Reverse Course

In a stunning announcement World Vision has reversed course two days after changing their employee handbook to allow for the hiring on people in open, unrepentant homosexual relationships.

http://www.religionnews.com/2014/03/26/world-vision-reverses-decision-sex-marriage-mistake/

In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners. As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.

 

World Vision has placed itself in the tragic position of creating a controversy and angering both sides of the issue.  I can’t imagine that Richard Stearns will not be shortly offering his resignation in order to restore credibility back to the organization. What ever might have been his motivations it appears that at least once in this controversy he made an unprincipled decision (your guess is as good as mine on whether it was Monday or Wednesday).  Neither conservative nor liberal supporters of World Vision can feel a deep sense of trust in his leadership.

Matthew Lee Anderson at Mere Orthodoxy went on a Twitter rant about the events of the last two days and shared some other thoughts on his blog. He discusses both World Vision’s misstep as well as whether or not Evangelicals are displaying a deeper commitment to fighting same-sex marriage than fighting poverty.  I think his comments are well worth reading.

Update:

This post from Timothy Dalrymple offers some great insight into what when wrong:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/philosophicalfragments/2014/03/27/the-right-lesson-to-learn-from-the-world-vision-debacle/

The core of the mistake, it seems to me, is precisely in regarding this as merely a “culture war issue.” When Richard Stearns addressed the Q Conference in Los Angeles in April, he pointed to Westboro Baptists as an example of “angry Christians protest[ing] gay marriage.” He then admonished Christians to be outraged by the right things. “As far as I know,” he said, “no one ever died of gay marriage.” That statement, I think, set off alarm bells amongst some Christian leaders, and that framed how they interpreted this change of policy. Even in the letters and phone calls and statements since the reversal, the leadership of World Vision has explained that they were trying to bracket a “culture war issue.”

That’s the problem right there. This is not a culture war issue. It’s much more than that.

World Vision and the Redefinition of Christianity

Yesterday news struck that World Vision, one of the top ten charitable organizations in the world would no longer prohibit the hiring of Christians in open homosexual relationships.

World Vision’s American branch will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.

Abstinence outside of marriage remains a rule. But a policy change announced Monday [March 24] will now permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed at one of America’s largest Christian charities.

World Vision argues that the decision about whether or not homosexuality is a sin is a theological question and as a parachurch organization they leave open theological questions to be solved by local churches. This news did not go unnoticed.

Russell Moore responded:

At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If sexual activity outside of a biblical definition of marriage is morally neutral, then, yes, we should avoid making an issue of it. If, though, what the Bible clearly teaches and what the church has held for 2000 years is true, then refusing to call for repentance is unspeakably cruel and, in fact, devilish.

John Piper posted:

When World Vision says, “We cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue,” here is the side they do, in fact, jump onto: We forbid fornication and adultery as acceptable lifestyles among our employees (which they do), but we will not forbid the regular practice of homosexual intercourse. To presume that this position is not “jumping into the fight on one side or the other” is fanciful.

But worse than fancy, removing homosexual intercourse from its biblical alignment with fornication and adultery (and greed and theft and drunkenness) trivializes its correlation with perdition.

Trevin Wax posting at Gospel Coaltion said:

Sex is our god. Children are our sacrifice.

 

Albert Mohler challenged [perhaps my favorite of all the responses]:

Richard Stearns has every right to try to make his case, but these arguments are pathetically inadequate. Far more than that, his arguments reveal basic issues that every Christian ministry, organization, church, and denomination will have to face — and soon.

The distinction between an “operational arm” of the church and a “theological arm” is a fatal misreading of reality. World Vision claims a Christian identity, claims to serve the kingdom of Christ, and claims a theological rationale for its much-needed ministries to the poor and distressed. It cannot surrender theological responsibility when convenient and then claim a Christian identity and a theological mandate for ministry.

I think there is much that is tragic about this situation. What stands out to me most keenly is that our culture’s interest and preoccupation with sexual identity is causing a subtle redefinition of Christianity.  I agree with Word Vision that human sexuality is not at the core of Christianity, it ought not be a part of their intentionally inclusive statement of faith.  But the question of righteous Christian living in regards to sexual practice has become so decisive that I think many churches and organizations will be tempted to place their understanding of Biblical sexuality at the top of their doctrinal standards.

