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Beyond politics

Evaluating accusations of sexual misconduct

The past two days have brought more Roy Moore accusers, but the big news is the new front in the sexual predator wars: Washington, with accusations against Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., that contain photographic evidence. This development shows how the current cultural moment can be a positive one for a Biblical sexual ethic—if we don’t let short-term considerations overwhelm our theology.

Two thousand years ago the New Testament displayed a pro-woman outlook. In opposition to Rome’s condescension to women as property, the Gospels and the Book of Acts show them, like men, as made in God’s image and worthy of respect. Women followed Jesus, witnessed the empty tomb, and were central in the formation of early churches. The Apostle Paul told men to love and defend their wives and not treat them as sexual playthings or kitchen help who could be dismissed for burning dinner.

Over the past week the spotlight on sexual predators moved from Hollywood and New York to Alabama, but that’s a temporary stopping point on the road to Washington. I’ve only spent a not-so-grand total of about three years in D.C., but even I have heard of the sexual harassment and more that young women face there. It’s important for evangelicals not to defend un-Biblical treatment of women but to expose and reduce it.

We can’t do that if in every instance we calculate whether it will work to our immediate political detriment. Feminists such as Gloria Steinem did that regarding President Bill Clinton in 1998. She acknowledged in a New York Times column on March 22, 1998, that “President Clinton may be a candidate for sex addiction therapy. But feminists will still have been right to resist pressure by the right wing and the media to call for his resignation or impeachment.”

Steinem said the Monica Lewinsky affair really did not count, despite Lewinsky’s age and the power differential, because she welcomed the attention. Regarding Clinton’s attack on Kathleen Willey, Steinem said he “made a gross, dumb and reckless pass at a supporter during a low point in her life. She pushed him away, she said, and it never happened again. In other words, President Clinton took ‘no’ for an answer.”

Steinem concluded by saying it didn’t even matter that Clinton lied under oath, because “we have a responsibility to make it O.K. for politicians to tell the truth—providing they are respectful of ‘no means no; yes means yes’—and still be able to enter high office, including the Presidency. Until then, we will disqualify energy and talent the country needs.”

Liberal social critic Caitlin Flanagan wrote earlier this week in The Atlantic that “The Democratic Party needs to make its own reckoning of the way it protected Bill Clinton. The party needs to come to terms with the fact that it was so enraptured by their brilliant, Big Dog president and his stunning string of progressive accomplishments that it abandoned some of its central principles.”

And that returns us to a central question concerning U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore: We still don’t know whether he did what he’s accused of, but some WORLD members have told me that if he made passes at young women and tried to get physical with some but gave up when they pushed him away, so what? In other words—and keeping in mind differences between the accusations against Moore and those against Clinton—some conservative evangelicals are now acting toward Moore as feminists acted toward Bill Clinton.

Again, I have no problem with those who thoughtfully consider all the evidence. My concern is with those who say the evidence doesn’t matter because Republicans MUST win this election.

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Associated Press/Photo by Nell Redmond (file)

November 6 at 8:55 AM


Mourners attend a candle light vigil after a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., on Nov. 5. (Joe Mitchell/Reuters)

While millions of other Christians were singing hymns or opening their Bibles or taking communion this past Sunday, at that very moment, a gunman was opening fire on the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Tex. This, believed to be the largest church shooting in history, ended with at least 26 people killed, according to authorities.

Several children were among the fallen, including pastor Frank Pomeroy’s 14-year-old daughter Annabelle. Whatever the shooter’s twisted objective might have been, we do know this: It won’t work.

The goal the gunman sought, to terrorize worshipers, has been attempted constantly over the centuries around the world by cold, rational governments and terrorist groups — all thinking that they could, by the trauma of violence, snuff out churches, or at least intimidate those churches into hiding from one another. Such violent tactics always end up with the exact opposite of what the intimidators intend: a resilient church that, if anything, moves forward with even more purpose than before. Why

Whether they are crazed loners in the United States or jihadist cells in Syria or governing councils in the old Soviet bloc, these forces fundamentally misunderstand the source of Christianity’s strength in the first place. Killers assume, after all, that gunfire or poison gas or mass beheadings will show Christians how powerless we are. That is true. They assume that this sense of powerlessness will rob the community of its will to be the church. That is false.

If they looked overhead, in almost any of the churches they attempt to destroy, these killers might see what they miss: the cross.

