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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Eats with Sinners: Bake the Cake; Go to the Wedding; Stand Firm on the Word.

By now it's an old question, but people are ready for a Christianity that does not fit the script.

During my "youth group years", I adamantly argued for why I could never attend a same-sex wedding ceremony, lest I give "tacit approval" to that which God condemned had.

I still sympathize this view and respect those who hold it.

This is not my view any longer.

So what changed?

For one, arguing for "tacit approval" ignores that people attend weddings and wedding receptions for all sorts of reasons, even if they don't totally agree with what's happening on stage or the beliefs and lifestyles of the bride or groom.

At bottom, we go because we love the person, we value our relationship, and because they invited us.

Second, I met godly people who believed marriage was the exclusive union of man and woman, as I do and as Jesus taught in Matthew 19, but who had different views on the subject.

These brothers and sisters were unwilling to put the slippery standard of "tacit approval" before real people and relationships, and the right they had earned to speak Christ into the lives of their gay friends.

Indeed, we all know Jesus ate and fellowshipped with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. We also know Jesus was not soft on sin. This combination was difficult for the religious class of Jesus' day to swallow, but as disciples of Christ, we ought to embrace the paradox.

Third, I expanded my friend group and met gay people.

It's easy to hypothesize in the abstract what you would do before such an occasion is even a remote possibility.

However, once you make the leap from possibility to actuality, you realize relationships are messier than our hypotheses that fill the silence of Scripture with what we "know" is true based on our theological mathematics.

This leads to the wedding cake question. 

You're a Christian baker and someone asks you to make a wedding cake for their same-sex marriage ceremony, do you or don't you?

Again, I respect those who say no and understand why they do so.  

However, if I make a nondescript wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, does that really mean I support that wedding?

How about instead of seeing the cake as affirming the wedding, we view it as affirming Christ's call to love and serve even those with whom we disagree?

It's just a proposal (oh, the puns).

Or perhaps this is one way we can creatively fulfill the Bible's commands to, "when your enemy is hungry", "give him something to eat" (Romans 12:20; Proverbs 25:21-22)?

This is not to say we should go to every wedding or bake every cake, but that since God has not given us explicit commands here, we should allow room for Christians to decide what in the world they are going to do with that invitation in their mailbox or that order form on their desk. 

That said, where Scripture has spoken clearly and directly on an issue, we need to stand firm on what God has revealed in His Word.

The Bible is clear that God's intent and purpose in creation was to bring together the two halves of the sexual spectrum, male and female, into a life-long, life-giving, and loving union.

This precludes same-sex sexual relationships as part of God's plan for human beings.

While this is a hard teaching for many to accept and to hold as good and right, if we are followers of Jesus, we must do so.

In Christ's teaching on marriage we see a portrait of the Bride of Christ and the Bride-groom

We see a picture of complementarity in difference.

We see male and female, mother and father, which alone create new life, a picture of God's desire in Eden.

This is a good teaching and we must not shrink back from it.

So bake the wedding cake and go the same-sex wedding ceremony and preach beauty of marriage as God designed it because since when does following Jesus fit well between the margins, anyway?

Monday, October 31, 2016

Flee Sexual Immorality: A Response to Hatmaker and Wolterstorff

As I read Jennifer Hatmaker's interview with Jonathan Merritt in which she affirmed same-sex relationships from a civil perspective, my first impulse was to find some justification.

I know more than one Christian who believes same-sex sex is sinful but does not believe it is the government's job to affirm that position. 

Jennifer Hatmaker
We're good so far.

And then she said the Church should offer marriage support to same-sex couples...that couples in such relationships are our brothers-in-Christ...and that such relationships can be holy. 

What is more, joining this prominent evangelical author and speaker is prominent Reformed Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff who recently stated in a speech...

“Once one says that a homosexual orientation is no more culpable or disordered than a heterosexual orientation, and once one observes that Scripture does not teach that God says that homosexual activity is always wrong, I think we’ve left to conclude that justice requires that the church offer the great good of marriage both to heterosexual couples committed to a loving, covenantal relationship, and to homosexual couples so committed.”

Hatmaker and Wolterstorff occupy completely different worlds, but are well-known each in her/his own sphere and wield considerable clout.

I have read Hatmaker's books and listened to many Wolterstorff lectures and find myself grieved at what I can only describe as their apostasy from the faith.

