Biblical Gender Roles, Feminism, and Jerkhood

November 20, 2018 § 2 Comments

Our Creator gets to tell us exactly who we are. On the first page of the Bible, Genesis 1:27 declares two truths about who we are.

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.”

“The image of God” tells us how we are all the same. All human beings are of equal value. “Male and female” tells us how we are different. Half of us are gendered male and the other half female. We need both truths in order to think rightly, and act rightly, about gender today.

siblings-3315770_960_720BEING EQUAL YET DIFFERENT

Gender and sex used to mean basically the same thing, and some languages still only have one word for both. Ontologically, as most dictionaries will affirm, there is no critical difference between gender and sex (“the state of being male and female”) except as posited by those whose obsession with autonomy mandates a critical difference. The immutable and binary truth on this topic hasn’t been seriously challenged until recent history in an effort to separate gender (social and cultural roles and self-identity with respect to the state of being male and female) and sex (objective physical traits with respect to the state of being male and female). One of the contemporary challengers, representing a sexual libertarian worldview, is the New York Times, calling gender a “creative playing field.”(1) A biblical worldview says that gender/sex was God’s creative playing field, and His work in the department is complete. If we understand this, we honor God, stay true to ourselves, and do a lot less harm to our neighbor.

Suppose a teacher asks her 4th grade class, “Aside from anatomy, what’s the difference between boys and girls?” (I saw this in a YouTube video meant to challenge gender stereotypes, but for the life of me I can’t find it now). The students, too young to have had a comprehensive biology course, give the teacher the answer she’s looking for by shrugging: “I guess nothing, really.” The conclusion: Anatomy doesn’t really matter. Maybe there’s really no significant difference between males and females after all.

sea-3572203_960_720But there’s glaring problem with the original question. Anatomy is too big of a thing to set aside. If we asked, “Aside from oceans, where do whales live?” we would come to find that without oceans there would be no whales, except for a handful at SeaWorld and the dead ones on beaches. Likewise, without anatomy, we don’t actually have a human being. Anatomy encompasses all that we are physically, and even those who consider human beings more than physical entities have to admit that we are not human without our bodies. In our anatomy, we see obvious differences beyond the basic reproductive differences we learn about in sex ed.

The human anatomy includes about 37 trillion cells, each encoded with information that denotes male or female. Female DNA have one pair of identical X chromosomes, whereas males have an X and a Y chromosome. You could say our anatomy declares what sex we are 37 trillion times.

Even our brains are binary. According to Stanford Medicine, we find “distinct anatomical differences in neural structures and accompanying physiological differences in function” in the brains of men and women(2).

Maybe the most obvious physical difference is overall size and strength. I will concede that there are women out there who can arm-wrestle me to ruin or completely lose me running the mile. But the exceptions prove the rule that the strongest man in the Olympics is stronger than the strongest female, and the fastest man at the Drake Relays will best the fastest woman.

So clearly, anatomy does matter in determining what is a boy and what is a girl. But what are the reasons for these physical differences between the sexes?

According to the Bible, male and female humans are designed to fulfill certain God-given roles. These roles are numerous, but I’ve chosen a handful that Jill Nelson explores in her “Your Word Is Truth” curriculum published by Truth:78(3). Men are uniquely designed to be servant-leaders, providers, and protectors. Women are uniquely designed to be helpers, submissive (yikes!) and nurturers.

BEING A MAN

In reading Genesis 2, we find that man was created first (vs. 5-7), that Adam’s first job was a gardener, and that God gave him a warning to not eat the forbidden fruit in order to protect him (vs. 15-17). In verses 19-21, we see that the first woman was not made the exact same way as man (Adam was formed from the dust of the earth, and woman was formed from man), and that the man named the woman (vs. 23).

adam-2023246_960_720So far, so what? There is a particular ordering in God’s creation here, but we only begin to see the significance of it after sin comes into the picture in Genesis 3. Eve was deceived by Satan and ate the forbidden fruit first, but then Adam followed. In verse 9, “the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?'” God didn’t forget about Eve, but God went straight to Adam because the man did not fulfill his God-given roles to lead, protect, and provide for his wife.

Romans 5:12 says that “sin entered the world through one man…” Eve did not escape sin’s consequences, but Adam’s role as the head of his wife meant that he bore a greater responsibility for rebelling against God. We can see how this works in other human relationships where authority is ordered. Young children get into trouble by their parents for stealing something at a store or borrowing the family car, but the law ultimately puts the responsibility for the crime on their parents. Soldiers who violate orders get reprimanded by their sergeant, but the sergeant will also answer to his superiors for the actions of his unit.

What does it mean for a man to be a leader?––Or better yet, a servant-leader? Scripture provides two specific arenas where men are to take the lead, but also be willing to serve. These two contexts are the church and their marriages.

In the church,an overseer” (or pastor or elder), “manages God’s household.” Titus 1:7-8 requires men who lead in the church “be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” The lead pastor at our church, who also serves as one of the elders, meets these qualifications. He leads, he pastors, and is also at times spotted taking the trash out after potlucks. Such tasks are not menial to a servant-leader.

