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When HBO’s new series, “Big Love,” begins Sunday evening, March 12, American television enters the brave new world of polygamy. In this program, a successful but struggling businessman juggles business, children, and three wives who live in adjacent houses on the same street. HBO says, “’Big Love’ explores the evolving institution of marriage through a typical atypical family.” It’s all quite normal, isn’t it, just another version of desperate housewives.

Multi-partner marriage is nothing new in American history.  Most people know the Mormon Church and in turn the territory of Utah permitted plural marriage until 1890 when polygamy was banned as a condition of statehood.  But that was more than a century ago and, though polygamy has continued to exist in clandestine arrangements since that time (According to a joint report issued by the Utah and Arizona attorney general's offices, July 2005, 'approximately 20,000 to 40,000 or more people currently practice polygamy in the United States.'  Others believe the number is closer to 100,000.), it has not been legal, has not been endorsed by America’s public moral consensus, and has not been considered a viable alternative to monogamous heterosexual marriage.  Now one wonders if the times, they are a changing.

Polygamy describes one husband with multiple wives or, rarely, one wife with multiple husbands. Polyamory is another term you need to learn, because we’re going to hear more about it. Polyamory describes any multi-partner or atypical familial relationship entered voluntarily by consenting adults. Polyamory encompasses polygamous marriages, same-sex marriages, bisexual relationships, and any of a host of other alternative sexualities and non-monogamous relationships. Polyamory isn’t yet a household word, but if liberals and secularists have any say, it will be.

For now, polygamy is the next battleground in the culture wars after same-sex marriage. Some proponents of gay marriage are not all that happy with polygamy’s re-emergence, primarily because they consider it a political threat to the potential success of their own movement to legalize same-sex marriage throughout America. Other proponents of gay marriage welcome polygamists as kindred spirits, people who in their vision just want to be left alone to do whatever they want to do in sex, love, and marriage.

After the Canadian Parliament legalized same-sex marriage the Liberal Party then in power authorized a commission to study polygamy and make recommendations. John Tierney, writing in The New York Times today, argued “Polygamy isn’t necessarily worse than the current American alternative: serial monogamy…If a few consenting adults…still want to practice polygamy, there’s no reason to stop them.” This is certainly not the view of women and children who have been part of polygamous relationships.

Christians sometimes struggle with outright moral condemnation of polygamy because it was alive and well among the Patriarchs of the Old Testament. God seemed to wink at it back then, so why would he care now? But he didn’t wink at it. One man, one woman, lifelong monogamous marriage has been God’s standard since the Garden of Eden. This is God’s moral will for those who remarry after the death of a spouse. This is God’s moral will for those who remarry after experiencing a biblically justifiable divorce. This is certainly God’s will for those getting married in the flower of youth, and it’s God’s will for newly formed older and elderly couples who are veterans of long marriages to a now deceased partner—living together is not a divine option either. Polygamy, polyamory, call it what you will, is not God’s desire for any of the Adams and Eves in the world.

HBO’s “Big Love” won’t change the culture by itself, but if its script and screen are well-presented Americans will watch, and the fact that it airs at all says something about the American consumer if not the culture. We’re a long way from “Ozzie and Harriett.”

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

President George W. Bush has used executive orders to steadily increase federal funding to faith-based organizations, this year to the tune of $2.1 billion or about 11% of the $19.7 billion awarded last year to community groups. The Bush Administration’s director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Jim Towney, says “Government can’t fund preaching or proselytizing, but it can fund the good social work being done by religious organizations.”

Federal funding of faith-based programs is problematic. One could argue that such programs are operated by tax paying citizens and in many cases serve other tax paying citizens. Consequently, the people involved “have a right” to access funds they helped to create. Not only this, but one could argue as the Bush Administration does, that federal funding of faith-based programs reduces religious discrimination by allowing faith-based programs to qualify on the merits for federal support. In other words, no faith-based program is declined simply because it is religious.

But one could also argue that any governmental financial support for a religious organization violates the First Amendment’s injunction prohibiting government from establishing any religion. Generally, this is the viewpoint maintained by liberals or others advocating a strict separation of church and state.

But one could also say that federal funding of faith-based programs eventually, nay inevitably, entangles the program in governmental oversight undermining or disallowing the program’s religious character. When this happens, the federal government again violates the First Amendment, this time by preventing the free exercise of religion—paradoxically by supporting it. This is not a viewpoint generally proffered by liberals or strict separationists. This view is more often articulated by conservatives or other religious individuals who fear governmental intrusion in the mission of faith-based organizations.

