values

Choose Life! 42 Years Later…

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This year marks the 42nd anniversary of Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision that opened a flood gate of atrocity against the unborn.  Estimates run as high as 57 million lives have been taken in the womb through the horrors of abortion.

Today I am posting a sermon I preached 20 years ago on the 22nd anniversary.  I do hope you find it helpful and will pass it on as you think appropriate.

Here is a pdf version of a sermon that still rings true today, twenty years later!  Click on the link below to bring up the message.

CHOOSING LIFE

 

Treasure Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen – Luke 12:13-21

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November 17, 2013

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Click on this banner for the sermon and links to video, audio, devotions and study/discussion questions
pertaining to that sermon.  Thanks!

Now that the marriage amendment passed…

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Following the vote on the Marriage Amendment, May 8, I received the following comment from a man named Matthew.  I have attempted to address his questions and comments in this post since many others are talking about the same kinds of issues.  Thanks Matthew for caring enough to ask!

     “I greatly appreciate this post. I am a follower of Christ and I am up in the air about this amendment. Granted the polls are closed and the amendment passed but I am not clear that this is not a violation of law given rights. The amendment was not an affront to the church. It is within the walls of the state. How is this declaration loving our gay community? Please in simple terms, as if I am a seven year old, I would love to here your thoughts. I know you address this with your fourth point and maybe that should be enough.”

Here is my response.

Matthew, forgive my delay!  You raise several questions and make a few comments to which you have invited a response so I will do my best to do so!  First of all, the violation of “law-given rights” has emerged in the debate quite often as a point of contention.  However, to give the benefit of the doubt, I think it is not “law-given rights” that are the issue since no laws are in danger of being violated.  In fact, the laws as written would only be violated if marriage were expanded beyond that of a man to a woman.

I think what you mean, and I may be incorrect so feel free to let me know, is a violation of civil rights or some other form of rights not yet offered by law or protected by the constitution.  To that issue, I will address a couple of brief comments.

1.  As you noted correctly, point four in my article from April 10 speaks to the issue of rights.  There has never been a legitimate question about the rights of a society or government to limit what people have a right to do or not do.  The example I gave suggested multiple prohibitions regarding marriage which have no advocates–polygamy, under-age marriage, marriage to close family members, etc.  If we use fairness as the prevailing measure, it would be unfair to “violate the rights” of anyone by prohibiting such things.  Yet we all understand that no one is concerned about that in the present discussion.  When then do “rights” become so?

Well, rights become so when they represent the values of the people making the laws and those who elect them to do so.  Sadly, in a democratic process, the strength resides in the power of the majority to determine which values prevail.  In the same way, the weakness resides in the power of the majority to mandate values, even when they are not shared by those who will be influenced and affected by the laws.  Each is a strength or weakness depending on whether the values you hold dear are upheld by the majority.  So, ‘rights’ are not universal entities existing absolutely in a pluralistic culture.  They shift with the tide of human opinion unless there is something anchoring them to more substantial moorings.

Therefore, the amendment to the NC Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman violates no rights at all but merely reflects the historic and contemporary standards and values of those governed who cast their votes according to the values they hold dearest.  Does that always work out well?  History proves that not to be the case, but the issue of “rights” is not violated in the least regarding marriage.  Since none have been established for any other kind of marital union than the one affirmed by the majority vote of the citizens, there is therefore no existing legal or civil right to be violated.

2.  Regarding the statement that the amendment was not an affront to the church, you are exactly right.  However the rejection of the amendment would have been.  How?  You suggest that the matter is “within the walls of the state” by which I assume you mean that it does not matter within the church.  The church does not speak with one voice on this issue…or few if any other issues for that matter!  But for churches that affirm the authority of the Bible as true and who confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, there is much greater clarity.

Since as followers of Christ we are under His lordship, we submit to His truth and follow His will and ways as we find them addressed in His Word.  No one has tried successfully to make the case that the Bible is in favor of homosexuality.  Some have tried to advocate that point of view but do not get very far with anyone who happens to own and read a Bible!  But the church does have a primary concern in upholding the standards of righteous behavior Jesus calls for from His disciples.  When given the opportunity to speak to the values embraced and made into law within our rights as citizens, we can and should make our voices known about what we believe regarding godly and good values.

Our values are every bit as important as those who hold views that are the exact opposite of ours.  So when a challenge comes before the followers of Christ and we are asked to vote our conscience, biblical values and righteous standards inform our conscience and we must vote accordingly.

We already live in a culture where our conscience is violated by the laws of the land.  For example, since 1973, abortion laws have been on the books which offend those who value life before birth as many followers of Christ do.  So when the opportunity to speak up for values from a biblical point of view presents itself, it does involve the church-goer just as it does the atheist just as it does the mindless person who does not even know that he/she has values (or where they came from!).  The biblical point of view does not demand silence from those who disagree.  Neither should those who disagree demand silence of those of us who have biblical convictions as strong as their secular convictions.

So it is a church issue…and a ‘secular issue”…and a values issue regardless of where and how the values happened to be shaped.

