jasonbwatson

August 17, 2017

Intentional Idiocy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

July 12, 2017

God-Given Nervousness

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

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

Ken Currie wrote the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 16, 2017

Respecting Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

May 30, 2017

Gender Identity Anarchy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 21, 2017

March Movie Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who originated the Cross?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 15, 2017

Why I Am Not Standing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 30, 2016

Built into your bones

I recently finished reading Yeonmi Park’s autobiography In Order to Live. Park was born in North Korea and eventually escaped to China–where she found her mother and herself in the hands of a human trafficker. After some time they were able to make their way to South Korea. The book is an interesting read and an insightful firsthand account of life in the Hermit Kingdom, but that is not what I am going to address here. Something Park wrote, though, jumped out at me. As she was describing all of the things that she learned upon arriving in South Korea that were contradictory to what she had been taught from infancy about the incredible power of the Kim family, she wrote this:

It’s not easy to give up a worldview that is built into your bones and imprinted on your brain like the sound of your own father’s voice.

Park’s point was that even though the things she had been taught about North Korea in general and the Kim family in particular are, once you know the truth, absurd, it was difficult for her to come to terms with that at first because of what had been taught to her for so long. It had been taught by her father–and her mother–and it had been taught so long and so often that it was embedded in her. It was as she said, built into her bones and imprinted on her mind.

Now in the case of Park she was taught something that was not true and therefore the result was dangerous and debilitating. But the example still proves an excellent one for the power of teaching children from an early age. God knows this, of course, and that is exactly why He told the Israelites so many times that they were to teach their children about Him–who He is and what He has done. They were to teach them young and teach them often. It was not to be confined to the Sabbath or to special occasions, but to be an everyday part of their lives. The most familiar example comes in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which reads:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The Hebrew word translated “diligently” in verse 7 above is shanan, which literally means to whet or to sharpen, like a stone, a knife or arrows. Strong’s Concordance says the word figuratively meant “to inculcate.” That is precisely what God had in mind when He gave this instruction to the Israelites and it is precisely what had happened to Yeonmi Park. Inculcate means, according to dictionary.com, “to implant by repeated statement or admonition; teach persistently and earnestly.” Is synonyms are “instill, infix, ingrain.” God instructed His chosen people, and His people still today, to teach their children from an early age and with such frequency and insistence that they become inculcated with the truth.

Here is how some other translations render Deuteronomy 6:7:

  • You shall teach them diligently to your children [impressing God’s precepts on their minds and penetrating their hearts with His truths] (Amplified Bible).
  • and tell them to your children over and over again. Talk about them all the time… (Contemporary English Version)
  • Repeat them to your children (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
  • You must teach them to your children (Living Bible)
  • Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children (The Message)
  • Impress them on your children (New International Version)
  • Repeat them again and again to your children (New Living Translation)

I think you get the point. Instilling a biblical worldview in children–an understanding of the world and all that is in it based firmly in the truth of God’s Word–does not happen by accident or by a one-time or even once-in-awhile instruction. It takes intentionality, repetition, consistency and perseverance. In his commentary, Joseph Benson says the verse means to teach God’s truths to children “so as that they may pierce deeply into their hearts.” Matthew Poole says the exact same thing. I like how the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges puts it though: “make incisive and impress them on thy children; rub them in.”

One of the reasons I like that in particular is that rubbing it in requires contact. It requires being up close and personal. Rubbing it in cannot be done from afar. It cannot be done only by words or by pointing the child to a book. No, rubbing it in means getting right there beside the child, rubbing shoulders, bearing burdens, opening hearts, sharing honestly, apologizing when necessary, correcting when needed.

This instruction from God to teach children consistently about Him is not limited to the Israelites nor to the Old Testament. It appears repeatedly throughout Scripture. There are multiple instances in Deuteronomy, but here are some other examples, though not an exhaustive list:

  • O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. (Psalm 71:17)
  • We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. (Psalm 78:4)
  • Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
  • Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
  • Teach these things and make sure everyone learns them well. (1 Timothy 4:11, TLB)
  • But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14-15)

3 John 4 says, “I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children are following the truth” (NLT). I agree with that sentiment. In keeping with the thought shared by Park, I cannot imagine any greater joy than knowing that when my children think about God’s truth it is my voice they are hearing. Oh Lord, grant me the discernment and yieledness to parent my children according to Your Word, teaching them Your way and your Truth.

August 19, 2016

Would you like a receipt?

I have a pet peeve. More than one probably (like most people), but one of my biggest is when I use the “pay at the pump” feature at a gas station, select “yes” when it asks if I want a receipt, and then there is no paper to print the receipt. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes the screen says something like “Clerk has receipt.” Either way, the result is that I have to walk into the gas station if I want my receipt. And I almost always want my receipt–either because I used a debit card and I need to remember the amount to deduct it later and/or I want to make sure the charge was correct. The entire purpose of paying at the pump, however, is avoiding having to go inside. In the grand scheme of life, this is really not a big deal, but it does irritate me.

One day not too long ago I had one of these experinces at a local gas station. I think I may have already been perturbed about something else anyway, but when the machine failed to print my receipt I was walking toward the building to get it, muttering to myself and vowing that I was going to let my irritation be known. “You know me having to come in here comepltely defeats the point of having a pay at the pump option!” I planned to say. “Would it be that hard to go out there and put mor ereceipt paper in the machine?!”

When I walked inside, though, I took one look at the lady working behind the counter and recognized her as someone who attends the same church I do. Immediately my irritation and planned tirade was replaced by the realization that I had to smile, ask how she was doing and say thank you when she handed me the receipt–for two reasons. One, she knew who I was and knew other people I know, so I had to be civil lest she tell other people what a jerk I was and what a rotten attitude I had when I came into the store, thus damaging my reputation. Two, she also knows I profess to be a Christian, so I needed to maintain decent behavior in order to avoiding tarnishing my reputation and/or the reputation of the ministry where I serve.

All of this went through my head in less than a second but I pondered it more later and realized how absurd it is to straighten up and behave myself because I am interacting with someone I know, yet I was fully prepared to unload both barrels if the person behind the counter was a stranger to me. For one thing, it would be quite possible that they knew who I was even if I did not know them; I have found this to be a regular phenomenon in the samll community in which we live. I am recognized frequently, either by name or by my position at the school. So, the two reasons identified above were still possibilities.

