Archive for January, 2017

Marching for Life

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This past Friday, hundreds of thousands of people descended on Washington D.C. for the 43rd annual March for Life.  The march finds its origin in a decision handed down by the Supreme Court on January 22, 1973, which legalized abortion in all 50 states.  From its outset, the ruling was controversial, as can be seen in a dissenting opinion from one of the justices on the Court at the time, Justice Byron White:

With all due respect, I dissent. I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court’s judgment. The Court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes. The upshot is that the people and the legislatures of the 50 States are constitutionally disentitled to weigh the relative importance of the continued existence and development of the fetus, on the one hand, against a spectrum of possible impacts on the mother, on the other hand.

Justice White frames his dissent in a couple of ways.  First, he frames it in terms of states’ rights.  At the time of Roe v. Wade, four states had legalized abortion on demand while thirteen states had legalized abortion in cases of rape, incest, and endangerment to a woman’s health.  Justice White is concerned that the high court’s federal ruling runs roughshod over decisions that rightly belong to the states.  But that’s not all he’s concerned about.  He also frames his dissent around the morality of deciding “the relative importance of the continued existence and development of the fetus, on the one hand, against a spectrum of possible impacts on the mother, on the other hand.”  This moral quandary is the one that remains and rages to this day.  The question is this:  is the fetus important?  Should a fetus be protected in some way, shape, form, or fashion because of what the fetus is – a baby in utero?

The answer from those who participate in the March to Life each year to these moral questions has been a resounding “yes.”  And Christianity’s answer to these questions has been a resounding “yes” as well.  Indeed, the story of Christianity can be summed up quite accurately as a war on death.  Ever since Adam’s fall into sin brought death into the world, God has been working to undo death’s grimly efficient accomplishments.  God’s war on death, of course, finds its climax and consummation in Easter, but all throughout Scripture we see that death gets cheated as a warning to death that it will ultimately be defeated.  Death gets cheated when God leads the children of Israel through the Red Sea, rescuing them from Pharaoh’s sword.  Death gets cheated when the prophet Elijah raises a widow’s son back to life.  Death gets cheated when a king of Israel, Hezekiah, falls ill, but God adds fifteen years to his life.  And death gets cheated all throughout Jesus’ ministry, where the terminal are treated, the reposed are raised, and the graves are gutted.  Yes, the Scriptures tell the story of God’s war on death.

Of course, we know that, in a pluralistic democracy, Scriptural theology doesn’t always translate into broad public policy.  Nevertheless, even from the vantage point of a pluralistic democracy, concerns about life must be addressed.  Questions of anthropology, such as whether life matters and whose life matters, demand our time and attention if we are to have any sort of a functioning and orderly society.  The March for Life dares to raise these questions.  And for that, it should be commended.

One of the criticisms I have heard of the pro-life movement is that though it seeks to defend the lives of the unborn, if often turns a deaf ear to the lives of the already born – the economically oppressed, minorities, and the socially marginalized.  I agree.  I agree that it is hypocritical to defend some life while turning a blind eye to other life.  But I also believe it is tragic to privilege the desires of one life at the expense of another life.  Yet, this is precisely the argument abortion proponents regularly make.  One abortion proponent explained it like this:

Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal…A fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always…

I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time – even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.

This is a chilling – and, dare I say, downright evil – rationalization for abortion.

To speak out against abortion is to understand that it is awfully difficult to defend the lives of the economically oppressed, minorities, and the socially marginalized if those lives are never allowed to leave the womb alive because they are aborted.  And studies have shown they are abortedagain and again.  It is because of that reality that I am thankful for the March for Life.

Life matters – whether it is in the womb, on this earth, or with Jesus in eternity.  And that’s something worth marching for.

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January 30, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump

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Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

It’s official.  As of last Friday, just after noon Eastern Standard Time, Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States.

