Love LGBT People As You Love Yourself or A Modern Day Good Samaritan

Christianity affirms the intrinsic goodness of creation and the essential goodness of man made in the image and likeness of God.  These are bedrock beliefs with far reaching implications.  In the realm of ethics and civil law these presuppositions  provide the only viable foundation upon which to build a case for civil rights and human dignity.  From a theological standpoint, they provide the context necessary for understanding Jesus’ profound summation of the Mosaic Law found in St. Matthew’s Gospel:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

But exactly who is your neighbor?  A lawyer, who desired to “justify himself” once asked our Lord a similar question.  Jesus’ response was to tell a story–a provocative story that is known today as the Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke10:29-37).

Sadly, this parable is no longer shocking; as it most certainly was to its original audience.  Frankly, it’s become rather trite–reduced to that of a charming bedtime story for children (or a slapstick musical comedy if you prefer the Veggie Tales version).  I feel quite comfortable saying the beloved parable hardly evokes the following emotions within the soul of today’s average reader:  conviction, disgust, anger, confusion, regret, sadness, empathy, or shock.  Yet this story is a fire starter!  It should turn your world upside down; it should force you to re-examine your life; it should pierce your heart, shatter your pride, and cause you to question your very standing before God.  But, for most of us, it doesn’t.

One way this is evidenced is by our general lethargy concerning the plight of the LGBT community.  In between sermons in which the pastor passionately proclaims in a bright red face that, “homosexuality is an ABOMINATION,” or attending a protest against same-sex marriage, Christians are often entirely indifferent to the emotional struggles of LGBT children who have taken their own lives due to bullying.  We sometimes yawn when we hear about the violent, and downright disgusting, mistreatment of LGBT people in Russia and other countries around the world.  Our general disinterest in the suffering of the LGBT community stands in direct opposition to the parable which seeks to explain the second commandment that is like the first.  More specifically, our behavior is discordant with the Christian principle that human beings have intrinsic dignity, value, and worth because they are made in the image and likeness of God.

Perhaps if we retold the story–taking our current mental environment into account–we might, once again, be shocked out of our self-righteous stupor?  Thus, I ask again:  who is your neighbor?

Let me tell you a story . . .

“A man was walking home from the office one night when a couple of young gang initiates pulled him into an ally, stabbed him, emptied his pockets, and left him for dead.  Now by chance a well respected pastor from a local mega-church was going down the road; and when he saw him in the ally he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a beloved seminary professor, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a successful gay business man, as he journeyed home that night, came to where he was; and when he saw him he had compassion.  He immediately went to him and, seeing that his injury was potentially fatal, bound up his wound using a piece of fabric torn from his own shirt.  He carried him out of the ally into the light of the street lamp, pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911.  As he awaited the arrival of the ambulance he held the man tight and spoke words of encouragement to him.  Later, he followed him to the hospital and remained there until the doctors assured him he would pull through.  It was then that he discovered the victim of this heinous crime only worked part-time and did not have medical insurance.  So he made arrangements to pay off the gentleman’s hospital debt himself.”

Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?


Light Will Dawn in the Land of Darkness: A Call to Pray for Syria

Violence against Christians has grown increasingly fierce in Syria as reports about priests and pastors being kidnapped or killed by extremists and stories of churches, monasteries, and health clinics being ransacked or bombed abound.  Some instances of considerable note include the kidnap (and presumed murder) of two archbishops, the recent murder of a Franciscan friar, and the detonation of a bomb outside of a Greek Orthodox cathedral.  Reports of violence against Christians continue to pour in on a daily basis.

In view of this, I implore you to join me for the next three days (7/01/13-7/3/13) in a time of prayer and fasting.  We shall be praying for the following things:

  1. For the protection and safety of Christian leaders and their families (who have been especially targeted by the attackers) and lay people who continue to live and work in Syria.
  2. For an end to all violence in the region and for justice and peace to prevail.
  3. For the Lord to turn the hearts of the jihadists away from violence and to have mercy upon them.   