In marriage, according to Ephesians 5, the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” The command for men: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (vs. 23-25) The “head of the wife” should also serve his wife and family as Jesus did, willingly making sacrifices of himself.

Neither of these passages describe men who are oppressive, mean bruisers who lord over women. Neither do they describe wimps who live and serve passively. Can women be leaders? Of course, and many are. Can women make independent decisions in a marriage? Yes, please. Men, however, are uniquely gifted by God to fulfill the role of servant-leader.

What does it mean for a man to be a provider? “Deadbeat dads” are fathers who are expected to provide for their family but choose not to. Deadbeat moms also exist, but because there is a greater expectation on men to provide for their families, men are in the spotlight when they don’t.

Many studies exist about depression and anxiety in unemployed men(4), but we really don’t hear about this problem among unemployed women. That’s not to say that women who lose their jobs are thrilled about it, but there is a higher expectation of men, and by men, for men to be able to provide for their families. The inability to fulfill that God-given role can tear a man apart (whether they realize it’s a God-given role or not, because bearing God’s likeness means we can’t help being like Him).

Can women provide for their families by themselves? Yes! Many do as single moms, either because they want to or because they are forced to, and they do it well. But men are uniquely gifted by God to be providers.

What does it mean for a man to be a protector? When there’s a crash downstairs in the middle of the night, who is expected to be the first one to determine if it’s a cat burglar or just the cat knocking around Christmas ornaments? We expect the husband to grab the baseball bat or 9 mil and investigate. When sister is being picked on, should brother stand idly by? The expectation is that he will rise to sister’s defense. Unless the husband is disabled or absent, or the brother is much younger, it’s hard to imagine those roles reversed.

ThousandOaksLet’s be clear, women can be protectors too. Poke the mama bear and you’ll see. Women serve in military and police forces, put out fires, and save lives in medical emergencies. But men protecting women as a primary role screams at us in certain situations. Take the recent shooting in Thousand Oaks, CA at Borderline Bar & Grill. Where 12 people were killed by one bad man, this tragedy revealed many good men instinctively being protectors. Men piled on top of women to shield them from bullets, men broke windows to provide a way of escape, and men used their own shirts for tourniquets to save the wounded. One man pulled his son outside and then lamented that he couldn’t go back into the building to help others. As Glen Stanton wrote in The Federalist, “This is the very opposite of misogyny, and dramatically so.”(5) Nobody had time to question the political-correctness of guys using their strength to protect nearby women, and no woman complained about it after the fact. These were men intuitively doing what God designed them to do.

Does any of this mean that men are more important than women? Not at all. Men are generally larger and physically stronger, which helps in fulfilling the above roles. But Genesis 1:27 tells us men and women are spiritual equals because we are all image-bearers and deemed worthy of God’s love and redemption. God, in His infinite wisdom, gave equally-valued males and females different roles. Godly men should embrace their unique roles and lead confidently, provide faithfully, and protect intuitively, with love and respect for women, and without the need to dominate them.

BEING A WOMAN

Eight times throughout the creation account in Genesis 1, God makes a point to call what He had made “good” or “very good.” Then in Genesis 2:18 we learn it was “not good for the man to be alone.” And God said, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” Enter Eve, the suitable “helper.”

What does it mean for a woman to be a helper? Eve helped Adam garden, but the scope of her help to him was no doubt life-size. In this intentionally complimentary relationship between the first man and woman, Eve helped Adam become complete. Men need women.

But the term “helper” in our day-to-day seems like an inferior or subservient position in relation to the one being helped. This is not a biblical position, however. The Hebrew term for “helper” (`ezer) is used in scripture some twenty times referring to God Himself (i.e. Psalm 121:1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help (`ezer) come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”) God is not inferior or subservient to us, so we shouldn’t think that woman is considered, biblically, to be inferior or subservient to man(6).

What does it mean for a woman to be submissive to man? This is a contentious issue today to say the least. “To be subject to their husbands” (Titus 2:5) is not a role that every woman is completely at ease with. Why is this so?

I will suggest that the reason we don’t like the idea of submission is not due to a problem with the idea of submission, but, we have a problem with the idea of submitting to men who are jerks. Would there be any reason a woman would not willingly yield to another’s authority or leadership if those charged to lead did so justly, honorably, courageously, respectfully, and in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7)—the way men are called to lead? Husbands can be less than perfect in this regard and wives are still called to submit, but it’s harder to do. Men should demonstrate to women everywhere that they can be trusted. Men, stop being jerks.

photo-1475609471617-0ef53b59cff5What does it mean for a women to be a nurturer? To nurture means to nourish, care for, encourage, comfort, teach and train. Seventy-six percent of teachers are female(7), perhaps because the best teachers are ones particularly gifted to nurture students into knowledge rather than simply presenting information. In a family, nobody nurtures like mom. In and out of the home, men can also nourish, care for, encourage, comfort, teach and train, but women are uniquely designed for this. The role of nurturer lines up and compliments man’s role as protector in the family. Children do best with a mother and father, in part because children do best when they are both nurtured and protected.

