My testimony

Terrell Clemmons:

This is way too good not to pass on. She sought; she found.

File this under, “True Science Always Supports True Faith”

Originally posted on SixDay Science:

I’ve had numerous requests over the years to write down my personal testimony and post it here. I was asked to give my testimony at a local church here in Austin as part of their Easter celebration, which finally compelled me to write it all down. What follows is an adapted version of that Easter talk.

I was born in the U.S., but grew up in Canada. My parents were socialists and political activists who thought British Columbia would be a better place for us to live, since it had the only socialist government in North America at the time. My parents were also atheists, though they eschewed that label in favor of “agnostic.” They were kind, loving, and moral, but religion played no part in my life. Instead, my childhood revolved around education, particularly science. I remember how important it was to my parents that my brother and I did…

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The Codependent Conjunction of “Gay Christians” and the Gay-Affirming Church

book pictureWhen Harvard sophomore Matthew Vines came out to his parents over Christmas break, both of them affirmed their unconditional love for him right away. But the news was hard for everyone. As Christians, they believed the same thing the church has held for 2000 years – that homosexuality runs contrary to the created order and is therefore sinful and harmful.

A “shattered soul,” Matthew decided not to return to school for spring semester. Instead, he stayed home and set out “to confront homophobia in my conservative Wichita church and find acceptance there as a gay Christian.” By summer, Matthew’s father had changed his mind, and the family subsequently left their “strongly non-affirming” church for one more amenable to their new outlook.

In March 2012, two years after having set out to confront homophobia in the church, Matthew presented the results of his “thousands of hours of research” in an hour-long talk titled “The Gay Debate.” The upshot of it was this: “The Bible does not condemn loving gay relationships. It never addresses the issues of same-sex orientation or loving same-sex relationships, and the few verses that some cite to support homophobia have nothing to do with LGBT people.” The video went viral (more than three quarter million views to date) and Matthew has been disseminating the content of it ever since.

In 2013, he launched “The Reformation Project,” “a Bible-based, non-profit organization … to train, connect, and empower gay Christians and their allies to reform church teaching on homosexuality from the ground up.” At the inaugural conference, paid for by a $104,000 crowd-funding campaign, fifty LGBT advocates, all professing Christians, gathered for four days in suburban Kansas City for teaching and training, At twenty-three years of age, Matthew Vines was already becoming a formidable cause célèbre.

“An Agenda in Search of an Interpretation”
Now, the same message has been published in his 2014 book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Matthew’s larger argument, stated in the introduction, is this: “Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships” [emphasis in original]. He divides Christians into two groups based on their views regarding alternative sexualities: affirming and non-affirming, and his goal is to turn non-affirming Christians into affirming ones.

He gives three reasons why non-affirmers should rethink their position:

Reason #1: Non-affirming views inflict pain on LGBT people. This argument is undoubtedly the most persuasive emotionally, but Matthew has produced a Scriptural case for it. Jesus, in his well-known Sermon on the Mount, warned his listeners against false prophets, likening them to wolves in sheep’s clothing. Then switching metaphors he asked, “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?” The obvious answer is no, and Jesus’s point was, you can recognize a good or bad tree – and a true or false prophet – by its good or bad fruit. From this, Matthew concludes that, since non-affirming beliefs on the part of some Christians cause the bad fruit of emotional pain for other Christians, the non-affirming stance must not be good.

Reason #2: The biblical writers did not write from a contemporary understanding of sexual orientation. Ancient societies associated homosexuality with sexual excess – as an out-of-control behavior that anyone might engage in out of hedonistic self-indulgence, and not as a fixed, unchosen characteristic. It is this lustful excess that is prohibited, Matthew suggests, and not loving, committed same-sex relationships.

Reason #3: Traditional, non-affirming interpretations, which imply mandatory celibacy for gay Christians, conflict with traditional teachings of celibacy as a spiritual gift freely chosen. Since Jesus affirmed marriage, and since not all are capable of celibacy, the Bible’s teachings regarding marriage must now conform to our understanding of same-sex orientation. Therefore, loving, same-sex relationships must be affirmed.

After presenting these reasons for taking the affirming side of the gay debate, Matthew spends four chapters explaining how the six biblical passages that specifically mention homosexuality actually mean something other than what they say.

Through it all, Matthew maintains that his approach is thoroughly biblical. And in truth, he does draw liberally from Scripture and in many respects seems to understand central biblical themes. But, as I hope you’ve surmised by now, his attempt to ground affirmation of homosexuality in Scripture travels quite a convoluted route. Biblical studies professor Denny Burk summed it up best when he called it “an agenda in search of an interpretation.”

Codependency
Matthew Vines in particular, and LGBTs in general, appear to be drivingly fixated on changing other people’s moral outlook. But why? Why are they distressed over the shrinking subset of Christianity that holds to the traditional ethic of sex? Note that Matthew found an affirming church in his hometown, as can most any LGBT-identifying Christian. Affirming churches abound. Gaychurch.org lists forty-four affirming denominations – denominations, not just individual churches – in North America and will help you find a congregation in your area. Why, then, given all these choices for church accommodation, are Matthew and the Reformers specifically targeting churches whose teachings differ from their own?

One gets the sense that LGBTs really, really need other people to affirm their sexual behavior. Certainly it’s human to want the approval of others, but this goes beyond an emotionally healthy desire for relational comity. Recall Matthew’s plea that non-affirming views on the part of some Christians cause emotional pain for others. He, and all like-minded LGBTs, are holding other people responsible for their emotional pain. This is the very essence of codependency.

The term came out of Alcoholics Anonymous. It originally referred to spouses of alcoholics who enabled the alcoholism to continue unchallenged, but it has since been broadened to encompass several forms of dysfunctional relationships involving pathological behaviors, low self-esteem, and poor emotional boundaries. Codependents “believe their happiness depends upon another person,” says Darlene Lancer, an attorney, family therapist, and author of Codependency for Dummies. “In a codependent relationship, both individuals are codependent,” says clinical psychologist Seth Meyers. “They try to control their partner and they aren’t comfortable on their own.”