I’d like to draw special attention on the third item of prayer.  Many people will think I’ve lost my mind for adding this.  Why on earth should we pray for the evil men perpetrating these heinous crimes against humanity?  Shouldn’t we hope for their destruction?  Why would we care what happens to them?  . . . Because they are made in the image of God and it is God’s desire for them to repent from their evil deeds and to embrace the Way of peace and love.  Only the power of the gospel – the message of God’s love and sacrifice on behalf of His creation – can conquer the darkness which is sweeping over Syria.  Peace and life will be restored when the jihadists are transformed from messengers of hate and death into emissaries of God’s peace and love.  It’s only through our love as Christians, in the power of the Holy Spirit, that the light of Christ will outshine the blackness of mans hatred.

Our Lord set the perfect example for us – both in His teaching and in one of His last recorded acts on the cross.  In His famous Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught the unthinkable, He taught us to love even those who hate us:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.‘  But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust”  (Matt. 5:43-45).  

He exemplified this teaching as he hung, suffering an excruciating death on the cross, praying for the very people who were murdering Him:  “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23: 34).  

May we long for peace and justice but let our hearts not become hardened and filled with the same hate fueling the jihadists.  Let us join hands with the martyrs who have sacrificed their lives out of love and pray for salvation and life to flow into Syria.  Let the prophecy of Isaiah be fulfilled once again, as it was when Jesus first came, through the blood of the martyrs and the prayers of the saints:

“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and the shadow of death light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).  

Christians Should Just Shut-Up!

For the past couple of months I’ve repeatedly posted articles which pertain to cultural transformation.  In these articles I’ve argued that Evangelical Christians should stop investing the majority of their time and money in ‘top-down’ approaches to cultural renewal (i.e. political activism and legislation) and focus their energy on transforming the culture from the ‘bottom-up.”  In the midst of this I also argued that we should break out of our subpar subculture and live as if every aspect of life is sacred–with the understanding that the Christian Worldview has something to say about everything we do.  Unfortunately, some people have taken this to mean that I’m asking Christian voices to be completely removed from the public square; or, to put it more plainly, that Christians should just “shut-up!”

Due to this misconception of what I’m saying, I’d like to go on record as stating that I do not, in fact, believe Christians should shut-up and completely remove themselves from the public square.  Allow me to explain.

First, let me make a crucial distinction.  The topic of discussion has been that of true cultural transformation.  The question has been: how can one truly, effectually, and authentically transform or renew a “Post-Christian” culture?  The answer could not possibly be simply through top-down methods (i.e. political activism) because they do not cultivate virtue, engender faith, or transform hearts; all of which need to happen in order to effectively transform a culture.  This, however, is not equivalent to saying Christians should, therefore, not participate in politics and should remove themselves from the public square.  It is simply to point out that authentic cultural transformation does not occur through legislation–something that Evangelicals seem to believe (even if they do not realize it).

The problem I’m addressing is that with all of our focus being on political activism we have largely lost sight of our own personal responsibility to live virtuous and just lives and to make disciples.  To use one example I made recently, it is not enough to simply shout and scream and stomp our feet about the nature of marriage: we must demonstrate what true marriage is by living it.  The nature of marriage is not determined through a vote, and we are not successfully preserving it within our culture simply by ratifying laws which will be changed by the next generation.

Now, if we were examining the question of whether or not Christians should have a voice in the public square, and participate in politics, my answer would be a resounding and emphatic yes.  This should be clear from my recent post regarding the sacred/secular split.  I consistently argued that we must break out of our subculture and exist and move and have our being within the general culture.  Repeatedly, I argued that the Christian Worldview has something to say about every vocation–this includes being a politician, a political scientist, a lawyer, a judge, a legislator, or even a journalist.  It also has something to say about every academic discipline: and this most certainly includes political philosophy, and matters of human rights and social justice.

Furthermore, I explicitly stated in one of my articles that political involvement is necessary when it comes to matters of human dignity and social justice.  The two biggest issues that come to mind being: abortion and human trafficking.  Both abortion and human trafficking are horrendous evils and laws must be made to help protect the destruction of more innocent lives.  This, by default, assumes that one would need to engage in politics.

