freedom

The Paradox of Freedom and the Christian

The history of the American experiment is making it less possible for Christians to live ignorant of the moral condition of our societal context. The Rev. Bart Day from the Office of National Mission of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, put it this way in his public response concerning the Planned Parenthood atrocities that are coming to light:

Today let us confess life with renewed vigor — to our friends over supper, through letters to the editor of our local paper, by writing our congressmen, in tweets and emails to Planned Parenthood, on our Facebook pages.

Let us pray that our Lord would bring an end to abortion altogether and that He would stop the horrible sale of infant bodies.

And let us pray that He would forgive us, renew us and bolster us to make a good confession in season and out of season: one that is always, no matter what, for life.

As I reflected on the news of the last couple of days while watching Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner’s acceptance speech after receiving the Arthur Ashe Award on the ESPY’s, my mind reeled trying to process the current zeitgeist of America. Then through the darkness, there shined a bright ray of commonality between it all. I do not just mean a commonality between Jenner and Planned Parenthood, but a commonality that traces back to the beginning of time – the idolatry of freedom.

God told Adam and Eve that they are free to eat of any tree in the Garden of Eden except the one that was in the middle. And placing freedom above divine mandate –  fearing, loving, and trusting freedom above God, if you will – they fell into sin as did the whole creation with them. So why are we surprised when the same ideas are expressed within a creation that is afflicted with the same sickness.

Throughout the entire abortion debate, pro-choice advocates cast their arguments in light of freedom. Whenever one opposes abortion, that person opposes the freedom of a woman to do with her body as she wishes. Is there anything that is more “anti-American” than opposing freedom? Whenever one speaks out against homosexuality, transgenderism, promiscuity, fornication, co-habitation, adultery, or anything else the Bible would call sin or a result of sin, that person is opposes the freedom of a person to be happy, love who they love, be true to themselves, etc. Is there anything more hateful than limiting someone’s freedom?

The hard answer to all of these questions is the fact that we are not called to be free or American (in this sense of the word). We are called to be God’s. Our freedom ends where it conflicts with the Word of God. Freedom is not all that it is cracked up to be. Freedom to ourselves means freedom from all that would confine us. Freedom to ourselves means freedom from God, and it does not take long for a Scripturally-minded Christian to see how scary of a place that is. If you want to see what freedom from God looks like, take a look at Christ on the cross. This is where God turns His back on His Son because of the sin of the world that He bears. It is where He turns His back on the one who bears our sins. All of them. It is in submission to God’s Law that we find repentance. It is in repentance that we find forgiveness. All of us. So to deify and laud those who celebrate freedom to themselves above obedience to God, is succumbing to Satan’s old tricks.

We cannot ignore this anymore. We cannot live as if we are of the world. We are not. We are of God. Let us find comfort, courage and peace in His blessings. His Word. His Sacrament. These are for you. Forgiveness and strength are found when we gather, we pray, we praise, and we give thanks. In this forgiveness there is true freedom. Freedom to be the people of God.

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What in the World Should We Do?

One of the greatest Lutheran theologians of the 20th century was a German Lutheran named Hermann Sasse. He was one of the first German clergy to rise up in protest to Hitler. He was, ultimately, a pastor’s pastor. He spent years writing letters around the world to different pastors. These letters encouraged men in their ministries. These letters spurred discussion about the actions that the church-at-large should take in regards the continued proclamation of the Gospel. As I was reading one of these letters today, the following passage hit me. In regards to the question of what the church should do to stem its decline and seemingly certain death, Sasse gives this counsel:

The third thing, however, that we must learn anew is Luther’s invincible faith in the power of the means of grace. Whatever the Church still has and still does should not be minimized. But she does not live from mercy, or from political and social activity. She does not subsist on large numbers. When will the terrible superstition of the Christendom of our day cease that Jesus Christ is powerful only there where two or three million are gathered together in His name? When will we again comprehend that the Church lives by the means of grace of the pure preaching of the Gospel and by the divinely instituted administration of the Sacraments and by nothing else? And for no other reason than because Jesus Christ the Lord is present in His means of grace and builds His Church on earth, being even as powerful as ever before in the history of the Church – even if His power and glory, to speak as our Confessions do, are cruce tectum, hidden under the cross (Ap VII – VIII 18). Oh, what secret unbelief and what little faith we find in the Church that calls herself the Church of the sola fide! May God in His grace eradicate this unbelief and strengthen this weak faith in our souls and renew us through the great faith of the New Testament and the Reformation. That, and that alone, is the manner of overcoming the urgent need of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the greatest and weightiest crisis of her history.

