Archive for October, 2017

Reformation Day

October 31, 2017

If I am obliged to talk about the Reformation on it’s 500th anniversary, at least I can do it from a somewhat different angle.  Unfortunately, it’s an angle I don’t really care for – beer.  Still, it’s good to remember how impactful Luther was on so many different aspects of our culture today.

What Is Your Authority?

October 30, 2017

Sunday night at Happy Hour we had our first full-blown, nearly fully-inclusive theological discussion.  What began as questions from one young man about our denominational practice regarding ordaining women (we don’t) erupted into a much larger discussion with a great deal of heated emotions.  I was struck by numerous things in this encounter.

Firstly, I was amazed at the unanimity of rejection of or concern about our denomination’s stance in this regard, and my personal support of it.  I know that many of the folks at Happy Hour come from different denominational backgrounds but I don’t know the details.  There was really only one person joining my defense of this practice, and he’s relatively new to the faith in some regards.  All the others, most of whom I suspect would classify themselves as strong Christians, and nearly all of whom are recently graduated from a prestigious private Christian university, were uniformly opposed to the non-ordination of women despite it being the near-universal norm of Christian practice up until the late 20th century.  It’s interesting that they could so easily dismiss a nearly universal practice that has endured for almost two millenia, that they were so completely certain that the viewpoints that have evolved in the last 60 years in some quarters of Christianity and more particularly in secular culture must be correct!

I attempted to distinguish between equality as culture and feminism have defined it (functionally, based on what women and men do) and how Scripture defines it (as a matter of who we are in the fact that we are created by God – an existential equality separate and prior to whatever it is we happen to do).  But this argument was mostly rejected – functional equality was definitely the preferred or assumed correct way of defining equality.

Secondly, I was surprised at the vocalization of personal experience as the ultimate arbitrator of theological belief and practice.  The discussion was far less about what the Bible says on the topic and far more related to the emotional assertions of people that regardless of what the Bible says, personal experience somehow demands the ordination of women as part and parcel with women’s equality.  Another young man talked about his reading of Scripture as important, but inasmuch as it was validated by his personal experiences and which, he intimated, could be actually superseded by those experiences.

I articulated that Scripture is my personal, final authority and arbitrator of reality.  Scripture is what should norm and condition and interpret my personal experience, not the other way around.  This led to some inquiry later on as to how I could be certain of Scripture’s authority.  Why would I trust this book so completely?  On what basis could I be certain of divine inspiration?  Others seemed to find it difficult to believe that I could believe that the Bible should function so completely and authoritatively.  Obviously, I’m sinful and don’t perfectly conform to what Scripture says.  But to the best of my ability, I trust what Scripture says and trust that when there is a conflict between what I want and what Scripture tells me, Scripture is right even if I disobey it.

Others wanted to know how I would personally apply this theology to my family and my daughter.  Would I tell her that she couldn’t be ordained because she was a girl, while I could encourage my boys to be ordained if they so desired?  There seemed to be the assumption that whatever I held to be true personally would change if it impacted my daughter.  My response was that if she expressed such a desire to me I would want to sit down with her to find out why, and then to talk about what the Bible has to say on this matter.  I would want to engage not just the views of my denomination and historic Christianity as a whole, but also the more recent views and exegesis of the pertinent passages (1 Timothy 2:10-15).  I’m aware that there are some compelling arguments to treat Paul’s words here as we treat his admonishments about women wearing hats to church in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16.  We’d talk through this together.

At the end of the day if my daughter was still convinced that the Holy Spirit was calling her to the pastoral ministry, and if she had a defensible way of dealing with the Scripture passages that have traditionally been interpreted as forbidding this, my response would not be to try and change my denomination’s stance on the issue!  Rather, I would encourage her to consider ordination through an alternate polity where women are permitted to be pastors.  It seemed genuinely surprising to some of the folks last night that I would not change my view on the matter or attempt to try and change my polity’s view on the matter just because it was my daughter who was personally involved.

