Archive for March, 2019

Terror Strikes New Zealand

Members of the public mourn at a flower memorial near the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch

Credit: RTE News

“The wages of sin is death,” the apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:23.  These words were horrifyingly instantiated this past Friday when a terrorist gunman opened fire on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50.  The crime was, in every way, monstrous.  Minutes before he went on his rampage, he emailed top government officials a rambling and incoherent manifesto, outlining his ardent white nationalistic beliefs.  He then strapped on a helmet camera so he could livestream his attack on social media.  Finally, he shot many worshipers at these mosques, which included several children, at point blank range as they cowered in corners.

If anyone ever doubted the dastardly death that sin – including philosophical sin like white nationalism – can bring, now would be the time to become a true believer in the devastations of depravity.

Near the end of the book of Genesis, we read of a man named Jacob and his twelve sons, the favorite of whom is Joseph.  Joseph’s brothers, Genesis 37:4 says, “hated him” because of his status as his father’s favorite son.  Their hatred eventually spawned a plot among the brothers to kill their kinsman.  And they would have, were it not for a last-second intercession by one of the brothers, Judah, who decided it would be more financially advantageous if, instead of killing Joseph, they sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:26-27).

Hatred is an acid that eats up the soul.  This is why the Bible’s consistent and continuous call is to love – and not just to love those who are like us.  The Bible’s consistent and continuous call is to love those who are very different from us and even hate us.  As Jesus puts it:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:44, 46-47)

White nationalism explicitly tramples on Jesus’ command.  It not only fails to love its enemies, it actually creates enemies where there need be none and becomes an enemy to those who do not fit its arbitrarily contrived ethnic and philosophical strictures.  It trades the foundational and universal sanctity of life for a hackneyed and exclusionary solidarity of race.

Blessedly, love did manage to rise up and break through when hatred was spraying a hail of bullets into two mosques in Christchurch.  48-year-old Abdul Aziz was at the second of the mosques.  He was there with his four children to pray.  When the terrorist began firing in the parking lot of the mosque, rather than running away, Mr. Aziz ran into the lot with the only thing he could find – a credit card machine.  After firing off many rounds, the terrorist returned to his vehicle to grab a second weapon, and Mr. Aziz hurled the credit card machine at him.  The terrorist then fired off another series of rounds at Mr. Aziz, who managed to protect himself by ducking between cars.  When the terrorist returned to his vehicle yet again to grab yet another weapon, Mr. Aziz found one of the guns he had dropped and, after realizing it was empty, threw it at the windshield of the terrorist’s car.  The windshield shattered.  The terrorist was spooked.  He sped off.  And many lives were saved.

Mr. Aziz explained, in an interview with The New York Times, “I was prepared to give my life to save another life.”  That’s love.  And it stopped hate dead when hate was trying to speed death.

Christianity teaches that there was another man – a perfect man, who was also God – who was prepared to give His life to save other lives.  His name was Jesus.  And He not only was prepared to die.  He did die.  And He not only saved lives by His death.  He bought for us eternal life with His death.

“The wages of sin is death,” the apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:23.  But he continues: “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  In Jesus’ death, love killed hate.  May this be our confidence and our conviction as we mourn the tragic losses in Christchurch.

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March 18, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis

File:Homelessness in Venezuela.jpg

Credit: Wikipedia

Venezuela is in crisis.  Nicolás Maduro, the nation’s president, stands accused of all sorts of heinous crimes against humanity.  Luis Almagro, writing for the Washington Post, exposes some gruesome examples, including:

…subjecting opposition demonstrators such as Echenagusia Guzmán to electric shocks, beating them with nightsticks, kicks and fists and burning them with cigarettes. And [the Maduro regime will] continue to douse young men such as 18-year-old Marco Cello with gasoline, threatening to burn him, or fracture the skull of others such as Jorge León, beating him with rifle butts and helmets.

This is disgusting.  But it is also only just the beginning.  Mr. Maduro’s government stands accused of murdering some 8,290 people between 2015 and 2017.  His penchant for corrupt governance has turned what was one of Latin America’s richest countries into an economic and humanitarian disaster.

