The Convergence of Faith, Politics and Culture: Vision for This Blog

          Let me start by putting it bluntly, when faith, politics and culture come together there are no easy answers. Some will say, “Of course there are, The Bible tells us what to think about A, B or C.” It is my belief, however, that when it comes to applying Scripture to the many issues we face in this world there is rarely (if, ever) a 1 to 1 correlation. As nice as that would be, there is just too much distance between the biblical world and our world today. More work is required of us and that is what this blog is all about.

            In many of my posts I am going to look at the important political issues this country is dealing with and seek a faithful biblical position. Of course, with this task there are complications. If we’re dealing with the Old Testament, we must take into account the way in which Israel was governed which was sometimes theocracy and sometimes monarchy (maybe always theocracy, depending upon your perspective). America is considered a Constitutional Republic, very different from anything Israel faced. In America, the needs of a very diverse people must be considered and the powers of government are (supposed to be) limited by a Constitution. Thus, saying that they did X in Israel so we should do X in American isn’t quite so cut and dry. Ultimately, Scripture is our backbone; it gives us our ethical basis, but we must use caution when applying it to the modern day.

            Furthermore, issues are often far more complicated than people would have us believe. I am always wary of anyone who claims to have the “correct” position on a complicated subject. Especially, when, after stating their position, they torch all of those who disagree with them. The fact is that for some issues there are many defensible positions that are faithful to the Bible. While it is okay to be secure in our beliefs about various topics, I believe that it is arrogant to act as if we know everything this side of eternity. It is my belief that complicated issues should be approached with humility even if we have determined what we think about them.

            In addition, and in the interest of full disclosure, I will sometimes post random thoughts about religion, politics, culture, the media, maybe sports, and anything else that inspires me. It won’t always be wrestling through complex issues; sometimes it’ll be observations, insights or commentary on pop culture. No matter the post, I encourage those that read to engage. If you think I’m wrong about something, let me know. If you have some legitimate pushback, let me hear it. And of course, encouragement is always welcome as well. While I have seen many people dismiss discussion as an unfruitful enterprise, this has not been the case in my own life. I can think of many examples in which someone else’s insights or challenges have led me to a fuller and more complete view upon a given topic. All that to say, please engage and interact!

            So, I guess this is the official launch of Convergence: A Meeting Place for Faith, Politics and Culture. Sit back and enjoy the ride!!

Wrestling with God Through the Loss of a Friend

       It might be surprising to some that when tragedy strikes Christians they often enter a very real wrestling match with God. Maybe I shouldn’t speak for all Christians, but I will say I often wrestle with God through difficult times. I know that I have some friends who would also openly admit to this as well. I believe we follow in the footsteps of people such as David who, if you take a quick glance through the Psalms, is regularly questioning and crying out to God in anguish. Maybe some would rather present a picture of their Christian journey as peaceful and perfect; nary a hiccup or reason to feel disappointed. Perhaps they will look down on me for being honest about my recent struggles with the death of a friend. To those people I would simply say, God is big and can take my questions.

            On October 9, 2012 a friend of mine named Jon Chester passed away unexpectedly. When I heard the news, I instantly started bawling. That is no exaggeration; it was quite literally instant and intense. Now, it must be said that I am not prone to emotional outbursts. For the most part I am emotionally steady and it takes quite a bit to throw me off, but something about this was like a dagger to the chest. It was so unexpected and it was so unfair, he was so faithful to God,  how could this happen? This is was I was thinking in those moments immediately after hearing the news. Every Christian has their stock theological answers when someone passes away unexpectedly. It’s not God’s fault, death is the result of sin reigning in this world. Additionally, as a result of sin our bodies are prone to failure but God is good and He loves us and this is just good bye for now. Those are all true and great but in the emotional moments after hearing this unexpected news the stock answers weren’t good enough. I wanted to know how this could be allowed to happen to someone as faithful as Jon. Well the answer I got was this…

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?”

                             – Job 38: 4-7

            For those unfamiliar with the Bible this is God’s response to Job after Job goes through some really terrible times, and it was the first thing that popped into my head when I asked God what in the heck He was up to. Some will say that’s a coincidence, but I’ve only read the Book of Job twice in my whole life so I don’t have it memorized. I really think God was redirecting my focus from my own anguish, to the fact that He’s God and may have a little bit of a better grasp on what’s really going on. It helped but of course I was still really upset.

            My friendship with Jon started when he began an internship at the church where I was already an intern. We worked in the same department and developed a good friendship. Jon was an awesome guy who really loved people well. He didn’t look like your typical pastor but exuded a confidence and boldness that was out of this world. We spent a lot of time together during the course of our internships. We taught evangelism classes together, led Theo-Pub (a discussion group that met in Barrel 44 in the Short North) together and talked a lot about everything under the sun. Some of my favorite memories with Jon are just walking up and down High St. inviting people to Theo-Pub. We had a lot of time to talk about our hopes and dreams and the calls we felt God had placed on our lives. He unequivocally felt that he was called to church plant in Wilmington, NC and during his internship he was trying out ideas, such as Theo-Pub, that he would one day implement in Wilmington.