One of the participants talked about the Church’s duties to improve and correct and right the wrongs with the world in anticipation of our Lord’s return.  She had great difficulty with the concept that Christ would return and everything would instantly change, and seemed far more comfortable with the idea of gradual improvement and sanctification so that when Christ returned, at least some of the change would already be accomplished.  She was insistent that it was the Church’s duty to lead the charge towards this.  Slavery was brought up as an example.  And she threatened that there were more than a few people who would be insulted and affronted by Paul’s words in Colossians or Philemon and elsewhere because he doesn’t outright condemn slavery and call for Christians to abolish it.

I know that there are Christians who have been and are offended by that.  Which was the point, I argued.  What God is after is not the transformation of our social units, but of our hearts.  I asked her to show me the passages where the Church is called to be the agent of social change.  This brought up an objection from someone else as to whether or not this was a fair use of Scripture.  Should Scripture be cited as the ultimate authority or not?  And even if it should, can it even be done because some people are prone to proof-texting and taking things out of context to support their positions?

She was aghast and at a loss at my request, as were others.  What did I mean, show them the Biblical passages?  I quickly offered that I might not be thinking clearly at the moment and would be happy to be proved wrong, but that the passages I could think of regarding moral behavior and sanctification are all aimed at the individual Christian or the Church – not at society or culture as a whole.  We are called to be transformed individually, which will obviously have an effect on the Church as a whole and then on culture and society around us.  But the idea that the Church should collude with culture or society on certain agendas on the basis that the Bible calls us to personal sanctification is a very large and dangerous leap.  We move from what the Bible says to ideas and assertions that are inspired by Scripture.  And whenever we move from what Scripture actually says to our ideas about what that ought to mean, we’re on very dangerous footing.

She left the conversation and our house shortly after this exchange.

I hope and pray she comes back next Sunday or before then with a list of Scripture verses.  I pray that she grapples with what I asked and said, and either comes back to correct me (which I will graciously and humbly accept), or begins to question some of the teachings she’s received.

It isn’t that we shouldn’t struggle for what is right.  But first and foremost – Biblically speaking – this is an matter of personal internal and external struggle.  I am called to change how I act and think and speak.  I am not called to change how others act or think or speak unless I can do so in love and unless they are professed followers of Christ as well that I am in relationship with (members of my congregation, for instance).

Yes, there are various exegetical dealings with Scripture, in which case a fair level of humility is required in these discussions.  To assume that you must be correct and that any question of your interpretation or application is erroneous is a dangerous state of mind, but it was a very common state of mind last night.

This is what I hoped would develop.  I just wasn’t expecting it at the end of a long day, and I wasn’t expecting it to be so emotionally charged.  But I want our gatherings to be a place where we can grapple with hard issues, where we can be challenged in our thinking and in our beliefs so that we are together better and stronger and more grounded in the faith.

But it isn’t necessarily a smooth process, I guess.

In the meantime, it shows me the glaring need for continued dialogue and teaching in the Church.  One gentlemen last night suggested at one point that we were too much the heirs of the Renaissance and Enlightenment in that we too heavily favor reason over emotion and experience.  But as I pointed out, that wasn’t the case in the discussion.  The discussion heavily and almost completely favored experience and emotion over an actual intellectual, philosophical, theological discourse!  This is what has happened since the mid-20th century, the moving away from rational discourse more and more towards emotion and experience as the authorities in our lives.

What this results in then is the increasing difficulty of talking with people and understanding people who disagree with us.  I expressed my disappointment with their school that after four years of very expensive and undoubtedly very high-quality education, a basic discussion could result in such anger and such emotion.  Not that there isn’t a time and a place for emotions, but that the discussion should move so quickly to that personal, experiential level without an adequate effort at understanding the rational and intellectual positions that each side was coming from.

