Pregnancy and Its Implications

I feel at the heart of the abortion issue is the inability to see the developing child as someone worth protecting.

Human life begins at conception. When the sperm and oocyte meet, a zygote forms. A zygote is a unique entity with its own unique DNA that is dependent on the mother’s body to develop.

Whenever I hear the term “my body, my choice,” it basically sounds as if women wish to distance themselves from the very process of pregnancy itself.  The impression that I get is that they do not want to have their body be used as an incubator for someone else’s body, even though that other body is still their own child, with half of their DNA.

The process of pregnancy is a unique biological, physiological process in which a unique human being develops inside another human being’s body.  The mother and the developing child are intimately related to each other in this biological context.  It is difficult for me to fathom mothers wanting to reject this process, because it’s a rejection of such a fundamental process of life and nature.

Now I can see why motherhood would be difficult for a woman, because this involves accepting the potential risks of pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia, uterine rupture, placental problems, and ectopic pregnancies, and considering if the woman is in the best financial and social situation to raise a family.  These are legitimate concerns.

But I disagree with the view that the active termination of an unborn child is a legitimate option.  For most potential risks of pregnancy, the treatment is typically a C-section and supportive measures.  The one risk of interest would be ectopic pregnancies where the child is developing in a location outside of the normal uterus location.  Usually the location would in the fallopian tubes, where if the child continues growing, the mother would be at risk of tubal hemorrhages.

In the cases of ectopic pregnancies, the treatment is usually surgical removal of the child from his or her attachment site to save the life of the mother, which will usually lead to the child’s unfortunate demise.  Given the constraints of reality where we do not have the medical technology to save the detached child by reimplanting them to a normal uterine location, surgical removal is the best current option.  But it is still important to keep in mind, surgical removal is not abortion since physicians are not actively seeking to kill the developing child but to save the life of the mother from the deadly results of a misplaced implantation.

Now in the cases of inadequate financial and social supports for a mother, there are options available that does not involve the termination of the developing child. There are local community pregnancy centers that can help a young mother out.  There are adoption centers that are willing to take care of the child.

Some may say that we should focus on creating more affordable and accessible daycare centers for young teenage mothers, and for young working college-age mothers. Some also say that we should reform the foster care system so the kids inside have a better quality of life.  I agree, these are sound ideas, but we do not have to wait until these options are available before we decide not to actively kill a developing child.

The impression I get from such an argument, where we have to improve quality of life before we stop having abortions, is that there is this belief that no life is better than a poor quality life.  In other words, it is better to kill a developing child in the womb than to bring it into a poor-quality life.  But a poor-quality life is still a life worth having and protecting.  Homeless people frequently do not enjoy the luxuries of modern life such as a home, Internet, electricity, and water, but they are still alive and living.  They generally are not seeking to kill themselves, and no one, I hope, is suggesting that they should be killed to put them out of their misery.

Also this argument that killing a developing baby in the womb to spare it from a hard life is not much different morally than a single working mother of 5 killing one of her own children to better make ends meet for herself and the surviving children.  The child that would die would no longer suffer from poverty and starvation, but the child was killed.

Killing a baby in the womb to spare it from potential harm is just as horrible as killing a child in a low-income home to spare it from poverty and starvation.  Instead of killing babies, we should seek to increase abundance and resources for these families.  Yet even as we seek to increase available resources for single mothers, we do not have to wait until these resources are available to stop killing developing children in the womb.  They may not initially enjoy life well, but at least they would be alive, as they have been from conception.


A Reflective Post on Abortion

I am using this blog post to write out and flesh out my thoughts regarding a friend’s post regarding abortion:

At one point she states, “If a female has an abortion, it is one of the most difficult/ if not the most difficult decisions she ever has to make. It is no different/ no sadder than when a female finds out she is pregnant and then loses the pregnancy. It is not easy to decide to have an abortion, and I guarantee you that that woman has thought of every possible scenario in her mind where she carries it to term and none of those possibilities were feasible to her.”

I feel there is a significant moral difference between having a miscarriage (spontaneous abortion in medical parlance) and a medically induced abortion. If we begin with the premise that a human life/person begins at conception, then the termination of that life would be tragic.

We usually tell expecting mothers who have a miscarriage, “I am sorry for your loss.” There is a loss of life in the womb that happens in the absence of the mother’s desire to end that life. In other words, in the case of spontaneous abortion, the moral agency of the mother is passive.

In contrast, with medically induced abortion, there is a loss of life in the womb that happens with the mother’s desire to terminate that life. So there is an active moral agency on the mother’s part as well as on the part of the abortionist.