Should Christians just shut-up?  Certainly not.  However, Christians should be more shrewd, more tactful, more intelligent, more just, more merciful, and, above all, more loving whenever they lift up their voices within the public square.

We Leave Christ Naked, Hungry, and Alone

Jesus once taught His disciples about the final judgment, when all men will stand before God and answer for the things they have done.  He said this:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:31-46). 

Many of us (and I include myself in this statement as perhaps the chief of all sinners) confess Christ with our lips but deny Him through our actions because our hearts are far from Him.  We say we believe, but our faith is dead; it is lifeless; it is stale.  We say Christ came to save the world, to usher in the Kingdom of God, but we live as if He never rose from the grave—and for this we shall be held accountable.  For, “as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me,” He says.  Herein lays the disturbing and profound truth of this statement:    

When we ignore the little children being kidnapped or sold into the commercial sex industry and monstrously abused and neglected by hordes of foul men, we are ignoring Christ.  When we fail to provide assistance for the teenage mother, abandoned by her friends and family, without hope and alone, we are failing and neglecting Christ.  When we sit back quietly as the same single mother, out of fear and shame, has her unborn child executed, we are driving the very nails through His hands on the cross.  When we stand by in silence as transgendered teenagers are bullied to the point of suicide we are bullying and murdering Christ.  When we scoff at the homeless drug addict begging for cash on the side of the road we are scoffing at Christ.  When we laugh at, make fun of, or speak hatefully towards homosexuals we are mocking Christ.  When we leave millions of abandoned or unwanted children to rot and die on the streets or in some orphanage, we are abandoning Christ.  When we look at pornography, thus objectifying other human beings in order to satiate our own perverted lusts, we objectify Christ.  When we cling to our wealth, our comfort, our pleasures, our freedom of speech, our liberties, our country, and our homes—failing to help those who are hurting, lonely, hungry, lost, and in need–we  leave Christ naked, hungry, and alone.

Why the Republican Platform isn’t Pro-Life

Understand that when I write this, I am not writing this as an endorsement for Obama or encouraging anyone to vote for either candidate. I am simply pointing out the realities of the situation; that the Republican platform is no more pro-life than the Democratic platform. While the Democrats explicitly support abortion on demand and lately have almost celebrated it, Republicans have an implicit support for abortion. I am not talking about their perpetual backing down when faced with the opportunity to limit abortion, nor am I speaking of how passive they really are when it comes to the issue in practice. Instead, I’m referring to their political policies that undermine the poor and disadvantaged, the stigma they create for anyone who has to go on government assistance.

When Mitt Romney mentioned that 47% of the nation is simply taking from everyone else, he was speaking to a Republican crowd who didn’t even bat an eye at what was said. The reason they saw nothing wrong with his statement is within the conservative mindset the only reason you should ever take aid from the government is if you were too lazy to conjure up your own money; and even then your aid should be limited. While there is no doubt in my mind that social programs geared to help the poor are in a serious need for restructuring (Democrats want to increase money to them, Republicans want to take the money away, neither wants to fix the problem), the Republican solution of just cutting the funding doesn’t fix it. The idea is that the majority of people on welfare, food stamps, or other forms of government aid are simply leeching off the rest of society so they don’t have to work. Such a view is ignorant of the fact that in order to qualify for many of these things, people actually have to hold down jobs (which, of course, tend to be low-paying and offer little room for advancement, creating a lack of hope and thus perpetuating poverty).

Because of this stigma, many women who have an unintentional pregnancy fear that by being pregnant, they’re not going to have any support throughout the pregnancy and the child’s life. Consider that nearly 42% of abortions come from women below the poverty line, it’s easy to see that the personal well-being of the mother comes into play. And who can blame her really? She’s facing a pregnancy and most often already has other children to care for. Food stamps only cover so much (and by “so much” I mean not nearly enough) and if she’s like most women at the poverty line, she’s working in a job where she can’t really afford to take time off work to have a baby. In short, there’s little to no social structure available for her to use. Even if she takes the brave step of having the child she still has 18 years of providing for the child, sending her to school, and so on. At best, by having the child she’s perpetuating a life of poverty, at worst she feels she has no choice but to kill her own child.

