Liss: Some questions for those who say the solution is to arm teachers

Casey Liss, whose wife is a teacher, writes up a list of 35 practical questions that we’d need to have good answers to before we went the route of arming teachers to try to prevent more school shootings.

Just a taste:

  • Where does the money come from to buy firearms for these teachers?
  • Given most taxpayers won’t give money to cover basic school supplies, what makes you think they’ll be willing to give money for firearms?
  • Where do the guns get stored? How do we prevent children from getting them?
  • Are teachers allowed to shoot first? Or only after they hear gunfire?
  • How do teachers know who the good guy is, and who the bad guy is? How do we ensure there’s no friendly fire?

Sure, Casey’s got an opinion on this… but these are also practical questions that would need to be answered before anybody could roll this idea out in practice. It’s worth reading through the whole list.


Liss is More: A Series of Questions for Those That Advocate Arming Teachers In Order to Prevent Innocent Children from Being Slaughtered

Parkland

How long must we continue to sacrifice children on the altar of the Second Amendment?

As Christians, being “pro-life” must extend beyond the unborn life to care for all of life. Do we love our guns so much that we are unwilling to even allow studies of gun violence?

We must be Christians first and Americans later. Do we really think Jesus would say the solution is more guns?

Don’t say that we shouldn’t get political with our Christianity. Christian beliefs have political implications. As N. T. Wright says, to declare “Jesus is Lord” is to inherently say that “Caesar is not”. Our priorities and attitudes should be shaped by the Sermon on the Mount before the Bill of Rights.

Enough is enough. I’m not saying there is an easy solution, but allowing the unchecked proliferation of guns cannot be the answer.

Bullet points for a Wednesday morning: travel edition

It’s grey outside and I’m on business travel all week. Bring on the bullet points!

  • I’m ready to be done with this head cold. Bleh.
  • Normally on a business trip I’d be looking for a nice restaurant to hit for supper. Given that today is Valentine’s Day, I expect they’re all gonna be crazy busy tonight. I think I’ll hit the mall food court instead.
  • Here’s hoping my 11-year-old remembers to give her mom the card I left with her.
  • Oh and it’s Ash Wednesday. Thinking I’ll go to a service tonight.
  • I can’t remember the last time I’ve really gotten into a new album. Probably when the Hamilton soundtrack came out a couple years ago. As a guy who used to be buying a new CD every month or so this seems sad.
  • I gotta set myself a reminder that I’m leading worship this weekend… have everything planned but need to do some mental rehearsal.
  • Pitchers and catchers report today. Looking forward to another good season for the Cubs!
  • Before Hamilton, the last record I really fell in love with was Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs.
  • Wordsmithing documents in a 20-person committee is quite an experience.
  • Is it lunchtime yet?

Finished reading: where has 2018 gone already?

I start each year with the intent of writing up Finished Reading posts on a book-by-book basis. Then I find myself in the first week of February and realize I’m nine books behind already. So it’s compendium time. Here’s what I’ve ready in 2018 so far:

The Gospel Coalition has its #MeToo moment

The pace of sexual abuse allegations and resignations / firings in the wake of the #MeToo movement has been stunning. Since early October when Harvey Weinstein was deposed from his organization, executives, journalists, actors, athletes, and doctors with patterns of abuse have been uncovered and summarily fired, retired, and replaced.

Last week, the trial of US Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar provided the most heartbreaking story yet as 160 women gave victim impact statements, confronting a man who had abused each of them under the guise of providing medical treatment. (As many as 265 people have now come forward accusing Nassar of abuse.) Rachael Denhollander, a victim of Nassar’s as a teen, was the key witness in his prosecution and provided the capstone victim impact statement last Friday. In a 30-minute address in the courtroom, Denhollander spoke bluntly about the systems that had failed her and Nassar’s other victims, about her struggles to advocate for abuse victims, and then about the good news of the Gospel.

