Showing posts with label evangelizing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label evangelizing. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A War With Words

The political and media elites are going out of their way to portray Christian moral teaching as bigotry. The defense of the teaching on contraception was infamously labeled as “a war on women.” The teaching on homosexual acts is labeled as “homophobia. And of course, if you oppose abortion, you only care about life from “conception to birth.”

Meanwhile, these elites say that, to avoid biased language, they will not use terms that could sway people towards opposing abortion… but use terms calculated to sway people towards favoring it. Abortion is a “woman’s right.” When the media discusses it, you can be sure that the picture will feature pro-abortion signs. Meanwhile, homosexual acts are an alternative but equally acceptable lifestyle.

The result is a “heads they win, tails we lose” situation where the proponents of behavior incompatible with Christianity is portrayed as normal while Christian teaching is portrayed as bigotry. Then, after decades of propaganda, the elites profess to be pleasantly surprised to “learn” that an increasing number of Christians are becoming “enlightened” and rejecting “outdated norms.” There’s nothing surprising about it. If a Catholic doesn’t seek to understand why the Church teaches as she does, he or she will probably fall for the straw man arguments used by the elites to attack our teachings. And if elites can lead the masses to think that the teaching is based on bigotry while combining it with distorted negative stories [§] about Christianity (see HERE for a 2013 article I wrote about this), hostility is a natural result. It’s a standard tactic of totalitarian dictatorships.

Unfortunately, there’s very little we can do from a worldly perspective. Those who hate our teachings have a much wider reach and a much larger budget for spreading their attacks than we do for responding with truth. So, from a worldly perspective, the lies will travel further and faster than the truth. This should not surprise us. As Our Lord warned us in John 15:18–21,

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me.

But our powerlessness by the standards of the world does not mean giving up in despair. By worldly standards, it’s hopeless. But we are not limited to worldly power. In our own limited ways, we can spread a little bit of truth, telling people, “No, that is not what we believe, we believe this.” Whether in conversation, or on social media, on blogs, podcasts, YouTube, etc., we can reach out to a few people and possibly change their minds through the grace of God.

But, if we want to do this, we must do four things:
  1. Pray always for those in error.
  2. Make sure what we say and write follows the teachings of the Church and shows respect for those tasked to lead her.
  3. Speak with charity towards those who spread error.
  4. We have to act too, not just “let Father do it.”
I think we’re all tempted to drop one or more of these things. We forget about praying and that God is ultimately in charge. We behave as if the Church has problems and forget obedience, leading others to question why they should obey. We speak rudely, and alienate not only those we are disputing but also those watching our exchange. We expect the priests, bishops, and Popes to do everything, and forget about the individual witness we can bring in small communities.

It won’t be swift, but remember: it took close to 300 years for Christians to convert the Roman Empire. Our efforts won’t be once for all. The Church still has to continuously speak out against recidivism and new errors. But if we do these four things, we might find that God allows our actions to bear fruit, a little bit at a time, bringing people away from error and too truth. Our small effort might turn out to be like the loaves and fishes a child offered to Our Lord… and were turned into something far greater.


[§] That’s not to deny that some Christians have done evil. But it is interesting that those condemning the Church for her teachings always bring them up (tu quoque) as if the sins of some disqualified her from teaching.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Focus, People...

So, Catholics on social media spent a week savaging each other. Rhetoric ramped up and charity was rather scarce. But the case everybody was fighting over was the opportunity, not the cause, for our civil war to erupt. Whether conservative or liberal, Catholics had a whole list of topics they were already fighting over. This incident merely gave everybody an excuse to ramp up the vitriol, accusing people who took the opposing side of everything wrong with the world. OK, fine. Both sides worry about how people are behaving . . . but the problem is, people take offense because it’s their heroes or causes getting targeted, and they’re willing to use the same tactics against their enemies. But since I already wrote about that, I won’t carry that any further. 

The problem is, while we’ve been having our civil war, we’ve been neglecting the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Fighting over who is being most loathsome on social media is not leading others to Christ. In fact, it’s probably doing more to drive people away and lead them to think we don’t practice what we preach. My question is this: What are we doing to carry out our mandate as Catholic Christians, and how does our online behavior advance it?

No, this post isn’t going to be one about “Spend Less Time On The Internet!” The Church has recognized the value of media and the rapid advances made in the 20th and 21st centuries, and encourages Catholics to make use of it to evangelize the world. As Benedict XVI put it:

Among the new forms of mass communication, nowadays we need to recognize the increased role of the internet, which represents a new forum for making the Gospel heard. Yet we also need to be aware that the virtual world will never be able to replace the real world, and that evangelization will be able to make use of the virtual world offered by the new media in order to create meaningful relationships only if it is able to offer the personal contact which remains indispensable. In the world of the internet, which enables billions of images to appear on millions of screens throughout the world, the face of Christ needs to be seen and his voice heard, for “if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man”  [Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini #113].

So, when we spend time on social media, we need to ask ourselves how we’re making known the face and voice of Christ in our words and actions. That doesn’t mean we’re doing wrong when we share stupid puns and other things. But in what we say and do, we have to consider the message we send. Assuming it’s not a morally neutral area, like cute cat pictures, we need to ask: Does it advance the Kingdom of God? Or does it drive people away? I think the difference between the first and the last is whether the message or the tone shares the Christian teaching and/or shows Christian love and charity, or whether it shows things against what the Church teaches or treats people in a way which is against the command to love our neighbor as ourself.

As always, this is not a case of only conservatives being to blame or only liberals being to blame. It’s about Christians behaving like the rest of the world (see Galatians 5:20). The problem is, Christians are not supposed to be like the rest of the world and have a disordered love for it. We’re called to be the Light of the World, Salt of the Earth, the City on a Hill (Matthew 5:13-16). It’s not just about converting people, but converting cultures as well. The problem is, it’s easy for us to become corrupted if we forget our task as Christians.

Now I’m no bishop with the authority to bind and loose. All I can do is point to our call as Christians to follow the Church because we believe she is the Church established by Christ. All I can do is encourage people to deeply consider what Our Lord has called us to be and contrast that with what we actually are. If we find it is different. That’s a wakeup call to repent and turn back to the Lord. It’s not my task to tell you, the reader, where your flaws are. Most of you, I never met face to face. How would I know what your sins are? I only know you have flaws because, like me, you’re a human being and therefore a sinner. So all I can do is urge you to look to the Church to form your conscience and see where you need to change.

