Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Learning Respect in Relationships

I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” (Gen 3:10)
There is a sense in which we are born with certain personality traits. I have observed this in my four grandchildren. Each one is uniquely individual from birth. Within days and weeks you can see that each one has a distinctive way in which they relate to the world around them. This is why individuals raised in the same household, by the same parents can be so different from one another. This is true even with identical twins. I know because Estela and I have identical twin girls. They share the exact same physical DNA but they are totally different in personality.
Though this truth is obvious about each individual there is one thing that is constant in every human being. From birth we all are undoubtedly totally self-absorbed. Infants are concerned with one thing – getting their needs met by others. They are totally and completely dependent on others to get their needs met. It does not matter to them whether those others are tired, hungry, sick, or anything else as long as they meet their needs. Infants have two basic needs – physical and emotional. Babies want to be fed, changed when wet or dirty, warm, health, and loved.
In the beginning crying is the stimulus we use to get our physical needs met. Babies cry when they are hungry, wet/soiled, cold, or sick in an attempt to persuade someone to meet their physical needs. It is the only way they have to motivate others to meet their physical needs. However, how their emotional need is met or, rather, how they perceive their emotional need for love is met, will begin the process of developing the personality they are born with. Every one of us develops traits within our personality that are built on how we can manipulate or control our environment so as to get our need for love met by others. 
These traits have one purpose – self-preservation.  So, the two things that drive us from birth are self-absorption and self-preservation. The problem comes when we understand that one, the people we are attempting to get our needs met by have been driven by the two things that drives us, and two, our need for love becomes translated into how we feel lovable. The people we need love from are faulty love givers and we always interpret love as conditional. Our feeling of being lovable is reinforced in a trial and error of behavior. Thus begins the self-absorbed journey of developing self-preserving traits. These traits become our relational styles and dictate how we relate to others. How we try to get our needs met by others.
As we grow in childhood and the teenage years we are conditionally convinced that there are things about us that are not lovable. This is reinforced with feedback from behavior that incites disapproval. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” (Pro 22:15) The concept of foolishness is in the idea of being morally deficient. At birth we are totally self-centered, selfish, self-absorbed, dependent on others to meet all our needs and discipline (from family, faith, and society) is used to remove that foolishness far from us and teach us to be selfless, self-sufficient, responsible to meet our own needs. Abraham Maslow calls the desired stage self-actualization. Paul stated it this way, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” (1 Co 13:11) A fool is someone who goes through life being totally self-absorbed, selfish, narcissistic, and therefore useless to contribute constructively to society. Discipline teaches us to be ashamed of certain behavior that is born out of selfishness. Though this reinforcement is absolutely necessary in order to live in relationships within society, we ultimately interpret the disapproval as something being intricately wrong with us. That at our core there is something about us that is unlovable. 
What Adam expressed in his first encounter with the Lord after sinfulness had entered the human race identifies the problem we have in the emotional development process. We have a basic need to be loved but as we grow up we see there are things about us that are not lovable. Out of fear that we won’t be loved we start hiding behind learned traits so that people won’t see our unlovability. We become ashamed, not only of certain behavior but of who we are. Thus, we all, to some degree, relate to others out of these shame based traits that we develop within our personality. It may manifest itself in arrogance, debasement, or anything in-between but at its root we are hiding in shame, fearful that someone may see the true me, my nakedness, and not give me love. We hide behind relational style barriers to protect us from the shame of being discovered unlovable.
The personality traits we learn become the things we use to protect us from feeling rejected. We may feel rejection in different ways, thus, causing us to behave in different ways. Some of us may become more overtly people pleasers losing ourselves in trying to be everything that we think others want us to be in order to be accepted by them. Others of us may try to soften the sense of rejection by doing the very things that we think will deserve rejection. We act out what we project others will do if they truly knew our unlovability. Sometimes it is expressed in anger or other destructive ways. It may cause us to become co-dependent, domineering, or passive-aggressive. Regardless of how it is manifested there are shame-based, shame-driven motivation behind it. We’ve learned how to stimulate those around us in order to get what we think we need from them. We’ve developed the traits through which we try to manipulate or control the desired results.
To add to the problem we live amongst people (parents, spouses, family, society, etc.) who are faulty love givers. Even at our best, most self-actualized, we have a tendency to give conditional love and motivate desired behavior through the power of shame. After all, it is what we see ourselves as being. We use shame in marriages, families, religion, schools, sports, business, etc. to motivate others to a desired result. The traits we’ve spent a lifetime developing don’t ever go away. We may discover them and purposely correct them to the best of our ability but they are a part of us until ‘death do we part.’ They become our default settings that are reset to default by certain relational triggers. Not even faith in Jesus Christ can automatically erase these traits. In fact, many times the Christian life is just another field where we plant, cultivate, and harvest these traits. For example, like an alcoholic who beats his addiction to alcohol only to become addicted to performance-based religion. The more our parents, caregivers, teachers, etc., those who have the most influence on us as we grow up, have related to us from a position of shame and conditional love the more difficult it is for us to break the patterns in our own lives. If we have something like religion that continues to reinforce the shame and conditional love into our adult lives then these relational traits become even more entrenched in us.
There is a scene in the 1997 movie “Fools Rush In” that exemplifies how this can play out in a relationship. The conversation is between one of the main characters, Isabel, and her wise great-grandmother. The setting is the pregnant Isabel had lied to her husband about losing the baby, pushed him away, and filed for divorce. Then she ran away to Mexico where her Nanita (great-grandmother) lived. While in Mexico she was feeling disheartened, bolted out of church in tears, and ran to the great-grandmother’s house. Here is script of the scene as her Nanita approaches her with an expression of compassion and inquisitiveness:
Isabel: Nanita, it was the right thing to do.
Great Grandmother: It is not your faith that has betrayed you. It is your fear.
Isabel: I got lost...that's all. But now I make my own decisions.
Great Grandmother: How selfish you are. To presume you know better than love.
Isabel: He never would have left if he knew I was still pregnant. He wanted to go. I let him off the hook.
Great Grandmother: No. You let yourself off the hook. You denied your heart and lied to the man you love. Why?
Isabel: Because I had to. If I didn't leave him, he would have left me. And I really don't think I could've handled that.
Great Grandmother: You will never know love unless you surrender to it.
Isabel wanted to be loved but her fear that her husband would first reject her led her to first reject him so she wouldn’t feel the pain of being rejected. She feared that if she stayed with him he would ultimately see here unlovability and leave her. As she played out, in the theater of her mind, what she thought would happen she called upon learned relational traits to protect her emotional psyche. She hid behind a lie in fear.
The Lord through Paul says, I “implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called… to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children.” (Eph 4:1, 13-14) As a Christ follower, maybe one of the hardest things Christ ask of us is to look into the proverbial mirror of our being and see ourselves as we truly are. Not the way we want to be seen. Not the way we hope we are. Not the way we think others see us. But to tear away the layers of self, like an onion, until we find those things in our lives that drive us in shame to hid in fear like children. The maturing process is to struggle through the pain, the tears, the ugliness, the dysfunction, and allow Him to reveal to us the truth of our childlikeness. The truth about how we continue to try to get our love need met by others. A need Christ alone can truly meet. As long as we are trying to get our love need met from others we will never fully grasp “His great love with which He loved us.” (Eph 2:4) 
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Phil 2:3-4)
As long as we continue to relate to others from the origin of our first birth we will never be set free in our re-birth to be all that He created us to be. In our physical birth we develop relationally from a basis of shame and fear. In our spiritual birth we are to develop relationally from the basis of grace and acceptance. In our physical birth we are motivated by selfishness to get from others. In our spiritual birth we are motivated to serve and give to others. In our physical birth we hide from others. In our spiritual birth we are to learn to be open to others. In our physical birth we learn to relate out of emptiness. In our spiritual birth we learn to relate from fullness. In our physical birth we are self-absorbed, self-indulged, self-protecting, self-centered, and self-preserving. In our new birth we are to become self-sufficient, self-sustaining, self-reliant, self-governing, and self-sacrificing.
In our new birth we learn to see ourselves absolutely forgiven being totally and completely fulfilled in His love in spite of our unlovability. Christ gives us a healthy perspective of self-respect teaching each of us self-discipline: “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment.” (Rom 12:3) When we learn to relate to others from our spiritual birth we can accept people as they are because we aren’t trying to get anything from them. Because we learn self-respect in Christ we can offer respect to others. Respecting others is releasing them from conditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness. It is relating to them from a position of grace rather than from a position of shame.
How does respect look in practice? It is easier to fake respect with others than it is to live in the reality of respect with the ones we are closest to. In Ephesians 5:18 and following we find the description of marriage from the position of fullness rather than emptiness, submission rather than superiority, new-birth love (giving) rather than first-birth love (getting), and respect rather than shame. Husbands and wives as individuals are to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Out of fullness they are to develop a relationship that is alike in mutual submission, mutual love, and mutual respect. So, how is respect expressed in our most intimate relationship – marriage?
Husband and wife learn to be two unique individuals. As distinct individuals they learn to respect each other and their individuality. They learn to celebrate their independences. Nowhere in scripture does it say that in marriage they become one. What it says is they become one flesh (Gen 2:24). It describes the intimate physical act of marriage and procreation. In a respectful marriage there are two individuals who are equal in their uniqueness. One’s personality is not greater than the other. One’s opinions are not less important. One’s wants are not more important. Marriage is the unity of two equal individuals. It is not the uniformity of a lesser into a greater and does not demand conformity.
Rather than being narcissistic people who are takers respectful people are givers. Instead of trying to get love from the other they learn to give love to each other. Respect substitutes trying to get its needs met by the other with giving out of the overflow of the love it has in Christ. Self-centered spouses are scorekeepers in a marriage.  They are controlling, cynical, faultfinders, critically competitive, more concerned with who is right and wrong, sees the relationship in terms of winners and losers. Self-sufficient spouses are the opposite of scorekeepers. They are more constructively critical of themselves than of their spouse, more interested in the long-term health and heart of the relationship than who’s at fault in the immediate problem, and they are more focused on empowering their spouse than being the power-player in the relationship.
Rather than being jealous toward the other respectful spouses learn to be trusting of each other. Jealousy is birthed out of want. Trust is birthed out of satisfaction. Jealousy is the desire to get something. Trust is giving what is due. Unless otherwise proven untrustworthy, respect assumes trustworthiness. Jealousy is constantly suspicious, the root of victim mentality and unforgiving. Jealousy comes from a place of inferiority and weakness. Trust is extending a belief in a spouse’s integrity, truthfulness, and faithfulness. There cannot be trust without forgiveness. And because one spouse can trust that there will be forgiveness they are set free to honest disclosure. Respectful trust can only come from a place of personal strength and, personal strength comes from a humble satisfaction of one’s personhood. “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor 15:10)
Rather than trying to rule over the other respectful spouses learn to release each other from personal expectations. The reason we try to control our spouse’s behavior is because we somehow think that what they do or do not do reflects on us. Instead of trying to manipulate through conditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness respect does not assume reflection of another’s actions. Respect places responsibility for one’s own actions on the one who is doing the action. Respect allows failure without condemnation yet still upholds personal consequences. What one spouse does says absolutely nothing about the other spouse. Respect doesn’t try to blame one’s action on their spouse. A respectful spouse doesn’t say, “I am the way I am or I do what I do because you are this way or you do that.” Respectful spouses own their own behavior.
Rather than trying to ‘fix’ the other, respect accepts the other without expectations of change. Respect doesn’t try to change the other but instead honors each other’s differences. Respect allows those differences without demanding the other to participate in those differences. We each have different likes and dislikes. We like to do different things. Involvement in those different things is extended with an invitation without expectation to accept the invitation.  Respect allows individual involvements separate from the other, if so desired. Respect does not see these differences and diversities as something that needs to be ‘fixed’. Respect may make suggestions when asked but it is not demanding.
Rather than being selfish, respect learns to be serving. Selfishness comes from a mindset that says, “How may I get you to do what I want you to do?” It spends it time manipulating. Respectful spouses come from a mindset that says, “How may I serve you?” They spend their time learning how to magnify their spouse. A selfish spouse tries to figure out what they can DO to exploit their spouse to get them to DO what they want them to DO. Respect tries to figure out how it can best BE what their spouse needs them to BE. Selfishness is all about performance. Respect is all about grace.
I have yet to do pre-martial counseling, perform weddings, or do marital counseling with people who do not have a love for one another. Yet, even among believers in Christ, that love alone is not enough to have a loving and lasting marriage. Most of the time, the things addressed in this article would explain why marriages fail. Some marriages fail and the result is a legal divorce while others fail and the result is an emotional divorce. Either way, in God’s assessment, the mark or goal of marriage has been missed. In these marriages where people hide in fear and shame from one another God has empowered them to redeem their relationship and live in a loving, lasting, and truly happy marriage. If you can learn to live in the reality of respect with your spouse you are on your way to being a relational healthy person.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Racism and Zimmerman-Martin Verdict

