jasonbwatson

August 29, 2012

Must Christians Be Pacifists?

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 8:09 pm
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Last time I left one of Dale’s questions unanswered, because that entry had already grown lengthy and because the remaining question is one that can easily warrant its own post. The first part of the question was, essentially, are Christians called to be pacifists?

I would have to say that my short answer is no; my understanding of the Bible does not cause me to believe that Christians are instructed or called to be pacifists.

Certainly Jesus taught at length about turning the other cheek, and refusing to seek revenge, and I think that those teachings are relevant to an extent. I am not going to talk about the individual level here, because I did that last time. To me, the idea of going to war is a national-level discussion; a macro rather than a micro issue. That said, I realize, of course, that wars are fought by a collection of individuals, and it is my conviction that there are times when Christians are justified in going to war. I will try to explain why….

First, God Himself instituted the death penalty. In fact, the death penalty was the first civil ordinance God gave to man. Jesus did bring a new law when He came to earth, but I cannot find any of Jesus’ teachings that would negate God’s instruction that there are some offenses that are deserving of death. And I think this same principal can be applied at the macro level–there are times when going to war is justified.

Second, I think that is depends on the reason for the war. I think that Christians would have every right to question, and even to sit out, a war that was being waged purely for the purposes of conquest or territorial expansion. On the other hand, I think there are such things as “just wars,” and when a war is being fought to bring a person or a nation to justice, I see no biblical conflict with a Christian being a part of such a war. World War II would be a perfect example; the atrocities of the concentration camps not only warranted but, in my opinion, necessitated war to put a stop to the genocide.

Third, Scripture makes it clear that Christians are to submit to the government unless and until the government requires something that God prohibits or prohibits something that God expects. Only in those instances when obedience to government would mean disobedience to God are Christians justified in choosing to disobey the government. Accordingly, unless the purpose of a war is contrary to Scripture, one could legitimately argue that Christians have a responsibility to submit to the government and go to war when told to do so.

Of course, in the United States we have an all-volunteer military, so one could argue that no one should join the military who is unwilling to follow orders to go to war, but I think that skirts that main point that even in such instances it is possible for unjust orders to be given and for members of the military to have the right and Christian duty to disobey those orders.

Fourth, war may sometimes be a necessary method of enforcing the law. Just as God chastises those whom He loves, and expects parents to use the rod when necessary to teach their children, so nations may at times have to use force in order to enforce treaties, agreements, etc. For example, regardless of whether or not WMDs were ever found in Iraq, the case could easily be made that the use of force was justified because Saddam Hussein had repeatedly ignored deadlines established by the UN. The enforcement of law and the execution of justice may, at times, require going to war.

I do not think that killing someone is ever the loving thing to do, but I do think that there can come a time when the bounds of love have been exceeded. I realize that is hard to swallow, and it seems contrary to what we most often think of the Bible as teaching, but even God’s love has a limit. Despite the fact that everyone will believe in God after their death, not everyone will be saved, because there is no “last chance.” In His sovereignty, God has given a set period of time to each person, and once the time is up, it is up. I cannot see a problem with that same principle being applied (fairly) to nations; eventually, a refusal to repent may leave but one option.

August 23, 2012

Who Is My Enemy?

My friend Dale commented on my last post with some very thought-provoking questions, questions that I suspect others wonder, as well. So, while I am certainly not the authority on the subject, I thought I would weigh in on what I think.

First, Dale asks, “Who is my enemy?” I always like to look at the definitions of words in order to ensure that I am understanding and using them accurately, and it seems that defining “enemy” is a good first step toward answering this question. Dictionary.com defines it this way: “a person who feels hatred for, fosters harmful designs against, or engages in antagonistic activities against another; an adversary or opponent.” If we start with that last part, we all have adversaries or opponents, when on the athletic field or court even if at no other time. Yet those should be temporary “enemies,” people we desire to defeat in athletic competition (or board game competition, or most any other kind of competition) but they do not necessarily have to be–indeed, they should not be–people for whom we feel hatred. Using the first part of the definition, though, my enemy would be any person for whom I feel hatred, against whom I foster harmful designs, or antagonize. Or, I might add, any person who feels hatred for me, fosters harmful designs against me, or antagonizes me. Interestingly, however, in the second instance, I could have enemies and not even know it.

The question “who is my enemy” reminds me of the opposite question asked of Jesus in Luke 10, when the lawyer asks, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan, and then ends with a question: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (verse 36, ESV). The lawyer’s response: “The one who showed him mercy.” Using that logic, then, my enemy is anyone who treats me like an enemy or whom I treat as an enemy.

Dale goes on to ask, “What constitutes loving somone who is your enemy? How do you do it?” That’s the hard part. I think Jesus gives instructions on that, in Matthew 5:44, when He says, ” Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” But a more detailed answer is provided in Luke6:27-28: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” I think Jesus is answering the question of what it means to love my enemies when He provides some specific examples” I am to do good to them, not evil (turn the other cheek, for example); I am to bless them, and pray for them. As for the “how do you do it” part, though, the answer is only through dying to self and yielding to the Holy Spirit; no way would I ever be able to, or even want to, treat my enemies in such a way on my own.

