Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion

Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion

December 2013 in the USA was marred by the controversy surrounding the comments made by Phil Robertson. Known to most through his family’s wildly popular reality-TV series on A&E, “Duck Dynasty”, Robertson made waves in his GQ interview where he made the following two comments.

First regarding the moral decay and acceptance of sinful behavior in America,

 phil_robertson“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong… Sin becomes fine. Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

He went on to state his inability to understand same-sex attraction,

phil_robertson“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

His personal opinion, described by most detractors as “anti-gay”, garnered a quick response from the A&E Network which suspended Robertson from the show, but shortly thereafter reversed their decision due to public pressure.

I had no intent of ever writing about this story because of the plethora of articles already written. But today, as I was doing some research for my ethics course, I read some comments written more than a century ago that have relevance to the conversation because they give us perspective beyond our culture.

John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) was a Utilitarian thinker who wrote one of his most influential essays in 1869 titled, “On Liberty“. Although I do not share Mill’s worldview, we live in an age where some political activists find it necessary to silence dissenting voices in favor of “tolerance”.  We use the word “bullying” to describe speech that makes us uncomfortable and we cry “racism” to incite a Government response and justify the silencing of speech. In response to Phil Robertson’s comments, Piers Morgan, a British citizen who came to America to expand his wealth tweeted out the following.

But that is just it, we don’t need our Constitution to protect popular speech, the 1st Amendment exists to protect the unpopular speech of “vile bigots.”

While it is understandable that Morgan, coming from a country that does not constitutionally protect speech, is ignorant of the principles upon which America was founded, it is disturbing that so many US citizens lack the educational context for why free speech is so important. It is precisely because society changes its opinions about what is “vile” that the US Constitution protects all speech. On just the issue of gay-rights alone, look how quickly American sensibilities have shifted. Some, like Brian Jencunas of the Huffington Post, see these changes as a positive.

America has come a long way since 1997, when ABC stopped promoting Ellen DeGeneres’s television show after criticism about its depiction of homosexuality. Back then, gay marriage was illegal in every state and sodomy laws in 16 states criminalized gay sex. Today, homosexual characters are a mainstay of cable and network television, gay marriage is legal in 18 states, and sodomy laws are unconstitutional.

And this all points to why Phil Robertson’s comments must be allowed to stand without fear. In contrast to these current trends, I think some of Mill’s words from chapter 2 of his essay are worth remembering.

john_stuart_millLet us suppose, therefore, that the government is entirely at one with the people, and never thinks of exerting any power of coercion unless in agreement with what it conceives to be their voice. But I deny the right of the people to exercise such coercion, either by themselves or by their government. The power itself is illegitimate. The best government has no more title to it than the worst. It is as noxious, or more noxious, when exerted in accordance with public opinion, than when in opposition to it. If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

In other words, to silence one voice is to silence all. No matter how many public opinion polls we can cite, to silence the voice of dissent is always an abuse of power.

What if Phil Robertson were not a Millionaire with a popular TV show?  What if he was not able to stand by his convictions for fear of losing his livelihood?  Robertson would have survived this scandal no matter the outcome, but other men of lesser means and popularity would have been destroyed. The Constitution exists for this very reason to protect the unpopular speech of every citizen who does not have  wealth and power, but only their voice.

Mill goes on to write about why it is so important for a society to give place to the small voice of disagreement.

john_stuart_millBut the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

In the dozens of articles I have read these past weeks denouncing Phil Robertson, I have yet to read a single one that makes a reasoned argument for “why” he is wrong. The response from those who called for his show to be cancelled have simply been to call Robertson names such as “Redneck”, to label his speech as “hate”, threaten his family with death, or to shame anyone who dares to agree with him as a “bully” and a “bigot.” Lacking the ability to reason, people turn to labels that carry strong political overtones in an effort to threaten people into silence. The result, as Mill points out, is that we, as a society, lose the opportunity to exchange truth for error and we lose the hope of gaining clearer perspective by the collision of our error.

It is my hope that in 2014 we will do more than “tolerate” others with whom we disagree, but that we will learn to dialogue, share a meal, and see the “other” person, flaws and all, as loved by God.

*Photo credit, GQ Magazine.
Shhhh… dont tell the ACLU, but “Happy Holy Days”

Shhhh… dont tell the ACLU, but “Happy Holy Days”

What is all the fuss about?  I don’t think there is a “war” on Chistmas, but culture is changing and that is sometimes hard for people to take. Personally, I don’t mind if people say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” because both are references to the religious tradition of Christ’s birth.

