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Study suggests link between football violence and degenerative brain disease

There is a new study suggesting a link between football violence and degenerative brain disease. Here is the description from The New York Times.

Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist, has examined the brains of 202 deceased football players. A broad survey of her findings was published on Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Of the 202 players, 111 of them played in the N.F.L. — and 110 of those were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., the degenerative disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head.

C.T.E. causes myriad symptoms, including memory loss, confusion, depression and dementia. The problems can arise years after the blows to the head have stopped…

The set of players posthumously tested by Dr. McKee is far from a random sample of N.F.L. retirees. “There’s a tremendous selection bias,” she has cautioned, noting that many families have donated brains specifically because the former player showed symptoms of C.T.E.

But 110 positives remain significant scientific evidence of an N.F.L. player’s risk of developing C.T.E., which can be diagnosed only after death. About 1,300 former players have died since the B.U. group began examining brains. So even if every one of the other 1,200 players would have tested negative — which even the heartiest skeptics would agree could not possibly be the case — the minimum C.T.E. prevalence would be close to 9 percent, vastly higher than in the general population.

The N.F.L.’s top health and safety official has acknowledged a link between football and C.T.E., and the league has begun to steer children away from playing the sport in its regular form, encouraging safer tackling methods and promoting flag football.

Read the rest here.

Eugene Peterson will always exist

Eugene Peterson has revealed that he now embraces homosexuality and gay marriage as consistent with the Christian faith. In an interview with Jonathan Merritt, he writes:

I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.

To say that Peterson’s justification for same-sex relationships is really thin would be an understatement. His is not an argument based on scripture. Rather, it’s an argument based on sentiment. He says that he’s known some nice gay people, therefore he now discards the moral consensus of the entire 2,000-year history of the Christian church. This is not pastoral wisdom. It’s folly of the first order.

Anyone familiar with Peterson will probably not be surprised by this interview. His denominational affiliation is with the PCUSA, and his views fit right in with that group. Perhaps what is more surprising is that we are only just now finding this out with this level of clarity.

Peterson says that as a pastor he had openly gay church members and even once hired an openly gay music minister. Since Peterson retired from pastoral ministry in 1991, that would suggest that his acceptance of practicing gay church members and clergy goes back at least 26 years. During that time, his writings have had an enormous impact among evangelicals through the nineties and beyond. I had one of his books assigned to me as required reading when I was in seminary. He has been contributing to Christianity Today as recently as this year. It is surprising that this information wasn’t more widely known among evangelicals before now.

Peterson’s greatest legacy is his paraphrase of the Bible titled The Message. This book has had a massive impact worldwide (including famously and recently with Bono). I am not a fan of paraphrases, and so I have not paid a lot of attention to The Message over the years. But I decided to take a look at some of the key passages today in light of the interview.

Merritt points out in the interview that Peterson doesn’t use the words “homosexuality” in The Message. Merritt is right about that, but that is not the most important thing about his rendering of these passages. It turns out that in the three New Testament passages that deal explicitly with homosexuality, Peterson obscures and conceals the Bible’s meaning altogether (see Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9-11, 1 Tim. 1:10 in The Message). These are renderings that revisionists like Matthew Vines could be quite happy with. Again, perhaps Peterson’s views aren’t so new after all.

People have asked me whether I believe Peterson is a bona fide Christian in light of this revelation. The best way I can answer that is to say what I would do if he were a member of the church where I pastor. We wouldn’t immediately presume that he isn’t a Christian. He would be given the opportunity to repent and to come back to the truth of scripture. If he refused to repent and persisted in this false teaching, we would eventually excommunicate him and treat him as an unbeliever (Matthew 18:17; Titus 3:10). This is what we believe our Lord teaches us to do in dealing with false teachers, so we would do it.

Merritt’s interview with Peterson concludes with an odd question:

One day, as with all of us, Eugene Peterson will not be someone who exists. He will be somebody who did exist once. When that moment comes, how do you hope people will remember Eugene Peterson?

