Monthly Archives: April 2012

Was Trayvon Martin a hoodlum who deserved what he got?

Was Trayvon Martin an inoffensive teenager who was savagely gunned down as he walked innocently down the street? Or was he a thug who was responsible for his own death because he attacked George Zimmerman, who then killed him in self defense?

I have been surprised at the number of comments on the web that have taken the latter view.  Here are some of those comments, and the replies I made to them.

From CL
If the hoodlum came at and attacked Zimmerman like it has been suggested and threatened Zimmerman’s life, then according to Florida’s Castle Law, justice has been rightly meted out.

CL – You apparently think that Trayvon Martin was a hoodlum who, with no provocation, attacked George Zimmerman. I’d be interested in knowing how you think events played out. There are several possibilities:

(1) George was just innocently driving by in his truck when that hoodlum, Trayvon, saw him and rushed up, pulled him out of his truck, and attacked him with his bag of Skittles. Or maybe it was with the iced tea.

(2) George got out of his truck and just said a cordial “hello” to the 17-year old. And Trayvon, hoodlum that he was, went ballistic at such a greeting and attacked Zimmerman.

(3) George, against the instructions of the police 911 operator, got out of his truck and physically accosted Trayvon about what he was doing in the neighborhood. And Trayvon, being a hoodlum, reacted negatively to this stranger who first followed him and then confronted him (as his girlfriend heard on his cell phone). So Trayvon attacked poor George, who was utterly astounded at the reaction he received.

(4) Trayvon was terrified at the armed stranger who followed and confronted him. As he told his girlfriend on the phone, he walked fast to get away, but obviously was not able to. (George, during his 911 call, said that Trayvon was running). And when he was trapped by the physically imposing stranger with a gun, Trayvon, being a hoodlum, tried to protect himself. So, of course, Zimmerman had no choice but to shoot him. After all, if an armed black man accosted a white 17-year old on the street, the white teenager, not being a hoodlum, would be happily unconcerned and would feel no need of taking any defensive action.

Well, I can certainly see that, whichever way this happened, it was all Trayvon Martin’s fault. Because he was a hoodlum.

I’m sure, CL, that if you ever found yourself in a situation similar to Trayvon Martin’s, you would simply allow the stranger who confronted you to have his way, instead of acting like a hoodlum by trying to defend yourself. And then, of course, all would be well.

From JL
Trayvon Martin did not have the RIGHT to assault Zimmerman. He physically attacked Zimmerman and Mr Zimmerman responded with a lethal shot. Mr Zimmerman’s actions were perfectly legal within the scope of the Florida stand your ground legislation. The fact that he (Martin) was carrying Skittles is not germane to the argument. Thugs like Skittles too. Travon Martin was a suspended student from his high school as a result of a drug incident.

JL – Let’s take what is actually known and not in dispute about this case, and apply those facts to a slightly different scenario.

A 17-year old white kid, we’ll call him Martin Travone, is walking through a predominantly black neighborhood because his car broke down. He is spotted by an older African American male named G. Z. Blackman, who has been cruising the neighborhood in his car. Although Blackman has a history of violence, having been arrested for assaulting a police officer, he is legally armed with a gun. At some point, Blackman gets out of his car and approaches Martin Travone. Some kind of altercation occurs. Afterward, Blackman reports bruising to the back of his head. Martin Travone doesn’t report anything – he is dead from a bullet to the chest.

Blackman admits killing the white teen, but claims self defense. His claim is accepted by the police (who also happen to be black), and he is allowed to go home. Martin Travone’s parents are initially outraged by their son’s killing. But one day they read a comment on a media website that says that Martin Travone was obviously a hoodlum who attacked Mr. Blackman, since Blackman had bruises on his head. That makes the parents feel much better about the whole thing.

And of course no one is upset that a 17-year white kid, innocently walking though a neighborhood where he had every right to be, was accosted by an armed black man with a violent past, and ended up dead on the sidewalk.

From JL
What Zimmerman did was fully lawful because of the Stand Your Ground Laws in Florida. Stand your ground legislation is a VERY good idea. Zimmerman will be acquitted and he will use his new found fame to work for the NRA as a spokesman ADVANCING stand your ground laws.

