Saturday, July 30, 2011

Homosexuality and the Bible Part -3-


The Problem of Authority
These cases are relevant to our attitude toward the authority of Scripture. They are not cultic prohibitions from the Holiness Code that are clearly superseded in Christianity, such as rules about eating shellfish or wearing clothes made of two different materials. They are rules concerning sexual behavior, and they fall among the moral commandments of Scripture. Clearly we regard certain rules, especially in the Old Testament, as no longer binding. Other things we regard as binding, including legislation in the Old Testament that is not mentioned at all in the New. What is our principle of selection here?
For example, virtually all modern readers would agree with the Bible in rejecting: incest, rape, adultery, and intercourse with animals. But we disagree with the Bible on most other sexual mores. The Bible condemned the following behaviors which we generally allow: intercourse during menstruation, celibacy, exogamy (marriage with non-Jews), naming sexual organs, nudity (under certain conditions), masturbation (some Christians still condemn this), birth control (some Christians still forbid this).
And the Bible regarded semen and menstrual blood as unclean, which most of us do not. Likewise, the Bible permitted behaviors that we today condemn: prostitution, polygamy, levirate marriage, sex with slaves, concubinage, treatment of women as property, and very early marriage (for the girl, age 11-13).
And while the Old Testament accepted divorce, Jesus forbade it. In short, of the sexual mores mentioned here, we only agree with the Bible on four of them, and disagree with it on sixteen!
Surely no one today would recommend reviving the levirate marriage. So why do we appeal to proof texts in Scripture in the case of homosexuality alone, when we feel perfectly free to disagree with Scripture regarding most other sexual practices? Obviously many of our choices in these matters are arbitrary. Mormon polygamy was outlawed in this country, despite the constitutional protection of freedom of religion, because it violated the sensibilities of the dominant Christian culture. Yet no explicit biblical prohibition against polygamy exists.
If we insist on placing ourselves under the old law, as Paul reminds us, we are obligated to keep every commandment of the law (Gal. 5:3). But if Christ is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), if we have been discharged from the law to serve, not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit (Rom. 7:6), then all of these biblical sexual mores come under the authority of the Spirit. We cannot then take even what Paul himself says as a new Law. Christians reserve the right to pick and choose which sexual mores they will observe, though they seldom admit to doing just that. And this is as true of evangelicals and fundamentalists as it is of liberals and mainliners.
Judge for Yourselves
The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is simply that the Bible has no sexual ethic. There is no Biblical sex ethic. Instead, it exhibits a variety of sexual mores, some of which changed over the thousand year span of biblical history. Mores are unreflective customs accepted by a given community. Many of the practices that the Bible prohibits, we allow, and many that it allows, we prohibit. The Bible knows only a love ethic, which is constantly being brought to bear on whatever sexual mores are dominant in any given country, or culture, or period.
The very notion of a "sex ethic" reflects the materialism and splitness of modern life, in which we increasingly define our identity sexually. Sexuality cannot be separated off from the rest of life. No sex act is "ethical" in and of itself, without reference to the rest of a person's life, the patterns of the culture, the special circumstances faced, and the will of God. What we have are simply sexual mores, which change, sometimes with startling rapidity, creating bewildering dilemmas. Just within one lifetime we have witnessed the shift from the ideal of preserving one's virginity until marriage, to couples living together for several years before getting married. The response of many Christians is merely to long for the hypocrisies of an earlier era.
I agree that rules and norms are necessary; that is what sexual mores are. But rules and norms also tend to be impressed into the service of the Domination System, and to serve as a form of crowd control rather than to enhance the fullness of human potential. So we must critique the sexual mores of any given time and clime by the love ethic exemplified by Jesus. Defining such a love ethic is not complicated. It is non-exploitative (hence no sexual exploitation of children, no using of another to their loss), it does not dominate (hence no patriarchal treatment of women as chattel), it is responsible, mutual, caring, and loving. Augustine already dealt with this in his inspired phrase, "Love God, and do as you please."
Our moral task, then, is to apply Jesus' love ethic to whatever sexual mores are prevalent in a given culture. This doesn't mean everything goes. It means that everything is to be critiqued by Jesus' love commandment. We might address younger teens, not with laws and commandments whose violation is a sin, but rather with the sad experiences of so many of our own children who find too much early sexual intimacy overwhelming, and who react by voluntary celibacy and even the refusal to date. We can offer reasons, not empty and unenforceable orders. We can challenge both gays and straights to question their behaviors in the light of love and the requirements of fidelity, honesty, responsibility, and genuine concern for the best interests of the other and of society as a whole.
Christian morality, after all, is not a iron chastity belt for repressing urges, but a way of expressing the integrity of our relationship with God. It is the attempt to discover a manner of living that is consistent with who God created us to be. For those of same-sex orientation, as for heterosexuals, being moral means rejecting sexual mores that violate their own integrity and that of others, and attempting to discover what it would mean to live by the love ethic of Jesus.
Morton Kelsey goes so far as to argue that homosexual orientation has nothing to do with morality, any more than left-handedness. It is simply the way some people's sexuality is configured. Morality enters the picture when that predisposition is enacted. If we saw it as a God-given gift to those for whom it is normal, we could get beyond the acrimony and brutality that have so often characterized the unchristian behavior of Christians toward gays.
Approached from the point of view of love rather than that of law, the issue is at once transformed. Now the question is not "What is permitted?" but rather "What does it mean to love my homosexual neighbor?" Approached from the point of view of faith rather than works, the question ceases to be "What constitutes a breach of divine law in the sexual realm?" and becomes instead "What constitutes integrity before the God revealed in the cosmic lover, Jesus Christ?" Approached from the point of view of the Spirit rather than the letter, the question ceases to be "What does Scripture command?" and becomes "What is the Word that the Spirit speaks to the churches now, in the light of Scripture, tradition, theology, and, yes, psychology, genetics, anthropology, and biology?" We can't continue to build ethics on the basis of bad science.
In a little-remembered statement, Jesus said, "Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?" (Luke 12:57 NRSV). Such sovereign freedom strikes terror in the hearts of many Christians; they would rather be under law and be told what is right. Yet Paul himself echoes Jesus' sentiment when he says, "Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life!" (1 Cor. 6:3 RSV). The last thing Paul would want is for people to respond to his ethical advice as a new law engraved on tablets of stone. He is himself trying to "judge for himself what is right." If now new evidence is in on the phenomenon of homosexuality, are we not obligated--no, free--to re-evaluate the whole issue in the light of all the available data and decide what is right, under God, for ourselves? Is this not the radical freedom for obedience in which the gospel establishes us?
Where the Bible mentions homosexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether that Biblical judgment is correct. The Bible sanctioned slavery as well, and nowhere attacked it as unjust. Are we prepared to argue today that slavery is biblically justified? One hundred and fifty years ago, when the debate over slavery was raging, the Bible seemed to be clearly on the slaveholders' side. Abolitionists were hard pressed to justify their opposition to slavery on biblical grounds. Yet today, if you were to ask Christians in the South whether the Bible sanctions slavery, virtually everyone would agree that it does not. How do we account for such a monumental shift?
What happened is that the churches were finally driven to penetrate beyond the legal tenor of Scripture to an even deeper tenor, articulated by Israel out of the experience of the Exodus and the prophets and brought to sublime embodiment in Jesus' identification with harlots, tax collectors, the diseased and maimed and outcast and poor. It is that God sides with the powerless. God liberates the oppressed. God suffers with the suffering and groans toward the reconciliation of all things. In the light of that supernal compassion, whatever our position on gays, the gospel's imperative to love, care for, and be identified with their sufferings is unmistakably clear.
In the same way, women are pressing us to acknowledge the sexism and patriarchalism that pervades Scripture and has alienated so many women from the church. The way out, however, is not to deny the sexism in Scripture, but to develop an interpretive theory that judges even Scripture in the light of the revelation in Jesus. What Jesus gives us is a critique of domination in all its forms, a critique that can be turned on the Bible itself. The Bible thus contains the principles of its own correction. We are freed from bibliolatry, the worship of the Bible. It is restored to its proper place as witness to the Word of God. And that word is a Person, not a book.
With the interpretive grid provided by a critique of domination, we are able to filter out the sexism, patriarchalism, violence, and homophobia that are very much a part of the Bible, thus liberating it to reveal to us in fresh ways the inbreaking, in our time, of God's domination-free order.
About the Author

Walter Wink, is Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. He has also taught at Union Theological Seminary and Hartford Seminary, and has been a visiting professor at Columbia and Drew universities. In 1989-1990 he was a Peace Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC.
His published works include a trilogy on the Powers: Naming the Powers (1984), Unmasking the Powers (1986), and Engaging the Powers (1992), all from Fortress Press. Engaging the Powers received three "Religious Book of the Year" awards in 1993. Doubleday Books will publish a condensed version of the Powers trilogy in 1997 under the title, The Powers That Be.
He is also the author of The Bible in Human Transform ation (Fortress, 1973), Transforming Bible Study (Abingdon, second edition, 1990), and other works, including 134 articles.
Dr. Wink is a United Methodist minister, works for a Presbyterian seminary, and attends Quaker meeting. For five years he served as pastor of a church in southeast Texas.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

World Famous Evangelical Leader, John Stott Dies Aged 90

Evangelical Christian leaders from around the world are mourning the death of evangelical figure John Stott, who died Wednesday at the age of 90.



