Hate Won’t Win: A Legacy of Christian Love Overcomes Evil

9 victims of charlestown shooting

For many in the American South, attending Wednesday night Bible study is not just a tradition, but a way of life.  Like-minded folks gather for prayer and Bible study mid-week, together drawing spiritual strength and sustenance from God.  Such meetings also often provide opportunities to welcome newcomers, as attendees follow biblical admonitions to welcome the stranger in their midst (e.g., Deut 10:19, Matt 25:40; Rom 12:13).  The Wednesday night gathering on June 17, 2015, at historic black church Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) in Charleston, South Carolina, was no different. The doors of the church were open to all, and among the 13 black regulars in attendance that night was a 21-year-old white man.

Tragically, this evening of sincere fellowship, worship and prayer would come to a shocking and bloody end. The young white man, having sat with the group for an hour, suddenly drew his gun and opened fire.  In the end, nine people (three men and six women, all African-American) would die, including the church’s pastor.  As the country reels from yet another act of violence involving black victims, the police have called this horrific and violent act a “hate crime” while the city’s mayor labeled it an act of “pure hatred.”  The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of South Carolina have opened hate crime investigations into the incident.  In the media, some are calling the incident an act of racially motivated “terrorism”, since the killer confessed that by his murderous act he intended to “start a race war.”

Thankfully, the suspect, Dylann Storm Roof, was apprehended in Shelby, N.C. the following Thursday morning, during a traffic stop.  Police believe he acted alone. Mr. Roof has been charged with nine counts of murder and one charge of weapon possession during the commission of a violent crime.  At the hearing, Chief Magistrate James B. Gosnell Jr. said he could not set bond for the murder charges, but set bond for $1 million for the charge of possessing a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. (In cases involving people charged with a capital offense or who face life in prison, only a circuit court judge can set the bond, according to the county.) Gosnell said Roof would appear in court in October and again in February 2016.

In the face of such monstrous evil, the heart and mind struggle to understand, and we may grasp at answers to our questions.  If people simply sitting in church, praying and studying the Bible can be shot down in cold blood, is there any safe place? Why do people hate so much, murdering others simply because of the color of their skin? Perhaps we think, “If only we knew why such things happen, we could prevent such evils from happening.”

At times like this there is much public speculation about causes and solutions.  Is it the alleged easy access to guns in America that makes gun crime violence all too common (as President Obama said to the nation Thursday, suggesting stronger measures on guns are needed)?  Yet others counter the President’s argument, saying that if the right of all to bear arms for protection was heeded such incidents would be fewer.

There is discussion of mental health.  Was this the act of a mentally ill person, or perhaps the act of a man under the influence of addictive drugs?  How do we best monitor people with such issues?

There is discussion of societal influence.  Perhaps hateful agitators behind the scenes manipulated an impressionable, unhappy loner to commit this heinous act of racist violence.  Or perhaps the strongest contributing factor, the thing we most urgently need to address as a nation, is a residual legacy of racism that remains deeply embedded in our culture, unacknowledged and therefore unaddressed. For a start, remove Confederate flags from public display, some say, as these are painful reminders of a legacy of institutionalized racism.

There is also the “What could have been done better?” brigade.  Why were obvious warning signs in this man’s life and behavior seemingly ignored?  Why are such signs so often overlooked?  Maybe hate speech on social media must be more seriously and carefully scrutinized, so that appropriate action may be taken.

Most poignantly, there is often anguished spiritual wrestling.  If God really exists, why so much evil?  If God is all-powerful, why does this he not prevent evil acts like this that cause the innocent to suffer?  Why, especially, does God not stop attacks against those who seem most dedicated to his service?

With all emotions intensified by raw grief, unhealed pain, and bubbling anger, human reasoning is strained.  We seek quick answers and solutions to relieve the gnawing pain we feel.  Solution-makers speak past one another, often unable to find any truth outside their own ideological persuasion.

Is there an easy answer to all these questions?  No.  Yet I believe the answer Christian faith gives is the best place to begin understanding and healing, because it identifies the heart of the matter.

There is a universal truth Christian faith points to as the root issue underlying the evil we encounter in this world, including both evil acts and evil circumstances.  This universal truth is the dark presence of sin in the human heart and in creation.  It is sin that has left such devastating destruction, evil and misery in its wake.  The world is NOT as it is meant to be; this is not the Paradise God originally created.

We ourselves are not who we were created to be, nor what we ought to be.  We are fallen sinners, in need of a Savior. But in the face of horrible sin and evil, Christian faith gives hope and a promise: a new world and a new kingdom have arrived in Jesus Christ, who will again return to establish His permanent kingdom, a kingdom where evil and its effects will be fully eradicated.  All who trust and follow Him will be included in this kingdom.

The story I want to tell in the remainder of this article is one that exemplifies this powerful hope, that is, the power of God through Christ to overcome sin and by His love, to overcome hate.  As Wanda Simmons, granddaughter of one of the victims, Daniel Simmons, declared at Thursday’s bond hearing for the accused killer: “Hate wont win!”

Though I was a stranger to the nine who were murdered, I don’t feel like they are complete strangers.  I feel like I know them in some way,  because they are my brothers and sisters in Christ.  Like believers do, they came together one night to speak of God, to encourage one another and to study the Bible, to find encouragement together in the Word of God and to pray for one another for strength to live out their faith.  I’m sure they are imperfect, because like all of us, they are sinners. Yet enough information has emerged to recognize this was an extraordinary and rather exemplary group of human beings, nine men and women dedicated to doing good with their lives and being of service of others in the community.  So I want to testify to their story, and to applaud the legacy of love they have left behind.  That legacy of love, through Jesus Christ, is indeed our only hope.

