by Caleb Jenkins | Jan 11, 2023 | Featured, Headlines |
One of my personal traditions is to listen to my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr speech each year on MLK weekend. While not as popular as “I Have a Dream” or “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” my favorite speech, entitled “Rediscovering Lost Values,” embodies the compelling moral vision of King and the broader African-American church that we celebrate each year on MLK day. This speech was actually a sermon delivered at Detroit’s Second Baptist Church before the Montgomery bus boycott that elevated him to a national stage. It reminds us that before King became the renowned activist and public persona, he was a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was his deep faith commitments of the latter that propelled him to become the former. The sermon’s correct diagnosis and searing critique of modern western culture’s moral relativism, in both theory and practice, is as relevant today in 2023 as it was in 1954.
King begins by asserting that, as modern people, “the means by which we live, have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live.” The profound problems we face in our world today cannot be solved by more information or more economic resources, both of which we have more of today than any society in human history. No, the problem lies within the hearts and souls of human beings and results from leaving behind the value of there being a God-given moral fabric to our universe. King likens this to the story of Joseph and Mary accidentally leaving behind Jesus as a boy in Jerusalem while returning to Nazareth (Luke 2:41-52). If we are to move forward as a society, we must go back to rediscover these foundational spiritual and moral values.
The problem is that we have forgotten that God created our universe with moral laws every bit as true as physical laws. Even if you don’t understand Newtonian physics, you know that if you jump off a tall building the law of gravity means that you will fall to the ground and die. Certain things are right and certain things are wrong, in every time, place, and culture, precisely because God made it so…
It’s wrong to hate. It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong! It’s wrong in America, it’s wrong in Germany, it’s wrong in Russia, it’s wrong in China! It was wrong in two thousand BC, and it’s wrong in nineteen fifty-four AD! It always has been wrong, and it always will be wrong! It’s wrong to throw our lives away in riotous living. No matter if everybody in Detroit is doing it. It’s wrong! It always will be wrong! And it always has been wrong. It’s wrong in every age, and it’s wrong in every nation. Some things are right and some things are wrong, no matter if everybody is doing the contrary.
Yet, King points out, we think we can disobey God’s moral laws and not face the consequences. He says that we live by an 11th commandment that supersedes the other 10… “Thou shalt not get caught.” You can break any command you want, so long as you don’t get caught and face negative consequences for it. We have deceived ourselves and forgotten the biblical truth that “You shall reap what you sow” (Galatians 6:7). This is the result of forgetting the moral foundation of the universe, and the God who upholds it.
At this point you may be amening just like the congregation at Detroit Second Baptist back in 1954. This is when King shifts the focus from our broader culture to the church. He observes that even believers can unintentionally forget God and leave him behind, just like Jesus’ parents accidentally forgot him back in Jerusalem on their way back to Nazareth. It is easy for Christians to “pay lip service to God and not life service.” We create false gods out of materialism or political ideologies that affirm us and how we want to live, and we use those idols to distract ourselves from the real God of Scripture who places moral demands on us and holds us accountable.
All too often, Christians are passionate about either personal holiness or communal justice, while neglecting the other. King and others in the African-American Christian tradition show us there is a strong moral foundation that should lead to both. There is much the broader church can learn from them. We should seek to know the God who created this moral universe, and follow him by his grace.
This MLK weekend, I encourage you to take some time to read or listen to one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermons. Let’s remind ourselves of the moral foundation of God’s created order, and how we follow the God who upholds it.
by Brent Nelsen | May 25, 2022 | Featured, Headlines |
On December 26, 2021, one of my personal heroes passed away. Desmond Tutu was the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, and he died at the age of 90. Tutu led the church through a time of intense suffering, and also led the way in offering reconciliation and forgiveness.
Tutu was a leader of the church in South Africa during the time of apartheid, which means “apart-hood” or “separateness.” Apartheid was essentially a racial caste system with the white South African minority at the top and the black South African majority at the bottom. Land was stolen from black South Africans, cities were segregated into rich and poor based on skin color, and the system was enforced through state-sponsored violence, in particular by a brutal secret police force. The system lasted from the late 1940s until the early 1990s.
When the apartheid system fell and Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994, South Africa was faced with the problem of how to deal with their past. One option would be to hunt down all the perpetrators: those who had upheld the system by passing unjust laws and overseeing sham trials, and those who committed violent acts in order to enforce it. This option was rejected because it would likely hinder reconciliation, and potentially continue a never-ending cycle of retribution.
