Archive for April, 2013

Searching for Scapegoats

Boston Bombing SuspectsAs investigators continue to probe Dzhokhar Tsarnaev concerning his role in the Boston Marathon bombing, his motive, though not fully understood, nevertheless seems to be driven at least in part by an al Qaeda agenda.  Consider this from NBC News:

It is as slickly designed as any magazine you would find at the supermarket checkout line, or in the seat pocket in front of you on an airplane. It even has snappy cover headlines – teasing articles like “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”

And now Inspire, the recruitment magazine of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, probably has its next cover story:  It allegedly helped inspire the two brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the hospitalized suspect in the marathon attack, has told federal investigators that the brothers got information on building bombs from Inspire, law enforcement officials told NBC News.[1]

Before Dzhokhar and his brother Tamerlan were identified by the FBI as the suspects in this bombing, confusion – and, I should add, speculation – as to who could have done such a thing abounded.  There was the damaging gaffe from the New York Post which published a cover featuring two young men who, according to the Post, were sought by “the Feds” when, in fact, they were not suspects in the bombing.[2]  And then there were those who speculated – and even hoped – that the bomber would either be or not be a certain race, religion, or political persuasion.

Two articles, published before the Tsarnaev brothers were identified, are of special interest in this regard.  The first article appeared in The Guardian carrying the headline, “US Muslims ‘holding their breath’ as Boston investigators hunt for bomber.”[3]  The article opened:

US Muslims are “holding their breath” as the investigation into the Boston Marathon attacks develops, amid fears of increased racial profiling and attacks if an Islamic link is confirmed, according to advocate groups.

The second article was by David Sirota, writing for Salon, and was titled, “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.”[4]  Sirota, who I should point out is himself a white American, offers the rational for his demographic hope thusly:

If the bomber ends up being a white anti-government extremist, white privilege will likely mean the attack is portrayed as just an isolated incident – one that has no bearing on any larger policy debates. Put another way, white privilege will work to not only insulate whites from collective blame, but also to insulate the political debate from any fallout from the attack.

It will probably be much different if the bomber ends up being a Muslim and/or a foreigner from the developing world. As we know from our own history, when those kind of individuals break laws in such a high-profile way, America often cites them as both proof that entire demographic groups must be targeted, and that therefore a more systemic response is warranted. At that point, it’s easy to imagine conservatives citing Boston as a reason to block immigration reform defense spending cuts and the Afghan War withdrawal and to further expand surveillance and other encroachments on civil liberties.

Interestingly, both of these articles share this in common:  they both hoped the bomber was not a Muslim.  But Sirota’s article takes it one step farther.  He wants the bomber to be “a white anti-government extremist.”  The Guardian’s article has only a negative hope for who the bomber is not.  Sirota, on the other hand, holds out a positive hope for who the bomber is. 

I can sympathize with the sentiments of those interviewed for The Guardian’s article.  After all, I cringe whenever I hear another Christian merely say something wrongheaded, hypocritical, or bombastic.  To have someone who claims to follow Christ plant and detonate a bomb in the midst of a crowd of marathon onlookers would break my heart.  After all, such a tragedy would harm the Christian witness and put up a Satanic barrier that could very well be a powerful preventive against people coming to the truth.  I can only imagine the stress, anguish, and embarrassment that some in the Muslim community must be feeling right now.  And when these feelings are coupled with the potential of reckless retaliation against mosques and Muslim religious leaders, my guess would be that many in the Muslim community are also feeling fear.  Thus, those in the Muslim community deserve our prayers for their protection against such retaliatory attacks as well as our prayers that they continue to be afforded the basic human dignity implicit to the imago Dei.  Whether or not a person is a Christian, everyone should be afforded a basic amount of dignity and respect, for we are all creations of the Almighty.  A tragedy like this can make a certain people group feel as though they have lost even this basic modicum of dignity and respect.

I have a much harder time understanding the sentiments of Sirota’s article.  Hoping that a particular person or people group has committed a heinous crime is beyond me.  As a Christian, the prayer is never that a particular person or people group would sin, but that a particular person or people group would be guarded from sin.  The words of Jesus come to mind:  “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13).