            I remember being struck by his faithfulness to this call. The church where we were interns is large and it is easy to get comfortable there, but Jon was always just passing through. He frequently recruited me for this church plant. He said after I finished seminary I had to come down there. He even went so far as to look up houses that might be in my budget and he pointed out several times that the largest employer in the area was a hospital so my wife wouldn’t have to change careers. Even recently on Facebook when I mentioned that I was starting my last year of seminary he wrote, “And then heading to Wilmington.” Did I mention that he was also very persistent? He tried to recruit many people, and I was actually quite flattered that one of those people was me. I never told him how much I enjoyed doing ministry together as interns, and how doing ministry with him in Wilmington would have been a complete joy. In the back of mind I always thought I’d end up in Wilmington hanging with Jon, I only wished I would have shared that with him.

            There are many things I wish I would have shared with Jon. I wish I would have told him that his confidence in regards to his call, made me more confident in my own call. Like I said, Jon didn’t look like your typical pastor. He was bald, had piercings and was covered in tattoos, but he wasn’t bound by other people’s expectations. He was able to live out his calling with confidence and boldness because he knew God and had faith in his call. I always admired that and I’m not being overly sentimental when I say that it had a profound effect on me. I wish I would have told him how much I admired his zeal and passion. Jon was an awesome guy who I appreciated so much and who was there for me as I struggled through seminary and my internship.

            Perhaps there’s a lesson here about sharing how you feel towards people in the moment because you might not have a chance in the future. Certainly that’s important but I think there’s something more. In the days following Jon’s passing every time I thought of him the phrase, “Well done my good and faithful servant,” would sound off in my mind. This is from a parable that Jesus tells in which a master gives his servants bags of gold, goes out of town and returns to see how they did with their money. The servants who do well are the ones that got a return on the investment. The master tells those servants that because they were faithful with a little, they can be trusted with more. Again, I don’t think it is a coincidence that I heard this verse in connection with Jon. Before church planting, Jon did everything that was asked of him. Even though he was restless and excited to get started, he remained faithful, and God rewarded him with Carolina Coast Vineyard Church. He was only pastor for a short time but he fulfilled the call that God placed upon his life. Hearing about that community and seeing the outpouring of support from people there, it is clear that Jon and his wife Cathy, with the aid of God, have started something that is going to impact God’s kingdom. That is how I want to live my life.

            As a Christian I do not believe that death is the end. I believe that when Christians die they go to Heaven to await the resurrection of all creation. I will see Jon again which does give me comfort, but his death still hurts. To me, this is a senseless tragedy like many senseless tragedies that happen every day. I wish God would have stopped it, but He didn’t. I don’t understand how this is the best course for God’s kingdom, and God is not obliged to give me answers. It is comforting, however, to know that God is in control. I believe that many years ago God was laying the foundations of the universe and the Earth which we now occupy. He created the planets and the stars and the millions of galaxies that exist in space. He brought forth life eventually culminating in his image bearers, humans. God is in control and that’s a beautiful thing; it can be a frustrating thing because I may feel like I’m entitled to answers but ultimately God can be trusted to run the universe. Sometimes (okay most of the time) I just need to get out of the way and have a little faith.

            There is no doubt that I am going to miss Jon, and I will be in good company in that regard. Having faith in God and believing in the resurrection makes it possible, however, to grieve with hope. So remember it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.   

A Frank Conversation about Homosexuality, the Finale: Government & Religion

In this, the final chapter of our frank conversation about homosexuality, I want to discuss government and religion. Same-sex marriage is undoubtedly a hot button issue, one that affects the way in which people vote. In the upcoming election we have President Obama who believes that same-sex marriage should be totally legal, while on the other hand we have Mitt Romney who wants to make sure the traditional view of marriage, one man and one woman, is upheld. I’ve discussed the traditional view of marriage in part two of our discussion so I’m not going revisit it here. What I want to focus on is what I consider to be a troubling trend, Christians seeking to establish God’s kingdom through the government.

A reality that we Christians must face head-on is that candidates use issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion to get us to the polls. So, on election day, Christians will march to the polls to vote for the Republican candidate because they oppose same-sex marriage. I think this mentality changed a bit in 2008; at least it did in my circle, when Christians began to look at the candidate’s total platform and not just one or two issues. So let’s say it changed a bit but also concede in this election there will still be many Christians who vote for Romney because of this one issue. I believe that this is irresponsible voting and irresponsible Christian engagement with the secular world. Here’s why…

First, the federal government is NOT a Christian institution. Let’s say that Romney is elected and an amendment to the constitution is passed that ensures the traditional view of marriage is upheld. I’m sure that many Christians will feel that this is a major moral victory, but all that has really happened is that government is enforcing our moral standard on the entire population of America. Meanwhile, our moral guide – the federal government – is unwisely spending money, participating in activities such as drone strikes, and racking up a deficit that will never get paid off. If Christians want to the government to represent their interests they need to do A LOT more than petition the government to outlaw same-sex marriage, but it seems like many of these other issues are ignored.

