Posts tagged ‘Sexuality’

A Better Root For Human Intimacy

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Two stories recently hit the headlines, one which made a big splash and one which went largely unnoticed.

In the story that made a big splash, last week, the nation of Brunei enacted new penalties for certain sexual acts.  Amy Gunia reports for Time:

Despite international condemnation, Brunei enacted new Islamic criminal laws Wednesday, including harsh anti-LGBT measures that make gay sex punishable by stoning to death.  The implementation of the draconian penal code is part of the predominantly Muslim country’s rollout of Sharia law …

Homosexuality was already illegal in Brunei, but it was previously punishable with prison time.  The new legislation mandates death by stoning for gay sex and a number of other acts, including rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sex and insulting the Prophet Muhammed.

The new penal code also punishes lesbian sex through whipping and theft with amputation, and criminalizes teaching children about any religion except Islam.

The second story that made headlines, albeit in a much more modest way, was last month’s repeal of some anti-adultery laws, still officially on the books, though not enforced, in the state of Utah.  Paulina Dedaj explains for Fox News:

The governor of Utah signed a bill repealing a 1973 law that criminalized sex outside marriage … The offense, which was not enforced by police, was classified as a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. 

These two stories pull in two very different directions.  But both of them point to just how contentious questions concerning human sexuality have become.

It must be stated that the new penalties in Brunei are nothing short of appalling.  Stoning people is inhumane as a matter of course, regardless of the reason behind it.  But, especially for Christians, stoning people for crossing sexual boundaries should have a special kind of cringe factor to it when one stops to consider how Jesus, in a story from John 8, advocates for a woman caught in the act of adultery by sending her accusers, who wanted to stone her, away.

The repeal of Utah’s law banning sex outside of marriage, though certainly not as flashy as the story out of Brunei, is also worthy of our attention and consideration.  Using legislation to uphold the kinds of sexual mores Utah’s law did, even if those mores are laudable, strikes me as a recipe for corruption and selective enforcement.  Corruption and selective enforcement are certainly endemic to the story of that woman caught in adultery.  Her interlocutors are unquestionably corrupt and selective in how they enforce their penalty of stoning, considering that they bring only her, and not the man in the tryst, in front of Jesus to face the death penalty.  Though I am a wholehearted proponent of traditional sexual morality, I’m not sure if what is moral always requires codification by what is legal.

I am thankful that there are certain pieces of sexual legislation on our books.  The criminalization of pedophilia, for example, is wise and needed for the protection of our most vulnerable.  I also wish we had more legislation bearing down on the pornography industry, which makes its billions by flagrantly degrading the dignity of human beings and, as with pedophilia, by preying on society’s most vulnerable by enticing them with money to humiliate themselves on camera to churn out a never-ending stream of smut.

With this being said, however, the larger debate over sexual mores will take something more than legislation to solve, especially when it comes to the hot-button sexual debates of our day, which often center not so much around widely agreed upon boundaries to sexual activity, but around deeper contentions concerning sexual identity.

In the West especially, views on human sexuality are broadly rooted in two things:  the sentimental and the carnal.  The sentimental root of sex is what we generally think of as romantic love.  Two people fall in love and express their love for each other sexually.  The weakness in this root however, as countless broken marriages and relationships can testify, is that the feeling of love can dry up with time or, as many who have affairs will argue, can even shift to another person.  This root by itself, therefore, is not sufficient as a foundation for human sexuality.  This root is simply not rooted enough.

The carnal root of sex is usually conceived of as the uninhibited expression of desire – or, to put it more bluntly, as lust.  This root of sex is what drives the pornography industry’s ubiquity and the hookup culture found on many college campuses.  The weaknesses in this root are manifold.  People are objectified.  Some are even raped.  And relationships rooted in carnality have literally no chance – and that is not an exaggeration – of lasting.  Such relationships are fundamentally selfish.  And selfishness is a sin that sexual commitment and wholeness cannot endure.