The fundamental problem with Sirota’s argument is this:  he is trying to identify a scapegoat that will most readily suit his own political machinations and interests.  The message of Christianity is that a scapegoat, not for politics, but for sin has already been provided – Jesus.  Thus, rather than trying to lay blame at the feet of a particular person for the sake of a political agenda, we can lay blame on the cross of Christ where it will be taken away.  For Christ not only takes the blame for human sin by His death, He conquers it by His resurrection.  And so, when sin rears its ugly head as it did in Boston, which would you rather have:  someone you can blame or someone who can save?

I know what my answer is.

[1] Erin McClam, “Slick al Qaeda online magazine aims to train a generation of killers,” NBC News (3.23.2013).

[2] See “NY Post claims these are the two men police are looking for in Boston bombings – but one is a local teen who’s in shock,” The Blaze (4.18.2013)

[3] Karen McVeigh, “US Muslims ‘holding their breath’ as Boston investigators hunt for bomber,” The Guardian (4.17.2013).

[4] David Sirota, “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American,” Salon (4.16.2013)

April 29, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Week of Tragedies

Boston West TexasWhat a week it’s been.  Monday the headline was carnage at the Boston Marathon as a pair of terrorists planted and detonated two bombs, though they planted more, at the race’s finish line.  Three lost their lives.  More than 170 were injured.  I awoke Wednesday morning to the news that the tiny town of West, Texas, north of Waco, erupted in a fireball in an explosion in a fertilizer plant.  Dozens lost their lives because of this tragic accident.

On the heels of so much tragedy and loss of life, two questions inevitably arise, both consisting of just one word:  “How?” and “Why?”

“How did these two terrorists manage to plant numerous bombs at the finish line of a major race in seemingly plain sight with so many law enforcement officials standing by for any sign of trouble?”  “How did a small blaze at a fertilizer plant get so out of control in a literal split second?”  Investigators specialize in answering these “How?” questions.  Already, expansive and detailed investigations have been launched to try to figure out how these tragedies happened.

The “Why?” questions are a little tougher to answer.  “Why would someone premeditatedly work to cause so much pain and anguish in the bodies, hearts, and lives of so many?”  “Why would God allow any of this to happen?”

Though we have partial answers to our perennial “Why?” questions, our answers are inevitably incomplete because of our finite perspective.  But there are some things we can know and say in tragic times like these nonetheless.

First, we must say that tragedies like these are spawned because of sin.  The attacks in Boston are an example of the darkest corners of human depravity on display.  Two individuals took it upon themselves to actively break God’s law and our nation’s laws in order to coldly calculate a catastrophe.  The fertilizer plant explosion in West is an example of creation’s sinful brokenness.  Because we live in a world that has gone wrong (cf. Genesis 3:17-19, Luke 13:1-5), wrong things happen.

Second, we can also say that tragedies like these testify to God’s patience, albeit in a strange and backwards way.  After all, God is under no particular compulsion to allow this sinful world to continue on.  But He does.  Why?  Because He loves the people He has made and wants to give them as much time as possible to repent of their sinful state and turn toward Him.  As the apostle Peter reminds us, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation” (2 Peter 3:15).

In the days ahead, steps will no doubt be taken to try to assure that the tragedies of this week will not be repeated.  This is good!  We ought to learn from tragedies like these for the sake of everyone’s safety and wellbeing.  But no matter how many steps we might take to try to guard against similar situations in the future, no human being can root out the underlying cause of all such situations:  sin.  Though we might be able to prevent a particular tragedy from happening again, we cannot take out tragedy’s foundation of sin. Only Jesus can do this.  Only Jesus can conquer the wickedness of this world and restore His creation and His people back to the way He originally dreamed and designed them:  perfect.

April 22, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Big Picture

Micro Macro 1I have often made the point, when teaching various Bible classes, that, in Christianity, theology and anthropology are inextricably intertwined.  You can’t really understand anthropology if you don’t understand theology and you can’t really understand theology if you don’t understand anthropology.

Here’s why.  Theology without anthropology undermines the gospel.  After all, the heart of the gospel is what God has done for us!  He sent Jesus to die and rise for us!  Without understanding the anthropological “for us” of the gospel, we are left with a system of theology that is more akin to Deism than it is to Christianity.  For without the gospel’s anthropological association, God is left distant and detached from the creation He formed.  Conversely, anthropology without theology also undermines the gospel.  It is theology, after all, that tells us who we are anthropologically and why we need Jesus.  And the verdict on who we are anthropologically is not good:

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

Apart from an understanding of God’s verdict on us as sinners, we are all too readily tempted to think of ourselves as better, nobler, and loftier than we really are.  Thus, in order to truly understand the peril of our sinful state, we must understand what the Bible says theologically about our brokenness anthropologically.