Of course, brief paragraphs on a webpage can never encapsulate nine lives, nor the impact they have made.  Here we can only briefly list their names and a bit about them (sources: this CNN article and other online articles listed below). The point, as we will see, is that in their time on earth these folks lived well and made a contribution to the betterment of their fellow human beings. They point the way for us all.

  • The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, was a state senator and the senior pastor of Emanuel.  Heclementa-pinckney was married to Jennifer Benjamin and the father of two children, Eliana and Malana.  His colleague, Rep. Mark Sanford, a former governor of South Carolina , paid great tribute to him. “He was a remarkable human being,” Sanford told CNN’s “New Day.” “He had a gravelly, deep voice — a radio announcer’s voice, if you will — and he approached life with that same level of gravitas.” He called Pinckney “a man of character… He was a God-fearing man, a family man.”
  • Tywanztywanza-sandersa Sanders, 26, graduated from Allen University in 2014 with a degree in business administration. The 26-year-old died heroically, trying to save his aunt, Susie Jackson, also one of the victims.  This was a young man seemingly intent on going places. His cover photo on Facebook featured only words in light letters set against a dark background. They said simply: “Your dreams are calling you.”

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  • Cynthia Hurd, 54, worked with the Charleston County Public Library for 31 years.  A library statement said she “dedicated her life to serving and improving the lives of others. ” The Library closed all 16 of its branches Thursday in honor of Hurd and the others who died in the shooting. Her brother, Malcolm Graham, a former state senator, called Hurd a woman of faith, saying it was “typical” of her to be at the church on Sunday. She lived with her husband Steve in the east side of Charleston.
  • Sharonda Coleman-SingleSharonda Singleton and sonton was a speech therapist, a pastor at Emanuel AME Church, and a girls’ track coach. She was part of an athletic family, her husband Christopher Singleton a former football player at Tennessee State, and her son, Chris, born in 1995, a baseball player for Charleston Southern University. Coleman-Singleton also had two younger children.  Fighting off tears, Chris Singleton described his mother as “a God-fearing woman (who) loved everybody with all her heart. Love is always stronger than hate,” he told reporters.
  • Susie Jackson, 87, the oldest victim, was a cousin of Ethel Lee and a longtime member of the historic Charleston church, her grandson told CNN. Tim Jackson remembered his grandmother as a “very helpful person.” She was a choir member and on the usher board of the church.  Her son, Walter Jackson, said his mother was a “loving person” who had “no animosity toward nobody.” He reported that when he moved away from his home in the projects on the East Side, his mother gave his room to two young people who needed shelter in the neighborhood. “She took in others,” he said. “She was just that type of person.”
  • Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, was a minister at Emanuel AME, a school administratordoctor-mug at Southern Wesleyan University, a passionate Christian and the mother of four daughters.  She had a Master’s degree in management, and was an experienced grant writer and a consultant for school districts.  The Rev. George McKain recalled Middleton-Doctor as an enthusiastic singer with “a heart for missions, Christian education, loving all people (and) respective of all generations.  She could just bring out the praises of God and was a delight to know, a joy and a light in the midst of darkness.”
  • Retired pastor Reverend Daniel L. Simmons Sr., 74, was also on the staff at Emanuel and regularly attended the Wednesday night Bible study sessions.  He survived the initial shooting at the church, but later died during surgery.  According to a statement issued by his family, Rev. Simmons was “a distinguished man who served his God, country, and community well. His dedication to his profession and the AME church left a legacy for many to follow.  A loving father and grandfather, he was very proud of his family including the mother of his children, Annie Simmons, his two children Daniel Jr. and Rose Simmons, and his four grandchildren. Alana, Daniel III, Ava, and Anya Simmons.”
  • Myra Thompson, 59, was a Bible study teacher and wife to Reverend Anthony Thompson, vicar at Holy Trinity REC in Charleston. According to family friend Bishop Alphonza Gadsden, who had known Thompson for a decade, Myra “was a person who loved the Lord. Her every objective was to please Him in all that she did. She was teaching Bible study when she was killed.”
  • Ethel Lance, 70, was sexton (custodian) of Emanuel, a church she attended most oEthel Lancef her life. From 1968 to 2002, she worked as a custodian at Charleston’s Gaillard Municipal Auditorium. A former colleague, Cam Patterson, was quoted as saying, “She was funny and a pleasure to be around. And she was a wonderful mother and grandmother.”

Killer and lone gunman Dylann Roof confessed to police his intention was to “start a race war”, yet he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him.”  Yes, this group of fine men and women he so mercilessly executed met him with kindness, and they leave behind a powerful legacy of love and kindness through their lives.  It is one strong enough, let us hope, to help bring healing to a nation divided and tense over racial issues.  We can see their legacy demonstrated, in the powerful words of love, mercy and forgiveness victim’s family members offered the killer at the bond hearing this past Thursday afternoon.  Read below their poignant, often eloquent words:

Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance

“I just wanted everyone to know.  To you, I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But if God forgives you, I forgive you.”

Relative of Myra Thompson

“I would just like him to know that… I’m saying the same thing that was just said: I forgive him and my family forgives him. But we would like him to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters most: Christ. So that He can change it, can change your ways, so no matter what happens to you, you’ll be okay. Do that and you’ll be better off than what you are right now.”

Felicia Sanders, mother of Tywanza Sanders

“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful  people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts and I’ll, I’ll never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. But Tywanza Sanders was my hero. Tywanza was my hero…. but as we said in bible  study… May God have mercy on you.”

Wanda Simmons, granddaughter of Daniel Simmons

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof– everyone’s plea for your soul– is proof, that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. So hate won’t win. And I just want to thank the court for making sure that hate doesn’t win.”

