California’s Latest Can Of Worms


Here in California the state assembly has recently passed AB2943, a bill that, should it pass the senate and be signed into law, will likely spark any number of law suits, which could end up in the Supreme Court.

Maybe that’s the best we California citizens can hope for.

The bill is designed to label as fraud, “conversion therapy” techniques, but the language is broad, meaning that it would not apply simply to licensed therapists: “This bill intends to make clear that sexual orientation change efforts are an unlawful practice under California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act.” (as quoted by The Federalist)

Because this bill is couched in terms regarding fraud, the key issue is the exchange of money:

These “sexual orientation change efforts” must occur in the context of a “transaction intended to result, or which results, in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer.” (Ibid.)

Books are “goods” and pastors make money. So do Christian schools and universities. Bibles are books as well. But there’s more:

According to the bill, it includes also “efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions.” Thus, any sale of a book that makes statements that homosexual practice or transgender identification are immoral actions that people ought not to commit falls easily under the purview of AB 2943. (Ibid.)

And the bill goes further. It declares illegal the advertise of these “fraudulent” activities:

Also prohibited by this bill is “advertising, offering for sale, or selling a financial product that is illegal.” Merely advertising (e.g., on one’s Facebook page or some other Internet site) or offering for sale (e.g., on a table at a conference, regardless of whether copies are sold) “a financial product” that advocates a change of attractions, behavior, or gender expression (Ibid.)

With such broad language, I don’t see how someone isn’t going to sue someone or accuse someone of breaking this law (should the senate pass it and the governor sign it). But undoubtedly any attempt to do so will be challenged as unconstitutional because of the First Amendment protections of both free speech and freedom of religion.

I really never thought I would see these freedoms come under fire in such a blatant way in America. I suppose the Senate might still reject the bill, but in our liberal dominated state, the assembly passed it by a vote of 50-18.

Of course the early cry for the bill supporters is that opponents are exaggerating the effects the bill would have, should it become law. Factcheck has declared that the Bible is not in danger of being banned, should the bill pass. But a publication such as the National Review concludes otherwise: “Yes, California Is on the Verge of Banning Some Christian Books, Here’s How.”

Because of this bill one group from Colorado that apparently holds annual conventions in California, has canceled those events. The idea is that they have speakers who believe in marriage between one man and one woman, and they don’t want to come to California and get sued.

“Our speakers are leading Christian experts who base their presentations on theology, as well as sociology, psychology and science,” Summit President Jeff Myers said in a statement. “But the wording of AB 2943 is a dog whistle to the left that intelligent Christians holding traditional views are fair game for discrimination, smears and frivolous lawsuits.” (as quoted by the Denver Post, “Conservative Colorado ministry cancels California conventions over state bill that would ban gay conversion therapy“)

The sad thing is that in the midst of the wrangling that is sure to take place, should the bill pass, people are forgotten. And that means primarily people in the LGBT community, people who are struggling with their sexual identity and want help, and parents with confused children who don’t know who to go to with their questions.

Maybe the most powerful statements in opposition to this bill came from the two individuals in this video, who once were gay, but became Christians and Christ gave them new life. I recommend watching the first 7:30, because in truth, this is an American issue, not a California alone issue. I just listened to one pastor from Canada that says they have laws similar to the one proposed here, and he is ready to face the persecution because he plans to continue to proclaim the truth: he agrees with the Bible that homosexuality is sin, and in so doing he is not entering into any kind of hate speech. The reality, as the video below makes clear, is that declaring the truth is a way to show love. I’d only add that truth and love must be intricately woven together.

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Published in: on May 2, 2018 at 6:00 pm  Comments (8)  
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Offensive Words And Offensive Actions


When the United States formed its constitution, the framers added a Bill of Rights. First on the list was freedom of speech, religion, the press, assembly, and petition:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Throughout history some definition of these freedoms was needed. For example, in the 1960s and 70s the courts determined that burning draft cards was “free speech.” Since then other illegal activity designed to protest this or that has been deemed “free speech.”

On the flip side, more recently laws have come about to prohibit “hate speech,” which supporters want to say isn’t protected as free speech. Here’s one definition:

“Hate speech is a communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence. It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women” (US Legal).

