Tag Archives: United States

You Cannot Legislate Love

America is a great and good nation that has not achieved all the objectives people of good will have set for it. For example, it is easy to see the working out of God’s threat to Israelites that he would judge wrongdoing to the third and fourth generation of sinners in our country. The consequences of the very existence of slavery in the nation are still wreaking cultural and social havoc. Laws have made discrimination illegal, but hearts are not transformed by laws.  Affirmative action has advanced the careers of people of races and ethnicities that are minorities in the population and put them in jobs and positions of power. Even as all this positive change has occurred, discrimination has not disappeared. The descendants of slaves, and the descendants of black people who were never slaves mix with the descendants of slave owners and the descendants of those who never owned slaves, but the mix is not universally eradicating stereotypes and anger and bad attitudes.

What could fix this problem? Why is it that the problem is not fixed even though it has been more than fifty years since the law supposedly fixed everything. Why is it that even with a good law that requires people to show respect for each other, they still don’t do it?

The reason is that law does not transform people. A law can act to constrain people who do not want the consequences of breaking the law, but it cannot lead people to change inside and do what is right when no law enforcement power can reach them. This problem persists in people in every part of this problem.

This is what we learn from the Bible. In the Old Testament, the emphasis in Israel was God’s Law. The people sometimes took the Law seriously and sometimes they didn’t, but whether they did or didn’t, they were not transformed by it. This is the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount. Every time Jesus said, “You have heard it said …” he was pointing out the difference between legal compliance and a transformed life. In fact, the reason Jesus had to come and die for all people is that there was no other way to transform us. We could never really obey, and we could never really want to obey with our whole hearts. David, the man after God’s own heart, was often fervent and profound in his faith. The book of Psalms is a testimony to the depth of his commitment to God. Nevertheless, fervent as he was, he was not transformed by obedience and fervent worship. That kind of transformation can only happen when the Holy Spirit lives in someone’s heart.

People who suffer discrimination think they want instant change: compliance. They actually want transformation: complete makeover. The attempt to shortcut cultural change by enforcing compliance with laws that mandate behavior results in phenomena such as “politically correct speech.” This is a cultural stress on language that papers over the truth that the hearts of some men still feel fear, distrust, anger, and maybe real hatred toward certain other men. It also creates a new and equally disreputable group that assigns itself the position of language monitor. These people build themselves up by finding and even creating opportunities to slander other people over their choice of words. The attempt to enforce speech by calling those who transgress “racist” does not improve anything. After sixty years, the nation is divided more deeply over race than it ever was in the sixties.

The real problem is that the culture has not been transformed. The culture with its mix of “races” and “ethnicities” does not have any way to make people love each other, and the best that has been achieved is an uneasy non-aggression pact that nobody honors whole-heartedly. All parties to the non-conflict distrust each other and each worries that others have somehow achieved some miserable advantage over the others. It feels a lot like the uneasy truce that has never been peace between North and South Korea

Why is this happening? 

  1. The offended parties are not able to forgive those who offend. 
  2. The offending parties cannot see any good reason that one word is better than some other. 
  3. No power is being brought to bear on the culture which will transform the hearts of either the offenders or the offendees

At the bottom line, it is all about an inability to love the enemy. Those who use language deemed offensive do it, because they don’t love those they really want to put in their place with aggressive language. Those who take offense at every possible opportunity and who look for opportunities to take offense do not love the people they want to put in their place for offenses they cannot really name. There is no love lost between the two groups. Those who take offense want the moral high ground because nobody should be insulted this way. Those who continue to use the offensive language have had it up the HERE with word games and special rights for some . Every party to this poison cultural stew is full of unwillingness to love the other side – the enemy – or forgive anything.

To achieve change by the power of love, forgiveness and grace takes time. Some people never come around. There is a biblical model for that, too. Judas lived in the mix of the Twelve for the same three years as everyone else, and he was not transformed. Not because it couldn’t be done, but rather, because he chose not to be changed. If we who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit give of ourselves sacrificially in the culture in an attempt to promote love for all neighbors on both sides of the “racial” divide, fifty years from now things could be somewhat different, but if we were to predict that “racism” would be eradicated, then we would be guilty of wishful thinking instead of faith.

There used to be a little saying that people used to deflect name-calling: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” (Today’s children are not taught this saying, because today’s children are taught to take offense at every culturally unacceptable semantic construction.) Parents and teachers taught children this aphorism as a starting point toward forgiveness. By deflecting the natural human reaction to become physically aggressive over words, people could be poised for the beginnings of forgiveness and reconciliation. They could start learning to be gracious and to put the best possible interpretation on the words rather than the worst. They could start making the words ineffective by not responding to the venomous intent of the words. Some children were actually taught to pray for the people who said the hateful words, prayers that those people would be healed by God of their need to hurt others. We need some of this kind of salt and light sprinkled around in our culture right now. We need fewer people to parse every word and accent and innuendo and more people to remember that God loves all of us. We need more people to pray for those who are so hurt or so filled with demonic rage that they can’t speak with a civil tongue (bet you haven’t heard that phrase for a while). We who know the Lord Jesus need to do a better job of sharing his love with the people around us, praying to inspire loving words and forgiving hearts rather than better legal compliance with politically correct speech.