Dale is quite right when he says, “Saying it is easier than doing it.” But specific examples are not as easy to give, because there are so many possible variations. By way of example though, if I have a neighbor that I do not like or who does not like me (I have had such neighbors, and when your neighbor lives twenty feet away it’s a lot more irritating than when he lives twenty miles away, let me tell you!), I have to decide: will I treat him with kindness, will I ignore him, or will I antagonize him? Most people would agree that the latter option is not right. The second option would have been fine for the Pharisees; remember, they taught “don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.” So, from that perspective, ignoring them is fine. Just don’t throw rocks at them or antagonize them. Jesus, though, turned that teaching on its head and said that His followers are called to do to others what they would like others to do to them. So, if I want my neighbor to ignore me, I guess minding my own business is okay, too. But if I really would like to have a neighbor who would get my mail for me when I am on vacation, who would respect the property line, who would not blare loud music, who would or would not ____________ (fill in the blank with whatever fits in your situation) then I must do or not do those things to my neighbor.

“Is it possible for a Christian to be my enemy?” Dale asks. Unfortunately, yes. In fact, I think (sadly) that far too many Christians are more likely to have enemies who are other Christians than enemies who are not. Unless an unsaved person does something to wrong or offend me, I am not likely to even concern myself enough with that person for them to rise to the level of enemy. Other Christians, though, are professing to be what I am professing to be, and when their understanding of being Christian doesn’t line up with my understanding with Christian, I don’t like that. When I want hymns sung to the piano and organ, but they want praise choruses or contemporary worship songs sung to the accompaniment of drums, keyboards and electric guitars, I have a problem with that. That’s a simplistic and rather silly example, and yet such issues can destroy Christian fellowship and split churches.

Dale goes on to ask if it is possible to love someone who is evil. That is a difficult question. When I read it, I was reminded of the day I heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. military operatives. Osama bin Laden hated Christianity and hated the United States of America and made no secret of the fact that he wanted to destroy both. He was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. And yet, the morning after the news broke I remember sitting at the breakfast table trying to explain to my daughter that I was happy that bin Laden was dead, because of who he was and what he stood for, yet I could not rejoice in knowing that he was in hell. Can I love someone who is evil? No, not in the sense that we humans so often understand and define love. I cannot feel good about someone who is evil, and I cannot even want good things for someone who is evil. But I believe that I can love someone who is evil to the extent that I want him or her to recognize their sin, repent, and be forgiven. In other words, as hard as it may be to think about, I can love someone who is evil enough to want to spend eternity with them in heaven.

Jonah is a great example here, I think. Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah because the Assyrians were evil. Part of Jonah was likely scared of delivering God’s message (I know I would have been!) but an even bigger part of Jonah’s initial refusal to go was that he did not want the Assyrians to repent. He wanted God to judge them. He wanted God to wipe them off the earth. How do I know? Because when Jonah is sitting outside of town watching what is going to happen, he gets mad at God because the Assyrians did repent.

Jonah 3:10 says, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them, and He did not do it.” The very next sentence, in 4:1, says “But is displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.” I’m thinking he was more than angry. He was ticked…irate…furious. Jonah was so mad at God he said he wanted to die.

So Jonah is a great example of what loving my enemies does not look like. Not only should I pray for them to change their ways, I should pray for them to get right with God. And if they do, I should rejoice!

Jesus loved people who did evil things. He loved Judas, despite knowing that he would betray Him. He loved Pilate, despite knowing that he would sentence Him to death. He loved the thief on the cross, despite his sins. And He loved the people who crucified Him, even asking God to forgive them.

Dale says he read Hitler’s Willing Executioners, and he knows too much about what some of the Japanese and Germans did in WWII to “be less than loving” toward some. I read that book, too, and as a student of history I can relate to Dale’s concerns. I read another book, though, that demonstrates exactly what God has in mind when He says “love your enemies,” and that is Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. For Louis Zamperini to be able to forgive the Japanese for what they did to him is incredible…and only from yielding to God.

This is a topic that each of has wrestled with, and will wrestle with so long as we are in this world. In my flesh, I will always prefer to hate my enemies than to love them. But God has called me to be different…to die to myself and to let Him live through me. And yes, that even means loving my enemies.

August 22, 2012

“It’s People I Can’t Stand”

Filed under: Spiritual Growth — jbwatson @ 9:22 pm
Tags: , ,

The August 22 entry in David Jeremiah’s devotional book Pathways is entitled “I love mankind…” Jeremiah quotes Linus, of the Peanuts comic strip, who said, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”

I’ve felt like that before, and I think the odds are pretty good that you have, too. Jeremiah is spot on when he writes, “People can be rude, obnoxious, selfish, foolish, trying, vexing, and vicious.” I might add “irritating” to the list. Due to my human (read sin) nature and my own personal preferences, there are some people that I tend to like, some I tend to feel indifferent about, and some that, quite frankly, I could do without. Depending on my mood, where I am, what else I have going on, and any number of other essentially-insignificant things, I may or may not be polite to someone I meet in the grocery store, a driver who cuts me off on the road, or the person who is on the other end of the phone I pick up. There have been numerous times when I wished I had one of James Bond’s cars, complete with all of it’s Q-designed upgrades, so that I could blow away the driver who just cut me off, or the one who can’t seem to recall that it’s the pedal on the right that makes the car go. Why? Because, far more often than I really care to admit, I’m focused on me…on what I want, or what I prefer, and what is convenient for me.

Jesus, of course, had plenty to say about how we are to interact with others. Specifically, I am called to love my neighbor as myself. Even tougher than that is His instruction in Matthew 5:44, when I am told to love my enemies. “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you,” Jesus said. That surely does not come naturally!

