Love, Acceptance, and Tolerance? Not So Fast…

This one might lose me a few friends.

Since the news broke about Caitlyn Jenner’s magazine cover everyone has opinions on it. And everyone has opinions on the opinions. Even when we pretend that our opinions are actually about stuff in general, we are really talking about Caitlyn Jenner and all that controversy. This is not a bad thing, per se.

One particular stream of thought that I’ve picked up on is Christians taking a stand against hateful remarks and pledging their unwavering love for everyone no matter what. Also a good thing. A command from God, actually. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength (Mark 12:30). Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). Love your enemy (Matthew 5:44). No greater love than they who lay down their life for another (John 15:13). Love isn’t an option. Yay love.

Occasionally words like “acceptance” and “tolerance” and “not judging” slip in as well. Sometimes from Christians, sometimes from people who aren’t Christians. I’m not terribly interested in addressing non-Christians. We have very different standards and perspectives, after all.

So, brothers and sisters, let’s chat.

What is love? Kind of a dumb question on the surface, but one we really need to know the answer to if we are going to correctly obey God. Despite what songs and movies may tell us, love is not an emotion, nor even a spectrum of emotions. When your heart starts racing and you get butterflies in your stomach and you can’t stop smiling because someone amazing is right across the room, that’s not love. I’ve heard it best explained this way: love is action, specifically one that puts someone’s well-being first. Love is the action you take when your desire for someone is the very best life they can have. Love isn’t gratifying someone’s emotions, or letting them do what they want. After all, good parents love their children, and that means bed times and vegetables and discipline as much as it means play time and treats and cuddles. I think we all understand this on a certain level. After all, we know Christ loved us not just because he said so, but because he died for us, taking our punishment for our sins, giving us his righteousness, restoring our relationship with God, and giving us an eternal home with Him.

So what do we make of these other terms we often think we are supposed to do along with love? Acceptance and tolerance and non-judgement?

Are we to accept the non-Christians, those still dead in their sins? To an extent yes. Just as God accepted us as we were and did not turn us away, and just as Christians before us most likely accepted us before we were one of them, we should accept as they are. We can’t change them, after all (that’s God’s business). Are we to tolerate non-Christians? As best as we can, yes (Romans 12:18). We are bringers of peace, not strife. Obviously if someone is trying to kill you that changes things. Tolerance has its reasonable limits. Are we not to judge non-Christians? Well, hard to say. I don’t think public condemnations and screaming hellfire are terribly loving, but when it comes down to it judging is simply saying what is and what isn’t. It would be foolish, for example, to think we are unable to judge that murderous neighbor of ours from a few sentences ago, and there is no wrong in judging someone a liar when they insist on speaking untruths.

(“But Anthony,” you reply with gusto, “doesn’t Jesus say ‘judge not lest ye be judged’?” Yes he does. Keep reading to he next few verses. Jesus is simply telling us that if we judge people, we will be judged by the same measure. It’s a warning against hypocrisy.)

So inasmuch as you are continuing to act in someone’s overall best interests, you should indeed accept and tolerate and not judge someone.

What of other Christians? Are we go accept, tolerate, and not judge them? Well here is where it gets interesting. For the Bible spells out that we are to hold each other accountable, Unlike the non-Christians, the word of God has been revealed to us, and the Holy Spirit resides in us. While there is little we can do about non-Christians living their lives as they see fit, we are not at luxury to wink at sin when we see it among our brothers and sisters. We are expected to correct them (James 5:19-20). And we aren’t even supposed to associate with Christians who are flagrantly sinful within our church (1 Corinthians 5).

So what do we make of Caitlyn Jenner? According to one of those recent interviews, when he was still Bruce, he said he was a conservative. If he said he was a Christian I can’t find the reference (Google is just showing me think pieces like pieces like this one on the “Christian response” and such). For the purposes of this, it doesn’t matter so much; he certainly doesn’t attend any of our churches. Should we love Caitlyn Jenner? Absolutely. Do we tolerate and accept and not judge Caitlyn Jenner? Well, to go back to my earlier answers, “to an extent”. Caitlyn Jenner wants to be called Caitlyn now. I can go with that, sure. Sometimes people change their name, whatever. Caitlyn says he’s a woman now. No he’s not. The surgeries and implants and makeup and fashion shoot and photoshop don’t turn a man into a woman. I know it is trendy in social justice circles to say that gender and sex are totally different, but I’m going to say no that is wrong.

