Saturday, August 22, 2015
By Randy Nabors, (the imperfect husband)
1. Sometime in the relationship you have to choose to love the person they are, and accept the idea that they don’t have to be (maybe will never be, maybe should never be) the person you want them to become.
2. Sometime in the relationship you should finally want and try to be the person they hoped you would be. The speed in the pursuit of this desire should be in direct proportion to their concept of the ideal you which matches conformity to Christ.
3. Hopefully, soon in the relationship (and for the rest of your life,) you should begin to attack your own essential selfishness and carry your own part of the load, and some of theirs.
4. If, or when there comes a time in your relationship when everything has become routine and there is no spark or joy in your daily interaction, you should refuse to settle for the status-quo and take some practical steps to re-connect and re-ignite emotionally. Take action on this quickly, and reject the tendency toward emotional laziness.
5. Hopefully, sometime soon in your relationship (and for the rest of your life) you should care about the spiritual health of your spouse, and pray for them. Seek to listen to them with spiritual discernment and compassion. The primary verb here is to “listen” and not to correct, fix, preach, or criticize.
6. If you love them you will pray, work toward, and plan how to give them some spiritual support, without condemnation, manipulation, condescension, or ultimatums. Here, make a practical list right now:
7. If you love them you will think about the ratio of what encouragements, thank-you-s, and compliments you give compared to the amount of criticism or silence you share. Make sure the silence you share is the message you mean to give.
8. Being nice, polite, and kind is its own kind of romance.
9. Keep flirting (with your spouse) and be funny. Write your own memoir on “how not to be boring!”
10. Get over being resentful when your spouse tries to help you or compensates for your obvious weaknesses.
11. Count the number of “no’s” you keep giving to their ideas, plans, or desires and ask yourself if that is the signal you want to send about your love and care for them. Work on generously pleasing your spouse.
12. Every once in a while, just for the love of them, do something for them (and I emphasize here for them) that they aren’t expecting (especially when they aren’t expecting it) that you are pretty sure they will like. Birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas is obligatory so go beyond the norm. Don’t be “norm,” unless you are.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Recently I read an article from the Atlantic Monthly (Why So Many Black Men Are Dying In America by Jeffry Goldberg) in which it cited that 260,000 African American men were murdered between 1980 and 2013. I have also heard that the number of homicides annually is about 15,000 in America. These are frightening numbers, but just like all statistics it doesn’t really strike home until it happens to someone you know, or in your family, neighborhood, church or even to you. If it happens to you then of course it will have to be others who are shocked because you will just be dead.
It is helpful sometimes to do that with statistics, not to simply read them but to imagine someone you love could be in that statistic, or that it might someday be you. Driving down the interstate the other day I saw posted on one of the electronic boards the number of people killed this year in Tennessee, and then it hit me that I knew one of those people and had called him a friend. The moment went from a sober warning to “damn,” because it hurt. We need to move from ignorance about this bloodbath to knowledge, and from knowledge to empathy, and from empathy to enough outrage to do something about it.
The public outrage over the killing of unarmed black people by police, as well as videos of sometimes vicious police beatings of handcuffed individuals, has sometimes been met with a scolding comparison of black on black violence and murder. This comparison seems (at times) to be offered as a way of minimizing the injustice of oppression and brutality by authorities, and is met by frustration if not anger from those who are calling for justice. It seems to be offered as a way of saying, “if you were really interested in black people being killed you would do something about the violence in black communities by black people.”
The evaluation of what black people are concerned about when measured by a distant white population may have more to do with the national media and what they chose to cover, and events that are “coverable,” then it does with reality. The estimation of whether or not African Americans are concerned about the rate of violence in their communities cannot be measured by riots showing anger, or the burning or looting of stores, which sometimes happens in the frustration of reacting against oppression by government authorities. While in not in any way seeking to justify those reactions, how would those kind of activities make any kind of sense or be at all a symbol of frustration for something that doesn’t present an easy target such as the cultural reality of violence and murder?
I suspect that an immediate response to the protest of police misbehavior by bringing up black on black crime is a cynical way of using a problem the critic is probably not really concerned about to deflate the legitimacy of black anger. Whether this is a racist response or a political one I am not always sure. I also strongly believe that those who are concerned about police misbehavior cannot, and must not, diminish the urgency about what is truly a national tragedy and scandal, and that is the murder of so many of our nation’s young African Americans. Both of these issues are of immediate and fundamental concern to the African American community, but should and ought to be of immediate concern to everyone.
These two concerns are not totally unrelated but they should not be used against each other to diminish the pain of either. Certainly the violence that has caused the deaths of so many young African American men has also brought many of them into conflict with the police, and sometimes created a climate of fear even among some policemen who throw suspicion on all young black men. One unfortunate result of the alienation from the police by the population of young African Americans in the inner cities of America is the difficulty in using the police to effectively cut down on the violence. It has usually been true in the matter of homicides that most people kill other people within their own racial group. The problem of black on black violence is not that fact, but the facts revealed in the numbers. The enigma that needs to be unraveled is why so many black people get killed by other black people.