JL – You and I don’t often agree, but I think you may be right when you say, “What Zimmerman did was fully lawful because of the Stand Your Ground Laws in Florida.” I notice also that in another post you imply that Trayvon Martin was at fault because he was “in a gated community where he did NOT belong.”

So, as long as Stand Your Ground laws remain in effect, black men should just understand that they put their lives on the line if they walk in gated communities, even if, like Trayvon, they think they have a legitimate reason to be there. Hey, sounds reasonable to me!

What do you think?

Should Government Be Involved In Caring For The Poor? #3

There are two seemingly irreconcilable realities that confront Christians when we consider whether government should be in the business of helping to care for the poor. On the one hand, government is just not very good at helping poor people, and often ends up doing them great moral and spiritual harm. On the other hand, if government is not involved, many desperately needy people, including great numbers of children, won’t get the help they need.

Why do well-meaning government attempts to help poor people so often end up with unintended negative consequences? I believe it’s because government programs are usually implemented in ways that take no account of biblical values. A great example is Welfare, a program that, by providing handouts to individuals who don’t earn them, often has the unintended effect of keeping poor people in a state of dependency by robbing them of the motivation to work for themselves.

As the posts in this series have emphasized, the Bible is full of God’s concern that the poor be cared for. All throughout both the Old and New Testaments, Scripture is very definite that care for the poor is a high priority with Him. But Scripture is also definite that God’s way of caring for the poor is not by giving them unearned handouts. That fact is illustrated by the biblical story of Ruth.

Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, were both widows. With all the men of the family dead, and with no other source of support, the two women were very poor. So Naomi sent Ruth out to glean grain that was left in fields after the harvest. This was the practice in Israel at that time, because of what God had commanded in the Law:

Leviticus 19:9-10 (NKJV)    When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10  And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the LORD your God.

It is clear from this passage that God’s plan for the poor does not involve giving them handouts, but instead giving them the dignity of working to supply their own needs. So why do government programs so often fail to reflect that crucial principle? Is it because government is inherently incapable of doing so, and therefore ought not be involved in attempting to supply the needs of poor people? I don’t believe that is the case.

As we have previously pointed out in this series, for Christian citizens to employ the tool of government to help the poor is not only permissible but necessary if the job is to get done. Even with the great efforts that the church and other private institutions already make, many who desperately need help won’t get it without government involvement. The scale of the resources required to effectively meet the level of need is simply too great. And since in a democracy government is only a tool of the people to carry out their will, Christian citizens have a right and an obligation to make use of that tool to help implement the care for the poor that Scripture says should be one of our highest priorities.

But how can we reconcile the duty of Christian citizens to employ government as a tool to help poor people, with the tendency of government to do moral and spiritual harm when it does try to aid the poor? Many Christians, believing that there is no way to reconcile those two realities, simply reject any participation by government in the care of people in need. I believe that is a grave mistake.

When Christians simply align themselves in political opposition to all government programs designed to help the poor, we abdicate our responsibility to help shape those programs to reflect biblical, and not secular values. In other words, when those programs are put in place despite our total opposition, we forfeit any place at the table in terms of determining how they will be designed and implemented. When the secular vision is the only one in the room, naturally that is the vision that is reflected in the finished product.

To a great degree, evangelical Christians are perceived by the rest of our society as expending all their energy on trying to eliminate programs that help the poor, while encouraging those, like Social Security and Medicare, that aid people like themselves. Even secular folks realize there is something not quite godly in that. The result is a political fight that evangelicals not only often lose, but which perpetuates the secular world’s image of us as being selfish, unloving and uncaring about the plight of our neighbors.

Instead of engaging in that fruitless and damaging fight, I believe that Christians should be vigorously advocating for a strong social safety net, built around biblical principles, that ensures that basic needs of food, shelter, healthcare, etc, are met, especially for children, while not allowing people to become comfortable in their dependence on the state. In practical terms, that means finding dignity-enhancing ways to encourage the poor to work for their benefits.

To achieve that goal, Christians must acknowledge it as legitimate. Then we can focus all our considerable influence and goodwill – and voting power – on making sure the programs put in place to achieve that goal are designed and operated on biblical principles. Yes, that will inevitably mean another ongoing fight with the forces of secularism. But I believe it will be a fight well worth making. It will be, in fact, a “good fight of faith” for which we have the promise that the Lord Himself will fight the battle.

