Then and Now

     It began in Dayton, Tennessee, on May 25, 1925.  That was the day that high school science teacher John Thomas Scopes was indicted for teaching evolution.  It was against the law to teach evolution in a Tennessee public school back then.  The Scopes Monkey Trial, as it became known, pitted William Jennings Bryant for the prosecution against Clarence Darrow for the defense.  It proved to be a pivotal case for public education.
     It was a media spectacle.  In an unprecedented move prosecutor Bryant took the stand to be cross-examined by Darrow.  Playing up to public opinion Bryant’s testimony drew heavily on Christian sentiment instead of addressing the scientific premises of evolution.  Christians were afraid and suspicious of science.  They considered science an enemy to their faith.  That was then.
     Likewise scientists were afraid and suspicious of religion.  They considered religion an enemy of science.  The result was the competing issues became politicized.  School boards at the local and state levels became the battlefield for what would be taught in public classrooms.  The ongoing controversy generated a lot of heat and little light with evolutionists succeeding in framing the issue as fact versus faith.  Time and again faith was defeated.
     The vote of the Ohio State School Board in 2006 was typical.  The board voted eleven to four to remove language in the state’s science standards that encourages students to “investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”  One school board member Martha Wise (poorly named) said her reason for voting to delete the language is because “it is deeply unfair to the children of this state to mislead them about science.”  Too late.
     The heart and soul of science is to investigate and critically analyze everything in the physical realm, including evolution.  I cannot fathom how it is misleading to teach children to do this very thing.  Anything less is not science, it is shamanism.
     Removal of such language and the reasoning for doing so reveal the fissure in the supposed factual arguments of evolutionists.  If evolution is more fact than theory, if it is so unquestionably true, if its underlying foundation is so faultless, why do evolutionists fear its examination?  If all roads of life’s origins and continued existence lead to evolution, why are evolutionists saying don’t read the map?
     This issue raised its head again in Tennessee.  Tennessee State Senator Bo Watson said, “It came to my attention that some teachers did not know how to respond when certain scientific theories were disputed in the classroom.”  If students raised questions regarding certain scientific theories the teachers were in a quandary as to their legal footing in engaging the students in honest dialogue.
     Senator Watson proposed SB 893.  It was the Tennessee Senate’s version of a bill that had already passed in the Tennessee House of Representatives.  It allows teachers, in keeping with the curriculum established by the Tennessee Board of Education, “to respond to the debate and dispute that may occur when certain scientific subjects are taught in the classroom.”  The ultimate purpose of the bill is to foster the “critical thinking skills of students and their ability to analyze information.”  Last month, May, the bill was adopted by the Tennessee Senate, about eighty-seven years after the Scopes Monkey Trial.  This is now.
     Of course the bill’s detractors claim it is an attempt to slip creation science and intelligent design in the back door of the schoolhouse.  So what if it is?  The bill is not a directive or mandate to teach a prescribed course of study.  It is a bill that allows open dialogue and honest debate.  That is something no true scientist should shy away from.
     Paul warned Timothy “guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge” which some have professed and thus gone away from the faith (1 Timothy 6:20-21 NASB).”  In the King James Version the Greek word gnosis (i.e., knowledge) is translated science.  Paul is not suggesting the avoidance of science, but the avoidance “of what is falsely called science.”
     I have maintained there is no contradiction between true science and true religion.  I have never read of any fact revealed by science that has caused me to doubt the Bible and I have never read anything in the Bible that caused me to doubt the facts revealed by science.  Science without religion is godless knowledge and religion without science is blind faith.  Mankind can ill afford either.
     Believers are beginning to recognize that what they thought was their enemy then is our friend now.

Prayer and the Polls

Before last week he would hedge on the issue.  He had said his position was “evolving.”  But the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” regarding the handling of homosexual issues in the Armed Forces of the United States was overturned under his watch, and he ordered the Attorney General of the United States to not defend the Defense of Marriage Act.  So when President Obama said he approves of same-sex marriage earlier this week, it was merely an announcement of what his actions have already signaled.  It was not a surprise.

Some have ventured to say his statement was pressured by Vice President Joe Biden’s comments supporting legalization of same-sex marriages a few days before, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s outspoken agreement with Biden.  Whatever the impetus we can now say with certitude where the President stands on the issue and his evolution on the matter has come to an end.

Tony Perkins who is the president of the Family Research Council believes this announcement by President Obama defines the sharp difference of opinion between him and the presumptive Republican nominee for the Presidency, Mitt Romney.  Perkins said, “The President has provided a clear contrast between him and his challenger Mitt Romney.”  I disagree with Perkins; I don’t think the contrast is quite that clear.

