jasonbwatson

February 27, 2013

Not going away

The issue of homosexual marriage is not going away anytime soon…which means it will not go away as a topic for this blog, either. It is an issue that is too important to ignore, an issue on which we cannot remain silent.

First of all, I need to state that I am a firm believer in the system of government established in the United States, and despite the fact that I am not always pleased with the decisions that are made or the speed with which they are (or are not) made, I think the system generally works the way the founders designed it to work, and I think they knew what they were doing. In fact, if our elected officials were held accountable for adhering to the requirements that are in place for them, things would work even better.

On that note, despite the fact that I am not an extremist by any means and would ordinarily hesitate to call for something as drastic as the impeachment of the president, President Obama should have been impeached the moment that he announced the he was instructing the Department of Justice not to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Constitution (in Article 2, Section One, Clause Eight) requires that the president take the this oath upon being sworn in to office: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Of course, though not constitutionally required, every president has added “So help me God” at the end of the oath, following the example set by George Washington at the very first inauguration. So why should President Obama have been impeached? Because he violated his oath, and has been violating it ever since. He cannot “faithfully execute” the duties of his office if he is instructing the Justice Department to not enforce a law that was passed by Congress and signed by a previous president. Whether he likes or agrees with the law or not does not matter one bit; it is the law, and he is sworn to uphold it. Even worse, the DOJ has gone beyond not enforcing the DOMA to actively opposing it. The Congress has had to hire lawyers to defend the DOMA in court against the DOJ! Interestingly, even Steve Weinstein, EDGE Editor-in-Chief, writing on South Florida Gay News, acknowledged that the president is not upholding it responsibilities: “The House has been voting extraordinary funds to fight DOMA repeal on its own, thus making for a historic clash between a presidency that refuses to defend a law (as the Constitution mandates him to do) on the one hand; and a legislative body taking extra-legislative action by intervening in the courts.”

Now, just last Friday, the DOJ filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief with the Supreme Court, urging the Court to strike down elements of the DOMA. Why should the DOMA be struck down? Because “the broad consensus in the scientific community is that, for the vast majority of people (gay and straight alike), sexual orientation is not a voluntary choice.” This statement itself is a lie, but let’s ignore that. After all, the Obama administration could have found a certain segment of the “scientific community,” the majority of which does assert this claim. (Rather like all the toothpaste commercials that claim that 4 out of 5 dentists recommend their brand, right? After all, if you line up enough of them and stick to it long enough, you could find 4 out of 5 people that would recommend or support just about anything).

It is further evidence of an increasing trend by President Obama and his administration to assert in less-than-veiled terms, however, that those who disagree with their position are, well, stupid. He has taken the same approach to his arguments for addressing climate change, too. In his State of the Union address on February 12 President Obama said that climate change is “the overwhelming judgment of science.” He used the same phrase in his second inaugural address when he said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science….”

Back to the DOMA, though, the Supreme Court will hear Harvard Law School professor Vicki C. Jackson argue that it does not even have the authority to hear the case United States v. Windsor since the Obama administration has chosen to stop enforcing DOMA. According to the Harvard Crimson, “Jackson will assert that because the Obama administration has chosen to no longer defend the 1996 law, agreeing with the decision made by a lower court that it is invalid, the court does not have the authority to rule on the case.” So, if the president decides not to enforce a law the Supreme Court cannot even hear cases on it? That’s ridiculous. That flies in the face of the very purpose of the checks and balances system established by our Constitution. If this line of reasoning is followed, we will be well on the way to an autocratic presidency.

Equally troubling–perhaps even more so–is that the Obama DOJ has also asserted in its amicus curiae brief that the lawfully enacted DOMA must be struck down and homosexual marriage must be both granted and protected, the will of the people be damned. Specifically, the brief argues that, in this instance, the Court must not allow the will of the people to run its course. “That approach would be very well taken in most circumstances. This is, however, the rare case in which deference to the democratic process must give way to the fundamental constitutional command of equal treatment under law. Section 3 of DOMA targets the many gay and lesbian people legally married under state law for a harsh form of discrimination that bears no relation to their ability to contribute to society. It is abundantly clear that this discrimination does not substantially advance an interest in protecting marriage, or any other important interest. The statute simply cannot be reconciled with the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. The Constitution therefore requires that Section 3 be invalidated.”

