Making an Idol of our “Witness”

Is “my witness for Christ” the paramount consideration a Christian should be concerned with when deciding how to live? Though this may sound heretical, I’m going to not only suggest that the answer is “no”, but that it’s even possible for us to make an idol out of our “witness.” Hear me out on this one…

It has become a fairly common thing–seen most recently in the reactions of some to the reactions of others about the movie “Noah”–to hear well-meaning Christians lamenting the idea that “Christians can be so (fill-in-the-blank) that a lost world writes off Christian faith altogether.” Usually, the fill-in-the-blank regards a Christian taking some “hard stand”, and the lament of these other Christians goes something like this: “the world sees Christians always being so negative…the world only sees us as being ‘against’ things…the world will be turned off to Jesus if all they see is Christians ‘bickering with each other’ over things that aren’t important.” And so on. To which I say, “you have a point–but only to a point.”

I can wholeheartedly agree that there are times in which, and issues about which, Christians bicker needlessly. I have long agreed that we can get too wrapped up in some issues that are pretty inconsequential, and/or we can act pretty uncharitably toward other believers (and often toward unbelievers) even when the issues are significant enough to take a stand. The Biblical principle, the balance-point, is “speak the truth in love”, and there’s no argument there. We should be careful not to judge the motives of others. We should give the benefit of the doubt to people. We should weigh carefully which matters require taking a hard stand, and which do not. We should extend to others the grace which Christ has extended to us. I am all about these things.

But here’s the thing: there are some issues upon which a strong stand must be taken, for truth’s sake. What I fear is that there are some who are so concerned with what other people–specifically, non-followers of Christ–will think about our beliefs that we will, in the name of our “witness”, fail to be faithful to Christ and the truth of His Word. To make this mistake is to put things of secondary importance in a position of primary importance…and I submit that that is the very definition of idolatry, hence the possibility that we make of our “witness for Christ” an idol.

By all means, let us present a clear, persuasive, compassionate, and compelling witness for Jesus, primarily by making allegiance to Jesus–and what He thinks–more important than what anyone else thinks or does. If we will do that faithfully, we need not worry about our “witness”, for if we do that faithfully, we will fail neither to speak the truth, nor to do it in love.

The Freedom to Refuse

A lot is being made about the proposed Arizona law which ostensibly provides a religious freedom possibility for the declining of service to individuals. That sentence, upon further review, isn’t worded terribly well, but there’s a reason for that; it’s hard for me to know exactly what this law is intended to accomplish, in large part because the mainstream media is lying about it. No, they’re not shading the story; they are flat-out telling lies. And a lot of people–as is too typical–are buying it hook, line, and sinker.

But it’s not this specific proposed law, nor the one rejected in Kansas a week or two ago, upon which I want to comment. Rather, it is freedom, in general, that interests me and is the topic of this post. Now, the specific freedom which is being discussed seems to be the First Amendment freedom of religion, and specifically the so-called “free exercise” clause. In the event we have any low-information readers, let me remind you of the wording: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This section of the First Amendment has served us well, and I’m, of course, all for it (how you could not be all for the First Amendment and claim to be an American is beyond me–but this hilarious video suggests otherwise).

I’m not sure, though, that the things that are being talked about are so much “freedom of religion” issues as they are freedom of association issues. Does an American businessperson have the freedom to refuse service to another person, or not? “No shoes, no shirt, no service” would seem to suggest this, but there are those who would compel, for instance, a Christian baker to bake a wedding cake for a “gay wedding”, or a photographer to photograph a “lesbian wedding” ceremony despite that person’s convictions and beliefs to the contrary. I, of course, believe this to be wrong, but in extending this beyond simply a “freedom of religion” issue to one of freedom of association, as I believe it to be, we open the door to some tough questions about what we want America to be–or not to be. And so I invite you to take my little quiz:

1. We start with the obvious, the issue(s) that raised the specter of this proposed legislation: should a Christian baker, who believes that marriage can never be redefined as being between two people of the same sex, be compelled to bake and sell a wedding cake to a gay couple intent on holding a “wedding ceremony”? Be careful how you answer…

2. Let’s ask another bakery question: should a Jewish baker be compelled to bake a “Happy Birthday, Hitler” cake for a group of Nazi skinheads celebrating Der Fuhrer’s birthday?

