Let’s not cheat

Last Saturday I attended the convention of the Right to Life organization in my state. During the banquet the organization presented its annual Humanitarian of the Year award. Imagine my surprise when the recipient, a Catholic priest, stated in his acceptance speech that one of the things “we” (those who stand for life) should do in our efforts to defend life and bring about an end to abortion in the United States is cheat. He was not suggesting this as an initial approach, but he did wholeheartedly endorse the idea of cheating in order to accomplish a greater good. Manipulation, deception, trickery and the like would all be perfectly acceptable in his mind. He even went so far as to suggest that when Jesus said that believers need to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” in Matthew 10 that He was endorsing this kind of approach.

This notion struck me as wrong from the moment he uttered the words, but it was an idea that I kept mulling throughout the evening, and the level of my discomfort with the idea only continued to increase. To cheat, according to dictionary.com, means “to practice fraud or deceit; to violate rules and regulations.” As important as I believe it is to defend life, going about doing so by cheating would be all wrong. As one example of deception this priest told a story of setting up a table that said “Democrats for Life” at a Democratic convention in Colorado in the late 1970s. He said because a number of people interpreted the message to be the equivalent of “lifelong Democrat” they had lots of people wearing “Democrat for Life” buttons before someone pointed out what they actually meant. This is a humorous story, perhaps, but it is not really cheating. Rather, it is capitalizing on the ignorance of the individuals sporting the buttons. But even if this were the extent of the “cheating” that was intended, such an approach will do no long term good. Getting people who do not realize what they are doing to wear a button supporting life will not change anyone’s mind or heart or change any laws. While it might be fun, then, it is ultimately ineffective.

Still, I could not help thinking that something beyond this trickery is what the Father had in mind. Exactly what he had in mind I do not know, but I know that, whatever it is, cheating is the wrong way to try to win this fight. Furthermore, suggesting it is a step onto a very slippery, and very steep, slope. If it is okay to cheat–to deceive or manipulate or break the rules–in order to defend life, what other things is it okay to cheat to accomplish? And who decides? If cheating is okay, is outright lying? Is hostage-taking or even killing abortionists okay? I am not at all suggesting that these behaviors were what the humanitarian of the year had in mind, but the question is still valid. Once we okay or endorse one wrong behavior in pursuit of a good end, how far are we willing to go? And again, who is going to decide “that’s far enough”?

Perhaps this illustration will help. The priest I am referring to here is also, apparently, a teacher, because he made multiple references to his students and to having them enter the annual essay contest for Right to Life. Presumably, if one of his students cheated on a research paper or a test, he would not approve. In fact he would not only disapprove but, if he takes academic integrity seriously, he would mete out a rather severe consequence. But what if that student had a legitimate reason for not getting the paper done ethically and on time? Or what if giving that student a zero could result in a grade or disciplinary record that would prohibit him or her from being admitted to the college he or she had in mind? If you want to follow the “what ifs” long enough you can create a scenario in which assigning the consequences for this instance of cheating could impact the entire future of the offending student.If we could know that by letting the cheating go that student would go on to an Ivy League school, law school, a successful career in politics and ultimately be the president who accomplished the overturning of Roe v. Wade through his or her Supreme Court appointments, should we let it go? If I were a betting man, I would bet that most people would say yes, if we knew that would happen, we should let it go. Here’s the problem, though. It is not possible to know that that would happen, meaning that it is also not possible to know that it would not happen. Accordingly, we must either always penalize cheating or never penalize it. I think we can all imagine a world in which it was never penalized, and that is a place none of us want to live. Therefore, we must always penalize it, must always reinforce that it is never acceptable. And that also means, then, that we must never encourage it.

We should defend life, at all times, but never by compromising what is ethical or right to do so. When we fudge a little, turn a blind eye, or sanction something unethical in order to pursue something that is ethical we are defeating our own efforts. If it is okay to be unethical to pursue something ethical how could we possibly argue against anyone being unethical to pursue something unethical? In fact, if we start creating situations in which being unethical is acceptable, haven’t we destroyed the very idea of “ethical”?

