Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Toward Defining Theocracy

As most know, I dislike the use of the word "theocracy" - well, hate it really. That is because I think it is used to describe people who in no way are theocrats. I think it is also used, as Joe Clark said here

It's a desperate attempt to create a term that has the affect of "rascist" or "sexist": when applied, it automatically paints an opponent as beyond the pale of political discourse.
However, there are folks who truly desire a theocracy in the US; and folks like the fool Senator back east, who truly utter theocratic remarks. The Ellison "controversy" brought some out of the woodwork.

So, if we are going to keep our labels accurate, we need to define our labels.

Now, three definitions of theocracy. Definition 1, quoted by Joe Carter:

Theocracy, which literally means "rule by the deity," is the name given to political regimes that claim to represent God on earth both directly and immediately. The role of the theocratic leader is to play the role of both priest and king, implementing and enforcing divine laws.
Definition 2, provided by XT:
Theocracy - A government ruled by or subject to religious authority. A state so governed.
I have no problem with either definition as truly being theocracy, as long as in the second one we know what is meant by "authority" - and I am sure that this is where we will end up having this discussion. From Wiki:
In politics, authority is often used interchangeably with the term "power". However, their meanings differ. "Power" refers to the ability to achieve certain ends, 'authority' refers to the legitimacy, justification and right to exercise that power. For example whilst a mob has the power to punish a criminal, such as through lynching, only the courts have the authority to order capital punishment.
Amazingly, XT and I came "that close" to coming to an agreement. The divide remained because of the next definition of theocracy, which I do not agree with - and which is, I believe, how it is commonly used in the political debates today. Also from XT what I will label Definition 3:
The reason it is labeled theocratic now is that, for the last 30 years, Conservative Christian commentators have consistently used the public governmental sphere to advance their religiously-based agenda.
with these later clarifications:
if the only basis for your agenda is religious, then you are pushing a theocratic agenda.
A theocrat pursues a political agenda with no other justification than religious belief.
XT believes definitions 2 and 3 of theocracy are equal, or at least both define different forms of theocrat. I do not think that pursuing a religious agenda in the governmental sphere, even if it has no other justification than religious belief, is theocratic unless you are seeking governmental authority - the right to legitimately exercise power - for your religion. Iran is a current day theocracy. The Revolutionary Council - comprised of religious leaders - while allowing a civil government, exercises veto powers over the decisions of that government; and who can run for office in that government.

Now, I will admit to all the elements of the definition 3:

  • My political agenda is absolutely based in my religion - loving God with my all requires nothing less;
  • I am willing to band together with other Christians to pursue that political agenda, and indeed believe that is our constitutional right; and
  • I see no reason why my political agenda cannot entirely be based on my religious beliefs (I would have to stay out of the political arena otherwise), or (as others have said, not XT) my political speech must run through some secular translator [although that is supremely wise].
I contend that does not make me anywhere close to a theocrat because I have no desire, whatsoever, for the US government to be under the authority of a religious entity; or for religion to exercise any other authority than moral authority. In fact, I agree with John Calvin, who said:
For some deny that a state is well constituted, which neglects the polity of Moses, and is governed by the common laws of nations. The dangerous and seditious nature of this opinion I leave to the examination of others; it will be sufficient for me to have evinced it to be false and foolish.
and point for contrast to Eugene Volokh
What do you think about the abolitionist movement of the 1800s? As I understand it, many -- perhaps most or nearly all -- of its members were deeply religious people, who were trying to impose their religious dogma of liberty on the legal system that at the time legally protected slavery.

Or what do you think about the civil rights movement? The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., after all, was one of its main leaders, and he supported and defended civil rights legislation as a matter of God's will, often in overtly religious terms. He too tried to impose his religious dogma on the legal system, which at the time allowed private discrimination, and in practice allowed governmental discrimination as well.

Or how about religious opponents of the draft, opponents of the death penalty, supporters of labor unions, supporters of welfare programs, who were motivated by their religious beliefs -- because deeply religious people's moral beliefs are generally motivated by their religious beliefs -- in trying to repeal the draft, abolish the death penalty, protect labor, or better the lot of the poor?

Eugene, BTW, is either an agnostic or an atheist.

So, what say you all.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Christian Carnivals 156 and 157 are up

CLVI (156)

The introduction from Jeremy at Parableman:
I usually put together a nice theme when I host, but even though I've been on break from teaching we've been both sick and busy at the Pierce residence, which left me without much time to put together anything interesting ... On to the Carnival...
CLVII (157)

The introduction from Amanda at Imago Dei:
Welcome to this week's edition of Christian Carnival! This is my first time hosting, and coming up with a theme is killer so I decided to keep it simple.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. -- Proverbs 14:12
This is a verse I've been meditating on this week. And each of these posts reflect that it is God's way that leads to life and not man's way.

About Christian Carnival:

Contributing a Post to the Christian Carnival

The Christian Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this Carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought.