The Constitution requires no such thing. President Obama and his administration are asserting that they know better than the Congress, than the people of the United States, and than the very Constitution of the United States.

Last year Senators Orrin Hatch, Saxby Chambliss, Dan Coats, Thad Cochrane, Mike Crapo, Charles Grassley, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Richard Shelby and Roger Wicker filed an amicus curiae brief of their own in the case of Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management on an appeal being heard in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Their brief provides an excellent overview of the history of DOMA and the danger of seeing struck down by the Court for reasons that are not constitutional. (If you’re interested, you can read the brief here: http://www.hatch.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/d78e55fd-f3bd-459e-b424-9875aabf9ddd/Amicus%20Brief%20of%20US%20Senators%20in%20Golinski%20final.pdf).

Former attorneys general Edwin Meese III and John Ashcroft also filed an amicus brief with the court in the Golinski case, arguing that the Obama administration had seriously erred in its decision not to enforce DOMA, and that because of its unprecedented actions in failing to support the law of the land, its opinions must not be given much weight in the deciding of the case. “Due to the historical landscape addressed above, and the fifteen year history of DOJ’s defense of DOMA, the decision to change course and challenge DOMA’s constitutionality should be viewed as an extreme and unprecedented deviation from the historical norm and, as such, the persuasive weight afforded to DOJ’s brief should be less than in the typical case.”

I could go on, here, but I will stop, because this is already getting lengthy and because there is plenty of information out there already that you can read if you want to explore this subject in more detail. Bottom line, we have a President who is violating his oath of office by refusing to enforce a law that was passed by Congress and signed by a previous president, and we now have him using his DOJ to actively oppose the law in court in an effort to see the law ruled unconstitutional. We need to pray for the nine men and women on the Supreme Court. Specifically, we need to pray that they will hear the case and that they will rule that the DOMA is constitutional, and the president and the DOJ must enforce it.

February 22, 2013

We’re Slipping (Part 2)

Just over a year ago I posted an entry entitled “We’re Slipping” in which I addressed how we are already slipping down that slippery slope that will come with any efforts to normalize homosexual relations, and certainly with any approval of homosexual marriage. Unfortunately we are still slipping, a fact made painfully clear in a January 2 article in the British newspaper The Guardian, an article entitled “Paedophilia: bringing dark desires to light.” Andree Seu Peterson took a very insightful look at this article in her column in the February 9 issue of WORLD Magazine; in fact, I found it to be one of the better columns by Seu Peterson I have read. Her column was entitled “Culture creep.”

Side note, since I am not British, nor do I imagine many if any of my readers are, I am going to drop the “a” and use the spelling we are used to when I reference pedophilia for the rest of the article, even when I quote the piece from The Guardian.

The Guardian‘s article highlights the fact that we are slipping. Seu Peterson’s column highlights three strategies used by those on “The Dark Side” (her term) to gradually make us more accepting of behavior that has previously been clearly understood as immoral and wrong.

At one point The Guardian article includes this statement: “There is little agreement about pedophilia, even among those considered experts on the subject.” That in and of itself is troubling to me, and should be to you, because it should sicken you to think that there could possibly be any disagreement as to whether or not adult-child sexual relationships are wrong. However, Seu Peterson calls this Strategy No. 1–“the notion of different opinions.” She writes that by suggesting that any behavior is controversial rather than wrong, the door is immediately thrown open to the possibility that perhaps it is not wrong. After all, if people can sincerely disagree on the subject–particularly the so-called experts–maybe it is not as cut-and-dried or black-and-white as we originally thought, right? As Seu Peterson writes, “Relinquish the word ‘wrong,’ accept the softer ‘reasonable difference of opinion,’ and the camel’s nose is well under the tent.”

