jasonbwatson

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).

July 27, 2016

Identifying reality

In the July 9, 2016 issue of WORLD Katie Gualtney had an article entitled “Showdown in Cowtown.” The topic of the article is transgender student guidelines created in Fort Worth, TX. Those guidelines apparently clarify, or add to, a previously-existing anti-discrimination statement the school district issued in 2011 by adding that students can use the restroom or locker room of their choice “based on their own, self-perceived gender identity without ‘medical or mental health diagnosis.'” That means, of course, that there is absolutely no barrier to any student claiming to identify with one gender or another, regardless of his or her biology, and for whatever reason. If a guy wants to go in the girls locker room, all he has to do is say he identifies as a girl that day. If no diagnosis is required and actions are dictated solely by self-perceived gender identity then said identity can change on a whim without limit, I assume.

Gualtney also writes that the Fort Worth school district also supports “self-designated-gender participation in athletics.” There again, this would mean, I assume, that a student could identify as a girl to play on the volleyball team and then as a guy to play basketball before identifying as a girl again for track season. Actually, if it is all self-designated anyway, what’s to stop a student from claiming to be bi-gendered and playing on both the girls and guys basketball teams? After all, we have bisexuals now, why not bi-gendered individuals? And if someone is bi-gendered it would surely be wrong for us to make them pick one gender or the other, would it not?

It gets worse, though, believe it or not. Gualtney reports that teachers “must use the pronoun and name preferred by the student, regardless of the student’s legal name or parents’ permission, and they are not to tell parents about their children’s gender confusion.” Any student, just to be a jerk and irritate a teacher, could therefore insist on being called a different name or referred to by a different pronoun–and the teacher could do nothing about it. Not even talk to the student’s parent. Surely, therefore, this could not be a behavior deserving of a consequence or reprimand of any kind from the school because how could a school discipline a student for something that has already been defined as being purely up to the “self-perceived” and “self-designated” gender of the student? Schools have to have permission to give out headache medicine but apparently there is no need to talk over serious matters like gender identity with the parent. After all, we should let everyone make up their own minds in this area, free from the cumbersome interference of their parents. (Yes, that’s sarcasm again–lest anyone pull that quote out and use it completely out of context).

If you have read this space much you likely know that I have a like/dislike relationship with the writings of WORLD columnist Janie B. Cheaney. In more than fifteen years of reading WORLD, Cheaney has authored some of the more ridiculous things I have ever read as well as some of the more thought-provoking. Her column in the July 23, 2016 issue is one of the latter. It is also one of the first mainstream journalism articles I have come across to articulate the point I have been making here for a while–that when we throw open the door for self-perception and self-designation, we throw open a door we really cannot then close. We cannot, after all, decide to allow individuals to decide for themselves whether or not marriage is only between a man and a woman, or whether or not they are a man or a woman, and then tell them that cannot decide whether or not marriage is limited to two people or whether or not they are red, yellow, black or white.

Chaney references a video made by the Family Policy Institute of Washington–which I have not seen–in which an interviewer questions students at the University of Washington about transgender issues. “None of the young adults who appear on the video have a problem with Backholm [the interviewer] hypothetically identifying as a woman, but they squirm a bit when he suggests he might be Chinese, or 7 years old (‘What if I wanted to enroll in first grade?’), or 6 feet 5 inches tall.” They squirm because we know, inherently, that an adult is not seven years old and that a white guy is not a Chinese woman. Or do we? After all, we used to know, too, that marriage was between a man and a woman and we knew who was a male or female within seconds of their birth (if not before).

If we can no longer take for granted what used to be obvious and uncontested then we can no longer put any weight or merit on those characteristics. That means there can be no real limit on when students have to start school or be finished with school, there can be no age limit on when someone must come off their parent’s insurance, there can be no quotas for interviewing, hiring or admitting individuals of certain racial or ethnic identities… I rather liked high school. Maybe I’ll go back and do it again, claiming to only be 16.

On vacation recently my family spent a day at a water park. I do not remember what prompted this thought in my mind but it occurred to me at some point–probably because we were in California and my wife and I were far more attentive to the issue of using public bathrooms and changing rooms than we ever had been before–that a biological woman could walk around the park topless and no one could do anything about it if, when questioned, she said she was a man. “That’s ridiculous,” you say. “It would be obvious she was a woman in that scenario.” Really? Based on what? There is nothing obvious about self-perception or self-identity. There is no standard, no metric, no objective basis on which to make a decision, develop a rule or make an evaluation.

That is why some congressmen recently sponsored legislation to the effect of making all men and women register with Selective Service upon turning 18. Partially, anyway. Their point was that if women will be allowed to participate fully in the Armed Forces, as Ash Carter has decided, and if homosexual and transgender individuals are allowed to participate fully in the Armed Forces, then why should men be required to serve if drafted but not women? The point was you cannot pursue something–total equality within the Armed Forces for women, homosexual and transgender individuals–without there being consequences to that pursuit. They were aiming specifically at the full combat participation of women, but the principle is the same in every area. When we eliminate standards and objective realities we have to eliminate all of the results that stemmed from those standards and objective realities that previously existed.

