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Monday, July 25, 2016

Answering Popular Objections to Christianity: What about Religious Violence?

I briefly contemplated calling this series (running concurrently with my series on Catholicism) "Bad Objections to Christianity" because I judged the objections I planned to cover as, well, bad.

However, because it's not my intention to insult those, Christian or otherwise, who find themselves taken by these objections, I opted for the descriptor "popular" in place of bad, to communicate the common, perhaps less sophisticated nature of these objections in comparison to more scholarly, academic ones.

Also, this gives me the opportunity to answer a wider array of objections, including those that are popular, but not necessarily poorly thought out.

In fact, we start with just such an objection which alleges that religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular, cannot be true or should be rejected because of the copious amounts of violence and wars they produce.

Let me outline 5 rebuttals to this objection.

1. Abuses Do Not Negate Uses. 

Any worldview, belief system, or ideological principle can be abused by self-promoting individuals to further their wicked agendas.

Thus, even if someone uses religion as a justification for a violent act, unless we can draw a clear line between the act and the specific precepts of the religion in question which could conceivably allow for or otherwise justify such violence, we cannot simply assume such a religion does in fact justify the violent act and is not simply being taken advantage of by the perpetrator.

Such an abuse could not be used to disqualify the specific religion or all religions in any sense.

2.  The Diversity of Religious Belief.

Religion can be understood as a set of beliefs or practices centered around the divine or sacred.

It is unnecessary and indeed impossible to capture here the world's staggering amount of religious diversity, past and present, and the various relationships these religions have to violence.

Thus, from the onset, it is far too simplistic to blame "religion", broadly, for wars and violence as though religion were (1.) homogeneous (which it is not) or (2.) had some inherent violent-producing properties (which it does not).

This rebuttal is in keeping with the study "Five Key Questions Answered on the Link between Peace and Religion”, published by the Institute for Economics and Peace, published in 2014, which looked at thirty-five major conflicts waged in 2013 concluded no "general causal relationship" existed between these conflicts and religion.

In fact, while no shortage of speculation and theories exist, no such relationship has ever been demonstrated in any way.

3. The Absence of Historical Evidence

From the Christian Answers and Research Ministry.


Most glaringly, it is also not the case that historically religion, of any stripe, has been the cause of most wars.

The massive Encyclopedia of Wars, published in 2008, documented a whopping 1,763 wars fought throughout human history and judged that not quite 7% or 123 wars, to be exact, were  ‘religious in nature’.
 
Far and away most wars have been fought for socio-economic and political reasons, not religion.

4. The Bloody History of Atheistic Regimes

Furthermore, when we look at atheist revolutionaries like Benito Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Josip Broz Tito, Kim Il Sung, Vladimir Lenin, and others of the 20th century, the tens of millions of people killed surrounding their violent activities far outstrips those killed in wars fought for religious reasons (which account for 2 percent of all such fatalities, according to the Encyclopedia of Wars).

Indeed, if you take the 20 million (a very low number) people Stalin alone killed and stack that against the 1.7 million killed in the Crusades and the 3000 executed during the Inquisition, you don't reach even 20% of this one evil dictator.

And to the extent one argues that other factors like Communism played a role in one or more of the atrocities wrought by these irreligious men, which is undeniable, we ask that the same attention to detail and nuance be given to the socio-political nature of the so-called religious conflicts for which believers have been taken to task (such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, unrest in Northern Ireland, etc.).

5. Important But Besides The Point Of Truth

 Finally, even to the degree that religious conflicts do exist, and they do, this has no bearing on the general meaningfulness of religion as a way of looking at and describing reality or the truth of Christianity, particular.

"Religion causes wars" is not logically opposite "God exists", "Jesus Christ rose from the dead", or "the Bible is divinely authoritative", truths upon which the Christian commitment to following God rests. 

Conclusion

We have see that abuses do not negate uses relative to the abuse of religion by violent individuals, that religion is a diverse body of thought with no inherently violent or violent-producing properties, that 97% of history's wars were not religious in nature, that atheist regimes of the 20th century were responsible for the most loss of life in violent conflict, and that the objection itself does not even touch on the truth of religion as a way of looking at the world.

With this objection out of the way, I hope we can consider more carefully the nature of the wars fought in the Bible, for example, the mnistry of peace prophesied in the coming Messiah, and the way the peace teachings of Jesus work to make those prophecies a reality in view of his Second Coming to put an end to violence once and or all. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

It's Not You; It's Me: Why Are Police Officers Killing Black Men?

Wading through the mountain of studies assessing police use of force (without a firearm), fatal and non-fatal police shootings, and the possibility of racial bias in each case is no easy task, but is important in understanding why we are seeing such violent clashes between police and black Americans.

To begin, we have to start with the raw data.

For one, the Washington Post is operating a real-time database to track fatal police shootings.

