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A Grammatical Analysis of “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” by the Pet Shop Boys

The Pet Shop Boys are a British pop-duo best known for their 80’s monster hit song “West End Girls.” The band is apparently the most successful duo in UK music history and one of their best songs is a catchy tune called “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” This article will briefly examine the grammatical structure of a famous line in the song.

“What Have I Done To Deserve This?” actually has two sentences (and as we will see, three sentences) that make the song memorable and are repeated multiple times. As a matter of fact, the lines are repeated so often that one might think it would ruin the arrangement of the song altogether. But surprisingly, this doesn’t happen. The song is enjoyable from beginning to end. Anyway, those two sentences are:

“What have I done to deserve this?” (the song’s title)
and
“How am I going to get through?”

Here is where things get interesting (and a bit tricky, so stay with me). A casual hearing of the song will cause the listener to assume that the question “How am I going to get through?” remains grammatically consistent throughout the song. But this is not the case. The Pet Shop Boys deliver a brilliant syntaxical construction during the portion of the song where a female vocalist – performed beautifully by pop legend Dusty Springfield – seems to sing the line exactly as it is sung in the first verse. Allow me to demonstrate below:

Verse 1 (sung by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe)
You always wanted a lover
I only wanted a job
I’ve always worked for my living
How am I going to get through?
How am I going to get through?

Bridge (sung by Dusty Springfield)
Since you went away I’ve been hanging around
I’ve been wondering why I’m feeling down
You went away, it should make me feel better
But I don’t know, oh
How I’m going to get through.
How I’m going to get through.

Hopefully, after looking at the two lines written in black and white, the differences between them are obvious. In verse 1 (and every time Neil and Chris sing the line in the song), the line is phrased in the form of a question and the blending of the word “how” and the word “am” seems to form a kind of contraction – almost like they are saying, “How’m I going to get through?” But when Dusty sings the line in the bridge, it is actually a bit different. This time there is a legitimate contraction – “I’m” – and she is not asking a question so much as she is making a statement. In fact, the line “how I’m going to get through” during Dusty’s part is not the entire sentence, but rather it is the final phrasing of a sentence – the full sentence is “I don’t know how I’m going to get through.”

This distinction is rarely noticed by the listener, as we assume Dusty is simply repeating the question asked by Neil and Chris earlier and throughout the song. And, of course, the name of the song is in the form of a question! An additional reason for the confusion is the presence of a brief delay in between the time when Dusty says “I don’t know” and when she says, “how I’m going to get through.” The delay is long enough to make the listener assume that since the phrase begins with the word “how” then it is in the form of a question. It isn’t until one recognizes that the word “how” comes in the middle of the sentence and not the beginning that the statement begins to be understood as it was intended. A final reason for the confusion stems from the strange contraction-like blending of the words “how” and “am” during Neil and Chris’ singing. The words “how’m” and “I’m” sound so similar that it creates an assumption of their identical nature.

This is simply brilliant. Neil and Chris wrote the song and could have easily kept the phrase in the form of a question and thus uniform through the duration of the song. But instead they decided to use the same basic phrasing but change the emphasis ever so slightly during the Dusty Springfield portion.

And that, my dear friends, are the kinds of things that give life an extra little spark of joy from time to time.

What I Told My Congregation Concerning The Reproductive Health Act

Below are comments I made to Graefenburg Baptist Church during worship on January 27, 2019. I am grateful for the help of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and their mission to help inform churches of kingdom-related issues.

In case you aren’t aware, last Tuesday, which was the 46th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the New York legislature passed a law called the Reproductive Health Act that expands abortion rights in New York. The law has elicited all kinds of reaction from both supporters and critics, with some celebrating and applauding while others lamenting the ongoing destruction of babies in the womb. Because we live in a day where information is quickly available but not necessarily well informed, I wanted to provide you with a quick briefing of what actually happened in New York.

The Reproductive Health Act made 3 primary changes to New York law:
First, the act removed abortion from the criminal code, meaning that abortions which take place during the third trimester – right up to the point of birth – are no longer a criminal offense.
Second, the act opened the door wider for who can actually perform an abortion. Under the new law, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and midwives are allowed to perform abortions.
Third, and the one that is getting the most attention, is that the act allows abortions in the third trimester – often called late term abortions – in the absence of fetal viability or if it is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman.

Before this new law, third trimester abortions were only allowed in New York if the mother’s life was in jeopardy. Now, however, late-term abortions are allowed to protect the health of the mother, which is not limited to physical health. It includes emotional, psychological, and the over-all well being of the patient. Obviously, the concern is that this dramatically widens the scope for late term abortions.

All of this is certainly difficult news to read, and from a Christian worldview, it is a direct attack against the goodness of God’s creative blessing of children. The Bible speaks clearly about how God understands life in the womb.

