Archive for March, 2012

Thanks for Clearing That Up

March 10, 2012

Yet another celebrity argument on the issue of homosexuality.

This time, Rosie O’Donnell is calling Kirk Cameron “un-Christ like”.  
This is hardly newsworthy in itself, but a couple of things struck me as interesting.  First, I viewed the embedded video of a snippet of the original Kirk Cameron interview that O’Donnell is taking issue with.  I think it’s interesting that when asked whether he thinks homosexuality is a sin, Cameron doesn’t give a clear answer.  The interviewer is asking him a theological question, and Cameron wants to answer in a non-theological way, or at least in a less theological way than the question frames it.
I’ll admit – I haven’t watched the full interview because these sorts of things invariably make my spleen explode.  Why did the interviewer ask that particular question?  Was he being intentional with his verbiage?  Was he attempting to ask a theological question specifically or try to draw Cameron down another path?  I don’t know.  Nor do I have the energy to care this morning.
The more straightforward Biblical answer to the question, which would be appropriate for Kirk to give since he is a Christian, is “Yes, the Bible teaches that homosexual practices are sinful.”  This answer is very specific and to the point.
“Yes” – you asked me if I believe that homosexuality is sinful, and I do.
“The Bible teaches” – I am not simply stating my unqualified opinion on the subject.  I am not an authority on the subject beyond what Scripture tells me.  Left to my own devices, I would undoubtedly side with the more sympathetic argument that says let people do what makes them happy.  As a sinful human being, I want to favor this argument in regard to my own life.  But I don’t have that luxury.  If I believe that the Bible is the Word of God, I need to try and honestly accept it and apply it to my thinking, doing, and believing.  As such, my thoughts on the issue of homosexuality are formed and normed by the Word of God, not by my preferences or opinions.
“Homosexual practices” – the Bible forbids the homosexual practice.  This would mean not just the physical acts, but the internal thought processes that either lead up to them or substitute for them.  Verses in Leviticus and Romans deal with the actions themselves, and Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5 deals with the internal sinfulness.  Homosexuality as the non-interest in members of the opposite gender and interest in the members of one’s own gender is neither sinful or non-sinful.  What matters is how this situation is dealt with.  I believe that it is possible for someone to have homosexual inclinations but who chooses to abstain from thoughts and actions which indulge or inappropriately foster that state of mind.  Just as it is equally necessary for a heterosexual person who is not married to have a firm grip on the thoughts and actions that lead their sexual practices.
This seems esoteric, but I think it’s an important distinction.  The fact that a man may not be attracted to women is not in and of itself sinful.  What is sinful is if, recognizing or suspecting this, the man then decides to foster thoughts and even actions based on a Biblically forbidden sexuality.  There are plenty of people who would say there is no actual distinction here, but that’s the mistake of a society that is hyper-sexualized and views everything in terms of sexual expression.  These are the same people who find it ludicrous to think that we should attempt to teach our children of any sexual orientation that sexuality is something that needs to be tempered within the bounds of a lifelong monogamous relationship.  Sexuality is something that needs to be expressed based on emotion, not on calculated self-control, our culture teaches.  Regardless of sexual preferences, this is dangerous and sinful.

“Sinful” – I’m assuming that Cameron’s chosen response is an attempt to avoid making the issue into a religious one.  That’s very reasonable and appropriate.  Objections to enforcing homosexuality as the fully equal lifestyle choice to heterosexuality are not strictly religious in nature, though advocates of homosexuality often paint it that way.  The fact is that in no culture – religious or secular – has homosexuality ever been treated as the fully socially and legally equal and viable option to heterosexuality.  Cameron is attempting to lead the argument away from religion and back to the realm of natural law – I think.  Which is fine.
But the question was theological.  Specific to religion and particularly to Christianity.  Cameron could have quickly acknowledged this before trying to move the question back to natural law.  Yes, active homosexuality is sinful according to the Bible.  It contradicts the created order as demonstrated throughout Scripture.  It is one of the myriad ways we rebel against God.  Whether we decide to legalize it or normalize it amongst ourselves does not change this fact.  It only confuses it.  
I’m curious what O’Donnell means by saying that Cameron is un-Christ like.  If she’s critiquing Cameron for being inadequately pious, on what grounds is she doing so?  Is that a fair charge?  Is the goal of the Christian to be pious, and what does O’Donnell mean by that?  The word is highly charged both in and out of religious usage.  And what aspect of Christ is Cameron not emulating adequately?  Was it’s Jesus’ willing acceptance of any behavior whether it was in keeping with God’s will or not?  Hmmm…the money changers in the temple probably experienced something different.  As did the woman at the well or the woman caught in adultery.   There was no question in these people’s minds that Jesus loved them deeply, but not their behavior.  
God loves you and I, but he detests and hates our sin.  Sin that separates us from him, and ultimately would do so eternally had He not sacrificed his Son in our place.  The response to this is not the endorsement of whatever we feel like doing, but rather the humble (pious?) acknowledgement that we are demanding things contrary to God’s will, the humble (pious?) process of confession and the equally humbling (pious?) act of being reminded that we are absolved of our sin, leading to the thankfulness that seeks to live in accordance with God’s will.  
That would be truly Christ-like behavior.  But I doubt that’s what O’Donnell is thinking of at the moment.

