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[220] Socialization

A few years back, Bart Campolo (son of pastor/activist, Tony Campolo) and Franky Schaeffer (son of the renowned Francis Schaeffer) sent spasms through the evangelical world with their public repudiation of the faith in which they were raised. For many, their apostasy was a faith-rattling experience.

How does this happen?  I do not claim to know the hearts of either of these two people.  I have read a good bit on each and am an acquaintance with the elder Campolo. I do know this.  It is easy to mistake socialization for commitment.  In simpler terms, it is easy to mistake the behavior from someone raised in the faith as evidence of a personal faith.

Take Bart Campolo.  He loves and respects his parents, and by all indications spent his youth engaged in the expected Christian practices for children of Christians. Nonetheless, he claims he did not become a Christian because of his parents’ faith, but because he wanted to be a part of a “cool” Christian group when he was 15.  He makes clear that he was not drawn in by a personal relationship with Christ so much as the desire to be a part of a group he admired.  Having been socialized (brought up, socially shaped) by Christian parents likely made that adolescent decision less difficult.  In any case, Bart’s “testimony” does not sound like a real commitment to the Christian faith ever took place.

Schaeffer seems filled with anger toward evangelical hypocrisy. One comes away from reading his rants with the sense that he is a troubled, disillusioned, and confused man.  As far as socialization is concerned, he clearly loved his now departed parents and early on served in his father’s international ministry, but again there is no real story of personal commitment.

The stories of Bart and Franky become a collective cautionary tale to Christians.  Socialization is not commitment. Being raised in the faith is not the same as a personal faith.  DC

[220] Tools?

After waxing self-righteous on the matter of sexual assault by powerful males on female subordinates, we find NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman may have taken off the gloves and engaged in some unwelcome fisticuffs with women in his own life.

Once the cries of hypocrisy have died down we are left with a question for members of both parties.  Do these politicos care about third rail issues like sexual assault, or are their public stances mere tools for power—attempts at seizing the public high ground as a way of attracting voter support?

Over and over we see power figures from Bill Clinton to Denny Hastert to Schneiderman taking the politically “right side” on red meat issues, only to find these same people living in violation of their own words.  God told Samuel not to be taken in by King Saul’s appearance in 1 Samuel 16:7, stating that “…the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  Although appearances are huge in the political world, a closer look at some of the fallen figures of our age will reveal evidence that they were not walking their talk long before being exposed. If indeed, the Holy Spirit gives us powers of discernment, we need to use them in observing our political representatives. DC

[219] Two Reasons

Whenever you encounter people who claim there is no god, that life is random, and only science can speak authoritatively on what is true, I encourage you to consider two things.

Reformer John Calvin referred to a sensus divinitatis, meaning that humans are genetically endowed with a sense of the existence of a god.  Empirical studies support his claim. Religion is what sociologists call a “culture universal.”  Religion appears in virtually, every known culture.  Why would every society affirm the existence of a deity, if there were none?

Second, we live in a moral universe—at least in the human world.  While there is no evidence that rocks or trees or dogs or cats possess a sense of morality, there is prima facie evidence that humans do.  Rocks and trees do not decide on whom to fall, nor do dogs and cats consider the rightness of an attack on another creature.  Humans, however—even those who claim no religious faith—are forever assessing their own and others’ actions in moral terms.

Remember the old saying, “You can’t legislate morality.”

Nonsense. Every piece of legislation is justified on some moral ground. What can’t be controlled by legislation is human behavior.

Why would humans–world-wide—live in the context of some moral code, if our universe is totally random, a godless galaxy ruled by mechanical laws that just happen to be so precise that the solar system does not explode?

While the infinite is mysterious to the finite, and faith can be challenging to the believer, the argument that there is “nothing out there” is not a strong one. DC

[219] Not Voting

I am tired of hearing how unpatriotic it is not to vote.  Citizens have a right to vote—precious as it is–but not an obligation to vote.

In some cases, Christians have no good candidate to support.  The voter may not be able—in good conscience—to vote for a pro-choice zealot, while at the same time, finding the positions of that candidate’s opponent anathema.

So what do you do?  You don’t vote.  When not voting is a conscious choice, carefully considered, it may be more patriotic than picking the lesser of two miscreants. DC

[218] Dress Rehearsal

Recently I used this space to discuss why we never sermons about hell.  Let me say that I hear very few sermons about the afterlife at all.  The closest is the occasional reminder that this life is but a “dress rehearsal” for the next.  That’s about it.

In short, contemporary preaching is almost totally devoid of the eternal perspective.  It is temporal.  The eternal is crowded out by focusing on discipleship, practical applications of the gospel, and coping with life’s dilemmas with a Christian spirit.

