Unintended Consequences

There is a huge uproar right now over a plan to burn the Quran on 9/11.  The world has been quick to condemn this action, but it bears thinking through a little.  Why is this wrong?  What are the issues at stake?  And should we be concerned?

Well, let’s start with the first issues.  Pastor Terry Jones and his congregation have the constitutional right to burn books on their property within the confines of local and state law for fires.  They have the same right to burn any books they want that the Muslim group looking to build an “Islamic center” near ground zero has to build when and where they want.  We have the constitutional right to free expression and freedom of religion under the first amendment. (bonus points for being able to name the other three rights enumerated in the first amendment before clicking here)

But is it smart?  Is it wise?  Is it good stewardship of resources?  Has Pastor Jones thought through the repercussions of his actions and whether they will accomplish the aims that he hopes they will?

I doubt it.  There is a huge buzz over this issue.  General Petraeus has warned that this stunt puts American soldiers at increased risk, and other Americans in Muslim-dominated countries as well.  There will certainly be fringe terrorists who will use this kind of publicity to recruit people to their cause, and that is never a good thing.  It will further demonize America in the eyes of the Muslim world, and Christianity as well.  I pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Muslim areas, that this will not reflect poorly on their ministries and endanger their safety.

But there is one other angle no one is talking about in this whole boondoggle.  The burning of the Quran done by this church will actually completely backfire.  They hope to show that Islam is wrong and hinder access to the Quran.  However, we live in a free market economy.  They are going to have to get those Qurans from somewhere, and that will be from a business or bookseller of some sort.  (I kinda doubt that a local Mosque will hand a bunch of them over to be burned)  That retailer will not give them over at a loss; they are a business.

So from the business perspective, what the church has done is make them a profit printing the Quran.  If a business is profitable, then the business pursues it more.  Trust me, they will print more copies to replace the burned ones, and pocket the profit they made selling them to Dove World Outreach Center happily.  So what the church has actually accomplished is the spread of the Quran and increasing the profitability of printing it. 

Unintended consequences stink, huh?

Now I know, you might be thinking that their purchase is a drop in the bucket.  Well you may be right, but even if they buy 1,000 of them to burn that is not an insignificant number, and the business will just print 1,000 more to replace them that they wouldn’t have printed otherwise.  Their is not a finite supply of printing materials to keep them from making more!

And frankly, who is going to come burn the books?  No one who is moderate will; frankly, no one who is not already on the fringe will show up to the book burning.  So it will become a big mutual admiration society, with those who show up lauding the others there who they already agreed with before a match was ever struck.

So the unintended consequences here are huge.  The danger to Americans, and to Christians in parts of the world, is high.  The danger to our troops is high.  The actual effect is not just negligible, but in fact does the opposite of what is intended.  So who green-lighted this project, exactly?

The lesson here is simple: think through the consequences of your actions before you act!  Don’t rush headlong into a project or an action before considering the consequences of that action.  Pray and get counsel and consider all the angles before jumping in with both feet.

      1      The plans of the heart belong to man,
But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
      2      All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight,
But the LORD weighs the motives.
      3      Commit your works to the LORD
And your plans will be established.
(Proverbs 16:1-3)

Think through all of the issues and really plan before undertaking something significant.  Seek help and ask for counsel that you disagree with just so that you can see their side of it.  I am willing to bet that if Pastor Jones had done that, this whole shenanigans would have turned out different.  Instead he is backed into a corner and forced to defend his pride, which means that he will stick to his guns.

Let’s pray that God gives him the wisdom not to carry out his plan, and the courage to back away from it.

Using and Abusing Scripture

Did you know that the word “politics” is a combination of two terms with great significance? It’s true… “poly” means “many” and “ticks” are blood sucking parasites. (ba-dum…CHA!)

The garbage and mudslinging that I simply can’t stand about American politics comes from both sides. From 2000-2008 George Bush was called a lot of dirty names by liberals, and since the election Barack Obama has been the target of conservatives for vitriol. I get just as frustrated when it comes from those who agree with me politically as when it comes from those I disagree with—wait, that’s not true. I get way more frustrated when it comes from those who lean the same way I do, because it brings me guilt by association.

When politicking intersects with people trying to bolster their disagreements with a political ideology by means of making shady biblical arguments, then my blood really gets boiling. See, God made me to be a shepherd and when someone is hacking the biblical text for a political agenda it REALLY chaps my hide.

Today’s case in point, a ridiculous video purporting to show that Jesus told us the name of the Antichrist in Luke 10:18. Want to guess what name that is? You got it, Barack Obama! This was sent to me by a friend for verification of the use of the biblical text. A few thoughts:

  1. There is plenty of evidence that Jesus spoke in Greek (look here on page 188 for some introductory discussion), so saying that Jesus spoke Aramaic in Luke 10:18 is speculation. We know Jesus spoke some Aramaic, but it is likely that He spoke Greek in significant ways and I think likely that what we have recorded of Jesus’ words are original Greek statements He made.
  2. Speaking of Aramaic, it was not “the most ancient Hebrew.” It was a modern language in the first century, while Hebrew was an ancient one. The two might be compared to modern English and Shakespearean English, alike in a lot of ways and not in others.
  3. Even granting that Jesus might have spoke Aramaic, He wasn’t speaking Hebrew for this quote. No one spoke Hebrew in everyday life in Jesus’ culture, not even the Pharisees. So using translations of Hebrew words would be wrong on multiple levels.
  4. Word order is different in Hebrew than in English, so it would not sound like this video purports it would.