By the way, the absurdity of both the amount of attention being given to transgender issues and the accommodations being foisted upon the rest of us to allow these individuals to do and claim to be whatever they want is made only more absurd when we truly consider the number of people we are talking about. By their own estimate, according to Gualtney’s article, the Fort Worth school district has 0.0001% of their 86,000 students identifying as transgender. A June 30, 2016 issue in the New York Times reported that the transgender population in the United States was actually double what previous reports had indicated–actually 0.6% of the population instead of 0.3%.

Despite these still-miniscule numbers, the Times went on to state that this apparent doubling of numbers “is likely to raise questions about the sufficiency of services to support a population that may be larger than many policy makers assumed.” Really? Even if the number doubled, just over one-half of one percent of the nation now identifies as transgender. And we are worried about the sufficiency of services to support them? Maybe we should improve the support services to our veterans first–I think there somewhere between thirty and forty times more of them than there are individuals identifying as transgender. Maybe we should worry about unemployment, those living below the poverty level, those who cannot read or those struggling with other disabilities should be addressed first–the numbers for all of those groups is much higher than the number of identifying transgender people. There are no doubt many, many categories of people we could come up with in greater numbers than the 0.6% of the U.S. population identifying as transgender. In the study cited by the Times article the states with the highest percentage of identifying as transgender still had only 0.78% and 0.76% and 0.75%–Hawaii, California and Georgia respectively. Interesting, isn’t it, how “the 1%”–the wealthiest of Americans–are often targeted as needing to be taxed more, to sacrifice more of their income for the greater good, to have more of their money taken away to pay for the services the government provides for everyone else. Yet, “the less-than-1%” need additional support services and ridiculous accommodations and allowances that interfere with common sense living for the rest of us? There are more Americans with Autism and celiac disease then there are identifying transgender people. There are about sixty times more Americans with diabetes than there are with transgender identities. Need I go on?

The Times article also states, “Noting that younger adults ages 18 to 24 were more likely than older ones to say they were transgender, researchers said that the new estimates reflected in part a growing awareness of transgender identity.” I agree, but not in the way “the researches” intended. I agree only because people are now aware that there is this thing that they can claim that no one can do anything about or say is or is not so, so of course more people are claiming it. Almost any time there is some dramatic change–like transgender identity or gay marriage–there will be more young people identifying, agreeing or supporting than there will be older people.

Ultimately, there is only one solution for this stupidity and it is the recognition that there is an objective standard and an absolute truth. Cheaney notes that “[t]his is a level of confusion that…goes down to the very rejection of being. Identity, as it’s understood today is not being. Identity begins with choice, even if that choice seems unavoidable. Being begins with birth. … The agonizing confusion some people experience about gender and sexuality is not the problem. It’s a symptom. The solution is not crafting an identity, but centering ourselves in our Creator.” And I say Amen to that.

By the way, before I go, let me draw your attention to something that happened just over a year ago. A woman named Rachel Dolezal was all over the news because she had been serving as the head of the Spokane NAACP and claiming to be black. She resigned amidst the charges that she had lied about her race. Despite the fact that she was born to two white parents, she had been labeled at various times a transracial, biracial and black. What did she say amidst all the hubbub on June 16, 2015? “I identify as black.”

Hmmm….

November 7, 2015

The right thing to do

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was in the news yesterday after the announcement on Thursday that the church will now consider those in same-sex marriages to be apostates. The policy change also declared that children of same-sex parents will not be blessed as babies and cannot be baptized until they are 18 years old. Eric Hawkins, spokesman for the LDS church, was quoted in the Washington Post saying, “Church handbooks are policy and procedural guides for lay leaders who must administer the church in many varied circumstances throughout the world. The church has long been on record as opposing same-sex marriages. While it respects the law of the land, and acknowledges the right of others to think and act differently, it does not perform or accept same-sex marriage within its membership.”

The church had, according to the Post article, left the discipline of same-sex couples to local leaders prior to making the change on Thursday, a change the church decided was necessary because of the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage across the country. The article further clarified that the LDS church defines an apostate as “people who renounce their faith. If someone is believed to be acting in an apostate way, it triggers a disciplinary council, which can have different outcomes, from counseling to potential loss of membership.”

Interestingly, the new policy puts homosexual marriage into the same category as polygamy, which the LDS church officially renounced in 1890. I am on record as arguing long before last summer’s SCOTUS decision that redefining marriage to include homosexual unions would open the door to polygamous marriages, as well.