In 2015, they logged 990 fatal police shootings, of which 494 of the slain were white and 258 were black.

This year, 518 people have been killed by police (a six percent increase from the first 6 months of last year), 239 of those killed being white and 126 being black (a nine percent increase from the first 6 months of 2015).

Are more white people being killed by police than black people? Yes.

However, when you take population into consideration, as any responsible analysis of the data must, black people, making up 13 percent of the population, make up 24 percent of the fatal shootings, meaning, generally speaking,  black Americans are more 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police.

When you adjust for unarmed victims "black men were seven times more likely than white men to die by police gunfire while unarmed", when taking into account the 2015 data alone.

After the data for 2015 and 2016 is compiled, "U.S. police officers have shot and killed the exact same number of unarmed white people as they have unarmed black people: 50 each. But because the white population is approximately five times as great as the black population, that means unarmed black Americans were five times as likely as unarmed white Americans to be shot and killed by a police officer."

So while higher numbers of white people (and Hispanics) are killed by police than black people, black people, armed or unarmed, are killed a rate higher than their white counterparts.

There are two prevailing theories for why this is: the racial bias theory and the crime-produced disparity theory (which states that disproportionate levels of crime in the black community drives police use of force).

The racial bias theory makes a lot out of the above disparities and there is indeed evidence on the books showing racial bias against blacks in terms of police dealings.

Most recently, a study published by National Bureau of Economic Research found "[o]n non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police."

Importantly, the study controls for things like context and civilian behavior finding it "reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities."

This makes the data difficult to dismiss by those who hold the crime-produced theory as a explanation for these police conflicts.

Furthermore, mitigating against the crime-produced theory is 2015 study coming from a researcher at the University of California's Anthropology Department.

The study an ,"Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States", found the the following:

 "There is no relationship between county-level racial bias in police shootings and crime rates (even race-specific crime rates), meaning that the racial bias observed in police shootings in this data set is not explainable as a response to local-level crime rates."

Even when controlling for violent criminality on the part of the person shot,  a Center for Policing Equity report released this year found, "[g]iven the rarity of Part I violent crimes [violent and property crimes] and a lack of evidence that arrests for violent crime significantly increase the likelihood of police use of force, these findings suggest that crime rates are an insufficient explanation for disparities in the application of police force."

In other words, the crime-produced disparity theory is whittled down as studies consistently show that arrests for violent crime and local crime rates are not enough to explain the disproportionate killing of black individuals.

This is bad news for people like Heather McDonald, fellow at the Manhattan Institute,  who claimed in her popular "The Danger of Black Lives Matter" speech,  "[t]he black violent crime rate would actually predict that more than 26 percent of police victims would be black. Officer use of force will occur where the police interact most often with violent criminals, armed suspects, and those resisting arrest, and that is in black neighborhoods."

In other words, while Ms. McDonald is absolutely correct that black people commit violent crime at rates not in keeping with their size relative to the overall population, the conclusion (given without sources) she draws from that directly contradicts years of historical data compiled and evaluated in the CPE report.

Furthermore, her implication that the disparity at which cops are in danger of being killed by black people more than any other racial demographic helps explain the racial disparity in cop killings fares no better without any support from the published data.

This does not mean the racial bias theory wins the day, however.

The theory recently hit a major snag with a new report that shows "on the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings – we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account."

This is the same National Bureau of Economic Research study that found racial bias in police use of non-lethal force.

German Lopez, a staff writer for Vox, criticized the report for using voluntary data (which may be negatively affected by selection bias), which is not an immaterial point.

However, in the same article, he then admittedly used voluntary police data from the FBI to prove the opposite point, justifying his inconsistency by stating the FBI numbers are "more comprehensive".

This is true, but the comprehensiveness of a report does not mitigate against possible selection bias.

Also, the NBER study cannot be invalidated by the FBI statistics Lopex cites because the FBI numbers are not incident-based (see here) and so can say nothing about the controls in the NBER study that show a lack of racial bias.

In the second data set used in the NBER study, the researchers were given access to cases in which lethal force could have been used but was not, to look for potential bias.

And while Lopez claims this data set is "built on police reports of what police claim are arrests in which lethal force was warranted" and that "given the video evidence we’ve seen in the past couple of years, there’s good reason to not take police at their word", he ignores the fact that, as the New York Times reported, it was the lead researcher, Roland G. Fryer Jr., who set the parameters of such cases, not the police.

While some might bandy the idea that the police are lying in these reports,  this is intuitively difficult to assent to because these are cases where lethal force was not used, eliminating any apparent reason for dishonesty.

And arguing the officers lied on the reports to make themselves look better in the off-chance someone would care that they could have used lethal force but didn't is just too clever by half.

Perhaps most important, as Mr. Fryer himself explains, "what we actually found was that there were no racial differences in the basic differences analysis. It didn't matter whether we took context--as captured by police reports--into account or not; there was no racial bias in either analysis."

