Scott McClare

The Joyless Worldview of the Pro-Choice Movement

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By Scott McClare

If you watched the Super Bowl a few weekends ago, you might have seen the ad for Doritos. It got a lot of attention because in the ad, a pregnant woman chastises her husband for eating Doritos during her ultrasound appointment, only to discover that her unborn child (visible on a monitor) also craves the chips and is reaching for them inside the womb. Though goofy, it was one of the more memorable ads from this year's game.

Apparently, the humour was lost on the folks at NARAL Pro-Choice America, however. They tweeted, after the ad aired:

That's an interesting choice of words: "humanizing fetuses." It assumes that a fetus is not human. But if it is not human, what is it? Canine? Porcine? No one can "humanize" the unborn. They are, by virtue of their human parentage, human beings. Humanity is intrinsic to our natures. It's not a title bestowed upon us because we happen to be "wanted" or made it through all nine months of gestation. Therefore, neither is our moral worth determined by these things. We have moral worth because we are human beings, created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). And it is because we are made in the image of God that taking another human life without justification is evil (Genesis 9:6).

Still from the Doritos "Ultrasound" spot that aired during the Super Bow, Feb. 7, 2016.NARAL also calls out stereotypes of "clueless" dads and "uptight" moms. But that invites the question: what are they the mom and dad of? if that fetus ought not to be "humanized"—if it's only a potential human being, and not an actual one—then why call them parents? Are they the human parents of non-human offspring? Of course not. In writing this tweet, NARAL assumes the very thing they are denying: the humanity of the unborn. This is incoherent, even for Twitter—and for NARAL.

It is NARAL and other abortion-rights advocates who commit the error of dehumanizing the unborn. It's easy to see why: if the unborn are not human beings, then no defense of abortion is necessary. On the other hand, if they are human beings, then no defense of abortion is possible. It is the unjust taking of a blameless human life.

Of course, it is the technology used in the Doritos ad that strikes the pro-choice position a mortal blow. Sonograms show what was hidden away for millennia: the visible humanity of the unborn, even inside the womb. The late Bernard Nathanson was once the director of the largest abortion clinic in the U.S. after New York legalized abortion in 1970. In his career as an abortionist, he oversaw more than 60,000 abortions, estimating he performed 5,000 of them himself. Like many abortion activists, he wanted to destigmatize the procedure. However, when he began using then-new ultrasound technology as a tool in his clinic, he saw the effects of abortion in real time. Over time Nathanson was compelled to reconsider his pro-abortion stance, and became a significant pro-life advocate.[1] Ironically, one of Bernard Nathanson's other claims to fame was co-founding NARAL in 1969.

Since Nathanson's time, what was once a relatively minor diagnostic tool has become a major influence on how we view pregnancy and childbirth. The millennial generation, those born after 1980, are significantly more pro-life than their parents. This is at least partly due to advances in technology, such as the widespread use of ultrasound in prenatal care.[2] Sonograms have become commonplace. Millennials have seen ultrasound images passed around by their pregnant friends, or pictures of their as-yet-unborn siblings taped to the fridge as though they were just another baby picture. (They have also seen abortion take away a third of their generation that never got a chance to live.) We can't conclude from this that the pro-life side is winning. But we can say that activist groups like NARAL don't have the option of preaching at us that we shouldn't "humanize" the unborn. We have seen the sonograms, and what they depict is undoubtedly human.

Aside from disputing the propriety of bringing Doritos into an ultrasound appointment, the on-screen couple appears happy to welcome their unborn child into the world. I like to imagine this reflects the real-life joy of the filmmaker, Peter Carstairs: the "beautiful baby" in the ad is played by an actual ultrasound of Carstairs' then-unborn son, Freddie, and given a taste for tortilla chips with a little digital trickery.[3] It's a humorous take on a routine event in the life of an expecting couple.

Compare that to the humourless worldview expressed by NARAL's Twitter complaints. Throughout the Super Bowl, the person using their Twitter account found fault with this or that advertisement for not toeing the line of their particular variety of feminism. For example, in response to an ad in which comedian Kevin Hart plays an overprotective father following his daughter on a date, they tweeted:

Maybe they don't understand that we already get that it's inappropriate. That's why it's funny!

NARAL also retweeted this remark from one of their state affiliates, after an ad celebrating "Super Bowl Babies" who are supposedly conceived on game day, hinting that they're no happier about born babies than unborn ones:

Most of us would take a healthy ultrasound as a joyful event. However, in the dour worldview of NARAL Pro-Choice America, who view everything through the lenses of their own radical ideology, even an ultrasound appointment is political. The fictional joy of an on-screen couple, as they see their unborn son on a monitor, "humanizes" the fetus and supposedly threatens the rights of women. Our cultural commentary can do better than this joyless approach.


[1] Emma Brown, "Bernard Nathanson, Abortion Doctor Who Became Anti-Abortion Advocate, Dies at 84," Washington Post, February 22, 2011, accessed February 17, 2016, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/22/AR2011022206507.html. See also Bernard N. Nathanson, Aborting America (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979) and Nathanson, The Hand of God (Washington: Regnery, 1996).

[2] Ken Blackwell, "How the Abortion Tide Turns," Washington Times, August 2, 2015, accessed February 17, 2016, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/aug/2/ken-blackwell-americans-becoming-more-pro-life/.

[3] Tiffany Dunk, "Aussie Filmmaker Peter Carstairs May Have a Big US Break Thanks to the Superbowl," News.com.au, January 5, 2016, accessed January 17, 2016, http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/aussie-filmmaker-peter-carstairs-may-have-a-big-us-break-thanks-to-the-superbowl/news-story/bb221ab85850d1299ff4ead86a056aed.

The Apologetics of Handel's Messiah

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By Scott McClare

Every Christmas, I make a point of listening to George Frideric Handel's great oratorio, Messiah. So do many people. If you live in a large enough city, you could potentially attend a performance several times each December. And because of Messiah's lengthy performance history (and Handel's habit of modifying the score to suit his performers), the variations are endless: modern or period instruments, professional or amateur soloists, mass choirs or small ensembles—to say nothing of the extensive catalogue of recordings! A more recent tradition is the "sing-along Messiah," in which the choir invites the audience to bring their own scores and sing with them. Paradoxically, this makes the oratorio one of Western art's highest achievements, as well as one of its most accessible.