As of Friday afternoon there were more than 1,200 comments on the Post story. Not surprisingly, most of them were not supportive of the policy change. The daughters of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman said the church had gone too far. I wonder, though, of perhaps the real problem is that other faiths have not gone far enough. A number of Christian denominations have gone the other way, saying that they welcome homosexuals and believe that homosexual marriage is okay. This despite the fact, of course, that the Bible clearly states otherwise. If a church firmly believes that the Bible teaches that marriage is to be between one man and one woman, why wouldn’t that church consider those who reject that core tenet of their faith to have rejected the faith? If a church expects its members to accept and agree with its statement of faith, why would it allow members who directly contradict and oppose a fundamental element of that faith? Churches that practice infant baptism expect–require, I imagine–the parents of those infants to be members of their church and to profess faith consistent with the church’s teaching. Why then would the LDS church not hold that infants of same-sex couples will not be blessed? I do not know what the LDS position is on when an individual becomes old enough to become a member of the church, but the Post article says that children are typically baptized around age 8. While I do not know this for certain, of course, I cannot imagine there are many churches that would baptize an 8 year old without the consent of the child’s parents. The LDS position here is that even if the parents consented, the child is being raised in a home that by its very existence contradicts the teachings of the church. Accordingly, I do not consider the LDS position change to be too severe or even inappropriate. Instead, I see a church willing to take a clear, public and unambiguous stand for what it believes in the face of a culture that has decided it does not agree. That is not easy to do, it will not make the church popular and there is little to gain from doing it. Little, that is, except the one thing that really matters–standing firm on what that church believes is the truth. There is not much I agree with when it comes to Mormon faith or teaching. In fact, I do not even agree with all LDS teaching on marriage, given that the Mormon faith teaches that marriage is an element of salvation. On this issue, though, I both agree with and applaud the church for standing boldly and firmly for God’s design for marriage. I might handle some of the details differently or change some of the details of how the children of homosexuals are treated, but the details of my church practice and ordinance are different than the details of the LDS church.

My hope is that other churches, those churches that claim to hold to biblical inerrancy and authority, would likewise take an unequivocal stand for God’s Truth and His design for marriage. Homosexuals need to be treated with respect, need to be shown the love of God and need to be prayed for consistently. Homosexuals are loved by God, but God hates their choices when they engage in homosexuality and they defile His design for marriage. Softening the truth of God’s Word is not a loving act. Saying God condones something He clearly does not is not a loving act. Standing for unpopular truth will not win many friends, but it is the right thing to do.

August 3, 2015

Impossible to Dismiss

On June 8, Eastern University professor and well-known Christian speaker Tony Campolo released a statement in which he urged the church “to be more welcoming.” That is a very nice-sounding euphemism for what he really did, which is “call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.” Campolo is no stranger to more liberal positions within the church, but this endorsement contradicts what Campolo himself has written in the past and is based on, well, nothing really other than Campolo’s stance that holding to the biblical position on homosexuality is not effective and does not demonstrate the love of Christ. He said that his position change came about after “countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil.” I am in no position to doubt or question the sincerity of that statement. I am, however, willing to question what Campolo was studying and/or praying–and with whom he was conversing–that his “countless hours” brought him to this conclusion.

In 1988 Campolo wrote a book entitled 20 Hot Potatoes Christians Are Afraid to Touch. I am not sure how well it sold, but I happened to have a copy of it on my bookshelf, so I took a look. I suspected that even in 1988 the issue of homosexuality would have been one of the hot potatoes, and I was right; the ninth chapter of the book is called “Does Christianity have any good news for homosexuals?” In that chapter Campolo calls for believers to get over their homophobia and reach out to the gay community in love. I cannot disagree that Christians are to show love to homosexuals. Campolo also wrote, “I am not asking that Christian people gloss over biblical teachings or ignore their convictions that homosexual acts are sin.” Even in 1988 Campolo was insisting that some homosexuals are born with their homosexual inclinations and that it is not a choice they are making. (Interestingly enough he stated that this was much more likely true for homosexual males than females, that the research into homosexual female behavior was “much more confusing” and that female homosexual activity was much more likely to be the result of “sociological/psychological causes”). Still though, despite making a number of claims that would tend to take a relaxed stance on homosexuality, Campolo ultimately came down on the side of Scripture and its clear teaching that homosexual behavior is a sin. For example, Campolo wrote:

[P]ersonally I hold to a belief that homosexual behavior is wrong, regardless of what motivates it. I hold to this position not only because I disagree with my homosexual friends about this particular scripture [Romans 1:26-27], but also because for centuries the consensus of church leaders and theologians has been that homosexual behavior is against the will of God. I believe that our contemporary reading of Scripture should be informed by the traditions of Christendom. The traditional interpretations of Scripture should not be considered infallible (else there would have been no Protestant Reformation) but they should be taken seriously.

Campolo then went on to explore the position that Paul was writing, in I Corinthians 6 and I Timothy 1 about pederasty, not about a mutually and consensually chosen relationship. Yet, he still followed that up with this statement: “Please remember that I do think that homosexual behavior is contrary to the will of God.” In his nest Tevye-esque attempt to explore what might be “on the other hand,” though, he next posits that the New Testament does not give nearly as much attention to homosexual behavior as it does to other sins like neglecting the poor, that Jesus never taught on homosexuality, and that “the fact that homosexuality has become such an overriding concern for many contemporary preachers may be more a reflection of the homophobia of the church than it is the result of the emphasis of Scripture.”

