Posts tagged ‘State’

Charlie Gard and the Tenacity of Hope

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 5.49.30 PM

Credit:  Independent

There is a hardly a more compelling example of the ravages of disease warring against the hope for life than that of Charlie Gard.  Charlie is almost a year old now, born last August in the U.K.  Shortly after his birth, it was discovered that he had a rare genetic condition known as mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, which affects vital internal organs such as, as in Charlie’s case, the kidneys and brain.  At present, Charlie is being kept alive by a ventilator, but the hospital at which Charlie is staying asked a judge back in March to rule that life support should be discontinued, which the judge ruled in support of in April.  Charlie’s parents appealed the ruling, but did not get it overturned.  Both President Trump and Pope Francis have signaled their support for Charlie, with the pope even offering Charlie a spot at the Vatican pediatric hospital for continuing treatment.  Charlie’s parents have asked to have their son transferred to the U.S. for an experimental treatment, which has had some limited success, but the U.K. hospital has refused to do so, citing legal hurdles.

The issues in this dispute are legion.  Should a judge have the ability to trump parents’ wishes with regard to their own child, provided that the parents are seeking the genuine welfare and, in this case, the continued life, of their son?  Are Charlie’s parents seeking the correct course of action, considering their son is not able to live, at least at this point, apart from extraordinary and continuous medical intervention?  And what are the hopes for some sort of improvement or change in Charlie’s condition if he is moved elsewhere to receive treatment?

It is the last of these questions that is most captivating to me because it is the question that sits in the background of the first two questions.  The U.K. believes there is no real hope for Charlie’s recovery.  Charlie’s parents believe there is enough hope for, at minimum, some sort of improvement that they want to continue his life support and investigate an experimental treatment.  This battle royal, then, boils down to hope.

Over the course of my ministry, I have known more than one person who was terminally ill and, when presented with an option for an experimental treatment, declined and instead chose to go into hospice because they did not see any real hope for healing, even with the treatment.  This does not mean, however, that these people did not have any hope.  Their hope was simply located in a different place – not in a treatment, but in a Lord who can call even the dead to life.  Whether it is a temporary stay on death by means of a medical treatment, or an eternal resurrection on the Last Day by means of a trumpet call and a returning Christ, hope for life, it seems, will not be squelched.

Theologically, the irrepressibility of hope for life makes sense because, in the beginning, death was not part of God’s plan.  Contrary to Yoda, death is not a natural part of life – and we know it, even if only intuitively.  Death, Scripture says, is an enemy to be defeated.  And though Charlie’s parents cannot conquer death like Christ, they do seem voraciously intent on confronting death through the very best that medicine has to offer their son.

It does unsettle me that a judge would arrogate to himself the prerogative of telling two parents whether or not their son can receive a potentially life-saving treatment.  I will confess that, according to the information at hand, the hospital is probably correct in its estimation of Charlie’s recovery prospects.  But hope has a funny way of looking beyond the information at hand to divine intervention.  And that is a hope that is worth holding on to.  Indeed, as Christians, we know that is the hope Jesus died to give and rose to secure.  I hope the hospital and the British legal system can respect that hope.

July 10, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Christianity ≠ Morality

One of the topics I address often on this blog is that of morality.  With a collapsing cultural consensus on what morality looks like around issues like human sexuality, childbearing, childrearing, gender, justice, and political discourse – to name only a few examples – offering a Christian perspective on what it means to be moral is, I believe, important and needed.

There is an implicit danger, however, in spending all of one’s energy arguing for a Christian morality in a secular society.  Far too often, when we, as Christians, do nothing more than argue for a Christian morality in the public square, it can begin to appear that Christianity itself is nothing more than a set of moral propositions on controversial questions.  Like in the 1980s, during the height of the Christian Moral Majority, Christianity can be perceived to be conterminous with a particular system of morality.

A couple of years ago, an op-ed piece appeared in the LA Times titled, “How secular family values stack up.”  In it, Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, argues that godless parents do a better job raising their children than do godly parents.  He writes:

Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the “cool kids” think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.

