Regarding Monumental Changes

Recently my wife and I visited Petersburg, Virginia to attend the wedding of a family friend. While there we were saw some of the many historical sites in that area of the country. One of the most interesting was Blandford Church and Cemetery. The cemetery has graves dating back to 1702. After the siege of Petersburg, as much as a year afterwards, there were still bodies in unmarked shallow graves or even lying in the open on the field of battle. Most were confederates as the union troops had been given proper burials. The women of Petersburg knew these men were someone’s husband, son or father and felt it unseemly for their bodies to remain this way. So, they formed the Ladies Memorial Association of Petersburg and began raising funds to give these men proper burials on what became known as Memorial Hill near the church. In the end, they buried or repatriated the bodies of some 30,000 confederate soldiers, many in mass graves because they could not be individually identified in the days before dog tags.

Georgia window at Blandford Church

But the most interesting aspect of the church is the windows. From 1904 to 1912, Louis Comfort Tiffany designed windows for the church, one for each southern state, to commemorate the men who gave their lives at Petersburg. It is one of the few buildings in the world where every window is a Tiffany window. The windows are works of art, each featuring a different character from the Bible and the seal of the state to which it’s dedicated. Each state also wrote an inscription to their war dead that Tiffany incorporated in the window. The window for my own state of Georgia features St. Thomas.

While touring the church, I thought of ongoing attempts across the south, most recently in New Orleans, to purge confederate history from the public square.  When seeking to remake a society in their own image, totalitarians always seek to destroy its history. This is often done by reducing history to a binary, everything associated with a particular event or time is evil and so must be destroyed whereas everything the new guard are seeking is good and must displace the old.

This happened after the French Revolution and during every communist revolution including Mao’s Cultural Revolution. During the Cultural Revolution, thousands of Chinese historical sites were destroyed by the communists. I wonder how long it will be before this beautiful church is in the cross hairs of our own version of the cultural revolution?

An historic event is never about only one thing and so can rarely be classified wholesale as good or evil. And the participants in the event are never in lock-step as to their motivation for what they do. Anyone who tells you they are is either ignorant of history or seeking to manipulate you.

James Robert Farlow

My great, great grandfather, James Robert Farlow was in the 9th Georgia Light Artillery. They fought in the Chickamagua campaign in October, 1863 and saw action at the siege of Petersburg in 1865. They surrendered with the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865. He owned no slaves. He was a simple man who returned from the war and went to work farming to feed his family. He once stood for alderman in College Park, GA but as far as I can tell that’s as high profile as he ever got. He passed away in 1915 at the age of 76 having raised seven children. Most of the soldiers of the confederacy were like this, probably most of the soldiers of the union as well. They were men caught up in something bigger than themselves who answered the call to fight for their state and defend their homes and families. They fought with courage and honor. Some of them returned home, many did not.

When I was in Moldova on a mission trip many years ago, I noticed every village had a monument to the soldiers of the village who gave their lives during the Second World War. The Soviet Union was gone by the time I was there and with it Communism, but the monuments remained. Because, like my great, great grandfather, these men were not fighting so much for a larger, political cause, in this case to uphold communism, but to defend their homes and families. To lump them all together as godless communists seeking to prop up Stalin and so deserving of no remembrance would be an insult to them and to those who loved them.

To remember men like this is not only right but it is honorable and those who say otherwise know not honor.

Transgenderism, Mental Illness, and the Church

I recently read a post on the issue of transgenderism that made this statement:

No objective tests can prove that the transgender condition exists. No physical examination, blood test, bone marrow test, chromosome test, or brain test will show that a person has gender dysphoria. It is a condition revealed solely by the patient’s feelings.

I agree with that wholeheartedly.

But here’s the thing – that can be said about a plethora of conditions we collectively term “mental illness.” Things like ADHD, depression, anxiety, and even things like schizophrenia are also symptom diagnosed (as opposed to diagnosed via objective medical tests). You tell the doctor or therapist what’s going on with you, they ask additional questions  or observe your behavior over time and they give you a diagnosis. There are no blood tests or other objective medical tests involved. Sometimes there are medical exams to rule out other causes, such as substance abuse, but that’s different from a positive diagnosis via medical exam.