3.  The last question you ask if very important…how is this loving our gay community?  In the hands of many, it is decidedly not loving because it is used as a club to pound homosexuals and dehumanize them.  But for those who do love people in the gay community, the marriage amendment merely defines one set of issues.  At the same time, it should open the door for dialogue on other issues.  We cannot alter what the Bible says about the sin of homosexual behavior any more than we can negotiate what it teaches about adultery in a heterosexual context.  But we can ask questions and learn what life’s issues are like for the gay man or woman who wants to love God and live for Him, but feels trapped and abandoned and unwelcome by those who are supposed to be loving them in Jesus’ name.

The amendment made no attempt to answer that dilemma.  It remains for the followers of Christ to be intentional in listening and learning how we can love without compromising truth, how we can offer help without being condescending, how we can reach out without giving the impression that we are somehow reaching down.  Love is complicated and messy, but it is an essential element of being a follower of Christ.

Giving up on God’s standard of righteousness and holiness is never acceptable. We cannot wink our eye and declare that homosexual behavior is no longer a sin.  But neither can we give up on the high value God gives to loving others in His name and put conditions on who we will and will not love.  We say “love the sinner, but not the sin.”  Our culture does not understand that distinction.  Unfortunately, many followers of Christ don’t either!  But we have to learn!

Summary?  Rights and values in a democracy are affirmed by majority vote and end up shaping the language of the law.  That does not satisfy those who stand resolutely on biblical truth, nor those who even reject the existence of any truth.  We have every right and responsibility to make our voices known, and exert whatever righteous influence we have to speak up for what we believe and value.  But loving people is not up for a vote.  So followers of Christ must lead the way in demonstrating the love of Christ–not by caving in to demands for the rejection of his standards of righteousness, but by showing a better way–His way, by living it winsomely in the power of the Holy Spirit in the joy and love of Jesus’ name.  I pray for a better day to come when we live what we believe…and speak the truth, but always in love.

A Nation in a State of Flux: Part Three, A Confused Nation

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A Confused Nation

Most people in our nation cannot identify their philosophical perspective by name and would be hard-pressed to articulate any consistent, reasonable, thoughtful process by which they arrive at their conclusions and determine their points of view.  The irrational nature of most dialogue on almost any controversial subject reveals an appalling lack of awareness of how confused people really are.  Incoherent thinking leads to illogical conclusions resulting in ill-formed opinions.

This is not an issue of intelligence.  Even the most brilliant people plod along with no definition to the basic reasons or supportive evidences to support their convictions because they have been led to believe that such things are not important.  Mutually contradictory positions do not seem to bother people and conflicting statements about what is valuable are the norm, not the exception.

Therefore, when a tough and complicated issue reaches the public and opinions are polled, it is frankly embarrassing to hear the naïve and underdeveloped conclusions stated with no idea how illogical and inconsistent their opinions are.  Consider how that confusion shapes the nature of the discussion of…

…freedom and rights.  The conversation does not have to go very far before you realize that there is fundamental conflict between the two in many circumstances.  One of the most volatile controversies that divides the nation has to do with how people understand and approach the discussion about abortion.  Many see it as an issue of rights…the woman has the right to reproductive freedom and that takes precedence over every other consideration on their minds.  Now that most of the debate has been settled about the human-ness of the unborn child (because technology has made it clear that the baby in the womb is indeed a living human being), the conversation has shifted to reproductive rights of the mother being more important than the right to life of the unborn child.
But if the question is asked how that determination was reached, the glassy-eyed stare you get in response lets you know that it is a completely arbitrary assessment.  Moral arguments are not allowed, legal and ethical ramifications are pushed aside, and the improbable idea that this is purely a biological decision rules the day.  That should trouble thinking people that the rights of one are preferred over the rights of another without any substantive explanation why.
With no basis upon which to sort out such a dilemma, the general response of the culture is to ignore the support of freedom for one and deny the freedom for another on the grounds that…oh wait, on no grounds whatsoever!  The confusion results in silence and deference to the loudest voices in the debate.

 …truth and tolerance.  The big ticket item in public debate right now is tolerance versus intolerance…the rejection of absolute truth and the insistence on the rightness of diametrically opposite positions.  No one wants to risk being painted as intolerant so we find a confused nation trying to keep from saying ridiculous and absurd things—“truth is true, and so is untruth!”  Haven’t heard that one yet?  Well, not in those words, but move into the realm of faith conversations and we would be informed that all religions are essentially the same.  For example, we are told that Christians and Muslims believe in the same Deity.  In a recent conversation with a young Muslim man, he actually repeated the cultural mantra—“It seems to me that we believe mostly the same things.”  Intrigued by this catering to the cultural insistence on tolerance, I ask him to explain further.  He then replied, “Well, except for the Christian belief that Jesus is God, we share the same values.”  I then had to explain that whether Jesus is God or not does make a dramatic difference in what we believe—and both things cannot be accepted as valid affirmations.  We cannot truthfully have it both ways and say “He is God” and “He is not God” and expect to be taken seriously!  A less politically correct Muslim man seated beside me on flight in Africa made a point to say before I was even in my seat that we do not believe in the same God at all, insisting that logical inconsistency would not confuse him into saying something he believed not to be true.
Truth by its very nature is exclusive of anything that is not true.  But in a culture which values tolerance more than truth, we confuse people by telling them that everyone can and should believe whatever they want because no one has the right to declare one thing true at the cost of declaring its opposite untrue.  So a confused population tries to live by that illogical and irrational point of view and often does not recognize the absurdity of that proposition.

