Archive for June, 2016

Breaking Down Brexit

London.jpg

It was a shocker of an outcome. British voters backed Brexit.

In a move that sent markets stumbling and the pound tumbling, Britons voted to leave the European Union 52% to 48%.  The fallout from the exit was nearly immediate as David Cameron stepped down as Britain’s Prime Minister, saying:

I was absolutely clear about my belief that Britain is stronger, safer and better off inside the EU. I made clear the referendum was about this, and this alone, not the future of any single politician, including myself.  But the British people made a different decision to take a different path. As such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.[1]

In support of Brexit was Boris Johnson, a member of Parliament and the former mayor of London, who explained:

In the end this question is about the people…it is about the very principles of our democracy…I think the electorate have searched in their hearts and answered as honestly as they can.  They have decided that it is time to vote to take back control from an EU that has become too remote, too opaque and not accountable enough to the people it is meant to serve.[2]

Back here in the United States, the Obama administration had announced its support for Great Britain remaining in the EU and expressed disappointment at the vote while still pledging its ongoing support for the UK.

As with many things of this nature, there were probably good reasons for Great Britain to stay in the EU and good reasons for it to leave.  On the one hand, fraternal cooperation between nations who support each other in their humanity and not just in their nationality is good.  On the other hand, a governing body as large and as political as the EU is simply too inherently prone to corruption to exercise its power without problems and concerns.

Regardless of how you may personally feel about the Brexit vote, it is important that we, as Christians, pray for the British people.  This much is certain:  this vote has launched that country into turmoil.  The price of gold has surged as jittery investors clamor to find safe financial havens.  British millennials are also broadly upset with the vote, with one millennial tweeting, “A generation given everything…have voted to strip my generation’s future.”[3]  According to one poll, 64% of Britons ages 25 to 29 wanted to stay in the EU.  It was the older Britons who carried Brexit to victory.  But even in the wake of victory, the United Kingdom is still divided.

Ultimately, Brexit can serve as a reminder that no human coalition or government, no matter how seemingly strong, is impenetrable or eternal.  Every earthly kingdom eventually fails and falls.  This is why our hope can never be in nations, international unions, or leaders.  Our hope must finally be in the Lord.

After the Egyptians free the Israelites from the shackles of their slavery to them, and after God miraculously parts the Red Sea so the Israelites can escape the Egyptian army when the Egyptian Pharaoh changes his mind about releasing the Israelites, and after God causes the wheels of the Egyptian chariots to fall off as they pursue the Israelites into the parted Red Sea (cf. Exodus 14:25), and after God swallows up the Egyptians in the Red Sea by causing its waters to fall back on them, Exodus 14:31 says, “When the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in Him.”

Eventually, the wheels of every kingdom fall off.  Brexit is just the latest example.  Thus, if we trust only in human kingdoms and powers, we will be left with nothing but fear when these kingdoms collapse.  This is why we must put our trust in the Lord.  For when we trust in Him, we can move through even a time of international uncertainty knowing that one kingdom – God’s Kingdom – can never be shaken.  In the words of Martin Luther:

The Word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

___________________________________

[1] Heather Stewart, Rowena Mason, and Rajeev Syal, “David Cameron resigns after UK votes to leave European Union,” The Guardian (6.24.2016).

[2] Kate McCann and Laura Hughes, “EU referendum live: Boris Johnson hails ‘glorious opportunity’ of Brexit as David Cameron resigns,” The Telegraph (6.24.2016).

[3] Ivana Kottasova, “British Millennials: You’ve stolen our future,” CNN Money (6.24.20216).

June 27, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Rape At Stanford: Recovering Our Humanity In A Culture Of Perverse Sexuality

Stanford University.jpg

The names have changed, but the situation is far too familiar.

Three weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about a sex scandal at Baylor University that featured violated girls, entitled football players, and a campus administration who looked the other way.  Now, another sex scandal has captured headlines – this one at Stanford University – that involves a violated girl, an entitled party goer, and a judge that many are saying looked the other way by sentencing a rapist to an embarrassingly paltry prison term.

The entitled party goer in question is Brock Turner.  He is convicted of violating a 23-year-old girl who, though not a student at Stanford, was attending a fraternity party where she had too much to drink, passed out, and was found behind a dumpster with Turner “lying on top of her unconscious, partly clothed body…Witnesses intervened and held the attacker for the police.”[1]

The judge could have sentenced Turner to 14 years in prison.  Instead, he got six months.

