Monthly Archives: September 2015

What Alex Haley’s Roots taught me about real Freedom

When I was a teenager, my Dad introduced me to a book that has had tremendous impact on my thinking.  I am referring to Roots by Alex Haley.  Despite the numerous historical inaccuracies presented in both the book and film adaptation, the overarching message is quite important.  It follows the plight of a 15-year old African taken to America.  In America, this character, Kunta Kinte, refuses to accept his condition as a slave.  Not even when the slave catchers removed half of his foot after an escape attempt did his desire to be free diminish.  At one point, his daughter is caught aiding another slave in an escape and is literally ripped from his arms and sold away.  Several years later, her son George gains his own freedom.  However, because the law in that state dictated that a freed slave who stayed put for more than 60 days would lose his freedom, George is faced with an incredible dilemma.  Does he become a slave again and stay with his wife and children, or keep his freedom but leave?  He asks his wife for guidance.  She levels an incredibly potent and powerful line:  “I am married to a free man.  I will never be married to a slave.  Never.”

The ultimate freedom that exists is the freedom from sin and from death.  If we are in Christ—we have that freedom now!  Being free however, doesn’t come without sacrifices.  We must give up our lives in order to live in the glory and freedom of our Lord.  The thing that frustrates me is that even though I enjoy freedom, I continually flirt with a return to slavery!  Paul talks about this as well!

Each week as I worship Him though, I am constantly reminded of the image of chains falling off my hands and feet.  It happened! I have the scars to prove it!  The song says, “I once was blind but now I see.” It’s an amazing line.  But, in my personal experience, I can tell you that I once was bound—but now I’m free.

Jesus truly is the great emancipator.  It’s hard to keep a message like that to a whisper.

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Was Dr. Carson Right about Sharia and the Constitution?

Dr. Ben Carson made some remarks over the weekend that have ensnared him in a turbulent brouhaha.  The inferno is coming his way because of the fact that he directly answered a question.  While being interviewed by MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, on the show “Meet the Press,” he was asked whether or not he would advocate that a Muslim be the President of the United States.  Carson answered directly by saying that he “Would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.”  He went on to note that whichever candidate is elected president will be sworn in “On a stack of Bibles, not a Koran.”

But perhaps the statement that has made people the most furious is that when asked if Islam is compatible with the U.S. Constitution, Carson answered by saying, “I absolutely would not agree with that.”

He further defended his remarks by saying, “I do not believe Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country.”  He went on to note that, “Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.”  He noted that he would make an exception for a Muslim running for office only if they “Publically rejected all the tenants of Sharia and lived a life consistent with that.”

So the question we must ask is:  Was Carson wrong?  Are his remarks wrong?  Did he say something here that is unpardonable? I say, no, emphatically to all three.

First of all, he was asked his opinion.  Rather than dance around answering this question, he answered it directly.  That is more than I can say for many politicians today.  Secondly, in giving his opinion on this issue (which is hypothetical by the way—no Muslims are running for president), how would holding such an opinion effect his ability as a potential president to faithfully execute the duties of president?  Are presidents forbidden from having views that offend some Americans?  Is appeasing the delicate sensibilities of some Americans a legitimate role of government in a free society?  But the final question is this:  Would it be compatible with the constitution for a practicing Muslim to be president?  Could Sharia Law exist simultaneously with our Constitution?

I, for one, am finding it refreshing that some of the presidential candidates this cycle are willing to answer questions directly.  We have had a steady diet for the past umpteen years of presidents refusing to answer questions directly.  As a result of that, when we see it today, many view direct answers as shocking.  It isn’t so much the content of the answer either—it is the fact that someone is willing to lay their view out there—black and white—to be objectively and subjectively scrutinized.  It is the fact that an elected leader is willing to pay the price personally for their use of words.  For millennials, they may have never seen a person seeking public office answer a question directly.  For them, it is unconscionable to imagine such a thing.

Secondly, Dr. Carson’s opinions, while perhaps offensive to some, would not necessarily preclude him from doing a good job as a president.   Here is the role of the president as laid out in the Constitution in Article II, Section 1, Clause 8:

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: — “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Could you point to me the jot or tiddle in that job description that includes never offending anyone?  Could you point to the portion of that oath that precludes a president from having a controversial view?