Posts need not be of a theological topic. Posts about home life, politics, or current events, for example, written from a Christian worldview are welcome.

Update: As the goal of this Carnival is to highlight Christian thought in the blogosphere, entries will be limited to blogs that share that goal. Blogs with content that is focused on a business, that has potentially offensive material Christians may not want to link to on their sites, or has no reference to distinctively Christian thought may not be included in this Carnival. There are other Carnivals that would be a more appropriate venue for that material. I realize that this will be a judgment call on the part of the Carnival administrator, and being human she may make mistakes. However, as the Christian Carnival is getting quite large, and it is sometimes questionable whether the entrants are seeking to promote Christian thought, I find this necessary.

Update: We also expect a level of discourse that is suitable for a Christian showcase. Thus entries may be refused if they engage in name-calling, ad hominem attacks, offensive language, or for any similar reason as judged by the administrator.

So, if you have a post in this framework - go here to find out more: Christian Carnival Participation Instructions.

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Judicial Practice: Starting with Kelo

I got invited to respond over at XT's place to "Marijuana, Kelo, and Constitutional Precedent". He made a comment there that his readers should visit here - and I suggest the readers here should visit there.

As usual, I couldn't say it in a comment - so I am going to say it in a post. Go read his post, and also read Matthew Kell's:

Then, follow below the fold . . .

Kelo and Raich: These are both very interesting court cases from the standpoint of what powers we wish the Federal government to have vs. the states; what power government should have vs. the individual; and whether we want the Constitution constructed out of existence or for it to be an enduring document changed when the citizens choose to change it through the amendment process. Folks should read both of these cases in their entirety, including opinions and dissents, because much of the future of the Supreme Court rests on these questions - as well as the political philosophy of the country:

It is interesting that Kelo and Raich occurred when I was commenting at TalkLeft, a "very left" blog dedicated to criminal and court issues, while also reading extensively The Volokh Conspiracy - a conservative/ libertarian/ originalist legal blog; and that it was not the "radical right" (actually, the libertarian section of "the right") that was raging against these rulings, but the "radical left". In fact, President Bush's Justice Department weighed in against medical marijuana (of course - not that President Bush is a conservative, but still). In Kelo, the "little guy" (well gals) was being hammered for the interests of a pharmaceutical giant - Pfizer. Both these cases were examples to me at the time of where liberals "oxen were gored" by judicial overreach - rather than all the typical arguments over social conservative issues like abortion and establishment of religion. Certainly, I still hold that view on Raich - but perhaps the gradual accumulation of more and more power farther and farther up the governmental ladder is exactly a liberal ideological bulwark and Kelo is as liberal (modern version) as it gets.


Certainly, Justice Thomas is a strict constructionist judge so his dissent may fall within XT's "radical right" -- if it is indeed "right-wing" to believe a document says what it says and should be officially changed to say something else -- and not made "blank by construction (Jefferson)"
Long ago, William Blackstone wrote that "the law of the land ... postpone[s] even public necessity to the sacred and inviolable rights of private property." 1 Commentaries on the Laws of England 134--135 (1765) (hereinafter Blackstone). The Framers embodied that principle in the Constitution, allowing the government to take property not for "public necessity," but instead for "public use." Amdt. 5. Defying this understanding, the Court replaces the Public Use Clause with a " `[P]ublic [P]urpose' " Clause, ante, at 9--10 (or perhaps the "Diverse and Always Evolving Needs of Society" Clause, ante, at 8 (capitalization added)), a restriction that is satisfied, the Court instructs, so long as the purpose is "legitimate" and the means "not irrational," ante, at 17 (internal quotation marks omitted). This deferential shift in phraseology enables the Court to hold, against all common sense, that a costly urban-renewal project whose stated purpose is a vague promise of new jobs and increased tax revenue, but which is also suspiciously agreeable to the Pfizer Corporation, is for a "public use."

I cannot agree. If such "economic development" takings are for a "public use," any taking is, and the Court has erased the Public Use Clause from our Constitution, as Justice O'Connor powerfully argues in dissent. Ante, at 1--2, 8--13. I do not believe that this Court can eliminate liberties expressly enumerated in the Constitution and therefore join her dissenting opinion. Regrettably, however, the Court's error runs deeper than this. Today's decision is simply the latest in a string of our cases construing the Public Use Clause to be a virtual nullity, without the slightest nod to its original meaning. In my view, the Public Use Clause, originally understood, is a meaningful limit on the government's eminent domain power. Our cases have strayed from the Clause's original meaning, and I would reconsider them.


