If the President could have been Trayvon…

On Friday afternoon President Obama appeared at the White House to give remarks regarding the Florida jury’s acquittal of George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin’s death. Official video and descriptions appeared on the White House blog page.

The President’s tone was even-handed, but the content of his remarks were decidedly deliberate.

The President did not encourage citizens to support  jury trials, the rule of law, or the American court system, nor did he demonstrate the unity of our citizenry despite — and in — our diversity. Instead, while offering half-hearted appeals for restraint and self-reflection, the President limited the counsel and wisdom of the world’s most powerful office to that of personal experience and emotionalism.

“Trayvon Martin could have been me, thirty-five years ago” is how the President drew the comparison. Some may recall that when the news first broke that a black teen in Florida had been killed by a Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer, the President lamented “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”

Entire ethnicities are excluded from identifying with the President’s remarks — and the goals he espouses — when their members are unable to say that their sons would look the same, or that a bit of time travel would put us, too, in Martin’s shoes. The justification for this emphasis on race-identification was a shared experience, but an experience that was only shared by certain citizens.

The President sympathized with those who, despite the advances of the Civil Rights accomplishments, still face race-based suspicion, hostility, and social separation. Race-based behavior is still a fact in this country, no one should have to endure it, and compassion and understanding for its victims are entirely appropriate. But the President appeared to justify race-based rejection of a State’s judicial process — and ostensibly the non-blacks who run it — when he explained that African-Americans view things like the Zimmerman verdict through the lens of racial discrimination. According to the President, one’s sense of injustice is understandable, and actionable, when it comes primarily as a result of one’s own experiences and the experiences of one’s own ethnicity.

The President has already drawn criticism for inserting White House opinion to situations involving local criminal matters, one of which required him to attempt spin control by hosting a “beer summit.” The merits of “beer summits” in general notwithstanding, Presidents should not as a matter of course express personal opinion in such matters.

Yet he did express himself, and what he expressed seemed to be that it is permissible for past experience — and the emotions they engender — to affect the assessment of present fact.

Without doubt, our experiences will affect how we view the world and events around us. The best result of this is that we are better able to question appearances. But this ability to question appearances should lead us closer to the facts, not farther away from them.

As a result, the President’s counsel was neither much wiser nor more fruitful than the facebook philosophy which demanded answers to such things as “What if Trayvon were white?” and “What if Trayvon were your son?” The assumption in the first is that if Trayvon Martin were white, it would mean that those who now think Zimmerman innocent would necessarily reverse positions. But those who ask the question don’t consider that it could just as easily be put to them to demonstrate that if Zimmerman could be found not guilty of murdering a white teenager, then he could also be found not guilty of murdering of black one.

The second assumes that those who aren’t emotionally connected to Trayvon Martin would change their tune if they were. This, too, is subject to turnabout, but one wonders why no one dares ask the question “What if George were your son?”

It is just this sort of dependence on personal experience and emotional interest that our Lord Jesus calls his followers to resist. For when he says “love your neighbor as yourself” he does not allow for qualifications based on just how closely that neighbor shares my experiences, or how closely his appearance matches mine. And when asked precisely who the “neighbor” is (Jesus’ contemporaries apparently had the same issues we do), Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. He did not allow that “neighbor” meant only those who look like me, think like me, and vote like me.

I should be able to lament the death of teenaged boys, and to identify with and be compassionate toward the parents who suffer his loss, regardless of his skin color or theirs. I should be able to identify with and be compassionate toward the one who has to deal with taking another man’s life, regardless of his accent or ethnic lineage.

Neither the President’s remarks nor facebook philosophy teach me that. Only the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ does.

© 2013 Rob Faircloth

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Which Economics Failed Detroit?

It is tragic that the city of Detroit is filing bankruptcy. What is interesting at this point is that a state court has ordered the governor to withdraw the bankruptcy petition on the grounds that it violates the rights of pension holders.