Why should we be so concerned about this violence, since this is really just a problem in the black community? Are some of those who have been killed guilty of murder as well? Yes, some were. Are some of those who have been killed gang members? Yes, some of them were. But, were some of them kids walking home from school, athletes playing ball or coming back from practice, children sitting on a porch or playing in their yard, or watching television in their own home and bothering no one else? Yes, too many of them were. This is where we dare not let the numbers or the frequency make us callous to the bloodbath. Death by murder is a sin, a crime, a tragedy to the victim, their family, and a loss for the future of the community and the nation. It is injustice, certainly in a personal sense, but also in a national sense if we will not rise to help put an end to it.
Why, and from whence, does this bloodshed arise? What brings about this passion to kill one another? Why are so many of the “brothers” killing “brothers?” The rate of women being murdered in gang and vendetta killings seems to be rising as well. What has made life so cheap? That quantitative query begins to get at the heart of the philosophical question and I would say it is a theological one as well. We are speaking of a lived out anthropology, in the sense of, “what is a human being, and what is he or she worth?”
God’s book, the Bible, has an anthropology. It has a measurement of the value of men and it has a perspective on their identity and purpose. Each one is made in God’s likeness, and when we hurt people we are attacking what rightly belongs only to God. Though each man’s “God likeness” has been marred by sin, and though every human is broken spiritually and morally, God proved our worth by sending Jesus to die for us. Our worth is proved throughout the universe by this simple phrase, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”
God’s book, the Bible, has an anthropology. It has a measurement of the value of men and it has a perspective on their identity and purpose. Each one is made in God’s likeness, and when we hurt people we are attacking what rightly belongs only to God. Though each man’s “God likeness” has been marred by sin, and though every human is broken spiritually and morally, God proved our worth by sending Jesus to die for us. Our worth is proved throughout the universe by this simple phrase, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”
The irony about all this killing among young black men especially is that the life of another becomes cheaper the more one strives to makes one’s own life count, not just physically but emotionally. The more someone feels threatened, disrespected, and insulted the more they might want to authenticate the value of their own life and that might be by the killing of the one who dared to insult, disrespect, or attack them. So, in a vicious cycle, the hunger to feel worthy creates a devaluation of another’s life (the insulter), and ultimately diminishes the value of the one feeling insulted as they become an insulter, violent, and a killer in return.
Ultimately men cannot diminish other men but only themselves. Worth comes from God and not by how we are treated by others; psychologically painful as abuse may be. The psychic pain during any dehumanizing attack comes from a lack of the knowledge of the love of God for ourselves within ourselves; from a failure to know or believe the value he puts on our lives. We cannot increase our worth by illegally and unjustly taking the life of another. Street cred doesn’t really make anyone more of a man. Our lives already have worth, no matter how poor, ignorant, ugly, or bestial they seem to be. Each person is made in God’s image, and when we despise a man or a woman we despise God.
The culture says otherwise. God puts in us a sense that we are worth something, and we each yearn to see that realized in ourselves. Yet, the culture tells us anyone but ourselves is not worth that much. The sense of self-worth, especially for those without fathers and who are poor, comes from the thrill of instant gratification (such as the killing of my enemy), a quick climax of feeling that proclaims we are loved, a winner, and worthwhile. In fact the opposite is true, as there is no accomplishment in the murder or maiming of others. All that remains is the guilt, if we still have that sensitivity, or the callous numbness of being a socio-path, or the uselessness of a life lived in a jail cell bordered and hemmed in by memory and the feeling of futility.
This is a culture of death, and it is one segment of the broader cultural definition of a materialistic and mechanistic view of human life. This culture of death limits every person’s view to the immediate plus or minus benefits in each relationship. Could a culture that produces so much abortion possibly be related to the casualness of life and death in ghetto gangs? Could the disrespect of police against those citizens they are in the act of arresting have something in common with the disregard for life by gangbangers? I am sure some policemen would be insulted to think so, as would those who might think it is time to end the life of grandma since she is a drain on the pocketbook. They might think their actions are within their rights and so much more nuanced and intellectual, but it sure seems to look like a cost-benefit ratio. My life counts and yours doesn’t is the mathematical formula, if it interferes with my prospects for happiness. We seem to live in a society that says, “I really don’t owe you anything unless I am forced by law or public observation and opprobrium to give it to you.
Men and women are more than that and we owe each other more than that because God has made us more than that. We still believe the conscience tells everyone this fact, no matter how the present evil day tries to shut it up and shut it down. This present philosophical-cultural devaluation of human life, the agonizing emotional quest to think of ourselves as important and necessary complicated by the spiritual emptiness left by absent fathers plus the peer attraction for young men by other young men involved in action and violence drives the frequency of using the seemingly ubiquitous availability of guns to settle the question of identity and worth.
We all ought to be tired of seeing and hearing people use one tragedy to diminish the pain and importance of another. This is collectively our country, our society, and our culture. We are all walking in the blood and we don’t just need more impermeable boots to feel comfortable in it. We need to change our thinking so that we can change the way we are living, and killing, and dying.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
There are two dynamics of current American life that are on my mind as I write these articles. One is the too often tragic confrontation between African Americans and police officers, which I will write about first, and the other is the mass killing of African American young men. These two experiences are related in some ways, and unrelated in others. I believe the relation that these two kinds of events have in common are shared with other dynamics in American life as well.