Mitt Romney says we should “continue to define marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman” and then states “If two people of the same gender want to live together, want to have a loving relationship and even want to adopt children,…In my view that’s something which people have the right to do, but to call that marriage is…a departure for the real meaning of that word.”  Romney seems to be concerned about how marriage is defined, but not about its role in society in raising children.  Marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman, but that is not how he defines parenting.

Tricia Erickson commented “This is a great example of how Mitt Romney is trying to be all things to all people.”  She added, “Romney saying he supports the right of same-sex couples to adopt in one sentence and then saying he feels marriage should be between a man and a woman in another shows he has no core convictions.”  Erickson is making a good point here.  It seems the only core conviction Romney has is to get elected.  Of course this is no different than Obama’s core conviction to get re-elected.

Marriage is more than a definition.  Before the institutions of government, education and finance were even conceived, God instituted marriage and the home.  The marriage and the home have proven to be the foundational, bedrock unit of every culture and society.  No human civilization has ever been predicated or prospered on homosexual relationships.  That is a historical, biological fact.  To the degree that any culture allows itself to be eroded by acceptance of homosexual practices, to that degree its very existence is compromised.

I do not see any clear Christian actions or convictions in Obama or Romney.  It is foolish for anyone to think politics will ultimately save our country and pull us back from the brink of moral collapse.  All out nation’s ill can be traced to moral and spiritual Obama is committed to another path and Romney lacks Christian conviction.  What are believers to do?

In Proverbs 21:1 we read, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.”  God is sovereign in the affairs of men and that includes the realm of politics.  Believers need to pray for those who lead us.  We enjoy the privilege afforded every person of a free democracy to vote, and this privilege is joined by a responsibility to inform ourselves on the issues and vote our conscience.  Probably the most important decisions will not involve who is elected to the Presidency, but who is elected to Congress and other offices.  Whatever transpires this November prayer will remain paramount.

The Apostle Paul has wrote, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity (1 Timothy 2:1-2).”  The Christian will also exert greater influence in prayer than he will at the polls.

God is not Fooled

A volleyball coach and science teacher at Rockwall Heritage Christian Academy in Texas was fired for getting pregnant outside of marriage.  The academy has a morals clause requiring their faculty to be role models of the Christian faith.  The school terminated Cathy Samford’s employment claiming her pregnancy out of wedlock violated the morals clause of her contract.

Of course, she has hired an attorney and will file a discrimination suit against the school.  Besides the loss of salary, she has also lost her health insurance that would have helped with her medical bills.  Her legal outlook is not hopeful because the United States Supreme Court gives private religious schools broad authority in determining conditions of employment because it is considered a ministry.  Just last month in a similar case the Court ruled 9 to 0 in favor of the school.  That was not exactly a close call.

I am not going to address the legal issues involved in this matter; that will be settled in another forum and at another time.  It is something the teacher said that caught my attention.  She said, “I looked it up and thought, ‘they can’t do this,’ we all have different views and interpretations.  It’s not necessarily the Christian thing to do to throw somebody aside because of those.”

What are these “different views and interpretations” she is referring to.  What interpretation of the Bible permits sexual relations and pregnancy outside of marriage?  Is it “the Christian thing to do” to have sexual relations outside of marriage?  Rather than being penitent, she seems to give every appearance of being indignant.  She claims to be in a “committed relationship” and plans to marry.  Those are just words.  She made a commitment when she signed the employment contract with the morals clause.  It was a commitment she did not keep, because those were just words.  There is a huge difference in saying you are committed and being committed.

We live in a culture in which personal liberty affords every person the freedom to do as they please; many do.  I would not advocate a change in the personal liberties we enjoy under the United States Constitution.  These same liberties afford the Christian the right to live as he should in relation to the dictates of his conscience and the teachings of Scripture.  While Ms. Samford has a right to exercise her liberty, she also had a responsibility to keep her commitments, to keep her word.

When Joseph became aware that Mary was pregnant, and knowing he was not the father, even amidst being hurt and feeling betrayed, he still tried to do the right thing.  He “being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly (Mathew 1:19, NASB).”  Though he believed he had been wronged, Joseph still sought to do the right thing.

