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A preliminary word is in order as to what could possibly motivate me to write three articles on the subject of transgenderism in the span of two weeks time. Primarily the fact that the South Dakota Legislature is making news on this subject all the way over here on this side of the pond (I’m living in Scotland) and until recently I was a member of that legislative body. Additionally, my difficult and surprising votes last year on this issue put me in some serious hot water with Christian friends, church members and pro-family values groups whom I’ve worked alongside for years. Then comes the year of Caitlyn Jenner and I sat quiet as I sorted through my discomfort and sadness at the course joking by Christian friends on social media. Finally, dealing with hot potatoes is something I’ve never shied away from and I typically have little restraint in firing away a prophetic challenge if I discern the Church needs a wake up call or a course correction. So here goes it.
This won’t be the place where I discuss inner healing and the power of Christ to mend the broken, including broken identities. Also I won’t take time to defend that statement but will simply refer to the three frameworks– integrity, disability and diversity – outlined in Dr. Mark A. Yarhouse of Wheaton and Regent Universities new book called Understanding Gender Dysphoria. Or, read my recent op-ed on this topic here: Empathy and Accommodation for the transgendered in South Dakota. What follows in this article is about the Church and its witness and welcome of transgenders and the matter of Christian Hope.
From my vantage point the Church, myself included, has utterly failed homosexuals in our communities. And now we have our chance at stewarding a message of hope and being a community of hope for the transgendered and those struggling with gender dysphoria. TIME magazine called 2014 the year of the transgendered. It is my opinion that though well-intentioned, the path we’ve chosen on this issue in the South Dakota legislature in the 2015-2016 Sessions, a path that the Christian contingency in the House and Senate have forged, is a path that has now done irreparable harm to our witness.
In an earlier post I wrote: Is there any hope of a transgender kid going to any of our churches? 41 percent of transgender and gender non-conforming people have attempted suicide, compared to a national average of just 4.6 percent. When kids kill themselves because we reject them with vehemence are we complicit and how could Jesus possibly say to us “Well done”? This is from my earlier article on this subject:
I’ve been on the scene of a number of teen suicides as a police chaplain, one in particular where the teenage boy hung himself from the ironwork around his parent’s back patio. He looked just like my son Thomas. It messed me up for a couple weeks. When you see that stuff you wish there was a way to turn back the clock and you’d do anything to make sure you weren’t a part of the rejection and despair in his life. The SD legislature and particularly the Christians are sending a loud message of vehement rejection to human beings in our state who have a far harder plight than even homosexuals.
Do you suppose our world will ever come to the place again where we have to hide Jews and Gays? (I’m aware there are differences between homosexuality and gender dysphoria.) If the days ever come again where we must hide the despised of this world, will they come to us and consider God’s House a safe house?
No. As long as Deuteronomy 22:5 is the only text the Church reads, our witness and welcome will continue to be disastrous. In no way am I advocating being selective or ignoring any text. I remain theologically conservative holding a high view of Scripture. The fact of the matter is Deuteronomy 22:5 can hardly be construed to be God’s view on gender dysphoria today. The situation behind the text was the matter of pagan swapping of sex roles and rituals in temple prostitution. That is what is abhorrent to God– not a seven year old boy who sneaks off to wear his sisters dress and feels crushing shame afterward. There are however other texts that more directly apply which I will illustrate shortly. Some of my friends will be again disappointed in me for the position I am taking on this issue but there is too much at stake to leave our present course unchallenged.
There is nearly a total breakdown in our society of traditional gender norms. But let’s be honest, this started long before the 1960’s. A few generations ago a young woman who wore pants was a matter of gossip and scandal among good churchgoing people. Today any female of any age could wear exactly what men wear – mens jeans, sweatshirt – and minimise any femininity and even don even some masculinity and really, does any one care? We view it as completely amoral. Boy hair cuts, girls on the football team and others who wear camo and hunt – the Church somehow found a way to successfully navigate it. Yet there is no grace or wiggle room for a male who dons femininity in hairstyle and dress – such a person is a pariah to us, a freak. A question I’ve been asking lately is: What makes us think someone else’s brokenness is a bigger deal to God than our own?
