Last week the Supreme Court of the United States may have showed its hand by staying a ruling of a lower court which ruled against the gay marriage ban in Virginia and thereby affecting similar laws in other states. Many political insiders and judicial watchers believe this decision is an indication of how the High Court will eventually rule. Many cultural experts, and seemingly most Americans if we believe the polls, suggest that gay marriage is inevitable. The cynic in me, or maybe I should say the realist in me agrees with their assessment.
Approximately six years ago I was serving in a new church and one of my parishioners approached me with several questions regarding my position on certain doctrinal and social issues. (As a side note, this member served for a period of time in the Clinton administration, and the reason I make mention of this is that it may help to clarify his own political views and the context of our conversation. To say the least, we had our differences but got along well as brothers in Christ.) One of his questions concerned my views on homosexuality and why my sermons early on at this particular church seemed to focus on the gay marriage debate. My answer; “Gay marriage is the number one social issue on the horizon, and how we handle it may very well determine the direction of the Church in America and our country for generations. It’s only a matter of time before gay marriage will be made legal in all 50 states. Once it’s the law of the land the homosexual agenda will turn its focus on Christian organizations including the Church.”
This may have seemed like an exaggeration at the moment to this former church member, but time I believe is proving me right. I wasn’t speaking then nor am I now as some sort of prophet who foretells the future. I’m simply an observer of our culture and its rapidly changing beliefs. These changes reveal much about our view of the Scriptures and God’s authority. The Bible once held in high esteem apparently no longer serves as America’s moral compass.
To be frank, gay marriage is only the next step along this path we’ve been on for years now, and when proponents have raised questions concerning other “sins” the Church has often appeared to minimize their seriousness in comparison to homosexuality. Adopting a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” philosophy regarding sex outside of marriage seems to be the case across the broad spectrum of the Church. This is a problem, but a problem with differences. As a pastor I can honestly say most clergy probably don’t address fornication in its various forms enough to help our congregations maintain a sense of real purity. We don’t speak enough about the battles men and women face with pornography and how to overcome its addictive draw. There’s no doubt sexual immorality is an issue even among seniors who now have one of the highest STD rates among all age groups in America. (Report: STDs on the Rise Among America’s Senior Citizens)
The real issue is the attempts made by gay marriage proponents to normalize a sinful behavior as non-sinful. A large portion of the Church still acknowledges any sex outside of marriage as sinful and not something to promote as right and wholesome. This would also hold true for most who watch pornography. If these were not still considered sinful behaviors then individuals wouldn’t have such strong desires to keep their actions secret from family, friends, and the Church.
I recently watched a commercial on a local station with the tag line “Marriage is Marriage.” The advertisement showed three gay couples and two straight couples in supposed marital relationships with young families in tow. The message was clear; the union of a homosexual couple is just as normal and legitimate as that of a heterosexual couple. According to God’s Word “Marriage is NOT Marriage” in a homosexual context. From the earliest of times marriage has been recognized as the union of a man and woman with God performing the first recorded marriage in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:18, 21 – 25). Even Christ confirms the idea of marriage being only between a man and woman in Matthew 19 when He states:
Matthew 19:4-6 (ESV) He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Please permit me just a few more thoughts on the subject.
Recently my wife and I have been watching more HGTV than usual. Our oldest son got us hooked on shows like “Love It or List It” and “House Hunters” during one of his last trips to North Charleston. I’m not sure what the real interest is other than comparing the taste and opinions of others to our own. I think part of our curiosity may also be in seeing how others live elsewhere.
Now while watching these shows I’ve noticed a disturbing trend, or at least disturbing to me, as I shared with my wife not long ago. Time and again as couples walk into their newly renovated homes and spaces the first words spoken are normally “Oh my God.” There’s really nothing new about this phrase other than the frequency of its use within the American culture. No matter the source whether it’s commercials, social media, or in daily conversations “Oh my God” has become the new “awesome.” A decade ago the word “awesome” was used ad nauseam to describe most everything good or beyond the norm and today it’s “Oh my God” or “OMG” in text and posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
The issue I take with “Oh my God” or “OMG” is that these expressions are forms of blasphemy – literally taking the Lord’s name in vain. I think what disturbs me most is that so many Christians seem to be ignorant of this truth and seldom appear convicted by their frequent use. Actually, just writing about this topic makes me uncomfortable as a follower of Christ. No doubt some will question if such statements are profane at all because the prevalent thinking of our day suggest we've moved beyond such ideas. Yet God is the same God of old if He is truly immutable, and therefore any use of His name in an irreverent way is sinful no matter what the majority may believe today.