Another option was to simply move on. To proclaim amnesty for the perpetrators and get on with life under a new and better political system. But this option was also unsavory: it would provide no accountability, no justice for the victims, no repairing of what had been broken.
South African leaders settled on a third option. They formed what was called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and Desmond Tutu was tabbed to lead it. The goal of the TRC was to uncover truth and foster reconciliation and forgiveness. All perpetrators of apartheid violence, even those who had committed the most heinous acts, were given two options: make a full confession of your crimes before the Commission and receive amnesty, or be liable to criminal charges if they were eventually uncovered.
There was one more important element for those who chose to confess their crimes before the TRC. The confession would be televised live across the country, and families of the victims would be invited to attend in person. In order to be forgiven in the eyes of the new political regime, the truth had to be publicly proclaimed.
When I think about the unfolding war in Ukraine, about the challenges here in the United States that have to do with increasingly clashing worldviews, or how to move forward from the various injustices that mark our own history, I see the principles behind the TRC as an intriguing model.
This is not to say that the TRC fixed all the problems in South Africa. Or that it would be realistic to set up the same kind of commission in the United States. I’m not offering a solution to the problems that plague our country. But I do want to spark our imagination. For reconciliation to happen, the truth must come out. Reconciliation involves both confession and forgiveness. It involves examining ourselves and confessing the role that we have played. And what’s so interesting about the TRC is the role that the church played.
Desmond Tutu was picked to lead the TRC in part because a proper theology, a right understanding of both God and humans, was needed to pursue the work of reconciliation and forgiveness. Hear him describe the role of theology in the work of the TRC:
“So frequently we in the commission were quite appalled at the depth of depravity to which human beings could sink and we would, most of us, say that those who committed such dastardly deeds were monstrous because the deeds were monstrous. But theology prevents us from doing this. Theology reminded me that, however diabolical the act, it did not turn the perpetrator into a demon. We had to distinguish between the deed and the perpetrator, between the sinner and the sin…. If, however, they were dismissed as being monsters they could not by definition engage in a process that was so deeply personal as that of forgiveness and reconciliation….
I realized how each of us has the capacity for the most awful evil – every one of us. None of us could predict that if we had been subjected to the same influences, the same conditioning, we would not have turned out like these perpetrators. This is not to condone or excuse what they did. It is to be filled more and more with the compassion of God, looking on and weeping that one of His beloved had come to such a sad pass. We have to say to ourselves with deep feeling, not with a cheap pietism, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’
And mercifully and wonderfully, as I listened to the stories of victims I marveled at their magnanimity, that after so much suffering, instead of lusting for revenge, they had this extraordinary willingness to forgive….This is a moral universe, which means that, despite all the evidence that seems to be to the contrary, there is no way that evil and injustice and oppression and lies can have the last word. For us who are Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof positive that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death, that light is stronger than darkness, that laughter and joy, and compassion and gentleness and truth, all these are so much stronger than their ghastly counterparts.
Those who had strutted about arrogantly in the days of apartheid, dealing out death and injustice… had never imagined in their wildest dreams that their involvement in machinations and abominations hatched out in secret would ever see the light of day…. Now it was all coming out, not as wild speculation or untested allegations. No, it was gushing forth from the mouths of perpetrators themselves… Those ghastly and macabre secrets might have remained hidden except that this is a moral universe and truth will out.
And the victory was for all of us, black and white together – the rainbow people of God.” (Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, 83-87)
The work of reconciliation is costly. It is costly for perpetrators, because it means confessing the truth about what we’ve done, and the harm that we have caused. And it is costly for the victims, because it means revoking our claim on justice and retribution. Oftentimes what is lost can never be replaced.
But we follow a Messiah who bore an inconceivable cost to reconcile us to himself. Who, while hanging on the cross in great physical agony, asked for his Father to forgive those committing the greatest act of injustice of all time (Luke 23:34).