The following is a brief rereading of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 particularly in light of the challenge the Church is having welcoming the transgendered. I’ll start by presenting the text itself, a text which I suggest vitally important text relating to our welcome and inclusion of various members of the Body of Christ.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
The working title of this rereading I’ll phrase as follows. I’ll try to be brief.
The Body, it’s Members and the Body of Christ:
What Does Christian Hope Look Like For The Transgendered?
This text offers much for a theology of the body and a theology of disability within the broader framework of the Body of Christ as a community of inclusion– not severing disabled or unsightly members or members that are hard to look at or be around – all the while living in a fantasy or illusion of uniformity where everyone should just blend in.
In a variety of areas today, radical surgical and bio-enhancements including prosthetics are commonly encouraged strategies to help people find some measure of normalisation, functioning and sanity. Whether that is right or wrong, judgments about them have become a criteria for inclusion and welcome into Christian community. What I’m challenging here is the fact that those judgments are keeping people from the very place they most need to be.
My hope is we realise we have failed to figure out how to love the sinner and hate the sin and that we rethink what is amoral and what is actually immoral when it comes to the DSM-5 psychological designation of gender dysphoria.
The admonition in the text is to extend a special measure of grace toward the member that is hurting: “When one part hurts….” The Christian community is to be a fellowship of the suffering. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. We aren’t to leave people to hurt in isolation from the other members, or cut them off. Severing results in death of the member (think here of the 41% transgender suicide attempt rate). Attachment to the body is vital to the life flow. The life flow, and structural things like bones and ligaments, aren’t effected by anything superficial or cosmetic. If it is true that God looks at the heart, maybe we ought to look deeper. If it is true that nothing can separate us from the love of God, why have we been severing away the less presentable members?
On a number of occasions over the years I’ve told homosexuals who visit our church they are welcome on one condition – that they remain open to God touching any area of their lives, including that area. And I made a promise in return, to not press the timing of God dealing with whatever He wants to deal with in their life.
Parents may retort; But Pastor Steve, there are children in the fellowship too, doesn’t this sow confusion? No. It sows no more confusion than any other disability in our midst. How hard is it to explain to our children that some people struggle and that we ought to love those people all the more? A little loving explanation and our kids go… Oh, okay– and head back out to play.
On several occasions over the years this issue has presented itself to me in the pastoral context. The Christian people struggling with this confide deep remorse and conflict at giving God the impression they are rejecting his handiwork, or insinutating that he made a mistake when he made them. My response has been God understands entirely, in fact better than we do. He’s not offended or mad about their ingratitude. The Father is a father.
When my son Thomas was a teenager I bought him a light blue electric guitar for his birthday. He was thankful but I could immediately tell he was disappointed. He didn’t like the color and I could tell by the look on his face. It bothered me for a few weeks and one day when he was at school I swapped it out for the red guitar he really wanted. I wasn’t offended in the least. My heart was for his happiness. My suggestion here is not that God says to the transgendered, “Oops, my bad. By all means get the red guitar.” My suggestion is that God is a Father and he understands this far better than we ever will. People who have gender reassignment surgeries haven’t cut themselves off from the Father’s love. This article is a plea that the Church would reconsider whether this community should be treated as a severed member.
The Christian Hope for the transgendered is right up front in verses 12-13… Christ’s bringing together of separated parts (Jew/gentile, Male/Female), offering humanity wholeness and congruence again, and his Body being a community of inclusion where people are valued, indeed indispensable.
Could this mean the transgendered person has much to contribute and teach us? Isn’t the text saying the entire body becomes disabled if we cut them off? The Christian hope for the transgendered is not in a series of procedures that fixes all their problems. It is Christ and his new Body.
Anyone else notice the Great Meme War that is underway on Facebook these days? I rather enjoy it and even post ones that sting me a bit. (A meme – for those of you who are secluded from popular culture in some remote cave somewhere – is an image with text, typically humorous and satirical in nature that spreads rapidly over social media.)