If personal experience and emotion are the ultimate authority in our lives it truly becomes very difficult to engage in meaningful dialogue based on different perspectives.  Christianity has insisted from very early on that the Bible is to be the authority in our lives.  The Holy Spirit may well directly speak to us from time to time, but the only way we can know and trust His voice is by comparing what we hear to what God says in his Word.  At one point a young man sort of joked that this was an idolization of Scripture.  I suppose one might see it that way, but to me it’s a simple matter of what is my authority?  I can say God is, but if what I mean by that is only my personal emotions and experiences of this God, I’m in a very tenuous and unstable position at best.  How can I trust that God is directing me rather than a demon or my subconscious or chemical imbalances?  How can I ever hope to arbitrate between differing ideas about theology or practice if there isn’t an objective external authority to appeal to?  What do we make of 2 Timothy 3:16 and the assertion by St. Paul that all of Scripture is indeed useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness?  Ironic that on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Sola Scriptura appears to be just as opposed by some Christians as it was by then, even Christians who are themselves theological heirs of the Reformation.

Fortunately there was the opportunity to affirm mutual love and respect with almost everyone by the end of the evening.  I think others were a little shocked as well at the level of what had just occurred, but the general consensus is that it was a good thing.

It will be interesting to see what happens this coming Sunday, and who is there for it.





October 30, 2017

I am.

The last of our guests left five minutes ago.  As my wife prepares for bed I have to take a second to try and process, but there’s too much.  A wonderful mixture of familiar faces and one new one tonight.  And then a multi-hour discussion that spanned the authority of Scripture, the roles of men and women here and now in a fallen world in Christ, and the pain of feeling marginalized as a woman in a male dominated world.

We covered immense theological and emotional terrain.  Tempers flared.  Tears flowed.  Many stood and listened without actively engaging.  By and large people hung into the discussion, but not everyone could or would.  My prayer at the end of the night, as I articulated to one of our recent regulars, is that Satan not be allowed to drive wedges and discord through theological wrestling.  That the relationships that have been built and the community that has formed over the last year and a half would not simply endure, but strengthen and deepen and thrive.  If we can’t struggle with the Word of God as it applies to our lives here and now, what hope is there for any reality of Christian community?  And if this can’t be a place where people can bare their hearts and know that even when they don’t hear what they want to hear they are still loved, then it doesn’t really have a purpose at all.

I think things will be OK.  For most of us at the very least.  For all of us I pray.  And in the meantime, sleep.

Book Review – The Blue Coat

October 29, 2017

The Blue Coat by Margie Brown.  Private printing.

The members of my congregation are by and large post-retirement age.  They are a delightful group of people with an amazing diversity of backgrounds and experiences.  But being of that age, there are several who lived through The War (World War II).  Several who lived through it in Germany or escaping from Germany.  Margie is one of those.  She was nine as the war was raging and bombs were falling on her hometown.  Nine years old as her father was fighting on the front lines in Russia, as her mother was sick and sometimes bed-ridden, and as her younger siblings were lost and rediscovered in the mad shuffle to try and keep people safe.

Margie suffered with nightmares for years, and when she married her husband suggested to her that she write down some of her war experiences.  The result is The Blue Coat, a short and simple telling of some of the key events of her life as a nine-year old in the midst of war.  Although she was encouraged to write more of her story during those years, she opted to keep it brief and focused.  Her nightmares went away.  And her family and a few privileged friends now have the opportunity to peek into a nine-year old’s view of the war.

Not surprisingly it is not about ideologies or political agendas.  It is simply about a girl trying to keep her family together – a task sometimes made harder by well-intentioned strangers.  A girl following instructions in order to remain safe from bombs and hunger.

