jasonbwatson

May 30, 2017

Gender Identity Anarchy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 21, 2017

March Movie Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who originated the Cross?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 10, 2017

Deep Preaching

Christianity Today published some months ago a 64-page booklet entitled “The State of Church Ministry in America, 2017.” The note from the managing editor indicated that it was a special guide from CT‘s new resource, CTPastors.com.Now, I am not a pastor but for the past five years I have filled that role on many Sunday mornings for a number of churches. In addition to that, I have been a faithful church attendee just about my entire life and I have heard literally thousands of sermons preached. So, while I found a number of the articles in the booklet insightful, one that struck me as compelling was entitled “Deep Preaching in a Distracted Age” and was written by Matt Woodley, a missions pastor in Illinois and editor of PreachingToday.com.

Woodley’s thrust was how pastors can stay focused themselves and “capture people’s attention and keep it long enough for God to do his work”. I am going to take some of what he shared in the article as background, though, and focus instead on why deep preaching is so incredibly important.

Woodley writes that he sometimes has the spiritual attention span of a minnow after quoting poet Denise Levertov who wrote in one of her poems, “I stop to think of you [Lord], and my mind at once like a minnow darts away into the shadows.” Levertov and Woodley are not alone. A May 2015 article in TIME was entitled, “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish,” and focused on a Microsoft study that revealed that most people lose focus after eight seconds. The world we live in feeds this rapid-fire, short-attention phenomenon. We communicate in text messages that we keep so short we cannot even use proper grammar or punctuation, quick status updates on Facebook, tweets on Twitter and scrolling headlines along the bottom of the news or sports channel.

According to a Smithsonian.com article in September 2016 approximately 27% of Americans had not read a single book in the previous twelve months. That is despite the fact that, according to Woodley’s article, an American on social media is exposed to 54,000 words every day. That is the equivalent of a 180-220 page book depending on font and margin sizes.Think about that: the average American on social media is exposed to the equivalent of a short book every day but more than a quarter of them do not read one complete book over the course of a year!

Woodley determined that the best way to counter this distractability is to go deep. I agree. He writes, “In a distracted, outraged, shallow culture, people begin to hunger for something rare: the focused, balanced, deep. Because we chronically distract ourselves, we crave depth. Deep preaching is our best chance to change lives.” I could not agree more.

I have no problem with a short devotional thought or even an occasional brief sermon. In general, however, it is clear that far too many Americans are spending far too little time going deep with God on their own–meaning we need to take them there while they are at church. An April 2015 post on the Preachers and Preaching blog from The Master’s Seminary cited a poll that indicated that the most common sermon length is between 20 and 28 minutes. I find that alarming–especially given that so many American Christians now go only to Sunday morning services. When I grew up we were in church Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night. Now I will grant you that I cannot identify anywhere is Scripture that it says three services a week are required–or that Sunday school is. I do not think it is coincidental, however, that as Americans have become busier and more distracted the number of churches with Sunday evening and mid-week services has decreased and the depth of spiritual knowledge has declined. Even the interest in spiritual things has declined I dare say.

I think churches that are serious about the spiritual maturity of their members need to take seriously the importance of longer, more meaningful services–and sermons in particular. Of course there does come a point at which attention spans can diminish even when the speaker is engaging and the topic is exciting, but that point should easily be well beyond the 25 minute mark. College courses are typically taught in 50 or 75-minute blocks. Movies tend to be about two hours in length. There is no reason a pastor should not be able to command the attention of a congregation for 40-50 minutes easily. After all, there is nothing more important in the world than the subject he is teaching about, nothing more important the congregation could be doing than growing in their knowledge and understanding of God.

As I said, I preach regularly. The church where I have preached most consistently over the past five years has made it clear that I need not worry about time, and I have appreciated that. They take seriously the privilege of learning God’s Word. Not only do I tend to preach longer than the average (40 to 50 minutes is probably my typical sermon) but I usually address very small portions of Scripture when I preach. Once in a while I will do a topical message but my preference is certainly verse-by-verse expository preaching. An August 2013 article on The Christian Post cited a seminary student who argued for “shorter, more viral sermons,” around 18-minutes long. The individual claimed that if pastors would follow the example of Jesus’ own teaching, such as the Sermon on the Mount, they would keep their messages shorter and tighter. That struck me as ironic because I spent eighteen messages going through just Matthew 5–which represents only the first of three chapters that include the Sermon on the Mount. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, which is basically a written version of his own teaching on Matthew 5-7, runs nearly 600 pages long!

The Bible is practical and relevant to our lives. It is also deep, profound and at times difficult. It cannot be learned well in twenty-six hours a year (fifty-two thirty-minute sermons).

Pastors should not be long just for the sake of being long. No one wants fluff or space-filler or jokes or meaningless stories. But the Word of God is rich, powerful, deep and practical. Good churches should seek–dare I say demand–good preachers who spend the time necessary to understand and teach the Bible deeply, powerfully and practically. It can be done. I suspect pastors will even find that once people get past the initial unfamiliarity of deeper preaching that they will long for it. Just a couple of weeks ago I was teaching a Sunday evening class that was scheduled to go for 45 minutes. At the end of the allotted time I had not finished what I wanted to teach–partly because of questions and partly because there was so much to teach–and I asked if we should wrap it up or keep going. The consensus was keep going and not one person left. We went another thirty minutes. Now that was a one-time thing, but it proves the point that people do want meaningful teaching. They want to understand God’s Word and to know Him better.