The NBER study is not comprehensive and thus cannot be applied to the nation as a whole, but it is something in the way of rebutting the racial bias narrative.

One the other hand, while some may use the study as proof that minorities are generally handled rougher in the hands of the police, as mentioned earlier, the lack of comprehensiveness cuts this way as well.

Some have suggested that the more frequent stopping of black people by police leads to more violent confrontations.

While this would make sense, unfortunately that just pushes the question back a step and we are left to ask why police stopping are black people more often and the entire debate about racial bias vs crime-produced disparity begins anew (with very sparse data in this case).

Thus, it seems both proponents of the crime-produced disparity theory and the racial bias theory need to go back to the drawing board, and the rest of us should avoid making sweeping judgments apart from what individual cases tell us.

I have already argued elsewhere that the best approach is to not commit crimes, resist arrest, or evade arrest (this solution is, of course, not unique to me).

This is a variation of the crime-produced disparity theory, but argues that in initial police confrontations, not later police violence, of a lethal variety are mostly generated by crime, which all the evidence supports (one can check the WP database).

In addition, it also can accommodate theories of racial bias and thus functions as a way of keeping people safe and keeping officers accountable.

While I now believe this would apply to 99% of all the "hashtag cases" cases of police violence, it does not seem to be the case in the Philando Castile case, where an innocent man was mistaken for a criminal and lost his life at the hands of a scared police officer.

This, however, is not the norm, by any honest reading of the data, and affects the solution negligibly.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Catholic Distinctives in the Light of the New Testament: Clerical Titles.

The Christian Churches and Churches of Christ have been blessed to receive in our community many former and disaffected Catholics who might have otherwise simply washed their hands of Christ and his Church altogether.

Despite this and despite faithful national and foreign CC/CoC missionaries ministering in Catholic majority countries, from Mexico to the Philippines and beyond, the teaching in our fellowship on Catholicism is often undeveloped or too influenced by a casual ecumenism, on the one hand, or a casual anti-Catholicism, on the other.

Finding this terribly unfortunate, I am devoting a blog series to the question of Catholic distinctives in light of the New Testament as a corollary to my own contemporaneous study of the subject, which might be of interest to the CC/CoC and broader Evangelical Protestant community as we seek to better appreciate how we differ from Roman Catholics.

What will become apparent in this series is many of the distinctives judged unbiblical are not strictly distinctive to Catholicism but pop up in other Protestant traditions, as well, and in the CC/CoC.

Still, what makes these shared doctrinal errors important to know is that all of them (at least all those planned for discussion in this series) are covered under the Catholic mantle of infallibility, meaning the impact of exposing those errors in regards to discussing Scripture with our Catholic friends and neighbors is heightened dramatically.

No sacred cows should stand before the written Word of God.

Christian or Catholic, when we approach Scripture we ought to do so with an ear to hear and a heart ready to be changed by the very oracles of God speaking to our hearts, removing the clouds of error from our eyes by its truth.

Unfortunately, among the greatest barriers to seeing the truth of Scripture is man's pride, which relates directly to our first doctrinal distinctive: the use of clerical titles or special honorific titles for those engaged in Christian ministry.

The Catholic Church has a litany of such titles, and in an article republished on the Catholic Education Resource Center website, William Saunders, parish priest of a congregation in Potomac Falls, Virginia and dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College explains what titles go with which persons.

For example, we all know diocesan priests are referred to as "Father", not uncommonly in conjunction with a first or last name, but following Mr. Saunders, who himself has the title "Father", the Pope, also a priest, is referred to as "Your Holiness," "Most Holy Father," or "Holy Father."

Furthermore, a Cardinal (from the Latin “cardo” or "hinge")  is greeted as "Your Eminence" or "Your Lordship".

In addition, either in written or in verbal communication, each of these offices carries with it the title "reverend".

(You can see any official Catholic Directory for official approbation of these titles).

Understanding this, how do we make biblical sense of these titles?

From a Scriptural perspective, such monikers are extremely troubling and are, in principle, antithetical to an idea of leadership and ministry informed by the New Testament.

For example, in the Gospel of Matthew 23:9, Jesus flatly condemns the use of "father" as an honorific religious title among his disciples.

Of the half a dozen or so articles I read by Catholics defending calling priests “father”, none are persuasive or convincing.

For example, Catholic Answers frames the issue in the context ofwhether we should call our earthly fathers "father", one article reading, "If a Catholic is wrong in calling his priest "father," then everyone who refers to his own natural father as "father" is also in the wrong. Both usages would be prohibited by a literal interpretation of Jesus' words".