One of the unique gifts that Christianity brings to today’s debates over human sexuality is that while it celebrates the importance of love in sexual relationships and readily acknowledges and makes provisions for the reality that people struggle with carnal lust, it offers human sexuality another – and, I would argue, better – root.  It adds to the sentimental and to the carnal the aspirational.  This root sees human sexuality as something that reaches beyond the private love of two individuals and certainly beyond the fleshly lusts of one individual and seeks to reflect something of God’s love and His created order in its expression of human love and our relational order.  This aspirational root, rather than self-righteously condemning people who fall short of it, grieves over sexual sin and gently invites sexual sinners to turn from their sin and aim higher, just as Jesus does with the woman caught in adultery when He invites her to, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).  The Christian aspirational root of sex trades the brutality of Brunei for the blessings of rightly ordered relationships and the legislative problems of Utah for the redemption won by Christ.

The best picture of aspirational sexuality can be found in Christian marriage, which is itself an aspirational picture of Christ’s love for the Church – a love so deep that it led Him to lay down His life on a cross.  On the cross, perfect righteousness and infinite forgiveness meet.  May we, as those who follow Christ, aspire to hold forth to sexual sinners what Christ first held out to us from the cross.  He is our way forward.

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April 8, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Vote Splits the United Methodist Church

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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

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

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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

The Baylor Scandal: Reflections on Human Sexuality

He manufactured one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the history of college football.  And now, he’s out of a job.

Art Briles began his career at Baylor in 2007 when the football program was the pitiable laughingstock of the Big 12.  But since 2011, Briles led the Bears to a 50-15 record.  The team went from being the doormats of the Big 12 to being the darlings.  But while he was winning games, Briles was also covering up sexual assaults by his players.

The details of Baylor University’s sexual assault scandal are shocking.  ESPN’s Outside the Lines reports that, in several instances:

School officials either failed to investigate, or failed to adequately investigate, allegations of sexual violence. In many cases, officials did not provide support to those who reported assaults, in apparent violation of Title IX federal law … Baylor did not investigate a sexual assault report made against football players Tre’Von Armstead and Shamycheal Chatman for more than two years, despite the school’s obligation to do so under federal law. They never faced charges.[1]

In another report, Outside the Lines told the story of a victim who, when she reported to university officials that she had been assaulted, was told, “There is nothing we can do, because the assault happened off campus.”[2]  In a particularly disturbing twist, it was also revealed that Baylor recruited defensive end Sam Ukwuachu, even though “officials either knew, or should have known, that Ukwuachu had a history of violent incidents at Boise State.”[3]

All this has led not only to Art Briles’ dismissal, but to Athletic Director Ian McCaw’s sanctioning and to University President Ken Starr’s demotion.  It seems as though a desire to win football games overshadowed the basic moral imperative to make sure the players of the team behaved nobly – both on and off the field.  Human dignity and decency was sacrificed at the altar of winning seasons and bids to bowl games.

It is a tragedy that the university administration did not address these horrific acts of sexual violence quickly and forcefully.  But it is an even deeper tragedy that such acts happened in the first place.  That any person is ever raped betrays the fact that our society fundamentally misunderstands and distorts sex.  It is time for us to remember what sex is and what it is for.  So let me state this as a clearly as I can:

Sex is meant and designed by God to be a servant.

All too often, sex is treated as an end to itself.  It is a pleasure to be chased.  It is a thrill to be had.  In the case of these Baylor football players, it seems as though it became a right to be demanded.  In the wake of the LGBT movement, sex has become a cornerstone of a person’s identity to be celebrated.  But sex is none of these things.

Sex is meant and designed by God to be a servant.

Sex was never designed by God to be an end all or a be all.  Instead, it was given to us by Him to serve other, greater purposes.  Here are three of those other, greater purposes.

1.  Sex is meant and designed by God to serve unity.

There is a reason why, when the apostle Paul warns against committing sexual immorality with prostitutes, he asks, “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body” (1 Corinthians 6:16)?  Paul asks this because he knows that sexual intimacy unites people in a powerful way.  Despising such unification by sleeping around before marriage or committing adultery while married does not empower people sexually.  It diminishes their dignity.

2.  Sex is meant and designed by God to serve procreation.

The biology of this statement is self-evident enough, as a bit of reflection on our very existence, in conjunction with a visit to the maternity ward of any hospital, will reveal.  But this biological reality has its roots in a divine creative arrangement.  When God creates men and women, He commands them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28).  God gives sex, at least in part, for procreation.  And though sex does not always result in children, to casually reject sex’s procreative possibility altogether is to reject one of God’s goals for sex itself.

