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Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Short Post

People tell me I use too many words when I write. Enjoy this brief entry. Hopefully it will spawn a lot of thought.

Have you ever noticed how different Satan's approach is from God's approach? God asks you to surrender all and Satan encourages you to surrender nothing. In return, God promises all of Himself and Satan promises you nothing. (Don't misunderstand. I don't mean that Satan makes no promises. I mean that the return on surrendering nothing is truly nothing.)

We are told to die to self, to surrender to Christ, to count as loss everything we thought was gain in order to know Christ. The outcome is salvation, a living, breathing relationship with Christ, the abundant life, peace that passes understanding, love, joy ... the list goes on. Or we could cling to our money and our rights, our possessions and our impulses, our momentary desires and ongoing rebellion. In return we get dissatisfaction, discontent, no love, no joy, and, ultimately, no God. And still we tend to cling to the latter and even ridicule those who suggest we shouldn't.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cultural Bias

The accusation has often been thrown out there that the only reason that people like me oppose "gay marriage" is "cultural bias". It would be stupid to deny that all people are subject to cultural bias. Cultural bias is simply the tendency to interpret and judge phenomena by standards inherent in one's own culture. We all do it to some extent. It's a given. But in the case of marriage and my position, I would beg to differ.

First, I specifically and intentionally do not take my position on marriage from the current culture. Second, taking a position on marriage that is derived from 1) Scripture and 2) human history is by definition not "cultural bias" because it is at cross positions with the culture.

Indeed, if I were to look at the current culture and then compare my position with the recommended position on marriage and "gay marriage", I would have to argue that my position is not culturally biased while the one I'm being told I should take is exactly so. The current culture has been, over the years, dismissing marriage until it is very little more than a word with very little meaning and certainly very little value. It is simply an extension of the concept of "being in love". If you are "in love" you "marry" and, of course, if the former condition is unsustainable (as it certainly will be) you dissolve the latter condition. Not much substance there. So why not give that watered down, insipid, pointless concept to "gays"? That is a conforming to the culture. That is cultural bias.

I, on the other hand, would not likely find much support in my culture for my view of marriage. Indeed, I wouldn't likely find much support in fellow believers or even in my circle of friends for my view of marriage. (I only say that because I've already been told by fellow Christians and by friendly folks that I'm wrong.) But since I am taking my view from the Bible without much regard for culture, it's the only view I can find that works.

For the record, then, what is that view? I take my definition of marriage first from Genesis (Gen 2:24), a definition which is repeated in Scripture (e.g., Matt 19:5-6; Eph 5:31) and, therefore, affirmed throughout time. That definition is immersed in this repeated statement, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." Marriage. The purpose of marriage is also first stated in Genesis at the creation of Adam and Eve. "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1:28). Here, then, is God's grand idea. Two people, male and female, become one flesh for the purpose of reproduction and cooperation. It is the core element of society, the fundamental building block of any civilization, the basic component of human relations. And it runs afoul of nearly every perspective of what marriage is all about today.

You see, nowhere in any of that do you find the absolutely basic truth we know today that "you marry for love". It's missing entirely. If I were to suggest to someone that they marry for a union aimed at procreation and mutual cooperation, I would at best be laughed out of the conversation and, more likely, ridiculed as dangerous and evil. Everyone knows you marry for love. So it is ridiculous of me to see marriage as a mystical and mysterious union produced by God aimed at replenishing the race and raising the next generation of humans while working together to make our world a better place instead of that much higher purpose, being in love. Romance is a much better reason for marriage than those mundane things I think it is. Our culture, you see, has bought the lie (because it is a lie and can be nothing else) that the primary basis for all marriages is that momentary chemical rush (because, really, isn't "chemistry" the real issue here?) we call "being in love" and the purpose of marriage is to make permanent that momentary chemical rush of being in love. The truth is that the union of man and woman in one flesh with the purpose of procreation and mutual cooperation produces that response, but we've put the cart before the horse and now cannot abide the suggestion that marriage is anything but a product of "love" (where "love" means "a warm -- preferably hot -- feeling of affection for another" and nothing more).

Does my view of marriage -- opposing the redefinition to include "same-sex unions" -- come from cultural bias? Nothing could be further from the truth. My view does come from Scripture. But it is in sharp and even long-term opposition to cultural biases of the day. Whatever else you think of it (and I don't doubt that very few will nod their heads and say, "Yeah, he's right on that point"), it is not a product of cultural bias. My question, however, is the reverse. If my view is the product of biblical bias and you consider yourself a follower of Christ, why do you disagree? (It's a question, not a challenge or condemnation.)

Update: More than one commenter, both on this blog and via email, has pointed out that there is more to the notion of one's "culture" than the society in which one finds himself. There is, for instance, the very obvious notion of "subcultures". You know you can find a "high school culture" or a "workplace culture" or all sorts of localized and varied cultures. I acknowledge this. In this sense, however, no one operates without their "cultural bias". My "cultural bias" in this sense is the culture of biblical, historical, orthodox Christianity, and I will freely admit that my conclusions on this subject do indeed spring from that culture. I still end up with the question, if you consider yourself a follower of Christ, why do you disagree?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Unbelieving Family

A couple of years ago my grandfather died. Well, he didn't just die. He committed suicide. It was a difficult time for me and for my family. We're mostly Christians, but my grandfather never was or even claimed to be. Despite years and years of hearing the truth, he went to his grave shaking his fist in the face of God. And knowing that my grandfather was not in a "better place" like we always tell people when a loved one dies was ... uncomfortable. (You see there my ability to make an understatement.)

Of course, in the final analysis I believe God does what is right and just and, in the case of my grandfather, did exactly that. In the end, I can rest on Heavenly Father for that. But knowing that a loved one did not believe or does not believe has the potential of being a painful and difficult thing.

And then I read this in my Bible:
Now the Jews' Feast of Booths was at hand. So His brothers said to Him, "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world." For not even His brothers believed in Him (John 7:2-5).
I know how I felt about my grandfather when he was alive and not believing. I know how I felt when he died not believing. I know how I feel now about people who are close to me who do not believe, even relatives. So I ask myself, "What do you suppose Jesus felt when His brothers did not believe?"

We are sure, despite the Roman Catholic perspective, that Jesus had siblings. We are not sure how many. And we're pretty sure that one of His brothers, James, believed and became very prominent in the Church. That's what you might expect having lived up close and personal with the Son of God. But we do not know (nor can we) if all of Jesus's siblings ultimately believed. We do know that in John 7 they did not. What, do you suppose, were Jesus's words of comfort to Himself? What was His attitude about members of His family and members of His extended family -- Israel -- who did not believe ... would not believe? Some, He knew, would go to their graves, having spent years and years of hearing the truth, shaking their fists in the face of God. What truth did Jesus tell Himself when He thought of that? I'd be interested in knowing that.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Remembering the Air Force

I'm a veteran. I spent 10 years in the Air Force. Of course, Memorial Day is not a day to honor veterans. It's a day to honor those who gave their lives for the country. But, since I am an Air Force veteran, and since I like to share the stories of Medal of Honor winners on Memorial Day as a way of reminding us to be grateful for those who gave so much on our behalf, I'm going to focus on Air Force recipients on this Memorial Day.

I remember reading about Major Richard Bong when I was a kid. Now, technically, Major Bong was in the Army Air Corps, but I'm going to include him in this tribute. Dick Bong was the highest scoring American ace of World War II. He scored 40 kills while flying the P-38 Lightning. That may not sound like a lot. German pilot Erich Hartmann is credited with 352 kills, for instance. But the American military was in the habit of pulling aces out of combat when they reached a certain level of notoriety because of concerns for morale. As such, Major Bong was no longer in combat status after 32 victories. Instead, he was assigned as a gunnery instructor. Thus, his citation reads, "Though assigned to duty as gunnery instructor and neither required nor expected to perform combat duty, Maj. Bong voluntarily and at his own urgent request engaged in repeated combat missions, including unusually hazardous sorties over Balikpapan, Borneo, and in the Leyte area of the Philippines. His aggressiveness and daring resulted in his shooting down 8 enemy airplanes during this period." That's over and above. That's sacrifice. Major Bong died in 1945 test flying the new P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter. He gave his life for his country.

Meet Captain John Walmsley, Jr. John was a B-26 pilot in the Korean conflict. Part of his job was to develop tactics for using an 80 million candlepower searchlight installed on the aircraft for night attacks. On Sept. 12, 1951, he made his first successful night attack on a truck convoy. A couple nights later, he was back out searching for targets. He found a supply train and managed to disable it, but ran out of ammunition. So he called in a second B-26 to assist in finishing off the train. His technique? He turned on his light and gave the other pilot a clear view to make his attacks. Of course, that made Capt. Walmsley very visible. Despite the heavy flak from gunners all around the mountainous region, Walmsley refused to take evasive maneuvers so that the second B-26 could finish its attack. His plane was hit and he died that night in a fiery crash two miles away. Mission accomplished.