Exodus 20:7 (ESV) “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
The primary meaning of the Hebrew word “shav” [vain] is “evil, useless, or worthless.” The New Living Translation renders “shav” as “misuse.” Common sense should tell us that phrases such as “Oh my God” and OMG are clearly an abuse of God’s name. And because these terms are an abuse of His name they demean His Holy and righteous character.
Here’s a question along the same line. Shouldn’t we also consider how we use the name of Christ Jesus since He’s fully God? How many times have you heard others use the name of Christ in disgust as part of a typical conversation? Probably more than we’d like to admit. In reality the misuse of God’s name in any form should be discouraged and especially among Christians.
As believers let’s encourage one another to be different than the world around us, and show God the proper respect He is rightly due.
Like it or not America is in a state of decline socially, religiously, and globally. From an international standpoint we have all the appearance of a toothless lion. We maintain a fearsome facade, but our bite no longer demands the same respect it once did in decades past. Most Americans are war weary and no longer have the stomach for issues abroad. Secondly, we’re living on credit with a national debt quickly approaching 18 trillion dollars. The idea that we’re too big to fail is a fallacy. I’m not a financial guru, but I've lived long enough to know there will be another correction in the markets. The real question is will we survive when the bills come due. Finally we've become a nation lacking the moral fortitude needed to lead others. We’re not only on the verge of financial bankruptcy, but we’re also morally bankrupt without any real sense of urgency to correct our course.
Some may think I have a negative view of the world, when in truth, I’m simply being realistic. There’s little debate how the international community now views America, and the second point of our national debt is well documented with many financial experts predicting another crash soon. Lacking moral fortitude can be debated, but the evidence based upon our rapidly changing attitudes toward what is and isn’t acceptable tells the story of our decline.
Take a moment, and think about a few recent events.
Some two weeks ago the sports world, as we know it, was up in arms because of the racial comments of Donald Sterling. His 31 year old girlfriend had secretly taped one of his archaic rants and later released his tirade to the media. Of course there was a national feeding frenzy, and the NBA quickly moved to punish Sterling with the harshest penalties possible. The 81 year old Sterling has been banned for life from all NBA events, and there is now an attempt by the league to force the sale of the team he’s owned since 1981. There is no defending his racial comments, and he has since apologized, but to no avail. As the old southern saying goes, “put a fork in him – he’s done.”
According to numerous news sources this isn't the first time Donald Sterling has found himself in the cross-hairs of public disdain, but it is the first in which the scope of his misdeeds have reached this level of national intensity. There have been reports throughout his years in Los Angeles about cheating, not paying players and hotel bills, and even serving as one of LA’s biggest slumlords. What I find most interesting is Sterling’s past actions didn't rise to the level of concern as did his words in this most recent episode of idiocy. There’s nothing right about Sterling’s racial ramblings, but where are all the defenders of free speech, capitalism, and rights of ownership? Americans once highly valued freedom of speech, but now it appears this right is only valued if it’s in agreement with the majority. No one in the NBA or media seemed all that upset when this man left his wife of 59 years to have an affair with another woman 50 years his junior.
Could it be that only the “right kind of free speech” is important while fidelity in marriage isn't a big deal to most of the American populace? Can a person who asks for forgiveness in our country never be forgiven of stupidity of speech while adultery and other acts of immorality are simply overlooked by the public at large?
The answer appears to be – yes. Lie, cheat, steal, or commit some form of sexual transgression and America shrugs. Commit the wrongful act of saying something considered offensive by the masses, and it’s as if you've committed the “unpardonable sin.”
Take a statement by LeBron James, for example, who apparently is the spokesperson for “all” current NBA players. He stated last week that “the players” believe no one from the Sterling family should maintain possession of the Clippers once the elder Sterling is removed from ownership. James’ answer is to punish the entire family for the crime of offensive speech, because the senior member of this family said something repulsive. Wow! Forgiveness when asked? No way.
So let’s understand this correctly. Free speech isn't really free. If we follow the logic of James and the NBA then exercising your right to say something stupid or offensive should cause you to lose ownership rights to your property. Your family members should also lose their rights to any property, and your ability to earn wages should be compromised.
This isn't an isolated event. Don Jones of the Miami Dolphins was fined and suspended by the NFL this week because of a “tweet” he made concerning Michael Sam’s show of affection toward his “boyfriend” on ESPN (May 10th). After Sam was drafted by the Saint Louis Rams he promptly kissed his lover to which Jones tweeted “OMG.” When asked if he was referring to Sam’s kiss, Jones tweeted “horrible.” Don Jones is now required to complete “educational training” before he’ll be allowed back into the NFL fold.
Educational or sensitivity training sounds eerily like the communist reeducation camps – get with the program or suffer. I know that may be a bit over the top, but other American institutions and businesses are requiring the same type of training the NFL is demanding of Jones. The message is that if you have a thought or a statement contrary to public opinion then keep your mouth shut or else. Note what Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports recently wrote:
The NFL will not tolerate any negativity from within its own ranks about the Sam story. Most of the reaction has been very positive. And if you're a NFL player and you don't agree with Sam's lifestyle, you better keep that to yourself. ... The NFL is making sure that anyone wanting to turn this positive story into something negative will pay the consequences. There's way too much at stake for the NFL to be passive about this. Jones had to learn the hard way. Now that other NFL players see what happened to him, don't expect to hear a lot more negativity on the subject.
It’s a good thing former NFL running back Darrick Ward is no longer playing, or he most likely would have experienced the wrath of Roger Goodell. The Christian Post has reported that Ward and his family have received death threats from Gay Activists due to his tweets about ESPN’s coverage of the kiss. Basically Ward’s response was that he thought it was inappropriate for ESPN to show the Sam’s kiss because children were watching the draft. ESPN and the NFL, I believe, wanted to make a statement and they did, proving they’re a progressive organization. I love the game of football having played for a number of years, but I don’t tune in to ESPN, the NFL Network, or watch games on Sunday afternoons for a progressive political statement. I tune in simply to watch the game.
Our words and actions may cost us personally at times whether they’re right or wrong, but surely I’m not the only one who sees the real danger that lurks ahead. When Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church were protesting the funerals of American soldiers and saying the vilest things some wanted to pass laws to quiet his group which I believe would have been a mistake. I don’t have to like the views or what someone may say to appreciate their right to think it and say it – whatever “it” may be. If we continue to police every word as a nation, it won’t be long until it hits home with you and me. Our First Amendment rights aren't to protect the majority but the minority.
The reality is that these events are simply indications of greater problems in our country and the Church as well. Studies from Pew and Barna, along with other research groups, provide us enormous amounts of data each year from which we can intelligently decipher our national direction. One conclusion which is becoming ever clearer is that our constitutional rights are rapidly evaporating under the guise of a pseudo-tolerance and politically correct society. We should keep in mind that a majority doesn't automatically equate to being in the right. A large number of Americans no longer seem to care if the US Constitution is pillaged by ethically challenged individuals in leadership as long as it doesn't affect them personally. So from a secular point of view our problems appear to be a constitutional crisis that seeks to “fundamentally change America.”
In regards to the Church, her issues are not only intertwined and influenced by a worldly mentality but also from doctrinal ignorance and spiritual apathy. There is an issue with the refusal to deal with sin and especially the sin of homosexuality. This is extremely prevalent within the Millennial Generation – those born between the late 1970’s and 1990’s. Here are some things we know about them:
If one wants to see a fair depiction of the life and struggles of Millennials look no further than Pivot TV and their show “Raising McCain.” I’m not suggesting this is a great show, but it does provide some insights as to the direction we’re heading both in America and the Church. I normally cringe when I watch the show because of the flawed thinking that is often promoted concerning social issues; I think the arguments presented lack depth. Senator John McCain’s daughter Meghan is the host of the show, and she certainly is no conservative, but what you'll see if you watch her program is Millennial thinking in action.
Here’s the good news about Millennials. They still want to maintain a connection to the Church. As long as these 20 – 30 something year olds want to be engaged we have a chance. We have a chance to lead them to greater biblical and theological understandings. The Church in America has a chance to thrive again.
So what’s the bad news or bottom-line? Internationally we’ve become the punch-line for a bad joke; at home personal rights are eroding daily; race relations are digressing into an abyss of cultural discord; the institution of marriage is being devalued and the family unit deconstructed; sin is viewed as a relative issue; and the Church is facing generational challenges which could lead to a Church that looks more like the Church in Europe – almost dead.
