Category Archives: Politics and Religion

Election 2012 Postscript

Here are some of my reflections for my fellow followers of Christ with regard to the political process and our faith.

Voting is a privilege but it is not an obligation

I read a lot of statements from many sources about the obligation we have to vote.  Some put it this way:  if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.  Others said:  Voting is one of the most important things a Christian can do. Others whined:  my vote doesn’t mean anything (because their candidate lost).  Some opined that people weren’t smart enough to vote.  Voting is either overblown or undervalued.

What you need to remember is that voting is a privilege and not an obligation.  I mean that in two ways.  First, if someone doesn’t vote, they remain a citizen, with all the rights of citizenship.  They can still have an opinion and even express that opinion.  They can still exercise their rights as citizens.  Secondly, if you don’t like any of the candidates you are not obligated to mark a ballot.  It is OK to leave it blank.  If you are unfamiliar with the issues in a proposition, or never heard of any of the judges, it is not obligatory to vote for “anyone.” If the candidate you want to vote for doesn’t have a chance to win, you should still vote for him/her.

In the majority of elections, one vote is inconsequential.  If I failed to vote yesterday, the outcome would have been exactly the same.  But as in all corporate activities, to conclude that my vote is meaningless is to ignore the value of the corporate activity.  The more people who vote, the better idea we have of the values in our nation.  The fewer who vote, the more prognostication is necessary. In one of our local school board elections the margin between winner and loser was 7 votes.  Our tendency is to conclude that in that particular instance any single vote was more important than if the margin was several hundred thousand.  That tendency would be mistaken.

Elections are not Sporting Events

Last night was not Team Red vs. Team Blue.  Elections are not Christians vs. non-Christians.  In fact, many Christians find themselves with differing opinions on issues.  I am surprised at how many people assume the how and who of my ballot.  You might be surprised.  Many evangelicals voted for Obama.  You can’t fathom how that is possible, but it is true.  Their vote was thoughtful and prayerful. Many unbelievers voted for Romney. Their vote was not driven by the same rationale as yours – but you see them as on your side because they root for the same team.  The polarizing result from viewing elections as sporting events keeps us from healthy dialogue as a nation, a nation that is made up of different  people.  The longer we wag our fingers at others from an elevated posture of holiness the more peripheral we become in a pluralistic context; the more we resemble the mullahs and extremist elements in Islamic nations.  So, on the one hand we view negatively extreme Islamic fundamentalism while practising our own version of “acceptable” Christian fundamentalism.

Theonomy, Christian America, Pluralism

Christians view politics differently.  Some Christians want to restore the Law to government, that is, they want God’s laws to be the laws of the land.  These Christians hold to what is called “theonomy.”  Other Christians want to see a America return to its Christian roots and  they see America slipping further and further away from those roots.  In many ways this is a muted form of theonomy.  Other Christians hold to a pluralistic view of government.  Since our nation is made up of many groups of people who vary in their religious and moral outlook, government recognizes the existence of these differences and allows for tolerance in the system to accommodate the variation.

I find it obvious that America was not founded as a religious entity and that even if our founding fathers were devout believers, they recognized the inherent danger in the mixture of church and politics.  They were running from that sort of tyranny, at least in part.  Our nation’s growth has brought much diversity into the country, and the role of government is to govern the whole, not the part.  People who disagree with us morally and theologically have rights and it is the government’s role to protect their rights.  Christian citizens should be supportive of that posture, it benefits us as individuals, it benefits the status of the church, and more importantly it is right.  A pluralistic perspective on government does not weaken the internal values and stances of a church or its membership.

The Church’s Role

“Reform is no answer for a culture like ours. Redemption is what is needed, and that occurs at the individual, not societal level. The church needs to get back to the real task to which we are called: evangelizing the lost. Only when multitudes of individuals in our society turn to Christ will society itself experience any significant transformation.”
– John MacArthur

I think that John McArthur is right here.  His implication is that movements on the part of Christians aimed at reforming culture through means other than personal transformation fall outside the focus of the church.  Our focus is gospel ministry, not political movements.  Our hope is not in a particular candidate, our fear is not of a different candidate; our hope is placed in the power of the gospel to change the hearts and minds of culture.