Much of what these kids raised in secular homes grow up to be is good.  A resistance to peer pressure, an eschewing of racism, a willingness to forgive, a measured sobriety about the positives and negatives of one’s country, a desire to avoid violence, a willingness to serve instead of to command, and a charitable tolerance toward all people are certainly all noble traits.  Professor Zuckerman argues that since secular parenting has a statistically higher probability than does Christian parenting of producing children who act morally in these categories, Christian parenting serves no real purpose.  But it is here that he misunderstands the goal of Christian parenting.  The goal of Christian parenting is not to make your kids moral.  It is to share with your kids faith in Christ.  Morality is wonderful, but, in Christianity, faith comes first.

James, the brother of Jesus, describes the proper relationship between Christian morality and Christian faith when he writes:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  (James 2:14-18)

James here explains the absurdity of claiming to have faith apart from any sort of moral deeds.  He says that if someone claims to have faith and no moral deeds, he really has no faith at all.  He even goes so far as to challenge his readers to show him someone who has faith, but no moral deeds.  This, in James’ mind, is an impossibility.  Why?  Because James knows that faith inevitably produces some sort of moral action.  The real danger is not so much that someone will have faith and no moral action, but that someone will have plenty of moral action and no faith!  Indeed, this is the problem Jesus has with the religious leaders when He says of them, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me” (Matthew 15:8).  The religious leaders were supremely moral.  But they did not have faith in Christ.

In our crusade to argue for a Christian morality in the midst of a morally relativistic secular society, let us be careful not to spend so much time trying to make people moral that we forget to share with them faith in Christ.  For a Christianity that only makes people moral, ultimately, leads them the to same place that a secular moral relativism does – it leads to death.  Morality, no matter what type of morality it is, cannot offer life.  Only Christ can do that.

We are not here just to try to make people good.  We are here to show people the One who is perfectly good.  Let’s not forget what our real mission really is.

June 26, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Tenuous Time

Church Steeple

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  As Christianity faded from prominence in the West, a secularized culture was supposed to emerge to take its place that was more tolerant, more enlightened, more harmonious, and less politically polarized than any other society in the history of the world.  But as Peter Beinart explains in an excellent article for The Atlantic, what has emerged as Christianity’s western influence has waned is nothing of the sort:

As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.[1]

Beinart goes on to explain how the traditional battle lines between conservatives and liberals have shifted in the wake of this irreligious surge.  Specifically, with regard to the spiritually skeptical alt-right, Beinart notes:

They tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation…

The alt-right is ultra-conservatism for a more secular age. Its leaders like Christendom, an old-fashioned word for the West. But they’re suspicious of Christianity itself, because it crosses boundaries of blood and soil. As a college student, the alt-right leader Richard Spencer was deeply influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously hated Christianity. Radix, the journal Spencer founded, publishes articles with titles like “Why I Am a Pagan.” One essay notes that “critics of Christianity on the Alternative Right usually blame it for its universalism.”

It turns out that as faith allegiances have crumbled, a universal concern for others in the spirit of the Good Samaritan has too.  Christianity’s cross-ethnic, cross-cultural, and international appeal has proven too much for the self-interested – or, perhaps more accurately, self-obsessed – spirit of our age.

As Christians, we must think through this irreligious political surge and provide a faithful witness in the midst of it.  We also must be prepared to live in a very tricky tension because of this surge.  As Rod Dreher explains in his newly released book, The Benedict Option:

Faithful Christians may have to choose between being a good American and being a good Christian.  In a nation where “God and country” are so entwined, the idea that one’s citizenship might be at radical odds with one’s faith is a new one.[2]

Dreher’s analysis of the tension between being a citizen of a nation and being a child of God is true, but it is also somewhat amnesic.  He is right that there is indeed an increasing tension.  But he is wrong that this tension is anything new.  Tensions between God and government have been longstanding, even in our society.  And these tensions should not surprise us.  It was a Roman governmental official, after all, who approved the request for Jesus’ crucifixion.  Government has, for a great portion of history, had a problem with God, especially when people put Him before it.

The New Testament understands that this tension between God and government will never be fully resolved, at least on this side of the Last Day.  While we may give to Caesar what is his, God also demands what is His, and when what Caesar wants contradicts what God wants, conflict ensues.  Just ask Daniel, or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, or the apostles.  Our calling, as Christians, is to resist the urge to comfortably resolve this tension, whether that be by condemning this world and cloistering ourselves off from it or by compromising our faith for the lucrative perks of political power.  Our calling is to live in this tension both faithfully and evangelically – holding fast to what we confess while lovingly sharing with others what we believe.