Let this be a plea for deep preaching!

July 28, 2016

Battling Porn

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

Pornography is not topic that many people are comfortable talking about in an honest and forthright manner. Many people do not like to talk about it at all–at least not many people outside of a locker room or frat house gathering. For many years the church was not willing to take about it at all in any constructive manner, by which I mean saying anything beyond “it’s bad, don’t do it” (or something even more directly threatening and minimally helpful). That has changed some in recent years with Stephen Arterburn’s The Every Man Series of books, Clay Crosse’s honesty in his 2005 book I Surrender All: Rebuilding a Marriage Broken by Pornography and others. In my November 6, 2015 post Not-So-Good News I explained that the announcement that Playboy would no longer publish nude images in its magazine was good news but actually indicative of the ease with which nudity and all manner of sexual activity is now available to just about anyone just about anywhere thanks to the internet. That post also addressed some of the high costs of pornography.

In April 2016 TIME ran a cover story on the subject entitled “PORN,” with the “o” depicted as a red circle with an X in the middle of it. Belinda Luscombe’s article was subtitled “Why young men who grew up with Internet porn are becoming advocates for turning it off.” The article consumed five-and-a-half pages of the magazine (not including a two-page photo and headline introducing the story) and included a graph showing that there were 58 million monthly U.S. visitors to adult internet sites in February 2006, which equated to 34.7% of all U.S. internet users. Broadband internet had just reached 50% of Americans that year. in January 2016 there were 107 million monthly visitors to adult internet sites, accounting for 41.3% of all U.S. internet users. The graph also showed that in 2009 there were 22.3 billion video views on the adult video-sharing site Pornhub. In 2015 that number was 87.8 billion. In 2016 Pornhub launched a virtual reality channel.

I already told you what TIME‘s cover said for the April 11 issue. The cover page of the article, though, reads this way:

Porn and the threat to virility.” The subtitle says, “The first generation of men who grew up with unlimited online porn sound the alarm.” The lead to the story introduces Noah Church, “a 26-year-old part-time wildland firefighter in Portland, Ore. When he was 9, he found naked pictures on the Internet. he learned how to download explicit videos. When he was 15, streaming videos arrived, and he watched those. Often. Several times a day, doing that which people often do while watching that genre by themselves.

The article then informs the reader that it did not take too long before those videos no longer aroused Church as much as they used to, “so he moved on to different configurations, sometimes involving just women, sometimes involving one woman and several guys, sometimes even an unwilling woman.” Church stated that he could find anything he could imagine as well as plenty that he could not imagine. Eventually the appeal and arousal from those diminished as well, and “he moved on ot the next level, more intense, often more violent.”

This is a truth that has been too often ignored over the years–that pornography is like a drug. Plenty of studies show that it has a similar effect on the brain as drug use and that, over time, the effect is diminished, requiring the user to find something stronger and more arousing in order to get the same result achieved previously. In other words, porn works just like gateway drugs which progress to stronger and more dangerous ones. Can use of porn eventually result in death, like a drug overdose? No. It could, I imagine, result in the user killing someone else as a result of acting out what was seen in the pornography or seeking to achieve a thrill by making what was fantasy a reality. I think there are a number of such stories that could be found with little effort.

The TIME article goes on to explain that when Church finally had the opportunity to “have actual sex” during his twelfth-grade year, his body would not respond. “There was a disconnect between what I wanted in my mind and how by body reacted,” he said. That was the segue into the article’s discussion of PIED–porn-induced erectile dysfunction. I had never before heard of this term or condition but, unlike some new medical diagnoses that seem to be fancy made-up terms that serve as excuses for something that is simply a matter of a lack of discipline or some other easily-corrected behavioral issue, this seems to be legitimate. I can easily imagine how regular, increasingly-graphic and extreme exposure to pornography can have a very real impact on the brain and, thus, on the rest of the body.

Luscombe describes the PIED progression like this:

A growing number of young men are convinced that their sexual responses have been sabotaged because their brains were virtually marinated in porn when they were adolescents. Their generation has consumed explicit content in quantities and varieties never before possible, on devices designed to deliver content swiftly and privately, all at an age when their brains were more plastic–more prone to permanent change–than in later life. These young men feel like unwitting guinea pigs in a largely unmonitored decade-long experiment in sexual conditioning. The results of the experiment, they claim, are literally a downer.

While there are more publications–Christian and secular–openly addressing the dangers of pornography now, there is still confusion and conflicting information. The increasing availability of studies and professionals willing to address the dangers of porn are countered by plenty of studies and professionals willing to state the opposite. Just last November, for example, Dr. Sandra LaMorgese posted a blog on The Huffington Post that included the following:

Studies have shown no increase in rape or other sexual deviance due to porn viewing. There is also no apparent connection between excessive porn viewing and sex addiction. In fact, it might be good for you if used properly: a 2008 Danish study found that moderate porn watching gave viewers some benefits. Both men and women who did so said they had more satisfying sex lives and healthier attitudes towards sex and the opposite gender. One interesting find was that the more hardcore the videos were, the more positive the person’s view on sex tended to be.

