February 2013

Boy Scouts avert calamity (at least for now)

February 12 2013 by Richard Land, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Reeling from a massive negative backlash, the executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America decided to postpone until May its ill-conceived, proposed change to allow openly gay scoutmasters and scouts to participate in Scouting.

In backing away from the proposed membership change, the Boy Scouts at least temporarily averted calamity. If the committee had rammed through the change in membership policy, it would have dealt a serious blow to the Boy Scouts of America on several fronts.

First, the proposed membership change made no one happy. The gay activists pushing for the change in policy were incensed by the “local option” plan being proposed by the Boy Scouts as their new membership policy. Under the proposed plan, each local scout troop could decide for itself if it wanted to allow gay men to be scout masters and gay boys to be members. The gay community was outraged that any Boy Scout troop would be allowed to continue to “discriminate” against gays. Once again, the gay activist agenda was revealed as something very different from “live and let live,” but rather, “we will compel all scout troops to accept and affirm our community’s values.”

Those supporting the current membership policy were shocked that the Boy Scouts of America leadership would violate basic, longstanding principles to placate a vocal and well-financed minority.

Second, the Boy Scouts’ proposed membership change to a “local option” severely weakened their strongest legal defense. As The New York Times pointed out in its Jan. 30 editorial, “The Boy Scouts Fall Short,” the Boy Scouts’ strongest legal defense is the Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling (Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale) in which the court affirmed that homosexual behavior was inconsistent with a “core” part of its mission and purpose, and that as a private organization they had the right to maintain their freedom of association.

As the New York Times pointed out, the Boy Scouts’ new “local option” membership policy would completely undermine the Supreme Court’s rationale favoring the Scouts’ current policies because a “local option” is at best a moral preference, and at worst a moral vacuum, and certainly not a “core” principle. The Constitution protects moral principles, not preferences. The proposed new membership policy, if implemented, would invite an avalanche of litigation against the Boy Scouts which would inevitably result in a court-imposed national policy of allowing openly gay scout masters and troop members in all troops.

Third, the Boy Scouts’ new proposed membership policy disregards what they themselves described six months ago as the desires of the “vast majority of the parents of the youth we serve” – to maintain the current, long standing policies excluding openly gay leaders and members. The overwhelming cry of outrage from these parents and Scout supporters across the country caused the delay in the vote until May. The proposed membership change provoked a grass-roots tsunami of opposition. If this grass roots, traditional base were to be ignored, it would generate a massive exodus from the Boy Scouts of America as the “vast majority” voted with their feet to maintain the Boy Scouts’ “core” principles.

Lastly, the Boy Scouts of America’s proposed membership change is yet one more indication that our society is so concerned about the so-called rights and privileges of adults that it routinely fails to fulfill its societal obligation to protect children. In the last few days I have heard from numerous parents essentially the same lament: “Has the Boy Scout leadership lost its mind?” Their parental concerns can be summarized in a few sentences. Why would you put adult leaders and mentors in places of authority and leadership of a boys’ organization when they have defined themselves as “homosexual,” meaning they are sexually attracted to males? It would be the equivalent of allowing heterosexual men to be scout masters for Girl Scout troops. As one wise youth minister once observed, “Sexual attraction happens.”

One does not have to assert that any one group is more prone to pedophilia than another. If you put men in mentoring positions of trust and authority in camp-out situations with young teens to whom they are sexually attracted, either heterosexually or homosexually, human tragedies will follow. To deny the reality of human nature is to embrace a political correctness that defies common sense.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)
2/12/2013 2:31:14 PM by Richard Land, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Are Christians really bad tippers?

February 12 2013 by Ed Stetzer, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – The blogosphere has been buzzing about the recent incident involving Pastor Alois Bell of the Truth in the World Deliverance Ministries Church and Applebee’s server Chelsea Welch. If you haven’t heard about the incident, here is a quick recap:

Pastor Bell, eating in a party of 10, was believed to have stiffed a coworker of Chelsea’s on her tip (that was later disputed). Perhaps most disturbingly, Ms. Bell commented on the receipt that she was a pastor and only gave God 10 percent – “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18” for such a large party? Chelsea took the receipt and posted a picture of it online as a joke and it went viral. Subsequently, Applebee’s fired Chelsea and Pastor Bell has been publicly shamed in the media.

This whole incident has enflamed a long burning discussion about the stereotype of the conduct and courtesy (or lack thereof) that many Christians display toward servers, waitresses, valets and others in the service industry. Among other things, the “Sunday morning crowd” at restaurants has a bad reputation.

But why does this stereotype exist? Because, in large part, many servers think it is true. Many Christians do as well. But, what does the research say?

According to the only study of which I am aware, published last year in the Journal of Applied Psychology, it appears that “Christians as bad tippers” is not supported by the stats. In their study, “Are Christian/Religious People Poor Tippers?,” Michael Lynn and Benjamin Katz explain:

“The results of this study produced three notable findings about the relationships between religion and tipping. First, Jews and those with no religion tip significantly more than Christians and members of other religions. However, the average Christian tips 17 percent of the bill when receiving good restaurant service and only 13 out of 100 Christians receiving good service leave a tip below 15 percent of the bill. Second, worship frequency has no significant main effect on reported tipping. Third, worship frequency significantly interacts with service quality such that the effects of service quality on tips were stronger the less frequently the tipper attends religious services.”