3. A woman’s husband runs off with another woman, leaving her with three small kids at home. Because she needs to support those kids, she files for child support and opens a florist shop. Out of spite at her filing for child support, he and his new fiance demand that she provide the floral arrangements for the wedding. Should she be compelled to by law?

4. A homosexual man runs a print shop. Fred Phelps and his loonies from Westboro Baptist walk in and demand that he print signs saying, “God Hates Fags”, “Death to Gays”, and so on. Should the gay man be compelled to make those signs?

5. Catholic printer is approached by NARAL with an order to print signs in support of their “pro-choice” rally. Should he have to print the signs? For that matter, pro-choice printer is approached by National Right-to-Life; should he be compelled to do the print job?

6. An atheist’s services are sought by a Christian group wanting literature to be printed on the follies of atheism. Should he have to take the job, by law?

I have no doubt that my readers could think of other examples, but it seems clear to me that the answer to every single one of these questions is “NO”, and the one key reason is freedom. Of course, all of those refusing service to others on the bases I described must be willing to live with the economic choices of their consequences–this is only right. But a rudimentary understanding of the concept of freedom should demand that we not force people to act in ways contrary to their consciences or their belief systems.

Now, if there were a law written that said “no one shall bake a cake celebrating (whatever)”, or “no one shall print a sign in support of the pro-choice cause”, that’d be one thing, but that’s not what’s happening in these real-world cases, and the threat to freedom on the part of the “tolerant” left is appalling. I believe in freedom and believe it should be guarded; it’s a shame that way too many Americans don’t.

Jesus Wasn’t a Libertarian (But I Sort of Am)

I am not a Libertarian. But I am significantly a libertarian.

Allow me to explain…and then, allow me to pontificate on Jesus’ political affiliation. I am not a Libertarian, because “capital ‘L’ Libertarian” refers to a political party, which is characterized, in large part but not completely, by libertarian political beliefs. I am not a Libertarian because the Libertarian Party takes some positions on social issues which, while they may be compatible with libertarian values, are not by definition the only libertarian approach, and a couple such positions keep me from identifying with the party. I speak of abortion and marriage issues. The Libertarian Party has adopted the “pro-choice” position as a plank in its Jesus was a Libertarianplatform, a plank which in my judgment fails to respect the rights of (unborn) individuals–and respecting individual rights is a fundamental libertarian principle. Further, it does not logically follow that believing in equality and freedom for all, as libertarians do, means that the state’s definition of marriage needs to be reconfigured; i.e., freedom to act does not entail government sanction and blessing. If these were peripheral issues, I could likely overlook them, but they are not, and I cannot. I am instead a libertarian, or as I prefer to call myself, a libertarian conservative (“libertarian” being the adjective and “conservative” the noun). By this I mean that I like my conservatism to err heavily on the side of personal freedom. If you care to ask, I can explain further…

What prompts my posting now is three disparate events/articles. One, a good pastor friend of mine seems to sometimes, in my judgment, mis-characterize the meaning of libertarianism. Two, a local editorial writer in the Marietta newspaper has published two articles in the past few months questioning the bona fides of Christian pastors if they don’t, essentially, adopt the Democrat Party’s “solutions” to justice and poverty issues, becauseJesus Democrat Jesus would certainly have them do this (here’s one). Third, a post by my friend Warren Throckmorton is entitled “Searching for a Libertarian Jesus”, quoting from and commenting on an article written by Michael Coulter, another friend, and Gil Harp, an acquaintance as well, by the same name. These three items call for an explanation of what I believe, and this seems particularly relevant now with the rise of the Tea Party, Ron and Rand Paul, and a pretty pronounced libertarian streak among many young people today.

