Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Sky Is Not Falling: Truth, Peace, And Integrity In Times Of Distortion And Fear

A popular online news source recently posted an article that asked how long we will be allowed to remain Christians.  It was a serious question the author had received from a friend. I don't question his friend's sincerity, but I do wonder what has led him to believe there is a legitimate reason to fear that Christian faith will be outlawed. We will get to some particular cases that have been in the news, but first the big picture.
In spite of this, you would think the sky is falling on the church and on Christians in the United States depending what news sources you have been reading. It's not - I'll get to that in a moment - but what if it was?

If there was one thing Jesus promised would be true about our lives as citizens of Heaven living as citizens of Earth, it was that we will have trouble. The world is broken; following the teaching of Jesus means we will take up a cross, and that will include displaying the "foolishness of the cross." To whatever degree Christians enjoy ease, acceptance and at times even applause for their faith, it's a bonus. We aren't supposed to start thinking it's a right, or that it should be the norm (see John 15:18).

So there are increasing legal challenges concerning the expression of Christian faith in the United States. Should that surprise anyone? Aside from the fact that we have it really good compared with what Christians around the world are experiencing, if you are a Christian, you are supposed to expect your faith to be a part of your life that brings you trials and troubles in a world that is not your home. How easily we panic when the going gets tough for us as Christians - and when I say tough, I mean compared to how it's been in the United States, not how it's been around the world or throughout history.

Now, I'll be the first to say we should take advantage of the laws of the land to protect our religious freedom - the Apostle Paul had no problem citing his citizenship to ally himself with the protection of Rome. However, we should be doing this with calm, reasonable disposition, with a display of the peace that we claim passes understanding, with the knowledge and comfort of God's sovereignty.  Read 1 Peter.  If we are citizens in a cynical, discriminatory or even hostile culture, we are supposed to live lives of Christian integrity in which we obey God and honor and love everybody. We are not to give anyone legitimate reason to speak badly of us. That's not a guarantee of an easy life, but it will be a good one in the deepest sense of the word.

With this in mind, let's not be the people who cry persecution wolf. If we shout about everything, soon we will be heard about nothing. We will scream so loudly at the annoying gnat that no one will care about the destructive camel. Once again, we are citizens, and like Paul we have every right to avail ourselves of the protection the Constitution gives us to practice our faith. But we've got to stop acting like cultural comfort is our inevitable birthright as children of God.

Meanwhile, we must be committed to telling the truth about the world and seeing the truth about the world. Thus, this list of recent stories that either harm our reputation when we distort them, numb our country to real issues by overstating them, or create an unwarranted fear be aggrandizing their significance.  

I don't intend to dismiss real problems, and I readily concede that I might not have the whole story (though I tried very hard to do due diligence on my research). If I'm wrong, you are welcome to NICELY correct me in the comments section :) 

 I'm just trying to accurately understand the times so that we honor truth, and so that we know what we should do. 

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1. A coach can't pray at the 50 yard line after a football game. Now we can't pray in public!

This story is true, but there is more to consider.

This coach can pray on his own on the field without kneeling. He can pray on his own in the locker room. He can pray with individual students afterward if they want him to do so. If it is student instigated, he can respond. He can invite them to a home Bible study or to his church. Shoot, he could be their spiritual mentor if they wanted him to be.

The issue was whether or not he was allowed to facilitate a public prayer at a school event as an employee of a public school. No, he can't, but that's true for any Christian hired by public schools in any setting in which they are functioning as an employee. This is also true for Muslims. And Wiccans. And Hindus and Buddhists. For what it’s worth, had the school let this coach continue, a Satanist group had asked permission to start praying also. See the dilemma the school is in? This is why public schools curb religious expression that is instigated by staff. I'm not saying it's ideal, but it's the way a pluralistic society navigates life together when government property or employees are involved.

If you want to be able to proactively and aggressively express your faith, work for a private school. I coached basketball for years for a Christian school that was in a conference with both private and public schools. At our school, we opened games in prayer, and nobody complained. At their schools, we didn't, and nobody complained. That's the way it works and has worked for years. 

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 2. A substitute teacher got fired for giving a student a Bible. Public schools are muzzling Christians!

3. A Marine Lance Corporal was given a bad conduct discharge for having a Bible verse on her desk. Now you can't even be overtly Christian in the military!

According to, she had "a series of run-ins with authority over a series of months," leading some to say she "displayed a pattern of insubordination and deserved her punishment." The final infraction involved the Bible verses, which she refused to remove when ordered. 

Apparently, she never told her staff sergeant that the quote was from the Bible (she didn't mention it until her trial). It's also worth noting that "the other charges [for which she was found guilty at her court martial] aren't being challenged in [her] appeal. The only issue before the court is whether the military violated Lance Corporal Sterling's right to religious freedom by discriminatorily forcing her to remove her scripture verses from her workspace, " according to Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel for The Becket Fund.

In other words, even her defense grants she really did display a pattern of subordination that led to her bad conduct discharge. I suspect her insubordination in relation to the Bible verse  - which she apparently did not clarify as religious to her sergeant at the time - was just another act of insubordination in their eyes. This was not as simple as religion.

4. GQ thinks the Bible is overrated. How dare they insult our faith?!?!

Who cares what GQ thinks about the Bible? Did anyone really expect them to give it props? It got them the attention they craved, thanks to our outrage. Now they have raised their readership as they return to their regularly scheduled exploitation of women. 

