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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.

An effort long feared, but widely predicted, has finally surfaced.

Last Thursday former Texas representative and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said that churches, charities and other religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage should lose their tax-exempt status. This came with the promise that, if elected president, he will immediately enforce the policy through executive action.

His reasoning?

“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. And so as president, we’re going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

Please read that last paragraph carefully. It holds two wildly provocative ideas: first, that taking a religious, moral stand is now equated with denying someone else their human/civil rights; second, that the government must stop any and all expression of those moral stands.

There has never been such a direct assault on the First Amendment in the history of the United States. Further, it is an assault on the very principles O’Rourke is claiming to support—namely, equality for all.

But do not expect his argument, much less sentiment, to go away. If anything, expect it to take root and spread. As a result, it is worth addressing it on both of its fronts—that this is a civil rights issue akin to race, and that the tax-exempt status of churches and other charitable organizations are some type of “reward” that should not be given to those who so clearly do harm to others.

Let’s first disentangle sexuality and race. Rebecca McLaughlin – herself same-sex attracted – aptly notes how gay rights is simply not the new civil rights movement, as if failing to embrace gay marriage now is like opposing mixed-marriage then. For example: 1) unlike racial heritage, sexual activity is a choice; 2) unlike with racial differences, there are significant biological differences between men and women; and 3) more white Westerners than people of color support gay marriage (As leading black intellectual Stephen Carter has observed, “When you mock Christians, you’re not mocking who you think you are.”).

But then there is the tax-exempt status issue.

As Professor John Inazu at Washington University has noted, “the candidate [O’Rourke] seems not to realize that eliminating tax exemptions for certain religious institutions would be catastrophic.”

For example, such a policy would not simply affect the conservative Christian base of the Republican party O’Rourke clearly had in mind, but also “conservative black churches, mosques and other Islamic organizations, and orthodox Jewish communities, among others.” As Inazu contends, “It is difficult to understand how Democratic candidates can be ‘for’ these communities – advocating tolerance along the way – if they are actively lobbying to put them out of business.”

Perhaps the most culturally potent argument against taking away the tax-exempt status of religious and charitable organizations is how it would “decimate the charitable sector.”

Here Inazu is worth reading at length:

“It is certainly the case that massive amounts of government funding flow through religious charitable organizations in the form of grants and tax exemptions. But anyone who thinks this is simply a pass-through that can be redirected to government providers or newly established charitable networks that better conform to Democratic orthodoxies is naive to the realities of the charitable sector.

“In fact, religious individuals and organizations spend billions of their own dollars in the charitable sector and donate hundreds of millions of hours of service in global and domestic regions where the social fabric is the most distressed. They have spent generations building institutions, infrastructure and networks that enable large-scale responses to natural disasters and other calamities. When hurricanes and tornadoes devastate entire communities, churches and religious organizations mobilize thousands of volunteers and many tons of relief supplies. Ending the tax-exempt status of these organizations would substantially weaken the charitable sector, which would result in more people suffering.”

But sane reasoning isn’t winning the day, so harden yourself to what is sure to come. Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet has already suggested that those on the left take a “hard line” with religious conservatives because, after all, “trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War,” and “taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.”

Yes, he said that.

As I’ve written before, it is no longer about acceptance or tolerance or equal rights—it is about the refusal for anyone to disagree. And if you do disagree, you should be penalized in whatever way possible: refused participation in the economy, silenced in the public sphere and, if needed, criminally prosecuted.

Or as an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal maintained, “It’s no longer enough that they won the marriage debate… [they] now want to punish anybody who disagrees.”

This festering boil was revealed in the backlash toward openly gay Ellen DeGeneres for simply sitting next to former president George W. Bush at a baseball game. She responded that the world needed more kindness and tolerance. “Here’s the thing,” she added. “I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK.”

Yes, Ellen, sadly we have.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Leonardo Blair, “Beto O’Rourke Says Churches Should Lose Tax-Exempt Status for Opposing Same-Sex Marriage,” The Christian Post, October 11, 2019, read online.

Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion.

John Inazu, “Democrats Are Going to Regret Beto’s Stance on Conservative Churches,” The Atlantic, October 12, 2019, read online.

Cydney Henderson, “George W. Bush ‘Appreciated’ Ellen DeGeneres Going to Bat for Friendship After Backlash,” USA Today, October 8, 2019, read online.

“Beto O’Rourke’s Progressive Tolerance,” The Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2019, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.    

NASA’s chief scientist recently made headlines by saying, “We’re close to finding and announcing alien life on Mars… but is the world ready?”

The statement from Dr. Jim Green was in relation to the sending of two rovers from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) next summer “to drill horizontally into rocks and deep into the surface, in the hope of finding evidence of living organisms.”

The question “Are we alone in the universe?” is one that haunts all of us, but none more than the scientific community.

Why won’t we be ready for the answer?

“It will be revolutionary,” offers Green. “It’s like when Copernicus stated, ‘No, we go around the sun.’ Completely revolutionary. It will start a whole new line of thinking. I don’t think we’re prepared for the results. We’re not… I’ve been worried about that because I think we’re close to finding it and making some announcements.”

“What happens next is a whole new set of scientific questions. Is that life like us? How are we related? Can life can move from planet to planet, or do we have a spark and just the right environment and that spark generates life – like us or not like us – based on the chemical environment that it is in?”

Yes, those are compelling scientific questions.

But what we shouldn’t have to be concerned about are the spiritual ones. The Bible offers no explicit or direct teaching about the possible creation (much less existence) of life on other planets.

It does, however, offer three theological truths that can guide our thinking:

First, God is bigger than we think. This is good to remember when it comes to things like life on other planets or any other scientific discovery that might present itself. Remembering the size of God reminds us to be humble and to be slow to draw conclusions. All of science is simply finding out what God has designed, and it’s an ongoing process of discovery.

Second, all life is from God. No matter where we find it, or what it’s like, it’s from God. The opening verse of Genesis speaks of God creating the “heavens and the earth,” which literally refers to everything that is. What “everything” means, we do not know. There could be many worlds, many universes, many realities and many dimensions that God may have created. To think that we’re the extent of His creative energies borders on arrogance.

Just as an aside, beware of those who will trumpet the discovery of life on another planet as disproving the need for a God. How did life on Earth come from non-life? It’s simple—from another planet. This is called panspermia—the idea that the first life, along with the beginning complexity, was seeded here from another planet, such as Mars. So no need for a God. 

Not so fast.

If all the scientific challenges surrounding life beginning on its own on Earth can be solved by saying that life began somewhere else and got here on the back of a meteorite, well then how did that life start there? You cannot escape the challenge of life, at some point, having to come from non-life.

Finally, all of creation matters to God. No matter where there is life, that life matters to God and should be valued by us. Going further, if we find intelligent life on other planets, we can be assured that God loves them just as He loves us and has provided a way for them to know Him and to share eternity with Him.

So while the scientific community may be bracing for the discovery of life on other planets,

... this Christian will simply enjoy the unfolding discovery of all of God’s creation.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Sarah Knapton, “Nasa Chief Scientist: ‘We’re Close to Finding and Announcing Alien Life on Mars... But Is the World Ready?’” The Telegraph, September 28, 2019, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.    

The World Economic Forum has released a fresh batch of stats on who is using social media the most. No real surprises in their overall findings (the younger the generation, the more it’s being used), but there were some important updates.

Currently more than 4.4 billion people have access to the internet. The current world population is 7.7 billion. 

Generation Z, as well as Millennials, are spending increasingly less time on social media. The average time per day for all North Americans is a little more than two hours.

Using multiple platforms, or “multi-networking”, is still on the rise, but could be plateauing.

In terms of choices in social media itself, Generation Z prefers YouTube and Instagram, and Millennials are still tied to Facebook. Interestingly, Baby Boomers are showing the highest growth in Instagram and WhatsApp usage.

And why do we say we use social media? This was interesting. The number who say it is because a lot of their friends are on social media declined (-16%); to stay in touch with their friends also declined (-9%). On the rise in terms of reasons for using social media: to network for work (+9%), to follow celebrities/celebrity news (+27%), and to research/find products to buy (+30%).

That last bit of information should stand out to church leaders. People are obviously going online to explore and research, but increasingly through social media. The study found 64% of Generation Z and 62% of Millennials use social channels, or state that social channels are influential, in terms of product research.

In the past, church leaders might have prided themselves on staying abreast of hot TV shows on the networks or blockbuster movies in the Cineplex. Today, the informed church leader is more about the online world and, specifically, social media.

It’s a digital world, which means it’s through a digital world that the church will reach the world.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Ashley Viens, “This Graph Tells Us Who’s Using Social Media the Most,” World Economic Forum, October 2, 2019, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

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