Monday, May 28, 2012

Born a Slave, He Died a Lawman: Honoring Bass Reeves, the Greatest U.S. Marshal in United States History

This Memorial weekend was very special for me. In fact, I can't remember having a more meaningful Memorial Day. I drove 230 miles from my home in Enid to historic Fort Smith, Arkansas for the dedication of the Bass Reeves Monument. My friend and world-renowned sculptor Harold T. Holden was the artist for the $300,000, twenty-five foot tall life monument. Two years ago H. (as friends call Harold) suffered from a terminal lung disease. He faced certain and imminent death.  H., his wife Edna Mae, and I gathered in his studio and prayed that God would graciously allow H. to live so H. could continue to tell the stories of important men and women through his sculptings. Harold Holden eventually received a lung transplant and did not just survive, he has since thrived. The Bass Reeves Monument is H. Holden's twenty-second life size memorial, a body of work which includes the Will Roger's Statue in front of Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport; the We Will Remember bronze commemorating the ten Oklahoma State University basketball players and coaches who died in a January 27, 2001 plane crashMonarch at Rest at the Oklahoma History Center; and eighteen other stunning memorials. The Bass Reeves Monument is a superb piece of art. Crossing the Arkansas River bridge as you enter Fort Smith from the west, Bass Reeves will greet all visitors to the historic city. Less than half a mile from the Bass Reeves Monument will be the spectacular $50 million dollar US Marshals Museum. On this Memorial Day 2012, I would like to remember the man that the former director of the United States Marshals calls "the greatest lawman in United States history."

Bass Reeves was born into slavery in Crawford County, Arkansas in July 1838.  Bass took the last name "Reeves" from his owner, George Reeves, a farmer and local politician who also owned Bass Reeve's mother. Bass never learned to read or write and remained illiterate for his entire life. As a child, however, his mother would sit him in her lap and teach him the Scriptures. Bass trained his mind to memorize after hearing the spoken word, and he memorized many passages from the Bible as a boy after hearing his mother recite them. Bass Reeves was eventually taken to Paris, Texas by his owner, George Reeves. However, during the Civil War, Bass ran away and fled north into the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) where he lived among the Seminole and Creek Indians. Reeves learned how to handled a rifle and became a crack shot with a pistol during his time among the civilized Indians. He also became fluent in their native languages. After the Civil War, Reeves moved back to Arkansas as a free man, was reunited with his mother,  and began to farm near Van Buren. He married a woman he had known in Texas, Nellie Jennie. Bass and Nellie would eventually have ten children, five boys and five girls. In 1875 the legendary Isaac Parker was appointed federal judge for the Indian Territory, with headquarters for the judicial district in Fort Smith. Judge Parker, also known as "The Hanging Judge,"  appointed James F. Fagan as U.S. Marshal, and directed him to hire 200 deputy U.S. Marshals. Fagan knew of Bass Reeves and his expert markanship. He also knew that Bass was very familiar with Indian Territory and could speak several native Indian languages. Fagan recruited Reeves as a deputy U.S. Marshal. Bass Reeves was sworn in Fort Smith, Arkansas before Judge Parker, becoming the first black US Federal Marshal west of the Mississippi. 

Bass Reeves great-grand nephew, retired Federal Judge Paul Brady (pictured with me and Harold Holden), told me the story of how Reeves mother came to the courthouse for his swearing in. She took hold of him by the arm before he took the oath of allegience and told him, "Bass, you remember God out there in Indian Territory. Though you may have a badge and a gun, you are not God. He is the just Judge of the world, and don't you take over his job. Bring'em in alive and turn them over for their proper punishment." "Yes ma," said the thirty-two-year-old Reeves. He would go on to serve over three decades as a United States Marshal. He rode horseback approximately 75,000 miles throughout Indian Territory. During his tenure, Marshal Reeves arrested and transported to Fort Smith over 3,000 fugitives, some of whom were the most wanted and colorful outlaws in the United States. In 1907 the Indian Territory became the state of Oklahoma, and Federal Deputy Marshals gave way to county sheriffs and municipal police departments in Oklahoma. Bass Reeves retired from the Marshal's service and became a police officer in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he died on January 12, 1910.

