Watching Politics From the Pew: Ugly Debate Crowds

Each week in Watching Politics From the Pew, Benjamin Bartlett offers a thoughtful Christian perspective on the latest political happenings in the news.

Each government class in my high school put forward a candidate for president.  Thanks to my political geekiness and willingness to argue anything, my class gave the top spot to me.

There was a lot to do, but my big moment came during the debate.  I held forth on monetary policy, defense, immigration, abortion, and homosexual marriage.  During that last one, things got weird.

Of six candidates, I was the only one against homosexual marriage.  Most students went the other way on this issue, but some agreed.  One guy was especially adamant.  As various students booed or cheered my conservative stance, he held up a large sign that said simply, “Kill Gay.”

I wish I could say I found some way to immediately put him in his place.  I wish I made an ugly face or communicated vehement disagreement.  But I didn’t.  I was 16 and I wanted his vote and I had no idea what to say.  So I pretended not to see him.

Thankfully our teacher snatched the sign away and snapped something to the effect of, “I will NOT have that in here.”  Eventually I won the election (we had the biggest class and my VP was popular), and that was fun.  But I’ve never forgotten that debate, because I still feel the shame that comes from being too awkward and weak to take a stand at the right moment.

My experience has been replicated during the GOP debates.  The crowds have cheered executions and the hypothetical death of the sick and uninsured.  They have booed a gay man; a gay man serving our country overseas, no less.  They have simultaneously defied the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush and the Christlikeness to which conservative Christians say they are committed.  And the candidates have said nothing.

I don’t know the stories of those who displayed this behavior, nor do I know how wide or deep it runs.  I don’t know you, and I don’t know your politics.  But allow me a moment to do what I should have done at age 16.

Republicans, you should be ashamed.  You have lost sight of the brotherhood which ought to define our country, and you have spit on the virtues which make our civic life possible.  You perpetuate the problem that cripples Washington D.C., and you cast a vision for an angry reactionary state rather than a peaceful and tolerant one.  And your leaders are not correcting you.

If there are Christians taking part in this sort of vitriol, may I just communicate my special disappointment in you.  Though you were sinners, Christ died for you.  And yet you live without grace in your hearts.  Your hypocrisy is an embarrassment to the faith.

The political realm should be one where we cast loving and hopeful visions for the future, and where the goodness and wisdom of our philosophies are most on display.  But then maybe this is all we have to offer.

About Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett lives in Louisville, Ky., with his wife and two terrific kids. His degree is in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University, and he has a bunch of education from a bunch of other places with nothing official to show for it. He has taught high school speech and debate, worked for a congressman in Washington DC, and worked in the health and energy industries. He is interested in how pop culture, history, politics, and theology interact with the inner and community lives of individuals... which is weird because he now works as a business analyst. Few things make him happier than reading, discussing, and recommending books.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Ben,

    Why do you think the crowd booed the gay soldier?

    Secondly, do you think it is ever appropriate to boo? (Besides booing the boo-birds, I mean.)

    This is more difficult for me than you make it sound here. The Bible teaches that same-sex sex is sin. If the guy had advocated a repeal of the adultery law because he liked to sleep with consenting officer’s wives, could we have booed that? I’m not trying to be inflammatory. I’m just wondering if booing an appeal to allow wicked conduct in the military is really so bad.

    You may boo me as necessary.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Ben,

    This is a fairly explosive piece, so I want to be careful to communicate what I mean here.

    What I mean to point out is that homosexuality has gone from a despicable sin to an accepted one in a short time. This soldier is using his platform of service to gain sympathy for a sinful behavior. At least, it seems to me that this is the case. This may not be true, but if you granted me for the sake of argument that he was, would that be offensive enough to boo?

    For the record, I have never cheered an execution or people who died without health insurance. I also have never publicly booed anyone except Andre the Giant. I was a Hulkamaniac at the time, and I still think my booing there was totally justified.

