Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Looking for Angles

April 19, 2018

A curious read, this.

Noting the publication, it’s not surprising that the piece is critical of gun ownership and a congregation or pastor’s attempts to make sense of Second Amendment rights in a contemporary context.  And I believe I at least understand and can perhaps even sympathize with those who think that banning some or all guns will fix the problems in our culture that more and more regularly express themselves in violence.  And I can further understand an uneasiness with this particular congregation’s advertisement of guns on site.  The conversation about guns and the risks that gathering groups of Christians seem to increasingly face in our society is one being had in many congregations and gatherings of church leaders and workers.

I wouldn’t personally advocate for such a sign on site, even if I lived in a place where such a sign wouldn’t likely be legally challenged.  It reads too much like a challenge, a dare of sorts.  I could understand better an article that wanted to deal with the tone and the repercussions a sign like that might generate.

But the  article wants to be theological.  It wants to imply that this congregation, this pastor, is a lesser form of Christianity.  Unfaithful, even.  Specifically because of their stance on guns.  I think it would be more interesting if the author cast a wider net, addressing some of the other pastoral statements that the author refers to with a not-very-veiled derogatory perspective.

But the attempt to focus simply on gun control falls flat, theologically and otherwise.  The author wants to talk about Jesus and speculate on how He might have dealt with the issue, personally.  Without referring or offering an interpretation of Luke 22:36 (perhaps understandably, it is a very confusing statement!).  But also without referencing parables and other sayings of Jesus that seem to at least tacitly acknowledge the understanding of self defense (Luke 11:14-21, for instance).  Further, the author disregards passages in Scripture (such as Exodus 22:2-3) that do deal specifically with the issue of reasonable self-defense.  Not gun control per se, but what many opponents to revising or eliminating the Second Amendment point to – the right to protect themselves.

I often hear opponents to the Second Amendment claim that you can’t be Christian and support the Second Amendment.  I don’t often hear opponents of gun control arguing that it is unChristian to argue for gun control. But I do hear them arguing – along with non-Christian opponents of gun control – that gun controls or banning gun ownership is not wise.

As the author notes, things were already scary.  I don’t see a division between Christians and non-Christians as to whether things are scary these days.  I don’t see a division between gun control advocates and Second Amendment supporters as to whether things are scary today or not.  I’m pretty positive that most people would admit that there are some seriously scary things going on in our culture.

What we disagree on is firstly what those things are, and secondly how to deal with them.  I’d rather see pastors and theologians talking about that, rather than trying to vet another person’s faith through a political or social filter.  In the long run, changing our approaches is going to be a blessing to everyone.

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Acting for Life

February 5, 2018

Each year there is a massive rally in Washington DC and all around the United States on or near the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in this country 45 years ago.  And every year, despite thousands and thousands of protestors nationwide, the national press is by and large silent on it.  Certainly far more silent than it was about the Women’s March last year, despite that march having very little cohesive purpose.  And despite presidential and vice-presidential statements of support to pro-lifers, the news media saw fit once again to by and large ignore the event.

One of the typical responses against these marches is to criticize Christians for wanting to force women to have their babies but not wanting to help these women in that process, implying that Christians don’t really care about the women, only about the baby.  Which is somehow less sensitive than caring about the woman by killing the baby.

Riiiiiggghhhtt.

But it struck me that one of the problems with this attack on the Christian response to helping women in pregnancy is that it is increasingly difficult for the Church to do this, and the source of this increasing difficulty is the very State that seems determined to maintain the status quo on abortions.  Adoptions, for instance, are a highly regulated issue it turns out.  This is good in some respects – the potential abuse of women and babies by selling babies to the highest bidder or other such exploitation demands there be some rules on what constitutes a legal adoption.  Other regulations are not helpful – demanding that adoption agencies provide adoption opportunities to any potential couple including same-sex couples – something which violates the faith basis of many Christian organizations and has resulted in actually shutting down Christian (mostly Catholic) adoption agencies that refuse to comply with such regulation.

