Ray Rice, Hypocritical Outrage, and Objectifying Victims

Ray and Janay with their daughterThe whole Ray Rice saga has prompted me out of my blogging apathy.  I suppose the story just crosses into too many domains that I care about.  I’m a Christian, first of all, and I care about the effects of sin in all of our relationships.  I’m a family man, and I hate the destruction of domestic violence in both the victim and perpetrator.  I’m a football fan. This pales in comparison to the other two, but that fact brings me closer to the story.

In fact, it is only because of Ray Rice’s celebrity that we know about the story at all.  How many other men have abused their female partners since Ray Rice coldcocked his fiancee in February?  How many have done worse?  How many fathers and mothers have abused their children with their hands, their words, their drugs, and their neglect?  We zero in on Ray Rice, because we know him, or we pretend we do.  We use him to focus our moral outrage, because we believe he’s the proof that we are better than that, better than him.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  Domestic violence–doesn’t that term sound like an oxymoron, kind of like “civil” war?–is inexcusable in all of its forms.  In fact, had the NFL and the Ravens acted courageously early on by taking the measures they took only after a certain video become public, it would have been the correct action.  It would have been best for everyone including Ray Rice and his victim, Janay Palmer.  Instead the NFL slapped Rice on the wrist with a two game suspension and the Ravens defended him!

Instead by coddling Rice, the NFL and the Ravens sent a message that undermined the seriousness of the offense and actually allowed Janay to apologize in a press conference for “the role I played in the incident that night.”  I actually want to support Janay’s right to speak out (more about that in a moment), but a press conference hosted by the Ravens in which two people are apologizing, as if this was a mutual misunderstanding, sends the message that victims of domestic violence are in some way responsible for their abuse. This is a message that will do great harm and fails to hold the attacker as fully responsible for his or her actions.  Ray and Janay press

And yet the NFL and the Ravens could not be driven to do the right thing until TMZ released the video they both claimed to have not seen prior.  TMZ itself claims that the NFL purposely did not seek out the video from the Atlantic City casino.  That’s hard to prove, but we don’t need to in order to establish that the NFL and Ravens only took serious action when their hands were forced by public outrage.

Now to that public outrage…I suppose it is warranted, but that outrage is also prompted by video footage while the rest of the time the public generally turns a blind eye to domestic abuse.  Domestic violence is shockingly pervasive, but we demonize Ray Rice so that he gets to be the scapegoat.  He must now stand as the symbol of all the domestic violence in our country.  We heap the sins of all abuse upon him.  Have even we Christians forgotten that another man already absorbed the sins of us all, including Ray Rice’s sins?  Jesus willingly embraced the worst abuse mankind had to offer.  He became the victim that he might become the victor.

This brings me back to Janay.  She spoke out this morning through her Instagram account. I’ll link it instead of quote it.  Janay has chosen to be reconciled to Ray (they are now married) and are raising a child together.  Yet, people were upset at her, because she would not continue to play the victim they need to justify their moral outrage!  It is amazing how quickly the outrage will turn toward the victim, if he/she does not dance to the song we play!  No one should continue to stay in a dangerous situation, but that does not mean that reconciliation is impossible in situations where there has been violent behavior.

One person tweeted that he wishes they would divorce and Ray Rice have to live in a foreign country.  Christians, what should we hope for in this matter?  Should we not hope that this entire sordid affair is turned into a manifestation of the gospel and its power to reconcile even perpetrator and victim?  Should we not hope that not only will they stay married, but that they would prosper and ultimately raise godly children?  Could Ray Rice himself become a powerful witness against the destruction of domestic abuse?

I do not care if Ray Rice ever plays football again, but I do hope for their marriage and their children.  I do hope for the proclamation of the gospel into their lives.  I do hope for a gospel powerful enough to reconcile perpetrators and their victims, so that both receive a new identity in Christ.  And I do hope the gospel of the one who said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” is real and alive in the midst of God’s people today.