It embarrasses me to admit it, but during my first year of teaching, there was a coworker I could not stand. Here I was, right out of college–still wet behind the ears in many ways–and teaching in a Christian school, no less. And for some reason (I really do not remember, which makes my tale even more pathetic), I did not like this other teacher. I was fresh out of college, remember, and she had been teaching for more years than I had been alive. And except for this little thing called “Help Class” I would not even have had to interact with her at all. But the school had this “Help Class” for students who were struggling academically to get some individualized extra help…and this coworker of mine was the one who taught these help sessions. Because I taught sixth grade math, and sixth graders sometimes struggle with math, I was supposed to send my students to the Help Class from time to time, so our paths did cross.

I will not go into detail of some of the things I said, and certainly not some of the things I thought…just suffice it to say that I did not like this individual, and I certainly did not love her as I love myself. At some point during that school year though, she died. I’m not making that up; if I remember correctly it was rather sudden, and I do not remember the cause, but suddenly, this person I loved to dislike was dead. Because the school was closed for her funeral, and the service was at the school, there was no way I could not go, so I found myself sitting in her funeral–which included an open mic time for people to share about how much this lady had meant to them. Everyone was in tears, and I was sitting there hardhearted, quite frankly thinking I couldn’t care less. There was part of me that still wanted to not like her.

An interesting thing happened as I sat there, though. The Holy Spirit began to work in my heart, and I began to realize exactly how petty and pathetic I was. Were there some things she did that irritated me? Without question. Were there even times that she did something that was wrong? I think so. But has my dislike faded, I began to see just how meaningless those things are from the perspective of eternity. And most of them were simply things that either did not go the way I would have preferred, or were a result of my own failure to do something when I was supposed to do it. I may have shed some tears before that service was over, but it was more because of my own sin than because of the passing of my coworker. I left that funeral wanting to put to death my own irritability and penchant for personal preferences. I still have to do that, a lot, and there are still times I don’t get it right.

But David Jeremiah is absolutely right when he writes, of Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5:44, “We can only do this on our knees. The person we most dislike is a soul for whom Christ died. We don’t have to always agree with our critics or defer to our enemies, but loving unconditionally is simply letting the love of Christ flow through us like warm water through a pipe. The most unlovable person is the one who needs love the most. After all, if Christ loved us, He can help us love others.”

August 17, 2012

Easy as Pie

Perhaps you have heard about the recent ruckus over a bakery owner in Massachusetts declining an invitation to start accepting food stamps for her desserts. If not, here are the highlights, as reported in several places but quoted here from the Boston Herald:

Andrea Taber is the owner of Ever So Humble Pie Co. in Walpole, MA. On Fridays she sells her desserts at the farmer’s market in Braintree, MA. In May, Braintree Farmers Market chairwoman Donna Ingemanson wrote to all of the market’s vendors “‘encourage everyone who sells eligible products to participate’ in a program in which the market will sell tokens to EBT cardholders [food stamps] to use at market stalls.”

Andrea Taber declined. Why? “Taber told the Herald she has no problem with customers using their taxpayer-funded welfare benefits to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. But she draws a line when it comes to her own sweet, fatty goods.” Taber said, “I don’t think American taxpayers should be footing the bill for people’s pie purchases. … To me it’s no different than nail salons and Lottery tickets. It’s pastry, it’s dessert. My pies are great, but come on.”

Now, whether or not Taber’s decision not to accept the EBT tokens means that the market as a whole had to choose not to is not made clear in the article, but I cannot imagine why it would mean that. If the plan involves selling tokens to EBT users to use at the vendor stalls, it would seem easy enough that those tokens could simply be used at every other stall and anyone purchasing from Taber would have to make alternative payment. Apparently that is not okay, though, because Ingemanson told Taber that they “really need to work something out,” and the market management is planning to consider whether or not to make acceptance of EBT a requirement for the market vendors next year. Ingemanson called Taber’s refusal a “one-woman protest.”

Now, ignoring the fact that businesses have to apply to accept EBT payments, “and normally are not obliged to do so,” Taber is receiving a considerable amount of negative attention, and even being accused of being discriminatory for not accepting the payments.

In a separate Boston Herald article, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick avoided the real issue of the debate when asked about the controversy, saying simply, “Well, look, I think SNAP benefits at farmers markets is a great idea [the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program underwrites EBT benefits]. She’s entitled to her opinion. I respect it. But I think it’s really, really important that people who are poor and on EBT benefits have access to fresh produce.”

Taber, of course, agrees on that point, and I cannot think of anyone who would disagree. After all, vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, and that is exactly what the SNAP and EBT programs are for–to provide healthy food for those unable to afford it.

Interestingly, if you visit the USDA web site’s page on the SNAP program the first thing you will see on the top of the page is this announcement: “Fighting SNAP Fraud. Americans support helping struggling families put food on the table, but they also want to know taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. FNS’ proactive strategies protect the Federal investment in SNAP and ensure that the program is targeted towards individuals and families who need it the most. Learn the facts and help us Fight SNAP Fraud.” Wouldn’t part of ensuring that these funds are spent wisely include making sure that they are spent on necessities–including fresh vegetables–but not spent on extras, unnecessary items, and even (let’s be honest!) unhealthy items…like whoopie pie?

