Category Archives: Bible Interpretation

The troubling trail to Gay Affirmation

Plenty of rational people remain befuddled at how we got to the point of having same-sex marriage imposed upon the country. It still “doesn’t make sense”. Past articles here have been written about some of the delusions in the pop culture of our time that have led us into this “Twilight Zone” type of existence. The process of mental erosion and manipulation has really been a long one and is too involved to chronicle in depth or in one post, but here are some of the major tools that were used to put us where we are today. Hopefully it will be instructive as these tactics will continue to be used on this and other subjects.

Trick 1: Emotionalism

The average person is not taught formal logic, argumentation, or philosophy to a meaningful degree. That leaves the door wide open for Trick 1. Emotionalism defies logic and other rational processes which is why rational people are so perplexed when they find someone immersed in it.

A typical scenario is this: a parent has a child who suddenly announces that he/she is “gay” and the emotional heartstrings begin to be played. The parent doesn’t want to think of their precious child as a sinner under God’s condemnation for engaging in homosexual acts so the line is drawn: choose the child or choose the Church. It has caused division in homes and churches because the parent’s or parents’ emotional attachment to the child is greater than their commitment to Scripture.

Similarly, a homosexual person who goes to a church and has a bad experience sets the stage for another emotional tug. This experience is used to indict the whole of the church as being mean to homosexuals in general. This move can then be used to justify shifting the focus to “bad church people” while ignoring church doctrine on the matter and their own bad behavior. Furthermore, we are not allowed to be reminded that other churches and church people are “good” to homosexuals. That card never gets played. Instead, people insulate and comfort themselves with a self-justifying cocoon padded with sympathizers.

The emotional attachment we have to people, be they friends or family, or our instinctive affection for simple common courtesy or an extension of love and care to a person cannot be allowed to outweigh what Scripture actually says and what historical Church doctrine has been. The call to Christ is a call to the crucifixion of one’s self to the lusts of the flesh and to a conformity to Christ. The things that mean the most to us, friends and family, and the things that tempt us have to be killed and killed again in this conformation process. Jesus knew the cost of following him was high in this regard. He knew that opposition and persecution would be found in governmental authorities and in our closest associations.

For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” – Matthew 10:35-38

The real test of fidelity to Jesus is when you have to confront your family members. That is a test that all too many people have not wanted to endure. Scripture takes a back seat to worldly, emotional attachment. The modern atheist movement has benefited greatly by playing upon the “emotional problem of suffering” and the homosexual movement has also had great success by appealing to frail, human emotions.

Trick 2: Narrowly Focus

By narrowly focusing on one thing, people on the margins can be swayed to an otherwise illogical position. How often have you heard someone say, “It’s about equality” when they were advocating for same-sex marriage? It was a common refrain. Equality is a buzzword with an emotional ring to it. It appeals to our sense of fair play. Never mind the fact that a male/female pairing is not the same as a male/male or female/female pairing in gender or procreative activity or any number of other factors. That observation is never allowed. If it is raised then it is mocked and dismissed before the focus is shifted to inheritance or benefits or the objector is bullied with accusations of being a bigoted, unfair homophobe or some other baseless charge.

Another example deconstructs marriage to focus on one element. “It’s about love.” Really? It is as if “love” were the only prerequisite for a marriage. What about the fact that all cultures throughout history have recognized that marriage was fundamentally a male/female bonding with the general intent to produce children? The male/female component absolutely must be dismissed by homosexual advocates because it would automatically rule them out by definition. So it is ignored. The same is done for procreation because that would also immediately rule out homosexuals. After all, how can you deny two people who love each other and want to commit to a lifelong, monogamous relationship the “right” to do that? You can’t unless you want to be labeled as a bigoted, unfair homophobe again.

“Monogamy” is another canard trotted out, as in the paragraph above. Again, marriage is skinned down to nothing but love and monogamy. Why? Because these are ideal goals of marriage which appeal to heterosexuals in our culture. It puts them on empathetic grounds with the poor, struggling homosexual couple who just want to be like the heterosexuals but, by some stroke of bad luck, they can’t be. On the surface, it seems that homosexuals can love and be monogamous, too, just like heterosexual couples. The truth of the matter, though, is that most of the men aren’t and the women are not as faithful as their heterosexual counterparts. Again, the attempt is to match a simplistic aspect of marriage to something that homosexuals could possibly achieve.

“Lifelong” is another adjective often used to achieve the same goal. To hear them tell it, homosexual advocates want that lifelong, committed relationship that heterosexuals have. The reality is that very, very few of them aspire to or achieve this. I discuss that in more detail in another article, but the upshot is that the vast majority of same-sex relationships do not last very long at all. An average of five years would probably be a rather charitable number overstating the reality.