Nicholas Wolterstorff
The reality is that Christ's Church has always believed what Jesus and the Apostles taught about marriage being a special union of man and woman, and the sinfulness of homosexual behavior. 

Scripture is further clear that those who teach and lead other into sexual sin through false doctrine are no part of the flock of God (2 Peter 2:4-10Jude 1:4; Rev. 2:20-23), but are wolves among the sheep--hidden except for their aberrant teachings. 

There is no middle ground.

If homosexual behavior keeps a person from the kingdom of God, which Scripture testifies it does (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), those who teach God approves such behavior have no part in His Kingdom.

The horror of it all is not just watching professing Christians walk the broad road to destruction, but seeing them drag unbelieving folks who identify as LGBTQ along with them in their confusion.

It is the opposite of what Paul told Timothy, that is, to watch his life and doctrine closely, that he might save himself and his hearers (1 Tim 4:16).

Furthermore, it leaves the many invisible Christians with same-sex attraction serving in evangelical churches around the country out to dry.

It says our fight to process our attractions in light of our biblical faith in Christ is an ultimately unnecessary venture, as the Bible affirms same-sex relationships.

I say our, because I am one of those Christians.

In my tender pre-teen years, I realized I had same-sex attraction and that my life would be very different as a result.

On my bed one evening, I thought very clearly about my options: I could embrace my same-sex attraction as a gift from God or I could follow Christ in the fullness of his life and teachings.

I knew there was no middle ground.

I also knew there was no choice.

There is no man on planet earth who could compare to Jesus Christ, who could take me away from his wise and beautiful counsel, or who could steer me from the ineffable love I have for God. 

I praise God that millions upon millions of Christians in this country and around the world hold firmly to the truth about marriage and sexuality in light of Scriptural precepts.

And among their numbers are many same-sex attracted saints of God who have resisted the lies of the world and have fixed their eyes on Christ, refusing to make worldly philosophies the plum-line for their fight for a holy life.

They may not make the headlines, but they are there, in every church, in every community, and in every country.

They do not hate, but speak the truth in love.

After all, that is what Jesus did.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Historical Criticism in the Restoration Movement: Liberalism, Realism, or Something Else?

In the early 19th century, Alexander Campbell wrote the following in his masterful The Christian System:

"The words and sentences of the Bible are to be translated, interpreted, and understood according to the same code of laws and principles of interpretation by which other ancient writings are translated and understood; for when God spoke to man in his own language, he spoke as one person converses with another, in fair, stipulated, and well established meaning of the terms. This is essential to its character as a revelation from God..."

Today, the historical critics have (mostly) taken Campbell at his word, leaving many in the Restoration Movement unhappy.

The Dictionary of the Bible defines historical criticism as "a modern and tested method of exploring [the]various origins [of the Old and New Testaments] and tracing their development and significance within their specific historical contexts."

This much is uncontroversial.

All reputable scholars and commentators past and present have attempted to understand and explain the biblical material by an appeal to its grammar and history (an approach aptly called the grammatical-historical approach).

However, the historical critical method of the 18th century went beyond the bounds of what many Christians from the beginning have thought appropriate, challenging the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible.

While most evangelical scholars of the Bible utilize the higher critical method without problem in their academic work, some run into conflict with the doctrinal statements of their universities or the doctrinal consensuses of their theological communities and are forced to retract statements or resign their posts (assuming they are not let go).

This has happened at least once at a Restoration Movement institution.

In 2012, Lincoln Christian University fired Dr. Anthony LeDonne, then assistant professor of New Testament and Second Temple Judaism at LCU, because supporters of the university were upset that, among other things, he denied any objective interpretation of history and, by extension, the Bible (see two separate takes on the situation here and here, as well as LeDonne's statement here).

 LeDonne took with him another sharp and rising scholar, who did his undergraduate work at a Stone-Campbell school (CCU) and who also taught New Testament at LCU, Chris Keith, who voluntarily left the institution for related reasons.
Anthony LeDonne

During the brouhaha, Peter Rasor, a Restoration Movement guy and currently a professor of theology at Grand Canyon University, reported how LeDonne in his book on the historical Jesus contended, "The historian who is intent to find ‘an objectively true picture’ of Jesus has simply misunderstood the historian’s task to account for varying and evolving social memories and explain their most plausible relationship", (76).