You can read their whole report at http://tippingresearch.com/uploads/ChristianTippersJASPaccepted.pdf and it would be worth doing so before saying that your personal experience trumps the research.

So, again, facts are our friends – but in this case, perception is not our friend. And, perception is reality. That perception is real and is, I believe, hurting the reputation of Christians.

So, how do we deal with such a perception? In an article at the Christianity Today Her•meneutics blog, Karen Swallow Prior gives some helpful advice:

“Eating out is expensive. But if diners can’t afford all of the expected expenses of eating out, they should go to an establishment they can afford, or not go out at all. ... Maybe some folks don’t know that the minimum wage for servers is lower than for everyone else, or that the percentage for tips increases like everything else. ... Tips are payment for services rendered.”

She concludes:

“I don’t think that Paul had servers in mind when he exhorted believers, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” but the principle certainly does apply. Those who are to represent Christ in all they do should remember that includes paying the check – in total – at the end of the meal.”

Being cheap or taking your frustrations out on a server is in no way Christlike. And it is not indicative of how we should live our lives as Christians. Furthermore, leaving a tract instead of a tip is so foolish, it is hard to imagine. Yet, it happens – and it undermines our witness and reputation. If you are leaving something with your server about the grace of God, make sure it is always connected to a gracious and generous tip.

We should be known as a generous people. We should be known for our love. Not just with waitresses and waiters at restaurants, but with everyone.

So in response, I’ve been striking up conversations with servers and asking them about this perception. The other day, I talked to a server, and we discussed the “pastor tip gate” scandal. I wanted to do a small thing to change the perception so I wrote a note on my bill: “Great job! I’m a pastor and I don’t leave bad tips!”

When I tweeted it, more than 12,000 people viewed or shared it in a day – showing that there is some angst on this issue. And there should be.

I’m not suggesting you write the same – as my comment was a result of our conversation – but I do think we need to be generous and build a better reputation. It’s needed.

So, statistically, this claim does not hold up. I’ve written before in Christianity Today on the fact that Christians like to distribute stats that make themselves look bad. But, in this case, a lot of non-Christians believe it as well – which is my greater concern. So, we should address it – with the facts (it’s not true) and with our example (we can do better).

The answer, I think, is simply to be better tippers for the glory of God!

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ed Stetzer is president of LifeWay Research. This column first appeared at his blog, EdStetzer.com.)
2/12/2013 2:26:44 PM by Ed Stetzer, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Is hunting murder?

February 11 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – “When people hunt and kill animals for sport, are they committing murder?” asks Barbara J. King in the a column on the National Public Radio website.

In her piece titled “When We Hunt, Do We Murder?” Ms. King articulates her ethical struggle over humans who kill animals, especially for sport. King’s ethical struggle, however, does not extend to the animal kingdom.

“It makes no sense to me to moralize about the behavior of creatures who evolved to be predators: cats are natural hunters.” she writes, referencing felines that kill birds.

King continues, “Some might say that humans are natural hunters too, because our species and some of our ancestors began hunting anywhere from half-a-million to two million years ago. Yet Homo sapiens differ from all other species because we’ve evolved brains that allow an unprecedented degree of reasoned choice-making in our foraging and our diet. As I’ve written here before, those of us with the luxury to choose might consider not eating other animals.”

It seems quite clear that Ms. King believes that man is just the most highly evolved species of animal on the planet.

“Feeling this way,” King writes, “it’s hard for me to understand the pull to hunt animals unless the meat is actually needed to feed one’s family, or the hunting is managed and results in good outcomes for the animal population in question. (This can be the case when high population numbers would otherwise consign individuals to starvation and slow, miserable deaths).”

King continues, “I’m tempted to accept the term “murder” as it’s used against trophy hunters and poachers, who go after families of elephants and great apes.”

“By contrast, many American sport hunters, I have learned, think hard about which individual animals to kill and which to spare,” King writes. “They do their best to make sure that hunted animals do not suffer pain. And they are outraged by ‘penned’ hunts, where animals have no chance, and hunts where game is killed merely for sport and is not eaten.”

In the end, King is not yet willing to label most hunters serial killers.

“Can hunters and animal advocates talk and listen together about their different ways of thinking through these issues?” she asks. “Such conversations can be difficult, but also mind-expanding. And ‘Murder’ is best left out of them. It just doesn’t apply in this context.”

I don’t understand the ambivalence of those who believe that man is nothing more than the most highly evolved species on earth. If man is nothing more than an animal that is able to reason, then of course Homo sapiens killing any other animals is murder.

It should be noted that in nature, “murder” occurs between species with great regularity. Wildlife biologists even say that certain species are the main food source for other species. The law of the jungle is kill or be killed.

For those who believe man is the product of God’s creative genius, the case for ethics and morality toward all of creation is easily made. Man is not only the crowning glory of all God created, man also bears the Creator’s image. This renders man accountable to God for all his actions, even his actions toward animals.