BEING JERKS (AND WHY WE HAVE FEMINISM)

Even as a conservative Christian, I’ve often thought that there are some redeeming qualities to feminism, at least in its origins. I think the reason some women became feminists was because there was a legitimate problem in society. We have feminism largely because we have misogyny and sexism. Historically, and today, too many men have abused, sexually harassed, unfairly discriminated and oppressed women. Instead of being faithful to their God-given roles as servant-leaders, providers, and protectors, men in positions of power over women have abused that authority. Men who are physically stronger than women have over-powered them and treated them as objects of conquest, and this is despicable. As previously noted, we have been jerks.

For all its good intentions to address the problem, however, postmodern feminism in general is an over-correction. It’s me, whenever I’m playing a video game where I’m racing a car; I hit one wall, then oversteer to the other side of the track and hit the other wall. I can’t keep the car on the road. Feminism sees men nefariously taking advantage of differences between men and women and then jerks the wheel to the other extreme, pretending there are no significant differences between men and women. That’s not right either.

BEING BETTER

Gender has been in crisis for some time. Getting back on the road means getting back to the blueprint of God’s word. I see the bulk of responsibility resting on men to take the lead in fixing things. If men lived out their roles as servant-leaders, providers and protectors, we would not have misogyny and sexism, and we would not need feminism, which would make it a lot easier for women to commit to their roles as submissive helpers and nurturers.

God is our designer and definer, and His plan is always the best. As human beings who bear God’s image, we are all equal in value and as recipients of His salvation through Christ Jesus, joint heirs in the gracious gift of life(8). As for our wonderful and God-honoring distinctions, women being feminine (instead of feminists) and men being masculine (instead of jerks) means living according to our God-given roles together. Clearly, we need each other, and we need God’s word to know who we are.

1) Hoffman, Jan (2009, Nov. 6). Can a Boy Wear a Skirt to School? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/fashion/08cross.html
2) Goldman, Bruce (Spring 2017). Two Minds: The Cognitive Differences Between Men and Women. Retrieved from https://stanmed.stanford.edu/2017spring/how-mens-and-womens-brains-are-different.html
3) Nelson, Jill (2010). Your Word is Truth: A Study for Youth Seeing All of Life Through the Truth of Scripture. Retrieved from http://www.childrendesiringgod.org/curriculum/curricula.php?id=23&curriculaId=8
4) Eales, MJ (1988, Nov.). Depression and Anxiety in Unemployed Men. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3270836
5) Stanton, Glenn T. (2018, No. 12). In Thousand Oaks, Scores Of Heroic Men Rescued Others From One Evil Man. Retrieved from https://thefederalist.com/2018/11/12/thousand-oaks-scores-heroic-men-rescued-others-one-evil-man
6) Eldredge, Stasi (2017, Dec. 19). God is Our Ezer. Retrieved from https://www.ransomedheart.com/daily-reading/god-our-ezer
7) National Center for Education Statistics (2018) NCES Fast Facts: Teacher Trends. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=28
8) 1 Peter 3:7 NIV
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Basic (Biblical) Human Rights

February 4, 2018 § Leave a comment

Rights handsIf you’re reading this and you’re human, you have rights. In fact, we seem to have certain inherent rights simply because we’re human. These fundamental human rights are different than civil rights, which are established by governments in something like the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. But in general, civil rights are informed by our understanding of human rights.

Regardless of religious belief, there is wide general agreement over the existence of basic human rights. Our nations’ founders argued for them on Biblical principals, asserting in the Declaration of Independence, that equally and self-evidentially, all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…” Not everyone shares this view of the origin and source of our rights.

Does the Bible inform us about basic human rights? The message of the Gospel begins with the revelation that all have sinned and fall short of God’s standard, rightly deserving eternal separation from God (Romans 3:23). It’s only by God’s mercy and grace and our humble turning to Jesus Christ in faith that we are saved—“not of yourselves lest anyone should boast.” Can we boast about rights? And what, if anything, does the Bible say about them? We won’t find a list of human rights in Scripture, but such rights can be inferred and even identified rather specifically by taking a closer look at:

1) how we are created, and
2) how we are commanded to treat our neighbor.

We can also discover that what many claim in today’s culture to be human rights are most certainly not.

HOW WE ARE CREATED

“…among these are Life…” 

God’s word tells us from the beginning that all human beings are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and that God breathed life into Adam and he became a living being (Genesis 2:7). Since God gave us life, it’s reasonable to assume that we have a right to live it.

“…Liberty…” 

God also gave mankind a free will, the faculties to make choices, so we have a right to make choices—good vs. evil, true vs. false, God’s desires or our own desires, etc. God wants us to choose Him (Deuteronomy 30:19), but He doesn’t force us to believe in or trust Him, or to make any other particular choice. We have the liberty to think and act at our own discretion.

“…and the Pursuit of Happiness….

God directed the first humans to be fruitful and multiply, to fill and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:29). This is more than a directive to have babies, but to flourish—set up communities and governments and seek fulfillment in relationships, productivity, and satisfaction in the course of living a purposeful life. So it isn’t too difficult to find a Scriptural basis for the three rights Jefferson penned in the endowments God gave humans.

HOW WE ARE COMMANDED TO TREAT OTHERS

Moral obligations, our God-given sense of right and wrong, can also be grounded scripturally in the law of God written on our hearts (Romans 2:15 and Hebrews 10:16). But moral law deals with the good we are obligated to do, not rights that we have.

