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!

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. 🙂

It’s TEOTWAWKI

…aka “The End Of The World As We Know It.” 

Or so it might seem to some, as the senate passed the president’s healthcare reform package last night.

WARNING: POLITICAL STUFF AHEAD.  PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.

If you know me, you know how conservative I am politically.  I put the “fun” in fundamentalism!  I’m over here on the far right, bitterly clinging to my guns and my religion and frustrated that a bunch of rich guys who have a pretty sweet compensation package have spent a trillion dollars of my kids’ and grandkids’ money.  I am awfully worried that my already crappy healthcare will get worse, not better under this system.  I am all for reforming a broken system, but TRUST ME this is not the way that I would have done it.

That said, I am reminded of my reading in Colossians this month.  Our online men’s Bible study is reading Colossians every day in March, and I was really struck this morning by Colossians 1:16:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.

The “thrones and dominions and rules and authorities” were both created by the Lord…and for Him.  This is His deal, not mine.  And whether I like it or not, this is where we are.  He created human government and ordained it as an authority in the life of His people (as Paul taught in Romans 13:1-7).  Sure I can make the counterargument that in the time in which Paul wrote the people had no say over who their leaders were, but that is strictly not true in the Roman senatorial system.  It was a representative government not completely dissimilar to ours.  So I can complain all I want (and I will!) that the leaders we have in place miscarried the authority we vested in them, I must temper that frustration with the knowledge that it is the Lord who ordains authority, and it is to Him that they answer.

Then I kept reading this morning, and came to Colossians 3:1-4:

1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.
3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

I have been raised up with Christ, so my first responsibility is to set my mind on the things above.  I know that politics is a hot button to me, and that I must try my best to get involved and make the world a better place for my kids.  However, I can’t make this earth into the kingdom of God because that’s a losing battle.  God’s kingdom will be inaugurated not when the right elected representatives take office or the right legislation is enacted, but when Christ is revealed from heaven.  And until that happens I need to remember to keep my eyes on the prize and not obsess over what happens here on earth so much that I forget to focus on the kingdom of God.

Then I thought about it some more.  (I didn’t get a great night’s sleep and had a long run this morning, so I had time to think)  I thought about the passage I preached on Sunday, which included Luke 20:20-26.  In that time the people of God were faced with a government that was unpopular and in a lot of ways odious to the people; the Romans were not liked by the Israelites!  Though they tried to get Jesus into the midst of the political fray, Jesus wouldn’t be drawn into the world’s politics.  He was frankly ambivalent, preferring the people to give the government it’s due and then focus on what God wanted them to do.  That seems to be the consistent theme of the New Testament, to do what is right by the civil authorities God has ordained over you (that’s Romans 13:1-7), to pray for those in leadership (1 Tim 2:1-2), and to live for the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of man.

On a practical level, first of all that really changed my attitude.  Rather than having my day ruined (or week or month or whatever), I was able to release my frustration and give it to Christ.  I was able to focus on my oldest daughter’s 13th birthday today, which is more important in my life than any legislation could ever be.  And I was reminded again in Col 3 to set my mind on Christ and serving Him.

Does that mean I think that politically active Christians are wrong?  Not at all; in fact, I have written my representatives at every level of government.  I take an active interest in issues and candidates and vote in every election.  (well, almost…I think I missed one not too long ago that was local bond overrides only)  I ask my representatives to represent me well and do the best I can to honor God with my citizenship, in the same mold that Paul used his citizenship to try to spread the gospel whenever he could.  I admire Christians who run for public office and pray that they take their walk with Christ with them into office when they win. 

I am just reminded that when things aren’t going my way, that doesn’t mean that God is not at work.  Maybe, just maybe He is working within me and within His people to remember that the kingdom of God cannot be voted or legislated in.  It only comes when Jesus comes again, and until He does we need to remember that our focus needs to always and continually be on His kingdom and what He wants for our lives.

And let’s all, no matter our political affiliation, follow the commands of God in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 today.

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’.

The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man, Part 4: My thoughts

This series has now stretched out for more than a month…stuff kept getting in the way! Please go back and read parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series if you have not.

The question has been asked as to where Christians should intersect faith and politics. Should we sit on our morals and do nothing but preach the message of eternal life in Christ, or should we advocate for laws that honor God and change our culture to be more moral?

I dislike the question, to be blunt. I think it frames the discussion in terms of a false “either/or” mentality that says that we may do only one or the other, which I think does nothing to help us meaningfully interact with the issue. Instead, I think that the answer here is much the same as in many areas of life: BALANCE. Swinging the pendulum too far in one direction seldom leads to the right answer, and certainly doesn’t in this case in my opinion.

