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[324] Forgiveness is Conditional

How important is forgiveness?  One of the last sentiments uttered by Jesus during the crucifixion was “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Them means us, not just the first century rowdies engineering his physical demise.  He was not crucified just for their sins. He was up there because of you and I.

Forgiveness is the cornerstone of the gospel.  Christ’s Easter resurrection enabled this Good Friday forgiveness petition to take place, because he conquered the only thing that could stop it–death.

But that is not the whole story. Our forgiveness is conditional. It depends on our willingness to forgive. The Lord’s Prayer includes the request that God will forgive our trespasses, as we forgive others. In Matthew 6:14-15 Christ sets the terms. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

The Christian world is filled with I’ll-never-forgive-him grudges. In other words, sinful people who believe they can be forgiven for killing the innocent son of God, without forgiving the petty sins of fellow sinners–people no worse than themselves.

That thought scares me.

When is the last time you heard a sermon on that?  There should be many such sermons, because there is no gospel without it. DC

[324] Get Over It

Now that Creighton’s basketball season is over, it is time to address the woes of its coach, Greg McDermott.  Late in the season, after a Creighton loss, the coach addressed his team thusly. “Guys, we need to stick together…We need both feet in. I need everybody to stay on the plantation. I can’t have anybody leave the plantation.”

An unfortunate choice of words in the current hyper-intense, racially sensitive environment.

And that’s all it was.

His statement was about staying together. It was not a sign of overt or latent racism on the part of McDermott who immediately apologized for his use of “plantation.” There is no reference to African-Americans here, and while we are at it, McDermott was also appealing to white players’ unity on his racially mixed team.  In short, to label the use of this commonly used–though now archaic–phrase as such is to demean the viciousness of what racism truly is.

McDermott’s apology should have been sufficient. It wasn’t. The university bellowed outrage at its beleaguered coach and suspended him from all team activities for four days.

Worse, McDermott buckled and obsequiously offered to resign, only reinforcing the university’s overkill.

Creighton University should be ashamed of itself, making an historically common phrase, uttered spontaneously by its coach, the basis for formal punitive action, and McDermott should have shown more intestinal fortitude.  The university’s response smacks of image protection not genuine outrage over racism.  Think about it. How well do you think Creighton would do were it the subject of a withering diversity audit?  Diversity in hiring, leadership, and authority is where racism usually lies.  How do you think this traditional Jesuit university is doing where it really counts?  And how about the Jesuit order in general?  How it is doing?

I am not calling for an attack on the university or the Jesuit order.  I am calling for an end to hypocrisy.  Over and over again we see it.  Some well-known person makes a public verbal blunder and in come the institutional political correctness forces, feigning shock and outrage.  Once the poor transgressor has been ground under with the steel shoes of the image-protecting mob the matter is closed.

It shouldn’t be.  If an institution wishes to deliver the third degree to those who commit verbal foibles it should use the action as a gateway to a more holistic audit of evidences of racism elsewhere in the corporate enterprise, rather than standing four-square for racially sanitized verbiage.

If Creighton wanted to lay the lumber to McDermott, let’s open the books on the entire university environment.  Let it all hang out. If not, get over it and move on.  DC

[323] Really?

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love,” so the delightful chorus goes.

Really?

When Christians will split off from each other in hostile ways over issues having nothing to do with their salvation?

When we speak the truth–but not in love–and attack the secular world in such a way that it knows infinitely more about what we are against than what we are for?

Really?  DC

[323] Can’t Stop It

No institution in history has been targeted for extinction more than the Christian church.  But you can’t stop the gospel from reaching souls. According to Ron Boyd-MacMillan of Open Doors International the number of Christians in China, a country unalterably opposed to the existence of the church, could reach 300 million in ten years–up from the current number of 97 million.

Regrettably, with growth comes persecution–continued attempts to kill the church. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is tracking this growth and engaging in aggressive forms of persecution. Among them is banning Christian funerals, forcing pastors to go through government training, removing references to God in textbooks, and making programmed attempts to remove religious imagery everywhere, including in homes.

