Archive | Christianity

Did President Trump just eliminate the contraceptive mandate on the first day?

Readers of this blog know that I have written extensively about Obamacare’s controversial contraceptive mandate. In fact, the most viral post I have ever written on this site was about this issue. The mandate has been controversial because it forces employers to provide coverage for contraceptives and abortifacients–even if those employers object to buying such coverage on religious grounds. The Christian owners of Hobby Lobby fought this all the way to the Supreme Court and won. But the problematic mandate still stands, and other cases are pending. 

President Trump signed an executive order that effectively overturns the contraceptive mandate. The order authorizes the HHS Secretary to eliminate administrative rules related to Obamacare. If I’m reading this correctly, that would allow the new secretary to get rid of the mandate. Here’s section two of the order:

To the maximum extent permitted by law, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) and the heads of all other executive departments and agencies (agencies) with authorities and responsibilities under the Act shall exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.

I’m not a lawyer, so we’ll see how this pans out. And you can be sure I’ll be following this one closely.

Mike Pence did not sign a law allowing businesses to refuse service to gay people

If Vice-President Mike Pence thought that his public scolding from the cast of Hamilton would be the last he’d hear on the subject, he knows better now. And so do all of his neighbors. The Washington Post reports that about 200 protestors marched through Pence’s new D.C. neighborhood in order “to protest what they consider his anti-gay views.” The protestors didn’t just carry signs. They marched through Pence’s neighborhood with speakers blaring music and with some of the protestors performing obscenities in the middle of the street (there’s a video in the Post‘s coverage). The Post‘s report describes an ugly spectacle brimming with animus towards Pence and anyone else who holds his views.

Among other things, what caught my eye in this story is how The Washington Post describes Pence’s “anti-gay” offenses:

As governor of Indiana, Pence signed a law allowing business owners to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender customers — legislation that sparked a national uproar and threats of boycotts until the legislature reversed course.

Anyone who remembers what happened in Indiana in 2015 should be appalled at how irresponsible and inaccurate this statement is from The Washington Post. Mike Pence did not sign a law that allows business owners to refuse service to gay people. He signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which prevents the state from placing an excessive burden on religious freedom. The law doesn’t even mention gay people. The law he signed is nearly identical to the federal law which has been the law of the land since 1993. To say that the law allows business owners to refuse service to gay people is grossly inaccurate. But it sure does serve the propaganda interests of activists who want the government to force business owners to participate in gay weddings in violation of their consciences.

One crucial fact is often missed in these kinds of reports, so it’s important to reiterate. The actual business owners who have declined participation in gay weddings do not refuse service to gay people. In every instance where this has happened across the country, the business owner has had a long history of serving (and sometimes employing) gay people. The florist in Washington State, for example, had already served a gay couple for nearly a decade when she declined to participate in their wedding ceremony. She was happy to serve them. In fact, they were her friends. She just couldn’t violate her conscience and participate in their wedding. That is not discrimination against gay people. It’s simply her religious conviction that she cannot lend her creative expression to help celebrate what her faith forbids.

Contrast that situation with the fashion designers who are refusing to dress Donald Trump’s family for the inauguration this weekend. These designers object to lending their creative services to a man (and his family) who deeply offends them. There is an animus involved with their refusal that is not present in the case of florist. As Jim Campbell observes:

The designers’ objections are tinged with animosity toward the people whom they refuse to serve… They object to merely associating with Donald Trump or the female members of his family. And these fashion moguls seemingly won’t design any clothes for the Trumps, regardless of the event that they’re for.

In contrast, [Christian business owners like the florist] serve all people, regardless of their political views, race, sex or sexual orientation. What they can’t do, however, is speak all messages. So while they’ll gladly express certain messages for all people, there are some messages that they can’t speak for anyone.

I can hardly believe that these religious freedom stories are so inaccurately portrayed in the press. It’s no wonder activists are showing up in Pence’s neighborhood protesting his “anti-gay” views. But I wonder if these protestors really understand what his views are. If they are reading inaccurate reports like the one in The Washington Post, they may not know very much.

Should we avoid praying for Donald Trump by name in public worship?