Sister of DePayne Middleton Doctor

“Depayne Doctor was my sister, and I’d like to thank you on behalf of my family for not allowing hate to win. For me, I’m a work in progress. And I acknowledge that I am very angry. But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family … is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hate, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul…may God bless you”

Friends, whether Mr. Roof obtained a gun legally or illegally, was or wasn’t mentally deranged, was a pawn of hate groups or unduly influenced by racist society, the fact remains there have always been those who simply commit evil acts, even in the face of massive goodness and kindness.  This indeed is the story of how Jesus Christ was treated.  A man of God, He came from heaven with the message of God. From a heart filled with love and compassion, He reached out to the stranger, touched the leper, healed the sick, all the while announcing the good news of the arrival of His kingdom, a perfect, spiritual kingdom not of this broken, sinful world, but pointing ahead to the world to come.  He was not saying earthly needs are unimportant– indeed, He demonstrated how much God cares for human needs and human suffering by miraculously healing and providing for immediate physical needs.  Yet at the same time, He conveyed that all the good deeds and miracles He did in the name and power of God were but a foretaste of a greater, everlasting spiritual good.  He wanted His followers not to focus on the temporal, but on the eternal, to trust God with all their needs– earthly and spiritual. He demonstrated by His words and deeds and fulfillment of prophecy, that He was the long-awaited Messiah. Yet, this God-man, who only did good to all, was consistently attacked by evil men, falsely accused of wickedness, unjustly condemned, and at last crucified naked, alongside criminals, having first been viciously beaten and mocked.  In His hour of greatest human need, His friends and closest followers abandoned Him, fleeing to protect their own lives (now that, is my story).  Sin infects us all.  Even those who follow Jesus Christ so often abandon, disown, and distance themselves from Him.  We do so because, though we have received the great mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ, we remain weak and sinful in ourselves.  Indeed, as the sister of victim Depayne Middleton-Doctor testifies, we are all a “work in progress.”  Friends, she is right.  the Christian is a work-in-progress.  Yet the Bible addresses us as saints, not because we are already perfect, but because God sees us as perfectly righteous through the lens of His perfect Son, Jesus Christ.

Let us not let hate win in our lives.  Let us overcome evil with good, and continue the legacy of love Christ gave us, and that this group of Christians exemplified.  Let us be a light that shines in the darkness of a world that so often rejects Christ because it knows not whom they reject.  As we shine our light, reflecting the one true Light of the world, may His goodness, mercy and compassion be brightly magnified for all to see.

Please listen to and watch the videos below.  The court testimonials, where family members of the victims made emotional statements addressing the killer, and DePayne Middleton-Doctor singing “Oh It Is Jesus”, both brought me to tears as they reminded me of the overcoming goodness of the Savior.

Sources and further reading

The powerful words of forgiveness delivered to Dylann Roof by victims’ relatives

In Charleston, Raw Emotion at Hearing for Suspect in Church Shooting

Remembering the Charleston church shooting victims

The Victims: 9 Were Slain At Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church

Victims of the Charleston church shooting

Charleston victims: 9 lives lost to family and community

Here’s What We Know About the People Who Lost Their Lives in Charleston

Dylan Roof Confesses He Almost Did Not Follow Through With Massacre ‘Because Everyone Was So Nice;’ Victims’ Families Offer Forgiveness

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Did Josh Duggar Commit the Unpardonable Sin?

Molestation of children is certainly a deadly serious sin, and it is also a crime.  Therefore it must not be treated casually or dismissed lightly.  Yet I think some perspective is needed when looking at the Josh Duggar case.  From what is being reported, Josh Duggar was only a boy of 14 when over a period of a year or so he inappropriately touched five different girls as they slept (sometimes they were not asleep).  The victims including some of his own sisters.  His young age doesn’t excuse these terrible acts, but perhaps such acts may be understood as a boy not knowing how to deal with awakening sexual feelings and acting upon them in a highly inappropriate manner.  But Josh recognized what he had done was wrong.  He confessed his actions to his parents and before his church, and subsequently received help. The authorities were eventually also contacted and made aware of the situation.  It doesn’t seem any formal charges were ever made by authorities against the boy or his parents.  It might be argued that more severe action should have been taken by the Duggars to deal with their son, in light of the very serious nature of their son’s actions.  Josh Duggar apparently underwent 3 months of Christian counseling, which included hard physical labor.  Was such adequate for him to have overcome the pattern?  I don’t know.

But the thing is, it does seem Mr. Duggar changed.  He did not continue in the sinful and destructive pattern– but rather, it seems he made a complete about-face.  Apparently he went on to become a very different person, eventually maturing into a decent husband and now, a father. And now, twelve years later, when confronted again with his past (which I am sure he wants desperately to put behind him) he does not cover up his guilt, but owns up to his wicked past acts (publicly confessing, apologizing, not excusing his actions; quitting his position with the Family Research Council).

I think there is a big difference between an unrepentant adult pedophile, and a young teenager of 14 who acted inappropriately but then confessed and actually changed his life.  Perhaps if Mr. Duggar had NOT confessed his actions and reached out for help he might have continued his sinful pattern and become irrevocably hardened in it.  But apparently he genuinely overcame his pattern and has left it far behind.  Of course, he will have to live with remorse and with the consequences of what he did, knowing he caused great harm through his sins. It is to be greatly hoped that his victims have also received the help they need to cope with how they were violated, and are finding healing too.

