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Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

There is a strange silence surrounding the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) on young girls.  Perhaps we are too anesthetized by the legalized mutilation and death of girls (and boys) in the womb through abortion.

According to a 2012 report of the CDC, an estimated “513,000 women and girls in the United States were at risk of or had been subjected to female genital mutilation.”  Amanda Parker of the Aha Foundation reports that “the increase in FGM in the U.S. is almost entirely, if not entirely, due to the increase in immigrants from countries where FGM is practiced.  Somalia, Egypt, Sudan and others all have very high rates of FGM with more than 90 percent of girls in each country undergoing this abusive practice.”

In America today, FGM is illegal in only 24 states.  My own state of Iowa does not outlaw this crime against women.

Why aren’t more of us speaking on behalf of little girls brutalized by FGM—or babies who feel pain during an abortion?  Because both FGM and abortion have been placed in a religious and cultural context.  Americans who once enjoyed civil discourse over contrasting perspectives now fear being offensive if we oppose or even question a faith or practice different from our own.  To “offend” someone in America today is to risk judgment for a “hate crime.”

FGM is protected by Sharia law.  Sharia law is part and parcel to the religion of Islam.  With Islam’s Sharia law also comes forced marriage, honor killings, pedophilia, sexual slavery… and Sharia courts.  

Christianity does not force marriage, honor murder, or defend sexual sin.  Christianity understands that God wants us to first love Him and then love our neighbors as much as ourselves.  Children are our littlest neighbors and we should not keep silent as they are being carried to the butcher.

Christianity understands that every boy and girl—in the womb or born—has value, not because of how their parents perceive them, but because of what Jesus did for them.  To silence a voice that protests FGM or abortion is to silence the Lord who says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.”  To silence a voice that exposes any child abuse is to silence Jesus the Shepherd who gathers the little ones in His arms.

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christian children in palestine

When I look at the photos of children in the Middle East, I wonder:
What if we knew we had one year left of Christian freedom in this country?
What would we most want our children and grandchildren to know…

iraqi christian children

…and what would we be willing to do about it?

 

 

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Mussmann Anna croppedAnna Mussmann and I have never met.  So it was with great surprise that I received the following review of my book from her blog Sister, Daughter, Mother, Wife.

Linda Bartlett has worked in the pro-life movement for years. Among other positions, she has served as the national president of Lutherans For Life and as chairman of the LCMS Sanctity of Life Task Force. As a pro-life leader; a mentor of young women; an instrumental participant in the launch of Word of Hope, a post-abortion ministry; and a parent, she has come to believe that the foundational philosophical approach behind modern sex education is in utter conflict with Scripture. This month, I read her book, The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity: Questions and Answers for Christian Dialogue.

Initially, I found myself somewhat resistant to her message. Two issues distracted me. One was my own background. After growing up in a homeschooling community that included a large number of fundamentalist families who tried to “ensure” their children’s purity by rejecting the world entirely, I have seen overly-controlling parents and overly-sheltered (adult) children. There was no outward immodesty, no dating, and no “sex education” in these households. I remember one woman whose son wanted to become a doctor. She would not agree to his going to medical school because there is “so much nudity” there, and she hoped that he could find a nude-free, apprenticeship route to medical training with a Christian physician. These families sought protection from sin through ignorance, and their legalistic attempts did not usually work out as they hoped. Because of all this, I was hesitant when Mrs. Bartlett argued that children ought not to receive “sex education.” I even shied away from her use of the word “purity.” After all, we and our children are all sinners. How can we be “pure?” However, as I completed the book, I came to realize that what Mrs. Bartlett advocates is different from the errors I saw growing up. Mrs. Bartlett’s arguments are insightful, thoughtful, counter-cultural, and deeply important to parents and to the church as a whole. Her writing is well-worth your consideration.

She argues that the modern understanding of sexuality (itself a loaded modern term) is the result of “sexual social engineering” based upon the discredited and deeply flawed research (some of it involving shocking child abuse) of sexologist Alfred Charles Kinsey. Due to Kinsey and his followers, the world has accepted the idea that human beings are “sexual from birth” and that sexuality (as opposed to sex, in the sense of being male or female) is key to each person’s identity. Believing that these arguments (and all that they imply) were proven science, the church changed its approach to sex, sexuality, and human identity and sought to provide a Christian version of the same flawed sex education that became universal in the public sector. This, Mrs. Bartlett says, was a well-meant but tragic mistake.

