Be Careful Little Eyes . . . or Not?

DuckRecently I found myself involved in a Facebook discussion with a sister in Christ who objected to watching the A&E television program Duck Dynasty. Her concern was that the people on that program profess to be Christians but some aspects of their behavior do not live up to the standards she expected in their lives. I agreed that there are some problems with the characters’ behavior. I do not think that they always provide an ideal Christian example. I do not approve of gambling or drinking alcohol in any form or amount. While the language does not fall to the standard of the vulgarity we commonly encounter in movies and novels today, some of it can be described as crass and coarse. I do not know if the language we hear on that program is sinful, but it is not the way I talk and it is not the way I wanted my children to talk when they were little (or as grownups, for that matter). Even though I like the program,  I have to admit that they do not always do as well as I would like in letting the light of Christ shine in all aspects of their behavior.

However, leaving Duck Dynasty aside, I want to address the question of whether or not it is sinful for a Christian to be entertained by programming that depicts sinful behavior. It seems to me that we need to exercise care about making hard and fast rules. Answers may differ from one individual to another because the influence such exposure effects will vary.

Writing to the Corinthians, Paul said that avoiding all immoral people would mean “you would need to go out of the world” (1 Corinthians 5:10 ESV, “Not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world”). Unless we live like hermits, alone in an isolated mountain cabin having no contact with the outside world, we will witness sinful behavior in the lives of people around us.  We might even see some in our own lives.

Paul did go on in the next verse to say that we should not “associate with anyone who bears the name of a brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” From his discussion of sin in the church in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul is concerned with two issues: (1) He wants the spirit of the sinner to be saved in the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:5 ESV  you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.) and (2) he wants the church to be protected from the harmful influence of sinners in their midst (1 Corinthians 5:6 ESV  Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?).

All faithful Christians should be trying to restore those who have fallen into sin (Galatians 6:1 ESV, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” and James 5:19-20 ESV, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,  20  let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins”). When other efforts to bring about restoration have failed, the last step is to withdraw ourselves from association with sinning brothers and sisters in the Lord (2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV, “6  Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us”).

This means that our responsibilities as Christians seem to fall into two areas. First, we need to do whatever we can to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” those whose lives demonstrate the need for repentance (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV). Our opportunities to encourage and influence people who appear on a television program are limited. Certainly, whether or not we choose to watch the program has minimal impact on them changing their objectionable behavior.

The second area of responsibility is to protect ourselves from contamination by the pernicious influence of evil spreading into our own lives. We need to avoid exposing ourselves to behavior if that exposure means that we are likely to sin ourselves. No Christian should watch pornography because it can be expected to result in the viewer committing the sin of lusting (Matthew 5:27-28 ESV, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart”). 

We should also be concerned about the desensitizing effect of ongoing exposure to sinful behavior. Will watching movies with cursing and profanity cause viewers to be more likely to use that language in their own lives? Will exposure to violent behavior cause viewers to be more violent themselves? Will the example of sexuality immorality in movies, television programs, and novels cause us to be more accepting of that kind of behavior in our lives and in the lives of people we know in real life?

The best answer to those questions may be, “Perhaps.” We cannot always say with certainty how our thinking and behavior will be changed by continued exposure to things that are sinful. People with mature faith are less likely to be negatively impacted by what they clearly recognize as sinful actions than impressionable people who do not have those settled convictions.

There is a need for us to focus our thoughts on things that are beneficial to our development as Christians. Philippians 4:8 ESV does admonish us to think about things that are excellent and praiseworthy: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Realistically, however, this is not something that we can expect everyone to accomplish 100% of the time. Surely watching the news focuses our thoughts on things that are not praiseworthy. Watching sports might expose our eyes to immodestly dressed cheerleaders or our ears to inadvertently picked-up snippets of bad language spoken in anger by players or coaches. Even the classic television programming of yesteryear can be problematic. Sheriff Andy Taylor sometimes schemed a bit and was not always totally forthright in everything he said. Lucy Ricardo wasn’t exactly submissive to her husband all the time.

Furthermore, we sometimes face an issue with determining exactly what constitutes sinful behavior. We might think that this should be simple enough because if the Bible calls something sinful, it is sinful (no matter how our culture views the practice). Not everything is so clear-cut, however. One of the objections raised by some against Duck Dynasty is that sometimes the people gamble. In one episode two of the brothers played golf with stakes of $100 a hole wagered on who did best. These people are millionaires so $100 might not mean as much to them as it would to me. Nevertheless, there are principles at stake that cause me (and many others) to reason that Christians should not gamble in any form or fashion. However, can you provide book, chapter, and verse from the Bible to back up explicitly that conclusion? No, you cannot. It is a matter of applying Bible teaching about stewardship of our money. Is there room for leeway in allowing others to reach a different answer? Maybe, maybe not. But it is hard to be sure that the matter is settled with certainty.

