Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The unaddressed issue surrounding abortion

Well, another anniversary of Roe v. Wade has come and gone, with more bellyaching from both side about the legality of abortion. One side considers it a necessary medical procedure; the other, where my own sympathies lie, murder.

One thing I can tell you: The abortion issue cannot, and ultimately will not, be addressed unless and until one thing is addressed -- dysfunctional relationships between men and women.

That should be obvious, because pregnancy happens due to sexual contact. And what causes improper sexual contact? Well that's the $64,000 question.

Some would consider an over-sexualized society, where women are objectified and men become predators, the culprit. While I think there's some merit to that, I think the real cause is that men and women don't relate to each other in a healthy manner -- which leads to women "advertising" themselves as playthings and men taking advantage of that.

That happens when girls don't get the nurturing and validation they need from Dad or other strong male figure -- in many situations there's no man around anyway -- so they go through life having no idea what a safe, healthy male looks like. A New York Times story about pregnant 13-year-olds noted that the "fathers" tend to be four our five years older.

On the male side, boys similarly don't learn to treat a woman like a princess because Dad's relationship with Mom is less than ideal, and as a result they get their sexual education from the street.

Much has been made in the "pro-life" world about Planned Parenthood's marketing abortion especially in the African-American community; even my own pastor has labeled that "genocide." With all due respect, I'm not in agreement with his analysis.

In large part because of historic racism black men are often beaten down by life, cherished and respected by no one -- they often don't achieve academically or vocationally in their youth because too often they're seen as troublemakers and don't have access to mentoring. That causes rage, which often leads to resentment toward the world because they can't make heads or tails of life.

And that ultimately leads to the unhealthy relationships with women, who often are willing to have sex with them but have no use for them otherwise. Obviously such men don't make good fathers, so many women who have children out of wedlock get rid of them. One single mother I worked with two decades ago wouldn't marry her children's father because "I don't want to raise three children."

So what does this have to do with abortion? Well, I understand that a majority of aborted black babies are boys. I'm convinced that women have abortions because those children, especially sons, would continually remind them of the bad relationship with the father that created it.

This is just one reason why abortion cannot be dealt with by legislation alone. We can legislate all we want but it won't stop people from having illicit sex and, thus, women and girls from getting pregnant. And appeals for "moral behavior" won't work, either -- instead of simply saying "no," they have to say "yes" to something else.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Revival? Not just yet

In an earlier post, I had mentioned that spiritual revival in the American evangelical church was imminent because, with the demise of the national Republican Party in the last general election, it would finally abandon its idols of cultural and political power.

I was reminded last night why it hasn't happened just yet.

After a singles Bible study at my church, most of the attendees repaired to an Olive Garden for dinner and conversation, and one of the other men said that the media gave vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin a raw deal, something that she recently echoed. As I'm in the media, I immediately objected, responding that her own shortcomings doomed the campaign -- and then a heated discussion (I really wouldn't call it an argument) ensued. Among other things, he accused president-elect Barack Obama of being willing to "talk to terrorists" and thus endangering our national security, never mind that Obama wants to address the issues that spawn terrorism in the first place.

Anyway, Christians of the politically conservative variety, such as my dinner companion, have long complained about lack of respect from the greater society, usually failing to notice that they themselves have acted arrogantly toward people not of their party, and I made that clear to him. Of course he didn't want to deal with that, which didn't surprise me in the least, because scapegoating is far easier than self-reflection.

The bigger issue is that Christians' insecurity and spiritual immaturity, the results of a refusal to trust God and His Word fully, are sabotaging our legitimate witness. Our obsession with cultural authority has led us down a path away from the "shalom" that our LORD desires and causes us to regard anyone who doesn't agree with us as an enemy, negating the grace of God through the cross of Jesus Christ. And our God is not obligated to bless that.

You see, many if not most people believe that revival will result in more "moral" behavior in society and hope and expect that the Holy Spirit will simply sweep non-believers into the church. It can't work that way because first God needs to deal with the idols already in the church before He can move -- because He will and should never share His glory with another. Last night was a reminded why, though I believe He will eventually move, He has not done so just yet.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The myth of 'compassionate conservatism'

I recently joined the social networking site Facebook and looked around for people I might be acquainted with. In the process I found the page for one woman I've known since the 1990s from the Christian singles community here in Pittsburgh; in the slot for "political stance" she had marked "compassionate conservative."

That took me back to eight years ago, when then-president-elect George W. Bush described himself as the same and promised programs that would reflect that.

Here's the problem with "compassionate conservatism" -- it doesn't really exist. I'm not at all saying that conservatives cannot be compassionate, at least on an individual level; however, "compassion" cannot be shaped into an ideology.