She points out that, while God created humans as male and female, Jesus also said that there is no marriage or giving in marriage in heaven. We know that we will not lose our humanity or our identity in heaven. Therefore, our “sexuality” is not essential to our humanity and identity. When we focus only on our sexual identity instead of our identity as a man or a woman, we lose out on the broader picture of who we are. She says, “We are fully human—male or female—whether we are a child or an adult, whether we are married or single,” and that, “To accept that children are human beings and therefore sexual beings is to accept wrong teaching that leads to wrong practice. It bestows a mistaken identity that compromises faith and purity.”

When Christian parents and Christian teachers believe that their children are sexual beings, they teach the wrong things at the wrong time. Instead of focusing on teaching children what it means to live out the vocation of man or a woman in the broad sense (and providing appropriate sexual information in one-on-one conversations at appropriate times), sex is overemphasized. Children are placed in mixed-gender classrooms away from their parents and told how to have sex, how to prevent physical side-effects of sex, that sex is wonderful, and that they will no doubt think about it a great deal and want to have it, but that they must wait for marriage. Twelve years of sex education, added to an oversexed culture, is unhealthy. She argues that this approach is more likely to stir up lust and inappropriate desire than to help young people relate to each other in a Christian manner. It is like surrounding them with wonderful-looking candy and saying that they must not eat it!

She also argues that children and young people’s natural delicacy and modesty about such topics is a good, healthy, and protective thing. “Christians should know that due to sin’s corruption, having sexual information is not sufficient to make good sexual decisions.” A system designed to desensitize them (even if well-meaning and based on the assumption that they are already hardened to sensuality and sexuality because of the culture they live in) does no one any favors at all, and is in fact harmful—it can “actually weaken the child’s resistance to sexual temptation.”

Furthermore, if Christians accept the idea that their primary identity is that of a sexual being, it become far more “excusable” for them to engage in sex outside of marriage and even to have abortions. How can they be expected to live chaste lives if that is contrary to their nature? How could anyone believe that they can really wait years and years to engage in an essential aspect of their humanity? After all, “If we are ‘sexual from birth,’ then one may believe that his current lusts and desires were created that way by God, rather than being horribly corrupted by sin. If people believe their current desires are God-given, it would follow that no one has the right to tell them how to define or express their ‘sexuality’.” Because of this, she objects to the term “God’s gift of sexuality” because it leads to misguided emphasis. If instead we talk and teach about “God’s design for sexuality,” the emphasis is far more Biblical.

Opponents of Mrs. Bartlett’s view would probably claim that her approach will lead children to think that sexuality is shameful. However, she quotes C.S. Lewis’s comment that, “There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.” She wants to teach a positive, active approach to life, and says,

“Abstinence says, ‘I must wait for sex until marriage.’ Purity says, “I don’t have to wait to be the woman (or man) God created me to be.’ Abstinence says, ‘Because we are sexual beings, I must be cautious with the opposite sex.’ Purity says, ‘Because we are persons more than sexual beings, I can respect, talk to, learn from, work beside, and be patient with the opposite sex.’ …. Purity always journeys toward hope with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit. In fact, because of Jesus Christ, we can be restored to a life of purity even after we’ve failed to abstain.”

Mrs. Bartlett provides a great deal to think about. It took me a while to realize that her approach was not the legalistic one that I have witnessed among some critics of the modern world, in part because her text is composed of (often overlapping) questions and answers, so it felt more like reading material from an online forum than a traditional book, and it took me some time to grasp the overall context of her ideas. She fully recognizes the sinful nature of humanity and the need to provide children with appropriate information at appropriate times. Yet she challenges the church to completely rethink the way we approach sex education and human identity. I find it fascinating that even though most Christians would agree that our culture is over-sexualized, many people respond with alarm to the idea that children should be taught less about sex. We are much more attuned to the danger of insufficient than of over-abundant information on this topic. Mrs. Bartlett’s book offers an explanation for why that is, and suggests an alternative model that could be used to train our children.

 Anna Mussmann is the editor of the
blog Sister, Daughter, Mother, Wife;
a teacher and enthusiast of classical education;
a wife and mother of an infant son.
Her blog What’s Wrong with the Phrase,
“God’s Gift of Sexuality?”
(12-9-14)
is reprinted with permission.

Please visit Our Identity Matters.

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children of all colorsChristians should see racism for what it is: sin. It is an assault on the fundamental dignity of men and women who are created by God. Racism is not always about skin color or ethnicity. We dehumanize a person who is in a coma by calling them a “vegetable”.

