Jeff Iorg Blog
Jimmy Carter’s Comments
Sep 25 2014
Former President Jimmy Carter, in a recent speech in Grand Rapids, Michigan, made two important points – one of which was ridiculous and the other quite correct, but not rightly applied.
In the first case, Mr. Carter affirmed gay civil rights and same-sex marriage by saying Jesus Christ never discriminated against anyone. As a Sunday School teacher for most of his adult life, it seems Mr. Carter would know a little more about Jesus than that.
Jesus had clear moral standards which he communicated on numerous occasions (like the woman at the well, the greedy young ruler, the woman caught in adultery, the arrogant Pharisees, etc.). Mr. Carter, and those who share his views, reduces Jesus to a sweet non-confrontationalist who just loved everyone. Jesus did love everyone, unconditionally, even enough to confront their destructive behavior. So, on this point, Mr. Carter’s biblical interpretations are shaped by current culture – not the other way around.
Mr. Carter’s second point is more salient. He advocates for autonomy of local Baptist churches and the necessity of government staying out of their decisions. He is right on that point but he does not finish the thought. Baptist churches and Baptist denominational bodies are both autonomous, meaning they determine their membership. When a church decides a person no longer represents its convictions or a denominational body decides the same thing about a church, separation is permissible and inevitable. That’s not discrimination or even theologically complicated; it’s just common sense.
Jimmy Carter is a wonderful humanitarian who has used his post-presidential years to do much good for many people. For that, he deserves our appreciation. But on these issues his compromising and convoluted message will ultimately do more harm than good.
Is Naked the New Normal?
Jul 14 2014
A new television show, “Naked Dating,” will debut later this week. In each episode, a man and a woman will date two different suitors – with the goal of deciding by the end of the episode if any of the relationships will continue. And, everyone is naked from first meeting until final credits.
This show joins a lineup of other recent shows with characters in the buff. “Naked and Afraid” drops two survivalists – a man and a woman – into rough country and expects them to live off the land. They are naked, but who wouldn’t be? Makes perfect sense to plunge into the Amazon rainforest or the African desert without any clothes.
Beyond these two shows, there is the equally implausible “Buying Naked” about searching for real estate in clothing-optional communities. The clients show up for home tours and serious discussions about a major life purchase missing something – their clothes. Again, makes perfect sense. Who doesn’t go house hunting in the nude?
Disclaimer - apart from about five minutes of watching “Naked and Afraid” just to be sure it really was what it was purported to be, I have not seen any of these shows. So, you may discount my opinion. But from those few minutes, and the commercials for the other programs, this stuff can only be described as pixilated porn. It’s certainly not art and, except in some kind of reverse way the creators didn’t intend, it isn’t social commentary or free speech. It’s just prurient drivel desperately trying to find an audience in the wasteland that is cable television.
The human body is beautiful, exquisite really. Sharing unashamed knowledge of another person’s body is part of genuine intimacy – consummated and celebrated in heterosexual marriage. Our culture is determined to substitute degraded or downgraded experiences for God’s best – in every area, not just this one. It’s tragic. The holy is trivialized and we miss the blessings God planned for us.
Too bad that’s the real new normal.
Autonomy and Its Implications
Jun 02 2014
Baptists have a unique conviction about “autonomy” which undergirds our church and denominational polity. When we declare a Baptist entity – church, association, or convention – autonomous, we mean it’s self-determining and free from the control of any outside agency. Baptist churches and denominational bodies have no pope, council, synod, or committee controlling their decisions.
In the case of a local church, this means it decides its doctrine and practice, free from outside control. That’s a good thing. Baptist leaders - including denominational leaders - stand for local church autonomy, even though it’s disconcerting when churches make unhealthy, unwise, or even heretical decisions. Nevertheless, the alternative to local church autonomy is more odious than the occasional problem it causes.
But there’s another aspect of autonomy churches must also recognize – particularly churches that express their autonomy by breaking with standards other church’s have agreed to when establishing denominational bodies. That other aspect is associations and conventions are also autonomous. Just as an autonomous church can decide who is accepted into and can remain among its membership, a denominational collective of churches can do the same thing.
When a denominational body rejects a church from its membership, it is exercising its autonomous right to determine its affiliated churches. In a few days, the Southern Baptist Convention will meet in Baltimore. It’s possible at this convention, or perhaps by 2015, the question of removing churches from the convention over the issue of affirming homosexuality will be raised.
Does the convention, expressing its will by its voting messengers, have the right to do this? Absolutely. The messengers from the churches decide which churches are affiliated with the convention based on the agreements the participating churches have made regarding doctrine and practice.
When any church’s actions are questioned by other leaders, supporters often defend the church’s right to do whatever it wants based on “local church autonomy.” They are exactly right. Every church has the right to do whatever it wants, but so does every association and convention. When a church exercises its autonomy in a way that puts it in conflict with denominational standards, it’s free to believe and practice whatever it chooses – just no longer as part of the larger body. Accountability, including the loss of membership, is part of membership in any group – including a church, association, or convention.
The determination of Baptist membership, from individuals in local churches to churches in denominational bodies, is determined by the standards established by the members, not the preferences of any one member. It’s painful when a church must remove a person from its membership, and similarly distressing when a church must be removed from an association or convention.
Baptists already face withering criticism for standing for biblical morality. We will be tested further in the next few years as some churches abandon biblical morality and their sister churches, expressed as denominational bodies, make their response. May God give us gentle grace and unflinching courage to stand by our convictions.
Another San Francisco Innovation
May 19 2014
The Bay Area is known for innovation. Companies like Levi’s (for a long time) and Apple (just one of many today) produce new products that enrich our lives. Sadly, this spirit of innovation also has a dark side. San Francisco is known for innovating new forms of cultural perversion. The latest example on a street near you, courtesy of a Bay Area entrepreneur, is the Hook Up Truck – a portable location for casual sex.
The Hook Up Truck can be ordered like a cab or booked in advance for a private party or corporate outing. The truck provides a spartan, but private place for casual sex. It’s equipped with safe-sex warnings and products – although clearly labeled that there’s no warranty promised or implied. It also has a built-in camera system so participants can capture whatever they want to post on social media.
By now, you’re thinking “is this some kind of late April Fool’s joke?” Nope. It’s real. A fornication palace on wheels, delivered to your driveway or parked outside your favorite nightclub. The truck owner touts its cleanliness by promising its “cleaner than many BART trains or bathrooms around town.” That’s good to know! No one wants to use an unsanitary bathroom or BART train for casual sex when the hook up truck is just a phone call away.
I would ask, “What will they think of next?” but I’m afraid of the answer! God is so patient with us. We are rushing headlong toward judgment, culturally flaunting every standard of moral purity. We’re so arrogant. We think we are different and will avoid paying for rejecting God’s standards. We won’t. Eventually, we will pay a high price for our determined rebellion.
In the meantime, your family and your church can be an island of sanity in this sea of moral confusion. Hold fast to God’s standards for moral purity! It seems impossible but it can be done. You will be in a ridiculed minority but your life will be so much better for it. Stand strong!
Christians Need Not Apply
May 12 2014
Mark Jackson, former head coach of the Golden State Warriors, was fired last week. On the surface, that’s not big news. Professional sports teams are transient employers with people being hired and fired every season. But in this case, the reasons for the firing were puzzling. Jackson had led the Warriors to the NBA playoffs the past two seasons and enjoyed enthusiastic support from the players who spoke out on his behalf. There was apparently, however, significant tension between Jackson and team executives who felt it was in their best interest to let him go. Local and national media questioned the decision and many thought it was a mistake.
There is an additional interesting twist to the story. Mark Jackson is an ordained minister who shares leadership of a church in Southern California. Sunday, in the San Francisco Chronicle, two local commentators broached this subject in describing Jackson’s firing. Their comments are chilling.
Al Saracevic, sports editor, wrote, “Jackson was a horrible fit in the Bay Area. He is a devout Christian who believes one should pray for homosexuals. Ask yourself: Would you want someone who believes that running your business?”
Willie Brown, former mayor of San Francisco and national political media personality, added in his column, “There has been a lot of talk that Jackson was let go because he held one too many prayer meetings. It might be true. Jackson is a minister, and he is definitely a religious zealot.” And then he added about selecting a future coach, “You have to have a coach with glamour. A guy who can drink martinis with high-priced corporate sponsors. What you don’t need is someone who is going to be preaching – at least not in this market.”
So, it has come to this. Evangelical Christians, devout Catholics, practicing Mormons, most Muslims, and many Jews – according to these opinionated leaders – should be shut out of leadership of major corporations because of their religious convictions. The persons in these religious traditions all share similar convictions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. These convictions, according to these commentators, now disqualify them from employment in significant leadership roles.
Saracevic also opined, “If we have learned anything in the past few weeks, it’s that there is no room in the NBA for discrimination.” Tell that to Mark Jackson.
The Sterling Mess
May 05 2014
Donald Sterling was recently banned from the NBA for making racist comments to his mistress. This action by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been widely applauded in popular media. I work in a pluralistic, multi-ethnic environment (we have been called the most multicultural seminary in the world), so I have followed the whole episode with considerable interest. While Sterling’s racism is offensive and deserves condemnation, the overall public response has intrigued me – particularly on these three issues.
First, Sterling made his comments to his girlfriend – while he is still married. While his racism was rightly condemned as immoral, I have yet to hear media leaders condemn Sterling for his open, arrogant adultery. One radio commentator, when asked about this issue, opined “all rich men have mistresses so that’s really not an issue.” Apparently, adultery is acceptable – just as long as you are not a racist adulterer.
Second, Sterling’s comments resulted in his being banned from owning a business. Sounds good on the surface, but is that really a position you support? During the Civil Rights Movement, boycotting businesses was an effective method of forcing societal change. Martin Luther King used boycotting as a primary means of non-violent resistance. But, boycotting a business is not the same as denying a person the right to own a business. Equating them is a major cultural leap – perhaps leading to a new legal precedent. While you may agree with the action in Sterling’s case, what if he were banned for holding that homosexual behavior is a sin or same-sex marriage is wrong or some other politically incorrect position? That may be the cause of the next banning. If you don’t believe me, ask the guy who ran Mozilla.
Finally, Sterling’s comments were no less vulgar and offensive than the lyrics of hip-hop artists who own, associate with, and are promoted by NBA teams. Will the NBA demonstrate consistency and drop all business relationships with racists, homophobes, and misogynists who call their vitriol “art” so they can get away with pumping it into culture? I doubt it. Racism is apparently acceptable – as long as it is expressed in a song or a stand-up comedy routine – just not the boardroom or the privacy of your home.
Sterling’s comments were moronic. He deserved personal censure and financial consequences. There’s no defense for his position. But there is a need to think carefully about the implications of how his behavior was confronted. The way this matter was resolved may have far reaching and troubling social, political, and legal consequences.
