More Than Hypocrites — Ministering in the wake of Ashley Madison

Depressed

My heart has been grieved over hearing about resignations and suicides resulting from the revelation that a lot of men within the body of Christ sought out extramarital affairs through the Ashley Madison website. When I first heard about the data breach, and the threat the hackers issued concerning the release of the large amount of customer data they stole, I had mixed feelings. I felt the hackers were misguided in their attempted extortion, because the people who would be most hurt by their threatened release of gigabytes of company data were not the people running Ashley Madison, but the people who had used the site. But, if I’m completely honest with myself, I didn’t feel too bad for Ashley Madison’s customers; because, they were, after all, men seeking adulterous relationships. I didn’t feel bad for the people who were being threatened with having their sexual indiscretions made very public; and, I now find myself having to repent of that misguided inclination to not care about the suffering that was being threatened at the time.

Now, we are starting to see what the Ashley Madison data leak means and the fallout is as unpredictable as it is, potentially, terrifying. Multiple suicides have already been tenuously connected to the data leak, and more are likely to follow. I have heard of resignations of pastors and other religious leaders in states where lists of “cheaters” have been published online. And, my heart grieves for the suffering that will flow in the weeks to come. Sin needs to be exposed (Ephesians 5:11), there is no doubt about that. But, the way sin needs to be dealt with is with an eye towards redemption. None of us is without sin that need to be exposed and dealt with, but that does not mean all sin ought to be exposed in the same way, and certainly not all sin needs to be exposed with the sort of recklessness that has characterized the Ashley Madison data breach. What we have in this situation is not anything resembling a Christian notion of sin being revealed. Instead, what we are seeing is a mass shaming with no intention or effort at encouraging repentance or redemption for those who have pursued sin.

I grieve for the lives that have been, are being, and will be destroyed by this reckless attempt to blackmail a company by threatening, and then following through with, the shaming of their customers. Again, this sin needed to come to light; but, not like this. I grieve most for the universal church, who will suffer the familiar refrain of being called hypocritical on the issues of marriage and sexual ethics in the wake of the revelations that pastors and other religious leaders were among those seeking illicit relationships on the Ashley Madison website. But, what I grieve most for is the expectation I have that the church will not respond to this scandal well. I fear that Christian churches will turn to legalism and harsh criticism, instead of loving correction and careful shepherding. I worry that we will prove ourselves hypocrites by abandoning our obligation to minister graciously to those who suffer. I fear that spouses will prove just as quick to seek divorce in this instance where they have moral cause as so many spouses have proven willing to seek divorce for no moral cause at all. I fear for the further demonstration that the church is made up of a bunch of hypocrites — and that I will be counted among them.

But, I do not fear for the mission of the church or the cause of the Gospel. The church is full of hypocrites because the world is full of hypocrites. We all judge others by standards we fail to apply to ourselves. We all conceal the things we are ashamed of from even our closest friends — even from our spouses. We all exchange the truth of God for idols of our own designs and desires. We are all hypocrites in the end. But, God, being rich in mercy, sent Jesus Christ to die to redeem such wretched creatures for His own purposes and His own glory. No matter how many are disgraced by the data stolen from Ashley Madison, Jesus Christ spilled his blood to redeem as many as would repent and believe.

That reality must be the rallying cry of the church in the wake of this scandal. We must not cease from preaching the message that Jesus died to redeem sinners from the worst of themselves. We must proclaim that the blood of Jesus can cleanse the soul of the vilest offender. We must continue to share the good news of Colossians 2:14 that our certificate of debt, which we all owe to God on account of our sin, has already been nailed to the cross, for all those whom He has, is, and will make alive together with Christ. We must preach the Gospel in this hour of need. God help me to minister grace to those who need it — even my own wretched self!

Off-the-Cuff: What about the Eastern Orthodox?

I was pointed at a blog post from a few days ago “Why Mormonism’s Claim is So Crazy to People.” The article is a very simple defense of the teaching of the Great Apostasy and a bit of pleading that the teachings of the LDS church don’t amount to an enormous fraud. I was asked to comment on it, and instead of getting into a back and forth with the author in his comment section, I just decided to start a new set of opinion posts I’m going to call “Off-the-Cuff.” In the words of Peter Pan: “Oh, the cleverness of me.”


So, for background go read “Why Mormonism’s Claim is So Crazy to People.”

First, why do LDS folks always seem to forget about the hundreds of millions of Christians that make up the Eastern Orthodox family of churches? I know Roman Catholicism is a bigger bogey-man, but come on! The Eastern Orthodox church has been around just as long; I’d actually argue it’s older. The Eastern Orthodox church claims, and can back it up pretty well, that their leaders have an unbroken line of apostolic succession. And, yet, they get absolutely no love. You can’t talk about anything like the Great Apostasy with any real, historical, credibility without dealing with the Eastern Orthodox churches. But, that has never stopped any well-meaning LDS folks. Heck, it doesn’t even stop well-meaning Protestants. So, the first huge weakness is that Mr. Trimble completely ignores a huge swath of ancient Christianity in order to make his points seem remotely valid.

