Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: It ain’t Sidney Poitier

Rachel Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal

If Caitlyn Jenner married Rachel Dolezal, would it be an interracial same-sex marriage? For those of you living under a rock (I’m seriously thinking about joining you), Rachel Dolezal is the white lady and former leader of the Spokane NAACP who made the news recently because she self-identifies as black. Egad, just when I thought identity-bending couldn’t get any more confusing. It was bad enough when Bruce Jenner switched teams. Back in the day I had a man crush on Jenner when I was in high school because he was a cool jock. But the recent story about Dolezal choosing to be black made me wonder what the hades is going on in American society? Well, when humanity throws me for a loop, I check out the Bible for answers.

Going way back in history, the Bible says God cautioned humanity that those who did not know God or believe in God would eventually find themselves confused and off track about a variety of things in daily life. For instance, Deuteronomy 22:5 says that a man must not wear a woman’s clothes and a woman must not wear man’s clothing because such behavior is detestable in God’s opinion. The inclusion of this warning in the ancient text of the Bible tells me that Bruce-Caitlyn Jenner and the transgender community today are not breaking new ground. There has always been a demographic with a strong inclination to change their gender identity, whether society approved or not. Apparently that fact has now expanded to race, as well. Is the desire to switch teams and become a different gender or race something natural and healthy due to a genetic hiccup in the womb, or does it indicate mental illness? Is it a disability, a lapse in judgment, or a breakdown in character?

Isaiah 5:20 says, “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” I find it curious that a significant segment of our population today believes that radical self-transformations like those of Jenner and Dolezal are admirable, brave, and healthy. They say it is a good thing and anyone who disagrees is evil or hateful. They are saying bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. A growing segment of our population is losing the ability to discern the difference between good and evil as well as the difference between healthy and unhealthy.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” These two verses are at the root of many of our problems. We do not ask God about the way we live. That said, allow me to change direction here. What if Jenner’s decision to change gender was indeed the result of years of mental torment because he felt feminine in a masculine body? What if Jenner tried to find healing through every traditional clinical approach without success? What if Jenner asked God for help, but received none? (Yes I know it changes the dynamic if Jenner does not know God, but bear with me.) If that is the case, it is understandable why Jenner would take such drastic action as to change his gender. Given enough pain, EVERY person will try almost anything to make the pain stop. This is true of severe physical as well as mental pain. I know what some of you are thinking: God answers prayer and heals those in pain. I’m sorry, but sometimes God does not answer our every prayer and heal our body and/or mind of every ailment? The reality is that there are times when we are compelled to do whatever it takes to function without pain pushing us to the brink of jumping off a bridge.

I admit that I do not understand why God sometimes allows people to go through severe pain, and I try not to blame God. But in such situations, well, grace becomes priceless. Jenner needs our grace. As for Dolezal, I’m suspicious that her decision to change race was political or influenced by cultural forces, but ultimately I do not know her heart. Don’t get me wrong; I do not believe society should treat the decisions of Jenner and Dolezal with reckless admiration as if they are somehow leading us into a brave new world of utopian tolerance. However, extending grace and compassion to Jenner and Dolezal feels like the right thing to do.

Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Draws a Rare Foul

Soccer Ball

Imagine my horror when opening the news and seeing the headline that the U.S. Justice Department, assisted by Swiss authorities, had filed corruption charges against 14 FIFA officials. (Yes that was sarcasm, because like most Americans I had no clue what FIFA was.) Anyhow, the crux of the charges in the indictment surround alleged bribes and kickbacks ($150 million worth) in exchange for votes for host countries of the World Cup and providing lucrative media and marketing rights. The World Cup is the Mecca of world of soccer. It’s where all those soccer moms and dads aspire to see their progeny compete when they grow up.

I do not know if the charges have validity, but it does remind me that the Bible has something to say about bribes. If you do a word search of “bribe” in the Bible, some common themes appear. For example, Deuteronomy 16:19 says, “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent.” Fascinating. We in the church spend a lot of time praising God’s grace and soaking up his mercy. We easily forget — to our own peril — that our God of grace and mercy is also the God of Justice and fairness. Bribes have terrible power. Deuteronomy 16:19 warns us that bribes have the power to make even the wise impotent in their discernments. Bribes also dupe otherwise innocent people to justify unethical practices. Bribes in developed countries buy unmerited access.