3.  Sex is meant and designed by God to serve your spouse.

This, finally, is why rape is so dreadful.  Rape is heinously and hideously selfish.  An intimacy that is meant to be a way to serve, honor, love, and cherish one’s spouse is taken as a way to engorge and indulge a lustful desire.  Such a use of sex is tragic – and evil.

Ultimately, the Baylor sexual assaults – along with their concealment – are only symptoms of a deeper problem.  Our culture’s view of human sexuality has turned selfish.  We don’t want to serve unity, so we have sex outside of marriage.  We don’t want to be bothered with children, so we go to extraordinary lengths to prevent – or even to terminate – pregnancy.  We don’t even want to serve the very person with whom we are being intimate, so we rape or, at the very least, engage in listless, loveless, mechanical sex.  This is where selfish sex has gotten us.

Baylor’s administration covered up sexual assault.  And now, many in that administration are forced to pay a steep price for their sins with their jobs, their reputations, and their futures.  Perhaps it is time for us, as a society, to stop making excuses for and covering up selfish sex before we too incur a steep price for our sins.  For selfish sex cannot only take a toll on our bodies in the forms of pain and disease, but on our souls in the forms of broken hearts and regret.

Sex is meant for better than that.  And we are in need of better than that.

________________________

[1] Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach, “Police records detail several more violence allegations against Baylor football players,” ESPN (5.19.2016).

[2] Paula Lavigne, “Baylor faces accusations of ignoring sex assault victims,” ESPN (2.2.2016).

[3] Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon, “Silence at Baylor,” Texas Monthly (8.20.2015).

May 30, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Target, Transgenderism, and Bathroom Brouhahas

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Two weeks ago, when Target announced it would continue “to stand for inclusivity” by welcoming “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity,”[1] fuel was added to the fire of what was already a raging debate.  “More than 700,000 pledge to boycott Target over transgender bathroom policy,” a headline in USA Today thundered.  The Daily Beast countered the boycott with its headline: “All the Things You Can No Longer Buy if You’re Really Boycotting Trans-Friendly Businesses.”

It’s a bathroom brouhaha.  So where does this big story leave Christians?

In one way, the fight over bathrooms only serves to mask larger questions about gender and identity.  The transgender movement as a whole seems locked into a form of Platonic dualism.  According to this philosophy, each physical form has a corresponding higher non-corporeal ideal.  So, for instance, a chair here on earth corresponds to a perfect non-corporeal chair in a higher realm.  Key to understanding Plato’s theory of correspondence between the physical and the non-corporeal is that the higher non-corporeal form is always determinative of and better than the lower physical form.  This is why Platonism’s final goal is for a person to escape this realm of lower physical forms and ascend to the realm of higher non-corporeal ideals.  Thus, in Platonism, the non-corporeal is always given preference over the corporeal, even as it pertains to our very bodies.  As Socrates, Plato’s mentor, put it:

The soul is immortal, and ‘tis not possession of thine own, but of Providence; and after the body is wasted away, like a swift horse freed from its traces, it lightly leaps forward and mingles itself with the light air, loathing the spell of harsh and painful servitude which it has endured.[2]

For Socrates, the body is a prison of “harsh and painful servitude” to be loathed.  Why?  Because it is physical.  The soul, however, is non-corporeal.  Therefore, the soul is to be preferred to and determinative of the body.

Many in the transgender movement seem to Platonically privilege non-corporeal inclinations over at least some of the clearer markers of physical biology.  People who come out as transgender are, in essence, declaring, “There is another form of me gender-wise than what my biological sex indicates.  My biological sex has subjected me to a ‘harsh and painful servitude,’ above which I intend to rise.” Jane Clark Scharl, in an article for the National Review, puts it well when she writes:

The … rhetoric used to be about liberating us from the moral and cultural limits on bodies, so that we could do whatever we wanted with them. Presumably that didn’t make us happy, because today, it’s about liberating us from our bodies altogether, by telling us that we can define ourselves however we want regardless of our biology.[3]

Being liberated from the body and its biology is a quintessentially Platonic – and, I would add, theologically problematic – notion.