Unfortunately, the same church who wants to refute psychology on transgenderism, has largely bought into the psychological model for many other conditions equally unprovable.

For example, why do we accept this:

“I know what the Bible says about anxiety but I have a special situation.  The doctor says my brain doesn’t function the way others’ do in this regard. This is something I can’t help, something that must be treated medically.”

But not this:

“I know what the Bible says about gender but I have a special situation. The doctor says my brain doesn’t work the way others’ do in this regard. This is something I can’t help, something that must be treated medically.”

The Bible always treats destructive behaviors and inappropriate thoughts as sin, never as diseases. For example, it talks about the sin of drunkenness, not the disease of alcoholism. Yet the disease model of sin is widely accepted in many churches today, even many conservative ones, and I believe those chickens will come home to roost with the issues gender and sexuality.

For years the church has deferred to the discipline of psychology as an alternative authority or at least a coequal authority with scripture with regard to behavior and thinking. Rather than treating problems of thinking as opportunities to point people to scripture and encourage them to renew their minds, we’ve deferred to psychologists and psychiatrists. But now, when faced with transgenderism, we want to jump off that train and say (rightly) there’s no objective evidence that something in the brain determines  gender independent of  anatomy.

If you have male anatomy and think you are a woman, you don’t have a problem with your brain, you have a problem with your thinking. You are engaging in sinful and warped thinking that needs to be brought in line with the teaching of the word of God. But because we don’t make that declaration in so many other areas, we may have our work cut out for us doing so in this one.

Is Police Protection a Right?

I was having a discussion on line the other day about whether healthcare is a right. Amid the usual progressive arguments of “you want people to die,” and “you’re a sack of sh#t,” someone asked a good question. What, they said, about police, fire and military protection?

I had made the point that no one has a right to anything that imposes an obligation on someone else or, said another way, the only true rights are negative rights.

They pointed out that protecting the public does, in fact, place an obligation on someone else, namely the police officer, fire fighter or soldier. While that is true, and I believe those are legitimate functions of government, it does not then follow that individuals have a right to the services provided by those functions.

A right is something every single person possesses that the government cannot take away. Said another way, they are universal and unalienable. Therefore, government must ensure that all people’s rights are protected all the time. You don’t have a right to freedom of the press only when resources are available, you have it always. So if police protection is a right, every unthwarted mugging is a violation of an individual’s rights and the police department must be held accountable for that violation to the same degree as if they kicked in your door and searched your house without a warrant. They were required to do something, protect you from crime, and they did not. They, therefore, violated your rights.

Of course that’s silly but that’s what we must believe if we say every individual has a right to police protection. A right is not just something the government makes available; it is something the government MUST do. When they don’t, a citizen has grounds to pursue legal recourse.

So, again, only negative rights are rights. In the scenario we’re discussing, the negative right is the right to self-defense. Government may not interfere with that. While I hope the police will prevent me from being assaulted, I have the right to stop the assault myself whether they show up or not. That is why the right to own and carry a gun cannot be infringed. Because to do so is to violate a real civil right, the right to self-defense.

Don’t Expect Unbelievers to Act Like Believers?

One of the cliches of contemporary Christianity is “You can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.” It’s often said in response to outrage or concern over current cultural conditions. The implication is we should not get all exercised about people’s behavior because, well, boys will be boys, so let’s just concentrate on the gospel and not try to reform the behavior of unbelievers because it can’t be done.

But is that true? Should Christians put no effort in trying to reform the culture or even the behavior of individuals short of their full conversion to the Faith? Is it impossible for someone to change a behavior that is harmful to themselves or society short of conversion?

To start answering that question let’s do an exercise in walking through to the logical consequences of this belief:

“I wish Hitler and the Nazis would stop loading Jews onto trains and taking them to concentration camps.”

“Well, you can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.”

Or in our modern day:

,”I wish women would stop murdering their babies in the womb by the thousands each year.”

“Well, you can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.”

Or what about an individual example:

“I wish my brother-in-law would stop drinking up his paycheck every week and buy food and clothes for my sister and their kids.”