Much of the acerbic rhetoric being aimed at Carson seems to forget that it isn’t only republicans who are capable of holding views that offend people.  Democrats, too, hold views that many find offensive.  I would argue that many of the controversial views that conservatives hold affect very few people in a tangible way.  Democrats on the other hand—their views tend to include solutions that demand raising taxes or enacting some new form of regulatory burden on the American people.

They. Are. Just. Words.

In the world we inhabit, there are Islamic states trying to get a nuclear weapon amidst standing threats to the United States and Israel, a great migration of American citizens to join forces with these barbarians, child sex slaves enslaved by Muslims, real Muslims killing real Christians, and real Muslims killing real gays.  At what point to we confront that reality rather than the words of a presidential candidate?

The real question that needs to be answered is:  Is Dr. Carson right in making the statements that he did?  Is it incompatible with the U.S. Constitution for a Muslim who affirms Sharia Law to be president?

From what I heard in the clip, Carson was giving a brutally honest answer about the hypothetical situation that a Sharia practicing Muslim was elected as president.  If he practiced Sharia law, he necessarily would not be compatible with the Constitution.  What is controversial about that?

Could a practicing devoted Lakers fan really be expected to officiate game 7 the NBA finals with full conformity to NBA rules?  If the entire body of voters for College Football’s playoff format were devoted Georgia fans, could they objectively, dispassionately, and fairly, evaluate Georgia against another team with the same win/loss record?  Would  you want them voting on who is left out of the playoff?

I think we as Americans are right to demand a politician who will both understand the Judeo Christian ethic—but also—be willing to run the country on the basis of the moral laws on which this nation was framed.  Our nation did not rise out of nowhere.  It is clearly founded on certain necessary principles.  Among these is the nod toward the Judeo Christian view of God.  Secondly, we are right to demand that this president govern what Berlin called a “pluralistic society.”  That is, a society in which the freedom to believe or disbelieve in God—and the freedom to live those principle out in public (or not live them out in public) are protected.

What we want is a politician who will understand the basic Judeo-Christian world view, the basis of the moral laws from which this nation was framed.  We also expect that this president then run this country with the virtues of that which is recognized in a pluralistic society: the freedom to believe or to disbelieve (publically and privately), and the moral framework that guarantees us our rights:  the sanctity of every individual life.

If the American people are looking to elect some type of minister to run our country, history tells the tale of what has happened with the church has been in bed with the state.  It isn’t pretty.  When you politicize faith, faith enters the path to extinction.  This isn’t what we want!  What we do desire is a leader that is wise—who frames decision making on the moral framework of God—while also recognizing that one cannot just mandate political ideology to all of mankind.

This is not to say that a president must be a practicing Christian.  No.  What this does say is that our president needs to recognize the origins of the American experiment and govern with that understanding.  Even Jefferson, the skeptic was able to do this.

You do notice that Jesus never ran for political office.  He wasn’t about forcing views down people’s throats through coercive fiat.  He was about changing hearts.

On the other hand, we do not want a complete secularist.  And by secular, I mean someone who subscribes to the systematic rooting out of

Would we rather have someone who is a total secularist? Is that what people are asking for?  Do we want a leader who says, “The universe is all there is and all there ever will be.  We are just products of our DNA and we dance to its music.  Our plight in this universe is meaningless—ours is an existence of pure blind, pitiless indifference.”  Where is the justification for the value of human life in that?  Where does, “All men are created equal” spring up from that?  Such a statement was not penned by a Nietzsche.  It wasn’t penned by a Hindu.  It wasn’t penned by a Buddhist.  It most certainly wasn’t penned by a naturalist.  But, most of all—it was not penned under a Muslim framework.

The only worldview that can make sense of equality, liberty, and justice—in the terms that the Constitution describes them—is the Judeo Christian one. I defy you to show me otherwise.

Created? Equal? Naturalism does not tell us we are equal. Naturalism does not tell us we are created. Liberty? Islam does not believe in the total liberty of the individual. Equal? Hinduism believes in the caste system. The Judeo-Christian world view is the only world view that could frame this country. And so I think as we elect, we go before God and see out of the candidates who will be the best one to represent the values and at the same time be a good leader for the country whose first responsibility should be to protect its citizens.