Now, LaMorgese’s byline includes the, shall we say interesting, description that she is “Author, Podcast Host, Sexpert, Metaphysician, Keynote Speaker, Holistic Practitioner, Ordained Reverend” so maybe her thoughts on The Huffington Post are not the best source. Fair enough. How about this from TheHealthSite.com in February 2014:

In the last decade or so, it’s become quite fashionable for people to throw around big words like dopamine addiction and blame everything from the rise of sex crime to erectile dysfunction on porn. However, research suggests that sex addiction is not similar to cocaine or alcohol addiction, in fact there’s no proof that it reflects any unique brain-related issue at all. A study which looked to prove sex addiction was an illness, actually found the opposite. A new study claims that there really is no such thing as porn addiction and those who say it actually ignore the positive benefits of porn. The study has found very little scientific data to suggest that porn actually even causes any negative side-effects. ‘There was no sign that use of pornography is connected to erectile dysfunction or that it causes any changes to the brains of users,’ explained David Ley, a clinical psychologist and executive director of New Mexico Solutions – a large behavioural health programme.

In a 2010 post on the Psychology Today web site entitled “Pornography: Beneficial or Detrimental?” the findings of a 2008 paper written by Gert Martin Hald and Neil M. Malamuth are summarized like this:

In their survey of 688 young Danish adults (men = 316; women = 372), Hald and Malamuth found that respondents construed the viewing of hardcore pornography as beneficial to their sex lives, their attitudes towards sex, their perceptions and attitudes towards members of the opposite sex, toward life in general, and over all. The obtained beneficial effects were statistically significant for all but one measure across both sexes. Now here is the kicker: A positive correlation was obtained between the amount of hardcore pornography that was viewed and the impact of the benefits reaped. This positive correlation was found for both sexes. In other words, the more that one watched porn, the stronger the benefits (for both sexes)!

And, in a 2012 opinion piece for The New York Times Candida Royalle began with the statement “Watching pornography is not inherently harmful to men or women.” She went on to provide some potential benefits derived from the use of pornography before also saying of sex or porn addiction, “I don’t believe in it.” In the same online debate in which Royalle offered her opinion, Ana Bridges, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arkansas played Tevye by writing, “Can pornography harm users? Yes, in some cases it can, but in the vast majority of cases it does not. Can pornography be beneficial? Absolutely, but many times it is not.” In the same debate, Mireille Miller-Young, an associate professor of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, headlined her opinion piece “Pornography Can Be Empowering to Women Onscreen.”

I mention all of this to make sure that we understand that, despite the increasing prevalence of voices opposing porn and exposing its negative effects, there still are–and always will be–those who say that’s all a bunch of baloney and porn is harmless and worst and beneficial at best. We can never hope that the world is going to reach the conclusion that something that sin is sin. In my previous blog post linked above I stated that “only a heart change can cause someone to realize that genuine relationships with real people are more meaningful and more satisfying than the fake interactions made possible through porn.” That remains true. There may be movements within the world that oppose porn and offer solutions for porn addictions, and those can be beneficial. Luscombe’s article provides a number of examples, describing “online community groups, smartphone apps and educational videos to help men quit porn” all of which are being created by men who have traditionally been “from the same demographic as [porn’s] most enthusiastic customers.” Noah Church, with whom Luscombe led her article, now “devoted about 20 hours a week to trying to help others eliminate porn from their lives.” Such efforts are admirable. Porn is not going to go away, and if you are a firm believer in free speech you may have a hard time even arguing that it should, but there are still reasonable means for limiting its availability. Luscombe describes one such effort coming from Utah state senator Todd Weiler, who said, “We’ve changed how we’ve approached tobacco, not by banning it but by putting reasonable restrictions in place.” There are reasonable ways to limit the access of pornography from public places and to minimize the exposure of children and teenagers to pornography.

Even then, though, there will be real work for the church to do. There will still be a need for candor and uncomfortable conversations. There will still be a need to find ways to help those struggling with porn be willing to acknowledge that and work through it. There will need to be a change from the judgment and condemnation that has traditionally been associated with any discussion of this topic.

The articles in the August 2016 issue of Tabletalk magazine are devoted to the topic of addiction. They are not dealing specifically with porn addiction, but the principles and recommendations in the articles are relevant. The first article is by Ed Welch and is titled “Addictions and Idolatry.” His article begins like this:

“I want”–addictions start here. Then, though small steps, want becomes need. There is no recognized definition of addiction, but most of its proposed definitions share a common core. Addictions are compulsive searches for a desired object or state of mind that are generally unresponsive to the inevitable harmful consequences of those compulsive searches. Most definitions also include how addictive behaviors change underlying brain patterns.