With the verdict of the State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman in, the nation reacts. Maybe we shouldn’t say “the nation.” Maybe we should say groups of people. The problem is when we start identifying those groups. The groups are not divided by principle. They aren’t divided by patriotism. They aren’t even divided by purpose. They are divided by race.

Isn’t it interesting how the media picks and choses what to flood our senses with? There are literally hundreds of shootings in this country. There are literally hundreds of trials across this great country where the State is charging someone with murder. In fact, 37 days after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Florida, Cordell Jude shot and killed Daniel Adkins in Arizona in what has been called the "Reverse Trayvon Martin Case." But, other than a brief CNN clip and a Yahoo News blurb no major media publicized the case. Yet, the problem is not just the media. In my opinion, and I believe the evidence is in the results, the media is only helping identify the problem. Yes, in some ways they may be fueling the fire but the reality is if there wasn’t a fire there then fueling it wouldn’t produce anything. With that said, I do believe the media has a responsibility in what, how, when, where, and why they do what they do. In my opinion, the media has failed miserably in being responsible. In reality, the purpose of the news media has changed in my lifetime from reporting the news to selling the news. When money is the bottom line we need to remember, “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.” (1 Tim 6:10)

No matter how many times people say it’s not about race, the evidence in the results proves the opposite. The problem is that this great country is still divided along racial and ethnical lines. Prejudices are hard, if not impossible, to put to death. The problem is not the color of ones skin being used to describe and identify. If you are called upon to give identifying physical traits of an individual you would use gender, skin color, size, weight, and any other physical characteristic (tattoos, color of hair, scares, etc.). The problem is when someone is being treated or expected to be treated a certain way BECAUSE of the color of one’s skin.

