Archive for July, 2013

San Antonio’s Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Alamo 1Recently, there has been a lot of debate and discussion concerning a proposed amendment to San Antonio’s anti-discrimination ordinance on which the City Council will soon vote.  You can read about the debate here.  Because this ordinance has certain theological implications, Concordia’s senior pastor, Bill Tucker, has prepared a letter outlining some of the facets and possible effects of this ordinance.  I would encourage you to take a moment to read his letter below.

Dear Concordia Family,

The apostle Paul writes, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2a).  This is a time for us as a congregation to be in prayer for those in authority – specifically, for those in authority on our San Antonio City Council.

San Antonio’s Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Our City Council is currently considering amending its anti-discrimination ordinance to include a prohibition against discrimination on the basis of, among other things, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” The ordinance defines discrimination as demonstrating “a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group of persons, or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age or disability.”  Many Jews, Muslims, and Christians have long considered homosexual activity, same-sex marriage, and transgender lifestyles to be “sinful.” Such a designation may now be considered discriminatory according to the definition of bias given in this ordinance.  Thus, an ordinance meant to prohibit discrimination may set up a de facto form of discrimination against some people of faith because it may preclude people with certain religious beliefs from serving the City.

How Will This Ordinance Affect You?

  • Bias:  Pastors or other people of faith who discuss whether or not certain behaviors are “sinful” may be considered to be engaging in discrimination according to the definition of “bias” given in this ordinance.  Such accusations of discrimination may affect both our ability to speak God’s truth in love and our freedoms of speech, religion, and association.
  • Public Accommodations:  If you are a business owner who has rental property, restaurants, hotels, or theatres, you may be compelled by this ordinance to violate your conscience and not operate the business according to your religious convictions.
  • Appointments and Contracts with the City:  A person may not be appointed to a position with the City if he or she is perceived to have a bias against those of a homosexual or transgender orientation and can be removed from office even if previously appointed.  A person may also be precluded from contracting with the City if that person is perceived to have a bias against any group named in the ordinance.

Actions to Consider

Finally, I encourage you to remember how Paul concludes his statement to Timothy on praying for those in authority:  “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  Paul’s call to prayer is meant not only to affect our City officials; it is meant to affect us.  It is meant to move us toward peace in times of tribulation and form in us a humble godliness, shaped by love, as a holy witness to a world filled with sin.  It is meant, in a phrase, to lead us to “shine like stars.”  May we, at Concordia, be people who do exactly this.

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

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July 31, 2013 at 7:11 am 1 comment

Love That Lasts Past One Night

University StudyingOver the past few weeks, the New York Times has published a couple of articles of special interest to Christians.  The first is by Kate Taylor and chronicles the seedy underbelly of the college hook up culture.  The picture she paints is dark and disturbing:

At 11 on a weeknight earlier this year, her work finished, a slim, pretty junior at the University of Pennsylvania did what she often does when she has a little free time.  She texted her regular hookup — the guy she is sleeping with but not dating. What was he up to? He texted back: Come over.  So she did.  They watched a little TV, had sex and went to sleep.

Nationwide, nearly 3 in 10 seniors say they have never hooked up in college.[1]

Take a moment to ponder the significance of this statistic.  It’s not that three in ten college seniors have hooked up, it’s that three in ten college senior have not hooked up.  This means by the time a college graduate walks across the stage to receive a diploma, there’s a 70% chance he or she has engaged in casual, illicit sexual activity.  This is nothing less than ghastly.