My sense is that this commonality follows from a philosophy that underlies a lot of behavior in our culture, and most likely a philosophy that is often unconscious, but which affects behavior nonetheless. The philosophy of which I speak pertains to the arbitrary value of persons and this is in direct correlation to how some people think of other people as made in the image of God, or not. The prevailing philosophy of which I speak is the denial that human worth (or even person-hood) is simply due to a person’s existence, but that worth can only be affirmed when there is pragmatic utility, cooperation in the general stream of my or “our” corporate sense of security and well-being, or potential to be a contributor to such.
If this philosophical cultural stream is not changed then that stream will continue to take us down the river of death. We are going to have to expose it, refute it, repent of it, and change streams in mid-boat as it were if we are as a society going to see a real difference in how we treat one another.
If all human beings are made in the image of God, in God’s likeness, then their lives are important. They matter, and they have worth, and they are worthy simply because they are human, alive, and have that life as a gift of Almighty God. Of all people police officers need to have this belief. It doesn’t matter how well some have lived that life, how mean or impoverished their circumstances, how ignorant or vile their lifestyle, how uneducated or uncultured, or even how limited we sense their potential might be. Their value is not bestowed by men, their worth is not determined by other humans, since no human being had the ability to create that life. Biologically men have the ability to beget, and women have the ability to bear, children. None but God have the ability to create and give life.
If this is so then only God has the right to say when a life should be taken, and for those of us who believe the Bible we think he has done just that, by creating limits on who, and by whom, and when a life should be taken. This limitation is not just in the sense of the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” (which I understand as a prohibition to murder) but also in the acceptance of the sacredness of the image of God in man. James, in his epistle, reveals this sense of the sacred as he speaks about how we use our tongues, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.” (James 3:9) Once this sense of sacredness (seeing God) in other human beings is gone then anything becomes possible; seeing certain groups (of people) as obstacles to our economic progress, abortion, torture, murder, and even genocide.
Many unbelievers and scoffers of Biblical literature see it, the Bible, as a bloody book. Certainly the history it reveals has some bloody parts to it, and admittedly some of the God directed acts of violence make it seem as if it is not in touch with our modern sense of morality or human rights; as if modern morality was better, or more humane, or that modernity had allowed us to view human beings today with greater kindness and compassion than the Bible does. I don’t think a fair reading of modern history, or the philosophical trends that have guided how we have treated one another in our present age can possibly be compared favorably to a Biblical ethic or value on human life. In fact the vestiges of a Biblical world and life view might be the only thread holding us back from wholesale slaughter. Even directions in the Bible for the execution of those guilty of murder was due to the worth of that lost human life, and it is an affirmation of the dignity of the life of the guilty that makes them forfeit it.
The conflict between certain policemen and members of the African American community have exposed what I believe are examples of this human denigrating operating philosophy. We are living in an age of social media where immediate accountability by video allows the general public to make assessments as to whether authority is being properly exercised in the use of force. Fast leaving us are the days when we could just accept the word of a policeman as to why someone has been arrested, or why someone’s face looks like it has been beaten, or why someone is now dead.
These videos have shown us one alarming fact, some policemen and police departments have lied about how they have treated citizens. That fact ought to be alarming to all of us. For those in inner city communities this does not come as a surprise, but it has to some in the privileged class who seem to have had the expectation that authority figures never lie.
This is why being a believer in human depravity is fairly stabilizing. Who would think educated lawyers would ever deceive (except when they become politicians), or doctors would lie about treatments and costs to get richer, or students at elite universities would cheat on tests so they could pass or keep a good grade point average? Who would think judges would take bribes to send children to detention to enrich the owner of detention centers (as was recently done in Pennsylvania)? So we see that sometimes the real criminal is not the black young man who was driving while black, but possibly a brutal thug wearing a uniform and a badge who decided it was okay to be abusive and then lied about it.
This abuse of authority is especially galling because it strikes at the heart of our democratic system. If our history is correct it is one reason our forefathers fought the revolution so as to create this country, and why some of us have fought to maintain its principles. When authority is abused it puts not only individual citizens at risk, but the very system which requires respect and support from the entire community to be effective. It also puts the lives of officers at risk, as sooner or later citizens in their anger take upon themselves the role of vigilantes to overthrow what they think is abuse. This was done from time to time in towns in the old West as marshals were run out of town, as I believe happened to the Earp brothers a time or two.
The moment a police officer thinks or acts as if this “perpetrator” is less worthy of respect or less deserving of human rights than he is, despite the pragmatics and necessity of his job, he or she is devaluing the worth of that person. Here is a counter-intuitive thought, the consciousness of the sacredness of persons is most important when bad behaving persons need to be constrained, restrained, arrested, or stopped by deadly force. When we argue that it is okay to torture those in prison for terrorist acts because they are no longer worthy of human rights, we have stopped believing in the sacredness of persons.
The use of force by police is supposed to be progressive and proportional and only escalated to the point of deciding the issue so the offending person is controlled. Some officers have taken this to mean that they have the right to smash heads into the ground, pound suspects with fists or batons even though they are handcuffed and immobile, gratuitously body slam others, and even use deadly force (though not in moments when their life is in danger) simply because they were afraid, nervous, or angry.
