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.

Monday, June 29, 2015


  "There are different kinds of gifts," the Scripture tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:4 "but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men."  There are also different strategies, and there are different opportunities, and these too are worked by God.  

   For those of us who are concerned with justice, with the work of Gospel reconciliation, with the work of ending those evils visited upon us by Satan, by the fall of mankind, and by the sins we have brought on ourselves there is something we need to remember; God is still at work and He works in various kinds of ways.  In the context of sin, and through our various callings, gifts and contexts not all of us have to do the same work, nor can we, to help arrive at the "common good."

   God's sovereignty is all over 1 Corinthians 12 but if you study life closely you realize his sovereignty is equally all over the circumstances in which we live, and as we live to be faithful to Jesus and the militant progress of His Church.  It is in the context of darkness God is working out His light.  All of these things are working together for the good of those who love Him, all of these things are working out to accomplish His purposes.  Sometimes we lift up our head and catch a glimpse of it, and sometimes we seem to keep our heads down to keep them from getting knocked off because life seems to be in chaos.

    In a world ruled by the Prince of the Power of the Air, who now works in the sons of disobedience, it seems like chaos.  Every self-identifying person or group attempts to define themselves and the world in their image, and all these narratives seem in opposition if not to one another then certainly in opposition to God.  They all grab for power, some with guns and violence, some with an attempt to dominate culture.  It can make us feel small, and afraid, and on the verge of defeat.

   Then along come the Christians in Charleston and they forgive, and for a wonderful moment in our nation and world light chases shadows away.  With all our various gifts, or chances of doing something good in this world, we can as a common denominator remember that our identity as Christians is built on love  It is that identifier we are called upon to not only remember, but to reveal.

    This last year or so the struggle against racial injustice and oppression has had some startling events and moments.  They have not all been the same, and the reactions of those involved have not always been the same.  The killings by police officers of unarmed black men is different than the killing of black worshipers though both affect black people and ultimately affect all of us in America.The emotional response is different because the sin is different.   

   The oppression of black people in America takes many forms, as well as injustice in general.  If government officials use their power to hurt those they should be protecting by using it inconsistently, or preferentially, then that is injustice.  It is another kind of oppression when an individual takes it into their own hands to hate and then hurt someone based on their race or ethnicity.  I say this because some people don't seem to understand or feel the anger that is unleashed when "authority" oppresses versus the civilian bigot.

   Dead is dead, obviously, and grief follows after it.  Circumstances and context  help decide what the reaction will be.  If you bring death and oppression to Christians, while they are being Christian, the result might just look like Christ.  This is just as it should be, but it still seems like a miracle and beyond most of us to comprehend.

    Not every situation is the same, nor should be our response, and neither can be our involvement.  However, all of us ought to be doing something about injustice (and there are so many kinds); wherever we can, however we can, whenever we can according to our gifts and opportunities.  I don't think doing nothing is the Biblical option.  "Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.  If you say, "but we knew nothing about this,"  does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?  Does not he who guards your life know it?  Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?"  (Proverbs 24:11 & 12) NIV

Thursday, June 18, 2015


    We are a country flowing with blood, though we don’t like to see ourselves that way.  No one likes to look at themselves in a negative light; it is uncomfortable, it is depressing, it is disturbing.  Some of us find it not only acceptable but justifiable to kill others, to protect our rights, our homes, our lives, our honor, our way of life, our racial integrity, our power, our superiority, and even our desire not to be annoyed. We take a perverse kind of macho glory in how violent we can be.

     We have a collective history in being afraid of what others will take from us, sometimes feeling their freedom is an affront to ours, that in some way their demands for justice and an equal place are in fact a limitation on our expansion. Their progress must be a sign of our diminishment. Limitation feels like an attack, assigned guilt feels like pain, and it makes some of us mad.

   There is a glory in suffering, a frightful majesty we find in the oppressed, a moral credibility arising from a fight for survival against the odds.  Native Americans make fun of white people who want to be Indian.  Dream catchers hanging from our rear view mirrors, braids and feathers in our hair, turquoise belts, rings, a few words of greeting, smoking peyote.

   It is intriguing and a bit amazing that some white people feel oppressed when black people are too much on the news, as if Al Sharpton was going to take over the government.  “Now that would have been a fair and just expression of grief and anger over the killing if only Sharpton hadn’t come.“  Now that the event or issue is corrupted and made into a political or personal aggrandizement the deaths mean nothing, the killing means nothing, and the hatred means nothing evidently and simply because we don’t like Sharpton. Clown suits in a cemetery don't mean people ain't dying.

    Whether crazy or hateful, people feel justified in their killing.  They have the guns and so weak people become powerful., the impotent become important.  Executioners by personal commission, self-authorized executioners to somehow redress a racial imbalance they feel from media intoxication and the inhaling of a truncated and twisted select stream of misinformation. 

    Sometimes the attention paid to the slaughtered, the disenfranchised, the put out and left out with their cries for redress, their compressed solidarity, their cultural forming due to the crucible of injustice creates envy.  “Pay attention to me, don’t take from me, let my life be as authentic as yours, let me be you.” One of the effects of racism is a kind of mental sickness, an inability to see persons and oneself correctly.