I bring all of this up because I have been doing some thinking lately about the anthropological side of Christianity.  And what I have come to realize is that while Christian authors, pastors, and leaders will spend a lot of time addressing the anthropological side of Christianity on a micro scale, sometimes, macro anthropological concerns can get marginalized.

Here’s what I mean.  The Christian arena is replete with resources on marriage, addiction, finances, relationships and other personal, or micro, concerns.  And these resources are needed and, I would add, popular!  What is less popular in our day, however, are resources that address macro anthropological issues of cultural trends, power structures, injustice, and societally systemic sins as well as their broad historical and philosophic foundations.  Part of the reason I would guess these resources are less popular is because addressing macro anthropological issues is an inevitably more complex, convoluted, and academic exercise than addressing micro anthropological issues due to the sheer size and the extended historical timelines of these macro anthropological issues.  Furthermore, because it is the micro anthropological concerns that most directly and immediately affect us, it is easy to look at what only directly affects us right now than consider the broader concerns of our world over time.

But Christianity calls us to consider both ourselves and our world.  For Christianity, among other things, is a worldview.  And without understanding Christianity’s anthropological entailments on a macro scale and their insights into how we, knowingly or unknowingly, are shaped by the history, philosophy, and culture to which we are heirs and of which we are a part, we will inevitably have trouble, and ultimately be unsuccessful, in addressing and resolving our own micro concerns.  This is why so much of the language of the Bible is cosmic.  For God’s final promise is not only that He will only fix our personal problems, but that He will redeem our world.  In the words of the apostle John:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5)

Make no mistake about it:  God cares about the micro.  He cares about your tears and your pain and your worries and your regrets.  But He will fix your micro concerns in His macro way: He will make everything new.  So perhaps we should spend a little more time thinking about “everything” that God will make new and a little less time thinking only about our micro concerns.

April 15, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The State Of Our Public Debate: Same-Sex Marriage As A Test Case

Red Equal SignWhen the Facebook page of the Human Rights Campaign changed their profile picture to a red and pink equal sign on March 25 in anticipation of the Supreme Court hearing cases on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, which prohibits same-sex marriage in California, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts federal marriage benefits to only opposite sex marriages, the response of many in the Facebook universe was nearly instantaneous.  By the time the Supreme Court was listening to arguments for and against Proposition 8 the next day, roughly 2.7 million people had changed their profile pictures to the red and pink equal sign.[1]

Welcome to the way we debate and discuss watershed issues in the digital age.  We post a profile picture.

As I have watched the national debate over same-sex marriage unfold, I have been struck by the daftness of so many of the arguments concerning such a monumental issue.  As a Christian, I have grave theological and moral concerns with same-sex marriage, but others have registered cogent concerns with same-sex marriage quite apart from the traditional moorings of biblical Christianity.  For instance, in their book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George offer an excellent argument for traditional or, as they call it, conjugal marriage over and against a revisionist view of marriage.  The heart of their argument is this:

If the law defines marriage to include same-sex partners, many will come to misunderstand marriage.  They will not see it as essentially comprehensive, or thus (among other things) as ordered to procreation and family life – but as essentially an emotional union…If marriage is centrally an emotional union, rather than one inherently ordered to family life, it becomes much harder to show why the state should concern itself with marriage any more than with friendship.  Why involve the state in what amounts to the legal regulation of tenderness?[2]

The authors’ argument is simple, yet brilliant.  Those who argue for same-sex marriage seem to define marriage based strictly on affection.  But there are many relationships that are affectionate, such as friendships, and yet are not state-regulated.  So marriage must be something more than simple affection.  But what more is it?  This is a question that proponents of same-sex marriage have a difficult time answering with any uniformity.

Sadly, the work of these authors has not been well received or responded to.  Ryan Anderson, appearing on the Piers Morgan Show to explain the arguments of his book, was attacked by Suze Orman who dismissed him as “very, very uneducated in how it really, really works.”[3]  Considering that Anderson is a fellow at the Heritage Foundation who received his degree from Princeton and is currently working on a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame, I find it hard to believe that he is “very, very uneducated.”

