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U2: The concert was great–a little preachy, but still great

It’s hard to believe that I have been listening to U2 for over 30 years. It’s also hard to believe that I’ve never made it to one of their showstopping live performances until just last night. My wife and I bought our tickets months ago, just after they went on sale. So we have been anticipating this for quite some time.

I know Bono did not want this tour to be about nostalgia, but for us it certainly was. We wanted to hear them play the old stuff, and that’s exactly what they did. It was lump-in-your-throat spectacular. In fact, I got a little verklempt when “Where the Streets Have No Name” began to ring out (see video above). It was unbelievable. As Bono began singing, a giant UPS jet flew so close to the stadium that it looked like it might land on us. It slightly terrified everyone, which I think only added to the excitement of the performance.

Anyway, our overall experience was a good one. We are earbud consumers of music these days, and it’s good to experience an event with enough subwoofers to shake your insides while you listen. It was a fantastic show. One that we will never forget.

I am not going to write a proper music review here. Nor am I going to reflect on the legacy of the iconic album “The Joshua Tree” (for that, read Mike Cosper’s excellent piece). My aim is to offer some reflections that have less to do with the music itself than with the message of the performance. And there is no question that U2 is trying to deliver a message on this tour.

1. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Bono said that he wanted to bring the “The Joshua Tree” into 2017. Songs like “Bullet the Blue Sky” were originally written to critique President Reagan’s foreign policy in South America back in the 80’s. Bono wanted to take such messages and apply them to current events. But he says that he wanted to do so without alienating red state America who voted for Donald Trump. In his own words, Bono says:

I also think it’s very, very important that people who voted for Donald Trump feel welcome at our show. I think they have been hoodwinked, but I understand and I would not dismiss the reasons why some people voted for him. I think people on the left really need to put their ear closer to the ground. I do this thing where I say, “The party of Lincoln, the party of Kennedy and those in between holding on, those letting go of the American Dream are welcome.” This is the most important line: “We’ll find common ground by reaching for higher ground.”

Even though the political critique wasn’t as severe as it could have been, it was nevertheless very clear. You have to appreciate the effort to mute the criticism, but it was still there. Any Trump voter paying attention would have understood that Bono was coming down on their guy.

2. Related to that last point, Bono fans tend to treat him like a religious leader. When he speaks, there is a worshipful hush and a nodding of heads as the sage holds forth. Bono must be accustomed to this kind of reverence because he presses into it. This show was without question the most preachy one I have ever attended. Don’t get me wrong, I think Bono is a good man. I admire his compassion, his commitment to relieving suffering around the world, his emphasis on forgiveness and love. He puts his money where his mouth is. I think he is sincere and good, and I do not wish to critique him personally.

Still, I couldn’t help but feel there was more platitude than substance. For example near the end of the show, Bono exhorted all of us that we needed to put aside what divides us. It doesn’t matter if you’re from the left or from the right, from the blue or from the red. If we can all just focus on the “one” thing that is more valuable than anything else, we could all be united in spite of our differences. And then he concludes that we all just need to focus on the “one.” And then he went into the song “One” with no further explanation of what the “one” is. It felt like that moment in City Slickers when Curly tells Billy Crystal that the secret of life is “one” thing but then doesn’t tell him what the one thing is. Bono insists that we need to be united in our commitment to the “one,” but he gives us not one clue what principle unites us.

The end result of this leaves you feeling pretty thin. What principle or person could possibly make us put aside our differences? What could possibly make war and poverty cease in the world? What could move the human heart to love when it is currently so given to hate? Inspiring as it is, it is not going to be a U2 concert. Nor is going to be the force of Bono’s personality. Nor is it going to be the music. Bono leaves it to us to find the “one” thing that will put everything right. It seems to me that the “one” thing isn’t a principle but a Person–Jesus Christ the savior of the world. Perhaps that is what Bono wishes to imply. It is hard to tell, however, when he lionizes personalities and principles that foment the very division that he wishes to overcome. Which leads to one final observation.

3. The encore for this show is an ode to women activists. As the band plays “Ultraviolet,” there is a giant screen featuring the likes of Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, and Ellen Degeneres. As I was watching these faces light up screen, I couldn’t help but think: “Hmm. I think one of these things is not like the other.” But Bono explains his rationale:

The future is about women. I really believe that, so let’s make it an ode to women. As you know, feminine spirit is crucial at times when the male hegemony is causing mayhem. After the Second World War, people like John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, whoever … Marvin Gaye, say – that’s a feminine spirit. The 1960s was a feminine spirit, and the 1960s was born in the rubble of the Second World War.