I can appreciate that the prospect of raising a child in this world can be a paralyzingly scary thought for an expecting mother, especially if they feel they do not have the resources to take care of the child well themselves, or they feel distrustful of the local orphanages and adoption centers. In this sense, abortion might be seen as a kind of “mercy killing,” to spare the child from a potentially hard-filled life. In other words, better to have no life than a life filled with pain, suffering, and hardships.

Yet this principle of alleviating pain at the expense of preserving life feels Malthusian. To me, it is as if a single working mother of five killed one of her children to better make ends meet and have a better quality of life for herself and the rest of her children. The outcome sounds sensible, to alleviate suffering and improve quality of life for herself and the surviving kids, but the means to get there (killing a child), is just untenable.

My friend goes on to say, “Instead of judging her and condemning her why don’t we make laws to protect women (who by the way are alive and breathing). Why don’t we provide more high schools with daycares so that the 16 year old girl doesn’t have to drop out of school or put daycares in colleges (we sure as hell pay enough tuition for it). Better yet let’s make daycares more affordable. Why don’t we punish the rapists who rape these young women who we expect to carry their children instead of putting women through hell and back trying to get them convicted? Why don’t we help fix our foster system and the kids that are “alive” and already in it instead of waiting for them to age out or slip through the cracks?”

I agree with a lot of these policy proposals, I would like to see ways we can better improve conditions that would protect and serve both the mother and the unborn child:
-more accessible and affordable daycares for young teenage and college-age mothers
-severe punishment for rapists, (I prefer the death penalty or castration)
-reforming the foster system so the kids inside the system have a better quality of life.

I agree with these policy proposals, but the fact still remains, medically induced abortion is the active termination of an unborn child. I can see how abortion might be seen as a “mercy killing,” but then that feels like we are prioritizing the alleviation of suffering over the preservation of life, which should be more important.

In the exceptionally rare cases of children conceived in rape, aborting them in the womb feels like we would be punishing them for the sins of their father. We would be ending an innocent life for circumstances that were outside of that life’s control. Would discovering that one is a product of rape/incest cause pain, distress, and anguish? Possibly, and so the mother might feel she would be better off aborting her child to spare herself and her child of this potential fate. Yet this would again be a case of prioritizing the alleviation of suffering over the preservation of life.

There are measures that can be taken to help the mother and the child work through the trauma of rape and incest that does not have to involve the termination of the child’s life such as counseling centers and other support groups.

My friend next says, “It’s just insane to me how the same people who make these laws [banning abortion] are also the same people who complain about paying taxes for wellfare and medicaid.”

As for the reluctance for paying taxes for welfare and Medicaid, I would also like to see taxes used to help pay for these things, but I can see why there would be reluctance in doing so. Your family members, friends, local community, religious centers, and private charities can, should, and do help out young teenage mothers. Ideally one can depend on these resources instead of the government to help you out. I say ideally, because I know there are some cases where private resources are inadequate.

Even with tax money, there is only a finite amount, and any social safety net built on it could collapse if there is too much stress on it. Social safety nets only work so long as the people paying the taxes are able and willing to pay and that the government officials in charge of the money are using it responsibly and not using it to line their own pockets. Even when there is a lot of money involved, it is still a finite amount, and so there is usually some rationing involved where someone is living better at another person’s expense.

Consider the case of WW2 where FDR nationalized the military-industrial complex. There was a lot of money going into the production of war materials but the average citizen had to live a spartan lifestyle.

That will be enough for now about why Republicans are reluctant to pay taxes for welfare and Medicaid, and I could explore it more at another time.

My friend asks, “Why are we trying to take away women’s options?” Since medically induced abortion is the active termination of an unborn life, we simply seek to protect the life of the unborn with the law the same way the law already does for those already born.

She ends with, “Why are we meddling in things that do not concern us rather than trying to fix the things that will directly impact us (as mentioned above).”

It is difficult to see how the issue of abortion can be something that does not concern us when it involves the termination of an innocent life. Alleviating the prospect of suffering is one thing, but terminating an innocent life is quite another.

Roe v Wade passed in the Supreme Court in 1973, and it seems legalized abortion will still be around so long as people refuse to see the unborn child as an innocent life worth protecting.

A Biblical Look at Blasphemy

I’ve recently saw this video on my Facebook newsfeed, and I thought I share a few thoughts and insights.

Pakistan has a blasphemy law where if someone insults the Prophet Muhammad, then that person will be sentenced to death.