…values and faith.  Virtually everyone can tell you that the practical policies of the United States demand that there be a separation of church and state, that personal religious beliefs have no place in the shaping of public law and policy.  The confusion arises when it become necessary to acknowledge that all public law and policy are based on values and values arise from some standard of measurement as to what is right and what is wrong.
So when voices from the faith community speak up, they are confused when they are told that there is no place for beliefs and faith in determining values.  Well, what, we must ask in the confusion is the basis for making value judgments if not personal beliefs?  At issue, of course, is not whether values are the result of beliefs.  At issue in the current cultural climate is whether the beliefs arise from religious sources, or are the product of “secular beliefs” derived from philosophical premises of people without faith instead of doctrinal presuppositions of people of faith.  Both have strong belief systems but one is ruled out of order because the object of its faith is divine revelation and the other is ruled appropriate because the object of its worship is human reason.  Who gets to make that call?  Is it any wonder why people get confused when such ideas appear on the scene in an arbitrary manner and are fashioned into absolutes by a culture which denies that there are any absolutes?

People try to make sense of the senseless and end up confused.  Or they give up trying to make sense of anything and just follow along blindly whichever way the wind of public opinion is blowing at any given time.  Apart from the acknowledgement that there is such a thing as truth and that it is knowable, we cannot expect any relief from the confusion that holds our nation hostage to whatever whims and changes are proposed as answers to all that ails us.  Confusion and ignorance of what is true confines us, holding us captive to what we are told to believe by any new idea that proceeds from the heart and mind of other confused folks.  Jesus made it fairly simple when He said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).  Until then, get used to the confusion!

A Nation in a State of Flux: Part Two, A Purposeless Nation

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A Purposeless Nation

Someone once said that when you lose sight of where you are going, it is not time to speed up!  Do nations have a sense of direction and do they need to know where they are trying to go?  If the nation does not have a clear idea of where it is going, any route will do just fine.  The value of having a statement of purpose is not just recognized by corporations, schools, churches, even families, but was included as a preamble to the constitution of the United States of America.

   We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

 In this preamble, a course is established and a purpose articulated, introduced by the words “in order to…” followed by six specific purposes to be valued and pursued by the people of the United States:

To form a more perfect union
To establish justice
To insure domestic tranquility
To provide for the common defense
To promote the general welfare
To secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity

 In the text that follows, a Constitution spells out the means by which to accomplish these purposes and the form of government best suited to “form a more perfect union” than previously had been experienced under the rule of Great Britain prior to 1776.

So from the establishment of our nation, a basic track was laid out that made sense, one that embraced the worldview of the founders and made certain assumptions about why these purposes should be pursued diligently and persistently.

But along the way, erosion set in and the foundational assumptions have shifted until agreement on the most essential issues proves to be virtually impossible.  From a God-centered worldview (whether Deistic, Theistic or Christian), the founders believed that their purposes for forming the union we now enjoy were rooted in what the Declaration of Independence referred to as “these truths we hold to be self-evident.”  The cultural drift has been so dramatic that the general populous now has come to understand that truth is not only not “self-evident” but that truth does not exist in itself but is merely the most recently agreed upon ideas of the intelligentsia—subject to change and certainly never to be understood in absolute terms.

So while the purposes stated in the Preamble still stand, what each of the six means has undergone significant revision in the broader national consciousness.   New definitions and ideas have arisen about what justice means (justice or fairness?), who gets to define what domestic tranquility should look like, why a common defense continues to be needed as challenged by a growing number of idealistic pacifists, what the general welfare should actually be when the divide between rich and poor keeps growing, and how one person’s liberty can be secured without infringing on the demands for ‘rights’ from another.

Having lost sight of a purpose upon which we all agree, competing agendas, opposing worldviews, hostile perspectives are forcing us to reconsider what it could mean to have a clear direction toward which we are all moving once again.  In a radically pluralistic culture, however, no one can gain any ground before it is snatched from under them by advocates of a position pulling in the opposite direction.

What would bring us together on a common purpose?  How can we embrace such radically different values and beliefs and agree on where we should be heading?  So we waffle and weave and continue to wander around aimlessly hoping somehow an agenda will emerge that forms a more perfect union than the one we have now.  But right now, we cannot even agree on what justice means, what domestic tranquility is, why a common defense is necessary, what the common welfare should produce and how one person’s liberty can be upheld without infringing on that of another.