All of these things give followers of Christ more reason to pray Maranatha … Lord Come! I’m not suggesting we be discouraged in any sense. The Scriptures have never taught the world would grow progressively better but worse (2 Tim 3:1-9). God is still on His throne, and as believers we’re called to be faithful while we await the return of Christ. God is still God, His Word is true, and that’s something to be positive about!
Dolphins fine and suspend player for tweeting negative comment about Michael Sam; Frank Schwab, editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports
LeBron James says NBA players feel no members of Donald Sterling's family should own Clippers; The Canadian Press – Sun, 11 May, 2014
Generation X and The Millennials: What You Need to Know About Mentoring the New Generations; Diane Thielfoldt and Devon Scheef, August 2004
Barna Millennial Project; https://www.barna.org/barna-update/millennials
I’m not sure who first said this but I believe it to be true: “When you have nothing left but God, then you become aware that God is enough.”
Recently I attended a viewing of the “Son of God” and was somewhat taken aback by its lack of biblical reliability. My wife stated she knew before we entered the theater I would be disappointed simply because she knows me and my love for the Word of God. I truly had high hopes because of the support this film had garnered from the evangelical community, yet I’m still coming to terms with the continuously changing face of evangelicalism. There is often a portrayal within our society that all evangelicals are conservative and biblically literate which is far from the truth. Theologically America is less conservative today and our view of the Bible is in decline.
"Despite a clear cultural interest and awareness of the Bible, the research also shows that neutral or negative attitudes toward the Bible are becoming more commonplace. In 2011, more than half (53%) of adults said the Bible “contains everything a person needs to live a meaningful life.” In 2013, that percentage dipped below half of the population (47%). And although the 61% of American adults who want to read the Bible represents a majority of Americans, it’s a step down from the 67% of adults who said the same in 2011. Furthermore, the percentage of adults who believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to live a meaningful life has declined substantially from 75% to 66% in the last two years." (Barna)
From Barna’s research I would venture a guess and say most Christians who watched the “Son of God” did so more with a devotional eye rather than a factual one, and that accuracy wasn't as important as was the emotional factor. I realize certain creative liberties will always be taken by filmmakers – even those holding to the Christian banner. Creative license however shouldn’t be an excuse for a lack of Scriptural faithfulness, and especially for those who are held in high regard within Christendom.
Now for those who enjoyed the “Son of God” and were moved by this film I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but I do believe there are some things we should think about as Christians. So what are my real issues with this film?
First, the cynic in me says this production wasn’t as pure as some would have us believe. The film was peddled as an evangelistic tool to many pastors, and I sincerely hope numerous individuals came to know Christ as Savior but I’m not so sure. Knowing what I know now about how the movie was produced from bits and pieces of “The Bible” on the History Channel, I question if the motives weren’t more for financial reasons based on the success of the miniseries. I don’t have a problem with this film making money, but I do have a problem with what I believe is a lack of truthfulness in its marketing.
Secondly, the storyline was fragmented most likely because it was spliced together and better suited for television rather than a larger theatrical production. This was not the high quality film that was characterized by its representatives.
Third, Downey’s Catholicism was more on display than the Gospel of John. In the scene of the Last Supper the false doctrine of transubstantiation is promoted (a belief that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ and becomes a means of salvation). The Archdiocese of Washington has even devoted video lessons based on particular clips from the film including the doctrine of transubstantiation (explanation). And then there is Mary Magdalene’s constant presence and placement of importance beside Christ which is not only misleading but a distraction to say the least.
And lastly the biggest problem I have with the film is what was intentionally left out. At one point Christ Jesus is addressing Thomas and states, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” That’s it – no more. The exclusivity of Christ is abandoned and I have to wonder why? Clearly the statement is from John 14:6 and what is excluded is, “And no one comes to the Father except through me.”
Was this done for political correctness in order not to offend others? Who knows? What I do know is that faith in Christ is the only means of salvation, and there’s no reasonable excuse to leave such an important fact out of the dialogue as presented.
Were there positive aspects to this film?
I was moved by the crucifixion of Christ and was once again reminded of His sacrificial love. And of course His resurrection was reassuring because without this we have no hope. As Christians it’s inconceivable to demand perfection in this production or any other, but we should maintain an expectation of authenticity that honors God and His Word.
Here’s a quick devotional thought for today. Read John 6:1-14 and take note of three major characteristics of Christ Jesus that every believer should be thankful for:
Remember the game tag? One kid was the proverbial “it,” and all the other kids ran from him in order not to be tagged and become “it.” A fun and simple game played in simpler times and in big green yards. I’m not even sure if children are allowed to play tag anymore in public schools because of its political incorrectness, but many adults play a tagging game in today’s society and they play with a vengeance.
