What it means to love the sinner and hate the sin

My daughter wrote on the sofa the other day. It wasn’t an accident-- it was a letter “p” and a little design beside it. When Marcie and I discovered it, we were naturally upset. We asked her about it, and she said she did it “because she wanted to.” She confirmed that she knew she wasn’t supposed to do this sort of thing. So we disciplined her for it, and talked with her about how writing on anything other than paper is very bad behavior.

But here’s the thing: throughout the discussion and discipline, I noted in my head how many times we also affirmed that we loved her so much, unconditionally, and no amount of disobedience would cause us to stop loving her. After the discipline was done, she wanted to snuggle, and though she cried for a moment she did not withdraw her affection or affirmation that she trusted our love deeply.

I read something not long ago surrounding a discussion of how the church treats homosexuals. This particular comment came from someone who professed saving faith in Jesus Christ, and who also stated their inclination toward homosexuality. It was clear from his comment that he had been treated with varying degrees of “badly” over the years, particularly by the church.

The discussion they were participating in focused on how the church
ought to treat those who are homosexuals, or who are inclined toward homosexuality. One phrase that kept coming up was the old standby: “love the sinner, hate the sin.” This fellow, though, responded strongly to that, saying, “I hate ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’ If you hate my sin of homosexuality, then you hate me.”

I can understand how he might have arrived at this conclusion. Chances are good that some of those who he had encountered in the past had done a poor job of loving the sinner while hating his sin-- it probably didn’t feel much like love OR a differentiation between the sinner and his sin.

But, just as we faced when we disciplined our daughter for her sin, it is possible to love the sinner deeply, forgivingly, even unconditionally, while despising their sin and its effect. Had we overlooked Molly’s sin and disobedience-- had we simply said, “that is no big deal” and not addressed it at all-- we would have loved her
less, not more. I think we instinctively know this about parenting; often, the judgments that are waged against “bad parents” are focused on their willingness or ability to discipline their children.

But we don’t seem to instinctively know this in other relationships. Somehow, loving another in a non-parental relationship implies that we overlook their sin and error more than we address it. In fact, the precedent suggested by this hurting young man creates an environment where it is impossible to love someone AND keep them accountable.

Luke 6:41-42 is often invoked in defense of that view. How dare we discuss the speck in our brother’s eye? Of course we must deal with the log in our own eye first. But a more careful reading of Luke 6:42 reveals that, in the end, both the log in my eye and the speck in yours are removed.

What would it look like to love those who’s sins are highlighted in our Christian culture? How do we love the sinner and hate the sin, when the sin is child abuse or molestation, or adultery, or homosexuality? And are we right to elevate those sins above the others as sins we hate?
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Essential Church

I like books-- especially free ones. And I really like author Thom Rainer, and his son Sam.

That’s why I was excited to see this: their book
Essential Church? is available for free as a downloadable e-book (PDF format). Only until Monday. Get it here.
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Sermon texts for October 2008

As we approached October, I’ve been really excited about our study in Luke and how it is progressing and developing.

As before, take these dates as tentative, since the twins may come at any point!


October 5
Luke 8:1-21 -- The work of the Word
October 12 Luke 8:22-56-- Wonder-working power
October 19 Luke 9:1-17 -- Power to the people
October 26 Luke 9:18-36 -- What it means to be the Christ
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Bits & Tidbits, 9/30/08

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Identity in Christ

I have believed for a long time that the essence of my ministry-- regardless of where it is or to whom-- is to teach people of the truth of the Gospel, our need for it, and its transforming power to give us new identities in Christ. My primary goal at Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church has been, and is, to focus on that.

Here is PCA pastor Tim Keller talking about that transformed identity, in a better way than I am able to explain it:



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Learning the words

When I was in college, I took modern Hebrew as my foreign language. I had it in my head that this would give me a head-start on seminary (and it did, to a degree).

As a result, I learned a lot about the Israeli and Hebrew culture. For one thing, my university required that we take a history class that was related to one of our disciplines-- and I chose a “History of Judaism” class that was taught by one of the local rabbis. For another, my Hebrew teacher was an Israeli herself-- she married an English Literature professor when he was doing a sabbatical in Jerusalem-- and she had a good sense that the connection between learning a language and learning a culture was essential.