The SNAP web site includes a FAQ section, and one of the questions is “What foods can I buy with SNAP benefits?” The answer: “You CAN use SNAP benefits to buy foods for the household to eat, such as breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, meats, fish and poultry, dairy products. You can also use your benefits to buy seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat.” Now that does not explicitly rule out desserts, but it would be stretch to fit desserts into one of those categories (other than the incredibly broad “foods for the household to eat”). Later in the answer it says, “Items that carry a nutrition facts label are eligible foods.” No, I could be wrong, but I doubt that Taber’s pies carry a nutrition label.

Under the “Answers Others Found Helpful” feature below the answer cited above is the question “Why can people buy junk food with their SNAP benefits?” The answer to that question includes this statement: “The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 defines an eligible food as ‘any food or food product for home consumption….'” It goes on to state, however, that FNS is “concerned about the health and nutrition of SNAP clients.” So, while pies and other unhealthy desserts do fit within the “let’s not miss anything” definiton of “any food or food product,” they are not healthy, they are not necessary, and they certainly should not be purchased with tax dollars.

Ignoring the politics of this debate, what if any biblical principles are applicable? Clearly Scripture instructs that believers are to care for those who are unable to care for themselves, including orphans, widows and the poor. Proverbs 3:28 makes it clear that Christians are to help those in need when they can, and do so immediately, not later. Jesus made it clear that God’s law can be summarized in two commandments: Love God, and love your neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). Galatians 6:10 says that Christians are to do good to everyone, and especially fellow believers. James 2 talks at length about the worthlessness of faith without works, and provides specific condemnation against telling those in need to be warm or be filled while doing nothing to meet those needs.

So I have no problem with helping those in need, and I think it is a biblical commandment to do so. Whether or not the Bible teaches that that is a government responsibility or a church responsibility is a separate discussion, and one I will not launch into now; for sake of this discussion, lets just say that food stamps in an of themselves are a fine program for assisting those in need. That said, though, I do not think there is anywhere in Scripture that one could find support for using assistance for those in need to purchase pie, or any other unnecessary “extra.” I do not think one could find a nutritionist that would argue that pies should be a regular part of anyone’s diet or that those least able to provide for their own nutritional needs should have pie provided for them. I do not even think that one could find a liberal politician–if he or she was willing to be completely honest–that could, with a straight face and genuine conviction–argue that individuals on food stamps need to be able to buy pie with their taxpayer-funded benefits.

So what’s the big deal? Andrea Taber is well within her rights to decline to accept food stamps. What’s more, she has brought attention to a real problem in the SNAP program–the use of taxpayer funds to purchase food items that are nothing but sugary fluff. Delicious, sure, but not at all necessary. Really, it’s as easy as pie.

August 14, 2012

Weeds

Filed under: Biblical Worldview,Spiritual Growth — jbwatson @ 3:54 pm

Last week I spent several hours weedeating around my house and around the campus of the school where I work in preparation for the start of the new school year. Due to a drought here the past several months there has been little need to mow the grass. In fact, I do not remember the last time I needed to mow my yard. Remarkably, though, the weeds have done just fine. So fine, in fact, that some of the weeds I encountered last week were too big for my weedeater. These weeds had strong roots and thick–almost tree-like–stems. To remove them I needed to use a small hatchet or give repeated kicks with the heel of my shoe to pry them loose.

I was reminded as I was weedeating of the weeds of sin in my life. Even when I am going through a spiritual drought–actually, especially when I am going through a spiritual drought–the weeds of sin seem to have no problem. Like literal weeds, they crop up in every crack and corner, sometimes even right in the middle of the main sidewalk. If I am diligent to kill them right away, they don’t last very long, but if I ignore them for a while their roots grow deeper and they become stronger. Then it becomes more difficult–and more painful–to remove them from my life. It takes longer, and it takes either greater effort or more violent action to pry them loose.

God’s Word is spiritual water. Jesus is living water. I need Jesus and I need the Bible to replenish my soul. Along with that I need to be attentive every day to the weeds trying to sprout up in my life…and yank them out right away before they have any chance to get established.

August 13, 2012

The Best (and Worst) of Times

I stole the title, of course, from Charles Dickens, but I think it fits the Olympic games quite well. I think I probably watched more Olympic events during the 30th Olympiad than I have in any previous Olympic games, and I believe that the games showcased both the best and the worst of the human race.

The best? Well, the games provided the platform for demonstrating some of the greatest athleticism of which humans are capable. The breaking of world records, of course, would be evidence of that even without my commentary, and I assume that anyone who watched the games or followed the medal count or read a news story about the Olympics is aware of the exceptional athletic ability of the Olympic athletes. Even those who finished last in their respective events typically perform at a much higher level than the rest of us could ever hope to obtain. So I will not dwell much on the athletic accomplishments.

Instead, I’d like to highlight other “bests.”

While she just won her third consecutive gold medal in women’s beach volleyball with her partner Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh Jennings makes it a point after every match to go around and shake hands or exchange high-fives with every official, line judge, ball boy or girl, and sand sweeper. Her recognition of the “little people” that help make every athletic competition successful is refreshing.

U.S. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman paid tribute to her coach Mihai Brestyan by leaving the medal podium and putting her gold medal around his neck. Later she tweeted about how much he means to her and expressed her appreciation again. In a day and age when so many athletes bask in the glow of their accomplishments all by themselves, it was nice to see someone acknowledge that she did not win gold all by herself.