If I were the school administrator, I would do what is right for the school and its students, and what is right for Ms. Samford.  I would be gracious and merciful in this situation.  I would offer Ms. Samford a severance package that would provide some remuneration, and insurance coverage to full term of the pregnancy.  In return, I would expect Ms. Samford to accept her dismissal and forsake any legal challenge.  Since she is in a “committed relationship” she is not left alone to deal with her circumstances.  I am sure the father does not mind bearing his fair share of the financial responsibility of the pregnancy and standing by her through all that is ahead.

There are two issues about this situation that give me pause for reflection.  One of the issues is the fact that so many of our relationships today must be defined by some sort of contractual language.  There was a time in this country when a man’s word was his bond.  That does not seem to be the case anymore.  There was a time when it would have been understood that an employee of a Christian school would be dismissed if he were found to be living an immoral life.  Now that has to spelled-out in the employment contract and is still subject to being challenged in court.

The other issue is that many who live as they please think they are still living a Christian lifestyle.  They either do not read the Bible, or having read it, believe it is alright to disregard its moral teachings.  “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked [fooled]; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap (Galatians 6:7, NASB).”  God is patient; he gives us time to repent and turn to Him.  But do not mistake His patience for His permission.

The Expendables

Next January 22nd will bring two things.  A new President and the fortieth anniversary of the landmark United States Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.  The estimate that more than fifty million babies had been aborted was surpassed last year in January.  This figure is more than eight times the number of Jewish men, women and children that died in the Nazi-inspired Holocaust.  This is why some refer to abortion as the American Holocaust.

The basic philosophy underlining the Court’s decision is the fetus is not legally considered a person until birth and as a result lacks legal protection under the U. S. Constitution.  Advances in medical science have made huge strides in neo-natal care challenging the limits of ex utero viability and the advent of sonograms have put a decidedly human face on the developing baby in the womb.  For these reasons, the incidence of abortion is on the decline.  But a new threat looms.

Two professors, Francesca Minerva at the University of Melbourne and Oxford University and Alberto Giubilini of the University of Milan, have published a paper just last month in the Journal of Medical Ethics promoting “after-birth abortion.”  Among the many arguments put forth by Minerva and Giubilini are “both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons” and “killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be… including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”

You read that right.  While the authors make a strong argument for the killing of a newborn with a birth defect, they also make it quite clear it should be permissible to kill a healthy newborn if “the well-being of the family is at risk.”  Since a newborn is not “morally relevant” and the newborn cannot “be said to have aims,” it is not an “actual person” and has no right to life.  If you think this is an isolated opinion, keep reading.

Consider Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University who has said, “killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person.”  He is essentially in agreement with Minerva and Giubilini.  But this is the same Peter Singer who in an article entitled Heavy Petting advocated sex with animals is ethically permissible as long as it was mutually enjoyed.  I know there is a difference between abortion and bestiality.  I only mention Singer’s views on bestiality to show you where his ethical mindset is.

The fact that Minerva and Giubilini’s article appeared in an “international peer-reviewed journal” is of some concern.  It is indicative of an apparent ongoing debate among medical professionals and the publishers considered it a worthy topic for public discussion.  The issue of infanticide, killing infants, has been around since ancient times.  Until the recent publication, I thought infanticide was a matter discussed and forsaken in the ancient past.  But one source says the issue has resurfaced and been give serious consideration among some ethicists for the last forty years.  An issue I thought had been relegated to a more benighted period of human history has been reborn and reached the light of day.

Early in the debate about abortion opponents argued that legalizing the practice would place our nation on a “slippery slope” of moral decay taking us in a direction and at a speed we would not be able to control.  We are no longer on that slippery slope.  These “professors of ethics” are suggesting we take a flying leap from the brink of common decency into a free fall in an immoral abyss.

In Psalm 139:16 we read, “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.”  When commenting on this passage of Scripture I see two important points.  Life is sacred because it is a gift from God, and life is precious because it is measured.  I once thought that those who held a different perspective did not believe in God.  I now think I may be wrong; they may believe in God, they just think they are Him.

I guess I always knew there were those who viewed human life in such cold, utilitarian terms.  But, I never thought such views would be given a public hearing, or serious consideration.  I never thought newborns would be considered expendable.

 

Talk Is Cheap

Newt Gingrich awhile back promised to be faithful to his wife, his third wife.  He made his promise of marital fidelity public in order to gain some traction among conservative evangelicals in his bid to secure the Republican nomination to run for President of the United States.  Gingrich was hoping to cover past indiscretions with future promises of faithfulness.

While there are a host of Scriptures that come to mind and I will share some in this article, I was reminded of something my drill sergeant said to me in basic training.  In his first introduction he let us know what was ahead and what he expected from us.  He punctuated his remarks with three words that I am sure I had heard before, and were not original to him, but they had not seriously registered in my thinking until that moment.  He said, “Talk is cheap.”