It is true that Peterson will one day die, but it is not true that he will one day cease to exist. Peterson will exist after death and into eternity—just like the rest of us. In eternity, “how people remember Eugene Peterson” will not be the most important question. The preeminent concern in that day will be how God remembers Eugene Peterson. This is the biggest question not only for Peterson but for all of us.

Eugene Peterson is not the first and won’t be the last well-known “Christian” to fall to the wayside over the issue of homosexuality. This is the watershed issue of our time, separating those who will follow the word of Christ from those who will not. No one among us will be able to avoid this question. No one.

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.

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.”

When a “mother” fathers a child, who are you to judge?

Perhaps you’ve already seen the new Dove soap commercial featuring a transgender “mom” (see above). Such displays are ubiquitous in pop culture these days, but this one caught my eye. This one stood out because it is not only redefining male and female, but it is also redefining mom and dad.

My question for those who accept transgender identities is this: Are there any limits on who can “identify” as a mom? If being a mom really comes down to how one self-identifies, what is the limiting principle here? Here’s what I mean:

  • Should someone who fathers a child and who looks and dresses like a man self-identify as the “mother” of a child? If not, why not?
  • Should someone self-identify as the mother of a child that they have no legal relationship to (either by birth or by adoption)? If not, why not?
  • Should someone self-identify as a “mother” when there is no child in the picture at all? In other words, should one self-identify as a mother even if he or she has no relationship to any particular child? If not, why not?
  • The Dove commercial says that “you are the only expert in your kid.” But what if a child says that she needs a father? Should her father self-identify as her mother? If not, why not?

If the Dove commercial is correct that we must affirm a father who self-identifies as a mother, then isn’t it possible for anyone to be a “mom”? If the Dove commercial is correct that there really is no one right way to be a mother, then who’s to deny any of the self-identities listed above?

These questions would have been incomprehensible to people even ten years ago. But I do think they are relevant today. The hegemony of self-identities is here, and those promoting them have given us no principle by which they may be limited–even when they are harmful to others. And yet they owe us that explanation, but that explanation is not forthcoming. And it won’t be forthcoming because they don’t have an answer. How long will it take for folks to figure that out? And how much damage will be done to families before they do?

Usage Note on “Re-Accommodate”

By now you have all heard about the United Airlines fiasco involving the violent removal of a ticketed passenger. I won’t rehash the whole story here (although I did get a first person account from my colleague John Klaassen who was seated right in front of the removed passenger; see the guy in the orange shirt here).

After videos of the incident went viral, the CEO of United released a statement claiming that passenger had been “re-accommodated.” This neologism has been widely mocked—especially since video footage of the incident had already been seen by half the world by the time the CEO released his statement. It was as if he was saying, “Don’t you believe your lying eyes. We merely re-accommodated him.” After two days, it’s pretty clear that nobody is buying this glaring euphemism.

But as “re-accommodate” is poised to become the word of the year, I thought it might be useful to make one usage note. Technically speaking, this passenger’s removal would not have been a re-accommodation even if the man had decided to deplane voluntarily and without incident. Why?

While the Urban Dictionary has already updated its lexicon, The American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) still does not have an entry for re-accommodate. However, AHD does have entries for “re-” and for “accommodate.” Entry 3.b under “accommodate” says that the word means “to provide for; supply with something needed.” The prefix “re-“ denotes “again” or “anew.”

Since the accommodation in question is airline passage from Chicago to Louisville, the United CEO’s term re-accommodate would mean to provide passage from Chicago to Louisville again. But this is precisely what did not happen. One cannot re-accommodate unless they have first accommodated, which United of course did not do.

Bottom Line: The CEO’s euphemism would have been inaccurate no matter how the passenger had been deplaned. And I have a hunch that because this incident has become so notorious, the CEO’s intended meaning for this term is likely not going to be the one that makes it into AHD. The meaning reflected in the tweet below is mostly likely the one that will stick.