Cuteness Quotient Reached?

March 9, 2012

Check.

Even a grouch like me found this touching.  

Who Do You Say That I Am?

March 8, 2012

That’s a question that haunts most of us all our lives.  We live constantly in the echoes of the answer to that question from the myriad lips and  eyes that surround us for moments or decades of our life.  Each answer a silent accusation or affirmation, an opportunity for salvation or despair.  We craft our lives around how to get the right answer to that question out of the people around us.  

We did it on the playground as children, striving to be the best at the games, to be the leaders, or the ones chosen for teams first.  Who do you say that I am? we were silently screaming to the boys and girls we played with.  Say that I’m the fastest runner!  Say that I’m the hardest hitter!  Say that I have the best eyes and the surest glove!  
We do that as we get older in school.  Say that I’m the smartest kid in the class!  Say that I’m the prettiest of them all!  Say that I’m the most handsome!  Say that I’m the one you want to go to prom with!  Say that I’m the one you want to go steady with!  
We do it as we go off to college or into the workforce, seeking the affirmation of parents and mentors as well as professors and peers, wanting to choose something that won’t disappoint others, that we might enjoy ourselves.
We do it as we parent our children.  Say that I’m the one you love!  Say that I’m the one you look up to!  Say that I’m the one that can make you feel happy when you scrape your knee or somebody breaks your heart.  
And we do it in our communities of faith as well.  Say that I’m the one you look up to!  Say that I’m the one who knows their Bible best!  Say that I’m the one who is willing to lend a hand when it’s needed!  Say that I’m the one that you can depend on!  
All our lives, we want to know and control the answer to this question as everyone else answers it about us.  Who do you say that I am?  
But this isn’t why Jesus is asking this question.  Alone among all of humanity, He asks this question not because the answer makes a difference to his identity, but because it makes all the difference to the identity of the respondent.  How we answer this question about Jesus makes all the difference in our lives.  
But we answer this question as though we still need to make an impression.  You are the Messiah!  Now say that I’m the one who is the strongest!  Who is the smartest!  Who is the most devout!  Say that I’m the one who won’t have to struggle.  Won’t have to doubt.  Won’t have to worry.
We profess our faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the one who came to save us, and then we struggle and strive to act as though we don’t really need saving.  As though we’re doing just fine, thank you.  Why don’t you tend to someone else?  I’m doing just fine.  And inwardly we’re falling apart.  Inwardly we’re crumbling and teetering and we don’t know how we’re going to keep it all together, but we feel as though we have to keep the appearances in place.  We can’t let others know just how bad it is, just how deep the hurt goes.  Just how crippling the wounds are.  We can’t let others know just how desperately we need that Savior.
I’ve been working with people with struggles.  Deep, aching struggles.  Struggles emotionally and physically.  Struggles with old demons that have plagued their steps and haunted their sleep for more of their lives than anyone would guess.  The beautiful thing is that these are people who are beginning to show that they need help.  They’re crying out in various ways.  Hoarsely and feebly at times, ashamed and afraid still that rather than getting the help they need, they’re going to receive judgment and condemnation.  People who are learning that they need a Savior.  People who will trust in time that they truly do have a Savior.  Someone who has carried their burdens to the cross so that they don’t need to be crushed underneath them.  Someone who has provided people to help bear their burdens when and where they least expected it.  They’re terrified.  Vulnerable.  Exposed.  But by the grace of God and their trust that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, their Messiah, they will be healed.  Fully.  Completely.  Eternally.
On this Lenten journey as well as throughout our year and lives, we are called to be people of God who can be honest with one another.  Who can be honest that our feet are tired and our hearts hurt from worrying and our eyes are red from crying and we have no idea how to fix the people and situations around us that lie bleeding from all manner of hurts and illnesses and demons.  As Christians we are called to be Easter people, people who are as brutally honest as someone who has died and been raised to life again, who no longer fears how others answer the question about them, who do you say that I am, but someone who trusts that the one answer that matters is the answer of our Savior.
And our Savior has answered.  And has assured us, the broken and battered and worried people in the wilderness of this life, that we are his.  In the grace of baptism.  In the simplicity of wine and bread.  In the pronouncement week in and week out of our lives that we are forgiven, we are reconciled.  We are reborn.
Who do you say that I am?  I am a broken and weak servant of Christ.  The same as each one of you.  And I thank God for each of you around me, and around one another, bearing each other up and rejoicing to our God because of his answer to that question.  Trusting that what we suffer now is nothing compared to what we will one day experience in joy and peace.  
May that peace, the peace of God, which passes all of our understanding and explanations, keep our hearts through faith in Christ Jesus – the one we say is Messiah until he tells us one final time that we are good and faithful servants – now and for eternity.  