Posted in Culture and Violence, Gospel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Joy, Happiness and The Christian–Joy Factor #1

I wonder how many Christians feel that their level of joy/happiness does not match the faith they profess.  I was most definitely in that category, though I’ve improved significantly.  I thought I would share my journey in this regard and maybe it will help others as well.

Paul repeats the exhortation to “rejoice in the Lord always” multiple times in Philippians.

Something happens between our VBS days and becoming an adult...just ask the cat below!

Something happens between our VBS days and becoming an adult…just ask the cat below!

Joy is mentioned 68 times in the New Testament (NIV), and is connected especially to the announcement of the coming of Jesus, and is specifically mentioned as part of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22).  “Rejoice” is said another 31 times and “happiness” and “happy” another six.  The connection between the good news and joy is inseparable.

I don’t have the time or motivation right now to go through the New Testament and note each use of the Greek word chara and see how it is translated in each instance.  I do know that the distinction between joy and happiness we often force is just that…forced.  Makarios is sometimes translated happiness, but I think the word “blessed” (cf. the Beatitudes) helps makes the distinction from chara.  In any case, I don’t think linguistically there is much support for the difference between joy and happiness.  grumpy-cats-if-youre-happy-and-you-know-it_o_1057554

So, are Christians commanded to be happy?  Could such even be commanded?  Though I don’t think there is a distinction in the Greek between the words, I understand the reason we point to joy as something deeper and more abiding than happiness.  Happiness is lost in a moment or season of bad news and grieving.  Joy not only survives such seasons, but guides us through them.  

That being said, even in the normal seasons of life I’ve been prayerfully convicted that there was something lacking in my experience of Christian joy and I do believe there should be a manifestation of that joy that an observer might describe as happiness.  I’m not calling for us to ignore seasons of grief and neglect participation in the ancient practice of lament, but I am asking if our level of Christian joy matches our belief in the glorious good news!  Or are we just as sad, grumpy, and cynical as everyone else?

This conviction started a season of focused prayer in search of what factors might be contributing to the compromise of Christian joy in my life.  These are not absolute answers, but rather personal discoveries through prayer and timely messengers God has placed in my life.  Due to length, I’ve decided to dedicate a post to each “joy factor.”  Here’s the first one:

Joy Factor #1:  Grace Based vs. Performance (Law) Based Relationship with God

Becoming aware of this dynamic has been the most significant factor in recapturing Christian joy for me.  I bet I’m not alone.  In my late teens and early twenties, I had a paradigm shift from a pure legal way of relating to God to a grace based relationship with him.  Looking back, these were some of my most joyous days.  Somehow I had subtly fallen back into a legal/performance based way of relating to God.

How grace and law relate to one another is a bigger issue than this post can address, but the primary way a Christian relates to God is through grace (cf. Rom. 615)

How grace and law relate to one another is a bigger issue than this post can address, but the primary way a Christian relates to God is through grace (cf. Rom. 615)

It wasn’t back to my old legalism, but it was a more subtle, harder-to-detect legalism.  It was a legalism that masqueraded as grace.  As I became even more aware of God’s standards for my life, the corollary was becoming more aware of my shortcomings.  And the result was feeling God’s continuing disappointment in me.  Any spiritual “successes” were short lived and extinguished by the next failure.  How can any joy thrive in such a cycle?

God’s law is necessary to helping us understand God’s standards, but it is a poor tool for assessing our relationship with God or his feelings for us.  We have all been found lacking in keeping God’s law.  God would have been justified in judging us for our failures, but instead he took compassion on us and sent his Son to do what we could not (cf. Rom. 8:1-4).

We are not made right with God through our works, but through faith in the righteousness of Christ.  If we are in Christ, then God does not evaluate us by our performance, but through Christ’s performance (righteousness).  “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  

Christian, do you understand that God does not condemn you?  Why then do we often live as if he does?  You may protest that such an approach does not take sin seriously, but I would counter that the legal approach never solves the problem of sin.  Being overwhelmed by the grace of our merciful God, who chooses to view us through the righteousness of Christ instead of our own, is a great blow to the power of sin (as the rest of Romans 8 goes on to demonstrate).

