Sexual Liberation or Infidelity Hell?

blog - Ashley Madison 1

“You have no right to judge me.” Or so I’ve been told.

Truth is, they’re right. As a sinner saved by grace I am in no position to cast any stones of condemnation. The rationale as to WHY I shouldn’t be judging, however, is where the debate comes in.

Yesterday’s reasoning for abstaining from judgment was because I too was a sinner and therefore didn’t have the right to suggest I’m better. We’ll call this the moral hypocrisy argument. Again, I don’t disagree. But that’s not today’s rationale. Today, in the 21st century, the logic we’re generally fed for why it’s inappropriate to make moral judgments about others is because everyone is responsible for forming their own truth. At least that’s the current cultural assumption. Do what you want to do, be true to yourself, just don’t hurt anyone along the way. This is the moral relativism argument.

This is something of a hollowed out Golden Rule and is fairly clever. It sounds nice and is probably the best case you can make for morality apart from God.

But, with just a little thought, the average person can recognize that moral relativism doesn’t work.

If everything is permissible so long as you’re not hurting anyone, who gets to say for sure whether or not someone is being hurt?

Take something as commonplace today as pornography usage.

We now have 20 years of research on the effects of internet pornography, a generation of people largely educated by the public to believe that porn was a legitimate “safe sex” alternative to engaging in more risky sexual behavior. It wasn’t just a victimless crime. It was touted as a “healthy” alternative.

Today, we know that approximately 80% of young adult men, 70% of middle-aged men, and 50% of older adult men admit to accessing pornography on some sort of regular basis (Pornography usage numbers, by the way, are often considered by experts to be notoriously underreported, i.e. it could be higher.). Couple this regularity with the tidal wave of research that says pornography consumption leads to a vastly heightened prevalence of sexual addiction, sexual dysfunction, more graphic, illegal, and abusive sexual practices, the devaluation of monogamy and child rearing, and quite predictably, the likelihood of an affair. In 2002, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported the following as the most salient factors present in divorce cases:– 68% of the divorces involved one party meeting a new lover over the Internet.– 56% involved one party having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.” (A nice comprehensive summary of some of the best research can be found here.)

The recent Ashley Madison hack has brought to light exactly what an absolute hell pornography is. If you somehow haven’t heard by now, Ashley Madison is a Canadian based website that facilitates adultery for its users, under the theme Life is short. Have an affair. The site had roughly 40 million users.

Let’s put that into perspective. The majority of users obviously came from the U.S. and Canada, the combined population of which is 350 million. A little less than half of those are male, approximately 170 million. The youngest of those (under 18) are ineligible to be users, and the oldest of those (over 60) are significantly less likely. That group accounts for half the male population, which, when subtracted, is now down to 85 million. Again, Ashley Madison had 40 million users. The site’s members were obviously not all male, but this suggests how insanely quietly common this site was – a website that was the natural step for porn users who had “become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (Eph. 4:19 ESV) The NIV84 translates that last part as “a continual lust for more.” That does a great job of capturing the nature of addiction – what worked yesterday to offer me a high is going to be need to be ratcheted up in order to deliver the same payoff today. The vast majority of extramarital trysts today are preceded by pornography usage, and often, addiction. Addiction is slavery, and this sort of sex addiction is some sort of shameful infidelity hell. Keep in mind, Ashley Madison is JUST ONE WEBSITE! This can’t even possibly account for much more than a fraction of all American infidelity!

So let’s back up a step. Are the only ones “hurt” in all this the Josh Duggars and Sam Raders – i.e. the high-profile Christians who weren’t true to their stated convictions that such behavior was wrong? Or are the millions and millions of wives and husbands and children who are affected by this, regardless of their stance on pornography and sexual liberation, also harmed? Not to mention the guilty parties themselves, who are now left ashamed, crippled with guilt, and trying to sort through the debris of relational devastation they’ve caused. Two suicides related to the hack have already been confirmed.

The fact that mainstream media’s first impulse in this case was to report on the potential links to members of the military, Congress, and the White House, shows the media’s inability to grasp the widespread relational significance of this information. The secular world right now does not know what sin is, or what to do with it.

Less than two months ago, as a country, we officially redefined marriage. And now, in part, we know why. Because nationally, at least in practice, we apparently HATE the biblical design for monogamous, faithful, Christ-centered marriage.

The cultural command is…everything is permissible so long as you’re not hurting anyone. Again, I ask, who gets to say for sure whether or not someone is being hurt? It certainly seems like millions are now hurting because of the relative morality dictum.

So, I’m suggesting we reconsider.

Relative morality does not work. Darwinian amorality, where everyone does whatever they see fit, even if it does involve willfully hurting others, would end civilization. The third option, the only option left, is universal morality. And the absolute truth that teaches universal morality can only be found outside of us, in divine revelation. It would make sense for us to once again revisit such an option at a time like this.

Since universal truth is, by definition, timeless, it is unchanging. This is why Jesus, thousands of years after Creation, can reaffirm God’s design for human sexuality:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matt. 19:4-6)

Moving back to that paradigm WOULD CAUSE LESS HURT. No more pornography. No more hook ups. No more cohabitation. No more infidelity. I guarantee we’d be happier, healthier, and more satisfied. We’d hurt less.

But renewed effort, redirected goals, and godly guidelines won’t atone for our mistakes. For that we also need divine intervention.

So, for all who have been hurt by the slavery packaged as “sexual liberation,” the Bible also has a wealth of comfort.

Amazingly, God himself also knows exactly what it’s like to be hurt by unfaithfulness. God even specifically had his prophet Hosea take a cheating wife, Gomer, to illustrate to his people that he knew what it was like to be devastated by (spiritual) philandering. When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” (Hosea 1:2)

We have a God who has been cheated on. And he has all the power in the universe at his disposal to heal us of our wounds and free us from our slavery. He also has enough love to pay the price to separate our sins of unfaithfulness from us, as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

Now he guides us to a more beautiful design for human sexuality.

What would it look like if we all really believed that?

What does it mean to BELIEVE?

(image credit to atacrossroads.net)

(image credit to atacrossroads.net)

Belief is essential to saving, Christian faith. No real debate here amongst Christians. Jesus said, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16). Even more famously, he said that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This is all Christianity 101.

Here’s the kicker though – what does it really mean to BELIEVE?

I was reminded while teaching Bible Study this past week as well as while watching the recently released Do You Believe? of how much Christians still really struggle with the nature of belief. This is fairly understandable when you consider how the meaning of the word “believe” has changed drastically over time. (NOTE: for our purposes here today, I’m going to use the words “faith” and “belief” interchangeably.)