This type of argument is ridiculous, and normally I would not even think about interacting with it. This is the realm of conspiracy theorists and whack jobs. However, the frustrating thing for me is that this type of argument is pretty clearly politically motivated.

This person does not like President Obama and that is okay. As historian Howard Zinn (not Thomas Jefferson, as has been misattributed) has said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Anyone who knows me knows that the President and I see differently on a lot of issues. However, taking a biblical text and translating it back into Hebrew, which Jesus wouldn’t be speaking, and choosing which Hebrew words He would have spoken and in what order without any evidence, is poisoning the well plain and simple.

Let me state plainly that ANY biblical Christian should be obedient to what the Bible says about how to relate to government:

1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Whatever the dislike, whatever the disagreement, please do not throw rocks. Pray for your elected leaders whether you like them or not. Pray for God to show them His face, to give them wisdom in honoring Him with their decisions and the courage to choose to do so. Don’t snipe at them from the bushes; dialog and understand and consider, then respectfully disagree. Vote your conscience and take Christ with you into the voting booth.

But please, don’t fall for this type of mudslinging. Be more thoughtful and careful than that. I am pretty sure that when the Antichrist actually appears there will not be any discussion within the Christian community about his identity, whether Tim LaHaye likes it or not. He will be evident to everyone, not just some guy with his Hebrew concordance. And I don’t think that Jesus hid his name in a Greek translation about Satan from a Hebrew original saying.

Never forget what Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 5:43-48:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I’m pretty sure calling someone the Antichrist is breaking this command…just sayin’.

Please, please, please…just stop talking!

Have you ever heard the adage that says “just because you have the right to say something, does NOT mean that you are right to say it”? Perhaps this quote, often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, says it better:

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

Of course, in the age of the intertubes no inflammatory statement stays hidden for long. This week, a pastor in Tempe told his congregation (and then, of course, a news camera) that he is praying for President Obama’s death. No, really, I am not making this up. He really is. He wants him to die of a brain tumor. I am paraphrasing here, but he basically says in the video interview that he wants the President to die and go to hell.
I struggle to maintain an attitude of understanding with people like this. I mean, the guy is a pastor. He should know what the book says, right? I mean, I know that it is hard to grasp what Paul is getting after in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, but let’s see what we can find there:

1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

Okay, praying for all who are in authority. Got it. Thanksgivings: check. Petitions on their behalf, no problem. Asking God to give them a brain tumor and send them to hell…not so much. That doesn’t even include passages like Romans 13:1-6 or Matthew 22:21.
This is nothing new for this particular pastor. He drew national attention when he supposedly got tased by Border Patrol. Search for him on YouTube and you’ll find sermons that make me shake my head.
My concern here is not political. If he really, really hates President Obama and wants him not to be the president, then that is his right. It is even his right under the First Amendment (quick, name all five rights guaranteed under the first amendment before clicking here to see how you did) to say what he said.
What frustrates me is that the world is not seeing this as the statement of this guy Steve. No, crazy people say crazy stuff all the time, so that is not noteworthy. They post it on YouTube all the time. They have dopey websites. The world is instead seeing this as the statement of Pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Arizona, and they are seeing it on national news.
Then the connections come, the ones that I want to avoid. See, I am the pastor of a Baptist church. The world out there does not know the difference between a typical church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention (like ours) and an Independent, Fundamental, King-James Only Baptist church (like Faithful Word). There is a real chance of people rejecting what kind, well-meaning, and thoughtful Christians have to say because of the associations with this kind of ranting.
This is really, really frustrating to me. I suppose this blog post is at least partly motivated by my desire to completely disavow anything this guy has ever said. People like him were very much behind our decision as a church to remove the word “Baptist” from our name last summer. We love being affiliated with SBC, but don’t love being lumped in with that kind of hatred.
I had a similar experience awhile back when Laura and I went out. We went to a place that has dueling pianos in Tempe, where people make requests and the piano players play while the audience sings along. When we left we ran into a man yelling at the crowd to repent through a bullhorn, telling them all that they were sinners going to hell. Whether the message is right or wrong, the method of approach makes the message unable to be heard.
I wish guys like this would consider the advice I got from my mentor while in seminary. I had a hard time censoring my comments my first year, and wasn’t very sensitive to other students. We instituted a rule that I had to answer a few questions in the affirmative before I was allowed to speak in class:

  1. Was the question on-topic?
  2. Would other students benefit from the interaction? Was it helpful not just to me but to others?
  3. Was I really asking a question, or was I trying to just score points for my position? Was I trying to lead discussion or gather information?
  4. Did the question need to be asked in class? Could it be handled privately?

If I could answer all four affirmatively, I could talk. Otherwise I had to hold my tongue. I called the rule “Shut up, John. Shut up.” In times like these I wish I could enforce the rule on others, too.
So if you saw this pastor open his yap, please do me a favor and realize that he is on the radical extreme. He has the right to say what he wants, but we have a right not to listen to him. His attitude, in my opinion, is the exact opposite of what the Bible says about how to treat those in authority. Please do not regard what he says as being representative of Christianity or the teaching of Jesus.
And please, join me this week in praying for our President. If you know me, you know that he and I do not see eye-to-eye politically. I didn’t vote for him. Nevertheless, I will pray for him and respect him as God’s chosen agent for my government at this time, praying also that God would show him how to make godly decisions and give him the strength to do so.