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Stanley Hauerwas is on a short list of the people I most admire. Of recent it has been my fortune to interact with and come to know personally this ‘leading theologian of our time’ since he served as Chair in Theological Ethics here at the University of Aberdeen (2014-2016). He has been a forerunner in areas I believe to be vital considerations for the contemporary church and his positive and shaping influence on my theological work will long continue. He has been a voice in the wilderness crying. My growing Hauerwas book and essay collection is now well-marked and in him I’d say I have found a kindred spirit. All that said, I intend to be forthright in my assessment of what I deem to be the worst thing I’ve read that he’s written.

Many times those of us who have been in face to face conversation with Stanley have heard him share his thoughts on something theological and then ask the question; Do you think that’s right? Hauerwas believes theology is done best in conversation, with friends. My friendship with him is more important to me than what I’ve written here. He knows I see myself as a work in progress and am willing to change my mind. I’ve come around in a major way to his views on war and peace.

Basically I’m responding here to his thoughts in his essay (A Sanctuary Politics: The Church in the Time of Trump) and saying, No, I don’t think that’s right.

My essay is in pdf form here: What is Truth in an Age of CNN?

In case you wonder, Stanley says my response here is the best defence of Trump he’s read to date. Perhaps he’ll say more later but so far he deems the most significant point of disagreement to be my use of the word “invasion” and that “the logic of [my] piece may be Constantinian in a manner [he] tries to stay away from.  He rightly challenges me to consider how Muslim migrations in our day can be conceived as a “godsend” and he reminds me “US foreign policy created the terrorist.”

We believe everything they tell us 
They’re gonna’ kill us 
So we gotta’ kill them first 
But I remember a commandment 
Thou shalt not kill 
How much is that solider’s life worth? 
And what ever happened to peace on earth?
– Willie Nelson

Don’t scoff that away. It is actually sensical.

Weapons don’t cause war, Governments do. And more precisely, what is ultimately behind war are the Jacobin political philosophies (including neo-conservativism today) which mask the real culprits: the shadow oligarchy driven by greed and imperial obsessions.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how it is those who most oppose gun control measures in America are adamant about the disarmament of other nations? Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

“The incitement to perpetual war has been achieved without any real threat to our national security” said Ron Paul.

That would be…… true.

Yesterday in the headlines I read that though we have the “mother of all bombs,” Russia was quick to boast that they have the “father of all bombs.” It’s like a couple of intoxicated and hormonal frat boys arguing about who has the greater measure of manhood. The one unzipped, so the other did as well. The Lord of Hosts who measures all things is hardly impressed. What do you suppose impresses our Lord about a nation? What commands did Jesus say we had to keep to be considered great in the Kingdom of Heaven? Hint: enemy love.

The beating of war drums, the rationalisations and war propaganda, the things we tell ourselves must be true…. it’s the work of a high-ranking demonic spirit assigned to entice both sides of war to go with the crowds down the road that leads to destruction. Tolstoy used the word hypnotised to describe patriotic people caught up in war frenzy.

War is a political tool. That we must use force to promote American goodness in the world, peace and prosperity for all, is simple bullshit. It is a bold rejection of the way of Christ, nothing more. It’s a lie, and for the lie our sons/daughters, serving as slave-soldiers, die. And in far greater numbers do the precious children of others in the world, die.

My daughter’s 30 year old Syrian friend reports Syrian people don’t care about Assad, they just want to live without war. American Christians who post on Facebook how cool it is and good it is that we dropped the mother of all bombs need to realise, according to this Syrian friend, that military conscription requires Syrian young men to fight. So, our boys go to kill their boys who really don’t want to fight back, but have to – and those who are really behind the bloodshed are in luxury somewhere sipping their fine Gin, plotting the next move in their war games.

“... He said bullshit. I thought he was a minister?? It’s okay for soldiers to curse when they are doing ‘God’s work of war’ but ministers,,,, I thought were only supposed to pray for our soldiers and be sure to not forget to have Vets stand and be honoured in our churches on Veterans and Memorial Day??

Question: what are we supposed to “pray for our soldiers”?? That they are safe, swift and successful in their work of creating widows and orphans in other parts of the world serving with their lives and sworn allegiance to do the dirty work whims of those who are hardly forthright with what they are really seeking to accomplish?? I thought true religion was to care for orphans and widows, not create more of them? Silly me.

