Posts tagged ‘USA Today’

Using Kids to Kill

Turkish Attack


Women cry during a funeral for victims of the attack on a wedding party that left at least 50 dead in Turkey.
Credit: Ilyas Akenginilyas Akengin / AFP / Getty Images

Late last week, word came that more than 50 people had been killed at a wedding party in Istanbul when a suicide bomber walked into the party and blew himself up.  In a nation that is always on high alert because it has seen so many of these types of terrible attacks, how did a terrorist slip into this party unnoticed?  Officials estimate that the suicide bomber in question was between 12 and 14 years old.  In other words, no one noticed the bomber at the party because this bomber was, in relative terms, a baby – a child.  And children are harmless – or so we think.

Exploiting kids to kill its enemies has been a longstanding and and cynically promoted strategy of ISIS.  Reporting for USA Today, Oren Dorell, citing the expertise of Mia Bloom, a researcher at Georgia State, explains:

In the initial seduction phase, Islamic State fighters roll into a village or neighborhood, hold Quran recitation contests, give out candy and toys, and gently expose children to the group. This part often involves ice cream…

“To desensitize them to violence, they’re shown videos of beheadings, attend a live beheading,” Bloom said.

Then the children participate in beheadings, by handing out knives or leading prisoners to their deaths, she said. The gradual process is similar to that used by a pedophile who lures a child into sex, “slowly breaking down the boundaries, making something unnatural seem normal,” she said.[1]

In another article that appeared in USA Today last year, Zeina Karam explains how ISIS teaches kids to behead their victims:

More than 120 boys were each given a doll and a sword and told, cut off its head.

A 14-year-old who was among the boys, all abducted from Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority, said he couldn’t cut it right. He chopped once, twice, three times.

“Then they taught me how to hold the sword, and they told me how to hit. They told me it was the head of the infidels,” the boy, renamed Yahya by his Islamic State captors, told the Associated Press last week in northern Iraq, where he fled after escaping the Islamic State training camp.[2]

All of this is ghastly, of course.  The thought of children being trained to commit brutal acts of murder feels utterly unthinkable to us.  But why?

Scripture is clear that all people, from the moment of our births, are sinful.  To cite King David’s famous words: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).  So that a child could or would commit a sinful act should not be particularly surprising to us.  Little kids commit all kinds of sins – everything from lying to defying to hoarding – all the time.  But the thought of a child committing murder seems different.

Theologically, the thought of a child committing murder seems different because, at the same time all people are born sinners, we are also born as bearers of the image of God.  In other words, at the same time we all have sinful inclinations, we also have a righteous Creator who has endowed us with a moral compass.  When this moral compass is violated, guilt ensues, for we cannot fully escape the mark of our Creator.

God’s mark proves to be particularly poignant when it comes to the sin of murder.  This is why God’s image is specifically invoked against the taking of a life: “I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind” (Genesis 9:5-6).  To watch one person kill another person is so completely incongruous with who God has created us to be, it cannot help but startle us.

In a human, then, there are two tugs – one that is of sin and the other that is of righteousness.  And these war against each other.  ISIS has fanned into a giant, roaring flame the inclination to sin in the lives of little children.   This is sadly possible to do because of humanity’s sinful state, but it will not escape the judgment of God.  In the words of Jesus:

Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.  (Luke 17:1-2)

Christ does not take kindly to those who intentionally and systematically lead children into sin.   After all, He made them in His image and He cares for them out of His love.  May His little ones be saved from those who would harm them.

__________________________

[1] Oren Dorell, “Here’s how the Islamic State turns children into terrorists,” USA Today (8.23.2016).

[2] Zeina Karam, “Islamic State camp has kids beheading dolls with swords,” USA Today (7.21.2015).

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August 29, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments

The Panama Pilferage

Panama Papers 1

It used to be that Switzerland was the place to hide money.  Now, apparently, Panama is the place.