While the conclusions reached by LeDonne and the process by which he reached them are not academically controversial, they do fly in the face of what the average member of a Christian Church or Church of Christ believes about biblical interpretation.

To many, the idea that the past is irretrievable apart from layers upon layers of subjective interpretation and reinterpretation and that objective scrutiny is impossible sounds like we cannot really know what the Bible says.

Further, LeDonne states in the book "when dealing with sources for the life of Jesus, there are no ‘original’ documents to be found; there never were” (70).

Since most Christian Churches have in their statements of faith something about the "original copies" of the New Testament or the "autographs" and their inerrancy, this conclusion is disconcerting.

Indeed this is how higher criticism undermines the Bible's authority, according to its critics.

It is an unbounded approach that treats the Bible like any other document, meaning no questions or conclusions are off the table if you can argue for it.

This had led to countless conclusions that, if true, would radically alter the Christian faith or even render it untrue.

Furthermore, because historical criticism sees the Bible as merely human, it is implicitly biased against the supernatural and thus wherever necessary seeks to find naturalistic explanations for the plethora of the Bible's supernatural phenomena.

This is important to understand.

However, it is not the complete story.

Historical criticism has improved our understanding of the Scripture in its natural context and corrected many thoughtless impositions of later theological stances and concepts onto the inspired text.

Furthermore, it has enriched our understanding the human side of Scripture's authorship and the authors' roles in selecting, editing, and arranging their material.

In addition, while systematic theology can flatten out the rich variety of the biblical genres it its pursuit of continuity and coherence, historical criticism has marshalled against simplistic, prooftextual readings which fail to appreciate the individual perspectives of each book, its author(s), and the community it speaks to.

Of late, my own academic institution, Cincinnati Christian University, has been targeted by those who believe the approaches and conclusions of certain scholars in CCU's biblical studies department (I am not a biblical studies student by the way), are nothing more than rank "liberalism" in the Brotherhood.

Unsurprisingly, their concerns can be traced back to a fundamental worldview difference on the legitimacy of historical criticism of the Bible.

The response, of course, is that the critics of historical criticism are simply out of touch with anything more than a surface level reading of the Bible and fail to even entertain ideas that challenge established doctrinal beliefs, even if those beliefs are not as biblical as they appear from a "plain reading" of the text.

This fundamental divide is felt not only in the Christian Church world but in the larger Evangelical community (just Google "Michael Licona and Norman Geisler" for proof of that).

I have people I respect on both sides of this issue and am not afraid to disagree with anyone, even those whom I admire and esteem highly.

I believe that historical criticism of the Bible with its methodological naturalism (that is, assuming for the sake of argument that the world is absent of anything beyond nature) is unable to give us an accurate picture of the Bible to the extent that the Bible is the product of a divine mind (of course, not neglecting its human authors).

Thus, when historical Jesus scholars, for example, tell me that Jesus was this, that, and the other thing, but certainly not what the Church has always believed him to be, by looking at how they arrived at their conclusions, I can see we could never have arrived at the same conclusions due to fundamentally contrary hermeneutic approaches that flow from a difference of opinion about what the Bible is.

A number of fine scholars who are in no way anti-intellectual are also of this opinion, such as Robert Yarborough of Covenant, Thomas Howe of Southern Evangelical, Vern Poythress of Westminster, Gerhard Maier of Tübingen in Germany, and Scott Hahn of Franciscan University, among others.

At the same time, this is not to say historical criticism is anti-Bible or anti-Christian, or that it cannot be used without denying some essential tenet of the faith.

What is more, I believe that to retreat into an enclave of perceived doctrinal purity (which the above scholars would not advocate, but what some loud critics in the Restoration Movement seem to argue for) is nothing more than privileging tradition over an honest pursuit of Bible doctrine and refusing to treat the Bible with the maturity it deserves.

For myself, I was only introduced to historical criticism by way of Muslim apologetics against the divinity and trustworthiness of the Bible--a poor introduction indeed!

My faith survived, but the faith of many do not because instead of promoting understanding and free inquiry, certain critics of historical criticism decide the winners and loser beforehand based on nothing more than the assumption that their interpretations of certain biblical passages and concepts (like inspiration, for example) are correct.

This type of approach is repellent to critical thinkers and fails to do justice the intellectual integrity of Christian faith and discipleship.