Last night I posted this one:
Shortly thereafter a Facebook friend countered with one of his own:
And that set me off on yet another rant about how war isn’t working. Enjoy…
More slaves in the world today than ever in the history of the world. More oppression, genocides pop up every few years, nazism is back with a vengeance. We’ve spent most of my adult life at war in the Middle East and the world is not safer and there are a loads more people who hate us. With every bomb we plant a seed that produces ten more people who hate us. War hasn’t worked and isn’t working. It is not our only alternative. The same handful of international banking families fund both sides of our wars. Of course their sons and daughters don’t spill their blood. We don’t need to spend a billion on an experimental drone balloon that floats away from it’s tethers on its own and gets ruined landing three states away in a grove of trees. Selectively fiscal conservatives are anything but fiscally conservative when it comes to defense spending. They act like there is no waste to cut and that we have an unlimited supply of tax dollars for new wars. One week we are in the sky-is-falling-fiscal-emergency mode closing down national parks for the weekend because of a government shutdown and we can’t afford to pay a park ranger. The next week we somehow miraculously have a billion NEW dollars to send to some country in a never ended civil war and a trillion more to build a new ship for ourselves. We have no confidence our commander in chief is even on our team. Vets are treated like crap when they return but Congress gives themselves raises and a whole different set of benefits. We spent billions arm the wrong people (while moving toward the disarming of our own populace), we only make defense contractors rich spending double, triple and even ten times what should be spent on national defense – and btw, I think service men and women need a doubling of pay. And don’t read this as any indictment on the men and women who serve so sacrificially. I’m the product of a Vietnam vet who came home screwed up (a book called Vietnam wives descries what it was like to grow up in our home after the war). My dad resented our government the rest of his life, deeply. Did that war work? How about any of the ones we’ve been in the last twenty-five years?
This is a repost from a 2015 article I wrote at at one of my other blogs, now dormant.
There are stirrings in South Dakota that a Right to Die/Death With Dignity bill is being shopped around to those of us serving in the legislature. To date I’ve received two letters on the matter inquiring about my interest to support a bill. Below I’ll paste my reply to one of them. It’s an unusually preachy response from me but like it or not, in the matter of death, faith is a factor.
Thank you for your letter inquiring about my interest in supporting Right to Die legislation. Initially I want to extend my concern and prayers for you with regard to your declining health. Reading your letter reminded me of my great Uncle Thomas who shot himself rather than let his terminal illness drag on. Believe me, I understand the rationale, especially considering the hope we can have of eternity with God through our faith in his Son, Jesus. Perhaps you are a person who shares my Christian faith and also appreciate that sentiment. Countless times I’ve seen Jesus take the sting out of death for the believer.
Enclosed is an article which you perhaps have seen which tells some of the story of my own health situation. My mother died, and so did her brother and sister, from what I have been diagnosed with; pulmonary fibrosis. Doctors say there is no cure and the average patient lives only 3-5 years after diagnosis without a transplant. I lost another half liter of lung capacity since last fall. My uncle died before a lung transplant was available to him. My aunt lived two years after her transplant and my mom lived six years after her transplant. It’s a hard way to go. I’m only 48.
Also, you may know that I’m a minister and have been at the death bed of countless people over the years. As a Sioux Falls police chaplain I’ve also been at the scene of a number of suicides. The reason I share all this background with you is so that you can see the world of death and dying is a world that I spend quite a bit of time in.
Out of all of these experiences including my own situation, and my religious background, I have come to the conclusion that death is the strictly the domain of God and we need to quit figuring out reasons to justify killing people; abortion, death penalty, euthanasia. The Bible teaches God gives us sufficient grace to live and I have found this includes sufficient grace to die. I’ve written a few books and in one of them I write about how we have a fraidy cat view of death seeing it as the worst thing that could happen, as a travesty, final and the end. God sees it very differently. To him death leads to life. Confidence and strength in facing death comes from good theology. Please forgive the little sermonette there but these are things I deal with daily and have found to be true.
From my position in the legislature I can’t in good conscience be apart of a death with dignity bill. Hopefully my comments above are sufficient to explain my reasoning. Please feel free to respond as frank as you’d like. Again, know that my thoughts and prayers are with you.
Rev/Rep Steve Hickey (District 9, Sioux Falls)
This is a repost from a 2015 article I wrote at at one of my other blogs, now dormant.