Misguided

This post contains explicit content that may be offensive to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

Today I came across an article posted this past Wednesday on the web site of the Washington Times entitled “Las Vegas schools consider teaching kindergartners about masturbation, homosexuality.” I read the article and found it difficult to fathom that even in Las Vegas would a school board really think it was a good idea to pursue such a course. So from there I checked the web site of the Las Vegas Fox affiliate and found that they had posted a story on Tuesday called “School district considering big changes to sex ed curriculum.” Some of the information there was quite similar to the Washington Times piece, prompting me to think either it’s true or there is still more to the story that is being overlooked because it would be less sensational. So I decided to go straight to the source, so to speak, because the Fox story mentioned the following: “Some changes the school board may consider are outlined [in] a 112-page document called Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education, which was put together by a national task force of educators and health experts.” I assumed such a report would be easy to locate and I found, within just a few keystrokes, that I was right. The document is available on siecus.org, the site of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. Much to my amazement, the document has a copyright date of 2004, which caused me to think right away that either no other school district is using these recommendations or the assertions about what the curriculum would teach kindergartners was inaccurate. So I determined to find out.

Along the way, I found some interesting things, none of which were encouraging. First, this report already contained, ten years ago, guidelines for teaching adolescents that some babies are born with genitals that do not match their chromosomes, which is basically another way of saying that some people are born transgendered. This is a means of supporting the rapidly-growing transgender movement in the United States which I have addressed elsewhere. The September 2014 issue of High School Today, the publication of the National Federation of State High School Associations, includes an article entitled “Developing Policies for Transgender Students on High School Teams.” The thrust of that article can be understood with these two sentences: “It is important for policy-makers to understand that transgender girls (who were assigned a male gender at birth) are not boys. Their consistent and affirmed identity as girls is as deep-seated as the gender identity of non-transgender girls.” This is what the guidelines I read through are teaching as well.

I read on. One of the developmental messages recommended by the guidelines for children at Level 1 (which the guidelines define as middle childhood, ages 5-8) is this: “Vaginal intercourse – when a penis is placed inside a vagina – is the most common way for a sperm
and egg to join” (p. 26). While this is true, do I want it being taught to my kindergarten student? Absolutely not.

One of the developmental messages for Level 2 children in the topic of reproduction is this: “Sperm determine the biological sex of the fetus.” Sounds safe, perhaps, but notice what it is really saying–the “biological sex” means that ones gender and biological sex are not necessarily the same, which means that, again, this guideline is paving the way for teaching transgenderism to students. And while the transgender message described above was for adolescents (ages 15-18) this one is recommended for Level 2, ages 9-12. Upper elementary school, in other words.

To be fair, the guidelines include some very good points about Body Image. Level 1, for example, includes this: “All bodies are equally special, including those that are disabled.” Level 2 includes, “Most people do not look like what the media portrays as beautiful” and this: “The value of a person is not determined by his/her appearance.” “The media portrays beauty as a narrow and limited idea but beautiful people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities” is a Level 3 message (ages 12-15).

But then it gets worse, again, because the next section/topic is Sexual Orientation. The Level 1 messages include teaching that people can be attracted to people of the opposite gender or of the same gender and that homosexuals are all called gay men and lesbians. At Level 2 the guidelines expand on heterosexual and homosexual to provide instruction about bisexuals, as well as this statement: “The origin of people’s sexual orientation is not known.” Really? Quite the worldview being assumed there…but at least it is relatively vague. That changes at Level 3, when one of the messages is this: “People do not choose their sexual orientation.” Level 3 also includes this message–“Many scientific theories have concluded that sexual orientation cannot be changed by therapy or medicine”–without any inclusion of the fact that there are also scientific theories which conclude that sexual orientation indeed can be changed.

The sexual orientation discussion gets very interesting at Level 4, though. For example, one of the messages is this: “Sexual orientation is determined by a combination of a person’s attractions, fantasies, and sexual behaviors.” This is interesting because we see a progression. At Level 2 students are told we don’t know where orientation comes from. At Level 3 they are told that, wherever it comes from, it is not a choice. And now, at Level 4, they are told, “this is where it comes from.” This is, to me, evidence of the tenuousness of the position, because if there were certain of where it comes from it would make absolutely no sense to develop curriculum guidelines that include telling elementary students “we do not know something” and then simultaneously include telling high schoolers, “we do know, and here it is.” This is akin to telling elementary students “Santa Claus is real” then telling them later “actually, he’s not.” If it were accurate, this would be prescribed lying. Since it is not accurate, it is simply a program for gradually preparing students to accept something that is not true.