But in a world where few ever even admit they did something wrong, let alone take responsibility for their bad actions, it is commendable that this young man, with God’s help, seems to have turned his life entirely around as he admitted his guilt, and found forgiveness of his sins and power to change through Jesus Christ.  Even if one cynically dismisses the idea that he has really changed, it should still command respect that Mr. Duggar did not continue the pattern of wrong behavior, but owned up to it and changed it.  For those of us who believe God is in the business of changing lives supernaturally, through the precious gospel of forgiveness through Christ and by the work of His Spirit in sinful hearts, the story of Josh Duggar offers hope and encouragement.  It shows God can really change a person who is willing to confess and repent and ask for help.  Let us hope and pray that Mr. Duggar’s repentance was indeed fully genuine, that good fruit continues, and especially that the victims in this case, who have not really been heard from, are finding restoration and healing too.

We must remember that the gospel is about how the Jesus’ death on a cross is a substitute for what we as wrongdoers deserve (Is 53:4-5; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom 3:23-25). We deserve to be punished, but He– though innocent– takes our sin and our guilt and our shame on His own shoulders.  By His blood shed on the cross, He washes sinners clean from the very worst of sins– there is no sin, in fact, beyond God’s redemptive reach (1 Cor 6:9-11; Eph 2:3-6).  The depth of the love, grace and mercy of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ is simply unfathomable.  God not only forgives through Jesus but then by His Spirit begins a powerful process of changing people from the inside out.  He takes murderers, adulterers– the vilest, most wicked and most depraved sinners– and washes them clean, changing the trajectory of their lives by renewing their minds and giving them new hearts (1 Cor 6:9-111; Rom 12:2). He is cleansing and transforming lowly, wicked sinners into His own perfect and spotless image (1 John 3:2-3).  It is a supernatural, lifelong process that won’t be completed in the believer’s lifetime. But this is the redemptive work God is doing (Heb 10:14; Rom 8:18; 1 Tim 2:12-13).

In light of this, is Josh Duggar beyond redemption? Did he commit the “unpardonable” sin? No. The only sin that puts people out of reach of this marvelous redemption is the sin of continued unbelief (John 3:18).  There is no sin so wicked that God cannot forgive it; no life so shameful and vile that God cannot turn it around(1 John 1:9). But if we reject so great a salvation as is available through Jesus Christ, we shut the door upon our only hope as sinners (Heb 2:3).  Josh Duggar is a wicked sinner.  So am I.  So is every one of us.  Therefore let us put down the stones of condemnation, turn to Jesus and find in Him grace to walk as forgiven but transformed sinners, who look ahead to the day when sin will be fully eradicated from our hearts, and we will live together with God in a new and perfect world that shines brightly, lit solely by the holy glory of God.

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Using the Word “Thugs” Not Clear Evidence of Racism

A friend from Facebook posted the NYT opinion piece “Of Bikers and Thugs” by Charles M. Blow.  I find the article both flawed and annoying. In fact, more than that, the article made me angry– I feel it is trying to accuse folks of universal prejudice based on very flimsy evidence. And I don’t want the guilt. I have enough personal sins to deal with, thank you very much. I don’t deny racial prejudice exists, and that some are perhaps guilty of it on an unconscious level. But I think it is a huge leap to locate unmistakable evidence of universal and deep racial hatred towards blacks simply because the term “thugs” was used in describing events in Baltimore, but not applied to the recent biker riots. The author argues this is not semantics. I say that it is exactly what it is.

The author himself unwittingly provides a good example of how this is semantics when he notes that the President of the United States and the Mayor of Baltimore (both whom happen to be black) used the term “thugs” in describing the riots happening in Baltimore. Is he suggesting the President and this Mayor are both motivated by deep or even unconscious racial animus towards blacks by using this term? Is anyone who uses the term “thugs”, white or black, guilty of prejudice and perpetuating stereotypes against the black community? Well, I don’t think so. The President used the word “thugs” because it was appropriate– the rioters were acting like thugs (i.e., “brutal ruffians”)– which has no connotation of anything racial, sorry. One does not hesitate to use this word of whites. Or at least I never received the memo that this word when applied to blacks signifies that you are a racist.

If you read economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell on these issues (he also happens to be a black man), he regularly notes that breakdown of the family, not only for blacks but also for whites, is a factor contributing to increased violence and crime, in both black and white communities. But he finds much statistical evidence that this breakdown of the family with its negative effects has been much more common in recent decades (from the 1960s forward) following the embracing and implementation of liberal policies. Prior to this, blacks were rioting less and were more likely to have two-parent households. Sowell makes the case that liberal policies have not been helping blacks or whites.  For an example of Sowell’s work, check out his recent article titled, The Inconvenient Truth about Ghetto Communities’ Social Breakdown.

I fully agree with Mr. Blow when he writes that under certain conditions all human beings are “capable of primal, animalistic violence.” As a Christian, I recognize the fact of universal sin. This means Christians should especially be willing to examine their own hearts, to see if prejudice or other sin lurks there. But I’m not sure this means one should rummage around for evidence of sin within where it does not seem to exist. Such as simply using the word “thugs.” What a sin!

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On World Stage, PM Netanyahu Delivers Bold Address to Congress

Prime Minister of Israel Netanyahu today delivered a bold, stirring speech before Congress, using plain language to explain that the deal currently underway with Iran is a “very bad deal”. It was nonetheless a gracious speech, in which he thanked Congress and America in its tradition of helping and standing with Israel.  He acknowledged both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry for their efforts on behalf of Israel, despite the fact that these leaders were notably absent, having snubbed Netanyahu’s visit to Washington. Invited to address Congress by Speaker of the House John Boehner, Netanyahu seized the chance, knowing the platform gave him opportunity to make his case before the watching world.   Accordingly he made an impassioned plea for the peace and survival of the Jewish nation of Israel, which he linked with the peace and survival of America and indeed, of the entire planet.