Messiah is a Christmas institution. So it may come as a surprise to many that its first performance—a benefit in Dublin, Ireland, for the relief of prisoners' debt—took place in April, 1742. (The performance was a success, raising enough money to release 142 debtors from prison.) Its official debut in London took place the following March. Handel himself never had Messiah performed at Christmas; it was for the Easter season. Only the first of Messiah's three parts deals with the birth and ministry of Jesus, telling of the promise of judgment, redemption, and salvation through selected Old Testament passages as well as the birth narrative from the Gospel of Luke. Most of the best-known selections come from Part 1, likely because of its association with Christmas.

However, Part 2 tells of Christ's passion, his death and resurrection, his ascension into heaven, and his glorification. It continues by speaking of the beginning of the spread of the Gospel, and its rejection by the world. It culminates in the "Hallelujah" chorus, which declares the absolute sovereignty of God:

Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. (Revelation 16:9)

The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)[1]

The words are so closely associated with the "Hallelujah" chorus that you probably think of the music while you're reading them. We hear this chorus every Christmas, but it rightly belongs to Easter! The meaning of Messiah is not "for unto us a child is born"; it's that He is "King of kings and Lord of lords." Hallelujah!

Finally, Part 3 promises eternal life, the Day of Judgment, and the final destruction of sin and death. The oratorio concludes with the exaltation of the Messiah:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by his blood, to receive power, andriches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.

Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever.

Amen. (cf. Revelation 5:9,12-14)

Even less commonly known, perhaps, is that Messiah is as much an apologetic work as it is an artistic one. The libretto (text) was composed by Charles Jennens, Handel's friend and frequent collaborator. Jennens was a devout Christian who was concerned about the rise in popularity of Deism amongst England's intelligentsia. Deism is a philosophical theism that rejects divine revelation as a source of knowledge, concluding that human reason alone is sufficient to establish the existence of a deity. When God created the universe, He established natural laws for its running, but He does not involve himself in its activity. Jennens' brother had lost his faith and committed suicide after corresponding with a Deist. Grieving for his brother, Jennens composed the libretto to Messiah as a response to Deism, compiling Scripture after Scripture from the King James Version of the Bible (paraphrasing here and there) to show that Christ was the promised Messiah and that God took an active interest in the redemption of the world. Jennens was reportedly less than satisfied with Handel's score (which he composed in less than a month), complaining that some parts were "far unworthy of Handel, but much more unworthy of the Messiah." The judgment of history has, perhaps, been more favourable.

My favourite selection from Messiah takes its text from Isaiah 40:5:

And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed; and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

The last phrase is drawn out in long, solemn notes that underscore its significance. It is immediately followed by a bass solo that thunders out: "Thus saith the LORD of hosts" (Haggai 2:6). Jennens draws out the story of Jesus almost entirely from the Old Testament, primarily the prophet Isaiah, drawing from the Gospels only for the annunciation of Jesus' birth to the shepherds by the angles (Luke 2:8-14). The Creator is no mere spectator, and this birth is no mere accident of history. The mouth of the Lord has spoken it; therefore, it has come to pass.

There is a strong relationship between good art and a good message. I have met many Christians who can appreciate many kinds of mediocre art as long as they mention Jesus enough times and are helpful for sharing the Gospel. Yet, in Messiah, a devout Lutheran composer has created one of the acknowledged masterpieces of the Western musical canon, listened to by millions every Christmas. Thanks to his friend, a devout Anglican with a concern for the spiritual state of England, those millions flock into auditoriums and churches willingly to hear the Gospel sung to them.

I wrote last Christmas about why the Incarnation is important. Only God, taking on true humanity, could atone for the sins of, and intercede for, the human race. Without that first Christmas, when "God sent forth his son, born of a woman, born under the law" (Galatians 4:4 ESV), there would be no Easter—no cross to free us from the penalty of the law. But Charles Jennens and George Handel were right to focus on the work of Christ on the cross, and the blessings that result from it. Without the hope of Easter, there would be no joy at Christmas.

[1]Like the text of Messiah, Scripture passages are taken from the King James Version (KJV) unless otherwise indicated.

Scripture Alone!

By Scott McClare

Sola Scriptura—Scripture alone—has been called the formal principle of the Reformation.[1] This is the principle that Martin Luther famously appealed to when he declared at the Diet of Worms, "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the word of God."

As important as it is, many evangelical Christians have difficulty defining sola Scriptura, understanding what it means, or knowing how it has been derived. One high-profile convert to Roman Catholicism, Scott Hahn, says that one of the milestones on his journey to Rome was when one of his theology students asked where the Bible taught sola Scriptura, and he had no adequate answer.[2]

How, then, can we define this vital, yet misunderstood, doctrine?

The key Bible verse for sola Scriptura is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.[3]

The Apostle Paul says, first, that the Scriptures are "breathed out by God." This is a literal translation of the Greek word Paul uses, theopneustos. The Bible is, as it were, the very breath of God Himself: where the Bible speaks, He speaks. Theopneustos occurs in the Bible in this one passage. In other words, Scripture—graphe, the written Word—is said to be God-breathed, but nothing else is. The Bible is the sole God-breathed, infallible norm.

Title page of the King James Version of the Bible, 1611.Paul goes on to say that Scripture is sufficient: by it "the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." Here is an analogy. I am currently preparing to go to school in January. I need to purchase a number of things: a laptop computer, software, textbooks, and so forth. I can buy all these things in the college bookstore. It is sufficient to equip me for my classes. However, if I can't buy the laptop there—if they have to send me to Best Buy to get it—then they aren't sufficient. They would be incapable of fully equipping me for school.

Similarly, the Scriptures contain "those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation," as the 1689 London Baptist Confession puts it.[4] If one of those necessary things was not found in the Scriptures—if I could only find it in the sacred tradition of a particular church organization—then the Scriptures would not be sufficient. They would not be capable of making me "complete, equipped for every good work." The Roman Catholic Church affirms the infallibility of the Bible, but when it says that it has been entrusted the "sacred deposit" of both Scripture and Tradition, and that only the Magisterium is capable of making them known, it denies what 2 Timothy 3:16-17 means.[5]

While this passage teaches sola Scriptura explicitly, we see it practiced implicitly by Jesus and the Apostles. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees: "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29), holding them responsible for what they knew of the Scriptures; the Apostles turned to Scripture when they chose a replacement for Judas (Acts 1:20); Luke commends the Jews in Berea for their use of the Scriptures to check out what Paul taught them about Christ (Acts 17:11), among many other examples.

