Posts Tagged “religious liberty”

You Are Harming the Cause

Earlier today, I saw a link to a blog post about a man, Michael Salman, who had been thrown in jail and fined for hosting a Bible study in his home. We've seen things like this before, but what made this one unique is that it was in Arizona; yes, this is happening right here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I shared the link with others, voicing my support for him if the situation was as it was presented. However, a friend followed up with a link to a news story that gives more of the history and what has happened. As it turns out, the original post is highly-slanted advocacy that left out some key details. The more I've thought about it, the angrier I've become, to the point where I now hope that Salman comes to his senses while he's in jail.

Here is the Cliff's Notes version of the first post (feel free to read it if you'd like). This man and his wife were having family and friends over for a Bible study on a weekly basis. Neighbors complained about the extra cars and the traffic, and the fire department broke up one of their studies. The man then gets building permits for a 2,000 square foot building where the number of people could be without causing a fire hazard. Since erecting that building, he has been continually harassed and accused of running a church on his residential property. He maintains that these are simply guests in his home and new out-building, and that they have as much of a right to be there as would a birthday or Super Bowl party. Salman is now facing 30 months in jail and $12,000 in fines.

Sounds pretty bad, huh? Well, my opinion began to turn when I saw a picture of his yard…

A view of the yard in front of the Salman property, with a wooden cross and a message sign typically found outside churches

OK - the “this is not a church” claim just became very, very hard to swallow. From the above link, plus another from the DailyMail, we learn some other interesting facts. First, Salman is an ordained minister. Second, this out-building, contrary to the restaurant-looking picture from the Freedom Outpost article, is equipped with a pulpit, stage, and chairs. Third, these Bible studies were hosted on the weekend. A time of Bible study on the weekend in a building with a pulpit on a stage… If only there were a word that would be more succinct to describe that sort of thing! There is, and it's the one the city of Phoenix used - church.

This brings me to the angry part. My anger is based in the blemish to the name of Christ that this has caused, and for the people who are going to look like fools for supporting this when the first, incomplete, biased, and dishonest story came out.

Yes, dishonest; candor is a part of honesty, and involved disclosing information that the hearer, upon learning that it was not disclosed, would feel wronged. There is real religious persecution going on all around the world; this does NOT rise to that level. In the realm of ideas, honesty is paramount. This is why so many arguments fall flat on their face when all the facts come out; even those who claim that their are no absolutes tend to still hold honesty as a moral character trait.

Secondly, what happened to “love your neighbor as yourself,” Mr. Salman? A Super Bowl party and a birthday party are both once-a-year events, and even those have been broken up by police and fire officials if they cause a safety concern. You knew that your neighbors did not like the extra traffic, particularly when your study expanded from 15 to nearly 40. I'm sure there is a restaurant in Phoenix that would love to have a weekly banquet room reservation for 30 people; there are two I could attend in the Albuquerque area every week. But, rather than show peace and love, you extended “the middle finger of the Lord” to your neighbors and the city. You are now reaping what you have sown; how can you expect your neighbors or the city to have mercy on you when you were not interested in giving it to them?

Thirdly, Mr. Salman, did we miss Romans 13:1-2?

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

- Romans 13:1-2 (ESV)

The city told you what you needed to do. They did not prohibit you from continuing to have meetings; they told you the codes with which you must comply if you wanted to continue doing so. All churches have to meet building codes; if you have any doubts regarding their importance, compare the earthquake devastation in countries with them to the devastation in countries without them. They ensure public safety where large numbers of people are present on a regular basis; a building does not have to be a public building to meet this criteria. You chose to call your meetings something other than church to get around that (see how that honesty thing keeps cropping up?), you got called on it, and now you have, to quote Paul, “incur[red] judgment.”

Mr. Salman, I hope you use your time away to think about what you have done. Will the world be better off if your 5 children show the world the love of God the way you've modeled it for them in this situation? And please, be HONEST when asking for help. There are good people who will support you, but we don't want to be played for fools. By doing what you have been doing for the past several years, YOU ARE HARMING THE CAUSE OF CHRIST. Christ did not come to give us freedom of religion; He came to free us from sin. He chose to place us in a country where we have very few limits on the free exercise of religion; don't lose sight of that because you happen to have bumped up against what you view as an impediment on that free exercise.

The good thing in all this is, Mr. Salman, that grace is always there. You can receive it, and you can extend it. This cause is not hopeless, especially if you change the focus from “I have a right!” to “where does God want me to hold this study?” Who knows the ministry God may have for you if you get out of a landlocked residential neighborhood and into some place with room for growth?