It’s shocking, to think that a nine-year old could endure such things, but of course there are plenty of nine-year olds around the world today (or younger) who endure similar or worse, and for longer periods of time.  I grew up in a peculiar bubble, culturally and historically.  I didn’t need to fight in a war.  I haven’t had to worry about my house being bombed.  My family tucks one another into bed at night in peace and security.  The fact that people can survive and eventually thrive under opposite circumstances is incredible.

I wish more people were required to talk to and read the notes of those who have lived through terrible events, as a means of sharing perspective.  Our rights of free speech are being openly abridged and stripped away because of concerns that what is said might hurt someone else’s feelings, someone who won’t be able to cope knowing that someone, somewhere nearby, is saying something they disagree with.  It’s a big world out there, full of people who disagree with you.  Sometimes they drop bombs on your houses, and sometimes they don’t.  But knowing that you might be called upon to recover your siblings from homes they’ve been farmed out to might be a good way of reminding people that we need to be more resilient than we apparently are, more able to cope with pressure.  You can’t prepare for these things adequately, of course.  But you can certainly do better than refusing to deal with an offensive world.

Reading Ramblings – All Saints Day

October 29, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: All Saints Day (observed), November 5, 2017

Texts: Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 149; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Context: Since the earliest days of the Church, remembering those who were killed for the faith was an important thing. Most people would describe facing execution for refusing to back down on your profession of faith in Jesus Christ as the greatest act of faith. After several generations, however, the list was too long to remember each individual Christian on their individual execution date, and it was also desired to remember the faithful who had not been executed for the faith but died naturally, waiting for their Savior’s return. All Saints Day is the official version of this, the date settling – after some shifting around – on November 1 with observance on the first Sunday in November. Halloween gets it’s name from this – All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day. The readings selected for today emphasize the hope we have in Christ for the resurrection of the dead and life together eternally.

Revelation 7:9-17 – The great family snapshot in eternity! The great family reunion of all those in Christ who have ever and do and will ever live, together at last around the throne of God and giving thanks and praise! Which means St. John in his vision is seeing himself somewhere in that innumerable throng. And it means that he is seeing you and I – ever person past and present who persevered in their faith through whatever issues came their way. This is the great hope of the Church, the great hope of humanity, the great hope of Creation itself. God restoring all things through the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return of his Son. It is this vision, this promise that enables us to persevere through all things joyful and sorrowful, to endure whatever hardships are necessary, and to support one another in prayer as well as in material assistance. We do so in the hope that this life is prelude to something so much greater and more beautiful that it shines it’s light backwards to illuminate our day to day experiences with a heavenly glow more powerful and warm than the brightest sunny summer day.

Psalm 149 – The saints of God in praise to God here in the psalm as well as St. John’s vision – God remains faithful and consistent in his revelation of himself and his inspiration of his Word to us. This praise is appropriate to those who are young and spry enough to dance and sing and make merry, but also to those who are on their beds, those unable at the moment to dance and sing but who can still lift to God on their lips his praise for his promises to them, that He has and does and will adorn the humble with salvation. Is judgment an errant theme in this psalm? Is it out of place in some way? Hardly! For judgment is appropriate to any who would not simply reject but struggle and fight and claw against the good blessings of God, who would seek to keep others from this hope and joy. To the evil at work in our world and unfortunately those who are lost and caught in it, judgment is appropriate. Defeat is necessary. Evil must and will be judged and exiled, and all those who refuse to separate themselves from it must follow. To be faithful and resolute in this, not allowing the definitions of mercy and compassion to somehow be twisted to evil’s end – this is what God’s people are called to now and always, and always in praise of and worship of and to the glory of our God who has created and redeemed us.