Let China deal with North Korea this weekend. Let Russia deal with Syria.

Here’s my Easter hope for our supposedly Christian nation….

As for me and my nation, we will serve the Lord.

Translation: As for me and my nation, we won’t fight their wars.

 

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Is trophy hunting okay for a Christian?

No.

For starters I’ll share my journey as it relates to the ethics of killing anything. Since my dad was killed violently and then watching my mom go painfully slow, and after countless death notifications with the police department and s many hard funeral in my decades as a pastor, and considering my lung disease and facing my mortality, and studying the senseless loss of innocent life in all our various war-of-the-day, my view on killing changed. It was fuelled also by a desire to take the non-violence of the Sermon on the Mount serious – didn’t figure Jesus was offering it as a suggestion, or optional for extra credit.

Over time I lost a desire to kill anything. So I started to push back against violence in society where ever I could – fighting cage fighting in the legislature, and as many know I entirely changed my mind on the death penalty and came to believe we ought to teach our kids it’s never okay to kill. It will increasingly become a topic I comment on how this whole red-state, red-blood, red-meat, Cross yourself and pile’em high, ammo and Bibles thing in our churches really is so unChristlike. God comes to the aid of those who are weak in battle not those who trust in their chariots and horses.

These days I marvel at animal beauty and diversity and enjoy their personalities and all that prompts me to turn to the Creator of Life in gratitude and worship. Jesus said look at the birds because they will reveal something about God to you. He did not say shoot the birds. My increasing love for life in its most vulnerable forms changed my view of hunting too. I’m not against responsible hunting for you or others, just saying that personally, I’m done with it. But I have come out strongly against safari hunting and trophy hunting as anything ethically justifiable for a Christian.

Deuteronomy 22:6 revealed to me the concern God has for animals: “If you come across a bird nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on her young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young…. so that it may go well with you and you may live a long life.”

I began to note the capacity in animals to respond to God… “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths… [Praise the Lord] wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds…” Psalm 148:7, 10.

Small creatures and flying birds… like fox and pheasants? Note to self; that text is not one to pull out if asked again to give the breakfast devotional at the Fellowship of Christian Sportsman’s Pheasant Hunt.

A book also shifted my thinking on animal cruelty and animal misery and abuse in modern agriculture. It’s not some liberal PETA book. It was written by a Sarah Palin speechwriter. Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals and the Call to Mercy, Matthew Scully states: “Go to the largest livestock operation, search out the darkest and tiniest stall or pen, single out the filthiest, most forlorn little lamb or pig or calf, and that is one of God’s creatures you’re looking at, morally indistinguishable from your beloved Fluffy or Frisky.”

A longing in me to see God’s kingdom come on earth drew me to the passages that describe that time to come when we aren’t at odds with the animal world. I figure, why wait till then?? I’d think animals didn’t run away when Jesus walked by, shouldn’t they recognize Him in us when we walk by?…. “And in that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground; and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them lie down in safety. And I will betroth thee unto me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in justice, and in loving kindness, and in mercies.” Hosea 2:18-19

In his extensive Dogmatics on The Doctrine of Creation, Karl Barth reminded us God the Creator did not originally intend for animals to be our food; “Whether or not we find it practical or desirable, the diet assigned to men and beasts by God the Creator is vegetarian. This makes it clear that the supremacy given to man over animals is not one of life and death. Man does not enjoy any capital jurisdiction.”

Yes, that changed after the Flood, even after the Flood when killing animals for sacrifice and food was permitted, Barth contends “the prohibition of homicide and eating the blood of animals will be a reminder that the life of another being does not belong to other living beings but to God alone.” For Barth, “the introduction of capital jurisdiction between creature and creature, will not in any sense signify a kind of divine submission to creaturely degeneration.” In regards to the subsequent legitimisation of animal sacrifice, Barth says God now accepts “the surrender of the life of the animal for that of man” as “a substitutionary sign” in the “reconciliation thereby signified.”