Netanyahu simply reminded listeners that Iran’s long history of aggression against other nations, its pattern of not abiding by its agreements, its repeated threats against America and against Israel, its support for and exportation of terrorism around the globe, makes it a nation not to be trusted in the current negotiations.  He explained that the deal in progress allows Iran to continue building up a massive centrifuge capacity, which would eventually enable Iran to develop a powerful arsenal of nuclear weapons. Though the deal imposes certain restrictions, such as ongoing inspections, he argued that inspections only document infractions, and do not prevent them, as shown historically.  Therefore, rather than stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons, ultimately the deal “paves Iran’s path to the bomb”, which will in turn spark an arms race in the Middle East region as other nations arm themselves against a nuclear Iran.

With lifting of economic sanctions and its economy strengthened, Netanyahu argued Iran would only be emboldened to carry out further aggression.

Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger? If Iran is gobbling up four countries right now while it’s under sanctions, how many more countries will Iran devour when sanctions are lifted? Would Iran fund less terrorism when it has mountains of cash with which to fund more terrorism?  Why should Iran’s radical regime change for the better when it can enjoy the best of both world’s: aggression abroad, prosperity at home?

Netanyahu’s speech exposed the naivety (ideologically-induced blindness?) of the current Administration’ negotiations with Iran.  He dismissed the idea that Iran’s already attained nuclear know-how and program is so advanced that it makes their attainment of nuclear weapons inevitable, saying that Iran won’t be able to make bombs in the future without a complete nuclear infrastructure of “thousands of centrifuges, tons of enriched uranium or heavy water facilities.”  Netanyahu insisted we can prevent Iran from attaining such an infrastructure, rolling back their nuclear program “well beyond the current proposal, by insisting on a better deal and keeping up the pressure on a very vulnerable regime, especially given the recent collapse in the price of oil.”

Netanyahu summed up the choice before us:

Ladies and gentlemen, history has placed us at a fateful crossroads. We must now choose between two paths. One path leads to a bad deal that will at best curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions for a while, but it will inexorably lead to a nuclear-armed Iran whose unbridled aggression will inevitably lead to war.  The second path, however difficult, could lead to a much better deal, that would prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclearized Middle East and the horrific consequences of both to all of humanity.

Netanyahu boldly declared “even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand”, asserting that “the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over.”  Yet Netanyahu, reciting and recalling America’s long history of aiding Israel, remains hopefully confident America will indeed stand with Israel. “You stand with Israel, because you know that the story of Israel is not only the story of the Jewish people but of the human spirit that refuses again and again to succumb to history’s horrors.”  Quoting in Hebrew the words of Moses, Netanyahu ended his speech urging America and Israel to stand together in the face of those who would by violence remove freedom from us all.  “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.”

Netanyahu’s refreshing speech was simply spoken, yet bold.  He sees the enemy the world faces (a regime bent on world denomination) with clear-eyed realism, and asks for help as his nation seeks to defend its peace and ensure its survival in the face of threats of annihilation.  How transformed might American foreign policy be, guided by the same rational assessment of the real dangers it faces in the world today.

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“Net Neutrality”- Orwell Couldn’t Have Said It Better

President Obama recently shared his view that ‘the Internet as we know it’ is in jeopardy, unless the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) swiftly adopts new regulations to ensure ‘Net neutrality‘.  He claims the new rules are needed so Internet Service Providers (ISPs) cannot be the ‘gatekeepers’ that get to decide which content consumers have access to, nor control access speed.  The principle behind the notion of Net neutrality is that “Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.”

First, let’s ask this question: what real problem(s) are these new regulations intended to solve? Is the Internet now broken and needing to be fixed?  Are most people unhappy with their Internet access?  The answer is no.  According to a recent Rasmussen poll, “Americans really like the online service they currently have and strongly oppose so-called “net neutrality” efforts that would allow the federal government to regulate the Internet.”

Net neutrality supporters argue that net neutrality will ensure that free and unfettered access continues, by making sure Internet access providers don’t control who gets to access certain websites.  President Obama implies that big Internet providers currently wield too much power over access to content, and that they are somehow stifling free access.  He claims principles of “net neutrality” have always been part of the Internet from its beginnings, but must be preserved by these new rules so that the Internet remains “free”. Let’s take a closer look at the definition of net neutrality.

Some say net neutrality, the idea that Internet access providers must treat all content equally, is

… similar to the engineering concept known as the “end-to-end principle,” which dates to the early days of the Internet. This concept holds that “intelligence” (i.e., processing of information) should be confined to the two ends of the network: the origination of content and receipt by the end user, or consumer. In between, the pipes connecting these pockets of intelligence should be “dumb,” i.e., confined to simply transporting content without modifying it.

Yet in practice, this “neutrality” principle has always been enforced loosely, for several reasons.  One is the recognition that in fact there are often good reasons for prioritizing some content over other content.  “For instance, network operators have long actively managed their networks to filter out spam and to ensure network security. Network operators consider each of these functions on a case-by-case basis, rather than apply an unbreakable rule built into the fabric of this ever-changing technology.

Another factor that enters into this discussion is, of course, the free market.  In a free marketplace there are always consumers willing to pay more for premium access.  This is an essential aspect of a free market, not a threat to the Internet as we know it, as the President grandiosely and falsely claims.

Yet another factor involved in varying prioritization of data is technical.  Different types of data require higher or lower levels of bandwidth and speed. For example, the data transfers involved in reading a blog or a website are slower and smaller that that required for viewing a video or for conducting a phone or webcam conversation.  This kind of traffic requires regulation if the Internet is to run smoothly and effectively.