If you believe that America is headed to hell in a hand-basket (which is debatable), then I challenge you to stop pointing fingers at the nation for acting according to its nature, rather we should be asking why the gospel (which is the power of God for salvation) and the church (against which the gates of hell shall not prevail) is ineffective at transforming culture.  If we are not being salt and light then we need to spend some introspective reflection on the reasons for that failure.

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Eric Metaxas at 2012 National Prayer Breakfast

Eric Metaxas spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast which you can watch below, well worth the 30 minutes.  He is a well-known author, his biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a good read.

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Who Are Those Guys?

This last weekend “a group of evangelicals” met in Houston Texas to endorse a GOP candidate for President.  Tony Perkins, the assigned spokesman for the group, released a statement that “there emerged a strong consensus around Rick Santorum as the preferred candidate of this room…a clear, clear majority”.  The meeting was “secret” and “anonymous”.  The participants were asked to remain silent for a 24 hour period after the event to make sure a united statement (via Tony Perkins) would emerge from the meeting.

It seems to me that the list of participants at the meeting should be made public if the group is going to presume to speak for such a large and diverse group as “Evangelicals”. I have seen the number of attendants range from 150 to 180.  In several different news reports I have read there were three ballots/votes taken at the meeting which all reflect different numbers of people voting (1st ballot: 123 total votes; 2nd ballot 119 total votes; 3rd ballot 114 total votes). So there were at least 123 people at the meeting – obviously a vote count is not the same as a head count as there are many reasons a an attender may  not be reflected in the vote count.  Some people had to leave the meeting early to get back to their churches and get ready for services but here are the results from the three votes as reported by the Washington Post:

The group had agreed that its minimum threshold to support a candidate was a three-quarters vote. However, the balloting on the first round was far closer than that, with Santorum receiving 57 votes; Gingrich, 48; Texas Gov. Rick Perry, 13; former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, 3; and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, 1.

In the second round, in which participants chose between the top two finishers on the first ballot, Santorum received 70 votes to Gingrich’s 49.

It was not until the third ballot, after some of Gingrich’s supporters left, that Santorum cleared the three-quarters threshold, receiving 85 votes, to Gingrich’s 29.

Here are the people who I have been able to determine were at the meeting.

  • Judge Paul Pressler, host and owner of the home where the meeting took place. (Description from his facebook page:  The Hon. H. Paul Pressler III is a former Texas Appeals Court Justice, and is principally known for his role as the architect and leader of the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.)
  • Tony Perkins, President of Family Research Council
  • James Dobson, Founder of Focus on the Family (source)
  • Gary Bauer, president of Campaign for Working Families (source)
  • Pastor Richard Lee, First Redeemer Church in Cummings Georgia (source)
  • Pastor Jim Garlow, Skyline Church, San Diego California (source)
  • J.C. Watts, Former House of Representatives R-Oklahoma (source)
  • Richard Viguerie, ConservativeHQ dot-com (source)
  • Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America (source)
  • Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia Attorney General (source)
  • Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Council/PAC (source)
  • John Stemberger, president of Florida Family Action (source)
  • George Barna, The Barna Group (source)
  • David Lane, California-based political activist (source)
  • Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association (source)
  • Bob Vander Plaats, The Family Leader, a political organization (source)
  • Erick Erickson, blogger for RedState dot-com, radio host (source)

If you know of any more, add them in the comments.

My opinion about this meeting is here…

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An Evangelical Papacy?

I just wanted to sit down, watch some football, read the last in the Hunger Games series and enjoy a Sunday evening.

But the “evangelical leaders” (whoever they are) went and almost ruined my day.  Last night, just in time to make the announcement for Sunday morning, an anonymous group of “almost 170 conservative leaders” met in Houston, Texas and decided that Evangelicals are endorsing Rick Santorum as the Republican nominee for president.

