Christianity and politics

 

Jan

20

2014

Thabiti Anyabwile|8:29 am CT

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abortion

This past week featured two annual remembrances in much of the evangelical world: “Sanctity of Life Sunday” and the Martin Luther King, Jr. public holiday. Some churches, like Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, have long made the two days a period of intense focus on the protection of life and racial reconciliation.

It’s an important juxtaposition orchestrated by divine providence. If Dr. King were known for anything it would be the protection of human life and dignity. We think of him as the great Civil Rights captain marching his troops to justice. But in every step of his march was the firm conviction that all men are made in the image of God and created equal. Had he not held that more foundational belief, along with a deeply biblical conception of love, it would be difficult to imagine so sturdy a fight for equality and inclusion. Those twin commitments have rightly made him an American hero, an icon representing the best of American ideals.

So, it’s worth asking: What would Martin Luther King, Jr. think about abortion?

There are many who will no doubt pronounce with unwavering certainty that, “Dr. King would have….” Some will say so with all the moral authority that comes from having “knew Dr. King” or “marched with Martin.”

To be clear, abortion came later, a few years after Dr. King’s murder. So, Dr. King himself never spoke  publicly to the issue. Any “definite” pronouncements are most assuredly speculations and extrapolations.

But if he were consistent with his principles of love and justice it’s inconceivable that he would have favored the practice of killing unborn children in the womb. If he were consistent as a husband and father, who enjoyed the blessing of several children himself, it’s inconceivable that he would support the choice to end life before it entered the light of day. If he held as deeply to the Christian belief that all people are created in God’s image as he appeared to, then it would be inconceivable that he would support the legalization of the murder of millions of children each year.

Perhaps the best way to conceive of his position would be in a picture, worth about a thousand words, or about 50 million unborn babies:

 
 

Nov

05

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:27 am CT

Communicating Authentic Love by Not Resorting to Unhelpful Comparisons

This is a guest post by Joani, devoted wife and mother of five adventuresome boys aged 7-16. A former homeschooling mom, she now serves as Assistant Director/Client Services Director at East Texas Pregnancy Help Center and studies at Liberty University. She is eternally grateful for her Saviour who redeemed her life. She is as kind a woman you will ever meet, and she also plays a mean violin! In this post she continues to evaluate different ways of speaking about abortion. You can read her first post here.

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22)

We all can recount in our own individual lives memories of past suffering.  Deep hurts.  The type of hurt that makes you desperate to see a light somewhere, the pain that makes you wonder if you will ever recover, and the anguish that gives you sleepless nights…. and the taunting belief that you’ll never feel “ok” again.  My friend sat before me, tears streaming down her cheeks.  A choice stared her in the face bleakly, as she struggled to cope with what seemed impossible.  Alone.  Scarred.  Betrayed.  Now here she sat, left with an unplanned pregnancy, heartbreak, and a life deteriorating disease.  The choice was actually, dare I breathe again?    Memories flooded my mind as a reminder of emotions that I had experienced with my own crisis pregnancy that actually brought me to the doors of an abortion clinic 17 years ago.  I thought more about the call to authentically love, without agendas, in ways that would be helpful to the hurting and confused.  I thought again about how comparisons hurt me so deeply, and brought insult upon injury.  I prayed, how can we grow to love more as Christ? Not only in person to person ministry, but as we minister to the whole of society. Cos, let’s face it… if it isn’t helpful or effective…. why would we continue to do so?  Let’s consider together four of the ways comparisons can affect others.

1. Comparisons make me feel like it is somehow my fault that I hurt deeply.  Possibly we have said, “You’ll get over this. Other people have gone through way harder things and they overcame.  Their issues seem worse than yours, and yet you are still hurting about this?”  And I heard, “YOU need to suck it up, YOU are being a baby about your pain and others are stronger than you.”

And my heart hurt worse.

2. Comparisons make me think you aren’t really listening to my heart cry, and maybe don’t understand the specific nature of my pain.  Sometimes we have even interrupted before others are finished stuttering to try explaining the nature of their hurt, and then we said, “You’ll get through this.  There are pains far worse, and I know so n’ so who went through a tragedy, and she kept a smile on her face the entire time.  Nobody even prayed with her once, or gave her any encouragement.”  I then thought about how I didn’t even get to finish my outcry, and maybe I should just stay silent and be strong alone.

And my heart suffered alone.

3. Comparisons make me further look at how helpless and hopeless I really am to move forward… and offers me no solution.   “This story reminds me so much of what all so n’ so walked through.  You may be going through a divorce, but she had a separation from her estranged daughter for a year and it hurt her badly.  So, this is what she did, and you need to do the same thing too!”  And we hear, “Your own hurt that you are walking through is not really unique, and you should just hurry and get it figured out by doing what everyone else before you has done.”  When others don’t understand my specific pain, and then compare with generalizations my heart wonders if my own hurt has a solution.  A solution, even just a tiny step past the pain I’m experiencing today, has to be unique for my situation.  Comparison lumps everything together in my mind, and I feel more overwhelmed.

And I wonder if I can face tomorrow. 

Recognizing similarities is not the same thing as comparing.  Empathy is helpful.   Shoulder to shoulder carrying one another’s pain is different than demeaning the pain through tactics.  I don’t want to be a problem that needs to be “fixed,” I yearn to be loved and offered light when I can’t see.

Recently, I spoke with a young lady who sat before me tearfully – carrying burdens that made it difficult to even breathe.  It was a beautiful opportunity to pour out the love and hope for tomorrow that has been so freely poured into my life.

“You’ve tasted pain.”  She said it slowly.  She stared me straight in the eyes almost as if she was looking deep down into my soul.  She was scared.  She was hopeless.  She searched for something in my eyes…. Something to cling to, and all at the same time our hearts bonded together in camaraderie.

“I see it in your eyes.  You’ve tasted it.  You know what pain is.”

I felt a sad twisting in my stomach.  I remembered the bitterness that poisoned me and the hurt that seemed to have no end.  The stupidity I carried for ever having given my trust to someone.  I remembered the feelings of betrayal, the spilling of my tears replaced by dry-eyed loneliness.  Then a small smile crept slowly across my face.  I remembered that my biggest fear was that I could not ever humanly live again after such agony.  How dare I breathe again when breathing only brought sharp, icy pangs of death?  But, the tiny smile reminded me that I did indeed lose.  I lost it all, but a Champion won my heart.

The opportunity was there with this beautiful soul to empathize and intercede, not compare or slight her issues.   I had the opportunity to listen, listen, listen.  I had the opportunity to offer true hope, while speaking truth into the specific situation that was presented.

Many have said to me, “feelings don’t count”.   I disagree with that statement, and that would be a discussion for another day.  J  But a question to ask is this:  Will they care about what we have to say if at first they don’t see how much we care?

The same is true for our society.  Turmoil spins all around.  We criticize, judge, and make people-issues that are so painful into our “projects”.  Comparisons sometimes help agendas more than they heal hearts.  It’s our job to always reconsider why we do things the way that we choose to, and look for better ways to communicate God’s love.  We need to see beyond our own attempts to raise awareness, and focus on Christ.  Our desire to authentically know Him, and display His truth does not come from trying so hard to find ways to alert the people with comparisons and shock-value tactics, but with His passion, truth and love bringing healing to our community.

My heart reminded me of my Champion who has overcome fear, pain, and death.  The Champion who gently led me to turn my car out of the parking lot of that clinic 17 years ago, and now, daily I embrace my son who reminds me every moment of the miracle that authentic love can work in a heart.

You know this passage below, but read it again today… slowly, prayerfully… and let’s ask Him again how we can love like Him.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,but have not love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”  1 Cor. 13:1-8 (ESV)

 
 

Oct

10

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|9:20 am CT

They Said It Far Better Than I Could

Recently I’ve attempted to argue that in our discourse about homosexuality we need to return the discussion to the basic description of the acts themselves. I’ve suggested  that on two grounds, one fairly implicit, the other stated explicitly. Implicit in my previous posts was the assumption that the entire premise of homosexuality as social identity needs to be questioned. I didn’t develop this thought, but it was working in my description of how the public conversation about homosexuality turned so quickly and decisively. The more explicit statement was that we need to turn the conversation to the sex acts themselves because the success of the pro-homosexuality campaign depends on our not considering those things actively.

This week a couple of pieces make those points far more eloquently and  helpfully than I could  ever do.

Understanding the Perception and Rhetoric

The first comes from a New Yorker profile of Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the DOMA case. At one point in the interview, the discussion turns toward rhetorical strategy and public perception. Here’s the relevant bit:

When selecting the ideal plaintiff, one experienced movement attorney told me, “Women are better than men, post-sexual is better than young.” From the Bible onward, two men having intercourse has been viewed as more disturbing to the social order than two women doing whatever it is that lesbians do. For people to embrace same-sex marriage, they needed to focus on the universal desire for romantic love and committed intimacy. Contemplating the difference between gay people and straight people made it acceptable to treat their relationships unequally, and the difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality is sexuality. Provided that Kaplan kept her client muzzled on the topic, Americans could imagine that Edie Windsor had aged out of carnality.

This interview accomplishes in a paragraph what I clumsily tried to illustrate by retelling that private public policy discussion from a decade ago. The ability to make homosexuality an accepted practice in the minds of the mainstream public depends upon a public presentation of homosexuality as effectively “aged  out of carnality.” Or to put it another way, it depends on dulling the conscience by avoiding those behaviors widely rejected by the public. Unless we understand that this is the intentional, active strategy of one side (and I don’t blame them one bit for making their best case; it’s what we all do!), then we won’t be engaged in an honest conversation. Those who oppose certain laws that enshrine homosexuality as “good and right” (like so-called “gay marriage”) will continue to joust the windmill of public perception rigged by a political presentation of the case. Here you have the rhetorical strategy described in the words of those supportive of gay rights. Opponents would do well to adjust accordingly.

Questioning the Very Construct of Homosexuality

Of course, the most fundamental form of this discussion requires we consider the concept of homosexuality itself. What was once known as sodomy and universally regarded a sin has become a “sexual orientation” considered a product of nature by many. Many people would like to call that debate “closed” and consider the matter settled firmly on the side of nature rather than nurture.

First Things posted a thoughtful and engaging piece today entitled, “Sexual Disorientation: The Trouble with Talking about ‘Gayness’.” Michael Hannon asks, “perhaps it is worth asking whether the premises themselves, and the formal framework in which they operate, should not be rejected wholesale. I wonder in particular whether employing the concept “gay people” with such nonchalance may communicate a familiarity and friendliness with this concept that is unmerited by its pedigree.” The entire piece is worth reading, but here are the salient points regarding how we think and talk about homosexuality.

1. “In his Histoire de la Sexualité, Michel Foucault argues that homosexuality is a social construct, and one constructed terribly recently at that.”

