Seriously, Kansas?

14 February 2014 — 8 Comments

Kansas state capitol building (credit: Rand McNally)

With same-sex marriage advancing faster than anyone expected, you might wonder what the LGBT community has to complain about anymore. The grand prize, marriage equality nationwide, is almost within reach. Surely the country has entered some kind of “post-homophobic” era.

Right. Just like the election of Barack Obama ushered in a “post-racial” era.

Reality is never quite that simple, and history is never a completely linear affair, as the state of Kansas reminded us when its House of Representatives passed House Bill 2453 by a vote of 72-49. The Kansas Senate, which consists of 32 Republicans and 8 Democrats, is likely to follow suit, and the state’s conservative governor, Sam Brownback, will almost certainly sign the bill into law.

Slate contributor Mark Joseph Stern describes the impact of HB 2453 like this:

The result will mark Kansas as the first state, though certainly not the last, to legalize segregation of gay and straight people in virtually every area of life.

Slate is a liberal publication. Of course they’re going to describe the bill in the most melodramatic terms possible, right?

So I read HB 2453 for myself. You should too.

It’s fairly short, as legislation goes. But in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing, I’ve included some of the major provisions below. (Highlights are mine.)

In short, the bill asserts the right of any “individual or religious entity” to deny “any services” to someone based on the individual or entity’s “sincerely held religious beliefs.” The bill has been described as an attempt to protect people from being forced to help with same-sex weddings, but section 1 goes could be interpreted as going much further, apparently perhaps giving people the right to refuse ANY service, “related to or unrelated to” marriage. (Update: Thanks to Dan for pointing out in the comments below that the wording of the bill is somewhat vague on this point.)

No individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender:

(a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement.

House Bill 2453 strips away a person’s legal recourse in response to such refusal to provide service. To quote Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, “If a gay couple sues for discrimination, they won’t just lose; they’ll be forced to pay their opponent’s attorney fees.”

He appears to be right on that count:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no refusal by an individual or religious entity to engage in any activity described in section 1, and amendments hereto, shall result in:

(1) A civil claim or cause of action under state or local law based upon such refusal; or

(2) an action by any governmental entity to penalize, withhold benefits from, discriminate against or otherwise disadvantage any protected individual or religious entity, under any state or local law.

If a government entity, or any person asserts a claim or cause of action, or takes any adverse action against an individual or religious entity in violation of subsection (a), such individual or religious entity shall be entitled upon request to recover all reasonable attorney fees, costs, and damages such individual or religious entity incurred as a result of such violation.

In theory, governments and “non-religious” entities are still obligated to provide “lawful service” to gay people — i.e. driver’s licenses (though not marriage, in the eyes of Kansas):

If an individual employed by a governmental entity or other non-religious entity invokes any of the protections provided by section 1, and amendments hereto, as a basis for declining to provide a lawful service that is otherwise consistent with the entity’s duties or policies, the individual’s employer, in directing the performance of such service, shall either promptly provide another employee to provide such service, or shall otherwise ensure that the requested service is provided, if it can be done without undo hardship to the employer.

But religious entities are not mentioned in the bill’s provision to “ensure that the requested service is provided.” On top of which, House Bill 2453 defines religious entities pretty broadly, as:

An organization, regardless of its non-profit or for-profit status, and regardless of whether its activities are deemed wholly or partly religious…

For purposes of discriminating against gays, a religious entity can even be:

A privately held business operating consistently with its sincerely held religious beliefs…

Apparently Slate wasn’t being so melodramatic after all.


Under HB 2453, it’s possible that if you work at the DMV and someone you know (or suspect) to be gay asks you to renew their driver’s license, you can refuse. In which case, your supervisor has to find someone who will. But essentially, you get to recreate the experience of a 1950s-era “whites only” lunch counter, right here in 2014. You get to tell someone you think they’re unworthy of your attention — even if the requested service has nothing to do with gay marriage. You get to discriminate, consequence-free.

Mark Joseph Stern suggested that HB 2453 would allow police officers to refuse to respond if a gay couple called for help. I can’t find anything in this monstrosity of a law that would suggest he’s read it wrongly.

The wording of HB 2453 is vague enough to create the possibility that someone who owns or works for a private business, you could refuse any service to someone you know or suspect to be gay, as long as you can claim to operate your business in accordance with your “sincerely held religious beliefs.” (What does that mean, anyway? Can you claim to be a religious business if you put gospel tracts next to the cash register? If you hang a fish decal in the window?)

We’re not necessarily just talking about wedding planners and photographers, either. We’re not just talking about pastors who choose not to officiate same-sex weddings. (Religious ministers have never been compelled to officiate weddings to which they objected, regardless of the reason.)

Depending on how the bill is read, any business providing any service — related or unrelated to marriage — is allowed to discriminate under Kansas House Bill 2453.

