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One More Time, With Emphasis (Scripture and Culture)

English: Snack Machine

English: Snack Machine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ray Stevens recorded a song that begins, “I’m not one to get all excited, I’m seldom tense and never uptight but there is one thing that really makes me mad…” Well, the song is about vending machines, and it is hysterical, but that is not the point of this entry…

This morning I found yet another thing that really makes me mad. The list is long and filled with items I am not necessarily proud of. The new addition? A combination of telling an elder IN A BIBLE CLASS that his interpretation of a passage of Scripture was wrong, while at the same time totally misinterpreting the disputed passage of Scripture yourself.

Here’s the set-up. The class was focused on the role of women in the church (part of a continuing series of lessons on various aspects of the teacher’s growth in the faith). Towards the very end of the class a question was raised, at which time an elder responded in a very direct, but non-confrontational way. It was at this point that a young man objected and said, in so many words, that he had studied the letter to the Corinthians “carefully” and that the elders interpretation was wrong. Emphatically wrong.

What was the young man’s basis for his all-fired surety? (cue the drum roll, please…..)

The young man was so sure the elder was wrong because (and I cannot quote exactly, but I can come pretty close…) “the culture in Corinth was such that if Paul had allowed the women to speak in a public assembly it would have upset those visiting the church services from the surrounding community and it would have hurt the message of Christ. So, rather than allow the women to speak and upset the culture, Paul told them to remain silent.”

To quote Ronald Reagan, “There you go again.” The old, “Paul was too timid to upset the local culture” argument. Without one single particle, noun or verb to defend his position he was utterly convinced that the elder in question was wrong, and with all of his, maybe, what, 10 or 15 years of “careful” (whatever that means) study he was able to dispense with thousands of years of consistent biblical exegesis.

I don’t care how “careful” you study a passage, if you study wrong you are not going to come up with a correct answer. So, one more time, with emphasis, let us look and see what the apostle Paul ACTUALLY WROTE about whether he was writing to not ruffle any cultural feathers or whether he was writing across all cultures with the same message:

1 Cor. 1:2 – Paul writes to the church of God in Corinth, and to all those everywhere who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Cor. 4:17 – Paul’s life (an example to the Corinthians) is in agreement with what he teaches everywhere and in every church.
1 Cor. 7:17 – Paul lays down a rule in Corinth that he lays down in all the churches.
1 Cor. 11:16 – Paul discusses the covering of women and states that he has no other practice, nor do the churches of God.
1 Cor. 14:33 – Paul says that, as in all the congregations of the saints, the women are to maintain silence in the assembly.

So, exactly which of these passages tells us that Paul was making a concession based on culture in Corinth? On any subject??

Or Rome, or Jerusalem, or Ephesus, or Philippi, or Colossae, or Crete?? Where did Paul cave in to cultural sensitivities? And where exactly are cultural sensitivities EVER in line with Christian thought and behavior before Christ is preached?

I’ve heard the “Paul did not want to offend the local culture” argument until I’m getting sick of it – where is even the smallest bit of textual evidence that Paul backed down on ANY point of doctrine because of cultural pressure? Some would argue that he did so in relation to slavery but I would argue even there that (1) Paul did not back down in the face of cultural pressure but rather confronted it in an effort to change it in a significant manner, and (2) the reality of slavery in Paul’s day was so different from our American understanding of slavery that we cannot even begin to discuss the issue intelligently unless we do a thorough study of slavery in the Roman empire and how it differed from the American experience.

So – yeah, I found another item to add to my list of things that “really make me mad.” I do not like it when elders are confronted in public, by a young man who was both disrespectful and who was totally wrong in his interpretation of the passage of Scripture. And I really, really, really am getting sick of people using an argument that (1) they have not studied through and (2) is completely without any textual evidence to support it.

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Male Spiritual Leadership, Discussion Classes and the “Silence of Women”

P question

P question (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An excellent question has been posed to me, and I would like to give it the full consideration it deserves. I will not repost the question in its entirety, but I hope to cover all that the respondent indicated were important issues. The question is one that is asked all across the country in differing degrees and with differing outcomes. Are women allowed to speak up in modern Bible classes? Are they allowed to ask questions? Are they allowed to make comments? And, should a woman wear a hat or a scarf over her head to show her submission to men?

 

First – where I stand generally. In regard to my last post I believe that all Scripture is inspired, not just the parts we like or can button-hole into interpretations that we like. I believe it is important to listen to ALL that a particular writer has to say, and I believe that it is critical to take grammatical and rhetorical cues into mind as we seek to understand what the author intended and the Spirit directed.

 

In regard to the questions being asked, I believe that Paul wrote the Corinthian letters as a continuation of what he taught everywhere and in every place (1 Cor. 4:17, 7:17, 11:16, 14:33, see also 1:2). I do not believe that 1 Cor. 11:1-16 is written with the situation of public worship in mind (the passage that discusses a woman praying or prophesying). I believe this because in 11:18, 20, and 33, and later in 14:23 and 26 Paul clearly uses the phrase “when you come together” or “when the church comes together.” So, I separate 11:1-16 from Paul’s later injunction in 14:34. Finally, in 14:26-35 Paul exhorts first tongue speakers, then prophets, and finally women to “be silent.” The first two are clarifications or limitations – if there is no one to interpret a special tongue or if there are additional revelations. However, in regard to the “women” there are no clarifications or limitations of previous permissions. Paul does not appear to be saying, “a certain group of women need to be silent, but other women are free to speak.” Paul does use an absolute word for “silent” with all three groups, but it is clear (at least to me) from the context he is not meaning “absolutely soundless” as the command to be silent is a clarification, not an absolute prohibition. In 1 Timothy 1:11 a different word is used for the silence of women and I think it provides clarity to the 1 Corinthians teaching. The word is “hesychia” and means respectful silence – not absolute soundlessness.

 

So, what about our modern Bible classes and the participation of women? I will answer not as an absolute authority, but only as one who is offering his own opinion, based on a careful study of this issue.

 

Cropped image of a Socrates bust for use in ph...

