Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Cultural Influence of a Committed Minority

According to many mainstream news commentators, a majority of Americans are in agreement with the recent Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage.  The supposed minority who disagree are challenged to exercise tolerance and get on board with the changing mores of our culture.  But, not so fast!  Consider two indicators that Americans who oppose the latest high court decision are not in the minority.

First, recall that the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage by a narrow 5-4 decision.  Amazingly, this decision means that 1 vote overturned same-sex bans in 31 states and altered the millennia-long definition of marriage.  The same five justices had already struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton.  That instance of “legislating from the bench” meant that a 1-vote margin brought an end to a law that had been ratified by huge majorities in both the U.S. House (342-67) and U.S. Senate (85-14).  The highest court in the land had sided with the liberal minority of Americans against the will of a large majority of Americans and their elected officials. 

There is even more evidence that a liberal minority is revolutionizing America while conveying the false impression through liberal media that they represent the majority.  This evidence comes through a Washington Post-ABC News Poll published this month.  According to authors Peyton M. Craighill and Scott Clement,

In this poll, 63% of people say they are uncomfortable with the country's overall direction on social issues these days; four in 10 feel "strongly" uncomfortable about the nation's changes. 

Some core Democratic groups are finding a disconnect with the rapid change in social issues as well. Fifty-one percent of non-whites, a growing group of Democratic supporters, say they are uncomfortable with the pace of social change. Two-thirds of women also say they are uncomfortable, as are 50 percent of adults under age 30.

Even some liberals worry that expanding the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples and allowing them to adopt children may push us rapidly down a slippery slope.  Already, Montana polygamist, Nathan Collier sees the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage as a gate-opener to legalizing polygamy so that he can legally marry his second “wife.”

Since the Garden of Eden, the Bible and history have repeatedly taught us that actions based on human reason, when contrary to God’s principles, will always yield a bitter harvest.  Adam and Eve reasoned that God was holding out on them and ate the only fruit that God had forbidden them to eat.  The result was spiritual and physical separation from God.   Genesis 3: 8 describes the nature of this alienation between God and mankind:

They heard the [familiar] sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and [for the first time] the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 

But when Adam and Eve heard God calling to Adam, the husband, they realized that their physical hiding had failed.  So, they tried to “hide” by playing the “blame game”—Adam blamed God for giving him Eve; Eve blamed the serpent that Satan used to deceive her.  But God’s response decimated their poor effort to deny individual responsibility for their action. 

Since the Garden, we have continued to rebel against God’s plan for His creation.  We have continued to “hide” our sin by blaming others, by “hiding” in groups, and by trusting in human reason, or “group-think” to justify disobedience of God’s laws.   The collective judgment of the masses, no matter how well intentioned or how popular, is still folly apart from submission to God.

Today, God still calls, “Where are you?” to men who are the stewards of His unconditional love toward women, and toward wives.  Instead, men often view women as objects of self-gratification, thus depriving themselves of true fulfillment and godly leadership, diminishing the key role of women in God’s plan, and leaving both themselves and women vulnerable to Satan’s lies. 

Just as Satan convinced Eve that she would find fulfillment in eating of the fruit, so he has convinced many women in the mid-20th century that they could be fulfilled sexually outside of marriage without the unwanted consequence of a baby.  If contraception failed, then abortion of the baby would “clean up the mess” so her life could go on without hindrance.  But last week, the latest bitter fruit of abortion became evident.  We learned that Planned Parenthood has begun marketing functional body parts of babies by modifications of abortion procedures designed to “protect life” or at least the parts needed.  What began with deception and departure from God’s plan for the sanctity of marriage and procreation has gradually led America down a dark and slippery slope to the horrendous reports in recent days.

Returning to the recent High Court legalization of same-sex marriage, my first reaction was to resent how five unelected justices could alter the definition of marriage as one of the foundations of our culture.  I blamed President Obama because he had already surrendered his moral leadership when he changed his mind and supported same sex marriage.

Then I realized that biblical morality is not ultimately upheld by the bench, the legislature, elite focus groups, or the will of the masses.  I believe the Bible teaches that a nation rises or falls based on whether or not individuals and leaders respect God’s enduring moral absolutes, or “ancient landmarks” (Proverbs 22:28; and, see Oikonomia, “Stewardship and ‘Natural Law’.”)  On the other hand, the ongoing social reengineering of American culture represented by the High Court decision reflects nonbiblical moral values.  These values are being imposed by a very different but committed minority as explained above.  The question Christians must ask is “Which minority will determine our future?”

