Blindsided

Rodney Baker, pastor of Hopeful Baptist Church, in Lake City, Florida, recommended a resolution for consideration before the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention this past week to express “dissatisfaction with ‘The Blind Side’ and any product that contains explicit profanity, God’s name in vain” etcetera.  At this writing I have been unable to determine if the issue actually made it to the floor of the convention for consideration.

The Blind Side is a movie based on the true story of a wealthy, white family, the Tuohys, who adopt a poor, homeless, black teenager, Michael Oher.  Though the film contains some rough language, a number of leaders in the Christian community hailed its positive message when it debuted.  Baker’s resolution has become the subject of some discussion generating a little heat and less light.

As Providence would have it (I do not believe in luck), I live in Lake City also and pastor a small congregation in our town.  I have heard Pastor Baker speak a number of times and have had the pleasure to talk with him on a few occasions.  His resolution is prompted by the genuine concerns of a father and pastor.

Those concerns are not without merit.  Since Rhett Butler uttered those final words in the film epic Gone with the Wind, there has been a tension between the entertainment industry and the viewing faithful.  While this modern medium has great potential to be used for good, the use of bad language, depiction of casual sex, and graphic violence has had for the most part an undeniably negative influence on our culture.

That being said, Jesus enjoined us to “not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24).”  Sometimes truth is hidden beneath a very rough surface.  With this thought in mind, I took a closer look at The Blind Side.

There is one scene where God’s Name is used vainly.  The lighthearted context in which it was uttered may, for some, take the edge off the seriousness of the practice and lead to a relaxed respect for the Name of God.  Its use was intended to express awe at Michael’s physical presence, but could have been adequately expressed by a less offensive phrase.  God’s Name should be spoken in praise and in prayer, never as an expletive.

There is a moderate use of vulgarity in a few scenes.  They provide the dramatic realism needed in depicting the world Michael once inhabited.  Later Michael questions the motives behind his adoption and runs away.  Leigh Anne Tuohy, his adoptive mother, in a frantic search returns to Michael’s old neighborhood.  A thug threatens Michael and calls Leigh Anne a name I won’t print.  Leigh Anne responds in kind showing she is not intimidated and will do what it takes to defend her son.  While some would consider her response unacceptable, others given the context would think it understandable.  During this same exchange the thug utters a racial slur.

All things considered, the distasteful language does not obscure the positive value of its message.  It is a poignant portrayal of a family that willingly crossed social, economic and racial barriers to rescue a young man from a dead-end life and place him on the path to success.  The impact of this story was magnified by the gritty glimpse into the world where Michael once lived.  At no point in the movie is profanity, vulgarity, or a racial slur presented as an example of how we should converse, but was a realistic representation of the world from which Michael was delivered.

There is the hint of faith guiding the Tuohy’s actions, but a clearer connection linking their faith to their deeds could have been made.  This is something that Hollywood seems unwilling to do; present the impact faith has on the life decisions of believers.  It is almost as if the entertainment industry believes faith is a contagion that needs to be contained.

There are some lessons for the believer.  Words reveal the character of the speaker, not the hearer.  Lost people are going to talk like lost people until they get saved.  Our convictions were never meant to be cloistered, but should be used to engage our culture.  There are still some very ugly places in the world we live in, but if we as Christians are sincere in our desire to reach the lost, we cannot wait for them to wander into our world; we will need to step into theirs.  After all, that is what Jesus did when he left heaven for earth.  And that was when Satan got blindsided.

Context is Everything

Mark Woods and I agree on one point, when studying the Bible, context is everything.  Mr. Woods suggests that certain prohibitions to the Jewish nation in the book of Leviticus regarding their diet, attire, how they cut their hair, and other strictures, appear alongside the denunciation of homosexuality, and since for one reason or the other these practices have fallen into desuetude, shouldn’t we consider the prohibitions against homosexuality outdated.

In a recent article entitled Context Is Everything with the Bible, Mr. Woods wants to set the record straight.  Admitting that he has not read the Bible much since his days in Sunday school, he says he finds the Old Testament “a complex, confusing puzzle.”  Yet undaunted, he presses on to correct those who have spent the better part of their life reading and studying a book they revere as being the Word of God.

I do not claim to fully understand the purpose of the dietary laws, or why a garment with mixed material is prohibited, etcetera.  From the context, many of these practices were forbidden because they were linked to idolatrous practices by the former inhabitants of the land (Leviticus 18:24, 27-29, 30).  Idolatry is still a concern, but manifests itself not so much in what we eat and wear, but is reflected in what we spend our time and resources on.

Like others on the issue of homosexuality, Mr. Woods seems fixated on Leviticus 18:22.  Had he given more attention to the immediate context, he would have discovered two verses before that, in verse 20, adultery is condemned, and in the very next verse, verse 23, bestiality is forbidden.  These respective practices are collectively referred to as abominations in verse 26.  If what Mr. Woods suggests is true, then cheating on your spouse and having sex with animals is okay also, because they are just as obsolete as homosexuality.

Mr. Woods makes the point that the Bible “devotes many more words to mildew growing in houses than it does to gays living in them. Yet these few verses are what keep getting circled, highlighted and pointed to in 2012.”  The New American Standard Bible uses the term leprosy instead of mildew.  Leprosy was a debilitating, deadly disease with no cure, which could colonize and be transmitted from inanimate objects.  It would not be unusual for God to give detailed instructions addressing it.