As American society trends toward secularization, the meaning behind words, customs and traditions is slowly lost. Shhhh… don’t tell the ACLU or all the public schools banning “Christmas” carols, but the word “Holiday” is from Old English “hāligdæg” and means “Holy Days”.  The word “holiday” commemorates the holy nature of the season and the word “Holiday” has just as much, if not more, religious meaning than the term “Christmas”.

Knowing the meaning of “Holiday” makes the irony of the now ubiquitous seasonal rants by secular-humanists all the more humorous. Take, for example, this ABC article entitled, “Happy Holidays, There Is No God.”  The article mentions one atheist groups endeavor called, the “godless holiday campaign.”

So what this particular group of people is really advertising is a “godless Holy Day campaign.”  Really?… a ‘holy day’ to remember nothing is holy?  Too funny!  And the reporter who titled the article really wrote, “Happy Holy Days, There is No God.”  What does this tell you about the state of journalism?

So the next time an ACLU-intimidated store clerk wishes you a “Happy Holiday”, just smile and rejoice and wish them a “Happy Holiday” in return. Words have meaning and this “Holiday” season is truly a happy celebration of  the most Holy God and the birth of His son Jesus Christ!

Ghostwriting And The Sin of Idolatry

Recent new of plagiarism by Mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll has led to a flurry of blog posts, but it all began when Syndicated Christian radio host Janet Mefferd confronted Driscoll with examples of the plagiarized content on her Nov. 21 radio broadcast. Driscoll quickly attacked Medford as “grumpy” and denied her allegations. Supporters of Driscoll rushed to his defense, detractors pounced, but more importantly thoughtful people began to discuss the lack of integrity in “Christian” publishing.

Did Mark Driscoll plagiarize? Warren Throckmorton has a series of articles on his Patheos blog that digs into the details surrounding 4 books by Driscoll that contain questionable passages. My assessment, as a professor, is that Driscoll did plagiarize, but most likely it was due to sloppy practice and a push to publish more materials than he could possibly manage. Similar thoughts are shared by many writers including the folks like Kate Tracy at Christianity Today.

But more important than Driscoll and discussion of plagiarism, are the deeper issues of pride that have brought us to this place where men and women who cant write, hire people who can and then stamp their name on the work. Much like the fiction of the Victoria Secret model, “famous” writers create a fiction about their intelligence to impress the world with a false image of who they really are. 

John Piper has weighed in on this issue and Throckmorton chronicled his various Tweets on the topic.

Andy Crouch also has a thoughtful article in CT challenging Christians to a higher ethic in our publishing practices.

All this is to set the stage for today’s conversation on the deeper issue of Ghostwriting. In this LIVE discussion Jim Belcher, author of “Deep Church” and I take these issues head-on and answer the question, “Is Ghostwriting a form of Christian Idolatry?”

Praying in Community: Giving Voice to the Heart of Our Father

Praying in Community: Giving Voice to the Heart of Our Father

This 6 lesson series is designed to help every disciple of Christ master the art of communal prayer. So much of our culture emphasizes the private nature faith, that we have forgotten the power of praying in groups. This series has been used in my own ministry to help both the brand new Christians and the mature Christians experience the power of praying as a church Family. Each lesson is designed to last 1 1/2 hours. Unlike most group studies, this material puts an equal emphasis on teaching the mind and engaging the spirit. Each lesson teaches one of six disciplines;

  1. The Prayer of Jesus
  2. The Prayer of Brokenness
  3. The Prayer of Evangelism
  4. The Prayer of Healing
  5. The Prayer of Intercession
  6. The Prayer of Persistence
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There is a Wideness in God’s Mercy

There is a Wideness in God’s Mercy

Lately I have been meditating on the words of this poem written by the Calvinist turned Roman Catholic, Frederick William Faber, 1862.

If you have ever suffered under the teaching that the American form of Liberty is the greatest form of good; then this poem is for you.

If you have ever struggled with pain and believed that this life was all there is; then this poem is for you.

If you have ever been disappointed in God, thinking your mind has reached the limits of God; then this poem is for you.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.

There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than in heaven;
there is no place where earth’s failings
have such kind judgment given.

There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man’s mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.

If our love were but more faithful,
we should take him at his word;

and our life would be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.
and our life would be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.

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