 Bottom line:  Christians need to be very concerned about the pervasive influence of sin. We should encourage those engaging in what we know to be sin to repent and reform their behavior. We should do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves from contamination by this ole sinful world. Some may conclude that the right answer is to unplug the TV, abandon the movie theater, and be very careful about what we choose to read from the bookstore and library. Others may choose to use their discernment to decide case-by-case what is hindering their faith and what is simply providing entertainment. All of us should try to avoid judging our brothers unfairly regarding the decisions they make in this area.

 

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Hug Your Children a Little Tighter

Friday’s tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut  just drove home a truth that we all knew already.  We need to cherish our children.   Psalms 127:3 ESV says, “ Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.”

The job of being a parent seems to get more challenging with every passing day.  Those of us who are parents or grandparents could not avoid making the immediate association to our own precious little ones when we heard that a young gunman had opened fire on a classroom of younger elementary school-age children. It is beyond my ability to understand why or how anyone could do such a thing.  I do not know how to begin explaining such a deed.

What Friday’s horror does make me want to do is emphasize what a precious responsibility we were given when the Lord entrusted us with caring for and bringing up those little ones.  We owe them our very best effort to guide and protect them as they grow up to be godly men and women.

It should go without saying that we must provide for their basic needs – food, clothing, shelter, and protection from anything that might harm them.  That is what loving parents and grandparents do always try to do.  For most of us, the first three items are pretty much automatic. The fourth item on that list has become much more problematic.  We know how to teach our little ones not to run into the street when a car is coming or not to touch a hot stove and get burned.  It is much harder to protect them from evil incarnate that seems to be appearing all too frequently in our world today.

We need to give our children knowledge about God and his will for them.  Fathers are to bring up their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” [Ephesians 6:4 ESV].  We should want our children to learn Bible facts.  Bible classes at church and home Bible training go a long way with that.  The instruction of the Lord entails more than just  memorizing the details of Bible stories, though.  We need to help our little ones understand how Bible truth applies in their own lives.  We should know that our job is to train our children in the way they should go [Proverbs 22:6].

Our children need to develop character.  They should want to do right, not wrong. They should want to be honest and truthful.  Their faith in God should be developed so that it moulds their nature to the extent that doing the right thing is part of who they are.  Then they act in the right way because it is the natural thing for them to do, not just because they will be punished if caught doing wrong.  Succeeding in helping children develop their own faith and inner moral compass is probably the single most important accomplishment of a successful parent.

We want to give our children what they need, but not necessarily everything they want.  No one benefits from being spoiled and allowed to have his own way all the time.  A measured strictness, a careful balancing of love and responsibility is the best approach.

But at a time when we are so thankful for our children and their safety, it never hurts to give them a tighter-than-normal hug and assure them how much we love them and how happy we are to have them in our lives.

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Why I’m Sick of Politics

I have never been involved in politics to the extent of seeking office or even campaigning actively for a candidate. Nevertheless, I have been passionately interested in elections all my life. In fact, I think it is very likely that I hold the distinction of being the youngest person ever to cast a vote for president.  On Election Day in November 1956, when I was three years old, I went to the polls with my folks. The election workers apparently were so impressed by my fascination with voting that they allowed me to have a ballot, mark it, and actually put it into the ballot box.  I hope it did not count, but I actually cast a vote for Eisenhower as a three year-old!

I did not pay much attention to the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon race but from 1964 onwards, I had an undying interest in things having to do with electing a president. Through 13 presidential election seasons, I was an avid fan . . . not always a fan of a particular candidate because I have been more unimpressed than impressed with the people running for president over the years . . . but always interested in the process of electing our nation’s leader.  In the ten presidential elections in which I have voted, I voted six times for the winner and four times for the loser.

Now things are different. For the first time in my life, I can say that I am sick and tired of the whole deal.  My interest might get renewed by the time things start heating up for the 2016 election.  Or it might not.  At I write today, I do not know if I will ever be interested in politics again.  I am pretty sure I will never again feel the excitement of that three-year old who “liked Ike” so passionately that the poll workers bent the rules to let him “stuff the ballot box” with an illegal vote.