Recently, however, the heat has been turned up on Mr. Maduro.  Opposition leader Juan Guaidó is gaining political traction among the Venezuelan people and is now recognized as the interim president of Venezuela by the U.S.  Still, Mr. Guaidó’s path to power is anything but certain.  When the U.S. attempted to send some much needed aid to this desperately impoverished country, Venezuela’s neighbor, Colombia, stepped in to prevent it from reaching its desired destination, fearing a messy clash at the border between supporters of Mr. Guaidó, who were delivering the aid, and supporters of Mr. Maduro, who oppose all U.S. intervention.

In these types of situations, there are never any perfect – or, many times, even great – options.  Unfortunately, this reality is often used as a justification for a failure to act against morally abhorrent realities in the name of a cynical realpolitik.

Genocide and starvation are simply not acceptable status quos – not only because they destabilize whole regions by creating floods of refugees, but because genocide and starvation are objectively and grossly immoral.  Period.

Yes, other nations must think and carefully strategize before attempting to exert influence in a situation like Venezuela’s.  But thinking cannot become a conveniently indefinite buffer against acting.  Something has to change.  Lives are at stake.

For us in the general public, perhaps the first step is simply paying attention.  Our news cycles are dominated by domestic affairs – soap operatic machinations of a deeply divided Washington D.C.  Special counsels, special investigations, salacious testimonies, presidential tweets, executive orders, and border walls fill our headlines.  International crises often register only as a blip on our consciences, if at all.  But they should and they must.

In Venezuela, people are needlessly dying.  And as Christians, if there’s anything we should want to stand up to, it’s death.

March 11, 2019 at 4:15 am 3 comments

A Vote Splits the United Methodist Church

Screen Shot 2019-02-28 at 10.02.09 PM

In a world where views on human sexuality serve as wedges the drive deep disunity, the United Methodist Church voted last week in a special conference to retain its practice of not ordaining practicing homosexuals into ministry, according to the stance outlined in its Book of Discipline:

The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.

The UMC is almost certainly headed for a split.  The vote was close:  53 percent to 47 percent were in favor of not ordaining practicing homosexuals.  What is especially interesting is from where many of these more traditional votes came.  The New York Times reports:

While membership has steadily declined in the United States over the past 25 years – a trend that is true for most mainline Protestant denominations – it has been growing in Africa.  About 30 percent of the church’s members are now from African nations, which typically have conservative Christian views; in many of them, homosexuality is a crime.

What Methodists believe in the progressive West turns out to be very different from what Methodists believe in the African South.

In one sense, those who reject a traditional and, I would argue, orthodox view of human sexuality are stuck with a Gordian knot that is not easily cut.  On the one hand, anything less than a full endorsement of all the causes célèbres of the LGBTQ movement is anathema in many progressive circles.  On the other hand, the same progressive circles that demand an affirmation of all kinds of human sexualities also decry a Western cultural imperialism that seeks hegemony over other cultures that think and act differently.  But it is difficult to see the reactions of many progressives within the UMC as anything other than a soft form of the very imperialism these progressives claim to reject.  Take, for instance, the response of Will Willimon, a longtime prominent voice in Methodism, to the vote:

The traditionalists did a bang-up job of political organizing and counting the votes. The progressives were all busy talking about unity and community and listening and loving. The conservatives were on the floor getting the votes.

Willimon’s inference seems to be that traditionalists played politics cynically while progressives loved selflessly.  I’m not sure this accusation adequately captures the truth of this debate – or this vote.

Those who claim Christ’s name are called to love, care for, listen to, defend, and invite in those who are LGBTQ while also upholding certain guidelines and guards around human sexuality.  The only way to cut the Gordian knots of competing cultures is to look beyond these cultures to the One who loves all people from every culture.

As a Christian, I uphold a traditional – and, I would argue, biblical – sexual ethic because I have this hunch that the culture and the age in which I live does not always know what’s best for it.  There are truths that are bigger than what we can see or know right now that stretch across space and through time.  The Christian sexual ethic extends beyond my zip code, my state, and my nation.  It also extends beyond my time.  It was around before me.  And it will continue on after me.  Thus, I am called by Scripture to humbly submit myself to this ethic while also loving those who vehemently disagree with this ethic.  After all, love is a really important Christian ethic, too.

So, instead of choosing the ethic of sexual restraint or the ethic of reckless love, I think I’ll keep both.  For the Church needs both as it lives under the name of the One who displayed both.

March 4, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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