~Hermann Sasse, 1948~

In a world where innovation is often valued over substance… in a world where fads seem to rule the day, may we always strive to keep the simplicity of the the Gospel in front of our eyes and the eyes of our people. May the certainty of the forgiveness of sins and the hope of faith drive all that we say, do, and know. May this not be an encouragement to laziness, but a reevaluation of where the church should always begin. Everything we do is to proclaim and lift up those certain places where God distributes His good gifts to us. It is the place where “for you” renews a sinner in sainthood. It is a place where a simple word can uplift the soul and conquer the prince of this world. Amen and Amen.

Logical Inconsistency #356: 40 oz. to Freedom… ugh… I mean 16 oz.

Ok… so I don’t normally get uber-political on this blog because I like to keep it in the realm of being theological per the subtitle of the blog. However, I just cannot let this go. I really do not care how many people have already commented about this. I cannot stay quiet. It seems that in his ever-increasing wisdom (sarcasm intended), Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided to launch a bill that would ban the sale of sugary drinks (aka sodas) in quantities of more than 16 oz. Here are some enlightening excerpts from the New York Times article about the ban… and please humor me as I point out some of the flaws.

The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.

The measure would not apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; it would not extend to beverages sold in grocery stores or convenience stores.

So hear me out on this. You want to ban sugary drinks because they cause obesity. However, it does not apply to diet sodas when there are studies that show artificial sweeteners to cause cancer and other problems. It does not apply to fruit juices that have a higher acid and sugar concentration than many sodas. It does not apply to dairy-based drinks like milkshakes which have a higher caloric count and more fat than sodas. AND it does not apply to alcoholic beverages which when consumed in mass quantities can lead to alcohol poisoning and death. Oh… and it does not apply to grocery stores and convenience stores. So if you are really concerned about health, why the exclusions?

…Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal requires the approval of the Board of Health, a step that is considered likely because the members are all appointed by him, and the board’s chairman is the city’s health commissioner, who joined the mayor in supporting the measure on Wednesday.

This is rather infuriating. I understand that it is the way it is. However, this almost sounds like Bloomberg has set up his own little vigilante health gestapo. Just saying.

Mr. Bloomberg has made public health one of the top priorities of his lengthy tenure, and has championed a series of aggressive regulations, including bans on smoking in restaurants and parks, a prohibition against artificial trans fat in restaurant food and a requirement for health inspection grades to be posted in restaurant windows.

If sodas are that bad, why not just outlaw them altogether. He’s done the same with “artificial trans fat”. There are dry counties all over the country. Why not have a “sugar-free” county… or state?

…The ban would not apply to drinks with fewer than 25 calories per 8-ounce serving, like zero-calorie Vitamin Waters and unsweetened iced teas, as well as diet sodas.

Restaurants, delis, movie theater and ballpark concessions would be affected, because they are regulated by the health department. Carts on sidewalks and in Central Park would also be included, but not vending machines or newsstands that serve only a smattering of fresh food items.

At fast-food chains, where sodas are often dispersed at self-serve fountains, restaurants would be required to hand out cup sizes of 16 ounces or less, regardless of whether a customer opts for a diet drink. But free refills — and additional drink purchases — would be allowed.

So if you serve food that provides some sustenance, you cannot sell large quantity containers of soda. However, if you only peddle the stuff that is being labeled as poison, you can sell whatever quantity size you want? Oh, but don’t worry, you can get free refills on your 16 oz. cup… as many times as you want!It does not take a genius to see that this is just a bunch of hogwash.

Despite the logical discrepancies of the ban, there is a more fundamental problem that might even have a theological point. Part of living  as a productive member of society is taking responsibility for ourselves. Our choices bring consequences. If I drink ten 44 oz. sodas a day, I will be obese. It is part of the deal. If I smoke, I might get cancer. If I speed, I might get a ticket. This is life. Part of living in a society is making productive choices. It is ok for a woman to choose to kill her unborn child, but it is not satisfactory for her to order a Big Mac and a large Coke? You have got to be kidding me. If these things really are that bad, then ban them, and I as a Christian law-abiding citizen will obey the bans. Don’t make ridiculous and absurd laws that have more exclusions than inclusions.

