debate

Lots of God Talk as GOP Contenders Prep for Debate

Image via Lucy Nicholson / REUTERS / RNS

Oct. 28 is the third debate for the Republicans, and since their last stage appearance, several have been ringing the religious liberty bell from one primary state to the next.

CNBC, which is hosting this debate, says the focus will be on economic issues when the mikes turn on at Coors Events Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

But that doesn’t mean God talk will be muted. Didn’t Pope Francis just sweep through, telling U.S. leaders about the moral dimensions of public policy?

When Christian Arguments Miss the Point

Why do we get lost debating the fine points? Photo via shutterstock.

Like other citizens of our free land, Christians tend to divide sharply, predictably, and with heated language.

We disagree about almost everything, from cultural norms to attitudes toward wealth and power; from personal behavior to what Jesus intended.

To judge by our blog posts, our comments, our letters to the editor, and our remarks in public, we are appalled at what other Christians believe. How can this person have that viewpoint and still call himself a Christian? Does she not know that her words heap burning coals on her own head?

In view of our fiery words, you’d think we had explored the extremes of Christian faith and were shouting across a vast, unbridgeable chasm. In fact, we differ within a narrow spectrum, like those who debate Coke vs. Pepsi.

That narrow spectrum tends to be far removed from what Jesus actually said, did and expected. We argue about things that don’t matter because we can’t stand the things that do matter. We argue about sex, for example, in order to avoid the topic Jesus actually addressed, namely, wealth and power.

And when we do address wealth and power, we tend to affirm the individual’s right to have as much as they can get, even though Jesus said no such thing.

'Ham on Nye' Debate Doesn't Reflect Reality

Courtesy Answers in Genesis
Courtesy Answers in Genesis

Whenever I hear about someone else making a case for Young Earth Creationism in the name of Christianity, I’m embarrassed, once again, to associate myself with them. And people wonder why many of us prefer to identify as “Jesus followers” or “Spiritual but not Religious” rather than be lumped in with the Ken Hams of the world.

Duh.

The thing is, a healthy number of us who consider ourselves to be Christian embrace science. We think critically. We accept the likelihood that much we think we understand about the world, the universe, and about our faith can (and should) change as we learn new things. We understand that faith is more about questions than answers, and that the prime mover in our faith practice is to be more like Jesus in our own daily walk, rather than focusing so much on making others more like us.

The desire of a vocal minority (yes, that’s what I said, and I meant it) of Christians to cling to a notion that the entire universe is a few thousand years old, despite the clear physical evidence to the contrary, points less to a reasonable alternate view of the observable world. Rather, it points to a desperate attempt to maintain a dying voice in the cultural conversation.

Ham-on-Nye Debate Pits Atheists, Creationists

Promotion photo for the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. Photo courtesy of http://www.answersingenesis.org/ Via RNS.

Bill Nye may be “The Science Guy,” but Ken Ham is the “Answers in Genesis” man, and a debate between the two over the origins of life has nonbelievers and Christians wringing their hands.

Nye, host of a beloved television science series, and Ham, president of a creationist apologetics ministry, will meet at the Creation Museum, where Ham is also the president, on Feb. 4. In what some wags are calling “the Ham-on-Nye debate,” they will weigh this question: “Is creation a viable model of origins?”

In truth, both sides answered that question long ago — Nye with Charles Darwin’s work on the origin of species and Ham with the first book of the Bible. Yet many observers — both religious and nonreligious — say the debate is a very bad idea.

Net Neutrality: The Final Battle?

FOR SEVERAL years now, a debate has raged over the issue of “net neutrality,” pitting media reformers, digital libertarians, and “content” companies such as Amazon and Netflix against old-school telecommunication giants such as AT&T and Comcast, with the Federal Communications Commission serving as an erratic referee.

Sometime early this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia may settle the question when it decides the case of Verizon vs. the FCC. If the court decides in favor of Verizon, big telecom companies will have won the right to decide what digital content we can receive, especially when it comes to video and other bandwidth-intense media.

Simply put, the issue in the Verizon case is whether broadband internet will follow the “common carrier” precedent applied to telephone lines and the electricity grid or the model of cable TV. The common carrier principle guarantees equal access to necessary public utilities. Applied to the internet, this has meant that service providers simply supply the fiber-optic cable or wireless spectrum, give equal access to all content providers, and charge the final recipient of the data (you and me) a fee that covers the cost of maintaining an adequate network.