Shifting back to “the other hand”, Campolo speculates on the possibility of homosexuals living in celibate covenants, suggesting that such relationships would be possible. He wrote that he refrained from calling them marriages, though, because, by his way of thinking, marriage “implies a sexually consummated relationship” while a covenant “connotes a lifelong commitment of mutual obligation which does not necessitate sexual intercourse.” Just a paragraph later, then, Campolo writes, “On the one hand, our obedience to the teachings of the Bible and the traditions of the church necessitate that we withhold approval of homosexual intercourse. Even if the New Testament case against homosexual intercourse is not as pronounced as some people think it is, there are still passages in the Old Testament that speak directly to the issue which I find impossible to dismiss (see Lev. 18:22, 20:13).” Finally, Campolo wraps up the chapter with a proposal for some sort of homosexual Christian communities in which homosexuals could live together, be honest about their orientation and make special efforts to encourage one another to live lives that glorified Christ, all while simultaneously “holding in check” through “loving and prayerful support” the “temptation to consummate sexual urges”.

If, after reading that, you’re thinking Campolo may have some kind of philosophical/theological version of bipolar disorder, you’re not far off. Quite simply, in his 1988 writings, Campolo wanted badly to affirm homosexuals. He believed that homosexuals needed to be shown the love of Christ and be treated with love by Christians, and that is correct. However, it is clear that he was trying to find every possible way to affirm homosexuals and provide explanations for homosexuality as well as opportunities for living a life that celebrated homosexuality while remaining chaste. (His homosexual communities is an incredibly bizarre notion, in my opinion; try, for example, putting a bunch of males and females together in a community and ask them to affirm the fact that they are sexually attracted to each other and then also encourage each other not to have sex. Let me know how that works out….) Still, despite his clear desire to affirm homosexuality, Campolo in 1988 was not willing to ignore the clear biblical teaching that homosexual behavior is sin. Now, though, 27 years later, he has changed his mind and yielded to what I suspect he wanted to do back then–said that, despite the biblical teaching, we should celebrate, embrace and welcome sexually active homosexuals who have married.

So how does Campolo justify this new position without simply saying, “The Bible is wrong?”

First of all, he re-defines marriage. He acknowledged in his June 8 statement that many Christians agree with Augustine that the sole purpose of marriage is procreation, which would “negate the legitimacy of same-sex unions.” Others, though, including Campolo himself, believe there is “a more spiritual dimension of marriage.” This dimension is of greater importance than procreation, indeed is of “supreme importance” and includes the belief “that God intends married partners to help actualize in each other the ‘fruits of the spirit,’ which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, often citing the Apostle Paul’s comparison of marriage to Christ’s sanctifying relationship with the Church.” Marriage, Campolo said, should always be “primarily about spiritual growth.”

Should marriage promote spiritual growth? Of course. Husbands and wives should encourage each other, support each other, pray for each other, even lovingly rebuke each other at times. However, that cannot be the primary purpose of marriage because that could be the primary purpose of any number of relationships. Indeed, it is the primary purpose of the church and the relationships between believers within the body of Christ. Procreation and the raising of children is what sets marriage apart from any other relationship. Remember, in 1988 Campolo said that marriage “implies a sexually consummated relationship.” God designed the male and female to fit together in the physical act of sex and to enjoy sex within the marriage relationship. Redefining marriage as Campolo suggests not only diminishes the importance of procreation and parenting but it necessarily eliminates the biblical teaching that sex is to be limited to marriage. Campolo may suggest that is not what he said, but it is the logical outcome of what he said. If the chief thing that sets marriage apart from any other relationship is no longer the biblically-approved sexual relationship then how do we confine sex at all? Does sex not then become just a physical activity that can be enjoyed between any two individuals who so desire to engage in consensual sexual activity?

Second, Campolo, like so many others who have flipped their position on homosexual activity, was swayed by seeing “so many gay Christian couples whose relationships work in much the same way” as the relationship Campolo has with his wife. In other words, because there are homosexual couples who seem to love, support, encourage and aid each other, it must be okay for them to marry.

To his credit, Campolo acknowledges that he might be wrong: ” Obviously, people of good will can and do read the scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues, and I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one.” He concludes his statement, though, by suggesting that this issue of homosexuality is much like previous positions held by sincere believers who claimed biblical support for keeping women out of teaching roles in the church, prohibited divorced and remarried individuals from being part of a church fellowship and even the practice of slavery. This, of course, hints at some of the ways in which Campolo disagrees with some believers, since there are still plenty of Christians who do not believe the Bible permits women to be in positions of leadership within the church, including the office of pastor or elder. I am one of those individuals. There are still plenty of believers who believe that divorced and remarried individuals are welcome to be part of a church but cannot hold leadership positions if the divorce took place after becoming a Christian and for any reason other than those that are biblically permissible. I am one of those individuals. Most importantly, however, Campolo seems to ignore the fact that while there were some individuals who used Scripture to support the practice of slavery, there is nowhere where the Bible explicitly states that slavery is okay. Indeed, it was belief in the biblical teaching that all humans have dignity and worth, that all humans are created in the image of God, that lead so many of those who opposed slavery to fight for its abolition. The Bible does, though, explicitly state that homosexual behavior is an abomination and a sin. It does not matter how many nice, loving homosexual couples Campolo knows, and it does not matter how he or anyone else wants to redefine marriage–there is simply no way to change that fact. Indeed, I will end by quoting the 1988 Tony Campolo in opposition to the 2015 version: “There are still passages in the Old Testament that speak directly to the issue which I find impossible to dismiss.” Me too.