Human beings are clever, too clever for our own good. In our western sophistication we take the distasteful word “bribe” and turn it into a more palatable word or phrase (a euphemism) such as an “incentive,” or a “gift,” or a “fee,” or a “contribution” . . . the possibilities are many. I once worked for a retail company where our wholesale supplier gave us what they called “premiums” for buying more of their products. The premiums came in the form of TVs, stereos, golf clubs, vacations, tickets to professional sporting events and so forth. Granted, the wholesaler did not expect us to do anything illegal, but they did expect that their premiums would buy our loyalty, even if some of their products were subpar or overpriced. The Bible warns us that bribes, in any form, are dangerous. Bribes spread like cancer throughout a society until they become standard operating procedure. And in the process they weaken trust, which is the foundation of a healthy society.

I noticed that many of the comments under online articles about the FIFA indictments came from people expressing their satisfaction that FIFA leaders were finally, after decades of illicit behavior, going to get their comeuppance (an archaic term used to describe a punishment or fate that someone deserves). While I appreciate that most people have a healthy sense of justice, the fact remains that institutions such as the U.S. Justice Department, despite its vast resources, can’t make people ethical. The law has always been inadequate at forcing people to be ethical. Only the work of God’s spirit can lift people up and heal their ethics, and even then it can take a long time with many ups and downs.

Allow me to swing this topic around to our situation here in America. We have become so sophisticated in our bribery that it can be nearly impossible to discern a bribe from a legitimate business exchange. There is no easy formula to help us navigate away from cleverly camouflaged bribes. The best I can come up with is that a legitimate business exchange would occur naturally even if the bribe was removed from the equation. A bribe gives one party an advantage over others. The person offering the bribe does not have to compete on a level playing field. Ultimately we desperately need a higher percentage of citizens who have sought and encountered Christ. Only then will people have the chance to acquire the necessary spiritual acumen to recognize and reject bribes throughout our society, though it won’t happen without resistance.

Josh Duggar: If only he’d been a nice boy like Bruce Jenner

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The picture to the left demonstrates the tragic irony of a world that hates Jesus. The picture shows two People magazine covers that I spotted in line at the grocery store today. The one on the left says “Goodbye Bruce, Hello Caitlyn” while the cover on the right says “The Duggars’ Dark Secrets.”

For some unknown reason, the reality TV show 19 Kids and Counting never popped up on my radar. I don’t know if the show is good or bad TV programming. But the brouhaha over Josh Duggar’s recent admission that he molested two of his sisters when he was about 14-years-old definitely caught my attention. Why? Because many people have gone apoplectic in their hatred for Josh and, it would seem, his entire Christian family. But after watching celebrities and media professionals vomit their vitriol at the Duggars, a question popped into my cranium: What if Josh had come out and said that he began to feel like a female in a male body when he was 14-years old? What if Josh said that he was confused back then and so he experimented sexually in a desperate bid to discover his sexual identity? Would his critics be so outspoken today? Would there be any criticism at all? (We all know the answer.) If only Josh had said he felt sorry for touching his sisters inappropriately but now that he is an adult he feels compelled to admit to himself and to the world that he is meant to live his life as a woman? Josh would be hailed as a hero by many of the same people currently heaping on the criticism.

Some people call the Duggars hypocrites because the Duggars supposedly tell others how to live when the Duggars had this big “secret” sin in their own family. Wow! How ironic that those who criticize the Duggars for hypocrisy would themselves be revealed as hypocrites if every detail of their childhood (and adulthood) were revealed. Let’s face it, many who castigate the Duggars are not doing so out of sensitivity and concern for Josh Duggar’s young victims. No, they do it because they hate Christians, certain forms of religion, and specifically they hate Jesus and what he represents. Also, unbelievers despise God’s moral code because it often does not align with their own. They cry hypocrite when they themselves are hypocrites. Here’s the truth: We are ALL hypocrites. Hypocrisy is part of our human nature. Any lout can spot hypocrisy among people and ideologies they loath. And more than a few can spot hypocrisy where there is none. But a wise person can also spot hypocrisy in his own camp.