A week ago Sunday, a massive cache of some 11 million financial documents from the Panamaniam law firm, Mossack Fonseca, was leaked to the media.  These files contained information about an “extensive worldwide network of offshore ‘shell’ companies – including ones with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin – that allow the wealthy to hide their assets from taxes and, in some cases, to launder billions in cash.”[1]  Several world leaders are implicated in this leak including the prime ministers of Iceland, Argentina, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, and the former prime ministers of Georgia, Jordan, and Qatar.  According to Lexi Finnigan of The Telegraph, the files “also contain new details of offshore dealings by the late father of British Prime Minister David Cameron.”[2]

Some of what has happened in these offshore accounts may be legal.  As Ms. Finnigan explains in her article:

There is nothing unlawful about the use of offshore companies. However, the disclosures raise questions about the ways in which the system can be used – and abused. More than half of the 300,000 firms said to have used Mossack Fonseca are registered in British-administered tax havens, which Mr. Cameron has vowed to crack down on.  And in one instance, an American millionaire was apparently offered fake ownership records to hide money from the authorities.

What has happened here is certainly troubling, even if it is not, at least for me, particularly surprising.  Giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s may be a biblical mandate, but it is not a pleasant experience – even, as it turns out, when you happen to be Caesar.  Nobody wants to pay taxes.

It should be reiterated that, in some instances, what appears to have happened with some of these accounts is little more than tax sheltering, which is legal and, according to many accountants, advisable.  Others, however, have crossed a line into tax evasion, which is a crime.  Still others have out and out used offshore accounts to try to launder dirty money.

Most world leaders are certainly not poor.  So why would such a number of them be so allergic to paying the very taxes that ensure their gainful employment and continued power that they would engage in shady offshore deals?  Perhaps it’s because Solomon was right: “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).  Even a lot of money is never enough money when a person loves money.

Lust for more, of course, is not only a problem for world leaders, it is a problem for many people.  Studies have shown that, proportionally, those who have higher financial means give less, as a percentage of their income, than those who have lower financial means.  As Ken Stern reports for The Atlantic:

In 2011, the wealthiest Americans – those with earnings in the top 20 percent – contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent –donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.[3]

Just because a person has more doesn’t mean he will give more.  Indeed, oftentimes, the more a person has, the more a person seems to think he needs, so the less he gives.

Perhaps we should keep in mind what Solomon says about money and the love thereof right after he explains that people who love money always want more money.  He writes, “This too is meaningless.”

The love of money may be tempting, but it is not meaningful.  It is not fulfilling.  It is not worthwhile.  This is a lesson, I fear, that these world leaders may have learned too late.  May their folly be our warning.

_________________________

[1] Greg Toppo, “Massive data leak in Panama reveals money rings of global leaders,” USA Today (4.5.2016).

[2] Lexi Finnigan, “What are the Panama Papers, who is involved and what is a tax haven?The Telegraph (4.7.2016).

[3] Ken Stern, “Why the Rich Don’t Give to Charity,” The Atlantic (April 2013).

April 11, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Marriage, Thriving, and Character

Wedding SeatsThis past week, Trish Regan, writing for USA Today, sounded the alarm over what has become an infamous decline in U.S. marriage rates:

According to the Pew Research Center, the American marriage rate hit a rock bottom of 50.3% in 2013, down from 50.5% the previous year. Compare that to 1960, when 72.2% of Americans married. Meanwhile, a new finding by the forecasting firm Demographic Intelligence, suggests marriage rates will continue falling into next year as Millennials choose to opt out of traditional relationships.

Marriage is going out of style and that’s a problem. An economic one.[1]

Regan is concerned about declining marriage rates. Why? Because declining marriage rates lead to increasing economic volatility:

Historically, a rising household formation rate has contributed to America’s financial success. People meet, they marry, they buy a home, they have children and they buy more things. One new household adds an estimated $145,000 to the U.S. economy thanks to the ripple effect of construction spending, home improvements and repairs …

According to an American Enterprise Institute study by economists Robert Lerman and Brad Wilcox, young married men, ages 28-30 make, on average, $15,900 more than their single peers, while married men ages 33-46 make $18,800 more than unmarried men.

Marriage, it turns out, is not only good for love, it’s also good for your pocketbook. Therefore, Regan argues, we need more of it.

But at the same time marriage may be good for your financial situation, Sarah Knapton, science editor for The Telegraph, points out that marriage may not be so good for a woman’s health – at least not as good as we once thought:

Marriage has long been cited as a health booster, with couples living in wedded bliss more likely to live longer and have fewer emotional problems.