The wide space of an officer’s discretion as to what constitutes “resisting arrest” has allowed for too many abuses. For the record let me state this clearly, in all the thousands of incidents between citizens and police on a daily basis most people are treated with courtesy and respect, even when they get arrested. Nevertheless, the continued occurrence of deadly decisions between armed officers and unarmed, and now deceased, African Americans is and ought to be a cause for national concern.
Now, any of us, even while believing that people are created in God’s image might still become angry and lose our self-control and hurt someone. Yet, I think we are dealing with more than the immediacy of our emotions in many of these confrontations. We are sometimes dealing with a despising of certain groups of people by authority figures and a reckless disregard of their human dignity when they must be brought into restraint or, even more on point, when they don’t have to be restrained but an officer simply wants them to be.
We readily admit that there are many people who act nasty, show disrespect to officers, are threatening and intimidating, and whose general behavior is disgusting. We admit there are some very bad people out there who are dangerous and need to be locked up, and we need the police to do that. The police have such a very hard job to do. Their vocation necessarily calls for them to suffer, but I am afraid that the present practical ethos in some departments calls for them to avoid suffering by making others suffer first.
All lives do matter, though some who have said this have misunderstood the context and injustice of not admitting that “black lives matter” is an important and necessary statement for our nation. This is because it has been the evidently widespread and too frequent occurrence of the shooting and killing of unarmed black men which has led to such community tension over the last year. It is not new, and that just gives impetus to the fact that change is long overdue.
We will speak next as to the devaluing of human life and how it plays a part in the slaughter of so many young people, mostly by gun murder, in the African American community.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Dear Brothers in the various Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America,
Greetings to all of you in Jesus name! I am writing as a response to the events at the General Assembly held this summer in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I am writing in an attempt to provide some ideas as to how Presbyteries and Sessions might proceed in thinking about and responding to a call for repentance for the actions or non-actions of our founders , or ourselves, during the time preceding and during the Civil Rights Movement and our national historic break with a segregationist past.
Now, I am aware that this letter may be unwelcome by some of you if you have already come to the opinion that there was no sin on our part, or the part of our founders, and think therefore that no corporate confession or repentance is necessary. There may be no acceptance that the sins contained in what we know as racism are continuing or that we (as PCA members of the dominant white culture in America) may have some responsibility concerning their reality and continuance. Obviously that conclusion has to be made first if there is to be any humble and open discussion of these matters.
I know that some Presbyteries have already begun to discuss this, with the assumptional foundation that there has indeed been sin, either of commission or omission, in regard to loving African Americans in particular and other ethnicities, besides ourselves, in general. Having been asked by several presbyteries about guidance in these matters I thought I would send out a general letter with some things to think and pray about that might help you as we prepare for next year’s General Assembly when these matters will again rise for discussion and action. I write this as an individual Teaching Elder with some experience in these matters, but I speak for no agency or organization as I do so.
I do write in the joyful optimism of the forgiveness of sins, the healing of the Body of Christ, and the anticipation of a reconciled community. I am in no way suggesting a kind of “witch hunt” or a shunning of people who have not yet come to my conclusions. I don’t believe racism is the “unforgiveable sin” except in the hard standard of the book of I John where hatred of our brothers means we cannot truly love God. I am writing with an awareness of my own sinfulness in so many areas of my own life, and an appreciation of God’s wonderful patience with me and the patience of many Christians who have prayed and yearned for my own spiritual growth and maturity. I yearn for it too.
Please forgive me for my presumption in regard to giving you any unsolicited advice, as I know not all of us have reached the same conclusions in these matters, although many have. I understand that if this letter offends you that you most likely won’t use any of my suggestions. Obviously I am writing with the conviction that there certainly has been sin in America, and sin in our churches, and sin in our hearts as members of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is neither about the sins of government, nor about society in general, but our sins as Christians and by our denominational forefathers, and the negative results of sin that we might still encourage by our silence or passivity.
CONSIDERATIONS OF OUR PASTAND PRESENT IF SINFUL:
1. Were our denominational antecedents supportive of segregation, and resistant to the integration of minorities in our congregations?
2. Was our particular congregation supportive or active in segregation, and resistant to the inclusion of minorities into the life of our congregations due to racial attitudes of superiority, or disdain for minorities?
3. Did any of our congregations begin on purpose as a segregated congregation?
4. Were any of our founders, as expressed in their actions and writings supportive of segregation or held racist views of minorities, and have we failed to confront them?
5. Have any of our founders or present ministers used the Scripture in ways that distorted and misinterpret the Word of God due to a racial bias, to include such teachings as the curse on Canaan in Genesis 9, the using of ethnic and national segregation for purity purposes in the Old Testament as a prescriptive teaching for our own American experience, the teaching in 2 Corinthians 6 about not being unequally yoked together with unbelievers as a teaching against inter-racial marriage? Have we failed to call them to a more correct use of exegesis and interpretation?
6. Have we indulged those who were racist in our congregations and failed to confront them in not loving their neighbor as themselves, or not loving their brothers who also confess Christ?
7. Have we told racist jokes from the pulpit or in company with other church leaders and members?
8. Have we cast minorities as negative stereotypes in our sermons and teaching?
9. Have we purposefully made choices about our evangelism and discipleship to avoid racial and ethnic minorities, or as an attempt to resist their entrance into our churches, schools, or agencies?