But here is the part I want to make sure we understand: None of this is new. Nothing that happened in New York this past week is new. Multiple states already have abortion removed from their criminal code. Multiple states already have loose requirements on who can perform an abortion. And yes, perhaps you didn’t realize, but multiple states already have little to no restrictions on third trimester, late-term abortions. Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington DC – none of those have bans or restrictions in place to prevent late-term abortions.

January is the Sanctity of Life month. Christians are right to express regret and even anger over what has happened in New York. But where was the outrage week before last when this very thing was happening all over our country? Christians have a reputation for becoming irate over news headlines, but then show little stamina when it comes to actually getting our feet wet to make a difference. We have a tendency to wait until something new happens we don’t like, and then express our anger all over again. That isn’t good enough.

Nor is it good enough to demonize the other side. We will not save babies by calling people names and treating them as sub-human. Remember, the reason we are passionate about this in the first place is because we believe every human is created in the image of God – including those with whom we disagree.

So what are we to do? There are political responses that are necessary and important. But I’m your pastor, and my role is not to tell you what to do politically. I certainly hope your faith in Christ guides your political action, and we need faithful Christians involved in politics. But that is not my sphere this morning.

As your pastor, I do want to urge you to get involved, and the easiest way to do that is through an incredible ministry called A Loving Choice Pregnancy Center in Shelbyville. I have gotten to know the director whose name is Diana Cahill. Just a couple of weeks ago she gave me an updated tour of the facility and we talked a good while about how the church can respond. Although there is a time and place to express frustration through social media posts and memes, the way we will rescue children is by developing relationships with men and women who are looking for help. And that requires gentleness, humility, and most of all, the love of Christ.

Christian, Do This Before Posting A Facebook Meme

Facebook memes are incredibly popular. I suspect about every other post on my Facebook wall is a meme that has been shared by a Facebook friend. Sometimes they make me laugh. Sometimes they make me thankful. But usually, they make me wonder. 

To be clear, the memes I am referring to are not the humorous ones or the silly ones, but the ones with a certain kind of “life message” embedded in them. These are the ones I see most. And they make me wonder. I wonder if the person sharing the meme has given any thought to the underlying message of what they are sharing with the world. Something might sound good at the moment and it is so easy to click “share.” But should we?

Here is my one-step process for deciding whether or not to post a Facebook meme:

  1. Is the message in the meme consistent with the gospel and supported by Scripture? 

Here is what we should think when posting a meme: could I immediately post a passage of Scripture in the comment box below the meme that affirms and supports the life message of the meme itself? Or, to put it another way, could I post a passage of Scripture that contradicts the message of the meme I just shared? If the answer to the first question is “no” or the answer to the second question is “yes” then don’t post the meme.

Here are three common themes of memes I regularly see that I would strongly suggest we never share again:

If someone hurts you, then that person doesn’t need to be in your life any longer. Cut them off.
I’m just so broken hearted as to how often I see this general message in memes shared by Christians. It is so devastatingly contrary to the gospel and everything that Christ has done for us. Imagine if Jesus took the advice of this meme as it pertains to us. Wow. (Romans 5:8)

Only you have the power to change your life and make good choices. 
I know, it sounds so motivational and empowering. But this is the message that causes deep depression and discouragement because people begin to wonder why they actually don’t have the power to change themselves. There must be something wrong with me, they will think, since apparently everyone else has this self-power to change. But we don’t. None of us do. Only Christ in us empowers us to do anything eternally good.  (John 15:5, Hebrews 11:6).

Follow your heart wherever it takes you.
Sounds great. Except for this and this.

The problem with these “life message” memes is that there is no larger context for them. When a meme says to follow your heart, there is no context for describing the necessity of a heart that has been transformed by Christ. When a meme says you have the power to change your life, there is no context for the dependence of Christ in us that is necessary for any real change.  Thus, these kinds of memes are ambiguous and largely unhelpful.

I might add that many preachers are essentially standing in the pulpit on Sunday morning and speaking one big, giant meme. Sounds motivational, but isn’t based on the Word of God.

At the end of the day, this is about our ongoing development of a Christ-centered worldview. That everything – absolutely everything – is filtered through the message of the gospel.

Including our memes.

The Anti-Gun Law Argument That Doesn’t Work

Many of the articles, social media updates, and blogs posted in the wake of another horrifying mass shooting will predictably be arguing from a full pendulum swing position. By that, I mean most opinion pieces work from a presupposition of either all-in support for gun control legislation or all-in denial that guns are a problem. It is rare to find a helpful opinion where the pendulum is in the middle.