The flip side of that, of course, would be an example of the worst. As much as I respect Jamaican Usain Bolt and his incredible sprinting, his arrogance is off-putting to say the least. Anyone who repeatedly refers to himself as a legend and “the best” would do well to tone back the chest-thumping a bit. NBC commentator Bob Costas said it well when he commented that it would be difficult for anyone to think more highly of Bolt than he does of himself.

The track also provides another example of the best. South African Oscar Pistorius inspired the world by competing against “able-bodied athletes” in several sprinting events, despite having had both legs amputated below the knees at the age of eleven months due to being born without fibula. To see someone determine to overcome such a seemingly insurmountable obstacle and rise to the level of running, on Flex-Foot Cheetah prosthetics, against the best runners in the world should serve as reminder to all of us that most of our limitations are self-imposed.

An example of the worst would be the badminton teams…yes, badminton…from China, South Korea and Indonesia that were charged with “not using their best efforts to win a match” (The Guardian) but instead losing games on purpose in an effort to get into a more advantageous bracket. It is unfortunate anytime an athlete seeks to skew competition in his or her favor through any kind of cheating, but there is simply no excuse for athletes on the world stage losing matches on purpose in order to try to create an easier path to a medal.

Also on the worst list would be the revelation that Chinese diver Wu Minxia’s parents kept from her the news of her grandparents’ death and her mother’s breast cancer for over a year, not telling her until after she won the gold medal in the 3-meter springboard diving competition. Why? According to Yahoo! Sports, “…so as not to interfere with her diving career.” According to her father, “It was essential to tell this white lie.” Nonsense. No athletic pursuit should ever take precedence over familial bonds. This story serves to highlight the extreme, and, I dare say, ridiculous, pressure that is placed on Chinese athletes, who are often removed from home at a young age and placed in government-run training facilities.

I could go on… Jordan Wieber demonstrated the best when she pulled herself together after not making the final competition for the gymnastics individual all-around (despite performing better than 56 of the 60 contestants) to politely and graciously answer inane questions from NBC’s on-the-floor reporter, to congratulate and encourage her teammates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, and to perform well during the team all-around competition. David Boudia demonstrated the best when he overcame the lackluster performance of the platform diving prelims–squeaking into the semifinals in 16th place (when only 16 advance) to win the gold medal in the finals. Grenada’s Kirani James demonstrated the best when he exchanged bib numbers with Oscar Pistorius after the 400 meter semifinal, showing his respect and appreciation for Pistorius and his accomplishments. Gabby Douglas demonstrated the best when she directed the glory to God after her gold medal winning performance, and refused to make too big a deal about it when she did not score so well in individual apparatus competition a few days later. Michael Phelps demonstrated the best by becoming the most highly decorated Olympian ever…and insisting that he will indeed retire now that the Olympics are over. Like I said, I could go on…

Athletic events are incredible and wonderful opportunities for individuals and teams to demonstrate the amazing things that humans can do with their God-given talents. And while I enjoy competition as much as anyone (and perhaps more than most) let’s not forget that sporting events are, when it comes right down to it, games. That’s why the event that just concluded in London is accurately referred to as the Olympic games. They’re fun, they’re impressive, and there is nothing wrong with taking them seriously. Each athlete should try his or her best. But personal worth does not hinge on Olympic medals. Success must not be dependent on one brief moment of an individual’s life. People matter because of who they are–created in the image of God–not because of what they do.

August 9, 2012

Don’t Ignore God’s Design

I always find it interesting when scientific studies prove the validity of the Bible. I do not know whether the authors of such studies set out to provide or disprove the Bible, or whether the Bible ever even crosses their minds, but, without fail, accurate and legitimate scientific study consistently reaches a conclusion that is consistent with what the Bible has already established. As Solomon wrote, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, ESV).

I can remember back a number of years ago sitting in a large meeting room listening to one of the nation’s experts on the subject of dealing with troubled, aggressive and hostile youth, and hearing him state that the very best antidote for such behavior is “consistent, loving discipline over time.” The seminar was not hosted by a Christian group, and the speaker did not make any claim to be a Christian, but I thought to myself, “Hmmmm…interesting. That’s just what the Bible says.”

Well, another perfect example has emerged recently in a new study by Mark Regenerus, published in Social Science Journal. Regenerus, a sociologist and professor at The University of Texas, wanted to evaluate the validity of claims made by the American Psychological Association in 2005 that children are nor adversely affected by growing up in homosexual households. In 2010, social scientists Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz claimed that lesbian households were actually better for children than heterosexual households. In Journal of Marriage and Family they suggested that, “Strengths typically associated with married mother-father families appear to the same extent in families with 2 mothers and potentially in those with 2 fathers” (article abstract). That article was entitled, “Does the Gender of Parents Matter?”

But back in 2001 Stacey and Biblarz wrote, in American Sociological Review, an article entitled “Does the Sexual Orientation of Parents Matter?” The abstract for that article asserts: “Opponents of lesbian and gay parental rights claim that children with lesbigay parents are at higher risk for a variety of negative outcomes. Yet most research in psychology concludes that there are no differences in developmental outcomes between children raised by lesbigay parents and those raised by heterosexual parents.” Stacey and Biblarz go so far as to state that “heterosexism has hampered intellectual progress in the field.” It was this heterosexism that that they claimed caused the 21 studies that they examined to downplay what could have been important findings regarding the gender and sexual preferences of children. In their conclusion Stacey and Biblarz write that “researchers must
overcome the hetero-normative presumption that interprets sexual differences as deficits, thereby inflicting some of the very disadvantages it claims to discover.” In other words, they claim, it is the homophobic bias of researchers that results in studies showing that “lesbigay” families disadvantage children, since it surely could not be the case that those families in fact do result in disadvantages.