Good. Glad I have that off my chest. What say you?

Logical Inconsistencies #1,938: Are We Even Talking About the Same Thing?

I have had more than enough of the debate over the “birth-control” mandate that has surfaced over the past couple weeks. I am even more tired of the way that partisan politics and media bias are skewing the argument into something that it is not. As far as I, and most of “conservative” Christianity, am concerned, the debate is NOT about birth-control per se. The argument is about religious liberty. I am not saying anything that anyone has ever heard before. The president of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, Rev. Matthew Harrison, appeared before a the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform yesterday and gave a wonderful definition and statement of the LCMS concern about the law. He stayed away from politics and answered the questions with fervor, conviction, and truth. What did the Democrats hear? Well, this quote from Nancy Pelosi according to the Today Showsays it all,

Imagine a panel on women’s health and they don’t have any women on the panel. Duh

The panel was not about women’s health. The panel was concerning religious liberties. It was about the government intruding on private entities and infringing on the consciences of people who hold to a certain belief. UGH!!! I am starting to pray “Come quickly, Lord Jesus” so that there will be a day when people can actually talk to each other without bias, agenda, or political tom-foolery. Absolutely ridiculous! Let me know what you think!

Hear are the videos of President Harrison’s testimony and answers to questions:

Here is an article from GetReligion that is worth reading:

For the second time in as many weeks, I want to highlight a discussion on media criticism that was led by CNN Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz. I wish I could embed the video here but you’ll have to click this link to watch it. It is about 10 minutes long but it’s a fascinating discussion. I’m not saying I agree with everything in the discussion — I don’t — but it’s the type of conversation that will interest readers of GetReligion and give us some things to think on.

Here’s the transcript of the conversation, headlined “Media Miss Catholic Outrage.”

KURTZ: The press pounced on the story when the Komen Foundation tried to defund Planned Parenthood. But when the White House ruled that even Catholic organizations had to offer birth control in health plans, not so much — that is until Catholic leaders and some commentators began sounding off …Why did it take news outlets a couple of weeks to catch up with the Catholic protests?

Kurtz explains that it wasn’t big news at all when the Obama Administration issued its ruling requiring Catholic institutions to subsidize insurance plans that include coverage for things Catholic teaching opposes. Kurtz terms this “birth control” but it actually goes beyond that, of course. The Washington Post got it on page one, the New York Times on page 17 and the network newscasts didn’t even touch it. (I should note that this was big news in conservative, Catholic and other media.)

A couple of weeks later, some media began covering it:

KURTZ: But it wasn’t until this week that the controversy really reverb rated across the media landscape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: I’m going to say, it is a staggering, staggering decision by HHS.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: As today, a fiery debate took center stage about women, contraception, and a White House order that has the Catholic Church up in arms.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Please note that Sawyer’s description of the debate doesn’t include any mention of the First Amendment or religious liberty, a continuing problem for some media types. Kurtz asks why, if the debate was so fiery, did it take the media so long to notice it. On the panel are Lauren Ashburn, former managing editor of USA Today, and Frank Sesno, a George Washington University professor of media.

KURTZ: Here’s the contrast I would draw. Komen Foundation moves to cut off Planned Parenthood. Twenty-four hours after it hit social networks, the media erupted with this.

Why would you have to wait for Catholic leaders to speak out to say this is a pretty sensitive hot button controversy that we ought to cover as more than a one day history?

FRANK SESNO, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: I think what happened here is you started with policy and it became politics. And politics is always easier and more fiery. Policy is narrower. It’s sort of down in the weeds.

Isn’t that telling? When it was just a policy that violated, in its critics eyes, religious liberty, it wasn’t news. Once it became political and candidates started addressing it, then it was. There is truth to this. The media are political junkies of the horse race variety so much more than they are interested in Catholic moral reasoning or constitutional protections. I should also note, of course, that even after the bishops were taking dramatic steps in speaking out against it, it still wasn’t getting coverage.

Kurtz gives props to the liberal Catholic commentators who raised the issue even though it attacked their own political cobelligerents.