The Watertown Public Opinion Editorial board says I’m wasting everyone’s time. Phooeey on that. Here’s my retort:
As I write this I’m getting angry notes from friends for my op-ed in today’s Argus Leader which was a call for empathy and accommodation for transgenders and for us as state leaders to not be selective and misdirected in our morale outrage. You can read that here. Please do as it will help you make sense of what follows here.
I’ll use this space here to drop some of my follow-up comments which give additional insight into my thought process on the matter…
HICKEY: Is there any hope of a transgender kid going to any of our churches? When kids kill themselves because we reject them with vehemence (40% transgender suicide rate), are we complicit and does Jesus say to us “Well done”? I’ve been on the scene of a number of teen suicides as a police chaplain, one in particular where the teenage boy hung himself from the ironwork around his parent’s back patio. He looked just like my son Thomas. It messed me up for a couple weeks. When you see that stuff you wish there was a way to turn back the clock and you’d do anything to make sure you weren’t a part of the rejection and despair in his life. The SD legislature and particularly the Christians are sending a loud message of vehement rejection to human beings in our state who have a far harder plight than even homosexuals.
HICKEY: I have zero energy or interest to get all flustered about this bathroom issue. Obviously. This is a hurting population and I’m tired of Christians being so loveless and this is a bizzaro fixation for our legislature going on now for two years.
HICKEY: Do we really need bathroom laws too? This notion of limited government is so selective for many Republicans. Our idolatry/fixation on sports in high school is more unhealthy than a transgender kid in the wrong bathroom. It’s just sports. Why are they part of education anyway? My view is there is no problem with this in SD and it’s sucking up all the moral outrage from Republican Christians who have not a drip of moral outrage for the real immoralities in our state – a key point in my article . Instead we conjure up exaggerated hypothetical scenarios and produce multiple bills and effectually kill any opportunity for real Christian witness and compassion. All for what? For a problem we haven’t had yet in our state?
HICKEY: Why is our moral outrage so limited? I never hear our likes get riled about racial injustice in SD or economic injustice – the two issues I mentioned in the article. It’s not you (name). It’s Republican Christians in general.
HICKEY: Transgender people have been using the bathroom of choice for how long? Why is this such a stinking big deal in the SD legislature? Leave the laws alone. I’m not advocating indecency . Focus on real problems. Figure out how to have the broken people of the world come to us like they came to Jesus. As is, they hate us and ours sons and daughters are suicidal, including some here who will read this on my Facebook page.
HICKEY: I’m trying to make a point with our sport-centric culture and I’m not advocating for it to be out of schools. I know it teaches much to young people. But we take it too seriously. We already have girls playing football and wrestling. When your dad and I were bantering around this issue, and he – my very close friend- doesn’t agree with me either, we were talking about wrestling and a guy doing some manuver where he grabs the crotch of the other. I joked I think its wrong for guys to be grabbing crotches of anyone in high school and college.
HICKEY: Is there any example in America of a boy showering with a girl at school or are these just exaggerated hypotheticals?
HICKEY: If we are going to make laws, let’s bring back some modesty legislation where it’s illegal to show off too much regardless of who you are – pants below the crack, skirts up to the top of the bottom, skin-tight anything – and make the law apply everywhere public, including restrooms… illegal to be undressed in front of others. Period. And maybe we need to rethink locker rooms and group showers. I don’t want my kid naked in front of anyone at school. Maybe it should be illegal for the department stores to push soft core porn and the exploitation of women in glossy advertisements that I used to have to remove before my kid saw the newspaper. Modest is hottest no matter what gender flavour you are today. The rest of us don’t want to see it whatever it is you have.
Why do you lock your doors at night? Fear? Or is it prudence and wisdom? Is it unChristian to thank God for walled cities and for discerning gatekeepers? Is that fear, or prudence?
With regard to the refugees coming in mass from Muslim nations it is easier today to stay quiet and just camp in the Christianliness of hospitality toward the stranger.
We should be hospitable to the stranger, but it’s not that simple. We need to pray for those responsible in government to identify and neutralise threats and not just write them off as lousy Christians. When the Christian left scolds us for being full of fear and xenophobic I only wish it were that simple. It sounds a bit like the echoes of the days when the religious leaders cried Peace, Peace when there really was no peace. Curious that passage (Ezekiel 13:10) mentions building a flimsy wall.