Stott, known for shaping 20th century evangelicalism through his writing and preaching, died 3:15 p.m. in his retirement home at St. Barnabas College, located 30 miles away from London. He was surrounded by his longtime secretary Frances Whitehead and close friends who read Scriptures and listened to Handel's "Messiah" when he passed.

An Anglican theologian from the U.K., Stott was the chief architect of the 1974 Lausanne Covenant and the author of over 50 Christian books in which he took complex theology and explained it in a way lay people could understand. One of his most popular books was Basic Christianity (1958), which has been translated into more than 60 languages, according to Christian book publisher InterVarsity Press. He has also influenced millions of Christians through other well-known titles including Christ the Controversialist (1970), Issues Facing Christians Today (1984) and the one he always considered his best: The Cross of Christ (1986).

In 2005, Stott was featured in TIME magazine as one of the world's "100 Most Influential People."

Despite his wide influence on the evangelical faith, many fondly knew him as "Uncle John."

When news broke of his death, evangelical leaders immediately posted statements to mourn and honor Stott as a beloved mentor and one of the greatest evangelical thinkers of his time.

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"The evangelical world has lost one of its greatest spokesmen," famed U.S. evangelist Billy Graham said in a statement.

"I have lost one of my close personal friends and advisors. I look forward to seeing him again when I go to Heaven."

Graham helped organize the international meeting that unveiled the Lausanne Covenant, a historic document that served as a manifesto for Christian evangelism worldwide. When he heard of Stott's death from his assistant, Graham shed tears and was speechless, his grandson Tullian Tchividjian said via Twitter.

California megachurch pastor Rick Warren called Stott one of his "closest mentors."

"I flew to the UK recently just to pray for him &sit by his bed. What a giant!" the Saddleback Church pastor tweeted.

Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance, the largest global body of evangelicals, said he was personally impacted by Stott's teachings.

“Uncle John, was a great influence in my own theological development. His commitment to biblical orthodoxy, global mission and unity in the body of Christ were foundational in my own spiritual journey,” said Tunnicliffe in a statement.

Stott was the primary author of the Preamble to the 1951 constitution of the WEA, which today represents 600 million evangelicals in 128 countries. In the document, Stott provided a biblical framework and the three primary purposes for the existence of the WEA.

A major legacy that Stott left to the world church is the Langham Partnership International and its U.S. chapter John Stott Ministries. The organization trains preachers, funds doctoral education for evangelical thinkers and provides evangelical books to pastors around the world.

Chris Wright, international director of Langham Partnership International, issued a statement on the John Stott Memorial website celebrating the preacher's Christ-like character.

"Like Moses, he was one of the greatest leaders God has given to his people, and yet at the same time, one of the humblest men on the face of the earth. He was, for all of us who knew him, a walking embodiment of the simple beauty of Jesus, whom he loved above all else," wrote Wright.

Lausanne Movement executive chair S. Douglas Birdsall and international director Lindsay Brown said in a joint statement:

"We are saddened by his departure, but strengthened with the knowledge that his great confidence and his lifelong hope in Christ has now been made real to him, and his life’s work has been vindicated."

They noted that Stott's "greatest contribution was to articulate clearly and to defend robustly the evangelical faith which he always understood to be biblical faith, grounded in the New Testament."

Homosexuality and the Bible Part -2-


Hebrew Sexual Mores
Nevertheless, the Bible quite clearly takes a negative view of homosexual activity, in those few instances where it is mentioned at all. But this conclusion does not solve the problem of how we are to interpret Scripture today. For there are other sexual attitudes, practices and restrictions which are normative in Scripture but which we no longer accept as normative:

1. Old Testament law strictly forbids sexual intercourse during the seven days of the menstrual period (Lev. 18:19; 15:19-24), and anyone in violation was to be "extirpated" or "cut off from their people" (kareth, Lev. 18:29, a term referring to execution by stoning, burning, strangling, or to flogging or expulsion; Lev. 15:24 omits this penalty). Today many people on occasion have intercourse during menstruation and think nothing of it. Should they be "extirpated"? The Bible says they should.

2. The punishment for adultery was death by stoning for both the man and the woman (Deut. 22:22), but here adultery is defined by the marital status of the woman. In the Old Testament, a man could not commit adultery against his own wife; he could only commit adultery against another man by sexually using the other's wife. And a bride who is found not to be a virgin is to be stoned to death (Deut. 22:13-21), but male virginity at marriage is never even mentioned. It is one of the curiosities of the current debate on sexuality that adultery, which creates far more social havoc, is considered less "sinful" than homosexual activity. Perhaps this is because there are far more adulterers in our churches. Yet no one, to my knowledge, is calling for their stoning, despite the clear command of Scripture. And we ordain adulterers.

3. Nudity, the characteristic of paradise, was regarded in Judaism as reprehensible (2 Sam. 6:20; 10:4; Isa. 20:2-4; 47:3). When one of Noah's sons beheld his father naked, he was cursed (Gen. 9:20-27). To a great extent this nudity taboo probably even inhibited the sexual intimacy of husbands and wives (this is still true of a surprising number of people reared in the Judeo-Christian tradition). We may not be prepared for nude beaches, but are we prepared to regard nudity in the locker room or at the old swimming hole or in the privacy of one's home as an accursed sin? The Bible does.

4. Polygamy (many wives) and concubinage (a woman living with a man to whom she is not married) were
regularly practiced in the Old Testament. Neither is ever condemned by the New Testament (with the questionable exceptions of 1 Tim. 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6). Jesus' teaching about marital union in Mark 10:6-8 is no exception, since he quotes Gen. 2:24 as his authority (the man and the woman will become "one flesh"), and this text was never understood in Israel as excluding polygamy. A man could become "one flesh" with more than one woman, through the act of sexual intercourse. We know from Jewish sources that polygamy continued to be practiced within Judaism for centuries following the New Testament period. So if the Bible allowed polygamy and concubinage, why don't we?

5. A form of polygamy was the levirate marriage. When a married man in Israel died childless, his widow was to have intercourse with each of his brothers in turn until she bore him a male heir. Jesus mentions this custom without criticism (Mark 12:18-27 par.). I am not aware of any Christians who still obey this unambiguous commandment of Scripture. Why is this law ignored, and the one against homosexual behavior preserved?

6. The Old Testament nowhere explicitly prohibits sexual relations between unmarried consenting heterosexual adults, as long as the woman's economic value (bride price) is not compromised, that is to say, as long as she is not a virgin. There are poems in the Song of Songs that eulogize a love affair between two unmarried persons, though commentators have often conspired to cover up the fact with heavy layers of allegorical interpretation. In various parts of the Christian world, quite different attitudes have prevailed about sexual intercourse before marriage. In some Christian communities, proof of fertility (that is, pregnancy) was required for marriage. This was especially the case in farming areas where the inability to produce children-workers could mean economic hardship. Today, many single adults, the widowed, and the divorced are reverting to "biblical" practice, while others believe that sexual intercourse belongs only within marriage. Both views are Scriptural. Which is right?

7. The Bible virtually lacks terms for the sexual organs, being content with such euphemisms as "foot" or "thigh" for the genitals, and using other euphemisms to describe coitus, such as "he knew her." Today most of us regard such language as "puritanical" and contrary to a proper regard for the goodness of creation. In short, we don't follow Biblical practice.

8. Semen and menstrual blood rendered all who touched them unclean (Lev. 15:16-24). Intercourse rendered one unclean until sundown; menstruation rendered the woman unclean for seven days. Today most people would regard semen and menstrual fluid as completely natural and only at times "messy," not "unclean."