I do understand that certain biological anomalies – anomalies in the sense that they are statistically rare – can occur in certain individuals.  I am also aware that there are questions over whether there are subtle differences in a transgender person’s brain.  But these questions do not negate the fact that gender dysphoria, the oft-cited trigger of transgenderism, is regularly presented and thought of as a conflict between a person’s physical biology and a person’s non-corporeal gender identity.  To quote the Oxford Dictionary: gender dysphoria is “the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex.”  Notice how, according to this definition, gender dysphoria is rooted in “one’s emotional and psychological identity” being in conflict with one’s biological sex.  In other words, barring a worldview that reduces emotions and psychology to nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain, there is a conflict between the non-corporeal part of a person and the physical part of person who experiences gender dysphoria.  To state the matter simply, there is a conflict between what may be referred to as a person’s soul and one’s body. And many people in the transgender movement assume the soul should win this conflict. But the Bible reminds us that even the non-corporeal parts of us are deeply flawed and should not be blindly trusted.  The prophet Jeremiah warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Jesus notes, “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder” (Mark 7:21).  Is it any wonder that the prophets, when addressing human corruption, say things like, “Rend your heart and not your garments” (Joel 2:13)?  For us to address any anxiety – whether it be in our gender, in our sexuality, or even in some medical ailment – we can’t just deal in the physical.  We must consider – and yes, even confront and be converted in – the non-corporeal.

It should be pointed out that it’s not just people in the transgender movement who assume a Platonic view of the physical.  Many Christians do too.  Ask the average Christian which part of a person is more important – the body or the soul – and he will more than likely respond, “The soul.”  But this is not the case, at least according to Scripture.  The fact that the bodies of those who are dead will be raised on the Last Day reminds us that both bodies and souls are important.  After all, both are created by God. The goal for the Christian, then, is never to somehow rise above the body or to let the non-corporeal determine the physical.  Rather, the hope of the Christian is to be eschatalogically redeemed in the body by the resurrection of all flesh.

It is important for Christians to defend and promote a telic view of the body – that the body is fundamental to who we are and is created with a purpose and point.  A person can either steward the body according to the purpose and point for which it was created or work against the purpose and point for which the body was created.  Working against the purpose and point of the body, however, comes with consequences.  Just ask those who suffer all sorts of health problems because they abuse their bodies with, let’s say, junk food rather than fueling their bodies with a balanced diet.  We should not despise our bodies.

This takes us back to Target’s restrooms.  One of the difficulties in demanding that a person use the restroom that matches his or her sex biologically is that there may be a person who identifies as and looks very much like a male going into a female restroom and person who identifies as and looks very much like a female going into a male restroom.  This is sure to make patrons uncomfortable.  On the other hand, stories have already surfaced of predators who are using policies like Target’s to take advantage of unknowing victims.  Depending on how common these horrifying incidents become, Target could find itself regularly grappling with basic issues of of customer safety.  In other words, no matter what restroom policy Target adopts and enforces, it will probably land the company in some kind of legal, cultural, and public relations battle.  Indeed, it seems like the only way to address the restroom needs of a culture where gender is increasingly presumed to be fluid may be to build banks of private unisex restrooms, which could prove terribly costly for businesses that currently offer larger public restrooms.

Though the debate over bathrooms is interesting, ultimately, as Christians, we are called to concern ourselves with how to love all our neighbors – including those who are transgender.  This is why our first questions in this bathroom battle should not be, “Is this policy good for me?”  Or, “How do I feel about transgender people being able to choose their bathroom?”  Instead, our first questions should be, “Is transgenderism good for people?”  And, “Is it good to deny a created physical order for the sake of what is perceived to be a higher non-corporeal understanding of one’s self?” If the answer to these questions is, “No,” we have more than just bathrooms to worry about.  We have people to worry about.

No matter what laws are enacted pertaining to who can use which bathrooms, there will be problems.  But if we devote ourselves to making a winsome, gentle, and truthful case for how God has lovingly, tenderly, and wisely created humanity as “male and female” (Genesis 1:27) that leads people to rejoice in God’s ordering of sex and gender, that strikes me as a better outcome than any restroom regulations could ever offer.

____________________________

[1]Continuing to Stand for Inclusivity,” A Bullseye View (4.19.2016).

[2] Socrates in N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2003), 75.

[3] Jane Clark Scharl, “The New Sexual Ideology Wins Another Skirmish,” National Review (4.22.2016).