The best explanation I think I’ve heard of “religious believing” was given by Diana Butler Bass:

Latin used credo, “I set my heart upon” or “I give my loyalty to,” as the word to describe religious “believing,” that is, “faith.” … Thus, in previous centuries, belief had nothing to do with one’s weighing of evidence or intellectual choice. Belief was not a doctrinal test. Instead, belief was more like a marriage vow – “I do” as a pledge of faithfulness and loving service to and with the other. (Christianity After Religion, pg. 117)

According to Bass, if someone wanted to give their intellectual opinion in Latin (the language that shaped Western thought) that person would use the word opinor, not credo. Credo is the word from which we get “credit” and “credibility” which carry the idea of trustworthiness and confidence.

Perhaps it would help to see a definition offered right out of a Greek/English lexicon. Notice the description of pisteuo, the word generally translated into English as “believe.”

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So, from a Scriptural standpoint, it is impossible to believe without having functional trust in something/someone.

By the way, while not all of my readers here are Lutheran, many are. It’s probably of note then that Lutheran theologians have always understood this trust aspect as fundamental to faith too. Johannes Andreas Quenstedt said that there are three material parts of faith: knowledge, assent, and confidence (or trust) (TDP, pars IV, cap. VIII, sect. 1, thes. V, p 282).

To summarize then, someone might know a great deal about Jesus and even intellectually agree with most everything he says, but until they put their functional trust in him, they’re still unbelievers.

Let me give you a little more concrete of an illustration. If I was standing in front of you, next to a chair, would it be proper to say that I “believed” in the chair? Most modern people would say, “Well, yes, of course! You can see it right there. You can touch it.” But that is NOT at all the biblical definition of faith. To believe in that chair, in a biblical sense, would require me to put the full weight of myself and my life down into that chair. Until I do that, I don’t really have faith in the chair. blog - tiny chairGranted, as an average sized man, to sit down into a normal chair doesn’t require much faith. Nonetheless, it still requires some functional faith to place my weight in it, because it requires a belief in things yet unseen – i.e. I need to sit down before I can be certain that it will hold me. However, the less likely things appear according to my sensory perception, the more faith is required. So, for instance, for a 400 lb. man to sit down into one of those adorable preschooler “time out” chairs, now that requires greater belief.

There are all sorts of implications to this understanding of functional trust being an essential component to Christian faith. But, the bottom line is that this definition means we likely have a bunch of people in our society who consider themselves believers but are really what Dinesh D’Souza describes as “practical atheists.” He writes:

“Of course my neighbors do not think of themselves as atheist …. they may even consider themselves Christian, either because they were born that way or because they attend church occasionally. The distinguishing characteristic of these people is that they live as if God did not exist. God makes no difference in their lives.” (What’s So Great About Christianity, pg. 4)

Now, I want to be careful here. I fully recognize that only God can see clearly the line separating believers from unbelievers. We all stand on one side or the other of that line. Only God himself can truly discern the heart and know which side. But, if Jesus is accurate when he says, “By their fruit you will recognize (believers)” (Matt. 7:16, 20) then it’s at least a worthwhile endeavor for me as a Christian to examine where in my life I’m currently placing my functional, practical trust. Does my functional hope for the future rest on my diversified financial portfolio or on God’s promises to provide? Does my functional self-image rest on my perceived goodness relative to those around me or on my status as God’s redeemed child? Does my functional happiness rest in material, earthly comfort or in the affection offered me by the Almighty? Does my functional worthiness rest on how many friends I have, whether or not my parents approve of me, or if someone of the opposite sex finds me attractive or on the fact that the God who created them all accepts me? Yes, I recite the Apostles’ Creed along with many others on Sunday mornings, but where do I functionally find my security and identity, my meaning in life? What or Who do I BELIEVE will really deliver the goods in the end?

What does this mean?

There are a number of massive implications to this concept of functional faith. I’ll just share two.

1) Witness to “Christians.” Since the time of European Christendom, I’m not sure there has ever been a period or place as confused about who the Christians really are. I think, however, that it’s fair to say that a high percentage of people who would categorize themselves as Christian believers probably actually need to be witnessed to. I’m finding that this is particularly difficult for parents to accept when it comes to their grown children. The Christian parents did many things right in the upbringing, but the child is still yet to receive the faith as his/her own. The remedy is considerably more sophisticated than “yeah, they probably need to be in church more.” This is because the problem itself is complicated by the fact that those masquerading as Christians don’t consider themselves as having a belief problem – many categorize themselves as believers because they have intellectually offered their stamp of approval to some doctrine. I’m trying to make the case – that’s still not believing yet.

2) Repent for Lack of Trust. The knowledge, agreement, and trust elements of faith necessarily come in that order. In other words, someone will not believe unless they first have knowledge of the truth (Rom. 10:14). But, it’s possible to receive that knowledge and then reject it’s validity. So the next element is equally important. Not only must one have knowledge of the good news of Jesus, but agree that it is true. Most people in the world have heard the outline of Jesus’ saving work at some point, but the majority have also rejected it. For those who remain…many have heard the truth, believe it to be true, and yet still haven’t allowed the gospel to liberate them into a new life – one that is dictated more by God’s promises than man’s conventional wisdom. This last group is the group that many of us struggle in and has been characteristic of American Christianity for a number of years now. What do we do? We repent. “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) How on earth am I ever going to love my enemies instead of seeking vengeance? How can I experience joy and contentment when circumstances look bleak? How do I maintain calm when the storms of life brew? Repent for lack of trust and dive back into God’s promises. Trust.

Motivation

Telling you to trust more won’t actually convince any of you to trust more. Showing you why you can trust Jesus more, however, will.

Before yelling “action”, every good director has to offer the actors their motivation for behaving the way they do in the scene. So what’s your motivation for trusting God?

When you and I held the fires of hell, the wrath of God’s judgment, up against Jesus, he nailed himself in place so as not to run away. You can trust a man who will not only endure hell for you but who also lives to tell about how even that won’t cause him to leave you (Matt. 28:20). You can trust him more than science, which lacks qualitative heart, and more than your feelings, which lack quantitative accuracy. You can sit the weight of your life down into the arms of a resurrected Savior.

Clarity on Tolerance

(image credit to traditionalright.com)

(image credit to traditionalright.com)

The public school system in Fairfax County, Virginia is currently going through a storm of controversy. The disturbance is based on the school board’s recent vote to add gender identity education (and corresponding sex education) to their curriculum, starting as early as Kindergarten. Furthermore, the school board is attempting to move this portion of the curriculum from “Family Life Education,” which parents have the ability to opt out of in the state of Virginia, to “Health Education,” which they do not.

While this issue is perhaps isolated in Fairfax, Virginia at the moment, you can all but guarantee it will spread.

I personally would not be okay with my child receiving that specific education. But, for voicing my belief in God’s biblical design for marriage and a biblical sexual ethic, I might very well be labeled intolerant.

While I don’t mind being called names, what I don’t like is poor logic.

To not accept my position on something because you view it as “intolerant” is, in itself, intolerant. You’d be guilty of the very thing you’re accusing me of.

