jasonbwatson

August 17, 2017

Intentional Idiocy

Fortunately I am not the leader of the free world and therefore no one has been criticizing me for not responding more quickly to the white supremacist nonsense in Charlottesville, VA five days ago. My delayed addressing of it in this space has nothing to do with me not condemning it as strongly as I possibly can and everything to do with being a wee bit busy with the start of a new school year. However, I feel I have reached a point of preparedness for the week ahead that I can pause for a while this morning and type out some of that which I have been thinking.

The first thing I would like to say is simply this: the idea that anyone could still hold to the idea of any race being superior to any other goes beyond upbringing and prejudice and serves as the strongest possible example of intentional idiocy. It is absurd and nonsensical for anyone in the twenty-first century to believe with any level sincerity that one race is superior to any other. The evidence against such a notion is so overwhelming that anyone who thinks it is truly characterized by mental dullness (part of the dictionary.com definition of “stupid”). In case that is not clear, let me be more specific: anyone who actually believes that one race is superior to another suffers from a mental defect. That does not, however, excuse anyone from their ludicrous notions because this is a mental defect that is entirely self-inflicted. Or, at a minimum, self-perpetuated.

Having lived in the south for a number of years I am well aware that there are still areas where people commonly refer to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. There are people who still hold to the notion that the South will rise again. There are people who still believe that anyone that is not white is inferior, lesser and somehow other than fully, equally human with those who are white. I also recognize that many of those people were born into families and communities that perpetuate that nonsense and have simply been parroting the foolishness they received from their parents, who received it from their parents, and so on back up the family tree. But that does not excuse their stupidity. There have been examples throughout U.S. history of individuals who were born and raised in areas and families of strong white supremacist convictions who overcame that apparent disadvantage by recognizing and accepting the truth about human equality and choosing truth over prejudice. There are even individuals who were born into slave holding families and attended churches that taught that blacks were created by God to be in a condition of servitude to the whites who overcame that by embracing the truth of human equality. Sarah and Angelina Grimké would be two great examples but there are many others.

Sadly, the church does bear some responsibility for the racist notions of many white supremacists. Many Christian schools, especially in the American south, were birthed as part of the “white flight” movement after racial integration became the law. Many white churches in the south would not allow blacks to attend their services much less become members. Interracial marriage was forbidden in many churches–and in some it still is. Bob Jones University, in South Carolina, lost its non-profit status for a while over its refusal to give up its ban on interracial dating, claiming the Bible supported their position. I was present in a Southern Baptist church some twelve years ago when the church leadership announced one Sunday from the pulpit that after prayerful consideration their decision was that the church’s pastor had not done anything biblically wrong by officiating an interracial wedding. It blew my mind that that was still an issue in twenty-first century America. I was relieved that they reached the correct decision, but it should never even have been a question. There is simply no way to accurately interpret the Bible and come to any position other than full human equality regardless of race.

I have disagreed with some of what she has written since, but Dr. Christena Cleveland’s 2013 book Disunity in Christ provides excellent insight into why so many Christians continue to struggle with fully embracing equality in action even when they want to do so and can articulate those convictions verbally. She expresses what needs to happen succinctly on page 61 of her book when she writes this:

We must relentlessly attack inaccurate perceptions in our everyday interactions, weekly sermons, denominational meetings and dinner table conversations. Now that we are aware that categorizing is polluting our perceptions of other groups in the body of Christ, we must do the work of purifying our perceptions. What we need to do is really quite simple: rather than continuing on as cognitive misers who lazily rely on inaccurate categories to perceive others, we need to engage in what my friend Reverend Jim Caldwell calls cognitive generosity. We need to turn off autopilot and take time to honestly examine our polluted perceptions.

Parents, extended family members and communities bear responsibility for perpetuating the notion of racial supremacy or inferiority as well. We know this is true because racism and hatred are not naturally present–even in a world marred by the total depravity of man due to original sin. Jimmy Fallon started The Tonight Show on January 14 by speaking out against hatred and the nonsense in Charlottesville. In his comments he mentioned his 2 and 4 year-old daughters and said, “They don’t know what hate is. They go to the playground and they have friends of all races and backgrounds. They just play and they laugh and they have fun.” I have seen that childlike innocence of race demonstrated in my own daughter. My brother and his wife have four adopted children. All but one of them are of different racial backgrounds than my brother and his wife and that difference is immediately noticeable due to their varying skin tones. When my daughter was still a toddler they adopted their fourth child and she is only one who looks at all like she could actually be their child. My daughter was old enough to understand that the necessary steps and time had not occurred for this new cousin to have joined the family through natural means. As we explained that she was adopted just like the other three children in their family my daughter expressed shock that the three others were not the natural children of my brother and his wife. The varying skin tones meant nothing at all to her!

This is why I call racism and notions of racial supremacy intentional idiocy. It takes intentionality to accept that one race is superior to another. It takes intentionality to teach that to children. It takes intentionality to continue accepting it even in the face of reality and mature understanding that all humans truly are created equal. It takes a conscious commitment to and genuine intentionality to look at yourself in the mirror every morning and think that you are better than someone else simply because your skin color is different than theirs, to think that you deserve more or better than someone else simply because of your race. Doing that for a while, based on your upbringing and your surroundings, may be excusable. Continuing to do it when you’re old enough to know better makes you an intentional idiot.

The same day that Jimmy Fallon began his show by addressing the Charlottesville mess, an editorial by Cal Thomas appeared in The Washington Times. Thomas makes a number of excellent observations in the piece, but one of the most significant is his reminder that there is no such thing as a supreme race precisely because there is no such thing as racial purity. Thomas writes, “Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard professor, discovered in ‘Finding Your Roots,’ his PBS series on race in America, that there are no purebred humans. Mr. Gates himself discovered through a DNA test that he is descended from an Irish immigrant and a slave.”

The idea that there is no such thing as racial purity assumes, of course, that there is such a thing as race. A truly biblical worldview however goes even further and negates the notion of race completely. Are there various skin tones? Of course. But there is only one race and that is this: human. Answers in Genesis, the apologetics ministry that is most well known for its Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, has long taught that there is no such thing as race. Search “racism” on the AIG web site and you will find a page under their worldview section that beings like this:

The term race is often used to classify people based almost solely on physical characteristics. According to evolutionary ideas, these so-called races descended from different ancestors separated by location and time. However, based on biblical history, the term race must be incorrect. We are all one race (“one blood” in Acts 17:26), the human race.

It’s not just “black” and “white.” A person’s skin shade (what is on the outside) should in no way invoke any sort of prejudice or racist comments. What a difference we would see in our world if people reacted in accord with biblical principles, understanding all humans are equal before God, and all are sinners in need of salvation.

Anyone claiming to believe the Bible has to acknowledge that the Bible teaches several truths that fundamentally destroy any notion of race, let alone racial superiority. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 5:1 says, “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.” God made man–and woman–in His own image. That word man is all-inclusive. Every human being is created in the image of God. Every human being is descended from Adam and Eve, the first man and first woman. Every woman being is also descended from Noah, since only Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives survived the destruction of the earth by flood as described in Genesis 6-9. The Bible makes it clear that God does not show partiality and that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay the penalty for human sin because He “so loved the world” (John 3:16), a statement which omits any reference to race. Jesus repeatedly commanded that those who follow Him are to love one another, that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. James condemning the showing of any partiality. There is simply no biblical justification for racism or attitudes of supremacy.

But what about Charlottesville specifically? CBS News posted a photographic story on line that included some fifty-five images and paragraph-length commentary or reporting on each one. The title of the story is “White supremacist rallies in Va. lead to violence.” The first picture and caption stated that the rally was planned by white supremacists and “advertised as ‘Unite the Right.'” Whether “the Right” was intended to refer to the political right or to the notion of right as opposed to wrong, it was an inaccurate label on both counts. As demonstrated here already racism and ideas of supremacy are never right. And there is no evidence that most individuals who identify with the right wing of the political spectrum are racists. That some claim that does not make it so for all. Cal Thomas said that David Duke claiming that he voted for Donald Trump does not make Trump a racist or the KKK representative of Trump’s positions or goals for America. “Mr. Duke claimed in Charlottesville that whites elected Mr. Trump,” Thomas wrote. “Sufficient numbers of white voters also elected Barack Obama — twice — so what’s his point?”

The CBS story reported, on the next slide, that in July “members of the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated in Charlottesville against the planned removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, and called for the protection of Southern Confederate monuments,” a demonstration that came “[a]mid heightened community outcries for the removal of monuments honoring Confederate heroes.” Removing those monuments is another example of stupidity but advocating their removal–or even removing them legally–is no justification for claims of white supremacy.