As image-bearers of a moral God, all human beings are endowed with moral truth we can’t NOT know.(1) While the reality of “Natural Law,” our basic moral intuition, doesn’t need to be informed by God’s word, He has nonetheless revealed in it detail about what is right and wrong. For most moral obligations, there is a moral agent obligated to some duty, and there is another agent who is a recipient or object of that obligation. Some duties are to God, and some are to other people.

The key to understanding human rights is considering the latter—moral obligations to our fellow man. Wherever God expects a certain kind of treatment toward others, He likewise expects others to receive that treatment. To be clear, any favor sinful humans receive on earth is part of God’s grace, but it’s also a logical necessity that if good is given by one, it’s received by another. Since moral law applies to all human beings equally, all human beings are also equal recipients and therefore have the same “right” to receive it.

The Ten Commandments given to Moses at Sinai (Exodus 20:7-17 or Deuteronomy 5:7-21) are a good example of God detailing His moral law. The first four commandments list obligations in our relationship to God, so they don’t lead to human rights. As Creator of everything, God has all rights that don’t contradict His character. The last five, however, deal with our relationship to other people, and this is where we will find the most obvious picture of human rights.

“Do not murder” prohibits anyone from unjustifiably killing anyone else. As a result, on the other side of it, everyone has the right to not be unjustifiably killed. This evidences the basic human right we all have to value, preserve and defend human life, and I would include in that the inherent dignity that comes with being made in God’s image.

“You shall not commit adultery” means we are obligated to keep sexual activity within our marriage and to abstain if we are single. The people we are forbidden to pursue sexually consequently have the right to not be violated in this way. It also seems those in the marriage have a right to protect the fidelity of the marriage—but of course that right would be limited to those who are married.

“You shall not steal” means that not only are we required to respect the property of others, but that everyone has the right to own things and not have those things stolen from them.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” implies that anyone we might lie to has a right to the truth and to be dealt with honestly. This takes a high view of transparency and availability of truthful information to everyone, usually promoted in the context of government(2), but everyone at least claims to value truth.

The tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, or property,” does NOT actually lead to a human right because following or not following the command doesn’t directly affect another person. My unhealthy desire to possess something that belongs to my neighbor ultimately affects me, not my neighbor—unless that desire leads to actual theft or adultery.

I skipped the sixth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” because, while everyone has parents, not everyone is a parent, so the right to receive honor is limited to fathers and mothers—and even then, the honor due is from their own children. Since it isn’t equal or universal in scope, I wouldn’t consider this determinate of a basic human right (rights we have simply because we’re human).

So from the last four commandments, basic human rights—rights God apparently wants all people to have—include the right to life, dignity, sexual integrity, personal property, and honesty.

In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus summarized the principals of the Ten Commandments this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” summarizing the first six, and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” summarizing the last four. Jesus came “not to abolish, but to fulfill” the law (Matthew 5:17), and He took the Old Testament commandments further. For example, in verses 21-22 of Matthew 5, He says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment…”. Jesus equates hatred to murder because the hater essentially wishes death for his neighbor. But this magnifies for us the severity of our sin against God, even sins of the heart against other people. Without the outward result of a murder victim, this doesn’t seem to magnify any rights on our behalf.

This wasn’t a new command, of course. The murder-in-the-heart concept and summary of the commandments regarding our neighbor appear way back in Leviticus 19: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart… You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In context, this passage actually details a lot of practical ways we are to “love” our neighbor that result in basic human rights.

• In verse 9, “gleanings of your harvest… leave…for the poor and the stranger” implies a right to charity.
• In verse 10, “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another” implies a right to honesty.
• In verse 13, “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning” implies a right to civility.
• In verse 14, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind…” implies a right to decency in our weaknesses.
• In verse 15, “You shall do no injustice in court” implies a right to justice.
• In verse 15, “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” implies a right to fairness and impartiality.
• In verse 16, “You shall not go around as a slanderer” implies the right to verbal respect.
• In verse 16, “you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor” implies a right to life.
• In verse 17, “You shall not hate” implies a right to not be hated.
• In verse 18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge” implies a right to not be a target of revenge.

And we are required to do the opposite of these things: “…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

How do we love ourselves? We preserve our own life and do things that generally promote our own health and dignity. We seek freedom and happiness and fulfillment. We desire truth and justice. Given how we treat ourselves, we have a rule so true it’s considered golden: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:31). This seems to mean we have a basic human right to be treated in such a way that preserves life, dignity, personal freedom, the pursuit of happiness, fulfillment, truth and justice. In the prohibition of evil, we have a right to freedom from general tyranny and injustice.

Mutual respect for our human rights is of course not guaranteed. The presence of sin in the world virtually guarantees that all of us at some point will see our own rights violated to some extent. This doesn’t escape God’s notice or control, and our duty in those cases is to humbly submit to a righteous and just God who is never absent in trials. But in a general sense, these rights seem to be what God in His grace desires for all human beings to maintain in our dealings with one another. In a sense they mark a standard by which God distinguishes justice from tyranny.