I think that if Christians are going to make a difference in this world it’s going to be through the Church, not through the federal government. I have several Christian friends (maybe more than I know) who believe that a big government is a good thing. A government that redistributes wealth, ensures every person has healthcare and ensures that every person has the same high quality education seems to be the ideal. My only problem with this mentality is that you’re relying on the government to employ kingdom principles. Those things are awesome and should be valued and I’m pro-all of them, but not if it means the government is a massive, intrusive entity (which it already seems to be). Being completely honest, I find it really disturbing that the government has the power to tell people they can or cannot enter a civil union. How did the government get so big? What my Christian friends need to understand is that a big, intrusive government that ensures everything is equal is also given the power to infringe upon our freedoms particularly our religious freedom. You may say that this is ridiculous, but I would argue it’s already happening.

For example, through Obamacare (the real name is so long) companies will have to provide Plan B (morning after pill) and Levonelle (week after pill) through their insurance policies. You might say well that’s not really that big of a deal, but I would argue if you have a Christian company who morally objects to those medications then forcing them to provide them for their employees is a massive intrusion. I mean if the employees know the stance of the company and have agreed to their standards then they should be allowed to morally object to the provision of those medications. Yet, as it stands, this is still in effect.

So, I am not in favor of a massive government that “levels the playing field,” but, as I said, I am in favor of a Church that radically changes this country. I think that if we redirected our energy away from petitioning the government and put it towards taking care of the sick and the poor we would do a lot to level the playing field and establish the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Some communities already do this really well, but there are still those believers that think the government should be an extension of the Church. I believe we should avoid this mentality and instead establish caring and compassionate communities motivated by their faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ example is that of someone intimately connected with the downtrodden who changed them from within their midst.

Connecting this back to same-sex marriage, I have to say that I don’t think Christians should spend their time lobbying the government to outlaw it. I believe we’ll be better off treating people with kindness and compassion and modeling healthy and whole relationships by fixing the issues destroying marriages in our churches. I’m sure many people will disagree with this and that’s fine. If you find yourself saying, “Christians should continue to petition the government to outlaw same-sex marriage,” I would simply ask, if you believe the government should be the arbiter of morality are you consistently advocating for the government’s morality on all issues? If the government is going to define what is moral in one area of life, they should be defining what is moral in all areas of life. Are you demanding this of them or is it just about a single issue?

Bill Maher Believes Religion is about Power; Global Christianity Begs to Differ

         I have a love-hate relationship with the comedian Bill Maher. On the one hand, he has truly inspired me to get the truth out about Christianity; for that I am thankful. On the other hand, he has a loyal following who believe everything he says even when it is completely false. He breeds ignorant activists who never question the facts that he offers. In later blog posts I will debunk Maher’s film Religulous because there are so many flat-out lies (or terribly done research though I’m inclined to believe lies since he clearly has an agenda in the film) that someone has to point out his errors.

            Right now I just want to point out something that Maher says in a deleted scene of Religulous. He says, “But if you can’t get that [sex], power is a pretty good second one. And that’s what religion gives people. Power. Power is sex for people who can’t get or don’t want or aren’t any good at sex itself.” Obviously Maher is trying to be funny, but the idea that religion is about power is a common critique. I’ve heard it many times from my non-Christian friends. Christianity is about power and money and no one would be a part of it if they didn’t stand to gain something. This is probably believed by many, and it couldn’t be farther from the truth.

            The problem with the hypothesis that Christianity is only about power and money, is that it doesn’t evaluate all of the evidence. It looks only at the Western Church. Admittedly, the Western Church has grown comfortable. As Dr. Bill Payne, one of my professors at Ashland, said, “In America, Christianity is associated with sexism, homophobia, superstition, anti-intellectualism, slavery, colonialism, anti-science, and a host of other bad things.” This is undoubtedly true, and we have become associated with these things because in our comfort we have lost track of the Gospel.

            It doesn’t help that the media will only do stories on crazy people who want to burn Qurans and protest the funerals of soldiers. For every 1 Christian doing something like that I know about 1,000 or more who are serving in food pantries and free clinics, taking food to homeless camps, praying for the city and country, taking supplies to low-income schools and hundreds of other things like this. Be that as it may, there remains a large contingency in America and the wider Western world that, through their actions, misrepresent Christianity. It is those people that give Bill Maher fertile ground to attack the faith.

            When we expand our view beyond the Western world, however, we see a Christianity that looks very different from our own. Bill Maher claims to be a rationalist, someone who evaluates his beliefs based upon the facts, but this simply can’t be true because when we look at Christianity worldwide we see a community that is powerless and persecuted. Around the world, Christians are being killed for their beliefs, yet, despite the persecution, people continue to convert to Christianity.