Now, contrast this with a New York Times article by Ross Douthat on college campuses as one of the last non-virtual bastions at which to meet a lifelong mate.  He begins his column by citing a 2012 study:

From about 1960 to 1990 … neighborhood and church had a roughly steady influence over how heterosexual couples met, with about 10% of heterosexual couples meeting as neighbors and about 7% meeting in or through houses of worship.  After 2000, neighborhood and church went in to steep decline along with most of the other traditional ways of meeting romantic partners.[2]

It seems the dating strongholds that have traditionally set people on the path to marriage are in steep decline.  This trend does not hold true, however, for college campuses:  “College has also dipped since 2000 as a place to meet, but only modestly,” Douthat notes.  What, then, is the upshot of these statistics?  Douthat concludes:

It seems fair to assume that there are still a lot of people who would prefer to meet their future spouse the old fashioned way — through initial flesh-and-blood encounters embedded in a larger pre-existing social network.  If that’s your preference, the university campus is one of the few flesh-and-blood arenas that seems to be holding its own as a place to form lasting attachments.  So for those Americans who do attend college, the case for taking advantage of its denser-than-average social landscape might actually get stronger as the non-virtual alternatives decline.

So there you have it.  On the one hand, college campuses can be hotbeds of squalid sexual hookups – places where people make out at night and walk out the next morning.  On the other hand, college campuses remain ideal environments for meeting, dating, and, eventually, marrying.

The apostle Paul issues a sobering warning about the effects of sexual immorality, saying that God gives over people “in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (Romans 3:24).  When reading such a warning, I can’t help but think of an especially telling story from Kate Taylor’s article:

For many Penn students, their initiation into the sexual culture takes place at fraternity parties during New Student Orientation, a five-day period before classes start in the fall, which, along with Spring Fling in April, is known as the biggest partying time of the year.

“You go in, and they take you down to a dark basement,” Haley, a blond, pink-cheeked senior, recalled of her first frat parties in freshman year. “There’s girls dancing in the middle, and there’s guys lurking on the sides and then coming and basically pressing … up against you and trying to dance.”

Dancing like that felt good but dirty, and like a number of girls, Haley said she had to be drunk in order to enjoy it. Women said universally that hookups could not exist without alcohol, because they were for the most part too uncomfortable to pair off with men they did not know well without being drunk.

The first line of the last paragraph haunts me:  “Dancing like that felt good but dirty.”  Another word for “dirty,” of course, is “degrading,” the very thing which Paul says is the result of sexual immorality.

So often we read Paul’s words in Romans 1 as a condemnation of those whose sexual ethics differ from those of Christianity.  But Paul’s words are much more than a condemnation.  They are a sad statement of reality.  And even the New York Times knows it.  Sexual immorality is dirty.  Sexual immorality is degrading.  Perhaps C.S. Lewis puts it best when he writes specifically of females trapped in sexually promiscuous lifestyles: “I have no sympathy with moralists who frown at the increasing crudity of female provocativeness.  These signs of desperate competition fill me with pity.”[3]  Like Lewis, may we pity those who are so desperate, they willingly degrade themselves sexually.  Such degradation is truly heartbreaking.

The choice is clear.  At college, a student can either degrade him or herself in sexual recklessness, or take advantage of a university’s social landscape to form friendships and, by God’s grace, a lifelong marriage relationship.

My prayer is that more and more people would choose chastity – not only because it gives glory to God, but because it really is better for His creations.  It really is better for you.  You don’t need to degrade yourself.  For you have One who was degraded for you on a cross.


[1] Kate Taylor, “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too,” New York Times (7.12.2013).

[2] Ross Douthat, “The Dating World of Tomorrow,” New York Times (7.19.2013).

[3] C.S. Lewis, C.S. Lewis: Readings for Meditation and Reflection, Walter Hooper, ed. (New York: Harper Collins, 1992), 88

July 29, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Oh, Those Good Ole Days

Vintage Truck 1Recently, the New York Times featured a sanguine article on the value of nostalgia.  In a culture that tends to obsess over the “next big thing,” it turns out that “old small things” are worth remembering and celebrating.  Journalist John Tierney explains:

Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety. It makes people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders. Couples feel closer and look happier when they’re sharing nostalgic memories. On cold days, or in cold rooms, people use nostalgia to literally feel warmer.[1]

Of course, nostalgia has not always been so appreciated:

Nostalgia was originally described as a “neurological disease of essentially demonic cause” by Johannes Hoffer, the Swiss doctor who coined the term in 1688. Military physicians speculated that its prevalence among Swiss mercenaries abroad was due to earlier damage to the soldiers’ ear drums and brain cells by the unremitting clanging of cowbells in the Alps.