What happened?  It is a combination of things. I no longer think the way the majority of Americans do. I used to think that I had my finger on the pulse of America. I could predict with pretty good accuracy how the electorate would react to any situation. But not any more. The America I used to know would not have approved of same sex marriage. Up until yesterday, no state, in a vote of the people, had ever bestowed its blessing on people of the same gender being married to one another. Court rulings and legislative acts had legalized it, but the people had never voted it into effect.  Yesterday, voters in three states gave it their approval.  A fourth state declined to ratify the idea that marriage is between a man and a woman.  It is no sudden revelation that my values are different from that of a great many of my fellow citizens, but yesterday’s election results drove that point home more clearly than ever before.

I am disenchanted about the way many voters decide whom they will support. Perhaps using the word “decide” is being too kind because that implies that a thoughtful process of evaluating the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses is involved in making the choice. Having listened to voters’ comments and considered the results of the exit polls, I am left with the conclusion that many people did not deliberate at all about their votes. They acted out of primal instinct. “What’s in it for me” seems to be a much more important question than “What’s best for my country.”   I have always been a political independent. Even when living in states where I had to register by party to participate in local primary elections, I never gave up my right to choose the candidate that I thought was best suited to the job he or she was seeking.  Knee-jerk voting for or against a candidate because of party label, skin color, financial background, or other similar characteristics is a lazy way of making what ought to be a carefully-considered choice.

The tenor and tone of the recent presidential campaign disgusts me. I have studied election history enough to appreciate that mean-spirited campaigns are nothing new in American politics. But the 2012 campaign may have broken all the records. While the Republicans are not blameless in this behavior, the Democrats sank to depths that I have never seen before.  Joe Biden’s performance in the vice-presidential candidates’ debate epitomizes all this.  The conduct of this obnoxious political hack should have been condemned by the head of the ticket and by all other clear-thinking Democrats. Instead, the President chose to emulate his vice-president’s behavior in the second and third presidential debates.

Both parties and their associated political action committees flooded the airwaves in swing states with attack commercials to the extent that I would have thought voters would have been disgusted enough to say “A pox on both your houses!” Apparently not, however.  Political experts candidly admit that those ads are disgusting but explain that they think they must use them because they work.  Yesterday’s election provides the latest proof that observation is accurate.

Candidates make charges that they know to be false then, when challenged, they call the other candidate a liar.  I don’t know if I am more amazed by their audacity or their hypocrisy.

I have a whole laundry list of reasons I have been turned off by politics.  There is no need to go through the list item-by-item. I have stated more than enough for the reader to understand why I am disappointed, disenchanted, and disgusted by what has happened to the American electoral process.

It is time for a sabbatical.  I will no longer be a political groupie. I do not plan to write or speak on this subject any more for the foreseeable future.  Never say never.  Perhaps I will toughen up my stomach and get interested in the 2016 or 2020 campaign; perhaps not.  On this first post-2012-election day, I can think only about how saddened I am that we do not have a better way to find good, capable leaders for our country.

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Is Opposition to Same-Sex Marriage Evidence of Discrimination Against Homosexuals?

A growing number of Americans would answer the question posed in the title of this piece in the affirmative without giving it a moment’s thought.  And they would be wrong.

A Facebook friend offered the following comment in a discussion about Washington’s upcoming vote about whether same-sex marriages will be legalized in the Evergreen State:

 “I don’t think it’s an issue that should go to the polls. It’s blatantly anti-constitutional to discriminate against people on the basis of race, gender, age, etc, and I think that should include sexual orientation, if it’s not stated explicitly.”

That statement is overly broad because certain kinds of discrimination do pass constitutional muster (such as the 35-year-old age requirement for Presidents of the United States), but that is not the point-at-issue in this discussion.  Most of us do agree that as a general rule, discrimination is a bad thing.  We know that fair treatment for everyone is the right thing to do. I agree with my friend that we do not need to vote on whether or not give everyone equal justice under the law.

Accepting that premise means a great number of things about how we interact with one another in society. Job applicants should not be asked about their sexual orientation.  People whose behavior identifies them as likely homosexuals should not be treated differently if a police officer pulls them over for speeding.   Legal rights should be available on the same basis to every person who has the same standing before the law.

However, the debate about same-sex marriage in Washington and other states is not about equal treatment under the law.  Washington already has a law permitting civil unions where unmarried couples enjoy the same legal rights as married couples. I do not approve of unmarried people–homosexuals or heterosexuals–having sexual relations, but I do see the value of extending equal legal rights to all citizens of a state.  In fact, civil unions should not be predicated upon sexual relationships.  Two platonic friends who share a home should be able to have these kind of legal “couple privileges.”  In jurisdictions where those privileges have been enshrined in law, there is no issue of discrimination.