Since the Air Force only allows officers to fly, and most Air Force combat is flying combat, most Medal of Honor recipients in the Air Force would be officers. Staff Sgt. William Pitsenbarger is an exception. Flying almost 300 rescue missions in Vietnam, SSgt Pitsenbarger risked his life on a daily basis as he and the crew of the HH-43F helicopter they flew spent their days rescuing soldiers and airmen in trouble. On April 11, 1966, his helicopter was sent with another to extract a group of Army casualties pinned down in battle near Saigon. SSgt Pitsenbarger's job was to be lowered down on a cable, provide initial first aid to the wounded, then attach them and have them lifted back up. Of course, that was a dangerous job. After having rescued nine injured men, a helicopter that was lowering its litter basket took fire. They had to leave quickly, but Pitsenbarger didn't take the safe route and get in the litter. He waved them off and waited with the wounded. The enemy fire was too intense for a return flight, so he waited for an hour and a half while he improvised splints and stretchers for the injured. When the fighting troops ran low on ammo, he ran into enemy fire to retrieve ammo clips from dead soldiers to resupply them. Finally, he picked up a rifle and joined in the fray himself. SSgt Pitsenbarger was found the next day. He had been killed in the night by a sniper. In one hand he still held the rifle and in the other he still held the medical kit. He didn't survive, but nine men who wouldn't have without his efforts did.

These are just a very few of the stories of those who earned our nation's highest honor for our military personnel. Beyond these, there are vast numbers who died with less recognition. We owe our freedom to people like these who considered their sacrifice not too extreme in the service of their country. They deserve our gratitude and our respect.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Sunday Thought

In 1974, Chuck Girard produced his first album named, of all things, Chuck Girard. On that album was one of those songs that has stuck with me through the years. It is titled Slow Down. The song has been a help to me at difficult and at pleasant times. I think, on our "day of rest" and in today's high-speed world, it might be of aid to you as well.
In the midst of my confusion
In the time of desperate need
When I am thinking not too clearly
A gentle voice does intercede

Slow down, slow down, be still
Be still and wait, on the Spirit of the Lord
Slow down and hear His voice
And know that He is God

In the time of tribulation
When I'm feeling so unsure
When things are pressing in about me
Comes a gentle voice so still, so pure

Slow down, slow down, be still
Be still and wait, on the Spirit of the Lord
Slow down and hear His voice
And know that He is God
And know that He is God.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

On Marriage

I've tried to make my case for the longstanding, traditional definition of marriage without referencing the morality of the competing behavior that is trying to steal the concept from its historical moorings. I've explained that "marriage" throughout history has always meant "the union of a man and a woman". At no time in history has it ever meant "any old union you want to have". Until now, of course. Now the move is on to rip away that standardized definition to make it something else. Oddly, while everyone knows and most even admit that we're talking about a definition change, no one seems to be giving any reason why the definition change is good, necessary, or right. That is, you don't hear an argument that says, "The reason we want to change the longstanding, traditional definition of marriage is ...". What you hear is "It's not 'marriage equity' as it stands right now." And that is simply not true. If marriage is defined (as it has always been defined) as the union of a man and a woman, then heterosexuals are not allowed to "marry" their horses, their houses, or themselves (just to name a few possibilities). That is, "marriage" has meaning and that meaning causes limitations to whomever addresses it. If, for instance, a well-meaning guy wanted to "marry" another fellow for purposes of obtaining a visa, it would not be allowed under the definition of "marry". This isn't a matter of "marriage equity" or keeping people from their rights. It's a matter of definition. It's like saying, "I want my car painted red so it looks just like the ocean." The guy doing the work will say, "But ... the ocean is blue." Simply saying, "Well, I want it painted that color and I want it called 'red' -- I have the right to paint my car whatever color I want!" isn't going to fly. "Red" has a meaning, and my desire to change it or my "rights" on the subject are irrelevant to the definition. Thus, anyone who is sexually attracted to the same gender has the same right as anyone who is not to consumate a union between himself/herself and someone of the opposite gender and call it "marriage" because that's what marriage is. And that is "marriage equity".

However, I'm not so sure that I've been quite fair in approaching this without the biblical aspect of the question. Or, to put it bluntly, leaving God out of the question is not a good idea. While I'm quite sure that many folk won't much care what the Bible has to say on this issue, I think it's still unwise to leave God out of the equation. So, for those that might be interested on the Bible's input, we'll take a look at that angle for a moment.

Genesis 2 offers the first "marriage", the first union. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen 2:24). Now, some may argue "That's not a definition; that's an event." I would refer these people to Christ Himself. When He was asked about dissolving marriage, He said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" (Matt 19:4-6). That was Jesus's definition of marriage as well. The reason Jesus opposed divorce was that it was a union. More than that, it was 1) a male-female union, and 2) this union was produced by God. This essentially puts it outside of human control.

Now, of course, we should also examine the Scriptures that give counter-examples, those passages that discuss or at least reference some other sort of union that could be called "marriage". Unfortunately, no such passages exist. The Bible is silent on "gay marriage" because it falls outside the biblical definition of marriage. Outside of Scripture, history concurs. No society has ever understood marriage under any other definition. The concept of "gay marriage" made no sense. It had no purpose. It just didn't exist. It wasn't "evil"; it was nonexistent. Scripture concurs.

Which brings us to the next question. I said that the concept of "gay marriage" as it is presented today didn't exist prior to this. I said it "had no purpose". What, then, is the purpose of marriage? And since I'm approaching the biblical version, the question is what the Bible says is the purpose of marriage. In general, marriage is intended to reflect the character of God -- to glorify God. Well, everything is supposed to do that, so what else? First, we can look back at Jesus's own statement. He quoted God in the book of Genesis and indicated that the reason was that "the two shall become one flesh". One key purpose of marriage is the union of a man and woman. Second, an overall purpose of marriage is procreation. It was one of the very few commands given to Adam and Eve -- "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen 1:28). It has been an ongoing purpose throughout Scripture where over and over family and childbearing has been the focus of marriages throughout biblical history. This is not to say that a marriage is defined by reproduction, or that all marriages must produce children. It was intended by God, however, that it would be one of the aims of marriage -- a purpose. Third, it was designed to be a mutual-support structure. When God said that it was not good that Adam should be alone, He designed a "helpmeet", Eve. They were to work together to "fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1:28). Marriage, then, was designed to be a team effort where male and female work in tandem both raising children and doing their work in a structure where one gender complements the other gender and one side helps fill in the gaps left by the other side. That is the three-fold biblical purpose of marriage.

There is one other key function, and it is vital that we touch on it. Paul, repeating God's definition in Genesis 2 and Jesus's agreement in Matthew 19, says more about it. "'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church" (Eph 5:31-32). This is a component of the purpose of marriage that is almost never discussed. According to Paul, the union of a man and a woman is a profound mystery. According to Paul, it is the image of the Bridegroom, Christ, and His Bride, the Church. There is a union here that exceeds human comprehension ("This mystery is profound") and, as Jesus points out, is not accomplished by human efforts, but by God. It images the relationship of Christ to the Church and is always and only referenced in terms of Bridegroom and Bride. Messing with God's images is a dangerous proposition. I recommend against it.

Changing the definition of marriage, then, would be hazardous in biblical terms. It would dismantle the biblical image -- the only biblical image -- of the union of a husband and a wife. Moving away from that biblical definition to "a man and a man" or "a woman and a woman" would negate the biblical purposes of union, of procreation, and of complementary cooperation. It would violate the God-ordained image of union that portrays the mystery of Christ and the Church. One other point in biblical terms. The Bible has lots of instructions for marriage and family. There are biblical examples of errors, biblical commands for doing it right, and so on. All references are always in terms of male and female, husband and wife, father and mother. Redefining marriage to include "male and male" or "female and female" would necessarily negate those commands. If there is no "husband" or "wife", how are we to interpret distinct commands to wives and to husbands? If marriage now is to include "father and father", how are we to interpret the distinct commands to fathers and to mothers? Thus, if marriage is redefined from the biblical version, it also requires the rewriting of gender roles as laid out in Scripture and their correlated instructions. This is no small deal. And suggesting otherwise requires a large effort to reduce, rewrite, or ignore God's Word. Unfortunately, that's not a problem for too many these days, even those who call themselves "Christians".

Friday, May 25, 2012

Naughty Word of the Day

Okay, here's the bad word of the day. If you are reading this post, be sure not to do so out loud. If you are at work, you might not want anyone else to see it. It is indeed an offensive and indecent word to even the most liberal among us. In fact, if you are offended by bad words, perhaps you should just stop reading now. Thanks for visiting. Hope to see you tomorrow.

Now, for anyone left reading, here it is: "patriarchy". That's the word, right there. Don't try it out in mixed company. It can get you in trouble. Don't even begin to suggest that the concept is biblical, that God ordained it, that it is the Christian thing to do. That might even get you banned from church. Never mind that every biblical structure for family is a patriarchal one. And don't think that just because Paul lays the cause of sin at Adam's feet will get you any mercy here. Just ... don't.