            What led me to investigate worldwide Christian persecution was my Missional Church class at Ashland Seminary. Our professor, Dr. Payne, showed several videos of Christian persecution throughout the world. The one that moved me the most was the one about what’s happening in India. The video (I’ll share the link at the end but just be warned it is unbelievably graphic) was created by Christians in India in response to a rash of attacks that broke out against believers. The video opens with two men and a teenage boy being beaten to death by angry protestors. The violence is nauseating and it’s real. The attacks against Christians began because Hindus blamed Christians for the killing of a Hindu leader even though the evidence points to a communist extremist as the culprit. In any case, Christians were systematically beaten to death and their bodies were left strewn all over the streets.

            Unfortunately, the violence against Christians in India is actually quite widespread. The Gospel represents a threat (not a violent threat mind you) to the Hindu Caste System and Indian nationalist organizations have sought to stamp out Christianity from its midst. Churches are burned and people are killed simply because they have a different belief system. After learning about the persecution in India and other places, I knew I had to try to get the word out. In places like India, Christians aren’t persecuted because they represent a threat to the powers that be. On the contrary, the Christians have no power and are a minority group who a killed because they refuse to believe in an oppressive caste system. While I was startled to learn that Christians were being persecuted in India, as I investigated further I realized Christian persecution is far more widespread than I could have ever thought.

            One of the countries in which I was surprised to learn that Christians are being persecuted is Colombia. The violence in Colombia right now is astounding. A number of paramilitary organizations and guerilla forces are fighting for the southern portion of Colombia which is vitally important for the drug manufacturing and trafficking business. Caught in the fray are Christians who refuse to fight and are hated because they won’t take sides. The paramilitary organizations and guerilla forces are unable to find viable recruits amongst the Christians because of their non-violent commitment so they are killed. The violence among Christians is increasing because people are, astoundingly, converting to Christianity despite the danger.

            In Nigeria, 51% of the population is Christian yet the government operates under Islamic law. It is a common practice for young Christian women to be kidnapped, raped and then forced to marry their kidnappers. The kidnappers are protected by the law. Furthermore, just this week, a hostel in Christian neighborhood was attacked and over 40 people were killed. The details of this, the latest massacre of Christians, are too gruesome to describe. At the heart of the violence is the attempt of Muslims in the region to establish Shariah law throughout northern Nigeria.

            Iran is another country that actively persecutes the Christian church. Frequently Christians are arrested and held in prisons for years before being released. One example is Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani who was held in prison for three years under the charges of apostasy and evangelism of Muslims. For those that don’t know ‘apostasy’ is the rejection of a religious belief. So, one of the charges against Youcef was that he rejected Islam and became a Christian. Youcef  was threatened with the death penalty and while in prison the authorities frequently tried to force him to renounce Christianity and convert to Islam. While it’s good news that Youcef has been released, he’s hardly safe. Other pastors who have suffered similarly, have been murdered shortly after release. Despite the persecution, the Church in Iran is growing dramatically.  

            These are just a few examples of the MANY that illustrate what the global face of Christianity really looks like. To my non-Christian readers (if anyone has made it to this point), I know that what you most often see in America is Christianity defined by consumerism and political battles. That is truly unfortunate, but what the examples I’ve shared (and the many more that I couldn’t share) illustrate is that in places where there is little to be gained Christianity is flourishing. It’s flourishing not because people stand to gain influence, money, or power, but because the Gospel message has power and changes lives on a daily basis. In the Western world, people have the luxury of sitting in their towers and looking down on people of faith with snide remarks about rationalism and how there is no scientific basis for God but there’s no denying that people are willing to suffer and die for their profession of faith in Jesus Christ. You may call these people crazy, but just maybe they’ve experienced the love, hope and freedom of God in ways that make is possible to suffer the insufferable.

            To my Christian readers (if there are any left), I think it is important to be informed about our global community. I’ve only included a few examples, but the problem of Christian persecution is widespread. It’s good to pray for persecutions when they are brought to our attention by the mainstream media, but I don’t think it’s enough. When we hear about persecution on the news or in the paper, it’s generally because it’s a particularly terrible attack, such as the attack on the church in Egypt a year or so ago. For every incident that we hear about there are thousands more that go unnoticed. We need to make supporting our global Church a priority by praying for them every day. It’s really easy to get tunnel vision and lose focus of the fact that we are a part of a global community. We are worried about our buildings, our outreaches, our programs and we lose sight of our brothers and sisters who are being murdered for the beliefs that every day we take for granted. We are in a position to extend aid and support to our persecuted family and it’s vitally important that we do so.

            I’m not an expert on the subject of Christian persecution. In fact, I was alerted to the problem only a couple weeks ago. I don’t have the power to put an end to it, and I don’t have an excess of money to give to support my persecuted brothers and sisters. I do know, however, that what I saw that day in class and what I’ve researched since then has broken my heart and deeply convicted me. I want to give what little resources I can to help out and I want to lift the global Church up in prayer every single time I think about it. My hope is that others will join me and together we can support our Church, utilizing the freedom and resources that so many others are denied.