1 John 3:1-3 – God is good! This seems like an almost unnecessary thing to say, but it is crucial in a world which insists on calling God evil and tyrannical and unjust. It is not God who is evil and tyrannical and unjust, it is evil and sin in this world and even in our own hearts and minds. The love of God is that He wills to call us his children and to enable us to be his children. Those who fight against us in our faith do so because they have fundamentally missed or rejected the primal goodness of God the Father. They war with us because we are God’s children and this is a source of confusion and fear to them, lost as they are in the evil of false belief. They recognize us as God’s children in a limited sense, but mistake our continued sinful state as evidence that we aren’t really God’s children and that our hope is misplaced and ultimately evil. But one day the reality of our adoption as God’s sons and daughters will be clear to everyone – including ourselves. What we can’t see now, what Satan tempts us to doubt about ourselves now will one day be clear as day, unarguable, realer than any concept of reality we have now. It is towards this hope and assurance that those who place their faith in Christ live each day according to the good He has revealed and fulfilled. It is in that hope and assurance that we live by God’s directives rather than the whims of our heart or the demands of a corrupt culture and society. We cling to his promises that begin our transformation here and now, and will complete it in the day of Christ’s return.

Matthew 5:1-12 – The Christian hope runs contrary to earthly experience in many ways. We want our lives to be smooth, comfortable, easy, happy. There’s nothing wrong with such a desire, but we must retain a clear perspective in both good times and bad. It’s easy when things are going wrong to think that there must not be a God (else how could He allow our suffering?), or to presume that God is somehow angry with us (and is punishing us). It is easy to equate our suffering here and now with a negation of our hope in Christ.

Unlike other philosophies and religions, Biblical Christianity does not promise us the transformation of this world by our efforts or under our terms. Our hope in Christ certainly inspires us to work for a better world, to care for those in need, to stand with those who suffer or are taken advantage of. But we do so because of what and who is coming, not what we are creating now. What we are creating now may be an improvement but, because of the sin inherent in ourselves and every other person and creation itself, that improvement will itself be marred and subject to undoing and misuse. It will be imperfect in reach and scope. And those we help will still someday, even under the best of circumstances, die.

The Christian labors to transform this world in anticipation of the final, ultimate, and perfect transformation promised only and completely in the return of Jesus Christ. It is only in Christ that all things will be renewed and finally and completely transformed, freed from the grip of sin that blinds and hinders even the best of our aspirations. Our hope is not that we can eliminate poverty or sorrow or hunger or war. We can’t. We can make brief and imperfect improvements – and we should! To do otherwise, to turn a blind eye would be tantamount to a rejection of the hope we have in Christ! But we should never mistake our efforts – and our related successes or failures – with the sure hope we have that Christ alone can and will create and renew all things.

We proclaim this truth in the midst of suffering and sorrow and hunger and war. When all earthly indicators seem to point in the opposite direction we continue to proclaim the abundance and joy and peace promised in Jesus Christ. We acknowledge the suffering in the world for what it is (rather than pretending it doesn’t really exist or that we don’t have to deal with it as we are led and empowered to by God the Holy Spirit), and we stand with those who suffer and speak words of true hope to them. Hope that cannot be taken away by the cruelty or insensitivity of human beings. We truly are blessed. Here and now, in joy and in sorrow, in plenty and in want, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which makes true repentance, true forgiveness, and therefore true change possible. Here and now and eternally. To God alone be the glory!

Inconvenient Truths

October 28, 2017

Common sense says that a child needs their parents.  Common sense says that a child would have a special bond with the mother that has carried him or her for nine or more months.  Common sense would say that this bond is unique and special and should be honored.

Common sense is really inconvenient to ideology, however.  And sometimes, so is science.

The author of a book detailing how important it is for mothers to be primary caregivers for the first three years of their child’s life is being shunned by liberals dismayed at her scientific findings.  No matter that the author herself is ideologically liberal.   The problem is that she validates an inconvenient truth in the continuing war on motherhood (and parenthood in general).  Parents matter.  Mothers matter.  Mothers and fathers are not created equal but both are necessary in order to provide children with the best possible circumstances in their most vulnerable years of life.  Replacing mothers and fathers with younger and younger pre-school and early childhood caregivers has potential long-term consequences that have nothing to do with the collective good intentions of all involved but everything to do with how we are created.