Thus, I was thankful to find a link to a level-headed article written by former North American Mission Board missionary Scott Barkley, who helpfully offered this incredibly wise piece of advice:  “…a solution is going to require something that hasn’t happened yet. Each side – no matter where you stand on gun rights or funding for mental health or the importance of prayer – is going to have to consider what part of the equation they’re missing. Each is going to have to approach the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the other guy holds at least part of the solution.”  (Emphasis mine)

For me personally, I like to think my own position is fair and, I suppose, just common sense. I support the right of Americans to own certain types of firearms for sport and protection if a thorough, effective system of checks is in place. I also support the call for a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

However, my interest in this article is not to argue for my position so much as it is to point out forms of ineffective argumentation used by some who are against additional legislation for gun control. I’m not suggesting in this article that such a position is wrong, only that the following specific arguments against gun control do not work.

What I have primarily seen in response to gun control in the aftermath of recent mass shootings is most clearly typified in a tweet by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin a few months ago in the aftermath of the Las Vegas tragedy. (For what it’s worth, I have great respect for Matt Bevin and I’m thankful he is my Governor). Here is Governor Bevin’s tweet:

“To all those political opportunists who are seizing on the tragedy in Las Vegas to call for more gun regs…You can’t regulate evil…”

Bevin highlights the two most prominent rebuttal arguments in one tweet: those who support gun control are “political opportunists” and the idea of restricting gun purchases is pointless since you “can’t regulate evil.”

The governor is correct to say that evil will never be dispelled through laws. We know this from experience, but more importantly, we know this through the biblical witness of sin and death. But even though the premise is true, the argument absolutely fails (Ignoratio elenchi) for several reasons.

First, this is what is known as a “straw man” fallacy. A straw man is an argument that paints an incorrect picture of the opponent’s position and then attempts to push back against that erroneous position. I have never seen a gun control advocate argue that gun laws will regulate evil actions or will purge evil intentions from the hearts of men. So, any rebuttal attempting to demonstrate how gun laws will fail to keep people from doing evil things is responding to an argument that doesn’t exist. Gun control advocates are not so ideological as to think that laws will regulate or remove evil. Their hope is to reduce these specific kinds of evil actions.

Second, what is the logical conclusion to Bevin’s argument? If laws and restrictions and regulations will not keep evil people from doing evil things, then why have them at all? Bevin’s argument against additional gun restrictions could equally be applied to the forging of any new law or the strengthening of any existing law regardless of the issue. Such a position is, of course, absurd.  Laws are not written or modified with the expectation of comprehensively purging evil from society, but they are nevertheless important for the good of society. This too is a pervasive biblical theme and is a significant reason why God has issued laws for his people and why the law is an act of grace. (This is Luther’s “first use of the law”).

Third, the “political opportunists” phrase is an “ad hominem” fallacy and weakens the rebuttal. Is it possible that those who are in favor of gun control are legitimately broken and determined to see fewer men, women, and children dying from mass shootings? Yes, that is a very real possibility. Calling them “political opportunists” does not advance the argument, even if there are some seizing the opportunity to push an agenda. By the way, the same is absolutely true for the other side. Calling the GOP names on social media does not work or advance the argument.

Fourth, a type of “red herring” occurs when other ineffectual laws are brought into the argument. For example, drug regulations are often used to demonstrate the law’s inability to stop criminals from selling and using drugs. If laws do not keep people from selling and buying drugs, then why create additional gun laws? But again, what does this suggest? It only suggests that the Congress should make all drugs legal since laws do not stop criminals. Speed limits do not keep people from speeding. Should we forgo interstate driving regulations? And so forth. Additionally, this argument does not take into account the unknown. We do not know the impact of the drug culture on America if drug laws were not on the books.

There are plenty of ways for those who are opposed to gun control to argue their position. But the aforementioned arguments do not work. Don’t use them. Use these steps instead:

  1. Make certain you properly communicate your opponent’s position. Couch it in language where your opponent would say, “yes, that is what I believe.”
  2. Consider the logical conclusion of your argument. How does this play out in the long run?
  3. Avoid personal attacks. It makes your argument weaker, not stronger.
  4. Stay on topic. Avoid making illegitimate comparisons that are actually red herrings.

 

Trump and the Judiciary

Pro-Trump conservatives rallied behind two key campaign pledges during the 2016 presidential election:  Pro-life legislation and judicial appointments. While many conservative Christian voices were expressing disgust at Trump’s repugnant moral character, Trump supporters would faithfully return to these two concerns. How could a conservative, especially a conservative Christian, vote for Hillary Clinton when her extreme pro-choice rhetoric was unlike any the country had heard before? Additionally, the potential for the courts to be filled with radical liberal ideologies through Clinton’s judicial appointments was used to garner support for Trump.