Because this isn’t about winning a Facebook argument. This is about the salvation of souls—ours and others. As St. Paul said:

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Cor 13:1)

If we don’t have love for each other, we can’t witness the Christian message to the world. If we can’t witness the Christian message, people won’t respond to the Great Commission. Obviously we argue about the faith because we think it is important. So we need to consider the ultimate goal when we consider how we should act. Our focus should be on God and on following His Church to bring people knowledge of Our Lord and His command to follow Him.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Reflections on Mercy and Justice

Last judgment(The Last Judgment—Fra Angelico)

Mercy has been the theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate, and it has been badly misunderstood. Many people see Mercy and Justice as polar opposites, thinking that an emphasis on mercy means a belief that God will not punish and that the Pope will change Church teaching and no longer call sin a sin. The people who hold this view fall into two camps—those who think this is a good thing and those who think it is a bad thing. Neither group asks whether they got it wrong in the first place.

We call God merciful because He constantly calls us back to Him, always willing to accept our repentance, even if we struggle with habitual sin. But he doesn’t violate our free will in doing so. That’s where justice comes in, giving a person his due. The person who spurns God’s mercy or acts presumptuously by assuming God will forgive whether we repent or not will eventually face judgment for refusing to heed God’s pleas and warnings.

As each of us is a sinner, each one of us needs God’s mercy. As God tells us that the merciless person will not be shown mercy (Matthew 18:33, James 2:13), we need to show mercy to each other when we are wronged. We can’t turn a person away who seeks our forgiveness. If we want God’s mercy to be limitless, we cannot put limits on our own. But there is another side to the coin. Mercy involves forgiving the repentant and providing a way for the sinner to turn back. But it does not mean excusing the sin as if it was not a sin.

To seek mercy is to humbly recognize one’s wrongdoing and intend to change to the best of their ability and assisted by grace. If we refuse to admit we do wrong, we’re not seeking mercy. We’re demanding that the Church condone our actions. It’s saying “I’ve done nothing wrong—you’re wrong for insisting on this teaching!” Since we Catholics believe the Church only teaches on right and wrong because of the mandate and responsibility Our Lord gave, to demand the Church change her teaching from “X is a sin” to “X is not a sin” is to reject God’s teaching (see Luke 10:16).

And that’s where God’s justice comes into play. He offers us every chance to change our ways, and every grace to do so. But if we refuse the opportunities and the graces, if we refuse to listen and choose to do what is evil in His sight, we will answer for it. We have an immortal soul. After we die, we will eternally go some place. If we have sought to be faithful to him, cooperating with His grace, and do not have unrepented mortal sins on our conscience, we will go to Heaven (whether directly or through purgatory first). If we put ourselves first and willingly live against His commands, we will go to Hell. That sounds blunt, but our Lord put it bluntly too:

25 You say, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair? Are not your ways unfair? 26 When the just turn away from justice to do evil and die, on account of the evil they did they must die. 27 But if the wicked turn from the wickedness they did and do what is right and just, they save their lives; 28 since they turned away from all the sins they committed, they shall live; they shall not die. 29 But the house of Israel says, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” Is it my way that is not fair, house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not fair? (Ezekiel 18:25–29)

Our ways are not fair because we want Cheap Grace. We want the right to live as we please and then go to Heaven. But that is an impossibility. If we want to go to Heaven, we need to live as God calls us to live. God will give us the grace to do so, and provides us with the sacraments—including the Sacrament of Penance for when we fall short. But He won’t force us to change our ways. We have to respond to His call and His grace.

So that brings us to the tension between the Christian and the world. We’re called to evangelize the world (see 1 Corinthians 9:16), bringing people knowledge of God and His gift of salvation, and how to follow His ways (Matthew 28:20). But because that involves telling people they do wrong, people respond with hostility. We’re bigots and judgmental in their eyes because we tell them what they practice is evil and not good.

Yes, some Christians do behave wrongly. They seem to relish a kind of vengeance where wrongdoers suffer, and they seem to take satisfaction in the belief that their enemies are going to go to Hell. They get outraged at the thought that the sinners might get to Heaven before they do (Matthew 21:31). But these are Christians who fail to do what God tells them to do. They are an aberration. But warning sinners to change so they are not excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven is not that kind of behavior.

If we want mercy from God, we must show mercy (Matthew 7:2). That means forgiving those who wrong us, and it means keeping the door open for people to reach God. Of course, this is something greater than we are. God is the one who brings people to salvation. But we can’t view ourselves as bouncers at the door, deciding who’s good enough to get in. The criminal, the unscrupulous politician, or (perhaps hardest of all) the person we can’t stand are all called by God. We should desire their salvation. That means speaking the truth with love. We don’t compromise on doing what is right, but we also don’t get so caught up in our own views, that we keep people away who are earnestly seeking God and want to turn to Him with their whole heart.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Mercy and Misconceptions

On one of the Catholic news sites out there, I was involved in a debate with another reader about the issue of divorce and remarriage. This individual argued that the Church, in confirming that remarriage after divorce (as opposed to receiving an annulment first) is morally wrong, was ignoring the words of Our Lord concerning the parable of the lost sheep. In other words, this individual was asserting that to show mercy to the divorced and remarried, the Church had to stop teaching their actions were sinful and needed to admit them to Communion.

This kind of thinking confuses mercy with tolerating a lack of restraint, and misses the point of what mercy is. It seeks to assuage the conscience of the sinner by telling him or her that their actions are not even sins at all. The Church is accused of being merciless because she will not change herself when people demand that she stop saying things are sins. The reason she will not is because she cannot contradict God’s commands without being faithless to God. When God commands that we do X or avoid Y, the Church cannot permit us to avoid doing X or permit us to do Y. As Our Lord said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

For the person who seeks to know, love and serve God, we have an obligation to seek out what is right and live in accordance with it. When we find a commandment difficult, and we don’t understand why it is commanded, we are shown our task: To seek to understand why it is commanded, not to ignore it as too hard. The problem is we are used to having our way and seeking ways to justify our behavior before man, assuming that God will not punish those who choose to do what He forbade.