To be truly compassionate a person must "have been there" -- or at least be willing to "go there" -- and also help to determine a person's real needs and how to address them. Committed conservatives, on the other hand, focus on how to do that while still maintaining its agenda of shrinking political involvement. Put another way, "compassionate conservatism" focuses on what it wants to give and how it does so, sabotaging its stated intentions.

The concept of "compassionate conservatism" flows from the suspect narrative that "Great Society" programs instituted in the 1960s have actually hurt the poor, and it proposes that such diaconal remedies be taken over by private charities, generally churches. In fact, President Bush pushed a bill that would have hopefully done just that.

Moreover, as envisioned by Marvin Olasky, editor of the ultra-conservative World magazine and a journalism professor at the University of Texas who had advised President Bush when he was governor of Texas, under such a program the government would pay churches to do ministry -- and hopefully, in the process, convert the poor to his version of Christianity, making people more "moral" so we wouldn't have to worry about them anymore.

However, such things as job training and college grants paid for by tax dollars have actually done more for the poor than anything conservatives have attempted; you don't have a black middle-class outside the South without them. But those programs were cut in the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan, the first modern conservative president, was in office.

More important, "compassionate conservatism" wrongly assumes that the poor are poor primarily because of bad choices on their part; in fact, however, many simply don't have the opportunity to better themselves because of lack of resources and, eventually, hope.

Beginning in the 1950s, for openers, federal policy helped to create, for example, the disparity between rich and poor by making loans available to folks to buy new homes in what are now suburban areas, and the interstate highway system was built at that time to make center cities easily accessible to people with wheels. Those basically emptied out most cities of wealthier whites because economic and political clout -- including, of course, jobs -- left with them. Furthermore, those loans were somehow not made available to African-Americans, so center cities became blacker and poorer; the lack of economic opportunity in part due to racism caused families to split because Dad often had trouble finding good work, creating dissension at home because he then could not exercise his God-given authority as the head of the household.

In other words, we're looking at a problem that had its basis in political decisions that conservatives themselves often benefited from (because suburbs are generally conservative). And in fact, "compassionate conservatism" as practiced was designed to get the "rich" to keep their money and cultural power in the process. No real compassion there, only institutionalized hypocrisy.

Also keep in mind that the civil-rights movement, which conservatives generally ignored or opposed, was not at first about rich vs. poor (that came later). The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor when the legendary bus boycott broke out, actually was a high-class congregation comprising the professional and mercantile class of that city; yet its members regularly felt the sting of segregation.

You see, in this case true compassion seeks not just relief from immediate circumstances but a restructuring of society to make sure that people have a chance to make their own way down the road. If there is a barrier that keeps a friend from getting a job or into a school, the compassionate person will not only commisserate with that friend but will work to have that barrier removed. "Compassionate conservatism" simply doesn't address those barriers, which is why no one's talking about it today.

Monday, January 5, 2009

What's really wrong with Focus on the Family Action's screed

You are likely aware of the 40-page communique put out right before the election by James Dobson's Focus on the Family Action that gave a fictional scenario about the results of an Obama presidency by the year 2012 -- same-gender marriage legalized, Iran attacking Israel and other things -- that has rightly drawn a lot of fire from other evangelical Christians for its fear-mongering, arrogance and misinformation. Of course, FOTFA has defended it as only a "possibility" based on Barack Obama's past voting record.

But here's the real problem with it: It's false prophecy.

By prophecy, I don't mean predicting the future, though that's part of it -- I mean speaking the word of God at a particular time in history, especially to the church of Jesus Christ. Having read a synopsis, I don't see anywhere FOTFA is encouraging Christians to keep the faith despite hard times, which is the heart of prophecy. I read only about "what's going to happen to our country?" -- which tells me where the focus is. Or, more accurately, isn't.

When I read the Scriptures, especially the parts about the early church being hassled simply for existing, I don't read that it reacted with alarm to the evil going on around it. Rather, it simply announced, by deed as well as word, the kingdom of God, which is greater than all the powers that seemed to come against it. It got to a point where Christians were sacrificing their very lives for the cause of Christ, and that willingness to do so eventually caused the Roman Empire to crumble.

I see no such trust in God in that screed. Like all "religious right" organizations, FOTFA makes the mistake of placing its trust in cultural authority, believing that doing so would make it easier to do ministry. But in the process it seeks to avoid spiritual warfare, which God will never allow because He wants to be the focus. Basically, it doesn't speak for God -- and I thank Him that millions of Christians understand that.