jasonbwatson

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….

February 3, 2016

Will you be my friend?

I was recently teaching my U.S. History students about life in the United States during the early 20th century. One of the points I made was the very close same-sex friendships were common at that time. Not coincidentally, I also explained that homosexual behavior was illegal at the time, even though there were urban areas where it was fairly common. This got me to thinking that close same-sex friendships seem fairly uncommon in 21st century America. I do wonder whether or not the increasing acceptance of homosexuality has anything to do with that, because there is no denying that those who are not homosexual may fear the perception of homosexual tendencies if they have very close–shall we say intimate (in the non-sexual, non-physical meaning)–same-sex friends. If that is the primary reason for the lack of such friendships that is another sad result of the increasing embrace of homosexual behavior and identity.

Still, I think there is more to the problem than that. I think it is far to say that there is very little instruction, in schools, churches or families, about what it means to be a friend. Sure, we teach broad-stroke lessons about being honest, sharing toys, not lying and so on, but, other than a series of devotionals on friendship that a colleague shared a few months ago, I cannot remember the last time I heard a message or a serious lesson on what it means to be a friend. Search “friendship” on Amazon.com and you will get some 86,500 results. Nearly 54,000 of those, however, are children’s books or works of fiction. Still, that leaves more than 32,000 books on the subject that do not fall into those categories. So what do those thousands of books have to offer?

Well, when I narrow down the results to the “Relationships” category and then request that the results be sorted according to “most reviews” the top results are the well-known How to Win Friends and Influence People (which is not exactly about deep, meaningful friendships), Tuesdays With Morrie (a heartwarming account of a specific friendship and the impact it had on Mitch Albom but, again, not really a how-to book on friendship), Jane Austen’s Emma (which really should be in the fiction/literature category), Matched (a science fiction/fantasy novel also erroneously categorized), An Invisible Thread (which looks like it may be interesting, but along the same lines as Tuesdays), and Little Women (again, miscategorized). Among the top fifty results it appears to me that only two are possibly anywhere close to what I have in mind when I say a book about what it means to be a friend and to develop a deep, meaningful friendship. Both of those, by the way, are about relationships in general rather than the unique relationship of friendship in particular. The books I found in my search that seemed they were about friendships specifically were all targeted at friendship among women. I did finally find two books that are focused on male friendships, and while I have read neither the descriptions seem promising. They were Breaking the Male Code by Robert Garfield and Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendship by Geoffrey Greif. The only book I found in my search–which was not, I will grant, exhaustive–that seemed like it might be along the lines of what I was looking for without being gender specific was The Art of Being a Good Friend by Hugh Black. I may have to check that out.

Last November Janie B. Cheaney wrote, “Stranded in a landscape of ferocious individualism, with families and communities falling apart all around, it might be time for the church to develop a theology of friendship.” I think Cheaney is absolutely correct, and her terminology gave me another search term for my Amazon quest. Searching “theology of friendship,” however, did not yield much either. There were some results–320 to be exact–but most of them were about two friends exploring their differences, about the trials of “celibate gay Christians,” about friendship with Jesus and about specific friendships, such as with a disabled individual. There were a few books that looked they may come close to what I was hoping to find but it was obvious they were not all that popular. Martin Marty wrote a book in 1980 called, simply, Friendship. It is available from four different sellers for the staggeringly small sum of one penny and it is sitting around 2.8 million on the Amazon bestseller list. Gary Inrig’s 1988 book Quality Friendship, published in 1988, seemed like another possible match. There are six sellers offering it at one cent, but it is some 2.3 million places higher on the bestseller list than Marty’s book. I was curious if there were any recent books that might approximate what I was hoping to find and I discovered that Adam Holland’s Friendship Established was released just yesterday–in e-book only, it appears. Skimming the first five pages of results revealed nothing else.

Where to look next? Google, of course. There I found the work of a fellow WordPress blogger whose blog is entitled Resolution 28 (which comes from Jonathan Edwards). It included an excellent post entitled “Theology of Friendship.” The author of the blog, identified only as “bc,” wrote this:

Yet there is a gaping hole in the church’s theology of friendship. Some may not know what genuine Christian friendships are supposed to look like, what they’re supposed to feel like. Even more disconcerting is that many people know mentally what good, Christ-centered friendships are supposed to be like yet half-heartedly implement those concepts into their own lives. We often hear stories of Christians who hold grudges, gossip, and take advantage of each other–I’ve seen them and I’ve been a part of them–and often times those associated are the ones who attend church regularly!  It seems that too often our friendships are characterized by actions–the giving, the smiling, and the joking–and not enough by our heart for one another. It’s admittedly easy to act like friends on the surface level and it’s surprisingly difficult to be a genuine friend.

