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Culture Clashes

Are you “blessed” or “privileged”?

They might seem close synonyms but the Devil is in the details

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A couple of years back a viral video showed a large group of older teens getting ready to race for a $100 bill. It was men and women, blacks and whites, athletic sorts and not so, and all things being equal, we’d expect one of the long lean guys to run away with the money. But the point of the video was to explain that things are not equal. The leader of the group, Adam Donyes, had a series of eight statements to tell the students before the race got started. The teens were supposed to take two steps forward for each one that applied to them: “Your parents are still married.” “You grew up with a father figure in your home.” “You had access to a private education.” “You had access to a free tutor growing up.” “You never had to worry about your cellphone being shut off.” “You never had to help mom or dad with the bills.” “It wasn’t because of your athletic ability that you don’t have to pay for college.” “You never wondered where your next meal was going to come from.” Doynes was trying to make a very specific point. He told the group that each of his statements had “nothing to do with decisions you’ve made.” The students up front were there not because of anything they had done, but because of the position they had been born into, or their parents had put them in. He told those students:

“…if this was a fair race, and everybody was back on that line I guarantee you some of these black dudes would smoke all of you. And it is only because you have this big of a head start that you’re possibly going to win this race called life. That is a picture of life, ladies and gentlemen. Nothing you’ve done has put you in the lead that you’re in right now.”

Then he shouted “go!” and the race was on. Drawing out biblical truths There are some clear biblical truths that could be drawn out of this video. Luke 12:48b might come to mind:

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”

Or we might think of how the three servants were given different amounts of money in the Parable of the Talents in Matt. 25. It’s important for us to understand that for those who have been blessed with more, God has raised expectations for us. The video also lines up well with 1 Cor. 12 where Paul notes our different gifts, comparing them to parts of the body. One person might be a hand, another a foot, and another an eye. And just like the "eye cannot say to the hand 'I have no need of you'" so too we shouldn't look down on those with different gifts than our own. That's an important lesson, and Doynes tries to make that specifically to those out in the front. But in this same chapter Paul also makes another point that would have been an important one for all those farther back. We are all part of the body, and we shouldn't overlook what God gifts has given us:

"...the body does not consist of one member but many. If the foot should say, 'because I am a hand I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body....there are many parts, yet one body."

