Archive for July, 2014

When Cultures Clash

Society 1Three weeks ago on this blog, I shared a quote from The Gospel Coalition’s Trevin Wax that I think brilliantly summarizes a radical shift in our culture:

A generation ago, a person’s religious observance was a public matter, a defining characteristic of one’s identity, while a person’s sexual activity was something private.  Today, this situation is reversed.  A person’s sexual behavior is now considered a defining characteristic of identity, a public matter to be affirmed (even subsidized) by others, while religious observance is private and personal, relegated to places of worship and not able to infringe upon or impact the public square.

The culture clash today is less about the role of religion in business or politics, and more about which vision of humanity best leads to flourishing and should therefore be enshrined in or favored by law.[1]

Sex has become a – if not the – defining characteristic for many in our society.  I recently read an article about a professor who, in a women’s studies course, asked the class to write down the moment they realized they were gay, straight, bisexual, or queer.[2]  For many, one’s sexual awakening has become their road to Emmaus.  It is nothing less than their conversion experience.  I grew up Baptist, and the question I was often asked was, “When did you ask Jesus into your heart?”  Now the question is, “When did you have your sexual awakening?”  Sexuality is what gives many their meaning, purpose, and identity.

As I wrote three weeks ago, as a Christian, I cannot define myself in the way so many in our society have chosen to define themselves.  I must define myself by Christ and His Gospel.  I am, however, well aware that when I define myself in this way, I offend a whole host of societal sensibilities, especially as they pertain to sexuality.

As I’ve been pondering this clash of values, I’ve come to realize that Jesus faced much the same situation.  First century society was rife with sexual standards that were radically different from His.  Take for instance, the emperor of Rome during Jesus’ day, Tiberius Caesar, who, according to the Roman historian Suetonius, enjoyed watching group sex.[3]  This type of sexual licentiousness is, thankfully, offensive to many in our day, but, sadly, nevertheless acceptable and practiced among some.  So how did Jesus respond to sexual ethics that contradicted His own?

First, Jesus was ethically rigorous.  Jesus didn’t compromise His sexual standards in an effort win allies or appear tolerant.  I think of Jesus’ clash with the religious leaders over divorce.  In a world where many religious teachers taught that it was acceptable for a man “to divorce his wife for any and every reason,” Jesus responds, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:3, 9).  This sexual standard was so rigorous that Jesus’ own disciples exclaimed, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10).

It was William Ralph Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, who famously quipped: “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”[4]  Jesus was not interested in conforming to the sexual spirit of His age.  We should not be interested in conforming either.

But there is another side to Jesus’ engagement with the sexual spirit of His society.  For at the same time that Jesus was ethically rigorous, He was also relationally generous.  In other words, even if people were in lifestyles He could not condone, He did not shun them.  He loved them.  I think of the woman at the well in John 4.  Or the woman caught in adultery in John 8.  Or the woman who anoints Jesus with perfume in Luke 7.  Jesus cared deeply for these people.  We should too – even if they do not share our ethical commitments.

A faithful Christian response to the sexual standards of our society, then, demands that we answer two questions.  First, where do we stand?  Have we compromised biblical sexual standards to kowtow to the spirit of our age?  If so, no less than the living Lord commands that we hold the line.  But second, who are our friends?  Do we generously befriend those who do not think or live like we do?  If our friends are only those who share our ethical commitments, we have traded Jesus’ love for quarantined law.  And that helps no one.

As Christians, we need both ethical standards and relational grace.  I hope you have both.  You should.  Jesus has given you both.  After all, how do you think He befriended you?

_____________________________

[1] Trevin Wax, “The Supreme Court Agrees With Hobby Lobby, But Your Neighbor Probably Doesn’t,” The Gospel Coalition (6.30.2014).

[2] W. Blue, “When Did You Know You Were Gay?Psychology Today (7.15.2014).

[3] Suetonius, Life of Tiberius 43.

[4] Tony Lane, Exploring Christian Doctrine: A Guide to What Christians Believe (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2014), 48.

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July 28, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Processing Another Malaysia Airlines Tragedy

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

“Following are images from the scene – warning: GRAPHIC.”[1]

This is the caption that greeted me as I was reading through headlines about the crash of Malaysia Airlines passenger flight MH17, shot down by a surface-to-air missile while flying over Ukraine.  The crash scene is gut-wrenchingly sad – dozens of pictures of smoldering wreckage, many of these with portions blurred out to cover up the gruesome sights of human remains.  It’s no surprise, then, that before I scrolled through images from the scene posted by Business Insider, they included the above warning.