David Clough writes: “…human beings may use their superfluity for food but should not wilfully destroy them; in relation to other animals, Barth says they can be killed only as a matter of necessity, and then as a sacrificial act with gratitude and repentance. In a modern context where few humans need to kill other creatures for food, this is a radical ethical stance.”

The reason I have all this handy is I have written on my love and regard for Animals in an essay elsewhere. Here are the opening lines of that essay….

Meet Gordon Howie. A visit to his United States Senate campaign website and you would first notice his campaign bumper sticker slogan; God, Guns & Gordon. Click on the tab for videos and up comes a god tube . com link to his video: “Take a World Hunting Tour With Gordon Howie.” The six and a half minute clip shows dozens of still photos of Gordon all over the world holding rifles or his bow, standing or kneeling, but always smiling next to the corpse of every conceivable animal one can legally shoot with a gun or a bow; deer, fox, coyote, rabbit, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, antelope, sables and roans, gazelles and African dik-diks, spiral-horned kudo, a half a dozen different bears, leopards, mountain lions, moose, plains buffalo, zebra, and various sub-Saharan wild boars.

An additional feature in the video is the background music of Gordon singing Christian country music songs, recording being another one of his pastimes, actually one of his ministries. The photos advance every three seconds and there are enough hunting pictures to require the entire audio of three of Gordon’s songs. While he sings “I’m going home to be with Jesus” the viewer sees dozens of animals who Gordon recently sent on ahead of him. It is not clear what putting a video compilation of decades of safari hunts on a campaign website is supposed to communicate about a political candidates’ philosophy of governance except perhaps it does communicate something of his understanding, or misunderstanding, of the dominion mandate of Genesis one.

Here is that video to which I’m referring:  Take a World Hunting Tour With Gordon Howie

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It is okay with Pastor Jeffries if governments more reflect the values of Genghis Khan than, say, Jesus.

12,000 member mega-church Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas doesn’t think the values of Jesus belong in the White House. Hear it yourself here or read it yourself here:

“But as far as his worldview, Trump’s worldview, you know… I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’ I said, ‘Heck no.’ I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation…. “Nowhere is government told to forgive those who wrong it. Nowhere is government told to turn the other cheek. Government is to be a strongman to protect its citizens against evildoers. When I’m looking for somebody who’s going to deal with ISIS and exterminate ISIS, I don’t care about that candidate’s tone or vocabulary. I want the meanest, toughest, son of a you-know-what I can find. And I believe that’s biblical.”

Oy.

Trump is as much a Christian as Obama, in my view. Regarding an issue very important to me, to all the other little people like me all over the world, and to Jesus, neither Obama or Trump are men of peace. Hillary has become a stunningly corrupt, bought and arrogant tool of those who give the world’s bad guys free weapons and the rest of us bloody war– the elites, Wall Streeters, globalists and central banksters who for centuries have made war to make more money.

Lance Wallnau made a comment recently that we should all think long and hard about; “Christ in you is the hope of glory, not Christ in the White House. What do you think, should we really give up hope on any sort of notion of a Christian (Christlike) nation? The Sermon on the Mount is what Christlikeness looks like.

My friends on the Christian Right (who BTW consider me a grand disappointment) have long been saying we need to elect people who represent “Biblical values.” Apparently we now learn from Pastor Jeffries those are not the values of Jesus. Apparently it is okay with Pastor Jeffries if governments more reflect the values of Genghis Khan than, say, Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount, he believes may work on a micro level but not in a macro application.

In Pastor Jeffrees re-reading of the infamous Sermon on the Mount he in so much imagines Jesus ascended the Mount to say: “These are some strategies that I commend to you for little matters. Honestly, for the more complex conflicts I have nothing for you in terms of heavenly wisdom or strategy so go ahead and ‘do unto them what they’ve do unto you’ and I’m okay with whatever response seems and feels right for you at the time. Not to worry, forgiveness comes easy with me, and grace cheap.”

When will the Christian Right wake up to how inconsistent they are in valuing all human life? Bombs away, Jesus love you!

Ya, ya, ya… here comes someone to remind me of Romans 13 (someone who apparently has never read Romans 12: if your enemy is hungry, feed him… overcome evil with good, etc).

How many times do I have to say this?… 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?