As followers of Christ, we have a clear picture of where we should be headed and how.  But without a broad scale spiritual renewal and transformational awakening to the truth of the living God, we will continue to struggle to find a way through as a nation.  Purposeless living produces desperation in an individual.  That is no less true for a nation!

Thoughts on the Proposed NC Marriage Amendment

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Marriage Amendment Proposal

On May 8, 2012, North Carolina voters will be asked to vote on an amendment that would include the following in Article XIV of the state constitution:

“Sec. 6 Marriage. Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

On the ballot, voters will be asked to choose for or against this proposal:

Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized by this State.

As debate becomes more heated over the next few weeks, there are several things you can count on.  In the following pages I want to help you sort out some of the issues and be more conversant with what you will hear and read. I wanted to wait until there was less than a month remaining before the vote to present this article so that it would not get lost in the rhetoric of the past month.

     First, there will be more heat than light generated by the nature of the discussion.  Honest deliberation of the facts of a moral issue like this seldom enjoys much of a chance.  Already I have heard and seen some rather caustic remarks that make my point!  In one meeting, a supporter of the proposal rose to speak quite harshly and accusingly about anyone who would not approach the matter in what he perceived to be the only right way–attack and demand that the voting population simply understand that to vote against the proposal was to vote against the Bible.  His vehemence in manner left no room for further consideration without incurring his wrath and certain condemnation by him of all who disagreed with as ‘liberals.’  On the opposition side, anyone who dares to vote in favor of the amendment has been painted as homophobic, hopelessly intolerant and dangerously narrow. According to these two voices, your choice is not very promising–you must be either an ungodly liberal who hates God or a homophobic troglodyte who believes the world is flat!  Not much room for discussion of the issues when the heat reaches that level!

      Second, both sides will spend extraordinary amounts of money to place their positions in the best possible light and gain as much public sympathy as they can.  Since our culture has not yet figured out reasonable forums for debate of issues, the victor is often the one who can buy the most publicity.  Because the primary antagonists in the debate come from the homosexual community and it’s advocates, and because that community is relatively small as a percentage of the population (however powerful their lobbying is and expansive their support base may be beyond their community), funding for their campaign in North Carolina will likely come from other parts of the country.  To make a guess, it would probably be fairly accurate to trace the gifts to zip codes on the political map which are blue, not red.  That would be largely from the major metropolitan areas.  Already the money trail has made its way to the state and backers of the opposition continue to plow funds into a campaign to convince North Carolina voters that it is  in their best interests to allow them to explain what and how we should think.  Persuasive arguments will be presented in slick, expensive advertising campaigns that ask us to bury our convictions unless we can reach them without reference to our beliefs.
The supporters of the amendment will face a huge challenge to meet the budget of the opposition, but will try to match fire with fire and you can watch for ads that try to create a warm, happy picture of family life in the traditional context.  At the end of the day, millions will be spent to try to gain the upper hand–not with information, mind you, but to create “impressions” that will stick in people’s minds as they sort out how they “feel” about this issue.

     Third, opponents of the amendment will seek to strip the issue of any moral context by insisting that no “religious perspective” belongs in the discussion, that it is an amoral matter unrelated to personal beliefs.  Such a notion should be patently absurd to any thinking person, but great pains will be taken to promote such a bizarre point of view.  But since our culture operates more out of reaction based on feelings than positive action based on sound thinking and solid information, the opponents will do their best to paint this as a church/state issue in order to silence the voices of believing people all across the state.
If it is allowed that everyone enters the fray shaped by their values and beliefs, it will force opponents of the amendment to own their values and identify the sources from which they have drawn them.  Christians and people of other faiths have already been told to keep religion out of the debate, presuming that people who approach the issue from a secular perspective have no compelling beliefs or prevailing values driving their thinking.  However, the truth is that everyone determines how they stand on this issue based on some personal belief.  It may be belief in the authority of Scripture, or it may be belief in recent scholarship, or it may be belief in the essential goodness of human beings, or any number of other possibilities.
Everyone believes something based on some authority they have come to trust as credible.  So why should Christians be asked to leave our beliefs out of the deliberations when everyone else gets to bring their beliefs and values to the table?  We need not be cowered into the silly notion that because our advocacy is rooted in Judeo-Christian teaching and an ethical/moral framework based on Biblical teaching we should be marginalized and our perspective prohibited.  In a kind way, we may simply remind folks during the coming weeks that biblically-based convictions are not invalidated because the laws of the state are at stake.  I cannot think of any laws of the state that are not the result of someone’s conclusion that one way is right and another way is wrong–a belief informing a value system giving rise to a legal determination.