In the cable TV business model, the provider controls the network of fiber optic cable and the content that goes over it. The cable company decides which channels are included in the basic package, which (like HBO) are purchased separately, and which will be unavailable at any price. If you want Al Jazeera instead of Fox News, too bad—it’s a take it or leave it package.

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Breaking the Impasse

THE CHURCH IS locked in a polarized debate around same-sex relationships that is creating painful divisions, subverting the church's missional intent, and damaging the credibility of its witness. We've all heard the sound-bite arguments. For some, condoning or blessing same-sex relationships betrays the clear teaching of the Bible, and represents a capitulation to the self-gratifying, permissive sexual ethic of a secularized culture. For others, affirming same-sex relationships flows from the command to love our neighbor, embodies the love of Jesus, and honors the spiritual integrity and experience of gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

The way the debate presently is framed makes productive dialogue difficult. People talk past one another. Biblical texts collide with the testimony of human experience. The stakes of the debate become elevated from a difference around ethical discernment to the preservation of the gospel's integrity—for both sides. Lines get drawn in the ecclesiastical sand. Some decide that to be "pure" they must separate themselves spiritually from others and break the fellowship of Christ's body. Then the debate devolves into public wrangling over judicial proceedings, constitutional interpretations, and property ownership. Meanwhile, the "nones," those who are walking away from any active relig-ious faith, find further confirmation for their growing estrangement.

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Angry Senators Afraid of Debate

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Senate Armed Services Committee during former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearing. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It was the biggest story inside the Beltway. Since last Thursday’s hearing, the whole Washington media machine has been discussing and dissecting the extraordinary confrontation in the Senate Armed Service Committee regarding the potential confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as the new Secretary of Defense. Several Republican senators were extremely combative with the combat veteran who earned two Purple Hearts for his wounds in Vietnam. Hagel deserves another Purple Heart for the wounds his former “friends” and party members tried to inflict upon him. Hagel didn’t really defend his views — which were both caricatured and attacked by his adversaries — perhaps on White House advice not risk further debates before being confirmed.

But I think Hagel’s views and the important questions he has raised about current U.S. wars and military policy deserve defending and, indeed, should become the subjects of a national debate. So I wrote a piece about one of Hagel’s most hostile questioners who insisted the possible new Secretary answer the simple question of whether the surge in Iraq was “right” or “wrong.” I said it was wrong, as was the war in Iraq, as was the war in Vietnam, as are the views of John McCain on war throughout his entire political career; and how the nation has been wounded by McCain’s and others’ “theology of war.

Chuck Hagel’s views could lead us to a necessary national debate if he becomes the new leader of the Pentagon. And it is that potential debate that Hagel’s critics are so afraid to have.

Ten Defining Phrases of 2012

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Mitt Romney after the debate. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Generally, we only know how history will be remembered once it is in the rearview mirror. Something, or some things, jump out and remain indelible in the collective memories of the culture. And in a world defined by sound bytes, sometimes only a few words tell us a lot about that moment in time.

In that spirit, here are my selections for the ten most defining phrases that will stay with us from the past year.

Women, Foreign Policy, and the Presidential Debate

ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images
Melanne Verveer visits Shanghai Xintu Center for Community Health Promotion. ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

Thanks to Melanne Verveer’s article in Foreign Policy magazine, I’m going to be listening for what the presidential candidates say tonight about women in this foreign policy focused debate. Verveer has served since 2009 as the United States ambassador at large for global women’s issues.  She is the first to ever serve in this particular position. 

Ambassador Verveer is a leading expert in mobilizing support for women’s rights globally, and as a woman of faith, I am paying attention. I believe that women’s rights are human rights and that the advancement and empowerment of women is a central strategy for economic growth and promoting peace and stability around the world. Praise the Lord that this logic is now increasingly understood by government officials and international development organizations and pragmatic good sense. More importantly, as a Christian I believe that Jesus’ liberating word declares that men and women are equal in the eyes of God.

Actions, however, are lagging behind what is now becoming more mainstream thinking.

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