Denhollander’s statement went viral. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of Christians, from leaders to laymen, lionizing her courage and willingness to share the Gospel so publicly. But from a close reading of her statement, there was a question stuck in my head: she said that her victim advocacy “cost me my church”. What was that all about?

Yesterday, in a fantastic interview with Christianity Today, the other shoe dropped. Rachael revealed that the church she lost was a church “directly involved in restoring” Sovereign Grace founder C. J. Mahaney, who left his pastorate after being accused of covering up sexual abuse within his church network. She says that she and her husband were told by multiple church elders that this church ‘wasn’t the place for them’ if they were going to speak out for abuse victims that way.

This hits close to home.

Mahaney was a council member of The Gospel Coalition (TGC), a group that is strongly influential in the evangelical circles I’ve been in all my life. TGC leaders have consistently supported Mahaney, with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler making jokes about the accusations against Mahaney while introducing him as a “guest speaker” at the “Together for the Gospel” (T4G) conference in 2016. Mahaney resigned from the TGC council after the abuse scandal broke, but has slowly, without publicly addressing the allegations, worked his way back into good standing with the group. He is now back as a regular headline plenary speaker at T4G 2018.

Mahaney isn’t the only T4G plenary speaker in the penumbra of this kind of allegations. A former student at The Master’s College, founded by John MacArthur, has come forward to allege that the leaders of that college forced her into a “biblical counseling” session with her abuser, and then threatened church discipline if she refused to drop charges, eventually kicking her out of the school.

It’s time for The Gospel Coalition to come to grips with their own #MeToo moment.

TGC is filled with men (and yes, it’s only men) who have served long in ministry and been helpful to many. I’ve personally benefited from the teaching of MacArthur and Matt Chandler and TGC founder Don Carson over the years. But in this cultural moment, their willing blindness to these issues is inexcusable, and their silence is deafening. Indeed, this planned T4G 2018 seminar leads me to believe they still really don’t get it:

We can do better.

How loudly would it speak to the watching world if Rachael Denhollander were invited to be a plenary speaker at T4G18? For the leaders of the theological movement that Rachael and her husband are a part of to recognize their failures in the area of addressing abuse, to repent, and to hear the truth spoken by their sister?

Rachael is a survivor of abuse and mistreatment from the hands of both a despicable doctor and a group of church leaders more intent on protecting themselves than their sheep. Her words cry out to them like the blood of Cain’s brother calling from the ground. From the end of her interview with CT:

First, the gospel of Jesus Christ does not need your protection. It defies the gospel of Christ when we do not call out abuse and enable abuse in our own church. Jesus Christ does not need your protection; he needs your obedience. Obedience means that you pursue justice and you stand up for the oppressed and you stand up for the victimized, and you tell the truth about the evil of sexual assault and the evil of covering it up.

Second, that obedience costs. It means that you will have to speak out against your own community. It will cost to stand up for the oppressed, and it should. If we’re not speaking out when it costs, then it doesn’t matter to us enough.

Rachael Denhollander is a hero and example to us all. It’s time for The Gospel Coalition to admit their complicity in these things and show true repentance. Come on, guys, set an example for us. Invite Rachael to speak at T4G. Let’s show the world what it can really mean to be together for the Gospel.

Positive Politics: Religious Liberty

It’s been too long since I’ve written in this series. So let’s tackle something that I’m sure isn’t controversial at all – religious liberty.

Free exercise

I think this part is actually pretty straightforward. As guaranteed by the First Amendment, each person should have free exercise of their religion. This will feel strange at times as our country, which has traditionally been majority Christian, becomes more diverse. But at the basic level, we should welcome and spend time getting to know our neighbors of other faiths, and encourage the building and protection of mosques and temples in the same way we care for Christian churches.

“Congress shall make no law…”

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…

Here’s where it gets a little more challenging. What does it look like to respect an establishment of religion? What about this “separation of church and state”?