Interestingly, though, Level 4 also includes this message: “The understanding and identification of one’s sexual orientation may change over the course of his/her lifetime.” Really? I agree with that, but here is why it is so interesting. If the identification and understanding of one’s sexual orientation can change that means that one’s sexual orientation can change, too–which means, quite simply, that sexual orientation is a choice.

Sadly, the final message in this section for Level 4 is this: “Civil rights for gay men and lesbian women are being debated in many states and communities across the United States.” As I have explained in this space on numerous occasions, homosexuality is not a civil rights issue. By teaching students that it is, though, we would be prepping them to approve the “equal rights” that homosexuals are increasingly demanding.

Well, the guideline is 112 pages long and, as of the paragraph above, I am only through page 31, so unless I want to bore you to tears I better get to the point and tell you whether or not the guidelines really do teach kindergarten students about masturbation. After all, that was launched this quest in the first place.

Sexual Behavior is Key Concept 4 in the guidelines. The developmental messages for Topic 1, Level 1 of Key Concept 4 are only two: “Most children are curious about their bodies” and “Bodies can feel good when touched.” Both of these statements are true and do not, explicitly, teach masturbation. I still would not want the school teaching my child this, but it is not as horrific as the reports made out. So I am relaxing a bit. But then I go to the next page. Topic 2 of Concept 4 is called, simply, Masturbation, and the developmental messages for Level 1 are as follows: “(1) Touching and rubbing one’s own genitals to feel good is called masturbation; (2) Some boys and girls masturbate and others do not; and (3) Masturbation should be done in a private place.” So there it is. The results are unmistakable and unavoidable–these standards do, in fact, advocate teaching kindergarten students what masturbation is and where it should be done.

Oddly enough, Topic 4, on Sexual Abstinence, does not include any developmental messages for Level 1, and includes this for Level 2: “Children are not physically or emotionally ready for sexual intercourse and other sexual behaviors.” Realize, please, what that means. It means that teachers are asked to explain to children ages 5-8 what masturbation is, but are not supposed to tell them until ages 9-12 that they are not mature enough, physically or emotionally, to engage in such behavior. And this makes sense how?

The information addressed here should cause real alarm among parents. True, in this instance we’re talking about Las Vegas, but it will not stay there. This report has been out for ten years, and it is from a national organization. This is simply the beginning of the path that public schools will soon be taking if we do not take a stand and say “No, you’re not teaching that to my child.” In fact, while we cannot and should not dictate what parents teach their own children, we should take a stand and say to schools, “You’re not teaching that to any child.”

You are what you eat

A recent article on everydayhealth.com entitled “6 Ways Food Affects Your Mood” offers the surprising (to me, anyway) finding that there is no scientific evidence for a link between sugar intake and hyperactivity. There is, however, a connection between the foods we eat and our feelings, the article suggests. Sherry L. Pagoto, PhD, associate professor of preventive and behavioral medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, is quoted as saying, “The link between emotions and eating is no myth.” As fascinating as the medical findings are on one’s physical health and how it relates to one’s diet, that is not really what I want to talk about here. You can find the article are explore it yourself if that’s of interest to you. Instead, I would like to examine the parallels between what the article reports about our physical health and diet to what the Bible teaches about our spiritual health and diet.

The first of the six ways the article examines is a connection between an unhealthy diet and depression. “Long-term exposure to an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression,” the article reports. The same is true of the “food” we eat mentally and spiritually. If we consume a diet high in worldly influences we will no doubt become depressed. If all one does is watch the news (or read the news), read fiction and watch sitcoms and Hollywood fare there will be a significant absence of spiritual meat in his or her diet. “What constituted an unhealthy diet, for purposes of the study, was one that was high in sugar and processed foods,” the article reports. The media influences offered up by the world definitely fall into the category of an unhealthy diet when one’s diet is entirely, of largely, made up of such influences.