So what is behind hatred, discrimination and racism? “We are,” says John Stonestreet. He quotes G.K. Chesterton who responded in the following way to a newspaper editorial asking what’s wrong with the world: “Dear Sir, In response to your question what’s wrong with the world, I am. Yours Truly, G.K. Chesterton.”

“Out of the heart,” says Jesus, “come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19) and discrimination.

Christians have incredible opportunity, writes Stonestreet, to contrast evil with good. Secular humanism always dehumanizes people by “reducing them down to their sexual inclinations, or color, or socioeconomic status or looks, or some other arbitrary category. Secularism simply does not possess the worldviews resources to confront person-to-person discrimination in all of its forms. But Christianity does.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Good News of dignity for all people. Christians can explain that there is only one race: the human race. We are different skin tones and cultures, but all are lovingly created by God for His purpose. This stands in vivid contrast to the teachings of secular humanism. “The Church needs to be at the front of the conversation,” writes Stonestreet.  I agree.  Jesus restored relationships and showed how to treat people like brothers.  Only Christianity sees the value of each human being because no one but Jesus Christ makes people so valuable.

Jesus saw all people as treasures in a field.  He paid the price of His life for each and every one of them (Matthew 13:44).  With that understanding, we can see all people–of all colors and in every circumstance–as our neighbors.  We can love them as we love ourselves.

With appreciation to John Stonestreet,
Breakpoint, 5-7-14

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women & health careGod created woman to be a helper (Hebrew: ezer).  God knew man would not be complete without woman to help him remember and trust God’s Word, be a good steward of all that God has made, and build a culture of life.

In a fallen world, however, woman is challenged by Satan, sin and her own doubting nature.  But there is hope in Jesus Christ!  And, because of Jesus Christ, there are countless opportunities for each ezerwoman to make a positive difference in her home, church and community.  Where can ezerwoman begin?  By making use of a resource I call Ezer’s Handbook.  Let’s begin with opportunity #1 —

#1 — MENTOR FROM A HOUSE BUILT ON FIRM FOUNDATION

The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down (Proverbs 14:1).

Build on The Word.  The Word is Wisdom.  It is unchanging Truth.  The Word provides everything a man or woman needs for living in today’s world, meeting today’s challenges, and mentoring generations.  Paraphrased Bibles are fine for personal reading, but don’t count on them for accuracy.  Highly recommended is The Lutheran Study Bible (ESV).  The commentaries offer historical and archeological evidence as well as Greek and Hebrew origins of words.

Prepare for the Battle of Worldviews on Sex and Sexuality.  Begin with the Bible study Men, Women and Relationships: Building a Culture of Life Across Generations.  This twelve-lesson study is appropriate for men and women who are single or married.  Although the world tells us that men and women are the same, no different from one another and both just “sexual beings from birth”, God tells us we are far more than that.  (This Bible study with leader’s guide may be ordered from Concordia Publishing House #LFL901BS or by calling 888-364-LIFE.)

Be Equipped with Resources.  Married or single, a woman has a sphere of influence that leads others to–or away from–God.  How are you mentoring biblical womanhood in your home?  From your office?  At school?  In the your church and community?  You will find resources for mentoring biblical womanhood at Titus 2 for Life and The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Be Careful Who You Let Shape Your Worldview.  Ideas of sex, sexuality, love, relationships, marriage, motherhood, morality, clothing, behavior and life in general are mentored in one way or another by every newspaper, magazine, website, TV commercial or self-help book.  As a follower of Christ, it is our responsibility to be discerning.  WORLD and CITIZEN are publications that offer a biblical perspective in contrast to Newsweek and Time.  Websites with current information offered from a biblical worldview rather than humanist perspective include Parental Rights, Answers In Genesis, LifeNews, the Family Research Council, MercatorNet, and Concerned Women for America.

Use Spiritual Discernment.  A Titus 2 mentor reaches out with the Truth of God, both Law and Gospel.  We are called, however, to be discerning in the proper use of each.  The woman who doesn’t recognize her sin is in need of the Law, but the woman who has been convicted of her sin longs for the Gospel (Psalm 32:3-5).  A suggested book that will help you better distinguish Law and Gospel — as well as the time and place for both — is Handling the Word of Truth by John T. Pless.

Mentor, Don’t Preach.  The woman who builds her house on firm foundation must be prepared for “hot button” issues that stir memories and emotions.  In our circle of relationships are women who have been mentored by someone with a humanist or feminist perspective.  Among us are women who have been wounded by a past abortion, divorce, or physical or mental abuse.  Jesus never compromised the truth nor did He break an already bruised reed.  May we, too, speak truth with a gentle love for souls.  One very effective way to mentor without preaching is story-telling.  No one can deny the lessons learned from a person’s real-life experience.