This idea that what a person says can be labeled as hate speech because it is “offensive” is a little troublesome. Might not atheists find statements by Christians that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, offensive? Might not homosexuals find it offensive if a Christian says homosexuality is sinful behavior?

Already we have seen pro-abortion advocates take offense at the term “baby killers.” I admit, I bristle at that term too. But apparently being called a baby killer is more offensive than killing one’s unborn baby. The courts have said a woman has a right to kill her baby, but society says we do not have a right to say she’s a baby killer.

Please understand, I am not suggesting pro-life advocates shout “baby killer” at pregnant women walking into an abortion clinic. It may be true, but it doesn’t seem grace-filled or loving, and I believe the Bible is clear that Christians should speak in a way that marks us as different from the rest of society.

That being said, I’m concerned that “offensive words” are trumping offensive actions. Today when a Christian says homosexuality is sinful behavior, it’s almost a certainty that someone will accuse him of homophobia. The declaration that the act is sinful is offensive whereas the act itself is condoned, if not approved.

What does that mean for the free speech of Christians who still believe in an absolute standard of right and wrong? Will there come a day when our religious liberty is curtailed because the statement of our beliefs is viewed as hateful? After all, when we say Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through Him, isn’t that exclusive? And isn’t an exclusive attitude hateful? Well, no, not when everyone is invited to the party and those who don’t come exclude themselves, but I suspect that is a point which will be lost over time.

The other side of the coin, of course is the part about offensive actions. How offended should a Christian be at abortion or homosexuality, pedophilia, sex trafficking, drug addiction, divorce, gossip, lying, bestiality, greed, or bribery?

On one hand, I want to say, not offended at all. Sinners, after all, will act sinfully. Why should that offend me? On the other hand, if I love my neighbor as myself, I should care that others are wallowing in heinous lifestyles. I don’t believe sinful behavior is the best for anyone. I also believe there is forgiveness for all who repent and accept the payment Jesus made for our sin. Nothing is so egregious that He can’t cancel the certificate of debt, nailing it to the cross.

As I write this, and struggle to figure out all the aspects of these issues, I realize that I am responsible first and foremost to God. Should I not stand up for His truth for as long as I am able?

But what is that truth? As much as I want to see the unborn protected, the pro-life message isn’t the gospel. The overarching truth is that God loves the world and pursues sinners with the intention to bring them into relationship with Himself. He loves the unborn baby and He loves the woman about to abort her. He loves the doctor and the technicians performing the abortion. God wants them all to turn from their wicked ways and find redemption in Him.

So how do we start? By repealing Roe v Wade? By pointing out the inconsistencies of belief in abortion with other closely held principles? By evangelizing those who don’t know Jesus? By advocating for a discussion about abortion in the mainstream media? Yes to all of it and more because it’s all free speech and an extension of freedom of religion.

But the true exercise of religion for the Christian means, in simplified form, loving God and loving our neighbor.

Sometimes love involves a warning—the Old Testament prophets are filled with warnings to the people they were addressing. Stop this behavior or that will happen. That’s loving. And I’m pretty sure, the warnings are not offensive to God, but the evil behavior is.

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in May 2013.

Freedom Of Speech


Benjamin_Franklin_freedom_of_speech_quoteFreedom of speech has become increasingly complicated. For one thing, the US Supreme Court ruled back in the mid-1900s that “speech” included things like burning the American flag. In other words, acts of protest were repositioned as speech.

Hence, the people here in SoCal protesting the August 2014 shooting in Ferguson had freedom of “speech” to block traffic by walking down the middle of some streets. Not freeways, though. Their freedom of “speech” had some limits.

A few weeks ago, freedom of speech was front and center because of the supposed North Korean threats to Sony and movie theaters that would release The Interview. This film purportedly was about two reporters who were recruited to assassinate North Korea’s leader.

It strikes me now that The Interview joked about doing what the Islamic terrorists actually did in France. Be that as it may, actors and directors and pretty much anyone in Hollywood were up in arms about the “censorship” North Korea was trying to impose on the US movie industry.