The mercy which God shows us can be demonstrated this way. God does not exact instantaneous punishment on us for doing what is evil. Instead He warns us of the dangers of sin, encourages turning back to Him, giving us the grace to respond. If we do respond (for grace is a gift we can refuse), He welcomes us back with open arms. If we refuse to respond, He continues to call us. Our Lord's mercy is not to tell people "It is OK to sin" or to say that what was once a sin is no longer one. It is to call people back from sin and to heal the relationship with them.But the person who refuses to heal that relationship is actually refusing the mercy Our Lord offers. The Church cannot change that reality and she cannot pretend to change that reality without being faithless to God.

So why does God command us to be merciful and to forgive? The answer is that He forbids us to behave in such a way that refuses to give mercy to the penitent and refuses to be God’s means of reaching out to the sinner. He forbids us from considering any person irredeemable. Nor can we refuse to forgive the person who has wronged us or refuse to make amends with the person we have wronged. Our task is to seek the redemption of the sinner or the person who wrongs us, not their damnation. God’s laws are made to show us how to live. Ultimately, if we reject these laws, we will face His judgment. We do have until the moment of our death to repent, but none of us know the day nor the hour of our death, so now is the time of respond to His mercy, and now is the time to be vessels of His mercy.

On the other and, when being vessels of mercy, we of course need to remember that we ourselves are in need of mercy. That means showing love and compassion for our fellow sinners who may sin in different ways than we do. We need to remember that we fall every day and are in need of Our Lord’s grace and forgiveness. That should shape how we approach others. Belittling or mocking others will probably drive them away. Nobody wants to be treated in that way, and we should ask if our attempts at humor might actually be counterproductive.

To offer a personal example, consider this account of a joke told by a Protestant minister at an interfaith meeting:

“I read a story some time ago about a man who visited the Pope. He looked around and observed the splendor and wealth of the Vatican. The Pope noticed his amazement and said laughingly, ‘We cannot say anymore that we have no silver and no gold.’ And the man answered, ‘Neither can you say, “Rise up and walk!”’” There was laughter from some in the audience, and I hoped it would break the tension.

Andrew, Brother; Al Janssen (2004-09-01). Light Force: A Stirring Account of the Church Caught in the Middle East Crossfire (p. 215). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

My response to reading this part of the book was a mental middle finger and cost him some of the respect I previously had for him. Such attempts at humor are going to turn off the people who are the butt of the joke. If one wants to offer a fraternal rebuke over what they see as wrongdoing, things like sarcasm and perceived mockery are going to drive people away. Obviously, Brother Andrew was not intending to be offensive to Catholics (though I think his writings display some casual prejudice in that area). But his tone was counterproductive to some he might have otherwise convinced in a good cause.

Now of course the offended person has to practice forgiveness as Our Lord commanded. When someone behaves badly, we have to move beyond it and seek the truth. But people are human beings with feelings that can be hurt and fears that need to be considered. So in this case, I had to work past a bad joke that implied that the Church was worldly and no longer carrying out her mission to consider the merits of his book, but his book would have been more effective if he had omitted the wisecrack.

In a similar way, we have to consider how we present our message as God’s tools to present His mercy. Do we show compassion for their fears and sufferings, even if we must say “No” to the desire to treat sin as morally acceptable? Or do we bear false witness by leading people to think “Christians are jerks”?

Unfortunately, despite the tone we take, some will just take offense simply by the fact that we say X is a sin. Americans really tend to fall for the “Either-Or” fallacy, where if we don’t support one view, we are assumed to support the opposite. So, for example, if we oppose “same sex marriage,” we are accused of supporting all of the wrongs done to persons with a same sex attraction. Or of we oppose divorce and remarriage, we are accused of wanting to trap people in an unhappy, abusive, (insert negative description here) marriage. So if we stand for the Christian definition of marriage, we are accused of “hating homosexuals” and “not caring” about the suffering of people in broken marriages.

Obviously when we defend the teaching of Our Lord as passed on by the Church, we can’t help it if one takes offense at the teaching. But we have to be sure that the way we present that teaching is not a stumbling block.

Moreover, we have to avoid being avenging angels. We’re not like the Greek “Furies” who pursued the wrongdoers with vengeance all their lives with the intent to punish. We have to make clear that our concern is one of love and wellbeing as opposed to “vanquish the heathen!” Pope Francis used the image of the Church as field hospital—we’re here to save those people who have been wounded by sin, not throw them out the door because they’re not healed.

However, just as in medicine, saving the wounded does not mean telling the man with diabetes to continue doing the things that led to the disease, saving the spiritually wounded does not mean telling the sinner to continue to sin. Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, but He still told her “Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.” (John 8:11).

So it’s a balancing act. We cannot give sanction to sin, and we cannot act like jerks when reaching out to the sinner. Some may refuse to accept the mercy God offers because that mercy tells them that what they want is killing them, but we still have to love them, even when they hate us and remember that ultimately God will judge both them and us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Thoughts on Catholic Teaching and anti-Muslim Attitudes

Preliminary Note

In this day and age people tend to fall into “either-or” thinking where a person who disagrees with a position is automatically assumed to support any abuse or bad behavior that is alleged to come from the opposite position. For example, the allegation that a person who opposes a certain restriction on gun ownership is guilty of enabling whatever mass shooting should come along. It is dangerous thinking and allows a demagogue to bully people or slander someone who thinks differently.

I make this point because this article, talking about some troublesome attitudes towards Muslims, is going to probably result in somebody claiming that I am ignorant of or indifferent to the sufferings of innocent people at the hands of radical Muslims or that I am taking a “one religion is as good as another approach.” Both accusations would be false.

I profess the truth of Christianity and profess that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Our Lord. Because Islam professes that Jesus Christ was merely a man, of course I cannot accept Islam as true. Unlike many, I’ve read the Quran. However, I cannot believe it is Revelation. It’s largely a circular argument invoking the authority of Muhammad to claim authority for the Quran and invoking the authority of the Quran to claim authority for Muhammad. In addition, it speaks wrongly about what Christians believe—error being something one would not expect to be found in a “divine text."

