Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Matthew 11:16-19

August 17, 2017

One of the irritating things of the past couple of weeks have been the recurring demands from various directions that the Church condemn publicly the activities in Charlottesville.  Specifically, that the Church condemn the Neo-Nazi marches and white supremacist groups, ideologies, and individuals.

I condemn Neo-Nazism and white supremacy ideologies.  I believe the Bible refutes these ideologies in principle and theology.   But let’s be careful about what is going on here.  I’m going to preach about the situation in our country in the aftermath of Charlottesville.  Not because some random person demanded that I do.  This certainly isn’t the first time that people have attempted to dictate what the Church preach.  Personally, I find the Church to be one of the greatest perpetrators of this error, designating numerous Sundays throughout the year  for special topics and focus on special issues or special interest groups.  This bugs the heck out of me and I generally refuse to comply (complicity is always voluntary in our polity, but there is no shortage of encouragement!).

Responding to demands on the Church to preach what culture thinks it should preach are perilous, at best.  This is not the Church’s job.  Fundamentally, the Church exists to preach the Biblical narrative of reality, emphasizing the Incarnation of the Son of God to suffer, die, rise again and ascend to heaven with the promise of return.  The Church can and should apply this central narrative to current events, but I worry that these days, such an application is not the Church leading the charge towards cultural change as it has in the past, but rather attempting to please and placate the larger culture so that culture will regard the Church better.

In other words, calls for the Church to preach against an ideology is not acknowledgement or agreement with the Church.  It’s an attempt to co-opt the Church for political and ideological reasons.  Sometimes these may overlap.  But not always, and the Church needs to be careful.  In general, I believe that culture will ultimately be hostile to the Church, even if it overlaps it or falls under Church influence for a period of time.

The cultural call for the Church to preach on a given topic no longer stems from a shared understanding of human nature, human history and divine existence.  Culture has jettisoned the Church and the Bible as unnecessary and actually problematic in terms of telling us who we are and whose we are.  Culture assumes things directly contrary to the Biblical narrative.  It assumes that the problems of our day can be routed out through education, indoctrination, and population control.  As I’ve already written, I believe this is the source of the shock and terror by many at the events in Charlottesville.  I believe it is similar shock and terror to Trump being elected president.  This wasn’t part of the cultural narrative.

The cultural narrative is that we are in control of our destiny and that, through the careful application of education and science and technology, we will further ourselves as a species.  This means the eradication of anyone and anything that is seen as contrary to a narrative of continuous progress and upwards movement towards our highest potential.  This allows for the destruction of millions of babies that might hinder personal and therefore societal progress.  It promotes the destruction of unborn children who exhibit (or might exhibit) genetic indicators that are deemed unproductive and undesirable, such as Downs Syndrome.  The cultural narrative is that the State is the best agent and overseer of this progress, and that the State is responsible for enforcing such progress when necessary.

So the shock of a president who doesn’t appear to share the same progressive ideology or assumptions about education or science or the media is a shock, literally.  An outrage.  This wasn’t supposed to happen!  He’s supposed to play along with the overarching cultural narrative and only tweak certain things to continue the illusion of real change, real diversity in our institutions.  And so the shock of finding out that there are numbers of people who still hold to ideas that have been deemed flawed and hateful.  This wasn’t supposed to happen!  Sesame Street and public education and mainstream media were supposed to have beaten these misguided concepts out of people!   UN Ambassador Nikki Haley preached this message this week when she asserted “People aren’t born with hate.  We have a responsibility to stand up and condemn it.”

The Bible says we are born with hate.  And lust.  And greed.  And envy.  And self-absorption.  And all the other problems that plague us as a people.  And the Bible claims that we aren’t going to be able to eradicate them because we have no objective, clean base from which to do so.  These things exist in everyone.  To different degrees.  In different ratios.  But everyone deals at some level with them in thought, word and deed.  Those calling out the hatred in Charlottesville are just as sinful and broken.  And it is for all our sinfulness and brokenness that Christ died, and it is for each of our sinfulness that we need to be saved.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t stand up and condemn hate when we see it and hear it!  We do!  Scripture calls us to this and entrusts us with this.  But if we have the mistaken idea that in standing up to it and condemning it we somehow also have the ability to eliminate it, we’re fundamentally mistaken.  Dangerously so.  It is at that point that we are most at risk for becoming the thing we hate – for utilizing power or cultural influence to damage others, believing our cause to be justified and the people we battle against to deserve nothing less.  We also have to recognize that hatred as culturally defined can be misleading and even incorrect.  A purpose or agenda doesn’t become true or right just because there are people crusading for it.  And just because someone claims something or someone is hateful doesn’t mean it necessarily is.