For those genuinely conflicted on the application of the Sermon on the Mount to anything beyond an individual Christian life I offer the following (which will soon appear in a book I’m now putting the finishing touches on: Tolstoy’s Novel Idea: Obey the Sermon on the Mount).

From chapter seven of my forthcoming book:

The two main interpretative questions for the Sermon on the Mount, again, are; Is it liveable? and; To whom is it for? Over the centuries, very few interpreters of the Sermon on the Mount have given the Sermon application beyond the individual believer. The contention is that the ethic was given to individuals, not to nation-states. Yet, Tolstoy challenged this entirely and sought to settle this centuries-old ambiguity with a simple appeal to the words Jesus actually used in Matthew 5:43-44 (and what they would have meant to his original hearers); “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies…” Tolstoy explained: [N]eighbour in the Hebrew language meant, invariably and exclusively, ‘a Hebrew.’” Considering the lengths he went to describe the thoroughness of his study of these words, that he seems to imply Jesus spoke this originally in Hebrew, not Aramaic, is peculiar. His justification may be it is the same word and meaning as in Luke 10:29 where the “neighbour” is a Samaritan– someone a Hebrew would have clearly not regarded as a neighbour. Finding the same meaning in Acts 7:27, his conclusion is “‘neighbour’ in Gospel language, means a compatriot, a person belonging to the same nationality. Therefore the antithesis used by Jesus in the citation, ‘love thy neighbour, hate thine enemy,’ must be in the distinction between the words ‘compatriot’ and ‘foreigner.’” Tolstoy contended his supposition was further confirmed when seeking the Jewish understanding of enemy. “The word enemy is nearly always employed in the Gospels in the sense, not of a personal enemy, but, in general, of a ‘hostile people.’”

Based on the words Jesus used, Tolstoy’s conclusion is that it is not possible that Jesus intended his teaching to be applicable only on the interpersonal level. Jesus never differentiated between loving a neighbour and loving a neighbouring nation. Tolstoy spoke of “the widening sphere of love” and believed a nation could be loved too….  Tolstoy believed obedience to the teachings of Jesus worked on both the micro and the macro level. Goodness on a small scale does not somehow become badness on a larger scale and he decried the notion that badness on a small scale could be construed as goodness on a larger scale…

Shalom.

Biblical text from the Gospel of Matthew found fused to metal from the World Trade Center wreckage at Ground Zero in Manhattan. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Biblical text from the Gospel of Matthew found fused to metal from the World Trade Center wreckage at Ground Zero in Manhattan. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Retraction and Correction – Page 228

Obtainable Expectations: Timely Exposition on the Sermon on the Mount

Please strike over and disregard the entirety of the second full paragraph on page 228 of my Sermon on the Mount book. It is rubbish I wrote in 2003. This book was written over of a couple decades and there are several places where I’d say things differently today. However, the issue I correct here is so central at the very the summit of the mount it cannot stand uncorrected. There is no section of the Bible like here at the summit of the mount (enemy love) where corporately, Christians contort themselves more to get out from underneath its demands. Here we come to the second of the two main issues of interpretation with regard to the Sermon on the Mount. The first being, is it liveable? Is it an obtainable standard? The entire thesis of this book is absolutely, it is liveable and obtainable. The second issue then becomes who is it for, an individual believer or also for Christian’s corporately, including nations seeking to adhere to Judeo-Christian values? If you want a more developed article on non-retaliation go to my essay: Love as a Foreign Policy: September 11 and Turning the Other Cheek (pdf alert, 11,000 words). One of the first questions I get on this is; what about self-defence, what about defending the nation?? This article is about retaliation and to whom the non-retaliation commandment applies. If that is not kept in mind one will misunderstand and misrepresent my argument. The following constitutes the corrections I wish to make in place of the disregarded paragraph.

_________________________________

Christians quickly hide behind Romans 13 arguing God gives governments the power of the sword. Romans 13 does say just that, except the passage does not say God agrees with and sanctions every pagan governments decided use of the sword. And most certainly, Paul was not telling Christians that they are justified to forsake the path of mercy and love if and when they one day assume positions of power. Why then are so many Christians today defending the values of pagan Romans and the ethics of Nero? Perhaps it should be the case that governments in the Christian sectors of the world are based more on the ethics of Jesus rather than on the ethics of Nero. It is remarkable how much weight Christians throughout the centuries have given to this eisegesis of Romans 13:4. Somehow it outweighs fifty verses from Jesus on showing mercy and love.