One Roman Catholic objection to sola Scriptura is that Scripture might be an authority, but it is not the only authority. I happen to agree; however, sola Scriptura, properly understood, does not claim that the Bible is the sole authority or the only source of truth. We do not deny that there are other authorities, such as creeds and confessions, church councils, or even pastors and teachers, who are a gift from God for the benefit of the church (Ephesians 4:11ff). However, these authorities are subordinate to the Scriptures. The Bible is not the only authority; however, it is the final authority.

Another objection is that the early church fathers didn't believe in sola Scriptura. However, we should not make the mistake of assuming that the early church was unanimous in all its beliefs and practices. Christians lived all over the known world. Each region had its own distinctive practices and traditions. Many times these were assumed to be of apostolic origin simply because they had been practised there for a long time. Because of the huge distances involved (and a lack of rapid transit and smartphones!), representatives of the whole church rarely assembled together in an ecumenical council, and only did to settle vitally important controversies.[6]

One fourth-century father, Basil of Caesarea, wrote this concerning his disputes with the Arians:

They are charging me with innovation, and base their charge on my confession of three hypostases, and blame me for asserting one Goodness, one Power, one Godhead. In this they are not wide of the truth, for I do so assert. Their complaint is that their custom does not accept this, and that Scripture does not agree. What is my reply? I do not consider it fair that the custom which obtains among them should be regarded as a law and rule of orthodoxy. If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow them. Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favour of that side will be cast the vote of truth.[7]

In other words, the Arians had their traditions, and Basil had his, and neither accepted the other's as binding. Only "God-inspired Scripture" could infallibly arbitrate between them.

Augustine, who apparently had a higher view of sacred tradition than Basil, said something similar in his dispute with the Donatists:

[L]et us not listen to "you say this, I say that" but let us listen to "the Lord says this." Certainly, there are the Lord's books, on whose authority we both agree, to which we concede, and which we serve; there we seek the Church, there we argue our case.[8]

Augustine and Basil certainly sound a lot like Martin Luther did, a millennium later! All of them recognized that human authorities and traditions were not consistent from place to place or time to time.

A third objection is that if Scripture is the sole infallible authority, then its interpretation is fallible, so only an infallible Church can infallibly interpret it.[91] How else could we decide a sincere dispute between two Christians about the meaning of a difficult passage in the Bible?

Again, this is not an argument against sola Scriptura. It only shows that people are fallible. In fact, an infallible Magisterium would be of little help. In all the centuries of its existence, the Roman Catholic Church has only supposedly interpreted a handful of passages infallibly, meaning what it has said about the vast majority of the Bible must be fallible. There is no third possibility.

A doctrine closely related to sola Scriptura is that of perspicuity: in all essential matters pertaining to salvation, the Bible speaks plainly and clearly. These subjects are "so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them."[10] Of course, not all Scripture is equally clear and plain. As Peter wrote, some parts were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). What is his answer to this problem? He encourages his readers to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (3:18). Peter—whom Roman Catholics claim as the first pope—does not tell them to appeal to an infallible church hierarchy. He tells them to get more understanding. When we find ourselves in an honest disagreement about the Bible, should we not prayerfully do the work it takes to bring us closer to the truth? Jesus, Peter, and the other Apostles hold us accountable for what we know of the Scriptures. It would be unwise to hand that responsibility over to someone else.

The Holy Scriptures are infallible. Human beings are not. If we are to maintain a Christian worldview and defend it before others, we need to ground our understanding on the solid rock of the Bible rather than the shifting sand of human tradition and opinion. And we need to know why, because many of those people whom our apologetics are for, find their authority in something else.


[1] A formal principle of theology is its authoritative source. Contrast this with the material principle, which is the theology's central teachings. In the Protestant tradition, the material principle is the glory of God or justification by faith alone.

[2] Scott Hahn, "The Scott Hahn Conversion Story," Catholic Education Resource Center, accessed December 2, 2015, http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/apologetics/the-scott-hahn-conversion-story.html.

[3] All Scripture passages are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

[4] London Baptist Confession of Faith [hereafter LBCF] I.7, accessed December 2, 2015, http://www.vor.org/truth/1689/1689bc01.html.

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church 84-85 (New York: Doubleday, 1995). The Magisterium consists of "the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome."

[6] One such example was the Council of Nicaea in 325, convened to debate the teachings of Arius, of which I have written previously.

[7] Basil of Caesarea, Letter 189, New Advent, accessed December 2, 2015, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3202189.htm.

[8] Augustine, On the Unity of the Church, III.5, Christian Resources, accessed December 2, 2015, http://www.christiantruth.com/deunitate.html.

[9] "[I]t is the Magisterium which has the responsibility of guaranteeing the authenticity of interpretation. . . ." Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (Sherbrooke, QC: Editions Paulines, 1994), 101.

[10] LBCF I.7. By "due use of ordinary means," the authors meant such things as prayer, corporate worship, the preaching of the Word, and private and corporate study. Of course we must acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit in aiding our understanding, as well.

I'm Sorry! But the Church Needs Apologetics

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By Scott McClare and Jojo Ruba

An elderly Christian woman once told me that she didn't need to learn apologetics. She said she knew enough to be convinced that Christianity was correct, and didn't need any more information. In response, I asked her a question (something we at Faith Beyond Belief train a lot on). I asked her, "I'm glad you know enough to be convinced of Christianity. But do you have non-Christian friends who might need to know a little more in order to be convinced to become Christians? Couldn't you learn more for their sake?"

She said I made a good point.

Unfortunately, her initial resistance to apologetics is something too many Christians adopt when we share what we do at Faith Beyond Belief. Christians raise all kinds of objections to why they shouldn't have to learn about how to defend their faith in an increasingly hostile culture.

francis-schaefferThat's why we created this series. We want to examine some of the top arguments from Christians who think apologetics is unnecessary or, worse, damaging to the cause of Christ. Many of these arguments are ones we've heard from friends or family or Christian critics. Many of these arguments are also left unspoken—they are lingering doubts we hear between the lines when we introduce FBB to Bible college professors or pastors or Christian students at Christian schools.

Interestingly enough, simply defining apologetics helps dispel many of the critics' arguments. It's important to start here because there is so much confusion and ungrounded prejudice against apologetics because of how it is defined. And of course, if we want a biblically-minded Christian to listen to the case for apologetics, we should look for a definition in Scripture.

The word apologetics comes from a Greek word, apologia, which means "to give a verbal defense." This is the word Peter uses when he writes, "in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15, emphasis added).[1] Christian apologetics, then, is the defense of the Christian faith. Generally, apologetics focuses on answering objections from non-Christians. Hence we can contrast apologetics with polemics, which is the refutation of false ideas within the Christian faith.