     Fourth, the scope of the impact will be grossly exaggerated by both sides.  Some will predict the demise of marriage as we know it, while others will claim blatant discrimination and an unconscionable violation of human rights.
Those predicting the end of marriage, or at least irreparable damage to it, by allowing the possibility of a day when the current laws defining marriage as a unique relationship between a man and a woman will be overturned by the courts, have not yet explained in a convincing way how the current state of marriage would be adversely impacted.  What has been noted is that the indirect impact has resulted in a gradual disregard for the institution of marriage among the general population.  Ironically, as the homosexual community is clamoring for the right to be married, an alarming percentage of the culture seems to be abandoning it in favor of living-together arrangements that see little value in it.  Passing a constitutional amendment in support of marriage between a man and woman is important for the preservation of traditional, biblical reasons but it does not address the bigger problems associated with the general decline of marriage in the culture at large!
Opponents of the amendment have been persistent in insisting that what is at stake is a human rights concern by which a group of people are being denied what other groups of people have available to them.  In other words, by denying the right to marry a partner of the same sex, the charge is that we are creating a human rights dilemma and refusing their access to a right granted to those who choose to marry partners of the opposite sex.
Yet, this right is not absolutely affirmed for all circumstances.  Practically speaking, we all agree that denying that right in some cases has long been an acceptable restriction.  Even from the opponents to the amendment, I hear no advocacy for the removal of all limitations, just the ones related to same-sex marriage.  But to be fair in our logic, what then protects the other assumptions behind other laws applied to marriage?  Daughters cannot marry their fathers…sons their mothers…children under a specific age are protected from marriage at too young an age…brother and sisters cannot marry each other…close relatives of specified relations are forbidden…polygamy is not presently up for debate…so certain “denial of rights” are acceptable but same-sex marriage should be excepted and accepted.
Is this kind of discussion absurd?  Of course it is, but logically applied, if the same thinking follows, if we choose to relax legal restrictions regarding the right to marry in one case, must not the same considerations be applied in every case currently on the books?
Everything gets tossed into the air if we are looking at the issue only in terms of fairness.  But we are not.  Everyone agrees that some things are just not right, even if restricting them appears to be unfair.  But the argument may be raised, there is no group significant enough in size and influence crying out for change in those categories.
That opens up a question of principle…does the group affected only get its way when it reaches a certain size or wield a certain degree of influence?  Then it perhaps would serve us well to understand just what the actual scope of the concern actually is.  Are there thousands of gay couples in North Carolina awaiting the defeat of this amendment, the ruling of an activist judge to overturn the current laws on the books, and other such revisions of the law to sanction gay marriage…are there that many who will actually be affected?  Will there be changes in divorce laws to accommodate the inevitable marital failures among same-sex couples?  How will they be different from current ones, and if different, how will that be fair?
The question does not depend on how many advocates, but on whether marriage will be defined specifically or allowed to depend on the whims of the voting public, their elected officials and/or the rulings of activists in the judicial branches of government.
Exaggerations of damage should not be allowed to sway the decision we are called to make.  Honest assessment of principles and evaluations of the real issues should lead the way.

     Fifth, in all the rhetoric about homosexual marriage and its implications, little attention will be given to the gravest enemies of marriage–rampant divorce made more accessible with laws written to make it easier to bring a marriage to an end, children born out of wedlock at unprecedented rates to parents with no incentive to legitimize their offspring, a moral climate which assumes sexual activity outside of marriage as the norm (and the fascinating, yet abhorrent, shift of the word ‘virgin’ to a negative rather than positive characteristic!), and a series of other cultural drifts away from the whole idea of marriage.  Inconsistency marks the trail of marriage advocacy over the years.
The epidemic of broken marriages and shattered lives brought on by the indifference to the damage brought on by an expanding culture of divorce has not produced sufficient outrage to take action to address an institution that is clearly not working.  Homosexual marriage concerns notwithstanding, heterosexual marriage stands at the brink and may in time become a relic of the past except within the culture of the church.  The value of this life-long commitment to unparalleled intimacy between husband and wife has fallen to new lows and each year seems to reset the bar even lower.  Since this is not the time or the place for full discussion of this subject, we cannot afford to delve into the level of detail necessary to do it justice.  However, we cannot allow it to recede into the recesses of our consciousness and disappear from the growing list of social ills that must be corrected.  Healthy portrayals of marriage have virtually disappeared from the entertainment industry and in place of marriage is a steady diet of couples living together, or singles riding a sexual roller coaster of encounters with no relationships or commitments expected or even desired.  Focusing our attention only on the sensationalistic topic of gay marriage does nothing to do the heavy digging required to unearth society-wide, revolutionary new initiatives to recover ground long lost in the field of marriage. **

     Sixth, when the weight of the arguments appears to be less persuasive than desired, the speech will become more vindictive, the name calling more intense and reason will give way to emotional appeals based on anecdotal accounts recounted for no other purpose than to tug on heart strings.  Rest assured, both sides will resort to the same practices if they consider the result more important than how the result is reached.  As noted in the first point above, heat is more evident than light in the way people treat one another when they cease to become persons and degenerate into an impersonal enemy to be dismantled and destroyed.  Much grace and sweet reasonableness will be essential if we do not want to become shrill-voiced and mean-spirited in how and what we say.