Santa in a gay marriage in new picture book

HarperCollins will be publishing a new book featuring a gay Santa. Here’s the report from TIME magazine:

A new picture book will depict Santa as a gay man in an interracial relationship, publisher Harper Design confirmed Tuesday.

The book, Santa’s Husband, goes on sale Oct. 10 and tells the story of a black Santa Claus and his white husband who both live in the North Pole. Santa’s spouse frequently fills in for his husband at malls, according to a description of the book Harper Design provided to TIME…

A photo… of the book’s original concept art shows the couple, both wearing Santa suits, looking dreamingly into each other’s eyes.

Harper Design said the book is meant for all ages.

I guess we already knew that no area would be off-limits in the cultural revolution before us, but this one is still quite sad. Santa has long been transformed into a secular symbol of Christmas. But still, he was a symbol for children. This book is but one more indication that purveyors of the new sexual morality are willing to appropriate any and every cultural symbol and transform it into an avatar of the revolution. 

Is the religious left really a “political force”?

Reuters has a report out today about how President Trump has activated the religious left. Here’s the gist of it:

“The election of Trump has been a clarion call to progressives in the Protestant and Catholic churches in America to move out of a place of primarily professing progressive policies to really taking action,” [Reverend Serene Jones] said.

Although not as powerful as the religious right, which has been credited with helping elect Republican presidents and boasts well-known leaders such as Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson, the “religious left” is now slowly coming together as a force in U.S. politics.

This disparate group, traditionally seen as lacking clout, has been propelled into political activism by Trump’s policies on immigration, healthcare and social welfare, according to clergy members, activists and academics. A key test will be how well it will be able to translate its mobilization into votes in the 2018 midterm congressional elections.

“It’s one of the dirty little secrets of American politics that there has been a religious left all along and it just hasn’t done a good job of organizing,” said J. Patrick Hornbeck II, chairman of the theology department at Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York.

“It has taken a crisis, or perceived crisis, like Trump’s election to cause folks on the religious left to really own their religion in the public square,” Hornbeck said.

A couple comments here:

1. Reverend Jones says that the religious left needs to move from merely “professing” progressivism to “really taking action.” But nowhere does she or any other person in the article talk about a need for the religious left to “profess” the faith once for all given to the saints nor to act on the dictates of that faith. Nowhere in this article is Jesus, the cross, the gospel, or God even mentioned. If all I knew about the religious left were this article I’d have to ask in what sense it is “religious” at all. This article describes a very secular movement, if it even is that. And that brings me to my next point.

2. The article contends that the religious left—although not as influential as the religious right—really is beginning to gain some steam. It has been catalyzed, the article claims, by the presidency of Donald Trump. The religious left has been here all along, it just needed better organization. It is this latter point that is highly disputable. The mainline denominations are the cradle of the religious left, and the mainlines have been in a membership freefall for decades. They are declining in influence because they are declining in members. Theological liberalism eviscerates biblical Christianity. It is a form of godliness without its power (1 Timothy 3:5). Of course they are declining. Baptized secularism offers nothing more than unbaptized secularism. It is no surprise that secular people have decided that they don’t need to give up their Sunday mornings in order to have the baptized version. More “organization” is not going to fix the problem at the heart of the religious left—the fact that it is no longer Christian in any meaningful sense.

Submit to the new sexual orthodoxy or risk losing everything

By now you may have already heard the news that the Washington State Supreme Court has rejected Barronelle Stutzman’s appeal. Here is the report from the Associated Press:

The Washington Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that a florist who refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding broke the state’s antidiscrimination law, even though she claimed doing so would violate her religious beliefs.

Barronelle Stutzman, a florist in Richland, Washington, had been fined by a lower court for denying service to a gay couple in 2013. Stutzman said she was exercising her First Amendment rights.