Thou Shalt … Affirm?
Which leads to an even more troubling aspect of this Vinesian “Reformation.” Not only are LGBT Reformers not content to find an affirming church for themselves and peacefully coexist with everyone else, everyone else must change in order to be correct in their Christian expression.

This is the classic progression of codependency, and efforts to change everyone else become increasingly coercive. We must affirm same-sex orientation, Matthew says. If we don’t, we are “tarnishing the image of God [in gay Christians]. Instead of making gay Christians more like God … embracing a non-affirming position makes them less like God.” “[W]hen we reject the desires of gay Christians to express their sexuality within a lifelong covenant, we separate them from our covenantal God.”

Do you hear what he’s saying? LGBTs’ relationships with God are dependent on Christians approving their sexual proclivities. But he’s still not finished. “In the final analysis, then, it is not gay Christians who are sinning against God by entering into monogamous, loving relationships. It is we who are sinning against them by rejecting their intimate relationships.” In other words, non-affirming beliefs stand between LGBTs and God. Thus sayeth Matthew Vines.

The Evolution of Sexual Understandings
Matthew leans heavily on the contemporary understanding of same-sex orientation, which he says “actually requires us to reinterpret Scripture.” But he doesn’t bother to examine the standing on which this understanding rests. So we should.

The first edition of the DSM listed homosexuality as a “sociopathic personality disturbance” in 1953, and it was considered a mental disorder until it was upgraded to the less toxic-sounding “sexual deviation” in 1973. Was there new information? Did empirical data prompt the change? No, according to the Association of Gay & Lesbian Psychiatrists, “This decision occurred in the context of momentous cultural changes brought on by the social protest movements of the 1950s to the 1970s” in conjunction with the (now debunked) Kinsey studies.

Today, the American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as “an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes.” The American Psychiatric Association defines it similarly and adds that it “does not always appear in such definable categories and instead occurs on a continuum” and can be “fluid.”

“Attractions” that occur “on a continuum” and can be “fluid.” Notice the vagueries of these definitions. Are there any finite limits that define sexual orientation? Or do distinctions between sexual excess and sexual orientation actually boil down to semantics and subjective identity?

In any event, this is how the “understanding” has evolved: Changing attitudes about sexual excess led to the concept of sexual orientation. And now the concept of sexual orientation requires that attitudes change.

Desires and Identity
But where contemporary culture and the APAs speak in terms of orientation, the Bible speaks of desires that can be deceitful. And, at the risk of oversimplification, sin is less a matter of desires that one feels than the  one actions one chooses to take in response to his feelings. And that is a crucial distinction.

Yuan ProfilePicChristopher Yuan embraced the desires he’d felt from a young age and lived as a prodigal homosexual until a drug-dealing conviction landed him in prison. An HIV+ diagnosis on top of that turned his mind to spiritual matters. He started reading the Bible. He was drawn to Christ, but perceived that his homosexuality presented a problem. So he sought the counsel of the prison chaplain, a nice affirming chap who gave him a book that said he could be gay and Christian, no problem.

“I had that book in one hand and the Bible in the other. I had every reason to accept the book’s assertions to justify same-sex relationships,” but something told him the book was distorting the clear words of the Bible. He realized he would have to make a choice. “Do I walk away from homosexuality? Or walk away from what God teaches?” He chose the former and discovered a new identity as a son of a perfectly holy God. “I eventually realized I’d put great emphasis on ‘being gay.’ Now I needed to place my primary identity in Christ.”

Repentance and Recovery
Recovery from codependency requires taking responsibility for one’s own emotions and behavior. Or, to return to Jesus’s metaphor, it requires that each tree take responsibility for its own fruit, recognizing that fruit proceeds from the root. At the risk of oversimplifying again, whether or not one’s desires change, a Christian becomes a “new tree” by virtue of being accepted by Christ. A new tree, if it would choose Christian maturity, will neither coerce nor construct amenable accommodations for bad fruit.

This article first appeared in Salvo 30, Fall 2014

Related:

True Blue

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A Review of Blue: For Earth. For Humanity. For Freedom
a Jeffrey D. King film

movie-logoJeffrey (JD) King is on a mission to save the earth. As a millennial and lifelong Montanan, he wants to cultivate and preserve the most beautiful, life-filled planet possible. With that desire, he took a critical look at today’s Green movement and asked, Does Green suggest solutions that further those ends? And a related question, Does Green enhance human flourishing? The answer to both questions, he found, is a resounding no. Here are four clear findings from his investigation that flatly contradict Green orthodoxy:

CO2 is a boon. Leighton Steward, geologist and founder of Plants Need CO2, held the established view of CO2 as a pollutant until he conducted a critical examination for himself. As it turns out, many scientists dissent from this Green dogma. Aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin says that higher atmospheric CO2 levels are “making the earth a more fertile world,” which shouldn’t flabbergast any of us who recall from third grade biology that CO2 is plant food. Zubrin says photos taken from space since 1958 corroborate the claim, showing a 15% increase in non-agricultural plant growth (jungles, grasslands, forests, etc.) corresponding to a 19% increase in CO2 concentration.

Development is beneficial. “Economic development is actually the best friend of environmental stewardship,” says Calvin Beisner, founder of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. Energy production generates productive industry and wealth. The environment is demonstrably better managed and cared for in developed countries than in undeveloped ones because people can afford responsible caretaking.

Population growth is good. Actually, what we should fear is underpopulation, says Beisner. “The world needs more people,” says Zubrin, “because people are not just consumers, people are producers.” The more people there are, the more inventors there are, the greater the divisions of labor, and the faster the rate of technological innovation. “This is why, as the world’s population has gone up, the world’s living standards [have] gone up. And not just in this century … but through all of human history.” We live much better today, he says, because of all the people who lived in the past.

Government rarely helps. While there are a legitimate roles for government, in America, “we’re protecting things to death,” says ecologist and retired USFW ranger Ray Haupt. “Governments have far and away the worst environmental records,” notes Beisner, citing the Soviet Union, China, and the Americas. “The healthiest forests in North America are those forests that are privately owned,” and “the least healthy are the ones that are owned by the US Forest Service.” It’s the people who own and work the land – the farmers, miners, loggers, and foresters, as opposed to centralized bureaucracies – who are best positioned to manage their property, both for their own interests and the interests of their communities.