Regardless of whether this missile strike was an accidental shooting down of an airliner that was thought to be a military transport jet or an intentional targeting of civilians, the precipitating cause in this crisis, according to experts, is Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.  The New York Times editorial board posted an excellent opinion piece, calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to put a stop to not only tragedies like these, but to end a war of his own making against Ukraine:

Growing casualties on the ground, a major escalation of American sanctions against Russia, a military plane shot down and now the appalling destruction of a Malaysian jetliner with 298 people on board, shot by a surface-to-air missile. The Ukrainian conflict has gone on far too long, and it has become far too dangerous.

There is one man who can stop it – President Vladimir Putin of Russia, by telling the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to end their insurgency and by stopping the flow of money and heavy weaponry to those groups. But for all his mollifying words and gestures, Mr. Putin has only continued to stoke the flames by failing to shut down those pipelines, failing to support a cease-fire and avoiding serious, internationally mediated negotiations.[2]

Mr. Putin is so obsessed with getting to Ukraine, it seems, that even the tragic loss of a civilian airliner is not too large a price to pay to pacify his Macbethian-style political and empire-building ambitions.  But the pictures from this airliner crash are rallying the world into sharp disagreement with the Russian president.  This must stop.

Of all the grueling pictures I have seen from this story, the one I posted at the beginning of this blog has perhaps touched my heart most deeply.  There was no warning caption of graphic content posted above this image, but there should have been.  For far more tragic than smoldering wreckage are the shattered lives of those who have lost loved ones.  A girl’s grief is far more explicit than a flaming fuselage.

My parents used to warn me, “Power corrupts.”  After following this story, I wish that was all power could do.  For whether from the halls of the Kremlin or from an open plane dotted by missiles, in this instance, power didn’t just corrupt.  It killed.  Is it any wonder that, as Christians, we rejoice in the promise that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18)?   After all, He seems to be the only one who knows how to use it – at least perfectly.  For He uses His power not to kill, but to make alive (cf. John 10:10).

May Jesus’ perfect use of power be a comfort and consolation to those who have lost loved ones in this depraved display of aggression.

________________________

[1] Michael B. Kelley, “More Than 300 People Killed As Passenger Plane Shot Down In East Ukraine,” Business Insider (7.17.2014).

[2] The Editorial Board, “Vladimir Putin Can Stop This War,” The New York Times (7.17.2014).

July 21, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Decidophobia

Credit: thebeaconmag.com

Credit: thebeaconmag.com

I have a confession to make:  I suffer from decidophobia.

Now, before you accuse me of making up words, this term is not my own.  Walter Kaufmann, who served as a philosophy professor for over 30 years at Princeton, coined it.  He explains decidophobia like this:

In the fateful decisions that mold our future, freedom becomes tangible; and they are objects of extreme dread.  Every such decision involves norms, standards, goals.  Treating these as given lessens this dread.  The comparison and choice of goals and standards arouses the most intense decidophobia.[1]

Here’s what Kaufmann is saying:  decisions form futures.  Those who suffer from decidophobia worry that their decisions will tank their futures.

Now, to a certain extent, this is true.  Foolish decisions can lead to bad futures.  If one wracks up a lot of debt now, it leads to a lot of bills in the future.  If one is having an affair now, it can lead to a heart-wrenching divorce in the future.

But there are other decisions – decisions that don’t always carry with them the ethical clarity that getting into a bottomless pit of debt or having an affair do.  Decisions like, “What job should I take?”  “What vehicle should I buy?”  “What house should I live in?”  I am trying to make a decision on the last of these three quandaries.  And I have come down with a bad case of decidophobia.

As I have looked at neighborhoods and floor plans and features and storage space, I’ve become worried and concerned.  Will I make the right decision?  But here’s what I’ve come to realize:  decisions like these, though not always easy, are not devastatingly determinative of my future.  If a house does not have all the features I might like, it will still provide me with a roof over my head at the end of the day.  If a job you take does not meet all your dreams and expectations, you will still have a paycheck at the end of your pay period.  If a car you buy isn’t the one you’ve dreamed of since you were a teenager, it will still get you from point A to point B by the end of your trip.

I have long suspected that God gives us some decisions to make not to teach us about decisions themselves, but to teach us about the anxiety that so many of us feel when we are in the throws of a decision-making process.  I read somewhere that we should “not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34).  Many of the decisions we make carry with them no biblical mandate.  Any decision we make will be fine.  Being free from worry, however, does carry with it a biblical mandate.  That’s why it’s time to stop incessantly fretting.  Decidophobia is sinful.

So what’s causing you decidophobia?  Before you get your stomach tied in knots, remind yourself of Christ’s words in Matthew 6:34.  These decisions are not worth your worry.  You are in God’s care.

