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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Setting the Record Straight

How are Christians to respond to homosexuals? New legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is having an impact on many businesses run by Christians. Christians have been forced to think through that question to an answer that is both biblical and kind.

It is clear that God loves all regardless of who we are. He loves all regardless of our sin, and we all are sinners. If God loves all, then it is incumbent upon us to love all.  That includes heterosexuals, homosexuals, and those confused about their sexual identity. It includes murderers, child abusers, liars, the greedy, the sexually promiscuous, and, yes, sexually active homosexuals. We naturally discriminate between sins, making some more serious - and unforgivable - than  others. God does not. Paul writes,
"everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence. But by the free gift of God's grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free." (GNT)
So the first rule we must follow is to love. But that still leaves us with the problem of how to deal with the sin.

If we have a neighbor who is a serial killer, love would lead us to call the police. It would be the loving thing to do both for our neighbor and everyone who might be in danger. If we have a neighbor who is a thief, we would do the same - out of love. But those are both recognized as crimes in our society. What about "sins" that are not crimes?

The truth is that Christians have a poor track record here. We overlook some sins and focus on others. We in America are inclined to consider divorce, for example, as regrettable, but not a sin. The Bible would say otherwise. We think of gossip and gluttony undesirable, but not sin. Yet they too are regarded as sin in the Bible. We overlook most lies, even excusing them in ourselves, yet lying is clearly a sin. Yet when it comes to homosexuals, we instantly call out their sin. If we overlook some sins in ourselves and call out sins in others, that is hypocritical.

We need our thinking corrected. But the solution is not to overlook sin, either in ourselves or others. It is to confront lovingly. But when and how?

My wife and I have both had friends and co-workers who were sexually active homosexuals. Neither of us felt it appropriate to confront them with that sin. There might be a time to do that, a time when we could lovingly do that, but we never felt it was the right time. There were bigger issues. None of these people were Christians. Their bigger need was to know that God loves them, and we decided that loving them was our role.

Of course, if they were to respond to God's love, the sin would need to be dealt with. It would stand in the way as every sin does of any relationship with God. That would be the time to speak. Sin needs to be repented of and forsaken if anyone is to walk with God, be that sin pornography, hate, stealing, lying, or homosexual relations.

Those are simple biblical principles: love and lead that person to the Savior and when it is time urge them to repent of their sin. The pressing issue because of the recent legislation requiring no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is HOW to love the sinner without approving of the sin.

Specifically, can I as a Christian photographer participate in a same-sex wedding? Would that be participating in what is a sin? Can I as a baker participate by providing the wedding cake? Can I as a pastor participate by performing the ceremony? Those all have been real issues for real people in the last few years.

The law says if you are providing a service to the public as a businessman, you cannot refuse to do so on the basis of sexual orientation. But what of our conscience?

Each Christian in those situations must decide. Many Christians have chosen to kindly and without intending any offense decline to participate in those ways. It has cost some of them long drawn-out lawsuits, fines, and the loss of their businesses. So be it. Jesus said that we would suffer persecution if we walk his path. He did. Why should we expect otherwise.  

The one thing that we should not do is retaliate in hate or seek to hurt. Jesus did not. We should not. He continued to love those who murdered him. We can do the same in our much less serious trials.

We do live in America, however. And like Paul who at times called upon his rights as a Roman citizen when he was mistreated or falsely accused of a crime we have rights. We can call upon our rights. We have the right to speak in opposition to the direction our society is taking. We have the right to exercise our faith as we see fit. We have the right to challenge the legality of legislation that forces us to violate our conscience and biblical principles.

If we do, however, we must do so without vitriol or violence.  Martin Luther King Jr. provided a model for us of non-violent protest. He was willing to take the abuse and go to jail for the principle of freedom. And it is our privilege to do the same. And it may come to that. Being careful to let love be always at the forefront of every response.

Friday, October 17, 2014

No Way

Would Jesus Ok Same-sex Marriage? That was the question posed in the title of an article on recently. You can probably guess the answer: Yes, of course. However, you will never believe how the author Jay Parini arrived at that conclusion.

Parini, whose credentials include a book about about Jesus but no apparent training in biblical exegesis, bases his argument in part on a passage in Matthew 19. I would use the same passage to argue the opposite. Let's compare Parini's analysis of the passage with mine. He begins with Jesus' teaching about divorce.

"Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

"And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The only comment Parini makes is that this was the basis for "Christian bias against divorce - a bias that has, necessarily, eased in the past century..." He skates over the truth that was the foundation of Jesus' argument: "God made them male and female and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife...'" That was God's purpose for men and women from creation, Jesus declares, and he argues that this purpose should not be destroyed by divorce.

There can be no basis for homosexual marriages here. Quite the opposite. Though Jesus did not address the issue directly, the logical conclusion would be that homosexual marriage is a perversion of God's original pattern because it is not a union of a man and a woman.

Parini then goes on to quote Matthew 19:10-12. It is his only attempt at a biblical argument.

"The disciples said to him, 'If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.' But he said to them, 'Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.'”

The argument goes this way: This is a difficult passage, he agrees, but it allows, because of the way the word  eunuch is used in other non-biblical Greek texts, for understanding the "eunuch who has been so from birth" as a gay man. This is, he claims the context of the passage and determines the meaning.

He goes no further. He doesn't attempt to argue that being born gay exempts that person from the pattern of marriage being one man and one woman God gave in creation. He simply makes the statement that the passage may refer to gay men. And it may, but that does not support Parini's thesis that Jesus accepts homosexual marriage.