  • Ben Bartlett

    I think the boos (in fairness only a few people did this, though also in fairness I hear extremely derogatory remarks from conservatives about homosexuality all the time) came because they dislike homosexuality and so would have preferred to keep, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in place. The soldier called it progress, they felt differently, and so they felt the need to holler their disagreement.

    Booing may be appropriate in reference to a positional disagreement, but there’s no way around the fact that a person putting themselves out there to ask a question that directly impacts their job and their worldview doesn’t need to be booed.

    The fact that homosexuality is sin doesn’t change the Christian calling to proclaim the gospel in love. Christ somehow managed to spend time with tax collectors and prostitutes in a way that made them feel loved even though he clearly knew their sin. Where did we get the idea that we have to shout down people whose views on sin disagree with ours?

    How would Christians take it if the military recently removed a, “No sharing your faith or you’re fired” policy, and then a Christian were booed for asking a presidential candidate if he planned to uphold the removal of that policy? Wouldn’t we feel incredibly offended if atheists yelled their displeasure at that Christian?

    I think the mistake you’re making is viewing the political realm as a battleground, where winning power and legitimacy for Christian views in political life = advancing the cause of Christ in the world. But nothing about Scripture suggests this is the case.

    It’s perfectly ok to get involved in politics because you want the best for people and for the nation. But shouting down a person who is serving in the military to protect you and your freedoms because he is worried that telling people he is gay will lose him his job is not an advancement of Christ in the world – it’s merely bullying, domineering, and ungrateful.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Ben,

    I hesitated to comment at all because I feared this would be too inflammatory to talk about in a comment box. But then I just threw caution to the wind and went for it. Thanks for responding.

    I can’t get to everything, but I do not think I am about “winning power and legitimacy for Christian views in political life.” No way. So, for whatever it is worth, that isn’t my motivation.

    I want to interact with this statement because I really think it gets to the heart of what I am working through personally. You wrote:

    “Where did we get the idea that we have to shout down people whose views on sin disagree with ours?”

    From the Bible and from history, is my first reaction! Maybe Paul didn’t shout, but he did say this, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10). And again he said, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Phil. 3:2). One more: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” (Gal. 5:12). At the first church council of Nicaea the bishops stormed down, snatched Arius’ letter from his pastor’s hand, tore it to shreds, stomped on it, and shouted, “You lie!” Do we even need to talk about the Reformation? Luther made everyone uncomfortable. ;)

    Maybe those guys booed, not because they are Republicans, but because they are Christians. We have a long and Biblical history about being quite vocal in our opposition to wickedness. This guy who is “fighting to protect me and my freedoms” cannot use a good work as a cloak for the promotion of his sinful conduct. I have served in the military, six years actually, so I know what it is to be a volunteer in the Army.

    Here’s what bothers me: we simply cannot do in our culture what Paul did in Acts and Galatians and Philippians. Imagine the reaction of a guy in Philippi who had invited a “Pharisee” to church on Sunday when Paul’s letter was read. He just called the visitor a dog, a mutilator, and an evil-doer. Do you think that guy came back the next Sunday? Do you think that Paul would care?

    I know that all of my examples revolve around Christianity and the church.That’s kind of my point. I wouldn’t be provoked to boo because I am a Republican; I would be provoked to boo because I’m a Christian. The question I’m having is whether or not that impulse is always wrong, and beyond that, whether or not it is ever wise.

  • Ben Bartlett

    Brad, I think you gave my answer for me. It’s not merely that your answers “revolve around Christianity and the church.” It’s that in every example you give, the speaker is speaking TO Christians about watchfulness. He does not exhort them, for instance, to go into the town halls and shout down the non-believers. He tells them to be wary.

    When I ask Christians not to boo or act in a derogatory fashion toward homosexuals, I’m not suggesting that we allow homosexuality to be promoted in the church. I’m simply asking that respect and love be shown in secular spaces (as they should be shown in ALL spaces).