My Problem with So-Called “Gay Marriage” (Part 1)

This is long, and it's just part one; strap in.

Today, our president announced that, in a 180-degree turn from his previous statements, he now favors “gay marriage.” There are several things about this entire situation that boggle the mind about this, and most of them come back to the inescapable fact that few other religions would permit such bigotry against them. For the vast majority of opponents to same-sex marriage, their opposition is not rooted in hate, but in their religious beliefs. The insistence of these activists to literally re-define marriage is what makes this most distasteful. In future parts, I'll also deal with the fact that they are not honest in their arguments; they cannot be, or they will have to cede what they feel are their strongest points. Finally, I have an opinion (bet you didn't see that coming, huh?) of how I believe government can both respect religion and get the vast majority of what the “gay marriage” activists want; that will be part 3.

Imagine, if you will, that our founding fathers were Jews rather than Christians and Deists. They set up our government to honor Passover above any and all other days, requiring that employers give Jewish employees time off from sundown to sundown on Passover, provided they attend the special services at the temple. This worked well for over 200 years, as some people got a day off each year, and other's didn't. It didn't occur to them to mind; this is just the way it's always been. There's a program out there for which they don't qualify, but it didn't bother them, the same way that it didn't bother them that they weren't eligible for food stamps because their income was too high.

Then, one day, the Protestant population started wondering why they didn't have this same protection - “Why can't I demand a free day off a year, just because I don't hold to that ancient, antiquated religion?” They go to the government and say “Hey, this doesn't seem fair - why can't we get a free day off each year?” The government says, “Well, what do you have in mind?” The people reply “Passover should be for all! We want a Protestant Passover, except without that temple requirement; we just want a free day off like them!” The government promptly laughs them out of its offices.

These Protestants aren't done yet, though. Prestigious universities have been teaching Protestantism as an equally valid alternative to Judaism for many years, and now these university-educated people are educating an increasing number of the nation's children. They decide to lay the groundwork by starting to normalize Protestantism. They find some inspiring stories about Protestants throughout history; they speculate that others may have been &“closet” Protestants, even though they never really said for sure. Finally, they follow this up with people who were “unfairly” treated simply because they were Protestant. If it's one thing kids understand, it's "that's not FAIR!", and this plan has wildly-successful results. The reasons given tend to evolve as well; in the beginning, it's fear; a few years later, it's bigotry; a few years after that, it's just hate.

Finally, this so-called Protestant Passover movement really starts to have some legs. Politicians are asked their view of this, even when the nation is facing far more pressing issues. The Jews are livid about the government defining a “Protestant Passover” that confers all the rights of the free-day-off Passover, but is celebrated by people who have no clue what it is they're celebrating, and without the worship requirement (which was the original reason behind the law in the first place). They would base their complaints on the free exercise of religion, and they would be told to stop hating.

You see where I'm going with this. There is absolutely no way our fictional government would even consider something so ludicrous as Protestant Passover; but, with two generations of conditioning by partial parties, now it doesn't seem ludicrous. I believe this is the point we have reached in our nation today; those who are for “gay marriage” cannot fathom any motivation other than hate in their opposition, no matter how little sense this makes. (“But wait,” you say, “wouldn't the original Passover law constitute an establishment of religion?” One could make that argument; come back for part 3, my friend.)

The word “marriage” means something to the Christian faith. Through the several Scriptures that follow, we survey some of the verses that establish marriage as having special significance; this is my proof that the “gay marriage” push is offensive to Christianity. We'll start with two verses that are central to this argument.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

These two verses establish the sufficiency and completeness of Scripture. Either it's all true, or none of it is; I hold to the former view. What was written was written, and the omission of what was not written is also significant. We also see that the purpose of Scripture is to equip man through teaching (education), reproof (some versions translate this “rebuke”), correction (a change of course), and training (“here is how you do it”). This means that, although Jesus has come and fulfilled the law, reading the law still has value; it gives us insight into how God thinks. Studying how God dealt with people and nations can show us His patience, mercy, and judgment all at the same time.

I think that this is where many of the Christians who identify themselves on the “pro” side of this argument go astray. They focus on one verse or passage, to the exclusion of all others. They may give special emphasis to the words of Jesus - most Bibles do, by putting His words in red! However, these verses tell us that all Scriptures is profitable. If Jesus said something, Paul echoed it, and Peter explained it, Peter's explanation is not “one of many interpretations” of Jesus' words; it is the explanation that God has preserved in His Word!