I don’t know if I could have said it any better than Jim West at Zinglius Redivivus in a post entitled Endorsements by Clergy Are Meaningless (And Evil), but he was brief, and I want to expand on why this meeting and this action is so wrong.

The term “Evangelical” refers to a particular form of Christianity, ie, the Church.  Churches are not political entities, nor should they be.  Pastors should not “endorse” candidates, nor should they involve themselves in political activity.  Pastors and “churches” should hold themselves apart from the political enterprise.  Christians, as individuals, can and should involve themselves as free citizens in a free and democratic society.  And they should be guided by their convictions.  Their convictions are guided by the church.  But the direct involvement of the church/pastor muddies the waters and weakens the church.

These 170 or so “leaders” may not all be “pastors” but I venture to say that many of them are, and their intention is to “influence” the votes of the “evangelicals” by endorsing Santorum.  But they met anonymously, used the media power of organizations like Focus on the Family (James Dobson and  Jim Daly)  and the Family Research Council (Tony Perkins) presumed to “speak” for the church, albeit distancing that moniker in favor of the more general term “evangelical”.  These guys want to speak for the church, but represent no particular church and are not empowered by the leadership of any particular church.  It is no wonder, any church that would promote this sort of buffoonery has no business calling itself a church.

They met “in secret” and “anonymously.”  I have looked for  a listing of this group, it should be easy to find, but have been unsuccessful.  Should I not have the ability to find out who this group of leaders who is speaking for us “evangelicals”?  This sort of clandestine meeting is shameful.

Here is the most that should have happened. This group meets and hashes out their consensus and then Tony Perkins comes out and says, “Family Research Council endorses so and so”, “Focus on the Family” endorses so and so” or “Blank Church endorses so and so” or “Pastor Blank endorses so and so”. Why did they do it this way?  Why not have one of the “organizations” endorse?  The National Association of Evangelicals may have been represented, wouldn’t it have been more “official” if they presumed to speak for us?  Why didn’t they?  What they have done appears to be an end run around behavior that might threaten their tax exempt standing.

To sum it up in a word:  Pathetic.

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Q & A: Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?

As a pastor I get lots of questions, here is one of the more interesting ones I have received lately:

Hi Pastor Steve, I have a question I’m hoping you can help me with. What, if any, is your church’s opinion on birth control pills? I’ve been on the pill since we got married and neither of us had any convictions against it, but Sunday we were listening to Mark Driscoll’s Religion Saves and there is a part where he talks about all the different birth control methods and what is ok for Christians. When he came to the pill he said that Mars Hill hired doctors (I think 5) to do a study and that they concluded that they cannot confidently say that the pill doesn’t cause abortions, nor can they say that it does. Because of this his family decided to be cautious and not use it, they also don’t recommend anyone in their church use it. He said they certainly don’t consider it a sin or something that would involve church discipline but they do strongly caution against it. This was all news to us, we certainly don’t want to be taking any chances if the pill does cause abortion so we are praying about it and seeking counsel. So that is why I wanted to ask you if NCC or yourself had a stance.

Thanks!

Here is my response:

NCC does not have a policy regarding birth control pills.

My understanding is that the primary way birth control pills work is that they prevent pregnancy mainly by stopping ovulation. That would mean that no eggs are being fertilized hence no abortion. There are other corollary effects of birth control pills that in cases where an egg is produced and fertilized these corollary effects make it difficult for the egg to implant in the wall of the uterus and as a result of that is “aborted”, or miscarried.

This is not a new discussion, it is odd to me that Mars Hill “hired’ doctors to do this study. Randy Alcorn wrote a book on this in 1997 called Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? The “issue” really has to do with the ability of the fertilized egg to implant with the existing conditions caused by the added hormones. You can find that information through a simple Google search, or looking in the Physicians Desk Reference.