Beinart concludes his article:

For years, political commentators dreamed that the culture war over religious morality that began in the 1960s and ’70s would fade. It has. And the more secular, more ferociously national and racial culture war that has followed is worse.

Yes, indeed, it is worse – which is why we, as the Church, need to offer something better.  We need to offer something loving.  We need to over something hopeful.  We need to offer something reconciling.  We need to offer something that continually and conscientiously questions our nation’s nearsighted political orthodoxies for the sake of a time-tested theological orthodoxy.  We need to offer Jesus, unabashedly and unashamedly.  This is our mission.  I pray we are up to it.

______________________________________

[1] Peter Beinart, “Breaking Faith,” The Atlantic (April 2017).

[2] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option (New York:  Sentinel, 2017), 89.

April 3, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Subpoenaing Sermons

Credit: houstonmatters.org

Credit: houstonmatters.org

“Show us your sermons.” This was the message of the City of Houston to five area pastors. Last May, Houston’s City Council passed an equal rights ordinance prohibiting “any type of discrimination based on sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy”[1] among private and public employers. Almost immediately, those in faith communities and even in some businesses raised concerns. Will this limit a pastor’s ability to address issues such as same-sex marriage and gender identity in his sermons? Could a business be sued for refusing to allow a transgender person to use the restroom of the gender with which that person identifies, even if that identity does not match up with his or her assigned gender?

Opponents of the ordinance rallied and gathered some 500,000 signatures in an effort to repeal it, but the validity of the signatures was called into question and the ordinance was not repealed. This is when things got really contentious. As The Washington Post reports:

A group of Christians sued the city. In response, city attorneys issued subpoenas to five local pastors during the case’s discovery phase, though the five pastors were not involved in the lawsuit.

The subpoenas sought “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession,” according to the Houston Chronicle.[2]

The City subpoenaed sermons. And people were furious. Indeed, when several national news outlets picked up on this story, the City had to change course.  Mayor Parker announced last Friday that the City would narrow the scope of the subpoena and City Attorney David Feldman admitted, “When I looked at [the subpoena] I felt it was overly broad, I would not have worded it that way myself … It’s unfortunate that it has been construed as some effort to infringe upon religious liberty.”[3]

So what are we to make of all this?

On the one hand, as Eugene Volokh of The Washington Post notes, the City, by all reasonable standards, overreached and needs to be called to account:

I don’t quite see how “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession” would be relevant to the litigation about the validity of the referendum petitions.

At the very least, the subpoena seems vastly overbroad. And the fact that it seeks the contents of religious speeches does counsel in favor of making the subpoena as narrow as possible (which would likewise be the case if it sought the contents of political speeches). I’m not sure what sort of legally relevant information might be contained in the subpoenaed sermons. But the subpoena ought to be narrowed to that legally relevant information, not to all things about homosexuality, gender identity, the mayor, or even the petition or the ordinance.[4]

On the other hand, if these pastors were indeed “using the pulpit to do political organizing … [by] encouraging congregation members to sign petitions and help gather signatures for equal rights ordinance foes,”[5] as the City Attorney suggests, even if such conduct is Constitutionally permissible, theologically, this kind of political posturing can compromise the integrity of the Office of the Ministry and can actually impugn the Church’s witness on the moral and ethical issues of our day. Charles Colson explains why:

Because it tempts one to water down the truth of the gospel, ideological alignment, whether on the left or the right, accelerates the church’s secularization. When the Church aligns itself politically, it gives priority to the compromises and temporal successes of the political world rather than its Christian confession of eternal truth.[6]

When pastors try to address concerns that are, at their heart, theological by using political means like petitions, theology can all too readily and quickly – even if unknowingly – get sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.  We need to be careful we don’t compromise our witness for the sake of cynical political gain.

Make no mistake about it:  I do not believe City of Houston officials should, in any way, shape, form, or fashion critique or try silence what pastors preach.  Such actions are beyond their purview of their vocations.  But as a Christian, I also believe that what the Church and her pastors have to say about human sexuality and gender identity is best said from the Word of God and not with a petition.