Am I being judgmental and intolerant of Caitlyn Jenner now? Maybe, but there is nothing loving about lying, nothing loving about calling a man a woman, nothing loving about pretending that a bunch of superficial alterations can turn a man into a woman, nothing loving about treating mental illness like it is the next great civil rights movement, nothing loving about celebrating a vain and self-absorbed advertisement campaign for yet another reality TV show.

None of us are really in a position to tell Caitlyn any of these things, though. We can’t sit him down and explain that we love him and he needs help. Whoever had that responsibility abandoned it, and he was unlovingly left to his own devices. Since none of us actually know Caitlyn or can do anything about this delusion all the people around him are feeding, our only option is to pray for him, that he might yet find the healing he actually needs.

That is always loving.

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Practical Ways To Respond To The Eric Garner Case

In the wake of the latest failure to indict a police officer involved in the death of a black male, there has been a lot of think pieces, protests, memes, and backlash. In light of these, a few things come to mind that I think would further propel this momentum into making lasting changes. This list isn’t exhaustive, nor do I necessarily think all of them are equally useful or necessary, but you may want to consider them.

1) Educate Yourself

Following the herd because it is there is the worst idea no matter what the herd is saying. We are human beings, and no matter how social we are naturally we still have the capacity to think for ourselves, and every time we don’t we fail ourselves and those around us. No matter how clear cut these issues may seem, there is always a lot of information that simply won’t be widely reported, either because the media prefers a specific spin on the events or they simply don’t see a particular piece of data as relevant. Knowing as much as possible, both about the pivotal events themselves as well as the various factors that led to them happening is vital if you have any intention of making an intelligent judgement of the events.

2) Protest

A large mass of people yelling about things always gets attention. Make sure you did #1 first, however, or you may find yourself protesting something that really shouldn’t be protested, or you may find yourself advocating for changes that wouldn’t actually address the things you are protesting.

3) Write Your Elected Officials

This is vital. It is also vital that you get as many people to do this as possible. If you don’t like how things are done, you need to let them know in no uncertain terms that you want to see changes. And do not stop there. Threaten their elections. Telling a city counselor or DA you are upset is all well and good, but ten thousand people telling them that they have no intention of voting for someone who is comfortable with the status quo will get their attention. Do you think cops are accountable to no one and accusations against them need to be investigated by an unaffiliated party? Tell them that. Think we have way too many stupid laws and that the police shouldn’t be violent enforcers of cigarette taxes? Let them know. I personally believe that the overwhelming majority of problems we face as a nation can be traced to our lackadaisical approach to our elected officials. We let them do whatever they want, and the simple fact is people with power will tend to do whatever they can get away with. If every American citizen held the government accountable to the people instead of special interest groups or absolutely no one, we’d be living in a much better country.

4) Make Some New Friends

Your perspective changes when things affect people you know. I’ve read articles claiming things like 3/4 of white people don’t have any non-white friends, and while I question some of these statistics, it never hurts to have a more diverse set of friends, with varying viewpoints (even viewpoints you may find disagreeable or abhorrent). But maybe you have a lot of minority friends already. In that case, consider making friends with a police officer or someone who works in a DA’s office.

If Martin Luther King Jr. Were Alive Today He Would Hate Everyone

In light of recent events, most notably the kerfuffle in Ferguson, MO, the good name of Martin Luther King Jr. is once again being invoked in support or umbrage at this agenda or that. But let’s get real here, you people who think MLK Jr. would stand in solidarity with your economic or political views are fooling yourselves. He would hate you, both in a general sense and in a specific you as an individual sense.

If you were a white man he would punch you in the face, and if you were a black man he would drop kick you. If alive MLK Jr. would be 85 years old, and he wouldn’t even care. He would slap you silly and then laugh in your face for daring to be outraged. If you are rich he would slap you with your own wad of cash, and if you were poor he would slap you with your own bindle. Then he would set them on fire and just walk away.

Maybe you think Dr. King would be on your side because you stand for all the things he stands for. Nope. He thinks you are a stupid hanger-on and has nothing but contempt for you. Maybe you oppose a lot of the things he was trying to accomplish for one reason or another, in which case he thinks you are retarded and should not be allowed outside. And if you haven’t made up your mind, he would think you are a complete wuss and need to stop wearing little baby diapers.