___________________________

[1] Walter Kaufmann, Without Guilt and Justice:  From Decidophobia to Autonomy (New York:  Peter H. Wyden, Inc., 1973), 3.

July 14, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

It’s Not About The Supreme Court Ruling

Credit:  Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

There was the ruling.  And then there was the reaction to the ruling.  When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby, saying it did not have to pay for certain types of birth control as mandated by the Affordable Care Act because it considered them abortifacients which violated the theological beliefs of the company’s owners, the reaction was swift and fierce – from both sides.  Mark Goldfeder, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, announced:

Here is what the decision means:  People have First Amendment rights, and even if the corporations themselves are not entitled to Free Exercise exemptions, the people behind the corporate veil, the business owners themselves, certainly are.

On the other side, Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, lamented:

We think it’s a bitter pill to swallow for women, and that the decision is saying that bosses know best and their religious beliefs can trump very basic health-care coverage.  It’s especially harmful to women, but beyond this, down the line, there will be other cases, other challenges, that could have an even broader effect.[1]

Of course, along with these measured responses, there were also the less measured responses of the Twitterverse, like one post advocating arson: “#HobbyLobby are scum of the earth.  Burn every single one down, build a homeless shelter there instead.”[2]  Then, there was another very humble post from a person who agreed with SCOTUS’s ruling:  “Ha. Ha. It’s The. Law.”[3]

What fascinates me about all these responses – whether they be sophisticated or sleazy – is how little they have to do with the actual legal ins and outs of this case and how much they reflect the radically disparate worldviews of our society.  I have found no better synopsis of the clash of worldviews in this case than this from Trevin Wax:

A generation ago, a person’s religious observance was a public matter, a defining characteristic of one’s identity, while a person’s sexual activity was something private. Today, this situation is reversed. A person’s sexual behavior is now considered a defining characteristic of identity, a public matter to be affirmed (even subsidized) by others, while religious observance is private and personal, relegated to places of worship and not able to infringe upon or impact the public square.

The culture clash today is less about the role of religion in business or politics, and more about which vision of humanity best leads to flourishing and should therefore be enshrined in or favored by law.[4]

This is exactly right.  Different people value different things.  For some, their faith is their defining characteristic.  Thus, they have a strong desire to practice their faith in every area and aspect of their lives, including their business dealings.  For others, some other thing – like their sexuality – is their defining characteristic.  And anything perceived as an affront to their sexual identity is worthy of unrestrained caustic choler.

As a Christian, I really have no choice when it comes to how I will define myself:  my life must be defined by Christ.  In the words of the apostle Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  So what does this mean for my interactions with those who define themselves by other things?  A few things come to mind.

First, I must love those with differing worldviews.  As Ed Stetzer so pointedly says in his article on the Hobby Lobby ruling, “You can’t hate a people and reach a people at the same time.”[5]  People who live outside a Christian worldview are not to be destroyed or oppressed in a political or judicial power grab, but loved through a winsome witness.

Second, I must realize that my worldview is no longer a privileged majority worldview in our society.  Indeed, many people are not at all concerned that a Christian may be legislatively or legally forced to do something that goes against his conscience.  Again, Ed Stetzer writes, “Most Americans are not as passionate about the religious liberty issue (when connected to contraception, even abortifacient contraception) as most evangelicals and conservative Catholics.”  Trevin Wax reveals that “a record number of Americans (1 in 3) said the first amendment [which grants religious liberty] goes too far in the freedom it promises.”  This is just a reality.

Third, I must make the case – through both a rigorous intellectual defense and a gentle, quiet lifestyle – why my worldview should be seriously considered and why it does indeed lead to true human flourishing.  It is important to note that this case cannot be made quickly.  Indeed, it cannot even be made by just my life or in just my lifetime.  No, this is a case the whole Church must make.  And blessedly, the Church has been making it for millennia.  For instance, the Church made its case here.  And here.  And here.  And here.  This is why I doubt any Supreme Court ruling – be it in favor of or against religious liberty – will kill the Church’s case.  For this is the case and cause of Christ.

Let’s keep making it.

______________________________

[1] Ashby Jones, “Legal Experts, Advocates React to Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby Ruling,” The Wall Street Journal (6.30.2014).

[2] Costa Koutsoutis, @costa_kout, 6.30.2014

[3] Harriet Baldwin, @HarrietBaldwin, 6.30.2014

[4] Trevin Wax, The Supreme Court Agrees With Hobby Lobby, But Your Neighbor Probably Doesn’t,” The Gospel Coalition (6.30.2014).

[5] Ed Stetzer, “Hobby Lobby Wins: Where Do We Go from Here?The Exchange (6.30.2014).

July 7, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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