The power of sin is closely linked to the power of guilt.  If guilt meets its demise at the throne of God, then sin looses its potency in the life of the Christian.  No Christian lives sinless, but the more you embrace God’s grace, the more you will find sin losing its appeal. Joy is restored when we understand God loves us and he has completely forgiven us of our sins.  Even more, God is completely engaged in your sanctification through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, God is “all in” when it comes to you!

The Holy Spirit does convict of us sin and we need to repent of sin in our lives, but the voice of condemnation and rejection is not from God.  Satan wants you to doubt your status as a child of God and at the very least weaken you with the chains of guilt.  He will make it so that no one would confuse your life with good news.

We cannot let this happen.  The good news says the prisoner has been set free. “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36).

More to come…


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America’s Growing Love of Soccer Is Good Not Bad

I love sports.  I rarely write about them here, but I once tried to maintain a sport’s blog. I can barely maintain this one.  There are so many stories told between the lines of whatever field you are talking about: stories about overcoming, teamwork, adversity, dealing with defeat, winning with humility…or not, sportsmanship, etc.  Sports provides ready made ammunition for sermon illustrations, both good and bad, for preachers like myself.

I am a football (American) fan at heart, though I have a healthy enough love for baseball and basketball as well.  I usually pay attention to golf only during the Majors.  The only sport I completely ignore is auto racing (okay, maybe bowling, rugby, and cricket too!).  During the Olympics, I will pretty much watch anything, and yes, during the World Cup, I jump on the USA bandwagon.  US_Soccer_Logo

I was incredulous today when I read Ann Coulter’s column villainizing the increased interest in soccer as a sign of American moral decay.  It might have been one of the most ignorant columns I’ve ever read.  You can read it here.  Maybe she meant some of it tongue-in-cheek, but it was offensive nonetheless.

Rather than breakdown all the ridiculous logic and bias reflected in her column, I thought I would write a few words about why I think America’s increased interest in soccer is a good thing.

I better had start with revealing my own bias:  I detest American exclusivity–the attitude that partaking, in any way, of the global stage is necessarily anti-American.  Coulter’s column suggested that soccer is anti-American because it is “foreign.”  Who cares?  So is a lot of great food I enjoy too!  The idea that to be a good American you only get to do distinctively American things would actually ruin America.  One of the great things about America is that it represents such a wide spectrum of all the cultures of the world, while maintaining freedom for all.

This is a Christian theology blog, and if you search my archives, you will find that I’m deeply suspicious of  mixing faith and patriotism, but I do love my country.  I love my country for many of the very things that Coulter labels as anti-American.  

Soccer is the world sport, whether American football fans like myself want to admit it or not!  Now I can make a very detailed case why our football is better than the world’s football, but that would defeat my purpose in this post and spoil the World Cup fervor (thanks Ann Coulter for trying to do just that)!  It is good for our citizens to witness and to be emotionally invested into this global passion.  We are first fellow human beings and citizens of this planet BEFORE being Americans.

Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter

You don’t have to be a Christian to agree with anything I said above, but I want to address Christian Americans directly here.  Our first citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).  We first belong to a kingdom of all nations (Rev. 5:9).  Our call is to be an advocate for all nations under God not just “one nation under God.”  If our patriotism causes us to fail to cherish people of all nations, then we are missing this calling from God.

No, you don’t have to love soccer in general or the World Cup in particular to be a good Christian.  You don’t have to acknowledge the existence of sports at all for that matter.

Not everyone finds their inspiration in people chasing balls and colliding on fields and courts or rings or whatever.  And no the World Cup is not the Kingdom of God, but I do believe when you see people of all ethncities, languages, and flags jumping around and celebrating together that we might, at least, be reminded of what the Kingdom is all about. And there’s nothing anti-American about it and certainly nothing anti-Christian either.

Posted in Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are We Building Faith In The Bible INSTEAD of Jesus?