Though our nation has a new president, old partisan divides and rancor remain.  Representative John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement, questioned the legitimacy of Mr. Trump’s election and promised to boycott his inauguration, which prompted a fiery response from the president via his Twitter account.  Project Veritas uncovered the aspirations of a radical protest organization to detonate a butyric acid bomb at the inaugural ball.  And then there were the protests just blocks away from the inauguration parade that erupted into riots.  Indeed, there is no shortage of division in our society.

At this watershed moment in American history, it is worth it to take a moment and remind ourselves how we, as Christians, are to conduct ourselves in a world full of violence, threats, political infighting, and social media rants.  So, as a new man settles into the world’s most powerful position, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Rulers come and rulers go.

Last week, a friend sent me a picture of the “Donald Trump Out of Office Countdown Wall Calendar.”  It extends to 2021.  Apparently, the calendar is not only counting down Mr. Trump’s term in office, but making a prediction about the next presidential election.  Whatever you may think of the new president, and regardless of whether or not you hope he is elected to another term, this wall calendar provides an important reminder:  Mr. Trump’s presidency will not last forever, just like all the presidencies before his did not last forever.  Indeed, it is always interesting to hear discussions of how “history is being made” every time a new president is elected and inaugurated.  We seem to know, even if only intuitively, that the present is only the present for a split second.  It quickly becomes history – a past that is no longer pressing.

If you are concerned about Mr. Trump’s presidency, then, remember:  it will not last forever.  And if you are ecstatic about Mr. Trump’s presidency, remember:  it will not last forever.   This is why the Psalmist instructs us not to put our “trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing” (Psalm 146:3-4).  The reign of any earthly ruler never lasts.  Every reign ends; every ruler dies – that is, except for One.

Rulers have limited authority.

No matter who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue, a contingent of the electorate is always apoplectic, convinced that whoever happens to be president at the time will surely spell the end of American democracy, if not world order, as we know it.  The reality of a president’s – or any ruler’s – authority is much less impressive.  Scripture reminds us that every human authority is under God’s authority.  The prophet Daniel declares that God “deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2:21).  The apostle Paul tells masters of slaves in the ancient world that One “who is both [your slave’s] Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him” (Ephesians 6:9).  No matter how much authority one person may have, no human authority can match God’s ultimate authority.

This should bring us peace and give us perspective.  Leaders, ultimately, do not control the world.  Instead, they simply steward, whether faithfully or poorly, whatever little corner of the world God has happened to give to them for a brief moment in time. It is never wise, therefore, to put too much faith in leaders we like or to have too much fear of leaders we don’t.  Their power is not ultimate power.

Rulers need our prayers.

When we no longer put too much faith in our leaders or have too much fear of them, this frees us up to pray for them according to Scripture’s admonition: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – 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).  I find it especially striking that making it a common practice to pray for our leaders – no matter who they might be – is commanded by Paul not only because of the effects these prayers have on our leaders, but because of the effects these prayers have on us!  When we pray for our leaders, Paul says, this leads us to peaceful and quiet lives even when the world around us feels troubled, and godly and holy lives even when the world around us seems to be careening into moral rot.  When we pray for others, God strengthens us.

As Donald Trump assumes the responsibilities of the President of the United States, he needs our prayers.  So keep President Trump and his family in your prayers.  And while you’re at it, keep other leaders, be they on the national, statewide, or local levels, in your prayers as well.  As a practical admonition, perhaps consider writing a note to one of your public servants asking how you can pray for them.  Your note just might be a big blessing to them and encourage them to become a better leader.  And that’s something our nation can always use.

January 23, 2017 at 5:15 am 5 comments

Was Jesus a Liberal or a Conservative?

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People love to claim Jesus.  This is especially true in the realm of politics.  At the beginning of the year, the Pew Research Center published a report about the faith commitments of those serving in Congress.  As it turns out, Congress is a very religious place:

The U.S. Congress is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s…Among members of the new, 115th Congress, 91% describe themselves as Christians. This is nearly the same percentage as in the 87th Congress (1961 to 1962, the earliest years for which comparable data are available), when 95% of members were Christian.

