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What The Bible Says Good Samaritan's Penny Pulpit by Pastor Ed Rice
What The Bible Says Good Samaritan's Penny Pulpit by Pastor Ed Rice
This past week, Urban Meyer, legendary football coach of The Ohio State University, announced his retirement. Meyer had won more than 90 percent of his games as the Buckeyes' head coach, including all seven of his games against rival Michigan. He had won three Big Ten championships and the 2014 national championship. In addition to his success at Ohio State, Meyer had won two other national championships while coaching at Florida, and his 186-game win total over 17 years is higher than any other FBS coach over the same period of time.So, why resign now? There were several reasons—the most dominant being that of Coach Meyer's health. Meyer revealed in October that in 2014 he had surgery on a cyst in his brain that causes stress-related headaches. The symptoms of those headaches were visible this past fall during some of Ohio State's games when Meyer frequently wore pained expressions on his face and at one point collapsed on the sideline.Though Meyer did not draw a straight line between his stress-related headaches and his suspension that occurred earlier this year, he did say that the suspension also contributed to his decision to retire. Ohio State put Meyer on leave in early August while investigating reports that he had mishandled allegations of domestic violence and other inappropriate behavior made against former assistant Zach Smith in past years. The school suspended Urban Meyer for the first three games of the season after finding he failed to live up to the standards of the university and did not tell the truth when asked about those allegations at a Big Ten media event in July. Meyer said that he believes the suspension will have some lasting impact on his legacy.Urban Meyer leaves the Ohio State program strong, and the future of football at OSU is bright, though Meyer himself leaves, at least to some degree, bruised and blemished. Several points are worthy of consideration for those of us who are involved in ministry.Remember the SabbathWhen Meyer left Florida to take a year off before going to Ohio State, he said that it was a time of reflection when he had to ascertain his priorities. He determined to make family more important than football, something he had not previously done.There is no denying that the constituents we serve never fully understand the pressures that leaders are under—the pressure to succeed, the pressure to always be there, the pressure to always be professional when reviled by inside and outside sources.And to deal with these pressures, leaders have to take time away and off. Whatever is most therapeutic for you—whether it is yard work, sitting in a cabin with a book, hunting, fishing, preaching out—do it! You will be criticized for it. You will be called lazy for doing it. And you will always feel like there is no convenient time for it. But go see a ball game with your son, get away with your wife, take your daughter shopping. Do it!I have heard preachers say, “The devil never takes a vacation.” True, but you are not trying to be like the devil. You are trying to be like the Lord. And He took a Sabbath.Remember the SourceI have a pastor friend who is an avid fan of Michigan, and understandably, he hates Ohio State. If Urban Meyer would have duplicated the feeding of the five thousand, my friend would tweet, “Urban Meyer takes little boy's lunch.” There is no denying that we have enemies, and these enemies will never be able to be pleased by anything that we do.Urban Meyer was strongly criticized for the way he handled Zach Smith, but my hope is that no leader would be handed such an unwinnable situation. Are there things that Coach Meyer could have done better? Of course, there are! But I hope that we never become proficient at handling disciplinary situations, for that would necessitate we have an abundant amount of them. Of course their hopeful rarity is not an excuse to mishandle them—there may be times when we need to seek counsel on how to handle them.All too often stress is caused in our lives by the armchair quarterbacks who have never taken the field, but are absolutely certain they know the best way for us to lead the team. This is not to say that we cannot learn a germ of truth in even the most destructive criticism. It is to say that we cannot allow the destructive critic to get into our minds and eat us alive. Always consider the source of the criticism.Remember the ScriptureThe Bible tells us that, “David encouraged himself in the Lord.” God's Word is filled with multiple promises for every emotional struggle of life. God gives peace! And we must allow ourselves to be filled with God's peace even when the media critics are field dressing our leadership style. At times, all of us need to go back to the Bible and encourage ourselves again in the Lord.In the ultimate analysis, the Lord is the final judge of our ministries. Other coaches, irate fans, and wealthy boosters are not primarily where our ear is bent. It is bent to the One whose, “Well done,” means the most—the Lord Himself. The fear of man brings a snare, but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.As an Ohio State fan, I am very appreciative of Urban Meyer's contributions. I trust that his retirement will give him the sabbatical time, the stress release, and the spiritual reflection that he needs. And may I, in turn, learn from the strengths and weaknesses of our legendary coach.