In sum, King concludes, Green gets the whole thing backwards. It begins with a false, misanthropic outlook – nature good, humans bad – and ends up harming both. A Christian who believes we were created to be stewards of the earth, King proposes replacing Green with Blue. A healthy environment and human prosperity can coexist, he says. In fact, they are interdependent and inextricably linked with proper stewardship of creation. That is what Blue is all about. Humanity’s mission, according to Blue, is to reflect God by enhancing the beauty and fruitfulness of the earth. We do this to the glory of God and for the benefit of our fellow man.

Related:

5-AUS_oceanspray-e1392995899175This article first appeared in Salvo 29, Summer 2014.

Fear Not but Count the Cost persecution-persecuted-christians
AFA Bigotry Map 022415

AFA Bigotry Map

I got an email the other day – one of those “raising awareness” types that get forwarded around a lot. It originated with the American Family Association (AFA), and it showed a map of the US with little iconic symbols noting more than 200 groups across the country that the AFA identified as displaying open bigotry toward the Christian faith.

Groups were categorized as being atheist, anti-Christian, humanist, or activists for the homosexual agenda. You could click on a link to go to AFA’s website and see which ones were active in your state. The four national organizations identified there were, the Human Rights Campaign, GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) (both homosexual activist groups) the Freedom From Religion Foundation (atheist activists), and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which is broadly anti-Christian in emphasis, but not necessarily associated with any one interest.

The friend who forwarded the email added only one comment. She typed it in large font: “Scary stuff.”

None of the information was new to me. In fact, I’ve written articles on all four of the organizations AFA listed, so I’m quite familiar with them. I usually ignore emails like this, but I did something different with this one. I asked her one question: “Honest question: Why do you say this is scary stuff?”

I got a reply a few hours later that said this: “Another honest question. Why don’t you think it is?”

Hmm … I was a little taken aback at that. Now, sometimes answering a question with a question moves a discussion along. I do it on occasion to get a better idea of where somebody is coming from. But this wasn’t one of those occasions. It actually took the discussion backwards, so to speak. The only way I could think of to explain why I’m not afraid of these organizations is to try and imagine why someone would be afraid of them, and then explain why I don’t share that fear. That requires me to speculate about potential answers to the very question I’d asked her – basically, to try to get inside her head.

But since I don’t know any other way to answer the question, and since I don’t like to leave a question from a friend unanswered, here goes.

Anti-Christian Activists (ACAs)
For the sake of discussion, I’m going to call the referenced groups anti-Christian activists (ACAs). I realize there are people who profess Christian values among them, but it’s clear that these organizations share common cause in opposition to the three foundational truth claims of Christianity: that there is a self-existing Creator God to whom we must give account, that there are objective moral laws we’ve failed to live up to, and that only by surrendering our self-will in repentance can we be reconciled to him. And there’s no question that they’re political activists. So “anti-Christian activists” captures it fairly well for my purpose here.

So the next question becomes, Why might I find the presence of ACAs scary? I can think of two reasons: One, I might be afraid that they’re right and I’m wrong. What would that do to me? To my identity as a believer in Christianity? I might feel threatened existentially. Or two, I might be afraid they’ll harm me personally. I may feel threatened physically or materially in some way.

The Existential Threat
Let’s consider the first possibility. Could the atheists be right and I be wrong? I think the fear, here, is that they may say something that makes me feel uncomfortable. Once, an honest Christian confessed to me that that was the reason he was afraid to hear what his atheist friend had to say about atheism – because he feared that something might shake his own faith. At least he was honest about it.

The reason I don’t fear this kind of encounter is because I’ve already faced that fear down. The atheist position, intellectually, is pitifully unpersuasive. See here, here, here, here, and here. And there are more. These are just a few examples I have readily written up. The point that needs to be made here is that, when we’ve placed our faith in something that is true, we need not fear contradictory truth claims. The truth always stands up to scrutiny.

The Personal Threat
The other reason I might be afraid is that I might fear harm, personally. Now, that’s a different fear. Since ancient times, people have lost their lives for taking a stand for truth. And in parts of the world today, people do get murdered merely for being Christian. (I won’t link you to anything, but if you want to verify my facts, Google ‘ISIS’ or ‘Boko Haram’.)

But in America, we are still a nation of civilized people with enforceable laws governing murder. It’s not likely a Christian will be mown down merely for identifying as Christian. It is true, however, that churches are subject to harassment. See here, here, and here. And good people are seeing their livelihoods threatened for holding to the traditional view of marriage. See here, here, here, and here. And there are more. So to a certain extent there are valid reasons for trepidation.

The Politics of Personal Destruction
At the very least, there is a growing climate of hostility. Here’s a personal example. Last week, in the wake of the Indiana Senate’s approval of a bill that would support business owners’ freedom to operate according to their religious convictions, a facebook friend posted the following:

“If for some outrageous reason this passes…I DARE a business to deny service to a same sex couple. If you do, and I hear about it, I will make it a priority to single handedly destroy you and your business reputation on multiple social media accounts and you will be out of business in less than a year and shunned for the rest of your existence. *long fierce glare* Try me. ‪#‎irked‬ ‪#‎warning‬ ‪#‎Indiana‬”

These are what you might call, fightin’ words. Notice, there is no appeal to reason, no appeal to his opponents to consider his course of action because it might be the right one. There is no hint of good will. No, “I will make it a priority to single handedly destroy you …” Ironically, this is a young man I met in church.

I decided to poke this thing a little bit, to see if there was a real hornet’s nest behind it, or if it was just hyperbole. I asked if he really meant he would ‘destroy’ the person. He said, yes. I asked if he would like to clarify what he meant. Here’s what he said:

“… by destroy I mean that I would go out of my way to shame said person via social media who would deny service to a same sex couple so much so that it would feel like their personal privacy was taken because they would be bombarded by people, they had never met who had heard from me what they had done, in hopes that it would cause personal strife, possibly destroying their relationships, trust, image with those in the community, family, friends, colleagues and themselves. The destruction of personal/professional image would hopefully culminate and then in time dissipate to a place where they would have to do some inner soul searching, reasoning and make sure that the act of denying someone service, due to a personal or religious belief …”

He went on to spell out “said person”’s belief, but I don’t think it’s an accurate characterization of the other side at all. Not even close. But he didn’t indicate any willingness to reexamine his assumption. So, in accordance with the principle of tolerance, I let it be.