Among the 293 Republicans elected to serve in the new, 115th Congress, all but two identify as Christians…Democrats in Congress also are overwhelmingly Christian (80%).

In a society where people who claim Christianity are on the decline, the fact that so many members of Congress would continue to identify as “Christian” is worthy of our attention.  But claiming Christ is not always synonymous with following Christ.  Indeed, both of our nation’s two major political parties have had moments where their actions did not comport particularly well with Christ’s commands.

Regardless of what politicians and parties may say about Jesus or how they may represent Jesus, in His own day, Jesus demonstrated a persistent refusal to be co-opted by any political power.

In Matthew 22, the Sadducees come to Jesus with a question about a woman who had been married seven times to seven brothers.  Their question has to do with whose wife she will be at the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day: “At the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her” (Matthew 22:28)?  Sadly, their question is dripping with insincerity because the Sadducees did not even believe in the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day (cf. Acts 23:8).  They were too enlightened to believe in something so outlandish.  Another theological distinction of the Sadducees is that they accepted only the first five Old Testament books of Moses as canonical rather than the 39 books that other Jewish religious groups accepted.  Though I have no historical proof of this, I am pretty sure the Sadducees had these five books printed in red and called themselves “Red-Letter Jews,” claiming that the rest of the Old Testament canon did not really matter – only what Moses had written.  In today’s terms, the Sadducees would be aligned with theological liberals.

As Matthew 22 continues, on the heels of the Sadducees come the Pharisees.  If the Sadducees were the theological liberals of their day, the Pharisees would have been the theological conservatives.  They also have a question for Jesus: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law” (Matthew 22:36)?  This was a hotly debated theological question in the first century with no uniform answer.  More progressive teachers like Rabbi Hillel summarized the law like this: “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor.  That is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary” (b. Shabbat 31a).  Other more conservative rabbis asserted that, because all Scripture is given by God, to try to distinguish between greater and lesser commandments in the Bible is foolish.  When the Pharisees present their question to Jesus about the law, they want to know whether He will answer liberally or conservatively.

Whether it is the Sadducees or Pharisees who approach Him, Jesus refuses to play according to their liberal and conservative assumptions.  Contra the liberal Sadducees, Jesus affirms the resurrection of the dead (Matthew 22:29-32).  And contra the conservative Pharisees, Jesus says there is indeed a greatest commandment, but it is much weightier than the one postulated by Rabbi Hillel.  One should not just avoid doing injury to someone else, one should actively love that other person in the same way he loves God Himself (Matthew 22:37-40).

Ultimately, the problem with both the Sadducees and Pharisees was this:  both groups were self-assured.  They were smug in their superiority and blinded by their own self-styled orthodoxies.   And because they were so sure of themselves, they never could quite be sure of Jesus.

Of course, there is a third group of people with whom Jesus interacts.  The Pharisees derisively refer to this group of people as “tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:11).  This group, however, out of all the groups of people with whom Jesus comes into contact, seems to get Him the best – not because the people in this group are so spiritually astute, but because they need an assurance they cannot find in themselves.  So they find it in Jesus.

Regardless of your political persuasion, Jesus asks us: “Are you so sure of yourself that you cannot find security in Me?  Are you so smug in your superiority that you cannot see the shamefulness of your own sin?”  In the Gospels, Jesus lays bare all those who trust in themselves, whether conservative or liberal.  He will not be co-opted.  But He can be trusted.  Where does your faith lie?  In you, or in Him?

January 16, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Torture, Facebook Live, and Racism

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It is supposed to be a platform to broadcast funny moments with family, respond to questions in real time from people who follow you on social media, and provide updates on your life.  Now it has become synonymous with torture.

