- Why do we need to know God’s ways?
- Secular thinkers say that you know something is right when it makes you happy. You don’t need God to tell you what is right. How can you respond to that worldview?
- Sometimes you come to “know” something in a flash of insight. How do you test things you think you “know” that way?
- Which takes longer – to tell a child “sit down” or to teach a child to behave courteously during dinner? Why does God need to guide us using both methods?
The culture of the USA is a toxic stew of issues that challenge Christian values. Some of the issues challenge the values of other religious groups as well. Without any intent to diminish the concerns of other groups, this blog focuses on the concerns of Christians. The purpose of this blog is to inform Christians about the issues that challenge Christian faith and to inspire Christians to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their responses. It is a call to Christians in the USA to recognize their civic duty as voters to be informed of the issues that make our country more free or less free, especially relevant to religious liberty, It is a warning to Christians in the USA of the parallels between social and political developments in the US and similar developments which lead to cultural restriction and religious persecution in other countries. It is an exploration of the fine line between the legitimate expression of the views of a citizen with Christian moral views and the illegitimate attempt of a citizen to assert a “right” to win the discussion simply because his views are Christian. Here you will find discussions of issues on which Christians are as divided as the rest of the country. This blog will advocate a viewpoint believed to be in accord with Scripture, but you will not find any advocacy for abrasive, abusive, or aggressive language in the discussion of this viewpoint.
It is very challenging to live by Christian values in a culture that increasing devalues any idea associated with Christian teaching. It is very difficult to discuss issues with other citizens when those citizens attempt to turn the conversation from a discussion of ideas to an assault on every opponent as a selfish, bigoted, brain-dead throwback to prehistoric times. Laws are actually being written that Christians may not be able to obey. If cultural pressure produces legislation in keeping with all the social changes, it may soon be very difficult to live by Christian teaching in the USA.
US Christians who feel threatened by such developments can learn something by looking at what Chinese Christians are doing. Chinese Christians have lived with severe cultural and governmental restrictions since 1949. In 2013, small changes are encouraging Christians in China. There is some light on the horizon both culturally and legally. The government is becoming somewhat less aggressive against Christians. The culture is becoming somewhat more open to the expression of Christian faith. Open Doors International is suggesting to Chinese Christians that they begin to take advantage of tiny openings where they may be able to impact culture and government. The pressures that seem to be slightly subsiding in China are actually increasing for US Christians, and this situation represents a shrinking window of opportunity to influence government and culture, but the same strategies recommended for China should have value in the US. In fact, these strategies have always been part of the way Christians affect culture and government around them.
The key recommendation to Chinese Christians is “to impact their society by embedding Christian values through contextualization and community engagement.” US Christians might argue that Christian values are already embedded in the society, and that Christian values are dominant in most communities. The nation was founded by people who held Christian values, a fact expressed in the Founding documents repeatedly. However, due to major changes in the way the history is taught in schools, many children graduate from public education without a firm grasp of those facts. Due to massive changes in both culture and government during the past fifty years, the curriculum, the standards, the employment policies and the administrative regulations for education are all established at state or federal levels, far from the communities where the schools operate. Media, social and political activist organizations, and even government promote definitions of Constitutional terms and principles that are at odds with the historical interpretations, resulting in growing restrictions on Christian faith expression. Christians must be realistic about the fact that there are and will continue to be changes in the culture and the government. It is not easy for one Christian or even all the Christians in a small community to make an impact in Washington DC.
Christians may need to think creatively about ways to embed Christian values in the society. Probably the first idea that comes to mind is to be sure they rear their children according to Christian values. Unfortunately, there is actually a movement under way to make that plan difficult. Just last week it was suggested that children do not belong to their parents and that the “collective” should take more authority in the way children are brought up. Further, the President of the United States wants children to start school at the age of four, an age when children are extremely malleable. God created children to want to learn, and they most naturally learn from the people with whom they spend their time. In God’s plan, the influential people in a small child’s life would be his parents. Moses warned the Israelites about the importance of teaching the faith to children when he said,
These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:6-7
Making government kindergarten the major influence in the lives of four-year-olds would vastly reduce the ability of parents to shape the values and perceptions of their children according to Christian teaching.
The most important statement in the Open Doors suggestions for Chinese Christians is the most important thing every Christian needs to remember: “Christians need to be encouraged to live out biblical values and show people what it looks like to be followers of Christ.” This is something every Christian ought to write on his heart. In fact, it is so important that a failure to do it is probably at the root of many social and political evils in the US today. Timothy Dalrymple recently wrote, “As our nation struggles to clarify the status of same-sex relationships, it’s all too easy to ignore the fact that the foundation of America’s social, economic and military success has been our society’s broad, voluntary commitment to Judeo-Christian morality.” He develops a strong case for the failure of Christians to live by their own values as a major enabler of the cultural momentum to revise the whole concept of marriage and family, a change of cosmic proportions and apocalyptic portent for human society.
If the future depended on human ability to live like Christ, all hope would be lost. Fortunately, Christians do not believe that the future of the human race is dependent on human perfectibility, as secular thinkers do. The book of Revelation, terrifying images notwithstanding, is actually filled with inspiration and hope for the future. It isn’t a book of pep talks: Hang in there. Never give up. Just do it. Instead, the author of Revelation warns that terrible cataclysms will be the expression of the ultimate war between good and evil in time and space. Hope for the future, however, resides in God’s complete victory over Satan through Christ’s death on the cross. Because Satan himself has already been defeated in the realm of eternity and infinity, the horrific clashes between good and evil in time and space are simply the dying gasps of a defeated enemy. The apparent reality of Satan’s power is transcended by the real reality of Christ’s power through his death and resurrection. Revelation reminds us not to limit our understanding to the measure of our senses.