Trick 3: Screw-up Scripture

Since most people do not spend a lot of time studying Scripture and the higher scholarship related to it, they are, again, easy targets for this Trick. Activists like to pretend that there is some legitimate debate going on in the biblical academic world regarding what the Bible teaches or the Church has historically taught. The reality is something rather different. There are a handful of people with some level of academic credentials that try to make waves, mostly for public consumption in attempts to muddy the waters for the uninformed. The mainstream of biblical academics realizes that the Bible is firmly against homosexuality and tomes like Robert Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice really have settled the issue for all but the most die-hard supporters. While there are some unorthodox supporters in the higher halls of academia, most of the weakness is found among the laity and the pastoral class where scholarship is not always as highly valued as personal relationships (see Trick 1: Emotionalism above).

By confusing people they attempt to de-legitimatize Scriptural authority. A very fine example of this deceptive approach is this article with the subtitle, “Christians need to accept that Jesus was sometimes wrong—in fact, he might even want us to.” Oddly enough, the author acknowledges that Jesus would disapprove of homosexuality, but he then goes on to build a faulty argument as to why Jesus was wrong for us today! The mental gymnastics people will go through to condone what the Bible clearly condemns is stunning. But the uninformed youngster today might well read this and think that it is a wonderful, open-minded, contemporary, relevant, and scholarly approach to Scripture. In reality, it is simply leading people astray and causing division in the Church – which is the main objective.

Trick 4: Go Fix Your Own Sins First

The first time I was told that the church needed to go solve all its other sin problems before it got around to homosexuality I was dumbfounded. The absolute illogic of it was beyond comprehension. However, it was not a plot aimed at the logical person. It was aimed at the guilt-ridden person. People who feel inherently guilty because they recognize their own sinfulness can be convinced that they should not condemn anyone else’s sin until they fix their own personal “sin problem”.

Nowhere in Scripture do you find such a concept or statement. Everyone is sinful and everyone must repent and then control themselves so that they don’t fall back into their old ways of sin. And, like it or not, we are required to hold each other accountable for our sin. That is a brief description of what Scripture actually teaches.

The goal of this approach is to disarm people and remove them from the battlefront. A person who is sidelined by guilt will be at least tolerant of and perhaps become accepting of homosexuality.

Trick 5: False Portraits

Presenting a false portrait of homosexual life is crucial to gaining acceptance, especially among the young. The brief outline of homosexual life that I gave in my previous article tells us that it is an unstable, dysfunctional, and unhappy life. But you would never know that through TV and movie portrayals. They don’t talk about the drug abuse, the physical abuse, the cheap and tawdry sex, or the mental anguish. Sure, the heterosexual community has such problems as well but within the homosexual community they are multiplied many times over – especially for the men! The typical movie or TV portrayal will be a positive, funny, likable, and intelligent image which has the intention or result of leaving the viewer with only good feelings regarding the homosexual character. It does not show the man drinking because he is distressed or going home to a boyfriend or picking up a stranger at a gay bar for quick sexual satisfaction. The seedy side may make a few appearances on obscure cable channels but it does not make mainstream broadcasts or movies as a rule.

Trick 6: The Tolerance Shell Game

This was a good one. Cry out for tolerance then engage in intolerant behavior. Much like the guilt in Trick 4, this had the effect of causing churches to be more accommodating to homosexuals. It led to the ordination of people with same-sex attraction who were not acting upon that attraction. It seemed so reasonable, compassionate, and tolerant. After all, don’t we all struggle with sin that we don’t act upon? Sure! Churches began to liberalize even more in order to “welcome” homosexuals into their midst. Then somewhere along the way we began to see calls for ordaining practicing homosexual ministers, affirming homosexual couples, and then talking about conducting homosexual marriages. Any appeal to Scriptural authority was painted as bigotry, homophobia, “on the wrong side of history”, and so forth per Trick 3. Emotional appeals were ladled out as in Trick 1. Talk of equality, love and other narrowly focused parallels were tossed into the mix as per Trick 2 in order to “flood the zone” and here we are. We have same-sex marriage, practicing homosexuals ordained into the clergy, general confusion about Scripture among the uneducated and uncaring, and division within the church and the country. I’m reminded of Aesop’s fable of the Farmer and the Snake.

ONE WINTER a Farmer found a Snake stiff and frozen with cold. He had compassion on it, and taking it up, placed it in his bosom. The Snake was quickly revived by the warmth, and resuming its natural instincts, bit its benefactor, inflicting on him a mortal wound. “Oh,” cried the Farmer with his last breath, “I am rightly served for pitying a scoundrel.”

The greatest kindness will not bind the ungrateful.

Aesop’s Fables. Translated by George Fyler Townsend. Chicago; Belford. Clarke & Co. 1887.