The victim recounted her experience of waking up from her assault in terrifying detail in a letter she read aloud in the courtroom to her rapist:

The next thing I remember I was in a gurney in a hallway. I had dried blood and bandages on the backs of my hands and elbow. I thought maybe I had fallen and was in an admin office on campus. I was very calm and wondering where my sister was. A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person. I knew no one at this party. When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing. I still remember the feeling of my hands touching my skin and grabbing nothing. I looked down and there was nothing.[2]

It was at this moment that she realized what the officer had said was true:  she had been raped.

The victim’s letter is gut-wrenching.  But the response of Brock Turner’s father Dan to this crime is stupefying.  He defended his son, saying:

As it stands now, Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan. 17th and 18th. He will never be his happy-go-lucky self with that easygoing personality and welcoming smile. His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear and depression…His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life.[3]

Yes, that’s what this was:  “20 minutes of action.”  Just the phrase makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

This tragedy is nauseating. It is disgusting.  But I am afraid we may not learn much from it.

We now live in a world where it is acceptable for college students to hook up using an app where they can register their legal consent for sex unless, of course, one of the consenters indicates they are intoxicated.  Did I mention that this app was created by a group of parents of college-aged children?

We also live in a world where a self-declared “feminist father” can sport a shirt that reads:

RULES FOR DATING MY DAUGHTER 1. I DON’T MAKE THE RULES 2. YOU DON’T MAKE THE RULES 3. SHE MAKES THE RULES 4. HER BODY, HER RULES

Just so I am not misunderstood, I am in complete agreement that no one should ever be forced to engage in any sort of sexual encounter against their wishes.  Period.  To violate a woman’s rules for her body is, by definition, rape.  And it is abhorrent.

But something is missing.

When sex is reduced to concepts like “consent” and highly individualized “rules,” the bar for sex has been set way too low.  It has been set a place that is sure to leave a trail of broken hearts, broken relationships, and broken lives.  Sex is about consent.  But it’s not only about consent.  It’s also about commitment.  Sex is about rules.  But it’s not only about rules. It’s also about trust.  And I can’t stop there.  Sex is also about love.  It is also about marriage.  And yes, as a Christian, I cannot help but note that it is ultimately about God because it is, in its very origin, a gift from God.

Something tells me that God is not pleased when His good gift is drug into the dumpster.  Literally.

Brock Turner took a dumpster dive to the bottom of the moral barrel when he raped this young lady.  But let us not forget that this moral barrel comes with a staircase to the bottom.  And when we, as a culture, are willing to walk down step after step of sexual compromise, sexual selfishness, and sexual confusion – when we, as a culture, reduce sex to consent and strip it of nearly everything with which Scripture imbues it – what makes us think we won’t trip and land at the bottom like Brock?

Jesus reminds us that the first step to sexual disaster happens long before our clothes come off with the wrong person in the wrong circumstance for the wrong reasons.  The first step to sexual disaster happens when hearts go wrong: “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).  Sexual disaster doesn’t start with a rape case that captures headlines.  It starts with a lust that perverts a person’s heart.

The problem with lust is that it sacrifices a person’s humanity on the altar of personal twisted desire.  A meeting that is quite literally designed to give life as it often results in the blessing of children actually takes life as one person uses another person to satisfy himself.  This is why Dan Turner can write about his son’s “20 minutes of action.”  Because for Brock’s dad, that’s all sex is – action with no affiance, amusement with no affection.  It is certainly not the meeting of two people and the mingling of two souls.

The paragraph I appreciate the most in this young lady’s statement to her attacker is her last one.  She says to girls everywhere:

You are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you.

From a woman who was treated as far less than human comes a reminder that her – and our – humanity nevertheless endures.

May our sexuality rise to the occasion of our humanity.

________________________

[1] Liam Stack, “Light Sentence for Brock Turner in Stanford Rape Case Draws Outrage,” The New York Times (6.6.2016).

[2] Katie J.M. Baker, “Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker,” Buzzfeed (6.3.2016).

[3] Morgan Winsor, “Scathing Letter to Father of Stanford Sex Offender Brock Turner Goes Viral,” ABC News (6.9.2016).

June 20, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Processing the Terror in Orlando

Orlando Terror Attacks

Credit:  The Guardian

Terror doesn’t sleep.