Of course those cries would be far different if the film depicted North Koreans coming to the US to assassinate President Obama. I suspect Homeland Security would have been heavily involved in squashing such a project—which probably would not have been called censorship.

Most recently, of course, has been the horrific murder of the French cartoonists/satirists which has stirred great support for freedom of speech. These individuals had the right to say what they wanted, no matter how vile. Here’s one characterization of their work:

you are underestimating the vulgarity of Charlie Hebdo. It goes beyond “offensive and immature”, the cartoons you describe are only the shallow end of the cesspool that is this publication. I grew up in France, I love the country and it’s people, and while I would defend to the death their right to do what they choose to do, I would never go as far as saying “I am Charlie”. Even for solidarity purposes. They are vile, divisive and go out of their way to insult matters of faith in ways that are just simply sick and deranged. (JMerkh’s comment to Chip MacGregor’s blog post “Je Suis Charlie”)

This latest wrinkle in the freedom of speech issue, then, has to do with whether offensive speech should still be free.

While we claim here in the US that the French satirists had the write to spoof and mock to their vile, insulting content, we don’t practice that same kind of free speech. If in doubt, think back to Donald Sterling who spoke in the privacy of his own home in a way that offended others and suffered the consequences for it.

University of California campuses and others across the country are famous for banning speech that is deemed offensive. Speakers have been dis-invited, funding has been cut off, student papers have been shut down.

NYTimes columnist David Brooks elaborated on this point in his article “I Am Not Charlie Hedbo”:

Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.

One example of this fact is the recent firing of the Atlanta fire chief Kevin Cochran. Cochran’s crime? He published a book that carried a few lines strongly condemning homosexuality, along with other sexual sins. First the mayor suspended Cochran and required him to take sensitivity training. At the end of his suspension, however, he was fired.

The mayor explained the decision:

I appreciate Chief Cochran’s service as fire chief. His personal religious beliefs are not an issue at all, despite the number of comments and emails I have been receiving on a daily basis. The city and my administration stand firmly in support of the right of religious freedom, freedom of speech and the right to freely observe their faith.” (“The Mayor of Atlanta Declares War on Religious Freedom”; for more information, see the Atlanta Sun Times)

George_Washington_freedom_of_speech_quoteSo the mayor affirms his belief in freedom of speech and yet fired Cochran for what he said.

I’ll say again: freedom of speech has become increasingly complicated. We’ve allowed public figures to be maligned in the name of free speech and pornography to run rampant under the same banner.

But the fire chief can’t say homosexuality is sin.

In fact in the US we’ve created a forbidden category called “hate speech” which apparently trumps the US Constitution’s protection of speech. Hate speech, you see, is not allowed.

And who determines what hate speech is?

Another of the free speech complications I mentioned.

Of course, if people didn’t malign others or say vile things about a particular religion or people group, then this topic would be moot. Free speech could be free because people regulated their own speech by determining if it is offensive and harmful to others. At the same time, groups and individuals could be a bit more forbearing rather than thin-skinned when someone directs criticism their way.

Are there really no ways of satirizing without being “sick and deranged”? Can we no longer state our religious beliefs without someone becoming offended?

The problem is clearly on both ends—speakers who have no filters for what comes out of their mouths, and hearers who assume an insult at the slightest hint of disagreement.

We’ve come a long way from the adage I was taught as a child: if you can’t say something nice, don’t talk at all is my advice.

Critique—which is the point of satire—doesn’t fall into the category of “nice,” but neither does it have to be offensive.

I wonder if there’s any hope that civilized people can once again discuss issues without rancor and name calling. It seems as if “to express an opinion” means “to offend others who see things differently.”

That certainly seems to be what the mayor of Atlanta thought.

I think we need two changes: 1) a renewal of free speech as opposed to a demand for politically correct speech and 2) a recommitment to civil discourse instead of slinging insults and engaging in vile and deranged satire.

Offensive Words And Offensive Actions


Bill_of_Rights_Pg1of1_ACWhen the United States formed its constitution, the framers added a Bill of Rights. First on the list was freedom of speech, religion, the press, assembly, and petition:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Throughout history some definition of these freedoms was needed. For example, in the 1960s and 70s the courts determined that burning draft cards was “free speech.” Since then other illegal activity designed to protest this or that has been deemed “free speech.”