Second, he doesn’t actually substantiate the claims of a Great Apostasy except to say “[t]he early Christian fathers witnessed the church fall into deep apostasy and they wrote about it.” I will commend Mr. Trimble for referring to the collected volumes of the Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene volumes; but, I think he may need to re-read more of those volumes before characterizing the writings the way he does. While, there was certainly in-fighting in some quarters of the church, the majority of the writings against apostasy and heresy looked a lot like the church fathers writing against teachings more resemblant of Mormonism than Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism or Protestantism. In fact, Tertullian, writing at least 100 years before the big, bad, Council of Nicea provides us with the oldest extant formulations of what was formalized in the councils as Trinitarian orthodoxy. Even the tritheism of Mormonism was dealt with in the Post-Nicene era in connection with the Monophysite controversies of the fifth century. And, all the early church fathers were concerned with maintaining apostolic teaching, which is why they worked very hard to identify the apostolic writings and make extensive use of them in the churches. So, the Great Apostasy, as taught by Mormonism lacks a great deal of historical veracity and the writings of the church fathers can hardly be said to support such a notion.

Third, there is a huge lack of clarity in regards to the issue of apostasy. Mr. Trimble operates from the assumption that there is no grey area with regards to apostasy. He, essentially says that either there must be one church, possessing all truth, without any error; or, the church is completely absent from the earth. This is a failure distinguish between essentials and non-essentials. Even after the Great Schism of 1054, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches continued to each affirm the earlier ecumenical councils and they remained in substantial agreement about many things. Even Protestants, in the midst of the Reformation, recognized that not all that Rome affirmed was errant. And there is a really good reason for that: The Bible. Despite all the differences of opinion on all kinds of matters, the Word of God has been preserved in the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament. Despite the Bible not being universally accessible for centuries, it was not lost or corrupted. The Bible has always served to organize God’s people. Some time people go beyond what Scripture teaches and invent such things as the papacy, infant baptism, purgatory or the Quorum of the Seventy, First Presidency, etc. But, God’s Word endures, and so the Church endures. The Church has from time to time been subject to error; but the Gospel has never utterly passed away because, just like in the Old Testament, God is powerful enough to defend His people and preserve a remnant for Himself. And, that remnant has always been rooted in God’s revealed Word.

But, the big question that this article begs is why would God allow a Great Apostasy? The Mormon response must be either: because God wanted to, or because God couldn’t stop it. In the first case I’d question the wisdom, charity and benevolence of God to not even attempt to preserve His church in any form. In the second case I would assert that such a God is unworthy of worship and lacks the basic abilities to be God in the first place. In either case, the LDS view of God is woefully deficient; and that’s assuming the Great Apostasy even happened, which is hard to argue historically. So, in the end I would conclude that Mormonism is a fraud, and a counterfeit Gospel. As a religion, Mormonism reveals itself to be Anti-Christian in its adoption of teachings that depart from the teachings of the Apostles and in its addition of a yoke of slavery to its adherents. It is, in the end, exactly the sort of “other gospel” that Paul warned the Galatians about and pronounced any who would bring such a counterfeit “anathema,” which means they are committing damnable error.

The people of God must always stand upon the Word of God, not upon men. There is still one Lord, one faith and one baptism; they simply aren’t mediated by merely one church, but by all the churches where the Gospel of salvation by grace, through faith in Christ alone is preached. And such a Gospel is missing from the Mormon church, revealing it to be a fraud and a monstrous one. And, no one should be surprised that such a monstrous fraud should be possible; for, as it is written: “false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24 ESV).

 

Why the barber is not like the florist, the baker and the photograph taker

What Would Quark Do?Christians have been very bothered by the advancement of efforts to normalize homosexual marriage in the last few years. I must admit that I am also bothered by the aggressive pace. Bakers, florists and wedding photographers have all been hauled into courts to justify their refusal to serve homosexuals who ask them to provide services for their, now legal, weddings. Christian businesspeople in all these circumstances cite their deeply held religious beliefs concerning the immorality of homosexual behavior and, particularly, the legalization of homosexual marriage. The Christians are all free to hold to these convictions, but courts have ruled that Christian businesses may not act on these convictions in a way that leads them to refuse service to homosexuals.

Such figures as Drs. Albert Mohler and Russell Moore have weighed in, taking up the cause of the businesspeople and raising alarms about the erosion of religious liberty. I want to be clear: in some ways I agree with Drs. Mohler and Moore. I think there are signs that religious liberty is becoming a difficult to maintain freedom in the West, and a big part of that is the advancement of laws designed to curtail speech and open dissent surrounding the issue of homosexuality. But, I don’t believe that the examples cited in the United States of florists, bakers and photographers being told they can not refuse service is quite the crisis some imagine.

I’ve gotten into far too many discussions with folks and had the same line used repeatedly in defense of the liberty of business people to “refuse to serve whoever they want for whatever reason they want.” This line sounds great to advocates of an unrestrained free market, libertarians and the like. But, it would require the unmaking of laws put in place to protect minorities and women against discrimination and return us to the possibility of an era where society could be segregated along racial and gender lines, at least in the context of some businesses. Do I think such segregation would come? Only in a very limited way in communities where bigotry and hatred still have powerful holds. But, the adoption of such an attitude, consistently, would open the door to discrimination without restraint in the business world: should business owners be permitted to discriminate in hiring, or in any other area of operations when they are granted the right to discriminate in their refusal of service to certain kinds customers?