This is one of the lessons we’re learning from what has become the worst mass shooting in U.S. history carried out early this morning around 2 o’clock at a nightclub in Orlando.

The shooter’s name was Omar Mateen.  He had drawn the attention of the FBI in the past, and before he carried out his terror attack, he called 911 to pledge his allegiance to ISIS.  By the time his AR-15-style rifle and his handgun were silenced, 50 people were dead and over 50 were injured.  Mr. Mateen himself was killed by law enforcement officials while he was holed up in one of the club’s bathrooms with hostages.

News reports have been filled with people expressing shock, sadness, and outrage.  All of these responses are certainly appropriate, but what especially grieves me is that they are also entirely predictable.  We know how people will respond to a terror attack emotionally precisely because we have had so much practice responding to terror attacks emotionally.  ParisSan BernardinoBrussels.   But this tragedy – like the ones that have come before it – is too important not to respond.  When human life is senselessly and violently taken, we should stop and we should reflect and we should respond.  Here are a few things, then, to keep in mind.

Do not be afraid.

This is not the first time I have written this in the face of a terror attack.  But this is also something that bears repeating.  After all, whenever an attack like this one unfolds, our natural and almost reflexive reaction is to ask, “Am I next?  Am I safe?”  But such questions are unhelpful because such questions are utterly unanswerable.  There is no way for us to control the future.  This is why the apostle Paul commends us to be people of prayer rather than people of worry and fear: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  We may not be able to control the future, but we do know someone who holds the future.  We are called to present our fear to Him and place our trust in Him.

I should point out that there is a difference between being afraid and being vigilant.  Fear happens when a person mulls over all sorts of possible, though unverifiable, bad scenarios for the future.  Vigilance is when a person looks for clues of trouble in the present and reports them to the appropriate authorities for investigation.  Being vigilant is helpful.  Being afraid is needless.

Remember, there is a reason attacks like the one in Orlando are called acts of terror.  They are attacks specifically designed to instill fear.  Don’t let these attacks have their way in your heart.  Christ is stronger than terror.

Be careful connecting dots.

One of the major focal points of this story has been the clientele to whom this night club in Orlando catered.  The club at which these attacks were carried out is called the Pulse, which is well-known as a hotspot for those in the LGBT community.  Shortly after the attacks, GLAAD, a gay rights advocacy group, tweeted, “Our hearts break for the victims and families of this horrific act of violence. We stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in #Orlando.”  The call to stand in a solidarity of care, concern, and compassion is well-taken.

At the same time, many in the media and beyond are already wondering and conjecturing out loud concerning whether or not the fact that this is an LGBT club in any way served as a motive for the shooter.  In an article for the Huffington Post, Michelangelo Signorile offers a brief history of attacks against LGBT spaces, strongly intimating that the Orlando attack was probably more of the same.

Whether or not the patronage of this nightclub is somehow connected to the motive of the shooter is certainly a question that needs to be asked and answered.  At this point, however, overly confident pronouncements can do more harm than good.  A good rule of thumb is this:  investigation precedes correlation.  In other words, let’s not jump to conclusions.

As a Christian, this is something that I must regularly remember.  It can be far too tempting to search for some pious, consoling, and grandiose reason why a God who Scripture reveals to be a strong and sure defense would allow a horrific tragedy like this to happen.  But correlating current events to overly specific divine purposes is a theological fool’s errand.  Theologically, I must say only what I can know for sure according to Scripture: (1) that such a shooting is an expression of deep sinfulness and depravity (Romans 3:15); (2) that events of death grieve the heart of God because death is not a part of His design (1 Corinthians 15:20-22); and (3) that God is with and cares for those who have lost loved ones (Psalm 23:4).

Connecting disparate facts now will only leave you looking a fool later.  So be careful.

Remember Christianity’s unique message.