Strategy No. 2 identified by Seu Peterson is distinctions. The Guradian article includes these lines: “A pedophile is someone who has a primary or exclusive sexual interest in prepubescent children. Savile appears to have been primarily an ephebophile, defined as someone who has a similar preferential attraction to adolescents.” Seu Peterson states that “ephebophile” was a new word for her, and it was for me, too. In fact, Dictionary.com does not recognize it as a word. However, by creating a distinction between different kinds of sexual attraction to children, Seu Peterson writes, “automatically confers a certain legitimacy without even having to argue for it.”

The third strategy is what Seu Peterson calls the domain of the professional. How does that work? By quoting and citing individuals with impressive titles and/or who work at impressive institutions–thereby giving the impression that the “smart people” understand all of this much better than the rest of us. The piece in The Guardian did this by citing results from “Sarah Goode, a senior lecturer at the University of Winchester and author of two major 2009 and 2011 sociological studies on pedophilia in society” and “two eminent researchers” and “the Harvard Mental Health Letter,” the last of these which “stated baldly that pedophilia ‘is a sexual orientation.'”

These are strategies that are used by the media, used by individuals and groups motivated to change the acceptance of previously-unacceptable behavior, and by the scientists and research centers that cater to these groups (and depend on them for funding). As with the warnings I gave in the last post, we must be careful how news is “spun.”

Perhaps more troubling than any of the above, though, and the clearest evidence that we are well on our way down the slippery slope? This statement in The Guardian: “Some academics do not dispute the view of Tom O’Carroll, a former chairman of PIE [Pedophile Information Exchange]…that society’s outrage at pedophilic relationships is essentially emotional, irrational, and not justified by science. ‘It is the quality of the relationship that matters,’ O’Carroll insists.”

Seu Peterson is correct when she ends her column with this: “The thing to notice is that while you weren’t looking that word ‘relationships’ snuck in without debate. Another place gained. The language of alternative lifestyle slowly replaces today’s more common terminology of ‘abuse’ and ‘victim.'”

February 20, 2013

No scientific support

On February 15 My Christian Daily ran a piece entitled, “Panel calls therapy for gays ‘a human rights violation’.” The article was a brief overview of the issue of conversion therapy and a meeting of a panel of individuals for what was advertised as “the first ever UN discussion on the legalities, ethics, and science behind the movement promoting [efforts to change sexual orientation].” The meeting, though, was held at Church Center, a known gathering place for “left-wing groups” and not on UN property. Further, according to the article, the event was “sponsored by non-government organizations, and did not feature representatives of any UN member states.”

The controversy over conversion therapy is not new. In fact, just a few months ago California passed a law banning conversion therapy for minors. That law, however, is on hold, following an injunction from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals until the matter can be argued before the courts.

The premise behind conversion therapy is that individuals can be “converted” from homosexual to heterosexual with therapy. The American Psychological Association says on its web site that there is “no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective.” The APA also says that “the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons.”

On the other side of the argument are groups like the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which argue that the conversion therapy is legitimate, safe and effective. Exodus International used to advocate the therapy as well, though its president, Alan chambers, made news last summer upon announcing that Exodus would no longer use the therapy because it “sets the person seeking therapy up for failure by giving him or her unrealistic expectations.” Chambers told the Gay Christian Network last summer than 99.9 percent of all of the people he has met through Exodus International are still attracted to individuals of the same sex and still struggle with temptation.

Never wanting to miss out on an opportunity to address a hot-button social issue that has nothing to do with its founding, the Southern Poverty Law Center has stated that conversion therapy “is a dangerous practice based on the premise that people can change their sexual orientation, literally ‘converting’ from gay to straight.” Of course the SPLC also calls many conservative Christian groups “hate groups” because of their “intolerance.”

ReligiousTolerance.org is “a multi-faith group” claiming to include members that are Atheist, Agnositc, Christian, Wiccan and Zen Buddhist,” and includes on its web site a study of studies, purporting that conversion therapy fails 99.5% of the time.