I feel sorry for the folks who are dumping on the Duggars. Why? Because many of those who hate the Duggars have embraced the terminal ways of this world. Their very souls are in jeopardy and yet they believe with all their heart that they have gained the high moral ground. Their hatred for the Duggars is cut from the same cloth as the hate that ISIS has for Christians in the Middle East. The haters here just dress it up a bit nicer.

“Why ‘Overpaying’ Workers Makes Biblical and Business Sense;” But Not Yet

greed

The link below is an excellent article by Tim Weinhold. See if you can spot the flaw in his argument.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/may-web-only/why-overpaying-workers-makes-biblical-and-business-sense.html?share=1VfMAeltTzsQyhId8dBZ80loae0IajOs

Here’s the flaw: The problem of static and declining worker wages in America cannot be fixed solely by promoting the formulaic idea that it is simply a good business practice for employers to pay workers higher wages than the free-market dictates. Why? Allow me to explain with an example: I once worked for a medium size company that paid all its employees more than the free-market rate in wages and benefits for our type of business. Unfortunately a competitor with deep pockets came to our communities and paid their workers less than the free-market rate. Our competitor was prepared to sustain losses for many years in order to drive us out of business and capture market share in the long run. We lost too many customers to our competitor’s lower prices which were subsidized by their workers lower wages. Since wages were the largest expense for our business, we could not compete without implementing severe cuts in wages and benefits, and so we folded.

The solution to the problem is not a business formula. The solution is first to change our hearts and accept the reality that something has gone amiss with our long-cherished American value of the free-market setting wages and providing equal opportunities for all. Then, either this generation or the next will need to fix the free-market, which has actually become crony capitalism.

free market occupy

Government can’t fix this problem because government is in bed with too many big businesses and special interests. More importantly, government can’t fix what ails the human heart. This next statement will sting but here goes: perhaps we followers of Christ ought to focus as much or more on the corruption of the free-market as we do on gay marriage. Why? Partly because a free-market that provides opportunities to all is part of the very soul of America. An uncorrupted free-market has the best chance of raising more people out of poverty than any other economic system on earth. The plight of the poor (and the middle class which is becoming poor) may take priority in God’s estimation over issues such as gay marriage. I base this statement on Ezekiel 16:49 that says:

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”

Granted, America spends billions on government services to the poor. And yet we have hardly made a dent in poverty. Dependence on government programs is rampant. Only an uncorrupted free-market that provides opportunities to the poor like it does to hedge fund managers is moral. A corrupted free-market (due to insatiable human greed) will inevitably exploit the poor and the middle class.

Whereas socialism’s Achilles heel is human sloth (not the critter), the free-market Achilles heel is greed; and both share the common characteristic of being a condition of the human heart. Conservatives like to decry sloth while liberals decry greed . . . while God decries both, though based on my readings of the Bible I suspect greed really gets in God’s craw. Whether sloth or greed there are natural unpleasant consequences to both. And America is experiencing some consequences of both, and it will get worse if we do not have a day of reckoning or repentance from the highest levels of society to the lowest.

I do not agree with everything the Pope says, but at least he has spoken out on this issue of corrupted markets and capitalism gone awry. The silence from leaders of evangelical Christianity is deafening. Oh by the way, many employers pay higher than the market rate, but they treat their employees like slaves under their yoke 24/7; this, too, is an abomination. But I digress.

Dan Price is a young optimist. For a variety of reasons I do not expect that his admirable decision to pay all his employees no less than $70,000 a year will be successful in the long run (though I hope I’m wrong). It certainly won’t be successful unless the ENTIRE Christian world supports his efforts, and likeminded efforts, by helping to change our culture so that uber-wealthy businesses that insist on paying workers as little as possible are treated like pariahs in our society. On the other hand, workers have a moral obligation to make themselves more valuable to their employers. Undereducated workers or workers with no trade skills who feel entitled to a high-paying job … well, they also deserve pariah status. Making our economy work for more than a top tiny percent of the population requires that everyone accept their responsibility. I’m just saying.