Personally, this quasi-libertarian argument opens way too many doors to way too many problems to be considered reasonable. I believe that businesses that operate publicly ought to serve the public, without unreasonable restrictions that can not be justified from a business or purely religious basis. I include the idea of “a purely religious basis” intentionally, and I want to argue that the florists, bakers and photographers can not use it as their justification. The reason I want to make that argument is because of what sounds like the start to a bad joke: A lesbian seeking a haircut from a Muslim.

In Canada, a lesbian is suing a Muslim barber for refusing to cut her hair. The reason the barber gave is that according to his religious beliefs he can not touch women who are not his wife. On the surface this sounds like the very same issue that the florists, bakers and photographers in America are facing: a desire to refuse service based on religious beliefs. There is a big difference though and I think many Christian miss it. Until this story came along I wasn’t even sure how to articulate my belief that Christians were wrong for denying services to homosexuals who wanted them to provide for their weddings.

The barber is on solid legal ground, or would be in the United States, because of the tendency of courts to steer clear of examining articles of religious faith. In order for a U.S. court to overrule the barbers decision to not cut the lesbian’s hair they would have to directly examine the barbers specific religious commitments and rule them invalid. This is an action that U.S. courts refuse to do because it isn’t their job to determine which religious beliefs are valid or not. So, how does this differ from the florists, bakers and photographers?

In the U.S. cases the Christian business owners have tended to defend their refusals to serve homosexuals on the basis that participation in their weddings would constitute an endorsement of such weddings and thus violate their Christian consciences. Here is where the problem lies: a court can examine whether participation is equivalent to endorsement without having to consider the religious beliefs of the businesspeople involved. The objection for the sake of conscience isn’t solely grounded in religious conviction, but is also based on an understanding of what participation denotes. Dr. Albert Mohler explicitly makes this connection when he writes “active participation can only be read as a forced endorsement of what they believe to be fundamentally wrong and sinful.” But, is participation, necessarily, endorsement?

Lets use some analogies to help clarify things: journalists actively participate in events of all sorts in much the same way as photographers do at weddings, yet their participation can not be construed as an implicit endorsement of the events they report on. Further, citizens in the U.S. elect leaders, yet the active participation of the citizens in the electoral process does not imply their endorsement of everything the government does. The issue is one of proximity and association, and so I’m led to believe that the argument that Dr. Mohler and others make in justifying Christians denying services to be used for homosexual weddings is an expression of the association fallacy. Florists, bakers and photographers are not required to give their consent to those being married, and so their participation is ancillary, and thus should not be understood as an endorsement.

For this reason I’m inclined to agree with the courts who have ruled that Christian businesses that provide service for weddings don’t have a firm basis for refusing services to homosexuals. They are still free to hold to their convictions concerning the immorality of such weddings, just as I do. But, unless they can remove the degree of separation established by being a business, or somehow prove that their involvement would, necessarily, require endorsement; I don’t see the cause for their rejection of business on purely religious grounds in these cases. The barber is not like the florist, the baker or the photograph taker in reality.

Shawn McCraney is probably not a heretic

argument-cartoon.jpg-300x239Last night Shawn McCraney and his C.A.M.P.U.S. ministry hosted an open forum to address the accusations that have been flying around the last few weeks. The format wasn’t quite what I expected  with the event called an “Inquisition” and Shawn’s detractors referred to as “accusers.” Personally, I think this set an unhelpful tone from the outset that wasn’t improved on much through the course of the evening. A photo of the program handout can be found here.

The main discussion began with Pastor Jason Wallace confessing his ill-preparedness for the format and the strict limitation of the discussion to the subject of the Trinity. He also confessed being uncomfortable with referring to the event as an “Inquisition.” At the heart of his concern with Shawn’s doctrinal positions was his use of the term ‘manifestation’ and that term’s close ties to the heresy of Modalism. Pastor Dale Finley also expressed concerns about Shawn’s rejection of the Trinity, as did the final accuser: Rob Sivulka. Rob led his presentation of concerns with the firm statement that he does not regard Shawn as a brother in Christ, he also followed it with multiple declarations throughout the evening decrying Shawn as a heretic and a Modalist.

The event was not a formal debate and lacked civility on all parts at a number of points; along with a few unhelpful outbursts, and even one very disruptive heckler who was ushered outside while screaming that Shawn was an “idiot,” a “heretic” and a “cult leader.” Shawn’s response to his opponents was fused with invective from its outset, which some of his opponents responded to in kind. Initially, Shawn did not offer much clarification of his belief except to identify his objection to the term “Trinity” on the basis that it does not appear in Scripture. However, Shawn did, eventually, clearly reject Patripassianism, which is a form of Modalism.