In other words, adoption is a political issue just as much or more so than abortion.  People who want to criticize Christians for not being helpful to young mothers also want to demand Christians violate their religious beliefs to help young mothers.  Problematic at best.

The other aspect to this critique is that as church participation declines in America in favor of some vague, inactive spirituality (even Christian spirituality), many young women have no church community and are therefore lacking in resources to assist them in dealing not only with their sexual development but with unexpected pregnancy.  I’d like to think that a congregation would try to help a member who found themselves in such a situation, though I’m sure many congregations have been guilty rather of ostracizing and casting out the person.

I pray that Roe v. Wade is overturned.  Sooner rather than later.  I pray that everyone will come to understand that freedom which requires the death of the most vulnerable can hardly be thought of as a freedom.  But discussion also needs to focus on how much State regulation actually prevents Christians from doing what their critics chastise them for not doing.

 

More Tax Fun

December 11, 2017

Just in case the Congressional tax plan hasn’t been interesting enough for you, you might be interested to learn that in October a judge (for a second time) ruled that the clergy tax exemption on income designated for housing is unConstitutional.  This has enormous repercussions for religious organizations of every kind, as all are blessed to have the income their religious leaders spend directly on housing-related expenses excluded from taxes, saving religious groups a considerable (though probably not outrageous) amount of money.

The judge ruled that the clergy housing allowance is unfair in that it essentially is an endorsement of religious organizations (while not an endorsement of a particular religion), and as such is unfair as secular organizations and individuals do not receive a similar or equal benefit.  The ruling has been appealed, and defendants will argue that this is more an issue of preventing complicated and unnecessary entanglement of the State with religious organizations, which could lead to a breach of the separation of Church and State.

Certainly there are plenty of folks who think the status quo is Constitutional and should withstand this legal challenge.  Recommendations are that congregations continue to designate housing allowance for 2018 onwards until the case is finally resolved by an appeals court or the Supreme Court, recognizing that if the appeal is unsuccessful, it is possible (if not likely) that housing income will become taxable retroactively to the October ruling, as opposed to being implemented effective of the final court outcome.  This would place ministers of religion in a painful financial situation in having to pay back taxes on perhaps multiple years of housing allowance.

This ruling – at least thus far – applies only to housing allowances, cash given to ministers of religion to secure and maintain housing arrangements.  It does not affect a church that owns a home which it allows the minister to use (a parsonage).  Should the revocation of ministerial housing allowances stand, I’m sure there will be a massive upswing in the number of congregations that provide parsonages rather than housing allowances to their ministers.

All of which would spell the end of many small religious groups unable to cope with the additional burden of needing to pay their ministers enough additional income to offset the negative tax impact.  None of this is surprising given our cultural climate and the sudden reduction in the perceived benefit of religious organizations to society and culture as a whole.

Fire Away

December 6, 2017

Large chunks of southern and central California are on fire.  It isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon, but it’s one that the increased density of humans makes more and more likely, and harder and harder to recover from.  Some of the same hills on fire on the northwest side of Ventura were on fire two years ago.  They were just beginning to recapture some of their green color.

Sin and Sexuality

November 30, 2017

It’s on most everyone’s minds, whether they say it or not.  The recent spate of high-profile offenders only makes the topic both less accessible and more salacious.  We don’t talk about us, but we talk about it, and we talk about others.  I would argue this is the nature of most sexual thought and conversation that goes on in people’s heads and hearts as well as in rare exchanges with people they can be honest with.  We are forever removing ourselves directly from the conversation to project outwards.  This essay does some good work in talking about this from a male perspective.

Of course it’s a misleading essay as well, and certainly a misleading title.  As though only men are brutal or capable of brutality – sexually or otherwise!  It lacks the raw honesty of the Biblical take on the topic of human sexuality as well as sin, a take that understands that both men and women have issues in their sexuality and otherwise.  It might easily be argued that these issues are some of the deepest and most pertinent to who we are as people day in and day out.  I can’t imagine it’s for nothing that the first things we’re told about Adam and Eve after falling into sin by eating the forbidden fruit is they recognize their nakedness and cover it.  It isn’t just woman who recognizes the dangerous vulnerability in her sexuality, but man as well.  Both know they aren’t safe any longer.  It isn’t safe because of the opposite sex (or homosexual variations), and it isn’t safe because of ourselves.