The Bible also has its own blasphemy law: “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 24:13-16)

People might say that they see no difference between the two laws. In a sense they are right in terms of how the law is defined, but they are wrong in terms of how the law is applied.

Some of the things to consider when looking at the application of the law:
-determining guilt
-deciding punishment
-enforcement of sentence
-who enforces the penalty

Both Islam and Christianity are similar in their accusation, determination of guilt, and type of punishment sentenced, but they differ in the aspects of enforcement of sentence and who enforces the penalty.

At one time, both Islam and Judaism expected the religious community to enforce the death penalty on blasphemers.

However when Jesus of Nazareth came into human history, He changed everything. When a person commits blasphemy, that individual deserves the death sentence, but what Jesus did was unique.

The concept of substitutionary atonement is powerful. Jesus let himself be treated as if He was the one who committed blasphemy instead of the one who actually committed the crime so the guilty person could go free.

Indeed, the Pharisees believed that Jesus was committing blasphemy when He assumed the prerogatives of Godhood by saying things like “I and the Father are one”

“At this, the Jews again picked up stones to stone Him. But Jesus responded, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone Me?”

“We are not stoning You for any good work,” said the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because You, who are a man, declare Yourself to be God.” (John 10:31-33)

The irony is that it was the Pharisees who were committing blasphemy in refusing to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. Nevertheless, Jesus was treated as a blasphemer so that guilty sinners could go free and glorify in Christ their Savior.

“For our sake he [the Father] made him [the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Also Jesus said, “Furthermore, the Father judges no one, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (John 5:22-23)

When it comes to the death penalty, it would no longer be the community of God to enforce that punishment as under the Mosaic covenant, but Lord Jesus Himself under the new covenant.

Therefore, when a person commits blasphemy, they do deserve the death penalty, but when Jesus changed human history through His death and resurrection, that person can choose between the following destinies:
-trust in Jesus to be the perfect sinless sacrifice to take his place against the Father’s wrath and to be the resurrected great high priest who intercedes on his behalf or
-face the consequences of his sin which will be enforced by Lord Jesus Himself.

In a sense, Jesus can either die in your place or punish you Himself.
He is either your Savior or your Judge.

As Psalm 2:12 puts it:
“Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”


The Old Testament Echoes of “If Your Right Eye Causes You to Sin”

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.  For everyone will be salted with fire.  Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”  (Mark 9:42-50)

What I would like to do with this passage is to dissect it into digestible pieces, discover possible parallels that would help us understand the individual sentences better, and integrate everything together to see what conclusion we may come up with.

During His earthly ministry, Lord Jesus essentially functioned as the bridge and transition between the Mosaic covenant and the New covenant.  The new covenant had not been formally established since He had not died for His people’s sins nor had He risen from the grave yet.  There is a sense in which the Lord functioned as an Old Testament prophet even as He was preparing His people for the responsibilities of the new covenant.

Would it not be helpful then, to consider the passage from Mark above in terms of the Mosaic covenant?  The Lord speaks in the terms and language of the Mosaic covenant, a paradigm that His audience would have been intimately familiar with.  Acts 15:21 states, “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”  If we assume this verse refers to the Pentateuch, the first Five Books of Moses, what we would call Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, it would be reasonable to assume that the Lord’s audience understood the Mosaic covenant with great familiarity.

It would be as if Americans knew the statutes and laws of their Constitution well.  In other words, the audience of Jesus’ time probably would have known the Mosaic covenant much better than how average Americans understand their own Constitution.

Perhaps the Lord speaks in the terms and language of the Mosaic covenant, because that was the paradigm that His audience were familiar with.  The New Covenant has not been established yet, so He needs to speak in terms of the Mosaic Covenant in the interim for the sake of His audience.

Stumbling Block

The Lord said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.”

Jesus holds as an ideal, “little ones who believe in me,” and this phrase carries the same moral force as the commandment in Deuteronomy 13:4, which states, “You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.”

Likewise, the punishment for those who cause people to disobey is just as severe.  In Jesus’ example, a millstone would be hung around the dissident’s neck, while in Deuteronomy 13, the dissident would have been stoned to death with stones by the community.

“If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you.” (Deuteronomy 13: 6-11)

In drawing this parallel, I hope to show that Jesus’ commandment to believe in Him carries the same emotional and moral impact as to walk after Him as God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and to serve him and hold fast to him.

Individual Personal Sin

Next, Lord Jesus moves from the neighbor’s influence on a community member to the personal responsibility of the community member.