There are all kinds of physical characteristics that carry prejudices. Some are not as major as others but all are pre-judgments about someone because of a physical characteristic. For instance, people with red hair have short tempers; females with blonde hair are dingbats; there is something wrong with people that get tattoos; there are literally thousands of pre-judgments that we make about people when we see them. But that is not the same thing as being racist. Racism is about prejudices, discrimination, inequality, superiority, bigotry and oppression.

How difficult is it in general to cross the rift between White and Black in America? Well, in the four years of the Civil War (1861-1865) it is estimated that at least 620,000 people died; roughly 360,222 Union forces (fighting to abolish slavery) and 258,000 Confederate forces (fighting to keep slavery). (I know that is a simplified reason for the War.) Included in the figure are the estimated 40,000 African-Americans who lost their lives in the War. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed by Congress and signed by the President it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1883, which ruled that Blacks were “beings of an inferior order”, and could never become citizens of USA. (Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857). It took 100 tumultuous years after the Civil War before The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would make any real change for the African-American.
Somehow through all these human-rights issues it has been perceived that the majority is always prejudice toward the minority. And that perception may very well be based upon the facts of human history. When one world power conquers another, the people of that land become subservient to their captors, if not slaves of their captors. That’s the way of the world. That’s the way of war. It happened to Israel along with other nations under the Egyptian Empire and the Roman Empire. It happened under Mohammad and Islam in the Middle East and it happened to the Native Indians and Spaniards in North America under the United States of America. Now, in parts of this great country where the Hispanics out number the Anglo there are accusations of perceived prejudices against the Anglo. It seems to be the way of humanity. I think we can accurately predict that if Blacks were the majority and Whites the minority that racism would not vanish. I would just switch races.

There is only one Kingdom on earth where racial/ethnical prejudice is not supposed to be. That is the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately, through the failure of sinful men, of which we all are, the church has not always upheld the orders of her King: “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek.” (Rom 10:12) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) Since the “love of Christ controls us” we are to “recognize no one according to the flesh.” (2 Cor 5:14-16) In the Kingdom of Christ we are not to let the color of someone’s skin be a prejudgment. As the children’s song declares the truth:
“Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and Yellow, Black and White,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
And we might add in there Brown and every color of every people on the face of the earth.

I don’t believe the church is to be color-blind, I believe we are to be color-celebrating. In the Family of God I have brothers and sisters who are White, Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, and every other color of people on earth who have recognized Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We are completely and totally equal in every way. I chose, in Christ, to celebrate the distinctiveness of God’s saving grace and the sweet fellowship of unity found in Christ Jesus. There are not only color differences but also cultural differences from which we can learn and celebrate. Not only am I transformed to see this reality in the church but also I am transformed to see this reality outside the church. I am not to be a respecter of people. If all who name the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior would submit to their King in this reality there would be a significant change in racism worldwide.

I am a White male who grew up at a time and in a place where my physical characteristics of race were the majority. I admit and confess that I do not know how it feels or what it means to be discriminated against simply because of my race or ethnicity. I married a Mexican who grew up as a minority in our town and experienced prejudicial discrimination simply because of her ethnicity. I am incapable of empathizing with what she felt because I have not experienced it. We have three children, twin girls and one boy (all grown now). Our son looks much more Mexican than his palely White sisters. He has suffered at the hands of those who are prejudice simply because of his skin color. I cannot really empathize with how he feels when derogatory remarks are made toward him because he is Mexican. My own grandmothers, though they always treated my wife and children with unconditional love and acceptance, warned me before I married that my children would be half-breeds. Even with that, I, as an Anglo, do not understand the disparaging treatment of prejudices because it was not my half of the breeding that was considered a negative.

All of that is to say, I don’t believe anyone can fully understand how it feels to be racially/ethnically discriminated against unless they have lived in a society where they are the minority and, as a minority, have suffered racial/ethnical discrimination. It is one thing to experience pockets of racial discrimination but it is totally different when racial discrimination is a societal distinctive. By that I mean, a White person may grow up in a Black neighborhood and experience racial discrimination in that pocket of society. But that is not the same thing as the racial discrimination toward Blacks that can be found, in general, in the social structure of America, especially in the South.

With that being said there are a few things that I have observed with the Zimmerman-Martin trial and subsequent reactions. They are my opinion and, as with all of us, I can only view things through the lens of my own experiences and that can affect the way I see something. I am not saying my observations are the ONLY accurate conclusion. Nor am I saying that they are absolutely correct. Maybe, putting this out there will help in the dialogue and help in bringing some healing to racial/ethnical prejudices in America. Of course, if it is a true dialogue then there are at least two things that must happen. One, all must be willing to take ownership of our feelings/thoughts and express them appropriately. Two, all must be willing to listen and hear all in the conversation.

The media has sensationalized this case based on race because that is what sells. NBC edited the Zimmerman’s call to the non-emergency number of Sanford police department so as to highlight race. They made it sound like Zimmerman was conjecturing on race without being asked when, in fact, the dispatcher asked him to identify the race of Martin. The mainstream media continues to sensationalize the case with the way they frame questions and interviews around race. I watch a lot of news. Fox News has a slant that is more consistent with my political point of view. So, I probably watch Fox News 70% of the time. Yet, I want to be well rounded and hear the views of others that are coming from a different perspective, so I watch CNN probably 20% of the time, MSNBC maybe 10% of the time, and the big three (ABC, CBS, NBC) about 10% of the time. Although I’ve learned a lot from these other news sources, it appears to me that the more liberal the media outlet the more they focus on a racial conspiracy. Does that mean the liberal media is more against racism and are just emphasizing the injustice toward Blacks or are they exploiting the Blacks by selling the sensational? Are they reporting the extent of the racial divide or are they encouraging more racial divide? To me, it’s not that they are just reporting on racial/ethnical prejudice but that they are inciting the division. Also, it seems to me that the media is doing nothing to help bring healing to the racial divide.

