Friday, July 17, 2015

Same Sex Marriage Is Not Parallel to Interracial Marriage

The day after the SCOTUS ruling on same sex marriage (SSM), a newspaper in Pennsylvania announced a change to its editorial page policy: 

As a result of Friday's ruling, PennLive/The Patriot-News will very strictly limit op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage. 
These unions are now the law of the land. And we will not publish such letters and op-Eds any more than we would publish those that are racist, sexist or anti-Semitic.

I'm just glad that some newspapers in the 1800s weren't so deferential to the Court's decision in the Dred Scott case which also established "the law of the land!"

According to this newspaper, because I take the same view
of marriage that has dominated western civilization, that all modern nations took until 2001, and that President Obama took as recently as 2012, I am now suddenly cast in the role of a racist, sexist and anti-semite. This reflects the most common popular argument made in favor of legal acceptance of SSM - namely, that same-sex couples have the same right to marry that interracial couples do, and that just as it was bigoted to oppose interracial marriage, it is also bigoted to oppose SSM.

Friday, June 19, 2015

An Argument Against Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage

Because of the highly sensitive nature of this issue, the highest levels of respectful communication between all parties who choose to comment is expected. No trolls will be allowed. This is a post for thoughtful, contemplative interaction, not shoot-from-the-hip polemics. Your comments are welcome - please allow extra time for my travel schedule this weekend. 

One of my great fears is that we are reaching a place in American discourse where people who disagree with each other cannot even understand one another, much less truly reason with each other. My modest goal in this post is to offer an argument that same-sex marriage is not a good idea for public policy reasons. I will not be making this case on religious grounds. That isn’t because religion is unimportant to me. I am a Christian, and the central confession of my faith is that “Jesus is Lord.” That is a confession I cheerfully make, and very imperfectly follow. But the argument I will be laying out is not specific to Christianity, or to any religion. Indeed, this issue does not always follow cookie-cutter stereotypes. I have gay friends who oppose SSM because “marriage” is too conventional, and I have extremely conservative Christian friends who support SSM on libertarian political grounds. In my case, the argument I am going to make comes from millennia of philosophical reflection on the meaning of marriage itself.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Giving the (Blue) Devil His Due: Four Reasons Coack K Is Greater Than John Wooden

This is the most unlikely blog post I have ever written, and will probably be the only time I ever say anything nice about Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, so copy and save this! But as a college basketball fan I have to give Coach K his props, and want to give four reasons why he should be considered the greatest NCAA tourney coach of all time, far surpassing John Wooden.

1.  Coach K doesn't cheat.  It is true that John Wooden won ten national championships, twice as many as Coach K's five titles. But Coach K's program has never had any kind of taint of cheating. Contrary to his sainted reputation, the same was not true of John Wooden. Widely known among basketball insiders, but rarely discussed in public, Wooden's players during the dynasty years received illegal favors from a local booster named Sam Gilbert. "Papa Sam" gave the players cash, cars, and even arranged abortions for the players' girlfriends. This was so well-known among coaches that Jerry Tarkanian used to joke that th most important piece of Wooden's famous "Pyramid of Success" was Sam Gilbert! Wooden did not actively court Gilbert's support, but he knew of his activities, and by all accounts essentially turned a blind eye to him. It is interesting that when Seth Davis decided to write a biography of Wooden, people inside basketball would often ask him in hushed tones if he was going to mention Gilbert in the book (he did).

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Praying for Peace for Abraham's Children

The Bible calls upon Christians to pray for those in authority in the government so that Christians may "lead a peaceful and quiet life" (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Given how corrupt the political process is, I
sometimes struggle with whether this passage can be extended to mean that we should pray for the outcome of elections (to me it's just about like praying for someone to win a mud wrestling match).   But since the Bible teaches that God's providence is still active, and that He listens to our prayers, today I am praying for the defeat of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel's election, and that he is not able to cobble together a coalition government with his extremist allies. And the reason is very simple: peace.

Right now over four million Palestinians live under the military occupation of Israel. For decades the international community, including the United States, has promised the Palestinians that their grievances would be dealt with. From the unanimous UN Resolution 242 (which called for withdrawal of the Israeli armed forced from the occupied territories and the resolution of peaceful and secure borders for all parties involved), to the Camp David Accords in 1978, to the Oslo Accords in 1993, the United States has repeatedly placed its national honor at stake in finding a just and peaceful solution for Israel and the Palestinians.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Understanding ISIS

Recently I enjoyed a wonderful conversation with a friend of mine who was raised a Muslim and became a Christian. It was only natural that we began to discuss the atrocities committed by ISIS, and the unfortunate way that some people stigmatize all Muslims as essentially nothing more than radicals and terrorists. So I have been thinking about a way to try to explain what ISIS represents to Muslims as a whole, and to do so in terms familiar to Christians. Here's my best shot.