Proponents of the law say it will prevent discrimination. Discrimination against those who want to discriminate, it seems. “Discrimination is horrible. It’s hurtful… It has no place in civilized society, and that’s precisely why we’re moving this bill,” said Rep. Charles Macheers in defense of HB 2453.

Was he oblivious to the irony?


Same-sex marriage remains a contentious issue. Though not everyone will agree, I happen to believe there are people of goodwill on both sides. Not everyone who objects to same-sex marriage is a hater or a homophobe. Likewise, not everyone who supports gay marriage is out to destroy Western civilization.

But all persons are equal before the law. This bedrock principle of democracy is enshrined in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. It means you cannot target one group or class of people for discrimination, even in the name of protecting your “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Especially not when it comes to basic services to which every citizen is entitled — like getting a driver’s license or having a police officer respond when you’re being held at gunpoint.

Finally, to my fellow Christians in Kansas and beyond who think laws like HB 2453 are necessary to protect their religiously-based objection to gay marriage, please remember what the apostle Paul taught. Only one law is necessary. Only one law trumps the rest. It’s not the law of religious freedom. And it’s certainly not the law that allows allowing you to discriminate against someone even when it comes to providing a service that in no way requires you to violate your conscience.

The only law that matters is the law of love. This is the law that fulfills all the rest, according to Paul. This law, he insists, “does no harm to a neighbor.”

HB 2453, on the other hand, does a great deal of harm to our neighbors.


The galaxy Centaurus A, approx. 10-16 million light years from earth (credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video)

In the wake of Ham v. Nye, the latest spectacle in the ongoing creation/evolution debate, cooler heads are calling for a rapprochement between science and faith.

Take, for example, Tim Stafford’s impassioned plea on behalf of our children to stop treating the two pursuits as mutually exclusive:

Right now, the way we’re carrying on battles over evolution, many of our children… will shy away from science because it demands that they abandon faith. They will avoid faith because it requires forsaking science. And they will have no idea — in this realm, at least — that it is possible to disagree with someone on the deepest level and yet treat them with respect.

Or take respected scientist (and Christian) Francis Collins, who, during a recent interview with the Huffington Post, argued that science and faith shouldn’t be pitted against each other, because they ask fundamentally different questions. One is preoccupied with how things work, the other asks why.

The cooler heads are saying we can have both. We don’t have to choose between science and faith.

But we might have to put an asterisk to that claim.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 11.55.44 AM

As much as I’d like to say, “Yes, it can be both!” that’s simply not the reality for many Christians today. In some corners of the church — and perhaps in some corners of the scientific community as well — you are forced to choose. Faith or science. One or the other. Some will cling to their belief in a young earth — scientific evidence be damned. Others, like the North Carolina State University students in Tim Stafford’s piece, will conclude they have no choice but to abandon their childhood faith.

What it really boils down to is the nature of your faith. Depending on what kind of faith you have, you may well have to choose between it and the scientific evidence for evolution.

If your faith is rigid, unyielding, or inflexible, you might have to choose.

If your faith is unable to cope with a constantly changing world, you might have to choose.

If your faith is not open to new discoveries and possibilities, if it views the outside world with a wary eye, then you might have to choose.

If the defining posture of your faith is defensive rather than inquisitive, then you might have to choose.

If your faith forbids you from even considering other ways of reading the Bible, then yes, you may have to choose between science and faith.

You won’t be the first.

Five hundred years ago, believers had to choose between the astronomical discoveries of Galileo and Copernicus and the church’s insistence on a stationary earth, based on a literal reading Joshua 10 and 1 Chronicles 16:30. (Oh, and it wasn’t just the Catholic Church either; Protestant reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin also accused scientists of undermining faith in scripture.)

We all know how that particular episode turned out. The scientists were vindicated, and the church has fought to shake off an anti-science reputation ever since.

To us, it seems obvious that Joshua’s depiction of the sun standing still and the chronicler’s reference to an immovable earth should be viewed as metaphor, not literal (much less scientific) assertion. But it wasn’t so obvious to everyone in the 16th century. Just like it still isn’t obvious to everyone today that Genesis 1 may not be a literal description of how the universe came into existence.

Five hundred years ago, the church had to open itself to other possibilities, to other ways of reading the Bible. It had to accept that maybe we don’t have everything about the Bible figured out, that maybe not everything in scripture was meant to be taken as literal history (which is not the same as saying that none of it can be read historically).

If you build your faith out of a house of cards, then all you have to do is take one card away, and the whole thing comes crashing down. That’s why young-earth creationists like Ken Ham cannot give an inch to science. That’s why they force you to choose between faith — or their version of it — and science. In Ham’s view, to reject a literal, 7-day creation is to undermine the gospel itself. He’s backed himself into a corner, and he has nowhere else to go. So he fights on, evidence be damned.