Islam is necessarily paired with political coercion.  It does not exist without this.  You might say, “But John, not all Muslims believe that.”  You are right.  But, to that minority of Muslims, the truth is unfortunate:

“Classical Muslim theology is a theology of the majority; [it] offers no formulation of the status of being in a minority.”—Zaki Badawi

I’d say Carson is right.

I will let the inimitable Ravi Zacharias sum up the situation:

The shift that is taking place is very calculated. Eastern religions are protected in today’s society because to critique Eastern religions is seen as culturally insensitive and prejudicial. But the Christian faith, which is the target of Western culture (but people have forgotten that it came from the East), is now the dartboard. Society can attack any aspect of Christianity.

In the recent presidential primary race, it was fascinating to notice how pundits described Mike Huckabee as a former Baptist minister. They described Mitt Romney as a Mormon whenever he would represent his religious faith. It is fascinating that the media, in a calculated way, does not mention Barack Obama’s middle name — Hussein — lest society see this as religiously prejudicial toward him. This is a clear attack on the Judeo-Christian worldview, the only worldview that could justify the existence of a nation like America.

The Judeo-Christian worldview is the target of the Western media. The media is the single greatest destroyer of the notion of absolutes and of the Judeo-Christian worldview. When I am overseas, I see these attacks in articles in the Western newspapers and in the journalism on television.

I just returned from Thailand and Singapore. Every mall I walked through in those countries was playing Christmas carols. One of the world’s tallest Christmas trees was in Central World Plaza in Bangkok, Thailand. Christmas trees and Christmas decorations filled the streets of Singapore and carols were playing there. In America, Christians wonder whether they can even do this anymore without someone questioning whether they ought to acknowledge Christmas in the marketplace.

What has happened? The Judeo-Christian worldview has become the pariah stepchild of worldviews and is being attacked while other worldviews are respected, reverenced, and recognized as part of history and the culture of other nations.

God help us.

Some thoughts on Adoption and Identity

Our beautiful son, John Will is turning one this week. I wanted to share with you a few thoughts as his birthday approaches.

I always viewed adoption as a good thing, but I have to be honest: For many years, I saw it like many people do—as a sort a predicament of permanent estrangement.  I mean, consider the reality:  The child will not grow up with his real parents.  He will never know his real siblings.  He and the adoptive parents will never have that real biological bond.  Then there is the most unfortunate part of all—He will always be the token adopted kid.

I know what you are thinking:  What do you mean by the word real?  Well, what does society say about it?  What is real to most people is what they see on TV or the internet.  If you listen to the armchair philosophers in the media, the above realities are real.  They are real in a ubiquitous sense.  Everywhere.  Case closed.  Settled science.  Hashtag it.

Let us be honest:  If the adopted baby happens to be of color, he could be looked at by his white parents and predominantly white peers as the definitive voice for the whole of the black race.  What he says about social justice will be accepted as gospel for many whites.  Can you hear it?  “My son is black, and he isn’t offended by that flag,” or, “My son is black—I couldn’t possibly be a racist!”  Because they have a black kid in the family, they think they are somehow experienced in the black experience.  He is their calling card in a sense.  Unfortunately, if he takes on the traits and speech patterns of his white adoptive family, he may run the risk of being an outsider when it comes to his black peers.  What if he grows up to be a political conservative in the vein of Clarence Thomas?  In this case, he will be cast out of the black community.  He will be in a sense living in no mans land.  A man with no country.  They may call him things like, “Uncle Tom.”  If he is nominated to the Supreme Court, men who are lifelong Lotharios (Ted Kennedy) may actually ask him during his confirmation process about his private entertainment habits.  This is just the truth.

Then, some will use him as certificate of absolution for white guilt.  By adopting a black child, they are absolving themselves of the great sin of the past:  Slavery.  They are enlightened now.  They are a part of the black experience.  They have evolved.

He will be seen as a racial bargaining chip in many instances.