If you are gay or bi or trans or whatever and Martin Luther King Jr. doesn’t beat you up, it isn’t because he approves of you; he just doesn’t want to touch you. If you see him wearing his gloves your only hope is to run. He’d hate you too, and if there weren’t so many straight people whose butts would needed kicking he’d show you how hate crimes are done. Not even the dead are safe from a hypothetically living Dr. King’s indiscriminate wrath, as one of his favorite past times would be dancing on graves and then throwing the headstones into the sea. But first he covers them in poison because he would even hate nature.

So please stop claiming that Martin Luther King Jr. would be outraged at his legacy being tarnished by this group or that group, because while technically accurate it fails to properly convey how he would be in a state of undying rage at everyone and everything.

I Was Elliot Rodger

In light of recent events, I thought it might be a good idea to blog again, as you do. I’m not really interested in talking about the murderer, his unfortunate victims, what may or may not have prompted this, or the outcomes of it.

Instead, at the risk of hijacking the tragedy of others and using it for my own ends, I am going to talk about me. And also God.

You see, it wasn’t all that long ago that I was a great deal like Elliot Rodger, and many of the other men who have done similar things over the past few decades. Arrogantly yet full of self-pity, entitled to every good thing in the world, deprived of nothing save perhaps friends, and even then I only had my own bilious attitude to blame for it. I felt deeply wronged by everyone, and I could spend hours fantasizing about the elaborate revenge I would take on them all. Honestly, giving into rage and bitterness was easy. Anger feels good in a way, and it can also be addictive, and coupled with the idea that I was a tragic and innocent victim of everyone’s failure to recognize how great I was naturally led to the “empowering” idea of me being my own avenger, righting the wrongs made against me and being really awesome and terrifying in the process. Occasionally the wrath would give in to despair that I would never get the love and appreciation and acknowledgement I so desperately wanted, but even that was fueled by the same selfish delusion: I had been grievously wronged, and I would make everyone pay.

I was just an overly dependent teenager at the time, but who knows, by the time I got to 22 or 23 I could had enough self-centered fury to spend my dead-end job earnings on some weapons and really do some damage. Possibly my former high school, or a mall.

As you might have guessed, that never happened. As nice and clean and simple as it would be to be able to say that I simply grew up and found a more positive outlet, I can’t take credit for it. The credit goes to God. As unworthy and unlovable as I was, he accepted me, made me one of his very own children, and gave me a new life. Jesus freed me from the prison of hate I had locked myself into, and for the first time since maybe my childhood I could be me again, the me I was meant to be.

Which is not to say I’ve become some perfectly good and wholesome person. The bitterness is still there, in a way. Weakened, dying even, but still present. The prison walls are knocked down, but it’s easy enough to wander back in, to dwell on my self-inflicted pain and isolation. But I’m not locked in any longer, and I’m not defined by the four walls of hate. I may not have all the close friendships and affirmation I crave at times, but I’m learning how to have healthy relationships, to love others as God has loved me.

I’m not just a changed man, but a new one. Jesus did this for me, and he can do it for you as well, if you’ll let him. Hopefully you aren’t in the same condition I was, but even if you are, even if you are worse, it is not beyond God’s forgiveness and healing.

I was Elliot Rodger, but by the grace of God I am no longer.

A reply to “Death penalty foes won’t take a stand in Colorado”

Anyone reading this blog already knows what happened in Aurora, CO, so I won’t bother reviewing it for you. Instead, we move forward to the new developments, the court transcripts, and my personal favorites, the opinion pieces.

At the risk of being insensitive to the very real tragedy of these events and the fact that they happened to real and actual people, I can’t help but read about them, and what people say about them, and then forming opinions on my own. It’s almost enjoyable, discourse and whatnot (not that I really do much in the way of back and forth discussion on most matters).

One such article, written by Jonah Goldberg, brings up a very interesting point, one I hadn’t actually thought about until reading it. For those who aren’t going to read it, I’ll do my best to summarize: anti death penalty advocates aren’t going to speak up about this case because it’s not one they think will go well for them. And I think he might be right.