The Civil War is an important part of American history and there is absolutely nothing to gain by trying to erase all images or references or even monuments to it from our land. According to a Washington Times article published just today, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker “plans to introduce legislation that calls for the removal of Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol building.” The Capitol includes statues of both Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. There are, according to the Architect of the Capitol, “three times as many statues of Confederate soldiers and politicians as there are statues of black people in the entire Capitol complex.” Is that sad? Of course. But there are ways to fix that problem without eliminating the Confederate statutes. And the statues in Statuary Hall were placed there by the action of each state legislature (each state gets two), so it would make far more sense for state legislatures to reconsider whom they want representing their state in the Capitol than it would for Senator Booker to propose the removal by congressional action. Most Americans do not know who the Confederates in Statuary Hall are and would not recognize their names or historical significance even if they did. (Think I’m wrong? Without using Google or any other resource, tell me who Edward Douglass White, James Zachariah George, Uriah Milton Rose or Zebulon Baird Vance were, for example). The collection of one hundred statutes was not completed until 2005 when New Mexico finally sent its second statue. Seven states have replaced one of their first two since Congress authorized replacements in 2000, so if a state–or the people of a state–want to put a different individual in the collection to represent them let them do so. For Cory Booker or anyone else, however, to say that they have to do so is dictatorial and a clear violation of free speech and other constitutional rights. Alabama replaced Jabez Curry, who was a Confederate politician, in 2009. Florida approved replacing Edmund Kirby Smith, a Confederate, in 2016. So let the process run its course! (The collection, by the way, only includes nine women and a handful of Native Americans, so there are a number of other underrepresented groups as well).

According to CBS, the white supremacist protesters marching into the University of Virginia campus were shouting “Blood and soil”, a phrase used by Nazis. Demonstrators were giving “Nazi salutes and chant[ing] ‘You will not replace us’ (and alternately, ‘Jews will not replace us’).” One man said he was participating in the march because, “‘Our country has been usurped by a foreign tribe, called the Jews. We’re tired of it.'” Business Insider reported that on Monday, August 14,

“Vice News Tonight” published a chilling 22-minute documentary featuring interviews with several of the white nationalists who helped lead the “Unite the Right” rally that devolved into violence and chaos in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.

Most prominently featured throughout the episode is Christopher Cantwell, a white supremacist who provided an in-depth description of his beliefs and his movement’s goals at the rally to Vice correspondent Elle Reeves.

Cantwell offered racist critiques of black and Jewish people, confirmed that his movement was violent, and defended the killing of Heather Heyer — the 32-year-old woman fatally struck on Saturday by a driver identified as a white supremacist — as “justified.”

Later in the article Cantwell was quoted as saying that he wanted a president far more racist than Donald Trump, whose daughter Ivanka is married to a Jew, and that “a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here.” He went on to say,

This is part of the reason that we want an ethno-state. The blacks are killing each other in staggering numbers from coast to coast — we don’t really want a part of that anymore, and so the fact that they resist us when we say we want a homeland is not shocking to me. These people want violence, and the right is just meeting a market demand.

Cantwell’s statements are disgusting. They may even be construed as illegal and treasonous. The right to free speech and opinion must be protected. We cannot make being an idiot a crime. But actions can become crimes. Illegal marches and protests, inciting others to violence and destruction of public property are all crimes, not to mention actual violence, and they should be treated as such. Anyone who broke the law at the Charlottesville rally should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Anyone who broke the law by yanking down a Confederate statue Durham, North Carolina should also be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. One good thing about modern technology like ubiquitous cell phone cameras and social media networks is that someone is almost always filming this nonsense–usually the idiots themselves–and posting it for all the world to see. Arrests and convictions should be rather simple.

There are very few things that will truly unite Americans anymore. Politics will never do it. Sports won’t. Religion will not. But the uncompromising and determined opposition of racial hatred and violence should unite us all. There is simply no place for it in this country. We should be just as united against the idiocy of Charlottesville as we were at the attacks of 9/11. The 9/11 attacks were attacks against the United States of America, against what we are, what we stand for and what we believe. The Charlottesville rally was no less such an attack.

 

 

August 7, 2017

There’s no such thing as free college

I have seen a few comments in social media over the past few days celebrating Rhode Island’s decision to offer “free college.” There is of course a little more to it than that, but the recent action by the Rhode Island legislature, signed by the governor, bears examination.

Last Thursday the Rhode Island legislature approved the Promise Scholarship, which will cover the cost of tuition and fees at the Community College of Rhode Island for new students starting this fall. The tuition and fees will be covered regardless of their income. According to CNN, it is a four-year pilot program for which the legislature appropriated, as part of the state’s budget, $2.8 million for the first year.

Community College of Rhode Island has some 15,000 students, but most of them will not be eligible for the Promise Scholarship because they are part-time students or are not recent high school graduates. The CNN report indicates that the college “expects an uptick in enrollment of first-time students next year by at least 200 because of the program. It estimates that between 1,200 and 1,300 students will receive the scholarship this fall.”

Full-time tuition for Rhode Island residents is currently $2,074 per semester. The Promise Scholarship will also cover a per-semester fee of $208 per student.

This all sounds very exciting, of course, especially to those who like the idea of free college education. But, just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, there is no such thing as free college. The Community College of Rhode Island will continue to receive the same $2,074 per student per semester (plus the $208 fee) I assure you–the money will just come from somewhere else. Specifically, it will be included in the state budget, paid for out of state coffers. But where does the state get its money? From taxes, of course, paid by the residents of Rhode Island.

Rhode Island is not the first state to offer “free” college education. It is, in fact, the fourth. The first three are New York, Oregon and Tennessee. It is worth noting, then, that according to the Tax Foundation’s rating of the top marginal individual income tax rates as of June 1, 2017 only California and Maine have a higher rate than Oregon, where the rate is 9.9%. New York is among the highest rates as well, at 8.82%. (Minnesota, Vermont, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. fall between Oregon and New York though, other than Minnesota at 9.85% those states are all between 8.82 and 8.97%).

What about Tennessee? It’s income tax rate is a middle-of-the-road 5.0%. Nine states have a lower rate, besides the seven states that have no state income tax. But Tennessee actually only taxes interest and dividends income, meaning it would effectively be lower than most of those nine states with lower rates. So how does Tennessee pull off its free college program? It simply shifts the tax burden. According to the Tax Foundation, only Louisiana has a higher sales tax than Tennessee (9.98% to 9.46%).

As of July, Rhode Island’s state income tax rate was only 5.99%–but its sales tax rate was 7.0%, making it 21st in the nation. Keep an eye on tax rates in Rhode Island over the next four years of this program because it seems likely that one or both rates will increase. In Oregon, for example, despite its high income tax rate and low rate of purchasing power (it ranked 33rd in 2015 in the Tax Foundation’s comparison of regional price parities, examining the real value of $100), their free tuition program is already being altered. When it launched in 2016 only recent high school graduates were eligible. But, the state budget suffered a shortfall, and starting this year students from high-income families are not eligible, CNN reported. New York has similar restrictions; its program starts this year but it excludes students from families earning $125,000 per year or more. That does not seem particularly burdensome probably, to expect a family earning $125,000 to be able to afford college tuition, but New York ranks 49th in real purchasing power; only Hawaii is worse. The real value of $100 in Rhode Island is $101.32. In Oregon it is $100.81. In New York it is only $86.73. The likely increase in Rhode Island taxes is further supported by the fact that, according to Ballotpedia, Rhode Island, in fiscal year 2016 (before the implementation of the Promise Scholarship), had higher per-capita spending that Oregon for total state expenditures. Additionally, the Pew Charitable Trust report on August 4, 2017 entitled “Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis” indicates that Oregon experienced an increase in tax revenue from FY 2016 to 2017–while Rhode Island experienced a decrease. (Interestingly, New York and Tennessee also experienced declines–leaving Oregon as the only state with a “free college” program that experienced an increase in tax revenue over the past year). If Oregon cannot continue its program then, why would Rhode Island think it can? The Pew report also ranked states’ rainy day funds, or financial reserves. According to the report, the “total balances in states’ general fund budgets—including rainy day funds—could run government operations for a median of 36.2 days” as of the end of FY 2016. Rhode Island fell just above that median, at 37 days. New York (47.9 days) and Tennessee (56.5 days) were well above the median.

One good thing about the Rhode Island scholarship is that it does have a string attached: according to The Hill, “Upon receiving the scholarship, students must also agree to stay and work in Rhode Island for as many years as they received tuition.”

It is telling that the state legislature did not go as far as Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo wanted it to go; she had favored covering community college tuition as well as covering two years of schooling at Rhode Island’s two public four-year colleges. Their refusal to do so shows at least some fiscal restraint among the legislature. Only time will tell, of course, how Rhode Island’s Promise Scholarship turns out. But even if it works (a possibility on which, I confess, I am skeptical) do not forget–neither lunches nor college educations are ever really free.

July 12, 2017

God-Given Nervousness

No one that I know enjoys getting nervous. In fact, most people do their best to avoid situations that they know will make them nervous. But I have come to the conclusion that being nervous is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think sometimes it is a God-given thing.

For example, being nervous is one of the biggest reasons so many Christians are reluctant to share the gospel with others. They are not sure they will say the right thing or know all of the answers to questions they may be asked.

Ken Currie wrote the following:

For the time being, it seems the greatest threat to gospel-telling in such a society [as ours] is not that we will be hauled before the city council, beaten, and have our property taken away. What we are really dealing with is some awkwardness.

Awkwardness is perhaps the biggest threat to evangelism for far too many of us.

I’ve done a little research and can confirm to you that there is not one documented case of someone dying, or even being severely injured, by awkwardness. Not one.

Awkwardness is one way of putting it. Nervousness might be another, because I think Currie’s awkwardness and my nervousness are referring to the same thing. We might be awkward and nervous because we don’t feel like we are ready to do a good job of sharing the gospel or we might be awkward and nervous because we aren’t sure how someone will react when we share the gospel and we don’t want them to laugh at us, shun us or whatever. Currie also said this:

God gives most of us this awareness of awkwardness so that we would never, not for a second, trust in or magnify ourselves and drift away from the magnificence of the gospel. This awareness in evangelism makes the gospel tangible. It means I need the gospel right now myself. Not only does my hearer need Jesus at this moment, but so do I!