Now, what point am I trying to make? First of all, there is no therapy known to man that is always effective. Secondly, I doubt that there is any way to accurately measure the “success” of conversion therapy. After all, if someone “cured” if they never engage in homosexual behavior, or only if they never think about engaging in homosexual behavior? Temptation, may I remind you, is not sin. Third, no one is suggesting that homosexuals should be forced to endure conversion therapy. If an individual wants conversion therapy he or she must surely be unhappy with the homosexual tendencies he/she is feeling. Why would we argue against, even suggest banning, a form of therapy that someone wants? After all, people go to therapy to address all kinds of behaviors they do not wish to continue, from smoking to shoplifting to fill-in-the-blank-with-the-troubling-behavior-of-your-choice.

So part of my point is that it makes no sense to ban conversion therapy, and any attempt to do so should be considered a violation of a number of constitutionally-protected rights.

What I found most interesting about the article on the “UN discussion” though was that Rebecca Jordan-Young, a researcher at Barnard College who addressed the group and was “deeply in agreement with the premise of [the] meeting, that sexual orientation change efforts are in fact a human rights violation and a problem” also said that no one should use science to defend such a position. Why? “We don’t really know how sexual orientation develops” she said, despite the fact that many people “think of sexual orientation as something that’s fundamentally biologically driven….” Specifically, Jordan-Young stated that there is no modern scientific research to support such a position.

So, if sexual orientation is not a “just born that way” issue, then it cannot be a civil rights issue. What then should it be? Maybe something more like religion, Jordan-Young suggested, “the freedom of conviction, the freedom of one’s conscience….”

I would actually be comfortable with that analogy, because, while I believe that homosexuality is a sin, I do not believe that it should be criminalized. (I do, however, believe that homosexual marriage should not be permitted). If someone wants to think that homosexuality is okay, he or she has that right. If someone wants to engage in homosexual or bisexual behavior, he or she also has that right. But insisting on redefining marriage based on that thought–conviction, even, if you want to go that far–would not be permissible…for exactly the same reasons that I have argued here before: if we are going to redefine marriage based on what one group of people thinks or believes, we have absolutely no defense against redefining it how any other group may think or believe.

What’s more, the idea that homosexuality is a “freedom of conscience” issue throws wide open the door to allow conversion therapy and efforts to persuade individuals that homosexuality is wrong. After all, the freedom of speech protects my right to try to persuade anyone else to believe the same way I do, whether my ideas are popular of “scientifically verifiable” or not. Even the UN’s own Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief said last October that member states should protect the freedom of religion as well as the right of individuals to convert to another religion and “the right to try to convert others by means of non-coercive persuasion.”

And Toiko Kleppe, the UN’s senior counsel on LGBT issues at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the sole UN representative at the gathering mentioned at the start of this entry, stated that conversion therapy is “unscientific…potentially harmful…and definitely a violation of human rights” before also saying that such therapy would not be a human rights violation “if the patient was able to give informed consent to the therapy.”

Therein lies the rub…the opponents of conversion therapy are making waves and drawing attention to an issue that does not even exist. No one that I know of or have ever heard of is suggesting forced therapy for homosexuals. I do not know of anyone that would condone such practice. No intelligent person wants to go back to the United States of the 1920s when states passed laws permitting forced sterilization of the mentally handicapped, and I do not know any intelligent person that wants to make homosexuality illegal or force conversion therapy on anyone.

So…look beyond the headlines, because usually those who are screaming the loudest are spinning the story for their own benefit. The UN rep makes headlines for saying that conversion therapy is a human rights violation, but little attention is given to her statement that it is not a violation when consent is given. A college researcher tells the group that conversion therapy is a human rights violation, but her statement that sexual orientation is not an innate quality people are born with is ignored.

