Wading into the SB1062 debate

BillyDeeIt may be folly to actually make a public statement on something as volatile as SB1062, called the “Religious Freedom Bill” by proponents and lambasted as a discriminatory bill against gay people by opponents. I may be getting myself in trouble with friends near and dear to me on both sides of the aisle by saying a word about it, but as Lando Calrissian once famously quipped, “Here goes nothing!”

My first thought is that most people’s opinions of SB1062 come solely from what others have said about it. They haven’t read it, even though the entire legislation is 2 pages long and not hard to read. If you’re one of them, then learn something by reading it. It’s not too much legalese…it’s pretty easy to actually understand. Not that there aren’t nuances of interpretation and application, but it’s not like it’s rocket science here.

Now to my understanding. I personally think it is a tempest in a teacup. The only thing that this bill really does is allow corporations to claim the same exemption for sincere religious beliefs that individuals now have. Most corporations aren’t huge businesses like Walmart; they’re small businesses like a landscaping company that has an LLC or a mom and pop restaurant that has an incorporation document for liability and taxes.

I guess I am pretty libertarian in my leanings. I think that the government should stay out of peoples’ lives as much as possible. I think that there MUST be protection from any discrimination whatsoever in dealings with the government, but those protections don’t (or shouldn’t) apply to private businesses. The first amendment protects people from government intrusion on free speech, but it does not protect a person from being thrown out of a business if they say something the owner or manager finds offensive. There is a huge difference in my opinion between government and private enterprise.

Say, for instance, my wife wanted to have her hair cut. She goes to a barber shop but the barber, a Muslim, won’t cut it because his religion doesn’t allow him to touch women. (this is not hypothetical…it happened in Ontario, Canada) In my opinion, he should have the right to refuse service to anyone he wants to, and if he can’t cut her hair then that’s not a human rights issue. She can go elsewhere; if he chooses that business practice, then he can live with the business consequences.

I feel the same way about no smoking laws. A business should, in my opinion, be free to set their own policy on allowing smoking in their establishment. If one allowed smoking I wouldn’t go there, but they set their clientele with their policy. The same holds true in other areas. For instance, in Arizona people can carry firearms for personal protection. A business can put up a sign prohibiting the carry of firearms on their premises. If they do, a good number of my friends won’t go there. It’s perfectly acceptable for them to have that policy as private business owners, though they set their clients by their policy.

What that highlights is that my opinion is that the protections we have are mostly from our government, not from each other. If a business wants to adopt a policy that they won’t serve white people, that’s their prerogative in my opinion. I won’t go there and I am okay with it. I think that the free market would take care of most such businesses in America, frankly. If a business adopts policies that too many customers find objectionable and they take their business elsewhere, the business changes or folds. That’s economics 101 in a capitalistic society.

Now as to whether it is wise for a business owner to fall back on religious reasons for not serving a customer, I think that it can be but it must be done with care. My wife owns a business helping women have babies as a doula and midwife in training. I own a business teaching self defense part time. Many of my friends own businesses. I also pastor a church, which is an Arizona corporation upon whose board of directors I sit. Should we be able to set our own policies? Absolutely.

  1. As a pastor there are some weddings that I can’t perform as a matter of my faith and as a pastor of my church. We have policies to that effect. (these revolve mostly around who is eligible in the Scriptures to marry) I have protection to exercise my faith and to do so within my corporation of our church.
  2. My wife gets to set who she thinks that she should work with as a doula and midwife. If she knows that a couple wants religious rites at her birth and that she is required to participate in them, and they violate her faith, she absolutely should have the right to decline that client.
  3. If a racist skinhead with a swastika tattoo and hateful attitude registers for my classes, and I am genuinely concerned that he will use the skills I teach him for harming others rather than protecting himself and his loved ones from aggression, I should 100% have the right to decline to train him. This is part of my faith, that I teach defense and not aggression, protection and not harm. I should be able to live that out in my business, whether it is a sole proprietorship or a corporation.
  4. Our church has a membership covenant and as a corporation should be able to decide who our membership is. If that excludes some people because of their choices, that should be our determination. For instance, our church does not believe that the Bible allows for sexual intimacy outside of marriage. If a couple were living together outside of marriage, we would not welcome them as members of our congregation (though we would welcome them to come worship and be loved). We should be able to set that standard. (and we are under current law)