The groups trying to capitalize off of the media coverage are not just racially motivated. There is the group who is seeking to overthrow the Stand Your Ground law. There are also people who are trying to use this as a reason for Gun Control. Of course, the counterparts of these groups are arguing their side as well. It is my opinion that this case has little to do with either one of these issues. In my opinion we have already submitted too many of our freedoms in the environment of a false peace. It is like the Scriptures indicate that even in the name of God there are those who proclaim “peace, peace, But there is no peace.” (Jer 6:14) Without a Stand Your Ground law and the Second Amendment we are reduced to the mercy of the merciless. Are we to huddle in our houses defenselessly awaiting the criminal? Are we to retreat from every confrontation? Does it not already seem that our laws are more for the criminal than they are the victims? Even after they are convicted the criminals still have significant rights under the law. Is this really about a law or about guns? I don’t think so. Those who believe Zimmerman probably think the law did exactly what it was intended to do. If he had not had the right to carry a gun and defend himself, he likely would have been beaten, maimed, and possibly killed. Those who don’t believe Zimmerman, say if he hadn’t been allowed to have a gun he couldn’t have killed Martin. And if there was no Stand Your Ground law Zimmerman would be charged with murder 2 or, at least, manslaughter because he didn’t retreat when he had a chance. So, is the issue the law or the gun? NO! The issue is whether you believe the system worked or failed. Was Zimmerman innocent until proven guilty? Or, was he judged by the media as guilty because of the color of his skin and Martin’s skin? Is not finding him guilty BECAUSE of the color of skin also a racial/ethnical prejudice?

Let’s play “what if”—what if Martin really did beat down Zimmerman and bashed his head into the sidewalk? Is it that hard to believe that a 17-year-old male (looks more like 20), who is 5’ 11” tall and 158 lbs. could beat down a 28-year-old, 5’ 7” tall and 185 lbs. young man? Maybe even asking the question that way shows a bias. Okay, what if Zimmerman instigated and started the fight. Zimmerman was roughly 11 years older, basically 30 pounds heavier, even though he was 4” shorter. Is it hard to believe that a 28-year-old male neighborhood watch coordinator in a neighborhood that has been hit hard with robberies, is overly suspicious, easily angered, and highly confrontational toward anyone off the pathway and in the yard of an area that is known for robberies, and someone he suspects is “up to no good” because “it's raining and he's just walking around, looking about?” Neither scenario is hard to believe. What is hard to reconcile is what that characteristic of Zimmerman would sound like and how that type of characteristic might behave in that scenario and what the facts point to. If that painted an accurate picture Zimmerman I’m surprised he didn’t stop and confront Martin when he first saw him. I’m surprised by the tone and quality of his voice. His voice is soft, a little high-pitched, calm, and almost a little feminine. There is one point on the call, when Zimmerman says that Martin is “coming to check me out” and he sees something in Martin’s hand. That Zimmerman sounds a little frightened even. He wanted the police to hurry. That doesn’t sound like someone that is out looking for a Black kid to kill.

The “what if” game is a game that never ends. What if Zimmerman never got out of his truck? What if Martin had walked straight home instead of loitering? What if Zimmerman hadn’t carried a gun? What if Martin wasn’t wearing a hoodie? What if Zimmerman had been Black and Martin White? What if…what if…what if… The “what if” game gets us nowhere!

Interestingly, all the attorneys in the trial, except for the attorney representing the Martin family, were White. Are there no qualified attorneys in Florida that are Black or Brown? All the jurors, save the one dark Hispanic woman, were White women. It was an all women jury! It seems to me that the more they tried to make it not about race the more they did things that were potentially racially explosive. I think the question “Do you think if those jurors would have been six Black women there would have been a different verdict?” is a legitimate question. It is also a question that shows just how suspicious we are toward racial divisions. Did five White women make a decision based on the facts presented or the color of Martin’s skin? Would five Black women make a decision based on facts or the color of skin? If, in any situation, a decision is made based exclusively on the color of someone’s skin, can we not agree that there is racial/ethnical prejudice? Can we not also agree that not every decision made is about racial/ethnical prejudice even when there are different races involved?

The prosecution seemed to base their final argument not on facts but on knowing “what was in the heart of Zimmerman.” This is really an impossibility to know. There are only two people who can know a person’s heart, the person and God. And no one really knows his or her own heart in every matter. We can easily deceive ourselves. It is true that Zimmerman obviously had problems in 2005 with drinking, violence, and relationships. He was arrested for shoving an officer and he also had a restraining order filed and granted against him by his ex-fiancée, against whom he also filed and received a retraining order. In 2006 he received a speeding ticket. Yet, in this case, though the State desperately tried to, they could not find any factual evidence to prove Zimmerman guilty. The Law either has facts and evidences that will reasonably convict or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t bring a charge against someone. The process of the arrest and the lack of evidence presented could easily lead one to think that the State of Florida may have felt pressured, based on the publicity of the case, to bring Zimmerman to trial.

After the trial, all the demanding for justice is not just. Was it an “unnecessary killing” as Eric Holder proclaims? Sure it was. Aren’t most killings unnecessary? What could have changed? In order of prevention: The first thing, from the testimony, was that if Martin had not been loitering around a house there was a good chance that Zimmerman would not have suspected him. Secondly, after Zimmerman stopped at the clubhouse and called the police’s non-emergency phone number, if Martin would have walked past Zimmerman’s truck and made a beeline for his father house there would have been no confrontation. Thirdly, if Martin was scared because a “creepy ass cracker” was following him, he could have called the police. Fourth, if Zimmerman had not got out of his truck, most likely there would not have even been a conversation between the two. (One juror has said Zimmerman “shouldn’t have gotten out of that car.”) Yet, getting out of that car was not against the law. Fifth, if Zimmerman had retreated to his truck when encouraged to by the dispatcher there possibly would have not been a confrontation. Still, even confronting someone in a neighborhood watch environment is not against the law. Was either one breaking the law? No. At least, not up to the point of violence. Were both exercising poor judgment? Maybe. But poor judgment isn’t against the law. The reality is that the only one who knows what happened that night is Zimmerman. Did Martin throw the first punch? Was Martin accosted first by Zimmerman? We may never know or we may already know. The jurors heard the evidence and believed the evidence pointed toward Zimmerman’s account. Under our justice system we must endure this as the truth. Our system may not be perfect but it has proven to be the best system for justice probably 99% of the time. Occasionally, because humans fail sometimes, our system convicts innocent people and frees guilty people. But regardless, “innocent until proven guilty” is the best system we have. And in this case Zimmerman was not proven guilty.

Was Martin profiled? Maybe. Is profiling the same thing as racial/ethnical prejudices? Absolutely not! It can be but it is not necessarily so. Is it not true that the gated neighborhood had recently had a rash of burglaries and potential violent encounters with young adult Black males in the past 15 months? Is it not reasonable at that point to profile an older teen Black male who is inside the gated community? Profiling at that point is not necessarily racial/ethnical prejudices. It could be simply motivated by racial/ethnical description. When the EMT examined Martin he had no ID on him. They reported he looked approximately 20 years old. He may not have looked like the twelve-year-old boy pictured by the media. I contend that in this case profiling is not synonymous with prejudice. The FBI, Stanford Police Department, and the Jurors came to the same conclusion after investigating all the evidence. They concluded that Zimmerman was not motivated by racial/ethnical prejudices. I think a legitimate question is “If Martin had had on clothing that is not associates with a culture that is problematic would he had been profiled?” In my mind, if I see someone on a dark street that is dressed and looks like trouble, I am going to profile him or her regardless of the color of his or her skin. Maybe part of the conversation needs to be the reality that the way you dress is the way you will be judged. If a “skin head” with a swastika tattoo walks down the street is he not going to be judged by his appearance? If Martin had been wearing a suite and carrying a brief case would Zimmerman had profiled him? Probably not even though the fact that he was a Black would have been more obvious. Could it be that appearance really does matter in society? I’m old enough to remember when wearing a pair jeans in the late 1950s through the early 1970s was prejudged in conjunction with James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.” Also, when males with long hair were pre-judged as a hippy, drug user, rebellious, etc.