Pray for Christians being persecuted around the world.  There is more religious persecution now than ever in history. But trying to stop the gospel is a losing enterprise.  You can’t stop God’s institution. Just look at China. DC

 

[322] Normalcy

We are awash in discussions of “the new normal” and a “return to normalcy.” According to Kevin D. Williamson in the National Review (December, 2020) our current political state is actually rather normal, if one looks at our history. People become nostalgic over the post-WWII years in the US, and see that blip in time as normal. The US government was in high esteem and science flourished. Products, ideas, and movements were “sold” as scientific. All problems would yield to science.  Times was good.

But those good times were much an illusion. Human affairs could not be managed scientifically.  Wars continued, divorces multiplied, and crime did not go away. Government, believed to be the benign force that could solve our problems, failed to do so.  Poverty won the War on Poverty. In short, science could not solve the problems of human fallibility–sin.

We are not currently heading in the direction of the mid-20th Century.  According to Williamson, we are closer to the mid-19th Century—populism, partisan media, fierce debates over fiscal policy, political weaponizing, demographic divides, and a distrust in government. In fact, the 1896 election was arguably as bitter as the most recent one—fought over cultural divides and even ethnic issues.

We are back to normal.  DC

[322] Unnecessary Wars

Recently the Christian Headlines website printed an article provocatively entitled, “Mohler: Biden is Leading a ‘Transgender Revolution’ in Conflict with Religious Liberty.”  Mohler is Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky. The article decries Biden’s appointment of a transgender woman to the assistant secretary of health and human services post.

Mohler sounds the clarion as loudly, tossing an abundance of red meat out to enraged Christian groups. Biden is leading a “moral revolution,” says the theologian. Such an action will bring “coercion.”  It is being “celebrated” by the secular media. It is a step toward “normalizing” aberrant sexual conduct. “You’re going to have biological males in the girls’ locker room.”

There is genuine merit to much of what Mohler says, but I get tired of reading this stuff.

Not the merits of the argument. Indeed, these matters are worthy of reasoned discussion, but I find the hyperbolic presentation style to be an example of Christians fighting unnecessary wars. First, should anyone be surprised at all this?  The LGBTQ lobby has been gaining ground since the 1970’s.  As for Biden, did he not run on a secular progressive agenda, an ideology the mainstream media regales as progress?

And while we’re at it, let’s be clear that there is no genuine consensus, even among biblical Christians, on homosexuality. What people like Mohler might better concern themselves with is the crisis believers with a homosexual orientation face. The Religion News website recently published an article entitled, “Study Finds That Christians Who Identify as Queer Quit The Church Twice As Much As Others.”  The article includes the story of a former Gordon College student, who first spoke in tongues at 7.  She came to a place where she “wanted to stop living in shame. To stop lying and living in fear. I wanted to be transparent about what I believed and who I was.”

The issue of homosexuality is an agonizingly difficult one for the church.  We may never reach a consensus on how to deal with it, but attempting to take a redemptive approach to this difficult issue seems more worthwhile than taking a combative tone with secular groups. Most important, we are living in an age in which many people have no understanding of the gospel.  We need to make our primary mission fighting the war for the souls of our unbelieving fellow citizens. DC

 

[321] Self-defeating

Recently, Focus on the Family had its Twitter account locked over a phrase in one of its Tweets about Dr. Rachel Levine, Biden’s nominee for Assistant Health and Human Services Secretary.  In it, the staff writer referred to Levine as “a transgender woman, that is, a man who believes he is a woman.”

Twitter suspended the account for violating its prohibition against hateful content.

With that came an explosion of protest from Christian publications. The tone of much of it is that Twitter is persecuting believers, deliberately victimizing people of the faith.

Methinks not.

Indeed, secular organizations like Twitter and Facebook are hardly Christian-friendly, and because I oppose censorship in almost every form, I object to Twitter’s action.

Nonetheless, I also think the Tweet in question was typical of so much self-defeating behavior among aroused Christian groups, more particularly, their use of provocative, condemnatory language about people and issues with which they disagree, only to cry “Foul!” when the predictable pushback comes.

I understand Focus on the Family’s position that a transgender woman is a man who believes he is a woman, but I also find such wording—though perhaps not hateful—less than respectful. It has a provocative, demeaning, sarcastic tone. There are many more benign yet accurate ways of defining transgender status that do not elicit unnecessary anger from secular quarters.