On the flip side, more recently laws have come about to prohibit “hate speech,” which supporters want to say isn’t protected as free speech. Here’s one definition:

“Hate speech is a communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence. It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women” (US Legal).

This idea that what a person says can be labeled as hate speech because it is “offensive” is a little troublesome. Might not atheists find statements by Christians that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, offensive? Might not homosexuals find it offensive if a Christian says homosexuality is sinful behavior?

Already we have seen pro-abortion advocates take offense at the term “baby killers.” I admit, I bristle at that term too. But apparently being called a baby killer is more offensive than killing one’s unborn baby. The courts have said a woman has a right to kill her baby, but society says we do not have a right to say she’s a baby killer.

Please understand, I am not suggesting pro-life advocates shout “baby killer” at pregnant women walking into an abortion clinic. It may be true, but it doesn’t seem grace-filled or loving, and I believe the Bible is clear that Christians should speak in a way that marks us as different from the rest of society.

That being said, I’m concerned that “offensive words” are trumping offensive actions. Today when a Christian says homosexuality is sinful behavior, it’s almost a certainty that someone will accuse him of homophobia. The declaration that the act is sinful is offensive whereas the act itself is condoned, if not approved.

What does that mean for the free speech of Christians who still believe in an absolute standard of right and wrong? Will there come a day when our religious liberty is curtailed because the statement of our beliefs is viewed as hateful? After all, when we say Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through Him, isn’t that exclusive? And isn’t an exclusive attitude hateful? Well, no, not when everyone is invited to the party and those who don’t come exclude themselves, but I suspect that is a point which will be lost over time.

The other side of the coin, of course is the part about offensive actions. How offended should a Christian be at abortion or homosexuality, pedophilia, sex trafficking, drug addiction, divorce, gossip, lying, bestiality, greed, or bribery?

On one hand, I want to say, not offended at all. Sinners, after all, will act sinfully. Why should that offend me? On the other hand, if I love my neighbor as myself, I should care that others are wallowing in heinous lifestyles. I don’t believe sinful behavior is the best for anyone. I also believe there is forgiveness for all who repent and accept the payment Jesus made for our sin. Nothing is so egregious that He can’t cancel the certificate of debt, nailing it to the cross.

As I write this, and struggle to figure out all the aspects of these issues, I realize that I am responsible first and foremost to God. Should I not stand up for His truth for as long as I am able?

But what is that truth? As much as I want to see the unborn protected, the pro-life message isn’t the gospel. The overarching truth is that God loves the world and pursues sinners with the intention to bring them into relationship with Himself. He loves the unborn baby and He loves the woman about to abort her. He loves the doctor and the technicians performing the abortion. God wants them all to turn from their wicked ways and find redemption in Him.

So how do we start? By repealing Roe v Wade? By convicting Kermit Gosnell? By pointing out the inconsistencies of abortion positions to other closely held principles? By evangelizing those who don’t know Jesus? By advocating for a discussion about abortion in the mainstream media? Yes to all of it and more because it’s all free speech and an extension of freedom of religion.

But the true exercise of religion for the Christian means, in simplified form, loving God and loving our neighbor. Sometimes love involves a warning–the prophets are filled with warnings to the people they were addressing. Stop this behavior or that will happen. That’s loving. And I’m pretty sure, the warnings are not offensive to God, but the evil behavior is.

A Case Against Cursing/Swearing/Cussing


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    Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. (James 3:3, 5a)

People in the Christian writing community know that the use of “certain words” in fiction is an oft debated subject, but recently I began to think about the “why” behind the belief that these words are wrong, whether in fiction or in real life.

First, what words am I talking about? On one hand there is swearing–using God’s name in a perverse way or using the sacred to reinforce a person’s word. Sometimes swearing is accompanied by a curse–an invocation for God to bring harm upon someone. Cursing has also expanded to include “offensive words” spoken in “anger or annoyance.” I generally learned to refer to this latter category as cussing, but the Oxford English Dictionary makes no distinction between the two.

