The Scandal of Grace

Over at Christianity Today, Mark Galli posts some comments in response to a forthcoming book, of Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity.

Part of the scandal of the Cross is the scandal of grace. And part of the scandal of grace is that I am part and parcel of the company of the graced.

My being a Christian means I am a member of a brotherhood of sinners, some of the most embarrassing sort. Even worse, to be a Christian is to acknowledge that I have been, at heart, a televangelist, a crusader, a sheltered, judgmental, proselytizing hypocrite.

I do not mean to suggest that we should be indifferent to such sins. If books and conversations like the ones I’ve experienced prod Christians to change their ways, it will be all to the good. But the church is always in need of reform, and its behavior will always be a scandal to anyone with moral sensibilities.

When we invite people to follow Jesus, we’re inviting them into the desperately sinful church that Jesus, for some odd reason, loves. To be a Christian—or whatever term you’d prefer—is to identify not just with Jesus or with the healthy church of our imagination, but also with the tragically dysfunctional church, which is mercifully embraced, if not by us, then certainly by the One who was a scandal in his own day.



“Amnesty International’s Moral Incoherence”

Amnesty International is a respected human rights institution. It makes no explicit claim that abortion is right or wrong. But it considers law prohibiting abortion and punishing abortionists to be wrong (which is an implicit claim that abortion is a morally acceptable practice). Ryan T. Anderson parses AI’s moral incoherence further over at First Things‘ blog. He writes:

Cox’s assertion that Amnesty International has no position on whether abortion is right or wrong is ridiculous. If pre-natal homicide is wrong, then why can’t governments legislate against it? As Lincoln taught us, no one can consistently claim to have a right to do wrong. And, if abortion is wrong, it’s precisely because it’s the unjust killing of an innocent human being. If that’s the case, don’t governments have an obligation to prohibit it, and to make the prohibition meaningful by attaching sanctions against those who violate it? Does anyone doubt that Amnesty International does have a clear position on the legality of abortion? What option is left—to make laws against abortion without enforcing them?

Perhaps this is why Amnesty International explicitly opposes the United States’ ban on partial-birth abortion. Cox himself wrote that Amnesty International “opposes the specific provisions of the federal law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Carhart that criminalize doctors who perform particular types of abortions.” In other words, according to Amnesty International, when the government of the United States attempts to protect partially born Americans from death at the hands of abortionists, it is violating human rights.

This, of course, highlights the true incoherence of Amnesty International’s abortion policy. Why does the group defend the right of abortionists to kill human beings up to the point of birth but provide no protection to the unborn child? Why is Amnesty International protecting the partial-birth-abortion “doctor” while offering the partially born child absolutely nothing? Is this what it means to be a human-rights organization?

Amnesty International frequently claims to take “no position as to when life begins.” But what reason can they give for taking no position on a question settled long ago by science? Does Amnesty International deny that the entity being “aborted” in partial-birth abortion is a human being? Are those feet the abortionist is holding when he jams a pair of scissors into the base of child’s skull anything other than human feet? Is the blood that streams out something other than human blood? That a child in the womb is a living human being is a matter of scientific fact. Does Amnesty International deny it?

So, if Amnesty International chooses to address the abortion issue at all, on what grounds does it deny human rights—and the most fundamental of all human rights, the right to life—to unborn human beings? Such a position undermines the entire foundation of human rights. For basic rights are founded on the conviction that all human beings—regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, intelligence, age, size, location, or dependency—are the subjects of profound, inherent, and equal dignity simply by virtue of their humanity. If this dignity does not depend on particular characteristics that vary from one human being to another and across each lifetime, then every human being must possess such dignity—and, thus, the rights it entails—from the point at which he or she comes into being. Does Amnesty International deny this?

If Amnesty International believes its support of abortion follows from the logic of human rights, then it should have no problem answering such questions.

Exercise and Mental Health

From Christianity Today‘s blog comes this post by Stan Guthrie:

While an apple a day may (or may not) keep the doctor away, a growing body of research indicates that exercise may keep the psychologist away. Alessandra Pilu of the University of Cagliari in Italy and other investigators reported their conclusions in the online journal of Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health.

"The study found that depressed women who started a supervised exercise regimen had significant improvements in their symptoms over the next 8 months. Those who didn’t exercise showed only marginal improvements.

"Before the study, all of the women had tried taking antidepressant medication for at least two months but had failed to improve.

"A number of studies have found that physically active people are less likely than couch potatoes to suffer depression. Some clinical trials have shown regular exercise can help treat the disorder, and perhaps be as effective as antidepressant drugs in some cases.

"The new findings suggest that exercise can even help people whose symptoms have been resistant to medication, according to the study authors."

Since an estimated two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, high rates of mental illness shouldn’t surprise us. Mental illness is not just mental. We are integrated, living souls, and approaches must be holistic, treating mind, body, and spirit.

How the AP Botched a Story on a Study of Marriage in America

In a recent Associated Press story, David Crary wrote:

The percentage of Americans who consider children "very important" to a successful marriage has dropped sharply since 1990, and more now cite the sharing of household chores as pivotal, according to a sweeping new survey.

The reader would undoubtedly think that the report was about what makes for a successful marriage. Unfortunately, as Wilfred McClay notes over at First Things, that’s not really what the report is about.

Skeptical as I am of all polling data, I found it hard to believe that Pew would have constructed a survey designed to show such a thing. I looked at Pew’s website and found that the study itself bears a radically different headline: “As Marriage and Parenthood Drift Apart, Public Is Concerned about Social Impact.” Quite different. At first I thought I must be looking at an entirely separate study. But I wasn’t. Astonishingly, I found only a mention, and no discussion, of “household chores” in the Pew Executive Summary. Instead, I found bullet points such as these:

• Public Concern over the Delinking of Marriage and Parenthood.
• Marriage Remains an Ideal, Albeit a More Elusive One.
• Children Still Vital to Adult Happiness.

In other words, the AP writer, and the headline writers (who were presumably following the writer’s or AP’s lead), seriously distorted the meaning of the report. And the distortion was intentional. Why else would so much attention be given to the matter of “household chores,” which are mentioned only in passing in the full report, and never discussed or analyzed? Why would there be so little indication of what Pew’s own headline fairly shouts: that the general public itself is uneasy about many of the phenomena here being described? Why no attention to Pew’s larger concern, that what we are seeing (particularly when one connects it with high rates of out-of-wedlock births) is a potentially momentous (and historically unprecedented) separation of marriage and parenthood? Why the need to reduce this fascinating, complex, and troubling trend to a “hook” built around the tiredest of 1970s feminist mantras—sharing the chores?

Why, indeed?

“Comeback Churches” by Stetzer and Dodson

ComebackChurches.gifAccording to Leadership journal, “85 percent of churches in the United States have plateaued or declining attendance.” That’s approximately 340,000 churches. Mine is one of them.
During our heyday in the 1980s, we had two services in an auditorium that seats 760 people. Today, we have one service and an average of 100 people in attendance. We’re almost 87-percent empty.
But I’m not worried for two reasons. First, I know that God wants us grow. Second, God has provided plenty of tools to help us grow.
One of those tools is Comeback Churches by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson. It identifies five crucial issues in revitalizing your church: leadership, vibrant faith, lay ministry, intentional evangelism, and celebrative but orderly worship.
Church revitalization requires strong, change-oriented leadership from pulpit and pew. To make a comeback, your church needs the right people in the right jobs doing the right thing.
But leadership is not everything. Members of comeback churches must also have a faith that is characterized by personal commitment to Jesus and the church’s mission, a servant attitude, and strategic prayer.
In revitalized churches, pastors have limited roles, and they invite the laity to exercise their God-given ministries. And the whole church is involved in intentional evangelism, gradually incorporating unbelievers into the community and then into the faith.
Finally, comeback churches have celebrative (but orderly) worship services. More often than not, their musical style is contemporary, and they do everything with excellence.
If, like me, you’re the pastor of a church that’s seen better days, read Comeback Churches, and discover that your church’s best days are still in front of you.

Saul Friedlander, the Nazis, the Jews, and Pope Pius XII

Over at First Things, William Doino reviews Saul Friedlander’s recently completed two-volume history, Nazi Germany and the Jews. While appreciating and commending Friedlander’s scholarship at a general level, Doino takes sharp exception to Friedlander’s portrait of Pope Pius XII. Against the critical portrait of Pius XII created by Friedlander in his early work, not to mention that of John Cornwell and Daniel Goldhagen, Doino paints a picture of a man who condemned Nazis for their race hatred and who helped Jews escape their clutches. In a day and age in which atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens blast Christian believers for their alleged complicity in atrocities, it is important that the record be set straight–one case at  time if necessary.