It was an interesting #warning, though, considering it was issued in support of an agenda that flies under the banner of ‘love.’ And ‘tolerance.’ I looked up the definition of cyber-bullying. I’m hard-pressed to find a difference between that and what my facebook friend threatened in his #warning. Then I looked up the definition of bigotry. I’m hard-pressed to find much difference here, too, between that and the tone of my friend’s #warning.

Now, I’m not advocating that any speech be suppressed. Jesus said that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. An open market for speech is illuminating. The point I want to make here is that there is a cost for holding a moral opinion about traditional marriage, or at least for stating it in public. And it can range from public excoriation to tangible material loss.

Fear Not
But I’m still not going to look at it as “scary.” When it comes to the atheists, I find them kind of invigorating. I love a good challenging discussion over the existence of God. Sadly, most atheists withdraw from it way too soon.

Which leads me to a deeper reaction, which I find rising within me – both to the atheists and to the sexual anarchists. I find it all very sad. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the people there did not recognize their Messiah when he came to them. They killed him.

But before he allowed them to do that, he made it clear that those who would follow him shouldn’t expect any better treatment. But also, that no matter what happened to them in the time being, they would be alright in the end. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” he said. “Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

I don’t fear anti-Christian activists because I have a greater fear – reverence, actually, and love – for the one who went before me and took the sting out of all threats, existential, material, and even physical. “In this world you will have trouble,” Christ said. “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Fear Not but Count the Cost persecution-persecuted-christians

What a Girl Wants

Old Fashioned 3

A Word to the Guys

Old Fashioned 3With violent, abusive sex in the public eye right now thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey, there seems to be a lot of bewilderment among the male half of the population. What exactly do women want from men, anyway? Jerry, a thirty-something single man expressed it to me in an email this way:

I think the real danger here is the message that the popularity of this kind of thing sends to thoughtful young men. We’re told by women that we’re supposed to be kind, attentive, good listeners, sensitive and all that stuff, but then women indulge themselves in Fifty Shades of Grey because it offers an excitement and danger that they seem to crave on some level. …

And then mix this with the whole “rape culture” hysteria and any other women “gender” griping. I think women have always been confusing to men, but these days it’s way out of control! Men like to try to figure things out, and that especially goes for trying to figure out women. But with the Fifty Shades of Grey thing, they will come to dangerous conclusions.

I think he’s right. Fifty Shades of Grey can lead men to dangerous conclusions. So it is a pleasure for me to be able to present a supremely superior film which offers much better Valentine’s Day fare, Old Fashioned, opening in theaters nationwide today. To see the trailer, click here. For theaters and showtimes, click here.

The tone and feel of this story is kind and gentle. In fact, the two movies could not make a more stark contrast for how to go about relationships if they tried. Fifty Shades of Grey is black, silver, and steel. Old Fashioned is forest greens, ambers, and sienna. Fifty Shades is silver ties and black stilettos. Old Fashioned is soft jeans and cotton sweaters. If Fifty Shades were a chrome and glass uptown bar, Old Fashioned would be a comfortably appointed family room somewhere along Main Street, USA.

While the relationship between Christian and Ana (Fifty Shades) is racy, salacious, and hides its central connection behind locked doors, the relationship between Clay and Amber (Old Fashioned) is relaxed; it unfolds at a more measured pace, and is open and authentic. For viewers who can manage a more adult-length attention span and who don’t require an adrenaline rush with their Coke and popcorn, the crescendo of chemistry between Clay and Amber becomes a dance of honest-to-goodness romance of heart and soul.

I won’t tell the story, but I will, attempt to clear up some of the confusion wrought by Fifty Shades on men, because there are some things very right about what Clay does, and they can be drawn out especially in contrast to Christian.

First, whereas Christian literally, physically binds Ana, Clay binds himself, not physically but metaphorically, practically. He has misused women before, so he sets rules and boundaries that he will not cross with a woman until he has married her. This is for her protection. It leads to some sweet, comic situations, and not a few raised eyebrow hints that’s he’s a dinosaur or maybe a little off in the head. He just shrugs these things off, his self-esteem not dependent on other people’s opinions of him. The important thing to note is that he binds himself in order that the girl may be free and safe. By contrast, Christian binds the girl in order that his passions may have free reign.

And this: Clay is disciplined with himself and longsuffering (an old word for patient). Whereas Christian goes for the immediate sensory experience time and again, usually meaning sexual gratification, Clay takes a longer, more holistic view. He is willing to delay gratification in favor of lifelong relational satisfaction.

But don’t get the idea that this is squeaky clean, too-good-to-be-true tripe. Clay and Amber both have scars and baggage. Clay has some serious sexual sin in his past and issues to work on in the present. He’s by no means a super-hero, and he very much needs what the women in his life, including Amber, have to offer him. As for Amber, she’s been mistreated in the past, and her woundedness and vulnerability lie not too far beneath the surface of her beautiful, free spirit.

Which highlights something else very different with the two male characters. Clay sees Amber’s vulnerability and moves to be a protector of her, a servant. Christian, by contrast, exploits Ana’s vulnerability. Yes, he does in a way act as a protector, but his kind of protection is controlling to the point that it becomes confining, even stalking at times.

Old Fashioned 1To sum this up, men, if, as the Apostle Paul famously wrote, love is patient, kind, not envious, boastful, or proud; if love is not self-seeking, easily angered, nor given to keeping score or taking delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth, then I’d say Clay is your example to follow.

Given the potential personal and relational disasters that could follow Fifty Shades of Grey, I cannot recommend Old Fashioned highly enough. Sadly, Christian-made films have not always been especially well-done. But this one is, Go see it. And then, go and do likewise.