With that being said, let's take a look first at some pro-marriage verses. From the very beginning, God created male and female (yes, “Adam and Eve” not “Adam and Steve”), and near the end of Genesis 2, we read

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24

Later, Solomon has this advice for his son:

Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.

Proverbs 5:18-19

(Am I the only one noticing that not only are they supposed to be husband and wife, but they're supposed to keep the fire burning? Ever read the book Song of Solomon? Yowza!)

Now, sure, those are both Old Testament. But, when Jesus quotes these words (and not in the “It has been said...but I say” way)…

He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?...”

Matthew 19:4-5

...well, that would seem to make them doubly-important in my book. Paul, who was one of the last people to see Jesus, found himself in the position of educating new believers who came from a background of hedonism. We'll deal with the "don't"s here in a bit, but let's look at how he summarizes his instructions on roles in marriage.

However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Ephesians 5:33

Husband with masculine pronoun, wife with a feminine pronoun - it's almost like there's a secret message there. No, I kid; it's no secret at all. Keep in mind this was written in Greek, when the Greek culture had just recently begun to fade. There was certainly plenty of homosexuality and pederasty in Greece; if there had been something positive to say about either of these things, Paul had the perfect opportunity. However, he had a different take.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Romans 1:26-27

(Could that last part be talking about venereal disease or AIDS? Probably shouldn't go there; this is already long enough as it is.)

Paul is not a lone wolf on this; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the prohibitions in the Levitical law on not only homosexuality, but also bestiality, incest, and adultery are consistent with this. Incidentally, these laws are given as a group, lending a certain “they're all the same sin” feel to that list. Non-marital sexual activity was prohibited.

Marriage was the first institution established by God, followed closely by the family. The reason our government issues marriage licenses in the first place is a carry-over from the Church of England (more on that in part 3). It is significant in the Christian faith. The fact that it has been abused and devalued by Christians and non-Christians alike does not change that. In fact, let's go ahead and get that red herring out of the way here. Remember above, where Jesus quoted the Old Testament? Let's pull that passage over here in with a bit more context.

And Pharisees came up to Him and tested Him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?”

He answered, “Have you not read that He Who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?”

He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so….”

Matthew 19:3-8

Here, Jesus not only recognizes the institution of marriage, He reinforces it, tearing down an “out” that Moses had permitted, and had been a part of their law ever since. Now, I personally believe that it's a good thing that divorcees aren't shunned; Jesus doesn't indicate that divorce is better or worse than any other sin, but He does call it out as sin. If sin is forgiven and forsaken, my reading of Scripture tells me that's good enough for God, and if it's good enough for Him, it's good enough for me. However, the modern church has swung too far away from shunning to the point that divorce is common and accepted; it makes the argument for the sanctity of marriage weaker, especially in the eyes of the non-believing world. However, it does nothing to dilute the words of Jesus here.

Marriage is significant to the Christian faith. I believe I've demonstrated above that “gay marriage” is an oxymoron; how do you have “prohibited-activity sacred-institution”? Just as Muslims would fight a move to classify pulled pork as a halal dish, or Catholics would not want to receive a Big Mac as the Eucharist, Christians who oppose “;gay marriage” are simply defending their faith. Redefining a word that currently denotes the first institution ordained by God should be met with strong resistance by all Christians. Maybe this assault is what we need to recognize how far we've drifted from what the Word says should be the way. Forget about the sins of the past; we should determine what God says, then stand for it.

(This is part 1 of a 3-part series. The other parts will be linked here as they are published. The other parts will remain in my head.)

Contraception, Conviction, and Personal Responsibility

Contraception has been in the news quite a bit recently, culminating this week in testimony before Congress and calls for Rush Limbaugh's microphone over his response. Let's look at the timeline and how we got here, then I'll share my thoughts on the whole thing. (If you're in a hurry, skip to the last 2 paragraphs; but, if you have the time, read the whole thing, as it goes deeper than I have seen most analysis go.)

This issue came to the forefront of popular discussion when the Roman Catholic church expressed their opposition to the provision of the health care reform bill (AKA “ObamaCare”) that required employers to provide health insurance that covers contraceptive care. Official church doctrine regards this as sin, and requiring their hospitals and other organizations to provide this, they claim, is a violation of their religious beliefs. The fact that Rick Santorum, a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is a practicing Roman Catholic (and has lived these beliefs for years), has brought this issue even into the primary process.

