Bathroom talk

How would one actually verify if a transgender person was using the bathroom of his or her gender identity?

Would we have video cameras aimed at peoples’ genitals?

Would we need to enforce “pants checks” in public restrooms?

Would we “self police” and start peeking our heads into stalls and over urinal walls?
Or would we need real, actual police and law enforcement officials?

Putting the ethics and politics of the question aside for a moment, how does any of this work practically? How does one detect, let alone enforce, any of these proposed rules from either side of the political aisle?

And if the answer is that there isn’t a practical way to enact any of these detection or enforcement policies without massive intrusions into personal privacy, doesn’t this sort of suggest that forcing trans people into one bathroom or another is kind of a moot point?

Honestly, I don’t check out the genitals of other people in public restrooms, and as far as I know, people aren’t checking out mine. If a trans man uses a stall next to me – pre or post transition – I literally have no way of knowing…which is pretty much as it should be, right?

Good read on Driscoll’s Obama bashing

Some of the most faithful, loving, and sacrificing Christians I know would likely not meet Mark Driscoll’s definition of a “real Christian”. He might tell them, the way he told Obama, that they don’t really know God. That makes me frustrated for them, but it makes me sad for Mark Driscoll. How sad must it be to proclaim the love of God with one breath and to feel the need doubt the sincerity of another’s love for God with the next?

More here 

Thomas Jefferson on Health Care?

A friend of mine recently posted this to Facebook:

In response to the Healthcare debate – “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.” – Thomas Jefferson

I raised a few objections over Facebook, but the character limits are, well, limiting, so I thought I would post them here in more developed form.

First, I think that for the right to use this argument is at best self-serving and at worst hypocritical.

Self-serving: I object to the war in Iraq. I might even go so far as to say that I “abhor the idea” of our entire foreign policy generally. But, I still pay my taxes – taxes that are used to fund the very foreign policy that I abhor. Would Thomas Jefferson argue that I am no longer obligated to pay taxes on such grounds? Or would he argue that the government should be forced to bend its policy around my particular moral stance on particular wars? Of course not. It’s ludicrous to even suggest so.

Furthermore, would the right acknowledge that argument as legitimate if I raised it in protest against our foreign policy? Of course not. The right is using an argument to its own advantage when it suits their purposes, even though they would dismiss the very same argument out of hand if it were used against their foreign policy. That’s the very definition of a self-serving.

Hypocritical: It’s possible that the right realizes all this, but they are using the argument anyway. That would be the very definition of hypocrisy.

Second, to use Thomas Jefferson this way is little more than prooftexting (a word that gets used a lot in Christian exegesis). Jefferson’s comment has a specific cultural, political, and historical context – specifically that the colonies were being taxed (disproportionately?) without representation. His statement was made in that specific context and should be read in that specific context. It does not have a direct reference to health care, because as one FB commenter pointed out, the founding fathers would have had no comprehension of our contemporary health care system.

(Of course it’s possible that Jefferson would have objected to all of the current legislation that’s being debated – but if he would have, this comment alone wouldn’t tell us so)

Third, as the same FB commenter rightly claimed, healthcare is not a Constitutional right, because the founding fathers did not have any conception of health care as we know it. But, no one is arguing that it is; rather, some of us are arguing that it should be. The founding fathers did not have any conception of health care as we know it, and that is precisely the point. They could not have made a Constitutional right out of something that did not exist yet (and consequently of which they had no knowledge).

Fourth, from a Christian perspective, why is providing universal health care to everyone – including the working poor who could never afford insurance – be something to “abhor”? Didn’t Jesus have a few things to say about caring for the poor? I could cite several passages (but this post is already the opposite of short), so I’ll cite one in particular:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

Lest I be guilty of prooftexting myself, let me make clear that I don’t think Jesus’ words here establish that all Christians must support universal health care. Instead, Jesus’ words undermine the notion that universal health care is worthy of abhorrence.

On theological grounds and on the grounds of common sense, I really don’t understand how adopting a government policy that ensures that the poor are cared for qualifies as something to be “abhored.”

I welcome your thoughts. I’m sure there are some who disagree, and I would love to hear how you respond.


The friend who originally posted this expanded on his original post and let me know that what he was opposed to is a provision that would use taxpayer money to fund elective abortions. I’ll join him in protest if that clause makes it into the final bill.