9. Social regulations regarding adultery, incest, rape and prostitution are, in the Old Testament, determined largely by considerations of the males' property rights over women. Prostitution was considered quite natural and necessary as a safeguard of the virginity of the unmarried and the property rights of husbands (Gen. 38:12-19; Josh. 2:1-7). A man was not guilty of sin for visiting a prostitute, though the prostitute herself was regarded as a sinner. Paul must appeal to reason in attacking prostitution (1 Cor. 6:12-20); he cannot lump it in the category of adultery (vs. 9).
Today we are moving, with great social turbulence and at a high but necessary cost, toward a more equitable, non-patriarchal set of social arrangements in which women are no longer regarded as the chattel of men. We are also trying to move beyond the double standard. Love, fidelity and mutual respect replace property rights. We have, as yet, made very little progress in changing the double standard in regard to prostitution. As we leave behind patriarchal gender relations, what will we do with the patriarchalism in the Bible?

10. Jews were supposed to practice endogamy--that is, marriage within the twelve tribes of Israel. Until recently a similar rule prevailed in the American South, in laws against interracial marriage (miscegenation). We have witnessed, within the lifetime of many of us, the nonviolent struggle to nullify state laws against intermarriage and the gradual change in social attitudes toward interracial relationships. Sexual mores can alter quite radically even in a single lifetime.

11. The law of Moses allowed for divorce (Deut. 24:1-4); Jesus categorically forbids it (Mark 10:1-12; Matt. 19:9 softens his severity). Yet many Christians, in clear violation of a command of Jesus, have been divorced. Why, then, do some of these very people consider themselves eligible for baptism, church membership, communion, and ordination, but not homosexuals? What makes the one so much greater a sin than the other, especially considering the fact that Jesus never even mentioned homosexuality but explicitly condemned divorce? Yet we ordain divorcees. Why not homosexuals?

12. The Old Testament regarded celibacy as abnormal, and 1 Tim. 4:1-3 calls compulsory celibacy a heresy. Yet the Catholic Church has made it mandatory for priests and nuns. Some Christian ethicists demand celibacy of homosexuals, whether they have a vocation for celibacy or not. But this legislates celibacy by category, not by divine calling. Others argue that since God made men and women for each other in order to be fruitful and multiply, homosexuals reject God's intent in creation. But this would mean that childless couples, single persons, priests and nuns would be in violation of God's intention in their creation. Those who argue thus must explain why the apostle Paul never married. And are they prepared to charge Jesus with violating the will of God by remaining single?
Certainly heterosexual marriage is normal, else the race would die out. But it is not normative. God can bless the world through people who are married and through people who are single, and it is false to generalize from the marriage of most people to the marriage of everyone. In 1 Cor. 7:7 Paul goes so far as to call marriage a "charisma," or divine gift, to which not everyone is called. He preferred that people remain as he was--unmarried. In an age of overpopulation, perhaps a gay orientation is especially sound ecologically!

13. In many other ways we have developed different norms from those explicitly laid down by the Bible. For example, "If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity" (Deut. 25:11f.). We, on the contrary, might very well applaud her for trying to save her husband's life!

14. The Old and New Testaments both regarded slavery as normal and nowhere categorically condemned it. Part of that heritage was the use of female slaves, concubines and captives as sexual toys, breeding machines, or involuntary wives by their male owners, which 2 Sam. 5:13, Judges 19-21 and Num. 31:18 permitted--and as many American slave owners did some 150 years ago, citing these and numerous other Scripture passages as their justification.

About the Author



Walter Wink, is Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. He has also taught at Union Theological Seminary and Hartford Seminary, and has been a visiting professor at Columbia and Drew universities. In 1989-1990 he was a Peace Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC.

His published works include a trilogy on the Powers: Naming the Powers (1984), Unmasking the Powers (1986), and Engaging the Powers (1992), all from Fortress Press. Engaging the Powers received three "Religious Book of the Year" awards in 1993. Doubleday Books will publish a condensed version of the Powers trilogy in 1997 under the title, The Powers That Be.

He is also the author of The Bible in Human Transform ation (Fortress, 1973), Transforming Bible Study (Abingdon, second edition, 1990), and other works, including 134 articles.

Dr. Wink is a United Methodist minister, works for a Presbyterian seminary, and attends Quakermeeting. For five years he served as pastor of a church in southeast Texas.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Homosexuality and the Bible Part -1-

Sexual issues are tearing our churches apart today as never before. The issue of homosexuality threatens to fracture whole denominations, as the issue of slavery did a hundred and fifty years ago. We naturally turn to the Bible for guidance, and find ourselves mired in interpretative quicksand. Is the Bible able to speak to our confusion on this issue?

The debate over homosexuality is a remarkable opportunity, because it raises in an especially acute way how we interpret the Bible, not in this case only, but in numerous others as well. The real issue here, then, is not simply homosexuality, but how Scripture informs our lives today.

Some passages that have been advanced as pertinent to the issue of homosexuality are, in fact, irrelevant. One is the attempted gang rape in Sodom (Gen. 19:1-29). That was a case of ostensibly heterosexual males intent on humiliating strangers by treating them "like women," thus demasculinizing them. (This is also the case in a similar account in Judges 19-21.) Their brutal behavior has nothing to do with the problem of whether genuine love expressed between consenting adults of the same sex is legitimate or not. Likewise Deut. 23:17-18 must be pruned from the list, since it most likely refers to a heterosexual prostitute involved in Canaanite fertility rites that have infiltrated Jewish worship; the King James Version inaccurately labeled him a "sodomite."

Several other texts are ambiguous. It is not clear whether 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 refer to the "passive" and "active" partners in homosexual relationships, or to homosexual and heterosexual male prostitutes. In short, it is unclear whether the issue is homosexuality alone, or promiscuity and "sex-for-hire."

Unequivocal Condemnations

Putting these texts to the side, we are left with three references, all of which unequivocally condemn homosexual behavior. Lev. 18:22 states the principle: "You [masculine] shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination" (NRSV). The second (Lev. 20:13) adds the penalty: "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them."

Such an act was regarded as an "abomination" for several reasons. The Hebrew prescientific understanding was that male semen contained the whole of nascent life. With no knowledge of eggs and ovulation, it was assumed that the woman provided only the incubating space. Hence the spilling of semen for any nonprocreative purpose--in coitus interruptus (Gen. 38:1-11), male homosexual acts, or male masturbation--was considered tantamount to abortion or murder. (Female homosexual acts were consequently not so seriously regarded, and are not mentioned at all in the Old Testament (but see Rom. 1:26). One can appreciate how a tribe struggling to populate a country in which its people were outnumbered would value procreation highly, but such values are rendered questionable in a world facing uncontrolled overpopulation.

In addition, when a man acted like a woman sexually, male dignity was compromised. It was a degradation, not only in regard to himself, but for every other male. The patriarchalism of Hebrew culture shows its hand in the very formulation of the commandment, since no similar stricture was formulated to forbid homosexual acts between females. And the repugnance felt toward homosexuality was not just that it was deemed unnatural but also that it was considered unJewish, representing yet one more incursion of pagan civilization into Jewish life. On top of that is the more universal repugnance heterosexuals tend to feel for acts and orientations foreign to them. (Left-handedness has evoked something of the same response in many cultures.)
Whatever the rationale for their formulation, however, the texts leave no room for maneuvering. Persons committing homosexual acts are to be executed. This is the unambiguous command of Scripture. The meaning is clear: anyone who wishes to base his or her beliefs on the witness of the Old Testament must be completely consistent and demand the death penalty for everyone who performs homosexual acts. (That may seem extreme, but there actually are some Christians urging this very thing today.) It is unlikely that any American court will ever again condemn a
homosexual to death, even though Scripture clearly commands it.

Old Testament texts have to be weighed against the New. Consequently, Paul's unambiguous condemnation of homosexual behavior in Rom. 1:26-27 must be the centerpiece of any discussion.
For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

No doubt Paul was unaware of the distinction between sexual orientation, over which one has apparently very little choice, and sexual behavior, over which one does. He seemed to assume that those whom he condemned were heterosexuals who were acting contrary to nature, "leaving," "giving up," or "exchanging" their regular sexual orientation for that which was foreign to them. Paul knew nothing of the modern psychosexual understanding of homosexuals as persons whose orientation is fixed early in life, or perhaps even genetically in some cases. For such persons, having heterosexual relations would be acting contrary to nature, "leaving," "giving up" or "exchanging" their natural sexual orientation for one that was unnatural to them.

In other words, Paul really thought that those whose behavior he condemned were "straight," and that they were behaving in ways that were unnatural to them. Paul believed that everyone was straight. He had no concept of homosexual orientation. The idea was not available in his world. There are people that are genuinely homosexual by nature (whether genetically or as a result of upbringing no one really knows, and it is irrelevant). For such a person it would be acting contrary to nature to have sexual relations with a person of the opposite sex.