In social theories, this is referred to as the paradox of intolerance. Harvard philosopher John Rawls said that a just society must tolerate the intolerant. Otherwise, the society would itself be intolerant, and thus unjust (Rawls, A Theory of Justice, pg. 220)

On both sides of the debate, lost in today’s arguments of “You’re unloving for not supporting gay marriage” or “I shouldn’t have to provide these services for these people,” is the actual definition of tolerance – seemingly the one moral absolute that continues to exist in our society.

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So, dictionary.com says that tolerance involves showing kindness to those who differ from you. Furthermore, if you glance through the synonyms, you find additional insight.

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Tolerance apparently also carries the idea that you must endure something you don’t like. It means you don’t always get your way. In fact, the word civilization comes from the word civil and it means to be respectful and polite. The entire basis for civilization then is the idea of being gracious to someone with whom you differ.

So let me show you where I think many people miss the concept today:

Many Conservatives Don’t Understand Tolerance

I’ll say it again, tolerance means that you must endure something you don’t like.

Though some, cringing at the mere sound of the word, view tolerance as permissiveness towards sin (and it could become that in some cases), tolerance itself is nonetheless a fully godly trait. The Apostle Paul, writing to some (hypocritically) self-righteous and judgmental Jews, said, “Do you show contempt for the riches of (God’s) kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4) 

Within the premise of the gospel is the idea that God doesn’t merely send lighting bolts down upon me when I’m behaving wrongly. He’s patient with me. He stays with me. And he seeks to win my heart over to the truth. He doesn’t just shut me down and cut me off. If he did, while my behavior might change, there’s nothing to suggest that my heart would change. Instead, God tolerates me, guiding me to repent of my untruth, see the beauty of his mercy, and voluntarily conform to his will.

Many Liberals Don’t Understand Tolerance

You can’t force someone to like anything, let alone something they must endure.

Since the 1930s, political psychologists have argued that liberals are more tolerant. Thus, the grand irony in the gender identity and same-sex marriage movement is a seeming spirit of not only wanting people to accept it as law of the land, but to approve of the behavior. This is the impulse behind the recent wave of lawsuits against Christian bakers, florists, photographers, and adoption agencies. But are these lawsuits indicative of tolerant behavior?

Say, for instance, I was hosting an event which clearly revolved around core Christian beliefs like the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – a baptism, a confirmation, a funeral, etc. – and I walked into a bakery owned by a Muslim and asked for a cake with a Christian cross and Bible verse on it. If he refused to provide service, I’d probably say, “I understand (that this puts you in a difficult situation, one which might conflict with your beliefs).” And I’d find another bakery.

Please note: I’m NOT saying that I think it should be legal to deny non-inherently religious civil services. That’s a dangerous avenue to go down. What if our country became a Muslim majority? Would it be okay for a gas station owner to deny me service because of my attachment to Jesus? What I am suggesting is that our nation would be a better place in which to live if we possessed a common courtesy that allowed us to not always get our way, grace that allows for some personal inconvenience – grace to go find another bakery.

I can appreciate that homosexuals have felt a great deal of social rejection and hate for a long time. But an attempt to force others to accept a behavior that they’re morally uncomfortable with would make you guilty of the very thing you supposedly despise in intolerant people.

Biblical Tolerance

Christians have to understand that theological tolerance is logically impossible. All beliefs CANNOT be equally valid and correct. Someone’s gotta be wrong about something here. Therefore, Christians who are compromising biblical truth regarding human sexuality (i.e. tolerating theological untruth) for the sake of societal peace are doing the Christian life incorrectly, because compromising God’s revealed will is never loving.

Nonetheless, while theological tolerance is impossible, civil tolerance is absolutely within reach.

Amazingly, Jesus’ teaching is not only that we be civil with those who differ from us, but he has the audacity to actually say that we should LOVE them!

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you … you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-29, 35-36)

Because Jesus didn’t write you off, because he tolerated you while you were dead in your sins and offered the grace to bring you to life, you have the promise of forgiveness and salvation.

The gospel of Jesus – this is a great basis for civilization. And I think it’s possible for both believers and non-believers can see the wisdom of that.

Life in Babylon. Love for Babylon. And a few more thoughts a week after the Supreme Court’s ruling.

(image credit to wilx.com)

(image credit to wilx.com)

I’m starting to think that many, myself included, are perhaps getting a little exhausted with the dialogue concerning the SCOTUS marriage decision. Maybe it’s because same-sex marriage has already been a reality in my state for several years. Maybe it’s because I’m well aware of my generation’s overwhelmingly supportive opinions about same-sex marriage. By the way, some of that support is, in fact, because many young adults feel romantic relationships between same-gendered persons are perfectly legitimate. On the other hand,  some of that support is because many young adults, while they don’t agree morally with same-gendered relationships, also don’t believe it’s morally appropriate that homosexuals should be denied other rights/privileges merely based on sexual orientation.

Practically, it makes little difference, because Millennials are set to become the nation’s largest generation soon, which seemingly would suggest that same-sex marriage is the new norm for the foreseeable future. While the footnotes of our country’s history may remember Friday as a historic date, the Supreme Court’s decision didn’t actually move the idealogical needle all too much. It merely publicly declared what we, as a nation, already believed.

Human sexuality is a major issue, and needs to regularly be addressed, so I do so once or twice a year. But, in recent years, I’ve already given my personal thoughts on what I believe the dynamic between Christians and same-sex relationships and the government needs to be here, and here, and to a lesser degree, here. So, I want to change the focus a little this week.

I get the impression that what the Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage ruling did, as much as anything, was shock some Christians into the realization that America is not their home. We’ve had hints in this direction since WWII, but I think for the first time on Friday, American WASPs started to feel like a minority. That’s not at all a bad thing. Generally speaking, wasps are awful. Furthermore, Christians who hold to the Bible as inspired, inerrant revelation from God, while a minority now, shouldn’t feel too sorry for themselves, because they aren’t the only minority here. In fact, our nation, as perhaps evidenced by the marginal 5-4 Court ruling, is basically non-majority. We live in a highly fragmented civilization, where it’s almost as though majority opinions – about religion, morality, worldview, etc., are nonexistent. Almost every idea is coming from a relative minority viewpoint.

What the Supreme Court ruling also is doing, however, is forcing us to reevaluate how we, as Christians, engage a post-Christian society. So, today I’d simply propose that the two false avenues to go down would be to 1) avoid and condemn the culture completely, or 2) over-assimilate to the culture.

Perhaps the most helpful biblical text on the matter is what God says to the Israelites through the prophet Jeremiah.

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 29:7-9)

After being conquered by Babylon, many of God’s people, the Israelites, had been carried away into exile in Babylon. Much like ours, Babylon was a fairly fragmented society.

The Babylonians were sharp. In the ancient world, after you defeated a nation in battle, there were basically three options of what you might do with them. First, you could drive them out of the land. Often, after regrouping, the defeated party would later storm back more hostile than before. Second, you could subjugate the defeated nation as slaves. While the cheap labor sounded nice, nations figured out quickly that afflicted, humiliated people groups often find resilience in their common cause to overthrow oppression. The third option, which the Babylonians preferred, was that of separation and assimilation. In this case, the defeated nation was divided, and the best and brightest were often actually educated in the mother nation’s ways and given opportunity for a good life, so long as they assimilated on major cultural issues.