That shows tremendous insight, and is exactly along the lines of what I was feeling and hoping to find addressed elsewhere. It appears he wrote six posts in his series on the Theology of Friendship and I look forward to reading them.

I am no expert on friendship, that’s certain. I surely could have been a better friend on many occasions in my life. Another point “bc” made in his post excerpted above is that pride is the chief reason why there are not more deep, meaningful friendships among men in particular, and I am afraid he is right. After all, a deep and meaningful friendship–an intimate friendship–is one which requires transparency, vulnerability, honesty, patience, forgiveness and more. Indeed, intimate friendship requires many of the same things a successful marriage requires yet without the physical intimacy and without the formalized commitment. Therein, no doubt, is part of the problem–anyone can walk away from a “friend” at any time. There are no strings attached, no contracts to break. When the friend gets on your nerves, or when being his friend becomes unpopular, inconvenient or difficult, why bother? That probably sounds cynical but I would challenge you to reflect on your own life, the friendships you have had, and then tell me you cannot count yourself among the guilty.

While I am no expert on friendship, I am fortunate to claim a number of true friends. Not a lot, mind you, and I do not think it is all that reasonable to imagine that anyone can–should?–have an abundance of intimate friends. But these are friends whom I could tell anything, I think, without fearing that they would abandon me. In fact, I feel confident that, if necessary, they would challenge or confront me, telling me I need to get my act together. I can also say that at least once in my life I was decent enough to be that friend to someone else, and never once did I regret doing so. Sure, there were some awkward times when I was not sure what to say and when I was not sure how he would respond when I did say something, but our friendship endured. Endures.

It was same-sex friendships that got me thinking about this subject, but I am not convinced that intimate friends must be of the same sex. Sure, there are some potential dangers in having an intimate friend of the opposite sex, but the same can be true of same-sex friends. In fact, among my intimate friends I have both men and women. The nature of opposite-sex intimate friendships could no doubt be explored at length, and perhaps I will tackle that someday, too. But not today.

For now, I encourage you to think about whether or not you have any intimate friends and if not, why not. I encourage you, if you are a parent, to teach your children what it means to truly be a friend. If you are a pastor, I encourage you to consider preaching on friendship. If you are not a pastor, I encourage you to ask your pastor to preach on friendship. Oh, and no matter who you are, if you ever do find a really good book on friendship, please share the title with me.

Here’s to friends.

July 10, 2014

Listening to the Other Side

Back in May Janie B. Cheaney wrote a piece for WORLD entitled “The debate is never over.” I was reminded of it yesterday when I wrote about Amanda Marcotte’s rant against those who hold to the position that unborn babies have a right to life. Cheaney began her column by quoting Barack Obama’s assertion that the debate over the Affordable Care Act “is over.” She went on to explain why that assertion was false and also why the tactic of declaring a debate to be over in the midst of that very debate is a tried-and-true, although entirely un-American, strategy.

I am not going to elaborate on Cheaney’s comments about Obamacare; you can find and read her column if you’re interested. But she made a point near the end of her piece that pertains to Obama’s declaration in the ACA, to Marcotte’s declaration on abortion, to many evolutionists’ declarations on creation and to any other debate in which either side tires of the debate and simply decides to say, “It’s over. I win.” Here is what Cheaney writes…

The nation that began with shouting and guns has–with one notable exception–developed a talent for settling disputes without guns, though always with shouting. Violent argument in pursuit of reasonable law is what we’re all about. But as dead set as we are on our own opinions, we must make room for listening and responding to what the other side actually says. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13). In this country, debate is seldom over. If and when that day comes, what will really be over is the United States.

Cheaney’s point is that the United States is built around the idea that opinions and beliefs should be freely and passionately argued in the pursuit of law. Those on either side of the political spectrum who would rather just tell the other side to shut up and then declare victory are not only attempting to become philosophical bullies, they are undermining the very essence of what it means to be American. So rarely do we stop to think about what it would be like to be on the other side! Amanda Marcotte would never suggest the debate is over if the law of the land currently prevented abortion. Barack Obama would never have declared the debate to be over if Congress had voted to de-fund Obamacare. Evolutionists would never declare the debate to be over if every school board in the country decided that creation would be taught in the classroom as well as the theory of evolution. That’s the way bullies work, though; as long as they are the biggest, baddest, toughest and meanest it’s their way or the high way. Let someone bigger and badder some along, though, and their position instantly does a one-eighty. So I would ask Mr. Obama, Ms. Marcotte and others to kindly recognize that the debates are not over.