So what then is the way forward?

First, let's clarify four things:

One, the "strong" doctrine of Scripture is true (ie., the Bible is exclusively authoritative, infallible, understandable, generally self-sufficient, internally consistency, has objective meaning, and is universally applicable [to borrow from Christian Smith's definition of "biblicism"]).

Two, to the extent that we approach the Bible with a denial of point one, it is impossible to get a coherent message out of the Bible in all its richness.

Three, when we apply the methods of historical criticism to the Bible which (normally) assume naturalism and view the Bible as merely a human book, with all the expected shortcomings of such human books, we expect to not get a coherent message out of the Bible, which can only be fully understood in the light of its divine aspects.

Four, it is generally accepted that beyond the grammatical-historical approach to biblical criticism (which looks simply at the grammar of the passages and seeks to place the passages in their historical context), the various methods of historical criticism (be it form, redaction, source, etc.), yield helpful insights into Bible truth and should not be abandoned wholesale, which would also be intellectual and academic suicide.

Thus, I propose evangelical scholars "play the game" of historical criticism, using it for expediency's sake, all the while judiciously noting the ways it fails and must fail to adequately capture the Bible for what it is, a divine-human text, and proposing better alternative views.

We should not attempt to prove the Bible errorless by appeals to historical criticism (a failed project) or pretend that evangelical or Restoration Movement convictions about the Bible can be fully can be integrated with or arrived at by the fundamental assumptions of historical criticism (i.e., the Bible is limited, fallible, errant, non-coherent, etc.).

Like in collegiate debate where participants must often debate for a subject they do not believe in, we should engage the larger academic world in the language of historical criticism, while, in reality, being prepared to explain why the historical critical approach stops short of the full story.

Understanding this, laypeople need to give grace in light of the challenges faced by Christian academics, we need to move beyond a Sunday School view of the Bible to a mature view, one that sees the Bible not as heavenly dictations, but a divine-human text; and be prepared to disagree with love and collegiality.

Also, can we stop kneecapping ourselves by chasing away the best and brightest of evangelical scholarship and instead assure our scholars (I'm talking about the Restoration Movement) that we have their backs?

I know I do not agree with some of the philosophical assumptions and specific beliefs about the Bible held by the Biblical Studies faculty at CCU (which is not a monolith).

However, every day I am enriched by their knowledge and learning, as well as encouraged by our common fellowship in Christ Jesus.

As the saying goes, " all things charity." 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Political Neutrality in Practice: The Pledge of Allegiance

Political neutrality is a negative position (in the sense of negating, not critical) taken towards governments and politics by Christians in which we...

1. do not lobby government, 
2. vote for, endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms;  
hold government office, 
participate in any action to change governments; 
3. allow our meeting places or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes, 
direct other Christians as to which candidate or party they should votes for; 
4. or attempt to direct or dictate government leaders or elections*. 

This position has several practical applications, which will be the subject of forthcoming blog posts. 

This first post deals with the Pledge of Allegiance and eight reasons why Christians should not say it:

Firstly, the Pledge of Allegiance for Christians--called strangers and foreigners to the world and it ways, and citizens of heaven (Eph. 2:19; 1 Pet. 2:11; Philip. 3:11)--confuses the relationship of Kingdom citizens to the worldly kingdoms in which they reside. 

It's as backward as a visiting South Korean pledging allegiance to the flag of North Korea on a diplomatic trip or a traveling Israeli to the flag of Palestine during a stop in East Jerusalem. 

Our true and lasting citizenship resides in God's Kingdom which is principally opposed to the Kingdoms of the world. 

Secondly, the POA is for us a redundancy because by virtue of our allegiance to Christ and his Kingdom, we promise to act in a God-honoring way toward our nations (Romans 13:1-7).

Thirdly, the POA is nationalistic while God's Kingdom is anti-nationalist. 

Our primary loyalty is to our brothers and sisters (Eph 3:28; Gal. 6:10), who reside around the world, not to "the republic." 

Fourthly, the phrase "under God" is a lie. 

Our nation is not "under God" in any meaningful sense. 

We do not consider God in our laws, in our decision making, or in any of the essential or non-essential functions our our republic. 

Being "under God", but not acknowledging God is like saying "Lord, Lord", but not doing what the Lord says.

Fifthly, the phrase "under God" is idolatrous. 

