Could the Persecuted Church Rescue American Christianity?

Christianity in this country is big, powerful, and familiar. We need it to become strange again.

An edifying article by Russell D. Moore.

“I was distracted at the Baltimore Orioles’ game the other night. At the end of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), my wife and I joined friends at Camden Yards, but a new friend with us there in the stands kept driving my attention to a jail cell overseas.

A few hours earlier, that new friend, Naghmeh Abedini, had joined me on the platform of our gathering of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. I called the SBC to stand with her husband, Saeed, an American citizen who is imprisoned in Iran for his evangelical faith. As we ate hamburgers and watched umpires call balls and strikes, I wondered what was happening, at that very moment, to Saeed. Was he being beaten? Was he, like Paul and Silas of old, singing hymns behind the bars?

I couldn’t help but wonder if we were living a parable.

After all, before and after we had prayed for Saeed and the persecuted church on our knees on the convention floor, we had prayed for awakening and revival in our American churches. Southern Baptist baptism rates are robust compared to tanking mainline Protestantism, but they are anemic given our history and our aspirations of reaching our neighbors with the gospel.

It would be easy to assume that American evangelicals are the “strong” ones, standing up for our “weak” brothers and sisters imperiled around the world. In one sense, that’s obviously true. We can pressure the State Department to act. We can send relief to communities in peril. We can use information technology to alert the global community to what is happening to religious minorities (not only Christians) due to persecution.

But more and more American Christians are recognizing that we should not only advocate for our persecuted brothers and sisters; we should also learn from them how to live as Christians.

Evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer warned in the 1970s that affluence is spiritually dangerous for Christians. He pointed to the ancient words of the Hebrew prophets and said that those who need never to wonder where daily bread will come from soon stop praying for it — and turn to immorality.

It’s hard to question his diagnosis, especially since it echoes Jesus himself.

For a generation, American evangelicals have talked quite a bit about “faith” and “values.” We want “faith-friendly” movies and we build coalitions of “people of faith.” We talk about “traditional values” when it comes to policy questions. But “faith” and “values” aren’t necessarily praiseworthy. Jesus told us there are all sorts of faith responses to the Word he was preaching. He compared these to seeds that fall on different kinds of soil. The seed that falls on rocky ground, Jesus said, appears to be vital, until persecution comes and then the hearer walks away.

But what happens when there is no persecution?

We have grown accustomed to an American civil religion, nominally Christian, where in many places it does someone social good to join a church. To say “I’m not a Christian” has been in those places the equivalent of saying “I’m not a good person.” This has inflated membership rolls, yes, but it has done so at the expense of what Jesus calls the gospel: the call to carry a cross.

Moreover, this nominal Christianity has emphasized the “values” and “meaning” aspects of Christianity while often downplaying the “strangeness” of Christianity, namely the conviction that a previously dead man is alive and returning to judge the living and the dead.

This Bible Belt experiment will not long survive the secularizing of American culture, where increasingly even the “values” seem strange to the culture. The church will survive, and, I believe, flourish — but it will mean the stripping away of the almost-gospels we’ve grown accustomed to.

In the “religion” aisle at any given bookstore, one can see volumes promising “every day a Friday” and so on. Jesus is the totem to acquire what American culture has told us we deserve. This is closer to Canaanite fertility religion than to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have become the people Jesus warned us about.

When we encounter those persecuted around the world, we see a glimpse of what Jesus has called all of us to. We see the sort of faith that isn’t a means to an end. We see the sort of faith that joins the global Body of Christ, across time and space, in the confession of a different sort of reign. We see a gospel that isn’t the American Dream with heaven at the end.

When we pray for those in prison for their faith, we remember that the gospel came to us in letters written from jail. When we plead for those whose churches are burned in Egypt, we remember that our hope isn’t in building religious empires but in a New Jerusalem we’ve never seen. When we weep for those crucified in Syria, we remember that our Lord isn’t a guru or a life coach, but a crucified Christ. That can remind us of the gospel we signed up for in the first place, and free us from our fat, affluent, almost-gospels that can never save.

Maybe at next year’s denominational meeting, we’ll go to another ball game. And, I pray, it’s possible that not only Naghmeh but also her husband can join us — as a free man. We’ll celebrate, and we’ll pray for those still in chains. But then I think we’ll just ask him to preach.

We American evangelicals need our persecuted brother more than he needs us.”

-Russell D. Moore, http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/06/18/could-the-persecuted-church-rescue-american-christianity/32586

 

What Would Jesus Bake?