Bass Reeves career in law enforcement has not received the same acclaim as that of Marshals Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday, though it should. Reeves stood 6'2" and weighed 180 pounds. He was ambidextrous, able to shoot a pistol or rifle accurately with his right or left hand. Settlers in Indian Territory said Reeves could take two men with his bare hands, but always was a gentleman unless provoked. Some of the stories of how Deputy Marshall Reeves apprehended criminals defy reason. He brought fugitives by the hundreds into the Fort Smith federal prison to stand trial before Judge Parker. His peers revered him, and criminals feared him. The noted female outlaw Belle Starr turned herself in at Fort Smith when she found out Reeves had the warrant for her arrest. In 1902, Reeves arrested his own son, Bennie, for domestic murder in Muskogee after the other Deputy Marshals in the area refused to serve the warrant out of respect for Bass. Bass Reeves was outstanding as a lawman, but more importantly, he was a man of impeccable Christian character. I'll close with one additional anecdote of Reeve's life, told me by my new friend Art Burton, the Chicago historian and biographer of Bass Reeves"The criminals that Reeves brought back to Fort Smith would be a captive audience for Bass as he talked to them about the wayward effects of sin. He would quote passages from the Bible that he had memorized as a boy, in an effort to get these criminals to turn their lives around. Many of them complained to Judge Parker that he should not have sent a Reverend out to arrest them!"

Next time you cross the Arkansas River and enter Fort Smith, or in the years to come when you stop at the US Federal Marshal Museum, take a moment and pull over into Pendergraft Park and take a look around. The old fort is still standing. Judge Isaac Parker's coutroom remains. The statue of Bass Reeves sits near the highway. We all can learn a great deal from his life, his character and his legacy as the best lawman in the history of the United States.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Challenges of Life Reveal True Character: Samuel Mudd and His Imprisonment at the Dry Tortugas

70 miles west of Key West, Florida sit seven small islands called the Dry Tortugas. "Dry" because there exists no fresh water on the islands, and "Tortugas" (Spanish for "turtles) because Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon discovered the islands in 1517 and found thousands of sea turtles dwelling on them. Ancient seaman survived by collecting turtles and storing them upside down on their shells in cargo holds, killing them as needed for their fresh meat. The turtles on the Dry Tortugas nourished Ponce De Leon's men during a critical time of exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. Spain claimed all of Florida and the Keys (i.e. "islands" south and west of Florida) until 1819 when Spain sold Florida and the Keys to the United States for $5 million dollars.  United States government and military officials knew that if a fort were built on the Dry Tortugas, the United States could control entrance and egress into the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico in the same manner a Spanish fort on the Straight of Gibralter  for centuries had controlled entrance and egress into the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean Sea. During the 1840's and 1850's, the United States built the largest stone fort in the history of American military fortifications - Fort Jefferson (pictured above). During the Civil War, Fort Jefferson served the Union as an isolated prison. Due to advanced military technology that made the fortress obsolete, the United States government abandoned Fort Jefferson in the late 1800's. Today, Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas form the most isolated National Park in America, accessible only by seaplane or boat. The best snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing in America are within the park, but my fascination with Fort Jefferson lies with what occurred at the fort during September and October of 1867, in the third year of Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd's imprisonment. Though the island on which Fort Jefferson sits looks beautiful and tranquil, during the four years Dr. Mudd was imprisoned on the island, it was known as "Death Island" and "Skull Island" for the number of deaths that occurred among both soldiers and prisoners.