Family Research Council (FRC) and Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) have released our fifth annual comprehensive review of elective abortion coverage under Obamacare on ObamacareAbortion.com. This resource will help any consumer who wants to find pro-life health plans.Premiums have continued to sky-rocket and more locales than ever have no pro-life plans to choose from.It can be tiring to have to choose between your healthcare needs, your pocket, and your conscience.You may have wondered or heard from neighbors saying: “Why do all the good plans include the abortion coverage?” If you are dissatisfied with the insurance choices in your state, you may want to consider a healthcare sharing ministry. While healthcare sharing does not fix the problem of abortion funding in Obamacare, it does provide an option that respects our consciences and moral values.In life, things (including medical emergencies) happen, and those within the Body of Christ should strive to take care of each other just as they did in the Book of Acts, during the early church. One of the ways Christians are continuing to care for one another today is by shouldering the burden of each other’s healthcare expenses. Does this mean that the early church in Acts practiced communism as we know it today, or that the teachings of Jesus promoted government-enforced socialism? No. But we are told that the Christians of that time did share all things in common. They voluntarily engaged in this way of life—serving one another—out of an overflow of the heart, because of what their Lord had done for them. (See here for more discussion on this issue.)These Christian healthcare sharing ministries operate on a system of voluntary contributions of Christian members who are wanting to systematically live out Galatians 6:2 (“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ”) by sharing medical costs among their members. Healthcare sharing ministries are exempt from the individual mandate of Obamacare. These ministries do not support abortion in any way and provide an alternative to the state and federal exchanges: Samaritan MinistriesChristian Healthcare MinistriesChristian Care MinistryThese three ministries have been certified and recognized as healthcare sharing ministries by the Department of Health & Human Services (via the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services).The testimonials of how families have benefited from these ministries are encouraging to see, particularly with those who run their own business. “It’s a great alternative for families who are self-employed,” said one.When another family who was having trouble paying the high premiums of Obamacare switched to a healthcare share ministry, the representatives even prayed with the family. These healthcare ministries are not only ministering to believers physically and financially but also spiritually and emotionally.Today, there are over 1 million healthcare sharing participants with approximately 85 percent of those represented and supported by a ministry that is a member or affiliate of the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries.Believers are using whatever means they have to bless one another. This is not a redistribution of wealth where the government is dictating to us what we should do with our money, which is what Obamacare does by subsidizing the killing of innocent human beings through anti-life health insurance. Instead, participating in healthcare sharing ministries is a form of voluntary stewardship of what God has blessed us with in order to take care of our own bodies as well as the body of Christ.We want to see all human life protected, and certainly do not want to further abortion by paying for it through our insurance plans. As long as health insurance plans cover abortion, and Obamacare becomes less and less affordable, we can pursue healthcare sharing options that have arisen to fill the gap. More options are available at the resources tab of Obamacareabortion.com, as well as information on what progress has been made to protect your conscience in healthcare choices.
Uncertainty and heresy are common in the UK, but evangelicals stand out for fidelity to orthodoxy.A third of people in the United Kingdom say they don’t know whether the Resurrection actually occurred, whether God counts a person righteous based on faith alone, or whether trust in Jesus alone leads to salvation.In Ligonier Ministries’ first-ever State of Theology survey conducted in the UK, “I don’t know” was the top response to numerous questions about Jesus, sin, the Bible, salvation, and other rudimentary theological concepts. (CT has covered the US version of the survey in 2014, 2016, and 2018.)Many Brits remain ambivalent on matters of faith. About a third were unsure about the nature of the Trinity (31%), Jesus’ bodily resurrection (33%), the existence of hell (30%), and Jesus’ return (31%). Even more, 36 percent, said they didn’t know whether to agree or disagree with the statement, “God counts a person as righteous not because of one’s own works but only because of one’s faith in Jesus Christ.”“It’s actually tragic when you look at the survey and you see so many saying ‘I don’t know,’” Stephen Nichols, chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries and president of Reformation Bible College, told Premier Christian Radio.“These aren’t just matters of life and death, these are matters of eternal life and eternal death. There can’t be any more consequential questions than the questions on this survey and so these ‘I don’t know’s are really troubling.”Heresies Among British ChristiansThe foundations of faith may be on sandy ground in the British Isles, where—like their American counterparts—a significant number of Christians ascribe to heretical beliefs.Half ...Continue reading...
