“The first sin”

Charles Spurgeon said, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” That line between right and almost right is one that culture’s influencers walk with fine-tuned precision, because no one will drink poison in a bottle with a bright red skull and cross bones painted on it – it has to be mixed with something that our appetites crave.

I sat down with my family to watch the new Disney film Zootopia the other night. It had all that I have come to expect from the Disney name: cute talking animals coexisting in a universe with unanswered existential questions that you hope your child doesn’t start bringing up to you. Zootopia in particular from beginning to end is a grab bag of fashionable cultural causes thinly disguised and tossed together with glaring logical holes that test the limits of believability for even a child’s movie. In spite of the film’s preachiness, you are left with overwhelming sense of irony that in real life, carnivores would devour the other animals, and even within the Zootopia universe, a rabbit would make a terrible police officer.

However, setting that all aside for a moment, I find these personal empowerment themed movies troubling because they preach an “almost truth” that is difficult to detect and correct. We all want our children to dream big, but the way in which they dream can very well determine whether they end up as a saint or a narcissist, whether they work hard to achieve big things, or simply become a legend in their own minds.

An old hymn once posed the question “Is this vile world a friend of grace to help me on to God?” The answer to that question is clear. Not only does secular society not help us to God, it sends us in the opposite direction. Though we share the desire to address some of the same problems, such as low self esteem, hatred, or bullying, culture’s solutions are diametrically opposed to Scripture’s solutions. Secular culture’s path to fulfillment is found in embracing our true selves, being confident in whoever we are, believing that we can do anything, and not allowing others tell us who we can or cannot be. Such notions are completely incompatible with the Christian worldview, and fundamentally incoherent.

We can’t be anything we want to be. Every adult grows up to face the harsh reality that not everyone gets to be president, a famous athlete, a rock star, or an astronaut. Furthermore, despite pop culture’s endless refrain that we must “be ourselves,” no one really believes that. No one gets cut off in traffic by a road rage driver and thinks, well, he’s just being himself, or sees the face of a mass murderer and thinks the same. While society says “be yourself,” it fails to provide a coherent idea of who “myself” really is, and why it is good to be that person instead of something else. Consequently, popular culture has become the default standard, and those aspiring to be themselves are often left simply mimicking what they see modeled.

Modern media, especially children’s media, struggles to provide a coherent positive message regarding self-identity, precisely because it has removed God from the equation. Without an external concept of value, we conclude that the secret of identity and personal worth lies within ourselves. If we truly cling to that presupposition, we have to also conclude that all lifestyles and choices are equally valuable. If that is the case, then there really is no objective difference between the living life as Hitler and living life as Mother Teresa. Both were true to themselves.

Why does mankind insist upon clinging to the muddled idea of subjective self-worth, while preaching it as the one true gospel? Because of the first sin. First chronologically, and first in prevalence. It is the one ugly infection that drives the most secret internal sin along with the most grievous display of hatred towards God and man. I am speaking of course of the singular desire of a person to shake his fist at the God of the universe, stomp his feet, and shout with the defiance of a toddler, “No! I want to do it my way!” It was there when Adam and Eve took the bite of the fruit, believing that their loving Creator was withholding some good thing. It was there when Cain killed his brother. In our society, it is everywhere, as people cast off Biblical moral standards, even to the point of denying the undeniable realities encoded in their DNA.

Scripture gives a robust answer to the identity question, but it comes with certain realities that man’s sinful nature recoils from, like a vampire from a clove of garlic. If God created us, crafting the particulars of who we are, then we have to come to the humbling realization that we aren’t in control. God gives us value and roles in His kingdom and He didn’t consult us in the process. In so many self-affirmation themed movies, including Zootopia, there is a complete reversal of the appropriate posture toward God and fellow humans. Though we should live lives focused upwards toward God, and outward toward others, pop culture spins a different tale. Instead we find an inward focus that asks, “What do I have to offer? How can I show the doubters and haters what I can do and how special I truly am?” Sure, there is a place for kindness towards others, but only because it aids my own self-expression, and ensures kindness in return. Absent is the self-sacrificial love which God requires that places my own needs in the distance, and eschews praise, admiration, affirmation, and validation from others. Nowhere do we see room for the faithful servant serving out of the limelight, putting way more into service than he or she could ever get in return, but content to simply occupy the place that God has given them in life.