“Well, you can’t expect unbelievers to act like believers.”

If you think those are extreme examples, you’re right. The point is, there is a point where everyone recognizes human behavior can and should change – whether the person engaging in that behavior is a believer or not. A change in behavior will never save my soul but it can make life in this realm better for myself and those I impact.

The problem may be in our understanding of what it means to “act like a believer.”

While Christianity always bears fruit in someone’s life, we cannot assume because a person is moral or loving to his family or law-abiding that he’s a believer. If that’s true, then nor can we assume because they are lost they have no ability to change for the better since clearly there are some people behaving morally who are not converted.

Christians understand God’s grace at work in the world in two different ways. One way is saving grace – the unmerited favor God gives to those who repent of their sins and place their trust in Him. God gives His saving grace to whomever He chooses (Romans 9:15). When we receive that kind of grace, God gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). Therefore, everything about us changes from our outward behavior to our inward motivation. We stop being about ourselves and start doing everything for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31).

The other way is God’s common grace. Common grace is the unmerited favor God bestows on all mankind whereby He provides us with the good things of this world in far greater abundance than we deserve – which is to say, not at all (Matthew 5:45).  Part of this common grace is the restraint of evil. When evil is restrained it is always a grace of God but as with many other of God’s graces He often accomplishes it through ordinary means such as governments (Romans 13:2-4), the influence of friends (I Corinthians 15:33), and the actions of the godly (Joseph & Daniel both were used by God to bless believers and unbelievers alike through their skilled leadership).

On a mission trip to Ecuador last year I met an American expatriate. He was a nice man. By all appearances a very successful one as well. He shared with a colleague and me how he’s been sober for many years after struggling for many other years with alcohol abuse. But, when we began to speak with him about the gospel, he denied that Christ was essential for a relationship with God. He believed there were many ways to god and that the god he was praying to every day was going to accept him one day.

This man was lost. But, he was also sober to the good of his earthly well-being and that of his family. I praise God for the latter and yet pray too that he will come to know Christ to the good of his eternal well-being.

So, can we expect unbelievers to act like believers? No, not if by that we mean following Christ and doing all things to the glory of God. But, we can and should expect them to act like creatures formed in the image of God who have His existence written on their hearts – because that is what they are. And we should not hesitate to make an effort to influence them for the good of themselves and others in this temporal plane while remembering the most important thing we can do for them is share the gospel.

 

A Racist Under Every Snack

We live in interesting times. What was unthinkable even five years ago is now commonplace. I have A Racist Under Every Snackto do a double-take at least once each day when reading the news to be sure I’ve read something correctly, that it really did say what I thought it did. Such was the case yesterday when I read this article in National Review:

“Cops Called on My Third-Grade Son over Racism Concerns for Talking About Brownies”

Yes, that’s really what you just read. You did it too, right? That double-take thing.

Anyway, it seems the latest front in the war against racism is elementary school classrooms. Apparently, racism is so pervasive, so insidious that it can be found even in a discussion among third-graders about snack food:

According to the student’s mother, her nine-year-old son was participating in a conversation about the bakery treat during his end-of-the-year class party at William P. Tatem Elementary School on June 16 when another student remarked that his comment was racist. Rather than explain to the accusing student that the name of the baked good is a generally accepted term and not racially charged whatsoever, the school actually called the police.

While you can’t be a terrorist even if you want to be and announce ahead of time you are one, you can be a racist simply by being accused of such. Racism is always in the eye of the accuser.

All you race warriors out there here’s where your obsession has gotten us – not to a society where racism has ceased (which I don’t think you want anyway – it’s a job security thing) but a society where “racism” is used as the justification for sending the police to an elementary school to harass and frighten a third-grader.
 
If you are legitimately concerned about racism (not just using it as a wedge issue to garner more power), you better start putting as much effort into calling out people and situations like this as you do calling out racism because any legitimate concerns you have are going to be subsumed by the racism-is-everywhere folks who have thus far operated with impunity while sharing space under your umbrella.

 

Otherwise, when the wolf of racism really does show up, the people of the village are going to ignore your cries for help.