His point was simply what one says is not as important as what one does.  This is made clear by Jesus.  He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter (Matthew 7:21).”  Jesus is not suggesting our entrance into heaven can be gained by our labor or can be earned, He is pointing us to the truth that genuine belief translates into Christian living.  Genuine faith is not about what one” says,” but what one “does.”  There is no dichotomy between faith and practice.

Franklin Graham has come under fire because he has supposedly questioned President Obama’s Christianity.  Graham has said the president claims to be “a Christian and I accept that,” but the President’s position on abortion and traditional marriage are “in direct conflict with God’s standards as set forth in Scripture.”  For these reasons Graham has said he cannot vote for Obama.

A group of black ministers along with the NAACP issued the following statement.  “As Christian denominational leaders, pastors and, more importantly, followers of Jesus Christ; we are greatly troubled by recent attempts by some religious leaders to use faith as a political weapon.”  I’m troubled too.

I am troubled that a group of ministers who claim to be “followers of Jesus Christ” support the President’s agenda to murder the next generation through abortion, or support the practice of gay marriage that cannot produce the next generation.  I am troubled that anyone would think these are political issues, and not matters of grave moral concern, with serious practical ramifications.

The killing of the unborn and the issue of gay marriage are at their core issues of great importance and moment to any thinking, Bible-believing Christian.  But we live in a nation today where many claim to be Christians but few live as Christians.  Many think it is alright to believe God loves them and they will go to heaven and then live like citizens of hell.  Who do they think they are fooling, God?

Jesus goes on to say, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

If this passage is unclear allow me to shed some light.  Judgment day is coming.  When it arrives “many” will realize their lives were ill-spent, but fearing the wrath of God they will “say” they “did” many righteous things.  Jesus will say to them “I never knew you.”  You can’t lie your way into heaven and you can’t fool God.

If Newt Gingrich has repented his past is forgiven, but I do not want to hear his promises of future fidelity, I want to see a life of fidelity.   Barack Obama may claim to be a Christian, but that is just talk; I want to see some policies and administrative decisions that are predicated on biblical truth and pragmatic worth.  Newt Gingrich may think his hopes of being nominated are the most important thing right now and Barack Obama may think getting reelected is the most important thing right now, but they would both be wrong.

It is true the Scriptures teach we will give an account of every careless word that is uttered (Matthew 12:36), but this is because those words are spoken in disregard of our actions.  One day we will all give an account not of what we say, but of what we have done, because talk is cheap.

The Issue

What is the top issue facing Christians in America?  That is an important question, one that should give every thoughtful believer pause to reflect.  Recently this question was posed to some leaders in the Christian community and the responses are predictable from one perspective, but surprising in another sense.

An informal survey of the board members of the National Association of Evangelicals showed the economy was the concern of many.  Over forty different denominations and more than 45,000 churches and religious organizations are represented by the NAE.  The overriding issue for many NAE board members seems to be the national economy and our country’s debt.

Head of the Family Research Council Tony Perkins said “social issues are intertwined with the fiscal issues.”  He thinks “we have neglected and in many ways discourage family formation, and that core economic foundation, which is the family.”  President of Standing Together Greg Johnson says our number one priority is to “honor God as a nation” and “second, we need to tackle our debt as a nation.”  Penny Nance speaking for Concerned Women for America claims “Women care deeply about economic issues’ and believes presidential hopefuls do not adequately address the concerns of female voters on economic security.

I am well aware of the financial difficulties these leaders have commented on.  The church I pastor experienced an approximate twenty-nine percent reduction in tithes and offerings from 2010 to this past year 2011.  While a host of circumstances bear on this loss of revenue, I believe the reduction of income is a direct reflection of the dire financial straits my flock is facing.  I am concerned about the ongoing recession and how it is affecting my church family.  These are hard times.

Considering what many Christian leaders are saying, and my experience as a pastor, and even in my own personal circumstances during this recession, it would seem reasonable to conclude that the economy should be our number one concern.  But I was reminded of something Billy Graham said in an interview with Christianity Today just over a year ago.  He was asked, what are the most important issues facing evangelicals today?  Graham responded, “The central issues of our time aren’t economic [emphasis mine] or political or social, important as these are.  The central issues of our time are moral and spiritual in nature, and our calling is to declare Christ’s forgiveness and hope and transforming power to a world that does not know him or follow him.”

