The right to lie about your accomplishments?

Though easily overlooked in all the discussion about the health care decision, the Supreme Court is announcing its decision in other cases today, as well. Perhaps most interesting is United States v. Alvarez, in which the issue is (as summarized by SCOTUSblog):

Whether a federal law that makes it a crime to lie about receiving military medals or honors violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to free speech.

I assume we all agree that it is morally wrong for a person to lie about what honors they have received. The question is: should this moral failing also be criminalized? And, perhaps an even more important question is: why or why not? What criteria must a moral failing meet in order to merit criminalization?

Code of Ethics for pastors

The National Association of Evangelicals has developed a Code of Ethics for pastors.  It’s not all that long.  Do you think this is needed?  Is it adequate?  Can you think of anything else that should be included? (I’d especially like to hear reactions to this from pastors.)

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. (2 Corinthians 6:3) Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. (Philippians 1:27)
All who are called by God to the ministry of the gospel solemnly commit to a life of joyful obedience and selfless service in order to glorify God and enrich his people. Therefore, a minister will:
Pursue Integrity
I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. (1 Chronicles 29:17)
• in personal character.
Exalt Christ, not self. Be honest, not exaggerating or overpromising; peace-loving, not contentious; patient, not volatile; diligent, not slothful. Avoid and, when necessary, report conflicts of interest and seek counsel.
• in personal care.
Care for the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical dimensions of your person, for “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
• in preaching and teaching.
Interpret the Bible accurately and apply it discerningly: “In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned” (Titus 2:7-8). Speak the truth in love. Give due credit when using the words or ideas of others.
Be Trustworthy
It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. (1 Corinthians 4:2)
• in leadership.
Model the trustworthiness of God in leadership to encourage and develop trustworthiness in others. Use power and influence prudently and humbly. Foster loyalty. Demonstrate a commitment to the well-being of the entire congregation. Keep promises. Respond sensitively and appropriately to ministry requests and needs: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever
is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10).
• with information.
Guard confidences carefully. Inform a person in advance, if possible, when an admission is about to be made that might legally require the disclosure of that information. Communicate truthfully and discreetly when asked about individuals with destructive or sinful behavior patterns. Tell the truth, or remain discreetly silent: “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret” (Proverbs 11:13).
• with resources.
Be honest and prudent in regard to personal and ministry resources. Refuse gifts that could compromise ministry. Ensure that all designated gifts are used for their intended purpose: “If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11).
Seek Purity
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
• in maintaining sexual purity.
Avoid sinful sexual behavior and inappropriate involvement. Resist temptation: “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 5:3a).
• in spiritual formation.
Earnestly seek the help of the Holy Spirit for guidance and spiritual growth. Be faithful to maintain a heart of devotion to the Lord. Be consistent and intentional in prayer and scriptural study: “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
• in theology.
Study the Bible regularly and carefully to understand its message, and embrace biblical doctrine. In forming theology, consider biblical teaching authoritative over all other sources.
• in professional practice.
Identify a minister/counselor who can provide personal counseling and advice when needed. Develop an awareness of personal needs and vulnerabilities. Avoid taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of others through exploitation or manipulation. Address the misconduct of another clergy member directly or, if necessary, through appropriate persons to whom that member of the clergy may be accountable.
Embrace Accountability
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:2-3)
• in finances.
Promote accepted accounting practices and regular audits. Ensure that church funds are used for their intended ministry purposes.
• in ministry responsibilities.
Ensure clarity in authority structures, decision-making procedures, position descriptions, and grievance policies. Model accountability at the highest organizational levels.
• in a denomination or a ministry organization.
Ensure compliance with denominational standards and expectations, including regular reports.

Facilitate Fairness
Believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. . Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)
• with staff.
Follow approved church and denomination practices in staff selection processes. Advocate for equitable pay and benefits for staff. Provide regular staff team building, affirmation, training, evaluation, and feedback. Be honest with staff regarding areas to celebrate as well as those needing improvement.
• with parishioners.
Ensure appropriate access to staff by parishioners. Preach and teach to meet the needs of the entire congregation. Assume responsibility for congregational health. When asked for help beyond personal competence, refer others to those with requisite expertise.
• with the community.
Build God’s Kingdom in cooperation, not competition, with other local ministries. Provide Christian ministries to the public as possible. Encourage good citizenship.
• with a prior congregation.
Do not recruit parishioners from a previous church without permission from the pastor. Avoid interfering in the ministry of a previous congregation.

Luther the detective: Getting your hands dirty

Luther is the acclaimed British crime drama now available to Americans on BBC America.  Here is the Wikipedia description of John Luther, played by Golden-Globe winner Idris Elba:

He is obsessive, possessed, and sometimes dangerous in the violence of his fixations. But Luther has paid a heavy price for his dedication; he has never been able to prevent himself from being consumed by the darkness of the crimes with which he deals. For Luther, the job always comes first. His dedication is a curse and a blessing, both for him and those close to him.