The second link examined by the article is one between sugar and food addiction. “Foods that people were addicted to were high in fat and high in sugar,” the article states. Just like most of us tend to crave potato chips, cookies or ice cream far more often than carrot sticks and fresh fruit, our natural inclination will be toward the sugary/fatty “foods” of the world. Sin is attractive. If it were not, we would not be tempted by it. Let’s be honest–many sins are pleasurable during their commission. Far more often than not we sin because we want to–it feels good, it satisfies. Hebrews 11 tells how Moses chose to be mistreated with the Israelites rather than enjoy the temporary pleasures of sin. The Bible does not deny that sin is pleasurable–and Satan is a master at presenting sin in the most attractive and appealing means possible. What the Bible does teach, though, is that the pleasures of sin are temporary, and they come with very real consequences attached. I once heard someone glibly describe the realities of giving in to the temptation to eat unhealthy snack foods this way: a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. “Lifetime” may be a bit extreme, but the point was that the pleasures of that snack food would be very short-lived, while the effects of it would be seen and felt for a long time afterward. The exact same is true with the food we feed our minds. Just like I have to discipline myself not to eat all the yummy snack foods and ignore all the less-than-delicious foods that are good for me, I must discipline myself to restrict my intake of worldly influences and be sure that I am pursuing a healthy spiritual and mental diet.

The third link in the article is the sugar-stress connection. The American Psychological Association states that our bodies seek out the quick energy burst available that comes with a sugar intake when we are stressed. Dr. Pagoto says, “That may be why many people eat sweets when they are under stress. We teach people to use healthy behaviors to reduce stress instead of food. One of the best ways to reduce stress is with exercise. You can start to think of exercise as not just a chore but a way to feel better.” I do not know about you, but I am under considerable stress that is when I am most likely to yield to my flesh–to behave in a way that is not God-honoring or to seek out the “high sugar content” of sinful pleasure. Just as physical exercise is important, so is spiritual exercise. Just as physical exercise takes intentionality and discipline, so does spiritual exercise. Just as Dr. Pagoto says we should think of physical exercise as way to feel better rather than as a chore, so should we consider spiritual exercise. Reading the Bible, spending time in prayer and other spiritual disciplines should not be chores, they should be a regular part of our lives because they are good for us, they will help us to feel better and to stay on track.

The remaining three links are just as relevant spiritually as physically, and I could elaborate on all of them but I think the point has been sufficiently made–so let me just highlight one of the other three. The fifth link examined in the article is the connection between diet quality and the mental health of adolescents. While there is a connection at all ages, it is particularly important during adolescence because of the changes going on in the body and the mental development that is taking place during these years. The same is just as true–perhaps even more so–when it comes to spiritual diet. Precisely because teenagers are beginning to develop their own beliefs, convictions, habits and preferences, spreading their wings a bit and moving away from the default adherence to parental positions, the influences that teenagers have are incredibly important. The world is well aware of this too, and many of the most inappropriate and unhealthy influences the world has to offer are specifically targeted at teens. Parental instruction, church and youth group involvement in Bible-teaching churches and where the teen will attend school are all crucial influences during this time. The music they listen to, the shows and movies they watch, the web sites they visit, the amount of access they have to the Internet, the friends they spend time with…these are all influences that parents need to be mindful of and monitor. Parents need to let teens spread their wings, but they need to provide guidance, direction, structure and yes, discipline, when necessary.

The bottom line is, we are what we eat…both physically and spiritually.

No joke

This morning MSN posted an article on its web site by AP television writer David Bauder. The title of the article is “Rape joke on Fox cartoons draws attention.” Drawing attention would be entirely understandable, in my opinion, since there is, in my humble opinion, no such thing as a “rape joke.” The two terms are mutually exclusive. It simply is not possible to joke about rape.

The article explains that there is a much-anticipated crossover episode of “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” scheduled to be broadcast on Fox this Sunday. In the episode, Bart Simpson is attempting to teach Stewie Griffin how to make a prank phone call. Such childish behavior has long been a staple of Bart Simpson’s schtick and the local tavern is usually his chosen target–as it is in the upcoming episode. As is often the case, Bart’s prank call results in the bar keeper calling out to the crowd in the bar what he thinks is a first and last name but is actually, in this case, a bit of bathroom humor. This is childish, immature and disgusting, but the same could be said of much of what alleges to be “comedy” on television today.

But this is where the line gets crossed. Bauder explains that Stewie is quite impressed by Bart’s prowess and wants to make a prank call of his own. So, he calls the same bar Bart just did and, when Moe the bar owner answers the call, Stewie says, “Hello, Moe? Your sister’s being raped.”