So, to the pastors who have been subpoenaed, I say: rather than looking at these subpoenas as infringements on your rights, consider them opportunities for ministry (cf. Ephesians 5:15-16). City Hall – even if the wording of the subpoena has now been changed – has invited you to send in your sermons. So do so! Inundate City Hall with the sermons from God’s Word – and not just with sermons where you happen to mention sex or gender. Send in as many of your sermons as you can. While you’re at it, include a charitable note indicating that you are praying for your leaders and praying that your sermons will be a blessing to them.

Remember, with God’s Word comes God’s promise: “My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire” (Isaiah 55:11). The preaching of God’s Word can do more than a petition could ever hope to accomplish. A petition can win a political war. God’s Word can change a human heart.

Which sounds better to you?

_______________________________

[1] City of Houston, Texas, Ordinance No. 2014-530.

[2] Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Houston subpoenas pastors’ sermons in gay rights ordinance case,” The Washington Post (10.15.2014).

[3]Houston Backtracks on Church Subpoenas,” ktrh.com (10.15.2014).

[4] Eugene Volokh, “Is it constitutional for a court to enforce a subpoena of ministers’ sermons?The Washington Post (10.15.2014).

[5] Jacob Gershman, “Houston Mayor Says City’s Sermon Subpoenas Came as a Surprise,” The Wall Street Journal (10.15.2014).

[6] Charles Colson in Render Unto Caesar…and Unto God: A Lutheran View of Church and State, A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (September 1995), 60.

October 20, 2014 at 5:15 am 4 comments

San Antonio’s Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Alamo 1Recently, there has been a lot of debate and discussion concerning a proposed amendment to San Antonio’s anti-discrimination ordinance on which the City Council will soon vote.  You can read about the debate here.  Because this ordinance has certain theological implications, Concordia’s senior pastor, Bill Tucker, has prepared a letter outlining some of the facets and possible effects of this ordinance.  I would encourage you to take a moment to read his letter below.

Dear Concordia Family,

The apostle Paul writes, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2a).  This is a time for us as a congregation to be in prayer for those in authority – specifically, for those in authority on our San Antonio City Council.

San Antonio’s Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Our City Council is currently considering amending its anti-discrimination ordinance to include a prohibition against discrimination on the basis of, among other things, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” The ordinance defines discrimination as demonstrating “a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group of persons, or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age or disability.”  Many Jews, Muslims, and Christians have long considered homosexual activity, same-sex marriage, and transgender lifestyles to be “sinful.” Such a designation may now be considered discriminatory according to the definition of bias given in this ordinance.  Thus, an ordinance meant to prohibit discrimination may set up a de facto form of discrimination against some people of faith because it may preclude people with certain religious beliefs from serving the City.

How Will This Ordinance Affect You?

  • Bias:  Pastors or other people of faith who discuss whether or not certain behaviors are “sinful” may be considered to be engaging in discrimination according to the definition of “bias” given in this ordinance.  Such accusations of discrimination may affect both our ability to speak God’s truth in love and our freedoms of speech, religion, and association.
  • Public Accommodations:  If you are a business owner who has rental property, restaurants, hotels, or theatres, you may be compelled by this ordinance to violate your conscience and not operate the business according to your religious convictions.
  • Appointments and Contracts with the City:  A person may not be appointed to a position with the City if he or she is perceived to have a bias against those of a homosexual or transgender orientation and can be removed from office even if previously appointed.  A person may also be precluded from contracting with the City if that person is perceived to have a bias against any group named in the ordinance.

Actions to Consider

Finally, I encourage you to remember how Paul concludes his statement to Timothy on praying for those in authority:  “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – 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).  Paul’s call to prayer is meant not only to affect our City officials; it is meant to affect us.  It is meant to move us toward peace in times of tribulation and form in us a humble godliness, shaped by love, as a holy witness to a world filled with sin.  It is meant, in a phrase, to lead us to “shine like stars.”  May we, at Concordia, be people who do exactly this.

God bless you,
bill_tucker_bw
Bill Tucker
Senior Pastor
Concordia Lutheran Church

July 31, 2013 at 7:11 am 1 comment


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