After a brief break the, so-called, “accusers” then had further opportunity to question Shawn and for Shawn to respond. Of all the further questions asked of Shawn only one by Rob Sivulka could have helped clarify the discussion: how did God exist before the creation? Unfortunately Shawn did not answer this question fully and directly. However, I was able to ask this essential question again, along with some follow-ups to try and bring more clarity to the essentials of the matter. In the end I don’t know that either side was moved in a helpful way. Shawn’s supporters seemed just as supportive and his detractors seemed just as resolute in their opposition. But, I’m not thoroughly convinced that Shawn is all that far from his opponents. Shawn’s opponents seemed hung up on his refusal to use terms such as “Trinity” and “persons” in articulating his view. But, I’m not convinced that Shawn is really departing from the essential teaching of Trinitarianism.

Shawn articulated his clear affirmation of monotheism, something he and his opponents agree upon. But, Shawn’s rejection of basic and historic theological terminology muddied the waters and I think is the real root of misunderstanding. In my attempts to clarify what Shawn believes we struggled to identify a word to adequately describe the distinctness of Father, Son and Spirit; which Shawn preferred to refer to as Father, Word and Spirit. In the end I simply used “thing” in place of the more theologically clear term of “person.” Shawn affirmed the co-eternal nature of all the “things” within the singular God, as well as their basic distinction from one another. He also affirmed a voluntary subordination between the divine “things.” Because of this exploratory questioning, which I prompted late in the proceedings, I’m not willing to decry Shawn as a heretic. I’m not convinced that whatever errors he holds to in his theology rise to the level of damnable error.

I want to say that I do think Shawn is being needlessly vague by rejecting historically established and helpful terminology simply because it does not appear in the Bible. This seems to be a troublesome path since the Bible teaches many things which, if we wish to communicate them concisely, benefit from adopting theological, and even philosophical, terminology. Yes, such terminology is a form of jargon; but that does not make it bad, wrong, or unbiblical. In a very narrow sense it is man-made, which seemed to be one of Shawn’s big hang-ups; but, that does not mean it is without use or value. In this case I am simply led to disagree with Shawn, but that is not the same as considering him a heretic. I disagree with Shawn’s assessment of Calvinism, being a Calvinist myself, but I don’t know that Shawn and I really mean the same thing when we use such labels. I also disagree with Shawn’s readiness to reject the use of the creeds, but I understand his reticence as it has been held to by many of my Baptist kin over the years.

In the end, I consider Shawn a brother in Christ, but I believe he is errant and perhaps misguided in some of his teachings and approaches. But, I think the vitriol that has been displayed on all sides, going back even to the beginning of last year is the real problem. Shawn and his opponents need to calm down, slow down and talk more with each other, and less at each other. I look forward to taking up both Shawn’s and Pastor Jason Wallace’s invitations to sit down and talk more. I will continue to hope for more unity amongst Christians and will look for ways I can even foster that myself.

It was an interesting night in Utah, and I trust God will use it for some purpose that will bring Him glory.

UPDATE: 2014-02-21 — 9:45am

A good brother pointed out that I may be painting with too broad a brush in castigating both sides for being overly harsh with one another. I want to clarify that my point of reference is restricted to the event that Shawn hosted. At that event Jason Wallace was the only one of the formal “accusers” who maintained a calm and respectful tone and presentation throughout. There were some other questioners from the audience who maintained a gentle and loving tone, and I want to be clear that it is not my intention to treat everyone who has voiced concern with Shawn’s teachings as though they have been overly harsh or unloving in their presentation, that is simply not the case. There are plenty of Christians who have approached Shawn in private and public and maintained the gentle and Christ-like approach that is called for. I hope this clarifies my meaning and intention in criticizing both sides in the current controversy.

UPDATE: 2014-02-21 — 12:56pm — Defining Terms

A friend asked if I could include a few definitions for those who may not be as steeped in the jargon of theology at issue:

  • Heresy — I use this term to mean damnable error, error so egregious that you will end up in Hell for holding firmly to it.
  • Trinitarianism — The affirmation that there is one, and only one, God eternally existing in three equally divine and equally eternal persons described as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • Persons — As used in the previous definition to mean a subsistence within a single being, each possessing completely the divine nature, yet not representing the totality of the Godhead; and each distinguishable from the other two persons. The term is insufficient in some ways, but useful.
  • Modalism — A family of heresies that essentially affirms the unity of God while denying the distinctions presented in Scripture between the members of the Godhead.
  • Patripassianism — A form of Modalism that is represented by the idea that the Father became the Son and thus suffered on the cross.

I highly recommend the online resource Theopedia for those who want to explore these terms more or learn about the jargon of Christian Theology and its rich history.

UPDATE: 2014-02-24 — 12:40pm

The video from the event has now been posted.

UPDATE: 2014-02-25 — 3:57pm

I have closed the comments section before it would normally be automatically closed because I’m not in a position to stay on top of them and some look to be venturing into discussion that, while important, is not best conducted in the comment area of this blog post. This is an issue that will not be going away soon or quietly, nor should it. It is important for believers to wrestle with the Word and come to to conclusions about where they stand on important doctrinal issues. I am in discussions with some friends of mine about the doctrine of the Trinity and I have an email I recently sent to Shawn that I am awaiting reply to. I expect to have a follow-up post on this important matter in the coming weeks and I want to encourage everyone to maintain hope in Christ that unity may come, not at the expense of sound doctrine, but as a result of sound doctrine and with the support of Christian charity between brothers and sisters in Christ.