Great leaps forward of consciousness have a feminine spirit. Men start to look like [women], they grow their hair long. It’s a funny thing, the Renaissance. … Whenever you see the feminine spirit there’s usually a jump in consciousness. In the One Campaign we’re leading with, “Poverty is sexist.” It’s a campaign run by women. And I’m just watching, stepping back, to be the kind of town crier that I used to be. I’m still banging on drums, but I’m in the background. The singers are women. I’m amazed by it.

The actual execution of this “ode to women” is pretty heavily tilted toward pop culture icons. But it was very clear that second and third wave feminists are also prominent–Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, etc. And yet, the movement that Steinem and Friedan represent has given us one of the most divisive ideologies on the planet. Whatever your opinion of feminism, we can all agree that it is not the “one” principle that unites us. Not by a long shot.

Bottom line: This was a fantastic concert, and we enjoyed every minute of it even if it was a bit preachy. We didn’t come for that anyway. We came for great music delivered by one of the best bands of all time. That is what we got, and it was a fantastic show.

“The Gospel according to Glennon”: What gospel?

Elle magazine has published a long-form essay on famous mommy-blogger Glennon Doyle Melton. Until Melton divorced her husband and came out as a lesbian last year, I really didn’t even know who she was. Even so, she has been a popular blogger and writer for a number of years, especially among women. Her openness about her imperfect life has endeared her to millions of readers, many of whom are Christians. Anyway, the Elle feature tells her story, which I won’t rehearse here. I encourage you to read the piece for the full account. Nevertheless, I would offer a handful of reflections on the essay:

1. I have never been a reader of Melton, so I am coming at this as someone with very little knowledge of her. Still, it is striking that for someone who was billed as a “Christian” writer, there is nothing about her in this article that would suggest that she held to the Christian gospel. Maybe she did at some point. But it is absent even in the part that narrates her “conversion.” Perhaps readers more familiar with her work can weigh-in on this, but I still thought that was a conspicuous absence.

2. Even before her coming-out, this article says that her fellow travelers were the likes of Rob Bell and other pop-spirituality/self-help gurus. It also says that she has been a member of the United Church of Christ–a “church” that sanctifies sexually immoral relationships. Were these items red flags to Christian readers before her coming-out? It seems like they should have been.

3. The author of the article emphasizes that Melton’s authenticity and openness about her imperfect “messy” life is what made her so popular–even among non-Christians. It seems that there is a lesson in this. An air of “authenticity” and “messiness” is no substitute for authentic Christian faithfulness. We would all do well to learn how to tell the difference. 

4. The story of Melton’s coming-out was particularly sad–and perhaps even a little bit dishonest. Melton did not merely come out as a lesbian. She divorced her husband to pursue a relationship with a woman that she had fallen in love with. Her husband’s description of his experience is worth considering in his own words:

As for Craig, he remembers receiving an urgent text message from Glennon one afternoon, saying she had something very serious to discuss. “It sounded like 911, like Code Red,” he tells me over the phone. “I rushed home. On the way, I was thinking, Either she has cancer, or she’s gay.” (Obviously Craig isn’t as clueless as he’s sometimes portrayed to be.)

When he found out it wasn’t cancer, “I hit the floor bawling,” he says. “I was just so happy she wasn’t going to die.” Then came a wave of “sadness, confusion, and anger,” he says. “I thought we had been doing things the right way. Both of us had been working on ourselves. We’d entered a phase that was supposed to be a new life for us. It was a shock. It felt like the end of the world.”

But eventually, Craig says, he felt he had no choice but to accept his new reality. Glennon and Abby are, after all, “two women following their hearts,” he says, slipping into Glennon-speak. “Isn’t that what life is all about? Finding true love? If Glennon is happy, and Abby is happy, and the kids are thriving, what’s wrong with that?” Now he shares joint custody of the children with Melton, and he recently accepted a new job in technology sales.

There’s no question that both spouses played a part in the dissolution of the marriage. But still, it is striking that Craig is unable to lament the end of his marriage. He is obviously grieved over the loss, but he does not even hint that anything wrong has happened. Because his wife fell in love with a woman, she is to be celebrated for divorcing him. But would people be celebrating the divorce in the same way if she had left him for another man? Probably not. Why? Because “coming-out” and embracing gay identity is seen as sacrosanct in our culture–even more holy than the covenant of marriage. Even more important than maintaining one’s wedding vows.