When four young adults took to Facebook Live on New Year’s weekend, they did so to broadcast their torture of a mentally disabled 18-year-old man from a western suburb of Chicago.  According to Fox News, the broadcast:

Showed him cowering in a corner while someone yelled “F— white people!” and “F— Donald Trump!” At one point, the man was held at knifepoint and told to curse the president-elect.

The video also showed the man being kicked and hit repeatedly, while his scalp was cut. The group apparently forced him to drink water from a toilet.

Hate crime charges have now been filed against the four involved in the attack.  In this particular instance, the four attackers were black and the victim was white.  Reporting for The Washington Post, Mark Berman and Derek Hawkins explain:

When asked whether the hate crime charges stemmed from the 18-year-old’s mental health or his race — both of which are factors listed in the state’s hate crime statute — [Chicago Area North Detectives Commander Kevin] Duffin said: “It’s half a dozen of one, six of the other.”

Even though the Facebook Live video is still available through several outlets, I have not watched it.  Just from what I have read about its content, I’m not sure I could stomach it.  This is the kind of crime that rends any reasonable heart.

A crime like this brings to the forefront – again – issues of racism and hatred.  If the language they used on the video is any indication, these attackers seemed to be animated by a hatred for white people, a political animus for Donald Trump, and a potential disparagement of this young man’s mental capacities.

Ironically, the problem with racism of any sort is that racism always goes deeper than race.  Racism betrays a fundamental inability to see a certain group of people as actual people.  Racism ties a person’s value and dignity either to the color of their skin or to the origin of their birth rather than to the fact of their humanity.  This is why, from a Christian perspective, racism is ultimately a spiritual problem.  Scripture reminds us that, simply by virtue of being human, we are imbued with a measure of value and dignity.  Thus, when human lives are not treated with appropriate value or dignity, God’s anger is inflamed.

Certainly, there are things on a macro-scale that have been done and can continue to be done to stem the tide of racism-at-large.  Political legislation, protest movements, and dedicated activists are all important to confronting racism wherever it rears its ugly head.  But we, as individuals, can also confront racism on a micro-scale by how we treat each other.  Be honest with yourself:  do you treat every person with whom you come into contact as fully human?  Or do you see some groups of people – whether those groups be demarcated by race, socioeconomic status, or even simple personality type  – as less than human?  Treating people as less than human can manifest itself in a myriad of ways.  Sometimes, it is a declared disdain for a certain group of people based on a certain feature of that group.  More often than not, however, we treat people as less than human when we regard them as annoyances, looking past them instead of loving them.  In a micro-way, then, confronting racism can be as simple as an act of kindness that affirms a person’s humanity.

To whom can you be kind today?  Even if your kindness never gets broadcast on Facebook Live, it will be much more worthwhile than what has become the platform’s most famous – and infamous – broadcast.  And that, at least, is a place to start.

January 9, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

2016 in Review

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It’s difficult to believe, but another year has come and gone.  Before we chug full steam ahead into 2017, I wanted to take a moment to reflect back on the year that was.  Whenever I look back over what I have written over the course of a year on this blog, I am always amazed – and a little disturbed – by how much I have forgotten.  Thus, it seems worth it to look back and linger a bit longer on 2016, lest we file away some important lessons from this year into the dusty rolodex of our fleeting historical memories too quickly.  So, here is my Year in Review for 2016.

January
The biggest Powerball jackpot ever, valued at $1.5 billion, goes up for grabs.  People across the country flock to convenience stores to buy their ticket, even though the chances of winning the jackpot stand at 1 in 292,201,338.

February
Fear of the Zika virus sweeps the nation as a woman in Dallas contracts the disease. Justice Antonin Scalia, a fierce proponent of Constitutional originalism, passes away, leaving a vacancy on the high court and an even split between more conservative and more progressive justices that remains to this day.

March
Terror strikes Brussels, Belgium as two coordinated attacks – one at the airport and another on a subway – are carried out simultaneously, killing 32.