In 2002, I was invited to a White House session on the Bush Administration’s faith-based initiatives. In the White House Office Building, President Bush spoke to perhaps sixty of us, people considered religious leaders, asking for our support of the initiative. Despite this personal pitch I have never been comfortable with federal funding of faith-based organizations. I would rather encourage more religious influence of public discourse—an easier mix of religion and politics—while reducing direct financial interaction of church and state. I like ideological interaction and institutional separation.

Federal funding of faith-based organizations begins with funding but eventually translates to influence, which in turn can translate to dependency on the part of the religious agency. First it accepts the funds, then it changes religious policy or practice to continue receiving the funds, and then it needs or cannot survive without the funds.

Policy changes to keep the financial gravy train rolling can include alterations of religious-based hiring practices or the suspension of proselytizing. In other words, the fundamental religious mission of the organization can be gradually secularized.

Finally, if federal funding of faith-based organizations continues, who determines which faith-based organizations are appropriate or acceptable? I am no more comfortable with the idea that some religious organizations or programs might be funded by my tax dollars than some of them may be if my religious organization or program is funded by their tax dollars.

This is a judgment call. I’m not criticizing faith-based agencies that accept federal funds, nor am I claiming their religious mission is always tainted. I think this is a decision each of them must carefully make.

I believe President Bush’s heart and motives are in the right place. But I do not think his faith-based funding initiative is good public policy.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

Teen techno-savvy is outpacing their moral, ethical, and intellectual maturity. The kids are online with friends, but they don’t understand what it means to simultaneously be accessible to a worldwide web of strangers.

Chat rooms, social network sites like MySpace and Facebook, blogging sites like Xanga and LiveJournal, and their own websites all give teenagers affordable access. No problem—unless there is a problem.

Teenager online social networking is the topic of the lead article in today’s USA Today, entitled “What You Say Online Could Haunt You.” This article is a good overview of a newly and rapidly emerging cyber phenomenon, the amount to time, the type of content being shared, and the relationships being developed by teenagers online. Much of this article, though, focuses upon how what one posts online might someday threaten one’s professional prospects. That’s a real issue, but to me it’s less important than how teens can become entangled in downward moral spirals.

Just in the past month in West Michigan where I live, a local high school has been embroiled in a blogging and drinking controversy that has pitted parents, students, and school officials against each other. It all started when the teens posted their activities online. From another local high school a young man now faces criminal charges for having taken digital pictures of teen friends having sex and then posting these pictures online. This young man potentially faces years in prison.

Organizations like WiredSafety are dedicated to educating parents and teens about safe practices online. This is a good start but not enough. The real key to teen protection is increased parental online responsibility and sophistication. It’s past time for some parents to learn how to access the Internet, how to surf the net, and what’s harmless, helpful, or harmful within it.

Universities know the problem of college age youth “cocooning” in their rooms, locked away from relationships with professors and peers only to focus on escapist relationships with unkowns in cyberspace. Some of these late teens are playing computer games for unwise and unhealthy amounts of time, some fall into pornography, and some develop human connections over the wire that are not generally productive, spiritually or otherwise. Everyone needs a little space sometimes, but cocooning is not typically something we want to encourage.

Pornography is a major and growing problem among teenagers. So much of it is free online that lack of credit card funds is no obstacle, and pornography—always a male problem—is now a female problem too. Perverts, predators, pedophiles, pornographers, thieves, con men, rapists, all of this evil is online, available to and at times seeking teenagers.

Parents need to talk with their teens about online use, not only what websites they visit but how much time they spend online. Schools can help, but they’re typically limited by legal boundaries protecting individuals’ privacy. Parents rightly enjoy greater entrée to their children’s lives and should employ it.

Parents must educate themselves technologically and educate their teens spiritually. This is a challenge of our age.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

South Dakota’s new law banning abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother appeals to my theology and my philosophy even if my instinct for realpolitik questions the strategy. Governor Mike Rounds signed the bill earlier this week, setting up a showdown with Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion organizations that may take the pitched battle all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

According to a FOX news poll this week, 83% of Americans defend abortion rights if a pregnancy places the mother’s life at risk. Some 62% still think abortion should be a legal choice if the mother’s mental health is at risk (How does one define mental health?). The poll revealed that about 49% of Americans say they are pro-choice and 41% say they are pro-life.