The result is that the divorce gets whitewashed. Its impact on the husband and children is almost completely a non-factor in the story. The central factor is Melton’s personal happiness and self-fulfillment. And that is why so many of her readers feel empowered to pursue divorce instead of sticking it out through tough times in their own marriages. Here is a telling comment from a marriage counselor interviewed for the article:

“She puts a knot in my stomach,” says couples therapist Michele Weiner-Davis, whose latest book is called Healing From Infidelity. “I can’t count how many times I hear women quoting her when they come into my office. On the positive side, she wants to empower women. But the fact is, most people don’t do divorce all that well, especially when children are involved. She’s strengthening their conviction that they need to get away from their husbands, instead of learning to work through challenging issues. Sometimes you have to be a warrior to stay.”

5. If this article is accurate, what is left of Melton’s “Christian” faith cannot be reasonably described as authentically Christian. The article says,

She’s equally enthused about her new role as a pillar of the progressive opposition movement. Since leaving Craig for Wambach—who stumped for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has been an advocate for women’s equality and LGBTQ causes—Melton has recast herself as a leader of the Christian resistance to Trump. “It’s one of the best parts of our relationship,” Melton says. “We wake up in the morning, and we literally say to each other: ‘Coffee and revolution.’?”

To that end, Melton has stopped blogging about floor crap and started blogging about Black Lives Matter and the need for intersectionality. These days, when she reminds her followers that they “can do hard things,” she’s not talking about scraping Play-Doh off the rug but about helping children in Aleppo—or calling your congressperson. “I realized I didn’t just want to parent children in my own little home, but to mother the whole world,” Melton says. “What’s the point of gaining influence if you’re not going to use it?”

Mother to the world? Wow. But what is she bequeathing to her “children”? It’s not the faith once for all delivered to the saints, but sadly something else altogether.

Watch Senator Bernie Sanders tell a Christian that his faith disqualifies him from office

By now you have probably heard about what happened to Russell Vought, a Christian who appeared before the Senate Budget Committee (see above). When it was Senator Bernie Sanders’ turn to question Vought, he excoriated Vought for believing what Christians have always believed–that Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved from condemnation. Not only did Senator Sanders attack this basic Christian belief, he also said that Vought’s belief made him unfit for office. Here’s how the exchange ends:

SANDERS: You think your statement that… they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned, do you think that’s respectful of other religions?

VOUGHT: Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly in regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.

SANDERS: I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.

And so Senator Sanders closes his testimony saying that no one in this country should be believing what Christians have always believed–that Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved. If Senator Sanders is right, then no faithful Christian would ever again be qualified for public office. Moreover, no faithful Christian would even be qualified to be an American. Why? Because what Senator Sanders finds so offensive is precisely what all orthodox Christians believe. To put it in Jesus’ own words:

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:17-18).

The heart of the Christian faith is this. All people are born sinners and for that reason are under condemnation. Because of this, all of us need to be saved from condemnation. God sends his Son Jesus into the world to save sinners from condemnation and to reconcile them to God. Jesus took our condemnation for us by dying on the cross, for in Christ God “condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). The only way for sinners to escape condemnation and to be reconciled to God is through Jesus–which is why Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).

If it is un-American to believe this (as Senator Sanders suggests), then it is un-American to be a Christian because this teaching is at the very essence of our faith. Make no mistake, any Christian who agrees to the terms stipulated by Senator Sanders can in no sense remain a faithful Christian. In Senator Sanders’ America, one can be a Christian or be a good citizen, but he cannot be both. I can hardly imagine a position more corrosive of religious liberty than this.

Article VI of the United States Constitution forbids precisely what Senator Sanders is doing in this line of questioning—imposing a religious test on a nominee for public office. Article VI states “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” And yet here is Senator Sanders demanding that a nominee for public office betray his faith in order to gain that office. Disgraceful.

Watch the video above. You have to see it to believe it.

Farmer banned from selling produce at market because of his views on marriage

I can hardly believe the report in the video above is true, but it is. Steve Tennes is a farmer who has been selling his produce for the last seven years at the farmer’s market in East Lansing, Michigan. Recently, he was asked on Facebook about his beliefs about marriage. Steven and his family are Roman Catholic, and so he answered with the 2,000-year old teaching of his church.