One of the key “meta-lessons” I learned from this (apart from the interesting stuff about the culture of the Hebrew-speaking people) was how important it is to learn the “language” of a culture. By this, I mean the words, phrases, and concepts that have particular and special meaning to that culture.

This is as true in the church as it is anywhere. The church is a culture (and sometimes it degrades into a sub-culture; more on this another time), and the people of that culture have their own language. Sometimes this is almost comical, but in the ways that it is serious and important, we must learn the language of that culture.

I’m thinking about terms and phrases like these:
  • Justification
  • Salvation by grace alone
  • Atonement
  • Propitiation
  • The inerrancy of Scripture
Are these familiar to you? Can you offer something in the way of a basic definition of these?

Here’s the thing: these are words taken straight out of the Bible. They aren’t just lingo for stuffy theology professors, but are supposed to be the stock-in-trade of the Christian. There are others, too-- and you ought to learn them.

No one takes up a hobby without expecting to learn some new terminology. If you know what a Birdie is to a golfer, if you can describe a car’s differential, or if you understand what RAM does in a computer, then you bothered to learn terms that were, previously, esoteric and irrelevant to your life. Why would you treat your
faith-- which is what grants you eternal life and security-- with less appreciation for the terms and language that accompanies it?

Along those lines, Michael Horton and R.C. Sproul discuss this idea briefly in part of their conversation from a recent episode of the
White Horse Inn, a (normally) audio resource that is available in podcast form. Here is the interview:



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"In God We Trust"

A friend of mine recently posted a series of notes on his social network discussing his concern for the fact that our national motto, “In God We Trust,” is being moved from the face of coins (as is common today) to the sides, or edges, of coins in some proposed future designs.

My friend’s concern is that, once the motto is moved to the edges of coins, it won’t be long before it is removed entirely. This is a
Slippery Slope argument, but that’s not what I’m concerned about here. Instead, I’m bothered by my friend’s insistence that this bodes badly for the spiritual state of our nation.

He asserts that we see all references to God being systematically removed from the “arenas of our culture.” This, he says, is a problem because, as with the motto on coins, this removes from the consciousness of the culture the truth of the
Biblical God. I think he assumes too much in this.

We in the church are accustomed to seeing the word “God” and immediately associating it with Yahweh, the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the trinitarian God. But I think the idea of “god” has become so vague and passé outside of the church that there is little or no association with the Christian God in the word itself.

For that matter, in a culture like ours-- where almost everyone has had
some exposure to more than one religious belief system-- the notion of “God” may, as often as not, conjure up an association with Allah (the god of Islam), Gaia or some other pantheistic idea, Hinduism or some eastern religious concept, or even some personally-invented idolatry or paganism. It is clear from the studies that have been done that, while a very large majority of the population of the U.S. say they “believe in God,” the idea of god that those respondents hold is frequently anything other than an orthodox understanding of God.

In stark contrast, I get the sense from my friend’s posts that he considers the presence of our national motto as a great boon for the spread of the Gospel. While this might be an interesting conversation starter that could lead to an evangelistic opportunity, I’ve never heard of anyone who actively inquired about spiritual truth because of the U.S. motto on currency. I could be dead wrong on this one, but I rank the motto on a coin as several notches below bumper stickers, t-shirts, and coffee mugs as tools for outreach.

So here’s my point: should my friend be up in arms? I don’t think so. In fact, I think it is time and energy that is misplaced, that could have been spent doing actual ministry of evangelism and outreach. (So, too, is this post-- consider me sufficiently convicted.)
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On counseling and medication

An interesting discussion on counseling and medication over at another blog raised a good point that I’ve often found is a stumbling block to Christians. David Powlison, quoting the Director of the National Institute on Mental Health, said:

Psychiatric medications can sometimes take the edge off symptoms, but they can't give people what they really need. People need meaning and relationships. Psychiatry can't give that. Medication can't give that.


