Though There Is a Difference

I want to talk about the recent events surrounding Mark Driscoll for a few moments, and to do so without talking about Mark at all. As you probably know by now, he has been invited off the Acts 29 board, and more than one opinion on it has been voiced on Facebook. For all the people who are in the same room with Mark, by his side, or facing him, I commend them to the work of the Spirit in all their conversations. Speak the truth, and say it in love. Respond with truth, and say it in love. But we are not in that room.

My concern here has to do with all the folks out here in the cheap seats. Ambrose Bierce once defined a Christian as someone who believed the New Testament was a divinely inspired book, admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. Out here, our temptation will be to spend a lot of time discussing what Mark Driscoll should do, or should have done, or what the Acts 29 board should have done, and so on. We should actually be thinking about what we should do. Given the public circumstances that we actually know about, what lessons should we take away?

The central concern I have, which I have not yet seen addressed, is not directed at those who are confronting Mark, or defending him, or explaining him, or just being a friend to him.

The concern is as follows: When the public mojo was with Mark, I saw a bunch of people clustering around him because they thought that this is where it was “happening.” This was the main chance. Now that the mojo isn’t flowing the same direction anymore, neither is the main chance, and so it is time to create a little prudent distance.

Some people support Mark because that is what they think is right, and others are critical because that is what they think is right. Those two camps do exist, but I am talking about a third category — the folks who are just catching a train. Their only question is whether or not the train is going their way, and going fast enough.

Just as there were people attracted to the ministry of Mark Driscoll for the wrong reasons, so also there will be many repelled for the wrong reasons. And often it will be the same people, and the same reason. Same people, same reason, different direction.

So there is really only one exhortation here — whoever you are, don’t be that guy. Don’t be the guy who can’t tell the difference between covering the controversy in prayer and covering his butt.

Sexual Justice

If you stick around, in just a moment I am going to be dealing with the problem created by registered sex offenders attending church. However, before we get there, I want to say something about the cultural context we find ourselves in. And that said, I want to warn you beforehand that the point I am going to draw from that context is probably not what you think I am going to draw, so please hold your wrath until you finish the paragraphs following.

There is no way to pornify a culture the way we have done without making porn far more available to kids than it used to be. And kids obviously learn from what they see, monkey see monkey do. This includes what we call “mainstream” entertainment, and not just the triple-x stuff. We now have young kids who have seen, or who have heard about on the playground, practices that previous generations learned about in their second year of med school. Nobody should be surprised when when some junior high boy tries out some of what he has seen or heard about on his younger sister. When sexual corruption becomes ubiquitous, many more kids are going to get swept up in it. Call it the collateral damage of the sexual revolution.

But I am not saying this in any exculpatory way. Corruption is corruption, and being steeped in corruption from childhood does not remove any personal responsibility. We are a sinful race. So this point has nothing to do with the making of excuses for the perpetrators of sex crimes — while it is true that many victimizers were victims themselves first, that doesn’t make any of it right. Personal responsibility is assigned by the Bible, and not by our experiences.

So why make the point about pornification then? What this is intended to do is point out that those who promote and advance such corruptions in one area ought not to be entrusted with adjudication of crimes and offenses of a sexual nature in another area. Our establishment no longer knows what sex itself is supposed to be, and so cannot know what sexual justice is supposed to be. We therefore ought not to rely on their “wisdom” about sexual justice as it relates to children. They don’t have any wisdom. Our cultural milieu tolerates and teaches courses in our universities (!) which solemnly maintain that all instances of PIV (penis in vagina) are rape by definition,  dogmatically pronounce that TMI sex education for grade schoolers is a moral necessity, say that doing the anal honors should be considered a high privilege, and now with much of the legal resistance to same sex mirage out of the way, has already been preparing to mainstream pedophilia. The last thing in the world Christians should do is join in with any stampeding opinions about any of this from the secularists. They don’t know what sex is for, and they therefore don’t know what sexual justice is.