When the apostle Paul writes about fighting spiritual battles, one of the two "weapons of our warfare" he tells Christians to use is effective apologetics: "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). The other weapon is practical holiness, and as Peter writes, that in itself can also be an apologetic: "even if some [husbands] do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct" (1 Peter 3:1).

One of my pastors used to be fond of saying that everyone is a theologian; it was just a matter of how good a theologian you were. Similarly, everyone is an apologist. Muslims and Mormons begin their training as youth; Jehovah's Witnesses practice how to have conversations with people at the door. And every atheist I've met seeks to get Christians to adopt their worldview. We all have a belief system we believe is true. As Christians in particular, we want to persuade others that our beliefs are true, as well. Hence, the goal of Christian apologetics is to persuasively answer honest objections that keep people from faith in Jesus.

Why do apologetics? Again, scripture has the answer. We do apologetics because God commands it (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3-4). We live in a society whose institutions, such as schools, media, popular culture, and government, are increasingly hostile to faith. That's nothing new, of course. The first generation of the church fathers, such as Justin Martyr and Tertullian, were largely apologists who saw a need to appeal to the authorities who were persecuting the church, and tell them not to believe the false rumours that circulated about what Christians believed and how they behaved.

We do apologetics because we want to persuade non-Christians to repent and believe in Jesus. Skeptics have many barriers to faith: the reliability of the Bible, the historicity of the Resurrection, the reality of miracles, and others. Reasoned apologetics can remove those barriers.

We do apologetics because we want to help other Christians strengthen their faith. Unfortunately, many Christians are not well-informed about Christianity and cannot clearly define even its core tenets: for example, the Trinity, the relationship of Christ's two natures, the meaning of the Atonement, or the difference between justification and sanctification. This is increasingly worsening as the Internet steadily provides false information that causes further confusion. It's no wonder Christian teachers and youth pastors agree that the average age for a young person to face a crisis of faith is now 13. They don't have to go to university to hear all kinds of false ideas about Christianity—they can just hear them on YouTube.

Apologetics helps define the truth of the Gospel. Other Christians may also hear the answers given to the objections of skeptics, and be encouraged and emboldened themselves. We then become role-models for how we can engage and teach the truth of the gospel of believers who may have no one else to help them.

We do apologetics to protect the church from harmful influences. There are many cults and new religious movements that call themselves "Christian," but they promote false doctrines. These need to be answered and refuted so that they do not lead the church astray. John warned his readers not to even invite false teachers into their homes, because it gave the appearance of approving their message and giving them a base from which to spread it (2 John 10-11). In addition to false religious influences, the church also needs to be protected from secular influences, such as immorality and worldly thinking. We need to clearly articulate God's will that God's people be holy, in both their bodies and their minds. As apologist Matt Slick has written:

The fact is that Christianity is under attack in the world, and we need to fight the good fight of the faith without shrinking back. We need apologetics to give rational, intelligent, and relevant explanations of Christian viability to the critics and the prejudiced who would seek to undermine the teachings of our Lord Jesus.[2]

With all the clear biblical commands, why, then, does it seem like many Christians and churches are indifferent, or even hostile, to apologetics? In this series, we'll examine some of these arguments and excuses to reject making the case for Christ. We've asked our FBB writers to take the most vocal Christian critics of apologetics head-on and provide some solid responses to their concerns.

Ironically, many people not familiar with the term apologetics thinks it refers to apologizing or having to say we are sorry for doing something. Through this series, we want Christians to realize that when they engage in Christian apologetics and defend the faith with "gentleness and respect," they have nothing to apologize for.


[1] Scripture citations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

[2] Matt Slick, "Eight Reasons Why We Need Apologetics," CARM, accessed September 1, 2015, https://carm.org/eight-reasons-why-we-need-apologetics.

What are Christians to Make of Sting Videos?

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By Scott McClare

By now you can't have escaped hearing about the latest Planned Parenthood (PP) scandal. Beginning on July 15, a pro-life group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) has released a series of videos—five so far—in which actors have posed as buyers for a fictitious biomedical research company and secretly taped interviews with prominent PP personnel, in which they admit to harvesting fetal organs and tissue for sale to medical researchers. In the first video, a doctor nonchalantly eats lunch while she explains how she would "crush" the unborn child in a way to preserve desirable organs. In the second, released a week later, another doctor describes how a "less crunchy technique" would preserve the fetal organs, remarking that the cost of the specimen would need to be worth their while: "I want a Lamborghini," she quips. Each video is more graphic and revealing than the last. In the most recent, released this Tuesday, a PP employee remarks that "if we alter our process and we are able to obtain intact fetal cadavers, it's all just a matter of line items."

However, in some Christian pro-life circles, sting operations like this one raise ethical questions—not about the abortionists' actions, which every Christian should agree are evil, but the ethics of the sting itself. After all, stings involve strategic deception, and isn't lying wrong?[1] When Paul asked, "why not do evil that good may come?" (Romans 3:8),[2] he was being sarcastic. The ends do not always justify the means.

What are Christians to make of the use of deception in stings or investigative journalism?

Christians have held basically three different views on this subject. In the first view, lying is always sinful. True moral dilemmas (situations that can only be escaped by committing one sin or another) do not exist, and there is always a way out of a tricky moral situation that does not require one to lie.[3] In the second view, moral dilemmas do exist, in which case one must commit a lesser sin to avoid a greater one. Nonetheless, the lesser sin is still sin that must be repented of and confessed. In the third view, when faced with a moral dilemma, we are obliged to obey the higher command, and in doing so are exempted from the guilt of disobeying the lesser one.

I am arguing in favour of this third position. The obligation to obey God's commands is an overarching moral absolute, worked out in the obligation to love God and our neighbours. Individual commandments are, practically speaking, absolutes. Thus, I am not arguing for situational ethics, in which there are no moral norms beyond "what is the most loving thing to do?" However, moral imperatives do need to be understood in light of their intent; as we wrestle with morally complex situations, we must try to discern the rationale for the commands. It may be possible to violate God's intent even when obeying the strict letter of the law.

We can all agree that under normal circumstances, lying is a sin, particularly when there is no need to lie, or our reasons are purely selfish. The Bible never directly commends lying, although it does commend telling the truth (for example, Exodus 20:16; Ephesians 4:25). Truthfulness reflects the character of God, who cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18).