That explains why porn is so prevalent and is not going away. The word says that sexual pleasure brings happiness and satisfaction and porn is one way to achieve that “desired object or state of mind.” Welch later writes that “We are able in Christ to do battle with old slavemasters rather than succumb to the inevitable.” Heath Lambert, in another article in the Tabletalk issue, writes, “God has made provision for enslaved addicts to follow a better master who brings freedom from slavery.” In yet another article, Michael Morales writes, “God’s Word calls us to flee our natural lusts, which would shackle us again, and to make every effort to progress in sanctification.” He goes on to explain, “The ‘putting off’ aspect relates to deliberate and disciplined mortification of sin, requiring both vigorous effort and sacrifice,” while “the ‘putting on’ aspect relates to training in godliness, the intentional replacement of corrupt habits with God-honoring behavior.” My post Besetting Sins from earlier this month talks about these issues as well, and includes discussion about how to overcome sin.

May we who profess the name of Christ become bold in our willingness to acknowledge and confront issues like pornography and do it in a loving but uncompromising manner. May God grant us the willingness and surrenderedness to defeat sins like porn addiction and replace such “compulsive searches for a desired object or state” with “training in godliness” and “the intentional replacement of corrupt habits with God-honoring behavior.”

September 30, 2015

Managing Time

Filed under: Personal Development — jbwatson @ 7:46 pm
Tags: , ,

It is has been said that time is the great equalizer. No matter what else may separate, divide or differentiate us, we all have the exact same amount of time in a day. Accordingly, what we choose to do with our time may well be one of the biggest difference-makers in our lives. Some people are incredibly busy but never really accomplish anything. Some people waste their time, either doing nothing or in pursuit of those things which will not last: fame, pleasure, money and more. Still other people are busy primarily so they can either boast or complain about how busy they are. You’ve met people like that, I know–they say yes to everything and they seem to spend most of their time running around like a chicken with its head cut off, but they also derive tremendous fulfillment from letting everyone else know exactly how busy they are. I have not yet determined whether these individuals think they can shame the rest of us into helping them or if they are just soliciting compliments for all the great things they do. I do know that their prattling on can be tremendously irritating. I had a coworker years ago who was quite selfless. She would do anything for anyone at anytime. She had two major flaws, though. First, she would never ask for help herself nor would she usually accept it graciously when it was offered. Second, she could rarely have a conversation without interjecting something about all the things she needed to do and then providing a list for whoever happened to be listening. She was not unlike Martha, who busied herself in the kitchen and then complained to the Lord when Mary was not doing the same. “Everyone needs to be as busy as I am,” Martha was really saying. My coworker seemed to feel the same way. Jesus told Martha, though, that Mary had chosen the better part.

That was not because there was anything wrong with what Martha was doing, by the way. Cleaning the house, preparing meals, serving guests–those are all good things. Even good things, though, can get in the way of what is best. That was the message Jesus had for Martha, and that message is just as applicable for us today. We are responsible to give our best to whatever we are doing–I think that’s biblical. Still, we have to evaluate whether what we are doing is really what we should be doing, either at all or at least at that time. If my job, for example, requires sacrificing time I should be spending with my family or at church then I need to reevaluate my job and whether it is the right job for me.

One of the things I have had to learn since assuming a formal leadership position is that not everyone is capable of bearing the same load. This is why it is important for leaders to get to know the members of their team; taking a cookie cutter approach to determining work load is a recipe for disaster. Some people thrive under pressure while others crumble. Some people live for deadlines while others dread them. Some people need to be busy, busy, busy while others need to be able to work at a more methodical, even plodding, pace. Neither is inherently right or wrong, better or worse. Some may get more stuff done but, as mentioned above, getting more done may not necessarily mean much. I, for example, do well when I have a lot to do. I like to have projects to work on, goals to pursue, and meaningful work to keep me busy. I am quite capable of getting bored. My wife, on the other hand, cannot remember the last time she was bored. She can always find something to do and some worthwhile way to spend her time. When I reflect on what I am doing with my time it may be tempting for me to assume that someone else could surely do more with theirs. That may not be the case, though. Thus it is good both to be reminded that there are people who do far more than me and that there are people who are about at their breaking point but are doing far less.

I serve as the superintendent and principal of a Christian school. I also teach a college-level class. I am currently taking a graduate school course, I blog (semi) regularly, I fill a pulpit somewhere most every Sunday, I just started leading a Sunday evening Bible study that will last at least six weeks, and I read quite a bit. Some people would even say a lot. I am also a husband and a father. Oh, and I help my wife clean our church every week, too. I would be lying if I said there are never times when I look at someone else who seems to be overwhelmed and wonder, “what’s their problem?” Too, though, there are times when I consider how much someone else is doing, how much someone else is reading, how many balls someone else is juggling and I realize I have nothing to boast about. I might even be tempted to think I need to get it in gear. Therein lies the problem, though: comparing myself to others, or others to myself. There is no magic number or secret formula for knowing how much is the right amount of responsibility, of knowing what the optimal work load is or what the ideal work-personal life balance may be. The secret, if you want to call it that, lies in evaluating self against standards which help determine good stewardship of time without comparing self with others. And those standards are what I will address next time.

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 4, 2014

“The point of stultification”

The August 23 issue of WORLD and the September 8-15 issue of TIME both contain commentaries on the obsession many people today seem to have with technology–particularly of the hand-held variety. I find it interesting that two completely different publications with completely different worldviews both took a similar approach to the same topic within such a small time frame.