And so it has been with the “tolerance” of homosexuals in the church. There was not an attitude of gratitude. They seized upon the opportunity afforded to them and continued their push for normalization. If one could not see beforehand that the goal was to change the church not to fit in and learn to abide by its doctrines, certainly it is clear now that this was and still is the ultimate goal for the activists. The “scoundrel” came in among us feigning calls for mercy and pity in order to waylay the merciful, kind, and unsuspecting. They played our Christian charity against us. It was a crafty move worthy of the serpent of Genesis 3.

Personal Reflection

Homosexual advocacy has arguably had its greatest success by circumventing the critical thinkers and appealing to forms of emotion and deception. Young people, who are often either not interested in such topics or haven’t had the education or maturity to think them through, are soft targets for these forms of manipulation for gay affirmation.

When I was in my young twenties and the topic of homosexual marriage was raised I was opposed to it on religious grounds and on the grounds of gender non-complementarity. Beyond that I was pretty much indifferent. It seemed like a silly idea. Nobody would ever really want to do such a thing and certainly the country would not tolerate it. It was ridiculous and laughable. At that time I really did not recognize the harm involved in homosexuality to the homosexual person nor did I think in terms of children, adoption, benefits, or other public policy matters. Even the idea that it would be an assault on religious freedoms never crossed my mind. I would probably have been very “live and let live” on the subject then. But as it has developed over my lifetime, my personal experiences with being married and raising four children, my religious education, my experiences with homosexual friends and family, my awareness of public policy implications, my observations on history, and so forth my positions have matured which has hardened my opposition to anything affirming homosexuality. Maturity has its benefits. How young people today will shape up remains to be seen. We can certainly learn some lessons from history in order to be more aware of the Tricks and better set to counteract them.

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

If there is one portion of Scripture that is en vogue today it is, “Judge not”. It is the one phrase that both the perverts and the softhearted Christians can agree upon.

Over the years of my education and ministry I’ve heard this said many times. Softhearted Christians and those attempting to be charitable to others will refuse to pronounce a sin as a sin out of a misguided fear of “judging” and thus coming under God’s judgment. I’ve heard this said most recently about the subject of homosexuality and same-sex marriage issues. People are genuinely afraid to identify these as sins because of this text. Of course, the people who revel in perversity love to reinforce this idea when you confront them and say, “Who are you the judge me? The Bible says ‘Judge not’!” With such a rant the poor softhearted Christian is bullied and ashamed to the point of withdrawing from the fight.

Matthew 7:1-5

There is a great meme going around social media which illustratesjudge-not how people read this verse. “Judge not” is the only part of the passage that isn’t scribbled over. Without that larger context it is easy to misunderstand this two-word text. The context in Matthew is very clearly about being a hypocritical judge of someone else’s sin. The comparison is between a “speck” in someone else’s eye versus a “board” in your own eye. The self-righteous, hypocritical person is quick to judge the smallest sin another person has while ignoring the major sin problem he has. Know anyone like that? If you do, I’m sure that you don’t like them very much.

Luke 6:37-38

In Luke’s gospel there is less context to the saying. It is preceded by a call to love your enemies, be merciful as God is merciful, then this warning not to be overly judgmental is then followed by a call to be like the “teacher”, and then the same “speck of sawdust” passage as in Matthew. In short, all of it is a perspective on proper behavior: be like God, be like Jesus.

Paranoid Friends

My paranoid friends are so traumatized by the recognition that they have sin in their lives that they do not want to be perceived as being hypocritical so they don’t want to even acknowledge that someone else has sinned. This is born, in part, out of the contemporary idea that “all sin is equal” in that it separates the person from God. While it is true that any sin would separate a person from the holiness which is God, it is not true that all sin is equal in God’s sight. Even the Bible has hierarchies of sin. We know this because the punishments vary. Some sins require a small sacrifice, others a larger sacrifice, and others can only be properly punished by execution. See the difference?

Everyone struggles with some residual guilt over their past sins. People also struggle with guilt over their present temptations. When this guilt inhibits the ability to recognize and confront obvious sin in others then it becomes problematic. To reverse the image Jesus paints for us above, imagine that the person with the “speck” sees the person with the “plank” in the eye but doesn’t say anything. Would that be in keeping with Jesus’ desire? No. The converse of Jesus’ command not to be a hypocritical judge of others is not to refrain from judgment but to do it properly: mercifully, compassionately.

Commands to Judge

The New Testament commands us to judge actions – especially those of our fellow Christians. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that those within the church are to make judgments about the sins of other church members. He himself had no problem in passing judgment on a man guilty of incest in the Corinthian church even though he had only been told about the situation and wasn’t there while it was going on. He wrote, “. . . I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this” (1 Cor. 5:3). So Paul saw no conflict with anything Jesus said about “judge not” and his ability and duty to “judge”. Neither did he see a conflict in telling the Corinthian church members that they should be judging as well. He rhetorically asks, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” (1 Cor. 5:12). The answer is “Yes, you are to judge the people inside the church.”