     Seventh, determining the will of the people is not the intent in the voting process on a matter like this–limiting the number of people going to the polls always serve the underdog more than the front-runner.  Legislators have done all they could for years to keep this issue off the ballots in North Carolina for as long as they could because they could not count on the will of the voting public to support their point of view.  Democracy operates with a very tenuous premise when it comes to majority rule.  A minority can prevent the majority from ever speaking its mind, as has been evident in the way the marriage amendment has been systematically buried in committee in the legislature without trusting the people of the state to vote the idea up or down.

     Eighth, the will of the people has been under constant barrage from amendment opponents for the better part of a generation now as media, academia, government and yes, religious institutions, have determined that there they can and should radically change the way homosexuality and sexuality in general is viewed by society.
Social engineering in unprecedented proportions of aggressiveness has now succeeded in revising the way a once aberrant behavior can now be viewed as normal, and this agenda has made extraordinary gains in a little over a decade.  A new generation has been schooled to believe that their perspectives on this matter are more enlightened, more informed and more accepting than previous generations.  Surveys among twenty-somethings indicate a shift of thinking that reflects a change in values based on feelings and impressions, not core life convictions and anchored beliefs in unchanging truths.
The breadth of the effectiveness of this experiment in social engineering can be detected in media, education, religious tolerance (with little conviction), and government policy.  Mandating hiring practices that do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation seems very noble, as does preventing clubs and organizations from doing the same.  But when that becomes the primary criteria, conflict arises when religious conviction butts up against government regulation.  A church may not in the minds of some decline an applicant to work in its pre-school, to serve as its organist…or on the university campus, a Christian organization should not deny membership to someone whose lifestyle and beliefs contradict the basic tenets of what they believe.  And who could have imagined in their wildest thoughts that our relationship as a nation with some African nations would depend upon them aligning their point of view about homosexuality with the current administration’s anti-discrimination policies?

Conclusion.  The church has given up too much ground on moral concerns, both in teaching and practice.  What an issue like the present amendment on marriage does is emphasize the need to teach, train and disciple followers of Christ to learn what pleases Him, what holy living looks like without falling into the trap of legalism. To recapture the ground lost will take more than a successful passing of the marriage amendment.  But perhaps that will be the line in the sand we have needed to wake us up and force our hand to do what we should have been doing all along–show people the reason for faith, the beauty of faith-living and the richness of holding up the integrity of Jesus’ name by doing all things and believing all things for His glory!

So to make it completely clear (as if you could have missed it!)…I support the North Carolina amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman as husband and wife.

_________________________

**  An article by Peter Hitchens in the 17 March, 2012 edition of the British magazine, The Spectator, presents a surprisingly cogent thought about what is going on regarding this issue in United Kingdom politics.  Although I disagree with some of his presuppositions, his main point rings true.  The main point of difference is his conclusion that moral conservatives need not get too worked up over the matter of legalizing gay marriage.  His reasoning is what I find to be so interesting.

 “Why was I bothering with this?  Why should anyone?  The number of people involved is tiny.  Alfred Kinsey was wrong.  Ten per cent of the population are not homosexual.  Except in 2006, when they had just been introduced, there have never been more than 10,000 civil partnerships a year.  There is no important difference between a civil partnership and a civil marriage, and changing the name will alter nothing substantial.  As critics have rightly pointed out, there is no great demand for it…It is, or ought to be, a war without any combatants.”

Obviously the latter part of that assessment differs dramatically when “civil marriage” expands to include all kinds of marriages, especially the kinds sanctioned and blessed by the church, yet authorized and given legal status by the state.  Add to that the fact that there is much more at stake than just tax and insurance benefits for everyone who holds a higher view of marriage than a social contract, as those who hold a biblical view of marriage certainly do.  But his observation that this is a minority issue being foisted on the public as if it were a major civil rights issue is right on target.  Only because of the perceived fear of censure and ridicule are there as many supporters of gay marriage as there are purported to be.  The marriage amendment in North Carolina seeks protection for the institution of marriage as it is best understood by the majority of its citizens.

However, Hitchens goes on to make a point that concerns me far more than potential legalization of gay marriages, and that is as has already been noted, the vast array of other attacks upon marriage that largely go unchallenged. (For another discussion, charges of “homophobia” have some merit in that homosexual marriage raises loud voices of concern among those who cannot be bothered by what appear to be other more serious long-range issues facing marriage.  Churches that teach heresy and practice what amounts to syncretistic religion instead of biblical Christianity are allowed to continue with only occasional resistance from their larger bodies, epidemic rates of divorce, couples living together outside of marriage, abusive relationships in marriages–none rise to the level of impeachable offense, but somehow homosexuality stirs the troops like few other issues can.  One church with which I am familiar was ousted from its official association with others of its denomination for performing wedding ceremonies for gays, but no one protested when the same week they were ousted they were hosting an inner healing seminar with a swami from one of the branches of Hinduism right in the same church!  The core problem is the same–once abandon biblical truth as the source of authority for the church in its faith and practice and literally anything goes.  But somehow, more sentiment arises when the deviation from Scripture concerns homosexuality…hence the merit to some allegations of homophobic motivations behind some of the outcry in the present deliberations.