2. “Of course, that homosexuality is a social construct does not automatically render it evil or necessitate our rejection of it.”

3. “Still, while social constructs may be often benign, and may be sometimes even beneficial or necessary, there is good reason to doubt that sexual orientation is such a constructive construct.” Hannon elaborates:

First of all, the heterosexuality-homosexuality distinction is a construct that is dishonest about its identity as a construct, masquerading as it does as a natural categorization, applicable to all people in all times and places according to the typical objects of their sexual desires (albeit with perhaps a few more menu items on offer for the more politically correct categorizers). Claiming to be not simply an accidental nineteenth-century invention but a timeless truth about human sexual nature, this framework puts on airs, deceiving those who adopt its distinctions into believing that they are worth far more than they really are.

A second reason to doubt whether this concept is one that we Christians should readily employ is that its introduction into our sexual discourse has not noticeably increased the virtues—intellectual or moral—of those who utilize it. On the contrary, it has bred both intellectual obscurity and moral disarray. Our young people, for instance, now regularly find themselves agonizing over their sexual identity, navel-gazing in an attempt to discern their place in this allegedly natural framework of orientations. Such obsessions invite far more heat than light, and focus our already sexually excited adolescents on discerning extraneous dimensions of their own sexual makeup. This becomes thornier yet for those who discern in themselves a “homosexual orientation,” as they adopt an identity distinguished essentially by a set of genital sexual desires that cannot morally be fulfilled.

Again, the entire piece is worth reading and considering. Its most helpful virtue is its attempt to put us back on first things (appropriate for the magazine!), to help us ask the most basic questions lest we continue to find ourselves swept along by the winds of political spin, careening toward experiments and ideas contrary to historical facts, nature, and revelation.

 
 

Sep

09

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|5:48 am CT

What Zambia and Russia Teach Us About Homosexuality and Gay Rights Debates

You know you’re suffering from jet lag when the entire family is wide awake at 2am watching Pokiemon and playing video games. We all have that “wish I could sleep but I’ve given up” look on our faces. And school and office hours are fast approaching.

For my part, I’ve decided to tidy up a few loose ends from the trip to New Zealand, Australia and Zambia. I’ve downloaded some photos, unpacked a couple of bags, and now I’m trying to sort a few remaining thoughts from the trip. First up, I want to finish reflections on homosexuality and the terms of our public discourse about it. Now, part of me doesn’t want to return to this at all. But another part continued to reflect on things and, interestingly enough, each point along our trip featured some major news story on the subject. So, unable to escape the issue, I’m choosing in this post to pull a couple further reflections together.

What Zambia Teaches Us about Moral Approaches to Homosexuality and Law

First stop: Zambia. It’s actually the third stop in our trip and surprisingly a third stop with some major news item related to homosexuality and gay rights. I was surprised to note during my stay in Zambia an article in one of Lusaka’s newspapers describing an ongoing criminal case regarding homosexual acts. The article appeared on the front page beneath the fold. Two men faced criminal sanction for allegedly offering and engaging in homosexual acts. Zambian law forbids such acts under Cap. 87, Sections 155 through 157 of the Zambian penal code (see here). Section 155 reads: 

Any person who: (a) has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature; (b) has carnal knowledge of an animal; or (c) permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature; is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.

Section 156 imposes imprisonment for seven years for any “attempt to commit unnatural offences”. Section 158 addresses “any act of gross indecency” committed between two men, two women, or two children of the same sex, “whether in public or in private”, and classifies such acts as felonies punishable by imprisonment for five years (except in the case of children where “best interests of the child” determines the penalty). All of these codes occur in an “Offenses Against Morality” chapter that criminalizes a range of sexual and related offenses including: rape, abduction, indecent assault and insults against women, defilement of children and people with disabilities, trafficking and prostitution, abortion, incest, and the use of drugs and alcohol to commit or attempt sexual crimes.

What interests me is the wording of the Zambian statute–“carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.” The statute covers both heterosexual and homosexual acts. And it does so with a basic and clear appeal to natural order or natural law. Moreover, the public policy does not describe particular sexual acts in the statute itself. Such descriptions and details are left to adjudication, which means the sexual acts themselves are always presented and debated in an effort to refine or reinforce the morality of those behaviors. What might be called the “vagueness” or “general” nature of the law actually works to keep the conscience engaged as the facts and sex acts are presented and debated.

In our previous discussions a good number of thoughtful men and women responded to my post by saying such appeals were “not sufficient” or that they “would not work.” But here in a Zambian daily was an article citing the law and “working” in the very ways being denied in our discussion.

As I’ve reflected on the many comments, posts, and sources cited over the last two weeks, two things seem clear to me:

1. Calls to abandon natural law arguments as insufficient or ineffective appear premature. Moreover, calls to abandon this approach leave us with no widely accessible public square argument. As an evangelical, I proudly hold to the authority, clarity and sufficiency of the Scriptures. But, like a lot of other evangelicals, I also admit that the Bible as a source of authority and moral norms is not accepted by most people in the country. Even a lot of Christians have no functional sense of the Bible’s authority in moral matters. So, if we’re interested to play a part in these public discussions, we’ll have to find an appeal to something broader than the Bible and something logically prior to political force or what we might call “democratic morality.” To my mind broader and prior appeals require some understanding of natural law and appeals to conscience as a beginning point for moral reflection and lawmaking. Or, to put it another way, in a pluralistic and diverse society like ours (values I hold as positive and welcome) society has no moral argument broad enough or basis for agreement accessible enough or even a starting point for discussion without appeals to natural law.

2. Our context has shaped our sense of what’s possible perhaps more than we recognize. Our friends who think a lot about contextualization tell us that we have to develop messages that communicate with an audience that doesn’t necessarily share our assumptions. Without doubt, they’re correct. But we often fail to realize that people in our context who do not share our assumptions are communicating back to us as well. It’s a two-way street. And in this exchange of perspectives and ideals, how we frame a matter shapes and delimits any perceived possible responses. We understand this in the case of abortion. It matters whether you frame the discussion as “choice” or “life.” That frame brings into view possible alternatives and simultaneously excludes others. The frame works like a horse’s blinders, limiting our view to what’s before us and excluding from view wider landscapes. If we’re pro-lifers we do not consider “choice” a viable policy option because it means the possibility of taking life. “Safe, legal and rare” does not begin to satisfy the moral dictates of a conscience that believes all life is made in the image of God and therefore ought to be protected. How we frame things determines what we think is possible or acceptable.

On reflection it seems to me that abandoning natural law and conscience arguments in discussions of homosexuality–the very arguments that sustain the pro-life movement–means the acceptance of rhetorical frameworks and cultural blinders that undermine traditional sexual behavior and morality. In other words, the church has taken on the culture’s frame at the price of her own ability to state and defend the truth plainly from a natural order perspective. We’re in danger of our context contextualizing the church. I’m concerned with the number of faithful Christian brothers and sisters who rule out any probability for effective use of moral law and appeals to conscience. That seems to me a capitulation we need to rethink. In forfeiting as “ineffective” and “insufficient” any appeals to natural order and the conscience, we’re left only with our Bibles (which isn’t a problem if we’re not interested in engaging those who reject the Bible) while we get relegated to “religious bigot” and marginalized as “wanting to force the Bible on everyone else.” If we continue to omit these arguments in the case of public policy discussions of homosexuality, we will continue to see bad public policy enacted and the decay of moral reasoning (not just “traditional” moral reasoning, but moral reasoning itself). And no wonder: We will have abandoned any broad pre-public policy grounds for moral discourse.

JFK Airport and the Exporting of U.S.-Styled “Gay Rights” Perspectives

Our return to this hemisphere was a long grueling route from Lusaka to Johannesburg to Doha to New York to Miami and finally to Grand Cayman. And when we landed in New York we received another reminder of just how far New York is from Lusaka. Airport televisions repeated news coverage of the G-20 Summit taking place in Russia. Lots of attention was appropriately given to the conflict in Syria and the possibility of international intervention in that troubled land.

But in addition to the Syria coverage, news anchors focused on the personal relationship between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Much was made of the fact that no private meeting between the two presidents was scheduled and interpersonal tensions were high.

In the days leading up to the G-20 Summit, news outlets featured two articles regarding “gay rights” in Russia. One asked whether gay activists would be discriminated against in the 2014 Winter Olympics and another pondered Russia’s ban against any public promotion of homosexuality to minors. Unlike Zambia’s ban on private and public acts “against the order of nature,” Russia’s new bill bans the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors,” children under 18 years of age. Several prominent gay rights organizations, entertainers and politicians condemned Russia’s law and some are calling for boycotts of the 2014 Winter Olympics scheduled to be held in Russia.

In response to these developments, journalists reported that rather than speaking with Mr. Putin personally, and perhaps working diplomatically on some common understanding regarding Syria or even Edward Snowden, President Obama planned to speak to a gathering of Russian “gay rights” activists.

While in Zambia, my family and I had dinner with a number of gracious Zambian families. These were sweet times of hospitality and fellowship. At one dinner conversation, our hostess worked as a public health professional, administering HIV/AIDS and other health programs. She shared with us her perspective on the changing U.S. attitude toward aid to African countries combating HIV/AIDS. Apparently there’s significant pressure to adopt friendly policies and attitudes toward homosexuality as a condition of receiving U.S. aid. That’s a pretty difficult position in southern Africa where  homosexual acts are viewed as morally wrong and sometimes illegal.

When I think of the Russian and Zambian examples, I wonder to myself, Is the promotion of homosexual behaviors and lifestyles really the foreign policy issue we want our President to represent? Does the American public really want its Commander-in-Chief using the influence and power of the Oval Office during times of war to dictate sexual morality to other sovereign nations who themselves have used proper legal structures to enact public policies fitting their worldview?

I know I don’t. I don’t want these issues ignored, hence I’m sharing my own perspectives publicly. But I don’t think they rise to the level of snubbing Putin  on Syria and meeting with his country’s gay rights advocates instead. Nor do I think a continent fighting a major HIV/AIDS crisis ought to be coerced into adopting what it finds to be morally repugnant and unnatural acts in exchange for humanitarian support. Insofar as the highest levels of U.S. government now advocates internationally on behalf of gay rights, it seems to me that supporters of natural and traditional views will need to step up their game rather than recede further into the background.

One thing seems clear from the Russia example. A policy regime that does not criminalize private acts but does protect children from propaganda is as intolerable to some activists as an outright ban on both private and public acts. This means there’s no positive outcome that can be viewed as win-win. That’s a shame. And it reveals that someone’s morality is going to be “forced” on everyone else–like it or lump it.

