“Gosnell”: The Doctor Who Snuffed Out Babies and His Silencing Accomplices

“Were you guys at the ‘Gosnell’ showing?” asked the older gentleman at the urinal next to me. “Have you ever been in a theater where nobody speaks as they leave the movie?” Two very unusual events had just occurred: the reaction he mentioned and men talking at the toilet! A men’s room discussion ensued, focusing on the heaviness of the topic: abortion and baby killing.

Despite unseasonable cold and rain, my wife and I had sat with a few others in the local theater late on a weeknight. It was the last chance to see a film that’s been just as shut down as the discussion of its topic: killing of babies born alive by an abortionist so unprincipled that he was foresworn by fellow abortionists and pro-abortion advocates. The perpetrator: Dr. Kermit Gosnell. The film bears his name. It is also subtitled, maybe exaggeratedly, “The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer.” But who cares if a few others killed more humans than he did over 30 years’ time? Gosnell is deservedly serving three life sentences for first degree murder for offing who knows how many newborns as a “service” to poor women.

As we exited the theater, I had nearly commented about the palpable silence, but realized the gravity of the moment and stopped myself. Perhaps it would take a while to process the newly resurrected horror. The alternate thought occurred to me that, even with a likely self-selecting audience of pro-lifers, silence is what got us to the cultural situation we are in regarding abortion. Would anyone even comment?

The “right to choose” has now been superseded by a debate about personhood of fetuses and babies. Christians often remain silent. Many believe fetal sonogram pictures have dealt a blow to the euphemisms. Turns out, it’s a picture that sealed Gosnell’s doom.

The story tells itself, so the film simply needed to be believable. The superbly cast “Gosnell” pulls it off, with characters as diverse as inner-city young women employed by the mad doctor to a suburbanite prosecutor and mother of five to the queerly eccentric, self-justified Gosnell himself. (The lead actor is the actual Gosnell’s doppelganger!) A well-played Emo blogger may have made the difference in prosecuting the deranged doctor, while the mainstream press was absent without leave. Cable TV-level cursing lends a less religious, more real-to-life tone, but it seemed a bit overdone.

“Gosnell’s” biggest strength, unfortunately, is the unraveling of a chamber of horrors haunted by the abortionist’s classical piano playing and taste for exotic flowers. It is surreal. This cat- and exotic turtle-loving, soft dictator’s demise began as a drug case. In a classic storyline, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) and FBI encroach on a local police investigation, forcing the investigation down the cul-de-sac of a mere drug bust. As a law unto himself, Gosnell had become a dealer. No one was prepared for the baby body bags and slime of Gosnell’s “clinic.” That is, the headlines and court case were stranger than fiction—and more disturbing than most. Frankly, the pre-Halloween release seems appropriate. Still, the obvious moral implications and the inevitable appeal to conscience provides a critical reality check for all time, something that cuts through the slogans and euphemisms surrounding abortion.

That tension between the practice no one talks about and the inherent law of right and wrong within human hearts at times splits the screen. The pro-abortion prosecutor subtly rethinks her position as she cuddles her new baby. The most telling scene is the courtroom practice session with the defense lawyer, brilliantly played by Nick Searcy. Here, Gosnell unequivocally states that he has no respect for laws about training healthcare workers up to code. More chillingly, he declares that his diagnosis of fetal-and live-birth babies’ viability is the definitive opinion. In other words, the doctor totally violated the classical “do no harm” doctrine of medicine as aided and abetted by authorities, wantonly violated laws designed to protect women, and played God with babies’ lives even beyond the allowance of Roe-liberalized abortion laws. But truth has a way of emerging. And history repeats itself in a way.

How so? The up-to-the-minute story, which smells as fishy as Gosnell’s clinic and the cover-up-by-negligence that kept him in grim business for a third of a century, is a tale of viewpoint discrimination. The little-known fight to stanch this movie’s release and cancel showings parallels the way that authorities ignored—by decree—the egregious crimes of Gosnell. This week, headlines like “‘Gosnell’ Filmmakers: Theaters Dropping Movie, Preventing People From Buying Tickets” emerged on Christian news web sites—and nowhere else, apparently. “John Sullivan, the film’s producer and marketing director, said, ‘The fact that we’ve been dropped from theaters where the movie is the number 6 or number 9 movie is just something you don’t see. ‘It’s hard not to believe it isn’t about the content of the movie’.”{1} Despite an excellent opening run, Facebook ticket-buyers report refunds from AMC outlets without explanation and in explicable screening cancellations.

It still seems as if there’s a conspiracy to shut down knowledge of the facts. The spirit of the grand jury-convening judge who demanded the case not be about abortion lives on. Recently, NPR played the same card, avoiding the hot button term “abortion.” The Daily Beast reports that “National Public Radio’s own past reporting called Kermit Gosnell an ‘abortion doctor.’ But when the makers of a new film [“Gosnell”] wanted to pay to use the phrase on air, no dice.” According to actual events, which comprise most of the screenplay, health officials had direct orders from the governor’s office not to follow up on complaints about the clinic.

Gosnell’s “hellhole” of an abortion mill defied imagination. It was a nasty nest of cat filth and biohazards. Turns out, lots of that biological “waste” were the bodies of infants killed both in the womb past legal dates, whom the butcher-doctor “snipped” in the neck after they were delivered. “As liberal commentator Kirsten Powers wrote at USA Today back in 2013, ‘Infant beheadings. Severed baby feet in jars. A child screaming after it was delivered alive during an abortion procedure. Haven’t heard about these sickening accusations? It’s not your fault.’ Powers continued, ‘Since the murder trial of Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell began . . . there has been precious little coverage of the case that should be on every news show and front page.'” Years later, the crickets can still be heard. Gosnell’s gruesome methods boggled the mind of jurors and moviegoers. Still, the trial was not allowed to “be a case about abortion.” Nor the film. Yeah, right.

So, the docudrama about a “prolific serial killer” seems to be merely another extension of the strange silence induced by a biased system and a duped public. On a radio interview, the producer said he had to raise funds himself, as with other such independent conservative films. He has faced astonishing resistance at every turn in the four-year process of creating and releasing “Gosnell.” Studios supposedly balk because of controversy, but conservatives know that there is more viewpoint discrimination than anything at work. One would almost think that there are tweaked consciences being defended.

In a monumental scene, the prosecutor shows the gruesome picture of a late-term born-alive baby boy who had been executed by Gosnell. Courtroom fact-finding, arguments, and persuasive appeals gave way to the impact of a picture, worth many more than a thousand words. May the light of day shine on the awful picture of death-dealing in and out of the womb in the court of public opinion and individual hearts and minds. “Gosnell” provides a revealing and compelling picture that will hopefully live on despite the spotty and embattled theater releases.

Note

1. The Christian Post, posted Oct. 22, 2018, accessed Oct. 25, 2018. www.christianpost.com/news/gosnell-filmmakers-theaters-dropping-movie-preventing-people-from-buying-tickets-228090.

©2018 Probe Ministries




The Scandal of Blood Atonement: “Why All the Blood and Cross-Talk, Christian?”

The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection raises accusations that Christianity is obsessed with blood. Many believers struggle with this too. Byron Barlowe explores the biblical reasons for the focus on Christ’s blood and why its shedding was necessary.

The Bloody Cross: A Tough Thing to Handle

download-podcastEaster season is all about the death and resurrection of Christ—which centers on the blood sacrifice He endured. Christianity is called a bloody religion, focusing on the execution of Jesus Christ on a cross. Why is this true and what does it mean when we say His blood atones for our sin?

Millions of Americans—and billions of Christians around the world—celebrated the death and Resurrection of Christ during Passion Week and Easter Sunday. The topic was everywhere from sermons to a CNN docudrama titled Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery.

You may have questions about all the talk of “the blood of Christ” and songs saying things like “Jesus’s blood washed away my sins.” This bloody theme does raise understandable concerns that are shared by believers, seekers and skeptics alike.

In fact, more and more skeptics are posting on the Internet things like this book promotion:

“Christians are obsessed with blood! They sing about it, declare they are washed in it and even drink it! In this book you will discover the crazy background to this Christian obsession and the truth about the bloodthirsty God they claim to know and serve.”{1}

In this article, we’ll discuss whether these charges are true and fair and explain the doctrine of blood atonement.

Again, even many Christians—including me—have wondered deeply about all the biblical imagery of shed blood, what some call the Crimson Thread of Scripture. I mean the grotesqueness of Old Testament animal sacrifice and the belief in Jesus’s torturous slaying as the core of salvation. Radical stuff for modern ears.

So what is blood atonement and why does it matter? In historic orthodox Christian thought, God’s Son is at the very center of history doing these things:

•  reconciling man to God,

•  ransoming humans from slavery to sin and well-deserved death and

•  justly recompensing God for the horrific offense of rebellion and disobedience to Him.

Thankfully, the gospel (or good news) is simple. The Bible claims, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”{2}

The bottom line for all people is this: out of Christ’s death came the hope of eternal life—and His resurrection proved this. Our sin caused God’s Son to suffer and die. By grace, through faith, we can benefit. Otherwise, we suffer eternally for staying with the cosmic rebellion that started in a perfect Garden long ago.

Yet, this blood-centered good news is a scandal to both those who believe and those who deny it. In fact, the Greek root word skandalon is used for Christ Himself.{3} You see, Jews denied Christ as the Promised One and Gentiles thought it was all nonsense. Nothing has changed for mankind: the choices are either do-it-yourself religion, being too smart for all that, or believing in this radical hope.

The Reason Someone Had to Die

Why did anybody have to die? God’s justice and holiness demands a death penalty for the sinner.

We are all in a serious spiritual and moral pickle. Biblical Christianity declares that each person ever born is stuck under an irreversible “sindrome” for which there is no human answer. History sadly records the habitual and continual effects of sin: oppression, addictions, self-promoting power plays, deceit, war, on and on.

Now for a reality check: no moral order, either in a family, a company, military unit or society survives ambiguity or failure to enforce laws. Just ask the victims of unpunished criminals set loose to perpetrate again. If the Creator were to simply wink at sin or let people off scot-free, where would justice be? What kind of God would He be?

God is holy and He called Himself the Truth. There is no way God would be true to Himself and the moral order He created and yet fail to punish sin. Such impunity would mock justice. As one theologian puts it, “Pardon without atonement nullifies justice . . . A law without penalty is morally unserious, even dangerous.”

Ok, but penalties have levels of harshness. Why is death necessary? Scripture spells out clearly the decree that sinners must die. In God’s original command He stated, “When you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). In Ezekiel the same formula appears slightly reworded: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). Paul boiled it down this way: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

God’s justice and holiness demand death for sin. Blood must be shed. Detractors of the cross tend to underestimate sin and know nothing of its offense to a holy God. Everyone wants justice—for others.

Ok, so what does a just and holy God do with impure, treasonous creatures He made to bear His image? God was in a quandary, if you will.

Yet, even in the Garden, He was already hinting at a plan to reconcile this dilemma. “God so loved the world” that he sent down His own Son as a man to pay the death penalty.{4}

Thomas Oden writes, “God’s holiness made a penalty for sin necessary . . . Love was the divine motive; holiness [was] the divine requirement. [Romans 5:8 reads] ‘God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’. [And as Romans 8 teaches,] This love was so great that God ‘did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all’ (Romans 8:32).”{5}

Christ’s Death and Resurrection Was Unlike Other Religious Stories: It Was All for Love

God’s morally just demand for a death-payment is not the same as pagan gods, who maliciously demanded sacrifices. True for one big reason:

Isn’t this crucifixion thing simply about a grouchy god acting all bloodthirsty, as some atheists like popular author Richard Dawkins say? Should good people find this repugnant? One unbelieving critic wrote,

“Unfortunately, much of Christian art consists of depicting the sufferings and agony of Jesus on the Cross. This reflects the obsession of Christianity with the Crucifixion . . . “Crosstianity” [in the contemptuous words of one skeptic]. The obsession with ‘our sins’ having been ‘washed away by the Blood of the Lamb’ would be regarded as evidence of a serious mental illness . . . but when this is an obsession of millions of people it becomes ‘religious faith’.”{6}

Wow! Did you know that you, if you are a believer, are part of an insane global crowd? This vividly illustrates the scandal of the cross: “which is to them that are perishing foolishness” as the Apostle Paul described it.{7}

No, biblical sacrifice is not a bloodfest, but the way to deal with a sad reality. Put it this way: If God said, “Nah, don’t worry about rebelling against your Creator,” would that be a just and righteous God? Would a deity who fails to punish wrongdoing be worth following? Would His laws mean anything? Yet, we are unable to keep laws, so He steps in to pay that penalty. With His lifeblood. This storyline is utterly unique in the long human history of religions. And the resurrection Christians celebrate shows its truth in actual time and on this dirty earth.

Pagan myths of savior gods who rise from the dead have only a surface resemblance to the biblical resurrection. Such deities are more like impetuous and tyrannical people than the one and only Yahweh. The biblical God’s love fostered the unthinkable: set up a sacrificial system for a one-of-a-kind people—the Israelites—that served as a foretelling of His coup de grace: dying in man’s place as the spotless sacrificial Lamb. What a novel religious idea that only the true God could dream up! Theologian Thomas Oden says it this way: “It was God who was both offering reconciliation and receiving the reconciled.”{8}

God’s merging of perfect holiness, just retributive punishment and allowance of His Son’s execution was actually a beautiful thing. Francis of Assisi wrote that “love and faithfulness meet together [at the cross]; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.”{9}

But Why a Violent, Bloody Death?

I get that death was demanded of someone to pay for sin. So why a bloody suffering and execution? Why the constant shedding of blood?

Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ hit movie theaters in 2004 to mixed reviews. It earned its R-rating for gory bloodshed and, ironically, became a cultural scandal itself. Seems that the bloody realism was too much for both soft-core Christians and high-minded unbelievers. But this vividly poignant portrayal of Christ’s blood-stained Passion did raise a good question.