There is another category, however, one that shows up as a synonym to curse: obscenity–“an extremely offensive word or expression.”

So what does the Bible say about these?

First swearing. Both James and Jesus are in agreement that we are not to invoke God’s name or some sacred thing to reinforce the veracity of what we say. “But above all,” James says, “do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no.” The Ten Commandments states that no one is to use God’s name in vain: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Ex 20:7).

If anyone wants to quibble about that because it is part of the Jewish law and therefore not something those living by grace need to worry about, they only need to remember that Jesus said the whole law was summed up with the two great commands–love God and love your neighbor. It seems like a stretch to think that God cared about the use of His name once, but no longer does. It’s a stretch to think we can love Him and then speak His name as if it has no meaning.

In addition, Jesus makes the point that blasphemy is sin and goes so far as to say blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven:

Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. (12:31-32)

Cursing is actually a little less clear. There’s an admonition not to curse parents in Exodus 21:7 (and repeated in Leviticus 20:9). In Matthew 15:4 Jesus quotes those verses but “curse” is translated as “speaks evil of.”

Both Peter and Jude specify that false prophets reviled “angelic majesties,” whereas “angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord” (2 Peter 2:11b)

James tells us not to speak against a brother or judge a brother (4:11). He also says, “With it [our tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who have been made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”

Paul says our speech is always to be with grace so that we know how to answer each person. We can also use the commands Jesus enumerated to help determine the appropriateness of cursing someone else.

But what about cursing an object, which of course is really quite meaningless? That brings up the third category–offensive words or obscenity.

Paul is helpful in this area. In Ephesians he says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth” and “unwholesome” literally means “rotten.” Later in the book, he’s more pointed and says, “And there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting.”

Jesus makes a point that we’ll be held accountable for every careless or useless word we speak (Matthew 12:36).

In this category, there is some legitimate debate. Words have meaning, but in languages that are living, those meanings change over time. What once was considered “coarse” or “unwholesome” no longer is looked at as out of the ordinary.

For example, body parts. In times past there were certain words depicting what used to be private body parts, which a person didn’t say in public. Today those same words are the butt of many a sit com joke.

OK, did I just use a coarse expression in that last sentence? Not according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Is standard usage, then, to be the determiner for what is coarse, unwholesome, filthy, and silly? I have to answer for myself, yes. If most people think a word is vile, then I can consider that word unwholesome or coarse or filthy.

I cannot answer for anyone else, however, partly because of the nature of language. I learned from an online friend who lives in Australia that I had used an extremely offensive word in a blog post–offensive to Australians. In the US, there is no double meaning of that word. For Australians, then, that word is coarse. For Americans, it isn’t.

Words change meanings, too. So one generation might use a word in a way that is not offensive to them, but another generation might find it coarse.

Ultimately, a person’s heart determines what will come out of his mouth. Jesus said in Matthew 12

the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. 36 But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (12:34b-37)

It’s a sobering statement, in light of my sin nature.

I’m thankful I have God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ for all the careless words I’ve spoken (or written), but that doesn’t mean I have a license to go and do more of the same.

James says, “No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” So are we stuck poisoning each other day in and day out?

Not if God is all powerful, and of course He is. I might not be able to control my speech, but the Holy Spirit can change my heart. That’s what I’m counting on.

Published in: on January 11, 2013 at 6:08 pm  Comments (9)  
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Christians And Politics


When I was teaching, I used to feel somewhat resentful that teachers were not allowed to voice their opinion in their classroom about things like whether or not they believed in God or if they opposed same-sex marriage and the like. Granted, I taught in a Christian school, so I did have the privilege of saying what I believed, though I’m sure that’s because my beliefs aligned with my school’s.

But seriously, I thought, this is America where we have the Bill of Rights, with the protection of both free speech and freedom of religion, right there in the first amendment, and teachers can’t stand before their classes and say, I believe in God?

Slowly that restriction on a person’s freedom to express an opinion seems to be spreading, to the point that just recently a Christian agent felt compelled to apologize for stating political opinions in the articles he wrote for his agency blog. I suppose if there was some confusion that his opinions represented those of the organization, then there might be justification in refraining from making a statement about his beliefs, but I can’t help wondering where this trend will end.