This is something that is apparently difficult to understand for those who have not had immediate contact with the effects of this kind of medication (known as “psychotropic” medication).

I once had a student whose comment revealed that even those who HAVE had contact sometimes misunderstand. She said in an off-hand manner, “I’ve taken anti-depressants. They make you happy!”

The truth is, they don’t. They might help you to be normal (in a chemical sense), but they don’t make you “happy.” My concern deepened as I counseled this student about this, because she had faced mild-to-moderate depression for so long that she had come to assume that her
depressed state was “normal”-- thus, having that edge of depression taken off was “happy” feeling to her.

Here’s my best analogy of what psychotropic drugs offer: Suppose you love running, and have your heart dead-set on running a marathon in a year. In preparation for a training regimen, you visit your doctor, who informs you that the slight pain in your knee is actually a problem that needs to be addressed surgically; in short, if you don’t have your knee scoped, you won’t be able to train for the marathon, let alone complete it.

Here’s the analogy: if you have your knee scoped, is that going to make you ready for the marathon? No. You’ll still have a lot of work to do to condition your body (and your mind) for running the marathon. But if you don’t have your knee scoped, you are guaranteed that you won’t be able to run the marathon.

So it is with psychotropic medication: they won’t overcome your depression for you, but they might address the physical/physiological obstacles that would keep you from being able to do the work of overcoming depression. (Likewise with anxiety and other clinical mental health issues.)
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More on the Lord's Supper

Following up (again) on my recently completed series on the Lord’s Supper, I thought this brief (< 1 min.) video from Tim Keller might be another helpful summary of what happens in the sacrament of Communion.

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Application summary from the Lord's Supper series

As I wrapped up a brief sermon series on The Lord’s Supper yesterday, I thought it may be helpful to summarize the applications, or “answers” to the questions I posed about the sacrament (which were, “what is it?” “when is it?” and “how is it?”):
  • The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a covenantal meal, which means it is a family meal-- thus, it’s not primarily an individual thing, but much more of a group thing, and in a mysterious spiritual way, it is a time of true, living fellowship with God Himself, through which He nourishes our souls with grace.
  • The sacrament is something that we should be devoted to doing: devoted to doing it in the context of worship, accompanied by Word and prayer, because these are the spiritual food that God has given us for nourishment; and devoted to doing it often-- as often as we are able-- because we long to be fed and nourished all the more on the grace of God.
  • The sacrament is something for believers gathered together, not for unbelievers: if we know salvation through Christ alone, we are welcomed through the Gate to take part in this spiritual feast; but if we approach it wrongly-- in an unbelieving way, whether because we misunderstand what the sacrament is for, or because we presume on it meaning that it doesn’t have-- then we are warned of the consequences of judgement being increased on us.
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Sermon Texts for September 2008

Happy Labor Day, everyone. Here are the sermon texts for the month of September, with the continuation of the series on the Lord’s Supper, and then resuming Luke.

One thing to note: as we move through the fall (even starting in September, though I certainly hope this won’t be the case then), you should take these published texts with a grain of salt. Chances are, the schedule might change last-minute if Marcie should go into labor and the twins arrive. I’m planning to have some guys in the Presbytery “on call” to pinch-hit for me should I need it.

UPDATE: I made a slight adjustment to the last text.

September 7
1 Corinthians 11:23-34 -- What is the Lord’s Supper? Part 3: How is it?
September 14 Luke 7:1-17 -- Great power and humble faith
September 21 Luke 7:18-35 -- Following a prepared path
September 28 Luke 7:36-50 -- How great is the debt?

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Fostering and Adoption: how we gave up the family a long time ago

There is an interesting overture before the legislature of Arkansas that, if it succeeds, would put a bill before the state that would outlaw adoption and foster care by unmarried people who live together.

I find it interesting because it is addressing the very problem that, I believe, ended the current debate about same-sex marriage before it started: when we (and by that I mean the “royal we”-- the culture of our nation) granted same-sex couples the right to foster and adopt orphans, we tacitly allowed them to also define themselves as a family. How, then, could we possibly deny them other similar legal rights as a family?