Guilt vs. gratitude So there was a lot to love in this video. But what made it go viral was how it seemed the perfect illustration of “privilege,” and specifically “white privilege,” since blacks were clustered in the back, and the very front was populated with whites. The way the term privileged is used it can seem like a close synonym to blessed. One person says, “I’m blessed to have always had a roof over my head” and another says, “I was privileged to never have to worry about being homeless.” Just a matter of tomato/tomatoh, right? Two terms for the same idea. But there’s an important sense in which the two words are actually opposites. Blessed is an inherently positive word. When we say we are blessed in this way or that, it is a note of appreciation to our “blesser” whether that is God, or maybe our parents, spouse, friends, or children. But whereas we celebrate the ways in which we are blessed, one admits to being privileged – we’re supposed to “check our privilege.” Being blessed makes us grateful, but being privileged brings guilt. Parents stayed together? You got to go to a basketball camp last summer? Lucky you, but not all of us are so privileged. There's more to privileged than just guilt. Often times it is shorthand for something like: "You're privileged so you don't know me – you haven't lived through what I've had to endure." There's truth to that – if we've been sheltered from some of the world's harshness that can bring with it a naivety. And that might leave a gulf between us and others who haven't been so blessed. But even in this usage privileged is a negative word. Noting differences can be a step to understanding, to beginning to know one another. But the way privileged is used it is not a conversation-starter. This is a putdown used as a conversation-stopper. While Donyes didn’t use the word privilege in his video, there was a reason so many others thought it fit – his video wasn’t a celebration of blessing; there was a touch of shame instead. If the difference between blessed and privileged is still muddy consider this: when we are blessed and others are not, what do we want for them? Don’t we want them to have what we have? But when we admit to being privileged, is that a state we’d wish on anyone else? Being privileged isn’t something you aspire to. This is part of the “victimhood culture” where the worse off you are, the less guilt you have to feel for what you have. But when it’s good, or at least less shameful, to be hard off, then it’s bad to become more “privileged.” A wise man once said that the battle we're in is over the dictionary, and this is an example. These two words – blessed and privileged – seem almost synonyms, but whereas the first takes us to gratitude and God, the second leads to unremitting guilt and stagnation. Inequality vs. poverty Inequality and poverty are also used interchangeably. When we see people who don’t have a warm bed to sleep in, or don’t have money for needed medical expenses, then we’ll quite naturally wish their situation wasn’t so unequal. We want them to have what we have, and wish that they could live like we do. But what we’re really lamenting here is not inequality but poverty. If inequality was our concern, we could be happy as long as everyone was equally needy. But that’s not what we’re after. Our real goal is for the poor to be raised out of poverty.  So here, too, there’s a sense in which this is all just tomato/tomatoh– we might use different words, but we all want to help the poor. But once again there is an important sense in which two seeming synonyms have dangerously different meanings. Whereas “fighting poverty” is focused on helping the poor, fighting inequality is sometimes about tearing down the rich. That shift of focus happens whenever we start believing that one person’s success happens at other people’s expense. That’s what Donyes taught in his video. Donyes told students that his $100 race was like “this race called life – this is a picture of life ladies and gentlemen.” But his race had only one winner. And that winner could only succeed if others failed. In this setting every two steps someone got to take forward diminished the chances of winning for all those left behind. If that’s how you thought the world operated, what sort of attitude would you have towards millionaires and billionaires? If you believed they got their wealth by impoverishing the rest of us, what would you see as the best way to help the poor? Just that quick, concern for the poor becomes “Let’s get the filthy rich!” The world’s wealth isn’t fixed and limited. If it was, would the Tenth Commandment (Ex. 20:17) make sense? There God tells us it’s none of our business what our neighbor has, but if our neighbor could only get wealthy by keeping others poor, wouldn’t we all have a legitimate interest in making sure he didn’t get too much? The truth is, life is not a winner-take-all-race. We can thank God that’s true spiritually, with God’s children numbering as the sand on the seashore – God has made us all champions, and there are too many of us to even count. And it’s just as true materially. Even if someone beats me out for my dream job, that doesn’t mean I have to go jobless. There are other careers. I can succeed too. And if I start a successful business, yes, I might grow wealthy, but I’ll be making my money by creating a product that others find useful enough to pay for. I won’t become wealthy at my customers’ expense. They’re only buying my widget because they think it is worth more than I am asking for it (or they would never buy it). In a very real way in all the countless merchant/customer exchanges that take place around the world both sides are the wealthier for it. That’s why both customer and merchant will say thank-you at the conclusion of a sale – both have become richer...and at no one’s expense. Of course, robbers do exist – some people do become wealthy only by taking from others. But that’s not the rule. God has so made our world that we can work together to each other’s benefit. That’s why the Tenth Commandment makes sense. And when we realize that our neighbors’ wealth isn’t making anyone poor, then we can get back to fighting poverty in fruitful, rather than covetous ways. Conclusion Does that mean we should shake our finger at anyone who speaks of being privileged or uses the word inequality? Not at all. We can put some care and attention to what terms we use, but we don’t need to stress it when others use something else. Rather than going all grammar-nazi on them we can listen in humility, try to be understanding, and use context to hear what they are saying. What’s actually important is seeing through the Devil’s gambit here. Many a best-of-intentioned Christian loves the Lord with all his heart, but there’s a reason God also demands our minds (Matt. 22:37). The Prince of Perversion loves to misdirect what is good and right to his own completely different ends, and our guard against Him is knowing God’s Word, and learning how to apply it. Otherwise, the Devil might have us, in the name of helping the poor, casting covetous eyes at the wealth of our neighbor. And if he could, he’d love to rob God of the praise that is His due by making us feel guilty, not grateful, for all the blessings our Father showers on us. Thankfully, in the great blessing of the forgiveness of sins, we can put away all guilt and all envy, and instead respond in wholehearted, full-throated gratitude to our great God.