I mean, those lining up at Chick-Fil-A this summer were accused of hate speech. And I’ve been in a discussion on line at a public forum in which someone says Christians have no business voicing their opinion on public policy if their religion informed their beliefs. That’s crossing the line between church and state, this person claimed.

Really?

Christians are now to be seen and not heard, even when talking primarily to other Christians, all for the fear of offending someone? I have to admit, I’m astounded by this and equally dismayed.

On the other hand, I don’t think Christians should be offensive in the way we talk to or about other people.

There’s a way to speak that is demeaning by its sarcasm or condescension and I don’t think Christians should speak that way–not because I don’t like it, but because Scripture calls us to speak with grace so that we will know how we should respond to each person (See Colossians 4:6). We’re supposed to honor all people (1 Peter 2:17), love others, and not be a stumbling block that causes someone to turn from the gospel.

However, it’s a mistake to think we should correct our way of speaking by holding our tongue altogether. What will set us apart from the world is not our closed mouths. It’s our willingness to say what we believe in a manner that puts our content front and center rather than our expression of it.

Take Clint Eastwood, for example. Many people talked about his “speech” (clearly it was a piece of theater, an ad libbed monologue) at the Republican National Convention. Those who disagreed with it found it bizarre; those who agreed found it clever. Not very many people talked about the ideas he expressed.

The Democrats worried about Bill Clinton in the same way. Would his powerful rhetoric overshadow President Obama?

In other words, in our day and age perhaps more than in any other, style has become the first measure of public discourse. Christians, then, should pay attention to how we say what we believe. And we should keep on speaking, because we live in a country that allows us to do so.

Published in: on September 6, 2012 at 6:40 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Misconception About Weaker Brothers


Since I discovered an online group of Christian writers, there’s been discussion about what ought or ought not to be allowed in Christian fiction. Can writers address difficult topics–adultery, pornography, abuse. Is magic OK? How about cussing and swearing, when the character in question surely would cuss and swear in real life if he or she were in the situation of the fictitious individual. Then there’s sex, or any suggestion of sex, promiscuous or other wise. Can it be shown, should it be shown?

Inevitably someone brings up the idea of not offending the “weaker brother,” a concept taken from Romans in a section of Paul’s letter dealing with not eating meat offered to idols. This is usually understood as a “gray area”–an activity not clearly defined, but one which Paul seems to say it’s better for the strong believer to give up his freedom for the sake of the weaker brother.

From that point the debate may rage about who is actually the strong brother–the legalist or the one enjoying freedom in Christ–and whether or not Paul is giving weaker brothers the right to dictate legalistic behavior to the rest of the church.

This issue becomes a problem because of a great misunderstanding–the belief that eating meat offered to idols was a gray area. It was not.

When Paul first began preaching Christ to the Gentiles, there was a council in Jerusalem to discuss whether they needed to abide by the Mosaic Law. As a result, “the apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.”

They examined Scripture, they listened to Peter’s testimony about the Holy Spirit manifesting Himself among the Gentile believers, and they listened to Paul and Barnabas’s witness about the miracles performed among the Gentile converts. In the end, here’s what James concluded:

Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols . . . (Acts 15:19-20a)

Whether James was the final authority or whether he was merely voicing the decision of the gathered church leaders, this decision was the one they passed on to the Gentile churches, delivered by letter. In this communication, they added one other significant fact. Here’s the pertinent statement:

“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols . . .” (Acts 15:28-29a–emphasis mine)

In other words, the church leaders had no thought that this was something they personally preferred. They understood this to be a sure direction from God.

There’s more. In Revelation 1-3 John records Christ’s message to seven churches. To two of them, he chastises them in connection to eating what has been sacrificed to idols. First to the church in Pergamum:

‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.’ (2:14–emphasis mine)

Granted the actual eating of that which was sacrifice to idols was something the people of Israel did, but Christ was explicit with the church in Thyatira:

‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.’ (2:20–emphasis mine)

There’s no idea here that eating meat offered to idols was a “gray area,” a take it or leave it, depends on whether or not your conscience bothers you or not, issue. It was wrong. Clearly wrong.