It’s not a glamorous life, but it is a satisfying one for all who humble themselves and seek God’s will. For them, fulfillment doesn’t simply belong to a few who are able gain recognition from others. They don’t need to attempt the futile task of inventing meaning and value for themselves. There is a sovereign Lord who sees fit to use feeble humans in His grand design, and He has guaranteed that for those who entrust everything to Him, there is always meaning, purpose, and a lasting identity as a child of God.

 

–Thomas Hersman

“Authenticity Is NOT a Fruit of the Spirit”

Authenticity. It sounds as Christian as the Gathers, baptismals, and choir robes. To younger Christians especially, being authentic has become the sublime expression of Christlikeness. (Sometimes, more so than actually behaving like Christ) The call rings through the halls of our churches in sermons, bible studies, youth groups, small groups, and countless devotionals. Christians need to be more authentic! Canigetanamen!? It preaches well, but is authenticity really all that we claim it to be?

Perhaps we respond to that message so heartily for the simple fact that no one likes a hypocrite. We all know from painful experience that one hypocrite unleashed in the body of believers can cause immeasurable, lasting damage. Our distain for hypocrisy is justified by the ferocity and frequency of Christ’s attacks upon the hypocrites of his day. In Matthew 23 alone, Jesus referred to the Pharisees as “children of hell,” “blind fools,” “blind guides,” dirty dishes, “whitewashed tombs,” “serpents,” and “brood of vipers.” A hypocrite is simply an actor (from the Greek term), who plays a part that isn’t real. The Pharisees weren’t actually pious examples of God’s will for man, they just played one on TV. Hypocrisy is not simply falling short of Christ’s example of perfection, it is pretending to be a follower of Christ when you live in open rebellion to Him in your heart and private life.

While rightfully recognizing that hypocrisy is a serious offense, we’ve been led to wrongfully believe that authenticity is its antithesis. I cannot find one Scripture that explicitly or implicitly commands believers to be authentic. There is no Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control, and Authenticity. It is conspicuously absent, and we can’t wring it out of passages that condemn hypocrisy either. To this observation, I offer one simple conclusion. Authenticity is not found in Scripture because it is not a Biblically compatible concept. Now, before you pull out the torches and pitchforks, hear me out.

Scripture’s antidote to hypocrisy is purity of heart, not authenticity. While the term “pure in heart” is found only in Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:8), and in Psalm 73:1, the concept is central to the entirety of Scripture. Time and time again, God’s people were called to have hearts that lined up to their outward expression of faith. (Is. 29:13, Psalm 51:16-17) We may be tempted to see authenticity in those passages, but there is an important distinction to be made. While authenticity and purity of heart share the goal of making a person’s heart condition match his outward life, they differ in the fact that authenticity has a person turning inward to find and live out his true self, while purity of heart has us reach outward for the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our life from the inside out. One is an internal alignment to a subjective standard, the other is an internal alignment to God’s objective standard.

The idea of authenticity finds its roots in the popular secular feeling that fulfillment comes from embracing one’s true self. That belief is diametrically opposed to the Christian understanding that our true selves are fallen, sinful, and helplessly in need of redemption. (Jer. 17:9) Authenticity says my goal is to be who I really am, while purity of heart says my goal is to be completely transformed from the inside out. Actually, being authentic is by itself a pretty low standard. One of the most authentic people in the world is the guy at the bar who’s had one too many beers and is ready to give you the unvarnished entirety of his life story. He’s being authentic. Actually, when you think about it, Jeffrey Dahmer was being authentic when he embraced his inner cannibal.

The impact of confusing these two ideas is that in the life of believers, the goal of authenticity can displace the goal of being holy. We are called to spend our entire lives on a journey of sanctification (2 Cor. 3:18); an upward call (Phil. 3:14), as Paul puts it. Christians who’ve made authenticity the goal find it much too easy simply maintaining the status quo of comfortable old behaviors. Since they aren’t hiding their sin, they reason, they’re being authentic Christians. And, that may be true, but they aren’t being pure in heart. Conflating holiness with authenticity has led to justifying sin as my “true self” rather than choosing the hard path of resisting temptation in the pursuit of purity through the power of the Holy Spirit.