    When a person commits their life to Christ, they essentially sign a contract. This contract states that, as a recipient of God’s grace, they will proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the world and to try to live as God would have them live, displaying fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control). We often fail to live up to the contract, but we try hard to stick to it.

    But when someone calls themselves a Christian (one who has signed the contract) but lives in opposition to Christ’s principles, THAT situation demands a swift and harsh response. It’s like a football player who signs a contract and then refuses to practice, exercise, or perform in games. He is a contract breaker and should be called out for it.

    But a person who has not signed that contract is not subject to it. They are like an athlete who has not signed with a team… there’s no strong motivation or requirement for them to work out or to practice, and nobody minds if they don’t.

    What we as Christians do is to lovingly show and proclaim to the world that, though it seems counterintuitive, signing the contract is actually the greatest joy and freedom that is available to us. When we sign this contract, Christ provides the joy and satisfaction and purpose we so desperately need.

    You can see why I dislike the booing, or general derogatory attitudes toward the sin of the unsaved. They sin because they don’t know any better. They are children whose eyes are closed. And most of the time, it is not our anger or booing or spite that God will use to win their hearts… it is our love and patience and generosity.

    I will say, though, that the verses you mention are fantastic examples of why I am so comfortable being harsh with “Christians” who teach that hatred for the sinner is the teaching of Christ. It is a false teaching and deserving of reprimand.

  • http://alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Ben,

    Thanks again for your response. I appreciate you talking about this with me.

    I think that you are mistaken on this point when you write, “But a person who has not signed that contract is not subject to it. They are like an athlete who has not signed with a team.” No one gets to opt out of Jesus’ contract. Just because they don’t sign ‘with the team’ does not give them the right to flaunt the king’s rules. That’s the foundation for the call to repentance, which I am sure you agree with. If those folks who booed genuinely booed because they hated the soldier, then I say good on you for scolding them. However, I think that your own case is problematic in this regard: How can you possibly call them out unless you know that they claim to be Christians? That is, if you find out that they are actually Republican Jews or secularists or Muslims who haven’t “signed with our team”, why are you more outraged over their outrageous behavior than the outrageous behavior of the soldier? Why do you feel free to boo them and not him? Are you simply assuming that they claim to be Christian? And what if the soldier claimed to be Christian and a gay and that’s okay? Would you have had more sympathy for the booing?

    But really, you cannot know that they are booing the soldier because they hate him. Maybe they were actually booing because they hate what he said. That seems the most charitable interpretation. If they hate the promotion of the idea that homosexual behavior is okay, and if that moved them to boo, would you still condemn them so vehemently?

    In the examples I gave, the Elymas incident was not inside the church. It was in front of the ruler Sergius Paulus, and it appears that Elymas was his adviser. Paul did not limit his harsh rebukes to the church only, and neither did Jesus. Just because judgement begins in the House of God doesn’t mean that it ends there.

    My point is that I think a Christian is free to boo horrible, sinful things whether it is inside the church or outside the church: the Lordship of Jesus extends to all of these places. Further, it is not necessarily unloving to do so, it can be very loving indeed to ridicule error, and it is never loving to deal with error generously.

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Those are thoughtful points, Brad, thank you.

    I agree that in some sense, all are responsible before God for their sin. No argument there.

    But surely you see the distinction I am drawing. Sin is sin no matter what, but there is good reason to hold a Christian accountable to the the faith they have committed themselves to in a different sort of way than the non-Christian who has committed themselves to something else.

    You ask whether I am assuming the boobirds were Christian. I think my article is pretty clear on that point. I begin by holding them accountable to what I believe are core values for Republicans; as a conservative, I am well within my rights and responsibilities to challenge them on that note. I then carefully distinguished my disappointment in Republicans for my special disappointment IF any Christians participated in that particular attitude. In other words, I hold each “group” to the standards which they themselves declare.

    I think this is the correct approach. We should hate all sin. We should love (and communicate that love to!) all sinners. We should proclaim the good news of the gospel to the lost. And we the redeemed should hold each other accountable as fellow recipients of grace and according to the terms of our shared commitment to Christ.