When it came to saving mankind, why the shedding of blood? Could God not have found another way? Church Father Athanasius believed that, if there were a better way to preserve human free will and still reconcile rebellious man to a holy God, He would have used it. Apparently, Christ’s suffering and death was the only solution.

The Apostle Paul summarized Christ’s entire earthly ministry this way: He “humbled Himself and became obedient unto death” (Philippians 2:8). At the cross, “human hate did all the damage it could do to the only Son of God.”{10} God used the realities available to Him, including the masterfully grim method of crucifixion, honed to a fine art by Roman pagans who viewed human life as dispensable.

Again, why is death demanded of God to atone for sin? The grounding for such a claim appears early in the Bible, after the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. In Genesis 9 Yahweh declares, “I will require a reckoning . . . for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image.”{11} Apparently, God has put the price of a man’s life as that of another’s life.

The highlight of Christ’s death was its substitutionary sense. The Apostle Peter wrote, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”{12} Justice, fairness, reality itself demanded a bloodguilt payment for sin. Christ paid it.

Substitutionary sacrifice was nothing new for the Jews who unwittingly had the Messiah crucified. From the beginning of God’s dealings with His people, agreements were blood covenants. What else could carry the weight of such momentous things? And, as the book of Hebrews teaches, Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.{13}

One theologian plainly said, “Through this sacrificial system, the people of Israel were being prepared for the incomparable act of sacrifice that was to come in Jesus Christ.”{14}

His suffering, death and resurrection conquered sin and neutered the fear of death. Only blood could clean sin; only God’s Son’s blood could do it perfectly and forever.

Here’s the scandal we spoke of: only a perfect sacrifice would do for washing mankind’s sins away and reconciling us back to God.

Beautiful Obsession: God Was Glad to Allow This Brutality for Us!

God said it was His pleasure to pay the death penalty with His own self, in the Person of His son. Christianity’s so-called blood-obsession is a beautiful picture of perfect divine love.

Theologian Thomas Oden summarized well our discussion of Christ’s blood atonement. He wrote, “Love was the divine motive; holiness the divine requirement. ‘God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8).”

Such claims trump the understandable disgust of doubters. But the red blood leads to clean white.

Chick-fil-A restaurant employees are trained to say, “My pleasure” when serving customers. Imagine God saying that to believers regarding the cross of Christ! Paul explains in his letter to the Colossian church that “it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness of deity to dwell in Him . . . having made peace through the blood of His cross . . . He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death . . .”{15}

God was glad to stand in as the essential scapegoat to restore us to right relations with Himself, to buy us back from slavery to sin, fear and death, and to abolish sin and its effects. This doesn’t sound like a bloodthirsty tyrannical deity demanding a whipping boy or abusing his own child, as some acidly accuse. “My pleasure” brings in new dimensions of lovingkindness and servant-heartedness.

But wait, there’s more! Scripture lists lots of wonderful effects created by the blood of Christ. These include forgiveness, propitiation or satisfaction of God’s righteous wrath, justification or being made right, reconciliation with God, cleansing, sanctification, freedom from sin, and the conquest of Satan.

Yes, you could say that Christianity is blood-obsessed. As accused, even its hymns often focus on the benefits bought at the highest of prices: the life of the God-Man Himself. One famous hymn goes:

For my pardon, this I see,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my cleansing this my plea,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This beautiful blood obsession finds its highest hope in Revelation. The following is a prophecy about persecuted believers:

“These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb . . . For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”{16}

Maybe the revelations here are as crazy as skeptics say. The foolishness of God. We believe they are the most glorious story ever told.

Notes

1. Promotion at Amazon.com for Obsessed with Blood: The Crazy Things Christians Believe, Book 1, by Ex-Preacher.
2. 1 Peter 3:18, NASB.
3. Romans 9:33, 1 Corinthians 1:23, 1 Peter 2:8.
4. John 3:16.
5. Oden, Thomas, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology (New York: Harper Collins, 1987), 405.
6. Meyer, Peter, “Why I Am Not a Christian”. Serendipity blog. Accessed 2-27-17, www.serendipity.li/eden/why_i_am_not_a_christian.htm.
7. 1 Corinthians 1:18.
8. Ibid., 414.
9. Ibid., 405.
10. Ibid., 389.
11. Genesis 9:4-6.
12. 1 Peter 3:18.
13. Hebrews 9:22-23, emphasis mine.
14. Oden, Classic Christianity, 413-414.
15. Colossians 1:19.
16. Revelation 7:14b-17, emphasis mine.

©2017 Probe Ministries




Even America’s Largest Denomination Is Bleeding Members: Is It Too Late?

Further erosion of membership within America’s largest denomination, Southern Baptist, shows a larger trend of churches losing [bleeding] members. Byron Barlowe believes the answer may not be more programs, even evangelism programs.

Many wonder about the state of the Christian Church in the U.S. How is it doing? Is it holding steady or shrinking? At Probe, we are constantly monitoring this vital question, doing raw-data-level cultural research.

We got another indication recently that the Evangelicals in America are on their way down like Catholics and Mainline Protestants have been for years. At this rate, the Church may drop into relative obscurity—or at least become a small subculture. Read on despite your denominational (or churchless) background because American culture is morphing under all our feet. The ripple effects are only beginning.

Just before this post was written, the Southern Baptist Convention was gathering to address topics like the ongoing decline in America’s largest Protestant denomination. Top of the agenda: despite adding around 500 new congregations, it is bleeding membership and baptisms which indicate a declaration of faith (Baptists call it “believer’s baptism” as opposed to other branches of Christianity which baptize infants). According to Christianity Today, the SBC just “reported its largest annual decline in more than 130 years—a loss of 236,467 members.”{1}

The negative numbers just keep coming. “The denomination is down to its ‘lowest baptisms since 1946; lowest membership since 1990; lowest worship attendance since 1996,’ according to historical analysis from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. ‘The true bad news is that when you put last year in the context of all previous years, it indicates the SBC is in the midst of a decline that shows no signs of either slowing down or turning around,’ said Chuck Kelly, the seminary’s president.”{2}

The Southern Baptists are not alone and not the first Christians to see such a disheartening trend. Churchgoers are voting with their feet in alarming numbers. Are they, in part, being pulled away by unbelievers who want nothing to do with church? Probe has researched deeply the “rise of the Nones,” referring to the fast-growing segment of the nation who do not affiliate with Christianity on surveys. They mark “None” when it comes to which faith they claim. These politically and ethically “moderate” or “liberal” folks are not atheistic or hostile to religion. They simply don’t think about it. And as someone quipped, the opposite of good is not evil, it’s indifference.

It seems that some of the former believers among the Nones are likely represented by the two of five Americans who believe that “when it comes to what happens in the country today, ‘people of faith’ (42%) and ‘religion’ (46%) are part of the problem.”{3} More likely, the general malaise regarding eternal destiny or religion of the non-affiliated Nones has infected tepid churchgoers in a silent, insidious way. The spirit of the age whispers, “Meh, go to church? Not relevant. No one believes that stuff anymore. At least I don’t have to go to church to believe it.”

Yet, efforts to make the faith culturally relevant have often fallen flat. Christian talk show host Janet Mefferd wonders what’s gone wrong with Southern Baptist churches in this regard. She wryly asks, Wasn’t the infusion of more cultural conversation, increased societal sensitivity led by Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Russell Moore supposed to plug the leak, staunch the flow of members out of Southern Baptist churches? Weren’t closed-door conversations with gay rights leaders designed to open the church doors to those who feel marginalized? Formal denominational statements on Earth care and animal rights were supposed to turn things around, says the conservative and Baptist-friendly Mefferd. “What happened? I don’t know. But more evangelism and less conversation would be in order.”

Mefferd echoes Southern Baptist strategists and leaders. “It’s clear that evangelism and discipleship are waning,” Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, an SBC affiliate which produces the [Annual Church Profile] report being discussed. “I don’t believe it is due to the lack of opportunities, though. Instead, there is a lack of engagement.”

Yes, evangelism and discipleship are central to the Great Commission and are undeniably tiptop biblical values, commands really. However, we no longer live in a milieu where agreed-upon notions of sin and evil exist-or even that such truth claims could possibly be valid for all. Simply launching new evangelism campaigns and standard discipling programs doesn’t seem to work anymore. Massive work on the worldview level, including apologetics to challenge underlying misinformation and beliefs, coupled with winsome and culturally engaged and convinced Christians are vital to even getting the gospel a hearing. My work on campus tells me that you must establish absolute truth before any claim to Christ’s offer is anything other than “he said, she said, just what grandma believed.”

So maybe the issue isn’t membership rolls and baptisms, though these are helpful measures. Forget church growth programs with the lowest-common-denominator appeal using culture-copycatted branding. Joyful and hopeful Christ-followers with studied answers to common objections will make an eternity of a difference. We see this happening now.

Pollster-turned-activist George Barna and his namesake Barna Group “collaborated on the 2014 book Churchless to further examine the nation’s unchurched community.” Co-author and Barna Group President David Kinnaman commented on the phenomenon that a growing number of Americans don’t attend church but used to do so. “This fact should motivate church leaders and attenders to examine how to make appropriate changes—not for the sake of enhancing attendance numbers but to address the lack of life transformation that would attract more people to remain an active part.”{4}

Pastors and laymen alike, perhaps the studies by The Barna Group and others are right: it’s time to dispense with programs that speak only to us, stop relying on “professional Christians,” and become the informed, sacrificial, calling-driven, supernaturally joyous ones the Lord Jesus saved us to be. Now that’s relevant! Build that and they may just come back.

Notes

1. Smietana, Bob, “As Church Plants Grow, Southern Baptists Disappear”, Christianity Today, accessed 6-13-2017, www.christianitytoday.com/news/2015/june/southern-baptist-decline-baptism-church-plant-sbc.html
2. Kate Shellnutt, “Hundreds of New Churches Not Enough to Satisfy Southern Baptists”, Christianity Today, accessed 6-13-2017, www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/june/southern-baptist-convention-churches-baptisms-sbc-acp.html
3. Stone, Roxanne, Editor-in-Chief, “Who’s (Still) in Church”, BarnaTrends 2017: What’s New and What’s Next at the Intersection of Faith and Culture, 150.
4. Stone, 148.




Gay Men to Lead Boy Scouts: Gates’ Failure to Render Genuine Leadership

This week the Boy Scouts of America have announced they will welcome transgendered youth into the program. This culture-following trend began when the BSA allowed gay scouts, then gay leaders. This shows a serious leadership gap, according to Eagle Scout, former Scout employee, and volunteer Byron Barlowe.

Boy Scouts will now be subject to gay adult leadership if BSA (Boy Scouts of America) president Robert Gates’ advice is taken. Gates, who once held our military’s top position as Secretary of Defense, declared the inevitability of ending the ban on openly gay Scout leaders while addressing the BSA national annual meeting in Atlanta Thursday, May 21, 2015.

Does anyone really doubt that Gates’ position will be made official, especially given recent advances for gay rights at the states’ level, with the Girl Scouts, in Ireland’s national referendum vote three days later and most likely via the United States Supreme Court this June? I wager it’ll be only a few months before it’s official BSA policy.

The question for Mr. Gates: How does bowing to the rapidly changing poll numbers on this issue constitute leadership? Don’t heroes often have to stand alone? Even if Gates holds convictions that would dictate openness in his personal dealings, his stated premise for lifting the long-time ban on gay Scout leaders that stands to affect tens of thousands of youth is flawed: that the proverbial train has left the station and the organization needs to cover its rear guard, to go with the inevitable flow of gay rights, to kowtow to pressure from within and without. Pure pragmatism on parade. And entirely inappropriate and unrespectable.

Brave New World vs. “A Scout is Brave”

Part of the Scout Law every Boy Scout for 105 years has memorized and recited reads, “A Scout is trustworthy . . . brave . . . reverent. . . .” But the BSA has done a 180-degree flip on the topic of homosexuality, having won a Supreme Court case against a gay membership push as recently as 2000. The Opinion of the Court in Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, written by Chief Justice Rehnquist, reads, “The Boy Scouts asserts that it ‘teach[es] that homosexual conduct is not morally straight'” in its defense of denying avowed homosexual and gay activist James Dale leadership privileges with a Scout troop.

Oh, what a difference fifteen years makes when one bases decisions on the swiveling wind vane of a degrading culture.

To his credit, Dr. Gates called for individual chartering organizations—representing 70 percent of Boy Scout Troops and Cub Packs—to decide for themselves how to implement such a policy. Yet, in the same speech, Gates cites the refusal of a New York Council to abide by current BSA policy in hiring gay leaders as a realistic reason to change the national policy. Which is it? Gay men get the right to lead, or troops and packs get to say no? We see where that is going in the courts and in culture with Christian photographers, bakers and T-shirt makers: inescapable pressure to succumb.

Live Up to High Standards of Scouting

I’m holding President Gates to a high standard here. Sure, he’s been pressured by his own big business (read: big donor) board members like Randall Stephenson of AT&T and James Turley of Ernst & Young to eradicate the BSA’s longstanding policies against gay participation at every level. Though it may not compare to high stakes, national level non-profit boardroom politics, I lost my job as a BSA District Executive by holding to the principles of Scouting (and my biblical faith). When asked to misrepresent the number of Cub Scout Packs in local schools at a BSA Council in North Carolina, I refused. Threats didn’t move me despite my 23-year-old, first-job fears. Call me naïve. Then explain that to a boy. It would be refreshing to see Mr. Gates stand up to power himself.

Even if I agreed with gay rights claims concerning the private youth training organization, I’d object to the hypocrisy of its leader.
Gates’ recent declaration, as with the BSA’s 2013 decision to enroll openly gay Scouts, is modeling another dereliction of duty. Yet “duty to God,” others and self has always formed the three-legged stool of values on which Scouting stood. God is not confused on this issue, nor was the Scouting program for a full century.