In other words, the focus is entirely on this three-score-and-ten, which when you think of it, is but a mere snap of the divine finger when compared with eternity. It wasn’t always this way.  In grimmer—pre-internet, pre-cell phone, pre-SUV—times, when people were regularly wiped out driving on two-lane highways, acute epidemics tore through populations, and chronic diseases like cancer were death sentences, believers longed to escape the sorrows of the flesh and move into eternity. But life is very different now.  What were once luxuries are now take-for-granted necessities for many Christians, such that indeed (this) “life is good.”  In any case, other-worldly sermons apparently don’t go down very well with earthlings—even those who profess a faith in Christ.

This is not good.  And it is not biblical.  Christ spoke endlessly about “the kingdom of heaven.” Paul said to “die is gain.”  The scriptures tell us we are eternal beings, who should be longing to be “home” with the Savior.  In short, we are to look toward eternity, not our pensions. But that’s difficult to do when those who dispense the “counsel of God” seem all in on the dress rehearsal. DC

[218] Who Do You Trust?

According to a recent poll by Morning Consult, reported in Christianity Today, evangelicals trust the political endorsements of Donald Trump and Barack Obama more than they do the likes of Joel Osteen and Jerry Falwell, Jr.  On the face of it, this may not seem all that surprising.  After all, Trump and Obama are pretty good at politics, and the parsons are in another line of work.

But there appears to be more to this.  For as long as most of us can remember, presidential candidates have thirsted for the endorsement of evangelical leaders. The reason is very simple.  Those leaders had powerful credibility, and in a very real sense, were the key to millions of votes.

This poll suggests something different is going on.  Evangelical Christians are not taking the lead from the more famous pulpiteers.

But there is more.  Neither Trump nor Obama claims to be an evangelical.  Their personal spiritual lives are unclear—murky if you will.  Yet evangelicals will take their political leads (49% for Trump, 33% Obama) over ostensibly spiritual leaders (Osteen 28%; Falwell 27%).  In fact, 39% said an endorsement from Pope Francis would have no impact at all.  While known political evangelicals, Mike Pence, and George W. Bush did quite well—46% and 43%, respectively—both trailed Trump.

Is there any takeaway here?  Two come to mind.  First, political leaders who speak to evangelicals and their concerns do well, irrespective of the candidate’s personal religiosity.  More important, however, it appears there is no prophetic voice coming from the evangelical world.  Billy Graham is gone.  Osteen is coiffed in prosperity (“this world”) preaching, and Falwell ministers in the shadow of his polarizing Moral-Majority-of the-‘80’s father.

Without a vision the people perish, says the Psalmist (29:18).  There seems no real political vision coming from those on whom so many depend to translate God’s word to our times. DC

[217] Sex

Bill Hybels, Frank Page, Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and who knows how many other well-known evangelicals, have been ensnared in real or alleged sex scandals. Forget about who is and is not guilty.  That is not the point here.  The point is that we are no longer surprised when a new allegation of sexual misconduct is leveled against a high-profile Christian.

It keeps happening and it ought not to be.

Why?

I think one reason is that many Christians are very uncomfortable about sex. In many Christian homes sex is not discussed.  Never brought up.  That was the case in my home. Nary a word from either of my parents. I found out the facts of life from a neighborhood peer.  Curious about the mysterious but much-used F-word, I asked what it meant, and taking me aside, he told me in a very candid and enlightening fashion.  I think you will find that in many Christian homes children learn two things when it comes to sex: don’t “do it” until you are married, and then only with your marriage partner.  So much for sex education.

Of course, that approach (or better yet, non-approach) prepares no one for real-time navigation in a secular world.  Yet courageous attempts to address the matter of sex in the Christian world can engender a peculiar form of bullying.  Decades ago Christianity Today published a sort of “sex and the single Christian” article. In it, were the results of a survey on the sexual behavior of single believers.  The purpose of this less than fully scientific survey was to get a sense of “what is,” not what should or should not be.  Not surprisingly, the results revealed that many Christian singles were having substantial difficulty managing their sexuality, with many having lived lives of less than vestal virginity.

The reaction to the article was radioactive.  The good folks at Christianity Today were all but damned to outer darkness by readers enraged that the magazine had the temerity to print the survey.  On the heels of these seething subscribers’ advocacy of the “Mushroom Syndrome” (keep them in the dark and feed them garbage), I don’t recall seeing many more such articles in Christianity Today.

Which brings us back to the question above. When Christians grow up in a sexually-repressive, paranoid environment the result is not always going to be restraint.  It is often going to be curiosity about this unspeakable, off-limits world, coupled with a lamb-like naivete upon entering what is a sexually wolfish culture.

