Friday, March 30, 2012

Is Homosexuality a Sin?

How, or why, can some good “mainstream” Christian organizations be labeled hate groups? That was one of the main questions raised in response to my blog posting on March 20
The two groups specifically mentioned in that posting are the American Family Association (AFA) and the Family Research Council (FRC).
I have had no direct contact with either of those organizations, but I have often seen references to them and to a prominent leader in each group: Donald Wildmon and Tony Perkins. 
Most of what I have read about those leaders’ activities and public statements has not been positive.
That is not to say there is not a lot of good done by these and other similar organizations or by the two men mentioned and others with similar beliefs. As I said in a comment following the 3/20 blog posting, to say that some organization is a hate group does not mean that everything they do is bad or hateful.
It is only (or at least mainly) because of their strong stance in opposition to gays and lesbians that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) identifies the AFA and the FRC as hate groups. The supporting data presented by the SPLC can be found here (AFA) and here (FRC).
The AFA says their mission is “to inform, equip, and activate individuals to strengthen the moral foundations of American culture, and give aid to the church here and abroad in its task of fulfilling the Great Commission.” Hard to argue with that! Except that the AFA’s definition of working for the moral foundations of American culture includes castigating homosexuality, which they clearly consider to be sinful.
The same is true for the Family Research Council (FRC), which, according to their mission statement, “champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society. FRC shapes public debate and formulates public policy that values human life and upholds the institutions of marriage and the family.” They see homosexuality as a threat to the well-being of the institution of marriage and family (as well as to society as a whole).
Some Christians try to show Christian love toward gays/lesbians, saying we should hate the sin but love the sinner. These Christians agree that all people, including gays/lesbians, should be welcomed by Christians—but “deviant” sexual orientation should not be affirmed. Or, these “loving” Christians will point out that we all are sinners, so no special opposition should be made toward gays/lesbians. But from this standpoint also, homosexuality is clearly considered a sin.
Some protest signs against gays/lesbians proclaim, “We don’t hate homos, God hates sin.” Although they might not be that direct, that plainly seems to be the position of the AFA and the FRC. They strongly oppose homosexuality because they think it is sinful.
It is quite probable that those who condemn homosexuality as a sin have a faulty interpretation of the Bible. There is not space to deal with this important matter here, but I have written about that in the ninth chapter of my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism.
Matthew Vines, 22
Other good sources that explain what the Bible does, and doesn’t, say about homosexuality are the DVD “For the Bible Tells Me So” (2007) and the talk given this month by Matthew Vines, a young gay man who dropped out of Harvard for two years to study what the Bible says about homosexuality. Check out his superlative speech here.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Eisenhower, Man of Peace?

President Dwight D. Eisenhower died 43 years ago this week, on March 28, 1969, at the age of 78. At the time of his election as the 34th President of the United States in 1952, he was a five-star general in the U.S. Army. During World War II, “Ike” had served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.
Although I was too young to vote (you had to be 21 then), I remember well the 1956 presidential election. If I could have voted, I probably would have voted for Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate. But Eisenhower was re-elected for a second term by a landslide (457-73 electoral votes). Stevenson won only Missouri, by a very narrow margin, and six southern States. In spite of concerns about his health, the popular Eisenhower was sent back to the White House for four more years.
Last month on Presidents Day, June and I drove over to Abilene, Kansas, where we visited the Eisenhower Museum and Library for the first time. We also visited the house where Eisenhower from the age of eight (in 1898) until he left for West Point in the summer of 1911.
I had not known that the Eisenhower family were members of the Anabaptist group known as the River Brethren. His grandfather had been a pastor in that small denomination, which is now known as Brethren in Christ.
The River Brethren, as most Anabaptist groups in this country, emphasized pacifism. So Ike’s parents did not approve of his going to West Point—but they allowed him to make his own choice. And it seems that he decided to go there not because of his desire to become a soldier but in order to get an education. (He was not financially able to go to college without a scholarship.)
Way led on to way, though, and Eisenhower did become a soldier, and a general. He did not, however, forget his religious roots, and as President made some excellent statements about peace.
The Place of Meditation was built in 1966 with private funds under the auspices of the Eisenhower Presidential Library Commission. Constructed of native limestone, the interior contains marble wall panels, walnut woodwork, and brilliant stained glass windows.
There is a church-like building called the Place of Meditation at the Eisenhower Center in Abilene. The graves of Ike and Mamie are inside that attractive structure. Engraved on the wall behind the graves are words from “Chance for Peace,” a speech he gave in April 1953. In that notable address he said, in part:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
“This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
Eisenhower also spoke highly significant words about peace in his farewell address in 1961. That is when he warned about the dangers of the military-industrial complex. That talk was the first thing I listened to inside the Eisenhower museum last month. The retiring President said,
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Those are good and important words by a military man who probably can truly be called a man of peace.
Note: Eisenhower made an interesting comment to his brother in a letter dated 11/8/54: “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt . . . , a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Exposing Hate Groups