Sound like any other Luther you know?  Sound like any doctrine you know?  Anyway, as we said yesterday, Jordan Ballor has an article in Cardus arguing that the series is, in fact, Lutheran.  I’ll let him tell you about a story line:

John Luther’s willingness to suffer, to be despised, and even to be killed for the sake of others is manifest throughout the series. In a line of work that is characterized by the daily risk of life and limb, the risks Luther takes on a regular basis are foolhardy, at best. When Jenny Jones’s mother, with whom Luther has a complicated history, comes calling, Luther finds himself unable to follow his safer judgment and remain uninvolved. He feels responsible in some way for the plight of Jenny, who after her father’s death has become addicted to drugs and a victim (“actress” seems like the wrong word) in the pornography business.

Luther ventures onto the set just as filming is about to begin and (to put it delicately) “removes” Jenny from the situation. He follows through and delivers Jenny to her mother, and the task he had been asked to complete has been finished. But everything is not well. Jenny knows that living with her mother will not be healthy. She knows she needs help and she pleads with John to help her. Again, despite his “better” judgment, Luther cannot resist helping. He cannot bring himself to simply tell her, “Go and sin no more,” and leave it at that. John Luther is thus in a very real way a natural lawman. His innate sense of justice and of obligation is so deep that he simply cannot stand by and leave broken things alone. He has to try to help, even if it means risking his reputation, his livelihood, and indeed his life.

He ends up risking all three in Jenny’s case. Those who run the porn ring have orchestrated the whole arrangement in order to get Luther into a position where he is exposed and compromised. At one point the gangsters nail Luther’s hand to a table: Luther is literally pierced for Jenny’s transgressions. He has put himself in this position willingly, knowing what it might cost. In the process, the gangsters do end up getting some leverage on Luther so that he has to appear to do their bidding, at least for a time.

To Luther’s colleagues, Luther seems to have been compromised. When DS Erin Gray asks Luther’s friend and protégë Justin Ripley about Luther’s suspicious actions, Justin expresses full, even perhaps credulous, faith in Luther’s fidelity. “There’s loyalty, and there’s naivety,” says Gray. Justin responds, “There’s a difference between getting your hands dirty and being dirty.” Justin knows Luther, and he knows that Luther will risk getting his hands dirty in order to do what he feels morally obligated to do. Likewise Justin doesn’t hesitate to get his own hands dirty to protect Luther. Luther’s brand of responsible action is contagious, it seems.

In this difference between “getting your hands dirty and being dirty,” we have a seminal expression of Bonhoeffer’s idea of vicarious representative action and Luther’s idea of moral ambiguity. We don’t always know when the line is crossed and we become dirty. But getting dirty, and even being dirty, is a risk we are bound to take, a risk we are bound to take in trust that it is not on the basis of our clean hands but rather on the redemptive work of Jesus that we might be justified. Jesus, in fact, is the exemplar of this vicarious representative action, the scapegoat of the Old Testament, who takes on the sins of others. As the Apostle Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV). Because of Christ’s atoning work, we are free to risk getting our hands dirty.

John Luther is a deeply troubled man. We get no real insight into his spiritual life, and he begins the second series of episodes on the verge of suicide. There is likewise little overt religiosity in Luther. But in the vicarious representative action of the natural lawman DCI John Luther on behalf of others, we see a broken and fragmentary expression of common grace, God’s preserving work in the world.

The series is on Netflix–instant play!  So I’ve seen the first couple of episodes.  Just as crime drama–in the genre of police procedural–the show is excellent.   It has everything you might like in Law & Order, NCIS, etc.–action, suspense, intriguing mysteries, ingenious police work–but it’s grittier, more textured, and better written.

I had assumed that the theology Jordan Ballor sees in the series is unintentional, as when an honest work of art  finds truth, which by its nature is going to be consistent with the truth of Scripture.  But the show is full of explicit Christian–yea, Lutheran–language:  talk about evil,  (sinful) human nature, nothingness, Bible quotations (“why do the wicked prosper?”), the devil, guilt, “your calling.”  Then there is the character’s name and business such as nailing his hand to the wall.  The creator of the show knows some theology.