Helpful thoughts from Greg Beale and Kevin DeYoung

“As Christians continue to debate to what extent they can be involved with gay weddings, advocates for participation as no-big-deal have been hurrying to the Gospels to look for a Jesus who is pretty chill with most things. It’s certainly great to go the Gospels. Can’t go wrong there. Just as long as we don’t ignore his denunciations of porneia (Mark 7:21), and as long as we don’t make Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John our canon within the Canon. For Jesus himself predicted that the Holy Spirit would come and unpack all the truth about the Father and the Son (John 16:12-15). The revelation of the Son of God was not limited to the incarnation, but included the pouring out of the Spirit of Jesus and the subsequent testimony written down by the Messiah’s Spirit-inspired followers.

But even if we were going to limit ourselves in ethical matters to only those things Jesus said, why doesn’t anyone talk about the letters to the seven churches? Grab a red-letter edition of the Bible and you’ll see: Revelation 2-3 is all crimson. They are letters from Jesus. To be sure, this Jesus warns against losing our first love, but he also rebukes several churches for being too cozy with the culture. Pergamum countenanced false teachers who encouraged sexual sin (Rev. 2:14-15). Thyatira was too tolerant of a Jezebel-like woman leading people into sexual immorality (Rev. 2:20-21). Many in Sardis had soiled their garments with the world (Rev. 3:4). Compromise was in the air, and only some of the Christians could say they didn’t inhale.

What did this compromise look like? We can’t be sure, but Greg Beale–who has written the best scholarly commentary on Revelation–suggests that, at least in part, the compromise had to do with participating in the festivals put on by local trade guilds. Christians who worked in professions belonging to these guilds were put in a precarious spot. Would they go along with the run-of-the-mill idolatry associated with the feasts? Or would they opt out and risk losing their livelihood, their respectability, or worse.

Beale explains:

‘This was no mere issue of indifferent things and matters of conscience, as some propose was the case in 1 Corinthians 8. Perhaps token public acknowledgments to Caesar are in mind or participation in pagan festivals, or even both, since all the guilds formally recognized Caesar’s deity. (Polycarp was accused of being a “puller down of our gods, teaching many not to sacrifice or worship” [Martyrdom of Polycarp 12:1-2].) In particular, what may be included are trade guild festivals involving celebration of patron deities through fests and sometimes immoral activities. Refusal to participate in such activities could result in economic and social ostracism (cf. 1 Pet. 3:11-21). Therefore, there was much pressure to compromise. And just as Israel was influenced to fornicate both sexually and spiritually, the same was true of Christians in Pergamum.

Like Balaam, this was a group of false prophets who were encouraging participation in idol fests by teaching that such permission was permissible for Christians. We may speculate, as have others, that this course of action was rationalized by thinking that it was only an empty gesture that fulfilled patriotic or social obligations and was legitimate as long as Christians did not really believe in the deities being worshiped. And, like Balaam, they probably also believed they would be blessed for their prophetic instruction (cf. Num. 23:10).

Part of the false teachers’ effectiveness, perhaps, lay in their sincere belief that they were teaching correct doctrine; while possible, it is unlikely that they were intentionally trying to deceive the church. Of course, their teaching would ultimately dilute the exclusive claims of the church’s Christian witness to the world, which was still the church’s strength. Perhaps part of the motivation for the teachers’ attitude was the threat of economic deprivation, which may have facilitated the comparison with Balaam, since the original narrative and subsequent reflections on it associate his deceptive motives with financial gain. (NIGTC, The Book of Revelation, 249)’

Granted, the issue in Asia Minor was not baking cakes for same-sex ceremonies. We shouldn’t think Revelation 2-3 was written to solve our controversies. But we shouldn’t assume they have nothing to do with our controversies either. High pressure social obligations, rationalizing participation as only an empty gesture, popular teachers urging permissiveness, the threat of social and economic ostracism—sounds familiar. Maybe our problems aren’t so new. Maybe the Bible isn’t so unconcerned with the parties we make possible. Maybe Jesus wouldn’t bake that cake after all.”

-Keven DeYoung, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2014/02/27/what-would-jesus-bake/

It’s Not Baptist or a Church, it’s The Westboro Cult

From Marty Duren

“To All Media Outlets, Reporters, Writers and Editors:

the westboro cult protestors

It is abundantly clear to most Americans that the “Westboro Baptist Church” is neither “Baptist” nor a “church” according to any commonly accepted meaning of either word. As a Christ follower, and a long time church attender, I enter this plea to stop using the phrase “Westboro Baptist Church” in favor of the more accurate “the Westboro cult.”

The journalistic profession has turned out a small number of plagiarists whose words were stolen from the creativity and hard work of others then passed off as their own. Yet, though some among your number bring a pall on the word “journalist,” I do not refer to each of you as “cheats,” “word thieves” or “plagiarists.” It would be inaccurate to label you thusly because of a few whose actions obviously do not represent the whole. But in the mass media we see, with alarming near-universality, a refusal to call the wackos from Westboro anything except a “Baptist church” or a “church.”