Just last week I was having a conversation with a friend about a significant change about to take place in her life and even though she is at peace about it being how the Lord is leading her, she is, she said, getting more nervous by the day. And here’s what I told her: I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing to be nervous, because being nervous means that I realize I am not in control and I cannot make something successful by myself. God is in control and He is the only one who can determine success or “failure” in the end. As followers of Christ ours is not to determine the likelihood of success before we follow God’s leading. Our responsibility is to obey and let Him handle the outcome.

I think nervousness is normal when we are anticipating the unknown or the unfamiliar, when we are knowingly going outside of our comfort zone. Just don’t let yourself be overtaken by the nervousness! We must remember to use the nervousness as a reminder to put our trust in God and to meditate on His Word.

There is a difference between being nervous and being anxious or worrying about something. Scripture tells us worry and anxiety are not productive and indicate a lack of trust in God, but I do not know anywhere in the Bible that it says we are not to be nervous. Here is a quote from Charles Stanley that you may find encouraging: “As you walk through the valley of the unknown, you will find the footprints of Jesus both in front of you and beside you.”

Nervousness could be a sign that you need to carefully evaluate what you are about to do or thinking about doing in order to be sure that it is indeed how God is leading. But once you are sure it is, let the nervousness lead you to the Lord. Respond to that nervousness by leaning on His everlasting arms. In the words of Proverbs 3:5b, “trust the Lord completely; don’t ever trust yourself” (The Living Bible).

June 16, 2017

Respecting Religion

You have likely heard about, read about, and even watched or read the exchange that took place on June 7 between Senator Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, during Vought’s confirmation hearing. There has been much said and written about the ridiculousness of Sanders’ questioning–not to mention the unconstitutionality of it–from all ends of the political spectrum, and I will link a few examples here if you would like to read them for yourself. Aaron Earls blogged about it on The Wardrobe Door, clearly making the point that “all roads lead to exclusion,” and that the opinions of Senator Sanders (and Senator Chris Van Hollen, who expressed an inclusivist view of Christianity during the hearing) are perhaps even more intolerant than Vought’s view that led to the questioning. Others on the conservative end of the political (and religious) spectrum made equally eloquent and passionate arguments against Sanders’ questioning.

Interestingly, those calling out Sanders’ intolerance were not confined to the usual ranks though. Emma Green, writing for The Atlantic, wrote, “It was a remarkable moment: a Democratic senator lecturing a nominee for public office on the correct interpretation of Christianity in a confirmation hearing putatively about the Office of Management and Budget.” She went on to state, “It’s one thing to take issue with bigotry. It’s another to try to exclude people from office based on their theological convictions. … This is the danger of relying on religion as a threshold test for public service, the kind of test America’s founders were guarding against when they drafted Article VI.” She concluded her piece by articulating exactly what so many on the other end of the spectrum have been saying about “tolerance” for years: “As the demands for tolerance in America become greater, the bounds of acceptance can also become tighter. Ironically, that pits acceptance of religious diversity against the freedom of individual conscience.”

Even Camila Domonoske, writing for NPR, addressed Sanders’ line of questioning. She provided a reasonable and balanced look at the issue from both sides, citing spokespeople for Sanders, legal experts, Muslim leaders and Russell Moore , president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. She correctly reported that views on hell differ, even among Christians: “Different Christian sects, and individuals, have varying interpretations of damnation. The traditionalist view is that eternal suffering awaits all who do not accept Christ; on the other end of the spectrum is the universalist belief that everyone will be saved. And then there are disagreements about what hell actually is.” But the very title of Domonoske’s piece asks the question that ultimately needs to be addressed in light of the Sanders-Vought exchange: “Is it hateful to believe in hell?” (And even if one feels that it is, is such a belief a legitimate subject of questioning in a political confirmation hearing and/or a legitimate reason to oppose or restrict someone from political office?)

I have linked only three examples here and there are many, many more, from all sides, so feel free to find and read those to your heart’s content. It will not surprise anyone who has read the blog with any regularity to know that I found Sanders’ questioning to be out of line and unconstitutional. But I actually want to take a different perspective on the entire exchange, looking instead at Vought’s responses to Sanders. I do not want to throw Vought under the proverbial bus, as he was no doubt surprised by the vehemence of Sanders’ questioning, but he seemed to be uncertain in his responses, unwilling to double down on what he had written and take a firm and unequivocal stance on biblical Christianity. In short, he seemed caught off guard, unprepared to give a defense for his faith.

The apostle Peter addresses the importance of enduring suffering for righteousness sake and being prepared to offer a defense for faith in 1 Peter 3:13-17:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Vought was certainly put in a position by Sanders to suffer for righteousness’ sake. He was, quite literally, asked for the reason for the hope that is within him, and he was indeed slandered and reviled during the exchange. Matthew Poole, in his commentary, said of verse 15, “either that hath authority to examine you, and take an account of your religion; or, that asks with modesty, and a desire to be satisfied, and learn of you.” Sanders certainly fell into the first category.

Again, it is impossible for me or anyone else to say what we might have done were we in Vought’s seat, so I do not wish for this to be seen as an attack on him. But I do wish it to be seen as an encouragement for all of us who claim the name of Christ and seek to be faithful to biblical Christianity. Should we ever find ourselves in a similar situation, will we be prepared to respond? Will we have a defense for our faith, for the hope that is within us, when we are literally in the spotlight? Russell Vought had an opportunity that very few people ever have had or will have, I suspect. He was seated before United States senators, with the opportunity to speak God’s Truth into the congressional record, not to mention to the ears of elected officials and to millions of people across the country and around the world.

Using the transcription of the exchange between Sanders and Vought provided by David French of National Review, I want to imagine what Vought’s answers could have looked like. I am giving Sanders’ questions/comments in blue, Vought’s real answers italicized in brackets and what I would like to imagine could have been said instead in more faithful adherence to Peter’s exhortation thereafter in orange.

Sanders: Let me get to this issue that has bothered me and bothered many other people. And that is in the piece that I referred to that you wrote for the publication called Resurgent. You wrote, “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned.” Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?

[Vought: Absolutely not, Senator. I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith. That post, as I stated in the questionnaire to this committee, was to defend my alma mater, Wheaton College, a Christian school that has a statement of faith that includes the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation, and . . .]

Absolutely not, Senator. Islamophobia is a fear or hatred of Muslims and I neither fear nor hate Muslims. I am a Christian and I believe the Bible–both Old and New Testaments–which clearly states that the only way to know God is through acceptance of His Son Jesus Christ as Savior.

Sanders: I apologize. Forgive me, we just don’t have a lot of time. Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned? Is that your view?

[Vought: Again, Senator, I’m a Christian, and I wrote that piece in accordance with the statement of faith at Wheaton College.]

The context of my statement in Resurgent was dealing with the Muslim religion because it dealt with a position taken by a professor at Wheaton College regarding the Muslim religion. But in reality I believe that all people who have not accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, regardless of their religion or their rejection of all religion, stand condemned. I believe that because that is what the Bible says. while there are others, John 3:18 would be perhaps the best example. It says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” So, in keeping with my Christian faith, I believe that many people stand condemned.

Sanders: I understand that. I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America. Maybe a couple million. Are you suggesting that all those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?

[Vought: Senator, I’m a Christian . . .]

Sanders (shouting): I understand you are a Christian, but this country are made of people who are not just — I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?

[Vought: Thank you for probing on that question. As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that as a Christian that’s how I should treat all individuals . . .]

Yes, Senator, I do believe that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned because that is what the Bible says.

Sanders: You think your statement that you put into that publication, they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned, do you think that’s respectful of other religions?

[Vought: Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly in regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.]

I am not sure if that statement is respectful of other religions or not, Senator. To be honest I am not certain it was designed or intended to be respectful of other religions. That statement was made specifically to highlight the very clear, very important differences that exist between biblical Christianity and Islam. The Christian faith is, necessarily, narrow-minded and exclusive. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” I was articulating and defending that element of my faith, that portion of what the Bible says.

I think, however, that you are missing an important point, sir. I absolutely respect the right of every person to choose his or religion, or to choose no religion. I believe the Constitution of the United States explicitly grants a freedom of religion to everyone in this country. That means that I accept, respect–and would defend–the right of Muslims or Hindus or Jews or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons or Catholics or anyone else to believe, or not believe, as they so choose whether or not I agree with their religion. So in that regard I have complete and total respect for other religions.

But if by respecting other religions you mean that I have to agree with what they believe or keep quiet about areas in which my faith differs from theirs then I guess I would have to say no, I do not respect–by that definition–other religions. But given the incredible freedom of religion that we hold so dear in this country, Senator Sanders, I cannot imagine that is possibly what you meant.

Sanders: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.

To which I would say, if I might Mr. Chairman, that the freedom to believe as we see fit and to speak as we wish–even about those differing and contradictory beliefs–is precisely what this country is supposed to be about.