Some legislators, seeing this as a legitimate complaint from the church, presented legislation that would amend this requirement, allowing an exemption for employers who have religious objections to these requirements. To help combat this, a Georgetown University student named Sandra Fluke testified to Congress about how important she held contraception, and how she felt that free contraceptive coverage was an integral part of health insurance coverage. Rush Limbaugh, long known for “illustrating absurdity by being absurd” (his term), seized this testimony and ran with over-the-top commentary, using terms to describe Ms. Fluke that have people calling for his job.

Those are the facts as they now stand. Let's dig in, shall we?

The first thing we need to discuss is the term “contraception;” the literal definition is “against the fertilization of the egg” (contra = against, con-ception = fertilization of the egg). A popular synonym for contraception is “pregnancy prevention,” but that is a much broader term. Some feminists define contraception as “that which prevents birth,” an even broader definition than pregnancy prevention. There cannot be an agreement on contraception until we can all agree on what that means. We'll leave abortion out of it, as the view of abortion being contraception is a minority one, and it's not part of this mandate.

What is part of this mandate, however, are drugs that are collectively termed abortofacients; these are techniques or medicines that do not prevent the fertilization of the egg, but they prevent the implantation of the fertilized egg onto the uterine wall. RU-486, the “morning-after pill,” and certain intrauterine devices (IUDs) fall into this category. These methods of “contraception” violate not only the Roman Catholic views against contraception, but the evangelical churches' beliefs that life begins at conception - it is equivalent to an abortion. This greatly expands the pool of those organizations which would be required to provide coverage which violates their moral beliefs.

Some would say that the argument of “it's against my religion” has been made spuriously in the past, and they would be right. However, the prior misuse of this argument cannot be used to strip away the principle, long recognized in this country, that we generally do not create laws that force mainstream religious organizations to violate their consciences. I personally do not hold to the belief that contraception is wrong; however, I do hold to the belief that life begins with conception. This is described in Scripture, and has been validated with medical advances over the past few decades. So, I believe that this law is a bad law because, among its other many problems, it forces religious organizations to either violate their conscience or face criminal prosecution. In a nation founded on the principle of religious liberty, this is not something we should do.

Now, let's turn our attention to Sandra Fluke and her testimony before Congress. Her testimony brought a valuable insight into the mindset of many of her generation. She said “Without insurance coverage, contraception can cost a woman over $3,000 during law school.” Let's ignore the math of that statement ($1,000/year?) for now and look at what she didn't say. Implicit in this statement is the fact that she feels entitled to not only practice sexual activity as much as she wants, but to be free from the consequences of that activity. That is one of the lies that now permeated a second generation. They have been told that their sexuality is best expressed by using it repeatedly, and however they choose to do it, that defines who they are. The sexually “repressed” have been ridiculed or even shunned, while the sexually “liberated” are celebrated. Thanks to contraceptive methods, they can express themselves free from the traditional consequences of sexual activity.

This is a lie. “Liberated” sexuality does not empower women; rather, it strips them of their power, instinctively inherent in the human race. It is no secret that the male of the human species is inordinately preoccupied with this aspect of his life from adolescence forward; traditionally, while the female may have wanted the same thing, she would hold back, which encouraged men to make a commitment they might not otherwise make. The old adage “Why would you buy a cow when you can get the milk for free?” illustrates this principle quite vividly. 40 years out from the sexual revolution, commitment has taken a nose-dive into near non-existence. Cohabitation, hooking up, friends with benefits, and no-fault divorce now provide avenues for sexual activity that were not available to men in the past. So, rather than commit to one person, and do the hard work of changing themselves to become better mates in order to earn this gift from their brides, men can just float from one partner to another. If a partner sees something in him that, were he to change, would make him a better man, he has very little motivation to endure that change. This has led to weaker men and weaker women, and in two generations has brought us to the place where over 50% of babies born to women under 30 are now born out of wedlock.

Yes, we're getting deep into this, but it is crucial that we do so, because this begins to get to the biggest problem with the Fluke generation (heh - I should copyright that). We can expect nothing different, because they simply haven't been taught, and they did not see it modeled in anything but generations so old they'd never dream of mimicking them. They see no reason for people to have a problem with this. This is also why there is such a visceral reaction when these beliefs are challenged. That doesn't absolve them of their responsibility to seek out and evaluate whether what they believe is right, but it helps to understand their thought process.

Notice also that I am not judging the character or intentions of the generation as I described it above. Even with parents teaching their children these things, and living them out in front of their children, people will make choices that are less than optimal. The above should be read as a commentary on society, not as a condemnation of its participants. Besides, assigning blame to people is counterproductive; we need to look at the decisions that were made, where they have led us, and determine what decisions we should make to get us to where we need to be. My goal is to encourage behavior that is beneficial to society.