By no means appeal to Scripture on this topic. Telling people to look up 1 Cor 11:1-11 will just make you some enemies. Sure, most people like the Proverbs, but that verse that says "A capable wife is the crown of her husband, but one causing shame is like rottenness in his bones" (Prov 12:4) is way too sexist and has been deleted from most up-to-date, modern Bibles. (If your Bible still has it, you might try a black highlighter.) An appeal to Paul's call for wives to submit to their husbands "as to the Lord" (Eph 5:22-23) supported by Peter's command for wives to be subject even to their ungodly husbands (1 Peter 3:1) just won't bolster that idea at all. Sure, sure, it says it, but this is one of those places you must not take it as written. That was then; this is now.

Please, please be careful with trying to bring the Bible into any such discussions. Sure, God said, "Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for what his hands have dealt out shall be done to him. My people--infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them" (Isa 3:11-12). But we've evolved and now it's good to be oppressed by our children and ruled by our women. Any man with any intelligence knows that. And just because the Bible lists only "the husband of one wife" as opposed to "the wife of one husband" as a key qualification for church governance is no reason to assume that it's referring to males. And don't even try to point out that the Bible references God as "Father", never "Mother", or that Jesus is the "Bridegroom". That's just ... well ... sexist. And suggesting that putting the biblical yoke of leadership on the shoulders of the man is liberating for the woman is just not going to fly at all.

Look, there are lots of reasons to suggest that "patriarchy" is biblical, that God dreamt it up, that it is the right structure, and that those wishing to follow Christ ought to be in that structure. Lots of reasons. But I'm telling you, it's not going to fly, even among Christians. Especially among Christian women, but even a majority of men these days. We've all been trained. "Get in touch with your inner child." "You need to feel your feminine side." And we've bought it in direct opposition to God's Word. Okay, so maybe if you think that bearing the stigma of using the "p" word is better than contradicting God. Maybe that's your case. Good luck with that. Because while most of us guys will be keeping our heads low and avoiding both the assurance from everyone around us that patriarchy is wrong as well as hoping that God doesn't chastise us for agreeing, you'll be on your own ... just you and God. See how that works for you. Oh ... wait ...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The War of Words

I've written on multiple occasions about the war on words that we see of late. Key concepts like "marriage", "love", "fidelity", even "Christian" are under attack and the fight is on to dismantle these and so much more in order to make them into something else. That struggle is ongoing. But I'm not writing about that here. I'm writing about the war of words.

It appears to be the standard these days. It is most obvious in the media outlets, but is absolutely clear in the public as well. People are using words to wage war on their opponents and take ground. "Oh, my!" you (hopefully) say in mock surprise. Of course they are. It's how things have always been. The words they're using, however, are wrong. They are, therefore, lies. Yet they are presented as honest and offered as genuine. But, you see, whoever frames the debate wins the debate, and whoever controls the language wins the debate. And we sit idly by and watch this happen.

Take, for instance, the ongoing fight in Arizona. The controversial SB1070 law was passed and the federal government sued over it. Why? "It's an 'immigration law'. That's illegal! Only the federal government can pass immigration laws." Yes, we know that. But ... it's not an immigration law. It's an immigration law enforcement law. The law requires law enforcement to enforce existing federal immigration laws. And that is offensive to the federal government, to those in other states, and to (get this) illegal immigrants in Arizona. "These things ought not be!" They don't, however, tell us that federal immigration laws should not be enforced. They call it an "immigration law", suggest to all who will hear that it is a new standard controlling legal immigration, and reap the benefit of the moral outrage that a state would claim the right to legislate immigration. It's a lie.

Take, for instance, the recent vote in North Carolina. They passed a law that didn't change a thing. Not one thing. It didn't make something legal that was not before, nor did it legalize something that was not before. It didn't change a thing. What did it do? This law simply affirmed the longstanding, traditional definition of marriage as that of a union of a man and a woman. If you were to name this sort of a law, it would be a "defense of marriage" or "definition of marriage" kind of law. What it is not is a law "banning gay marriage*". But try as you might to find a news story about this law, I suspect you will be hard-pressed to find one that didn't portray it as an "anti-gay", "anti-gay marriage" assault on the homosexual community. It's a war of words, you see. If you portray it as simply affirming what marriage has always meant, you'll not get much traction in outraging a community, a state, a country. "North Carolina boldly voted today to affirm that marriage means what it has always meant." Yeah, that's exciting stuff, right? No, not at all. But if it's an assault, a mean-spirited attack on a community that (tears welling up) only wants to love each other (fighting back the open weeping) and is hated unnecessarily by these bigoted, rightwing rednecks (brush back the tears for the sympathy effect), well, then, now you have something to use. The fact that the law didn't mention the homosexual community or change a single point of North Carolina law is irrelevant. It's an attack, pure and simple. And that's a lie.

Since I was a kid watching cops and robbers on TV (you know, before my parents got rid of the TV), I've been impressed with the fact that those who are supposed to be the "good guys" are at a disadvantage to those who are not concerned about "good". The fleeing felon could drive his car up on the sidewalk and run over people or drive right through the young mother pushing the stroller or whatever, but the "good guys" had to avoid killing innocent people and would inevitably screech to a stop, losing the "bad guy", when the unsuspecting mother wheeled her baby out in front of them on the street. Well, it has ever been thus. If we are going to deal with this war of words, we're going to have to do it limited by ethical concerns. The primary assault here is coming in the form of a lie constructed of misleading rhetoric. We don't have that option. We can only counter with truth. We can't construct heart-rending, sympathetic lies to get people to agree with our side. We only have the truth. And, let's face it, the truth isn't nearly as heart-tugging or exciting as the lie. But I said earlier "It appears to be the standard these days." I was wrong. The suppression of truth in unrighteousness and ungodliness has been the case since the days of Adam and Eve. Conversely, the Truth has always been a living entity with power beyond the mere use of lies and emotions. The lies rely on the father of lies; the truth relies on the Truth. Perhaps the "good guys" aren't at a disadvantage at all. I'd do well to remember that when I get discouraged.
* Note their problematic logic. If "marriage" = "the union of a man and a woman", there cannot be "gay marriage" and, as such, it cannot be a law banning "gay marriage". In order for this law to be a ban on what they are saying it's a ban on, they must first redefine "marriage" ... which this law already defined. Thus, if we are going to be fair in our use of words, anytime a state passes a law that allows "gay marriage", it is passing an "anti-marriage law", forceably redefining the word. The word already has a meaning. It requires a change to include "same-sex marriages".

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Marriage Equity Train

"We love each other. We want to be committed to each other. We want to be a family."

That's it. That defines "marriage" to a growing number of people. Where does it go? Like a runaway train on a 6% downgrade, about anywhere it wants.

Look under "strange marriages" and you'll find a host of entries. One site lists a woman that married the Eiffel Tower, a man that married himself, a Swedish woman who has been married to the Berlin Wall for 30 years, a Japanese man who married a character from a Nintendo game, a man who married a pillow, a woman who married a snake, and a woman who married her ex-boyfriend. "Wait!" you say. "What's so strange about that one?" He was dead.

From Ripley's Believe It or Not you'll find a German man who married his cat and two greyhounds who got married complete with bridal dress and wedding cake.

At there is a list of marriages for which visas would not likely be granted. There is the church organist who married a fairground ride, a Hindu fellow that married a stray dog to make up for stoning two dogs, a Sudanese man who married a goat, and a cutting-edge British postal worker who married a sheep ... you know, because why shouldn't he engage in inter-species marriage?

Another site lists multiple people who married themselves, a woman who married a dolphin, and a Michigan telemarketer who married his silicon sex doll.

So what? Funny? I suppose. Sure. But what looks like "strange" and "humorous" becomes ominous if the current trend continues. The "current trend" is "Marriage equity means that anyone should be able to marry if they love each other" without any regard for what "marriage" means. ABC News did a story a couple of years ago about "the next generation after the gay and transgender communities". Who is that? The polyamorists. With the theft of "marriage" (obviously my phrase, not theirs) in six states (at the time of the story), they "say their cause should be next." Polygamy, polyamory, incest, where does it stop? If indeed "We love each other. We want to be committed to each other. We want to be a family" is the standard by which we will be operating, limiting that to two of any gender will be a bit difficult and narrow-minded, won't it? Finding a reasonable basis on which to say "Two people are okay, but more are not" or "It's alright if two people of the same gender want to marry, but a woman marrying a dolphin is crazy" gets a bit difficult. But, you go ahead with your plans. You go ahead and assure us it won't make any difference if we redefine marriage. You go ahead and speak in terms of "marriage equity". Since I've already taken my stand at the historical, traditional, even biblical starting point, it will be interesting -- sad, painful, destructive, sure, but interesting -- to see how bizarre this will get when the train's wheels jump the tracks on its way down this long descent.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Effective Christians

Bob had been a pastor for a small church in New York City for most of his adult life. It had been hard work, but it was his calling, his devotion to God, his life. Then the day came when God finally called him home. At the gates of heaven Peter greeted him warmly. "Welcome, Pastor Bob! We've been looking forward to your arrival. Here's a map to your new home. It's a nice ranch-style house over in a nice part of town. Here are the keys to your very own Volkswagen to get around. Enjoy heaven, Pastor Bob."