Yet a new study suggests that women hardly benefit from tying the knot.

Landmark research by University College London, the London School of Economics and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that single women do not suffer the same negative health effects as unmarried men.

In fact, middle aged women who had never married had virtually the same chance of developing metabolic syndrome – a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity – as married women.

And although they showed slightly higher levels of a biomarker which signifies an increased risk of breathing problems, it was far lower than the risk of illness for unmarried men. The same was true of a biomarker for heart problems which was raised 14 per cent in men but was barely noticeable in women.[2]

To marry or not to marry? It turns out that for a woman, it doesn’t really matter all that much.

Many of the arguments I have read in support of marriage at a time when marriage rates are on a precipitous decline are rooted in how this staid institution leads to human thriving. Marriage, it is argued, leads to greater economic stability. Marriage, at least for men, and in some studies even for women, does have certain health benefits. These arguments for marriage are well and good. But if the benefits of marriage are attenuated to only those things which lead to human thriving, when a person feels as though they are no longer thriving in a marriage, they may be tempted to check out and give up. Or, if marriage doesn’t have certain demonstrable and quantifiable benefits, as is the case with the health benefits study from the University College London, it can be all too easy just to opt out of getting married in the first place.

As Christians, we must never forget that as important as human thriving may be, human character is even more critical. And marriage most definitely shapes a person’s character. Over my nine years of marriage, I have learned invaluable lessons about selflessness, commitment, love, advocacy, confidentiality, service, compassion, kindness, and a whole host of other important character traits.

In a marriage, human thriving may help us do well for ourselves.   Human character, however, even when such character is forged through difficult and daunting marital circumstances, compels us to do good for our world. And good is something our broken world needs.

Which is just another reason to get – and to stay – married.

___________________________________

[1] Trish Regan, “Regan: Marriage is going out of style, and that could hurt,” USA Today (6.1.2015).

[2] Sarah Knapton, “Marriage is more beneficial for men than women, study shows,” The Telegraph (6.11.2015).

June 15, 2015 at 5:15 am 2 comments

A Deal With The Devil: How We Got Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl

Credit:  Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

One of my favorite movie lines comes at the end of “The American President.”  After being excoriated by his opponent, Senator Bob Rumson, President Andrew Shepherd storms into the Press Briefing Room to deliver an apologetic for his presidency and his personal life with the cameras rolling.  One of the things he says in this press conference that has long stuck with me is, “America isn’t easy.”

I couldn’t agree more.  In twenty-first century America, we face tough challenges.  We have to navigate complex issues.  America isn’t easy.

The latest example of this truism comes to us courtesy the case of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.  He was captured by the Taliban in 2009.  On May 31 of this year, he was released.  If this was all there was to this story, this would be a story of unambiguous triumph and joy.  But the devil, as they say, is in the details.  And the details here are sketchy, conflicting, and disturbing.

First, there is the detail of how Sergeant Bergdahl was captured.  He claims it’s because he fell behind on a patrol and the Taliban swept in and abducted him.  The Taliban claims he was captured drunk and wandering off base.  According to an investigation by the Pentagon, Bergdahl may have deserted his unit – walking away from his post, which led to his capture.  In an email dated June 27, 2009, Bergdahl expressed a rising dissatisfaction with his military service:  “I am ashamed to be an american.  And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools.”[1]  If Sergeant Bergdahl’s claims concerning his capture are true, this is a tragedy.  If the Taliban’s claims are true, Bergdahl was foolish.  But if the Pentagon’s story pans out, this is a story of one man’s faithlessness toward his brothers-in-arms.  How all this began matters.

Then, there is the detail of what Sergeant Bergdahl’s release cost.  Our government brokered a deal with the Taliban that released five Guantanamo Bay detainees in exchange for Bergdahl’s freedom.  Before this deal, no fewer than five soldiers died on missions to rescue Bergdahl – all this for a man who may have despised many of the very people who were trying to rescue him.  What Sergeant Bergdahl’s release cost matters.