Mike Kinman (rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA) explains why his church will not pray for Donald Trump by name in their public services, even though they prayed for President Obama by name. He writes:

We are in a unique situation in my lifetime where we have a president elect whose name is literally a trauma trigger to some people – particularly women and people who, because of his words and actions, he represents an active danger to health and safety.

This presents a challenge. We are rightly charged with praying for our leaders … but we are also charged with keeping the worshipping community, while certainly not challenge-free, a place of safety from harm. As I have said before, for some it could be as if we demanded a battered woman pray for her abuser by name. It’s not that the abuser doesn’t need prayer – certainly the opposite – but prayer should never be a trauma-causing act.

The question is – does saying the president’s name in prayer in this way compromise the safety of the worshipping community? Let me be clear that I believe this is a high bar … much more than “I disagree with the president” or even “the president deeply offends me.” This is the level of compromising the safety of the worshipping community.

The Bible does command Christians to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2), but there is no requirement that we must do so by name. So I don’t want to go beyond what scripture says about how explicit our prayers must be. I don’t think we have to say every leader’s name in order to pray for them faithfully in public worship. Having said that, I have a few concerns about the rationale given by the rector above:

First, I am skeptical about this reluctance to name someone whom we will be referring to anyway. Let’s grant for the sake of argument that the president-elect is as scary as some people fear. I can’t help but think about the Harry Potter stories in which Harry is the only person willing to say the name “Voldemort.” No one else would utter “Voldemort” because the mere mention of his name made them fearful and anxious. Harry stood out because he knew no such fear. His willingness to say the name contrasted his courage with everyone else’s fear. Likewise, could a reluctance to say Trump’s name be catering to fear? Shouldn’t the gospel be casting out such fear?  Because the Bible commands us to pray for our leaders, we are going to pray for the president one way or the other. That means that we are still going to be referring to Mr. Trump in public worship even if we don’t say the name “Trump.” We are still going to be drawing the same person to people’s minds. If we treat him as “him who shall not be named,” I am concerned that we might communicate fear rather than courage to congregants.

Second, we have been praying for President Obama by name at our church. If we were to avoid praying for President Trump by name, I don’t know how that wouldn’t be perceived as a partisan statement (at least by some). Shouldn’t we avoid the appearance of partisanship in our prayers for our leaders?  If your tradition has been to pray generically for “the president,” then no problem continuing that in the new administration. If your tradition has been to pray for the president by name, then people will notice when you stop doing that for the new president. And they may view it as a political statement.

Third, “trigger warnings” have a poor track-record in institutions of higher education, where they have become ubiquitous. In colleges and universities, there is growing evidence that this sensitivity to “triggers” has done little to educate or to shape the character of students in positive ways. In fact, the opposite seems to have taken place, and much speech has been shut down and squelched by hyper-sensitivity to “triggers.” I can’t imagine how it would be helpful to cultivate such censorious sensitivities within the church. One could make the case that the Bible itself is just one giant “trigger.” Are we going to self-censor the “triggers” from scripture too? Many churches already do that, even though they may not admit it in so many words. And that is not a faithful path for any congregation to go down.

There is a Proverb that says this: “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, But the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1). Sensitivity to triggers seems to cater to those who are constantly fleeing, even when there is no real danger afoot. If we want to teach God’s people to be as “bold as a lion,” avoiding Trump’s name is unlikely to help. In fact, it may have the opposite effect.

Should Churches Discipline Gay-Affirming Members?

Earlier today, I participated  in a debate for a radio program about homosexuality and church discipline. The program is “Up for Debate with Julie Roys,” and three of us were debating this question: “Should Churches Discipline Gay-Affirming Members?” I argued that they should. The other two guys argued that they shouldn’t. Here’s the description of the show from the website:

With same-sex marriage becoming increasingly common, more church-going Christians are affirming same-sex relationships.  Should churches discipline, and even excommunicate, these believers – or overlook the offense?  This Saturday on Up For Debate, Julie Roys will discuss this issue with Denny Burk, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, who advocates discipline and even excommunication.  Challenging his perspective is Hector Sabido, a pastor who advocates a more tolerant approach — and Tim Otto, a gay, celibate member of a so-called “Third Way” church.

The audio of the debate is now available. If you are interested in listening to our discussion, you can download it here or listen below.