Though one component of the protection provided by the Takings Clause is that the government can take private property only if it provides "just compensation" for the taking, the Takings Clause also prohibits the government from taking property except "for public use." Were it otherwise, the Takings Clause would either be meaningless or empty. If the Public Use Clause served no function other than to state that the government may take property through its eminent domain power-for public or private uses-then it would be surplusage. See ante, at 3--4 (O'Connor, J., dissenting); see also Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 174 (1803) ("It cannot be presumed that any clause in the constitution is intended to be without effect") -- Justice Thomas's dissent

but Justice O'Connor (mentioned above), who was also in dissent (writing for Justice Scalia and the Chief Justice Rehnquist), hardly qualifies. More than Thomas, she examines the differences in Midkiff, Berman, and Kelo
Yet for all the emphasis on deference, Berman and Midkiff hewed to a bedrock principle without which our public use jurisprudence would collapse: "A purely private taking could not withstand the scrutiny of the public use requirement; it would serve no legitimate purpose of government and would thus be void." Midkiff, 467 U.S., at 245; id., at 241 ("[T]he Court's cases have repeatedly stated that `one person's property may not be taken for the benefit of another private person without a justifying public purpose, even though compensation be paid' " (quoting Thompson v. Consolidated Gas Util. Corp., 300 U.S. 55, 80 (1937))); see also Missouri Pacific R. Co. v. Nebraska, 164 U.S. 403, 417 (1896). To protect that principle, those decisions reserved "a role for courts to play in reviewing a legislature's judgment of what constitutes a public use ... [though] the Court in Berman made clear that it is `an extremely narrow' one." Midkiff, supra, at 240 (quoting Berman, supra, at 32).

The Court's holdings in Berman and Midkiff were true to the principle underlying the Public Use Clause. In both those cases, the extraordinary, precondemnation use of the targeted property inflicted affirmative harm on society - in Berman through blight resulting from extreme poverty and in Midkiff through oligopoly resulting from extreme wealth. And in both cases, the relevant legislative body had found that eliminating the existing property use was necessary to remedy the harm. Berman, supra, at 28--29; Midkiff, supra, at 232. Thus a public purpose was realized when the harmful use was eliminated. Because each taking directly achieved a public benefit, it did not matter that the property was turned over to private use. Here, in contrast, New London does not claim that Susette Kelo's and Wilhelmina Dery's well-maintained homes are the source of any social harm. Indeed, it could not so claim without adopting the absurd argument that any single-family home that might be razed to make way for an apartment building, or any church that might be replaced with a retail store, or any small business that might be more lucrative if it were instead part of a national franchise, is inherently harmful to society and thus within the government's power to condemn.

In moving away from our decisions sanctioning the condemnation of harmful property use, the Court today significantly expands the meaning of public use. It holds that the sovereign may take private property currently put to ordinary private use, and give it over for new, ordinary private use, so long as the new use is predicted to generate some secondary benefit for the public-such as increased tax revenue, more jobs, maybe even aesthetic pleasure. But nearly any lawful use of real private property can be said to generate some incidental benefit to the public. Thus, if predicted (or even guaranteed) positive side-effects are enough to render transfer from one private party to another constitutional, then the words "for public use" do not realistically exclude any takings, and thus do not exert any constraint on the eminent domain power.


Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result. "[T]hat alone is a just government," wrote James Madison, "which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own." For the National Gazette, Property, (Mar. 29, 1792), reprinted in 14 Papers of James Madison 266 (R. Rutland et al. eds. 1983).

Richard Epstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, traces the beginning of this trend back 50 years and concludes:
Any comprehensive public project will produce some benefit for someone, so that--as Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas stressed in dissent--his test always allows the legislature to gin up some rationale for taking public property for just compensation (which alas falls far short of making the individual landowner whole: legal, appraisal and moving costs, for example, are systematically ignored). But the slightest bit of reflection should have shown just how the new public use cases have migrated from the old mining cases, or even under the Hawaii statute, which did not displace sitting tenants.

In the present case, Susette Kelo and her fellow plaintiffs have not tried to extract some unconscionable gain out of some sensible business venture. They have no desire to sell their homes at all. At the same time their subjective losses have been enormous. It was a perfectly sensible line for the court to say when subjective values are high, and holdout problems are nonexistent [note: no particular use for this property was listed in the renewal plan - it was open and unknown], the requisite public use is not present.

The court could arrive at its shameful Kelo ruling only by refusing to look closely at past precedent and constitutional logic. Courts that refuse to see no evil and hear no evil are blind to the endemic risk of factional politics at all levels of government. And being blind, this bare Supreme Court majority has sustained a scandalous and cruel act for no public purpose at all.