So the people of Arkansas have realized that-- or at least they have recognized that granting same-sex couples (and other unmarried couples as well) the right to adopt, they put the “traditional” understanding of family under threat. This is a pretty bold move, given the widespread acceptance of divorce and even co-habitation in our society.

At the same time, I have to say I’m sympathetic to the response from the “other side”-- in this case, including the social workers and others who want to see the huge numbers of orphans placed with families that can care for them better than the state. Is it not the case that ANY willing parent-- single, unmarried, homosexual-- who will offer love and care for a child is better than none, leaving children in state care?

And this is where the rubber meets the road: if the church dares to demand that such measures be taken (i.e., stripping same-sex couples of the possibility of adoption), we must step up to improve our participation in adoption and foster care ourselves. We are biblically mandated to do so (James 1:27) if we claim to take the practice of our faith seriously. How can we say that unmarried couples must not be allowed to adopt, when they are willing to do what we are not?
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Sermon texts for August 2008

In August, we’ll take a little break from Luke after wrapping up the Sermon on the Plain (Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount). During that break we’ll work through a three-part series looking at the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

UPDATE: I’ve adjusted the schedule to reflect Bruce Farrant’s sermon from last Sunday.

Here are the texts for August:


August 3
Luke 6:37-42 -- Dealing with others’ faith
August 10 Luke 6:43-49 -- Dealing with your own faith
August 17 Guest Preacher Bruce Farrant-- Proverbs 18:14; 1 Peter 3:15
August 24 Matthew 26:26-30 -- What is the Lord’s Supper? Part 1: What is it?
August 31 Acts 2:42-47 -- What is the Lord’s Supper? Part 2: When is it?
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The Bible, authority, and interpretation part 2

Following up on my previous post, I’ll continue my reflections from the fascinating conversation I got to be a part of earlier in the week.

At another point in the conversation, one of these formerly legalistic teenagers commented on the damage that was done through this oppressive environment. Specifically, she said that she felt like no one was given any sense of their right to read the Bible for themselves. Instead, they were told what the Bible taught and what it meant for them.

This is oppressive-- and brings to mind a significant part of the Protestant reformation, which was to translate the Bible into the language of the people (instead of only into Latin), so that people of than the priests and bishops could read it. There is an essential aspect of the faith that comes from reading Scripture; it is the Word of God for the people of God. And it is important that people know their Bibles so that they can test the teachings of others against the Word of God (remember the Bereans, who were praised for this in Acts 17:11).

At the same time, the approach of the leaders in the legalistic community are a good example of how we tend to take sound principles too far, when there is actually a “middle ground” balance needed.

Christians today too often take the “democratization of the Bible” too far; because the Reformers saw that it was important that people other than only the authorities of the church be able to read Scripture, today we have many who have decided that their interpretation of the Bible is as good as anyone’s-- and maybe better.

In fact, not everyone can interpret the Bible equally. Some have been trained extensively for interpreting the Bible-- learning the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, studying the history, archeaology, and peoples of biblical times, training in methods and approaches of how to study and interpret Scripture, and other ways of being trained. Others have read and studied their Bibles many times over, and they simply know the Scriptures well. Still others are, frankly, not familiar enough with the Bible to make the confident assertions of interpretation that they do.

This isn’t to say that not
everyone ought to read their Bibles and, yes, make efforts at interpretation. But it is to say that all of us ought to remain teachable about even those biblical texts that we feel the most familiar with. And when we recognize that an interpretation we have made is at odds with an interpretation that others have made, we ought to be willing to hear the reasoning behind their interpretation with an open mind.

Imagine, if you will, the person who dogmatically insists that his translation of a text, though totally at odds with everyone else, is the accurate one:

Dogmatist: This is what I believe the text is saying...
Elder: I don’t see how you got that from Scripture; instead, I think the text says this...
Dogmatist: You’re wrong. It says what I said.
Elder: Well, let’s consult these commentaries, written by contemporary scholars... and, yes, they disagree with your interpretation, also.
Dogmatist: It doesn’t matter. I’m sticking with what I said.
Elder: Okay, but now I’ve consulted with the historical confessions, and they all assert that your interpretation is incorrect.
Dogmatist: That’s what they think. I know what my Bible says.
Elder: But look here, where the early church fathers wrote about exactly that... and they all say the text means something different.
Dogmatist: They can say what they want, but I still say it means what I said.