Even now, many psychologists mistake a case of nostalgia – often brought on by a major life transition when people understandably pine for parts of their past – for depression.

Nostalgia, though often underappreciated in our world, held primacy of place in the lives of the ancient Israelites.  In fact, one of the most common commands of the Old Testament is to be nostalgic – to remember:

  • Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. (Deuteronomy 5:15)
  • Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. (Deuteronomy 8:2)
  • Remember the wonders [the LORD] has done, His miracles, and the judgments He pronounced. (Psalm 105:5)

Over and over again, the LORD asks His people to remember what He has done for them.  Why?

For the ancient Israelites, remembering was more than taking a nostalgic trip from the present to the past; remembering actually made the past into the present.  Indeed, whenever the Jews celebrated the Passover, they recited the Haggadah, a Hebrew word meaning “telling.”  The Haggadah recounted the mighty acts of the Lord the night He brought them out of their harsh slavery in Egypt.  A key line in the Haggadah read:

In every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had left Egypt.  It was not only our ancestors whom the Holy One, blessed be He, redeemed from Egypt; rather, He redeemed us, as it is stated: “He brought us out from there, so that He might bring us to the land He promised our fathers, and give it to us.”[2]

The Jews believed that when they remembered what God had done, they not only recalled God’s acts in the past, they became the beneficiaries of those acts in the present.  One cannot help but think of the Haggadah that Jesus gave His disciples, also on a Passover night, when He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).  When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we do not just remember what Jesus did in the past, we receive the benefits of His very body and blood in the present.

For the Christian, nostalgia is a good thing because remembering is a good thing.  But nostalgia is more than nostalgia when it reflects on what God has done in Christ.  For what Christ has done in the past still blesses us – and saves us – in the present.


[1] John Tierney, “What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows,” New York Times (7.8.2013).

[2]Text of the Haggadah,” Eliyahu Touger, trans.

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

Where Human Justice Cannot Tread: The Case of Trayvon Martin & George Zimmerman

Martin Zimmerman

Credit: The Associated Press

We will never know for sure what happened.

Well, we will never know for sure all that happened.  There are a few things we do know.  We do know that on the night of February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida, an altercation took place between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.  We do know that this altercation left Trayvon Martin dead of a single gunshot wound, fired at intermediate range.  We do know that George Zimmerman was the shooter.  And we do know that on Saturday, July 13, Zimmerman was found “not guilty” of both the charges of second-degree murder and of manslaughter.

As the trial of George Zimmerman unfolded before a nation of breathless spectators, it became clear to many pundits and reporters – regardless of how these pundits and reporters hoped this case would turn out – that the prosecution was in trouble.  Consider this from ABC News:

Prosecutors started strong with a powerful, concise opening statement from Assistant State Attorney John Guy, in contrast to the silly knock-knock joke and seemingly disorganized and meandering defense argument …

But then something happened that many would have thought improbable as this case received wall to wall coverage leading up to Zimmerman’s arrest.

What the state hoped would be proof that Zimmerman initiated the altercation and that he, not Martin, was on top as they grappled on the ground, did not appear to proceed as planned …

With each witness there were either facts that we now know are not true (like hearing three shots, when there was only one) or indications that their memories have somehow become clearer since the incident itself.[1]

The prosecution’s witnesses, in their testimonies of what happened that night, gave conflicting and confusing accounts.  Coupled with the fact that the burden to prove that Zimmerman shot Martin in something other than self-defense rested on the prosecution, the prospects for a conviction were grim for the state.  Again, ABC News summarized the prosecution’s problem well:

Prosecutors still have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman did not “reasonably believe” he was “in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm” during their altercation. That is a heavy burden to bear.