There’s another way, though.

You don’t have to check your faith at the door in order to see that we don’t know everything there is to know about the Bible, much less the world around us. You don’t have to chuck your Bible out the window to accept that it doesn’t always describe reality in literal, scientific, or historical terms. It’s so much more than a rote depiction of stuff that happened.

You don’t have to fear new discovery. You don’t have to be afraid of exploring the world if you understand that “science is not the only answer” — that it can help us understand how, but it cannot tell us why.

If the God you worship is truly as big as you say he is, then you don’t have to fear that something’s going to jump out from underneath a rock and devour him.

In the end, Tim Stafford and Francis Collins are right, with a caveat. You don’t have to choose between science and faith — depending on what kind of faith you have.

Answers in Genesis is well known for their cartoons contrasting creation and evolution. Even the recent creation debate started off with an ad featuring a cartoon Ken Ham inviting people to visit his Creation Museum.

Micah J. Murray shared one of AiG’s cartoons in his recent post, Why I Don’t Care About Creation vs. Evolution Anymore


I looked at this cartoon and thought, “Wow, that pretty much sums up the whole worldview of young-earth creationism.” Evolutionists are evil, God-hating secularists bent on destroying civilization. In the world according to Ken Ham, evolution is the foundation of everything that’s wrong with society. Christians who don’t take the “threat” of evolution seriously are, in his view, putting everyone else in danger. (As for that one guy in the Christian castle firing a cannon at his own foundation…I assume that’s supposed to be Peter Enns.)

My awesomely talented friend Heather — the mad genius behind the Super Bowl Snackadium recently featured on Good Morning America’s website and Pee Wee Herman’s Facebook page — looked at this cartoon and thought, “I wonder what that one burst balloon used to be?”

Well, after a bit of research (and/or Photoshopping) on her part, she uncovered the truth…


Happy Friday, everyone.

BuzzFeed asked 22 creationists at the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate to write a question or message for those who believe in evolution. As of Thursday morning, the story had nearly 2 million hits.

The questions provide insight into the arguments supporting young-earth creationism. I believed for many years that the earth was created in 7 days, so I recognize a lot of these arguments as ones I used to make. What I don’t see is a serious effort to engage with the evidence for evolution. I do see some ad hominem arguments and caricatures of evolutionists — often the same ones Ken Ham has been using for the last 20 years. Some of the arguments are based on discredited myths or a misunderstanding of established scientific principles.

Here they are…


Matt Stopera / BuzzFeed

1. Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?

This seems to be a loaded question, based on the “evolutionists are out to get your children” caricature perpetuated by Answers in Genesis. All I can say is, when someone like Bill Nye devotes their career (and a good chunk of their debate with Ken Ham) to urging kids to get out and explore the universe, I’d call that a positive influence.

2. Are you scared of a divine creator?

Another caricature popular among young-earth creationists is that most scientists who accept evolution are religion-hating atheists.

The reality is that more than 50% of scientists believe in God or a higher power. Francis Collins, who led the Human Genome Project — which, among other things, proved the human race could not have originated from a single primal couple — is an evangelical Christian.

Nye himself is an agnostic, but he freely admits that science cannot answer questions of ultimate origins. During the debate with Ken Ham, he said, “I see no incompatibility between religion and science.”

3. Is it completely illogical that the earth was created mature, i.e. trees created with rings, Adam created as an adult?

Perhaps a more important question is: do we really want to worship a God who lies?

To make the universe look older than it is would be to weave deception into the very fabric of creation. Not only would this seriously undermine belief in God’s inherent goodness; it begs the question: why would God want to make the universe look older than it really is? What purpose would it serve?


Matt Stopera / BuzzFeed

4. Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?

I used to make the very same argument. So it’s important to note that it’s based on a fundamental misunderstanding of thermodynamics.

The second law of thermodynamics states that entropy (or disorder) increases or stays the same over time…in a closed system. But we don’t live in a closed system. Our planet receives continual input of energy from that great big ball of gas known as the sun, thus negating the effects of entropy. (H/T BioLogos)

5. How do you explain a sunset if there is no God?

I don’t think this person was asking for a scientific explanation of the phenomenon by which the sun appears to drop below the horizon every night. More likely, she wants to know how we can account for the wonder and beauty of creation without a creator.

Subjective perception of beauty is not necessarily the best argument for the existence of God, but I get where she’s coming from. I’ve whispered a prayer of thanksgiving more than once while watching the sun dip over Lake Michigan. For many Christians like me, the beauty of creation prompts us to worship the God we believe made it all.

But I also believe the sun, the lake, the sand beneath my feet, and everything else evolved over billions of years.