From a Christian standpoint, we first need to have a clear recognition of how closely tied our American governments have been to the Christian church and Christian principles. This isn’t inherently a bad thing. However, it gets more and more difficult as our country becomes more diverse and as the general population becomes less and less devotedly (or at all) Christian.

The positive influence that Christianity can bring to this country must come from the church, not from the government. People will be drawn to Christ through the beauty and love of the Gospel message, not because Christians win legal battles to have school-sponsored Christian prayers and exclusive access to the city park for a Christian nativity scene.

But what about…

The current sticky places in the religious liberty discussion are where evolving cultural views of civil rights and protected classes come into conflict with sincerely held religious convictions. So let’s talk about just a couple of them.

The Gay Wedding Cake

This one is currently before the Supreme Court. Gay couple wants to order a custom wedding cake. Christian baker refuses. State prosecutes the baker for violating anti-discrimination laws. What’s a man to do?

If it were me personally, I think I would’ve been OK baking the cake. I’m not a professional baker, but I am a musician who has occasionally been paid for playing at weddings, receptions, and the like. And I would be OK with providing my musical services at the reception after a same-sex wedding. But that really just speaks to the state of my convictions, not the overall principle.

I’m still on board with Andrew Sullivan’s summary statement from last month: if the Christians had been more Christian, or the liberals more liberal, we wouldn’t be in this situation. There’s no question that our societal views are changing. What we need in an age of significant shifts is time for adjustment. Bend a branch too hard and too quickly and it will snap and cause significant damage. Apply pressure gently over time and it will accommodate the changes.

Contraceptive Coverage

The Hobby Lobby case is the exemplar here. The law requires employers to provide a basic level of health insurance, including contraceptive coverage for women. The owners of Hobby Lobby have a religious objection to the use of some forms of contraception and refuse to provide the coverage. Slightly more challenging is the Little Sisters of the Poor case, in which a Catholic order that runs a group of homes for the low-income elderly similarly refuses to participate in providing contraceptive coverage, even to the point of refusing to sign a form saying they won’t provide it, because that form would then trigger government coverage, which the Little Sisters believe would make them complicit in the sin.

In these cases I’d like to sidestep things a little bit.

First, we need to take a long look at the rights of corporations. While corporate entities are necessary for the economy, the pattern of extending the rights of persons to corporations has a weakening effect on our democracy. When corporate entities are entitled to free political speech (spending), the richest can quickly overwhelm the political messaging arena in ways that ensure they get richer. With the Hobby Lobby case, the court allowed for corporations to exercise the religious rights of their owners. As a basic principle I would suggest that for-profit corporations should not receive all of these rights reserved for the people.

Second, the United States should get away from the employer-provided health care system altogether. Having health coverage tied to employment makes less and less sense in an economy that is moving toward more fluid employment situations and more self-employment / freelance work. While that discussion belongs in another post focusing specifically on health care, I bring it up here just to note that in a system where health coverage was not tied to employment, Christian employers would not be put in the position of needing to make decisions on covering procedures that conflict with their beliefs.

Evaluation

So let’s evaluate these against the five-principle framework.

1. Is it good for the poor?

Well, yeah, on principle free exercise of religion is good for everybody, including the poor.

2. Is it good for the planet?

Same answer.

3. Does it promote peace?

A focus on true religious tolerance would indeed help promote peace.

4. Does it challenge the powerful?
5. Does it let the marginalized have a seat at the table to speak for themselves?

If we follow the line of thinking that free exercise and free speech are rights that properly belong to individuals and not all corporations, then yes, it would be a challenge to the powerful.

Beck: bored with his doubts

The trouble with the incessant deconstruction at work within progressive Christianity is that, left unchecked, all it tends to produce are agnostic Democrats.

Strong words from one of my favorites, Richard Beck, this morning. Beck observes that the continual deconstruction of progressive Christianity doesn’t necessarily end, well, Christianly. And he does so in his typical relaxed fashion.

I remain very sympathetic to progressive Christianity.