A few comments on the essay.  The first paragraph is misleading and inaccurate.  Marche asserts that what a man says and believes have no bearing on their behavior.  I think this is patently untrue and a straw-man whitewashing of the issue for simplicity’s sake.  The reality is far more complicated.  What a man (or woman) believes, and therefore what he (or she) says, has a great deal of relationship and correlation to how he (or she) acts.  But it isn’t air-tight.  It isn’t bulletproof.  It isn’t perfect.  It’s marred by sin.  By a fundamental disjunction in the individual that makes the perfect  alignment of belief and practice at all times and in all circumstances impossible.  I believe that some of these men believe very strongly and practice very faithfully acceptable ideas about the relationship of men to women.  But I also know that in any particular moment, or even potentially multiple particular moments, their beliefs have not been enough to alter their actions, their words, and their needs or desires.  Sin crouches at each one of our doors, and its desire to have control over us, to eat us alive now and eternally is insatiable.  The life of faith is keeping that sin at bay as best as possible.  But such efforts are inevitably imperfect and flawed.  We all fail in one way or another, at one time or another.  Sexual sin may be the  bête noir of the moment (but hasn’t it always been?) but it is not fundamentally different from any sin in this respect.

Granted – I believe some of the accused are serial perpetrators, actual predators who may say things that people expect them to say but don’t really believe them and had no intention of living them out.  These are the folks who duly deserve to be held accountable in the fullest sense.   I believe others are guilty of actual sin that is not serial in nature.  Their failures are lapses in otherwise good belief and behavior.  They have fallen prey to sin in their hearts and minds, but this is Biblically a different situation than assenting to, endorsing, or validating their sin.  Some of these folks may have sinned in spite of themselves.  And as sin almost always does, this causes harm not just to themselves but to others, and ultimately and always is first and foremost an offense against God.  Should they be censured for these failures?  Certainly.  Should they be destroyed for them?  That’s a question that isn’t going to get much traction in the witch-hunt atmosphere currently gripping our culture.  If we’re going to talk about power imbalances, we should certainly note the huge one right now, where any allegation or accusation can instantly cause irreparable damage, even before it’s substantiated.  In the public court of Twitter, there is no legal principle of innocent before proven guilty.

But to simply say that men (and by implication only men) are incapable of ever being trusted in what they say or profess, and are always and only actively looking for ways to act contrary to their professions is dishonest and inaccurate to any sense of observable reality internally or externally.  Would the author characterize himself this way?  Then why should I bother even reading what he has to say?

The second place I disagree with Marche is in his  second paragraph, where he asserts that the men in question have nothing in common except their sexual misdeeds.  This is not true.  The men in question all share power.  They are all men in position of influence and control of one sort or another.  In other words, they are all men who in addition to the temptation to sexual sin have perhaps a greater opportunity to indulge it.  Impropriety can happen in a great variety of situations but it more naturally lends itself to power imbalance, as Marche rightly understands.  Unfortunately, Marche later in his essay makes the assertion that the nature of sex itself is power or a struggle for power, something inherently unBiblical.  Sexuality is intended not as a power struggle but as the very opposite, the most intimate act of vulnerability.  But of course such vulnerability is only appropriate in a mutually vulnerable situation, which is what Scripture describes in marriage.  Sin changes the dynamic, of course, so that Adam and Eve sense the danger right away, and we continue to live with it today.  But to make our sexuality into something inherently evil, as some feminists including the one Marche quotes do is to overstep the Biblical description.  Sexuality was created good!.  But it must be guarded now because there are sinful instincts to indulge it outside of the proper relationship.  Outside of marriage it is destructive to the individual, the other person involved, and society at nearly every level.  In the midst of sin we have to be careful with the good gifts of God.  We need to cover ourselves.

