Monday, May 25, 2009

How the anti-abortion movement cooperates with the culture

Over the weekend and while visiting another blog, one of the other posters accused me of selling out to the prevailing culture because I didn't take a stronger, more militant anti-abortion stance. While I do oppose legal abortion, I responded that the movement has itself sold out in that way.

That post reminded me why, despite my belief that abortion is morally wrong and should be made illegal, I've never been involved. Far from transforming the culture, the movement has generally been transformed by it -- and thus has become generally ineffective. The reason is that it has focused like a laser beam on only that, ignoring other issues surrounding the sanctity of human life, and thus cannot reconcile its stated goals with its tactics.

I was actually stunned to learn why the "religious right" even adopted the issue of abortion in the first place -- as moral cover for its more nefarious goals: It started in response to the Carter Administration's siccing the Internal Revenue Service on private Christian academies in the South that had sprung up the decade before in response to court-ordered desegregation in public schools.

Anyway, the movement became more active in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan as president, the assumption being that he would appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices that would overturn Roe v. Wade. It got to the point where fighting abortion seemed to be the only function of the evangelical church, with people getting "saved" and almost immediately sent out on protests. Eventually, as time came and went and no serious challenges to Roe were being made, some people decided that more radical action was needed -- enter the so-called ministry called Operation Rescue.

All that, however, went by the board when Bill Clinton became president, and by this time battle fatigue set in.

The first problem is that the Scripture never tells us to "take over" the culture; while in this country we have the right to vote and demonstrate, that doesn't mean that we Christians should demand to have our voices heard and threaten those who don't toe our line. Rather, the Christian faith is by definition counter-cultural -- we do things differently and for different reasons, chief of which is the reality that, unless a person actually knows God, he or she simply cannot consistently obey Biblical principles. We should do what we do because we answer to a different King, not because we want to make this world into a monastery -- eventually, the "world" will rebel.

So what does this have to to with abortion? Plenty. First, we believers should protect, nurture and treasure each other and thus not leave people vulnerable to sexual activity in the first place. Then, we should clearly promote the sanctity of all of life -- minorities, the aged, the indigent -- by arguing and working for just treatment for everyone. (And that doesn't raise money or outrage -- which is the point.) It's not simply about changing laws; it's about subverting culture so that God will be glorified.

Decades ago I had a brief correspondence with a staff member of a major ministry that, like others in those days, was obsessed with ending legal abortion. She asked me about how I could stand before God in the judgment and justify "[letting] those babies die." I responded, "I'd rather hear that question than 'Why did you not reflect Me?'"

That's the bottom line. Because if we continue to allow the culture to determine our response we end up playing their game by their rules -- and we will eventually lose. Best rather to seek God for His will and operating out of His unlimited resources.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Some thoughts on black masculinity, part 3

In the 1990s, an ideology called "compassionate conservatism" became widely talked about in Christian circles, especially in dealing with the urban crisis. The idea was to provide churches with the means to do ministry, hopefully in the process to get enough people "saved" and discipled so that the 'hood would get cleaned up and we "wouldn't have to worry about them anymore."

Nice, in theory -- but, for reasons I've already mentioned, it can't work.

Mere "salvation" does not fill the hole in people's souls as the result of a lack of warmth, nurturing and validation. A man with several children by different mothers all of a sudden isn't going to be able to raise any of them properly just because he becomes a "mature" Christian, nor will any of those children necessarily grow up to be strong people in their own right. Religion in this case can be -- indeed, often has been -- yet another addictive substance (read: idolatry) if deeper emotional issues aren't addressed. There's a saying that if you have trouble relating to your earthly father you'll also have trouble relating to your Heavenly Father.

Boys especially need a knowledge of who they are and what they're about, a sense of belonging and a belief that they can achieve. But, because it's often dominated by women, the institutional church today often cannot do that properly -- often the focus is on behavior, usually enforced in a negative fashion, which can be stifling. (No wonder why men regardless of race or class often leave the church.)

Above all, males need something to do and to work for. Years ago I used to question the idea of reserving certain church leadership roles for men -- until I saw the results up close. In my current and childhood denominations only men are ordained as pastors and elders, and in my current church only men serve as ushers, offering collectors and communion stewards (I do the last regularly -- and love it). Basically, boys need to be given not only responsibility but also the tools to exercise it.

