Thoughts on Chick-Fil-A

1. When it comes to deciding where to eat, I am a capitalist first and foremost.  I will go to the business that leads its competitors in providing me the best food and dining experience.  That, and not a culture war, is my number one concern.

2. If a news report comes out tomorrow saying that Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy tortures puppies in his spare time, I would still eat there.  See number 1 above.

3. Nevertheless, I didn’t go to Chick-Fil-A on Wednesday.  I went Tuesday evening.  I am more concerned about finding a good parking spot and not having to wait in a line that snakes its way out of the building and into the West Tennessee August heat than I am about making a clear political statement.  Again, see number 1 above.

4. The most delicious thing (pun intended) about Chick-Fil-A’s record sales Wednesday, in my opinion, has little to do with gay marriage.  If you take note of what Dan Cathy actually said, instead of relying on skewed media reports, you would notice that his words were remarkably subdued on that issue.  From all appearances, he did not intend to throw down the gauntlet, although now that it has been mistakenly perceived to have been thrown down, he has discovered a new winning business strategy.

5. So then, what is the most delicious thing about Wednesday?  It is the fact that Tom Menino, mayor of Boston, and Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago (and former chief of staff for President Obama), have been utterly repudiated by the mainstream of the American public.  The cultural issue itself (gay marriage), I think, is of little consequence in this case.  What matters more is that two mayors of major American cities attempted to use the power of their offices to hinder the advance of a business, not because that business had violated any law whatsoever, but merely because the mayors disagreed with the personal opinion of the president of the business.  No matter where you stand on gay marriage, every American should repudiate that kind of statism.  To their credit, the left-wing ACLU agrees with me on that one.

6. Now there is talk of a same-sex “kiss in” to be held at Chick-Fil-A restaurants today.  If any readers out there are planning to participate in that event, let me remind you that, if your ultimate goal is for society to recognize your sexual behavior as normal, then you should start acting in a more normal way about it by keeping it private, especially in a setting that attracts large numbers of families with children.  Our society has (at least the remnants of) some standards of decency.  Even heterosexual couples who do that sort of thing in public are frowned upon.  What is motivating you here?  A desire to advance what you perceive to be the cause of justice or sheer outrage that Chick-Fil-A is laughing all the way to the bank?

7. But if I know Chick-Fil-A owners (and I do know one), I can imagine that many of them have prepared their employees for this “kiss in” with the utmost concern that they address all of their customers today with the same kind of courtesy that has earned Chick-Fil-A its well-deserved reputation as the friendliest fast food business around.  And that is a major reason why I will be back there again, and probably sooner rather than later.  See number 1 above.

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Why Same-Sex Marriage will Affect Marriage in General

Imagine a conversation between a cultural progressive and your average evangelical Christian on the issue of same-sex marriage.

PROGRESSIVE: What do you think of same-sex marriage?

CHRISTIAN: I am against it.  The Bible condemns homosexuality and affirms that God has designed marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

PROGRESSIVE: Okay, you have a right to your own religious belief.  But why should your religious belief affect the lives of other people who do not share it?  If two gay people want to get married, why should that affect your marriage at all?

CHRISTIAN: Um….um…….I have to go.  I’m meeting someone at Chick-Fil-A.

Most evangelical Christians instinctively oppose same-sex marriage, but when it comes to explaining how an expanded definition of marriage might affect marriage in general in our society, I doubt that very many Christians have carefully thought through the social consequences.

If same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land (and not just of a few states), the social consequences will extend in multiple directions, but nowhere would it be more troubling than in the increased role of the state in the definition of the family.

Here is why: throughout human history, the legal attachment of children to parents has been, for the most part, simply a matter of nature.  A married woman gives birth to a child, and the government assumes, in unexceptional cases, that her husband is the father.  The child is, as a matter of course, legally bound to the two parents who were responsible for his or her conception.

Of course, this is not a perfect world, so not every birth works this way.  So what happens when parental rights are not self-evident?  The government steps in to assign legal connections.  In other words, where heterosexual marriage is not normative, government necessarily takes on a bigger role to assign parental rights.

I will employ an extreme example to make my point: suppose that two men are married to each other in Massachusetts.  They decide they want a child.  Obviously, two men cannot make a baby, so they have to go outside the marriage, including other adults in the process.  Let’s say they have a female friend who is willing to donate her eggs to the process, but she is not willing to carry the baby, given the physical effects that pregnancy would have on her.  So they have eggs, but they need another woman to serve as a surrogate, and let’s say they find (or perhaps hire) another woman to carry and deliver the baby.  But then, when it comes time to fertilize the egg and implant the embryo into the surrogate, the married men cannot agree on who of the two should become the “natural father”.  They discover, through conversation, that if one of them has the privilege of fertilizing the egg, the other will necessarily feel less of a connection to the child.  Not wanting this to create a rift in their marriage, they decide that the only fair thing to do is to go outside the marriage again and find another man to be their sperm donor.

