Is White Christian America Dying?

John Sides recently wrote an article for the Washington Post titled “White Christian America is dying.” John is an Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University. His article is based on a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute founded by Robert P. Jones and the book authored by Jones, “The End of White Christian America.”

There is not enough space here to address all the results of the survey, but there was an interesting trend. There was a considerable generational decline in those claiming to be Christian with a corresponding increase in those claiming to be unaffiliated with any religious tradition.

While the survey cited a number of reasons for millennials leaving the church, one reason stood out for the youngest age group surveyed. Seventy percent of millennials, 18-33, “believe that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.”

Of those millennials raised in a religious home but now claim to be unaffiliated with a religious group, thirty-one percent said “that negative teaching about or treatment of gay and lesbian people by religious organizations was somewhat or a very important factor in their leaving.”

I have said this before and it bears repeating here, the kingdom of God is not a democracy. We do not get to vote on what is or is not a sin. That holds true for sexual sins including homosexuality.

The homosexual lifestyle and the LGBT community’s pursuit of what they believe is marriage equality are dividing our culture. Currently, homosexuality is riding a wave of unprecedented popularity with no sign that popularity has crested.

There is much misinformation and misunderstanding on both sides of the issue. Gay and lesbian couples believe they are being discriminated against when Christians of good conscience do not want to be a party to something the Scriptures condemn. Disagreements arise over the limits of religious freedom and because those disagreements are emotionally charged they tend to generate more heat than light.

Divine admonitions are not arbitrary; there are always practical implications to transgressing what God declares to be sin. Recent legal rulings coupled with the growing acceptance of homosexuality have created seismic shifts in our nation’s morality and laws. These shifts are relatively sudden with no long-term statistical data of the effect of these changes on our society.

The Scriptures warn, “You shall not follow after the masses in doing evil, nor…turn aside after a multitude to pervert justice,” Exodus 23:2. Popular opinion sometimes is little more than mob rule. I think millennials would be well advised to think clearly about traditional marriage and not be so impulsive about changing something that has worked for thousands of years.

There is a reason why no civilization, culture or religion in the history of mankind has flourished celebrating the homosexuality lifestyle, because it is biologically unsustainable. Christianity, whatever color or ethnicity, is biologically sustainable; millennials should rethink which one is dying.

Doubt and Faith

I read an article by a young woman who shared things a believer should not say to someone who doubts their Christian faith, and suggested what they should say and do instead. She had been raised in a “conservative, evangelical” home, but when she began attending college her faith began to unravel.

She said, “The faith my parents gave me had been constructed like a delicate house of cards.” Her story is not unusual. Many children when they leave home and begin to make a life for themselves and are no longer under the influence of their parents, often experience a crisis of faith, when they must make sense out of what they believe and why they believe it.

Children often “get saved” for a host of reasons. A friend of theirs did, or they want to please their parents, or they want to fit in with the church crowd. But those reasons seldom translate into genuine faith when they are on their own. I am not discrediting the decisions made by children, I came to Christ at the age of eight, I am simply saying sometimes decisions are made for social reasons rather than spiritual reasons.

The words in the New Testament for faith, a noun, and believe, a verb, come from the same root word that means to put one’s trust or confidence in something. Faith at its essence is a decision to trust, it is not a feeling. I can remember at the age of eight making a decision to repent of my sins and trust Christ as my Savior.

As a person matures and begins to search for truth they come to have questions about matters of faith. They want answers; they think they are owed answers to their questions. This was Job’s issue, he felt he was suffering unjustly and God owed him an explanation.

We are like that at times. We think God owes us an explanation, but he doesn’t. Questions are often just a reason not to trust God. I have noticed that once a person decides to trust Christ they no longer have any questions. It is not that the questions do not still exist; they just lose their significance when we trust God. Besides, if we had all of our questions answered there would be no need for faith.

I do not have all the answers myself, but I have all the answers to the most important questions. I know why I exist and my purpose for living.

We read, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him,” Hebrews 11:6. God is pleased when we trust Him whether or not we have all the answers, and faith in God brings me a satisfaction and contentment that is indescribable.

It is my prayer that others will find this “peace of God, that surpasses all comprehension,” Philemon 4:7.

Three principles guide my writing

Since my columns are for the most part a biblical commentary on current events I thought my readers would find it of some interest how I come to the viewpoints expressed in my writing. There are three principles I follow.

First, I believe the Bible is the Word of God, inspired and preserved by Him, to be a reliable guide in all we should believe and do. Ergo, I view human history and events through the lens of the Scriptures, as I understand them, that being the historical, grammatical, and plain meaning of the text. I believe God created us and there is no one who knows us better or is more capable of advising us on how we should live.

The Scriptures were penned in a specific historical context and for us to understand what God is saying now we must understand what he was saying then from the historical perspective.