Here is some interesting data from Pew Research on wages:

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/10/09/for-most-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/

Diverse Diversity

Diversity Group

Recently, we celebrated a friend who got hired for a ministry position in a town a couple hours up the road. Our friend shared his excitement about the new job, though he was disappointed to be leaving his diverse church. He’s going to a community with virtually no diversity, or I should say with no diversity based on the common understanding of diversity—that diversity is about skin color and ethnicity. His comments made me realize that I take my neighborhood diversity for granted. The zip code where I live is said to be the most diverse in America. See the article at: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-10-most-diverse-zip-codes-in-america-2012-11#95834-south-natomas-sacramento-1 The diversity of my community has benefits. For example, when Cindy and I go out for dinner, our vast options for ethnic cuisine staggers the senses. I was reminded of the extent of my spoiling when we visited a region of the country where they used ketchup as red sauce on enchiladas (I kid you not).

The peculiar thing about being white and living in supposedly the most diverse zip code in America is that sometimes it doesn’t feel like the most diverse zip code in America. I suppose part of the reason for this blindness to diversity is due to the human tendency we all have to live in enclaves of people who look and act somewhat like us (though I pity anyone who looks and acts like me) even when the surrounding population does not look and act like us. Anyhow, the church I attend is mostly white with a broad smattering of people from a wide range of ethnicities. The church has mostly transitioned through the church-plant phase and has entered the comfortable-with-each-other phase. The comfortable phase feels good because we have started to love each other despite our array of differences. Becoming one body as described in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 takes time and malleable hearts. Becoming one body is not possible without the glue of love found in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Out of all our efforts and spiritual gifts in the church, love lasts forever. Prophesy, speaking in tongues, etc. … those things are finite. Not so with love.

A church in another part of our town has a reputation for opposition to diversity, they’ve even been accused of racism. They do not go out burning crosses at night nor do they tattoo their bodies with images denoting white supremacy (which would also denote their glittering ignorance regarding God’s kingdom). They just have a reputation for making non-whites feel like they might be better served by finding another church. Are they racist, or are they just afraid of people who might cause change in their church? I’d guess it is both.

There is a movement in the American church toward diversification. I hope it’s more than a fad that gives us bragging rights. Here’s the thing: diversity is not limited to skin color and ethnicity. Diversity can be also achieved in church via a variety of measurements such as: Rich and poor, liberal and conservative, Young and old, employed and unemployed, good part of town and bad part of town, industrialists and environmentalists, gay and straight, single and married, married and divorced, educated and uneducated, healthy and sick, contemporary music lovers and traditional music lovers, Giants fans and Yankee fans. Leaders who tweak church outreach efforts and leadership vision in order to encourage the growth of a diverse congregation—however diversity is defined in their community—are likely to find themselves on the receiving end of God’s glowing pleasure. That’s not to say that making changes to increases diversity can be achieved without blowback and resistance. After all, going down the path of diversity is likely to reveal some hidden and unexpected prejudices in places we would not dream they might be found. But what the heck, we need to deal with those prejudices if we want the privilege of considering ourselves genuine followers of Jesus. I’m just saying!

Equal Opportunity Police Brutality

Police-Officer

Many moons ago, I worked as an undercover store security agent. The work brought me into contact with a variety of law enforcement officers. One store I covered, located in a rough part of town, fell within the jurisdiction of the sheriff’s department. We caught many shoplifters and fraudsters and we referred them to the sheriff’s department for criminal prosecution. I used to cringe when one particular sheriff responded to the store. We’ll call him Joe. Joe was the quintessential middle-aged officer who had long since burned out on law enforcement. He was mean to every suspect right from the point of first contact, often antagonizing them until they fought back physically. If a suspect did not answer his questions quickly or if he felt they were deceitful, he would come down on them hard. Suspects that could have been released with just a citation to appear in court ended up being painfully restrained, arrested, handcuffed, and hauled off to jail with a big brouhaha in front of customers and employees. (Oh such fond memories … not.)

All of our security personnel and many deputy sheriffs knew that Joe had a problem, but it was challenging to get anything done about it. He had tenure, so to speak. I eventually went to work for another company, so I never heard what happened to Joe and his rough-handed approach to the administration of justice in the community.