A Final Thought on the Use of Language in These Public Policy Debates

Which brings me to a final thought on the use of language in these public policy debates. I benefited greatly from a number of people who questioned whether Christians in particular should use explicit language in our engagement on this issue. Some were shocked and dismayed at the language of my original post. I was glad to hear from them, and especially thankful for Denny Burk’s thoughtful critique and push back. If you haven’t read Denny’s piece, you should. It’s one of a couple that were so useful I retweeted it and commend it as a counter-perspective to my own.

What I want to reply to here is Denny’s very valid question:

Would it not be better to allow our language to be shaped by the Bible’s own language in speaking about these things? If scripture is our authority, then we would do well not to be more explicit than the Bible is in confronting these issues. … In text after text, the Bible’s language about sexuality is indirect and discreet. Would it not be better to adopt the Bible’s mode of expression rather than language that many would consider to be coarse and explicit?

Fair and good question. Denny points out that regarding homosexual acts Romans 1 is the most explicit text in the New Testament and there Paul “does not speak explicitly of body parts.” And, indeed, the Bible does prohibit Christian use of coarse jesting or of Christian casual use of language not befitting our status as God’s holy people. There is no space for air between Denny and me on this issue.

I wonder, however, if two further things ought not be said for a fuller understanding of the use of language here.

First, to Denny’s first question, there are many areas of speech wherein the Bible’s own language does not shape how we speak of things. There are theological areas (say, the Trinity) and there are practical matters (say, sexuality). There is much that we must say about human sexuality, including the use of labels like “homosexual” or even the name of body parts, that find no basis in the biblical text itself. If we’re going to limit our conversation and choice of words to the biblical texts, we’ll soon find ourselves unable to engage this discussion at any length. I think the text is sufficient for setting some broad boundaries, as Denny suggests, and for setting our tone, but I think Denny overlooks the fact that my descriptions are the kinds of descriptions you’ll find in a wikipedia entry on homosexuality (if you thought I was too explicit, you should not view this entry) or in a public school text book. In other words, I used the technical language of the field. All of which makes me think it’s worth considering whether our sense of inappropriateness is formed by the actual language itself–words for body parts we’re likely to use in any talk about “the birds and the bees” with our developing children–or if the sense of (in)appropriateness is actually connected with the description of the sex acts themselves. If the latter, the problem isn’t the language I employed; it’s the acts that trouble us.

Which brings me to a second reaction. I do have a biblical basis for speaking the way I did. My point above would be playing in the shadows of the biblical text if I had no biblical response to Denny’s critique. It’s true that Romans 1, if we take it as an example or model of speech on the issue, does not name body parts. Arguably it stops short of the brief but explicit description I used in my post–even though it does give us its own brief description as Denny acknowledges. But it would not be true to say there’s no biblical support for this kind of rhetoric or no biblical example of its use. What if we moved from using a text like Romans 1 as an example and asked instead, Is there any precept given in the New Testament that justifies the brief but explicit approach I used in the original post?

In principle, I would root my approach in a text like 2 Cor. 4:2, which states, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” As a text like Romans 1 illustrates, Paul’s practice of openly stating the truth included plain statements about the naturalness or shamefulness of certain acts–homosexual in the case of Romans 1 and heterosexual in the case of 1 Cor. 6. He does not shy away from declaring the whole counsel of God which includes frank statements about sexual sin. Moreover, those statements are calculated to (a) keep his conscience clear (2 Cor. 1:12; 2 Tim. 1:3), (b)commend his ministry to the conscience of others (2 Cor. 4:2), and (c) awaken the conscience and faith of his hearers (1 Tim. 1:5, 19).

And, at times, it seems to me that Paul did speak in ways calculated to shock the conscience on matters involving sexual morality or immorality. He was in his own way explicit, even if he didn’t use technical names for body parts. Consider his words in 1 Cor. 6:15-16.

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ”The two will become one flesh.”

Now, too see why this should have been shocking to conscience and deemed slightly explicit, we need to read it again slowly, letting the analogy and implications take root. First, Paul says our physical bodies are “members” or “body parts” of Jesus Christ. Then Paul asks a rhetorical question: Should we take “members”/body “parts” of Christ (i.e., our physical bodies) and join them to a prostitute? Let the plain implications of the question register. Use a little sanctified imagination. Though, again, he doesn’t name specific body parts, I find Paul’s analogy here rather explicit. Paul means to provoke abhorrence at the thought of Christian sexual immorality by describing it as Christian patronage of prostitution. We know Paul himself abhors the thought because he answers his rhetorical question with an absolute “Never!” and follows with an imperative, “Flee sexual immorality” (v. 18). We’re meant to have the same attitude as the apostle and he’s using a rather explicit sexual metaphor to alarm our conscience.

So, in both precept and practice, I think there’s grounds for attempting what I attempt in the first post. I’m not at all arguing that I executed it flawlessly or even well. I’m simply saying that such an approach does find support in the Scriptures and that if we take Denny’s question to its logical conclusion we’ll be unable to speak about such things as homosexuality at any meaningful length in the public square.

Conclusion

I fully respect those that disagree with me about strategy in the public square and public policy debates. There disagreement does not diminish their Christian profession in my sight or necessarily lower my appreciation of them as persons or ministers where appropriate. I don’t think I have everything right in this discussion. Nor do I even regard myself as a “culture warrior” as some have stated. But as I traveled the world recently, it became clearer than ever that people of conscience who care about these developments need to be appropriately outspoken, frank and loving, plain and bold. The current trends suggest there will be no “opt out” clause, no “conscientious objector” status that any can claim. The debate seems to be zero sum, win-lose. These are precisely the times when every citizen in a free and democratic land needs to let their voice be heard, however popular or not. I’m grateful I live in a land where I can join the fray.

 
 

Aug

24

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|4:23 am CT

On Homosexuality and the Conscience: Responding to Criticisms

Introduction

I’ve managed to provoke a wide range of responses and emotions in my recent post on homosexual behavior and the human conscience. The response isn’t altogether surprising. It’s representative of the climate and world we live in. As many evangelical leaders have pointed out, we’re at the point now where there’s no longer any dispassionate position on homosexuality. You can mention it once in 20 years like Louie Gigglio, or you can be a former homosexual who only sings and preaches the grace of Christ like Donnie McClurkin, and you will find yourself vilified for opposing this behavior. It’s a time for God’s people to be full of grace and truth, sacrificing neither and proclaiming both.

I’m now in southern Africa, where internet connections and data speed are at great premium. So I’m trying to respond to some of the issues raised in the comments thread before disappearing from social media for about two weeks. I don’t want anyone to think I’ve shouted “fire!” in a crowded theater only to run away without giving an account. But this will have to briefly suffice before beginning ministry here in Africa.

The Original Argument in Brief

Since a number of people misrepresented or misinterpreted me and my post, I thought it would be helpful to state the argument in brief. No one commented on the lengthy discussion of how the rhetorical campaign for “gay rights” developed. Rather, most everyone focused on my call to speak in ways that address the human conscience. Here’s an outline of the thinking in that section:

1. The world suppresses the knowledge of God and righteousness (conscience) in unrighteousness. That’s the plain argument of Romans 1:18-32. Specific to our discussion, Romans 1 describes homosexuality as a shameful leaving of the natural use of the body and is the only NT passage that addresses lesbian behavior in the same way.

2. This suppressed, weakened, and distorted conscience means at least three things. First, such a person who suppresses the truth in unrighteousness does not know God and part of the judgment of God being revealed is the “giving them over to a reprobate mind” or distorted conscience (Rom. 1:18, 24, 26, 28). Second, the world’s suppression of the conscience means conversations about homosexuality need to return to first principle questions about sexual behavior that awaken or challenge the conscience so that people would not be lost. Third, without these first principle consciousness-raising questions, public debates about homosexuality, “gay marriage,” sex education curriculum, and so on will be based on secondary factors (at best) or be dishonest in its comments on the sexual behaviors in question (at worst). Without real discussion of the behaviors in question we’re in danger of enacting public policy that may be either amoral or immoral.

3. It is a Christian duty, especially as pastors, preachers, evangelists and counselors, to awaken the conscience so that both the ugliness of sin and the beauty of redemption in Christ may be seen and hopefully responded to in repentance and faith. No man with a dead conscience can live to God. If we want to see our family, friends, neighbors and coworkers saved in Christ, our ministry to them must necessarily include comments on sin that awaken their particular need and conscience.

The Criticisms Offered

In the lengthy comments thread that followed, a range of criticisms were offered. I’ve grouped them into four broad categories that I hope sufficiently capture the replies.

1. Pragmatic Critique: Speaking of sexual acts in the way I propose is likely to be ineffective in awakening the conscience or winning people over.

2. Critique of Conscience: Some people’s conscience will not find homosexual behavior objectionable, so preferences, tastes or “disgust” will not establish any agreed upon morality.

3. Hypocrisy Critique: Some people indicated that heterosexuals engage in the same sexual behaviors in greater numbers than homosexuals. They suggested that the sexual behaviors in question could not be wrong since heterosexuals practice them or that my argument against those behaviors amounts to hypocrisy.

4. Ad Hominems: Some people did not respond to the argument but attacked me instead. In their view, simply writing the things I wrote in the post demonstrates that I am “mean-spirited,” “bigoted” and “oppressive” toward people with same-sex attraction.

My Responses to the Objections

1. Pragmatic Critique. Perhaps it is true that what I recommend would be ineffective. But two things ought to be noticed in the resultant exchange.

First, I never offered these questions about sexual behavior as an end or a final statement but as a beginning to conversation and a return to first principles. I fully agree with all those who say appeals to conscience are not enough to carry the day. Fully agree. But I stand by my contention that the entire debate at a minimum (there’s much more involved to be certain) involves some public statement about the moral goodness and rightness of the acts themselves. For at minimum that’s what we’re being asked to “accept” or “approve” in all these debates. So, we ought not define morality without actually discussing the specific acts involved. We wouldn’t adopt any public policy without due consideration of the morality it enshrines. Who, for example, could pronounce prisoner interrogations “moral” without discussion of specific interrogation practices like waterboarding, torture, solitary confinement, and the like? Can we decide if our wars are just without some moral reflection on the use of drones? Certainly not. The same is true of debates regarding homosexuality.

Second, we ought not miss the fact that the substantial part of the comments thread did in fact focus on sexual behavior and its morality. Folks showed up on both sides of the issue and made their case. That’s the first order debate to have. That’s the debate that precedes and frames any subsequent debate about benefits, rights, and protections. Those who said this “will not work” ought to consider whether significant parts of the comments thread don’t prove that it can and does work.

2. Insufficient Conscience Critique: It is true that not everyone goes “yuck” at the description of the sexual acts in question. I regret using “gag reflex” as shorthand for the conscience’s reaction. I regret it for two reasons. First, though I contend abhorrence is one legitimate reaction of the conscience, it is not the only reaction. Second, using that colloquial expression was too liable to be misunderstood, misused and hurtful. Some people intentionally misused my words, falsely saying I called people “disgusting.” I did no such thing. But I do see how such a loosely defined and provocative term can be hurtful—not only to my cause, but more importantly to people. For writing in this way, I offer my sincerest apology to every reader, not just those hurt.

