Belittling the Views of Others Is Unchristian

Gentleness and thoughtfulness are Christian virtues, and it troubles me that they seem to have hit the meat-grinder of partisan politics. Of course an emphasis on politeness can be taken too far so that disagreement is silenced altogether, but to go to the opposite end and make a virtue of being brash and abrasive is not the solution. I am afraid we have tossed the vice of censorship into the same basket as the virtue of temperate speech and derisively called it all “political correctness.” Certainly it is wrong to present a false facade to win approval or try to silence opposing views (one definition of PC). On the other hand, having an honest view that agrees with a socially acceptable position is no more “PC” than calling for respect in sharing disagreements. To denigrate either of these interactions (honesty and respectfulness) as “PC” is detrimental to us all, I believe.

In other words, an emphasis on being thoughtful and gracious in our words is a Christian virtue not a vice unless we use it as a device to silence disagreement or to be a poseur. To denigrate others for being more welcoming or inclusive, for being more careful of the feelings, experiences, and viewpoints of others as “PC,” and so suggesting that they are somehow weak or morally lax or blind is a very unfortunate direction to take and can easily turn into a justification for harsh words and arrogant (if not mean-spirited) viewpoints. Since the term “Political Correctness” has taken on such conflicting meanings, perhaps we would do best to retire it from use and choose words that are more precise and honestly engage with issues.

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What Does Kim Davis Even Want?

When I was a radical, immature Bible College student I took a job on campus as a late night snack sales clerk in the dining room making and selling pizzas.  I was taking a course on Christian ethics that semester in which the point was made that we should do jobs that benefit others, not ones that hurt others–a convincing argument.  I don’t recall now whether my concern was selling food to overweight students (and so supporting their sin of gluttony) or whether it was rather a stewardship concern (snack buying was a sin of indulgence when that money could support the hungry).  Perhaps it was both.  As an act of moral integrity, I quit the job.

Kim Davis is not taking this simple approach to integrity.  I can only conclude that her intention is not primarily to protect her own integrity, but to challenge cultural mores and legal decisions.  There is nothing inherently wrong with that approach, and she has shown personal courage in facing prison in an effort to challenge these laws, but I think it is disingenuous for anyone to pose this as an issue of religious persecution versus freedom of conscience.  She has perfect freedom to leave her job and so save her conscience.  Even such conservative voices as the National Review do not stand by her in this After suggesting various compromises she could have taken to keep her job and save her conscience a National Review staffer wrote: “What, one has to wonder, is her ultimate end here: Is it to protect her conscience, or to nullify the law?”

I think this approach to combating the law is misguided, and I am not sure what end is envisioned.  Kim no doubt wishes for others to join her in defying the laws that conflict with their morals… as long as their morals agree with hers.   It is unlikely that she would approve of Muslim government officials denying voting rights to women or Hindu FDA officials forbidding the sale of beef.  Individuals over-riding the law with claims of personal moral conviction sounds like chaos. She would no doubt claim we are a Christian country (even though the founding fathers refused that path, having been burned badly by the church-controlled government of England).   If we are to have a “Christian” nation, whose Christianity is the true Christianity and who decides?  After all, many liberal Christians find it morally incumbent on them to fight for LGBT rights.  Some conservative Christians are so disturbed by current moral trends in America that they wish for a revolution… but if they got all they wished for, how would they organize the new government?  Instead of a democracy (in which a majority of current citizens would likely vote for gay marriage), would they set up a church hierarchy to decide moral issues like the state church in old Europe?

Power has the seeds of corruption, so the early church reaction to an immoral society was not to fight it, but to separate from it, leading to the monastic movement.  Independence from immoral power structures is a sound means of protecting one’s conscience.  Many traditional communities such as the Amish still follow this route successfully in this country.  “Come out from among her and be ye separate” used to be a rallying cry for fundamentalists in my youth.  I’m not sure what happened to that strain of moral direction, but I fear for any spirituality that tries to enforce its morals on those who disagree, especially over those outside their own religious community.