HUMAN RIGHTS THAT ARE SO NOT

Seventy years ago, the United Nations drafted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, listing 30 basic rights for all people of every nation(3). Most can be grounded in the same Biblical foundations. But after looking at what God desires for us to give and receive, we can assess our culture’s claims of what specific human rights are and see if they pass the test.

Sometimes you’ll hear that abortion is a basic human right. The UN Human Rights Commission has wrongly ruled that it is. Based on a particular case in Peru where a hospital refused to terminate a pregnancy that threatened the life of the mother, the Commission declared that human beings have the right to an abortion in any situation.(4) Ironically, the UN puts it this way: “States parties must liberalize restrictive abortion legislation to realize women’s right to life.”(5) Scripture eliminates such confusion by affirming the right to life for all human beings, including the unborn (Psalm 139:13-15, Jeremiah 1:5). Since human beings are revealed in God’s word and affirmed by honest science and logic to be fully human from conception, “You shall not murder” means the unborn also have a right to life, and the absence of any form of the command “You shall abort unwanted pregnancies” excludes the possibility of a right to abortion.

The right to die, as in a right to assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia, has been proffered as a fundamental right everyone should have. This notion fails the same test as abortion. Every human being is an image-bearer of our Creator with intrinsic value and dignity, and furthermore we are not our own. We belong to God. Death, though nothing to be feared for the Christian, is still the enemy and a result of sin in the world. If we are forbidden by God to kill others without justification, we are also forbidden to kill ourselves. Therefore self-inflicted death, as a right, is also wrong.

The right to marriage equality is perhaps the most confused proposition in our modern times. First, marriage by definition is something scripture defines and human history affirms as the union of a man and a woman. LGBT advocates of “marriage equality” aren’t really demanding the right to marriage, but a very different kind of relationship. Second, given the above truth, marriage equality already exists in the reality that everyone is already free to marry any non-relative of the opposite sex they choose. Same-sex couples can’t constitute a marriage any more than a circle can be square. Third, marriage in the traditional sense is arguably not even a human right. God created it but has not required it for everyone, so marriage doesn’t quit fit in this category.

There are others of course, but in these 3 we can at least see how God’s created order and His commands reveal that some “rights” are so called simply because people just really wish they had rights to do certain things.

CONCLUSION

From the Bible we can humbly but confidently find a foundation for human rights rooted in freedoms granted at creation and the desired outcomes from God’s commands for how we treat our neighbors. God gave us life, free will, and freedom to flourish, so we have a right to exercise those. God wants us to love our neighbor, so they have a right to receive that love in a variety of ways.

Notice that God clearly presents love as a command, and not expressly as a right. While we can justify human rights Biblically, our first thought should be to choose the freedom God’s one and only Son offers, and to be the obedient giver of the good that God desires others to receive. Micah 6:8 declares that “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Our rights do include justice, but our salvation depends on God’s mercy and our humble trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Incidentally, we also have a basic human right to choose to follow Him, the most important one we could exercise.

1) What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide (J. Budziszewski)
http://www.undergroundthomist.org/book/what-we-cant-not-know-a-guide
2) Rule of Law – Right to the Truth (UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner)
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/RuleOfLaw/Pages/RightToTheTruth.aspx
3) United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights
http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights
4) United Nations Committee Affirms Abortion as a Human Right (HuffPost)
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-a-grimes/united-nations-committee-affirms-abortion-as-a-human-right_b_9020806.html
5) OHCHR Center for Reproductive Rights
goo.gl/JSgPgg

An Open Bible is a Living and Active One

January 25, 2018 § Leave a comment

Note that the Bible in the photo chosen for this story(1) is in a glass case. In secular academia, Scripture rarely gets opened outside of a display. Even in the church, it’s opened far too seldom.

To a culture largely suffering from Biblical illiteracy, The Des Moines Register reports that a new “bill would add ‘Bible literacy’ class to Iowa public schools”. This would be an elective course that gives “students the opportunity to study the Bible from the perspective of its impact on history and culture,” and not a Bible study designed to preach or proselytize. Even so, the opponents are predicable, including the ACLU and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, which calls the bill “an extreme piece of legislation.”

Honestly, any Christian should be excited for the possibility that even in an academic course on the Bible and its influence on the world, truth-seeking students might just find themselves among the influenced. We can play by the rules of American Pluralism and still have confidence that God can speak through any opportunity His Word is opened.

The Lord reminded His prophet of this long ago: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10,11)

1) https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/education/2018/01/18/bill-would-add-bible-literacy-class-iowa-public-schools/1044057001/

Who We Are Instead

August 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

The Bible’s antidote for racism (and other bad ideas)

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The defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 signaled the end of Adolf Hitler’s poisonous ideas about “superior” and “inferior races” of humanity. But the recent displays of white nationalism resurging from relative dormancy in Charlottesville, Virginia remind us that evil persists in a fallen world. In America, we can’t put our own racist history to rest when it’s still so pervasive in our culture.

In the Bible we read about divisions of race and ethnicity, Jews and Gentiles, about women and children often viewed as property, and the enslavement of foreigners and those viewed as inferior. None of this was part of God’s good creation. While Scripture describes racism, sexism, and supremacism, it prescribes a solution through understanding who we really are.