Even if the worker did not know me, though, my responsibility as a Christian is to show love, kindness, patience, gentleness and self-control to everyone I meet. I may, frankly, be even more important when interacting with non-Christians, since my attitude and behavior, if they find out I am a Christian, could taint their opinion of all Christians–and of Christ. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 5 that His followers are to be salt and light. When I act in a way that is not consistent with how Christ has called me to live I lose my saltiness, I hide my light under a bushel or a bowl. Jesus said such salt is good for nothing butto trampled under foot. I am to let my light shine so that others can see my good deeds and glorify God. My interactions with others–every one of them–are opportunities to spread salt and light in a dark and rotting world. Being polite-even kind–to a strenger may make his or her day, may provide some encouragement, may be the only posiitve interaction they have that day (especially if they work at a gas station and the pump printer is out of receipt paper and there are other customers who get as irritated by that as I do!). Too, being kind and polite may not do any of those things. The stranger may not even notice, or may be grumpy in response for whatever reason. It really doesn’t matter. We are not called to be salt and light only to other Christians or only when there is paper in the pump printer (in other words, only when things are going our way). Instead, we are called to be salt and light, to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit, all the time to everyone–because that is what Christ calls us to do.

August 11, 2016

Evaluating Donald Trump–and Why Hillary Clinton Cannot be an Option

This is, by far, my longest post ever. It also includes far more links that I usually include so that you can read the thoughts of others for yourself if you wish. This post’s length reflects two important things, I think. One, this is an incredibly important issue. Two, it does not have an easy answer and trying to make sense of it is difficult at best. This is my best effort at doing that and, if you stick with me to the end, I thank you for your endurance.

Whether or not Christians should vote for Donald Trump is a question that is getting a lot of attention these days—and rightly so. Voting is a privilege and a responsibility, and Christians have a specific responsibility, I believe, to stand for biblical values and truth in a secular society—which includes through the ballot box. Accordingly, the question of whether or not to vote for Trump—or Hillary Clinton—is a valid one and one that is worthy of serious contemplation. No one should vote blindly or ignorantly, nor should anyone cast his vote based solely on the letter that appears after the candidate’s name (party affiliation). Individuals far more well known that me, far more educated than me and with far larger followings than me have already weighed in on this question and will no doubt continue to do so…but I see no reason for that to deter me from sharing my opinion!

On July 28 Wayne Grudem posted his thoughts on Townhall in an editorial entitled “Why Voting for Donald Trump is a Morally Good Choice.” He starts his thoughts by saying that many Christians have told him that when faced with choosing between two evils the right thing to do is to choose neither, meaning that a vote for Trump is not an option. These folks, says Grudem, advocate a vote for a write-in or third party candidate. To that, Grudem responds that, with his 39 years of experience teaching Christian ethics, he believes that “voting for a Trump is a morally good choice” now that Trump is indeed the Republican nominee. Before giving his specific reasons why he thinks this, Grudem states the following:

American citizens need patience with each other in this difficult political season. Close friends are inevitably going to make different decisions about the election. We still need to respect each other and thank God that we live in a democracy with freedom to differ about politics. And we need to keep talking with each other – because democracies function best when thoughtful citizens can calmly and patiently dialog about the reasons for their differences.

I agree with Grudem about that, and, just as his post was his effort at contributing to the discussion, this is mine. If you discuss politics with family and friends at all, or look at a Facebook feed every now and then, you are no doubt baffled, frustrated or just downright upset with the political inclinations of some people you know right now. Me too. The challenge on that front is to respectfully express our differences, kindly try to persuade, but, in the end, still have love and respect for those people even when they disagree with us. So it is not my desire here to denigrate anyone, but I do think this is a discussion worth having.

Grudem says that voting for a flawed candidate is not morally wrong if you think that candidate will do more good for the nation than will his opponent. I would agree with that and would suggest that we all do. After all, if you are a Christian and you believe in the sin nature of man, then you must recognize that there is no such thing as a candidate who is not flawed. If we could only vote for candidates who were not flawed then we would never be able to vote.

In a paragraph enumerating Trump’s flaws Grudem begins with this sentence: “He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash.” Certainly true. At the conclusion of that paragraph, which includes reference to Trump’s marital infidelity, he writes, “These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.” Now I do not know, and to my knowledge Grudem has not said, but it would seem to me that the words this election are crucial in that sentence. In other words, it would seem to me that Grudem is stating that while the flaws of Trump—which are, admittedly, greater than the flaws of many other candidates who ran in this election and who have been nominated in the past—would disqualify him from consideration in any other election, the fact that Trump and Clinton are the only major candidates left now makes this situation different. Grudem explained that he spoke against a Trump candidacy just six months ago, but his position has now changed. That causes me to think that when there were a dozen other candidates to consider, Grudem did not think Trump was a good moral choice.

That does beg the question of whether or not someone who is not an acceptable candidate at one time can become an acceptable candidate later when said candidate has not changed at all but the environment in which he is running has changed and the options have diminished. Is the acceptability of a candidate subjective or not?

Back in April Andy Naselli wrote a post on his web site entitled “Can You Vote for Donald Trump with a Clear Conscience?” Naselli had just coauthored a book on the conscience, so this was a relevant subject for him to address. Like Grudem, he began by enumerating Trump’s flaws and failures. He made it clear that Trump is not a man of good character. “A presidential candidate does not need to sign off on my church’s doctrinal statement to earn my vote,” he wrote. “But character matters immensely for leaders. If a presidential candidate is not trustworthy in other areas, how can we entrust him with the most influential governmental position in the world?” There is really no debate over many of the points Naselli makes, including that Trump brags about his adultery, mocks and disrespects women and those with disabilities, is shamelessly proud and so on. His conclusion? “Trump is not morally qualified to lead a Boy Scout troop.”

In his article, Grudem explains that be believes Christians have a responsibility to seek the good of the nation in which they live, and I agree. He cites Jeremiah 29:7 as support for that position: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (ESV). I think there are ample other passages that can also be used to support the importance of Christians seeking to influence for good the community, state, nation and even world in which they live. John MacArthur wrote a book a number of years ago entitled Why Government Can’t Save You. I do not agree with everything he wrote there, but I certainly agree that government cannot save anyone, nor should seeking to influence the public good through government ever replace the importance of seeking to lead lost souls to salvation. But I think Grudem would agree with that.

Naselli writes, “If you vote for a presidential candidate in America’s democratic republic, it does not mean that you fully endorse all of that person’s policies or that you think that person’s character is stellar.” He says there are two basic voting strategies—voting for “the least bad candidate who has the best chance of winning” and voting “for the best (or least bad) candidate, even if that person has a low chance of winning” (italics his). Naselli says he has employed the first option to this point in his life but questions now whether or not there is a limit on the application of that principle. “Can the most viable candidates be so bad that you cannot dignify either of them with your vote?” he asks.