Here’s what I need to say regarding the conscience’s reactions now. First, reactions of conscience are not equivalent to taste preferences as some contended. Reactions of conscience involve moral reasoning while matters of taste may be little more than amoral preferences or signals from taste buds. Second, reactions of conscience may vary, just as some correctly pointed out. There is repulsion, but there is also guilt, shame, and approval among others. This is why I completely agree that these reactions cannot themselves establish morality. But they do, if we’re sensitive to conscience, call us to investigate moral questions, which was my basic point.

Let me use an example. A virgin wife on her wedding night and a 15-year old girl may both feel deep shame with their first sexual encounter. This is not uncommon. Shame, a reaction of the conscience, suggests to them something morally wrong has happened. But are they both wrong? What is “wrong” in their cases? Should they even feel shame? Is the conscience working properly? A host of moral questions arise. The teenager, perhaps under relentless pressure from a slightly older boyfriend, might feel both legitimate and illegitimate shame. She has willingly committed sexual sin, thus some of her shame is legitimate. But some of her shame feelings may be illegitimate because she shoulders guilt that rightly belongs to the boyfriend. The wife’s shame may be entirely illegitimate given her sexual acts occurred in the proper bounds of marriage. Perhaps she had an upbringing that made all sex and talk of sex taboo. But she has not, in fact, done anything wrong and need not feel shame. Her conscience needs to be informed by better moral reasoning—moral reasoning best grounded in Scripture.

In the comment thread, it seems to me that nearly everyone’s conscience reacted to those explicit descriptions used in the last post. Some were repulsed at the descriptions. Some reacted with “moral outrage” that I would ever write such things. But the fact that we had different and strong moral reactions illustrates the need to have first principle discussions. It also reveals that the consciences of some (you decide who) need to be informed morally. But if we cannot raise and answer these moral questions then it’s likely we’re being merely political in our concern or we’re afraid we can’t answer the questions credibly enough to move from visceral reactions of conscience (pro or con) to defensible moral positions that the entire public must adopt and protect no matter their own private conscience. Once again, this is what the public debate about homosexuality is at least about: what is moral and whose morality should be enshrined in public policy and practice for all to obey. We’re not simply creating space for people to do what they do in private quarters; we’re debating whether it should be the law and morality of the land.

3. Hypocrisy: Straight people do it, too. Frankly, I think sexual confusion in fallen culture is widespread. It’s even widespread in the church. And sometimes where the church is clearest morally and biblically, it still experiences methodological confusion when it comes to engaging a sexually confused world. Even when we’re clear about some moral issue, we do not automatically “get it right” when we engage actual persons who are still fighting or experiencing that confusion.

But just as we don’t want to base public morality on “gut reactions” alone, so we don’t want to base public morality on the prevalence of a behavior. In citing these things as practices in heterosexual relationships, we’re only giving evidence of how widespread sexual confusion is and how weak the conscience is in such matters. If these practices are wrong, they are wrong among heterosexuals, too. Nothing in my post should be interpreted as saying heterosexuals as a rule have their sexual lives in moral order. The evidence is much to the contrary and it raises its own moral questions, too.

But, there’s a tremendously important difference to note between heterosexuals and homosexuals who practice these things. Heterosexuals are not insisting that anyone treat their private practice as public policy. In the debate about homosexual behavior, it seems many of our gay neighbors want to say simultaneously, “Stay out of my bedroom” and “Make our acts acceptable and normal.” That, in my opinion, is where the hypocrisy occurs in this debate. Holding that these behaviors are private while insisting on their public acceptance amounts to either a glaring inconsistency, hypocrisy, or politics. And once again, we cannot and should not establish public morality on so incomplete and potentially dishonest a basis.

4. Personal Attack: “Thabiti, you’re a mean bigot.” I trust everyone sees that such statements are not arguments at all. It’s a personal attack. It barely deserves answering, except that these statements reveal other important realities about where the debate stands in the culture.

First, some want to “win” this discussion by bullying. Most of these folks chose not to answer the basic question—a question that could be answered in as little as two letters. Instead, they chose to try personal attacks. We see this kind of thing all around us—from Gigglio to McClurkin to the disgraceful and evil acts of violence and bullying committed against people with same-sex attraction. I condemn it all as unworthy of people made in God’s image. Nowadays, many of the victims have become the bullies and many well-meaning supporters have joined them in their bullying and prejudice. Without question Christians have blown it and acted sinfully in our encounter with homosexuals. But let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen both ways, and let’s not be so “morally outraged” we become what we say we hate. Let’s condemn this kind of behavior everywhere we find it.

Second, such statements should never come from Christians. I found reading vitriol from brothers and sisters both ironic and sad. Many of my brethren claimed they would be like Jesus in their love for persons with same-sex attraction (completely right and commendable) while they spewed invective in the public sphere. We all have inconsistencies in our walks with Christ and are growing by His grace in conformity to His character. But before we launch into personal attack, we should remember that Jesus never reviled in return (1 Pet. 2:23) and taught the disciples to turn the other cheek when mistreated. If we emulate Jesus in His love, we ought also emulate Him in His patient perseverance of mistreatment.

Third and finally, it seems to me the charge of bigotry and the like aims primarily to shut down debate and silence opposition with social stigma and epithets. So we need to ask ourselves: What does it mean for a “free and democratic society” to systematically silence the voice of dissent? It means we’re in danger of no longer being “free” or truly “democratic.” Those will be far bigger losses than any gains in homosexual rights can justify. For if we lose those things, we lose the very weapon for gaining and ensuring rights themselves. We have to have this debate in a manner that upholds our best ideals and ensures genuine participation from all.

Conclusion

That’s longer than I intended, but I wanted to give some attention to these four categories of critique. I hope it’s helpful in some way. Because I don’t have internet access in order to moderate and respond to comments, I ask two things. If you comment, please keep it civil and respectful. Disagreement—even strong disagreement—has always been welcomed on this blog and it is welcome now. But let’s disagree without being disagreeable. Also, if you comment, please be patient in awaiting any reply from me. I’m not ignoring you. I’m just not able to access an internet connection in reliable and timely ways.

One last thing. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are mine. They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of any other blogger at TGC, of any member of the council of TGC, or of TGC as a whole. I write this to make it clear that if you find this problematic, the blame is my own. Direct them to me. The efforts of some to smear TGC are both unnecessary and uncharitable.

The Lord bless us all and grant us the light of His glory and grace.

 
 

Aug

19

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|7:17 am CT

The Importance of Your Gag Reflex When Discussing Homosexuality and “Gay Marriage”

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our stay in New Zealand. In fact, the two weeks have been too brief. We didn’t have opportunity to visit the South Island with its breathtaking peaks and scenes. We couldn’t even see the entire North Island. But what we saw–Rangatoto, the glow worm caves, Hobbiton, and the Lord’s churches–all blessed us tremendously. So with some sadness, we leave Middle Earth for the land down under.

As we travel, another event compounds our sadness. Today New Zealand legalizes so-called “gay marriage.” Network news stations on airport televisions feature celebrations at various government buildings. Topless men wave rainbow flags. Two men deep kissing. Groups of same-sex couples cheer. Interviewees speak of their elation and their desire to have others recognize their “love.” It’s a scene reminiscent of others in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

Landing in Australia, I learned that Katy Perry has “blasted” Australian politician Tony Abbot for calling “gay marriage” the “fashion of the moment,” while Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promises that if re-elected he will introduce a “gay marriage” bill in his first 100 days. It seems this issue cannot be easily escaped.

As I’ve listened to comments on both sides of the issue, my mind wanders back about ten years ago. That’s when I think the tide changed in public sentiment and the ages-long tradition of heterosexual marriage “lost” the battle.

How Elites in Private Board Rooms Changed the Conversation

Ten years ago a number of states passed various forms of legislation to protect traditional marriage. President Clinton “betrayed” the pro-homosexuality cause by signing “Don’t ask/Don’t tell” military policies and the Defense of Marriage Act into law. These seemed at the time to be setbacks for the gay lobby. The country seemed poised to hold the line on the sexual morality most Americans held.

But there were signs of coming change. I felt the winds of change blowing in a private by-invitation-only meeting of marriage and family scholars at a prominent Washington, D.C. think tank. I’d been invited by a well-known, well-respected member of the think tank. He’d worked as an advisor to the President and as senior congressional staff in both Democratic and Republican administrations. A conservative Republican himself, he had a reputation for being fair and honest with research. Of the persons invited that day, he and I would be the only known social conservatives. He’d phoned me personally to ask if I would join the group. We had worked together before, and I think he was surprised to have found another conservative working in liberal and progressive policy groups. I agreed to attend, signed the privacy agreement and dutifully began reading the preparation materials.

It wasn’t exactly a smoke-filled room. I don’t think liberals and progressives like smoke or dark woods. The room’s only window opened onto a courtyard, though the fifteen or so attendees sat facing one another across a large wooden coffee table, exchanging views on presented papers and the social science on marriage. Turns out there were three conservatives among us, a number of people who presented themselves as impartial social scientists, a French Canadian whose work focused on the importance of traditional conjugal union in defining marriage, and a number of people who declared their pro-gay sentiments, if not an openly gay lifestyle.

We covered the very solid and long-standing research consensus on family structure. “Everyone does well or at least better when children are raised in married two-parent households.” Then the “thinking” in the tank turned political and strategic. The question of “gay marriage” surfaced. The room grew tense. Not because participants argued or tempers flared, but because everyone wanted to remain polite. People had opinions, but with the exception of one known conservative, most didn’t know where the others stood. Folks assummed, because I’m African American, that I would be supportive of a basically liberal viewpoint. Horror and surprise flashed over some faces when I made it clear that homosexual behavior was in no way comparable to the Civil Rights struggle, an analogy that was beginning to gain currency at the time.

Then it happened. The wind changed directions. If the wind could take steps, here they were:

Seize upon politeness. Turns out that being civil about indecency actually hurts the traditional cause. One of the attendees, a well-known openly-gay journalist, began to distance himself from other prominent gay activists. He rejected their militancy. He faulted their arguments as too frontal, too caustic, too beside the point. He “championed” traditional marriage and wanted it for gay couples for all the same beneficial reasons. He spoke of the research on family structure in friendly ways. He took the polite high ground and all the polite folks in the room were left with nothing but nodding.

Minimize conjugality. With most of the room nodding, he then began to divorce (no pun intended) marriage from its conjugal nature. All of a sudden, marriage was not about sex and procreation. “After all,” we were told, “there are heterosexual married couples who either cannot have or opt not to have children. So sex and procreation cannot be essential to marriage.”