But a Christianity that doesn’t believe in anything–a Christianity that dilutes and dilutes and dilutes until you have a “Church of Christ Without Christ”–that Christianity just doesn’t interest me anymore.

I’ve made a long and hard journey carrying my doubts, and now I’m just bored by them.


Journal Week 3: Losing Interest in Progressive Christianity

My 2017 reading in review

Just a quick post to summarize my reading and a few favorites this year. I read a total of 71 books in 2017, which I’ll split up into fiction, non-fiction, and theology. I’ll highlight no more than two in each category as particular favorites.

Fiction

  • Broken Trust – W.E.B. Griffin
  • Bounty – Michael Byrnes
  • The Whistler – John Grisham
  • The Believer – Joakim Zander
  • Last Year – Robert Charles Wilson
  • Dune – Frank Herbert
  • Before the Fall – Noah Hawley
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon – Kelly Barnhill
  • The Shadow Land – Elizabeth Kostova
  • Walkaway – Cory Doctorow
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers
  • A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers
  • Parable of the Sower – Octavia E. Butler
  • Till We Have Faces – C. S. Lewis (re-read)
  • The Switch – Joseph Finder
  • Price of Duty – Dale Brown
  • Point of Contact – Mike Maden
  • The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. – Neal Stephenson
  • City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett
  • Boneshaker – Cherie Priest
  • Autonomous – Annalee Newitz
  • The Berlin Project – Gregory Benford
  • Over Sea, Under Stone – Susan Cooper
  • The Force – Don Winslow
  • The Quantum Spy – David Ignatius
  • The Dark Net – Benjamin Percy
  • The Punch Escrow – Tal M. Klein

The Force is a well-written crime story featuring a flawed detective. A really engaging page-turner where I didn’t know where the story was going when I was half-way through.

The Punch Escrow is a sci-fi thriller that takes one reasonable conceit and runs with it to great effect. A really fun novel to close out the year.

Non-Fiction

  • Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America – Ibram X. Kendi
  • A People’s History of the United States – Howard Zinn
  • Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America – Michael Wear
  • The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion – Jonathan Haidt
  • Instrumental: A memoir of Madness, Medication, and Music – James Rhodes
  • A Wretched and Precarious Situation: In Search of the Last Arctic Frontier – David Welky
  • Now – The Physics of Time – Richard A. Muller
  • The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies – and What They Have Done to Us – David Thomson
  • City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York – Tyler Anbinder
  • A Natural History of the Piano – Stuart Isacoff
  • The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science – Julie Des Jardins
  • The Silk Roads: A New History of the World – Peter Frankopan
  • Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
  • The World Will Be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of Dorothy Day – Kate Hennessy
  • Boeing Versus Airbus: The Inside Story of the Greatest International Competition in Business – John Newhouse
  • Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich – Norman Ohler
  • The Givenness of Things – Marilynne Robinson
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption – Bryan Stevenson
  • The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America – Richard Rothstein
  • Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic – Sam Quinones
  • The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris – David McCullough
  • Movies are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings – Josh Larsen
  • The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II – Svetlana Alexievich
  • A Colony in a Nation – Chris Hayes
  • Getting Religion: Faith, Culture & Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama – Kenneth L. Woodward
  • Khrushchev: The Man and His Era – William Taubman
  • Abraham Joshua Heschel: Prophetic Witness – Edward K. Kaplan
  • A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples – Ilan Pappe
  • Spiritial Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972 – Edward K. Kaplan
  • How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds – Alan Jacobs
  • The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency – Chris Whipple
  • Nevertheless: A Memoir – Alec Baldwin

I started off the year with a bang reading Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning. Stunning writing about the history of racism in America. So much that we as middle-class white Americans aren’t familiar with. But the one that will likely stick with me even more and provoke some re-reads came late in the year: Alan Jacobs’ How to Think. In this time of “fake news” and incessant online argument, Jacobs provides some much-needed sanity and advice.