Here is (just) one example of secularist dogma that Christians are bound to reject. “Sex offenders don’t ever change.” This is not only an error, it is an error which strikes at the heart of the gospel’s efficacy. Now it is quite true that sex offenders don’t ever change themselves, but this is true for the same reason that thieves and adulterers never change themselves. Christ came into the world to save sinners, including the really screwed up ones.

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9–11).

The words translated here as effeminate and abusers of themselves with mankind refer to homosexual behavior, plainly and unambiguously. Anyone who says otherwise is blowing some scholarly smoke at you. And in the ancient world, who does not know that this kind of practice routinely included young boys? But my point in citing this passage is not to prove that this kind of behavior is immoral, as much as that point might be needed in other discussions, but rather to demonstrate that “sex offenders cannot change” is a lie straight out of the pit of hell. Among the Corinthians, do you think there were any converts who had been given over fully to the ancient ways with a whole series of young boys? “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

Thus, if a sex offender is kept outside the congregation, and is served communion in a back room, then what you are actually doing is making a liturgical statement that he ought not be served communion at all. If he is vile, and cannot change, then excommunicate him and be done with it. Your justification for such excommunication would then have to be that “such people never change.” But if he can repent, and be brought to the Table, then he must be brought to the Table with all the other forgiven sinners — which perhaps includes the rest of us.

On Spiraling into Chaos

The trial of George Zimmerman is now over, and there are perhaps a few things we can learn from the whole sorry mess. Perhaps.

In the aftermath of this trial, we clearly have a highly polarized society. On the one hand, we have those who believe that a young and unarmed black man was targeted and killed simply because of his race, and who believe the “not guilty” verdict is therefore a travesty. On the other hand, we have those who believe that he was a young black man up to no good, and that he was the aggressor in his fatal encounter with Zimmerman. They were relieved at the verdict.

The reason we even have trials is so that we have a ordered substitute for what such polarized societies would do in the absence of trials. What they would do is fight, riot and kill. In advanced cases of this pathology, they go to war over such things. The function of trials is to dampen the ardor of factions, crowds, and lynch mobs, not to inflame them. The irony is that Trayvon is now being compared to genuine lynch mob victims, and the comparison is being made by crowds outside the courthouse, away from the evidence presented in a rule-guided setting, but nevertheless demanding the conviction of an individual for political reasons.

That is what a lynch mob is — a large group of people who have not thoughtfully weighed the evidence in a dispassionate setting, but who are consumed with the righteousness of their cause, and who demand a conviction that will consequently satisfy them. Lynch mobs get away with what they do because they are popular. It takes courage to stand up to a lynch mentality, and it takes courage because the current of opinion runs heavily against the accused. When whites were doing this to blacks a few generations ago, it took courage for a white man to stand up to them. Why did it take courage? The same reason it would take courage now. The color of the jerseys can change, but people are always people, and the game is the same one. I draw your attention to a Far Side cartoon that might help us understand this.

Wait Wait Sheep

Whenever someone is tried and acquitted, as Zimmerman has been, it is beyond offensive to continue to orchestrate political pressure in order to keep trying him until we find a venue that will give us the “right answer.” Our double jeopardy protections are there for a good reason, and the right of a convicted man to appeal, while restricting the right of a defeated prosecutor to do so, is grounded in biblical law. It is of the highest order of importance that political passions be kept out of the courtroom.

From the beginning, this sad and unhappy episode was force-fit into a preexisting narrative, and the longer those efforts went, the more lame they became. But because people on both sides don’t always think carefully, some sympathetic to Zimmerman don’t realize that there is a grounded reason for the pent-up frustration. It doesn’t come from nowhere. The fact that this particular incident did not fit the preexisting narrative does not mean that such a narrative is itself mythical. I am confident that many of my black brothers can tell me of numerous times when they were pulled over for “driving while black.” How to handle that kind of thing is the conversation that Al Mohler has never had to have with his son.