Cropped image of a Socrates bust for use in philosophy-related templates etc. Bust carved by by Victor Wager from a model by Paul Montford, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  Our modern Bible classes are nothing like the ancient worship setting. There was no “Bible class” separate and apart from “Worship.” That is a modern monstrosity. Be that as it may, we must deal with it or completely change our format, and I can guess how far that suggestion would go. So, in response to the above question I would ask the following clarification questions:

 

  • Is the class recognized as one which is “open” for discussion and comments? Or are questions (from either males or females) considered to be interruptions and challenges to the teacher’s authority?
  • Is the question asked or comment made by a female considered rude and interruptive, or is she genuinely asking for information?
  • Has the teacher (assuming it is a male) objected to the questions/comments of a female, or is the person objecting herself a female who resents another “uppity” female from asking questions?

I ask these questions because I have lead classes myself in which a woman tried to interject herself as the “teacher” and it was very uncomfortable for everyone involved. I have also seen women hijack classes that were being lead by men who were very young or inexperienced teachers and did not have either the courage or the wisdom to overcome the challenge. These situations are clearly wrong in my opinion, and would be wrong if the perpetrator was a male. To challenge a teacher in order to tear him down or to usurp his teaching authority in front of a class is just wrong – it is unchristian and beneath the dignity of a student.

 

On the other hand, in our culture today the asking of a question is not automatically assumed to be a challenge and a method of usurping authority. In the Socratic method of teaching, the “instructor” lead by asking questions – by “drawing out” the correct answer from his students. Thus, for a student to “ask a question” in a Socratic sense is to challenge authority, and believe me, I have had plenty of these type questions both from males and females. (There is a manner in which you can ask a question and convey the attitude that you believe the instructor is a total and complete idiot.) There is also a perfectly innocent method of asking questions – to seek information. I personally do not object to, and often very much appreciate, these types of questions from any student.

 

In a “worship” experience I have an opposite conclusion. From 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy and incidentally from passages in Ephesians and Colossians, I believe males are to be the leaders in a worship setting. Here is where I believe 1 Cor. 14 is distinct from 1 Cor. 11. A woman may pray or prophesy (although I have a MUCH different understanding of “prophecy” than modern egalitarians!!), but not in a setting in which males are present. If a male is present, HE is to be the leader and voice of teaching and preaching authority.

 

2.  What about the head covering? In looking at 1 Corinthians 11 it seems obvious to me that Paul is discussing how a person reveals submission to his or her “head.” In that culture women did so by wearing head coverings. Today most women do not. So, how do women today demonstrate respectful submission? I believe that answer to that is cultural – “when in Rome do as the Romans.” Are you in a location where head coverings are expected? Then by all means follow that practice. Should all men wear a tie and a coat when serving on the Lord’s Table or when publicly praying or leading singing? If that is the common understanding, then yes, by all means buy a tie and wear a sport coat. Do bib-overalls suffice? Then wash your overalls and wear a nice shirt.

 

A very important note needs to be interjected here. In my graduate study I read an article that discussed 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and for the life of me I cannot remember the title of the article or the name of the author. However, the gist of the article was that Paul was NOT specifically addressing the head covering of women in this section, but he was rather condemning the practice of pagan male priests to have their heads completely covered with a heavy cowl as they “officiated” at their pagan sacrifices. Thus, what we have seen as being directed against women, was actually directed to men, and the reference to women was simply an aside – Paul commenting on his own argument with an oblique reference to women’s head coverings. That article had a profound influence on the way I interpret this passage – although obviously not enough for me to remember who wrote it.* (By the way – I have forgotten my own wedding anniversary, so that tells you how good my memory is).

 

I will say that I have had women in the congregations that I serve wear head coverings at every service. They did not demand it of other women, but quietly followed their own conscience.

 

So, to the one who asked the specific question I will advise this – speak to the teacher of the class and/or your leadership. In your setting is the class clearly demarcated from the worship assembly? Does your leadership object to a female asking questions? Is the class open for anyone to do so? Or is it understood that only males can ask questions? Are the questions considered “Socratic” in the sense that they are viewed as interruptive and authoritative? And, regarding the woman that confronted you, did she do so in a spirit of humility, seeking your best interest, or did she attempt to steamroll you and back you into a corner? I have discovered that very often it is the staunchest “defenders of the faith” that need the greatest reminder about humility, and the willingness of the leader to wash the feet of those whom he/she leads.

 

*To the best of my foggy memory the article was written by Richard Oster. However, it could have been Abraham Malherbe. It actually could turn out to be neither. The title had something to do with head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11. I have not had the chance to locate that article, although I would dearly love to get my hands on it again.

 

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God’s Monumental, Incomprehensible, and Staggering Incompetence

As a conservative, Bible believing Christian I do not often speak about God’s incompetence. I rarely have opportunity to discuss his abject failure and blatant ignorance. But, thanks to so many wonderful bloggers out there I have been presented with this precious opportunity, and I shall endeavor to make the most of it.

Earth from Space

Earth from Space (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It would appear that, according to these theological wunderkinder, God is basically able to create the world ex nihilo and part the Red Sea and feed 5,000 people with a couple of fish and some matzo crackers, but there are some things that are simply beyond God’s otherwise unimpeachable metaphysical prowess. Chief among these, or perhaps the ONLY thing God cannot do, is offend people.

That is right, you did not hear it first here, folks, but God is simply incapable of offending people. Let me explain it the best way I know how:

God can take an young, unmarried and very much virgin girl from a peasant village in a backwater strip of land known as “Palestine” and choose her to bear his very own Son. God is further capable of declaring through this Son His very nature – who and what it means to be God. Throughout this Divine Son’s ministry on earth he made a lot of people very, very angry. He called the religious leaders a bunch of snakes. He challenged the religious hierarchy and told them their precious temple would be destroyed. He even had the audacity to march in and kick over their money-changing tables and throw the bums out.

But, he never, ever, ever offended anyone.

His earliest disciples picked right up where He left off. They told the leading religious figures that ALL people, not just a chosen few, could enter into God’s kingdom. They challenged sexual practices, religious practices, economic practices, domestic practices, speech patterns and changed the liturgy of their worship.

But, they were careful to never, ever, ever offend anyone, because that is simply something God cannot do.