Helpful Links:

Voice of the Martyrs:

http://www.persecution.com/

          – Shows incidents of persecution, has several charitable initiatives aimed at supporting the global church, displays prayer needs

International Christian Concern:

http://www.persecution.org/

–          A lot like Voice of the Martyrs

Video Links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXjlkaM-ikY

        – Video put out by Voice of the Martyrs

DISCLAIMER, the link below displays a VERY graphic video showing Indian Christians being beaten to death. I wanted to provide the link so that you could watch it if you felt compelled. It’s a graphic reminder about what’s happening worldwide; these are our brothers. You’ve been warned.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKcWbxhKZVo

        – Video made my Indian Christians in response to outbreak of violence against them. VERY GRAPHIC.

Persecution in Vietnam, a news report:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5ig1ayurEg&feature=related

Persecution in China, a news report:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCVrdGwAhPo

International Release, update on persecution worldwide, starts with a report about Sri Lanka:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEGr4GpchB4

News report about persecution in Pakistan:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4xK7qmo4_U

A Frank Conversation about Homosexuality, Part 2: Subjecting “…Families to the Decay of Morals and Values.”

        In the last edition of A Frank Conversation about Homosexuality, I concluded by saying that I believed it was the Christian’s duty to love our neighbors as ourselves so that people outside of our community might come to know and believe the truth that they are fearfully and wonderfully made by God and deeply loved by this Creator. Today, I want to explore the most often used defense for protesting against same-sex marriage. To do so I want to look at a statement released by the organization One Million Moms in response to the new television show A New Normal. On their website this organization writes, “NBC is using public airwaves to continue to subject families to the decay of morals and values, and the sanctity of marriage in attempting to redefine marriage. These things are harmful to our society, and this program is damaging to our culture.” They continue, “NBC’s ‘The New Normal’ is attempting to desensitize America and our children. It is the opposite of how families are designed and created. You cannot recreate the biological wheel.”[1]

            To be fair to One Million Moms they do not only go after shows that feature same-sex relationships. In general, they oppose most risqué commercials and TV shows in an attempt, in their own words, to clean up the airwaves. I chose their quote because it’s relevant (it was released recently) and it mentions the two most frequent reasons cited when Christians oppose same-sex marriage. Namely, it leads to moral and ethical decay, and Christians must protect marriage by keeping it between one man and one woman. First let’s talk about marriage.

            The idea that marriage is between one man and one woman comes from Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” There is no mention of the institution of “marriage” nor are there instructions for how this should take place. When my wife and I got married there were two parts. First, we went to the courthouse, swore we weren’t cousins, signed some papers and paid some money; it was soooo romantic. In the eyes of the government that’s all we had to do to be “married,” but for us that wasn’t enough. So a few weeks later we had a ceremony in front of our friends, community and family officiated by a pastor and entered a covenant marriage with God. Neither part of the two step process we went through can be found in the Bible. The religious ceremony that has developed around weddings has done so through tradition; not because it is ordained by God. I do believe it is important and necessary, but I don’t see why Christianity and the government must agree on what marriage is. (More on government and religion in Part 3)

            Additionally, a brief survey of marriages throughout history shows that the nuclear family unit so commonly referred to by groups such as One Million Moms is actually quite uncommon. Let’s look at the Bible. In 1 Chronicles 3:1-9 the text lists several wives of King David and the children he had by them. Verse 9 reads, “All these were the sons of David, besides his sons by his concubines.” So, only the sons are listed and NOT even from all his concubines. David hardly represents the ideal. But hey, David is messed up; everyone knows that. True, but what about 1 Kings 11:3, “He (Solomon) had seven hundred wives who were from royal families and three hundred slave women who gave birth to his children.” The text does tell us that Solomon is punished but it isn’t for breaking from the ideal of one man and one woman; it’s because Solomon begins to worship other Gods. The reason I point out these two examples from the Bible is to illustrate that God didn’t disqualify these two men because they failed to live up to the ideal. On the contrary, God used them in the past and continues to use them today. I have never heard a Christian argue that we should boycott the Psalms or stop reading Proverbs because David and Solomon didn’t live up to Genesis 2:24. Outside of the Bible, examples are just as common, from Kings and Queens to Founding Fathers, the Genesis ideal has always been under attack. I can’t help but wonder why homosexuality today receives much of the ire.

            The first part of the One Million Moms statement is that shows such as A New Normal are subjecting “…families to the decay of morals and values.” I guess that’s true, if one parents via primetime television. I’m not sure that, as a society, we should look to television for our moral guidance. Also, it seems with Christians there are problems much closer to home; really what’s aired on TV should be the least of our concerns. A cursory look at some statistics should give my Christian readers pause.