Nevertheless, Mr. Woods suggests the fact that more is written about “mildew” than homosexuality makes homosexuality insignificant by comparison.  Should we consider anything God says as insignificant?  When Jesus rebutted the temptation by the devil to turn stones into bread, He replied, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).”  Since the New Testament had not yet been penned, Jesus was speaking of the Old Testament, and shows His conviction in the significance of “every word.”

Jesus was later asked “which is the great commandment in the Law?”  He responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 which enjoins us to love God with all our being.  Jesus says “This is the great and foremost commandment (Matthew 22:37-38).”  He goes on to say “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).’”  This quote from Leviticus 19:18 is the only place this phrase appears in the whole of the Old Testament.  In Jesus’ opinion these seven words rank second in significance only to loving God.  In the eyes of Christ, their scant appearance did not mitigate their significance.

It is also the verse in the Bible that the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is based.  You may recall President Obama’s belief in same-sex marriage was informed by the Golden Rule.  If that is true, one must assume God either forgot what he said in chapter 18, or changed His mind when He got to chapter 19.  President Obama and Mr. Woods evidently agree on context; pick what you like and disregard the rest.

Christians do not hate homosexuals.  It is their love for others that motivates them to warn their neighbors about self-destructive practices.  The rant of Charles L. Worley referred to by Mr. Woods is as much of a misrepresentation of the Christian perspective as his woeful attempt at explaining biblical context is.      I am sure God has more to say about this subject, but His final comments will be reserved for another day.  The context of biblical truth includes all the Bible has to say that bears on any given matter.  When it comes to interpreting the Bible, context is everything, as long as you understand everything in it is the context.

Rattlesnake Religion

Mark Wolford was highlighted in a November 2011 article in the Washington Post.  This “flamboyant Pentecostal pastor from West Virginia” is not media-shy and was not reluctant to call attention to his crusade to keep the practice of snake-handling alive.  Mark and his fellow followers take the words of Christ from Mark 16:18, “they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them,” as a command.  Mark made the news again last Sunday, possibly for the last time, when he was bitten by a rattlesnake he had just handled.  He died later that evening from the bite.  He was forty-four.

Mark was practicing a religious tradition that is popular among a few believers.  They handle snakes and some drink poison to prove their faith.  In fact, Mark’s father had died in 1983 at the age of thirty-nine in the same manner.  Those who believe like Mark interpret the words of Christ in the aforementioned passage literally.  They think they are obeying the command of Christ, and are putting their faith in Him to the test, by handling poisonous snakes.  They believe they will not be bitten, or if bitten, they will suffer no harm.

I believe in the literal meaning of Christ’ words also, but with a distinction.  The words they believe are an imperative, I believe to be prophetic.  In the twenty-eighth chapter of the book of Acts beginning in verse three we have an account of the apostle Paul, who along with his fellow travelers, is shipwrecked on the island of Malta.  While gathering wood for a fire Paul is bitten by a viper.  Paul shakes the serpent off into the fire and suffers no harm from the venom.

The words of Christ become clear in the light of this account.  If a messenger of the Gospel is by chance bitten by a poisonous serpent, he will be divinely protected so that the spread of the Gospel is unhindered.  The promise of protection is extended to those messengers who others may attempt to poison with a tainted drink.  Jesus’ statements were His prophetic insight that such events would occur by chance, and the design of the enemies of the Gospel, not a command to deliberately subject ourselves to such things to prove our faith.

When Jesus was tempted by the devil to prove his faith by throwing Himself of the pinnacle of the temple He responded, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test (Matthew 4:7).”  Jesus quoted these words from Deuteronomy 6:16 to show God the Father has commanded us to do nothing to deliberately put Him to the test or attempt to force His hand.  We should not think that the Creator can be manipulated by His creatures.

Mark Wolford, and his father before him, and others like them, who have died handling poisonous snakes or drinking a poisonous concoction, did not die because they lacked faith.  They died because they misunderstood the Scriptures.

In like manner, many today suffer physical and spiritual injury because they either do not understand or purposefully misinterpret the Scriptures.  The apostle Peter addresses this issue when talking about the writings of the apostle Paul.  He refers to Paul’s letters “which the untaught and the unstable distort, as they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”  Misapprehension of the Scriptures can be both deadly and damnable.

Peter warns against allowing the Scriptures to become “a matter of one’s own interpretation (2 Peter 1:20-21).”  When God inspired the various biblical authors to write His Word, He was communicating a specific message within a historical context.  The Bible is to be studied objectively.  That is to say Bible scholars study to understand God’s specific message then, so they can understand how to properly apply its principles now.  The Bible is not a book that is meant to be subjected to interpretation according to one’s personal perspective or philosophy, or their likes and dislikes.  God’s word is not meant to be twisted and distorted to suit one’s politics, lifestyle, or culture.  God says what he means, and means what He says.

Mark Wolford’s misguided understanding of the declaration of Jesus proved deadly, but I am not convinced his actions are damnable.  Our first parents did not prove to be good serpent handlers either.  Failing to trust God’s command and declared consequences of doing so resulted in Adam and Eve mishandling the serpent’s sales pitch.  The result of their actions proved damnable, and that is why some serpents’ bite is deadly.

No matter how you look at it, man does not have good outcomes when he tries to handle serpents.