The character of John Luther is complex and compelling.  He’s something of a rogue cop (think the protagonist of The Shield but more sympathetic), brilliant but tormented.  His estranged wife who left him for another man, which tortures Luther, defends his preoccupations with “life and love.”  This is not romantic love or the kind of love that solves all your problems.  This is love that multiplies your problems and makes them worse.  But love is absolutely necessary.  At one point,  Luther identifies who the murderer is because when everyone else yawns, but she doesn’t.  Being able to resist the contagious yawn, he says, means this person has no empathy, the sign of someone who could kill without mercy.  (And  that woman, Alice, what a piece of work!  Though the unwillingness to yawn is not evidence that will stand up in court, he knows she did it, and she knows he knows.  They get together to torment each other and discuss medieval philosophy.  The shows’ villains are as complicated as they are chilling.)  John Luther,  struggles with the conflict between his compassion and his own lawlessness (when a serial killer is hanging on for dear life, he is not above stomping his fingers).  He is simultaneously a saint and a sinner, but he doesn’t understand that yet.  He is Brother Martin before his conversion.  Sherlock Holmes is characterized by logical deductions; Adrian Monk by obsessive compulsive disorder.  John Luther is characterized by Anfechtungen.

 

What Americans think is right and wrong

A Gallup poll surveyed what Americans find morally acceptable and unacceptable.  From The Atlantic:

What do we learn from this?

I’ll start:  Pornography comes out as worse than abortion, sex outside of marriage, and the death penalty.  Nearly two out of three Americans consider pornography to be immoral?  So how come that’s such a profitable industry?   Contrary to Plato, to know the good is not the same as to do the good.  That is, immorality is not due to ignorance that something is immoral, nor to a belief that the bad behavior is actually good.  Furthermore, we have fallen so far that sometimes our knowledge that something is immoral can make it more desirable and, perversely, more pleasurable.  C. S. Lewis writes about the “tang” of transgression.  (Lord, have mercy!)

What else?

HT:  Matthew Cantirino

Flashing headlights to warn about traffic cops

A driver coming from the opposite direction flashes headlights at you.  You slow down.  Sure enough, when you go around the corner you see a highway patrolman with a radar gun.  That stranger with the flashing headlights saved you from a speeding ticket.  Is that a good work, an example of loving one’s neighbor?  Or is it aiding and abetting illegal activity?  (I remember as a teenager mentioning that I flashed a warning about a speed trap, and my aunt jumped all over me, whereupon I felt ashamed.)

At any rate, I guess there is a law against that in Florida, though a judge in that state just tossed it out.  Flashing your headlights to communicate counts as free speech:

A judge in Sanford ruled Tuesday that a Lake Mary man was lawfully exercising his First Amendment rights when he flashed his headlights to warn neighbors that a deputy had set up a speed trap nearby.

That decision is another victory for Ryan Kintner, 25, who sued theSeminole County Sheriff’s Officelast year, accusing it of misconstruing a state law and violating his civil rights, principally his right to free speech.

He was ticketed Aug. 10 by a Seminole County deputy, but Kintner alleges the officer misapplied a state law designed to ban motorists from flashing after-market emergency lights.

Circuit Judge Alan Dickey earlier ruled that that state law does not apply to people who did what Kintner did, use his headlights to communicate.

On Tuesday the judge went a step further, saying people who flash their headlights to communicate are engaging in behavior protected by the U.S. Constitution.

“He felt the police specificially went out of their way to silence Mr. Kintner and that it was clearly a violation of his First Amendment free speech rights,” said his attorney, J. Marcus Jones of Oviedo.

via flashing headlights: Sanford judge rules in favor of motorist who flashed his headlights – Orlando Sentinel.

So it’s legal.  But is it moral?

Just post the Second Table of the Law?

A judge in a Virginia lawsuit over posting the Ten Commandments in a public school has proposed cutting out the first few that are about God and allowing the rest of them to be displayed.  (The so-called “First Table” is about love of God; the “Second Table” is about love of neighbor.)

Could the Ten Commandments be reduced to six, a federal judge asked Monday.

Would that neutralize the religious overtones of a commandments display that has the Giles County School Board in legal hot water?

That unorthodox suggestion was made by Judge Michael Urbanski during oral arguments over whether the display amounts to a governmental endorsement of religion, as alleged in a lawsuit filed by a student at Narrows High School.

After raising many pointed questions about whether the commandments pass legal muster, the judge referred the case to mediation – with a suggestion:

Remove the first four commandments, which are clearly religious in nature, and leave the remaining six, which make more secular commands, such as do not kill or steal.

Ever since the lawsuit was filed in September amid heated community reaction, school officials have said the display is not religious because it also includes historical documents such as the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.

“If indeed this issue is not about God, why wouldn’t it make sense for Giles County to say, ‘Let’s go back and just post the bottom six?'” Urbanski asked during a motions hearing in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.

“But if it’s really about God, then they wouldn’t be willing to do that.”

via Cut Ten Commandments down to 6? – Roanoke.com.

(The discussion uses Protestant numbering, rather than the Catholic and Lutheran numbering, which considers “no other gods” and “no graven images” to be part of the same commandment, counting two commandments against coveting, one about property and the other about relationships.  By that reckoning, the First Table contains three commandments and the Second Table seven.)

If we are to post the Commandments in the public square, would this be a solution?  Would it be better than nothing? Or would nothing be better?