So, what did Regenerus find? His article was titled “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,” and was published in Social Science Research. First, he decided to test a far larger sample than other such studies have typically used, selecting at random more than 15,000 Americans between the ages of 15 and 39. Of those 15,000 he found that 175 responded that their mothers had been in a lesbian relationship, and 73 indicated that their fathers had been in a gay relationship. Okay, so less than 2% of respondents were raised in a homosexual household; but what impact did that have on them? According to the research, those individuals were more likely than their peers raised in heterosexual families to report “being unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, report more male and female sex partners, more sexual victimization, and were more likely to reflect negatively on their childhood family life, among other things.”

Now, let me be clear. I am not suggesting, nor, do I believe was Regenerus, that every child who is raised by a homosexual couple will be more likely to lose a job, get depressed, smoke marijuana, cheat on a partner, etc. But I am suggesting that it is not surprising to me to see those kinds of results. When we break the rules, there are consequences. When we ignore God’s design for the family, there are consequences. Do heterosexual parents mess up in raising their children? Of course. in case by case instances there will always be cases when we can find children of heterosexual parents who are far worse off than children of homosexual parents. But in general, children will be disadvantaged when raised by homosexual parents, because they will be raised in an environment that is contrary to God’s design.

I should mention that the article by Regenerus, and the study, have come under incredible attack since publication. Not surprisingly, it has been called “flawed, misleading, and scientifically unsound” by GLAAD, HRC, The Family Equality Council and Freedom to Marry. Those organizations, obviously, want to advance the idea that homosexuals, and homosexual families, are no different than heterosexual ones, so their thoughts on the study are not surprising. There has been so much negative attention directed at this study that there has been an audit of the research authorized by Social Science Journal, and I understand that those findings will be published in November. I hope that the results will indicate that the study was appropriately and accurately conducted. At the end of the day, though, even if the audit finds some errors or tries to put a different spin on this subject, the truth will always be the same: no one can ignore God’s design for the marriage and family and think everyone will be okay.

August 6, 2012

The Right to Read

In an attempt to force a unique application of an obscure law in Michigan, the ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Michigan and a school district in Detroit, claiming that the state and the district have not educated the students in the district schools at an adequate level, and have therefore violated the students’ “right to learn to read.” According to the lawsuit, there are hundreds of students in the Highland Park School District that are “functionally illiterate.”

Quoted in an article in the Washington Post, Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said, “None of those adults charged with the care of these children . . . have done their jobs.” Moss alleged that the Highland Park district–a district consisting of only three schools–is one of the lowest performing districts in the nation.

The lawsuit is attempting to apply a 1993 Michigan law requiring that students receive special assistance if they are not proficient in reading according to standardized tests given in grades 4 and 7. The “special assistance” in question is supposed to bring the less-than-proficient students up to grade level reading proficiency within one year.

While there are samples of the writing efforts of several students provided in the story in The Washington Post, one getting the bulk of the attention in that article is a young man named Quentin. Quentin just finished seventh grade, but according to ACLU experts reads at only a first grade level. Students were asked to write a letter to Michigan governor Rick Snyder with suggestions for improving their schools. Quentin’s effort reads: ““My name is Quemtin [last name blacked out] and you can make the school gooder by geting people that will do the jod that is pay for get a football tame for the kinds mybe a baksball tamoe get a other jamtacher for the school get a lot of tacher.” (There is a link in the article on washingtonpost.com where other examples of student letetrs can be viewed).

Quentin’s writing sample is both disheartening and frustrating. According to the WP article, 65 percent of fourth-graders and 75 percent of seventh-graders in Highland Park are not proficient in reading according to scores on their most recent tests.

The Highland Park district also faces a crushing debt and a severely-decreased enrollment over the past several years as a result of Chrysler no longer employing people in the area.

All of the above, at least according to the ACLU suit and the WP article, are the facts. And while I will be curious to see how this suit proceeds in the courts, several questions come to my mind.

One, what is the home situation of the students in Highland Park? While schools and teachers are responsible for educating their students, they do not bear this responsibility alone; rather, they share the responsibility with the parents of their students. Well, according to Highland Park’s own web site, the number of single-parent families outnumber the number of two-parent families nearly three to one. Obviously not all students from two-parent families succeed and not all children from single-parent families struggle or fail, but there is significant research that indicates that students from two-parent families tend to do significantly better in school.

Second (and I realize this relates, in many ways, to the first question) what accountability is there outside of the school for the students to do their part in learning? When I first started teaching I took students’ failing grades personally. I felt that if a student received an F on a test or quiz, I certainly must not have taught effectively. And while less-than-adequate student performance may be an indicator that the teacher is incapable or not fulfilling his or her responsibility, is does not necessarily mean this. Even the best teachers will from time to time have students who fail, either because they do not care, because they do not apply themselves, and/or because the student has not been appropriately placed (i.e., he or she is in a grade requiring skills he or she does not yet possess). Based on the information in the WP article–specifically the high number of students testing below proficiency in reading–it seems that the teachers/schools may bear a significant portion of the blame, but this is a legitimate question nonetheless.