I will tackle the Throckmorton and Coulter/Harp articles first. Simply put, I agree with their take, suggesting that we cannot make of Jesus a libertarian. Of course we cannot, any more than we can make of Him a Republican or a big-government Democrat or a Socialist (I’ve heard that suggested, and the answer to folks who claim this absurdity is simple: you either don’t know Jesus, or you don’t know Socialism, or you don’t know either). What we know of Jesus we know from the Bible; we are not free to add to or take away from its witness, or to remake Him in our image or in accord with our political sensibilities. Throckmorton, et al, write to oppose those who would say that to follow Jesus is to necessarily adopt a libertarian approach, that this was His belief and teaching. They are certainly correct; following Jesus faithfully does not demand libertarianism, of course.

jesusvotesrepublican1But just as importantly, following Jesus does not rule out libertarianism either. This is where I must address the first friend I mentioned–or better, let me address what I hear him to be saying, lest I put words in his mouth that are not there–because I read him to mistake libertarianism for libertinism. I have libertarian sympathies, but I am not libertine. I shall explain in a moment, but before I do, let me tackle another misunderstanding people have about libertarianism, this being, in the words of Throckmorton, that “to listen to Christian proponents of the tea party, for instance, one might think governments are incapable of any good.” Indeed, some reach that conclusion about libertarian thinking, and this too is incorrect (and I believe it to a mistaken notion about my Tea Party friends as well).

With all of this as prologue, a few thoughts, then, on what I understand to be true. First, libertarianism deals with what ought (or ought not) to be legal, not with what is or is not moral. A libertarian believes that ordering people’s private conduct should not, in general, be a territory into which legislators should tread. For instance, I have never supported laws criminalizing sexual conduct between two consenting adults; ’tain’t nobody else’s business, particularly the government’s. That does not mean that I consider any/every possible sexual conduct to be moral; far, far from it, as anyone who knows me would affirm. A libertine would tend to make moral justification of such behavior; a libertarian would not (necessarily). Further, it ought to be pointed out that while there is certainly some correlation between morality and legality (murder and rape are immoral and should be illegal, of course), that correlation isn’t anywhere near 100%. There are plenty of things that aren’t morally wrong, but are (rightly) illegal. For instance, there is nothing inherently wrong with driving on the left side of the road, but in America, it is illegal for obvious reasons. Nobody argues that the Brits are less moral because they do so. On the flip side of the coin, it isn’t illegal to get drunk in your living room, but it isn’t morally right. A libertine might justify the latter morally; a libertarian would be concerned only that it remain legal. To answer my friend, I can believe that the government ought to keep its nose out of all sorts of such things, but in no way does that position imply a moral indifference to the actions themselves. Libertarianism simply doesn’t address such questions, leaving such issues to a different sphere.

Now to answer the “nothing good can come of government” idea…it seems to me that this is a caricature invented in some people’s minds. I believe in government. I believe that government has a legitimate role, indeed a LibertariansGod-given one. To believe otherwise is to be an anarchist, and I am certainly not anywhere near that camp. I agree with Coulter and Harp that “governments can use their power to do positive good”…but that is where the devil is indeed in the details. I do not have libertarian tendencies because I believe that being a Jesus-follower demands it, but because I believe that libertarian principles have the potential to create climates in which the right things can flourish. I have a general distrust of government, believing that the more power we give to sinful individuals to control the lives of others, the greater potential there is for corruption, injustice, and tyranny. I believe history has shown this to be true time and time again. It’s not that I believe in no government; it’s that I truly believe, unlike Democrats and most Republicans, that “government governs best which governs least”. Libertarian principles aren’t per se “Christian” as though they represent the only way Christians can go, but in my opinion, a climate of freedom (coupled with a legitimate and fair justice system) is most consonant with biblical principles.

One more word: libertarianism celebrates the autonomy of the individual and seeks to maximize his freedom to act unconstrained by massive government restrictions, but embracing libertarianism does not necessarily deny the importance of community. Personally, I believe community is hugely important, that “no man is an island, entire of itself”, that we truly need each other. But I also believe that forced community is not community at all. This is one of the fallacies of socialism (and why it is not Christian): it uses the power of government in an attempt to coerce community. Indeed, I am my brother’s keeper, but living as such ought not be imposed at the edge of a sword.