In WORLD, Janie B. Cheaney’s column, entitled “Generation distraction,” starts off imagining what it would have been like if Pentecost had occurred only a year ago, in a culture so obsessed with digital technology. After this imagining she writes, “This corrupt generation is still corrupt–they all are. But this generation is also supremely, unprecedentedly, distracted. And that may be even worse.” Cheaney goes on to postulate on the possibility that this distraction “suspends the normal course of sin by disengaging desire.” That is an interesting idea, and one that could be fully explored. Later, she asks whether it might be possible that crime rates have fallen in the past ten years because “our many distractions consumed some of our evil desires.” More than likely, though, the reality is this assertion Cheaney makes: “If we lust after the latest in technology, it’s only so we can be distracted better. Smartphones allow us to carry our distractions everywhere we go. Google Glass, an ‘optical head-mounted display,’ allows us to wear them. Up next: live feeds embedded in the brain, a science-fiction fantasy that may not be far off.”

Ultimately, this level of distraction is not going to aid in anyone’s sanctification. Cheaney cites pornography as just one example, what she calls “the obvious example.” We have all heard the stories of the days of yesteryear when pornography was accessible only in photographs or magazines that were kept hidden in shops and hidden at home, often in a secret stash it was hoped no one would find. With the advent of videos, pornographic movies became available. Still, stores that sold or rented them generally had them in separate spaces that were not visible to the general public and were accessible only to adults. And there was still, in general, a desire to be discreet about the use such material. Then the internet made it possible for anyone with a computer and an internet connection to access pornography almost anytime. And that was not all that long ago; I never sent an e-mail until my freshman year of college. All of the portable devices that provide internet connectivity now, and the nearly ubiquitous availability of wireless connections, mean that anyone who wants to view pornography can access it almost anywhere.

While pornography may be the “obvious example” though, there are plenty of other things that digital technology tempt us with–even many that in and of themselves are not bad. E-mail is a wonderful communication tool, one that I use frequently and very much appreciate. However, having had a BlackBerry, I know that if I can access my e-mail anytime I am prone to do just that. Not only do I like the idea of not being accessible at every moment of every day to whoever may want me at that moment, I need to disconnect from the those demands from time to time. In other words, even if I wanted to have constant access to my e-mail, is that really healthy? Do I really need to get notified every time there is a status update on Facebook, or could it wait until next time I sign in on my computer? I’ve made the decision that I don’t need, or particularly want, that access, so I have, by choice the simplest, dumbest cell phone I can find. It doesn’t even have a camera. (Gasp!) I use it to make and receive phone calls and texts, and that’s it. I cannot even receive pictures sent by someone else. I am not suggesting that this disconnect from the digital world makes me any better than anyone else, or even that it is for everyone. I am well aware that there are some times when the ability to access the internet via my phone would be really convenient. I am simply making the point that it is entirely possible to live a full and content life without it.

That is the point that Patton Oswalt makes in his TIME column, entitled “Why I Quit Twitter–and Will Again.” He explains that on June 1 he decided to take a break from all social media, planning not to return until after Labor Day. Initially he jokes about all the incredible things he accomplished without the distraction of social media, only to come clean and say that none of those incredible things really happened. What did really happen though, was this: “A couple of times, in line at a grocery store or coffee shop, instead of taking out my phone to stiff-arm the creeping ennui, I’d look around instead. At the world. At the people around me.” Did you even realize that we arrived at a point in our culture where this kind of behavior is novel–worthy of an entire column in one of the nation’s preeminent news magazines? Oswalt may not have realized it until he was the one not checking his phone. What did he see when he resisted the phone and looked around him? “Most of them [were] looking at their phones. We now inhabit a planet where the majority of population is constantly staring downward, entranced, twiddling like carpenter ants. Do pickpockets know they’re living in a second renaissance?”

The TIME column also features to startling statistics about the current addiction to smartphones. “Millenials and Gen X-ers keep their smartphones handy 22 hours a day,” says one. “The first thing that 80% of Americans do after waking is check their smartphone,” says the other. You may think my use of the word “addiction” was too strong, but try naming any other activity someone could be involved in twenty-two hours a day or consistently do immediately upon waking and not have it be considered an addiction….

Toward the end of her column Cheaney, drawing on Neil Postman’s seminal work Amusing Ourselves to Death, writes, “As a society, we’re in danger of distracting ourselves to the point of stultification. Ominous events become last week’s news cycle. Enemies steal past our outer defenses while we’re looking elsewhere. Everything matters, so nothing does. Little by little, we insulate ourselves from desire, the longing at our core that makes us human, both for good and evil.”

Digital technology and social media can be wonderful tools, so long as we use them rather than letting them consume us. In Ephesians 5:18, in The Living Bible, Paul writes, “Don’t drink too much wine, for many evils lie along that path; be filled instead with the Holy Spirit and controlled by him.” I do not think it would be wrong to suggest that the exact same principle applies to digital technology. If I may so bold, “Don’t become obsessed with technology, for many evils lie along that path.”

July 30, 2014

How do you feel?