In fact, Jesus gives us directions on how to properly judge people within the church. We are not to do it hypocritically or with harsh condemnation, but lovingly and with consideration. See Matthew 18:15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (NIV). Notice that this text makes us all responsible for helping to keep our fellow church members in line. Doing this with responsibility and a compassion for the other person helps to build the bonds of trust and holiness in the church. It makes the church a self-policing entity and that cuts down on a lot of problems within the church as everyone is focused on doing what is good and right as well as helping others to do what is good and right.

What God has already judged

Judging what is right and wrong is much easier when you realize that God has already told us much about what He has judged as right and wrong. We don’t have to question whether fornication, adultery, homosexuality, prostitution, greed, theft, slander, malice, and so forth are wrong. They are. To say so is not to be judgmental in the least. It is simply pointing out what God has already judged to be wrong.

Getting It Right

The Message is a paraphrase of the Bible and it has this for Matthew 7:1-5. “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.”

When judging is done the proper way it brings health and healing to the person involved. That is, if the person is of the proper mindset to accept gentle correction. There is never a guarantee how a rebuke will be received but it does not relieve us of the responsibility to judge.

Amateur Hour with Rachel Held Evans

Until recently I was blissfully unaware of Rachel Held Evans. That is, until I encountered this column ostensibly dealing with the church and how Christian business people “should” react when confronted with an affront to their religion.  The offending passage that appeared on my Facebook wall was this:

The truth is, evangelical Christians have already “lost” the culture wars. And it’s not because the “other side” won or because evangelicals have failed to protect our own religious liberties. Evangelicals lost the culture wars the moment they committed to fighting them, the moment they decided to stop washing feet and start waging war.

Upon reading the article, I found it very flawed in its use of Scriptural exegesis, its applications, and even the understanding of what is at stake in the so-called culture wars. Furthermore, when I looked into the background of Mrs. Evans I found that she is not a biblical scholar. Yet, here was this column published by the New York Times. So what gives her special standing that the New York Times publishes her column?  She holds only an English Literature degree from Bryan College. She has published two books: Evolving in Monkey Town (which is about her religious life in Dayton, Tennessee – the home of the Scopes Monkey Trial) and A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  She is a Christian but she has become a liberal Christian who supports gay marriage and such things in contradiction to Church doctrine.  She is one of the                                                                                               Christians. She takes what she wants and leaves the rest. Her work is clearly amateur hour in research and journalism but particularly so regarding biblical studies.

The first thing that struck me about the quote above was that she is simply wrong.  The church has never stopped “washing feet”.  This is a false argument that seems to be popular in liberal circles. The church was never faced with an either/or situation. Nor did it abandon the “foot washing” she so admires.  If she had any source to backup this statement she did not provide it or any insight into why she imagines this is so.  The same hospitals are still funded by the church, as are missionaries, orphanages, hospice care, feeding the homeless, homeless shelters, and dozens more good works.

We have seen parachurch organizations rise up to take on the culture wars.  James Dobson founded Focus on the Family; Tony Perkins founded the Family Research Council; Jay Sekulow founded the American Center for Law and Justice. We could list dozens of similar ministries or para-ministry organizations that have been established to fight the cultural decay in our country.

What the church — and it’s people — did was take on the culture wars in addition to all of the other good works it was doing. Where she got her idea that the church somehow changed when confronted with the culture wars is a mystery.This is just the repetition of a liberal talking point which is designed to play upon the guilt of people in the Christian community.  I, for one, reject that guilt. Of all the institutions that have done damage to American culture, the Church is the least of these offenders. It has been the church and its people who have tried to hold things together and keep us on a proper and good course.

Perpetual Culture Wars

In fact, the modern culture wars were forced on the church by opponents who wished to rewrite the Bible, church doctrine, and social norms as well. Furthermore, what is gloriously ignored by liberal commentators such as Ms. Evans is the fact that the church has been fighting the culture wars since its inception 2,000 years ago!

Christianity has always been at war with the culture around it because that culture has always been pagan or heathen. The fact that the church has been successful in the long-term culture war has led to Western civilization and our own country’s existence. Both have been built on biblical principles, why should Christians sit by while those principles are undermined? There is no reason! This is just a liberal guilt ploy to which some non-analytically-thinking Christians are susceptible.