Theology

  • How to Survive a Shipwreck – Jonathan Martin
  • Introduction to the Old Testament – J. Alberto Soggin
  • The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion – N.T. Wright
  • Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission – David E. Fitch
  • Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life – Tish Harrison Warren
  • The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together – Jared C. Wilson
  • People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue – Preston Sprinkle
  • The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? – David Bentley Hart
  • Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony – Richard Bauckham
  • A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story – Diana Butler Bass
  • The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader – Mark Pierson
  • Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News – Brian Zahnd

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham will permanently change how I read the Gospels. His case that most people named by name in the Gospels were specifically named because they were known eyewitnesses puts the accounts in a new light.

And I had heard good stuff about D.B. Hart’s little volume The Doors of the Sea for a long time but just never gotten to it. In it he uses the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 to frame his response to the age-old question of how a good, omnipotent God can allow such evil and suffering. My theological upbringing has been pretty Calvinist, but Hart’s very non-Calvinist approach (he’s Orthodox) provided a more compelling and beautiful explanation than anything I’ve previously read.

Summary

On the whole, I feel like I got a lot of variety this year and read a lot of interesting books. I do have a handful that I started and for some reason bogged down in and need to come back to – Greg Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God is on that list… to be picked up sometime soon.

Finished reading: 2017 year-end edition

I’ve gotten seriously slack at listing all the books I’ve been reading. Consider this my year-end catch-up post. (Not to be confused with my year-in-review post which will come next week sometime.)

Here’s what I’ve finished reading since last time I posted:

Fiction

  • City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
  • Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
  • Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
  • The Berlin Project by Gregory Benford
  • Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
  • The Force by Don Winslow
  • The Quantum Spy by David Ignatius

Non-Fiction

  • A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples by Ilan Pappe
  • Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America, 1940-1972 by Edward K. Kaplan
  • Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God by Brian Zahnd
  • The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Chris Whipple
  • How to Think by Alan Jacobs

I’m currently reading The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein, which if it stays on track will climb pretty high up my favorites list for the year. Stay tuned!

Some thoughts on my social media fast

Back in November I decided it was time for a social media break. Facebook and Twitter were turning into frustrations that caused me more to feel fractured than to be too helpful. So I deleted the apps from my phone, closed the usually-open tabs in my browser, and decided to abstain until Christmas.

There were a few things I was afraid I’d miss – things that had dissuaded me from doing a fast like this before now – chiefly updates and photos from family members on Facebook, and staying in touch with a handful of friends for whom Twitter is our primary communication means. But for a month, it was definitely time to give it a try.

A month later it turns out that I didn’t miss all that much. Yeah, there were a few pictures from family members. I was able to catch up with those pretty quickly. The biggest miss was indeed the Twitter friends. There were a handful of times when I had the itch to post something to Twitter or FB and felt like I had no place to put it… but then I remembered my blog.

There were some unexpected positive aspects to the fast. Within the first few days I got text messages from friends who never otherwise text me. That was fun. And I spent some more time actually writing stuff on my blog. I kicked off a topic series that could eat up far more time than I have to actually do it justice. And for family pictures I set up an iMessage thread with my parents and all my siblings and it’s been a lot of fun, too.

On December 26th I reinstalled Tweetbot on my phone. My first step was to unfollow a lot of accounts. I had been following nearly 600; I cut out nearly half of them, trying to retain only real people I know personally or through one of my online communities. I may still need to cut down a few more noisy accounts, but it’s a little easier to tolerate being a Twitter completionist when I pull it up after a few hours’ break and there are only a hundred or so tweets to read through.

I’m not sure I really want to get back on to Facebook. I will stick around the Christ and Pop Culture group at least, but if it were to have a separate platform (which it won’t, for reasons that I understand), I would probably just jettison FB altogether.

I do want to spend more time writing on my blog – something that seems far more productive than being endlessly distracted by social media. Hopefully this taste of social media absence will help me set more reasonable levels of interaction in 2018.