According to many Christian leaders, America needs revival.  Historically, the power of God’s Spirit has brought awakenings through the repentance and prayer of a few committed persons—a very small minority.  In the next Oikonomia article, we will look further into how God has used and can still use a “moral minority” for His glory and for the benefit of a nation when men and women accept individual accountability before God as stewards of His Mercy and Truth.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Christianity Shines in Dark Places

One year ago, we were receiving daily reports of the devastating effects of the Ebola virus on the people of Liberia and surrounding nations.  Now that the worst is over, experts are raising concerns about the quality of the local and global response to this crisis.  Consider an excerpt from the not-to-flattering “Report of the Ebola Interim Assessment Panel” of the World Health Organization (WHO):

Poor communication and messaging were a big hindrance.
WHO failed in establishing itself as the authoritative body on communicating about the Ebola crisis.  Although an emergency media team was put in place to manage WHO’s messaging and content, the communication strategy was not able to counteract the very critical reporting on the work of the Organization.  …The Panel is clear that WHO failed to engage proactively with high-level media and was unable to gain command over the narrative of the outbreak.

As suggested by the Panel, ineffectiveness of WHO in facilitating accurate messaging among government and nongovernmental organizations and media outlets resulted in disorganization, false narratives, uninformed local communities, widespread fear, and distrust.  The Panel’s report summarizes some of the consequences of the ineffectiveness of WHO (emphasis mine):

Owing to a lack of involvement on the part of the broader humanitarian systems, many of the resources of nongovernmental organizations from the countries and communities themselves were not mobilized in the early stages.  Had other partners been involved, it would have enabled community engagement because nongovernmental organizations with considerable experience in communities, including in health campaigns would have been brought in.

Included with its critical evaluation of how the WHO functioned in the 2014 Ebola crisis, are recommendations by the Panel to address the causes.  One key recommendation was as follows (emphasis mine):

WHO should establish the WHO Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response, which will be based on the currently separate outbreak control and humanitarian areas of work.  This WHO Centre will need to develop new organizational structures and procedures to achieve full preparedness and response capacity.

Forgive my pessimism, but when I read about the inept performance by yet another in a long list of large bureaucratic organizations (Think Veterans Administration, Medicaid, and Internal Revenue Service to name a few.), I am not too optimistic when I read a recommendation to fund yet another layer of bureaucracy; especially one charged with making the existing bureaucracy do what it was already charged to do.  Although nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s) are not immune from such ineptness, many NGO’s deliver excellent outcomes with much more efficient use of funds.

One NGO among several that were responsible for combating the Ebola outbreak is Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian organization that has been ministering in Liberia since 2004.  Samaritan’s Purse’s online report entitled “Recovering from the Ebola Crisis in West Africa” includes the following encouraging claims:

In May 2015, more than a year since the deadly virus first surfaced in Liberia, the country was declared Ebola-free. The unprecedented outbreak claimed thousands of lives across West Africa.  Samaritan’s Purse responded aggressively in Liberia, where we have had a country office for more than a decade, through our Ebola Community Protection Program. Now that the virus has been contained, our office is starting programming to help the country recover.

Samaritan’s Purse has demonstrated competence in the face of the Ebola crisis based on its decade-long, trusted relationships and networking in local communities.   Consequently, this NGO, led by Franklin Graham, provides comprehensive help while using donor funds very efficiently.  For example, their Christian faith-based approach has enabled Samaritan’s Purse to provide community health education integrated with a message of hope to dispel centuries-old superstitions and false religious beliefs.  The Telegraph (London, July 30, 2014) commented on the way in which the grip of false beliefs hindered efforts to contain the Ebola virus:

There is a section of population here who simply don’t believe Ebola is real, they think it is witchcraft and so they don’t come to the treatment centres.

The Daily Kos, a liberal blog, reported as politely as possible (July 30, 2014):

Many rural western Africans have no formal schooling at all, and are accustomed to using village "witch doctors.”  I apologize if this seems rude, I am not trying to be insensitive to traditions, but one such doctor seems responsible for infecting nearly everyone in a village after suggesting Ebola was spread by snakes, and conducted a ritual involving group touching.  [Note: A Daily Kos reader suggested the use of “traditional healers” instead of “witch doctors”].