Dr Samuel Mudd (1833-1883) was one of ten people charged in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln and other government officials at the end of the Civil War (April 1865). Four conspirators--Dr. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Edman Spangler and Michael O'Laughlin--escaped death by hanging, and were sentenced to prison terms at Fort Jefferson. Three of the four, including Dr. Mudd, received terms of life in prison. All four men knew absolutely nothing about John Wilkes Booth plan to kill the President. All four, however, knew John Wilkes Booth. Two of the men, Arnold and O'Laughlin were childhood friends of Booth in Baltimore and had previously conspired with Booth to kidnap the President and try to exchange him for Confederate prisoners. Dr. Samuel Mudd and Edman Spangler had unwittingly helped Booth. For example, Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theater, a building which had previously served as the First Baptist Church of Washington. Edman Spangler, a carpenter and stage hand at Ford's Theater, held open the back door leading into "Baptist Alley" in order to admit Booth into the theater, not knowing the famous actor's plans to kill the President. Dr. Mudd, who only briefly met Booth at church five months before the assassination, treated the assassin's broken leg after the assassination because Booth came to the Dr's home at 4:00 a.m. in the morning for treatment, less than six hours after the President's assassination. Both Dr. Mudd and his wife swore to their graves that Dr. Mudd had no knowledge of the President's death when he treated Booth's leg, and even had he known, he would have been obligated by the Hippocratic Oath to treat the assassin. Regardless, Dr. Mudd escaped hanging by a single vote of the Military Commission. Shortly after the verdicts were announced, Dr.Mudd, Arnold, Spangler and O'Laughlin were taken, shackled and handcuffed, to a ship on the Potomac River and secretly transported south along the Atlantic seaboard, then southwest around the tip of Florida. The ship stopped briefly for supplies at Key West and then moved then went 70 miles further west into the Gulf of Mexico to her final destination--Fort Jefferson. Dr. Mudd wrongly believed that he would be released when the facts of his lack of involvment in the President's death became known, but that was not to be. When he arrived at Fort Jefferson on July 24, 1865, Dr. Mudd was 1,000 miles away from his farm and medical practice in southern Maryland, his wife, and his four small children. He was thirty-one years of age.

Prison life at Fort Jefferson was brutal. Heat and humidity zapped human energy. Vegetables rotted in the gulf sunshine. The prison cells were filled with insects, scorpions, and rats. The walls leaked buckets of rainwater during the rainy season. Diseases formed the greatest phobias in both soldiers and prisoners, and in October 1867 the greatest fears became reality. Fort Jefferson had an outbreak of Yellow Fever. In early stages Yellow Fever is a mild infection with fever, headache, chills, back pain, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting, generally lasting only three to four days. In about twenty percent of sufferers, Yellow Fever will enter a second, toxic phase which includes juandice due to liver damage, thus the name Yellow Fever. The infected have extreme abdominal pain, bleeding in the mouth and eyes, and horrific vomiting, called black vomit due to intestinal bleeding. It wouldn't be until 1900 that Major Walter Reed, M.D. would discover that Yellow Fever was transmitted by mosquitoes. In 1867 people falsely believed Yellow Fever spread through human contact. Fort Jefferson's commander, physician and over two dozen officers died within a month. The sick would be isolated and sometimes even transported to an island called Hospital Key, over two miles from the fort. The infected would be taken to Hospital Key with their coffins in the boat. Husbands would not come near infected wives, even to say a final goodbye. Prisoners and officers would be treated together in the same rooms, the only concern being isolation from those not infected. An officer's wife on the island compared Fort Jefferson during the outbreak to Dante's Inferno.

Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd, alleged Lincoln assassination conspirator, Fort Jefferson prisoner, the man for whom the phrase "Your name is Mudd" became a common phrase in American vocabulary, took over the care of the Yellow Fever victims. Risking his own life, Dr. Mudd comforted the sick--both officers and prisoners, men and women--bathing them with cold water during fevers, covering them with blankets during chills, hydrating them during their vomiting episodes. For nights on end Dr. Mudd would not sleep. Though he had been beaten in earlier days, thrown into the prison's dungeon after an escape attempt, and had been poorly treated by many of his captors, Dr. Mudd made no distinction in his patients. He cared for the sick until thirty days into the outbreak he became sick himself. When he awoke from his own fever, he found two fellow Lincoln conspirators--Edman Spangler and Samuel Arnold--had treated him in the same manner they had observed him treat others during their sicknesses. Dr. Mudd had become their hero. Convicted Lincoln conspirator Michael O'Laughlin died of Yellow Fever during the outbreak. After six weeks of Yellow Fever hell, the disease abated. Dozens of people directly attributed their survival to the efforts of Dr. Mudd. All 300 officers and soldiers on the island signed a petition asking the President of the United States to pardon Dr. Samuel Mudd. President Andrew Johnson would eventually pardon Dr. Mudd on February 8, 1869. He arrived back on his Maryland farm just shy of four years of his arrest. He went to his grave proclaiming his innocence of any knowledge of the Lincoln assassination. Dr. Mudd would die in 1883 of pneomonia at the age of forty-nine after making a house call to care for another sick patient. His descendents would spend over a century trying to clear Dr. Mudd's name.

Rachelle and I returned Saturday from Key West. After reflecting on Dr. Mudd and the four years he spent on the Dry Tortugas, I can't help but think of Shakespeare and The Tragedy of Othello:

"Reputation is an idle and false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving."