First, we are all one race: mankind. All human beings are descendants of Adam and Eve (who, contrary to popular depictions, were likely not white). Genetically or taxonomically, there are no differences that provide a rational basis for ranking people by physical characteristics like skin color.

Secondly, we are all image-bearers of our Creator. As descendants of Adam and Eve, every human being—man, woman, child-—is made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27) and therefore equal in inherent dignity and value. By Genesis 3, Adam and Eve had sinned, and it wasn’t long before racial discrimination was conceived as sin spread to all mankind.

Thirdly, and consequently, we are all sinners for whom Christ died. Because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we have more in common than we like to admit. But the good news is that God loves us all so much that He sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sin, so that through faith in Christ we are saved (John 3:16). This offer is available to everyone. From God’s perspective, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Far from condoning racism, the Bible is an invitation to freedom for those Romans 6 describes as “slaves to sin.” From liberating Israel from Egyptian bondage (Exodus) to Paul’s message that it is “for freedom that Christ has set us free…” (Galatians 5:1), God is clearly for freedom and equality and against sinful notions of human superiority and inferiority.

“Monkeys are superior to men in this: when a monkey looks into a mirror, he sees a monkey.” (Malcolm de Chazal)

Racial differences are artificial, idealized by people seeking to control other people. If we choose to see ourselves and our neighbors as God sees us—one beloved yet fallen race of God’s image-bearers for whom Christ died to redeem—we can see there is no room for racism and a lot more room for love.

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14)

(Related post: Why Racism Shouldn’t Exist)

Jack Be Nimble: Thinking About The View, Worldview & Just Baking the Cake

July 14, 2017 § 2 Comments

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Toward the end of a bike trail in Colorado Springs, I came upon an unexpected hill. During the exhausting climb, I noticed two women had set up a table displaying free Jehovah’s Witness material partway up the hill. I took the opportunity to stop and have a wonderful, Gospel-centered conversation with them—in my head 2 minutes after I rode past. I have also had great evangelical encounters with various atheists and agnostics, unfortunately many more in my head than in real life.

I’m not an extrovert, so a witnessing encounter (and robust social engagement in general) is not always easy for me. I recently have defended the deity of Christ in real-life conversation with some JWs at my house, so I had no particular fear of the two ladies on the hill—I just wasn’t about to stop in the middle of a hill (note to evangelists in public parks: set up at the top), and on top of that I had been-there-done-that with Watchtower propaganda. Maybe I should have at least stopped and said hello.

Have you ever had great talks with non-believers about Jesus in your head after you part company? Whether it’s because of nerves, or fear of rejection, or lack of confidence in your own knowledge of your faith, I think it’s probably a pretty common thing to pass up on these opportunities.

While we (and I mean ‘I’) need to set aside fear and rely on the Spirit of God to help in such situations, the mental conversations later (often occurring in the shower, for some odd reason) can serve as valuable training ground for the next real-life opportunity.

Here’s another conversation you didn’t have, but Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop near Denver, CO, did have with hosts on The View recently. On the spot, Jack actually did a very good job of defending his much-maligned decision not to design and  create a wedding cake for a gay couple, a case that the Supreme Court has now agreed to hear. Jack says that everyone is welcome in his store, but he won’t make a cake for every event. He calmly and consistently defended the Biblical view of marriage and his Constitutional right to live out his faith in the public square. He was joined by his lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, who also does a great job of clarifying the case and its implications for every American.

Since we can learn from this conversation, imagine if you were in that hotseat surrounded by liberal talkshow hosts-turned-theologians, under the lights and cameras and studio audience cued to applaud after each progressive talking point. If you could freeze frame life for a few minutes to think about your answer (in lieu of thinking about it after the show), how would you respond to these questions?

Relax, you’re not in Jack’s spotlight, but one day you may be in a different one with your family, neighbor, boss, or a judge. Take some time to watch the segment yourself here. Below are the main questions thrown at Jack, and while his answers were good for on-the-spot responses, I’ll offer answers from an apologetic perspective, being safely out of the spotlight with plenty of time to process.

WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE?

The theologian on the far right (her chair, not her political position) asked Jack: “If it violates your religious freedom to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple… do you then, when a straight couple comes in, do you ask them if they’ve had a child out of wedlock, if they’ve had premarital sex? Where do you draw the line, because those all could be deemed ‘sinful’ (she throws up her air quotes) to someone who’s religious as well.”

The only reason anyone talks about Jesus was because “sin” is a real thing and the whole reason He came. Jesus died to redeem us from sin by sacrificing Himself on the cross.

But the issue here is not the sins of the couple, but that Jack is being forced to in effect join in the artistic celebration of something against his religious beliefs and stamp his name on the entire project. The line is drawn exactly where he drew it. Jack’s concern is not over whether a couple is sinning in some way, but the consequences of compromising his beliefs by his participation in a same-sex wedding ceremony. If anything, the marriage of a man and woman who are already having sex has a redemptive aspect to it in that the couple would no longer be sinning sexually, and would be providing a stronger foundation for any child that resulted. But the reason Jack refused is because he objects to the event in question.

WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE?