June 15, 2015

Real Idiocy

There were interesting observations contained in the Q&A feature in back-to-back issues of WORLD Magazine recently. In the May 30 issue J. Budziszewski, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin, author and “nationally known Christian social conservative”, was discussing evolution with Marvin Olasky. Olasky commented, “Lots of Christians don’t want secular friends and colleagues to think of them as idiots.” Budziszewski replied, “If you want to be protected against being considered an idiot you have to stop worrying about whether you’re considered an idiot. Come out of hiding. Stop avoiding the issues. Go on the offensive. Talk back. Demand that the other side present its reasons. Examine its logic. Don’t allow the opponent to define idiocy as not accepting the conventional opinions. Real idiocy is fear of following the evidence to its conclusions.”

Then, in the June 13 issue, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was talking to Olasky about his purge of theological liberals from the faculty at the seminary when Olasky asked him, “How do you view the wider culture war now?” Mohler replied, “A lot of people have backed off of it. The problem is the issues are still there and, if anything, the issues are more stark. The culture war isn’t over because there was some kind of truce. If it’s over, it is because the secular left is in control of even more of the culture.” Mohler acknowledged, when asked what lessons could be learned from those losses, that some Christians did not handle themselves well, behave appropriately or articulate effectively when engaging in the culture war, but he ended by saying this: “[I]n terms of standing for what we believe to be true–not just because we believe it to be true but because as Christians we believe that is what leads to human flourishing–we have no option to back off on those.” Despite the fact that he has seen some back off, then, both Mohler and Budziszewski believe that Christians need to be involved in the culture war and in defending the biblical position on a whole host of issues that come up in our world.

If you look back over the past few decades it is not difficult to see the gradual yet persistent efforts that have brought us to where we are today. I suppose you could go back half a century, really, and look at the removal from prayer and Bible reading from public schools, the ruling that abortion is a right and a choice to be made by a woman, but I am thinking more recent, since those rulings were not gradual or subtle. I am thinking about the embrace of relativism and the notion that each person can decide what is true for him/herself. I am thinking about political correctness. I am thinking about the gradual mainstreaming of homosexuality, from print ads to television shows. Back in 2000 Alan Keyes stressed, during his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, the importance of the “marriage-based two-parent family.” Now, just fifteen years later, there is little such talk, and when there is the terms have been completely redefined. There was no need for Keyes to clarify that by marriage he meant a union of one man and one woman. There was no need for Keyes to stress that he meant a mother and a father when he talked about a two parent family. Now, in 2015, marriage, parent and family have all been hijacked and mean–at least in the vernacular of the mainstream–something completely other than they meant at the turn of the millennium.

Political correctness has certainly caused the timidity to which Budziszewski refers. Rather than be labeled bigoted, extreme, intolerant or closed-minded many who would hold to traditional values and oppose the redefinitions of marriage, parent and family have chosen to remain quiet. True, there are still some who have not learned the lessons to which Mohler refers (and many of them get paid handsomely to spout their positions on television and radio for shock value). The reality, though, is that very few of us individually, and even fewer collectively, have done what Budziszewski challenges us to do. Rarely do we go on the offensive in an articulate, considerate and effective way. Franklin Graham had an opinion piece in last weekend’s edition of USA Today explaining why the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association had stopped banking with WellsFargo and moved all of its accounts to BB&T. Graham has opportunities the rest of us would not have, but he used his opportunity to explain that while he believes all Christians should be friendly toward homosexuals, it would violate the beliefs of Graham and the BGEA to allow WellsFargo to profit from their business and then use that profit to promote a homosexual agenda. Graham is to be commended to articulating their position. Most of the time those who seek to take a stand for their convictions these days wind up facing legal charges, like the bakeries, photographers and print shops that have refused to make cakes or print shirts promoting homosexual messages or to photograph gay weddings. The truth is, if we do as Budziszewski says, and force the other side to present its reasons, and we really examine their logic, what we will find is that the reasons seldom have any merit other than that is what they want to do, what makes them feel good and what they think is right. Their logic will hold no water at all, since if the logic they use for their positions were applied to those positions which counter theirs they would also have to support the freedom of holding those positions. (Oops…there go the lawsuits!)

I would love to find the entirety of the following quote, but I cannot. I heard Erwin Lutzer share it in a sermon and a Google search produces only his sermon as a result. So while it is not complete, it makes the point. Lutzer did not say who penned this, either, saying only “someone wrote these words.” Whoever that someone is, here is how he defined political correctness:

If you can believe that there are no absolutes and believe that absolutely; if you can teach young minds that there are no objective truths, and yet you teach this truth objectively; if you can close your mind to the ideas of those who you consider to be close-minded; if you can refuse to tolerate anyone you choose to label intolerant; if you consider it immoral to stand against immorality; if you can make the judgment that judgmentalism is wrong and you can further make the judgment that others who judge things to be wrong are just too judgmental; if you can force others to conform to your idea of diversity…

That is the end of what Lutzer shared, ending with, “well, it goes on.” Whatever comes afterwards, though, the point is clear. Political correctness is self-contradictory, plain and simple. Mohler says too many of us have retreated from the front lines of the culture war, but we must, as he also says, stand for what is right and what is true. On that we do not have a choice if we truly claim to be followers of God. Budziszewski says we need to quit worrying about being thought an idiot by the liberal bullies and instead demand that they produce something more than name-calling to defend their positions, and he is right. Real idiocy is all around us. It’s time we start calling it what it is and take a stand for what’s true.