As I recall, when General Motors went bankrupt, the argument that the priority preference violated the rights of bondholders was dismissed out of hand. The rights of union bosses and employees was considered superior.

The similarity in the two is that the rights of those two have contributed money and retain investments in a company or, as the case may be, a city, are considered inferior to those who are drawing money from that business for city.

This is not the recipe for economic prosperity, but instead, is the sure path to economic ruin, as the sad case of the city of Detroit proves

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Martin, Zimmerman, Race & Faith

One must seriously weigh the decision to write about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.

Everyone wants to know whether you vote Guilty or Not Guilty, and someone is bound to be very disappointed with whatever answer is given, or the answer that is not given at all. And, with the nationalization of local crime, “someone” turns out to be quite large numbers of someones.

Yet if we are able to reasonably discuss those things that threaten to divide us, in which the stakes of further division are high, hearing more voices is generally better than hearing fewer.

Viewing the Martin-Zimmerman case from a distance, I naturally come to a conclusion about what the evidence shows, with one large caveat: I don’t know all the evidence. Nevertheless, I think that the evidence, as it has been reported, would support either the jury’s conclusion that Zimmerman committed a type of manslaughter (something less than premeditated murder) or its decision that Zimmerman acted in justified self-defense.

At this point, most readers will disagree with me, perhaps violently, and claim that there is only one possible outcome from the evidence, and depending on your perception of the case, some will say the jury reached that one possible outcome while others will say it did not. Herein, as they say, lies the problem and the potential for a tumultuous national future.

For if you believe that the only reason the jury reached a Not Guilty verdict is because Trayvon Martin is black and George Zimmerman is not-black, because it capitulated to the jurors’ own latent racist tendencies, because it is part of a long train of race-based abuses foisted on minorities by the majority government structure, then you will never be part of a solution to our nation’s real racial divide, but instead will exacerbate it.

Similarly, if you believe that the only verdict the jury could have reached is Not Guilty because Trayvon Martin is black and George Zimmerman is not-black, because young black boys in hoodies are always thugs looking for trouble, because black people in gated communities must be criminals, because you refuse to consider the possibility of sinister racial motivations, then you, too, will never be part of the solution to our nation’s real racial divide, but instead will exacerbate it.

Given how the conversation tends to go, one suspects, however, that a solution is not within human reach.

Thabiti Anyabwile, in his post about this, states well the frustration some of us feel regarding the race discussion. First, for those holding a biblical worldview, there should be no race, only ethnicity. Second, in many situations, the race card is inserted to a deck that did not already contain it; in others, the issue becomes either only about race or not enough about race.

Yet one thing that is always present in conflict between people, that never needs to be inserted, but that is almost always neglected, is not the race card, but the sin card.

It is not right that anyone needs a Neighborhood Watch. It is not right that humans should use weapons against one another. It is not right that residents view certain other-looking people with suspicion for only that reason. It is not right that teenaged boys should die, or that entire families should face violent retaliation, or that riots and inciting riots should be seen as acceptable standard public discourse. Yet these things are not right, not because we have different amounts of melanin in our skin, but because we have an abundance of sin infecting our hearts.

Right now, we engage in acts motivated by sin. Our assessment of those acts is distorted by filters tainted with sin. And our discussions with one another about those acts is also contaminated with sin.

The trump to the sin card, however, is not hate or revenge or riots or government. The trump to the sin card is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel that frees us from the penalty, power, and presence of sin when we admit our inability, repent, and trust the reconciliation to God that is found only in Jesus Christ.

This gospel of reconciliation to God makes us ambassadors of reconciliation, and empowers us to live together, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to do to others what we would have them to do us. It enables us to live in meekness toward one another: not demanding of each other our rights, respect and reward, and to live hungering righteousness and justice for one another, not looking only to our own self-interest.

Whatever the opinion of Christ-followers to the death of Trayvon Martin, and whatever our opinion about the acquittal of George Zimmerman, we should not allow this gospel to be eclipsed.