Samaritan's Purse provided health care, education, and hope.
Overcoming the deadly threat of Ebola requires a coordinated and decisive effort to combat ignorance, superstition, demonic influence, and fear.   Organizations like Samaritan’s Purse assist whole communities by offering education in community health and hygiene, and provide medical care.  But Christian faith-based organizations have an even greater advantage over secular and governmental organizations.  They rely on the power of God’s Word and His Spirit to pierce the spiritual darkness that prevents many Africans from knowing how to achieve and maintain their physical health and spiritual life in Christ.  

In order to foster Christian growth and maturity, Samaritan’s Purse emphasizes the importance of believers, both new and old, being regularly involved in a local church.  Their website states:

Through a massive public education campaign, which included thousands of church leaders, we provided potentially life-saving information to more than 1 million people, directly or indirectly, through a variety of events and media.

Dr. Kent Brantly of Samaritan's Purse contracted Ebola
and drew worldwide respect for faith-based efforts.
In our last Oikonomia article, “Censoring Vocabulary, But Not Virtue,” we emphasized that even where Christians are increasingly forbidden to speak words of truth to convey God’s good news it is still possible to convey the biblical message through a Christ-like testimony of love and forgiveness.  Those who ridicule and reject Christianity are often overwhelmed by the dedication of servants of God who have given their lives for the sake of Christ’s love to serve in “hard places.”  A visit to the website of Samaritan’s Purse, or better, a short-term ministry with Samaritan’s Purse to witness one of their field projects will reveal God’s love and its transformational power at work where words alone are often not possible.

Christian organizations like Samaritans’ Purse that serve in hard places must be encouraged as they follow the teaching of the  Apostle Peter’s letter to Christians living in hard places in the first century AD.  May Peter’s words encourage you also as you face challenges to your faith in a world that rejects much of what they see of Christianity:

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?
But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness,
you are blessed.
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,
always being ready to make a defense to everyone
who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you,
yet with gentleness and reverence;
and keep a good conscience
so that in the thing in which you are slandered,
those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer
for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.
   – 1 Peter 3: 13-17

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Censoring Vocabulary, But Not Virtue

During my boyhood years in the mid-20th century, I quickly learned that the English vocabulary could be sorted into two major groups -- “acceptable words” and “bad words.”  I encountered an unending stream of acceptable words on spelling lists, and I received many positive incentives to use them in polite conversation. I am now thankful for both the spelling lessons and the positive incentives.

I was also allured into using certain “bad words” that were expressed by unseemly characters who apparently felt bigger or more masculine when they spewed them out.  Fortunately, the positive examples and high expectations of men and women of godly character in my life won out over the more limited influence of “bad characters.”

Since the days of my boyhood, we have witnessed a major change in the realm of acceptable and unacceptable words.  For example, the code phrase for “sex” during my adolescence was “the birds and the bees.”  Although in retrospect, it would have been helpful to have had more instruction on sexuality as an adolescent; today we are exposed to a broad vocabulary complete with visual “aids” on the subject of sexuality including all manner of sexual perversions and classifications.  One would think that there are no longer any “bad words.”  But that is not true.  Instead we have a whole new class of “bad words” that represent the forbidden vocabulary in secular American culture.

Dylann Roof
Today, when anyone uses a “new bad word,” our secular culture is at least twice as perturbed as our mothers and grandmothers were when we let “bad words” slip out as adolescents.  Witness the current media discussion of what would lead Dylann Roof to burst into a South Carolina church and murder nine people meeting together for a Bible study.  “Acceptable words” in the current discussion of causation include gun access, drugs, video games, racism, negative talk radio, and Fox News.  These words have become code words for political agendas including the passage of gun control legislation, increased role of the federal government in local law enforcement, retaining support of minority voters, and the censorship of conservative media.  Taking the politics of gun control, for example, in an earlier article, No Gun Control Without Self-Control (March 30, 2013), I posited that violent crime is not simply a result of access to firearms.  Rather,
Whatever "weapon" Cain used, murder started in his heart.
"Our protection from both tongue and gun is rooted not in civil law but in the moral code.    The moral law is grounded in Jesus’ teaching that it is out of the heart [that] come evil     thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders (Matthew 15:19).  Therefore, the answer to a safe and civil society is not found alone in “tighter controls” on guns and speech.  Instead, there must be a revival within institutions that nurture a godly disposition of the heart; namely, the family and the local church, both within the context of caring communities."