It always amazes me that liberals expect the church to just roll over and play dead whenever they wish to promote something that is both biblically perverse and hurtful to the national social fabric. Christians are part of the country, too, and they have every right to object to changes that they deem are hurtful to the people of the country. The culture wars gave us drugs,  free sex, cohabitation, abortion, and are now to the point of deeming two men equal to a man and woman in marriage (polyamory is not far down the street). The church knows that all this is both sinful and harmful to the individuals and to the country that supports such “Twilight Zone” behavior. Yet, according to liberals like RHE, we’re not supposed to get involved! We’re just to be good “foot washers”.  Well, if good foot washing had worked before the culture wars, then we wouldn’t have had the culture wars, right? She seems to live in some dreamy illusion that the church would have won the culture war if it didn’t engage in the culture wars. How do you win a battle that you do not fight?  That can only be described as logically deficient thinking. It is a strategy of defeat.

Craig and Katy Bennett are missionaries to Vanuatu my church supports. When Craig was at our church a few weeks ago he gave a lesson which included an illustration of a whole list of things that we would find repulsive. He mentioned primitive tribes who engaged in orgies for worship; who would throw a person down a well to drown as a sacrifice to their gods; brutal warriors who would kill their enemies and drink blood from their skulls.  Then he surprised everyone by saying, “These are probably the ancestors of most of you in this room. These were things that were done by the Angles and the Saxons.  What changed them? They clashed with the culture of Christianity.  The Church won them over from their wicked ways.”

I once had a professor in college who said, “If you can’t trust a man’s history how can you trust the man?” I don’t see how we can trust Mrs. Evans’ history.

I could go further into this and how the 60s radicals have infiltrated the university system, politics, the judiciary but I will leave that for another time.  Suffice it to say we are at what I believe is the crest of the radicals’ wave and like all wave crests, it will fall.

Put the Bible Down and Back Away Slowly

Of further concern to me was the way RHE handled Scripture.  She attempted to take some passages dealing with Roman law, Jews or Christians and apply them to the current debate over whether or not an American business owner should be forced to do work for someone when he finds it offensive to his deeply held religious beliefs.  But her parallels fail miserably.  Let me explain.

The main passage she relies on is Matthew 5:39b-48 which comes from the Sermon on  the Mount:

“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

She relies on the example of a Roman soldier to illustrate how she thinks that Christians ought to respond to people with whom they do not wish to do business.  This shows her ineptitude with Scripture.

First, this is Roman law. Second, it did not compel a person to violate deeply held religious beliefs. Third, it was emphatically not persecution to Jews and Christians. Fourth, her application to 21st century American culture and politics is completely incompatible for private business transactions. Fifth, and perhaps most critical, is the fact that the omits a key verse-and-a-half which governs the illustration she loves to use. That passage is Matthew 5:38-39a.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.

This passage has the famous law of lex talionis which deals with retributive justice.  If a person was injured by another party, that person had the right to fair and just compensation. Such compensation was usually in the form of a fine of some sort. The “eye for eye” statement simply means a “suitable compensation for the injury received”.  Then when we add verse 39 to it we see that the Christian is being wronged in some way.  The Common English Bible states it this way, “But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you.”  So what is going on here?  Let me explain.

The first three examples of what hurting someone is like are given: one is a slap on the face; another is a lawsuit; the third is the Roman soldier.  All three of these are considered to be doing some wrong to the Christian for which he might retaliate in an appropriate measure. But Jesus tells them not to seek retributive justice – “fair compensation” – instead, they are to give more to the person who injured them than is asked or required!

Roman law compelling someone to carry a soldier’s bags was nothing new.  People did resent it, but it was viewed by the Romans as a civic duty owed by the people.  It would cost lost wages, that much is true, but it was not a violation of any religious belief. The Roman soldier did not make the person deny their God, eat unclean food, or make sacrifices to a pagan deity. That was not the purpose of the law.  Thus, compelling service cannot be considered persecution of either Jews or Christians! In that situation a  government member forced a member of the empire  to provide a legal civic duty.  That is not the relationship of a customer to a business either then or now.

Mrs. Evans cannot tell the difference between persecution and retributive justice.  Nor does she realize that nothing in the Sermon on the Mount teaches people to compromise their religious values!

Liberty or Tyranny?

The situation being discussed today is really fairly limited. Basically it deals with small businesses where the owner might be perceived as supporting the activity for which he is supplying his talents. This is particularly applicable to artistic services where the artist’s work may be considered an endorsement of their subject matter. Unlike the situation where the Roman soldier has the ability to force a temporary, defined and limited service to the government, today’s situation is about a private business person voluntarily negotiating a deal with another private party, a religious issue on the owner’s part arises, and there is no clear civic duty in play.1 These are crucial distinctions in the comparison.  There is nothing to force the business person to take on the transaction if a negotiated agreement cannot be reached for a said service. In fact, you can deny service by saying you are booked on that date or are on vacation or some other excuse. Where do we draw the line?  Suppose the proposed job fell on a significant religious day, should we be compelled to have an observant Jewish photographer work on the Sabbath or work on a feast day or work on an annual holy day? Should that man be forced to go to a pig farm and take photographs when he considers pigs to be unclean?  In a libertarian society the seemingly obvious answer would be no.  Frank Tuerk in his Cross Examined podcast provides a helpful answer: discriminate against behavior, not people.  Law is discriminatory about behavior. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed it took such a stance.  Race, religion, and national origin were not grounds for discrimination in the defined services.  Issues such as moral behavior were not addressed.