We should love Muslims. We should respond to refugees right now. Foreign aid is sorely needed. Resettlement issues for them are complex. European nations are being destabilised.
Is it fear mongering for me to say I believe there are clear signs of an Islamic invasion of the West, currently underway, particularly in Europe? I do have some measure of fear that Christians and Christian agencies are using the crisis as a cash cow. Resettlement is big business for them.
To invoke Godwin’s Law, no doubt in the 1930s the average churchgoer in Germany had very little sense of what was growing up in their midst. Pastors who did see a threat and said something about it were marginalised and later rounded up and silenced. Others feared reprisal on themselves and said nothing. Is it fear to have fresh discussions about how the Nazi’s used gun control? There are two opposing scholarly views on the question. The one says:
University of Hawaii political scientist Rudolph J. Rummel, one of the leading students of democide (mass murder of civilian populations by governments), has estimated that nearly 170 million people have been murdered by their own governments in our century. The familiar list of mass murderers–Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot–only scratches the surface. The mass slaughter of helpless, unarmed civilian populations continues in Sudan, Rwanda, parts of the former Yugoslavia and East Timor. The reluctance of outside forces to intervene is well documented. And yet the obvious question is strangely absent: Would arms in the hands of average citizens have made a difference? Could the overstretched Nazi war machine have murdered 11 million armed and resisting Europeans while also taking on the Soviet and Anglo-American armies? Could 50,000 to 70,000 Khmer Rouge have butchered 2 million to 3 million armed Cambodians? The answers are by no means clear, but it is unconscionable that they are not being asked.- Robert J. Cottrol is a professor of law and history at George Washington University in The Last Line of Defense: The right to bear arms is a matter of individual safety and ultimately, freedom. The issue goes far beyond gun nuts.
The other view says, no, arms in the hands of average citizens would not have made a difference– that’s NRA propaganda and fear mongering.
I am a product of the gun culture in America and I wouldn’t call my friends our part of the world afraid, at all. There’s a joke among them of an old lady who gets pulled over by a cop and he asked if she has any weapons concealed. She shocks him listing off the various caliber firearms in the trunk and glove box. The cop says, Wow lady, what on earth are you afraid of? She chuckled and said “Not a damn thing.” My gun culture friends and family aren’t afraid of certain people, they are more mad at certain people. Big difference.
Islamophobia doesn’t describe the people I know. But it is frightening what that Koran actually teaches. It is frightening to think of how Islam regards and treats women. It is frightening to hear the rhetoric coming from various Imams. But is that Islamophobia? Perhaps we could say there are two paths before us, wisdom and foolishness. It is a fair game discussion to be asking whether or not it is foolish to have wide open borders right now.
And this irrational fearing goes both ways. Can it be said that those who didn’t grow up around guns live in fear of them today? Sure it can. Hoplophobia is the fear of firearms. Many times I’ve taken friends who have never been near a gun out to target shoot. They get stiff, nervous and are afraid to to even touch it. They jump when it goes off. I can only imagine what the millions of Americans who never been around a gun feel about guns. Is that feeling fear? Those of us who grew up around guns have no such fear. When I went to high school I had a shotgun in my pick up in the school parking lot. No big deal. We don’t have guns because we are afraid.
I thought the caption from a meme says it well… “Seriously. Conservatives own 200+ million guns, 12 trillion rounds of ammo. If we were violent, you’d know it.”
Before you express frustration with me for taking this matter to another level, consider this: we require our eighth grade health teachers to talk about these things in very vivid but positive ways and so it should be okay for those of us contending against our pornified, over-sexualized and increasingly violent culture to speak up too.
You are flat wrong if you, as many have in the last few days, think I am somehow obsessed with the topic. For twenty-five years my work has been to help people who have been used, abused and hurt and at some point it’s okay to stand up and tell the truth.
If you are fishing for an undercurrent motivating me on this matter it is the degradation of women and the exploitation of children by men who have lost control of their lusts.
Let’s start with some common ground, with several things that are self-evident.