So, when a question arose over whether men should be the leaders of the family and church these early disciples were hit with a problem. Jesus never offended the tender sensibilities of the people by selecting a woman as one of his apostles, and all the way back to the garden of Eden there appeared to be an solid chain of male spiritual leadership, so these early disciples did what God was forced to do and what Jesus surrendered as well.

They strove mightily not to offend anyone who would be upset if a woman was selected as a spiritual leader.

So, we might see little hints and pointers that women are to be elevated into spiritual leadership positions, but they have to be extremely well camouflaged lest the words upset these fragile early followers of Jesus, and more important, the surrounding culture. So well camouflaged, I might add, that it took almost 2,000 years of some of the finest theology ever written to decode the carefully hidden messages.

So, when the apostle Paul encouraged the women to be silent in Corinth (well, according to the letter that was his message everywhere, but we do not want to confuse the situation any more than it already is) he was only faking it, what he really meant to say was, “OK gals, you’re in charge now – go for it!”

The same with Peter. Bless his heart, after almost letting the cat out of the bag in that ill planned sermon in Acts 2, he had to come back and redeem his socially acceptable self in his first letter when he referred to those “weaker vessels” that had to be gently loved by their husbands. Whew! That was a close call!

There is only one thing that I do not understand about this multi-act play. I don’t get it.

Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) off...

Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) off South Africa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why would this all powerful God, who from the very first page of Genesis to the last word of Revelation, demonstrates that he goes out of his way to delight in upsetting the status quo, suddenly be stricken with a case of total incompetence when it comes to the issue of spiritual leadership? Why would Jesus, who was a Great White shark when it came to touching all kinds of spiritually and physically unclean people and who allowed prostitutes to touch him, suddenly become a jellyfish when it came to choosing his immediate successors? Why would an apostle, in presenting arguments that would completely upend virtually every facet of common culture, suddenly balk and become impotent when the issue of female spiritual leadership came up?

And, much beyond those questions, if we can label certain teachings of these apostles as inferior and even spiritually false, how can we trust any of their writings? If Jesus and Peter and Paul could all be wrong about the gender thing, how can we trust they were anywhere close to being right about the grace thing? What about the ultimate question of God Himself? Is this all just an elaborate charade? Could it be that Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, et.al., are actually correct – that the Bible is nothing more than a bunch of fables used by certain power groups to maintain their hegemony?

You see, I just don’t buy the argument. If God is who He says He is, if Jesus is who He says He is and if he could do the things that the Bible records that He did, then by all means God could “upset the tender sensibilities” of a culture that placed men over women. God could have kicked over the tables of the misogynists and thrown the bums out. Jesus could have selected three or six female apostles, and the male apostles could have written emphatically that in the realm of spiritual leadership there is to be no gender difference.

But that is not the story that we have. That is not the Scripture that we have. So, we are faced with a question:

Is our God a bumbling, fumbling, incompetent buffoon who only occasionally gets a few things right, or is our God one who both knows the human psyche and who directs humanity’s footsteps, even in directions that we are not inclined to go?

I’m placing my faith in a God who is so much bigger and so much smarter and so much more powerful than I am.

And yes, I do happen to believe that God is capable of offending people.

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The Incredible, Mystifying, Disappearing American Male

Worried Man with Debt and Bills

Worried Man with Debt and Bills (Photo credit: SalFalko)

Note: I wrote the piece with the above title as an expression of some very deeply held feelings.

I was direct, confrontational, and perhaps “hyperbolic.”

Believe me, it cuts both ways. I have been accused of no longer being a Christian simply because I believe God gave the role of spiritual leadership to men.

But quite frankly I am tired of having to defend my own feelings. I never should have hit the “publish” button.

I deleted the post.

 

Can Homosexuals Force Christians to Accept Their Behavior?

Please read carefully. Do not put words in my mouth. I have a hard enough time defending my own statements. I refuse to try to defend statements I have not, nor would I ever, make.

The landscape regarding LGBT behavior and religious freedom just got a lot more complicated. Up to this point in the recent debate the question pressed most forcefully was one of belief, or orientation. It was argued by the LGBT promoters that a person could not be discriminated against because of their orientation. The argument was tied closely to that of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. That argument drew both praise and condemnation from the African American community. Some saw the connection as legitimate, others saw a vast discrepancy between being born black and the choice of a homosexual lifestyle. That argument was prominently on display recently in a decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court to rule against a photographer who had refused to take pictures of a same-sex marriage. The photographer stated that it was against her religious beliefs to support same-sex marriage, and referred the lesbian couple to other photographers who would comply with their wishes. That was not good enough for the lesbian couple; they sued, saying that the original declination by the first photographer amounted to discrimination. The Supreme Court agreed.

The thrust of the Supreme Court decision was that in a civil society sometimes we have to go against our feelings in order to create an equal playing field. With the landmark legal decisions of the Civil Rights Movement clearly in view, the court argued that if a company is serving the public at large, the company does not have the right to limit its services to only those who agree with it. The photographer could cease to offer any wedding services, and thereby comply with the law, but if she offered wedding services to heterosexual couples, she had to offer the same to same-sex couples.

The first amendment to the constitution just got blown out of the water.

First, the photographer was not arguing that the couple did not have the right to get married, nor to have their wedding photographed. She was arguing that she should not be forced to support, and promote, that wedding by taking their pictures for them. Here is a critical issue, that if not overturned on appeal, destroys the very foundation of the right of free speech. It was not the orientation of the couple that offended the photographer, it was their behavior. She said she had no issue with taking portraits of LGBT people – that would be analogous to refusing to serve black people at a lunch counter. What she objected to was being forced to use her studio to support (promote) the behavior of the couple in getting married. So, just as a restaurant cannot deny service to a person because of their race, they can still deny service to an African American or Hispanic, or Asian, or Native American, or Anglo for that matter,  if that person attempts to enter their place of business without a shirt or shoes, or because they are falling down drunk.

In my opinion this is what the SCONM totally ignored, and their unanimous decision does not speak at all about the photographers right to object to behavior that she clearly views as abhorent specifically because of her religious convictions. If a Christian cannot object to homosexual behavior on religious grounds, on what basis can we object? And that, my friends, is exactly what I believe the “Homosexual Agenda” is blatantly trying to coerce through these legal rulings.