Remove the “yuck factor.” Our advocate friend was keenly aware that any conversation about “what goes on in bedrooms” was death to his cause. So, he privatized those realities and their implications for what we view as “normal” or “acceptable,” and focused on other things (rights, etc.). He pointed out that most people have a visceral reaction, a gag reflex, when they think about sex between two men or two women. That deep-in-the-stomach gagging was symptomatic of an even deeper moral opposition to sodomy and other homosexual practices. He told us that this gag reflex should not and could not be allowed to affect the debate. The discussion needed to shift to other aspects of relationships. One of the great Houdini achievements of the gay rights campaign has been to take an issue all about sexual behavior and turn it into a discussion about everything but sexual behavior.

Emphasize love and commitment. Then the winds picked up. If marriage wasn’t about the conjugal relationship, what was it about? “Love and commitment” we were told. “What’s wrong with two people finding love?” Of course, this is a particularly manipulative question. The debate was never about “love.” And who can argue against “love”? But that’s the turn the discussion took in that room and would soon take in the broader public conversations. Gay marriage would be a celebration and affirmation of love and commitment, “the highest ideals in marriage” now that conjugal relationships were unimportant.

Call for “rights” and “equality.” If marriage was merely about love, and such love ought to be protected via government-recognized rights, then “gay marriage” should receive those same protections and rights.

What I’ve just described took place in about ten minutes, replete with objections answered and raised. Our homosexual interlocutor proved himself kind, winsome, insightful and reasonable. Most everyone, myself included, listened with a sense of appreciation.

Looking Back, What I Wish I’d Said

After noting my own appreciation, I attempted to offer a response in a room now deeply moved by his comments. It was a losing effort, nowhere near as smooth and multi-layered as his comments. I knew I was scrambling, just as the wider society has been scrambling for the last ten years. Though no one seemed to like my mail as much as his, I still think my basic approach is the needed approach because the “nice guys” are definitely going to finish last unless we change strategies.

Here’s what I tried to do, followed by what I did wrong:

Reject the unbiblical definition of love. I said, though it was very unpopular, homosexual marriage could not properly be called “love.” You could choke on the room’s tension. “How could I say such a thing?” I pointed out that the Bible teaches plainly that “love does not rejoice in wrongdoing” (1 Cor. 13). That the Bible also teaches that homosexual behavior was wrongdoing or sin. Consequently, though strong emotions and affections are involved, we cannot properly call it “love.” Love does no harm, and homosexuality clearly harms everyone involved. Despite the stares, I continued.

Reject the “rights” argument. It seems this ship has sailed. But a decade ago it was still in port, scraping off before the maiden voyage into public opinion. It was at this point in the conversation that I realized two things: (1) I’d been invited in part to address this particular aspect of the issue, and (2) most of the room gave me a fair amount of moral authority on the question. So I spoke as forcefully as I could about the wide difference between the sexual behavior we were now discussing and immutable skin color given by God. “Gay” was not the new “Black.” Moreover, I argued, there were all kinds of other intimate relationships (some of them sexual) that did not receive civil protections and benefits from government. Grandparents raising children, heterosexuals living together outside of marriage, etc. Sexual intimacy and affection were insufficient basis for extending government sanction and protection. And what of other sexual arrangements that claim as strong an orientation (say, pedophilia) or as strong a consensual commitment (say, polygamy) that we do not grant rights to? I tried to make the case that we were standing atop the slippery slope wearing oil-slicked Florsheims.

But I wasn’t heard. Or, rather, I was heard as a paranoid alarmist. So-called “gay marriage” would not ruin marriage. Heterosexuals had already done that. Why shouldn’t homosexuals have their opportunity to ruin it, too?

Here’s what I failed to do then and I’m convinced is necessary now:

Return the discussion to sexual behavior in all its yuckiest gag-inducing truth. Now to do this, we’re simply going to have accept the fact that we aren’t going to be liked. We’re going to be branded “mean” and “bigoted.” We should not in fact be mean and bigoted. We should speak the truth in love. But the consequence will be a nasty brand from the culture. I should say branded again because we’ve already been given those labels simply for being Christians. So, we don’t have much to lose and we just might re-gain some footing in this debate.

What do I mean by returning the yuck factor?

Consider how many times you’ve read the word “gay” or “homosexual” in this post without thinking about the actual behaviors those terms represent. “Gay” and “homosexual” are polite terms for an ugly practice. They are euphemisms. In all the politeness, we’ve actually stopped talking about the things that lie at the heart of the issue–sexual promiscuity of an abominable sort. I say “abominable” because that’s how God describes it in His word. I think we should describe sin (and righteousness) the way God does. And I think it would be a good thing if more people were gagging on the reality of the sexual behavior that is now becoming public law, protected, and even promoted in public schools.

So what are we talking about? (Warning: Obscene descriptions follow. If sensitive in conscience, skip the block quotes below and go to the conclusion)

We are talking about one man inserting the male organ used to create life into the part of another man used to excrete waste. We are talking about one man taking the penis of another man into his mouth, or engaging in penis-to-penis grinding.

We are talking about a woman using her mouth to stimilute the nipples, vulva, clitoris or vagina of another woman, or using her hand or other “toys” to simulate sexual intercourse.

We are talking about anilingus and other things I still cannot name or describe.

That sense of moral outrage you’re now likely feeling–either at the descriptions above or at me for writing them–that gut-wrenching, jaw-clenching, hand-over-your-mouth, “I feel dirty” moral outrage is the gag reflex. It’s what you quietly felt when you read “two men deep kissing” in the second paragraph. Your moral sensibilities have been provoked–and rightly so. That reflex triggered by an accurate description of homosexual behavior will be the beginning of the recovery of moral sense and sensibility when it comes to the so-called “gay marriage” debate.

I wish I had done a very simple thing in response to the journalist’s comments. I wish I had asked a question. In retrospect, after an appropriate moment to acknowledge the display of brilliance we’d just been treated to, I should have politely raised my hands and asked, “Do you mean to say we should all accept as normal and good one man inserting the part of his body intended to create life into the part of another man’s body meant to excrete waste?” And following the gag reflex, I should have then asked, “And do you mean to suggest that a man inserting his penis in another man’s anus is as “good” and “loving” as a husband and wife uniting with each other as God and nature designed it?”

The beauty of 20/20 hindsight is that it can be turned into foresight. The next time I’m in a conversation about these matters I hope to move it first principles and illicit that visceral response by asking such a question.

Conclusion

What we’re really talking about when we talk about “homosexuality” is not just sex gone wrong but wrong sexual behavior. Deep down we all–Christian and non-Christian, heterosexual and homosexual–know it’s wrong. The knowledge of that moral wrong repulses us because we’re moral beings, made that way by our Creator. In a Romans 1 “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” world, it becomes the Christian’s responsibility to help people acknowledge what they really know but are really suppressing. Our apologetic task is to bring to the surface what has been written on the conscience and cannot be not known. We need to do this with as much kindness, insight, warmth and fairness as the gay journalist in the private boardroom ten years ago. And we need to do this soon.

The pro-gay campaign has successfully duped many in the country and around the world into suppressing their conscience, turning the other way with the help of polite terms and phrases. And because we want to be “nice” and “liked” (who doesn’t?), we have ignored these things or willingly accepted the terms of the discussion presented by the other side. We’ve stopped gagging–at great cost.

I don’t know if the tide will wash out on so-called “gay marriage.” But if it does I suspect it’ll happen because our moral conscience is aroused by sober consideration of the behavior we’re now viewing on prime time television, celebrating on court house steps, and teaching in public schools. Time for us to wake up and shift the discussion back to what this has been about all along. The good news is our conscience will side with what we already know to be right–even the conscience of those who oppose the truth will testify against them.

 
 

Jul

15

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:31 am CT

Yet One More Personal Take in the Aftermath of Trayvon Martin and the Zimmerman Verdict

It’s almost too risky to join the chorus of reactions in the wake of the Zimmerman trial. It seems everyone has an opinion–most strongly held and some volatile.

Some voices loudly declare justice has been thwarted. Some other voices quietly doubt the injustice is as great as claimed. These latter voices tend not to speak up for fear of being labeled and harangued. Christian voices make excellent appeals to Scripture, to forgiveness, prayer and a host of other spiritual virtues–all of which can sound hollow to unsatisfied viewers hungering for justice, for a verdict that seems to affirm Black life and exonerates the country of its racist past.

Words fail us. World-renown columnist Nicholas Kristoff tweeted pictures in place of prose:

 

I suppose it’s twitter’s version of that powerfully moving closing argument in “A Time to Kill.”

President Obama offered prose instead of policy:

The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.

Charges of racism are met with quick agreement or stony fatigue. Calls for peace get met with skeptical stare and suspicion. Calls for action get met with anger and apathy. Calls to empathy are met with hardened face. It’s a situation that defies an easy match of feeling and action. It’s a situation where feeling becomes an act–and for some an end–in itself.

But We Need More Than Feeling

We cannot do less than feel. But somehow in our corner of the world we’ve got to do more than feel. We cannot do everything, but we must not do nothing. But what?

I shouldn’t write this post because I don’t have any more answers than you. I have as many questions as you. I’m likely as suspicious as you–suspicious of the verdict, suspicious of a system that seems to miss the obvious, suspicious of the obvious, suspicious of race and class and geography and how they conspire to create situations like this, suspicious of my own heart–but not nearly enough. So what to do?

I’m thinking of several things for my own soul’s sake. I’d be happy to hear what you’re planning to do, how this might make things different for you.

1. I’m going to play with my son.

I neglect this too much. And I know how deeply broken I would be if I expected him to come home from the store or the basketball court or a ride with his mother only to open the door to uniformed policemen telling me he had been killed. The words would be an atomic bomb in my ears and heart, its blast radius multiplied by the many moments I missed with him. It’s not that I feel more vulnerable or that I fear more for him in the wake of Martin and Zimmerman. I don’t. It’s that I’m aware of how precious he is and how precious little time we have in this life. It’s also time I realized how precious his little friends are and played with them, too. Some have dads. Some don’t. All can use one more arm around their shoulders. So, first, I’m going to play with my son and his friends.

2. I’m going to remember 1950.

It could just as easily be 1940 or 1850. But I’m going to pick a year not that long ago and remember what it was like for African Americans and White Americans then. In 1950 there would not likely have been a Zimmerman trial. In 1950 there might not have been an opportunity for Trayvon’s family to bring suit or seek justice. In 1950 Martin wouldn’t have been able to walk as freely in a White downtown area or neighborhood, and his parents would not have been free to move in those areas either. In 1950 there would have been zero media coverage. And though you can’t tell it by the widespread public reactions in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, in 1950 there would have been no outcry or protest. Most likely deflated Martin supporters would have only been able to huddle with their grief in very quiet homes or church services filled with muffled sobs and primordial groans of “How long, O Lord?”. I’m going to remember 1950 because we couldn’t vote, assemble without repercussion, or tell a White person to their faces what we thought without being another Trayvon. In 1950, many (most?) Whites would have hardly noticed Martin’s death. Many might even have co-signed his death with a “Serves him right” or “He shoulda kept his place” or “He shouldn’t have sassed a White man.” I’m going to remember 1950 because while Whites were suckled on the breast of racism then, it’s not the same now. I’m going to remember 1950 because we–African Americans and America as a country–have traveled an incredible distance. I need 1950 to help me with the distance left to travel and to help me with my perspective.