For myself, I believe the Zimmerman was kind of hyper, and showed very poor judgment in going out of the house to check on Martin with a loaded gun. But being hyper is not first degree murder, and showing poor judgment is not racism. I am grateful he was acquitted, not because I want him to be the guy to organize and run the Neighborhood Watch where I live, but because I care deeply for the rule of law. Trials matter, and juries should be honored — particularly this jury. I am also grateful that Martin’s parents called for the protests to be peaceful, and I am grateful for that for the same reasons — respect for the rule of law, and a desire to avoid the kind of behavior that will cause us all to spiral into chaos.

Polarized societies want to push toward a simple binary world, where the variables are open and shut, black and white, this or that, our team or their team. But the real world is far more complicated than that. Some have argued that Trayvon would not have aroused Zimmerman’s suspicions in the first place if he had been white. That is quite possible. But I would also argue that he would not have aroused Zimmerman’s suspicions if he had been black, and was walking through that neighborhood in a jacket and tie. And it is equally true that a young white male is fully capable of decking himself out in a way that would arouse the suspicions of every sane person. Skin color is not the only thing going on. You have factors of age, sex, the music pumped out of his car as he pulled up, dress, gang tattoos, behavior . . . and yes, race.

Because of the nature of the question, I am not going to ask for a show of hands here, but I am going to ask you to be brutally honest with yourself. You don’t have to tell anybody how you answered this thought experiment. You are the owner of a jewelry shop in a city, the kind of shop that has bars on the windows, and a buzzer lock to let people in on a case-by-case basis. It is five minutes until closing and a solitary individual shows up at the door. Do you buzz them in? You might say, it depends. Great. On what? Be honest, and whatever your answer is, be sure that you stop condemning others for doing in public what you would do in private.

One of the most insightful tweets I read on this was to the effect that we had a situation where a Hispanic killed a black man, and was acquitted by a jury of all women, and the whole thing is somehow the fault of white men. That is what a cultural breakdown looks like, and that is a threat to all of us.

I Shot the Sheriff . . .

“Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s” (Dt. 1:17)

In an earlier post, on injustice and empathy, a point rose deep in the comments which needs to be bumped to the top.

The point that was raised concerned a possible double standard when it comes to one of “our guys,” someone like C.J. Mahaney, and someone outside our tribe — I know it is au courant to say “tribe” these days, and I am nothing if not au courant — like Joe Paterno and the Penn State scandal. We need to use equal weights and measures (Matt. 7:1). We need to have one standard for all, not one standard of justice for those we know, and another standard of justice for those at a distance. I agree with this point completely.

“Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 20:10).

This means that if Joe Paterno needs to take the hit simply because he was the head of the organization at the time, that is an understandable principle — but it would apply equally to C.J. Mahaney. But if you want to follow the slower process outlined in the statement issued by Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung, and D.A. Carson — as I would urge — then that same judicious spirit should govern us as we are considering scandals like the one at Penn State. We should have equal weights and measures for Sovereign Grace and Penn State.

Does this principle mean that we Christians were being inconsistent when we weighed in on on the Gosnell trial before it was done? Was that an instance of pronouncing sentence before the trial was over? Not at all. The Gosnell situation isn’t comparable because of the nature of the case — Gosnell was a murderer on the basis of his defense. He was a late term abortionist, something that no one denied. There is no injustice in seeing this before the trial. We can assume guilt of some significant magnitude when the defense is, “I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy.”

When the defense is “you have the wrong man entirely,” we need to be careful to avoid all punditry altogether. Wait until the jury comes back into the courtroom, and then we can talk about it. But when the defense is “I swear I thought she was 18,” or “when I shot Smith, I thought I was shooting Murphy,” or “we couldn’t have been robbing the house on Poplar because we were robbing the house on Elm at the time,” we don’t need to be so cautious. We need to reserve judgment, not on everything, but rather on the facts that are under dispute. And any thoughtful Christian should have been able to tell us about the condition of Gosnell’s soul by looking at the ads he had in the yellow pages.