Almost a year into President Trump’s administration, the pro-life emphasis has been less than stellar. A Republican Senate funded Planned Parenthood and initially cut the tax credit for adoptive parents (they have since reversed that decision). Where the pro-life promises might have been absent, the commitment to conservative judicial appointments is in full effect.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, could confirm his ninth federal judge the week after Thanksgiving.  As a reference, President Obama appointed three federal judges his first year in office. But what I find to be fascinating is….no one seems to care.

In my news feed, virtually every article highlights a recent Trump tweet or the ongoing problems with the tax reform bill. You would think at this point the former would be a loser for the media; the election seems to confirm that the larger conservative population does not care what Trump does on Twitter, no matter how unpresidential he may come across. The latter is certainly newsworthy, but individual pieces of legislation and public policy initiatives pale in comparison to the long-term impact of judicial appointments. These are appointments to federal courts of appeals and the appointments are for life.

In very simple terms – the long-term impact on the shape our country is determined more by the judiciary than a short-term piece of legislation, such as tax reform. Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons said concerning the judiciary, “This will be the single most important legacy of the Trump administration.” The federal court of appeals has influence over virtually every area of policy, from social policy to gun rights to Presidential executive orders. It is impossible to comprehend how the Trump presidency will impact the future of our country. But it ultimately comes down to the courts.

Should Trump continue on this path, certain conservatives will support him in the 2020 election regardless of his future shortcomings. The courts have become the battleground. But no one seems to care.

The Verse I Just Read To My Kids About Las Vegas

How do we explain and discuss things like the horror and heartbreak of the Las Vegas shooting to our children? How do we discuss them with our Christian friends? How do we discuss them with our non-believeing friends?

I know one clear way not to discuss them. We should never pretend to understand the mind of God when God has not revealed it to us. In other words, if our temptation is to say, “God allowed this to happen because ___________________________,” then we should pause, erase, and start over.

For family worship tonight, I wanted to address the sadness of the senseless killings that have left so many people in shock and in disbelief. I obviously did not want to scare my children or reveal things to them beyond their ability to grasp. But I also did not want to pretend the loss of life did not happen.

So, I opened my Bible to Romans 12:15 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

I explained how Christians will not have all the answers all the time, especially when difficult and scary things happen. But when other people are hurting, we are to hurt along with them. When other people are crying, we can cry along with them. When other people are broken, we can be broken with them. That’s how I want my children to respond to the tragedies of life; not by offering an explanation. Not by giving unwanted pieces of advice.  But by being present, offering a broken heart to match the one across from us, and offering a shared tear.

The other thing I know for certain is this – God hurts when we hurt, and the gospel of Jesus Christ demonstrates how much love the Father has for the world. There is a time for systematic theology discussions concerning the problem of evil. And there are times not to have those discussions.

For now, it is a time to weep. To be broken. And to be prayerfully hopeful that the Lord Jesus will come soon.

Even so, Lord Jesus come.

My Thoughts on the Nashville Statement

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released a statement this past Tuesday consisting of fourteen articles concerning human sexuality. Unsurprisingly, the statement was met with strong support from many leaders and pastors within the evangelical community and equally strong disapproval from a variety of pastors, church leaders, and civic leaders who denounce the statement as harmful to the LGBTQ community.

I process statements like this in two parts: first, the content and second, the call to action. In other words, what does the statement actually say and how should I respond?

The Content
I support the fourteen articles of the Nashville Statement and have added my name among its signers. My support is nothing revolutionary or surprising, it is simply an affirmation of what I believe the Scriptures teach on sexuality. In addition, the content of the Nashville Statement should not be surprising to those who are opposed to it. Nothing in the fourteen articles contradicts what the church has historically believed and taught about sexuality. One of the authors, Denny Burk, said, “It was our aim to say nothing new, but to bear witness to something very ancient.” Likewise, political commentator Ben Shapiro said, “Did I miss the part of the #NashvilleStatement where any serious Christian doctrine changed in the slightest?” Thus, the content of the statement is not groundbreaking and simply clarifies in one unified declaration what the church has proclaimed for centuries.

Call To Action
So what? Those are the two words that cause preachers and bible teachers to lose sleep at night, and in this context, cause us to consider how the Nashville Statement should help us not only think correctly about human sexuality, but also respond correctly. Why is this statement necessary and what should we do in response?

I believe the most significant reason the Nashville Statement is a necessary summary of biblical truth as it relates to human relationships and sexuality is because the church today is forced to address questions the church of yesterday would never have needed to ask. There are unique and difficult challenges pressing in on the church related to biblical sexuality that have arrived in just the past few years and these challenges are too great for generalized assumptions about the church’s position on a variety of ethical and moral relationships, including homosexuality and transgenderism. The church must not underestimate the power of societal influence. If we do not remain clear on the ways in which a biblical sexual ethic, along with a host of other issues, stands in contrast to the spirit of the age, then we will fall to its mounting pressure. And although the honest thing to do at that point would be to throw our bibles into a pile of rubbish, the more common and deadly reaction is to turn our bibles into a defense of the very thing it denies….sin. That is precisely where we find churches today who once held to a strong biblical sexual ethic. It can happen to us all.