Once again, Ken Ham’s depiction of evolutionists as religion-hating thugs who want to rid the world of any trace of the divine is a caricature.

6. If the big bang theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, why do the laws of thermodynamics debunk said theories?

The laws of thermodynamics do not debunk said theories. See #4.


Matt Stopera / BuzzFeed

7. What about noetics?

Noetics is the study of consciousness. The question of how consciousness emerged is indeed a fascinating one. But just because we don’t have a full answer for something doesn’t mean that everything we DO know is suddenly thrown out the window.

This question offers some insight into another of Ken Ham’s favorite debate tactics. Instead of dealing with the scientific evidence we have, Ham will often fire off a series of unrelated “what about this?” questions as a diversionary tactic.

8. Where do you derive objective meaning in life?

Speaking only for myself, I derive it from the revelation of God incarnate, the Word who became flesh, a.k.a. Jesus. And I believe in evolution.

I’m not the only one who finds it possible to do both.

9. If God did not create everything, how did the first single-celled organism originate? By chance?

Science doesn’t answer questions of ultimate origin, which is one reason why many of us find it possible to believe in God and still accept the scientific consensus for evolution as the means by which the universe came to be in its present form.


Matt Stopera / BuzzFeed

10. I believe in the big bang theory. God said it and BANG, it happened!

That’s not a question. That’s a cheesy Christian t-shirt.

11. Why do evolutionists/secularists/humanists/non-God-believing people reject the idea of their [sic] being a creator God but embrace the concept of intelligent design from aliens or other extra-terrestrial sources?

There it is again, the conflation of evolutionists, secularists, and everyone who hates Christmas and the baby Jesus.



Matt Stopera / BuzzFeed

12. There is no in between… the only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds necessary for an “official proof.”

Another myth sold to evangelicals by proponents of young-earth creationism: the claim that scientists have only found one transitional hominid connecting modern humans to our primate ancestors.

The truth? Thousands of transitional fossils have been discovered. Here’s a partial list.

13. Does metamorphosis help support evolution?

On the surface, this seems to be a genuine, substantive question. I suppose it may also be an attempt at a “gotcha” question, but it’s hard to tell from a single photo.

If it was meant as a “gotcha” question, then it’s a good example of yet another of Ken Ham’s favorite debate tactics: take something that science doesn’t fully understand, like metamorphosis (insects changing form, say, from a caterpillar to a butterfly), and act as if any amount of uncertainty disproves everything we DO know. Never mind that scientists are always on the hunt for new discoveries — that they rarely, if ever, claim to have things completely figured out. Never mind that the whole point of science is to keep learning, keep exploring.

14. If evolution is a theory (like creationism or the Bible) why then is evolution taught as fact?

Simply put, evolution is not like creationism. One is a scientific theory based on centuries of research from a wide range of academic disciplines: biology, chemistry, astronomy, etc. The other is an ideology which relies on cherry picking data and casting doubt on established scientific consensus.

15. Because science by definition is a “theory” — not testable, observable, or repeatable — why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught by school?

To start with, that’s not a very good definition. Science involves all kinds of testing, observing, etc. But the real issue is that young-earth creationists haven’t subjected their ideas to the same kind of academic rigor, testing, peer review, etc.

16. What mechanism has science discovered that evidences an increase of genetic information seen in any genetic mutation or evolutionary process?

It’s called gene duplication, and you can read a short explanation of it here.


Matt Stopera / BuzzFeed

17. What purpose do you think you are here for if you do not believe in salvation?

I’m not sure if she was asking what Bill Nye thought he was doing at the Creation Museum, or asking a larger question of spiritual purpose/meaning in life. Assuming she meant the latter, such questions, while important, are beyond the scope of observational science. Just like answering questions about the mechanics of the cosmos is beyond the scope of religion.

18. Why have we found only 1 “Lucy,” when we have found more than 1 of everything else?

The premise of this question is demonstrably false. See #12.

19. Can you believe in “the big bang” without “faith”?

The big bang theory isn’t based on faith but on observation — the very thing Ken Ham believes is missing from evolutionary science. We can observe that the universe is expanding. And from that we can deduce that a long time ago, the universe was located at a single point.

And as Bill Nye mentioned in the debate, cosmic microwave background radiation provides yet more evidence of the big bang. For more, go here.

20. How can you look at the world and not believe someone created/thought of it? It’s amazing!!!

The world is indeed an amazing place. I doubt there are many non-theists who would disagree. More to the point (and at the risk of sounding like a broken record), evolution does not presuppose the impossibility of a divine force bringing the universe into existence.

21. Relating to the big bang theory… where did the exploding star come from?

No one knows for sure how matter first came into existence. (Not that this has stopped scientists from trying to find out. Again, that’s what scientists do.)

