Religious Freedom Threatened

Religious Freedom Threatened
We have recently posted about some believers who have had their religious freedom threatened merely because they want to live out their faith. Government agencies at various levels are attacking believers with fines, jail time, or bankruptcy because they will not participate in something which is against their Christian convictions. Wedding photographers, cake artists, and owners of flower shops and wedding venues have been charged with discrimination. Their only crime is not wanting to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies because they believe it violates God’s plan and design for marriage.

Now government punishment is being carried out against Christian farmers because they expressed their belief in the God’s design and sanctity of marriage. Steve and Bridget Tennes and their five children live on a farm 22 miles from East Lansing, Michigan. For the past seven years they have been selling their produce at the East Lansing Farmer’s Market. The city has adopted a policy that bars those who believe in traditional marriage from selling produce in the market. Steve Tennes posted his Christian view of marriage on Facebook. When the administration of the East Lansing Farmer’s Market learned about that, they said the Tennes farm, known as Country Mill, would no longer be allowed to sell.

Country Mill was selling the only organic apples available in the East Lansing Farmer’s Market, and those sales are a significant part of the income for the Tennes family. Steve Tennes filed a federal lawsuit against the city, and a federal district judge ordered that he should be allowed to return to the farmer’s market until the case is settled. Tennes does not want to see Americans’ religious freedom threatened. He said, “This isn’t just about our ability to sell at the farmer’s market. It’s really about every American’s right to make a living and not have to worry about being punished by the government.”

In the meantime, the U.S. Justice Department has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in one of the cases we reported on earlier. That is the case of Jack Phillips, a Christian cake artist who will not participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony by designing a cake for it. The Justice Department is siding with Phillips in this case. It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court will decide. There are Christians who just want to live out their faith and not be forced to participate in something they believe is in violation of God’s commands. The Jack Phillips case could have repercussions for many others.

We can’t ignore the fact that religious freedom threatened just because it hasn’t directly threatened us. Believers should not be forced to do something that violates their faith. That sounds too much like the situation the early Christians faced in ancient Rome.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Second-class Citizens in Christianity?

Second-class Citizens in Christianity?
In our day of constant protests about human rights and discussions about racism and sexism, skeptics say that women are treated as second-class citizens in Christianity. The truth is that there are no second-class people in Christianity.

In his excellent book Under the Influence (Zondervan Publishing, 2001) Alvin J. Schmidt presented a strong historical case for the fact that Christianity has been the main influence for women’s equality. The Bible does not portray women as second-class citizens or as subservient to men.

One of the sources of misunderstanding is the word “submission” in the New Testament. Two Greek words can be translated “submit.” One is the Greek word hupeiko which means to retire, withdraw, yield, or surrender. It is used only in Hebrews 13:17 where Paul wrote, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority.” The idea involved is to turn everything over to someone else, and that word is not used in the relationship of women to men.

The Greek word used to portray the husband-wife relationship is hupotasso. It comes from two root words: hupo meaning “under” and tasso meaning to “arrange.” It can be used in a military sense, and it means to submit yourself to or obey. When I was in the army, I submitted to my commanding officer. I was not a slave or a second-class citizen. Our commanding officer gave us a mission. Together we arranged a way to solve the mission objective. I never questioned the role of my commanding officer, but I knew he was dependent on me to arrange things to achieve our mission.

Ephesians 5 begins its discussion of submission by telling Christians to submit (hupotasso) to one another (verse 21). Christians have a common goal, and we accomplish that goal by being in submission to God and to one another as each of us has different gifts (1 Corinthians 12). God gives us a job to do, and we are valued as agents to get that job done. Paul then uses the same word to describe the relationship of wives to their husbands (verse 22).

Sometimes a man will be in subjection to his wife. When it comes to laundry and grocery shopping, I do what my wife says. The picture of husband and wife in Ephesians and throughout the New Testament is a picture of trust, love, service, and respect. Paul tells husbands to love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25). He told wives to respect their husbands(verse 33). The goal is a happy marriage and ultimately eternal life.

Christianity elevates women and places them as equals to men in every way. Each one has roles and abilities unique to them and to their gender. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). There are no second-class citizens in Christianity.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Deception in Politics, Religion, and Anglerfish

Deception in Politics, Religion, and Anglerfish
Lying seems to be a heavily used skill in today’s political climate. The fact that there is so much deception in politics is interesting to me because as an atheist I viewed deception as a survival skill. When I was a child, my mother took me to narrated movie shows on nature. These were 16 mm movies filmed by photographers usually associated with The Audubon Society or The National Geographic Society. The person who did the filming usually was the narrator, and that added color and personality to what we saw on the screen.