In church growth, as in everything, we can't take our lead from the best examples, but from typical results.You know those commercials where clients or patients had amazing results, only to hear a hurried voice at the end telling you “individual results may vary”?It might be helpful if church growth books, blogs, podcasts and conferences had that, too.The reason those commercials have that qualifier is because the fantastic results they advertise aren’t typical. They’re the best examples, not the usual ones.I understand why commercials do that. If you want to promote something, you talk about your success stories.But if you’re looking to buy or invest in something, you shouldn’t just look at the best examples, you need to know what the typical ones are. Look at averages, not exceptions. What’s normal, not what’s unusual.It’s the same with church growth.No Church Growth GuaranteesThe principles that have been discovered by the church growth movement are helpful and important. The methods that have been devised to help us take advantage of those principles are valuable. And the people who promote those principles and methods are doing their best to help churches and ministries.In short, the majority of church growth material is great.But it’s not fool-proof. There are no guarantees.Except one. The one given by Jesus that he would build his church.But Jesus never promised relentless, unceasing, inevitable numerical growth for any congregation. Not even for the faithful ones, (as we see in the struggling, faithful congregations in the New Testament).Facts Are Our FriendsWithout using the right principles, no congregation will ever make any progress towards health, effectiveness and greater ministry impact. But using all the right principles is no guarantee that your church ...Continue reading...
LGBT activists are pushing for an end to sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)—the various forms of voluntary religious or secular counseling or therapy (referred to by critics and the media as “conversion therapy”) intended to help people with unwanted same-sex attractions to overcome those feelings or not act upon them. That campaign suffered a setback in August 2018 when an extreme version of a SOCE therapy ban, AB 2943, was withdrawn by its sponsor after strong resistance, especially from the religious community.However, critics of SOCE are now hoping for a boost from the release of a new movie, Boy Erased, intended to dramatize the problems they associate with “conversion therapy.” The movie, starring Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman as the parents of the college student sent to counseling, premiered in limited release on November 1, and is gradually being rolled out around the country.The movie is based on a 2016 memoir with the same title by Garrard Conley. Conley was a 19-year-old Arkansas college student in 2004, when he attended one-on-one counseling and then an intensive two-week group program offered by Love in Action (LIA), a Memphis ex-gay ministry run by John Smid, a man who had testified to his own transformation from gay to ex-gay.In anticipation of the movie’s release, I recently read the book on which it is based. On November 8, the first day the film was screened in the D.C. area, I went to see it. The first screening in downtown Washington was sold out, but I was able to catch a later screening in a nearly empty theatre in Bethesda, Maryland. What follows will address both the book and the movie, but I will focus primarily on the book.Conley and Love in ActionI will say one thing in the book’s favor—it does not appear to be a complete fabrication. That is more than I can say for some testimony given in favor of state therapy bans—accounts which have either been proven false or are highly suspect. Love in Action was a real organization, and the approach Conley describes in the book is roughly consistent with group therapy used by some (not all) such ministries. According to Conley, his personal memories were augmented by LIA’s 274-page handbook—which he still has.This means that in Conley’s account, there is no electric shock therapy; no application of heat or ice to create an aversion to homosexual stimuli; no deliberate exposure to heterosexual or homosexual pornography; in short, none of the horror stories one usually hears about outdated treatments that were abandoned 40 or 50 years ago. Although often raised in critiques of SOCE, no one has been able to prove that any of these methods have been used in this century.Another common charge is that minors are coerced into therapy by their parents. Therefore, it’s important to note that Conley was not a minor when he went to LIA, and he states explicitly, “I was here by my own choice.” Despite its short term of two weeks, Conley’s program was not even a residential one—he spent evenings in a motel room with his mother. This was no “conversion therapy camp” as they are sometimes depicted.What the book, and at least the first part of the movie, feature instead is lots of talking and lots of writing. This makes the book and first half of the movie, frankly, rather boring.Smid (depicted in the film as “Victor Sykes”) and LIA approached homosexuality using an addiction model, and many of their techniques were borrowed directly from the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Different programs and different therapists use different methodologies—what unites SOCE is only the goal, not any particular technique. While AA and other twelve-step programs have their critics, as far as I know no one has ever tried to outlaw them.For example, one exercise drawn directly from AA was the “Moral Inventory”—an effort to account in writing for as many past sins as the