So, what is the appropriate response to this sordid affair?  At this point, I think it’s best to say there is no appropriate response – not because there is no appropriate response period, but because we do not have enough facts to formulate the kind of comprehensive response that this story demands and deserves.  Thus, I am not so interested in deconstructing the details of this story itself, but I do want to address some of the ethical questions it raises.  People want to know:  “Was it right to sacrifice five lives and release five criminals for the freedom of a man who could have been a deserter?”  “What price should we be willing to pay for the civic freedom of one person?”  And, of course, “Is it ever right for the U.S. to negotiate with terrorists?”

In one sense, the saga of Sergeant Bergdahl is parabolic for the limits of human ethical decisions.  Here, we have both good and bad comingled.  Freeing a Prisoner of War – that’s good.  Sacrificing the lives of at least five soldiers and releasing five hardened criminals – that’s bad.  We did something bad to get something good.  How do you reconcile that?

Such ethical angst is perhaps best encapsulated by Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, in an interview with USA Today.  Commenting on our government’s deal with the Taliban, he notes that though the United States’ official stance is that we do not negotiate with terrorists, this is

…repeated as mantra more than fact.  We have long negotiated with terrorists. Virtually every other country in the world has negotiated with terrorists despite pledges never to … We should be tough on terrorists, but not on our fellow countrymen who are their captives, which means having to make a deal with the devil when there is no alternative.[2]

Hoffman is right.  We made a deal with the devil.  And granted, out of this deal, some good has come:  a soldier has been reunited with with his family.  But whether or not any other good comes out of this deal remains to be seen.  Questions concerning Bergdahl’s conduct still need to be asked and families who have lost loved ones in attempts to rescue this soldier still need to be comforted.  This much I do know, however:  deals with the devil are never as good as we think they are.  There are always hidden costs and huge catches.  In fact, as far as I can tell, only one deal with the devil has ever been truly successful.  It’s the one where someone said:  “Let’s make a deal.  You can strike My heel.  But I get to crush your head.

May that divine deal help us navigate the moral complexities and save us from the moral compromises of our fallen deals.

___________________________

[1] Michael Hastings, “America’s Last Prisoner of War,” Rolling Stone (6.7.2012).

[2] Alan Gomez, “Is it ever right to negotiate with terrorists?USA Today (6.2.2014).

June 9, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Tornadoes and Satan

Moore TornadoCrises have a strange way of calling people to faith.  In a day and age where many are bemoaning that our nation is becoming increasingly secular, the devastating EF 5 tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma on May 20 gave rise to an abundance of prayers and cries to God.  Ed Stetzer paints the scene well in his article for USA Today, which is worth quoting at length:

Times of grief reaffirm our identity as a religious nation. Shortly after the horrific news of the tornado devastation in Oklahoma, “#PrayforOklahoma” quickly rose to the top of Twitter’s trending list as millions shared their prayers for the people who lost loved ones and had their homes destroyed.

In times of prosperity, far removed from tragedies, many people in our culture reject expressions of faith. In the moments of hopelessness, however, the desire to reach out to a higher power is an instinctive reflex.

Some may say, “But that’s Oklahoma – it’s the Bible Belt.” Yet, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I was struck by the comment made by Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy referencing our collective religious heritage:

“In the coming days, we will rely upon that which we have been taught and that which we inherently believe: that there is faith for a reason, and that faith is God’s gift to all of us.”

Many are embarrassed by this national identity – until it is time to grieve.  Then, politicians, celebrities and reporters can unashamedly say they are praying for those affected.  News networks will show church bells ringing in memory of those lost.  Nightly news shows feel the need to broadcast excerpts from sermons delivered by pastors in the area.  Journalists interview religious leaders about how God can help us through.

And yes, that is where the discussion often begins. We consider why this would happen. Some people representing faith groups may speak quickly (and unwisely), assuming they can connect the dots between something in our culture and the most recent tragedy.

Others simply ask the question, “How could God allow this to happen?”[1]

Tragedies of the sort that struck Moore, no matter how supposedly “secularized” our nation has become, call forth faith.  And, as Stetzer duly notes, they also call forth questions.  Most often, tragedies like the one in Moore call forth the question that Stetzer poses:  “How could God allow this to happen?”  But in the wake of the tragedy at Moore, I received another question that, though less common, is certainly worthy of a moment of our reflection:  “Can Satan cause a tornado?”  When a tragedy strikes, most people wonder about God’s power to prevent tragedies and His ultimate purpose in allowing them.  But it is also worth asking what kind of prerogative Satan has to wreak havoc in our world.