 

June 7, 2017

Let’s Keep “Parents” Around

Last August Joanna Schimizzi, a National Board Certified Teacher, wrote a blog for the “The Standard – The Official Blog of the National Board.” The blog post’s title was “Ban the word ‘Parents’.” Here’s how she started:

This school year, I want to challenge you to ban certain words from your vernacular. We each have our own set of words and phrases that are taboo in our classroom, like “stupid” or “I can’t”, but this year I want to challenge you to stop using the word “parents”.

What was the reason for this peculiar notion? Schimizzi wanted to challenge teachers “to realize that many of our students live in settings where ‘parents’ are not the only figures who are important to their success.”

That’s true of course. Dictionary.come defines “parent” as a father or mother or a protector or guardian. We usually have the former in mind when we think or say “parent” I am sure, and for years it has been common practice for many forms and communications to utilize “parent or guardian” due to the fact that so many children do not receive their primary care from a biological parent. The reality, however, is that there are more children living with two biological parents than most of us would guess. Last November 17 the U.S. Census Bureau, in Release Number: CB16-192, reported, “The majority of America’s 73.7 million children under age 18 live in families with two parents (69 percent), according to new statistics released today from the U.S. Census Bureau. This is compared to other types of living arrangements, such as living with grandparents or having a single parent.” According to that same report only 4% of U.S. children do not live with any parent.

Schimizzi said her position toward the word “parent” came when she was talking to a guidance counselor at her school about the low number of responses she received on a Parent Survey she sent home with students at the beginning of the year. “Her support helped me realize that many of my questions had implicit bias that placed value on certain experiences not applicable to all families,” Schimizzi wrote. “And one of her best suggestions was to change ‘Parent Survey’ to ‘Family Survey.'”

Of course family used to mean parents and the children they cared for. In fact, the leading portion of Dictionary.com’s definition of the word still says, “a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.” It becomes immediately clear therefore that if Schmizzi and her guidance counselor colleague felt that “Family” would be more appropriate to the realities of students than “Parent” that they must both have agreed, whether consciously or not, that “family” no longer means what it used to mean. Therein lies a huge part of why this recommendation to abolish “parents” is so dangerous–but I will get back to that.

Continuing in her blog, Schimizzi mentioned Al Trautwig’s statement during the Olympics that gymnast Simone Biles “was raised by her grandfather and his wife and she calls them mom and dad.” Biles was, in fact, adopted by her grandparents when she was just a toddler. But when Trautwig was challenged on Twitter about his statement he retorted, “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.” After being ordered by NBC to apologize, according to The Associated Press, Trautwig issues a statement that said, in part, “To set the record straight, Ron and Nellie are Simone’s parents.”

That situation, however, is a great example of why the word “parent” is so important–not grounds for banning the word. I think many people have long understood that there is an incredible difference between procreating and parenting. Whether by conscious choice to give up or abandon a child, by some kind of incapacitation or even by death, not everyone who contributes to the biological act of childbirth can or will fulfill the role of parent. The willingness of other people to step in and fill that role is to be celebrated and commended–and there is absolutely no need to differentiate their role by calling them anything other than parents. This is true when those voluntary parents are related to the child by blood, such as Biles’ grandparents, as well as when there is no genetic connection whatsoever.

Schimizzi wrote that when she distributes her now-revised survey she will “encourage… students to deliver it to whoever plays the biggest role in supporting them. It’s an interesting experience to watch students think about who in their lives offers them the most academic support.” That is a valid point and it is entirely possible (and sadly, in some instances, probable) that a child will receive greater support from someone other than their parent. That needs to be recognized as well but it is not grounds for abolishing the term “parent”–not by a long shot. Schimizzi ended her post by sharing examples from three classroom teachers for improving family engagement. All three of the ideas have merit but not one of them has anything to do with the definition or role of “parent.” Instead, they focus on language barriers, a parent’s own experience as a student and the failure of parents to do anything with information they receive from the school. Effective educators will look for ways to overcome each of those obstacles. Doing so, however, does not require banning a word.

Banning words is a big deal because words have meanings. We like to pretend they do not sometimes–especially when the word gets in the way of what we want to do–but that does not change the reality that they do have actual meanings. Homosexual activists did not like the idea that “marriage” was not permitted for homosexuals because it was restricted to a man and a woman. So what did they do? Get the courts to extra-legally change the definition. (Somehow extra-legal sounds less offensive than illegal, doesn’t it? The reality is they are the same thing. This is an example of how we also choose words carefully to make something sound other-than what it really is–but this does not change reality either). Once marriage was redefined to include homosexual unions the law began further redefinition. Just a few months ago, in March, a New York court granted three-way custody to what many have called a “throuple.” Slate‘s story on the ruling was headlined, “New York Court Affirms Poly Parenthood with Three-Way Custody Ruling.” Just that headline illustrates the point I am making; whoever heard of “poly parenthood”?

Interestingly, the same Slate article–which was very supportive of the decision, recognized that the ruling was simply a logical outgrowth of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The victory of Dawn Marano and her child could set solid legal precedent for future custody claims of parents in queer or polyamorous families, a necessary next step in a vision of parenthood and child-rearing that extends beyond the boundaries of monogamous marriage. Funnily enough, this is the exact future predicted by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent on the 2015 equal-marriage ruling Obergefell v. Hodges. While arguing that the slippery slope of same-sex marriage could lead to the total breakdown of social norms and family structures, he cited the important legal-theory volume “Married Lesbian Throuple Expecting First Child,” a New York Post article from 2014.

We cannot play fast and loose with our words. Words matter precisely because they mean something. Banning the word will not change that reality. The Supreme Court has demonstrated that it can effectively change the definition of a word, and the New York court has proven that it can follow that example by changing the legal basis of custody, but that is why we must be so diligent to protect the words and definitions that we have in place. When we carelessly cast them aside we are opening the door for something else to take their place–and we may have no idea what that something else will be.

Of course we will find out eventually. Or our children will. I am reminded of this quote from Ravi Zacharias: “Our society is walking through a maze of cultural land mines and the heaviest price is exacted as we send our children on ahead.”

May 30, 2017

Gender Identity Anarchy

The January 2017 issue of National Geographic was “the Gender Issue.” The cover featured the title “Special Issue: Gender Revolution” over the picture of Avery Jackson, a transgender girl from Missouri who does yet appear to have reached teenage years. The issue’s main story was titled “Rethinking Gender” and it led with a page-and-a-half photo of twins Caleb and Emmie Smith. Emmie said, “When we were 12, I didn’t feel like a boy, but I didn’t know it was possible to be a girl.” She came out as transgender at 17 and has now undergone gender-confirmation surgery. But, she says, “I was no less of a woman before it, and I’m no more of one today.”

In other words, Emmie is saying that her gender is really all about how she feels about herself, what she thinks and how she chooses to identify. If having surgery did not make her more female then it must be the case that the surgery was purely for the purposes of providing her a body—an external appearance—to match the way she thinks and feels inside. This is a recurring factor in the entire transgender debacle. Not to be outdone by National Geographic, TIME used the cover of its March 27, 2017 issue to focus on the gender issue. The cover headline reads, “Beyond He or She” over a picture of Marie, an individual who appears to be a girl but, according to the caption, “identifies as queer and gender nonconforming.”

The feature story inside the magazine is titled “Infinite Identities,” and it quotes 18-year-old Rowan Little, who identifies as gender fluid, as saying, “Some days I feel like my gender could be like what I was assigned at birth, but there are some days when I feel the opposite way.” There is that issue of “feelings” again. Later, the article quotes Kyle Scotten, who identifies as a gay man, as saying that he sees sexuality as a spectrum. “I totally believe there are 100, 200 shades in the middle,” Scotten said, and even if he does not understand all of the nuances, “it makes sense to them in their own head and that’s enough.”

Really? If it is enough for something to make sense to someone in their own head then we are all in trouble. That is the very basis of anarchy—people being able to do whatever they want without rule, order or authority, based solely on what makes sense or feels good to them. In fact, Will Durant said, “As soon as liberty is complete it dies in anarchy.” The argument being made by many these days is that individuals have the liberty to decide for themselves what gender they will identify as—even if that changes from day to day. And when they decide, everyone else is supposed to accept it and accommodate it, even to the point of using their preferred pronouns lest we offend them by referring to them in a manner other than that which they prefer. Is it not interesting that their liberty then becomes constraining on the rest of us? English philosopher Jeremy Bentham knew that of which he spoke then, when he said, “Tyranny and anarchy are never far apart.” The anarchy of self-identification, and its resulting preferences and prescriptions, shall soon be the tyranny by which we shall all be ruled.

Further evidence of this liberty-to-anarchy progression comes later in the TIME article. It references a 2016 survey in which respondents were asked to provide the term that most accurately fit their gender—which produced more than 500 unique responses. Ritch Savin-Williams, professor emeritus at Cornell, said of the pure volume of labels being used, “It says, ‘Your terms do not reflect my reality or the reality of my friends.’” How many of us have not, at least one time or another, wished we could simply define our own reality? If we could, we would either be in a state of total anarchy or a state of total insanity, of course, because defining our own reality is simply not possible. Reality is, by definition, real.

Dictionary.com defines “reality” as “the state or quality of being real; something that is real; something that exists independently of ideas concerning it; something that constitutes a real or actual thing, as distinguished from something that is merely apparent.” Those definitions, of course, eliminate the possibility of anyone defining their own reality. Too, we recognize in almost every other area of life that we do not get to define our own reality. I would like to be a professional baseball player but I cannot simply say that is my reality, show up on the field and be allowed to play—or to collect a really big pay check. Try defining your own reality for your employer next time you are asked to do something at work. Even better, behold your own reaction when your next paycheck is a miniscule percentage of that which you expected (and earned) and when you ask the boss about it he says the paycheck you were given reflects his reality.