Because life is given by God, human life above all is to be protected. Hence, abortion induced by the hand of man is abhorrent. The Bible also seems clear that if a person takes human life in premeditated fashion, that person then forfeits the right to life.

Though animals do not share equal value with human life, animals are to be valued because they, too, are created by God. The Bible also speaks to the place animals occupy on the earth and how they should be treated.

According to the Bible, God gave animals as a food source. For those who choose to be vegetarian, more power to you. As for me, kill it, grill it and pass the steak.

The Bible also indicates that animals should not be neglected, abused or tortured. The writer of Proverbs says, “A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast....” Additionally, God specifically stated that animals were to be rested on the Sabbath.

One of man’s responsibilities is to be a good steward of God’s creation. That includes animals. Sport hunting is regulated around the world for the purposes of regulating animal population so as to prevent overpopulation and to ensure species survival.

As King points out, poachers and those who slaughter animals without regard to regulation are wrong. They are not murderers, but they do violate laws set up to ensure stewardship of God’s creation and should be punished.

For most who accept God as Creator, humans killing animals is not murder, and there is no ambivalence on the issue. I find it interesting that some evolutionists struggle with the fact that humans would choose to kill, and even eat, other animals. After all, it’s a species eat species world we live in, right?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
2/11/2013 2:47:01 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

In Mideast, ‘harvest time is now’

February 11 2013 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

MIDDLE EAST – There’s a question that keeps Jack Logan* awake at night: Who is praying for the people of Syria?

Not just because a murderous civil war is tearing Syria apart, though that tragedy is unfolding. Not just because millions of Syrians are suffering and need help, though they do.

Who is praying for the Syrians whom God is drawing to Himself in the midst of great struggle? They aren’t embracing Christ just because Christians may be helping them survive tough times. Like so many others in the region, they are seeking truth because all else is collapsing around them.

Logan, a Christian worker and strategist based in the Middle East, has seen it before.

“Whenever there’s a war and people are affected, the Lord opens up doors to give us access to people that we really never had before,” Logan says. “It happened in 2006 during the war between Hezbollah [the Lebanon-based Shiite Muslim group] and Israel, which opened up unprecedented opportunities for us in an area that we had not had access to before.”

The same thing is going on now, as Syrians stream out of their embattled homeland – and as the peoples of the Middle East continue to cope with the changes unleashed by “Arab Spring” political/social movements across the region.

“My job is developing strategy for engaging the lost, the unreached and unengaged peoples for this part of the world,” Logan reflects. “It’s humbling, but at the same time it’s incredibly exciting, because we see the Lord moving in ways that we never expected. I don’t know how to explain it. I just know that in times like these, we have to have our senses tuned to what the Lord is doing. Hundreds of thousands of people that we had no access to inside of their country, we now do. It takes giving up our own agenda and saying, ‘What do we need to sacrifice in order to get to these people that God has put on our back door?’

“During these crises, this Arab Spring, this stirring of peoples across the Arab world, God is creating opportunities like we’ve never had before to reach people at a point of need, to embody and proclaim the gospel.”

Yes, the wider region is experiencing unpredictable turmoil. Yes, violence and persecution have increased. Yes, it’s dangerous to be a follower of Christ in certain places. Yet amid the ongoing crisis, the Arab world has become a harvest field for the gospel. But after generations of sowing seeds in rock-hard ground, how many Christians believe it?

“The harvest is now,” Logan insists. “A few years ago I’m not sure I would have believed that myself. But it’s not only believable right now, it is a reality. We’re not preparing the harvest; we are working in a harvest field. This has to be ingrained in our expectations. People look at the Middle East and they see a barren land. They see sand and desert and dry land, not just physically but spiritually, and they look at it as an unreachable place. But our expectations are most often defined by past experience and present realities, when they should be based on what we believe God is going to do.

“If we believe we’re working in a harvest field, then we’ll give up anything to make Christ known and worshipped in the darkest of places. I want the church in the United States to believe that. I want us [workers in the region] to believe that.”

Sounds a little like Hebrews 11. Earlier followers of the Lord experienced some very tough sledding in the Middle East – before and after the birth of the Christian church – and they turned the known world upside down by faith. Today, some of the most faithful and courageous heirs of that tradition are Muslim-background followers of Christ. Many have come to Him after experiencing dreams and visions, after counting the cost of obedience, after paying a steep price. I sat in a church with one such believer in Egypt earlier this year and listened to him gently challenge Christian-background brothers to overcome their fear and timidity in the face of opposition.

“Christians have a problem with understanding their own religion, because if they understand their faith they’re going to make real change,” he told listeners. “The church has to move; it is not moving toward those from other backgrounds.”

A veteran Egyptian pastor leaned over and confided: “He is the future of the church in Egypt.”

Opposition is a given. Always has been. Followers of Christ who understand that recognize the signs of the times and keep moving.