In "Government Responses to Kelo", Todd Zywicki links a couple of other folks keeping track of the post-Kelo fallout and cites two examples:
Overland-based THF Realty wants Arnold to use eminent domain, if needed, to take over about 45 homes and business to make way for a new strip mall on 38 acres southwest of Interstate 55 and Highway 141. Critics have denounced the $55 million project as corporate welfare, because the developer wants $21 million in tax-increment financing.
Newark officials want to raze 14 downtown acres in the Mulberry Street area to build 2,000 upscale condo units and retail space. The Municipal Council voted against the plan in 2003, but then reversed its decision eight months later following re-election campaigns in which developers donated thousands of dollars. Officials told the Associated Press that the Mulberry Street project could have been killed if the U.S. Supreme Court had sided with the homeowners in Kelo.
A final perspective from Orin Kerr:
  1. The opinions in Kelo remind me a lot of the opinions in Gonzales v. Raich. The Court has once again reaffirmed the academic common wisdom -- in Raich, that the commerce clause power is virtually limitless, and in Kelo, that almost everything is a public use. Both cases involved the same type of line-drawing challenge, in which the Constitution requires a line to be drawn but it's pretty hard to draw such a line in practice. (It's difficult to distinguish interstate commerce from intrastate commerce and commerce from non-commerce, and it's difficult to distinguish public use from private use.) In both cases, the Stevens majority opinion recognized that a line existed in theory, but put it so far out of the way that it won't bother anyone.
  2. Is it just me, or does Justice O'Connor's dissent have the feel of an opinion that started out as a majority draft? This is just speculation, and perhaps idiosyncratic speculation at that, but I wonder if she had a majority at conference and lost Justice Kennedy along the way.
  3. The next time someone insists that conservatives like Justice Thomas will do anything to defend corporate interests against the powerless -- and particularly against powerless racial minorities -- feel free to point them to Justice Thomas's eloquent dissenting opinion in Kelo. So much for that idea.
Other resources on Kelo:
So, what kind of government do you want?

Part II: Gonazales vs. Raich coming

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Church Plant: The Membership Meeting

I have been blogging a bit on the church plant I am involved in. I had written at about my interaction with church membership in the past; and noted it was not certain I would ever join Westport Church - the church plant I am involved in.

My wife and I did attend the first week of a three week membership class (called Portico) on Sunday. She will continue to attend; and I am likely not to make it to another class due to work restrictions. We will see. Since there are folks out there involved in church ministry and/or asked to be kept up to date - I thought I would pass on this class at Brain Cramps and Street Prophets.

The Goals for Portico:

  • To orient you to the core values, vision and mission of Westport Church
  • To describe for you what we believe the Christian life looks like
  • To identify the basic beliefs and structure of Westport
  • To give guidance in where you can serve and connect in Westport
The "Value of Values":

The purpose of values ("The constant, biblically based central beliefs that define and guide Westport"):
  • Give us identity
  • Shape our decision-making and resource allocation
  • Protect us from ineffectiveness and division
"Whenever people don't get along or differ over major ministry decisions in a church... the problem often lies in the area of their core values." -- Aubrey Malphurs, Ministry Nuts and Bolts

Core Value #1: Treasuring Jesus
We are a community of people who desire to make much of Jesus, and through Him, to glorify God the Father. We will emphasize the person of Jesus as our only true and lasting treasure, which motivates us for service.
Why is "Treasuring Jesus" one of our values?

1. It is a Biblical Concept
Matthew 13:44 -- The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Philippians 3:8-10 -- I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ...

Psalm 27:4 -- One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.

Psalm 37:4 -- Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.

2 Corinthians 4:7 -- We have this treasure in earthen vessels..."
2. It is vital to our mission and vision
Our vision: to help people in the western region of Portland discover the beauty of Jesus Christ, His Word and His church so that they can experience forgiveness, restoration and joy.

Our mission: Engaging our community with the Gospel, teaching believers to treasure Jesus Christ and equipping them to be leaders of spiritual influence in our local and global communities.
  • We believe that when we see Jesus for who He really is, in all of His beauty... we will naturally exalt Him as our greatest treasure.
  • When this happens, our worship and service at Westport will be authentic and we will find great pleasure and satisfaction in it.
3. It Creates Measurable Marks for our Community:
  • Worship -- "to show an authentic faith in and devotion to"
    • Expressed in awe, reverence, and wonder -- Psalm 95:1-7
      ''Worship can never be the sole work of the rational mind. It can't be drawn out on paper or measured out on charts. Worship and wonder, which are so closely connected, are all about coming to the end of our measurements. In the presence of the Almighty God... the sense of wonder comes naturally and leaves us changed. How could we respond any other way?" -- David Jeremiah, My Heart's Desire
    • Expressed in everyday, ordinary life -- Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 10:31

  • Community with other believers
    • Expressed in love for one another
    • If we are to treasure Jesus, we must treasure what He Treasures - Ephesians 5:25

  • Spiritual Growth -- results from a willingness and a desire for learning:
    • What is growth? It is progressive life change:
      2 Peter 1:3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence,
      - in your faith supply moral excellence, and
      - in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and
      - in your knowledge, self-control, and
      - in your self-control, perseverance, and
      - in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and
      - in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and
      - in your brotherly kindness, love.
      8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    • How does it happen?
      • Wrong View: Point of Salvation + passage of time + our will + our individual application = Life change
      • Correct View: Point of Salvation + intentionality (doesn't "just happen" over time) + training + community = Life change

  • Impact - results from intentional personal efforts in local and global efforts
    Matthew 5:16 -- Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
    • "I Treasure Jesus so much, I want others to know and treasure him too!"
    • Intentional use of time, gifts, and resources
    • Intentional physical witness
    • Intentional verbal witness