Dictionary.com defines “prank” as “a trick of an amusing, playful, or sometimes malicious nature.” Stewie’s statement, however, is neither amusing nor playful and it goes beyond malicious. It is insensitive and abhorrent. There is no excuse for such idiocy and for a major television network to think that such a line is acceptable on a television show marketed at families and aired during family viewing time is likewise inexcusable. If a student at any school in the country were to use the same line at school he or she would, I certainly hope, be disciplined. I know that if a student at the school where I serve were to utter such a “prank” he would receive a swift and significant consequence.

Amazingly, Fox does not see the line as inappropriate in any way. In fact, Seth MacFarlane, the creator of “Family Guy,” said in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly that he predicted getting some heat for the line, but, “in context,” he said, “it’s pretty funny.” Really? I find that statement unconscionable. I cannot fathom any context in which it would be funny to “joke around” about someone’s sister getting raped. Not only does MacFarlane find it funny, though, apparently programming directors at Fox do too, because the line is included in the commercial trailers for the upcoming episode! According to Bauder, Fox’s entertainment division said, through a spokesperson, that it would not comment on the line.

If what I have written above is not dumbfounding enough for you, it actually does get even more dumbfounding. Bauder also writes that Katherine Hull Fliflet, a spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), “said she did not find the line offensive” (emphasis mine). Bauder quotes Fliflet saying that she thinks the show makes “it clear that rape is not funny by how they are positioning the joke.” Really? That does not even make sense. The only two ways the show could make clear that rape is not funny would be to (1) not joke about it in the first place, or (2) have Stewie be immediately and sternly lectured on the seriousness of rape and promptly disciplined for his ridiculous behavior. (I have to confess that I have never watched “Family Guy,” but my guess is that the idea of the parents on the show disciplining the children would be a foreign concept….)

RAINN’s web site touts that the group is the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization. It operates a National Sexual Assault Hotline. Actress Christina Ricci is affiliated with the group and is pictured on the RAINN web site homepage in front of a graffiti-style banner that says “Join the fight against sexual violence.” The site’s statistics page includes numerous statistics about sexual assault, including rape specifically, in an effort to ensure that the public is well informed about what sexual assault is and what can be done about it. How such an organization could not be repulsed by the “joke” about rape is far beyond my comprehension.

When Bauder quotes Fliflet saying that she thinks the show makes clear that rape is not funny she ends with, “It’s my hope that would be the viewers’ ‘take-away.'” Forget the take-away, here’s a better idea: stay away.

(Re)Defining Education

I do not like to “attack” fellow laborers in the field of Christian education. We get enough attacks from outside of Christian ed; no need to go after each other. At the same time, though, there is a need to identify and confront error when it exists, whether in Christian education, within the church or anywhere else within the realm of Christendom. Much to my dismay, yesterday I read an article in a Christian education publication that requires such confrontation. Adding to my dismay is the fact that this article was written by the dean of the School of Education at one of the leading Christian universities in the United States, which causes me no small amount of concern about what the education majors at this university are being taught.

The article begins with the question, “What should Christian education look like in the twenty-first century?” The author then states that in order to answer this question it is necessary to “consider how the twenty-first century child learns.” As part of his answer to that, he writes, “Watch a middle childhood student multitask by playing a video game, texting a friend on her phone, video chatting on her computer, and working on her homework.” The implication is that she is doing all of these things at the same time. And right there, not even a paragraph into the article, my hackles are raised. There is no reason for a “middle childhood student” to have the technology available to be doing all of these things at once. She certainly does not need all of this technology of her own. (Frankly, I do not even know what “middle childhood” means, because I do not think it is a term I have ever heard before. Since the article also references elementary students and young adolescents, I am assuming “middle childhood” must encompass ages 10-12 or so). Thus, the initial concern with this individual’s recommendations is that we are granting the notion of children having almost free reign over various and sundry digital devices, and that is a notion I think we should be challenging, not granting.