“These are people who are walking in darkness, who are blinded by the god of this world,” Logan says. “We have the light of the gospel inside of us. Do we perceive ourselves as gospel bearers in a dark world? If so, then we have a responsibility to take the gospel to the darkest places. Jesus told us to take the gospel to all nations and make disciples. We know there will be people from every tribe, language, people and nation before the throne, so we know that there will be people from the Middle East. There will be Syrians, there will be Sunni, there will be Alawites, there will be Kurds, there will be Druze, there will be Palestinians, there will be Salafists, there will be activists, there will be secularists, there will be all these people who will worship Jesus.

“I hope the church will consider what it’s going to take for that to happen. We cannot get to the unreached and unengaged doing things the way that we have done. It’s going to take a higher tolerance of risk. It’s going to take a greater resolve to sacrifice, to give up and to follow Christ with abandon. What we really have to come to grips with is: Do we really love Jesus that much? People ask me all the time when I’m in the States, ‘Isn’t it dangerous?’ I’m not sure that’s the right question. Ultimately, there’s nowhere safe these days. The real question is: Is Jesus worth it? If it’s about ourselves, our safety, our future, or even doing it for the sake of the nations, that’s not enough.

“It’s got to be about Jesus.”

*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is a global correspondent for the International Mission Board. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com.)
2/11/2013 2:43:32 PM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

8 ways to celebrate baptisms at your church

February 7 2013 by Diana Davis, Baptist Press

INDIANAPOLIS – When a new believer is baptized, it’s a momentous event. A life’s been changed for eternity! Try these fresh ideas to make baptism a true celebration:
  • Smile. Express true joy. Baptism is a holy ordinance, but it’s also a joyful event. I love it when the church breaks into spontaneous cheers or applause.
  • Get personal. One church invites their entire small congregation to walk to the front and gather around the baptistry. It’s very touching (and makes great photos!) Some churches invite family or friends to stand during baptism.
  • Invite everyone. Create a Facebook event. Provide printed invitations so the new Christian can invite everyone he or she knows. Make an e-invitation they can forward to friends using North American Mission Board’s (NAMBwww.baptismcelebration.org or the website www.evite.com. Put a notice on the church website. Remind their Sunday School class to attend.
  • Assign members with décor talent to update paint color, art, towels, hair dryer, etc. to assure the baptism dressing area is nice enough for a new “child of the King.”
  • Prepare mementos. Take a quality photo to post to the church website so they can forward it to friends. Present a photo and baptismal certificate in a nice holder. Their small group might buy a personally imprinted Bible; each person could write a note and highlight a Scripture. Someone in the congregation could snap a panoramic photo and send it with a note to the new Christian.
  • Audiovisuals can display names during baptisms. Personal testimonies may be communicated with a question, brief interview or prerecorded video-clip. Response cards can be used with an evangelistic invitation.
  • Keep celebrating. Encourage their small groups, family and friends to plan an after-party at home or go out to celebrate. Or plan an all-church fellowship, with stories and Scriptures shared by people who influenced the new Christian. Bake a cake. Decorate. Celebrate!
  • And to remind the church of those eternity-impacting baptisms, create a music video of the year’s baptisms to view in December.
Wait! You’ve had no recent baptisms at your church? Put down this article and go invite someone who doesn’t know Christ to church. Then, get ready to celebrate.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Davis is author of “Fresh Ideas” and “Deacon Wives” (B&H Publishing). She is an author, columnist and wife of North American Mission Board’s vice president for the south region, Steve Davis.)
2/7/2013 2:24:25 PM by Diana Davis, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

You gotta ask: is this what God wants for you?

February 7 2013 by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – During the month of January, the Cineplex usually becomes the dumping ground for movies that were decidedly not Oscar contenders. Sometimes Hollywood’s discards populate the theaters during the months of February and March, as well. But this year a new trend has begun. Everything released this past few weeks has been rated R. Now, I will attend R-rated films in service to you if I believe they contain a profundity that outweighs the profanity, potent plundering, or passionate procreativity. But R-rated shoot-em-ups or crude comedies? Forget about it.

  • “Bullet to the Head”: A New Orleans hitman and a New York City cop form an alliance to bring down the killers of their respective partners. Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, language, some nudity and brief drug use
  • “Stand Up Guys”: Old ex-cons go up against a mob boss. R for language, sexual content, violence and brief drug use.
  • “Girls Against Boys”: a naïve college student is tormented by several men in a matter of days; she reaches her breaking point and is drawn into a co-worker’s twisted plan for gruesome revenge. R for violence, some sexual content/nudity and language.
  • “The Haunting in Connecticut 2”: Horror thriller about a family who move into a haunted house. R for some disturbing horror content (and I suspect language and other content the MPAA failed to mention).
  • “Hansel & Gretel, Witch Hunters”: R for strong fantasy violence and gore, brief sexuality/nudity and language.
You get the idea? Believe me, I could go on and on.

Movies have steadily become more violent, more graphic and certainly cruder with each passing year. Does this desensitizing material harm our collective psyche? Look around.

As our society becomes more secularized (a polite word for it), the nation’s entertainment mediums reflect and standardize these deviant practices.