If This Goes, Scouting Will Forever Be Altered

I write “values on which Scouting stood” in past tense advisedly. As I was quoted via the Los Angeles Times syndicate while demonstrating against the policy change to allow openly gay Scouts in 2013, this is the end of Scouting as we have known it. Another prediction: A sharp decrease in numbers following that decision will be surpassed if the BSA allows admittedly gay leaders. As an Eagle Scout, father of an Eagle Scout, former volunteer Scouting leader and BSA local executive, I can no longer support in any way the Boy Scouts of America. I’ll support other youth programs.

This conviction grieves me, but borrowing from the Christian reformer Martin Luther, here I stand and I can do no other. No, this episode does not rise to the level of religious reformation; however, the gravity of such social slides will change the cultural landscape for as long as our Republic stands. The gay advocacy heavyweight Human Rights Campaign is right when it celebrates Gates’ announcement as a huge victory in its drive for full acceptance of homosexuals across the culture, given that the BSA is “one of America’s most storied institutions.”

As SecDef, Gates ended the ambiguous “Don’t ask, don’t tell” doctrine, a decision that opened doors for openly gay service men and women to serve freely despite fears of sexual chaos. Our former CIA Director and, again, Secretary of Defense Gates now holds the top leadership post among a younger group of Americans. On this issue he has led neither members of the armed forces nor impressionable and sexually vulnerable adolescent Scouts.

Once again, Gates’ ethics reek of pure pragmatism: “We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained,” he said to the assembled Scouting leaders.

Never mind high ideals. The wind has blown, the ship has sailed and we must get on board or be left behind (or at least sued heavily). Oh, such bravery.

Posted May 2015 | Updated Jan 2017
© 2015 Probe Ministries




The Tug of War of Reason and Faith in C.S. Lewis’s Favorite Novel

Byron Barlowe examines the timeless battle between reason and faith in C.S. Lewis’s novel—his favorite—Till We Have Faces. Are they mutually exclusive or can they balance one another? How do we reconcile them? “To rationally look at love and logic and to gaze along, to creatively depict and model its living out, may soon be all that is left to us to reach a new generation.”


“You think the gods have sent you there? All lies of priests and poets, child . . . The god within you is the god you should obey: reason, calmness, self-discipline.”

– The Fox, Greek tutor in Till We Have Faces[1]

“Heaven forbid we should work [the garden of our human nature] in the spirit of . . . Stoics . . . We know very well that what we are hacking and pruning is big with a splendour and vitality which our rational will could never of itself have supplied. To liberate that splendour, to let it become fully what it is trying to be, to have tall trees instead of scrubby tangles, and sweet apples instead of crabs, is part of our purpose.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves[2]

A strong relationship between C.S. Lewis’s conceptions of Contemplation and Enjoyment persists throughout his novel Till We Have Faces. It seems most fruitful for today’s apologist to examine two primary characters’ relationship to the concepts in this way: the Greek slave-tutor known as the Fox, represents cold, hard, factual rationality which grudgingly gives a nod to the divine, but only in a limited, controlling way. He represents Stoicism more than any other school of thought. Meanwhile, the barbarian-pagan Priest of the god Ungit represents a less worldly wise, more mysterious and superstitious faith, rooted in earthy experience (fertility rites, blood sacrifice, etc.). Either worldview can limit human nature, truth and meaning. The Greek-infused contemplative life-view (nowadays seen most strongly in Modernism and its irreligious pupils), largely eschews the heartfelt experience of the latter, while the latter’s religiosity often dismisses the thoughtful, discerning caution of the former. This artificially strict dichotomy and lack of balance shows forth at every turn in the Church today, creating a blindly loyal fideism with few answers for contemplative questions; or we see, in an overcorrection, a clinical, spiritless, formulaic religion of pure reason. The former, an unreflective modus operandi, chills—and according to testimonies of many apostates and atheists, creates—skeptics, who much like the Fox, seizing on pure reason, ceaselessly explain away the immaterial and numinous. In doing so they, like the Fox’s star student Orual, act as plaintiffs against God or the gods. One apologist recently found that nearly all the young men he surveyed who serve as leaders of college atheist/agnostic groups in the U.S. were raised in church and attended Christian youth groups. Given the ubiquity of broken families, where little love borne of God-given freedom exists—much like the main character Orual’s situation—and know-nothing, superstitious Christians, it is no wonder that a mass exodus of youth from the Church continues. One antidote to the current state of imbalance of Contemplation (reasoned examination toward applied wisdom) and Enjoyed faith (in Lewis’s sense, experientially realized) may be to use and model the dual approach of Lewis’s The Four Loves alongside Till We Have Faces. To rationally look at love and logic and to gaze along, to creatively depict and model its living out, may soon be all that is left to us to reach a new generation.

In the mythic Till We Have Faces, which we will discuss here, the dual (and often dueling) dynamics of reason (often couched in secularized religion) versus mystical religion (often superstitious) interplay in various characters. It may help to explore these chief characters Lewis creates to embody the story of clashing worlds and worldviews, as well as the Fox’s prize student, Orual. Meanwhile, we will briefly attempt to apply the lessons Lewis teaches apologists into the modern milieu.

First, Lewis revealed the predominant worldview, the Fox’s philosophy, early in the novel as he tutored Orual. His Platonic views were summarized thus, “‘No man can be an exile if he remembers that all the world is one city,’ and ‘Everything is as good or bad as our opinion makes it.’”[3] As a well-taught classical Greek, he sets out to import real learning into the barbarian kingdom to which he is enslaved. Orual admired her “grandfather’s” constant quest for knowledge and carried on his tendency to question, Socratically, all that went on. Yet, since her dear Fox, always the philosopher, seemed “ashamed of loving poetry (‘All folly, my child’), she overachieves in philosophy to “get a poem out of him.”[4] Foretelling the dismissiveness and globalizing of the numinous by today’s naturalistic thinkers, the Fox scoffs at surpranatural / supernatural explanations with a curt, “these things come about by natural causes.”[5] In an ancient instance of positive-mental-attitude-laced freethinking, he lectures, “we must learn, child, not to fear anything that nature brings.”[6] When Orual’s sister Psyche goes about ostensibly healing the townspeople, and Orual asks about the validity of the claims, Fox the Naturalist characteristically keeps the options limited but somewhat open. “It might be in accordance with nature that some hands can heal. Who knows?”[7] Herein lies a bit of epistemic humility, somewhat disingenuous it seems, something this writer detects quite a lot among materialist-naturalists.

The Fox’s framework of Platonic forms emerges in his assessment of Psyche’s ethereal beauty, “delight[ing] to say, she was ‘according to nature’; what every woman, or even every thing, ought to have been and meant to be, but had missed by some trip of chance.”[8] While talk of gods peppered his language (“Ah, Zeus” and “by the gods”—more than curses?), fate seems to drive the universe’s cause and effect. He considers suicide and opines about returning to the elements in death, fatefully acquiescing, to which Orual beseeches, “But, Grandfather, do you really in your heart believe nothing of what is said about the gods and Those Below? But you do . . . you are trembling.” His Gnostic-tinged response: the body fails me. I am a fool, being trapped in it so long.[9] From what little the writer knows of Greek theology, its progeny thrives in and out of the Church today as an admixture of practical atheism, pantheism and pragmatism. Lewis sneaks in the side door of the skeptical fortress by characterizing so strongly the Fox, whose loving humanity belies his deadening philosophy. If Lewis’s retelling of ancient myth can be refashioned again, or better, simply read, truth and meaning may get through.

On the second worldview, Lewis sets forth the theme of a grounding darkness, holy and otherworldly, chiefly through the pagan Priest of the local goddess Ungit. The Priest served as prophet, harbinger of judgment. He repeats the warning of Ungit’s all-hearing ears and vengefulness to the irreligious king on two occasions[10] He carries out shadowy, ancient rituals without explanation and in dark places, sticky with blood offerings. Even outside the dank and sacred temple, “every hour the Priest of Ungit walked around [the sacred fire],” narrates Orual, “and threw in the proper things.”[11] Throughout, Lewis equates the holy with the mysterious, the hidden and darkened. Divine silence, corresponding to the biblical God’s hiddenness and holiness, presents as a major theme of Till We Have Faces. The Priest offers few and brief explanations.[12] The god judging Orual in the afterlife allows her lifelong complaints to speak for themselves. Her resultant epiphany balances the equation between reason and religion, witty words and wordless (if corrupted) wisdom, and reconciles the silence: “I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word [of inner secret] can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble we think we mean?”[13] These characters serve as foils for one another, a creative way to tie Modern rationalism to man’s inexorable and entirely unnatural acknowledgment of both the spiritual, or numinous and the moral law.

Sixteen years previous, Lewis had published The Problem of Pain, wherein he explores this undeniable yet insanely irrational or rather supernaturally revealed sense of numinous awe and moral law inherent in every man and culture. As if foreshadowing the clash of worldviews in discussion, Lewis writes, “Man . . . can close his spiritual eyes against the Numinous, if he is prepared to part company with half the great poets and prophets of his race, with his own childhood, with the richness and depth of uninhibited experience [the Fox, to a high degree, or] . . . He can refuse to identify the Numinous with the righteous, and remain a barbarian, worshipping sexuality, or the dead, or the lifeforce, or the future [the old Priest].”[14] The concepts of Contemplation and Enjoyment intertwine through a scholar and a man of the altar, through the gods and humans alike. In life and in myth, “men, and gods, flow in and out and mingle.”[15]

The Fox’s and Priest’s views of one another and each other’s worldview clashed like contemporary apologetic debates. The Fox saw the Priest’s work as “mischief”[16] and nonsense. “A child of six would talk more sense” was the Fox’s response to the apparent contradictions of the Priestly doctrines regarding the Great Offering.[17] Contrarily, the Priest reflexively dismisses the Fox’s Greek wisdom. According to Orual, “like all sacred matters, [a sacred, acted ritual] is and it is not (so that it was easy for the Fox to show its manifold contradictions).”[18] Yet, “even Stoicism finds itself willy-nilly bowing the knee to God.”[19] The Fox at times let down his learned persona, evidencing the axiom that man is inherently religious. Yes, he gave a regular nod to the gods, and at the birth of Orual’s sister Psyche he says wistfully, almost wishfully, “Now by all the gods . . . I could almost believe that there really is divine blood in your family.” Though his comment regards the family bloodline, one picks up here and elsewhere a religious man, who then quickly covers the sentiment with appeals to reason, even rationalization. Such characterization seems both autobiographical on Lewis’s part and testimony to his many dealings with materialist, humanist, secularist, liberal Christian, and unbelieving scholars and laymen.

The Priest’s mythical, experiential religious conviction versus the Fox’s worldly wisdom weaves itself through a climactic showdown. A death sentence falls on Psyche as the Accursed, to be offered to the goddess Ungit. (Here is the clash of wills between man and the divine in a crisis of state and religion so often seen in history.[20]) “Ungit will be avenged. It’s not a bull or ram [sacrifice] that will quiet her now,” pronounces the Priest.[21] He mentions “the Brute,” who legend says will take away the human sacrifice. In classic rational fashion, the King challenges, “Who has ever seen this Brute . . . What is it like, eh?” In this moment, the Fox presents himself as the King’s counsellor, living out his reasonable raison d’etre. Prosecution-style, he determines that the Brute only exists as an image, a shadow, six-year-old nonsense. The Priest dismisses this as “the wisdom of the Greeks,” and seeks the peoples’ fear as a fallback position. (Interestingly, many who either believe in or dismiss the supernatural and mystical seek strength in numbers, popular opinion to make their case, which is no argument at all.) The high stakes exchange illustrates the gravity and consequences of the age-old clash. If religion is to be followed, it must be regulated by reason; if reason is to properly play its part, it must bow to realities beyond its grasp.

The Priest and Fox provide an extremely stark contrast of views during this conflict. The Fox presents a compare-and-contrast list of the Priest’s teachings, revealing what he believes defies the Law of Non-Contradiction.[22] The Priest first responds to the abstractions by appeal to concrete realities. Greek wisdom “brings no rain and grows no corn.” He portrays such constricting logic as unable to offer “understanding of holy things . . . demand[ing] to see such things clearly, as if the gods were no more than letters written in a book . . .nothing,” he continues, “that is said clearly [about the gods] can be said truly about them . . . Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.”[23] The apologist cannot help but think of the frustration of trying to communicate the mysterious paradoxes of spiritual truth and meaning to skeptics who demand only linear logic from a naturalist point of view. (The Fox continually appeals to “the Nature of things” and says “according to Nature.”) One must also guard against becoming Fox-like, limiting inquiry and explanation merely to that accessible to the physical senses and human reason. Either philosopher or accommodating priest / poet can make that mistake; via their opposite approaches, whether overly from man’s reason or God’s assumed reasons, deny the paradoxes of reality.

Ironically, Orual’s conversion to real belief in the numinous—halting and years-long—begins during this fight. Though she’d “have hanged the Priest and made the Fox a king” if she could, she realized the power lay in the Priest’s position.[24] Her convincing comes in a climactic moment, when pressed at literal knifepoint to stop prophesying the unwelcome judgment, the Priest shows unearthly peace, calm, and indeed a willingness to die. “While I have breath,” he intoned, “I am Ungit’s voice.” Resolute and full of faith at death’s door, his was evidence beyond reason, much as the testimony of Christ’s Apostles in their martyrdoms. This was not lost on Orual, who narrates, “The Fox had taught me to think—at any rate to speak of—the Priest as of a mere schemer and a politic man” who pretended and said whatever would provide him power or gain, in Ungit’s name.[25] The Fox’s prize student now saw through personal experience—the kind he taught her to guard against—that the Priest was sincere unto death. “He was sure of Ungit.”[26] He may have been mistaken or misled, but he did not pretend. One of the modern apologist’s greatest arguments is a convinced life and a faith, well-tested, sometimes right in front of the skeptic. The ultimate witness: a life and death scenario.