It appears to me, agreeably, someone who does not have the experience of being racially discriminated against, that there are people in the Black community who have to continue racial division in order to continue their identity and maybe their income. People like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson seem to me to be in this camp. It is my opinion that they are not helping to bring healing to racial division but encouraging it. Their inflammatory rhetoric and political demands seems to be more harmful than helpful. There have been numerous Black leaders on the news including Eric Holder, US Attorney General and the former Mayor of New Orleans, Marc Morial, indicating that the jurors were wrong in their verdict. That what Zimmerman did was illegal. That he was wrong in profiling Martin. That Martin was just an innocent teenager murdered. Murdered because he was Black and Zimmerman was found Not Guilty because he was White-Hispanic. They said that because of the verdict they have had to have talks with their sons about behavior, profiling, and what to do in similar situations. Really! I have had that talk with my son, too.

Along with that conversation comes the explanation of why someone may be profiled. Not that it is fair but that there might be reasonable thought behind profiling. In the conversation with my son I included how he dressed and reacted to other people who are prejudice toward him will help determine the outcome. The prison system is over populated, with male Latinos and Blacks by far the prison majority. Is the legal system prejudice toward Browns and Blacks? I don’t know. Some studies show a disparity in arrest and charges of Browns and Blacks vs. Whites. Although, some studies show that Blacks and Browns are more likely to be arrested and charged there are others that report that Browns and Blacks are more likely to find leniency. There is also data to support that because there have been more research published involving Blacks in the legal system it can be over represented in the conclusion. (Do Race and Ethnicity Matter in Prosecution?) Undoubtedly, there are multiple studies of certain sectors of the country (i.e. NYC) where minorities are more likely to be targeted by law enforcement than Whites. (Crime, perceptions of crime and perceptions of crime-fighters) Yet, are there really enough facts to point toward a countrywide conspiracy toward Blacks and Browns? It’s hard to prove either way with statistics because statistics can be manipulated to say whatever is wanted. The one thing that all the statistics seem to point to is that minorities are more likely, per-capita, to commit violent crime. Some explain that by the difference in economics in the minority community. They say that minorities are poorer. Yet, is that a cause of the crime or is that the results of the crime? Also, if there is a societal conspiracy to keep minorities poor how do we reconcile that many minorities are some of the wealthiest people in America? As an example look at the Black entertainment industry: Bill Cosby, Opra Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Whitney Houston, Will Smith, James Earl Jones, and the list of film, television, and music industry stars goes on and on. Add on to that list minorities playing in Professional Sports.

Some minorities point to a discrimination in the education system that prevents them from being able to achieve a better economic life for their families and communities. But it is not clear whether the potential discrimination is because of a prejudicial education system or because of the community culture created by minorities. In high schools where African-American and Hispanics are the majority students report a higher percentage of being threatened or injured by a weapon than in Anglo or Native American populated schools. Though there was, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, factual discrimination in the public school system, since then there have been significant improvements in squelching that discrimination. In postsecondary education Blacks receive the majority of financial aid (92%) and the average largest amount of aid given. The research would indicate that in the past 35 years discrimination in the educational system has made great strides in assuring equality. (Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups) Yet, if the educational system points to anything in the Zimmerman-Martin case it identifies a troubled youth who was on his third expulsion from high school.

Another thing that brought this case undue publicity is President Obama giving public commentary on it. In my opinion it is beneath the position of the President to speak publicly about any particular case. Especially, when it is being publicized in a racial format. Also, I don’t think it helps when the Attorney General of the United States dedicates his entire speech to the NAACP questioning and destroying the faith in our justice system by undermining the process that had just been completed in the Zimmerman-Martin trial. In my opinion, when the highest official and other high officials in the US Government, all whom are Black, do not accept the results of our justice system they undermine the entire Republic for which the system identifies. Could it be that they want to politicize this case for their own political agenda? (i.e. Anti-Stand Your Ground law and Gun Control)

When listening to the prosecutions key witness, Rachel Jeantel, it reminded me of conversations I have had with White people who claim not to be racially/ethnically prejudice yet are disparaging toward people who are not White. Statements such as “you know how Mexicans are” or “Black people are just that way” when speaking negative about someone. Or maybe they see nothing wrong with describing Black people as Niger, Brown people as Spics, White people as Crackers or Asian people as Chinks. Yet, with Jeantel, we see that racial/ethnical prejudice is as much a part of the Black culture as it is the White. In what world is “creepy ass cracker” not a racial slur? Ms. Jeantel denied that it has racial connotations. Would not it have been seen as racial/ethnical prejudice if Zimmerman had said something derogatory about Martin in identifying his skin color? Maybe what he said shows that Martin could have been more racially motivated than Zimmerman. Isn’t it true that prejudices have no boundaries? They are not restricted just to the majority. Remember, the problem is when someone is being treated or expected to be treated a certain way BECAUSE of the color of their skin. Do not all racial/ethnical groups do this? Is it not true that there are Blacks that are racist? As well as Hispanics and Asians? I mean, it’s not just a White syndrome. It is a human problem.

If racism in America has not been resolved in over 150 years since the Civil War we are safe to assume it is not going to be solved anytime soon. There is no doubt that the racial divide between White and Black in America continues to find strength in the past reality of slavery and the over 100 years of oppression of the Blacks once slavery was abolished. It is understood that slavery and racial oppression was primarily in the Southern States but not limited to the South. There is no one alive today who was a slave owner or a slave. So, there are no firsthand experiencers of that era of our history. The point is, there is no one to hold responsible and there need be no one requiring retribution. It is history. If we learn from it we have a good chance not to repeat it. Now as far as the oppression of Blacks by Whites…. maybe we shouldn’t be so stereotypical. Were there not well over 300,000 Whites in the Civil War that literally gave their lives in order to provide freedom for Blacks? There have been remnants of Whites from the founding of America who have advocated equality in civil-rights for all colors of people. Still, it is hard for me to reconcile reasons for 100 years of racial oppression of the Black. What took White people so long to establish an equality of race? Why did it take such turmoil in the 1960s to initiate change in society?  Of course, I was born at the end of those 100 years and cannot contemplate the cultural milieu of America from 1865 to 1965. Still, have there not been astronomical advances in establishing an equality of race in America, especially since 1964? I mean, in 2008 America elected a Black man as the President of the United States of America. With Black making up roughly 13% of the population was it not the non-Black vote that put a Black man in the Oval Office?