Standing for Something
Mar 17 2014
I met this past weekend with a group of national ministry leaders who work quietly, but seriously, to make disciples – primarily among young men. One of our agenda items was discussing the issues related to helping Christians stand for their values when their convictions are labeled hate speech and may be prosecutable offenses. We discussed several options – all of which were focused on avoiding needless controversy and diminishing our efforts.
No matter how hard we worked, or how creative the options we proposed, we kept coming back to the same conclusion. We now live in a culture where expressions of historic Christian convictions about morality are illegal. And, no matter how much we wished for a different conclusion – the reality is Christians are paying fines and may be going to jail in the United States for voicing their convictions in public places, in workplaces, and in educational settings.
The larger question for many American Christians is, “Should we avoid this at all cost?” The global church laughs at our timidity. Harassed and/or persecuted Christians around the world have been grappling with these issues for years. One pastor friend told me, “When they held the gun to my head and asked me to renounce Jesus, I couldn’t do it. I expected to die that day.” That’s the way many Christians live every day. We are just beginning to experience the first inklings of harassment – and we are already calling it “persecution” and worried about how to avoid it.
We concluded our responsibility as leaders is helping believers understand the consequences of living by convictions and counting the cost before voicing those convictions publicly. We can’t cower, denying what we believe to keep the peace. Neither should we be rude or offensive. But reasonably and deliberately standing by our convictions is our responsibility. Keeping the peace at all cost simply is not our goal. Let’s ask God for wisdom to know when to take stand, what convictions to stand for, and how to accept the consequences without whining!
Pot Smokers Unite!
Mar 10 2014
“A barber shop in Greeley, Colorado is refusing to serve customers who smell like pot smoke” is the eye-catching opening line of a recent story in USA Today. Marijuana is legal in Colorado, so the obvious question is how can Hugo’s Barber Shop discriminate against pot smokers by refusing to serve them?
According to their attorney, Scott Robinson, they are perfectly within their rights because businesses can refuse service to anyone – as long as it’s not for race, religion, or gender. The owners of Hugo’s don’t want the pot smell in their family-oriented business. The pot smokers are, of course, outraged. They are attempting a social media firestorm to try to get the shop to change its policy.
Hey, pot smokers, wrong strategy! If you aren’t too stoned to concentrate, focus here for a minute. You are attacking this problem all wrong. Your best solution is to claim pot smoking is your “orientation.” That’s right; simply make pot smoking a genetic demand. It’s not a behavior you choose or a practice you can control. You were born a pot smoker and thus a pot smoker you must be. Take a page from the homosexual movement. When you can get voluntary behavior reclassified as an orientation, it’s constitutionally protected. Problem solved.
While a hair salon can exclude pot smokers because they don’t like the smell, imagine if the customers were a pot-smoking same-sex couple asking Hugo’s to be their hair stylists in preparation for their wedding. The barbers would be prosecuted for a civil right violation for refusing to serve them – if they cited the marriage as the reason for refusing service. But keep the opposition focused on the pungent smell of weed – and they are in the clear.
Since we have moved a fundamental cultural boundary stone – the definition of human sexuality – we can expect resulting decisions to be increasingly off-kilter. We can’t build a solid cultural house on a faulty legal foundation.
Flipping through the channels, I recently stumbled across a show on MTV that was new to me – Girl Code. If you haven’t seen it, you haven’t missed anything. It’s a series of interviews of young women – and a few young men – telling young girls the supposed secrets of womanhood. Their counsel is crude and jaded – mostly focusing on promiscuity (doubt they even know what that word means) and vulgarity (being crude is a definite value for the counselors). Watching it was a sad few minutes for me – and then I realized the show had multiple episodes running in a kind of MTV-perversity marathon. Doubly sad!
A few days later, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was released. I opt out of that issue – just don’t want it in my mailbox. But that doesn’t prevent me – or about any other male sports fan – from seeing part of it. The cover is featured on dozens of sports-themed websites each year when it is released. Many young women also see the magazine, not just the cover, and watch their boyfriends drool over it. Again, sad.
About the same time these models of American womanhood were being presented, a popular book was released by a female business leader calling on women to break every barrier and rise to the top of the corporate ladder. Another book, which made a big media splash, reported on the rise of women to dominate enrollment in medical and law schools. Clearly, young women have some very aggressive role models challenging them to rise to leadership roles in society.
All this confuses me. It must be really hard to be a girl these days. Popular culture tells girls to be vulgar vixens, bombshell sex objects, assertive corporate leaders, and respected professionals. And, the truly amazing women can do it all! But I wonder, is this really a healthy message for girls?
The Christian faith is a liberating faith for women. If you don’t believe it, just compare the status of women in “Christian-influenced” nations with the status of women in other nations. It’s not even close! So girls, if you are confused about all the supposed role models in popular culture – take heart. The Bible, and Christian women who base their lives on it, are a timeless model for fulfilling femininity. The Bible has a far better “girl code” than any other source!
Abortion Rates Decline
Feb 03 2014
According to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate in the U.S. declined in 2011 to its lowest rate since 1973 and the number of abortions fell by 13 percent between 2008 and 2011. While there were still about 1.06 million abortions in 2011 (and that’s still a national disgrace), the declining numbers are encouraging.
The report postulated several reasons for the decline – ranging from the economic downturn making people more cautious about pregnancy to improved access to and use of contraceptives. Another factor, not mentioned in the report, is a growing cultural aversion to abortion as a birth control method. Other more recent surveys show a slight majority of Americans now oppose abortion. While far from being outlawed, abortion is less popular than ever.
This is good news for unborn children who depend on others to defend their right to life. It’s also good news for the American society as we take at least one small step away from policies and practices designed to weed out those persons deemed weak, unnecessary, or unproductive. While a diminished number abortions isn’t the same as eliminating abortions, it’s a positive step in the right direction. Right to life advocates, adoptions providers, and crisis pregnancy center workers should be saluted and supported for the good work they are doing.
Jan 27 2014
President Obama has formed a task force to study the problem of sexual assaults on college campuses. He has asked for a report in 90 days – record time for a governmental study – indicating how serious he is about finding solutions to this urgent problem. Some reports indicate one in five college students is victimized by some form of sexual assault. It’s a serious problem and the President should be affirmed for putting the weight of his office behind finding solutions.
The White House report leading to the formation of the task force indicated sexual assaults on campuses occur in a “special context.” One reporter described it this way, “drugs, alcohol and a party-hearty atmosphere prevail in dorms and apartments, leaving women incapacitated and vulnerable.” I would add – “and drunken and stoned men doing stupid things” – to balance the responsibility for both sexes!
It will be interesting to see what the task force comes up with as solutions. Let me propose three that will not be in the report – but should be. They are common sense suggestions libertarian educational elitists won’t consider. But hey, it’s my blog – so here goes.
First, no drugs or alcohol on campus, among college-affiliated groups, or at college-sponsored events. Why must “college” equal “intoxicated?” Who made that rule an inviolable part of the college experience? Eliminate easy access to booze and pot and the incidence of sexual assault will plummet.
Second, put men and women into separate living quarters. No more shared rooms, floors, bathrooms, and buildings. Eliminating easy access to shared facilities, coupled with the absence of intoxicants, and sexual assault will also decline significantly.
Three, train men to respect women. This will be virtually impossible. Many men today are confused about how to treat women. Many women demand equality and resent any deference or hint of special treatment – like the lady who glared at me for opening a door for her and brushed past me in a huff. When our culture tells men women don’t deserve special respect, some men will take that to an illogical extreme and take advantage of women any way they can.
These three common sense suggestions are already in place at most Christian colleges. While they have an occasional sexual assault on campus, the incidence rate is miniscule compared to secular schools. Perhaps the task force will do a comparison study among different kinds of schools and realize common sense solutions based on timeless moral values still work.
Not likely – it’s a government study so more complex and costly answers are assured!
Standing Room Only
Oct 07 2013
Our conference last week on Ministry in the New Marriage was a good success. We had a standing room only crowd that spilled out of the chapel. As one person told me, “It was a good conference – even from the stairs outside.” We appreciate the patience of everyone who participated and the hard work of the people who made it happen.
The speakers did an outstanding job of answering the question “now what?” on the subject of developing strategies for ministry in the new marriage culture. We have settled the right/wrong issues, now it’s time to move on to other questions. This conference was about starting the conversation about designing ministry to people – married, divorced, children, business owners, employers, etc. – who will be impacted by the new definition of marriage.
Even though we had four very different presenters, the commonality of their approach can only be attributed to God’s guidance. Their tone was right, their information timely, and their recognition of how complicated the problems are was honest. While we may not have answered every question, we certainly created parameters to guide the discussion.
Golden Gate is making the conference videos available – free of charge – for leaders to use in church ministry settings. You can access the recordings at this link
. If you are looking for balanced counsel from a biblical perspective on ministry in the new marriage culture, these videos will help you. If you are expecting an angry diatribe or simplistic answers, they won’t do much for you.
Let’s move forward with convictional kindness (borrowing a phrase from Dr. Russell Moore) and apply the gospel in fresh ways to old problems masquerading as something new in our culture.
Out with Doctrine!
Sep 30 2013
This week, Golden Gate will be hosting a conference called “Ministry in the New Marriage Culture.” We will address how churches can respond to the changing definition of marriage. We will have presentations on the legal, cultural, biblical, and theological perspectives on the current situation. All of this will be bent toward practical steps churches and church leaders can take to address the myriad ministry issues in the new marriage culture.
We are a confessional seminary. We take the Bible seriously and allow it to shape our positions and guide our decisions. We embrace words like “doctrine” and “theology” to describe our biblically-centered framework for institutional choices. This pattern will be reflected in the upcoming conference. Unfortunately, even as a religious organization, we are becoming more of a minority in this regard.
Brian Cahill, former executive director of San Francisco Catholic Charities recently editorialized in the San Francisco Chronicle about the Pope Francis’ comments on sexuality. Mr. Cahill is very enthused about what he perceives as the Pope’s less strident position on sexual ethics. He wrote, “What is changing is that we have a pope who is a real shepherd, a pope who believes and articulates that the Christian message is primarily a message of love and inclusiveness, not doctrine and belief.”
Mr. Cahill accurately articulates how many people, even religious leaders who should know better, are re-defining Christianity to suit their purposes. The Christian message is now all about “love and inclusiveness, not doctrine and belief.” Seriously, what “Christian message” is he talking about? He may believe in a modern religious message of love and inclusiveness, devoid of any theological conviction – but it isn’t a “Christian” message. It’s simply a syrupy, self-help, self-indulging message of self-justification. It’s idolatry - subtle but sure. It’s redefining God in our terms, not acknowledging Him on his terms.
While my worldview is contrary to those who are abandoning convictional leadership, it’s refreshing to see them clearly articulate their position. The contrast is clear, and you have to make a choice. Will you practice a religion, even calling it “Christianity,” in terms you decide or will you submit yourself to God and allow him to define your religious standards?
Even though I will do it imperfectly - I choose to shape my convictions to God’s standards, not define his positions by my preferences. I hope you will do the same.