So what was Paul going on about?

He was addressing two particulars. First, some people, in order not to eat meat offered to idols accidentally, decided to become vegetarians (See Rom. 14:2). Second, some people decided they needed to research any meat they ate to know if it had been offered to an idol–including what they bought in the market and what they were served when they went to someone else’s house for dinner.

About the first matter, Paul said, don’t criticize each other–the meat eater (not the meat-offered-to-idols eater, because there should not be any believes who would fall in that category) and the vegetarian. One position is not better than the other.

Regarding the second issue, he essentially said, Don’t ask. In other words, it wasn’t their responsibility to go out of their way to find out the history of the meat they ate.

However, if a weaker brother who felt compelled to do the research, told them that the meat they were being served had indeed been offered to idols, then they needed, for the sake of the one who told them, to refrain from eating.

What does that have to do with writing and the subject matter an author can or can’t include in his fiction? Very little. Unlike the issue of meat offered to idols, we have no explicit command about what we are to put in our fiction. We know we are to refrain from coarse jesting, taking the Lord’s name in vain, unwholesome words, but does that mean our characters must refrain in the same way?

Similarly we are to be self-controlled, patient, joyful, kind. Does that mean all our characters are to exhibit those qualities? Add in the fact that we ourselves don’t live the holy lives God calls us to, and it seems logical, then, that our imperfect characters should act imperfectly.

There’s one more thing to keep in mind, though, and it does have to do with thinking about others. I’ve argued before that swearing in literature is harmful to the reader in ways that other “sins” aren’t. As a reader, I “sub-vocalize,” or essentially pronounce the words to myself. I’ve discovered that when I read a novel with considerable swearing and cussing, and I’ve been sub-vocalizing those words for a time, I begin to think them when I’m away from the novel. My choice then, for myself, is to avoid books laden with bad language.

In no way do I want second rate or inferior stories, however. I want what the classics offered–great stories which, for the most part, didn’t require expletives. I believe Christians can write such stories.

Do they have to? This is not a meat-offered-to-idols issue. Otherwise it would have a cut-and-dried answer. Whatever else Christian writers find in Scripture to guide their decisions, I would hope we put to bed the “weaker brother” argument because that’s a different discussion and not applicable to the determination of content in fiction.

The Way We Speak To One Another


The public is often appalled at the negative ads on TV during election campaigns, and once again much is being said in the news about all the trash talk flying over digital transmissions and into average voters’ living rooms, and cell phones, and tablets.

How odd, I think. Mitt Romney is going after President Obama, accusing him of all kinds of things. But apparently he doesn’t realize that something like 48 percent of voters still approve of what the President is doing.

Why, I wonder, can’t politicians wake up and realize that everyone they attack has fans who in turn may become defensive and much opposed to the one on the attack. Wouldn’t it be wiser to give the opponent the benefit of the doubt as another citizen who wants to do what’s best for the country, but who has a different vision for how to achieve that?

Seems to me, then, that people who are tepid about the President’s performance just might embrace this kinder, gentler approach that doesn’t tear down the man or besmirch the office, but that lays out a plan that will bring about different results.

But no. We live in the age of Jerry Springer.

Yet, how we talk to one another isn’t so different from how people talked to each other down through the centuries. Job’s friends prove this. Though they are often characterized as having bad theology, which they did, they also ended up getting into a sparring contest with Job, as if it was more important to win an argument with a man devastated by grief and loss than it was to let him talk out his problems.

In chapter 16 Job called them mockers, and apparently Bildad took offense. He responded in chapter 18, “Why are we regarded as beasts,/As stupid in your eyes?” But he wasn’t content to ask Job why. He himself went on the attack. Some of what he said doesn’t sound so bad — until you remember who is sitting across from him: a man who lost the bulk of his wealth, whose children had all been killed, who was covered with oozing sores, and was sitting in an ash heap.