Somehow, the city of East Lansing got a hold of the Facebook post. As a result, the city decided not to invite him back to participate in the Farmer’s Market. So Tennes reapplied with the city to be included as a vendor. And the city wrote him back and informed him that he would not be allowed to participate in the Farmer’s Markert because of his beliefs about marriage. The rejection had nothing to do with his products or his business but everything to do with his religious beliefs.

If you think recent concerns about religious liberty among evangelicals is much ado about nothing, here’s yet one more piece of mounting evidence that this is much ado about something–something precious that is being lost. Is it really the case that a municipal government can punish citizens and exclude them from public space simply because of their religious beliefs? If so, something is lost indeed–America’s first freedom.

Dating apps and greasing the skids on human lust

A really sad essay appeared in The New York Times last week titled “Wanting Monogamy as 1,946 Men Await My Swipe.” It is another sad story about the emotional and spiritual dead-end of the so-called “hook-up” culture. It is the first person account of a young woman and her experience with dating apps. Even though she knows that the men available on dating apps are only looking for one thing, she decides to take the plunge anyway. She ends up meeting a guy, having a 6-week tryst, falling for him, expressing her wish to be more than his Monday-night-girl, and then having her heart broken as he tells her that he has no desire for “monogamy” with her or anyone else. And so the sad affair ends with a sad young woman going back to her dating app and finding that there are 1,946 men waiting for her to swipe.

This is a sad read for obvious reasons. But what struck me about it was the conclusion. You would think that perhaps she learned a lesson about the dangers of easy hook-ups on dating apps. But that is not at all what she concludes. This is:

It’s easy to dismiss dating apps as insincere, objectifying and sketchy. But in the end, they did do one thing for me. They introduced me to Michael, someone I was willing to bend the rules for, someone I was actually able to admit I liked. And maybe there is hope in that.

Hope in the fact that there is a technology that facilitates selfish promiscuity and bad faith? Wow. I have to say that this is not the conclusion that jumps out at me.

What does jump out at me is that this story illustrates in spades that the sexual revolution makes promises that it can never keep. By separating sex from the marriage covenant, it hasn’t made people happier or freer but more lonely and alienated than they ever were before. Fidelity, covenant, an old man holding the hand of his wife on her deathbed after a lifetime of love and loss and faithfulness. These things don’t come from the fast fornication of dating apps. We were made for so much more than a degrading technology that greases the skids on human lust (1 Cor. 6:18-20). But so few in our culture seem able to see it—even when the pain caused by it is so evident.

Check Your Privilege

I mentioned a few weeks ago, that I’ve been doing some reading on intersectionality and identity politics. One item that I have observed in this reading is the tendency among some to assign moral guilt based not on moral action but based on identity.

The thinking goes like this. If a person possesses a privileged identity (e.g., straight, male, abled, etc.), that person benefits from an unjust system of social privilege. Therefore, the person benefitting is morally guilty of injustice just by virtue of possessing the so-called privileged identity.

A few weeks ago, I came across a column in the Harvard Crimson that illustrates the point. In this column, Nian Hu is warning women to “Beware of the Male Feminist.” She writes:

What these male feminists fail to realize is that, as men, they will always be oppressors. No matter how many feminist marches they attend or how much feminist literature they read, they are not exempt from perpetuating the subordination of women. Their support of the women’s movement does not erase the fact that they, on an individual level, are capable of harassing, assaulting, or silencing women—nor that, on a structural level, they continue to benefit from a system that establishes male dominance at the expense of women. And even though male allies may genuinely feel guilty, they will continue to benefit from male privilege. The patriarchy does not offer special exceptions for men with good intentions. Men, as a class, are culpable for misogyny, and male allies are no different and no less capable of demeaning women through their words, actions, and complicit silence.

Notice what she argues here. One does not have to commit an act of oppression to be guilty of oppression. One merely has to be “capable of harassing, assaulting, or silencing women.” Just by virtue of being male, therefore, every man is guilty. And no amount of feminist allyship or “good intentions” can erase the stain of his guilt. “Men, as a class, are culpable for misogyny.”

As I have been reading through some of this material, I’ve become more and more convinced that Christians are going to have to think carefully about some key concepts that are driving articles like the one above. We are going to have to think carefully and biblically about identity, privilege, allyship, intersectionality, and a host of other related topics that are driving the conversation in the culture today.