When this child is born, think of how many adults could claim some kind of legal connection to him or her: the sperm donor, the egg donor, the surrogate, and the two men who started the whole thing.  Needless to say, the kinds of parental rights assigned to each one of these five people are not self-evident in this case, and thus this child’s family arrangements would be determined by a family court.  The government would be forced to step in to make some kind of sense of this mess for the sake of the child.

If heterosexual marriage is de-normalized in our society, the natural connections of parents to children will likewise be de-normalized, and the government will have to expand its role considerably.  Family courts will determine family units on a case-by-case basis, and the family, as we know it, will become something very different.

Don’t take it from me.  Take it from Masha Gessen, a self-identified lesbian who recently had this to say at a Sydney Writers Festival:

It’s a no-brainer that we should have the right to marry, but I also think equally that it’s a no-brainer that the institution of marriage should not exist [cheers from the audience].

That causes my brain some trouble. And part of why it causes me trouble is because fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we are going to do with marriage when we get there—because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie. The institution of marriage is going to change, and it should change. And again, I don’t think it should exist. And I don’t like taking part in creating fictions about my life. That’s sort of not what I had in mind when I came out thirty years ago. I have three kids who have five parents, more or less, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t have five parents legally….

[After my divorce,] I met my new partner, and she had just had a baby, and that baby’s biological father is my brother, and my daughter’s biological father is a man who lives in Russia, and my adopted son also considers him his father. So the five parents break down into two groups of three…. And really, I would like to live in a legal system that is capable of reflecting that reality. And I don’t think that’s compatible with the institution of marriage.

Certainly, Gessen’s position is extreme.  Though I could be wrong, I doubt that there are many proponents of same-sex marriage (at least in America) who consciously desire to take things as far as she does.  But that is exactly where the problem lies: once you get this ball rolling, how do you stop it?  If marriage is something that we get to redefine based on the prevailing winds of our culture, what brake mechanism do we have in place to prevent the abolition of marriage itself at some point down the road when that becomes the next cultural preoccupation?  Where does this stop?

Yes, it is true that if a same-sex couple living down the street from me is allowed to marry legally, that in itself will not change the nature of my own marriage.  But it will begin the process of toppling the institution of marriage as we know it, and those who will be affected most will be children of coming generations whose familial identity will be left to the whims of an ever-expanding state.

Posted in Children, Contemporary Issues | 3 Comments

The Battle for Identity: Why Jonathan Merritt Has Not Been “Outed”

Here’s the story: Jonathan Merritt, son of former Southern Baptist Convention president James Merritt, has become something of a prominent figure among younger evangelicals, primarily because of his engagement with cultural issues such as climate change and homosexuality.

One week ago a self-identified gay evangelical agnostic blogger by the name of Azariah Southworth publicly identified Jonathan Merritt as gay, claiming that, if the need arose, he could verify his claim with evidence.  Just yesterday Southworth posted a video explaining why he decided to “out” Jonathan Merritt.

Two or three days after Southworth’s first post, Merritt responded in an interview posted on Ed Stetzer’s blog.  In this interview, Merritt disclosed two things: first, that he had been sexually abused by an older man when he was a child, and second, that he did engage in sinful behavior of a homosexual nature with Azariah Southworth.  He described the sin as follows:

In 2009, I was contacted by the blogger [Southworth] in response to an article I wrote about just that–that Christians must love people who experience sexual brokenness. We corresponded several times by email and text for a couple of weeks, some of them inappropriate. When I was traveling through a city near him, we met for dinner because we’d corresponded so recently. As we were saying goodbye, we had physical contact that went beyond the bounds of friendship. I was overcome with guilt, knowing I had put myself in an unwise situation. We never saw each other again and we ceased contact after a period of time.

Jonathan subsequently sought out a Christian counselor, and everything else that he said in the interview with Stetzer indicates that he has taken steps of repentance and that he is working to ensure that he remains open and accountable from now on.

Jonathan Merritt has now found himself in a public battle over his own identity.  Azariah Southworth and others want him to identify himself publicly as a gay man, but Merritt disagrees:

I don’t identify as “gay” because I believe there can be a difference between what one experiences and the life that God offers. I’m a cracked vessel held together only by God’s power. And I’m more sure each day that only Christ can make broken people whole.