Almost a year ago, Troy Davis was executed for murder. The days leading up to it were filled with all kinds of arguments against his execution, and its pretty clear the author is referencing this very event when he says: “Death penalty opponents are fairly mercenary about when to express their outrage. When questions of guilt can be muddied in the media; when the facts are old and hard to look up; when the witnesses are dead; when statistics can be deployed to buttress the charge of institutional racism: These are just a few of the times when opponents loudly insist the death penalty must go.”

Goldberg brings up another good point, without entirely meaning to: the primary argument against Davis’ execution was that he didn’t do it, or that there wasn’t sufficient evidence of his wrongdoing to warrant execution, or that he only received the death penalty because he was black man.

I’m no expert on the subject, but these sorts of arguments seem to be where most anti death penalty tend to go. Sometimes they bring up mental illness or unusual circumstances, but the usual case is “we can’t be so certain of it that it’s worth killing them”. Or racism. The arguments that it is always wrong in every circumstance never seems quite as loud or popular.

Well, guess I’ll go ahead and be unpopular (I’ve been through high school so I’m used to it) and say that I oppose the death penalty in every circumstance. Including this one. I’ve discussed my feelings about it before, and since then I have refined my thoughts.

I wasn’t always opposed to it. When I was younger it just made perfect sense to me; kill off the bad people and make the world a better place, or at least show the bad people that we aren’t going to put up with them. After becoming a Christian six years ago I still thought it was the right thing to do. God told Noah that if a person or animal takes a human life they are to be killed themselves, and this principle is reinforced with the covenant God makes with the Israelites.

Recently, however, I’ve been thinking more and more about what it means to follow Jesus, and what precisely we are called to do as his disciples. While Jesus did a lot of great things for people, the single most important act was sacrificing himself for us so that our sins can be forgiven, thus allowing us to dwell forever with God. Likewise, while Christians are called to do a number of things, including helping the poor and sick and each other and making full use of what God has given us, our single most important task is to seek out the lost and tell them the good news about Jesus. Everything else we do is inconsequential. I say that a man whose only worthwhile deed in life is leading one other person to Christ has led a more fulfilling life than a man who has done everything but share the gospel with another.

And here is a very simple fact: you can’t share the gospel to a dead man. You can’t reach out to the lost if they have already lost their heart beat. You can’t read John 3:16 to a man in a dark concrete box who is denied any contact with another human being for the rest of his life.

Furthermore, you’re going to have a very hard time inviting a man to church who, after making a couple of very big mistakes, has been locked up with hundreds of ill-tempered, aggressive, and violent men. Bad company corrupts good character, so how much more will bad company corrupt an already shaky character? Do you think our correctional facilities actually correct anyone?

Obviously we can’t just let violent and larcenous people roam free, but our current system of justice is based on retribution and shame, not reform. In a way, we don’t really want them to reform, we want to watch them squirm and suffer forever. In our misguided attempts at building heaven here on Earth, we have invariably created thousands of miniature hells.

I’m not a religious authority, but I firmly believe that no Christian should support any institution or behavior that makes it more difficult to share the gospel. That includes the death penalty, or locking up prisoners with no one but other prisoners for company. I do not think there should be any exceptions to this. Jesus died to save James Holmes just as surely as he died to save me or Billy Graham or Saul of Tarsus or Joseph Stalin or any arbitrary list of people you can think of.

Obviously this argument isn’t going to do much for anyone who isn’t a Christian, but maybe you will nevertheless agree that there is a better way to do things than the way we do them now.

Am I Troy Davis?

Troy Davis was executed last night, despite the fevered pleas of thousands of activists, politicians, and religious leaders. He was convicted of a murder that took place over twenty years prior, and spent every moment of his life since then on Death Row. He adamantly denied the charges, and maintained that he was innocent of the killing up until his last moments. The victim’s family seems convinced he did it, but reportedly have not yet felt the catharsis that justice is supposed to provide.

Everyone who has paid attention to the news for the last few weeks no doubt knows all of these things already. I am not trying to be informative. I say these things for my own benefit, because I am trying to understand what it is like for those who were personally involved. I am trying to see things from the perspective of the judge who initially laid down the death sentence two decades ago. I am trying to align my perspective with the various judges who have since affirmed Mr. Davis’ guilt in the matter. I am trying look through the eyes of a man who spent half his life under a death sentence, and then with an ending that is so straightforward it is almost ironic, died a condemned man. I am trying to comprehend what it must be like both for the victim’s family and the family of the deceased convict.