Retreating to a bifurcated interpretation of “turn the other cheek,” in that it applies to Christians interpersonally but not to Christians corporately and politically, is to entirely miss all that the Apostle Paul underscored in the chapter immediately before Romans 13, chapter twelve. Chapter 12 of Romans reads much like the Sermon on the Mount;  “Love must be sincere… Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Those were Paul’s instructions immediately prior to his Romans 13 statement on Christians living submissively under pagan governments (whom God has delegated the power of the sword). There is no caveat that they do not apply to the Christian later, if and when they find themselves in positions of power and political authority.

There is no caveat that these divine strategies of responding to hate and hurt with love and responding to evil with good only work on a small scale. My contention here is those who have been faithful and obedient in smaller situations can be entrusted with the same in larger situations. Jesus never differentiated between loving a neighbour and loving a neighbouring nation.** Effectually it is as if we believe Jesus said “These are some strategies that I commend to you for little matters. Honestly, for the more complex conflicts I have nothing for you in terms of heavenly wisdom or strategy so go ahead and ‘do unto them what they’ve do unto you’ and I’m okay with whatever response seems and feels right for you at the time. Not to worry, forgiveness comes easy with me, and grace cheap.”

**Leo Tolstoy settles this centuries-old, unnecessary uncertainty with a simple appeal to the words Jesus used and what they would have meant to his original hearers. “…[N]eighbour in the Hebrew language meant, invariably and exclusively, ‘a Hebrew.’” Considering the lengths he went to describe the thoroughness of his study of these words, that he seems to imply Jesus spoke this originally in Hebrew, not Aramaic, is peculiar. His justification may be it is the same word and meaning as in Luke 10:29 where the “neighbour” is a Samaritan– someone a Hebrew would have clearly not regarded as a neighbour. Finding the same meaning in Acts 7:27, his conclusion is “‘neighbour’ in Gospel language, means a compatriot, a person belonging to the same nationality…. And so the antithesis used by Jesus in the citation, ‘love thy neighbour, hate thine enemy,’ must be in the distinction between the words ‘compatriot’ and ‘foreigner.’” Tolstoy contended his supposition was further confirmed when seeking the Jewish understanding of enemy. “The word enemy is nearly always employed in the Gospels in the sense, not of a personal enemy, but, in general, of a ‘hostile people.’” His citations are Luke 1:71,74; Matthew 22, Mark 12:36 and Luke 20:43. Based on the words Jesus used, Tolstoy’s conclusion is that it is not possible that Jesus intended his teaching to be applicable only on the interpersonal level. [Source: Tolstoy, Leo. My Religion–What I Believe. (Guildford, UK: White Crow Productions Ltd, 2009 reprint of the 1884 text), 72.]

4/2016, SH

Stanley Hauerwas and Steve Hickey

Stanley Hauerwas and Steve Hickey

On March 11, 2016, here at the University of Aberdeen, I asked Stanley Hauerwas the question: What should turn the other cheek mean to a Christian President the morning after September 11? What follows is a verbatim transcript of my recording of his answer. Next week I will be publishing an essay entitled: Love as a Foreign Policy: Hauerwas, Elshtain and a Christ-like Response to September 11th. Part of Hauerwas’ comment below appears in my essay but I’m posting his entire statement here so it is out there for others to use. ______________________________________

Steve Hickey: What should turn the other cheek mean to a Christian President the morning after a September 11?

Stanley Hauerwas: And my answer is, how does a Christian ever get elected President of the United States? I mean I would assume that they would have been interrogated about what it means to turn the other cheek before they ever got to be president. And that would have made them– not ready candidates to be understood as people who would be ready to do anything to defend the American people. So the question itself already presupposes a Constantinian form of Christianity that I do not represent.

In terms of September 11, America is a country whose politics is fundamentally determined by September 11th. When September 11th occurred I said “this is the next fifty years and maybe longer than that” because Americans are determined to find a way to get out of life alive. And we think that if we have the strongest military that will be able to provide that result. And of course, it’s just bullshit.