Here’s the thing: Joe was abusive and even physically brutal to ALL suspects. He did not care if a suspect was black, brown, or white; he was brutal towards all humanity that might find itself afoul of the law, no matter how minor the offense. As it turns out, Joe was a great mentor. Yep, he was one of the reasons I decided to not go into policing. Don’t get me wrong. I had the privilege of working with hundreds of law enforcement officers who executed their duties with professionalism, firmness, and even compassion. Out of those hundreds of officers, I encountered maybe two Joes. But being a police officer can wear a person down.

Real law enforcement work bears little resemblance to what we see on television and in the movies. Rarely is it glamorous. Officers, quite frankly, spend most of their time encountering the detritus of humanity. Yes, I know that God does not see any human being as garbage. But the reality is that some human beings live like animals. Day in and day out, year after weary year, police officers interact with the same types of people—criminals, the uneducated, the uncouth, the addicted, the manipulative, the violent, the deceitful, the mentally insane and occasionally some regular citizens who just need some help. After years working in the trenches of law enforcement, police officers can easily get jaded towards all humanity. It takes a special type of person to remain positive and professional under these circumstances.

You may have heard about the recent riots in Baltimore over the mysterious death of Freddie Gray, a black man, who died in police custody. After Gray’s death, the City of Baltimore erupted with cries of police brutality and racism. When these tragedies happen, some in the community immediately default to racism as the root problem. Apparently those same people seem to think the job of a police officer is little different than, say, a dentist or a businessperson. The reality is that if a police officer has crossed the line and used excessive force, or has simply been careless in his duties, it is quite possible that the officer has simply become extremely jaded towards people in general. It may have little if anything to do with racism in the heart of the officer. But apparently being excessively jaded isn’t as sexy as racism, though it is just as tragic. This is not to say that racism does not exist in police departments across the country. But come on folks, our police officers have a most unpleasant job that places them in constant contact with the worst the human race can produce. We can’t excuse their behavior when they cross the line, but we can at least have a little understanding and sympathy.

Retire or Face Consequences

Stun Gun Taser

The loons have arrived in Northern California. Oh I don’t mean those beautiful waterfowl or the snowbirds that migrate south this time of year. I mean those grey mourning doves that return to our neck of the woods every spring. Unfortunately the mourning dove is a morning bird. That is he perches outside my bedroom window and begins to sing his deep-throated song nearly an hour before the sun rises. At first his “cooOOoo-coo-coo” was a pleasant reminder of spring and new beginnings with the change of season (yes we have seasons in California: tourist season and peak tourist season). But after several mornings of mourning dove solos, I started stuffing tissue in my ears to drown out that bird’s incessant blather while wishing that California Fish and Game would move dove season up to April 1st. I hope that bird finds a mate soon; that’ll shut him up.

That dove reminds me that season’s change no matter what. I’m usually not a fan of spring, mostly because it feels like a bridge season; it is no longer winter but neither is it yet summer. Human beings have an unfortunate tendency to resist certain changes of season in our lives. Perhaps you saw the tragic news recently about the 73-year-old reserve sheriff who shot an unarmed suspect who resisted arrest. The reserve sheriff thought he had drawn his Taser when he had actually drawn his pistol. The suspect died. http://www.wsj.com/articles/police-video-shows-deadly-shooting-of-black-suspect-in-tulsa-1428913303 That reserve sheriff might be a great guy with a pure heart, but I struggle to understand why a 73-year-old is in an active policing role. Granted, some 73-year-olds run marathons. On the other hand, some 73-year-olds spend their days in wheelchairs ensconced in care homes. As we age into the golden years we continue to have a strong work ethic, but our work skills might not keep up.

My wife’s grandmother swore she was a good driver into her eighties … until she had an accident that totaled her car. Fortunately no one was injured. Needless to say we did not get her another car. When my mother-in-law began to demonstrate some scary diminished driving skills, my wife and her siblings stepped in to see that her mother no longer drove. As one might expect, my mother-in-law thought there was nothing wrong with her driving. As we age, acknowledging our diminishing mental and physical agility can challenge our pride and threaten our independence as well as our personal sense of value. We want to stay in the game of life as we have heretofore lived it. But what does God have to say about aging and changing roles. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that we can expect a variety of seasons to change in our life. Ecclesiastes presents these seasonal changes as a non-negotiable fact. Numbers 8:23-26 describes a mandatory retirement age for the tribe of Levites who acted as caretakers for the Tent of Meeting in ancient Israel’s place of worship:

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘This is a special command for the Levites: Every Levite man who is 25 years old or older must come and share in the work at the Meeting Tent. But when a man is 50 years old, he will retire from this hard work. Men who are at least 50 years old will be on duty to help their brothers, but they will not do the work themselves. That is what you must do for the Levites so that they can do their duty.’”