One slightly less detrimental, but no less real effect of the elevation of authenticity is that Christians have become confused about why and how we share the details of our Christian walk with others. We were intended to walk the Christian life with fellow believers and to share with them, and at times even confess to them (James 5:13). The goal of that process is to lift each other up in encouragement and hold each other accountable to the call of a holy life. It requires us to be honest and pure of heart, but not authentic. If authenticity is our goal, the focus of our sharing with others is our own self-expression. We don’t want to be challenged, or corrected if needed. We want other people to affirm our authenticity. That attitude in turn, often leads to the mistaken belief that if we aren’t always brutally honest, or don’t constantly share our deepest, darkest struggles with the entirety of our friends, relatives, fellow church members, the checkout lady at the supermarket, and that homeless guy down on the street corner, we might be a hypocrite. Combined with social media, it turns into a perfect storm of constant drama and co-dependence upon the assurance of like-minded people that one has, indeed, achieved ultimate authenticity.

Pure in heart doesn’t mean sharing everything, it does mean that everything I do and say accurately reflects the motives and values of a heart transformed by the Holy Spirit. It means that when I self-evaluate with the light of Scripture, my instinct is to forsake sin, rather than merely own it. It means that I neither feign perfection, nor embrace sin that’s comfortably “me.” It means that the focus of my life and communication is not my own emotional rollercoaster, but Almighty God’s faithfulness. It means lifting up God’s truth as the standard for my life and for others’, while understanding that a lifetime of pursuing Him will find me nowhere approaching God’s surpassing righteousness. To be pure in heart means that I have no hidden motives, no secret agenda, no self-serving plan, no desire to manipulate, and that everything I say and do reflects the simple goal of glorifying Christ, and drawing others to Him.

Ditch the authenticity. Be pure in heart.

–Thomas Hersman

“Biblical Morality: The Safest Choice”

My child, listen when your father corrects you.

Don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.

What you learn from them will crown you with grace

And be a chain of honor around your neck.

My child, if sinners entice you,

    Turn your back on them!

 Proverbs 1:8-10 (NLT)

 

The older I get, the more I appreciate this verse’s candor. It’s hard sometimes to see myself as older and wiser to my children’s youth and inexperience, and it doesn’t help that we are in the middle of a major cultural dive into godlessness. Somehow we parents must help these young souls see that “this vile world,” while promising fun, excitement, and fulfillment, offers only one way tickets on a bullet train to eternal destruction.

With that realization weighing heavily in the back of my mind, today I read the heartrending letter a young woman wrote to her rapist in court. (The Stanford rape case, for those that are following in the news) It detailed her prolonged agony, pain, and humiliation as she went through the grueling process of pursuing justice. (Caution: This letter gives explicit details and some might not be comfortable reading it) As a parent, my one overwhelming response is how do I keep this from happening to my children?

There can be no doubt that the only person morally culpable for rape is the rapist. Neither the alcohol consumed, nor even the “culture of promiscuity” are free moral agents. Yet, us outside observers whose job is not to decide justice, but to learn from observation, should take a step back for a moment. We need to recognize that the circumstances surrounding this horrific crime owe their existence to an overabundance of foolish decisions that popular culture assumes to be perfectly normal. However, like the kid that always goads others into doing something dangerous, but pretends to adults that he is the one voice of restraint and reason on the playground, the supposedly wise voices of popular culture sit by as young people’s lives are shattered, and pretend that those young people weren’t doing exactly what our culture expected of them.

As believers, we are well acquainted with the common refrain that teaching young people Biblical morality is a hopelessly unrealistic goal.  Kids will be kids, and the best we can hope for is that they stay safe while they play next to the cliff. That mentality echoes in the painful details of this young woman’s story. We need to do better, and we can. It is God’s rules for life that offer the protection that our sons and daughters need, not pop culture’s muddled, self-defeating memes about responsible drinking, safe sex, and consent.