At the same time, though, I would like to ask those of us on the other side of those arguments–myself included–to remember the same thing. We have to be willing to listen to and respect the positions of those who disagree with us if we want them to listen to and respect us. We do not have to agree with them. We do not necessarily even have to be willing to compromise with them. But we do have to be willing to listen and to show respect if we want the same in return. No, we do not have to welcome Ms. Marcotte’s potty-mouthed insults, and certainly we could insist that we will listen only if she is respectful in her speech and tone, but we must all remember that we have to be willing to show respect if we expect to receive it. Mr. Obama and Ms. Marcotte and others may not see it that way but, if anything, that is all the more reason for us to listen and show respect to them. After all, the Golden Rule does not say “do unto others as they do unto you.” No, it says, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Quite a difference, isn’t there?

February 20, 2014

Adjusting Our Focus

The Oxford English Dictionary‘s “Word of the Year” for 2013 was selfie. Familiar with the word? It’s an informal word–I would even go so far as to say slang–for a picture taken of oneself, most often with a smartphone, and usually to be shared on a social media site. If you’re on social media at all you have no doubt seen a selfie. For some time they often involved taking a picture of oneself in a mirror. The now ubiquitous camera feature on cell phones and other mobile devices, however, has led to the all-too-frequent image of people extending one arm out as far from themselves as possible in order to take their own picture with the device. The advent of self-facing camera features now means that smartphone users can see themselves on the screen before taking the picture, presumably making it even easier to take smashing selfies.

If you’re at all like me, you find most selfies to be rather silly. Selfies have replaced the status updates and tweets of old that informed the world of mundane and useless drivel about people’s everyday activities. Remember when people used to post or tweet things like, “Making lunch!” or “Just left the dentist.” Frankly, I don’t really care. Now, however, we do not have to read about it because with selfies we can actually see people engaged in mundane everyday activities. Somehow this doesn’t strike me as progress….

Full disclosure, I have never taken a selfie. I have, however, appeared in one or two with other folks who wanted (believe it or not) to take a picture of themselves with me.

Silly though they may be, however, I would ordinarily resist any temptation to write an entire blog post about the topic of selfies. But there is more to them than just silliness and nonsense, and I want to explore that just a bit. More specifically I want to elaborate on some comments made by Janie B. Cheaney about selfies.

She opines, “Most selfies are arranged to make the subject look good, but not always–the subject can look goofy, slutty, or pie-eyed depending on the photographer’s mood. The unflattering ones mystify: Why would you want to post or send a picture of yourself looking like a goon or a porn star?” Good question. Sadly, I think the answer to that question is the same, or at least has the same root, as the answer to the question of why in the world Miley Cyrus decided to twerk on stage with a big foam finger (Twerk, by the way, being a runner-up for Word of the Year). She wanted to simultaneously demonstrate that she was not bound by anyone else’s expectations of who she is or what she should do and and achieve attention through shock value. Cyrus’s twerking and many people’s, shall we say odd, selfies are both means of announcing to the world that they could care less what anyone else thinks. They will do their own thing, thank you, and if you don’t like it you can take a hike. In other words, if you’ll pardon the expression, a lot of selfies are the subjects’ 21st-century version of giving everyone else the finger.

Cheaney makes another pertinent observation, too, though. She writes, “The selfie permits posing on a grand scale, and every tweeted image seeks an audience among our peeps: Here’s me. How do I look? What do you think?” For every person who posts selfies in order to tell the rest of the world to shove it there is at least one more who posts selfies in order to ask the rest of the world for approval and praise. The selfies become a by-the-photo meter of acceptance.

Cheaney wraps up her column by bringing God’s plan into the discussion. “God made our eyes to look outward,” she writes, “but our vision boomeranged when we took our eyes off Him.” Selfies, in other words, have become for many the modern equivalent of the pond in which Narcissus gazed at his own reflection. So enamored was he with his own reflection that he eventually died. So fixated are many today on showing off their whatever to the rest of the world that they fail to even notice the rest of the world. They are quite wrapped up in their own little world, and the universe, they think, revolves around it. As sad as that skewed focus is, far sadder is the fact that they also fail to notice the Creator of the world, the One who spoke it into existence and who keeps it spinning in place. The One who gave His only Son to die in their place so that their identity could be found in Him. It’s time we pry our focus off of ourselves, and cast our eyes on Him.