Sep 23 2013
Brian Holloway owns a home in New York and one in Florida. While he was in Florida, a mob of about 300 teenagers and young adults broke into his home and threw a party. They did significant damage – initial estimates of about $20,000 – including broken furniture, shattered windows, and graffiti painted inside the house.
The party was discovered when the revelers posted the party’s play-by-play on various social media. The police are now using that information to round up the participants. When Mr. Holloway was contacted he took an unusual step. Rather than demand justice, he offered mercy. He offered to forego prosecution of anyone who would come forward, pay for part of the damage, and help with the clean up. His offer, along with examples of the damage and some of the social media documenting the participants, is posted at www.helpmesave300.com.
So far, only four partiers have accepted his offer. Instead, some of the parents of these hooligans are threatening legal action against Mr. Holloway for posting images of their children and messages written by them on the web. News flash – it’s called “social media” and it was broadcast by your children! So stop your enabling, pandering nonsensical attacks and get with the program. Step up and demand your children take responsibility. It’s called “parenting” – a tough job to be sure, but your responsibility nonetheless.
While offensive, this entire incident shouldn’t really surprise us – when you think about it from the perpetrators perspective. We now live in a culture that has abandoned absolute Truth as foundational for its legal system. We have also abandoned following laws legally enacted if they don’t suit our purposes. When young people see attorneys general, county clerks, and federal officials ignoring laws on marriage and marijuana (two recent, continuing examples) – well, what other conclusion can they draw except to exempt themselves as well from following the law?
Some public officials don’t like marriage or marijuana laws, so they ignore them or refuse to enforce them. These young people apparently don’t respect property laws, so they ignored them and don’t understand why everyone is so upset. It’s perverted, but a reasonable conclusion in a culture abandoning both Truth and the rule of law. If some people get to selectively follow the law, why don’t the rest of us? That’s the reasoning of those who destroyed private property because, well, because they wanted to – no other reason needed.
It’s the world we now live in. What a mess.
A Dark Day - A Bright Opportunity
Jun 27 2013
The recent Supreme Court decisions related to gay marriage were a dark day in American history. The Court has been wrong before and they are wrong again. Nothing can be legally proper or politically correct when it is morally wrong. With that said, it’s time to accept the reality of the legality of gay marriage and move on to discussing how to minister in this new milieu.
Challenging new ministry situations are on the horizon. For example, a child comes to your Vacation Bible School and receives Jesus as Savior and Lord. His same-sex married parents come for the family night program. How will you react to their presence? A person in a gay marriage commits himself to Jesus and requests baptism in your church. How will your church respond to his profession of faith? One person in a same-sex marriage becomes a Christian and wants to end their marriage. The couple has children. Do you endorse this divorce and risk the custody of the children being awarded to the unbeliever?
These are just samples of the complexity in ministry decisions as we respond to this cultural shift. Certainly, we must prioritize sharing the gospel. We must uphold our convictions about moral purity. We must advocate for biblical marriage. Compromising our positions isn’t the solution. Sorting out how to apply our convictions in real life, flesh-and-blood situations is the challenge. While it won’t be easy, the church must demonstrate compassionate convictions in resolving these issues. Holding to Truth is essential; being angry while doing it is detrimental.
Another ministry challenge will be helping Christians learn to navigate gay marriage as they encounter it in the public square. Christians work in companies, hospitals, schools, and governmental agencies which must now legally provide services to gay married couples. Churches will be challenged to help their members think theologically about and behave ethically in these situations. This will be good for the church as we move away from pandering, simplistic forms of so-called discipleship to really helping people learn to think more deeply about their faith.
Golden Gate is near the epicenter of the gay marriage movement. We have been grappling with these issues for longer than many other ministries. We will keep standing for biblical marriage, while at the same time, leading the way in training men and women to minister in a culture which opposes our values – but needs the gospel more than ever. Dark days are opportunities for bright light!
Boys and Girls – By Choice
Apr 22 2013
Thirty years ago, I delivered a presentation at a church about the coming cultural changes our country seemed headed toward given the political trends in Western Europe and the worldview convictions of many prominent American educational leaders. Most of my audience was bemused, but not really alarmed. After all, what could a young minister really know about such things? One older man was neither bemused nor amused – he was angry! He met with me after the service and told me plainly I was an alarmist with little factual basis for my observations or warnings.
Time has proven me more right than wrong, much to my dismay. My presentation foreshadowed developments like recognizing homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle, embracing abortion as birth control, and eliminating gender identity as a defining human characteristic. The first two of these are cultural realities now. The third one is the next wave of cultural change you will be facing.
Last week, the California Assembly Education Committee, passed a bill indicating students will be "permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs, activities, and facilities, including athletic teams and competitions," consistent with "his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil's records." This bill must now be considered by the Assembly, and it may not pass quickly. But given the political forces pushing this agenda, something like this is likely to become law sooner rather than later.
What does this mean? Well, boys who identify as girls can use girls’ restrooms and locker rooms, as well as play on athletic teams for the gender they self-identify – not their birth gender. The key is their gender choice, not what it says on their birth certificate. And if your child complains? They will likely be subject to charges of bullying or discrimination.
American political leaders are succumbing to unbelievable pressures these days. They are throwing out centuries of global societal convictions about marriage, sexuality, and gender identity. All of this is being done in the name of civil rights and equality for all, but the real agenda is remaking society without reference to moral standards rooted in religious convictions. It’s a sad day – but there’s little evidence the current trends will be or even can be reversed. My “eternal optimism” is waning in the face of unprecedented societal suicide.
If you want more information, check out www.genderinsanity.com
You will find much more detailed information there about the proposed law and what it means for the future.
The Seton Hall University woman’s lacrosse team was involved in a bus accident a few days ago. The bus driver and head coach were killed, and many players were also injured. This is a horrific event for the families of the deceased, the injured, and the university community. Our hearts go out to them and prayers go up for them. May God sustain them through the pain!
The news reporting of this accident caught my attention. Our two large, local newspapers reported Coach Kristina Quigley, who was pregnant, was killed – along with her “unborn son” (San Francisco Chronicle) or “unborn child” (San Jose Mercury News). Ms. Quigley was about six months pregnant. Multiple other internet news sources reported two people were killed in the accident – referring only to the driver and the coach without mentioning the child.
The media, who largely support abortion on demand, don’t know exactly how to handle the death of an unborn son/child/fetus. They can’t really report it as another “person” killed in the accident – which would be inconsistent with their position that abortion doesn’t really take a life, just eliminates a tissue. By reporting the “unborn” as a “son” or “child,” they seem to be actually acknowledging that some “one” not some “thing” else died in the accident.
Many abortionists would argue a fetus this developed is, of course, a child. They would reject late term abortions as outside what should be “on demand.” But that raises the inevitable question, “how late in the term?” Which day, exactly, does tissue turn into a child? The only answer that makes sense to me is the day he or she is conceived.
When an unborn child dies in an accident, the media, most people (and probably most abortionists) call it a tragedy. If this woman had aborted the child a few weeks earlier, the same people would have called it a choice. Tragedy or choice – it can’t be both.
My personal ministry includes chaplaincy services to professional baseball players through an organization called Baseball Chapel. One of our policies is strict confidentiality, so most of what I do is “off the grid.” We only disclose information about players they self-disclose through the media. A player has recently taken a public stand which deserves notice.
One of our chapel guys, Jeremy Affeldt, is a relief pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. Jeremy lives his faith and has become a passionate advocate against modern slavery. Through his influence, about two dozen other baseball players have joined in supporting a movement called “Not for Sale.” This past weekend, Jeremy hosted an informational and fundraising event to get even more players involved. This excites me in two ways.
First, I am excited Jeremy is using his influence and resources to make a difference in our world. He views everything he has as a stewardship. He is trying to make the most of those resources to change the lives of others for the better. He is a role model for others, inside baseball and outside baseball, who can learn from his example. Jeremy is doing more than giving money. He went to Thailand last year to work directly with children who have been rescued.
Second, I am excited Jeremy understands the Christian faith as a proactive source for social change. We are supposed to love mercy and do justice. Christians must care for and advocate for the poor, displaced, enslaved, and otherwise abused who have no voice. Jeremy has taken a stand, demanding governments reject lethargy or corruption and stop slavery. He is a force for good and a model for all of us who can do the same.
Human slavery is a blight on our world. It exists in America and several other countries, most who are our allies and trading partners. There is no justification for it – no gray area at all! If you are unaware of the problem, check out the “Not for Sale” website. If you like baseball and want to join “team Jeremy,” make a gift to help stop human trafficking.
The Porn Pastor
Feb 25 2013
A preacher and a porn star are working together to sexually liberate the People’s Republic of China. You might expect that from the porn star, but not from the preacher. But then, you may not have heard of this preacher.
Ted McIlvenna is an 80-year old United Methodist minister who owns one of the largest collections of vintage porn from the 1970’s and 80’s. His holdings fill his headquarters building in San Francisco, 28 storage facilities across California, and supply the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas. Rev. McIlvenna is a recognized “authority” on obscenity, often serving as an expert witness in support of the porn industry in California courts. He will travel to China, along with 10 speakers, to lead an Advanced Sexology Conference in Guangzhou. This event is sponsored by the China Sexology Association.
You are probably thinking, “It’s a little early for April Fool’s. This can’t be real.” Well, it is, as recently reported in the S.F. Chronicle. A Methodist minister, known for being a sex expert and porn collector, is going to China to spread the gospel of the sexual revolution.
When people without knowledge of or fear of God contradict His moral standards, we shouldn’t be surprised or react too strongly. We need to teach them a better way. When a minister, with access to the Bible, makes these same choices – it’s mindboggling. Yet, in our culture, ministers – in the name of God – are leading the charge on promoting pornography, affirming homosexuality, rejecting morality, and redefining marriage. We are in a sad state – like described in the Old Testament – when the priests, prophets, pastors, and preachers are the source of debauchery. That did not ever turn out well.
What’s interesting is how most media portray ministers who speak up for biblical standards related to these issues. We are labeled bigots, hate-mongers, or fundamentalists. We are accused of denying people their civil rights, ignoring God’s love for all people, and being intolerant of personal lifestyle choices. While a tiny sliver of ministers and churches might fit this description, most of these descriptors aren’t even close to accurate.
Ministry leaders in the next 20 years in America will face an interesting choice – kowtow to media pressure or faithfully stand up on biblical truth. The choice has never been more clearly defined and the consequences of capitulation more tragically evident.
There can be no fence-straddling on these issues. Either the Bible reveals God’s plan for morality, or it doesn’t. I’ve made my choice. I will continue to uphold biblical moral values. I hope you will too.
Feb 11 2013
A recent report by the Center for Disease Control indicates 1 out of 8 women ages 18-34 and 1 out of 5 high school girls binge drink on a regular basis. For the purpose of the study, binge drinking was defined as consuming 4+ alcoholic beverages in a 2-3 hour span. Men have usually been considered the binge drinking gender, but women are catching up fast.