Should Government Be Involved In Caring For The Poor? #1
Should Government Be Involved In Caring For The Poor? #2

Is Romney “more biblical” than Obama?

Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, provoked a big stir in the media last year when he said that Christians should not vote for a Mormon, Mitt Romney, because his religion is a cult. Now, Pastor Jeffress says, Romney’s the man! The apparent reason for this change of heart is the belief that “Romney’s political positions are more biblically correct than Obama’s positions.

Is that true? Only if you believe that Romney’s self-proclaimed unconcern for the poor reflects the heart of God. Scripture, both OT and NT, is filled with God’s calls for caring for, advocating for, and defending the poor. Far, far less attention is given to issues like abortion and homosexuality (regarding which, by the way, Romney has flipped and flopped all over the place). So, why should Christians base their evaluation of a candidate on issues that are lesser biblical priorities while ignoring those that God Himself says He cares about the most?

Is it OK to leave “Christ” out of the Bible?

Thomas Nelson Publishing has just released The Voice Bible, a new translation that totally avoids using words like “Christ” or “angel.” One contributor to the project, Dr. Darrell Bock, professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, is quoted in a Christian Post article as saying, “although the word ‘Christ’ does not appear in the text, the meaning of the word is still present in the form of the term ‘Anointed One,’ which was frequently used in its place.” Another substitution is the use of “messenger” to replace “angel.” Dr. Bock goes on to say, “I do think there can be value in laying out Scripture in a fresh way so people hear it afresh, provided it does not take liberties with the text.”

The Christian Post article is headlined, “Theologians OK With Bible Translation Replacing ‘Jesus Christ,’ ‘Angel’.” Well, some theologians may be OK with it, but I’m not sure I am.

In Rev 22:8 (NKJV) the apostle John reports that “I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things.” I can imagine a reader of The Voice Bible wondering why anyone would feel an urge to fall down and worship a messenger. And given that many people, including artisans and workmen, were anointed in the OT especially, does designating Jesus as “Anointed One” really convey any sense of His uniqueness and majesty?

I have not had opportunity to read any of The Voice Bible. But the articles I’ve seen about it make me wonder if the “commonizing” of the language of Scripture does not miss important elements of meaning that are pervasive, if not explicitly stated, in more traditional renderings. Does a translation like this really help biblically uninformed people (apparently the target audience) grasp the transcendence and majesty of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? And does it equip new readers of Scripture (for whom this translation may well become “The Bible”) to effectively join in community with the vast majority of English speaking Christians, whose faith language will continue to be built around words like “Christ” and “angel”?

I am skeptical.

Should Government Be Involved In Caring For The Poor? #2

The church has been about the business of caring for the poor since its inception. But the poor are still with us in their millions because the job is too big for the church alone. I’ve heard Christians say, “If the government would just get out of the way, the church would get the job done.” It’s not that somehow the government is holding us back from doing a more complete job. It is rather that the scale of resources required is such that if we refuse to use the tool of government, many, many people who are in severe (and often undeserved) need won’t get help.

One often raised objection is that using tax money to help poor people amounts to forcibly taking the money of people who worked hard for it to give to those who didn’t. The logical conclusion to that argument is that the government is not justified in using any tax funds to help people in need. So, no jobless benefits, no Social Security retirement benefits beyond what the recipient personally contributed, no Medicare, no Emergency Room unless you can pay, etc. I think that is a recipe for a disintegrating society. I hope that it is not where most Christians want us to go as a nation.

Here, I believe, is a better way to look at this. We as a society have decided that we will pool our resources to accomplish certain aims that can only, or can much better be accomplished corporately than individually – defense, police and fire protection, building an interstate highway system, etc. I believe that caring for the poor is in that category. Is it taking other people’s money by force when the government uses that common pool of funds to send fire fighters to your house to put out a fire? No. It’s just that we as a society have decided that fire protection should be one of our corporate priorities. So should be caring for the poor.