Violence has become so excessive that it would be better defined as torture porn, with audiences flocking to see zombie heads hacked off by everyone from kids to that Great Emancipator/vampire hunter himself, Abe Lincoln. Comedies are now dredged up from the sewer, the style being a kind of “I-can’t-believe-I-just-saw-that” raucousness that replaces witty life observations or zany slapstick.

Just as the political and social landscapes are a-changin’, we now find Hollywood more emboldened to make a film’s content as influential as the picture’s artistic or technical merits. (Ever see a Quentin Tarantino film? He’s a good filmmaker, but his stories are generally more content-driven.)

Will the pendulum ever swing back, providing moviegoers with gentler film content? It would be naïve to think so. Unlike Washington, D.C., which sways from conservative to liberal every decade or so depending on populous pressure, the movie capital of the world feels no compulsion to examine moral and social standards, unless to defend the lifestyles once condemned in Sodom and Gomorrah.

It isn’t going to change, folks. Rather than using their art form to lift up and edify, most residents of Tinseltown will continue to aim their themes and visuals at our baser instincts. They’re not in the spirit-building business. Hollywood is a boredom-killing amusement park for an industry perpetuated by fear and ego – and anti-biblical agendas.

Harsh words, I know. My righteous indignation (not self-righteous, I hope) stems from a frustration that began with Christian-bashing gone wild in “Chocolat” (the film and its director seemed bent on challenging not just the foibles of Christians, but of Christianity itself), “Saved” (while generously serving up depictions of Christian shortcomings, Saved never gave a portrait of a truly devout follower of Christ), “Easy A” (I can’t remember a film being so vitriolic in its attack on members of the Christian faith), and “Religulous” (in this scathing documentary, Bill Maher stressed “Religion must die so mankind can live”). How many of these assaults must we Christians endure in the name of entertainment? And by the way, these people are pointing a finger at us, telling the world that people of faith are the problem, not the solution to their ills.

And now, despite the hypocritical rally to control gun ownership by performers who make their living via violent movies, there’s this glut of R-rated “action-adventures” that attempt to out-shoot and out-stimulate one another.

So, what do we who are attempting to reverence God do?

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood. ...” In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians the apostle instructs, “Put on the full armor of God.” Isn’t that instruction just as applicable to how we entertain ourselves as to how we conduct the rest of our lives?

More important than keeping the world’s perspective out is to get biblical instruction in. The Bible is a guidepost that keeps us in harmony with the Heavenly Father and with our fellow man. But we live in an era when we let the media, rather than scripture, teach us. We’ve become Bible illiterate.

Too bad, because by studying scripture we gain an understanding of the nature of God. What’s more, knowing biblical principles helps us see through any ungodly standards that creep into our daily lives.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself:
  • Can I see through the propaganda of the media?
  • Do I believe the Bible to truly be the Word of God?
  • Do I study His Word? (Have you asked God to reveal himself through its chapters and verses?)
  • Am I armed with the armor of God? (If not, you can’t effectively witness or maintain a peace in your soul.)
  • Is my support of a film or TV program going to affect my witness?
  • If Jesus were standing next to me, would I go see that film? (He is right there, you know.)
Oh, there’s a culture war, all right. And we’re not instructed by Christ to remain on the backlines. Even conscientious objectors have to get involved in this battle.

Though she was ridiculed by some for the catch phrase, “Just Say No,” Nancy Reagan made a simple declaration that, if adhered to, would save lives. If a significant amount of moviegoers would not attend R-rated movies, guess who’d stop making R-rated movies? You got it – everyone in the industry. So, here’s the new catch phrase for films that assault or offend: “Just Don’t Go.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – In addition to writing for Baptist Press, Phil Boatwright reviews films for www.previewonline.org. He is also a regular contributor to “The World and Everything In It,” a weekly radio program from WORLD News Group.)
2/7/2013 2:19:43 PM by Phil Boatwright, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

The ‘Queen James Bible’ does nothing but confuse & enslave

February 6 2013 by Owen Strachan, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In 1631, something scandalous happened: Someone printed a Bible, soon called “The Wicked Bible,” that translated the seventh commandment of Exodus 20:14 as “Thou shalt commit adultery.” One can imagine the scandal this caused in 17th-century England. It resulted in huge fines, mortified archbishops, and whispered conversations. The loss of just one word from a careful biblical translation caused a national uproar.

The corruption of the biblical text continues apace in our day, albeit on a far more drastic scale. Recently, a group of homosexual activists released the “Queen James Bible,” a version of scripture that is “gay-friendly.” The translation philosophy is muddled in thought but clear in intent: As the editors plainly state, “We edited the Bible to prevent homophobic interpretations.” This is not an objective project; it is an exercise in theological airbrushing.

First, the editors assert that “The Bible says nothing about homosexuality. However, there might be no other argument in contemporary faith as heated as what the Bible is interpreted to say about homosexuality.” This is simply wrong; in Romans 1:26-28, the Apostle Paul declares in the original Greek that all who participate in homosexual activity face God’s condemnation for sin. Leviticus 20:13, furthermore, makes unmistakably clear that a man “lying with a man” will bring fearsome consequences.