For those of us who have experienced people privately and/or publicly reviling us, wrongly judging our motives, and falsely accusing us, Dr. Mudd provides us a moral lesson. Character is revealed in the crucible of conflict, not created. Who you are is seen when you are squeezed. It would behoove us to not worry so much about what people think of us as much as what people receive from us. No man is an island unto himself. You are not alone in the false accusations and the loss of reputation. Next time you experience such things, consider giving up your defense and rededicating yourself to doing right in the midst of the wrongs perpetrated against you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why Human Life Cannot Be Created in a Petri Dish - God and In Vitro Fertilization, Gene Therapy, and Cloning

Many Christians will accept catchy phrases as mantras without thinking through them. For example, "Life begins at conception" is a statement that has become a canon of orthodoxy among many conservative, Bible-believing evangelicals. However, we need to think through both the theology and the science of this erroneous statement. Life actually exists prior to conception, both in the male sperm and the female egg. Life continues when a sperm and an egg unite. Human life, however, only begins when God creates the human soul (see Zechariah 12:1 and Ecclesiastes 12:7).  Scientists can unite a sperm and egg in a petri dish, but they cannot create the human soul. Science can now clone human cells, but science will never be able to create the human soul.  As John Gill says, "The soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, gifts and endowments is of God's immediate creation... hence He is called the Father of spirits" (Hebrews 12:9).   Most Christians have never considered the fact that science cannot create man's immaterial spirit. The spirit is the essence of the human and distinguishes human beings from beasts. Only God creates the living soul.

The science of in vitro fertilization, gene therapy and human cloning can be traced back to the early 1950's and the woman pictured above. Before you accept the mantra "Life begins at conception," and labor over pondering how human cells in test tubes can possibly be human beings, you probably need to know who Henrietta Lacks is. Blogger Moses Model tells her story. Her full name is Henrietta Lacks, but you would know her as HeLa. Henrietta's cells became the first of what scientists now call "immortal cells." Moses explains:

"Medical researchers need human cells to test their theories and learn how the human cell works.  The types of cells they need are called, 'immortal cells.'  These cells can be grown indefinitely, divided among scientists around the world, and frozen for decades. However until the 1950’s they did not exist. 

In 1951, a thirty year old African American woman went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland for assistance with her cervical cancer. While there, a scientist sampled the cells of her tumor without her permission. For unknown reasons these cells continued to reproduce in the labs becoming the first immortal cell line. Though Henrietta Lacks died later that year, her cell line survives around the world till this day.

These cells were named after the first two letters in her first and last name. Dubbed HeLa cells these cells were used in the development of the first polio vaccine just a year later. The cells have been used in much scientific advancement including in vitro fertilization, gene mapping, and even cloning.   

Twenty–five years later, in1976, HeLa cells had been contaminated... Given the challenge of separating out HeLa cells from every other immortal cell line, a post doctoral student decided to call Henrietta’s widower in Clover, Virginia.  What Henrietta's widower understood from the phone call, and then relayed to his family, was that the scientist said,“We’ve got your wife. She’s alive in a laboratory. We’ve been doing research on her for the last 25 years. And now we have to test your kids to see if they have cancer.” This is not what the scientist stated, but he did not realize that Henrietta’s family would not understand.
Because some of Henrietta’s family belonged to a faith healing Christian sect, HeLa cells have taken on a religious persona since that fateful phone call in 1976. If you put every HeLa cell end to end, they would stretch around the globe at least three times. Combined they weigh at least 50 million metric tons. Some in Henrietta's family have considered her to be the “Lord's first immortal being”, chosen and brought back to life in Hela cells in order to cure diseases. Sometimes, according to the family, Henrietta still will cause problems. Her daughter thought that her mother intentionally contaminated the cell lines in 1976 as a way of getting back at the scientists who used her.  Henrietta's daughter ferverently believed that her mother’s soul existed in these petri dishes and test tubes from London to Sydney.  The daughter worried that her mother was unable to be at rest or felt pain from the countless experiments performed globally over the decades.

Here lies a large part of a theological argument. Are human cell lines still human? More importantly do they have a soul. The modern anti-abortion movement teaches that life begins at conception. Though a secular argument, the pro-life movement seems to imply that a human soul inhabits a single celled organism. The argument against stem cell research seems to imply that a human soul inhabits a blastocyst which contains around seventy to a hundred cells. Evangelical anthropology assumes that a soul can exist without a brain on the microscopic scale. Jeremiah is told

"Before I formed you in your mother's womb I chose you. Before you were born I set you apart" (Jeremiah 1:5). 

