Responding to the Authoritative Word

Biblical Text: Luke 4:31-44

A quick note about this sermon. It is really a short one at the start, and then the rest. With NY State becoming an open infanticide state it was necessary to say something from the pulpit about this deep wrong. That is the short clear start.

The second part hopefully ties that in. The text is about the authoritative Word of Jesus. When He preached everyone recognized the impact of what he said. And that impact wasn’t really the healings or the exorcisms which were the signs and wonder. The impact was that His Word demanded a response. The text gives us three examples of responses. The sermon looks and them and how we respond in our lives.

Reform without Repeal

This is Ross Douthat starting with the March for Life, but quickly getting deeply wise and insightful real fast.

I tried to find an excerpt, but its a short op-ed to begin with. Each phrased seems necessary. This is just the conclusion…

For its part, if the pro-life movement wants not only to endure but to triumph, then it needs an answer to this argument. That means something more than just a defense of a universal right to life. It means a realist’s explanation of how, in policy and culture, the feminist revolution could be reformed without being repealed.

He’s right, and this is a call from a practicing Roman Catholic to recognize a couple of things about civil society. However much ongoing harm the sexual revolution has done, repealing it in civil society is not possible, and some portions of it none of us would want to repeal (I’m thinking the equal pay portions and the access to occupations). As Mr. Douthat starts his column, the heroic generation of this cause is passing away. Heroic generations are revolutionaries or in this case counter-revolutionaries. Our generation is about recognizing the limits of revolution. That doesn’t mean making peace with it, but it does mean being smart and finding the places where life can win and start being seen as legitimate reformers instead of calling for the whole structure to be removed by the axe at the root of the tree.

Pew Forum Poll and The Moral Imagination

Here is the latest Pew Forum poll taken around the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Let’s set aside the political battles of “overturning Roe v. Wade” as the headline would have it. As important as that might be, the underlying issue is what I’ll call moral imagination. Imagination may not be the right word, but what I mean is simply that ability to recognize wrong when you see it.

We tend to think that recognizing right and wrong is a universal ability. And there is some general truth to that as the law is written on our hearts. But our natural hearts are also very calloused. To succinctly divide right and wrong requires the revealed law. And even then, we can often just say “well, God didn’t really mean that”. As Paul says in Romans 1:32, “though they know God’s righteous decree…they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” Or 1 John 1:8, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

This poll is interesting to me in what it reveals about that moral imagination. A prerequisite to overturning Roe would seem to be a super-majority of people convinced of the moral atrocity of turning a mother against her child. And I want to be absolutely clear here, this sin in not just personal but societal. The number of and compounding of sins that would lead to an abortion mill and an absolute right up until the 9th month is widespread. The failures are legion. Christians who have open eyes use the starkest stories and examples from the bible for this: Cain and Able and Molech. The poll shows just how weak and divided is this moral imagination.

the public continues to be divided over whether it is morally acceptable to have an abortion. Nearly half (47%) say it is morally wrong to have an abortion, while just 13% find this morally acceptable; 27% say this is not a moral issue and 9% volunteer that it depends on the situation. These opinions have changed little since 2006.

So 47% recognize the wrong. That part doesn’t say anything about the weight put on that judgment. There is a big gulf between saying Molech and saying, “yeah, that’s wrong”. But 13% say “go ahead, no moral problem”, another 27% don’t even admit to abortion being in the moral realm at all. Think about that, over a quarter of the United States says a mom killing her kid is not a moral decision. Another 9% you might say recognizes a moral claim, but it willing to grant space “depending upon the situation”. So at best you could say 56% recognize that there is a valid moral claim to this decision. That is a long way from the 67% that would be necessary to actually achieve societal change.

Now lets turn to the strength of that moral imagination.
Pew Forum Poll Results Only 18% of people think of this as a critical issue and that is a declining number, although it might have hit a bottom. Even if you add the two categories, you only get 45% that will admit to abortion being an important issue. Somewhere along the way 2% of people who know it is a moral judgment just don’t think its important at all. The best you can say is that the moral imagination is not that strong.