But there’s more. Some of these same people grow up to become rather powerful “professional Christians,” frontrunners in Christian organizations.  Trained in leadership and other necessary skills, and ready to build God’s kingdom, too many go off into their careers still naïve–wholly unprepared to deal with the often very available sexual “benefits” of power.  Hence, as they—especially males—accumulate power and the elevated regard of others, they become prey to the Delilahs.  In fact, some may find themselves internally pulled in forbidden directiosn, growing out of lingering adolescent fantasies and excitement about exploring unbounded sex.

The point is this.  Seminaries and other Christian institutions cannot assume their students have a mature and comprehensive understanding of sex, all the while disregarding those students’ future vulnerability as they traverse a sexually-obsessed culture.  These organizations must address the issue of sex in their education and training. To do otherwise, is to ready their graduates to navigate God’s kingdom with their seatbelts unbuckled. The issue of sexual temptation and availability is as old as Samson and David, and as current as today.  It is time for Christians to cast off fear, paranoia, and Victorian discomfort, and–pulling their heads out of the sand–take this issue on. DC

[217] MLK, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered 50 years ago today.

I remember it well.  The announcement that interrupted normal television programming was chilling.  King had been in Memphis supporting a strike by sanitation workers, yet another of his many self-sacrificial efforts on behalf of the powerless. In a fleeting moment this larger than life public figure was gone.

It is hard to describe the impact of this 39-year-old martyr for the cause of the Second Great Commandment.  Upon news of his death, cities exploded in violence, people—black and white–were plunged into despair; the civil rights movement—of which King was all but the incarnation—appeared over.  Everyone was in shock.

His death did all but mark the end of the turn-the-other-cheek non-violent form of political resistance.  His official successor, Ralph David Abernathy, had none of King’s charisma, and the divisive Jesse Jackson, who all but hijacked King’s mantle, has always seemed more in a quest of the nearest camera and the attendant self-aggrandizement, than the cause of justice.

It has never been the same since King died.  He was a unifier, a man of the people, shunning celebrity and a life ease in favor of the less traveled path of genuine servanthood.  Though quoting from scripture and often in prayer, some evangelicals criticized him as a theological liberal for his emphasis on social rather than specifically spiritual causes.  Yet many of the very seminaries from which those critics graduated would not admit King, because there were on the wrong side of the Second Great Commandment—the one King was living out.

His work was rooted in faith and a call to God’s work.  “Before I was a civil rights leader,” said King, “I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.”

The man who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” was a giant—clearly among the most important figures in the second half of the 20th Century.  Like Moses and David, Martin Luther King, Jr. had his imperfections, but I shudder to think of where our nation would be without his brief but shining presence. DC

[216] Arnold

My recent blog about the possibility of OJ Simpson having CTE got a bit of a reaction from the readership.  A discussion with a reader underscored how important it is to factor in possible brain abnormalities when we see aggressive acts. The case of my friend’s long-departed father, we will call him Arnold, offers a stark illustration of this point.

In his youth, Arnold had been hit by a car while walking his bike home at dusk. The pre-frontal lobe of his brain was severely damaged. His brain literally protruded through the gap in his forehead, the result of a severe skull fracture. The overmatched physicians tried to push the brain back inside Arnold’s skull, but could not stuff it all back in. They then cut off the part of the brain that did not fit back in. For years Arnold experienced fits of anger and emotional outbursts (normal symptoms for CTE), and at age 57 he was committed to a state mental hospital. Upon his death his brain was donated to a state university for further study.

What makes Arnold’s story particularly sad was that Christians in his small town felt Arnold’s wife had married a demon-possessed man. The result was overt and covert rejection for Arnold, his wife, and his family.  Yet today, if you speak with Arnold’s son, you will not hear about what a sadist his father was.  In fact, you will not hear a single negative word about Arnold.  Rather, his son will regale you with many happy stories of affirmation, encouragement, and father-son outings.  Arnold’s son did not live in fear of his dad. Yes, he saw some outbursts, but the son also sensed they were not the true Arnold.

Nonetheless, there are lifetime emotional scars for Arnold’s family. But they were not put there by Arnold. They were put there by the graceless judgments of the Christian community that did not make the effort to get to know him and his history. DC

[216] Reffing

The reffing in the NCAA tournament is terrible.

Every year.

I coached boys high school basketball.  I was an Athletic Director at an NCAA championship school.  I love March Madness.  I watch as many games as possible.  I simply cannot understand why the officiating is not more competent.  Replays are living testimony to how bad it is.

Go to almost any playground in America and you will see youngsters playing basketball without refs.  And these can be rich, poor, black, or white, or mixed participants—in other words, groups that have great potential for conflict.  Yet with all this diversity and desire to win, they are able to officiate their own games, often without a single argument.  Players know what a foul is.  They know off whom the ball went out of bounds.

The NCAA officials do not.  Perhaps the games should be played that way, with officials in the stands solely to resolve any disputes; of course with the help of replay.  DC

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