February 15, 2013

Boundaries

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 9:26 pm
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Carl Trueman wrote an excellent article for the July 2012 issue of Tabletalk magazine entitled “Why Do We Draw the Line?” Trueman starts the article by highlighting the recent trend toward “uniting around the center”–focusing on the doctrines and beliefs around which believers agree rather than highlighting the areas of disagreement. Trueman states–correctly, I would have to say–“Frequently, those who talk of the center as all-important contrast themselves favorably with those they see as emphasizing boundaries.” But then that is culture we love in; Trueman continues, “…evangelical talk of centers rather than boundaries has a lot to commend it. To make the point concisely: it is consonant with both the desire of Christians for unity and the cultural, political and psychological aesthetics of our time.”

The remainder of the article, though, is spent explaining why boundaries are indeed important. Trueman mentions that the “world at large” seems usually to consider boundaries as “something to be transgressed, and that continuously.” Trueman explains that the boundaries God has given in His Word, though, are put in place not to stifle or restrict us, not to quash our fun, but to “enable us to be truly human.” Boundaries from the Lord serve the same function as boundaries from state to citizen, from parent to child–to protect. Parents do not allow their children to run out into traffic, despite the fact that prohibiting them from doing so is a boundary, because the potential consequences are lethal. States do not allow citizens to shout “Fire!” in crowded theaters or to shoot guns in populated areas, because the potential consequences are dangerous. Similarly, God has given each human being a free will, and we have the ability to choose to do whatever we want. But God has instituted boundaries to protect us from the potential dangers that we likely would not consider before plunging into whatever seems like fun or seems the best thing to do at the time. Using the “hedonism of Hugh Hefner” as example, Trueman writes that “…one cannot simply cross a boundary and then stop: that merely establishes a new boundary, which others will transgress in more radical and extreme ways.”

Trueman also argues–again, rightly–that boundaries can in fact liberate. The “exclusion from wider society of serial killers and pedophiles” is not “bad or oppressive” he writes; on the contrary, there is greater freedom for all by knowing that those individuals (at least once they are known) will be prohibited from being inside the boundaries of “regular society.”

Numerous studies have shown that children actually thrive when boundaries are present, contrary though that may be to what most people would claim to expect. For example, children who are inside an enclosed playground area are likely to run around and play freely throughout the entire enclosed area, whereas children on a playground without boundaries (such as a fence) tend to stick closer to each other and to the playground equipment. Why? Because the fence–the boundary–provides a sense of safety and security that is unknown where there is no fence.

That is, after all, why boundaries exist–to help us know where we are safe and where we would be in danger. Boundaries, when observed, prevent all manner of possible injury and heartbreak. Ravi Zacharias writes wisely about the benefits of boundaries in marriage in his book I, Isaac, Take Thee Rebekah: “Lines must be drawn not at the level of acting but at the level of thinking. Lines must be drawn not at the level of doing but at the level of desiring. Lines must be drawn not at the level of contact but at the level of sight.” Zacharias recognizes what so many of us prefer to ignore–that is we do not allow ourselves to think about getting inappropriately involved with another, there is almost no chance that we will actually do so. If we do not look lustfully or longingly at another, there is very little likelihood that we will get involved in inappropriate contact. Without the boundaries in place we might still know where the edge is, but our human tendency is to delight in getting as close as we can to the edge, boasting in our ability to hang precariously over the edge without plummeting. The problem is, when we spend so much time hanging over the edge almost anything could cause us to fall–and when we fall over the edge it will be too late. Boundaries serve to keep us a safe distance from the edge so that even if we do fall, we fall within the boundaries–we fall somewhere where we are still safe.

Trueman also highlights another aspect of the boundaries discussion which is very often overlooked or ignored: “[C]enters and boundaries are ultimately dependent on each other–one cannot meaningfully talk of one without assuming the existence of the other. In a circle, the central point is a function of the perimeter. I know where the center is only when I see the circle as a whole and judge its location on the basis of the circumference.” Discussion of abandoning boundaries then, or of allowing each person to decide his or her own boundaries, is to deny the existence of a center…something surely no believer would ever claim to want to do.