But for those of us who are Christian, what’s wrong with believing that God brought the initial matter of the universe into existence, then used the big bang to bring order and form to the cosmos over billions of years? (Unless you insist on reading Genesis 1 literally. Which, actually, nobody does, at least not consistently. As far as I can tell, nobody thinks the earth is a flat disc that sits underneath a vault separating the firmament of stars from a heavenly ocean. But that’s how Genesis 1 describes the cosmos.)


Matt Stopera / BuzzFeed

22. If we come from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?

Even Ken Ham accepts that my Boston terrier descended from wolves, and there are still wolves around today. So I’m not sure how the continued existence of monkeys is proof that humans didn’t descend from primates.


We need a better conversation about creation and evolution. Our discussions are starting to look more like the 24-hour cable news shouting matches that we feast on in the place of real content. Which might explain why even though Bill Nye was the only one who showed up at the debate with any meaningful scientific evidence, it’s unlikely that many in the pro-young-earth audience were convinced by his arguments, much less inspired to take a second look at things.


[Note: This article is also available on the Huffington Post.]

It’s unlikely anybody’s mind was changed by the creation debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.

Ham behaved pretty much as expected, largely skirting the scientific argument and framing the debate as one of competing worldviews. He attacked evolutionary theories from 1836, rather than address the current science head on. His diversionary tactics were probably enough to keep the largely sympathetic crowd at the Creation Museum from getting too restless.

For his part, Bill Nye picked away at the logic of young-earth creationism, using the very thing Ham accused evolutionary theory of lacking: observational science. Among other things, Nye highlighted a number of famous trees whose age puts them on the earth long before the cataclysmic flood in Ken Ham’s chronology.

It seemed to me the debate went pretty badly for Ham, especially considering that it took place on his home turf. But then again, I have no problem believing that God is the “ultimate authority,” as Ham puts it, AND that evolution was the means by which God brought the universe into being.

To me, the “age of the earth” debate is fairly straightforward. We know the speed at which light travels. We can calculate the distance between us and other galaxies, including one that’s a whopping 60 million light years away. Which means the image of this galaxy captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 took 60 million years to get here.

Unless you want to argue that God designed the universe to look older than it really is — that is, that God wove dishonesty and deceit into the very fabric of his creation — then it seems to me that young-earth creationism has a big problem on its hands.

The question of human origins is, admittedly, a bit more complex for Christians. But the religious implications of us descending from a bunch of apes are not insurmountable, as Peter Enns demonstrates in his book, The Evolution of Adam. Besides, as Bill Nye pointed out a couple of times during the debate, there are billions of devoutly religious people on this planet who don’t insist on a young earth or a particular view of the origins of the universe.

But what struck me more than anything about the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye was the very different posture each took toward the pursuit of knowledge and the virtue of curiosity.

More than once, Bill Nye addressed the audience directly, urging them to get out there and explore the universe for themselves. “Let’s keep looking,” he said. “Let’s keep searching.”

If Ken Ham had a recurring catchphrase during the debate, it was, “There’s a book about that, and it already has the answers.”

(For the record, the Bible is not a book about science.)

At one point, Ham and Nye were asked if there was anything that could ever change their minds. Ham’s answer was, in effect, no. Bill Nye, on the other hand, said he needed just one piece of evidence.

One of these two men was there to nurture curiosity. The other was there to stifle it.

One of these two men demonstrated a desire to keep on learning, to be shaped, challenged, and inspired by new discoveries. The other took a more defensive posture, treating scientific exploration with suspicion, hostility, even contempt.

I know which of these two men I want my daughter to emulate — if not with regard to faith, then with regard to intellectual inquiry. I want her to cultivate an insatiable hunger for knowledge, an unrelenting curiosity that propels her out into the world, an inner voice that says, “Come on! There’s more to discover.”

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to attend a Christian college that had made peace with the science of evolution. I remember what our president used to say: “We’ll turn over every rock in search of truth, because we’re confident that nothing’s going to jump out from underneath and eat God. And if something does, we should worship that instead.”

That’s a journey Ken Ham doesn’t want us to go on.

And that’s why Bill Nye won the creation debate. Even though he’s agnostic, it seems to me that he is closer to the creative, fearless, adventurous heart of God than Ken Ham has ever been.

Some issues are complex. Nuanced. Gray.

For me, this one isn’t.

This 2-minute ad called “Proud to Be” takes the seemingly complicated issue of Indian sports mascots and distills it with remarkable clarity.

At roughly $4 million per 30-second slot, this ad never had a chance of making the airwaves during Super Bowl XLVIII. But you should watch it anyway.

Created by the National Congress of American Indians, the ad touches on the rich history of Native American communities. It mentions iconic figures like Sitting Bull, Hiawatha, Jim Thorpe, and Will Rogers. It highlights many aspects of Native American identity: Proud. Forgotten. Survivor. Mother. Father. Son. Daughter. Underserved. Struggling. Resilient.