With that being said, there are things about the statement I’m not thrilled with, the most obvious being the timing of its release. I don’t think there is necessarily a perfect time to submit a statement of this kind, but it seems there are better times than others. It has not been a good year for evangelical Christianity, and in my case specifically, the Southern Baptist Convention, at least when it comes to outside perception. Evangelicals are viewed more skeptically than ever before, and in some ways we deserve the skepticism. With the lingering issues concerning racial reconciliation, the ongoing controversy of evangelicals and President Trump, and the immediate turmoil following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, it seems a better time could have been found to go public with the Nashville Statement.

Also, I would have appreciated a greater sense of response in the articles, helping the church see the way of compassion and grace even while standing firm on biblical truth. There is mention of the grace, power, and hope of the Lord Jesus to save all sinners, but more could be said about the human response. Granted, that was not the primary purpose of this statement, but I believe follow up work needs to be done in its absence. For example, I was glad to see Denny Burk post this article on his blog about how to form relationships with those who have a different sexual ethic.

For me and my church, if this statement causes us to separate from our gay or transgendered neighbors or express feelings of moral superiority, then we would be reading it in a harmful way that does not honor the gospel of Jesus Christ. Likewise, befriending gay and transgendered people for the sole purpose of “fixing them” is equally harmful. No, our response is to be the same as it is for everyone else – invest in people in order to show them the transforming grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we believe God is love, and if we believe God is the author of Scripture, then there is nothing loving about wavering on biblical truth. And yet, we patiently point our neighbor to this good news of the gospel without condemnation, without guilt, without oppression, and without excuse.

The ability to hide from the issues in front of us today is no longer a possibility. The Nashville Statement returns to the historic Christian teaching on what it means to be created in the image of God, to be male and female. There is certainly an alternative, one that is quite persuasive and influential. Each Christian must decide where they land. As for me, I will stand on the former.

 

My Simple Post-Election Thoughts

I recently wrote four simple thoughts before election day and now I will offer three simple thoughts in the wake of a Trump victory.

Media and America
Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan critiques her profession and says, “In the end, a huge number of American voters wanted something different. And although these voters shouted and screamed it, most journalists just weren’t listening. They didn’t get it.” The past eight years of the Obama administration has brought significant change to the social and cultural landscape of our country. Issues that are primary for many urban-based, liberal-minded Americans, which constitutes most journalists, received unprecedented attention and action. For the first time, issues related to the LGBT community were not just rhetorically batted around but actual policies were implemented. For the first time, universal healthcare was not just a wish to be discussed among fellow dreamers but became the hallmark of President Obama’s leadership. And so forth.

In light of these radical changes that occurred over a relatively short amount of time, I believe there has been a reluctance at best and a refusal at worst to remember the millions and millions of working-class  Americans who fundamentally view things differently. It is as if any voice other than the progressive voice of a specific social agenda is barbaric, reflecting an ancient time where people were less educated and ill-informed. Surely America has moved on from those dark ages of our political past and  surely their voice is not one we have to worry about, right?

Well, it seems the media has received a wake-up call on the power of every American voice, not just those who fall into a certain ideological camp. Sullivan summarizes her thoughts and says, “although we touched down in the big red states for a few days, or interviewed some coal miners or unemployed autoworkers in the Rust Belt, we didn’t take them seriously. Or seriously enough.”

The Conservatism of Trump
I’m not very good at predictions. I would have made a terrible biblical prophet. But here is my prediction – in addition to the plethora of character concerns related to Donald Trump, those of us who identify as politically and spiritually conservative have been questioning his conservatism from the very beginning. I can’t help but think that on several key issues for conservatives, such as the right to life, Donald Trump will backstep into the shadows where he hopes conservatives can’t see him while he politically moves toward the center. In this way, I wonder if progressives might find his administration to be rather kind to many of the social issues for which they and President Obama have been advocating. Having said that, there are still other areas where Trump seems to be determined to go the other direction from Obama, such as climate change and universal healthcare. So, we shall see.

