#ERLC2014 and the pursuit of truth


Last week’s Southern Baptist conference on homosexuality did not include any pro-gay speakers.

There were some who identified as “ex-gay” or “celibate”—though it should be noted not all of them prefer this terminology. As for “Side A” Christians, Justin Lee was there. Matthew Vines was there. But neither were given stage time.

In some respects, this is not a big deal. The lack of gay-friendly at a Baptist conference on sexuality is about as surprising as a Baptist conference on sexuality. It’s their right to invite the speakers they want. But it reveals something interesting about conversations like these—on both sides:

They’re not always about finding the truth as much as they are an exercise in confirmation bias.

When it’s truth we’re after, we’re called to seek out voices that don’t necessarily align with ours. We shouldn’t just listen to those who regurgitate what we already believe. Conservatives shouldn’t just watch Fox News, and liberals shouldn’t just watch MSNBC. We should gather information from a variety of sources and perspectives. We should listen to all sides. We should guard against an attitude that says, “We already have the truth.” We should remember that all of us get it wrong at least some of the time.

And if we want to understand an issue that affects one group in particular? We should listen to that group.

If you want to know what it’s like to be black in America, listen to black voices.

If you want to know about gender disparity in the workplace, listen to your female colleagues.

If you want to know what it’s like to be a gay person of faith (celibate or otherwise)—if you want to understand what gay Christians experience when they set foot in a church—listen to their voices. Listening does not necessitate agreement, but it does require a posture of humility, a desire to understand.

Of course, this runs both ways. Earlier this year, Patheos hosted an online chat discussing Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian. They didn’t include anyone representing the traditional perspective. Why not invite someone like Preston Sprinkle, who has shown a willingness to engage in debate without delegitimizing the faith of those he disagrees with? (To be fair, it’s possible some were invited but declined.)

Patheos and the ERLC have every right to invite who they want to their conversations on sexuality. Not every event has to give equal time to contrarian viewpoints.

But we all know this is part of a larger trend in how we consume information that ends up shaping our worldviews.

Most of us listen predominantly (or exclusively) to voices that tell us what we already want to hear—voices that soothe our nagging doubts, voices that whisper away any notion that we might be wrong or might not have all the facts, voices that reassure us we don’t have to go in search of the truth because we already have the truth. We’re so afraid that if we listen to other voices, someone will ask a question we can’t answer. 

Much of the current debate boils down to who we think is on the “right side of history.” My question is, how will  we even know if we’re on the side of history—or the right side of truth—if we never even listen to someone with a different view of it?

Photo credit: Eric Teetsel on Twitter

50 million abortions later, the question we still aren’t asking…

Last week was the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Some pro-life commentators marked the occasion by pointing out that over 50 million pregnancies have been terminated since the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling.

I believe in gender equality. My wife and I have an egalitarian marriage. I support equal pay for equal work. I believe women are every bit as capable of leadership as men—in every sphere of life, from the boardroom to the church.

I also consider myself pro-life, though I like to think that “pro-life” means more than just opposing abortion. For me, neither Roe v. Wade nor 50 million abortions are cause for celebration.

Still, as we mark this tragic milestone, I find myself wondering:

What if these 50 million unborn children had been allowed to live? What kind of life would they have had?

Consider the fact that many women choose abortion out of economic necessity, perceived or real. More than 40% who had an abortion in 2008 lived below the U.S. poverty line ($10,830 for a single woman with no children). The claim often made by pro-life groups that most abortions are “elective” doesn’t take into account the realities of being a single woman trapped in poverty.

Imagine trying to get by on less than $11,000 a year. Now imagine trying to raise a child on that.

By even the most conservative estimate, up to half of these 50 million kids would have grown up in dire economic circumstances, with severely limited access to nutrition, health care, education, and economic opportunity.

Please don’t take this as a chilling attempt to rationalize abortion. It’s not. What I’m asking is, would those of us who call ourselves “pro-life” have taken care of these kids? Would we have insisted that we as a society make sure they experience the very best life has to offer?

Pro-lifers argue (convincingly, in my opinion) that it’s unfair to penalize a fetus simply because it was “unplanned.” But if that’s true with respect to whether that fetus is allowed to be born, isn’t it equally true with respect to what kind of life a child has after he or she is born? If a child who results from an unplanned pregnancy is innocent, doesn’t that child have the right not just to be born, but to have a decent life, too?