But the court held that her floral arrangements do not constitute protected free speech, and that providing flowers to a same-sex wedding would not serve as an endorsement of same-sex marriage…

Stutzman’s lawyers immediately said they would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

Readers of this blog know that I have already written extensively about this case on this site over the last several years. Readers will not be surprised that I find this decision from the Washington Supreme Court to be a fundamental miscarriage of justice—a trampling of religious liberty. As I have written previously for CNN.com, this is what yesterday’s decision means:

The decision against Stutzman sets a dreadful precedent against our first freedom in the Bill of Rights: religious liberty. The court says that she is free to believe what she wants, but not to practice her religious beliefs. The court has ruled that if she wants to run a business in the state of Washington, she must defy her conscience and participate in same-sex weddings. If she does not, then the full coercive power of the state — as well as civil liability — will be brought against her.

Keep in mind that Stutzman does not refuse service to gay people. Indeed she had been selling flowers to this gay couple for nine years. She has also employed gay people in her flower shop. She had a friendship with the man suing her and cared for him personally and wished for her relationship with him to continue. She simply could not defy her conscience and lend her creative talent to help celebrate what her faith says she cannot celebrate. She had no idea that staying true to her faith would end up threatening her entire livelihood and savings.

We are witnessing a shift in our society — a shift which inevitably leads to Christians being treated as pariahs at every level of our national life. Louie Giglio’s Christian views on marriage got him removed from the President’s inauguration. Brendan Eich’s support for traditional marriage got him dismissed as CEO of Mozilla. Kelvin Cochran’s Christian faith got him fired from his position as fire chief of Atlanta. Two bakers in Oregon had to shutter their business and are now facing bankruptcy for refusing to participate in a gay wedding. The stories are mounting. Who will be next?…

Barronelle Stutzman’s case is nothing less than an egregious violation of our first freedom. It is Caesar saying, “Conscience be damned. Submit to the new sexual orthodoxy or risk losing everything.”

This is not tolerance. This is injustice that flies in the face of this nation’s laws and traditions. And if this kind of thing can be done to a 70-year-old grandmother running a small flower shop in rural Washington State, then it can be done to you. No one’s conscience is safe if this precedent becomes the norm.

Ms. Stutzman has appealed her case to the Supreme Court of the United States. I cannot overstate how important SCOTUS’s decision will be. Will they even agree to hear the case? If they do, what will Justice Kennedy decide? I encourage you to read the legal analysis from Constitutional lawyer David French. Among other things, French writes:

Once again, eyes will be fixed on Justice Kennedy. Will he continue to impose his own version of the state religion, the one he so enthusiastically articulated in Obergefell? Or will he remember that words have meaning, orientation doesn’t mean action, and the state can’t compel citizens to condone what they consider immoral. It’s time for the Supreme Court to take a deep breath, abandon its revolutionary crusade, and remember the great wisdom of its predecessors… What say you, Justice Kennedy? Do those who oppose the sexual revolution forfeit that fundamental protection? I suppose we’ll soon find out.

I have a particular interest in this case for a couple of reasons. First, Ms. Stutzman is a fellow Southern Baptist, and she is risking everything to be faithful to what we believe the Bible teaches about marriage.

Second, I offered testimony in the early stages of this case. And that day of testimony has impacted me to this day. When I was first asked to give testimony, I thought my role as an SBC pastor and seminary professor would simply be to enter into the record what Southern Baptists believe about marriage. But that is not at all what it turned out to be.

For an entire day, I sat across the table from attorneys representing the Washington Attorney General and the ACLU (two different attorneys because Ms. Stutzman is being sued by the state and by the gay couple that she was once friends with). These attorneys didn’t merely ask me what Southern Baptist believe. They tried to show that what Southern Baptists believe amounts to invidious discrimination.