President Obama
I really like President Obama. I really dislike most of his policies. But he seems like a great man who loves his family, loves children, and loves our country. I respect President Obama because he had a clear agenda in 2008 and for the most part, he achieved what he set out to do. Conviction – Vision – Implementation. Now, it just so happens that my convictions and his convictions are usually polar opposite from one another and I grieve the impact over many of the laws that have been established by the President. But here’s the thing…

Whether or not I might be happy if some of President Obama’s policies are repealed by President Trump, I can nevertheless empathize with President Obama. Can you imagine what it would be like to have worked a significant part of your life to make something that millions of people told you was impossible become the law of the land? In the process, dealing with attack after attack after attack. And finally, when your life goal is met, it could very well all be undone with a stroke of a pen by the next President. That is brutal. Again, I’m not commenting on whether it is politically correct or best for our country. I’m simply saying that from a human-to-human standpoint, I feel bad for the guy if a big part of his presidential work is undone with a signed document. That would be hard to take.

I have been working at my church for 5 years to establish a culture of gospel-minded discipleship. To help our congregation see the power of the righteousness of Christ in them (we are hidden!). To help them view the bigness of God like never before and desire to be fed by the Bible. I have worked with my staff and volunteers to implement ministries to achieve these things, to adopt language for our church that signifies these things, and so forth. I can only imagine what it would be like if a pastor came in behind me and essentially tore it all apart. That would sting.

So, depending on what President Trump does the first year in office, I could anticipate President Obama having the wind knocked out of him as he watches much of his life work erased away.

Grace and peace to you all, and remember, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God first. Always and forever.

 

 

The Church and Bioethics: Gender Identity and Transgenderism

Below is a brief summary of a sermon I preached on May 15, 2016 at Graefenburg Baptist Church concerning gender identity and transgenderism.

This sermon will attempt to graciously and biblically answer four questions concerning gender identity:

1. What is gender identity and transgenderism?
2. What does science say about gender identity?
3. What does the gospel say about gender identity?
4. How should the church respond?

What is gender identity and transgenderism?
This is an essential place to begin because before we can properly address a concern, we must first understand the concern. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense or connection of gender. A person’s gender identity – their inward feeling of their gender – might be the same or different as their birth sex. A transgender person, then, is a person who identifies with a different gender than what is on their birth certificate. So, a person who was biologically born a male and was listed as such on their birth certificate might come to identify their gender as female later in life and live out that female identity instead of a male identity.

Now it is important to make some clarifications. Being a transgendered person is not the same as being a transvestite. A transvestite is a person, usually a male, who finds pleasure in dressing up as a female. The man does not wish to change genders, but enjoys dressing up as a fetish. In contrast, a transgendered person understands themselves to be different and desires to be different than their biological sex. Much of the social media memes and other unhelpful characterizations of this issue often come across as transvestitism, which is not a fair assessment of what the Obama administration is trying to protect. The issues related to the letter issued by the Department of Justice and Education are to protect transgendered people. Now obviously, this new policy opens the door wide open for potential abuse by those who are not actually transgendered and would be seeking  to experience an inappropriate erotic or sexual encounter. But for President Obama, civil rights protection for transgendered people outweighs the potential for abuse of the policy.

Transgenderism is also not sexual orientation. A transgendered person might identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and so forth. So although we typically think of gender identity and transgendered people through a lens of sexuality, they are two different, but obviously closely connected things.

This first question is important because we need to have Christian compassion for those who are genuinely struggling and suffering through gender dysphoria. It might be easy for us to roll our eyes and turn our face away in disgust at the thought of a male fulfilling a sexual impulse by wearing make-up and a dress to walk into a women’s restroom. But if we begin to consider how a person might be confused, embarrassed, bullied, and emotionally scarred through their gender dysphoria, then our Christian mandate is to show a gracious spirit of love and concern, even as we push back against policies that are harmful, especially to our children.

What does science say about gender identity?
Sometimes the phrase used to describe the feeling of a transgendered person is that they are a “female trapped in a mans’ body” or vice versa. What does science say about this phenomenon? Is it biological? Or is it psychological? Or is it both? First, let me say that the Obama administration doesn’t really seem to care. They understand a trangendered person to identify their gender through an ongoing process of changing ideas that may weave in and out of various genders, including male, female, a “third gender”, “gender fluid (which means you are both), etc. But to help clarify for our purposes, is there an internal biological factor that makes this unavoidable for some people?

The truth is we just don’t know. We will hear scientific language used to establish the internal biological reality of transgendered people, such as XY Chromosomes and the chemistry of the brain, but this is still work that exists in the land of the unknown. JM Bailey, Professor in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University, has an article on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website where he simply concludes that, “Currently the predominant cultural understanding of male-to-female transsexualism is that all male-to-female (MtF) transsexuals are, essentially, women trapped in men’s bodies. This understanding has little scientific basis, however, and is inconsistent with clinical observations…. The persistence of the predominant cultural understanding, while explicable, is damaging to science and to many transsexuals.” So, on the one hand, I think we have to avoid the extreme of thinking transgendered people are such because of biological science alone.