God used human language to convey His revelation to us. All languages share grammatical similarities (this makes it possible to translate the Scriptures from one language to another) so that understanding the laws of grammar help us to understand God’s message to us.

Every word in the Scriptures supports the communication of literal truth that is plainly written for anyone to understand. There are mysteries in the Bible, the Trinity, the incarnation of Christ and the Atonement are just a few, but those things we are told about our relationship with God and how we should live are written in clear language that can only be misinterpreted by those who have no desire to do the will of God.

Like the Reformer Martin Luther my Weltanschauung (worldview) is “bound by the texts of the Bible, my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”

Second, I believe the eternal truths contained in the Scriptures are ever relevant and mankind is best served by the common sense, practical application of those truths. So I try to give a clear application of those truths to the events and things I write about.

Third, I believe all men are created in the image of God so every person needs to be treated fairly and with respect. But I also hold that image has been marred by original sin, the fall of our first parents, so I do not necessarily respect every thing people believe, say or do.

As an example, I respect another’s religious freedom to believe as they choose, but I do not respect the killing of another because they believe differently. This respect for others is why I address issues and not personalities, although personalities can sometimes become an issue.

I never intend to be mean-spirited, but biblical truth is both direct and directive, direct about what is wrong, and directive to do what is right. Blunt realities shock our delicate human psyche and we are easily offended, but biblical truth becomes more palatable when we realize God loves us and only wants what is best for us.

There is no hierarchy of sin

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about whether or not it is a sin to drink alcohol raised by the dismissal of Perry Noble from his pastorate for abuse of the same. Biblically speaking, I pointed out the use of alcohol is permitted, but its abuse and drunkenness are sins.

Any liberty afforded the believer in Scripture is to be exercised responsibly and that includes the use of alcohol. There are circumstances in which it is wiser to abstain than imbibe.

This is where Perry failed to exercise wisdom. To his credit, he honestly admitted his fault, “in the past year or so I have allowed myself to slide into, in my opinion, the overuse of alcohol.”

Probably aware that his removal would be rife with rumor, he added, “Let me be very clear, neither [my wife] nor I have committed any sort of sexual sin. I have not stolen money. I have not been looking at porn and there was absolutely no domestic abuse.” Perry seemed to be simply trying to dismiss any possible suspicions that might compound and confuse what had happened.

Craig Gross took issue with Perry’s statement. Craig ranted, “in case you haven’t caught it, let me make it clear: Noble is saying that being consumed by alcohol is not as bad as having an affair or beating up your spouse. Or looking at porn.”

That is not what Perry said; Craig twisted Perry’s words and lied. Craig founded the a ministry dedicated to helping those addicted to sex and pornography. So when it comes to porn and sexual sin he may have a chip on his shoulders, but it does not give him the right to lie. Perry never said, or even inferred one sin is worse than another

If I were asked to describe God’s nature in one word it would be holy. He possesses a righteousness that is humanly unapproachable and only feebly understood. All sins are committed against Him and none is worse than another from the divine perspective.

From the human perspective it is a different matter. We treat different sins (those that are also crimes) with different penalties. Stealing a car, a property crime, is punished differently by the criminal justice system than a murder committed on a person. Each has a different outcome and subsequently differing consequences.

Craig seemed to struggle grammatically to understand what Perry was actually saying, but if he wants to criticize Perry he has the responsibility to first know exactly what Perry said and not misquote him. Craig should have practiced the unwritten beatitude, “Blessed is he who has nothing to say, and cannot be persuaded to say it.”

Craig would have been wise to “be quick to hear, slow to speak,” James 1:19, because lying is as much a sin in the eyes of God as drunkenness is.

Caesar and God

With Hillary Clinton being the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party to run for President of the United States there was an article published titled, “God might not want a woman to be president, some religious conservatives say.” My first thought is one should be very careful when he or she presumes to speak for God.

That being said there is much debate in religious circles on the roles of men and women in the home and church. Some Bible scholars hold to a complimentarian view that men and women hold different positions and functions that compliment their gender. Others hold a more egalitarian view that men or women can serve equally as well in any given position. But that would be a subject for another article.

Rick Santorum posed this question during the 2012 campaign, “Is it God’s highest desire, that is His biblically expressed will,…to have a woman rule the institutions of family, church and state?” What does the Bible say about women in government leadership?

Santorum may have asked this question because just four years earlier John McCain had chosen Sarah Palin to be his vice-presidential running mate, and had he won a woman would have been only a heartbeat away from the Presidency of the United States.

It may surprise some to know the Bible says nothing that would bar a woman from serving at any level of government. The patriarchal tenor of Scripture may lead one to think God would prefer men in all forms of leadership, but the Scriptures do not say that explicitly. In fact, the prophetess Deborah was numbered among the twelve Judges of Israel, and the prophetess Huldah was adviser to King Josiah of Judah.