Satan does seem to have some power to cause trouble in our world.  One needs to look no farther than the story of Job.  In nearly an instant, Job’s life goes from riches to rags.  A quick sequence of four calamities, instigated by Satan himself, robs Job of nearly everything he has.  The fourth of these calamities is especially instructive for our purposes:  “Yet another messenger came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house.  It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you’” (Job 1:18-19)!  Notice that it is a windstorm that Satan sends to destroy Job’s family.  Satan, it seems, does seem to have limited power to incite natural disasters.

It is important to note that, as the story of Job clearly delineates, Satan incites calamities on a person not because a person is somehow particularly sinful or deserving of such calamities, for Job was “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).  No, Satan incites calamities out of depraved delight – he enjoys watching people suffer.

Certainly we cannot know, nor should we speculate on, the transcendental cause of Moore’s devastating tornado.  The most we can say is that natural disasters are part of living in a sinful, fallen world and Satan takes cynical delight in the effects of sin on our world.

But there is hope.  For even if Satan can incite calamities, his ability to do so is severely – and blessedly – limited.  Jesus describes Satan as a “strong man” whose fate is sealed:  “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man” (Matthew 12:29)?  Satan may be a strong man.  But Jesus is the stronger man.  And He came to tie up Satan by defeating his favorite calamity – death – on the cross.

Ultimately, then, no matter what the spiritual causes of the natural disasters that plague our world may be, in this we can take consolation:  no matter how much strength sin and Satan may have for ill, Jesus is stronger.  He’s so strong, in fact, that “even the wind and the waves obey Him” (Matthew 8:27).  He has things under control.  And He holds Moore’s victims in His heart and hands.  May we hold them in our prayers.


[1] Ed Stetzer, “We still cry out to God when tragedy strikes: Column,” USA Today (5.22.2013).

June 3, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Minute Of Your Time

Super Bowl XLVIIHow much is a minute worth?  If you ask Volkswagen of America, it’s worth close to $10 million.  At least if it’s a minute during the Super Bowl.  In an article for USA Today, Bruce Horovitz writes about the high price – and high stakes – world of commercial advertising during the Super Bowl:

Few moments of public pressure compare to that of airing a Super Bowl commercial.  Not only will it be watched by more than 110 million consumers, the social-media buzz before, during and after the game can generate tens of millions of additional views.  Thirty-some advertisers – from veteran Anheuser-Busch InBev to newcomer SodaStream – will air 50-some commercials in Super Bowl airtime that cost them roughly $3.8 million per 30-second slot.  That’s a record average price for Super Bowl slots.

It’s the most expensive media money can buy.[1]

If you want 30 seconds, it’ll cost you $3.8 million.  60 seconds will cost you more than twice that.  Justin Osborne, general manager of marketing communications at VW, says of such an outlandish price, “If I put this in financial terms, it would give me hives.  I can’t look at the zeros.”

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Time is money.”  If you quoted Franklin’s axiomatic aphorism to a Super Bowl advertiser, I suspect he might respond with a hearty “Amen.”  Of course, these advertisers are hoping that time is not only money spent, but that it is money made.  This is why these advertisers are willing to pay such haranguingly hearty prices for airtime.  After all, with hundreds of millions of people expected to watch the big game, some of them are bound to put their money into the companies, products, and services they see in the commercials.  Right?

Macdonald Carey used to say during the opening sequence of the famed soap opera, “Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives.”  It’s true.  For the most part, our seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years slip past us with barely a notice – certainly not a Super-Bowl-sized-notice worthy of $10 million.  But perhaps the time that all too often slips by us is worth more than we realize.  For, as Scripture reminds us, time is a precious gift from God, not to be unthinkingly frittered away:  “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

The other day, I attended an excellent presentation by the former publisher for the LA Times.  As part of his presentation, he cited a poem by Benjamin Mays, mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. and former president of Morehouse College:

I have only just a minute. Only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon me.  Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it,
But it’s up to me to use it.
I must suffer if I lose it.  Give account if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute – But eternity is in it.