One last graph on the moral imagination. This one doing with how well various church grouping are doing at teaching or forming that moral intuition.
Pew Forum Poll Results #2 I think that chart makes it pretty clear the absolute moral impoverishment of the “protestant mainline”. Tough words, but they are clearly the group Paul is talking about in Romans 1:32. If you are a Christian who has eyes to see and ears to hear who is residing in one of those churches, now is the time to flee. You have put up the good fight. You have stood your ground even though you did not have much strength (Rev 3:8). The judgment is coming.

So, when I look at those numbers, they are not as bad as I could have imagined. There seems to be a significant minority that have eyes to see the moral horror. Added to those are near a majority that if (as Dorothy Day would quote) we were able to make it easier to make the right decision, would make the right decision. But that is at least 1/6th of the populace away from actually being able to make change, and that 1/6th must come from conversion and awakening. And it must come in the face of what can only be described as the false prophet.

God just usually doesn’t answer the “why” questions…

What we are talking about is theodicy. Milton would famously set out to “explain the ways of God to man” and ended up with an attractive Satan. Theodicy happens anytime you try and harmonize: all powerful god, good god, existence of evil. When I worked finance I used to joke that all the executives demanded was: Revenue growth, unit sales growth and profit margin growth. Every conversation was an explanation which of the three they were not going to get that quarter. In a logical world you can pick two of the three in both cases. But unlike economics which is almost always rational, the ways of God are not so. Deal with it. The two ways to deal are: a) this is a bunch of junk or b) where can I go, you have the words of eternal life (John 6:68). That is the faith question. And since a god who is not all powerful is not god, and the existence of evil is provable, the faith question is if God is good. God’s proof of that to us is Jesus Christ. Can you look at the life of Jesus including the cross and say, “you know God, it might not be something I can understand right now, but I’m going to trust you.”

That is what a Senate candidate recently stumbled into, and a clueless national media refused to understand. The senate candidate tried to explain his reasoning behind being against abortion even in the case of rape. And his reasoning is exactly that of faith. A child as the product of rape certainly doesn’t look good. Would a good God allow such a thing to happen? His answer in its core was: I don’t get it but I’ll take it on faith. The national media decided to declare the candidate “pro-rape” and certain predictable republicans quivered about being turned into “the party of rape” and used it as an opportunity to “ooga-booga” religious members of his party. (I’m not adding that link just because it infuriates me how a neo-con war drummer can fret about social conservatives in such a gross way and yet they have never had to pay one red cent in accountability for Iraq/Afghanistan and every other war they’d like to start. Sorry, rant mode off.)

Leaving the world of partisan politics, what this does expose is just how much Christians are the “away team” in this current cultural moment. The “home team” gets all the calls. The refs whistles are always a little bit faster for the home team, and that home team player always gets that extra half step on the way to the bucket. Christians need to get used to identifying trap questions and need to so understand their own beliefs such that they can explain them sympathetically to “away team” refs. The away team doesn’t decide not to show up. Christians don’t withdraw, but we need to be smarter and more practiced to win. If you can’t turn the why questions back to Jesus, then the next best strategy is probably to emulate God and just not answer theodicy’s “whys”. They aren’t answerable outside of Christ.

Here are a few other’s on the same subject: Douthat, fellow LCMS’er Molly Hemingway, and the parallel universe of questions that would be asked if Christian’s were the home team.

Paragraph of the day…

From William McGurn

After crunching the latest statistics from New York City’s Health Department, the foundation reported that 41% of pregnancies (excluding miscarriage) in New York ended in abortion. That’s double the national rate…The question becomes even more compelling when broken down by race. For Hispanics, the abortion rate was 41.3%—i.e., more than double the rate for whites. For African-Americans the numbers are still more grim: For every 1,000 African-American live births in New York, there were 1,489 abortions…So how is New York responding? Earlier this month, the Chiaroscuro Foundation put together a high-profile press conference that brought the archbishop of New York and the leader of the one of Orthodox Jewry’s most distinguished organizations (Agudath Israel of America) together with the African-American pastor of a large, Harlem church and a Latina who serves as a spokeswoman for Democrats for Life. As the New York Sun pointed out, notwithstanding all this ecumenical focus on New York’s distinction as America’s abortion capital, it elicited nary a peep from the mayor.