Please begin referring to all family and followers of Fred Phelps as “the Westboro Cult,” for that is exactly what they are.

A search last Friday, August 3, 2012, on news.google.com–the news search, not the web search–of the phrase “Westboro Baptist Church” returned thousands of stories from news outlets. An immediate follow up search of “Westboro cult” returned four (4) results, all of which appeared to be people making comments on news stories. The most consistent users of the phrase “Westboro cult” appear to be a few conservative bloggers.

Westboro “Baptist Church” is not affiliated with any known Baptist conventions, associations, or denominations. It stands proudly independent, with little desire for “friendly cooperation.”

The overwhelming majority of churches in the United States do not fit these popular definitions of a cult regardless of how hard one stretched the description. But Westboro does. This is the definition from Wikipedia:

The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a new religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre. The word originally denoted a system of ritual practices.

Or what about this definition of cult from BING:

1. religion: a system of religious or spiritual beliefs, especially an informal and transient belief systemregarded by others as misguided, unorthodox, extremist, or false, and directed by a charismatic, authoritarian leader
2. religious group: a group of people who share religious or spiritual beliefs, especially beliefs regarded by others as misguided, unorthodox, extremist, or false. [Emphasis in all cases mine.]

Even a general religious definition used at Cultwatch.com, defines “cult” as

a group claiming to be Christian [yet] teaches significantly different things from what the Bible teaches.

A brief glance at Westboro’s website (Godhatesfags.com) reveals they place even their picketing schedule above what they “believe.” The listed “Sister Sites” are filled with hatred. The Westboro cult is interested in attention and free publicity.

You will find no Christian leaders in America or the world, no ordinary church attender, and precious few non-Christians or atheists who consider the actions of Phelps’ group to be representative of orthodox, normal, true, or customary Christianity. Few would consider them to be a legitimate expression of a “church,” properly understood.

Simply stated, Fred Phelps and his Topeka followers are a cult, and should always be designated as “the Westboro cult.” They should never be called a “church,” nor should they be called “Baptist,” and it is grossly inaccurate, as well as offensive to millions of Americans, to continue to do so.

Sincerely,
Marty Duren”

http://www.martyduren.com/2012/08/07/a-plea-to-all-media-outlets-re-the-westboro-cult/

Is it Wrong for a Christian to Sue the Government?

from Russell Moore

“Dear Dr. Moore,

I’ll make this very long story as short as I can. A close family member of ours lost his health due to what appears to be some serious negligence from a government agency. Several people have suggested that we sue this branch of the government.  On the one hand, this might help alert the state to other situations, similar to that of our family member, in hopes of bringing reform. Yet, on the other, the Bible is pretty negative about Christians suing and mandates us to obey and honor the government. I don’t know if we’ll sue, but, if we did, would we be wrong?

Grieving and Confused

Dear Grieving,

First of all, I’m not a lawyer so, of course, I can’t tell you whether your lawsuit would be wise, or even if you have a case. But the questions you raise about your ethical obligations as a Christian are, I think, important. You are right that, first of all, the Bible does command us to not only obey the governing authorities (Rom. 13) but to show honor to them (1 Pet. 2:17) and pray for them (1 Tim. 2:2).

That said, a lawsuit in our legal system is not necessarily an attack. It is, however, when it’s the result of vengeance or acrimony between individuals. But the suit of a governing agency is less like an assault than like an appeal for a grievance to be answered. The normal mechanism of a citizen seeking justice, in our system, goes ultimately through the court system.

In that sense, I think, if all other avenues are exhausted, suing this branch of government would simply be the equivalent of Paul appealing to Caesar to settle his legal dispute (Acts 25:1-12) and pointing to his Roman citizenship in order to question the legality of his scourging (Acts 22:25-28).

This is a very different matter from Christians suing one another, which is forbidden by Scripture. But why is it forbidden? It is not because God is uninterested in justice. It’s that when two Christian persons sue one another they are signaling to the outside world that the church is incompetent, not gifted by Christ, to settle disputes among brothers. That is a defective eschatology, and ultimately says something profoundly untrue about Christ and his gospel. It is better, Paul says, to be defrauded than to do such a thing (1 Cor. 6:1-8).

A suit of a government agency is a different matter precisely because the church has no jurisdiction over the state (Jn. 18:36; 1 Cor. 5:12-13).  A suit could be simply an appeal to the state to do justice on its own terms in a particular matter.