From a moral standpoint obviously we should never intentionally kill the innocent. At the same time, how is it moral to claim to be pro-life, but then undercut any social programs that would help to actually promote life? How is it moral to slap the pro-life idea onto a political platform alongside other items that stigmatize anyone who has to use government aid? The Republican Party platform, which teaches across-the-board cutting rather than reforming, is no more pro-life than the Democratic platform; neither emphasize the value of human life. The Democrats lower the value of life in the womb and even at birth while the Republicans lower the value of life post-birth. They want to protect a child inside a woman, but God forbid tax payers pay for that child once he’s born.

Certainly we should support charities that help these women throughout their pregnancies and well into the development of the child. But charities are not enough, we need the government to get involved as well. Those of us who are pro-life have no problem stating that we’re supporting a moral issue and trying to get the government to decide on a moral issue. All major legislation comes down to being moral and not political – segregation was legislated out of existence, as was slavery, but no one would dare say this was purely political and not moral. The moral issue gave rise to the necessity of political intervention; any moral issue of grave importance will necessarily rely on the government to involve itself. Abortion is no exception to this as it involves the taking of an innocent human life.

But if we’re willing to concede that abortion is a moral issue first and a political issue second, wouldn’t this mean that many issues that impact innocent humans are moral issues first and political issues second? If I have an obligation to protect the innocent within the womb, what about the innocent outside the womb? That is, if I’m truly pro-life, won’t I want my government to help pay for pre-natal care, for doctor’s visits, for the education of the child, and so on? Or, on a better note, would it be so bad to suppor the government paying for daycare and even paying for a woman’s education (or partially paying) should she choose to advance her life? After all, if we have to shell out 4-5 years worth of aid so she can find herself in a well-paying job, one that pays so well she doesn’t need government assistance, doesn’t that make sense? And if we’re truly pro-life, aren’t we going to want to help to advance both the woman who kept the child and the child himself?

In short, to be pro-life means you support the whole of life.  You support not only the right to exist, but also support any program that helps advance a child out of poverty. If we’re going to force women to carry their children to term, the least we could do is provide them with an infrastructure that helps them both during the pregnancy and after. If we seek to undercut such an infrastructure, or are simply anti-abortion and not actually pro-life, then we might as well be pro-choice.

Transforming Our Culture From the Bottom Up (Part Two)

In my last post I critiqued what I call ‘Top-Down’ approaches to cultural transformation.  Such approaches can be summed up in one phrase: political activism.  Any attempt to transform the culture through legislation and political cajoling–such as court battles, petitions, electing certain individuals into office, etc–will ultimately be unsuccessful because at the heart of every culture is . . . the human heart.  Thus, true cultural transformation, I argued, could only come from the bottom up.  Because, when individuals are transformed, the culture will be too.

In light of this reasoning, I challenged Evangelical Christians to stop funneling the majority of their time, energy, and money into futile ‘Top-Down‘ methods and to start focusing on making true disciples of Jesus Christ.

This is not to say we should be totally silent in the public square or that Christians should not be involved in politics at all.  It is especially not to say Christians should stop utilizing political approaches when it comes to issues regarding the sanctity of human life or social justice.  Certainly, we must do everything within our power to stop the daily slaughter of innocent children through abortion or to put an end to human sex trafficking.  These issues, almost by necessity, will include political and legal interaction.

It is to say, however, that a ‘total’  or ‘big picture’ approach to cultural transformation should primarily focus on discipleship and not political activism.

The idea here is simple: the more Churches invest time and energy cultivating virtue among their parishioners, engendering and strengthening the faith of their children, helping people grow in the knowledge and understanding of God, engaging in acts of service, and inviting the Holy Spirit to transform the hearts of the lonely and the lost through both the preaching and daily living of the word of God, the more our culture will be renewed.  As individual lives are transformed, individual people will bring their faith to bear on important decisions at the office, or in the laboratory, or at the film studio, or on election day, or walking in the park . . .