In a field that is one of the America’s best and brightest–, technology and communications– we must guard the freedoms that allowed the Internet to flourish and innovate.  Turning the Internet into a public utility subject to more government regulation does not seem a good prescription for encouraging a climate of innovation.  Does government regulation produce creativity and competition, or does it rather stifle them?  Besides, it is not as if the current Internet is not under laws that bring protections to the public.  In fact, “existing federal competition laws and consumer protection laws — and strict penalties — protect Americans from harmful ISP behavior.”

Finally, here’s what I view as the truly Orwellian aspect of this.  President Obama says unless we act now and impose these brand new, unprecedented rules, we will lose the Internet as we now know it– because the big bad ISPs are actively suppressing people’s access to the Internet and websites.  Where is the evidence for this?  In any case the rules he is proposing grant huge power to a Federal government agency (FCC) to oversee and regulate how the Internet works.  Introducing new levels of bureaucracy into a system that has been working well ( precisely due to light regulation and free market principles) is a sure path to higher costs and ultimately, less neutrality.  If the Internet becomes a “public utility”, it can be taxed.  And once the government controls costs, how soon is it until they will also be in a position to regulate content?  Judge Napolitano sums it up well in this video, arguing that the Internet was created by a free market, and that these new FCC rules introduce unnecessary bureaucracy into the system making it less free, more expensive, and in danger of government censorship and control.

As you may have heard, today the FCC narrowly passed the new rules, which are expected to face many legal challenges ahead.

 More resources:

Eight Myths About FCC Regulation of the Internet

Five Myths about Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality’s Technical Troubles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Obama Administration and Benghazi: The Lies Continue

The Obama Administration promised that it would get to the bottom of what happened in the attack on the Benghazi consulate on Sept 11, 2012; that it would bring the perpetrators to justice.  Almost a year and a half later, the only times you hear about Benghazi in the media are when new revelations emerge showing what the administration has not told us.  We hear nothing from the Administration on progress it has made in its investigation. Below, in bold, are just some of the lies and misinformation the Administration has told about Benghazi.

We released all emails related to Benghazi
Then why are we seeing new emails now?

The attack in Benghazi originated in a spontaneous video protest by a mob outside the Benghazi diplomatic headquarters

As Guy Benson reports and the evidence has confirmed, the 9/11 attacks were not rooted in an “internet video” … the State Department’s second in command on the ground in Libya called it (the video) a “non event” vis-a-vis the Benghazi raid.  The US government, including Sec. Clinton and CIA Director Petraeus, knew the attack was a coordinated terrorist action almost immediately.

The State Department also knew that there was NO video protest at the Benghazi consulate.

 

Obama called this a terror attack in the Rose Garden speech given immediately after the event

In the Rose Garden speech on Sept 12, 2012 President Obama did use the phrase “act of terror,” however in the following days and weeks he and his Administration coordinated their message to keep connecting the attack to the “spontaneous” video, their narrative strongly implying that the video directly caused the attack, when in fact they DID NOT KNOW whether or not the video was in any way connected to the attack. At the time, Obama was saying that an investigation was under way and they didn’t yet know for sure if it’s terrorism. How then would they know the role that the video did or did not play? Why keep advancing and emphasizing the video narrative if the investigation hadn’t yet taken place to provide corroborating evidence that the attack was connected with the video?

Yet everywhere he appeared and spoke about Benghazi Obama did not say that this was a planned terrorist attack, but kept mentioning its connection with the video.

Obama on Letterman, Sept 18:
LETTERMAN: Now, I don’t understand, um, the ambassador to Libya killed in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi. Is this an act of war? Are we at war now? What happens here?
OBAMA: Here’s what happened. … You had a video that was released by somebody who lives here, sort of a shadowy character who — who made an extremely offensive video directed at — at Mohammed and Islam —
LETTERMAN: Making fun of the Prophet Mohammed.
OBAMA: Making fun of the Prophet Mohammed. And so, this caused great offense in much of the Muslim world. But what also happened, extremists and terrorists used this as an excuse to attack a variety of our embassies, including the one, the consulate in Libya.

Obama on Univision, Sept. 20:
OBAMA: Well, we’re still doing an investigation, and there are going to be different circumstances in different countries. And so I don’t want to speak to something until we have all the information. What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests —
SALINAS: Al-Qaeda?
OBAMA: Well, we don’t know yet. And so we’re going to continue to investigate this. We’ve insisted on and have received so far full cooperation from countries like Egypt and Libya and Tunisia in not only protecting our diplomatic posts, but also to make sure that we discover who, in fact, is trying to take advantage of this.

Tony Bevan writes in his article What the President Said About Benghazi, “Although it’s not clear how strongly he stressed this point within the administration, former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on November 16 that his agency knew early on that an al-Qaeda-affiliated group was behind the attack in Benghazi.”

 

Obama on The View, Sept 25:
BEHAR: OK, I want to talk about Libya for a second because on 9/11 of this past year our embassy was attacked there and we lost four people, including the ambassador, and it was reported that people just went crazy and wild because of this anti-Muslim movie, or anti-Mohammed, I guess, movie. But then I heard Hillary Clinton say it was an act of terrorism. Is it? What do you say?
OBAMA: Well, we’re still doing an investigation. There’s no doubt the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn’t just a mob action. Now, we don’t have all the information yet, and so we’re still gathering it. But what’s clear is that around the world, there are still a lot of threats out there.

Obama at the UN, Sept 25:
And on this we must agree: There is no speech that justifies mindless violence. There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents. There’s no video that justifies an attack on an embassy. There’s no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.