I agree with Billy Graham.  The economy should not be the focus of our attention.  While the economic downturn is a concern, for the Christian it is nothing more than a distraction and is not our chief care.  God promised Joshua “Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you (Joshua 1:5).”  God has called the Church to “make disciples of all the nations.”  I am convinced that if the Church will give itself to fulfilling its biblical mandate, God will give Himself to its provision.

Granted, as a nation and as individuals we have been in the habit of spending more than we make and those practices have gotten us where we are today as a nation.  We need to repent of our deeds and give ourselves to a life of financial responsibility.  If we are faithful to confess our sins God has promised He will forgive us.

Economists are saying we are recovering from the recession, but last year was a hard one.  I can ride through town and point to one business after another that has folded shop and closed its doors.  But despite the financial hardships, our church doors are still open for business, the business of God.

As rick Warren said in the Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about you.”  We were created to do God’s will not pursue our own desires.  Christians need to work together more than ever before to fulfill the Great Commission.  If we “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” we will have all we need to do all He wants.

Clemency and Forgiveness

One of the powers of executive office is clemency.  The President of the United States has the authority to commute the sentence of any prisoner who has committed a federal crime.  This same authority is vested in the various governors of the fifty states.  The governor of a state typically has the authority to change the penalty of a felon convicted under his or her respective state statutes ranging from a reduction in sentence to a full pardon.  When it is invoked, it should be for sound reasons and furthers the interest of justice.

Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour made headlines across the nation when in the closing days of his administration he commuted the sentences of 215 convicted felons 17 of which were murderers.  This surprised many of his constituents and was questioned by the Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.  Governor Barbour may have committed some legal missteps on 21 of those pardoned.  Hood being a Democrat was not willing to pardon these missteps of Barbour a Republican.  Judging from the ensuing outcry, the public may not pardon Barbour either.

In his defense Barbour said that “most Mississippians profess to be Christians” and “the historical power of clemency by the governor to pardon felons is rooted in the Christian idea of second chances.”  He goes on to say Christianity “teaches us forgiveness and second chances.  I believe in second chances.  And I try hard to be forgiving.”  Former Governor Barbour’s actions and subsequent statements bring into specific relief the issue of the biblical doctrine of forgiveness and its bearing on criminal sanctions.

When Noah and his three sons and their wives emerged from the ark, they stood on the brink of the rebirth of civilization.  Civilization requires an ordering of society, laws to govern the interaction of relationships.  After commanding these eight souls to “be fruitful and multiply”, He gives them the first law, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man (Genesis 9:6).”  While this passage directly addresses the crime of murder, it also contains the formula for justice.  When one member of society commits a crime against another member of society, society must impose a just penalty.  This is the foundation for all of our laws and the criminal justice system.  Society has a responsibility to administer justice.  Clemency is a tool to further the cause of justice not to circumvent it.

Consider the man who is imprisoned for stealing a car and while serving his sentence a riot breaks out where he is incarcerated.  In the ensuing chaos this inmate defends a correctional officer from the assault of other inmates sparing the officer harm or maybe saving his life.  Who would deny such a man liberty?  Or the man on death row who is the victim of prosecutorial misconduct and the withholding of evidence, or is later exonerated by the discovery of new evidence.

Clemency should be imposed to recognize exemplary conduct, or to right a wrong.  It should not be invoked on a whim, but employed in the furtherance of justice.  Clemency is predicated on the biblical principle of justice.

Forgiveness addresses different issues and has a different purpose.  Jesus tells us to forgive so we will be free of the bitterness and vengeance that can consume us, thwarting His purpose for each of us.  Forgiveness emulates the example of our Lord who on the cross died for all.  Forgiving those who have wronged us frees us to follow Him and to do His bidding.

Justice is enjoined upon society; forgiveness is enjoined upon the individual.  The Scriptures exhort us to forgive those who have wronged us, not those who have wronged someone else.  Wrongs done to another are subject to the principle of justice.  Like any other Christian former Governor Barbour should forgive those who wrong him, in his capacity as an elected representative of society he bears the responsibility to administer justice.  The two should not be confused because they do not conflict.

I cannot comment on the individual cases of the 215 felons pardoned by former Governor Barbour.  I am ignorant of the specific facts of each case, and the time and diligence Governor Barbour gave to each.  I cannot at this remove comment on whether his judgment in each case was good or bad.  But I do know he should have made his decisions based upon what was just in each case, and not on whom he subjectively thought should have been forgiven for crimes committed on someone else.  Because clemency is not predicated on the doctrine of forgiveness, it is predicated on the biblical principle of justice.