But the confusion continues. According to the editors:

“The Bible is the word of God translated by man. This (saying nothing countless translations and the evolution of language itself) means the Bible can be interpreted in different ways, leading to what we call ‘interpretive ambiguity.’”

This is not nearly as clever as the editors think it is. In reality, biblical translation is a lot like any other kind of interpretation, though it is produced, ideally, with maximal reverence toward God and love for humanity. If you’re translating, say, Homer from the original Greek, you’ll likely have a few points of difference with fellow translators; perhaps there will be some touchy spots. But when translators seek a faithful, as-literal-as-is-possible translation, their work will likely have remarkable similarities.

This isn’t true only of sacred and classic texts, though. If you’re trying to translate instructions from Spanish to English for that shiny new iPhone you received for Christmas, won’t you naturally (without even thinking) try for as accurate a literal translation as you can get? Those who want to fry their poor iPhone: by all means, emphasize “interpretive ambiguity.”

I took 10 Greek and Hebrew classes in seminary, and I assure you, translation is far less ambiguous than the “Queen James Bible” editors suggest. Most biblical texts in the original languages simply do not produce the kind of lurching uncertainty that some think they do. This is a common misconception that is easily dispelled in the opening weeks of a college or seminary class in the original languages.

In stating their translation philosophy, the editors assert that updates in language clear the way for unapologetic changes to the original text:

“Many versions of the Bible translated and published since the King James Bible have changed the language, so the precedent had been set for editing. Furthermore, both problems with editing are easily addressed by deciding to make the edits as simple as possible.”

Perhaps we’re expected to receive the matter of linguistic changes as a revelation (no pun intended). It is of course true that we don’t speak today in “these” and “thous.” Different words in our Bibles have changed over the centuries (though many have stayed the same). Updating language to use modern pronouns is a far cry, however, from excising passages from the Bible, as has happened in the QJB.

But what about the central charge against the Bible in this document? Does scripture condone “homophobia?” No, it does not. God’s Word issues threats of judgment and promises of grace to sinners of all kinds: those who get angry at their sibling (Matthew 5:22), those who cheat on their taxes and lie (Colossians 3:9), those who understand faith to mean doing good works to be saved (Ephesians 2:8-9), and many others. Every sinner – gay, straight, Republican, Democrat, Catholic, Baptist – must repent and be changed.

So the God of the Bible is not like the boyfriend in unnerving pop songs you hear on the radio; He is not “the one who would never ask you to change because you’re so unstoppably amazing.” The God of scripture offers us love, but it is costly love, for Him and for us. In order to save sinners like you and me, God must cleanse our sin. This meets the just demands of His holiness (Romans 4-5). He accomplished this through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ (Matthew 27). Our fundamental confession to God as a broken sinner is this: “You are right, and I am wrong.” God’s love cost Him His Son; God’s love costs us our sin.

For those drawn to a homosexual lifestyle, this means that repentance is necessary. God is not homophobic in calling gays and lesbians to repent; He is gracious in extending mercy to all of us, calling all of us to repent of our sins. We must not edit the Bible, as the editors of the QJB clearly say they have, to make it fit our lifestyle and excuse our sins. The scripture is a friend to any sinner who receives the gift of forgiveness in Christ.

Some have done so; some have seen this. As former lesbian (and activist academic) Rosaria Champagne Butterfield has shown in her spellbinding memoir, homosexual practice does not liberate – it enslaves. Our only hope as unrighteous people is to go to God’s good Word and embrace all of its wisdom, in order that all of us – and every aspect of our being – might know all of his grace.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Owen Strachan is assistant professor of Christian theology and church history at Boyce College and the co-author of “The Essential Edwards Collection.”)
2/6/2013 2:05:17 PM by Owen Strachan, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Does the Bible say anything about eating habits?

February 5 2013 by David Roach, Baptist Press

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. – It’s that brief season of the year when most people are still on track with their resolutions to eat more healthfully and lose weight. In pursuit of that goal, millions have consulted Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, online diet plans, calorie-counting apps and a host of other nutritional guides – most of which have great value.

But what about the Bible? Does it have anything to say about our eating habits?

Certainly it does. Incorporating scripture’s wisdom into our resolutions could mean the difference between success and failure.

First of all, we should make a distinction between healthy eating and fasting. The Bible says a great deal about fasting, but that’s abstaining from food for a purely spiritual purpose.

Healthy eating habits are a different matter, which the Bible also addresses. For one, the apostle Paul calls the body “a temple of the Holy Spirit” and urges, “You are not your own ... glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The context is an exhortation to flee sexual immorality and not profane the body that was created to honor God, but there’s an application to diet as well. Honoring our bodies as sacred temples certainly includes eating healthy foods that keep them functioning well.

The Old Testament, in fact, includes an example of God’s blessing people who eat healthy food. When Daniel and his three friends resolved not to eat the rich food of Babylon but instead make their diet vegetables and water, “they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food” (Daniel 1:15 NIV). Of course, health was not the reason for Daniel’s food choice. It had to do with ritual purity and being set apart from the pagan culture of Babylon, and God honored his obedience. Nevertheless, it was also an occasion when God brought positive consequences from healthy eating. (It’s worth noting that the Old Testament ceremonial laws on diet are no longer in force under the New Covenant, though moral principles related to food still hold. See Acts 10:9-16.) Add Proverbs’ warning about the ruinous effects of gluttony (Proverbs 23:20-21), and this is enough to assure us that God cares about our caloric intake.

