Here is a new study that once again points out that the modern idea that some are born homosexual or transgender is not completely supported by research. The true picture is much more complex involving a combination of genetics, choice and experience. The article also says that research shows that the observed higher ratio of mental health struggles among homosexual and transgender persons is due to more than just societal pressure. These observations open the way for one of the key conclusions of the article. The author suggests that rather than push people to express a supposed pre-disposition, we should be encouraging them toward what research shows to be healthy and wholesome choices.
Jung Courville’s case is another example of the immoral policy of attempting to deport a parent who has been in the country for years as a law abiding citizen. Of course, she and her husband and her neglectful lawyer should have resolved her immigration situation many years ago. Of course, the laws should be changed like the lawyer expected. But given the current situation, deportation is a just plain immoral choice. The right answer is to resolve such cases quickly, either by further extension or preferably by some more permanent fix. Where is the wisdom and the legal structure to do so? Does the administration think this kind of debacle is good publicity? It probably makes good press for Senator Bumenthal to fight the administration on this case. And I am glad he is for the sake of the conscience of us all. Yet how about him joining a coalition to actually get the Democrats and Republicans to agree to a compromise “fix-the-system” legislation. Now there’s a thought! It seems like both parties would much rather make hay with their bases by bashing the other side. Meanwhile people like Jung Courville and Marco Reyes and their families suffer. This situation is unacceptable. It is clear that people like Jung and Marco need a way to fix what has unwisely been allowed to happen over the past twenty years. We need politicians that will get that job done!
If you object to me saying that deportation of parents like Jung and Marco is an immoral choice, I defer to Christ’s Parable of the Good Samaritan and to the repeated direct words of the OT. When the Bible is this clear we have little excuse for obfuscating.
You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien. Ex 22:21 NRSV
There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you. Ex 12:49 NRSV
Since I am an alumnus of four different colleges, I receive more than my share of college magazines. Usually they are marginally useful, just a vehicle for touching base with good memories, educational traditions, and news from former peers. But this winter edition of Houghton Magazine easily stood out as one of the best of the genre. On the issue of relevance alone it stood above the crowd. Titled “Reconciliation,” it addressed the issue of racial division in our country, not so much from a philosophical point of view as by examples of servants of God who are working to bridge the racial chasms in our country in various ways. It featured articles by three different alumni from different generations who are all working directly and in different ways to heal the divisions of our land. Outstanding pieces by our President, Shirley Mullen, and the new college chaplain, Michael Jordan, added to the issue’s power.
In addition. I was very happy to see in this issue other evidences that Houghton itself continues to be a healing force. In the same issue the college announced the initiation of the new Associate of Arts program in Utica, aimed primarily at helping refugees in that city. That initiative is modeled after the highly successful and acclaimed effort in Buffalo. In addition, the college noted that this year’s freshman class has the largest percentage of American-born minority students in the history of the school.
Is everyone a preacher?
I was going to write a typical article rating Super Bowl advertising again this year. I watched the game especially for that purpose. But as I watched the different advertisements, I was surprised by the number of advertisers who all but forsook the direct advertising of their product in favor of generalized moral admonition. It struck me that nowadays it seems everyone’s a preacher!
I was glad for those who spoke up favoring immigrants
Now since I am a preacher by profession (for almost 38 years now), you would think that I would be glad for this turn of events. And, in one sense, I am for it reveals that the high leadership in many of our top companies realize that some of the major issues of today are moral issues and they are courageous enough to speak out. I’m also glad to have allies in speaking up for some key topics of today. I noticed the issue that was most frequently spoken about in Super Bowl ads was the matter of welcoming immigrants, a subject dear to my own heart. All of us with the exception of Native Americans, are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Having worked directly with Burmese Karen immigrants as a teacher during my last pastorate, and heard the stories about refugee camps, it is very easy for me to be in their corner. I also feel the Bible is very clear that we need to be welcoming to those who are strangers and immigrants among us. (For a complete Biblical statement on immigration see https://www.wesleyan.org/237/a-wesleyan-view-of-immigration)
But I’m uncomfortable when everyone is a preacher
But, in another sense, I found myself being surprisingly uncomfortable with the concept that everyone is a preacher. Is it that I am jealous for my position or my profession? Not directly. The more voices take the side of justice and righteousness, the more powerful the cause. To be jealous because someone else speaks up for good would be foolish. Why my concern then? My discomfort arises from the questions of motive and authority for moral exhortation. That’s a mouthful. But let me explain like this.