However, the fact that we who are Christian believe Islam teaches error does not give us the right to speak falsely about Muslims, nor to treat them as being less human than the rest of us—and these are things that are commonly being done. Since the Catechism makes clear that we are not allowed to mistreat others, when it teaches...

1934 Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity. (225)

1935 The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it: (357)

Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.

 Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 469–470. is clear that we cannot discriminate against individual Muslims on the basis of our repugnance for radical Islam or for cultural practices in the Middle East. In other words, just because we believe their religion to be wrong that is not a justification for treating individual Muslims wrongly.


It’s no secret that with the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, combined with the atrocities of ISIS and Boko Haran over the past few years, people are focussing on one common denominator that they all share. That shared characteristic is a belief in Islam. Because of this, many Americans support politicians who propose restrictions on Muslims coming to America. The basic motive behind this reaction is the need to be safe. The need to be safe is not wrong in itself. However, when people fear, they often behave irrationally. When they behave irrationally, they sometimes do injustice in the quest for security.

Matters are not helped when the government gives the impression of ignoring the legitimate concerns as if they had no intention of addressing these concerns (for example, the President’s barb about his opponents being afraid of orphans and widows). The government does have the obligation to ensure the well-being of residents of the nation and if they do not, or appear to be indifferent, people begin to look to politicians who  promise simple solutions without considering whether there are any negative consequences.

Moreover, when a group is unpopular, people tend to scapegoat it and point to the worst elements within the group as if it was the central characteristic of that group. We have a bad habit of doing this in America—the equating of all African Americans with violent crime, equating all Hispanics with illegal immigration, equating all Irish immigrants with drunkenness and crime, equating all Japanese with being fifth columnists, and now equating all Muslims with terrorism.

But the problem with this association is nobody asks whether the claim that all Muslims think this way is true. Instead people assume that being a member of this group opens them up to suspicion of having the characteristics of the worst members. To avoid being a target of suspicion, an individual of this group has to prove their innocence—but that person will never be able to prove their innocence. The good members of the group are seen as “haven’t done anything…yet."

Muslims are Not a Bloc

This is made worse by the fact that people don’t know much about Islam, but think they know more than they do. There are people who think Muslims are a menace to our security and have never read the Quran (I have), but often misquote a fragment of Sura 9:5 (“slay unbelievers wherever you find them”) to justify their fear. They assume that the faithful Muslim is a Quran literalist in the same sense as a Christian Bible literalist and then say that to be a faithful Muslim, one must obey everything it commands. To put it in a syllogism: 

  1. A devout Muslim must carry out everything the Quran teaches.
  2. The Quran professes that Muslims must slay unbelievers.
  3. Therefore a devout Muslim must slay unbelievers. 

Such thinking assumes that Islam is a monolith in which everyone who professes to believe Islam is true believes and practices in the same way. However Christianity and Judaism do not have this thinking. Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants all profess a belief in God and Jesus Christ as God but differ widely in how they believe the Christian faith ought to be practiced. Now obviously contradictions cannot all be true and objectively some of these groups will profess error. I am a Catholic because I believe the Catholic Church to be the Church established by Our Lord. But if I assumed that all Christians recognized what Catholics believed I would be surprised.

Likewise, Judaism has Orthodox, Conservative and Reform branches. They have some different ideas on what it means to be a Jew and disapprove of the other branches where they disagree. Buddhism has different schools of thought on how it should be practiced. People recognize these divisions and don’t assume that all Christians, all Jews and all Buddhists are marching in lockstep within their beliefs.

But when it comes to Islam, it is assumed that all Muslims think alike and that the behavior of terrorists and anti-American Imams are representative of what Islam is supposed to be. People barely are aware of Sunni vs. Shiite, let alone groups like Wahhabism and Sufi. They don’t recognize that the range of interpretation of how to be a “good Muslim” is just as diverse as the range of interpretation on how to be a good Christian or a good Jew. I have had encounters with Muslims who told me that they believed Wahhabism to be heretical in its interpretation of the Quran.

Obligation to Seek and Speak the Truth

Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not advocating indifferentism where it doesn’t matter what one believes. Obviously it does matter. If Jesus Christ is the Son of God (and I profess He is), then religions that deny this are in error. The obligation to know, love and serve God requires to seek Him and follow Him as He wills, not as we will. However, God wills that we follow Him by speaking truth and not to bear false witness against those who are in error.

I don’t think False Witness is limited to a direct lie. I believe it also involves spreading negative claims about a person or group without checking whether it is true or not. I’m sure my fellow Catholics have experienced anti-Catholic claims that we know are false but have been repeated ever since the emergence of Protestantism in the 16th century. We resent these falsehoods being made about us and we resent it when anti-Catholics allege that bad behavior that we reject try to portray that bad behavior as the norm for Christianity. We know that an individual reading Catholic writings without understanding them can lead one to draw a wrong conclusion.

So why do we assume that when faced with a fragment of one Sura in the Quran that we interpret it correctly without knowing the context? In fact, the fragment of Sura 9:5 actually needs to be seen in the context of 9:1-6:

Surah 9—Repentance

1.A (declaration) of immunity from Allah and His Apostle, to those of the Pagans with whom ye have contracted mutual alliances—

2.Go ye, then, for four months, backwards and forwards, (as ye will), throughout the land, but know ye that ye cannot frustrate Allah (by your falsehood) but that Allah will cover with shame those who reject Him.

3.And an announcement from Allah and His Apostle, to the people (assembled) on the day of the Great Pilgrimage—that Allah and His Apostle dissolve (treaty) obligations with the Pagans. If then, ye repent, it were best for you; but if ye turn away, know ye that ye cannot frustrate Allah. And proclaim a grievous penalty to those who reject Faith.

4.(But the treaties are) not dissolved with those Pagans with whom ye have entered into alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor aided any one against you. So fulfil your engagements with them to the end of their term: for Allah loveth the righteous.

5.But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

6.If one amongst the Pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah; and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge.

 Abdullah Yusuf Ali, trans., “The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an,” 2004.