Another article says, “it would rob the address "Father" of its meaning when applied to God, for there would no longer be any earthly counterpart for the analogy of divine Fatherhood. The concept of God’s role as Father would be meaningless if we obliterated the concept of earthly fatherhood.“

This rebuttal ignores the fact that Jesus was speaking of religious honorific titles, not early parentage and whether we can call our dads "father".

For example, sandwiched between Jesus' invocation to "call no man Father" he condemns the use of "rabbi" and "teacher", religious titles also deemed improper as forms of address in the disciple community.

While the term father in reference to one's own father is a description of a biological, legal, or contextual reality, the use of father for any man in a religious context is not a description of a spiritual reality because, in this sense, we "have one Father and he is in heaven."

In this way, the disciples would have clearly understood the difference between acknowledging their biological fathers or fathers in the faith (Luke 16:24, Romans 9:10) and calling certain among them "Father" as a title of religious distinction.

Some also claim that to be consistent, Protestants should eschew the titles "Doctor" or "Mister" which are forms of teacher and master, respectively, both titles condemned by Jesus in Matthew 23.

However, again, these are not religious honorifics used to set one disciple of Christ apart from another, but one is an academic honorific and the other is no more than a social formality, neither of which have anything to do with what Jesus is talking about.

If my pastor insisted I call him "Mr." or "Dr." as a term of special religious distinction or honor, Jesus' words here would surely apply and I would refuse.

The Catholic usage of "Father" as religious honorific for priests is not only without biblical support, but directly violates Jesus' express teaching.

What about the title "Holy Father" for the Pope?

This is another case of a title reserved for God being applied to a man, for Jesus says:

I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. -- John 17:11

One could be forgiven for judging this an open and shut case in which the title Holy Father is only ever used for God and could only be applied to man with presumption.

Yet, the use of this title for the Pope persists and the scarcity of Catholic apologetics as to the appropriatenesss of this appellation is telling.

Again from Catholic Answers:

"Catholics call the pope "Holy Father" not as an acknowledgement of his personal state of soul but as an expression of respect for his office as successor to Peter and head of the Church on earth. His is a holy office."

No mention is made of John 17:11, the singular use of Holy Father in reference to God, or any biblical connection between the office of the pope and this name for God.

Unsurprisingly, the only Holy Father the Bible knows of is the same one Jesus says is alone is worthy to be given the distinction of Father: God.

What about "your Lordship"?

For this we go to Matthew 20:25-28:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Furthermore, we read in 1 Peter 5:2-3:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

New Testament leadership is not lordship, whether the legitimate lordship exercised by God-ordained rulers like those of Jesus' day or of domineerance, but servant leadership.

Thus, to call any minister of God "Your Lordship" is wholly inappropriate.

As the Scripture says, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph. 4:5) and...

For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live (1 Cor. 8:5-6).

The only one who merits to be called Lord in the community of faith and is Jesus Christ (if not God the Father!).

Having arrived at the title "reverend", by now you get the pattern.

The scriptural use of this title is in the King James Version of the Bible (among a few others lesser known and used) in which Psalm 111:9 reads, "He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name."

Primitive church advocate Robert Sandeman put it best when he wrote the in 1757, “the [shabbiest] preacher, in the poorest dissenting congregation, still affects to be called The Reverend; from the same principle which leads the first clergyman in Europe to take the title of His Holiness. The bulk of the Christian leaders, from the highest to the lowest, have showed an inclination to share more or less of the worship due to Him whom we praise, saying, Holy and reverend is his name.”

What we have seen is that the honorific titles so common to Catholicism are unable to be sustained by Bible data and are contradicted by explicit Bible testimony.

However, the principle Jesus establishes in Matthew 23 is enough to do away with all clerical titles regardless of what they are and the denomination from which they originate. He says:

But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. -- Matthew 23:8-11

In this chapter of Scripture, Jesus condemns the hypocritical religious leaders who made a show of their positions with fancy dress, titles, and seats of honor.

But hypocrisy is not the only problem; exalting oneself over others through these means is too condemned.

So when various religious titles are given or assumed by disciples of Christ, we wonder what is the biblical impetus, or otherwise, for setting one Christian over another or exalting one believer over another by such a title?

The Bible says there is none because the greatest among the disciples is a servant and all are servants.

Ironically, one of the terms for the pope is "servant of servants", but this is no better, despite its admirable attempt at humility.

When the Bible calls Jesus “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords” this does not mean he is just one king among many or one lord among many, but that among the lords he is Lord of all and that among the kings he is King of all.

Can you imagine, then, the conceit implied in allowing yourself to be called the greatest servant among the servants (Cf. Gen 9:25)!

In commenting on Jesus words in Matthew 23, biblical scholar Craig Blomberg writes:

“But one wonders how often these titles are used without implying unbiblical ideas about a greater worth or value of the individuals to whom they are assigned. One similarly wonders for how long the recipients of such forms of address can resist an unbiblical pride from all the plaudits.

