Friday, March 23, 2012

Recent Killing of an African-American in Florida

Recently a black teen-ager was shot and killed by a self-appointed neighborhood watch guard in Florida. From what I’ve seen in the media, this young man was just walking through a neighborhood, and not engaging in any “suspicious” behavior. As a matter of fact, he was talking on his mobile phone to his girlfriend. The shooter, Zimmerman, called 911 and was told not to approach the boy, but Zimmerman followed him and eventually shot him. Zimmerman claims he felt he was in danger and invoked his right to self defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

This unfortunate incident brings up a whole series of legal, ethical, and moral issues, including racial profiling. Let me express some thoughts on these matters.

Racial Profiling

If the young man hadn’t been black, I suspect he wouldn’t have been followed or shot. Zimmerman was engaging in racial profiling in targeting this young man, which is fairly easy for anybody to do.

Let’s say you live in a predominantly white neighborhood and you see several black men wearing hoodies walking down your street. Be honest, now. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? I think it would be the question, “What are they doing in this neighborhood?” That would be followed by the thought, “I’ll bet they are up to no good.”

Now let’s say you see several young black men wearing suits and carrying Bibles walking down your street. What would you think then? I suspect you’d say to yourself, “They must be Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ll pretend I’m not home.” You may want to avoid their proselytizing, but you wouldn’t suspect them of any potential wrongdoing. If they walked up to your front door, I doubt if you would call 911.

So profiling is a little more complex than we might think. It involves dress, behavior, and other factors, but shouldn’t be the basis for shooting someone.

When Self Defense Is Justified

So when is shooting in self-defense permissible? Obviously talking a life should be a last resort. Let me give an example of a case in which shooting a perpetrator is justified in my opinion.

A month or two ago, I saw on the news the story of a young mother who heard men outside her house. She was alone with her kids, and it was obvious these guys were trying to break in. She called 911, and then got her shotgun ready. Before the police got there, the men broke into her house. She confronted them with shotgun in hand, but they didn’t leave. So she opened fire, killing one or two of them as I recall.

Compare that to the case in Florida where the boy was outside, walking briskly through the neighborhood, and was minding his own business. To me, Zimmerman was not at all being threatened nor was there any clear and present danger like the young mother. I believe self defense is justified when somebody breaks into your house, tries to hijack your vehicle with you in it, or tries to mug you on the street, and they don’t flee when you threaten them with a weapon.

I believe the Constitution gives citizens the right to bear arms for at least three reasons:

(1) First, to be able to rise up in armed rebellion against an oppressive government, similar to the way the colonies did against England.

(2) For self defense when your life is in danger.

(3) For hunting animals for food.

Should Zimmerman Be Arrested?

I believe he should have been arrested because he went well beyond the limitations of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. I’m glad the local police chief resigned, because his reluctance to arrest Zimmerman and let the judicial system do its thing just fanned the fires of anger, especially in the black community. It is the Grand Jury’s job to determine if this case should be prosecuted, not the police chief’s.

This incident (and a number of others) also points out that we still have a long way to go with respect to racial relations, and I’m talking about both sides. As Bill Cosby has repeatedly pointed out, the African-American community has to take responsibility for cleaning up its act. The white community has to stop stereotyping and practicing other forms of bias.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Faith vs. Religion

You may wonder what I mean by “Faith vs. Religion” in the title of this post. Aren’t they the same thing, sort of? Not necessarily. A religion is usually made up of a set of institutionalized religious practices and observances, rules of conduct and entrenched traditions. In a religion, some kind of faith is involved, but often that faith is placed on the effectiveness of religious practices, rules, observances, and traditions in appeasing or finding favor with a deity.

Christianity is a religion, of course, but more importantly it is a relationship with God based on our faith in a Savior. Because we have a Savior, we believe we don’t have to earn our way into God’s favor by scrupulously following religious observances, keeping traditions, and doing other works. We believe God reconciled us to himself through Jesus, and our response is to love God, keep his commandments, love our neighbor, do good works, and serve and worship God. Any worship or religious practices Christians do should be the result of that love, not to gain favor with God.

The Apostle Paul, addressed faith vs. works-based religion in Ephesians 2:8-9:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. NIV

In that important passage Paul explains that we don’t earn the right to be in relationship with God through any works we do, so we can’t boast about it. It is given to us only by God’s grace (unmerited favor) when we place our trust in Jesus, whom we believe is the way, the truth and the life.

Sadly, there are Christian leaders who add rules, regulations and “necessary” observances to God’s Word, laying burdens on believers. When pastors or churches do that, they are changing Christianity from a faith-based relationship with God (sola fide) to a works-based religion. Christians should think about whether our traditions and religious observances have more importance to us than our relationship with God.

So I believe true Christian religion must uphold God’s truth and not man’s ideas of what is necessary for salvation. True Christian religion is about trusting God, and being in relationship with him. Religious practices have their place, and worship is especially important. But for Christians, the motivation behind any religious practices or good works must be to honor God, and not on any self-sufficiency we think we have.

I believe God is more interested in us living out our faith than what our religious practices are. We read in Proverbs 21:3: To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Hosea 6:6 says something similar: For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

The Bible teaches that God loves all of us, but we must respond to God’s love by placing our faith in him, and then living out our faith. Most importantly, we must be in relationship with God, and that love bond is our motivation to worship and be obedient to God’s call to serve. As we continue through Lent, we Christians should ask the Lord to increase our faith, reveal where we need to change, and what God would have us to do for his Kingdom.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

PC or JC?

Can you be PC and still follow JC? In other words, can you be politically correct and still be a follower of Christ? I think it is difficult, because in my opinion political correctness is pretty much anti-Christian and anti-faith.

PC seems to target any expressions of Christian faith. Seeing a cross, crèche, or some other religious symbol “offends” some people and PC demands that the offensive items be removed from public display. PC preaches diversity and inclusiveness, but only as the PC mavens define them. Diversity and inclusiveness work only for those groups which are politically correct, and everybody else is excluded.

To give you an example of the PC double-standard, let’s take a look at the recent flap over Rush Limbaugh’s recent on-air rant. What he said was rude, crude, and socially unacceptable. Although he was exercising his constitutional right of free speech, he could have made his point in a more dignified manner. The media and various PC types criticized him for days on the cable news networks.

Yet Bill Maher says sexist things against women, and says all kinds of other offensive things, but you rarely hear a peep out of the media. Why? Maher is a liberal, and much of his offensive talk is against Christians and people of faith. Because he is a liberal and targets Christians, he is ipso facto politically correct and gets a free pass.

Can you be PC and still follow JC? I think not, although sadly many mainline Protestant clergy are try to do just that. In my denomination, we have people at our annual conference who monitor all speakers and count the number of times they use the masculine pronoun when referring to God. In seminary you get points taken off your papers if you use the masculine pronoun. That’s how ridiculous it’s gotten.

It’s interesting to note that these same PC mainline churches area losing members. I wonder why? I suspect it’s because they are conforming to the world, and being politically correct is more important to them than being biblically correct. They waste time on silly PC things rather than doing what churches are supposed to do: make disciples.

Political correctness has such a grip on the media, academia, government, and even some churches that I don’t know how we are going to get free of the “thought police.” We need to pray for our country, that true free speech, freedom of religious expression, and freedom of opinion will once again be allowed.