If, on the other hand, he is adopted into a wealthy home, he could be seen as a status symbol.  Some people buy expensive rugs and pets from exotic places.  Today, the collector item that is style in some circles is the adoption of babies from exotic locations.  It is kind of like the cult of being a vegan, using a Mac, driving a Tesla, or choosing to obey the gluten free diet.  “Mine is from Nepal,” or “I got mine from Uganda.”  Two international adoptive mothers come into a coffee shop.  How do I know this?  They announced it loudly.

Then again, he might be seen as a leverage tool for advancing the pro-life agenda.  Heck, he may even be used just so that the parents feel good about themselves.

So, as for me, though I saw adoption as a positive, I saw it as the “last resort” option.

Because all the horrible things above exist, and I had just heard horror stories about them…I determined that adoption was better than abortion, but least the least preferable alternative.

This isn’t the first thing I have been wrong about.

The first thing that I failed to notice about my observations above is that they all presuppose that adoptive parents necessarily see their adopted kids as objects used for consumption rather than persons meant for relationships. In this thinking I was no different than the person who saw a black man as a piece of property.  I was no different in thinking that all whites think all blacks should be slaves.  My point is—though the above realities do exist—it doesn’t have to be that way.  The fact that those realities exist shouldn’t stop me from adopting a baby.  Why do I have to live like that?

I also failed to see that many of my objections came from an elitist progressive white Eurocentric worldview. Now, before you think I am some indoctrinated leftist who gets his news from the Daily Kos, hear me out.  I was Eurocentric.  Trust me:  The children in Mexico, war torn Africa, the slums of India, Thailand, or Vietnam—they would give anything to be adopted into a white family in the United States.  I am not even talking about a rich one.  Poverty in the United States is a lifestyle of luxury to the poor people in Laos.  I once heard a guy tell me about his ordeal in trying to gain citizenship into the United States.  I asked him why he wanted to come here so bad.  His answer blew me away:  “I want to live in a country where the poor people are fat.”

It isn’t insensitive or against multiculturalism or diversity to realize that compared to the rest of the world, the United States is the land of luxury.  This is the most exceptional place on the planet.  You want proof?  Go to the slums of India.  Check out the way people live in Cuba.  Go look at Kandahar.  Go see what they do to disobedient little girls in Saudi Arabia.  To presume that because I am from the West, that I couldn’t not contribute to the lives of people from the East is just absurd.

But then there is the unconditional love aspect—or sacrifice:  Many of the children adopted internationally have biological parents who love them so much, they would do anything for them to be adopted—just to escape real poverty.  The fact that I was unwilling to imagine such a reality shows how narrow minded I actually was.

But, then I also made the mistake of thinking that I wasn’t qualified to adopt. Sure, I had a biological child already—but adopt?  I don’t look like the adoption type, do I?  I have never contributed to any adoption agency.  I have never been a foster parent.  I have never sent money to one of those sad “Feed the Children” TV ads.  I am not an activist.  The only thing I know about kids is that I spoil my daughter.  How could I adopt?

Then I learned the reality:

Had we not adopted…our child—John William would have been aborted.

But my last objection was perhaps the most insidious of all: He will not share my genes!  He will never fit in at family reunions!  How will he carry on our family name—really?  He may have our name, but he isn’t one of us.  It could cause problems later on!  There might be challenges.  Oh No!

I can say it: What a bunch of narcissistic and selfish petulant idiocy. 

It is actually possible to adopt a child and love them for who they are—a distinct, unique, beautiful person—of infinite value.

Oh I forgot the other one:  We cannot afford it.  Ok.  My goodness…where is the faith?

Well, on a Wednesday in September of 2014, my wife got a phone call. It was through a convoluted maze of connections; but, there was a woman giving birth the NEXT day that wanted to give her baby for adoption.  Could we be at the hospital for the “C-section?”

After picking my wife up off the floor, we rushed to get ready for the birth of our…son.  We actually went that day and met the mother.  My son was in her belly sitting across the room from me.  She told us that she was at Planned Parenthood ready to abort the child–but something stopped her.  What?  Really?

Well, it happened.  He is our son.