  • Several studies, most notably one conducted by the Barna Group, show that the divorce rate among Christians mirrors that of the non-Christian populace.[2][3]
  • A study has shown that 80% of unmarried, Christians have had premarital sex. Some have argued that this is way too high and it is more like 42%. Either way, it’s way higher than it should be.[4]
  • A survey revealed that 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women are addicted to pornography. Additionally, there are some troubling stats about the clergy and pornography.[5]
  • Finally, in a study done among pastors it was revealed that 77% did not believe they had a good marriage. 38% said that they were divorced or going through the divorce process (other studies have concluded that 50% of pastor marriages will end in divorce) and 30% admitted to having affairs.[6]

            These statistics reveal some very troubling moral failures WITHIN our Church. My point in sharing them is not to dump on the Church. I love the Church and believe it is a necessary institution for carrying out God’s will in the world, but I think that these statistics reveal problems that have been ignored for too long. Marriage is certainly under attack in America, but it’s not by same-sex couples; it’s by a stubborn pride that refuses to address the issues INSIDE the Church and instead latches onto a scapegoat. I’m not advocating that the Church disappear; rather, I want to see a Church that redirects its energy from the homosexual issue to the issues tearing marriages apart in our midst. Let’s truly be defenders of marriage, not by defending a definition, but by defending the covenant relationships that are falling apart before our eyes.    It’s time to be honest about our own moral failings and genuinely address them so that we can be the Church that God intends. Until we do this, we will always be fighting the wrong battle. We can protest against same-sex marriage or TV shows or commercials, and we will always miss the true enemy of families and the moral fabric of our society: a Church that does not follow the example of Jesus.


                [3] Notice that the rate of 33% is mentioned for the national average. Well I did some research and found that the “50% of marriages end in divorce” is largely conjecture. Here are some resources for your own further investigation: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/19/health/19divo.html?_r=0 ;  http://psychcentral.com/lib/2012/the-myth-of-the-high-rate-of-divorce/all/1/

                [4] The study revealing 80% is referenced in this article: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/relationships/almost-everyones-doing-it ; The following blog attempts to debunk the study and in doing so points out that it still reveals about 42% of born-again, Evangelical Christians engage in pre-marital sex; still a massively high number. Not sure why the author takes comfort from that.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/12/13/premarital-sex-and-our-love-affair-with-bad-stats/?comments#comments

                [5] http://www.covenanteyes.com/2010/01/06/updated-pornography-statistics/ ; click on the link that says ‘pornography statistics’ and a really helpful PDF comes up which lists a myriad of important stats regarding porn and its effect on people.

MUSLIM RAGE, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Media

            MUSLIM RAGE. The simple phrase emblazoned on Newsweek covers that enraged a good portion of the world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. It was definitely a publicity stunt, and it seems to have worked wonderfully. Sort of. Hoping to spark debate, the Newsweek people asked readers to discuss the issue on Twitter utilizing #MuslimRage. Instead of intelligent discussion, there were a slew of really funny responses with the hashtag. Here are a couple examples from an NPR article:[1]

                        “I’m having such a good hair day. No one even knows. #MuslimRage” — Hend

                        “Lost your kid Jihad at the airport. Can’t yell for him. #MuslimRage” — Leila

                        “You go to a football watch party and all these is to eat is pepperoni pizza and

                          beer battered chicken wings #MuslimRage” — Waliya.

            There are hundreds of tweets that are just as funny as these. Personally, I love that people, instead of taking the bait by expressing more anger and maybe even some hate, used the hashtag to express humor. In doing so, the tweeters, who are often satirizing themselves, completely deconstructed Newsweek’s lame attempt to spark controversy. Is there Muslim rage in the world? Certainly. There is no way to deny that a portion of the Muslim populace is very angry at the West and, when they can, will do harm to the Western world. Newsweek’s cover, however, is lame because it reads as if it is a guide to surviving in the wilderness: Muslim Rage: How I Survived It, How We Can End It. Except that in the article the author notes, “For a homicidal few in the Muslim world, life itself has less value than religious icons, such as the prophet or the Quran… They do not care whether the provocation comes from serious literature or a stupid movie. All that matters is the intolerable nature of the insult.”[2] Notice that Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the author of the article, points out that it is a “homicidal few.”

            And yet, this “homicidal few” are capable of inflicting serious damage as evidenced by the murdering of four Americans at the U.S. embassy in Libya. The attack on the US embassy is just another in a long line of attacks against the U.S. spanning 30 or 40 years and the administrations of Republicans and Democrats alike. In the first few days following the assault on the U.S. embassy, as anti-American protests spread across the Middle East and Asia, the Obama administration claimed that the violence and protests were the result of a YouTube video in which the Prophet Mohammed was portrayed very negatively. Slowly that defense has unraveled, and it now appears far more likely that it was all planned ahead of time.