    How wonderful to assuage guilt by side stepping it, by becoming the party with the more attractive narrative, by wanting to fight for justice by switching sides, by avoiding the harder task.  We cannot end guilt with denial, we cannot end shame with more of our hatred to add to its cause, we cannot create racial health by wallowing in racial illness through self-hatred or envy or more racism. 

    The harder task is to accept our collective responsibility, to live with the weight of what others like me, who have the power and privilege compared to what others enjoy, and learn to use it for everyone’s justice, and everyone’s good.  It is foolish to pretend I don’t have it even if I haven’t earned it, or don’t innately deserve it.  The greater task is to make a difference from who I am, and from whom I’m come, and to be grateful for that witness and that opportunity to finally do something good and to finally be on the right side of history. 

    The challenge is to share in the struggle from an honest place.  I don’t have to gain power or authenticity by stealing someone else’s story, or snuffing out their lives and silencing their voices because I don’t like the way I look in the story.  If you’re looking for forgiveness, find it in God.  If you’re looking to make sense of your life in this world you can only do it from a clear window, from the perspective of truth, in the way you see and in the way you are seen.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


    This is a short piece on ANGER.  Recently Joan and I had an opportunity to do some counseling with a couple, and one of the issues that surfaced was the issue of “anger.”  Over the years I have certainly had to confront this issue in other couples, individuals, with my own marriage, and inside myself.

    Joan and I haven’t done a lot of counseling as a team, although I really respect her insights and ability to discern the truth and honestly call things for what they are.  I confess that I usually enjoy this more when she does this with, and for, other people than when she does it with, and to, me.  Lord have mercy!

   One of the people we were counseling said in a moment of insight, “I think anger is my safe  place” (italics mine.)  I almost jumped up and celebrated because I thought it was a great moment for that person to see and admit that.  Anger is a powerful emotion and it substitutes for many other things.  Sometimes it substitutes for power when you actually feel powerless to change your circumstances, sometimes it substitutes for grief when you really want to blame God but you are not sure who to blame and deep down know it won’t change the reality of death.  American grief often reveals itself in a court suit because somebody has to be blamed, and that is more of a sign of anger than of sadness.  Many of us don’t know how to emotionally deal with suffering, despair, fear, or loss.  We don’t how to lament, so, we get mad.

    Sometimes anger substitutes for a relationship when your hurt, pride, or fear won’t let you reconcile with someone you actually made vows to love.  Anger becomes the emotion you begin to recognize, know, and like so it seems to become your friend.  It is in reality a dragon-monster kind of puppy thing of a friend that people often nurse, and nurture, and come to need.  It is a lousy friend because it tends to lie to those who carry it, making them think the poison they drink will kill everyone else. (That idea is not original with me but I don’t know who said it first).  Anger grows up inside you, and then it seems to own you.

    Anger sometimes makes you feel in control, and the truth is sometimes it really does give you a sense of power in a manipulative sort of way.  People can be bullies in the use of their anger, when they figure out the people they want to control are terrified of that anger, or will give in to their will lest they fall prey to that anger.  Sometimes, especially in marriage, people get away with terrible bouts of anger because they have an illusion that the legal relationship will protect them from seeing it end.

     The image of a boxing match might be useful here.  People who constantly use anger in their relationships think there are ropes around the ring, assuming that their partner or family member will just bounce off those ropes and they will somehow get back into an upright balance.  There are no ropes, and if you pummel people enough you will lose them, you will knock them right out of the ring.  You might stay legally married but only to a closed, protective, and hardened person who no longer lets you in, and no longer feels they can afford vulnerability.

    Angry words and actions are like shooting an arrow at random, or throwing a rock over a hedge, once it leaves your hand you cannot control the consequences.  You can’t keep taking bites out of people without devouring them.  You can’t be angry as a habit in your relationships, or in the face of frustrations and disappointments, and think you are living by faith. If anger is your habit you are not trusting God! Anger at anything other than evil is usually a mistake, and it is your mistake, not that of the person with whom you happen to be angry.

    If you aren’t forgiving someone because you are still angry then you should be aware you have several potential problems.  One is that instead of their behavior being the issue, or their attitude, or their personality, or their tendencies, you and your anger will soon become the main issue.  If you aren’t forgiving someone because you enjoy being mad at them and this is your way of punishing them, then you are putting yourself in the place of God and giving Him no room to take vengeance on that person.  You keep getting in His way and he might just out and completely forgive them, and leave you totally frustrated, like He did to Jonah.

    If you aren’t willing to forgive someone, and keep holding onto your anger when you could have reconciled, what will you do when the Master calls you to account for what you owe?  Here is one suggestion; the next you time you get angry at someone and can’t let it go make this your prayer, “Lord, please treat me just like I am treating this person.”  If you think this is too harsh then I invite you to study the Scriptures for as I read it I sense that this is one area in which God doesn’t play games.