To that end, Jonathan Leeman has a really helpful post over at The Gospel Coalition helping us to think through the issue of privilege: “Identity Politics, White Privilege, and Gospel Peace.” Jonathan is thinking through the privilege motif vis a vis racial inequalities, but the larger point that he’s making about guilt and privilege would apply to any social identity, including the ones implicated in the article above from The Harvard Crimson. Jonathan writes:

In the American context, the phrase “white privilege” refers to the structural injustices affixed to ethnicity and skin color.

More specifically, white privilege can mean at least three things, two of which I accept and one of which I don’t. First, it means that I possess, by virtue of my skin color, social and material advantages. This is simply a statistical reality…

White privilege means, second of all, that I possess those advantages by virtue of systemic and historic patterns of discrimination and injustice… I accept this second plank of white privilege as well…

But there is a third, more profoundly ideological and typically unstated meaning of white privilege that I do not accept. And that is the automatic transfer of guilt to anyone who possesses such advantages… As author Eula Biss put it, whiteness is not an identity but a moral problem. Whites are moral debtors simply by being white. If a black 4-year-old is demonstrably indicted as guilty by the structures of society, says Ta-Nehsi Coates following Malcolm X, then “it is impossible for white 4-year-olds to be innocent.”…

The bottom line here is: Identity politics, at its most careless, undermines moral agency. The white 16-year-old at Northeast High is not guilty simply for being white or for the advantages he possesses by virtue of his skin color. We cannot forsake the demands of justice at an individual level. We understand from Scripture that guilt and culpability are individual; punishment and responsibility are individual. To say otherwise is its own kind of Nietzschian power move—creating a concept of guilt for the sake of leveraging power.

This excerpt doesn’t do the full argument justice, so you really have to go read the whole thing. I think Jonathan is spot-on here. There is no question that privilege exists in the first two senses of the term, but the third sense is problematic. If privilege implies guilt, then it is possible to be guilty of a sin that you didn’t commit and for which there can be no atonement. Moreover, there would be no possibility of reconciliation on an individual level as long as systemic injustices persist in the world.

Obviously, these conclusions are squarely at odds with biblical teaching about guilt, justice, and reconciliation with God and with one another. And that is why we are going to have to give careful attention to the claims being made by proponents of identity politics. Their claims are theological at their core, and they require a theological answer. Jonathan gets us started in the right direction, and I encourage you to read the rest of his piece here.

It is not “character assassination” for the church to be the church.

Last night, Jonathan Merritt penned an article for Religion News Service excoriating Christians who have distanced themselves from Jen Hatmaker. He writes:

Hatmaker’s original sin is that she broke ranks with the evangelical powers-that-be on same-sex relationships. In an interview with me last October, Hatmaker stated that if she found out one of her children were gay, she would love that child just the same. If an LGBT friend of Hatmaker’s got married, she said she would attend the wedding. And Hatmaker said she believed LGBT relationships could be holy.

In the interview, Hatmaker did not deny a line in the Apostles Creed. She did not promote a historical heresy. She merely claimed that after a careful study of the scriptures, she had arrived at a different understanding of same-sex relationships. But this was enough to outrage some conservative Christians. Lifeway Christian Stores even banned her books from their shelves.

Merritt says that Hatmaker has not only been “blacklisted” but that her detractors have engaged in “the nastiest character assassination.” In sum, Merritt believes Hatmaker’s endorsement of same-sex relationships should be treated as within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy and that evangelical churches and ministries are mistreating her by excluding her because of her views on sexuality.

There are more problems in Merritt’s article than I can address in a single essay, but it is worth pointing out some of the more significant mischaracterizations. The entire 2,000-year history of the Christian church has spoken univocally about homosexuality. Faithful Christians have always believed what the scriptures teach about this. Homosexuality is sexual immorality and is therefore sinful (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:10). We understand that this is an unpopular point of view today, but it is nevertheless what the church has always believed and confessed.

There are many voices within the North American evangelical movement that are turning away from what the church has always believed and confessed. Hatmaker is now among them. They are trying to tell people that sexual immorality is compatible with following Jesus. And they are asking the rest of the church to accept their point of view as within the orthodox stream.