This is what we’re seeing.  For over 50 years elements in our culture advocated with increasing persuasiveness and influence that sexuality should be unburdened from the Biblical restraints placed upon it.  They have argued that sexuality should be freely enjoyed by practically anyone (including those who argue for decriminalizing sex with children and the ongoing sexualization of young adolescents in advertising), with practically anyone (including people of any gender and regardless of marital status), practically anytime (thanks to tax-payer funded contraception).  Sex is to be freed of any inhibitions and everyone should enjoy themselves without the worry of complications (the celebration of divorce as an option along with the government-enforced option of killing any unplanned on and unwanted children that might result).  Discarding Biblical notions of sexual propriety and protection (only between a man and a woman who have publicly committed themselves to each other for life in marriage), we’ve been told and shown that sex is easy and fun and simple and everyone should be doing it.

Is it any wonder that we have people who abuse that philosophy – or more accurately, take it to logical conclusions?  And instead of being celebrated as ideological idols they are crucified.  Careers are disparaged and destroyed.  Art and other creative works are immediately jettisoned and rejected.  As though everything a person was and did was bound up specifically with their sexual behavior.

Marche asks the critical question near the end of his essay – How can healthy sexuality ever occur in conditions where men and women are not equal?    The Bible has already provided an answer – put sexuality back where it belongs between two people who are equalized in the relationship of marriage.  Admit that the hyper-sexualized culture we’ve created – where everyone  and anyone is a sexual possibility – is unhealthy and dangerous to everyone, and teach people once again about respect and self-control rather than damage control and spin.  Preventing the abuses that are coming to light, whether predatory and ideological in nature or slips of otherwise good people requires an entire culture grounded in terms of the power, the danger, and the beauty of sexuality.  Such steps will not eliminate all abuse, but they will move towards minimizing it.

Towards this end it isn’t just men who need to examine their masculinity, but women who need to examine their femininity.  And more accurately, both need to examine the reality that there is always a break, a gap, sometimes a chasm between who they claim to be and truly to want to be, and who their thoughts and words and occasional actions show them to be.  There is always a difference between the ideal and the reality.

Modern society has no answer to that gap other than to deny it and excoriate anyone it catches publicly in that gap as some sort of misfit.  But the reality is that every one of us has that gap.  Denying it only exacerbates the problem, and modern philosophy and culture has no answer either for why it is there or what to do about it.  Both are convinced that it can be eradicated through proper breeding and education and controls, which explains the massive shock and indignation in discovering that decades of abortions, contraceptives, educational indoctrination, government dictates and other controls have not eradicated the gap at all.  Thus the shock to find out that people – even people we think are good – fail.  There is no mercy in this system of philosophy and culture.  No forgiveness.  So ultimately everyone dies because everyone fails – some are just better at covering it up than others, or some sin in ways that are more socially permissible than others.

Only the Bible gives an actual explanation for the gap, and offers a solution to the gap both here and now and in the long-term, eternal sense.  Only Christianity acknowledges that we cannot fix the gap on our own no matter how badly we want to.  It has to be closed for us, fixed for us  While that isn’t going to happen this side of eternity, we do have real reason and hope in fighting against our sinfulness, in little by little closing that gap a bit.  Not simply by our own force of will or through fear of societal punishments, but by the very power of God who created us and saved us, living within us and working with us and for us, leading us in the life-long process of battling against sin towards a day when we no longer have to because it will no longer be there within us.

Names will continue to be revealed and heads will continue to roll.  But until we acknowledge the abject failure of the sexual philosophy of the past 50 years, we aren’t going to make any progress towards positive change.  It’s only going to get worse.

 

Where Was God?

November 8, 2017

The news reports of the shooting in Sutherland Springs Texas Sunday morning are horrific.  People around the country and world are trying to deal with the ramifications of what happened.  Much time and energy is already being devoted to trying to understand why Devin Kelley at 26 years of age would be motivated to such terrible actions.  Debate is focused on his relationship to his estranged wife and his mother-in-law.  It won’t surprise me in the least if some sort of familial struggle is credited with motivating him to violence.  Whether such is the conclusion or not won’t bring back the dead, won’t turn back time, won’t heal hearts, and won’t answer the ultimate question often posed at times like this – where was God when this happened?