10. Have we cared nothing about justice for minorities, or those who have been oppressed socially in this country, and stood by and said nothing about prejudice, attitudes of racial superiority, laws and policies that economically exploited and hurt ethnic groups purposefully and in return acted to our own racial and ethnic advantage? Have we neglected the weightier matters of the Law?
CONSIDERATIONS OF PROCESS TO DISCUSS AND PRAY THROUGH THESE MATTERS:
1. Schedule time to discuss, think, and pray about these matters in your meetings.
2. Have someone preach from Scripture relevant to these matters.
3. Invite experienced Teaching Elders who think, write, or teach about these matters to speak to your Presbytery, Session, or Congregation.
4. Have open discussion times, or a Committee of the Whole, to discuss these matters.
5. Welcome personal moments of testimony or confession, and cover those saints with prayer and assurance of love.
6. Find and circulate a reading list about these subjects from a Biblical perspective, buy books and distribute them to your members to help them.
7. Pursue ethnic minorities for discussion and input, ask for their advice.
8. Don’t place the burden of plans for action on the backs of ethnic minorities by asking them what we are to do, but certainly ask for their wisdom and perspective on these things. Remember, no one person can speak for a whole people group and it is not fair to ask them to do so. Minority individuals may differ in their opinion concerning these issues or what actions we should take.
9. Come up with a Presbytery plan of action. Is there a committee that should be established to help the whole presbytery think about issues of justice and inclusion on a regular basis? Is there an overture that should be sent to General Assembly that would help the whole denomination think and deal with these things? Is there a statement that should be made in your own local community or region to ethnic leaders or ethnic and minority congregations and pastors? Is there some kind of meeting that should be held with them to help bring reconciliation?
10. What meaningful discussions can we have about mono-racial churches, both in the majority population and in minority populations? When and why is that Biblical, healthy, and glorifying to God and when is it not?
IDEAS FOR ACTION:
1. Include racial history and attitudes in your Presbytery exams. If racism is a sign of ungodly character, then hold members accountable for it. In examining for church history make sure candidates understand this part of our denomination’s history.
2. If there are significant minority populations in the area of your presbytery is the presbytery proactive in seeking to plant churches in those areas? What would it take to be successful in seeing PCA churches planted in minority communities?
3. Is the Presbytery active in seeking to initiate Gospel ministry on any HBCU institutions in your boundary?
4. What efforts have we made in insuring multi-racial involvement on any of our agency boards of committees? How can we make sure racial minorities and their perspectives are included in these national ministries?
5. Are we keeping an eye on racial inclusion and racial and ethnic enlargement on faculties, campus ministries, missionary teams and candidates, and staff?
6. Are we encouraging all of our Teaching and Ruling elders to learn cross cultural skills in ministry?
7. What kind of financial support do we need to provide for recruiting, educating, training, credentialing, and deploying minorities into PCA ministry? What plans can we make to raise that money?
May the Lord help all of us move toward peace, healing, and unity in the Body of Christ over these issues. May the Lord give us all wonderful moments of love and reconciliation as we pursue these discussions.
The Peace of the Lord be with you, and His Church,
Teaching Elder(HR), Tennessee Valley Presbytery
Monday, July 20, 2015
Some authorities seem to be having a problem finding a motive for the killing of our marines and a sailor in Chattanooga this July. There seems to be a hesitation to call it terrorism if the perpetrator cannot be proved to have some connection to a terrorist organization. Since the killer was a Muslim the authorities are obviously looking into Islamic Jihadist movements.
There is of course a problem in that thinking, and that is a failure to understand the motivating factor of religion within an individual to produce an act of terror. This attack was against our entire nation, not simply against a location, not simply against individuals, as those who were attacked and killed were representatives of our nation’s armed forces. I don't believe this was typical American work place violence, or done from a despairing sense of nihilism; any target will do for that. This was too political a statement to be dismissed so easily. Two military locations were targeted, although one location might have simply been to draw off the police so the killing could take place in another.
It may be proved that the killer was in contact with some particular organization, or at least reading online encouragement for Jihad and the call to commit attacks against the U.S. by the end of Ramadan. That is when it happened, but again whether that is what the attacker intended is still unknown. Whether he was in contact with Jihadis, or simply inspired by propaganda, or motivated by things he heard and saw while visiting the Middle East, it is still possible something else was at work and that something may have simply been religious zeal.
There is a political conundrum about blaming a religion for horrendous acts against our nation and culture, although those who have been our enemies have consistently and outspokenly explained their murderous and heinous acts as religiously motivated. The obvious problem of simply blaming Islam for the terror is that not everyone who is a Muslim is a terrorist, for which we are grateful. That would make things fairly simple, but overwhelmingly horrible, and the war would therefore have to be horrendous to put it down.
Preachers know that one sermon can make the difference between someone who is a “backslider” or “prodigal” and one who now has a fresh passion and commitment to God. Ramadan is a time of year when Muslims get in touch with their religion, they get back to the basics, they seek for a spiritual revival. The Muslim killer not too long ago had a DUI, which is not a sign of being a good Muslim. I am not sure what he did with his guilt about that, but I have a suspicion. Christians are well aware of spiritual revival and renewal, when our faith is “radicalized” and we become more fervent. This is something common to religious adherents.