How does this truth shape our interaction with our culture? Why should we suffer if it is all up to God? The answer is that our battles are important. Our suffering matters in the eternal scheme of things. That is why we go ahead and stand up to socialist activism that wants to snatch children away from their parents, that wants to redefine marriage and family in self-indulgent terms, that demands that we lock God and all references to him inside buildings. God’s purpose for time and eternity requires that we live so close to Christ that he is our only treasure, so that we testify with Paul,
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. Philippians 3:8-10
What, exactly, is a family?
When I was a child, and during the years when I became a tween, a teen and ultimately an adult, at least in years, I do not remember anyone discussing the definition of family. People understood what that meant. The model for family was a core of father, mother, and children, with a halo of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and in-laws. We all knew families that were missing some of these elements because of death, divorce, or abandonment, but we still called them families.
We all knew in those days that parents were in charge of rearing their children, and nobody messed with parents. When my parents, for reasons that are irrelevant today, became outraged that my teacher made everybody try square dancing, the school administration respected their wishes and told my teacher to let me sit out. My parents were not scorned by school or community, even though some people really scratched their heads about it. Parents were in charge of the children, and nobody disputed that important role.
As the twentieth century wound down and the twenty-first was born, many parents completely removed their children from public schools for reasons much more consequential than square-dancing. Parents who held religious convictions that two genders are required for a marriage and two genders are best for bringing up children could not stomach an education that included readings from a book entitled Heather has two Mommies. They did not so much question the skills of the teachers as the content of the teaching. They chose to make a great personal sacrifice in time, energy and money to homeschool their children. They elected to pay the price of their own moral convictions. They did not ask anyone to subsidize them. They did not ask for any special privilege. They simply accepted the obligation to assure that their children received a good education by giving their children that education themselves.
In recent years, many parents have chosen this option because both the skills deficits of teachers and the content of the curriculum in their local public schools were unacceptable. Whatever the reason, the parents have been willing to pay the price of their own convictions, investing the time, the money and the energy, considering the abandonment of personal career ambition to be a price worth paying for the good of their children.
It has been the American way since the founding. Even state laws ordering compulsory education have routinely been interpreted to be satisfied by homeschooling as surely as by any privately funded institution such as a parochial school. Long before anyone advocated that parents take back their taxes paid for education in the form of vouchers for “school choice,” government at all levels in the US respected a parent’s right to determine where a child would receive an education.
The right of a parent to determine where a child receives his education is under attack. In fact, the very definitions of parent and family are under assault, and with that assault comes an assault on the rights of parents to assure the inculcation of their religious convictions. Parents whose religious convictions define family as being built on a heterosexual union and its offspring do not want their children confused by being told that two men can be parents of one or more children, all living together as a family. They do not want their children to be taught how homosexual sex is practiced, and they do not want their children to be told to experiment with their gender identity and their sexual orientation. All these things are part of public education in the USA today.
Parents in the US are accustomed to believe that their right to homeschool their children is one of their rights as parents. It is just normal for parents to make the decisions about the education of their children. They also are accustomed to believe that if their decision is based on their religious convictions they are protected in their right to express those convictions in the education of their children. Even the Supreme Court has ruled that the right of free expression of religion protected by the First Amendment is an individual right that parents can claim as individuals rearing their children.
The Justice Department of the USA recently issued a statement that puts parental rights to homeschool at risk, no matter what the reason is behind their choice. In the case Romeike v. Holder, where a German couple is seeking asylum in the USA because the government of Germany will not permit them to exercise their religious convictions by homeschooling their child, the Justice Department argues that “Germany did not violate the Romeike’s human rights because the ban on homeschooling is a ban for all, not any specific group. Since German law does not prevent, for instance, only evangelical Christians from homeschooling, the Romeike’s are not being persecuted for a religious reason.” The fact that this universal ban directly suppresses their right to express their religion does not seem to matter to the US Justice Department.
The government of the USA is steadily increasing the pressure to abandon many traditional values that this culture has upheld since the founding of the nation. The definitions of family, marriage and even religious liberty are being reworked to conform to an obviously secular standard. If the culture were truly dominated by secular thinking, and if the dominant definitions were at odds with religious teaching while the Constitution retained its protections for freedom of religious expression, Christians and adherents of other religions that reject the definitions of family and marriage that grow out of secular issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity then there would be much less cultural stress. However, as the definitions associated with the most fundament institution of human culture are being rewritten, the culture is also shredding the Constitution in practice, even though the document is hauled out regularly for dissection.
This problem is not uniquely a problem for Christians. Contrary to a great deal of politicalspeak, the men who founded the United States of America were quite aware that the country had already become a melting pot of ethnicities and religions, even in 1789. They wrote the Constitution to protect freedom that they considered to be integral to being human. The Constitution is anything but the bigoted, selfish fortress of privilege alleged by much contemporary politicalspeak. The Constitution respects human beings and respects both their right and their ability to govern their own lives with minimal interference from government. The Constitution assumes that government is a necessary evil, best kept within tight boundaries to prevent it from running rampant over fundamental human rights or from plundering the productivity of citizens. Parents who believe they have rights today must speak up for them and insist that they be recognized for all parents, including immigrants who flee from other governments that deny the rights of parents so that the state can inculcate worship and reverence for the state. The Constitution protects the right of every citizen to choose whom he (or she) will worship.
The Obama Justice Department appears to believe that both the right of parents to educate their children and the right of freedom of religious expression have been cancelled. Will they next remove the word parent from the vocabulary and simply make the state the source of all power over children?