Of all the cultural and personal battles fought over homosexuality, this is the root question.  So long as we make “sexual orientation” (a uniquely modern category) into the substance of one’s identity, we can be assured that our culture will continue to drift into ever-increasing sexual confusion, pulling large numbers of sexually broken church members with it into the open embrace of sin.  But if we recognize, with Scripture, that our identity in Christ has nothing to do with “sexual orientation” but everything to do with the cross, the empty tomb, and the justified God-man who now reigns over the cosmos, in whose righteousness we share by faith, then there will always be hope for sexually broken people in the church, whether that brokenness takes the form of heterosexual or homosexual sin (or both).

Azariah Southworth thinks he “outed” Jonathan Merritt and forever stamped his identity according to a certain kind of sexual attraction.  But Jonathan Merritt is right: he is not “gay”.  He is a broken, humbled, repentant, justified sinner who is seated with Christ in the heavenly places.  The ultimate “outing” will take place when Christ returns to call Jonathan’s body from the grave, making it plain before creation who Jonathan has been all this time: a son of God, adopted into the family of Abraham, and thus an heir of the world to come.  Mr. Southworth, you have not “outed” anybody, for Jonathan Merritt’s identity has not been determined by any sinful act he has committed.  It has been determined by the justifying verdict of God the Father, spoken through the resurrection of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Your paltry attempt to rob him of that identity by defining him according to a sinful behavior is sheer nonsense before the divine power that has made him an heir of the kingdom.  “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  God is the one who justifies.  Who is to condemn?” (Romans 8:33-34)

I neither anticipate nor desire that one day I will occupy a position in the national spotlight, but if that ever were to happen, it would only be a matter of time before some reporter with an axe to grind would pose this question to me: “What would you do if your son ever came to you and told you that he was gay?”  This question has been worn down to the point of cliche by now, but answering it remains a standard rite of passage for every prominent figure who takes on the homosexual agenda in our society.

What would I say?  I would probably say something like this: “You are not gay.  Your sexual brokenness no more determines who you are than my sexual brokenness determines who I am.  Your identity is in Christ.  You may struggle with feelings and urges that cause you to wonder who you are, but your feelings and urges do not determine reality.  God determines reality.”

The greatest victory (and the most vicious lie) of the left in our current culture war is the link between homosexual behavior and personal identity.  This link is what enables progressives to frame this debate as a justice issue and paint their opponents as twenty-first century Jim Crow’s.  The church must not sit by and let it happen to the sexually broken people in our pews.  Let us take up the weapon that God has given us, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and fight this pernicious lie:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

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Do They Have I-Pods in Prison?

Ray Boltz, the contemporary Christian artist who came out of the closet a handful of years ago, has recently released a new song entitled “Don’t Tell Me Who to Love”.  Here are the lyrics:

The year was 1966 and they were wearing their wedding bands

She was black and he was white and some people didn’t understand

The judge said that’s not legal, the preacher called it a sin

But they couldn’t stop them cause he loved her and she loved him

CHORUS

Don’t tell me who to love, don’t tell me who to kiss

Don’t tell me that there’s something wrong because I feel like this

I know what’s in my heart, that should be enough

Don’t tell me, don’t tell me no, don’t tell me who to love

VERSE TWO

Maybe you’re in love today and you’ve been making wedding plans

But there is someone in your way shouting things cause they don’t understand

The judge says that’s not legal, the preacher calls it a sin

Oh you just remember they were wrong before and they’re wrong again

REPEAT CHORUS

BRIDGE

Now there always will be hatred and voices that condemn

Oh but I believe that true love is gonna make it in the end

REPEAT CHORUS (fade)

If Jerry Sandusky is allowed an IPod in prison, he’ll have plenty of time to bop along with this one.

You see, what this song really means is, “Don’t tell me who to love….as long as I’m not a pedophile, a polygamist, or in an incestuous relationship.  Then you can tell me all you want.”

It’s not a question of whether there will be boundaries, but where they are.

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The Movie Theater Massacre and the Limits of Our Understanding

As human beings, we yearn to understand.  We crave meaning, because the horror of genuinely random meaninglessness may be too much to contemplate.  And so, as has long been our practice when faced with an unthinkable event, such as the massacre in Aurora, Colorado, our natural instinct in public discourse is to seek answers.

The search for answers takes place on different levels.  Theologically, an event like this one raises afresh for us the problem of evil.  Why would a good God allow such a thing to happen?  Some of us are prone to justify God by limiting him, which is essentially to place him on a human level and assert that he, like us, did not want this to occur, but he was unable to stop it.  This inability may be due either to a real limitation on his power or because of a self-imposed limitation he has enacted as a way of creating space for our free decisions.