The theologian in the chair to the left (our left) of the first theologian: “One thing that’s always confused me about this is that in the Bible it says many things if you read it, and I was raised in the church, and it says, you know, ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman,’ but also says, ‘Don’t judge others.’ We’re not the final judgment. It also says ‘love thy neighbor.’ There are a lot of messages in there. How do you reconcile in your own spirituality, which ones to go with? Because in my mind, whether you believe it or not, and you should definitely not marry a man… but if someone else does, it’s not my place to judge them because God will…”

“The Bible says not to judge” is a frequent declaration by cherry-pickers. It’s found in Matthew 7:1-5: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (NIV)

In context, Jesus is condemning hypocrisy (don’t point the finger of judgment at others if you’re doing the same thing yourself), not the discernment between right and wrong behavior. We know there is a correct way to judge, because Jesus tells a group of Pharisees in John 7:24 to “stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

So to the question, “How do you reconcile which message to ‘go with’?”, the answer is study. Approach the Bible as you would any other book you want to understand and practice sound exegesis rather than pulling bits of verses out of context. Read, rather than read into. When we do, well see that Jesus was both love and truth, and there is no contradiction between “judge rightly” and “love your neighbor.”

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?

The theologian to Jack’s right says, “I know that you’re a Christ-follower, and Jesus was even criticized by some of His followers for hanging out with the lowest of the low and the tax collectors and the sinners. Did you ever ask yourself, what would Jesus do in this particular situation? Instead of denying them, do you think Jesus would have said, ‘I don’t accept this, but I’m going to love you anyway?’ Do you think that would have had a more powerful testimony?” To which the theologian on the far left adds with conviction, “Jesus would have baked the cake!”

Jack rightly responds that Jesus would not bake the cake. We don’t have to guess what Jesus would say and do when we can read what He said and did. We know Jesus’ view of marriage from Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6, where He affirms God’s design for marriage from Genesis 1:27: “‘Haven’t you read… that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.'” (Mat. 19:4-6) 

Supposing Jesus would have said, “I don’t accept this, but I’m going to love you anyway” assumes that love doesn’t mean we tell others the truth. We, made in God’s image, often try to remake Jesus in our own image and imagine God as love but not truth (at least the truth we find inconvenient). But as Jesus displayed, He is both. Jesus indeed did share a table with sinners, and as Jack proves, you can sit at a table with those who believe very differently without them hating or suing each other. But by compromising our beliefs and joining in the celebration of an event that defies God’s design for marriage, we are not loving anyone, but rather propagating a lie. That is actually hateful.

JUST BAKE THE CAKE!

The conversation turns from theological to legal at this point, with Kristen politely shooting down a slippery slope argument and clarifying that an assault on Jack’s religious liberty affects everyone regardless of their belief. But not before the theologian 2nd from the left puts this challenge to Jack: “Lower courts have found that you’ve discriminated against this couple, but you’re taking this fight to the Supreme Court. Why not just bake the cake?”

It’s always easier for those without a certain deeply held conviction to suggest those who do simply give it up when the going gets rough. But that’s not how Christianity has ever worked. Still, it’s an appropriate question to consider while we aren’t on the spot, can we compromise on this front while loving God and neighbor? Are we prepared to answer, while we can have the conversation safely in our heads, before we will eventually be asked, “Why not just bake the cake?

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful…” (Hebrews 10:23)

Find God, Find Yourself

March 16, 2017 § 1 Comment

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From TIME Magazine: “This week’s TIME cover story, with exclusive data from GLAAD, explores a change taking hold in American culture. The piece explores how you-do-you young people are questioning the conventions that when it comes to gender and sexuality, there are only two options for each: male or female, gay or straight. Those aspects of identity — how one sees themselves as a man or woman, for instance, and who they are drawn to physically and romantically — are distinct but undergoing similar sea changes, as teenagers and 20-somethings reject notions of what society has told them about who they are supposed to be.”

What this article (‘Behind the TIME Cover Story: Beyond ‘He’ or ‘She”)(1) shows is that a generation is struggling to ground itself in any kind of firm identity, many opting instead to go wherever their feelings take them to search out an identity. Often we don’t like who we are, but I think the issue is more that we don’t know who we are. And we can’t truly know who we are unless we know who God is.

Objective truth can be grounded in the nature of God, but without belief in God or truth that is objective, absolute, or universal, we would have no reason to believe in something like the immutability of gender or sexuality. In fact, if truth were relative, what would it mean to finally decide who we are on our own? Any future conviction we may have about our identity would be just as subject to change as our current convictions. Facebook’s 60 options for a user’s gender are not nearly enough.

God’s word reveals that “God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” (Gen. 1:27) While God has no gender, it’s noteworthy that the completeness of the male and female complementarity came right along with forming mankind in His own likeness.

If nothing else, this tells us that male and female “binaries” are not merely “notions of what society has told them about who they are supposed to be.” This is our Creator telling us who we actually are and have always been.

The truth that we are God’s image-bearers, that He made us and loves us, justifies any notion of value or self-worth. If the God of the Bible does not exist, then we are likely accidental collisions of molecules. Do we matter then? Or are we just matter?