Driscoll’s Open Apology

I’m not a follower of Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, but it’s hard to be an Evangelical and not see his name pop up now and again.  Driscoll has recently been hit with charges of plagiarism, unfair ghost-writing practices and most recently a book sales manipulation scheme.  Yesterday he presented an open apology to his congregation.  I’m pleased to see Driscoll make this step and to re-align his priorities around his congregation and his family.

You can read the letter here. http://renuemag.com/2014/03/16/an-open-letter-of-apology-from-pastor-mark-driscoll/

I was particularly pleased with this section:

First, a marketing company called ResultSource was used in conjunction with the book Real Marriage, which was released in January 2012. My understanding of the ResultSource marketing strategy was to maximize book sales, so that we could reach more people with the message and help grow our church. In retrospect, I no longer see it that way. Instead, I now see it as manipulating a book sales reporting system, which is wrong. I am sorry that I used this strategy, and will never use it again. I have also asked my publisher to not use the “#1 New York Times bestseller” status in future publications, and am working to remove this from past publications as well.

Religious Liberty in Post-Christian America

If you’re not aware, religious liberty is currently the hot button political topic within Evangelicalism and Catholicism (and perhaps Mormonism as well). The topic came to the national forefront in the last couple of weeks due to a bill that was attempting passage in Arizona.  I saw a flurry of articles recommend on the topic.  Some with an understanding of the political and legal nuances of the topic, others without. The rhetorical battle got kicked off with one Christian columnist claiming that Evangelicals wanted to reinstate Jim Crow laws, followed by a blogger declaring that there should be no discrimination laws at all. I personally felt challenged by a blogger’s reminder to “go the extra mile” when we feel our rights are violated.

Eric recently shared an article with me that is basically the voice I’ve been looking for.  “Religious Liberty Should be a Liberal Value Too”  It explains the tension between pluralism (which is losing cultural prestige) and egalitarianism.  I highly recommend the article.

Becoming Like God

The LDS church has posted a new Gospel Topics essay, this one on the Mormon belief in deification.  I’m happy for the church to clarify its own beliefs on this doctrine but found myself frequently frustrated by their justifications for the doctrine. On the one hand the church ask that its beliefs not be caricatured (having your own planet) but it has no problem creating a caricature of Eastern orthodoxy and the early church fathers for its own benefit.

In response one friend stated:

Perhaps deification or theosis as in Eastern Orthodoxy. I’d argue this is a dramatically different concept than LDS “becoming like god,” as will be argued in the forthcoming volume “Understanding Evangelicalism: A Guide for Mormons” through Greg Kofford Books.

 

Another friend stated :

“Becoming Gods” became “becoming gods” became “becoming like our Heavenly Father” became “approaching godliness.” Yet Christians are depicted as evolving to use language which “appear[s] more limited in scope.”

 

 

 

 

 

Faking It

A story has emerged (pardon the pun) of the possibility that a Evangelical mega-church may be staging baptisms to induce others to baptism.  I think Charles Finney might be proud but it sounds kind of rotten in my view.

You can read the story here:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/2014/02/concerning-all-those-fake-baptisms-at-elevation-church/

Hearts of the Scattered

A controversy has emerged in the Evangelical community of Utah.  Shawn McCraney announced on his television show his rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity.

I watched the program and found that Shawn seems to be reacting against Mormonism and Mormon apologetics perhaps more than the orthodox teachings of Christianity.  His arguments are first and foremost a rejection of tri-theism (a belief in three gods) and second a anti-parrallel driven narrative.  Whereas some Mormon apologist are quick to pick up on any parallel from the ancient world as evidence that LDS particulars are justified, Shawn has adopted the inverse argument that any parrallel to anything outside of Christianity proves it must be heretical (This argument is often employed against Christian spiritual disciplines as proof that they are New Age).  What’s even more troubling is that one of his primary sources is a dubiously conspiratorial, Anti-Catholic book called “The Two Babylons”.