Wondering what to expect from Shawn McCraney

Last year I wrote a number of posts about Shawn McCraney, a well known ex-Mormon here in Utah. For years Shawn has had a television program where he confronted Mormon teachings with the Bible and critiqued their history, theology and organization. Then, at the beginning of last year, he announced his intention to go after American Evangelicalism. I was cautiously supportive of Shawn and publicly stated why and identified some things that bothered me about the way some Utah Evangelicals were responding to Shawn.

Well, it’s been over a year since the first post and Shawn is embroiled in another controversy. This one is a bit more substantial in my estimation. Lately Shawn has been teaching things that sound a lot like denials of basic Christian doctrines. He appears to now be denying the Trinity and the eternality of Hell. Tonight Shawn is hosting a public Question and Answer session. I will be attending it since I have withheld judgement up to this point despite my misgivings about Shawn’s teachings, hoping for him to offer more clarity.

Tonight, I am hoping for that additional clarity before I make up my mind about how to regard Shawn in relation to the body of Christ. I’m hoping that he’ll clarify his beliefs sufficiently to allow me to continue regarding him as a brother in Christ. But, I am honestly not sure what to expect. I will hold on to hope and be sure to respond with as much charity and understanding as Scripture demands.

It is going to be an interesting evening in Utah.

Why the Creation v. Evolution debate is boring

This past week Bill Nye and Ken Ham had a debate. Lots of people have weighed in on both sides and in the end the issue remains just as intractable as ever. No one won the debate and no one lost, except the folks who walked in with their opinions already established, which includes everyone I know. In the end the debate was, in my opinion, a waste of time.

I want to be clear. I’m a young earth creationist. I believe that God created the entire universe in six twenty-four hour periods. I’m less committed to a particular age of the earth, and would tend to place myself in the old-earth creationist camp. But, I hold these beliefs for purely theological reasons. I am not a creationist because I believe the science points there. But, I also don’t hold my views in spite of science. To the best of my knowledge absolutely no one witnessed the creation of the universe. Nobody knows based on observation, repeatable experimentation or any other empirical means how all the exists came into being. For the theist, like myself, this presents no problem whatsoever because of a commitment to revealed truth, as contained in the Bible. But, in the absence of another source of authority arguments about the origin of the universe are simply boring.

Everyone has a narrative they want to put forward. Some, like Ken Ham, advance a very clear biblically literalist narrative based on a singular source. Others, like Bill Nye, advance a more nuanced, less certain and certainly more complex narrative filled with as many questions as supposed answers. And yet others advance variations or even entirely different narratives regarding the origins of all that is. But, they are all simply narratives based on their own prior commitments and presumptions. And, without an agreed upon source of authority, it is very difficult to arbitrate between competing narratives.

For these reasons I am not an evidentialist and I don’t put a lot of stock in Christian Apologetics. And it is because of this that I find the Creation v. Evolution debate to be exceedingly boring. Additionally, as a Church Historian, I find the modern predisposition to make one’s belief about origins a litmus test of orthodoxy quite strange. The only essential commitments of the Church through the centuries has been that God created all that is. The processes used to accomplish this creation are not specified in any of the early creeds and they appear in very few confessions coming from the Reformation until now. The Westminster Confession affirms a six day creation, but nearly every other confession or catechism of the church end simply by stating that God created all things.

Again, I want to affirm my full belief in Exodus 20:11 in which Scripture declares that “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (ESV). But, I also take Scripture seriously when it declares that unrighteous men suppress the truth by means of their unrighteousness and gladly choose to worship the creation rather than the creator (Romans 1:18, 25) and that “No one can come to [Jesus] unless the Father who sent [Him] draws him” (John 6:44, ESV). For this reason the arguments over evidence to defend one narrative about origins or another is very boring to me. I believe that we ought to engage with science as Christians, but we also need to avoid substituting apologetics for preaching the Gospel. We need to recognize that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, ESV). We have nothing to offer this lost and dying world apart from the message of Christ who lived, died and was raised for the forgiveness of our sins.

Following up on Shawn McCraney

It’s been months since I last talked about Shawn McCraney and in my personal life I have found myself being an unlikely advocate for Shawn with folks. That being said I have just gotten around to watching some of Shawn McCraney’s recorded Heart of the Matter: Evangelical Christianity. I intend to deal directly with some of the issues he raises; but, so far, I like that Shawn feels freer and more open to being himself. It really comes through in his presentation. Concerning the content of his first show focussing on Evangelical Christianity, I can’t comment on any of the reasons that Shawn identifies in it for his original show’s cancellation, other than what I’ve said previously about what I know of the whole situation. And, concerning the things I know and documented Shawn is right that his termination appears to have been both vindictive (my word) and punitive (Shawn’s description).