Without question, recreational consumption of alcohol is the one constant catalyst to all that factors leading to this young woman’s rape. Alcohol set her up to be a victim, and protected her rapist behind a shroud of uncertainty. Through intoxication, she forfeited the best weapon she had against assault, her own brain. By serving alcohol to him, someone unwittingly removed the inhibitions of a deeply depraved man. Not only did her rapist use the power of alcohol to subdue her, he used it to create a narrative that she could not dispute because her memory was erased. In her words, I read the influence of popular culture as she admitting that she drank too much, but concluded “Everyone in this room has had a night where they have regretted drinking too much…” She faulted herself for miscalculating her own tolerance for alcohol, an estimation that is something like eyeballing how far out I can go on a limb before it cracks. Though she is not to blame for her victimization, there is little doubt that she and a multitude of other young women would not be victims if they heeded Scripture’s warning that when alcohol occupies a central place in life, there are bitter, painful results. (Prov. 23:29-32)

Like adding matches to gasoline, popular culture mixes in permissive sexuality with alcohol, the “social lubricant.” Young people head out the door with a “have fun and be safe,” and the deceptively simple sounding idea of consent. “Forget the outdated morality of the past, anything goes as long as you have consent.” Upon that muddled idea, many an evil man preys, and some innocent young men are snared. Consent is not nearly as concrete as culture assumes it to be, when you start asking difficult questions. There is no objective test for consent, and it gets really muddy when you try to determine what specifically has been consented to, for how long, and under what circumstances. How much alcohol does it take to make a person unable to provide consent, and what happens when both parties have passed that point? What happens when no one recalls with certainty who did what, and what consent was granted? Investigators risk either punishing an innocent person, or letting a guilty one go free. Would it not be better to recognize that these ambiguities are never present in the marriage bed of a husband and wife committed in a loving relationship for life?

Mr. Turner should be held accountable, (more than he was, in my opinion) and he should not be allowed to blame anyone for his crime. However, it is time for us also to recognize that our culture nurtured his depravity. We see that fact illustrated by his parents in the letter they wrote to the judge pleading for leniency because his life has been ruined. Yes, he raped a girl, but he’s a victim too in their eyes. While many are screaming (rightfully so) at him to step up and take responsibility, some of these same voices have just as strongly promoted the idea that everyone gets drunk and stupid sometimes. They have told young people that character and morality are so 20th century. They are fine allowing men to remain adolescents indefinitely, and encourage them to make college all about parties, sex, and booze. They certainly weren’t chiming in to tell this young man that he has a God given responsibility to protect and honor all women, and to love only one as long as they both shall live. That would be too politically incorrect.

Bad things happen, even to good people. Living life according to God’s rules doesn’t keep us from all harm and tragedy, but the greatest protection that our young people have is the wisdom and guidance of God’s Word. Only with grave foolishness would we neglect as parents to teach those truths simply because they are unpopular in today’s world.

–Thomas Hersman

Are We Reaching TV Smut Critical Mass?

 

It is with a feeling of great irony that I write this post. I want you to know that I am not one of those guys. I grew up in the mid-nineties evangelical world where Satan was hiding in back masked records, and inserting subliminal messages into Saturday morning cartoons. I knew the Christians that won’t watch any show produced since Andy Griffith originally aired, because anything newer is too edgy. I’ve never obsessed over Harry Potter, or the magic of Beauty and the Beast. I figure if my kid’s grasps on reality are so fragile that they think a magic kiss can transform a Wookie into Fabio, then we’ve got other, more pressing problems to deal with. However, as I consider the future of media in America, I am beginning to wonder if we are approaching a point where our families will have to reject even the mildest G-rated TV and movies for their attempts to introduce children to immoral lifestyles.