Politicians, lobbyists, special interest groups, and the media often use tagging as a tactic to advance social agendas and political ideologies. This calculated approach is intellectually dishonest and destructive to our society. The method of tagging has been used successfully for years now primarily against Bible believing Christians and other groups who lean toward traditional values and conservatism. It works by simply attaching a “tag” to a group or issue in order to negatively label someone that doesn’t share the same worldview. The tags most often used today are prefixes and suffixes such as “anti” or “phobia” with the hopes of demonizing a particular group of people for the purpose of squelching debate. Part of the tagging strategy seeks to elicit an emotional response by appealing to the feelings of an individual and not the intellect.
I look back at the late 70s and early 80s with great interest in the use of these tags to turn a moral debate into a political one. The hot button issue was abortion with the passing of Roe v. Wade in 1973, and what took place in the public square was often manipulative in a psychological sense. Rhetorically, the term “antiabortion” while technically correct in describing one’s position in opposition to abortion also lacks clarity based on other societal attachments to the term. Attachments of being “antiabortion” automatically presupposed a definition of someone being anti-woman and anti-choice which is intellectually dishonest – this broad definition still lingers 30 years later. Leftist leaning politicians and groups continue to promote this form of dishonesty with their fallacious arguments on the “war against women” as seen in the last presidential election. In the 80s Christian and conservative leaders quickly attempted to turn the tide by using the term “pro-life” to combat the negative connotations of antiabortion and anti-choice.
As a young man during that time I remember hearing the pro-abortion language and thinking how persuasive it was because of its pro-individual appeal. Once the situational and statistical aberrations are removed from the conversation the argument for being pro-abortion or pro-choice I believe is an ethically challenged and selfish decision.
I use the abortion issue as an example to address something similar happening in our culture presently. Just a few weeks ago you may remember Phil Robertson of A&E’s Duck Dynasty was tagged as being anti-gay and homophobic because his comments given during an interview with GQ magazine. This tagging was led by the LGBT community, many Democrats, Hollywood elites, and the mainstream media. Note what Mr. Robertson actually said:
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. … “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right. … We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”
Now note what the Apostle Paul says from 1 Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV) Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Robertson’s paraphrase of 1 Corinthians appears to be right on target and in agreement with the Apostle Paul’s statement to the Church. Verses 9 and 10 obviously address all forms of sexual immorality as a sin and in particular homosexuality. In verse 11 the Apostle specifies that at least a significant number in the Church at Corinth were once practicing these particular sins, but now have changed their behaviors and are not to return to their former lifestyle. The Apostle Paul also makes a similar argument against these forms of sin in Romans 1:18 – 32 and identifies them as forms of idolatry, (which is a whole other discussion).
Phil Robertson, and Christians as a whole aren’t anti-gay or homophobic. If we’re anything we are pro-God, pro-Bible, pro-life, and pro-love. Some might debate the pro-love aspect, but from a Christian view not sharing the truth of the Gospel is unloving and a form of disobedience. To experience the truth and love of Christ and not to share it with the rest of humanity is sinful. Robertson had a duty as Follow of Christ to speak out given the platform he was given, and he did so even if some consider his speech to be somewhat crude.
As a side note, my wife I believe made a great point on Phil Robertson’s supposed crudeness. Many of those who were most outraged by his rough and colorful language seemingly never speak out about the foul language used regularly on television. Somehow it’s inappropriate to speak about sexuality in a magazine article but it’s not inappropriate to take God’s name in vain repeatedly as a form of entertainment – a bit hypocritical don’t you think?
The real problem “anti-taggers” have isn’t with people like Phil Robertson but with God and His Word. This is not to say I agree in totality with Phil Robertson on some of his doctrines, but I do agree with his view on the total depravity of man and his need for a Savior – the Savior Christ Jesus.
As a Christian it isn’t my desire to impose my lifestyle or beliefs upon another, nor is it my desire to have nonbelievers impose their lifestyles and beliefs upon me or the Church. It’s also not my desire to shut down debate but to encourage an open and honest dialogue with individuals from all walks of life. If we preach tolerance the let us practice it also. Tolerance is the ability to accept another human being without having to approve of their lifestyle and choices. We may not always agree, but we should always be able to discuss our differing views no matter how loud the conversation becomes.