3. I’m going to finally commit myself to a Quixotic quest to rid the world of “race” as a category of human identity.

I’ve been avoiding this… all the while knowing its inevitability. I’ll be jousting one of the largest and longest operating windmills in human history. To mix metaphors, I’ll be spitting in the wind–especially as so many right now have recommitted themselves to the seeming reality of “race.” I suspect I’ll be largely alone. And I suspect that any Whites who join this cause will make the cause suspect in the eyes of angry racialists, and any African-Americans or ethnic minorities who join will draw the ire of the same. But what does my Bible tell me? And how does our fixation on “race” square with its pages? “From one man God made every nation (ethnicity) of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth…” (Acts 17:26). African-American fathers and mothers valiantly used that same passage to fight for the full humanity of both African Americans and every White people in this country. Now it seems we need a fresh appropriation of it to fight for a human self-understanding free of the lie of “race,” a lie that poisons everything. I’m tired of drinking that poison. So I’m committing myself to an open campaign of resistance–resistance to the tired old social script that never gets rewritten and always gets replayed, like reruns on the classic TV channel. I’m committing myself to being rigorous and tenacious in appropriating an ethnic and cultural identity free of race-based theory, intolerant of it, and hungry for a greater immersion into my identity in Jesus Christ. I’m committing to disentangling “race” from ethnicity and culture, to rejecting the former as a fiction and bringing the latter under the lordship of Christ. I’m committing to disentangling class, privilege, and cowardice. And I’m committing to being misunderstood by others so in love with the current categories they can’t imagine life differently. But what will I have lost if I’m misunderstood? Because men currently view skin the way we do, most of us are already misunderstood. I’m seizing a chance at a new understanding.

4. I’m going to pray and preach.

It’s what I currently do. It’s what I can do. The airwaves will be filled with proposals and solutions. Some will be good. Some won’t work. I applaud them all and say, “Let a 1,000 flowers bloom!” But I can pray. And I have the privilege of preaching. And I believe those are the two most powerful weapons in the world. I believe God hears my prayers in Christ. I believe he makes my words powerful when I preach Christ. I believe mountains get moved, hearts get changed, hands are put to work, and heaven comes down again when I pray and when I preach. I’m so weak. I’m so foolish. I’m so limited. But God is not. The Lord is so strong. The Lord is all-wise. The Lord is unlimited, unstoppable, unshakable, unchanging, and un-anything else that might be a human handicap. So I’m going to God. Not as a means of escape or simply to lament and mourn. Lamentation and mourning have their place. I’m going to God because He is God. He can fix it. He does all things well. He is great. He reigns. And He will do all what I can’t. He’ll even do what I can do far better than if I did it in my own wisdom or strength. Actually, apart from Him I can do nothing. Apart from Him I don’t want to do anything. In fact, I don’t want to be apart from Him. So with faith and desire I’m going to God in prayer and gospel preaching.

No doubt there are better plans. Certainly there are folks with stronger feelings and louder voices. But this is what I can do living on a Caribbean island and looking for the coming consummation of the Kingdom of God when Jesus returns. Because He is coming, I’m hopeful.

 
 

Jul

11

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|10:50 am CT

Slavery, Abortion, Comparisons and Our Call to Authentic Love

This is a guest post by Joani, wife of Dr. Hunter Burchett and mother of five adventuresome boys aged 7-16. A former homeschooling mom, she now serves as Assistant Director/Client Services Director at East Texas Pregnancy Help Center and studies at Liberty University. She is eternally grateful for her Saviour who redeemed her life. She is as kind a woman you will ever meet, and she also plays a mean violin!

I’ve written my own  views on this issue here. When Joani shared similar concerns as a front line worker in a women’s clinic, I invited her to share with others. I hope it’s helpful to the cause and helpful in our relationships with the hurting.

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With recent media coverage bringing to light some of the atrocities and crimes of abortion providers such as the Gosnell clinic, there has been a surge of articles comparing slavery to abortion. This concerns me… are we borrowing someone else’s suffering to make a point for another? Is this empathetic? What exactly are we communicating to hearts with these comparisons? What is the heart of Christ? I’ve daily had an increasing heavy heart each time I read a new article, and finally halted my reading to put my own thoughts together.

I’ve read more than a few disconcerting quotes lately, including: “Ever so slightly, the old South actually treated slaves better than liberals treat babies today” and “Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was.” Working in a compassion ministry for women I see the painful effect that comparison can have. This comparison approach is not helpful for an individual or for a culture. To illustrate how hurtful these comparisons can be, I thought of two fictional ladies whose lives reflect that of many true-life stories- past and present.

Mary. The sweltering heat caused the sweat to drip down her face, mingling with the blood on her cracked hands. If she didn’t hurry with her work she would surely pay a price with her back – regardless of the reasons. The physical pain was nothing compared to the heart break Mary faced today. They had sold him. Her only son; she had prayed for him. Fought for him. Treasured him. Now he was gone forever, far away from her arms. She prayed that God would give her forgiveness for those who made these life-altering decisions for her. Her faith was the only thing that gave her peace in this world, and unforgiveness did not need to step in the way. She knew society told her she was not a person, she was just a slave… a piece of property – less than an animal.

Julie. Julie buried her head a little deeper into the soft pillow trying to hush and deny the sobs of a breaking heart. She agonized over the pain she held deep inside — not even sure how to think about healing. Did she even deserve to have her broken heart healed? Julie made a choice she felt had to be made. It was legal. It was quick. They told her it would “erase” the problem… but why oh why did the crisis feel more real now than ever?

Two pains…. Dare we compare them? Could you possibly say to”Mary” and “Julie”, “Hey, you’re similar to each other, how about I lump you together so we can easily help people see you…see the pain… see the need for change?”

We wouldn’t, right? We know better. We know we never compare grief and deep, painful matters of the heart. Not even one person will grieve or emotionally heal the same way as another.

Two Basic Problems Caused by Comparisons As I See It

Firstly, I think that comparisons with heart-wrenching, devastating subjects are simply just a bad idea. It’s not apples to apples. Counselors are taught that in the situation of grief one of the worst ideas ever is to say, “I understand totally” or “I know EXACTLY how you feel.” Abortion certainly requires political attention in order to change the public mindset. But how can we compare two very separate issues? Both pains are real. Both burdens need to be carried to the cross and placed safely into the hands of God. However we cope, walk-through, and look at these crises, they should not be thought of in the same way. In no way should either pain be negated, but such comparisons will cause the victims of these issues to feel their pain is forgotten or trampled.

Second, these politically-driven comparisons can hurt people spiritually and relationally. Are we careful to keep our political stances as Christians from causing further damage in very sensitive issues? Is not our first calling that of loving as Christ? Is not He our example? Daily, I am challenged by this balance. Yet more and more I realize the hurting needs of so many around me. Let us be mindful in all that we do or say that it is for the glory of God. While speaking the truth and battling the issues of this world, may we remember that we are not of this world. We are first to seek His kingdom (Matt. 6:33), and we should think about what that looks like when raising awareness on sensitive topics.

Two Questions to Ask in Hopes of a Better Approach

My challenge is for us to sit and think through two questions before we make comparisons and in light of the call to authentic love and concern for these topics.

Is it helpful?

These comparisons are intended to help point us to the sin-roots of abortion and to help us think about the true value for human souls. All of us clearly need to see God for who He is, and see ourselves for who we are as His created. A comparison approach can actually demean the value of those experiencing these hurts by shouting silently, “I’m not worried about how you feel. I still want to do this my way.” Is this helpful? No, it really isn’t. It distracts us from looking at each of these particular subjects with the care, concern, and intentionality they each deserve and need given their specific grief, mentalities, and social applications.

Are there better ways to effectively communicate for raising awareness on these topics?

Absolutely. Let’s continue to educate and raise awareness regarding these separate issues and share truth! Let’s minister healing, comfort, and hope to the broken and those effected very distinctly by these issues! Let’s look at the root of all these issues and look at it through the light of God’s desire for us. We can examine each distinctive issue with care, empathy, and hope for all to know our Father’s love. Let’s think about more effective forms of communicating and raising awareness that move toward healing for our culture, not furthering pain.

And truly, I get it.

I get why we try so hard – struggling and determined to bring awareness any way possible. Fearful of sitting on the sidelines, desirous to not repeat the history of those who ignored injustice and torment all around them. We are afraid of silence. We want to help people see. Like many of our methods though, comparison can further hurt those who have been wounded. Comparison can cause the audience we are trying to reach feel minimized and devalued. How can we enlighten if we build walls of mistrust? Equal, tender concern needs to be given while we minister truth and love to an individual or to our society as a whole. We bring the banner of God’s love waving higher than all – with the hope of truth bringing joy.

Is there hope for us all as we struggle to truly understand value? Our beautiful and amazing Creator loves us. He loves us so much that even though we’ve sinned and run from His embrace He pursues us. He sent His only Son as payment for our debt. Turn your eyes to your Saviour today, and know His hope for your life – His value for you – His love that makes you new. Let our hearts be inclined to know this love, and then be this love to the world around us today.

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Romans 12: 9-12 (ESV)

 
 

Apr

18

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|5:00 am CT

A Final Wrap-Up: Thabiti Anyabwile and Douglas Wilson

Introduction

When our discussion first started, we were both surprised at how well it went, and both of us are very grateful to God, and to one another, for this great blessing. We have also been grateful to the readers and commenters who participated in this discussion in the same spirit, praying with us, and laboring to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

Agreements
We wanted to bring our discussion to some sort of formal close, and so this is it. As we understand it, our points of agreement are:

1. Mankind is one in Adam, which means we share a common humanity, and a common slavery to sin. We together believe that mankind cannot come together in a true unity until they do so in the second Adam, the only one who is capable of overcoming the sorts of things that divide us.

2. We both believe that racism is a grievous sin, and we believe that it is a sin that has the practical effect of undercutting the gospel. Jesus came to cast down the middle wall of partition, not only between Jew and Gentile, but also to cast down any other walls that exist between any other races, nationalities, tribes, or tongues. Worthy is the Lamb, for only He could do this. But even He had to do it with the price of His own blood (Rev. 7:9).