Likewise, the relationships Paul describes are heavy with lust; they are not relationships between consenting adults who are committed to each other as faithfully and with as much integrity as any heterosexual couple. That was something Paul simply could not envision. Some people assume today that venereal disease and AIDS are divine punishment for homosexual behavior; we know it as a risk involved in promiscuity of every stripe, homosexual and heterosexual. In fact, the vast majority of people with AIDS the world around are heterosexuals. We can scarcely label AIDS a divine punishment, since nonpromiscuous lesbians are at almost no risk.

And Paul believes that homosexual behavior is contrary to nature, whereas we have learned that it is manifested by a wide variety of species, especially (but not solely) under the pressure of overpopulation. It would appear then to be a quite natural mechanism for preserving species. We cannot, of course, decide human ethical conduct solely on the basis of animal behavior or the human sciences, but Paul here is arguing from nature, as he himself says, and new knowledge of what is "natural" is therefore relevant to the case.


About the Author

Walter Wink, is Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. He has also taught at Union Theological Seminary and Hartford Seminary, and has been a visiting professor at Columbia and Drew universities. In 1989-1990 he was a Peace Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC.
His published works include a trilogy on the Powers: Naming the Powers (1984), Unmasking the Powers (1986), and Engaging the Powers (1992), all from Fortress Press. Engaging the Powers received three "Religious Book of the Year" awards in 1993. Doubleday Books will publish a condensed version of the Powers trilogy in 1997 under the title, The Powers That Be.
He is also the author of The Bible in Human Transform ation (Fortress, 1973), Transforming Bible Study (Abingdon, second edition, 1990), and other works, including 134 articles.
Dr. Wink is a United Methodist minister, works for a Presbyterian seminary, and attends Quaker meeting. For five years he served as pastor of a church in southeast Texas.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Clothes Make the (Wo)Man—Or Do They? Conclusion

The prophet, Samuel, was sent to Bethlehem, to anoint the man who would be King Saul’s successor. This man would be from the family of Jesse. Samuel’s arrival in town made the leaders nervous, because they thought it was a sign of something negative. Of course, Samuel was also nervous; if King Saul found out that he was on a mission to anoint the king’s successor, he could lose his life. So, Samuel reassured the leaders, organized a feast, and invited the whole town. When Jesse and his sons arrived, the prophet spotted Eliab and was convinced that he was the chosen one, “…Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Here he is! God’s anointed!” (1 Sam. 16:6) However, God reprimanded Samuel, saying, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and his stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart,” (1 Sam. 16:7). Jesse introduced seven sons to Samuel, and each time Samuel noted that the male before him was not the one God had chosen. Finally, Samuel actually had to ask if there were any more sons. Jesse reluctantly replied, “Well, yes, there’s the runt. But he’s tending the sheep,” (1 Sam. 16: 10-11). Samuel refused to budge until David, the youngest, was presented to him. When David arrived, Samuel was even more surprised when God confirmed, “Up on your feet! Anoint him! This is the one!” The “runt”, the unimpressive son, the least likely was the one God had chosen to be the next king of Israel? If Samuel had not been tuned into God, he would have done what so many are prone to do: judge a book by its cover.

Yet Scripture makes it clear that God looks much deeper. Uniform wearing is one of the outward appearances that people in the Army engage in judging. Yet, at a time when former Army Officers are sorting through their hurts and confusions, the last thing they need is to have their identity as individuals and as God’s servants attacked.

Both men and women Salvationists experience identity-ties to their Army uniforms; and these ties are even stronger for those whom have served as Army Officers, because they have chosen to spend their lives in full-time service to others. So, former Army Officers face additional challenges as they rebuild their lives. Part of the process of rebuilding former Officers’ lives includes separating their identity as Army Officers from their identity as children of the King.

Ultimately, the best garment we can be clothed in—for whatever service and ministry He calls us to—is the garment of Christ’s righteousness. This garment is also visible in a society that is geared to “looking out for number one”, and it definitely marks us as set aside for God’s service. Therefore, be encouraged: whether or not you continue to wear the Army’s uniform, take to heart God’s words, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with…looks and… stature.…God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart,” (1 Sam. 16: 7). Becoming former Army Officers involves laying aside Officers’ uniforms, laying aside a role that no longer fits. However, the call to service expands beyond the confines and constraints of the Army. So, whatever new paths former Army Officers pursue, my prayer is that they (we) remember the words of David in Psalm 139: “You [God] both precede and follow me, and place Your hand of blessing on my head,” (vs. 5, Living Bible).


Elizabeth Hogan Hayduk,
Guardians of the Truth, ‘85,
Former SA Officer
Canada and Bermuda

Friday, July 22, 2011

Clothes Make the (Wo)Man—Or Do They? Part 2

Part two
I’ve contemplated these questions and have reflected upon the posts in the Former Salvation Army Officers Fellowship private FaceBook discussion site, where another related question has been raised, “As formers in The Salvation Army what does that make us in the real world?” As I have been reading in Exodus during the past several weeks, I recalled Mark Twain’s quote, “Clothes make the man”. The meaning of Twain’s quotation was certainly true for Aaron, his sons, and those who later became priests. Exodus 28 details the precision, down to the minutest details, with which the priestly garments were to be constructed and worn. These special clothing requirements for priests were to make them visible before the Israelites (i.e., it made it easy for the people to identify which individuals were priests), and to set the wearers apart as holy for God’s service. God commanded Moses to follow His directions for the construction of the priestly vestments:

Get your brother Aaron and his sons from among the Israelites to serve Me as priests: Aaron and his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. Make sacred vestments for your brother to symbolize glory and beauty. Consult with the skilled craftsmen, those whom I have gifted in this work, and arrange for them to make Aaron’s vestments, to set him apart as holy, to act as priest for me.
(Ex. 28: 1ff).

So, the 28th chapter of Exodus notes that there are two factors that are associated with the specialized priestly vestments—the high visibility for easy identification and the indication that these individuals were set apart for God’s service. Isn’t this also true of uniform-wearing? These two components (i.e., easy identification and service) are true of the military; and they are certainly true of the Army, which patterns itself after military constructs. With all this emphasis on Army uniform-wearing and the aspects of the individual’s identity that become linked with it, how do former Officers gain a different perspective, one that allows for some peace of mind?

Examining the Bible’s assertion about outward appearances may provide some insight into the significance of inner identification ties to wearing the Army uniform. Throughout history, there have been standards of clothing set out for many vocations and jobs (e.g., kings, priests, military personnel, medical professionals, and even for those in academia). For instance, recall the Biblical account in 1 Samuel 17 of the giant Goliath taunting the Israelites with defeat and slavery. David requested an audience with King Saul, provided the king a summary of the wild animals he had killed while watching his father’s sheep, and asserted that God would help David kill Goliath. Saul finally agreed to let David confront Goliath, but he insisted that David could not do so until he had been “properly outfitted” with the king’s own armour. However, the weight of the armour was too heavy, and David couldn’t move in it. So, he took it off, because it didn’t fit him. The key here is that David couldn’t comfortably wear somebody else’s uniform. We can also see a metaphor here: David couldn’t comfortably wear the king’s armour, which came with certain expectations of conduct for the one wearing it. David could not adopt somebody else’s expectations for how he should conduct himself and what he should wear when facing the giant. So, David took off Saul’s expectations, and he was free, then, to successfully follow God’s guidance.

David’s case illustrates the custom of taking off clothes that no longer fit. Clothes that are outgrown are not usually held onto for sentimental reasons, but are dispensed with (e.g., via garage sales or donations to local charities). This custom also becomes a metaphor for our lives—we take off things that no longer ‘fit’, we leave them behind and move forward in our lives. I believe this also applies to former Officers’ uniforms: we leave them behind when they no longer fit our lives. Even military personnel take off their uniforms when the uniforms no longer “fit” them, in a metaphorical sense (e.g., because the personnel have completed their tour of duty, they have resigned, they have been given a medical leave, or they have been dishonourably discharged). However, laying aside a military uniform doesn’t diminish the soldier. Boot camp and training gives soldiers confidence, self-discipline, tools and skills that may be used in a variety of life-situations, and these are the strengths that military personnel use to rebuild their lives when they step away from that avenue of service. This also applies to Army Officers whom leave Officership for a myriad of reasons: they take off their Officer uniforms, which no longer “fit”, because their roles have changed. However, their basic training, intensive instruction in Training College, and experience in the field, have provided leadership training, confidence, self-discipline, and tools and skills that may be used in a variety of life circumstances, and they use these strong points to rebuild their lives.