The TIME article ends with a perfect concluding statement to wrap up this absurdity, quoting Grace Mason, the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance in her high school. “I’d rather be who I am and be authentically me than try to fit in one of those crappy little boxes. I have a great box that I have made for myself.”

Of course all the rest of us have to accept and embrace that box—and everyone else’s boxes too—or else we will be labeled intolerant (at best).

The National Geographic story leads with a description of E, a 14-year-old girl who feels more like a boy. E still uses her birth name (choosing to go by E for the story) and still prefers the pronoun “she.” E does not think “transgender” fits her gender identity and she does not feel like she was born in the wrong body. “I just think I need to make alterations in the body I have, to make it feel like the body I need it to be,” she said. And what might that be exactly? Well, “a body that doesn’t menstruate and has no breasts, with more defined facial contours and ‘a ginger beard.’”

The article goes on to state that the XX and XY chromosomes that determine a baby’s sex do not always tell “the whole story.” Interestingly, though, the article says that that is true “on occasion.” It does not state how rare that occasion is, but is does provide an example of an individual with CAIS, complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, and describes a “small group of children born in the Dominican Republic with an enzyme deficiency” that causes genitalia to appear female at birth and male once puberty sets in. These are unusual situations to be sure, but there are, as the article states, occasional and small in number.

Also small in number are the individuals involved in scientific studies purporting to indicate that the brains of transgender individuals may be more like the brains of their self-identified gender than their biological gender. According to the article, some such studies include “as few as half a dozen transgender individuals.” That is an incredibly small number and rarely if ever would such a finite sample be considered sufficient for scientific conclusions. The article highlights another problem as well—that these studies sometimes include individuals already taking hormones for the opposite gender, “meaning that observed brain differences might be the result of, rather than the explanation for, a subject’s transgender identity.”

More interesting still though is that the article goes on to state that there has been a “robust” finding that there is a connection between gender nonconformity and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The article cites a pediatric neuropsychologist at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C. indicating that “children and adolescents on the autism spectrum are seven times more likely than other young people to be gender nonconforming. And, conversely, children and adolescents at gender clinics are six to 15 times more likely than other young people to have ASD.”

The reason this connection between gender nonconformity and ASD is so interesting is that ASD is—as its name states—a disorder. It is a spectrum, yes, because it includes a range of symptoms but and disabilities, but ASD is the catch-all label for an expansive range of developmental disorders. Might gender nonconformity be a disorder then? Indeed it is, though I doubt you will see National Geographic or TIME or any other mainstream publication state that anytime soon.

The National Geographic article includes a photo of a child named Henry, along with a caption stating that Henry considers himself to be “gender creative” and, at the age of six, “he is already very sure of who he is.” That, of course, is nonsense, as no six-year-old is very sure of much of anything, much less anything that could potentially have life-altering ramifications.  WORLD magazine ran a rebuttal of sorts to the National Geographic and TIME features with its April 15, 2017 issue. Its cover featured a boy looking into a mirror and seeing a girl, which the headline “Forgotten Victims.” Not surprisingly that feature article took a different approach to the story than the other two. In fact, that article actually cited the six year old quoted in National Geographic that I led this paragraph with, along with a response from Michelle Cretella, president of the American College of Pediatricians. “You don’t treat medical confusion by putting people, especially children, on toxic hormones and cutting off healthy body parts,” Cretella said. “Just because a person thinks and feels something does not make it true.”

In fact, the Bible makes it clear that doing what one thinks and feels, when not consistent with Scripture, is not only not true but is quite dangerous. Both Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 state that the way that seems right to a man will end in death. No doubt all of this gender nonconformity seems right to the people who are creating these great boxes for themselves. Proverbs 12:15a says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.” Proverbs 21:2 says that every man’s way is right in his own eyes.

By the way, there is a term for everyone doing what is right in their own eyes. It is anarchy.

March 21, 2017

March Movie Madness

There has been plenty of attention paid to Disney’s release of a live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, the well-known “tale as old as time” in which peasant girl Belle falls in love with a beast that was in fact a man, transformed to a beast as a result of a spell cast on him due to his own unkindness. The movie is the latest in Disney’s recent line of live adaptations of its classic animated films, this one the update to 1991’s smash version of the same name.

Much of the attention this movie has been receiving, however, is due to the inclusion of a gay character in the live-action version, Gaston’s doltish sidekick LeFou. Social media has been abuzz with articles calling out Disney for its decision to include what TIME repeatedly reported as Disney’s first gay character. As a result of this inclusion many Christians and social conservatives have both criticized Disney and vowed not to see the film. Others have cautioned parents to use discernment in taking their children to see it. I have been engaged in some of these online discussions and my position has been—and is—that I will not go see the movie in the theater because I do not want to use my dollars to express support or approval for this kind of character inclusion. I likely will see the film eventually though and, depending on the scene, may or may not let my children watch it. From what I have been reading lately I suspect I may let them see it. Why? Because, according to those who have seen it and have shared their thoughts on it, the character is little different from the same character in the animated version and the “exclusively gay moment” is rather quick and insignificant and, unless you are looking for it or expecting it, not likely to be seen as a specifically gay scene at all. This is confirmed by a story in the March 20 USA TODAY story headlined “Beauty and the Beast’s ‘gay moment’ may have been much ado about nothing.” According to that story, the scene in question is “a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot in the film’s final seconds.”

So how did this scene become such a big deal? The film’s director, Bill Condon, chose to make it one. In an interview he did with Attitude magazine Condon said,

LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston. He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.

Others involved in the film confirmed this statement. Ewan McGregor said, on The Late Show, that LeFou is a “gay character.” He even emphasized the fact that opposition to the inclusion of such a character is ridiculous in the day and age in which we live, saying, that people need to get over their objections because “It’s 2017. For f**k’s sake.” So the point is that the director of the movie, if not Disney itself, intentionally set out to make a point of the character’s sexuality. If he would not have said anything then some people may have picked up on it or wondered about it when they saw the film, but he/they chose to make it an issue. In other words, they have only themselves to blame that some people are now making an issue of it. Of course once a theater in the south announced it would not show the movie because of the gay character, Russia changed the film’s rating and Malaysia said the film would not be shown there at all, the director and others tried to backpedal.

Incidentally, Condon’s remark really served more than anything to create for him, Disney and the film itself a lose/lose situation. Some, as already described, are unhappy about the announced gay character. Others, on the LGBT side of the debate, took the opposite approach, saying, according to the same USA TODAY article, “the representation of a gay character did not go far enough.” Yet again, had Condon never said anything about the character being gay this likely would never have been an issue.

A few people in discussions I have been part of suggested that the LeFou in the live-action version is no different at all than the LeFou in the 1991 animated version. If so that serves only to reinforce my point that Condon created this storm with his comments. Absolutely no one would have thought in 1991 that Disney would include a homosexual character in an animated film marketed primarily to children. That was six years before Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian (April 1997). Not only did she come out personally, but her character on her television show Ellen came out as well. Biographer Lisa Iannucci told Biography.com, “[T]here was concern over not only how the audience would react, but how the advertisers would react.” So it is absurd to think that it would have seriously crossed anyone’s mind six years before that that Disney, the company that was built completely around wholesome children’s entertainment, would include a homosexual character.

I have had people challenge me on why the gay character is an issue but the inclusion of bestiality and magic/witchcraft is not. The bestiality question is an absurd one. Belle falls in love with the beast, yes, but he is not a true animal–he speaks, walks on two legs, has emotions, etc.–and they never consummate their relationship while he is in beast form. Bestiality refers to sexual intercourse between a human and an animal. Accordingly, I do not think this even warrants further comment.

The magic/witchcraft issue is a legitimate one. Just about all of Disney’s fairy tale films include magic/witchcraft/sorcery of some kind and there certainly are some Christians who do not watch or approve of any of the classic Disney movies for that very reason. There are some personal convictions involved here for sure. My position is that the magic is defeated in the end and it is not glorified or taken to an extreme of serving Satan. I have not ever let my children watch The Princess and the Frog though because I think the magic in that movie is too dark and Satanic. Some Christians have no problem with Harry Potter either; I do. The other thing to keep in mind with Beauty and the Beast is the reason behind the beast’s curse. Take this synopsis from IMDb.com:

An old beggar woman arrives at the castle of a French prince. The woman asks for shelter from the cold, and in return, offers the young prince a rose. Repulsed by her appearance, the prince turns her away. The beggar warns him not to judge by appearances, but the Prince ignores her and shuts the door on her. The woman then throws off her disguise, revealing that she is a beautiful enchantress. The Prince tries to apologize, but she has already seen the lack of kindness in his heart. She conjures a powerful curse, transforming him into a hideous beast, his servants into anthropomorphic household items, and the entire castle and all its surroundings into a dark, forbidding place, so that he will learn not to judge by appearances. The curse can only be broken if the Beast learns to love another and receives the other’s love in return before the last petal of the enchantress’s rose withers and falls; if not, he will be doomed to remain a beast forever.