The study proposed several causes like women turning to alcohol for solace, using alcohol as a social lubricant, drinking to prove their maturity or establish their independence, self-medicating to avoid painful life situations or drinking to gain affirmation or acceptance from others who drink for any of the previous reasons. These are the often the reasons men drink, and no doubt they are some of the reasons women are guzzling more and more alcohol.
But is there another issue, much less politically correct, that might be at the source of these choices? The study quoted one participant, aged 32, as saying she formerly drank so much as an attempt to resolve “emotional turbulence, feelings of unhappiness, and thoughts of low self-worth.” In short, she was so confused about her womanhood, she was unable to function without something to dull the pain and ease the confusion.
The changing roles and expectations of women in the past 50 years have left many women wondering who they are and how they are supposed to function. Rather than produce emotional stability, happiness, and high self-esteem… the opposite is happening. Cultural leaders have convinced young women they must reject any semblance of traditional gender roles (and the natural impulses which undergird those roles) to compete head-to-head with men and be like them in every venue. At one point, early in the women’s movement, freedom to make these choices was the supposed goal. While that’s still the verbiage used, adopting these new definitions and responsibilities of womanhood has become a mandate for all women.
Young women, despite claims to the contrary by some, don’t seem to be handling this pressure very well. The confusion is driving them, in record numbers (1 out of 5 high schoolers!) to the bottle. Ladies, are you really sure what you have been told by the culture will make you happy? If so, prepare to help your younger sisters with their twelve-step programs as more and more of them turn to alcohol to ease their pain. If not, take a long look at what the Bible says about womanhood. You will find a healthier model there!
In a recent column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Hank Plante (prominent West Coast journalist), reported this conclusion on the issue of legitimizing gay rights. “It’s over.” He then referenced issues like the changing position on sexual orientation in leadership by the Boy Scouts, recent policy changes by Marriott, and President Obama’s Second Inaugural Address as evidence.
From my vantage point, sadly, I agree with Mr. Plante – It is over. In one generation, the LGBT community – through adroit political and social action – has redefined their behavior as a basic civil right. Rather than immoral behavioral choices, their actions are now biologically-mandated orientations protected by law. Moral sanctions, expressed as laws or cultural mores, have been replaced with relativism and amoral decision-making. There is no longer any recognition of absolute Truth producing a Judeo-Christian ethic. Any claim you were “born this way” makes your behavior acceptable.
It will be interesting to see in the next generation how this line of reasoning progresses – or digresses, depending on your point of view. Any behavior a person wants to justify can be excused by claiming “I was born this way.” Some current advocates in the LGBT community will be shocked when people legally mate with animal or adults sexually partner with children. I can hear the outcry at these predictions – just more hysterical ranting from the Religious Right. Religion has nothing to do with it. Just continuing the trajectory of current reasoning will logically lead to conclusions unthinkable today. When there are not absolute standards, upon what basis will future proclivities by denied?
A few years ago, a person tried to sue a ministry organization for wrongful termination. His attorney claimed, “Adultery is his sexual preference.” His position was ludicrous and his case quickly collapsed. Now, I think he could win. After all, if he was born with an insatiable heterosexual drive that demands multiple partners, who are we to judge! Dismissing him for immorality would be a violation of his civil rights.
Evangelicals are headed for an interesting future in the United States. We will be increasingly marginalized and ridiculed for standing for biblical morality. We are about to be ostracized from political processes, since we will be the lunatic fringe that keeps candidates from being politically correct enough to be elected. Rather than be discouraged, however, my hope is these realities will drive us to a deeper devotion to God, dependence on his Word, and determination to build churches as islands of hope in an ocean of cultural dysfunction.
Down with the Rich!
Jan 28 2013
I haven’t made anyone mad lately, so here goes! An interesting development in our entitlement culture is the current fad of criticizing and penalizing people who generate and control wealth. See for example – Phil Mickelson. This baffles me.
I grew up in a working class family. My parents both worked full-time and we lived paycheck-to-paycheck. From my earliest years, my parents encouraged me to go to college, choose a career, and make a better life for myself than they had. This was considered normal back then – parents wanting their children to exceed their accomplishments. When I chose ministry, my parents were very supportive. It was an honorable, if not lucrative vocational choice.
I challenged my children to do the same thing – make a life better than their parents. My daughter and her husband have chosen ministry. Good for them! But both my sons have started businesses, each with employees and growing financial success. They are certainly not rich, but they are on a trajectory to exceed their parents financially. We don’t measure ultimate success this way in our family, but neither do we criticize them for creating wealth, making jobs possible for others, and being able to give generously to ministry causes.
Our entitlement culture denigrates people who take responsibility for themselves and others, make employment possible for others, provide a product or service people want, and are personally rewarded by generating wealth. I just don’t get it. Successful entrepreneurs and business leaders were heroes a generation ago. Now, we are only glad for them because we can tax them (in California at least) for more than 60% of their income.
Some people criticize successful people because they are stingy and wasteful. Some are, but the majority are not. Most serve others by generating jobs, sometimes in the thousands, for both employees and vendors. They also give away their resources to all kinds of charitable causes. Capitalism has produced the greatest philanthropy – voluntary giving rather than redistribution through taxation – in world history.
A businessman once lamented “how little he was doing for the Lord’s work.” He didn’t consider operating a business that provided well-paying jobs for 60 families a contribution. I sure did because several of those families gave their tithe to our church! One way God uses some people is creating, managing, and giving away wealth to benefit others. Many Christian businessmen and women do this extremely well.
So, before you join the “down with the rich” chorus in America today, remember not everyone who has more than you do is evil. Instead, thank God we live in a land of opportunity where people with drive, determination, and acumen can improve all our lives by their successes.
About 25 years ago, the doctor held up my daughter and said those special words, “It’s a girl!” We were thrilled. God had given us a special gift - a girl who has grown into a beautiful young woman. Unfortunately, the news “it’s a girl” isn’t received quite so well around the world today. Being conceived as a female is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to a person in many countries.
The United Nations estimates 200 million women and girls are missing from the world today because of “gendercide,” abortions or infanticide committed on baby girls. The Chinese government boasts of 400 million fewer births since implementing their “one child” policy. A significant majority of those babies were girls aborted by families who wanted their only child to be a boy. While India has no formal one-child policy, their abortion rate on girls is also staggering.
The war on women around the world is fought in the womb as millions of baby girls are aborted. Sadly, the definition of the “war on women” in the United States is defined differently. In a recent editorial in USA Today, Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America described the “war on women” as legislative issues like parental disclosure, ultrasound tests, showing a woman the X-rays of her “unborn,” and pre-procedure (abortion) lectures. Ms. Michelman won’t even write “fetus,” much less “child.” She carefully uses the word “unborn” to describe whatever she perceives is in the womb.
During this Christmas season, when we celebrate the difference a baby (born out of traditional wedlock, into relative poverty, in an out-of-the-way place) makes, let’s remember the millions of babies who never make it through the birth canal alive. Most of them are girls. It would be so refreshing if the modern women’s movement in the United States focused their attention on the real “war on women.”
Feminists – How about acknowledging the death of baby girls around the world resulting from the prevalence of abortions you demand be readily available? How about directing your strident, militant energy towards stopping the global holocaust on young women?
Another Wrong Step
Oct 01 2012
It will soon be illegal in California for any mental health professional (any licensed physician, psychiatrist, counselor, or therapist), to counsel any minor child to change their sexual orientation. The huge assumption upon which the new law is based is that sexual orientation is a biological reality that cannot be chosen and any attempts to change it are futile – even damaging to vulnerable young people. Governor Jerry Brown signed the law over the weekend and it becomes effective January 1, 2013. California is the first state to pass such a law.
The law prevents therapy that seeks “to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” These practices are often called reparative therapies. They have been rejected by just about every major secular group that licenses or regulates mental health professionals. Because people who try to help children resist homosexual practices often have a religious basis for their convictions, critics call this kind of therapy trying “to pray away the gay.” The law does not include religious leaders who provide pastoral counseling or church-based counselors, but you can be sure supporters of the law will be on the lookout for any opportunity to attack this group for practicing contrary to the law.
What is your best response to this law? First, settle your conviction that homosexual behavior – like all sexual behavior – is a choice. Second, prepare for increased counseling ministries – done through churches – that will provide an alternative to the secular solidarity the rest of the helping professions must now maintain on this issue. We are trying to prepare more people for these church-based counseling ministries with our new Master of Christian Counseling degree. Third, accept further marginalization if you uphold a biblical standard for sexual expression. Finally, gear up in your church for continued ministry to people who have been damaged by all kinds of bad sexual choices – not just those covered by this law.
We live near San Francisco and focus our ministry efforts in the City. We have a front row seat for where our culture is headed – just check out the Folsom Street Fair if you want an example. This new law is just another step in the wrong direction. God help us as we continue to help people find a more fulfilling life in submission to God’s standards for humanity.
Deciding the Election
Sep 04 2012
North Carolinians may be the deciding voters in selecting the next president of the United States. They are a swing state, with polls showing a virtual dead heat between Barak Obama and Mitt Romney. The election may be influenced by a simultaneous state-wide vote on the definition of marriage – whether to uphold the traditional view or approve gay marriage.
In a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle about voters in North Carolina, Alexandria Pitts, a 19-year-old elementary education major at a major university offered her opinion. She said, “My religion is Christian, but I’m still going to vote for Obama. My politics and religious beliefs are separate.”
As a Christian, Ms. Pitts is certainly free to vote for either candidate – Republican or Democrat. The most alarming thing about her comment is not that she plans to vote for Obama. The troubling statement is her conviction her “politics and religious beliefs are separate.”
Too many Christians today live compartmentalized lives. They have religious beliefs – but those beliefs are kept separate from what we decide about money, moral choices, relationships, and ethical decisions. Too many Christians believe religious beliefs are private, with little impact on public behavior.
A few years ago, a friend of mine refused to participate in an activity in his workplace. When asked by his boss for a reason, he replied, “It violates my Christian convictions.” His boss told him, “That’s your problem. You are letting your religion affect your life.” Wow! Somehow I thought it was supposed to work that way.
Today, if you base your political decisions (or any other aspect of your life) on your religious convictions, you are stigmatized. You are a legalist or a fundamentalist. You are out of touch with reality. You are inflexible, or worse, intolerant. There is little respect, if any, for the person who tries to base life on principles drawn from religious convictions.
My hope is you will do better than Ms. Pitts. My hope is you will take seriously your responsibility to understand Christian convictions and base your decisions – political or personal – on them. We live in an unprecedented time when politicians and political parties are staking out positions with clear moral dimension. It is our responsibility to understand the choices we face and base our decisions on convictional Christian thinking.
Too Good to Pass Up
Aug 20 2012
In early August, we went away on vacation. For most of the time, we went off the grid – no email, no phone, and no television. It was great! When we got home, I read through my email, scanned back issues of newspapers and magazines, and watched a few news programs. What did we miss? Not much really.