 For the last two centuries this verse has been interpreted as life, a human soul, begins at conception. For most of the rest of church history, this was not the mainstream interpretation. Cekk lines are not like removing a limb. Any human debris that I leave behind given enough time will generally decay. If I lose a limb eventually this limb would rot before or soon after my passing. Cell lines have the ability to out live their original body. Not only do they outlive the body, they can reproduce and proliferate and be taken to corners of the globe the body has never seen. In this sense, and I think the correct sense, cell lines are like organ transplants. I have had the pleasure of knowing individuals who have donated their liver to patients, because of what they considered to be God's command. In these instances, they do not believe that their soul is attached to another individual. Likewise when one receives a kidney donation, one generally does not bind the other soul to their body. Organ donors are not thought to rest in pieces instead of peace. 

I wish that I could be more Biblical, but the Bible does not give much guidance in these matters. There are general principles, but these were taught to people who only thought on a macroscopic scale instead of a microscopic. Like Henrietta's family, they had no idea what a cell even was, much less that they could exist beyond death ... Even without much spiritual guidance, I am fairly certain the soul remains with the whole instead of being scattered every place that we leave our cells."

We should never forget that the Lord alone is the Creator of the human soul.  The Lack family may lack such knowledge, but we who believe the Bible should know this truth and believe it. Let's be pro-life. Let's respect the dignity of all human beings. However, let's fight for the sanctity of human life with full-orbed truth and not catchy slogans.

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Kingdom of God Is Christ's Personal Reign in You

George Dana Boardman, the stepson of Adoniram Judson and long-time pastor of First Baptist Church Philadelphia (1864-1894), has written a book that has quickly gone up my top-ten list of the greatest Christian books of all time. The Kingdom: The Emerging Rule of Christ Among Men is a book that confirms what I have long believed the Bible to teach about the Kingdom of God. Since I was a boy memorizing Romans, studying theology, and reading Christian books vociferously, I have sought to find a book that systemized the teaching of Scriptures regarding Christ's words "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand." Boardman's book does an excellent job of expounding the meaning of Christ's statement. The word "kingdom" (basilia) is used one hundred and forty times in the New Testament. Boardman shows, quite convincingly, how the Kingdom of God is God's reign in man's heart through Jesus Christ. Further, he brilliantly proves that when the Kingdom of God comes, there is not a grim assent to the dominion of God over the sinner, but a willing consent to the dominion of God within the sinner. The implication of this profound truth of kingdom living is that the gospel (evangelium) is more than just faith in the atonement at the cross. Faith in the gospel becomes the life of God in the soul of man to produce the rule of God in the life of man. "Thy Kingdom come" ... is a prayer requesting that what is pleasant and pleasing in heaven become pleasant and pleasing in my life. Thanks to my friends Jack Taylor and Bob Mumford for republishing Boardman's classic book and my Enid friend Rob Cummins for purchasing it for me. Boardman's excellent treatise will have a lasting and powerful impact on my life and ministry.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Loving the Homosexual, the Pedophiliac, the Adulterer, the Masturbator, and the Fornicator in Your Life (Which Includes You): The Power of Grace and Truth

This week I have had a couple of outstanding conversations with people who were upset that I placed homosexuals, adulterers and pedophiliacs in the same category in something I recently wrote. "Pedophiliacs are different!" my friends said. "What they do is illegal! They use power and a desire for control to abuse an innocent child for personal gratification!"

What I had written that caused their offense was the following: "People may be born with a heart predisposed toward a desire to have sex with people of the same gender (homosexuality), just as people may be born with heart predisposed with a desire to have sex with other married people (adultery), or children (pedophilia), etc... Having the tendency (desire) to sin sexually is part of being a sinner. Finding freedom from acting out on that desire to sexually sin is part of being a Christian."