Under the Babylonian’s rule, the only time you’d potentially face genuine hardship is if you refused to play ball. This is precisely what we see, for instance, in the case of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, i.e. The Three Men in the Fiery Furnace (Dan. 3) and in the case of  Daniel himself, i.e. In the Lion’s Den (Dan. 6). A refusal to assimilate meant opposition from the state. Nonetheless, Daniel and his friends held their ground because they considered the fires and lions of hell much more dangerous than those of earth. Stated differently, the thought of offending and thus being separated from their gracious LORD was much more horrible than the thought of offending and being separated from sinful man.

So, for the Israelite believers in exile, one option was to fully assimilate and break their faith in God. Another option was to stand their ground on issues of faith and potentially face persecution.

A third option was to rally together in their own little group, avoid Babylonian culture and people at all cost, and hope and pray that God would soon rain down judgment on this wicked, sinful people. A number of Israel’s false prophets, like Hananiah, were encouraging this sort of self-righteous tribalism (Jer. 28).

Again, the Israelites naturally thought they had two options – compromise their faith and selfishly take as much as they could from the city OR selfishly avoid sharing their faith (and their God) and eschew the city and culture entirely. But God intervenes with a thought that doesn’t come to us naturally, a third option that comes to us only through his Spirit – “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” (Jer. 29:7)

The Israelite exiles were supposed to love Babylon as they functioned as salt and light for Babylon.

How does this all apply to same-sex marriage?

Let’s remember what the gospel is.

Michel Foucault was a French philosopher and perhaps the most commonly cited social theorist of the postmodern era. Speaking about identity, Foucault believed that we all have some factor that makes us feel good about ourselves. We tend to build our identity on this factor. The inevitable problem, however, is that we begin to despise the people who don’t have that same factor. We treat them as inferior. Furthermore, we also tend to be intimidated by those who appear to have that factor to a greater degree than we do. We feel excluded by those who seem superior. So, for instance, if you find your identity in your personal beauty, your intelligence, your wealth, your personality, your moral performance, etc., you will always find reason to hate those beneath you AND those above you. In other words, Foucault is suggesting that the way we humans naturally go about forming our identities invariably causes humanity to wrestle with issues of inferiority and superiority, abuse and oppression, me against you.

Is there another option?

What if your identity is cemented in a changeless fact that exists outside of you – like the fact that you are a redeemed child of God? And what if that reality was equally available to everyone? How does that status – that of a child of God – come about? Through the grace of Jesus Christ. The gospel says that when I was not doing a single thing right, not thinking a single thing right, fully selfish and headed for destruction, Jesus loved me enough to die for me. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

If that’s the foundation of my identity and the hope for my life, how might it change the way I look at a nation that is filled with people who think the wrong things, do the wrong things, a nation of people who are headed for destruction just like I was?

Jesus loved me, he died on the cross for me, even though I differed greatly with him. And if I realize that this is what liberated me, such grace now empowers me to also love others, even die for others, who differ with me.

Because of what Jesus did for me, I’m not afraid to die. And only when you’re not afraid to die will you be courageous enough to stand for truth AND selfless enough to serve in love.

In practice…

What will this truth & love dynamic look like in your life moving forward?

It’s easier to say what it can’t look like.

As a Christian, you can’t just assimilate to Babylon. In the context of the Supreme Court’s ruling, you simply cannot be a Christian and pretend that God’s clearly revealed will for human sexuality does not exist. I am yet to meet the Bible interpreter who believes BOTH that the Bible is fully the inspired Word of God AND that God is supportive of a homosexual lifestyle. I know some people who call themselves Christians and think that God’s will for human sexuality has perhaps changed over the years or that the Bible’s stance on homosexuality is nebulous, but these people unequivocally do NOT consider the Bible to fully be the inspired Word of God. The person who has 1) seriously studied the Bible, 2) believes it’s fully inspired, and 3) draws the conclusion that God is supportive of a homosexual lifestyle would be like the unicorn of biblical interpretation. This stance would be so self-evidently illogical, that no one holds it. Point is, if you’re actually a Christian who has read your Bible and believes that it’s inspired, you absolutely can’t approach the same-sex issue the way the majority of your peers in America now do.

On the other hand, as a Christian, you can’t just avoid Babylon. In the context of the Supreme Court’s decision, you simply cannot be a Christian and ignore Jesus’ statements about believers functioning as the salt (an integrated, flavor-inducing preservative) and light (a more beautiful option pointing towards truth) of the earth (Matt. 5:13-16). God said to the Israelites “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” (Jer. 29:5) You can’t do that from a distance. You’ve got to get in there and show costly, sacrificial love.

So how do you show this community-transforming truth & love? Sounds daunting. Carrying out the will of God is always an enormous goal. Goals are intimidating. I just read a great piece on productivity that encouraged focusing on sound systems rather than overwhelming goals. For a Christian, the goal of being the salt of the earth and light of the world comes only from the system of having your heart broken and fixed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

G.K. Beale’s thesis in We Become What We Worship is that we all develop the qualities of the person/thing from which we find our greatest hope in life. Well, what if Jesus was not only what we say we put our hope in, but he actually is where we find our hope?

Jesus was so filled with truth that he’d rather die than compromise a word of his Father’s will. Jesus was so filled with love that he’d rather die for those who were killing him than let them see harm. Focus your life on that guy, you’ll become more like that guy, and I guarantee you’ll figure out how to apply truth and love in whatever your context.

Should Wives Still Submit?

(image credit to sarahorn.com)

(image credit to sarahorn.com)

No secret, gender issues are hot right now. It’s due to a combination of cultural gender crisis, the summer wedding season, and a fairly controversial new TLC series. The deeper we get into the “anthropocentric turn” (how philosopher Charles Taylor has described the shift from a God-believing culture to a human-centered culture), the further we get from things like created gender distinctions, and the less sense things like “gender roles” make. Very often the mere mention of such things today are considered passé, narrow-minded, and offensive.

(image credit to thoughtcatolog.com)

(image credit to thoughtcatolog.com)

Here’s the key though. What are sometimes falsely considered biblical “gender roles” today are often just 1950s Leave It To Beaver Americana. Truth be told, I’m sort of put off by that stuff too. You don’t have to browse through too many advertisements from the mid-twentieth century to gather that in this time frame, women were considered by many to be intellectually inferior and largely incapable of doing much outside the walls of the home. By the way, many churches still probably reflect June Cleaver roles for women more faithfully than they do the entrepreneurial, intelligent, faithful Proverbs 31 woman. If the majority consensus about your church is that women have fewer/lesser spiritual gifts than men, your false theology is showing. If you think the gifts that God has most uniquely granted to women to impact his kingdom are recipes and vacuums, at some point this probably must become an issue of repentance for poor understanding.