June 4, 2013

Who We Are

WORLD Magazine columnist Janie B. Cheaney is a good writer. I enjoy reading her columns, and I often find them to be well thought out and even thought-provoking. I have also found, however, that I seem to disagree with her at least as often as not. Such is the case again with her column entitled “The heart of the matter” in the June 1, 2013 issue. The subtitle of her column is “Homosexuals and the rest of us sinners are who we are, and that is the problem.” Unfortunately, Cheaney’s premise is wrong, and she makes several assertions throughout her column that are wrong.

Cheaney begins her piece with a quick rundown of some of the more prominent conservatives to have endorsed same-sex marriage. But then she starts the second paragraph with this: “So-called gay rights (for lack of a better term) is the third great civil-rights movement of the last 60 years, and the most vexed. Here’s why: Racism challenged society, feminism challenged the family, but sexual identity challenges our very being.”

I have argued in this space on numerous previous occasions that gay rights is not a civil rights issue, and I was disappointed to say the least that Cheaney has jumped on board with those who say that it is. And the reason that it is not is because the conclusion of Cheaney’s explanation is exactly wrong. Sexual identity does not challenge our “very being.” Our “very being” is that we are human beings created in the image of God. If you want to go further than that we are male and female human beings. But that is the extent of our “very being.” The identities that have been created in recent years, neatly summed up in the letters “LGBTQ” are man-made labels to describe chosen behaviors and preferences, but they are not identities. Cheaney calls them “a range of identities with unfixed borders,” but that is wrong. The unfixed borders part of the statement may be accurate; after all, the Q stands for, depending on who you ask or where you look, “queer” or “questioning,” but means, in either instance, someone who is uncertain of which label fits them.

Still, labels is all they are, not identities. For one thing, identities do not change; the very beginning of the definition of “identity” is “the state or fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions.” They are further not identities because those behaviors abbreviated by LGBTQ describe personal preferences and possibly personal behaviors, but not who a person is. The same is just as true of a heterosexual as a homosexual, by the way. Heterosexuality is defined as, “sexual feeling or behavior directed toward a person or persons of the opposite sex.” Neither feelings nor behaviors are identities. I am certainly not identifiable by my feelings–and thank God for that, by the way! Nor am I identified by my behaviors. You may be able to learn a lot about me by what I do, but none of those things are me. Many labels can be applied accurately to me–husband, father, son, brother, teacher, friend, fan, reader, writer, colleague, employee, and on and on I could go. But if you took away each and every one of those things you would not eliminate me; I would still exist if none of those labels were still applicable, and therefore none of those things are my identity.

Cheaney uses a man named Christopher Yuan as an example of her point. Of Yuan she writes, “His identity was inseparable from his sexuality, and by his early twenties he knew he couldn’t change it. He was and always would be gay.” Therein lies the problem, though; his sexuality is separable from his identity.

Cheaney goes on to explain that sin is a matter of who we are. She writes, “‘This is who I am’ unwittingly bears the human soul. Sin is not primarily a matter of what we do but who we are. We are liars, idolators, adulterers, hypocrites, perverts. That is why we lie (to ourselves especially), worship the creature rather than the Creator, stray from our true lover, pretend righteousness we don’t have, and misuse God’s gifts to our own selfish ends. But most of those sins can be hidden, even within the church. The homosexual’s peculiar burden is that his sin can’t be hidden.”

Let’s take that apart a bit. First of all, yes, we are sinners–all of us. Scripture makes it clear that every human is a sinner, and that every human is born a sinner. Sinner, therefore, could accurately be included as part of our identities. And while Scripture also makes it clear that to be guilty of any part of the law is to be guilty of all, that does not mean that every person has actually committed each act. James 2 makes it clear that when we break God’s law in any way we are guilty of it all. James 2:10-11 reads, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law” (ESV). That does not mean, though, that if I have committed adultery I might as well also commit murder. It does not mean that if I have lied I might as well also steal. It simply means that it does not matter which of God’s laws I break, by breaking them I fall short of the glory of God and am therefore unworthy to spend eternity in His presence (Romans 3:23).