The case for marriage is a different matter entirely.  People were married for many centuries without any involvement from the state, but marriage has always required the involvement of God.  God originated marriage.  Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh”  (ESV).  From the time of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden onward, marriage has always been a union of a man and a woman.  It has been only in very recent times that anyone has pushed the idea of men marrying men and women marrying women.

The very notion of same-sex marriage involves as radical a change as has ever taken place on the earth. As it is taking place today, the debate pits those who want people of the same gender to be able to “marry” one another against those who are determined to preserve the  traditional, biblical model of marriage being a union of one man and one woman.

The idea that this can be settled by judicial fiat is totally anti-democratic.  All our citizens, homosexual, heterosexual, or asexual, deserve to have a voice in deciding what the legal definition of marriage will be under the laws of our country.  If only homosexuals have a say in that decision, we are living under a tyranny of the minority.

It would be an ideal arrangement if we could have a national plebiscite on the question.  As it stands, we have a patchwork of states that allow same-sex marriage and a larger number of states that do not permit it. Up to this point, no state has ever voted in an election to legalize homosexual marriage. That might change in the next election, but it remains true at this time.

Whatever the outcome of this debate may turn out to be, one point should remain clear. We may be able to decide one way or the other what the laws in our state or nation say on the subject, but we do not have the ability to change what God says constitutes marriage.  In our arrogance we may deceive ourselves into thinking that we know better than God how things should be done. Ultimately, the folly of that assumption will be made clear to all.

 

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Greek Olympian Kicked Off Team For “Racist” Tweet

ImageI do not approve of racism or racist remarks in any shape, form, or fashion. Considering how prone some people seem to be to misunderstand, I want that to be clear from the very beginning. I grew up in the American South in the 1960s. I know what racism is. I have been guilty of making racist comments, although thankfully that was a long time ago and I have repented in sackcloth and ashes for what I said as an at-least-somewhat innocent child.  So let us be clear that this writing is not a brief in defense of racism wherever it is found.

However, we’re left with the task of defining what exactly makes a comment racist.  Some people are all-to-eager to paste a racist label on any expressed opinion that differs from their own.

We’re talking about this today because of something that happened with Greece’s team at the London Olympics.  Triple-jumper Voula Papachristou made the mistaken of posting a tweet saying, “With so many Africans in Greece … at least the West Nile mosquitoes will eat homemade food!!!”  Please read that again and see if you can figure out precisely what makes it racist.

Apparently, the comment created a hullabaloo and the Hellenic [Greek] Olympic Committee promptly kicked Ms. Papachristou off the team.  Because she expressed herself on Twitter, the young woman will not represent her nation in the Olympics.

News reporting indicates that she also re-tweeted a comment from “a controversial Greek politician” who opposes African immigration to Greece.  That appears to show that Ms. Papachristou’s comment was more than a feeble attempt at humor.

However, if we do take what she said as a political statement, even an unpopular political statement, how does that merit revoking her status as an Olympian?  She did not call Africans in her homeland by an offensive name. She referred to their continent of origin, but made no reference to their race or skin color.  What is it about her statement that characterizes it as racist?

The sad truth seems to be that Voula Papachristou expressed a political opinion that did not fit within the parameters the Olympic Federation decided were acceptable.  Her indiscretion (which does not appear to be racism at all, but simply failing to kowtow to the party line) cost her a place on her country’s Olympic team.

Sadly, we have one more example of the worldwide phenomena called political correctness run amok.  Fairness, honesty, and the freedom of self-expression all must be sacrificed at the altar of never saying anything that could possibly be construed as offensive to certain segments of society.  Greece is where democracy began. It is particularly disturbing to know that the long tendrils of the thought and speech police have this kind of power there.

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Guns Don’t Kill People . . . Bullets Do

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The movie theater tragedy in Aurora, Colorado has awakened a new round of calls for gun control in our country.

Predictably, the rejoinder “Guns don’t kill people, people do” is being offered in response. I am going to edit that just a bit into the title of this post.  It is the bullet propelled by the gun that enters the flesh, wreaking destruction and death.

But of course, it is silly to parse the argument this way. Everyone understands that bullets do not act of their own accord. They are nothing more than agents used to accomplish another’s purpose. The very same thing is true of the gun, whether it be a pistol, a shotgun, or an assault rifle.  A person has to pull the trigger before the gun fires the bullet.

