Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Christians and strip clubs

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about a Christian response to strip clubs and other "adult" entertainment venues:

Q:  Is it acceptable for Christians to patronize or operate “adult” entertainment establishments featuring things like nude dancing, peep shows, or other similar content?

In this life, we live in a world, in a nation, and in communities, that are populated entirely by sinners.  Some of these are forgiven, while others are not, but all are sinners the same.  Therefore, we should not be surprised when we see that Biblical morality fails to be reflected around us, and that every manner of disobedience is practiced openly, even as legal commerce.

The establishments described in the question would certainly be included under this description, but even though they might be legal, and even though the best attempts of Christians might fail to shield their communities from the harmful consequences of such establishments, it would not excuse Christians who disobey divine commands by operating or participating in them. 

Beginning in the earliest books of the Old Testament, where God lays out His commandments, a clear connection is drawn between nakedness and sexual sin.  “Adultery” in the sixth commandment is explained as not merely unfaithfulness in marriage, but as all sexual intimacy, even if imagined and not executed, that that occurs between anyone other than a husband and wife. 

We see this occurring with King David as he sees Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop.  His visual infidelity with another man’s wife eventually leads to physical expression of that infidelity and an unplanned pregnancy for Bathsheba.  In order to cover up the adultery, King David places Bathsheba’s husband Uriah in a military situation where he is certain to be killed and thus adds murder to the list of offenses, after which their child dies as a consequence of the chain of events. 

The Apostle Paul warns similarly in Ephesians that there should not even be “a hint” of sexual immorality among Christians, and to Timothy that young men and women ought to treat one another like siblings outside of marriage.  Even the most erotic book of the Bible, Song of Solomon, warns its readers not to awaken such desires prematurely (which is, prior to marriage). 

Jesus makes the clearest statement when He tells His followers, “You have heard it said that you shall not commit adultery, but I say to you, if a man even looks upon a woman with lustful intent, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  He gives us absolute certainty that there is not a certain plain which one may not cross or a certain base that one may not round.  Instead, the moment that the desire is entertained or the intent is formed, the sin has already been committed. 

All of these commands fit well with what we can observe in biology and human behavior, as we observe a near-automatic, even biochemically induced, jump from nudity to inappropriate sexual desire, if not actual consummation of such desire. With the exception of a few extraordinary individuals, the jump from seeing erotic dance, which has as its intentional outcome to arouse erotic desire, to entertaining lustful intent is unavoidable.

Therefore, patronizing, owning, or otherwise supporting such establishments would be unquestionably forbidden for Christians.  Whether a patron intentionally goes for the purpose of entertaining lust, or knowingly puts themselves in a position to be tempted by it in an effort to be more accepted by a group of peers, it is absolute misconduct for a Christian to engage in such activities.  At the very least, their economic support of the establishment participates in the owners’ sin of shamefully monetizing the bodies of the women they employ and commercially providing outlets for the already-rampant lust of their patrons.

As Christians, our identity is not be found in our morality, not are we to consider ourselves superior to those whose immorality is of a different, less socially-acceptable, variety than our own.  At the same time, there remains no excuse for Christians to openly engage in obvious immorality or to support those who provide opportunities for the same.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Christianity and Hate

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Christianity and hate:

Q:  Why does it seem that so many Christians hate or fear people who are different than them?  Why don’t we see more tolerance coming from churches?

The idea that many Christians harbor fear or hatred toward certain groups of people is an unfortunate misconception that probably stems from several sources.  One of these causes is a very small number of organizations that get a great deal of media attention because of their visible and extreme nature.  One of these organizations even threatened to make an appearance in Algona at a soldier’s funeral. 

However, these organizations include such a small minority of Christians that if one were to create a chart of the various approaches to Christianity, they would appear only as an asterisk at the bottom with the words, “various other groups composing fewer than 1 percent of the Christian population.”  In fact, the leading organization that opposes and blocks their visibly hateful demonstrations is composed primarily of Christians and opens its rallies with prayer by a designated chaplain.

Another source of this misconception is a modern assumption that disapproval or disagreement equate to hatred and fear.  In present discourse, whether it is a maliciously false accusation used for the purpose of silencing opposition, or if, more likely, it is an automatic, yet unwarranted hiccup in an otherwise reasonable person’s thought process, it is assumed that anything short of agreement and acceptance of another person’s actions stems from ill-will toward a group of people who share that behavior. 

A popular pastor and best-selling author, Rick Warren, answers this misconception wisely and concisely when he says, “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.“

The truth is that the vast majority of Christians who take moral stands on the various social issues of our day have no fear or hatred whatsoever behind their position and display no fear or hatred in communicating their positions to the broader culture.  Instead, they hold these positions, because based on both spiritual convictions and careful observation of society, they believe that the actions they warn against cause harm to their neighbors who engage in them. 

Typically, the ministries and organizations they form to address these social issues seek to avoid vocal condemnation, and instead create systems and services which attempt, beyond purely spiritual solutions, to also provide practical assistance to those who find their lives disrupted and troubled by the choices they have made and the behaviors they have embraced. 

The idea of tolerance itself actually originated with Christianity.  It was Christians who first proposed that people of differing spiritual and moral convictions can live side-by-side without harassment or violence toward one another.  But tolerance as a concept has also been misunderstood in the present debates. 

Tolerance, properly defined, does not include acceptance of, or agreement with, opposing positions.  Instead, it is the acknowledgement of differences, perhaps even debate over them, after which those involved can continue to live as neighbors and fellow citizens of the same community, not by pretending that their disagreements do not exist or do not matter, but rather by agreeing not to harass or physically harm one another based on them. 

Ultimately both the majority of Christian denominations, as well as the congregations and individuals included in them, seek to maintain both of these emphases:  to be faithful to their genuine moral convictions, while at the same time being considerate and compassionate toward their neighbors with whom they disagree, as the Apostle Peter instructs, “Always be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”