March 31, 2015

No expiration date on truth

Earlier this month there was a bit of an uproar within the National Baptist Convention in general and around American Baptist College in particular. American Baptist College was founded in 1924 for the purpose of training African-American ministers. Located in Nashville, the school has a rich connection to civil rights issues. It is a historically black college and has an all-black faculty. But none of that really has anything to do with the uproar mentioned above.

The problem arose when the college invited a married, lesbian bishop to speak at the school. Some conservative black preachers called on the school to withdraw the invitation because the Bible makes it clear that homosexuality is a sin. The bishop in question, Yvette Flunder, was not scheduled to address anything associated with homosexuality. Instead, she was to speak at the school’s annual Garnett Nabrit Lecture Series “about her work advocating for the rights and needs of people suffering from HIV and AIDS,” according to The Tennessean.

The Tennessean went on to report that the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors stated the following in a news release calling for the invitation to be rescinded: “For a Baptist college president to invite a lesbian bishop legally married to a woman, to be a guest speaker and worship leader on a Baptist college campus is irresponsible, scandalous, non-biblical, and certainly displeasing to God.”

In response, American Baptist College President Forrest Harris said, “I think they have misappropriated the theology of the National Baptist Convention which says that churches and individuals can hold their own theological beliefs about what they think is right and wrong. It’s tragic these conservative pastors are in opposition to what education ought to be about, to expose students to critical moral thinkers and a broad education.” Harris may have been able to make a legitimate claim for the second part of the statement, because students do need to be exposed to critical moral thinkers. Still, there are plenty of critical moral thinkers who are not practicing homosexuals, and the invitation clearly implies an acceptance of Flunder’s lifestyle choice. Far more troubling is the assertion that the National Baptist Convention says that churches and individuals can “hold their own theological beliefs about what they think is right and wrong.” I do not know if the NBC teaches that or not, but if it does, it is a heretical organization. no where does the Bible allow churches or individuals to decide what they believe is right or wrong. Are there areas on which the Bible is not explicitly clear and about which individuals and even churches can decide they hold certain convictions? Absolutely. But the Bible is explicitly clear about what is right and wrong in many areas, and when the Bible is explicitly clear there is no other alternative.

That Harris is not much concerned about what the Bible has to say about the matter is clear in another statement he made, which has been reported in a variety of news outlets. “It’s sad that people use religion and idolatry of the Bible to demoralize same-gender-loving people,” Harris said. He then said “idolatry of the Bible” occurs “when people say (the Bible) is synonymous with God and the truth.” He continued, “We can’t be guided and dictated by a first-century world view.”

I beg your pardon, Mr. Harris, but saying that the Bible is synonymous with God and with truth is not idolatry; it is exactly what the Bible says it is. I am certainly not advocating a first-century worldview. Rather, I am advocating a biblical worldview. That the New Testament was written in the first century does not at all mean that it delivers a first-century worldview. All that means is that the first century is when God chose, in His sovereignty, to reveal His Word.

John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I am not sure how Mr. Harris could miss it, but I believe it would be an accurate paraphrase to say that John 1:1 says the Bible is synonymous with God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is breathed out by God. I am not sure how Mr. Harris could miss it, but I believe it would be an accurate paraphrase to say that the Bible is synonymous with God and truth. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” I am not sure Mr. Harris could miss it, but I believe it would be an accurate paraphrase to say that if it was true in the first century it is still true today; there is no expiration date on biblical truth. Romans 8:14 says that all those who are led by the Spirit of God are the Sons of God. That same Spirit of God inspired the authors of Scripture way back in the first century. I am not sure how Mr. Harris could miss it, but I believe it would be an accurate paraphrase to say that we must be guided by that worldview.

May we never be ashamed of holding fast to the Word of God!

February 11, 2015

Discernment and caution

In the last post, I described why it so important for churches to exercise discernment and caution when deciding who will become a member. Though not referenced explicitly in that post, it is just as crucial for individual believers to exercise discernment and caution when selecting a church to join, or when weighing a decision to stay in a church.

The extreme dangers of both are exemplified in an article in the January 26 issue of TIME entitled “A Change of Heart.” The article provides an overview of the varying positions on homosexual marriage within evangelicalism. The church that is spotlighted in the story is Seattle-area EastLake Community Church. The article’s lead paragraph describes all of the ways that the church “looks like a lot of other evangelical megachurches,” but is really praising the trendiness of the church. And before I address that church’s stance on homosexual marriage let me address this trendiness issue. The TIME article says that EastLake “boasts 13 weekly services at six locations…; the head pastor is a bearded hipster; and the main campus is a warehouse turned sanctuary where greeters serve coffee, a tattooed band rocks out beneath colored lights and attendance swells whenever the Seahawks are not playing.”