My mother usually had an object lesson for me at the end of those films and deception was a major theme. My favorite film was an underwater movie about reef fish. The scene I liked most involved an ugly fish known as the anglerfish. This fish would lie on the bottom and dangle a piece of flesh that was worm-shaped in front of its mouth on a rod attached to its head. The fish would wiggle the lure to attract reef fish. When a fish came close to investigate, the anglerfish would suddenly lurch forward and swallow the fish whole.

My mother seized on the moment to tell me that I needed to learn a lesson about life from the anglerfish. That lesson in her atheist perspective was that life is hard and to survive we must to learn to deceive and not be deceived. Later in my efforts as an atheist, I would maintain that deception is simply survival of the fittest. The fit survive by deceiving and exploiting the unfit.

I always had good results using this to support my atheist arguments. When I tried to justify stealing money from my mother, it was less effective. I protested by referring the anglerfish, but she screamed at me, “You’re not a fish!!”

Now looking back at that from a Christian apologetic position I have to say “Bingo!!” But from her atheistic evolutionary perspective, I AM no more than a fish. When we have so much deception in politics, that is an indication of the perspective of our elected officials.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Weight of Christian Testimony

Christian Testimony

Christian testimony is very powerful. After I finished speaking in a recent lectureship, an atheist vociferously attacked Christianity. He said that in the twenty-first century Christianity is useless. He said it doesn’t help anyone, it creates conflict, and it wastes resources.

Before I could respond, a woman said to him, “Before my husband came to Christ he was a drunk, an abuser, and a terrible father. Since becoming a Christian, he has been a kind, loving father and husband because of his new relationship with Christ.” Before he could respond, a man standing behind him said, “I was an alcoholic for 26 years, and since becoming a Christian I have found the strength to free myself from this horrible drug.” Then a young woman said, “I grew up in an abusive home and abused my own children until I became a Christian and learned there was a better way.”

Then the man’s wife held him by the arms and looked into his face and said, “Why do you think I have stayed married to you through the affairs and the times you left me lonely and crying? I have told you that God wanted us to make this marriage work, and if it wasn’t for Christ, I wouldn’t still be here. I want to build our family according to the pattern the Bible gives us.” The man looked at me and said, “I have answers for what you said in your scientific lecture tonight, but I don’t have an answer for all of this.” He waved his arm at the people standing around him and walked away from me with his arm around his wife.

In 1 Chronicles 16:8-9 we read: “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; tell of all His wondrous works.”

In Mark 5:1-20 we see the amazing story of a man who was mentally deranged until Jesus cured him. The man wanted to go with Jesus and leave the place where he was known for being a lunatic. Jesus told him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.” The man not only told his friends and family about what Christ had done for him, but he went to ten cities in the area and did the same. The next time Jesus came to that area, there was a crowd waiting to hear him because of the testimony of the cured man.

It is easy to find people who claim to be Christians who do nothing to change the world around them. There are also many who do make a difference by their Christian testimony. Even in our modern times, testimonies carry more weight for most people than any scientific evidence I can offer.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Problems in American Public Education

Stable Family and Public Education

Sometimes I have the opportunity to speak to groups of teachers or community groups interested in public education. One of my comments in those presentations is that I know what the basic problem is in American public education. I can give it to you in a very simple personal statistic. In 1959 when I began teaching at James Whitcomb Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, I had a freshman homeroom with 32 kids. Four of those kids did not have the same last name as the person who was listed as their parent or guardian. When I retired from Riley 41 years later, I had a freshman homeroom with 32 kids in it. Only four of those kids did have the same last name as their parent or guardian. Kids who grow up in a stable nuclear family have a distinct advantage over kids who grow up in a climate of change and insecurity.

I was reminded of that fact when our local paper came out on Mother’s Day with a list of the 12 valedictorians of Mishawaka High School–a large public high school in our area. All 12 of them had the same last name as their parent or guardian. Please do not misunderstand these comments. We are not saying that kids who come from homes where there has been divorce or death are doomed to failure. Many of our children turn out well in spite of us, not because of us.

The fact is that God’s plan for the family provides the ideal environment for kids to grow up with the drive and motivation to be productive adults. Ephesians 5:15-6:4 instructs Christians in these matters. As a public school teacher, I have seen the wisdom of that teaching over and over. No politician will ever be able to solve the problems of public education until the problems of the American family are resolved, and I would suggest that only Jesus Christ has the power to do that.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

What Is the Cause of Bad Things?

What is the Cause of Child Disability?
We receive some interesting comments about statements we make in our discussions of the creation of the universe. We have said that there was a beginning and that the beginning had a cause. So the question we pose is, “What is a reasonable cause?” The atheist will say that the cause was blind, mechanistic, opportunistic chance. We have quoted well-known atheists like Richard Dawkins who say that. (See Dawkin’s River Out of Eden, page 133.) We have said that the Christian view is that the cause was an Intelligence with a purpose. We have also said that the purpose and the design needed to accomplish the purpose can be seen all around us. (See Psalms 19:1 and Romans 1:18-22.)