Certain people have already demonstrated their profound lack of understanding of the Christian faith and profound insensitivity to the suffering as they push their ideological agendas of gun control.  The debates will continue to rage.  Laws and rights will be enacted or repealed, but the basic question remains – where was God?

First off, I’d like to point out the crassness of such a question that implies that a God of love of mercy would or should protect a certain minimum threshold of people from violence and evil, but isn’t necessarily held culpable for smaller-scale atrocities.  Why is this question asked when dozens are killed but not one or two?  Is there a categorical difference between the evil of dozens slain in Christian worship and a husband abusing his wife, or a mother neglecting her child, or a neighbor stealing, or a stranger shooting an irritating driver on the freeway?  Is one more evil than the other, or are they all the same evil affecting varying numbers of people?

As a Christian I decry the evil in all of these situations and incidents.  Whatever psychological motivations can be detected or inferred, I know that the deeper underlying issue is the sin that is in all of us.  Sometimes that sin drives people to violence or cruelty in actions.  Other times it prompts them to violence or cruelty with what they say.  Other times, perhaps most of the time, it prompts people to violence or cruelty only in their thoughts and feelings.  But Jesus makes it clear in his teachings in Matthew 5:21-30 that sin is sin is sin, whether it affects one person or one thousand, whether it works itself out in murder or adultery or remains locked in our thoughts and feelings.

So the evil of Mr. Kelley’s murderous rampage is terrible in scope, but no more morally reprehensible – by Biblical standards – than the evil I hold in my heart for the person who cuts me off in traffic.  We as a society must deem certain offenses greater than others.  But the moral guilt of the thought, word, or deed is identical before God.

If we doubted God’s power or presence any time an act of evil was engaged in – even just outwardly manifested evil in word or deed – there wouldn’t be a lot of room left for God to be active at any given moment.  It’s only because certain moments and actions are highlighted for their scale that this question surfaces with us.  But if it’s valid to ask this question for a massacre, it’s valid to ask it for a case of child abuse, or a case of sexual assault, or a case of theft.  Where is a loving, omniscient and all-powerful God when evil occurs?

Biblically, God is where He always has been, always is, and has promised to always be.

God the Father who created all things in Genesis 1 & 2 continues to sustain them still today.  He hasn’t simply wound the clock and nipped out for a nap or a bite to eat.  The fact that Sutherland Springs and the rest of the cosmos as we know it and are accustomed to experience it existed at all on Sunday morning is evidence of God the Father’s divine care and mercy and power.  It was that power that the parishioners gathered to profess and celebrate before they were cruelly shot to death.  Their deaths do not invalidate the reality that they professed when they still had breath.  God the Father/Creator was present and accounted for.

God the Son was present in the forgiveness that was hopefully requested and received in Confession and Absolution.  The sacrifice of God the Son on the cross 2000 years ago, his miraculous resurrection three days later, his ascension to heaven with promises to return just a few short weeks later, none of these realities are altered by what happened in Texas this past weekend.  The forgiveness his death opened up to us through faith in his resurrection was there for every person in that church.  It was there for Mr. Kelley as well, inviting him to repent his evil intentions prior to carrying them out, and even promising forgiveness with his repentance as he lay wounded and preparing to kill himself in his car.  I don’t know whether he accepted that invitation in his final seconds, though I pray he did.  In which case he would have found a God far more gracious and merciful and forgiving than Mr. Kelley had just shown himself to be behind the muzzle of his gun.  That is the kind of gracious and merciful God such a man needs, the kind of God I need if I am to truly trust his promise of grace and forgiveness.  It was the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return of the Son of God that the people of that congregation gathered to profess and celebrate as truth before the bullets ushered them into eternity.  The bullets don’t alter that truth in silencing those particular faithful.  God the Son/Redeemer was present and accounted for.