Culture Clashes, News

ESPN.com Embraces Nudity

Sports Illustrated has been featuring near nudity in their swimsuit edition for years now. Pictures from that annual issue were also featured prominently on their website, so if a fellow wanted to follow the happenings of his favorite team, but didn’t want to see barely clad women, then he’d best idea head to rival sports website, ESPN.com. But no longer. On July 5 the front page ofESPN.com featured a nude picture of Mixed Martial Arts fighter Conor McGregor. The picture was from The ESPN Magazine “Body Issue” in which prominent athletes pose nude. ESPN started the Body Issue in 2009 as competition to the Sport Illustrated swimsuit issue, but until this year the nudity wasn’t front and center on the website. Conor McGregor’s exposure was a departure and the website’s Public Editor, Jim Brady, heard from annoyed and disgusted readers. So is ESPN.com going to listen and stick to reporting on sports? Nope. Brady noted that while he had heard a lot of complaints, they seemed to be exclusively from people over 40. And when he polled friends and co-workers he found that no one he knew under 30 thought the pictures were offensive. SoESPN is going to show flesh. And if you’re offended, they’re sorry you’re such a prude. So what’s a sport fan to do when the continent’s two most prominent sports websites are selling sex? Well, there are still other options. In Canada there’s TSN.com, which, while it has ties to ESPN (ESPN has a minority stake), doesn’t have links to the Body Issue on their website. But nudity isn’t the only problem. With the NBA moving their 2017 All-Star Game from North Carolina because the state didn’t want men in women’s washrooms, and the NHL embracing homosexuality with promotions like “pride tape,” and the NFL putting on half time shows that we don’t want our children to see, it’s clear that professional sports are, overall, embracing evil. I love my NBA. But if this league, and the NHL, and the NFL and so many others, and the media that reports on them, are all intent on shaking their fist at God,is it time to tune out? And if not now, when?...

Culture Clashes

There is a Hell. Jesus Says So.

Some theologians, included big names like Rob Bell and John Stott, don’t believe in hell, or at least that it is eternal. Instead Stott suggested that lost souls might be annihilated and seize to exist. However, as Thor Ramsey notes in his bookThe Most Encouraging Book on Hell Ever, this doctrine does serious damage to our understanding of God’s holiness and justice. And what then are we to make of what Jesus says in Matt. 26:24: “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born”? “Jesus is saying for Judas, non-existence – having never existed at all – would be better than something else….Jesus is clearly saying Judas is on his way to hell. But from the perspective of annihilationism the question becomes: Is non-existence better for someone than an eternity of non-existence? Huh? “If annihilationism is true, then what Jesus said here about Judas is pretty much nonsense….Jesus was basically just babbling. And he didn’t do that.” Hell does exist; Jesus says so. And the world needs to be told to turn from their sin and flee God’s coming wrath....

Assorted, Culture Clashes

Did Adam have a belly button?