While magic and sorcery are used, the reason for their use is the prince’s selfish, judgmental, arrogant attitude. Once he sees that he could have played host to a beautiful princess he wants a second chance. Too late! To emerge from the curse he must learn both to love and to receive love. Powerful, poignant lessons can be taught from this. Biblical lessons even. So the magic in the film is not much different from the magic in Narnia.

The bottom-line issue for me when it comes to this movie is simply this: Whether through the character himself or simply through the comments of Bill Condon, Ewan McGregor and others, Disney is slowly, perhaps even subtly, pushing the acceptance of homosexuality into the realm of childhood. As an article on the Answers in Genesis web site accurately argues, “Sadly, Disney clearly wants to normalize what God has called sin. …[W]e must strongly caution against Christians exposing children to one more example of society’s acceptance of homosexual behavior, even if it’s just a small part of the film.” I agree with that statement.

The reality is that, for Christians, The Shack should be of greater concern than Beauty and the Beast. The biggest reason for that is simple: Disney is a secular company providing secular entertainment and thus marketed primarily to a secular audience. The Shack, however, is a film based on a book written by a man, William Paul Young, who professes to be a Christian. In his own words (in a recent blog post on his web site) the book “offered alternative ways of thinking about God and humanity that resonated intensely with many, it also challenged deeply held assumptions and embedded paradigms.” In and of itself that may not be a bad thing. All of us can be guilty of getting caught up in tradition or habitual ways of thinking about something and those can actually detract from an accurate or vibrant understanding of the truth. I am sure I am not the only one who has had moments of hearing a Bible passage exposited, or reading the thoughts of a theologian or author and realizing both that I had never thought of it that way before and that this new perspective provided a much-needed clarification or addition to what I had previously been content to think.

Much of the error (which sounds much nicer than saying heresy, doesn’t it?) will be recognizable to those with a solid understanding of Scripture. In the words of Randy Alcorn, “I believe that those who are well grounded in the Word won’t be harmed by the weaknesses and deficiencies of the book.” I agree with that, and I do not feel that my faith was challenged, undermined or weakened by reading the book. If anything, it may have stirred me to firm up some of my beliefs. And the book does contain some merit and value—and surely some elements from which I derived benefit.

Young, however, brings “new” perspectives that are not accurate at all. They serve not to clarify or correct possibly vague or inaccurate understandings of God and Scripture but to corrupt and pervert the truth that Scripture reveals. If nothing else, the fact that Young chose to portray God appearing in the physical form of a woman in the book is cause for concern. When I read the book I almost stopped reading right there. God, of course, has not physical form. He could choose to appear in some physical manner I suppose but He is not a woman, that much is certain. Young explains this in the book by stating that Mack, the book’s main character and the human who interacts with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their physical forms in the literal shack from which the book and film take their title, cannot accept God as a Father because of his own damaged relationship with his physical father. That may be a legitimate obstacle for many people because many people have strained or even dangerously unhealthy relationships with their earthly fathers. That does not, however, allow any of us to change who God is. Our own difficulty or discomfort with God as He has revealed Himself can never be used to justify or excuse our alteration or manipulation of God in order to make Him more palatable or acceptable or comfortable. (This is the same reason why it is not okay for those in some cultures that struggle with the idea of Jesus being God’s Son to change that wording in order to make the Bible more easily accepted in those cultures).

One of the biggest issues for the book and movie is that Young’s main character is God—and God speaks at length. Young is, therefore, literally putting words in God’s mouth through his story. This is a dangerous act, one that the Scripture warns about strictly. This also lends greater weight to the content of the story even if Young insists—as he does—that he was writing a novel not a theology book. Why? Because, in Alcorn’s words, “It’s hard to fall back on ‘Yeah, but it was just one of the characters saying that’ when the character happens to be God. You can’t really say ‘he was having a bad day,’ or ‘he wasn’t familiar with that Scripture.’”

In her review of the film, Sophia Lee writes that “Papa” in the film (which is a term Mack’s wife uses for God and the manner in which Mack addresses God throughout the book—which is only one more reason why depicting God as a woman is problematic) is “a god who is far removed from the God of the Bible.” Why? One example she notes is Mack asking Papa about his wrath, to which Papa responds, “My what? You lost me there.” That is a real problem. An incredibly significant problem. Indeed there could be no greater problem. Why? Simply this: if we deny or ignore the wrath of God then we are necessarily denying or ignoring the holiness and justice of God, which requires denying or ignoring both that humans fall short of that holiness in and of themselves and are therefore deserving of punishment and separation from God. If we ignore or deny that then we are ignoring or denying the fundamental truth of the Bible, the very heart of the gospel message, the very reason why Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life and died to pay the penalty owed by humans so that those who accept His sacrifice on their behalf might receive the forgiveness of God.

Let me be clear here: I am not asserting something that Young himself does not make clear. Young has said that he does not believe in penal substitution. He said he believes in the wrath of God and he believes there is no hope for human beings apart from the cross but he says Christ became sin for humans, not that human sin was punished through the death of Christ. In fact, he said, “I don’t see that it is necessary to have the Father punish the Son.” (To hear this for yourself you can listen to a lengthy 2009 interview with Young here; this specific conversation takes place over six or seven minutes starting around minute 16 of the recording).

Young’s most recent book is titled Lies We Believe About God. One of the “lies” Young addresses in the book is “The Cross was God’s idea,” the book’s seventeenth chapter. There he writes,

Who originated the Cross?

If God did, then we worship a cosmic abuser, who in Divine Wisdom created a means to torture human beings in the most painful and abhorrent manner. Frankly, it is often this very cruel and monstrous god that the atheist refuses to acknowledge or grant credibility in any sense. And rightly so. Better no god at all, than this one.

You can read that for yourself on page 149 of the book if you want to ensure that I am quoting Young accurately. He goes on to write that the Cross (he capitalizes it) was the idea of humans, that the cross is a “deviant device” that is “the iconic manifestation of our blind commitment to darkness. … It is the ultimate fist raised against God.” There is some truth there, but Young goes own, saying that God responded to this “profound brokenness” by submitting to it. But Young does not mean that Jesus submitted to the will of the Father by giving up His life to pay the penalty of sin that is justly demanded by a holy and righteous God. Rather, Young says, “God climbed willingly onto our torture device and met us at the deepest and darkest place of our diabolical imprisonment to our own lies, and by submitting once and for all, God destroyed its power” (p 150). At first that sounds good but consider carefully what Young is asserting here: he is saying that God submitted Himself willingly to man—and man’s lies, darkness and brokenness specifically. He is saying that God freed humankind from our own darkness and lies by submitting to that same darkness and allowing man to execute Christ on the cross and thereby free humanity from its own “blind commitment to darkness.”

The reality, however, is that man’s “commitment to darkness” and “profound brokenness” is a result of the fall. Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve but it is has infected every human being since. As a result, “we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23, NLT). God did not submit Himself to our darkness to free us from it. That would ultimately mean that God submitted Himself to sin—to Satan. Far from it! God did not submit to Satan at all—ever. God the Son (Jesus) yielded Himself to God the Father, willingly putting Himself in the position to take the place of every human being who has ever lived by paying the rightful penalty of sin on their behalf. All who accept that Christ did that, and accept that He is their Savior and the only way to heaven, will have their sins forgiven and will spend eternity in the presence of God rather than eternity separated from God in hell. That, by the way, is another of the “lies” that Young addresses in his recent book. He says hell is neither separation from God nor conscious torment, but Scripture makes clear that it is indeed both.

In the book’s introduction, quoted on its back cover, Young writes,

This book is not a presentation of certainty. … You may identify with some topics and not with others. You might agree or disagree with my conclusions. Some of these ideas may be deeply challenging, while others may seem naïve and thoughtless. That is the wonder and uniqueness of our journeys and the beauty of dialogue and relationship.

Actually, Mr. Young, that is a bunch of fluff and stuff. It is utter nonsense. It is relativism at its core, postmodernism at its finest. Allaboutphilosophy.org states, “Postmodernism is difficult to define, because to define it would violate the postmodernist’s premise that no definite terms, boundaries, or absolute truths exist.” That is what Young is celebrating! He is openly declaring that he is unsure of what he writes in his book—but one cannot be unsure of that which is absolute truth. In other words, Young can only be uncertain of God’s wrath, man’s sinfulness, the existence of eternal suffering in hell and the atonement for sin on the cross through the death of Christ because he is uncertain of the Truth of the Bible. That we can be uncertain of these things, and disagree on them, is neither wonderful nor unique. It is the gateway to straying from the Bible and from God. He has communicated these things clearly in His Word; uncertainty can only come from an unwillingness to accept and believe it.

Owen Strachan wrote recently wrote the following on The Gospel Coalition web site:

What truly horrifies sinful humanity is not, in the end, Scripture’s stubborn reliance upon blood atonement. The problem is much deeper. What truly offends human nature about the atonement is the greatness of the God who forgives through it, the lavish nature of the mercy that flows from it, the salvation for the wicked accomplished by it. It is precisely this salvation our fallen hearts reject. It is exactly this forgiving God we defy, and even dare to correct. We must take care here: to promote the cross without the atonement means we do not promote the cross at all.

I could not agree more with Strachan—and when we allow anyone, including William Paul Young, to suggest that the cross was anything other than the act of a great, loving, merciful, just, holy, righteous God simultaneously demanding and accepting the perfect sacrifice on behalf of fallen man as “the wages of sin” we serve only to repudiate the wonderful truth of the gospel and the indescribable love of God.