All that said, are we going to see businesses adopt anti-gay stances or have discriminatory policies? Not much. I am a conservative Christian and have trained people at ASP who are gay, for instance. No problem. I have invited friends who are not Christians to do business with me, to come to worship with us at our church, and my wife has helped women in many walks of life and with many religious affiliations (including none) to have their babies. This is the ebb and flow of life in a pluralistic culture.

But do I want protection from prosecution if I won’t marry a cohabitating couple who aren’t willing to go through premarital mentorship? Yes, yes I do. Do I want to be able to turn someone away from my self-defense classes who I fear will twist my teaching, knowing that I am somewhat responsible for the abilities of my students? Yes, I do. Do I want my wife not to worry about losing her midwifery license because she politely declines a client so as not to participate in a Wiccan birthing ceremony? Yes, I most certainly do.

Do I also want to consider my Christian witness in all of these decisions? Yes I do. I have talked to many couples in the first situation, and in love offer to walk them toward marriage in whatever situation they find themselves. I can’t officiate a wedding because of my convictions that doesn’t meet a certain set of criteria, but I have offered mentorship and marriage building help to those couples. (offered it many times, in fact) I’ve trained people whose philosophy differs from my own, whose worldview is not mine, and who worship a different God. I don’t ask for a doctrinal statement from my students in self defense! My wife has helped many women have babies whose religious beliefs are very different than ours are, and over all these situations we have prayed and decided to be a light in their life and that the actions we took were acceptable to our Lord. Most businesses, in the vast majority of situations, would do the same.

I don’t want the guvmint in those decisions. They are private decisions and should be so.

If you comment, please be kind to others in your comments. Thanks!

Gun Control and Meaningful Discussions

wolvesIf you expect me to get into the fray on Gun Control and the 2nd Amendment from a biblical basis here on ABF, allow me to disabuse you of that notion forthwith. I do that in other places and definitely have my biases, but this post is not about who is right and who is wrong in that particular discussion. Rather, the thing that impresses me the most as I watch people on both sides of the issue is how both sides talk past each other so much and how much caricature and misunderstanding goes on.

In this particular issue, among Christians I see those who believe in gun control often saying  that those who are 2nd Amendment supporters are more interested in their guns than about the Great Commission or Jesus’ admonition to love. In return, the gun rights folks call the gun control proponents sheep and communists who hate the Constitution and freedom.

Why the rancor? It is because each has their own particular worldview, and that worldview colors the issue to such an extent that they can’t really comprehend the other side. They are so convinced that they are right that they are convinced that anyone who doesn’t see the issue their way is clearly non compos mentis. Because they are so set, there is really no way to dialog about the issue with others of a different stripe.

This is why, in my opinion, so many issues have become so polarizing and so emotional in America today. Social media and the 24-hour news cycle have made expressing unprocessed emotions and ideas much easier and much farther reaching. For instance, I know people with 2,000 friends on Facebook. 20 years ago if they wanted to express an opinion to that many people it would have taken a significant investment in mailing letters or making phone calls. In that time my friend could have cooled off and thought through their ideas before publication. Now, though, with a couple of presses of their smartphone they put it out there for the world to see and share and comment on.

What’s the answer? In my opinion, it starts with having a meaningful clash. (this is a known topic in logic and debate and is not original to me, but I can’t find a good link…) A meaningful clash can only come when both sides of a discussion begin with areas of agreement and from there move on to areas of disagreement. If we do not start with areas of agreement we talk past each other and can’t have a meaningful discussion.