I completely agree with Shawn that there is ample reason to critique and even go after, aggressively, idiotic elements that exist within contemporary American Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicalism is full of hypocrisy and, more seriously, heresy. There are things being taught in Evangelicalism today that put the souls of millions at risk of eternal condemnation because they are not hearing or believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The reality is that Shawn has biblical justification for going after the problems that exist in Evangelical Christianity. Pastors and leaders in the Church are called to serve as watchmen, prophets (in a sense) in their role as shepherds and overseers of the flock. Shawn is also totally correct in distinguishing between the Body of Christ and Evangelical Christianity. The two are not synonymous and Shawn, again, has biblical justification for offering criticism of contemporary Evangelical Christianity, so long as he maintains he distinction. Shawn has sound reasons and biblical support for his stated goal and I welcome his criticism and hope that God will use it to sharpen those who need it. I welcome and pray for a new reformation that returns churches to the bedrock of Scripture, and I hope that Shawn’s work will be useful to that end.

So, in the end I will continue to support Shawn McCraney and advocate for him, despite my disagreements with him (especially his apparent objections to Calvinism). I’m also not on board with his notion of Christian Anarchy. Although it sounds nice on the surface, my understanding of Church History leads me to be very concerned about any emphasis on Christian Anarchism because of the bloody history of the peasant’s revolts of the post-Reformation period. But, Shawn isn’t perfect, and thankfully makes no pretenses of being above all criticism. Because of his honesty and his willingness to follow his conscience I find no reason to encourage anyone to abandon Shawn McCraney at this point. In fact, I would say that more Evangelical leaders need to stop and listen to Shawn and take seriously his criticisms. I look forward to going through the videos as he posts them to the archives and will try to cover each one, although I won’t promise that.

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYOQkkIC?p=1 width=”550″ height=”443″]

Opposed Texas’ SB5 Bill? Congratulations!

There’s been a lot of excitement from those who joined with Wendy Davis to oppose SB 5 in Texas. Champions of abortion rights have hailed her filibuster as courageous and as protecting the rights of women in Texas. And congratulations are in order. Wendy Davis successfully gave voice to thousands of people who opposed this bill and they triumphed. The problem is that their victory is hollow and their cause was idiotic. The champions of abortion rights defeated a bill that would have done almost nothing to limit women’s access to abortion.

That’s right, the bill they defeated would have imposed no substantial limitations on women’s access to abortion in Texas. So, what in the world were they so upset about? Well, unlike Wendy Davis and her ilk, let’s actually examine the bill. The bill was originally prefaced with an introduction that referenced the ability to feel pain of fetuses at a certain gestational age and the state’s interest in preventing harm to these unborn children. While I understand that abortion rights advocates don’t want to acknowledge any potential abilities on the part of the fetus that might make it seem to be what it is: a human being; this section of the bill was not actually part of the legal text that would enter the Texas Code. The section that specifically referenced the twenty week gestational threshold was part of some introductory text that is merely meant to explain the drafter’s rationale for introducing the bill. But, surely there’s something in the text of the bill that would actually give teeth to this summary text? Well, yes and no. I’m reading from the Engrossed version of the bill, meaning the one that would actually become law with extraneous text removed, such as the introduction.

The first substantial portion of the bill amends the Health and Safety Code, subchapter A, chapter 171, section 31 with three basic provisions for physicians providing abortions:

  1. They must perform the abortion within 30 minutes of a hospital that provides OB/GYN services at which they have admitting privileges.
  2. They must provided a phone number that the patient can call 24-hours a day to get consultation on any complications.
  3. They must provide the name and phone number of the nearest hospital to where the patient lives, in case of emergency.

Now, none of those provisions seem onerous at all. Opposing those provisions seems ludicrous. Those provisions make all women who seek abortions safer in a marginal way by giving them more confidence in their provider in the event of a problem and more access to medical information should the need arise. But, that’s not the end of the bill. The bill also amends chapter 245, section 10, subsection c of the Health and Safety Code to require abortion facilities to be equivalent in capability to “ambulatory surgical centers” as defined elsewhere in the code. Again, this seems like a provision that is meant to protect women by making abortion clinics meet a measurable standard of safety and capability. So, we still haven’t found anything in this bill that should cause major concerns about safe and legal access to abortion. It must be in the middle section of the bill, concerning abortion inducing drugs.

The middle section of the bill adds subsection C to Texas’ Health and Safety Code, chapter 171. The bulk of it is a series of definitions, none of which are terribly interesting. The only really interesting one is the “Final Printed Label” or “FPL” definition which basically provides a shorthand in this section to the FDA approved usages for an abortion inducing drug. The next section, following the definitions, defines specific occasions for abortions:

  • Those meant to save the life or preserve health of the child
  • Removal of an unborn child that is already dead from a spontaneous abortion
  • Removal of an ectopic pregnancy
  • Treatment of the mother for a disease for which the abortion inducing drug is also labelled for treatment of

Next, the bill limits the use of abortion inducing drugs in the following ways:

  • A physician must provide the drugs
  • The drugs must be administered at a legal abortion clinic
  • The drugs must be administered in accordance with their Final Printed Label (HERE’S THE RUB!)