3. The logic of the gospel is jubilee logic. This means that the messianic promises all looked forward to the day when the liberation of the world from every form of slavery would begin, and the arrival of Christ was the inauguration of God’s kingdom. This liberation from slavery begins with liberating men from their slavery to sin, but it necessarily and inexorably includes all other forms of slavery as well—whether the forms of slavery as they existed in the ancient world, or the more recent forms in our country.

4. We agree that the letter of Philemon is saturated with the idea of koinonia fellowship, one that Paul and Philemon and Onesimus all shared, and that Paul uses this spiritual reality as the foundation of his argument, urging manumission for Onesimus.

But Differences Remain
In the areas where we continue to differ, those differences are significant, although some of them may well be differences of emphasis.

Thabiti continues to believe that:

1. The history of slavery—even the existence of American chattel slavery, especially among Christians—represents a far more egregious transgression of love, the gospel, and humanity than represented in Black & Tan, which attempts a dangerous revision without sufficient historical evidence. He believes privileging man-made constitutional arguments over the liberty and full flourishing of fellow human beings betrays the gospel, betrays the command to love our neighbor, and fails to consider the balance of all the relevant biblical texts. That combination of revising the record of slavery’s inhumanity and privileging only the prima facie reading of texts compatible with one’s position leads to gross misjudgment and siding with the oppressor against the oppressed in the case of American chattel slavery.

2. A defense of “state’s rights” or the South’s withdrawal from the Union is tantamount to a defense of American chattel slavery. The inevitable consequence, had the South won the War, would have been the perpetuation of race-based slavery and all its concomitant evils. There’s no way to credibly defend the South’s position without also providing means for the continuation of its sins and oppression of Black people. There’s no way to credibly defend the South as a “Christian nation” while tolerating its practice of race-based chattel slavery, even if we hold to an emancipative gradualism. Only an immediate end to slavery would have been consistent with the “jubilee logic” of the gospel and repentant of the “grievous sin” of racism upon which the practice was based.

3. We need an unembarrassed and stalwart acceptance of every jot and tittle of the Bible, including difficult texts that pierce and challenge our own favored positions and cherished histories. After all, the word of God is a piercing double-edged sword which heals by slashes and cuts. We need to embrace what Wilson calls the “angular texts.” But we need not do that in a way that makes us impervious to charges (i.e., racism, insensitivity, etc) that we ought to hear or forgetful of the fact that different “angular texts” challenge each side of a dispute. “Angular texts” and all, as servants of the Lord we must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and certain that what we’re defending is the truth of scripture rightly understood and not just our favored positions or our pride.

4. The Constitution of the United States was never a perfect document. Its guidance then (antebellum South) as well as now (battles against abortion) is insufficient and in need of modification from time to time. To assert that the Constitutional issues at the time of the Civil War are directly contributory to the Constitutional issues surrounding abortion is a massive logical mistake. Despite some parallels, it’s better to recognize that the document has and continues to fail us at various critical points in history—slavery, women’s rights, and now the protection of unborn life. The Liberty Bell has been cracked from the beginning, a crack put there by the hypocrisy of ringing for liberty while holding slaves. The fix is not to root our current discussion in debatable matters involving the country’s racial past, but to pursue “a more perfect union” by more fully applying and defending the high ideals and values the Constitution does embody. We don’t need to look back to go forward, especially if we’re looking back with a biased eye to a “history” that did not exist. We need to be faithful in our own day, and that means not sticking your finger in the eye of people who would and ought to be cobelligerents but showing genuine love “in word and deed” (1 John 3:18) as we work together on life-and-death matters of mutual concern.

Douglas continues to believe that:

1. The “angular” texts of Scripture must be handled and understood in a way does full justice to them on their face. I believe this is possible to do in the light of redemptive gradualism, but this in turn means that not every Christian slave owner was bound to the duty of immediate manumission. After all, how do we interpret the text that says that the Israelites could hold foreign slaves forever? We can’t just agree to face these texts in principle — we have to actually face them and say out loud what they mean. Are these some of the words that are profitable for instruction (2 Tim. 3:16)? Further, because in our present day, such commitment to all the texts of Scripture is sufficient to get any Christian tagged as a racist, any a priori commitment to avoid charges of racism at all costs will necessarily morph into a regrettable softness when it comes to the issues of biblical authority on the controversies of our own day — abortion and homosexuality chief among them.

2. We have allowed our indignation at sins committed one hundred and fifty years ago to hide our complicity in the atrocities of our own day. I believe that the constitutional implications of the War and the Reconstruction amendments paved the way (in the realm of constitutional interpretation) for Roe v. Wade, and has resulted in a far greater evil being perpetrated on blacks in the 21st century than slavery ever was in the 19th. While it is good to be correct about idols toppled long ago, it is far better to be right about the idols that are currently demanding the blood of innocents, including many millions of black innocents. Our obedience before God will be reckoned in how we dealt with the sins of our own era, not the sins of another. My central interest in all these historical issues has to do with how the legal principles that were laid down then are being understood and applied today.

3. I do understand the point that support for the South would have had the downstream effect of continuing the institution of slavery, at least for a time. While the point is easy to make from this distance, it imposes, I believe, an extra-biblical requirement, and furthermore, it is one that nobody practices in our current situations. I believe it is too simplistic and is unworkable. For an American soldier to go the Middle East today and fight for “democracy” is also to fight against nations that don’t allow abortion-on-demand, and it is to fight for a nation that does. To help America is therefore to help abortion. Well, we would say, quite rightly, it isn’t quite that simple. I completely agree . . . but would also add that it wasn’t that simple in Virginia one hundred and fifty years ago. We really must use equal weights and measures. The Lord was quite insistent upon it — the judgment we use will be the judgment that is used against us (Matt. 7: 1-2).

Conclusion
In conclusion, we believe a fair summary of our conclusions would be this. It is possible for Christians to disagree about volatile issues. Moreover, it is possible — indeed necessary — to do so charitably. The strong disagreement makes us feel like enemies and strangers, while the charity reminds us of our brotherhood in Christ. The strong disagreement tests the bonds of our fellowship and love for one another, while genuine love covers over a multitude of sins and holds all virtues together. We believe we have experienced both the testing strain of strong disagreement and the preserving bonds of biblical love. We thank God for it even as we disagree about some things, agree about others, and hope to be faithful to our common Master in it all. We believe that this is what it looks like to labor to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace — it is kind of messy sometimes, but we believe it pleases God.

 
 

Apr

02

2013

Thabiti Anyabwile|11:01 am CT

What Do the Noseguard and the Center Talk About?

Somewhere along the way I lost track of the many posts Douglas Wilson and I have exchanged regarding his book, Black and Tan, so I posted a “round-up” of them all. While I lost track of the posts, by God’s grace I don’t think I lost track of the conversation itself.

We’ve covered a lot of ground. The tone has been charitable. The engagement has been on the issues and not an attack on persons. We’ve reached a fair amount of important agreement, and we have some significant disagreements remaining. I think that’s better than we might expect any time a former African American Muslim and a self-described “paleo-Confederate” start talking about slavery, “race,” and the like. Praise God for the Spirit’s work in redeemed clay!

I’ve covered pretty much all the ground I’d hoped to cover in my critique of Black and Tan and then some. But I want to offer one last post, not so much about Black and Tan but about how we talk about these things publicly. This will have all the coherence of a ramble, so I ask your patience and your grace. I hope it’ll be useful on some level.

I thought Wilson’s last post served us all when he shifted the conversation to the issue of the watching public. I like Wilson’s gift with language and metaphors. I wish I could title my posts with the kind of creativity he uses! If this thing were judged on post titles it would be a complete shut-out in Wilson’s favor! Among Wilson’s rhetorical gifts is the use of metaphor, simile and analogy. Now I don’t normally like to argue using analogy because they always break down, and then there are those who seize on every detail of the analogy and miss the main point (kinda the way some preachers preach parables). But I find myself in a rare analogy using mood. But, the best I can do here is borrow an analogy Wilson used. One I like very much and think captures one aspect of our discussion.

Wilson writes, “we are having this discussion on the fifty yard line in a full stadium.” That’s well-said. There are a lot of onlookers to this discussion. The stadium feels filled with four types.

The Kinds of Onlookers We Tend to Be

Partisans. There are those wearing Doug Wilson jerseys who cheer for his every play and find a way to blame the refs every time he appears to suffer a setback. There are the folks wearing Thabiti jerseys who cheer his every play and find a way to blame the refs every time he appears to suffer a setback. These are the partisans, hard to be won over, watching the game with a jaundiced eye, as eager to “boo” as to cheer. They make sure the team is supported and the stadium is filled. But–and this is a “but” the size of Aunt Fanny’s on Robots–partisans don’t make good discussion partners. Teams need them and work hard to gather them. But partisans hate close calls, disdain the finer points of the game, and tend to want winners by wide margins. This makes them difficult to woo with anything other than the other teams head on a stick. But they’ll march out single file and singing if said head could really be on a stick carried out as a totem of their prowess and dominance. Partisans can be the death of discussion. But we love them, and we have to be careful how we court them when we’re helmet to helmet on the 50-yard line. That’s one part of our stewardship in public discussions.

Empaths. There’s also a type of fan who makes for our purposes a second group. That’s the guy who refers to his team with the plural pronoun “we.” When he gives the report on the game he says, “We lost” or “We won.” When his team loses, he’s unable to go to work Monday morning. When they win he is unbearable all week. He’s the kind of guy who takes everything happening on the field personally, as if he’s on the roster with the other guys. You’ve heard the joke about the guy who sits in the stands with 30,000 people and believes the players are talking about him when they meet in the huddle. He’s the guy who watches a play unfold on the field and can’t help but say, “That’s just what I was thinking they should do,” and believes his thinking it (or his watching or not watching the play) has something to do with how the play unfolded. He’s an empath, like Deanna Troy on Star Trek Next Generation, and a witch. And he shows up feeling everything the team should feel but without any real involvement in the game. The empaths feel and feel and feel, but like Officer Troy really doesn’t do much. Careful how much you feed them!

Aficionados. Then there are those folks who came to the game looking for a good afternoon’s entertainment. They’re not really fans of either team. They’re perhaps loyal to another team in another town. But they enjoy the game. They like the artistry as well as the fundamentals. They’re the kind of attendees who carry years of stats in their heads and know something about the character of the teams and their owners. They’re great people to take score, indifferent as they are to the teams themselves and capable as they are of comprehending the issues in the game. Now, many partisans think they’re these kinds of indifferent aficionados simply because they know stats and won-loss records. The difference between a partisan and an aficionado isn’t a matter of statistical record-keeping but of heart’s attachment. The aficionado’s heart is attached to the game while the partisan’s heart is attached to the team. Now, the person most often needed in the 50-yard line discussion is the aficionado. They’re the persons that can help keep our view of things straight, fill in the action for those with bad seats, and calmly toss a flag against either team as occasion requires. But the problem is this: when you’re in Philly and you’re an aficionado you’re probably better off keeping your mouth closed! In other words, the great crowd of fans/partisans rooting for their teams don’t want to hear from the smaller pack of aficionados, who find themselves pushed to the margins rather than invited into the analysis and enjoyment of the game. There’s a contest going on in the stands, too, and it’s not just partisans against partisans but also partisans against the rightly dispassionate and fair. If we lose the fair-minded, the open to learning and changing, the willing to listen and consider, then we lose the whole shootin’ match (to mix metaphors).