And that’s why, even though Jesus wasn’t a libertarian, I am…sort of.

And Now…The State of the Revolution

I assume that at some point in my 53+ years, I have endured at least a copious portion or two of the State of the Union address. I say that I must have, but to say I remember anything of significance emanating from this pretentious waste of time would be wide of the mark. Presidents of both parties blather on as though they are in the throes of a fevered re-election campaign, followed by the requisite response offered by the opposition party, an equally-worthless piece of political grandstanding. This year, someone named “Cathy McMorris Rodgers” is offering her perspective. I can hardly wait.

Top Ten Things I’d Rather Watch than the State of the Union Address

1. Bicentennial Man. A wretched movie. Still, better than this debacle.
2. Any fishing show. Painful.
3. Honey Booboo marathon, anyone?
4. Those insufferable State Farm “Discount Double-Check” commercials over and over.
5. “An Inconvenient Truth”–in Swahili. Actually, Swahili would make it much easier.
6. Richard Sherman trying his hand at Shakespeare.
7. Eminem…this is getting harder.
8. “Girls”. Yeccch.
9. The View. Reaching for the barf bag…
10. MSNBC…no, wait, it’s really not that bad.

Abortion is, and Always Will Be, a Crime

On this date in 1973, as we all know, a renegade Supreme Court, in an act of significant judicial activist overreach, struck down laws in all fifty states regulating the practice of abortion. In the ensuing 41 years, over 50 million abortions have been committed. In the eyes of the United States Supreme Court, this is not a crime. The Supreme Court is wrong.

Abortion is, and always will be, a crime in the eyes of Almighty God. God is the Giver of life, and the casual destruction of life will always be wrong. Truth is not on the auction block; right and wrong don’t depend on the whims of society, the pronouncements of a jurist, issues of convenience or cost. Nothing changes this fact: abortion is a dreadful sin against a holy God.

Abortion is, and always will be, a crime against the weak
. When I was a kid growing up, we knew instinctively that we were supposed to take up for the weak against the bullies. We knew that might did not make right. The “logic” of abortion on demand suggests otherwise, that if we have the power to rid ourselves of this little nuisance, why shouldn’t we? Aren’t we bigger than it is?

Abortion is, and always will be, a crime against reason. If you doubt this, ask yourself this question: should it be legal to kill a four-year-old? No? What if the mother is in dire financial straits? No? What if the four-year-old is “one more mouth to feed, and there isn’t enough for the other kids”? No? What if, “my husband left me with all these kids”? No? Why not? Oh…because “that’s a child”. I see. Because “we don’t take human life; that’s murder!” OK. So…is that thing in the womb living, or dead? Right; it’s living. Is it human, or something else, like an antelope or a cantaloupe? Right; it’s human. So…we have a living human being. But the fact that it doesn’t draw on the wall with crayons, wet the bed at night, or have a name like “Skyler” means we can kill it, right? Yeah…that makes sense. De-humanize it, and you can kill it. Yep.

Or, we hide behind euphemisms…”products of conception”…”terminating” a “fetus”…”surgical procedure”…because we can’t bear to call it what it is: the premeditated taking of a human life.

And so the crimes continue, so frequently that we run the risk of becoming numb to their reality. Further, I fear that there is a segment of the church that tends to minimize the significance of this crime. Others would so greatly expand the definition of the term “pro-life” as to include all manner of things, further diluting the importance of this one fact, that life as created in the image of God is to be revered, cherished, and protected. It’s not that the environment isn’t an area about which Christians should have appropriate concern; it’s not that the death penalty isn’t something Christians should think about soberly; it isn’t that issues of poverty and justice are unimportant. What it is, is this: the right to life is fundamental, the first right, and the protection of that right is, and must be, first priority.

Because the wanton taking of life, through the means of abortion, is a crime.