If I were to write Randy Alcorn’s book I would title it: Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Miscarriages? (it wouldn’t sell as many books though) That seems to be the essence of the moral argument: what is the true nature of the effect that is described as “abortion” in this instance. Abortion seems to me to be a deliberate action after the fact, “I find that I am pregnant, I don’t want a child, I take steps to end the pregnancy” or a specific decision to use a device that has as its main function to work after fertilization (like the IUD or RU486).

But the main purpose and function of the pill is to prevent fertilization from occurring and as a side effect it makes it more difficult in the rare instance of breakthrough ovulation for the egg to implant – not impossible just more difficult. I would call this miscarriage not abortion. You are not doing anything in a moral sense to “abort” you simply are taking the risk in good faith that feritilization will not occur. So your decision it seems to me is are you willing to take a risk that a breakthrough ovulation might lead to miscarriage. I still think that is a decision to pray over, I just think it is inflammatory to speak of that as “abortion” as it doesn’t have the same moral qualities.

for what its worth…

Steve

For a much different perspective, here is a PDF link to Randy Alcorn’s book: Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?

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Must Read Book; Must Change Idea

Every Christian should read this book.  Not because it is the best written or most compelling, rather because it challenges a widely held opinion that is detrimental to global peace.  Arabs and Muslims are real people with real concerns, children, jobs, and rights.  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not representative of all leaders in the Middle East; Osama bin Laden is not representative of all Muslims in the Middle East and the world.

King Abdullah II of Jordan has written a book called “Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril.”  It is not the most compelling or best written book, but it is an important one.  I am not naive enough to think it is not a propaganda piece, but it provides a necessary beginning to balance the propaganda that overwhelms our media in the US with regard to the Middle East.

Maybe the most complex issue facing our world today is peace in the Middle East, specifically the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  This is the underlying issue behind our current battle against terror.  This is a must read book for every Christian because every Christian needs to begin to look at the broader issues in play in the Middle East and our blind allegiance to one party and our tunnel vision regarding reality in that complex arena needs a straight challenge from a reasoned voice. King Abdullah provides that voice and perspective.  He humanizes the “other” side in the Middle East;  he speaks for the moderate, reasoned Muslim.  Read the book.  Read all of it.  Then begin to listen to the rhetoric without the blinders and start to fact check the “propaganda” – obviously both sides see and portray issues their way.

Here are some statements from King Abdullah’s book:

“Some people in the West and Israel like to portray [the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians] as the continuation of a centuries old struggle.  They are wrong.  It is a relatively recent conflict, rooted in Jewish immigration into Palestine in the early twentieth century.”

“The settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem stood at around 265,000 at the time the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993.  The number had risen to about 365,000 in 2000, and to over 400,000 in 2003.  This growth was a reflection of the fact that Israel never stopped building in the new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a politically incendiary move…also a clear indication that Israel was not committed to a two-state solution.”

“Speaking in the name of God can all too easily serve as a justification to suppress debate.  Putting yourself on a moral and spiritual pedestal allows you to condemn any challenger as morally bankrupt.  And this absolutist view becomes dangerous when it is combined with politics.  Suddenly, your political opponents become not merely people with differing values and ideas about how to organize society, but enemies of God.”

“…resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict is in the national interest of the United States, Europe, and the rest of the international community.  The Palestinian issue is of paramount importance to more than a billion and a half Muslims across the world;  as such, it truly is a global issue.  Many men of violence use the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, especially East Jerusalem, as a rallying cry…Terrorist organizations exploit the legitimate frustration of Muslims over the failure to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories…it is imperative that we resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in order to deprive these extremists of one of their most potent appeals.”

That’s the must read book, here is the must change idea:  “Christians are on the side of Israel by default.”  It is time to challenge this widespread but fallacious idea.

Many Evangelicals equate support of Israel with a mandate from God and that the land of “Israel” belongs to Israel by divine decree, for all time.  These convictions are theologically questionable and ignore 1900 years of history.