The church was formed against the threat of terror. Jesus himself stood before a Roman governor who told him that the state had the authority to kill him, in the most horrific way possible — staking him to a crossbeam to bleed slowly to death before a jeering crowd. That’s, of course, exactly what Pilate did— and the empire’s intimidation seemed to work, at first.

Most of Jesus’ core followers went into hiding, out of fear that they would be endangered next. That’s exactly what crosses were designed to do: Their public display was to warn people that they could be the next in line

The very ones who scattered, though, soon returned, testifying that they had seen the crucified Jesus alive. The result was an open proclamation of the Christian message that led to thousands joining themselves to the tiny persecuted movement. Within a matter of centuries, the terrorists themselves, the Roman Empire, would be gone, with the church marching forward into the future.

The reason was not that the church came to believe that they could find safety in the threats of violence. The reason was that the church came to conclude, in the midst of the violence, that death is not the endpoint.

Much of the New Testament is made up of letters from the apostles of Jesus on why the cross is, counterintuitively, the power of God. The Christian gospel does not cower before death. Those who give their lives in witness to Christ are not helpless victims, in our view. In fact, the Book of Revelation maintains that those who are martyred are in fact ruling with Christ. This is not in spite of the fact that they are killed. They triumph even as they are killed. That’s because they are joined to a Christ who has been dead, and never will be again

The day of the shooting was, for many churches, a day of remembrance for the persecuted church. Christians do not see as victims those around the world who are rooted out of their churches, even lined up and executed. We see in them the power Jesus promised us: the power that is made perfect in weakness.

To eradicate churches, our opponents will need a better strategy.

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Max Lucado, Christian Author

(featured image by Mark Ralston, Getty Images)

The Las Vegas mass murders leave us reeling; struggling to make sense of such tragedy. Where the Bible may not tell us the why of the tragedies, it is quick to tell us who.

Our fight is not against people on earth but against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world (Ephesians 6:12 NCV).

The Bible names a real and present foe of our faith: the devil. He is not just a symbol for evil, he is the source of evil. He doesn’t live in myths and fables, he is an actual being who stalks our planet. He knows his time is short so he seeks to wreak havoc on every occasion.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He comes “only to steal and kill and destroy” (John. 10:10). You’re enjoying happiness? Satan wants to steal it. You’ve discovered joy? He’ll try to kill it. Love your spouse? Satan would love to destroy your marriage. He is the enemy of your God-given destiny and longs to be the destroyer of your soul.

Don’t dismiss him.

Agree with the witness of Scripture. From the Bible’s earliest to final pages, we are confronted with an arrogant anti-God force of great cunning and power. He is the devil, the serpent, the strong one, the lion, the wicked one, the accuser, the god of this age, the murderer, the prince of this world, the prince of the power of the air, Beelzebub, and Belial. He oversees a conglomeration of spiritual forces: principalities, powers, dominions, thrones, princes, lords, gods, angels, unclean spirits, and wicked spirits.

Satan appears in the Garden at the beginning. He is cast into the fire in the end. He tempted David, bewildered Saul, and waged an attack on Job. He is in the Gospels, the book of Acts, the writings of Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude. Serious students of Scripture must be serious about Satan.

Jesus was. He squared off against Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). He pegged him as the one who snatches the good news from the hearts of the hearers (Matthew 4:15; 13:39). Prior to the crucifixion, Jesus proclaimed: “Now shall the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). Jesus saw Satan not as a mythological image, not an invention of allegory. He saw the devil as a superhuman narcissist. When he taught us to pray, Jesus did not say, “Deliver us from nebulous negative emotions.” He said, “Deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13).

We play into the devil’s hand when we pretend he does not exist. The devil is a real devil.

But, and this is huge, the devil is a defeated devil. Were Satan to read the Bible (something he is wont to do), he would be utterly discouraged. Reference after reference makes it clear: the devil’s days are numbered.

“Having disarmed the powers and authorities, [Jesus] made a public spectacle of [the forces of evil], triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15). Jesus stripped Satan of certain victory. He and his minions are being held on a short leash until the final judgment. On that day, the Great Day, Jesus will cast Satan into a lake of fire from which the devil will never return (see 2 Peter 1:4; Jude 1:6). Evil will have its day and appear to have the sway, but God will have his say and ultimately win the day.

Be alert to the devil, but don’t be intimidated by him.