I am NOT suggesting we must all retire at 50. But I do believe that God prefers that we embrace new seasons rather than cling to old seasons. God gives us appropriate things to look forward to in new seasons. Notice that God did not take the 50-year-old Levites completely out of service. He just reassigned them to a less front-and-center role. If we have a problem with that, it may be due to our pride or our fear of becoming irrelevant. Don’t let pride or fear rob you of God’s gift of having something to look forward to. The trick, of course, is spotting the change of season in our life when it occurs … hopefully before we start screwing things up.

Manners Maketh the Lady

mchenry

ISIS beheads more innocent people in the Middle East … and people have lost interest.
Marco Rubio announces his candidacy for president … and it hardly gets our attention.
Dzhohar Tsarnaev gets convicted for Boston Marathon bombing … only a few people notice.
But when pretty ESPN reporter Britt McHenry spews her toilet mouth at a female clerk working in an auto impound yard, all hell breaks loose as the video goes viral. Many people rushed to condemn McHenry while some attempted to defend her actions as possibly a one-time lapse in judgment and manners. She later issued a public apology. ESPN suspended her for a week. I hope she apologizes to the clerk without cameras rolling as that would demonstrate character.

I do not know McHenry but I would hate to be forever judged by a momentary lapse of control. On the other hand, if this display by McHenry is indicative of her true character, no amount of beauty treatments and on-air talent can make her a beautiful person. Only God can change what ails her.

We live in a new world where the prolific spread of public video cameras as well as the millions of smart phone cameras floating around has the consequence of capturing us at some of our worst moments in life. Cameras are like little elves watching our every move that they report to Santa when little boys and girls misbehave. You might think this new level of electronic scrutiny would put us on our best behavior, but you would be wrong. It didn’t stop a South Carolina police officer from shooting a fleeing unarmed suspect in the back last week; nearly all of it caught on camera.

At the risk of sounding like the old man who shouts at kids to stay off his lawn, I’ve watched manners and civility decline in America during my lifetime. It used to be unusual to encounter ill-mannered people, and when you did it was said of them that they were not raised right. The community ostracized them. Not so any more. Today the uncouth can rise to the highest levels of society. Apparently we have decided that manners are not as important as in the past. This will have tragic consequences for everyone. How so? Because good manners matter to God … a lot! Hosea 4:1 (NLT) says:

“Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel!
The Lord has brought charges against you, saying:
‘There is no faithfulness, no kindness,
no knowledge of God in your land.’”

God made this statement to the society of Israel just before he broke their nation and scattered its people around the world as a consequence of their self-obsessed lives. At that time most people in Israel did not care about anyone else but themselves. History has brought us to the same point in America. There are some deep and errant philosophies and ideologies that have led to this, but needless to say it has arrived.

What can be done about it? The answer is old fashioned but right on: manners and civility has to be taught in homes, churches, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Little League, soccer teams, and schools. If we have not embraced manners and civility by adulthood, it’s never too late to learn. As a society we must stop rewarding poor behavior … no matter how much money uncouth people bring into our businesses, institutions, and organizations. If some people insist on living like animals, then they can do so on the outskirts of society.

Treating people with civility is a herculean task when we don’t feel good or when we feel that someone has screwed us. But that is what Jesus told us to do when he said “turn the other cheek.” The teaching that we turn the other cheek is not an imperative that we never fight back; it simply means we fight back with grace and manners, sometimes by letting the issue go or by actually helping our adversary. Such an approach demonstrates the beauty of the kingdom of heaven because it is in sharp contrast to the way the world does things. I hope McHenry learns it and lives it. I hope we all learn it and live it. We all drop the ball of good manners occasionally, but that’s ok so long as it breaks our heart and inspires us to perfect our manners going forward.