“Native Americans call themselves many things,” the narrator concludes. One thing they don’t call themselves, however, is Redskin.

Yes, the Washington Redskins’ mascot has been around for more than 80 years. Yes, it would be costly to change it. (After all, the NFL is just your everyday 501(c) nonprofit, right?) No, Washington’s football team isn’t the only one with a controversial Indian mascot that needs changing.

But these are diversions. Excuses.

A friend of mine who shared the video on Facebook asked what I think is the one question that really matters:

Would you feel comfortable calling a Native American this name to their face?

Assuming the answer is no (and it should be), isn’t that an implicit acknowledgement that the term “Redskin” is racist?

Then why do almost 80 percent of Americans think the Redskins should keep their team name? Is it because we don’t like asking difficult questions? Because we never stop long enough to view the issue from someone else’s perspective?

Of course, changing a team mascot won’t end the problem of racism. It won’t address every grievance that Native Americans have or right every wrong that’s been done to them. In reality, a name change seems like a drop in the bucket when it’s weighed against our country’s history of injustice, discrimination, displacement, and outright slaughter of Native Americans.

As far as changes go, this one is more symbolic than structural. But symbolic change still matters. It can still make a difference. It sends a signal that some things are no longer OK. (Not that they ever were.) It’s like a signpost directing us to a different path — one it’s well past time we took.

The only potential downside to changing Indian team names is if someone thinks that doing so will automatically eliminate racism, much like some people thought electing a black president meant we had overcome our troubled history of slavery and segregation. It’s only one step in the journey. But it’s an important step… and it’s time we took it.

I don’t usually find flipping through the Christian book catalog to be an uplifting experience. Take the one that was waiting on my front porch this week…

There’s yet another children’s book reducing the gospel to a formula. There’s one reinforcing the notion of heaven as a disembodied reality “out there” somewhere.

There are Duck Dynasty Valentine’s Day cards. A whole section devoted to James Dobson. Amish fiction (or as a friend of mine likes to call it, Amish porn). The only thing missing was a picture of Joel Osteen blinding me with his shiny white teeth.

And then there was this.

IMG_7680A set of companion books by fiction author Karen Kingsbury: one for moms to read with their sons, called Whatever You Grow Up to Be, and another for dads to read with their daughters, called Always Daddy’s Princess.

On the face of it, the message for boys appears to be, “You can grow up to be whatever you want.” The message for girls: “You can be a princess.”

It may not be the author’s intent to limit boys and girls to these predefined roles. But do we really need another set of products perpetuating the notion (intentionally or not) that boys can choose their identity, while girls’ identity has been determined for them?

This gender stereotype is pervasive in our culture. If you don’t think so, try raising a daughter.

Try counting the number of children’s TV shows with a female lead — Dora the Explorer, for example — versus those with a male lead (along with, perhaps, the occasional female sidekick): Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Super Why, Caillou, Handy Manny, Justin Time. You get the idea.

Try fending off the Disney princess juggernaut which, for all the refreshing progress of recent films like Brave and Frozen, still rakes in billions teaching girls that their main source of value lies in their appearance and their desirability to men.

The church should be a refuge from this kind of thinking, not a co-conspirator. The church should be the one place where we actually behave like there’s no “male and female,” as the apostle Paul once wrote.

Now, my daughter loves pretending to be a princess. She insists on wearing a dress every day. We run through tights like there’s no tomorrow. And she wants to be a ballet dancer. (She also loves trucks and airplanes and thinks farting is hilarious, for what it’s worth.)

The fact that she likes dressing up as Cinderella doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll grow up thinking she’s inferior to men. But as a parent, I’m learning that I have to be intentional about reinforcing her equality. She’s only 3 years old, and already she’s made comments like, “Boys can do this, but girls can’t.”

This breaks my heart. It’s a sobering reminder of how our culture bombards girls with a message of inferiority, a distorted view of their own value. It’s a reminder of how, despite all our efforts, the propaganda of inequality still manages to get through to my daughter.

The irony is, those in the church who insist on a hierarchal distinction between women and men think they’re being countercultural, that they’re going against the grain of this world and that this somehow proves them right.

The reality is anything but. Those who think patriarchy is a virtue are unwitting accomplices to Disney’s princess-ification of the world. They’re simply dressing up our culture’s subjugation of women in religious garb.

And it’s time that stopped. My kids deserve better than another set of books telling boys they can be whatever they want, while girls should stick to being princesses.

Kirk Cameron, photo by Gage Skidmore on FlickrFormer Growing Pains and Left Behind star Kirk Cameron is getting into the parental advice business. In a recent post, Cameron shared the “train, don’t explain” childrearing philosophy of author Jay Younts.