But the basic principle here is an important one — even-handedness — and applies whether we are talking about our friends or our enemies.

Injustice and Empathy

Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Justin Taylor have posted a very good statement about the Sovereign Grace lawsuit here. I appreciated it very much.

The issue — among thoughtful Christians — should never be whether or not justice should be done. That should be a given. What should we seek out, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God? (Micah 6:8)

The issue is that we do not know what the just response is until after a fair and just trial. Just sentences do not fall out of the sky — they proceed from just trials. And in order to have a just trial, it must be managed and conducted by just men, men who hate bribes, men who have a backbone, men who know the law.

If a man is accused of child molestation, a horrendous crime, and charges are made and the evidence is being gathered, then patience is absolutely necessary. If a judge is ruled by the spirit of Prov. 18:17, and he is proceeding with all deliberation, and then he finds himself accused of covering up misdeeds, or enabling such crimes, or being soft on molestation, simply because he did not move straight to the sentencing, then we know that the spirit of injustice is on the loose.

Feeling Like a Confrontation

One of the ways we have allowed egalitarianism to flatten everything can be seen in how we apply trial procedures to everything (to everything that is, except those situations when actual trial procedures would actually be called for).

Determining that somebody is a security risk is not the same thing as finding them guilty of treason. Voting no on somebody for the elder board because you don’t quite trust them with the responsibility is not the same thing as bringing charges. Saying no to a suitor because he is not tall enough is not the same thing as condemning him for being short. Picking out chocolate is not to find fault with vanilla. These are all entirely different issues. But we flatten these issues, and thus we confuse ourselves.

Sometimes you decline to pick somebody for leadership, not because there are any character questions at all, but rather because you simply believe they are not equipped for the job. If some boys are playing sandlot football, and three boys who really wanted to be picked for quarterback are not picked, we ought not pay any attention to the subsequent complaint that Matthew 18 was not followed. They were not picked because they don’t have an arm, as everybody knows. It is as simple as that. Or rather, it would be as simple as that if those three boys were able to read the situation rightly, if they had learned how not to think of themselves more highly than they ought (Rom. 12:3).

Psychological Mint, Feelings Dill, Emotional Cummin

Jesus taught us to deal with the big stuff first. He said that the weightier matters of the law took precedence. The Pharisees of His day had justified their neglect of such things by making a big deal over how they tithed out of the spice rack. Look at us go, they seemed to say. Jesus didn’t fault them for that practice, but rather faulted them for substituting their very thin slices of obedience for the thick ones. Slice it both ways, Jesus said.

Over the years I have noticed a tendency to try to solve convoluted problems with an appeal to a psychological spice rack. This happens in counseling, and it happens with people trying to work through controversies and big snarls. Suppose a man snuck over to his neighbor’s house in the middle of the night in order to shoot his dog. Suppose further that the dog-owner was a big personality who hardly ever let other people get a word in edgewise, who was an obnoxious bore at dinner parties, and who picked his teeth in an unsightly manner. When the whole story came tumbling out, the tendency I have noticed is that of trying to flatten the whole story so that there can be “faults on both sides.” A theory of moral equivalence takes over, one that is manifestly unjust. “Yes, on the one hand, he shot your dog, which, frankly, he should have left undone. But you have to recognize that sometimes you made him feel awkward with your offers to share a toothpick.”

This is one of the deep tendencies of liberalism — that of flattening everything. In the days of the Cold War, the consumerist manufacture of dumb trinkets in the West was put on a level with the gulags. The same thing happens with crime — somebody shoots somebody in the inner city over a pair of sneakers and we get lectures about the societal “root causes” of crime. Somehow the root causes of crime never seemed to include the criminal. This is ethical analysis of mint, dill and cummin, one which ignores the fact that an anarchist blew the spice store up, killing eleven.