This sounds a little far-fetched-- but I’ve actually met people who were so convinced that their interpretation (and it always seems to be a “new” take on something) is right that they are willing to disagree with pastors, scholars, and others over 2000+ years of church history and interpretation of the Scripture. A wise pastor once said to me, “if your interpretation is in complete disagreement with 2000 years of church history, you’re very likely wrong.”

This is one of the reasons why I find the presbyterian approach to “doing church” so helpful. As presbyterians, the default position is that my voice alone is not the final word, nor is anyone else’s. Instead, we constantly defer to one another with humility. As presbyterians, we trust that God is at work in the others in our congregation, our presbytery, our synod, or our assembly, at least as much as He has been at work in us to reveal the truth. There will always be times when it is possible that the larger bodies are wrong-- but then we turn to the greater history of the church and test our perspectives against that. The deference to the higher bodies is always present, and always keeping us accountable for our interpretation.

We must read our Bibles, and we must work at interpretation. But we must also be ready to be shown that we are wrong. If we aren’t, then we have made ourselves the author of Scripture-- for only the author can be utterly certain of the meaning of a text.
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The Bible, authority, and interpretation part I

The other day I was with a group of people who were talking about an especially legalistic environment that some of them had been a part of as teenagers-- a place where they were literally told what to believe, and that if they disagreed they would go to Hell. The leaders in this environment were, clearly, abusing their authority and making claims that no one person or group has a right to make.

One person commented on the fact that I should get a lot of sermon illustrations from these stories! (He was right...) That got me to thinking about what the real applications really were. I’d like to reflect on two broad applications here, over two posts.

At one point I asked the question of this group: how did your parents (who were all Christians) continue to believe that it was good for you to be a part of this? After all, I said, you would surely come home and tell them all about it.

Their first response demonstrated how powerful the authoritarian environment was:

No, we were told that if we reported on them we would go to Hell.


[Note, by the way, the similar nature of this environment to a classic abusive relationship-- where the victim is told that THEY (the victim) would get in trouble if they told.]

But as they went on, something else became clear. One of them said:

I was glad to be there. I needed a place where I could belong, and this place felt safe-- partly because of the rules.


And there I saw my first sermon illustration: when it comes down to it, we all gravitate toward legalism. We are all legalists.

When we’re offered an environment where the rules are known, it becomes very easy to settle into that. We know where we stand in the pecking order; we are then able to proclaim with confidence precisely why we have merited the favor of God and men.

I think this is what makes grace so threatening, so terrifying to all of us. If the work that earns us favor isn’t our work (through legalism) but Christ’s work imputed to us (by grace), we are actually dependent on something (grace) and someone (Christ) other than ourselves.

This also illustrates why even communities that are defined by Christ’s grace (namely, churches) quickly return to legalism. Dependence is very uncomfortable. Dependence is often humbling, sometimes awkward, and frequently at odds with pride. Someone who is dependent has just reason to lose some confidence in themselves.

Here’s the irony in it all: we are always dependent. Even when we think we have every reason for confidence (as with the group of teenagers who knew exactly their place in the social order of that legalistic community), we are still dependent on something: for the legalist, it is the rules and laws that we subscribe to, and the authority who creates and enforces them.

Legalism-- that idea that “I can earn merit/favor/righteousness through obedience, and take confidence and pride in myself”-- is a lie.
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Tragedy and loss

I’ve recently read two posts from bloggers who, somehow, have managed to candidly capture in their posts the shock, the depth of pain, the sense of loss that they have experienced.

Amazingly, both of these writers appear to have written their words even during their experiences. Their words are as beautiful as they are tragic, in part because they are so vulnerable and exposed in them. They are also beautiful because they seem to be inviting others-- not to share their pain, but to understand it.