I am trying to do all of this because I feel like a failure to understand that other people are indeed people, and not just background characters of our own lives, is perhaps why the death penalty is as common as it currently is in the US. I don’t really like the death penalty at all. I don’t think it does what it claims it is supposed to do. I don’t think it really deters crime, nor do I see it granting any actual closure to any of the victims’ families. It’s expensive and time consuming. Many death row inmates are apparently victims themselves of severe mental imbalance, the kinds of which, if treated earlier, may have prevented the tragedies they unfolded.

I say these things cautiously. While I no doubt have a great many friends who are completely opposed to the death penalty, chances are I also have some who think it is indeed justified. Some may quote the Bible, where God himself lays out the provisions for the death penalty to Noah, or perhaps they will go a little further and mention the commandments God gave to the Israelite. Am I then disagreeing with God?

I don’t really think so. While we should always act in justice, I don’t believe that we are ever forbidden from acting in mercy. Killing a murderer is justified, while sparing his life is merciful. We can choose either, but I feel we must tread very carefully when we attempt to act in the name of justice. Are we truly trying to live according to the Word, or are we just so numb to humanity that killing the bad ones off seems like as good idea as any?

I don’t know if Troy Davis was indeed guilty. I don’t know if his the determination of his guilt or his sentence was affected by racism or some other bias. I don’t know if he will be declared a martyr and galvanize the community to more strongly oppose the death penalty, or if people will just decide to let him “rest in peace”. All I know is that there is one more dead man in the world, and I can’t help but think “how pointless.”

I find myself unsympathetic towards the Republicans

So President Obama has a tax plan that I guess he got the idea for from Warren Buffet, a guy who makes money for fun and then gives money away for fun. From what I have gathered from CNN and similar news outlets, the idea is to tax investment earnings at the same rates that one taxes income earnings, and since most wealthy people get their giant piles of money from investments, this ultimately means higher taxes towards the wealthy.

Republicans of course replied “not on our lives, this will hurt job creation.” To which Obama responded “I knew they would say that.” To which the Republicans replied “We knew that he would say that he knew we would say that.” To which Obama replied “this is a stupid waste of time, I’ve got Presidenting to do.”

I have two initial thoughts on the matter. The first is whether the Republicans are really speaking for all of their constituents when they say the things they say. I highly doubt every registered Republican is screaming bloody murder about the possibility of taxes, especially since the vast majority of Republicans are not particularly wealthy by American standards (just like the vast majority of everyone is not particularly wealthy by American standards). The second thought is whether the sorts of people who know how to make money from investing are going to be all that deterred from some higher taxes on their earnings.

Because the way I see it, they are still going to be making money regardless. Only an insane person would look at the situation and say “well, I’ll be making slightly less money with this new tax in place, SO I BETTER NOT INVEST AT ALL AND JUST QUIT MY JOB AND GO ON WELFARE, THAT WILL SHOW THEM”. I don’t know a whole lot of millionaires, so it’s a bit difficult to get any kind of consensus on these matters from them, but it seems a bit nonsensical to assume that some higher taxes are going to tip a scale from fortune to ruin.

And for all this talk about it disrupting job creation, I feel like (and this is pure gut feelings that may have no basis in reality) that argument is kind of hollow. Because right now we don’t have that tax yet, so by all accounts job creation should be going through the roof. It seems to me the only people who are going to be deterred are the spiteful ones who would just sit on their dragon hoard  no matter how the economy is going.

And there’s the future to consider. While it seems like a lot of the conservatives made a big deal about the debt limit for no good reason (because apparently we hit it quite often and just raise the borrowing limit all the time), they may nevertheless have a point about the amount of debt this nation has. We do need to take steps to lower our debt, and thus become a more fiscally healthy nation, but that means taxes. You can’t just cut the budget to ribbons and expect that to be enough. I mean maybe it could be, theoretically, but that would take freaking forever. In the long run, it seems like it would be better to raise the federal revenue (taxes) so we can pay the debt down as fast as possible, and thus in the future be able to lower the taxes and have all that job creation and whatever in the future, and have that be more sustainable as well.

I feel (there’s that word again) that too many of the vocal conservatives are taking a short-term view, and being very petulant about it. But if this country is going to flourish for centuries to come, we need to have a long-term view of things.

Also if we can avoid spending trillions on wars and such, that would be great too.