This became apparent with CNN’s publication of a listing of hate groups.  One group gets to define what is and what isn’t a hate group?  On what basis?  Are we to just take their word for it?  I looked at the map created by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  There’s a group labeled as a hate group right here in my city.  What is their hate?  They are for immigration reform.  This makes them anti-immigrant, according to the SPLC.  Other groups (some Christian) are labeled as hate groups for being anti-LGBTQ.  What does that mean?  Does it mean they’re preaching the Bible and holding to Biblical standards on sexuality and gender that are thousands of years old?  But now they’re lumped in with the Black Panthers and radical Islamic groups?

So it’s OK to post the identities of the Neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville with the call for their employers to fire them.  But if a woman was identified being virulent in one of the women’s marches in January and was fired for her participation, I can only imagine the firestorm that would descend upon her employer.  It’s OK to threaten people for some ideas and beliefs, but not for others.  We need to be very careful about this line our culture is treading, and we as Christians and as the Church need to be the most skeptical and wary of all.

Jesus dealt with this in his day as well and warned his followers about it.

But to what shall I compare this generation?  It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  

Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.  (Matthew 11:16-19)

The Church needs to be wise.  The Church condemns hatred, but all hatred.  The Church points out sin, but all sin.  This means at some times our culture will embrace us and at other times they will try to stone us to death.  Preach the truth in all seasons.  And that means preaching it to ourselves, to our fellow Christians, and to the culture around us.  That means trying to make sure we aren’t being co-opted for other purposes, and that our preaching of the truth truly is in love and not for personal or cultural agendas.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.  (Ephesians 4:25)

So I’m preaching.  The texts justify it to some degree, but the texts further still drive us towards the realization that God the Father desires that everyone come into his grace and forgiveness through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.  This means that regardless of what someone is guilty of believing or saying or doing, as I stand up against hatred, I do so with the goal that this person will not simply tow the cultural line of the moment, but will place their faith in Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation.

That’s something I’m pretty sure the larger culture is not going to call us to preach about Sunday, or any other day.

Facts & Feelings

August 8, 2017

On the continuing saga of the fired Google exec who dared challenge prevailing opinions about gender and workplace policy and culture (which I mentioned already here and here), here is input from four apparently well-qualified academics.  Their conclusion is that the author of the memo lined up pretty well with actual research into the differences between men and women.

Unfortunately, that research and his conclusions from it are not very popular these days.

He’s already out of a job, so being right is of questionable consolation in this day and age when truth is determined too often by who screams the loudest and uses the most pejorative language.  His situation perfectly proves the very point he was trying to make.   Google couldn’t have proved and endorsed his critique any better than by firing him.

We struggle as a culture to come up with a framework for male/female interactions (as well as gender, sexuality, etc.).  Whatever is proposed inevitably ends up being offensive to someone and therefore is untenable.  But whether something is offensive or not is separate from whether it is true.  In the drive for equality, feminism and now pop culture at large has settled on the idea that in order to be equal, men and women have to be the same.  Physically, emotionally, intellectually – you name it.  Practically interchangeable.

The only problem with this is that it’s not true.  We know it anecdotally in our relationships, and those informal observations are backed up by an impressive amount of research.  Worse still, it is patently offensive to both men and women to insist that they are virtually identical except for some hormonal and physiological differences – both of which modern medicine and psychiatry are happy to tweak with until you think you’re happy.

I find it interesting that it is common to describe human beings as animals, emphasizing our similarity at a genetic level to the animal kingdom, we are far less interested in seeking comparisons on social issues.  It isn’t helpful to note, for instance, that in many animal species there are very clear roles for each gender, and that those roles differ, but both are important and necessary.  Perhaps such comparisons aren’t often drawn because it is an inconvenient truth, a truth we like to think we have moved beyond.

We are convinced that now that we understand (or think we understand) genetics and DNA and natural selection we have somehow surpassed these things and are in the position of redefining reality and truth to suit our purposes.  We are convinced that our alleged knowledge has made us masters of the things we think we know.  However if DNA and genetics and natural selection are the things we think they are, it seems rather unlikely to me that we have somehow gotten the drop on hundreds of thousands of years of natural selection.  As though we have reached a place where our genes no longer dictate to us, but rather we are free to dictate to our genes through genetic modification.

For now, and for all of time leading up to this moment, men and women have been different, and this has been the source – unfortunately – of inequality.  I have no idea how things will be going forward, now that we are editing and tinkering with DNA and our own genetic code, making changes that can be propagated to future generations.  C.S. Lewis warned about this stage of things in his very prescient book The Abolition of Man.  Unsatisfied with merely being able to rewrite history, we are now permanently rewriting our future as a species.  While some are optimistic about this, I am not.  Our rewriting of history has so often been disastrous that I can’t imagine our success in rewriting the future.