It turns out, as the verdict this past Saturday revealed, that it was a burden too heavy to bear.

Along with the wide range of human emotions that a trial such as this one elicits, this trial has also exposed the limits of human justice.  The jury found George Zimmerman “not guilty.”  This does not necessarily mean that Zimmerman committed no crime.  It simply means that, in the opinions of the jurors, there was not enough evidence to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty of a crime.  The jurors’ verdict does not pretend or presume to rule on George Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence as a matter of fact.  It simply says that Zimmerman will not be incarcerated as a matter of the law.

The justice of our God is much more comprehensive and, as strange as it sounds, just than the justice of our courts.  For our God is concerned with infinite transcendent justice rather than with limited legal justice.  Indeed, our God is passionate about justice.  God shouts in Amos 5:24:  “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”  Where human justice falls short, God’s justice does not.

Ultimately, regardless of the verdict, the justice rendered in that Florida courtroom can only be provisionary and incomplete.  Even if George Zimmerman had been found guilty, his incarceration would not have undone the painful problem of death, which is finally what this case – and every murder case – is all about.  But the painful problem of death cannot be solved in any courtroom; it can only be solved on a cross.  Only Jesus can bring justice to death by conquering it with His life – a life that will finally and fully be revealed on the Last Day.

So while a Florida court has ruled, we are still waiting for Jesus to rule – or, to put it more clearly, to reign – when He returns on the Last Day.  And, blessedly, the justice He will bring on that day will be far better than the justice we have in these days.  For His justice does much more than merely rule on tragedies; His justice fixes them.


[1] Dan Abrams, “George Zimmerman’s Prosecution Woes: Analysis,” ABC News (7.1.2013).

July 15, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Righteous

Crucifixion 1This weekend in worship and ABC, we learned about the doctrine of justification which teaches that our righteousness before God is not a product of ourselves and our works; rather, it is a free gift from God, given to us by the work of Christ on the cross.  As the apostle Paul writes, “[We] are justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

Throughout the history of the Church, some have tried to undercut this doctrine of God’s work with human works.  The Pelagians, for instance, taught that by obeying God’s commands, people could gain favor in God’s sight.  The Synergists taught that justification was not a gift of God’s righteousness exclusively, but a comingling of God’s righteousness with human righteousness.  In the face of such unbiblical teachings, Martin Luther offers this important reflection on justification as God’s work and not as ours:

The world wants to win heaven from our Lord God by right, although He is causing the message to be proclaimed aloud throughout the world that He wants to give it to us for nothing.  He says:  “I want to be your God; out of grace and for nothing I want to save you … I will not let you win heaven from Me.  Therefore make no other gods, do not invent things that you do for yourself … Do not begin with your good works; allow Me to have mercy on you.”  It certainly is a shame that people must accuse us being unwilling to accept heaven for nothing, nay, of actually wanting to earn it and of proposing to give to God, to Him who desires to offer everything to us in plenty.  Such fools are we:  we want to give what we ought to take.[1]

We bring nothing to our righteous standing before God – no good work, no pious thought, no warm heart.  Instead, God supplies any and all righteousness we need through His Son.  This is the doctrine of justification.  This is the promise of the gospel.  And this is the cornerstone of our faith.

May we never seek to add our works to God’s work.  After all, it is God’s work – and His work alone – that saves us.


[1] Martin Luther, What Luther Says, Ewald M. Plass, comp. (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1959), §2207.

July 8, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Downfall of DOMA

Supreme Court 1The headline was welcomed with both cheers and tears:  “Supreme Court strikes down Defense of Marriage Act.”[1]  For some, this ruling was a welcomed vindication – and indication that the argument for same-sex marriage had not only won the day in the Supreme Court, but in the court of public opinion.  Others were saddened and even embittered.  Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee tweeted:  “My thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling that determined that same sex marriage is okay:  ‘Jesus wept.’”[2]

So how is a Christian to respond to this ruling?  There are two things I believe that are paramount to any Christian’s response.