Third, how is that even with laws like the one at the heart of this case in Michigan and the No Child Left Behind act mandating highly qualified teachers and adequate yearly progress, there are still students–and entire school districts–failing to meet the established standards?

One answer has to be the teacher’s unions, and the manner in which they fight tooth and nail against any kind of meaningful evaluation and accountability within the public school system. One need look no further than the way in which Michelle Rhee was treated when she attempted to transform the public schools in Washington, D.C.

Another part of the answer has to be the way in which the public school system works, if not perhaps the very continued existence of a public school system. The federal government has demonstrated an inability to effectively manage most of the things it tries to do (see the Post Office as Exhibit A), and yet the federal bureaucracy involved in education at the state and local level spends millions and billions of dollars, yet continues to produce (among successes, granted) school districts like Highland Park. The truth is that the public school system in the U.S. is nothing more than government subsidy of education. If true competition existed within the educational sphere in America I am convinced that we would see a drastic improvement in the scores of American students within a very short period of time. School choice and school vouchers programs have proven incredibly effective wherever they have been given the opportunity to be tried fairly. As I have argued here before, true competition will produce better results than any alternative every time.

What it comes down to at the end of the day, though, is that Quentin and his fellow students are the ones are suffering, and will continue to suffer. They are the victims of one or more of the following: adults who parent children and fail to fulfill their responsibilities as parents; teachers who fail to teach students and ensure that they are really learning; administrators who fail (or are unable) to remove ineffective teachers; teachers’ unions that look out more for the good of their members than for the good of the students; bureaucrats that are more concerned about the implementation of various laws than about the success of students; and politicians who continue to think that the government is more capable of making decisions than the people are.

August 2, 2012

“A Culture of Hate”?

Unless you live in a remote location with no access to television or Internet (which you obviously do not, since you are reading this!) you surely knew that yesterday was proclaimed “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” by former Arkansas governor, GOP presidential candidate and current FOX News contributor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee launched the idea after the media circus surrounding Chick-fil-A COO Dan Cathy’s comments confirming that he and his (privately held) company support the biblical definition of marriage, and thereby do not support homosexual marriage. I addressed this issue already in a previous post [see “Tolerance (Again)”] so I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about Chick-fil-A directly. Rather, I have to address another example of intolerance and, in fact, ignorance, announced to the world today on The Huffington Post.

Noah Michelson, editor of HuffPost Gay Voices, posted a column today entitled “Chick-fil-A: This Is Not a First Amendment Issue.” Now, I want to begin by saying that, given his position, it will not come as a surprise to you that Mr. Michelson and I disagree on the topic of gay marriage. However, I am not even going to address that, specifically. Instead, I need to address several specific comments Michelson makes in his post.

Note first of all that he states early on, “I fully support [Dan] Cathy’s right to say whatever he wants (and, in fact, so does the ACLU).” On this, we–Mr. Michelson, the ACLU, and I–agree. I support Mr. Cathy’s right to say that he supports the biblical definition of marriage, and I support Mr. Michelson’s right to say that he does not. As I have stated in this space before, the right to state our opinions, whether or not they are popular, whether or not many others will agree, and, indeed, whether or not they are even correct, is a large part of what makes America great. And the freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment.

Why then, does Michelson argue that this is not a First Amendment issue? He feels so strongly that it is not that he began his column saying that if he heard one more person state that the Chick-fil-A brouhaha was a First Amendment issue, “I’m going to jump out of one of the Huffington Post’s fifth-floor windows and swan dive into oncoming traffic.”

So how does Michelson go about suggesting that Cathy’s statement, Chick-fil-A’s position, and Huckabee’s day of support is not a First Amendment issue? By suggesting that all of the above is actually hate speech. Immediately after stating that he supports Cathy’s right to say whatever he wants, Michelson writes, “But just because someone can say something doesn’t mean they should — or that we should celebrate him or her for doing so, especially when what they’re saying is, at its core, promoting a culture of hate against a group of people.”

Wow! Promoting a culture of hate? By openly and unashamedly stating that he supports the biblical definition of marriage–meaning that marriage is between one man and one woman–Dan Cathy is promoting a culture of hate? Against whom? Apparently, according to Michelson, against any gay, lesbian, bi or transgendered individual. Apparently it is promoting hate to say that marriage should only be between a man and a woman, but it is not promoting hate to say that marriage–as it has been defined for the entirety of human history–should be redefined so that men can marry men, women can marry women, or any one of however many other combinations there may be within the LGBT community.

Unfortunately, though, Mr. Michelson does not stop there. He continues, and in doing so he plunges headlong into the uninformed and in-no-way-accurate suggestion that homosexuality is the equivalent of race, or that the denial of the right for homosexuals to marry is the equivalent of supporting female slavery. Find that hard to believe? Read his column for yourself. Furthermore, Michelson claims that Cathy’s and Chick-fil-A’s financial support of organizations that support traditional marriage is the equivalent of donating “millions of dollars to white supremacist organizations.”

Again, I have argued here before that sexual preference is in no way equivalent to race. Our race is genetic; we cannot change it. And while I do not agree that sexual preference is in one’s DNA, even if I were to grant, for sake of argument, that it is, sexual activity is still a choice; the color of one’s skin is not.