That said, you must examine your motives. If you are really seeking to address a systemic wrong, to prevent others from being injured, that is one thing. If you are seeking some form of personal vengeance, that is contrary to the spirit of Christ and to the letter of Scripture (Rom. 12:17-21).

Finally, there is a difference between something being ethically permissible and being wise. A war, for instance, might be just and yet be imprudent. In the same way, it may be that you can, in clear conscience, sue this government agency and yet that be an unwise use of your family’s resources and emotional energy right now. Only you, in seeking God’s direction in prayer and the counsel of wiser Christians, can discern that.”

-Russell Moore,  http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/08/01/is-it-wrong-for-a-christian-to-sue-the-government/

What is really behind the boycott of Chick-fil-A

by Trevin Wax

If you’re like me, you’re weary of the excessive politicization of nearly everything in American culture.

Can’t we just enjoy Oreo cookies without making a statement about gay rights? Or savor a chicken sandwich without fear of being labeled a hater or homophobe?

Though I’m weary of our culture’s tendency to politicize everything, I believe this Chick-fil-A boycott has revealed some fault lines in our culture that will lead to increasing pressure upon Christians who uphold the sexual ethic described in the New Testament. Furthermore, in listening to the mayors of Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco, it’s clear to me that – political posturing aside – this discussion may not be about the alleged homophobia of Chick-fil-A’s president but the actual Christophobia of the leaders of the cultural elite.

Christophobia? Isn’t that a strong word? Yes, it is. So let’s define our terms.

First, let’s define homophobia. According to the Anti-Defamation League, homophobia is “the hatred or fear of homosexuals – that is, lesbians and gay men – sometimes leading to acts of violence and expressions of hostility.”

Consider the comments made by Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy that triggered this escapade:

“We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

That’s it. Cathy said, basically, “We believe in the traditional family.” In context, it appears he was speaking primarily about divorce. (What’s next? A sit-in protest led by divorcees?) But this was enough to bring down the wrath of gay-rights advocates upon Cathy and the company.

Though Chick-fil-A hires homosexuals and serves homosexuals (“with pleasure,” no doubt), the company and its president were suddenly labeled “homophobic” and “anti-gay” for articulating the traditional vision for marriage that has been the norm for thousands of years. If the word homophobic has any meaning, then we should reserve it for egregious offenses against homosexuals – not throw the label on anyone who has a conviction about what marriage is.

Now let’s define Christophobia. It is “anti-Christian sentiment expressed as opposition to Christians, the Christian religion, or the practice of Christianity.” When the mayors of prominent U.S. cities in the north and west told Chick-fil-A they would not be welcome there, they were making a statement that goes beyond one’s position on gay rights. These remarks were an example of social ostracism – not just toward those who hold to traditional views on marriage but especially Christians who hold these views and seek to practice their religion accordingly.

Why do I think they were singling out Christians? Why would this be an example of Christophobia?

Consider a different scenario. What if Dan Cathy were a Muslim? What if he had been a Muslim speaking to an Islamic news organization when he said something about marriage and family? Would there have been an outcry against his organization? It’s doubtful. I can’t imagine Rahm Emanuel taking on a prominent, well-respected Muslim businessman, no matter what he would say about marriage and sexuality. (Perhaps that’s why Emanuel has no problem partnering with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan – an outspoken critic of gay marriage – in a crime-reducing initiative.)

And therein lies the discrimination. Do you see the double standard? Those who are problematic, those who must be shut down and made to feel unwelcome, are not really the people who believe in traditional marriage but conservative Christians who seek to practice the tenets of their faith in the public sphere.

What we are seeing today is a massive cultural shift that permits leaders to label Christians as intolerant and bigoted simply for expressing their views about how society should function. But strangely enough, the same social ostracism and cultural condescension are not extended to Muslims and faithful adherents to other religions. No, the prejudice appears to be directed toward Christians who dare to speak publicly about their deeply held religious convictions.

That’s why, at the end of the day, this conversation isn’t really about marriage, gay rights, or restaurant permits. It’s not about the cultural divide between north and south, liberal and conservative.

It’s about Jesus. It’s about the radical sexual ethic He put forth in His teaching – a moral zealousness that hits our current culture’s sexual permissiveness head-on. And it’s about His forgiveness offered to all sexual sinners, so long as we agree with Jesus about our sin and embrace Him instead.

As weary as we may be of the culture wars, the Chick-fil-A controversy is a harbinger of further ostracism to come. In the United States, the words of Jesus are coming to pass for those who hold tightly to His vision of sexuality: You will be hated because of Me. 

So how should we respond? We’ve got to go beyond boycotts and political statements and feigned offense at perceived persecution. We’re called to love those who ostracize us, not boycott back. So let’s trumpet the message that Jesus is for all kinds of sinners, from the self-righteous deacon to the promiscuous transsexual, no matter what kind of vitriol comes our way.