Second, at what point would the SCONM rule that a company does not have to comply with the demands of a customer? What if an atheist walked into a devoutly Muslim catering firm and demanded that they prepare a roast pork dinner for his company? Well, you could argue that if pork was not on the menu then the caterer would not be forced to prepare it. But that obscures the point: the photographer in this situation did not have “Illegitimate Weddings for Same-Sex Couples” on her menu. What she offered was photographic services for weddings. If she did not recognize the event as a wedding (which she obviously did not, and for religious reasons), then the service was simply “not on the menu.” What if a white supremacist walked into a Jewish advertising agency and demanded that they design, create, and produce handouts and flyers for the next Ku Klux Klan meeting? What if a group of hate-filled Christians walked into the offices of a pro-gay magazine and demanded that they publish an ad in their magazine that stated, “God Hates Fags.” Would the SCONM side with the homosexual oriented magazine or the hate-filled Christians?

Yeah, I thought so too.

All during the fight for equal rights for same-sex couples there has been a war of words between promoters and detractors. On the one hand there is the belief that there is an all encompassing “Homosexual Agenda” and there are those who flatly deny such a thing exists. I believe that this case proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that, at least for some homosexuals, there clearly is an all encompassing agenda, and that agenda will not be completed until all voices of religious dissent are silenced. With this ruling the SCONM has stated that religious beliefs DO NOT matter in the effective functioning of society. Religious beliefs, especially Christian religious beliefs, must be subverted in the cause of promoting so-called equality and justice. The only problem is, the hard-core LGBT promoters do not want equality – they want the power to suppress and remove any objections to their lifestyle.

The Supreme Court of New Mexico just made it a lot easier for them to do so. Now, the question will turn to religious groups themselves. If a single individual cannot “discriminate” against homosexual behavior on religious grounds, on what constitutional ground can a church (which promotes those biblical teachings) stand if it refuses to perform or to permit homosexual weddings to take place in their facilities? The individual is simply a inter-connected part of the whole. If the fruit of the tree is poisonous, how long will it be before the entire tree is declared poisonous?

Stand by, folks. This will get very interesting. Jesus warned his disciples that they would be hated, not just ridiculed or made fun of. If Christians stand firm on this issue the secular world will unleash a torrent of vitriol the likes of which have not been seen since Adolf Hitler decided to eradicate the Jewish people. Of that I have no doubt. The question will be whether we as disciples of Christ have the moral integrity and the strength of character to stand and face the hatred of the world.

The question we will be forced to answer is, which do we love more – the praise of man or the blessing of God?

Supreme Court Ruling, Soft Feminism, and Church Leadership

English: Their are thousands of artworks creat...

English: Their are thousands of artworks created in the art world depicting St Paul. This painting was created by the famous artist called Rembrandt. It hangs on the walls of the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few hours ago I posted a response to the Supreme Court Ruling overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and refusing to uphold Proposition 8 from the state of California. That post can be found here. While working out at the gym another thought occurred to me that this ruling might have a curious and unexpected consequences for soft-feminists within the church.

To begin, let me define my terms. I consider hard, or radical, feminists to be those who push, not only for equality for males and females, but for actual superiority of the female over the male. Modern day radical feminists would include any past, present, or future president of the National Organization of Women and Planned Parenthood. Males can be radical feminists as well. Anyone who argues that a female has the unrestricted right to murder her unborn child fits into this category. Some might be more radical than others. Radical feminists have little or nothing to do with the Bible; they view it as ancient and silly myth. Radical feminists tend to be radical secularists. And, to be more to the point, radical feminists have been in bed with the radical homosexual agenda for many years (pardon the pun).

Soft feminists, (often referred to as “egalitarians”) on the other hand, can and do claim an affinity for the Bible. It is a tenuous love affair, because they have to pare and trim certain texts that they find patriarchal and misogynistic. So, a large portion of the Old Testament is out, as are the passages in the letters of Paul and Peter that are viewed as being denigrating to females. However, certain other passages are held to be deeply formative for soft feminists – especially those in which Jesus speaks or acts favorably to females, and, interestingly enough, Galatians 3:27-28 written by the famed patriarchal misogynist the apostle Paul. This passage communicates to them their core belief: men and women, while biologically different, are ultimately equal in every respect. No soft feminist would argue that male and female have ceased to exist as different genders. The two have simply ceased to exist as different “persons” in the church.

Just so we are all on the same page, let us quote the passage in question:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (RSV)

Even though there is absolutely nothing in the letter to the Galatian Christians discussing church leadership or male/female roles or gifts within the church; even though there is absolutely nothing in the letter to indicate that Paul is addressing an issue that he very specifically dealt with in other letters (1 Cor. 14, 1 Tim. 2, 3; Titus 1; Ephesians 5); and even though the derived interpretation is directly opposed to those passages, the soft feminists see in Gal. 3:27-28 their ultimate “trump card” as it relates to male/female relationships, and especially male/female gifts and responsibilities vis a vis the church. In this interpretation Galatians 3:27-28 is the last, and most profound, statement in the Bible regarding the differences between the sexes, and that statement is that there is no difference spiritually speaking.

Ah, but, here is where it gets really interesting. Soft feminists, at least some of them, tend to be very literal and strict when the issue of homosexuality is addressed. (Males especially so.) Because they accept most of the Bible, especially the creation account of Genesis 1-3, they view marriage as sacred. Male and female join as one to create not only another physical child or children, but a special spiritual bond that is viewed as holy in the eyes of God. To many soft feminists the idea of homosexuality is abhorrent. And, interestingly enough, they refer to passages in the Old Testament and the New Testament (some written by the horrible patriarch and misogynist Paul) as evidence that homosexuality is a sin.

So, what do soft feminists do when radical feminists and the radical homosexual lobby quote Galatians 3:27-28 as further proof that God has fully accepted homosexual marriage – as the United States Supreme Court has just made clear in a secular sense?

Here is my question: If Galatians 3:27-28 is the “trump card” that overturns passages in the Old and New Testaments that specifically address the roles of male and female in regard to certain spiritual natures, how can you argue that Galatians 3:27-28 is not the “trump card” that overturns passages in the Old and New Testaments that are “homophobic” and no longer culturally acceptable?