After a lifetime, in the afterlife, the Fox repents of his constraints and biases of the supernatural and religious. In this, Lewis communicates a truth applicable today. “I taught [Orual], as men teach a parrot, to say ‘Lies of poets,’ and ‘Ungit’s a false image.’ . . . I never told her why the old Priest got something from the dark House [of Ungit] that I never got from my trim sentences . . . I made her think a prattle of maxims would do, all thin and clear as water.”[27] How like so many testimonies of those who, in our day, come to Christ after years of dismissing and rationally ruling out the reality of the transcendent. Words are cheap and book knowledge only gets one so far, the Fox admits. What a mirror of teachers who lead people of faith away from that which requires revelation using smart-sounding verbiage. Hence, for those enamored with the Richard Dawkinses of our time, a reading of this novel may be the foxiest way of all to reach them.

Orual is a product of her own Need-Love[28], which is serviced alternately by her Fox-taught Greek rationalism and belief in humanoid gods, whom she thinks she can control. As a young woman being flirted with by a prince on the lam, she characteristically staunches true emotions. “I had a fool’s wish to lengthen” the encounter, she says. “But I came to my senses.” On her odyssey to save her sister from a supposedly evil god, Orual blocks every sentiment with controlling motherly logic, eschewing all glimpses of and desires for the divine. She chooses to outwit the gods. She ends up the pawn in the hands of the gods, however gracious, that she fancied to be her equals.

The Orual-Queen-Psyche’s-twin character spends a lifetime employing Greek wisdom learned under the Fox to seek out life’s mysteries of human and divine relations, up to the bittersweet end, constantly denouncing the gods for the woes she experiences. Face to face with divinity, her bitter hiding reveals her glorious humanity. Now, true-faced, she is free. Up until then the helpless, yet defiantly and impressively skillful independence she exhibits as a mothering sister, and later as regent, so well illustrate fallen human defiance of the true God of the Bible, seen most vividly in well-educated apostates and atheists today. Those unbelievers, consumed by angry confusion regarding suffering and life’s seeming futilities, should find both empathy and resolution in this novel.[29] While doing excellently (in human terms) for a lifetime, as Orual did, one can still deny the existence of the divine while cursing the god’s or God’s supposed effects on mere mortals. Orual’s torturous private thought life increasingly revealed her sin nature, which she turned back into ravings against the fate of the gods. Control was her only weapon, until the deaths of all who propped up her life and kingdom, and until visions of her corrupted affections forced humility upon her. Such desperate machinations to live a meaningful life in the face of deadening routine punctuated by tragedy, in turn, raises the biggest questions of life: Why are we here? Are we mere mortals or eternal beings with a destiny? If the latter, what or who determines our fate—is there really meaningful choice or only divine whim or something else? Lewis creates multi-layered characters who live out the quest for ultimate answers.

In another resolution of sorts, the myth comes full circle through the Fox and priesthood back to Greece. Arnom, the new Priest of Ungit, adds a notation on Orual’s book (at our novel’s end) entreating anyone travelling to Greece to take it there,[30] which may ironically imply that the barbarians had something to teach the world’s greatest philosophers. Likelier, Arnom, who put himself under the tutelage of the Fox, meant to dedicate the Queen’s life saga to a greater civilization. Is this a symbolic merging and maturing of the two schools of thought and faith? A reference to Arnom as “priest of Aphrodite,” likely indicates his fuller “Greekification.” Whether this change was for ill, good or neutral is hard to say. Perhaps the former priest of the crude barbarian goddess Ungit was effectively sending a message, as if to preach: “To those in Greece, supreme land of learning and reason, place of the gods of the philosophers, we commend you this account of a Being beyond description who revealed our Queen’s aching fallenness, journey into redemption, and glorified revelation as a goddess in her own right.” This writer’s weak grasp of Greek mythology and theology notwithstanding, it seems clear Lewis offers much resolution of reason and religion, of the contemplative and the Enjoyed, however incomplete it must naturally be.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, (San Diego and New York: A Harvest Book / Harcourt, 1956), 302-303.

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, (San Diego and New York: A Harvest Book / Harcourt, 1960), 117.

[3] Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 7.

[4] Ibid., 8.

[5] Ibid., 10.

[6] Ibid., 14.

[7] Ibid., 31

[8] Ibid., 22.

[9] Ibid., 17-18.

[10] Ibid., 15,54.

[11] Ibid., 14.

[12] Ibid., 15-16, etc.

[13] Ibid., 293-294.

[14] Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperCollins, 1940), 14-15.

[15] Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 301.

[16] Ibid., 33.

[17] Ibid., 49.

[18] Ibid., 268.

[19] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 13.

[20] From the little the writer knows of Plato’s Republic, there seem to be echoes of it here in the Fox’s views. Worth exploring.

[21] Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 46.

[22] Ibid., 49-50.

[23] Ibid., 50.

[24] Ibid., 51.

[25] Ibid., 54.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid., 295.

[28] Lewis, The Four Loves, chapter 2 (“Affection”).

[29] The writer plans to use the novel and its contemplative companion, The Four Loves, to reach out to a struggling apostate with mother issues on both sides of her adoption.

[30] Lewis, Till We Have Faces, 308-309.




Crimping Consciences: Texas City Railroads Pro-Gay Ordinance

Byron Barlowe blogs about the his city’s Anti-Discrimination ordinance intended to give full recognition to the LGBT community at the expense of those who disagree.

New Anti-Discrimination Policy Approved

According to the Dallas Morning News Plano Blog, “In a split vote Monday, the Plano City Council passed the controversial Equal Rights Policy [ERP] over the objections of many residents in the standing-room-only crowd.

The amendment to the city’s 1989 anti-discrimination policy extends protections from housing, employment and public accommodation discrimination to include sexual orientation, gender identity and other categories” like veterans. While no one objected to the inclusion of veterans, an overwhelming number of surprised and very lately aware (as in, the day of) citizens voiced strong opposition. These objections, while noted, seemed to make little to no difference to the city council and certainly to Mayor Harry LaRosiliere, who was so eager to vote for the statute that he went out of order during proceedings.

As a Plano resident who publicly urged the council to vote “No” on the measure, I offer some reflections on the issue—both local and larger—from a biblically informed worldview.

Good Intentions: Trying to Legislate Values Directly

Rather than seeking to legislate merely out of a set of values–an unavoidable reality–the Plano City Council clearly tried to impose a set of values directly onto the public by adopting this more expansive anti-discrimination ordinance. Such legislative overreach has become part and parcel of an increasingly politically correct polity known as the United States of America. Plano is now more PC. While this kind of ordinance is not only inadvisable because it cannot hope to work well, it also steps beyond the scope of a proper role of government.

IT CANNOT WORK BECAUSE . . .
We often hear the phrase “You can’t legislate morality.” Well, yes and no. While the very nature of human law at its root is a delineation of and codification of right vis a vis wrong—that is, strictures or incentives administered by the state as a morally informed code of conduct—it is also true that government cannot successfully impose morality, per se, onto the consciences of their citizens.

Yet, that is precisely what such ordinances as Plano’s ERP seeks to do. Plano’s “out” regarding the problem of conscientious objection? City Attorney Paige Mims assures us that if anyone outside of the many exempted statuses has a moral or religious objection, they can go through a waiver process. This is, on its face, an undue imposition on businesspeople who don’t fall under exempted categories like education, non-profit or religious. Recent legal precedent (see Hobby Lobby case) makes clear that religious businesses do not somehow lay down their rights of conscience when they go into business.

ROLE OF GOVERNMENT. . .
When government entities try to arbitrate motives, for example hate crimes laws that purport to regulate actions based on the attitudinal intent of the actor, it steps into a sphere where it does not, indeed it cannot, belong. In other words, it takes on a godlike sovereignty to righteously discern between this and that intention. Can’t be done. Not righteously. Not fairly.

People—including city legal departments and judges—are fallible humans who lack the innate ability to administer justice based primarily or solely on someone’s internal motivation. “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5). Drawing out the “purposes” of a man’s or woman’s heart is certainly not a governmental role. But this is what it takes to know motives, a role only God claims full access to, and a role traditionally reserved for clergy, other spiritual advisers and psychologists.

Here is a pithy bunch of biblical worldview teaching on the role of government.

Biblically, the proper role of government is founded in limits primarily written in Romans 13. As I understand it, a biblical worldview on government’s role is limited to: fighting wars, passing and enforcing laws concerning public human interactions and that’s about it. Anything else falls under the jurisdiction of religious and social institutions. Government: stay out!

I’m not arguing for such a state of affairs as an absolute in the real world, but as a plumb line to measure when government has stepped over its proper boundaries. In the case of Plano’s ERP government has overstepped.

Progressivism on Parade

The subtext of public deliberations on Plano’s ERP was plainly a progressive agenda. Why else would a city seek to get “ahead of the curve” on a social issue such as gender bias or sexual identity discrimination or whatever the euphemism is today? (Refer above to the value of limited role of government, which was expressed repeatedly to the council by citizens of Plano.) The council, challenged that there are no known cases of such discrimination, seemed to shrug dismissively and invoke the need to “get ahead of” the issue.

“The issue of equality is a basic human rights issue and the choice for some to focus on a person’s sexuality is conflating the issue,” said the Mayor. Conflating what with what? Either the mayor misunderstands the term “conflating” (making things the same) or he’s basically accusing objectors of the very thing that has been foisted upon them–namely, making one’s sexual choices (not their true sexuality) the determiner of human rights. This is like watching someone start a fight over a piece of land and then accusing the one attacked of starting that same fight over that very piece of land!

Questioning the need for the statute was otherwise met with a not-so-veiled sense of accusation, an implication of inherent bias on the part of the objectors, despite an overall congenial atmosphere. So, if I question the veracity of the claim to need such a policy or ask for reasonable cause, I am automatically anti-gay? That’s patently false and unfair. Yet that was the sense of things in a politically correct undercurrent that is the zeitgeist of our day.

Worldview War

This is the serious game begun back in the 1970s by Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen who spelled out the propaganda project of the gay lobby in a book titled After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear & Hatred of Gays in the 90s. Now that their jamming (name-calling, guilt by association and other tactics) have worked so well, only an implicit inference need be made at such meetings as Monday night’s. It has a chilling—no—a virtual shutdown effect.

Yet, many citizens displayed aplomb when speaking on the Constitution and related matters. Businesspeople appealed to the unfairness of having to seek redress through a voucher system. One person well said in response: “The Constitution is my waiver.” First Amendment (or any other) rights do not require special permission. It’s government’s role merely to ensure them, which Plano may think it’s doing by elevating ever more special interests to protected status. That is an upside-down approach that’s illegitimate no matter how much case law exists or how many other cities and companies enact similar policies.

The “We’re Just Following” Fallacy

An admittedly very arguable point I’d like to add: Mayor LaRosiliere and City Attorney Mims claimed that other major cities in Texas have such statutes on the books. Hence we are not, as implicated, “out front” taking legal risks, but rather are following others’ lead. This seems disingenuous.

Are we “out in front” of the issue or are we, as strongly emphasized by the Mayor, simply one in a fairly long line of municipalities trying to codify fair treatment to people of all lifestyles and segments? One could make the case that Plano is in the vanguard overall but not first in implementation. However, that is unsatisfactory to many. You can’t ultimately have it both ways: either you’re progressive on social issues (which does not truly reflect Plano well) or you’re just falling in line with current legal trends.

The “Gay Gene” at the Bottom of the Debate

One thing is sure: increased expansion of rights and privileges to previously unaddressed parties is the trend in our culture—and lots of it has to do with sexuality in a newly politicized way. But we thought government was supposed to get out of our bedrooms?

Any claim to that distinction has been lost with the adoption of the near-universal belief in what amounts to a “gay gene”—that a person inherently possesses a sexual identity that may indeed be homosexual or of other varieties. This, over and against a mere proclivity or attraction to the same sex, which leaves room for choice, which is an ethical issue. Remove choice regarding homosexuality, you remove any basis of objection. Remove objection, you can run roughshod over any cultural restraints on the free and damaging expression of sexuality outside the bounds of its Inventor, God. Remove those restrictions, celebrate the lifestyle, then codify and impugn those who disagree, and the After the Ball agenda is a complete success.

Monday night’s meeting was an incremental victory toward this end, whether or not players on the city council or either side of the issue realized it. Regarding objectors’ motives, it’s one thing to care for individuals whose sexual identity is in question or those who act out a gay lifestyle and it’s another kind of thing entirely to exercise one’s rights to oppose codification of these choices and lifestyles. I and many of my friends there that night were doing one while we practice the other in private situations, too.

There is no cognitive dissonance or hypocrisy here—one can do both public square advocacy of conservative values and also outreach to individuals who struggle in a certain area of sin—namely other-than-heterosexual-wed sex. True Christlike love does not affirm that which the Bible condemns, but shows grace nonetheless.

There is a Precedent for Unintended Consequences and Abuse

Plano’s ERP sets up the same oppression of religious objectors that has been seen already across the U.S. with cake bakers, wedding venue owners and others who–for reasons of conscience–refuse to do business with certain parties in select situations like gays getting married. Yes, exemptions were written into Plano’s ordinance, but does anyone seriously believe these will stand up under judicial scrutiny in this day and age? The erosion of rights continues–and saying so, again, is not to be confused with intolerance.

This brand of identity politics is rooted in the cultural adoption of the doctrine of a gay gene (“God or nature made me this way!”), which is at a worldview level, where most objectors to the statute were coming from. We object to the underlying presupposition that homosexuality is not utterly tied up with choice, which is so fundamental to opposition to the gay rights issue. (I almost come off as a throwback rube for even bringing it up in today’s enlightened culture—which furthers my point!)