Others may be prone to justify God by seeking to explain the divine will in such an event.  God permitted this atrocity because he wanted to accomplish X.  The assumption behind this view is not just that God is comprehensively sovereign, but that his ways are comprehensively understandable to a finite mind.

For me, neither answer works, primarily because neither answer is biblical.  I am content to leave this question without an answer, simply because God has not given me one, and God does not owe me one.  I continue to believe that God is supremely good and completely sovereign over all that occurs and that, in spite of my inability to see how, he is working together all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).  I cannot assign divine meaning to this event, simply because I am not God.  I must acknowledge my limitations and recognize that, where God has not spoken, no answers will be forthcoming.

Politically and sociologically, the budding conversation in the aftermath of this tragedy shows signs of conforming to the established template: What social factors led to this tragedy?  What political policies should we now pursue to make sure nothing like this ever happens again?  Do we need to regulate violence in the entertainment industry?  Do we need tighter gun control laws?  Do we need to mandate airport-level security at movie theaters, baseball parks, churches, and other public gathering places?  Do we need to start monitoring closely the activities of isolated individuals like James Holmes when they begin to exhibit disturbing behavior?

The assumption behind these questions is that we can find an explanation for this tragedy in the structure of our society and thereby enact policies that will rectify whatever structural defect led to this event.  Sin, on this view, does not reside in the human heart.  It resides in the structures of society.  Our benevolent central planners, in their infinite wisdom, will now come along, isolate whatever structural defect led to James Holmes’s murderous rampage, and address it through legislation that scrapes away another layer of freedom for us all.

I think we instinctively leap into these kinds of discussions because we fear the alternative: what if we really are limited in our ability to eradicate evil?  What if James Holmes is a severely deranged man who would have perpetrated a massacre no matter what kind of gun control laws or security measures had been in place?  What if there are no sociological answers to be found, and what if a lethal injection forever puts to rest any hope we had of receiving a rational account of this deranged man’s motive?  What if, years from now, we are no closer to an explanation than we are today?  If we admit that, we are admitting that we, and in particular our central planners, are not in control of everything.  We are acknowledging that our god has a chink in his armor.  We are blaspheming the all-powerful, all-benevolent State.

I believe in limited government, not only as a prescriptive political philosophy, but also as a descriptive statement about the way things are.  Government is not, and can never be, our god.  It cannot protect us from everything.  It cannot plan and legislate a utopian society.  It cannot exterminate the sin that resides within the heart of every individual under its authority.  In a way, the search for answers is an attempt to prop up a cardboard deity that has failed us once again, only because it is not, and never was, the real thing.  Instead of the usual political posturing, why don’t we take this opportunity to recognize how limited we are, not only in our understanding, but also in our ability to prevent this kind of senseless evil?

But if we entrust ourselves to the God who has promised that nothing unclean will pass through the gates of his city in the world to come (Revelation 21:27), we can rest in the assurance that evil will not have the last word.  And that takes the sting out of the realization that sometimes there are no answers to be found.

Posted in Contemporary Issues, Doctrine of God, Eschatology, Life and Living | 1 Comment

Could Roe v. Wade be overturned?

What would it take to overturn the horrendous 1973 Supreme Court case that has led to the murder of more than 50 million unborn children?  It takes five Supreme Court justices to form a majority, and I used to think that we had four solid votes against Roe: Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts.  Kennedy is generally conservative, but not on social issues, and he has already voted to uphold Roe v. Wade.  The other four justices (Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan) are ideologically liberal and hold abortion to be a sacred right.

Justice Ginsburg is the oldest on the court.  Kennedy is not far behind, and Breyer is just two years younger than Kennedy.  Surely, I thought, of these three, at least one will retire soon, and if we had a Republican President we could pick up a net gain for conservatives that would push the balance of the court against Roe v. Wade.  I no longer hold that opinion.

I am almost certain now that Justice Roberts will never vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.  In addition to credible rumors I have heard about a libertarian streak in him, he has made it clear that he is unwilling to make waves on highly charged political issues that are settled policy.  He cares too much about the public reputation of the court.

This means, of course, that we only have three justices aligned against Roe v. Wade.  And one of them, Scalia, must also be close to retirement.  If Mitt Romney is elected President, he will likely have the opportunity to appoint two justices in his first term, but I would guess that one of them will be Scalia’s replacement, meaning Romney could only supply one net gain against Roe v. Wade.  He would probably have to be elected for a second term before he would have the opportunity to appoint another justice to shift the balance of the court against abortion-on-demand.