Several posts ago, in an entry titled “The biggest obstacle”, I made several statements and assertions that I said I would come back to and elaborate on later. I will do that now. One of the statements I made in that post was that special rights based on gender identity is ridiculous. The reason that it is ridiculous is that there is no other area in life that I can think of where anyone is able to obtain any kind of rights based solely on how they identify themselves. The only possible exception that comes to mind would be religious affiliation, as there are sometimes rights that are associated with religious affiliation and practice. That is necessary, though, because there are no genetic connections to religion, to physical identifiers upon which anyone can be associated with a particular religion. That is because religion is necessarily a choice. That certain rights have been granted on the basis of religion is a testament to the importance that humankind as historically placed on religion and the very personal nature of religious belief. Gender is not that way, however–or at least never has been until now.

As I stated before, from the beginning of time it has been possible to determine the gender of a child within moments of birth. Indeed, for the past several decades it has been possible, thanks to advances in medical technology, to identify the gender of a child in utero. Can you imagine the way conversations may go in the future once all of this transgender mumbo jumbo takes hold? Someone will ask their pregnant acquaintance, “So are you having a boy or a girl?” “Well, the sonogram shows the baby’s sex will be female, so I am sure that is the gender that will be assigned on the birth certificate. But, of course, we will have a to wait a little while to see how she acts, what she prefers, and how she wants to identify herself before we will really know. After all, sex is purely biological but gender is really a choice.”

Since the transgender movement insists that gender is in fact the product of cultural influences and behaviors learned through human interaction the conversation above could even be more along these lines: “Well, the sonogram shows the baby’s sex will be female, so I am sure that is the gender that will be assigned on the birth certificate. But my husband and I really want a boy, so we are going to raise this child as a boy. We will give the baby a male name, decorate the room with a masculine theme, dress the baby in boy’s clothing and raise the baby to be a male. As soon as ‘he’ is old enough we will jump through all of the hoops to have ‘his’ real gender identified accordingly.”

The one opponent of the transgender movement that was actually given any print in Katy Steinmetz’s TIME article was Frank Schubert, a political organizer from California. Steinmetz quoted Schubert saying, “We introduce this concept called gender identity, and I don’t have any idea what that is. Can you claim a racial identity based on how you feel or the community that you’re growing up in? Can I claim to be African American if I feel African American?” That is a legitimate question, silly though it may sound. Just as gender has always been consist with one’s anatomy, so race has always been consist with one’s genetic make up (often visible through skin tone). If an individual wants to, for whatever reason, “identify” as a race other than that which he or she is how can we stop that from occurring if we are saying that gender is so fluid? If gender is the product of cultural influences and learned behaviors, could not race be, too?

Now, I know I am taking this to an extreme, but I think it is necessary in order to make a point. Once we begin allowing people to claim or identify anything based solely on feelings we are obliterating any possibility of maintaining boundaries of any kind based on facts. Just as the redefinition of marriage to include male-male and female-female unions necessarily flings open the door to allow any combination to be defined as marriage, so the allowance of gender to be based solely on feelings means that, necessarily, we will have to allow anyone who feels anything to claim that they are that thing. If someone feels rich can they take items they cannot really afford from the store by writing checks that will never clear because they “feel like” they have money? That’s ridiculous, you say. Whether or not someone has money is easy to determine, easily verifiable. Well, guess what? So is whether or not someone was born male or female.

This gets to the heart of what I was getting at when I wrote in “The biggest obstacle” that transgender individuals do not really want an equal place but instead want a special place based on their personal choices. Someone using the name “Eyeontheuniverse” was kind enough to comment on that post and ask me to provide an example of such a special place or unique and privileged treatment that I am asserting transgender individuals want. Sure; I’d be happy to. The right to compete on an athletic team based on one’s chosen gender, the right to use a restroom based on one’s chosen gender, or any other example of insisting on treatment based on how one feels or identifies rather than what one is is a pursuit of special and privileged treatment. If someone wants to engage in homosexual sex, that’s fine, that is his or her choice. Demanding that marriage be redefined to include homosexual unions is insisting on special and privileged treatment. If a male wants to dress and act like a female, even assume a female name or identity, then I suppose he can do that, that is his choice. But to insist that “she” be allowed to play sports based on that choice, or use a restroom based on that choice, or be referred to using pronouns based on that choice, is to demand special and privileged treatment. If transgender individuals can make up their own pronouns like “xyr” why cannot I make up my own pronouns? Henceforth, I do not wish to be referred to as “he” but rather as “ilb.” That is my choice, and I am demanding that everyone else refer to me accordingly. Those who do not shall be sued so that courts will order them to refer to me as such. And while I’m at it, I’m tired of the title “Mr.” too, so from now on it will be “Great.” Yes…instead of Mr. Watson, I shall be Great Watson. I like that much better…I think I will feel much better when addressed that way.

Pretty stupid, huh? My point exactly….

Whoever “Eyeontheuniverse” is, their comment on “The biggest obstacle” included this statement: “In all we are probably looking at 2-6% of the population who in some way have a conflict between some combination of genes, body and brain. There’s not very much you are going to do to alter this (at least historically) after a person is born. The goal is to make life for people who are outside the simple binary system as easy as possible.” Again, I do not know who this person is, but he or she apparently has greater knowledge of this situation that any other study I have been able to find, since all reports seem to indicate that 0.2% to 0.5% of the population fits into the transgender category. “Eyeontheuniverse” apparently believes it to be ten times that number. Notice the end of the comment, though. The goal is to make life for those individuals as easy as possible. Never mind the fact that in so doing we will be making life as uncomfortable and difficult as possible for the majority of the population!