Promises made to Israel in the Old Testament are covenant promises.  They remain intact as long as the covenant remains intact.  The argument of Jesus and the New Testament is that the Old Testament Covenant with the nation of Israel has come to an end.  The new covenant that God makes with Israel is not political or geographical in nature, rather it is a covenant that is based on the work of Christ and includes not only believing Jews, but is extended to believers of all the nations.  It’s geographic focus is not on the land of Palestine, but on the globe.  It’s political focus is not on national Israel, in fact it has no political component.  Verses like:  the one who curses Israel will be cursed, the one who blesses Israel will be blessed refer to the ancient covenant made with Israel and have no connection, logical or theological, with the present nation of Israel.

That doesn’t mean that Israel doesn’t have claim to a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  It just means that we don’t view them as superior to Jordan, Syria, Egypt or the Palestinian people.  The Christian view is not to back Israel because God backs Israel, rather it is to back Israel as a nation of people who have needs for economic, political and religious existence in a state of their own.  The same goes for Palestinians.

As a result of this blind allegiance Christians have been exploited by politicians in the US and Israel. Our naivete has contributed to the continued inability of the parties in the Middle East to achieve a real and lasting peace.  We need to admit that it has and begin to use our voice to influence change here and abroad.  It is time to change our ideas about the present state of affairs in the Middle East.

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10 Reasons to allow a Mosque near Ground Zero

I have a feeling I am going to be in the minority on this one…

My parents are Russian immigrants.  They left Russia for greener pastures fleeing Stalin and to a lesser degree looking for religious freedom.  My mom was a Russian Baptist, my dad a Molokan.  The Molokans especially were in the minority and not a favorite of the Pravaslavnye (Orthodox Church) although small enough to fly under the radar.  Nonetheless, it was a minor factor in their emigration from the then Soviet Union.

Now the Molokans are an exclusive albeit non-violent sect of Christianity.  The history of the movement is not well documented, but it appears as a reactionary response against Orthodoxy started by a charismatic figure who had a dramatic and prophetic role in the lives of the people around him.  He wrote a book, started a movement, an it still exists today.  There are 5 churches in the Los Angeles area; others in San Francisco, the Fresno area, Oregon and I am sure other enclaves in the US. I called the Molokans exclusive.  Theologically (although this too is hard to nail down, no formal doctrinal statement, no uniform authoritative body to define the fine distinctions of theology, connections that are based to a great deal on the ethnic/social ties of community as opposed to systematics or ecclesiological structure.  In light of this the following characterizations may not be universally declared but they certainly are around) Molokans feel a certain chosen status, a sort of inheritance of the chosen people status that belonged to the nation of Israel.  As a result they follow some of the civil law of the Old Testament:  dietary laws, a version of the feast /holiday calendar.  They  would not encourage intermarriage, in fact it is much stronger than that.  There is a name for outsiders:  “not ours.”  To marry outside puts you outside.

I raise all of this because it is relevant to groups I don’t agree with having religious freedom, and the importance of that liberty with no respect to a particular religion, even my own.

It is absurd to object to the proposed Mosque near Ground Zero. Here is why.

First, the truth is that the mosque is not on Ground Zero, it is two blocks north of Ground Zero.  In response to the claims that the allowance of the mosque there would violate sacred ground is based on proximity to Ground Zero, this is two blocks away – this is not the sight of the deaths and it is a stretch to consider the building to be on sacred ground.  This objection is pure emotionalism.

Second and related to the first, the placing of a mosque so close to the sight of so many deaths is insensitive to those who lost loved ones on 9/11.  This emotional argument makes the mistake of encouraging the false notion that all Muslims and all mosques are culpable for the events of 9/11.  This is not true on any level.  Nurturing and fostering this falsehood does not heal the wounds of loss.

Third, a corollary to 2:  Muslims lost their lives on 9/11.  They worked in the twin towers and they are as much the victims of the terrorism as any other humans in the building.