But, the objectors continue, God never commanded government to care for the poor.  Well, think about this – does God command the government to police who may marry whom? Yet Christians who believe that God intends marriage to be between a man and a woman, have no problem with voting to have the government declare same-sex marriage illegal. Or, to look at it from another angle, if I saw you drowning and I can’t swim, should I refuse to call River Rescue because God never commanded government to rescue people?

In a democracy government is instituted to be the arm of the people to carry out their will. If our will, as Christian citizens, is to see that the poor are cared for, and there is a large element of that that only government can accomplish, I believe that it is not only appropriate but necessary to employ government as our tool to do what needs to be done.

If we shoot down every attempt by government to fill the gap between the needs of the poor and what private institutions can accomplish, the practical effect is to say to the needy, “depart in peace, be warmed and filled” (James 2:16), and then leave them in their misery. And that, I believe, is contrary to God’s command.

Should Government Be Involved In Caring For The Poor? #1
Should Government Be Involved In Caring For The Poor? #3

Should Government Be Involved In Caring For The Poor? #1

The Bible makes clear God’s imperative that we take care of the poor. Both the Old and New Testaments put far more emphasis on this than on issues like homosexuality or abortion (which are important in their own right). Think, for example, of the words of Jesus:

For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me’  (Matthew 25:35-36).

I doubt that anyone would deny that caring for the poor is a responsibility that every Christian must take seriously. Certainly, each of us should be involved personally in contributing to the support of destitute people. But, what role should government play? You often hear Christians say that caring for the poor is a duty we have as individuals, and the government has no role or responsibility in this area. It is a job for the church and other private institutions, and the government should stay out of it. Well, let’s think about that.

If we believe that we can satisfy Christ’s requirement that the poor be cared for with only individuals and the church or other charitable institutions doing the job, we have to acknowledge a very disturbing fact: the job isn’t getting done. There are literally millions of people, many of them children, who remain in great distress in our nation today. If the poor can be adequately cared for by the efforts of Christians and other good-hearted people alone, why aren’t we doing it? Then there would be no need for government involvement and no controversy about it. Certainly Christians and their institutions are expending great efforts to help poor people. But history demonstrates that private institutions alone, including the church, simply can’t do all that is needed.

Healthcare is a great example. The church has done magnificent work through the many hospitals and other healthcare ministries it has created. But still there are multitudes in our nation today who are in great distress, sometimes literally dying, because they cannot get insurance and cannot pay for the healthcare they desperately need. Only government can address such issues on the required scale. If the church could meet the need, we would already be doing it and government involvement would not even be a question.

So, here’s the issue: doesn’t God’s command that Christians care for the poor obligate us to use the best available tools to do so? In a democracy government is nothing more than the arm of the people in carrying out their will. If we refuse to use that arm, and poor people continue to suffer and die who could have been helped if we did use it, can Christians claim to have met Christ’s requirement that the poor be cared for? Or do we not bear responsibility for the misery we refused to alleviate?

Should Government Be Involved In Caring For The Poor? #2

Are there any “Christian” candidates in the presidential race?

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney are seriously flawed as “Christian” candidates. The president is clearly out of scriptural bounds on issues like abortion and homosexuality. But as important as those issues are, both the OT and NT place far greater emphasis on God’s requirement that we take care of the poor, for whom Mitt Romney is self-professedly “not concerned.”

In fact, none of the self-professed Christians in the recent primaries have shown much concern for the poor. For example, it is an article of faith with all of them that “Obamacare” must be immediately repealed. But we hear no detailed discussion of what is to replace it in meeting the needs it was intended to address. If we forbid the government to help people who are sometimes literally dying because they can’t get insurance and cannot pay for the health care they need, we are condemning many thousands of our fellow citizens to lives filled with stress, anxiety, pain and suffering. A truly “Christian” candidate must address such issues if he or she takes seriously God’s command that we care for the poor.

And in terms of the totally unbiblical politics of personal attack, innuendo, lies and slander (as opposed to legitimate criticism of policy positions), my observation is that the president has been far less guilty of these than has been Gov. Romney or the other “Christians” running in the primaries.

Candidates who don’t address such issues are not, in my opinion, even proposing to govern in a godly way. So, do we pick a president based on what a candidate says about his faith, or on the degree to which his actions and policies actually follow biblical principles?