So many Christians I have known are afraid of pain, many because they have been so sheltered from it. But our world is full of pain, and it is quite likely that more than half of the people you encounter today are facing suffering of some sort. What would you do if you knew of it? How would you come alongside them in their pain? As one friend (who pointed me to one of these posts) wrote, “I am currently working on a doctorate in biblical studies... a Ph.D. does not address this.”

I think the heart of these two ladies is right: to come alongside them, we must understand their pain. We don’t have to share it-- I think many who are the midst of suffering feel strongly that the only way others can understand IS to share it, but I disagree-- but we must understand it. I’m grateful for the vulnerability of these two who, in the moment of their suffering and pain, invite you and me to have a glimpse of what pain looks like, that we might understand.

I invite you to read the stories of:

Rae (AKA SmockLady) who faced her first miscarriage
Denny (AKA Songstress) who lost her husband at age 33
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Bible choices

How did you choose the translation of the Bible that you use? What was the process for evaluation? What factors did you consider?

My guess is that many folks “chose” somewhat arbitrarily. Maybe they were given a nice Bible as a gift, and they decided that would become their main Bible. Maybe a friend showed her a study tool in his Bible, and she thought she would like to have those tools as well. Perhaps they’ve simply used the same Bible since they were a child-- and they can’t even remember where they got their Bible!

When I was first beginning at Hickory Withe PC, one of the members asked me, “which Bible translation will you be preaching from?” It turns out that he and his wife wanted to do their devotional reading in the same Bible that they would use on Sunday mornings-- which they wanted to be the same translation that the preacher would be using.

This is a great idea-- and an easy way to make what is becoming a more and more difficult decision: which Bible translation should I use?

There are a lot of factors that go into a Bible translation, and there is an increasing number of useful and good translations. Evaluating them can be tricky.

Thankfully, there is a new website whose intended purpose is to guide people through understanding the different translations:
Best-Bible.org. Whether you’re looking for a new Bible, curious about the differences between your translation and others, or wondering what translation philosophy went into the Bible you love, you’ll find a great amount of helpful information over there.

[Full disclosure: I had been meaning to mention this helpful tool already; however, by linking to them today I’m
entered in a drawing to win a free copy of the forthcoming ESV Study Bible.]
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Our bluegrass church

Some of you may not know that we have a professional bluegrass band in our congregation, called Cypress Creek. At least, we have a significant part of it-- two full members of the band (and one who regularly joins them) are members of our church.

They’re a lot of fun, and they’re also really good. They play gigs all over the mid-south, and every now and then we get a bluegrass number as an offertory or for special music during worship.

They’ll also be playing at the Vicky Williams Benefit that the church is holding and hosting in early August. If you’re able (and you’re in the area), come out on August 9th from 4-8pm and hear Cypress Creek.

Update: Sorry about the bad link from earlier; I was using an old link. To make up for it, I’ve posted THREE videos now!

Here they are in the studio:





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Sermon texts for July 2008

Here are the texts for this month’s sermons. You’ll note that again this month, I’ll be gone for the last Sunday of the month, and a guest preacher will bring the Word for us.

UPDATE: I won’t have a guest preacher on the last Sunday after all.
UPDATE #2: I adjusted the text for this Sunday!

July 6
Luke 6:1-11 -- Sabbath Restrictions? Or Sabbath Freedom?
July 13 Luke 6:12-16 -- Appointing Twelve
July 20 Luke 6:17-26 -- Blessings & Woes
July 27 Luke 6:27-38 -- Love for others
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Are you wit' us, or agin' us?

In light of yesterday’s post on single-issue voting, I’ll offer this post that re-covers the ideas that started it, plus the counter-points to those ideas.

I’m not throwing my support behind either candidate– and I don’t care to share who I’m voting for. I think there’s a good case to be made for a conservative on both sides, and I understand the “I’m socio-politically conservative and I’m voting for Obama” side completely.