He goes on to use an example of an election between Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. If they were the two most viable candidates, Naselli asks, would someone really feel obligated to vote for the lesser of the two evils? “The strategy to vote for the lesser of two evils breaks down at some point. You must draw the line somewhere. The question is where to draw that line.” I agree that there does come a tipping point, but I think it is also necessary to bear in mind the notion of taking the course that will do the most good for the nation within the available options—and I will address that later using Naselli’s hypothetical as an excellent example.

It is precisely because of the responsibility to vote for the person who will do the most good for the nation that Grudem says voting for Trump is the moral thing to do. In his estimation, a vote for someone other than Trump, such as a write-in or third party candidate, is a de facto vote for Clinton, since it reduces the number of votes Clinton needs to win. Historically, there is significant evidence of a third party candidate making a difference in some elections, so that is a legitimate concern. Grudem’s point is that by not voting for Trump someone would be in essence supporting Clinton; in other words, voting for someone other than Trump and Clinton is as effective as voting for Mickey Mouse…or not voting at all.

Accordingly, the real question Grudem asks is, “Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?” That is a very fair question. I think Grudem goes too far, however, in claiming James 4:17 as reason to support Trump; I do not think it is reasonable or accurate to say that voting for someone other than Trump is sin because of the fact that it could result in helping Clinton.

Grudem goes through a long list of topics that should matter to Christians and that will be adversely affected of Clinton wins in November. These topics include sanctity of life, religious liberty, freedom of speech and, most importantly, the makeup of the Supreme Court. He also addresses issues like taxes, minorities, the military, terrorism, Israel, energy and health care.

In response to the rhetorical question “Does character matter?” Grudem answers,I believe that character does matter, but I think Trump’s character is far better than what is portrayed by much current political mud-slinging, and far better than his opponent’s character.” I am really not so sure that his character is better than it is portrayed. Does the media seem to relish in portraying his worst moments and most ridiculous statements? Of course. But that does not change the fact that they are there. In other words, the way his character is portrayed, even in the left-wing media, is usually not completely fabricated. Is his character better than Clinton’s? I suspect it may be, but that still goes back to the “choosing between two evils” conundrum.

Alex Chediak, also on Townhall.com, responded to Grudem’s essay on August 1. He wrote, of Trump’s claim that he entered the political arena to defend those who cannot defend themselves against the powerful who continue to beat up on them, that in actuality “we see [from Trump’s track record] the picture of a fundamentally arrogant, selfish, and greedy man, who will do or say anything to beat his rivals. This is a man who glories in a kind of self-exaltation that most of us would find shameful.”

Grudem says those who reduce their decision on whom to vote for solely to character are guilty of reductionism, but I would disagree. A person’s character will determine how he or she will handle all of the other issues that matter. During one of the presidential debates John Kasich responded to an answer Ted Cruz gave regarding his philosophies by saying, “You don’t run anything with philosophy.” Kasich’s point was that actually having done something is more meaningful. The truth, though, is that one’s philosophy will dictate how he or she will run something. Trump’s character and philosophy indicates that he has usually been out to do what is best for him and his personal bottom line. He made it clear during the debates that he is proud of all the money he made in Atlantic City and the fact that he got out before most other casino owners, but the record of his operations in Atlantic City is not flattering.

Chediak says he agrees with Grudem that character cannot be the only factor to consider, but he also says that there comes a point where poor character makes it a necessary consideration. Writes Chediak,

But there is a character threshold that we should expect any candidate to meet. A man who owns his vices as if they were virtues, who talks proudly about “going after the families” of suspected terrorists, who has profited from strip clubs, who is by all accounts a pathological liar, who disparaged a disabled journalist, who insulted POWs, who criticized the looks of a rival’s wife, is unworthy of the office of president.

I agree with most of what Chediak said there. I have to ask though, who is worthy of the office of president? How do we determine that? Who gets to decide is us—we the people. That means, by default, that anyone who gets elected is “worthy.” When we are the losing side of the equation we probably do not like that, but we would not really want any alternative. If we were to suggest that some group of people should get to determine who is worthy or eligible to be the president we would only like it as long as we were in that group. That’s the great—and terrible—thing about democratic government; the majority will sometimes choose a candidate that we feel is completely wrong for the job, either by his positions and/or by his character. James Madison famously wrote, in The Federalist #51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Men are not angels, and angels do not govern men, which is why we have to take seriously our responsibility as voters. In Christianity Today Russell Moore wrote, “In our system, citizen is an office; we too bear responsibility for the actions of the government.” That is also why, by the way, not voting is really not an option in my opinion. Even if a candidate lacking character—a candidate we feel is “unworthy of the office of president”—wins the office, we must be diligent to do all that we can within the system to keep him or her accountable through the checks and balances within our system. We have not done a good job of that in recent years, with a Congress that has allowed the president to usurp his constitutional powers on multiple occasions without calling him on it in any meaningful way and with a judicial branch that has created rights that do not exist and laws that were not voted on without holding those judges accountable either.

Grudem said that people’s concern that Trump will not be the president he has promised to be is a moot point because “all of American presidential history shows that that result is unlikely, and it is ethically fallacious reasoning to base a decision on assuming a result that is unlikely to happen.” I don’t agree with that either. That’s akin to saying that because everyone lies we should not care if one individual person lies. To use the faults of the whole to justify or excuse the faults of the one is ethically fallacious, too. I hesitate to start a debate with an ethics professor on ethical fallacies but this particular assertion by Grudem is an example of appeal to probability. Grudem says it is ethically fallacious to base a decision on the assumption that a result is unlikely to happen but it is just as fallacious to base it on a result that is likely to happen. Trump probably won’t do what he has said he will is a fallacious argument Grudem says, but opposing that by arguing that no one does what they say they will is also fallacious. Grudem is committing a fallacy of his own, saying that history tells us that candidates rarely do govern as they promise, so of course Trump is unlikely to as well.

Of course Grudem is not the only person whose writing is getting attention on this question. Though not nearly as prominent a voice as Grudem, a blogger named Shannon Dingle posted, on July 31, her opinion on the matter. It was entitled “I’m pro-life. And I’m voting for Hillary. Here’s why.” She says her opposition to abortion has not changed, but the Republican track record has caused her to come to the conclusion that she is “not sure we can hold that voting Republican is the best thing for abortion rates in this country.”

