Sunday, April 6, 2014

Abandoning Dead Faith

It has been noted by many that most world religions contain an ethic of reciprocity or Golden Rule. These come in two basic forms-- the negative rule, sometimes referred to as the Silver Rule, "Don't do to other people what you wouldn't want done to you," and the positive rule, "Do to others as you would want done to you."

The negative or silver rule is a passive rule that doesn't take as much effort. As long as you're not hurting someone, you can do what you want.

The positive rule such as the Christian golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," is much harder because it is an active ethical position. It's not good enough to not harm people. We are actively called to help. This is the underlying principle of loving your neighbour as yourself and, therefore, the basis for all Christian morality.

The problem with much of the modern church is we've forgotten that our call is to an active faith.

For many Christians-- conservative, moderate, or liberal-- not doing the things the people we demonise do makes us good, or at least good enough.

  • "I'm not a homosexual. They are terrible, lust-filled, perverse, and un-self-controlled people. I am not. My beliefs are better than those other people. I'm a good, true Christian."
  • "I have gay friends and relatives, and I tell them I love them all the time, even though I won't condone their sinful lifestyle. I would never hurt a person for being gay, though. I'm not like those bullies who beat up gay people. My beliefs are better than those other people. I'm a good, true Christian."
  • "I'm not sure if the Bible condemns gay people or not. People should just live their lives and stay out of it. For me this is just a political issue, and Christians shouldn't be involved in an issue that's so divisive. I would never deny a person housing or a job or service for being gay. I'm not like those jerks. My beliefs are better than those other people. I'm a good, true Christian."
  • "I'm sure the Bible doesn't condemn gay people. I'm not one of those crazy Westboro loonies with their hurtful signs. They are terrible, hate-filled people. I am not. My beliefs are better than those other people. I'm a good, true Christian."
  • "I'm not a pro-abortion activist. They are terrible, baby-killing people. I am not. My beliefs are better than those other people. I'm a good, true Christian."
  • "I think there are some times when abortion is okay. For me this is just a political issue, and Christians shouldn't be involved in an issue that's so divisive. I would never deny a woman access to abortion or birth control. I'm not like those people who want to control women. My beliefs are better than those other people. I'm a good, true Christian."
  • "I'm not an anti-choice activist. They are terrible, anti-women people. I am not. My beliefs are better than those other people. I'm a good, true Christian."

    And the list goes on. We get to be holy while sitting on our keisters doing nothing but congratulating ourselves on how our beliefs are more righteous than the other guy's.

    But Christians aren't to be measured by their right beliefs, but by their loving actions. Do we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the unclothed, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, seek justice for the oppressed, care for widows and orphans, and otherwise act with lovingkindness toward all, whether they "deserve" it or not? At those times, we are acting as true Christians.

    Everything else is empty posturing.

    Worship, which derives from "worth-ship", isn't about sitting in a church, singing a few songs, and listening to a sermon on a Sunday morning, but putting into practice the command to love our neighbour. Only in this way do we show the true value we hold for the teachings of Jesus Christ.

    Let us all lay aside measuring ourselves against the imperfections of others, and instead seek to reflect the perfect grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Thursday, April 3, 2014

    Two Sons: A Parable

    Once upon a time, there was a mother who had to travel out of the country for some time. She had two children, a college-aged daughter and a son who was several years younger. She left each of her kids as well as her husband notes on what things she usually did that they each needed to do while she was gone. Among the tasks, the husband was to give the dog his nighttime food. The daughter, whose college classes ended before her brother's, was to make sure he did his homework as soon as he got home, cook the evening meal, for which she had detailed menus, and feed and water the dog in the morning.

    The son was tasked with setting and clearing the table, washing all the dishes, and sweeping the kitchen floor. In his note, the mother had also left her son some personal reminders and instructions. She reminded him that until their dad got home in the evening, his sister was in charge and that he needed to help her out with getting dinner ready if asked. She explained that he shouldn't be feeding the dog unless his dad or sister forgot because that would result in it overeating. She told him not to spend all his evenings playing video games and to not get into the food in the cabinet next to the stove, as that's where the food on the menu for the week was located. "Make sure you brush your teeth, comb your hair, and take your Adderall every morning," she reminded. "Be sure to spend extra time on your English. Get that grade up, and maybe we'll see about that iPod you wanted."

