jasonbwatson

September 9, 2015

These Things I Wonder

If you read this blog with any regularity then you know that I am not short on opinions. There are very few subjects on which I could not share some thoughts and which I do not have an opinion. Not that my opinions are necessarily right, but I usually do have one. One of my favorite graduate school professors would often say that he was “often wrong, but never in doubt.” Perhaps that fits me, too. Still, there are some subjects on which I have not been able to form an opinion. Within the past week, in fact, there have been three. That’s quite a few for such a short period of time, so I found myself somewhat frustrated by my inability to come to a conclusion one way or the other. So, I am going to share them with you, in the hope that (1) if you have opinions on these topics that you are willing to share you will do so, and (2) that if you have questions you wonder about too that you will share those as well. You can do either–or both–by leaving a comment.

First, I have been unable to decide whether Kim Davis was right or wrong in her refusal to issue marriage certificates because of her convictions that homosexuality is a sin. Herman Cain explained his opinion that elected officials have to obey the law whether they like it or not. To be honest, that was how I was leaning initially, even though I respected Davis’s willingness to take a stand and even go to jail for what she thought was right. As I read more, though–particularly Eugene Volokh’s piece in The Washington Post and Joe Carter’s article on The Gospel Coalition web site, I was feeling more inclined to say Davis was right. There are allowances made for religious convictions in many work environments, and there are laws designed to protect those convictions in the workplace. As Carter clearly pointed out, Kentucky should have made plans for how to deal with this issue before it came up. He also correctly points out, though, that part of the problem resulted when the Supreme Court–a branch of the federal government–interfered in a matter that is properly the domain of the states. The federal government then intervened in a state issue again when a federal judge ordered Davis jailed. It would certainly seem that there are reasonable and relatively simple ways to accommodate homosexual couples receiving a marriage license without Kim Davis having to put her name on them, so on this issue I think I may be close to having an opinion…certainly much closer than I was at the end of last week…but I am still not sure.

Second, I have been wondering about the expectations that there are, or should be, for pastors and other church leaders. It is biblical for them to be held to a higher standard, and there are clearly spelled out biblical expectations and qualifications for individuals holding the position of pastor and elder, so I am not questioning that. However, I am not sure I have a clear grasp of how high those standards need to be, or could realistically be. Last week Ligonier Ministries announced that it was suspending R.C. Sproul, Jr. until July 2016 because he visited Ashley Madison, the web site designed to facilitate discreet affairs. A recent hack of the Ashley Madison site has apparently resulted in a tremendous amount of information being released about users of the site. I would not even begin to defend the site itself. However, assuming Sproul’s admission was complete and what he has stated about his visit to the site is comprehensive, I was left wondering. Sproul said that he visited the site one time, in what he called a “moment of weakness, pain, and from an unhealthy curiosity.” He said he did leave an old e-mail address at the site, but he left it after that one visit and has never returned. He did not sign up to use the site’s service and he has not had any contact with any of the site’s clients. Was Sproul wrong to visit the site? Yes. Should a one-time visit to a site result in a suspension of nearly a year from the college and ministry where Sproul teaches? I am not sure. By no means do I want to downplay sin, and I certainly do not intend to suggest that we should lower the standards to which pastors and Bible teachers are held. At the same time, if Sproul’s explanation is entirely truthful, he erred but recognized his error and repented. He did not visit the site again. Sadly, I am sure that there are many pastors and Bible teachers who have had thoughts that they should not have had. I would like someone to show me an adult male who has not ever had moments of unhealthy curiosity. Grace is biblical, too. Grace does not mean letting someone off; there are still consequences to choices and actions. We must not allow a misunderstanding of grace to lead us into thinking that we can or should excuse away any sinful behavior. At the same time, we should not overreact to something or assign a harsher-than-necessary penalty in order to make someone an example, make a point, or demonstrate our attention to a current hot-button issue. I had hoped to find the thoughts of Christian leaders and teachers whom I respect on this matter, but thus far I am finding nothing. Tim Challies said on his site that he was “sickened and so sorrowful” to hear of Sproul’s actions and subsequent suspension, but that is all I have found to date. Yes, pastors and Bible teachers need to be held accountable, but is it possible to set the bar impossibly high? I am not sure.

Third, I am wrestling with whether or not there is such a thing as presuming upon God’s provision and the support of God’s people. My family recently received a support letter from a missionary family that is supported by the financial donations of individuals and churches. This family is currently expecting their tenth child. It is common sense that the more children someone has, the greater the amount of financial support they will require in order to be able to provide for their family. I have long said when people have criticized the Duggar family for having so many children that if (1) they have the financial wherewithal to care for those children, and (2) the children are receiving the love, care and attention they need, then how many children they have is really none of my business or anyone else’s. The Bible makes it clear that children are a gift from God and there are definite passages of Scripture that indicate that having many children can bring great joy. I have two children, and I am content. I do not feel any compulsion or obligation to have more. I know families with lots of children who are able to provide for them, and I think that’s great. If a family requires government aid in order to provide for their children, though, I do not think it is wise to have more children. I do not think it is good stewardship. I question whether it pleases God. Now I am certainly not suggesting that missionaries or other Christian workers in support-based positions are the equivalent of folks on welfare or other government assistance programs. However, these are people who are, for all intents and purposes, telling God and man, “I will work full time for God and trust Him to provide for my financial and material needs.” There are many scenarios and situations in which I do not have a problem with that. There are other times when I struggle with it. For example, should faculty members at Christian colleges have to raise their own support so that the school does not have to pay them, and therefore can keep the tuition low? My opinion is no. I think the students attending the college are receiving a service that has value and for which there is no reason they should not pay. It would make far more sense to have a reasonable tuition and to pay the faculty a reasonable salary so that they can devote their full time and attention to their ministry of teaching rather than scrimping and devoting time to asking for support. There are plenty of ways to provide financial assistance to deserving individuals who need it without keeping tuition artificially low across the board. At what point, though, does it become irresponsible and presumptuous for a family in a support-based position to keep having children, therefore creating a need for increased financial support? I am not sure.

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