Posts tagged ‘CNN’

A Forgiveness That Kills Death

Robert Godwin

When Mark Zuckerberg first unveiled Facebook Live, he touted it as a service that allowed people to express themselves in “raw” and “visceral” ways:

Because it’s live, there is no way it can be curated. And because of that it frees people up to be themselves. It’s live; it can’t possibly be perfectly planned out ahead of time. Somewhat counterintuitively, it’s a great medium for sharing raw and visceral content.

This is true.  But I’m not sure broadcasting a murder on social media is what Mr. Zuckerberg had in mind.  But on Easter Sunday, last weekend, this is exactly what happened.

74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. was walking home from an Easter meal with his family when he was stopped by Steve Stephens.  Before Mr. Godwin knew what was happening, he was dead and Stephens was on the run.  The following day, Stephens was spotted in Pennsylvania at a McDonald’s drive-thru.  When police took pursuit, Stephens took his own life.

This is a shocking story.  But it took an even more shocking turn when Mr. Godwin’s family was interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  The anchor asked the family what they learned from their father.  They answered:

The thing that I would take away the most from my father is he taught us about God, how to fear God, how to love God, and how to forgive.  And each one of us forgives the killer, murderer.

Clearly shocked, Mr. Cooper asked, “You do?”  To which the family responded:

We want to wrap our arms around him…And I promise you I could not do that if I didn’t know God, if I didn’t know Him as my God and my Savior…It’s just what our parents taught us. It wasn’t that they just taught it, they didn’t just talk it, they lived it. People would do things to us and we would say, “Dad, are you really going to forgive them, really?” and he would say, “Yes, we have to.” My dad would be really proud of us, and he would want this from us.

Mr. Cooper, amazed at this family’s willingness to forgive a man who murdered their father in cold blood, wrapped up the segment by saying:

You talked about how your friends would say they wish they were Godwins.  I know a lot of people watching tonight – and certainly I speak for myself – I wish I was a Godwin right now because you all represent your dad very well.

Jesus famously said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  Anyone who has ever had to face down an enemy has probably found this to be a nice sentiment in theory, but painfully difficult to practice.  And yet, Jesus commanded us to live this way because He knew it was the only way to confront sin and destroy it.  When someone sins against us and we retaliate, we have only traded injury for injury.  But when someone sins against us and we love and forgive them, as the Godwins did, we have taken their sin and, instead of meeting it with something similar, we destroy it with something better.

Easter is a day when we celebrate life.  Steve Stephens tried to turn it into a day of death.  But death lost when the Godwin family forgave.  For where there is forgiveness, there is life.  After all, how do you think we receive eternal life?  Only through the forgiveness of sins that comes in Christ.

“God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

April 24, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Problem with Pep Rallies

Credit: Mark J. Terrill, AP

Credit: Mark J. Terrill, AP

It’s still thirteen and a half months away, but with the way it’s being covered – and with the ratings that CNN scored last week when it hosted the second of the Republican primary presidential debates – you’d think the presidential election of 2016 was right around the corner.

As we rush headlong into another presidential election cycle, we see all the typical trappings of what have become nothing short of political and journalistic rituals. We have a conservative action group that has launched a set of attack ads against Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. On the Democratic side, controversy has boiled over concerning the relative dearth of Democratic primary debates as compared to the number of Republican primary debates and how this favors Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton. As for the media, they are busy fact checking everything every candidate says. And then there are the rallies – the never ending rallies in every state and in what seems to be every American city.

Rallies, of course, are great when a politician wants to solidify his or her base of supporters. Rallies also incite and excite a candidate’s supporters to vote. Rallies, in a democratic election system like ours, are necessities.

Unfortunately, in our culture, we have taken what works well during an election cycle and have applied it, without much critical thought, to many different areas of life, including in our use of social media.  Many of the posts I see on social media are meant to rally people who agree with one point of view by belittling and demeaning those who hold a differing point of view. Such posts follow a predictable pattern. First, an article, a meme, or even an out and out diatribe is posted that espouses the utter rightness of one point of view while attacking those who hold an opposing point of view as nothing less than reprobates. Second, people “pile on,” as it were, by posting comments. Third, anyone who dares to disagree with the view expressed in the initial post by posting a critical comment is harangued and attacked. Finally, nothing changes. People who agree with the sentiment expressed in the initial post still agree. And people who disagree still disagree.