I wasn’t so much concerned with his emphasis against the existence of three gods as much as I was by his unwillingness to engage the arguments that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons. Towards the end of the program a caller challenged him with an argument that’s a low entry point into Trinitarianism and he was unwilling to engage the argument.

Shawn has a confrontational style and without a force to oppose I think he loses what makes him interesting to watch. This is not the first, nor I think the last time he will set himself up against the Evangelical community in Utah. I’m sure many Mormons are pleased to see this fracture, proclaiming a pox on both of their houses.  It will be interesting to see how Shawn and Utah Evangelicals interact in the near future. Some responses have already begun to appear.  My guess is that without correction, Shawn will be disavowed by Evangelicals and his teachings declared just as heretical as Mormonism’s.

Fraud and Religious Freedom

The Evangelical ministry Breakpoint made Mormonism the topic of their daily broadcast.  The topic in question is a British criminal charge of fraud against Thomas Monson.  Breakpoint comes out strongly on the side of the LDS church that this is a slippery slope to the erosion of religious liberty.

I largely agree with Breakpoint’s assessment of the situation with one caveat.  A fraud charge is not solely based on whether or not the beliefs in question are falsifiable, it hangs on whether or not the perpetrators of the belief know it to be false.  How this can be proven to be the case for Thomas Monson seems like a herculean task.

In one more Evangelical connection to this case, wasn’t the plot of “The Godmakers” about a guy who wants to sue the LDS church for fraud and deception? {video queued to relevant scene}

Darwin’s Doubt Debate Pre-Game Warmup

We’ve had a recent string of posts on the origins of life, I thought I’d continue that string with this introduction to Intelligent Design. As indicated by William Lane Craig, I don’t think the theory of evolution need be a problem for any serious Christian. But I do gain a certain amount of pleasure in seeing the holes in the theory poked and prodded. Perhaps it’s because so many secularist presume that Darwin introduced the death of religion.

Bill Nye will soon debate a young earth creationist named Ken Ham. I’m not a young earth creationist so I don’t really have a dog in this fight. But one thing I’m certain of, Ham will discuss the limits of Darwin’s theory. When he does so, he will most likely be jumping off the work on Dr. Stephen Meyer (also not a young earth creationist).

In this video Meyer discusses his latest work “Darwin’s Doubt” and the scientific reaction to this book and the ever growing field of Intelligent Design. Often when I see Intelligent Design mocked or cajoled in culture it is being dismissed as a fancy word for “Young Earth Creationist”. I think hearing Meyers talk about his work will dismiss that notion.

For a look at someone really digging into the scientific hubris of the New Atheist see this scathing video featuring the David Berlinski (himself a non-believer). He intentionally reaches for acidic rhetoric which makes, if for nothing else, a fun listen.

Freedom and Friendship

Ravi Zacharias Mormon LDS

Ravi Zacharias will again be speaking in the Mormon Tabernacle. His visit to Utah will also include a stop at BYU. I hope some of my Utah based friends can attend. Live streams of the event are included below for those who can’t be there in person.

BYU Live Stream

Friday, January 17, 2014 – 12:00pm-1:00pm (MST)

Title: What Does It Mean To Be Human?

Dr. Ravi Zacharias will speak on what it means to be human as he believes faith, family, and society cannot be fully appreciated until this question is first answered.

Mormon Tabernacle Live Stream

Saturday, January 18, 2014 – 6:30pm-8:30pm (MST)

Title: Lessons from History: Building A Nation Under God

Dr. Ravi Zacharias will speak on the centrality of the Word of God as the guide for personal conduct, true freedom, and building a nation under God.

The Right Wing Breaking Point

A friend shared this Facebook post with me. It was written by a passionate, conservative Mormon who had a number of issues with the recent church statement on race and priesthood. I think it’s fascinating for a number of reasons. For those Mormons who are more invested in the doctrines and the scriptures of the church than the structure and organization you can see what a tenuous position the church is in. The signs of potential apostasy are all around. As the church attempts to move forward with a more open approach to it’s history and more palatable views of its origins, it can not do so too quickly.