According to Dingle, “abortion rates rose under Reagan, rose under the first Bush, dropped under Clinton, held steady under the second Bush, and have been dropping under Obama.” However, I am not sure where received her information or on what she is basing that assertion. The National Right to Life Education Foundation reports, on nrlc.org, that the U.S. abortion rate (measured as the number of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44) was lower when Regan left office than when he entered, lower when the first Bush left office than when he entered, was lower when Clinton left office than when he entered, was lower when Bush 43 left office than when he entered, and has also declined under Obama.

Perhaps Dingle misspoke and she meant the abortion ratio. That is the number of abortions per 100 births ending in live births or abortion. However, that number reached its peak in 1983 but had dropped markedly by the time Reagan left office. When Bush 41 left office it was slightly higher than when he entered, but then the ratio fell during the Clinton and Bush 43, and has also fallen under Obama. These are not NRLC numbers, either; they come from the Centers for Disease Control and the Guttmacher Institute. The NRLC did comment, however, that while the abortion rate is declining, the number of abortions from RU-486 and other similar means were up.

Dingle goes on to say that Trump has no political track record and therefore all we can go by are his words. Those words, she says, are “are inconsistent, unreliable, and highly subject to change based on what’s politically convenient for him.” I don’t disagree with that at all. She says he has a “newly minted pro-life stance,” and I do not disagree with that either. (That was also true of Mitt Romney, by the way). At the same time, Hillary Clinton has a political track record, and it is one firmly committed to the pro-abortion position. Just a few months ago she made the news with her comments on Meet the Press in which she said that unborn children do not have constitutional rights. She also said that the absence of those rights does not negate the responsibility to do whatever can be done medically to help the unborn child of a “mother who…wants to make sure that the child will be healthy.” Those words are significant because the imply Clinton’s well-known position that the medical community should also do whatever is necessary to end the life of an unborn child when the mother does not want that child. Here is an excerpt of Clinton’s response to Chuck Todd’s question, “When or if does an unborn child have constitutional rights?”

Well, under our laws currently, that is not something that exists. The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights. Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t do everything we possibly can in the vast majority of instances to, you know, help a mother who is carrying a child and wants to make sure that child will be healthy, to have appropriate medical support. It doesn’t mean that you don’t do everything possible to try to fulfill your obligations. But it does not include sacrificing the woman’s right to make decisions.

Dingle continues on to say that abortion—while deeply important to her—is not the only issue she is considered. She also makes it clear that she is voting for Clinton because she agrees with Clinton on enough issues to warrant her vote. If she did not, she says, she would abstain from voting or would vote for a third party candidate because she does not believe in voting against someone. Wrote Dingle, “I find enough I can affirm and identify with in the positions and record of Hillary Clinton.… Aside for abortion – which I do care about deeply – I see the Democrats as the party that champions other pro-life issues more effectively and consistently.”

Quite frankly, that statement blows my mind, so I found it very interesting to explore Dingle’s rationale. And she did not hold back, believe me. She enumerated ten ways in which she feels Clinton is a more pro-life candidate than Trump (and Republicans in general). Her first example is the lives of people with disabilities. Donald Trump has a hideous record of statements and insults directed toward and about individuals with disabilities and there is no defense for those statements. Clinton has a more admirable record of statements made about the still-existing need to provide more help and greater access for individuals with disabilities. So I will let Dingle have this point, but I do want to mention that the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed by a Republican president (Bush 41) and Republicans Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin, among others, have rock-solid records on the issue of individuals with disabilities, due in no small part to their own experience as parents of children with disabilities (and their position that parents who are told their child will have a disability should not have the right to abort that child—a position Clinton does not hold).

Dingle’s second point is on the matter of women who would otherwise get abortions. She suggests that “empowering poor and low-income women can make a difference in overall pregnancy termination rates.” I find the word empowering to be trite and therefore almost devoid of meaning, but Dingle specifically mentions family supports—especially for single mothers, increased educational access and frank conversations about the issue of rape. Dingle says Clinton started the first rape crisis hotline in Arkansas and was “considered a leading advocate for abused and neglected children” shortly after leaving law school. That’s commendable, but it does not ignore the fact that Clinton only advocates for the rights of children who are already born—while simultaneously advocating for a woman’s right kill that child before it is born for no other reason than the fact that she does not want the child. In a 1995 speech at the UN women’s conference in Beijing Clinton made a gutsy statement, given the location of the conference. She said, “It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls….” That’s absolutely true. But let us not forget that Clinton supports the right of a woman to have a doctor do those exact same things to a baby before it leaves the womb. While Marco Rubio’s assertion earlier this year that Clinton supports abortion even up to the due date of the child may be a small stretch, Clinton said on Meet the Press Daily on September 28, 2015, “”There can be restrictions in the very end of the third trimester, but they have to take into account the life and health of the mother.” Note the key words—very end of the third trimester.

Dingle writes, “As the mother of children who one day might benefit from any or all of these policies [that can benefit women who might otherwise have an abortion], I can’t look them in the eye, say I value them deeply, and then justify a vote for Trump. As someone who believes the best anti-abortion policies prevent abortions rather than ban them, I can’t say I’m pro-life and say I’m with him. I can’t.”

To that I would ask Dingle, Could you look those same children in the eye and say you voted for a woman who believes you had the right to kill them before they were born if you had wished to do so?

I am not going to take the time to discuss all of Dingle’s points because I do not feel they all need to be discussed. It is true that Hillary Clinton has a more admirable record on some issues than does Donald Trump. There is no defending Trump’s treatment of, and comments about, women. Wrote Chediak,

Trump has directly profited from the debasement of women. Trump was the first to put a strip club in a casino in 2013, the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Trump was a frequent guest on the Howard Stern show, where the two men regularly objectified women in the most degrading of ways. When we combine this record with Trump’s boasts of marital unfaithfulness and (more recently) his grotesque remarks about Megyn Kelly and the looks of Carly Fiorina and Heidi Cruz, it’s hard to argue that accusations of misogyny are unjustified.  (emphasis mine)

But Dingle seems to lose her grasp of reality when she says Clinton will be a better candidate for the lives of our armed forces. After admitting that Clinton made a complete mess of Benghazi, Dingle writes, “but I do think Hillary learned from the grievous errors leading up to and following that horrible day.” Really? Based on what? When questioned by Congress she said, notoriously, “what difference does it make now?” I do not think that shows any lessons learned. Dingle cites James Comey’s failure to indict Clinton over her use of a private e-mail server as an example only of poor judgment. I think, despite Comey’s statement, that conclusion is erroneous. There is evidence that Clinton knew exactly what she was doing, and continued to do it intentionally—if for no other reason than to avoid future FOIA requests. Her behavior would have resulted in an indictment for anyone else.