Perhaps we need a discussion on how to live with one another in the context of conflicting moral visions.  How do we make room for everyone’s moral conscience to be freely exercised without interfering with the conscience of others?

Is Homosexuality the Great Moral Calamity of Our Day?

John Piper laments the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, his article filling my Facebook newsfeed with “likes.” He says this legal approval of homosexuality is a calamity of historical proportions regarding a sin unique in its evil. It is unique because it is the one sin that is celebrated in society today rather than denounced like other sins such as theft and adultery (further details here).

As a young man I was deeply blessed by John Piper’s book “Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist” which proclaimed God’s commitment to our happiness. He has had a positive spiritual impact on many lives, so my disagreement here is not personal, and I’m not even challenging his position on the sinfulness of homosexuality. Let us concede that point for the sake of this discussion because I have a different and in my mind a bigger concern. To put sucinctly: truth wrongly balanced can be as harmful as untruth.

SAILING THROUGH LIFE WITH A BOATLOAD OF TRUTH

TRYING TO SAIL WHEN TRUTH IS OFF CENTER

If I spend all my effort building a bunker for my children against the potential of world collapse so that I don’t have time or money to invest in smoke alarms and brake repairs, health insurance and college savings, I may ruin my family. It is true that the world could fall into chaos–the problem isn’t that fact, but that emphasis. My suggestion is that we not only find truth in Scripture to follow, but we also find the balance set in Scripture. If we don’t take that into account, consciously grounding ourselves in the priorities of God as given in his Word, we are very likely to be caught in backwaters of irrelevance–not only to society but to God–pulled there by our emotions, history, misperceptions, culture and the like. And yes, the cultural influence can come from the right or the left (our current American polarization), and it can pull us to acquiesce or push us to react.

I believe we could save ourselves from a great deal of spiritual, relational, and political turmoil and harm by focusing on Biblical priorities. Identifying those priorities is bigger than a one-post discussion, but I think we could all agree that two key elements are the amount of time devoted to it in the pages of Scripture and the focus given to it by God’s full and final revelation in his son Jesus.

Let me begin by saying that if the Bible condemns something even once, that is sufficient for me to call it a sin. [after consideration I modified this in my next post] I am not even debating here the issue of whether homosexuality is a sin, but only how great a concern it is in the Bible. In a list of sins, how high does it rank in ‘badness’? We first notice that it does not make an appearance in the ‘big ten’ commandments. If we search the Scriptures for everything it says condemning some form of homosexuality (including rape), we find a total of 20 verses (Gen. 19:1-13; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9, Jude1:7, 1 Tim 1:10). In the two places where it falls in a list of sins, homosexuality is not underscored in anyway, but is listed alongside sins such as lying, stealing and coveting. None of these verses come from the gospels because Jesus himself had nothing to say about homosexuality.  So how high a priority is it for God?

In contrast to this, if we pick a topic which seems central to Scripture, such as poverty and wealth, there are hundreds and hundreds of passages all through Scripture. If you know the gospels well, just take a moment to think of all that Jesus himself taught on the corrupting power of wealth. It was a major focus of his ministry–in the beatitudes, the Cleansing of the Temple, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich young ruler, the final judgment (“as much as you did it to the least of these”), and on and on.

This contrast between a major and peripheral focus of Scripture to me is remarkable and telling, and it makes me wonder how Piper can come to the conclusion that homosexuality is the one sin that we celebrate in this society, and the sin that will destroy us. Our admiration, celebration, and emulation of the rich in our society is far deeper, more pervasive and unquestioned even by the church (in a remarkably bipartisan way). In fact, the cultural value of greed is so deeply ingrained and validated that it has become the cornerstone of our economic system, and far from fearing it, we champion it. And unlike homosexuality, this desire is not restricted to three percent of the population.