It is probably best to abolish most uses of such titles and look for equalizing terms that show that we are all related as family to one Heavenly Father (God) and one teacher (Christ)... In American Christian circles perhaps the best goal is to strive for the intimacy that simply makes addressing one another on a first-name basis natural” (The New American Commentary: Matthew, Vol. 22 [Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992] p.343).

The Catholic Church claims to be the church of the first century which Jesus founded, but the first century church leaders in and outside of the Bible avoided religious honorifics in favor of familial address like "brother" and "sister" which abound in the New Testament.

To recap some of the unbiblical titles assumed and given...

The Catholic Church calls its priests “Father”. Whereas the Bible says..."call no man father...you have one Father and he is in heaven" (Matthew 23:9)

The Catholic Church calls its pope “Holy Father”. Whereas the Bible says..."Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name..."(John 17:11)

The Catholic Church calls its Cardinals “Your Lordship”. Whereas the Bible says..."and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came..." (1 Cor. 8:6)

The Catholic Church calls its ministers “Reverend”. Whereas the Bible says..."He sent redemption unto his people ...holy and reverend is his name..." (Psalm 111:9)

Sadly, we see many a "Pastor Smith", Bishop Greg", and "Reverend Joe" among
evangelical Protestants today, with some Pentecostals going above and beyond by affixing apostle, evangelist, and even prophet before their names (I myself have fallen into the trap as using "pastor" as an honorific).

Peter, believed by Catholics to be the first pope, wrote in 2 Peter 3:15...

Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

While honor should be given to whom honor is due, we would all do well to return to the apostolic practice of calling each other brother and sister and refusing to set ourselves apart by religious honorifics like the Lord Jesus commands us in Scripture.

Monday, July 4, 2016

God Save the King: Why the American Revolution was Flatly Unbiblical.

I distinctly remember listening to the decidedly conservative video teacher for my highschool homeschool history curriculum carefully explain to his eager history students how the American Revolution was not unbiblical.

Being religiously conservative myself, we agreed on much, but this time I found myself utterly perplexed as he tried to settle the issue with a broad appeal to the corrupt British government.

Well, okay, I thought, but if corrupt government is grounds for revolution, what does it mean that all governments are corrupt, to some extent?

Also, wasn't the government which Paul lived under when he wrote "be subject to those in authority" corrupt too?

At the time, I shrugged my shoulders and moved on with my life, not knowing I would revisit this question and a host of others about the intersect between my faith and politics in the years to come.

In one sense, what I am writing matters little because the American Revolution was over 200 years ago.

At the same time, the principles that make the revolution contrary to the call of Christians as articulated in the Bible, are for all times and people and thus distinctly relevant for us today.

One of the three of those principles is found in Romans 13:1-5:


Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do
right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This passage does not teach absolute obedience, due only to God, but means unless the government commands you to do something you cannot do without violating God's commands, you are not justified in disobeying the government, which is exactly what the Colonists did.


In fact, no justification is ever given for the act of revolution, even when the government is telling you to do something which you can rightly disobey.

The government of Rome in Paul's day was surely as corrupt as the English government and, yet, he still issued and followed this command, under the direction of the Spirit.

The second principle is found in Romans 12:17-21, one chapter prior:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


Replete with instructions and examples of how Christians should treat their enemies and resolve conflict, the New Testament is silent about the justifiableness of Christians going to war.

Indeed, filling the New Testament's silence on any Christian just war ethic is a deafening call for non-violence and peacemaking.

In place of violently overthrowing the government and subsequently killing the "enemy" in defense of ourselves, we are told to not repay evil with evil, to do what is right (which we saw previously involves obedience to government),to live at peace (the opposite of going to war), to not take revenge, to trust in God's justice, and to treat our enemies well.


None of these values or practices aligns with the sanguinary and peaceless American Revolution.

Thirdly and finally, we return to Romans 12, picking up where we left off with verses 6-7:

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

One of the Colonists' most notable grievances against King George and the British Monarchy was taxation without representation.

However, echoing Jesus' words to "give to Caesar what is Caesar's", Paul makes the argument for why Christians should pay their taxes.

Rather than complain, vandalize, rebel, or refuse to pay, even if the system of taxation is unfair--as it was both for the Colonists and early Christians, neither of whom were properly represented by their government and who were often burdened by undue taxation--we obey, not of deference for an unjust government, but out of reverence for a just God who uses government for His purposes.

Recognizing this, understand that the reason fighting the American Revolution was unscriptural, was because it replaced the Colonists' responsibilities to their God with the sacrifice of human life on the altar of war in worship of the false gods of liberty, freedom, and self-government.

This is not something any follower of Christ should celebrate.


(But that doesn't necessarily mean we cannot enjoy the fireworks!)



Monday, June 27, 2016

Strange Flesh: A Conservative Christian in the Midst of Gay Pride.