I realize that much of what I am criticizing here comes from Lies We Believe About God rather than from The Shack, but one will open the door to the other. The movie will no doubt be seen by people who did not read the book and will prompt many of them to want to explore Young’s ideas further. That will lead them to Lies We Believe About God. In fact, that Lies was released to coincide with the release of the movie is not at all coincidental. Young, and his publisher, are literally banking on the fact that the movie will drive sales of the book. Indeed, one reviewer on Amazon.com, identified only as Lisa, hits the nail on the head when she writes,

This book’s release at the same time as the movie’s release clears up any question out there as to whether the author desires to shape Christian thought and doctrine. Many have questioned over the years whether The Shack should be viewed as only a fiction work – not a doctrinal statement. I bought the Kindle copy yesterday to let the author clear that question up for me himself. Now I know what he believes. His departure from Orthodox theology is quite apparent. If you are a young Christian or non-Christian I encourage you to seek mature godly counsel before you take the ideas of this book as a fact!

So it is entirely fitting to be addressing the false teachings contained in that book while discussing the release of the theatrical version of The Shack. If anything it is even more important, because Young likes insisting that The Shack is a novel. He makes no such disclaimer with Lies We Believe About God, which he does present, as we have seen, as containing uncertainty but definitely not as fiction.

There are several things that we must keep in mind when it comes to The Shack and other erroneous writings and teachings of its ilk. First, popularity does not equal truth. The Shack has sold more than twenty million copies but that does not mean that the ideas it presents are true or even deserving of serious contemplation. It means only that Young tapped into the interests of millions of people. (It is not coincidental either than he did so by presenting a picture of God that is much softer, kinder and gentler than the true God of the Bible). Second, quality production does not equal quality time. Someone said to me the other day of The Shack, “One of my friends saw it and said it was really good.” It might be; the production quality is probably very high. The budget was no doubt healthy and the acting may be very good. None of that means it is a good idea for anyone to spend their time watching it. Playboy is probably a quality product purely from the standpoint of design, printing, photography, writing, etc. and Hugh Hefner is certainly a successful businessman. None of that means it is a good idea to read the magazine. Third, sentiment is no substitute for veracity. We know this in our human relationships. After all, no one would want their spouse to tell them something they want to hear because it will make them feel good rather than tell them truth. No one wants a doctor to tell them they are in perfect health, even though that would be encouraging and result in happiness, if the truth is that they are riddled with deadly cancer. Why not? Simply this—because we have to know the truth in order to effectively and appropriately respond to it. William Paul Young is saying a lot of things that a lot of people want to hear. It makes them feel good—about themselves and about God. Why? Because it lets them shape God in their own image. In the end, that will do them far more harm than good. When they die—and they will—and stand before God—which they will—He will not say, if they died without accepting Christ, that He loved them so much and He is happy to welcome them into heaven. Instead, He will say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” To where will they depart? To hell—to be separated eternally from God and to suffer unending torment.

And that’s no work of fiction; it comes straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:23).

February 15, 2017

Why I Am Not Standing

Last Wednesday World Relief ran an ad in The Washington Post–a full-page ad, I believe–calling President Trump and Vice President Pence to support refugees. The ad featured a five paragraph letter over the names of Tim Breene, World Relief CEO, and Scott Arbeiter, World Relief President, and is being called the Still We Stand Petition. The ad also included the names of “top evangelical leaders from all fifty states” expressing their support for the need to reconsider Trump’s executive order limiting individuals from several majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States. The ad did include the names of several well-known evangelical leaders, including Tim Keller, Bill Hybels, Max Lucado, Ed Stetzer, Ann Voskamp, Leith Anderson and Stuart Briscoe. There were dozens of others whose names I did not recognize. (And with all due respect to Voskamp, she is Canadian, and lives in Canada, so the inclusion of her name on the letter was a bit illogical). The ad also featured, prominently, a web address where anyone who wants to do so can add their name to the letter. As of early afternoon on February 15, one week after the ad ran, the site was boasting just over 6,000 signatories. I am not one of them, nor will I be. Here is why.

Trump’s executive order suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days. Furthermore, the order states that during the suspension,

[T]he Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Secretary of Homeland Security and in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, shall review the USRAP application and adjudication process to determine what additional procedures should be taken to ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States, and shall implement such additional procedures.

This is not a reckless or inappropriate action on the part of the President. I say this not as a Trump supporter–I would definitely not be comfortable classifying myself as such–but as a supporter of the Constitution and a Christian. The very purpose of the United States Constitution is, in large part, “to insure domestic tranquility, to provide for the common defense…and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” (see Preamble to the Constitution). Furthermore, the presidential oath of office includes stating that he “will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Therefore, calling a four-month timeout on refugee resettlement to the U.S. in order to make sure that the admission of refugees “does not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States” is both constitutional and appropriate (regardless of what a court said).

The World Relief letter states that Christians are taught to love their neighbor and that Jesus said that neighbor “includes the stranger and anyone fleeing persecution and violence, regardless of their faith or country.” The letter goes on to express support for the government’s need to set guidelines for the admission of refugees, but says that “compassion and security can coexist.” I agree with that–and I suspect Trump, Pence and others does as well. The very point of the timeout is to ensure that that can indeed happen.

The letter goes on to state, “Since the inception of the refugee resettlement program, thousands of local churches throughout the country have played a role in welcoming refugees of all religious backgrounds. Ministries to newly arrived refugees are ready, and desire to receive many thousands more people than would be allowed under the new executive order.” That is surely true. Churches and para-church ministries have indeed played a vital role in helping to provide for refugees and will no doubt continue to do so in the future. At the same time, it is not the responsibility of the United States government to accommodate the desire of churches to receive refugees. It is the responsibility of the United States to provide for the defense and security of the country.

The further reality is that churches, para-church organizations even individual Christians can still be involved in supporting and helping refugees even if those refugees cannot enter the United States. There are plenty of organizations providing much-needed assistance to refugees around the world and they would no doubt welcome the help the thousands of people signing this letter seem poised to offer.

Mindy Belz of WORLD is one of the most articulate and outspoken voices on the refugee crisis in the Middle East I think, certainly among Christians, and she has written that she does not think that Trump’s executive order will help Christians. It may not. Again, however, helping Christians in the Middle East is not the foremost priority for Donald Trump or any U.S. president. Nor should it be.

By the way, I am not staking unique ground in supporting the order. WORLD magazine has reported that “evangelist Franklin Graham, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., Southern Baptist pastor Ronnie Floyd, and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins are just a few of the evangelical leaders defending Trump’s order.”

Ironically, The Washington Post featured an article on February 10 taking Franklin Graham to task about what the Bible says. (Just ponder that statement for a minute, by the way…). The article, written by Joel Baden, who is a professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School, says that Graham “could not be more wrong” when he said that immigration is not a biblical issue. But Baden fails to make his point. He provides ample examples of refugees and exiles being treated kindly and respectfully throughout Scripture. He writes, “Across the books of both testaments, in narrative, law, prophecy, poetry and parable, the Bible consistently spells out that it is the responsibility of the citizen to ensure that the immigrant, the stranger, the refugee, is respected, welcomed and cared for.” Further, Baden cites both the Old Testament–“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:33-34)–and the New Testament–“Love your neighbor as yourself” (which Baden calls the Golden Rule, but it isn’t)–to support his conclusion.

Mathew Schmalz, an Associate Professor of Religion at College of the Holy Cross, made the same arguments in Newsweek. Raymond Chang, a pastor, does as well for The Huffington Post.  He focuses on the biblical instruction to treat sojourners as those who are native born and Jesus’s statement that we will be judged according to how we treat “the least of these.” The problem is, none of these passages–or any other passages–instruct any country to throw open its doors to immigrants, refugees or exiles. All of these passages instruct that once strangers are in the land, the people who live there are to treat them with fairness, respect and compassion. I agree with that and I suspect Trump, Pence and others do too. None of them tell a country or a people to welcome absolutely anyone into their borders or to exercise no discretion in protecting their own borders. And again, it is entirely possible–especially in the day and age in which we live–to love and care for refugees even without letting them into our country.

Back in 2014 Wes Walker wrote on ClashDaily.com, “To suggest…that Israel would ever have willingly thrown open the borders to a swarm of culturally hostile foreigners, grant them asylum, and become financially responsible for their care is ridiculous. That would have been seen as an invasion force, and would have been treated as such.” The articles above, and others, that attempt to use the Bible as justification for letting any and all refugees into the United States, or for promoting refugee settlement here at the possible expense of national security, are missing the mark–and the intent of Scripture.

By the way, I am sure I am not the only one who sees the irony in The Washington Post, Newsweek and The Huffington Post attempting to use the Bible to support certain policy positions and government actions. I would love to see them make an effort to support a biblical position on things like abortion, marriage, homosexuality and gender issues among many others. That would be something I would take a stand for!

February 10, 2017

Deep Preaching

Christianity Today published some months ago a 64-page booklet entitled “The State of Church Ministry in America, 2017.” The note from the managing editor indicated that it was a special guide from CT‘s new resource, CTPastors.com.Now, I am not a pastor but for the past five years I have filled that role on many Sunday mornings for a number of churches. In addition to that, I have been a faithful church attendee just about my entire life and I have heard literally thousands of sermons preached. So, while I found a number of the articles in the booklet insightful, one that struck me as compelling was entitled “Deep Preaching in a Distracted Age” and was written by Matt Woodley, a missions pastor in Illinois and editor of PreachingToday.com.