The world tells homosexuals, “It gets better.” The church tells homosexuals, “Jesus is better.”

And that is why this boycott is really about Him.”

-Trevin Wax,  http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/08/01/why-the-chick-fil-a-boycott-is-really-about-jesus/

Was the American Revolution Sinful?

by Jesse Johnsonhttp://thecripplegate.com/was-the-american-revolution-sinful/

orriginal colonial flag

“The Bible is clear that Christians are not to rebel against their government, and that rebellion is sinful. The passage that speaks to this most clearly is Romans 13:1-7:

“Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do good and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.”

So where does that leave the American Revolution? After all, did our founding fathers not rebel against England? Granting that they did, does that mean that fighting for Independence from Britain was sinful?

I don’t think so. Here are three reasons why those fighting for independence were not engaged in the kind of sinful rebellion prohibited in Romans 13:

1) They were not rebelling against their government, but were submissive to their government. The war of independence was declared by the governments of the colonies. In most cases, these were elected governments, often with leaders appointed by England. It was these governments that declared the tax rates unjust, the forced conscription of sailors and theft of property as immoral and illegal, and these governments were the ones that raised an army to enforce the rule of law in the Americas.

Keep in mind that by the 1775, many of the colonists were fourth generation Americans. They had never been to England, and over the previous 100 years cultural and language differences had already developed. The colonies’ assemblies may have had pictures of the King on their walls, but the point is that those legislatures were duly constituted, and were the legitimate government in the Americas. When they declared independence, and rejected the legal prerogative of British Parliament to tax, it then became an American’s duty to obey their government. One could just as easily argue that it would have been a form of rebellion against government to refuse to support the revolution.

Moreover, it was the crown itself that had established these colonial governments. William Penn’s “holy experiment” was described by him as “self appointed government under the crown.” Thus, even the British crown recognized the legitimacy of the local governments, and expected British subjects to do the same.

2) The claim of authority of the Americas by England was arbitrary. If you were a fourth generation American, and had never been to England, a legitimate question to ask is: “Why is the British King my authority?” The British parliament claimed that they had the right to tax the citizens of the Americas. Why were the Indians not the governing authority? Why not the French? Why not the American governments? They all also claimed that same right.

In fact, this is precisely the issue that solidified George Washington’s understanding of British rule in the Americas. As an officer in the British military, Washington’s first mission was to tell a French military outpost in Ohio to disband and leave the area. The French claimed the area fell under their authority, and the Indians agreed with the French. The British claimed it was theirs, and their claim was in essence based on their maps, which simply extended the boarders of the colonies indefinitely to the West. Obviously this kind of claim is not a valid use of Biblical authority and does not compel submission.

colonies with lines

Simply because a government makes a map with you under their authority, does not then bind you under the obligation of Romans 13 to that government (remember how Iraq, after invading Kuwait, quickly published new maps showing Kuwait as a province of Iraq?). In the colonies, Americans were bound under the government that was constituted to collect taxes, pass laws, and enforce peace. By 1775, this was the colonies’ government, not the French, not the Indians, and not the British.

3) There is such a thing as just war. Since the receding of the flood, God had given governments the power to enforce laws and punish wrong doing (Gen 9:6). Since Babel, God has given the earth different governments as the nations spread out from one central point (Gen 11:8-9). Often those governments come in conflict with each other, and this conflict is a form of common grace. It is a check that God has given on evil, and a way of limiting any one man’s power. It is left for the anti-Christ to wield international power, and until then every time a government tries to expand her reach beyond her borders, that government is met with military resistance. When England tried to expand her influence not just to the shore of the Atlantic, but to the mid-Americas, conflict was guaranteed.

It was Calvin that wrote that a lawful magistrate could declare a legitimate government once the leadership of the existing government had given up its right to govern through wrong behavior. This is the difference between a sinful revolution and a just war. It is not individuals that decide they have had enough and rebel–that is unjust, sinful, and lawless. Rather, a just war is declared by a lawfully appointed government in response to a moral wrong imposed on others, and as an act of protection, under the banner of common grace.

Christians have a duty to honor the government. Even if it is unjust, unfair, and wicked, believers are still to submit. If Peter could command people to obey a Roman government martyring Christians for sport (1 Peter 2:13), modern-day believers can certainly submit to their God-ordained governmental authorities.

But that being said, they are compelled to obey the government they have now, not one from generations past, and not simply any claim made on them by any government anywhere in the world. They are called to obey and submit to the one that collects their taxes and enforces their laws, even when that government declares a war for independence.”