Notice that I was writing about desire when I wrote of the commonality of sexual sins.  There is a difference in consequences when a person acts out on his sinful sexual desires, depending on the laws of the land and the opinion of culture at the particular time the sexual act is committed. My friends, both of whom I respect, are correct that there is a difference (in our day) between pedophilia behavior (illegal activity) and homosexual behavior, adulterous behavior, sexual behavior while single, or self-stimulation (all legal activities). But I remind you, pedophilia is only currently illegal. If you act out on your desires to have sex with children you will go to jail if caught. If you commit an act of homosexuality or adultery you will not go to jail - at least in our day. Laws do change, however. Throughout America's history there were state laws that made both homosexuality and adultery illegal, punishable with either jail time or death. But that's another subject. The point I was making in what I wrote was a simple one: The predisposition and desire to have a sexual relationship outside of a husband/wife relationship is a sin against God. And ALL of us are sinners.

Our internal battles over sexual desires outside of marriage are common to every human being. The truth is, Christians are far more keen to these battles than others, because those who are not disciples of Christ live by the principle, "If it feels like love, it must be love." Don't misunderstand; even non-Christians "feel dirty" when sex becomes an animalistic act, but followers of Christ battle sinful sexual desires more than most. The internal battles over sexual desires in Christians may vary in nature and intensity, but there is a commonality of experience. There are pastors in pulpits who struggle with adulterous desires, and there are pastors in pulpits who struggle with homosexual desires, and there are pastors in pulpits who struggle with pedophiliac desires, and there are pastors in pulpits who struggle with self-stimulation sexual desires. All pastors will at times face internal battles with sinful sexual desires.

You may respond, "But pastors don't HAVE those kinds of sinful desires?" What? Are you serious? We pastors are sinners just like you. Our internal battles over sinful sexual desires are just like yours. The difference is pastors are expected to not act out on their sinful sexual desires because they are shepherding others to learn how to find their contentment in Christ, and to live in sexual holiness and wholeness. Sex is created by God with deep spiritual meaning. It is a type. Orgasm foreshadows the ecstasy of feelings we all will have when we are with Christ for eternity. That's one of the reasons there is no sex in heaven. Just like Christ fulfilled the Law, heaven and "the marriage supper of the Lamb" fulfills the type of marriage on earth. But until God ushers us into eternity either through death or His coming, we will struggle with exalting the type (sex) over the anti-type (Christ). What that means is this: The root source of acting out on our sinful sexual desires is an inability to rest in the love, intimacy, joy and satisfaction we were designed to have in Christ, the only One who can truly satisfy our longing for unconditional love, personal acceptance and intimate relationship.

Moody Institute Professor and Christian author Christopher Yuan struggles with homosexual desires. This amazing man of grace, transparent in all his struggles, states the principle I am articulating the best:  "Change by God's grace is not the absence of struggles, but the freedom to choose holiness in the midst of our struggles." I would add that the more a person begins to understand the grace of God in Christ and is satisfied in Him, the less a person acts out on his sinful sexual desires. The hard part is the fact that growing in grace takes a lifetime and then some. So, the struggle with sexual sins never ends. Your marriage to Christ will not be fully consummated until heaven. The struggle will only end then.

When you love a person during your lifetime who battles with homosexual desires, or pedophilia desires, or adulterous desires, or other sexually deviant desires (and that would include all of us in one form or another), you love them by never refusing to tell them the truth and by always pointing them to God's grace in the person and work of Christ. Each of us is born with a heart predisposed to one or more sinful sexual tendencies and desires. Those sinful desires will vary in type and strength, and because of our personal experiences,  they may change within us over time in both their nature and intensity. But when we refuse to speak the truth about sinful sexual desires and actions to ourselves and others, and when we pretend that what is sinful is actually normal and healthy, then we trample on the blood and love of Christ at the cross and insult the Spirit of grace who is at work within us.

This was my problem with Andy Stanley's message. He seemed hesitant to say to the homosexual couple attending his church--a couple who left their spouses to fulfill their sexual desires for one another--that they were in homosexual sin. Obviously, Pastor Stanley should accept them as people, but he should always tell them the truth about their sin.

An Illustration From Pedophilia

There are two men in our church that I mentor and disciple who are registered sexual offendors because of sexual activity with children. They spent their prison time. Everytime they set foot on our campus, they must report to me. Their pictures have been passed around to all our paid and volunteer staff. They are never allowed to be anywhere with children, and never will be. They will carry the shame of their sexual sins for the rest of their lives. These two men are human beings, and I love them. They both have professed faith in Christ, and it is my job to shepherd their souls. Nobody can accuse me of being soft on pedophilia because I am an advocate for victims, and my track record on this issue proves it. However, unlike many who cast away pedophiliacs as condemned to hell, I have seen the power of the cross in pedophiliacs' lives.