The Condescension that Falsely Pits Feelings vs. Facts

Monday night’s proceedings—at least from the point of view of the city council—were saturated with what has been called the Sacred / Secular Split. On this view, there are basically two levels of discourse: an area of public life informed largely by science but also by enlightened social values (invariably liberal / progressive / non-traditional ones) balanced unevenly by a lesser valued, private world of emotional / psychological / religious sentiments.

The former—where real knowledge resides—should supposedly be the domain of public policy. The latter—again, a private set of often closely held feelings and values that should have no sway in the public arena yet the existence of which are somewhat guarded by government and other institutions—are to be tolerated as inevitable but will hopefully catch up with social contracts like those being forged by the gay lobby and societal institutions across the waterfront. The notion is: “You have a right to your private opinion. Just don’t bring it into the public square.”

This attitude, this taken-for-granted starting place was most evident in closing remarks made by several city council members—all of whom happened to vote for the policy. One council member waxed eloquent on his world travels, noting that the most advanced societies he’d run across made it a point never to discriminate. (I don’t know where he’s been, but perhaps his hotel’s staff might beg to differ—just guessing.)

More poignantly, he and another council member who said that her Christian faith informed her “yes” vote, was only one more who joined a chorus of comments like:

“There were lots of strong feelings on the topic of discussion tonight” and

“This is a very emotional issue for many. . . .”

The plain inference was that objections were raised out of the private, sacred area of life, laden with “emotion” and “feelings” while effective debate occurred on the level of law, fact and agreed-upon societal norms (at least the evolving kind that our “City of Excellence” wants to be known for).

Pronouncements by a clergy woman (Disciples of Christ) who serves as an officer of a Plano Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender association, the mayor and at least one more gay advocate that the passage of the ERP was just “the right thing to do” obviously paints the vast majority of citizens as those who want to do the wrong thing. According to Mayor LaRosiliere, “Providing equal rights to everyone is the right thing to do.” Rights to what? Rights in displacement of whose rights? The task in a pluralistic society is to find that fairest middle ground—and that failed Monday night.

Apparently bigotry, at least ignorance, was the only thing standing in the way of Plano’s ERP. Thank you for the condescension. Which leads to my final point: the race card was deftly played by none other than Mayor LaRosiliere where it has no place. And the Mayor did precisely what he accused others of of doing, that is . . .

. . .Conflating Race & Sexual Lifestyle

Plano’s Mayor ended deliberations (or nearly did) with a speech on the equivalency of historical human rights movements to the current push for special privileges for sexual identities and lifestyles. His well-written story arc was centered on the question, “Why are we doing this now?” In a series of juxtaposed historical references, he posed the question he deemed was being needlessly asked about Plano’s Equal Rights Protection ordinance: Why pass this now if there is no case on record of any discrimination? In the case of the infamous Dredd-Scott Supreme Court decision that ruled blacks were 3/5 of a person one might ask, he said, “Why are we doing this now?”

“If we spoke in 1919,” LaRosiliere continued, “to allow women to vote, the question would be, ‘Why are you oppressing me and making me subject to this now.’” He went on to paint discrimination against the Irish in early 19th Century New York and segregation in the South in the 20th Century as morally equivalent instances comparable to the current situation—ostensibly oppression of gay, lesbian and transgender citizens.

Very cleverly devised rhetorical device, that. But it presupposes a moral equivalency that a black man sitting beside me rejected outright. This gentlemen from Nigeria was so confused by the proceedings and the Mayor’s speech capping them off that he was convinced the entire issue at hand was racism! When I asked him this question, he unequivocally answered “No!”: “Do you think that homosexual identity is the same kind of thing as you being black or being from Nigeria?”

“No!”

And rightly, my new African friend—who is a Christian—was bothered by the conflation of the two and the use of such rhetoric to elevate a class of people based on their sinful behavior and identity to it as the basis to extend so-called human rights. We all have the right to fair treatment as humans made in God’s image. We do not have a right to socially engineer law to force the compromise of conscience that is being carried out by Plano’s new ordinance.

As I pleaded with the council not to allow, we will surely read about this case going to court, being found unconstitutional and otherwise unlawful and costing this taxpayer and all others unnecessarily.

Ideas, worldviews, do indeed have consequences.




“How Do I Get Over False Guilt About Watching Profanity on TV?”

I had/have a conviction to not listen to TV profanity. So I bought a TV Guardian (a device which blocks out all of TV profanity). I was so happy, problem solved. However, I still sense a somewhat deep sense of guilt. I believe I am struggling with false guilt, because I am feeling guilty for doing something (using a TV Guardian) which I know to be godly and just. Is this a fair assessment? If so, how do I cure false guilt?

I applaud your desire not to expose yourself to profane language. That’s commendable. Further, you took steps to ensure. That desire is for holiness and let me affirm that.

The fact that you feel guilty about it is difficult for me to assess without knowing precisely what it is you feel guilty about, or why. Answering these questions will help you determine whether your guilt is in fact false guilt, as you put it, or just good old fashioned conviction from the Holy Spirit.

Probe’s president Kerby Anderson wrote an article on False Guilt which explores these very issues and can help you answer just such questions. Check it out. I pray it will bless you. I hope this is helpful 🙂

Praying for you,

Paul Rutherford

Thank you. Somebody else pointed out to me that maybe the problem is that I am remembering a little of the profanity. You see, I used to watch some of the same shows with no filter. God convicted me so I bought a TV Guardian. However, since I had already watched the shows without the Guardian I can still remember some of the curse words. What should I do?

Hi ______,

Allow me to “jump in” here and try to help you a bit. I think Paul did a good job of counseling you.

After reading your follow up to his response, I sense an uneasy pattern may be at work in you: a need to perform holiness for God and not mess up. This could be the root of the problem you are having—not understanding very fully the grace God offers.

Rather than focus on the curse words that you recall (or that fact that you recall them, which is no surprise, since God’s forgiveness does not mean He gives us a lobotomy), it would be more fruitful to concentrate on the enabling of God’s Holy Spirit for any believer to experience and live out holiness in our lives. It’s a subtle shift to talk about, but profoundly different in effect.

How might this look in your situation? Try applying some biblical principles to your thinking:

• Make your mind up to fill it (your mind) with Scripture—the holy words of life. Read Scripture daily like your life depends on it (your spiritual life and health DO depend on it), but it’s not to get favor with God. That’s already yours if you put your faith in Him—Jesus took care of our relationship with His Father.

• John 15:3-5 says, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” So, if you have believed in Jesus to forgive your sin and keep you from everlasting punishment that we all deserve, you are clean. He said so. Act like you believe it and move on.

• Abide in Christ (live, breathe, think about, aim your life at and depend on Him for everything). This doesn’t mean you lay down and expect Him to do your living out of faith for you, but it means you have no confidence in yourself to either care about sin or defeat it. It’s He who works in you to make you holy. (Notice those two verses linked to above are back-to-back in the same thought. You cooperate with God’s work in your life by letting Him work and doing your part.) Your job is to let him, to yield, to put to death (stop feeding) the flesh. Getting TV Guardian seems like a great step—but it’s Christ who has to work out the memories, etc. for believers.

• Speaking of memories of images (sexual or otherwise), curses / cuss words, violence, ungodly things, here is something that is effective for me: give them to God to bury them, to take them off your mental screen or from your mental “hearing.” I base this on the verse: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). This applies a general principle to our own rebellious, fleshly thoughts that have gotten corrupted by things like bad language.

• Most of all, don’t worry about it. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (Philippians 4:6, NLT)

You seem to be obsessed with “doing it right” and “not messing up” (as I would put it). This is not trust, so it’s not God-centered or God-honoring—and it won’t work. Ephesians 1 says, “It was for freedom that Christ set you free.” You neither have to live in bondage to sin (like cursing) OR to having to keep the Law (keeping from cursing or thinking about those words). You’re free to rise above all of that by living a genuinely Spirit-led holy life—believe it and learn to live it. It takes practice and you will fail! Go back to God, ask forgiveness for this particular failure (you’ve already been saved from the penalty of sin if you believe Him for that) and start all over.

Ultimately, if you cannot get past this any other way, are you willing to give up the movies—even if your TV Guardian goes unused and you miss those fave movies? Giving them up could, for you, be part of putting the deeds of the flesh to death and picking up your cross to follow Him (“Then, calling the crowd to join His disciples, He said, ‘If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me.'” —Mark 8:34)

Believe me as one who’s been asked to give up various things enough times in my 35 years of walking with Christ, when the Lord leads you to give something up, it’s well worth it.

I hope this provides some guidance. It goes deep. Read it and the Scripture passages many times, praying that the Lord will make things clear to you and apply them with others holding you accountable–share with mature Christians, your pastor, etc.

Praying with Paul for you, ______. Thanks for writing.

Byron Barlowe

© 2013 Probe Ministries




The Hunger Games: A Hunger, a Game, or a Calculated Viewing Option for Christians?

Have you seen the film The Hunger Games (HG)? Read the trilogy? What is your view of its legitimacy as entertainment fare? Its literary value or concerns regarding its brutal theme? As the movie with the third–best cinematic opening weekend in history and a universal buzz to match, this surprising piece of popular culture demands a response. I want to discuss two somewhat opposed responses Christians may take. I believe you can make a case for either one. What matters is why you choose and what to do with the story.

The film has been called American Idol meets Lord of the Flies for its unholy melding of pseudo–gladiatorial games with live reality TV—complete with elimination, only this type of competitive elimination is indeed Roman–styled: it’s permanent. What’s more, these are not hardened, adult warriors battling it out. Young teenage “tributes” from each district fight to the death within a mountainous domed “arena” while a viewing public ogles. Producers create real–time obstacles using godlike technology to up the ante and provide deadly tension. The whole thing is designed as a reminder of the rebellion that preceded the oppressive, dystopian government’s stranglehold on its citizen subjects. Yet, the film (and reportedly the books) contains inherent appeal to some moral high ground and redemption. Are there compelling reasons for Christians to seek common ground with movie–goers who share faith as well as those who don’t?

I think so, but first, some cautions, observations about audiences and points that require discernment.

A Brief Case for Critique and Avoidance

Kid–on–kid violence is just plain evil:

My initial concerns about the HG film centered on two things: its barbarous plot line of child–on–child executions together with its allure to children younger than the intended teen audience. I asked a group of high school seniors in a worldview–based Christian school discussion if they could, for the moment, suspend defense of their film viewing rights and agree that there was something deeply disturbing in and of itself about that theme: kids killing kids. They showed a dogged commitment to preserve the story along with their right to view it (methinks they protest too much); however , they admitted a bit grudgingly that something averse to human dignity and the Imago Dei (image of God) is built into the storyline. Eventually, we established together that kids killing kids is absolutely evil.

A too–young audience:

Understandably, the young worldview–trained movie critics quickly went back to their arguments for its permissibility as literature for appropriately mature youth. Which brings up another point: when I took my own 16–year–old kids to see HG, taking quite seriously the admonition that “parental guidance” may be needed, I was struck deeply by the average age of viewers. It’s a teen film and book series, but most of the kids—who made up a good chunk of the audience—were either pre–teen or younger. This may well be indicative of nationwide audiences. The senior class agreed here too: that kind of negligence is the parents’ fault.  They seemed bothered by that, wondering how such young kids could even process the “violent thematic material and disturbing images” that assigned it a PG–13 rating. Indeed, Probe Ministries’ research through The Barna Group shows that, though born–again parents still hold by far the biggest sway on their child’s views, most (at least those surveyed up to 40 years old) don’t do well either possessing or passing on a cohesive biblical worldview of their own. And that doesn’t even speak of unbelieving parents who might show up for some engaging entertainment unaware of the (further) desensitization, dehumanization and modeling this film risks.

Violent mimicry:

A recent, very poignant, Twitter post (tweet) belies the notion that such violence doesn’t really have an effect on young movie–goers. It said something like: “Overhearing two 12–year–olds arguing about how they’d have killed Foxface [a HG character] better.” The relationship of real–life violence correlated with viewing violence among children is well–documented, but is easily dismissed in the case of “my kids.” When a Christian school classmate of my daughter said she wished that the violence in Hunger Games had been less muted by camera jiggles and off–screen implications, the connection to her love of horror films wasn’t lost on us. The question we need to help young people constantly ask is, “Am I willing to be so in tune with the Lord and His desire for my holiness that I am willing to give up my popular media and entertainment at any given time?” If killing people is cool, something is wrong.

Are we jaded, voyeuristic hypocrites?

One of Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins’ stated intentions in writing the books was reportedly to forcefully critique so–called reality TV. She derides “the voyeuristic thrill—watching people being humiliated, or brought to tears, or suffering physically—which I find very disturbing. There’s also the potential for desensitizing the audience, so that when they see real tragedy playing out on, say, the news, it doesn’t have the impact it should.{1} As I left the theater, I wondered, “Are we just one abstraction away from the curious and jaded crowds who drank in the macabre theater of the hunger games spectacle? After all, we’re watching them watching the killings for sport. No, I didn’t watch in order to cheer on the “careers,” the professionally trained assassins who hunted fellow teens in a pack. Nor do I condone any such thing. But I did buy a ticket for a movie, knowing the objectionable device by which Collins made her point. A World magazine review by Emily Whitten says it well: “…For all the beauty and moral high ground this story contains, it’s just as true that the world Collins has created is terribly evil… For some viewers at least—especially younger or more impressionable teens—The Hunger Games may produce the same deadening effect on the conscience that Collins seeks to warn us against.”{2}

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Yes:

Then there’s what I call “the stumble factor.” When a moral decision is under consideration––like whether to watch The Hunger Games or pass on it (or, perhaps to watch it privately)––we need to take into account the law of liberty that the Apostle Paul set forth in I Corinthians 8: 4-13. The essence of this ethic for the Christian believer is to consider the relative strength of an onlooker’s faith when engaging in something you feel free before God to do and, to default to that course of action which avoids making the weaker brother or sister violate their conscience. This is the well–known passage in which Paul deals with the disputable matter of meat offered to idols in a day of rampant paganism. To some weaker–minded Christian believers, imbibing such remnants of idolatry was unthinkable. However, to those who knew that idols are powerless and that all things are sanctified if one’s conscience is not being violated, eating temple–sold meat was perfectly fine.