(image credit to businessinsider.com)

(image credit to businessinsider.com)

This is not to say we shouldn’t love women who are good with recipes or are persnickety about keeping the place tidy. We benefit from that greatly too. The point I’m trying to make is that we need to be very careful to let the Bible itself, not the culture we grew up in, shape our thoughts and theology.

So here’s some thoughts about twenty-first century submission.

Words are Important with Gender Distinctions

Distortion of words unquestionably contributed to the first sin. (Gen. 3:1 The serpent said, “Did God really say…?”) This distortion continues to contribute to subsequent sins. Any words that twist and garble THE WORD are doing a disservice to us.

So the pertinent question today then is, “What does submit mean in contemporary society?”

(image credit to jobs-tree.com)

(image credit to jobs-tree.com)

Technically, the word submit today still does not have an inherently negative connotation. The last time you applied for a job, my guess is that you submitted a resume. And you probably didn’t think that was beneath you.

On the other hand, when I personally think of submit, the first thing that comes to mind tends to be mixed martial arts UFC fighting. In this instance, submitting involves tapping out because you’re enduring such excruciating pain that you can endure it no longer. I don’t think one has to be a Bible scholar to figure out that this sort of Randy Couture-induced tap out is not what the Apostle Paul is encouraging wives to do in Ephesians 5.blog - submission 5

A pastor friend of mine recently told me that a woman informed him whenever she heard the word submit it made her think of Fifty Shades of Grey. Yeah, again, I’m quite confident that the Apostle Paul wasn’t proposing sadomasochistic erotica either.

But the point is that whatever words Christians use to express the relational roles between husband and wife, we had better be VERY careful that we’re conveying the same thoughts that the Apostle Paul originally intended. I’ve sat through enough weddings where the word “submit” was used a bit haphazardly and have heard the audible scoffs from perturbed men and women in the congregation that day. Now, before we say, “What wicked, godless, anti-biblical people!” we probably should make sure we’re doing our job of faithfully communicating the writer’s original thoughts. IF submit doesn’t convey those thoughts in today’s culture, I’d propose we consider alternative words.

What Words Are Used in Eph. 5 to Differentiate Genders?

The whole “wives, submit to your husbands” thing, while it falls under an umbrella of gender roles established throughout Scripture beginning in the Creation Account (Gen. 2), is technically taken from the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 5.

The first issue we run into with modern misunderstanding are those “helpful” section titles that have been inserted into your English translations of the Bible. So, for instance, the most recent NIV translation uses the title “Instructions for Christian Households” to separate verses 20 and 21. The previous NIV version used the phrase “Wives and Husbands” to separate verses 21 and 22. 

What’s the difference? What’s the big deal? Well, where you place verse 21 makes a big deal in comprehending the flow of Paul’s thought. Verse 21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:21) While this is a good encouragement for all Christians to do to one another, it also happens to be a nice segue for Paul to begin talking about gender roles in marriage. Because the very next thing he says is Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:22) Interestingly, the Greek word for submit is not even found in verse 22, but it’s linguistically implied as a holdover from verse 21. The bottom line is this – submission is something God intends for ALL Christians, male and female, in general, to do to one another, and in the marriage relationship, for a wife to do for her husband. 

What does it mean? In Greek, the word hypotasso (transl.), used here, is the picture of arranging oneself (tasso) under (hypo). It basically means to place yourself under the will of another. In marriage, it means to place yourself under the will of a godly leader. We KNOW that headship is not an inferiority thing, because Christ himself has a head – “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor. 11:3) Jesus has a head and, remember, it doesn’t get any better than Jesus – “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” (Heb. 1:3) Therefore, this genderedness stuff clearly isn’t an issue of talent or worth or goodness or intelligence or anything like that. It’s merely an issue of deferring to another’s will. Jesus, who has all of the glory and majesty of the Father, says to the Father, “Father … not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

And as long as we’re on the topic of misconstrued words, note also that when God creates Eve to be a “suitable helper” (Gen. 2:18) for Adam, this whole helper thing has largely lost its flavor today too. When God says he will make a suitable helper, ezer (Hebrew transl.), this word for helper is actually only used elsewhere in the Old Testament to describe the help that God offers to his people. In other words, when we hear the word helper today, we generally think of someone assisting us in doing something that we could do by ourselves. E.g. “Will you please help me wash the dishes?” See, I can take care of the dishes by myself just fine (NOTE: Relatively speaking. Sweetheart, no need to comment here.), but it’d be sort of nice if someone else helped me out. That is NOT how helper is being used in Genesis 2 nor the rest of the Old Testament. Israel was not sufficient in themselves. They needed God’s help, for instance, to accomplish their purpose of arriving in the Promised Land. In this case, the word helper indicates that you are assisting someone in doing something they could not do by themselves. Wives (women in general) help men accomplish their created goal – glorifying God – in a way that husbands (men in general) would be incapable of doing without the women. When God creates Adam and he says that it is “not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), he’s not suggesting that Adam’s design is flawed, but rather that man is incomplete without woman. If God had created another Adam to go along with the first Adam, the two Adams would still be equally incomplete in the same way that two identical puzzle pieces don’t fit together and, thus, don’t create a completed puzzle/full picture.

What God, through the Apostle Paul, is suggesting then in Ephesians 5 is that husband and wife are a complementary unit with a common goal, but it is illogical and detrimental for them to have common roles, so, one of them has to take a headship role. WHY God specifically chose which gender for which role (i.e. helper or head) is for reasons that God himself only fully understands. THAT he differentiated genders for complementary roles, on the other hand, is Scripturally obvious.

One final note here. What I’ll often hear is a wife who says that she can no longer respect her husband (or submit to him), because he has behaved so poorly. To this, I’ll often counter with, “Well, if you only want to respect him when he’s completely respectable, do you really want him to love you only when you’re completely lovable?” Obviously not. This love/respect thing simply cannot have constantly fluctuating conditions. With that said, I would, however, also include the thought that a husband does need to lead in this regard. The Church only praises Christ and submits to him AFTER he has shown unbelievable love to her. Similarly, husbands need to move first – in grace, patience, communication, repentance, forgiveness, humility, etc. If you’re in that headship role, you’ve got yourself a huge responsibility and you should expect that God is going to hold you to the higher standard. (Gen. 3:9)

Common Concern about Gender Differences

1) Oppression

One of the biggest concerns I hear about the gender roles is a certain amount of trepidation from a woman distrusting that a male is fully adequate to lead her. This is understandable especially when a woman has a history of a man in her life who stunk as a leader. The wrong way to handle that, however, would be to say that God’s design for gender roles is flawed. That’d be like me buying all of the parts to a Ford Explorer, paying a bunch of preschoolers to assemble it in order to save a buck, and then when this machine doesn’t perform at the level I’d like, blaming Ford for its bogus product. In other words, don’t mistake lousy execution for faulty design. I am yet to meet the woman who had a truly Christ-like husband who had any real issues with biblical gender roles. God’s design for gender roles works just great. It’s unfaithful execution that creates havoc.