As I have said in the past, I am sympathetic to those who claim that ISIS does not represent Islamic theology, at least in any responsible sense.  Just as I do not see the theological stances of, let’s say, the Westboro Baptist Church to be authentically Christian in any regular sense of the term, I can understand why many Muslim theologians would decry and deny that ISIS represents their faith.  But even if ISIS does not represent the Islamic faith in any theologically and academically rigorous way, it does represent some sort of faith – even if the faith it represents calls on its adherents to destroy those it hates.  And this is where Christianity stands apart.  The beauty of the Christian faith is that it centers around a man who loved those who hated Him and sought to destroy Him.  Moreover, whereas ISIS calls on its fighters to lay down their lives in order to bring death to infidels, Christianity has a Savior who laid down His life in order to bring life to sinners.  In other words, Christianity serves as the perfect foil to all the terror ISIS is dishing out.  Christianity loves when ISIS hates.  Christianity promises life when ISIS seeks death.  This is why, on a day that is full of plenty of reasons to hate and to grieve, I once again to turn to Christ who gives me reasons to love and to hope.  And I ask you to join me in doing the same.

May Christ reveal His love and His life to Orlando.

June 12, 2016 at 4:05 pm 5 comments

Same-Sex Marriage, Transgenderism, and Oppression

LGBT Rally

It was the fourth-century church father Gregory of Nazianzus who wrote of God:

The three most ancient conceptions concerning God are Anarchia, Polyarchia, and Monarchia … Anarchy is a thing without order; and Polyarchy is like civil war, and thus anarchical, and thus disorderly.  For both of these tend toward the same thing, namely disorder; and this to dissolution, for disorder is the first step to dissolution.  But Monarchy is that which we hold in honor.[1]

Gregory is speaking here of the Trinity and is making the point that the persons of the Godhead are not independent of each other and unconcerned with each other in a kind of divine anarchy, nor are they vying for power against each other as in a polyarchy.  Rather, God is a monarchy – at perfect peace in Himself as three persons and one God.  This is why the apostle Paul can describe the nature of God as “not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

Order is essential to the nature and character of God.  And the order of God shows up in that which He creates.  What God creates during the first three days of creation, for instance, are filled in a very orderly fashion by what He creates in the second three days of creation (cf. Genesis 1:1-26).  When God makes human beings, he orders them as “male and female” (Genesis 1:27).  When God assigns humans work, He creates an order that places people as the crown and the stewards of what He has made (cf. Genesis 1:28-30).  And when God creates human relations, He outlines an order by which “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Recently, the transgender movement has been grabbing headline after headline.  A simple search on The New York Times website revealed that, in one 24-hour period, the paper ran 19 stories dealing with transgender concerns.  This comes on the heels of a pitched battle over same-sex marriage last year.  In both cases, these battles have been framed in terms of oppression.  To deprive gay couples of the ability to legally marry was oppressive, same-sex marriage advocates argued.  To ask questions about whether or not a person’s internal gender identification can be unflinchingly determinative of someone’s being as a male or female has also been called oppressive and discriminatory.  In light of such oppression, the argument has gone, what is needed is freedom – freedom to marry whoever you like and freedom to be the gender you perceive yourself as, even if your biological sex does not match your internal orientation.

Because freedom is such an integral part of the American ethos, to argue against freedom – whether that be the freedom to marry or the freedom to transition from a male to a female or a female to a male – seems almost sacrilegious.  But what if our starting category for these debates over same-sex marriage and transgenderism needs shifting?  What if we need to begin by asking questions not about oppression, but about order?  What if the orderliness of God and of His creation really does have a bearing on the way we order our lives – not in an oppressive way, but in a graciously protective way?

If not being able to marry who you want and live as the gender you internally identify as is oppressive, then it makes sense to push toward freedom.  Freedom is, after all, generally a good thing.  But if these strictures are not about oppression, but about order, then to push against them is not to strive for freedom, but to create chaos.  And chaos can be disastrous.

Scripture is clear that true freedom must be guided by Godly order.  In the words of the apostle Paul, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).  It is the orderly Spirit who must be present to give and to guide good freedom.  Freedom without such order degenerates into chaos.  And, as any number of Middle Eastern countries can tell you, chaos makes a society ripe for an oppressor.  To deny a Godly order is to invite an oppressive orderer.

In our current discussions over transgenderism and same-sex marriage, it is perhaps worth it to ask ourselves as Christians:  for what are we striving?  Are we striving to oppress, marginalize, and stigmatize the LGBT community, which has, sadly, admittedly happened in the past, or are we striving to call all people to a helpful order for their lives?  The first goal is clearly self-righteous and sinful.  But the second is Godly and needed – even if many outside the Church don’t see it that way.

_______________________

[1] Gregory of Naziansus, Select Orations 29:2

June 6, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments


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