  • Around the core value of Treasuring Jesus (that is the fuel - not guilt), these 4 marks are emphasized at the same time to avoid imbalance. We never "phase out" or "arrive" - this is about lifelong growth at ever increasing levels (see 2 Peter 1:8 above)
4. It actually shapes the identity of our community
  • Treasuring Jesus is only possible with a transformed heart -- can only really be appreciated by spiritual people…people who have been redeemed
  • We believe the church, by definition, is a group of believers. To be a part of this community [that is member and not attendee] called Westport Church, we insist that you be a lover of Jesus Christ and that you find your identity in Christ. We're asking anyone who wants to join Westport to affirm this statement of the Gospel:
  • We believe that there is ONE true God, who sent His Son Jesus Christ to die as payment for our sins. After three days, Jesus was raised from the grave and now lives in Heaven with the Father. We believe that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to live in those who repent and believe this Gospel, according to the Scriptures.
    By affirming this statement, we affirm several things:
    • The Holy Trinity (God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
    • The Holy Scriptures (without error and inspired by God) - in original manuscripts
    • The Insufficiency of Man (all have sinned and require redemption)
    • The Sufficiency of Christ (his death satisfied the Father's wrath)

Core Value #2: Theological Emphasis
"Theological foundation is essential for transformation. Theology will be emphasized through the passionate and creative communication of the Bible. Transformative Bible study will be modeled publicly, creating a passion for studying it personally."

Why is Theological Emphasis one of our values?

1. Theology is vital to Our Vision
  • Some key definitions:
    • Theology -- "the study of God how He relates to His creation"
    • Doctrine -- "what the whole Bible teaches about a particular topic" - a holistic view
  • Is theology important? Yes! Should we bother with it?
    • The results of answering no:
      • Lack of confidence in our own beliefs
      • Lack of discernment:
        "some of God's sheep cannot tell the difference between grass and Astroturf!" - Unknown
      • Limits our effectiveness
      • Leads to lack of meaning
    • The answer is yes: God wants to be fully known; it’s a matter of obedience -- Matthew 28:19-20; Titus 2:1
      "You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, to turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature." - Mahatma Gandhi
2. Theology is practical…REALLY!
  • At Westport, we want to debunk the common myth that "theology is too boring, it is unrelated to my life and I can't understand it."
  • Our motto is: I can do theology…I must do theology
  • Theology is for beginners -- 1 John 5:20; 1 Corinthians 2:10-15
  • Theology gives us a framework for understanding life -- 2 Peter 1:2-3
  • Examples of practical theology:
    • "created in the image of God" relates to the dignity and value of human beings
    • "created He man and woman" relates to gender issues
    • "Father, Son and Spirit" relates to diversity issues and marriage
    • "God's Sovereignty" relates to the justice of God
    • "without error" relates to morality and right/wrong
3. It protects our community 4. It influences our teaching model
  • Holistic teaching is our goal:
    • Theological: What truths should we believe?
    • Biblical: What facts should we know?
    • Practical: What principles should we adopt?
  • Theology is our "lens"
    Our teaching team will strive to teach through the lens of theology, in creative ways, so that you will enjoy learning theology and discover how it relates to your life.

The formal statements of church belief are to be found here

Coming Sessions 2 & 3:
  • Core Value #3 - Transformational Community
  • Core Value #4 - Team Leadership
  • Joining the Team Packet

  • Core Value #5 - Community Service (i2)
  • Core Value #6 - Creative Ministry
  • Unity Covenant

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

An Unhurried Life: Part 1

[I am beginning to journal the study questions from Chapter 5 ("An Unhurried Life: The Practice of 'Slowing'") of John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted. For some "look ahead" at the book, I have posted the chapter titles at the index link at the bottom.]

Someone said they appreciated my questions. They are not mine. They are the study questions in the back of the book, written by Kevin G. Harney.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  1. If you were to take this exhortation with all seriousness, "to be spiritually healthy, you must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life," what is one thing you would need to change in your life so you could slow down?

  2. The author writes, "Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry can destroy our souls. Hurry can keep us from living well." How have you experienced the destructive power of hurry in your life?

    • How can busyness cause us to settle for mediocrity in our faith rather than a deep experience of God's presence and power?
    • How have you experienced this reality in your life during times of intense busyness?

  3. Read:
    Mark 1:32 When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. 33 And the whole city had gathered at the door. 34 And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was. 35 In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. 36 Simon and his companions searched for Him; 37 they found Him, and said to Him, "Everyone is looking for You." 38 He said to them, "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for." 39 And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.

    Luke 5:15 But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.
    From these two passages and other stories in the Gospels, what are some examples of how Jesus modeled an unhurried life?