God the Holy Spirit, who had worked faith in the hearts of those parishioners and spurred them to worship that morning to celebrate the good gifts of God was present.  This is the work of God the Holy Spirit in creation, turning hearts to faith, leading people towards repentance and the acceptance of forgiveness, enlightening through the Word of God, and the existence of that small congregation was proof of the Holy Spirit’s power and presence.  I pray that the Holy Spirit’s work of healing, forgiveness, and peace will be powerfully felt and demonstrated and received by those who lost loved ones, family, friends.  The assault rifle did not dispel the Holy Spirit’s presence or purpose.  God the Holy Spirit/Sanctifier was present and accounted for.

God was fully present.  And God did not intervene to miraculously protect his people in Sutherland Springs.  Could He have?  Of course, and the Bible as well as history is chock full of people who credit God with protecting them and delivering them from bodily harm and danger.  But God told Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that sin brings death.  And while God has a plan to save us from the evil of our sin and has revealed that plan in his Son’s death and resurrection, He has never promised us carte blanche immunity to the effects of our own sin or the sin of those around us.  In fact, He has told us that we will suffer.  We will die.  And He has shown us that our hope is not in avoiding these things but coming through them.

The God in Sutherland Springs Sunday morning is also the God at Calvary 2000 years ago.  The God who did not rescue his own Son from the evil and murderous intentions of humanity, but rather absorbed that hatred and misunderstanding and evil into the wounds of his Son, into the blood that poured from his body, into his very death and burial.  God the Father – through the incarnation of God the Son – knows the suffering that sin causes.  The pain of losing a loved one.  The agony of watching evil at work.  But rather than simply promising to help us avoid these things for the span of a few decades, God the Father clued Eve into the fact that his plan was nothing short than the undoing of sin from the inside out.  To the redemption of creation – inasmuch as creation would accept such redemption.

These are the things those people in Texas gathered to hear, affirm, take strength and hope in for the coming week.  Those are the very things they needed to have on their hearts and minds when brutal violence changed their worship.  It did indeed change their worship, but it didn’t end it.  Those who died continue their worship in heaven, in the presence of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And those who are left behind are called to continue their worship as well, assured that their worship is in unity with, at one with the worship of their beloved family and friends who now worship in heaven.  This is what Christian worship is – the most obvious point at which the veil between heaven and earth is thinnest, where our praise unites with the praise of the faithful in heaven until that promised day of our Lord’s return, a theme that traditionally occupies the last three weeks of the liturgical church year and start this Sunday.

Others have already pointed out that the seventh petition of the Lord’s Prayer – deliver us from evil – is a prayer not only for temporal safety but that the Lord would ultimately maintain us in the faith against the temptations within ourselves, in the world around us, and from our enemy Satan, so that we might (in God’s perfect timing) enter through death into eternal life and eternity with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.  God did that Sunday morning, in spite of whatever hateful and spiteful intentions Mr. Kelley may have intended.

So we should continue to pray.  I don’t put much stock in sending thoughts out to those affected, but I trust with all my heart and soul in the efficacy and beauty and importance of prayer.  At all times, and in all places and situations, not simply those that are of a sufficiently horrible nature to grab headline status.

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….

 

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.

 

 

 

Me Too…in Other Ways

October 17, 2017

I thought this was a great essay by Mayim Bialik.  While I doubt she and I agree on many things, I very much appreciate her mature evaluation of the irresponsible behavior of both men and (potentially) women.  Of course, she has been excoriated for this from many women who view her conservative treatment of a woman’s role in all of this as a betrayal of feminist insistence that women never, ever have absolutely any responsibility in a situation of sexual inappropriateness.

Bialik’s essay in no way gives a pass to men to sexually harass women.  But she does acknowledge that women have a role to play in this issue as well, which of course is a forbidden aspect of discussion.  Should women have to worry about being assaulted or harassed?  No, they shouldn’t.  We all know that in our hearts.  But they do.  And we recognize that there are good reasons for this, and that occasions for worry happen quite a bit.  Regardless of whether a woman conforms to societal notions of beauty or sexuality.  Despite whether she dresses conservatively or provocatively.  Regardless of whether she chooses to drink excessively or otherwise compromise her faculties or not.