Some of my skeptic friends have responded by saying that I have created a contradiction. As an example, consider what happens when the sperm meets the egg of a human in the process of conception. A large number of sperm cells are released, but only one cell fertilizes the egg. That sperm cell’s genetic makeup is involved in the child’s genes. If we say that this is not a chance process, we are saying that God has predestined the child to whatever deformity or genetic disease was present in the cell passed on by the father. Does God micromanage the situation so that the child would be deformed? We have stated many times that God does not bring bad things into our lives. James 1:13 tells us, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He himself does not tempt anyone.” God does not direct a sperm cell to the egg so that a genetic disease happens resulting in tragedy for the child and his family. That would be in violation of the notion that the bad things in our lives don’t come from God.

Here is an important point! God chooses to withhold what He CAN do to allow us to have free moral choice. We have an eternal purpose in the war between good and evil, and love is the key. Without the capacity to choose, love is impossible. God allows us to choose so that we can love others and also love God. There has to be choice.

We should ask, “What has happened in the past to produce a sperm cell that has in its genetic code a defect that will affect the child?” When God created humans, the human genome was perfect. Brother could marry sister, and there would be no genetic problem. The Bible does not even mention incest until well after the time of Adam and Eve. Humans have continued to contaminate themselves with chemicals of all kinds, with viruses and diseases by sexual relations with animals, and by a failure to follow God’s hygienic rules. The human genome became contaminated, and that affects us all today. We all carry genetic changes that can negatively affect our offspring. We make things worse when we don’t follow God’s rules for marriage and the expression of our sexual desires. God has told us that “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Does God micromanage the distribution of sperm during sexual intercourse? No, that would violate the warning God made that there are consequences when we disobey God’s laws. God designed the system, but the process of fertilization is a product of chance.

Likewise, God doesn’t cause war, but because He created humans with free will, there is war. God gave us the guidelines and ability to have peace. Whether or not peace will happen is up to us. Chance occurrences such as weather and natural calamities can control the outcome of war–and peace. God does not micromanage those things, but they follow the laws that God established. God can choose to intervene, but when He does it is the exception, and we call it a miracle. God will not violate the purpose for which He created humans.

I am the father of a child born with severe disabilities. It doesn’t help my anger, frustration, heartbreak, or disillusionment to know this is the reality of my life. On the other hand, my former atheist convictions didn’t give me any answers at all. God does allow things to happen that we don’t like, but there is comfort in knowing that things will get better. My mentally challenged, blind son will say to me sometimes, “Dad I will really enjoy being able to see when I get to heaven. I can’t imagine how good that will be.” I can look at my personality and attitude and see that I am a different man than I would have been had I not gone through this ordeal. I know that “All things work for the good of them that love the Lord” (Romans 8:28). At the same time, we must realize that things happen that are not God’s will–or ours.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

“I Told You So.” Here Comes Sologamy

Self Marriage
Self Marriage
One of the problems involved in the gay marriage movement is that once the definition of marriage is changed, anything is possible. One of the newest examples of this is self-marriage. Anderson Cooper on CNN interviewed a North Dakota woman who married herself in front of forty friends. Cosmopolitan magazine published an article titled “Why I Married Myself.” It said, “Self-marriage is a small but growing movement, with consultants and self-wedding planners popping up across the world.” Some self-marriages have been lavish, expensive affairs with many bridesmaids. (It’s usually women who self-marry.) To go the cheap way, there is a website where you can get a self-marriage kit for $50.

What is incredible about all this is not the fact that creative people will develop items to fit a growing social trend, but that people actually think that all marriage consists of is a ceremony and a piece of paper. God’s plan in Genesis 2:20-24 was initiated at least in part because “it is not good for man to be alone.” When people try to substitute same-sex marriage, polygamy, marrying their pets, or themselves for God’s planned relationship the result is always disaster and frustration.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Evidence that God’s Plan for Marriage Works

Young Couple
Young Couple
In my college days at Indiana University, there was a department known as the Kinsey Institute. The first public studies of human sexual conduct that had been given wide circulation were conducted by Kinsey and revealed much about the morality of our culture. That institute is still functioning and recently released a study of brain responses to sexual interactions in humans. The bottom line is that the first person you have sexual relations with “lays down a template for what you find attractive.” A study reported in the Journal of Neurophysiology goes into a chemical discussion of the brain’s natural opiates which are set in a person’s first sexual experience.