  4. Take a few moments and have your small-group members take this brief survey. Circle yes or no for each question:
    • Do you live with a daily sense that there is not enough time to get done with everything you need to accomplish? YES NO
    • Do you find yourself talking faster because there is so much to say? YES NO
    • Do you nod a lot when a person is talking slowly in an effort to keep them moving along? YES NO
    • When people are talking too slowly, do you ever find yourself wanting to (or actually) finishing their sentences? YES NO
    • Do you ever drive faster than is safe (even sometimes when you are not in a hurry) ? YES NO
    • When you stop at a red light with two or more lanes with cars in them, do you ever try to anticipate which car looks faster so you can get behind that car and save a few seconds when the light turns green? YES NO
    • Do you ever try to gauge which line at the grocery store will be the quickest and get in that line? And, if it turns out you picked the slower line, does it bother you? YES NO
    • Do you multiple-task and try to get more than one thing done at a time on a regular basis? YES NO
    • Do you have a big pile of magazines, newspapers, and books that you hope to read "some day"? YES NO
    • Do you live your life driven by schedules, organizers, and to-do lists? YES NO
    • Do you find it difficult to say no when others ask you to do things that will add one more item to your schedule? YES NO
    Share how many times you circled yes to the questions above, and tell your group what you think this reveals about the place of hurry in your life.

  5. The author says, "Love and hurry are fundamentally incompatible." How is hurry the enemy of love in one of these relationships?
    • Your relationship with God
    • Your relationship with your family members
    • Your relationship with other followers of Christ
    • Your relationship with those who don't yet know Jesus

    • What are some of the values and attitudes in our society that drive us to a hurried lifestyle?
    • What are some biblical truths we can hold on to that will counteract these values and attitudes?
Next in series: "An Unhurried Life" Pt. 2
Index to Series

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Scot McKnight on Labelling

Scot McKnight at The Jesus Creed in "Name-Calling in the Church" talks about labelling

The Church has developed its own mechanisms of calling people "names," of "labelling" others. The most powerful "labels" in the Church are "fundamentalist" and "liberal." Calling someone one of those labels is rarely a simple description -- it is an act of repudiation and denunciation. Here are ten observations about labelling. But, first . . . [go read the rest]
His ten points about labelling:
  1. Each society, group, church has boundary lines of who is "in" and who is "out." Familes know, churches know, and friends know who does and who does not belong.

  2. This group-consciousness permits people to know where they are and if they belong or not. Labelling has to do with this fundamental way of viewing a society.

  3. The labels used to describe who is "in" vs. "out," because those labels use language, sometimes reflect reality -- some really are "in" and some really are "out" -- and sometimes they do not reflect reality. Some are called things that are inaccurate, even if they are effective (but wrong). So, the "label" itself may or may not tell the truth about someone.

  4. Labels are of two sorts. Some are given honorable "titles"; others are given dishonorable "deviants." An "entitled" person is approved; a "deviant" person is disapproved.

  5. The rhetorical labels we use are as much "weapons" as they are "descriptions." Labelling someone can both bring honor and destroy a person's status.

  6. A person who has the capacity to label deviants successfully is a "champion." Champions defend the sanctity of the group and define the borders and boundaries.

  7. Champions are supported by "enhancers" -- those who spread the label of the champion.

  8. To label a person a "deviant" creates collective avoidance and isolation.

  9. The major function of labelling is to create a "master status" for a person -- that is, it gives a number of people a way of interpreting and classifying another person.

  10. O be careful labeller what you say; o be careful labeller whom you assign to deviance. We will be judged for every word we utter. Check out James 3.
The question is: when you label people how do you use labels? Are you cognizant of Ephesians 4:
29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Christian Carnivals 154 and 155 are up

CLIV (154)
Christmas Week Edition

The introduction from Karen at From the Anchor Hold:
Welcome to what was, in the olden days, the twelve days of Christmas. Goes to show how out of step Christians are if the secular world sets the tempo, and how scandalously at odds we sometimes are amongst ourselves. We've heard and believed the Announcement of Great Joy, as the shepherds did --- but things aren't all glory and light yet, since we are all bent (though redeemed) people in a fallen world tending to the chaos it was in the beginning. And --- some of us, like the secular world, have been celebrating since before Thanksgiving and just finished up on the 25th; some just started the celebrating and will keep singing Nativity songs for twelve days, or forty; and a lot of Christans east of Athens won't even get to Christmas until the 7th of January. So, not every post will be full of comfort and joy (can't really expect that until the Great Day comes, anyway), but they are all fine and worthy.
CLV (155)
Epiphany 2007 Edition

The introduction from Dory at Wittenberg Gate:
Welcome to the first Christian Carnival for the Year of Our Lord 2007! May God bless you all with a deeper love for Him and a surer faith as you grow in Christ this year.

Each week, Christian blog writers are invited to submit their best post of the week to the Christian Carnival. Enjoy this week's submissions from a variety of Christian perspectives and traditions.

About Christian Carnival:

Contributing a Post to the Christian Carnival

The Christian Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this Carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought.