The preacher’s motivation must have integrity
Would companies like Budweiser and 84 Lumber have advertised as pro-immigration as they did if they had thought that it would be unpopular, detrimental to their bottom line, and cause the company’s leadership difficulty? I doubt it. They advertised as they did because they knew that those positions are very popular and would result in a good feeling about their company in most circles. But true preachers are called to speak the truth even if it hurts their own position and popularity. Most American preachers today cannot do so very often because in many American churches, we would either be voted out or people would stop attending and supporting the church. But in a true church, one where growing in discipleship is prized, people expect that sometimes the preacher will tread upon their toes, so to speak. To put it another way, sometimes the truth will cut across the grain and that is a good thing. How can we grow if that does not happen? Now you can see the motivational issue for my concern. Not just any preacher will be faithful to say what is not popular yet needs to be said.
The preacher’s authority must come from God’s Word
The second half of my concern has to do with sources of authority. When everyone is a preacher, everyone is entitled to use whatever source of authority they feel is right. Most of the time popular figures are drawing from some kind of perceived cultural consensus that supports what is being advocated. There is a strong relationship between the laws of society and cultural consensus. But for both Jews and Christians, the only true source of moral authority is the revelation that comes from God in Holy Scripture. When everyone’s a preacher, it is anybody’s guess what the relationship or lack of relationship will be between what is advocated and what the law of God says. That is another key source of my concern. The Christian preacher’s first job is to see that what he or she teaches is congruent with, indeed arises out of the Words and teachings of Scripture.
So not everyone is a preacher!
So there you have my concerns. When politicians, beer advertisers, movie stars, sports figures, businessmen and TV personalities all become preachers, there will be an increasing need for people to discern who the true prophets are. The genuine purveyors of godly ethics will be distinguished as those whose authority is not their own, it is derived from God’s Word; and the preachers to be listened to will be those whose motivation over time shows love for God and for others above oneself. Anyone can address an issue and oft times they should as a part of their own moral responsibility, but not everyone is a preacher!
Gender identity continues to be in the news. This study opposes the prevailing mantra that genes directly cause a person to become gay. However, it does say that the evidence shows that some genetic traits may increase the likelihood of a person identifying as gay. The study also affirms that child sexual abuse remains one of the biggest factors in people identifying as gay.
My reading of brain research has pointed toward the conclusion that human sexual orientation is more fluid than is culturally believed to be true. This has been heretical to say. If you are from a conservative religious perspective as I am, it was considered homophobic to say lest it undermine the gay political arguments. But also, it is usually not the way we experience our own sexuality as the following author also admits. The linked article is by a gay author who is arguing for the fluidity of sexual orientation, not just from his personal experience, but from scientific evidence and the conclusions of respected groups as well. He holds that sexual orientation derives from multiple sources.
A Christian singer is gunned down while signing autographs at the end of the concert by a gunman who did not know her and came there specifically to kill. Before the weekend is past another gunman, also driving miles to arrive at the end of the night, enters an Orlando club catering to gay men and opens fire with an assault rifle, killing dozens of patrons. The shock and sadness of such needless, senseless, and depraved violence is deeply disturbing. And it should be.
We should pray
Our first response, is compassion and prayers for the families of victims and for victims facing months of recovery from their wounds.
O God, the brokenness of our world has evidenced itself again in these terrible acts. We pray for those who are grieving that you would comfort their hearts. We pray for those who are recovering from wounds that you would give them strength and healing. We pray that the Spirit of God would move in all of us in order that good may come out of evil. In the name of Jesus who also suffered unjust death, AMEN.
We should decrease availability of weapons for the mentally impaired
Our second response, as a nation needs to continue to be to seek ways to reduce the possibilities of such violence. As always, we will not agree as to the details, but we must work together to make progress on some solutions.
In the case of the Orlando shooter, it looks like from early reporting that officials had sufficient info to know that this man should not have had access to weapons. Yet he did. He was even working as a security guard–scary thought, but not surprising. Employers tell me they cannot find out anything useful from anybody for references. Everyone is worried about being sued. So people who should be flagged in that way are not. His employer probably had no idea he had been investigated twice. Stronger flagging of those who have shown they are dangerous individuals is needed.