After all, true disciples are called to live out their faith, to bear good fruit, in whatever circumstance they find themselves in: whether they are a doctor, a lawyer, an educator, an artist, a filmmaker, a shoemaker, a scientist, a soldier, a plumber, a scrap metal worker, or even homeless.  Whether slave or free or Jew or Gentile, we are all called to view our world through the truth of God’s Word.  We are all called to good works–as St. James states, “faith without works is dead.”  The more we behave like disciples, and the more disciples we make, the greater long term impact we will have on our culture and, indeed, the world.

The Wall Street Journal and Slavery

I’m quite surprised that an article in the Wall Street Journal about how to retire “cheap” to Bali hasn’t caused a bigger stir. The reason I’m shocked this hasn’t caused a stir – other than how completely pretentious it is and how the average retired couple couple actually afford this “cheap” retirement – is because of this section right here:

When it comes to cooking—and cleaning and all of those other daily time-consumers—we hire Balinese help. Our cook, who is paid $75 a month, shops in the market at 6:30 a.m. and prepares all of our meals from scratch. It’s very healthy. Sundays we are on our own, and that is our brunch and pizza day.

Now, since they’re “on their own” on Sundays, once we avreage out what they pay their cook it’s about $2.88 A DAY. Now, some might point out that Indonesia’s poverty-line is at $1 a day, so they’re paying the cook above the poverty-line. But such thinking ignores that Indonesia recently lowered their poverty line to the international poverty line (it would be like the United States lowering its poverty line to Mexico’s poverty line). Thus, the statistics are vastly skewed and in reality even $2 a day puts a person in the definition of poverty. To put this in perspective; in America, poverty means you struggle to pay your rent and get enough food without the aid of food stamps. In most of the world, however, poverty means you’re living in a shack or an overcrowded apartment and struggling to get to just 2,000 calories a day.

The “$1 a day” poverty line works for nations where there is no industry and the vast majority of the population is poor (mostly Sub-Saharan African). It doesn’t work for industrialized nations or nations that are becoming industrialized; $1 a day in England, France, the United States, Australia, or China would result in a person dying from starvation and being homeless. In Indonesia, which is a growing economy and competitive on the Southeast Asian stage, $1 a day simply will not feed a person. $2.88 a day doesn’t bring someone above the poverty line.

Thus, we have an article in the Wall Street Journal promoting using cheap/slave labor to achieve a cheap retirement. But this has always been the excuse for slavery. When we read the old justifications for slavery in Europe and the New World, it was always about how it made things cheaper, how if we didn’t have slaves then we couldn’t increase our goods. And to a certain extent, such calculations are right. If we didn’t have slave labor overseas today, just like if we didn’t have slaves picking cotton, the price of the goods would be too high for most people to afford the goods. If a cook who shopped and cooked for you in Indonesia was paid a fair wage, chances are this couple wouldn’t pay for him as it would’t be the bargain they’re getting right now. But an economy should never be driven by pragmatism, instead it should be driven by virtue.

The ultimate goal of any economy should be to grow, but it should be through ethical means. When it’s accomplished via unethical means, you ultimately create other problems that will eventually undermine society. Use slaves and eventually the slaves will rebel. Preach selfishness and eventually people will cheat and lie to gain more money, which eventually collapses the company, taking more from the economy than was ever put into it. Use low-labor as a foreigner and eventually the “natives” will get restless and kill you (it’s happened quite a bit in world history, shocking how we never learn). When you violate natural laws and natural orders there are natural consequences. If you jump off a building, the natural law of gravity will cause you to plummet to your death. If you stay under water without a breathing apparatus, do to the laws attached to your physiology you will die. But these natural laws extend to morality; if you live a life of vice, eventually there will be consequences for you or those who come after you. When you rob humans of their God-given dignity and freedom, eventually those humans will strike back and fight to regain their dignity and freedom.

Ultimately, we should treat humans beings with dignity because they’re human beings. We should pay a fair wage because it’s the right thing to do and we should want to do the right thing simply because it’s right. Now certainly you’re not going to pay a cook in Indonesia what you would pay a cook in the United States. With the difference in economies it will be cheaper to hire a cook in Indonesia. But it’s not difficult to still live cheap while also giving a fair wage to the cook. It doesn’t take a lot of compromise to treat people like people, but it certainly takes a lot of dignity.