Posts need not be of a theological topic. Posts about home life, politics, or current events, for example, written from a Christian worldview are welcome.

Update: As the goal of this Carnival is to highlight Christian thought in the blogosphere, entries will be limited to blogs that share that goal. Blogs with content that is focused on a business, that has potentially offensive material Christians may not want to link to on their sites, or has no reference to distinctively Christian thought may not be included in this Carnival. There are other Carnivals that would be a more appropriate venue for that material. I realize that this will be a judgment call on the part of the Carnival administrator, and being human she may make mistakes. However, as the Christian Carnival is getting quite large, and it is sometimes questionable whether the entrants are seeking to promote Christian thought, I find this necessary.

Update: We also expect a level of discourse that is suitable for a Christian showcase. Thus entries may be refused if they engage in name-calling, ad hominem attacks, offensive language, or for any similar reason as judged by the administrator.

So, if you have a post in this framework - go here to find out more: Christian Carnival Participation Instructions.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

A Higher Discussion on Capital Punishment

[Cross posted from Street Prophets with massive revision - it didn’t light up the discussion I wanted. Of course, that could just be because it is a bad post . . .]

Saddam Hussein's execution has, rightfully, brought up the discussion of capital punishment. For me that discussion has been on a nearly useless plane. The emotional knee-jerk reactions (my own included: "Good") which largely control the discussion in a time like this are good if you are attempting to work up a good rabble-rousing speech where you fire up the emotions of the crowd rather than challenging their intellect; but I am not into that.

Throwing the words "revenge" and "murder" around about the execution of a butcher like Saddam is only guaranteed to muddy the waters in the capital punishment debate. In the end, someone may get me to view the execution of Saddam as "murder" (a charged word for me) and Iraqi justice as "revenge" -- but that will take a little philosophical work. However, I am perfectly willing to engage in that work; so, let's see if we can think this out a little deeper . . .

Before I get started, however, the discussion below deals with the word "revenge" - it doesn't really deal with the word "murder". My problems with the word "murder" are two-fold:

  1. Capital punishment did not fall within the commandment not to murder in scripture. That is obvious in both the Old and the New Testament. Avery Cardinal Dulles' "Catholicism & Capital Punishment" deals with this exegesis very well [Please read the whole thing while you are over there]
  2. In secular law, there is distinction being murder and homicide; and distinctions between those that are justifiable and those that are not. In that sense, society has a definition for murder (the intentional, unjustified taking of an innocent life) that must be met. I think abortion is the intentional (and very often unjustified) taking of an innocent life but, since society as a whole is not agreed that this is "murder" (or even the taking of an innocent life in the way I mean it) I will never use that word for abortion because its intent is to create heat and not shed light. Nor, without adequate foundation, do I think capital punishment can be called murder.
Now, on to the core essay: J. Budziszewski is Professor of Government and Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. This article is adapted from a chapter of A Call for Reckoning: Religion and the Death Penalty, edited by John Carlson, Eric Elshtain, and Erik Owens.

"Capital Punishment: The Case for Justice"
First Things, August/September 2004

So weighty is the duty of justice that it raises the question whether mercy is permissible at all. By definition, mercy is punishing the criminal less than he deserves, and it does not seem clear at first why not going far enough is any better than going too far. We say that both cowardice and rashness miss the mark of courage, and that both stinginess and prodigality miss the mark of generosity; why do we not say that both mercy and harshness miss the mark of justice? . . .
[Betty Black at Street Prophets: What he does not state in his argument (or, at least in the parts excerpted) one key point which Aristotle argues, which is that usually one of the vices is wither prefered to the other vice, or one of the vices is more easily fallen into. This is important in speaking of justice and mercy. I would expect near universal agreement that: 1) mercy is preferable to punishment-beyond-dessert . . . even if just-dessert is preferable to mercy; and 2) it is easier to slip into over-punishment than to error via mercy.]
. . .Making matters yet more difficult, the argument to abolish capital punishment is an argument to categorically extend clemency to all those whose crimes are of the sort that would be requitable by death.