So where does this get us in the gun control debate?  The argumentation laid out above does not solve much.  Gun control advocates do not think that guns act independently of their owners. They do see them as tools — we could label them enablers — making it possible for evil (or merely irrational and angry) people to do grievous bodily harm to others.

No responsible parent allows his or her young child to play with matches.  “Children don’t burn down houses, matches do” would be considered a ridiculous response if offered by anyone trying to defend letting children play with matches in their rooms.  Parents have an obligation to take away matches from the hands of young children who are not mature enough to use them safely.

Good parents are even more cautious when it comes to guns in their homes. It is always a foolish idea to leave a loaded gun anywhere that a child could possibly get hold of it.  We come close to a 100% consensus in agreeing that guns must be controlled within our own homes.

It could be argued that since the Preamble to the U. S. Constitution gives the government the responsibility of promoting the general Welfare of the citizens of our republic, this  includes the need to protect the people from the very worst of their own nature.  That might–notice I did not say that it does–involve making it more difficult for people to obtain and use guns.

A constitutional problem arises when we note that the Second Amendment declares that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Various legal attempts to circumvent this prohibition have  been tried, but have been largely unsuccessful.

It seems to me that it is time for a vigorous national debate on whether or not the Second Amendment should be amended to some degree.  I am not advocating that a change be made, but I am ready to listen carefully to arguments on both sides of the question.

There is no clear “Christian position” on this topic. As followers of Jesus, we should be proponents of peaceful conduct toward all people. On one occasion, Jesus advised the disciples to buy swords (Luke 22:36). In light of that, it is hard to argue that the Bible requires us to not own weapons. It does, however, give an abundance of teaching about how we should behave toward our fellow man.

The issue comes down to another example of the conflict between individual liberty and govermental responsibility to care for its citizens. This is the political issue of the day.  It is one that will not be settled easily or quickly.

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How Do Christians “Target” Their Purchasing Power?

    We could debate the effectiveness and even the ethics of boycotts.  By their very nature, boycotts are organized efforts to compel others to do as we wish. In effect, we are saying, “If you don’t stop [advertising on that filthy TV program, supporting that immoral organization, or doing some other objectionable behavior], we will no longer buy your product.  It is a worthwhile discussion whether Christians should participate in efforts that employ economic power to manipulate merchants to do what they would not choose to do otherwise.  In many cases, it boils down to the old argument that the end justifies the means.

Whatever side one might take in that discussion, we all recognize that there are situations where we have to react to the dictates of our own consciences.  A current example would be the support Target stores are giving to the Rainbow Pride movement and especially to an organization called Family Equality Council.  That group’s website states their purpose, “Family Equality Council is changing attitudes and policies to ensure all families are respected, loved, and celebrated – especially families with parents who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.”

While we agree that all families should be treated with love and respect, we have to draw a line when it comes to celebrating behavior that the Bible categorically labels as sinful.  If we take seriously the proposition that the God of heaven has the right to tell us how to act morally, then we have no choice but to accept what his revelation tells us about moral sexual behavior.  Even though it is not a popular idea with a great many people today, the New Testament still says that people “who practice homosexuality” are among those who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9, ESV).

Target is offering for sale ten tee-shirts featuring rainbows. Most of the shirts say either “Pride” or “Harmony” and some of them include the phrase “Love is Love.”  Along with this, Target has committed to donate 100% of the purchase price of these shirts (up to a maximum of $120,000) to the Family Equality Council.  Most assuredly, my conscience would not permit me to purchase one of those tee-shirts (even though I have nothing at all against the idea of wearing a rainbow … if I could believe that the rainbow represented the promise for which it was intended in the Bible).  I am not jumping on a boycott bandwagon, but I must consider very carefully if I want to spend any of my money at a store that takes such a bold stand in favor of homosexuality and backs it up with a significant amount of money.  Others may make that decision for themselves, but we should be aware of the stand the corporation that runs our neighborhood Target store has taken.

Be aware, however, that Target is not the only business that has partnered with the Family Equality Council. That organization’s website lists other “National Corporate Partners” including Children’s Tylenol, HBO, Capital One, Royal Bank of Canada, and several others.  Foundations that “generously support” the FEC agenda include the General Mills Foundation and PepsiCo.

Eventually, it becomes impractical to refuse to do business with any company that supports sinful behavior. The best advice I can offer is to stay informed about moral (and immoral) stands taken by retailers and take that information into account with your purchasing decisions.

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