-Jesse Johnson

Planned Parenthood Assists Gendercide

Planned Parenthood & Gendercide

“Lila Rose and Live Action have exposed the dark underbelly of Planned Parenthood once again. In the video above, the undercover cameras catch Planned Parenthood helping a woman who says she wants to kill her unborn child if it’s a girl but to keep it if it’s a boy. The Planned Parenthood worker even informs the mother how she can manipulate the system to get Medicaid to pay for her ultrasound.

This is a chilling video. At one point, the Planned Parenthood worker assures the patient that the abortion won’t affect her ability to have children in the future. The worker does so by informing her that she herself has had two abortions and four children.

In 2010, The Economist called the worldwide killing of unborn girls a “gendercide”:

It is no exaggeration to call this gendercide. Women are missing in their millions—aborted, killed, neglected to death. In 1990 an Indian economist, Amartya Sen, put the number at 100m; the toll is higher now. The crumb of comfort is that countries can mitigate the hurt, and that one, South Korea, has shown the worst can be avoided. Others need to learn from it if they are to stop the carnage.

Watch the video above. Read the rest of The Economist article here.”

-Denny Burk, http://www.dennyburk.com/planned-parenthood-assists-gendercide/

Why We Lie

“We like to believe that a few bad apples spoil the virtuous bunch. But research shows that everyone cheats a little—right up to the point where they lose their sense of integrity.”

“Not too long ago, one of my students, named Peter, told me a story that captures rather nicely our society’s misguided efforts to deal with dishonesty. One day, Peter locked himself out of his house. After a spell, the locksmith pulled up in his truck and picked the lock in about a minute.

“I was amazed at how quickly and easily this guy was able to open the door,” Peter said. The locksmith told him that locks are on doors only to keep honest people honest. One percent of people will always be honest and never steal. Another 1% will always be dishonest and always try to pick your lock and steal your television; locks won’t do much to protect you from the hardened thieves, who can get into your house if they really want to. The purpose of locks, the locksmith said, is to protect you from the 98% of mostly honest people who might be tempted to try your door if it had no lock.

We tend to think that people are either honest or dishonest. In the age of Bernie Madoff and Mark McGwire, James Frey and John Edwards, we like to believe that most people are virtuous, but a few bad apples spoil the bunch. If this were true, society might easily remedy its problems with cheating and dishonesty. Human-resources departments could screen for cheaters when hiring. Dishonest financial advisers or building contractors could be flagged quickly and shunned. Cheaters in sports and other arenas would be easy to spot before they rose to the tops of their professions.

But that is not how dishonesty works. Over the past decade or so, my colleagues and I have taken a close look at why people cheat, using a variety of experiments and looking at a panoply of unique data sets—from insurance claims to employment histories to the treatment records of doctors and dentists. What we have found, in a nutshell: Everybody has the capacity to be dishonest, and almost everybody cheats—just by a little. Except for a few outliers at the top and bottom, the behavior of almost everyone is driven by two opposing motivations. On the one hand, we want to benefit from cheating and get as much money and glory as possible; on the other hand, we want to view ourselves as honest, honorable people. Sadly, it is this kind of small-scale mass cheating, not the high-profile cases, that is most corrosive to society….”

By Dan Ariely

Keep Reading: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304840904577422090013997320.html

Slavery, gay marriage, and hypocrisy in the black church

“In the aftermath of President Obama’s announcement that he supports redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, many news outlets featured stories that compared the desire of gay couples for marriage to the plight of the American slaves. In fact, it became a common theme that black churches who opposed gay marriage were guilty of cultural and biblical hypocrisy.

Many of these articles even expressly stated that the use of the Bible to limit marriage to heterosexual unions is tantamount to supporting the kidnapping, sale, and perpetual ownership of Africans as slaves. After all, some slave owners used the Bible to defend the institution of slavery, and some Americans are using the Bible to define marriage, so the similarities should be obvious.

Here is an excerpt from one example, titled “Is the black church guilty of spiritual hypocrisy in same-sex marriage debate?” from CNN’s religion blog:

Why would the black church cite scripture to exclude gays when a similar approach to the Bible was used to enslave their ancestors?

“It’s so unfortunate,” says James Cone, one the nation’s most influential black theologians and author of “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.”

“The literal approach to scripture was used to enslave black people,” he says. “I’ve said many times in black churches that the black church is on the wrong side of history on this. It’s so sad because they were on the right side of history in their own struggle.”

Call it historical irony: Black church leaders arguing against same-sex marriage are making some of the same arguments that supporters of slavery made in the 18th and 19th centuries, some historians say. Both groups adopted a literal reading of the Bible to justify withholding basic rights from a particular group.