“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.
It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

In the context of Mark’s gospel, it would stand to reason, that Jesus does not intend His audience to actually cut their hands, foot, and eyes out if they cause His people to sin.  Before this passage in Mark chapter 9, Jesus already established that sin is a spiritual, inward condition of the heart in Mark chapter 7.

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-23)

Cutting off avenues for sin to extend its reach and influence may help treat the symptoms of the disease, but such actions would not treat the disease itself.  Physical, concrete actions would not cure the inward spiritual problem of sin, although they can help mitigate its effects and influence.

Also Jesus alludes to His future death and resurrection as the cure for the spiritual problem of sin in Mark chapter 8:

“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)

It may be that Jesus speaks in the specific, physical, and concrete terms that He does because that was the language of the Mosaic covenant itself.  However, both the Mosaic covenant and the language that Jesus speaks both run into the problem of prescribing physical concrete solutions to a problem that ultimately requires spiritual renewal.  I am fairly certain that Jesus was aware of this problem and that He hoped His audience would understand that point.  Perhaps he purposely spoke in hyperbole to drive home the point that His audience ultimately needed a spiritual solution to the problem of sin than trusting in the physical, concrete solutions that the Mosaic covenant prescribed such as the sacrificial system and the temple.

Nevertheless, the Lord’s hyperbole does drive home the fact that we should adopt a merciless attitude against our sin.  In other words, Christians should be actively killing sin, or sin will kill us.

It is also helpful to consider Paul’s prescription to the same problem of sin.  Where the Lord says to cut your hand off, if it causes you to sin, the apostle Paul says to not let sin reign in your mortal body.

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” (Romans 6:12-13)

It is very important to note that Paul speaks in the context of the New covenant.  At the time of Paul’s letter to the Romans, Jesus had already died for the sins of His people and rose from the dead, establishing the provisions of the New covenant.  God’s people live under the new covenant instead of the Mosaic covenant.

Therefore, instead of physical concrete solutions to a spiritual problem, the people of God are encouraged to redeem their bodies for God’s glory with the help of the Spirit.  Because of the Lord’s sacrifice and resurrection, those who believe in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior have the ability to present themselves to God as a slave to righteousness instead of continuing to be enslaved to their former rebellious passions.

Isaiah Reference

It is interesting to note that Jesus mentions, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched,” because that directly references Isaiah 66:24, which states, “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me.  For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

Therefore, we can understand that when Jesus says “sin,” He means, “rebel against God.”  It would not be a stretch of the imagination to say that when He says “believe in me,” He is encouraging His audience to trust in Him as God, as King of kings and Lord of lords.

The verse before Isaiah 66:24 states: “From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 66:23)

So the universal standard to which Jesus holds His audience accountable would be absolute allegiance to Him as the God and King of all mankind.  The universal scope of Jesus’ reference to Isaiah possibly leads to His logical transition to another statement with a universal scope: “For everyone will be salted with fire.”

Universal Judgment

When the Lord says, “For everyone will be salted with fire,” I am inclined to believe that He means both those who trust in Him and those who do not.  In the Old Testament, God punished Israel, the people who entered the Mosaic covenant with Him for their transgression of this covenant.  He sent Assyria and Babylon after Israel for the numerous times that they rebelled against Him and cheated on Him with idols.  He then punished Assyria with Babylon, and then Babylon with Persia.

Simply being a part of God’s people in name was not enough, you had to have a humble and contrite heart and bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

So God holds everyone accountable, especially those who bear His name:

“For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the LORD of hosts.” (Jeremiah 25:29)

“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)

However, although God will salt everyone with fire, for those who trust in Jesus as Lord, Savior, Friend, and Treasure, perhaps this same fire will instead be a refining power:

“And I will put this third into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, “The LORD is my God.”
(Zechariah 13:9)

“But who can endure the day of his coming,
and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.
He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi and
refine them like gold and silver,
and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.”
(Malachi 3:2)

Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.  If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:13-15)

However, although believers may survive through the fire, there is a sense in which, if you refuse to hold fast to Jesus and become like the world in their rebellion against God, you will share their fate.  Perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind, when He said, “Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Those who pledge their allegiance to God as their reconciled King are salt, but if they continue to rebel against Him, then they will share the same fate as traitors: death.

The Lord’s phrase about “if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again” carries parallels to several other biblical passages, especially those of the prophets:

“Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing;
go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves,
you who bear the vessels of the LORD.” (Isaiah 52:11)

“Flee from the midst of Babylon; let everyone save his life!
Be not cut off in her punishment,
for this is the time of the LORD’s vengeance,
the repayment he is rendering her.”  (Jeremiah 51:6)

“Go out of the midst of her, my people!
Let every one save his life
from the fierce anger of the LORD!” (Jeremiah 51:45)

“We are put to shame, for we have heard reproach;
dishonor has covered our face,
for foreigners have come
into the holy places of the LORD’s house.”

