jasonbwatson

November 7, 2015

The right thing to do

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

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

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

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

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

November 15, 2013

A budding star?

Last week the Washington Post ran a story on Nadia Bolz-Weber entitled “Bolz-Weber’s liberal, foulmouthed articulation of Christianity speaks to fed-up believers.” You may have heard of Bolz-Weber; she wrote a New York Times bestseller entitled Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. I actually had not heard of her until a colleague showed by the Washington Post article. Unfortunately, what I learned from reading that article and then exploring a bit more online has left me no choice but to comment on Bolz-Weber’s–shall we say, unique–approach to Christianity. No doubt the title of the article mentioned above is enough to clue you in to the attitude she takes.

The Post article calls Bolz-Weber a “budding star for the liberal Christian set.” It describes her appearance this way: “Her 6-foot-1 frame is plastered with tattoos, her arms are sculpted by competitive weightlifting and, to show it all off, this pastor is wearing a tight tank top and jeans.” That is a unique appearance indeed for any pastor, male or female. And while I may not be a fan of a black tank top with clerical collar, Bolz-Weber’s appearance in and of itself probably would not have prompted me to blog about her.

The Post article provides a very quick recap of Bolz-Weber’s life thus far: “A quick tour through her 44 years doesn’t seem likely to wind up here. It includes teen rebellion against her family’s fundamentalist Christianity, a nose dive into drug and alcohol addiction, a lifestyle of sleeping around and a stint doing stand-up in a grungy Denver comedy club.” Going from that kind of life experience to graduating from seminary and pastoring a church would make a dynamic testimony to be sure. And apparently Bolz-Weber has that. Interestingly enough, the Post article also includes several statements that I found encouraging. For example: “The type of social liberals who typically fill the pews of mainline churches sometimes feel like outsiders among fellow liberals in their lives if they are truly believing Christians; if they are people who really experience Jesus and his resurrection, even if they can’t explain it scientifically; if they are people who want to hear words from the Apostles in church, not Thich Nhat Hanh or Barack Obama.” While I personally struggle to reconcile biblical Christianity with many of the positions espoused by social liberals, the point that church should be a place for people who are truly believing Christians and who actually want to hear the Bible preached, not some pop psychology drivel, encourages me.

The article goes on to state this: “In her body and her theology, Bolz-Weber represents a new, muscular form of liberal Christianity, one that merges the passion and life-changing fervor of evangelicalism with the commitment to inclusiveness and social justice of mainline Protestantism.” That is, for the most part, exactly the kind of merging I think is needed in the church today. The “life-changing fervor of evangelicalism” is what the Gospel is all about, and it must not be abandoned or ignored. At the same time, there is a very real need for Christians to work for social justice and serve the poor and live out their faith. I cannot embrace the statement above in its entirety since “inclusiveness” is a not-so-subtle reference to accepting homosexuality, and while homosexuals need to be loved and treated with dignity, the homosexual lifestyle cannot be accepted by anyone who believes that the Bible is the Word of God and means what it says.

But the article follows the statement above with this one: “She’s a tatted-up, foul-mouthed champion to people sick of being belittled as not Christian enough for the right or too Jesus-y for the left.” Even putting the tattoos aside, the idea that someone can effectively represent and present the Gospel with a foul mouth is dumbfounding to me. Of her use of language generally not heard until late hours on television, let alone in church, Bolz-Weber says, “I don’t think church leaders should pretend to be something they’re not.” I would agree with that. I would also suggest, however, that deciding that being foul-mouthed is simply who she is instead of working to change that part of her life is not only inconsistent with Scripture but demonstrates a contradiction to what she also claims to believe–that the Gospel has life-changing power. God accepts and loves us as we are, but He does not expect us to stay that way. As we grow in relationship with Him, as we progress in sanctification, we should become less and less like the world and more and more like Christ. There is a reason that the language Bolz-Weber is known for using is called profanity–and that is because it is profane! That which is profane has no place in the life of a believer, much less in church.

The Post says Bolz-Weber’s message is this: “Forget what you’ve been told about the golden rule — God doesn’t love you more if you do good things, or if you believe certain things. God, she argues, offers you grace regardless of who you are or what you do.” Yes, God does offer grace, and no, God does not love anyone more for doing good things. But forget the golden rule? The golden rule, as it is commonly known, is a commandment from Jesus. This is exactly the way in which Christians are supposed to live. Living this way is how people will know we are Christians! When Jesus gave the golden rule he was turning the way the religious leaders of His day had taught completely upside down. Prior to Jesus, the teaching was not to do to others what you would not want them to do to you. That’s a good idea, of course, but it is a negative command, not a positive one. You could go through life never doing anything to anyone else that you would not want them to do to you and at the same time never doing anything nice, never performing any act of service, never demonstrating love to another person. I can go through life and never hit you upside the head, for example, but that is and of itself is not enough–that is not what Jesus has called us to do.

Continuing on through the Post article I again find moments of encouragement and times when I think “Right on!” Shortly thereafter, though, I am again confronted with times that make me think, “Are you serious?” For example: “Bolz-Weber says she abhors ‘spirituality,’ which she sees as a limp kind of self-improvement plan. She prefers a cranky, troublemaking and real God who at times of loss and pain doesn’t have the answers either.” Whoa! Hold on now… The God of the Bible is not cranky. Cranky implies moodiness, instability, emotions based on fluctuating feelings. God is none of those things. Yes, God gets angry, but He is angered by sin. He does not get angry because He did not get enough sleep or because He spilled His coffee or because he is stuck in traffic. And the God of the Bible is never without answers. Scripture makes it clear that He is omniscient–all knowing. If He knows all things than there can never be an answer He does not know. Surely there are times when He does not give us all the answers, but that is entirely different from Him not having them.