What is not common is murder, and this is exactly where Islam and Christianity part company. This is one reason I am so grateful that the Bible is a book of progressive revelation, where the Old Testament unfolds into the New Testament. When a Muslim becomes “radical” in their faith all the teachings of the Koran become motivating to them, even the ones that construe the killing of non-Muslims to be something their Allah would approve. For Christians to become radical means we become more like Jesus, and thus more loving and more forgiving.
All religions have splinter groups that are not consistent with the fundamental principles of that religion. All religions have “cults” and charismatic leaders who delude their followers into stupid and perverted twists on the original religion. For Christianity to be “fundamental” means to love more, but that is not true for Islam. Islamic fundamentalism doesn’t need a cult to make it dangerous, it has always been a militaristic and imperialistic religion, and it is a great blessing to the world for most of its adherents to be “moderate” about their religion. It is a shame for so many Christians to be “moderate” about theirs.
There have been seminars and conferences to bring about some understanding of what has radicalized Muslim young adults. Opinions have been offered about poverty, displacement, alienation, and other emotional and social causes. It seems like it is forbidden to simply say, “ah, how about religion?” If it could simply be renewed fervency of Islamic practice that means it is fairly unpredictable, or very predictable, depending on how you look at it.
The secular West has a very hard time trying to figure this out. We seem to have the expectancy that people will privatize their religious beliefs, be non-intrusive to others, and that religious adherents would subordinate their beliefs to a Western pluralism. Secularists have few tools to understand Islam nor do they have the ideas to clearly speak to its dangers without sounding undemocratic. The mass migration of Muslims to countries of the West without their willingness to assimilate either to Christianity, or to Western secular ideas (and this is not to include materialism or technology which Muslims can readily embrace) makes radicalized individuals, in our midst, far too possible. For Christians being a martyr means to die for your faith, for a Muslim it means killing infidels while you die for your faith.
We are not speaking of crazy people here nor of deadbeats and losers. We are talking about smart, educated, earnest young people who want to make a difference in life. Unfortunately the religion they have become fervent about means that to make a difference might come through murder, beheading, suicide bombing, kidnapping of young women, and taking children into slavery. Since the West has decided it doesn’t know what its values are, or which cultural values it should keep, it has opened the door to all kinds of difficulty in stemming what it will call “inexplicable” acts of violence.
There is another problem that is closer to home for Christians. The question is how can we love Muslim people while understanding that the religion they hold might cause them to act in hate toward us, and might motivate them to kill us, and has motivated other Muslims to kill our brothers and sisters around the world? How can we love Muslims who hold to a religion that might at any time motivate some of them to kill our military members, our own sons and daughters, in the name of their Allah? This is hard, but it has always been hard for Christians to love those that hate them, and yet at the same time it has always been the command of Christ for us to do so. In times like these we will need to believe that the grace of God is able to help us to do just that.
Thursday, July 9, 2015
It seems to me that we have a conflict of compassionate perspectives when it comes to immigration. Sometimes we hear stories of undocumented immigrants who are caught by the reality that though they live in the U.S., possibly came here legally but overstayed their visa, or were brought here by their parents but now because of the law may be sent back to a home they no longer acknowledge, nor do they wish to return.
I have been asked by pastors what to do with someone their church has come to love and to whom they have shown mercy, but the only way they can survive is in a hidden economy, and surviving with the constant dread and anxiety of being caught and deported. How can a local church help them, past consulting with lawyers, providing emergency food and transportation to church, maybe even housing? What the person need's is a legal job, but that is one thing the church can’t provide without actively breaking the law. However, no matter how desperate things seem to get the person will not willingly return to their country of origin. They wait to find someone to marry, or for the law to change in the hopes that they can stay. Most churches come to the end of what they can legally do and continue to assist in some frustrated manner as they wait to see, with the individual, how the story will play out.
Whether individuals or churches become advocates for changes in the immigration law or not it is the immediate response to human need and the limitations of only being able to do so much that usually frustrates them. Advocacy is the long fight while mercy is the near fight right in front of them. On top of this are the moral and ethical dilemmas of seeing some wonderful people live in a shadow world where they choose to break laws to make a living, such as false or stolen identity, driving without a license, fake social security numbers, or living off of a cash economy and not paying taxes.
While it is understandable for people to want a better life, I admit some Americans find it difficult to feel a lot of compassion for people who have lived a lie only because they want to make more money, or live better materially, but face neither real poverty nor political or religious persecution back home. Some of these folks knowingly took advantage of the visa program and stayed when they should have gone home, and now realize that if they do go home voluntarily they will have to wait years before they can ever ask to come back to a country they have come to love.
Americans can be in favor of a generous immigration policy while wanting people to obey the laws we have created to make immigration somewhat of an orderly process. No matter the many stories that seem to show America, and Americans, resistant to a flood of undocumented aliens the truth is that we allow many thousands of refugees to enter and live in our country every year, besides those who apply to legally emigrate from their own country through embassies.