In February of 2014, I stood with my parents in the Capitol of my home state of Illinois to rally against a measure to legally recognize same-sex marriage in the state.

Months later we experienced crushing defeat when the same-sex marriage bill passed through the Illinois legislature, a local defeat soon felt by traditional marriage supporters nationwide as the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Two days ago, nearly one year after this monumental decision, I found myself at a Gay Pride parade in the sprawling metropolitan city of Cincinnati, Ohio.

What changed?

Well, what has not changed is my view on sexual ethics and God’s desire for human beings thereof.

I believe, as the Bible teaches, it was the intent and purpose of God in creation to bring together the two halves of the sexual spectrum, male and female, in a life-long, life-giving, and loving union, or else keep them chaste as they follow Him in celibacy (Matthew 19; 1 Corinthians 7).

Anything else is verboten.

However, some things have changed, and the same year I participated in that pro-marriage rally, I experienced a radical religious conversion and bid farewell to political involvement in its entirety.

With that came much soul-searching about how much of my views on homosexuality and culture were rooted in the Bible and how much in socially conservative politics.

--back to the Pride parade.

Recently, in talking with a young LGBT man and professing Christian about our differing views on sexuality and Scripture, he suggested I visit a Pride event to get a more rounded understanding of our country’s gay subculture with a view of relating better to LGBT people.

While I had a (negative) idea of what such an event would look like and was apprehensive to enter a potential lion’s den, I was providentially afforded the opportunity to attend Cincinnati’s Pride Parade not too long after this conversation and decided I could not pass it up.

What I saw left me overcome with emotion.

Firstly, I was struck by how successful the gay rights movement has been in achieving its stated goals.

Capitalizing on the egalitarian impulses and the social constructionist gender theories of the Sexual Revolution of the 60s and Second Wave feminism, what was once considered by virtually all people of power and influence as socially taboo behavior, is quite broadly accepted and only growing in acceptance.

Furthermore, the movement has effectively appropriated the black struggle for civil rights by appealing to widespread sympathies hereof and the desires of a generation to, this time, be on the “right side of history.”

Secondly, I was weighed down by what was simply a very open and proud (if I can do some word appropriating of my own) celebration of sin.

I know this will strike some as harsh and that is not my intention.

But whether or not you believe, as I do, that the Scriptures are divinely authoritative, you cannot deny we are seeing a monumental departure from anything resembling scriptural teachings, including the teachings of Jesus on marriage, and, as a follower of Jesus, this fills me with grief.

That said, those were not the most impactful my experiences.

When I approached the parade, I was more nervous than I’d ever been at a public event of this kind.

I felt out-of-place, like people could see right through me and knew why I was there, and that I was unwelcome.

This was most certainly a projection of my own feelings onto the other parade-goers who surely did not even notice me (not to mention, I received only positive feedback when I did interact with anyone).

However, I was floored by the realization that the way I felt this one time at this one parade is probably the way a great many of the LGBT people in attendance feel almost all the time in public.

As I moved among the crowd, my discomfort fading as I faded in the throng, I looked at the people’s faces--the gay high school aged boy with his friends, the trans man, the lesbian couple, the older attendees with their partners.

My heart began to ache as I realized an event like this might be the only place where they feel safe and secure—where they can feel they can be themselves.

Even now, I wonder how many have been rejected by family or friends, how many left their churches, how many live a secret life, how many long to feel at home with themselves without fear of reprisal.

The consideration was overwhelming.

I mentioned earlier changes I had processed within myself after setting aside politics.

One of those was a shift from treating gay people like enemies and instead as neighbors who need the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the Good News of his coming Kingdom just as much as I or anyone else.

Does it really bother us that LGBT folks are taking refuge in the world and running from the Church?

Does it break our hearts that the heart of Jesus, once a safe haven for those on the margins of his society, is missing in so many of our churches?

Does it matter to us that we so often cannot see past debates about bathrooms and moral campaigns to “reclaim” our country to care we are driving LGBT people from the Kingdom of God in exchange for the political power Jesus rejected?

If I learned anything from this experience it is that I am 100% more committed to “being all things” to my LGBT neighbors, so they can feel at home in the Church of Christ and know the freedom, not that the world offers, but that only comes when we surrender ourselves to Jesus. 
 
I fully understand most will reject this message (Matt. 7:13-14).
 
Assuredly, many will find it patronizing, untrue, restrictive, offensive, and unappealing.
 
Notwithstanding, I believe the wonderful truth of who Jesus Christ is—his promised coming, impeccable life, impeachable teachings, sacrificial death, miraculous resurrection, and glorious return—has the power to change even the most hardened of hearts (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18).

We need to remember God is not calling gay people to become straight; He is calling stressed-out, burned-out, busy Americans with our smartphones, IPads, frappes, schedulers, one-night stands, depression, anxiety, materialism, shame, fear, and longing for something more out of life to His Kingdom, to His heart (2 Corinthians 5:20).