May 2, 2016 at 5:15 am 4 comments

The Fight to Defeat Zika

Brazil Zika Birth Defects

Credit: AP Photo/Felipe Dana

When I searched for it, the first article that came up was from CNN and was titled, “What are the chances I’ll get it?”  The “it” is the Zika virus.  And right now, the virus constitutes a menacing epidemic.

On the one hand, societies have seen and battled viruses far more serious than Zika.  As CNN explains:

Only about one in five people infected with Zika virus will actually become ill, according to the [Centers for Disease Control]. “The most common symptoms of Zika are fever are rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other symptoms include muscle pain and headache,” the CDC says. For most people, the illness is mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. People don’t usually get sick enough to require a hospital visit, and the virus very rarely results in death.[1]

This is not good, but it is also not particularly devastating.  One needs only to remember the Ebola outbreak of 2014 to realize that Zika’s threat pales in comparison.  Indeed, the CDC also notes that once a person has contracted the virus, he is likely to be inoculated from future infections.

So why all the concern?

The concern lies primarily in Zika’s adverse effects during pregnancy.  The virus has been linked to birth defects that include microcephaly and Guillain-Barré.  Furthermore, the disease, it turns out, can be contracted not only from mosquitos, but also from sexual contact.  On February 2, Dallas County Health and Human Services confirmed via the CDC that a woman contracted the Zika virus after having unprotected sex with a man who had just returned from a country where Zika is prevalent.

How the Zika virus will run its course and how far it will spread across not only other countries, but across this country, is still to be determined.  But this much is already certain:  our nation is facing a serious public health threat.  As Christians, there are a few things we should keep in mind.

First, we should pray for those who have contracted the virus and we should pray that the spread of the virus would be quickly stymied.  Even if the virus does not affect many of the infected adversely, any kind of sickness is never a part of God’s plan for His creation (cf. Matthew 4:23).  It is always, therefore, appropriate to pray against disease.  Because the virus is spread primarily by mosquitos, we should also pray that the governments of the nations who are being most affected by this virus would quickly develop effective methods of controlling these varmints.

Second, we should continue to declare that every life is precious – even those lives in the womb.  Because Zika is widely associated with serious birth defects, many in Latin American countries, where Zika is most prevalent, are beginning to argue for looser abortion restrictions because of the large number of women who are pregnant and who are getting pregnant while being infected with the virus.  The Washington Post reports:

Across Latin America, calls to loosen some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world in the face of the Zika virus outbreak are gaining momentum but encountering strong and entrenched opposition.

In El Salvador, where abortions are banned under any circumstance, the health minister has argued for a revision of the law because of the dangers the virus poses to fetal development.

In Colombia, an organized movement to lift restrictions on abortion has gained allies in the government but has run into determined opposition from religious authorities. The same is happening in Brazil – and some doctors say that as a consequence, illegal, back-alley abortions are on the rise.

Nearly everywhere in Latin America, including in those countries hit hardest by Zika, women who wish to terminate their pregnancies have few legal options. But as U.N. health officials have projected as many as 4 million infections in the Americas this year, activists are pressing lawmakers to act as swiftly as possible to ease rigid restrictions …

“If I were a woman, had just got pregnant and discovered that I had been infected by the Zika virus, I would not hesitate an instant to abort the gestation,” columnist Hélio Schwartsman wrote in the daily newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. Each mother should be able to follow her own instincts, he said.[2]

To use an epidemic to argue for American-style abortion legalization in countries that have traditionally looked at the practice with moral suspicion defies decency and smacks of the worst kind of political opportunism.  The effects that Zika can have on the unborn are devastating.  But a moral solution to this concern involves sexual self-control until this epidemic passes.  It does not and cannot involve the taking of innocent human life.  Indeed, Zika should remind us that sexual intimacy carries with it great power and responsibility.  This is true both for the couple enjoying sexual intimacy and for the progeny who can result from such intimacy.

Passing the Zika virus through sexual contact is a real possibility.  Thus, even for people who are married, sexual restraint may be in order.  Sexual restraint is also necessary in order to avoid dangerous pregnancies.  In a hyper-sexualized world, such self-control can appear to be impossible, regressive, and oppressive.  But at a time like this, what an act of love it would be for a person to deny himself the pleasures of sex in order to protect both the health of his spouse and the life of one who could come after him.  We must ask ourselves:  are we willing to love even when it involves self-denial?  Or have we become so selfish and base that to deny our desires is out of the question?