    When people cheer the death penalty and boo a person who does not want to lose his job over his sexuality, they are not confused about the message they convey. They are specifically confrontational in a way that they are smart enough to know will be hurtful to the recipient. And if any Christians participated, I do not think they would be so foolish as to think they were winning hearts by their actions.

    If the purity of the church or clear message of the gospel is at stake, we fight. No question. You’ll note that recently I wrote very clearly that Rob Bell’s teaching on hell is heretical, because I AM called to protect the gospel message. But I am NOT called to go out and hammer anyone who disagrees with my faith (and my interpretation of various ethical issues), angrily communicating to them in a way I can be quite sure will usually only harden their heart.

    Friend, I cannot tell you how strongly I disagree with your final sentence. There are plenty of ways to protect the purity of the gospel message and the standards of our ethics without ridiculing those whose hearts God has not yet graciously drawn to himself. And there are plenty of ways to be generous with the errors of the sinner while still clearly offering and calling him to the truth.

  • http://alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Ben,

    Yes, you could tell me, but you’d have to boo. ;)

    Love,

    Brad

  • Carol

    If we are called by grace to a saving faith, saved by God, not of our own works – seeing the sins of the unsaved should break our hearts for them. Remembering that we too were once blind to truth.

    I hated the booing – in every instance. We’re supposed to be pro-life – but we cheer the death penalty and cheer a governor who has executed lots of people? We’re supposed to support the troops – yet only if they are not gay? We’re supposed to help the needy and the poor – yet we’re OK if they die without health insurance? The hypocrisy on display from the GOP debates is sickening.

    As a Christian – we are commanded by Christ to love others as HE loved them. Christ booed NO ONE. He told the truth – sin no more, he said – and yet he loved sinners and established relationships with them, spent time with them, ate dinner with them. All to the ridicule and consternation of the religious leaders of the day.

    I can believe that murder is wrong and someone convicted of it should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law – but the life of a criminal is still precious to God and should therefore be precious to me. I can not judge nor take revenge nor indulge in blood lust for the sake of my version of justice. I must leave justice and judgement to God – who is the only one righteous.

    I can believe and affirm that gay sex is wrong but still support the gay men and women who risk their lives to protect all of our freedoms. Supporting the repeal of DADT doesn’t mean I support the practice of homosexuality – it means I support the freedom of a fellow citizen to join the military and serve their country, without being harrased about their sexual orientation. DADT isn’t about gay sex – it is about discrimination. What if heterosexuals were not allowed to openly serve? Would we be OK with that?

    I can believe in personal responsibility and that everyone should try to obtain adequate health insurance and also be cognizant of the fact that some people simply can not afford health insurance of any type. The minimum wage in this country is less than $8 an hour. That is pitiful. Some jobs even pay less than that e.g. waitressing. Poverty and income inequality is a real problem for millions of Americans. Not to mention the millions out of work during this Recession. It’s awful to tell them to just deal with it and tough luck if they get sick.

    If we’re gonna be followers of Christ, we have to be all in with living as such.

  • Carol

    P.S. Ben and Brad – thank you BOTH for modeling brotherly love and speaking the truth. I learnt a LOT from reading your comments. Thank you!!

  • David Goulet

    When you say homosexuality is a sin, what do you base this on? Because our understanding of the condition has evolved since the days of Leviticus. I would argue that if anyone sleeps with someone (same sex or otherwise) for the sake of self gratification, then this is selfish and hence sinful. I, a heterosexual married man, am guilty of this sin many times over. If a person sleeps with someone out of a desire to share one’s self most intimately, then this is an outward sign of love — definitely not sinful. I am also “guilty” of this thankfully.

    The sodomy and homosexuality of the Old Testament is in reference to general societal practises of the enemies of Israel. It was a homosexuality of self gratification. It was hedonism. We humans are prone to satisfying our appetites. Marriage, which precedes the Bible in its practise, is a way for humans to regulate the satisfying of those appetites for the common good.