The Apostle Paul tells us that we who trust Jesus are now agents of his reconciliation in the world (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). May we learn from the humility and creativity of Desmond Tutu and our South African brothers and sisters in Christ as we go about that work in our world today.
by Caleb Jenkins | Mar 9, 2022 | Featured, Headlines |
It is unfortunate that St. Patrick has become synonymous with wearing green to avoid being pinched, dyeing rivers green, and consuming large quantities of beer while pretending to be Irish. Little is widely known about the tremendous influence that this man had on the nation of Ireland and western Christianity. Patrick is easily one of the most successful Christian missionaries of all time. The indigenous Christian movement he started took root where missionaries had failed. Patrick’s influence grew to even re-evangelize much of western Europe in the centuries following the chaos of the Dark Ages and the decline of the institutional Roman church. His success is especially remarkable considering this was all done without any aid from other institutions of political or cultural power. As the current American church declines and we are in an increasingly post-Christendom world, we would do well to listen to voices like his.
The Life of Patrick
Patrick was born in roughly 389 AD to upper-middle-class parents in the British part of the Roman Empire. This was only a few years after Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Empire and Christendom was established. Patrick’s father was a Christian deacon and a member of the city council, both highly respected roles. His grandfather was a priest, so it would be fitting to characterize his family as a pious one with high social standing. Despite this, Patrick described his own Christian upbringing as nominal at best.
A drastic change to this life of privilege happened when Patrick was 16. A band of Irish warriors raided his town, and he was taken away to Ireland, outside of the Empire, in captivity. He worked as a slave herding pigs for six years. Finally, apart from his complacent life where he tacitly accepted nominal Christianity, Patrick was forced to consider the ramifications of his faith. In his own words, “the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief.” He began to pray daily and call out to God to sustain and deliver him. His interaction with the religious beliefs of the Irish also strengthened his faith. Their belief in multiple gods and spirits that roamed throughout the land needing to be appeased aroused a deep sense of peace from the security he had in Christ.
After spending six years in Ireland, he received a vision that encouraged him to escape. While sleeping, he heard a voice tell him to rise and find a ship to take him home. He awoke, ran down to a nearby port, and found a ship that took him away from Ireland. He went to Gaul (modern day France) and spent some time learning and living at a monastery in Lerins. Although he felt called to live a life with common men, during this time he developed a strong appreciation for the monastic rule of life. When he left the monastery he returned to Britain to be reunited with his relatives. Later, at the age of 48, he received his version of the ‘Macedonian call’ (Acts 16:6-10). In a dream an angel brought him letters from his former captors in Ireland, and he heard their voices cry out “we appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” After consulting with the bishops of the British Church, he was ordained a bishop and sent out to Ireland in a missionary band.
His method differed greatly from other Roman missionaries of his time. Instead of forcing conquered “barbarians’’ to convert or waiting for them to come to him as spiritual inquirers, Patrick and his companions would set up a community of faith in each village they visited. They would practice a monastic life of prayer and work, not in a cloister far from society but in the midst of the Irish. As they looked for receptive villagers, the band would pray for the sick, exorcize demons, and mediate conflicts. They were interested in the felt needs of the communities, even regularly praying for fish in the village river. In open-air settings, Patrick would speak about the gospel, using his vast knowledge of Irish culture to communicate the gospel in a way that would connect with them. Parables, symbols, drama, and other visuals were used because of the Irish people’s vivid imagination. Responsive villagers would join the monastic community and partake in their practices.
After a few months, a church would be officially born and the new converts would be baptized. Patrick’s group would leave behind a priest and a few others to continue instruction in Christian doctrine, but take some of the converted villagers with them as they moved on to the next village. It is estimated that Patrick started 700 churches, commissioned 1000 priests, and reached 40 out of the 150 tribes in Ireland, during his 28 year ministry.
Four Lessons for Us
1. The gospel is central.
Patrick’s ministry was rooted in a profound belief that humanity’s only hope was God’s intervention of grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His personal experience of liberation from slavery by divine intervention no doubt made this truth a vivid reality for him. Each of his surviving writings begins with the words: “I, Patrick, a sinner.” This humility was not from self-loathing, but from an honest recognition of his need for a savior. Patrick was zealous to maintain that salvation is a result of God’s work of grace, in opposition to his contemporary fellow British monk, Pelagius, who taught human effort alone was enough to be saved. Patrick’s strong conviction that the unconverted would suffer damnation and had no hope apart from Christ motivated him to return to his former captors to share the good news with them.
The Church today should never grow weary of proclaiming the gospel and trusting in God’s grace. We should take care and not water down the biblical gospel. We must also be zealous like Patrick so that the good news does not become old hat.