Why we need to clarify Article 14 of the Belgic Confession In the fourth century a big battle was fought over a one-letter difference. The Church professed that Christ was homoousios – “of the same substance” – as God the Father, while the Arians argued that Christ was homoiousios, or merely “of a similar substance.” The two Greek terms used differed by only a single iota (the Greek “i”) but what was at stake couldn’t have been bigger: the Arians said Christ was like God but was actually a creature. Today we’re contending with an issue that seems quiet small: our battle is over a belly button. On the side are those that profess Adam had no belly button, because he had no mother and because he was never born. As the Belgic Confession Article 14 puts it, ...God created man of the dust from the ground… On the other side or those who say Adam may well have had a belly button and a mom, and ancestors, and may have shared one of those ancestors with the chimpanzees. So this belly button battle quickly shows itself to be about matters much more important. It comes down to whether Adam brought death into the world through the Fall into sin, or whether God used death – millions of years of creatures evolving up from the primordial slime – to bring about Adam. The issue here is every bit as big as Christ’s nature: it’s about the character of God. That’s why Hamilton’s Providence Canadian Reformed Church has proposed amending Article 14 of the Belgic Confession to clarify that Adam has no ancestors. They propose that the Article begin with these two new lines: We believe that God created the human race by making and forming Adam from dust (Gen. 2:7) and Eve from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21-22).  They were created as the first two humans and the biological ancestors of all other humans.  There were no pre-Adamites, whether human or hominid. Their addition would add about 40 words to the confession, and remove any doubt as to what should be believed. But is the change needed? Is there really anyone in our church circles that’s confused about Adam’s origins? Yes, and yes. Not only is there confusion in our churches, this same confusion exists in other Reformed churches including the OPC. Canadian Reformed confusion One prominent member of the Canadian Reformed Churches, Jitse Van Der Meer, was asked how he could square man and chimpanzees having a common ancestor with what we confess in the beginning of Belgic Confession Article 14 about man being made from the dust. Prof. Van Der Meer answered: I am not sure why you think there is something to square between Article 14 and the idea of a common ancestor for chimpanzees and humans, but let me make a guess. Some have taken Gen. 2:7 to mean that God acted like a potter. If you take that literally you might see a contradiction with the idea that chimpanzees and humans have a common ancestor. But other biblical scholars reject the literal “potter” interpretation because they see this as coming close to disrespect: Did God fashion the liver, the lungs of clay? My conclusion is that the text neither justifies nor excludes the possibility that humans and chimpanzees had a common ancestor for the obvious reason that it is not a scientific text. Prof. Van Der Meer manages to take both Genesis 2 and Belgic Confession Article 14 and read them in such a way as to allow for the possibility that humans and chimpanzees had common ancestors. According to this perspective, Adam may have been crafted from the dust, but may still have had a belly button, a mom and dad, grandparents, and much, much more. Confusion in the Christian Reformed churches The Christian Reformed churches also hold to the Belgic Confession. But it hasn’t served as a sufficient safeguard against evolutionary inroads. Almost 25 years ago, in the CRC’s 1991 Statement on Origins they wrote in “Declaration F”: The church declares, moreover, that the clear teaching of Scriptures and of our confessions on the uniqueness of human beings as image bearers of God rules out the espousal of all theorizing that posits the reality of evolutionary forebears of the human race. That sounds good, right? But this was part of a minority report. The majority had recommended that there be no statements made about human evolution because, “much research remained to be done in that area.” So the majority of the committee, even back in 1991, didn’t want to go as far as to rule out ancestors for Adam. Synod did adopt Declaration F, but attached two notes which rendered the Declaration meaningless. Note 1: Of course, private research, theorizing, and discussions are not addressed by this declaration Note 2: Declaration F is not intended and may not be used to limit further investigation and discussion on the origin of humanity. In other words, even as the 1991 Synod of the CRC took a stand against Adam having ancestors, they specifically allowed for their academics to talk about Adam having ancestors. What the right hand giveth the left taketh away! In 2014, the CRC did away with Declaration F altogether. They still hold to Belgic Confession Article 14, but that is not being understood as an impediment to speculation about Adam having ancestors. Confusion in the OPC Closer to home, confusion about Adam’s origin also exists in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Our sister church was running into trouble way back in 1992 in a case that involved a Calvin College biology professor by the name of Terry Gray. Dr. William VanDoodewaard gives an account of Gray’s case in his book The Quest for the historical Adam: Terry Gray…proposed that both the increasingly accepted hermeneutical alternatives to the literal tradition and what he viewed as the realities of the record of natural history should allow for the possibility that Adam and Eve were created through a process involving primate ancestors. How did Gray address Genesis 2:7, where we are told “…the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground…”? Disagreeing with John Murray’s literal reading…Gray argued that the “dust of the ground” was “a non-technical term” that simply referred to “the physical-chemical constituency of the human body” and that the verse did not address the process by which God formed man. When complaints were first made about Gray’s stance, his session (the OPC term for consistory) “held that the charges were unwarranted.” Fortunately his Presbytery (similar to our Classis) ruled against Gray, and the 1994 OPC General Assembly also ruled against Gray. So the OPC stood strong, right? Not so fast. Gray was suspended from his office as a ruling elder, but as he explained in a blogpost titled “Being an Evolutionary Creationist in a Confessionally Reformed Church” he was restored in 1998 after he admitted “…I did not know how to hold my views about human evolution together with the uniqueness of Adam as taught in the Confessions and in Scripture.” Gray found that what Scripture taught conflicted with his views about evolution. But that did not lead him to reject evolution. Instead he simply stopped trying to revolve the conflict, continuing to hold to evolution, but no longer suggesting as to how it could be fit in with Scripture. That the OPC thought this an acceptable resolution to the issue underscores the need for clarity. If something is found to conflict with Scripture then it needs to be rejected, not sequestered! That’s what it means to live by God’s Word. Gray eventually left the OPC, joined the CRC, and worked with others there to get Declaration F rescinded. Conclusion In the fourth century you can be sure that many wondered what all the fuss was being made over. Just one letter! But the fight was about the very identity of Christ – Who He is – so it wasn’t possible to compromise. The same has to be true today. Some want to position this as only a minor matter. Maybe Adam had ancestors; maybe he didn’t. Can’t we all just get along? But the issue of Adam’s origins impacts every aspect of what we know about God. If Adam had evolutionary origins then he came about through a process of death, disease, and dead ends. Then, rather than Adam bringing death into the world via the Fall, it was death that brought about Adam. If God created using the tooth-and-claw, survival-of-the-fittest, process of evolution which He then called “good” and “very good” that completely changes our understanding of what good is. It changes how we understand our good God. What’s at stake here is our understanding of God’s. So no, we can’t all just get along. We need to help the confused and stop those who are causing the confusion. One very good way to do so would be to adopt Providence’s proposal to revise Belgic Confession Article 14. This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Reformed Perspective....