Here’s the gist of that argument:
  1. Single-issue voting is wrong and unbiblical.
  2. Even if it were not, we’ve been told that “the next president will end legalized abortion through judicial appointments” since the 80s– has it happened yet?
  3. If that’s not reason enough to be skeptical, there is arguable evidence that abortion actually was reduced more under Clinton than Bush– so why is the default assumption that a Republican president will be better for the pro-life position? (Oh yeah: because the whole argument goes, the distant possibility of total elimination of legalized abortions is more important than the more likely possibility of reduction of legalized abortions.)
  4. A vote for McCain is a guarantee for continued waging of war that is unjust and has little possibility of ending soon or with effective outcome. A vote for Obama is at least a solid chance of ending that much sooner.
  5. The grim predictions of all who oppose Obama is that he is an extreme liberal who will be the enemy of people of faith. The last time we heard this was, of course, when President Bill Clinton was elected. But really, Clinton didn’t end up being that bad, and it is hard to argue that the U.S. suffered or got worse under his presidency. Why should we believe it this time around?
  6. Isn’t it natural to want to believe that all of the talk of change, a new tone, and truly productive political process is true? Even the most cynical among us must surely WANT it to be true.
So there is my take on the case for Obama from a conservative’s perspective. Now, here’s the argument for the other side: why should a Christian/conservative/moderate (or even liberal) vote for John McCain?
  1. Single-issue voting is wrong and unbiblical. (And just as many conservatives oppose Obama because of his position on abortion, many others oppose McCain because of his position on the Iraq War.)
  2. Even if it were not, the Iraq War is a commitment we have made as a nation-- good or ill-- and we ought to take that commitment seriously enough to see it through to completion. Yes, we’ve been involved in it for over five years; we were in Vietnam for 16 years, and our failure there was largely due to growing apathy and opposition toward the later stages, even when some evidence of success had shown up. The recent reports of the positive effects of the “surge” ought to be enough to at least slow down the urgency to pull out as soon as possible. So the next president will at least need to be open-minded to the matters at hand, and not dogmatically committed to immediate withdrawal. We may not “win” this war, but we can certainly finish well.
  3. McCain, though fairly moderate on many issues, has a solid record of “pro-life” support and congressional/senatorial voting. So if we ARE inclined toward the single-issue agenda that consumes so many Christians, he’s your guy!
  4. A vote for McCain may actually be a pretty good balance of conservative and moderate positions, appealing more to many of the younger generation of folks who don’t identify purely with a right-wing, conservative agenda.
  5. While McCain has, at best, been very tight-lipped about his personal beliefs and faith (to my knowledge he’s never gone on record stating that he considers himself a Christian or any other belief), he HAS shown himself to be friendly to Christians and other people of faith.
  6. McCain’s lack of Obama-like charisma doesn’t alter the fact that he speaks boldly of change as well; plus, his years of political and military experience bolster his claims of being able to be the leader we need to get true bi-partisan change effected.
That said, there are reasons why many believers may not wish to vote for EITHER of them! Whether it encourages you to a write-in (Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee are two names I often hear about as write-ins) or to go the “none of the above” route, here are a few more thoughts on the two presumptive candidates:
  • Neither candidate is a distinctively Christian candidate; Obama, who has openly discussed his faith, recently resigned his membership from a congregation that espouses Black Liberation Theology in a denomination that is probably the most theologically liberal denomination that still considers itself to be “Christian;” now he is, I presume, an unchurched theological liberal. McCain, as I mentioned, has NO open declaration of faith or belief on record, and when asked by Christians about his faith instead refers to the inspiration he has found in the faith of others. This may not be a deal-breaker for everyone-- I would rather see the “best” man in place than an adequate Christian-- but it’s probably a factor for most Christians.
  • Both candidates talk a LOT about change-- which may be good-- but have yet to really spell out what said change would really mean, at least in a way that has gotten through to the general audiences. In other words, nothing like the “lock box” of 2000 has really emerged. Time will tell; in the historic scheme of elections, it is very early (even though it seems like it has been going on forever already, and we still have six months left).
  • While so much talk about change is bantered about, we’ve still got a growing economic crisis and an over-dependence on petroleum. We know what they’ll do about the Iraq War and the military action in Afghanistan, but what will they do about the economy? How will they solve our oil dependence problem? We’ve heard the soundbite niceties that represent, at best, short-term relief; I’m not sure if either candidate has a solid plan (or even an idea) about how they will lead the nation to true solutions over the long-term.
  • Almost everyone I know seems fairly dis-satisfied with our candidate selection. Apart from those who have really been wowed by Obama’s style and charisma, most people I’ve talked to feel like both candidates represent something of a blasé option.
There it is: my assessment of the presidential race as it stands today. I hope this is, at least, food for thought.