There is another perspective about compassion beside the immediate concern of a desperate individual or family and their fear of being sent back to their country of origin. This is a larger concern about the incentive for migration that inadequate and inept policies, laws, and enforcement have created so that people foolishly risk their lives. Most of us have heard horrible stories of “coyotes” and smugglers exploiting people, of sometimes tragic endings to trips across the desert, or folks who die in shipping containers. I don’t know if anything has matched what has been happening in the Mediterranean Sea, where thousands have drowned attempting to reach Europe.
Another way of being compassionate is to make laws enforceable and sensible so that a tempting incentive doesn’t lead people to take unreasonable risk. Migration has been a constant of human existence. It is rare that migration doesn’t come without some kind of conquest, either in a militaristic or cultural sense. If these migrations were actually invasions nations would fight to protect themselves. They would see the coming of hundreds of thousands of “foreigners” as an attempt to supplant the indigenous folks, or to eradicate their cultural and religious traditions. These modern migrations don’t have tyrants, conquerors, or generals behind them but they are culturally transformative even so. Do nations have a right to protect themselves from that?
Europe especially faces this question, and it is exacerbated by the migration of religious populations that do not want to assimilate into the majority culture. Certainly when the Europeans came to North America they weren’t interested in assimilating into Native American culture, rather they wanted to convert the natives, or supplant them by killing them, depending on which group of Europeans one reads about.
The struggle in the U.S.A. is not the supplanting of Ketchup by Salsa as the number one condiment, but the resistance of some immigrant groups to assimilate into our political and linguistic culture, and the despising of a broken immigration system. The hype about immigrant crime, about exploitation of government aide and resources, and even about Democratic party use of the issue to gain votes isn’t statistically worth the amount of print or verbal debate used on it. We have more than enough indigenous crime and abuse of the welfare system to reveal that immigrants mostly work hard, very hard, and take care of themselves compared to many of our born here citizens. We won’t protect ourselves from bad people by building bigger fences, but by building a better and more just immigration system, and allowing people with an aspiring work ethic to help build the wealth of our nation.
It is my expectation that nations will become more conservative in regard to receiving massive amounts of immigrants, legal or illegal, legitimate refugees or not. They will stop adhering to the United Nations standards of providing safety for these migrants, and they will send them home or refuse to help them. This will especially be true of those nations in the developing world that become “holder” type nations, near neighbors of places from which people are fleeing but which do not have their own resources or infrastructure to care for such large groups of people. It is becoming all too commonplace for huge refugee camps to exist for too many years, condemning whole generations of children to grow up in them as a displaced people. War and famine, but slow national and international adjustments to these realities as well, create horrible results.
For us in America we have to figure out how we can remain true to our heritage as a nation of immigrants, even those forced here by slavery, and provide a sensible, just, and compassionate avenue for the huge amount of folks who want (at risk of exploitation, loss of their wealth, loss of life, and detention) to come and live here. It is not compassionate to simply throw the doors open and think this will solve the problem, it will in actuality make it worse, and create a stampede which will inevitably trample those attempting to get here and create a fresh xenophobia. Since our political hysteria has created a paralysis of using our American ingenuity and “can do” attitude we are now beset with a minority sub-culture of “illegals.” This issue is so full of political demagoguery that any possible leadership on the issue gets sabotaged by the ideological extremists of either party. Somebody in politics hear me, “stop using fear and give us some creative solutions!”
No matter the political attractiveness of a self-righteous call for “no amnesty,” we have to figure out a way of clearing the table for a just system. Clearing the table means an over-haul of how we identify every person who is here in the shadow world and bring them into the light, and make them legal in some form or fashion. We must find a way to incentivize this path. In the case of real criminals they should be imprisoned enough so they won’t just come right back after a fast deportation. If we do this in such a way as to make it clear enough, attractive enough, arduous enough, systematic enough, and inviolable enough from cheating or gaming the system, we can then reform how large the doorway is for new aspiring and legal immigrants. That doorway is too small, and too confusing, and just invites cheating. My call is for a renewal of American generosity, a reform of a broken system, and a strong and enforceable policy that cannot be easily circumvented.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Though not surprised I am saddened, and ashamed, by the majority decision of our Supreme Court. I am saddened and ashamed for several reasons. One is that it seems to me to be “bad law.” What I mean by that is that it is a reading into the Constitution and not a reading from it. The Constitution is a problem document because at times what could be read “from” it was bad, i.e., the Dred Scott decision, and what has been read into it, i.e., Roe vs. Wade, has been bad. The way to correct what was in it was to write a constitutional amendment, which we did, and now to correct what has been read into it we probably need a few more amendments.
I am aware that amendments are politically determined, and that is usually culturally determined, and that is another thing that saddens me. The cultural revolution that came out of the turmoil of the Second World War, by the “Greatest Generation,” continues to put the nation into moral decline. Springing from the unraveling of much of our traditional American culture, and our traditional morality, came a huge sexual revolution. Parts of that revolution were the sexual emancipation of women, the weariness of condemning premarital sex, the Playboy titillation of popular culture, no fault divorce, the welfare support of promiscuity, birth control, abortion on demand, the proliferation of legal pornography, the ending of sodomy laws, the support of gay rights, and now the legalization of homosexual marriage.