We need a better way.

When posting on social media, it is time for us to start asking ourselves a question: in this post, am I trying to rally people or persuade them? The goal of persuasion is, in its strictest sense, to change someone’s mind on a particular position. In a broader sense, persuasion can also seek to engender empathy from someone who disagrees with a particular position. Even if someone does not agree with me on a particular position, I still deeply appreciate it when they at least understand why I think what I think, just as, I assume, other people appreciate it when I understand why they think what they think.

The trouble with persuading people is that it is much more difficult than rallying them. Rallying people usually only needs a stake in the ground and a line in the sand. Persuading people often needs tortured, lengthy nuanced arguments about a particular position. Rallying people can make a person feel good because, when others express agreement with a particular point, the rallier is quickly assured that he or she is not alone. Persuading people can often feel much lonelier because it does not provide a common enemy against whom you and those who agree with you can join forces, but it also does not provide the kind of toleration and capitulation that your opponents might ultimately desire. Rallying people can be done in minutes. After all, social media posts can go viral in nearly no time at all. Persuading people takes relationship building, trust, and, usually, hours, months, and even years worth of conversations. And even then, sometimes, people remain unpersuaded.

All this is to say that I can see the appeal of rallying people around a particular position. And, at times, rallies are necessary and desirable – especially in the face of a heinous evil that will not be persuaded, so it must be defeated. The problem is, as a long-range strategy, rallying doesn’t solve much. It may engender excitement and incite anger. It may get out a vote to defeat an opponent. But it doesn’t change a heart.

We, as Christians, believe there are certain things the world needs to believe. We want the world to be persuaded to believe these things. Thus, particularly as we post on issues that have to do with our faith, we need to eschew the easy way of the rally and instead choose the harder way of persuasion. After all, eternal truth is at stake. And, in many instances, so are people’s souls.

So think before you post. As Christians, we don’t want to just lambast those who might disagree with us, we want to show, with nuanced and thoughtful compassion, why people can, and should, agree with Christ. After all, Christ has persuaded us. Why would we want to do anything less than persuade others?

September 21, 2015 at 5:15 am 1 comment

On Confederate Flags and Moral Clarity

South Carolina CapitolOn the heels of a terrible tragedy has come a robust debate. When 21-year-old Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston for a Wednesday evening Bible study, 50 minutes later, he had shot eight people dead with a ninth victim who died later at the hospital. His stated reason for the rampage was horrifyingly racist. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country,” he said to the African-American churchgoers, “and you have to go.”

As our nation has been processing its grief, it’s also been engaging in a debate over an old symbol connected to racism and slavery: the Confederate flag – specifically, the one that flies at the South Carolina State Capitol. In one way, I am still trying to wrap my head around how this debate was sparked by this tragedy. Although I would heartily agree that racism and slavery, in all their forms, are egregious, it seems that a debate over how to keep a firearm out of the hands of a man like Roof would be much more directly related to the tragedy at hand. In one way, I can’t help but wonder if we needed to find something over which to be morally outraged as a catharsis for our deep shock and grief. My psychologizing notwithstanding, this is still an interesting debate.

Sadly, as with so many of our debates, this one has quickly degenerated into cheap attacks. Take, for instance, this tweet from Vox’s David Roberts: “The American South has always been the most barbaric, backward region in any developed democracy. Can we admit that now?” Somehow, Roberts managed to connect a racist lunatic with a gun and a Civil War era symbol to a whole region of our country and its prevailing cultural sensibilities. Thankfully, CNN ran a much more nuanced piece on the history of the Confederate flag, which, it turns out, is not the Confederate flag at all, but the battle flag of General Robert E. Lee’s army unit. David Brooks of The New York Times provided us with a thoughtful biographical analysis of General Lee – both the good and the ugly.

I, for one, though I certainly see and would uphold the value in preserving the history of the Confederate flag, am not quite sure why this particular flag needs to fly outside the South Carolina State Capitol, especially when it is a reminder of terrible pain and division to so many. Preserving history is more the job of museums than it is of flagpoles outside capitol buildings.