participant could recall. Another exercise was drawing a “genogram”—essentially a family tree noting patterns of sinful behavior by various forebears and relatives. These techniques may be questioned by some—but hardly constitute “torture,” or even stirring drama.The Real TraumaThat’s not to say there are no traumatic events in Boy Erased—it’s just that most of them predate or are unrelated to the LIA program. In the book, Conley admits that in early puberty, he was so addicted to video games he would urinate on his bedroom carpet, rather than walk to the bathroom. (Later, in college, he would urinate in empty water bottles in his dorm, putting them under his bed to be discovered later.) In high school, he would “crouch on the toilet seat to hide from overcrowded lunch tables.” Conley, a runner, admits that in the summer before he started college, “my weight loss took an angry, masochistic turn that verged on anorexic”—something even a gay-friendly family doctor would call him on. Conley also admits several times to having suicidal thoughts. Note that almost all of these things happened before he went to LIA—and all were omitted from the movie.If Conley had chosen to re-frame his story, it could have put an important male twist on the #MeToo movement. The worst thing that happened to Conley, and to the lead character in the film (renamed “Jared”), was that he was raped by a fellow male college student in a dorm room. (The under-a-blanket rape scene, as well as some strong language, are the main reasons for the film’s R rating.) The rapist then confessed to having done the same thing to a younger teen in the youth group at his church.Conley told a pastor at his Presbyterian college about the latter crime—and was told “to stay quiet” because “there was nothing to be done.” However, he told no one—not the pastor, his parents, nor Love in Action counselors—about the assault he had suffered. He remained silent on this point even after the rapist was the one who “outed” him as “gay” to his parents. One is left to wonder whether his counseling might have had a different outcome if he had been more honest with the people who wanted to help him.Family DynamicsFamily dynamics play an important role in Boy Erased—but this is one of several areas in which Conley appears to have misunderstood the theory behind some SOCE. It is true that many counselors have identified a pattern which is common (but not universal) among men with same-sex attractions, in which these men had strained relations with their fathers and male peers and unusually close relationships with their mothers.This is the exact pattern evident in Conley’s description of his own life. With his father, a Christian car dealer who experienced a mid-life call to pastoral ministry, Conley had “moments of misunderstanding” that were “often damaging.” Sports is a common way for a boy to bond with his father or peers, but Conley admits, “It’s true that I was never any good at sports. . . I never liked to toss the ball with my father in the front yard.” (The film, however, makes “Jared” a high school basketball player.) With his mother, a glamorous Southern belle who married “in her sixteenth year,” he would go “to Memphis for weekends of shopping and movie binging.” In fact, when client Conley tells a counselor, “Yes, my mother and I were too close,” author Conley calls it his “first ex-gay utterance.”The climax of both the book and the movie—and the incident that led to Conley walking out of LIA before the program was over—was an exercise called “the Lie Chair” (the name is puzzling, since it involves telling the truth). Conley was instructed to sit across from an empty chair “and imagine your father sitting across from you and you saying everything you’ve always wanted to tell him but couldn’t.” Conley says, “I tried working myself up into an angry fit,” but finally declared, “I’m not angry”—and walked out, never to return.Conley seems convinced that the family dynamics theory did not apply to him, because his parents were not actually abusive—just once, “my father had raised his fist to strike me,” but thought better of it—and because he loves them. He does not seem to understand that there can be a deficit in meeting the developmental need for warm, non-sexual affection from the same-sex parent, even in the absence of any overt abuse.Distorted TheologyConley also seems to have a distorted view of Christian theology. For one thing, he (like many LGBT activists) seems obsessed with “Hell”—far more than any Christians I know, or any pastors I’ve ever heard preach. Even after having his horizons broadened by going to college, Conley declares, “I still believed that I would feel its fire licking my skin for all eternity if I continued on this path.” As an evangelical Christian myself, I also believe in hell (capitalizing the word, as Conley does, is unnecessary). Yet I’ve never believed—and know no one who teaches—that merely being (or becoming) straight is the key to avoiding it.Critics of SOCE, including Conley, are also obsessed with “shame,” and a belief that such counseling operates by instilling a sense of shame over the client’s homosexuality. Yet every sexual reorientation therapist I have met has said the exact opposite—that one of the primary goals of such therapy is to overcome the shame that clients already feel when they begin therapy.In fact, despite Conley repeatedly associating LIA and its teachings with terms like “self-loathing” and even “self-annihilation,” the actual quotations from LIA’s handbook and other materials express the opposite:“I believed many lies that I was worthless, hopeless, and had no future.”“I’ve learned that I am loved and accepted even though I have been involved in sexual addiction.”