So, given the tenuousness of American outlook on the subject, while my pro-life perspective applauds South Dakota’s new law, I wonder whether this all or nothing approach is the best way to chip away at abortion “rights.” Going for the political juggler may appeal to the idealists and ideologues among us, but it may not get us the result we ultimately want. I especially don’t want a re-energized pro-choice movement.

Recently I’ve been a little encouraged, primarily because the pro-choice movement is discouraged. In an article entitled “Reality Check for ‘Roe,’” in its March 6, 2006 issue, Newsweek reported that about two out of three Americans favor some kind of restrictions on abortion. And the same article written by Martha Brant and Evan Thomas actually stated that, lo and behold, “anecdotal evidence is growing that women have moral qualms about any abortion, even if they feel compelled to have one.”

In a nod to the morally clueless, Brant and Thomas quote abortion clinic operator Peg Johnston for noting that her patients were using words like “killing” and “babies.” Johnston said, “I started really tuning in to my patients and I realized, ‘She really feels that way.” Did you get that? Johnston is actually perplexed maybe amazed that a mother believes she is carrying a baby and that abortion is killing. Johnston needs to catch up with the times. Even Hillary Clinton is now calling abortion a “tragic choice,” so the pro-abortion movement is on a bit of a defensive.

Abortion is a tragic choice. It’s tragic because it does not have to happen and because a human life is snuffed out. It’s a choice because individuals are making a conscious decision to do something their moral center tells them is wrong.

Our culture has tried euphemisms—it’s a fetus. We’ve tried straw woman arguments—it must be legalized so we can stop back alley coat hanger abortions. We’ve argued abortion is about privacy and a woman’s right to choose—it’s about men and women not owning their moral responsibilities to abstain from sex that leads to pregnancy, or to take appropriate birth control steps to prevent pregnancy, or to assume parental obligations their actions have produced—or should I say reproduced?

So, yes, my pro-life wishes are encouraged, and I salute the South Dakota pols who had the political will to do what they did. I hope it works.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

Ann Coulter, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism (2003). Ann Coulter is a highly articulate conservative jackhammer, trying to dismantle the liberals with each paragraph of her book. I’ve read a lot of these kinds of books by both conservatives and liberals, and generally they are pretty surface-level affairs that hit all the current hot buttons in a raging diatribe aimed unrelentingly at the opposition. Coulter’s book is different. Frankly, it’s not what I expected. The flame-thrower language is there, but this is a well researched and well documented book. She catalogs the Senator Joseph McCarthy (R, WI) story from beginning to painful ending, disabusing her readers of a lot of near-mythology that has developed around this man the liberals love to despise (most recently the subject of George Clooney’s movie, Good Night and Good Luck). Not a week after I finished this book I saw one of Coulter’s observations in action—another book author condemning and incorrectly citing Senator McCarthy as the head of the House Un-American Activities Committee—pretty much the way Coulter predicted it. She may not be correct in all of her conclusions, but she demonstrated neatly that liberals are certainly not always correct in theirs.

Ann Coulter, How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must) (2004). This is a collection of Coulter’s columns from Human Events and her syndicated column for Universal Press Syndicate.  This series of essays provides you with a lot more breadth but not as much depth as the typical book topic.  She is at her best or worst, depending upon your perspective, once again leveling liberals with a rather cranked vocabulary, to say the least.  Her writing (and I assume speaking) style leaves me a bit cold—I think rants weaken arguments not strengthen them—but her points of view are worth considering and from time to time she gets off a one-liner that is downright funny.

Douglas L. Fagerstrom, The Ministry Staff Member: A Contemporary, Practical Handbook to Equip, Encourage, and Empower (2006). This is an excellent leadership book written in the context of local church ministry. Dr. Fagerstrom’s thirty years in church ministry and leadership make him a perfectly prepared author for this book. The book is loaded with practical wisdom, how to’s, and insights on the personalities and politics of everyday administration. Dr. Fagerstrom is the president of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, which is associated with Cornerstone University. I recommend this book highly not only for church ministry staff members but for anyone in leadership.

Noah Feldman, Divided By God: America’s Church-State Problem—And What We Should Do About It (2005). Feldman teaches law at New York University and has emerged as one of the nation’s leading experts on the relationship of church and state. He argues that the Founding Fathers and the United States Constitution they left us never intended to separate religion and politics or even religion and state via an impermeable “wall of separation.” Rather, they intended what they said in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Feldman believes we need to provide even more freedom for public religious expression—despite the wishes of “legal secularists,”—people who want to fully privatize religion via the law, and with more religious diversity than desired by “values evangelicals”—those who want to legalize their particular view of public morality. Then, Feldman states we should vigorously maintain a financial wall of separation—absolutely no tax generated government funds for any purpose whatsoever. It’s a good argument. God be with you in making it happen.