The writer goes on to state this: “These twenty-first century learners are comfortable with instant communication with anyone anywhere in the world; quick access to vast, accurate (or not) information; and the immediate ability to produce creative multisensory projects with only access to the Internet. These students interact with content and each other in a different way than students did just a decade ago” (emphasis his). Again, though, I challenge the notion that because students are comfortable with this that we therefore should educate them this way. Just because students are comfortable with something–anything–does not mean it should be incorporated into a classroom setting. Students are no doubt comfortable wearing shorts and t-shirts, lounging on their sofa and munching on snacks while they do all the various things described in the paragraph above. By no means does that mean that we should allow them to behave that way in classrooms.

Notice, as well, in the above quote, the repeated use of words that refer to instant gratification–“instant communication,” “quick access” and “immediate ability.” We live in a world that is all about doing things faster, so it is no surprise that students are used to this pace. Frankly, that is all the more reason why we should avoid automatically engaging them that way in classrooms. The attention span of many students today is shorter than this sentence. That is a problem, not an opportunity. That means teaching styles that do not conform to their “give it to me now” preferences will take them some getting used to, may even make them uncomfortable. That’s good. It is not good because I think being mean to students is fun. Rather, it is good because learning necessarily entails becoming uncomfortable. Unless I become uncomfortable with the fact that there are things I do not know there will be absolutely zero motivation for me strive to know them. While being able to learn in familiar and comfortable methods can be a valuable part of education, learning how to learn in new and unfamiliar ways is also an important part of education. I am well aware of the fact that technology is moving and developing at breakneck speed. Though students find it hard to believe when I tell them this, can remember television commercials when I was in elementary school that had the tag line “Computers are coming your way!” I can remember the first computer we ever had in a classroom and I can remember when my elementary school got a computer lab. This was big news–literally. A reporter and camera from a local news affiliate showed up to record the story! So things have changed, and are changing, and that is not going to change. But classroom instruction does need to mirror or follow every technological advancement–certainly not in toto.

On this point the author of the article I am critiquing and I clearly disagree. He writes, “It is essential to synch today’s classroom with the twenty-first century student’s way of learning.” This is simply not true. Neither is it necessarily wise. Yes, the use of technology is an important component of teaching, and teachers should take advantage of the many things that technology can enable them to do that truly enhance their instruction, but that should be one tool in their toolbox. Oddly enough, the author states as much when he writes, “A teacher’s toolbox of instructional models, methods, and strategies should contain a plethora of ways to engage students in the academic content to motivate them to learn.” That is odd for this reason–synching classrooms with the student’s way of learning is contradictory to using a plethora of ways to engage students. The implication of the first statement, and indeed of much of the article, is that classrooms need to adapt to students’ preferred and comfortable styles period.

Another erroneous premise of the article is that the utilization of all of the bells, whistles and wonders of the latest technology is necessary for effective learning. The author writes, “The educator must purposefully plan to create multiple memories for each concept. This current understanding of how the brain works best aligns with a nontraditional, student-centered approach to teaching, which is compatible for the twenty-first century learner.” Unless I am missing something or misunderstanding something, these coupling is absurd. Yes, the multiple memory idea is valid. However, it can be utilized in addition to a traditional approach; it does not have to be used instead of it. Furthermore, the implication is that traditional instruction does not (cannot?) create multiple memory pathways, and that implication is simply false; it is entirely possible to create multiple memories without utilizing technology.

While there are several additional points I could make here, I am endeavoring to keep my critique of the article shorter than the article itself, so let me jump to this statement made close to the article’s conclusion. “Unfortunately, too many Christian school classrooms are based on the traditional model of instruction in which the teacher is the giver of all information, forcing the learner to be passive and absorb factual-based information.” I would challenge both the use of the word “all” in that sentence and the idea that learners are necessarily passive in traditional instruction. Neither is automatically true.

This author states that utilizing individualized instructional models that conform to students’ interests will “increase the probability that the student will become successful.” Frankly, I disagree. I think what it will do is increase the probability that the student will become self-centered and unprepared for the realities of life. Are we really serving students, or adequately preparing them for “the real world,” by making everything focused on them? By tailoring, or allowing them to tailor, everything to their own likes, styles and preferences? I would answer with a hearty no. That the dean of the school of education of one of America’s leading evangelical universities thinks yes–and thus, no doubt, ensures that education students at his university are taught yes–does not bode well for the future of Christian education. This is not a defining of twenty-first century education, it is a redefining of education for the twenty-first century.

Better or Worse?