Soft feminists cannot argue that gender is pre-determined and homosexuality is a choice. Homosexuals have argued for years that their behavior is just as ingrained in them as “male” and “female” is ingrained in our biology. (This, of course, raises serious issues with the bi-sexual and trans-gender crowd, but victimhood loves company, so minor and major differences of logic are often overlooked.) Soft feminists cannot argue that the apostle Paul is accepting “maleness” and “femaleness” or anatomical difference, but that he is only pointing to spiritual equality within specific gifts and roles in the church. Let us remind ourselves of the passage, “There is neither male nor female…” What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

You see, from a strictly logical point of view, the homosexual lobby has a stronger claim to Galatians 3:27-28 in the sense of the apostle Paul breaking down all previous beliefs than does the soft feminist (egalitarian) crowd. If Paul is clearly and unambiguously stating that there is “neither male nor female” then homosexual marriage is simply a non-issue. We are all one in Christ. In this interpretation bodies and gender do not matter. The only thing that counts is what is in our heart. In other words, if God called them to exercise their love through an emotional bond with someone of the same anatomical structure, who is the soft feminist-but strict heterosexual to object?

Obviously I reject this argumentation in toto. I reject the soft feminist (egalitarian) interpretation of Galatians 3:27-28 as well. That interpretation is bad theology built upon wretched exegesis.

But I must say I enjoy watching those who use Galatians 3:27-28 and argue that women should have the same roles as men in terms of church leadership squirm and try to argue around the use of Galatians 3:27-28 when used by someone who is arguing that homosexual marriages are blessed by God and should be blessed by the church.

If you take a passage out of context to win your argument, don’t be too surprised to find that someone else is using that same passage to win theirs.

The Tension Between Fulfilling a “Calling” and Listening to False Prophets

English: What a smiley looks like when thinkin...

English: What a smiley looks like when thinking of a suspicious level mushroom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This particular topic cuts into several hot-button socio-political issues being debated in the church today, so I know I am treading on thin ice, out on a broken limb and cruisin’ for a bruisin’. But I will share these thoughts anyway, maybe not because they offer any clarity, but simply because some things need to be discussed and since this is my blog I get to set the topic.

One phrase that I hear quite frequently in discussions regarding several different topics is something like this, “How can you tell me I cannot exercise my God given calling simply because I am (a) __________________?” and you can fill in the blank with any of a number of supposed “victims” of the status quo. That might be a female, a homosexual, a divorcee, a professional musician or dance performer, or a repeat sex offender. There really is no limit to a real or imagined victimhood. Rather than pick on one of these truly “hot as blue blazes” issues, I will shift the conversation somewhat and discuss a somewhat arcane question, but a question that I believe relates back to any and all of these other particular situations.

One issue that has divided Churches of Christ for about a century is that of whether a congregation should have, or even can have, a “professional” ministry staff or if they should operate on a “mutual edification” process in which every male in the congregation is allowed to, and often is encouraged to, lead in the worship service including teaching class and preaching. A “professional” preacher is defined as one who has been to a training school, either a college, university or preacher training school, and who receives full compensation for his service to the congregation. Most who serve in mutual edification congregations do not accept any payment for their preaching/teaching services.

To begin with, I want to say I share a lot of sympathy with those who believe in mutual edification. I think sometimes those of us who are “professionally” trained tend to look down upon, or otherwise overlook, men and women in the congregation who are both capable and qualified to lead in significant ways. As with virtually every profession, there can be a measure of hubris the creeps into the heart of every practitioner.

That having been said, however, I have significant issues with those who claim that there is no Scriptural warrant for a paid, “professional” ministry position (for reference see 1 Cor. 9:9-14 and 1 Timothy 5:18 where Paul quotes the Old Testament Scriptures and even quotes Jesus in proclaiming that those who preach the gospel should get their support for doing so.) One of my main concerns is that in my professional training I have learned just how easy it is to twist and distort any passage of Scripture to mean what you want it to mean. Racists have been doing this for years. So have those who advocate building nuclear bomb proof shelters in their backyards and hoarding 15 years worth of food in order to survive the coming nuclear war (I often wonder – if the destruction is that total, what good would 15, or 50, or 100 years worth of food do? You just cannot argue with stupid). Another concern is that just because you have an opinion, a poem and a verse of Scripture, that does not mean you have been “called” to share that passage, poem and opinion.

The point is, those who hold an extreme position have to do so by doing two things. One, they have to ignore, twist, or explain away many clear passages of Scripture that contradict their opinion. Two, they have to magnify their own personal sense of investment in the debate so that, if someone disagrees with them or, more accurately stated, disagrees with their conclusions, then that person is described as a “hater,” “phobic” or worse and so the objector’s point of view is discounted a priori. So, if someone attempts to defend the use of a paid, professionally trained minister, the discussion gets hijacked into an attack on the qualifications of the one advocating the mutual edification position. Now, the mutual edifier may truly be inept and unqualified to teach and preach. But his talents and qualifications have nothing to do with the passages of Scripture which allow for, if not support, a paid “professional” minister.

As I mentioned above, this scenario has specific applications with those who advocate for absolute and undifferentiated equality for females as males, and for those who advocate for the acceptance of homosexual behavior, and for those who advocate for more and more entertainment styles of worship. Are there spokesmen who defend such movements as Christian, Godly and Scripturally supported? Absolutely! But, before everyone simply nods their heads with these prophets of relaxed (or erased) doctrinal teachings, let me remind you of the history of false prophecy in the Bible. It started in the Garden of Eden and it continued right up to and including the desert in which our Lord was tempted and the Garden of Gethsemane where he endured his final battle with Satan. The apostles warn frequently and fervently for those who have been enlightened by the Spirit not to be taken by by a spirit of false prophecy. The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel in particular had to deal with the effects of false prophecy. The historical books of the Old Testament recount many tragic stories where God’s people listened to and believed false prophets. Just because someone says, “Thus says the Lord” does not make him or her a prophet of God. We have to use our keenest senses to determine whether a prophet is speaking the words of God or the words of the Deceiver.