“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD,
when I will execute judgment upon her images,
and through all her land
the wounded shall groan.” (Jeremiah 51:51-52)

“For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.

Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,

And I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:16-18)

“Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.” (Revelation 18:4-5)

Essentially, the idea being promoted here is this: once you pledge allegiance to Jesus as God and King, make sure that you continue to obey Him accordingly, walk as He walked, be holy as He is holy, and hold fast to Him, lest you share the same punishment as those who continue to rebel against Him.

Lord Jesus and His apostles Paul and John had sayings that were similar to the above:

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:5-6) Perhaps, when Jesus says, “Have salt in yourselves,” he meant, “abide in me that you may bear fruit.”  Therefore in the passage in Mark, Jesus is saying, “believe in me,  hold fast to me, have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another”.

In other words, “have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another” is essentially the same as “abide in me and bear fruit.”  The being at peace with one another is a fruit that comes from abiding in Jesus.

The apostle Paul and the unknown author of the letter to the Hebrews had a similar mindset about striving for peace as a fruit of believing in Jesus:

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10)

The apostle John said the following:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2: 15-16)

In this case, “have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another” would be to do the will of God, and avoid loving the world as you pursue love of the Father.  Losing your saltiness would be loving the world as you follow it on its course to death and destruction, as it will pass away along with its desires.  But if you keep your saltiness, and do the will of God, you will abide forever.


Thus in bringing to bear on the Lord’s sermon in Mark chapter 9 all of the biblical cross-references that I mentioned, we can make some of the following conclusions:
-beware of those who seek to lead you astray from a pure and undivided devotion to the Lord
-have a merciless attitude against your sin, but remember that it is a spiritual problem that needs a spiritual solution that is found in trusting in Jesus’ death and resurrection
-Lord Jesus was speaking in terms of the Mosaic covenant even as He was preparing for the new covenant: even though our relationship to God changes, God’s holiness does not change; perhaps this fact lies behind why Jesus’ and Paul’s prescription for sins of the body appear different even though they both tackle the issue of personal holiness.  Jesus spoke in terms of the Mosaic covenant, while Paul spoke in terms of the new covenant.
-Everyone will face judgment, so prepare yourself accordingly
-Act in a manner worthy of the gospel, enjoy the presence of God, and do not become like the rebellious world which will face judgment, and be at peace with one another.
-Inner sanctification should lead to outward good works.


The Role of American Christians in Politics

     Tim Keller wrote an opinion article for the NY Times regarding the role of Christians in politics:

     I agree with him that “Those who avoid all political discussions and engagement are essentially casting a vote for the social status quo.”  He gives the examples of early 19th century American churches and the issue of slavery.  To his example, I would add 20th century American churches and the issue of segregation.  Martin Luther King Jr came from a Baptist background and spoke vehemently against racial discrimination.  His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” is essentially a message from an overseer imploring his fellow overseers to stop implicitly supporting the status quo by their silence and inaction.

     Lord Jesus commanded His believers to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Naturally, to faithfully follow that command would entail being involved politically to an extent.  Keller provides the examples of working for better public schools or for a justice system not weighted against the poor or to end racial segregation.  I agree with these platforms.

     The main thesis statement that Keller provides is this: “While believers can register under a party affiliation and be active in politics, they should not identify the Christian church or faith with a political party as the only Christian one.”

His reasons for this position are the following:
1. To identify the Christian faith with a political party as the only Christian one would give the impression that to accept the Christian faith, you need not only to believe in Jesus but also to become members of the Party; religion would simply be another voting block aiming for power.
2. Most political positions are not matters of biblical command but of practical wisdom.
3. “Package-deal ethics”: political parties insist that you cannot work on one issue with them if you don’t embrace all of their approved positions.

     I generally agree with Keller in the first reason that we should not identify the Christian church or faith with a political party as the only Christian one.  But we do have to point out to observers that Christianity teaches values that will lead us towards one party over another on several different issues.  On issues like abortion, immigration, climate change/environment, healthcare, public schools, gun safety, capitalism/socialism, appropriate police force, minority rights, and the like, the two parties have different perspectives that we should critically examine and peruse.  We will do our best to vote according to our values.  That will naturally mean that we might vote Democrat on one issue while we vote Republican on another issue.