What’s next?  #2: Mentor Confidence in the Created Order.

Ezer’s Handbook is a resource developed
by Linda Bartlett and presented at Titus 2 Retreats.

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jacob wrestles angel of the LordOften, after leading a Titus 2 Retreat, I am asked if I will say a few encouraging words to the husbands and male members of the sponsoring congregation or group.  This is important to me.  As an ezer, a helper by creation and nature, it is natural for me to want to help and encourage the very men who are so different from me.  It has been said that male and female are the two eyes of the universe.  I believe both are needed for a proper perspective.

Before I encourage the men to be the good stewards and defenders of life that God calls them to be, I apologize to them for the folly of women.  The feminist movement baptizes in the name of humanistic narcissism.  It pits women against men and places children in harm’s way.  But Christianity baptizes in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It clothes even an infant girl in the righteous robe of Christ, washes away sin, begins to work a good conscience, and makes her an heir of The Promise.  Daughters of God in Christ do not have to demean or compete with men in order to be persons of influence.

Radical feminism has done great harm, in particular, to boys.  Insisting that “equal means being the same” has left girls more vulnerable and boys deprived of godly manhood.  To deny that boys learn, process and respond differently than girls weakens society and hurts us all.  It shows in the modern classroom.  Almost twice as many boys as girls struggle with completing regular schoolwork and behaving in the way school systems want them to behave.  Boys are almost twice as likely to repeat kindergarten as girls and more than twice as likely to be suspended.  The majority of school dropouts are boys. (1) In my lifetime, I have witnessed powerful advocacy for girls but little desire to understand or respect what boys need to thrive.

Most disappointing to me is the Christian community.  Barna surveys found that a higher proportion of adolescent boys and men are leaving or not participating in church life compared to girls and women.  Sunday school, day school and catechism classes seem to have forgotten (or dismissed) that boys and girls learn and grow differently.  In his book Why Men Hate Going to Church, David Murrow documents that boys and men don’t really think the church has anything to offer them.  I have observed that the more contemporary worship services have become, the more men seem to drift away.  Why?  If God’s divine service to us is diminished by attention to our praise of Him, time in God’s House may become insignificant by men who are wired very differently from women.  Women may be “moved” by praise songs and emotional presentations, but are men?

Not long ago, following Vacation Bible School, I overheard one of the teachers say that the boys came to life when singing “Onward Christian Soldiers”.  Their lips moved during the rhyming and repetitive praise songs, but their voices raised and their feet marched when singing about spiritual warfare, gallantry and defense of all things noble and good.

In Raising Boys By Design, authors Gregory L. Jantz, PhD and Michael Gurian write,

For faith to be relevant, boys and men need to see it as a part of their action-oriented heroic quest — a wholehearted, sold-out-to-Jesus continual submission of the will to one greater than self.  Boys seek a valiant spiritual quest, fraught with challenge and filled with purpose, sacrifice, achievement, and honor.  Males want to connect with a God who is experiential, to have a personal encounter with Jesus that is so compelling they will grab hold of faith and hang on tight as their lives go forward.  Through such faith they will find their true identity, not just as a man but as a Christian man. (2)

Jantz and Gurian speak about a faith that must be muscular.  As the mother of sons, this resonates with me.  I wanted my sons to respect and defend women, but not become one of us.  Just as I am uplifted by the support and wisdom of other women, so men are strengthened by their healthy band of brothers in work, study, play or service.  From boyhood, men need to engage in problem solving, decision-making and wrestling with the tough issues of life on behalf of the women and children they are called by God to defend.  If you remember, Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord (Genesis 32).  Jacob’s hip was put out of joint during the encounter.  Martin Luther said that through faith, in the struggle of the cross, one learns to recognize and experience God rightly.  A man learns, through times of difficulty as well as times of blessings, that God’s Word is living and active; it can be trusted in all circumstances.

God calls boys to guard the purity of girls.  He calls men to defend the lives of women and children.  It is likely, in this sinful world, that boys and men will be bruised when they do battle for the lives of others and to the glory of God.  It is for this reason, I believe, that men (like women) need the Divine Service.  The literal catechesis in the Divine Service, week after week, prepares a young man not to be passive, but to be engaged in the real world.  It allows him to confess his sins, receive absolution and remember the cleansing work of his baptism.  It speaks the timeless Word of God in Christ.  It renews him with the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

The Divine Service is not the boy or man doing something for God, but God doing something for boy and man so that they, in turn, may do something good for girls and women.