Can I tell you that I have never viewed John William as adopted? I mean, I know he is, but—other than people bringing it up, or the doctor asking about his family medical history—I never think about it.  There has never been a moment in time that I knew about him that I didn’t think of him as my son.  What else could he be?  Who else could he be?  When he had trouble taking his first breaths, I felt pain.  When he had to have the chest tube and stay in the NICU for over a week—I felt the stress—and worried.  Me.  Not someone else.  I felt innate pain.

It may sound strange to you, but I see him in exactly the same way that I see our biological daughter, Ava. Even in the hospital, once he was born—with the birth mother just down the hall—he was my son.  Even as we waited the mandatory 72 hours for the birth mother to change her mind, I saw it as 72 hours for her to dispute the truth:  that I was the father of this baby!  When I first touched him, I didn’t feel that I was touching some child that we were going to take home—and learn to love.  I felt I was touching my son.  What womb he was carried in was the last thing on my mind.  I couldn’t have cared less.  When we went to visit him in the NICU, and had to use the name “Baby Boy White” to gain access, because they weren’t legally allowed to accept the name we had given him yet, we called him John Will.   You think that’s strange?  Can I tell you that when I look at him, I find myself involuntarily comparing his appearance to us?  “Oh, he looks like Ava when he does that.”  “Andrea, he has your smile.” “I think he has my…well, hopefully nothing.”  Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t, but I identify him as ours.

Identity. What a word.  I don’t think I can remember hearing the word identity growing up.  Today, you cannot turn on a television set without hearing some blowhard pontificating about identity.  We live in a day and age where a man can use a woman’s restroom, so long as he self identifies as a woman.  If a woman in that restroom is offended by the presence of this man who identifies as a woman—it is HER problem.  She is the bigot.  His identity cannot be challenged.

Can I just say, our idea of identity is wrong? Our identity isn’t wrapped up in our sexual proclivity, our color, our intelligence, or our size.  Our identity is wrapped up in the idea of who we are.  Let me ask you a question:  Who are you…really?  How would you describe, you?  Most people would respond with a name and their occupation.  That isn’t what I asked.  I asked who you are?  There is more to who you are than what you do, your skin color, or what your name is.  If what you do is what defines you—then we have a pretty sad world.

Many today see themselves as objects to be consumed. They desire to be used as a commodity.  Just look at the clothing that many young people wear—or the outspoken statements on shirts that read, “I am a porn star.”  Even the LGBT movement—they will identify by their sex.  Ask them who they are and they will respond with their name and at some point their sexual proclivity.  If I were to walk into a room and say, “Hey, I am John and I am straight,” how would that be received?  It’s odd isn’t it?  So many of us place our identity in what we do, that we have no clue what a real person is.  If you think like that—that people are just objects, it will not only affect you:  It will affect how you treat those around you.  If we are nothing but the product of a mindless unguided process (Darwinian evolution), why would we treat each other as if we were more than just a bunch of matter?  What is the point?  But that question turns around:  If I am nothing but the product of evolution, why should anyone treat me as more than a heap of dirt?  There is no purpose.  The universe just is.  It’s all blind pitiless indifference.

Pathetic.  If you want to expose the malarkey in that, just walk up to the person that thinks that way—reach into their pocket—and take out their wallet.  Their real presuppositions about how they should be treated will emerge.

Why do I believe that people have worth? Well, quite frankly, it is because I believe that God created us in His image.

But, let us look at it a bit more philosophically:  If you take any philosophy in the world, you will find that it is based or grounded in one of three systems of thought.  They are epistemological, existential, and pragmatic.  Or quite simply, right thinking, right feeling, or right doing.  If you think the right things or acquire the right knowledge, or feel a certain set of feelings or have the right intentions or motives, or if you do the right things—you will have achieved what is ‘the good.’