The eternal generation of the Son is the biblicist position (and always has been)

Lee Irons has produced a substantive and persuasive response to Kevin Giles’s claim that the Fathers never understood MONOGENES to denote eternal generation. Lee’s work is heady stuff and unfolds in five separate posts. But it is worth the read if you can track with the Greek. I think Lee establishes that the Fathers did in fact view MONOGENES as an exegetical linchpin for eternal generation. The evidence he provides is quite compelling (even overwhelming). Here are links to all five posts.

Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3  /  Part 4  /  Part 5

In his final post, Lee makes a crucial point that evangelicals would do well to consider. Many evangelicals have treated the doctrine of eternal generation as a kind of speculative theological deduction. This posture is due in large part to a misunderstanding of MONOGENES. Lee shows that this is mistaken: Continue Reading →

Another chance to catch a glimpse of what is coming true

As we begin 2017, it is good to think about what has been and what is to come. There were many people who started 2016 not knowing that it would be their last. I’ve known them. And so have you. We are not so different from them, are we?

When I look in the rearview mirror, I see the years gathering up behind me, and I can hardly believe how quickly they’ve piled up. As life rattles forward, it seems the earth makes its annual journey a little quicker than the year before. Where have the years gone?

Continue Reading →

“Nonjudgmental affirmation” is not a parenting strategy

National Geographic has released a special issue titled “Gender Revolution,” and it includes one article offering advice for parents of transgender children. Here is the bottom line:

Your most important role as a parent is to offer understanding, respect, and support to your child. A nonjudgmental approach will gain your child’s trust and put you in a better position to help your child through difficult times.

When your child discloses an identity to you, respond in an affirming, supportive way…

In short, parents must affirm whatever identity a child embraces or risk “harming” their child. But there are some obvious questions that never get asked and answered in this article. Are children really helped when parents decline to make judgments about what is best for their child? Must parents accept and affirm any identity that a child might assume? What kind of child-rearing strategy is it that disallows moral discernment and mandates unconditional affirmation? Continue Reading →

A Plan to Read through the Bible in 2017

In years past, my customary mode for reading through the Bible every year involved starting in Genesis and reading right through to Revelation. I estimated that about four chapters per day would get me through in under a year’s time. The method worked reasonably well, but it wasn’t without its problems. Sometimes I would miss a day (or days) and get behind, and I had no way to keep up with my progress. I needed a schedule so that I could keep myself accountable for finishing in a year.

In 2009, therefore, I did something I had never done before. I followed a Bible reading plan. I adopted Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Calendar for Daily Readings. It provided the schedule that I needed. It also outlined daily readings from different sections of the Bible. On any given day, I would be reading something from an Old Testament narrative, something from the prophets, and something from the New Testament. Although this plan provided the accountability that I needed, I found it difficult to be reading from three to four different biblical books every day. I know that not everyone is like me, but that approach lacked the focus that my brain requires. I missed reading the Bible in its canonical arrangement and focusing on one book at a time. I wished for a schedule that would go from Genesis to Revelation in canonical order. Continue Reading →

Let every heart prepare him room!

How could there possibly be anything more mysterious and wonderful than the incarnation of Jesus Christ? God became a man. God took on mortal human flesh and became subject to all the things that every other mortal is subject to. He sneezed. He coughed. He got headaches and an upset stomach. Every morning he got up, shook the dust out of His hair, and put his hand to the plow in his Father’s field.

Jesus Christ was not only subject to sickness, but also to death. The eternal Son of God was die-able. In fact, he did die. And three days later, what was mortal became swallowed up by immortality in the resurrection.

Even now, the resurrected Christ sits at the right hand of God in glory. As I type these words, the incarnate God intercedes in the flesh for His people before the Father (Romans 8:34). And it all began in a manger 2,000 years ago. No, actually, we have to go nine months before that—when Jesus Christ was first conceived by the Holy Spirit within the virgin Mary, when the God-Man was an embryo. “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. . . The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:30, 35).

How can it be that God has come in the flesh? How can it be that he is in the flesh now? Yet this is precisely what the Bible teaches. “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).

As we ponder the imponderables of God, let us never cease to be amazed at the manifold mercies of God that have come to us through the incarnation of King Jesus. Let every heart prepare Him room.

Merry Christmas!

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