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  |   October 2, 2017   |  by Russell Moore

A few hours ago I was on the phone with a friend in Las Vegas. He and his neighbors had just lived through, and will be living through for some time, the trauma of seeing in their own city the worst mass shooting in modern American history. I reflected after that conversation what my friend, a strong Christian and a respected leader, would say when asked by those around him, “Where was God in all of this?” He will have a word for his community, but for many Christians, when disaster or great evil strikes, this is a hard question to answer. Maybe that’s you.

The first thing we must do in the aftermath of this sort of horror is to make sure that we do not take the name of God in vain. After a natural disaster or an act of terror, one will always find someone, often claiming the mantle of Christianity, opining about how this moment was God’s judgment on an individual or a city or a nation for some specified sin. Jesus told us specifically not to do this, after his disciples asked whether a man’s blindness was the result of his or his parents’ sin. Jesus said no to both (Jn. 9:1-12). Those self-appointed prophets who would blame the victims for what befalls them are just that, self-appointed. We should listen to Jesus and to his apostles, not to them. Those killed in a terror attack or in a tsunami or in an epidemic are not more sinful than all of the rest of us.

We live in a fallen world, where awful, incomprehensible things happen. When an obvious and egregious injustice such as this one is done, we should stand where God does and see this as real evil, not as an illusion of evil. This means that our response to such should not be some sort of Stoic resignation but instead a lament with those around us who are hurting.

Christians sometimes suppose that our non-Christian friends and neighbors want to hear a detailed explanation, to justify God in light of such horror. The Bible doesn’t give us easy answers. The Word of God instead speaks of the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess. 2:7). When tragedy fell upon Job, an ancient follower of God, and asked why such happened to him, God did not fully answer him. God instead spoke of his own power and his own presence. That’s exactly what we should do.

We do not know why God does not intervene and stop some tragedies when he does stop others. What we do know, though, is that God stands against evil and violence. We know that God is present for those who are hurting. And we know that God will ultimately call all evil to a halt, in the ushering in of his kingdom. We know that God is, in the words of the hymn, both “merciful and mighty.”

When my wife and I were going through a difficult time, years ago, a friend stopped by, a respected theologian who spoke often and well of God’s sovereign providence. I expected him to speak to us of how God was working in this tragedy we were facing. He didn’t. He cried with us. He sat with us. He prayed with us. And as he left, he turned and said, “Russell, I don’t know why God permitted this to happen to you, but I know this: Jesus loves you, and Jesus is alive and present right now in your life.” I’ve never forgotten those words.

Our neighbors do not need us to provide easy answers to what is, this side of the eschaton, unexplainable. What they need, though, is a reminder for us that life is not the meaningless chaos it seems to be. There is a loving Presence at work in the universe.

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by

Something strange is going on in America’s bedrooms. In a recent issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers reported that on average, Americans have sex about nine fewer times a year than they did in the late 1990s. The trend is most pronounced among the young. Controlling for age and time period, people born in the 1930s had the most sex, whereas those born in the 1990s are reporting the least. Fifty years on from the advent of the sexual revolution, we are witnessing the demise of eros.

Despite all the talk of the “hookup culture,” the vast majority of sex happens within long-term, well-defined relationships. Yet Americans are having more trouble forming these relationships than ever before. Want to understand the decline of sex? Look to the decline in marriage. As recently as 2000, a majority—55 percent—of Americans between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four were married, compared with only 34 percent who had never been married (see Figure 1). Since then, the two groups have swapped places. By 2014, 52 percent of Americans in that age group had never been married, while only 41 percent were married. Young Americans are now more apt to experience and express passion for some activity, cause, or topic than for another person.

Figure 1.

A decline in commitment isn’t the only reason for the sexual recession. Today one in eight adult Americans is taking antidepressant medication, one of the common side effects of which is reduced libido. Social media use also seems to play a part. The ping of an incoming text message or new Facebook post delivers a bit of a dopamine hit—a smaller one than sex delivers, to be sure, but without all the difficulties of managing a relationship. In a study of married eighteen- to thirty-nine-year-old Americans, social media use predicted poorer marriage quality, lower marital happiness, and increased marital trouble—not exactly a recipe for an active love life.

If these were the only causes, the solution would be straightforward: a little more commitment, a little less screen time, a few more dates over dinner, more time with a therapist, and voilà. But if we follow the data, we will find that the problem goes much deeper, down to one of the foundational tenets of enlightened opinion: the idea that men and women must be equal in every domain. Social science cannot tell us if this is true, but it can tell us what happens if we act as though it is. Today, the results are in. Equality between the sexes is leading to the demise of sex.