            The idea that it was planned is supported by what Ambassador Chris Stevens wrote in his journal that was found in the embassy. CNN, who at first promised Stevens’ family that they would not publish the journal’s contents, have reported that Stevens wrote he was afraid that he was on al-Qaeda’s hit list and that he was alarmed at the rise in Islamic Extremists in Libya. Interestingly, the State Department has not denied any of the statements reported by CNN, but have attacked CNN for going back on their promise. So, the idea that this new outbreak of violence in the Middle East is the result of a shoddily made YouTube video can be declared “Myth: Busted.”

            Why put forth the YouTube video theory if it wasn’t the truth? Well, trying to pin the outbreak of violence on a video and NOT on failed foreign policy is much more convenient in an election year. Unfortunately, with the realization that the hostility is about something far more insidious means that the Obama administration now has to eat some crow and in doing so they also must reevaluate their entire Middle East policy. That could be a good thing or it could lead to more of the same. President Obama, despite his overtures, has effectively treated the Middle East much like his predecessors. Frankly, the region is viewed as a commodity. When a government there is no longer helpful or conducive to our desires, we help tear it down and establish a government that will, hopefully, comply. This failed in Egypt, where instead of a U.S. friendly regime being democratically elected, the Muslim Brotherhood gained control. Now many fear that the Egyptian government, who has been a staunch ally through the years, is saying they support us to our face but stirring up anti-American sentiment behind our backs.

            For better or worse, America is tied to the Middle East. Offended by the anti-American outbursts, people have called for the Obama administration to cut funding to the region. We send something like $10 billion in aid to the countries where the protests have been taking place. Cutting the funding would definitely send a strong message, but most likely it would simply leave more room for extremists to come in and gain followers. That is our problem because extremists make the U.S. and its allies unsafe. Others have advocated for more missile strikes and military intervention both of which have done little to win the hearts and minds of Middle East citizens. The question remains, then, what the heck are we supposed to do about it?  

            Well, for starters we can start treating the governments in the Middle East like they are comprised of actual people and not political capital to be leveraged. This means acting consistently. Obviously, most Americans value democracy and want to see everyone in a society have a say in the policies that affect their lives. If a country wants this for themselves, great; we should help them achieve that end, but it should be across the board, not simply when it’s convenient for our political interests. We can’t be allies with a murderous regime that oppresses its people in one country and then claim to be bastions of freedom as we liberate another country. People aren’t dumb and they know when they’re simply a pawn in a game of thrones. Furthermore, these democracies that we help establish may elect leaders that are antagonistic to the U.S. Guess what? That’s democracy in action, and it may be the price we pay if we want to set up democracies across the globe. Citizens are going to have a say and they are going to vote for the people that best represent their interests. That’s how it works.

            At the same time, we shouldn’t apologize for the freedoms that are guaranteed by our democracy. It’s ridiculous to me that someone with the right of free speech would utilize that right to mock someone else’s religion, yet if that is their prerogative then they are free to do so. There are multiple “documentaries” currently on Netflix that criticize and spread inaccuracies about Christianity and it deeply bothers me, but I realize that free speech is more important. Free speech allows me to debunk falsehoods, just as it allows people to spread them. One of the things I have wondered about is the Obama administration’s stern condemnation of what the filmmaker said about the Prophet Mohammed. Why do they feel that it’s necessary to apologize for free speech? Why did they take out an advertisement in Pakistan condemning what the filmmaker said? In Pakistan? The same country in which there have been over 300 stealth drone strikes during Obama’s presidency[3]? Talk about sending mixed signals. It isn’t cool that people use their freedom to mock one’s beliefs, but free speech is truly an amazing concept. The Obama administration should distance itself from what the filmmaker said, but it should be done in a manner that talks about how awesome and progressive the First Amendment truly is. It’s not a political liability; it’s something that every nation needs to experience.

            Furthermore, practicing Muslims must understand that their religious beliefs are going to come under scrutiny as they move into the political realm. The leaders of one of the major Muslim political parties in Egypt told Reuters that he and his followers are going to petition the UN to pass resolutions that would make contempt of Islam or of the Prophet a criminal offense.[4] A resolution such as this is unacceptable; even the mentality is unacceptable. If the citizens of a country agree to such a resolution in their own country, that’s one thing. I think it’s ridiculous, but it’s their choice. In the U.S. such a resolution would be an infringement upon our First Amendment right. The leader goes on to say that it would ensure mutual respect. It’s hardly mutual respect if our rights are being sacrificed to accommodate their desires. I would like to hope that such a resolution would gain no traction in the UN, but the desire for such a resolution does illustrate very different cultural values and ideas about how mutual respect can be attained.        

            Ultimately, there are deep wounds between the region and the U.S. that span generations. No one administration is going to be able to heal those wounds in a four year or eight year term. So across the board, Democratic, Republican or Libertarian, there has to be a change in how the Middle East is viewed. Additionally, there is a massive cultural divide that cannot be overlooked. Yet not all Muslims are extremists who participate in anti-American protests (made obvious from the #MuslimRage tweets and the show of support from Libyan citizens after the embassy was attacked).