I ask: Is there warrant for such categorical extension of clemency? Let us focus mainly on the crime of murder, the deliberate taking of innocent human life. The reason for this focus is that the question of mercy arises only on the assumption that some crime does deserve death. It would seem that at least death deserves death, that nothing less is sufficient to answer the gravity of the deed. As Scripture says: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image" (Genesis 9: 5-6). Someone may object that the murderer, too, is made in God's image, and so he is. But this does not lighten the horror of his deed. On the contrary, it heightens it, because it makes him a morally accountable being. Moreover, if even simple murder warrants death, how much more does multiple and compounded murder warrant it. Some criminals seem to deserve death many times over. If we are considering not taking their lives at all, the motive cannot be justice. It must be mercy.
He presents the three questions that must be answered about mercy in regards to capital punishment:
  1. Is it ever permissible for public authority to give the wrongdoer less than he deserves?
  2. If it is permissible, then when is it permissible?
  3. Is it permissible to grant such mercy categorically?
Later, Budziszewski will examine these questions both from the perspective of God's mercy and utilitarianism. First, he starts with the underlying purpose of punishment in general and its need to exact retribution
Society is justly ordered when each person receives what is due to him. Crime disturbs this just order, for the criminal takes from people their lives, peace, liberties, and worldly goods in order to give himself undeserved benefits. Deserved punishment protects society morally by restoring this just order, making the wrongdoer pay a price equivalent to the harm he has done. This is retribution … the primary purpose of just punishment as such
and not revenge
…which is guided by a different motive. In retribution the spur is the virtue of indignation, which answers injury with injury for public good. In revenge the spur is the passion of resentment, which answers malice with malice for private satisfaction.
These distinctions must be dealt with by anyone who wishes to label punishment in general (by God or by man) - and capital punishment in specific - as revenge: What is the measured "just punishment" for a crime; and what is the motive of the punishers in carrying it out? The latter will not change what just punishment is, but will guide our education and shaping of our societal mores.

Budziszewski believes that just punishment/ retribution is the primary purpose (societal good) of criminal punishment:
  1. just punishment is not something which might or might not requite evil; requital is simply what it is.
  2. without just punishment evil cannot be requited.
  3. just punishment requires no warrant beyond requiting evil, for the restoration of justice is good in itself.
He examines three other possible goods that come out of punishment:
  • it might rehabilitate the criminal
  • physically protect society from him
  • deter crime in general
but gives reasons why they are secondary to retribution and not primary:
Although these might be additional motives for just punishment, they are secondary. In the first place, punishment might not achieve them. In the second place, they can sometimes be partly achieved apart from punishment. Third and most important, they cannot justify punishment by themselves. In other words, we may not do more to the criminal than he deserves--not even if more would be needed to rehabilitate him, make him harmless, or discourage others from imitation. For example, if a man punches another man in the nose, we may not keep him in a mental institution forever just because he has not yet become kind in spirit, kill him because we cannot be sure that he will never punch again, or torture him because nothing less would deter other would-be punchers . . .
[For those who have read it, C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength presents in the "criminal reform" of N.I.C.E. this very picture of holding people indefinitely to "rehabilitate" them rather than "cruelly" punish them. See also the real gulags of the Soviet Union; Gitmo; and re-education camps in China for examples where rehabilitation, protection, and deterrence reign supreme over just punishment]
. . . For these reasons, rehabilitation, protection, and deterrence have a lesser status in punishment than retribution
It seems to me, from other discussions, that many folks consider these to be the primary reasons for punishment; and certainly constitute the primary argument against capital punishment. Budziszewski again:
The argument against capital punishment runs as follows. True, the purpose of retribution is served by the murderer's death, but under certain circumstances retribution might interfere with other purposes of punishment: it might prematurely put an end to his rehabilitation; it might undermine deterrence (say, by so angering his compatriots that they, too, commit evils); and it might not be necessary for the physical safety of others. Therefore, it would be better not to kill him, but to protect society by other means--perhaps by locking him up forever. The difficulty with this argument is that it seems to regard the secondary purposes of punishment as sufficient to overturn its primary purpose. Rehabilitation, protection, and deterrence cannot justify doing more than what retribution demands; how can they justify doing less?
This brings us back to the only mediating influence on capital punishment - mercy - and the three questions at the top of the post. Budziszewski now looks at rehabilitation, protection, and deterrence in the light of mercy; and utilitarianism.
[You need to read the whole article at some point -- so here is where you need to go there, read it, and then come back when you are done . . . . . . . . Are you back? Great.]
Finally, he deals with some other issues outside these central ones:
Let us consider what objections might be made against our argument to this point. The judicious Cardinal Dulles, to whom my discussion is already indebted,
[and who the reader here at Brain Cramps should go read for this discussion also; and perhaps Justice Antonin Scalia's "God’s Justice and Ours"]
finds less to commend capital punishment than I do. Yet even he does not think that a review of the purposes of punishment is sufficient in itself to justify abolishing the ultimate penalty. The crux of his published argument is found not there, but in four other common objections to the penalty of death:
  1. Sometimes innocent people are sentenced to death.

    [This is my chief problem with capital punishment, particularly because of ingrained racism (and other -isms) in American culture; and the source of my cramp here]
  2. Capital punishment whets the lust for revenge rather than satisfying the zeal for true justice.
  3. It cheapens the value of life.
  4. And it contradicts Christ's teaching to forgive.
The Cardinal calls the first objection "relatively strong," to the second and third he concedes "some probable force," and the fourth he considers "relatively weak." Yet he concludes that "taken together, the four may suffice to tip the scale against the death penalty." Let us revisit these four objections.

[Again, I must send you to the article for Budziszewski's discussion of these four points (in case you do not remember) before you come back for this one.]
The reader is urged to link their own articles in the comments they would wish the folks here to discuss; but try to have them say something substantially different that what Budziszewski and Dulles have said.

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