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By Russell Moore

  |   September 28, 2017   |

Overnight, we learned of the death of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Hefner is the iconic figure who not only made pornography socially respectable (and even more lucrative), but also spent a life constructing a “playboy philosophy” of sexual freedom that would supposedly undo the “Puritan sexual repression he saw in American life.”

The death of any person is a tragedy. Hugh Hefner is no exception to that. We can’t, though, with his obituaries, call his life “success” or “a dream.”

Hefner did not create, but marketed ingeniously the idea that a man’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions and of his orgasms. To women, he marketed frenetically the idea that a woman’s value consists in her sexual availability and attractiveness to men.

The “bunny” logo was well-chosen because, in the end, Mr. Hefner saw both men and women as essentially rabbits. This path was portrayed vividly by John Updike in his Rabbit Angstrom series. It is not a happy life.

And yet we are not actually rabbits. We can see our deaths coming, and we outlive those deaths to give an account of our lives. If you want to see “success,” look instead to the man faithful to the wife of his youth, caring for her through dementia.

In the short-run Hefner’s philosophy has won, on both the Right and the Left. The Playboy Mansion is every house now. Many church leaders implicitly or explicitly say, “This is fine.”

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One Man’s Dream Destroyed Millions

Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy Enterprises and its chief ideological incarnation, died on Thursday at age 91 at the Playboy Mansion, immersed in the fantasy he created. He will be buried next to Marilyn Monroe, Playboy’s inaugural centerfold.

In 1953, Hefner pulled pornography out of the seedy back cultural alleys, dressed it up in sophisticated costume and speech, gave it a stylish, debonair set, made it look liberating and libertine, and pushed it into the mainstream as Playboy Magazine. He was not so much a revolutionary as a man who understood his times. He knew the “right side of history” when he saw it. He saw the weakness in the flank, struck shrewdly (and lewdly), and won the cultural battle: the old sexual mores have been decisively thrown down and pornography is pervasive. But at what cost?

Seeing People as Roles, Not Souls

Playboy (and the flood of increasingly explicit material that has followed it through the break it made in the cultural dam) is not an enterprise that exists to celebrate the beauty of the human body or the wonder of human sexuality. It is an enterprise aimed at financially capitalizing on the fallen human bent toward objectifying others for our own selfish ends. It encourages both men and women in codependent ways to view embodied souls as embodied roles in the private virtual reality show we call fantasy.

Hefner and many others have become very rich by objectifying women and turning them into virtual prostitutes — mere bodily images to be used by millions of men who care nothing about them, who ravage them in their imaginations for selfish pleasure and then toss them in the trash. Hefner gave these women the fun name of “playmates,” a wicked mockery of both a person and play, adding a terrible insult to horrible injury.

We call this wicked, for it is. But in calling it wicked, we must confront our own wicked proneness to objectify others and resolve all the more to war against it. We humans have a horrible, sinful tendency to view others as roles — too often expendable “extras” — in the epic moving picture of our story, not souls in the real epic of God’s story.

The fallen human nature, unhinged from God’s reality, seeks to construct its own preferred reality. And it uses other people to do it. Let me use as an example what at first might appear as a harmless, fun song, but is anything but harmless.

The Fantasy Girl from Ipanem

In the mid-60s, as Playboy was building steam on its way to becoming a media powerhouse, the Brazilian jazz/bossa nova song “The Girl from Ipanema” was building steam as an international hit, on its way to being the second-most recorded pop song in history.

The song is about a man who daily watches a beautiful girl walk by him on the way to Ipanema Beach in south Rio de Janeiro. She is “tall and tan and young and lovely” and “swings so cool and sways so gently,” passing by like a song on legs. He is intoxicated with her and “would give his heart gladly” to her, but “she doesn’t see” him.

The song is light and breezy and almost sounds innocent. But it’s not. The song is actually a man’s fantasy. The girl he thinks he loves, he knows nothing about. If she turns out to have a lower IQ than he imagines or a serious medical condition, would he still love her? If she heads to the beach daily to escape the sexual molestation of a relative, or suffers from a subtle mental illness, would he still give his heart gladly to her? This girl is not a soul to him; she is a symbol of something he desires and he projects on her a role in a fantasy of his own creation.