Well, Bob found his house to his liking. Very nice. He puttered about for awhile and then, one day, started looking up at "the Heights". You know those. It's where the really rich people lived. Or, in the case of heaven, where the really godly people lived. He figured Peter and Paul and all of them would be up there in the big houses. Wouldn't it be fun to see them? So he hopped in his VW and drove up to do a little sightseeing. Sure enough, that house had John's name on it and that one over there was Luke's. And then he drove by one that made him slam on the brakes. That name ... that name was familiar. Who ... oh, wait! Suddenly he realized that it was the name of a cab driver that he had known in New York. Well, he was certainly curious now.

Bob drove down the the Pearly Gates and stopped to talk to Peter. "So," he said, "I really like my home and it's all very nice, so I'm asking this only because I'm curious. I was up on the hill today and recognized a guy who was a cab driver. Now, I spent my life in service of God and he ... well, he was a cab driver. So, purely out of curiosity, how did he end up on the hill?"

Peter smiled and answered. "Well, we tend to operate a little differently here. You see, we don't necessarily base the rewards on if you were a full-time pastor, but on your effectiveness."

"Um ... okay," the pastor hesitated.

"Look, Bob, we're in heaven now so I'm sure you'll tell me the truth. You were a pastor. How effective were you?"

"Well, yeah, it's true that I didn't have a large effect."

"And when you preached, how did that go?"

"Well, yeah, you're right there, too. When I preached they often fell asleep."

"Yes, exactly! But that cab driver was different. When he drove his cab, not only did his fares stay awake; they prayed."

Monday, May 21, 2012

What Marriage Equity Campaign?

I want to know. We're all about "human rights" and justice and all that. I mean, tossing out the longstanding, traditional definition of marriage of the 97% in favor of the 3% is no big deal for us. It's right! It's equality! It's justice! So why is it that no one is standing up for the other little guys?

I know that there is still the National Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) out there although they're pretty quiet and don't appear to be making a stink. But why? Why should one small segment of society get to move the standard for themselves, but not for these? I read that a Clearwater, Florida man was accused of possession of child porn and sex with his girlfriend's dog. Why is the ACLU not moving heaven and earth on his behalf? One would think that, if the gay community can radically shift public opinion to bring about the dissolution of marriage as it has always been defined, they would be willing to help out a bit on behalf of the Mormons for polygamy or the polyamorists who only want to love everyone (or at least a number more than 2). But, no! No one is lifting a finger! We say we're all about the rights of the GLBTQI (and whatever other initial we can tack on), but are we? Where are the court cases for the bisexuals? What if they want to marry another guy and another girl? Why shouldn't they? Where's the call for their marriage equity? Who's making the case for those suffering from objectum sexuality? (In case, like me, you've never heard of it, I just found out that it's a condition where someone has a pronounced emotional and even romantic attraction toward inanimate objects.) There is a woman, for instance, who married the Berlin Wall because of this. Another married the Eiffel Tower after first being infatuated with a bow (as in "bow and arrow") in her earlier days and claims to have a piece of fence at home with which she has a physical relationship. Now, I ask you, who is looking out for her rights? Who is working to insure their marriage equity?

I don't know. It seems a little strange to me. "We deserve our rights, but we don't really much care about anyone else." That what it seems like. I mean, sure, those of us who wish to maintain marriage as it has always been may not be viewed as caring about others' rights, but this seems blatant to me. From our perspective, we are in favor of marriage equity. We can marry someone of the opposite sex; they can marry someone of the opposite sex. We cannot marry a sibling; they cannot marry a sibling. We aren't allowed to marry our pets; they aren't allowed to marry their pets. We cannot marry someone of the same gender; they cannot marry someone of the same gender. How is this not equal? But for those who, still, see it as inequality, I'll believe that when I see their campaigns on behalf of NAMBLA, those who wish to marry their animals, the polygamists and the polyamorists, and those dear, sweet folks suffering from objectum sexuality. When those who are shouting for "marriage equity" actually work toward marriage equity, I'll believe it. Until then, it looks to me a lot like special rights for an extreme minority, which is not "marriage equity" at all.

Update: Oddly, I've already been accused of comparing homosexuals to child abusers and animal molesters. Apparently, that's a valid response from those who disagree. In case it wasn't clear from what I wrote, there is no comparison. There is simply a list of people -- other groups -- who wish to be allowed to love whom they wish to love and marry whom they wish to marry without interference. These groups do not receive the same attention or support from the homosexual community that the homosexual community demands for itself. That's the point. There is no comparison of groups. The only link between these groups and the homosexual community is that each of them desires to be allowed to love and marry as they please.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sometimes I Weep

Sometimes it just makes me want to cry. Okay, sometimes it does make me cry.

I cry for those who, thinking they're being broad-minded, are so open-minded that their brains have leaked out. They're blinded by the god of this world, convinced that God is evil and evil is good, judgmental of all who they deem judgmental, and self-righteous about being self-righteous. They know that what they do is immoral, but redefine "moral" to encompass what they do and dare anyone to question them on it. They are quick to quote Scripture -- "Judge not, that you be not judged" -- while they ignore Scripture. They are quick to take up others' objections without having examined the objections themselves. And they argue themselves into direct conflict with the Creator. That's the really sad part. They shake their fists in the face of the One who can kill the soul. They work hard to do what they consider good while they are earning a healthy dose of death. But if I warn them, if I mention it, if I point it out, I'm a hater. If I try to tell them, "The bridge ahead on the road you're on is out," I'm a sure recipient of their animosity.

I cry for the innoculated, those who tell me, "Yeah, I tried that born-again thing; it didn't work." I cry for so many who are lying in a wet spot of spiritualism without ever being immersed in Christ and think they're fine. "I go to church; what more do you want?" "I believe in Jesus; leave me alone." The mere suggestion that a changed heart produces a changed life is anathema to them. "Pharisee! Legalist! Get thee behind me, Satan!" And they cannot hear the reality of their genuine need for Christ because they already have that, right? So they sit in that hot frying pan cooking away unwilling to heed your warnings that they are in danger because they already have all the Jesus they need, thank you very much, and perhaps a little too much if you ask them.

I cry for the well-meaning, misguided Christians who pound their proverbial (if not literal) chests and bemoan the eve-ills (because they don't quite call it "evil" ... there's a different sound to the word, it seems) of homosexuality (or whatever other pet peeve they may have). They are swift with their righteous indignation and eager to beat back the satanic tide. The notion, however, of actually loving those who are involved isn't there. The genuine concern for the well-being of those engaged in activities that engender God's wrath doesn't seem to exist. They are as venomous as the vipers that faced Christ with their self-righteousness -- and they stand there in the name of Christ -- but the command is "love God" and "love your neighbor", not "beat them into submission so that all the world will conform to your moral view." They are personally affronted that someone might sin while they fail to recognize their own certain sin, the log jutting painfully out of their eyes. (Maybe that's what makes them so angry?) I want to cry out, "Wake up! God is not in the business of making bad people into good people. The problem is that these are dead people and they desperately need to hear from a fellow sinner that there is hope and an answer to their dilemma!" But they won't hear it. "That's right! Those evil sinners need Jesus!" as they spit on the sidewalk and cross on the other side of the road.

Sometimes. Sometimes it makes me weep. Other times I'm too overwhelmed with my own shortcomings, my own failings, my own sin to worry about anyone else's. But in those times I can rejoice because I know a Savior who has paid the price. And in those moments I weep ... for joy.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

One More Item

I recently received this from someone I know. The question was put to him on a popular political satire show (which I won’t name) last week over North Carolina’s vote to clearly define marriage in its original form. Given the talk show host and his loud, self-professed hatred for religion in general and Christianity in particular, the intent was to ridicule the viewpoint. The result of my friend's appearance has been a deluge of hate mail ... and, apparently, not one single attempt to dismantle his argument. Since he said so clearly what I believe and answered (again) the question, "Why does it matter?", I asked him if I could use it. Here is the content:
Question: Dr. Smith*, based on your expertise in ethics and public policy, what is the harm in letting homosexuals get married? Isn’t this just a matter of equality?

Answer: Homosexuals can already marry the same as everyone else, and what the other side wants is to radically redefine marriage in a way that is different from what others have.

The other side is trying to frame this as a matter of equality, and if it truly is about equal treatment before the law, then they will and should win. But this amendment does not deny equality and rather concerns treating gays the same as everyone else by not redefining marriage in a way that is different from what others have now.

Equality is not relevant to this amendment unless marriage has already been radically redefined as merely a way to affirm private feelings. This amendment favors and upholds real equality by not changing what marriage means in a way that would make all existing marriage laws terribly unfair.