Woodley’s thrust was how pastors can stay focused themselves and “capture people’s attention and keep it long enough for God to do his work”. I am going to take some of what he shared in the article as background, though, and focus instead on why deep preaching is so incredibly important.

Woodley writes that he sometimes has the spiritual attention span of a minnow after quoting poet Denise Levertov who wrote in one of her poems, “I stop to think of you [Lord], and my mind at once like a minnow darts away into the shadows.” Levertov and Woodley are not alone. A May 2015 article in TIME was entitled, “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish,” and focused on a Microsoft study that revealed that most people lose focus after eight seconds. The world we live in feeds this rapid-fire, short-attention phenomenon. We communicate in text messages that we keep so short we cannot even use proper grammar or punctuation, quick status updates on Facebook, tweets on Twitter and scrolling headlines along the bottom of the news or sports channel.

According to a Smithsonian.com article in September 2016 approximately 27% of Americans had not read a single book in the previous twelve months. That is despite the fact that, according to Woodley’s article, an American on social media is exposed to 54,000 words every day. That is the equivalent of a 180-220 page book depending on font and margin sizes.Think about that: the average American on social media is exposed to the equivalent of a short book every day but more than a quarter of them do not read one complete book over the course of a year!

Woodley determined that the best way to counter this distractability is to go deep. I agree. He writes, “In a distracted, outraged, shallow culture, people begin to hunger for something rare: the focused, balanced, deep. Because we chronically distract ourselves, we crave depth. Deep preaching is our best chance to change lives.” I could not agree more.

I have no problem with a short devotional thought or even an occasional brief sermon. In general, however, it is clear that far too many Americans are spending far too little time going deep with God on their own–meaning we need to take them there while they are at church. An April 2015 post on the Preachers and Preaching blog from The Master’s Seminary cited a poll that indicated that the most common sermon length is between 20 and 28 minutes. I find that alarming–especially given that so many American Christians now go only to Sunday morning services. When I grew up we were in church Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night. Now I will grant you that I cannot identify anywhere is Scripture that it says three services a week are required–or that Sunday school is. I do not think it is coincidental, however, that as Americans have become busier and more distracted the number of churches with Sunday evening and mid-week services has decreased and the depth of spiritual knowledge has declined. Even the interest in spiritual things has declined I dare say.

I think churches that are serious about the spiritual maturity of their members need to take seriously the importance of longer, more meaningful services–and sermons in particular. Of course there does come a point at which attention spans can diminish even when the speaker is engaging and the topic is exciting, but that point should easily be well beyond the 25 minute mark. College courses are typically taught in 50 or 75-minute blocks. Movies tend to be about two hours in length. There is no reason a pastor should not be able to command the attention of a congregation for 40-50 minutes easily. After all, there is nothing more important in the world than the subject he is teaching about, nothing more important the congregation could be doing than growing in their knowledge and understanding of God.

As I said, I preach regularly. The church where I have preached most consistently over the past five years has made it clear that I need not worry about time, and I have appreciated that. They take seriously the privilege of learning God’s Word. Not only do I tend to preach longer than the average (40 to 50 minutes is probably my typical sermon) but I usually address very small portions of Scripture when I preach. Once in a while I will do a topical message but my preference is certainly verse-by-verse expository preaching. An August 2013 article on The Christian Post cited a seminary student who argued for “shorter, more viral sermons,” around 18-minutes long. The individual claimed that if pastors would follow the example of Jesus’ own teaching, such as the Sermon on the Mount, they would keep their messages shorter and tighter. That struck me as ironic because I spent eighteen messages going through just Matthew 5–which represents only the first of three chapters that include the Sermon on the Mount. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, which is basically a written version of his own teaching on Matthew 5-7, runs nearly 600 pages long!

The Bible is practical and relevant to our lives. It is also deep, profound and at times difficult. It cannot be learned well in twenty-six hours a year (fifty-two thirty-minute sermons).

Pastors should not be long just for the sake of being long. No one wants fluff or space-filler or jokes or meaningless stories. But the Word of God is rich, powerful, deep and practical. Good churches should seek–dare I say demand–good preachers who spend the time necessary to understand and teach the Bible deeply, powerfully and practically. It can be done. I suspect pastors will even find that once people get past the initial unfamiliarity of deeper preaching that they will long for it. Just a couple of weeks ago I was teaching a Sunday evening class that was scheduled to go for 45 minutes. At the end of the allotted time I had not finished what I wanted to teach–partly because of questions and partly because there was so much to teach–and I asked if we should wrap it up or keep going. The consensus was keep going and not one person left. We went another thirty minutes. Now that was a one-time thing, but it proves the point that people do want meaningful teaching. They want to understand God’s Word and to know Him better.

Let this be a plea for deep preaching!

January 25, 2017

Authentic Christianity

Recently my family and I visited Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. I had been there before but my children had not. I had explained to my son ahead of time that there was something unique about the exterior of the house. It appears to be made of stone, but it is actually wood. Through a process called rustication, the wooden plans that side the house are cut with beveled edges periodically and then, while the white paint is still wet, fine sand is thrown onto the wood. The result is that it gives the appearance of stone blocks. This is both creative and effective, and for the purposes of architecture there is nothing wrong with it. However, it got me thinking about other things that are not what they appear to be–and specifically about the times that I cause myself to appear to be something other than what or who I am. As I pondered this I began to consider what it means to practice authentic Christianity.

If you google that phrase you will find plenty of hits. There are books and sermons by that title as well as plenty of blog posts and articles. I found a number of thoughts that were particularly helpful for me.

In one such message, titled “Authentic Christianity,” Steven Cole tells a story that was contained in a 1984 issue of Reader’s Digest. A bishop who had just had a cup of tea with a parishioner commented, “I’m glad to see in what a comfortable way you are living.” The churchgoer replied, “Oh, bishop, if you want to know how we really live, you need to come when you’re not here.”

That is funny, of course, but it is also true. How many times do I straighten things up and do my best to create the right appearance when there will be company coming over–particularly company whom I want to impress? Maybe that is no big deal really, but it is a big deal when we do the same thing with our lives, living differently at different times depending on who is around and whom we are trying to impress.

In that same message Cole said, “Unfortunately, a lot of Christians live that way, keeping up a good front to impress others with their spirituality. But if you knew how they really live, you’d find that they are faking it. They don’t live as authentic Christians.”

Several years ago Megan Hill wrote an article in Christianity Today about authenticity, with the subtitle “Do we Christians even understand what the buzzword means?”

In that article she suggested five principles for being an authentic Christian:

  1. Authenticity proclaims the reality of the Gospel – “Being authentic means that God and His Word define what is real,” she wrote.
  2. Authenticity doesn’t excuse sin. She writes:

Elizabeth Gilbert’s phenomenally popular Eat, Pray, Love was the memoir of a woman seeking an authentic life. Its first page bears the motto: “Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.”

But for Gilbert, living authentically includes adultery, hedonism, blasphemy, and so on.

Gilbert’s type of authenticity is easy for Christians to reject. Her sins are “obvious.” But are we on guard against more subtle sins? …

Selfishness, love of men’s praise, lack of joy can all lurk, undetected, around our authentic edges.

  1. Authenticity seeks the good of the Body. “We live transparently, not to unload our own burdens and thus walk more lightly alone, but to intentionally share the burdens of others and carry them to the same grace that liberated us.”
  2. Authenticity honors wisdom. “Christians seeking to be authentic rightly value humility. We recognize that we are broken. But sometimes, in our quest to avoid the appearance of pride, we question our God-given ability to shine the light of wisdom.”
  3. Authenticity points ahead to a perfected future.

John Piper once said in an interview,

Here is the big issue: How do you go about living the Christian life in such a way that you are actually doing the living, doing the acting, doing the willing and yet Christ, or the Holy Spirit, is decisively doing the living and doing the acting and doing the willing in and through your acting and willing and doing? …

[W]hen I stood behind that pulpit, I wanted to preach by the Spirit. I wanted to preach in the strength that God supplies. I wanted to preach in a way so that I could say: “Not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (I Corinthians 5:10). I didn’t want to get up there and do nothing. It is my job. I am supposed to preach. I must preach. And yet the devil can preach. People can preach without the Holy Spirit. But that is not the Christian life.

Someone has said, “Sincerity is the key to success. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made!”

But we have no business faking Christianity. The Bible is full of passages that tell us what authentic Christian living really is and looks like. Consider the Sermon on the Mount, the fruits of the Spirit or Paul’s writing about the new life in Christ in Ephesians 4 and 5 for starters.

So, food for thought from two perspectives:

First, am I examining myself and striving to live an authentic Christian life? We are not “playing a role.” I recently read a dual-biography of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts. When I finished I told my wife I enjoyed it but if she wanted to continue to think of them as the lovable characters from The Andy Griffith Show I would not recommend reading it. Both men were tortured individuals with deep personal demons. They were, of course, actors–and very talented ones. That is what they were paid to do and they did it well. But we, Christians, are not to be actors. We are not to “play the part” of a Christian at certain times or put on certain appearances. We are to be like Christ.

Second, are we teaching our students, our own children, our co-workers and colleagues, friends and fellow church members, to pursue authentic Christianity? We do not want them to throw sand in wet paint, so to speak. We want them to be genuine, authentic Christians.

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