Need it be said that this is terrible exegesis. Context is, of course, important. But the most important context is the passage itself then the whole of the Bible's discussion of the topic then the meaning of the word used outside the Bible. Parini reverses the order and ignores the immediate context and the larger biblical context altogether.

The immediate context is the question the disciples had about how sacred  God holds marriage. (Remember in the passage Jesus quotes from Genesis God's purpose is that men and women will marry and will marry someone from the opposite sex and that their marriage is to be regarded as sacred.)  Jesus answer is that, yes, marriage is sacred. But sometimes not marrying is the necessary choice. Then he gives three groups who may properly choose not to marry or who may not be fit for marriage: first, people who are incapable of sexual union between a man and a woman, next people who have been made incapable by castration, and finally those who choose not to marry for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The point here is there are some who are not included in the expectation that all will marry.

Apparently Parini expects the reader to draw the conclusion from the fact that some are eunuchs from birth that homosexual unions are acceptable. But there is nothing in the passage implying that there is a third alternative, such as marrying someone of the same sex. The simple conclusion is that eunuchs are the exception to the general rule that marriage is for everyone.

But let's broaden the context. Let's consider Paul's teaching on the topic. In Romans 1 Paul writes of those who turned away from God and whose hearts were darkened. Among the consequences of that darkening was this:

"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error."

This should be enough to establish that homosexual unions are perversions. They are contrary to nature as God created it. They are dishonorable. And they are sinful.

There are other passages equally clear, but this will do.

The answer to the question would Jesus approve of homosexual marriage is no.

This is not a condemnation of homosexuals. Perhaps they are born that way; perhaps they are made that way by men. There is no condemnation for being who you are. But it is a condemnation of homosexual unions. If homosexuals wish to live in accordance with God's purpose, they must choose not to marry, just as those do who sacrifice marriage for the kingdom of God.

Parini, though he makes this brief and rather offhand reference to Jesus and the Bible for support, does not really base his argument on the Bible. Rather he bases it on the changing opinions of men, quoting and misquoting among others Jimmy Carter and the leaders of the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches who have endorsed homosexual marriage. Maybe the title of the piece should have been "Does the Modern Religious Establishment OK Same-sex Marriage?" Had that been his thesis, his answer, sadly, would have been accurate; they do. But Jesus? No way. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

ObamaCare and Common Core

For our own good and for the good of those who are unable to improve their own lives the government has taken on that role. The government, for example, is making sure that everyone has health insurance. That is good news for those truly can't afford health insurance and for those who can't find an insurance company that will insure them. It is bad news for those who for reasons of their own or because they can afford to pay for their health care would not choose to buy health insurance. But the problems do not end there. The Affordable Care Act will ultimately limit the health care available to many who now have excellent insurance and care.

It has already limited my options. I am on Medicare. Medicare sets limits on the amount it will pay health care providers. The result has been to reduce the number of doctors who will accept me as a patient. I am relatively healthy at the moment. So I don't need much in the way of health care. But the chances are that one day I will. The big question is whether I will be able to get the healthcare I will need. Right now getting through the system of primary providers to be able to see a specialist is so time consuming that any critical problem will likely not receive attention before it becomes too big to adequately treat.

The same is true of the Common Core State Standards for education. The CCSS as it is known attempts to establish standards for the English (ELA) and math curriculum and to make those standards the same across the United States. As with the Affordable Care Act, there is good news for some. In many schools the standards for English and math are low. Students are graduating from high school without the skills or knowledge base to succeed in college. And across the country standards vary so much that a student transferring from a school in New York probably will not be on the same page as the new school in Nebraska. The CCSS bring those schools into sync with one another.

The other benefit is there is a new emphasis on preparing teachers for the more rigorous environment of the CCSS classroom. Teacher training is light years ahead of where it was when I graduated from college. But there is bad news as well.

The bad news is that many excellent schools with creative curricula and high standards are being forced into a one-size-fits-all curriculum that is crippling the creativity of the teachers. But that is not the worst of the CCSS. Performance on the national standards are tied to federal funding for schools. That pressures schools to teach to the tests that are given to access performance. Since those tests are given in every grade and repeatedly throughout the year, almost all the instruction will be teaching to the tests. The cascading consequences are that school administrations, teachers, and students are living with continual stress, something that is similar to test anxiety. And after all that, fewer students are succeeding. The standards have been raised before the quality of instruction has adapted to the CCSS. That will result in fewer students succeeding rather than more.

So what has this to do with Christian worldview? Our worldview includes the conviction that every person is an individual and that every individual has personal responsibility for his or her life. ObamaCare and the CCSS make the government the caretaker and forces students and all of us, in regard to health care, into a system that promises maximum benefits at the lowest cost but which, in fact, reduces the benefits to those who are most likely to find a way to succeed on their own. And reduces the incentives to do so.

ObamaCare and the CCSS are socialist answers to problems that are best addressed by individual effort and enterprise. The better solution is to allow the government to subsidize health care for those who cannot afford it - as it has been doing - while allowing the free market to provide health care insurance on every level for those who wish to buy for themselves the level of insurance they want.

In the case of the CCSS, raising the level of student success is vital for our nation. But to do that by limiting the best students is counterproductive. One answer seems to be charter schools that provide creativity and flexibility free from the burden of standardized tests and set students free to rise to their potential. There are schools like that. They are schools where teachers and administration believe in students and allow them opportunity to explore and grow rather than forcing them into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

It is amazing what a student can accomplish when she is set free. However well intentioned, CCSS will not do that. I think it is a mistake turn in American education just as I think Obamacare is a mistaken turn in healthcare.