Also, I think every other religious text is overrated by the followers of that religion. I've even written about it. I kind of think if I can say it about them, they can say it about me. I would much rather have an honest discussion about why we believe what we do than hide from healthy confrontation.

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5. California is banning the Bible!

California is joining New Jersey and Washington D.C in banning what they call the “fraudulent business practice” of gay conversion therapy, or what proponents call gay reparative therapy. The bill specifically targets the business of gay conversion therapy. The proposed law wouldn’t make conversion therapy itself illegal; it does make profiting from it against the law, labeling it a “fraudulent business practice.” It requires a consumer who pays for services that involve advertising, teaching or helping someone change their sexual attraction. From the official discussion of the bill: 
“Notably, for conversion therapy efforts to be covered under the bill, as recognized by the author, the services must be rendered in cases where a “transaction” is intended to result in or results in the “sale or lease of goods or services.” “Transaction” under the CLRA is defined to mean “an agreement between a consumer and another person, whether or not the agreement is a contract enforceable by action, and includes the making of, and the performance pursuant to, that agreement.” Moreover, they must result in or be intended to result in the “sale” of services. Thus, generally, religious counseling provided by clergy for which the clergy does not accept payment or charge a fee are arguably not the types of transactions for services covered under the CLRA or this bill; neither are services advertised by mental health practitioners to be provided free of charge.” 
“For some opponents, the language limiting this bill to transactions resulting in or intended to result in a sale or lease of goods or services is insufficient to limit concerns. The Bethel Church writes in opposition that the bill “prohibits access to communication, counseling, and materials for those who are asking for help with unwanted sexual attraction or gender dysphoria even if they themselves desire such resources. [ . . . ] Our desire is not to force our ideology upon individuals, but to give individual the right to choose the type of support that they receive. This bill fundamentally restricts the counsel options available to individuals.” (Emphasis in original.) Faith and Public Policy, a ministry of a non-denominational church in Chino Hills, California, writes in opposition that the bill “outlaws freedom of speech. A minister, religious leader, licensed counselor, or best-selling author would be prohibited from addressing the issue of unwanted same-sex attraction or gender identity confusion if a monetary exchange takes place... 
Staff notes that nothing in this bill prohibits clergy from counseling their parish. This bill merely addresses advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual 'in transactions intended to result or that results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any costumer...'  Staff does not, however, that the court found it important that the law applied only to the conduce of state licensed health care providers, and not religious leaders. This bill presumably has the same outcome given the element of 'transaction' involved."
Attorney Anthony Sampson, who advised Low’s office on the bill, told The Associated Press in an email: “As it applies to ‘practices’ only, it does not apply to the sale of books or any other kind of goods, and it does not prevent anyone from speaking or writing on the subject of conversion therapy in any forum.”

On the other hand, "Paul Horowitz at the University of Alabama School of Law said there’s a serious question that the law 'could include books arguing that one should refrain from homosexuality lest one be condemned or damned, and thus could include the Bible, at least as some read it.'"

Politifact has a good article quoting a number of attorneys discussing the implications. 

The language in some parts of the bill seems to allow motivated clients to request help in changing orientation since counselors are to support the client's "journey," but I'm not sure on this point.  Clarity would be helpful. My understanding is that counselors are supposed to counsel clients within the framework of the client's request, so I would assume a client-motivated request could be met in some fashion. (Any counselors: feel free to weigh in in the comments section!) It's possible that para-church organizations could do so as well under the same circumstances. I don't know.

A genuinely unconstitutional muzzling of this type of counseling is an issue that can and should be addressed on its own merits (the Supreme Court upheld New Jersey's ban, but I'm sure there will be a challenge in California, as there should be).

Does this bill open Pandora's Box? I don't know. But right now the Bible is not being outlawed, and Christians as a group are not being silenced, and you can say anything you want to say to your neighbor, and sermons about a biblical view of human sexuality won't become illegal because of this bill.

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Let's be clear: the Constitution was written to preserve rights crucial to the republic, and as citizens we can and should follow the example of the Apostle Paul and lean on the protection of the State when it is beneficial to do so. I'm not disputing that; I'm no recommending withdrawal or passivity.

There is no reason to panic and fear. There is no reason to be full of rage. And there is never a reason to distort or misrepresent what is actually happening.

What we need is clear heads, pure hearts, and a calm dispositions bolstered by our personal commitment to living lives above reproach in which we honor and love everyone around us as Jesus commanded. Then, if we must still absorb the slings and arrows of outrageous discrimination, so be it.

"We are coming to the end of all things, so be serious and keep your wits about you in order to pray more forcefully. Most of all, love each other steadily and unselfishly, because love makes up for many faults. Show hospitality to each other without complaint. Use whatever gift you’ve received for the good of one another so that you can show yourselves to be good stewards of God’s grace in all its varieties. If you’re called upon to talk, speak as though God put the words in your mouth; if you’re called upon to serve others, serve as though you had the strength of God behind you. In these ways, God may be glorified in all you do through Jesus the Anointed, to whom belongs glory and power, now and forever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:7-11)

1 comment:

  1. Anthony -- once again, you hit it out of the park. Thank you for wise words and discernment (so missing today). I know I can always trust you to speak truth. Thank you, thank you.