And this would be kind of a Niebuhrian point…. One of the tensions within the American society is the disconnect between the morality necessary to sustain a serious military and the ethos of the American people. What was the fundamental thing that George Bush said a day after September 11?… what is the moral response of the American people to September 11th? “[Go out and] Shop.” So now you have the American military, which is an honour society, defending a social order whose deepest moral commitment is shopping. How do you do that?

And so those are the deeper questions I think that occur about how Christianity relates to American politics. Reinhold Niebuhr, his thought was committed to trying to figure out what it would look like if as a matter of fact America had a Christian Secretary of State and the primary implication is they have to be planning out how to kill as few as possible and that means you need to be smart in terms of how you act out of American self-interests. Niebuhr never called into question whether a Christian could be a Secretary of State. He wanted that.

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.


Dear [redacted],

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.

Sincerely,

Rev/Rep Steve Hickey (District 9, Sioux Falls)

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.

[See also: Romans 13:4, The Death Penalty and the Ethics of Nero]

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?

[See also: Cain, the Death Penalty and the Law of First Mention]

I love everything about Charles Spurgeon and have been a big fan for my entire ministry life. In fact, I’m related to him – five generations back. My great grandmother was a Spurgeon. So to cast him here in a negative light isn’t something I do lightly.

On Sunday September 5, 1855 this famous and very fruitful nineteenth century mega-church pastor, the one we call the Prince of Preachers, preached a message simply titled Election. In his third point he commented on Evolution which of course became very popular in his day…

Years ago we thought the beginning of the world was when Adam came upon it; but we discovered that thousands of years before that God was preparing chaotic matter to make it a fit abode for man, putting races of creatures upon it, who might die and leave behind the marks of his handiwork and marvelous skill, before he tried his hand on man.

Frankly, it baffles me that he said this because it so blatantly contradicts other passages I know he wouldn’t budge on. If indeed there were millions of years of extinction, death and killing before sin entered the world through Adam then all that is in Romans 5:12f about death entering the world through Adam becomes entirely false. Certainly Spurgeon wouldn’t toss aside Romans five to accommodate scientific theory with it’s fantastic speculations and faith-based impossible odds and so I’m left to think he didn’t think through the fact that without Genesis, there is no need for Jesus.

What if?

Here we had an opportunity for nineteenth century mega-churches and very popular ministers on both sides of the Atlantic to stand up and smack down an anti-god, anti-life ideology in it’s infancy. Who knows, they did influence many key men who did go on to shape the world, so what’s to say they wouldn’t have influenced a few key university founders and professors on this issue? Instead, Darwinism began to dominate and today Darwinism has resulted in many millions being exterminated and millions more turning from God entirely. Sadly, kids today are taught they are just the next accidental and random mutation in an unguided evolutionary process. Instead of a teaching a concern for the most vulnerable in society, we teach survival of the fittest as a fixed rule of life.

Why don’t big churches take on big issues? To some extent they do; poverty, clean water, human trafficking to name a few. But we are really selective with our salt and our light is notably intermittent. Issues like evolution, abortion and marriage are left alone. Or how about how violence in society is escalating? Why don’t big churches take on these big issues too? One reason is pastors fear their churches won’t be big for long if they venture into things controversial. Pastor, if this is your concern I’d ask what other passages are you avoiding so as to keep people in their seats? My story is that when I started speaking out on big issues my church grew – people today are looking for spiritual and moral leadership. There is an enormous moral leadership vacuum today and the truth is, someones worldview is going to shape this next generation, the only question is whose?

Losing more than we’ve saving

One of the concerns is that these issues are a diversion from the Gospel and our primary task of saving souls. However, think of how many millions have been killed by the tentacles of social Darwinism and its offshoot “favored race” eugenics fueling various atrocities and holocausts. Think of how many more millions are headed to hell because they’ve graduated our universities entirely secularized. Spurgeon spoke to an impressive 10,000 in his church week after week and many thousands were saved. However, because he and others like him did not take on this big issue it just may be that millions more were lost forever.