Recently a friend posted a link to this article  (WARNING: Some explicit language) about yet another young believer abandoning their Christian faith for her own particular reasons.  In this case, the author was a young and energetic evangelical, who lost her faith after studying the Bible academically at Yale.

I didn’t think her reasons for leaving her faith were novel are even particularly compelling, though obviously they were legit enough for her.  She was told the Bible was perfect–she uses the word infallible–and when she subjected the Bible to academic rigor, she found it flawed.  Her faith went down like a house of cards, because it had been based all along on incontrovertible perfection of the Bible.

Are you setting your faith up like this?

Are you setting your faith up like this?

What concerns me about her story is that if we are raising our young people to base their faith on a particular view of the Bible, then this young woman’s story is not going to be the exception to the rule.  It is possible that we are raising people to believe in the Bible and then Jesus instead of the other way around and the results could be disastrous.

Looking back, I know my upbringing encouraged unquestioned trust of the Bible.  We believed in Jesus, because the Bible was unassailable, and so what it said about Jesus must be true.  But what happens when that particular view of the Bible comes under question? What if someone stumbles across a discrepancy in Scripture that they cannot intellectually explain away?    Will it make their belief in Jesus as vulnerable as their now shaky view of the Bible?

I think we often get it backwards and to the great detriment of the young woman in the post referenced above.  Scripture is not its own witness.  It does not testify unto itself, but unto Jesus.  Jesus himself explained, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.  These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (Jn. 5:39-40).  

Obviously, I’m in danger of arguing in a circle here, as it is the Scripture that testifies to Jesus.  So, how can I say that we believe in Jesus first and then the Bible?  But I’m not saying that Scripture’s reliability doesn’t matter.  If it were full of historical gaffes, outrageous contradictions, and complete disharmony, then we would be foolish to trust it as a witness to Jesus.  Yet, that is very different than saying Scripture must prove itself to be uniquely without a single issue or even possible contradiction for me to believe what it says about Jesus.

I believe the Bible is a reliable witness to God’s intervention into history, particularly with the people of Israel, and by extension a faithful witness to the Messiah from Israel, Jesus Christ.  The uniqueness of the teaching, healing, death, and resurrection of Jesus defies skeptical explanations and begs for supernatural ones.  The blood of his closest followers seals their own testimony that this remarkable Jesus lived again after he died by Roman crucifixion.  The explosion of Christianity across Gentile lines throughout the Roman Empire makes no sense apart from empowerment of the Holy Spirit, as we read about in the book of Acts.  From this starting point, I can then embrace Jesus’ view of Scripture, which was to accept it as the very words of God (cf. Matt. 4:4).

What I’m saying is that we should have the highest view of the Bible as possible, but the Bible is not for creating faith in the Bible, but in Jesus Christ.  My particular view of the Bible and inspiration, (inerrant, infallible, etc.) might get shaken up every now and then with a challenging problem that can’t always be easily solved, but my view of Jesus, to whom the Bible testifies, is the foundation of my faith.  And unless someone can produce Jesus’ dead body, that foundation isn’t going anywhere.

Are we teaching our youth and all age groups, for that matter, how to build their faith on the written word or the Living Word?  That difference may be subtle to you, but I contend it is essential.  If we get that straightened out, then there should be a lot fewer stories like this young woman’s, who admittedly now has a “tiny crack in her soul.”

Note:  I asked a survey question some time ago about our particular view of Scripture. You can take the survey here.  

Posted in Bible, Faith | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

WWJD? Turn over tables? Really? | Coffee

WWJD? Turn over tables? Really? | Coffee Cup Theology http://ow.ly/x6tGG I thought this was good/thought-provoking and challenging.

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Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, and the End of Time

A little over a year ago, I attended a lecture by Jeff Childers regarding the gospel embedded in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) epic novel.  I don’t know if I quite reach the level of a LOTR nerd, but I’m pretty close.  I’ve read through all of the Middle Earth works twice (including Silmarillion).  That may not seem like a lot, but I didn’t discover LOTR until the 2000’s and I have a lot of things I like to read, so I intentionally space my journeys through Middle Earth at about ten year intervals.