2. The gospel changes everything.
Patrick’s missionary bands differed significantly from Roman missionary models by doing their Christian life in the midst of pagan communities. Patrick himself was deeply influenced by the Irish reverence for nature and so developed a sacramental vision of all of life, where the line between the natural and spiritual was paper-thin. Work was an integral part of their monastic life and not a distraction from it. Their concern for the economic realities of their Irish neighbors bolstered their witness.
One of the greatest dangers facing the church today is the unbiblical distortion that creates a sharp sacred-secular divide. This can lead us to believe our Monday work does not matter to a Sunday-focused God. As our culture becomes increasingly post-Christian and the influence of the institutional church wanes, we need to be faithful disciples of Jesus in the particular places He has us the majority of our week.
3. The gospel demands justice and reconciliation.
Similar to the previous lesson, the gospel Patrick preached did not only restore sinners to God but also led them to love one another and pursue justice and peace. In his writing, Epistola, he writes a letter rebuking a nominal-Christian warlord named Coroticus. He had raided some of Patrick’s converts and taken recently baptized women off as slaves. Patrick commands him to release them because he is compelled by “the zeal of God, the truth of Christ… (and) the love of (his) nearest neighbors.” His concern for justice and the flourishing of the Irish was also evident in how he ended the slave trade in that region. Patrick earned the respect of various Irish tribes by acting as a broker for peace to end conflict between clans. His evangelistic effectiveness was integral to his concern for the whole-life flourishing of the Irish.
The American Church would do well to follow Patrick’s footsteps. As we allow the gospel to speak to all of life, it will inevitably move us to work toward a society that is ordered by God’s justice and enables the flourishing of all.
4. The gospel is lived out together.
Though Patrick gets all the recognition and a holiday all to himself, we must never forget that he did not evangelize the Irish by himself. He was not a lone ranger, solo-climber, or solitary pioneer that set out on his own. Patrick owes much of its success to the many unknown members of his missionary bands that evangelized together. They demonstrated a different way of being in community among the Irish that became a compelling witness. Rather than requiring a profession of belief from ‘barbarians’ before partaking in Christian community like the Roman church, they recognized that belonging often precedes belief. Irish inquirers could join their monastic community, “tasting and seeing that the Lord is good” by experiencing the care of His people before making intellectual assent to Christian doctrine.
In a similar way, the American church will go nowhere relying on its celebrity leaders. It takes communities of extra-ordinary believers doing life together so that others can be drawn in to experience the reality that the gospel changes everything.
Let us take time this St. Patty’s day, in addition to any other celebration, to thank God for the work He did through St. Patrick and his friends. Let us also consider how we might emulate him by being a faithful, gospel-centered presence in our communities.
by Reid Kapple | Jun 3, 2020 | Featured, Headlines |
I have clear and vivid memories of standing over the same baby crib as each of my four children slept. Many times I would enter the room to check on them, admire their peaceful resting state, or wait to see if they would crack an involuntary smile while sleeping. But the clearest memories I have are of simply praying over them. One of my most common prayers is that they would grow to love God and love the things that He loves.
But there came a time when I realized that I was only praying one side of the prayer coin, so to speak. We fall short if we only love the things that God loves. To be a follower of Jesus who is devoted to His ways and to His kingdom, we must also hate the things that God hates.
In fact, in Paul’s famous words in Romans where he essentially lays out the profile of a Christian, he makes the strong connection between love and hate.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. – Romans 12:9 (ESV)
Isn’t it fascinating that the first thing Paul says regarding the genuine nature of love is about hating something? True love demands hating evil. In a way this is an echo of the timeless words of wisdom found in Ecclesiastes 3. There is a time for everything, including hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8).
We are in such a time when our genuine love demands this kind of hate.
In recent weeks we have witnessed multiple incidents of evil made manifest through racial injustice. Space won’t permit me to share the details of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Christian Cooper, and George Floyd. Not to mention the increased hostility and racism towards the Asian American community in the spread of COVID-19. I encourage you to read about these image bearers who were the victims of racial injustice. But even more than that, I encourage you to love enough to hate.
Love enough to hate that Ahmaud Arbery was killed for being a black man on a run in his own neighborhood. Love enough to hate that Breona Taylor’s life was taken as a result of a no-knock search warrant that had nothing to do with her. Love enough to hate that a white woman called the police on Christian Cooper and leveraged his ethnicity on the call to criminalize him. Love enough to hate that George Floyd lost his life because of the unnecessary and unwarranted pressure placed upon his neck by a police officer.
We must see these situations for what they are.
They are injustices that should be called out.
A people committed to Jesus and His kingdom, built upon righteousness and justice (Matthew 9:13, Psalm 89:14) must understand justice completely. And that means understanding injustice whenever, wherever, and whomever it strikes. Our failure to see and hate injustice is evil.
That is why we must love enough to hate.
As Proverbs 28:5 says, Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it completely. These events, and many like them, should cause us to grieve, lament, cry out, and plead with God to bring justice and peace.
Our love for the God whose image is imprinted upon every human being should lead us to hate the racist beliefs and behaviors of individuals, including ourselves (James 3:9). Our belief in the presence of powers and principalities in our world should empower us to identify and work against the structures and institutions that perpetuate subtle and not so subtle acts of oppression and inequality (Ephesians 6:12). Our faith in the reconciling power of the gospel should compel us to work toward all matters of justice, be they racial, economic, social, or political (Ephesians 2:11-22). Our identity in Christ should lead us to combat the pervasive white superiority that still lingers in the air of our nation, and perpetuates a divide among ethnicities (Galatians 3:27-29). And our hope in the new heavens and new earth where Christ will be praised by all tribes, tongues, and nations should motivate us to pursue a gospel-infused diversity within our local churches (Revelation 7:9-10).
May the church of Jesus Christ be known, seen, and heard as those who love enough to hate.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24 (ESV)
by Andrew Jones | Nov 20, 2019 | Featured, Headlines |
What Hollywood taught me about human dignity…
When I was about twelve or thirteen, I went to see the movie Gattaca. If you don’t recall, it’s about a future society in which humans are no longer the fruit of love between two parents, but are genetically engineered to increasing standards of perfection. Those who were not engineered, like the main character Vincent (played by Ethan Hawk), society deems “invalid” and restricts their level of education and opportunity. Only the “valids,” those humans designed in a laboratory, are worthy of real societal empowerment and investment.
I remember walking out of the theater thinking the movie was pretty good. But it was just a movie. Most audiences agreed with me, as it had only modest reception at the time. But looking back now, its central message seems more prescient than ever, not only in that we are on the verge of nonfiction designer babies, of actually practicing what the writers of Gattaca only imagined, but because the film puts its finger on the philosophical and theological questions that still haunt us today when it comes to human value and dignity.
In the twenty years since the film’s release, my sense is that we have not advanced that discussion one bit. We are still circling around the same categories, the same arguments, the same impasse. Even Gattaca struggles to answer its most important questions. One of my favorite lines is narrated by the main character: “I’ll never understand what possessed my mother to put her faith in God’s hands, rather than her local geneticist.” Vincent is describing his own origins as one who was conceived and born naturally, that is, from a father and mother. He can only describe that process with an appeal to God. Here the filmmakers have identified the crux of the matter: are humans more than genes? And if they are, what do we mean by that? How do we describe that something that makes us more? The message of film—and you can feel it throughout—wants so desperately to do just that, to articulate that we are more. But even at its crescendo, the conclusion, the most it can say is that there is something unquantifiable about being human. As the tagline put it, “There is no gene for the human spirit.”But that’s it.
This capitulation, I think, is why we are stuck. Every time we start to talk about human dignity and human rights, we invariably hit our heads on the philosophical ceiling that hangs over all of Western society. The ceiling that says, “here, and no further.” There are lots of ways to describe it, but Charles Taylor has probably done it the best in his book A Secular Age. He called it the “immanent frame.”
How the immanent frame is a conversation killer…
The immanent frame, for our purposes, is the basic philosophical principle that any concept of transcendence, anything worth talking about beyond what we can measure empirically, is off limits. Immanence, what is right it front of our senses, is all that matters. It’s all that is real. We have moved on from appeals to the divine or supernatural in how we understand the world, and consequently, in how we understand ourselves.
Obvious examples abound. This constraint is part of the deep skepticism toward religious belief that has become more prevalent in our society and explains (in part) the church’s waning influence in culture-making institutions. So much of what Christianity has to say about truth is beyond the boundary line that more and more people are hesitant to cross: the line of transcendence.
This same dynamic has been at play in so much of the discussion around human dignity and worth. Appeals to the transcendence of human beings, inherent value, are dismissed out of hand, and must be for the immanent frame to survive. If we want to root human dignity in something, it must be something we can taste, touch, hear, see, and smell. This is especially evident in discussions around the beginning and end of life.