I have learned that in the underground pedophilia movement there is a belief system among pedophiliacs that is consistent with all pedophiliacs. It goes like this:

(1). The highest expression of love is sexual contact, and children are loved the most when they have sex with an adult.
(2). The desire to have sex with children is God-given and good. Don't fight it, simply hide it. Keep it in the closet because of the laws of the land, but know that one day the laws will change because;
(3). Children benefit by sexual contact with adults, and it is only the unenlightened who don't understand the beauty and naturalness of child/adult sexual love.
(4). Though western culture today rejects child love, progressive and enlightened cultures throughout history have honored it, including the Roman Empire who made it lawful for the Roman elite to have a cadre of boys and/or girls for adult sexual pleasure and the childrens' emotional and personal delight.
(5). Accept yourself the way God made you. You sexually desire young children because you love young children. Love is Love. Don't let people tell you child love through sex is wrong, because how can something that feels so right to both participants be immoral or wrong?

Now, I realize that the above five points sicken many of you (but not all of you). Please pay close attention to what I am about to write: The rationale of the pedophiliac in acting out on his sexual desires is exactly the same rationale for why an adulterer would act out on his sexual desires, or why a homosexual would act out on his desires, or why a fornicator would act out on his desires, etc...

And, the rationale is faulty. God calls pedophilia, homosexuality, adultery, fornication, and all sex outside of marriage sin. To desire something that God calls sin feels natural and right because we are by nature sinners. Only God can transform sinners; and the process of grace in the transformation is often lengthy and painful.

The two men I mentor are always told the truth by me. I love you and accept you, even with your desires to have sex with children. I love you so much that I will always tell you the truth about your sexual desires. They are sinful. I love you enough to try to help you establish and keep parameters and boundaries so you CAN'T act out on your desires. I also love you enough to pray that God will eventually take away your desires, but I know His Spirit works in you over time, and the transformation He brings is not instantaneous. You are not condemned by me, because I TOO AM A SINNER. My inclination to sexual sin is heterosexual adultery, and though society looks on my sinful desires as "acceptable," my sinful desires are no different from yours because they orginate from the same place--a sinful heart. By God's grace, He will keep me from acting out, as I know He can keep you from acting out as well.  However, I am here for you in the struggle, and my love for you is not determined by your performance. Christ died for sinners. You have accepted Him, as have I. My love for you is based on the fact we are family. Let's wrestle through this together.

I simply ask the question: Why do we not treat people who struggle with homosexuality, adulterery, fornication, masterbation, and all other sexually deviant desires and activities in the same manner? Why do we not love them and always tell them the truth? The truth is clear:

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate by perversion, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

Christ makes those who believe in Him righteous by granting us His perfect righteousness via our faith (ie. the righteous live by faith). You and I will only be convinced of our need for HIS righteousness when we are utterly convinced that we are devoid of any righteousness ourselves. To TRULY love the homosexual, the pedophiliac, the adulterer, the masturbator, the fornicater, and every other person who struggles with sexually deviant desires means we speak the truth in love about God and His grace for sinners through His Son's Person and work. Here's the truth for every believer in Christ in succinct form:

(1). His righteousness makes believers SAINTS in His eyes, and the tags "homosexual, adulterer, fornicator, etc..." are removed.
(2). You and I as believers will CONTINUE TO STRUGGLE with sexual sins, but they do not define who we are. Christ defines us, not our sins, or even our continuing sinful sexual desires.
(3). The more we learn the freedom of choosing holiness in the midst of our struggles, the greater our joy in Christ becomes, but even in our sexual failures, His joy for us is never lessoned, His joy in us is never diminished, and His joy over us never shrinks. It is our joy at stake, not His.
(4). Transparency and accountability in the midst of our struggles is part of His work of grace in us.
(5). Christ ultimately transforms us, but the manner and time in which He finishes His masterpiece (ie. you and me) is His responsiblity, not ours. So, even in the midst of our darkest struggles, we should never lose hope. We have an eternal perspective that God's love is ultimately effectual in us.