So, I am betting that Romney would have to appoint, at a minimum, three justices before there could be any hope of a reversal.  On top of that, all three appointments would have to be reliably conservative.  As past experience has demonstrated (now with Roberts as well),  reliable conservatives on the court are hard to come by.

What would the repeal of Roe accomplish?  Simply this: it would put the question of the legality of abortion back into the hands of the states.  No doubt, different states would regulate abortion in different ways (even as they do now under the parameters of Roe), but for the first time since 1973 states would have the freedom to put real protections in place for the unborn.  I would imagine that states like California would continue with the status quo, but a large number of states would virtually outlaw the practice, leading to a result of far fewer abortions and a culture that reflects, through its laws, a higher value placed upon human life at all stages.  It would not be the ideal situation, but it would be a lot better than what we have now.

At this point, it is still a dream that will be harder to reach than I previously thought.

Posted in Contemporary Issues | 4 Comments

The Obamacare Decision

In case you are not familiar with the nuances of what occurred yesterday at the Supreme Court, here is the bottom line: the majority (five justices) determined that the mandate that requires (almost) every American to purchase health insurance is not constitutional in one way, but it is constitutional in another way.  The sense in which it is not constitutional is that it is not an act consistent with Congress’s constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce.  The court has spoken clearly: requiring Americans to engage in economic activity is out of bounds insofar as the commerce clause is concerned.  That’s the good news.

The bad news, however, is that the majority determined that Obamacare’s mandate that all Americans buy insurance or pay (what used to be called) a penalty is indeed within the constitutional power of Congress when that penalty is redefined so as to be considered a tax.  In other words, the court says that Congress can require us to buy insurance or pay up if we don’t so long as that “paying up” is considered a tax and thus legitimately falls under Congress’s power to tax.

As I see it, there are two enormous problems with this decision, which was apparently orchestrated by the chief justice, John Roberts.

(1) It is abundantly clear that the “penalty” that was written into this law was intended to be just that: a penalty for failure to comply with the law, not a tax.  The administration sold it to the public as a bill that did not include a new tax.  The government argued before the Supreme Court back in march that the penalty was not a tax.  The government’s strategy was to justify the law on the basis of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce.  When Justice Roberts saw that this argument would not work constitutionally, he deliberately rewrote the law to make it fit his understanding of the Constitution.  Judges should not be writing tax policy, but that is essentially what the Supreme Court did in this case.  Congress wrote a bad law, and instead of throwing it out, Justice Roberts said, in effect, “If we as judges do a little rearranging here, we can cram this thing into a Constitution-shaped box.”  This is judicial activism.

(2) Even supposing this thing formerly known as a “penalty” is a tax, what gives Congress the power to tax certain individuals for not doing something?  As far as I’m concerned, it makes little difference what constitutional power Congress is asserting when they force Americans to buy a product.  It’s still tyranny no matter what section of the Constitution you point to to try to justify it.  It brings me little comfort that the court placed clear limits on what qualifies as the regulation of interstate commerce, because at the very same time it widely expanded Congress’s power to confiscate our wealth under its power of taxation.  Justice Roberts, seeing Congress beating us with a bat, ran over to the scene, promptly took the bat away and handed them a whip instead, saying, “Here, use this.  It’s within your Constitutional power.”

The upshot of all of this is that the government is inching ever closer to total control of our lives.  We are a long way down the road to serfdom.  If Congress has this kind of power over us, what can’t they do?  What won’t they do?

What should we do?  I agree with Douglas Wilson’s call for state governments to refuse compliance with this federal overreach:

There is now, in principle, no limiting principle on the congressional power to tax, and the absence of such a limiting principle has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Even if Obamacare is repealed (as I now believe to be likely), this is now just a policy decision — the constitutional green light has been given. If Congress is deemed to have the constitutional authority to tax you for not doing whatever it is they dictate (eating brocoli, wearing blue tee-shirts, whatever), there is no other name for this than despotism. The fact that it is a nanny despotism helps not at all. The fact that their exercise of this authority is currently in abeyance matters not at all.

And so this means that we should resort to Calvin’s doctrine of the lesser magistrate, and call upon our state governors and legislatures to simply refuse to comply with Obamacare. The time has come to just say no. This is because there is no form of government more fundamentally anti-Christian than a government that recognizes, in principle, no limit to what it can require. Absolute claims are the prerogative of Deity. If this decision is allowed to stand, there is no longer any limiting principle inside the Beltway whatever. It is time for the ruling class to discover that there is still a limiting principle outside the Beltway, enforced by those who believe that the only real limiting principle is at the right hand of the Father.

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