Basically, this approach says you don’t owe your kids an explanation. Ever. You tell them what to do/think/believe and demand their unquestioning, unhesitating obedience.

To quote Younts:

God has not called parents to explain but to train. Explanations often lead to frustration and anger for both parents and children. Children are not in need of lengthy, compelling explanations. What they are in need of is the understanding that God must be obeyed.

Setting aside the question of whether this parenting advice is better suited for raising robots than actual humans, there are at least three things in the Bible you might not want to let your kids read if you follow a “train, don’t explain” approach.

Otherwise, your kids might start getting ideas.

1. Don’t let them read Exodus 12. Or Deuteronomy 6. Or Joshua 4. 
The ancient Jewish faith had many rituals, ceremonies, and symbols. And these had a way prompting curiosity. Every time a family would celebrate Passover or break out the phylacteries or build a monument from a pile of stones, kids would ask why.

Even worse, it seems this was the whole point: so that kids would request an explanation from their parents:

“When your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’…” (Exodus 12)

“In the future, when your son asks you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees, and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?’…” (Deuteronomy 6)

“In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’…” (Joshua 4)

It’s almost like the Israelites didn’t follow Kirk Cameron’s parenting advice at all.

2. Definitely don’t let your kids read the book of Job.
After being hit with all kinds of calamity (apparently the result of a cosmic bet between God and the devil), Job spends most of the book demanding an explanation… from God himself.

Job’s three friends are shocked by his impertinence. Their advice to Job — essentially, “Shut up and take your medicine” — sounds a lot like Kirk Cameron’s “train, don’t explain” method of parenting.

The only problem is God doesn’t seem to mind Job’s impertinence. He shows up. He answers Job’s summons. And when he does, he’s angry — not at Job, but at Job’s friends.

If kids read Job and see that it’s OK to question God, they won’t think anything of questioning their parents now and then.

3. While you’re at it, you might want to avoid any mention of Israel.
After all, their name means “wrestles with God.” To the ancient Israelites, the Scriptures were not a monologue from God; they were a dialogue with God. And God’s people didn’t hesitate to ask some hard questions.

In fact, it’s probably best not to let your kids read the Bible, period. Otherwise they might stumble across Abraham asking God to explain how he can possibly deliver on his promise of children for the aging patriarch. Or Jeremiah accusing God of deception. Or Habakkuk demanding God explain himself over his plan to use Babylon to punish his own people. Or Jesus wrestling with his Father in the garden.

And so on.

God is often described as a Father in the Bible. Yet he doesn’t seem to follow Cameron’s “train, don’t explain” method of parenting with his own children.

Maybe a better approach would be one that honors the curiosity and personhood of our children. One that shows them it’s OK to ask questions. In other words, “Explain. Don’t just train.”

(H/T Benjamin L. Corey, who wrote about Cameron’s parenting advice on the Formerly Fundie blog.)

Predator drone (photo: U.S. Air Force photo/Lt Col Leslie Pratt)

Like most people, I remember watching the news unfold on December 14, 2012, when Adam Lanza gunned down 20 first-graders and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I’m old enough to remember the mass shootings that preceded Sandy Hook. Killeen. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook was different, of course. Most of the victims were six, maybe seven years old.

The horror I felt was different, too, because this time I was a parent. My daughter was only two at the time — young enough that, thankfully, we didn’t have to tell her what had taken place. Her innocence remained intact… for now, at least.

But for the first time, I felt what every parent feels when a tragedy involving children takes place. That sense of utter powerlessness. The realization that it could happen here, in my daughter’s school. I’ve heard others describe parenthood as watching your heart walk outside your body. I finally know what they’re talking about, and it’s a disquieting experience, to say the least.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, I remember watching President Obama assume the role of mourner-in-chief, a duty he performed with exceptional skill: comforting victims’ families, eulogizing the dead, giving voice to the grief we all felt, and standing up to a recalcitrant gun lobby whose only answer to unspeakable gun violence is… more guns. (When all you have is a hammer…)

In his book Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence, Preston Sprinkle raises a troubling question: how can the president mourn the children of Sandy Hook while authorizing drone strikes which have killed hundreds of children in Pakistan and Yemen?

How can any of us mourn one while rationalizing the other?

Reports vary, but almost all of them (with the possible exception of the CIA) reveal that military drone strikes aren’t nearly as precise as our leaders have led us to believe.

  • According to a Columbia Law School study, up to 155 of an estimated 611 people killed by drone strikes in Pakistan during 2011 were civilians. That’s 1 innocent for every 4 suspected militants…
  • Suspected being the operative word. Only 20% of these suspected militants were “strongly identified” — that is, identified by name and their status corroborated by an independent, on-the-ground investigation.
  • Just last month, an errant drone strike killed more than dozen innocents in Yemen, because of an apparent failure to distinguish between a terrorist convoy and a wedding party.
  • In Yemen, drone strikes have killed an estimated 42 children. They’ve had to establish a counseling center to help surviving children cope with the traumatic effects of drone strikes — children who are terrified of the United States and its flying robots.