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facebook demonstrates the need for church discipline

The power of the social media phenomena is amply manifested by the fact that what once were merely proper names are now used as verbs, replacing such old-school phrases as “call me” with “facebook me,” although there is no small bit of confusion over whether the proper term for the 140-character version is “tweet me,” or “twit me,” or “Twitter me”, and, depending on the audience, any such variation carries the risk of earning a raised eyebrow or at the possibility of what has just been requested.

Social Media Outposts

Social Media Outposts (Photo credit: the tartanpodcast)

Similarly, should I decide to send you a text over the phone (even the “dumb” ones can do this), you would likely know immediately what I meant if I included abbreviations like “bff” or “idk” or “lol” or “jk”.

There is much to commend about social media, particularly the powerful manner in which information can be disseminated quickly to vast audiences. Try that with carrier pigeons or smoke signals…

There are, equally, dangers of being “social” via the Internet, among them the very real peculiarity of a human being maintaining hundreds of “friends” without ever emerging from his home and seeing any of them face to face, or, for that matter, wearing any garment but his pajamas.

Those benefits and costs have been explored elsewhere, as have questions related to how social media affects the church and individual followers of Christ. This is not, however, a screed about how believers should unplug from facebook because reacquainting with high school sweethearts leads to the destruction of marriages (though it might).

Instead, social media might pose a less direct threat to the holiness of individual Christians for another reason.

Facebook, in particular, appeals to our emotive side by offering the ability to instantly express our feelings about a friend’s particular post or photo by simply clicking the “Like” button. Given the watching eyes of hundreds of our closest “friends,” there is no small pressure to join the chorus of “Likes” and go even further by typing a few words — almost certainly words of approval — in the comment lines.

What, you ask, could be wrong here? Imagine the following, unfortunately familiar scenarios:

Scenario 1:  A married couple in the church presents the picture of spiritual health and vitality, between the two of them teaching and leading men and women in various ministries. Behind the scenes, their marriage fails, but they keep it to themselves and maintain the facade. Yet appearances cannot be maintained, and the truth comes out and the husband moves out, leaving the wife and children, who had depended on the husband’s provision, in hard conditions. It becomes apparent that the husband had no biblical grounds to divorce, and eventually re-marries shortly after the couple’s divorce is finalized.

You might astutely recognize that social media did not have a role in the couple’s marital problems. The difficulty arises when the husband posts photos of his second wedding ceremony on social media, which is seen by all the mutual friends he and the former wife had accumulated, many of which remained members of the church with the former wife. Those mutual friends post congratulatory comments, including such things as “You look so happy now!”

Church discipline, as well as the integrity of the church’s witness as God’s holy people, is undermined in such an event. Regardless whether he ended up re-marrying, the husband’s first order of business is being reconciled to the wife he abandoned and the church he betrayed. Repentance, contrition and forgiveness should characterize the aftermath of the separation and divorce, and where the husband does not initiate reconciliation, his church should take appropriate disciplinary action (Matthew 18).

Where there is no such reconciliation initiated by the offending husband, or discipline initiated by the church, social media provides too easy a forum for church members to affirm sinful behavior. In doing so, they neglect the image this presents to the wife and children remaining in fellowship, and leave the world to assume that they believe both the husband and wife are equally at fault, or that neither of them is at fault.

Scenario 2:  A female young adult posts photos of her and her fiance online that can leave viewers with no other reasonable conclusion but that the two of them are living together and occupying the same bed prior to marriage. Both of them profess to be Christian, as do the parents of the fiance. Comments posted under the photos are all fawning, including those of the fiance’s Christ-professing parents.

The lack of consistent church discipline, both in the church at large and in individual church, leaves believers with no guidance regarding how to identify immoral behavior and what to do when they see it. In Scenario 2, the professing believers who approve of the female’s photos are giving to the entire social media audience implicit approval of fornication.

Church discipline does not merely aim to reform a believer’s behavior and effect reconciliation with his church home, though it does that. It also seeks to preserve the witness of the church and protect it from legitimate accusations of “hypocrisy” which frequently come from the watching world.