Some Muslims see the adjoining verses as requiring them to treat fairly with the pagans who treat fairly with them and thus condemn the radical interpretation of jihad. Now I am not going to take a side and say “Muhammad intended this Sura to be interpreted as XYZ…” But I do think it is important that there are many different ways which these verses are interpreted by people who consider themselves to be faithful Muslims. Therefore, we cannot assume that the interpretation given by radical Muslims is held universally by all Muslims.

Are Our American Attitudes Interfering with Our Christian Obligation?

There is much more I could have written about the “All Muslims think alike” belief. But hopefully this will suffice to help people think about the common assumptions today. Since this is a Catholic blog, I do want to discuss some concerns that these attitudes bring to mind. The question that comes to mind is this: When we voice the popular American views, do we bear witness to our faith? Or do we bear false witness by leading non-Catholics to decide we are jerks and they want no part of what we profess? Pope Francis addressed this in his Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium when he wrote:

99. Our world is being torn apart by wars and violence, and wounded by a widespread individualism which divides human beings, setting them against one another as they pursue their own well-being. In various countries, conflicts and old divisions from the past are re-emerging. I especially ask Christians in communities throughout the world to offer a radiant and attractive witness of fraternal communion. Let everyone admire how you care for one another, and how you encourage and accompany one another: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). This was Jesus’ heartfelt prayer to the Father: “That they may all be one … in us … so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21). Beware of the temptation of jealousy! We are all in the same boat and headed to the same port! Let us ask for the grace to rejoice in the gifts of each, which belong to all.

100. Those wounded by historical divisions find it difficult to accept our invitation to forgiveness and reconciliation, since they think that we are ignoring their pain or are asking them to give up their memory and ideals. But if they see the witness of authentically fraternal and reconciled communities, they will find that witness luminous and attractive. It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, even to persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?

 Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013), 79–80.

Will the message of salvation be heard if our witness is one of hostility and treating those who are different unequally? Or, if one will not hear the Pope, perhaps they will hear the Word of Our Lord?

“But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [is] that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. 35 But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful. 


 New American Bible, Revised Edition (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Luke 6:27–36.

Our Lord’s teaching sometimes pushes us in uncomfortable ways. Loving our enemies is certainly a part of that uncomfortable push. No, we’re not obligated to seek out martyrdom. But we are not allowed to use our fear as an excuse not to follow Our Lord’s teaching. Certainly God does not desire the destruction of Muslims. He desires us to help them both in physical need and in their need for Christ. But if we look at them all with the suspicion of being mass murderers and change our laws to treat them unequally because of our fear, will they be able to see Christ in us? Or will our faith be derided because of our actions?


The Christian edict to love our enemies does not mean we are forbidden from defending ourselves from those who would harm us. But we’re not to punish the good and the evil alike. Those who are innocent are not to be punished for sharing an affiliation with the guilty. We would reject attempts to link all priests with those who committed sexual abuse. We would reject all attempts to link all pro-lifers with those who committed murders at abortion clinics. We reject such claims because they attempt to claim that the evil done by some are a characteristic of the whole. In other words, we deny that those who did evil represent what it means to be Catholic or pro-life respectively.

We should likewise realize that not all Muslims think the way the radicals do and actually resent the insinuation that they do. They also resent being treated as if they are simply terrorists who haven’t acted yet. If we would reach out to Muslims of good will and dialogue with them, perhaps bringing them over to a true understanding of Our Lord, then we need to avoid behaving in a way which causes scandal by leading them to think Christians hate them.

When it comes to seeking out the right policies to deal with terrorism and the right leaders to implement them, let us remember our duty as Christians to evangelize the whole world. Do our political beliefs drown out the message Jesus wants us to teach?

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Church Will Survive...But We Have Work To Do

The Internet is full of people gloating over what they see as the defeat of the Catholic Church. Ireland, being long seen as a bastion of Catholicism, has voted for “same sex marriage” (62% voting yes) and the critics of the Church think this is a win-win situation. In their mind, either the Church changes her teaching and becomes what they want her to be or she refuses and goes extinct. In other words, they get what they want either way. At the same time, there are a lot of Catholics are looking for someone to blame. There are accusations being leveled that if the Church had done things differently, this would not have happened. In other words, both sides seem to look at this as a permanent loss for the Church.

There is no doubt that the implications of this vote are serious. Catholics have become so uninformed about that their faith that they think they can reject Church teaching as if it was an opinion, or even that it is compatible with the “greater truths” of the faith—as if Catholicism could be compartmentalized or one part set against another. But despite this apostasy in Ireland, this is not the “end of the Church.” Not universally, and not in Ireland (which Catholic bloggers love to ask as headlines).

The Church has faced setbacks and attacks all throughout her history where rulers or people turned on her. At one time the majority of the Roman Empire chose the Arian heresy over the Catholic faith. England turned on the Catholic Church during the Reformation. Japan expelled all missionaries and sought to exterminate the faith during the 16th century. France turned on the Church during the Revolution. Anti-clerical forces attacked the Church in Italy (19th century) and Mexico (20th century). 

The Church has always survived and continued to preach the Gospel. That doesn’t mean that everything turns out peachy in the end. Sometimes the relationship of the Church with the people of a nation is permanently altered as a result (England once was a solidly Catholic nation for example). But the Church will survive.

That doesn’t mean we can take the attitude of “God’s going to win, so lets sit back and wait” however. The fact that 62% of the Irish voters approved of something completely incompatible with the Catholic faith shows that a lot of hard work needs to be done there to bring the message of Christ back to the people. It’s not just Ireland for that matter. Even though, in America, the imposition of “same sex” marriage” is largely done by judicial diktat, the fact remains that there is a growing number of people who have been deceived into thinking this is good and the Christian teaching is based on “hatred.” It’s remarkably similar to how the ancient Romans thought Christians were the enemies of humanity (which I suspect we’re not all that far away from again).

It means Catholics have to abandon the attitude of “Let Father/The Bishop/The Pope do it!” No. Every one of us is called in the role of Priest, Prophet and King” to go out and evangelize the whole world. The people of the world have been deceived into thinking self interest can be labeled as good and virtue can be labeled as judgmentalism and hate. So we need to start again, teaching people that sin exists and we need Jesus as our savior—which includes going and sinning no more (John 8:11).