Let us beware, then, to appreciate the boundaries rather than seek ways to expand, stretch, avoid, circumvent or remove them. God has placed them there because He loves us, and there is nothing beyond the boundaries that we need.

February 12, 2013

Are you kidding me?

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 7:31 pm
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Ever see or hear one of those stories that just makes you say, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Well, I saw one like that yesterday. A lady by the name of Sabine Moreau, age 67, left her home in Erquelinnes, Belgium to go to Brussels to pick up a friend from the train station. That should have been a 93-mile trip, one-way. However, Ms. Moreau either entered erroneous information in her GPS or has a faulty device–and chose to follow its directions anyway, despite what should have been recognized relatively quickly as an obvious problem. How serious was the error? Rather then heading generally north, Moreau traveled south east for some 900 miles, finally realizing something was amiss when she ended up in Zagreb, Croatia. By that time Moreau had been in five different countries (besides Belgium), passing through parts of France, Germany, Austria, and Slovenia before crossing into Croatia.

Along the way she stopped for gas twice, was in a minor traffic accident, and even stopped to sleep for a while. I do not want to be too judgmental, but it would seem that something more may be wrong with Moreau than an over-dependence on her GPS. After all, to put this in context for those of you who live near me geographically, Moreau’s trip would be akin to me setting off for Gettysburg (SD) and finally realizing something wasn’t quite right when I hit Dallas, Texas. When Moreau figured out was going on and called home she discovered that her family had filed a missing person report, and police were about to start searching for her!

As I pondered the silliness of this story I was reminded of a few things. First, technology–no matter how good it is–is only as good as the one operating it. This is an important thing to keep in mind as we become more and more dependent on the every-multiplying number of technological conveniences around us.

Second, as ridiculous as it seems to think that someone can go 900 miles in the wrong direction without realizing it, we have a tendency to do the same thing spiritually. Moreau had to have passed hundreds of road signs on her way to Zagreb, and almost any one of them should have clued her in to the error of her ways. She either had absolutely no understanding of her surroundings and of basic geography, or she was oblivious to the signs around her, ignoring the direction that was plenty clear.

Romans 1:19-23 (ESV) says:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

God has provided plenty of signs for us. There is really no way Moreau can claim to have had no idea that she had passed through five countries going in almost the opposite direction of where she should have gone, almost ten times further than she should have gone. Given the signs that abounded along her route, the only possible explanation is stupidity (which I define as refusing to use the intelligence you have). Quite frankly, Moreau became futile in her thinking (if she was thinking) and she became a fool. At the end of the day, though, it just makes an interesting (if ridiculous) story.

So many of us, however, are ignoring the signs that God has placed around us. God has clearly and plainly revealed Himself to us, and when we fail to see the signs that is our fault, not His. When we ignore the signs, that is our fault, not His. We are without excuse. And while we think we may be wise, we are really fools. Stupid fools. At the end of that journey, though, there will be something much worse than an embarrassing story…and I’m not kidding.

February 8, 2013

Costly Christianity

Filed under: Biblical Worldview,Spiritual Growth — jbwatson @ 9:28 pm
Tags: ,

This past Wednesday the students, faculty and staff of the school where I serve spent time learning about persecuted Christians around the world. Students met together in the chapel and watched a couple of short videos, including one that tells the story of a man persecuted and imprisoned in Laos. (You can find plenty of videos about persecuted believers on YouTube). Afterwards the students went by ones and twos to different homes on campus where the groups talked about a specific country where Christians are persecuted and spent time in prayer. We made everything as much like it was a secret church meeting as possible–we had “police” out to interrogate students found walking outside, secret knocks were used to gain entrance to the homes, and meetings were held quietly and in the dark.

It was tremendously enlightening for me to learn about the persecution faced by Christians in Eritrea…a country I had heard of but knew almost nothing about.

There is no way to artificially create a setting that will feel exactly like Christians around the world feel when they literally risk their lives to own a Bible, share the gospel, or gather together in prayer. As I sat in my home awaiting the students in my group, however, I was struck by the thought that I have been going to church my whole life, and I have never felt afraid to do so. There are probably a couple dozen Bibles in my house. And while I have not been as bold as I should be in my testimony most of the time, I have never felt that my life would be in danger for sharing the gospel.