What too few people realize is that compulsory commerce is a form of slavery.  The liberal contingency is happy to interject the government into the equation to force private business owners to do what they want regarding their social agenda de jour. However, this means that we are changing the fundamental relationship of the business owner and customer.  The customer can now demand a service and the owner must comply despite any religious objections. At this extreme, this has moved from mutual agreement to government tyranny.  In fact, it borders on Fascism since the government is now the entity controlling local business deals. Entering into the contract is no longer optional. By opening the doors of your business you are forced to accept any and all “customers” unless you meet a very narrow band of exceptions or are crafty enough to deny offensive services on other grounds.

One of the businesses I’ve operated was a deejay business back in the 1980s. If I had been asked to provide my services for something like a KKK rally, I would have declined because I would not want to be associated with such ideology because it is wrong on multiple fronts, including religious ones.  But, under rules being constructed at this time, I would have been forced to provide services for the KKK rally simply because they asked me.  It would not allow me to direct them to another deejay service who might want to do the job. No, I would be forced into the work for no other reason than I was offered the job. “Offer”, however, would no longer be the right term: “demand”, “cajoled”, “forced”, or “under duress”  would be the right term. Pick your favorite. With such, we have created something we can call commerce slavery.

Imagine . . .

Imagine if the tables were turned. When you walked into a store at the mall the owner could demand that you buy something. In fact, he could define for you what you could buy even if you found it religiously objectionable.  A Muslim man who walked into a deli could be forced to buy a ham sandwich, for example, even though it is religiously offensive to him.  That would be a ridiculous world, and it is equally as ridiculous to force a private business owner to do business with someone he does not wish to do business with – for whatever reason, but especially for religious ones.

Play Along or Persecution?

It is also not clear to me how RHE thinks that simply playing along with something in violation of your conscience is a helpful ministry tool. Why should we respect someone who does whatever is put before him when it violates deeply held religious beliefs?  How deeply held can they be if they are ignored? In fact, she wishes to compare this to suffering persecution in the early church. But the church suffered because it did take a stand against the culture of its day. It suffered because of its religious stance in the culture wars of the first centuries. She doesn’t even understand what persecution really is.

She wishes to see some meaningful comparison in passages that say “love one’s enemy and pray for those who persecute you”.  Both of those terms, “enemy” and “persecute”, require that there be hostility toward you, the business owner!  In order for this to be the situation, you have to have taken a position in opposition to your enemy and persecutor.  That means, in fact, that you are standing on your religious values and not “playing along”.  It means that in spite of the fact people sue your bakery or photography studio, you still pray for them and love them.

RHE is also very oblivious to a topic I discussed in another article as to what religious persecution looks like in 21st century America. We have virtually eliminated physical suffering as a form of religious persecution, to our credit. What has replaced it is the legal form of religious persecution since we are a litigious society  and social bullying tactics. The “War on Christmas” and the “Happy Holidays” saying fall into these categories as do “In God We Trust” cases and crosses on memorials. So she again fails to see the larger picture or recognize how the face of persecution has changed in a free and civil country.

Of Sowing and Reaping

What the political left has been doing recently has people justifiably afraid for their religious liberties. The cases of a baker in New Mexico and a photography studio in Colorado who refused to provide services for homosexual ceremonies on religious grounds seemed to be ironclad. That is, until the courts ruled against them based on state laws. So the homosexual activists find themselves reaping what they have sown – and they don’t like it.

When people are forced to do something against their will, it causes a reaction against it. In this case, in a country where we are supposed to have religious liberty, we suddenly find that we are having it stripped away in favor of a liberal social agenda. So enshrining religious liberty into the state law seems to be the natural course of events.

Force is never a good tool for conversion. If the homosexual people in these cases had simply taken “no” for an answer and gone on to another baker or photographer, they would not have caused all the hostility and resentment that have led states to consider constructing legal countermeasures (countermeasures that apply to much more than just homosexual issues). They are the ones who are bringing discord into the public arena. In fact, if they would take the attitude that RHE wants the church to take, they would look at it as form of persecution and pray for their enemies. Somehow they are not asked to take the same stance as the church, even though many are ostensibly Christians. (The Colorado photography case is being appealed to the Supreme Court.)

In the article, RHE tries other scriptural references, such as paying your taxes to Caesar, as a means of supporting her assertion that Christians should simply provide the services without objection. Again, her analogy fails for the same reasons as before: it was Roman law, it did not address a private business negotiation between two people, it is wholly incompatible with today’s debate, and it was not a form of persecution – despite what she thinks.