USA Today periodically has a “Your Say” feature in the Opinion section of its web site. The idea is simple–a topic is posted and readers can share their thoughts–have their say–through Facebook and Twitter. Yesterday’s topic was whether churches are changing for better or for worse. The question was posed with this background: “Congregations are becoming more open to gays and lesbians in membership and leadership, according to the National Congregations Study.” As of this morning there were nine comments on the site, though I have no idea how many were submitted. Still, the thoughts contained in these nine are an interesting look at the varying opinions that exist today.

The first comment on the site was this: “This report shows how liberal churches have fallen away from the Scriptures and are accepting the views of the ‘world’ and society rather than the word of God. You cannot bless sin and be blameless.” I would agree with this individual. The increasing acceptance of homosexuals in church membership and leadership is not a movement that has any support in Scripture, meaning it has to be coming from the world. One could debate whether or not the churches are “blessing sin” but the implication is certainly clear, and certainly true–if churches are allowing individuals who are openly embracing a life that is contrary to God’s Word to be members of the church, and even to hold positions of leadership within the church, it is hard to take any position other than endorsement, or at the very least, acceptance.

The second comment came from an individual who had this to say:

Actually, these churches are following what Jesus taught: acceptance, humility and understanding. Perhaps it might behoove the self-righteous, holier-than-thou “Christians” to reflect on their hypocrisy.

One must remember that the Bible, while a good guidebook of moral tales and ethics, was written by many fallible men thousands of years ago, when mores and traditions were much different.

Traditions that were acceptable then are no longer acceptable or relevant because of intelligence and technological advancements.

It is readily evident that the individual who shared this thought is not a Christian–certainly not in any definition of the term that I would accept–because she has an entirely false understanding of what the Bible is. The Bible is not simply a “good guidebook” and it does not contain “moral tales and ethics.” Rather, it contains true accounts of events and teachings. It was written by fallible men, but only insofar as they were the instruments responsible for putting the ink on the paper, so to speak; the words themselves were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Sure, mores and traditions during Bible times are different than mores and traditions now, and there have been technological advancements and perhaps even advances in intelligence (though depending on how one defines this it may be questionable). But homosexuality is neither a more nor a tradition. It is a behavior that is chosen by those who practice it. Whether society deems it more acceptable or not makes no difference at all when examining how the church is changing. Society’s acceptance of, or rejection of, what the Bible teaches must never be the impetus for change within the church, must never be permitted to influence what the church believes, teaches or accepts. (And frankly, technological advancement has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality, so that part of the comment is irrelevant).

The third comment echoes what I have said above. Here it is: “Either the Bible is, or it isn’t, the divinely inspired word of God. If it is, then read it and let it change your opinions that don’t match with God’s truth. If you think it isn’t, then find another book to admire, read or pick and choose from.” Bottom line, you either accept the Bible or you reject it; what society thinks, or what mores or traditions have changed, have nothing to do with what the Bible teaches.

The next comment: “Christianity is not about a building; it’s about those who follow Christ and his teaching. Although Christ loves everyone, he hates all sin, including homosexuality. There is no gray area.” This is exactly on point, and there is more contained herein that first meets the eye. The initial tendency is to see that this individual holds to the fact that the Bible is true and that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin, and that has not changed. That’s true. But the comment goes deeper; it implies more so than states that those “churches” that are changing to allow homosexuals to be members or leaders are not really churches in the biblical sense. If these groups of people are not following Christ and His teaching contained in the Bible then they are not really churches in the context the question assumes, or many of these bodies assume for themselves.

Here’s the simple truth: if entities calling themselves churches are changing in any way that is causing them to stray from the Bible, they are changing for the worse. When churches fail to change with the mores and traditions of the culture and choose instead to remain steadfast on the Truth of Scripture, regardless of how popular such a stand is not, that is not only for the better, it is the best. “Truth” and “change” are incompatible notions. If God’s Word is Truth, and God’s Word never changes, there is no room for change regarding the Truth within the church.

“But you…”

The short but poignant letter of Jude, the next-to-last book of the Bible that takes up less than one page in most Bibles and has only one chapter, is profoundly relevant for today. Jude’s emphasis is on recognizing and resisting false teachers, and no small part of his little letter tells Christians specifically what they need to do in order to stand strong against false teaching and to contend for the faith.