(Wow, what a rabbit trail. OK, back to my point from 4 paragraphs ago…) Although I doubt she sees it this way, what she expressed in her testimony was a desire to choose to act however she wants, but be free from the negative consequences of her actions. This is what has provoked such a reaction from her detractors - why should I (through government-funded insurance programs) pay for your decisions, or for shielding you from the consequences of your decisions? Engaging in sexual activity is a choice; you don't just “catch” sex. (We're ignoring rape with this statement - but what kind of attitude do you have to have to always have contraception for fear of rape? That doesn't apply in this argument.)

This brings us to Rush Limbaugh, who used absurdity to greatly ridicule Ms. Fluke. He said some things that he knew were over the top; that's what he does, both to illustrate points and to garner ratings. Predictably, there have been calls for his job, and some advertisers have pulled their spots from his show. Since I started this post earlier this morning, he has apologized to her for the incendiary words that he used. (Interestingly, one of those words has been used triumphantly by feminists to describe themselves, as a celebration of their sexual freedom; if she truly is a feminist activist, one might think she would take that as a compliment. Sadly, the double-standard discussion will have to wait for another time, or this post will never wrap up.)

Just as we looked at the Fluke generation, think about the Limbaugh generation. Rush is part of the first generation that began, in large numbers, to shed the morals and values that had been with us for hundreds of years. He is now seeing the results of this, and is flabbergasted that things have gone so far so quickly. He also enjoys getting people riled up, particularly the “femi-nazis,” a group that is pretty easy to tick off. So, when we look at his statements, considering his history and background can help put his comments into their intended context. As has been proved by both the right and the left, an out-of-context sound bite can be made to say whatever one wants; however, the truth, whether exculpatory or damning, can only be determined by evaluating the statement as whole.

Are there any of you who feel that Limbaugh should have been censured, who also feel that, now that he's apologized, all his sponsors should return to his program on Monday? Now you're starting to see it. He may very well have to live with the negative consequences of his actions, even though he has apologized for them. Should his insurance company produce the lost revenue from these advertisers? Of course not - he would be crazy to suggest that they should. This is the exact same principle we evaluated above! Maybe seeing it turned on someone less sympathetic will help you understand the issue more clearly.

Personally, I believe that shielding people from the negative consequences of their isolated bad actions can be beneficial, particularly if they are allowed to experience part of those, and have to expend some effort in ameliorating the remainder. (I'm not talking about Limbaugh here; this is a general statement.) As the adage goes, “Good decisions come from experience; experience comes from bad decisions.” People are not perfect, and they are going to make choices which bring negative consequences. Notice, though, that I started this by saying “personally.” Forgiveness is a personal virtue, not a government policy. However, even with forgiveness, it is often neither possible nor desirable to shield the person from the consequences of their actions. What people like Sandra Fluke want is for the government to spare no expense in its attempt to shield her from whatever consequences she deems undesirable. A government policy of forgiveness, paired with the equal application of the law, amounts to a tacit approval of the activity. It is not fair to forgive or shield one person and not another; some would argue that limiting it to one instance would not be fair either. It just simply does not work.

Sexual activity is certainly not the only area where we see this mindset at work. One of the major sparks behind the Occupy movement was frustration from people who got a college education, but could not parlay that education into employment. They wanted their school loans forgiven - and, with the value they were seeing from that piece of paper, who could blame them? But, again, actions have consequences. They chose to get the education in certain degrees, and at a pace that incurred debt. Their demand that others pay to shield them from the negative consequences of those decisions was met with some sympathy, but mostly derision from people who saw them as a bunch of freeloaders, protesting their poor state from their iPhones and iPads.

Let's distill all of the above down to five main points. First, the contraception provision in ObamaCare is wrong, and inconsistent with our legal traditions; it becomes more so as the definition of the term contraception is widened. Second, the nuclear family is the most beneficial for society, and provides the greatest motivation for both man and woman to improve themselves as they grow closer to one another. Third, while people like Ms. Fluke may not see it, they are expecting others to pay to shield them from the negative consequences of their actions, and this is what many people, myself included, find distasteful. Fourth, consider the context from which both sides originate when analyzing arguments, particularly those which generate a strong reaction; it may not make their argument any more believable, but it will help reveal not just what they are saying, but what they want. Fifth, while forgiveness is a positive personal character trait, it is incompatible with government policy.

I hope my analysis has helped you evaluate this issue; it goes way deeper than sound bites can convey. At its core, this is about respecting religious convictions and accepting personal responsibility. I hope and pray that my nation chooses to do both.