Culture Clashes

White sister thinks she is black mother

This summer a former Olympic athlete convinced the world that a man can become a women. Bruce Jenner underwent surgeries that included breast implants and facial sculpting. He either has already, or is considering, amputating his penis. He was given the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. Soon after the National Post then featured an article on able-bodied people who want to be disabled, and like Jenner, want to make use of surgery to amputate parts of their body. And like Jenner, they describe themselves as feeling like imposters in their own bodies. One fellow, now known as One Hand Jason went so far as to cut off his right arm with a “very sharp power tool.” He has yet to receive any awards for the courage involved in his transformation. In mid June the president of the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NCAAP) told her local news station that despite being born from two very white parents, she considers herself black. Rather than amputation, Rachel Dolezal needed only to make use of a change of hairdo and perhaps a tanning booth. She also has not received any awards for her transformation. Dolezal also shared that she considers her adoptive black brother her son. Can men become women, abled become disabled, white become black, and brothers become sons? The world is sure about the first, and confused about the last three, though they have no justifiable reason to be so. If amputation is understood as a legitimate option in Jenner’s case, on what basis can they object to it for One Hand Jason? And if what we are is defined by how we feel things should be – which is how the world is treating Jenner – then of course a white can be black and your brother can be your son. Whereas the world despises discernment (they call it being judgmental), God encourages it. God made us male and female, and assigned different roles on that basis. So this is a difference to be embraced, not ignored or fought. And while He has made us in a rainbow of skin tones, this is a difference He minimizes – in the opening chapters of the Bible we are told that all of us are of one blood and there is just one human race. The world is confused, but Christians need not be. God has given us guidance as to which differences matter, and which differences are made too much of. Whether we can convince our non-Christian neighbors and friends that God's ways are the best ways is up to the Holy Spirit, but with a question or two (like, "If Jenner wants to amputate his penis and One Hand Jason wants to amputate his hand, is that something we should encourage?") we can show them the vast gulf that exists between His ways and the wacky world's ways. (Updated June 18, 2015, to reflect the uncertainty about whether Jenner has already amputated his penis.)...