In short, taking the edgy road is self-defeating.

But it goes on all the time.  Christian publications, having had a bellyful of secular policies and practices, lash out in ways that (a) are clear, and (b) make unnecessary enemies among those outside of their readership. We are living in a post-Christian era, one in which we believers are ever-more spiritual strangers in a strange land.  In short, we have many enemies. We do not need to engage in behaviors that will generate more. DC

[321] Xianity & Racism II

Last time, we spoke of Robert P. Jones’ “White Christian America Needs a Moral Awakening” (The Atlantic, July 28, 2020) in which he shared some research findings from his Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) on racism among religious groups. Using a Racism Index in a study of over 2,500 people, he found that white Christians scored roughly 30 points higher on the index than whites with no church affiliation, and 50 points higher than African-American Protestants.

Here are some of his conclusions.

White Christians, while believing they have “warm feelings” toward African-Americans, hold many racist attitudes that challenge that belief.

There is a positive correlation between church attendance and racist views.

The more racist views a person has, the more likely he or she self-identifies as a white Christian and vice-versa.

Jones has some advice for the Christian community. He urges us to face the reality that the “faith of our fathers” culturally reinforced white supremacy.  We need to stare that in the face, seeking justice rather than reconciliation.  Reconciliation–as in the case of the Southern Baptist Convention’s 1995 apology for its pro-slavery, racist history—bring peace but not needed self-examination and genuine transformation.  For Jones, racism robs us of “right relationships with our fellow citizens, with ourselves, and even with God,” and that failing to address “this sinister disorder in our faith will continue to generate serious consequences” for not only others, but “ourselves and our children.” DC

[320] Xianity & Racism

Robert P. Jones, in “White Christian America Needs a Moral Awakening” (The Atlantic, July 28, 2020), points to the troubling racial past among white Christian churches, stating that they “have not just been complacent or complicit in failing to address racism; rather as the dominant cultural power in the US they have been responsible for constructing and sustaining a project to protect white supremacy.”

A rather potent charge.  But Jones, raised as a Southern Baptist, goes on to cite some research from his Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).  Here are some of the findings from a survey of more than 2,500 people.

White Christian groups consistently hold views that are at odds with black Protestants, while non-religious whites are more aligned with African-Americans. For example, approximately 75% of white Christian groups saw the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride. Only 41% of the unaffiliated and 16% of African-Americans agreed.

Two-thirds of white Christians viewed police killings of blacks as isolated incidents, while only 38% of white unaffiliated and 1% of black Protestants did.

These patterns persisted “in question after question on issues of racial justice,” says Jones. To pull things together, he developed a Racism Index based on 15 questions. Here are the standings: White Evangelicals 78, white Roman Catholics 72, White mainline Protestants 69, religiously unaffiliated 42, black Protestants 24.

Jones’ findings are not to be dismissed.  They arise from careful, unbiased, sociological research.  They are disturbing, but not surprising. The emphasis on individual faith and discipleship, so much a part of orthodox Christianity, can easily blind us to collective evils, especially when those evils are a part of one’s own tradition. Those collective evils, however, socialize (socially shape) generations of individuals to an ongoing blindness. We will look at a few more of Jones’ findings next time. DC

 

[320] Who?

There is a push coming from some Christian groups to bring back religion into the schools. Not as a devotional exercise but as an educational response to the religious illiteracy of secular society. These people think that a clearer understanding of the various faiths will reduce stereotypes, and increase respect and tolerance for all faiths, creating an atmosphere of civility in what can be a highly-charged atmosphere.

I have one question: Who will develop the curriculum for these classes?

Imagine having a well-intentioned secular Jew develop a world religions curriculum. There is no certainty that she will present an accurate description of the gospel.  And to be fair, what about the Christian teacher presenting the various forms of Judaism?

This whole enterprise is nonsense—rank naivete.

One of the biggest problems with secular understanding of Christianity is that the faith is reduced to little more than the teachings of a great moral leader named Jesus.  No claim is made as to his divinity.  Do we want more of this?  Christianity is about truth revealed in scripture. To leave its presentation in the hands of secular curriculum designers and teachers is to subvert the very truth that is the faith.  DC

 

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