In the meantime, I also enjoy watching the movies, at least once a year, though I’m not as big of a fan of the recent Hobbit movies.  I’ve also read a book on Tolkien called Gospel According To Tolkien by Ralph C. Wood.  So, while I’m not the most die-hard Tolkien nerd you will find, I would like to believe I can hold my own in a conversation.  Gospel According To Tolkien

So, I was very thrilled to attend this two-session lecture series by Childers and one of the quotes he shared from Tolkien that really stuck with me was this:  “[As a] Christian I do not expect history to be anything but a long defeat–though it contains some samples of final victory.”

Wow!  When you think about it, that’s pretty bleak.  And when you think about his Middle Earth saga, that’s exactly the story it reflects.  If you only read LOTR, you would not see this as clearly.  LOTR is only the final story of the third age, culminating in an ultimate victory.  But  The Silmarillion is mostly a long tale of flawed heroes and demoralizing defeats at the hands of evil.  There were certainly those “samples of final victory” included and Sauron is temporarily hamstrung, but the damage done leaves behind a world full of greed and mistrust, not at all unlike our own.

I come from a faith tradition where some of my ancestors of the faith were postmillennialists.  They believed that through the influence of the gospel the world would eventually enter a golden age of a thousand years before the return of Christ.  They saw the world completely opposite of Tolkien, but Tolkien had the benefit of a post-World War perspective.

If Tolkien is right, then believers can expect worsening moral conditions in this world and perhaps even worsening natural conditions right up until the time of Christ.  This view has some biblical support.

Though Jesus is likely referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, by extension we might find this relevant:  You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matt. 24:6-8).  

In another place, Jesus seemed to wonder out loud whether or not he would find faith on earth when he returned (Lk. 18:8).  Other places in the New Testament describe growing heresy, the man of lawlessness (whatever that means!), and in Revelation we find a cycle of destructive behaviors by God’s enemies and even more destructive judgments by God before the end.

I know of no passage that teaches us to expect that the world will be a better place before the return of Jesus.  I know taking this view makes some concerned that Christians will not try to improve the world, if they believe it is ultimately futile.  Yet, I would counter that every Christian who acts for the good in the name of Jesus brings the Kingdom into this world in such a way that it will prevail into eternity.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam? Sam: That there's some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

This is the beauty of Tolkien’s story.  Against all hope, his heroes continually behave sacrificially, and with great courage act as if there is good worth preserving for the future.

There is danger in only seeing God in the good things of the world.  What of your faith when the good seems to become the exception to the rule?  Can you see God at work when history seems to be nothing but a “long defeat”?  Will the “samples of victory” be enough to sustain your faith as the shadow–to use Tolkien’s word–holds greater sway over this world?  How we answer those questions, will go a long ways toward answering Jesus’ own, “When [I] come, will [I] find faith on earth?”

Posted in Eschatology, Faith | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why I Didn’t Give Phil Robertson A Standing Ovation

The Duck Commander (Photo Credit:  HuffingtonPost.com)

The Duck Commander (Photo Credit: HuffingtonPost.com)

I was quoted in this article from the Christian Chronicle.  The quote is correct, though, of course, it was only a small sample of what I said.  I think the Christian Chronicle and Bobby Ross do a great job and I don’t want this to sound like a criticism of either.  However, when I gave my comments via e-mail, I assumed they were part of a larger dialogue with various people giving their perspective on the story of America as a Christian nation and the role of politics in achieving kingdom ends.  As it is, the quote left me on an island against Phil Robertson, and we all know that isn’t going to end well for me! I don’t want to be overly defensive.  I stand behind what I said, but I thought I would use this forum to share the full content of my replies to Bobby Ross and explain my position a little better.  Also, relevant to my position on these issues was my very first post on this blog.   Let me share my answers first to the questions I was asked and then I will wrap up with a few follow-up comments.