Fifty Shades - Curious

Fifty Shades - CuriousIn the wake of this article – Desperately Disconnected, 50 Shades of Grey and the Longings of the Female Heart – in the current Salvo, it’s been my privilege and pleasure to elaborate on this whole Fifty Shades phenomenon (and it is a phenomenon) on radio and with Lauren Green on her Spirited Debate series at FoxNews.com.

It seems to me that one of the biggest questions men are asking is, What is the appeal here? Why are so many women enthralled with Fifty Shades of Grey, to the tune of more than 100 million books sold and now this much-ballyhooed blockbuster movie?

And the other oft-asked question is, How should we react to it? What do we say to people who are weighing the decision to see or not to see it? (In fact, it appears from this very telling collection of observations – Even the co-stars of the movie think 50 Shades of Grey is awful (and maybe even a bit like Hitler) – even the two actors playing the lead roles don’t know what to make of it and aren’t so comfortable with what they have done.)

These are good questions, and I have a lot of thoughts, which you may see unfold in future posts on here. For now, here are three radio interviews that address some of those questions:

Each is around 10-12 minutes long.

And here’s the interview I did via Skype with Lauren Green: Does ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Affirm Biblical Message?

I was kind of reluctant to post these, especially the video (going “on-camera” that way is way out of my realm of experience), but I’ve received some grateful responses saying it was helpful, either in helping someone figure out how to think about this thing or helping them be prepared to respond to someone else who’s maybe not sure what to make of it.

And stay tuned … I’ll have more to say tomorrow about an excellent alternative Valentine’s Day entertainment choice…

How Fifty Shades Affirms the Biblical Ethic of Sex

50 Shades-of-Grey-books stackWould you believe me if I told you that Fifty Shades of Grey ends up being sorta kinda biblical? It does, indeed, in a back door kind of way, but you have to read all the way to the end of the third book to see it.

In fact, if you didn’t know any of the background story, and if you could stretch your imagination a bit, one of the final scenes from the epilogue could pass for an addendum to the roughly three-thousand-year-old ode to love, the Song of Solomon. Here’s what happens:

On a beautiful spring afternoon, Ana lies back on her tartan picnic blanket and gazes upon the beauty of nature around her. She and Christian have been married almost three years now. They have a two-year old son named Ted, and the young family is enjoying a sunny afternoon on a flower-strewn, grassy meadow on their estate. For Ana, six months pregnant with their second child, it is “a moment of pure and utter contentment.” Here’s the scene, as she tells it:

I jerk awake, woken by a high-pitched squeal of delight from my son, and even though I can’t see him or Christian, I grin like an idiot with my glee. Ted has woken from his nap, and he and Christian are romping nearby.

“Let’s find Mommy. She’s here in the meadow somewhere.”

Ted says something I don’t hear, and Christian laughs freely, happily. It’s a magical sound, filled with his paternal joy. I can’t resist. I struggle up onto my elbows to spy on them from my hiding place in the long grass.

After some playful hide-and-seek, they find her:

“Hey, baby boy!” I cradle him against me and kiss his chubby cheek. He giggles and kisses me in return, then struggles out of my arms.

“Hello, Mommy.” Christian smiles down at me.

“Hello Daddy.” I grin, and he picks Ted up and sits down beside me with our son on his lap.

“Gently with Mommy,” he admonishes Ted.

Christian hands Ted his Blackberry to keep him occupied for a bit, and Ana watches the interplay:

… my heart swells to look at them both. My two favorite men in the whole world. …

Christian grins and kisses Ted’s hair. “I can’t believe he’ll be two tomorrow.” His tone is wistful. Reaching across, he spreads his hand over my bump. “Let’s have lots of children,” he says. (Fifty Shades Freed, pp 533-539)

Let’s have lots of children. You probably won’t see any hint of this marriage and family shade to the story in the promos or the much-anticipated film. But it’s all there in the end – the happily ever after denouement for Ana and Christian.

Why is this significant? Because it affirms what the Judeo-Christian tradition has held all along, which is this: The most satisfying context for love and sex is marriage and family.

Now, please note well, this does not make Fifty Shades of Grey recommended viewing or reading. For one thing, it is a story filled with pornography, and pornography is very damaging, both to individuals and to relationships.

More important, although the story does end up affirming the biblical ethic of sex, the way it gets there is highly deceptive. You have a young, vulnerable, naïve girl who consents to a violent, sexual liaison with an avowed sadist, and what does she get out of it? A good-looking, rich man who loves her more than anything in the world and gives her everything she ever wanted. They end up getting married, having children, and living happily ever after. That doesn’t happen in real life. In real life, a girl who consents to abusive sex ends up getting abused and then probably discarded. Abuse is devastating for a girl.

I doubt there’ll be much made in the film of the marriage and family twist at the end of this story. It’s not racy, and it’s not as apt to fill theaters. But isn’t it interesting that what ends up bringing Ana and Christian their greatest joy is not extreme sex but their marriage to one another and the natural outcome of it, their children?

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Patterns of Evidence tim-mahoney.jpg__696x0_q85_subsampling-2 (2)

A Promo for Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus

Patterns of Evidence Tim Mahoney

Timothy P. Mahoney

For something like 1500 years of Western Civilization, and going back another roughly 1500 prior to that in Jewish history, the Exodus narrative of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt was more or less accepted as a historical event. But today, mainstream archeology says it probably didn’t happen. Yes, some artifacts have turned up here and there that could be interpreted as tangible corroborations of the biblical text, but to draw those connections would be “a very weak affair,” in the words of Egyptologist Manfred Bietak of the University of Vienna.

Filmmaker Tim Mahoney was stunned to hear this. Raised a Christian, he began to ask, Did Jesus get it wrong? Has the whole of Judeo-Christianity believed a lie for near on three millennia? He needed to know. So he set out on a quest.

He took a closer look at the details of the biblical account. The story of the exodus really begins centuries earlier when God called Abram (whom he would later rename Abraham) out of Ur of the Chaldees, as recorded in the Old Testament book of Genesis.

But Mahoney focused in on the Exodus narrative, which picks up with the family of Abraham’s grandson Jacob, whom God had renamed Israel. He identified a sequence of six noted “events” that could be placed somewhere on a timeline of Egyptian history:

  • Israel’s family arrived in Egypt, after his favored son Joseph had preceded them by about twenty years.
  • Israel’s descendants multiplied greatly.
  • Pharaoh, out of fear over this multiplication, began to oppress Israel, and they became enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.
  • After several generations, about 400 years, God wrought a great judgment on Egypt.
  • Moses led Israel out of Egypt, leaving Egypt all but destroyed.
  • About forty years later, Israel began to take possession of the land of Canaan, beginning with the conquest of the highly fortified city of Jericho.

A truly scientific approach, Mahoney thought, would be to look for patterns of evidence that might indicate whether or not these events actually took place.

Although mainstream archeology says there is little to no evidence, others dissent. David Rohl, an English Egyptologist, who identifies as an agnostic and therefore seems to be free of religious bias driving his archeological interpretation, is one of them, but there are others. After meeting with Rohl, Mahoney’s investigation got underway in earnest.

What did he find? In all, he spent more than ten years and traveled four continents in search of the truth. He’s put his findings in a beautifully-crafted film that recounts the quest so that others may consider them and evaluate them as they choose. Patterns of Evidence will debut in select theaters nationwide on Monday, January 19th. You can see the trailer by clicking here, and you can find a theater and get your tickets by clicking here. I highly recommend you do so, and do it soon. According to the website, some theaters have already sold out.

This is a fascinating journey for anyone who just wants to seek the truth.

Patterns of Evidence tim-mahoney.jpg__696x0_q85_subsampling-2 (2)

The_Interview_2014_poster

The_Interview_2014_posterIf Sony pictures wanted to stir up a buzz over a film, they could hardly have orchestrated a better series of events than the geo-political drama that played out ahead of The Interview: a mysterious cyberattack on Sony reportedly originating out of North Korea, followed by threats of violence against any theater that dared to show the film, followed by an abrupt Sony decision to pull the film, followed by a tweetfest escalating all the way up to the White House, followed by, finally, a Sony reversal and release of the film online and to independent theaters.

On the face of it, The Interview serves up about two hours of slapstick buffoonery – something on the order of a Three Stooges flick with some gratuitous cheap sex and Rambo-like combat to round out the R-rated mix. But precisely because of geo-political realities, there’s more to The Interview than your typical Hollywood comedy. Here’s the story in sum:

Dave Skylark and Aaron Rappaport are the dynamic duo of a popular TV talk show, Skylark Tonight. Dave is the face, and Aaron is the off-camera brains and (speaking generously) conscience. When Skylark Tonight gets preempted by breaking news about nuclear threats from North Korea, Aaron finds himself struck with a crisis of journalistic insignificance. He grabs Dave and makes him promise that they will aim for better content in the future.

The next day, Dave discovers that Kim Jong-Un is a fan of the show and storms into Aaron’s office with their key to journalistic significance. We should totally interview him! This would be big! And so, against Aaron’s better judgment, the adventure begins.

The CIA gets wind of it and shows up at Dave’s door with a proposal: “Take him out,” the hot Agent Lacy mouths until the dense duo gets her drift, and soon the two dudes are off to Pyongyang armed with nothing but their wits and a single ricin strip with which to poison the dictator.

[Spoiler Alert!] Though it doesn’t go the way the CIA or the duo planned, after a lot of antics, they do eventually eliminate Kim, along with a good portion of his personal guard. And that’s end of it. Cue up “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead.”

Then again, don’t. Given the real world events, there’s a lot to chew on here, and quick answers may be shallow and injudicious. Should we cheer Sony’s gutsy decision to make a film about a pressing geopolitical issue and the subsequent resolution to release it, even in the face of threats? Or should we decry the film’s cheap sex, sophomoric scatological humor, and superficial treatment of a political situation that is the source of untold real suffering and death?

I lean toward yes, and yes. There’s much that’s both right and wrong about The Interview, so responding to it requires setting the various issues in context and treating them accordingly. I’ll look at it from a few angles and then offer some points to ponder.

The Good, the Bad, and the Perilous
Political theory: The Interview unequivocally puts two nations, America and North Korea, which operate according to two different theories of social organization, on clear, unambiguous display. America was founded on the principle that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and therefore of right ought to be free and independent from government tyranny. North Korea acknowledges no God, and is a totalitarian dictatorship in which the Supreme Leader is the closest thing presented to the people as a god.

According to American liberty, the state exists to serve the citizenry, to which it is accountable. It is for this reason that we call state employees public servants. In Communism, the citizenry is expected to live for the collective, which inevitably becomes synonymous with the state, which in turn recognizes accountability to no one. The two systems are mutually exclusive, and I think Sony is to be commended for using the real-world example of North Korea, rather than a fictional nation, to draw world attention to the evil still extant in our midst.

The Interview also shows, both in the internal plot and through the public brouhaha that took place around it, the importance of freedom of the press and freedom of expression. In America, for good or for ill, we poke fun at our leaders regularly. In The Interview, we see what can happen when doing so is disallowed. In the film, literal combat breaks out in the control room to keep the cameras rolling when the interview isn’t going according to the dictator’s prearranged script. Then, in real life, the leadership of North Korea threw a public hissy fit, but not just for show. Real threats of violence and death were issued.

From a political point of view, The Interview is primarily inane spoof. As Alistair Nicholas argues over at MercatorNet, it doesn’t even rise to the level of political satire. Still, no one, least of all a pompous narcissist, likes to be ridiculed. Who can say what kind of effects for the oppressed people of North Korea may proceed from this kind of “emperor has no clothes” tale? This is where The Interview gets its highest kudos from me.

Life: Life is cheap in North Korea. The reality of prison camps and a starving populace, though not shown, is at least mentioned and put on the table to be dealt with. That is good. But when Kim’s turncoat assistant Sook gets her hands on an automatic rifle, she mows her countrymen down like she’s competing in a video game. Yes, there are times and places for taking up arms, but the way she does it is, well, cheap. Sadly, Dave and Aaron, though they don’t go on a shooting rampage, aren’t much better in this respect. We see that in the way they go about their sex lives.