On the other hand, we should avoid the extreme of insisting that trangendered people are just perverts who want to live out an erotic desire. We don’t yet know the answer to the nature vs. nurture question. It may very well be that there is a biological component to their dysphoria. So, we just really don’t know what is happening. Which is another reason why making such a strong move as Obama has done is problematic. North Carolina Governor Pat Mcrory I think summarized this concept very well. He said the “federal government is searching for a solution to a problem that has yet to be defined.”

Let me mention one last thing concerning science. For Christians, we want to know the full story. We want to know the causes. We want to know all we can so we can better relate and engage. But from a biblical truth standpoint, nothing changes. Whether transgendered persons are a product of biology or by nurture or a combination of both, the truth of God’s word and His design still stands. Therefore…

What does the gospel say about gender identity?
If science doesn’t have much to say at this point on this issue, the gospel can speak all day. Let me mention a couple of things.

1. The gospel teaches that the male/female binary is a purposeful picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Genesis 2, Ephesians 5).

2. The gospel teaches us that God is both Creator and King, ruling over our lives for His glory and our good. Humanity does not determine or assign gender to ourselves, that is the act of God alone. When men and women desire to create for themselves their own reality and their own direction and their own desires, we make ourselves false gods, which is always sin against the one King.

3. The gospel teaches us that suffering is an important part of the Christian’s life. I would never deny that those who genuinely feel an internal conflict between their birth gender and their perceived gender are tormented by that reality. But I would deny that alleviating that suffering by changing genders is a solution. Only the gospel can help here. For the gospel places us in Christ and in his sufferings, where we begin – over a long life journey – to find contentment and even joy in our sufferings. The very thing transgendered people desire by changing genders is the very thing they will miss. But they can find it by learning about the sufferings of Christ.

4. The gospel teaches that forgiveness and reconciliation with God is available through Jesus Christ. There is a story of a person who was born a man, switched genders, had sex reassignment surgery, and felt even more despair. On top of all of this, the person had a daughter who only knew them as “mom.” After coming under conviction, this person approached a pastor and asked, “is there any hope for someone like me who has made such a mess of things?” The answer is yes. There is always hope in Jesus Christ.

How should the church respond?
1. By being quick to repent and slow to judge. Whenever we are confronted with a unbiblical lifestyle or cultural shift that we find morally reprehensible, the church should first remember that we are a people redeemed from our own state of filth and wretchedness. Before we should begin discussing the speck in another’s eye, lets make certain we are removing the log in our own.

2. Have conversations. Both with individuals and in a corporate setting. When people who are struggling with issues such as sexual orientation and gender identity see that the church is quick to repent and slow to judge, it will open doors to real, meaningful conversations about life and faith. Would you be able to have such a conversation with a transgenered person without turning away from the individual in scorn?

3. Never, ever deny truth. If we are quick to repent, slow to judge, and then engage in conversation, we must never compromise the word of God. In other words, we must speak with grace and with conviction. And frankly, people appreciate conviction. People are not repulsed by conviction, but are deeply repulsed by condemnation. And there is no room for condemnation in the church of Jesus Christ. There is, however, plenty of room for gracious conversation marked by Godly conviction. The former will turn people away from the cross, the latter will draw them near.

4. Pray for God’s mercy on our country and our schools. We might consider America the greatest country on earth, and I believe she is, but if God was willing to send the nation Israel into exile for their idolatry, he will not hesitate to do the same to the USA. The political process involves the people of the United States making their voice known to their representatives and members of congress. We need Christians speaking up. We need Christians running for office. So do that. In love, do that.

5. Parents will have to determine the line of the Rubicon. The idiomatic expression “crossing the Rubicon” means the point of no return. Although I do not believe parents should panic and pull their children from public schools, I do believe parents should establish the point of no return. Here is why that’s important. If you never set that bar, then you will always think the next difficult issue for public education is just one more thing and not enough to take action. But if you know in advance that this particular line is where your family can no longer allow your children to attend public schools, then you will be prepared when the line is crossed to pursue other options. I know that is challenging. This is an issue that I think the church will need to be forward thinking on, and begin brainstorming now on we can help parents who are church members discover and fund other options if that time should come. *After preaching this sermon, two gracious church members also suggested the desperate need for Christians to plug into public education in a variety of ways, including holding positions of influence, in order to make a difference in the spiritual direction of our schools. I couldn’t agree more.

Do Not Vote For Trump

I have been in full time pastoral ministry for 17 years. During that time I have never endorsed a political candidate during an election year, including Presidential elections. That is a pattern I intend to keep during this 2016 Presidential election cycle. However, for the first time in my ministry, I am going to use whatever small amount of influence God has granted me to convey great concern toward a specific Presidential candidate and humbly ask my readers to consider moving their allegiance to a different Republican candidate during the primaries.