            America’s course lies in empowering the moderate Muslim citizens of these countries so that they can root out extremists themselves, while standing behind our own democratic ideals. True change in the Middle East / U.S. relationship will take time and intentionality, not speeches that don’t deliver and policies that are more of the same. True change means the media will need to stop reinforcing ideas that all Muslims are angry at the U.S., just to sell magazines. True change means face-to-face dialogue, not angry tweets limited to a 120 characters. I must say, however, that I love Newsweek for this hashtag idea. It didn’t have the desired affect but it did do great deal to prove that not all Muslims possess an inordinate amount of rage and resulted in some good comedy. Maybe Newsweek should just keep doing what it’s doing after all.


                [3] http://counterterrorism.newamerica.net/drones

                [4]  http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/22/us-protests-egypt-idUSBRE88L0B220120922

A Frank Conversation about Homosexuality: Part 1

This is not a post about a homosexual named Frank; rather, it is my attempt to wrestle with an important issue and present my own personal viewpoint. Since everyone has a blog these days, it’s very possible that I will present no original or unique ideas. Having said that, I haven’t heard many people saying what I’m about to say so maybe it’s worth a read. Just for full disclosure, I would like everyone to know that I am a seminary student at Ashland Theological Seminary. I have been a practicing Christian (meaning actually pursuing God) for about five years now. Before you stop reading because you think this is going to dissolve into gay-bashing, let me assure you that my relationship with the all-powerful, all-knowing God of the universe has had the exact opposite effect. This could be because I “don’t get Christianity” or it could be because I get what Jesus was about more those people who hold up signs like those below.

In fact, it is those signs so often referred to, the ones so proudly held by hate mongering “Christians” that say ‘God Hates Fags’ or some other offensive slur, that led me to really pursue what God thinks about homosexuality. Of course, by now, everyone knows about Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman, it is an abomination.” It is often pointed out that this is in Leviticus so it doesn’t count; if we start using Leviticus then we have to use ALL of Leviticus which no one does. Well, I would argue that this isn’t a ritual law; it is God laying out the proper manner in which relationships should take place. Be that as it may, I bring up this passage to point out that God doesn’t say the people involved in the act are an abomination. On the contrary, God says “it” – the act – is an abomination, not the people involved. But you might be saying, surely this is the only place where the strong word ‘abomination’ is used. Not even close.

One of my favorite passages in the whole Bible is Proverbs 6:16-19 because it lays out, plain as day, seven things that are an abomination to God. “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty (read: proud) eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family.” Notice two things: (1) homosexuality doesn’t make this list and (2) the people who partake in these things AREN’T an abomination, rather it is their actions that are displeasing to God. In this way, Proverbs 6:16-19 and Leviticus 18:22 are very similar except that Leviticus is emphasized far more often despite the fact that Proverbs 6:16 is very blunt and direct in regards to God’s distaste for the seven actions listed. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a sermon about pride or lying but I’ve heard many about homosexuality.

Unfortunately, homosexuality, and more specifically same-sex marriage, has taken center stage in this country much to the detriment of the Church. I say it is unfortunate because, more often than not, this debate pits Christians against the wider world. This is not always a bad thing. I mean Christians should campaign against greed and serve the interests of the poor; this could certainly pit Christians against the world. In the debate over same-sex marriage, however, Christians often come across as judgmental and condemning which is the exact opposite of how we should be carrying ourselves. The last time I read through the Gospels, Jesus – God incarnate – was hanging out with the worst sorts of sinners; tax collectors who betrayed their fellow Jews, loose women (doubly troublesome in the patriarchal world of first century Israel), and anybody else rejected by society. He was constantly around these people, not endorsing their lifestyle, but validating the fact that they were children of God deeply loved by their creator. I believe that if today Jesus was walking on the earth he would spend his time with homosexual people, not to turn them into straight people, but simply to validate who they are as a created being. At a time when homosexuals are treated as second class citizens, I believe Jesus would spend his time encouraging and loving them.

In Psalm 139: 13-14 David (or the psalmist, if you prefer) writes, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” If you know anything about David’s story then you know it is the stuff of a Jerry Spring show, yet he recognizes that he is a beloved CREATION of God. I guess my major fear is that a portion of the population is going to miss out on hearing this message because Christians are preoccupied with campaigning against same-sex marriage, and in doing so, often spew pure hatred, filth, condemnation and judgment.

While I do not believe that homosexuality was part of God’s plan in Eden, we have to recognize that we are far from Eden. We live in a world that needs the hope and love of Jesus, yet we push people farther and farther away from him. And let me be clear, my desire for homosexual people to encounter to Jesus isn’t driven by a belief that if they do encounter Jesus they will be instantly transformed into straight people. On the contrary, I believe that an encounter with Jesus represents a complete identity shift. In a world where we are labeled as gay, straight, bisexual, or however else, Jesus says “Nope, you are the child of the God of the universe. You have been fearfully and wonderfully made, and I love you.” People need to hear that and if we Christians stuck to loving our neighbors as ourselves, they would.