April
A bathroom brouhaha erupts as retail giant Target announces it will allow “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”  Massive boycotts of the chain ensue and concerns are raised over the misuse of the policy by predators.

May
Art Briles, head coach of the Baylor Bears football team, is dismissed after he is implicated in cover-ups of sexual assaults by his players.  The University’s president, Ken Starr, also leaves the institution in connection with the mishandling of the assaults.

June
Omar Mateen opens fire in an LGBT-frequented Orlando nightclub, killing 50 and injuring 50 more.  In a stunning electoral surprise, Britons vote to leave the European Union 52% to 48% in what has popularly become known as “Brexit.”

July
Police officers shoot black men in Baton Rouge and Saint Paul and five police officers are killed in Dallas by people protesting these shootings.  The next week, 84 people are killed when a terrorist drives a large, white paneled truck into a crowd of revelers celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, 290 people are killed in a failed coup against the president of Turkey, and three more police officers are killed in Baton Rouge by a sniper.

August
More than 50 people are killed in Istanbul when a 14-year-old suicide bomber walks into a wedding party and blows himself up.

September
Nicholas Kristof pens a column in The New York Times issuing a call to rethink Christianity as a faith free from many of its traditional beliefs, such as opposition to abortion and an affirmation that marriage is between a man and woman.

October
After decimating Haiti and Cuba, Hurricane Matthew strikes Florida and slowly moves up the eastern seaboard.  About 1,600 people are killed by the massive storm.

November
Donald Trump wins the presidential election over Hillary Clinton after taking many of the so-called “rust belt” states that, for the past several election cycles, have traditionally gone to Democratic candidates.

December
Fidel Castro, the longtime brutal dictator of the island nation of Cuba, dies.  The Russian ambassador to Turkey is shot by a Turkish police officer in Istanbul while, on the same day, a Tunisian refugee drives a semi-truck into an open-air Christmas market in Berlin, killing twelve.

As I look back over the list of stories I blogged on this year, a few thoughts come to mind.  First, the violence of this past year has been horrifying.  From terrorist attacks to assassinations to sexual assaults, there is no shortage of violent acts in our world.  Indeed, this new year has already brought new violence with a New Year’s Eve terrorist attack in Istanbul that killed 39 and injured many more.  Second, the political season of 2016 has been a thing to behold.  On this blog alone, I wrote about issues pertaining to this year’s presidential election here, here, here, here, and here.  Politics was certainly front of mind for many.

What strikes me about these two themes in particular is that whether the stories were about violence or politics, these themes shared a common denominator – that of power.  In the case of violence, acts of terrorism, for instance, seek to gain power by striking fear into the hearts of societies.  People live on edge, never knowing when, where, and how a terrorist will strike.  The terrorists gain power by “getting inside the heads,” as it were, of communities and nations.  In the case of politics, it is obvious that the United States is painfully divided.  Whether it is cast as a division between red states and blue states, the seaboards and middle America, or traditional America and progressive America, there is a pitched battle to define this nation, with each side fiercely fighting for its own interests.

As I wrote on this blog last weekend, power is not a bad thing in and of itself, but it can be used badly.  Rightly used, power is a gift from God to be stewarded.  But we all too often assume it’s a weapon of our own to be wielded.  In other words, we are called to use whatever power we may be given to first serve others instead of serving ourselves.  If the stories from 2016 are any indication, we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to stewarding power appropriately.

Perhaps the most notable thing about the stories from this past year is how impotent our potency ultimately proves to be.  The spread of the Zika virus and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Matthew are sobering reminders that there is still much we do not and cannot control.  What is true of these disasters is also true of the future.  We cannot control what 2017 will bring.  So perhaps the best posture to take as we head into a new year is one of humility toward the future and faith in the One who holds the future.  He knows what is in store for us.  And He will take care of us.

January 2, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments


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