Thankfully, though, that’s not all the Bible has to say about eating. Paul says that God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). The writer of Ecclesiastes makes the connection to eating explicit, telling us that we should enjoy food as a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 3:13). Perhaps that is part of the reason why the Old Testament law required Jews to participate in a series of feasts every year and why scriptural examples of godly hospitality commonly include large quantities of food (see, for example, Genesis 18:6-8; Judges 6:19; 2 Samuel 9:10-13; Luke 15:23).

Jesus Himself instituted the New Covenant at a feast, the Passover meal. And when God wanted to picture for the apostle John the joy that will occur in heaven at Christ’s second coming, He showed him a vision of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-10) – another meal. God not only cares about healthy eating, there’s also a place for feasting in His economy.

So what does all this mean for dieters? While the Bible doesn’t prescribe any specific diet plan, it does highlight the principle of balance – between healthy restraint and enjoyment of rich foods. In other words, make a habit of disciplined, healthy eating, but on occasion let yourself enjoy a feast of God’s good gifts. Looking forward to the feasts will help keep you going during the seasons of restraint. Interestingly, that distillation of the Bible’s wisdom on eating is the same conclusion that dieticians have reached after thousands of years of scientific research. In Scripture God truly does provide “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is a writer in Shelbyville, Ky. This article first appeared at Bible Mesh, an online discipleship resource to help people from all backgrounds grow in their knowledge of the Bible and how it applies to all of life.)
2/5/2013 12:58:38 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Why Rosa Parks (still) matters

February 5 2013 by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – As the nation marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rosa Parks, we should avoid the temptation to see her as merely a historical figure, a heroine of the past. It would be easy to do so. After all, no city in America segregates its public transportation system by skin color, not even Montgomery, the capital of the old Confederacy, where Mrs. Parks famously refused to give up her seat to accommodate Jim Crow. Even so, Rosa Parks’ example is about the future as much as the past.

First of all, the memory of Rosa Parks ought to remind us that she didn’t live in what we refer to as “the civil rights era,” as though racial justice was achieved and can now be ignored. True, the awful state oppression against African-Americans, both north and south, was knocked down with legislative triumphs in areas of public accommodations, employment non-discrimination, and voting rights. Thank God. But racial reconciliation is never a finished project, at least not between Eden and Armageddon.

Beyond that, Christians especially ought to reflect on what Rosa Parks’ civil disobedience reminds us about our life together in society.

When Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat, she was affirming an ancient truth of the reality of natural law.

The bus boycott, sparked by her, was a revolt against an unjust law. Mrs. Parks, and the activists she motivated, never argued the law wasn’t supported by the majority. They argued the law was wrong. As Martin Luther King Jr. also communicated in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” civil law rests on a broader foundation of a law that is written in the heart, a law that transcends human cultures and majoritarian whims.

That natural law, embedded in the conscience, is the reason the power of the state, any state, is limited. Herod had some legitimate authority as ruler, but it was, as John the Baptist pointed out, “not lawful” that he should have another man’s wife (Matthew 14:4). Caesar had the legitimate authority to wield the sword against evildoers, an authority the Scriptures affirmed (Romans 13:1-7), but he had no authority to dictate worship (Revelation 13:16-18). The temple leaders had a legitimate authority, an authority Jesus affirmed (Matthew 23:2-3), but they had no authority to forbid the preaching of the gospel (Acts 4:18-20).

The natural law stands above human law, and gives its legitimacy. The law maintains order precisely because it is not the arbitrary expression of a ruler or of a mob. The law must give an account to a more ultimate Lawgiver. That’s why Jesus, in His famous discourse on Caesar’s coin, distinguishes between duty that must be rendered to government and that which must be rendered to God.

Rosa Parks’ protest also affirms the persistence of natural rights.

When she refused to give up her seat, deprived to her on the basis of her skin color, Mrs. Parks defied a law that based human dignity on some devilish idea of white supremacy. This idolatry was encoded in law and embedded in culture. White children were taught not to give a lady like Rosa Parks the recognition of the title “Mrs.” or “Ma’am.” And the legal code designated what water fountains she could use and where she could sit.

Mrs. Parks, though, believed the old American creed that “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” That Jeffersonian principle is grounded in a concept of dignity older than the Enlightenment, the concept of a common human race made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). This is why God, the Bible says, “shows no partiality” (Deuteronomy 16:19; Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11).

All human beings reflect His image, and are worthy of respect. And no human being is a god, with the power to exercise dominion over human nature itself. Human dignity isn’t “purchased” by voting power, commercial wealth, sexual attractiveness, natural ability or anything else.

Finally, Rosa Parks pointed to the sacrifice of neighbor-love.