These articles (which appeared in dozens of major news publications over the last few weeks) are by necessity short on actual scripture references. But they generally followed this argument:

1. A literal reading of Scripture defines marriage as heterosexual

2. A literal reading of Scripture was also used to validate American slavery

3. American slavery was morally wrong

4. Therefore the Bible should not be used by anyone, but especially black churches, to define marriage

It is precisely the second point—that a literal reading of the Bible validates American slavery—where this argument errs. In fact, the truth is the opposite. Here are four reasons why a literal reading of the Bible actually condemns the institution of American slavery:

1) Kidnapping someone for any purpose—but especially for the purpose of slavery—is a capital crime in the Bible. Exodus 21:16 reads, “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.” This passage, if treated literally, would have ended the American institution of slavery.

2) Slavery in Old Testament times was fundamentally different than American slavery. It was an institution of mercy, which people entered voluntarily, for the purpose of providing for their families. It was not based on the kidnapping, sale, and ownership of individuals. Slaves were released very six years (Exodus 21:2). There is no concept of perpetual slavery in the Bible.

3) The Bible prohibits returning run-away slaves to their masters. Deuteronomy 23:15-16 forbids fugitive slave laws. If a slave runs away, he is given his freedom and is allowed to dwell “wherever it suits him.”

4) In the Roman world, where kidnapping for slavery was more common, the New Testament says that a person who sinned in such a way was not welcome in the church. In 1 Timothy 1:10, Paul writes that “enslavers” have no place in the kingdom of God. The Greek word used for “enslavers” refers to those who took people into slavery against their will.

Much could be said about the horrors of American slavery. But any assessment of the Bible’s teaching leads to the realization that Scripture actually stands in opposition to the American slave trade. Yes, the Bible does say, “slaves, obey your masters” (Eph 6:5). But the kind of slavery described in the Bible is fundamentally different than the kind of slavery that was practiced in the Americas, and any honest historian should know that.

There is a real irony to the accusation that deriving a heterosexual definition of marriage from the Bible is analogous to using Scripture to justify of American slavery. In fact, in the list of practices that have no place in the church (found in 1 Timothy 1:9-10), right before “enslavers” is this word: “homosexuals.” The exact same passage that condemns the forcible trade of humans as property also condemns the act of homosexuality.

You can believe that passage, or you can reject it. But what you can’t do is say that those who twisted Scripture to defend slavery are using the same arguments as those that define marriage in heterosexual terms. The comparison actually goes in the opposite direction:

1. The Bible condemns both the act of kidnapping and the ownership of a person against his or her will

2. The Bible also describes homosexual acts as being sinful

In the gay marriage debate, the ones using slave era hermeneutics are those that ignore the clear teaching of Scripture on marriage.”

-Jesse Johnson, http://thecripplegate.com/slavery-and-gay-marriage/

Same-Sex Marriage Makes a Lot of Sense

“The media is still buzzing with President Obama’s recent announcement that he personally favors same-sex marriage. In 1996, he favored it. In 2004, though, he rejected it (affirming civil unions) on grounds of his Christian convictions that marriage is a “sanctified” union of a man and woman. Now he has reversed that position, again offering his Christian convictions (loving neighbors and being in a church community that accepts same-sex couples) as a rationale.

Speculations about political motivations aside, the President is hardly alone in his waffling over this controversial issue of significance for American society. Nor is he alone among those who say that they affirm same-sex marriage—or their own homosexual lifestyle—as something that is affirmed by God and their Christian commitment.

Makes a Lot of Sense?

Both sides trade Bible verses, while often sharing an unbiblical—secularized—theological framework at a deeper level. If God exists for our happiness and self-fulfillment, validating our sovereign right to choose our identity, then opposition to same-sex marriage (or abortion) is just irrational prejudice.

Given the broader worldview that many Americans (including Christians) embrace—or at least assume, same-sex marriage is a right to which anyone is legally entitled. After all, traditional marriages in our society are largely treated as contractual rather than covenantal, means of mutual self-fulfillment more than serving a larger purpose ordained by God. The state of the traditional family is so precarious that one wonders how same-sex marriage can appreciably deprave it.

Same-sex marriage makes sense if you assume that the individual is the center of the universe, that God—if he exists—is there to make us happy, and that our choices are not grounded in a nature created by God but in arbitrary self-construction. To the extent that this sort of “moralistic-therapeutic-deism” prevails in our churches, can we expect the world to think any differently? If we treat God as a product we sell to consumers for their self-improvement programs and make personal choice the trigger of salvation itself, then it may come as a big surprise (even contradiction) to the world when we tell them that truth (the way things are) trumps feelings and personal choice (what we want to make things to be).