I can only speak for myself and from my own perspective. I do not consider myself being racially/ethnically prejudice. Yet, I realize that self-awareness continues to come with an open mind and heart. Maybe we can all get to the place were we can willingly set down and have an honest dialogue. I must say that this case has truly highlighted the extent of the racial divide in America. I call on my fellow Whites to really try to understand, to listen and hear what the hearts of the African-American community, Hispanic community, Asian community, etc are saying. Realize that 1964 wasn’t that long ago. Can we not sympathize with minorities, especially Blacks, as to how they feel living in a society, in general, that has oppressed them? To try to understand how it must feel to be prejudicially profiled just because of skin color. Why minorities are probably more sensitive to racism than Whites. To learn from minorities what might be done to help. I call upon on the minorities to listen and hear the whole of the White community. I ask them to be honest about their own community’s cultural problems and take ownership for those things. To stop blaming the Whites for your problems and expecting to be venerated simply for being a minority. Sure there are plenty of Whites that are racially/ethnically prejudice. Some will never accept that the minority has equality with White. There are always going to be people like this. It is hard to ignore them but maybe we can reasonably and rationally marginalize those who will always be racist by not being baited into a reaction.

The solution to racism is don’t be a racist. Don’t prejudge someone because of the color of his or her skin. Don’t assume all Whites are racist. Don’t assume all Blacks are racist. (Because racism is just as alive and well in the Black community as it is in the White community.) In fact, the Bible has a very simple solution to the problem of racism.

      “In everything, therefore,
treat people the same way
you want them to treat you.”
(Mt 7:12)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Legally Acceptable Terrorism Against Our Children!

Here, in Norman, OK where I live, our city government spent over a million dollars to install massive speed bumps throughout neighborhoods to provide a perceivable safe place for kids to play. I say ‘perceivable’ because no kids are outside playing because speeding cars are not what threaten our children. Our neighborhoods have been robbed of kids playing outside, riding their bicycles, playing catch in the park, building forts in the wooded areas, walking to the convenient store, and learning how to live together in a free society. We’ve allowed the bad guys/gals to win by allowing pedophiles to live in our neighborhoods and terrorize our streets in perpetrating their perversions on our children again and again. Bullies have been allowed to turn into gangs that become terrorist against the freedoms of our children. Bullying has become a major problem and I don’t just mean verbal and emotional sufferings but like pedophiles, a very real physical threat of harm.

The reality is that we’ve allowed some very real terrorism to rob our children of the freedom that most adults over 40 grew up with. Fear of what might happen to our children if we let them outside without parental supervision is real. Older adults complain that kids these days set inside and play video games and watch television too much. Yet we adults are the ones who have allowed the bad guy/gal to win because we’ve become soft on punishment of those who would target the most vulnerable in society. We’ve allowed these terrorists to drive our children indoors and rob them of their freedom.

As for the pedophiles, whether you agree or not, the truth is that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. We may not want to go back to the “Old West” days but there were some things that our forefathers knew and did that provided a free society for families to raise their children in a safe environment. In the “Old West” crimes against the most vulnerable, children and women particularly, was met with swift and harsh punishment. Horse thieves, cattle rustlers, bank robbers, and murderers (those who would terrorize society) when caught met a swift and final punishment. Prisons were not overrun with offenders. Graveyards were reminders of what happens to those who preyed on the vulnerable.

Yes, I am proposing the death penalty for those who are pedophiles. If, those who would kidnap innocent children and rob them of their freedom were to meet a swift and a severe punishment of death it would deter others from doing the same. If the death penalty were carried out, pedophiles would not be registered sex offenders still terrorizing our neighborhoods looking for another opportunity to victimize a child. (In Norman, OK there are no fewer than 46 pedophiles registered with our law enforcement authority.) They would not be free to perpetrate their perversion on another child. A side benefit would be that tax dollars wouldn’t go to pay for lengthy trials and prison time with three prepared meals a day, climate controlled housing, cable television, workout rooms, education opportunities, etc.

If the bullies were dealt with swiftly and severely they would not be allowed to congregate into gangs. They would learn and be an example to others that bullying is not acceptable behavior in the society of the free. Take the bully at a young age, when their tendency to bully is manifested in the natural course of children playing, and correct him/her with swift gentle discipline. If they do not respond favorably with gentle discipline then swiftly use severe discipline. Maybe if a 10-year-old bully, who doesn’t respond to gentle discipline, spent a week or month in a juvenile detention center they would not grow up to be an adult bully who abuses his/her spouse and children. If bullies cannot control their aggressive behavior then they must be isolated away from society in prison. When a bully (for whatever reason) takes up a weapon in order to force his cruelty (such as mass murderers) on others then a swift and final penalty is appropriate.

If, we as a society began to take these legally acceptable forms of terrorism on our children seriously, our children would psychologically regain their value to society. They would not live in terror that the “boogey man” is still out there waiting to get them again. Their freedom would be restored and our neighborhoods would be alive with the laughter of children as they play outside. Society would benefit as children, who have learned to play together, grow up into adults and know how to get along with others, work together, and be good neighbors. Our society would be relieved of these legally acceptable terroristic attacks on our children.

Someone may say “that is not a very gracious response to those with psychological problems that cause him or her to be pedophiles or bullies.” My response is “I disagree, it is the most gracious response to our children that we can have.” I would not rejoice in their demise but I would support it for the betterment of society. If pedophiles and bullies had a zero tolerance in our society our children would regain a psyche of their value and the wonderment of freedom in a society that does not live in fear of these acceptable forms of terrorism.

Is it any wonder as to why children who have grown up with the tension of these forms of legal terrorism are now willing to give up more freedom in order for perceived safety? They have already had one aspect of their freedom taken from them for the perceived safety of a neighborhood with speed bumps. To give up their Second Amendment right in order to have a perceived safe environment is not that much of a stretch.

Asking people to give up some of their freedom in order to accommodate the perpetrators of crime is like putting speed bumps in neighborhoods where children no longer play outside. Perception can be the antithesis of reality.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Losing Our Understanding