Nonetheless, the ethics of deceit are not always cut-and-dried:

1. Is it sinful, in a hockey game, to deke right but pass left?

2. Is it sinful to tell your girlfriend that she looks nice, even if you think her outfit is unattractive?

3. Was it sinful for the Allies to deceive the Germans into believing the D-day invasion would assault Pas-de-Calais, not Normandy?

4. Is it sinful to lie to an abusive husband about his wife's whereabouts if you believe he means to harm her?

The first two situations illustrate that small deceptions are a part of everyday life. They are arguably trivial and do no harm. If "white lies" can be avoided, then they should be—but no one has ever called an athlete's integrity into question for faking out his opponents.

In the last two situations, however, the lies are neither trivial nor done for personal gain, but instead are intended to contain evil by defeating Hitler's armies or preventing an angry man from doing violence to his wife. The sting videos are of the same kind of moral complexity. Fortunately, the Bible provides some indirect guidance concerning this kind of moral dilemma.

The Egyptian Pharaoh intended to weaken the Israelites through infanticide. However, two Hebrew midwives refused to kill Israelite babies, and lied to Pharaoh, saying that Israelite women were giving birth before they arrived. As a result, God blessed the midwives and gave them large families of their own (Exodus 1:15-21).

Before the conquest of Jericho, the prostitute Rahab sheltered Israelite spies, hiding them on her roof, but telling the authorities they had already left the city (Joshua 2:1-7). Consequently, Rahab is commended in Hebrews 11:31 for her act of faith.

Since both of these deceptions seem to have divine approval, it appears God places a higher priority on preserving life than telling the truth. Some have argued that God commended the midwives' and Rahab's faith, but not their deceit.[4] As I see it, the deceit was intrinsic to their acts of faith, which otherwise would have failed. Honesty might be the best policy under normal circumstances, but under these circumstances God's enemies intended to kill God's people, and they did not deserve to know the truth if it would aid them in their evildoing.

Similarly, there is no question that Planned Parenthood is involved in the mass destruction of human life. It performed 1/3 of all abortions in the US, over 327 000 abortions last year.[5] By filming them doing what they do, CMP's sting simply exposed what PP does on its home turf. The fifth video, which shows someone poking through a casserole dish full of dead fetus parts, is more grotesque than anything I have seen Scott Klusendorf or Jojo Ruba present in their talks. These videos revealed the reality of what abortion is. Pro-choice critics will never again be able to falsely accuse pro-life speakers of using graphic images that misrepresent the consequences of abortion.

CMP has also exposed the utter callousness of abortion practitioners who joke about their work and chow down on salad while discussing the best way to crush unborn human beings. If Planned Parenthood had known in advance that they were being stung, they could have covered this evil up. They did not deserve to know the "buyers'" true intentions.

In the late 18th century, while abolitionist William Wilberforce toiled in Parliament to outlaw slavery, his friend Thomas Clarkson travelled throughout England, gathering evidence against the slave trade. This consisted of stories from sailors, surgeons and others involved in the trade, as well as instruments used by slavers to restrain and torture slaves. He displayed these instruments at public meetings and printed pictures of them in his pamphlets. Clarkson understood that visual aids made his lectures more persuasive than words alone. Since he was hostile to the slave trade, it was unlikely that slavers would donate their tools of torture to him willingly; therefore, it's no surprise that he sometimes used subterfuge to collect his evidence. These tools eventually helped Wilberforce rally abolitionists and helped convinced many to finally outlaw slavery.

Our present abolitionists are also gathering evidence against the horrors of the modern-day trade in human flesh. Like Thomas Clarkson, they put themselves at considerable risk, but they do so to reveal the horrors of the abortion industry in terms that an online, visually oriented culture can understand. They are bringing the "unfruitful works of darkness" (Ephesians 5:11) into the light. We need more warriors like this. May their tribe increase!


[1] For example, the Roman Catholic Church has historically taken the position that lying is always evil, even if done for good reasons. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls lying "intrinsically disordered" (CCC, sec. 1753).

[2] Scripture citations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

[3] People who hold to this position appeal to texts such as 1 Corinthians 10:13: "[God] will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

[4] The note for Exodus 1:19 in the Geneva Bible reads, "Their disobedience in this was lawful, but their deception is evil."

[5] Penny Star, "Planned Parenthood: We Aborted 327,653 in FY2014," CNSNews.com, December 31, 2014, accessed August 6, 2015, http://cnsnews.com/news/article/penny-starr/planned-parenthood-we-aborted-327653-fy2014.

A Christian Evaluation of Conspiracy Theory

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By Scott McClare

A few decades ago, conspiracy theories were the exclusive domain of a few Americans with fringe beliefs and a shortwave radio. However, in the last few decades, they've become mainstream. I credit the Internet for this: it was much more difficult to get a hearing for unconventional ideas before Web sites, blogs, and social networks gave everyone a nearly equal voice.

Theorists used to spread their views through typewritten, mimeographed mailings and late-night radio programs. Today, they are a lot more sophisticated, understanding the power of social media to broadcast information. The most infamous conspiracy theory is so-called "9/11 Truth," the belief that the American government allowed, or even caused, the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. Truthers have made extensive use of video to present their case, sharing it on YouTube. New theories crop up all the time: a recent one alleges that convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was framed. It was spread last year by a Twitter hashtag campaign.

Unfortunately, the church has not been immune to buying into conspiracy theory. Prophecy study is awash in rumours of one-world government and new technology that will be the "mark of the Beast" foretold in Revelation 13:16-17, which will prevent anyone from buying or selling unless they give their allegiance to the Antichrist. These dark days are always just around the corner, especially when a major crisis occurs (the Gulf War, Y2K, or 9/11, for example), but never actually come to pass.

Of course, I am not denying that conspiracies exist. A conspiracy is simply a secret plan formed by two or more people. Some are bigger than others. 9/11 and the Boston bombing were conspiracies, but so is a home invasion. Conspiracy theory, on the other hand, is a worldview. I define it as a philosophy of history, based on fear, that claims secret alliances of evil men are manipulating world events to create a totalitarian world government. In this worldview, nothing ever happens by accident: wars, assassinations, depressions, and elections are all planned in secret by an intellectual or political elite. Someone can be persuaded by the occasional conspiracy theory without buying into the entire worldview. After all, some conspiracy beliefs have become mainstream, such as the various JFK assassination theories. (I believe Oswald acted alone, which puts me on the lunatic fringe!) However, many other people have allowed their thinking to become more and more conspiratorial, and ended up swallowing the whole system, hook, line, and sinker.

