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Same-Sex Marriage in California

The news networks and internet are buzzing about May 15’s decision by the California Supreme Court striking down a California law that had previously banned the practice of homosexual marriage in the state. Now this does not tell the complete story because California grants registered “domestic partners” very similar benefits that are afforded to married couples (inheritance rights, insurance, etc.). While the initial effects of this decision particularly for the rights of homosexual couples may not change much for people in California, it is the foundation of the decision that may produce the most long-lasting effects.

The California Supreme Court declared that marriage is a fundamental right for all people and no distinction can be made regarding sexual orientation. The majority opinion stated, “We therefore conclude that in view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.” If it is a fundamental right to form a family relationship defined as marriage, then the impact of this decision could be far-reaching.

First, homosexual couples who marry in California will ultimately move to other states. Those states that do not recognize homosexual marriage will face lawsuits attempting to force them to recognize their marriages as fundamental rights. Most of these cases will probably end up in their respective state supreme courts, and those justices will certainly be weighing the arguments of the California court.

Second, the definition of marriage as a fundamental right may ultimately lead to a stamp of approval for polygamous, polyamorous, incestuous, and underage marriages. In California, marriage has already been redefined; therefore, the next case may be to define marriage no longer as between two individuals but to include three, four, or more. While this case does not directly equate such relationships to marriage, it opens the door to these arguments.

Third, the court overturned a statute that had been previously approved through democratic process by the popular vote of the people of California. The “votes” of four judges overturned the votes of millions of citizens. Thus, we have seen the will of the people overturned by the will of the court. In our democratic republic with representation appointed by the vote of the people, this could have lasting consequences regarding judicial activism across the country.

Let us not think that this is an issue only affecting the West Coast. It is in our neighborhoods and our churches. The debate over homosexuality is alive and well in the Christian community—just look at the new books on the subject in the last few years. For Christians, it comes down to an interpretation of Scripture. However, there are some who attempt to interpret Scripture to support homosexuality (and ultimately homosexual marriage) as well. At the risk of sounding self-serving, I recently presented a paper evaluating the hermeneutics of those who attempt to support homosexuality from Scripture. You can find the audio here.

Children and Parenting

As we approach the final week of class here at Southwestern, I am about to lecture on the final topic of the semester—children and parenting. Now before you say that I can’t cover that in three class meetings, trust me that I know I am giving it merely a bit of lip service. However, that is the life of being a professor. Unlike Dr. Finn (my illustrious SBC Witness co-contributor) who deals with topics like history that don’t change, technology and culture bring up new challenges for ethicists to face every day. Anyway, back to the subject of my post…

I want to consider the issue of children and parenting, especially as it relates to discipline. In Christian circles, there are a number of various approaches to discipline that may be considered, but I want to focus on two. The first is the “spare the rod, spoil the child” crowd that considers discipline to include physical punishment at times and suggests distinct obedience to the wishes of the parents. The second group is the “keep it positive and build little Johnny’s self-esteem” crowd. This group believes that parenting should be a positive endeavor and avoid any possibility of bringing shame or reproach upon a child. Of course, there are extremes on both sides of these positions, but I want to consider the moderate, sensible versions of both positions.

The first group is best characterized, in my opinion, by Tedd Tripp in his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart (2nd ed., Shepherd Press, 2005). Tripp’s basic approach believes that behavior is an overflow of the heart. As a result, it is the parents’ responsibility to use discipline in such a way as to address matters of the heart and in so doing to direct the hearts of their children to God. This viewpoint suggests that parents make their expectations clearly known and encourage obedience without challenge, without excuse, and without delay. Sometimes the discipline required to shepherd a child’s heart to God may require the use of the rod, but Tripp strongly warns against distortions of the rod that are unacceptable. At its essence, Tripp considers the rod to be a parental exercise, an act of faith, an act of faithfulness, a responsibility, physical punishment, and a rescue mission.
The second group is best characterized by a positive take on the training of children that involves the building of self-esteem in the child. They are represented by a number of recent books and authors I have read and heard of late (but I don’t have their book info handy to give proper publication information). In essence, they believe that the self-esteem of the child should be built up greatly in opposition to any form of negative discipline. For example, if a child has not obeyed the wishes of the parent, the parent should not point out the disobedience, but should praise another area of the child’s life where he did meet parental expectations. The thought is that the child will be self-motivated through positive reinforcement to do the things that he has not previously done.

In my study of Scripture and teaching in my class, I find the second approach to be disconcerting in light of the biblical evidence. If Scripture is to be our guide and the best example of parenting comes from our relationship with our Heavenly Father, then self-esteem/positive reinforcement “discipline” seems to be lacking. Don’t get me wrong, I desire to praise my children both for what they do and who they are. They are made in God’s image and are inherently valuable as a result. However, I also see in Scripture where God chastens his own children and then instructs us to use discipline appropriately to direct the hearts of our children toward him. For example, Proverbs 29:15 states, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.” In addition, Ephesians 6:1-3 teaches that a child’s obedience to his parents is actually an act of obedience to God.
With all this in mind, how do you think we ought to address this issue of discipline?

Race and the SBC

I just read an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (excerpted from an article originally in The Washington Post, which is much better by the way) about the Southern Baptist Convention reaching out to minorities. The featured picture was of Eric Redmond, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Temple Hills, MD, and 2nd VP of the SBC. The article basically states that many of the larger denominations in the US have seen a departure of members or at least stagnant growth in recent years.

One way that some denominations are countering this decline is by reaching out to African-Americans, Hispanics, and other minority groups. The article notes that the SBC has probably the farthest to go in order to diversify due to our history of poor treatment of African-Americans and our predominant "whiteness."

In honor of Black History Month and just an interest in racial issues, does the SBC have any hope in this area? Can we overcome our history and become a multicultural convention? What do you think?

On an related note for you history buffs, PBS has been showing "Eyes on the Prize" all month, which is a multi-part documentary of the Civil Rights movement.

Tornado at Union University

*Updated 2/5/08 9:16 p.m. CST* David Dockery was just interviewed by phone on WREG. Major damage at Union including all women's dorms destroyed and heavy damage at men's dorms and academic buildings. See below for more. 

According to news reports out of ABC 33/40 in Alabama (here and here) and the Commercial Appeal in Memphis (here), a tornado has apparently hit two dorms at Union University in Jackson, TN. There are no reports of injuries as far as the reports say, but there seem to be people trapped in the dorms. I will update as soon as more info becomes available. Please keep Union University, Dr. David Dockery, and the students at the university in your prayers tonight. There is a second round of storms heading through Arkansas right now and are due to hit West Tennessee overnight or tomorrow.

*Updated 2/5/08 8:20 p.m. CST* More reports out of Memphis reporting the same at www.wreg.com.

*Updated 2/5/08 8:36 p.m. CST* Dr. Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist in Memphis, was just interviewed live on WREG Channel 3 in Memphis. Dr. Gaines has 2 daughters at Union and they called their dad to tell him that their dorms were hit by tornadoes as well as a commons building. Apparently, the campus was prepared and the students were huddled in inner rooms/bathrooms. According to Dr. Gaines, Dr. Dockery has asked faculty members to come get students whose dorms have been damaged and take them to their homes. Continue to pray for Union as well as the entire Mid-South area. One of the meterologists on WREG stated that in 30 years of covering weather in Memphis, this was the worst set of storms he had ever seen.

*Updated 2/5/08 9:16 p.m. CST* Dr. David Dockery was interviewed on WREG. 8 male students are trapped in a dorm. They are okay, but stuck in a dorm. All women's dorms have been destroyed. Men's dorms have been heavily damaged. All students have been moved to the Penock building. There are 1,100 students living on campus. All classes have been cancelled through Feb 13. At that time, a decision will be made about the rest of the campus. 2 academic buildings were heavily damaged. They had another tornado hit in 2002, and he said that this damage was 10 times worse.

*Updated 2/5/08 9:53 p.m. CST* A new report was posted at the Commercial Appeal out of Memphis (available here). The news story reports that 2 dorms were destroyed and the roof of a classroom building was sheared off. According to Tim Ellsworth, Union's communications director, most of the cars on campus have been destroyed or damaged and 2 dorms "have been reduced to rubble." Jennings Hall, which houses the Christian Studies, Communications, and Music departments has sustained major roof damage. 

*Updated 2/5/08 10:08 p.m. CST* WREG Channel 3 in Memphis just showed video from Union's campus on their 10:00 news. The damage is devastating. I imagine it will be even worse when video can be taken in the daylight. Please pray for Union University and the people of the Mid-South area. There are 2 confirmed deaths–one in Shelby Co. (Memphis) and one in Fayette Co. (Somerville, TN, east of Memphis).

*Updated 2/5/08 10:28 p.m. CST* News report posted by the Jackson Sun (newspaper in Jackson, TN) available here.

New Article Available on Betrothal View of Divorce

Back in October, I posted an entry discussing the betrothal view of divorce and remarriage. The issue of divorce and remarriage continues to be a hot topic and one that I find my students are struggling to come to a consistent position. This issue probably generates the most response in my classes, and I have devoted an extra week of class this semester to the topic based on last semester’s discussion.

In the October 20, 2007 issue of Christianity Today, David Instone-Brewer wrote an article regarding his view of divorce and remarriage that is perhaps the most permissive view found within evangelical circles. Now there is a new article on the other end of the evangelical spectrum from Instone-Brewer. David W. Jones, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has recently had an article published in Bibliotheca Sacra. His article is entitled "The Betrothal View of Divorce and Remarriage" and can be found in the January-March 2008 edition of BibSac. This is an academic journal that can be found at the libraries of your nearest seminary, divinity school, or university with a religion department.

Much of what Jones discusses in the article may also be found in the audio from his presentation at Southwestern Seminary’s 2007 Baptist Distinctives Conference on "The Family." Jones offers lexical and contextual support for the betrothal view and provides and academic source for those doing research on the issue of divorce and remarriage, specifically as it relates to the betrothal view.

The Legacy of Russ Bush From a Student’s Perspective

In my years at Southeastern Seminary, I was privileged to have a great deal of personal interaction with Dr. Russ Bush. I took his infamous Intro to Philosophy course on the MDiv level at SEBTS (contrary to popular opinion, he did allow questions in class–we had 2 for the entire semester). I also took two PhD seminars from him and worked to develop an orientation to American culture seminar for new international students. I was privileged to eat a few meals at his home, and I shared his weakness for Dairy Queen soft serve. There are too many memories to share them all, so I want to relate just two.

The first came from his philosophy seminar that I was taking the semester he was diagnosed with cancer. It had become tradition for Mrs. Bush to bake cookies for the students in his PhD seminars and interrupt the class one day to bring the freshly baked treats and sodas. For some reason, Mrs. Bush found a extra soft spot in her heart for this group of philosophical delinquents and decided to grace us with her presence at least four times. The first two times, Dr. Bush happily welcomed her into the room to interrupt the seminar for half an hour. On the third occasion, you could see that he was a little frustrated but happy to see his wife. I imagine that he mentioned to her at home that the interruptions were preventing him from covering the material for the class. On the fourth time, he simply gave up. There was no frustration, no rush to get back to class. He gave in to the hospitality of Mrs. Bush for the students, and you could see the love he had for his wife even if she prevented him from covering all the material he wanted to discuss for the day.

The second memory came from a trip to an apologetics conference 6 months after he was diagnosed with cancer. I shuddered when he walked into the room to listen to my paper. The sinking feeling in my stomach came from the fact that I was presenting a paper on the work of Francis Schaeffer. I had read almost everything Schaeffer had written–Dr. Bush had known Schaeffer. I knew that I had no chance to exhaust his knowledge of the subject, and I was certain he could exhaust my knowledge quickly. On the way back from the conference, we were driving back up I-85 from Charlotte. He asked me about my dissertation so I bounced a few ideas off him regarding my premature dissertation topic. He looked over at me and mentioned a topic related to my dissertation that he said he had never been able to figure out. He then told me to answer that question in my dissertation so it could be settled in his mind. The very idea that I could answer a question unsettled in such a brilliant mind as Dr. Bush's was a ridiculous thought to me. The fact that he genuinely expressed to me that he thought I could do it was probably one of the most encouraging moments of my academic career.

Dr. Russ Bush was a brilliant man and an impeccable scholar. He also had a caring and loving heart. He will be missed by Southern Baptists, especially his former students like myself.

Appreciating Life in the Face of Death

SBC Today has a letter written by a husband to his wife after they recently experienced a miscarriage. It is an expression of hope and an appreciation of the sanctity of life even in the face of death and mourning. Check it out here.

Things you wish you never said…

Gardner-Webb University

Just last week, I watched the end of the Gardner-Webb vs. Kentucky basketball game. For the sake of the Wildcats, I was hoping it was an exhibition. Unfortunately for Kentucky faithful, it was not. Gardner-Webb, technically a mid-major conference team (but not even on the list of mid-major teams that would ever concern a team like Kentucky), humiliated the Wildcats. While such a story would be big enough news, I ran across something even more profound (?) in an article about mid-major teams knocking off the big boys. This time the embarrassment seemed to be on the little guy.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran an article about mid-major teams. Here's an excerpt from the article.

After beating Kentucky, the school decided it was time to get with the times and establish an Internet site.

"Prior to this week, we never really had any use for a web site," said John Michael Thomas, Jr., the school's president. "Never really got that much attention, and weren't really sure that this whole 'web thing' was going to stick, anyway. So we didn't get around to it."

Before you go to mocking GWU's president as a media neophyte, let me share the rest of the story. The president of GWU (according to their website) is not John Michael Thomas, Jr. The school's website dates from at least 2005, but that is most likely just the current version dating back 2+ years. The athletic department website lists a copyright of 2007 but also appears to pre-date the big win over Kentucky.

For the first time in my life, I actually sent a letter (technically an email) to a reporter about a story. I am waiting to hear back for the explanation. Either way, this one will go down as something you wish you never said. If the reporter is correct, the president of GWU needs to get into the mid-1990s. If the reporter was wrong, he may go back to covering high school basketball rather that mid-major college teams.

I will update the entry when I hear from the reporter.

In somewhat related, SBC-political news, Gardner-Webb is one of 5 Baptist colleges in NC that the Baptist State Convention of NC voted to allow to sever their trustee and financial ties to the state convention.

Divorce and Remarriage: The Betrothal View

I had one of those moments in my class last week that every professor dreams of having (or was that a nightmare—I’m not really sure). There was a moment in my lecture that I clearly communicated something to my students about which most of them had probably never thought. We were studying the issue of divorce and remarriage, and I had been pontificating on the various Christian views on the subject. I saved the two best for last: the Erasmian (or majority) view and the betrothal view.

The Erasmian view of divorce and remarriage holds that divorce is allowable in situations where adultery has taken place (according to the exception clause of Matt 5:32 and 19:9) or when an unbelieving spouse leaves (the so-called Pauline privilege of 1 Cor 7:15). Proponents of the Erasmian view also hold that remarriage is allowed in these cases as well. This is by far the most widely held view of divorce and remarriage in evangelical circles.

The betrothal view also allows for divorce when an unbelieving spouse leaves. However, the betrothal view interprets the exception clause in Matt 5:32 and 19:9 as referring to sexual immorality discovered during the typical one-year betrothal period customary in first century Jewish culture. Thus, the betrothal view does not allow for divorce in cases of adultery after marriage (Note: A slight exception to this stance may allow for divorce in such cases where the guilty party is unrepentant and abandons the innocent spouse and files for divorce. In this situation, the guilty party is exhibiting the behavior of an unbeliever and may be treated as such). The betrothal view never allows for a believer to seek a divorce and does not allow for remarriage in any circumstance unless one of the spouses dies.

When I expressed that I hold the betrothal view and that it does not allow for remarriage unless a spouse dies, there was a collective gasp in the room. Now I know that there are a number of students in my class who agree with me. At the same time, I know that there are a number who disagree. Then there are certainly some who do not know where they stand.

We can certainly discuss this issue in the comments, but let me explain why it is important. The divorce rate in the United States for 2005 (the most recent statistics to come from the US Census Bureau—2006 stats will be available in December) was 48%. In 2001, 21% of all adult American men and 23.1% of all adult American women had been divorced at least once. According to the Barna group, the divorce rate in the church is the same as that among non-believers. This issue is serious, and I believe one reason that so many people just accept the world’s view of divorce is that our churches do not discuss it. Certainly, we have divorce recovery groups and discipleship classes for blended/step-families, but do we confront the issue of divorce on the front end?

Before you go to calling me a legalist and insensitive, let me inform you that divorce has impacted my family in several ways. Thankfully, my parents will be celebrating their 36th anniversary next week; however, so many people in the rest of our family have been impacted by divorce. I am aware of its pain. I am aware of its struggles. But I am also aware of how seriously God takes marriage. Jesus himself said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Matt 19:4-6). When it comes down to it, I would rather my view of divorce and remarriage be shaped by Scripture than by experience (actually, that is how I do theology and ethics as a whole).

For those of you who are not familiar with the betrothal view, I would like for you to consider two pieces available online for a fuller treatment (my summary is entirely too short to get the full understanding). A pastoral viewpoint of the betrothal view is available from John Piper here. An academic viewpoint is available in audio format from David W. Jones (Assoc. Professor of Christian Ethics at SEBTS) here.

In the end, I always tell my students that you must hold your view of divorce and remarriage humbly because you will always make someone mad no matter what view you hold. There are also sincere, Bible-believing Christians and scholars who disagree with me. What I ask is that you give me and the betrothal view a fair hearing.

Baptist Distinctives Series at Southwestern

The FamilyAs the beginning of the semester at Southwestern Seminary quickly approaches (classes start Thursday), I wanted to plug an upcoming conference at Southwestern. The third installment of the Baptist Distinctives Series is "The Family: Reclaiming a Biblical View of the Family, Womanhood & Manhood." The conference will take place Sept. 13-14 at Southwestern's Smith Center for Leadership Development. Plenary speakers include Paige and Dorothy Patterson, Russell Moore, Tom Elliff, Richard Land, and Mark Liederbach. There will also be ten other speakers leading breakout sessions.

Registration, schedule, and more information is available online at www.swbts.edu/thefamily. Overnight accommodations are also available at the Smith Center.