Now the idea of good needs to be fleshed out. G.K. Chesterton once talked about what is good.  He wrote an essay called The Medical Fallacy in which he lamented the use of medical terminology when talking about social issues.  He noted that many politicians will say, “Our country is sick.  It needs a remedy.  Vote for me and my benevolent policies and we will see true healing begin.”  The problem Chesterton points out, is that social science is not medical science.  In medicine, doctors all agree on what a healthy body looks like.  They disagree on the malady.  In social science, it is the malady that is agreed upon.  We all can agree on what a dysfunctional society looks like.  It is the idea of what is good that we rip each other’s eyes out over.  One person sees this “solution” as a remedy—but the other guy sees the remedy as worse than the original problem.  Chesterton goes on to say, it may be necessary medically speaking, for a man to walk into a hospital and come out with one leg less.  But he quips, you will never see that man go into an operating room, and in a moment of ‘creative rapture,’ come out with one leg more.

The good. Can we find it in right thinking?  Many philosophies say yes.  How about in feeling or experience?  Many say yes.  How about in doing the right things?  Many say yes.  If our philosophy is based in these three areas, there are arguments to be made for which persons should be treated as objects.  Maybe they don’t have the right knowledge—or they are incapable of it.  Are they a drain on the taxpayers?  What is the solution?  Perhaps they haven’t experienced what they ought to—or they have the wrong feelings on a certain issue.  Can these bigoted people live in a tolerant and just society?  Then again, maybe they have done something that isn’t ‘o.k.’ by conventional standards.  Maybe they put up a flag on their flagpole that represents something awful.  Can we tolerate them?

Certainly arguments can be made that would subjugate each of these individuals to a second class.

The reason I believe people are of infinite worth is because I believe in a system that isn’t rooted in any of those three things. I believe in Jesus Christ.  Christianity is a system that is rooted in being—specifically—the being of Christ.  When I became a follower of Christ, my being was conformed to that of his.  I am no longer who I was before.  Now, I am an image of Christ.  This life isn’t rooted in right thinking, although there is no greater knowledge than knowing Christ.  It isn’t about feeling, even though I can think of no greater feeling than experiencing God’s presence.  And it isn’t about doing, even though Jesus said that true Christians will be known by what they do.

It is about being. I see people as beings—not machines.

Back to adoption:

Now, the conventional wisdom says children who are denied their biological parents—despite how wonderful their adoptive situation might be—face more challenges than other children. Those views all presuppose that we are purely biological.  I don’t buy this.  I have seen too much evidence to the contrary.  Plus, the Bible doesn’t teach this.  God told Jeremiah that He knew him before He formed him!  How could he know him before he was a living, breathing person?  Well quite simply, there is more to us than our bodies.  There is something to this knowing before forming business.  When I think about my biological daughter…I can safely say I didn’t know her or have any knowledge of her before she existed.  But God did.  There is something to that.

Ephesians says that before the creation of the world God chose us! That has some serious implications.  First of all, to be chosen before the creation of the world, means that before the first act of creation—we had some sort of existence.  We at least existed in the mind of God before “In the beginning.”  Let us put it this way:  The crucifixion of our Lord was foreordained long before the first verse in Genesis.  Why?  Because there would be a need for redemption.  Why?  Because of us.  Second, the Bible says that God chose us.  Out of all the things in His creation that are beautiful—out of all the capable animals—he chose us.  Why us?  There is obviously something different or unique about us.  C.S. Lewis once said that we aren’t bodies with a soul; we are souls with a body.  There is indeed something that I cannot see—or test in a laboratory—that makes my son who he is.  His physical appearance is a joy, but this is not who he is.  He is connected to us, despite what his DNA might say.  You could run a paternity test all day long, and I would fail it every time.  But you could put man after man in the room with my son and I am the only one he knows as “Da da.”  Despite the reality of what his DNA says he is, he is ours.  He is a person created for relationship!  He is a soul created in the image of God.  He has an identity that is beyond his blood and chemical makeup.  He was chosen before time itself.  God knew that this little boy would need a Mom and Dad who were not his biological parents.  A real sacrifice would need to be made for this little boy.  But more importantly, God knew that for this little boy, The ultimate sacrifice would have to be made on Calvary.

“Before” time began, my son and all his needs were known.

Likewise, you and I are connected to Christ despite what our pasts might say.  My spiritual DNA says sinner.  It does not say holy.  I am unworthy of the name Christian.  Despite that, Christ has adopted me as His child. I am connected to Christ despite the sins I will commit today.

Despite the reality of who I am, I am His.

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