     In other words, Christianity will lead us towards platforms that just happen to be considered liberal and/or conservative according to our modern political definitions.

     I understand how Keller says, “religion would simply be another voting block aiming for power,” since that is how the outside world would see the political dynamic, but I feel the paradigm would be better framed as “religion is working with the power it already has as an American citizen granted by the U.S. Constitution.”

     American Christians are also American citizens, and so we have power granted to us legally by the Constitution, and since that power ultimately comes from God, we should therefore, use that power as responsibly as we can.  In other words, we are using the legal opportunities provided to us to pursue God’s glory and the joy of our neighbors.

     I definitely agree with Keller that Christians could reasonably appear at different places on the political spectrum with loyalties to different political strategies.

     But the issue exists that even when one side promotes a particular strategy, sometimes the way they go about the strategy and the degree to which they pursue it needs to be considered and rebuked.

     If the United States is a patient, the government is the immune system.  Generally speaking, you want to have a healthy and intact immune system to function well for the health of the patient.  If the immune system is too weak or does not function frequently enough, the patient suffers from opportunistic infections.  If the system is too strong or operates too often, the patient suffers from autoimmune diseases such as lupus.  So on issues like healthcare, economics, or immigration, I personally find the matter to be one of finetuning the system for optimal performance.  The Democratic and Republican parties act essentially like dials.

     On immigration: Republicans would dial up while Democrats want to dial down.
-too strict: we risk being inhospitable
-too lax: we risk endangering our own people from violent criminal aliens.

On gun safety: Democrats want to dial up while Republicans want to keep the status quo or dial down.
-too strict: abuse of power, extreme power imbalance between the government and private citizens
-too lax: endanger public safety from people who should not have guns

On healthcare: Democrats want to dial up while Republicans want to dial down.
-too strict: risk for corruption and incompetence from government employees and their benefactors (think Venezuela)
-too lax: monopolized insurance companies and hospitals that jack up prices at patient expense.

     The conclusion that I’ve come to on issues such as the above, is that we do our best to approximate that happy middle ground between the two extremes, much as I would try to do for a patient with a dysfunctional immune system.  I do my best to consider where we are at as a country on a particular issue and seek to move towards that optimal middle.

     If you were to ask me where I stand on the above issues, I currently feel the Democratic position on issues like immigration and healthcare are too extreme, so I would vote Republican on those issues.  But on an issue like gun safety, I would vote Democrat because I felt the Republican position was too extreme on that end.

     Thus, in the context of American politics, liberal or conservative are not inherently good or evil.  Because of their “package-deal” quality, the platforms on the political spectrum should prompt Christians to practice the art of discernment well, and separate the wheat from the chaff.

     This “package-deal ethics” puts pressure on Christians in politics.  Tim Keller said it well, “Christians should be committed to racial justice and the poor, but also to the understanding that sex is only for marriage and for nurturing family.  One of those views seems liberal and the other looks oppressively conservative. The historical Christian positions on social issues do not fit into contemporary political alignments.”

     I’m reminded of how Joshua once asked the commander of the army of the LORD, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”  I love how the commander, who I personally believe to be the preincarnate Lord Jesus, said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD.”  (Joshua 5:13-14)

     It should be expected that Christians and the church will not fit neatly into contemporary political alignments.  God the Son did not fit neatly with Joshua’s army or the Canaanites because both parties had sins, problems, and issues that are held accountable to God’s universal holy standards.  Even when Lord Jesus walked among us in 1st century Palestine, He did not fit in neatly with the prevailing religious political spectrum of the time.  He was neither a liberal Sadducee nor a conservative Pharisee.  Both religious parties had a hand in His crucifixion.

     Keller believes that Christians are pushed toward two options:
-withdraw and try to be apolitical
-assimilate and fully adopt one party’s whole package in order to have your place at the table.

     I can see how Keller could come to these conclusions, and he states that he does not believe either of these options are acceptable for Christians.  I agree with him that these options are not acceptable.  I would also add to his comment that Christians have a third option.  It’s the “be in the world, not of the world, and remember that we are sent to the world” option.

     As American Christians, we should be involved in the political process, since those are the circumstances we find ourselves in.  We find ourselves in a political position to make great change for our neighbors both inside our country and outside because of the way the Constitution made America a representative constitutional democracy.

     I do not believe Christians have to assimilate and fully adopt one party’s whole package in order to have your place at the table.  The possibility exists that you could choose either party and reform it from within, or you could leave one for the other in an attempt to rebuke the party being left in hopes of reforming it.