I think our fear of homosexuality is partly driven by the Old Testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah and it’s destruction. But I’m not sure the major message of that story is the evil of homosexuality. I think if Lot’s visitors had been women, and all the men of the city stormed his house to gang rape them, God would have still been fairly outraged. Sodom became a byword for great evil, but that evil was wide and deep, not reducible to one sin. Even Ezekiel in comparing Israel’s sins to Sodom had this to say, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister, Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor or needy” (16:49). If this is Sodomy, I agree that it is a very serious sin.

Religious Liberty for Only Christians?

“So just imagine this happens to you, at your church. You arrive for the Sunday morning service and you’re greeted by 250 or so protesters. They’re shouting and angry and they carry guns — lots and lots of guns.

And just so there’s no mistaking the focus of their aggressive threats and anger, most of them are wearing T-shirts that say things like “F–k Christianity.”*

What do you do? Cancel church? Call the police? Run and hide? Arm your congregation for self-defense?

Well, if you’re Usama Shami, you invite them inside to join you in prayer.

For Shami, president of a mosque in Arizona, the above scenario wasn’t hypothetical. This is something that really happened to him and to his Phoenix congregation last Friday night.”

The rest of the article is here and it’s a good short read

Intentional Diversity as Spiritual Discipline

A great story and reflection from my second cousin David Priest:

Another reason why everyone needs diversity: this weekend I was in Chicago, and on my way back down, I stopped at a gas station. It was at an oasis outside the city, and it was well-lit, although it was around midnight. A man approached me as I was pumping gas, but stopped about 20 ft away, and called out, “I don’t mean to be stepping to you. I’m a black man, and I don’t want to scare you. My coolant tube got disconnected, and my car overheated. I’m coming home from work, but I don’t have enough money for coolant. I’ve been stuck here for two hours.” I took twenty bucks out of the atm, but he wouldn’t take it till I went to look at his car. “People have been looking at me like I’m an alien all night,” he said. “I’m not a crack head or anything. I already have almost enough for the coolant. I just need a couple dollars.” Before he took the money he showed me the tube and the empty coolant tank, and turned on his car so I could smell the engine.

About two months ago, the same thing happened to me. My coolant hose disconnected and I was stranded for hours on the side of the highway with my brother. Neither of us had to flag down help, because we had AAA, but I certainly wouldn’t have had the money for coolant. Had I flagged someone over, though, I never would’ve hesitated to approach them. I never would’ve felt the need to validate my story to someone who already offered me money. I don’t think shame would’ve been such a large part of the dynamic.

The problems of that interaction come, in part, from insulation. Racial insulation makes us see a black man at night as symbolic of violence or our own fear. Economic insulation makes us see a poor man as symbolic of laziness or crime. We fail to see people as people when our only interaction with race is conceptual and our only interaction with poverty is abstract. Ditto sexuality, gender, and religious and political groups.

My first thought is that our institutions need to foster diverse environments, but more fundamentally, each of us needs to foster diversity in our lives. This doesn’t happen by filling quotas in our lives (eg “I need 2 more friends who I perceive as ‘other'”). I won’t presume to know how it happens, but I know it can start by refusing to insulate ourselves from the diversity that presents itself in daily life. For those at IWU, venture off campus sometime. It’s worth it.

Southern Rebellion

A very thought-provoking article about the continuing North/Side divide in the U.S. on the sesquicentennial anniversary of the end of the civil war:

“Twice now — at gunpoint in the 1860s, by force of law a century later — the rest of the country has imposed change on the South, made it do what it did not want to do, i.e., extend basic human rights to those it had systematically brutalized and oppressed.

No other part of the country has ever experienced that, has ever seen itself so harshly chastised by the rest.

Both times, the act was moral and necessary. But who can deny, or be surprised, that in forcing the South to do the right thing, the rest of the country fostered an abiding resentment, an enduring “apartness,” made the South a region defined by resistance.”

Read the full article here

A Black Middle-class Mother in a White World

I’ve lived nearly my entire life as the lone black girl amongst my friends…. I am most at home in a middle class neighborhood. I am a Black woman who sometimes goes days at a time without interacting with another Black person in real life (not counting social media).