Let Them Eat Wedding Cake: Applying our principles

gayweddingcake

Perhaps you’ve followed the hullabaloo in the news lately about Christian business owners at odds with LGBT activists, the media, the law, and public opinion over their refusal to provide goods and services at same-sex weddings on the basis of religious belief that marriage is designed by God for a man and woman. The state of Indiana also go into hot water for passing a law that would provide some legal cover for people of faith, such as Christian business owners, who feel it would violate their religious beliefs to provide goods and services at gay weddings. Several states have similar laws. Even the federal government has a law that provides protections based on religious belief and practice, though it was originally intended to cover Native Americans who wanted to use Peyote (a hallucinogenic plant) in their religious ceremonies.

LGBT activists have a propensity to label traditional Christians as bigots and haters. They paint Christianity with a broad irrational brush and have recruited many in society to jump on their bandwagon. When Christians tell the gay community and the world that we love them but we do not love their sin, well, that just goes in one ear and out the other.

Should Christians fight back in the legal, political, economic, and cultural arena? Well, allow me to play devil’s advocate here. Christian business owners (such as those who own bakeries, floral shops, and wedding photography studios) might want to consider the stories of Jesus at the Canaan wedding and Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah. How does a straight wedding in Canaan two thousand years ago apply to gay weddings today? Well, Jesus supplied wine at the Canaan wedding … a lot of wine. Maybe you only go to dry weddings, but I’ve been to some wet weddings where some of the guests were not just pleasantly buzzed on a glass of good wine. Nope! I’ve seen guests get hammered, tanked, and falling-down-drunk at weddings. According to the Bible, getting drunk is a sin. Should Jesus have refused to turn the water into wine because some of the guests were sinning by drinking to the point of inebriation? Granted, we do not know for certain that any of the guests at the Canaan wedding were drunk, but it’s a pretty good guess there were some.

Lot was a fairly righteous man who moved his livestock business to the region around Sodom and Gomorrah. You may recall that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because everyone in those cities, except Lot and his family, were engaging in evil deeds all the time. The citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah had become so immersed in debauchery that they could not be redeemed. One of their sins was their enthusiasm for same-sex sexuality. I am guessing but it seems highly probable that Lot bought and sold goods and services with his neighbors despite their debaucheries. Since the entire population of Sodom and Gomorrah was guilty of such sins, how could Lot live among them and refuse to do business with them based on his religious beliefs?

Okay, I am no longer playing devil’s advocate. But the question remains: should Christians refuse to provide goods and services at gay weddings? If Christian business owners were to refuse to do business with all sinners outside the church, there would be no Christian businesses. Yes, situations arise where we need to take a stand based on moral conviction; I get it. We are to be salt in this world, a force that slows the process of decay. Still, I wonder if we are being overly selective about sins that inspire us to apply our principles. Perhaps God puts more emphasis on individual responsibility than we imagine. In other words, when people choose to sin, they own the sin; the person who supplied their tasteful wedding cake does not own the sin.
Apostle Paul has some thoughts on this topic as found in 1 Corinthians 5: 9-13 (NLT):

“When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.
It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; …”

You see, we can’t expect unbelievers in the gay community to comprehend the spiritual implications of sexual sins. That would be like trying to convince Colonel Sanders that killing chickens is an abomination before the Lord. The bottom line is this: taking a stand on sins in the church is a higher priority, according to God’s word, than taking a stand on sins outside the church. This does not mean we should not push back against sin in our secular society. I wholeheartedly support the right of Christian business owners to push back against sin based on their religious conscience. But sin in the church is our first concern. Before a Christian bakery owner refuses to provide a cake at a gay wedding he might want to think about confronting the unmarried worship leader in his church who sleeps with someone in the congregation. I’m just saying.

Love Thy Newcomer As Thyself

Welcome to Washington

The center of society in Deer Park, Washington, can be found at the massive Double Eagle Pawn shop where comes and goes a steady stream of hunting, fishing, and camping enthusiasts. Recently, I happened to be in Deer Park to visit family. I like Deer Park. It’s a quiet little town where most of the inhabitants behave like me (think introverts); they’re not exactly warm and friendly, though they usually mind their own business (a character trait that qualifies them for sainthood in my book).