Stop-hand-caution

Stop-hand-caution (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To go back to the main title of this post. I do not doubt that many are hearing a “calling” to do whatever it is that they are advocating. My question to them is, “How do you know it is the voice of God you are hearing, or the voice of a false and deceiving prophet?” God would not command you to do something that He has prohibited for thousands of years. The last time anything even remotely similar to these advocates are promoting did occur, it took a miraculous vision of a sheet and some unclean animals to convince the recipient. And, lest I be misunderstood, God was trying to get Peter to do something that God predicted would happen several thousand years earlier to Abraham. And if there are several, if not many, passages in the Bible which contradict this “voice” you are hearing, what makes you think that God has suddenly changed his mind? Is the voice you are hearing not, in fact, your own just cast in a different tone and amplified in volume?

I ask the question because the stakes are so high. If you are right and God has changed his mind, then I need to correct my thinking and get in line with God. But if I am right and the prophets of change are wrong, then there are many people who are at risk of following the thief as he leads them from the Good Shepherd’s safe fold.

We all are wagering something in this discussion. What is it worth to be wrong?

Societal Evolution, The BSA, and the Meaning of Heresy (Pt. 2 of 2)

English: A warning sign with an exclamation mark

English: A warning sign with an exclamation mark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my last post I wanted to make the following points: (1) The Boy Scouts of America is not a Christian organization, and it should not use claims of Christian doctrine to support its denial of membership to young men who claim to be homosexual. While the Boy Scouts may teach such concepts as honor and respect, in many other areas the teachings of the Scouts are clearly antithetical to Christian beliefs. I know mine is a minority conclusion, but I cannot help but see the logical implications to many of the core disciplines within the Scouts. (2) The fact that the militant homosexual lobby was able to coerce the Scouts into accepting young Scouts who are openly homosexual is just a precursor to the process of forcing the Scouts to accept adult leaders who are active in the homosexual lifestyle. It is well documented that a majority of Scouts and Scout leaders are opposed to the homosexual lifestyle, but that means nothing to those who would force their deviant views onto others. I closed with a question – at what point does this evolution of societal norms call the church to proclaim the concept of heresy again? A related question would be, what exactly is the meaning of heresy?

I want to begin by drawing a parallel to another issue facing the church today, one that many have accepted as just a normal progression of what the church needs to do to be “relevant” to the predominant western culture today. Notice the argumentation that is used to defend and to promote the position that women are to have equal roles in the spiritual leadership of the church:

  • References to Old Testament norms of male spiritual leadership are invalid because we live under the New Covenant.
  • Jesus clearly involved many women in his ministry.
  • The apostles lived under a patriarchal society, therefore their teachings regarding male spiritual leadership are not relevant in our egalitarian society.
  • In at least one instance (the Pastoral letters) it is argued that the author was not Paul, was not apostolic, and therefore not authoritative for the modern church.
  • In regard to the Corinthian letters, Paul was confronting a pagan culture where the role of women was vastly different from what women would be doing in the church today. Therefore, the letter of 1 Corinthians is not relevant to the role of women in the church today.
  • Galatians 3:27-28 clearly redefines relationships within the body of Christ, therefore we are to count everyone as equal.
  • How can you possibly deny the freedom of a woman to serve in a capacity she feels called and gifted to serve the church?

Now, note how the militant homosexual lobby has picked up on those very points to advance their agenda:

  • References to the Old Testament are not relevant, as laws concerning homosexual behavior were addressed to Canaanite fertility cults, and we are not living under the Old Covenant today anyway.
  • Jesus did not condemn homosexuality in any of his teachings – in fact he taught love and acceptance of all people.
  • The apostles lived in a Jewish culture that was homophobic due to the influence of the Levitical purity code, therefore their teachings against homosexuality are culturally bound and are no longer relevant to our more permissive society.
  • It follows that Paul’s teachings against homosexuality in Romans and 1 Corinthians are directed against the pagan fertility cults practiced in the first century, and since those cults are no longer relevant today, the condemnations of those behaviors are no longer relevant today.
  • Galatians 3:27-28 clearly redefines relationships within the body of Christ, therefore we are to count everyone as equal, and we are certainly not to exclude those who live in a committed, loving, monogamous relationship, whether it be homosexual or heterosexual.
  • How can you possibly deny the freedom of a gay man or lesbian woman who feels called and gifted to serve the church, especially since their sexual nature is a gift from God himself, and something that should not be ridiculed or condemned?

Many people get angry when these parallels are pointed out. While they are all for women being put forward as ministers, preachers, deacons, and even elders within a congregation, they are morally repulsed by the idea of two men or two women marrying each other and publicly promoting their union in the church. When the parallels are pointed out they stammer, “But the equal position of women is just different than blessing the sin of homosexuality. Homosexuality is condemned in Scripture, women using their God-given gifts is not condemned!”

Different in degree perhaps. But I question whether the arguments for blessing the homosexual lifestyle and for promoting the elevation of women over men in the church are all that different in substance.

Just a question, but if you accept those seven points in regard to women’s role in the church, how can you deny those six points in regard to accepting practicing homosexuals as members and especially leaders in the church?

If you question my logic or my sanity, simply consider the path of the Episcopal/Anglican Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Each of these denominations long ago accepted the increased role of women in the work and worship of the church. Each did so with the aforementioned reasons front and center. They wanted to be relevant, they wanted to be sympathetic to the needs and gifts of the women in their churches, and they wanted to be seen as being responsive to the changing culture. And each of these denominations are now facing the battle of what to do with practicing homosexuals who use the very same arguments to promote the elevation of homosexuals as priests, bishops, and even archbishops. It is not surprising to many analysts that the more expansive and “affirming” these denominations become, the greater the losses in their memberships. While some former Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians simply drop out of church altogether, it is fascinating to me that many of them are “returning” to the Roman Catholic church. They see in Roman Catholicism something that their denomination surrendered a long time ago – an adherence to the word of God and to the power of church tradition.

Bingo.