The Supreme Court has only allowed the such phrases found in our money, pledges, anthems, etc. because it is empty of religious meaning, instead representing "ceremonial deism", much less any reference to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or Jesus.

Sixth, the phrase "with liberty and justice for all" is a lie. 

Those words in the POA saw the worst of this nation's post-slavery treatment of blacks, as well as the oppression of other racial and sexual minorities. 

Furthermore, as long as abortion remains legal, this phrase is a trite nothing.

Seventh, pledging allegiance to the flag contradicts the biblical teaching against making oaths/swearing (Matt. 5:34-37; Jas 5;12) because a pledge is an oath of allegiance to the country.

Eighth the earliest Christians refused to swear any oaths at all until this tradition was completely reversed with the Constantine Corruption of the Church. 

Surely, more reasons exist for why we should not pledge our allegiance to the flag or to the republic for which it stands, but find other biblically appropriate ways of honoring our country,  

*(This definition is a modified form of this stance taken by the LDS and JW fellowships).

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A People Not Yet Created: A Theological Case for Extraterrestrial Life.

For some inexplicable reason, maybe over a decade ago, my mother allowed me to watch some spooky documentary-like paranormal movie with my sister and a couple of friends.

Its effect on me was not negligible and that night I removed my analog clock  from my room (for you Generation Yers, analog is the one with the pointy things sticking out from the center) because the ticking of the hands was terrifying me.

Not exactly anyone's vision of a super fun movie night.

However, I walked away from that evening's experience with something else, something other than fear: a firm belief in extraterrestrial life.

In fact, in the hey-day of my belief, I started the “Extraterrestrial Prayer Ministry (EPM)” which was “committed to praying for our brother and sisters in other galaxies” or something like that (hey, cut me some slack; once I go all in, I go all in).

Now, before you write me off as having gone off the deep end, I don't actually believe there exists physical evidence for aliens.

All such proof, including that presented in the documentary, is easier and better explained by something other than intergalactic visitors who couldn't find anything more interesting to do than mess with a few cows, abduct a person here or there, or craft designs in an Iowa cornfield.

In fact, I don't even stop by that section at the bookstore, conveniently located between the Tarot cards and the ghost hunter biographies (I mean how's that for instilling confidence?).

Upon maturer reflection, I believe the case for alien life is most properly a theological question, not a paranormal, scientific, or biblical one.

What do I mean by that?

Well, the alien question is not a paranormal question because alein existence doesn't rise or fall on hypotheses related to unexplained phenomena that supposedly lie beyond the capacities of nature.

It could. But it doesn't.

More controversial, I would say it's not practically a scientific question, only in the sense that scientists have little reason to expect scientific confirmation of intelligent life comparable to our own (sorry, SETI!) and yet that still doesn't mean such life is nonexistent.

One such hurdle to scientific confirmation of aliens is the standard “life evolved from the perfect marriage of chemicals, proteins, warmth, moisture, and energy” explanation of the genesis of carbon based life.

That this happened once is so infinitesimal as to almost be zero and is something trained professionals in labs have been utterly unable to achieve (and not for lack of trying).

The idea that it happened twice, even multiple times, is incredible.

Secondly, our ability to broadcast and receive radio waves to and from our hypothetical intergalactic neighbors is severely limited by the vastness of the universe and the current inadequacy of even our best technology to pierce the darkness.

The graphic below shows how far (or not so far) we have been able to broadcast radio waves into just our galaxy much less the other 100 billion projected galaxies in the universe (look for the arrow).

So not only does it seem highly unlikely that aliens could have evolved from a protein-rich primordial soup (as some assume we did), if they managed that feat, the likelihood we would be able to contact each other is slim to none.

In fairness, these odds are technically not insurmountable and do not truly place the aliens outside of the realm of scientific inquiry, but as far as validating or invalidating the alien question, the tools of the scientific trade need quite a bit of updating.

Finally and maybe most surprisingly, I don't think this is a biblical question.

The Bible is book, divine in origin, given to human beings (as opposed to angels or animals, ect.) for their total edification.

It is not a science textbook or an exhaustive encyclopedia of all knowledge, so we should not be surprised it does not even broach the question of aliens, the conditions of life on other planets, or other related issues.

All attempts to read aliens into every fantastic vision in the Bible or description of a strange creature are unconvincing and find better explanations in the literary, historical, and socio-cultural settings of the passages in question.