Perhaps an example can help. Let’s say that Bob, an atheist, believes that same sex marriage should be legal. Jim, on the other hand, believes that since the Bible forbids same-sex relations that it should be illegal. Bob does not believe that the Bible should be normative for relationships today. If Jim argues that God said same sex marriage is wrong so it is wrong, then he and Bob aren’t starting from areas of agreement and therefore they can’t have a meaningful clash.

This issue of gun control and the 2nd Amendment is the same. Gun rights advocates are arguing that modern sporting rifles protect the people against tyrannical government. Gun control advocates are arguing that assault rifles kill and maim and have no place in society. See how they talk past each other? There can be no meaningful clash of ideas because there are no meaningful areas of agreement.

But are there? Yes, there are. In this issue, for instance, we can agree that our main concern is safety. Both the NRA and Mayors Against Illegal Guns are interested in safety! They are interested in protecting the American people, and that is laudable and good. Now certainly they disagree on the best approach to accomplish that goal, but the goal is the same! Certainly the people arguing for gun control say that their goal is safe kids in schools and homes and malls. Gun rights advocates say that their desire to own guns is to keep their own family safe and to protect the republic from despotism. See how the desire is the same, just from a different angle?

How much better would this debate be if Wayne LaPierre would meet with President Obama and Ted Nugent and Michael Bloomberg and tell them all how grateful he is that they are concerned with the safety of our nation. Imagine how little rancor there would be if they listened to why they feel the way they do and affirmed their common desire for safety for our nation and its people. I have 4 kids in public schools, and regardless of what side I am on, my goal is for them to get a good education in a free and safe environment! That’s the same goal as everyone else in this discussion.

Take the singular issue away and the idea remains. In the church, take gender issues in ministry. What if we began from the common ground that we all want to honor God and help people use their spiritual giftedness in God-honoring ways? In society, what if we re-framed the immigration debate by realizing that our goal is to keep our nation free and prosperous, with liberty and justice for all? What if we began the abortion debate by realizing that our desire is to honor the foundational American governing principle of the sovereignty of a person over themselves? (and yes, this is an area of agreement…more another day perhaps)

So before having a debate on gun rights, find the place of agreement. In the gun control debate, it’s the safety, security, and prosperity of our nation. Gun control advocates think that the best way to accomplish that is to limit access to firearms to prevent Sandy Hook from reoccurring. Gun rights advocates think that the best way to accomplish that is by allowing more good guys to have tools available and on-hand to combat bad guys when events occur. It’s the method, not the goal, that is different, so instead of hurling invectives across the impassable chasm between us it seems to be a far better method to get on the same side of the chasm and make the problem the enemy rather than the people who are looking for solutions to the problem!

A Decade of Perspective

This morning, I spoke from Romans 12:14-13:14 about the perspective that we should have as Christians on the events of 9/11.  You can listen here:

A Decade of Perspective: West Greenway Bible Church Sunday Sermons

Paul’s message in this passage shows us how to interact on a personal level with those who wronged us, how to consider our national response to terrorism, and more than anything else helps us keep the most important things in life in focus.

Give it a listen; I think it’s worth your time.

Tell me, what’s your perspective on 9/11 ten years later? Has your view of the events or their aftermath changed in the past decade?

Which Angle?

Have you ever wondered why two people can have the same experience but come away from it with two totally different impressions?  Have you ever marveled at how one person can lose their job and end up with a degree and a better career, while another person loses their job and just ends up out of work and bitter?

I got a lesson in the difference on Wednesday.  Laura and I had such a fantastic night that night!  We went to ACU’s President’s Banquet to hear a speech by President Bush, who was funny and engaging and honest.  We had a great time, and I think that the ACU community was honored by it. 

Even better than that was a big lesson that the President shared with us.  His speech was about taking his faith with him into the Oval Office, and in the middle of his speech he told a story about going to Rwanda. (oh man, did my ears perk up when he started talking about Rwanda!!)  He got to meet 15 or 16 children there who had lost their parents to the AIDS epidemic in Africa. 