I Hope He Takes My Call!

Some weeks ago, I did some protestantial hooting about an upcoming encyclical from the pope on global warming. According to an informed source, my post has apparently caused some ongoing consternation among some of our Catholic friends. Although I have promised a handsome apology if it turns out the pope actually thinks that global warming is a boatload of hooey, some think this is inconsistent on my part. Since I don’t want to cause any unnecessary heartburn, here is a brief explanation.

What if, the argument goes, someone said that they read some newspaper account saying Wilson is a racist, and they believed it. But, they say, if proof to the contrary is produced, they promise to apologize handsomely, just like me apologizing to the pope. Isn’t that the same situation as my comments about the pope? No, but it is at least a reasonable question. What is the difference then?

The article I was using as the basis for my comments was a positive article, favorably citing the pope for his courage in coming out for the environment. Now it is possible that the pope takes the same view of global warming that I do, to wit that the whole whipped-up frenzy is a bunch of statist malarkey, and this positive article was running in an attempt to pressure the pope, to get him back into line somehow. If that turns out to be the case, my apology to the pope (and I hope he takes my call!) would be for that – but not for accepting a slander about him.

To make the situations parallel, suppose someone wanted to pressure me in the direction of the Approved Multiculturalism, and so the resultant newspaper article did not accuse me of racism, but rather praised me for my recently announced and broad-minded decision to celebrate Kwanzaa this year instead of Christmas. This was a courageous move on Wilson’s part, the paper said, sure to irritate his former neo-confederate cronies, and so forth. Now if someone believed this article praising me (falsely), that would be quite a different thing than accepting a slanderous accusation.

Now it is true that I accepted a newspaper account praising the pope for bringing his influence to bear on the crisis of global warming. If that turns out to be a false report, and the pope would actually be insulted by the idea that he was so foolish as to believe that global warming was a real crisis, then I will apologize to him for accepting that praise offered by the newspaper, which in reality was an insult.

I am a Protestant to the back teeth, but that doesn’t make Pius XII “Hitler’s pope.” When people bring their slanders about such things, Proverbs 18:17 applies regardless of whether I am Protestant or not. I should not pass the evil report on, and then try to get off the hook by promising to apologize if it turns out to be false. But if I read a newspaper article that says that the pope dedicated a shrine to the Black Madonna somewhere in Europe, and I accept this report, I am not receiving a slander “without checking,” even if I consider shrines to Black Madonnas a very bad thing. Now this doesn’t make the report necessarily true, but it does mean that it is not slander for me to accept it.

Many of us get information from Drudge. When I read there that Gore was given the Nobel Prize, I didn’t have to go check the truth of the report myself. If I read there that Britany got married again, there is nothing wrong with just accepting the report. But when I read that Sen. Craig was accused of soliciting sexual favors in an airport restroom, and he denied it, I didn’t have any business accepting the news accounts until I saw Craig’s guilty plea. The same reticence does not have to apply if I were to read a positive article about an out-of-the-closet homosexual in Congress. What Craig takes as slander, Barney Frank would not.

Now suppose your local newspaper had a special “Gay Pride” edition, highlighting all the important homosexuals in your area. Suppose further that they had a special sidebar feature on somebody, but they put the wrong photo and name in the article, and suppose further that you read it, and think to yourself — “Huh. I didn’t know that Mayor Smith was gay.” The report was erroneous, and apologies are called for, especially from the paper, but it would not be receiving a slander for me to think (for 24 hours or so) that Mayor Smith was a homosexual. My basis for thinking so would be the same as for thinking Elton John is.

So, bringing this full circle, I would be insulted if someone accused me of believing in the global warming hype. But I would not be slandered if someone believed that of me based on a positive report about me in a newspaper. Once my stern letter to the editor appeared, and the person who believed falsely that I was so foolish apologized to me for thinking I was capable of doing that, I would be glad to accept the apology — especially if it were offered handsomely.