If we're looking for a “this saith the Lord” in regards to aliens, we are bound to come up short.

However, I do think the Bible is key here, rendering the alien question first a question of theology.

Theology proper is the study of God (Himself), but is used to describe the study of the things of God, too.

Since I believe in alien existence, not on explicit biblical grounds, but based on a broad principle(s) taken from the Bible and applied to this question, this is properly considered theological speculation.

What is this principle?

The love of God.

That God chose to create is a stunning and marvelous fact because God had nothing to gain from creation.

If you are God, your ultimate and complete satisfaction comes not from outside Yourself, but from, well, being God.

This has led careful students of the Bible to conclude that the “good” of creation was our good.

The Bible says God loves the world. (John 3:16)
That He does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. (Ezekiel 33:11)
That He died for everyone. (1 John 2:2 )
That He wants everyone to come to knowledge of the truth. (1 John 2:2)

This love has no limit and manifested itself, not only in creation, but in God's sharing of Himself, the greatest gift He could give to us (The Bible says the end of all God's children is to “be with the Lord forever”, 1 Thessalonians 4:17).

The argument is simple: if God's love moved Him to create and if God's love is limitless, God's creative impulses of the same kind that brought about human beings about in the first place are also limitless, meaning they did not terminate in us but continue to extend to other creations of God yet unknown to us.

It follows from this, we are not alone in the universe (or at least the created order), but that God is involved in the most beautiful project of endless self-giving love with all kinds of sentient creatures, not just humans.

This may be on an intergalactic basis, as I suspect based on the sheer vastness of creation, or in other created dimensions, but it's happening, it's amazing,  and it's exactly what we would suspect from a God who has already purchased for Himself men from every tribe, tongue, and nation here on earth.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Answering Popular Objections to Christianity: What about Religious Violence?

I briefly contemplated calling this series (running concurrently with my series on Catholicism) "Bad Objections to Christianity" because I judged the objections I planned to cover as, well, bad.

However, because it's not my intention to insult those, Christian or otherwise, who find themselves taken by these objections, I opted for the descriptor "popular" in place of bad, to communicate the common, perhaps less sophisticated nature of these objections in comparison to more scholarly, academic ones.

Also, this gives me the opportunity to answer a wider array of objections, including those that are popular, but not necessarily poorly thought out.

In fact, we start with just such an objection which alleges that religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular, cannot be true or should be rejected because of the copious amounts of violence and wars they produce.

Let me outline 5 rebuttals to this objection.

1. Abuses Do Not Negate Uses. 

Any worldview, belief system, or ideological principle can be abused by self-promoting individuals to further their wicked agendas.

Thus, even if someone uses religion as a justification for a violent act, unless we can draw a clear line between the act and the specific precepts of the religion in question which could conceivably allow for or otherwise justify such violence, we cannot simply assume such a religion does in fact justify the violent act and is not simply being taken advantage of by the perpetrator.

Such an abuse could not be used to disqualify the specific religion or all religions in any sense.

2.  The Diversity of Religious Belief.

Religion can be understood as a set of beliefs or practices centered around the divine or sacred.

It is unnecessary and indeed impossible to capture here the world's staggering amount of religious diversity, past and present, and the various relationships these religions have to violence.

Thus, from the onset, it is far too simplistic to blame "religion", broadly, for wars and violence as though religion were (1.) homogeneous (which it is not) or (2.) had some inherent violent-producing properties (which it does not).

This rebuttal is in keeping with the study "Five Key Questions Answered on the Link between Peace and Religion”, published by the Institute for Economics and Peace, published in 2014, which looked at thirty-five major conflicts waged in 2013 concluded no "general causal relationship" existed between these conflicts and religion.

In fact, while no shortage of speculation and theories exist, no such relationship has ever been demonstrated in any way.

3. The Absence of Historical Evidence

From the Christian Answers and Research Ministry.

Most glaringly, it is also not the case that historically religion, of any stripe, has been the cause of most wars.

The massive Encyclopedia of Wars, published in 2008, documented a whopping 1,763 wars fought throughout human history and judged that not quite 7% or 123 wars, to be exact, were  ‘religious in nature’.
Far and away most wars have been fought for socio-economic and political reasons, not religion.