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. The SPLC was co-founded in 1971 by civil rights lawyer Morris Dees (b. 1937), who continues to serve as the “Chief Trial Attorney” for the organization.
The SPLC’s primary publication is the quarterly Intelligence Report. “The Year in Hate and Extremism 2011” is the theme of last month’s issue, and according to their calculation, for the first time in the history of the organization the number of hate groups in the U.S. now totals more than 1000.
The FBI explains that the primary purpose of hate groups is “to promote animosity, hostility, and malice against persons belonging to a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin which differs from that of the members of the organization.”
SPLC points out that while there are now 1,018 active hate groups in the U.S., that does not imply that all those groups advocate engaging in violence or other criminal activity. Still, they foster hatred toward others. The main types are black separatists, Klansmen, neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, and white nationalists. Other hate groups on the list target gays or immigrants.
The SPLC also publishes a “Hate Map,” indicating the location of their identified hate groups. Since I live in Missouri, I was sorry to see that there are 26 such groups to be found in MO, which is above the average per State. Of those, five are identified as “White Nationalists,” there are four each of groups typed as “Christian Identity,” Ku Klux Klan, “Neo-Nazi,” and “Racist Skinhead,” and three are “Black Separatist.”
In Kansas, only three hate groups are listed, one being Westboro Baptist Church, whose “over-the-top” anti-gay activities are widely known—and an embarrassment to most Christians, especially to those who are members of Baptist churches.
The Ku Klux Klan is, of course, one of the oldest (first formed in 1865) and best known hate groups in the U.S., and it was a bit disconcerting to see that four KKK groups are currently active in MO. Other groups, not so well known but also influential in some circles, include the neo-Nazi Nationalist Socialist Movement, the white supremacy group known as the Council of Conservative Citizens, and the Kingdom Identity Ministries, which has played a key role in advancing the Christian Identity movement since the early 1980s.
In addition, SPLC has identified some more “mainstream” Christian organizations as also being hate groups, much to the consternation of those organizations, such as the American Family Association, founded in 1974 by Donald Wildmon, and the Family Research Council, led by Tony Perkins since 2003.
When groups exists wholly, or even partly, for the purpose of discriminating against and demeaning people who are not white (Aryan), not Christians, or not heterosexuals, etc., they should be exposed as hate groups and opposed by people of good will.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is rendering a valuable service in exposing hate groups and their activities. I am happy that June and I have been supporting members of SPLC since 2004, the year we left Japan and began living in the U.S. again.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Contraception Wars

You can call me old-fashioned if you want to, but I do not approve of or condone premarital or extra-marital sexual intercourse.
The call on extra-marital sex is pretty easy. Not only is “Thou shalt not commit adultery” one of the Ten Commandments, it is quite clear that adulterous activity could only damage a marriage relationship and despoil the marriage covenant. Like all the other commandments, this one too was given for the sake of individual happiness and the well-being of the community.
The matter of premarital sex is not quite so clear, although the Bible is fairly explicit in prohibition against “fornication,” which surely includes at least most premarital sexual activity. But in many ways things are different now than in Bible times—and plenty of people in modern society don’t claim to go by the Bible anyway.
Fifty or sixty years ago it was sometimes said that the three main reasons for not engaging in premarital sex was the fear of detection, infection, and conception. With the sexual revolution of the 1960s, people began to attach less and less stigma to premarital sex, so the detection deterrent was greatly weakened. Then with the effectiveness and availability of penicillin, the fear of infection also greatly decreased. (Of course, the growing frequency of HIV/AIDS has once again increased that fear for many people.)
So then we come to the matter of conception. In years past, there was generally societal disapproval of single women who got pregnant. But even now when there is far less stigma, the burden of becoming a mother without the support of a nurturing mate/father is great indeed. (Of course there are some cohabitating men who function like a good husband, but I wonder if such cases tend to be the exception more than the rule.)
If people are going to have premarital sex, which probably going to be the case for a large majority of unmarried people in the U.S. today, it seems as though making contraception available for those who need it is the prudent thing to do. Would that increase premarital sexual activity? Possibly. Would that decrease the number of children born out of wedlock as well as the number of abortions? Most probably.
So while I do not approve or condone premarital sex, I not only support making contraception available to women who feel the need for it, I agree that insurance policies, including those provided by any employer, ought to include coverage for contraception.
There are those who argue that conception is not a disease, and, of course, it isn’t. But it can certainly be argued that having unwanted children (or an abortion) is not good for the health of any woman. Health insurance should be for the purpose of promoting health of mind and body, not just paying for the treatment of illness or injury.
So, it seems quite clear that the concerted opposition to contraceptives being provided by health insurance paid for by employers, to say nothing of the asinine remarks by Rush Limbaugh about the Georgetown University law student, is missing the mark and deserves the considerable criticism it has received.
Note: For those interested in reading more along this line, I recommend this excellent article by Richard Cizik on the blog of The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Remembering 3.11