Fourth, at the time of 9/11 and even now the criticism of non-extremist Muslims, Muslims who do not agree with Islamic fundamentalism the terrorism associated with Islamic fundamentalism have been criticized for not speaking against the terrorism.  Now, a mosque that is not interested in terrorism, with a leader described by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic as that kind of Muslim “Bin Laden fears most: a Muslim who believes that it is possible to remain true to the values of Islam and, at the same time, to be a loyal citizen of a Western, non-Muslim country”, is being proposed.   We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t criticize Muslims who bury their heads in the sand and remain mute and then criticize those Muslims brave enough to make the kind of statement we have begged them to make in the first place.

Fifth, we live in the USA.  This country was founded in part on the right of religious liberty.  Our forefathers left a nation where the government favored its own religious expression and attempted to make all others conform with their brand of religion.  What is being suggested is simply unconstitutional.

Sixth, the only people happy about this situation are  (a) ignorant and fearful people who are making serious errors in judgment and logic, and (b) those opposed to ALL religious groups having access to buildings like this for their meetings and having any privileged standing in our tax codes as non-profit and religious institutions.  If we restrict Muslims from building mosques we have no grounds to apply for the building of churches.

Seventh, the location of the mosque in this instance is really a red herring.  Groups are protesting mosques in other areas (including Temecula for my local readers) on similar grounds without the emotional connection to Ground Zero.  This points out that it really isn’t an objection to the location, it is an objection to Islam.

Eighth, standing up for the rights of Americans is a good thing.  Taking away the rights of American citizens is not an appropriate response to the plague of terrorism.  Saying the truth in this instance does not equate to an apologetic of Islam.

Ninth, generally religious institutions have a positive effect upon society.  Granted, some religions are superior to others and I think one is true in a way that all others are not, yet most religious institutions attempt to instill values in the hearts, minds and behaviour of their followers.  Many are manipulative, controlling and otherwise despicable, but in general they are a positive force in culture.  Islam has examples of both.  So does Christianity.

Tenth, the potential for evil resides in the heart of man.  Individuals can be dangerous.  Individuals who get power and influence over a group and couple that power with evil intentions are more dangerous.  When individuals do double duty, that is they serve in positions of power in more than one sphere they can be incredibly dangerous.  Islam’s major challenge in my opinion is that they have not solved the relationship between church and state equation.  As long as those issues are intertwined to the degree that they are indistinguishable, we will be facing an entity that has great potential for evil.

There is a confusion of this legitimate overarching concern with the illegitimate opposition to this mosque. In general, as Christians we are opposed to the religious war aspect of Islam (our limited understanding of the idea of jihad).  A caution is not to bear arms as “Christians” against “Muslims”, rather to support a response to terrorists, and believe that in attacking terrorists we understand that there are those living in proximity to the terrorists who desire relief from the terrorism as well. Essentially we must take care to diminish the religious war overtones inherent in this worldwide issue.

When some of those who lived in proximity to terrorists leave and find their way to the land of freedom, let’s not put them without cause in the same box as the terrorists.

Read this NY Times article entitled The Danger of Demonizing Adherents of Islam

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Islam is a Dangerous Religion?

The Christian Post published an article entitled  ‘Islam Is a Dangerous Religion,’ Most American Pastors Say using data provided by Lifeway Research.  See also this article by Ed Stetzer entitled Protestant Pastors and Islam.

Just for the record, I don’t think Islam is a dangerous religion.  Wrong yes, dangerous no.

I believe that religion (for the most part) produces good results.  Pious Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindu’s, Sikh’s behave better on the whole than non-religious people.  This is not a dig against atheists or agnostics or secular humanists, rather it is a simple observation about the power of religion to make people behave better.  I think that this is popular opinion as demonstrated by parents who turn to religion as a help in raising their children.  They don’t necessarily see it as important for themselves, but they need help constraining and directing their kids and religion helps them accomplish that.

Religion has also great potential for abuse, as does every human institution.  “Human” being the key term.  Humanity is the crucible for evil.  This doesn’t disprove any particular religious claim, it too is simply an observation.  Islam is no exception,  as a human institution, ie humans are involved can be a motivation for bad human behavior either on a personal or corporate level, it can be dangerous.

My father is an immigrant.  His family escaped the Soviet Union in the early 30’s.  As they traveled from the Soviet Union into Iran (then known as Persia).  As they entered the country they encountered some Kurd’s who stole what little food they had, raped one of the women in the party.  Now the Kurd’s can be Muslim, but can also profess Christianity.  Don’t know if these robber/rapists were Muslims or Christians – but I do know that if you talked to a devout Muslim or devout Christian, they would disavow this behavior.

Further down the road they encountered a lone horseman who passed them on the road.  As they traveled further down the road they saw that he had stopped and was resting under a tree.  When they approached he signaled that they should stop and come over to him.  Fear gripped them;  what would he do to them?  As they came to the tree they saw that he had spread a rug and on the rug were raisins and bread and water.  He motioned for them to eat.  When they had finished – he rode off.  This Iranian man was most likely a Muslim.

When they arrived at the town they were greeted by many villagers who held out bread to them and bowed.  These people were most likely Muslims.

Persia/Iran is one of the most ancient civilizations in our world.  Their contributions in the areas of philosophy, literature, art, mathematics, astronomy and medicine cannot be underestimated.  They were not always Muslim, and even while they have been Muslim, they have not always been ruled by Islamic fundamentalists.  To characterize all Iranians/Muslims based on the behavior of the fundamentalists in charge is not a sound approach.  I don’t like the Ayatollah Khamenei or Khomeini and I abhor current  President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Not a few Iranians would agree, wholeheartedly.  Many are simply products of their environment and are helpless to instigate or initiate any sort of change.  They are simply living day to day, surviving, living, loving, raising families and pursuing dreams.

Please don’t misread this post as a defense of Islam.  It isn’t.

Islam is not a dangerous religion, humans are dangerous.

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We Did It!?

I wrote this blog post the day following the election, November 5, 2008.  I decided to postpone posting it because of its sarcasm, and I really don’t think the issue is gay marriage, rather how we impact and influence society and culture.  Now, here is where people will get sidetracked from my argument, so let me clarify.  I am not “for” gay marriage.  The phrase gay marriage is an oxymoron.  The gay lifestyle and disposition has no appeal, people do not aspire to homosexuality, they resign themselves to homosexuality.  Parents do not hope for gay children, and for good reason:  the gay lifestyle and predicament is a burden not a nobility.  It argues against itself.  Christianity  should offer hope and freedom.

Last night, Californians saved marriage.

It was almost pulled away from us by the gay population, but we beat them back at the ballot box.  Christianity prevailed.  We did it.  We saved marriage.  If we had lost, marriage as we know it would be lost forever.  It would have been our fault that we didn’t get out the vote.  But thank God we did, who knows what my household would have been like today if we hadn’t.  Congratulations.

I have been holding out saying much about this until the election was over.  Now it is time to talk about politics and the influence of politics on the church and it’s method and message.

First, we got caught in lies.

Political rhetoric is shamefully obtuse and deceptive.  It leaves out key facts that paint the full picture and it speaks in hyperbole, mostly to engender a response most often a response of fear.  So, Barack Obama was said to have voted “present” in many of his Senate votes as if that were a bad thing when in fact it isn’t as bad as it was made out to be.  So McCain was “attached” to the Bush administration so that he could be marginalized by people who want “change”.  So the economic crisis is pinned on the President when the realities are much more complex.  And the Prop. 8 campaign also spoke in hyperbole.

Here is a quote from the Prop 8 website (“protectmarriage.com” even the name is hyperbolic):

“It is imperative that all pastors and Christian leaders view this for what it is: an irretrievable moment, with profound and lasting consequences.  We must vigorously support Prop 8, as if our ministries and our lives depend on it.  Ultimately, they will.”

