Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Anti-Christian persecution? Not so fast

You may have heard that the California state university system has banned Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship from its campuses because it wouldn’t open up its leadership to non-believers, likely active gays. On the surface this appears to be a clear case of persecution of Christians for not being, as one might say, “politically correct.”

However, upon further inspection, there’s a historical context. And it doesn’t make Christians look good.

What is the context? Well, beginning in the 1980s many secular, elite campuses fell victim to right-wing student activism. I say ”fell victim” because many of these students were rude, crude, disrespectful, slanderous, arrogant, smug and downright insulting toward anyone who disagreed even a little bit. Not only that, but they also targeted certain professors and campus groups — I understand that decades ago the Dartmouth Review, an alternative right-wing campus newspaper, published a confidential list of gay students. Meanness was their stock in trade, and they despised anything that smacked of “diversity.” (It was here where the derisive term “political correctness” arose.)

I saw this up close and personal during my time at the University of Pittsburgh in the 1990s, when a cadre of rightist students from there and nearby Carnegie Mellon University decided to create similar havoc on both campuses. When I wrote a letter to the editor of their newspaper in response to an inaccurate story, its editor went after me, doing a Bill O’Reilly on his campus radio show on which he had me as a guest. (Which I figured would happen.)

Among other things, the paper regularly attacked Pitt’s Black Action Society and Campus Women’s Organization — which it referred to as “C.O.W.” — and campaigned to eliminate the student activities fee at both schools, ostensibly to put out of business the organizations it opposed. (It actually kept a lawyer on retainer, probably to shield it from libel suits.) How did it get its money? Through foundations that founded conservative activities at all levels.

If you wonder why we have such a ruckus today in Washington, D.C., there’s a great place to start.

The sad part is that innocent folks like those in IV, where opposition to homosexual conduct is not so much a political as a theological matter, are caught in the middle. I was involved in that organization, which is focused primarily on missions, at both Georgia Tech and Pitt, and in neither case were the chapters politically active.

The conservative group on Pittsburgh university campuses disbanded around the time I graduated from Pitt in 1997, but the damage had been done. I’m sure that Cal State was trying to nip that kind of thing in the bud in banning a group that might be considered hostile to gay students by not allowing them to take part — an unfortunate move, perhaps, but an understandable one.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

‘In God we trust’ – oh, really?

Last night Allegheny County Council — Pittsburgh is the county seat — voted down a bill that would have allowed posting of the clause “In God We Trust” in the county courthouse, especially after the county executive threatened to veto it because he said that it threatened religious diversity.

As a severe critic of American civil religion, I completely agreed with that vote because I thought that the bill was inappropriate and, according to my councilperson, “unnecessary.” From a purely theological sense I just don’t get it.

We need to answer first the question “what does it mean to 'trust in God?'” To say that there is a God? Sounds weak to me because of the multiplicity of deistic religions.

And by “God,” what is the reference? Of course what people really mean is God as Christians understand Him — a sponsor of the bill was a self-identified evangelical but can’t specifically say that because … well, you figure it out.

It also represents bad history. Many evangelicals take the tack that America was founded on so-called Biblical principles, but that’s meaningless for a number of reasons.

One, you can mechanically follow “principles” but miss their context and meaning — we know this because the Pharisees loved the principles but, as Jesus said, didn’t really know the God Who gave them in the first place. To paraphrase my favorite Christian author John Eldredge, you can see and apply principles but if you go there what do you really need God for?

Two, when this nation was founded the “generic Christianity” that we say informed it just didn’t exist — all but one of the original 13 colonies had their own state churches, and the theology of many of the Founding Fathers was unorthodox to say the least. (Christians in that day paid a great deal of attention to theology.)

Bottom line, God wants to be experienced and intimately known as a loving Father, not as a mere lawgiver or judge. I don’t see how a bill referring to a generic God fosters that.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Both ends against the middle

[The devil] always sends errors to us in pairs — pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which of these two errors is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.

— C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”

If you wonder why I don’t get involved in any moral crusades, whether against abortion, gay rights or Islamic extremism, and criticize people who do, that’s the reason. Such have a tendency to compromise spiritual goals and, to use a sports analogy, get people off their game.

I have come to believe that what I call playing “both ends against the middle” is the Enemy’s favorite tactic. He raises up an issue that’s clearly wrong from a Christian standpoint but gets people focusing upon that issue to the point of obsession — and away from God. Which is the devil’s real goal.

In the late 1970s, when the religious right was ascending, many Christians probably hoped for a resurgence of Christian influence and cultural dominance. On the other hand, I smelled trouble.

I didn’t realize at the time that Moral Majority and other groups actually partnered with secularists who had no interest in faith for the sake of political power. Once I understood that, however, I saw how things couldn’t but deteriorate because “the entire counsel of God” was nowhere evident with only certain issues considered biblical. Today, of course, as a result evangelical faith has undergone intense criticism from a resurgent political left, which I understand.

As a media person, I also noticed just how people and organizations were willing to distort the truth — and, in some cases, tell outright lies — about their opponents for the sake of outrage, which also helps to raise a ton of money. Please explain to me how doing so reflects the Kingdom.

There’s a reason why the civil-rights movement under Martin Luther King Jr. worked well: It focused not on simply defeating an enemy but possibly turning that enemy into a friend. While the Jim Crow system in was trying to overturn was certainly evil, it never openly trash-talked the opposition, letting the “bad guys” look like bad guys. The contrast was striking.

And perhaps we could use some of that humility in our modern political discourse — rather than hating some “them,” perhaps we would reach out to them in true Christian charity and thus “not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27).