Many former Officers have taken their skills, talents and training back to the local corps settings, where they faithfully serve and provide leadership and support through diverse ministries. We also know that a number of former Officers have transferred their ordination to other denominations, where they serve as ministers. Still others have cut ties with the Army, yet they have taken their gifts and experiences into other denominations and avenues of ministry. So, while former Army Officers’ uniforms may be laid aside, none of their gifts, talents, skills, and usefulness for God’s service is lost. So, it becomes even more important to remember God’s perspective and position on who He deems fit for service. We can gain insight into how God views former Officers by probing the Scriptural account of David’s anointing (to be king of Israel) in 1 Samuel, chapter 16.

Part two of three
__________


Elizabeth Hogan Hayduk,
Guardians of the Truth, ‘85,
Former SA Officer
Canada and Bermuda

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Clothes Make the (Wo)Man—Or Do They? Part 1

(All Scripture quotes are from The Message, unless otherwise noted.)
Most of us are familiar with the first part of Mark Twain’s expression, “Clothes Make the Man.” However, the second part is rarely quoted; “Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Fashion-minded people certainly ascribe to the concept in this quotation, which is why there is great emphasis on what Hollywood stars are wearing and which designers’ clothing is being show-cased by these stars, along with the liberal use of references to Red Carpet fashion, the Fashion Police, “power suits”, and the like. Plus, make-over shows are very popular—we wait to see the transformation from the “before” to the “after” photos. The fashion industry definitely places an emphasis on what trends are in, which are out, which are classic, which are retro, etc. So, we live in a society that makes much to-do about the idea that “clothes make the man (or the woman)”.

The prominence given to fashion is not new; the same emphasis has been noted throughout history, as far back as Biblical times. For example, the common people, friars and monks wore the simplest of garments in contrast to the kings and queens, and their courts, which were filled with folks whom were set apart, identifiable by their richer and finer clothing. Even the military was clearly recognized by its distinctive garb. Throughout the ages, this focus on fashion has also been true in the Church, where distinctive clothing as been worn by popes, bishops, priests, and ministers, as well as altar-servers and choirs. Additionally, from its inception, we see that the Salvation Army has also employed the practice of wearing distinguishing clothing in the form of uniforms.

However, the uniform worn by Salvationists is more distinct than the vestments worn in other denominations, because many lay Salvationist people wear it and not just the Army’s leaders. Similar to military uniforms, the Army’s uniform sets it apart from the general population. Moreover, this idea of uniformity begins with prescribed Junior Soldier uniforms; so, from the ages of about seven or eight, children are groomed for the eventual wearing of the Army’s adult uniform. Furthermore, the Army’s uniform is recognized world-wide, especially for its visibility during service to soldiers during the World Wars, its social services in local communities and around the globe, and its service to countries and communities during natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes.

The highly recognizable Army uniform means that those whom wear it are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects the high standards that are associated with it. With the great emphasis on the Army’s uniform, the question that continues to be raised, including in the Former Salvation Army Officers Fellowship group on Face Book, is, “What happens when Army Officers leave Officership and are no longer wearing Officers’ uniforms?

The answer to the question of what becomes of former Army Officers’ uniforms may not be as simple as it seems. It is true that some former Army Officers resume fellowship, worship, and service at local corps. If they choose to continue wearing the Army’s uniform, they may do so. However, the Officers’ insignia must be replaced with the trim of Senior Soldiers’ uniforms. And what happens to Officers whom end up parting ways with the Army? In either case, there are challenges, because wearing the Army’s uniform becomes part of Senior Soldiers’ personal identity. These personal identity ties are even greater for Officers, whom have committed their lives to full-time service as pastors.
So, is it any easier for former Army Officers to resume wearing Senior Soldiers’ uniforms than for Officers whom part ways with the Army? Is changing back to Senior Soldiers’ uniforms possibly seen as a “demotion” by the former Officer or by others in Army?

There are many related questions that must be addressed during the post-Officership stage. It is a time of great soul-searching, and many individuals have struggled with questions, such as: “Who am I now that I am no longer an Officer?”; and, “How do I now serve God when I believed that I was called to be an Army Officer, and now—for whatever reason(s), that door is closed?” In the Former Salvation Army Officers Fellowship forum, we’ve attempted to answer these questions based on our own experiences and struggles to rebuild our lives. Each of us is at a different stage of this process, the process to define our identity apart from Officership, apart from our uniform, and apart from the Army.


Elizabeth Hogan Hayduk,
Guardians of the Truth, ‘85,
Former SA Officer
Canada and Bermuda

Sunday, July 17, 2011

THE FREEDOM TO SELECT MY LIFE PARTNER

I’m a married to a loving wife. I’m a white male living in middle class Australia, with two kids, two fish and a cat. I live in an inner city suburb of the largest city in Australia, Sydney. I was born in Australia (Adelaide, no less, but that still counts) and have lived here all of my life. All of those factors combined put me in a position of power. Power I didn’t choose, or fight for, but power I’ve been given nonetheless. Add to that the fact that I am an Officer in The Salvation Army, which as an institution has earned a powerful voice in this country and my position of power is enhanced dramatically.

I don’t have to fight for my voice to be heard. I don’t live on the margins of society, and by and large I’m not prejudiced against, except perhaps that I’m not allowed to become a member at a one of those "women-only" gyms… not that I really want to.

So that means that I need to be careful in the way that I speak. By virtue of who I am and where I’ve been born I need to be careful that my voice does not drown out the voices of those who are not in the same position of power as me. Because I’m male, I need to listen to the voice of women. Because I’m a parent, I need to listen to the voice of my children, but also those who do not have children (for whatever reason). Because I live in the city, I need to listen to the voice of those who live in regional areas. Because I live in a first world country I need to listen to the voice of those who do not. I need to be active in listening first before speaking, simply because my voice is louder than others. I may not necessarily like that, but this is the reality of the distorted world we live in. Some are in positions of power. Most are not. I just happen to be one who in many of life’s arenas has a powerful voice.

I have to be honest and confess that I’m not always good at using my voice wisely. It’s very easy to write a paragraph like the last one, but very difficult to live that way every day. It’s much easier to exploit a position of power than to use it for the benefit of all.

Which brings me to a very contemporary topic at the moment; that being marriage. In particular, whether or not marriage should be reserved exclusively for female and male couples or should legislation be changed to be opened to same-sex relationships.

On Sunday night the Compass program on the ABC aired a discussion on this topic between 6 people of various opinions, chaired by host Geraldine Doogue. For those who don’t know, Compass is a TV program that discusses religious issues. I didn’t see the full episode on Sunday night, but did manage to view it all online here. (The transcript is also available in case it cannot be viewed in other countries).

I found the discussion mostly helpful, with the relevant issues raised and many of the participants being very honest and open about their own experiences. Since Compass is a religious program it is natural that there be clergy present in the discussion. This was fair. It was also good that there were two homosexual people represented, and one father (and self-confessed, former homophobic) of a gay man present at the table. That was necessary and welcomed. I also appreciated the chosen forum – a meal table. This is something I think is worthwhile exploring in any debate. As a side issue, this is a consideration that rarely enters into sacramental theology. If Jesus did institute a participatory and memorial meal as a primary means of Christians retelling his death and resurrection and anticipating his return, then why did he choose a meal? It’s an interesting question, but one for another day. For this program, the meal worked because it acted as a leveller between all the parties involved.

What did concern me, though, was the abuse of power from the one who held the most of it. I don’t think there was an intention to be abusive, but nevertheless it was there. That’s the insipid way that power subtly takes over. I suspect the white, middle-class, heterosexual, married, male minister approached this discussion with every intention of being respectful, but I don’t know that he properly acknowledged that he was the one with the most power at that table and so he needed to be the one that listened better than anyone else. I’m speaking in this specific instance about Rt. Rev. Robert Forsyth, not to “name and shame” him but simply because he was representative of a view that has been most dominant in the church for a long time. I acknowledge that there are personality issues, and many other factors at play here (including how the discussion was edited by the ABC), but his voice was the most dominant one at that table.

And he made it known.

The number of times in this program where Julie McCrossin had to say to Rev Forsyth “let me finish” or “let him finish” on behalf of someone else was really quite disturbing. Furthermore, Prof Dennis Altman remarked (after having been prompted by the host) “I’m finding this very difficult actually to say anything.” Admittedly, there was some humour in his comment, and his exclusion from the discussion wasn’t all Rev Forsyth’s fault, but still I suggest that his comment was representative of how the LBGT community has been made to feel by the church on this and other related issues.

I’m not going to provide my own opinion on same-sex marriage. To be honest, I don’t have one. I’m waiting for the day when I can have an open conversation with homosexual Christians to help form and inform an opinion. Perhaps around a meal table or over a coffee, where I can listen respectfully to their views first. The problem is I don’t really know any homosexual Christians. I know they exist, but I just don’t know where. Shame on me. Shame on the Church for being so opinionated on the “issue of homosexuality” (way to impersonalise the discussion) that we’ve excluded the people themselves from the place where they should be the most included.

Forgive me Lord. Forgive us Lord. God help us to be more loving. God help me to be more loving.

What I do want to suggest, though, is a way potential forward for the church in these sorts of discussion when they arise. Here it is.

Shut up and listen.

Stop speaking over other voices. Stop interrupting. Stop having duelling monologues and actually enter into dialogue with the other voice. Please, just shut up and listen.

I’m not saying “don’t ever talk again about this matter”. That would be completely unproductive. What I am suggesting, though, is that the church has held the power when it comes to marriage for 2000 years and we’ve not been good in the way we’ve used (and abused) that power. We need to realise that we hold the balance of power in this discussion and we should be using it in the same way that Jesus did. Not to exploit it over and against the powerless, but rather to give them a voice. To give them that dignity. To listen to them. To even sit down and have a meal with them. Jesus didn’t “name and shame” people as “tax collectors and sinners”. The Pharisees did a pretty good job at that. Rather, he sat down to eat with them as an equal. Something tells me that the church could learn something from Jesus’ approach. Maybe, just maybe, we might learn what it means to be an inclusive community first, rather than a dogmatic one. Perhaps we might just be able to be a place that everyone, including the LBGT community, looks at and says “look how they love one another – they must be Christians.” (John 13:34-35)

Maybe.

Just maybe.




Adam Couchman
Bexley North, NSW, Australia
I am a Salvation Army Officer, living in Sydney, Australia. I am interested in discussing issues related to Christian faith and practice. You can contact me at adam@setapartinchrist.com

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Two Minutes to Eternity -Part Two


And then suddenly the baby was out. The doctor cut the cord and gently placed him on Susan's chest. He was a healthy pink, and we saw his chest rise and fall. The breath of life. Thank you, God.

Then, almost immediately, he began to turn blue. We stroked his face and whispered words of welcome, of love, of farewell. And all too soon the doctor said, "He's gone."

Within minutes, our pastor, our parents, and our children came into the room. Together we wept, held one another, and took turns holding our son. My chest ached from heaviness. Death is enormous, immense, unstoppable.

The loss was crushing, but mingled with the tears and the terrible pain was something else. I'm not sure I can describe it.

At the births of my three older daughters, I'd felt "the miracle of birth," that sacred moment when a new life enters the world of light and air. The pneuma, the breath of life, fills the lungs for the first time. Now this moment was doubly intense because the miracle of birth was followed so quickly by the mystery of death. The pneuma was here and now gone.

"It feels like eternity just intersected earth" was all I could say to our pastor. The pain of grief was diminished not at all, but it blended with the weight of overwhelming wonder at the irresistible movement from time to eternity.

"Do you have a name for the baby?" asked one of the nurses.

"Toby," Susan said. "It's short for a biblical name, Tobiah, which means 'God is good.' "

We had long thought about the name for this child. We didn't particularly feel God's goodness at that moment. The name was what we believed, not what we felt. It was what we wanted to feel again someday.

The words of C.S. Lewis, describing the lion Aslan, kept coming to mind: "He's not a tame lion. But he's good." We clung to that image of untamed and fearsome goodness, even as we continued to struggle with the question: Why would God create a child to live two minutes?

Everything has an inside

Shortly before we discovered Toby's condition, I read a book by Christopher de Vinck, The Power of the Powerless, in which he describes what he learned from his severely and profoundly retarded brother, Oliver.

I was interested because our third daughter, Mandy, was also severely retarded, unable to respond to her environment. And just three months after Toby's birth and death, Mandy also entered eternity. She was two weeks shy of her second birthday. One of the points de Vinck made about Oliver helped me with the God-directed questions I had after Toby's birth and death. One of the greatest discoveries that a child or an adult can make, writes de Vinck, is that "everything has an inside. In our house, we split apples to look at the core, we crack walnuts to see the meat inside, we press a toy stethoscope to our chests to listen to the heartbeat."

The point: you can't always guess what's on the inside by looking at the outside.

The Bible says that "Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart." That was true then. It's true now. We're so outer focused. We're taught to judge people by the stylishness of their clothing labels. Political campaigns are crafted by scriptwriters, TV directors, and pollsters. Educational policies are based on appearances of political correctness. We're tempted to believe that image is everything, that outward appearances are most important. We ignore the inside, the heart, the spirit.

Each of my children also has an inside. With my two older girls, I get occasional glimpses of their interior life. Their words and actions give me clues about their inner worlds. With Mandy, the glass was darker. And with Toby, we never had a chance to see inside.

But Mandy and Toby both had insides. Despite the damage to the outer frame, the inside is to be treasured.

Our unearthly calling

Not long after we buried Toby and Mandy, our seven-year-old daughter, Stacey, told us she heard God's voice in the middle of the night telling her that "Mandy and Toby are very busy. They are building our house, and they are guarding his throne."

Not knowing how to respond to a child who had never offered a claim like that before, I found myself reading the Bible with renewed interest in descriptions of heavenly activities. Was this message consistent with Scripture? Our family discussions usually focused on heaven.

We saw that heaven is a place of activity, not just leisure or ease. God is preparing a city for the faithful (Heb. 11:16), where all will be made perfect and complete (Heb. 11:40). The Bible contains many descriptions of heavenly worship as active and intense.

And since Jesus said that in his Father's house are "many mansions" and he was going to prepare a place for us (John 14), we could easily envision part of our heavenly activity being to help prepare for those yet to arrive.

I must admit, however, that I was more intrigued by the image of guarding Christ's throne. Was this an honor guard? A ceremonial assemblage of children, whom Christ on earth had invited to be near him? Or perhaps seats of honor for those Christ had in mind when he said, "The last shall be first"? I can't think of many more "last" than Mandy and Toby.

But what if guarding the throne isn't ceremonial but actual? Daniel 10 describes the angel Michael in conflict with a spiritual foe. Ephesians 6:12 describes a struggle "against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Could it be that among the spiritual warriors in this conflict is one named Toby?

The Book of Revelation records battles involving heavenly armies (Rev. 19:19). Could it be that along with countless others of us, Toby will serve among the heavenly hosts in that final great war?

All of this, of course, is conjecture. But what is clear is that heaven will be a place of active duty.

And when the ultimate spiritual battle is over, our responsibilities continue.

The apostle John's vision of eternity suggests what's in store for all the saints: "The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads …. And they will reign forever and ever" (Rev. 22:3-5).

I don't know exactly what our service in that city will involve, nor can I be specific about how we will assist in reigning. But those tasks sound like they may have a bit more significance than most careers we pursue in our current lifetime.

Could it be that when I finally start the most significant service of my life, I'll find that this is what I was truly created for? I may find that the reason I was created was not for anything I accomplish on earth, but the role I'm to fulfill forever.

I realized that my earlier question had been answered.

Why did God create a child to live two minutes?

He didn't.

He didn't create Toby to live two minutes or Mandy to live two years. He didn't create me to live 40 years (or whatever number he may choose to extend my days in this world).

God created Toby for eternity. He created each of us for eternity, where we may be surprised to find our true calling, which always seemed just out of reach here on earth.


Grace, strength, and joy,


Marshall Shelley

Marshall Shelley is editor in chief of Leadership Journal. This article was originally published in Christianity Today, May 16, 1994.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Two Minutes to Eternity - Why would God allow the miracle of birth to be followed so quickly by the mystery of death? Part 1

I was with my son his entire life. Two minutes.

He entered the world of light and air at 8:20 p.m. on November 22, 1991. And he departed, the doctor said, at 8:22.

It seemed a very short time. Too short. My wife, Susan, and I never got to see him take his first steps. We barely got to see him take his first breath.

I don't know if he would have enjoyed softball or software, dinosaurs or dragonflies, machines or math. We never got to wrestle, race, or read—would he have enjoyed those things like his older sisters do? What would have made him laugh? Made him scared? Made him angry?

Those questions swarmed around my soul in the days following my son's arrival and all-too-hurried departure. So many things I wondered. But one question loomed larger than all the rest, haunting me for months: Why would God create a child to live two minutes?

Many tragic deaths can be blamed on human cruelty or foolishness. A stray bullet punctures a tenement wall and kills an infant. A driver loses control of a car and careens into a group of schoolchildren on the sidewalk. Senseless. Heartbreaking. But at least I know where to direct my anger.

With my son, no direct human responsibility could be charged in his death. It was a "chromosomal abnormality" called Trisomy 13. One of the 23 sets of chromosomes developed a third appendage. Despite genetic tests and the expert opinions of doctors, we discovered no known cause for this condition.

As far as I was concerned, this was a design flaw. And the Designer was directly responsible.

I remember the first time I heard the term "Trisomy 13." It was the same hour I first saw my son—as ghostly black-white-and-gray movements on the sonogram screen. In silence, Susan and I watched the embryonic motions as Dr. Silver manipulated the ultrasound, measuring the cranium and the femur and viewing the internal organs.

"Is everything okay?" I asked.

"Let me complete the examination, and I'll give you a full report," he said. I noted his evasive answer and hoped this was merely his standard procedure.

Moments later, he announced his observations in a matter-of-fact voice: "We have some problems. The fetus has a malformed heart—the aorta is attached incorrectly. There are missing portions of the cerebellum. A club foot. A cleft palate and perhaps a cleft lip. Possibly spina bifida. This is probably a case of Trisomy 13 or Trisomy 18. In either case, it is a condition incompatible with life."

Neither Susan nor I could say anything. So Dr. Silver continued. "It's likely the fetus will spontaneously miscarry. If the child is born, it will not survive long outside the womb. You need to decide if you want to try to carry this pregnancy to term."

We both knew what he was asking. I was speechless. Susan found her voice first. Though shaken by the news, she said softly but clearly, "We believe God is the giver and taker of life. If the only opportunity I have to know this child is in my womb, I don't want to cut that time short. If the only world he is to know is the womb, I want that world to be as safe as I can make it."

We left the medical center that July afternoon stunned and saddened.

"Pregnancy is hard enough when you know you're going to leave the hospital with a baby," Susan said. "I don't know how I can go through the pain of childbirth knowing I won't have a child to hold."

Signs of the Pneuma

Summer turned to fall, and we were praying that our son would be healed. And if a long life were not God's intention for him, we prayed that he could at least experience the breath of life. We longed see that reminder of God's Spirit, the Pneuma, flow through him like a gentle wind.

Even that request seemed in jeopardy as labor began November 22. As the contractions got more severe, signs of fetal distress caused the nurses to ask, "Should we try to deliver the baby alive?"

"Yes, if at all possible, short of surgery," Susan replied.

They kept repositioning Susan and gave her oxygen, and the fetal distress eased.


Marshall Shelley
Leadership editor in chief

Marshall Shelley is editor in chief of Leadership Journal. This article was originally published in Christianity Today, May 16, 1994.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Justice at the Mercy Seat

Several years ago a close friend and I were exchanging our private thoughts on the subject of holiness. I found myself taken aback as he hurled something of a zinger at me. He said that in his opinion, one of the two words for holiness in the Hebrew Testament (qodesh) could almost literally be interpreted as “he who does justice though he knows he’s a sinner.”

Wow! If ever a statement packed a wallop, it had to be that one! Since my friend taught preaching and theology for 10 years at a well–known West Coast seminary, I figured he must know what he was talking about. To a non–scholar like me, this simple pre–Wesleyan Hebrew definition of holy living caught me off guard and quite frankly threw me for a loop.

Growing up in the Arminian–Wesleyan Christian tradition, I recall that most sermons and discussions on holiness were centered solely on talk about eradicating inbred sin and other heavy theological concepts. So it’s easy to see how this very simple idea of “doing justice” as an integral part of holy living might have sometimes gotten lost in the maze. Yet it shouldn’t have because doing justice has always been right at the heart of Wesleyan theology and Christian faith.

The holiness God requires of his people is not just academic or personal. It needs to always be expressed in a frequent and radical concern for justice—especially toward the poor and those deemed social outcasts.

I’m reminded of an incident a long time ago that brought this point home to me—though admittedly it took a few years and some maturity before it did so! It was the mid–1960s and I was a corps cadet (student of Salvation Army doctrine and history in a five–year course of study for teens) at the Lawn Corps (church) in Chicago. Our brigade had become known for our theatrical portrayal of Vachel Lindsay’s “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven.” We had performed it at two divisional events and were soon getting gigs at various corps in the area.

One night we were guests at a revival service for the Joliet, Ill., Corps. A retired, widowed officer in the corps named Brigadier Margaret Norris had made herself the unofficial “mercy seat” (altar) sergeant at Joliet. Whenever an invitation was given to come to the altar and pray, she was always there—standing guard, walking up and down passing out Kleenex to all the seekers.

Showing true mercy

This particular evening when the invitation was given, the mercy seat was lined with people, and Brigadier Norris was doing her thing. Our brigade was sitting in the back of the hall watching all the activity.

A very heavy–set woman who had entered the building for the first time went forward with tears in her eyes. She had huge rolls of fat on her legs. At that time, obesity wasn’t as prevalent or as talked about as it is today, and nobody really understood it as anything other than a moral failing.

Brigadier Margaret Norris

It was obvious the woman couldn’t bend down and was too heavy to kneel. But somehow the Brigadier sensed that she needed something more than to just stand there and pray. Without flinching, Brigadier Norris turned the woman around, sat her on the mercy seat, and prayed with her.

To a group of teenagers in the back pews, this scene was very humorous, and the smirks on our faces must have revealed our inner laughter. On our way back to Chicago there were all the obvious jokes about new meaning to “My All Is on the Altar,” etc.

But some four decades on, I now see what Brigadier Norris did as one of the pivotal moments in my development as a Christian. As a young man, I experienced many mass meetings where droves of people would stream down to the mercy seat. However, those scenes remain little more than a blur on my consciousness. Yet there is one sight indelibly etched on my brain forever, leaving the deepest of impressions. It is that of Brigadier Norris exemplifying holiness as she did justice by gently helping a rotund woman unable to kneel to sit on the mercy seat so she could meet Jesus. It’s what the Kingdom of God is all about.

by Daryl Lach


Copyright © by The Salvation Army.
Article reprinted with permission.
PRIORITY Fall 2010
TSA USA East

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dealing with the Illness of Loved Ones and Other Challenges in Life Part 2

Some thoughts to remember.....

During these days I have come to realize that illness is not evidence of God 'punishing' us for past 'misdeeds'. Unfortunately, there are some who would have you believe this. God allows illness to visit His people for a reason. That reason may not always be clear, at first, but we can be assured, whatever it is, God knows exactly what is happening and why. He loves you and cares for you and He will work out His perfect will through you, even when illness is present.

Illness always brings with it the need for reliance upon God. During times of illness we feel most vulnerable. Some would say helpless. God wants us to exercise our faith in ways that bring honor and glory to Him. It is during times of affliction that God works His most powerful ways through us. He makes His presence felt by those who need Him the most. It is when we are at our most vulnerable that we 'cast all our care upon Him'. Depending upon Him for strength, endurance, understanding and compassion brings into our life a power that is sufficient to enable us to serve Him most effectively.

God has a grand design for our lives. We may not always understand it. It may not always be a plan that we would choose. But, as we stand in His presence, we come to realize His wisdom, perhaps in ways not understood before. For His people God works all things out for the good.

Finally, He will not leave you or forsake you! God is an ever present help in time of need. He is there for you to talk with, cry with, rejoice with and serve with. He is alongside of you and He will never be absent. That is true throughout life, but never more true than is times of great distress.

This knowledge is what helps each of us deal with our life circumstance. It is the realization that God has brought many blessings our way and He continues to do so. He is an ever loving, ever present God. It is upon Him that we rely. Whatever the future holds, we do not walk alone. It is not necessary for us to deal with these realities by ourselves. God draws up alongside, each step of the way.

Are you facing challenging circumstances in life? Are you dealing with the illness of a loved one? Please know that you need not do it alone! God stands, even now, at your side ready to guide, comfort, strengthen, and enable you to navigate difficult waters. Take some time to seek Him out and, as you do, "count your blessings"!

"The will of God will never take you
Where the grace of God cannot keep you,
Where the arms of God cannot support you,.
Where the riches of God cannot supply your needs,
Where the power of God cannot endow you."

May God Bless you!

Gary D. Laws
Former SA Officer
USA Central

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dealing with the Illness of Loved Ones and Other Challenges in Life Part 1

In 1992, my wife began showing signs of muscle weakness. At first it was mild. She had pains in her arms and legs, often her eyes would cross and her eyelids would shut involuntarily. Over about 6 months, the symptoms became worse and someone had to be home with her around the clock. I worked the day shift and my son the night shift which enabled one of us to be home at all times. Eventually she became totally unable to care for herself. Soon we had a diagnosis of Myastheina Gravis. We were not sure what the future would hold. After about a year, and many, many trips to the doctor and hospital, she went into remission and we were, indeed, a joyful family as she began to regain her abilities.

She did very well for several years, then illness struck again. She would begin to experience many behavioral difficulties which no one could adequately explain. More doctors and multiple hospitalizations. More discouraging diagnosis. Then came the heart attacks, two to be precise, and ultimately 3 full blown strokes and a severe bout with depression over a one year period. By this time my son had joined the military and our ministry had taken us far away from our other four children who, now, were grown and had families of their own. It became necessary to leave our ministry of many years and move closer to three of our children. More doctors and hospitals, most recently a two month stay at which time we almost lost her.

Recently, the overall diagnosis for these newer conditions became Vascular Dementia, resulting from the strokes. Once again, this wonderful lady found herself totally dependent upon others for even the most simple things in life such as dressing, bathing, walking, eating and more. She is not always able to speak as she would like or formulate her words. Often, she will sit on the edge of the bed and weep, thinking that life will never again be normal for her.

One day we went outdoors to sit in the sunshine and, as we looked off in the distance, there was a woman in a wheel chair making her way across the distant parking lot. She was alone, pushing herself backwards with one foot, a few inches at a time. I was a bit worried, in that moment, that Susan would see herself (in that woman) at some time in the future, so I did not say anything for fear of bringing that to mind. We were both silent and then, as the lady made her way behind a building and out of our view, Sue looked up at me and said in words as clear as ever, "We should be thankful for our blessings!"

"Thankful"?, I thought to myself! My wife, over several years, has been ill beyond anything she deserves, and we should be thankful? We have lost our ministry, our retirement, our freedom and my wife has lost the ability to care for herself and somehow this seemed, to me, like a strange way for her to react. After all, she could very well be in the same situation as this poor lady in the wheel chair, and in the not to distant future at that.

These thoughts lasted only for a few fleeting seconds. The Lord convicted me immediately.Then, I was reminded of my wife's powerful, albeit simple words. "We should be thankful for our blessings!" In that moment I started counting those blessings, as that great hymn suggests. Naming them, "one by one". We live comfortably, while finances are a challenge we have sufficient. We can communicate with each other, hug each other, share quiet moments throughout the day! We are able to enjoy our children and grandchildren. We can get out and move about many days. I have the physical and emotional strength to serve my wife in these days and most of all, we have a God who loves, enables and cares for us each step of the way. Then I realized that we had not lost our ministry at all. It has simply changed. I have a new, God given ministry to my wife and I hope she realizes that she ministers to me, also, in countless ways.

End Part 1


Gary D. Laws
Former SA Officer
USA Central

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Iran: Death Sentence Upheld

The Iranian Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of a pastor convicted of apostasy and accused of evangelizing Muslims. Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, has been in prison since October 2009, and the appeal of his death sentence was rejected by the Iranian Supreme Court on June 28, 2011. He is to be executed by hanging. If the death sentence is carried out, it will be the first court-ordered execution of a Christian in Iran in 20 years.
Youcef and his wife, Fatemah
“At this time, there is no more action that can be done inside of Iran to overturn this sentence,” a VOM contact said. “It can be carried out at any time. The only options right now are to immediately and swiftly bring international attention to the issue.”
Nadarkhani, a pastor from Rasht, about 750 miles northwest of Tehran, was arrested in October 2009 after he protested a government policy that required children, including his 8- and 9-year-old sons, to study the Quran in school.

Nadarkhani told school officials that the Iranian constitution allows for freedom of religious practice. As a result of his protest, secret police called him before a political tribunal and arrested him for protesting. The charges were later amended to apostasy and evangelism of Muslims. Nadarkhani was tried on Sept. 21–22, 2010, by the 1st Court of the Revolutionary Tribunal and sentenced to death on Nov. 13 for apostasy.

Nadarkhani is imprisoned in Lakan prison, where authorities have used various methods, including medication, to convert him back to Islam, according to Present Truth Ministries. After Nadarkhani refused to convert to Islam, his wife was arrested, put on trial without an attorney and sentenced to life in prison. She was later released after an attorney appealed her sentence. The Nadarkhanis’ children were cared for by a relative while they were both in prison.

Please lift up Pastor Nadarkhani urgently before the Lord and ask for his release.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Daily Telegraph Blog Editor Condemns 'Islam's Persecution of Christians'

Damian Thompson saw fit yesterday to exploit the murder in Pakistan of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s only Christian minister, to launch a tirade against Islam and the religion’s supposed persecution of Christians and the apparent failure of Christian leaders to speak out against such persecution.
He wrote in his Telegraph blog:

“Shahbaz Bhatti was Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities and today he paid the price for belonging to the most despised Pakistani minority of all: Christians. He was shot dead in his car for the crime of campaigning to reform the country’s medieval blasphemy laws. Those laws are used to make life hell for Christians – but that doesn’t seem to bother Britain and the EU, which pour millions of pounds into Pakistan and don’t make a big deal out of anti-Christian persecution.”

“Meanwhile, as my colleague Ed West has often noted, Iraq’s indigenous Christian minority is close to extinction. To be fair, that wasn’t intention of the originator of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation when he invaded the country – but it was certainly the vision of the founder of Islam.”

“Serving C of E bishops touch on the subject occasionally, but most seem slumped in a multi-faith snooze. And Catholics? Various bishops do good work in the Holy Land, but they seem more interested in ‘bridge-building’ than protesting about the evisceration of the ancient Churches.”

Thompson’s piece is similar to the one published by Leo McKinstry in December when he also attempted to blame Islam for the persecution of Christians in places such as Iraq and argued that religious leaders had not done enough to challenge “Islam’s culture of persecution.”

Then, as now, Christian leaders did highlight the persecution of Christian minorities in these countries but refrained from blaming the door at the foot of Islam. It is difficult for someone to argue that Islam compels Muslims to persecute Christians when we witness reports of acts such as those in Egypt, where Muslims “turned up in droves” for the Coptic Christmas mass to protect Christians from violence – unless of course, they have an anti-Islamic agenda which they wish to peddle at any available opportunity.

As for Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who one can only assume is the one referred to by Thompson when he says ‘the founder of Islam’, he instigated many treaties during his lifetime for the purpose of protecting Christian communities. See here for an example of the treaties. That would hardly be the actions of someone whose vision was to extinguish Christians.

Perhaps Thompson did not know of this and is in need for a history lesson. Any takers?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Justice for Caylee?

What I know for sure about the Casey Anthony verdict
by Ginger Kolbaba

“This just in . . . murder is legal in Florida.”

Those words popped up on my Facebook page from a friend. She, of course, is responding to the Casey Anthony verdict of not guilty.

I’ve been following the trial off and on over the course of its six week run. So I was interested to hear the jury's decision. Would Casey Anthony be found guilty or not guilty of murdering her two-year-old daughter, Caylee?

With the verdict of not guilty, I find myself wondering now, Is Casey really innocent? Or is she just not guilty? And I really don’t know.

But this is what I do know. As I watched the live stream from my computer, I realized how grateful I am that there’s something more than this trial and this verdict.

I am grateful that God is real.

Why?

Because as a Christian, I know that one day the truth will come out and justice will happen. We have that guarantee. God will make all things right.

If Caylee's death was genuinely an accident, which was covered up by a poorly judged choice that snowballed out of control, God will make things right. If Caylee's death was an intentional murder by Casey or by someone else, God will make things right.

I believe these things with my entire being. But I think about the people who don’t believe in God who have been following this case. If they believe that Caylee was murdered, they probably now believe that Caylee’s murderer will never be brought to justice. Because to them, justice happens here on earth. There is no one, outside of the courtroom, who can avenge the wrongs of others.


If Caylee's death was an accident, I mourn for a mother who made poor choices, but who will live with those choices. I grieve for a woman who is far from a God who loves her, who desperately needs a Savior to grasp her out of a dysfunctional, lost, hopeless life.

If Caylee's death was a murder, I still mourn for a mother who made poor choices, and who will live with those choices. I still grieve for a woman who is far from a God who loves her, and who desperately needs a Savior to grasp her out of a dysfunctional, lost, hopeless life.

And ultimately, as a follower of Christ, I know that Caylee’s death will not be in vain. Though finding the truth is now a dim prospect, and soon the media’s attention and cameras will move on to other newsworthy events, there is One who will not forget. The ultimate loving Father, the Judge and Jury, the One who knows all and sees the truth and the hearts of everyone involved, will not allow Caylee’s untimely death to be forgotten or lost.

At the right time, and in his perfect way, God will honor Caylee’s short life. And this is true not only for Caylee, but for all those who have been hurt or neglected by another, for all those who have died too soon.

We want answers now. We want to see justice accomplished, to know that the perpetrator “got what was coming.”

But truth and justice know no bounds, limitations, or timelines. And although answers may not happen when we want them—they may not even happen on this side of eternity—we can know that they will come. The innocent will not be forgotten.

And for that, no matter what the verdict, I am grateful that God will make things right.

What do you think about the trial’s verdict? What do you think about the true justice that God gives?

Ginger Kolbaba







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