If you think about it that is quite a cultural ride in a very short time. The constant reality of sex is not new, nor is sexual temptation, nor is same sex desire, only the onus we have historically, and now have not, put on these things. Many of the reasons there was an onus on those behaviors had to do with some very concrete and valid concerns, let alone that of religious proscription. Technology has given many the feeling that culture can now be changed because birth control is possible, abortion is safer (for the mother), there are medicines for sexually transmitted diseases, and sophistication about relationships and gender roles should deliver us from masculine and paternalistic possessiveness, i.e., violence.
This of course is a delusion, and one fueled by the idea that “screwed up” sex doesn’t screw people up. It is as if we as a nation have become sociopathic when it comes to sexual relationships; as if connection, disloyalty, abandonment, meaning, guilt, and shame can be dispensed with either by technology, identity movements, or court decisions.
This essay is not about my views on the practice of homosexuality, same sex attraction, nor how we ought to treat those involved in homosexual lifestyles, and now what will pose as marriage. It is rather about how this affects Christians in their understanding of political conflict.
I am saddened by this decision because as some of the justices who wrote in the minority have predicted this sets the nation on the course for lots of conflict over the freedom of religion. The worst fear I have is that this will inevitably lead to violence by and from some who think that since this was one of the freedoms our forefathers fought and died for it will be worth fighting and dying for it once again. We will certainly see civil disobedience at various levels. I am saddened that there is a naiveté that this decision will somehow change the opinions of religious conservatives over their religious values concerning homosexuality. Religious liberals (and it should be pointed out once again that Christian Liberalism is a different religion than Christianity) have standards they refuse to change, but a commitment to Biblical absolutes is not one of them. That is not true for Evangelical religious conservatives, who make up a fairly large segment of our population.
I am saddened because the will of the people in many states has been overthrown by this court, and this will lead to cynicism about the political process, and probably more extreme partisanship in the playing of political games to frustrate the goals of the “other” party. If there could be a straightforward way to impeach such judges for misreading and misusing the constitution that might be helpful. Again that is a political decision based on the cultural commitments of the populace, so I doubt that will happen.
I am saddened because religious conservatives are not united as to a working theology of how to deal with politics, government, or bad law. There is a wide spectrum of opinion about these matters among Christians. Religious people don’t always have a conscious awareness in themselves of the theology from which they are operating as to political events, and some are very conscious albeit mistaken in their understanding of Biblical imperatives and American historical reality. I speak here specifically of those who have responded to this decision with a pietistic love and Gospel rhetoric that seeks to be non-offensive to people who not only live an immoral lifestyle and have now made it legal, but made it legal in such a way as to force Christians to accept it and support it in various economic and social forms.
It is popular to dismiss cultural Christianity and civic religion as a distraction from the true Gospel. It is fairly common to hear criticisms of an attempt to get back to the “faith of our fathers” especially due to what was a sordid mixture of racism and cultural hegemony which justified and supported slavery and genocide of native populations. There is distaste for the flavor and trappings of the “Moral Majority” movement and the integration of political conservatism with Christianity, as if gun rights and more money for defense expenditures was Biblical. I admit that I pretty much agree with these criticisms of Christian cultural movements.
However what I fear I am hearing and seeing is an abdication of civic responsibility by Evangelicals. As if this nation was not formed to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” There seems to be an acquiescence to cultural depravity and evil, and an apologetic that the best thing we can do is be a minority and have a witness of love no matter how unjust or immoral the laws might be. This political surrender is as if to say if we have no voice or say in those laws and that is neither true nor safe for us.
A vigorous and prophetic call for justice is not incompatible with the Gospel call. The articulation of sin and judgment is not the same as being judgmental and self-righteous nor should be. We are a nation where the people define morality and legislate it, as the recent court decision so aptly reveals. Our cultural movements lead to political movements which lead to Presidents who pick the judges who reveal their commitments to the cultural movement which brought them to power. Why are we walking away, and justifying to ourselves that it is okay for wickedness to own our country?
Our choice is not the Gospel or politics, not in this country, not yet. We don’t have to be the church of the catacombs or the house church movement of China, no matter how romantic that sounds. If you wish to discard all the righteous cultural impact the Church has made for goodness in society you can be blind if you choose to be, but why would you want to deny what the presence of salt and light has given to the world since the Roman Empire? If we remain silent and accept defeat, and even wallow in an idea that we should be defeated because it is better for our witness, I don’t think we understand the Word of God or American democracy. If you are cheering on evil because you think it will hurry up the rapture I don’t think you will find any encouragement from Scripture for that posture.
We don’t have to be demagogues, we don’t have to take to the hills and be freedom fighters. We can and ought to be lovers of all people, self-confessing as to our own weaknesses, humble and willing to listen and discuss yet determined in our commitments to the absolutes of God. We should be determined to press for righteousness at all levels of government, in its application of laws and especially in their formulation. We obviously will suffer some defeats, this doesn’t mean we are wrong in our convictions, nor even in our involvement in the legal and political process. The other side has certainly believed in political organization and expenditure.
There is a way to be loving, kind, and righteous in our relationships with both allies and enemies, especially enemies. This is one place where some have failed in their ability to reconcile the issues of justice and morality with a Gospel witness.
I am saddened, and I am ashamed, as other believers must have been when they heard the pronouncement of the Dred Scott decision. What a long suffering they endured, and a war, to correct it. God forbid it should come to that, but may God give us the tenacity to care for our nation and the souls who live in it as they did.