The question is will you and I—LGBT, same-sex attracted, or straight—answer His call for ourselves and then help others do the same? 

God helping us, we will. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Why I Said Goodbye to Most of my Clothes: A Minimalist Anabaptist Journey

From a favorite movie of mine, "Confessions of a Shop-a-holic".
In the most interesting of mash-ups, the radical Anabaptists of the 16th century and the modern counter-cultural minimalists converged in my mind, resulting in a lot less clothes in my possession and a whole new direction for the future.

Since becoming a pacifist and politically neutral, I naturally gravitated toward the theological community known as the Anabaptists ("re-baptizers", so named for their practice of baptizing those who had been "baptized' as infants) who resurrected these key biblical doctrines long after they were driven underground for twelve centuries.

The Anabaptists, along with their spiritual cousins the Quakers and Brethren, championed a practical Christianity based on Scripture alone, rooted in Jesus, and manifested in a heightened concern for peacemaking, social service, moderate stances toward government, modest living, and the like.

They were weirdos of their day who refused to take oaths, serve in the military, work in government, use egotistical titles, tip their hats or bow before royalty, or adopt modern fashion.

On the other side, minimalism, not an inherently Christian concept, concerns with living within one's means (economically, spatially, consumptionally, etc.) and not owning more than what you need to function.

This less is more (or, better, less is enough) mentality stands in stark contrast to a Western emphasis on materialism and gain.    

Among the many things these two distinct schools of thought have in common is a less than popular approach to clothes.

Unsurprisingly, minimalism focuses on how much clothing we have versus how much we need to have a functional wardrobe (no more and no less).

This "wear to live, not live to wear" ethic flies in the face of fashion magazines, department stores, and our own closets.

Echoing this practical approach to clothes, an Anabaptist would also note how the type or style of clothing we own is just as important as how much of it we have and would advocate for a plain, modest style that leaves ample room for the Spirit to shine and wards against vanity and classism.

Taken together the two are a perfect complement.

Being convicted about the nature and number my clothes for some time now, I finally raided my closet determined to do some paring down.

However, if I was going to radically alter my wardrobe, I needed a framework to work within.

Several examples of modern approaches to plain or simple dress.
For this, I looked to the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity.

Simply put, this is one of several Quaker testimonies or principles for Christian living, this one focusing on living a simple life to prioritize what is most important.

Clothing was one part of this simplicity testimony and I decided I too wanted a simple wardrobe that was plain, functional, and minimal.

The criteria for keeping or tossing clothes were generally as follows:

Did I wear it? Clothes are meant to be worn, not hoarded. If I was not wearing it, I did not need it.

Was it functional? This criteria was to identify a practical purpose for any clothes I wanted to keep, in place of mere want or enjoyment. For example, I knew I needed clothes for cold and warm weather, clothes to bike and run in, clothes to sleep in, and church clothes. (I already had a work uniform).

Did it cover? I had two shirts I was determined to keep that I wore often and which were plain in color. Score! The only problem is they were V-necks. While they were not "deep Vs", they still did not align with the testimony of simplicity I was aiming for. A less complicated, but harder choice was getting rid of my well-loved and only pair of short-shorts. Sigh.

Was it flashy?  Pieces with lots of "flare" or obvious "look at me" appeal had to go. This meant anything with writing on it.

Could it be better used by someone else? This applied mostly to my t-shirts, most of which were not keeping with my Testimony of Simplicity, but which I planned on keeping to make a quilt out of. Did I really want to rip them up so I could sleep next to them or would it be better if someone who needed clothes could wear them?

Using these criteria, the result was 35 articles donated, 10 t-shirts for a quilt, and 9 articles for the garbage, a total of 54 articles gone.

This left me with
5 shirts,
two pairs of pants, and
one pair of shorts, plus
one suit I bought for collegiate debate,
my white t-shirts,
a pair of swim trunks,
a pair of athletic shorts,
a pair of sweat pants, and
a pair of flannel pajama pants.

Woah.

As I looked at my mostly bare closest, I was able to better process the ways worldly ideas of fashion and ownership had influenced me.

Some clothes I wanted to keep simply because someone had complimented me in them or because I thought I looked good wearing them, even if they were not modest.

With other things, it felt weird to get rid of them because they were not functional, even if they did fit my Testimony of Simplicity.

I also wondered if I had traded the witness of some of my Christian themed t-shirts for a mute witness of drab clothes.

However, at the end of it all, I felt great.

Yes, it was hard to part with some of my clothes, but I appreciated that someone else might be able to use them.

And the idea of not worrying about what I would wear in the morning was a surprising weight off my shoulders.

Beyond that, I felt like this was my way of telling the world my priorities are not its priorities.