That caused me to ask the famous two-word question, “What if?” What if I did live in an environment where those dangers existed? What if I did put myself and my family at risk by owning a Bible or professing Christ? Would I be willing to do it? Would I knowingly risk imprisonment and torture to possess even a page of the Bible?

The sad truth is, I don’t know. I hope I would…but I think it would be arrogant to say with absolute certainty that I would. I am blessed to live in a country where I can own Bibles–as many as I want–attend church as often as I want, pray openly, and tell others about Christ. I must be very careful, though, not to let the freedoms that I have become an excuse for casual Christianity. My faith does not cost me anything, but I must never forget that it cost God His Son, and I need to remember in prayer those who have given their lives in His service, and those who are still risking their lives for Him today.

Thank you, Lord, for the freedoms I have. Help me not to take them for granted. Instead, help me to capitalize on that freedom and be a bold witness for You, salt and light in my sphere of influence. Help me to remember the men and women who are in prison right now for naming the name of Christ, and thousands more who live in constant danger because of their faith. Give me the courage that they have, Lord, the courage to live a life shaped by costly Christianity. Amen.

February 6, 2013

An Atheist Chaplain

Stanford University, that veritable institution of higher education in California, has recognized an atheist chaplain. John Figdor, the “chaplain,” is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, and while he is officially employed by Stanford’s Humanist Community, the university has recognized him as a chaplain under the school’s Office of Religious Life.

Figdor was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as explaining that “atheist, agnostic and humanist students suffer the same problems as religious students–deaths or illnesses on the family, questions about the meaning of life, etc.–and would like a sympathetic nontheist to talk to.” Ignoring the fact that there was probably no shortage of “nontheists” around Stanford before Figdor arrived, I wonder what Figdor tells these students? When someone is struggling to make sense of an unexpected death or a serious illness or some tragedy that occurs, how could you even attempt to explain it or offer hope through it with the backdrop of “there is no God”? I cannot imagine trying…and I cannot much encouragement is readily forthcoming in that setting.

Among Figdor’s recent projects? Leading students through what he called “The Heathen’s Guide to the Holidays,” which included such heartwarming and inspirational suggestions as singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” and celebrating “Festivus,” the holiday “for the rest of us” made famous on the hit television sitcom Seinfeld.

The San Francisco Chronicle described Figdor as “one of a growing number of faith-free chaplains at universities, in the military and in the community who believe that nonbelievers can benefit from just about everything religion offers except God.” The article quoted Figdor describing his vision for “creat[ing] a vibrant, humanist community here in Silicon Valley, where people can find babysitters for their kids and young people can meet each other.” That sounds like a social club…and there are plenty of those around. So what moves Figdor to the level of chaplain? Figdor says, “we emphasize the values of compassion and empathy alongside reason and science. Humanism is about using science and technology to solve human problems. But it’s also the belief that we should ask if something will create suffering or ameliorate it.” He also stated that it is not necessary to believe in a supreme being in order to be a moral person. Of course, without a supreme being and any absolute right and wrong, “morality” is an ever-changing target, fluctuating with the whims, opinions, habits and desires of the individual–because if there is supreme being and no absolute, you cannot tell me if my behavior is moral or not. You can try, but if I deny your standard, what can you do about it? Nothing. The perk for me is then I get to accuse you of trying to force your morality on me…and in this instance it really would be your morality, since it is based purely on what you think, want and prefer.

I am poking a bit of fun at Figdor and at Stanford and at the idea of an atheist chaplain, of course, but in reality this story serves to illustrate the reality that so many in our country have tried so vehemently to deny, and that is that there is no such thing as religious neutrality. Atheism is just as much a “religion” as is evangelical Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.