You Got Some ‘Splainin to Do

March 2, 2012

Two different articles this morning, further disclosing the absurdity of both the insistence that religious institutions must violate their conscience in order that their workers have access to birth control and abortion-causing drugs, and the absurdity of the imaginary and ever-shifting line in the sand of who is and is not a human being based on how old they are.

On the first issue, the latest in the merry-go-round of logical dodgeball regarding the Department of Health and Human Service’s insistence that religious institutions (except for a VERY narrowly defined exemption) provide birth control and abortion-causing drugs that violate the religious conscience of certain faith groups (and therefore ought to alarm ALL faith groups if the conscience of some can be ignored or ruled against by law).  
The government has argued that it has compromised on the issue by not requiring employers to pay for these services, but rather by forcing private companies to offer these exact services for free.  All of you who believe that businesses offer free stuff out of the goodness of their hearts and without distributing those costs in some way, please forgive my cynicism.  Both of you.  This ‘compromise’ is smoke and mirrors.  Insurance companies will pass on the costs of this added coverage, and the ones paying those additional costs (in the form of higher fees for other, less objectionable services) will be the institutions providing the coverage to their employees.  Religious organizations will still be paying for these objectionable coverages, they just won’t be itemized as such on paperwork.  Rather, fees in other areas will go up.  It’s a sham that allows the Administration to claim that it is compromising when in fact it is not.  At all.
But, the Administration recognizes that their stance is, shall we say, logically weak at best.  So, they need to come up with further explanations about how employers really won’t be paying for these services.  What’s the best argument they’ve got so far?  To claim that insurance companies will actually be saving money by providing this expanded coverage, which means that employers won’t be paying for it.  Cost savings alone will pay for the mandatory, objectionable coverage.  
How will they be saving money?  By all the babies that won’t be born either because they were never created due to contraceptives, or because they were aborted with covered drugs.  The very issues that violate the conscience of certain faith groups are now the cornerstone of how the plan is to be paid for.  By reducing the number of human beings born by forcing this plan down the throat of everyone, religious institutions can take comfort in their violated consciences by the fact that the very reason their consciences are being violated is defraying their costs.  Can something be any more insulting, any more dismissive of freedom of conscience and freedom of religion?  Wow.
But, it’s Friday.  And I’d hate to leave you with just one mind bender.  Let’s continue down the road a bit.  It’s the same road, just a different juncture on that road.  Pro-life advocates have argued for years that logically, once we decide that the unborn baby – whether it’s a few seconds old or a few months old or almost ready to be delivered – is not really a human being, but (as pro-choice advocates claim) simply a clump of random cells that are part of the mother’s body and therefore up to her to determine their fate, logically all sorts of other fun things follow.  
To wit, if we can arbitrarily draw a line that determines when a baby is or is not a human being, there’s no logical reason that the line has to be drawn while the baby is still in the womb.  If the process of birth is what conveys personhood and all the pertaining rights thereof, why draw the line there?  That’s sort of silly.  A matter of seconds between when the baby is preparing to be born and is not a human being and a few seconds later when the child is out of the womb is hardly a rational grounds for conveying personhood.
If it’s ok to abort the baby before they’re born, why not allow them to be ‘aborted’ after they’re born?  
Of course, pro-choice advocates have denied vigorously that such logic could ever be maintained or derived from their stances.  Unfortunately, they’re being proved wrong.  Rapidly.  Arguments are now being made in respected journals that since life in the womb and out of the womb isn’t substantially different for quite some time (in terms of contributing anything of value to the world), it only is reasonable that parents could decide after their baby has been born that they wish to abort it.
If you’re thinking to yourself that you’ve heard of this sort of thing before and just can’t quite place the term for it, it’s infanticide.  It’s abhorrent.  But it’s one of many logical conclusions that can be drawn from the pro-choice argument that a baby isn’t a baby until we decide it’s convenient for it to be called a baby.  
Happy Friday!

Something Else to Worry About…

March 2, 2012

…because, you know, we don’t have enough worrisome things on our minds already!

At least with this invention, we won’t be able to discuss our worries!  In case you think that this is a hoax, here’s the white paper that seems to detail the experiment and the technology.  