When you base doctrine on Scripture alone (Latin, Sola Scriptura) you have a very solid foundation. But, it is not without its weakness. When you allow every person and every group to interpret that Scripture in any way they see fit you are bound to have disagreements and sometimes serious divisions. However, when you add the power of church tradition to the equation you brace that written foundation with a historical foundation. That is why, in the discussion of what books were to be considered a part of the canon and which were to be discarded, one primary “rule of thumb” that was used was “that which is believed always, everywhere, and by all.” Here you have the expanse of time (always), geography (everywhere) and general agreement (by all). Those who refused to accept this three-fold criteria were labeled “heretics.”

What an old-fashioned, out of date, hateful and derogatory word. Heresy – it even hisses when you say it. I would argue that if the church is to survive with any degree of health we had better learn how to say the word and apply the word judiciously and effectively.

In the New Testament the word is used to identify a division – even the church was labeled as a heresy of the Jewish faith. But soon the word came to mean not just a division, but a dangerous and rebellious division – one that was anti-Christian as much as it was un-Christian. It meant that a church, or a group of churches, was forced to examine a teaching, and those who promoted it, seriously and if it failed to meet the three-fold criteria of “everywhere, in every place, and by all” it was deemed to be an “evil spirit” and it was repulsed.

Today we do not speak of heresy very much, if at all. We are told, “do not judge, lest ye be judged.” We are told to be loving and kind and affirming and welcoming. We are told to never, ever, ever offend anyone, lest our good name be drug through the mud. We frame all of our decisions on how they will be viewed by a very narrow group of non-believers, instead of how they will be judged by God.

Somewhere in this path the concept of truth and fidelity to Jesus and to his church, that which has been believed “always, everywhere, and by all” has been forgotten, or consciously discarded. I am deeply concerned with the direction of the Church of Christ today. The scuffle over worship styles has degenerated into a fight over the role of women, and it will become a war when the issue of homosexuality finally explodes.

If we do not return to an understanding that some teachings are sound and some are heretical, that some teachers are healthy and some are destructive, that some practices are truly matters of opinion and some are matters of critical obedience to Jesus and his commands, the church will continue to lose members and, more important, lose its purity in the sight of God (see Rev. 2-3). That means we are going to have to call some teachings heretical, and some teachers heretics. Some people will be offended, many will leave. Or, perhaps the faithful will have to leave.

But if the church ceases to be the church, what difference will it make if everyone stays?

Societal Evolution, The BSA, and the Meaning of Heresy (Part 1 of 2)

Boy Scouting (Boy Scouts of America)

Boy Scouting (Boy Scouts of America) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I begin, this is the first of two posts along a very wide ranging subject.

The big societal news this week was the decision by the Boy Scouts of America to allow openly homosexual boys to join, or remain, in their scout troops. I have written several blog posts concerning the intersection of culture and religion (and the fog that modern Christians must fly through in order to make Christian decisions) and so this is not a topic that I energetically seek, but it is also not one that I shy away from. It is part and parcel of being a leader in a group that seeks to be a discipling group for Jesus Christ.

I have a couple of reactions about this decision, reactions that may be surprising to some. First, on one level the decision does not really surprise me, nor does it deeply bother me. The reason for this is quite simple and has nothing to do with why so many other people are upset about this decision. I just do not regard the Boy Scouts of America as being anything related to a Christian organization, and I am somewhat offended when defenders of the BSA push Christianity as the basis for keeping openly homosexual boys out of their group. The BSA is an organization that is antithetical to Christianity in many respects. It is a meritocracy where one earns respect and standing by accomplishing certain tasks and winning certain badges and honors. Disciples of Christ lead by serving others, and there is no such thing in the New Testament as “earning” merit badges or attaining higher levels of power through climbing the next highest step on the ladder of rank. I seriously doubt Jesus would bless the Boy Scouts.

The Boy Scouts were started as, and continue to be, a junior para-military group, complete with various ranks; the doctrine that is drilled into the troop members has little to do with New Testament Christianity. Americans shudder when we read stories of the “Hitler Youth” and how the Nazis were able to indoctrinate an entire generation of young people with the National Socialist propaganda. Well, all you have to do is create a youth organization that promotes a certain belief system, fluff it up with all kinds of badges, medals, patches and awards, cover it with a veneer of religion, nationalism and patriotism, and voila, you can teach those young people anything you want them to believe. Now, membership in the BSA is voluntary whereas the Nazi Youth was mandatory, so the parallel is not exact, but the basic pattern is the same. The marriage of religion with the quasi-militarism of the BSA has always made me squeamish. I have always questioned its validity, and no one has ever been able to show me how joining the Scouts makes a boy a better Christian. A better soldier some day – possibly. A better Christian? I cannot see it.

Ranks in the Boy Scouts of America

Ranks in the Boy Scouts of America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally, and I admit this is a personal issue, but I have never been a witness to a very positive example of Boy Scouts. I grew up in northern New Mexico, and on more than one occasion while my family was up in the woods camping we would be witnesses to a troop of Scouts on a weekend camping trip. No sooner would they pile out of their pickups and vans than they would pull their BSA approved hatchets out of their back packs and start flailing away at any Aspen or pine tree that happened to be in their path. That, and other examples of hooliganism convinced me that I never wanted to be a part of the Scouts, and I have never had any experience that has convinced me that what I witnessed was out of the ordinary. Scouting leaders may claim that the Scouts produce fine upstanding citizens, but my guess is that Scouting had very, very little to do with the production of those citizens. Families and churches…absolutely. Boy Scouts – nah.

(Now, before some Scout decides to rip into me, I realize my experience may be in the minority – your mileage may vary.)

So, please, defenders of the BSA – do not use Christianity as a reason to be upset about this decision. You let that train leave the station a long time ago.

But, there is another aspect of the the decision to allow homosexual males into the BSA that does trouble me. Stay with me here, this will take some time to work through. The BSA has always said that it is a private organization, and as a private organization, it reserves the right to set membership standards they feel are necessary. The homosexual lobby/promoters have viewed the prohibition against admitting homosexual youth to be discrimination. Up to this point the BSA has been consistent in not allowing either youth or adults who profess a homosexual desire to be a part of their membership. As a result of this recent decision, young men who are sexually drawn to other young men must be allowed to be a part of a troop. Here is where things get tricky. The BSA still will not allow an openly homosexual adult to lead a troop. So, intentionally or not, the BSA has set up a dual standard. Young men may be openly homosexual and they are to be welcomed, but openly homosexual adults are not allowed. Therefore, as any freshly minted lawyer can easily point out, the BSA has rejected their earlier claim of a uniform moral standard. The upshot of this is that no judge in the United States is going to rule in favor of the BSA when the next lawsuit is brought against them for discriminating against adult homosexuals. The BSA just shot themselves in the foot with a shotgun, whether they intended to or not.