How, for instance, can a local congregation express its devotion to biblical standards of marriage as between one man and one woman — over against the culture’s vigorous war against that standard — when its members simultaneously approve sinful divorce and pre-marriage fornication?

If you profess the name Jesus, believer, take care that you do not approve sin (Romans 1:32) in social media.

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Why 5-4 Court Decisions are un-Patriotic

American citizens and those interested in the operation of good government should take advantage of the fact that the Supreme Court times the release of its spring opinions in June, just before the country celebrates its independence from the tyrannical rule of men.

English: West face of the United States Suprem...

English: West face of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. Español: Edificio de la Corte Suprema de Estados Unidos en Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you happen to be one of those patriots who reads — aloud, when appropriate — the U.S. Constitution and George Washington’s inaugural address to celebrate Independence Day this July 4, then the advantage to you doubles. But, even if you are not of so virulent a strain of patriotism as that, it is to your advantage to recall the reasons that Washington and his compatriots risked life, liberty and property in order secure liberty for their posterity, and to notice the stark contrast of that civic service with what the U.S. Supreme Court is currently doing.Last week the Court issued opinions on significant matters involving national oversight of state voting practices left over from the 1960s as well as the definition of marriage via the decade-old Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Washington’s (D.C.) supervision of state voting practices extended so far into the nitty-gritty that supposedly the decision to relocate a polling place from the Baptist church to the Methodist one across the street required the approval of some faceless bureaucrat (or a whole agency full of them), so one can see the wisdom of the Court’s decision to end much of this practice.

However, not all citizens were pleased, and the greatest indicator of the level of opprobrium with which one viewed the voting decision is political affiliation. Those from the left, the progressives, the liberals, the Democrats took issue with the narrow majority the “conservative” justices cobbled together in order to reach the decision.

Only a few days later, however, the tables were turned when the “liberal” end of the Supreme Court bench declared key portions of DOMA to be unconstitutional.

Increasingly, the entire population of the United States is being governed by the vote of one Supreme Court Justice, in 5 to 4 decisions that have dramatic impact on a populace galvanized in its support or opposition of that vote. This is not as it should be.

There will certainly be some ideological loyalty reflected in the majorities the Justices form and in the opinions that they write. When each President has the ability to appoint Justices, this is to be expected. But the Court fails us when it so apparently divides along political lines, appearing in many cases to be a smaller, more closely divided version of the Senate or House of Representatives.

When the Congress had recently voted to extend (again) the Voting Rights Act for twenty-five years, what good is a 5-4 decision that runs counter to that legislative act? And when overwhelming majorities of both houses of Congress passed DOMA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, what good is a 5-4 decision that voids such an act?

I agree with the Court’s voting decision, but would have preferred that the Justices agree 9-0, basing their decision on the law rather than on political affiliation. Conversely, I disagree with the DOMA decision, but again, would prefer that the Court be unanimous on such monumental issues.

Citizens will be dissatisfied with the Court’s recent close calls, for different reasons related to the outcomes of them. But we should all be dissatisfied with the politicization of Court, and should demand more from the President who appoints Justices, and from the Congress that approves them.

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Education & the Christian Parent

How believers are to go about educating their children has been a matter of debate for many years, especially since the advent of options such as government schools, private schools, and all the other variations (“home schooling” was all there was, originally). Every parent should take the issue seriously, and thoughtfully consider all the biblical evidence that sheds light on how parents are to submit to God and make wise decisions in these areas.