If marriage is radically redefined as being just a way of affirming private feelings of loving attraction, then equality will require allowing people who love dogs to marry dogs, and people who love ice-cream to marry ice-cream. It will require more than just allowing same-sex couples to marry merely because they have equally strong feelings of loving attraction.

Marriage is a procreationally structured social institution, and the public interest in having laws upholding marriage has nothing to do with affirming private feelings and everything to do with maintaining the one social institution on which social stability and intergenerational social survival most depend.

Unless or until marriage is radically redefined, gay relationships are not in the same relational category as the sort of relationships with which marriage laws are concerned. They are not relationally the same as marriage relationships. And that is why this amendment has nothing to do with equality.

The harm in legalizing same-sex marriage is that doing so will radically change marriage in a way that denies all fixed structure. It will deinstitutionalize marriage as a social institution. And that will harm everyone by threatening social stability and intergenerational social survival.
* "Dr. Smith" is an alias; the person is real. I gave him an alias because he already has enough venom being sent his way and I don't want to add to it. "Dr. Smith" is, in fact, an author and Senior Professor of Christian Ethics at a prestigious seminary and a Research Institute Fellow for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission from a leading Christian denomination.

Friday, May 18, 2012

"How Will That Affect YOU?"

It's the question du jour. "You want to defend marriage. You want to keep its traditional, longstanding definition. But why? How will it affect you if the definition changes? WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?"

I just looked back over my own blog history. On no less than 10 occasions* I've written about how changing marriage's definition would affect me. Some people like to think that the question has been asked, not answered, and that the silence is telling. I'm raising my hand here and saying, "I haven't been silent on the topic!"

And now I have three more components to add to what I've already said. How will redefining "marriage" from its traditional, longstanding definition of "the union of a man and a woman" to "some sort of vague, unsubstantial union of two people regardless of gender" make any difference to me? Here are some more effects.

Look around. It's happening abroad. It's happening here in America. People who hold to certain principles regarding the defense of marriage, the sanctity of marriage, and the morality of homosexual behavior are already facing consequences. A motivational speaker was fired not because he was talking about the topic, but because someone found out he held views about the topic and was, therefore, not allowed to speak. A photographer in New Mexico was sued and lost because she didn't want to provide the services of her private business to a homosexual "commitment ceremony". An Australian psychiatrist was removed from an Australian panel on diversity not because he had a diverse view, but because he had a view opposed to the concept of "gay marriage". (I can hear it now. "I'm sorry, Professor George. We cannot allow someone with a diverse view on this topic to serve on a panel about diversity. The only diversity we're interested in is the diversity that we favor. You'll have to go.") Just this week boxer Manny Pacquiao was banned from a Los Angeles mall because he expressed disagreement with President Obama's position on "gay marriage". It seems abundantly clear that the progression is this: 1) "Marriage has a traditional meaning and we need to keep it." 2) "Some people disagree that marriage has a traditional meaning, so we need to defend it." 3) "More people disagree that marriage has a traditional meaning, so we won't defend it anymore." 4) "Those who hold to the traditional meaning of marriage are certainly outdated and likely need to be outlawed." Extreme? I'd like to think so. The evidence suggests otherwise. As is quite clear from many sources, if you stand to defend the historic definition of marriage, you will face all the hate and venom of the "pro-tolerance" and "anti-hate" crowd, and it will get ugly.

A really big effect is illustrated in the reverse question: Why do those who classify themselves as homosexuals want to redefine marriage for their own relationships? You see, in many states (and it seems inevitable that eventually it would be in all states) they already have "civil unions" which already provide for them all the rights that marriage provides. If they already have official recognition, why the need to call it "marriage"? Clearly the aim is to continue to the next logical step -- the dismantling of marriage. No, that's not what they say. What they want is to "normalize" their relationship, to make it acceptable and moral. But that's just the start. I do say "the next logical step" and I've pointed out before that we've been in this process for some time. But if we can strip off "the union of a man and a woman" and replace it with "a vague, unsubstantial union of two people", it's another step away from "marriage" as it originally was intended. Now, of course, this is a big problem to me because I see in biblical marriage a huge connection between the earthly concept and the heavenly parallel. (That is, if marriage is the image of Christ's relationship to the Church, and "marriage" is a tenuous, merely emotional connection that can be dropped at any moment for any reason, what does that say about Christ's relationship to the Church?) But beyond this, if "marriage" can be shifted from its historic man-woman procreational structure to "whatever private feelings I might have", what other private feelings will the courts and legislatures need to affirm simply because some have them? "I love my dog; I should be allowed to marry my dog." "I love this guy and that girl; we should be allowed to be married." You disagree??! Be careful. You'll have to find some basis for it, and the principles of "separation of Church and State" and "marriage equity" being bandied about will remove that basis.

The third effect I'll add to my list is brought into the light in the redefinition of marriage. If marriage is no longer defined as the historic "union of a man and a woman for purposes of procreation and commitment", what will it be defined as? Indeed, will it have a definition? We're already moving away from "procreation" and even "commitment" and now "a man and a woman". Now it's becoming "some relationship between some people". By shifting the definition, we shift toward no definition. The suggestion is (and it's already on the table for many) that there is no real purpose for marriage at all. (Look at the statistics for divorce, for birth rates, for percentages of kids born to unmarried mothers, and so on.) We're not moving toward "marriage equity". We're moving toward "marriage antiquity", toward the end of marriage. It is being replaced with "whatever I want". And that cannot, ultimately, be a good thing.

Again, as I've said repeatedly, this is a major question with major ramifications. It is not about the morality of homosexual sex. That question is down the road from this one. It's about marriage, its definition, and, ultimately, its end. If we actually want "marriage equity", we need to retain the longstanding, traditional definition and then give that same opportunity to anyone that wants it. Taking away that definition and then giving the resulting empty box to anyone that wants it is not "marriage equity". It may be "equity", but it's is the equality of nothingness. That's pointless ... at best.
* A list of the entries on the effects of changing the definition of marriage:
What's the Difference? - May, 2008
A Failure to Communicate - June, 2008
Counting the Cost - July, 2008
Expensive Change - July, 2008
Amending Marriage - October, 2008
Amending Marriage II - November, 2008
Marriage and Me - January, 2010
What Difference Does It Make? - June, 2011
One More Thing - July, 2011
The Cost of Compromise - April, 2012

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Ronco Erasable Bible

I have this joke I like to throw out there from time to time. I say that my favorite version of the Bible is the Ronco Erasable Bible. It is printed with erasable ink. That way, if I find something that I don't like in the Bible, I can erase it. Then I can write in whatever I want and God has to do it because it's in the Bible.

Unfortunately, I suspect that very, very few people get the point of the joke. I'm trying to illustrate in humor what so many of us actually do. You see, it is part of our sinful nature to delete from God and His Word that which we don't like and add to God and His Word that which we do. Yes, even for us believers. Let's see if I can give some examples that might strike home to you.

We like a God who is nice, who does pleasant things, who doesn't do "mean things" (you know, by our own definition). To suggest to most Christians that God might do unpleasant things is, to most Christians, to engage in some serious heresy. "God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem" (Judges 9:23). God doesn't do that kind of unpleasant thing. "Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the LORD tormented him" (1 Sam 16:14). God only does nice things. The reason that there is evil in the world is that Satan does bad things and sinners do bad things, but none of that is God's idea. "Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets" (1 Kings 22:23). What is that buzzing in the background? You see, we're very likely to glance right over these kinds of passages. We read, when Joseph's brothers came to him and asked for forgiveness, "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen 50:20) and miss entirely "God meant" -- intentionality on the part of God that evil was going to be used by God for good. Look, consider this. In 2 Samuel we read, "The anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and He incited David against them, saying, 'Go, number Israel and Judah'" (2 Sam 24:1). Who? God incited David. But wait! In the parallel passage we read, "Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel" (1 Chron 21:1). What? This time it's Satan. So ... which is it? An unbeliever would tell us that we're looking at a biblical error, a clear contradiction. Those of us who are quite sure that God has nothing to do with evil, that evil happens apart from God and His plans, would have to agree (although I'm quite sure they wouldn't). But if our popular "God doesn't do unpleasant things" position is released and we admit that God does do unpleasant things --even ordaining evil -- for His good purposes, the problem vanishes. To those who believe that God both creates light and calamity (Isa 45:7), there's no problem. The answer to "Was it God or Satan?" is "Yes!" As in the case of Job, God ordained it and Satan carried it out. No problem! It would seem to me, then, that in order to maintain the view that God only does pleasant things and the bad things are outside of God's venue would require that you erase a bunch of stuff from Scripture and write in stuff that isn't there and God has to do it because it's in the Bible. Or you could just take God at His word and change your thinking.

I saw this just the other day on a sign of a big church in my area: "God accepts those who accept His Son." We all know that, right? We're all clear on that. We're good. Did you know, however, that no such language exists in Scripture? Did you know that nowhere does the Bible speak of what we so commonly refer to as "accepting Christ as your Savior"? While you could google the term and find a host of places that explain how you, too, can accept Christ as your Savior, one of the things you will not find is a biblical reference. Here's what you might find. You might find Paul's phrase, in answer to the jailer's "What must I do to be saved?", "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). You can even find a reference to receiving Christ (John 1:12). Nowhere, however, will you find "Accept Christ". So? Well, I think there are some serious flaws in the "Accept Christ" concept. For instance, the phrase sounds condescending. "I am the master of my life and, as such, I will accept Christ as part of my life. He'll have to keep His place, of course, but He can have a place. I accept Him on my terms." Not a correct approach. Beyond that, it's passive. "I've opened the door and He comes in; end of story." "Believe", for instance, requires effort, involvement, commitment, continuous presence. "Accept" doesn't. "Accept" is an impulse, a one-time thing, a "take it or leave it". Indeed, the Bible commands belief, but "accept" doesn't smell anything like obedience. "Accept" is convenient. The Cross is not. "Accept Christ" lets you stay where you are while "believe and receive" urges you to move to a new place. So will we erase the biblical concept of "believe and receive" and write in a new concept of "accept", or will we change our thinking to a more active, ongoing, biblical idea?

We are quite sure, along the same lines, that the simple path to salvation is "believe and receive" and anything else is, well, heresy. If you add to that, you're adding to the Gospel. It's Paul's "another gospel," "not that there is another one" (Gal 1:7). That is something we're all agreed on, right? Well, maybe that's something we should question. You see, James says, "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). How many people do you know who have said the Sinner's Prayer, who have professed faith in Christ, who have claimed to be a Christian and yet have no apparent change of heart? "Oh, well, we're not supposed to judge people, so we should just take them at their word." Okay, perhaps ... except that's not what Scripture says. Jesus said, "You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt 7:16). And John sounds an ominous warning: "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9). Really? Because we all know Christians who abide in sin. We all know Christians who keep on sinning and do so with vigor. They defend their sin. They indulge it and tell you that you're in no position to tell them otherwise. "Yes, yes, we know that the Bible forbids sex outside marriage, but we love each other and besides, if we didn't live together, we'd be losing money. Just don't be so judgmental." Just one example. Now, you can say, "Oh, it's no problem. I just assume they are sinners like me, maybe a carnal Christian, but they're still saved." But I have to ask, "What about John's warning?" Look, either John's right and those who are genuinely born of God need to repent of their sin when it happens -- are genuinely upset by it and work to change it -- or they do not. If they do not, either John was wrong or -- this is important -- they are not born of God. So, do we erase words like Christ's, James', and John's, or do we keep them and change our thinking to coincide?

Just a very, very brief list of things that most of us won't think about. Just a few. We can believe God is just a nice God, but to do so we need that Erasable Bible. We can argue that we are saved by accepting Christ, but if we're not careful we're going to, again, need Ronco's version of the Bible. We can hold that those who are born of God may have no internal changes at all and may bear no fruit at all, but if we do, we do it by changing the Word of God. And that is a dangerous thing to do. And that is the point of my joke. I highly recommend that we align our thinking to God's Word rather than aligning God's Word to our thinking.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Living in the Moment

I've mentioned before that we have this natural tendency to think that all things have been as they are today. Oh, not all things, perhaps. We know of improvements. We wisely eliminated laws that prevented interracial marriage. That sort of thing. But, for the most part, the way people are today is the way they have always been. You can see this in movies. A war movie made during the 40's does not have the same sense as a war movie made during the 60's and 70's. The former offers stirring patriotism and unswerving respect for the fighting man. The latter offers cynical disgust for the fighter and expects constant evil from anyone involved. Movies made in the earlier decades of the art reflected good and evil and honored good and despised evil while movies made today blur good and evil and make you wonder if there is such a thing. A western made in the decade of the 50's with its attendant 50's morality won't reflect the same kind of cowboy that a western made in the 90's. Interestingly, if you take a movie like Eastwood's 1992 western, Unforgiven, the characters have adopted the same moral codes of the 1990's along with their use of modern obscenity. The viewpoint is clearly, "If this is the way we are, this is the way we have always been."

This is a shortsighted perspective. Even without subscribing to Darwin's "Evolution", societies evolve, cultures shift, and ethics change. Suggesting that it has ever been thus would simply be foolish. And surely, when the whole question is asked, "Are you saying that it has ever been thus?", we would give it a thought and realize that we know better. So what should we do?

We live in a media-driven world. Our political views are largely sound bites. Our news is mostly comprised of paragraph-long stories in rapid fire delivery. We are not allowed a long view or the opportunity to examine all the data and come to a well-thought-out conclusion. We live in the now. We live in the moment. We need to reconsider.

Our current mode of living is primarily the snapshot rather than the video. We see scenes of life and draw conclusions from them rather than watching the entire video and getting the flavor and panorama of the situation. We operate largely on the instant rather than the long term. We want sound bite rather than context.

This doesn't work very well. It doesn't offer a view of reality, but rather the carefully scripted vision of the horse with blinders. We're told where to look and what to see and naturally draw conclusions based on that narrow vision. It might be politics. It happens both on the liberal and the conservative sides, both from the Democrats and the Republicans, both from the New York Times and Fox News. They're all telling us, "Look here!" without allowing us a view of all sides. But it's not merely politics. Oh, it is surely politics, but not merely politics. It is in economics and religion, science and medicine, psychology and morality. We all are being told "Look here and don't look there." We're all fed snapshots without seeing the videos. We're all eating up the sound bites while starving from the nutrition of the full story. We're all under the impression that "What is now has always been", not because it's true or even vaguely true, but because we don't think about it. That, in fact, is the problem, isn't it? We don't think about it. We're just "living in the moment". That's touted as a good thing. I'm not so sure it is.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Outlawing Gays

It seems to be a common conception that people like me who believe that the Bible clearly teaches that homosexual behavior is a sin would necessarily wish to outlaw homosexual behavior. I'm not sure why that is. I've never suggested it. Never even thought it. But I did need to ask myself "Why? If you believe it's a sin, why would you not outlaw it?" I thought I'd share the process with you.

There are things in Scripture that are sins and there are things in Scripture that are crimes. Most crimes are sins, but not all sins are crimes. God clearly tells Israel that two people caught in adultery were to be stoned, but nowhere does God say what the penalty is for coveting. No one can doubt that coveting is a sin; it's in the list of the top ten. So while it appears to quite clearly be a sin, it is not, apparently, a crime.

Now, keeping in mind that Israel was a theocracy which made her a standout among nations and no nation today is a theocracy or will be, what about the same rules today? I think the question is one of authority. In a nation whose laws are legislated by God, the Creator has the right to make whatever laws He wishes and consider whatever sins He chooses as crimes. We don't have a nation legislated by God. We have a nation legislated by Man. The authority of God is much higher than the authority of Man. Thus, Man is limited in that which he can classify as crimes and completely disallowed from classifying anything as "sin" purely on his own. We can go with what God has classified thus, but we don't get to make up new ones.

What, then, is the authority and function of human government? The government's job is to take care of people. It performs duties in foreign relations for instance because that's between people. It provides for the common defense of people. It regulates businesses, civil laws, and public services because that's between people. Thus, the government gets to make laws that pertain to the smooth functioning of a nation and its people. John W. Gardner wrote, "All laws are an attempt to domesticate the natural ferocity of the species." That's about right. The function, then, of civil laws (those laws legislated by human government) is to protect people from people.

There is, then, a distinction between sin and crime. Indeed, it is entirely possible to be a criminal without having committed a sin. In some places, for instance, speaking the Gospel is against the law. Failing to preach the Gospel, on the other hand, is a sin. Thus, if you do not sin and preach the Gospel, you would be a criminal. Every law is a product of a value system and, as such, every law is a legislation of morality. However, not every issue of morality is a matter of civil law. The State only has the authority to enforce laws between people, not laws that transgress God.

Thus, I believe that homosexual behavior is a sin. I believe that it's bad for the people that engage in it and that it is a direct violation of God's commands. However, it is not a violation against people and, as such, it would not be something I'd favor passing laws against. I'd favor laws protecting marriage because that is a violation against people. I'd favor laws removing special privilege for the homosexual community because that is a violation against people. But outlawing them? I wouldn't go there. I don't think the government has the authority to go there. It is a violation against God. He will be the judge.

(Note: Please notice that I did not tag this entry as being about homosexuals. Frankly, it isn't. I'm not discussing the morality of homosexuality here, but using it as an example of something that is sin but perhaps not a crime. If you'd like to debate the premise -- "Homosexuality is a sin against God" -- you'll have to do it elsewhere. That is not the topic here.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Verbal Evolution

Words, they are a'changin'.

I remember a time when "gay" meant "happy". Or maybe it was a girl's name. But it wasn't a reference to someone's sexual activities. Words, they are a'changin'.