Politicians are still lying to and about each other, terrorists continue their cowardly attacks, celebrities continue to be famous for being famous – you get the idea. But one story – and the response of one particular politician – really was interesting. It’s so absurd, so blatantly revealing about our culture, it deserves one last (albeit delayed) comment.
The president of Chick-Fil-A commented about his personal convictions regarding gay marriage. They were his personal convictions, not a statement of corporate policy. Nevertheless, the media attacked. Protests on both sides were organized. Here is the interesting part. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee remarked there wasn’t a Chick-Fil-A within 40 miles of San Francisco and he recommended they not come any closer to his city.
Wow! That is the Voice of Tolerance, the senior elected official in the self-proclaimed most liberal, libertarian, progressive, anything-goes, tolerance-modeling city in the United States. His comment is a perfect example of what “tolerance” means in our culture. It means you are tolerated if you agree with the person with the microphone. Otherwise – you are a pariah.
The media backlash to this fundamentalist, legalistic, bigoted mayoral rant – virtually nonexistent. Wonder what would happen if a mayor of a major American city made a similar statement about any other ethnic, racial, religious, or sexual group but gays? Based on how other people have been treated in the past, it’s doubtful he or she would have been able to remain in office.
The tolerance crowd often accuses Christians and other people of faith of hypocrisy. What a lie! We have the courage to condemn certain behavior, but also defend the rights of those who disagree with us to hold their opinion and share our communities. As the “new tolerance” has become more and more prominent in our nation, the tolerance-promoters are sadly comical in their two-faced attempts to promote inclusion by excluding those who disagree with them.
May 14 2012
When President Obama recently announced his support for gay marriage, it represented the conclusion to his self-described “evolving” position on the subject. His announcement was not too surprising, based on his track record and previous comments. The timing is interesting, yet calculated to minimize the impact on the upcoming election. In six months, the emotional impact of the decision will most likely have been dissipated by the countless other issues to be debated during the campaign.
President Obama’s position is, according to recent polling, backed by about half of the American public. Even though 30 states have passed laws supporting traditional marriage, the general opinion seems to be shifting toward support of redefining marriage. Give them their due; homosexual political operatives have done a masterful job of making gay marriage a “civil rights” issue rather than a moral issue. Americans are fair-minded and want everyone to be treated the same in the public square. By making homosexual practices a “rights issue,” the high ground in the debate has been seized. It is doubtful those of us who oppose gay marriage will ever get it back.
Standing with the biblical position on homosexual behavior – as well as all other sexual expression outside marriage – is a surefire way to be labeled intolerant, homophobic, and out-of-touch. While some Christians are negative to the point of ill-conceived anger on this issue, most are not. Most of us are simply determined to submit to the Bible as our source for behavioral instruction. We believe it should have the final word. That word is clear – God loves everyone in the world, but condemns behaviors which damage the people he loves.
Those of us who interpret the Bible as part of our vocation acknowledge we are imperfect interpreters. Some passages in the Bible are difficult to understand. We may struggle to fully understand them. The passages on homosexuality are not in that category. They are crystal clear. Homosexual behavior is a sinful choice. Labeling it something else – like a genetic disposition that can’t be resisted – may mitigate the guilt in the moment but it doesn’t undo the long-term damage.
The moral fabric of our nation continues to unravel. President Obama is contributing to that decline with his devolving position. May God give us the grace to stand strong no matter the cost on this important issue!
Some days, the challenges of being a Christian and living in the San Francisco Bay Area are daunting. Easter is one of those days. While churches are full of worshippers celebrating the resurrection, thousands of San Franciscans gather in Dolores Park to mock our faith. For the past 33 years, the Sisters of the Perpetual Indulgence (a self-described cross-dressing group of nuns-of-fun) have been sponsoring an Easter party in the park, complete with their Hunky Jesus contest.
Yes, you read that right – a Hunky Jesus contest. Their party culminates with a parade of men mocking Jesus. You can find video of past contests on various websites and You Tube. Be warned - these videos are not for the fainthearted. They are, however, a revealing window into what many in the homosexual culture really think of Jesus. He is an idiot to be made fun of, an object of derision, and a homophobic cult leader whose teachings should be rejected.
The news reports about the Dolores Park party are full of happy children, alternative lifestyle families, and good vibes. The hypocrisy of the reporting is astounding. No negative comment is attached to a homosexual group attacking Christianity on its holiest day. Imagine the outcry if San Francisco churches organized a party to do the same thing on Gay Pride Sunday. We would be attacked for our insensitivity, labeled bigots, and shunned for our intolerance and insensitivity. But Jesus being lampooned in a public park by thousands on Easter – well that’s entertainment!
Some of you might respond to these events with dismissive anger. That won’t accomplish anything. Instead, let your response be steely resolve. Commit to pray for pastors and other spiritual leaders in San Francisco. They have the toughest mission field in America. Commit to give to start new churches in the City. We have been helping a new church plant for the past year. It is growing nicely. The gospel can transform lives and churches can be planted in San Francisco. Consider moving to the City – the heart of San Francisco, not just to the region. Strong Christian professionals who relocate, join churches, and support the work are needed in every church.
And, finally, pray for and support Golden Gate Seminary. Our faculty, staff, students, and graduates are working hard to make a difference. Jesus - the real One, not some hunky parody – loves every person and wants a relationship with them. We are determined to share that message.
This past week, two different governmental decisions were handed down that are potentially detrimental to our seminary – particularly if the underlying legal principles motivating one are ever applied to the other.
The first decision was the Ninth Circuit Court declaring Proposition 8, the voter-adopted mandate supporting a traditional definition of marriage, is unconstitutional. This is the next step in an ongoing legal battle. Nevertheless, it is a disappointing result for those of us who believe marriage is between one man and one woman. In the Bay Area, we regularly hear the reasons approving gay marriage is supposedly in society’s best interest. Despite how noble sounding they are – usually based on “equal rights for all” – redefining marriage is a short-sighted mistake with long-term devastating consequences.
The second decision was a ruling by President Obama requiring religious organizations to provide comprehensive medical coverage – including procedures and practices violating their religious convictions - to all employees. The religious community on the right and the left immediately coalesced with unified opposition. Telling a Catholic charity to provide insurance covering abortion and birth-control is just one example of how ridiculous this ruling was. The next day, the President amended his position and required insurance companies to provide these services free of charge! That was almost as outrageous – telling companies what they must give away to satisfy a political agenda.
The scariest part of these two decisions is if the strategy of the second is ever applied to the presumed ultimate outcome of the first. Imagine this scenario – a religious organization is told what kind of standards it can use in determining who it employs or services. An attorney once told me “adultery is my client’s sexual preference” in defending an immoral minister. His argument has merit if the government is allowed to define acceptable moral behavior for religious organizations.
Christians, and Christian organizations, have a responsibility to be good citizens. We are supposed to support governmental leaders and submit to governmental authority. The caveat – we cannot compromise our doctrinal or moral standards. This is becoming more and more difficult as decisions like those mentioned above are enacted. We all need to ask God for courage to hold our ground, no matter the consequence, and wisdom to know the issues worth standing for without compromise.
Dec 19 2011
A few days ago, I had an interesting conversation with the manager of a local shopping center. I remarked, “Black Friday seemed like a big success. I hope you have a good holiday sales season.” She replied, “We expect it. In fact, our stores have been exceeding last year’s sales by double digits for the past few months. People are spending money again. I think I they have frugality fatigue.”
That was a new phrase for me – frugality fatigue. I suppose it means a person is worn out from the emotional and physical drain of not spending money. Sounds like a troublesome syndrome that will probably be elevated to disease status soon. Perhaps a twelve step program will be created to ease people back into their spending patterns. After all, heaven forbid Americans might actually live within their means, save some money for the future, and – perish the thought – give money away rather than spend it on themselves! Frugality fatigue sounds like shorthand for “spend some money I don’t have so I can feel better about myself for a few minutes.”
How did frugality became a problem to recover from? I thought it was a positive character quality – a partner with generosity and selflessness. Oh well, I’m out of touch again. Silly me. I have been living below my means, saving for the future, and giving money away rather than spending it on myself for more than 30 years. Funny though, I’m not a bit tired!
The opposite has been my experience. It energizes me to give part of myself – represented by my resources – to others. Jesus said we find our lives when we give them away. Giving money away rather than spending it on myself has not worn me out, it’s given me an emotional boost. Being generous, and seeing the results, is more energizing than the temporary thrill of buying something I don’t really need.
Frugality might have a bad name because some confuse it with stinginess. Being stingy is being cheap, hording what you have for personal enjoyment. Frugality is being careful with what you have, stretching it to its maximum, so you can having something left over to share with others. Stinginess is repulsive, frugality is attractive. Stinginess screams “it’s all about me.” Frugality whispers, “The needs of others matter more than my wants.”
During this Christmas season, take stock of your use of the resources God has entrusted to you. Determine to live frugally in 2012 – living within your means and having something to share with others. And, take my word for it. Frugality, producing generosity, won’t wear you out. It will satisfy you deeper than any impulse purchase you will ever make.
Dec 05 2011
While browsing an airport newsstand, an interesting juxtaposition leaped off the magazine racks. The cover of Newsweek was a silhouetted women with this quote superimposed, “I lost two marriages and a job. I ended up homeless. I was totally out of control.” The lead story is called “The Sex Addiction Epidemic.” Newsflash! Sexual expression in American culture is perverted, destructive, and creating havoc with relationships, family structures, and community quality of life. If that’s news, you must have been in a coma the past 50 years. It’s so bad, perverted behavior is now called an “addiction.”
What caught my eye, more than just the Newsweek magazine, was its placement on the sales rack. It was next to Maxim magazine – a perfect companion to prove the point of the Newsweek article. Sitting side by side, two magazines – one promoting, one decrying the moral chaos that our culture’s warped view of sexuality has produced.
God invented human sexuality and called it a good part of his creation. Sexuality is not sinful, but sin’s entrance on the global stage messed up everything God made – including sex. As Christians, we have a responsibility to resist sin’s temptations and live out God’s healthy design for sexual expression. It’s not easy. Going against the grain – spiritually and culturally – never is. Nevertheless, we are still responsible to do so.
The church, as it upholds God’s standards, is an oasis of moral sanity in a desert of sexual depravity. We teach God’s plan, help hurting people recover when they have violated God’s standards, and restore lives broken by ignorance of and rebellion against God’s best. My prediction: in the future, we will be more marginalized because of our stand on sexual issues, but also quietly appreciated by those restored by the message and ministry of the church.
In the end, God’s standards – no matter how countercultural are spiritually difficult to uphold – are always the best. May God give us the grace to stand for God’s best, while also helping hurting people recover from the damage their poor choices, based on the misinformation they have believed, have produced.