I met a high school student who had written YOU MATTER on both his own forearms with a pen. When I asked him about it, he said he’s not sure if he really believes he really matters, but seeing it there helps him through his depression. We only matter if God made us on purpose. This already depressed young man is in particular danger if he follows his atheism to its logical end.

Given the high degree of depression among the LGBTQ community, especially teens, and those with gender dysphoria, there is an accelerated danger in rejecting our Creator, His pattern for sex and gender, and trying to redefine both for ourselves.

We will never be fully satisfied in remaking ourselves in our own image because then we have idolized autonomy, choosing to live in “my reality” vs biological, historical, or spiritual reality. We’re told we can be whoever we want to be, but we need to start with who we actually are. A confused culture “in the throes of self-discovery” will not find its true identity until it finds God.

1) Steinmetz, Katy “Behind the TIME Cover Story-Gender and Sexuality: Beyond ‘He’ or ‘She’.” TIME Magazine 16 Mar. 2017. TIME.com Web. (Link: http://time.com/4703058/time-cover-story-beyond-he-or-she/)

Jesus’ “Original” Teachings

January 9, 2017 § Leave a comment

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The New York Times ran a story about Bart Campolo, son of evangelical icon Tony Campolo, headlined The Evangelical Scion Who Stopped Believing(1). Sadly, both men have gone off the theological rails, to different degrees. But noted in this article focused on Bart’s journey away from faith, both father and son preached an emphasis on what they considered the teachings of Jesus over the rest of God’s word. Bart preaches atheism these days, but back when he claimed to be a believer, his ministry had this in common with his dad’s. From the article:

“Bart’s father, Tony Campolo… founder of the ‘red-letter Christians’ movement, an effort to refocus evangelicals away from politics and back to the teachings (about poverty, love, charity) of Jesus, whose words are printed in red in many Bibles.”

“(Bart Campolo) was a role model for younger Christians looking to move beyond the culture wars over abortion or homosexuality and get back to Jesus’ original teachings.” 

There’s an increasingly popular idea that Christians engaging in culture wars, particularly about the issues mentioned above, have strayed from true Christian teaching. Theological liberals have suggested lesser credence be assigned to the Old Testament and the pastoral epistles, and a higher authority given to the words of Jesus in the four gospels. In essence, this invalidates the vast majority of scripture. If Jesus didnt say it, it doesn’t matter what the rest of scripture says about issues of homosexuality or the unborn.

So how should Christians think about contemporary issues in light of Scripture? First, are the words of Jesus in the Bible the most important parts of Scripture? Second, were “Jesus’ original teachings” unconcerned with issues like abortion or homosexuality?

Considering that Jesus often quoted many parts of the Old Testamant, and that “all scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), there is no cause to give the recorded dialog of Jesus greater authority than the rest of the Bible. Jesus didn’t, so we shouldn’t either. God didn’t put Jesus’ words in red; Louis Klopsch did in 1899 with the first printed red letter edition New Testament. To be clear, we haven’t actually printed the exact words spoken by Jesus. We have the gospel-writers’ inspired accounts of what Jesus said, which, in accordance with the practice of paraphrasing in the ancient world, vary in exact wording (yet are unified in the truth being spoken). So what red-letter Bibles are highlighting are not the exact words of Jesus anyway.

Jesus’ regard for the Old Testament scriptures and the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16 helps to answer the 2nd question: Are we right to think that Jesus didn’t condemn same-sex relationships or abortion, but His teachings were somehow different than the rest of the Bible?

In the first place, abortion and homosexuality were not in the cultural spotlight when Jesus engaged in ministry, so we shouldn’t expect to find Jesus dealing directly with those issues that Christians find themselves having to respond to today. But we know what Jesus thought about the value of human life and God’s plan for marriage because of what He affirmed from other scriptures.

In Matthew 19:4, Jesus uses Genesis 2:24 to affirm “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” Jesus’ affirmation of how God’s design for human sexual relationships (one man and one women given in marriage) simply leaves no room for other types of sexual relationships.

Jesus didn’t speak specifically of abortion either—or at least we don’t have a record of it. But we know His position on it. If asked, Jesus might have again referred back to Genesis, perhaps 1:27-28, words that would have carried as much authority as His own: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth…'” Other scriptures that teach of the value and personhood of the unborn (Exodus 21:22-23; Psalm 127:3,139:13-15, Jeremiah 1:5) would also have been regarded by Jesus as authoritative.

But don’t miss that we see from Scripture that God’s plan was for children to be born, not killed in the womb. God’s plan for marriage in Genesis 1 and 2 included the bearing and raising of children by a mother and father. God created us and He also created our fruitfulness, and neither should be destroyed. If we follow God’s plan for sexuality and parenting, then abortion should be a moot point. And God does desire us to follow that plan, which Jesus affirmed by continually doing His Father’s will (John 6:38).

There is no rational distinction or contradiction between “the original teachings of Jesus” and the rest of the Bible, whether printed in red or in black, because Jesus Himself stood firm on the scriptures written before Him.

1) Caserez, Damon. “The Evangelical Scion Who Stopped Believing” New York Times. The New York Times Company, 29 Dec, 2016 (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/magazine/the-evangelical-scion-who-stopped-believing.html)

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