I was recently reading the New York Times opinion article, “Why The Fight Over Abortion Is Unrelenting,” by Thomas Edsall. In it he quotes anthropology professor emerita Sarah Hrdy of the University of California, Davis, who asserts that before we can talk about abortion and women’s rights, we need to first understand male coercion of female primates as a primary scientific and philosophical backdrop. Regardless of what you think of that idea (honestly, I laughed out loud), it illustrates the point. Here is an incredibly immanent explanation for how men and women treat each other, and why men have always demanded a say in female sexuality.
This approach is consistent, but has devastating consequences. If human dignity is not based upon a transcendent metaphysical principle (like, all humans are by definition valuable because they are made in the image of God), then all we have left are human capacities. One need not think too hard about this to realize the Pandora’s box that it opens. If human worth is based on capacity, then why protect the unborn? They can’t do anything. Why fight for the aging? They are no longer real contributors to society.
What if, for example, we decided that certain races of humans had less capacity for intelligence than others? Hello, eugenics movement!
What if we decided that having a genetic disorder, like Down’s syndrome, made you less than fully human? Hey there, Iceland! (Iceland has virtually eliminated Down’s syndrome through elective abortion).
What if we decided to measure human worth by self-awareness or sentience? Enter Peter Singer, leading bioethicist at Princeton, who has publicly endorsed infanticide up to the age of one on that very basis.
On this last example, there was real public outcry. Surely that action is wrong! But wham, we hit our heads on the immanent frame again. There is no argument against it without appealing to something more. Don’t blame poor Peter Singer for being consistent.
Singer’s opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s. And round and round the conversation goes.
Cracks in the frame…
Ross Douthat, another writer for the New York Times, recently tweeted about an exchange he had with friends over dinner (by the way, how do you cite Twitter? What a time to be alive!). He asked his friends if they believed in ghosts. Of course, not a single hand went up. But the woman next to Douthat leaned over and said, “I don’t believe in them, but I’ve seen one.”
The same dynamic, I think, is at play in human dignity. If there are cracks in the immanent frame, this contradiction is a big one. We may not “believe” in transcendent human worth, but we’ve seen it. Just think about it. Do you know anyone who truly believes human beings are a collection of cells and chemicals? Almost everyone I have talked to knows through and through the inherent value of people even if they can’t articulate it.
This has been the foundational passage on which all discussion of human worth is based in Western society. Our secular friends are simply trying to have their cake and eat it too, to uplift humanity as something special without appeal to divine creation. My opinion? It won’t work.
So what do we do in the meantime? How do we push on these cracks in the immanent frame? A concluding thought for the church:
Human dignity is not an argument to win. It’s a mission to be lived out.
I believe that, as Christians, we have a strong logical case for human dignity. I’ve laid out some of it here. But logic alone is not very compelling, nor is it all that God asks of His people. I’m afraid that Christians in the United States have a reputation for wanting to win arguments around human dignity without actually loving people. Fair or unfair, we should take that criticism seriously. In Jesus’ kingdom, it is never enough to be right. One must also be good. Can we practice what we preach? Can we backup our high view of human life with a high commitment to helping others, especially those whom our culture struggles to love? Can we, as Peter admonishes us,
“live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV)?
Here’s my suggestion to help us do this. Let’s sing ourselves an old song, with one emendation: Jesus loves THEM this I know, for the Bible tells me so. I think we would do well to remember that, yes, Jesus loves me, but He also loves them, whoever “them” happens to be in society. Just like the “invalids” in Gattaca, every culture has a “them,” a less than. Christianity has always been known, at its best, to love them well. There is a reason the church has exploded in places like India, where the gospel radically challenges the caste system and raises the dignity of the Dalit, the “untouchables.” It was on the basis of human dignity that chattel slavery was eradicated in the Western world, though it took way too long for that to happen. There’s a reason the Christian faith thrived in Rome, even under heavy persecution, because Christians protected exposed infants meant to die and willingly sacrificed themselves to love others during the plague.
This commitment in particular to human life changed an empire not too long ago.