In verse 19 Jude present three prominent characteristics of false teachers. Then, in verse 20, he makes a transition that begins with the words “But you….” Jude is now talking to the believer– specifically to those to whom he was writing but also just as directly to you and to me. “Here is what the false teachers believe and do,” he has said, “but you….” So what are we supposed to do? What is our role in the midst of this apostasy that Jude has warned about? There are four things.

First, “build yourselves up in your most holy faith.” That means in a faith in Christ. This is what Jude was referring to back in verse 3 when he wrote of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” How do we build ourselves up? Through prayer, through Bible study, through church attendance, through meditating on Scripture, through fasting, perhaps, if you feel led to do that. In many ways we build ourselves up in our faith through the exercise of spiritual disciplines, though I almost hate to use that term because it has been construed by some to mean some things that are not consistent with Scripture. But we must seek to walk close to God, to hear His voice, discern His will, and be obedient to His direction and leading in our lives. That is how we build ourselves up in faith.

Second, “praying in the Holy Spirit.” This means sincere prayer guided by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. When we are in a right relationship with God and are yielded to the Spirit’s working in our lives we will be led by the Spirit in prayer. This is a distinct contrast to what we saw in verse 19, where Jude said the false teachers do not have the Spirit. This is also a distinct contrast to mechanical or repetitious prayers.

Third, we must keep ourselves in the love of God. What does that mean? First, let me tell you what it does not mean. It does not at all suggest, imply or assert that we are somehow responsible for accomplishing or maintaining the security of our salvation. Jude is absolutely not saying here that we must do something in order to stay saved. James wrote about demonstrating our faith by our works but never did he assert that our works accomplish salvation and Jude is, likewise, not saying that our works either accomplish or maintain our salvation. Rather, what Jude is saying here is that we need to be very careful about the influences we allow into our lives, the kinds of people we surround ourselves with, how we use our time…. The Believer’s Bible Commentary uses a good illustration to demonstrate the point that Jude is making here. It says that this can be compared to sunshine. The sun is always shining, but we can put something between ourselves and the sun or allow something to come between us and the sun, and in these instances we are no longer in the sunshine. The sun is shining, the light and the warmth are there, but we may be shielding ourselves from it. Similarly, the love of God is always there, always “beaming down upon us,” if you will, but we can allow sin or ungodly influences to interfere with our being in God’s love.

Back in 1905 Charles Tindley wrote the hymn entitled “Nothing Between.” You may have heard it or sung it, and it very aptly makes this point about not allowing anything to interfere with us being in God’s love. Here are the words to that great hymn:

Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
Naught of this world’s delusive dream;
I have renounced all sinful pleasure;
Jesus is mine, there’s nothing between.

Refrain:
Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
So that His blessed face may be seen;
Nothing preventing the least of His favor;
Keep the way clear! Let nothing between.

Nothing between, like worldly pleasure;
Habits of life, though harmless they seem,
Must not my heart from Him ever sever;
He is my all, there’s nothing between.

Nothing between, like pride or station;
Self or friends shall not intervene;
Though it may cost me much tribulation,
I am resolved, there’s nothing between.

Nothing between, e’en many hard trials,
Though the whole world against me convene;
Watching with prayer and much self-denial,
I’ll triumph at last, there’s nothing between.

Fourth, and finally, Jude says we must be “waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” This is referring to the believer looking forward to the return of Jesus Christ. We believe that Christ’s return is imminent and could happen at any time. Since we do not know when it will be we are to look earnestly for His return. The word here translated “waiting” in the ESV is sometimes translated “looking” and it means, in the original language, “earnestly expecting.” This same encouragement is given in Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 3:12. Here is what Warren Wiersbe writes about this verse: “It describes an attitude of life that is motivated by the promise of our Lord’s return. The apostates can only look for judgment, but God’s people are looking for mercy. Not only is our salvation from sin the gift of God’s mercy, but so also is the deliverance of His church from this evil world. In His mercy, He will come for us and take us to Himself.”

Believers have very real responsibilities in the midst of false teaching. The false teaching is not going to go away–we will never rid the world of false teaching or false teachers and trying to do so not only will not work but is not what God has called us to do. But God has called us to keep ourselves from being seduced or led astray by false teachers, and we can do that only by staying focused on Him. As we stay true to Him we will, through our words and actions, testify to the Truth.