The bottom line of the above and a similar passage, Romans 14: 13-23, seems to be: live according to your own convictions without putting them legalistically onto others, but defer to others’ convictions if you sense they have a weakness of conscience or simply a different conviction on a matter not explicitly dealt with by Scripture. As Titus 1:15 states, “To the pure, all things [like the meat from pagan worship rituals] are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” We need to care about those who don’t yet believe, those believers who aren’t free to act as we do or aren’t for some reason able to expose themselves to things related to evil in any way without being compromised by it. Deference is godliness in this case.

A Brief Case for Engagement

The conversation with the Christian school seniors was instructive for everyone, including me. My original misgivings about The Hunger Games, written in an email to their administration, had been passed on to them. That memo referenced points of agreement with a very negative film review at an ultra–conservative Web site.{3} So, I knew going into the class discussion that I represented to at least some the legalistic, nay–saying, conservative older guy from that worldview ministry. The instructor had cleverly challenged the class with an extra credit assignment to write about the film and many students had passionately jumped at the opportunity. Now, these thinking kids were ready to stretch their rhetorical wings—or watch their classmates argue, at least.

Engagement does just that—it engages:

First, I polled the class. How many have seen Hunger Games?” All but four of the students’ hands shot up. “How many haven’t had a chance to, but intend to watch it?” Three of the remaining four hands went up. “How many of you stayed up late to catch the midnight premier?” A majority. “Did you enjoy it?” Lots of heads bobbing up and down.”Okay, it seems we have a consensus.  Next, I put a little syllogism on the board. It went something like this:

Premise #1: Romans 12:9b says, “…Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good.”  (Phil. 4:8, Psalm 101:3, 2 Cor. 8:21, etc.).
Premise #2: We’ve established that a central theme of The Hunger Games is evil (kids killing kids).
Conclusion: Therefore, it is wrong or very unwise for a believer to attend the film or read the books.

As you might expect, the reaction was immediate and, though subdued, passionate. “That misses the point!” “Not necessarily!” So we broke down the argument and concluded that the main point of contention was premise #2: that violence against children is absolutely wrong to do. The issue here, they insisted, was the portrayal of violence, not the doing or condoning of it. Sharp young minds caught this crucial distinction, best illustrated by the fact that….

…Even God does it:

As a device, we agreed that violence and even worse elements are sometimes used by God Himself in Scripture. I mean, one would have to slice out entire passages like the story of Lot’s daughters or the mass murders of Abimalech to avoid representation of rank evil in order to decry that evil. Thus, it’s not necessarily morally wrong to depict even heinous evil for a moral purpose. Let your conscience be your guide (but be sure to develop a biblically tutored conscience): The students and I discussed similar themes in great literature from time immemorial.  The ethic of a greater good coming from portrayals of evil in order to call it evil and contrast it with what is good came up. Together, we landed on a more nuanced, workable position. That’s when I let my hair down about being a little subversive in my approach. Pointing to the internally logical but flawed argument on the board, I said, “Guys, this is what’s wrong with so much in the Church today (and, I may add, why so many walk away from it)––if it’s foisted on us without recognition of its subjectivity in application (remember the law of liberty of conscience in Romans 14?) and the need to reach our own conclusions outside of legalism’s tyranny.” The room relaxed palpably.

Wrestling with the implications is necessary:

This is huge! Youth and emerging adults in churches and Christian schools and the homes of believing parents report a near–universal feeling of never measuring up, and of an us–vs–them, separatist ethos among older Christians regarding culture. As a colleague said dolefully, “Heaven forbid that we would actually teach them to navigate the culture through using a biblical worldview!” But parents and spiritual shepherds can’t pass on what they don’t have. Given the stress caused by social detachment and holing–up against the culture with its attendant fear–based Christian lifestyle so prevalent today, no wonder youths feel rebellious—such disengaged cloistering should be rebelled against.  As their teachers do daily, I was attempting to model a reasoned, biblically centered discussion of disputable matters of conscience while calling mature students to a higher ethic focused on holiness, eternal perspective and loving one another––unmarred by life–robbing, one–conviction–fits–all legalism. If we cannot see the difference between primary theological doctrines and disputable social and cultural outworkings like which movie to watch, the fault lies within.

Seeking redeeming elements in secular art:

I believe all art, including film and literature like The Hunger Games, that resonates so resoundingly with its audience does so primarily by tapping into something redemptive—after all, the audience members are human, made in God’s image, and thus long for the way the world was meant to be. This deep–seated connection to the hearts of people with the redemptive themes of books and movies and other forms of art is short–circuited by whitewashed, disingenuous portrayals of reality often found in “Christian” art. One Christian blogger reviewing The Hunger Games stated unequivocally that it “does a better job of depicting Biblical truth than much that passes for ‘Christian’ literature or film. It is not a shiny, neat, tidy story. It is full of violence, treachery, pride, oppression, greed, indifference, tyranny, and the misuse of power. It kind of looks like parts of the Bible that way.” The Hunger Games avoids the unrealistic, passionless, half–hour TV show resolutions nearly universal in popular level Christian fare. “Basically, it [HG] is a picture of a world without any good news, without any gospel. It is exactly the world that we would be living in, and that some do live in, if Jesus had not come.”{4} Contrasting the realistic depiction of a fallen world and mankind with the gospel of hope, creative works like The Hunger Games can be used constructively.

I offered the class several redemptive elements I saw in the film’s heroine Katniss Everdeen (again, I’ve not read the books).  The most glaring depiction is as a Christ–figure, when she offers herself up in place of her young sister, who was randomly chosen as the district’s tribute, presumably a death sentence for her. In fact, Katniss’s character bears an uncanny resemblance to the ideals Romans 12:14–21, at least in a one–dimensional way (warning, this section contains movie spoilers):

“Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse them.” Katniss’s reaction to the game, the professional “tributes” and to the arbitrariness of “fate” foisted on her by the show’s producers didn’t include literal blessing, but her dignity and restraint were apparent.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Katniss seemed to be a beacon of heartfelt servanthood in the raising of her sister and caretaking of her mother, excruciating as it was. In a very moving scene, Katniss sings a lullaby as Rue, her adopted little sister of sorts, dies in her arms from a game–inflicted injury. Katniss wept bitterly for her loss, a humanizing scene in an otherwise nihilistic story. She nursed a girlhood acquaintance and fellow tribute back to health from serious injury. Katniss entered into the lives of others in a vital way.

“Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited.”— Katniss displays a disarming unselfconscious manner. She was told she was good with a bow and arrow by her love interest back home and those on her team during the games—but she didn’t come off as cocky. She originated from the poor coal–mining district but that didn’t seem to denigrate her as a person in her own mind. She only wondered at the excesses and snootiness of the Capital residents rather than resent them, and she chose to buddy up to the weakest of the contestants.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” All the other tributes came up out of their elevator tubes onto the playing field swinging swords and throwing knives. Katniss ran away perhaps for survival’s sake, but she did seem to act in defiance of the Darwinian kill–or–be–killed ethic. In this, too, she was only one of a few.

“…Never avenge yourselves…on the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him….” Katniss didn’t set herself up to avenge her persecutors but rather to get in their way by blowing up the food and equipment; she didn’t fire on them from a superior position high in the trees.  Rue, a cute little girl who helped   turn deadly wasps into weapons against ambushing careers was technically her enemy—one who might’ve been luring her in for the kill. In the spirit of the hunger games, Katniss would have been wise to execute her just in case. But she ended up feeding her and making an alliance that went beyond the pragmatic.

Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” What did the dignified treatment of Rue’s remains say about Katniss’s character? The film’s moral climax was embodied in a hand sign of respect toward the cameras following the death of Rue. This universally understood ode to the dignity of the dead caused a brief but unsuccessful rebellion among viewers. Katniss had risen above the crass cheapness assigned to human lives, overcoming evil with truth and goodness. What does that say about human nature?

Again, redemptive themes like this work because we all share deep knowledge of the incalculable value of a human life. What a wonderful jumping–off place for witnessing of the One who assigns and eternally redeems that value.

The Hunger Games is a force of popular culture that raises critical questions in a risky way. I firmly believe that it’s not a simple issue of right or wrong whether to view or read this powerful story. Believers need to decide discerningly, in good conscience and with a view toward their decision’s affect on their own mind and hearts as well as others whether to pursue it for entertainment or cultural engagement.

Endnotes

1. “Conscience Killer?” World, April 7, 2012, Emily Whitten. http://www.worldmag.com/articles/19312.
2. Ibid.
3. “How Hungry is America for The Hunger Games,” David Outten with Tom Snyder, posted March 22, 2012, MovieGuide.com. http://bit.ly/I6ey52.
4. How “The Hunger Games” Reflects Biblical Truth, posted March 31, 2012, www.DownshoreDrift.com. http://bit.ly/I1Y0xl.

© Copyright 2012

 

See Also:

Redeeming The Hunger Games

 




Boy Scouts and the ACLU: A War of Worldviews

Byron Barlowe, an Eagle Scout and Assistant Scoutmaster, assesses the battle with the values of the ACLU from an insider’s perspective.

Traditional Mainstay As Good Cultural Influence vs. Liberal Legal Activists with Social Engineering Agenda

In a gang-ridden section of Dallas, 13-year-old Jose saw a Boy Scouts recruiting poster. That started Jose’s improbable climb to Scouting’s highest rank of Eagle and a life of beating the odds. He said this about Scoutmaster Mike Ross: “He was a father figure watching over me, the first time I felt it from someone other than my [single] mom.”{1}

In February 2010, the Boy Scouts of America, or BSA, celebrated a century of building traditional values into nearly 100 million youths like Jose through adults like Mr. Ross. The original Boy Scouts began in England in 1907. The Prime Minister said the new movement was “potentially ‘the greatest moral force the world has ever known’.” Yet surprisingly, there are those who would gut the movement of its culture-shaping distinctives.

In this article we take a look at the warring worldviews of The BSA and its arch-enemy, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In his book On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For, Texas governor and Eagle Scout Rick Perry writes, “The institutions we saw as bulwarks of stability—such as the Scouts—are under steady attack by groups that seem intent upon remaking (if not replacing) them in pursuit of a very different [worldview].”{2} In a crusade to elevate the minority viewpoints of girls who want entry, as well as atheists and gay activists, the ACLU’s unending efforts to ensure inclusiveness undermine the very Scout laws and oath that make it strong—commitment to virtues like kindness, helpfulness and trustworthiness. This is no less than a war of worldviews.

I ran through all the ranks from Cub Scouts to Eagle Scout, worked professionally with the BSA, and now serve as Asst. Scoutmaster. I have first-hand, lifelong knowledge of Scouting’s benefits to boys, their families, and society. Nowhere else can young men-in-the-making be exposed to dozens of new interests (which often inspire lasting careers) and gain confidence in everything from leadership to lifesaving to family life. Scouting is good life skills insurance!

The pitched battle between the BSA and the ACLU embodies what many call the Culture Wars—battles that in this case reveal contrasting values like humanism vs. religious faith, politically correct “tolerance” vs. more traditional, absolutist views and radical individual rights vs. group–centered freedoms of speech and association. The contrast is stark.

Conservatives relate most to Scouting. “Of course, the Boy Scout Handbook is rarely regarded as being a conservative book. That probably accounts for why the Handbook has managed to continuously stay in print since 1910. If it were widely known how masterly the book inculcates conservative values, it would, like Socrates, be charged with corrupting the nation’s youth.”{3}

Scouting is also good for culture. Harris pollsters found that former Scouts agreed in larger numbers than non-Scouts that the following behaviors are “wrong under all circumstances”: to exaggerate one’s education on a resume, lie to the IRS, and steal office supplies for home use. Scouts pull well ahead of non–Scouts on college graduation rates. The “stick-to-it” mentality that Scouting demands comes into play here and in other findings. Scouting positively affects things like treating co–workers with respect, showing understanding to those less fortunate than you and being successful in a career. “This conclusion is hard to escape: Scouting engenders respect for others, honesty, cooperation, self–confidence and other desirable traits.”{4} It also promotes the freedom to exercise a Christian worldview within its program, which provides a venue for transmitting a Christian worldview within the context of the outdoors and community service.

The absolutist morality of Scouting stands in stark relief to the moral relativism of our day and to the ACLU’s worldview. Wouldn’t you prefer to hire someone with Scouting’s values of trustworthiness and honesty?

The Battles, Including Girls Joining the BSA

The Boy Scouts of America celebrates its centennial this year, but its long-time nemesis the ACLU isn’t celebrating. In fact, they and other litigants have maintained a siege against the BSA in court in order to transform key characteristics including Scouting’s “duty to God,” the exclusion of openly gay leaders, and Scouting’s access to government forums like schools. “In all, the Boy Scouts have been involved in thirty lawsuits since the filing of the [original] case,” many brought by the ACLU.{5}

The opening salvo was a string of lawsuits on behalf of girls who wanted membership, many brought by the ACLU. The primary legal issue regarding these kinds of cases is “public accommodation.” The BSA’s position is that refusing membership to certain individuals like girls and open gays is its right as a private organization. Freedoms of speech and association are at stake for the BSA. Indeed, the definition of freedom of association is “the right guaranteed especially by the First Amendment . . . to join with others . . . as part of a group usually having a common viewpoint or purpose and often exercising the right to assemble and to free speech.”{6}

In the case of Mankes vs. the BSA, the plaintiff claimed that restricting membership to boys amounted to sex discrimination. Yet the court decided against the claim on the basis that “the Boy Scouts did not, in creating its organization to help develop the moral character of young boys, intentionally set out to discriminate against girls.”{7} Even the U.S. Congress chartered separate Scouting organizations, one for girls and one for boys, not one unisex organization.