And this is why racial justice is so vitally important. Black men especially need to know that, if they work hard and keep their nose clean, they will be not only rewarded but also respected -- with money, promotions and the authority that goes along with them.

I don't think it's any coincidence that the civil-rights movement did more for black men than anything in history -- they came up with it; they strategized; they marched; they were tested in battle -- and today we laud folks like Martin Luther King Jr. as heroes. John Eldredge's "The Way of the Wild Heart" mentions that young Christian men need "epic Christianity"; the movement became that for me.

Basically, black men especially need a sense of dignity and destiny, and Christianity can do that only if it recognizes that.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Some thoughts on black masculinity, part 2

In a previous entry I referred to "fatherlessness" -- that is, not so much not having a literal father around but a lack of established older men around to show boys just how to grow and become centered in their masculinity. One of the major consequences is the high number of illegitimate births in the African-American community, now at around 70 percent nationwide. Most people probably think it's because black males are naturally oversexed and simply looking for an easy lay, which is certainly stressed in parts of hip-hop culture, including what are known as the demeaning "b-" and "h-words" in referring to women -- if that were addressed things might change.

But, upon thinking about it, I'm not sure that such adolescents really want or intend to become playboys or abusers. Rather, many of these boys, without realizing it, have embarked on a fruitless search not for so much sex but intimacy and validation. Work with me here...

As I mentioned before, that lack of guidance starts early with no strong male in the home -- and that leads to something that probably most people don't consider: Boys don't see how a healthy relationship between a man and a woman actually works. Therefore, they don't learn to treat women or girls like queens and princesses. (Remember, this goes back many generations, before the 1960s.)

Let's remember, however, that these boys already have a hole in their soul due to a lack of not only validation from a father or other strong male but also appropriate nurturing, so guess how they often try to fill it?

Often, with girls. Of course, that leads to many boys getting their sexual education from the street.

You see where I'm going with this -- sex in this context represents not so much sport but a salve to, at least in theory, wash away the inner pain they often don't even recognize. Trouble is, of course, that they're so needy themselves they don't have what it takes to satisfy a woman's heart. If she turns up pregnant they may "try to do the right thing" but in many cases, seeing correctly that they're defective, she breaks off the relationship believing that she and the child are actually better off without them. (One reason why simply marrying the child's mother doesn't solve the problem is that the emptiness will still be there after the wedding; about two decades ago I worked with a woman who had two children out of wedlock but refused to marry their father because "I don't want to raise three children.") Repeat numerous times and you have the present situation.

Anyway, this lack of confidence in their own masculinity has other results, too. Most obvious is the violence that often goes on in the street -- members of my own congregation have been shot, some to death, because of someone trying to "be a man" by imposing his will on others, and that doesn't always have to do with dealing drugs. And then, not discussed as often, are secret homosexual relationships between black men (colloquially called being "on the down low") that also can come from not being affirmed by Dad or some other man.

So what to do? I'll give answers -- as well as ask some other pertinent questions -- in an upcoming post.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Some thoughts on black masculinity, part 1

Most of you know that over the past few years I've become a big fan of "Wild at Heart" author John Eldredge, quoting him regularly on this blog. A few months ago I began to realize why: Inadvertently, he placed a finger on much of what ails the African-American community -- namely, that lack of "initiated" men. Part of that has to do with the lack of "fathers" who take boys and younger men under their wing and teach them how to become true men.

However, it's not a simple matter of black men doing so now -- because the problem goes deeper than is obvious. Since slavery, the masculinity of (especially) black men has been feared, denigrated, exaggerated to a point where, I think, few Americans know how to relate to us in a healthy manner. Simply put, part of the issue is one of America's original sins -- racism.

You see, we suffer with the reputation of being great athletes and sex machines (and, sadly, sexual predators) that lack hearts or brains; shady, listless characters who would rather hustle than work; jolly characters without a care in the world despite constant degradation; or, conversely, consistently angry at the world. From King Kong (which, when it was released, had racist overtones) to Step'n' Fetchit, we're not seen as men worthy of love and respect from the greater community. A few decades of that and you'd also feel lost, hopeless and useless.

And it would be foolish for me to believe that I haven't been affected. Because I see now that I have.