In a September’s issue of USC’s Religion Dispatches magazine Bolz-Weber was interviewed by Candace Chellew-Hodge, the founder/editor of an online magazine for GLBT Christians, pastor of a church in South Carolina, and author of a “Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians.” In the interview Bolz-Weber says that she was “allowed not to die in exchange for working for God. I’d have to become God’s bitch.” That word refers by definition, of course, to a female dog, but it is a slang word for a variety of things, including “a person who performs demeaning tasks for another; servant.” While being a servant of God is a good thing, the connotation of the word is entirely different from what the Bible has in mind when it describes serving God. Bolz-Weber, no doubt, uses the word for shock value. Later in the same interview, when discussing how God used worked through flawed people in the Bible, Bolz-Weber said, “All God’s favorite people are f_____d up.” Again, the word is slang, and even if Bolz-Weber’s basic message is on target the way in which she presents it is a turn off–it’s offensive. Dictionary.com says of that word, “For many people, the word is extremely vulgar, considered improper and taboo in all of its senses.” In other words, it is certainly not the way to present the Gospel!

Nadia Bolz-Weber has some valuable insights into Christianity and, at times, she is right on. Unfortunately, her desire to be “real” means that she is in many instances actually offensive herself. The message of the Gospel is an offense to the world; the Bible promises us that. Accordingly, there will be times when the messengers of the Gospel are offensive to the world, too. We must be careful, however, to limit our offense to the message, not to our careless handling of it. We must be careful not to confuse God’s acceptance of us for who we are with His acceptance of us staying there. And we must be extremely careful not to present the God of the Bible as someone that He is not.

February 29, 2012

The College Question

In recent days the political news cycle has been crackling with two sides of the question of how important college is in the United States. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum attracted attention–most of it negative–for saying in Michigan that President Obama is “a snob” for saying that he wants everybody in America to go to college. Eugene Robinson, writing in The Washington Post, went so far as to say that “[o]nly a fool or a liar is unaware that higher education is all but a prerequisite for success in the post-industrial economy,” and went on to call Santorum hypocritical because Santorum himself has both an MBA and a law degree, and two of his own children are in college.

Santorum’s comments in Michigan, however, included this further elaboration: “There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day, and put their skills to test, that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. Oh, I understand why he (Obama) wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.” In other words, Santorum was espousing the position that a college education is not essential for success in America. He was, of course, also making the point that liberals may desire–abuse, even–the power of influence that comes with being a college professor, but I am not concerned here about the politics of this discussion. I am more concerned about the basic root issue of whether or not college really is important.

Marvin Olasky wrote an essay on this very subject that appeared in the January 14, 2012 issue of WORLD Magazine. Olasky asks several significant questions in the essay (i.e., “Do colleges help or hurt character formation?”) but he states, in his concluding paragraph: “I’m not at all suggesting that those called to be lawyers, doctors, professors, etc. should not go to college. I am suggesting that work as an electrician, landscaper, or X-ray technician, or in hundreds of other occupations that don’t require a four-year college degree, also glorifies God and should be honored by all of us.”

As someone who is a school superintendent, has three master’s degrees, and would gladly spend his life as a professional student if it were possible to do such a thing, one might (understandably) assume that I would come down on the side of urging students to go to college. It might surprise you, then, to know that that is not my position. On the contrary, I have seen more than enough evidence to know that college simply is not for everyone, and that pushing someone to go to college who either does not want to go or who does not know what he wants to do with his life is probably not a good idea–and is a potentially huge waste of money.

I am a firm believer that there are certain things that everyone needs to know in order to be, in the words of E.D. Hirsch, Jr., culturally literate. Beyond that, though, four (or more) additional years of education simply are not for everyone. Taking a year or two off to work and explore possible careers is not necessarily a bad idea for a high school graduate who is still unsure of the Lord’s calling for her future. Even if a student is certain he or she wants to get a college degree, starting in community college is not a bad idea, either. Classes are generally smaller, almost always are less expensive, and the credits will transfer to a 4-year school if a student does decide to go on for a bachelor’s degree.

It is also important to keep in mind that college is always going to be available. Perhaps now more than ever before it is easy for someone to take classes part-time, either in-person or through distance learning, and to get a college degree at any point. In other words, someone may get out of high school, work for a few years, and then decide that a college degree is essential in order to accomplish his or her career goals. I can just about guarantee you that that individual will be a much better student now that he has decided he wants to go get that degree than he would have been if he was forced/pressured to go to college when he was not ready or did not want to go.

I am certainly not anti-college, either. I think that if a young person knows what he or she wants to do, or at least has a strong idea, and is ready and desirous to go to college, then he or she should go, right out of high school if possible. I think college can be wonderful, both for the experiences and friendships as well as for the learning. The point is, we do not need to make this an absolute. Students who aren’t sure they’re ready for college should not be pressured to go. As Olasky suggests, there are plenty of positions in which someone can be very successful–and very happy–that will never require a college degree.

As an aside, I have not seen the full context of the remarks, but I don’t think President Obama was suggesting that everyone in America should have to go to college. More than likely he was simply suggesting that everyone in America who wants to be able to go should be able to do so. Just so happens, I agree with that, too.

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