Dingle says she was “I was astounded by the number of military leaders speaking at the DNC…vouching Hillary as the best choice for our troops and most knowledgeable in this area of policy.” I wonder if she has checked out the number of military leaders who have said that Clinton is absolutely not the best choice for our troops? I think she would be even more astounded.

In an article in WORLD Mindy Belz wrote, referring in part to a number of pieces the magazine has run exposing connections between the Clintons and rogue Nigerians,

Our reporting uncovered multiple ties between the Clinton Foundation, Hillary herself, and Nigerian business interests who benefited from the United States not cracking down on terror in Nigeria. It’s a small anecdote. But it fits a pattern of cover-up; of Clinton denying shady practices plain for all to see; of her dealing with rogues, defying the law in plain sight, and daring anyone to catch her. A nuclear arsenal and the world’s best army won’t be in trustworthy hands on her watch.

In November 2015 Rasmussen Reports reported that a “RallyPoint/Rasmussen Reports national survey of active and retired military personnel finds that only 15% have a favorable opinion of Clinton, with just three percent (3%) who view the former secretary of State Very Favorably. Clinton is seen unfavorably by 81%, including 69% who share a Very Unfavorable impression of her.”

In March of this year, on americanthinker.com, retired Air Force Colonel Chris J. Krisinger wrote, “If polling is any indicator, Mrs. Clinton has few fans in the military. … Given the military’s performance-based ethos, coupled with the ideals and standards U.S. military members are held to account for, it seems increasingly likely that few among them would publicly offer up their names and professional reputations for her political fortunes.” So there may be plenty of military personnel who oppose the notion of Donald Trump as Commander in Chief, but there are no doubt just as many who oppose Clinton for that position. And she, by the way, has a track record on which to base such opposition.

Near the end of her post Dingle writes, “One reason I’m voting for Hillary is that I know what and who I’m voting for.” That, in my mind, is exactly why I could not vote for Clinton. I know what I am voting for and I could never in good conscience lend my support or endorsement to Clinton’s past or promises for the future.

A different take on Clinton comes from a (much shorter) blog post by Helen Wickert on courageousmotherhood.net and entitled “An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton.” Having stated that she would love to be able to celebrate with her daughter the first nomination of a woman for president by a major political party, Wickert writes that she cannot. “Sadly, Mrs. Clinton, you have shown not only my daughter but all daughters—and not only in this country but globally—that in order to, in your words, ‘shatter the gla’ you have to lie, cheat, abuse, insult, bully and ignore.”

Wickert writes, “Mrs. Clinton, how can I possibly tell my daughter to follow you as an example after you allowed your husband to assault and demean multiple women throughout his political career?” Good question—especially since Dingle says that one of the reasons she is supporting Clinton is Trump’s abysmal record toward women. Trump demeans women with his words and actions, Dingle says. No argument from me on that one. But has not Clinton done the same? In January of this year the New York Times ran an article that enumerated a number of instances of Clinton’s attitude toward the women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment or of having affairs with them. According to George Stephanopoulos Clinton said “We have to destroy her story” when Connie Hamzy came forward against Bill Clinton in 1991. The article also references Clinton’s approach toward Gennifer Flowers and quotes “one of her closest confidantes” as saying that Clinton called Monica Lewinsky “a narcissistic loony toon.” You can read the article for yourself if you want to know more.

Wickert also asks,

How can you get up and speak about income equality and then pay your own male executives considerably more than your female staff? How can you receive donations from countries that publicly abuse, shame and even execute their own women? Yet you continue to boast about how you stand for women’s rights. Double standard?

I have nothing to add to that, but it would be interesting to know how Dingle would respond. Wickert also raises the issue of Clinton’s $12,000 jackets she often speaks in and the six-figure speaking fees she collects. How do those facts contribute to Clinton’s ability or desire to help women who are struggling?

Wickert wasn’t through though; she also writes this:

You have the interests of only one woman in mind here: your own. You have done nothing to bring the United States together. Quite the contrary—you have done your best to divide, and you have succeeded. Congratulations. You crave power, and you will do whatever it takes to get it. You have lied, cheated and let down your own country.

Now it would be difficult to suggest that Trump has done much to bring the country together either. I am not suggesting that he has. But I am suggesting that Dingle’s assertions about Clinton being the better candidate really do not make much sense when you truly compare the two candidates.

This is already long and is only getting longer, so the time has come to begin moving toward a conclusion.

I said earlier that I would come back to Naselli’s example of an election between Hitler and Stalin. Obviously that would be an extremely undesirable choice to have to make, and if there really were a U.S. election with two such candidates it would be quite tempting to abstain or vote for a third party candidate. However, I said this was a perfect example because if we reflect back to World War II we see that the United States actually did choose Stalin over Hitler—just long enough to defeat Hitler. Very few people, if any, in the U.S. liked the idea of working together with the Soviets, but it was a temporary necessity in order to defeat Nazi Germany, which was an even worse evil at that time. History bears out that there are times when the adage is indeed true that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In the 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump is the enemy of Hillary Clinton.

Dingle writes that she has changed her mind about support for abortion being a deal breaker position. I cannot agree with her. Instead, I side with John Piper, who wrote back in 1995, “I believe that the endorsement of the right to kill unborn children disqualifies a person from any position of public office.” Now I should clarify that, supporting the freedoms which make our country the great country that it is prevent me from saying that I actually believe that such a position disqualifies a person from running for or holding that office, but I do believe that it disqualifies me from ever voting for such a person—and I think it should have the same impact for anyone who claims to be pro-life. Writing on The Gospel Coalition web site, Thomas Kidd wrote earlier this month, “Just what we know about her views on abortion and the rights of conscience should disqualify her, in my opinion, as a political option for Christians.” Despite Dingle’s best efforts, there is simply no way to claim to be pro-life and support a person who passionately defends a woman’s right to choose abortion.

Back in April Naselli wrote that if Trump and Clinton ended up being the nominees there would basically be four options for voters: (1) Don’t vote; (2) vote for Clinton; (3) vote for Trump; or (4) “vote for someone else who has no chance to win.”

I do not think number one or number two are real options for believers—or for anyone who believes that there are responsibilities that come along with being a citizen of the United States (and a citizen of heaven, for those in the “believer” category).  That leaves three and four. There are arguments to made for and against voting for Trump. I have discussed some of them already, and I will share just a couple of more thoughts from Russell Moore.