But, worst case scenario, what if a man becomes oppressive in his leadership role? This is one of the reasons why God designed churches. This is also a reason why it’s so important for a woman to both 1) marry a godly man who resembles Jesus as much as possible, and 2) join a godly church that has a healthy understanding of gender roles AND disciplines men who don’t fulfill their roles. If a man does not step up and into his role as a godly leader in a household, his church’s leaders had better encourage and train him to get there. If you don’t marry a man who is either interested in God-designed gender roles or engaging in a church where proper gender roles or discipline are present, there’s no great way to safeguard against this sort of oppression.

What’s interesting is that the bigger concern for women probably should be a man who is afraid/negligent of his headship role, as Adam appears to have been in the first sin in Eden. We assume Adam was present when Eve was tempted and took the fruit, but for whatever reason, he didn’t intervene and lead his wife away from danger. He was on the couch staying out of her way rather than protecting the woman God had entrusted to his care. Oppression (over-embracing the headship role) is bad, but cowardly negligence (under-embracing the headship role) is more common, and arguably worse.

2) Loss of Voice

Another concern I’ve heard from women is the fear that if the man is the “head” in the relationship, her opinion will never be heard. Look, if your husband loves you like Christ loves the Church, he’s constantly going to be striving for what pleases you and is in your best interest. Jesus was/is constantly paying attention to, sacrificing for, and living to the glory of … his Bride. Jesus is the husband his bride can directly access 24/7 and he’ll always listen. A guy who is daily striving to emulate that WILL care about your opinion.

Practically, the way this plays out is that a wife may very well end up making many of the decisions in a marriage. Speaking from experience, my guess is that my wife and I probably lean towards her preferences in somewhere around 80-90% of our group decisions. Where are we going to go out for dinner? Well, I have certain foods I strongly dislike, but the rest register about the same to me. My wife, on the other hand, has stronger preferences about what she likes to eat. Because I love her and want her to be happy, I often happily default to her preference. Simple example, but because I make an effort to try to live this way consistently, when something comes along that I do feel quite strongly about, my wife senses my conviction and respects my position in the home and consistently defers. For instance, with every major career decision I’ve had to make, after I’ve gained her input, each time she’s said, “Well, you know how I feel, but ultimately this is your decision, and I will support you in whatever you think is right.”

My wife and I are both strong-willed, opinionated people. And I’m absolutely no master at this. But if a knucklehead like me can figure out how to make this husband/wife headship system work, I’m quite confident that most others can find the beauty of it as well.

Everybody Acting Like Jesus, No Matter What Your Gender

Perhaps the best way to look at the corresponding gender roles is to understand that both sexes in marriage are ultimately attempting to reflect the attitude and character of Christ. As Timothy Keller shares in The Meaning of Marriage:

Both women and men get to “play the Jesus role” in marriage – Jesus in his sacrificial authority (i.e. husbands), Jesus in his sacrificial submission (i.e. wives). By accepting our gender roles, and operating within them, we are able to demonstrate to the world concepts that are so counterintuitive as to be completely unintelligible unless they are lived out by men and women in Christian marriages. (The Meaning of Marriage, pgs. 201-202)

What Keller is saying is that, while men and women have different roles, the key ingredient is Christ-likeness. And mirroring Jesus means to put the other person ahead of yourself. Jesus was God who made himself low enough to save sinners. Jesus was God who subjected himself to his Father’s will. In both cases, whether in feet-washing leadership or cross-embracing obedience and submission, he was putting another ahead of himself.

Both the man or woman, head or helper, are asking for God’s power to carry out their roles, asking for God’s forgiveness when they fail, and asking for God’s wisdom to grow beyond committing such mistakes again.

So, yes, since the Bible clearly teaches it and God’s design is flawless, women should still hypotasso. If you want to call that submit, fine, but don’t foist your own ideas of what submit means upon the role. Let the Bible speak for itself. Furthermore, when talking about God’s design for gender roles, if you love people like Jesus does, you’re going to at least be a little sensitive to what others are hearing even if it’s not what you’re saying.

Remember, both husband and wife are simply trying to play the “Jesus role” in marriage. And on our best days, when we are doing this really well, this is still only a taste of what perfect relationship will be like in heaven.

The Soul of Caitlyn Jenner

blog - Jenner 1

(image credit to vanityfair.com)

There was a time long ago, in a land far away, when “private parts” were considered, well … private. But reality TV, social media, and sensationalistic journalism have helped dawn the era of radical transparency. This is a time when a sex tape won’t actually ruin your acting or music career, when explicit tweets won’t derail your political career, and a time when the biggest question surrounding gender reassignment surgery is, “Can we let him/her keep his/her Olympic medals?” In some ways, our society has moved from a religious view of human sexuality (i.e. sex is a dirty, necessary evil) to an irreligious view of human sexuality (i.e. sex is merely an appetite to be fed, and flexible enough to be fed in any way we’d like.)

(NOTE: I’m defining “religious” differently here than many would. I’m considering Christianity/the gospel as something entirely different from much organized religion. Additionally, there are many people who label themselves as “Christians” who I believe fit much better in this “religious” camp.)

The world today has shifted to highly value honesty and transparency. On such an occasion, your core beliefs rise to the surface and become obvious to all. So, for Christians, stories like that of Caitlyn Jenner are good opportunities to measure what kind of evangelical balance, if any, actually lives in our hearts.

While I’ve heard a lot thus far about Jenner’s physical changes, as well as some knee jerk reactions about how wonderful or disgusting they are, I haven’t read a ton about Jenner’s soul. So that’s where we’ll go today.

I’ve used the “trispectival analysis” tool before for diagnosing cultural issues. As a reminder, here’s a quick summary of how it works:

religious person sees morality as purely black and white, believes there are good people and bad people, and while he acknowledges God as the ultimate authority, he believes that because of his good behavior he is more deserving of God’s blessing than the “bad” people. Religion is perhaps best characterized by self-righteousness. The way our current political system is set up, religious people tend to lean right and emphasize truth at the expense of love.

An irreligious person sees morality as relative, believes people are born basically good but sometimes hurt others or themselves when put in bad circumstances, and acknowledges no higher authority than man. Irreligion is perhaps best characterized by self-indulgence. The way our current political system is set up, irreligious people tend to lean left and emphasize love at the expense of truth.

gospel-thinking person understands the black and white of morality but recognizes there is a shaded spectrum of motives, believes we are inherently born broken and powerless to put ourselves back together, and acknowledges Jesus Christ as both Lord and Savior. Gospel-thinkers are perhaps best characterized by humility about self and confidence in Christ. Gospel-thinkers are careful not to over-identify politically, understanding that no party perfectly holds biblical reality, and they work hard to hold truth and love as inseparable, non-expendable ingredients for mankind’s flourishing.