Who I am will not be defined by what I wear, but by good works (1 Timothy 2:9-10) and the hidden person of the heart (1 Peter 3:4), for God looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).

I was officially bowing out of the rat race of trying to look the best.

My hope is that this change will allow me to focus on what is most important instead of personal vanity (1 Sam 16:7), fight against the world's obsession with appearances and status (James 2:1-4), and free myself up to spend money on furthering God's Kingdom (Matt 6:19-21).

This is not about legalism----no one has the same Testimony--nor earning God's favor.

It is not really even about clothes.

This is the start of discovering and walking in the ethos of New Testament Christianity, particularly in those areas Evangelicals have tended to neglect, so I can better be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Rebeldes Sin Causa: The Problem with the Black Lives Matter Movement

The Black Lives Matter Movement (BLMM), borne of the rage of George Zimmermann's acquittal, represents one of American's most toxic sociopolitical phenomena, expertly playing on people's fear and fighting battles that don't exist.

The clearest example of this is the movement's pervasive and egregious use of America's propensity towards police violence to "prove" every black man has something to fear from police whenever he exits his home.

In support of this baseless thesis, The Chicago Tribune ponders a police war on black men, a New York Times article on the BLMM blanketly reads "Stop Killing Us", and too many accept outrageous quotes like, "they kill our daddies, then make fun of us for being fatherless" as deep nuggets of wisdom.

The problem is none of these concerns correspond to reality.

I will be the first to say the deaths of men like Eric Garner, Eric Harris, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, and Walter Scott were grievous miscarriages of justice.

In general, the startling quickness with which the United States police force uses lethal means to resolve conflict, in contrast to de-escalation strategies employed by law enforcement agencies in other developed nations, deeply disturbs me.

Yet and still, black men are not being shot dead in the streets for being black.

In fact, black men are not simply being shot at all, if they are not committing a crime.

Even in the cases just mentioned, Eric Garner resisted arrest, Eric Harris ran from police, Freddie Gray ran from police, Walter Scott ran from police, and Tamir Rice was waving around a dummy pistol.

We see acts of confrontationalism or non-compliance by the victims in nearly all the controversial shootings used by the BLMM as proof of police racism.

They cast young men like Nicholas Robertson, Laquan McDonald, and Mario Woods as innocent victims of an out-of-hand police force because they were moving away from police before being unloaded upon, but neglect to mention Robertson was carrying a gun, and Woods and McDonald were brandishing knives.

The operant factor in all these lethal confrontations is not race, but that the victim had committed a crime and refused to be taken into custody.

Control for that fact and where do all the black deaths at the hands of police officers go? Or the white deaths for that matter!

Does resisting arrest justify death ipso facto? NO. Of course not. I cannot say this forcefully enough.

But what the BLMM refuses to come to grips with is that we have every reason to believe if these men had complied with police orders, allowed arrest, dropped their weapons, and/or not broken the law in the first place, they would still be alive today.

I say this with confidence because what we do not see is exactly what the BLMM says is happening: an "open season" on black men where everyone has something to fear.

Rather the way to avoid being killed is to avoid breaking the law, whether by not resisting arrest or doing something that would warrant arrest.

Instead of teaching respect for the law, an achievable solution, the BLMM would rather re-fight the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and put chips on people's shoulders that have the opportunity to turn any routine police stop into a Sandra Bland fiasco.

By avoiding real solutions in place of a fake war with the police, the BLMM relinquishes the  opportunity for progression, because while you cannot just change an officer's reaction, you can control your actions.

If these tragic deaths have taught us anything, if it is your life versus a police officer's life and you are doing something wrong, he is going to air on the side of his life and you may die, so do not do wrong.

While the deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers is the rallying point of the BLMM, it is not their only concern.

However, whether it's housing, unemployment, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, or education, the MO remains the same: shift the blame to a white power structure stacked against black people, wresting power from the hands of the only ones who can actual solve the problems: the people themselves.

For this reason, I submit we do not need a BLMM.

In its nearly four year lifespan, it has achieved little more than disruption, agitation, marginalization of frustrated white people, and de-powerment of black youth, with rare exception and outliers.

Just like Planned Parenthood does not equal women's healthcare, the BLMM does not equal black welfare and likewise does not merit the support of any Christian for its feckless and divisive tactics.

You want to help at-risk young black men? Build healthy Christian communities, encourage abstinence until marriage (single parenthood is crippling the black family), volunteer at or start a 4-H Club, sports team, Boy Scout troop, or youth group.

Be a mentor, a tutor, a Boys and Girls Club volunteer.

Assist a single mother, visit the local jails, help out at your local school, be an encouragement, rally against gang violence.

Be vulnerable, pray with and for young men and invite them into your homes.

Model Christ in all your efforts.

That is how you make a difference while the Black Lives Matter folks are busy fighting for equality by shutting down airports.