Kevin Seamus Hasson, The Right To Be Wrong: Enduring the Culture War Over Religion in America (2005). The thesis of this book is quite similar to Noah Feldman’s Divided By God. Hasson describes two groups defined by opposing views of church and state relationships—the “Park Rangers,” who want religion to be exclusively private, and “Pilgrims,” who want to use the state to coerce the religious consciences of those with whom they disagree. He argues that if either the secularists or the religious moralists “win,” culture loses freedom. Hasson says it is wrong to insist upon no religion in culture and wrong to insist upon one religion in culture. Rather, he believes we must grant others freedom without surrendering our own allegiance to truth as we see it. In other words, we must grant them “the right to be wrong.” Hasson is the founder and chairman of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonpartisan, interfaith, public interest law firm that protects the free expression of all religious traditions.

David A. Livermore, Serving With Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions With Cultural Intelligence (2006). If you are interested in missions of any kind, you need to read this book, in part because it challenges the assumptions and the industry known as “short term missions.” For decades Christians have been traveling overseas for short periods of time to build facilities, assist in medical care, Teach English as a Second Language (TESL), bring food or distribute clothing and much more, along with sharing the Gospel and experiencing a spiritual high that we’ve all heard about in bonfire testimonies when the short term mission team returns. Dr. Livermore is not opposed to such humanitarian and spiritual outreach, but he is concerned and at times alarmed at how “Western” or how “American” we go about these trips—with little or no advice from Christian nationals. He believes short term missions is at a crossroads, it needs to be re-visioned and restructured. Dr. Livermore is the Executive Director of the Global Learning Center at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, associated with Cornerstone University.

Christine Rosen, My Fundamentalist Education: A Memoir of a Divine Girlhood (2005). With remarkable detail and alacrity, Rosen recalls her childhood experiences at St. Petersburg’s Keswick Christian School. Her Mother was and is a Pentecostal believer, divorced from her Father and remarried, so every other weekend Rosen and her sisters bounced from their Father and new Mom’s home to “BioMom’s” with accompanying differences in religious views and practices. The author at times borders on biting the hand that fed her, making fun of her Mother, questioning various aspects of her experience, and in the end rejecting Christian faith. According to her, Rosen is not religious today in any particular way, a choice that is reinforced by her marriage to a non-religious Jew. So she believes she has outgrown what she was taught, and she believes she stands above and outside of it. Yet she acknowledges that she learned, she was loved, she was offered security, spiritually and otherwise, in a faith community, and she recognizes today that her BioMom was not as wacky as she once considered her. This book is slow moving at times and at others is clearly a book written by a woman for women, but it is also a case study in how someone processes her faith-based upbringing from the vantage point of faithless adulthood.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

I’ve read more than one column written by an American Christian decrying Middle East Islamic violence in reaction to recent cartoons of Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. I understand their criticism of the violence. It saddens me too, and I agree that it should be condemned by all good thinking people worldwide.

I also understand the Christian writers’ disagreement with certain basic tenets of Islam. My Christian theology doesn’t match Islamic theology either. I understand the writers’ tendency to list differences in Muhammad and Christ, for the differences define the distance between man and God.

I also understand the shake-your-head amazement at what many Americans, of the Christian faith or not, consider the emotional Muslim over-reaction to twelve cartoons. We can’t comprehend it. We’ve weathered The Last Temptation of Christ, The Da Vinci Code, postmodern sacrilegious art, and the ACLU’s latest pique about the Ten Commandments or Nativity scenes on courthouse lawns. It’s not that we don’t care about our faith or its icons. It’s just that we’ve learned a little bit about living in a religiously pluralistic democracy.

But there is one thing I do not understand—smug condemnation. What I must caution, at least for myself, is a too self-righteous response. Sadly, tragically, history offers us way too many examples of people acting just as emotionally, just as violently in the name of Christianity. They’ve tortured, they’ve crusaded, and they’ve killed unjustly. I don’t think this fact besmirches Christian truth or the character of God, but I do think it should cause us to speak with a bit of humility. People are people, Christians included, and those who name the name of Christ have not always acted in a Christ-like manner.

So I am not condoning violent Muslim reaction to cartoons, nor am I saying Christianity is anything less than a faith that focuses upon the Sovereign God of the Bible, the Creator God of the Universe. I’m just saying Christians don’t always act like Christians, me included.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.