I had to defend not only our denomination’s statement of faith (The Baptist Faith and Message) but also resolutions passed by our denomination going back 30 and 40 years. It was hostile questioning intended to discredit what Southern Baptists believe about marriage. They wanted to discredit us so that they could discredit her. And make no mistake, once they succeed in punishing her, others will use this precedent to punish the rest of us—and not just Southern Baptists but any person who dares to act on their belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

My one day of questioning is nothing compared to what Ms. Stutzman has gone through in all of this. Pray for her and her husband. She is happy to serve gay people in her flower shop. She always has been and always will be happy to do that. She is simply asking that the state not coerce her to participate in a gay wedding. If the Supreme Court denies her that simple accommodation, the consequences will be devastating not only for her but for all of us.

The battle lines are drawn in the White House between religious liberty and LGBT rights

There is a controversy brewing in the White House that religious voters had better start paying attention to. As I wrote yesterday, there is one faction that wants to keep President Obama’s 2014 LGBT executive order in place, and there is another faction that wants to oppose it with an executive order protecting religious liberty. Politico reports today about who is leading the factions and where this conflict is going:

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump helped lead the charge to scuttle a draft executive order that would have overturned Obama-era enforcements of LGBT rights in the workplace, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation told POLITICO.

A draft executive order on LGBT rights — which outlines how to roll back former president Barack Obama’s protections and expand legal exemptions based on religious beliefs — has been circulating among journalists and worried progressive groups this week.

But two sources close to Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who have in the past been supporters of gay rights, said the young couple were both in favor of putting out a clear statement from the president, promising to uphold the 2014 Obama executive order and stopping the momentum for the turnaround in its tracks.

In short, Politico reports that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are responsible for the effort inside the White House to put an end to the religious liberty order. This puts them squarely at odds with Vice President Pence who supports it.

The salient question, therefore, is this. Who is the president going to listen to in the final analysis? Will he listen to Vice President Pence and enact religious liberty protections? Or will he listen to his daughter and son-in-law and advance President Obama’s LGBT agenda? Politico answers that question:

The fight over LGBT rights could reveal a fault line between Pence, an evangelical Catholic who as Governor of Indiana signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015; and Kushner, who is Jewish and whose social circle includes socially progressive New Yorkers.

“There are some in Trump’s family that have some views on these things,” said a source close to the discussions. “That’s where the decision is ultimately being made.[emphasis mine]

If this is correct, then the advice of Jared and Ivanka will carry the day. The Obama executive order would stand, and there would be no religious liberty protections forthcoming. Indeed, Politico reports that Jared and Ivanka are responsible for the statement that the White House put out on Tuesday night affirming its commitment to “LGBTQ rights”:

President Donald J. Trump Will Continue to Enforce Executive Order Protecting the Rights of the LGBTQ Community in the Workplace

President Donald J. Trump is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community. President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election. The President is proud to have been the first ever GOP nominee to mention the LGBTQ community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression. The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact at the direction of President Donald J. Trump.

I don’t think any Republican president has ever issued such a bald endorsement of gay rights. This is a first. But even more important than the rhetoric is the substance of Obama’s 2014 order that President Trump now says he supports. The order establishes LGBT as a protected class insofar as federal hiring and contracts are concerned. And now it is being adopted by a Republican president. That is a first as well.

Religious conservatives ought to be at Defcon 1 right now, but they are not. Everyone seems so distracted by the refugee order and the nomination of Neil Gorsuch that they are missing a looming threat. And it is one that they cannot afford to ignore.

Perhaps in the end, the Pence faction will win out. I hope and pray that it does. But from where I’m sitting, this doesn’t look very good. A Republican president is crossing lines that have never been crossed before by a Republican president. Religious liberty proponents who have influence with the president need to make their voices heard right now. The president must sign the executive order protecting religious liberty.

Pray for President Trump. There are things unfolding right now that will determine the future of religious liberty in this country. Will the trajectory be to continue what President Obama started? Or will there be protections for those citizens who cannot consent to the totalizing claims of the sexual revolution? The contest is unfolding right now in the White House, and we will know the answer to those questions soon enough.

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