  1. Are you a Phil Robertson / “Duck Dynasty” fan? Feel free to elaborate.

I would estimate I have seen around 10 episodes total.  I’m not really a fan per se, but I found the show mildly amusing.  Duck Dynasty was our VBS theme last year, so I tried to “educate” myself about the show.

2.  Did you go into Friday night’s event with any preconceived notion or idea of what Phil might say?

Not really.  I had read some things about his interview with GQ, including the article in the Christian Chronicle leading up to the event.  My opinion on the GQ controversy was that it was probably blown out of proportion, but I also felt Phil could have been more sensitive in his comments.  I really had no idea what he might say leading up to Tulsa, but I was more favorable toward him than not, just as I would have been toward any celebrity who also attempts to represent Christ.

3. What was your reaction to his message? I think you voiced concern that some or all of it was too political?

Overall, I was disappointed in his message, because it was steeped in political ideology, though he might not recognize it as such.  To blanketly say that we were established by God as a Christian nation (and he did say something very close to that) is to ignore or misunderstand a lot of our history.  Many of our founding fathers, including some Phil quoted, were deists.  Certainly there is an underlying Judeo-Christian ethic in our law, because law has to be based on something greater than itself, but that same law somehow permitted slavery for a century and the genocide of the Native Americans.  Is that Christian? So, when Phil made his case that we should all rally to the voter’s box to reclaim our Christian nation, he is actually encouraging that we return to a myth.  There is no Christian nation.  It is the Church that is Christian not the nation.  Throughout history every nation finds itself at odds with the Creator.  It is the people of God who are to be salt and light in the nations and America is no different in this regard.  This cannot be accomplished through political power or a voter’s box.  This can only be accomplished through the ethic of the cross.  In fact, flexing such political power has often come at a great price of our primary mission (c.f. moral majority, religious right).

4. Any other thoughts?

The issue I have with this kind of message is that it is polarizing where it shouldn’t be.  The gospel is polarizing enough, but we should not infuse our political ideology into the gospel, because it necessarily means we are making it harder for some people to come to Jesus.  Imagine for a moment a struggling single black mother in the audience last Friday (though it is also worth noting that it was almost an entirely white crowd) and she heard what Phil Robertson said about the nation being ruined when you take from those who work and give to those who don’t.  Let’s say this woman was on welfare and struggled to keep a job and raise her kids.  Would she not be hurt by such a message and by consequence potentially alienated from the gospel message?  Certainly, it is okay to be suspicious of welfare in this country and there is a place to debate its proper implantation or its existence at all.  But as with so many of Phil’s political barbs, it is not appropriate to tie these debatable and polarizing matters into the presentation of the gospel. Phil Robertson is my brother.  I’m for him, not against him.  I liked a lot of what he said about sin and the human condition, repentance and baptism, etc.  I wish had stayed on those topics.  Ironically, his topic was supposed to be “it’s worth the cost to reach the world.”  And yet, what we had is a very Republican nationalistically driven speech.  The cost of reaching the world very likely includes giving up such ideological trappings.  Jonah had a hard time doing this too.

One other note…there was a lot said about our current national leaders that would not comply with 1 Pet. 2:17, “Show proper respect for everyone:  Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the King.”

End of my comments to the Chronicle.

I did not edit my comments above, so that it would not appear as if I were changing them now to be perceived as more favorable.  Obviously, if you didn’t hear Phil’s talk at the Tulsa Workshop the above may be hard to follow, but you can get the general sense on how I differ with this “America was founded as a Christian nation” narrative.

At the end of Phil’s talk, it seemed the entire arena was on its collective feet, but I sat where I was and applauded politely.  A standing ovation for me would have meant my tacit approval of what was said.  Much of what Phil said was awesome!  I loved it when he talked about the Bible, sin, and the human condition.  He spoke passionately about Jesus being the solution.  But how we package the gospel matters, and agree with me or not, I felt the packaging hurt the message, even if the messenger was the Duck Commander.

Posted in Culture, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments