Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sorry, Rush, Bible calls for civil debates

The political discourse has grown increasingly hostile as the election season ramps up.
Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh recently called a Georgetown law student a "slut" and a "prostitute" after she testified before an unofficial hearing that the university’s refusal to cover contraceptives as part of its health-insurance plan has a negative impact on female students.
In the same week, Montana’s chief U.S. district judge, Richard Cebull, acknowledged forwarding an email joke that implied that President Barack Obama’s mother had sex with a dog.
Both men have apologized, but the incidents reflect a loss of civility in the political arena.
In a democracy, disagreements are expected, if not encouraged. To preserve our ideals and propel our country toward a "more perfect union," we must debate the issues. The policies that our politicians enact have social and moral consequences that determine the nation’s future and reverberate in all our lives. Thus, some conversations will be emotionally charged.
The Bible does not discourage Christians from voicing their opinions, especially when doing so would help preserve the faith. Apostle Paul cautions the church not to be deceived by false doctrine. As a counter, he encourages Christians to "speak the truth," but adds that such utterances should be expressed "in love." Peter tells Christians to be prepared to defend the faith, but "with gentleness and respect."
Free speech is one of the principles that make our country great. We should never attempt to silence or restrict citizens from stating their views, no matter how much we may disagree. But it is possible to differ in our opinions without degrading one another. Derogatory comments, such as those put forth by Limbaugh and Cebull, have no place in a political discussion. They detract us from the real issues and divide our nation.
The debate will get increasingly contentious as we move past the primaries to the general election. There will never be a time when every citizen is completely satisfied with our elected leaders and the nation’s policies. If need be, we should oppose the ideology, not the individual. America’s beauty is we can differ in our political opinions yet remain united.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lent may not be necessary, but it’s nice

This week began the season of Lent. The 40 days leading up to Easter (excluding Sundays) are intended to be a time of prayer and penance demonstrated by some form of self-denial. In many countries, the day before Lent is celebrated with overindulgence in anticipation of the solemn season. Ash Wednesday then officially begins Lent.

Lent dates back to the church fathers. In its earliest form, it is believed that Christians fasted only for the few days before Easter. By the end of the fourth century, the period of preparation had been extended to 40 days.

A 40-day observance was likely selected because of its spiritual significance in connection with preparation. The Scriptures tell us Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai, without eating or drinking, as he prepared to receive the Ten Commandments. Before beginning his public ministry, Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert.

While strict fasting rules have been eliminated in Western Christianity, Lent continues to be observed in Roman Catholic churches and some mainline Protestant denominations, including Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican. Ash Wednesday and much of the Lenten season go largely unnoticed in many Christian churches.

Some evangelicals object to Lent because it is not found in the New Testament. This argument is baseless. Christmas and Easter are not celebrated in the Bible either, yet they are widely accepted as sacred Christian holidays.

Perhaps a more valid objection is to the ritualistic practices that characterize Lent, such as the rubbing of a cross with ashes on the foreheads of worshippers on Ash Wednesday. In the Hebrew Bible, humility and deep remorse for one’s sin were displayed by wearing sackcloth and ashes, accompanied by a period of fasting. After Christ’s resurrection, many such rites were abandoned and the apostles encouraged prayer as the means of repentance. Further, Jesus cautioned his followers against advertising a fast: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting.” The warning here is against wrong motivation.

The Lenten fast is not a biblical mandate; nevertheless, all Christians can benefit from observing the season. Prayer and fasting affirm Christians’ devotion to and dependence on God. The act of self-denial is intended to allow individuals to focus more on spiritual things — not always an easy task in hurried and harried lives. This need not happen during Lent, but in the days leading up to Easter, when we celebrate the sacrifice Jesus made to atone for sin, it seems fitting to renounce sin and reaffirm commitment to God.

Evangelicals still candidate shopping

Evangelical voters are having a difficult time settling on a Republican presidential candidate. With Texas Gov. Rick Perry out of the race, none of the remaining viable candidates is an evangelical. Mitt Romney is Mormon; Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum are Roman Catholic.

Santorum snagged the evangelical vote in Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, Romney in New Hampshire and Nevada, Gingrich in South Carolina. In Florida, Romney and Gingrich split that support.

The top issues for evangelical voters typically have been abortion and gay marriage. To varying degrees, all three of those candidates hold positions consistent with Christian conservatives. However, other factors prevent full support of any one of the contenders.

Gingrich’s past marital infidelities pose a problem not just for evangelicals, but also for Republicans who tout themselves as champions of family values. While some evangelical voters may be willing to forgive Gingrich, if selected as the party’s nominee, he would arguably be running against one of the most family-oriented presidents the country has ever had.

Some evangelicals remain leery about Romney because of his religion. Also, the former governor of Massachusetts has not always been pro-life, raising questions about his conservative credentials.

Santorum would seem to be the clear favorite. He is the most consistent social conservative. However, in a head-to-head battle with President Barack Obama, many doubt Santorum could prevail.

None of the GOP candidates has been especially vocal about his faith. Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush openly professed their religious beliefs, making them attractive candidates to evangelicals. The general belief is a candidate who makes his or her faith a priority during the campaign is more likely to support biblically aligned policies.

“If [the candidates] don’t ever get around to talking about the Lord and about biblical principles and about their determination to defend those things in the culture,” said Christian leader James Dobson, according to The Christian Post, “then we better find another candidate.”

The quandary this year for evangelical voters is whether to back a candidate who most closely reflects their values or one who can defeat President Barack Obama. So far, the base appears to be split.