Government agencies (and Southern Baptists) love acronyms. The Census Bureau created POSSLQs (pronounced pos-le-cues) to speak of Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters. In short, it’s census-speak for people sharing conjugal relationships prior to marriage. In the old days, meaning the 1990’s, we just called it “living together.”
Those of us who minister among young adults know living together prior to or in lieu of marriage is quite common these days. For many young adults, it’s a normal step in moving toward marriage – not a replacement for marriage. They really believe living together is a step toward a healthier marriage and most still have that as an ultimate life goal.
Unfortunately, the practice of living together before marriage does not lead to a better marriage. Just the opposite is true! Studies by major universities, professional psychologists, and credible sociologists all debunk this myth. A recent book, The Ring Makes All the Difference, does a very good job of gathering this data, distilling it, and putting it in a readable form. If you work with teenagers or young adults, get this book and use it as a ministry resource. While evangelicals are right to defend a traditional definition of marriage, it’s equally important we equip people to have the best marriages possible.
Speaking of defending marriage, Chuck Colson and Timothy George have written an excellent column in Christianity Today (October 2011). They review a court case filed recently in Utah attempting to legalize polygamy. The legal arguments outlined in support of the change are the same arguments gay marriage legal advocates have used to support their position. The polygamists have a good point, according to Colson and George. If marriage can be redefined, then what is to prohibit other “redefinitions?” Not much, if you follow the logic of the gay marriage movement to its ultimate conclusion.
Who do you think is opposing the Utah case? Feminists and gay rights advocates! Why? Because, they claim, polygamy is harmful to women. No kidding. What’s hypocritical is every redefinition of marriage is harmful to women! It is interesting to see how those who advocate defining marriage according to their whims and peccadilloes react when others want to do the same thing. As Colson and George conclude, “shoe, meet the other foot.”
True marriage matters – to God, to families, to communities, and nations. May God give us the grace to remember this before it’s too late.
Life in the Bay Area
Oct 03 2011
Who needs television when you live in the midst of a three-ring circus? Life in the San Francisco Bay Area is invigorating, amusing, frustrating, disgusting – but always entertaining. Here are some recent highlights.
First, wildlife is more than welcome here – animals have rights. Several years ago, a family of beavers set up housekeeping in a creek in downtown Martinez, California. Their dam is 30 feet wide, costing millions in flood control mitigation. While their dam attracts other wildlife to the area (a good thing!), flood control is relegated to a secondary consideration (fine, until it floods). Recently, the beavers were included in a mural commemorating the city’s history. Authorities insisted they be painted over – so the artist complied, and also painted over his signature in protest. Beaver supporters, artists, free speech advocates, and community activists are all up a creek – perhaps without as paddle as they protest this outrage.
Second, public nudity is legal in San Francisco so some fellows have started gathering in a small park every day to read the paper, shoot the breeze, and enjoy the fall sunshine. It’s not illegal to be nude, only to be lewd. Apparently, the definition of lewd relates to arousal and intent – something law enforcement has to determine on the spot – so to speak. San Francisco has the lowest per capita population under age 18 of any major city in the United States. Government officials lament the loss of couples who move away when they have children. No kidding! Imagine that, parents don’t want their children to live in a city with nude guys sitting in the park. Someone should commission a multi-million dollar, tax payer funded study to figure this one out.
Third, “bless you” is the latest religious controversy. A teacher in Vacaville told her high school freshmen to stop shouting “bless you” after every sneeze, clearly intent on disrupting class – not expressing religious devotion. One thing led to another and someone claimed “discrimination.” Some evangelicals were quoted in the media as lamenting another example of abuse of religious freedom. Really? Is this the best case we can unearth to take a public stand for religious liberty? I hope not. Complaining about a teacher maintaining order in his classroom, and making a first amendment issue out of it, makes us look like the backwards fools we are often caricatured to be.
Despite the warped values, economic challenges, religious indifference, spiritual confusion, and other problems – this is still a great place to live. Why? Because of the opportunity to share the gospel, see its power to change lives, and enjoy the diversity of Christian community that results. Come visit (and spend your tourist dollars generously) – but watch out for the busy beavers, nude guys, and errant bless yous.
Sep 19 2011
Christian Smith, professor of sociology at Notre Dame, has once again provided an outstanding resource for those of us trying to understand and influence emerging adults. In his new book, Lost in Transition, he reports the results of a national survey and targeted interviews to describe adults ages 18-23. Beyond simply describing behaviors, however, he reveals the cultural, social, and intellectual factors creating the milieu in which young adults make their choices. His work is insightful and its presentation defies stereotypes of boring, esoteric academic writing.
Smith reports his findings in five key areas: absence of moral reasoning, captivity to consumerism, habitual intoxication, sexual practices, and civic disengagement. If that sounds like a negative perspective, it is. While Smith maintains there are many positive aspects of this emerging generation, his work focuses on the dark side of their generational choices. And, unfortunately, there’s much on the shadowy underside that is troubling.
One unique perspective in the book is its attempt to understand how this particular generation has been socialized toward destructive behaviors (in the categories summarized above). While every person is responsible for their choices, all of us recognize it is more difficult to make those choices when cultural mores enforce unhealthy choices. Smith does a good job calling for cultural changes to support healthier lifestyle choices, while not blaming culture for individual choices (no matter how difficult those choices may be).
The chapter on habitual intoxication was very helpful for me. The pervasive drinking and casual drug use among young adults is hard for me understand. It is so destructive. Without considering any spiritual or moral aspects of the matter, it seems any reasonable person would avoid using intoxicants. But not so! Instead, drinking and drugging is now a rite of passage, a mark of adulthood, and a necessary lubricant for social interaction. Smith’s research helps me understand how this has happened and how to help young adults grapple with these issues.
But even more troubling was the chapter on young adult’s inability to think morally about lifestyle choices. Smith’s key insight is not that young adults think differently about moral choices than persons in other generations. His revealing insight is they lack the capacity to think morally. They simply have not been taught how to think through moral choices. This is particularly important for preachers. We often assume people have categories of reasoning in place to process the material present. That is not the case with many emerging adults. Their primary moral determinant is whatever seems right to them. They have not been trained to think beyond that category and consider universal dimensions of moral problems.
This helpful book is must reading for anyone who wants to influence younger adults. We have work to do. Professor Smith will help us do it more effectively.
Presbyterians Support Gay Marriage
Aug 31 2010
The Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbytery of the Redwoods (PCUSA), based in Northern California, recently ruled on a controversial matter of church discipline. While upholding their national denomination’s ban on same-sex marriage and finding a local clergywoman guilty of violating that ban, they also praised her (“profusely” according to local media) and called for a change in policy on this controversial issue.
Two statements in the Presbytery’s report caught my eye. First, the commission urged the church to re-examine “our own fear and ignorance that continues to reject the inclusiveness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” – meaning, of course, that upholding biblical standards about marriage denies the gospel. Second, the commission apologized to same-sex couples who have been denied marriage rights: “on behalf of the church, we ask for their forgiveness for the harm that has been, and continues to be done to them in the name of Jesus Christ” – meaning upholding biblical standards of marriage is an abuse of Jesus’ legacy.
These are powerful statements from Christian leaders. When non-Christians attack Christians who hold to biblical positions, it’s expected. When it comes from within the Christian community, it’s troubling.
The institution of marriage has been in trouble in the United States for several decades. Divorce, even among Christians, has occurred at high levels for the past 40 years. The results have been devastating for children, women, and men – on personal and societal levels. The negative consequences range from emotional pain to criminal behavior to economic hardship. We have sowed the wind, we are reaping the whirlwind. What divorce has done to marriage, however, will pale in comparison to the results of redefining marriage to include same-sex couples.
When I oppose legalization of same-sex marriage, I am not a homophobe, gay-basher, or civil-rights denying bigot. I have too many gay and minority friends who know me better than that. I am simply a Christian who tries to take the Bible at face-value and live out its instructions. Some of those standards are clear. All sexual behavior is a choice. Making choices to appropriately express sexuality is hard – but it can be done. Marriage is between a man and a woman – and they are supposed to stay together for life.
It’s unfortunate when Christians can’t agree on simple, clear, biblical convictions. How can we expect to influence society when we are imploding from within?
Yes on Proposition 8
Oct 13 2008
The No on 8 supporters, opposing the traditional definition of marriage, have crafted a deceptive television commercial now running in California. The commercial has two “soccer-moms” looking at family photographs. A same-sex couple is in one of the photos. The first woman says she is not comfortable with the relationship. The other says, quiet empathetically, “But you wouldn’t want to take away someone rights, would you?”
The homosexual movement has attempted to seize the high ground of civil rights to validate their movement. The civil rights movement is a struggle for fundamental human rights. Practicing homosexuality, or any other kind of sexual behavior, is a choice – not a right. For something to be a right, the condition prompting the exercise of the right must be inborn to the human condition. The assumption, subtly communicated through this commercial and at the root of the issue for homosexual activists, is they believe homosexuality is an inborn trait, not a choice.
Does this matter in the debate about the definition of marriage? My answer may surprise you. It does not. Even if homosexuality is somehow connected to a genetic source, that still does not make it automatically acceptable for a moral society. Suppose geneticists discover a shared genetic quality among pedophiles. Will this change society’s prohibition on this behavior. Let’s hope not! Suppose there is a common genetic thread discovered among alcoholics? Does this make drunkenness an acceptable, healthy lifestyle choice? No.
No matter your genetic makeup, you are still responsible for your behavioral choices. You may be genetically prone to obesity, but you still have to control your appetite to have a healthy lifestyle. You may be genetically prone to anger, but lashing out violently is not excusable. You have to control your urges.
Those of us who support Yes on 8 to restore and restrict the definition of marriage to one man and one woman are not attacking anyone’s rights. Homosexual adults have the right to practice their lifestyle in private. Heterosexual adults have the same right. The definition of marriage is not about sexual practice. It is about establishing a definition of marriage that supports the best hope for stable families, communities, and society at large.
Polls indicate this election will be close. The stakes are high. Don’t be deceived by the appeal to losing so-called civil rights. Vote yes on 8.
A Sunday in San Francisco
Sep 29 2008
On my way into the city for a speaking engagement on Sunday morning, my route was blocked by the closure of Folsom Street. The signs on the barricades gave me some clue as to the nature of the event. The San Francisco Chronicle filled in the details with an article on Monday, Sept. 29.
The event was the 25th Folsom Street Fair – “the world’s biggest celebration of leather, bondage and sexual fetish.” Continuing to quote from the Chronicle, “It was just another scene from the city’s unabashed bash – a public display of all things kinky that covered 13 blocks in the South of Market neighborhood and drew hundreds of thousands of people, many of them not wearing leather in key places.” The article quotes several attendees’ experiences at the event with being spanked, whipped, or lead around in leather straps or other bondage tools.
There were “naked people selling bondage gear…and naked people with cameras taking pictures of other naked people.” One man reportedly wore only an 11-foot Burmese python around his waist. There were more than 250 vendors selling whips, chains, pornography, and other products to be used in what one participant called, “kinky play.”