1. Violence and sexuality are unbridled in our culture; entertainment, everyday life and relationships.
2. Women are being degraded, children are being robbed of their innocence.
3. There is enough blame to go around. It’s not just those homosexuals. Heterosexuals and Christians are just as bad.
4. No matter the politicized American Psychological Association has rewritten the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness) to say what we once said was not good, is now good — regardless… good remains good, and bad remains bad.
The context for this post is a bit of a far-reaching firestorm I got myself into this week with comments relating to gay sex. A gay couple in our state got married in another state and it was front and center news all week about their intent to legally challenge our state’s Constitutional Marriage Amendment. As an elected official I waited a bit, noticed no one else saying a thing, so I wrote a letter to our state’s medical and psychological communities asking them to weigh in.
It is my opinion that like with global warming, a) the science is not settled on any of this that b) there are medical people who feel intimidated and silenced to say anything negative about degrading and destructive perversions of what is self-evident biology and nature.
Within the backlash were many who made the point – Hickey… you are aware heterosexuals practice anal sex too? Certainly, I am aware of that and retort… and what do doctors say about it?
My article here is on my church blog and relates primarily to Christian couples and deviant sex practices. Frankly, we need to look closer at how we can “feel bad” about women being sex trafficked, yet view a guy like me as a bit of a prude for saying men need to treat women with respect, love, and quit with the porn and perversions. Over the years I have come to believe that sodomy and anal sex degrade women and in dynamic ways mix these two unbridled beasts in our culture, sex and violence. Self-respecting women can and should say, No way, buddy.
The Bible says, “keep the marriage be pure or undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4). We traditionally interpret that to mean we should not fornicate before marriage or commit adultery after the wedding day. It means that and it means more. Defilements, both spiritual and physical defilements are a big topic in the Bible.
The Bible says, paraphrasing, don’t take a crap inside the camp. Nothing impure should defile the camp of the people of God. The King James Version (humorously, I think) phrases it this way:
Thou shalt have a place also without the camp, whither thou shalt go forth abroad: And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee. (Deuteronomy 23:12-13)
By any science, health, and religious standard, human excrement is a defilement. The Church in third-world countries teaches these basic Deuteronomic societal health practices to people living in filth. Yet, is it the case our marriage beds here are defiled?
The marriage bed is a place of purity and innocence, love and affection, intimacy and enjoyment. Do I really need to spell this out anymore? Deviant and degrading sexual behaviors have no place in the Christian marriage bed.
For sure there are a myriad of positions and couples can talk though what’s degrading to them or whether sodomy is a subtle or even overt form of abusive submission. It may not be for some couples. For others intimacy is lost when one is pushed down or when one person faces away. In any case, I submit Christian couples need to keep the marriage bed pure and undefiled.
Never before have I been so forthright in such a public manner. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any other example of me talking forthrightly about sex. However, please spare me the faux-shock and outrage that has come in the backlash this week; mainly from those who bring us the shock-value Pride Parades pushing obscenities and vulgarities down our Main Streets in full view of our impressionable elementary kids.
[Sorry, I have turned the comments off on this post because I can’t keep up with the obscene ones that need deleting.]
There are a lot of “firsts” in the Bible, particularly in books like Genesis and Acts as they are books of beginnings. Bible scholars speak of the Law of First Mention to refer to the importance of paying close attention to the first mention of something in the Bible. The reason being, the very first time something is mentioned in the Bible we are usually given God’s original intention or pattern for it.
For example, in Genesis we find the first marriage– one man, one woman, for one life –as God’s pattern for that institution. We also find the first murder and God’s first punishment for that crime.
It’s interesting that God didn’t order Cain killed. In fact, his punishment was to be banished from society to spend his life away from the place of life God gave Adam and Eve.
It’s also interesting Cain replied: “My punishment is more than I can bear” Genesis 4:13). Putting our worst offenders out of their misery is less excruciating than decades of life in a small cell.
It’s also interesting that God marked Cain. He wasn’t allowed to blend back in but he’d forever bear stigma and separation because of his horrific deed.
It’s also interesting how God basically said to the rest of society… don’t anyone lay a finger on him: “...if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over” (Genesis 4:15).
Apparently God wants us to leave the vengeance up to Him.