    Hedonism still exists today of course and homosexual acts of its brand are common place among the sexually voracious. But there also exists a different homosexuality than this, it is the homosexuality of Ellen Degeneris. It is the gay child that grows up always feeling attracted to the same sex and wanting to love and be loved — intimately — by a faithful partner. This person wants what I want, to live in peace, to raise a family and build a better world.

    We are always at war with the forces of death. The attributes of that enemy are loneliness, intolerance, meaninglessness, despair, selfishness and hate. Many gay couples seek to fight these very things by bringing love to their relationships and community. Just as I do.

    The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

  • http://alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    David,

    In short, the Bible teaches that sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sin. The particular immorality of homosexual practice is not only found in Leviticus, but also in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10).

    Your idea about sex is very different from the picture than the Bible paints it. Sex is certainly about “self-gratification” in that we are encouraged to enjoy sex for ourselves and for the sake of our spouse. (See Song of Solomon.) Besides, even if you seek another’s pleasure in sex as your primary focus, does it not bring you satisfaction to see them gratified?

    I understand that sexual attraction is an impulse that is not something that we completely will to happen. We cannot judge the morality of an impulse simply because it seems outside my control. If this were the case, we would have no way to say that anything was sinful because most sins arise out of impulse, not from the willing of the thing on purpose.

    The reason we have these sinful impulses, whether it is towards homosexuality, anger, fornication of any sort, cowardice, or hate, is because we are a broken people in need of a Savior. We are sinners. Our relationship with God is broken because of sin.

    When you say that the homosexual community is seeking to battle death by their sexual orientation, I want to ask you: how is that going? Aren’t homosexuals and heterosexuals still dying and despairing? The answer to death is not more sex, not with only one committed partner or twenty, not with someone of the same sex or someone of the opposite sex. The answer to death is the empty tomb of Jesus Christ. God has declared him both Lord and Messiah by raising him from the dead, and God has declared that any sinner, no matter what they have done, may be saved by repenting and believing in Jesus as the risen Lord.

    What do you think of Jesus and His Bride, David? Do you believe that Jesus is Lord?

  • David Goulet

    Jesus is Lord, amen brother. The wages of sin are death. Right? Then homosexuality, if it is a sin in itself,should lead to death. But it doesn’t necessarily. Certainly a promiscuous gay lifestyle is unhealthy and leans toward the death side. But so does a heterosexual promiscuous lifestyle. There many gay couples who have remained faithful to each for a lifetime and who have lived abundant lives. But how could they if homosexuality is sin and thus death?

    Studies show that children raised by gay parents suffer no significant negative repurcussions in their life. In fact, these children appear to have faired better than children raised in state organized foster homes. Shouldn’t this abomination in God’s eyes clearly produce negative results?

    For me, gay people (by birth and not by choice) are no different than physically challenged individuals. For some reason they have been born with a handicap (same sexness is a disadvantage for reproduction). But in our society we go to great lengths to accomodate people with handicaps. We want them to have as close to “normal” lives as the rest of us. But for some reason we balk at doing this for gays.

    Gays are the lepers of our time. We see them as an unclean threat. We fear, because of a few verses in the Bible (a book inspired by God but inextricably fused with the human context), that acceptance of homosexuality will bring the wrath of God upon our heads like Sodom and Gomorrah. That’s a fear I don’t believe Jesus taught.

    Fortunately it is not the Church, nor pastors, nor priests, that marry two people. They marry each other through their love. Thus it is ultimately God who blesses their union,their vows,their hearts. It’s His call, not mine.

  • http://alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    David,

    The Bible does not teach that homosexual behavior is a handicap. It teaches that it is sin, and Jesus Himself agrees with all that the Bible teaches.

    It is true that marriage is God’s call, and He has made that call crystal clear: the only kind of marriage union sanctioned by God is between a man and woman. This isn’t the speculation of the Church, pastors, or priests: it is the Bible.