I can imagine that in a time of crisis, it might sound plausible. However, when viewed through the lens of the Bible, conspiracy theory seems like a less and less realistic way of interpreting world events.

During the ministry of the prophet Isaiah, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had a combined total of 13 kings. It was a time of uncertainty and instability. No doubt, many people felt that events were spinning out of control, or that someone was secretly plotting to bring about the nation's downfall. Their time was not terribly different from ours in that respect. Yet, God warns Isaiah not to live in fear:

[T]he Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: "Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread." (Isaiah 8:11-12)[1]

Conspiracy theory may sound like a plausible worldview, but it is not a biblical worldview.

Conspiracy theory is based on fear. Popular conspiracy theorists give the impression that every crisis is a step toward totalitarianism, and that wars, recessions, and even natural disasters are a means for powerful people to take control. The powerful people may be government, the police, the wealthy, foreigners, or someone else. Sadly, scapegoating of this kind has been used to justify genocides such as the Holocaust.

But a biblical worldview is not based on fear, but confidence. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, "God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." Thirteen times the New Testament says to "fear not." As Christians, we need not fear for the future because God cares about us; we know it will work out for the best because Romans 8:28 tells us so: "we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."

Conspiracy theory says that conspiracies are the driving force of history. As I said earlier, conspiracy theorists don't seem to believe in accidents. In 1999, when John F. Kennedy Jr. crashed his plane into the ocean, killing himself along with his wife and sister-in-law, the authorities ruled that the accident was due to pilot error. Nonetheless, assassination theories started circulating within 24 hours. The assumption is that important or famous people never have bad luck or make mistakes—especially if their name is Kennedy.

But if grand conspiracies drive history, why is the Bible silent about them? Instead, it puts them in their proper place: conspiracies are an occasional spectacle in history.

Conspiracy theory says that despite Biblical assurances, men, or Satan, are in control. However, the Bible says that despite present appearances, God is in control. Read the book of Daniel. Every chapter virtually screams this out. God, not men, determines who rules the nations, as Nebuchadnezzar learned (Daniel 4). The handwriting on Belshazzar's banquet-hall wall pronounced the end of his kingdom, and Babylon was conquered by the Medes the same night (Daniel 5). The prophecy of the seventy weeks shows that God has a definite plan for history (Daniel 9:24-27). God even shut the mouths of lions so that Daniel would not be executed unjustly (Daniel 6:22).

Finally, conspiracy theory says that our only hope is escape. For some, this means sitting tight and waiting for the Rapture. For others, it means stockpiling food and weapons and living in the wilderness. But both of these attitudes are defeatist. Our real hope is in victory. If God is in control, if He is the real mover behind history, and He is working for our good—and He is—then in the end, God wins! John wrote that for everyone who is born of God, faith is the victory that has overcome the world (1 John 5:4). It has not been overcome by it.

The manipulations of the grand conspiracy supposedly go on in secret. If so, they are the best-kept secrets in history. But God does not work in secret; He works in the open. Amos writes, "the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). While the Bible doesn't tell us everything about God's plan, we can catch a glimpse of it through the prophets.

Neo takes the red pill in The Matrix (1999).Conspiracy thinking is not Christian thinking. There's a strong element of pride in claiming to have insider information. (Ironically, conspiracy buffs are rarely in a position to be insiders.) In that respect, conspiracy theory is less like Christianity than Gnosticism: those in the know possess the key to understanding the world, and offer enlightenment to those willing to take the red pill, so to speak, and join them. However, God mocks those who claim they can interpret history on such a grand scale. "Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome," He demands of the idols (Isaiah 41:22), which are, after all, only human inventions.

After telling Isaiah to disregard conspiracy theories, God tells him: "But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread" (Isaiah 8:13). We can't tell the whole future. We don't know what God has in store for us, or whether it will be easy or hard. Yet we have no need to be afraid of men who have no real control over history. But we should be in awe of the awesome God who has determined the path of history from beginning to end.


[1] Biblical quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Evaluating Ontario's New Sex-Ed Curriculum

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By Scott McClare

Whenever the subject of public-school sex education comes around, you can expect a reaction. Earlier this year, the Ontario Ministry of Education released its Health and Physical Education curriculum, updated for September 2015. It includes units on sexuality as well as healthy living and physical fitness.[1] Critical reaction was swift and often knee-jerk: anonymous letters circulated that outlined the supposed lurid details of the sexual practices to be taught to middle schoolers.[2] When a former deputy minister of education was connected to the curriculum after being convicted of child-related sexual offenses, it only threw fuel on the fire.

Last month, I attended a parents' information night at my church about the new curriculum. It included speakers representing the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, and others. I found the session informative and helpful for separating fact from sensationalism. Though the curriculum applies to elementary and high school, the presenters limited their comments to grades 1 to 8. This article reflects many of their observations as well as my own.

Most of the new curriculum is very good. The majority of its content is straightforward health education, stressing the importance of physical fitness and making healthy choices; sex education comprises only a fraction. The parts that have caused the most controversy are actually example prompts that a teacher could optionally use in a classroom discussion, not mandatory lessons. The curriculum does not encourage early sexuality; rather, it discusses reasons to delay sexual activity. It teaches the importance of clearly communicating consent to sexual activity and saying no to any other unwanted behaviour. Students are taught to recognize bullying or exploitation, and what to do about it. Respect is taught for people who differ, an important lesson in an increasingly multicultural and diverse society.

Arguably, the most significant addition focuses on the safe use of technology. The current curriculum dates from 1998, when everyday technologies such as broadband Internet, smartphones, and social networking were virtually nonexistent. Now the curriculum teaches students about Internet privacy, evaluating unreliable information, the risks of exploitation and cyberbullying, and the dangers of "sexting" (taking and sending inappropriate pictures by cellphone).

Grade by grade, here is what Ontario's Health and Physical Education, 2015 curriculum will teach concerning human development and sexual health:

Grade 1: Names of body parts
Grade 2: Basic stages of human development
Grade 3: Respect for those who are different
Grade 4: Onset of puberty
Grade 5: The reproductive system, emotional and personal issues related to puberty
Grade 6: Physical and emotional changes related to adolescence, building healthy relationships, stereotyping, consent
Grade 7: Delaying sexual activity, preventing STIs and pregnancy
Grade 8: Making healthy sexual decisions, relationships and intimacy, establishing boundaries, consent, contraception, gender identity

All the presenters were chiefly concerned that the sex-ed portions are "too much, too soon." When it comes to sex education, school is still secondary. Parents are children's primary sexual educators, and the lessons they teach and the boundaries they set have an effect on a child's sexual involvement. Children learn at different rates and will have different questions; parents, not teachers, are in the best position to decide what is appropriate for them.

Surprisingly, nothing is said about pornography. Despite a needed focus on the risks of using the Internet, this curriculum is completely silent on its most obvious risk.[3] Some experts estimate that 30% of Internet data traffic consists of porn.[4] Pornography presents an unrealistic portrayal of women's bodies and their willingness to engage in sexual activity. It presents humiliating, deviant, and violent sexuality as normal and desirable. Worst, it is practically unavoidable and freely available to anyone old enough to use a computer or iPhone.

The Ontario Curriculum also makes no mention of marriage as the context for sex. Terms like "wedding" or "marriage" do not occur at all, while "husband" or "wife" are only used as examples of terms to be avoided rather than make assumptions about someone's relationships. "Love" occurs only in the sense of enthusiasm for activities such as reading or team sports. Pregnancy is only a hazard to be avoided as an unintended side effect of sexual intercourse. In other words, the Ministry of Education has no room for the traditional Christian worldview in which pregnancy and children are a natural, desired consequence of a sex act committed out of love by a husband and wife. Teaching students not to make assumptions about people's living arrangements is good, as Canada's sexual ethics have loosened considerably in the decades since I was an elementary-school student. However, a majority of teens still desire marriage, and arguably live in a traditional household. Why ignore this entirely?

Although the curriculum rightly teaches the importance of consent to sexual (and other) behaviour, it says nothing about the legal definition of consent or the legal age of consent. Consenting to sex does not mean that someone is ready for sex or that he or she is in a good relationship. (Ironically, none of the children being taught this material are legally old enough to consent to anything.)

Apart from the necessity of consent, in fact, we have no consensus anymore on sexual ethics in our culture. Thus, the Health and Physical Education curriculum tries to be morally neutral. This assumption of moral neutrality is evident in the teaching of tolerance and respect for others whose lifestyle is different. In one example interaction between a sixth-grade teacher and student, the student says:

Not everyone has a mother and a father—someone might have two mothers or two fathers (or just one parent or a grandparent, a caregiver, or a guardian). We need to make sure that we don't assume that all couples are of the opposite sex, and show this by the words we use. For example, we could use a word like "partner" instead of "husband" or "wife." We need to be inclusive and welcoming.[5]

That is, there is no moral difference between a father and mother, two fathers or mothers, or a single parent, and so we need to be tolerant, in the sense of accepting all kinds of sexual relationships equally. This is a fallacy. Morality cannot be neutral, and sex itself is an intrinsically moral activity. Even its absence is not neutral: try recommending abstinence education and see how some people react! Genuine tolerance does not mean suspending judgment about moral differences. It comes from acknowledging those differences with a fair mind and sound judgment. John Patrick writes:

Neutral values do not exist but we do need the tolerance they would seek to protect to adjudicate the conflicts which arise in our attempts to translate the unchanging but only imperfectly known truth into the working ethics of daily living. . . . Neither is the refusal to accept every opinion as equally valid truly intolerant; rather those who would demand such things are intolerant of logic.[6]

Health and Phsycial Education, 2015 states repeatedly that parents remain their children's primary educational influence. Parents need to be informed about what their kids are being taught in school, which may mean reading the curriculum for themselves rather than relying on secondhand, often sensationalist and inaccurate, information. They can cultivate a relationship with their children's school, especially with teachers, and hopefully a more meaningful one than merely protesting a contentious sex-ed program (for example, by volunteering at unrelated school events). Ask for assurances that advance notice will be given of controversial topics. The clash of authority between teachers and parents can hurt children, as one of my colleagues at Faith Beyond Belief remarked as I was writing this post: "This conflict within my kids has caused them a certain level of discomfort. . . . It has been moderately problematic in their lives. Because the schools are not morally neutral on sexuality, my kids suffer as a result, along with our relationship." Parents have the right to exempt their children from offensive topics that might conflict with what they learn at home. Christians have a voice in the public square, and we should speak up when it comes to policy-making on such a fundamentally moral topic as sexuality.

The church also has a role to play. We need to develop a robust theology of sexuality. Too often, Christian teaching on sex is reduced to rules without an understanding of the rationale behind them. I would suggest starting with a study of God's original intent for sexuality, making human beings male and female (Genesis 2:18-25), Jesus' teaching on divorce, which requires sexual fidelity between husband and wife (Matthew 19:1-12), the significance of marriage as a picture of Christ's relationship with the church (Ephesians 5:22-23), and the practical benefits of marriage, but also singleness and sexual abstinence (1 Corinthians 7). Other biblical passages also provide guidance, but these four are a good starting point for the foundation of Christian sexual ethics.

I am not married and don't have children. However, who says that in six or seven years, I won't have children entering school? I will have to evaluate then whether classroom teaching about sex, from this revision of the curriculum or the next, is conducive to the Christian worldview they will learn at home. We need to think about issues like sexuality calmly when we have the opportunity, so we don't have to react to them emotionally when the situation becomes more urgent.


[1] Canada, Ontario, Ministry of Education, The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education, 2015 (Queen's Printer, 2015). http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/health1to8.pdf.

[2] See, for example, "Fact-checking 10 Claims Made by Parents Against the Ontario Sex-Ed Curriculum," Toronto Star, May 4, 2015, accessed May 6, 2015, http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/05/04/fact-checking-10-claims-made-by-parents-against-the-ontario-sex-ed-curriculum.html.

[3] The corresponding curriculum for secondary schools only mentions pornography once, in passing. Canada, Ontario, Ministry of Education, The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 9-12: Health and Physical Education, 2015 (Queen's Printer, 2015), 102.

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/health9to12.pdf.

[4] For example, see "Porn Sites Get More Visitors Each Month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter Combined," The Huffington Post, May 4, 2013, accessed May 5, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/03/internet-porn-stats_n_3187682.html.

[5] The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education, 2015, 177.

[6] John Patrick, "The Myth of Moral Neutrality," Christian Medical and Dental Society, accessed May 6, 2015, http://www.cmdscanada.org/my_folders/Documents/MythofMoralNeutrality.pdf.

Scrubbing the Sin List

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By Scott McClare

Do you believe that Christians should be compelled to stop regarding homosexuality as a sin? According to his op-ed article published on Good Friday, New York Times columnist and gay activist Frank Bruni does.

Last month, the state of Indiana passed SB 101, a state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which has been part of U.S. federal law since 1993. In short, RFRA prohibits the government from burdening a person's free exercise of religion, unless it is to further a compelling state interest and does so in the least restrictive manner. RFRA is not absolute protection of religious practice, but it does provide one avenue of recourse for those who feel that their religious rights are being unduly restricted.[1]

After Indiana SB 101 was passed, prominent politicians, corporations, celebrities, and the media immediately piled on the state and threatened boycotts. The backlash was so intense that governor Mike Pence promised swift revisions to the law. One media outlet found a Christian-owned pizzeria whose proprietors said they would not cater a gay wedding; the restaurant received threats that caused them to close for several days.

Photo by Justin Eagan, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Justin Eagan, via Wikimedia Commons

The shaming of Indiana might lead you to believe that SB 101 was an anti-gay bill targeting homosexuals for discrimination. For Christian florists, bakers, restaurateurs, and photographers, the issue has not been refusing to serve a certain class of clientele. The pizzeria might decline to cater a gay wedding, but they also stated that they would not refuse to serve LGBT customers who patronized their business. Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington florist who was sued and fined for discrimination after declining to supply flowers for a same-sex wedding in 2013, had been happily selling flowers for a decade to the couple who sued her. Rather, the issue has been participating against their consciences in a religious ceremony.

With his column, "Bigotry, the Bible, and Lessons from Indiana,"[2] Frank Bruni joins the anti-Indiana dogpile, asserting that SB 101 was intended to target gays. However, he sets a poor intellectual tone right from the start by employing the bandwagon fallacy. Homosexuality and Christianity need not be in opposition, he writes, because "several prominent denominations . . . have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn't decree." In other words, several liberal denominations have decided that homosexual behaviour is compatible with authentic Christianity, and so should you. However, the three largest Christian denominations in the U.S.—the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, and United Methodist Church—currently all officially declare homosexual behaviour to be incompatible with Christian belief and practice, though each denomination has varying degrees of internal dissent.[3] Bruni wants us to get on the bandwagon, but can't explain why we should get on his bandwagon.

Bruni's next fallacy is the one C. S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery": assuming that old ideas are intrinsically inferior to new ones. He writes that viewing LGBT people as sinners "prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since—as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing." By contrast, he recommends the views of "gay Christian" authors and supporters such as David Gushee, Jeff Chu, James Brownson, and Matthew Vines. The Christian church has declared unambiguously that homosexual activity is sinful for nearly 2,000 years, but everything that really needed to be said about LGBT issues and Christianity was published in the last two?

(Bruni argues that scriptural opposition to homosexuality is sparse and obsolescent, whereas Vines, whom he cites favourably, claims that the Bible is authoritative but its teaching on sexuality is misunderstood. I wonder whether Bruni recognizes his contradiction?)

The biblical teaching on homosexuality is "scattered" and "sparse," we are told. What of it? A truth told infrequently is nonetheless the truth, and the scattered pronunciations on homosexuality in the Bible are uniformly negative. (For more details, refer to my earlier post, "God Hates Shrimp?")

Bruni also approvingly cites Matthew Vines' argument that people in the apostles' day didn't know about homosexual orientation or loving, committed same-sex relationships. However, Vines was simply wrong. In 2000, James B. DeYoung's examination of ancient Greek literature, such as Plato's Symposium, clearly shows that their understanding of homosexuality was very much like ours. They discussed homosexual orientation and desire as well as behaviour, committed and promiscuous relationships, obsession with the body and physical attractiveness, even a form of "gay pride."[4] Paul may or may not have read Plato specifically, but we can be reasonably sure that as an educated and well-traveled man, he was aware of these issues.

Bruni's secular worldview clashes sharply with the Christian worldview in two significant ways in this article. First, he sees morality as fluid and evolving, based on the march of progress and the winds of public opinion. If right and wrong are malleable, then of course we can add or subtract sins from the catalogue as we please. Hence he closes his op-ed in agreement with gay activist Mitchell God, who says the church must "take homosexuality off the sin list." However, for Christians, morality reflects the character of a perfectly just and righteous God, "with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17).[5] The church can't take homosexuality off the sin list. It's not our list to edit.

Second, Bruni agrees with Gold's assertion that "church leaders must be made" to stop thinking of homosexuality as sinful. He advocates a statist worldview in which government must correct the moral positions of organized religion and its practitioners if they fail to comply with the spirit of the age. He fails to recognize that government itself is subject to the laws of God. "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29), said the apostles to the authorities, because they were told not to do the work the Lord Jesus had given them. The civil government's authority comes from God (Rom. 13:1), and hence it has a duty to promote godliness and to let the church be the church. This is why Paul instructed Timothy to pray "for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Timothy 2:1-2). The church must be free to carry out its divine mandate of proclaiming the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. RFRA laws like SB 101 provide one avenue of recourse for Christians and others who religious exercise has been unjustly restricted by an overreaching government.

It is somewhat surprising to see one of the world's most influential newspapers give voice to such a radical screed. Frank Bruni's op-ed is long on assertion and opinion, but short on arguments supported by evidence. It is little more than an ultimatum: "Join the 21st century with the mainline Protestant denominations, 'gay Christian' authors, and myself, or else." Or else what? I'm not an alarmist. We don't need to fear the guillotines or lions, but advocates of sexual liberty are becoming more vocal in their call to restrict religious liberty. We need to remember that we are in an ongoing spiritual battle, and the tools of spiritual warfare are the same as always: practical holiness and effective apologetics. "[T]he weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

[1] For examples of successful and unsuccessful RFRA challenges, see Mollie Hemingway, "Meet 10 Americans Helped by Religious Freedom Bills Like Indiana's," The Federalist, March 30, 2015, accessed April 12, 2015, http://thefederalist.com/2015/03/30/meet-10-americans-helped-by-religious-freedom-bills-like-indianas/.

[2] Frank Bruni, "Bigotry, the Bible, and Lessons from Indiana," New York Times, April 3, 2015, accessed April 12, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-same-sex-sinners.html.

[3] For the sake of argument, if Christianity is defined broadly enough to include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then the five largest denominations (the fifth being the Church of God in Christ) officially oppose homosexual practice and same-sex marriage.

[4] James B. DeYoung, Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000). See especially Excursus 3, "Homosexual Behavior and Discussion in Plato," 205-13.

[5] Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).