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Why single-issue voting is unbiblical

In honor of Independence Day, I thought I would offer up a post that simultaneously speaks to our context and government, the Kingdom of God, and the current events of our political process. (I’m also taking this opportunity to respond to a question posed to me over at my friend Megan’s blog.)

Why is single-issue voting unbiblical?

I’ll work through this issue from the most practical to the most theological (but hopefully that’s a false dichotomy, and there are shades of each at the opposite ends of the spectrum).
  • Even someone with a die-hard “culture war” perspective has to begin to wonder if the culture war has been lost. If you follow principles of just war (which biblical Christians ought to feel obligated to do), and you appropriate these principles into the culture wars as well (after all, they are just a violent in many ways), the principle of “probability of success” has to give you pause. If your single issue is abortion or defining marriage, don’t you wonder if we’ve already lost those wars? (Ditto for other single issues.)
  • It is difficult to be a truly consistent single-issue voter. (Really, it’s difficult to be consistent about political issues in general; it’s just that the single-issue voter invites greater scrutiny of his or her consistency.) Most who hold up abortion as the defining issue, for example, claim (rightly, I believe) that abortion is murder. What, then, is the desired end-goal? To have would-be mothers arrested and tried for murder if they have an abortion performed? At least they should be tried as accessories to murder. Likewise, some claim that the definition of marriage as only that between a man and a woman is the ultimate issue of this year’s elections; they don’t want to allow same-sex couples to define their relationships under the terminology of marriage. But the outcries were far fewer when family courts began to grant same-sex couples the right to adopt, thereby allowing them to functionally define their relationships under the terminology of family.
  • Another difficulty in single-issue voting is the problem of which single-issue you decide is the most important. How do you decide? Even the most carefully-reasoned decision here necessarily excludes a number of vital issues. The decision will inevitably be at least shaped by your cultural context: your race, your socio-economic circumstances, your geography of origin. Morality has a role, but in the end deciding on one single issue as arbiter political decisions is a moral and ethical coin-toss. This sort of relativism is inherently contrary to biblical reasoning.
  • Whatever the single-issue is does NOT encompass the whole of any candidate’s platform or worldview. Thus, we may find that we are inadvertently supporting and aligning ourselves with a candidate with whom we utterly disagree on another issue. This is not always taboo, and there are times when we can and should join with those with differences for the sake of a particular effort; nevertheless, to do so thoughtlessly or ignorantly (because you simply weren’t paying attention to or concerned about other issues) is not being consistent to a biblical worldview of engaging and interacting with culture and world.
  • (Closely related to the third point) It is impossible for ANY single issue to be elevated as more important than others from a strictly biblical perspective. Suppose the most aggressively anti-Christian legislation were at stake-- say, making it illegal for Christians to gather for worship, punishable by death-- would that rise to the top as most important? Would defending our “right” to gather for worship (the loss of which has never stopped the Christian church from gathering over the centuries) be more important than the biblical mandate to care for the poor or evangelize the lost? Would it be consistent to have argued for these several decades that opposing abortion is the most important endeavor the church can undertake (yes, I’ve actually been told exactly that) and suddenly to switch issues?
  • Single-issue voting represents a segmentation of life into nicely compartmentalized concepts, as if they are completely unrelated. But the Bible clearly portrays a world where such things are inherently connected. Scripture shows us connections we can’t make in a segmented view, such as the value of building codes as a part of loving our neighbor as ourselves (Deut. 22:8). We can see these connections in our world today, as well. One person suggested recently that the solution to the economic crisis we’re in would be to cut governmental spending, which he fleshed out as, “get[ting] out of schooling, Social Security, and welfare.” Many Christians may agree. But the truth is that our society isn’t prepared for the f