With that said…

The Religious Viewpoint – Bruce Jenner is a wacko.

It’s very easy to take cheap shots. It’s easy to say stuff like, “Yeah, after living with the Kardashian girls for 20 years, my only surprise is how long it took Bruce to say he’s no longer interested in women.” In other words, to identify some undesirable traits about some obviously godless people is not difficult, not particularly creative, and for people seeking to shine the light of Christ in the world, not helpful.

But this is a good chunk of our society’s reaction to Jenner and his celebrity family. The Daily Caller didn’t hesitate to take some shots. The Blaze’s frequent op-ed contributor, and someone who is somehow now the apparent poster boy for conservative Christians, Matt Walsh, unsurprisingly shared his thoughts too. In one breath, Walsh says things like, “few share my love or concern for him (Jenner)” and “I pray for him.” But the very next moment he uses expressions in his article like “a culture of narcissistic imbeciles” and “You know, if I want to be preached at by humorless progressive gasbags, I don’t need the worldwide leader in sports.” and “I’m told that white people appropriate black culture when they listen to Nikki Minaj or wear flat brimmed hats. I’m not sure that such offenses constitute cultural theft as much as they indicate possible brain damage…”. 

We’ve got a real problem if THAT is the Christian side of this issue, a side that I cannot comprehend the Jesus of the Gospels ever sitting on. In fact, as I recall, without being dismissive of sin, Jesus ate with sinners, who, so far as we can tell in the ancient world, in all likelihood did consist of the sexually confused, sexually damaged, and even perhaps sexually reassigned.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matt. 9:10-11; see also Matt. 21:31-32 to understand that “sinners” is often used synonymously with sexual deviancy)

If Matt Walsh actually has the desire to share the love of Christ with someone like Jenner, he forfeited any opportunity by calling people he disagreed with “disgusting, brain-damaged imbeciles and gasbags.” For that matter, I’m not sure he has any of this actual “love of Christ” thing to share. His militant morality makes him a better candidate to be the voice of the Islamic State, not Christianity.

As many well-intentioned religious people do, Walsh has so many right things to say, but he says them in such a way that he registers as nothing more than the personification of a “resounding gong” (1 Cor. 13:1), a heartless noise-maker.

Christians aren’t heartless.

The Irreligious Viewpoint – Caitlyn Jenner is just being true to herself.

Since western culture today as a whole, especially the average young adult, tends to lean left, most of the reception for Caitlyn Jenner has been overwhelmingly positive. Many have commented on how great she looks in her photo shoot (as though that has something to do with the issue itself being right or wrong). Even more have commented on how proud they are of Jenner for being true to herself – doing what she feels is right and matching her outside to her inside.

Even the president chimed in to offer his support …

While such acceptance seems loving, when something is simply not truly beneficial, it’s not that difficult to prove that it’s not, in fact, loving to support it. By the way, even the secular world understands the concept of “intervention” for someone who is doing something personally dangerous though that individual doesn’t objectively see it that way. While there is some research, including Jenner’s own self-assessment, that seems to suggest gender reassignment surgery is psychologically dangerous, I don’t know that we have enough evidence to be conclusive.

blog - jenner 2

(image credit to people.com)

Fortunately, there’s a much easier way to take down the arguments supporting Jenner’s choices. All I’d ask for is that people apply the “do what feels right inside” argument consistently. So, for all of the women who are supportive of Jenner’s transition because he’s simply being true to what he feels, are you comfortable allowing your husband to also do whatever he feels inside? Shall he get a free pass on his next business trip if he experiences strong feelings for another woman? For the men, what if there was a known child molester coaching at your child’s school? Shall we still let him be true to himself? Do we still not realize that there are legitimate organizations like NAMBLA who exist because of this “you gotta be you” mindset. Using a “true to yourself” logic, you cannot fault the bully or the drug addict or the murderer or the rapist or the adulterer or the pedophile. Granted, we could debate whether Jenner’s actions are “victimless” or not (the argument usually brought up in these sorts of issues), but that doesn’t at all change the question of whether or not our personal feelings and natural impulses should always be rightly followed. The obvious answer is that they should not.

The reality is that a civilization can only exist not when people are encouraged to pursue the wildest fantasies that exist within their broken human nature, but when they are compelled to resist that within them which, from the standpoint of God, is clearly wrong.

While we said the religious viewpoint espouses truth devoid of love, the irreligious viewpoint often touts baseless love – love not grounded in truth, logic, or consistent thought. Christians shouldn’t be mindless, i.e. devoid of sound logic, either.

The Gospel Viewpoint – Jenner is broken by sin but offered grace by Jesus.

Bruce/Caitlyn is a tender, valuable, eternal soul. He/she struggles with sin. He/she needs to repent of those sins (not just this one). And while I’ll offer an encouragement/warning, ultimately he/she will answer to God, so I have no need to bring him/her to justice. I’ll let God do that as I am merely a witness to his grace, not a judge.

There is a point of commonality between Jenner and me. We recognize that something is not right inside of us. We are far from what we were originally created to be. And the more we look in the mirror, the less we like what we see in our natural self. This reality of imperfection is so gut-wrenching that we know we can’t live another day with it as is – so we look for a cure. We (all) self-medicate in vastly different ways, from alcoholism to workaholism, anorexia to plastic surgery, social approval to materialism, but the underlying issue is much the same – something’s wrong and we want to fix it.

Jenner took the drastic step of gender-reassignment, but I’m guessing this will provide a temporary bandage, a quick high, yet will eventually result in deeper despair when the painful realization sets in that the broken piece was not the private parts. The broken piece was actually deeper than skin and more complex than feelings. Jenner has a heart that hasn’t been pressed by the weight of God, touched and healed.

Interestingly, healing sick people is one of God’s clearest ways of showing his goodness. Whether it’s the blind (John 9:1-9), the deaf (Mark 7:31-37), the lame (Matt. 9:1-8), the diseased (Matt. 8:1-4), the demon-possessed (Luke 4:31-37), or the flat out dead (John 11:1-44), Jesus takes it upon himself to cure those who are sick on the inside and out, including you and me.

Therefore, scoffing at Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner as “sick” (i.e. the religious stance) doesn’t help. Neither does calling him “healthy” or “brave” (i.e. the irreligious stance). To be the kind of person that could actually help Jenner, you have to believe that Jenner is, by nature, exactly as sick as you are. And he needs the same cure that you need – a Savior who was broken in order to put your pieces back together, and then says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11)

Jenner’s actions, by most estimations throughout history would be considered a bit strange, but “This sickness is not unto death” (John 11:4 KJV) The sickness that he’s trying to medicate – the separation from the love of Christ – that, on the other hand, is actually quite deadly.

(image credit to nydailynews.com)

(image credit to nydailynews.com)

Bill Cosby Has Always Been Guilty; And So Are You And I

(image credit to qz.com)

(image credit to qz.com)

This has been the celebrity story that will not end for the past year. And maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe it still needs to come to resolution.