4. The Bloody History of Atheistic Regimes

Furthermore, when we look at atheist revolutionaries like Benito Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Josip Broz Tito, Kim Il Sung, Vladimir Lenin, and others of the 20th century, the tens of millions of people killed surrounding their violent activities far outstrips those killed in wars fought for religious reasons (which account for 2 percent of all such fatalities, according to the Encyclopedia of Wars).

Indeed, if you take the 20 million (a very low number) people Stalin alone killed and stack that against the 1.7 million killed in the Crusades and the 3000 executed during the Inquisition, you don't reach even 20% of this one evil dictator.

And to the extent one argues that other factors like Communism played a role in one or more of the atrocities wrought by these irreligious men, which is undeniable, we ask that the same attention to detail and nuance be given to the socio-political nature of the so-called religious conflicts for which believers have been taken to task (such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, unrest in Northern Ireland, etc.).

5. Important But Besides The Point Of Truth

 Finally, even to the degree that religious conflicts do exist, and they do, this has no bearing on the general meaningfulness of religion as a way of looking at and describing reality or the truth of Christianity, particular.

"Religion causes wars" is not logically opposite "God exists", "Jesus Christ rose from the dead", or "the Bible is divinely authoritative", truths upon which the Christian commitment to following God rests. 


We have see that abuses do not negate uses relative to the abuse of religion by violent individuals, that religion is a diverse body of thought with no inherently violent or violent-producing properties, that 97% of history's wars were not religious in nature, that atheist regimes of the 20th century were responsible for the most loss of life in violent conflict, and that the objection itself does not even touch on the truth of religion as a way of looking at the world.

With this objection out of the way, I hope we can consider more carefully the nature of the wars fought in the Bible, for example, the mnistry of peace prophesied in the coming Messiah, and the way the peace teachings of Jesus work to make those prophecies a reality in view of his Second Coming to put an end to violence once and or all. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

It's Not You; It's Me: Why Are Police Officers Killing Black Men?

Wading through the mountain of studies assessing police use of force (without a firearm), fatal and non-fatal police shootings, and the possibility of racial bias in each case is no easy task, but is important in understanding why we are seeing such violent clashes between police and black Americans.

To begin, we have to start with the raw data.

For one, the Washington Post is operating a real-time database to track fatal police shootings.

In 2015, they logged 990 fatal police shootings, of which 494 of the slain were white and 258 were black.

This year, 518 people have been killed by police (a six percent increase from the first 6 months of last year), 239 of those killed being white and 126 being black (a nine percent increase from the first 6 months of 2015).

Are more white people being killed by police than black people? Yes.

However, when you take population into consideration, as any responsible analysis of the data must, black people, making up 13 percent of the population, make up 24 percent of the fatal shootings, meaning, generally speaking,  black Americans are more 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police.

When you adjust for unarmed victims "black men were seven times more likely than white men to die by police gunfire while unarmed", when taking into account the 2015 data alone.

After the data for 2015 and 2016 is compiled, "U.S. police officers have shot and killed the exact same number of unarmed white people as they have unarmed black people: 50 each. But because the white population is approximately five times as great as the black population, that means unarmed black Americans were five times as likely as unarmed white Americans to be shot and killed by a police officer."

So while higher numbers of white people (and Hispanics) are killed by police than black people, black people, armed or unarmed, are killed a rate higher than their white counterparts.

There are two prevailing theories for why this is: the racial bias theory and the crime-produced disparity theory (which states that disproportionate levels of crime in the black community drives police use of force).

The racial bias theory makes a lot out of the above disparities and there is indeed evidence on the books showing racial bias against blacks in terms of police dealings.

Most recently, a study published by National Bureau of Economic Research found "[o]n non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police."

Importantly, the study controls for things like context and civilian behavior finding it "reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities."

This makes the data difficult to dismiss by those who hold the crime-produced theory as a explanation for these police conflicts.

Furthermore, mitigating against the crime-produced theory is 2015 study coming from a researcher at the University of California's Anthropology Department.

The study an ,"Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States", found the the following:

 "There is no relationship between county-level racial bias in police shootings and crime rates (even race-specific crime rates), meaning that the racial bias observed in police shootings in this data set is not explainable as a response to local-level crime rates."

