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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

Regis Nicoll

Regis Nicoll's weblog

In the wake of the British Invasion, a one-hit wonder from Boston posed the question, "Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?" It was the hit single of The Barbarians, whose shoulder-length hair, sandaled feet, and cheeky lyrics reflected the dizzying changes of the 1960s.

I remember it well. In a garage band of my own, I sported the longer hair and cross-cutting fashions of the epicene trend. On more than one occasion I heard, or overheard, some variant of that question muttered by some backward yokel. Whether intended as fun or due to honest confusion, the question always presumed that underneath the androgynous exterior, there really was a boy or a girl.

Flash forward about forty years. Given what we're now being told about sex and gender, an updated version of The Barbarians' hit might well be titled, "Are You a Boy and a Girl?" I'm not kidding. Read on here.  

Following the legalization of so-called same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, there has been a lot of chatter among social conservatives. Some, including a number of Republican presidential hopefuls, are pushing for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. Others are suggesting that articles of impeachment be initiated against the justices. Many are looking to the ballot box, believing that if we elect officials who respect the rule of law and embrace conservative values, the country will pull out of its moral tailspin.

Nearly all are placing hope in some political solution. But if history has taught us anything, it is that political affiliation, policies, and fixes are no guarantee that conservative values, like the sanctity of life and natural marriage, will be upheld.

Recalling History

Persons of a certain age will recall that, as governor of California, Republican Ronald Reagan pioneered "no-fault" divorce in 1969. Four years later,Roe v. Wadewas decided in a Republican administration by a Supreme Court in which six out of the nine justices had been installed by Republican presidents. And let's not forget Justice Anthony Kennedy, the man who has often been the swing vote in decisions against socially conservative positions over the last three decades. He was appointed by President Reagan.

Yet none of those actions originated in the grey matter of our government leaders; rather, they percolated from the soil of our moral consensus. That's because law and politics are reflections of society's cultural values, not the other way around.

When the Supreme Court took us over the "gay marriage" Rubicon in 2013 by overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), public approval of its legalization had reached 50 percent. But neither the ruling nor popular sentiments were the problem, only symptoms of it.
The problem, as evidenced by the incidence of, and even attitudes concerning, non-marital sex (among other things) in the Christian camp, is the Church's neglect of its foremost duty: to form believers whose lives reflect the teachings and example of Christ. The failure of Christians to exemplify the standards of sexual morality they demand from homosexuals goes a long way toward explaining the waning moral authority of the Church and the growing acceptance of homosexuality.

The Results of Neglect

Indeed, in the two years following the DOMA ruling, support for same-sex marriageincreasedby seven percent. With 59 percent of the general public favoring it, Fortune 500 companies like Wal-Mart, Apple, Starbucks, and Target have come out boldly for "marriage equality." Having read the collective moral conscience correctly, a number of corporate titans have successfully pressured legislators for anti-discrimination laws and have threatened to cease doing business in states promoting religious liberty—all without consumer pushback or loss of market share.

In the same two-year period, the number of states legalizing same-sex marriage skyrocketed, from nine to 37. While all but three of the decisions were by judicial fiat or legislative decree, it is doubtful, given the rapid shift in popular attitudes, that the results of public referenda would have been markedly different.

By Way of Explanation

As to how it has come to this,First Thingseditor R. R. Reno observes that "homosexuality plays a very important symbolic role in the moral imaginations of heterosexuals." And it's not the role you might suspect.

Reno explains, "When it comes to sex and transgression, their [homosexuals'] freedom from moral censure guarantees ours [heterosexuals]. Which is why gay rights are so very popular among the America elites who can't imagine themselves as anything other than good people" and, I might add, who equate the social approval of homosexuality with the moral acceptance of their own sexual peccadilloes.

Reno's observation is on the mark, with one exception. The popularity of gay rights isn't limited to elites; it extends to common folk, including mainline Protestants and Catholics at levels (62 and 56 percent, respectively, according to a June 2015 Pew Center poll) consistent with the general public.

When the behaviors and beliefs of Christians mirror those of their unbelieving neighbors, it is evidence that the Church is a product of the culture it is called to transform, and that instead of producing disciples, it has been turning out "belonging nonbelievers," if not "functional atheists."

So, if you want find fault for the recent Court ruling, look no further than the doorstep of the Church and a decades-long ethos of non-discipleship Christianity. The thing is, the solution to our national condition starts at the same threshold. Read more:

How is Your Joy?

God’s people are to be a joyful people. So much so, that Billy Sunday, the famous early 20th century evangelist, once said that if joy is missing in your life “there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere.” For, while love is the operational standard of the kingdom, joy is its defining temperament.

Indeed, in dozens of Psalms and nearly every New Testament epistle, the author expresses a joy he hopes his readers will share. Jesus told His disciples that His teachings were intended to bring them joy. Luke records the joy experienced by them, by those who received their message, and by various individuals like Mary in the Magnificat, Zechariah in the Benedictus, and Simeon in the Nunc Dimittis.

Joy is so emblematic of authentic Christian faith that Paul placed it second only to love in his list of spiritual fruits.

So, how is your joy?

What is it?

To answer, we first need to be clear on what joy is.

Often it is taken to be an elevated state of happiness, giddy sense of delight, or acute satisfaction in some pleasure or accomplishment—things that can be produced through personal pursuit.

However, as New York Times columnist David Brooks notes in his book “The Road to Character,” “Joy emanates unbidden and unforced”—not because of anything we’ve produced or accomplished, but “as a gift . . . at those fleeting moments [when] you know why you were put here and what truth you serve.”

Brooks is certainly on to something. For if the biblical examples are right, whatever joy is, it is born in a moral imagination that has gained transcendent insight into our true nature, purpose, and destiny. Stated differently, joy comes with the arresting apprehension of a worldview that imparts imperishable significance to our lives, reflecting the eternity God has placed in our hearts. Thus, Joseph Marmion, a 19th-century Irish monk, phrased it well when he said “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us.”

Unlike happiness, joy derives not from the satisfaction of temporal desires or human accomplishments but by faith in God. Paul disclosed the cause-and-effect relationship in his letter to the church in Rome: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.” Likewise, Peter, commending believers in a time of persecution, wrote, “Even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”

What does it look like?

A joyful spirit produces a kind of inner peace and contentment. Telling of his own experience while imprisoned, Paul wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Paul’s attitude, under conditions that were not very joyful, reveals one of the great paradoxes and best-kept secrets of the good news: We can have joy, in spite of external circumstances, even in times of great difficulty. And Paul’s experience is not unique.

Consider the prophet Habakkuk, who, foreseeing the impending Babylonian invasion and devastation of Judah, wrote, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Or Job, who in the midst of overwhelming loss and grief, proclaimed: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.”

Scripture teaches that joy is the possession of those who know God and know themselves as He made them, called them, and destined them. It is a blessing that many, perhaps, most of us have had an occasion to be intensely conscious of. For me, it was after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis in 2001. For someone dear to me, it came at life’s terminus. Co0ntinue reading here.