What stands out in this study is that any kind of promiscuity violates the design of the system that is built into us. Proverbs 5:18-19 portrays the ideal for a man when it tells us: “Let your fountain be blessed and rejoice with the wife of your youth. Let her be as the loving hind, a graceful doe; and let her breasts satisfy you at all times and be ravished with her love.” God’s plan is for a single relationship (Genesis 2:24) which is nurtured and cared for (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).

Science has now verified that our bodies and our brains are designed to function as God has instructed us. The society in which we live has changed sex into a commodity. The glorification of multiple partners is more than a violation of how God has told us to live. It also abuses the design God built into us to allow for ultimate sexual pleasure not in a one night stand but throughout our adult lives. (Quote from Discover magazine, April 2017, page 26.)
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Talking with the Dead

Man Meets Robot
Man Meets Robot
Researchers at the University of Minnesota say that they will soon be making voice simulations of someone so close to the actual person that they will “be able to accurately imitate those who have died.” The claim is that “we will be able to continue to interact with them as if they continued to live.” There is a test called the Turing Test which allows researchers to tell whether a response is from a human or a machine. Some of the simulations have passed the Turing test. In other words, you could be talking to a simulation of your father who died ten years ago, and you would not be able to tell that you were talking to a computer. Family history, mannerisms, voice inflections, patterns of choices can all be built into the computer simulation.

In an article by Muhammad Ahmad from the Minnesota department of computer science in Saturday Evening Post (March/April 2017 page 10), a shocking question was asked. The question was, “Would such a system have a soul?” Ahmad responded that his work would allow experiences OF a deceased person, not experiences WITH the deceased. Ahmad says that “in the future, you would still be able to spend time laughing and reminiscing with a simulation so similar to your loved one that it would be difficult to tell the two apart.

The things that make us truly human will never be possible in a simulation. A simulation can revisit a memory from the past. Past events, mannerisms, and patterns of choice can be built into the simulation. However, there will not be creative expression in art and music, spontaneous acts of worship, feelings of guilt and sympathy, and an agape type of love. I have spent hours watching videos of my wife of 49 years and my children as babies and toddlers and teenagers. It has been a rich experience. I have recordings of my deceased mother and of my kids’ school events. Those are good memories, but even better is having the comfort of knowing that God is now caring for my loved ones and that in the future there is the hope of something far better than the best memories I have of the past.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

The Rose, Mixed Blessings, and Life

Roses
Roses
There is probably no flower in America that gets more notoriety than the rose. Our music is full of songs about roses–“I Want Some Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” “Paper Roses,” etc. We send roses to people for virtually all special occasions and to convey and emphasize all kinds of messages.

Those of us who grow roses are keenly aware of another side of roses–they have thorns. I love to grow roses because they are so easy to grow. Roses are very forgiving to “klutzy” gardeners like me. They do fairly well even when you forget to fertilize them. Even when you forget to spray them until the bugs have eaten off all the leaves or the black spot has covered the foliage, they seem to rebound and carry on. The only thing I do not like about caring for roses is weeding them. Every time I reach to get the weeds out of my rose garden, one of those treacherous thorns catches me and penetrates even my work gloves to draw blood. There is a tendency to castigate the plant for stabbing you when all you were trying to do is help it.

Many things in life are like roses–children, for example. They are beautiful in many ways, and in many ways a joy to help them grow and nurture. When you try to weed out the things you know may strangle and hurt them, you frequently get wounded by the child. Marriage is another beautiful thing that can bring incredible joy, pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment into one’s life. But there is always some pain in marriage too. The Church is beautiful and a joy to work with, but it is almost impossible to get involved in helping the Church grow without getting hurt in some way–usually by the ones you are trying to help.

The skeptic might look at this circumstance as an illustration of God’s ineptness. If God exists, why should there be thorns among the roses? It is the thorns in marriage and child raising and the Church that cause many to abandon these institutions. Even in our limited ability to understand, I believe we can see the answer to this question which, on the surface, seems to be a flaw in the design. The rose is not only a thing of beauty, but it is also an excellent source of vitamin C. One of the frustrations of growing roses is the fact that a variety of animals and birds like to eat the flowers. It is only the thorns that protect the plant from predation that would destroy it.

In the same way, our dealings with one another have to be conducted so that each person has a certain amount of protection. When I hear a parent bemoaning the independent streak in their teenager, I sometimes ask them if they really want a child who is dependent on them for life. When someone is complaining about their spouse having a different viewpoint on things, I wonder if perhaps their spouse may be right at least part of the time. Sometimes a different perspective prevents us from making foolish mistakes. When I see struggles in the Church over whether my choice of an action or activity is best for another person, I have to ask whether I want the responsibility of always having to have the right answer for every situation.

The writer of Hebrews said, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11). Anything really worthwhile takes effort and demands a price. Do not let the thorns of life keep you from the real beauty.
–John N. Clayton © 2017