The past year has been a terribly hard one for Japan. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the devastating earthquake and unprecedented tsunami that ravaged a wide area in the northeast part of the county and caused major damage to the nuclear power plants in Fukushima, a place name that most Americans had not heard of before but which is now a household word.
Some have compared 3/11/11 in Japan with 9/11/01 in the United States: “3/11 will be etched on our heart and psyche just as 9/11 is imprinted on the American psyche," wrote a Japanese Christian leader a few days after last year’s disaster. “The reasons are totally different, but it is a single event which determines how we as a nation will live for many years to come.”
There are stark differences, of course. Nearly 20,000 people were killed in the disaster in Japan, 45,700 buildings were destroyed, and an estimated 230,000 automobiles and trucks were damaged or destroyed in the disaster. Thus, the destruction was much, much greater on 3/11 than on 9/11.
The main difference, of course, is that 9/11 was completely the result of human ill will whereas 3/11 was a natural disaster. Sometimes natural disasters are called “acts of God.” A legal dictionary explains: “An act of God is a natural catastrophe which no one can prevent.” But while “act of God” may be an acceptable legal term, it is most unacceptable as a theological one.
Yet there were those who literally thought the Japanese tragedy was caused by God. Two days after the 3/11 earthquake/tsunami, Rev. David Yonggi Cho, senior pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church (in Seoul, Korea, and the world’s largest church ) called the Japanese quake and tsunami “God’s warning.”
The next day on his radio show, Glenn Beck called the tragedy a message from God. And that same day even the Governor of Tokyo told reporters that he thought the tsunami was tenbatsu (divine punishment). The Governor later apologized, but I can find no record of Beck or Rev. Cho doing the same.
But “natural disasters” means not only that they occur in nature but also that they happen from purely natural, rather than human or divine, causes. For example, scientists can ascertain how or why earthquakes occur: they are caused by the movement of “plates” below the surface of the earth. Further, large earthquakes in or near the ocean cause large tidal waves, now widely known by the Japanese word tsunami.
I hope you have been able to see some of the pictures of northeast Japan showing the marked contrast between the situation there now and last year just after the tsunami wreaked such devastation in that section of the country. If not, check out this website that shows how much of the devastation of 3.11 has been overcome. (Here is also a link to a YouTube video expressing gratitude for help received.)
The Japanese people, with considerable help from abroad, have done remarkably well in overcoming last year’s terrible tragedy. But many people are still living in temporary housing and some continue to suffer physically and emotionally. Prayers for and support of the Japanese people by the international community are still very much needed.
Note to those who live in the Kansas City area: Greater Kansas City Japanese Film Festival - Saturday, March 10 (10:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.) and Sunday, March 11 (10:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.) at the Kansas City Art Institute and Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. A number of films will be shown, including Norwegian Wood and The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (nominated for a 2011 Academy Award). Contributions accepted in lieu of admission. More information at

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pacifism or Passivism?

One Thinking Friend responded my February 25 posting, which was partly about pacifism, with a comment about passivism. That was just a slip, for he knows well the difference between pacifism and passivism. But I have found that some of my students, and others, do not seem to know the difference, thinking that pacifism is passivism.
This matter is complicated by the fact that sometimes pacifists have been, and are, passive. Thus the charge of passivism has often been a major criticism of the pacifistic position.
It is true that through the centuries the Anabaptists, baptists with small b, have not been very active in trying to correct social evils. But there has usually been a good reason for their passivism: they were long a small, persecuted group—just like the early Christians. So they were unable to be directly involved in working for such worthy goals as social justice—again, just like the early Christians.
Arthur G. Gish, a baptist who is the author of the highly influential (for me, anyway) book The New Left and Christian Radicalism (1970) and about whom I have previously posted (here), was a dedicated Anabaptist. But he admits that passivism (not his word, but what he is writing about) is “one aspect of Anabaptism of which we need to be critical” (p. 75).
In contrast to the passivity of many Anabaptists of the past, the last chapter of Gish’s small book is “A Theology for Revolution,” and in that important chapter are these significant words I have often quoted: “. . . violent revolution is occurring because nonviolent revolution is not occurring” (p. 139). Gish was a ardent pacifist, but he was anything but passive. (Unfortunately, he died last year in an accident on the farm where he lived and worked.)
Gish was one of the early leaders of what is sometimes called neo-Anabaptism, a helpful designation and a movement that I greatly favor.
James Davison Hunter is the author of a noteworthy book titled To Change the World (2010). In the chapter called “The Neo-Anabaptists,” Hunter says, “Perhaps no one has been more important in the development of the neo-Anabaptist vision and for making it intellectually respectable than the Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder” (p. 152). (Yesterday the Sunday School class I am a member of at Rainbow Mennonite Church started a three month study of Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus.)
Neo-Anabaptists include such people as Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourners community and editor of the Sojourners magazine, and Shane Claiborne, co-founder of The Simple Way in Philadelphia and author of The Irresistible Revolution (2006) and other books.
Wallis began the Sojourners community (under a different name) forty years ago as a seminary student opposed to the Vietnam War. I don’t know whether he is an absolute pacifist, but he certainly has very much been a peace activist. His pacifism has definitely not meant passivism.
That is the kind of pacifism I am most interested in: not the type that just opposes war but the kind that actively wages peace.