In another example of supporters of traditional marriage being flippantly dismissed, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones took Ross Douthat of the New York Times to task for daring to suggest that an orientation toward procreation ought to be part of the definition of what constitutes a marriage:

It was opponents [of same-sex marriage], after realizing that Old Testament jeremiads weren’t cutting it any more, who began claiming that SSM should remain banned because gays couldn’t have children. This turned out to be both a tactical and strategic disaster, partly because the argument was so transparently silly (what about old people? what about women who had hysterectomies? etc.) and partly because it suggested that SSM opponents didn’t have any better arguments to offer. But disaster or not, they’re the ones responsible for making this into a cornerstone of the anti-SSM debates in the aughts.[4]

In his response, Douthat questions Drum’s account of the origin of the procreation argument for traditional marriage:

If gay marriage opponents had essentially invented a procreative foundation for marriage in order to justify opposing same-sex wedlock, it would indeed be telling evidence of a movement groping for reasons to justify its bigotry. But of course that essential connection was assumed in Western law and culture long before gay marriage emerged as a controversy or a cause. You don’t have to look very hard to find quotes…from jurists, scholars, anthropologists and others, writing in historical contexts entirely removed from the gay marriage debate, making the case that “the first purpose of matrimony, by the laws of nature and society, is procreation” (that’s a California Supreme Court ruling in 1859), describing the institution of marriage as one “founded in nature, but modified by civil society: the one directing man to continue and multiply his species, the other prescribing the manner in which that natural impulse must be confined and regulated” (that’s William Blackstone), and acknowledging that “it is through children alone that sexual relations become important to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution” (that’s the well-known reactionary Bertrand Russell).

Douthat ends his response to Drum with a brilliant one-liner:  “Once you’ve rewritten the past to make your opponents look worse, then you’re well on your way to justifying writing them out of the future entirely.”[5]

This line, more than any I have read in a long time, encapsulates the problem with our public debates – not just over same-sex marriage, but over many controversial issues.  No longer are people interested in debating a big issue with the kind of intellectual rigor or careful thought such issues deserve. Instead, we change our Facebook profiles to an equal sign.  Or we ridicule a Notre Dame Ph.D. candidate as “uneducated.”  Or we make patently false claims about the historical origins of our opponents’ arguments.  We try to write our opponents out of the future entirely.

We, it seems, are much less interested in intelligently discussing and debating an issue and much more interested in asserting our will on an issue.  We no longer care whether or not we arrive at the right position on an issue as long as others bow to our position on an issue.  And, lest I be accused of intimating that only proponents of same-sex marriage engage in such dubious debate tactics, let me be clear that I have seen opponents of same-sex marriage pull these same kinds of sorry tricks.  After all, they’re on Facebook too.  They host cable news shows too.  They write less than thoughtful columns too.

The nihilist Nietzsche seemed to take special delight in laying bare the basest corners of human nature.  In his seminal work Beyond Good and Evil, he summarizes his thoughts on the heart of humanity:  “A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength – life itself is Will to Power.”  Nietzsche purported that people, at their cores, desire to assert Machiavellian power over others much more than they ever desire to converse with others.  This is why Nietzsche saw “slavery in some sense or other”[6] as necessary to human advancement.  Those who are strong must assert their wills over those who are weak.

As I have watched the debate over same-sex marriage unfold, I have become worried that Nietzsche just might be right.  In this debate, winning against the other side has become more important than discussing and reasoning with the other side to arrive at the right side.  And because of that, I can’t help but think that, no matter who wins, we might just all lose.

[1] Alexis Kleinman, “How The Red Equal Sign Took Over Facebook, According To Facebook’s Own Data,” The Huffington Post (3.29.2013).

[2] Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson & Robert George, What Is Marriage?  Man and Woman:  A Defense (New York:  Encounter Books, 2012), 7, 16.

[3] Jamie Weinstein, “Fresh off his Piers Morgan confrontation, Ryan Anderson explains his ‘un-American’ views on marriage,” The Daily Caller (3.30.2013).

[4] Kevin Drum, “The Gay Marriage Debate Probably Hasn’t Affected Straight Marriage Much,” Mother Jones (3.31.2013).

[5] Ross Douthat, “Marriage, Procreation and Historical Amnesia,” The New York Times (4.2.2013).

[6] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (New York:  The Macmillan Company, 1907), 20, 223.

April 8, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments

An Important Note on Children’s Safety

Danger 1

This note went out from Concordia’s Senior Pastor, Bill Tucker, to all of Concordia’s day school and child care parents.  Whether or not you have a child in one of our ministries, please take a moment to read this note and consider what conversations you may need to have with your children, especially if you live in the San Antonio area.

Dear Concordia Parents,

Yesterday morning in the Hollywood Park neighborhood, a young boy was waiting for a bus when a man in a white cargo-type van without side windows pulled up to the boy’s bus stop and tried to lure him inside.  When the boy ran to tell his father, the van sped away.  One of our own member’s children was similarly approached by a man in a white van, but when this child’s mother saw what was happening and began to move toward the van, it again sped off.

Instances like these are certainly disturbing.  This is why I wanted to send you a note so that you could, first, be aware of this urgent news story and, second, take a moment to talk to your children about how strangers can mean danger.

If you would, allow me to share a few thoughts on talking to your children about staying safe outside while waiting for a bus, playing, or any other scenario where you, as parents, may not be immediately present.  You can remind your children:

  • Never to go anywhere without consulting you first.
  • That dangerous people do not always look mean or scary.
  • Never to get close to a stranger and to make sure they have plenty of room to run from a stranger.
  • Never to help a stranger look for a lost pet or play a game.
  • Never to get into a vehicle with someone they do not know.
  • Never to share their name or address with someone they do not know.
  • About “safe places” such as police and fire stations, the library, a store, or a friend’s house.  These are places kids can go for help!
  • That if a stranger grabs them, they need to yell loudly and shout, “I don’t know you!”
  • That they can call 911 in case of an emergency.

I share these thoughts with you not to alarm you, but to remind you of all the different things you can do to help keep your children safe.  You can find additional resources on keeping your kids safe at and  Please be assured that, when your children are on Concordia’s campus, we do everything in our power to try to ensure your children’s safety and well-being.  Your children’s safety is our number one priority.

If you have any information on the news story cited above, please contact the Hollywood Park Police at (210) 494-3575, extension 236.  Remember that in an uncertain and sometimes frightening world, our God promises that He “is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

God bless you!
Bill Tucker
Senior Pastor, Concordia Lutheran Church

April 5, 2013 at 3:45 pm Leave a comment

Luther on Christ’s Resurrection…And Ours

Resurrection 6On this Easter Monday, I thought I would share with you some words from a series of seventeen sermons preached by Martin Luther in 1533 on 1 Corinthians 15.  In this chapter, the apostle Paul speaks of the resurrection of Christ and the hope and assurance that it gives us that we too will be raised on the Last Day:

Because Christ is risen and gives us His resurrection against our sin, death, and hell, we must advance to where we also learn to say: “O death, where is thy sting?” [1 Corinthians 15:55] although we at present see only the reverse, namely, that we have nothing but the perishable hanging about our neck, that we lead a wretched filthy life, that we are subject to all sorts of distress and danger, and that nothing but death awaits us in the end.

But the faith that clings to Christ is able to engender far different thoughts. It can envisage a new existence.  It can form an image and gain sight of a condition where this perishable, wretched form is erased entirely and replaced by a pure and celestial essence.  For since faith is certain of this doctrine that Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection, it must follow that this resurrection is just as effective in us as it was for Him – except that He is a different person, namely, true God.  And faith must bring it about that this body’s frail and mortal being is discarded and removed and a different, immortal being is put on, with a body that can no longer be touched by filth, sickness, mishap, misery, or death but is perfectly pure, healthy, strong, and beautiful…

God did not create man that he should sin and die, but that he should live.  But the devil inflicted so much shameful filth and so many blemishes on nature that man must bear so much sickness, stench, and misfortune about his neck because he sinned.  But now that sin is removed through Christ, we shall be rid of all of that too.  All will be pure, and nothing that is evil or loathsome will be felt any longer on earth. (AE 28:202-203)

Luther’s final words beautifully summarize the hope of Easter:  “All will be pure, and nothing that is evil or loathsome will be felt any longer on the earth.”  Because Christ is risen, the evils of sin and death will be destroyed.  Or, in the words of the poet John Donne, because of Easter, “death, thou shalt die!”

Christ is risen!  And this means you will too.

April 1, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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