In other words, there are no foolproof ways to assure a woman will never be harassed or assaulted.  Or to assure that a woman will never feel harassed, even if no such harassment was intended.  This is part of sin playing out in our world.  A sin that runs deep…all the way back to Genesis 3:16 and the preview of the battle of the sexes that has ensued ever since.  Woman and man struggle for control over each other.  What history has shown is that women have traditionally fared worse in this struggle – at least by the standards of wealth and power and public office.  But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t active combatants, or that they haven’t learned how to win in other ways.

The reality is that we relate to one another, both people we want to relate to and people we aren’t even aware of.  We relate to them in how we carry ourselves, present ourselves, how we speak and groom ourselves, what we wear, and all of the other subtle and not-so-subtle body and image languages we use.  Pretending that this is not the case is irresponsible and dishonest.  Most everyone takes at least some effort to put themselves together in a way they want other people to view them, and at least anecdotally, women put more time and more care into this than men.

How we prepare ourselves says things to other people.  Bialik understands this.  Admitting this is not giving an excuse to those who act inappropriately.  But admitting does recognize that at some times, some women are complicit.  Show business has long been an environment where this is tacitly understood (similar to politics, oddly enough).  The outrage over Harvey Weinstein has the benefit of a specific target, someone who can personally be held accountable and punished.  But it isn’t as though Weinstein invented the casting couch.  He perpetuated it.  And as much as it might offend some women, I’ll go a step further to suggest that he perpetuated it – like those before him and contemporaneous with him and those who come after him – with the help of some women.

Not all, to be certain.  But in the recognition that some people have been hurt and harmed, it is easy to try and oversimplify things and in so doing, ignore underlying truths and realities that might otherwise be helpful or necessary to bring about change.  Systematic behavior relies on a lot of things.  Systematically abusing other people presumes often times that abuse is not just tolerated, but rather sought out.  That it isn’t always abuse.  That some are participants, not victims.

The last big example of this was the famous taped comment of Donald Trump about some of his interactions with certain women.  He was taped – probably without his knowledge – and the tape was released before the election last year to try and destroy his chances of winning the presidency.  That effort failed, much to the surprise of Hillary Clinton and many other people.  How was it that such patently offensive language would not cause every voter (or at least every female voter) to repudiate Trump?

Because common sense understood what he was talking about.  Common sense understood that Trump was crudely describing the atmosphere of wealth and power and success that he has spent his whole life in.  The reality that there are always people (men and women, I have no doubt) willing to do whatever it takes to enter that atmosphere, to breathe deeply and permanently acclimate to it.  Some people work really hard to earn and accomplish things that bring wealth and power.  Others are willing to shortcut the process, relying on other assets and exchanges.  We call these people gold diggers.  Kanye rapped about them in 2005 but nobody took offense to him or to his rather explicit lyrics (and please be aware that the link above is to the lyrics to the song which are not exactly child-friendly, given the subject).  Why?  Because everyone understood what he was talking about.  When you’re a star, they let you do it.  You can do anything, Trump spoke.  I know somebody paying child support for one of his kids / His baby momma’s car and crib is bigger than his Kanye sings.    The implication is clear and everyone knows it when they aren’t ideologically blinded – not everyone is a victim.  Sometimes, everyone is guilty.  Is it crude?  Of course.  Does that make it any less true?  No.

Were voters commending or affirming the Donald and his comment and the reality he was expressing rather ineloquently?  Of course not.  But they also understood that he was describing a particular reality, however offensive and disgusting it might be.  And they understood as well that lots of people enter that reality knowingly, not as victims but as participants.  As combatants.

Is this right and proper?  That the rich and powerful should expect that there will be up-and-comers eager to sell what they have for what they might become?  Of course not.  But it is reality.  I’m not affirming that this is the way things should be, but I’m pretty sure this is always how things have been.  Which makes me skeptical about our attempts – however well-intentioned – to eliminate it.  As long as some have wealth and power and others don’t, there will always be willing participants on both sides of the equation, which means there will be unwilling victims on one side or the other of the equation.