Apple for the Teacher

Apple for the Teacher (Photo credit: George C Slade)

One viewpoint is that Christian parents should not use public, government schools at all (other options will be presented below). Douglas Wilson, author of Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing (Canon Press: Moscow ID, 1977) argues that “Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of government schools.” While I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusion, we should see in Wilson’s reasons the important issues that parents cannot neglect:

  1. [The] Scriptures expressly require a non-agnostic form of education.  Wilson bases this reason on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which is the foundational biblical text for parents regarding teaching their children. Education is inherently spiritual in nature, and government schools increasingly claim that they are unable to address legitimate spirituality in their education.
  2. [The] requirements involved in keeping the greatest commandment. Jesus requires His people to love the Lord their God with all their minds (Matthew 22:37). Similar to the first, this reason would prompt Christian parents to ask about their children’s public, government school (or other school, for that matter) whether it facilitates loving God with all their mind, or impedes it.
  3. God expects parents to provide for and protect their children…sending children into a intellectual, ethical, and religious war zone without adequate training and preparation is a violation of charity. Parents should recognize that public, government education is not neutral with regard to thought, ethics, values, moral and even spiritual instruction, and likely contradicts the biblical worldview in those areas.
  4. [The] declared intellectual goal assigned to the Church in Scripture (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). Believers are to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” The point of education is to glorify God, exercise dominion over the earth, and engage in spiritual battle in the realm of thoughts and beliefs. The goals of public/government education are quite different.
  5. [The] continued presence of Christians subsidizes a lie [that government is independent of God in all things, teaching without submission to God and his word]. Wilson’s argument here is that by continuing to utilize government education, Christians implicitly agree with the government’s idea that education is God-free.

Whether or not you, as parent, agree with Wilson that government schools should be avoided, you should seriously consider whether these principles about education are what the Bible teaches, and, if so, how you will follow God in them while participating in government schools. This applies equally to private and/or Christian schools: the crucial criteria for any non-home school is whether the Christian parent can abide by God’s teaching on education while sending his children there.

Many Christians teach in government and other non-home schools. It may be appropriate to remain there, but Christian public educators, too, should be deliberate and intentional about how they will honor biblical teaching regarding education while working in a system that, by definition, will not honor that biblical teaching.

There are, obviously, viewpoints other than Wilson’s regarding Christian education.  The Gospel Coalition (www.thegospelcoalition.org) has a series of articles written from the various perspectives: Favoring Home School; Favoring Public School; and Favoring Private School.

The Christian parent has significant responsibilities regarding his children’s education. The primary duty is to examine the Scriptures diligently regarding education, and submit to the Lord in what you find, regardless of how it changes your thinking or how it differs from the world or how it might change your life.

If the Christian parent concludes, after faithful examination of the Scriptures and diligent prayer over the matter, that public/government or private school is the way to go, he must recognize that God does not shift the primary responsibility of education to that public, government school, or even to that private, Christian school: the parent remains responsible to God to teach his children. The decision to send children away from home for schooling does not end the parent’s obligation to teach, or permit the parent to put the child’s instruction out of his mind; in fact, the parent may need to do more to ensure that such education is proceeding in a way that honors God.

The point is that God will hold parents accountable for how they instruct their children. If you are a Christian parent, examine the Scriptures for what God says on the subject. Humbly submit to that teaching, and pray for wisdom to apply biblical truth to your life. Once you make a decision, regularly review whether your choice remains the wisest and most faithful.

Copyright 2013 Rob Faircloth

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What it means to “step out on faith”

One common area of concern for believers is finding the “will of God.” Usually, this means that we don’t know exactly which course to take or which decision to make, and would like God to tell us clearly which is the “right one” in order for us to avoid as much discomfort as possible. Some decisions are clear, and don’t require such searching for God’s will: a career in prostitution, for example, is not an option for a believer, nor is life as a master thief. We don’t need to “find God’s will” when faced with such options.

When faced with decisions for which the Bible doesn’t clearly provide answers, however, we sometimes speak of “stepping out on faith” that the course we take or decision we make is the “right one” that God will bless for us. The Bible certainly seems to use such language: we “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7); “the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20). Additionally, in the “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews 11, we are told that several of the faith heroes “stepped out in faith,” as it were, such as Abraham when he left Ur at God’s command and later offered Isaac as a sacrifice, and Noah when he built an ark for an ocean that did not yet exist.