That these are the characteristics considered common among evangelical megachurches does not speak well for evangelical megachurches! None of those descriptors amount to a thing when it comes to faithfulness to Scripture. God is far more concerned that a pastor is a Bible-proclaimer than a bearded hipster. His desire is that church members actually serve each other and their communities; I suspect He could not care less whether or not the greeters serve coffee. (Actually, if the coffee becomes a focal point or a distraction, I suspect He does care, and He is not in favor). I feel equally confident that God is far more concerned with the lyrics of the songs and the hearts of the singers than He is with the bodily adornment or the colored lights. And if the church’s attendance fluctuates considerably (which “swells” would imply) based on whether or not the local NFL team is playing, I think God would have a question or two about the level of commitment to Him that would be found in the members/attendees of the church. See, I may be wrong, but the notion of church attendance swelling when the Seahawks are not playing makes me think that going to church is the next-best thing to do on a Sunday morning in Seattle for those whose presence “swells” the attendance at EastLake. If the church is a trendy, fun or “hip” place to hang out when there’s no football, there is a problem. (See also: my many previous references to the need for church to be uncomfortable).

All of that aside, the real point of the introductory paragraph of the TIME article is this conclusion: “It [all of the happenings of the church described above] is almost enough to make you miss what is really going on at EastLake this winter: the congregation is quietly coming out as one of the first openly LGBT-affirming evangelical churches in the U.S.”

I will go ahead and say it, and the fact that many will disagree with me or call me intolerant, biased, opinionated or discriminatory matters to me not one bit: “LGBT-affirming evangelical church” is a contradiction. It is something that cannot be. Once a church becomes “LGBT-affirming” it ceases to be evangelical. If “evangelical” means affirming the teachings of the gospels and the authority of Scripture, as I believe most definitions suggest, then affirming homosexuality is simultaneously ceasing to be evangelical, since the Bible is quite clear on the fact that homosexuality is a sin. In other words, one cannot both affirm homosexuality and affirm Scripture. One cannot be both LGBT-affirming and evangelical. That is, of course, unless and until one embraces the relativism of our age, when there is no real meaning to anything and one can pick and choose any combination of things and put them together, ignoring the fact that they are mutually exclusive. We are not talking about toe-may-toe versus toe-mah-toe here; these are not matters of preference or opinion.

TIME goes on to explain that the transition to being “LGBT-affirming” happened slowly for EastLake. “For the past six months, the church has played a short welcome video at the start of every service that includes the line “Gay or straight here, there’s no hate here.” Ignoring the fact that the line is incredibly cheesy, I would agree that there should not be any hate found within the church toward people. The sinful choices of people, however, should be of concern. No church can be faithfully teaching Scripture and be making homosexuals feel welcome at the same time. Beyond the saccharine tag line, the church’s other efforts at welcoming and affirming homosexuals include the facts that the church’s first gay wedding took place in December, and that “one of the pastors now sends a wedding gift on behalf of the church every time she hears that gay congregants are getting married.” (Therein, too, the TIME author unwittingly provided further evidence of the fact that the church is not really evangelical; just as clear as the Scripture’s teaching that homosexuality is a sin and marriage is between a man and a woman is the teaching that women are not to be pastors).

Ryan Meeks, the pastor of EastLake, says that a “turning-point” for him came when he learned that “one of his staffers had been afraid to tell him she was dating a woman.” Says Meeks, “I refuse to go to a church where my friends who are gay are excluded from Communion or a marriage covenant or the beauty of Christian community. It is a move of integrity for me–the message of Jesus was a message of wide inclusivity.” Sadly, there is no integrity in the “move” at all, since it denies the authority and teaching of the very Scripture it purports to support and uphold. The message of Jesus was widely inclusive in one way–that salvation is a free gift for anyone who believes. At the same time it is incredibly narrow and intolerant in all other ways. After all, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by Me.” There are five resounding statements of intolerance there; Jesus said He is the only way.

I could say plenty more about the contents of the TIME article, and at some point I may. (I have, after all, addressed only the article’s first two paragraphs!). I believe, however, that I have made my point: churches need to be careful about who can become a member, because the members determine the direction of the church. Believers need to be careful about the churches they join, too, so that they do not unknowingly join themselves with a body that does not affirm and teach the Bible. (Encouragingly, the TIME article does point out that EastLake has lost 22% of its income and 800 attendees in the last year and a half, signaling that at least some of its members were unwilling to remain part of a church that no longer taught the Bible). Discernment and caution are imperative.

September 26, 2014

Misguided

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 16, 2014

Better or Worse?

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 3:42 pm
Tags: , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 28, 2014

An Open Letter to My Friend

Recently, a young man who graduated from the school where I serve announced that he is gay. It is no secret to anyone who has read this blog that I affirm the Bible’s teaching that homosexuality is a sin. This young man and I have exchanged some messages on the subject and he seems, for now, to be set in his new “beliefs.”

