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Our problem in American culture does not occur when we say “I believe in Jesus.” It occurs when we say “Jesus is the only way.” The exclusive claims of biblical Christianity are not welcome to many in our religiously pluralistic and morally relativistic culture.

This was the topic of a seminar I attended in Dallas this week at the 2006 International Forum on Christian Higher Education. The seminar was entitled “Proclaiming Jesus in a Pluralistic Culture.” In it we discussed how Christian truth can be presented winsomely and effectively, yet respectfully, in a culture buffeted by many competing belief systems.

I believe a public moral consensus—what scholars have called “the sacred canopy”—is necessary to a sustainable culture and society, particularly a free society. In the past, perhaps as late as the early 1960s, much of the American public moral consensus was based upon the tenets of biblical religion. Adultery, murder, theft, work, play, right and wrong, all these and more were rooted in a broad definition of Christendom—or what in the 1950s began to be called Judeo-Christian beliefs.

Today this is no longer the case. Today we work with multiple sacred canopies, some of which proffer conflicting views of fundamental issues like the definition of marriage, the beginning and meaning of life, a “right to privacy,” so-called alternative sexualities, and much more, including differing attitudes toward environmental conservation, stem cell research, poverty and the poor, health care, etc.

So, if a public moral consensus is the glue that holds a society together, and that consensus breaks down, how do the centripetal forces this creates keep the society from tearing itself apart? And if Christians are mandated by God to evangelize the lost and transform the culture for the glory of God, how can they do this in a pluralistic society without being accused of forcing our morality upon others?

This is not an easy question to answer because it involves issues of church and state and associated questions of religion and politics. One thing we can do, though, is recognize the difference between sin and crime, immoral and illegal.

For example, I believe people who use vulgar language and people who commit adultery are involved in sin. But I do not want my government to legislate these sins by calling them crime. On the flip side, I believe that while abortion may be legal, it is not moral, so while abortion is not a crime, in my theology it is a sin.

The extent to which we work to “contextualize” our biblical worldview in a free and pluralistic culture is one of the most challenging questions of our day. I don’t want to live in a theocracy like Iran or a near-theocracy like Afghanistan. I also don’t want to live in an irreligious but politically dictatorial nation like China. I don’t want the United States to be a Christian theocracy, nor do I want my country to lack the influences of biblical truth.

How I live my faith amidst increasing religious and moral diversity will tell the tale not only of my own testimony but also of the spiritual and political vitality of my country. What would Jesus do?

 

© 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.

Christians face two dilemmas each day: one, I call the “In the World/Not of the World” dilemma. This comes from John chapter 17 in the midst of Jesus’ prayer. He talks to his heavenly Father about the fact that human beings exist in the world, because he has created us for this purpose. We exist in a culture, and we live out our lives in a physical and social space. But Jesus also mentions that he has commanded us to be not of the world, meaning that we are to think and act differently from those around us. We are to live out our lives based upon a biblical philosophy of life. So every day, living in the world, we make innumerable choices based upon Christian values or non-Christian values—not of the world or conformed to the world.

Christians in the United States also live every day with another dilemma: how to live out God’s mandate to influence our culture with Christian values, while at the same time acknowledging that we live in a free and pluralistic democracy wherein many people do not agree with our Christian values. This is the “Faith and Culture” dilemma.

As culture has become increasingly morally relativistic in the past three or four decades this dilemma has become especially evident and increasingly volatile. Many Christians feel pressured, “put upon,” overwhelmed, pushed to the limit, or “persecuted.” We hear discussions about the “Culture War,” a phrase I have frequently used to describe the ongoing “battle” between those who affirm some form of biblical morality for our culture and those who affirm what might be called a libertarian morality, which is to say they want to leave moral choices up to each individual. Christians want to recognize a divine moral code. Libertarians want their own code or maybe no code at all.

Clearly, in terms of publicly affirmed Christian morality, this is not your grandfather’s culture anymore. Where at one time in the 1950s the biggest problems in public schools were chewing gum and tardiness, now many public schools, especially in urban areas, have become their own version of war zones—drugs, violence, guns and other weapons, sexual harassment or even rape, alcohol abuse, and little or no academic progress.

What happened, and are Christians supposed to stand around and watch all this, doing nothing in the name of “freedom”? There may not be a “war on Christians” as USA Today recently called it, but there is certainly a disjunction between what the Bible says morality should be and what American culture says it should be.