C.S. “Lewis puts it this way in discussing the crisis of post-Christian humanist education: ‘We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.’”{8} I believe that even the most committed feminist would inwardly hope for brave, virtuous men of integrity. That’s what Boy Scouts is all about: engendering young men with chests.

Underneath these battles lies an aversion to any kind of discrimination of supposed victims. The ACLU’s goals raise ethical concerns: when one individual or a minority seeks rights that are not in the best interest of the community at large, it leads to unintended consequences, like possibly shutting down good institutions like the Scouts.

It’s understandable why some girls would want to participate. However, given gender differences and the right to freedom of association, it seems best to restrict the Boys Scouts to boys.

The Battles over Gay Leaders (the Scouts’ Doctrine of “Morally Straight”)

A very contentious battle between the Boy Scouts of America and equal rights advocates revolves around disallowing openly gay leaders from joining the organization. “The BSA’s position is that a homosexual who makes his sex life a public matter is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath and Law for adolescent boys.”{9} Or as Rick Perry puts it, “Tolerance is a two-way street. The Boy Scouts is not the proper intersection for a debate over sexual preference.” He continues, “A number of active homosexuals, with the assistance of the ACLU and…various gay activist organizations have challenged the BSA’s long-standing policy.” {10}

The landmark Dale case featured a lifelong Scouter who discovered his gay identity only then to realize the Scouts’ policy against openly gay leaders. Eventually landing in the U.S. Supreme Court, BSA vs. Dale marked the end of cases in this category. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that state laws may not prohibit the BSA’s moral point of view and the right to expressing its own internal leadership.{11}

Ultimately, gay people could launch their own organization and any good Scout would recognize the right for them to do this. Even the courts have implied this view, again and again upholding the Scout’s rights to operate the way they see fit. Why would it be improper for a private organization like the BSA to restrict leadership to those who share its values?

“BSA units do not routinely ask a prospective adult leader about his (or her) sex life,” writes Perry.{12} This approach falls in line with the controversial “Don’t ask, don’t tell” doctrine of the U.S. military that’s currently being challenged in court. Where members of the military may be concerned about the affect of another squad member’s sexuality on its rank-and-file members, Scout units are concerned with the even greater influence of adults on the minds and morals of the children they lead.

A biblical worldview recognizes that belief that gay rights supersede traditional moral teachings springs from the fleshly, fallen state of man’s soul. Romans 1 says humans “suppress the truth,” and speaks out against unnatural acts in a clear allusion to homosexual unions. People—sometimes believers—fight morality as revealed by God through our conscience and stated moral law. The virtue ethics of the Scouts at least makes room for this morality.

Despite all the cases, “evidence of a planned, strategic legal assault on the Scouts didn’t arise until the ACLU became involved, with cases that focused Scouts’ ‘duty to God.’”{13}

The Battle over “Duty to God”

Boy Scouts and Scout leaders are really into patches for our uniforms. One of the most beautiful I’ve ever owned is my Duty to God patch earned at the legendary Rocky Mountain Scout adventure ranch known as Philmont. The requirements were minimal: take part in several devotions and lead blessings over the food. Nothing dictated which god to pray to, just a built-in acknowledgement of the Creator. This non-sectarian, undirected acknowledgement of God is classic Scout stuff. The program has long featured specific special awards for all major world religions, including Christianity. Scouting’s Creator-consciousness can seem vague or even smack of animistic Native American religion, but troops chartered by Christian organizations like ours simply turn it into a chance to honor the God of the Bible.

This hallmark of Scouting is vilified by atheists and agnostics who would participate in Scouting only minus the nod to God. The ACLU has carried out a culture-wide campaign to cut out all mention of God from the public square, motivated by a warped value of self-determination.{14} Seeking protections from all things religious, the ACLU’s activist lawyers have raised human autonomy up as the ultimate good. And the Boy Scouts are a tempting target to further this cause célèbre. From where do the ACLU’s motivations spring? Apparently, from the ideology known as humanism, a philosophical commitment to man as the measure of all things coupled with an atheist anti-supernatural bias. But not even Rousseau, whose political theory emphasized individual freedoms, would likely have gone so far. In his view, the individual was subordinate to the general will of the people—and most people in American society agree that the BSA’s values and impact outweighs any individual right “not to hear” anything at all of religion.{15}

When the BSA lays out its broad yet very absolute requirements, the most prominent and controversial are a “duty to God”{16} and a Scout’s pledge to be reverent.{17} This in no way dictates which or even what kind of deity one’s faith is ascribed to, but it sharply clashes with the ACLU’s ideals of secularism and humanism. In effect, the BSA directly challenges the sacred-secular split so prevalent today, where faith is to be kept totally private and godless science serves as the only source of real knowledge. As a result of this worldview mistake, religious commitments and the supernatural are relegated to the personal, subjective, and ultimately meaningless level.

One blogger opines about a duty to God passage in the original 1910 Scout handbook:

“A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.” Such an earnest and irony-free worldview is naturally antithetical to the South Park-style mock-the-world moronity that pervades the culture. In a society that combines libertarian Me-ism with a liberal nanny state that suckles “men without chests,” it is not surprising that the ranks of Boy Scouts are dwindling (Scouting is down 11 percent over the last decade). But we should be cheerful that an institution where self-sacrifice and manly virtues are encouraged manages to survive at all.{18}

The ACLU was not involved in the first “duty to God” case against the Scouts. Yet by 2007, its “involvement in fourteen cases against the Boy Scouts had covered, cumulatively, more than 100 years of litigation.”{19} The ACLU’s view, according to Governor Perry, “is that if one citizen believes there is no God, they must be protected from public references to or acknowledgement of an Almighty Creator. . . . When they get their way, the ACLU enforces upon us the tyranny of the minority.”{20}

Thank God the courts have not yet allowed this to happen.

Pluralism Done Right

A fellow in my Sunday school sounded alarmed when I asked the class to pray for a Scouting trip: “Isn’t The Boy Scouts a Mormon outfit?” Since Mormons use Scouts as their official youth program for boys, his experience was skewed. Yet, the BSA is a non-sectarian association that simply requires chartering groups to promote belief in God and requires boys to reflect on reverence according to their family’s chosen religion. The Boy Scout Handbook, (11th ed.) explains a Scout’s “duty to God” like this: “Your family and religious leaders teach you about God and the ways you can serve. You do your duty to God by following the wisdom of those teachings every day and by respecting and defending the rights of others to practice their own beliefs.” Note the genuine tolerance toward other religions. Even a pack or troop member cannot be forced by that unit to engage in religious observances with which they disagree.{21} This policy is the best way to handle a wide-open boys’ training program in a very pluralistic culture.

Many Christians talk as if any kind of pluralism is anathema, especially the religious kind, as if we should live in a thoroughly Christianized society that, for all intents and purposes, is like church. However, this is unrealistic. America’s Founding Fathers guarded against state-sanctioned religion.

God Himself tacitly acknowledged, even in the theocracy of the Old Testament period that living around His people were those of other religions. Jehovah didn’t force people to believe in Him. God was pluralistic in the sense of allowing man’s free will.

The Boy Scouts reflects this larger reality and it serves the organization well. It is not seeking to be a church or synagogue or temple. The BSA’s Scoutcraft skills and coaching, its citizenship and moral training, remains open to people of all religions. The BSA’s vagueness regarding “duty to God” is actually a plus for Christians interested in promoting their own understanding of God and His world. Talk about a platform to pass along a biblical worldview! Think of it: Scouting’s genius is that it combines outdoor exploits like regular camping trips and high-adventure activities with moral and religious instruction in the context of boy-run leadership training. Regular and intensive meetings with dedicated adults to review skills and Scouting’s ideals provide ample time for what amounts to discipleship. Some of the richest ministry opportunities in my quarter-century as a full-time minister have been during Scoutmaster-to-Scout conferences in the great outdoors.

If you’re committed to seeing the next generation of boys walk into adulthood not only as capable young men but with their faith intact, Scouting is one of the best venues out there. Hopefully, the ACLU won’t be able to quash that.

Notes

1. Readers Digest, May, 2010, 138.
2. Rick Perry, On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For (Macon, GA: Stroud & Hall Publishers, 2008).
3. Carter, Joe, “The Most Influential Conservative Book Ever Produced in America,” First Thoughts (the official blog of the journal First Things), posted February 8, 2010: http://bit.ly/fI8V9Z.
4. Perry, On My Honor, 163.
5. Ibid., 57.
6. Dictionary.com. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law. Merriam-Webster, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/freedom of association (accessed: April 21, 2010).
7. Perry, On My Honor, 59.
8. Lewis, C.S., The Abolition of Man (Macmillan Publishing: New York, NY) 1947, p. 34; as quoted by R. J. Snell, “Making Men without Chests: The Intellectual Life and Moral Imagination,” First Principles: ISI Web Journal, posted Feb. 25, 2010: www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1380.
9. Ibid., 69.
10. Ibid., 71.
11. Ibid., 71-73.
12. Ibid., 69.
13. For a brief list of individual cases, some of which are being brought by the ACLU, see: www.bsalegal.org/duty-to-god-cases-224.asp.
14. Evans, C. Stephen, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion: 300 Terms & Thinkers Clearly & Concisely Defined (Intervarsity Press: Downer’s Grove, Ill.), 2002, p. 103.
15. The Scout Oath, quoted in reprint of 1910 original Boy Scouts of America: The Official Handbook for Boys, Seventeenth Edition p. 32, accessed 1-20-11 http://bit.ly/gaM5OM. (Note, the table of contents links to page 22, but page 32 is the actual location in this format.)
16. The Scout Law, 33-34.
17. Carter, “The Most Influential Conservative Book Ever Produced in America.”
18. Perry, On My Honor, 64 and 66.
19. Ibid, 87-88.
20. Bylaws of Boy Scouts of America, art. IX, § 1, cls. 2-4, as quoted on the BSA legal Web site: www.bsalegal.org/duty-to-god-cases-224.asp.

© 2011 Probe Ministries




Facing Facebook: Social Networking and Worldview

Byron Barlowe digs beneath the surface of the various social networking phenomena like Facebook and Twitter.

It seems like everybody is on Facebook! At 350 million members worldwide and growing exponentially, this social networking community would be the third largest country in the world! One hundred million Americans,{1} including 86 percent of American women, now have a profile on at least one social networking site, nearly double from a year earlier.{2}

“…Twitter has radically changed the face of online communication. This year alone [2009], usage has grown by 900 percent….”{3} But kids prefer the ever-popular YouTube video-sharing site. Two-thirds of Internet users around the world visit blogs and social networks, making it more popular than email. And older users are flocking to social sites. So this is about you and your friends, too, mom and dad!

So what is social networking? At a social site like Facebook.com, when you find another member, you click a button that says “Add as Friend.” Now, you and that person have a connection on the Web site that others can see. They are a member of your network, and you are a member of theirs. Also, you can see who your friends know, and who your friends’ friends know. You’re no longer a stranger, so you can contact them more easily. As the website Common Craft explains, “This solves a real-world problem because your network has hidden opportunities. Social networking sites make these connections between people visible.”{4}

“These applications have given users an entirely new dimension of interactivity on the Web, as people are able to share videos, photos, links, ideas, and information at a heretofore unseen speed and with uncanny ease that enhances the Web experience of every Internet user.”{5}

But some push back. “It’s just trivia, a waste of time,” they say. Silly games and self-centered platforms where folks can parade their lives. There is some truth in that charge. But it’s important to understand such a powerful, widespread medium and seek to redeem it.

One commentator said, “Time bends when I open Facebook: it’s as if I’m simultaneously a journalist/wife/mother in Berkeley and the goofy girl I left behind in Minneapolis.”{6} But the accessibility and immediacy is not always good or profound. Be ready to have your life history, long-lost friends and personal ghosts pop up in unexpected ways through social networking. In the same way, the future could be at stake with each post and link you put up: Whatever goes online, stays online. One’s reputation will be marked for years to come by her online life for good or ill.

However, the meteoric rise of social networking has occurred for good reason. In Facebook, Xanga or MySpace, research shows that we extend current relationships online. It can all be very trivial or fairly meaningful, depending on how it’s used. In this way, social networking is not unlike meeting up at a coffee shop or at the back fence. Younger generations are known to be more conversational than older ones. In my middle-aged circles, many seem to have written it off prematurely.

We’ll explore some worldview implications of social networking through the insightful book Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith.{7} Using a grid introduced by media professor and technology prophet Marshall McLuhan that traces media’s culture-shaping influence, we’ll briefly assess how this technology enhances our capabilities, retrieves lost ones, makes obsolete other things, and reverses into unintended consequences. In other words, we’ll ask and partially answer basic questions like: What will this blossoming media change? What am I giving up if I use it? How can I control it for myself and my kids? Will it end up controlling me—or has it already?

“Hanging out” online, for all its similarities to in-person conversation is fundamentally different. And those differences are sure to change not only our socializing, but our worldviews—maybe even our faith.

“The Medium is the Message”

McLuhan famously stated that “the medium is the message,” meaning that the content of media is overshadowed in its influence by the influence of the very medium (technology) through which it is communicated. Hipps believes media has been a fundamental change agent of culture, even faith. We’ll explain and explore a bit McLuhan’s grid of change and how it applies to social networking.

In discussing social networking sites like Facebook and their effect on people, it’s helpful to look back at other media to see their culture-shaping influence. Note that I didn’t write “the content of other media,” but rather, “other media.” For example, before Gutenberg’s movable-type printing press, faith was passed down orally and through imagery like stained glass windows and church icons. The concrete stories from the synoptic Gospels ruled the day; the Apostle Paul’s deep, abstract letters were virtually ignored. Then, print technology unleashed a new way to think and even to believe—an emphasis on individual faith accessed through critical reason. This print phenomenon retrieved the abstract, doctrinally rich letters of Paul from the dusty shelves of history. This, in turn, ignited the Reformation, writes Shane Hipps. One result: the church transformed from a highly communal body into a mass of individuals and put religious mystery largely out of touch.

