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Denison Forum on Truth and Culture Christian Blog and Commentary

Jim Denison

Denison Forum on Truth and Culture
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You may not care about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but that's about to change.  Last week, by a 3-2 vote, it determined that allegations of discrimination based on sexual orientation are covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  According to The Atlantic, "This is a big deal."  Why?
 
Because this ruling makes legal protections for LGBT people into civil rights.  The Supreme Court's Obergefell decision legalizing gay marriage applied only to marriage.  Now, according to The Atlantic, we'll see a whole new wave of discrimination claims.  Hiring practices, spousal benefits, providing goods and services for same-sex functions, adoption by gay couples, issuing same-sex marriage licenses and performing wedding ceremonies, sex-conduct policies at religious universities—all this and more will be debated and litigated. 
 
At its heart, this issue is about the connection between legality and morality.  Law professor Stanley Fish traces the narrative.  Until recently, the legal status of an act was based on an entrenched moral code.  Now the two have been divorced.  As Justice Kennedy declared in a 2003 ruling that legalized homosexual sex, "profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles do not answer the question before us."
 
Eleven years earlier, Kennedy stated that the core of liberty is "the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."  His definition replaces objective truth with subjective opinion and decouples morality from law.  If he's right, tolerance is what matters most.  Except, of course, when we think someone else is intolerant.  As when they stand for biblical truth in a decadent culture.
 
Will churches be exempt from gay rights litigation?  Will religious non-profits?  The Atlantic's article on the monumental EEOC decision is titled, "Gay Rights May Come at the Cost of Religious Freedom."  Would the Founders have recognized such a nation?
 
Thomas Paine's Common Sense has been called "the book that created the modern United States."  His brilliant argument for independence from Great Britain remains the best-selling American title of all time.  George Washington had it read to all his troops.  I reread the booklet yesterday, and was moved again by the urgency of its logic.
 
Paine begins his analysis by showing that governments exist to protect us from each other, "restraining our vices" by working to "supply the defect of moral virtue."  He then shows how the monarchy, rather than protecting its citizens' security and prosperity, further endangers them.  He concludes that a new nation is needed for "securing freedom and property to all men, and above all things the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience."  While no friend of Christianity, he insists that "to God, and not to man, are all men accountable on the score of religion."
 
A free church in a free state was the Founders' vision.  According to Paine, such a nation "'tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more or less affected, even to the end of time."  Now we are all affected by our nation's commitment to religious freedom or to its demise. (Tweet this)
 
Whatever happens, Christians know that Jesus is our "sure and steadfast anchor of the soul" (Hebrews 6:19).  Thomas Paine: "But where says some is the King of America?  I'll tell you Friend, he reigns above."
 
 
Publication date: July 30, 2015

 

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"I can't believe you're leaving before me.  I'm going to issue an executive order.  Jon Stewart cannot leave the show."  So stated President Barack Obama on The Daily Show, referring to host Jon Stewart's impending retirement.  The president recently made his seventh appearance on Stewart's show.  But Mr. Obama's relationship with the comedian is even more personal than his televised appearances would indicate.
 
Politico magazine has broken the story: President Obama twice asked Stewart to meet with him privately in the White House.  The first visit came in the midst of the October 2011 budget fight, when Stewart jokingly told his escort he felt he was being called into the principal's office.  The second came in February 2014, when the president asked Stewart to come for a mid-morning visit hours before Mr. Obama went on television to warn Russia against further intervention in Ukraine. 
 
Politico summarizes the comedian's cultural reach: "Love Stewart's jokes or hate them, he has proven to be a unique voice who is capable of turning in-the-weeds policy discussions into viral video sensations that the country is still talking about the next morning."  The 52-year-old former stand-up comedian has won 18 Emmy awards for his show.  Not bad for a former shelf stocker and bartender.
 
Stewart's family emigrated from Poland; his parents divorced when he was 11.  He changed his last name from Leibowitz to Stewart (a respelling of his middle name, Stuart) as a result of his estranged relationship with his father.  He once told The New York Times that he views his political comedy as a kind of catharsis, a therapeutic filter for dealing with difficult issues.
 
In other words, Jon Stewart has a mission behind the mayhem.
 
Viennese psychiatrist Viktor Frankl survived Auschwitz and later summarized his horrific experience with this now-famous statement: "Man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life."  He observed that prisoners who were most likely to survive were those who refused to abandon hope, who held onto a larger meaning in their suffering.
 
Frankl's pregnant wife, brother, and parents were all murdered by the Nazis.  How would he respond to such unspeakable injustice?  The decision would be his: "everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
 
This choice determines everything.  Jon Stewart could have stayed a bartender, but he took a chance on his dream of doing comedy.  While I disagree with his frequent use of profanity and much of his worldview, I affirm his courage.
 
To change the culture, we must first change ourselves.  But to become our best selves, we must be changed by the One who gives our lives greater meaning than we can imagine. (Tweet this) God showed Jeremiah that the nation was but clay in the potter's hand (Jeremiah 17:6).  With this difference: we can choose whether to submit to the Potter.
 
Frankl is right: the last human freedom is the freedom "to choose one's own way."  But you can use that freedom to choose God's way instead, to submit to his loving, often-perplexing, always-perfect purpose for your life.  This choice determines everything.
 
As C. S. Lewis notes, God seeks to rebuild our lives, not into a "decent little cottage" but into a palace.  For this reason: "He intends to come and live in it himself."
 
 
Publication date: July 29, 2015

 

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The Satanic Temple in Detroit has unveiled a one-ton bronze tribute to Satan.  The statue depicts a person with a goat's head, horns, and wings.  The image is flanked by statues of a young girl and boy gazing up at the creature in adoration.
 
However, the Satanic Temple says it doesn't believe in Satan.  The group views the devil as "a literary figure, not a deity—he stands for rationality, for skepticism, for speaking truth to power."
 
So Satanists stand for rationality and truth? 
 
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat explains why Planned Parenthood apologists have avoided commenting on the actual content in recently-released videos: "Because dwelling on that content gets you uncomfortably close to . . . that moment when you start pondering the possibility that an institution at the heart of respectable liberal society is dedicated to a practice that deserves to be called barbarism."  Abortion supporters will continue to focus on women's rights while ignoring "human beings that the nice, idealistic medical personnel at Planned Parenthood have spent their careers crushing, evacuating, and carving up for parts."
 
 
Evangelical scholar Os Guinness notes that recent decades have witnessed an astonishing rise in consumer choices, a phenomenon he calls the McDonaldization of our culture.  I remember when TV had three channels and we went on vacation to see our grandparents because that was all our family could afford.  Today's consumer is immersed in choices—what to wear, to buy, to see, to do.  Our very lives seem to be the product of our choices.
 
Why wouldn't we believe that reality is what we choose it to be?  Why wouldn't we believe the lie that there are no lies?  Why wouldn't we make Satan a symbolic literary figure and abortion a harmless reproductive choice?
 
Here's where Christians must beware.  You and I live in the same consumer culture.  Our lives are equally constituted by our choices, or so we think.  We may believe that we make better choices than others.  But we can be just as deceived into thinking that we are what we decide to be.
 
Over the weekend I read Brennan Manning's classic Abba's Child.  Manning defines our core identity as the fact that we are loved infinitely and passionately by the God who is our "Abba," "Daddy."  To accept this identity, we must reject all others.  We must admit that we are nothing without God and that our choices cannot change this fact. (Tweet this)
 
Manning quotes Thomas Merton: "The reason we never enter into the deepest reality of our relationship with God is that we so seldom acknowledge our utter nothingness before him."  He agrees with St. Augustine: "There can only be two basic loves, the love of God unto the forgetfulness of self, or the love of self unto the forgetfulness and denial of God."
 
Reality is ultimately not what you choose, but what your Creator has chosen.  He has chosen to like you, to love you, to die for you, to rise for you, to prepare your place in paradise, to walk beside you and in you right now.  He longs for you to see yourself as he sees you—the child of your Abba.
 
"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are" (1 John 3:1).
 
 
Publication date: July 28, 2015

 

For more from the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

Do you want to live a life in whole-hearted pursuit of loving God and others? 

Read today's First15 at www.first15.org.

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