St Mark's Church, Pensnett, Dudley, UK

#Purple for Royalty

Not #Red. Not #Blue. #Purple for royalty.

I, like much of the country, am grieving. However, it is not about the election result that I am grieving, but people’s responses to it. I am particularly saddened by people of the church, and truly devastated by the people who provide spiritual leadership in the church…the pastors.

I am part of a group that discusses sermons, and the general consensus is how awful it is that Trump was elected. That’s fine, in and of itself. It was the subsequent (paraphrased), I don’t want to have to pastor those people who voted for Trump. Another chimed in with (again, in effect), I’m so glad our entire church is full of those offended by Trump’s election, though if there are those that did vote for him and didn’t fess up, I’m not worried about hurting them (i.e., I’m not going to be their pastor).

Granted, these are pastor-to-pastor conversations, but these exhibit a serious heart problem.

I will readily grant that there are similar issues with those in more conservative areas (or  pastors who are more conservative themselves) who have been disparaging of the “liberals” in their churches. Though, I don’t recall one saying, I don’t want to be their pastor.

Either impacts our ability to preach the Gospel, but it also shows our inability to live it out. People on both “sides” (and there is also the Green and Libertarians, don’t forget) are calling out others who didn’t vote their way as not Christians! That is obscene! I’m actually tempted to call it blasphemous and sacrilegious.

We pastors must have a higher expectation of ourselves and other pastors. The United States is becoming more factious, not less. We are called to bridge the gap, not belittle others, or elevating others’ pain at the expense of others’ pain, or focusing on injustice, but by focusing on the one who died to save the world. Absolutely, part of the outflow of living out the Gospel is to heal pain and confront injustice, but it starts on our knees looking to the one who bore the nails for our sins. Jesus is supposed to be on the throne of our hearts. We are to be #Purple.

Differing Views on Marriage Versus Importance

In the recent article Here Comes Wedding Season: How Consumers Will Pay for Others’ Big Day in 2016, the amount of money spent by people attending weddings as guests or wedding party members was predicted to increase significantly. The prevalent Christian meme is that secular society is demeaning or devaluing the institution of marriage, yet by spending more on attending and being part of the wedding, it may not be as clear cut as many Christians claim it is.

What most Christians really mean is that others do not value the exact marriage that they value. The Christian marriage is usually defined as between one man and one woman (with kids) until separated by death (as long as it isn’t murdering each other). If that is the litmus test (others do not value the “Christian” ideal of marriage), then, yes, I have to agree with the Christian meme.

The marriage that society values is a marriage in which the two people (and, yes, in some cases more than two) find mutual satisfaction and happiness. Secular society truly does value, treasure, and uphold this understanding. Let us Christians recognize that. The dilemma comes to fruition when, however, the people in a marriage no longer find mutual satisfaction and happiness in their relationship. Thus it is better to “honor” marriage by divorcing, for by remaining together, they dishonor marriage.

The logic is consistent internally. By that same logic, as long as the couple is mutually committed, what does it matter if the couple be male/female, female/female, male/male? It might even be consistent within that marriage to have open partnerships or what have you.

Another interesting article is Americans Are Becoming More Socially Liberal — Except When it Comes to Divorce. According to the author claims (with some data to back it up), that many Millennials view divorce with such distaste, that many require other milestones (establish career, home, college degree, no/low debt, even prior serious relationship and/or cohabitation) to be accomplished prior to that final commitment. The author states:

Marriage has, in other words, gone from being a cornerstone achievement to a capstone one.

The author ends the column with this “capstone”:

So keep this in mind if you ever feel the temptation to urge some broke young couple to hurry up and get hitched already: Chances are they’re dragging their feet not because they don’t take marriage seriously but because they do.

Mind blown. Before we talk about upholding marriage, we Christians had best work with the secular world to discuss what exactly it is we and they mean.

Devalued

In Podcast 83, Carey Nieuwhoff interviewed Ravi Zacharias, who drew a parallel between pornography and suicide. Zacharias spoke of his recent experience counseling college students during the Passion Conference (starting at 22:55 and paraphrased), where the majority came two talk about two topics: pornography and suicide. He called pornography the “denuding of the other person” and suicide the “denuding of your own self”. The timeline is then moving from the devaluing of others to the devaluing of yourself.

While this could be a throwaway statement (and many would, as Zacharias went on to discuss sensuality and sex), I do not think this either a throwaway, or that small (and neither did Nieuwhoff, as he came back to it). Suicide has come up here before (such as here, here, and here), and is still high on my radar.

Knowing people (other than just myself) who have verbally spoken of committing suicide, it is the perception of self-worth that is the root of it. I know that many of my own internal conversations on this topic were based on my perception of no worth, or that those that love me would be better off without me. That saddest part of being part of a wealthy country is that we often have the luxury of not struggling day-by-day, which seems to lead to a higher level of depression and anxiety (which is strange).