I do not know if this helps anyone, but I've written it so that you will not be so quick to judge or condemn, shun or withdraw, or even reject that believer in Christ who struggles with sinful sexual desires or activies, no matter what kind or variation his/her struggle may be. And, I've written this piece to remind those of us who are charged with speaking "the truth in love" that withholding the truth about homosexuality, pedophilia, adultery, fornication, etc... is really not loving anyone.

In His Grace and Truth,


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Not Speaking the Truth In Love Is Ultimately Unhelpful

(Update: I wish to apologize for the original title of this post "Stanleyism: Speaking a Half-truth with Self-love." That title was completely inappropriate for a couple of reasons. First, it sounds shaming. Second, it did a pretty lousy job of conveying what I wished to communicate by wrongly placing the emphasis on a person, and not what the person said. And finally, in attempting to be clever and make the title into a play on Paul's words, "Speak the truth in love," I gave the impression that I believed Andy was full of self-love. That is impossible for me to know. Let me be clear: I believe that the message Andy Stanley preached on April 15, 2012 is ultimately harmful and destructive to every homosexual who hears it. I commend Andy for his desire to communicate love and grace to homosexuals, and I applaud any church who reaches out to lesbians and homosexuals. I believe Andy is attempting to tackle a difficult issue, but he has failed miserably in one area. The issue at hand is a simple one: Is the predisposition and desire to have a sexual relationship with a person of the same gender a  sinful desire? It seems Andy is saying "No." I believe the Scripture says emphatically "Yes," and an unwillingness to call homosexuality sin ultimately leads the homosexual to trample on the blood of Christ by saying: "You did not need to die for my sin, because I have no sin."  The post below is unchanged from the original post except for the title).

Andy Stanley is an innovator and communicator. He is an evangelical conservative, Bible-believing teacher of the Word of God. He cares for people, and he understands the gospel. Unfortunately, he is now in the midst of a controversy of his own making. Andy Stanley preached a remarkable message at North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia on April 15, 2012 entitled When Gracie Met Truthy. I became aware of the message from Al Mohler's blog where Dr. Mohler politely takes Andy Stanley to the woodshed for Stanley's seemingly full acceptance of homosexual relationships as a legitimate and Christian expression of marital love.  I  listened to Andy Stanley's entire message, and though I don't do this often, I found myself in full agreement with Dr. Mohler's views on this matter. Andy's message was quite good when he stayed with the text and sought to encourage his listeners from the Word of God. But Andy's message was quite bad--restate that--'Andy's message was pitifully and painfully awful'--when he diverted from the sacred text and sought to illustrate how grace and truth meet in a church setting like Northpointe. I won't go into the graphic and bizarre illustration Andy gave as support for what grace and truth look like when they meet in a church (read Dr. Mohler's blog or listen to the message yourself), but I would like to point out what a practicing homosexual named Mike, who heard the message the day it was preached, wrote about Andy Stanley's message less than 24 hours later:

"I have some experience with Northpoint Church from when I lived in Atlanta around 10 years ago. I have a ministry background as well. I recently moved back to Atl to be near my family. Long story short... I came out about a year ago and have been looking for a place to worship. Buckhead was my first try and I was very nervous. However, the message... from the series Christian (week 5)... absolutely blew me out of the water. FWIW... they are NOT anti-gay. VERY far from it. You need to watch the message to understand. I was amazed as I worshiped with 8-10 other gay folk in the middle of the church. It was quite an experience!"

Mike is quite correct. Anyone who listens to the message will come away believing that adultery or infidelity is sin, but monogamous sex with a partner of the same gender is not sin. That is precisely what Andy said. His illustration of two men breaking their marriages to women in order to enter into a homosexual partnership delivered only a half-truth. Andy Stanley spoke the truth about adultery. However, Andy Stanley couldn't speak the truth about homosexual sex. Yet, he expessed his love for both homosexuals and adulterers. Why only speak half-truth? There is a great deal of pressure from gay activists in metropolitan cities like Atlanta to pressure religious leaders to publicly declare homosexual sex is not sin against God. Andy loves the homosexual; he just seems now to refuse to speak the truth about homosexuality (ie. "homosexuality is sin") in the same manner he speaks about adultery (ie. "adultery is a sin"). I believe Andy Stanley will soon realize the error of his half-truth message and will come out with a public correction.

You are never really loving homosexuals until you tell them the full truth about their homosexual sex.  Maybe Andy Stanley will one day soon abandon return to speaking the truth about homosexuality in love to the homosexual.

I think he will.