That is the end paragraph, the conclusion of a lengthy quote which included statements like:  “hinge of history”; “major change point”; “threatens to forever muzzle Bible believing Christians”.

I disagree.  Yesterday was not an irretrievable moment.  My ministry in no way was dependent on the outcome of prop. 8.  My life was not in danger.  This will not be a shining historical moment for the church, nor would it have been a blight on our history if the proposition failed.  Bible believing Christians will never be muzzled, even if called to die for the gospel proclamation. In many periods of church history, the voice of the church has never been as clarion as it is when the church was persecuted.

This kind of language is harmful to the church and it’s message.  Critics are rightly branding this speech as “untrue”.  Is it worth it to have the reputation of truth tarnished by the language we use to “get out the vote”?  I say it is not.  And today, we will begin to feel the repurcussions of our political dalliance.

Second, we forgot our mission.

Our voice, our strength, our purpose is not to change society or protect our values through legislation.  I heard yesterday on the radio (Southwest Radio Church) that the gospel message needed to be 90% law and 10% grace (they claimed to be quoting Wesley). Now the book of Galatians says that the law is a tutor that leads to Christ.  But this is not a template for evangelism nor is it a template for influencing culture.  If the passage is read carefully, faith precedes the giving of the law!  This is Paul’s argument in both Romans and Galatians.  “Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”  We don’t preach the law, we preach Christ crucified.

Third, we are missing/losing the more important battle.

Pursuing the battleground of the law when we have lost the battleground of the mind, is to lose the war.   Christians have abdicated the intellectual arena of our culture.  It used to be that the presence of Christian thinkers permeated the major universities of our nation.  The minds of the leaders and opinion makers of the nation were first indoctrinated and influenced by truth and a Christian worldview.  That has changed dramatically.  The rise of  Christian colleges and universities has caused a void in the secular university.  The best and brightest Christians are no longer teaching or attending the major universities.  That change has extended to the market place, where now we seek businesses marked with the sign.

Policy makers and opinion shapers are also the unique home of the secular.  Christian youth are not encouraged to enter the fields of journalism, media, politics or law.  We see those areas of our culture as tainted, ungodly.  This abdication has hurt the cause of truth.  It has hurt the cause of Christian values being the underpinning of our society.  And the more we play the fortress game, the further the divide will become and the more we will bemoan the encroaching evil all around us, and the more we will appeal to the past (this is a nation founded on Christian principles) and the more we will resort to muscling our views on this increasingly secular and non-Christian society.

The real battle lies in our ability to re-enter the culture war and fight the battle for the mind.  It is an intellectual battle and unfortunately there is a raging anti-intellectualism in the evangelical movement.  It is a lifestyle change but we are too comfortable in our modern monasteries that we call church with the accompanying accoutrement of cloistered lifestyle choices:  homeschooling, Christian colleges, exclusive social circles.  All these things, if designed to protect us from “the world” instead of preparing us to engage our culture, keep us from really winning the war.  It is not an election war; it will take much longer than an election cycle.

Lastly…

Proposition 8 just seems like bad strategy to me.

First, it will go before the same 9th Circuit Court at some point when challenged legally.  They have already made their opinion clear on the issue.  There is a good chance “the voice of the people” will be overturned by the 9th Circuit on legal and constitutional grounds rather than on Christian moral grounds.  I am willing to be shown wrong on this point, not being a legal expert, but all propositions must in fact be constituional or they will not become law.  The proponents of Proposition 8 say this is exactly why this was put in the form of a constitutional amendment, nonetheless, it will be challenged.

Second, is the issue homosexual marriage? or is it homosexuality period?  Christians are not simply opposed to homosexual marriage, we are opposed to homosexuality.  It isn’t going away.  If we are opposed to homosexuality and not simply homosexual marriage then shouldn’t we really support legislation against homosexuality?  The reason we would answer no to this is the same answer we should not fight in this arena. America is not the church.  We don’t legislate church law.   Homosexuality cannot be overcome by the law, only by the gospel.

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