Again, in Christianity Today, Moore wrote this:

For starters, unless Jesus of Nazareth is on the ballot, any election forces us to choose the lesser of evils. Across every party and platform, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Still, the question is a valid one. Believing in human depravity doesn’t negate our sense of responsibility.

Moore also wrote this:

Can a candidate make promises about issues then do something different in office? Yes. Can a candidate present a sense of good character in public then later be revealed to be a fraud? Sure. The same happens with pastors, spouses, employees, and in virtually every other relationship. But that sense of surprise and disappointment is not the same as knowingly delegating our authority to someone with poor character or wicked public stances. Doing so makes us as voters culpable. Saying, “the alternative would be worse” is no valid excuse.

That is why, bottom line, I do not believe a Christian can vote for Hillary Clinton. Neither can someone who does not profess Christianity but does claim to be pro-life. Such a vote would be, in Moore’s words, “knowingly delegating our authority” to someone who has said she defends the right of women to kill their unborn children.

That still leaves the question of whether or not to vote for Trump.

There are plenty of intelligent arguments being made both for and against doing so. Many people I respect are passionately in favor of supporting Trump. Many others I respect are passionately opposed. Several months ago I said myself that I did not know how anyone who professes to be a Christian could support Donald Trump for president. At the time I said that there were other Republican candidates still in the race, but if I felt that way then can I change that position now? Should I? That brings me back to the question I asked near the beginning of this lengthy piece, “whether or not someone who is not an acceptable candidate at one time can become an acceptable candidate later when said candidate has not changed at all but the environment in which he is running has changed and the options have diminished.” As I said, I think that is Grudem’s position. I just need to determine whether or not it is mine.

Chediak suggests that voting for a third candidate—whether a proclaimed candidate or a write-in—is the appropriate choice. “By voting for neither Trump nor Clinton, we do not participate in our country’s decline. We lay the groundwork for a brighter day to come,” he says. David French, writing for National Review, says, “It is hard to face the fact that — on balance — Trump is no better than Hillary Clinton. Hillary is a dreadful politician, and Republicans have waited for years for a great candidate to take her on. They’re still waiting. It’s Democrat versus Democrat for president, and no amount of wishful thinking can change that sad reality.” And Matthew Franck, writing on thepublicdiscourse.com, a web site of The Witherspoon Institute, said this of Trump:

Was there ever a candidate more obviously unqualified for high public office, as measured by his dearth of relevant knowledge and experience, his willfulness and self-absorption, his compulsive lying and inconsistency, his manipulative using of other people, his smash-mouth rhetoric and low character? For anyone professing conservative principles, the first problem with Trump is that he is not one of us, has never been one of us, shows no sign or capacity of becoming one of us, and hardly cares to pretend to be one of us. Even “what about the Supreme Court?” has no grip on my conscience when I try to imagine Donald Trump in the Oval Office. I cannot trust him to choose judicial nominees wisely, and there are other things whose cumulative weight is greater even than this variable.

We haven’t even the consolation of thinking of Trump as a certain kind of Republican who is not actually conservative but who at least recognizes our vocabulary when he hears it. No, Trump would not know a conservative principle if it kicked him in the shins. This is a nominee who, in my estimation, cannot earn my vote even as a “lesser evil” or an “at least he’s not Hillary” candidate. I waver between believing that his defeat would be the worst thing to happen to our country and believing that his victory would be.

At the beginning of his piece Franck sets the stage by recounting being asked this: “If your vote were the deciding one in the election, with either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump becoming president on the basis of your vote alone, for which one would you vote?” No one is ever actually in that position, of course, a fact that Franck acknowledges, and which leads him to his ultimate conclusion:

Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever—except the shape of your own character. Vote as if the public consequences of your action weigh nothing next to the private consequences. The country will go whither it will go, when all the votes are counted. What should matter the most to you is whither you will go, on and after this November’s election day.

I understand Franck’s point and I think one’s own character and conscience certainly must be factors in how to vote. At the same time, loving God necessarily entails loving each other, and I do not feel it can be justified biblically to act in a way that could result in contributing to Hillary Clinton becoming the president. That means that Naselli’s fourth option—voting for someone who has no chance to win—is not an option at all if voting for that person will have the resulting impact of helping Clinton win. (See again Grudem’s point that voting for such a candidate is in essence a vote for Clinton).

Tony Reinke, by the way, added a few more options to the four voting choices Naselli presented. One of those was, “Vote utilitarian by choosing a major candidate based on who would appoint the best SCOTUS judges.” This argument is consistent with what Eric Metaxas said in a recent interview: “We need to take seriously the realization that the wrong people in the Supreme Court can effectively end our form of government. That’s why, for all the shortcomings, I would say we have no choice but to vote for Trump.” Reinke is not persuaded by this argument, though, saying “it remains difficult to know how many SCOTUS judges will be selected in the next four years, maybe only one (to fill Scalia’s vacancy). After last summer I have a hard time believing SCOTUS, in any forms, is little more than a codifier of public opinion.” I think that’s unlikely. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is probably not going to be able to serve another four years. Anthony Kennedy is 80 and Stephen Breyer will be 78 next week. So there is a high probability than the next president will appoint more than one justice to the court.

The lasting influence of SCOTUS justices is undeniable. It is no coincidence that the average age of the last four appointees—Roberts, Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan—was just shy of 53. A Supreme Court justice can easily serve thirty years—longer than seven presidential terms. So this has to be a serious consideration.

That is why, combined with everything else I have said here, I believe that voting for Donald Trump is the right thing to do for voters who live in a state that is not a sure thing for Trump to win. There are plenty of states where the vote is going to be very close, and these states are likely to determine the outcome of the election. Recent elections have all been close in electoral votes. Some states, though, are not really “up for grabs.” I live in South Dakota, for example, and it was last won by the Democratic nominee in 1964. In 2012 Obama received only 40% of the vote in the state. California, on the other hand, has not voted Republican since 1988 and is highly unlikely to do so this year. But if you live in a state that could go either way—Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia among others—I believe voting for Trump is the right thing to do. I could vote for Trump with a clear conscience if I lived in one of those states because it would be the most effective step I could take to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming president. It would, in other words, be me loving my neighbor by doing what I could to ensure that the worst candidate did not win the election. I am not certain that makes Trump a good candidate, but if doing what is best for the nation as a whole—which is another way of saying loving my neighbor—is what Grudem means by Trump being a good moral choice then I agree—within the confines of what I stated above.