Girlfriends. Fourth, in the stands of a football game there’s another kind of attendee. That’s the girlfriend (usually, stereotypically; trust me, I know women can be and are every bit as passionate and knowledgeable about football as the guys; but permit me the admittedly stereotypical analogy). She only came to the game to get some time with the ex-jock boyfriend. She cheers for his team but she really isn’t a fan. She’d rather be aloof about the whole thing but she doesn’t have the aficionado’s history and understanding. She simply showed up and found herself engulfed in a smash-mouth football game with beer sloshing, face-painted, shirtless partisans shouting all around her. She’d rather be at home watching HGTV or Lifetime or some such thing, but she’d do anything for her man. And that’s her difficulty. She’s got a decision to make. All the bluster and banter suggests something really important is happening on the 50-yard line. She should probably pay attention. The aficionado next to her seems to have a good grasp on things but she can’t tell from his dispassionate comments who’s right or wrong, and talk about completion percentage has her wondering if any of the players finished school. The fans screaming their heads off have made up their mind who “they’re for,” but they seem to overlook some pretty significant happenings on the field and to fixate on a couple other things that seem to be over now. Does she follow her boyfriend, does she pretend the aficionado’s indifference, or does she make up her own mind, even if that means picking the team with the prettiest colors? You see, there are a great many people new to the game, new to all the party lines, trying to figure things out and make a reasonable decision. And precisely because they’re reasonable, they may just decide to bail on the whole sordid thing. Or, they may be swept up with the mobs rather than think through an issue. Or, they may choose their pretty colors, complain the game is too violent to begin with, and watch only for the “pretty” plays.

All that to say this: When the nose guard and the center line up at the fifty yard line, they’re going to have to make themselves blissfully unaware of the people in the stadium and observe the player in front of them and the rules of the game on the field. It’s the only way to lead, influence, and actually win the game. The irony of sports performance is that winning the fans requires ignoring the fans. The fella kicking the field goal can’t allow himself to get distracted by the end zone crazies waving towels and howling ugly things about his mother. The quarterback and receiver looking to connect on a timing pattern can’t listen to the thunderous cheers and boos coming from the rafters. To play the game faithfully and effectively the players must focus on what’s happening on the field.

Why This Matters

This  singular focus helps us in a number of ways.

First, it keeps us from playing the impossible game of answering critics. I learned this from another warrior in today’s culture battles: John MacArthur. He said he learned long ago never to answer his critics. When I first heard it I thought, How do you not do that. Then I became a senior pastor. It became very apparent very quickly that if I were to answer my critics it would be a full-time job and the main thing would never get done. But here’s the tricky part of all this: Answering critics may either be direct replies to them or anticipating and adjusting my comments to guard against them in some way. Either way, the critic sets the agenda for some part of my ministry and life rather than God’s calling. This is why Paul tells the Corinthians, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor. 4:3-5). The apostle focuses instead on being faithful as a steward of the mysteries of God (4:1-2). We can’t answer our critics. There are too many of them.

Second, playing the game between the lines keeps us focused on the ball. That was what my daddy said when he was particularly pleased with me. “Son, you’re on the ball.” He meant I had my head in the game and was doing what was expected of me. As Christians and certainly as ministers we have a more important task–to be faithful to the decrees of God and the proclamation of His everlasting gospel. The players on the field have to understand that most of all. Inevitably the news reporter finds them in the locker room before they’re even dry from the shower and starts asking or blaming on camera. Indeed, the reporters and the fans have already begun their second-guessing while the game is being played. But the player has to keep his mind on what the coaches and the captains are instructing. The most ridiculous thing in all of football is an off sides penalty or an illegal motion penalty on the nose guard or the center. They’re the guys closest to the ball. One of them even has his hands on the ball and knows the snap count! Losing track of the ball is an inexcusable error for them. They must maintain a singular focus on the ball, and if they do they’re able to be faithful to their calling. Win or lose they have done that most important thing: protect or get the ball.

Third, being focused on the game and playing by the rules of the game keeps us consistent with all the fans in the stand. We know the bleachers are partisan. We know there are observers wanting our heads for this or that reason, or for no reason at all. And we know there are people in the same bleachers looking at things carefully and those watching cluelessly. How do we play the game in a way that honors them all? We line up and we play without cheating. Cheating sours every fan. Even the fan whose team won through the missed call or the indiscretion can’t talk in loud tones about the “win.” The whole thing is suspect and they know it in their hearts. Only when everything is “fair and square,” “by the book” can players on the field and people in the stands hold their heads up in dignity. But to have dignity in either victory or defeat, we have to play by one set of rules observed by all, whether on the field or off the field. A holding penalty has to be a holding penalty, even when it’s close. A late hit has to be a late hit even if it’s a nanosecond after the quarterback releases the ball. Lining up off sides has to be an infraction no matter whether you’re fanboy, aficionado, or hapless spectator and no matter whether you’ve got 50-yard line seats or you’re in the nosebleeds. When an infraction is called–especially when the players admit it, and even when they hate that it hurts their team or disappoints their fans or gives joy to their opponents–submission to the ruling has to apply to all. We don’t have penalties that only affect the center but not the rest of the team, or only benefits one player but not all.

One person in the comments thread, a partisan, I think, asked if I thought charges of “racial insensitivity” were “objective” such that Wilson’s humble apology (and I do think it was humble to make an apology on the 50-yard line) should be made to all without respect to whether they were themselves honest or opportunistic. My answer to that is, “Yes.” If I’ve wronged one brother with a remark, there’s no reason for me to assume the remark doesn’t harm others, even others I regard as partisans on the other team always howling against me and my team. Here’s the thing: Floppers have feelings, too (again, to mix sporting metaphors). So, too, do the unredeemed from whom we may even expect flopping because it inheres in their fallenness. Even if floppers have faked a hundred charges like Bobby Hurley of Duke days gone by, that does not mean the next time we see him spread eagle counting ceiling tiles that no charge occurred . We don’t get to offend our enemies. We don’t get to ignore the effect of our words on others. We get to love them, offer them the other cheek, and prove ourselves to be unlike sinners by doing good without expectation of return and being merciful to those who are not merciful to us (Luke 6:27-36). Sometimes love looks like the coal-hot kindness of an apology sincerely offered to all, especially our detractors (Rom. 12:19-21).

Fourth, playing the games by the rules and focusing on the ball makes us winsome with fans and enemies alike. Let me admit something. I was a Michael Jordan hater for half his career. I went to NC State, Jordan to Carolina. In the sports world that is the ACC, that was enough to make us mortal enemies and rule out any favorable remarks one might have toward Jordan. But I was indeed a hater. About five years into his reign in Chicago, I too had to admit the obvious. The man was great as greatness goes in the world of professional sports. I had to stop quarreling and admit it. I wasn’t being very gracious and I wasn’t winning any friends who could see the obvious truth.

Even in football there is something called “unsportsmanlike conduct.” It’s not the kind of observable infraction like being off sides, but it is a conduct unbecoming a player on the field. It’s “unsportsmanlike.” We may think it subjective, but it’s real nonetheless. “Racial insensitivity” and insensitivity of every sort has the same “realness” as unsportsmanlike conduct. After all, the servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be kind to everyone and correct his opponents with gentleness (2 Tim. 2:23-25).

If my infraction was an infraction, then it was an infraction against the Gamemaker, the game, the other team opposed to me, and against the onlookers who may be taken in by my sin. If I behave in an unbecoming way then I need to take the ten yard penalty, line it up again, and run the next play. But I shouldn’t complain about the ref or attempt to comply with the penalty only with those I like.  I should admit and receive the penalty like a son being chastised by His Father and look forward to the harvest of righteousness that will surely come (Heb. 12:7-11). To do otherwise is to deny the grace of God in correction and it is possibly to set an example we don’t want followed by those watching in the stands.

Fifth, and finally, playing the game by the rules and staying on the field delivers us from fear. Wilson was quite humble and transparent to talk about his concerns in the broader culture wars, concerns or fears that have shaped some of his comments in this discussion. I think I understand and appreciate his concerns. What I want for him and for us all is a certain kind of fearlessness. I think it comes more effectively by simply attending to the conversation or issue at hand and leaving the results to the Lord. We play football one snap at a time. Surely those plays build to the game’s conclusion, but we can’t predict the conclusion by the next third-down meeting at the line of scrimmage. We line up, make the snap, run the play, and trust the Lord that the game rides on lots of such plays. Even when we’re in the red zone on the game’s final drive, that drive is only “final” because it followed lots of other drives and plays that put us in the position. All that to say: Freedom comes from running the play, forgetting the fans, and trusting God with the outcome. After all, who of us is sufficient for these things? Who can arrest the decay of the Church or perfect its health? Who of us can guard against the attacks of detractors or change the hearts of one onlooker? None of us. But God can and He surely will cause His church to prevail against the gates of hell. We need not fear. We might even be a bit more postmill and optimistic. The Lord reigns–even at the 50 yard line when the fans are going wild.

Conclusion

So let me bring this to a conclusion, long overdue by now. Thank you for reading thus far and for contributing in whatever way the Lord has prompted you to beyond reading: leaving comments, passing along links, praying for me and Wilson. I think I can safely say that he and I both appreciate your engagement with us.

If I have one hope in addition to deep reconciliation of God’s people, it would be that we learn to talk with one another–especially when it comes to matters touching upon “race.” Personally I don’t like talking about “race.” Yet I find myself from time to time drawn into such discussions. Perhaps the Lord sees me as a kind of Jonah and he keeps preparing fish to swallow me and spit me out on the banks of these discussions. I don’t know. But insofar as He keeps me involved in these kinds of exchanges, I hope to be an ambassador for Him, to do some little thing that models His graciousness, and to call us all to a faithful embrace of His word.

In that sense, this discussion with Wilson hasn’t been solely about Wilson and me. It’s about you, the reader. It’s about the Lord’s Church, made up of every tribe, nation, and language. It’s about our collective sanctification and trusting that our racial warts are there not by accident but by God’s providential design to conform us to the image of His Son whom He loves. I think Wilson and I may try to offer a joint summary post with agreements, disagreements, and conclusions. We’ve talked about that; we’ll see if we can pull it off. But you’re still writing this series for us in all the conversations you have with others about these things and in the conversations you even have with yourself. May those conversations bear the peaceable fruit of wisdom and love. Grace to us all.