Hipps writes that, in its extremes, the influence of print reduced the gospel to incomplete abstract propositions and made many Christians arrogant about what we can know with certainty. [This is what some in the emerging church conversation react against, but we cannot pursue that topic here.]

Perhaps less controversially, Hipps shares the maxim that any media—social networking included—changes its users in a similar way print technology did. Marshall McLuhan famously stated that “the medium is the message.” He meant that the medium itself does more to affect people than even the content that it carries.

The adage, “We become what we behold”{8} seems to hold forth in social science and neurology, as well. Brain scientists are finding that exposure to and use of media of any kind changes the brain’s wiring, so there’s more at stake here than just bad content or how we use our time.{9}

While writing this transcript, I had to fight to get alone and maintain focus. I consciously avoided the distraction and fragmentation my mind easily undergoes while Twittering (or “tweeting”) and Facebooking (see, social networking even spawns new verbs, like “friending”!). The social networking experience is like walking around at a party filled with friends in various conversations: lots of brief comments, retorts and jokes. My need for individual, abstract thinking was at risk at the “Facebook party.” (Ironically, I was in the abstract writing mode regarding a very different sort of medium: non-abstract, simplistic, disjointed, visually based, online digital “communities.”)

New media may bring us to and keep us more “in the moment” and in touch with real people, all good things. But so-called virtual communities may create very unreal relationships. Not to mention a loss of in-depth thinking, conversation and fellowship to build current relationships. Two years ago a commentator wrote regarding American youth on social networks, “The rules of relationship are…being rewritten, and…are being shaped by a distinctly media-centered worldview rather than a Christian one.{10} However, things may be changing, at least among Australian youth, where “they want more connections with their friends that aren’t digital, that are tangible. They’re starting to question the authenticity of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. They want technology to assist rather than dominate the way they communicate.”{11}

David Watson is an entrepreneurial “pastor” exploring the legitimacy of online shepherding. He believes it’s a general relationship issue not confined to online participation: “Any time you are not fully present with whatever community you happen to be with—whether online or offline—you can hurt people…. We just notice the online stuff more because it is new and people tend to spend lots of time with new things before they figure out how everything balances out.”{12}

So what’s the big deal? Most Facebook, MySpace or Orkut members aren’t changing their entire view of reality, truth, God or mankind based on interactions with online friends. No, it’s not the obvious pitfall of cults or wild philosophies that people usually deal with day to day anyway. Under-the-radar ways of being and communicating can incrementally change who we are. It’s the subtle way that our view of life changes that concerns me most. Are moment-by-moment Tweets dumbing us down in various ways? Have we come to expect meaning in 140-character bits? Twitter shows the flow of life in tiny chunks some call a lifestream. But are those snippets, especially when seen intermittently, meaningful?

Media swirls around us and we become immune to the white noise. But McLuhan was a master at stepping back to study what is going on with media to see how to cooperate with and thus handle the vortex. Churches and ministries love to jump on new technologies to share the old, old story—but before diving in headlong, we need to remember McLuhan’s warning: we become like the media that we use.

Social Networking Redeems and Resurrects Good Things

What is the technology of social networking enhancing and bringing back from disuse? What are some redeeming characteristics of this new phenomenon? They include renewed friendships and acquaintances, helpful networking made easy, ministry possibilities and relational fun. Mainly, it enhances real-world relational communities.

McLuhan stated that new media always “enhances and retrieves” good things. For example, we long for the days of chatting with neighbors on the front porch. Social networking restores this dynamic to a surprising degree. One writer reflected, “It could be . . . that Facebook marks a return to the time when people remained embedded in their communities for life, with connections that ran deep. . . .”{13}

Reconnections frequently happen too. One former neighbor messaged me on Facebook, “Are you the Byron that lived beside us 25 years ago?” She was thrilled to know I was still walking with Christ and asked for prayer for her drug-addicted brother. She’d located me out of the blue a quarter century later and seven states away through the wonder of social networking.

Social networks have great potential for ministry. Yet Shane Hipps’ primary message for Christ-followers in Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith is that simply broadcasting the gospel message in an old style into this new medium will not be effective. The medium itself changes the way people perceive and receive the message.

Social media are not a kind of broadcast medium, but rather a conversation medium. Online social ministry pioneer Paul Watson tells incredible stories of fruit borne online. He shepherds groups who stay current on Twitter and Facebook. One online community of Christ-followers raised funds over the Internet for a non-Christian tarot-card-reader to take her premature son to a hospital half a state away for medical treatment. A blogger, a practicing witch, warned her visitors not to harass Watson after he privately initiated prayer regarding her health issue.

Campus Crusade for Christ uses Facebook for campus ministry. They recently stated that 66 million students are active Facebook users. That’s three times the population of Australia! In an outreach training video produced by Campus Crusade, the camera pans an empty library and the question “Where are the students?” flashes across the screen. Then it shows a computer lab chock-full of kids, most logged into Facebook, MySpace, Twitter or YouTube. Another banner reads, “The average college student spends three hours on Facebook each visit.” Going where the people hang out is wise! But Campus Crusade knows you can’t just post The Four Spiritual Laws tract on Facebook and be effective. Long-term engagement with a live person or social community is required to make a positive difference.

If relationships are healthy, they can be helped online. “A study published in 2007 in The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication suggested that hanging onto old friends via Facebook may alleviate feelings of isolation for students whose transition to campus life had proved rocky.”{14}

A Christian apologist wrote regarding social networking and the Internet, “We should note well Thomas Morris’s ‘Double Power Principle’–‘To the extent that something has power for good, it has corresponding power for ill.’”{15}Next, we’ll discuss the downsides of social media.

Social Networking Makes Obsolete and Obscures Other Good Things

What is the technology of social networking making obsolete, obscuring or obliterating? Taken to extremes, how might it make its users regress rather than progress? What other troublesome dynamics does it create?

Studies show that people tend to continue and expand their real-life relationships online. But people can be fooled. Nothing replaces face-to-face contact. Hipps writes in Flickering Pixels about mutual friends of his who live very nearby but who had not seen each other in months. They communicate online daily, yet their relationship has deteriorated. Hipps commented on so-called virtual communities: “It’s virtual—but it ain’t community. . . . Meaningful, missional Christian community” should consist of several essential things:

1. Shared history or experiences that help establish a sense of identity and belonging

2. Permanence or relational staying power—“it’s how you get shared history.” Members of a transient community never get shared memories.

3. Proximity—“you have to be with one another in order to create the kind of meaningful connections to have community.”

4. Shared imagination of the future —a sense of “We’re all going in the same direction.” Hipps says this is the one thing you get automatically with online social networking—people flock together who already share a future vision. But it’s not community just because of that. If online “friends” are not able to meet together over time and share life experiences as they work toward a common vision, then it’s just an online affinity group.

“Electronic culture disembodies and separates [yet]. . . . most of us. . . believe our technology is bringing us closer.”{16} The Bible exhorts believers not to forsake group gatherings.{17} Why? Because corporate worship and teaching, personal shepherding, mutual encouragement, even non-verbal signals are irreplaceable. We can take our cues on being physically present from the incarnation: God’s most powerful gospel medium was the Man, Christ Jesus.

Technology always makes something obsolete. It seems probable that too much online use compromises our ability to concentrate and think abstractly and form a coherent argument. Given a steady diet of fragmented imagery and spontaneous status updates, a new generation is losing the ability to think through issues from a coherent framework. “Through YouTubing, Facebooking, MySpacing . . . people take in vast amounts of visual information. But do they always comprehend the meaning of what they see. . . ? They are easily manipulated as students, consumers and citizens.”{18}

Another endangered characteristic is deep conversation. Within the space of 140 character status updates and Tweets, all hope of profound, meaningful dialogue seems lost. Instead, images rule. “. . . Image culture is eroding and undermining imaginative creativity” which is “extremely important to our functioning as healthy, creative people.”{19}

Social networking can steal your time. A friend recently told me that his wife’s use of Facebook is hindering their family time and communications. This is likely a widespread problem. “2.6 billion minutes are used daily by the global population on Facebook.”{20} If you already struggle with addictive tendencies or wasting time, think twice about launching into this absorbing lifestyle change. Get help for your online habit if it’s destructive as you would for any addiction.

Balancing Social Networking, Keeping a Christian Worldview in Mind

What are some more guiding principles for using social networking (and the Internet)? How do users balance their lives and retain a Christian worldview in a social networking age?

Remember Narcissus, the mythological character who was so enamored by his own image in the pool of water that it eventually became his undoing? Most people focus on his self-absorption. But the point Hipps makes isn’t how stuck on himself Narcissus was, but rather his inability to perceive and control the low-tech medium of a reflective pool. He seemed oblivious to what was going on, as people tend to be regarding the media maelstrom that surrounds us. “When we fail to perceive that the things we create are extensions of ourselves, the created things take on god-like characteristics and we become their servants.”{21} Media intake stealthily becomes idolatry.

The legendary Perseus, on the other hand, realized the power of a medium that if put under his control, could destroy the deadly effects of staring into the eyes of Medusa. Using a shield as a mirror, he deflected her deadly gaze and turned it into a chance to kill her. Even ancient Greek pagans understood the difference between these two fictional characters: Narcissus became enamored and then ensnared by a medium; Perseus, on the other hand, stepped back, realized the mirror was just an extension of his eyes, and so was able to master that medium. This echoes biblical commands to guard our heart and mind and not be conformed to the world.{22}

Remember, we’re not really talking about what content goes on your Facebook page. Rather, it’s the hidden power of the Internet and social networking that concerns us. Count the cost each time you use it.

One good use of the immediacy of Twitter is intercession. I got stuck in Delhi, India on a mission trip and tweeted a prayer request through my cell phone that in turn updated my Facebook page. Instant access and 140-character-long brevity can be good.

More advice from this worldview watcher trying to redeem social networking: read widely. Read deeply. Keep those parts of your mind and soul in shape while navigating the quick communications of social networking.

Guard your time like a night watchman. Guard your heart and mind like a jealous lover. Set “no unclean thing” before your eyes{23} and if others try to, take down that post or don’t follow them. Also, guard against not only physical but “psychological nudity.”{24}

Mix into everyday wall posts some meaningful thoughts, worthy articles and video clips that cause people to think. Become a fan at the Facebook or MySpace pages of organizations like Probe. Link to articles at Probe.org, Bible.org, or some good cause to help fund.

Balance is key: not everything is worthy of immediate broadcast or attention. “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”{25} Trivia can be genuine but tiresome.

Reach out: post a Scripture, share your faith.

As Shane Hipps said, “The most important medium, the most powerful medium is you, you are God’s chosen medium to incarnate the hands and feet of God in an aching world. . . . The more we understand [the hidden power of media], the more we can understand how to use our media rather than be used by them.”{26}

Notes

1. Facebook Reaches 100 Million Monthly Active Users in the United States,” InsideFacebook.com, accessed December 14, 2009, posted December 7, 2009. http://bit.ly/bQXlRV
2. Aliza Freud, “SheSpeaks Second Annual Media Study,” http://bit.ly/dD7xsG
3. “Teens Use Sites to Expand Offline Relationships, Avoid Twitter,” The Future of Children Blog, posted Aug. 4, 2009, accessed Feb. 4, 2010, http://bit.ly/9X3J9C
4. Social Networking in Plain English, Common Craft, www.commoncraft.com/transcript-social-networking-plain-english.
5. “Equip,” Christian Research Institute, Vol. 22, Issue 5, Sept/Oct 2009, p. 1.
6. “The Way We Live Now: Growing Up on Facebook,” The New York Times Magazine, Peggy Orenstein, March 10, 2009, www.nytimes.com/2009/03/15/magazine/15wwln-lede-t.html.
7. Shane Hipps, Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith, Kindle Reader version.
8. Hipps quotes McLuhan on this adage often. See this video clip: www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnXoPQHPnlw&feature=related
9. Doidge, Norman, M.D., The Brain That Changes Itself (Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2007)
10. Stephanie Bennett, quoted by Byron Barlowe, “MySpace: Parents and Kids Wisely Navigating Online Social Networking,” https://www.probe.org/myspace-parents-and-kids-wisely-navigating-online-social-networking/#text20
11. “Everything old is new again for Internet-weary young adults,” News.com.au, posted July 14, 2009, accessed September 23, 09, http://bit.ly/bNQNBY.
12. David Watson, Reaching the Online Generation blog, posted July 16, 2009, http://bit.ly/96N04E.
13. Orenstein, The New York Times Magazine.
14. Ibid.
15. Hank Hannegraf, Equip, CRI, p. 3.
16. Hipps, Locations 981-987, 2015.
17. Hebrews 4:12
18. Weeks, Linton, “The Eye Generation Prefers Not to Read All About It: Students in Film Class a Microcosm of a Visually Oriented Culture,” Washington Post, posted 7-6-07, accessed 9-27-09, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/05/AR2007070502055.html
19. Hipps, Locations 718-725, 2015.
20. Hank Hannegraf, Equip, CRI, p. 2.
21. Shane Hipps, Flickering Pixels, Kindle Version, Locations 269-75, 2015.
22. Proverbs 4:23, Acts 20:31, Romans 12: 1-2.
23. Psalm 101:3.
24. Byron Barlowe, “MySpace: Parents and Kids Wisely Navigating Online Social Networking,” https://www.probe.org/myspace-parents-and-kids-wisely-navigating-online-social-networking/#hanging.htm
25. Proverbs 29:20, NIV.
26. YouTube video of interview by Rob Bell at pastor’s conference posted and accessed at www.internetevangelismday.com/christian-communication-blogs.php on 9-27-09. YouTube text: Rob Bell interviews Shane Hipps about his new book Flickering Pixels during the 2009 National Pastors Convention in San Diego, CA. March 09, 2009.

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