Week Links

The last two months have been busy, so my blog has been neglected. I’ve been reading lots of great stuff here and there, gathering general reflections, all with the intent to publish them here… but alas, it has not happened.

But, instead of adding my blog to the list of who-knows-how-many neglected blogs, I thought I’d try something different to ensure I’m posting frequently. On weeks when I don’t find the time to post, I am going to start posting the best of the best of what I’ve read during that week.

So, links for the week, or, “Week Links,” as I’m not so cleverly calling it here.

Beginning with this little gem, which is more picture than reading:

duty_callsMy wife can emphasize with the un-pictured spouse …

Brian McLaren recently wrote a brief piece in God’s Politics blog arguing that there are two kinds of Islam and two kinds of Christianity (and two kinds of all religion) …

one of social control and one of social transformation … one to hold people down, one to lift them up … one an opiate to pacify people into compliance, the other a stimulant to empower people to imagine a better world, a better future, a better life — giving them the courage to live in peaceful defiance of violent, corrupt, and greedy powers-that-be.

Neither kind is perfect, and both kinds contain good and sincere people. But if those who use God and religion for social control are left to define faith, then the religion they define will be a false one, an ugly one, an idolatrous one. God bless humanity … and God help us find a way of being faithful that opens the door to a better future.

Christianity Today recently featured a piece entitled The Changing Face of Apologetics, which suggests that apologetics/evangelism is becoming less about the truth claims of the Bible and Christianity and more about narrative.

[People] have become more relational, more story-driven. Josh McDowell would go on college campuses and describe why to trust the Bible. And people would come to faith in droves. Then they stopped coming to faith in so many numbers, and he didn’t know why. And now he takes a story approach. “You know,” he says, “I was the son of the town drunk. This is how it affected my life and my relationship with [my dad]. This is what prompted me to seek spiritually. This is the evidence I found. This is how my life was changed. This is how I reconciled with my father.” So it becomes a story.

That’s what my ministry is about. I tell my story: I was an atheist. I scoffed. My wife became a Christian. It prompted me to investigate. Here’s the evidence I found, how I received Christ, the difference it’s made. It’s a story. And I found that in postmodern America, people often are willing to engage on the level of story.

Over at primal subversion, Sean makes a very probing (albeit tentative) statement, at least to those of us who value Christian Scripture and its capacity to function as God’s Word to human beings:

I cannot reconcile the GOD revealed in Jesus of Nazareth with a few of the depictions of YHWH in the Hebrew scriptures. In fact, this is a significant problem for me… It appears that only a Christological reading of the Hebrew scriptures can solve this dilemma.

If, as I believe, Jesus fully reveals to us the identity of God, and we are to live and decide what’s right and wrong within the trajectory of Jesus’ teachings, actions, ethics, life, etc. (the NT), why can’t we read the Hebrew scriptures retrospectively, and through the lens of Jesus, assess whether or not Israel got it right when they heard God? I realize this sounds slightly like Marcion, but I have no desire to throw out the Hebrew Scriptures. However, I’ve got to question whether or not they (Israel or the particular writers of these traditions) heard right, or faithfully represented the intentions of YHWH when engaging in such horrific acts.

What makes his comments so interesting to me (and perhaps so appealing) is that his proposed reading is grounded Christologically. Such a reading isn’t merely cherry-picking Scripture for what is and what is not palatable; it’s a proposed rethink based on a foundational Christian doctrine. If Jesus really is God’s self-revelation, shouldn’t that have some radical implications?

And finally, to lighten the mood after those weighty considerations, why not invest in one of the coolest external hard drives one could ever see?


Discovering Common Ground

The other day, I wrote about Disagreeing Generously, a topic that I think’s incredibly important.

In a recent speech, President Obama tackled some similar issues, albeit in a much more eloquent way than I did.

Here are some excerpts from the speech and some comments from  Jim Wallis and the God’s Politics blog that I find to be very inspiring.

The media coverage and analysis of President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame on Sunday largely focused on the issue of abortion. And he did speak on that issue, clearly and strongly reiterating his own approach of finding the common ground of abortion reduction between the polarized options of “pro-choice” and “pro-life,” and naming practical solutions that many on both sides of the divide can support.