That brokenness existed in my "family of origin," with my own father. When Dad was five his mother, whom I believe now was mentally ill, threw his father out for marital infidelity and, I think, harbored a lifelong resentment toward men as a result. Of course, that would be hard for a boy whose masculinity was under assault from almost the time he was born, and without anyone to "show him the way" he never, ever found his groove. He could thus not raise his own sons properly, with a sense of vision and purpose, and my brother and I both suffer even to this day.

Going further, however, Dad displayed a deep resentment toward the white race. I understand the historic racism that has affected the black community not long after the first African stepped on these shores; however, he allowed his hopelessness to color his view of the world -- which has caused me no end of problems. And I'm sure there are hundreds of thousands of stories like mine.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, because of such historic racism black men often couldn't get and education or decent jobs so that they could not only raise families properly but also become respected members of the community; or often fail to approach their potential. They were often told that they had limitations they could not overcome. "Jim Crow" laws in the South affected primarily men, who were conditioned to live in fear for their lives. (That doesn't do any favors.)

All this led directly to the "fatherlessness" that is endemic especially in the black community. Not having a sense of who and what they are, black men often have trouble raising children, especially sons, in the right way because they haven't themselves been taught or nurtured appropriately. (And since this has been a problem for centuries, it's unfair to blame the "Great Society" for breaking up black families -- they were fragile as it was.)

I'll delve into some of the other issues in other posts.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Single men in the church -- what single women can do

Thirty years ago, during my senior year in high school, a newspaper reported a very touching story about two high school basketball teams that had developed somewhat of a bond while participating in the Pennsylvania state playoffs. The girls' team from Indiana Area ended up being paired with the boys from Valley, so the girls began writing notes of encouragement to the boys. As both teams went deeper in the tournament, the girls eventually became the boys' biggest cheerleaders outside of their district. The girls lost in the semifinals, but the boys ended up taking the championship. (I don't know if any relationships started from that, but I'm sure the boys appreciated the support.)

I was reminded of that story upon reading "Where have all the single Christian men gone?", yet another article, this one on's "Christian Singles Today" page, about the major gender gap in the church, especially among singles. Please excuse my cynicism, but I sometimes wonder why many of these women want men in the church -- so that the pool of marriageable men can increase? Which leads to my point: Rather than bellyache about the dearth of single men, it seems to me that they can and should reach out to the guys who are already there.

Anyway, I have some observations on the singles "gender gap" in the church. Others have stated more eloquently and with more hard evidence than I that the church often comes across as a "girls' club" and that the Gospel is often cloaked in feminine language, often turning away men. That may be true, but I think part of the gap also has to do with the unrealistic expectations Christian women have of men.

I began to notice this in the campus ministry I was a part of in the 1980s. Much of the leadership fell to a number of physical therapy students, almost all of them attractive, spirtually mature -- and female. Gradually I realized that they (possibly without realizing it) had become fairly unapproachable, especially when it came to men, because of their status. In that fellowship women chased the strong guys and ignored the "weaker" ones.

Another thing to consider: Most of the strong Christian men I knew especially in those days grew up with godly fathers in solid marriages, which probably most of us "converts" who comprise the majority of never-married Christian men simply cannot appreciate. My own trouble in relating to other men at that point had to do with their relative unavailability -- until I was in my mid-20s I honestly did not know any spiritually mature yet unattached men. At that point it doesn't really matter how well you know and can apply the Scriptures, because people still need relationships. This is where the women can lend a hand.

Of course men should have their primary formative and discipling relationships with other men, but any man will tell you that gets dull after a while. You see, a note, phone call or any unsolicited attention from a woman can really make a man's day.

For that reason I think we also ought to encourage dating among Christian singles, not primarily to find a spouse or because they may find each other attractive but simply to learn how to relate to the other gender in more appropriate ways. Remember, at some point a man may become a husband and need to take responsibility for the well-being of his spouse and any children, and that can be done effectively only with practice. Back in the 1990s a then-future, now-former girlfriend of mine got involved in a church -- that turned out to be a cult -- in which one of the unspoken "rules" was that singles were supposed to go out on dates every Saturday. With all the institutional dysfunction in that church, nevertheless it got that one right.

My advice to single women who don't want to be: Don't just hope and pray that God will bring the "right man" into your life. While you're waiting for him, employ Jesus's "do unto others" priniciple and find a way to build up that single brother sitting right next to you. You'll both be blessed in the process.