It is one thing to admit a young man who is struggling with his developing sexual urges. It is another thing entirely to allow an adult who is actively living a homosexual lifestyle to lead and mentor these confused young men. The militant homosexual lobby just won a huge victory, and it was accomplished with the compliance of the group that was supposedly opposed to the practice of homosexuality.

Now, this is what upsets me – what we have just witnessed is the forced capitulation of the majority of BSA members because of the vocal agitation of a few very powerful lobbyists. And my question is, where will it stop?

I am not at all convinced that the BSA should have a question on their application regarding the sexual tendencies of pre-adolescent males, period. But, that having been said, if you do not like the rules of one particular group then go start a group that befits your belief system. Membership in the BSA has always been optional. If a family does not like the prohibition against homosexual behavior (or inclination) then they are free to start an openly gay scouting group. The ability of the militant homosexual agenda to force compliance with their belief system upon private organizations is deeply troubling to me, as it should be to everyone.

I must end this post here, but this leads to my next question: at what point must the church disavow certain departures from its established doctrine as heresy, and what will happen to that church when it is challenged by the evolving norms of the society in which it finds itself?

“But Jesus Never Condemned Homosexuality…”

Heterosexual-symbol-3D

Heterosexual-symbol-3D (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is an argument that is repeated endlessly. In the debate over homosexuality vs. heterosexuality someone who advocates the acceptance of a homosexual lifestyle will say, “The Old Testament may condemn homosexual behavior, but Jesus came to inaugurate a new relationship with God, and Jesus never condemned homosexuality.” Because the argument is so frequent, and on the surface has a degree of truthfulness about it, those who advocate for heterosexual relations, and monogamous heterosexual relationships at that, must learn how to respond to it.

Point number one: it is true that we have no recorded teachings of Jesus explicitly rejecting or denouncing homosexuality. However important that may appear on the surface, that point is really much ado about nothing, or at the most, much ado about very little. We have no explicit teachings from Jesus about abortion, nuclear warheads, genetic engineering, or driving while intoxicated. (Jesus could have at least given us a directive about riding a donkey while intoxicated!) Yet, Christians and non-Christians alike will agree that abortion is wrong, that nuclear warheads need to be destroyed, and that driving while intoxicated is a moral evil. So, to say that “Jesus never condemned X, Y or Z” is only to say that (a) we do not have any record of him denouncing X, Y or Z, and (b) if Jesus had addressed every single moral issue and every single permutation of every single moral issue the world’s libraries could not contain the books necessary, and as human culture is constantly changing, Jesus would still have to be on this earth giving his explicit approvals and denunciations.

End result – this is simply not that definitive of an argument. It would have to be augmented with other, more specific arguments.

Point number two: this may sound harsh and bitter, and I do not intend it that way – but I really do not think that those who use this argument are really all that concerned about what Jesus did have to say, even if he had condemned homosexuality. The fact of the matter is that we do have several teachings of Jesus regarding marriage and male/female relationships, and he always returns to God’s primary reasons for creating male and female, and that is for the fulfilling of human loneliness and for reproduction. Now, before everyone gets their knickers in a knot, yes, it is possible for same sex friendships to fill a person’s longing for companionship. But, and this is a huge but, after God had created the male he said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Gen. 1:18) Now, at this point God had an infinite number of possibilities open to him (our God is a God of infinite possibilities!) The answer to the loneliness of a male was not to create another male, nor to magically create a child, or whatever unseen option that God had open to Him. The solution that God chose was to create a female that was “like” the male, but also very different. When Adam saw his life’s mate he realized that he was complete, and it was at this point that the inspired author interjects this little editorial phrase, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother [note the heterosexual union] and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24, HCSB). Note, therefore, what Jesus had to say about marriage and divorce:

Haven’t you read, He replied, that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female, and He also said: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? (Matthew 19:4-5).

So, Jesus very clearly did teach about heterosexual relationships, especially in regard to monogamous and unbroken marriage.

It is my personal opinion, but I truly believe that even if Jesus had condemned homosexuality, those who advocate for it would simply dismiss his teaching as outdated, legalistic and unenlightened. Am I being too harsh? Those epithets and worse are all attributed to the apostle Paul, who very clearly labeled homosexual behavior as being sinful (Romans 1:24-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 – notice that Paul explicitly says, “Some of you were like this” indicating that change from any sinful lifestyle is possible).

End result – those who advocate for a homosexual lifestyle disregard Old Testament teachings regarding homosexual sins, as well as New Testament teachings regarding homosexual sins, so I personally find it very difficult to accept that even if Jesus had specifically condemned homosexual behavior that it would have changed the debate to any great extent.

The end of the matter: I readily grant that we have no recorded words of Jesus on the specific subject of homosexual behavior. To me that is simply a non-issue. We do not have the explicit teachings of Jesus on a myriad of subjects, and yet we make moral and ethical distinctions based on the entirety of God’s written word, not just the ipsissima verba of Jesus. I will  discuss the issue with anyone who so desires to keep an open mind regarding the subject of biblical sexual standards. But if we are going to discuss biblical teachings regarding sexual mores, then we have to include all biblical teachings, including the explicit teachings of Jesus regarding heterosexual marriage, the purpose of male and female union, and the original purpose of having a female and male mated together.

As I mentioned in my last post, I believe this debate over the issue of homosexuality will be a defining moment for the church. The members of the Lord’s church must respond with the dignity and respect that this issue demands, and that is also demanded of a disciple of Christ, but we must also stand firm in our convictions. Either monogamous heterosexual unions fulfill God’s original purpose for human beings, or they do not. We must not equivocate. But we must not be hateful or mean-spirited in our defenses, either. Let us be wise as serpents, and yet as innocent and gentle as doves.

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