    Each of the notes also expressed her love for them, reminding them that she would love them forever.

    After the mother made it back home after her trip, the daughter and husband discarded their notes, but the son kept his, not wanting to throw away his mother's expression of love and pride in him.

    A few months later, the family adopted another son, a couple years younger than their first son. The mother poured a lot of love and care into their adopted son, making sure he knew that he, too, would be loved forever.

    The following year, a family emergency caused the mother to need to travel out of state. She didn't have time to write each of them notes, so she instead talked to them while she was packing, leaving the daughter once again in charge of the household in the afternoons before dad got home. "Be sure to do what your sister asks," she told the two boys. "I'm counting on you."

    The kids and dad divided up the tasks between them-- cooking, cleaning, dishes, dog.

    The day after their mother left, the older son pulled out the note his mother had left him the year before. While the situation was different and his tasks weren't quite the same, it served as a useful reminder. The younger son found the note and read it as well.

    The next day, the dad found the younger son trying to take the older son's Adderall. "Mom said I should," he defended.

    That afternoon, the sister noted that no one had fed the dog, which they had all agreed would be the younger son's job. "I'm not supposed to feed the dog. You and Dad are," he declared.

    The following day, a note came home from the school saying he hadn't turned in his math homework. "I spent too much time on my English homework," he explained at dinner.

    "But that isn't due till next Monday," the daughter pointed out.

    "I need to get my English grade up."

    "But you've got a B+ in it and a C- in math," the dad said, bewildered.

    "Mom said. If I get my grade up, she might buy me an iPod," the younger son answered, then left the room.

    That Friday, the older son had a friend stop by with a new video game. They played for quite some time while enjoying some crackers from the cabinet next to the stove. The younger son yelled at his older brother for disobeying their Mom by playing video games and getting into "that cabinet."

    And so a week passed in confusion until someone discovered the younger son consulting the letter written the year before to the older son. The dad sat his son down and explained that the note was written to his older brother and was intended as advice and instructions only for him, and only for that particular time and situation.

    "But it says it's to her son and that she'll love him forever. Mom is always saying she'll love me forever, and I'm her son, so the note is for me, too, and not just him. I'm just obeying what Mom wrote."

    Once upon a time, inspired by God, prophets and rulers wrote down advice and instructions for the people of Israel in various situations. Once upon a time, Jesus gave advice and instructions to his disciples for their time and place. Once upon a time, various early Christian writers penned letters to specific congregations full of teachings, advice, and instructions for their situations.

    Many of these writing have universal advice, good guidelines for our behaviour. But just because we Christians are God's adopted children, just because he loves us, does not give us ownership over the promises or rules he set up for his older chosen children. Just because we are followers of Christ doesn't mean the advice given to a group of Christ-followers will apply as well to us. Just like the younger, adopted son, we must be discerning of which rules and instructions are universal to all God's children and which were intended for specific people, at specific times, or in specific situations.

    Tuesday, April 1, 2014

    An Open Response to Indiana Rep. Mike Delph

    Mike Delph wrote in an editorial in the Indianapolis Star entitled "Opponents of Christian values don’t fight fair":

    'With the flurry of federal litigation regarding Indiana’s marriage statute, a law that has been on the books since 1986, it appears that our Hoosier society is on the verge of walking through a door never negotiated. Homosexuality is probably the most discussed sin in a sea of hundreds.'

    Really? Because the Bible never mentions it at all. The Bible has hundreds of passages on caring for the poor, standing for the oppressed, and loving your neighbour. Why is the sin of apathy toward the others not discussed and why are we making up sins to justify oppression?

    'You see principles of self-government were always predicated on a strong moral foundation usually anchored by our value system based in large part on the Bible. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Back then, it’s hard to imagine these rights included gay marriage or civil unions. Especially when the Creator referenced is the same Creator from the Bible, the same Bible that references homosexuality as “an abomination in the sight of God.”'