For those, like me, who live in states where the outcome is unlikely to be a real race, though, I think voting your conscience is the right thing to do. Notice I did not say not voting is the right thing to do, because I do not see that ever being the appropriate choice, but voting for a third party candidate or a write-in candidate is justifiable in those situations, and if it will ease your conscience or help you sleep better, then it is definitely the right choice. In fact, perhaps even more than that, I think it is the right choice because it communicates effectively that you are concerned about this country—enough to be an involved citizen—and are not pleased with either of the two major party candidates that were nominated this year. If there is enough of that kind of voting there may well be attention paid. There is no way, though, that a third party candidate is going to win the election this November (assuming nothing drastic changes between now and then) and doing anything other than whatever you can do to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning simply cannot be an option.

August 1, 2016

Unsustainable

In last week’s post Identifying Reality I cited a New York Times article pointing out that younger people, especially ages 18-24, are more comfortable with transgender identities at least in part as a result of a greater awareness of such a thing. Another incredibly frightening example of acceptance bred by familiarity can be found in the February 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan. That issue includes an article by Taffy Brodesser-Akner entitled “The Swing Set.” The article’s subtitle reads, “Monogamy is seen as the gold standard, but other relationship models–throuples, quads!–are emerging from the sidelines and shedding their stigma.” The four-page article is on the topic of polyamory, something I have warned about in at least three previous posts. Unfortunately, it is not going away. In fact, it is, if you can believe what you read is Cosmo, only becoming more prevalent–and I have no reason right now to think that it will not continue to do so.

The article begins with an introduction of Jane and Carlos. They love to have a good time, and if you are fond of a good time and you are “low drama” then “they might be interested in having sex with you. Or a relationship with you. Either way, they’re looking to add to what they have going on with each other. It could also be you and your boyfriend…or your girlfriend.” In other words, any combination is fine. Anything that is pleasurable is acceptable. The only condition Jane and Carlos have, apparently, is this: “[Y]ou’d better mean it, because they’re not really into one-night stands.”

Brodesser-Akner goes on to introduce others into the polyamory lifestyle. Lexi is only 18 years old, but says she loves and cares too much–too much for just one recipient, apparently. Accordingly, “she wants to spread that love over more than one person, maybe you and your boyfriend or you and your girlfriend.” She has one requirement, too: “I just want to be accepted for who I am.” After all, if we accept everyone for who they are, if we let everyone do whatever makes them happy, if we just all get along, then everything will be fine, right? We do not need to have all of these confining rules and boundaries that prevent people from doing whatever it is that makes them happy. If Lexi wants to sleep with multiple partners, males and females, what difference should that make to the rest of us so long as it is all consensual? Why should we tell Lexi that she should only have sex with one person, and that person should be a man and be within the confines of a marriage relationship?

Stephen has a girlfriend who already has a child and she has two other lovers. Since she has other lovers, Stephen may want to have others, too. Apparently he has stated as much in his profile on a website specifically designed to help “nonmonogamous people find one another.” Since I have zero interest in spreading awareness of this site I am not going to name it but it cannot come as any surprise that such a site exists. After all, there was another prominent site that was designed specifically to connect married individuals who wanted to have an affair–something no one seemed to balk at until the site was hacked and names were released. And it is not as if the site were operating under the radar; it had been prominently featured in national news outlets.

Brodesser-Akner raises a very interested point in the early paragraphs of her article. Specifically, she writes,

You can’t move forward into thinking about all the very new (and sometimes very old) alternatives to monogamy if you don’t first confront your own feelings on the topic. Like, why do you think your relationship should be just two people? Where in your brain and heart did you first start to find it startling that two people, once united, would ever want to stray from each other or include other people in their union? At what point did your upbringing–possibly Judeo-Christian and/or puritanical–dictate your ideals so absolutely?

I am, for the most part, going to ignore the implication that Judeo-Christian principles are puritanical. Brodesser-Akner’s use of the “and/or” leaves open the possibility that someone could have puritanical principles that were not rooted in Judeo-Christian beliefs but I think her point is clear. Many people do feel that Judeo-Christian beliefs include a severe set of rules that are designed specifically to minimize pleasure. A professor of mine in college used to joke that a Puritan was someone who lived in constant fear that someone, somewhere was having fun. That was a bit of hyperbole, of course, but as is usually the case there was an element of truth. “Puritanical” means, by definition, “very strict in moral or religious matters, often excessively so.” Excessively so means beyond what is reasonable. The suggestion, then, is that monogamy may well be unreasonable. There may be no good reason to suggest or believe that monogamy is the way to go other than subscribing to outlandish, over-the-top restrictions on personal freedom. Interestingly, by the way, polygamy was not uncommon in the ancient Judeo-Christian world….

Anyway, Brodesser-Akner’s question is a valid one. Where does the idea that relationships should be just two people come from? And if it came solely from strict upbringing based on puritanical ideas, then why not cast off such constraints? The “rules” of Judeo-Christianity state that a marriage is to be between one man and one woman and adultery is wrong. But why? What is monogamy gets boring? A comedian was once reading a list of humorous things kids say and included this one: “Marriage is between one man and one woman. This is called monotony.” Hahahaha, roared the audience. But deep down inside don’t we feel that way sometimes? Wouldn’t we like to know what else is out there? Wouldn’t we like to add some spice and excitement to our romantic relationships? That is Brodesser-Akner’s suggestion. She goes on to write that there are many ways to practice “consensual nonmonogamy” and the variety is precisely the point. “This is people making it up as they go along so that their relationships stay fulfilling,” she writes.

Despite any wish we may have to think this is a weird, fringe movement among a minute portion of society we cannot turn a blind eye to this. Cosmopolitan bills itself as a publication that “Targets contemporary women, featuring beauty, fashion, career and sex advice.” According to its own media kit, Cosmo is a force to be reckoned with. There are an average of 6.88 readers per issue of the magazine, and these include single (45.3%), married (38.1%) and divorced or separated women (16.6%). More than 52% of primary women readers who responded to a survey about popular women’s magazines indicated that Cosmo is one of their favorites and said they spend an average of 75 minutes with each issue–tops, by far, for both categories. College Store Executive, the industry magazine for college bookstores, reported in its 30th anniversary issue that Cosmopolitan has been the best-selling magazine in college bookstores for 25 years. It leads the way in just about every category for women readers, but is far and away the top magazine among women 18-34 years of age. That is significant because that is precisely the group of people who will become more comfortable with things like polyamory and will, at the same time they are becoming more comfortable with it, become more influential in politics and decision-making positions that will shape the future of our nation. Not only our nation, by the way; Cosmo is distributed in 110 countries and published in 64 international issues.