What does all this have to do with Bialik and feminists and Weinstein?  The simple reality that how we present ourselves leads others to conclude things about us.  Those conclusions may not be correct, but they aren’t necessarily unreasonable conclusions, either.  This doesn’t justify abuse or harassment, but it can be a contributing factor to it -whether we like to admit that or not.  It isn’t always, but it sometimes can be.  For these reasons taking some time to consider how we present ourselves to others is worthwhile and appropriate.

What do you want people admiring you for – your body or your personality and other attributes?  If you don’t want to be confused with someone who is actively looking for a sexual relationship or encounter, why would you dress like that sort of person?  Bialik simply acknowledges the reality that clothing and appearance help communicate and we are responsible for thinking about the messages we send.  We can’t always be responsible for how those messages are received or acted upon, but we are responsible for thinking about what we are trying to say to the people who see us.  When we use this common sense, we may find that abuse and harassment decline not just in our own personal lives, but in the lives of others around us as men are reminded that women are not simply here for their own personal gratification, but ultimately as partners (Genesis 2:20, 23-25), which is what God intended from the beginning and, in Christ, will re-establish permanently one day.

As Genesis 2 shows, it isn’t ultimately what we wear that is the problem.  It is the sin within all of us.  The sin that takes the good bodies that God created and turns them into objects of shame and fear (Genesis 3:7, 10).  Which is why our efforts to eradicate sexual objectification, harassment, and abuse will fall short.  Not that we shouldn’t try, we just need to realize that the issue is sin, and runs a lot deeper than just retraining people how to speak and act.  Ultimately what Harvey Weinstein and all those like him needs most isn’t public humiliation or jail time or any other arbitrary punishment we might decide to inflict on them.  What they need most is salvation – the same thing every one of us needs.  Something we can’t get or create on our own, we can only accept it on the terms of and in the life and death and resurrection of one God-Man, Jesus.

That’s what our hope is – the transformation of ourselves and creation into the people we know we should be on the inside but are never capable of fully becoming.  Until that time, we need to be careful.  We need to think about the messages we send with our clothing and our behavior and all the other ways we communicate.  We need to work hard to keep ourselves from situations where we might exploit or be exploited.  We need the fig leaves and the animal skins here and now to protect us not just from one another but from ourselves as well.

 

 

 

 

More Mixing

October 11, 2017

It’s not just Sears  mixing up girls and boys, treating them as essentially the same thing for the sake of convenience, ideology and profit.  Today the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) announced that girls will be fully integrated into the organization.  As Matt Walsh put it (on Facebook, so I can’t link you to it), this removes from the BSA “any remaining reason for their own existence.”  Ironically, this move was criticized by Girls Scouts USA (GSUSA) which interprets the move as an attempt to lure girls away from GSUSA and bolster a declining BSA membership.  Integration is good unless it hurts your membership numbers.  I look forward to feminists criticizing GSUSA for their response, but I’m not holding my breath for it.

At least the GSUSA understand that there are benefits to having all boys or all girls organizations, and that the existence of such organizations is not a de facto affront in any way to members of the opposite sex/gender.  But in our bizarro-world culture, such obvious truths are now given very little airplay, let alone respect.  Boys and girls, men and women in the same locker rooms and restrooms?  Sure thing!  No problem!  The common sense respect offered by single gender places and organizations has been decimated by a miniscule (comparatively) group of people bent on an agenda of deconstructing our society from the inside out.

I assume it won’t be long until BSA renames itself.  After all I can’t imagine that, once admitted, girls are going to care for being labeled as boys.  I hope that boys and men would have the courage and honesty to admit that the name is no longer accurate.  And if we continue down (and it is a downwards movement) this road of confusing sexes and genders, particularly denigrating men and masculinity, any such male-oriented label is going to be seen as a detriment rather than an asset.  Self-preservation of the BSA entity (brand), rather than the ideas upon which the BSA was founded, is ultimately a betrayal and rejection of those ideals that serves and benefits nobody.