Now, put yourself in those children’s shoes.  They are in an incredibly poor country and have the additional burden of losing their parents to AIDS.  They have, quite literally, nothing.  They were orphans, destitute and many would say hopeless.

President Bush said that he wondered what to say as he walked by them, and for some reason decided to say to them, “God is good.”  Their response to him was to say in unison, “All the time!”  Think about that a moment…these children had more excuse than anyone to be upset at God and to have a terrible attitude, and yet their immediate response to the statement “God is good” is to reply, “All the time!”

Wow.  What makes the difference?  It’s all in the angle.  These kids didn’t see God through the lens of their problems.  Instead, they saw their problems through the lens of their God.  And that is a major difference between a life of frustration, anger, and loneliness and a life of resilience and success.

Sometimes, we look at God through the “lens” of our problems:

Problem

Our problem stands between us and Jesus, so our problem “frames” or provides the “lens” through which we see God.  This is what happens when life gets unfair and it makes us question God’s character based on our experience. (I did this some after my car wreck)  We say,

“How can God be good if this has happened to me?” 
“I feel lonely, which means that God must not be there.”
“This financial disaster must mean that God doesn’t care, because if He cared this wouldn’t happen.”

On the other hand, we can instead see our problem through the lens of God:

Jesus

In this scenario, we see our problem through the lens of our God and His character affects the way we view our problem.  This is what Paul is really talking about in the famous passage in Philippians 4:12-13:

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. ” (Philippians 4:12–13, NAS)

He saw his problems through the lens of the God he served, not the other way around!  By looking at life through the lens of Jesus Christ, Paul found the stability to weather the storms of life.  Through looking at life through Jesus and His character, Paul put his problems in an eternal perspective.  This is exactly what the kids in Rwanda said to President Bush, and as I considered this today it seems to me that this was instrumental to me recovering emotionally from my wreck as well.

So how do you build a view of the world that looks at problems through the lens of God and not vice versa?

  1. Put God’s Word inside of you.  You won’t know God’s character if you don’t get your nose in the book!  Recognize His goodness, His love, His justice, and His mercy in there.  Soak in His character; breathe it in and accept who He says He is.
  2. Whatever circumstance you come to, ask God how to see it in light of who He is rather than letting it determine who you think He is.  I had to do this with my wreck a lot, because it seemed pretty cruddy to me.  I had to ask God many times to show me how His goodness was reflected in my wreck.
  3. Reflect on God’s character and, without getting all churchy and sloganeering, rest in God’s character when life gets tough.  Don’t ignore your problems, but put them in perspective in light of who God is.  When injustice happens to you, remember that God is just and will make all things just.  When someone hurts you, remember that God is love and their unloving actions do not make God unloving.
  4. Apply God’s character to the problem you’re facing.  If you can’t see how it applies, then ask God (repeatedly if necessary!) to show you where and how His character comes to bear on the situation.

This approach won’t make your problems go away automatically; it won’t pay bills, or stop the loneliness, or erase the abuse. However, it will keep those problems from becoming overwhelming and train you to see Him first and your problems second.

Has there been a time when this kind of approach has helped you?  How has seeing your problems through God’s character made the experience different for you?

An Ethic of Voting

Tomorrow is the day that we have midterm elections, and the political rhetoric is at a fever pitch.  The American public seems to be in an uproar over various issues (which is the BIG issue depends on political leanings) and, because the President is not up for re-election, the people will take their frustration out on members of Congress who are in his party.  Republicans smell blood in the water and have pulled out all the stops, and the bickering and slandering have reached new heights.

We need to be sure to cut through the malarkey and vote appropriately tomorrow.

George Washington wrote concerning soldiering, “When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen.” Likewise, though I am the pastor of a church I nevertheless have the right as a citizen to express my opinion and a duty to vote my conscience. So I thought I would explain my voting ethic to anyone who cares to read it.