The concern is not just the potential influence of Cosmo, though. Brodesser-Akner’s article reports that a University of Michigan professor who is “a prominent researcher in the field of consensual nonmonogamy” has found that “up to 5% of people may be in some sort of nonmonogamous relationship.” If that is true, that is higher than the number of Americans who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender; it was widely reported in 2015 that a Gallup survey found that fewer than 4% of Americans so identify.In July 2014 the Washington Post reported that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey found that 96.6% of U.S. adults identify as straight. That survey found only 1.6% identified as gay or lesbian and 0.7% as bisexual. But look at all of the changes in laws, in public accommodations, and more, than have stemmed from that tiny group of people. Last week’s post on transgender issues included a New York Times report than the transgender population of the U.S. was maybe 0.6% of the total–but look at the insanity surrounding that, from school district guidelines to athletic competition rules and so on. If 5% of the population really is involved in polyamory then we have to expect that there will soon be a movement to recognize the legitimacy of such relationships.The Cosmo article also reports that recent data indicates as may as 16% of U.S. men and 31% of men report an openness to trying a nonmonogamous relationship. And the website I referenced earlier that is designed to connect these people? It had 8,500 registered users in April 2015 and 152,000 by September of that year–with 75% of them “paying and active users.”

The reality, of course, is that, despite the happiness and contentment that many people in these kinds of relationships claim to experience, there are real risks. The Cosmo article mentions Sophie and Luke who have this rule for their relationship: “They’re allowed to hook up with whomever they want to, and they both prefer advance warning. They don’t like to go into too many details afterward.” I wonder that might be? No doubt it is because, whether we like it or not, we are “wired” to now that sleeping around is wrong. When we have a deeply intimate relationship with someone else and care deeply for that person, we are not really okay with that person going out at getting from someone else what they should be getting from us. I heard someone say jokingly one time that he married his wife because he was tired of shaking her hand. That was a lighthearted means of referring to the elements of a marriage relationship that have, traditionally, been recognized as only appropriate within a marriage–and which is only and always supposed to be monogamous.

Interestingly, Brodesser-Akner provides Oneida, New York as an example of polyamory having “been around for a while.” She writes that Oneida was “one of the first documented examples of polyamory in the U.S.” and that it existed from the 1840s to 1880, “rejecting monogamy in search of a utopian ideal.” That’s true. But if you know anything about the Oneida community–and I include it every year in the U.S. History class I teach–then you also know it was a failure. Believe it or not, Ellen Wayland-Smith, who is a Professor of Writing at the University of Southern California and received her Ph.D. in comparative literature from Princeton University–and also a descendant of John Humphrey Noyes, who founded the Oneida community–published a book in May of this year on the Oneida community. In the opening chapter of the book she writes that brainchild of Noyes “would blend a utopian ethic of total selflessness, communism of property, and divinely sanctioned free love into one of the most baroque interpretations of Jesus ‘everlasting gospel’ ever attempted.” It would have been more accurate to say “broken interpretations.” Nevertheless, you can read the book for yourself, or just Google the Oneida community, and it will not take long for you to discover that the free love Noyes championed did not result in happiness for all. Indeed, quite the opposite is true, as it led to plenty of problems.

Equally interesting is that Brodesser-Akner goes on to say, after referencing Oneida, that Mormon and Muslim polygamists, when men marry multiple wives, are “not what we’re talking about here, since those choices are mired in religious belief and patriarchal ideology.” Clearly, though, Noyes’s ideas of free love were also “mired in religious belief.” And religion does not necessarily mean something pertaining to a belief about God, a god or any kind of divine being. Part of the dictionary.com definition of religion reads this way: “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.” Just two days ago the Washington Post reported on the possible creation of After School Satan Clubs. According to the article, the Satanic Temple “rejects all forms of supernaturalism and is committed to the view that scientific rationality provides the best measure of reality.” The head of the Temple’s Utah chapter said, “We think it’s important for kids to be able to see multiple points of view, to reason things through, to have empathy and feelings of benevolence for their fellow human beings.” The co-founder and spokesman of the Satanic Temple, Lucien Greaves, said that the group will use the same arguments used by Liberty Counsel to allow Good News Clubs to meet with students after school. “We would like to thank the Liberty Counsel specifically for opening the doors to the After School Satan Clubs through their dedication to religious liberty.” In other words, a committed view to scientific rationality and the notion that empathy for all human beings is good is a religion.  Even Atheism is a religion. But all of this is a topic for another post.

Nonmonogamy does not work. Not really. Brodesser-Akner reports, “All the people I interviewed have sets of rules. So many rules that their rules have rules.” Yet, a woman named Kate that she spoke to was, by her own admission, “cheating on her nonmonogamous relationship” because she was doing things that broke the rules she and her husband had agreed upon, including sleeping regularly with the same guy (which broke a rule) and said guy was on their agreed-upon list of people she could not sleep with (because he was an ex-boyfriend). And why do they have such rules anyway? “To protect them from having anything more than a sexual relationship with the other person.” In other words, to be sure that they do not develop relationships with anyone else. This is all a result of the false notion that sex is nothing more than a physical act. But God designed it to be far more than that. Sex is a wonderful thing within a marriage because that is the way the Designer intended it to be enjoyed. Sex is not just a physical act; it is an intimate act that involves much more than physical interaction. There is a reason why multiple studies report that those with the greatest sex lives are those within monogamous marriages.

Brodesser-Akner ends her article quoting the research professor saying that “society has decided that monogamy is best, even though there are many monogamous couples who aren’t happy that way.” That’s actually disingenuous, as there are no doubt polyamorous couples who are not happy that way, either. Examples of people unhappy in a specific arrangement does not mean that the arrangement is wrong. That would be akin to suggesting that because David Ortiz floundered during his stint with the Minnesota Twins to the extent that he was cut by the team means that he was not a very good baseball player. Millions of Red Sox fans would disagree with that conclusion. You cannot argue for something based solely on examples of the anti-something not working. Brodesser-Akner’s own conclusion that the people in these polyamorous relationships are “willing to do anything possible…in order to find a sustainable way to love and be loved. In that regard, we are all the same.” The same in wanting to love and be loved, perhaps, but the use of the term “sustainable” is careless. Look throughout history and you will not find any sustainable polyamorous societies. Oneida is only one example of their failure. Regardless, we must be alert; now that homosexual marriage has been legalized, the push for legal recognition of polyamory is just around the corner.

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