Maybe we won’t agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually; it has both moral and spiritual dimensions. So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions; let’s reduce unintended pregnancies. Let’s make adoption more available. Let’s provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause …

But the speech was much more than a culmination of another abortion controversy in the media. After re-reading it, I think it was likely the most significant speech Obama has made in his presidency so far in regard to many of the concerns and work of the faith community. As columnist E.J. Dionne wrote:

There were many messages sent from South Bend. Obama’s opponents seek to reignite the culture wars. He doesn’t. They would reduce religious faith to a narrow set of issues. He refused to join them. They often see theological arguments as leading to certainty. He opted for humility.

President Obama began by recognizing that our difficulty in finding common ground too often lies in our imperfections – our sin – dominating us rather than calling us to work together.

We too often seek advantage over others. We cling to outworn prejudice and fear those who are unfamiliar. Too many of us view life only through the lens of immediate self-interest and crass materialism; in which the world is necessarily a zero-sum game. The strong too often dominate the weak, and too many of those with wealth and with power find all manner of justification for their own privilege in the face of poverty and injustice. And so, for all our technology and scientific advances, we see here in this country and around the globe violence and want and strife that would seem sadly familiar to those in ancient times.

But, at the same time, he emphasized the importance of civility and how we should engage in public dialogue on issues where strong, conflicting opinions can lead us to discover that common ground.

The question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without, as Father John said, demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side? … When we open up our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe — that’s when we discover at least the possibility of common ground. … Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

And the new president reminded us all that the strength of faith should produce genuine humility, rather than easy certainty, in our views, and can help lead us to a commitment to social justice.

Remember, too, that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It’s the belief in things not seen. It’s beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what [God] asks of us. And those of us who believe must trust that [God’s] wisdom is greater than our own.

And this doubt should not push us away our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open and curious and eager to continue the spiritual and moral debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us even as we cling to our faith to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works and charity and kindness and service that moves hearts and minds.

As I wrote on Monday, this president’s willingness to confront controversy with an appeal to common values could help to change the way we address a number of divisive and controversial issues. We live in a country where we certainly know everyone will not agree on everything. In fact, it is quite an accomplishment to even get half of the country to agree on anything. Our differences, and our ability to maintain this union in spite of them, are some of our country’s greatest strengths.

President Obama laid out a strong and positive vision for how people of faith, and the nation as a whole, can work together to face the most difficult moral questions of our time in both disagreement and unity. If you have not yet read the speech, I urge that you do.


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National Day of Prayer

The Praying Hands
Image via Wikipedia

Today is the National Day of Prayer.

In the past, I’ve thought of this as a good thing, and in some ways I still do. I mean, it’s prayer, and I’m for prayer.  So that’s good.

But this morning, I read an interesting post by a baptist pastor that got me thinking about things in a new light.

Here’s the official press release:

Baptist group says National Day of Prayer is misguided and unnecessary
Day of prayer more appropriately called for by pastors, rabbis and imams

WASHINGTON — Congress’ official designation and the President’s predictable proclamation of a National Day of prayer is misguided and unnecessary, says a Washington, D.C.-based church-state organization.

J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said “it is not the government’s job to tell the American people what, where or when to pray or even if they should pray.”

In 1952, Congress passed a joint resolution, signed by President Harry Truman, setting aside one day a year for prayer. Since then, presidents have proclaimed a day for prayer annually observed on the first Thursday of May. The administration has announced President Obama will sign a proclamation but will not hold an event this year.

“There is nothing wrong with the American people getting together to pray on a designated day, even public officials,” Walker said. “In fact every day should be a day of national prayer. President Obama, like others before him, welcomes prayers for our country and its leadership. He has expressed his personal appreciation for such support, and people of faith feel called to pray for our country.

“The problem with the National Day of Prayer is that it is an official act of the government urging citizens to engage in a religious exercise,” Walker said.

Walker said people of faith do not require the government’s stamp of approval for their religious practices.

“A day of prayer is more appropriately called for by pastors, rabbis and imams among us — not civil magistrates, Congress, or even an American president.”

What do you guys think? Is the National Day of Prayer a violation of the First Amendment? And even if it is, should that prohibit Christians from endorsing it?

I’ll start the conversation by saying that I agree with the press release completely. The government shouldn’t be in the business of endorsing national days of religious observance. If you disagree, tell me why I’m wrong.

(via RELIGION Blog | The Dallas Morning News)

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