The Gospel is more than just getting people to heaven. The message of forgiveness of sin is just the door into the kingdom. And though Jesus said “my kingdom is not OF this world” his kingdom is absolutely IN this world. While pastors today are working hard to get people to heaven, Jesus is chompin’ at the bit to return to the earth. Heaven as we know it today is temporary, a place of rest and reward. However, we will be raised and return– we come back! –that’s the classic Christian Hope. Until then, Jesus taught us to pray on earth as it is in heaven. That means part of our task is to bring heaven’s culture and values to earth.

Do we believe the Bible speaks to all of life or don’t we?

Today, traditional values are being undermined and marriage and family are being re-defined… all on our watch. It’s not hate to love only what God loves and then champion it with boldness. Do we believe the Bible speaks to all of life or don’t we? The Bible has much to say about the economy, about devalued currency, about debt- borrower/lender nations, about working for what we eat as opposed to entitlement mentalities, about healthcare, care for the elderly, good and bad presidents/kings, immigration, crime, punishment, prisons and justice, the value of human life, fatherlessness, marriage, etc, etc. The Bible has a public and a private theology and we ought to preach more than messages pertaining to just our personal relationship with Jesus.

Pastors, I have a suggestion for a book to put on your summer reading list. It’s called A City on a Hill: How Sermons Changed the Course of American History. America does have a long history of pastors shaping the conversation. Don’t worry about the IRS, you can talk about any issue you want from the pulpit and you should. Pastor, are your sermons changing history?

There is lots of talk these days about people’s views on marriage evolving. We are fools if we think marriage evolution stops at gay marriage. If this is all evolving, who’s to say this or that can’t marry what or whom they love? When marriage becomes anything, it becomes nothing. Maybe preachers should look ahead prophetically at marriage evolution and what that means for society.

A Prophetic Preventative Role or a Pastoral Consoling Role?

Another hero of mine, Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said the task of the Church is not just to tend the victims run over by the wicked wheel of society, the task of the Church is to drive a spoke in the wheel itself. In trying to stop Hitler, he did that with his life. Today pastors need to decide if they are called to a prophetic and preventative role or merely a pastoral role tending victims wounds. Are we only called to comfort or are we called to confront cause factors? When our nation experiences a horrific shooting, pastors shift into comfort and consolation mode. Wouldn’t it be better to be preventative and prophetically decry violent movies, video games and violent sports like cage-fighting, or whatever else and use our influence to champion Sermon on the Mount non-violence?

America had a prophetic voice like Amos in Martin Luther King Jr.. America today needs an Amos! “When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it?” (3:6)  “I withheld rain… struck your fields and vineyards…  sent plagues… yet you have not returned to me…” People today wonder what the heck is going on. We need to do more than just rightly divide the Word, we need to rightly interpreting the times. America needs an Amos who can rightly interpret the times, prophetically.

This summer I’m ramping up for a series I’m calling Hot Potatoes. Week after week the plan is to talk about a variety of issues most churches won’t touch with a ten foot pole. Stay tuned for more on that series.

We have an execution in our city today and I made some comments on that yesterday in church and repeated them again this morning on a blog in our state. I thought I’d post them here as well.  Both Catholic Bishops in our state have issued a statement asking for a stay of execution. Here’s why I support the Governor’s decision execute Eric Roberts today. My comments are a reply to this article: Bloodlusters Justify Capital Punishment with Sloppy Relativism, Wishful Thinking.

Cory, I’ll give you some slack on this comment understanding from our previous interactions that the Bible isn’t a book you have much time for: “The only place God seems to say, “Go ahead, kill bad guys” is the Old Testament...”.

Actually, in Romans 13:1-5, it’s real clear that until Jesus returns, God has established our governing authorities as his agents, his instruments to punish the wrongdoer even to the extent of bearing the sword. That passage says the governing authorities are “God’s agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” These agents of God are deemed with the sobering responsibility of bringing justice – at least as much justice as is possible until he returns himself to right every wrong. If all that sounds harsh, consider that God ceases to be loving if he isn’t just. His love fuels his justice.

Another important text to consider on this somber day is Ecclesiastes 8:11 — “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of people are filled with schemes to do wrong.” That is referring to how, via the passage of time (endless appeals), compassion gets displaced, it gets shifted off the victim onto the murderer and when that happens justice is lost and that is wrong. That is why I support the Governor in his decision to execute justice today.