Many who reject “band-aid approaches” to reducing gun violence may wish not to hear the vocabulary of this argument-- “new bad words” like moral, evil, revival, heart, self-control, and church.  Add the words, sin and forgiveness, and the liberal media often turns a deaf ear or cries “foul!”  In fact, the word evil was already headed for “bad” in the 1980’s when President Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”  Today, liberal progressive culture includes sin in the vocabulary of “hate speech.”

But occasionally, liberal media and the progressive culture are caught off guard as for example, at the events on June 17, in Charleston, SC.  On that Wednesday night, Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old allegedly entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, attended a Bible Study for an hour, and then opened fire on those who had welcomed him.  Even before all the gruesome details were reported, the mantra began—the sour lamenting of “white-on-black” crime with all the expected vocabulary--
gun access, racism, negative talk radio, and the Confederate flag permeating the airwaves.  President Obama challenged the nation to confront the “terrible toll of gun violence.”

The AME church in Charleston, SC has had a long and troubled history beginning before the Civil War.  In the 1820’s, it survived its building being burned.  After the Civil War and during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation, AME church members worshipped in secret because all-black churches were outlawed.  But the June 17 shooting was not just another violent event in a region having a long history of racial unrest.  This time the media was faced with reporting a different message, complete with a vocabulary of “new bad words” like mercy, forgiveness, and enduring love.  Yes, in Charleston, SC, under the Confederate flag, and near historic Sullivan’s Island, the location where nearly half of the enslaved African people were brought ashore and auctioned to slave owners, came an eruption of an entirely different sort.

According to the
Washington Post, “There was no yelling. There were no accusations. Instead, people who had lost the loves of their lives blessed the accused murderer.” Felicia Sanders, a hair stylist whose son Tywanza was allegedly killed by Roof, expressed this unexpected tone with a different vocabulary.  As we stared at Roof’s face filling much of our TV screens, she spoke directly to Dylann saying,

Tywanza Sanders
We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with welcome arms.  You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know.  Every fiber in my body hurts, and I’ll never be the same. . . . But as we say in Bible study, ‘We enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you.’ “Tywanza Sanders was my son. But Tywanza Sanders was my hero. Tywanza was my hero,’’ she said, her voice trembling. “May God have mercy on you.”

The vocabulary of love, mercy, and forgiveness of Christians is seldom applauded in our secular culture. However, the words of the Charleston believers were powerful because their virtuous behavior affirmed their words sacrificial love, mercy, and forgiveness to Dylann Roof.  The same open arms that welcomed young Dylann Roof before he unleashed his violent hatred were now open to him in Christian forgiveness and in prayers for God’s mercy upon him.

From where does this kind of strength and forgiveness come?   The prophet Isaiah uses the word strength over twenty times.  His words may resonate with the hearts of many black Americans, and all of us who are weary because of the curse of sin and its manifestations—selfishness, pride, divisiveness, anger, and violence.

You were tired out by the length of your road,
Yet you did not say, 'It is hopeless.'
You found renewed strength,
Therefore you did not faint.
– Isaiah 57: 10

Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.  
– Isaiah 40: 31

As America celebrates another 4th of July, instead of saying “God Bless America” many of us
want to say, “God Help America” or “God Bring Repentance, Humility, and Revival to America.”  Again, these “prayers” are filled with the “new bad words” in the view of many in our secular progressive culture.  But, until we individually acknowledge our sin and repent, and then pursue mercy, forgiveness, revival, and holiness, neither we nor our nation will be blessed by God and experience His forgiveness and blessing.  Only then will be able to love our neighbor regardless of his or her race or beliefs.  Only then will we respect authority and realize that violation of civil and moral laws begins with the pride-filled heart, not with weapons or even our words.   And finally, only then will Americans be able to do what black Christians in Charleston, SC did—look into the cold face of an alleged murderer and say words we so seldom hear, May God have mercy on you.

Perhaps America will soon enter a time when “word police” will prohibit the use of “the new bad words,” labeling them as “hate speech.”  Given prohibition of words like sin, repentance, Jesus, salvation, mercy, and forgiveness we may be left with no other recourse but to show the loving, forgiving, regenerated life that is possible in Christ.  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth (1 John 3: 18).  Indeed, many Christians today have a powerful and transformative witness in very oppressive Muslim and other authoritarian countries.  There is much we can learn from Christians under more severe restrictions as we pray for them and become prepared for likely hard times ahead.