This is precisely what we humans are so prone to do: to view others, and the world, as a projection of our own fantasies. Even we Christians can lose sight of the world as a battlefield of horrific cosmic warfare, with people caught in its crossfire needing to be rescued, and see it as the place where we want our dreams — self-centered, self-serving, self-exalting, self-indulgent dreams — to come true. The more we indulge such fantasies, the more inoculated and numb we become to reality and the less urgent we feel about the real needs of other real souls.

The Real Girl from Ipanema

The girl from Ipanema has a Hugh Hefner connection, for she was a real girl. The song’s (married) composers used to sit in a café near the beach, watch her walk by, and talk about the desires she inspired. She was a 17-year-old school girl, sometimes wearing her school uniform and sometimes wearing her bikini.

After the song exploded in popularity, the composers informed her that she was “the girl.” She became a minor Brazilian celebrity, a national symbol of sexual appeal. Eventually she became a Brazilian Playboy Playmate, posing for the magazine as a younger woman and later posing again with her adult daughter — two generations caught and exploited by Hefner’s fantasy. Now she’s 72, trying hard to stay looking as young and lovely as possible, for she is, after all, the girl from Ipanema.

And she’s an example that objectification of other people is not harmless. Her identity has been forged by two men’s lust for her adolescent body. The indulgence and propagation and proliferation of fantasies are not harmless. Real lives get caught in the gears; real souls are shaped and hardened and become resistant to what’s really real, to what’s really true. And they can be destroyed.

People Are Souls, Not Roles

It is tragically appropriate that Hugh Hefner will be buried next to Marilyn Monroe. Monroe was not merely the inaugural centerfold of Playboy Magazine; she became and remains the poster girl of 20th century American sexual objectification. Nearly sixty years after her suicidal death, she remains a sexual icon in most people’s minds, not a broken soul who knew the despairing loneliness of being a sensual image desired by millions, yet a person truly loved by very few. Hefner encouraged millions and millions of men and women to view people in the very way that destroyed Marilyn Monroe.

That’s why, men (and of course not just men), on the occasion of Hugh Hefner’s death, let us resolve all the more to abstain from fantasy passions of the flesh, which wage war against our souls — and not just ours but others’ souls as well (1 Peter 2:11). When we look at a woman, whether she’s Marilyn Monroe, the girl from Ipanema, a co-worker, classmate, fellow church member, another man’s wife, or our own wife, let us say to ourselves and, when needed, each other: “she is not your playmate!”

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Will we bring reconciliation? Or will

People are screaming at each other a lot these days. The most recent example is a viral video, seen by millions of people since last week, of a woman who went ballistic because a service dog was sitting near her in a Delaware restaurant.

The dog in question belonged to a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. But that didn’t stop the woman from unleashing a three-minute, profanity-laced tirade. I’m sure all the diners at Kathy’s Crab House lost their appetite that evening.

“It is disgusting to have an animal in a public restaurant … I think it’s gross!” the woman screams. (This is a family-friendly publication, so I can’t print much more of what she said.)

It seems everybody is furious today. We’ve created a culture of outrage. People are offended, and if you aren’t offended by what offends them, they are offended by your lack of offense.

We are addicts. We crave a daily fix of rage. We rant on Facebook and Twitter because we need a regular dose of vitriol to fuel our habit. Then we turn on a newscast to watch agitated political commentators throw more gasoline on the flames.

The rage burns on both sides of our political divide. White supremacists march with tiki torches to spread hate. Black Lives Matter activists loot stores and smash windows. Former NFL fans burn football jerseys on barbecue grills. Campus lectures require police protection because leftists have threatened right-wing speakers. Madonna drops expletives and threatens to blow up the White House because she’s so mad President Trump won the election.

Then last week, President Trump used an unprintable and demeaning phrase to describe athletes who are protesting police brutality. That was beneath the dignity of a president. I agree we should respect our flag and our national anthem, but you can’t demand that respect by using a misogynistic expletive.

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September 22, 2017 
Here we are again. News reports are abuzz with a “Christian numerologist” suggesting that Sept. 23, 2017, is the fixed date for the end of the world.It could be, of course. Any day could be Judgment Day.

But there are a couple of reasons we should pay no attention to this prediction. The first reason is summed up in the words “Christian numerologist.” The second, and more important, reason is that this sort of doomsday speculation has little to do with religion and everything to do with marketing.

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