However–and this is a very important however–the fact that I am a sinner does not mean I have free license to sin. By God’s grace my sins have been forgiven, and with the leading of the Holy Spirit and my yielding to Him I do not have to live a life of sin. Paul makes it very clear that just because God’s grace enables the forgiveness of sins does not give me freedom to sin (Romans 6). So yes, some sins can be hidden, and some much more easily than others, but the fact that we are born sinners does not mean we have to sin continually, and certainly does not mean that we should sin.

So, to my second point, Cheaney says that homosexuality cannot be hidden. I disagree. If homosexuality is a feeling, it can definitely be hidden. People hide their feelings all the time. If homosexuality is an action it can be both hidden and avoided. Plenty of people throughout history have engaged in homosexual activity and hidden it, I am sure. But the real point is that no one has to engage in homosexual behavior! As I have stated repeatedly, even if I were convinced that people are “born homosexual” (I am not) they still have the choice to practice homosexuality. And this is why gay rights is not a civil rights issue. People can not choose or change the color of their skin, and people cannot choose their gender, either (though with the “technology” available these days they can have it medically changed).

At the end of her column Cheaney quotes Yuan as coming to realization that the Bible does condemn homosexuality as a sin, and that God called him to be holy. “My identity was not ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ or even ‘heterosexual,’ for that matter. But my identity as a child of the living God must be in Jesus Christ alone,” she quoted Yuan. And in that regard Yuan is quite right. The problem is that she prefaced that by writing that God “was not calling him to be straight, but to be holy.” The problem is, one cannot be holy and be a practicing homosexual. If the Bible says homosexuality is a sin (it does) and the Bible says that Christians are to be holy because God is holy (it does) one cannot then argue that it is possible to be both holy and homosexual (it isn’t). Am I saying all homosexuals will go to hell? No, I’m not. Homosexuality is a sin, but God forgives the sins of those who ask, homosexuals included.

My point, though, is that Cheaney is wrong about homosexuality or heterosexuality being anyone’s identity. It simply is not. I also disagree wholeheartedly that homosexual is what anyone “just is.” Who we all are is fallen human beings, created in the image of God but born in sin and therefore ineligible for eternal life. My identity now, praise the Lord, is a sinner saved by grace. And that is a identity anyone can have who is willing to call on the name of the Lord.

December 6, 2012

What is forgiveness?

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 5:16 pm
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Janie B. Cheaney’s column in the December 1, 2012 issue of WORLD accomplished something for me that few other journalistic offerings have accomplished in recent memory. Her piece, entitled “Bound by blood: The perils of forgiveness,” has not only provided a catalyst for this blog post, but also resulted in good discussions in the two classes I teach when I shared it with students, prompted a discussion with a colleague (after one of the students shared the discussion with him), and, probably most importantly, was actually thought provoking! So, while I disagree with Cheaney’s conclusion, I thank her for accomplishing what so few seem to be able to.

The backdrop of Cheaney’s editorial is the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other men at the U.S. embassy in Libya on September 11 of this year. The father of Tyrone Woods, a former Navy SEAL who was a security guard at the embassy and was killed in the attack, appeared on Sean Hannity’s television show and extended forgiveness to those responsible for what many have come to see as an intelligence failure. Cheaney quotes Woods as saying, “I don’t know who [the responsible parties] are, but one of these days the truth will come out. I still forgive you, but you need to stand up.” According to Cheaney, Woods cited his Christian faith during the interview and as the reason why he was able to offer forgiveness, as did his daughters, who expressed their forgiveness in the same interview.

Interestingly, Cheaney uses this to address what she believes is a too-casual approach to forgiveness by many in the Christian community. At one point, she writes that those who she calls “vendors of blanket forgiveness” miss two important elements of forgiveness: “the involvement of the offender, and the Person who is ultimately offended.”

Cheaney provides a quick overview of her own look into the Scriptures to see what they have to say about forgiveness, and she concludes that “in no case is forgiveness offered without knowing who the perpetrator is, and Psalm 51:4 makes it clear that in every case the ultimate offended party is God.” She proceeds to ask about forgiving “unknown perpetrators” (like Woods did). The first problem, Cheaney says, is this: “I doubt it’s even possible to forgive someone who has not asked for it…. Forgiveness is not an initiative, but a response. Forgiveness on one side must be balanced by confession and repentance on the other….”

By way of agreement, let me say that I absolutely agree with Cheaney that God is always the One ultimately offended. Every sin is an offense to God. However, I just as absolutely disagree with her conclusion that an unknown person cannot be forgiven and that forgiveness requires someone asking for it before it can be granted. I disagree for several reasons. First, forgiveness is for the benefit of the one forgiving as much or even more than for the benefit of the one being forgiven. Cheaney alludes to this when she writes, “We can agree that to remain bitter and angry over unconfessed wrong isn’t healthy.” And she is right; if I am unwilling to forgive a wrong, I am most likely the one that will suffer. My refusal to forgive will hinder my relationship with the one who wronged me, but it will also hinder my relationship with the Lord and perhaps with others. But Cheaney doesn’t stop there. In fact, her very next sentence reads, “But forgiveness that wasn’t requested isn’t true.”

This statement–which is erroneous, in my opinion–leads to my second point. For all the examples that Cheaney does cite, she never mentions Luke 23:23, which reads, “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'” Jesus is hanging on the cross, and nowhere does the Scripture indicate that anyone standing there asked for forgiveness for crucifying Him, but He offers it anyway. In fact, far from seeking forgiveness, the next verse says that “the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him….” Scoffing is a far cry from repentance! Furthermore, Scripture is clear that God provided forgiveness for my sins–and yours–long before I ever asked for it. Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Furthermore, in Colossians, Paul writes, in 3:13, “if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” God does not forgive with condition! Now, God’s forgiveness is completed when the sinner accepts it, by accepting the death of Christ on the cross, and in that regard human-to-human forgiveness is also completed when an offending party asks the offended party for forgiveness (and it is granted). But Christ offered the forgiveness long ago…long before I asked for it!

Another problem with Cheaney’s position is that it would prevent anyone from ever forgiving someone who is dead (or, due to impairment, incapable of asking for forgiveness). Suppose a drunk driver hits and kills someone. If the drunk driver also dies, or is put permanently into a coma, can the parents/siblings/spouse/children/friends of the one who was hit never forgive the drunk driver? Or take a different scenario… Suppose I was wronged by someone–recently or years ago, it doesn’t matter–but I have not yet forgiven the offender. Maybe because I accept Christ later, or am convicted of my need to forgive later, but if my desire to forgive does not come unless after the offender has passed away am I then unable to forgive? To take the inverse of Cheaney’s question, can forgiveness be granted if forgiveness is requested but not granted prior to death? There have been many deathbed requests for forgiveness. If someone makes the request but the offended party is not present to hear it, and does not learn of it until the offender has passed, is it too late? Or if the offender is present, but cannot bring him/herself to forgive until after the offender has passed, it it too late?

And why do I need to know the identity of the offender anyway? What does that add to the situation that will benefit me? I cannot think of anything. It will enable me to put a face on the offense, perhaps, but to suggest that I cannot forgive if I do not know the identity of the offender doesn’t seem to make sense. When someone backed into my car and left a big dent in the fender, then drove off without leaving any information, I am precluded from forgiving that person if I understand Cheaney’s argument. I am probably never going to know who did it, but why can I not forgive “whoever dented my car”? The offender will never receive my forgiveness–which is his or her loss–but I will have forgiven, and I will benefit as a result.

I was wronged in high school by someone who should have known better. He was an adult, he was in a leadership position, and he abused a trust and confidence that had been placed in him. He is well aware of what he did, but he never apologized or asked for my forgiveness. I doubt seriously he ever thinks of what he did now. I have not seen him in almost twenty years, and I do not expect our paths will ever again cross. If they do, I doubt he will ask my forgiveness. So I know the offense and I know my offender, but forgiveness has not been requested. According to Cheaney, then, I cannot forgive him.

She writes, “Setting aside revenge and looking to God for vindication are proper Christian responses (I Peter 2:23), but they aren’t the same as forgiveness, and it doesn’t help to confuse one for the other.” I agree that they are not the same, and I agree that I could surrender my claim to revenge without forgiving, but I do not see any biblical support for suggesting that is what I should do.

In her conclusion Cheaney writes that God “forgives on one basis only: the blood of His Son. Only then can He grant forgiveness, and only for those who ask.” I would suggest otherwise. I believe God has already granted the forgiveness. It was granted when Christ bled, died, and rose again. Hebrews 10:10 says, “…we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The payment was made, and the forgiveness was given. Only those who ask will receive God’s forgiveness–and those who do not ask will be separated from God for eternity–but offering and receiving are two different things. And it is my position that God offered forgiveness long before we asked, and we are called to offer forgiveness regardless of whether it is asked for. When it is asked for and received the process is complete, but we can only do our part.

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