The problem is that their teaching never has been, is not, and never will be within the orthodox stream. It will always be a mark of those who have fallen away from the faith. Theirs is an ancient error—one that can be found within the pages of the New Testament itself:

“Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 3-4)

What is this departure from “the faith once for all delivered to the saints”? What is this teaching that amounts to a denial of “our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” and that puts adherents under “condemnation”? It is the teaching that distorts the grace of God into a permission slip for sexual immorality. It is the errant notion that somehow God is okay with sexual immorality after all.

But He’s not okay with it. And neither are his people, the church. Faithful Christians are never going to accept this teaching. The true church is never going to embrace this. It may look otherwise to those who are focused on Christian organizations in the secular west. But this is not an accurate picture of the church worldwide, which is overwhelmingly with the orthodox on this question. And if we give attention to what G.K. Chesterton called the “democracy of the dead”—the faith of the church throughout the ages—it becomes very clear that American revisionists are a tiny schismatic minority. Just an ounce of historical and global perspective puts the lie to the notion that the revisionists are winning the day on this. They are not.

That is why faithful Christian ministries and churches are not going to give their platforms to teachers who have stepped outside of the healing stream of Christian truth. The Spirit of Christ commands His bride to stand apart from those who are leading people astray:

“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Tit. 3:10-11).

The word translated as “division” is the Greek word hairetikos, which is the basis for our English word heresy. It is clear that the divisive person in this scenario is the false teacher, not the church who is standing apart from him in faithfulness to Christ. The church is supposed to be calling people to Christ, and she dare not platform those who are leading people away from Christ.

Merritt writes as if there is an underlying groundswell of evangelical support for this false teaching. He even claims that there are many well-known pastors and leaders who privately believe that homosexual immorality is compatible with following Christ. But, Merritt says, these leaders dare not say so publicly because they don’t want to lose their ministry platforms. I don’t have any way to verify this claim. But even if it were true, I think Merritt misconstrues the meaning of the presence of such hucksters. Their subterfuge is not evidence of where the church is going but of what the church will be casting off when their deception becomes known.

I was grieved by what I read in Merritt’s column last night. It represents a sad celebration of serious error that is completely incompatible with the Christian faith. The good news is that the New Testament does offer hope that false teachers might recognize their error and come back from the brink. Paul himself holds out some hope for his opponents:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24-25).

This is my prayer. It really is. I am hoping against hope that those who have embraced this error might come back from the brink. So much is at stake. Everything that matters is at stake. Our arms are open. Come back. Please come back.

The mistakes Christians make in dismissing biblical teaching on modesty

Katelyn Beaty has written an Op-Ed for The New York Times lamenting “The Mistake Christians Made in Defending Bill O’Reilly.” I agree with her main point that Christians should have no part in defending the indefensible. I think that much should be uncontroversial as the scripture is so clear on this point: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph. 5:11).

Having said that, I have to take issue with some of the evidence she adduces to establish her point. Beaty links to a 2007 article written by John Piper as evidence of what is wrong in the Christian church. She writes:

In churches, a quick forgiveness for perpetrators often dovetails with strict standards of purity for women. From a young age, many Christian women are taught to dress modestly so as not to cause men to “stumble.” John Piper, a prominent pastor and theologian, has said that “a lot of Christian women are oblivious to the fact that they have some measure of responsibility” in managing men’s lust. The moralizing about dress and behavior can be a setup for victim-blaming wrapped in a spiritual veneer.

What is wrong with Beaty’s citation of Piper’s article? First, Piper’s article does not say that women have to take responsibility for “managing men’s lust.” That is a distortion of what he wrote. His article simply says that women should take responsibility for dressing modestly. I know that idea sounds old-timey and weird to secular ears, but it is pretty basic stuff as far as Christianity is concerned. “Modesty” is a biblical virtue, not an evidence of some sort of toxic “purity culture.” As the apostle Paul writes, “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control” (1 Tim. 2:9). I wonder if Beaty would view the apostle Paul’s words as problematic?

Second, Beaty says that “moralizing about dress and behavior can be a setup for victim-blaming wrapped in a spiritual veneer.” Let us agree that men are responsible for their own sin no matter how the women around them are dressed. That is one of many reasons why no victim of abuse should ever be blamed for the evil deeds of abusers. But we can agree to that without dismissing the Bible’s moral instruction about “dress and behavior.” Beaty seems to dismiss such teaching per se as a pretext for some darker purpose. And yet the Bible is replete with moral exhortation about our dress and sexual behavior. Would Beaty say that the Bible’s teaching itself is aimed at “victim-blaming”? Are we to avoid what the scripture teaches us about modesty and sexual behavior in the hopes that it might discourage bad behavior at Fox News? This is absurd.