Katy Steinmetz wrote in her article, “No matter their anatomy, transgender people want to live–and be identified–according to how they feel: to be able to dress and be treated like a woman or a man regardless of what their parents or delivering nurses may have assumed at birth.” This is really what is comes down to–demanding rights and treatment based solely on how one feels. I explained above what the problems are associated with that approach, but I do have to appreciate the candor of Steinmetz. At the end of the day, the homosexual movement, the transgender movement, and many other movements now in existence and yet to come, want all notions of right and wrong, black and white, left and right–in other words, any concept of absolute truth–to be eliminated and everything to be based on feelings.

Watch out anarchy…here we come.

July 23, 2014

Word Games

The TIME article by Katy Steinmetz provides an overview of the history of the transgender issue in the United States. “Modern America’s journey” with this issue, she writes, “begins after World War II with a woman named Christine Jorgensen.” Christine Jorgensen was born George, and after completing service as a soldier and being honorably discharged George sailed for Denmark with the plan of finding a surgeon who would transform George into Christine. The story became news, and Jorgensen wrote a letter that was published by the New York Daily News after it ran a story under the headline EX-GI BECOMES BLONDE BEAUTY. In the letter Jorgensen asserted, “Nature made a mistake, which I have had corrected.”

That statement contains a clear allusion to the fact that there is a denial among many in the transgender movement, and its supporters, that humans are created by God. It was “nature,” Jorgensen said, that made the mistake. When nature makes a mistake man is entitled to correct it, the reasoning goes. Interestingly, one of the arguments most often used by homosexuals and activists who support the homosexual rights movement is that homosexual individuals were “born that way” and that human laws preventing homosexual marriage or beliefs that homosexual behavior is immoral are contradicting nature (or even, some would say, the way God made them). Now transgender individuals are suggesting that they way they were born–in other words, their gender at birth–was a mistake that they need to fix. So we have one group of people arguing that they should have special rights because they were born “that way” and another group arguing that they should have special rights because the way they were born was wrong.

This is not the only instance of transgender individuals wanting to have it both ways. In 1980, seven years after the DSM removed homosexuality as a disorder, transsexualism was added. That was later given the label of gender identity disorder and then, in 2013, renamed yet again to gender dysphoria. The president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (yes, there is such an organization) celebrated the change, saying, “‘Gender identity disorder’ [implied] that your identity was wrong, that you are wrong.” Yet, according to Steinmetz, some were not in favor of removing the disorder label because without it it will likely be harder for individuals to access treatment such as hormone therapy without having to pay the entire cost themselves. After all, if it is not a disorder, it is an elective procedure.

Despite the change in the DSM, there is going to be increasing pressure for insurance companies and even government insurance to pay for sex change operations and hormone therapy. At the end of May a board within the Department of Health and Human Services ruled that sex change surgeries will be covered by Medicare. This decision came after Denee Mallon, age 74, filed a law suit to have Medicare pay for an operation changing him from male to female. Once such procedures are considered covered by Medicare it is only a matter of time before the government will also push for insurance companies to cover them, as well.

If you are not yet confused or disgusted, it gets more complicated. According to the TIME article, it is necessary, in order to really understand this issue, to see “sex and gender as two separate concepts–sex is biological, determined by a baby’s birth anatomy; gender is cultural, a set of behaviors learned through human interaction.” Oh really? That is nothing more than another attempt at redefining terms. Dictionary.com provides, as the second definition of gender, one word: sex. (The first definition refers to the various genders of nouns in many languages). If you look at Merriam-Webster.com the definition of gender is “the state of being male or female.” If you read on to the full definition of gender you find that the first definition is, again, concerned with grammar. The second definition? Again, one word: sex.

Even if we wanted to grant the notion that sex and gender are two different things, it gets even more complicated. Steinmetz goes on to write, “Sexual preferences, meanwhile, are a separate matter altogether. There is no concrete correlation between a person’s gender identity and sexual interests; a heterosexual woman, for instance, might start living as a man and still be attracted to men. One oft-cited explanation is that sexual orientation determines who you want to go to bed with and gender identity determines who you want to go to bed as.” So, just to make sure you’re keeping up, that would mean–in the scenario presented by Steinmetz–that a person born as a woman could become a transgender man and then engage in homosexual sex with a man.

Since that is so confusing, Steinmetz goes on to explain that “some trans people reject all labels, seeing gender as a spectrum rather than a two-option multiple-choice question. The word transgender, which came into wider use in the 1990s after public health officials adopted it, is often used as an umbrella term for all rejections of the norm, from cross-dressers who are generally happy in their assigned gender to transsexuals like Jorgensen.” The idea of the gender spectrum is already gaining acceptance; in February Facebook changed its male and female options for gender to include more than fifty choices. The day before Valentine’s Day ABC News reported that Facebook would not be releasing a comprehensive list of options but that ABC had identified fifty-eight options. Among the options are ten varieties of “cis.” What in the world is that? Apparently, cisgender or cissexual, which are often abbreviated as simply cis, is defined by sociologists Kristen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook as a label for “individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity.” According to Wikipedia this is to be a complement to transgender. So I suppose (assuming I understand this definition correctly) I could now identify myself as cis if I am not satisfied with just simply being male. After all, male apparently no longer tells you that I was born male, identify as male and have a male body. So how does Facebook come up with ten varieties of cis? I could choose to identify myself as cis, cis male, cis man, cisgender male or cisgender man.