Finally, we should refuse to give into fear.  Every epidemic raises questions.  How will this epidemic be halted?  How many lives might it take?  How many birth defects might it result in?  How widespread may it become?  At this point, we do not have answers to these questions.  But a lack of answers does not need to lead to an abundance of fear.  This is not to say we should not be cautious.  But there is a difference between caution and fear.  Caution responds to a situation wisely.  Fear panics about a situation needlessly.

As Zika continues to spread, I lean on the words of the Psalmist:  “Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all His benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:2-3).  The benefits of God are greater than the denouements of disease.  Zika will not have the last word.

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[1] Ben Tinker, “Zika virus: What are the chances I’ll get it? (And other Q&As),” cnn.com (2.9.2016).

[2] Dom Phillips, Nick Miroff and Julia Symmes Cobb, “Zika prompts urgent debate about abortion in Latin America,” The Washington Post (2.8.2016).

February 15, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Hand, Meet Glove: Why We Need Both Justice and Morality

JusticeIt was George Washington who, in his farewell address, explained, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”[1] It was John Adams who, in a letter to Zabdiel Adams, said, “It is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand.”[2] It was Benjamin Franklin who, in a letter to the Abbés Chalut and Arnaud, wrote, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”[3] The founding fathers of this country saw a rich and deep connection between morality and freedom. And rightly so. As Os Guinness points out:

Sustainable freedom depends on the character of the rulers and the ruled alike, and on the vital trust between them – both of which are far more than a matter of law. The Constitution, which is the foundational law of the land, should be supported and sustained by the faith, character and virtue of the entire citizenry, which comprises its moral constitution, or habits of the heart.[4]

A freedom that lacks morality is not a freedom that will last long. It will hemorrhage to death by the hand of its own hedonism. The founding fathers knew this.

Sadly, for all the concern that many of our founding fathers devoted to morality, ethics, and virtue, their concern did not always translate into active efforts toward justice. The failure to fight the institution of slavery and the racism behind it is just one of the many blights on this country’s history. In such instances, morality needed a push from democracy to blossom into justice, which is a sad twist of irony, considering this nation’s very charter has in its preamble its intention to “establish justice.”

The tragic reality is that our treatment of morality and justice has been and continues to be deeply schizophrenic. We persistently seek to separate one from the other. The philosophical and, for that matter, theological reality, however, is that morality and justice are inextricable concomitants of each other. This is why, in Scripture, we are treated both to warnings against those who “pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4) and to warnings against those who “devise injustice, and … mete out violence on the earth” (Psalm 58:2). Morality and justice go together.

Currently, I am concerned that, just as in the earlier days of our nation many preached a morality without justice, we have now moved into a time where many are preach justice while eschewing any steadying moral tiller. For instance, the sexual revolution, culminating in the legalization of abortion in 1973, was hailed by proponents as part of an inexorable march of justice toward freedom. No longer could people be told what to do in their bedrooms or with their bodies! The dragon of old-fashioned, constrictive sexual morality and its connection to marriage had finally been slain and severed. What happened? Those in economically depressed areas of this country found themselves economically oppressed by a new set of sexual freedoms as they had lots of children born outside of old-fashioned, constrictive marriages and, it turns out, born outside of the economic stability these old-fashioned, constrictive marriages afforded. Not even legalized abortion could stem the tide of out-of-wedlock births. It seems as though sexual justice, when ripped from its moorings of sexual morality, only boomeranged back to further perpetuate another kind of injustice – that of economic injustice.

Before we clamor for justice, we should always ask, “Is this justice moral?” And before we pontificate on morality, we should always ask, “Am I willing to turn my moral words into just actions?” Both are needed. Both are Scriptural. But neither are easy. And in a socio-political system where we all too often look for easy, or at least broadly palatable, answers to our society’s most difficult challenges, I’m afraid the hard hurdle of both justice and morality is one few are willing to try to jump.

___________________________________

[1] George Washington, Farewell Address (1796).

[2] John Adams, Letter to Zabdiel Adams (6.21.1776).

[3] Benjamin Franklin, Letter to the Abbés Chalut and Arnaud (4.17.1787).

[4] Os Guinness, A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 99.

May 4, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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