Even when controlling for violent criminality on the part of the person shot,  a Center for Policing Equity report released this year found, "[g]iven the rarity of Part I violent crimes [violent and property crimes] and a lack of evidence that arrests for violent crime significantly increase the likelihood of police use of force, these findings suggest that crime rates are an insufficient explanation for disparities in the application of police force."

In other words, the crime-produced disparity theory is whittled down as studies consistently show that arrests for violent crime and local crime rates are not enough to explain the disproportionate killing of black individuals.

This is bad news for people like Heather McDonald, fellow at the Manhattan Institute,  who claimed in her popular "The Danger of Black Lives Matter" speech,  "[t]he black violent crime rate would actually predict that more than 26 percent of police victims would be black. Officer use of force will occur where the police interact most often with violent criminals, armed suspects, and those resisting arrest, and that is in black neighborhoods."

In other words, while Ms. McDonald is absolutely correct that black people commit violent crime at rates not in keeping with their size relative to the overall population, the conclusion (given without sources) she draws from that directly contradicts years of historical data compiled and evaluated in the CPE report.

Furthermore, her implication that the disparity at which cops are in danger of being killed by black people more than any other racial demographic helps explain the racial disparity in cop killings fares no better without any support from the published data.

This does not mean the racial bias theory wins the day, however.

The theory recently hit a major snag with a new report that shows "on the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings – we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account."

This is the same National Bureau of Economic Research study that found racial bias in police use of non-lethal force.

German Lopez, a staff writer for Vox, criticized the report for using voluntary data (which may be negatively affected by selection bias), which is not an immaterial point.

However, in the same article, he then admittedly used voluntary police data from the FBI to prove the opposite point, justifying his inconsistency by stating the FBI numbers are "more comprehensive".

This is true, but the comprehensiveness of a report does not mitigate against possible selection bias.

Also, the NBER study cannot be invalidated by the FBI statistics Lopex cites because the FBI numbers are not incident-based (see here) and so can say nothing about the controls in the NBER study that show a lack of racial bias.

In the second data set used in the NBER study, the researchers were given access to cases in which lethal force could have been used but was not, to look for potential bias.

And while Lopez claims this data set is "built on police reports of what police claim are arrests in which lethal force was warranted" and that "given the video evidence we’ve seen in the past couple of years, there’s good reason to not take police at their word", he ignores the fact that, as the New York Times reported, it was the lead researcher, Roland G. Fryer Jr., who set the parameters of such cases, not the police.

While some might bandy the idea that the police are lying in these reports,  this is intuitively difficult to assent to because these are cases where lethal force was not used, eliminating any apparent reason for dishonesty.

And arguing the officers lied on the reports to make themselves look better in the off-chance someone would care that they could have used lethal force but didn't is just too clever by half.

Perhaps most important, as Mr. Fryer himself explains, "what we actually found was that there were no racial differences in the basic differences analysis. It didn't matter whether we took context--as captured by police reports--into account or not; there was no racial bias in either analysis."

The NBER study is not comprehensive and thus cannot be applied to the nation as a whole, but it is something in the way of rebutting the racial bias narrative.

One the other hand, while some may use the study as proof that minorities are generally handled rougher in the hands of the police, as mentioned earlier, the lack of comprehensiveness cuts this way as well.

Some have suggested that the more frequent stopping of black people by police leads to more violent confrontations.

While this would make sense, unfortunately that just pushes the question back a step and we are left to ask why police stopping are black people more often and the entire debate about racial bias vs crime-produced disparity begins anew (with very sparse data in this case).

Thus, it seems both proponents of the crime-produced disparity theory and the racial bias theory need to go back to the drawing board, and the rest of us should avoid making sweeping judgments apart from what individual cases tell us.

I have already argued elsewhere that the best approach is to not commit crimes, resist arrest, or evade arrest (this solution is, of course, not unique to me).

This is a variation of the crime-produced disparity theory, but argues that in initial police confrontations, not later police violence, of a lethal variety are mostly generated by crime, which all the evidence supports (one can check the WP database).

In addition, it also can accommodate theories of racial bias and thus functions as a way of keeping people safe and keeping officers accountable.

While I now believe this would apply to 99% of all the "hashtag cases" cases of police violence, it does not seem to be the case in the Philando Castile case, where an innocent man was mistaken for a criminal and lost his life at the hands of a scared police officer.

This, however, is not the norm, by any honest reading of the data, and affects the solution negligibly.