Read more: Obama Claims He Called Benghazi an Act of Terrorism

The Big Lie: Obama Did Not Call Libya Attacks Terrorism on Sept 12

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, on behalf of the Administration, went on five different Sunday nationally televised talk shows to promulgate the narrative about the “spontaneous” nature of the attacks being due to a video. She claimed the attack on the Benghazi consulate evolved from a spontaneous demonstration and was not premeditated.

The quotes above demonstrate that President Obama and his administration most certainly did not categorize Benghazi as terrorism, which by definition is a planned attack, but rather, emphasized the video narrative of a spontaneous protest somehow evolving into a full blown attack. Whatever impact the video had or did not have on those coordinating the attacks on the consulate in Benghazi is still not known. We continue to hear nothing from this Administration regarding the results of their ongoing investigation. What is very clear is that there was NO VIDEO protest at all going on outside the Benghazi consulate; therefore the narrative that a video protest escalated into the full attack on the compound was deliberately misleading. Why would the Administration do this? Political expedience. A spontaneous video protest escalating into a full blown attack plays much better politically than the facts of the real situation in Benghazi: that our government was caught unprepared for this terrorist attack, having ignored repeated warnings about the insecure, volatile, extremely dangerous situation the consulate was under and not providing security adequate to the situation. After the disaster of Benghazi, the Administration went into full clean up mode, not wanting to admit this was a planned terrorist attack that happened on the anniversary of 9/11. With the re-election campaign in full swing it was critical to keep on pretending that “al Qaeda is on the run.”

The more evidence that emerges, the clearer the conclusion seems to be that four Americans died in Benghazi because of the monumental blunders of President Obama and many in his Administration, including then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Our great military resources were not made available while the Benghazi consulate was under siege.  Yesterday, the House Oversight Committee heard its first testimony from a member of the military who was at Africa Command during the time of the Benghazi attack on the U.S consulate. Retired Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell said the military should have and could have done more to help Americans who were killed in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 (see video above).

In the meantime, while the wait for justice stretches on, our most “transparent” Administration continues to not give straight answers; witness Jay Carney’s latest spin where he provides more non-answers to such questions as why we are seeing new emails on Benghazi now when it was previously claimed that all such emails were provided, and why the Benghazi talking points for Susan Rice were actually not altered not just by one phrase as he claimed, but radically redacted.

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New “Cessationism” tab Added to “ReformingChristianity- Resources for the reforming Christian”

Dear friends and followers:

A number of years ago I stumbled across the Netvibes platform, a web-based site that allows one to collect “RSS feeds” (e.g.,  podcasts and other syndicated content) and organize them in tabs to create a pleasingly visual, convenient way to access content.  Utilizing this platform, I created the “ReformingChristianity- Resources for the reforming Christian” Netvibes universe– a collection of fantastic online resources on Reformed theology that I regularly update.

Those following the recent Strange Fire Conference of John MacArthur and friends– that takes on the widespread aberrations of theology present theology of general in the charismatic movement–may be interested in a new tab I have added to this site, titled “Cessationism”, in which I have included excellent resources on cessationism (a major theme of the conference) as well as links to the audio and video from Strange Fire. Cessationism, as most readers of this blog probably know, is a reformed theological position that believes miraculous “sign” gifts such as miracles, tongues and prophecy were given by God to the apostolic community as the Christianity was being established so as to attest that the early leaders and followers of Jesus Christ were indeed authentic messengers of God, with a true message from God.  That message– the gospel of Christ, with all its implications for life, would later come to be written down in the collected teachings of the New Testament, via a process guided and overseen by the Holy Spirit. Cessationists believe that with the revelation of God now completely captured in the New Testament writings, there is no need for further revelatory gifts such as prophecy and tongues to be given at this time.  Cessationism does not deny that miracles and revelation may be sovereignly given at any point the Lord may so choose, but believe that in these days the Lord has chosen not to give such gifts as a normative pattern, and that the Church finds all it needs for life and godliness available to it in Holy Scripture.

Note:  In response to a reader’s comment, I edited the paragraph above to be more precise.  I do believe, unfortunately, that the Strange Fire conference was correct to point out that theological aberrations characterize the popular charismatic movement worldwide, whereas as reformed continuationists such as Piper, Grudem , Storms and Carson, who in their respective writings and ministries have made immensely valuable contributions to the Church, are in the minority.  MacArthur appealed to these continuationists, whom he considers friends in ministry, to consider whether their openness to the continuation of charismatic gifts has “provided cover” or has lent false legitimacy to those in the popular movement whose theology and practice is at odds with Scripture.  

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John MacArthur Defends Strange Fire Conference & Cessationism

In this first installment of an interview with blogger Tim Challies, John MacArthur articulates the case for cessationism concisely and convincingly (in my view), while also defending the Strange Fire conference. Even if one is convinced that Scripture teaches all the spiritual gifts continue, I think one would be hard pressed to make a case that the sub-par prophecy and tongues and so-called miracles we see happening today in the movement are even close to matching the New Testament descriptions of these phenomena.  See also my previous post, The Main Point of Strange Fire was Correct and Needed.