I do not advocate a “Christian Right” takeover of government. I do not advocate Christian theocracy. I do not advocate government establishing my religion to the exclusion or oppression of all others. I do advocate a public moral consensus capable of sustaining a thriving culture and society into future generations. With this in mind, I call for more religious content in public discourse even while I call for institutional separation of church and state.

I live in the world, and I try to live in a manner not of the world. I am privileged to do this in a free society. I affirm that freedom for others who may disagree with my faith and values, and I affirm their civil liberties and rights as I ask them to affirm mine.

Our nation can not avoid disagreement, debate, and sometimes dissension. That’s the special privilege and special burden, a sort of divine dilemma, of a free society. American can no more side-step this dilemma than I can side-step the two dilemmas I face every day. They are part of life in this thing we call a democracy.

 

© 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.

 

At the Michigan funeral of a slain Army Corporal, members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas came to the military funeral to conduct a protest. They claim that American soldiers are being killed as a direct result of God’s judgment upon the United States for tolerating homosexuality.

The protesters stood outside the Grand Ledge Baptist Church holding signs denouncing homosexuality, including one that read “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” Apparently the group has protested at three other military funerals in Michigan in the past week.

Several veterans responded to the soldier’s family’s request to protect them from the protesters. Many of the veterans carried American flags and turned their backs to the protesters, creating a parallel line through which family and friends could enter the church.

While I do not condone homosexuality, I cannot endorse this kind of in-your-face action to protest American culture’s acceptance of this lifestyle. I imagine these protesters claim to be Christians, which makes their behavior even more embarrassing. What purpose does their affront to this soldier’s family really serve? Do they expect people to listen to their point of view when they take such offensive actions? And how do they know that God is judging America by allowing its soldiers to die, much less this particular soldier?

I don’t like terms like “gay bashing” or “homophobic,” but if any bigoted behavior qualifies, this seems to be it. These people are not “speaking the truth in love.” They are simply acting hatefully.

 

© 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 at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

In the late eighties when I was an academic dean at The King’s College in New York, my office regularly received stacks of postcards from credit card companies requesting that I place these postcards in each student’s mailbox. The postcards were enrollment forms offering credit to college students “for use during emergencies,” “to help build your credit history,” or, more incongruously, “independence.” Instead of student mailboxes I placed these credit card invitations in the academic dean’s waste basket.

In the late eighties credit card companies began targeting college students as a new, growing, and potentially profitable market demographic. Credit card companies offered credit with spending “limits” like $8,000 or even higher, zero or reduced interest for the first year, and acceptability at all kinds of businesses. Of course these companies make money when people carry debt incurred on their cards, a fact that makes college students and easy credit an appealing mix.

Unlike some financial advice gurus, I’m not against credit cards. My wife and I have a few of our own. But if older adults are sometimes tempted to spend-via-credit beyond their means, how much more so younger adults whose financial skills and experience are at best limited?

I know a couple, for example, who spent the first five years of their marriage paying off fairly substantial credit card debt that one of them had incurred during college. They sought help through Christian oriented financial advisors like Dave Ramsey, identified their goals, worked hard and acted with self-sacrifice and discipline, paid off their debt, and celebrated with their friends when they emerged free from the wrong kind of debt. Now they are purchasing their first home. That’s a financially stressful story turned success story. I salute them. Unfortunately, many young adults do not possess the self-discipline to do the same.

Most college students, even if they are working, are not earning sufficient funds to make them attractive consumers. But they still possess two important characteristics that credit card companies require: an economically bright future, and parents who pay off their debts. So the downside for the credit card companies offering easy credit to college students is lowered to an acceptable risk with a potentially big payoff. Credit card companies know that only 20% of college age users pay down their balances each month, while 67% carry a balance from month to month incurring interest charges, and about 11% eventually cannot make their payments. In all these scenarios, the credit card companies win (make money) and the college students lose (pay more for their purchases with added interest than the purchases would cost with cash, or take on more debt and thus more interest).

While I do not necessarily like the idea that credit card issuers target college students, I cannot condemn them for working legally within a free economy, allowing adults—even if young—to make their own decisions. Responsibility for personal financial well-being rests with the person in this case not the corporation or the public.

At Cornerstone University we throw away bulk mailed credit card enrollment pleas that have been sent to any of our offices. Of course we cannot throw away those enrollment cards that are individually addressed to given students, for in this instance the card is a legally protected piece of the United States postal system. But when we can, we toss the stack, for we believe the choice to acquire a credit card is something rightly in the hands of our students, along with possibly their parents.