And why does that matter? It matters because, despite what American United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union and black-robe-wearing judges across the land have tried to assert for decades now, when the government tries to ban “religion” from the public sphere it is in fact violating the Constitution, the First Amendment of which begins with this statement: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” So as laughable as the idea of an atheist chaplain seems at face value, Stanford is right…atheism is a religion. Perhaps Mr. Figdor and his brothers and sisters in the atheist and humanist chaplaincy can convince the rest of the country of that fact, and then we can begin to reverse the tide we have been on since the 1960s. If they can accomplish that I will be perfectly happy to recognize atheist chaplains…even if their greatest accomplishment to date might be a good deal on movie tickets.

Stanford graduate student Armand Rundquist is the president of AHA!, the campus group of atheists, humanists and agnostics, and the Chronicle quoted him saying that many atheists at the school were not interested in having a chaplain…until they realized the potential perks. Said Rundquist, “He got us some discount tickets to the atheist film festival in San Francisco.”

Funny; Figdor failed to mention that among the problems both believing and unbelieving students share is overpriced movie tickets….

February 1, 2013

Shameful, Part 2

Apparently the story that prompted yesterday’s post is not a hoax. In fact, it is so legit that the server who posted the picture of the receipt that sparked it all was fired after the pastor complained. You can find this story just as easily as you can find the original one with a few key strokes and a search engine. But, in Joe Friday fashion, here’s the facts:

* The pastor is Alois Bell, a pastor at Truth in the World Deliverance Ministries Church.

* The restaurant in question was an Applebee’s.

* The originally-posted picture of the receipt did not redact or in any way obscure Bell’s signature (which is no doubt what led to the firing, since it violated her privacy).

* Bell complained to the manager at the Applebee’s where the incident occurred, leading to the firing of Chelsea Welch, the waitress who posted the original photo.

* Bell told The Smoking Gun, “My heart is really broken. I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and ministry.”

Indeed you have, Pastor Bell. I suspect I am one of thousands, if not millions, of people who looked up Truth in the World Deliverance Ministries Church to see if I could find the church’s web site. I did not find one; I did find a church in Michigan with the same name, but I do not know there there is any relationship between the two, as Bell’s church is in the St. Louis area. I did find a YouTube video of Bell preaching, and that will no doubt get thousands of hits. Unfortunately, not for any good reason; in fact, the negative and judgmental comments are already piling up in the video’s comments section.

Scripture makes it clear that we are to be careful in judging others, lest we too be judged, and I want to be careful that I am not judging Bell in a holier-than-thou manner. After all, I have made plenty of mistakes, and will no doubt make plenty more. There have surely been times when my actions have not brought honor to the Lord. And I am sure that Bell is embarrassed. Sadly, as we all know, we humans are sometimes more sorry that we got caught or called out than we are sorry for what we did. And though I don’t know Alois Bell, I cannot help but think that she would not have given her receipt comment a second thought if it had not gone viral on the world wide web.

So what can we learn from all this? I think James 1:19 is relevant: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Bell did not speak, she wrote, but the principle is the same. When we are irritated or frustrated or aggravated…those are the times that it is more important than ever to slow down before we open our mouths, pick up our pens (or sit down at our keyboards…).

I have not taken the time to read every article that pops up when this story is searched, so I do not know if Bell has said anything more than that she is embarrassed. If she has not, though, then her statement is lacking. Yes, she surely has brought embarrassment to her church and to her ministry, but that is not even close to being the most important thing. Most import is that she brought embarrassment on the Lord. To paraphrase what David said in Psalm 51, Alois Bell needs to acknowledge that it is against God that she has sinned; that is far more important than anything else. She has embarrassed her church, she has damaged her ministry, but she has sinned against God. She misused His Word in an effort to justify skimping on a gratuity, and that violates 2 Timothy 2:15:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Alois Bell identified herself as a pastor, but she now has reason to be ashamed, because she did not rightly handle the Word of God. I hope and pray that she is ashamed more than embarrassed, and that she asks God for forgiveness and can learn from this experience. She needs to apply His word much more carefully, and to bring honor to the Lord, not shame.

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