Every minute is precious.  Every minute is a gift from God.   How will you use yours?


[1] Bruce Horovitz, “Inside the making of VW’s Super Bowl ad,” USA Today (1.29.13).

February 4, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Is Christianity Dying?

Broken Down ChurchIt was quite a byline:  “‘Protestant’ is no longer America’s top religious umbrella brand.  It’s been rained out by the soaring number of ‘Nones’ – people who claim no faith affiliation.”  When Cathy Lynn Grossman, religion editor for USA Today, penned these words for her article, “As Protestants decline, those with no religion gain,”[1] they served as yet another sobering statistical reminder concerning the decline of Christianity in America.  More and more people, it seems, are simply not concerned with matters of faith.

But not so fast.  At least if you believe Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research, who explains the statistical shift in the “nones” like this:

“Cultural Christians” mark “Christian” on a survey rather than another world religion because they know they are not Hindu, Jewish, etc., or because their family always has. “Churchgoing Christians” identify as such because they occasionally attend worship services.  On the other hand, “conversion Christians” claim to have had a faith experience in which they were transformed, resulting in a deeply held belief.  The recent growth in “nones,” I believe, comes primarily from cultural and churchgoing Christians shifting to the category no longer using a religious identification.[2]

Stetzer surmises that more and more people are increasingly feeling at liberty to publicly admit what many of them already privately suspected:  that Christianity is not a tenable way to view of the world and so there is no reason to be overly concerned with what this faith – or any other faith, for that matter – teaches and preaches.  And because there is no longer the social stigma attached to being irreligious that there once was, these people feel comfortable designating their faith commitment as “none.”

So what does all this tell us?  I would offer two thoughts on this data.

First, this data is a good reminder that, contrary to the gleeful predilections of naysayers, Christianity is not on the brink of extinction.  On April 8, 1966, TIME Magazine famously carried a cover story titled, “Is God Dead?” where eminent theologians opined on the possibility of doing theology without God.  Christianity, it seemed to these scholars, was on the decline while secularism was on the rise.  The “nones” were on the ascendancy and would shortly squelch the relic religious commitments of the Dark Ages.  But those relic religious commitments to a God from ages past stubbornly refused to die.  Christianity did not fall flat.  And Christianity will not fall flat.  As the above statistics intimate and as Ed Stetzer explains, it’s not that Christianity in America is declining per se, it’s that people are becoming more honest about what they actually believe.

Second, this data reminds us that Christianity and culture don’t mix quite as well as some might have previously thought and others might currently wish.  The desire to have a culturally Christian nation didn’t work so well in the first century as the nascent Christian Church was belabored and bludgeoned by the Roman Empire and it doesn’t work so well in the twenty-first century in a secular society that disparages and derides the Christian faith.  This should not come as a surprise.  Christianity and culture will always be at odds with each other, for the perfect law of God and the sinful sensibilities of men can never coalesce.

Ultimately, this tendentious relationship between Christianity and culture should clarify our mission.  For all too often, the Christian mission has been reduced and relegated to little more than that of fighting culture wars in hopes of forcibly shaping society.  However, such efforts have proven largely futile.  Yes, there are times when Christians need to stand up for the truth in society.  And no, I do not have any problem with Christians lobbying governing officials on issues of moral import – issues such as abortion or caring for the poor.  These things are indeed important.  But in order to win on Christian positions, we must first win over people. After all, people hold positions.  Positions do not hold people.  If you don’t win over a person, you won’t win on a position.

Finally, even if things seem grim in society, take heart!  Persecution, ridicule, and mockery from without the Church and scandal, avarice, and pride from within the Church have not been able to destroy a faith founded by an itinerant preacher from the backwaters of Galilee.  I have a feeling some statistics about Christianity’s decline aren’t going to be able to take it down either.


[1] Cathy Lynn Grossman, “As Protestants decline, those with no religion gain,” USA Today (10.9.2012).

[2] Ed Stetzer, “Column: Christianity isn’t dying,” USA Today (10.18.2012).

January 7, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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