The immanent frame looks strong. But God’s love is stronger. May we wield it well.
by Tom Nelson | Oct 24, 2018 | Headlines, Outreach |
Recently my wife Liz and I attended the Advice and Aid banquet celebrating 30 years of coming alongside women who find themselves in the often-difficult realities of an unplanned pregnancy. For many years Christ Community has linked arms with Advice and Aid, and we continue to look for ways we, as a local church community, can be more involved and supportive in our advocacy of the unborn.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Pope Francis compared elective abortion justified by prenatal fetal maladies to Nazi eugenics. Pope Francis made the point that today we are doing the same thing the Nazis did although our destruction of the unborn is “practiced with white gloves.” (WSJ, June 18, 2018)
I am grateful for the courage and moral clarity of Pope Francis and I only wish more spiritual leaders would speak out in our troubled times. Although I have spoken out many times before on the matter of abortion, I want to again make it crystal clear where I stand and where Christ Community stands when it come to the destruction of the unborn.
I believe legalized elective abortion on demand is the most grievous injustice of our time, both in its unconscionable evil, as well as its massive scope. The numbers of the unborn that have and continue to be destroyed through legalized elective abortion is staggering. Somewhere around 50 million babies have been aborted in the United States since 1973. The landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision has unleashed an unimaginable holocaust of human destruction.
Behind much of the current cultural and political polarization lurks a wide and fundamental divide between those who assert “reproductive rights” of women and those who assert the “right to life” of the unborn. Many “pro-choice” advocates say they want abortions legal yet rare, but the inconvenient truth is the abortion holocaust continues to be driven by a relentless government lobby and a highly profitable death industry.
As followers of Jesus, one of our most compelling stewardships is to seek justice and to care for and protect the most vulnerable among us. While we must up our game in confronting other grievous injustices in our time, we must also keep in mind the most vulnerable human beings are those in the womb.
The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is erected on a faulty legal, scientific, and a moral foundation. In a recent Christianity Today article, Matt Reynolds lays bear the judicial malpractice of Roe v. Wade:
“Taking the life of an unborn child is a sin against God and man. Roe, by contrast, is an offense against America’s democratic order, a renegade ruling utterly untethered from the text, logic, structure or history of the Constitution it purports to enforce. Supporters and opponents of abortion ought to find it equally indefensible.” (Christianity Today, October 2018, p. 28)
The legal architects of Roe v. Wade discovered a right to privacy as well as created an arbitrary determinate of personhood around the idea of fetal viability. The arbitrary line of fetal viability established in 1973 has been scientifically debunked as fetal viability is now seen much earlier in human development. Clearly, on scientific and moral grounds, the most compelling line of personhood is conception, not viability.
And even if there was a question as to when human personhood begins, with so much on the line, would we not be wise to err on the side of caution? Abortion on demand has provided a legalized mirage of a bankrupt situational morality. Let’s be clear, just because a human court deems something legal, does not mean it is morally right in God’s eyes. Clearly, this was the case for America’s dark history of racism where humans of African descent were legally deemed less than persons.
The Holy Scriptures remind us that every human person is made in the image of God and has intrinsic worth and value. The Bible points to God’s sovereign involvement in our lives even before we are born. In Psalm 139, we read David’s words of rapturous wonder,
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
The Bible’s advocacy of the unborn is anything but silent or clouded. Yet the moral confusion, obfuscation, and willful blindness of our cultural moment in regard to abortion is glaringly seen when, on the one hand the medical community pulls out all the medical stops to save a wanted premature baby, and on the other hand is performing a surgical abortion snuffing out the life of an unwanted baby.
In the midst of so much moral confusion, it is my prayer that we might, both as individuals and as a faith community, have moral clarity, compassion, and courage. So how should we respond to the ongoing holocaust of the unborn? How might we be Christlike advocates of the unborn?
- First, we need to have moral clarity and conviction that elective abortion on demand is wrong and unjust.
- Second, we need to pray for the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens to change and for the end of the legalized slaughter of the unborn.
- Third, we need to look for ways we can care and support women who have had abortions, as well as those who find themselves in an unplanned pregnancy. Abortion recovery services, adoption services, and organizations like Advice and Aid need our prayerful and generous financial support.
- Fourth, we need to consider ways we can work through legal and political processes to change abortion laws and to seek the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
- Fifth, for some, advocacy of the unborn will mean lawful protest.
May I also encourage you to make it a priority to see the recently released movie, Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer. This movie is not easy to see, but it captures the barbaric horror of abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell, and I pray it serves to awaken a nation to the white-gloves holocaust that continues unabated.
With humility and hope, may we heed the timeless words of the prophet Micah, “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.”