In refusing to give up her seat, Mrs. Parks wasn’t struggling for her own position. She did so on behalf of millions of others, many yet unborn. There’s a difference, in a truly Christian ethic, in fighting for our own prerogatives and in working for justice for others. Jesus calls us to give up the cloak, to walk the extra mile, to turn the cheek (Matthew 5:38-42). And yet, He also led the Apostle Paul to appeal to his rights as a Roman citizen not to be prosecuted for preaching the gospel (Acts 16:37-39). Why? It was because the issue wasn’t Paul’s personal comfort but the advance of the church as a whole.

Rosa Parks was a great heroine who deserves our honor. But let’s not consign her to the museum. Her heroism still speaks, and points to some old, old truths that are needed in a new century.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell D. Moore is dean of the school of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared www.russellmoore.com.)
2/5/2013 12:55:04 PM by Russell D. Moore, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Chick-fil-A’s president befriends a gay activist

February 4 2013 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. – Public and political discourse in the United States has become, at the very least, discourteous and, at the worst, rancorous. From debates on the floors of our legislatures to exchanges on Facebook and Twitter, people seem to be conducting themselves in a less than civil manner.

There is an answer to our current contentious discourse, and though simple it is in no way easy. “Do unto others,” Jesus taught, “as you would have them do unto you.” Known as the Golden Rule, the teaching encourages individuals to act toward others as they themselves would want to be treated.

At the most fundamental level, the Golden Rule should encourage us to treat people, even those who oppose our ideas, with dignity and respect. We should be able to disagree with ideas, philosophies and political positions without resorting to name-calling or disparaging remarks. That’s why the following story is so encouraging.

Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride and a nationally recognized leader in the homosexual rights movement, recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post titled “Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A.”

Windmeyer began: “I spent New Year’s Eve at the red-blooded, all-American epicenter of college football: at the Chick-fil-A Bowl, next to Dan Cathy, as his personal guest. It was among the most unexpected moments of my life.”

Windmeyer continued, “Yes, after months of personal phone calls, text messages and in-person meetings, I am coming out in a new way, as a friend of Chick-fil-A’s president and COO, Dan Cathy, and I am nervous about it. I have come to know him and Chick-fil-A in ways that I would not have thought possible when I first started hearing from LGBT students about their concerns over the chicken chain’s giving practices.”

Later in his column, Windmeyer wrote: “Like most LGBT people, I was provoked by Dan’s public opposition to marriage equality and his company’s problematic giving history. I had the background and history on him.... I knew this character. No way did he know me. That was my view. But it was flawed.”

In his column Windmeyer wrote about how Dan Cathy reached out to him, initially through a phone call, and showed sincere interest in him as a person. The president of Chick-fil-A treated him with dignity and respect. It led to much dialogue and finally an invitation to watch the Chick-fil-A Bowl from Cathy’s box.

At one point in his column Windmeyer wrote: In many ways, getting to know Dan better has reminded me of my relationship with my uncle, who is a pastor at a Pentecostal church. When I came out as openly gay in college, I was aware that his religious views were not supportive of homosexuality. But my personal relationship with my uncle reassured me of his love for me – and that love extends to my husband.”

Windmeyer continued, “My uncle would never want to see any harm come to me or Tommy. His beliefs prevented him from fully reconciling what he understood as the immorality of homosexuality with the morality of loving and supporting me and my life. It was, and remains, an unsolvable riddle for him, hating the sin and loving the sinner.”

While it might seem like a riddle to Windmeyer, it is actually the grace of the Lord impacting a person’s life and enabling him to live out the teaching of Jesus to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Several years ago I had an encounter with a homosexual activist that, while short-lived, was similar to Windmeyer’s encounter with Cathy. I was at an event and wearing a media badge that displayed my name. A woman approached me. “So you’re Kelly Boggs,” the woman said. “Yes,” I replied.

“You write that vitriolic, anti-homosexual garbage for Baptist Press,” she said in a rather caustic tone.

“Well, I suppose that’s one way to look at it,” I said while smiling.

For the next several minutes we talked. I listened carefully to her concerns. She believed herself to be a follower of Christ and talked about her “evolution” on the subject of homosexuality. She also expressed dismay at how someone like me could be, in her words, so unloving.

I asked her to share specific instances where I had been unloving in anything I had ever written. She said she couldn’t. I then explained to her that I had nothing personal against her or her homosexual friends, I just fundamentally and strongly disagreed with her ideas and arguments.

I also made it clear that I primarily took issue with activists who pushed for the normalization and celebration of homosexuality. I also said that my conviction on the matter was rooted not only in the Bible, but also my understanding of biology.

After we had talked for about 30 minutes the woman said to me, “You know, you are actually pretty nice.”

“You sound surprised,” I replied.

“Actually I am,” she said. “I am glad I had the opportunity to speak,” She added, “But I am still probably going to disagree with most of what you write.”

“That’s OK,” I said. “Just keep reading.”

There is no doubt that public and political discourse is way too uncivil these days. While I have no control of those with whom I disagree, I do have control over myself. It is my strong desire to follow the teachings of Christ and to treat others, in print and in person, the way I would like to be treated, and that is with dignity and respect.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
2/4/2013 1:42:53 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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