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“Human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ’s sake.”

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together, 34.


Proclaim Love in Word and Deed

The words “hate,” “bigotry” and “intolerance” are mis- and over-used. But that makes it more important that we speak out against the real thing when it’s there.

President Trump began his first address to Congress by citing “recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries,” and a “shooting in Kansas City.” This was his prologue to saying that the United States “stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its forms.”

I’m so glad that he spoke out.

But let me also hasten to add that we shouldn’t leave it to the President to remind us of the need to condemn hate and evil – that’s the job of the Church.

The past few months have witnessed, to borrow from Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming,” a “rough beast” slouching to be born. That “rough beast” is open, and sometimes violent, expressions of bigotry and intolerance.

Now Christians have ample reasons to be wary of those words “bigotry” and “intolerance,” since we’re often unjustly accused of both. But to use the medieval Latin phrase, “abusus non tollit usum,” the misuse of something does not negate its proper use. There are such things as bigotry and intolerance.

Some of it, such as Texas high school students taunting their Hispanic opponents at a basketball game with chants of “build that wall!” are easy to rationalize as youthful hi-jinks, until you put yourself, as Jesus commands us to, in the shoes of the kids being taunted.

Other examples, such as the killing of an Indian-born engineer, and the wounding of two other people by a man who had earlier yelled “get out of my country!” are impossible to ignore. The fact that the man may been under the influence of alcohol when he pulled the trigger does not make the crime less troubling.

While alcohol lowers inhibitions, it doesn’t create the impulses being inhibited in the first place. To quote another Latin phrase, “in vino veritas,” or wine brings out the truth.

Likewise, the vandalizing of Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Rochester, New York, along with bomb threats against 120 Jewish Community Centers across the country is nothing less than alarming.

And it’s not just Jewish Community Centers. In the past two months, four mosques have been deliberately set on fire.

The good news is that, amidst all this hate, we have seen examples of grace: Two American Muslims raised over $140,000 to repair the damage done to Jewish cemeteries, and Muslim veterans have vowed to protect Jewish cemeteries. As one veteran tweeted, “If your synagogue or Jewish cemetery needs someone to stand guard, count me in. Islam requires it.”

Strictly speaking, while I am thankful for his words, I am not sure that it does. But there is no questions about Christianity. As Paul says in Acts 17, God determines when and where we live. And as Esther so courageously demonstrated in difficult times, silence is not an option.

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Julie Hanlon Rubio  | 

From both the right and the left, commentators are mourning the lost opportunity of Amoris Laetitia, claiming that it adds little to the conversation that we did not already know. While it does not meet the expectations of either group, it articulates a theology of marriage for a world longing for love yet suspicious of traditional claims about marriage.

For those on the right, Pope Francis says far too little about the normativity of the two-parent heterosexual family, the threat of same-sex marriage, the immorality of contraception, and the unacceptability of second marriage. Groups of traditionalists lobbied the pope during the synods of 2014 and 2015, asking for clarity.

According to New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, the pope did not contradict doctrine, but in proposing official teachings with a “lack of confidence,” “in tones laced with self-effacement, self-critique,” he has brokered a truce but left the church weaker.

Some on the left criticize the document for its limited, exclusive vision of love. According to feminist theologian Mary Hunt, writing for Religion Dispatches, “There is only one ideal — heteronormative uncontracepted sex in monogamous marriage — in relation to which everything else is derivative, lesser, lacking, and/or forbidden.”

The exclusion of same-sex couples and judgment against contraception, while not surprising and only briefly discussed, are disappointing. Many hoped that a pope who has sounded a different tone about these issues would at least move in a better direction in this letter. He does not.

Yet, the decentering of sexual ethics that has marked this papacy remains in force. While progressive Catholics will rightly continue to insist on greater inclusion and rethinking on both issues, it is important to notice what is not in the document.

Unlike in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2010 pastoral letter, “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan,” we do not see same-sex marriage identified as a threat to marriage. Whereas the U.S. bishops have made fighting against same-sex marriage the central plank of their defense of marriage, Francis has other concerns.

Unlike in Pope John Paul II’s 1981 post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, Francis’ Amoris Laetitia does not say that those who use contraception “degrade” and “manipulate” human sexuality, themselves and their partners. Natural family planning is not presented as an essential to Christian marriage.

The central concern of Amoris Laetitia is providing a credible theology of marriage. Before the world’s bishops gathered at the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family, they learned from surveys given to lay Catholics that, for many, the teachings on marriage and family were obscure and unconvincing.

With a humility that is uncommon in papal documents, Francis acknowledges the church’s failure to communicate, saying, “At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families. This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite.”

Instead, Francis says, he wants to offer a vision of marriage “as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfillment.” He seeks to follow Jesus in offering a “demanding ideal” with sensitivity to the “frailty” of human beings.

While juxtaposing the Christian ideal to certain problematic cultural currents, the pope avoids simplistic generalizations about individualism and consumerism. Still, he worries about a “culture of the ephemeral” in which people move from relationship to relationship, fearing long-term commitment that will necessarily limit their choices. He associates the drive for independence with a difficulty in sustaining community that ultimately leaves many people lonely.

Francis is also aware that economic forces make marriage more difficult to choose, both for the poor, who “lack possibilities for a future,” and for the privileged, who have too many other options. The same forces make marriage more difficult to sustain. He expresses particular concern for families destabilized or torn apart by migration and for those living in extreme poverty.