Regardless of the language that expressed it, for as long as time has gone on, "marriage" meant "the union of a man and a woman for the purpose of propogation and cooperation." In every culture it was the same. Some cultures had a man who married a woman and then the man would marry another woman and so on, but it was always a man and a woman. (That is, these women in this situation were not related or married.) It did not refer to "a relationship between people for the period for which it lasts". (Seriously, I actually found that definition out there.) Words, they are a'changin'.

We all know what love is. At least, you'd think so. Unfortunately, these days it depends on your generation. The older generation understood that "making love" was performing the kindnesses to the opposite sex that provoked warm feelings toward you. "Love" has had many faces. It has been something we choose to do, pursuing the best interests of another, that produces warm feelings for that other. It has been the commitment to pursue those best interests. At some point it became the relationship that formed the only correct basis for that other term, "marriage", which has also shifted. So when we say, "Love and marriage go together", the terms are likely ambiguous. Nowadays it often is used to refer to food we like or, most often, to engaging in sexual relations apart from any requirement for feelings or commitments. Words, they are a'changin'.

How about this new concept that is making the rounds? It is quite a change that is in progress. At one point (not too long ago), "monogamy" meant "one spouse". It was a term used in contrast with "bigamy", two spouses, or "polygamy", multiple spouses. It's most common usage today, however, is no longer a reference to spouses, but to sexual partners. A "monogamous couple" indicates that these two people are having sexual relations with no one else except each other. Turns out, however, that the homosexual community has its own use of the term "monogamy". When they use it they mean "sex with one at a time" where "at a time" means "right now". And the latest heterosexual concept being bantied about (in terms of "monogamy") is "serial monogamy". In this one you have sexual relations with one at a time, but that time is not expected or even wanted to be an extended period of time. "For as long as we both shall ... feel like it." That's it. No love. No commitment. No real effort, in fact. The epitome of the "if it feels good, do it" morality. The complete absence of anything real in the arena of marriage or love.

Words, they are a'changin'.

But here's the thing. As these words change as words are prone to do, how do we express what they used to mean? If I want to speak of the lifelong union of a man and a woman for purposes of propogation and cooperation, what word can I use to express it? If I wish to speak of that effort and commitment that seeks the best for another person, what word can I use to get it across? "Marriage" has been usurped. "Love" means too many things. "Monogamy" is a shifting target that can easily mean "as many sexual partners as you wish." How do I express what these (and other) terms mean when the words have changed?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Biblical Worship

The primary word is shachah: To prostrate. In Exodus, Israel was commanded not to approach the mountain, but to "worship from afar" (Exo 24:1). (Thus it isn't a matter of proximity.) Oddly, one section describes them as rising up and worshiping at their tent doors (Exo 33:10). It's odd because they rose up and prostrated themselves. Getting past the odd image, what we can see is that this kind of worship is clearly intentional. They didn't simply fall where they were. They went to a particular location and worshiped.

There is a repeated theme in the Old Testament to avoid worshiping other gods. Often they are told not to "serve and worship them" (Deu 8:19; 30:17; 1 Kings 9:6). That "worship" is shachah, and the "serve" there is another common Hebrew word for worship, abad. It means (as indicated) to serve. Thus, serving God is worship.

The New Testament Greek has a couple of terms as well. Very common is proskuneo. It means, literally, to "kiss toward". The image is that of a dog licking its master's hand. It is a fawning. The idea here is basically the same as the Hebrew shachah, with the additional sense of affection. When Jesus quotes the Old Testament warning to Satan -- "You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve" (Matt 4:10) -- the word there is proskuneo.

If you've ever read Rom 12:1 in various translations, you will find something a little strange. The ESV speaks of "spiritual worship". The King James says it is "reasonable service". The NAS calls it "service of worship". And so it goes. So ... what is it? Well the word is latreia (or some derivative) and is a reference to service. Thus, the Greek latreia would be the equivalent of the Hebrew abad. This word is used quite often for "worship". In both cases, serving God is classified as worship.

The Greek actually has a couple more versions of the concept. In Colossians 2:18, for instance, the word threskeia is used. It refers to ceremonial observance. Another, sebasma, refers to adoration (e.g., Matt 15:9; 2 Thess 2:4).

In summary, then, both Old and New Testament imagine that worship is first and foremost a position of humility, of prostration. Both also include service to God in the concept of worship. Other components would include adoration and even ceremony. These are all tied up in the biblical concept of worship.

We, of course, know much better today. We understand that worship is singing some rousing songs to feel warmly about our God. Perhaps the Catholics do some kneeling, but most of us aren't going to be found on our knees, let alone on our faces. We are perfectly willing to go to church, but actually serving is an option most often reserved for the special few. Oh, and, of course we like that "adoration" thing. What do you think we're trying to accomplish with our singing?

Sadly, I think we've come a long way from biblical worship. Prostration, submission, service, these things are not typically in our minds when we think of worship. Perhaps they ought to be. The story is told of a boy who was misbehaving in class and was sent to sit in the corner for punishment. He told the teacher, "I'm sitting on the outside, but I'm standing on the inside." We're not likely to be going to a church that encourages prostration or serious submission. Service is always optional. It shouldn't be. But as genuine followers of Christ, perhaps we ought to be the reverse of that boy. "I may be sitting or standing on the outside, but inside I'm prostrated before my Lord and Savior." At least it's a start.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Marriage and Cohabitation

They said it, not me. It wasn't CBN or Focus on the Family or some other "unreliable" "right wing" "nutjob". This story comes from Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia about a study by Rutgers and the University of Virginia called The National Marriage Project.

According to the study, about two thirds of those in their 20's believe that living together before marriage is a good way to avoid divorce. Many believe that you need to live together before marriage to see if you'll get along with each other. Turns out ... it isn't true. In 1960 some 450,000 couples lived together without the benefit of marriage. Today it's over 7.5 million. And, as it turns out, there is something researchers call "the cohabitation effect". Cohabiting couples who marry tend to be less satisfied in their marriages and more prone to divorce. It seems, then, that the efforts of the past 50 years to decrease the divorce rate have caused an increase in divorce rates.

The problem, of course, is multifaceted. There is the difference between men and women. Typically women tend to engage in sex as a step toward marriage and men see it more like a test. Women see it as a step toward commitment and men see it as a good reason to postpone commitment. Then there is the whole commitment problem. As cohabitors, there is no real commitment. The follow-on commitment that marriage brings erases that and this is a whole new ballgame. When we date, we are on our best behavior because we know we need to impress, but when we marry, that changes, doesn't it? Normal behavior. Not good, but normal.

Interesting tidbit from a recent report from the CDC.
Foreign-born Hispanic women had a higher probability of marrying for the first time by age 25 than U.S.-born Hispanic women. Similarly, foreign-born Hispanic women and men had higher probabilities of their first marriage lasting up to 20 years duration compared with U.S.-born Hispanic women and men.
Is it possible that American values (rather than race, for instance) are what is driving marriage rates lower and divorce rates higher? I'm just asking.

From a recent Pew Research report on The Decline of Marriage and the Rise of New Families, in 1969 68% believed that premarital sex was wrong. In 2009, 60% believed it was not wrong and 32% believed it was. "Family" is now defined as just about anything at all. Obviously a married couple with children were defined by 99% as "family", but 43% defined an unmarried couple without children as "family" as well. It would appear that "family" is defined as "more than one person together". A staggering statistic was the share of births to unmarried women by race and ethnicity. Overall, 41% of children born in America are born to unmarried mothers. For whites, it is 29%. For hispanics it is 53%. For blacks it is a phenomenal 72%. Another trendline is the comparison of married to unmarried living together. In 1960, 72% of respondents had been married while 15% never had. In 2008, only 52% of respondents had been married while 27% never had.

I've complained for years about changing terminology. Really it's a change in values. Our values are not getting more solid. They're declining. But as Dr. Meg Jay points out, it isn't a good thing. It isn't improving marriage. It's erasing it. It appears that God's idea was a better one. "Did God say ...?" Yes, yes He did. We're just not listening.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Lesser of Two Evils

I have been assured that I must, in all good conscience, vote for Mitt Romney for president in November. Why? Well, if I don't, it's essentially a vote for Obama who is very bad for the nation. The standard term being bantied about is "lesser of two evils" or some such. And people are outraged that anyone who is not in favor of reelecting President Obama might consider not voting for Romney. Silly considerations like "But ... what about my principles?" and the like are out the window. "Get on board the train. We need to remove Obama from office, even if it means putting in a flip-flop like Romney."

Excuse me! (Hand raised.) I have a question. Excuse me? No, no, I'm not asking to be excused to go to the restroom. I have a question about this issue.

What bridge is "too far"? What line cannot be crossed? Given that Candidate A is "bad for the country" and admitting that Candidate B is also "bad for the country" but "just not as bad", is that the standard by which we choose? Or are there principles in play? If Candidate A is pro-abortion and Candidate B is not pro-life, is that an issue? If Candidate A favors socialism and Candidate B does not ... as much ... is that an issue? What principles determine the point at which both candidates are disqualified in your mind? Or is the only possible underlying principle from which to choose "the lesser of two evils"?