Perhaps it will be a future where the Google engineer is wrong and his detractors are right.  But that’s not the case here and now, and it would seem wise and desirable by all sides to recognize this and take this into account rather than simply pretending it isn’t true.

 

Tolerance for the Win!

August 7, 2017

After an internal memo generated controversy within Google and then was leaked online to further stir up emotions, Google has fired the person responsible for writing a challenge to alleged bias’ and harmful ideological leanings within Google.  Google fired James Damore for “perpetuating gender stereotypes”.  Damore has filed complaint over wrongful dismissal and is mulling possible legal action against Google.  I dare say that if a woman had written an internal memo critical of Google policies and prejudices towards men, the last thing she could expect would be termination.

Not that it’s any of my business, of course.

In other tolerance-related news, a movie chain that sponsored women-only screenings of the box office smash Wonder Woman says it is stunned to learn that such practices may have been discriminatory and illegal.  Really?  You mean the idea of a men-only screening of a movie would have sounded just as equal-opportunity?  Would the theater – and our culture at large – have so easily dismissed complaints by women against a male-only screening?  Would a mayor have written a “tongue-in-cheek” defense of an illegal practice if it had been an all-male screening?  And would women have been satisfied with a free DVD of the movie as compensation for their complaints?

Kinda hard to imagine these days, isn’t it?   Good thing we’ve traded that outdated notion of loving our neighbor for the modern idea of tolerance.

Fightin’ Words

August 5, 2017

A Google exec released an internal memo critiquing the company’s dominant ideological assumptions and is getting reamed for it.  The memo (allegedly) can be read here, while a sample of some of the responses it is generating can be found here.

I can understand why it would sound inflammatory to some people.  I suspect his basic assertions – that a particular ideological mindset are now entrenched and broach no challenge and engage in no dialogue – are accurate.  Some of the additional things he adds to the mix however make those basic assertions difficult to hear.  I don’t know if he attempted to substantiate his claims.  I hope that he did.  I would like to see his detractors substantiate some of theirs as well.  Unfortunately, there are plenty of statistics on both sides of the ideological divide, effectively clouding issues further.

Regardless of your point of view or ideological leanings on this, it’s disturbing once again to see where tolerance has gotten our culture and society.

 

Smarty Pants

July 22, 2017

With graduation season safely behind us, I guess it’s OK to start questioning at least some of the celebrations.  I mean, now that there are graduation ceremonies at every grade level, rewarding as extraordinary what not-so-long-ago was just expected for nearly everyone (and which is still just as un-extraordinary as ever), maybe we should talk about some of those report cards.  The fact that junior got a 4.0 GPA last year may not entirely be due to their diligence.  It could be the fact that lots more people are getting A’s now.  Nearly 50% of students, in fact.

Were this not so endemic, I would think that the top students would be making a big fuss about this, since it is their efforts that are ultimately being demeaned.  Showing love and care and respect to students is not the same as handing out A’s to everyone.  And as the article alludes to, this builds a false sense of expectation for college and the world beyond.  I’m pretty positive that we haven’t evolved to a state where now half of all students in the US are geniuses.  I’m also pretty positive that it’s in our best interests to let them know that they aren’t all geniuses, and help them plan accordingly.

And, to be clear, this is coming from a non-straight-A-student.  I’ve never had that drive – not on any consistent basis.  I’ve always been more than happy with B’s sprinkled with A’s and even a C or two.  I feel like I’ve always learned just as much as the folks with higher grades, I just didn’t care enough about it to prove it.  Throughout high school my peer group consisted of mostly upper echelon GPA folks, and I never mistook myself for being the same caliber as them, academically.  But I felt I could hold my own with them intellectually.  Sometimes.  I like to think this is more a testament to my laziness than any intellectual deficiency, but long-time readers are apt to draw their own conclusions on that topic.

Path to Success

July 15, 2017

Thanks to Gene Veith’s always-excellent blog for steering me towards this study and this commentary on it.  The Reader’s Digest summary is this – if you want to avoid poverty, the best thing you can do is complete the following steps.  Complete all of them and complete them in order.  Skipping or rearranging them could be disastrous:

  1. Graduate at least from high school
  2. Start working full-time
  3. Get married
  4. Only after getting married do you have children

Once upon a time this was common sense and it was reinforced culturally.  Nowadays these steps are likely to be dismissed out of hand, but the statistical data presented in the study is pretty impressive.