    1) Thomas Jefferson was a deist and had a number of disagreements with the Bible. To suggest that "the Creator" mentioned in the Declaration was the God of the Bible is in conflict with much of the writings and thoughts of the Founding Fathers, including Jefferson. 2) Our principle of governance is not based on a moral foundation, but the idea of EQUALITY for ALL PEOPLE. When you promote laws that oppress a group of people, you are directly opposing the very basis of our law. 3) Back then it's also hard to imagine those rights included interracial marriages or women being able to sue for divorce. 4) The Bible doesn't reference homosexuality as an abomination in the sight of God. First, homosexuality is never mentioned in the Bible because the concept was NOT KNOWN at the time. Period. Second, the term translated "abomination" in the Bible, to'ebah, was an indication that something rendered you ritually unclean. Abominations included cutting the corners of your hair, having a tattoo, planting a field with two crops, wearing mixed fabrics, and remarrying a woman you had previously divorced. None of those are sins. None of those apply to anyone but covenant Jews. None of those are things we would legislate against.

    'Rights come from God and are inalienable, meaning they cannot be taken away by man, or more important, by government.'

    Indeed, not even by government-sanctioned oppression, such as the 1986 law.

    'Governments are instituted among men to protect those rights. Not even courts have the power to create or remove rights. So how can a right exist that does not come from our Creator and what modern rights do we honestly believe are divinely inspired as opposed to invented and imposed by a left-wing orthodoxy?'

    Courts aren't creating rights, but recognising that the right already exists. Just liek straight people, LGBT people have the right to life-- to live without fear of being murdered for who they are or denied critical needs such as medical treatment and housing-- and to liberty-- to live as equals in all areas including employment, harassment-free education, and legal protections of their families in all matters including medical decision-making, inheritance, and co-parenting-- and the pursuit of happiness-- including the right to make their own decisions based on their own belief system, rather than yours. What other "sin" do you propose to use to justify withholding rights from a portion of society? Maybe you'd like to suggest that Muslim marriages, since they aren't Christian and are, therefore "sinful" should also not be recognised and protected in the state of Indiana? Or how about atheists? Or Christians who marry non-Christians? Divorcees?

    'Probably the biggest mess of all was when the government started involving itself in marriage. Tax benefits, estate planning benefits, societal legitimacy are all things traditional marriage brings participants. Even so the stability of society from traditional two parent families has served our state and nation well for years. This is what we are walking away from in our unquenchable thirst for political correctness and false tolerance.'

    Shedding oppressive laws isn't false tolerance or political correctness.

    'Now there is evidence that not only will businesses be sued for operating according to their own faith traditions, but churches themselves can be sued if they refuse to ordain a union their God rejects.'

    This is patently untrue. You are fear-mongering, sir, and should be ashamed of yourself. True love casts out all fear. It is obvious you do not practice Christ's call to love or you wouldn't be bearing false witness in such a craven manner.

    'Social order has been inverted and no one knows the impact, not even the staunchest advocates for this hard turn to the left. I recall a lecture in Bloomington when I was in college by William F. Buckley. He was answering a question regarding the legalization of marijuana, something to which he seemed sympathetic. He said that until societies truly understand the social costs and benefits of public policy and know that the benefit outweighs the cost, they should tread carefully.'

    We are not speaking about public policy. We are talking about justice and equality. Human dignity cannot be placed on scales. The costs of oppression are manifold and terrible. How dare you compare the degradation and pain meted out to LGBT members of our society every day to a recreational drug.

    'No one knows the end of the path we now walk.'

    That was also true when we as a society decided that people of colour deserved equal rights, when we decided women deserved equal rights, when we decided that interracial marriages deserved equal protections. That's no excuse to forego justice.

    'Perhaps we should consider this in the case of opening the floodgates to traditional marriage. No one with a soul wants someone harmed or discriminated against for being gay. But they also don’t want more than 200 years of social norms flushed down the drain without knowing the impact on the world. This is our dilemma.'

    It's only a dilemma if you consider people's lives as less important than a harmful and oppressive social tradition.

    'We are becoming a society and world without boundaries. Anything goes if it has a market.'

    So you are suggesting that LGBT people should have boundaries imposed on them that straight, cisgender people do not? How is this anything but injustice and bigotry? This isn't a matter of a "market". People are not property. Their lives are not for sale.

    'The liberal indoctrination is endless as we watch cultural elitists attack traditional values and bedrock American social norms.'

    Oppression is not a value. If injustice is a bedrock American social norm, we should all be ashamed, not proud, and certainly not working to uphold it.