Further resources on Strange Fire & Cessationism:

The Cessation of the Sign Gifts by Thomas R. Edgar

What Cessationism is Not by Nathan Busenitz

Where Have All the Spiritual Gifts Gone? A Defense of Cessationism by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

Cessationists View @ monergism.com

Cessationism by Willem Berends

Cessationism.com

The Cessation of the Charismata by B.B. Warfield

All Audio Messages from the Strange Fire Conference

A Case for Cessationism (Tom Pennington) (audio)

The Strange Fire Conference: A Case for Cessationism (Tom Pennington)

Strange Fire Conference #1: personal by Dan Phillips @pyromaniacs

Strange Fire Conference #2: Session 1, John MacArthur by Dan Phillips @pyromaniacs

Strange Fire Conference #3: Joni Eareckson Tada and R. C. Sproul by Dan Phillips @pyromaniacs

Strange Fire Conference #4: Steve Lawson on Calvin and the Charismatics by Dan Phillips @pyromaniacs

Strange Fire Conference #5: Conrad Mbewe by Dan Phillips @pyromaniacs

Lessons Learned at Strange Fire by Tim Challies

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The Main Point of Strange Fire Was Correct and Needed

strange fire

Because I have been busy with coursework I haven’t had opportunity to listen to or watch all of the Strange Fire conference. I’ve read a number of commentaries on it, both pro and con. Again, the chief negative complaint seems to be the idea that a “broad brush” was used by  John MacArthur and the conference in its argument against charismaticism and that its broad generalizations were too dismissive of the movement in its entirety, thus throwing some good charismatics under the bus, and not acknowledging any positive contributions from the movement. These critiques do seem to have some truth to them, based on that which I have read and seen. As I have said I think the SF argument would have been that much stronger if the conference toned down some of its generalized statements or qualified them more consistently (though indeed some qualifications were made).

Still, the main point of the conference I believe was to point to abuses in the charismatic segment of the church that are rampant, extremely harmful and continuing to spread, and therefore must be challenged by responsible Christian leaders. Also an inference was being drawn– that these strange and hurtful practices stem from a flawed, unbiblical theology, one that needs to be corrected or replaced. Accordingly, cessationistic arguments were presented as the more biblical alternative.

The problem I have observed is that even with the proliferation of nonsense and abuses in the movement, it appears that the urgency among the more sound charismatics is on defending the good aspects of their theology, rather than crying out loudly against the abuses. And I suggest that there should be more time given to analyzing why is it that these aberrant practices flow so much within the charismatic camp. Does not the open door to subjective revelations, visions etc. result in many of the wacky leaders claiming God’s stamp of approval on their doctrines and practices?

I do sympathize with charismatics who want a deeper experience with God, more power and vitality in their ministry. Every Christian should desire this. I also applaud the charismatic’s expectation that God is ready to take action in our midst. What I object to however, is a re-packaging of gifts such as tongues and prophecy to become less than what the Bible declares them to be in terms of authority and accuracy, and the gullibility that causes people to accept claims of miracles happening without evidence.

Providential answers to prayer for healing, even in ways that might be regarded as miraculous– does not necessarily indicate that we are still seeing New Testament level miracles all around us, as is so often claimed by various charismatics. It is fitting and proper that many write on these issues in an attempt to make biblical arguments in support of their charismatic practice, but I have found their arguments wanting, especially in light of the continued proliferation of bad fruit in the movement. An earnest even well-meaning desire for more of God and His power should not be allowed to overtake good judgment informed and guided by wisdom from Scripture.

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“But they used such a broad brush!” A few more thoughts on Strange Fire

Interesting how many charismatics, in response to the recent Strange Fire conference are doubling down on defending charismatic theology with cries like, “mustn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater!” or “but they used such a broad brush… we’re not all like that, you know!”  Thus they direct their energies towards critiquing those who point out the obvious excesses in the movement– excesses they themselves acknowledge are happening all the time!  It seems they place greater priority on critiquing those warning others about the blatant errors, than on joining with them in denouncing these harmful practices. They downplay the harm that is taking place by arguing that such excesses are representative of only a minority. But even if that were true– and it is certainly highly debatable, given that the biggest names at the forefront of the movement seem to be leading the way in the excesses– the abuses are so harmful on a spiritual, emotional and material level that those who acknowledge excesses but are not urgently trying to stop them– at the very least joining in their denunciation– are in effect abetting them.

Yet it is argued by such folks that what must take highest priority is the promotion and protection of the pure, sound theology at the heart of charismaticism that is being overlooked in all this– both by those guilty of corrupting excesses, and by those outside the movement who remain studiously ignorant of these important life-changing truths.  Their urgency then is not towards denouncing the excesses to help protect those being exploited by false teachings, but rather, to restore  and proclaim the underlying classic charismatic doctrine, which they claim is sound and only needs to be purified that it may bear its good fruit.  Thus their strategy seems to be —  go on the offensive against those pointing out and trying to stop the abuses, because such folks are actually getting in the way of all the good that will result when people live in accord with charismatic doctrine it is purest, most correct form!  Moreover, there are often unfortunate accusations made against cessationists like MacArthur  -that they are not motivated by love, but rather by their fear of not being in control, pride in their right doctrines, lack of supernatural experiences.  This then is what produces their sinful, willful unbelief in the power of God to do miracles and healing in peoples’ lives today.

But critics of the charismatic movement and its excesses do in fact acknowledge that there is a more sound doctrine among some charismatics.  Conferences like the recent Strange Fire conference even point to those charismatics they consider friends and colleagues in ministry, whose overall theology is sound and does bear good fruit.  However they also point out the obvious– that abuses within this movement are so rampant and widespread, showing no signs of slowing down, that something must be done.  And they also point out that the more responsible, sound charismatics are not at the forefront of condemning these excessive practices, though they ought to be.  So in effect the scholarly defenses of continuationism presented by better charismatics, combined with their lack of denouncing the excesses, provides cover for such harmful practices to continue to spread.

For further reflection, see also:

The Broad Brush Phil Johnson

Two Quick Thoughts About Strange Fire Tom Chantry

The Right and Wrong Way to Engage John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” Conference Trevin Wax

Lessons Learned at Strange Fire Tim Challies

 

And from the other side:

Strange Fire: can’t we just get along? Adrian Warnock

Strange Fire – A Charismatic Response to John MacArthur Adrian Warnock

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