 

Universal (Catholic) Wisdom

June 22, 2017

A great article which I would argue encompasses all those who consider themselves Christians, not simply Catholics.  These are problems endemic throughout American Christianity (yes, even among conservative Lutherans!), and they are dangerous to people eternally as well as here and now.  How many of these are you guilty of?

 

Testing the Boundaries

June 12, 2017

Here is a great article about an important judicial case that you probably never heard about until now (at least I hadn’t).

Attempts to undo religious liberty via workplace laws will continue and intensify.  But so far, those efforts are not succeeding – at least in the case of clearly confessional religious bodies.  For smaller churches unaffiliated with a broader denomination or historic church I’m guessing the vulnerability is greater.

I really like how the article stresses that while accusers in such cases often try to portray the actions of a congregation who terminates an employee as unloving or hateful, this is deliberate misrepresentation.  Terminating someone for violating the fundamental tenets of faith is not a hateful act.  At it’s heart, it should ultimately be a call to repentance, a firm reminder that God has spoken through his Word and we need to be careful when we violate it and expect to be commended.  This is, in the best application, another form of church discipline intended to call someone back to repentance and the forgiveness and grace of God, rather than allowing them to live with the potentially damning misunderstanding that what they do is approvable by God, regardless of what society says.

It’s an unfortunate situation for both the congregation and the individual involved, but it is not likely to be the last such situation, or the last such lawsuit.  It will be fascinating to see how long the courts side with churches on this issue.

Your Life, Co-Opted

June 10, 2017

On the heels of my earlier post about how a soccer player’s dreams may have been broken by a team (or corporate?) decision to have the team honor gay rights rather than simply play soccer, here’s another example of how people’s lives are getting co-opted.  A local high school has a long-standing tradition, as in a 77 year old tradition, of male students wearing green gowns and female students wearing white gowns to graduation.  This building on another, almost equally old tradition of male students wearing suits to graduation and female students wearing white dresses.

But because of the current climate of  “inclusivity”, that tradition was scrapped this year so that everyone could wear green robes, thereby eliminating gender distinctions.  Students may not have been consulted about the change in advance, but no matter.  Scrap decades of tradition on the whim of a single on-campus group making a request for change.

I find it interesting (and disappointing) that it wasn’t just a matter of letting students who might identify as a different gender choose the robe color they wanted (the sparse news story didn’t indicate whether any student was actually affected or concerned about the issue).  Rather, everyone’s experience had to be altered.

It’s not enough simply to celebrate graduating high school.  It has to be a cultural/political statement as well.  It’s not enough simply to play a game like soccer, players must be utilized as propaganda for ownership preferences or interests.  Your skills and abilities will increasingly be co-opted for someone else’s agenda.  Congratulations, and welcome to a new age of tolerance and inclusivity.

Making Choices

June 10, 2017

Sunday mornings have really changed since I was a kid.  There were no school activities and no sports activities on Sunday mornings.  Maybe Saturday, but not Sunday.  But today it’s no big deal to have sports groups out on Sunday mornings practicing and competing.  Many parents make the decision that this is best for their kids.  Many Christian parents seem to make this decision for their families as well, lamenting that they can’t be in worship but claiming that this is really what is best for their kids.  They have such an ability, we can’t deny them the opportunity to do what they really love, some might argue.  It sounds compelling.

I’ve repeatedly stated that it’s going to become more difficult – already is more difficult – for Christians to live out their beliefs in our culture.  Options for professions and careers are going to become more limited.  It has become harder for Christians to live out their lives and their beliefs, and that isn’t going to change.  That’s not just true for bakers or farmers or government employees.  It can even be true for soccer players.

This week it was reported that one of the members of the US women’s national soccer team would be dropping out of the team during a Scandinavian tour this year.  No explanation was given beyond “personal reasons”.  Both the men’s and women’s US teams indicated that they would wear rainbow jerseys in celebration and support of gay pride this month.  Jaelene Hinkle withdrew from the team though she had been on it since 2015.  Speculation is that she has withdrawn because of Christian objection to being used as a public support for homosexuality.

There are lots of times – and they will only continue to grow in frequency – when parents and grandparents will be tempted to set aside their beliefs for what they consider to be the good of their family.  This young woman – if speculation is correct – is a beautiful example of refusing to do that.  By all means encourage your kids and grandkids and family to pursue things that they love and enjoy, but to do so at the expense of their Christian faith, of demonstrating to them what is truly most important about life and existence is foolish and dangerous.  Equipping our kids and grandkids to make difficult decisions like this one should be the primary goal of every Christian family.

More and more frequently, they’re going to be faced with these sorts of choices.  The least we can do is model for them how to make them.