It’s Not the Money!

March 1, 2012

A few days ago it struck me to inquire as to how some of the more liberal elements in Protestant Christianity were responding to the Obama administration’s insistence through the Department of Health and Human Services that services which violate the conscience of religious individuals and entities could be forced upon these individuals and institutions by federal law.  I have been gratified to see the conservative elements of Protestantism lining up with their Roman Catholic brethren to decry such policies and efforts to make the State the arbiter of religious conscience rather than the religious individuals themselves and the institutions they form.  Though you wouldn’t know it based on the amount of media attention it doesn’t receive, vast swaths of religious conservatives of all stripes are deeply and vocally concerned and committed to fight against these encroachments on the First Amendment of the US Constitution.  

So I went to the website for Sojourners, the organization headed by Jim Wallace.  While I believe deeply in the necessity of Christians being involved in the world beyond their congregational doors, I have grown to disagree vehemently with many of the assumptions that Sojourners makes about how this should be done.  So, how do liberal Christians make sense of this issue of contraceptive and abortifacient coverage that has their conservative brethren so riled up?
The short answer is, I can’t tell.  There’s nothing that I could find written on the topic at the Sojourner’s website.  The closest I could come a week or more ago when I first searched was a link to this commentary on allegations of Obama’s war on religion.
It wasn’t much of a surprise to me that this article sought to discredit the claims by conservative Christians that the Obama administration is systematically seeking to undermine the First Amendment.  But it was interesting to me how the author went about this.  She went about it by discussing the administration’s allocation of funding.  Essentially, her argument boils down to the fact that faith organizations are still receiving Federal funds to provide human assistance in their communities, and that if the administration were really at war with religion, it wouldn’t be doing this. 
I was struck with the naivete of the article.  Yes, the government disperses money to faith-based organizations that provide an amazing amount of human care services here in the US and around the world.  This is a convenient way for the government to fund such projects without having to reinvent the wheel itself.  While I imagine that such a reinvention is not too far down the road, for the time being, if the US wishes to be seen as concerned about human issues around the world, oftentimes religious organizations are the best positioned to address these issues.  This makes sense.  Speaking only of the Christian faith – which the author limited herself mostly to – Christians have been addressing these needs for a LOT longer than the US government has even existed.
I would rebut the assumption that money = support.  Money and funding can represent many things, but it doesn’t indicate a philosophical, political, or theological standing by the administration.  Certainly one way to appeal to liberal Christians who are more on board with some of the social justice priorities of the administration is to maintain funding to whatever organizations are providing social justice services.  Riling up the entire Christian community in America – which despite repeated assertions to the contrary *is* a rather formidable and massive majority – would be ridiculously foolish.  But angering only one segment at a time?  More manageable – at least that would appear to be the philosophy of the administration.  
And, if religious organizations are essentially brought under the full control of the State, then continuing to fund them is rather a no-brainer.  If a religious organization cannot live by the religion that it’s founders adhere to, it’s not really much of a religious organization any more.  Red tape already significantly muzzles what many faith-based organizations can do beyond the simple provision of services.  This is the cost of doing business, so to speak, and these faith-based organizations have decided it’s worth it to muzzle themselves in order to serve others.  That’s a whole different discussion in itself!
Funding faith-based organizations subject to government regulation for their funding is not an indication of an administration’s support of religious freedom.  If the State can gut the heart of religious organizations by regulating their conscience and their actions, why wouldn’t it continue to give them money to do things that it can’t or doesn’t wish to do itself?  What’s the danger?  
The only danger lies in faith-based organizations that refuse to muzzle themselves by refusing government aid and the restrictions that come with it.  At the congregational level, this should have been done long ago, right after President Johnson altered the IRS code to prevent congregations and pastors from speaking specifically on politics to their parishioners.  It is this sort of allegiance to faith, rather than the dictates of the State, that the administration seems to take umbrage with.  It is the refusal to acknowledge that the State knows best that seems to irritate the State the most.  If you’re willing to acknowledge that the State knows best, you cease to be any real threat.
What will likely happen – and the Church is going to have to come to grips with this – is that much of the infrastructure that has been developed over the last 200 years or so in terms of faith-based service organizations is going to need to be scrapped or substantially altered.  If the State refuses to allow religious people and religious organizations to honor their consciences, then religious people and organizations will need to adapt.  Part of that adaptation may in fact mean ceasing to exist in the forms they currently do.  It may mean a privatization to the individual level of the services and care that institutions have come to provide.  It may mean a great many things.
But it won’t mean that the State hasn’t overreached it’s boundaries just because the State finds it convenient to fund faith-based organization’s who have agreed to have the dictates of their faith neutered.