Well, I digress, so here is the balance of Hitchens’ comments.

“The real zone of battle, a vast 5000-mile front along which the forces of righteousness have retreated without counter-attacking for nearly 50 years, involves the hundreds of thousands of marriages undermined by ridiculously easy divorce, the millions of children hurt by those divorces and the increasing multitudes of homes where the parents, single or in couples, have never been married at all and never will be.  If we are to have a Coalition for Marriage…this would be territory on which it might fight with some hope of success.
Why should we care so much about stopping a few hundred homosexuals getting married, when we cannot persuade legions of heterosexuals to stay married?  It is a complete loss of proportion.”  [“The Gay Marriage Trap,” Peter Hitchens, The Spectator, 17 March, 2012]

 The key weakness in his argument is his presumption that this must be, or should be, an either/or proposition.  From a convictional standpoint, biblical faith shows no partiality in making allowance for some sin and condemning others.  So as the weeks slip by, think and discuss in a civil manner without apology for your point of view.  If you don’t have one already, plenty of folks will try to convince you of theirs!  In fact, that is exactly what my intent is here!  Do not rely on others to set the course of history by neglecting to vote, and prepare yourself well with good information before you go.  Then your responsibility will be clear…vote for the cause of righteousness.  That way, you will never go wrong!

 

Will the majority always win?

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Life in a democracy provides great freedom, but also carries great responsibility.  The idea that any whim or experiment can be turned into law by a majority vote is chilling on the one hand, but the prospect of a majority vote protecting the population from eccentric autocrats brings comfort.  As long as there is a shared worldview, democracy works very well.  But when the values and beliefs of the nation become divided along ideological lines, life becomes difficult as competing voices strive for dominance.

Since most law is based on what is right and what is wrong, any people who lose their ability to agree on those basic issues are in trouble and the peace and well-being of that nation is threatened.  This is not a new phenomenon.  The Founding Fathers anticipating the potential disintegration of the nation if the foundations eroded tried to establish safeguards to protect freedom while also maintaining the integrity of accepted values and codes of what is true, what is right and what is prudent.  But there were inherent flaws in the system as has been apparent throughout the history of our republic.

In 1881, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court.  He noted then that most statutes were obsolete by the time they made their way into print and became official laws of the land.  The reason for this he said was that, “The life of the law has not been logic:  it has been experience….At any given time [it] pretty nearly corresponds…with what is then understood to be convenient.”   The frightening reality of that observation has been experienced in full measure in the past several decades of our nation’s history.  Edmund Morris, in quoting Holmes in the second volume of his biography of Theodore Roosevelt, went on to explain further the implications of an experiential instead of a logical base for governing the land when he wrote, “In his world there was neither absolute good nor absolute evil—only shifting standards of positive and negative behavior, determined by the majority and subject to constant change.  Morality was not defined by God; it was the code a given generation of men wanted to live by.  Truth was ‘what I can’t help believing.’  Yesterday’s absolutes must give way to ‘the felt necessities of the time.’”

Two striking examples of what happens when democracies attempt to govern themselves without any sure foundation are presently dividing the nation—the nature of marriage (can the state dictate and legislate that it be restricted?) and the legality of abortion (can the state dictate and legislate what a woman is allowed to do concerning her own body?).  Elected leaders, chosen by the people, have reflected in practice what Holmes observed in theory.  By testing to see which way the winds of public opinion are blowing, many governmental leaders operate by political expediency more often than by principled convictions.  In other words, they are influenced more by current trends of thought rather than grounded in sound, consistent reasoning and foundational values.

So the battle is on.  Advocates for each side of the debate typically avoid the merits of their points of view in the discussion.  Rather than weigh the respective points of view from a reasonable reliance on wise thinking and established principles, the conversations degenerate into ad hominem abusive arguments designed to demean their opponents and in the process negate their perspective.

For example, any discussion on the merits of opening the door for homosexual couples to marry legally seldom addresses the real issue—can the state legislate who gets to marry?  Those who insist that the state can and must do that face a smear campaign in which they are accused of “hate language” and painted as narrow-minded bigots.  Why?  Because the question cannot fail to see that the state has always defined and legislated who gets to marry, and advocates for opening the door to homosexual marriages already affirm the right of the state to prevent marital unions for a wide range of people—those under age, those too closely related, those already married to another and so on.  So the question cannot be argued logically and reasonably on the basis of whose values will be respected and whose will be trampled.  So the abuse goes back and forth as people attack other people instead of people presenting a sound case for their positions.

If that can be recognized, then decisions in a democracy can begin to be made on the basis of what the majority of the people believe to be right and wrong.  The values and beliefs can then be discussed and reasons given to support one position or another.  In the current climate that has proved to be impossible due to the vitriol poured out on both sides of the question.