“I have worth. I am intelligent, funny, caring and strong.”Film FabricationsBecause “moral inventories” and “genograms” don’t exactly make for compelling cinema, the filmmakers spiced up the last half of the film—by adding scenes that didn’t actually happen. The most dramatic—and most outrageous for its absurdity—is one in which an uncooperative LIA client is literally, physically beaten with a Bible (by family members including, apparently, his own little sister). Perhaps this is meant to be a metaphor for spiritual abuse, but some gullible viewers are likely to take it literally.The character Jared’s “escape” from LIA is exaggerated in the film. Apart from having to ask a second time before his cell phone was returned, the book recounts no effort to physically prevent him from leaving or his mother from reaching him, the way the movie does. And the film’s biggest emotional gut punch is when we learn that the fictional victim of the fictional “Bible-beating” has committed suicide. (In his book, Conley reports no such event, but writes, “Various bloggers” have estimated that “twenty to thirty” suicides resulted from LIA, “though figures like these are impossible to pin down.” That’s probably because they are made up.)One thing the film does somewhat better than the book is address the character Jared’s nuanced relationship with his parents after he left Love in Action. However, we have no way of knowing if the portrayal is a truthful one reflecting Conley’s actual experience, or merely a dramatic one serving Hollywood’s purposes. In the book, Conley addresses the decade after his LIA experience only cryptically, and somewhat confusingly. His father never followed through, apparently, on a threat to withdraw funding for his college education. Yet describing visits to his parents’ home, he declares, “I will refuse to even look at my father.” He concludes the Acknowledgments, though, by saying, “Thank you, most of all, to my mother and father, whose love has made all the difference.”Love in Action—The Rest of the StoryIn 2005, a year after Conley left Love in Action, the ministry was subjected to a storm of controversy after a teenager named Zach Stark complained on social media that his parents had sent him to LIA’s residential program for adolescents, called “Refuge.” (The Boy Erased film conflates this program with the adult-focused one, “The Source,” that Conley attended—a staffer in the film says, “Welcome to Refuge,” but the notebooks say “Source” on the cover.) This sparked a round of protests by LGBT activists, and investigations by Tennessee state officials.State officials said LIA required a license because they were providing mental health treatment; LIA insisted it offered discipleship programs, which are exempt from state regulation. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF, now known as the Alliance Defending Freedom) filed a federal lawsuit to protect LIA, and ultimately prevailed, with the state dropping its efforts to regulate the LIA ministry.The controversy about the short-lived Refuge program seems to be the source of the mythology that there is a network of “conversion therapy camps” across the country holding teens against their will. The trailer on the film’s official website ends with the dramatic and absurd declaration, “77,000 people are currently being held in conversion therapy across America.” Yet the Refuge program—then already defunct—was the only such program identified in a 2009 American Psychological Association report on sexual orientation change efforts. Indeed, a 2015 Ph.D. dissertation agreed that “it is likely the media frenzy surrounding the story of 16-year-old Stark being forced into a conversion therapy residential program by his parents in 2005 led to these bans” on such therapy for minors.The controversy took a toll on Smid, however, and on the ministry. In 2008, Smid resigned; he has since returned to living as a homosexual and married a man in 2014. Smid now has a gay-affirming ministry called Grace Rivers, and has apologized for the work he did with Love in Action. (LIA, under new leadership and with a completely new ministry model, changed its name to “Restoration Path” in 2012.)ConclusionThe therapy bans enacted in fourteen states so far apply only to licensed mental health providers and only to clients who are minors. Since Garrard Conley was not a minor and Love in Action was not licensed by the state, his experience would not have been affected by such a law, even if one had been in place in Tennessee. Ironically, the passage of such laws, cutting off access to care consistent with their values from licensed providers, might only have the effect of driving desperate parents and clients into the hands of unlicensed religious programs such as Love in Action. For SOCE skeptics who see this as undesirable, therefore, such laws may actually be counter-productive.California’s AB 2943, on the other hand, would have applied to any SOCE provider or program that charges a fee, even religious and unlicensed ones. This type of approach, however, raises constitutional questions even beyond those raised by the license restrictions.Regardless of what one thinks of Conley’s story, its fictionalized film version, John Smid’s story, or the techniques of Love in Action, they all represent only anecdotes about a particular instance of sexual orientation change efforts. They cannot be taken as representative of all SOCE. The claim that SOCE in general has been shown to be ineffective and harmful is not supported by the scientific research.Boy Erased is not particularly entertaining; and not at all informative for making policy regarding sexual orientation change efforts.
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