Two Follow-Ups

October 26, 2017

The strange case of President George H.W. Bush photo gropes continues to emerge.  My questions yesterday about how we define sexual assault remain, but it seems clear that President Bush and his condition have indeed been an occasion of embarrassment and perhaps offense to some people during photo ops.  This more detailed account both demonstrates that Ms. Lind’s claims of being touched are likely true, though whether or not they should be classified as sexual assault remains to be seen.

However Ms. Grolnick does acknowledge, towards the end of the article, that President Bush may not have been in full possession of his mental faculties, further calling into question the appropriateness of publicly describing his behavior as sexual assault.  Is there a difference between the inappropriateness of a senile person and the calculated manipulation of a rapist?  Is there a difference between publicly calling a former President a sexual offender and demanding belated justice against those in power who actively and knowingly use their position to bully or harass others?

I hope that President Bush and his family and friends will take this situation seriously, and realize that a lifetime of honorable behavior can be smudged in the last years of his life by the insistence of some to equate his actions with sexual assault.  I hope they make sure that in the future he isn’t positioned in a way where his joke could be misinterpreted – or frankly, even pulled again.  I also appreciate and empathize with Ms. Grolnick’s desire that Ms. Lind’s claims be taken seriously.  I just question whether the claims of sexual assault were appropriate or not.  It would have been far more appropriate to take up the matter privately with Mrs. Bush or others who look after President Bush, to let them know it was not appreciated and that they should work hard to ensure future incidents are avoided.

And on another matter, why are we here?  No, seriously.  Scientists don’t understand why the universe is rather than isn’t, based on the nearly identical properties of matter and anti-matter, which should have ensured a monumental and incredibly brief explosion followed directly by the cessation of any sort of existence of the universe at all after the initial Big Bang.  More good questions….


Because Science

October 26, 2017

I love this comic (though it is not always entirely child friendly).

I often talk with people who have been raised or who have self-educated themselves to assume that science has things all figured out.  We evolved from nothing.  Random chance.  Statistics.  How do we know these things?  Because we have it all figured out.  We know the timeline.  These people sometimes talk as though everything has been nailed down solid, as opposed to us squishy people of faith who don’t have facts to back us up.

The reality is that natural selection and evolutionary theory are far from proven, and far, far less nailed down than grade-school or grad school science teachers would like their charges to think.  Even among those who still think that evolution and natural selection are an adequate description of how and why we’re here, there are constantly evolving ideas and facts based on new data.

Just this week, we have data that challenges the accepted timeline of human evolution (or, more likely, challenging questions about how we date things).  Fossilized teeth in Germany are millions of years older than teeth that they are apparently quite similar to – but only known in Africa.  And another article asserts that saber-toothed animals were around a lot longer than scientists originally thought – and may also be linked to similar animals in North America.

In other words, the facts aren’t always the facts.  Natural selection and evolutionary theory remain interesting theories, but are hardly the set-in-stone Truths that some people would like others to believe they are.


Sexual Vocational Assault

October 25, 2017

All the discussion about sexual assault these days gave me an interesting perspective on this article.  So why isn’t the idea that we must have equal numbers of men and women in the workplace as well as within specific vocations in the workplace a form of sexual assault if we’re trying to manipulate women into doing what we want them to do?  The Wired article above laments that only 12% of engineers in the US are female.  This is called a depressing number.  Why?  And to whom?  The preferred reality for that writer would be to have as close to 50% of engineers be women as possible, I assume.  The language in the article is patently offensive in terms of seeing women as something to be manipulated.  The United States has a serious problem with getting women into STEM jobs and keeping them there.  How is that not the language of abuse and objectification?