Now imagine another 25 million children had been born into poverty over the last 39 years, as would have been the case if Roe v. Wade had never happened. There would have been significantly higher demand for government assistance — ironically, at a time when many conservatives who rightly lament the tragedy of abortion are also insisting on deep cuts to these very programs. The increased demand on private charity would have been substantial as well.

So would we have risen to the occasion?

Would we have considered it a fair tradeoff? A bit more government welfare, a bit more charitable giving — in exchange for fewer (or no) abortions?

Ruins of Ephesus

In ancient Roman cities like Ephesus, it was common to discard unwanted children (usually girls), leaving them to die in the local dump or to be picked up by slave traders. It’s been reported that some Christians would comb the dumps, rescuing unwanted children. They didn’t just work themselves into a fit of righteous indignation; they gave of themselves, bringing life where death had previously reigned.

I’ll never forget the day in college when my political science professor, a registered Democrat, stunned his mostly conservative students (myself included) by saying, “You want to be pro-life? Fine. But put your money where your mouth is. Instead of spending it all lobbying against Roe v. Wade, use some of it to give that teenage girl who’s pregnant and scared another option.”

I know there’s a lot of debate over the effectiveness of government welfare at discouraging abortion. Still, the question remains:

If those 50 million children were alive today, would we as a society have expended ourselves to give them a real shot at a decent life?

Have we been just as pro-life outside the womb as we are in it?

When you slay the monster…

So the old monster is dead. And we danced in the streets.

Osama bin Laden’s legacy of violence met with a violent end.

He was asking for it. With every life he took. With every blasphemy.

After all, he didn’t just kill. He killed in the name of God. If attributing God’s work to the devil is the unpardonable sin, then surely committing atrocities in the name of God is a close cousin.

Jesus warned that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Bin Laden’s death is a sobering reminder of this. But Jesus’ words are a warning to us, too: There is no such thing as redemptive violence. No such thing as peace through conquest. You can’t kill your way to safety or bomb your way to security.

Ten thousand some-odd years of recorded history are a testament to this.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes you have to stand up to oppressors. And sometimes it takes more than a gentle, “Hey, could you try being a little nicer?”

Osama bin Laden got the end he was asking for. But let’s not kid ourselves. Violence only begets more violence.

A friend of mine, troubled by the scenes of jubilation that followed, asked me, “Should we be celebrating bin Laden’s death?”

Should we?

Breathe a sigh of relief… sure. We all did that. But celebrate?

It reminds me of one of the most disturbing scenes from September 11. While most of us mourned, in some corners of the world people danced. Kids handed out candy. They reveled in our trauma. For them, the loss of 3,000 lives was cause for celebration.

Whatever the reasons for their resentment of us, the bloodlust it produced was chilling.

Granted, there’s a difference between callously celebrating the deaths of 3,000 innocents and rejoicing in the demise of a mass murderer. But in God’s eyes, the difference is not as great as you might think…

Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them.

— Saying 28, Proverbs 24

EVERY death, deserved or undeserved, is a tragedy. A painful reminder that our world is broken. Smug satisfaction (much less boisterous exultation) has no rightful part in meting out justice.

“As surely as I live,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”

— Ezekiel 33

The question we must ask: if God himself takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, how can we?

Southern Baptist theologian Al Mohler (who I generally have a hard time agreeing with) said it about as well as anyone:

Death in itself is never to be celebrated… Revenge has no place among those who honor justice… Revenge is not a worthy motivation for justice, and celebration in the streets is not a worthy response.

Should we find some degree of moral satisfaction in the fact that bin Laden did not die a natural death outside the reach of human justice? Yes, of course.

But open patriotic celebration in the streets? That looks far more like revenge in the eyes of a watching world, and it looks far more like we are simply taking satisfaction in the death of an enemy. That kind of revenge just produces greater numbers of enemies.

To desire justice is one thing. To be rid — and well rid — of one of the world’s most dangerous murderers is a good thing.

Only be careful that when you slay the monster, a new one doesn’t rise up in the mirror.