As for me, I will continue to resist the foolishness of some women.  I have no reason to desire the place of a man or covet the responsibilities he has been given.  I do, however, have my own role to play.  It is my belief that I can best help men defend the sanctity of life, protect women and children and, ultimately serve God by loving their neighbor as themselves when I encourage my husband, sons, grandsons and brothers to put on their armor.  To grip the Sword of the Spirit.  To stay alert.  To gather with all the saints and persevere.

War rages.  It is not against flesh and blood but powers and principalities.  It is a spiritual war for our very souls.  I, for one, need the courage and commitment of men who are prepared for such battle.  Men who do more than praise God, but receive from Him training in righteousness… zeal for good works… and the power of self-control.  Divinely served by a mighty God and with marching orders in hand, a man is equipped to bring order out of the chaos of sin.

(1) Gregory L. Jantz, PhD, and Michael Gurian, Raising Boys By Design (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2013), 12-13.
(2) Jantz and Gurian, Raising Boys By Design, 195.

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John StonestreetIn my vocation of helper, I sometimes have to do difficult things.  It’s not easy for me as a Christian to point out that the Church has failed the culture, but it has.  Keith Getty’s song “In Christ Alone” and Rachel Held Evans’ blog on why the millennials are leaving the church were already added to my Facebook page.  John Stonestreet’s commentary reminds us that Jesus — as He defines Himself and what He has done for us — is all that matters.  Thank you, sir!  As for the rest of you, tell me.  Do you agree with John who writes:

Recently, the Presbyterian Church (USA) dropped the hugely popular hymn, “In Christ Alone,” from its hymnal after its authors, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, refused to omit a reference to Jesus satisfying the wrath of God.

In a powerful response over at First Things, which we’ll link to at BreakPoint.org, Colson Center chairman Timothy George quotes Richard Niebuhr who, back in the 1930s, described this kind of revisionist Protestantism as a religion in which “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

The response from the PCUSA, that their problem was not with God’s wrath but with the idea that Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath, doesn’t change the fundamental problem of what George calls “squishy” theology. Theology is supposed to be true, not palatable.

Along these lines, maybe you’ve seen the recent viral opinion piece on CNN by my friend, Christian blogger and author Rachel Held Evans. In it, Evans offers her answers to the truly important question, “why are millennials leaving the Church?”

To counter the exodus of young people from American churches, Evans says it’s time to own up to our shortcomings and give millennials what they really want—not a change in style but a change in substance. The answer to attracting millennials, she writes, is NOT “hipper worship bands” or handing out “lattés,” but actually helping them find Jesus.

Amen. I couldn’t agree more.

Then she goes on, “[the Church is] too political, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to [LGBT] people.” Well, okay—anytime political programs co-opt our faith, or we ignore the needy and fail to love those with whom we disagree, we do the Gospel of Christ great harm.

But when she writes that attracting millennials to Jesus involves “an end to the culture wars,” “a truce between science and faith,” being less “exclusive” with less emphasis on sex, without “predetermined answers” to life’s questions, now I want to ask–are we still talking about the Jesus of biblical Christianity?

The attempt to re-make Jesus to be more palatable to modern scientific and especially sexual sensibilities has been tried before. In fact, it’s the reason Niebuhr said that brilliant line that I quoted earlier.

He watched as the redefining “Jesus Project” gave us mainline Protestantism, which promotes virtually everything on Evans’ list for millennials. The acceptance of homosexuality, a passion for the environment, prioritizing so-called “social justice” over transformational truth are all embodied in denominations like the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

But religious millennials aren’t flocking to mainline Protestant congregations. Mainline churches as a whole have suffered withering declines in the last few decades—especially among the young. What gives?

Well, in an another essay which appeared in First Things over twenty years ago, a trio of Christian researchers offered their theory on what’s behind the long, slow hemorrhage of mainline Protestant churches:

“In our study,” they wrote, “the single best predictor of church participation turned out Newsletter_Gen_180x180_B to be belief—orthodox Christian belief, and especially the teaching that a person can be saved only through Jesus Christ.” This, said the researchers, was not (and I add, is still not) a teaching of mainline Protestantism. As a dwindling denomination rejects a hymn which proclaims salvation “in Christ alone,” this research sounds prophetic.

Evans is right that evangelical Christianity is responsible in many ways for the exodus of millennials. But ditching the Church’s unpalatable “old-fashioned” beliefs to become more “relevant” to the young won’t bring them back.

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