We all have witnessed Hollywood’s descent into a cesspool of debauchery over the last few decades. However, there has remained still an understanding that children at least, should be protected from the worst of the garbage. Cable shows like Game of Thrones that use uninhibited depravity as a shtick to maintain a viewer base are still banned from going out over the air, and rated to exclude children.  Amazingly, the TV and movie rating system still pays lip service to the idea that it’s not healthy for children to be exposed to immoral, or at least controversial, sexual behaviors. Yes, there has been a slow creep of morally objectionable material into children’s media, but considering that it is entirely run by a faceless group of liberal Hollywood types, I am a bit surprised that I can still mostly predict the content of a G rated movie, versus a PG or PG-13. However, I believe this is on the verge of changing.

It is no secret that Hollywood has mounted a successful PR campaign for homosexuality for decades, and now they’ve set their sights on children’s media. Most major TV shows have at least one token gay character depicted favorably, or they make a clear expression of support for LGBT behaviors. Over all, it’s been a resounding success. Gallop poling shows that while less than 4% of the population identifies as gay, the average American places that number at about 20 to 30%. While they seek to sway perception with intentionally positive depictions of LGBT characters, content creators also use the sheer numbers of these characters to effectively exploit culture’s tendency to associate common with normal, and normal with right. Since 2002, there has been a 25% increase in the number of Americans that view homosexuality as morally acceptable. However, all of this success has come about within the constraints of a rating system that keeps most objectionable material out of children’s media. In just the last few weeks we have seen a couple of indications that LGBT activists are seeking to dissolve this final limitation. The attention and popularity of the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend hashtag illustrates the discontent of LGBT culture warriors with the fact that most children’s media still assumes heterosexuality in families and parents. Then there is the obsessed giddiness of the entirety of social media over several frames in the trailer for the new Disney film Finding Dory that might possibly, maybe, perhaps, if-we’re-lucky depict a lesbian couple. This, because exposing preschoolers to deviant sexual practices during a silly G-rated movie about a talking blue fish equates to a job well done in the LGBT activist world.

If you will allow me to make a completely unscientific gut prediction, I see children’s popular media being taken over by LGBT ideology in the next ten years. Companies such as Disney don’t have the moral fortitude to hold the line against a few loud voices in society screaming that it’s not fair that every Disney princess has a prince because that implies that a princess looking for another princess might not be okay. Innocent children’s cartoons that were nominally educational (so that parents won’t feel guilty putting kids in front of the TV), will now take it upon themselves to teach children who can barely walk that Jill’s two mommies are just the same as Henry’s mommy and daddy, and that Sam may not feel like a little boy and if he wants, he can be Sally instead. (If you think this is far-fetched, consider this curriculum being introduced to school children in Washington State) I wonder if we are approaching a day where we can be just as confident that every new children’s show will voice this agenda, as we are that next week’s episode of Game of Thrones will have gratuitous sex, nudity, violence, and foul language. TV and movie producers can do this all with a G rating, under the pretense of inclusivity and diversity. We may think it harmful to present ideas to children that they are ill-equipped to handle, but LGBT culture warriors champion confusing their own prepubescent children with ideas that no child comes up with on his own unless some adult with an agenda thrusts it upon them.

Today’s responsible parents already know that it is necessary for the proper mental and spiritual health of our children that we carefully guard, filter, and limit the material that secular culture is throwing at us. Though violence, bad language, bad attitudes, and false ideologies are all harmful to children, what makes LGBT behaviors so destructive is that they come with the underlying notion of identity. While children are in the midst of the extended crisis and emotional rollercoaster of childhood and adolescence, someone is suggesting to them that all of this completely normal pain and turmoil exists because they haven’t adopted their “true” identity. The positively Satanic genius of the LGBT agenda is that it not only tempts a person to sin, but it persuades them that their sin is a core pillar of their identity, and anyone who suggests otherwise hates them.

That is why I issue this challenge. My fellow Christian parents, are we prepared for this brave new world? I have always been an advocate of controlled exposure to media, meaning that if a TV show or movie is otherwise clean, I can use it to challenge a child that is mature enough to think critically about the ideas expressed. However, as there becomes even less and less material suitable for adults, and as we face a new era of exposure to children, what are we willing to do? Do we adjust our expectations to follow secular culture, or is there coming a day when we simply unplug, disconnect, and be content with our taped re-runs of Andy Griffith?

–Thomas Hersman