Are the children killed in these drone strikes worth any less than the children of Sandy Hook? Did their parents love them any less? Did God love them any less?

Many of us are uncomfortable putting them in the same category as the children of Sandy Hook. When it happens in Connecticut, we call it murder. When it happens in Pakistan, we call it “collateral damage,” if we acknowledge it at all.

Preston Sprinkle won’t let us off the hook, as I found out while reading his book yesterday. Contrasting the president’s response to Sandy Hook with his handling of drone strikes, Preston writes:

Can we extend his sympathy to the Middle East? Are the deaths of 168 incinerated children any less a tragedy than the massacre at Newtown? Or does their color, ethnicity, and religion justify their deaths?

Hard words.

They come at the end of a chapter in which Preston shows how the New Testament book of Revelation (famously the source of Mark Driscoll’s prize-fighting Jesus) is actually a message of nonviolence. Preston demonstrates that Revelation is a polemic against the violence and excess of the Roman Empire — and all empires that follow in its steps. He argues that God does not dish out violence in Revelation; he absorbs it. The blood spattered on Jesus’ robe in Revelation 19 is not the blood of his enemies; it’s his own.

Human violence is condemned, never encouraged in Revelation. The Pax Romana (peace of Rome) — which was really peace for some, violence for the rest — is a myth. It is anything but true peace. Some day, Rome and all other nations will be held to account for the blood “of all who have been slaughtered on the earth,” according to Revelation 18.

And that includes us.

Which is why it’s high time we heed Preston’s call to untangle our faith from American nationalism. It’s time we speak out against violence in all its forms, especially violence against children — no matter where it takes place. As Preston writes:

I mourn both tragedies — the death of innocent beautiful children in Connecticut and of the precious children in the Middle East. Both tragedies are evil. Both will be vindicated. Both will be judged.


Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence by Preston Sprinkle

Photo: Mars Hill ChurchNeither Mark Driscoll’s recent tweet about hell nor the response it got were all that surprising, really.

It’s no surprise that a pastor who “can’t worship a guy I can beat up” also can’t fathom a God who would have any qualms about tormenting someone for all eternity.

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I imagine Driscoll thought he was stating the obvious, something beyond dispute — at least if you’re a legitimate Christian. Sort of a litmus test of orthodoxy in 140 characters or less.

Yet his tweet obscured the fact that Christians have long held diverging views of the Last Judgment and its consequences, and not all of them involve eternal conscious torment. Respected thinkers and theologians — at least some of whose books are likely on Driscoll’s shelf — have explored other possibilities.

C.S. Lewis.

George MacDonald.

John Stott.

N.T. Wright.

Scripture itself is less than abundantly clear on the nature of judgment after death. In the Old Testament, judgment was something you experienced in this life. Ancient Hebrews didn’t have a particularly fleshed out concept of the afterlife.

In the New Testament, hellfire is just one picture of judgment, and it’s hardly the most dominant one. (Nor is it clear that it’s anything more than a picture.) When judgment is mentioned, it’s more commonly portrayed with the language of destruction — that is, ceasing to exist.

But here’s the thing. Mark Driscoll presents himself as “a nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody.” For him, this tweet about hell was gospel proclamation, plain and simple. Preaching the good news requires you to periodically stoke the fires of hell so you can scare people into the kingdom, right?

So here’s my question for Pastor Mark Driscoll: If hell is so important to the gospel, why is it never mentioned in the book of Acts?

Acts is the record of the first people to follow Jesus and how their message spread across the Roman Empire. If evangelism is your thing — that is, “telling everybody about Somebody” — then you should pay close attention to the book of Acts.

Among other things, Acts contains 14 or 15 of the earliest Christian sermons. (The number varies, depending on what you count as a sermon.) Eight of these are Kerygmatic sermons, which is a fancy term for proclamatory or evangelistic speeches — i.e. someone telling others about Jesus.

In these eight sermons, there is not one mention of hell. In fact, hell is completely absent from the whole book. Judgment is mentioned once or twice, but the nature of judgment? It’s never part of their gospel proclamation.

So why does Mark Driscoll think hell is essential to his gospel proclamation? Why does he feel compelled to say something the first evangelists never needed to say? Isn’t that “adding to the gospel”?

Maybe it’s not unloving to tell someone they’re going to hell. But it’s more than a little presumptuous, both about their standing with God and the nature of judgment. Besides, even if it’s not unloving, the first proclaimers of the gospel evidently felt it was unnecessary.

What’s your take? Do you think hell is essential to the Christian story?