————————————————————–

Dear friend,

You know that I believe that the Bible means exactly what it says when it calls homosexuality an abomination. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 use this word for homosexual acts in the King James, New King James, New American Standard, Young’s Literal Translation and English Standard versions of the Bible. The New International Version, Holman Christian Standard and New Living Translation translate the word as “detestable.” The Voice uses that word, too. Here is how The Living Bible presents Leviticus 18:22: “Homosexuality is absolutely forbidden, for it is an enormous sin.” The Contemporary English Version says, “It is disgusting for a man to have sex with another man” and The Message says, “Don’t have sex with a man as one does with a woman. That is abhorrent.” There really is no alternative explanation for what these verses mean. Some have suggested that the homosexual acts being referred to were commonly part of the worship of idols and that the prohibition against homosexuality was really a condemnation of idolatry and not of homosexuality, but this is, at best, a stretch. What it really is is an attempt by those who want to find biblical justification for their choices to find a way of interpreting Scripture that allows them to do what they want. The Bible states very clearly in many places that idolatry is a sin. If God was intending to condemn idolatry only in these passages in Leviticus He would have done so. Instead, He chose to address homosexuality precisely because that was the behavior He wanted to address.

Other attempts to say that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality include the assertion that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality Himself. While that is true, there are many things that Jesus never specifically mentioned that are still sinful. If you look through your Bible or a concordance you are not going to find anywhere that Jesus used the words abortion, euthanasia, pornography or cocaine, either. Yet there are clear instances of Jesus’ teaching that address the sanctity of life, sexual immorality and the fact that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. In Mark 7 Jesus clearly condemns all forms of sexual immorality and said that sexual immorality is but one behavior that defiles a person. Really, the list of behaviors in Mark 7:20-23 could include homosexuality in several of them. Sexual immorality, of course, but also “evil thoughts,” “adultery,” “coveting,” “wickedness,” “sensuality,” “pride” and “foolishness.” I could elaborate on how homosexuality fits into each of these, and maybe I will do that sometime.

Paul includes homosexuality in I Corinthians 6 when he presents a list of behaviors that are not pleasing to God. While there is an effort among some to suggest that Paul is referring specifically to either male prostitutes or to men who kept boys for the purpose of homosexual sex, the Greek word refers to passive and active partners in consensual homosexual sex.

In Romans 1 Paul calls homosexuality a shameless act and says that homosexual behavior is contrary to that which is natural, meaning that it violates God’s intentional design for humans. (This, by the way, would be why homosexuality falls into the category of “foolishness” above). Paul addresses homosexuality again in I Timothy 1:8-10. Not only does he specifically name homosexuality in addition to the broader category of sexual immorality, he states that such behavior is “contrary to sound doctrine.”

You suggested that I watch Matthew Vines’ video entitled The Gay Debate because, you said, he presents “a different view, and one that is actually very logical.” The problem here is two fold. One, if it is a different view than what God Himself has given us in His Word, it cannot be right. If it contradicts what the Bible says it is necessarily wrong. The second problem is very similar in that it is not possible for something that contradicts the Bible to be logical. There may be ways of creating an understanding of things that seems to be logical but it will all be based on falsehood, meaning that it cannot withstand scrutiny or serious examination. I should perhaps mention as well that there is nothing logical about homosexuality; there is no way to explain it that makes any logical sense.

You go on to state that being gay is not a choice. “It is not my choice who I am attracted to,” you wrote. “It just like the color of one’s eyes, it is unchangeable.” This is an erroneous assertion, as well, and one that I have addressed many times in this space so I will not go into it again now. If you want to know what I think about it, it is not hard to find. I will keep it very succinct and simply say this–even if who you are attracted to is the way you were born, engaging in homosexual acts is still a choice. (Please note my emphasis on “if,” because I do not agree with that position at all; I am simply stating that even if that position were accepted, the behavior itself is still optional).

Now, before I close, I need to state that I am a sinner, too. We all are. Scripture is also explicitly clear about that! I do not believe that there are categories or levels of sin. When I sin through choices I make my sin is just as offensive to God as yours is. I don’t think homosexual behavior is more offensive than lying, stealing, gossiping, coveting or heterosexual sex outside of marriage. One thing that I think is often different in the case of homosexuals, and that I see right now in your own actions, is a decision to proclaim to the world that you are embracing that sin and asking everyone else to accept it. If I were to announce to everyone that I have decided that stealing things I want is an uncontrollable urge I have and is just the way God made me I would fully expect to be taken to task. If I were to embrace a decision to engage in extramarital sex and ask all of my friends and acquaintances to accept that decision, I would expect them to not only refuse to do so, but to call me repentance for my behavior. When you announce that you have made a conscious decision to live a life of sin you are in a dangerous position. You are also sending out a plea for anyone who really loves you to share the Truth with you in love in an effort to bring you back to the straight and narrow.

No one should wish you ill or harm, no one is pleasing God by calling you names or issuing threats. But no one who loves God and loves you can also let you persist in this choice without trying to bring you back to the Truth. We love you too much to do that.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.