The Bible’s teaching on these things is aimed squarely at the kind of behavior now being reported at Fox News. The Bible’s “moralizing” on these things exposes such evil for what it is. It doesn’t enable it. The Bible has as much to say—if not more—about the behavior of lecherous men as it does about the modesty of women (e.g. Exod. 20:17; Matt. 5:28). Pastoral silence on such matters would enable the darkness not confront it.

And this is the real problem with Beaty’s citation of Piper’s article. She conflates bad behavior at Fox News with faithful biblical teaching. What Piper wrote about modesty in 2007 is something we would all do well to listen to in 2017. And the reason we need to hear it is because it is the wisdom of scripture. Our sexually broken world needs more biblical wisdom, not less of it. If pastors charged with preaching the whole counsel of God cannot speak to this, then who can?

I agree with Beaty that Christians must not excuse or defend bad behavior. Instead, we must expose it (Eph. 5:11). But our duty to expose evil must not be turned into an excuse for turning away from what the Bible says about modesty. We need to know what the Bible teaches about modesty, and we need to live it. But we are not going to be able to do that if we slander biblical teaching as “victim-blaming.”

Some thoughts on intersectionality and “activist science”

I’ve been doing some reading on intersectionality1 recently, and I came across an article by a feminist psychologist named Stephanie Shields. She argues that intersectionality should be an urgent concern for behavioral scientists and should determine the outcomes of their research. Shields writes:

“Intersectionality is an urgent issue because it is critical to the effective, activist science that feminist psychology should be. The goal of activist science itself is not to create policy, but to inform it. Research undertaken from an intersectionality perspective does originate from a point of view which includes an agenda for positive social change, but the agenda requires data to support it. This approach reflects a belief that science can be beneficial to society and that it is our obligation to study scientifically those problems and issues that bear on real people’s lived experience.”

-Stephanie A. Shields, “Gender: An Intersectionality Perspective,” Sex Roles 59 (2008): 309.

Thomas Kuhn famously said that science is theory-laden. If Shields is correct, intersectional science seems theory-burdened, or theory-predetermined. Shields contends for “activist science.” In other words, it’s not merely that the scientist has biases that inevitably (though perhaps unintentionally) shape his research. Shields is arguing that the behavioral scientist should have a bias for intersectional theory, and that the theory should function as an agenda in search of facts to support it.

To the degree that behavioral sciences are being conducted in this way and to the degree that they become an apology for intersectional theory, we should not be surprised to find conflict between such “science” and traditional religious perspectives (including Christianity). But it is crucial to note that the conflict is not between real science and Christianity, but between a thinly veiled feminist theory and Christianity. The feminist theory masquerades as “science,” but it is not really that at all. It is a religion of first principles predetermining which facts are relevant and which ones need to be suppressed or discarded because they don’t support intersectional theory.

This is just a reminder that not all “science” is true science. The discerning reader will understand that there is a difference between facts and evidence and the evaluation of facts and evidence. Sometimes there are agendas at work shaping the way researchers construe the evidence. Oftentimes, it is the evaluation of the facts and evidence that reveals that underlying worldview of the researcher.

For example, in 2013 the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders removed “Gender Identity Disorder” from its list of psychiatric disorders and replaced it with “Gender Dysphoria.” Did they remove it because scientists had uncovered some new facts or evidence showing it no longer to be a disorder? No, that is not why they did it. As I have pointed out before in this space, the diagnosis was changed to remove the stigma of transgender identities being labeled as a “disorder.” Consider also, for example, how the scientific community has responded to the research of Mark Regnerus and Paul McHugh. Has the negative response been based on facts and evidence? Or has it been based on the fact that these men sometimes reach conclusions that depart from predetermined outcomes?

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1 For a primer on intersectionality, I recommend Joe Carter’s recent article “What Christians Should Know about Intersectionality.” Andrew Sullivan offers a powerful critique of intersectionality from a secular perspective in “Is Intersectionality a Religion.” If you want to take a deep-dive into some actual intersectional theory, I recommend Kimberlé Crenshaw’s seminal essay, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989, no. 1 (1989): 139-67. For a popular introduction to Crenshaw’s theory, see her recent TED Talk, “The urgency of intersectionality.”

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