Other Facebook options include gender fluid, gender nonconforming and gender variant, as well as two-spirit. I am not even going to get into what some of those mean. Just in case you cannot find your chosen gender identity in the fifty-plus options ABC identified, though, there is also the option of “other.”

As I said yesterday, this entire situation just gets messier and messier the more you try to make sense of it. And so far I’m just talking about terminology! Just wait until next time when I begin exploring what the implications of this are when actually put into day to day living.

July 22, 2014

“The biggest obstacle”

I do not really want to address the topic of the transgender movement in the United States but it appears I do not have much choice because it is an issue that is not going away. According to studies by the Public Religion Research Institute only 9% of Americans say they have a close friend or family member who is transgender. And that number may even be a bit high, because other studies indicate that only 0.5% of the American population is transgender. And yet, the issue of accepting the choices of transgender individuals and granting them special privileges and “rights” in accordance with those choices is potentially going to impact us all.

In South Dakota, where I live, the state’s high school activities association just last month approved a policy whereby students shall have the opportunity to participate in the association’s activities “in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the student’s records.” Therein, of course, we find the root of the problem. For millennia human beings have identified, within moments of birth, the gender of the baby just born. Ever since the advent of birth certificates that information has been recorded officially. And rarely, if ever, has there been any question as to whether that identification was up for debate. Now, apparently, it is.

The June 9, 2014 issue of TIME featured a cover image of a transgender individual who stars on the television show Orange Is the New Black and a feature article entitled “America’s Transition.” This individual, Laverne Cox, has become, according to the piece, “a public face of the transgender movement.” I am going to elaborate later on why the entire notion of transgender is a problem. First, though, I want to touch on a statement Katy Steinmetz includes in the second paragraph of her TIME article. Here it is…

Almost one year after the Supreme Court ruled that Americans were free to marry the person they loved, no matter their sex, another civil rights movement is poised to challenge long-held cultural norms and beliefs. Transgender people–those who identify with a gender other than the sex they were “assigned at birth,” to use the preferred phrase among trans activists–are emerging from the margins to fight for an equal place in society. This new transparency is improving the lives of a long misunderstood minority and beginning to yield new policies, as trans activists and their supporters push for change in schools, hospitals, workplaces, prisons and the military.

There are an incredible number of problems contained right there in those few sentences. First of all, the Supreme Court did not, in fact, rule that Americans are free to marry whomever they love, but I’ll get way off track if I follow that tangent, so let’s just leave that one there. Secondly, as I have argued repeatedly in the past, homosexual “marriage” is not a civil rights issue. Neither are transgender rights. In fact, as I will argue later, the entire notion of transgender individuals being entitled to any special privileges or treatment at all based on their “gender identity” is ridiculous. Third, the paragraph above does accurately link the tremendous strides made by homosexual activists to achieve “rights” for homosexuals to the now-burgeoning movement among transgender activists. Again, as I have argued before, once we redefine what has been accepted for the entirety of human history as marriage we are, for all intents and purposes, jumping onto a slippery slope that will result in all kinds of redefinitions and changes.

Fourth, the notion that gender is “assigned” is a very clever and subtle choice of wording that is designed to convince us that gender and body parts are in no way connected. More on that later, too. Fifth, Steinmetz states that transgender individuals are emerging in order to “fight for an equal place in society.” This is clever wording, too, because who would not be in favor of someone receiving equal treatment and an equal place? After all, equality is a major part of what our nation was founded on, right? Transgender individuals, however, do not want an equal place in society. Instead, they want a special place. They want to receive unique and privileged treatment based on their personal choices. Sixth, and finally, whether or not this “new transparency” is really yielding any improvement in the lives of transgender individuals is debatable, but the policies being adopted to cater to transgender folks are indeed going to touch us all eventually.

A few paragraphs later Steinmetz writes that “the biggest obstacle” faced by transgender individuals is that they “live in a world largely built on a fixed and binary definition of gender.” Very subtle, and intentional, wording there, too–notice that the “binary definition” by which mankind has lived since God created Adam and Eve is an “obstacle” to these individuals living life the way they want to live it. Guess what? There are plenty of obstacles that prevent every one of us from doing things we would like to do on a regular basis. For example, I would like to be able to jump off of the roof of a building a fly–or at the very least enjoy a relaxing downward descent and a soft landing. The “obstacle” of gravity seems to prevent that, though. I would prefer to drive to town doing 100 miles an hour. The road is straight and flat and there is seldom any traffic, but the “SPEED LIMIT 65” signs that stand along the road are obstacles to me doing what I want. I would prefer to have a Porsche in my garage without the cost of buying, insuring or driving one, but life simply doesn’t work that way. Maybe those are silly examples but I challenge you to take a moment and think about all of the “obstacles” that you have to live within each and every day. Take me up on that and I suspect you will literally find dozens of them.

This is a discussion that I am, sadly, just beginning. The next several posts will address this topic, so stay tuned.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.