Another thing that is clear in the Bible is the difference between the shedding of judicially innocent blood and the shedding of judicially guilty blood. One is forbidden, the other is allowed but ONLY at the hands of these governing authorities. The doctrine of bloodguilt for the shedding of judicially innocent blood is throughout both the Old and the New Testaments.

How consistent are you willing to be in your abhorrence to the shedding of blood? Should a biological human being ever be executed for the crime of it’s father?

Today is a sad day. No one should be happy. I was thankful to read yesterday that Eric Roberts was spending today fasting and the paper said that is because he is a Christian. We were praying he’d get right with God while he still had time. No one goes to hell for anything they’ve done; even murder. That place of eternal separation from God is reserved only for those who reject his Son and his offer of forgiveness. According to the paper, it looks like Eric Roberts has made peace with God and will spend eternity with him. To people who’ve spent a lifetime being good this hardly seems fair but here again, goodness isn’t the ticket to eternity in paradise with God. Jesus the ticket. This parable comes to mind: Matthew 20:1-16. Even so, Eric Roberts making peace with God does not exempt him from reaping the consequences of what he has sown on earth. Apparently his last decision accepting Christ was his best decision and the most important one.

Another thing from a theological vantage point; the Bible teaches a first and a second death. Roberts faces the first death today; some of us face it earlier than others and for various reasons that relate to our own doing or due to unfortunate circumstances beyond our control. The second death, it appears, is not something Roberts will face as Jesus took that penalty for him. So today, we can thank God for that and should all reflect on our own standing before God.

Last week I was excited to get an advance copy of a new book written by my friends Randy and Kelsey Bohlender, The Spirit of Adoption: Winning the Battle for the Children.  The book is now in and can be ordered here.  A group study guide is in the works.

Randy and Kelsey have shared the adoption message a couple times in our church and each time they’ve come, people adopt more children, and people give lots of money for others to adopt more children. Kristen and I are delighted to see that they have taken the time to put, in book form, the anointing they walk in so strongly… the Spirit of Adoption.  They make the case that, as the positive alternative to abortion, “adoption is the next frontier for those who call themselves pro-life.” As a couple who has devoted years to contending for the plight of the unborn, the Bohlender’s have noticed… “while the church has been highly vocal in it’s opposition to abortion, it has largely failed to think about what it means if we get our way.”

If we overturned Roe v. Wade tomorrow, what would happen to those 4500 babies born each day?

The Bohlender’s are asking, will “the Church step up to the task of caring for the orphan, the cast off ones, the unwanted…. the harder question was would we?”  When Kristen and I first met Randy and Kelsey a few years ago, God did something in my heart… I had to repent of my increasingly frequent empty nest fantasies. (We have two kids lefts at home, a junior and a senior in high school.) Kristen and I enrolled in foster parenting that next fall and took an unwed mom and new baby into our home. I’m sure that’s just the beginning.

Lou Engle’s zeal for LIFE oozes in the foreword he wrote for this book.  He sets the book in the broader context of what God is doing raising up a new army of rescuers. He comments on how the Bohlender’s own adoption story is “off the charts.” That story is woven throughout the book and if you haven’t heard it yet it alone is worth the price of the book.

The Spirit of Adoption is a crash course in one of the central burdens God is laying on the church in this hour. The Bohlender’s make the case Biblically that the nearer we get to the end of the age – wars, earthquakes, and judgments that kill masses of people – “this will lead to a huge number of orphans wandering the face of the earth, looking for a home.”

Equally sobering are the chapters where the Bohlender’s alert us to the others that are vying for the unwanted children of the world – the sex trade and the homosexual community. The mandate of God for the church to step up to the plate comes through loud and clear in these pages. There is an open challenge here for lawyers, social workers, doctors, and others to join forces to make adoptions happen. The reality of the high cost of adoption, and not just the financial cost, is addressed.

And, those of you who still have no true grasp of the fact that YOU are adopted into God’s family will see that matter is settled in this book – the Great Finalization… “for you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.'” (Romans 8:14-15)

Randy blogs here and has a recent post on adoption here.  He and Kelsey founded the Zoe Foundation which promotes adoption as a positive alternative to abortion.  They have seven kids (3 adopted) and are intercessory missionaries at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City.

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