My friends, do not vote for Trump.

For several months I have been perplexed by the support Donald Trump has enjoyed and have been patiently waiting for our wonderful country to come to its senses. It just can’t be, I would tell myself, that this is actually happening. How can a man who has behaved the way Trump has behaved and spoken the words Trump has spoken not only be in the primary race, but leading the charge? How can a man who has a long, public history of building his ego and wealth on the backs of others, of making a name for himself in ways that should break the hearts of evangelicals, be leading among the evangelical vote? How can a man who has paved a road for himself with wholly non-conservative values be winning the conservative party?

Since Trump provides no real information to demonstrate he has a strong understanding of the nation’s most pressing issues and policies, I can only assume conservatives are attracted to him because he “says it like it is” or “isn’t afraid to say what others are thinking.” Let’s examine this sentiment a bit closer.

First, what is the biblical support for defining strong and effective leadership solely in terms of “telling it like it is?” There isn’t any. On the contrary, the Bible speaks of the power of the tongue and the need to use it in ways that edify and not tear down (Ephesians 4:29), and more importantly, we learn from Jesus how the heart is the ultimate source for our words. It is out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). This should be troubling for evangelicals as we listen to Trump; a man who seems to relish demeaning others and is remarkably thin skinned when being challenged himself. Christians are certainly called to speak the truth, but we are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

But I would take it a step further and suggest that our eagerness to support a candidate primarily because they “tell it like it is” is more a reflection of our own shortcomings than it is Trump’s political savvy. What I see, generally speaking, are evangelical conservatives who have become so embittered with the political, social, and spiritual direction of our country that we are willing to forgo the integrity of all three in favor of a candidate who sounds tough and speaks his mind, regardless of the manner or means by which he does so. By taking this approach, we allow our disillusionment with the entire political system to move us in a direction contrary to our faith and the gospel. In a bizarre way, Trump has become a political idol on which we gaze, dismissing the multitude of ways he is an oppressive voice to our gospel witness.

Second, although Trump has enjoyed much success as the candidate who usurps political correctness, saying what everyone is thinking does not defacto make one qualified to act on those beliefs. Running the country effectively requires a skill set beyond mere tough words. If you support Trump because he speaks his mind, have you really been convinced of his ability to implement policies and ideas to back up his strong rhetoric? I can’t imagine anyone answering “yes” to that question.

If you are drawn to Trump simply because he speaks his mind, please reconsider your vote. It is perhaps fine to admire his boldness, but it is an altogether different issue to vote him in as our Republican nominee.

My list of more specific concerns (and utter disbelief) toward Trump’s candidacy is rather long, but here are a few highlights for your consideration.

  • Trump is not pro-life. Currently he is maintaining a pro-life position, but history demonstrates he is not passionate about the sanctity of life. For evangelical Christians, this must be a central issue, in fact, it should be the issue. Trump has repeatedly defended Planned Parenthood and will quickly flop on his pro-life position.
  • Trump does not fully support Israel and has expressed “neutrality” between the Israelis and pro-terrorist Palestinians.
  • Trump does not have a clear set of ideological values. In other words, he is not a conservative, and doesn’t want to be.
  • Trump knows very little about policy. Republicans just don’t seem to care that Trump, almost unapologetically, knows or cares very little about the actual policies of our country.
  • Trump repeatedly mocks and makes fun of people. It is embarrassing. This is who we want to be our President and represent our country to the world?
  • Trump is offensive to women.
  • Trump has shown little interest in people who look different, talk different, or think different than him.
  • Trump thrives off power, not service.
  • Trump is where he is because of the mainstream media. If he gets the Republican nomination, they will turn on him and will turn on him fast in order to elevate Clinton.
  • Trump currently has a favorable/unfavorable electability rating of 34/58. That means a toaster could run in the general election and have as much of a chance of winning. To put it in context, Jimmy Carter was destroyed by Ronald Reagan in 1976 – Carter’s rating was 33/58. So, if Trump is the Republican nominee in the general election, he has no chance against Clinton.
  • Trump is gaffe prone unlike any candidate in presidential history. This has been overlooked up to this point, but it will not be overlooked during the general election.

My friends, one of the great benefits of living in this great country is that we are able to consider the pertinent information and make decisions for ourselves. For those of you who support Trump and disagree with me, I respect your decision. But I am bound by my conscience to offer this one appeal to you; an appeal to reconsider your support for Trump and take another look at the other candidates. Then, you must vote for who you believe will best lead our country the next four years with the values of our Christian witness. I do not believe that person can be Donald Trump.

May the grace of God be with you all.

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