Anecdotally, I’ve known several female engineers.  Very capable women who were clearly doing what they enjoyed.  I have yet to meet a woman who has expressed a secret longing to be an engineer, but was never able or willing to act on that longing.  My anecdotal conclusion is that fewer women are jazzed about engineering than men. My anecdotal conclusion is not that we need to figure out ways to convince more girls and women that they should be engineers.

What if women don’t want to be engineers?  Or what if once they become engineers, they don’t want to stay there because there are other things in life that become important o them?  There’s the unstated assumption that there are all these girls and women out there who desperately want to be engineers, they just don’t know it.  Or they don’t think it’s possible.  We just have to make them aware that they really want to be engineers, and then of course make sure that companies are forced to hire them in equal numbers to men.  And there’s the other assumption that once in a STEM field, women shouldn’t want to leave for any reason.  Like to raise children.  Or pursue other interests or other careers.  Those impulses are for some reason not preferred.  Not desirable.  They skew the pie charts in ways some people don’t like.

All of that sounds highly oppressive to me.  Equally sexist if not more so to the alleged sexism that allegedly prevents women from entering STEM vocations.  How about if instead of trying to force kids down certain paths to justify our assertions for and definitions of equality, we actually work to empower kids to pursue what they want to pursue – even if that doesn’t necessarily make all the lines on the employment graph absolutely equal?  If a girl wants to be an engineer she should be.  But it should be because she actually wants to be, not because we drill it into our kids that we must have equal gender representation in all vocations, all the time.  And if a woman engineer or CEO decides she would like to stay home and raise her kids, or tackle a new vocational challenge, we should encourage her to do what she wants in those regards, rather than making her feel like some sort of traitor to her sex.

I’d rather have 12% female engineers who are excited and happy about their work than to have 50% female engineers, many who are unhappy and dissatisfied.  The same holds true for guys, and other vocations.  Differences in interests and abilities between genders shouldn’t be seen as an inherently bad thing.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

October 25, 2017

It’s rather difficult to believe this news report, and I assume it’s going to be debunked or discredit fairly quickly.  Of course the terrifying possibility is that it won’t be, that this allegation that seems completely inconceivable will stand because nobody is willing to question this woman’s interpretation of events.  Her original Instagram post has since been deleted, which leads me to think the allegation is suspicious.  In a fuller transcript of her Instagram post, she alleges former President George Bush Senior “sexually assaulted” her during a photo shoot several years ago, while his wife and others looked on and warned her not to stand next to him.

What constitutes sexual assault?  What sort of touch justifies calling out someone for sexual assault?  Anyone can say anything about any other person online, but what does that mean?  How is someone held accountable for what they say?  What was the touching President Bush was doing?  What constitutes a “dirty joke”?

I’m not aware of anyone ever alleging any improprieties from President Bush, at any point in his life.  Which leads me to two interpretations aside from sexual assault.  One is that since President Bush suffers from Parkinson’s disease, his motor skills were impaired enough that he accidentally touched her in an inappropriate manner.  Parkinson’s might also explain a poor choice of a joke.   The other possible explanation is that Ms. Lind took offense at a touch or a joke that were not actually intended to be offensive, and would likely not be seen as offensive by the general public.  Both are very plausible explanations that certainly don’t constitute sexual assault.

I should think that women would be among the first to want to clarify what is serious enough to be called sexual assault, and what is not, even if lesser words or actions are still not appreciated.  I would think that women who have suffered actual sexual assault would want to take Ms. Lind to task for equating her allegations of (if true) at worst, impropriety, with the very real damage others have suffered from the words and actions of someone.

Is an unwanted compliment sexual assault?  Is telling a joke that someone doesn’t happen to care for sexual assault?  Is asking someone out when they don’t want to be asked a form of sexual assault?  Should intention be factored into the definition at least as heavily as interpretation?  These are all important things for us to think through but are easily lost in the blaring headlines.   Sexual assault should not be tolerated, but we need to carefully define our terms to make sure we aren’t reclassifying and even criminalizing behaviors that shouldn’t fall into that category.