Again, early reporting shows possible mental health issues for the Orlando shooter. This also should have put restrictions upon his ability to obtain weapons but it did not. This is the single most important change that we need to make as a country. It is not without risks to individual liberty, as mental health risk is very difficult to define. Yet, the evidence from all the mass shootings is piling up and becoming overwhelming. Most of them are done by people of known impaired mental health who still had access to weapons.
We should increase our fear of God
Third, I repeat my insistence that one component of the problem is a lack of the fear of God in our land. The Bible clearly teaches that God will judge murderers of this kind. They are punching their own ticket to hell by their violence against the innocent (Matt. 5:21, 22; 1 John 3:15; Rev. 21:8; 22:15). God values life. God loves the people in the human family. Jesus revealed Satan as the one who loves murder, calling him a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). The lake of fire is a picture John uses to describe Satan’s ultimate punishment (Rev. 20:10, 14). And it also describes the reward of those who practice Satan’s behavior. But if there is no fear of God in the land, then potential shooters do not realize that it is not over when they are felled by the SWAT team. Their accountability has only begun. Listen to Jesus.
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:4-5 NIV 2011).
Homelessness declining due to agencies’ collective hard work
Amid all the bad news of the current political campaign and the CT state budget crisis, here is one piece of good news. People of sensitive conscience have been very concerned for years about the plight of the homeless, especially those whose mental or emotional health makes keeping work difficult including veterans affected by PTSD. This article reports that in the state of CT, we are making progress at housing the homeless. Surveys of homelessness indicate that agencies working together have achieved a 13% decline since 2007 and a 4% decline in the past year. Many people with these kinds of needs were left on the streets when institutions they formerly called home closed. Now new options are being found to help. Christian charity demands that we do no less! Kudos to all those who are working hard to make this happen. This is the kind of thing the politicians should be talking about. I pray this effort faces zero or minimal cuts in the current necessary round of budget cutting.
This city pastor has a great perspective on the way to approach helping people in city neighborhoods. Granby area clergy are currently considering an initiative that would fit with his philosophy. The initiative being considered involves helping resource the choice program through which some city students attend Granby schools.
A Different Lenten Journey
When the purposes pursued during Lent carry over afterward, that is a salutary sign that a fuse has been lit for something good. I hope so because, like most Americans, my office and closets and garage have been getting more and more full, and this in spite of the fact that I tried very hard to downsize when we moved a couple years ago. Allow me to explain more fully. It is customary among Christians to give up something for Lent as a discipline of self-denial. In other years I have fasted one day a week or given up a favorite food or added devotional time. But this year, I felt I needed to do something different. I decided to tackle the problem of accumulation of things that plagues Americans, me among them.
Accumulation is too easy
Now, I’m just middle class, and I can’t afford to shop much, but if I buy a book here, a tool there, a few folders for the office, something for my Christmas display, I’m adding things to my possessions. Then I receive a few clothes for Christmas, and maybe another shop tool. Perhaps I see a steal of a deal at the one or two summer garage sales I stop for. The result– adding on a few more things. Now I don’t have or need any rented storage units as many Americans have, and I can still park a car in my garage if needed, but I decided that it was still time to turn the tide and make a deliberate start at de-accumulating.
My Lenten goals toward de-accumulating
So for my Lenten journey, I set a goal to get rid of at least forty items from at least 7 different areas of my life. It took me a couple days past Easter to finish, but I exceeded my goal both in numbers of items and in numbers of areas affected. However, I did discover that it was one thing to identify items as extra and ready to be disposed of and another to actually make them disappear. For example, I have two old computers still to take to recycling and I have a stack of books removed from my shelves but not yet taken away. I guess that’s one reason that de-accumulation has to be a continuing discipline.
- Convince yourself that de-accumulation is desirable and necessary.
- Identify things that are excess in obvious areas first to get the ball rolling.
- Allow the habit to spread into areas you had not thought about down-sizing.
- Keep track of progress for encouragement.
- Set aside things to be de-accumulated that cannot be immediately disposed of.
- Carry through with plans for these identified items.
- Question some underlying purposes that have driven your accumulation.
There have already been some good side effects of this effort.
- I like most industrious people had more projects in the works than I could ever do. I have already deliberately discontinued one of my big some-day projects and am questioning another.
- I have reduced clutter which is an encouragement to continue.
- I am creating space to better work on current activities.
- I can sense a narrowing of focus for my energies.
- I believe I have also started a mindset that will help me to continue to pare down inessentials and focus my life more effectively.