Michelson isn’t finished yet, though. He continues by stating that those of us (and I say “us” because I am in the category of people to whom he is referring) who support the biblical definition of marriage, ” still thinks [sic] that it’s OK to treat us like we are, at best, just not quite as worthy to have all the rights afforded straight or cis-gendered people or, at worst, just plain evil.” Now, I don’t even know what “cis-gendered” means, and neither does dictionary.com, so maybe it is a typo in Michelson’s post, or perhaps it is some sort of slang I have never seen, but it is safe to state that it somehow refers to those in the LGBT community. And the truth is, Mr. Michelson, I think you are every bit as “worthy” of the right to marry as I am, or as anyone else is–just so long as you do it within the legally defined limits of marriage. And as for evil, that’s just not true. I cannot speak for everyone, of course, but I certainly do not consider homosexuals, or those who support the redefinition of marriage, to be evil. I consider them to be misguided, yes, and even wrong. But they are no more evil than I am. After all, Scripture makes it quite clear that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that little word “all” includes me, too. It may be cliche, but I hate the sin, not the sinner.

Oh, and speaking of Scripture, that is the next target in Michelson’s piece: “Many of these statements are bolstered by religious arguments using the Bible as ammunition, but, as it’s been pointed out time and again, the Bible demands we do or don’t do a lot of things that we no longer do or don’t do (like that we should own slaves and we shouldn’t eat popcorn shrimp), and Jesus himself never uttered a single word about being queer (and if he wanted us all to be “traditionally married” so badly, you’d think the guy himself would have gotten married).”

Okay, one step at a time here. The Bible, specifically in the Old Testament, does contain a lot of instructions that the Israelites were commanded to follow that we no longer need to, both because we are no longer under the Law, and because of improvements in preparing food that make laws against eating popcorn shrimp no longer necessary. Next, Jesus never explicitly referenced homosexuality, but He did say, in Matthew 19:4, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ “and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?'” That’s a pretty clear embrace of God’s design for marriage. Furthermore, the Bible is explicitly clear in several places that homosexuality is a sin (Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:26-27 among others) and Jesus never refuted that; everything He ever said was consistent with every other portion of Scripture.

Michelson continues by saying, “When you buy food from Chick-fil-A, you’re basically saying, “Here, take this money and see to it that queer people can not only not get married, but that they also can’t adopt, can be fired simply for their sexuality and/or gender identity and continue to live in a society where they are regularly terrorized, mutilated, murdered and driven to suicide.” Sorry, but that’s ridiculous. First of all, it’s not as if every penny that Chick-fil-A makes goes to groups that support traditional marriage and/or oppose gay marriage. Second, supporting traditional marriage is not the equivalent of supporting terror, mutilation, or murder. I suspect Mr. Michelson would be hard pressed to find a single group that Chick-fil-A supports that explicitly or even discreetly supports or in any way does anything but oppose violence, harassment or intimidation of homosexuals.

So, sorry to say Mr. Michelson, but you’re wrong–there’s just no other way to say it. Supporting traditional marriage and advocating violence toward homosexuals are not the same thing. Opposing gay marriage and hating gay people is not the same thing. Eating at Chick-fil-A or contributing financially to groups that support traditional marriage and supporting or rejoicing over violence toward homosexuals such as you suggest at the end of your article is not the same thing.

So just how is, exactly, that those who hold a position different from yours are promoting a culture of hate? That’s a bold and dangerous accusation to make, and I’d like an apology.

August 1, 2012

Seventy Times Seven

Whether you are a baseball fan or not, you have undoubtedly heard the expression “three strikes and you’re out.” It turns out, the Pharisees in Jesus’ day took the same approach to forgiveness. They taught that, when wronged, individuals were obligated to forgive an offender up to three times. After the third time, however, there was no longer the need to forgive–the offender had “maxed out” and the forgiveness would not be forthcoming.

With this background in mind, it becomes clear that Peter thought he was being quite generous when he proposed forgiving up to seven times. In Matthew 18 Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” in light of what we know about Peter it does not take a lot of imagination to picture an almost-smug look on his face as he asks this question. He may have hoped his colleagues would be impressed by his magnanimity or that Jesus would give him an “attaboy” for his generous approach to forgiveness.

Jesus, though, quickly corrected Peter by informing him that even seven times was not nearly enough. “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven,” Jesus answered.

A little quick math reveals that Jesus suggested 490 times was a more appropriate limit, but the reality is that Jesus was telling Peter, the other disciples, and you and me, that there is to be no limit to our forgiveness.

In Ephesians 4:32, Paul writes, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” In Colossians 3:13 Paul writes, “[B]earing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.”

That’s where it gets really tough. For me to forgive others the same way that God has forgiven me means two things: unlimited forgiveness, and unconditional forgiveness. There can be no end to the number of times I forgive, and there can be no offense for which I will not forgive.

I have experienced hurts in my life that were painful, as I am sure you have. I have been wronged by others, and seen how the careless or self-centered or misguided actions of some can wreak havoc on the lives of others impacted by their actions. There have been offenses which still hurt to think about years after they have happened. And the truth is, there are some offenses that I cannot forgive, in my flesh. More often than not my natural inclination is to get even, not to forgive. And if I do find it in my heart to forgive, it would be once, maybe twice, but rarely three times and certainly not seven.

Truth is, though, I am incredibly thankful that God has no limit to His forgiveness. If He did, I would have exceeded it long ago, whether the limit was 490 or seven times seven thousand. God is perfect and righteous and holy, and I, in myself, am anything but.

Three strikes is a good rule for baseball. It keeps the game moving. But it’s a lousy rule when it comes to forgiving others.

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