It’s been reported that Boyd K Packer mentioned in response to his claim that the greatest threat facing the church are gays, feminist and intellectuals that the true threat comes from the right wing of the church; that the church always must be on the look out for true believers who want to make their own claims to authority. It’s also been reported that a number of active but non-believing members sit on the committee who have been writing these new articles. For those who distrust the priesthood statement these alleged conversations might only see evidence of that in this post.

I have to wonder if the First Presidency will ever put their name on these articles or if they’ll continue to leave the authorship ambiguous, if they’ll do something more than leave an anonymous article buried deep in their website or if they’ll make the some sort of statement in a broader format.

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For This Purpose

Guest post by Kullervo

My impression is that at one point in the history of Mormon PR and the missionary program, “the purpose of life” was one of the big hooks that Mormons used in order to open up conversion dialogue. I suppose that the assumption was that the potential convert, like many people, has probably been thinking about what the purpose of life is, and by opening a discussion about it, the missionary (or member-missionary) would have the chance to share the particulars of the Mormon understanding of Heavenly Father’s plan for mankind.

By the time I served a full-time mission (1998-2000), “the purpose of life” was not really one of the major official emphases. At least, the prescribed discussions that we as missionaries were supposed to lead potential converts through didn’t really build on “the purpose of life” as a starting point.

Nevertheless, I remember one missionary conference when our mission president told us that was a good way to start discussions with people we came into contact with–again, my assumption is that this was a more common emphasis in the Mormon missionary program when he was younger (he had also lived the vast majority of his life in part of the country where the non-Mormon population was extremely small, so I imagine that most of his working knowledge about actually “sharing the gospel” was theoretical).

Obediently (and willing to try anything–the Ruhr was not exactly a fertile missionary field) I tried “the purpose of life” as an approach a couple of times at the door, on public transportation and in the streets, and it always fell really flat. I’m sure there was a good way to transition from the purpose of life to the Discussions, but it wasn’t clear to me. Certainly in a street-contacting situation where you might only have a person’s attention for a few seconds it never seemed like there was a good way to move from asking about the purpose of life to having a discussion that would help the contact “feel and recognize the Spirit” in a way that would lead to an appointment to teach the Discussions. I guess I kind of hoped that someone would be stunned by the directness and forthrightness of the question and would be caught so off guard that they would be temporarily open to the truths of the “Restored Gospel,” but again, that never really happened.
The thread to this, though, is that part of Mormon belief is that (a) Heavenly Father has a specific plan for mankind and (b) He has revealed the details of His plan through latter-day prophets.

This has been on my mind ever since I talked to my mother this past Sunday–she teaches Gospel Doctrine in her ward (Mormon congregation), and this year the focus is on the Old Testament. She told me about what she taught, and while the details are incidental, the main idea was that the whole of scripture, specifically the Old Testament, both reflects Heavenly Father’s plan and should be read in light of Heavenly Father’s plan.

Now, I’m not a Mormon anymore. I’m a fairly-Evangelical possibly-even-Calvinist Protestant Christian. So while I don’t subscribe to the Mormon Plan of Salvation anymore (I don’t even use those terms), I do believe that God set the events of creation in motion with a specific end in sight. And while I don’t know how meticulous of a Providence I believe in, I am definitely not an Open Theist.

In any case, I’d like to talk about what “Heavenly Father’s plan” for mankind really is. So, with that in mind, my question is, what is the purpose of life, and how does your answer square with the Bible?

Joy to the World

My family came across a choir of Mormon missionaries singing Christmas songs tonight. As they began singing “Joy to the World” we noticed that where we were familiar with the words “heaven and nature sing” they had changed the words to “saints and angels sing”. Does anyone have any insight into this change in lyrics? Is there any aversion to the traditional lyrics within Mormonism?

Christ Came Down

The simple birth of a baby in an overcrowded village came to mean a great many things:

Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us:

One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation (born) of Mary the Virgin Theotokos as to the Manhood; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us

Never Led Astray

5d046The LDS church has recently  published a new article about its own history with racism and how it affected its Priesthood.  Many have pointed out while this is welcome information it leaves the church in a precarious place concerning its own authority claims.  As this image I saw describes the problem: if Young’s personal racism could so radically define and mislead the church for so long, how can the church’s prophets be trusted?  I don’t think this clarification on race will cause any Mormon to immediately question their faith or their trust in modern-day prophecy. But I don’t think it opens the door in regard to future issues.  Without realizing it I think the LDS church has undermined its own authority.