Now credit cards can be acquired online. Free applications, no annual fee, no transfer fees, “increased buying power,” “a cushion for emergencies,” “ability to shop online,” or “protection for your purchases,” it’s all online, just a click or two away. But the danger of financial difficulty, possible bankruptcy, and financial ruin via too-easy credit is still real.

The moral of this story is, like so often in a capitalistic system, caveat emptor…let the buyer beware. If a college student is going to buy credit, he or she needs to understand the extent of the financial risk involved, needs to demonstrate the maturity to handle credit, needs to be responsible for paying for his or her own debt, and should as a matter of practice avoid using credit cards.

 

© 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.

 

Cornerstone University is giving Howard Stern a nudge on Sirius Satellite Radio. The university’s radio ministry, Mission Network News, is now aired on Sirius 159 at 7:05 am and 9:00 am. So this new technology is no longer just a tool for the Devil but a tool for the Lord. It makes me smile.

 

© 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.

 

 

Sports wagering is a major threat to the integrity of athletic competition. It’s what one experienced gambler called “seasonal losing.” Sports wagering is a more than $200 billion business in the United States with the NFL Super Bowl the biggest betting day of the year. Some 25% of Americans say they bet on at least one sports event each year, and Nevada’s 142 sports books, source of the famous “point spread” or “Las Vegas line,” take in over $2 billion per year.

Sports wagering is still a key entry point to more gambling by adolescents and college students. The NCAA’s “March Madness,” a month long intercollegiate basketball tournament, is now in the running to displace the Super Bowl as America’s number one sports wagering venue. Betting interest of fans, coaches, assistants, referees, and players change the dynamic of the game, introducing the very real potential for greed and corruption. The NCAA has strongly positioned itself against all forms of sports wagering because it threatens the well-being of student athletes and the fair play of intercollegiate athletic competition.

I serve as the chairman of an National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Council of Presidents Task Force on Sports Wagering that is currently developing a sports wagering policy recommendation for the NAIA. The focus of the recommendation will be to protect the well-being of student-athletes, to protect the integrity of competitive sports, and to protect the mission of the NAIA as an organization committed to developing “Champions of Character.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the fastest growing addiction among high school and college age young people is problem gambling with as much as 7 percent or 1.3 million teens addicted to gambling. Dr. Durand Jacobs, a pioneer in treating problem gambling, believes the rate of problem gambling among teens is at least 15 percent. Teens are nearly two and one-half times as likely to become compulsive gamblers as adults. Suicide rates are twice as high among teenagers with gambling problems.

Durand Jacobs believes “there’s not a high school in the country where kids are not making book on sports events.” Arne Wexler, a New Jersey anti-gambling expert, noted that “for every college kid who derives nothing but entertainment from his betting, there is another who cons his parents to get money to cover his gambling losses, another who becomes so consumed with betting that he tosses away an education and another who plunges into gambling addiction. It is far from harmless recreation.”

Jeff Pash, executive vice president of the NFL, told a congressional committee that “Sports gambling breeds corruption and undermines the values our games represent. We do not want our games or our players used as gambling bait…College students…have for a decade been the fastest growing segment of the gambling population even without the help of the Internet.”

Sports wagering not only threatens the social health of those who participate in it, sports wagering can also be a direct hit on the very idea of competitive athletics and fair play. If athletes, coaches, or referees are influenced by their gambling interests or the pressures of others involved in betting large sums on the outcome of athletic events, they may be induced to throw the game. Point shaving, “taking a fall” in a boxing ring, swinging wildly or dropping the ball in baseball games, intentionally shooting offline on the basketball court, the opportunities to cheat for a dishonest athlete are endless. If this happens, competitive sports based on talented athletes, skilled execution, and “heart”—all the things that make people love sports—disappear. All that’s left is some form of schlock entertainment like televised professional wrestling.

Gambling is not a sport, but youth often think that it is. It’s a “game” that turns into a moral and financial vampire. Youth don’t always know that you can’t serve God and money, and adults are not doing much to teach them.

Gambling in all its forms, including sports wagering, turns tried and true values upside down. Gambling undermines a positive work ethic and the productivity that comes from it. Gambling also undercuts a person’s ability and desire to defer gratification in order to accomplish a goal. Individual enterprise, thrift, effort, and self-denial are set aside for chance gain, immediate satisfaction, and self-indulgence.

Sports wagering is a growing youth problem and therefore a growing national problem.

 

© 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.