That third provision is the one that caused the uproar. It is the only substantial limitations imposed by this legislation. Abortion inducing drugs may not be used except as they have been approved for use by the FDA, excepting the additional dosing guidelines provided by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Practice Bulletin, as published January 1, 2013 (this comes from the bill as well). So, abortion inducing drugs may only be used as recommended by what the Texas lawmakers assumed were competent regulatory and advisory bodies. The rest of the bill basically imposes rules for safe administration and follow-up by the abortion provider that are no more onerous than the provisions for other kinds of abortions covered earlier in the bill.

But, why is the restriction of abortion inducing drugs to their labelled usage such a problem? I assume it is because off-label use of drugs is pretty standard for much of the medical industry. That is despite the lack of testing or clear understanding of why off-label use may or may not be effective. But I want to offer an argument against the normalization of off-label use in this specific case.

Abortion inducing drugs such as RU-486 have been formulated for “safe” usage within specific parameters. The National Abortion Federation describes the effectiveness of RU-486, in part, this way: “mifepristone and misoprostol can be used for early abortion up to 63 days after the start of the last menstrual period.” That’s a 9 week maximum gestational age for those who can’t do math quickly. But the National Abortion Federation also, honestly, describes the complications that can result from the use of RU-486 under even its standard, labelled, usage. Excessive bleeding requiring transfusion occurs in roughly 1 out of every 500 cases. Death of the mother can result in roughly 1 in 100,000 cases (about the same as for death from general miscarriage). All that put together I would tend to say that risks would be expected to increase for off-label use which may include increased dosing of the relevant drugs. Given the potential risk for blood loss requiring transfusion going up and possibly even the incidences of maternal death I think the bills safety measures are well warranted and imposing restrictions that defer to the FDA and other relevant advisory bodies is far from a bad idea.

So, what the abortion advocates and Wendy Davis really defeated was a bill designed to protect women and their unborn children. And they succeeded. But their victory is one of idiocy as sensible rules meant to preserve women’s health were defeated in favor of unfettered and unsafe access to abortion services. Congratulations to all the opponents of Texas’ SB-5 legislation. You’ve kept women unsafe via abortion for yet another day.

Impotent Words: “Our Thoughts Are With You”

In the aftermath of the bombings in Boston today I’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of concern and support for those affected by the horrific events. I’m encouraged by those Christians and others who have openly expressed their concern and support through prayer. But, I’ve been equally disgusted by those who have nothing better to offer than that their “thoughts,” which either “go out to” or “are with” those who are suffering. I’m sure many of these folks will offer more tangible support in the coming days; but how impotent does your worldview have to be that the best you can muster in the face of evil is that you will think about it?

What can your mere thoughts accomplish in the face of evil? Am I the only one who finds mere thought less than encouraging in the face of evil? Should we not, rather, avail ourselves of the One who has the power to bring evil to a final end? Should we not avail ourselves of prayer? Should we not offer humble intercession and supplication to the creator who holds all things together by the exercise of His great power? Should we not do much more than merely think about the victims of evil?

Philippians 4:8 commends us to think. But, it commends us to think of those good things which flow from God. And, 1 Corinthians 14:15 entreats us to pray with our minds. Our thoughts are to dwell on that which is good and to actively direct ourselves to those things in prayer. Dwelling on evil with our minds will not make things right. And how impotent our lives will be if we only think about the great evil and suffering around us. We must do more. We must pray. For it is God who has the power to bring an end to all evil.

I will pray for all those who suffer, because I know my mere thoughts can not blunt the sting of evil. But, my prayers go up to the one who will, one day, put all evil to an end and make right all that is wrong. Come, quickly, Lord Jesus!

Heart of the Matter Cancelled: It’s Complicated…Sort Of

Well, I’ve received the official statement from KMTW TV20 about why they chose to cancel Shawn McCraney’s show, “Heart of the Matter,” earlier this week. As a matter of review, here is the basic timeline:

  • First, Shawn went on the air on January 1st announcing that his show’s 2013 emphasis would not be a continued critique of Mormonism, but instead a year-long focus on the problems within American Evangelical Christianity.
  • Following this announcement the station attempted to dissuade Shawn McCraney from this plan and he responded with a letter, dated January 2nd, to the station owner reiterating his reasons and calling for them to allow him to continue.
  • On January 4th Greg Johnson, founder of Standing Together Utah and host of “This Week in the Word” on TV20, sent out an email to a couple dozen Pastors in Utah calling on them to express themselves to the station regarding what he termed an “attack against the Body of Christ in Utah.” (Read them on my previous post)
  • On Monday, January 7th, Greg Johnson sent out a follow-up message announcing the cancellation of Shawn’s program
  • Shawn released a letter later announcing the cancellation of his program on the “Heart of the Matter” web site
  • On January 8th I received a copy of the letter sent by Shawn McCraney to the station owner that has since been verified to be the one received by them.
  • On January 11th, today, I received a copy of the station’s official statement regarding the cancellation.