When reading the Pew Research Report “The Decline of Marriage And Rise of New Families” (November 18, 2010) the thought came to me concerning how we as human beings try to justify our beliefs and behavior. We either justify our beliefs based upon something outside ourselves seen as authoritative or we justify them based upon something within ourselves seen as authoritative. For instance, some people may base their beliefs on traditions, like Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof or the Pharisees and scribes Jesus scolded in Matthew 15. Other people may find authority in the law of the land. As long as it’s legal it’s okay. Still, there are others who find their source in the authority of society, like politicians who change their positions based on public polls. For the Christians, the most familiar authority found outside of us is the Bible. However, there are others who find their confidence within their own reasoning. Humanism is a discipline that sets reason, ethics, and justice found within humanity while rejecting supernatural and religious ideas as a basis of morality and decision-making. Human knowledge, wisdom, understanding, intellect, etc. gives, in and of itself, authority for behavior. In other words, we as humans can justify our behavior by simply finding its justification within ourselves. This is our (humans) default way of justifying our actions.
Although there are some encouraging trends identified in the article, reading the changes in the views of marriage and family affirms the fact that human beings are social beings and, habitually, justifies their lifestyle by adjusting their belief system. For example, is it surprising that with the increase in divorce there is an increase in its acceptance? Or, that with the increase of cohabitation there is an increase it its acceptance? How about that with the value of traditional family declining the belief in traditional family values has declined as well. This is how we justify our actions by adapting our beliefs.
It reminds me of a principal that Paul talked about. “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.” (2 Co 10:12) We as human beings have the distinct capacity to deceive ourselves and lose our understanding. To lose understanding is to lose the ability to see something as it really is. It is to be devoid of the ability of abstract thought. It is to lose the ability to see something outside of our own justification of it. To lose our understanding is to lose our true north. We lose all absolutes. If enough people start saying there are no absolutes then how will we know which way is north, what color is red, or that 2+2=4? All that is right and wrong become so blurred that it appears there is no right and wrong. As more measuring and comparing take place the more understanding is lost.
We, as a society, have lost our understanding of the importance of marriage and family to our own society. Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Popular opinion has become our authority to justify our lifestyle. When we were kids and we wanted to do something that our parents didn’t want us to do we would say something like, “but everyone is doing it.” And our parents would say something like, “if everyone were jumping off a bridge would you do it too?” Well, the truth is we probably would. Unless we have some type of authority outside ourselves that gives us a belief that is strong enough to defy the measuring and comparing of ourselves to our society we will lose our understanding. Let’s put it like this, if enough people are getting a divorce or cohabitating together would you do it to? If enough people believe that a homosexual life style is morally equal to a heterosexual lifestyle would you agree? If society says that premarital sex is okay would you see no problem with premarital sex? If fidelity in marriage were seen as old fashion and unreasonable would you agree? The proof is in the article. The societal milieu of America over the past 50 years has steadily eroded away the external authority of the Bible, which empowered people to resist the seduction of humanistic justification. That which was once seen as wrong is now seen as okay.
Unfortunately, the church in America has done little to combat the decline of marriage and the importance of family in America. As true Christianity gave way to religiosity the church lost its empowerment to facilitate change in the culture. Religious institutions have become more identified with the world than impacting the world with Biblical authority. The primary way that the church in America has tried to deal with the eroding away of Biblical authority is condemning those who fail at keeping its (the church’s) rules and regulations. Condemnation has a tendency to push people away rather than pull people in. It has a tendency to over-emphasize truth and under-emphasize grace. This produces an isolated church. The secondary way the church in America has tried to deal with a society that is moving further away from a biblical oriented milieu is to embrace the changes within the church. Some may say the church has become soft on sin. This embracing has a tendency to over-emphasize grace and under-emphasize truth. It lowers the standards to allow humanity to be okay with its sinfulness. This produces an ineffective church. In many ways the church in America has become very much like the church in Corinth during the New Testament times.
The article proves another principle that is found in Paul’s writing. “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”” (1 Co 15:33) Another report from Pew Research, “Second-Generation Americans” (February 7, 2013), among other things, looks at the differences between the beliefs of first generation immigrants and the children they raised to adulthood in America. They discover that the majority of immigrants are from either an Asian background or Hispanic background. The first generation immigrant from Asian or Hispanic countries, the ones who left the country they were raised in and came to the USA, have a much higher view of moral values than their second generation adult children who have been raised in America. The parents come to America with moral values that are typically more conservative. They raise their children with the intent of passing those moral values on. However, raising their children in the culture of America undermines the parent’s conservative moral values. Unfortunately, it appears that American society may be the bad company that corrupts good morals.
After reading this someone may ask, “Is there any hope?” The answer is, “Absolutely!” Be encouraged. God has never not been in control. (I know that is a double negative and that is bad English grammar.) Though we may not see His purpose, we can be assured that His purpose is being fulfilled. There are signs that the religiosity of the church in America is diminishing and true Christianity is on the rise. We didn’t get to this place in America overnight and it will not be reversed overnight. But it won’t be reversed at all without Christians influencing culture in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Christians living in the fullness of truth and grace speaking to their family, friends, and politicians.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Christian Influence on Society

Even with a cursory reading of the book of Acts in the New Testament there is no denying that after the birth of the Church at Pentecost these people who named Christ as their Savior and Lord had a profound effect on whatever society they lived in. From the public proclamation of the Gospel on the portal of Solomon’s Temple to the house churches, from the public square to the jail cell, from cities corridors to the quarters of the Emperor, from the centers of highest learning to the by-ways of poverty, they infiltrated society with their influence. They did it on a personal individual level as well as a corporate level. Their method was mass evangelism and one on one. Their influence was in private and in public.

These same people who had lived in harmony with their society all their lives were now agents of massive societal tension. What changed? Had society changed so much in their lifetime that they now felt the need to stand in the gap and recoup the past? Had the government forced unacceptable influence upon society that they rebelled against? Had evil infiltrated the life of society so much that, in their goodness, they were motivated to bring about a better society? Had the quality of their lives deteriorated to the point that they were driven to recapture a better life for themselves and their posterity?

I purpose to you that the answer to all these questions is no. What had changed was not society at all. What had changed was the people who believed that this person who was known as Jesus of Nazareth had lived, died, and rose from the dead was and is the Son of God, the Messiah, Savior, Lord, Master, King. These people had accepted the report that this Jesus was “the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through [Him].” (Jn 14:6) He was not just a truth, a way, and a life. They were not just convinced but they were convicted of the fact that “there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Ac 4:12) With this belief these people’s hearts were invaded by the Holy Spirit by whom they were empowered and motivated to proclaim these truths that they now embodied. They believed that His word was truth and that anything that spoke something different was false.

I purpose that the influence that these people wielded upon society was more than just a “plan of salvation” but that their influence was the entire embodiment of the Gospel. They believed that Jesus Christ was an absolute and that His way was not just the only way to eternal life but the best possible way for human beings to live. These people that were willing to go to their deaths for these truths were convicted that their message was the best message for society.

With the before mentioned premise, when we hear people who claim to be Christian say that they do not want to force their views on society we must question what these people believe. Do they believe what those earliest followers of Christ believed? Do they believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation? Do they believe that His Word is truth? Do they believe that His message is the best possible way for human beings to live?

How can someone be a follower of Jesus Christ and not believe that the entire embodiment of the Gospel is the best influence any society can have? Aren't we as Christians suppose to be salt and light to the world? The teachings of the Bible will make better marriages, families, children, employees, employers, neighbors, politicians, etc. Influencing society with the truths of Christianity will bring about an atmosphere that respects all people. Not only will it bring about respect but it emphasizes responsibility and consequence in relation to behavior.

The Scriptures present the standard by which believers are to live. Obviously, this can only be done by grace. Yet the influence will be one of godliness and righteousness. Hosea proclaimed in his prophetic writing, “the ways of the LORD are right, And the righteous will walk in them, But transgressors will stumble in them.” (Ho 14:9) He called to his society “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.” (Ho 14:1)

In my opinion, Christians have lost their influence in America because we have stumbled in the ways of God. We have believed the lie that religion and politics don’t mix. We have segregated our faith from our society. Christians don’t believe that their salvation is in being an American but in being in Christ. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God and that citizenship is greater than being an American citizen. Still, we have stumbled in letting this earthly kingdom influence the Kingdom of God rather than vise versa. Being an American we have believed that we are free to believe what we want and behave how we want. Yet, in being a follower of Christ we are constrained to believe that true freedom is found in the truth and that truth drives us to behave appropriately.