    Just for clarity, I’m not picking on homosexual sex alone. I’m talking about any kind of sexual immorality outside of marriage.

    If the Bible teaches that sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sin, would you obey Jesus in the matter?

  • Ben Bartlett

    Hey folks,

    Thanks for the excellent comments all around.

    Carol, I think you hit the nail right on the head. Expressing our faith in a Christlike manner necessarily involves a tension… not a contradiction, but a tension. That tension is to hold tightly to the truth (meaning we submit to Scripture for guidance on right and wrong) while still communicating love to the sinner. I think the way you have developed and explained your thinking in that area is excellent.

    David, thanks for sharing your thoughts on homosexuality. Personally, though it is true that homosexuality is sometimes a response to childhood trauma, I have come to accept that there are also times when it is best described as inborn.

    However, isn’t sin inborn to all of us? As a father of two kids, I can say with GREAT sincerity that sin comes naturally, without being taught. And yet once Christ redeems us, we must all work to obey him as best we can, even though we will struggle in certain areas more than others. For the person who would describe themselves as naturally homosexual, if they want to follow Christ then that is a particular area of struggle for them… but they are still responsible to fight and defeat that sin in their lives.

    The, “wages of sin is death,” argument doesn’t really apply in the way you are suggesting. The wages of sin is spiritual death, meaning complete separation from God. That is why it goes on to say, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Sin is not a set of behaviors that naturally and automatically destroy a person’s physical life in the here and now. It is instead rebellion against God’s good order and his Lordship in our lives, and only Christ can cleanse us of that sin to save us from death. Homosexuality is included among those things that goes against his order.

    I do appreciate your desire to parse and separate different types of love. But I don’t think it agrees with Scripture, and that is where we should be looking to for final authority on these sorts of questions. Still, there are plenty of ways to communicate love to homosexuals without backing away from our beliefs about homosexuality generally.

  • David Goulet

    This is exactly why Christian gays seek some form of blessing on their unions. They see the good in a relationship that is based on fidelity and sacrificial love. Just as I, a hetero male, see the wisdom in a vow of fidelity to my spouse (though my natural instinct is to be promiscuous), gay couples see that wisdom too.

    Your claim that Jesus agress with everything the Bible says is conjecture. The Bible says women should not speak in church, that stoning is an acceptable punishment for adultery, and many other things that I doubt Jesus would give a thumbs up to.

    My main point is that the term homosexuality has become a catch-all term that does not reflect our modern understanding of sexuality. I would propose that the homosexuality spoken of in the Bible is that of hedonism — where sexual promiscuity and perversion are the means and the ends. This is rightly condemned by anyone seeking holiness and wholeness.

    But we now know that homosexuality is also a condition people have from birth. Exactly what the cause is is not yet certain. But apart from same sex attraction these people are the same as you or me. The mature among them desire the same things too, they do not seek to corrupt society — quite the opposite they wish to contribute to it. They also wish to know the joy of a meaningful relationship with a partner who loves them faithfully and with whom they can express themselves sexually and intimately. They wish to do this within the bounds of public fidelity.

    If a gay man desires to sleep with another gay man this is not a sinful desire. It is natural to him (though we could say it is not normal). If I desire to sleep with a man it is unnatural because I am heterosexual. If I act out this desire I must go against my nature. This is perversion. But for the gay man it is not a perversion because he is acting on his nature.

    If I sleep with a woman outside of marriage I am guilty of a sin, though even here the severity of the sin would change depending on the context. Star-crossed high school lovers commit a lesser sin than the family man who hires a prostitute. But yes, sin is sin. Again, the gay couple seeking marriage (public fidelity) recognize this and desire to place their love within the bounds of a spiritual union that brings with it blessing and great responsibility. That to me is good, and all good comes from God.

    Every year in my city there is a massive Pride parade. In addition to activist groups, there are floats of nearly naked men and women being as hedonistic as old Sodom. But the day earlier there was a family picnic for gay parents (and straight ones as well). This picnic was exactly like any family picnic: people sharing food, children playing and the hottest topic of discussion was the weather.