To date, 30 women have publicly accused Bill Cosby of rape charges, the number accelerating since November of last year. In each case, the statute of limitations, a state-by-state determined law which forbids prosecution for crime after a specified number of years, has been reached. The wisdom behind such a law is the understanding that the further away we get from the event’s occurrence, the murkier any evidence, whether physical or eyewitness, becomes.

While the law makes sense, in these particular cases, it almost complicates matters further, because it seems as though no true resolution is in sight. While many celebrities close to Cosby have spoken out in his defense, many others, whether alleged former victims or female comedians, don’t seem to want to let this get by unpunished.

While the story appeared to be losing steam, with the last “new” info reported on March 3rd, comedian Amy Schumer stirred the pot a bit more on her Comedy Central show Tuesday night. You can watch the full clip here. Schumer’s satirical sketch aimed to poke fun at the reasons she thinks so many defenders of Cosby WANT to believe Bill Cosby is innocent. As unworthy.com contributor summarized, the implied reason for defending Cosby appears to boil down to the idea that he was so beloved as “America’s Dad,” such an important black male role model playing family man, Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, such an important part of many of our youths, that we almost have an a priori belief that Bill Cosby is pure good and we’d refuse to entertain any evidence to the contrary.

I think Schumer (and other accusers) might have something there.

Now, to be clear, I honestly don’t have a strong opinion of Cosby’s innocence or guilt in these charges. I don’t consider myself fully qualified/informed to offer too strong of an opinion. There are some, including Cosby’s biographer, Mark Whitaker, a very highly credited writer and former editor of Newsweek, who said“I was aware of the allegations, but ultimately decided not to include them in my book. I didn’t want to print allegations that I couldn’t confirm independently.” Now, Whitaker has since expressed regret for not pursuing the charges more aggressively, but then again, how fair would it be to include unsubstantiated allegations in a man’s biography? Others, especially victims, are demanding justice, at least an apology from Cosby, if the charges are indeed true, regardless of statute of limitations rules. In short, there are many people very close to the situation that are on other side of the debate, so why should I think my opinion, from so far away, would somehow be more accurate?

(image credit to the wrap.com)

(image credit to the wrap.com)

Setting aside the legalities of the issue, as Christians, it’s important that we give some thought to Schumer’s claims, no matter how irreverent or exaggerated they may be. Is it possible that we choose what we want to believe, irrespective of the evidence, and then use our thoughts and whatever data we can scrape up, to make a defense of our predisposed opinions. Put differently, is it possible that some of us believe Bill Cosby is innocent simply because we love Bill Cosby, have fond childhood memories of him, and therefore refuse to accept evidence to the contrary. On the other hand, is it possible that some of us have had strained relationships with men, including/especially fathers, and are more inclined to believe Cosby is guilty, because deep down inside, all men are evil, selfish, and sex-crazed, women are victims, and someone needs to finally pay for this. According to social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, in The Righteous Mind, these predispositions are not only possible, but probable – we largely believe what we want to believe and then we start gathering our data.

So it’s interesting to me that many of the people who are arguing that the accusations of 30 independent eyewitnesses who would face public ridicule couldn’t possibly be orchestrated, yet some of these same people would also refuse to believe the 500+ independent eyewitnesses who were willing to face death to testify to Jesus’ resurrection. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living.” (1 Cor. 15:3-6) Again, we believe what our hearts tell us to believe, and then we try to dig up some data. Unless we’re honest about our predispositions, it’s harder to find the truth.

So how does a Christian process the Cosby accusations?

(image credit to s2smagazine.com)

(image credit to s2smagazine.com)

1) Bill Cosby is a sinner – While I don’t know if Cosby’s guilty of any/all of the charges brought against him, I know that from the time his mother conceived him, Bill Cosby was sinful (Psalm 51:5). No human belongs on a pedestal. Every mere human belongs in hell. We’re all only anything because we’ve been adopted into God’s family through the grace that comes in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:27-29). Every truly good thing we’ve ever done, ever had, ever produced, is a gift from God (James 1:17). Consequently, any Christian who has been adamantly defending Cosby’s innocence on the basis of their childhood laughter at Dr. Huxtable’s funny faces will want to repent of false justifiers.

2) I am a sinner – As we’re knocking Bill Cosby off his lofty entertainment pedestal, we realize he doesn’t fall below us. He falls to the same level as us. Even though we still have no concrete proof against Cosby or confession from Cosby, let’s for a moment say that the accusations are accurate. What does it mean? What does it change? What have we learned? Humans are capable of great evil – were we so poor at history and social studies that we were unaware of this? Societies governed by sinful humans are corrupt and often unjust – the same? I think what we’ve learned is something about ourselves – the wickedness expressed in the life of the murderer or rapist when compared to the best of us – is merely a circumstantial difference. In other words, a little boy who steals a pencil out of another student’s desk without his knowledge or a comedy legend who has abused women due to his lofty social position – it’s the same impulse – self-interest as opposed to other-interest – but the circumstances are different. The color of evil in us is universal, but the shades are just a little different. Point being, we all stand equally condemned before the court of God’s Holy Law. In no way am I attempting to minimize the awfulness of such crimes. But the fact of the matter, according to the Bible, is that we are all equally guilty of the most heinous crime in history – the murder of God’s only, innocent Son, Jesus. So whether he committed these crimes or not, I’m no better or worse than Bill Cosby. There is no difference… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 3:22-24)

3) God saves sinners – What’s interesting is that the same sinners who are justified by grace are often resentful of God’s grace. You listen to ex-supermodel and alleged victim Janice Dickinson’s passionate public pleas for Cosby to come to justice and you see a woman who doesn’t know or understand the Christian doctrine of Judgment Day, or perhaps the vile nature of her own sin. See, within the Christian framework of belief, no one gets away with anything. Either, you repent of your sins and turn to Christ to receive forgiveness through his payment of your sins, or you will pay for your own sins eternally. Either way, sin gets paid for. Either way, the scales are balanced. And the Apostle Paul tells the Romans that in EVERY case, Jesus had to do that for ALL mankind. God is in the business of graciously declaring sinners not guilty for the sake of Jesus.

I wonder if Janice Dickinson is equally concerned about herself being brought to justice? How can someone be angry with God (or the world) for the grace and patience shown to others when God has shown (and I have needed) the same incomprehensible grace and patience. It makes no sense to be angry over the same trait of God that is necessary for my salvation.

Conclusion

Whether or not Cosby is guilty of these rape charges, I don’t know, you don’t know, and due to the way our legal system is set up, we may never know. On the cosmic scales, this doesn’t change much. Cosby has always been a sinner who could only ever be saved by the sacrifice of Jesus, which brings justice and peace with God. The same could be said of you and me. And any statement about this case that doesn’t keep that reality in mind is forgetting the gospel.

Christians, remember the gospel.

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