Sexuality: Sex drives all three of the male lead characters. To Dave, getting sex is reason enough to lie and even kill. He’s hesitant to sign onto the assassination plot … until he realizes it will give him access to Agent Lacy. Aaron’s not much better. When Sook throws herself at him, he doesn’t think twice about risking her life to have sex with her on the spot, even though he has a live ricin strip stuck to his palm.

Sex is also the way insecure men validate their manhood. Kim Jong-Un says he has lots of it – with women – to suppress any suspicion he might be homosexual. (You’d think the LGBT lobby would be all over this, but I haven’t heard a peep.) The only character that’s genuinely loved for who he is is the dog, Digby. Dave and Aaron risk their lives to take Digby home with them. “Protect that puppy with your life,” Dave says to Aaron, as they’re making their escape. In The Interview, dogs are for loving and protecting. Women are for having sex with.

What’s good about The Interview is that the Supreme Leader of North Korea is shown to be a corrupt, hollow man – an insecure, empty soul leading people astray. What disappointing about it is that leadership in America – in this case media celebrities – are also corrupt and somewhat hollow and insecure, but it’s not so obvious unless you’re thinking according to a clear, coherent moral philosophy.

Dave is just as addicted to the worship of the masses as Kim, but he’s so morally blind, he doesn’t see Kim as he is until it’s almost too late. (In real life, he’d have never left North Korea alive.) He and Kim are quick pals, reveling in some drugs, sex, and a joy ride in a nuclear tank one day, and arch enemies to the death the next.

Given the kind of leadership we see in America, both onscreen here and to a lesser extent in real life, it’s questionable whether America possesses either the moral clarity or courage to identify, let alone face down and defeat, a tyrant such as Kim. Or Putin, or ISIS. It’s obvious that the makers of the film think we have it; it’s not obvious that we actually do have it. Arrogance and moral blindness are a perilous combination.

Reading Between the Pixels
Still, I think even this complicated mess called The Interview shows how the truth claims of Christianity are not completely lost on America at large. The underpinnings are there. We just need to learn to identify them and help people reconnect the dots, if they will. Consider the following:

Political theory: According to postmodern multiculturalism, all cultures are equally good, and no particular political arrangement for society is to be preferred over another. To suggest that your own is better in any way is considered arrogant. But The Interview never even thinks about equivocating. Freedom is better than tyranny. This position can only be maintained in a theistic worldview. In a nontheistic paradigm, tyranny is just another word for Darwinian survival of the fittest. There is no reason to prefer one over the other.

Human nature: According to secular humanism, people are basically good. The reason people do bad things is either because they make mistakes or because they were thrust into a difficult situation. Dave even makes this excuse for Kim at first. Then he sees that Kim can be a murderous deceiver, ready to blow up millions of people to salve his bruised ego. Neither this Kim nor Dave’s reaction to him comport with the secular humanist view. But they’re perfectly consistent with the biblical understanding of human nature.

Sexuality: According to postmodern secularism, there is no particular order for sexual expression. Really anything goes, though most secularists still add that it should at least be consensual. Since all the lead characters in The Interview seem to be driven by sex, there’s not as much to draw out here except for one brief line in the closing scene. Aaron was attracted to Sook from the start, and eventually got in a quickie with her. Then, when he leaves North Korea, she opts to stay behind, and he feels dejected. “She was your true love,” said Dave, attempting to console him.

Whether or not she was, whence cometh this idea that sex should be tied to love and permanence? It’s rooted in Judeo-Christianity, not secularism. But that’s what Aaron, the character with a conscience, really wanted. He didn’t want just cheap sex; he wanted a relationship. Sex is kind of like icing. In the right time and place it’s nice. Separated from its context and pursued as an end in itself, it makes you sick. All the sex in The Interview is animalistic, cheap, and kind of sickening. But Aaron’s wistfulness as he leaves Sook betrays a disillusionment with it that is inexplicable in the purely secular view of sex.

Ethics and Morality: According to postmodern moral relativism, there is no objective standard for right and wrong. Right and wrong are matters of personal opinion, and no one’s particular opinion has any more merit than another. But The Interview is clear about a few moral absolutes. Dave is infuriated when he discovers that Kim had a fake grocery store, complete with painted food-laden shelves, erected for Aaron and him to see on their drive from the airport to the Kim compound. And he’s also appalled when he sees that Kim could go on a murderous rampage at the drop of a hat. But if morality is relative, there’s really no grounds for these reactions. According to the Judeo-Christian worldview, however, his reactions are perfectly legitimate. In fact there would be something wrong with him if he reacted otherwise.

Life: The same logic applies to the film’s overall view of human life. According to Darwinian naturalism, the reigning origins metanarrative, humans are highly evolved animals, nothing more. If this were actually true, there would be no reason to object to one man rising to prominence at the expense of the masses. In fact to do so would be supremely Darwinian of him. We should admire it and aspire to do likewise. But Kim and his regime are rightly, soundly condemned as ruthless oppressors. This censure only makes sense in a Judeo-Christian context.

There’s actually more that could be said along these lines, but I’m going to move on now, assuming you get the picture.

North Korea Satellite image

Satellite image of North and South Korea

Even The Stones Cry Out
When Jesus entered Jerusalem before his final Passover and crucifixion, the crowds rightly hailed him as their coming King and Messiah. But the reigning temple elite would brook no competition. “Teacher, rebuke your disciples,” some demanded. But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

What I see Christ saying here, at the risk of overgeneralizing it, is that all creation bears witness to its Maker. I think in a similar way, even a ridiculous R-rated flick – one that has no intention or even knowledge of doing so – can bear witness that the Judeo-Christian worldview gives us the most accurate, compelling, and true vision of realty going. The stones cry out, indeed.

Or, in the case of Dave, Aaron, and Kim, the stoned cry out.

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David Foster

The Sexual Ruin and Redemption of David Kyle Foster

David Foster grew up in Easton, MD, the third of four sons born to a stern, legalistic Presbyterian preacher whom he came to view as “the enforcer.” Dejected, he began early on to live as if he were both fatherless and Godless, making up his own rules for living as he went along. Conflicts with his parents, run-ins with a playground bully, and sexual confusions created a vicious psychological turmoil from which he attempted escape, both by running away and suicide while still a boy.