That I think is clearly illustrated in this RadioWest discussion of the topic.  John Dehlin, a secular Mormon, who has been a leader in many LGBTQ issues immediately uses the full force of the article to question the church’s stance on women’s ordination and same-sex marriage.  Most Mormons will not do this as radically nor immediately as Dehlin, but over time I think this single article might be the cause for the erosion of the strong view many Mormons have of their leaders and the source of their inspiration.

I haven’t heard many faithful Mormons speak on this issue. What do you think, did Brigham Young lead the church astray? If you think the prophet can never lead the church astray on “issues concerning salvation” does that statement say anything meaningfully in light of the Universalists views of the LDS church?

You can hear the audio here


Encouraging Signs

I want to make a public record of some positive things I see in Mormonism lately.  The first is a recent article published by the church detailing the human origins of the Priesthood Ban against Black members.  It stops short of an official apology which is where I think the church needs to go, but it offers an official refutation of folk doctrines surrounding the issue and of the church’s previous racism.

The second leaves me in an awkward spot of praising an LDS temple.  In this case, it’s the Fort Collins, CO Temple which appears to be designed in the shape of a cross.  It’s not yet an outright explicit worship symbol but it’s a gateway drug.  I think the activities within the LDS temple are actually a contradiction of the power of the cross, so it’s a weird mashup for me.  I think if I had to choose between LDS temple worship or LDS use of the cross in worship and art I would prefer to see the temples done away with.  But it’s a cross nonetheless and for that I’m grateful.

 

The third is a FAIR podcast discussion between Ned Scarisbrick and Evangelical Bobby Gilpin.  The two discuss the what it means to be saved and I was quite encouraged to hear Mr. Scarisbrick side with Gilpin against the traditional LDS understanding that a person must earn the right to receive the free gift of salvation.  I appreciated the tone and style in which the discussion was held and was very glad to hear the two men share the same conclusion.

Jesus Was a Pimp?

This blog owes a lot to Del Parsons and a very awkward painting of Jesus (if you’re curious about the title of this post you have to check out that link).  So in effort to honor that legacy we must point out the glory of perhaps the most awkward painting of Jesus of all time.

Everything about this painting is awesome. I’m not sure what my favorite part is but let me point a few of them out in no particular order

  1. The hole Jesus is apparently standing in
  2. The baby orangutan
  3. The inconsistent light sources
  4. Adam’s dislocated hips and birthing posture
  5. Is that the sun or the moon?
  6. A miniature giraffe AND a dwarf tiger symbolizing male virility

awkward jesus paintingThere seem to be a few hints to me in the painting that the artist might have some Mormon influences but wasn’t for sure (Eve in particular). My suspicions were a bit confirmed by this painting of Mitt Romney welcoming a new child’s birth.  But the artist’s resume seems to indicate that he has many Evangelical connections.  Sorry Mormon friends, the brilliance of this painting appears to belong entirely to the Evangelical subculture.

Just a Little Atonement

A link to an article on Feminist Mormon Housewives popped up on my Facebook feed this morning. Though not the point of the article, the author briefly said something about the Atonement that stood out to me.

Second, know that it is NOT within your ability to save anyone. You can’t even save yourself. No matter how many good deeds you do, or how many times you attend the temple, you will fall short of perfect. We all do. All of us. We are all in need of the Atonement and God’s mercy and grace to save us. Even if someone only needs “a little” of the Atonement, it still covers us all equally.

I’m curious about the phrase “Even if someone only needs ‘a little’ of the Atonement”. Is this a common view of the Atonement within Mormonism that someone might only need “a little” of it?

The common Evangelical view is that “only” the Atonement can save us. There is no such thing as “a little” of the Atonement. If this view is of the Atonement is representative of Mormonism I think we may have yet another example of a common word that both Mormons and Evangelicals use with radically different definitions.

For an even more radical view on the Atonement, check out Louis Farrakhan’s sermon.