At some point I run into a problem. I have certain principles, certain values, certain important points on which I have to stand. Now, I can choose to violate those principles, compromise those values, or surrender my stand on those points, but is that wise? I've been told, "It's politics; it's not about you." Really? So principles, values, and important issues don't matter as long as it's politics? The truth is that I am facing the very real probability that "evil", "greater" or "lesser", will be my next president. Is it in my best interest or in the best interest of my God to compromise values and principles in order to make that evil "lesser" rather than "greater"? At some point the price of compromise is too high. At some point, approving a "lesser evil" will be greater evil for me. At what point does that occur?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Chief Flip-Flopper

Apparently this "evolution" of the president's thinking is a very odd one. Normally "evolution" leaves one thing as it progresses to another. As it turns out, the president "evolves" by leaving one thing and then coming back to it. In 1996 he told a homosexual newspaper in Chicago "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages." In 2004 he was "undecided". In 2008 he affirmed "I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian — for me — for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union." And now ... oh, look! ... he has "evolved" into the position that he started with.

Who's the flip-flopper now?

On a related note, as Dan has pointed out, "marriage equity" is coming. We'll redefine "marriage" to mean something it has never meant and nothing with much substance and give it back to everyone, an equal gift of mostly useless verbiage. When the "leader of the free world" affirms that marriage must no longer mean what it has always meant, we're not on a road to equality of marriage. We're on a road to equality of no longer meaning much of anything. But don't worry. It's not the gays who have caused this. We've done this over time ourselves. They're just finishing what we started. Welcome to the new "family". And rest assured it's not just "marriage" whose definition will be washed out. Expect "Christian" to do the same. Oh, too late ... never mind.

Another Hole in the Dam

Well, unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard by now. While North Carolina voted overwhelmingly to retain the historical definition of marriage, the President Obama has voiced his support for something commonly referred to as "gay marriage". I heard some of the interview. It turned my stomach.

The president, speaking to Robin Roberts from ABC News, admitted that a large segment of America values marriage for its traditional definition and the traditional values that holds. He understood that it was for personal and religious and cultural and historical reasons that they do this. His conclusion? "Who cares?" No, he didn't say that. But his disregard for it, knowing it was there, speaks volumes. Yes, those who classify themselves as homosexual make up some thin 2.5%, but the necessary thing here in order to be "equitable" is to redefine a term that has always meant the same basic thing in all cultures, religions, and times throughout history to something new on behalf of this tiny slice of America. To me, it's a strange sense of "equitable". I suppose it's just as "equitable" as "steal from those who have earned a lot of money to give to those without" ... or not.

The other jab in the stomach was what the president used as his primary motivation for this change of heart.
In the end the values that I care most deeply about and [Michelle] cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it's also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated*.
Really? The primary motivation for this is his Christian views?

To married Americans, I apologize on behalf of the president that our people elected. Your marriage, if he has his way, will shift its meaning from the God-defined union of two people to "a close association of two people". I'm sorry. If you thought you were getting a marriage, you may need to find a state that has retained that original definition. Don't make it California. They did; the courts changed the will of the people.

To the world, I apologize on behalf of genuine Christians everywhere. This notion of endorsing things that are violations of God's stated position is not real Christianity. Please, please, don't get confused. Just because someone says they're "practicing Christians" doesn't mean they are.

And I apologize as well to my heavenly Father. Once again someone has invoked You as a reason for violating Your will. I do rest in the fact that You remain Sovereign, that none of this is a surprise to You, and you will not remain silent. Of course, that's a little chilling to think about from a human perspective.
* For the record, I know there are some who would like to be treated as far superior to anyone else, being allowed to take whatever they want for their own satisfaction. I'm not one. I don't want to steal from others in order to make myself feel better. I don't consider that "equitable". That "Golden Rule" won't apply here.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Wording is Essential

I know, I know, I don't do two posts a day, but this is important.

You will hear this over and over today (and beyond): "North Carolina voters approve same-sex marriage ban". Please note that it is a lie. The vote was to define marriage as it has always been defined. The phrase, "same-sex marriage", is a modification to the definition. There is no ban. There is definition. Nor is this a new definition. There is affirmation of the existing definition. It does not ban "same-sex marriage" since the definition of "marriage" requires "different genders". It does not ban "same-sex marriage" any more than a similar measure would ban squares from being circles. Don't buy the lie. On the other hand, recognize that the use of this lie tells you the premise and prejudice of those using it. Be aware of that fact. Remember, he who frames the debate wins the debate.

Sure, but what KIND of Christian are you?

I remember a Far Side strip where scientists are looking at a group of people in an enclosure. "Yes, gentlemen, they're fools," one says, "but the question remains what kind of fools are they?" Funny.

John Shuck is a pastor in good standing in the Presbyterian Church USA denomination. He believes that Jesus may have lived, but most of what we know about him (lowercase "h" on purpose) is legend, not reality. That's primarily because Shuck believes that God is merely a symbol, not a reality. He believes that there is no personal, supernatural being. All religion, in his view, is a human construct aimed at finding meaning. He believes there is no life after death. You're born, you live, you die, end of story.

What's interesting, though, is that Pastor Shuck uses the very same language that Christians do. (I know that it upsets some that I suggest without reservation or question that the pastor is not a Christian. He may be a lot of things, but, no matter what you believe, rejecting the basic teachings of Christianity defines you as "not a Christian".) I offer this, then, as evidence of the problem of language. I offer this to demonstrate that words do have meaning and that communication fails when we reject that principle ... as our world is tending to do more and more.

In his Statement of Faith, the one he had to give the congregation he was going to serve in order to be put in place there, Shuck uses all the right words in describing Christ (who, remember, to him is an historical but basically mythical figure who has died and lives no more). He describes Christ as Comforter and "the Risen Christ", Encouragement, "my Forgiveness", Savior, Truth, and Hope (among other descriptives). Now, that's all good, isn't it? Yes, yes it is. But wait ... if Pastor Shuck actually denies that Christ was resurrected (and he does), then what did he mean by "the Risen Christ"? And if he didn't mean what it appears to mean there, is he using these terms different than we are? And, as it turns out, these are valid questions. As it turns out, he is using all the same terminology with none of the same meaning.

The "Risen Christ" concept, to him, is that Mr. Shuck can be a good person like Christ was and can, then, be a form of a "resurrected Jesus". As "Comforter" this idea makes the pastor feel better. As "Encouragement", Jesus's concern for the poor gives the pastor encouragement to press on for social justice. As "my Forgiveness", he can experience forgiveness as he forgives others and he can go on with his life. As "Savior", John is rescued from "all forces that would deny 'my dignity', saved from 'myself', saved from 'distractions and false ideals'." Saved from wrath? No, not at all. As "Truth", "You encourage me to seek and to learn. You spur me never to be satisfied with what I know." That is, Christ is "truth" in a generic principle sense. Look for it. Never think you have it. As "Hope", Jesus invites him to "work for a world in which all are housed, clothed, fed, educated", a world of "non-violence", a world where "humanity has forgotten how to fight".

These terms are radically different than the standard biblical, Christian usage. They ignore a literally "Risen Christ" (which, according to Paul, nullifies Christianity entirely -- 1 Cor 15:14). In fact, Christ did not die for the sins of humanity. They deny the presence of the genuine Comforter (where this capital "C" has meaning). The encouragement to follow Christ isn't there. The forgiveness of sin isn't there. The salvation from God's wrath to God's family isn't there. The hope of eternity in the presence of God isn't there. None of the basic beliefs of Christianity are there, even though the basic terms are used.

To those of you who say, "Yeah, well, I can see that he's not orthodox" or even "I can see that he's wrong", and then go on to say, "but what difference does it make to me? Why should we be concerned about it?", I have something to say. You see, it's much like the question, "So what if they change the definition of marriage? How will that affect your marriage?" It's an important question. Does it matter if radical breaks from the truth go unannounced and unanswered? Or should we just say, "Yeah, there are a lot of people on the Internet that are wrong. I can live with that."?

As it turns out, this pastor is not benign. He believes that it is his duty to draw others away from orthodoxy ... what he calls "superstition". He isn't remaining in the pulpit because he's stubborn. He's remaining there to fight Christianity. And that's not my conclusion; it's his stated belief. He told a commenter on his blog, "I am a PCUSA minister in good standing with my denomination. I feel I represent an important part of the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition. I rip off nothing. I am at home even as I challenge the denomination to reform its theology and commitments." By definition this is one of those "who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matt 7:15). While he intentionally distances himself from Christian doctrine, he classifies himself as one of those who "went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19). The former is listed as a "false prophet" and the latter as an "antichrist".

My point is not John Shuck. The Church is littered with wolves and false prophets. We were actually told that would be the case. Getting up in arms over this guy won't serve a good purpose. Being aware will. Answering the heresies will. We are told to always be ready to give an answer to those who ask about your hope. And when true believers are asked "What do you believe?", you're going to have to give account for the fact that a "minister in good standing" believes everything contrary to your orthodoxy. It matters.