BUT

As a mother, we constantly discern the safety of environments, people, and activities of our children… If the guy coming to fix our AC has a rebel flag on his truck, is it “heritage or hate”? And if it’s heritage, what does that mean to him? Will the swim coach have a problem with the Black mom and White dad? Will there be whispers? Will today be the day they are called a slur for the first time? Or be told they can’t have so-and-so for a boyfriend or girlfriend because of skin color? Have I given them the tools they need to navigate successfully as a person of color in a world where that deducts a point or two in many situations? For my bi-racial blonde haired, blue eyed, light-skinned daughter, there remains the constant fear that I will not be recognized as her mother.

It’s well-worth reading the whole personal account here

Pretending Slavery Is Someone Else’s Problem

Most do not know how deeply I suffer over our country’s racial disparities, inequalities often supported by those from my own Christian heritage.  This article about a privately established slavery memorial was emotionally understated, but often had me close to tears.  It may not touch you in the same way, but I offer it here with a brief excerpt:

“A nation builds museums to understand its own history and to have its history understood by others, to create a common space and language to address collectively what is too difficult to process individually. Forty-eight years after World War II, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in Washington. A museum dedicated to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks opened its doors in Lower Manhattan less than 13 years after they occurred. One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, however, no federally funded museum dedicated to slavery exists, no monument honoring America’s slaves.”

We have a memorial for Holocaust victims from another country, just not the holocaust of our own people, a discrepancy pointed out by Eric Foner, Columbia University historian and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery: “If the Germans built a museum dedicated to American slavery before one about their own Holocaust, you’d think they were trying to hide something. As Americans, we haven’t yet figured out how to come to terms with slavery. To some, it’s ancient history. To others, it’s history that isn’t quite history.”

The full article is here

Forget Saving the World

She is dying of cancer.  I don’t know her, but I just read her blog post, saw her young face in a photo and her grade-school children in another.  When I say she is dying, I mean they have abandoned all efforts to save her and have placed her in hospice care.  The end is near.  And it changes all the dimensions of life.  Her story broke through the spell I was under.

It seemed to me the whole world was headed for disaster, everyone hellbent on driving our ship onto the rocks, and I wanted to make a difference… save the Titanic.  Except I’m not the pilot… or the navigator… or even a crew member. I am a tiny actor on the world stage.  Nothing I say or do is going to change our direction, but while I am in a frenzy or a funk to save the ship, which I cannot do, I lose sight of the one thing I can do–faithfully love those around me through the hurricane that certainly lies ahead (because there is always a storm on the horizon).  I can hold the hand of someone who is dying of cancer, and I can do that regardless of where the ship is headed.

I am a fixer by nature and I live in a nation of fixers, and we all tend to work ourselves into a tizzy trying to convince others that their viewpoint, beliefs, and actions are wrong and their political, theological, and social commitments pernicious.  We are sure they are going to ruin us all, or at least themselves, with their craziness.  They’re going to tip the boat over unless we stop them.  It helps me to remember that the boat has been tossing around in terrible crosswinds for millenia and is still afloat. The words of Jesus which are a great burden to some are a great relief to me: “In this world you will have tribulation.”  It’s a promise: we cannot escape the turmoil and catastrophe this planet is constantly wreaking on its inhabitants.  No combination of care and wisdom and determination is going to keep our ship out of trouble, so I can just let that fixation go.  Instead I can pay attention to those around me with small, daily deeds of love.

I don’t mean to suggest that I should not be sad, even distraught, over the tragedies I see assailing us from all sides, but there is a mysterious and powerful peace that comes when I stop trying to control the world around me.  That is not where our safety lies.  We can cure many cancers, but we all still die.  Glory and peace come not from finding remedies for all our ills, security for all our dangers, resolutions for all our conflicts, but from finding comfort in the loving God who promises to carry us through and in those who walk with us compassionately, knowingly, trustingly.