 Christianity is not bound by democracy. If a Christian finds himself in a totalitarian society he is still bound to live out his faith privately and publicly. Being found in a democracy does not change that. However, if a Christian is found in a democracy where he is given a voice and choice shouldn't that believer be all the more salt and light to his/her world? Shouldn't their voice and choice influence their society to holiness and righteousness?

Let me give two examples of current politics where, in my opinion, the Christian who is an American citizen can influence society to the better. One is in the area of abortion. In 1973 the law of the land established a freedom to seek abortion. Over 40 years that law has reached further and further into the duration of pregnancy. There is no doubt that abortion has become a major choice of birth control. No doubt that the 1960’s brought about a public sexual revolution and abortion has encouraged a society that is loose in the morals of sexual relationships. It has been used to try to ease the physical responsibility and consequence of sex. The Scriptures are clear that the act that brings about the formation of a child is to be holy and righteous within the bonds of marriage. Also, the Scriptures are firm on the truth that it is God who brings about life in the womb. To kill that life is the antithesis of seeing God as the author of that life. Just as murder is the taking of an innocent life, so is abortion. Abortion, as birth control, is the opposite of believing God when He says, “children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Ps 127:3) If a Christian is given the voice and choice in establishing laws to govern society shouldn't they protect the life in the womb? Shouldn't the Christian place a higher value on life than on personal freedom? Shouldn't the Kingdom of God influence this earthly kingdom? Shouldn't they encourage holiness and righteousness by influencing the physical responsibility and consequence of sex?

The second example is homosexual lifestyle. The Scriptures are very absolute in the lifestyles of unrighteousness; “do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Co 6:9–11) The homosexual lifestyle is equated with the lifestyles of liars, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers. They are all unrighteous lifestyles. So, it is no different in caliber of sinfulness than other perversions of God’s ways. Should not Christians use their voice and choice to provide the best possible way for human beings to live together? We have laws born out of nature that protect the righteous. That is the purpose of law; “law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.” (1 Ti 1:9–11) If we are given a voice of in society shouldn't our voice embody the gospel? Shouldn't we do all we can, in the environment we find ourselves in, to protect the righteous? Weren't we all born with certain dispositions that were antithetical to sound teaching?  Didn't the gospel save us from the lifestyles that perverted God’s ways? Shouldn't the Kingdom of God influence this earthly kingdom? Shouldn't we influence society to live lifestyles that are the best possible way for human beings to live together?

It is my opinion that although salvation in Christ is eternally personal and individual it is never intended to be private. The Gospel of Christ is not something that can be thwarted into silence unless the follower of Christ quenches and grieves the Holy Spirit. I am not advocating a social gospel but a gospel that influences society. Using our voice and choice for the betterment of society may cost us our lives just as it did some of those in the Book of Acts but we must in obedience speak the truth in love. Whether or not our message is received is not the issue. The outcome of our obedience is not what motivates us. It is not even our love for America that primarily motivates us. It is our love for Jesus that motivates us. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jn 14:15)

May we as Christians who are also American citizens return to our Lord, revive our faith, and reunite to influence our society to the best possible way for human beings to live together.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

How Can I Help?

It took me a little longer than a week to put this together but here it is. In light of what I have proposed concerning what I believe to be a culture problem, the question comes “How can we help?” “What can we do to help correct our culture and help prevent these types of tragedies?” Here are ten things that can start reversing the heart condition of our culture.
1.     As a Christian, the first thing we can do is pray. “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,  for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Ti 2:1–2). Pray that our government will make decisions that allow us as Christians to live in harmony with our culture as we live out the life of Christ in public.
2.     Live out our faith. By that I mean don’t just take the name of Christian but become a true follower of Christ. The followers of Christ “were first called Christians in Antioch” (Acts 11:26) by those who were not followers of Christ because their lives so identified with Christ that it was noticeable to those outside of Christ. In the New Testament age being called a partisan of Christ, Christian, was not a complement but a condemnation. They were supposed to be a partisan of Rome. Christians have lost their influence in our culture because we have tried to be accepted by the “world.” We have tried to make being a Christian non-offensive to a godless, lawless, licentious, unrighteous world. We have done just the opposite of what we are instructed to do: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking” (The Message Romans 12:2). Following Christ sometimes will put us at odds with our culture. So much so that at times we may even suffer because we follow Christ. Yet, “if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name” (1 Peter 4:16).
3.     At least an aspect of being a partisan of Christ is being someone who spreads the message of the Gospel. Will the true Gospel message be offensive? YES! Why? Because “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). It is the message that got the early partisans of Christ arrested and killed. Still, it is the message that will confront the evils of our culture. It is the only message that will produce a personal embodiment of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Ga 5:22–23). These are the virtues that will transform our culture.
4.     Just as partisans of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents speak out about their platform let us who are partisans of Christ speak out. We have willingly allowed the evils of this culture drown our voices out. We need to speak out with grace in our conversations but we need to speak. The exhortation to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” is not intended to be just a mental exercise but “so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Ro 12:2). Speak out encouraging that which is good and righteous. Speak out against that which is evil and wrong. Yet, whether we are speaking out for the positive or against the negative let us heed the instruction “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). May our speech never be with “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech” (Colossians 3:8). Let our speech be civil even in the face of hostilities.
5.     Let there be unity among Christians. A wise preacher once said “that which units us will also divide us” as he spoke concerning ideas and beliefs of different sects. As partisans of Christ may we let the belief and faith in Jesus Christ be what unites us and what divides us. Jesus unites us together and divides from those who outside of Christ. We may have some different beliefs in some doctrines. We may have some different interpretations of particular Biblical passages. But let’s not allow those things divide followers of Jesus Christ. Among those who are partisans of Christ let us never divide ourselves over politics, denominations, or public opinion. In unity we can stand together and gain greater influence on our culture.
6.     “Love your neighbors as yourself” (Matt 22:39) Begin initiating deeper relationships with those in your neighborhood. Maybe it is through a Neighborhood Watch or through Block Parties, but however it is start paying attention to your neighbors.
7.     Pay attention to those around you. Not just in a suspicious way but in a compassionate way. Look out for those who are doing good and beneficial things for the community and encourage them. Watch out for those who are being bad and destructive and, if possible and SAFE, confront them with grace and kindness. If you see something suspicious or illegal, tip off the police even if in anonymity.
8.     If you are available and qualified get involved in public service. Whether it is in city government, school board, civic organizations, etc. carry your good-sense and good-morals into the public arena. Be an agent of change to better your community.
9.     Voice your concerns and ideas to those who can do something about them. Don’t be afraid to call, email, snail mail, text, etc. those who are supposed to be representing you. From your city council person to the President of the United States of America, they need to hear from you in order to represent you.
10.  Live out what has been called the Golden Rule: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Mt 7:12). Be the neighbor you would want as a neighbor. Be the costumer you would want to serve. Be the employee or employer you would want to employee or work for. “In everything” and in every way treat others with respect, honesty, and grace.