In the interest of total disclosure I am posting both the letter sent on January 2nd by Shawn to the station, including the proposed programming schedule, and the official response in their entirety here, as PDFs:

Also, over the last couple days the program that aired on January 1st has been made available as well:

So, now that everything is out and official, what do we know? Well, the letter from Shawn McCraney is caustic at points and expresses frustration over the idea of not being allowed to pursue this new emphasis. Greg Johnson’s messages still stand as clearly as before and seem to be most critical of the topic that Shawn had planned to cover. The program itself is pretty standard fare from what I can tell and while some may object to certain choices of Shawn’s with regards to language, it seems pretty tame  to my sensibilities and I don’t know if Shawn’s program could ever really have been considered children’s programming, given the content. The station’s response provides a lot of history about Shawn’s original coming to the station, some troubles he had in the past and the concern that the station had over Shawn’s unannounced decision to change direction. Given all this context I’m willing to walk back my previous opinion that the station over-reacted; although in a qualified way.

Had Shawn still been airing at the largesse of the station their desire to make sure he stayed on message with their desire for his program would seem perfectly reasonable. But, that situation apparently ended two years ago, and Shawn has been paying to have his program aired on TV20. Given that fact I tend to think he should have been given some license to deal with whatever topics he wanted to deal with. However, I understand the station’s concern that he did not clear this change with them first and that they previously turned down a program he wanted to air which addressed this same general topic. All that to say, I understand the station’s point of view and reasons for canceling Shawn’s program, as they’ve stated them.

I still believe the station should not have cancelled the program though. Shawn has always been a caustic figure, it is part of both his appeal and the reason why many dislike him. He’s similar, in many ways, to a radio “shock jock.” It would seem that were his method of criticism the heart of the reason for his cancellation it would have come sooner. The convergence of criticism over his style and the chosen topic seem to be unavoidable to deal with. The station’s letter cites their choice to air “Wretched” with Todd Friel, and “Word Pictures” as evidence of their willingness to host programming critical of Evangelicalism. The latter of these two programs I am not familiar with, but I am a fan of Friel’s program in general. To say that “Wretched” is a match for the systematic critique that Shawn was apparently planning doesn’t seem like an even comparison. Yes, “Wretched” mocks all kinds of problems within Evangelicalism; but it also goes after all kinds of other groups. But, “Wretched” does criticize Evangelicalism, so if the station wants that to be the extent of its self-critical programming then they can do that.

A staff person at the station has told me that they receive only a handful of calls regarding Greg Johnson’s email to pastors. Whether those played any role in the decision to cancel Shawn’s program is unclear, since they are not mentioned in the official response from the station. It seems unlikely that criticism of Shawn’s focus and possibly further criticism of his style from area pastors would not have tipped the scales to some degree. But, the station has stated their official reasons for the decision to cancel “Heart of the Matter,” and unless something else becomes known that’s the most that we’ll know.

In the end I’m still not a fan of Shawn’s style, but the topic he was planning to delve into is something that needs to be dealt with. There are lots of churches in Utah and throughout this country that lack strong biblical teaching, where musical worship is more of a concert than true worship, and where the sheep are not being adequately cared for or defended by their pastors. Shawn’s plan for 2013 could have been part of a very healthy bit of self-examination for the Evangelical community in Utah. It would have provided a opportunity for dialogue. Now, that needed self-examination will have to come by some other means, and hopefully it will still come.



UPDATE: 2012-01-13

Yesterday an additional update was posted to the Heart of the Matter web site by Shawn. You can read the update on Shawn’s website or here: HOTM January 12 Update. Shawn rightly identifies a lot of division that is surrounding the cancellation of his show. Such division was probably inevitable, given the circumstances, and some of it existed before the cancellation took place. I think this whole situation is perhaps reflective of a larger issues facing contemporary Christianity.

In Utah, and the rest of the United States, there are may questions about the future of Evangelicalism. With the failed attempt to unite Evangelicals around Mitt Romney, there are cracks appearing in the once, seemingly, mighty “Moral Majority.” A former co-worker of mine at the Oneida Baptist Institute once introduced me to the term Post-Evangelical. With the rise of the Emergent and Emerging movements within Evangelicalism it may be time to think about what it means to move beyond Evangelicalism. To move beyond the socio-political ecumenism and towards something more meaningful.

I’ve mused elsewhere that today’s Evangelicalism looks an awful lot like the Fundamentalism of the early twentieth century. It lacks the penchants of sectarianism and separatism, but it is no less combative or politically oriented. Even, the same concerns that were played out in the Scopes Trial of 1925 have been popping up periodically for over two decades now. The difference is that today’s Evangelicalism is far more ecumenical than the Fundamentalism of the 1920s. But, the similarities are no less striking.

Everything that is playing out in this situation could be instructive for other conflicts that may be coming, as well as for some that are already upon us.


UPDATE 2013-02-01

Over the last week or so I’ve had a number of items forwarded to me that have been published by Shawn and his ministry. It sounds like Shawn recognizes problems in the way he handled certain aspects of what transpired in the January 23 2013 Update from Shawn McCraney posted to the HOTM site last Wednesday. While it is very good to see Shawn publicly apologizing for errors in judgement, it still seems unfortunate that his show was cancelled over a set of matters that could have been handled via an on-air apology. But, hindsight is almosts always 20/20 and I am waiting patiently for Shawn to take up the task of critiquing Evangelicalism in 2013 that he seemed intent on continuing to pursue in the January 2013 Alathea Ministries Newsletter.