As is typical with the New York Times, they don’t have any conservative writers. RHE has no discernible intellectual or academic credentials that make her a spokesperson on matters of the church, culture, or Bible. She’s literate and she can write.  She claims to be a Christian, yet she supports homosexual marriages in contradiction with historic Christian doctrine and in opposition to the Bible’s claim that homosexuality is a sin and marriage is for men and women. So she ignores what she doesn’t like in the Bible, claims by her own power that homosexuality is suddenly not a sin and moves on with her liberal social agenda to chide the church for not going along with it all. If she treated the laws of the state or the rules of a corporate office with such contempt she would be fired or arrested!  Such an irresponsible exegesis and application of the text of Scripture as RHE has demonstrated would have earned her an “F” on this paper in my university class. An informed and responsible editor would have shutdown this article before it shamefully came to publication. The fact that the NYT gives her prominence to flout her ignorance is a disgrace. But what do you expect? It’s the New York Times.

Amateur Hour is fun when you’re singing Karaoke.  But it is a disaster when it is applied to Scripture and used to shape public policy.

1.I recommend the following articles from the Heritage Foundation to get an orientation on the difficulty between civil liberties and anti-discrimination issues. Article One. Article Two. Article Three.

Eyewitness Testimony is Unreliable – NOT!

One of the frequent complaints raised by skeptics focuses upon the claim that there were eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus. People are taught that eyewitness testimony to an event is unreliable. Examples such as a car accident are given with ample demonstrations that eyewitness testimony is conflicting at best and not good evidence in court. But this fails to recognize the vast difference between eyewitness testimony to an event versus a series of events.

The case of the resurrected Jesus is not a momentary, one-time event to which eyewitness testimony is subject to fallibility. The apostle Paul recounts a list of appearances to different people at different times over a 40 day period. Consider the following list from 1 Cor. 15:

  1. he appeared to Cephas [Peter]
  2. and then to the Twelve.
  3. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
  4. Then he appeared to James,
  5. then to all the apostles,
  6. and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

This is an incomplete list of all of Jesus’ appearances, but Paul tells us that more than 517 people saw Jesus alive and some of those on multiple occasions. Cephas [Peter] for example would be included as one of “the Twelve”. Exactly who “all the apostles” are is unclear. It seems to be a different set than “the Twelve” and we don’t know how many of them there were or if it included “the Twelve” and/or James as well, but for my figures I simply use 2 as the number since it was the least I could get in the plural.

Others are reported to have seen Jesus as well. They include the following:

  1. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Matthew 28:9)
  2. The Eleven (Matthew 28:16)
  3. If Mark 16:9-14 reflects history accurately, then Mary Magdalene, “two . . . walking in the country”, and the “Eleven” all saw Jesus.
  4. Luke 24:13-16 records the appearance to two men on the road to Emmaus (probably the “two . . . walking in the country”).
  5. Luke 24:33-36 says the same two men who had been with Jesus on the road to Emmaus returned to tell the Eleven and that Jesus appeared to all of them at that time.
  6. Luke 24:49-50 has an unmentioned time lapse between the two verses because Acts 1:3 records the fact that he appeared to them over a forty-day period of time. So the ascension in v. 50 is actually another appearance to the same group of disciples.
  7. In fact, Acts 1:3 tells us that not only did Jesus appear, but he gave signs that he was alive. “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days . . .” This is important because the eyewitness testimony was not just to a single appearance event but multiple events. In addition to the appearances, he also intentionally demonstrated to them that he was alive. Again, these are eyewitness events.
  8. Acts 1:4 mentions the fact that Jesus was eating with his disciples on at least one occasion: “On one occasion, while he was eating with them . . . .” So an appearance coupled with the physical act of eating was considered eyewitness proof of Jesus’ vitality.
  9. Acts 1:21-23 also records a bit of information about others who were not part of the Eleven who saw Jesus. When choosing a 12th disciple to replace Judas, Peter lists these qualifications: “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection. 23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias.” These two men were apparently disciples of Jesus but not part of the Twelve. Here it is noted that they saw the risen Jesus at least once and likely on many occasions since they were part of the group of disciples.
  10. John 20:11-18 recounts an appearance to Mary of Magdala.
  11. Luke 24:34 mentions that Jesus appeared to Simon (aka Cephas, Peter)
  12. Luke 24:36-53 to the Eleven in the upper room. Here is another proof of his being alive demonstrated by eating. “‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.” Additionally, he invited them to touch him to see that he had flesh and bone as they have. “‘Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’ 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.”
  13. John 20:19-23 records a first-day-of-the-week appearance to Ten of the Eleven, Thomas being absent.
  14. John 20:24-29 records the Ten testifying to Thomas that they had seen Jesus. Thomas doubts and Jesus appears to the Eleven a week after his first appearance. Thomas is invited to inspect the physical body of Jesus. “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.'”
  15. John 21:1-25 records an appearance to Seven of the disciples who had gone fishing. The text also notes that this was the third time Jesus appeared to them. 13 “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.”
  16. Acts 9 & 21 recount the appearance to Paul on the way to Damascus.
  17. 1 Cor. 9:1 Paul claims again to have seen the risen Jesus.