But there is more here than just a debate over a flag. For out of this debate, a broader trend has once again emerged that deeply troubles me. Our cultural conversations have become so anemic and, in many instances, so vile that they are often of little to no value. Politically, sociologically, and morally, we have divided ourselves into traditional and progressive camps, loathe to admit that there is any worth, insight, or righteousness on the side to which we are opposed.

I happen to come from the generally progressive Pacific Northwest while finding myself much more at ease now living in the generally traditional state of Texas. This does not mean, however, that progressivism has nothing to teach me. I think of Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s speech at the University of Kansas in 1968:

Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year.  But that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.  It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.  Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

Senator Kennedy may have been progressive, but it is hard to find sharper moral clarity than his. Traditionalists need to listen. Likewise, in what may come as a surprise to David Roberts, traditional culture – even when it’s from the South – has a lot that is good and outright charming. Chivalry, Southern manners, and a biblically informed, even if imperfectly so, moral compass are important to the thriving and future of any civilized society. Progressivism needs to take note.

As Christians, no matter what our general cultural sensibilities may be, we will always find ourselves as strangers in the midst of raging culture wars. After all, our first loyalty is not to the sensibilities or hobbyhorses of any particular culture, but to the truth of the Word of God. And God’s Word has a funny way of challenging every culture and every sinner.

Let’s remember that when we fight over flags – or over anything else, for that matter.

June 29, 2015 at 5:15 am 4 comments

The Pursuit of Perfection

Credit: nsunews.nova.edu

Credit: nsunews.nova.edu

Somehow, I knew just by the title of the article that “Confessions of a Mormon housewife” was not going be particularly titillating reading. And sure enough, I was right. This Mormon housewife’s confession was that when she became sick, and when ladies from her ward came to visit her, she “started to become insecure with [her] appearance and the state of [her] home.”[1]  Jill Strassburg, the housewife in question, explains:

When they would come visit me, they were completely “put together,” and I began to think that they were perfect.

So I stopped answering my door. I didn’t want them to see me sick or see that the house wasn’t cleaned up. The thoughts I was having made me feel like I was, somehow, less of a woman.

I was beginning to realize that I was living in a culture of attaining perfection. And I started to wonder, why do so many Mormon women strive for perfection?

On the one hand, when I read Jill’s confession of worry over the cleanliness of her home, I think of Johann von Staupitz’s admonition to Martin Luther. Exasperated by Luther’s overwhelming guilty conscience and never-ending confessions, Staupitz eventually quips:

Look here, brother Martin. If you’re going to confess so much, why don’t you go do something worth confessing? Kill your mother or father! Commit adultery! Quit coming in here with such peccadillos![2]

Worry, although definitely a sin according to Jesus in Matthew 6:25, is also a societally safe sin. No one has ever been jailed or shunned for worry.

On the other hand, the nature of her sin aside, Jill’s question haunts me: “I started to wonder, why do so many Mormon women strive for perfection?”

This is a profound question. But Jill’s answer leaves me puzzled. She writes: “While I’m not a historian, scholar or official representative for the LDS church, I think this obsession with perfection is rooted in the church’s historical values and traditions.” She goes on to talk about how Mormon women “followed traditional roles of womanhood” and how the church still promotes “traditional values.” But traditional gender roles and values are not the same thing as perfection. A person can be traditional without aspiring to or feeling pressured to be perfect.

I can’t help but think that the true culprit of the Mormon quest for perfection is theological. Indeed, foundational to Mormonism’s doctrine of salvation is a striving for perfection. Consider this from the Book of Mormon:

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in Him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is His grace sufficient for you, that by His grace ye may be perfect in Christ.[3]

According to the Book of Mormon, God has grace for a person unto salvation, but only after he has denied all ungodliness and loved God with everything in him. In other words, God has grace for you, but only if you’re perfect – or at least pretty close to it.

How do you know when you’ve denied enough ungodliness and loved God to such an extent that God’s grace will be sufficient for you? Herein lies Mormonism’s existential crisis that results in its relentless pursuit of perfection. Mormons cannot know whether or not they will be good enough to merit God’s grace. They can only wish and hope.