Plausibility Structures

The secularist mantra, “You can’t legislate morality,” is a shibboleth. Defenders of same-sex marriage moralize as much as anyone. They appeal to dogmas like freedom of choice, individualism, love, respect, acceptance (not, tolerance, mind you, but acceptance), and excoriate religiously traditional opponents as hypocritical in failing to follow the loving example of Jesus. The agenda is plainly as ethical as any other. Whatever is decided at state and federal levels, a certain version of morality will most certainly be legislated.

What this civic debate—like others, such as abortion and end-of-life ethics—reveals is the significance of worldviews. Shaped within particular communities, our worldviews constitute what Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann coined as “plausibility structures.” Some things make sense, and others don’t, because of the tradition that has shaped us. We don’t just have a belief here and a belief there; our convictions are part of a web. Furthermore, many of these beliefs are assumptions that we haven’t tested, in part because we’re not even focally aware that we have them. We use them every day, though, and in spite of some inconsistencies they all hold together pretty firmly—unless a crisis (intellectual, moral, experiential) makes us lose confidence in the whole web.

Every worldview arises from a narrative—a story about who we are, how we got here, the meaning of history and our own lives, expectations for the future. From this narrative arise certain convictions (doctrines and ethical beliefs) that make that story significant for us. No longer merely assenting to external facts, we begin to indwell that story; it becomes ours as we respond to it and then live out its implications.

I’ve argued that in Christianity this can be described familiar terms of the drama, doctrine, doxology, and discipleship. But you see it in every worldview. Take Friedrich Nietzsche, for example. The late 19th-century philosopher believed that we came from nowhere meaningful and are going nowhere meaningful, but in the middle of it all we can create meaning for ourselves. Freed from an external creator, law-giver, redeemer, and consummator, we are finally on our own. The parents are on holiday (if there is a parent), and it’s party-time. In Romans, Paul identifies our fallen condition as a pathological inability to be thankful. After all, if reality is an accidental given of a random and impersonal universe rather than a gift of a purposeful God, then the only meaning we have is that which we design and execute for ourselves.

It’s something like Nietzsche’s narrative—the “Nowhere Man” poised to make something of his own individualism and will to power—that creates the plausibility structure of contemporary living in the West. Its central dogma is the will to power and its doxology is actually self-congratulatory, like Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” It yields masters and consumers rather than pilgrims and disciples.

The fact that “moralistic-therapeutic-deism” is the working theology of Americans—whether evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Protestants, or agnostics—demonstrates the pervasiveness of secularization even in our churches. The old actors may still be invoked: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. Bits of the old narrative may still be mentioned: creation, providence, redemption, salvation, heaven. However, the shift is evident enough. These old words are mapped onto an essentially human-centered rather than God-centered map. The map is the autonomous self’s striving to create a sense of meaning, purpose, and significance. Each individual writes his or her own script or life movie. “God” may still have a meaningful role as a supporting actor in our self-realization and peace of mind, but we’re the playwright, director, and star.

So when we come to debates about same-sex marriage in civic debates, even professions of deeply held Christian commitments can be invoked without the biblical narrative, doctrines and commands, doxology, and discipleship actually providing the authoritative source and structural integrity to our arguments.

Conservatives often appeal to self-fulfillment: gays are unhappy. They don’t realize their own potential to mate with the right gender and produce pleasant families like the rest of us. To be sure, there are other arguments, like referring to the decline of civilizations that accommodated homosexuality. However, this is just to extend the pragmatic-and-therapeutic-usefulness presupposition of individual autonomy to a social scale.

On this common ground, same-sex marriage is a no-brainer. Some people are happier and more fulfilled in committed same-sex relationships. There’s no use trying to refute other people’s emotional expressions of their own subjective states of consciousness. Do same-sex couples wrestle with tension, anxiety over a partner losing interest and being attracted to someone else, infidelity, and so forth? Looking at the state of traditional marriage, how exactly are these couples uniquely dysfunctional? A 2006 Amicus Brief presented to the California Supreme Court by the nation’s leading psychological and psychiatric bodies argued, “Gay men and lesbians form stable, committed relationships that are equivalent to heterosexual relationships in essential respects. The institution of marriage offers social, psychological, and health benefits that are denied to same-sex couples…There is no scientific basis for distinguishing between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples with respect to the legal rights, obligations, benefits, and burdens conferred by civil marriage.” Well, there you have it. The new high priests of the national soul have spoken.

How would someone who believes that sin is unhappiness and salvation is having “your best life now” make a good argument against same-sex marriage? There is simply no way of defending traditional marriage within the narrative logic that apparently most Christians—much less non-Christians—presuppose regardless of their position on this issue.”

-Michael Horton, http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2012/05/11/same-sex-marriage-makes-a-lot-of-sense/