A culture cannot be changed into a welcoming place for all people without love, the love God expressed in Christ Jesus who died for us all. We who know Christ must share him with everyone we meet. Too many people are relying on law to fix what only Christ’s love can transform.

A Verse for Meditation

Battle in the streets of Lyon in front of Sain...
Battle in the streets of Lyon in front of Saint-Nizier church – Canut revolt of October 1831 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.  Lamentations 3:22

Questions for thought and prayer:

  • I first chanced upon this verse on a day when it seemed that everything was going wrong. I took a deep breath and thought about the meaning of the phrase “steadfast love of the Lord.” Why did I begin to relax and look at my problems with less panic? 
  • The author of this verse had seen his country collapse economically, politically and internationally. People in the USA contemplate that same disaster as a real possibility for the near future. Does the biblical writer’s confidence inspire any hope in your heart? Why, or why not?
  • Some people think that God is petulant and demanding. His laws are strict. What is different about the way this writer sees God? 
  • Do you believe the verse is telling the truth about God’s mercies never ending? Why, or why not?

© 2012 Katherine Harms

What Chen Gaungcheng and the Catholic Bishops Have in Common

Each of us lives in a variety of relationships and roles. Our experience in all the various situations affects our behavior in each. Nobody can actually divide all those elements of life into separate non-communicating compartments.

This is the reason I write about political issues along with posts on spiritual growth. Nobody can have a political opinion that has no relationship to his personal values that are shaped in part by spiritual convictions. We human beings are complicated.

This post is about a complicated subject, and some people who like everything in neat, orderly packages will not like this post. Don’t get comfortable. Read attentively. Argue with me if you like. Promise me you will pray about the problem and study your Bible, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States of America for understanding and perspective on this issue. Blast me in a comment or an email. I am open to conversation, but please do not sweep this issue under the rug.

Until today I was only vaguely aware of the news articles about Chen Gaungcheng. I knew that the Chinese government did not like him. I knew that the US government was waffling in their appearance of support. I knew that human rights activists were outraged that the US did not rescue him.

When I know only a little of any news item, I am hesitant to have an opinion. Today I took the time to dig a little deeper. I asked myself why our government would tiptoe around this man that human rights leaders around the world support so strongly. After doing a little research, I think I see the problem. It can be summed up in one word: abortion.

Well, the problem is larger than that one word, but that word is the touchpoint for everything else. It is the word that stood out in all the reports of Chen’s activity, and it appears to be the gruesome pinnacle of China’s efforts to control its population. After our president’s confrontation with the Catholic Bishops over contraception, sterilization and abortion, I don’t believe I expect our government to come out publicly as the champion of a man who resists China’s rules about contraception, sterilization and abortion. Chen Gaungcheng and his family have been imprisoned and tortured for objecting to and exposing to the eyes of the world China’s one-child policy and the procedures by which China enforces that policy. The Chinese government uses forced abortion, forced sterilization and other severe punitive measures against Chinese citizens who do not comply with that policy. Our own president and his administration strongly support contraception, abortion and sterilization under the fraudulent heading of “women’s health.” The fact that no executive order declaring a one-child policy in the US has been issued yet does not mean that it has not yet been contemplated.

I do not expect our government to advocate that China let up on someone who objects to exactly the same thing the Catholic Bishops object to: government policy requiring contraception, abortion and sterilization.

Why should Christians in general care about this dissident or the president’s policies? Unless they are Catholic? Or at least practicing Catholics?

Christians, and Hindus, and Muslims, and atheists should all be appalled at the president’s blithe disregard for the religious convictions of any American citizen. Our Constitution was written specifically to assure the right to liberty claimed in our Declaration of Independence. Liberty was understood to be something the government could not grant, because God granted it, and the government had no right to take away freedoms. The recognition of the freedom and dignity of the individual has shaped even the way our nation treats prisoners who have been convicted of horrendous crimes. One of the important freedoms protected by this declaration was the freedom to exercise faith or no faith as the citizen freely chose to do. Freedom like this is not protected in China, and in China, religions believe and act as they are allowed to do by the government. When our president flattened a fundamental tenet of the Catholic faith by requiring Catholics and Catholic institutions to comply with a policy in complete opposition to their faith principles, he emulated the cold oppressive force applied to Chinese citizens by a government which is not loathe to do physical harm in the name of enforcing its laws. In that moment he behaved more like the president of China than the president of the USA. We can look to that moment for some idea of his reaction to Chen’s behavior.