    If we stopped lumping the latter group with the former, what we might discover is that there really isn’t a “gay agenda’ at all. That the gay parents at the picnic have much more in common with me than they do with the Village People. In fact, there mightn’t even be a gay culture if it wasn’t for our marginalizing of gay people — thus gemrinating a sub-culture based on opposition to that marginalization. If all of a sudden we said all red-haired people were freaks, how quickly would a red-haired culture spring forth to defend itself. Even though normally Eric the Viking and Pippi Longstocking wouldn’t be seen in the same dragon boat.

    I realize my thoughts here are not the thoughts of traditional Christianity. They are based on my personal observations and contemplation on the subject. Twenty years ago I would have been among those booing — as mentioned in your original post.

    Today, I do believe there is a greater complexity to this issue than Christians appreciate. It is good to question our assumptions, even those rooted in our understanding of Scripture. Jesus challenged the people of His time to do this, should we do no less?

    I follow my conscience. I hope it is properly informed. if it isn’t, I shall have to answer to God for that.

    BTW, thanks for a great forum to explore this topic. It’s nice not to be shouted out of the room.

  • Adam Carrington

    I know I am a late arrival to this discussion but I do have something to add. I find cheering for executions to be a terrible thing and I say that as a supporter of the death penalty. The truth is the supermajority of Republicans agree with me and with Ben on this matter. I don’t say that as a blind assertion. A poll conducted just after the debate found about 75% of republicans saying one should not cheer executions (the low 20s saying you should is the same as Democrats saying that 9/11 was an inside job of the government). Furthermore, I think Rick Perry’s response to the death penalty question was a thoughtful rebuke to the tepid clapping that interluded the question and his answer. He did not smile, laugh, wave his hand to the clappers. He solemnly defended the procedures taken to ensure that the process gave ample room to correct mistakes, gave many appeals, was rigorous, and spoke in terms of justice, not bloodthirsty revenge. He spoke in grave and sad terms that the circumstances bringing about the death penalty occurred. It was decidedly a correction to those who gave vocal approval. It was a rebuke for those with a small bit of discernment.

    I also think the boos regarding DADT were mainly just that, boos for the policy being declared, just as the cheers for other questioners, probably asking questions deeply affecting their own persons, were not directed at the person as much as the policy being discussed. There are sinful attitudes toward homosexuals among conservative Christians, but I think this episode was focused on opposition to the policy, especially given the intense support of the military GOPers tend to show.

    Finally, the cheering about the hypothetical case of needing medical attention I also think fails to take into account context. They did not cheer when it was said the man was in the hospital needing care. They cheered the responses that said we must be accountable for our actions, including decisions not to at least have catastrophic coverage or get Medicaid when that can’t be afforded. It was also an attack on the new Health Care law and universal care, which were the real subtexts.Republicans are not for throwing sick people into the streets but coming up with responsible, effective ways to provide health insurance that they do not believe a system like the new Health Care law does. Besides, the idea that conservatives are somehow less compassionate than liberals is debunked by studies such as arthur brooks book “Who Really Cares?” which finds religious conservatives to be much more charitable than liberals. So in the end, I don’t disagree in the least that executions should not be cheered, that persons should not be booed merely for living in homosexual relationships, or those placing themselves in bad medical circumstances cheered for not having government cover their care. But I think in each of these cases, Ben’s critique either is too broad or misses the crucial context.

  • Ben Bartlett

    Well, I certainly appreciate your thoughts David. I think you’re right to say that the issue is a more complex one than the oversimplified issue we sometimes make it out to be. And I’m certainly appreciative that over time you have been moved away from automatic condemnation and toward compassion.

    In the end I think we’ll have to part ways on the issue of interpretation. I do think Scripture is clear on the issue, and I do not think Christ at any point shows disagreement with Scripture.