     You could also always write to your respective representative senator in hopes of changing their mind on a political issue.  My views on gun safety might be considered Democratic/liberal relative to some of my peers, but I still convinced my Republican Senator to vote my way on the issue.

     So my take-home points are:
-Christians should be involved in politics to faithfully follow Lord Jesus’ commands to “Love your neighbor as yourself”
-Avoiding all political discussions and engagement are essentially supporting the social status quo.
(Now there is a place for waiting for a more opportune time to discuss certain issues of the day, but sometimes some issues take priority because of their urgency)
-The Christian faith should not be solely identified with a single political party, especially since each political party take such different positions on different issues.
-The Christian faith will cause us to pursue platforms that just happen to be labeled liberal or conservative according to modern political definitions.
-We should rebuke “Package-deal ethics” because both Democratic and Republican parties occasionally hold views that need to be examined and rebuked according to God’s universal standards as revealed in the Bible.  Both of them have some redeeming qualities and some sins that need to be rebuked.  Christians will always have a prophetic duty to hold our neighbors and ourselves accountable to the Lord’s universal standards of justice.
-Sometimes the Democratic and Republican positions are dials on certain issues like immigration, gun safety, and healthcare.  I generally seek to find the optimal middle ground and avoid the extreme ends each side tends to make.

Rebuttal to Reverend Jim Martin

“Why do people hate migrants and refugees?”
-Wow, what a great way to start and frame the discussion.

“Some conservative Christians argue that they’re breaking the law by coming across the border.”
-Well this is true, we have procedures in place for migrants to come ask for asylum into our country, but some of the asylum seekers have not followed these procedures.

Consider your own house: when a stranger comes knocking on your door, do you just automatically open your door up to let him in as a guest? No, I would think you would at least keep the door closed at first, look through your peephole, and ask what business do they have with you.

If the stranger asks for hospitality from you, you might naturally be inclined to welcome them in, more so if they came asking at your front door.

However, if they do not come at “port of entries,” that would be like if the stranger jumped across the fence into your backyard and then knocked on your glass door for you to let him in. (Side note: I am open to the possibility of having more ports of entries available, but I haven’t seen that proposal being pushed.) It would be one thing if the stranger did it out of ignorance or desperation, which is a possibility, and you could kindly ask the stranger to come to your front door instead. But jumping over the fence into your backyard should naturally raise some suspicions that should not so easily be dismissed.
Other things you might have in mind as you process the situation would be:
-what time of day the stranger arrived; coming at night raises more suspicion than coming at day.
-how legitimate their request is
-can you trust this person to be who they say they are and not someone trying to take advantage of your kindness
-do you have any resources to provide for yourself, family members who may be living with you, and the stranger

“Seeking asylum is a human right.” This is true. But again we have procedures in place for screening applicants and welcoming them in just as most homeowners naturally would do if a stranger comes knocking on the front door.

“The law is not the only judge of morality. There are unjust laws. Like abortion and same-sex marriage. So why are they being so selective?”
Yes, there are unjust laws. Laws are codified ideas. Not every idea is equally good. Some are very bad, others very good or they could have varying degrees of goodness. Since not every idea is equally good, we have every right to be selective to choose the idea that provides the best public good.
-Abortion: taking the life of the unborn
-Same sex marriage: governmental recognition of the civil union of individuals with same-sex attraction.
-Slavery: treating another human being as property
-Refugee laws: screening a stranger to see if their claims for asylum is authentic.
The topics of abortion and same sex marriage can be discussed at another time, but for now, I just want to let my readers have the take-home point that behind every law is an idea that needs to be examined, because not all of them are equally valid.

Also since the topic is on immigration/refugee laws, the idea being discussed is essentially “screening a stranger to see if their claims for naturalization and asylum are authentic, and if bringing them in at this time would be good for them and our citizens.”
I really fail to see what’s so inherently bad with this idea as opposed to slavery which meant treating your neighbor as property.
“Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders use Bible verses and talk about things being “biblical” to defend their positions.”

This is not a necessarily bad thing to do. Abolitionists used Scripture to justify their position just as pro-slavery advocates used Scripture to justify their own. Both of them used the Bible to defend their respective positions, but their arguments were different in weight. In other words, the key thing to keep in mind is which side has stronger support for their position when you examine their arguments.

Calling something “biblical” has similar moral weight to saying something is “constitutional,” which is really just saying that something is consistent with the legal and moral thrust of an established document.