This may seem to be a hardship. But read the lives of saints throughout history. They spent their lives laboring in the vineyard of the Lord despite tedium or hostility. That’s our task as well. Some of us may suffer martyrdom. Some of us may be persecuted in other ways. This is not something new to the history of the Catholic Church. But we need to stop pointing fingers at others in blame. We need to stop expecting others to do the task. We need to pray to be shown our own task, and then carry it out—in communion with the Pope and bishops to go out to the whole world preaching the good news (Matthew 28:18-20)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Do Not Tax Collectors Do the Same?


Sermon on the Mount(“You have heard that it was said…”)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors* do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?* 48 So be perfect,* just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)


When the Vatican announced the importance of continuing to dialogue with Muslims, (see Is dialogue with Islam possible? Yes, and it's needed now more than ever, Vatican says :: Catholic News Agency (CNA) for the story), there was a strong reaction from some individuals on Facebook who were no doubt responding with the barbarities of ISIS in mind. These individuals said things to the effect that the Vatican was living in a dream world. Some of them took the rhetoric further, calling Muslims in general “animals” and “children of Satan.” Some say that any Muslim speaking about peace is a liar because of what the Qur’an says.

These individuals were not part of the “New Atheism” who bear a hatred for anything religious. No, they were Catholics who were angry at the thought of Muslims being treated in any way other than with an iron fist because of the barbaric behavior against Christians. They viewed any reaching out to Muslims in dialogue in this case as capitulation or religious indifferentism—basically ignoring the suffering of Christians. Some even go so far as to declare that we do not need to reach out to Muslims because they have "knowingly rejected Christ."

Preliminary Notes That Shouldn’t Have To Be Said

I shouldn’t have to profess my faith as a preliminary, but many people fall for the either-or fallacy and assume that the opposite of being hostile to Muslims is to profess their beliefs. So I have to preempt accusations by stating where I stand:

I am a member of the Catholic Church through the grace of God, being baptized as an infant. I choose to remain in the Catholic Church because I believe she is the Church established by Christ. I fully accept the Nicene Creed and profess a belief in God as Trinity. I recognize the authority of the Church to teach and seek to obey what the Church has taught. I recognize that the leadership of the Church is given to the Pope and the bishops as the successors of St. Peter and the Apostles.

Because I believe that truth cannot contradict truth, and because Christianity and Islam contradict each other on the nature of Our Lord Jesus Christ, it logically follows that I cannot accept Islam as being true—because I believe Jesus is God, I cannot accept claims from the Qur’an which claims He is no more than a human prophet. I have read the Qur’an, but I do not believe it is a divinely inspired book in any way.

Hopefully this should preempt any false accusations that I am religiously indifferent or secretly holding Muslim beliefs.

Islamophobia vs. Opposing Wrong Done By Certain Muslims

I’m on record as saying the -phobia label is used to vilify people for opposing acts as being morally wrong. That’s also part of the either-or fallacy in the sense of “Either you accept us as equally valid or you’re a bigot.” One can oppose something as being morally wrong without hating the person who is affiliated with such a group. It is the failure to recognize this fact that has made America such a dangerous place to speak publicly. Not dangerous in the sense of “mobs killing you for saying the wrong thing” (or at least not yet), but dangerous in the sense of “you can lose your job, be sued or be prosecuted if someone dislikes what you say."

The danger of classifying any opposition as a -phobia is that it makes it difficult for people to openly discuss the issues of what is true and what is false. Nowadays this is seen as “intolerance.”

That being said, it is possible for individuals to lose sight of the difference between those who do evil and “guilt by association.” Those people do simply hate a person for what group or category they fall under. That mindset is wrong in the eyes of the Catholic Church. We are to love the person who wrongs us, and to forgive—because God has forgiven us for our wrongs:

21 Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 *Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. 23 That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. 24 *When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. 25 Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. 26 *At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ 27 Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. 28 When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount.* He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. 31 Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. 32 His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. 33 Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ 34 Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.* 35 * So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35)

So, when a Catholic is hostile to another solely on the grounds of his or her existence in a group (as opposed to saying an act is wrong, but still loving the person who commits it) and feels they should not be shown any human decency, such a person is not behaving as they are supposed to behave as Catholic Christians. 

Catholics May Not Hate or Wish Evil on Anyone—They Must Forgive and Seek to Bring People to Christ

It is acceptable to be angry at injustice. It is acceptable to want evil to be stopped. It is also acceptable for Christians to defend themselves from attackers. However, we are forbidden to hate those who persecute us. Hatred is the wanting of evil to befall a person. If someone wrongs us, we are required to forgive them, and continue to seek their good. As the Catechism says:

2844 Christian prayer extends to the forgiveness of enemies, transfiguring the disciple by configuring him to his Master. Forgiveness is a high-point of Christian prayer; only hearts attuned to God’s compassion can receive the gift of prayer. Forgiveness also bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin. The martyrs of yesterday and today bear this witness to Jesus. Forgiveness is the fundamental condition of the reconciliation of the children of God with their Father and of men with one another.145 (2262)

That means when people hate us and want to harm us, we cannot hope for disaster to befall them and their families. We are to pray for their conversion and reach out to them. This isn’t just some “Vatican II invention” or modern naïveté. The history of our Church witnesses to it. Consider this portion of today’s First Reading (4/24/15):

10 There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is there praying, 12 and [in a vision] he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay [his] hands on him, that he may regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, 16 and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house; laying his hands on him, he said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized, 19 and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength. He stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. (Acts 9:10-20)

Just ask, what would have happened if Ananias had decided that Saul of Tarsus was a “child of Satan” and refused to go to him? What if the early Christians had refused to go to the pagan Romans who persecuted them? The fact is, God has called us to go out to the whole world (28:18-20), and He did not make any exceptions allowing us to pick and choose who we reach out to.

