to the change in the rate of births. Next you consider the rate of miscarriages (assuming all are reported). Finally you look at the number of children being put up for adoption.

If the general public is agreeing more and more with the statement that, to paraphrase my least favorite presidential candidate, "abortion should be available, but rare," it wouldn't take much homework to figure out. If you assume that a pregnancy that is considered to be terminated but is carried to full term is still an unwanted pregnancy, the statistics would show up with numbers of children put up for adoption. If that number is increasing at a greater rate than the birthrate as a whole (and understanding that with modern pre-natal care there are fewer miscarriages) that would be all the evidence you need. Instead, the author gives the pro-life side a token quote and then expands on how much harder it is to get abortions these days. It's shoddy reporting at best, blatant bias at worst. But then again, when it comes to this issue, do we expect any better? We should.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Notes from the Road

Like I said previously, I've recently returned from a family road trip over Christmas. We didn't drive the Wagonqueen Family Truckster, but we did put over 3000 miles on our Mitsubishi Endeavor. Anway, after getting snowed in trying to drive on I-80 coming home, our schedule slipped a day and that meant getting stuck in the post-New-Year's-Eve Las Vegas traffic. They say, "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" except for the traffic that is. So I-15 was a total parking lot. While patiently (I wish!) waiting in traffic while our 3 month-old was crying at the top of her lungs and our now 3 year-old was kicking the back of my seat, it was awfully tempting to pull over to the shoulder and see how far I could get before getting ticketed. Actually it wasn't. But that didn't stop several others from trying, and watching them blatantly break the law ticked me off. I was rooting for them to get pulled over and reveled in the thought of how much the ticket would be.

But then I asked myself why that made me so upset? Sure they'd get to where they're going faster, but really not by much because they couldn't ride on the shoulder forever. And besides, it's not like I never break the law driving. In fact, as soon as traffic started to thin I was back to driving my usual 9 mph over the speed limit. And that got me thinking about right and wrong. If I was as good a Christian as I try and proclaim, I should abide by Romans 13 and obey the law of the land no matter what. And that includes following the speed limit. But I'm confident I'm not the only Christian who speeds. Not only that, but I've probably cursed under my breath others whose convictions tell them to strictly follow the limit.

So it strikes me that while our convictions are black and white, we live in a world of grey, and that has a major influence on the decisions we make. This begs the question, what informs our morals? The Bible, the world, or some combination of both? If we were perfect like Jesus, we could say that we are only "do[ing] the will of Him who sent me." (Jn 4:34) That's not an excuse however for letting the world inform our morality. This is where the Christian Worldview comes into play. We need to be able to look at the world from a Christ-like perspective while at the same time recognizing that we are sinners and imperfect, so we strive to uphold God's standards the best we can.

I wanted to list off some more examples of the "grey" world in which we live to illustrate why we can't let the world define our morals. I was thinking of this when I got back to work, and a couple of contrasting examples came to mind. First, most companies will fire you on the spot if you're looking at pornography on your computer during work-hours. But the same standard doesn't apply if you're checking sport scores, headlines, etc. Is there a practical difference? Not really, the only difference is in the social norm of pornography being a vice. I don't disagree with that. But what about smoke-breaks? There are several co-workers in my building that take smoke breaks every couple of hours or so. That's considered ok. But if I wanted to take a "drink break" and down a shot or have a bottle of beer every couple of hours, I'd probably have to start looking for another job. What's the practical difference? There is none, but unlike with pornography, smoking is considered more of a vice than drinking yet that is the social norm.

Not only are our social norms inconsistent, they're also ever-changing. Take slavery, the roles of women, and most recently homosexuality as examples. While in some cases the world's morals have changed for the better (in the case of abolishing slavery for example) in many others they have been changes for the worse (the over-sexualization in our culture presently). This lends more weight to holding to the standards of the Bible over the world since, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever." (Is 40:6-8/1 Pt 1:24-25) The Bible doesn't change. God doesn't change. But the standards of the world are always changing.

Now today was the New Hampshire Primary. I won't go into winners and losers, but I want to apply this to politics. There are many who despise the fact that some candidates are so open about their faith. They point to the separation of Church and State and say that religion should have no role in politics. If that's the case, then where do we expect our leaders to derive their morality? The present inconsistent and ever-changing social norms? Public opinion polls? History or philosophy? Personally, I'd prefer a leader whose convictions are built on rock and not on sand. Social norms, public opinion, history and philosophy are all important in informing political decision-making. But character and leadership aren't the same as deal-making and power-broking. And this is what has been shown in the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary; voters are looking for leaders with character. Statesmen instead of politicians. And personal views on wedge-issues don't seem to matter as much, evidenced by the widespread reporting of the cross appeal of McCain and Obama despite opposite positions on just about everything. (then again, it was just announced that Clinton edged out Obama, but I think my point is still valid)

Bottom line, we should all strive to attain, in our day to day living as well as our politics, the goal set forth in Ephesians. "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming." (Eph 4:14)

Some Changes for Election Time

I've added a couple of links and got rid of a couple of others. I was never really fond of having a link to the Moral Majority, but I thought it was the best representation of the Religious Right. But I never did find a "Religious Left" equivalent. And from all indications, the Unity '08 effort has been a flop.

So I've added the "God-o-meter" from beliefnet. It's a regular update of the religious rhetoric coming from the candidates and is a kick to read and keep up with, especially now that we're in the think of primary season. Another bonus is that from there you can jump back to beliefnet where there are blogs from Jim Wallis and others. I've also added the Newsweek/Washington Post "On Faith" page. I really like the "conversations" they have on relevant topics and their blogs are also very insightful. So happy reading. I pray these links help inform your Christian Worldview and inform not only your politics, but also your daily life as a Public Christian.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Back in the Saddle

I've just recently gotten back from a roadtrip over Christmas so I have a backlog of posts to put up. Hopefully I'll get to those this weekend. In the meantime, listening to coverage of last night's Iowa Caucus brought my attention to this. The God-o-meter at beliefnet.com which gauges how much religious rhetoric each candidate is using to pander for the "value voter". While I don't like their categorization of "theocrat" it's pretty amusing nonetheless. It's updated daily with related articles, so I might just have to add a permanent link to it.