Yet we should take care when we characterize certain of life’s decisions or options as the same sort of walking by faith that Abraham and Noah did, especially when there is, in fact, a different  way in which we actually do step out in faith in like fashion. Let me explain.

When we talk about “stepping out on faith,” it is usually in a situation such as beginning a new career, starting a new business, or even proposing marriage (or accepting a proposal). The one who has lost his job of many years and is faced with selecting a new and different income opportunity is said to “step out on faith” that God will bless his choice. The one who has decided to go into business for himself is said to “step out on faith” that God will make this new business fruitful for supporting his family. The one who buys the ring and pops the question is said to “step out on faith” that she is “the one” that God has for him.

The difficulty is that these situations – as significant and potentially life-altering as they are for us – are nothing like what the Bible describes as walking by faith.

Abraham, for instance, was given a specific command by God to leave Ur. He “stepped out in faith” that God knew the destination, even though Abraham didn’t, and that God could fulfill his promise that Abraham would be the father of many nations, though the circumstances didn’t look that way at all. And Abraham was given a specific command by God to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham “stepped out in faith” that God could, potentially, raise Isaac from the dead, and that even if he did not, God could somehow, someway, nevertheless do what he had promised to do, even though Abraham could not see the solution himself.

Noah was given a specific command by God to build an ark. He “stepped out in faith” that God could forecast the weather even though there had never been the sort of water on earth that would require a boat.

Both men were prepared to face the consequences of obedience to God’s explicit command, even though they could not anticipate what those consequences would be, and whether or not those consequences would be pleasant or miserable for them. For us, the equivalent would be if God tells someone in as clear and as simple terms that he is to quit his job and move to Africa. In that situation, he would be “stepping out on faith” to turn in his resignation, sell his house, and purchase passage across the ocean without knowing what his task would be, where he would live, and how he would support himself.

This sounds romantic and all very “spiritual.” The problem is that we can’t count on God talking to men this way any longer. We believe that God has revealed himself and his will for man in the Scriptures, the Bible. Of course, the Bible does not contain specific answers for every decision we face, though in it God reveals a few specific aspects of his will for us that shape and guide how we live our live on a day-to-day basis. For instance, God wills that men be saved (2 Peter 3:9); that his people be wise (Ephesians 5:17-18); that believers be sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4); that Christians be submitting  (1 Peter 2:13-15); and that we be rejoicing/suffering (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Does God want you to start a business? If it doesn’t violate salvation, wisdom, sanctification, submission or suffering, go for it!

Outside specific commands that we not sin, and outside these general expressions of God’s will for us, we are to choose among the many options that face us daily according to wisdom granted to us through the study of his Word and the operation of the Holy Spirit, and obey where there are explicit commands. Therefore, undertaking a new career path is not so much “stepping out on faith” as it is attempting to “walk in wisdom” in an area that God has given us a range of viable options.

Is there any sense, then, in which modern-day believers “step out on faith”? Absolutely.

The businessman who is asked to cook the company’s books must honor the biblical admonitions against theft and false witness. He “steps out on faith” that obeying God is in his best interest, despite the potential of losing his job and standard of living.

The parents who are tempted to give in to “the terrible two’s” (or “they’re just boys,” or the pre-teen syndrome, or the teen years) must consider God’s command for them to “bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.” They “step out on faith” that the long hours, hard work, and sacrifice (yes, parents…sacrifice!) is God’s best and in their children’s best interest.

The believer who is introverted, shy and has trouble speaking in public must nevertheless obey Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations” through personal evangelism and witnessing. He “steps out on faith” that any persecution he receives, or discomfort he experiences is worth being faithful to his Lord and participating in God’s call of his people for salvation.

Obeying the commands of Jesus Christ, therefore, require us to “step out on faith.” Let’s exercise faith in that respect before we speak of “stepping out” in what amount to matters of wisdom.

Copyright 2013 Rob Faircloth

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