    Consider the case of the adulterous woman; his wisdom prevented the hypocritical crowd from stoning her, but he did not release her from responsibility for sin. He merely challenged her to go and sin no more, even as he generously gave up his right to condemn her. There’s something quite beautiful about that story. God’s justice is upheld in that the line seperating right from wrong is never moved even the slightest bit. But the ability to condemn and punish is lovingly deferred for the sake of drawing her heart back to worship.

    And as you say, we should always be challenging ourselves to reevaluate our perspectives so that they can be rightly conformed to those of Christ.

  • Ben Bartlett

    Adam, thanks for those thoughts. I did take time to both watch and read about all those instances, and I was not confused about the context. Though I can appreciate that many Republicans are more nuanced on this issue, I think it is clear in this election cycle that anger is drawing out some pretty negative beliefs from a larger number of people than we would have thought previously.

    Further, I have always been annoyed when Democrats do little to reign in or challenge the more hyper-liberal wing of their party. But it goes both ways, and I do not feel at all comfortable with the tone and direction the Republican party has taken. I think this was a pretty good place to take them to task.

    I don’t think liberals are more compassionate. But I don’t think the qualities of a large part of the party excuse the destructive anger of another part, especially as that anger has only grown in volume and influence.

  • Anna

    I just discovered this site so excuse me for being SO terribly late to the conversation. So far I have been amazingly heartened by the intelligent, respectful, and loving authors and discourses on this site. To me, most of what I’ve read here embodies what true Christian love should look like. I was raised in a Christian household, but honestly ran away from the entire culture because of how deeply I disagreed with the practitioners I knew. So thank you.

    Also, I truly appreciate the nuanced and measured tone of this article. Obviously I don’t have any answers, or maybe any useful commentary =P, but I thought one of David’s points to be quite compelling and I was wondering if someone could respond. David said that there are some points in the Bible that we explicitly do not follow any more. Dietary restrictions, gluttony (lets be honest ;) ) and David mentioned women speaking in Church. I think David had a truly powerful insight with his distinction between hedonism and a biological element.

    Ben, you do believe that sin is inborn? I’m sorry if I misinterpreted but that’s what I gleaned from your comment. Does this mean that all aborted babies are condemned to hell?

    Thank you =]

  • Ben

    Anna,

    Thanks so much for your kind words. You aren’t alone in having experienced negative things within “Christian” circles, and I’m sorry about that. I hope you have opportunity, though, to also experience the incredible joys of a community whose focus is Christ and whose lives are characterized by love and humility. It’s a pretty amazing and wonderful thing.

    You are correct in saying that I believe we are born with sin. Scripture makes it pretty clear that Adam’s descendents are all under the curse, and that the need for Christ is universal.

    The question of aborted babies is very difficult, and here is why;

    1) Nobody can say for certain when, in God’s eyes, is the exact moment a cluster of cells becomes a human person. I think there are very good reasons for Christians to draw lines at, say, conception. But we really can’t know for certain when that moment is in God’s eyes.

    2) We don’t understand perfectly how inborn sin works. Theologians have put a lot of time and thought into describing the relationship between God, humans, and corporate sin, but God chose not to write Scripture as a technical manual of how salvation works, “behind the scenes,” as it were.

    Is it possible that babies who are aborted cannot enter heaven? Yes, it’s possible. One difficult “problem” in our relationship with God is the fact that he is sovereign and that he allows many, many people to perish who seem never to have been given a fair shake.

    But the other side to the story is that God is loving, merciful, and good in all he does. There are many areas where all we can do is to, “cast all our cares upon Him,” and to trust his good and perfect will whatever that may be, even if we don’t fully understand.

    And really, that’s where a lot of theology leads… our conception of how the world works only makes sense if God is who he says he is. He speaks of and displays his sovereignty, his love, his mercy, and his kindness in uncountable ways, and it is in his character that we place our trust.

    I hope that’s helpful, feel free to let me know if you feel I’m missing something.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X