Nor did college provide the great escape he’d hoped it would. Soon after arriving on the campus of Florida Presbyterian College, a hotbed of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll during the height of the hippie era, he took up with the “freaks” – long-haired “partners in pain” who introduced him to the escape of drugs. By this time he was also accustomed to the temporary releases of masturbation and pornography, though he held tenaciously onto dreams of finding “the right one,” the woman who would provide the lifetime of love and acceptance he so longed for.

Sexual Recklessness
Adobe Photoshop PDFThat didn’t pan out either. Sex was fairly easy to come by, though, and his first full-blown relationship was pleasurable enough. But before long he started to feel a vague discomfort. Something was missing. Why didn’t it fill the emotional void inside? This left him with a devastating conclusion: “Somehow, I had a deep-seated craving that a woman could not completely fill.”

Was he gay? He decided to sleep with a guy to settle the matter. He chose Paul, an effeminate, Roaring Twenties diva who’d been throwing looks and smiles his way. Even though it sickened him to think of it, David drank himself into oblivion, and waited for Paul in the lounge. “The experience was agony in every possible way,” he wrote years later in his autobiography, Love Hunger: A Harrowing Journey from Sexual Addiction to True Fulfillment. “[S]omething deep in my soul was being seared.” He already hated himself. That night, “self-hatred exploded into an inferno.” The next day, he tried to kill himself.

The day after that, he sought help from the school counseling office, but found no solace or direction there either. Maybe getting off campus for a while would help. He hitched a ride out of town and found himself in the company of a seemingly harmless, lonely old man, who soon began to seduce him. A softie at heart, David felt drawn to give him what he wanted. Besides, I had already done it with one guy. What did it matter if I let this old man get his thrill too? Afterward, he told himself he’d done a good deed for the man, but deep down, he knew better. Either way, David had discovered he could get money and attention – mostly from older men, father figures – with his body. Besides, it was flattering. Men wanted him, at least for a time. He became a regular weekend hustler.

Users and the Used
By the time he graduated in June, 1973, his existence was a miserable, frenzied mess. Still, determined to give life one more good shot, David set out for Hollywood with high hopes of fame and fortune, and he did, in fact, find a measure of success as an actor. He also found no shortage of pedophile-predators in top positions desiring his services. Unfortunately he needed them to supplement his income, and he continued hustling.

“I hated most of those guys. I hated them for pretending to love me when they only wanted sex.” Truth be told, he also hated them because he needed them to fill the psychological void inside. The ones he didn’t hate, he felt sorry for. A young man well acquainted with emotional pain, he saw the years of hurt and rejection in their eyes.

David survived several years in Hollywood by acting and hustling, but it was a dangerous life. Twice he survived murder attempts at the hands of men who picked him up. Part of him wanted to die and would have been relieved for someone else to do the deed for him, but he also wanted a life of real meaning and purpose.

By his late twenties, he knew this was not to be found in Hollywood.

A spiritual thirst began to emerge. He wanted nothing to do with Christianity or its God, but the idea of a Higher Power seemed appealing, as did the idea of Jesus. With very little forethought, David sold everything he owned, joined an Eastern cult, and moved into the ashram. He might have stayed there the rest of his life but for two persistent influences: his praying parents, who’d abandoned the rigid religious practices of their past for a more Spirit-filled, vital faith, and Jeff, a “total nerd” office-mate who kept arguing with David from his Bible that the cult and its guru were frauds.

Finding the Love
David was terribly confused. And although it infuriated him, something about Jeff’s unconditional, non-sexual affection was disarming. Like David’s parents, Jeff would not give up. David hated to admit it, but it was something he’d been looking for all his life. He started reading the Bible in secret. Could Jeff be right and the guru wrong? He needed to find out.

David maxed out his one remaining credit card and booked a trip to Israel. By the time he knelt to pray in the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, the battle had come down to two competing objects of devotion. He knew Jesus had claimed to be the only way to God, but was Jesus right? Or should he remain faithful to Guru Maharaj Ji?

A question came to his mind: Who proved his love for you? David knew about Jesus being scourged and crucified – for the sins of the world, including David’s own, as the narrative went. If true, that was certainly a costly demonstration of love. He then tried to recall practical demonstrations of Maharaj Ji’s love. Nothing came to mind. When he thought about it that way, the contrast could not be more stark. The guru took. Jesus the Savior gave.

Jesus was the one who loved him. The veil of deception lifted, and David got up off his knees, “joyous and free, … reveling in the peace and love I was feeling.”

A Man Among Men
The ensuing years became a continuous journey of healing. David enrolled in seminary. A recent cultist, prostitute, and heavy drug user, he had to work extra hard to keep up, but he gave the Lord and the work everything he had, counting it all loss for the surpassing greatness of the love he now knew. He especially found soul-nourishment in the chapel services. “I was a man among men for the first time – holy men who did not want to use me. I certainly could tell the difference – these men loved God with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength.” Perhaps most important, David “learned that falling in love with Jesus at deeper and deeper levels was the key to my sexual healing. True intimacy with him made possible the transformation of my soul.”

David Foster

David Foster

David has been walking with God and serving him for thirty-four years now. A “hopeless romantic,” he’d always wanted to marry (remarkably, despite his thousand-plus homosexual encounters, David always knew he was a broken heterosexual and never thought of himself as homosexual), but he told God he was willing to remain single if that was the plan for him. One night he had a dream about a wedding in heaven in which he married God. Puzzled, he asked a trusted Bible teacher friend what she thought of it. She responded rather matter-of-factly that, well, she thought everyone should marry God first, preferably before they marry anyone else.

The answer satisfied him. At length, David has become certain that he’s called to be single, and that yet at a deeper level, he is married to God. Having known sexual brokenness, “from one end to the other,” and the unspeakable pain that comes with it, his life’s work is about connecting the sexually broken with the all-surpassing love of God, who can heal anyone of anything, and with whom we were all born to fall in love.

This article first appeared in Salvo 30, Fall 2014.

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