After describing the many different challenges families face, the pope concludes by saying, “There is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems.”

It is from the ground of the diverse experiences of families that the pope seeks to reformulate the Catholic vision.

In the portions of the document that are uniquely his, Francis seeks to communicate the beauty of lifelong marriage. Very close to the surface of the document is an acute awareness of just how suspicious many are of this ideal.

Central to his vision is fidelity, which is grounded in “the experience of belonging completely to another person” and the challenge of “supporting one another, growing old together.” Though seemingly at odds with passionate love, Francis argues that love itself demands fidelity.

There is no naïve romanticism of “the one,” no sense that one person completes me or makes me whole.

The pope insists that each person retains his or her own autonomy and does not see the other as “his or her own.” He quotes German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who argues that each spouse must be realistic about what the other person can give, not “expecting from that person something which is proper to the love of God alone,” the pope says.

Valentine’s Day Is for Getting DrunkThe evolution of Valentine’s Day has followed a course similar to the evolution of Santa Claus. It began with legends surrounding an obscure saint (actually, there’s more than one St. Valentine) from early Christian history that oddly morphed over the centuries into something else entirely. Then it exploded into a pop culture and commercial phenomenon in Victorian England (thank the Brits for greeting cards, flowers, and “confectionaries”), with the United States quickly jumping on the bandwagon.

No one knows for sure how a February 14th feast day commemorating a martyr(s) came to be a celebration of Eros love. It’s possible that when 5th Century Pope Gelasius l abolished the ancient Roman pagan fertility festival, Lupercalia (celebrated on February 15th), it ended up just meshing with St. Valentine’s Day. All we know is that “Volantynys day” abruptly shows up in a romantic poem by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th Century and it’s been with us ever since.

So what should Christians make of today’s Valentine’s Day?

As much as purely possible! Valentine was a saint and Eros is not Cupid’s domain. It’s God’s! Christians should be the most unashamed, exuberant celebrators of romantic love there are, and the strongest guardians of God’s design and boundaries, because God made it for us to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17)! And God, the greatest romantic in existence, has designed it to give us a taste of the greatest romance that will ever exist, of which all Christians will experience.

Be Drunk with Love!

On the Desiring God blog we tackle, with blood-earnestness, the issues of sexual sin, the scourge of pornography, the anguish of same-sex struggles, and the complexities and difficulties of marriage, dating, and singleness. We all know the crucial need to guard ourselves, our children and each other against our indwelling, sexually broken depravity and a culture that shoves illicit sexuality in our faces every day.

But just for a moment, let’s not dwell on the dangers and disappointments of Eros. Let’s simply savor the purely intoxicating joy that God intends for betrothed and married lovers!

Yes, intoxicating. That’s Bible-talk for romantic love:

Friends, drink, and be drunk with love! (Song of Solomon 5:1)

Be drunk with love! I would say that’s a sweet imperative. The Bible doesn’t want us to drink in moderation when it comes to loving our lover. We are to drink deeply and become inebriated.

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The culture wars will always be with us. Most recently, Phil Robertson, the godly patriarch of the Robertson clan on the very popular Duck Dynasty show on A & E, was suspended by the network because of his anti-gay comments.  Soon after, the Robertson family issued statement indicating the show probably could not continue without Phil. I would hate to see the show end because it really quacks me up. I also love the show because of its focus on Christian values and family. Plus, I have guns and am a hunter!

This will not be the last battle in the culture wars in our country.  Thus, it is important that those who claim to follow Jesus need to act like Jesus especially in the heat of the battle. I have been a Baptist pastor for 30 years, and I am dedicated to the Word of God which is the Bible. If the Bible is not true, then I have wasted my life, along with thirteen years of higher education.

There are Biblical principles that the followers of Jesus need to remember when it comes to the culture wars…

  • We are to love all people! Jesus made this crystal clear in Matthew 22:37-38: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Our “neighbor” is everyone around us. It does not matter how different our neighbor is from us, we are to love that person. We are even to love those people who hate us: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Jesus in Matthew 5:44).
  • We are to honor everyone! 1 Peter 2:17 commands us this: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” As Christians we are honor and respect our political leaders and everyone else. It does not matter if the person disagrees with us when it comes to politics, favorite sport’s team (Go Huskers, Red Sox, Steelers and Blue Jays Basketball!), religion (or lack of it), sexual orientation or anything else. We are to honor and respect and love all people. This is the way of Jesus.
  • We are to exhibit the character of Jesus. Our country needs to see authentic Christians in action. When people think of an “evangelical Christian”, they often think of someone who is angry and is against stuff. Most Christians that I know are not angry and busy signing petitions. But there are just enough angry followers of Jesus out there to give the impression that the mission of the church is to protest and fight for the rights of Christians.

That is why I am against boycotts. How many people have turned to Jesus for salvation because of a boycott that originated with Christians? I doubt any have. What should the Christian look like? Well, according to Galatians 5:22-23, Christians are to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  In other words, we are to be like Jesus.

Now, Jesus, the most loving and joyful person who ever lived, was against sin. That is why, as the eternal son of God, he came into our world nearly 200o years ago. His God-ordained mission in life was to go to the cross as the perfect Lamb of God to die for our sins and to absorb the wrath of God on our behalf. His death and resurrection broke the power of sin and death and Satan.

Yet, Jesus loved all people. Let us do the same!

June 2018
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