“But they must know that the whole thrust of the Old and New Testaments when it comes to migrants and refugees, is that we’re supposed to welcome them.”
This is half true, the Bible does encourage us to take risks in the way that we love, but we have every right to count the cost of such compassion.
Taking risks in the way that we show compassion is morally different than having an open door policy.  When a stranger comes knocking on your door and asks for hospitality, the Bible would encourage you to consider uncommon compassion by welcoming them into your home and providing them a place to stay and eat. But you have every right to consider the costs of letting them in, as already discussed above, like if you have enough resources to provide for them, how long they can stay, if they are who they really say they are, etc.
Open door policy, on the other hand, would undermine this thought process, because you would already be letting everyone who comes to your door in, and you have no way of knowing whether they are good or bad people. That would be reckless and dangerous to both yourself and the people who may share your home with you.

The principle I am trying to convey is behind the point Lord Jesus made when He said,
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
He says we live in a world of wolves, and there are people who will love to take advantage of our compassion, so as we strive to be as innocent as doves, we also have to be as wise (prudent) as serpents.
So again, taking risks with our compassion is a big moral difference than open door.
”So why are so many Christians still against migrants and refugees?”
This is a dishonest and unfair characterization of our position: what’s so wrong with asking to hold on and wait as we screen the people who come to our borders to see if their claims for asylum are legitimate? Open door is reckless and dangerous, closed border is cold, but a semipermeable border with screening checkpoints is sensible. The cells in your body follow the same principle, and people who advocated for gun safety had a similar thought. I do not see why we cannot apply the same to our borders. If we asked for a more streamlined and humanistic screening process, I would think most of us could agree to that, but that’s not what’s been being proposed these days.

This speaker says refugees have been demonized and dehumanized. He states the president the other day said they were infesting the country, as if they were vermin. The speaker then compares the statement to those made by the Nazis regarding Jews or by the Hutu about the Tutsi. He then compares the refugee crisis to Japanese American internment.

The speaker ends his thought with: “It is much easier to treat people as dirt if they’re seen as animals.”
-The speaker is conflating a lot of moral issues together.
-There are many false moral equivalencies being made.
Nazis treated Jews who were legal German citizens as less than human.
Japanese Americans were legal American citizens being criminalized unjustly.
Illegal immigrants/refugees are strangers, not legal citizens, that we do not have perfect knowledge of, and who we need to screen to let into our country.
If a stranger comes knocking at your door, and you happen to refuse to let him in, should your neighbor call you unkind for doing so? No, what if you simply did not have the resources to take care of yourself, your family and the stranger and you would all suffer together? What if you found out the stranger has a criminal record, or the stranger appeared at a time when you heard that a shooter was recently spotted in the area? I mean these are some of the considerations that need to be taken into account when we’re discussing immigration policies. There’s a time to welcome people into your home, and a time when you should not.

“I think the only solution is for people to come to know the stories of migrants and refugees.” This is not a bad solution, but it fails to address the fact that we need sensible border control. I would advocate for a border that maximizes the number of migrants and refugees that we allow into our country while minimizing the number of dangerous criminals like MS-13 members into our country. But in order for this outcome to happen, we need a comprehensive immigration reform, but since a package deal is unlikely to happen through our current Congress, we would have to accomplish comprehensive reform through single issue bills.
I do not doubt that some of the people coming to our borders are fleeing warfare, rape, famine, and drought. Some of them are fleeing their homelands, at great risk, to find safety for their families. Some of them are hardworking, inspiring, and faithful; but the thing is, some of them are not. Even a small minority can cause a whole lot of damage to our society. Therefore we have to have a screening immigration policy in place that maximizes public safety as we seek to show public kindness.

We do not think of immigrants or refugees as animals infesting our country, we just want sensible border control, so we can control the stream of migrants that enter our country. Just think about hosting a party. When you send out a list of invites to guests, and you ask them to RSVP, you’re basically controlling the stream of guests that you expect to welcome into your home. You have to consider if your home can accommodate your guests in terms of space and food availability. Border control follows the same principle. If it doesn’t, then by all means, we can work together to change it so it does follow this principle.
The speaker ends the video with: “Ask yourself what you’re going to say at the end of your life when God asks you, “How did you care for your brothers and sisters who were refugees and migrants?”
To this question, I would say as we seek to help refugees and migrants, which is definitely a noble goal, we also have to consider helping our brothers and sisters who are legal immigrants, not the “white supremacists” the media constantly talks about. Sometimes the way we help refugees and migrants can needlessly endanger our fellow American neighbors (and I am not talking about just those with fair skin), so it is all the more necessary that we consider how we can best help both parties.