The fact that our president cannot in good faith come to the rescue of Chen Gaungcheng is simply one more evidence that the culture of the USA has undergone some dramatic changes in recent years. We used to believe that our Declaration and our Constitution accurately defined the shape of our government. Until recently, we would all have assumed that our country would speak out and even act in opposition to the flagrant abuse of the God-given rights of women who choose to celebrate life and fertility and become pregnant and have more than one child. We would furthermore have expected our Secretary of State and our president to speak up and demand that such abuse be stopped. We used to believe that our Secretary of State and our president would be vocal and active in their support of a person being persecuted for the “crime” of exposing such human rights abuses. But then, we used to believe that our government would never bulldoze anybody’s freedom to exercise his religious principles.

Not anymore. Not if the “crime” interferes with the administration of a policy using the “women’s health services” of contraception, abortion and sterilization to assure that no baby rejected by the government or by the parents lives after they decide to get rid of “it.”

In Christ, no baby is “it.” Before that baby is conceived, that baby is loved and planned for by our heavenly Father. In our limited understanding, we may call a baby an “accident,” but no baby is an “accident” in God’s eyes. The whole idea of aborting a baby is repugnant to a Christian understanding of God’s sovereignty and his love. The idea of forcing a woman to abort a baby against her will is an extreme example of government run amok, acting to destroy rather than protect the citizens it exists to serve. The evidence of disregard for Catholic principles in opposition to contraception, abortion and sterilization make me fear that our own government today does not stand for what is right. God will not force either Barack Obama or the Chinese government to do things against their will. God gives people freedom to choose their behavior. That is the God-given right to liberty claimed in our Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless, I will pray that the Holy Spirit works in this situation to make people world-wide recognize the extremes to which advocates of contraception, abortion and sterilization will go to enforce their will on other people, with or without their consent.

What do you think?

Sometimes the World Seems Like a Strange Place

The Assumption of Our Lord Jesus Christ Cathol...
Image via Wikipedia

Life gets very complicated sometimes.It feels peculiar to me to live in the same country where I grew up and feel like a stranger. When I was a child nobody thought it was odd for a family or an individual to go to church. Today it is assumed that Sunday morning is for sleeping in or for soccer practice. When I was a child we all stood up first thing every morning at school and said the pledge of allegiance. Then our teachers read to us from the Bible, or some read Bible story books. Nobody thought that was strange. When we attended graduation ceremonies, we all expected to stand and bow our heads for the opening prayer. Nobody acted like it was an intrusion or an insult or weird.

All these things have changed. My husband and I went to a restaurant during the Christmas season, and as was our habit, we said, “Merry Christmas” to the person who seated us. She was a young woman, probably in her early twenties. She looked a little flustered, and then she said, “I don’t know if I am allowed to say …. That…. Back to you.” We tried to assure her we understood, but in fact, we didn’t. It seems completely at odds with the country we grew up in. We feel almost as much like strangers in the USA as we feel when we travel to some other country.

When I feel alone and confused about the world around me, I turn to prayer, the Bible, and my hymnal. This past Sunday we sang a hymn that is very comforting. It is a prayer hymn, and when I sing it, I can pray and be comforted all at once.

Lord Jesus, think on me

And purge away my sin;

From selfish passions set me free

And make me pure within.

I know that even as I look around and wonder why other people act the way they do, I am not as different as I wish I were. I am sinful and selfish, self-centered, easily upset when the situation does not meet my expectations. My focus on what I want makes me angry and hurt. The hymn reminds me that I need to let go of self and turn to Christ. I thought I was asking him to notice me, but in the hymn I am led to pay more attention to him. I need to be purified.

Lord Jesus, think on me,

By anxious thoughts oppressed;

Let me your loving servant be

And taste your promised rest.

It is so wonderful to take my anxious thoughts to Christ. I ask, “What happened? Where can I be at home? This is a strange and frightening world.” Then I recognize that if I stop thinking about me and remember that my call is to be a servant, not a tyrant, then I can be at peace. When I am serving Christ with all my heart, the anxiety and fear simply fade away.

Lord Jesus, think on me,

Nor let me go astray;

Through darkness and perplexity

Point out your chosen way.

Oh, I do feel lost. Often. The signposts I expected to find simply don’t exist anymore. All the rules have changed. Not God’s rules. The rules of the culture. The common practices of my neighbors. The things people think are normal. I easily become confused, perplexed, and lost. I need the light of Christ to show me the way to go.

Lord Jesus, think on me,

That when the flood is past,

I may the eternal brightness see

And share your joy at last.

There is a way to make sense of everything. I just need to see things God’s way. I need to change my world view. The world view of the people around me is constantly morphing, but that way of living leads to chaos. I need to see the world the way God sees it. Then I will have the peace of reassurance that God is bringing his perfect will to pass.

Even in the darkest moments, when I hear the most discouraging words, when it looks as if everything is truly upside down, I can turn to Christ. He will forgive me for my failures, lead me to servanthood, and put me on the path to his perfect will.

I thank my Lord Jesus Christ for Synesius of Cyrene, a faithful Christian who lived more than a thousand years ago, (375-430AD) for writing down his own prayer in troubled times. I thank my Savior for all the people who had a hand in preserving this beautiful prayer all these years. I thank the One who gave himself for me because he knows that I am dust, and I need this hymn.