So by a very conservative count, Jesus appeared to a minimum of 520 people after his resurrection. And this number does not attempt to guess how many people were in some of the groups such as “all the apostles”.
Cephas-Peter-Simon (1 Cor. 15; Luke 24)
The Twelve (1 Cor. 15)
500+ (1 Cor. 15)
James (1 Cor. 15)
All the apostles (1 Cor. 15)
Paul (1 Cor. 9 & 15; Acts 9 & 21)
Mary Magdalene/of Magdala (Matt 28; Mark 16*; John 20)
the other Mary (Matt 28)
The Eleven (Matt. 28; Mark 16*; Luke 24 [plus the 2 at Emmaus])
Two in the country (Mark 16*; Luke 24 two going to Emmaus*)
Group at his ascension including the Eleven (Luke 24)
Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias (Acts 1)
Ten of the Eleven (John 20)
Ten of the Eleven plus Thomas (John 20)
Seven of the Eleven (John 21 the “third time” he appeared to them)
*Mark 16:9-18 is not found in the earliest manuscripts we have of Mark. Nevertheless, this material reflects the early church tradition of appearances to Mary Magdalene, the two on the road to Emmaus, and the Eleven that is confirmed in other sources.

From the list above we can calculate that Jesus appeared at least 13 times, not counting subsequent visions of Paul, Stephen, or John and assuming only one appearance for a group mentioned, such as the 500.  In all likelihood, these appearances had significant overlap in attendance. For example, Peter saw Jesus at least 7 times by a conservative count. At least seven of the Eleven saw Jesus at least 6 times. The two men on the road to Emmaus saw Jesus at least twice, once with them and once when they reported to the Eleven.

Acts 1:3 “many convincing proofs that he was alive”
Acts 1:4 he ate with them
Luke 24 Jesus ate broiled fish
Luke 24 Jesus invited them to touch him (So also Thomas, John 20)
Luke 24 Jesus claimed to have flesh and bones
Luke 24 Jesus showed them his hands and feet (Thomas hands, John 20)
John 20 Jesus invites Thomas to touch his pierced side

At the least, Jesus ate twice with his disciples.  He invited people to touch him on at least two occasions. He showed them his wounds on at least two occasions.

Multiple Attestations
The skeptic will challenge the number of appearances, people, and signs by claiming that we only have one source for this information: the Bible itself.  This simply tells us that the skeptic doesn’t know anything about how the New Testament was compiled. It was written by different authors over time and later collected and preserved by the church which eventually put it into one compiled book as we know it. Skeptics are also usually unaware of the complex relationship of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the independent nature of the Gospel of John.

If we take the lists above and only count those that have multiple and independent attestations we get the following:

Multiply Attested Appearances: Peter 2, Paul 2, Mary Magdalene 3, The Eleven 3, Two on the road to Emmaus 2. So we have at least five of the 13 appearances confirmed by multiple, independent sources.

Multiply Attested Persons: At least 16 people are confirmed to have seen Jesus by this reckoning.

Multiply Attested Signs: Jesus invited touch and demonstrated showed them his wounds according to two different sources.

So the internal historical evidence has a sound core and there is no real reason to doubt some of the other occurrences either. Those listed by Paul in 1 Cor. 15 are listed as proof of his credibility and were open to investigation at the time the letter was written. So whether or not we have additional evidence of these things, Paul’s readers were expected to know of them. The skeptic should understand that simply because a historical fact is recorded in only one location and cannot be confirmed by a second source that it does not immediately discredit the fact mentioned. History is replete with examples of one-source bits of information so this is nothing new to the historical investigator. The plausibility regarding the accuracy of the fact is determined by other means. Pauline scholars do not doubt that Paul’s list of appearances in 1 Cor. 15 is a true list that he believed to be accurate and reliable when the letter was written.

The skeptic’s claim that eyewitness testimony is not reliable is simply misapplied. For a single, momentary event we can have discrepancies among eyewitnesses. The New Testament’s evidence about the appearances of the resurrected Jesus are not of that nature. These were appearances that had duration. There were conversations that took place, eating events, teaching and questioning of Jesus. These did not happen one time but multiple times, to different people in different locations as well as to a number of the same people over this 40 day period. Such eyewitness testimony would be highly reliable and regarded by historians as extremely valuable because of its credibility.