In my current efforts to lead a repeal of the death penalty in South Dakota, Christian friends quickly bring up Romans 13:4 to make a case that God is pro-death penalty. (I’ve laid out a larger Biblical and theological case against the death penalty here.)
Romans 13:1-4 has long caused Christians to squirm because it teaches that God is the one who sets guys like Nero and Hitler in power. However, it doesn’t say God agrees with their governing philosophies. And, it does not say God agrees with the death penalty, only that he gives secular governments the authority to use it.
In Romans 13:4 Paul was writing to believers in Rome saying they need to revere Roman authority as God gives governments even the authority of the sword. He was not telling Christians that they are justified to forsake the mercy path when they one day get in power. Why then are so many Christians today defending the values of the Romans and the ethics of Nero?
Shouldn’t governments in the Christian corners of the world be based on the ethics of Jesus instead of the ethics of Nero? It’s amazing to me how much weight Christians today give Romans 13:4. Somehow it outweighs fifty verses from Jesus on showing mercy. Even so, these verses are not in conflict.
I’m for a government that is more like Christ than Rome. Whichever government we happen to live under we are to live in submission to it, that’s the point of Romans 13:4. The leaven of the kingdom (the ethics of Jesus) should permeate society and government eventually and if we don’t contend for that now, when will we start?
We know what incarceration looks like under the value system of Islam and Sharia Law. However, what should incarceration look like in the Christian corners of the world?
Real prison reform happens when we view prisons as places of reform (and redemption) not retribution. Once behind bars what if we did more than punish their depravity? What if we introduced them to their dignity?
My friend Bob Smietana wrote this article in USA Today called Pastors Seek To End War On Drugs By Decriminalizing Use. Basically, Rev. Edwin Sanders pastor of Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville and other clergy are wanting to decriminalize drug use. The article ends with this comment from Pastor Sanders:
“God does not care if you smoke weed…. God is not that petty.”
The comment raises an interesting question: Is God petty?
Well,,, if he’s not, then he’s not HOLY. I know what God says about obeying laws. I know he knows better than we do that there are more negatives for society than positives with pot. For sure what’s best for society comes before what’s best for any individual. We know what God would say about coming under the influence of anything but the Holy Spirit. I can’t imagine God saying it’s ok to get high. If that makes him petty, sorry.
My sense is that a glimpse at the holiness of God would reveal many things we presently think are no big deal. It’s a false grace message to say God only cares about the big sins and that you are ok with him as you are. The Cross was too severe and unnecessary if God isn’t petty. Is your wife being petty because she won’t let you whistle at other women?
Here is another chart from me relating to the theme of persecution and martyrdom. These realities have been my focus this season of Lent in my Martyrs Guide to Life message series. Earlier charts included The Skyrocketing Cost of Discipleship and the Degrees of Persecution.
To be in the clutches of something is to be in the grip or hold of something; a strong clasp, tight and sudden. This word describes the last week in the earthly life of Jesus… “the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men” (Matthew 17:22).
Reading the last week of the earthly life of Jesus, an analogy occurred to me to help illustrate Jesus in the clutches of persecution. For three years he had slipped through various clutches but the last week he succumbed to them. Think of the chuck of a typical household power drill. The chuck is basically a clutching mechanism comprised of three hardened steel jaws held by a tightening sleeve or collar. When you turn and tighten the collar/sleeve, teeth turn a spiral scrolling gear which self center each jaw together equally and mercilessly around a drill bit.
The three jaws which gripped Jesus were; 1) the whims of people, 2) the religists or religious rulers of the day, and 3) the secular authorities. Knowing that ultimately our battle is not against flesh and blood, the surrounding sleeve or tightening collar relates to evil principalities in heavenly places which were orchestrating all these hostilities toward Jesus.
Here’s a key point: as intense as the clutches of persecution are, notice the entire tool is in the hands of the Lord and he is using it for his purposes. He is building something even when it seems the adversary is tearing it all down.
When I read the last week of the life of Jesus I don’t read any panic at what the devil is doing. I get a strong sense of resolve in what God is doing. The persecuted derive stamina from the perspective of sovereignty. It may feel like and appear that we have been snatched into the merciless hands of others. However, even in persecution, God does not let hold of us.