On Dialogue

Dialogue is defined as “a discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed toward exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem.” When conflicts arise, it is easier to get a solution by discussing how to deal with them without resorting to violence. It is also part of the requirement of missionary activity, as the Catechism says:

856 The missionary task implies a respectful dialogue with those who do not yet accept the Gospel. Believers can profit from this dialogue by learning to appreciate better “those elements of truth and grace which are found among peoples, and which are, as it were, a secret presence of God.” They proclaim the Good News to those who do not know it, in order to consolidate, complete, and raise up the truth and the goodness that God has distributed among men and nations, and to purify them from error and evil “for the glory of God, the confusion of the demon, and the happiness of man.”361 (839; 843)

St. John Paul II wrote:

55. Inter-religious dialogue is a part of the Church’s evangelizing mission. Understood as a method and means of mutual knowledge and enrichment, dialogue is not in opposition to the mission ad gentes; indeed, it has special links with that mission and is one of its expressions. This mission, in fact, is addressed to those who do not know Christ and his Gospel, and who belong for the most part to other religions. In Christ, God calls all peoples to himself and he wishes to share with them the fullness of his revelation and love. He does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression, even when they contain “gaps, insufficiencies and errors.” All of this has been given ample emphasis by the Council and the subsequent Magisterium, without detracting in any way from the fact that salvation comes from Christ and that dialogue does not dispense from evangelization.

In the light of the economy of salvation, the Church sees no conflict between proclaiming Christ and engaging in interreligious dialogue. Instead, she feels the need to link the two in the context of her mission ad gentes. These two elements must maintain both their intimate connection and their distinctiveness; therefore they should not be confused, manipulated or regarded as identical, as though they were interchangeable. (Redemptoris Missio 55)

In other words, it is far better to carry out the mission activity of the Church when relations between Christians and non-Christians is peaceful than it is over gunfire.


To the people who call the Muslims “animals” or “children of Satan,” who reject dialogue with them, I ask you this? Are we or are we not called to evangelize all nations? The answer is, we are called to evangelize. I ask you also, which is in keeping with evangelizing those who hate us? Showing love and respect to those we reach out to? Or showing hatred and contempt?

In calling for us to not give up on dialogue, the Church is not “living in a dream world,” or “compromising.” The Church is following the teaching of Christ. No matter how much people may hate us, we cannot hate them. We must love them. Otherwise, we’re no better than the pagans and tax collectors.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

TFTD: Do People Understand What the Church is For?

He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. 10 “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ 13 But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18: 9-14)

When one reads the comments on blogs and on Facebook, it’s easy to feel despair at the state of the average Catholic. I’m not talking about the trolls here. I’m talking about those people who think they are faithful Catholics, but their comments show a fundamental lack of understanding on why the Church exists. They get upset that the Church does something they think should not be done, or does not do what they think should be done.

But I think this is to miss the point of what the Church exists for. The Church is the ordinary means Christ chose to bring His salvation to all the world. That salvation is for both the people who know they need salvation and those who do not know they need salvation.

The people who know they need salvation are those who recognize their sinfulness but do not necessarily know how to come back to the Church. The ones who don’t recognize their sinfulness either think they are without sin or else think that their sin is nothing to worry about in comparison to them. Because they don’t see their own sin, they don’t seek to come back to Christ.

I believe Pope Francis is frequently speaking to this second group. It’s easy to focus on the notorious sinners out there, like the Catholic politicians who take a public stand in opposition to the Church. But if we use their behavior as the norm for what is sinful, we’re going to be exalting ourselves and denouncing others—which is exactly what Christ said not to do.

So, I would say that when people are upset that the Pope doesn’t speak out more on topic X, perhaps they should be asking themselves whether he is following Christ’s example and speaking out to them.

Perhaps he isn’t neglecting other sins. Maybe he’s being the vessel of Christ to reach out to us to make sure we don’t become pharisaical.

At least that’s what I think when I read his sermons.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

TFTD: In Case You Thought the Battle Was Over

Article: "Judge Rules Missouri Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional - NBC"

Just a reminder that the battle in standing up for what is right in the face of those who call evil good is not over. The president can still abuse the executive order and judges can still legislate from the bench. All the change of power in Congress will accomplish is preventing some appointments that would enable evil and reducing the number of bills from Congress seeking to expand immoral acts as “rights” from making it to the President’s desk.

Personally I think politicians who are lukewarm in their support of Christian morality are better than politicians who openly advocate what we call evil. But it’s still inferior to the politicians who take their Christian beliefs seriously and view their office as a vocation to do right.

But of course, the lukewarm politicians are not likely to become fervent unless we become vessels bringing God’s grace.

So, no, the battle is not over. We can’t relax just because the majority of members of Congress have changed the letter of their party affiliation from a D to an R.

The battle’s not over until God calls us home.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Good Reminder for All Catholics

In reading St. Josemaria Escriva's The Forge, I came across this passage:

585  Don’t be scared by it. In so far as you can you should fight against the conspiracy of silence they want to muzzle the Church with. Some people stop her voice being heard; others will not let the good example of those who preach with their deeds be seen; others wipe out every trace of good doctrine…, and so very many cannot bear to hear her. Don’t be scared, I say again. But don’t get tired, either, of your task of being a loudspeaker for the teachings of the Magisterium.

I find this reflection to be very valuable. The Western media either takes things out of context (for example, the dishonest use of the Pope's words, "who am I to judge") or refuses to report on what was said (like the Pope's affirmation of the Church teaching on marriage).

Both tactics are used. The media uses misquotes to try to portray the Church to be in conflict with Christ, the Pope or "reality." The media uses suppression when it tries to portray a dissenter as being a "faithful Catholic."

We should not be blaming the Church or the Pope for causing this confusion.  They speak truly. The media changes the message.  We need to be informed,  recognizing that the secular media cannot be trusted to get it right. We need to follow trusted Catholic sources to see what is said in context. Then we need to present the truth to those who rely on the secular media for news about the Church.

We should also consider the words of Bishop Loverde in his recent work, Go Forth With Hearts of Fire:

Unlike prior generations, we cannot be lukewarm, uninformed , or casual about the gift of faith. Today is a time of decision and commitment, and we are at the forefront. If we examine history, this degree of urgency was shared by all of the great evangelists in their own times.