From a Christian point of view, we believe that the story of the Old Testament was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In the language of Paul, the Law of Moses was a shadow that pointed to the reality of Christ (Colossians 2:15). And while the Old Testament contains many prophecies that - if interpreted literally - sound like a militaristic Messiah was going to subjugate the Gentiles and restore Israel as the center of the earth, ruling over the nations with a "rod of iron" (Psalm 2:9), the New Testament explains that the rule of Jesus is spiritual rather than martial, and that His kingdom is not secured by military might (John 18:36).

But suppose you were a Jewish person who did not believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. And suppose further that you believe the Old Testament should be interpreted very literally, and very scrupulously. In fact, suppose you believe the following:

  • That the penal code found in the Law of Moses should still be followed, including stoning adulterers and homosexuals (Leviticus 18), and those who teach another religion (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
  • That the land promised to Abraham - from Egypt to the Euphrates - is the rightful possession of Israel, and that Jews have the divine right to use the same tactics as Joshua and the Israelites in the conquest, including slaughtering men, women and children, to regain this territory.
  • That you should purify your people from false doctrine and sin to prepare them for the coming of the true Messiah, just as Malachi promised (Malachi 3:1-4).
The reality is that not many fellow Jews would follow your lead. Not many Jews want to embrace the penal code of the Law of Moses, or believe that the conquests of Joshua are normative for today, or that Jews who aren't practicing, orthodox Jews should be executed. There is a growing problem of right-wing religious extremism in Israel (see this article), but it is still a decided minority. And that's why the scenario I laid out is merely hypothetical.

But what I just outlined as a hypothetical is the reality in the case of ISIS. The radical clerics who are the driving force behind ISIS have opted for a very literal interpretation of certain parts of the Quran and certain reports from the life of Muhammad (called hadith). Abu

Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-professed leader of ISIS, has decided to proclaim himself leader (caliph), and impose this ideology on the Islamic world. The vast majority of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims do not want to live under his interpretation of Islamic law (shariah), and do not agree that the wars between Muhammad and the Meccans provide a normative pattern for all time, and do not believe Muslims who disagree should be executed. Hundreds of Muslim leaders have written an open letter to al-Baghdadi to make this clear. 

This in no way diminishes the real horrors perpetrated by ISIS. Nor does it minimize the grave dangers posed by ISIS, for - unlike my hypothetical example - there are many Muslims to whom this ideology is very appealing, so much so they are traveling to Syria to help al-Baghdadi try to establish his medieval nightmare. But this movement is a fringe movement in the larger Muslim population, and indeed, Muslims are by far the greatest victims of its atrocities. And it seems to me that it will be up to Muslims to stop it.

But the main point I want to make in this post is that we must be careful - especially as Christians who are supposed to be interested in the truth - not to carelessly sweep all Muslims under the same rug. Loving others means treating them as we would want to be treated - and what Christian wants to be lumped in the same category as the Westboro Baptist Church lunatics who protest at military funerals? And love also means we have a passion to share the gospel, but painting all Muslims with the broad brush of radicalism will raise needless barriers to reaching people like my friend. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Year in Review Book Recommendations

(Personal Note from Shane: My apologies for not updating the blog more often this year. The fall has been a busy season for Kristi and me. Just after I made the previous post we found out that her cancer had returned and metastasized. So our fall has been dominated by doctor appointments and visits to receive treatment. Please keep Kristi in your prayers).

I thought I would kick off the New Year with a look back at some books that I really enjoyed reading in 2014. This is not a list of books published in 2014, but books that I used in connection with my preaching and teaching. And of course, all caveats apply here - these are books written by fallible people from across a wide spectrum of belief. Judge all books by the authority of Christ! And so, in no particular order...

The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism. By Edward Feser

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Notes on Islam: Jihad and Terrorism

Probably the one Islamic term more Americans know than any other is jihad. However, what this word means and its implications for Islam are often misunderstood. To many Americans, it means “holy war,” and it is the motto of Islamic terrorism. In this post we I will examine what the Quran actually says about jihad, warfare, and terrorism.

The Meaning of Jihad
Jihad comes from the Arabic root jahada, “putting forth a great effort to achieve a goal.” Those who practice jihad are called mujahidin. The word jihad actually occurs only four times in the Quran (9:24; 22:77-78; 25:48-52; 60:1), and in none of these instances is it explicitly about violence. For most Muslims, jihad refers to the spiritual struggle to live according to the teachings of God.

Warfare in the Quran
There are many references to literal warfare and combat in the Quran, and in Islamic tradition. But is it true that terrorists like Usama bin Laden are simply obeying the Quran?

According to some critics, the answer is yes. “Islam does in fact have an essential and indispensable tenet of militaristic conquest. The terrorists were not some fringe group that changed the Qur'an to suit political ends. They understood the Qur'an quite well and followed the teachings of jihad to the letter." (Unveiling Islam, p. 184).

It is especially common to find websites which isolate verses in the Quran that talk about making war against unbelievers, sometimes called the “sword verses.” The most widely quoted is Surah 9:5:

5 When the [four] forbidden months are over, wherever you encounter the idolaters, kill them, seize them, besiege them, wait for them at every lookout post…

Curiously, many critics of Islam fail to quote Surah 9:5 in its entirety. Here is the rest of the verse, along with the following verse: