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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Justice

It’s Okay, They’re Just Indians

I know, I know. You don’t have to tell me.

sitting-bull-394471_1280That title is offensive on several levels. First, the culturally appropriate word for them is Native Americans. Second, the idea that “they’re just” is a pretty odious sentiment. It conveys they idea that how we treat people can be based on who they are rather than on who WE are or on an intrinsic value that lies within all humanity.

Unfortunately, this seems to be precisely the sentiment many people are taking towards the Standing Rock Sioux and the Dakota Access Pipeline. In case you’ve been living under a rock:

The pipeline is currently under construction by Dakota Access, LLC, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. The minor partners involved in the project are Phillips 66, Enbridge, and Marathon Petroleum. The route begins in the Bakken oil fields in northwest North Dakota and travels in a more or less straight line south-east, through South Dakota and Iowa, and ends at the oil tank farm near Patoka, Illinois.

The Sioux are protesting the pipeline, saying “that the pipeline threatens the Tribe’s environmental and economic well-being, and would damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance.”

I’m not particularly concerned with environmental issues in this post (that’s a conversation for a different post). What I am concerned with is how we treat people. Christians have a biblical mandate to treat people well. In fact, we’re called to treat people well even when people mistreat us (one of the Bible’s most difficult teachings regarding suffering under evil rulers and masters). Additionally, people of faith are called to be honorable in how we deal with others.

Do you remember the last time someone broke a promise to you? How did it make you feel? The Bible refers to vows or promises and that God’s people are supposed to known as vow keepers.

If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. ~ Numbers 30:2

Since God himself is a covenant maker and covenant keeper, we are also supposed to be like that. Yet our government has been notoriously bad at keeping covenants with Native American tribes. Historically, when we have desired something that was on Native American land, we would break treaties, take what we desired, and relocate the people to new land and/or new promises.

I’m reminded of the words of the prophet in Hosea 10:4:

They speak mere words, With worthless oaths they make covenants; And judgment sprouts like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field.

You don’t have to agree with the politics of the thing, but when it comes to honoring covenants and how we treat people, I believe Christians ought to be the first to stand with the Standing Rock Reservation. Here’s a page outlining 10 ways you can help support the Standing Rock Sioux.

It doesn’t matter who the people are – we are called to treat people well. The Bible says that we’re supposed to treat others as BETTER than we treat ourselves. Unless the covenant is an immoral or ungodly covenant, we are called to be covenant keepers just as God is a covenant keeper with us.

Forget Forgiveness – I Want Rapists to Suffer

courtroom-898931_1280I needed a couple days to cool off before I wrote on this topic. By now, everyone in America has heard of Brock Turner, the man who was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman last year. While the prosecution asked for a 6 year sentence, the judge thought that a long prison term would have “a severe impact” on the criminal and gave a sentence of 6 months, of which there is a possibility he may only serve 3.

When I heard that I nearly lost my mind.

3 months in jail for sexually assaulting a woman. What has this world come to? There are no words that can express the depth of loathing I have for the man who assaulted the woman and the judge who is refusing to bring justice against the vile perpetrator.

But Chris, what about Jesus’s words about forgiveness? Wouldn’t Jesus want us to forgive and move on?

NO!

The context of Jesus’s words is not even remotely close to dealing with one person raping another. Jesus said,

“Even if your brother wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks for forgiveness, forgive him.” (Luke 17:4)

Jesus wasn’t being literal. He wasn’t advocating a 7-time forgiveness, but it you get to number 8 you’re free to withhold forgiveness. Jesus was trying to teach people about a character issue – are we willing to be people of forgiveness when people who wrong us repent and seek forgiveness. Jesus wasn’t talking about legal justice.

And Brock Turner has never repented or asked for forgiveness. He’s given excuses – he had too much to drink. There is no ownership or responsibility. There is no repentance.  All we need here is justice. And the Bible is not short on discussing justice.

  • To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.(Proverbs 21:3)
  • When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers. (Proverbs 21:15)
  • He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
  • Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.(Isaiah 1:17)
  • For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:4)

That’s just a few. We ought to be pursuing justice against evil people who wreak havoc on the lives of the innocent. This man Turner should not be allowed to escape justice for ANY reason. I tend to hold more to the thinking of the Psalmist who, when contemplating Israel’s enemies, blesses those who dash the heads of the enemy’s babies against the rocks.

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
down to its foundations!”

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,

blessed shall he be who repays you

with what you have done to us!

Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones

and dashes them against the rock!
(Psalm 137:7-9)

So I confess openly that I wrestle with developing a heart of forgiveness and seeing this evil man suffer. I know that, as a society, we must do better to protect people from assault and to pursue REAL justice against the evil people who perpetrate it on others.
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What do you think? How do you feel about forgiveness vs. justice? Just keep your comments polite towards each other, even in disagreement.

Black Power: Boycotting The Oscars

film-102681_1920Who could have predicted that the Academy Awards, those beloved Oscars, would be the next battleground for the civil rights movement? Yet here we are, and I’m not so sure Martin Luther King, Jr. would be proud.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently released their annual list of nominees for all of the categories. Some people noticed something they thought was wrong: there were no black actors nominated. Once the list of nominees was released, Jada Pinkett Smith took to social media and blasted the Academy for having two consecutive years with no black nominees.

Spike Lee joined her cause, and now Will Smith is backing up his wife. Smith said on Good Morning America:

There’s a position that we hold in this community and if we’re not a part of the solution, we’re part of the problem, and it was her call to action for herself and for me and for our family to be a part of the solution. [For] my part, I think I have to protect and fight for the ideals that make our country and our Hollywood community great.

The response from the white community has been mixed. Some are quick to jump on board and call for change within the Academy. Others have replied with snark, saying things like:

But there won’t be any white people nominated for the BET Awards!

We’re actually talking about a couple different issues, and conflating them doesn’t do any good to anyone. Let’s talk about the first issue: minority representation within the Academy Awards.

Are the nominees primarily white? Yes.

Is there black representation among nominees (if not this year or last, how about the history)? Yes. Here’s a list of brown-skinned Best Actors/Actresses and Best Supporting Actors/Actresses:

1963 – Sidney Poitier, 1970 – James Earl Jones, 1972 – Diana Ross, 1982 – Louis Gossett, Jr., 1985 – Whoopi Goldberg, 1985 – Oprah Winfrey, 1986 – Dexter Gordon,
1987 – Morgan Freeman, 1987 – Denzel Washington, 1989 – Morgan Freeman,
1989 – Denzel Washington, 1990 – Whoopi Goldberg, 1992 – Denzel Washington,
1993 – Laurence Fishburne, 1993 – Angela Bassett, 1994 – Morgan Freeman,
1994 – Samuel L. Jackson, 1996 – Cuba Gooding, Jr., 1999 – Denzel Washington,
1999 – Michael Clarke Duncan, 2001 – Denzel Washington, 2002 – Queen Latifah,
2003 – Djimon Hounsou, 2004 – Jamie Foxx, 2004 – Don Cheadle,
2004 – Morgan Freeman, 2004 – Sophie Okonedo, 2004 – Jamie Foxx,
2005 – Terrance Howard, 2006 – Forest Whitaker, 2006 – Jennifer Hudson,
2006 – Djimon Hounsou, 2006 – Eddie Murphy, 2006 – Will Smith,
2008 – Taraji P. Henson, 2009 – Morgan Freeman, 2009 – Gabourey Sidibe,
2009 – Mo’Nique, 2011 – Viola Davis, 2011 – Octavia Spencer, 2012 – Denzel Washington, 2013 – Chiwetel Ejiofor, 2013 – Lupita Nyong’o

If you look at the list you’ll notice that there are some years with no brown-skinned nominee. This list is NOT to say, “See, there’s no racial bias in Hollywood!” (Quite the contrary, I DO believe there is racial bias in Hollywood. The bulk of the best roles seem to go to white actors. While this would make sense in biopics and period pieces, there are many films that don’t necessitate a white actor, yet the white actors get them.)

This IS to say that I believe the Smiths are blowing things out of proportion to boycott the Oscars in one of the off-periods. It seems less about the race issue and more about a reaction to Will Smith not receiving a nomination Jada thought he deserved. She wasn’t saying anything about the issue in 2010, 2007, 2000, etc. Even Will Smith’s former co-star on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air commented:

I’m a real freedom fighter. I’m not a pretend freedom fighter. I stand up for other actresses, other people. The Smiths just irked me because they are such pretenders, and everything is a photo op. It’s just self-contrived because her hubby didn’t get a nomination. ~ Janet Hubert

No, Mrs. Smith, I don’t think you have a legitimate beef to bring against the Academy Cheryl_Boone_Isaacs_87th_Oscars_Nominations_AnnouncementAwards, which has been nominating people of color for over 50 years and even has a black woman as its president. It’s not the Academy that has bias against brown-skinned people. Producers and directors, perhaps, but the Academy Awards have been supportive of minorities for a while.

The second issue raised by people in this recent segment of the race war is white people complaining about the BET or Image Awards. If black people have those awards, why are they complaining about the Oscars? White people don’t complain about not being nominated for a BET Award….

Well, that’s true. But we don’t need other awards. We have the Oscars. It’s not that the Oscars are designed to be a “whites only” club. It’s simply that American culture, for the most part, is geared TOWARDS whites. We don’t need our own television station – we have almost ALL of them! We don’t need our own awards show – we get ALL the rest.

Black television stations, awards shows, etc. are not about elevating blacks and diminishing whites. It’s really about validation. In a culture and society that, historically, has NOT validated minorities, it’s completely reasonable and understandable to create programming and events that validate your identity.

So how should Christians respond to all this drama? I believe that we have a biblical mandate to pursue justice and to seek racial reconciliation. We are called to be peacemakers. This means we can show empathy and understanding for our brown-skinned brothers and sisters who feel that society diminishes their identity. We can speak out against injustice. We can pursue avenues of equality.

In the big picture, is an awards show a HUGE deal? I don’t think so, no. But white people must not invalidate the feelings of minorities by burying our heads in the sand and pretending that racial bias doesn’t exist.

But that doesn’t mean Will Smith should get an Oscar this year.  😉

Subway, Jared Fogle, and Sex Trafficking

You have to be living under a rock if you haven’t heard the news about Jared Fogle,Jared Fogle the formerly obese man who dropped a ton of weight by eating only Subway sandwiches who was then hired by Subway to be a spokesperson for the sandwich chain who was investigated for possession of child pornography who, it turns out, did a lot more than simply posses the material.

This whole case has brought two major thoughts to my mind.

1. He was a spokesman for a sandwich chain! I’m rather frustrated by the people who are treating this as a terrible fall from grace. Turns out the sandwich dude was a real scumbag. He was never hired to be a beacon of morality and virtue in a dark and dreary land. He was obese. He dropped a bunch of weight. I cannot believe the level of celebrity afforded this guy.

2. The REAL tragedy and story is revolves around human trafficking. If Jared’s case does anything, please let it point to the problems this world faces when it comes to human trafficking, Human Trafficking one of the fastest and most lucrative criminal enterprises in the world today.

Whether it be for sex or manual labor, human trafficking now generates over $32 billion a year.

$32.

Billion.

Let Jared point to this travesty. His trips to New York trying to find 14 year old prostitutes isn’t about his own issues. There’s a bigger problem – the 14 year old trapped in prostitution.

No 13 year old wakes up and says, “You know what I wanna do next year? I want to be a prostitute.”

There is no country in the world that isn’t touched by human trafficking in some way. This is not right. This must change. We cannot treat people like this.

This blog is about helping turn the Bible into behavior. So let’s be clear on this.

The Bible is quite clear that humanity, all humanity, bears the Imago Dei – the Image of God. This means that every single human being on earth has some intrinsic value that goes beyond what we say and do or even how we behave. While some of us behave poorly, we all bear the Image of God. We all have a measure of worth and can be redeemed.

When we abuse and mistreat others we are not simply treating people poorly – we are abusing the Image of God. The Bible makes clear that God created us and knew us from before our birth. Human trafficking messes with what God has designed, created, and has known before taking a single breath.

Okay, great. I think every decent person will agree that human trafficking violates God’s creation.

But let’s take it a step further.

The Bible also tells us to be people who love and pursue justice. JusticeWhen it comes to human trafficking, it’s not enough to read stories about people like Jared and simply shake our heads. We ought to be pursuing justice for the victims of human trafficking and seeking to put an end to future trafficking.

This is the only course of action Christians should find acceptable. We cannot be passive about it.

– You can support organizations that rescue people from slavery.
– You can keep your eyes open for possible situations around you and report it when you see it.
– You can educate others about the worldwide problem that is human trafficking.
– You can go to http://traffickingresourcecenter.org/ to get more info about this human travesty.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking you can call right now 1-888-373-7888 and get help.

So please – let’s take the focus off of Jared and put it on to a problem we can do something about.

For the victims’ sake.

For God’s sake, people.

Why No Christian Should EVER Be Part of “No Justice, No Peace”

I don’t think any adult in The USA hasn’t heard about the conflict in Baltimore. Freddie Gray died in police custody and the public response, at least for a little while, made Baltimore look like a war zone. For some time now, the cry of the oppressed has become, “No Justice No Peace.”

Peace
Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But today justice seems to be catching up to the men responsible for Mr. Gray’s death. The State’s Attorney has declared that the death is ruled a homicide and charges are now pending against the men responsible. In part of the announcement, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said:

To the people of Baltimore and demonstrators across America, I heard your call for ‘No Justice, No peace.’ Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man.

I’m not against pursuing justice. It would have been a severe injustice to sweep this death under the rug. My problem is with the attitude behind the mantra “No Justice No Peace.”

It simply isn’t biblical. In fact, it’s unbiblical. The Bible calls for Christians to be people of peace, not people of violence. Our ultimate example is Jesus, who submitted to death on a cross. He didn’t ask his followers to pursue justice and to forsake peace until justice prevailed.

We are people of peace IN SPITE OF injustice.

This has been the hallmark of martyrs since the beginning of the faith. In the middle of persecution and injustice, we are people of peace. We rest in the knowledge that God has the final say in matters. Do what you will now, we have assurance that one day all of the wrongs will be righted.

This is the hope that the Church has held on to for thousands of years. We don’t have permission to throw out peace just because we’re angry about injustice. No, this should be the time we REALLY press in and pursue peace. I understand the natural desire to rebel against injustice. I don’t fault people for desiring justice. But it does make me uneasy, almost sickened, to see ministers and Christians embrace a “No Justice No Peace” mentality.

This is not the way of the cross.

This is not supposed to be our way.

Let us be people of peace, no matter what this world throws at us.

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I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

Anger and Forgiveness Part II: Steps Towards Forgiving

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday in Part I we talked about giving people the benefit of the doubt and looking beyond our initial emotional response to anger and offense. But sometimes people go beyond the benefit of the doubt and actually do something that causes legitimate pain. Take Joseph, for example… (GENESIS 37-45)

– Joseph is one of the youngest with 10 older half-brothers
– They plan to kill him, but the oldest convinces the others simply to throw Joseph in a pit
– They end up selling him to a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt
– Joseph becomes a slave to Potiphar but is a hard worker and trustworthy – soon Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of the entire estate
– Potiphar’s wife gets the hots for Joseph but he won’t betray his master’s trust or sin against God, so she has a temper tantrum and falsely accuses him of attempted rape
– Joseph goes to prison (no DNA evidence available to exonerate him) and while in prison

If there’s anyone who has reason to seek vengeance and hold on to resentment it would be Joseph. But forgiveness is the letting go of the need for vengeance and releasing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment. It involves a willful decision to restructure thought life and cognitions regarding the offender and the offense.

Divine forgiveness and forgiveness between humans are central themes at the heart of biblical faith (Ps. 51:1-2; Matt. 6: 12-15).

GRACE-FILLED FORGIVENESS and the non-remembrance of offenses are scandalous, especially when extended to vile evildoers. We often feel a strong urge to reject forgiveness and non-remembrance towards bad people – those who really wound us deeply.

If I were Joseph I would probably have a serious grudge against the brothers who sold me away. Yet Joseph is the agent of God’s grace and kindness towards his brothers. They were to take a long time – and this is often the case even for us today – to appreciate and to fully receive the transforming loving-kindness of the Lord into the very depth of their beings. Joseph understood that beyond and above the foul schemings of his brothers, God was in control. It is the Lord himself that gives and reveals the ultimate and true meaning to history.

To forgive is to offer mercy to someone who has acted unjustly.

Grace in the Bible can also mean “favor” as in “find favor in his eyes” – the word occurs 101 times in Paul’s letters alone… In the Bible, forgiveness is primarily the act of God by which he graciously takes away the obstacles or barriers which separate man from His presence.

The New Testament word for forgiveness means “to send away.” Forgiveness does not excuse or minimize the hurtfulness of the other person’s act. Rather, it says, “Yes, you did a hurtful things to me. You did wrong.” But forgiveness is then acting mercifully and saying, “I choose not to hold that against you. I am sending away that grievance.”

We often have difficulties in forgiving others. Sometimes we think we have forgiven when we really haven’t. Sometimes we think that, to forgive, we must forget and act as if the hurt never happened. Offenses are not forgotten, but when forgiven they should not be brought up again. Other times we think we can forgive only after the person has suffered or made restitution. Revenge requires suffering and restitution, not forgiveness.

Letting go of the right for revenge has real benefits. It can lower blood pressure, reduce free-floating hostility associated with elevated cardiovascular problems, help you feel less stressed, fearful or depressed, and restore you spiritually to a better relationship with the Lord. When the Bible talks about forgiveness it’s not just about restoring relationships between people, it’s not just about modeling God’s behavior (the One who forgave us even when we didn’t deserve it) – it’s also about our OWN well-being.

Whatever you’ve been holding on to – it’s time to let it go. It’s time to let go of the need for vengeance and justice. It’s time to choose not to hold things against people, even if you’ve been wounded deeply.

So how can you start? First, ask God to remove the anger associated with the hurt. He can bring healing and forgiveness even when you don’t think it’s possible. Keep talking to God about it. Then there are three practical things you can do to start the process of letting go and forgiving people:

1) Write a hurting letter, listing how the person hurt you and how the hurts affected you – Read the letter to an empty chair where you cannot be overheard
2) Write a forgiveness letter – Read that letter to an empty chair
3) Destroy both letters as a symbol of releasing you pain and anger

Hate, anger, and unforgiveness will eat us up from the inside out if we don’t release it. It sucks the joy out of life.

It’s time to live a joy-filled life, and that means walking in forgiveness.

Related Posts:
Anger and Forgiveness Part I: Learning to Give the Benefit of the Doubt
Learning How to Forgive

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