Anthony Gonzalez, the president of the St. Joseph’s Men’s Society, a Roman Catholic fraternal group said, “If you go in there, you see public nudity and street orgies. We want to know why this is allowed on the streets of San Francisco without any sanction at all. It’s anarchy.” That, Mr. Gonzalez, is a good question.
This type of behavior would not allowed, much less sanctioned and protected by civil authorities, in almost any other place in the world. But in San Francisco, this kind of behavior is not only tolerated, it is portrayed as normal. To say otherwise, supposedly denies the participants their civil or constitutional rights. It requires a broad reading of the constitution to find our forefathers defending public nudity, public orgies, and hawking products related to these practices as a right. But, in our culture, everyone has a supposed right to do whatever they please, with the rest of us shamed into silence in the name of a new definition of tolerance.
Despite my frustration with this entire mess, my solution might surprise you. Abandoning the city and its inhabitants to their debauchery is not an option. My wife rode public transportation Sunday, and sat next to a young woman on her way to the Fair. They struck up a conversation, during which the young woman told Ann about her abusive past, her spiritual confusion, and her daily emotional torment. She was really that frank with a stranger on the bus! Ann responded by sharing the gospel with her. That, my friends, is the best response to the debauchery in our culture. While we also need to bring pressure on public officials to enact and enforce laws limiting public indecency, the only way to change what happens in private is through the gospel.
We are in a dangerous point in time in the Bay Area. The final throes of a society falling into God’s judgment are not when we openly rebel against God, but when we “give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1: 32, NASB). May God help us to be salt and light, to share the love of Jesus Christ with broken people, and to demand civil authorities fulfill their God-given role of restraining practices destructive to our society.
Yes on Proposition 8
Sep 22 2008
While the presidential election has captured the nation’s attention, along with the melt down on Wall Street, the most important issue Californians will decide in this election is the definition of marriage. By statewide vote, we thought this issue was settled a few years ago. But four judges decided differently, and now we must vote again to establish marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.
Why is this so important? Those of us who support a traditional definition of marriage are often portrayed as homophobic, civil rights-denying, religious bigots. With rare and regrettable exception, we are none of the above. We simply know redefining marriage will have long-term, disastrous consequences for our nation.
Voting yes on 8 is not an attack on homosexuals. Proposition 8 does not address private behavior; it only speaks to redefining the public institution of marriage to include homosexual unions.
Voting yes on 8 does not deny anyone their rights. Homosexuals have been granted similar rights to married couples in laws protecting civil unions. Proposition 8 does not limit those rights.
Voting yes on 8 is motivated by religious conviction for many of us, but the definition of marriage is not primarily a religious issue. It is a legal issue with social implications. Whether you are a person of faith or not, the practical reality is redefining marriage will have profound social and financial consequences for our nation in the next few decades. The impact won’t be seen immediately, but like a snowball it will have profound impact in the future.
Over the next few weeks, millions will be spent on both sides of this issue. This issue is far too important to be decided by a marketing effort. Preserving the definition of marriage depends on good people – quiet, hard-working, not usually politically active people going to the ballot box to make a difference. One of my concerns is you might be so frustrated by both political candidates you decide to sit out this election. Don’t do it. If you don’t want to vote the entire ballot, it is still worth going to the polls just to vote on this issue.
Vote Yes on Proposition 8.
Order in the Court
Sep 15 2008
My oldest son works in Washington, D.C. and has a number of other friends about his age who have similar positions in government. One of his friends is a law clerk at the Supreme Court. On a recent visit, my son asked if I would like a behind-the-scenes tour of the Supreme Court building. History buff that I am, I jumped at the chance for a private tour with his law clerk friend.
I have toured the Supreme Court building on two occasions as a tourist. I expected this experience to be about the same. Not so! My new friend took us behind-the-scenes to the private part of the building where the justices work. With permission of Chief Justice Roberts, we were able to tour the private meeting room where the justices actually deliberate and confer about their decisions. It was an awe-inspiring moment for me as I thought of the historic decisions that had been made in that room.
The Supreme Court has become the arbiter of moral values for our nation. While we may prefer laws governing moral behavior be decided by legislatures or popular vote, the reality is issues like abortion and (someday) a national definition of marriage are or will ultimately be decided by the court. The Court’s power continues to increase because justices are living longer, thus extending their influence and making Court decisions less likely to be overturned.
That is, for me, one of the main reasons to vote in the upcoming presidential election. Some of my friends are lamenting the weaknesses in both presidential candidates and are reluctant to vote for either. I understand those concerns – both about the character of the candidates and their various policy positions. The character of the candidates isn’t going to change in the next 45 days. Their policy positions may change, but in the long run their decisions about the economy or the war on terror will be short-lived.
The next president, however, will most likely appoint one or perhaps two Supreme Court justices. It is likely those appointments will last 30 years – more than three times the maximum time either candidate could serve as a two-term president. This fact makes this presidential election extremely significant. Perhaps the most important question we should be asking these candidates is their guiding philosophy on judicial appointments, including to the Supreme Court. The longest-term impact of this election won’t be on the economy, the war, or any other of today’s pressing policy matters. It will be on the Supreme Court.
So, as you consider who to vote for on November 4, think about the candidate who will most likely appoint justices who will most likely support moral positions based on the Christian worldview. We don’t need a “Christian Supreme Court,” but we do need a court that will support moral values foundational to a healthy society.
Don’t sit this one out – vote!
The Chinese Century
Aug 25 2008
The Olympics have been billed by some as the coming out party for a new China. Without a doubt, the Chinese government put on a great show with beautiful venues, tight security, and home-country athletes primed to win gold in many events. Apart from the continuing question about the age of some Chinese gymnasts, the entire show was a resounding success – from the 2008 drummers who opened the games to the British accepting the challenge for the London Games in 2012.
China is a world power, to be sure, and the Olympics have reminded the world of that reality. China’s population is four to five times that of the Unites States. China is geographically huge and diverse, loaded with natural resources to fuel its continued growth. Many Chinese live in burgeoning cities – more than 50 Chinese cities have a population greater than 1 million. China is becoming more educated as university enrollment grows and exchange students come to the United States to earn degrees. The country is also booming economically as more and more global companies (like Walmart) establish a presence there.
Let’s hope the “new” China is different, however, in several specific ways from the old China. Let’s hope China develops a better way to manage its population than forcibly enforcing the one-child policy. Let’s hope China changes international policies in places like the Sudan. Let’s hope China recognizes human rights, among its own people, and allows freedom of the press and thought to flourish. Let’s hope China becomes more of an ally in the worldwide war on terror. Let’s hope, most of all, for a new freedom of religion that allows Christianity to grow rapidly without persecution or the threat of persecution.
Southern Baptists have longed considered China vital in the process of world evangelization. Our most revered Southern Baptist missionary, Lottie Moon, worked in China. Many others have followed in her footsteps. In the future, let’s hope China openly embraces missionaries who come to share the gospel and meet human needs in the name of Jesus. Until they are as welcoming of our missionaries, as we are of their students and scholars, real freedom of religion will not exist in China.
China will be a major force in the twenty-first century. The United States government must recognize this and act accordingly. Southern Baptists, and all evangelicals, must also recognize this and make praying for, going to, and working with China a major priority.
The Warren Forum
Aug 18 2008
Rick Warren, pastor at Saddleback Church, recently hosted a Civil Forum with Barack Obama and John McCain. The forum was Warren’s attempt to have a conversation with the two candidates without the vitriolic rhetoric often found in a presidential campaign. Warren hoped, and seemed largely successful, that having this event in a church with a pastor-moderator would establish a dialogical tone for frank conversation.
After watching the presentations, my decision about how to vote in the upcoming election became even clearer. Our denomination encourages people to “vote their values.” That’s what I try to do. The question, then, is what are the key values I plan to vote?
Some criticize religious leaders like me for forcing biblical values into the public arena. So, rather than draw my conclusions from a religious document, I am willing to draw them from a secular one. My points are adequately made by three important values in a distinctly secular document – The Declaration of Independence. For me, in this election the key values are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I will vote for life. I will vote for the candidate who will reduce abortion. Abortion is not a right. It is a permitted medical procedure. The American Holocaust is a national shame. I want a president who will propose laws to limit abortion and appoint Supreme Court justices to uphold those laws after they are enacted. I also want a president who will speak with moral authority about sexual fidelity and support programs that help prevent unwanted pregnancy. I will vote for life.
I will also vote for liberty. The war on terror (not limited to the war in Iraq) is the greatest external threat to our liberty. I will vote for a president who understands warfare in the 21st century against a new kind of enemy is fundamentally different than past wars. I will vote for a president who works internationally to build a coalition to restrain evil – one of the biblical roles of government. Our greatest internal threat to liberty is our greed, which makes us dependent on other nations (energy, national debt, and trade deficits). Sound national fiscal policy is central to national defense. I will vote for liberty.
And finally, I will vote for the candidate who promises to help me pursue happiness, not the one promises to make me happy. This is, perhaps, the greatest misunderstanding of our “rights” as Americans. We have come to believe we have a right for the government to make us happy. We were not promised that right. We have the right to “the pursuit of happiness” which is a fundamentally different issue. When a candidate encourages personal responsibility, corporate accountability, and community initiative – I’m in! When he promises to take care of me – I’m out.
So, join me in voting for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Another Adultery Confession
Aug 11 2008
John Edwards, former North Carolina Senator and Democratic presidential candidate, recently confessed to an adulterous relationship with a campaign employee. Speculation that he might become a cabinet officer if Barack Obama wins the election has turned to lament of the end his career in politics. Given Bill Clinton’s rebound, it will be interesting to see if this is really true. Time will tell.
But, for now, Edwards is paying the public price for his private choices. His statement about his adultery is instructive for other leaders who want to avoid this problem. Edwards’ said, “I was and am ashamed of my choices, and I had hoped that it would never become public.” How could anyone who has lived this long in the public eye really have hoped “it would never become public?” Private sin is never really private. Other people are involved. A paper trail, or an electronic trail in today’s world, is created. A secret is something told to one person at a time! Be sure of this – if you are involved in sexual sin with another person, it will be found out.
Edwards also said, “In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic.” Fancy words that mean Edwards started to think the whole world revolved around him and the rules he had for other people didn’t apply to him. These are common characteristics of a leader who justifies behavior he would not condone by others.
A mentor once told me to beware of pastors who were “perfectionists, prudes, or pretty boys.” That was his earthy way of warning me about pastors who claim to be perfect, claim moral superiority, or spend an inordinate amount of time on their image. When I first heard the warning, I thought, “That’s either crude or rude, but either way I don’t like it.” Now, after 30 years of watching ministry leaders, I have concluded his statement is true.