The first part of that voting ethic must be the imperative that God has given every Christian to vote.  I think that a recent post in Relevant Magazine is absolutely spot-on in this regard.  Many young adult Christians are disillusioned with both major political parties, and as a result shy away from political discussion and even from voting.  That, to me, is a travesty and a shame.  God expects every Christian to live in obedience to His mandates in Romans 13:1-7, and that certainly includes voting for Americans. 

When I read the book of Nehemiah I read of the people of Israel struggling to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and then defending their homes and families with their lives.  It would have been unthinkable for those people to say that their effort didn’t matter, that they could stand by and allow others to bear the burden that they rightly shared.  Yes they sometimes were exhausted, or sick of the labor, or thought that it didn’t matter anyway.  And time and again I am reminded of the stirring speech that Nehemiah gave that day:

When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” (Nehemiah 4:14)

What a powerful and convicting reminder that we must remember the work that God has called us to and do it wholeheartedly.  I can’t help but think of the men and women who built America when I think along these lines, men like my grandpa who was wounded in the battle of Peleliu in the Pacific theater in WWII.  I know that he and others like him see our carelessness with and indifference to the amazing gift of self-governance that we have been given as the grave disrespect that it is.  As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “A right delayed [i.e. not exercised] is a right denied.”

With this in mind it is clear that Christians have a mandate to vote.  This is not optional; it is not a suggestion, any more than a summons to jury duty is a suggestion.  Failure to vote is, in my opinion, a failure to live in obedience to government and therefore a failure to obey what Jesus says.  And Luke 6:46 rings in my ears as I think about it.

Okay, so we MUST vote.  But how do we vote?  What makes our ethic of voting?  How do we take our faith into the voting booth with us?  The ultimate ethic of living, which should then extend to the ultimate ethic of voting, comes from the lips of Christ in Matthew 22:37-39:

And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’”

My overriding ethic in voting is to glorify Jesus Christ with my life by loving God and loving people. Now clearly and certainly that priority will not line up with some, but like I said that is my overriding ethic of voting. You pick yours. I pick mine. I want my life to line up with the priorities of Jesus as clearly as I can. I will grow in my understanding of those priorities throughout life, but tomorrow I want to take every bit of understanding of Christ and every shred of desire to follow Him to the voting booth with me.

I am not a huge political activist and do not donate money to political causes. I donate at church and try to live for the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of man. I have no visions of transforming my society into a Christian nation; only people can be Christians.  Regardless, though, I am a follower of Christ who wants to glorify Him by voting for those people and those initiatives that best represent His desire for the people of America.  I am under no illusion that my view of issues is foolproof; I know that thinking, biblically-astute Christians will see some issues differently than I will.  That cannot lead me to indecision, however, because then my vote isn’t counted as I wait.  Instead, I must do my due diligence in every election and then make my vote count as best I can.

When there are initiatives on a ballot that are moral in nature, my first and last criterion of voting is this: which vote will glorify Christ more? Some ballot initiatives are amoral, and I vote whichever way makes best sense to me on those.  The moral ones, though, require moral distinctions and moral thoughts.  Not many initiatives focus on my ability to love God, but almost all of them deal with how I relate to people.  What is the loving decision?  How can I best love the people around me?  Not all love is gushy and lovey and nice, like Paul shows in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13.  But love must be my overriding ethic.

The same holds true of candidates.  Which candidate will do the best job of representing me and my desire to love God and love people?  That is where the rubber meets the road.  Again, not all candidates see issues the way I do, so aligning on some important issues tells me a lot about whether I think that candidate will do a good job.

So spend some time tonight reading through the ballot initiatives in your area.  Check in on your candidates and the issues that they believe are important.  Go to sites like votesmart to find information on candidates by assessing how like you they are in major issues.  Then get to the polls tomorrow!  And for anyone who didn’t get registered for this election, make sure this is the last election that you miss.

For the record I am not going to endorse candidates or issues on my blog; if you want to know my opinions, email me. 🙂