Jill finally admits:

We all know that perfection is unattainable, but we should still strive to be the best we can be every day. If we could actually be perfect, there would be nothing to work toward. There wouldn’t be anything left to gain from this life that we live.

Jill knows she can’t be perfect. But in her mind, that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try.

Holy Scripture paints quite a different picture from the Book of Mormon of what it means to pursue perfection: “When perfection comes, the imperfect disappears” (1 Corinthians 13:10). Paul says perfection is not something to be pursued, but a promise that will pursue us and come to us on the Last Day. Indeed, more than that, perfection is a person who will pursue us and come to us on the Last Day when Jesus comes for us on the Last Day. This is why, finally, I’m not really interested in attaining some depersonalized virtue of perfection. I’m much more interested in Jesus. In my mind, being forgiven by a perfect Savior is much better – and a lot less stressful – than trying to be a perfect person.

I pray Jill comes to the same realization.

_________________________________

[1] Jill Strasburg, “Confessions of a Mormon housewife,” CNN (10.2.2014).

[2] Gerald R. McDermott, The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 83.

[3] Moroni 10:32.

October 13, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Millennial Morality: Thoughts On A Generation’s Thoughts On Christianity

Source: urbanfaith.com

Credit: urbanfaith.com

Last weekend, popular blogger Rachel Held Evans, writing for CNN, offered an account of why she thinks those in the millennial generation are leaving the Church.  Her comments are worth quoting at length:

Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.

I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.[1]

Rachel Held Evans certainly has her finger on the pulse of contemporary culture.  Research does indeed show that millennials describe Christianity as “too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”  In other words, many millennials view traditional Christian teachings as repressive and regressive.  What Rachel fails to ask, however, is, “Does this popularly held perception of Christianity match its reality?”

There’s a whole army of research out there about how people feel about Christianity.  But what about the research that reveals what is actually being preached and taught from Christian pulpits?  How many sermons on politics are actually preached week in and week out?  How about sermons on sex?  How about sermons that are openly hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people?  Here, the research becomes much more scant.  And, I suspect, the sermons themselves might just be much more scant as well.

Now, I know it’s not hard to skew popular perceptions of what the Christian Church is all about.  After all, it’s usually not the sermon on John 3 and God loving the world that makes the rounds on YouTube; it’s the sermon on Leviticus 20 with the sweaty pastor yelling about the abominations of sodomy that gets 500,000 views.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the objections that many millennials have to some of the teachings of Christianity aren’t so much objections as they are excuses.  In other words, the reason many millennials object to particular Christian tenets is not because they are “too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people”; it is because they simply don’t like parts of what Christianity teaches.  So they accuse Christians of absolutism so they can live in libertinism.  Nathan Hitchen explains it like this:  “When people don’t want to believe something, they ask themselves, ‘Must I believe this?’ and then search for contrary evidence until they find a single reason to doubt the claim and dismiss it.”[2]  In other words, they find that YouTube video with the sweaty, yelling pastor and say, “No way.”

From a theological perspective, C.S. Lewis offers keen insight into the objectionable character of Christian morality:

Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality … Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities:  it is quacks and cranks who do that.  As Dr. Johnson said, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”  The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse back to the fence it has refused to jump or bringing a child back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk.[3]

C.S. Lewis minces no words about how tough the task of teaching Christian morality really is.  It’s tough because the “old simple principles” of morality are ones “which we are all so anxious not to see.”  Yet, Jesus, as a teacher of morality, among other things, preached these “old simple principles.”  Of course, such preaching didn’t make Him popular or unobjectionable.  It got Him killed.

So perhaps popularity is not in the cards for Christianity.  This should not come as a surprise.  It wasn’t in the cards for Jesus.  And yet, as Rachel Held Evans finally notes in her CNN article, “Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.”  Maybe that’s because, deep down, even if our depravity rebels against it, something keeps telling us Jesus is right.  And if Jesus is right, that means He can make us right with God.

That’s our message as Christians.  And I, for one, intend to keep sharing it.


[1] Rachel Held Evans, “Why millennials are leaving the church,” cnn.com (7.27.2013).

[2] Nathan Hitchen, “Marriage Counter-Messaging: An Action Plan” (The John Jay Institute: 2013), 4.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York:  Macmillan Publishing Company, 1952), 64.

August 5, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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