Besides, it is the United States Constitution that establishes the qualifications to be President. Article II, Section 1 reads, “No person except a natural born citizen…attained to the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States” is eligible to hold the office of President. If the framers had wished to exclude the fairer sex I suppose they could have substituted the word “man” for the word “person” and it may have settled the issue.

It seems a little late to consider female leadership when women have been elected to and have served well at all levels of local, state and federal government within legislatures the judiciary and as governors. History attests to women who have served as heads of state with distinction such as Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, and the current Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel.

Jesus told us “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s,” Matthew 22:21. It seems inconsequential to me to debate what the sex of the President should or will be, when the question of whether or not Caesar will protect the freedom of conscience to render “to God the things that are God’s” is undecided.

Perry Noble and the Drinking Dilemma

When Perry Noble began a Bible study in his home he probably never thought it would grow to become one of the largest megachurches in the country. But as the founding pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina he probably never thought he would be removed from his pastorate for abusing alcohol either.

I am not writing to condemn Perry, he needs our prayers, but his situation has reintroduced the debate over what the Bible says about the use of alcohol. Is it a sin to drink or not?

When this issue is raised someone will invariably remind us Jesus turned the water into wine. This account in the second chapter of John is telling. Drinking opponents say the word for wine (Greek, oinos) in the second chapter of John should be translated “grape juice.”

This poses two problems. First, grape juice does not fit the context. When the headwaiter tastes the water turned into wine, he says, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now,” John 2:10.

The meaning here is plain, people serve good wine to their guests until their senses are impaired and then they serve them a poorer quality wine. If one substitutes the word “wine” with “grape juice” the verse loses its meaning. Besides, surely the headwaiter knew the difference between wine and grape juice.

Second, Paul uses this same Greek word, oinos, when he admonishes the Ephesians “do not get drunk with wine,” Ephesians 5:18. If oinos means “grape juice” there is no danger of anyone getting drunk; Paul was not warning the Ephesians about drinking grape juice.

By turning the water into wine, Jesus by His example condones the making and use of wine, and Paul condemns its abuse. I am a strict Biblicist and if I am to be true to the Scriptures I am forced to conclude drinking is not a sin, but drunkenness is.

I would agree that the Scriptures sternly warn us about the abuse of alcohol, and we have all witnessed how its abuse has ruined lives, destroyed families, and creates a host of social ills.

For these reasons it would not bother me if every ounce of alcohol evaporated from the face of the earth and another drop was never produced, but I cannot believe the Scriptures and condemn its use.

Jesus’ first miracle is written in plain English that even a drunken wino could understand. If I told him Jesus turned the water into grape juice he would probably laugh and call me a liar, and he may think I am still lying when I tell him Paul says drunkenness is a sin, and he needs to repent and turn to Christ for forgiveness.

I cannot lie about what the Scriptures say in one place, and expect anyone to trust my testimony of what they say in another place.

Freedom of Religion

In the seventeenth century some of the early colonists came to America fleeing the religious persecution of the Church of England. State sanctioned and supported, the Church of England was officially recognized by the government, and used its official status to thwart the religious beliefs and practices of those it deemed non-conformists.

Having won our independence from Great Britain, the thirteen colonies adopted a Constitution to form a new nation and to fulfill the spirit of the Declaration of Independence that declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Concerned that the newly formed federal government might attempt to compromise the personal freedoms Americans had come to enjoy in the New World, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution known collectively as the Bill of Rights were ratified by the thirteen colonies.

The First Amendment is considered the cornerstone for the other nine. The first words of the First Amendment read, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof.” I have always thought it significant that when our founding fathers sought to protect individual freedoms the very first freedom they sought to secure was the freedom of religion.

This is the historical context of our nation’s founding documents that were framed in a decidedly Christian consensus. Freedom was understood by our founders to be a right granted by God to every man and government’s role is limited to recognize those freedoms, and to protect them.

While it has been coming for some time, we have witnessed, in less than a decade, a seismic shift in moral practices of what is considered culturally acceptable. In light of these changes, Christians believe they are being forced to engage in acts that conflict with their beliefs and their religious liberty is in jeopardy. Freedom of religion has become a matter of debate and a political issue in the current election.

So, what is freedom of religion? Freedom of religion is the right of each individual to believe and practice one’s beliefs, and to associate with those like-minded, without coercing others to do the same and without coercion by others to do differently. It is the right to choose one’s faith or to choose no faith at all.

In the beginning “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them,” Genesis 1:27. I believe part of God’s image in man is a will to act and choose similar to His, and that God in His sovereignty does not violate man’s will.

Neither should government; it is not the place of government to side with one citizen to force another citizen to act against his or her conscience. A threat to religious freedom anywhere, is a threat to religious freedom everywhere.