The biggest thing, though, is hope. Without hope of an end to the pain. So, what can we as Christians offer as true hope to those that are hurting?

Definitions Impact Understanding

The horrible killing of Nazimuddin Samad is a crime in and of itself. As I read the reporting of it, however, I saw that there were definitely different pictures of the incident, of Nazimuddin Samad himself, and the world.

Aljazeera described his comments as pro-atheist, while also calling him a secularist. Aljazeera quoted Imran Sarker as saying, “He was a secular online activist and a loud voice against any social injustice. He was against Islamic fundamentalism.”

IBT called him a critic of radical Islam, and The Brisbane Times called him liberal and secular. It was the BBC’s report that really got me thinking.

The BBC reported that Nazimuddin Samad wrote against religious extremism. The BBC also reported that Nazimuddin Samad had “I have no religion” on his Facebook profile.

To my way of thinking, there is a difference between religious extremism, pro-atheism, secular, liberal, and even “I have no religion.” While even the understanding of religious extremism can be different (i.e., a devout atheist and devout Christian would have different understandings, depending on the issue), I will stick with the current Western thought of physically violent attacks on those of differing beliefs resulting in longer term harm (PTSD, amputation, blindness, etc.) and/or death.

Pro-atheism would be more akin to a person who publicly advocates for atheism and publicly (and actively?) opposed religion.

Secularism gets interesting as it really can depend. My definition of secularism would be a separation of powers between religious body (versus religion) and government. This is not how many people view secularism (including many Christians and atheists), but I base my understanding of the “separation of church and state” in concert with “the free exercise thereof”, and how I understand what the Founding Fathers intended this tension.

Liberal is such a loaded term that it is almost useless, at least in the United States. Perhaps, it is a more useful term outside our borders.

“I have no religion” is the most interesting. For Fundamentalist believers (whether Muslim, Christian, Hindu, etc.), I suspect that this is immediately equated to atheist. Aljazeera, for example, from its history might very well have that perspective (thus affecting their reporting). However, based on what little I know, I suspect Nazimuddin Samad kept his religious views private so as to not impact his work on secularism. Yes, I am assuming he was not an atheist (just stick with me on this). Bangladesh, along with many other nations (including the United States to a much lesser degree), is officially secular, but its people are not, which creates a tension between government and the people. In a country where the people avow their religiosity, “I have no religion” may come across as atheist. Yet, in an atmosphere of rising religious tensions and being a secularist (and I am, I acknowledge, using my definition), I can see the rationale of saying, “I have no religion,” while still holding onto religious beliefs.

My real thrust in this, however, is not trying to define/explain/defend Nazimuddin Samad or anyone else, but to observe that just the reporting on this tragedy can cause one to draw very different conclusions about Nazimuddin Samad, and his views. My take is that depending on who is reporting (and their editor), how one draws conclusions might severly be impacted.

How to talk about THAT topic. A guide for parents.

Kate Ott (not me) is taking on a huge task that I don’t envy. Talking to parents about how to talk about sex. This is not your health class sex education. It is, in my opinion, the more important piece of that that many people on one side of the social equation believe that we should only discuss marriage and celibacy, and the other side of the equation that believe that we all ought to act like animals (at least mildly civilized ones). Yes, I am overstating both sides. Then again, both sides seem to do that when they discuss themselves and “the others”.

Ott is trying to bridge a gap that really needs to be bridged. Our kids are being left to, effectively, fend for themselves. Anyone who believes that there is a spiritual aspect to sex (which covers quite a number of faith traditions, not just Christianity) would benefit from Ott’s book.

I’d love to offer some quick tips from Ott’s book, Sex & Faith, but I won’t. Not because there aren’t any, but because there are so many. In a world that wants quick fixes, Ott does a good job of painting the picture for the reader, then bringing the reader into the picture. This requires patience on the reader’s side, but for something that is so essential, patience is good.

As a father of an adolescent, and two pre-adolescents, it would have been nice to have this book in my hands prior to my kids’ first foray in to sex education. That being said, it is helping me frame things in my own head, prior to discussing them with my kids.

Ott is not trying to, from my perspective, cram Christianity down anyone’s throat. In fact, she really does try to shy away from it. However, she still tries to tie faith with sex. She works at being open to non-Christian perspectives. In fact, her openness may actually put her in an uncomfortable position with those whose ecumenical positions are absolute.

Disclaimer: I received a e-text preview copy of this book, but received no other compensation.  

Ott, Kate. Sex & Faith: Talking With Your Child From Birth to Adolescence. [S.l.]: Westminster John Knox, 2013. Print.