Pastors, and other ministry leaders, are responsible to preach, teach, and live a high moral standard. But, while we are standard bearers, we must also stay in touch with reality – about ourselves and the people around us. We are not perfect. We are not morally superior. And, we must not be preoccupied with our image (with what we want people to think about us). If you are drifting in any of these areas, you are in danger of, in Edwards’ words, “increasingly egocentric and narcissistic behavior.”
While avoiding adultery or other sexual sin in our sex-obsessed culture is difficult, it is not impossible. Doing so starts with your attitude. Stay humble. Never think, “It could never happen to me.” Yes, it can! Recognize your frailty. While it may seem counterintuitive, admitting vulnerability is the first step toward moral strength. Most ministry leaders know the actions to take to help them maintain moral purity. The actions, however well intended, are a charade if the attitude isn’t right.
Are you drifting toward narcissism? Do you think the rules you have for other people don’t apply to you? Are you dabbling with, or flirting with, immoral behavior? Are you drifting? If so, stop it now. Recognize what’s happening to you and turn around now. If you don’t, you will someday say, as Edwards’ did at the end of his statement, “I have been stripped bare.” Don’t let it happen to you.
An Astounding Problem
Jul 28 2008
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Marin Institute reported “Alcohol problems cost California $38 billion a year in deaths, injury, health care expenditures, lost productivity in the workplace, crime, and pain and suffering.” That’s $38 billion with a B. In addition, the same report indicated 90% of alcohol-related crime costs come from violent crimes and 26% of all traffic collisions involved alcohol, resulting in 1,144 deaths.
It is astounding this billion dollar impact is not met with public outcry. Politicians and special interest groups rail against lesser problems with amazing intensity. For example, don’t leave your pet locked up in a hot car or you will be arrested in California. Don’t drive to the supermarket to buy a twelve-pack of beer with a child who is not in a proper car seat or you will be ticketed. Since July 1, don’t use your cell phone while driving (unless it is hands free) or you will also be ticketed. And, whatever you do, don’t drive an SUV. My son has a small one and recently got a “ticket” on his windshield from a local group that is protesting the environmental impact of such vehicles.
Where is the outcry about alcohol abuse in our culture? Drowned out by beer, wine, and liquor advertising that promotes the good life associated with having a cold one! Drowned out by cultural endorsement that includes alcohol in every definition of supposed sophistication! Northern California is wine country. The San Francisco Chronicle has a weekly special section entitled “Wine.” That’s right – an entire special section in the paper devoted to wine. Despite the destruction, there is no let up in sight of the promotion of alcohol as a requirement for a fulfilled life.
Those of us who choose not to drink any alcohol are pariahs – archaic, dinosaur-like, legalists who just don’t know how to have a good time centered on the consumption of “adult beverages.” The county where we live, Marin County, has the highest rate of teenage alcohol consumption in California and the highest teen suicide rate. City governments in our county have formed a coalition to enforce laws against adults providing alcohol to teenagers. Local surveys show the primary source for alcohol consumed by teenagers in our county is their parents.
Even suggesting, however, the solution to this cultural catastrophe is to simply stop consuming alcohol is laughed at as ridiculous and naïve. Count me among the naïve, then, but also among those who simply won’t participate in perpetuating the most costly and damaging addiction in our culture.
May 19 2008
The California Supreme court ruled last week, 4-3, declaring Proposition 22 (adopted by vote of the people) unconstitutional and opening the way for homosexual marriages to be legalized in California.
Their decision is a disaster for the future of our state. If it leads to homosexual marriage being legalized and widely practiced, the negative societal ramifications will undermine the family – and ultimately societal structures that support healthy communities. Others have written in great detail about these implications and I will leave it to those columnists to make those points.
Let me respond with a more personal perspective – and one I encourage you to emulate. While I have homosexual friends and family members, my positive relationships with them do not minimize my opposition on this issue. I am not homophobic, nor am I a gay-basher. I don’t make stupid jokes about “Adam and Steve” or otherwise demean homosexuals in public or private. I respect them as individuals, deplore their behavior, sense their pain (usually from broken or abusive relationships), and want them to find abundant life in Jesus. I could write the same thing about any person caught in the entangling tentacles of any immoral lifestyle – adultery, pornography, etc.
But while I am committed to relating to individual homosexuals in a positive, respectful way – my opposition to the homosexual political agenda/lobby that seeks to redefine social structures to fit a decidedly minority view is settled. Over the next few weeks, the Secretary of State in California will determine if a ballot measure to define marriage in a traditional form will be added to the state constitution. If the measure is put on the ballot, it must be adopted. If not, another petition drive must be launched to get it on the ballot as soon as possible.
Over the next few months, the rhetoric in California will intensify on both sides. It is imperative that those of us who support a traditional definition of marriage speak up. It is also imperative we do so in a way that represents Jesus Christ. Our ultimate goal is not to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality. It is to convert to them to Jesus and, in that new relationship, they will find the grace, love, and power to change deeply ingrained lifestyle habits.
We must also resist the temptation to curse the darkness, the ever-increasing darkness, in our culture. When we moved to Oregon, many years ago, several well-meaning believers asked us, “How can you take your children to such an unchurched place and raise them in that culture?” That question always baffled me. I thought the whole focus of our mission was going with the gospel to the places it was most needed. Too many Christians whine about how bad things are rather than see our current situation as a powerful opportunity for the gospel.
We have staked our lives in the midst of a culture of moral relativity and immoral behavior. We aren’t afraid of the culture. We believe a gospel that works in every place, every setting, every culture, and in the midst of every expression of depravity. If you live in California, thank God you are here for such a time as this. If you don’t, move out here and help us represent the gospel where it is desperately needed!
Preaching about Homosexuality
May 12 2008
In the May/June 2008 of Preaching magazine, there is an excellent article on preaching about homosexuality by Tom Wilkins. Mr. Wilkins is a director of Cross Ministry and is a former homosexual. Here are some highlights.
First, Mr. Wilkins advocates for preaching about homosexuality in the context of a larger discussion of sexual ethics and practice. While he agrees homosexuality is sinful behavior, he implores the church to have a message beyond that simple declaration. Homosexuality and heterosexuality are not opposites. Homosexuality is simply one of many inappropriate expressions of human sexuality – including adultery, fornication, pedophilia, etc. All should be confronted as destructive perversions of God’s design.
Second, he implores us to stop trying to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality. The conversion needed is to Christ, not to another sexual practice. Mr. Wilkins makes the point we don’t try to convert alcoholics to sobriety. We convert them to Christ. The same kind of approach is needed with homosexuals. They need Jesus, not a lecture on sexual ethics or a psychological sexual conversion. Conversion to Christ empowers them to live a new sexual lifestyle.
Third, he challenges all of us who preach to use our words carefully. Throw away, tired phrases like “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” reveal our shallowness in approaching the topic and our callousness at addressing hurting people. Mr. Wilkins reminds all of us who preach that we have people in our congregations, many unknown to us but nonetheless present, who are struggling with same-sex temptations. Others have homosexual friends, children, and grandchildren. Our harsh words also wound them. He challenges us to speak passionately and compassionately in their presence.
Fourth, Mr. Wilkins suggests we should also preach on the positive value of healthy same sex relationships mentioned in the Bible. David and Jonathon, Ruth and Naomi, Paul and Timothy, and Jesus and John are good examples. We need more emphasis on healthy friendships – not just sterile accountability relationships – that often are the only way these kinds of relationships are addressed.
These are just a few of the good suggestions in this article. This is an important subject, and one often mishandled. The Bible has a holistic, healthy, honorable message about human sexuality. When preaching on this subject, we are responsible to preach “the whole counsel of God,” not just our narrow viewpoints. Check out this article and let it shape your messages on this important subject.
California Supreme Court Decision
Mar 10 2008
A decision is forthcoming from the California Supreme Court that will significantly impact (one way or another) the continuing debate about gay marriage. The court heard oral arguments last week from attorneys represented several groups on both sides of the debate. A decision is expected within 90 days.
No matter what happens, it is essential the current petition initiative to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to define marriage in California as between one man and one woman succeed. Even if the Court rules in favor of traditional marriage, gay political leaders will not end their assault on marriage. We still need to join more than 20 other states and adopt this constitutional amendment.
The arguments for redefining marriage are bizarre. Proponents liken their struggle to the civil rights movement. It’s not even close to the same issue. They also claim it is a private matter. Marriage is a public contract with complex legal ramifications. It is decidedly a public matter. Proponents claim denying the rights that come from marriage is discriminatory. Tell that to the millions of Americans who aren’t married and don’t plan to be. They aren’t protesting their supposed lesser status.
When a person or government tries to rationalize something that is clearly not according to God’s plan for humankind or fits the reasoning based on centuries of secular law, creativity (to say the least) is required. The convoluted arguments of gay marriage proponents are a prime example.
And, when all else fails, those of us who favor a traditional definition of marriage are accused of being intolerant homophobes. We are portrayed as unloving, narrow-minded, sexually repressed, hypocrites. When the facts don’t support your case, sling mud and cast personal aspersions!
My homosexual friends know my position on this issue. They also know these pejoratives don’t apply to our relationship. My convictions on marriage are based on my understanding of the Bible’s teaching on the subject. So are my convictions about how to treat people who disagree with me.
Standing up for a traditional definition of marriage isn’t an attack on anyone. It’s a principled stand for the preservation of the family, and ultimately, for the preservation of civilized culture.
Who Did You Vote For?
Feb 04 2008
Tuesday, February 5, 2008 is the California primary election to select the candidates for president from the two major political parties. Friends have asked, “Who did you vote for?” My answer is the same answer for every election in the past 30 years.
I voted for the most pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-security candidate who will appoint Supreme Court justices to uphold laws supporting those positions. Most Americans, according to national polls, base their decision on the economy or perceived likeability or party loyalty. I don’t. I am a “values voter” who votes a particular way on what I consider the most pressing, long-term issues of importance in American culture.
Because my convictions are clear, it is usually fairly easy to figure out how I voted and how I will vote in November. But I don’t endorse candidates. Why? Deep down, I believe the best position for religious leaders toward politicians is “respectful prophet.” Christian leaders today, generally, seem too enamored (on both the right and the left) with political leaders. We enjoy the notoriety that comes from knowing and being known. We like to be courted and included. We are induced and enticed by the trappings of power. Frankly, it’s easy to like the attention! My concern has always been Christian leaders would become so closely connected to political leaders we would lose our prophetic voice.
Our role, it seems to me, is to speak to governmental leaders – not for them. Our role is to demand justice and integrity, to hold up a biblical standard for behavior in the public square. Our role is to model servant leadership and challenge political leaders to express that spirit of leadership but with the authority of the state.
We also have the responsibility to provide pastoral ministry to political leaders. Some have criticized Billy Graham, and now Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, for being pastorally involved with the current and past presidents. This is shortsighted. Everyone, especially those isolated by positions of great responsibility, needs a pastor. We should celebrate a leader humble enough to seek personal spiritual counsel and pray for those who God gives the opportunity for such influence on leaders.
Voting is a special privilege. Vote your values – not the economy or the trends of the latest polls.