Spreading the truth is part of the evangelism all Christians are called to.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Realities of America

Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. (Rev 3:2)

The Election results certainly were not good for the free practice of the Christian faith in America to be sure.  A majority of Americans voted in favor of a candidate who is noted for promoting things which people of good will must call evil.  It's a situation where Christians may be forced to choose between their faith and their livelihood – a choice no government has the right to demand of us.

However, now is not the time for recriminations.  Now is not the time for "Obama = Hitler" statements and Secession petitions.  What it requires us to do is to recognize that we cannot assume that America today is the Christian America we had in the past.

This fact requires professing Christians to recognize the realities of America and respond accordingly.  The fact is, a majority of Americans seem to fall into one of these positions:

  1. Christian belief and morality is an aberration and harmful to others.
  2. Christianity is all right for personal life but is not important compared to "real issues."
  3. Not liking what is being done, but does not want to "force their views on others."

In short we have a nation where the truths of reality are dismissed as having no place in America.  It has become an apostate nation.  America is now a mission territory and we have to approach it with this understanding.

The problem is:  Americans have a tendency to think of God as a sort of Santa Claus.  He may want us to be on the "nice" list, but His commands don't really have to be followed.  The mindset is extremely irrational.  You can't even put it into a logical syllogism.  It assumes:

  1. God is good
  2. A good God will not do an evil act
  3. Hell is eternal suffering
  4. Eternal suffering is evil.
  5. Putting people into Eternal Suffering is doing evil
  6. Therefore God will not cast people into Hell.

In other words, under this view, God may want us to act in a certain way, but we won't be sent to Hell for disobeying Him.  Well, maybe if someone is a mass murderer.  But surely not someone who "hooks up" on occasion, right?

The problem is, people overlook the fact that God has given us free will.  To be free to accept God means that one is free to reject God.  If one accepts the belief of life after death, then it is clear that people who do reject God will not be with God after the resurrection.  So where do they go?  Well, Heaven is being with God.  Hell is being apart from God.  Everybody has to go somewhere after all….

Consider what Jesus has said:

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

"Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.d 8 By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.  As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love." (John 15:4-10)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day,o ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’  Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.  Depart from me, you evildoers.’ "(Matt 7:21-23)

"Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me." (Luke 10:16)

"If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector." (Matthew 18:17)

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:17-20)

What we can see is that Jesus has declared that how we act shows whether we accept or reject God.  But this is the teaching that Americans seem to want to ignore.  We see Jesus as a nice guy.  we see Him as a good moral teacher… even though people tend to ignore more and more of His teachings when they are inconvenient.  But we don't actually think that we need to change.

But we do.  The entire concept of repentance is a turning away from evil and turning towards God.  If we will not repent, we will not turn away from sin and we will not turn towards God.  The modern American concept of a relationship with God has been reduced to "Do what you want and then go do Heaven."

America has essentially forgotten the bad news: That all people are sinners living apart from God.  If we ignore that bad news, the Good News of Salvation is devoid of meaning.  If sin is meaningless, then nobody needs a savior.  The Good News is to repent from evil and turn to God, living as He commands.

So it seems clear to me that we need to realize that the missions are not far away in Africa and Asia.  The mission is right here.  Our neighbors, our families are the mission field.  God desires the salvation of His people, and has sent us to carry it out.

Regardless of what government policies may be enacted in the next four years, the next eight years, the next generation… we have a mission to re-evangelize America.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reflections on Truth and Charity in Gainesville, FL

Source: More children from Dove World Outreach Center sent home for wearing Islam is of the Devil shirts | | The Gainesville Sun | Gainesville, FL

What are we to make of the case where students were sent home from school for bearing a shirt reading “Islam is of the Devil” on it?

The question is whether this is a violation of the student’s rights or whether the school is justified.  There are two perspectives on this: From a perspective of “do unto others…” and a perspective from the belief of the truth of Jesus Christ.

From the Perspective of “Do unto others…”

I would not want to see a shirt, worn by a Fundamentalist student reading “The Pope is the anti-Christ.  Nor would I want to see one worn by a skinhead saying “Kill all Jews and Blacks.”  I would not want relatives of mine to be in a school who permitted such shirts to be worn openly

In Northern Ireland, from time to time there is some rioting which is done by certain Orangemen who march through Catholic neighborhoods posting virulently anti-Catholic invective.  The rioting of course is to be condemned.  However, there would also be no cause for riots if such behavior which sought to be offensively confronting — and it is legal for these Orangemen to march.  I think that I have a right to follow my religion free of harassment.  Now, if we would not want our faith attacked, it follows we must be charitable in how we treat people of other faiths. 

This does not mean we are being religiously indifferent of course.  Nor does it mean we cannot speak to the truth.  I believe Islam cannot be from God because it contradicts what Christ has taught us and the prophets before Christ.  However, I can be civilized and charitable in my opposition to the error of Islam.

From the Perspective of Believing in the Truth of Christ

My thinking is in whatever we do, we ought to bear witness to what we believe.  If we believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, Truth and Life we must not hide that faith but proclaim it.  However, how we proclaim it will affect how others receive it.  If I reasonably point out the errors of Islam and why one cannot hold it without denying Jesus Christ was who He said He was, and do so in a civil manner, trusting in God to touch the individuals He wills with grace, any rejection of the truth is no fault of mine.


If I should go “AAAAARRGGHHH!  ALL YOU NON CHRISTIANS ARE GONNA BURN! BURN FOR YOUR EVIL DEMONIC HEATHEN WAYS!” I have not shown the truth of Christ.  I have not borne witness to the truth of Christ.  I have just provided proof of one Christian being an ignorant, bigoted idiot.  In doing so, I have perhaps turned people who might have listened to a civil discourse into thinking that this is a product of Christianity.  Doubtless I will be judged before the Lord on the last day for driving people away from the faith.

Have these youths made any converts with their shirts?  Do we think a Muslim will see this and think “Oh my!  I had better change my mind based on what I read on a T-shirt”?  Or will they decide “Christians are bigoted idiots.  We have to try harder to save them”?

So from the perspective of “doing unto others” and from the perspective of believing Jesus Christ is the way, I think the back half of that T-Shirt was a mistake.  It will not spread the Good News to others.  It will merely cause others to deafen themselves to the Good News.

When we go to spread this Good News to the world, let us remember that how we witness will have an effect on the message.