Indeed, the light of the wicked goes out,
And the flame of his fire gives no light.
The light in his tent is darkened,
And his lamp goes out above him.
His vigorous stride is shortened,
And his own scheme brings him down.
For he is thrown into the net by his own feet,
And he steps on the webbing.
A snare seizes him by the heel,
And a trap snaps shut on him.
A noose for him is hidden in the ground,
And a trap for him on the path.
All around terrors frighten him,
And harry him at every step.
His strength is famished,
And calamity is ready at his side.
His skin is devoured by disease,
The firstborn of death devours his limbs.
He is torn from the security of his tent,
And they march him before the king of terrors.
There dwells in his tent nothing of his;
Brimstone is scattered on his habitation.

His roots are dried below,
And his branch is cut off above.
Memory of him perishes from the earth,
And he has no name abroad.
He is driven from light into darkness,
And chased from the inhabited world.
He has no offspring or posterity among his people,
Nor any survivor where he sojourned.

Those in the west are appalled at his fate,
And those in the east are seized with horror.
Surely such are the dwellings of the wicked,
And this is the place of him who does not know God.
[emphases mine]

Here’s Bildad’s speech in summary: So, Job, all the horrible things that have happened to you? That’s what happens to people who don’t know God. Guess what that means about your spiritual condition!

I’m sorry, but that was nothing short of mean!

Of course, the apostles weren’t far from this same way of thinking when they asked Jesus if they should call down fire on the Samaritans who didn’t welcome Him because he was headed toward Jerusalem (see Luke 9:52-54).

In contrast, this is what Paul said to the Romans:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (Rom 12:14-15)

Jesus makes a radical difference in how we talk to one another — or should. I wonder how a Christian campaigning like a Christian would fare in today’s political climate.

I wonder if Tim Tebow would consider running for office. 😆

Published in: on January 18, 2012 at 6:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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What Are We Saying


Steve Jobs died.

I’m not an iPod, -Pad, or -Phone person, but I’ve used Macs ever since the little SE30 came out, before they put the i in front of the name.

I consider Steve Jobs to have been a genius, a techno and marketing genius. Whether we realize it or not, he revolutionized the way we live. His inventions changed our lives as much as Henry Ford’s did a century earlier.

But he died young.

And although people praise him for his work, I’ve heard little about his family and nothing about his faith.

All this makes me think about how fleeting life is.

At ninety-two Andy Rooney finally stepped down from Sixty Minutes, and in his final show said how short life is, how he doesn’t want it to end, and he wishes he could keep doing what he’s doing. But he can’t.

Those two men are well-liked it seems, and people for the most part say nice things about them. But two other men who’s lives are also fleeting receive regular ridicule. I’m thinking of Pat Robertson and Harold Camping, but I suspect I could have named a half dozen others and would not have exhausted the names that came to the minds of different readers.

Eighty-nine year old Harold Camping was vilified — by talk show hosts and Christians alike — for his false prophecy about the end of the world. Soon after, he had a mild stroke and has been in a nursing home until recently. Apparently his recovery allows him to hold onto his new prediction that the world will end (or finish ending) October 21.

About Pat Robertson, one Christian blogger said, “He’s an idiot,” a reaction to Robertson’s recent unbiblical statements (since retracted) about divorce.

Much loved or much hated, these four are mere men with fleeting lives. They will much sooner than we realize come into the presence of their Maker and ours. And how will we answer for what we said about them?

Don’t speak ill of the dead, the proverb says. Speaking ill of them after they’re gone doesn’t hurt them. And praising them as the world is doing with Steve Jobs doesn’t help them. They’re gone. We either used the brief time we shared with them here on earth to bless them or to curse them.

But someone may well point out that some things, some people don’t deserve to be blessed. Actually that isn’t true. None of us deserves to be blessed. If someone thinks we do, it’s because they don’t know the parts of us that reveal our sin nature. They don’t realize that the good they see wasn’t something we manufactured but rather the result of God’s magnificent creative power and astounding grace.

So we don’t remember our own sin and we don’t give God the credit He’s due; therefore, we feel superior enough to (publicly, no less) call someone else an idiot. Why, I wonder, do we Christians think this is OK?

God’s pretty clear about the fact that it isn’t.

With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3:9-10)

Published in: on October 6, 2011 at 5:51 pm  Comments (8)  
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