The panel discusses another intriguing angle:

KURTZ: If there was a tin ear here initially, is it related to the fact that most journalists are not devoutly religious, whether they’re Catholic or not?

SESNO: No.

ASHBURN: No, I think that —

KURTZ: You’re saying because it wasn’t a political flap. You’re saying —

ASHBURN: I’m saying — well, you know, I can’t speak for how many — I have no idea how many are religious or aren’t, who are agnostic, who are Catholic, who are Jewish. So, I think that your question is —

KURTZ: Religion generally —

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Religion generally doesn’t get that much coverage.

ASHBURN: That’s not true.

The relative vapidity of that portion of the discussion might be the most telling aspect of it.

Then they discuss the invented statistic that will not die that 98% of Catholic women use contraception. No one disputes that this is a White House talking point that the media never bothered to check before running it. Instead they discuss whether maybe the media took religious liberty concerns too seriously:

SESNO: I think you could argue, and you could attack the media for not looking. If you are going to talk about holding authority to account wherever that authority may be, there is a giant story within the Catholic Church over their attitudes towards these issues, and their disconnect with their followers. So, that’s part of this, too.

ASHBURN: I think I disagree. I mean, I think that, yes, you call people cafeteria Catholics. And, yes, in the media we are hearing that 98 percent of women use birth control. I mean, that was one of the stories.

But does that mean that because of that that they are not Catholics and they’re not concerned about religious freedom?

SESNO: Lauren, that’s not the issue. The issue is the media’s role and the media’s responsibility in all this.

If the Catholic Church is, in effect, declaring war on the Obama administration over the availability of contraception for people who work for institutions that are not merely the Catholic Church, but institutions supported by this religion, and saying this is war on religion, and if there is a schism, there is a divide within the Catholic community, why is that not part of the story? Why is that not a big part of the story?

Who cares if that statistic isn’t true? Certainly nobody in the media. Kudos to Ashburn for at least raising the journalistic question of what it has to do with religious liberty. As one commenter pointed out, nobody seems to suggest that just because men lust after women are Jesus’ words on the matter “discounted” in the parlance of Sesno. But it is telling that journalists think that they should be. It says a lot about how they approach stories dealing with church teaching and does more than anything thus far to explain why so many stories accept the White House framework on this topic. They accept the framework in part because they agree with it.

Anyway, Kurtz ends by asking why the media needed no prodding in its rush to arms on behalf of Planned Parenthood but did need so much prodding to even cover what’s happening to religious institutions. Sesno ends by reminding everyone of the invented statistic.

It’s enough to make one quietly weep. Earlier today, the head of my church body did something that may be a first: testified before Congress. It may have happened before but I doubt it. We just don’t believe the job of the church is to testify about a given bill or not. We’re steadfastly bipartisan. We took no position on the health care bill that has yielded this situation. It was a pretty big day for Lutherans of my stripe. The Rev. Matthew C. Harrison testified (view/read) along with a Catholic bishop, an evangelical professor of moral philosophy, a rabbi and Torah scholar, and a Baptist professor. They were all united in their view that religious liberty is under threat. Precisely one of the witnesses has the same position as the Catholic Church on birth control, so it was clearly not a hearing on religious views of birth control.

Now, it certainly should be covered that one side of the dispute thinks that forcing people to provide insurance coverage for things they morally oppose, including sterilization, abortifacients and birth control, is a good thing. And that has been pretty well covered. But you can’t pretend that there aren’t people who are seriously concerned about the threat to religious liberty. But note the headlines. Here’s Politico: “Carolyn Maloney, Eleanor Holmes Norton walk out of contraception hearing. ABC News: “Rep. Darrell Issa Bars Minority Witness, a Woman, on Contraception”. CBS: “Dems decry all-male House panel on WH contraception rule.”

ARGH! Yes, it’s true, the Democrats were grandstanding and the Republicans were grandstanding. Please take a moment to get over your shock that politicians acted all political today.

And I realize that the media love the political story here. But could we at least try to cover the religion angle to this story? At all? Heck, it might even be nice to have differing sides on just the religious liberty question. Certainly you have a diverse group of Catholics, Orthodox, Lutheran, evangelical, Baptist and other religious bodies united here. But I’m sure there are other church bodies or legal scholars who disagree. Where are their voices? Or do all sides now have to throw a glitterbomb to get noticed?