When Paul wrote his command to us in Romans 13:1-7 he was writing to a people who had very little say in the affairs of their life. The people had no real input in their government; since God was in control, they trusted in His sovereignty and submitted to the government that existed. (of course, keep the principle of Acts 5:29 in mind as well) Christians never would obey the law of man and break God’s commands. However, when the secular authority made a law that dishonored God, the church when allowed not to participate would submit and then not participate. The church never tried to outlaw emperor worship in the first century or temple prostitution, both of which were very common in the first century. Instead, the church avoided those practices themselves and reached out with the gospel.

However, we live in a day when we have a civic DUTY to be a part of our government. I vote in every election that comes, and I take my faith into the voting booth with me. I vote in the way that I think God wants me to, both for candidates and initiatives. I recognize, though, that as a fallen person I am not perfect and other Christians may disagree with my voting decisions. I also know that many who are not interested in Christianity would disagree with me, while others would be right with me from a moral perspective.

Now let’s apply that a bit. I voted for McCain in 2008. If you know me that should be no shock to you. However, Obama won. (Phooey) I know the truth of Romans 13:1, that God used the free choices of the people of the United States of America to appoint Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States according to His sovereign will! (this, in my opinion, is a good example of a theological idea known as Middle Knowledge or more commonly as Molinism, though the two are not strictly the same; for a full rundown from an excellent philosophical perspective head here) So today I follow 1 Timothy 2:1-2 and pray for my president regularly. It’s God’s will that he is in the office, so I pray for him.*

Likewise, I don’t lose my mind about laws that don’t go “my way.” There are lots of laws that I don’t like, but outside of my power to vote and run for office I cannot change that, so I allow God to be sovereign and live for Him as best I can.

That said, though, it is clear that we cannot legislate true Christianity into the world. When people don’t know Christ, why in the world do we expect them to live like they follow Him? Jesus went to the tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes and undesirables and worked on them from the inside out, not the outside in. He didn’t call prostitutes to give up prostitution; He called them to trust in Him as the only way to atone for their sin.

Our focus must be on the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of man. When we advocate for issues in a civil and respectful manner, that is great. When we shriek in front of San Francisco City Hall, not so much. I can’t tell you how much it hurt me when someone I know and love sent me an email telling me how much it hurt that, since they told me that they were in a same-gender relationship, it meant that my God must loathe them and think that they were trash. By definition, then, I hated them and thought they were trash. Of course, those thoughts never came out of my mouth, but that is the impression this person had of what it meant to be a Christian. Now some of that comes from media misrepresentations of Christianity, but much of it comes from Christians.

When did Christ do that? He didn’t rail against Roman oppression; He met tax collectors in their tax booths and called them to follow Him. He hung out with the irreligious and HAD A GLASS OF WINE WITH THEM.** He met them on their terms and gave them an open door to seek God. Paul did the same thing in Acts 17:22-23. Rather than condemning the Athenians for their idolatry Paul used their culture, even their sinful worship of false gods, to draw a bridge to God for them. The focus was never on their sin, but on God and His calling them to a change of heart.

So in my mind the issue really is not one or the other. Our focus as Christians must always be to shine the light of Christ into the world and provide the message of the cross to people who desperately need it. The world needs Christ, not morality. If we make them all stop sinning on the outside, they will still go straight to hell at the end of their very moral lives. (i.e. Revelation 20:11-15)

I will, though, continue to advocate for those who are powerless. I will seek to be a voice for those who are not yet born, for the child prostitutes on the streets of Phoenix, for the homeless, for the elderly and children and others. I will vote my conscience in every election, knowing that God uses my choices to accomplish His will in His world. And most of all I will try to live for Christ as an authentic and transparent disciple, knowing that I am still a sinner every day, hoping and praying that God sends me people to lead to Jesus. And I put His priorities first and try to help people live lives that honor Him from the inside out.

This is my mission statement: John Correia exists to know Jesus Christ, to grow in Him, to serve Him, and to help others do the same. Not to make them moral, but to help them know Christ, grow in Him, and serve Him. That is an inside-out process.

*Now lest you think I stay up late at night wondering if I voted outside the will of God, I do not. God often gives nations the leaders they deserve rather than the ones they need, as a short reading of the books of Kings and Chronicles shows. I also realize that I can’t equate modern history there, so please do not hear me equating Obama with an ungodly king.

**Yes, I know that I have just had my Baptist credentials revoked. You can have them, though I pastor a SBC church. Jesus drank alcohol. He did. He made wine in John 2. Get over it. Alcoholism is bad, but alcohol consumption is not sin.