The first is humility.  Responding with bravado – either for or against this ruling – is not helpful.  Whether it be the raucous celebrations of many of this ruling’s supporters or the vitriolic denouncements of many of this ruling’s detractors, anything less than a humble and gentle spirit leads to combat rather than conversation.   And as I have written elsewhere, simply trying to win against each other rather than listening to each other means that no matter who supposedly “wins,” everybody loses.[3]

The second thing needed is honesty.  Christians need not compromise moral conviction when it comes to human sexuality.  We simply must hold to our convictions humbly rather than haughtily.  The biblical moral vision for human sexuality is clear:  sexual intimacy is to be reserved for a husband and wife in the lifelong covenant of marriage (cf. Genesis 2:24-25).  Deviations from this – be they fornication, adultery, or homosexuality – are prohibited by Holy Writ.  It’s okay to say this.  It’s okay to stand up for this.  It’s okay to make a moral pronouncement on marriage.

Indeed, as I have thought through the court’s ruling on DOMA, I find Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion to have far reaching moral implications:

The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.

The history of DOMA’s enactment and its own text demonstrate that interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages, a dignity conferred by the States in the exercise of their sovereign power, was more than an incidental effect of the federal statute. It was its essence. The House Report announced its conclusion that “it is both appropriate and necessary for Congress to do what it can to defend the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage. … H. R. 3396 is appropriately entitled the ‘Defense of Marriage Act.’ The effort to redefine ‘marriage’ to extend to homosexual couples is a truly radical proposal that would fundamentally alter the institution of marriage.”… The House concluded that DOMA expresses “both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.” … The stated purpose of the law was to promote an “interest in protecting the traditional moral teachings reflected in heterosexual-only marriage laws.”[4]

In Justice Kennedy’s opinion, DOMA was drafted and passed into law with the express purpose of interfering “with the dignity of same-sex marriages.”  How does he know this?  Because DOMA demonstrates “both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.”  In other words, Justice Kennedy claims that the Judeo-Christian morality in which DOMA is grounded diminishes the dignity of same-sex marriages.  Such a diminishment cannot be tolerated.  It is, in a word, illegal.  This is why DOMA must be overturned.

The duty of the Supreme Court justices is to render legal decisions.  But every legal decision carries with it an indissoluble moral component.  In this instance, this legal decision’s moral component is in the declaration that a law based on the Judeo-Christian sexual moral standard is discriminatory and illegal.  Such a pronouncement replaces the Judeo-Christian sexual moral standard with a sexual moral standard of its own – one that is open to same-sex marriage while still, interestingly enough, discriminating against other forms of marriage (e.g., polygamy).  Thus, what Justice Kennedy and the Supreme Court majority have done is issued not only a legal opinion, but a moral valuation.

Laws are irreducibly moral.  Laws against murder or perjury or theft inevitably promote some vision of what morality is and means. Thus, even the justices of the Supreme Court cannot render a strictly amoral legal verdict on whether or not to federally recognize same-sex marriages.  What they declare on this issue will always, in some way, involve judgments of and on morality.  The question we must ask ourselves is, “Is the morality of the Supreme Court majority the right morality?”

Justice Kennedy has given his answer.  What’s yours?


[1] Pete Williams & Erin McClam, “Supreme Court strikes down Defense of Marriage Act, paves way for gay marriage to resume in California,” NBCNews.com (6.26.2013).

[2] Mike Huckabee, twitter.com/govmikehuckabee (6.26.2013).

[3] Zach McIntosh, “The State Of Our Public Debate: Same-Sex Marriage As A Test Case,” zachmcintosh.com (4.8.2013).

[4] United States v. Windsor, 570 U. S. 1 (2013).

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


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