But does it bother you that Holmes and Morris describe democracy as a somewhat arbitrary enterprise, dependent upon the whims and preferences of “the code any given generation of men want to live by…only shifting standards of positive and negative behavior?”  That means that those who have the most influence on the thinking of the people will eventually succeed in imposing their will on all the people.  Therefore, the question behind the questions is this—who has the authority to shape the thinking of the people and who gets to call the shots about what is acceptable and tolerated by all?

The answer to that covers a lot of ground but in broad strokes, let me suggest five influences, or authorities, that usually compete for the minds and hearts of the people.

 The State – Governing laws reflect the values and beliefs of those seated as our representatives in places of civic authority.  So elected officials put laws in place that address what is legal and acceptable to do and conversely what is and is not.  They exercise control over our behavior which often shapes our perspectives on what is right and wrong.  The general opinion then is that if it is legal it must not be wrong.

The Academy – Educators have been granted enormous powers of influence as they shape the thinking of one generation after another by what they present in the classrooms of the land—from pre-school through the university ideologies are presented as factually unimpeachable and the younger generation has to have a backbone of steel to stand up against the authority of those they are told to respect and obey.  Teachers and professors log in more hours with our children than anyone else in their world and make it difficult to present contrasting points of view with the same degree of saturation.

 The Media – Rather than reflecting the culture, media does a thorough job of shaping the culture with what and how it presents worldviews and lifestyles.  Even in the political realm, the news media regularly try to advocate limits on how much candidates can receive in funding from those outside the campaign, but not once have I ever heard them calculate the vast expenses provided for candidates free of charge by keeping their favorites on the front pages at no cost to the candidate.  The entertainment wing of the media presents spiritual and moral and ethical subjects in a pejorative manner in nearly every instance when offering their opinion of historic values and beliefs, and Christian values and beliefs.  Again, if there were a challenger to the amount of influence educators have over their children, it would be the media who shape not only the kids but perhaps even more so their parents.

 The Church – The institutional church has lost its voice over the past fifty years, largely because many main-line denominations have surrendered their authority to the academy.  A new realm of priests has emerged, not with ecclesiastical robes but with academic robes.  Biblical faith has been stripped of its veracity in their minds and in its place has emerged the same “finger-to-the-wind” approach to beliefs and values found among politicians.  Even among churches of an evangelical persuasion there has been little progress in altering the tidal wave of ideological and practical relativism overwhelming their members.  We give up too quickly when told that our perspectives are faith-based and not welcome in the public forum.  In fact, we have every right and responsibility to point out that every value judgment has a faith basis, a belief system, behind it.  Ours in grounded in what we believe and find affirmed in the Scriptures and we own that mantle and wear it boldly.  However, those contending with us seldom admit that they even have values that have not been put to the vote of the majority for validation.  There is no need to surrender our place at the table when we advocate for biblical truth in the public arena.  Our authority to speak is equally as strong as the other side.

 The Home – The authority of the home in shaping values has begun to deteriorate as homes have become less instrumental in what persuades the hearts and minds of the children growing up there.  The reasons are numerous, far too numerous to go into here, but the exponential rise of single parent homes, the disintegration of family conversations and sharing of convictions in the home, the addiction to electronic media of all sorts, the hectic pace of life that leaves little if any time for instilling the values of the parents and many other factors have had a devastating impact on the kind of influence and authority present in the homes of our nation.

      Of these five authority sources, perhaps you can see how the majority opinion of the nation can be turned so quickly toward the prevailing point of view of those who carry the most weight and have the most influence.  So the very idea of allowing the majority to rule is wonderful in a democracy when there is shared view of the world and shared foundation of values.  But once the foundations are gone, any given election day can see an irrational swing from one extreme to the other as people respond to what they think on any given day.   Gone are the days of common ground with a consistent understanding of what is right and what is wrong.  The psalmist sums it up well when he writes, “If the foundations are destroyed,  what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3).

Where can we as followers of Christ step up to speak a word for righteousness?  Well, frankly, Christian voices have been largely absent in all five categories and it is clear that until we are willing to take our stand on what is right (and yes, there is indeed something called ‘absolute right and absolute wrong’), other voices will control the day, win the elections and manipulate the majority to reflect their point of view.

Over the next several weeks, you will read and hear much discussion here in North Carolina about an amendment to our state constitution that will state that marriage is for a man and a woman.  Opponents to the amendment will pull out all the stops to put their stamp of approval on homosexual unions and use whatever means at their disposal to denigrate anyone holding a different perspective.  Don’t get pushed out of the debate thinking that you are not allowed to let your point of view be shaped by your biblical convictions.  Their point of view has been shaped just as certainly by their beliefs as your values and beliefs have by yours.  If the majority rules the day, then let’s do our part to inform the majority, influence the majority to stand up for what they believe and not be duped into submission to an agenda formulated to silence our voices and keep the majority from having access to a reasonable perspective based on long-held values (indeed from eternal values).

If you like democracy, make sure that you take your stand so that it will be clear that the majority of our nation still hold on to such things as absolute truth and deep convictions about what is right and what is wrong.  If we do nothing and remain silent, the minority who do something will overcome the majority who do nothing.