    'Mickey Maurer, owner of the Indianapolis Business Journal, and John Krull, journalism director at Franklin College and publisher of The Statehouse File (and former head of the ICLU), have used their positions and media outlets to promote intolerance of traditional social norms, including long held Judeo-Christian views.'

    Opposing intolerance is not intolerance. Telling a bully to stop bullying is not bullying. You are not being oppressed when someone tells you you can't oppress someone else just because you can justify it with a few verses taken out of all context. That was true of equal rights for women. It was true of equal rights for people of colour. It was true of legal protections for interracial marriage. And it is true now in recognising the equality of LGBT people.

    'Political reporters Brian Howey and Jim Shella reinvent the chic diet of false entitlement, false rights and false fairness while attacking proponents of traditional values suggesting a seemliness and dirtiness for those who cling to their guns and Bibles.'

    Oh, dear sir, we do not need to suggest anything. All we have to do is point to your "traditional values" of oppression and injustice, and everyone can see the score. Your "values" are unseemly and dirty. Open your eyes.

    'And they are all supposed to be friends of the American experience, friends of freedom when it agrees with their perverted worldview.'

    Your worldview is that all are not created equal and that the government should not extend to all equal rights based on your faith. It is your worldview that is perverted, not the view of those who oppose your injustice.

    'It’s past time that we consider removing marriage completely from the confines of government, and let the church and other faith-based institutions marry according to their own belief systems and traditions.'

    So, are you okay with your in-laws having the right to make medical decisions for your wife? Are you okay with them banning you from your wife's hospital room if they feel like it? Are you okay with having no say on funeral decisions, obituaries, etc. if your wife dies? Are you okay with your wife paying crushing inheritance taxes on your property upon your death as if you were legally strangers, potentially leaving her unable to remain in your home? Are you okay with only one of you being able to legally adopt a child? Are you okay with no one being able to get any sort of accommodation for their foreign spouse to enter, remain in, or seek citizenship in the US? Are you okay with the US military stopping paying any sort of benefits to the spouses of our brave men and women who serve?

    'If I have learned anything over the last months in the HJR-3 debate, opponents of traditional Judeo-Christian values don’t fight fair or with honor.'

    Injustice is not a traditional Judeo-Christian value, for it does not fit with the greatest commandment to love, the commands to treat our neighbours as we wish to be treated, the commands to love everyone, even our worst enemies, and to do good to all, even those who we believe would do us harm. When you propose that oppression, bigotry, injustice, and cold-heartedness are "traditional Judeo-Christian values," you reveal that you do not understand or practice The Way of Jesus Christ.

    'They fight to win, and to date have been very successful.'

    Of course they fight to win. They are fighting for justice, for peace, for liberty, for equality, for love.

    'I have to give the devil his due. But the issue is still unresolved and thinking members of faith still have time to engage.'

    Thinking members of faith have engaged. And they have concluded that this matter of justice and equality means they should stand for the rights of LGBT people. Those opposed to it are those harbouring bigotry or a financial or political agenda.

    'There is hope for an outcome where we all can win.'

    Indeed. That would be equality for all. For, you see, when some are not free, none are truly free. Your opposition to marriage equality threatens my quite traditional marriage and my religious freedom.

    'By then we may have a better understanding of the net social cost or benefit from the path we march down.'

    If one more LGBT child is kicked out on the street by "Christian" parents to make their way by petty crime and prostitution, the price is too high. If one more LGBT person is beaten, stabbed, run over, shot, or doused with gasoline and burned to death, the price is too high. If one more LGBT husband or wife is unwelcome at their spouse's hospital bed or funeral, the price is too high. If one more LGBT child is driven to despair by bullying and your bigoted rhetoric into killing themselves, the price is too high. If one more LGBT widow or widower and their children lose their home to inheritance taxes, the price is too high. If one more LGBT person cannot be a proper and legally-recognised parent to their spouse's children, the price is too high. If one more LGBT child drops out of school because of the intolerance of fellow students, teachers, and staff, the price is too high. That's my cost/benefit analysis to the question of whether we should treat some of our citizens as second-class and undeserving of equality. We have seen the social cost of oppression. We will not tolerate it any more. If you are truly a man of Christ, you would not tolerate it either.

    'Delph, R-Carmel, represents Indiana Senate District 29.'

    I am not in your district, or I would be voting you out of office for your cold-heartedness and mockery of Christian faith.