Anyhow, the main tourist attraction (my grandson) was taking a nap, which prompted me to go downtown to check out the Double Eagle. The Double Eagle has an inventory of guns that would turn third-world armies green with envy. I’m not exactly a gun connoisseur, but I do know my way around a Remington 700; having hunted with one for decades. Imagine my delight to see several 700s in stock. I selected one in a caliber I’d been searching for and brought it to the man behind the counter. (You heard that right, the guns are on display for anyone to handle just like lingerie in a department store … not that I handle much lingerie.) I asked him if I could buy the gun and take it home, even though I live out of state. He said absolutely not. I could only buy it through a gun dealer in the state where I live. The gun would have to be delivered directly to the gun dealer in my home state.

Before I go any further with this story, I should let you know that revealing one’s identity as a California resident visiting certain parts of Washington State is like wearing a Giants hat to a game at Dodger Stadium–there are risks. A great many Washingtonians harbor animosity towards California and Californians. One reason we are resented is because many California expats have moved to Washington State and driven up the cost of housing. Apparently we Californians tend to pay more for homes than Washington residents. This drives up housing prices and makes it unaffordable for many locals. There are other reasons as well, but we won’t list them right now.

Getting back to my conversation with the gun barista at the Double Eagle. I told the clerk I know a gun dealer in California who might be willing to work with me to buy the gun. An elderly gentleman overheard our conversation and joined in. Here is how the conversation went:

“Ha, do they still let people buy guns in California?” said the elderly man, eyeing me suspiciously.
“Yes, but they have restrictions on some guns,” I said.
“I have a friend who tried living in California,” said the elderly man. “He wanted to buy a gun there once but it was too much of a hassle.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” I said.
“You know what my friend says about California now?” said the elderly man with anger smoldering in his eyes. “He says California can go f#@! itself!”
I was taken aback and felt that he was sending me a clear message—you Californians ain’t welcome here. At that the elderly man stomped off before I could assure him that I had no intention of buying an overpriced house in Deer Park. I wanted to assuage any fears he might harbor that I would move to Deer Park and open a yoga studio that would gentrify his rustic little town. I especially wanted to assure him that I was not an elitist who would transform his neck of the woods into a haven for hipsters. If only I could have convinced him that I have little in common with those loons in LA and San Francisco (other than a love for cutting-edge ethnic food). But he was forever gone from my life.

In all fairness to that elderly gentlemen who expressed himself so eloquently, he does have a point. We’re a bit arrogant in California. We have fantastic weather, a massive economy, a gorgeous coast, fantastic mountains, sublime deserts, and chic cities. California is also the creative center of the universe. We attract people from all over the world. We seem to love change, as long as it is our kind of change. We love to build communities that look like photos in Sunset Magazine. When our citizens move to cities in other states, they have a tendency to want to make their new community just like the community they left in California. I’m beginning to understand that this approach might not be the best for locals and expats.

The same phenomena happens in many churches. For example, some churches do not ordain women. They take this stand in good faith based on interpretation of certain parts of the Bible. Yet it is not uncommon for people to join such churches and later on pressure them to change their bylaws to allow the ordination of women. Such conflicts can get out of control and cause tremendous discontent as well as harm the example of Christ’s church in the community.

Need a less contentious example? Most churches do not handle poisonous snakes during worship. As much as I might enjoy such a spectacle, it would be wrong of me to pressure my church leaders to incorporate the handling of poisonous vipers as a test of faith during our Sunday liturgy.

Perhaps mature Christians have an obligation to explore the beliefs and heritage of a prospective church BEFORE they join so that later on they do not feel compelled to take it upon themselves to cause a big brouhaha in a quest for change. Granted, some churches and denominations need to change the way they operate. But I suspect that many people who take it upon themselves to affect change in a church have not been led by God to do so. They do it because some issues get under their skin or because they are passionate about a new way of doing things.

On the other hand, established church members who want to obey God by welcoming newcomers have an obligation to recognize that the influx of new people usually means change will eventually follow. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those guys who loathe all change. I do not think all change is bad. But neither do I believe all change is good … especially if the peddlers of change have not shown respect for things that long-timers on the scene hold dear. I’m just saying!

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