Harvey Weinstein, Tim Murphy, and the Evil Fruit of Tribalism

On the surface Harvey Weinstein and Tim Murphy have nothing in common. Weinstein is a Hollywood mogul and an avid supporter of various liberal causes, such as Planned Parenthood. Murphy is a Republican Congressman and a staunch proponent of the pro-life movement. But last week both men were exposed as frauds. On October 5 The New York Times published a scathing expose of Weinstein and his long history of sexual harassment. The same day, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced that Murphy intended to resign as a result of the fallout from the news that Murphy was having an affair and urged his pregnant mistress to get an abortion.

While Wenstein’s gross conduct was news to the general public, it was well known to those inside the Hollywood bubble. And while it is unclear to what extent Murphy’s affair was known, there is evidence that other sorts of workplace abuse and misconduct were widely known in GOP Congressional circles. So why weren’t these men exposed as charlatans before now?

Undoubtedly a major factor in both cases was fear. In their little worlds, Weinstein and Murphy wielded tremendous power, and anyone who  challenged them could face severe reprisals. It takes enormous courage to stand up for what you think is right when it might cost you your job. And given the stakes of the entertainment industry and the political enterprise, that kind of courage is exceedingly rare. In cultures where there is no mechanism for genuine accountability of those in power, the threat of intimidation is nearly overwhelming

But another factor at play here is tribalism. What I mean by tribalism is the commitment to support those who you think are on the same team or part of the same tribe, regardless of principle. Many liberals in the entertainment industry who eagerly pounce on President Trump’s (many) missteps have been strangely silent about Weinstein. Similarly, while various Republicans privately stated that Murphy should resign, no one publicly urged that he do so that I am aware of.

This tribal mentality is nothing new. Twenty years ago one female reporter responded to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal by professing her willingness to pleasure President Clinto so long as kept abortion legal. Nor is this mentality limited to politics and entertainment. It enabled the nightmarish scandal of child molestation by Catholic priests.

But it does seem to me that tribalism is gaining intensity. Fewer and fewer Americans have close friends who share different political beliefs. This makes it incredibly easy to demonize those with whom we disagree. Many of us are eager to think the worst about those in the other “tribe,” which explains why so many fake stories and Facebook memes gain traction.

The American ideal is rooted in the primacy of principle over personality, in the rule of law over the rule of man. But when we fail to hold people accountable to principles, we betray the American ideal and turn the privileged few into petty tyrants. So it comes as no great surprise when moguls, politicians, and clergy abuse their power like tyrants.

It is especially important for Christians not to be drawn into this tribal mentality. Jesus calls us to be salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We must not dilute the salt and dim the light of our influence by sacrificing our principles in indiscriminate support of personalities that appear to be “on our team” on certain issues but whose conduct and practice fall far short of the teaching of Christ. That there are people who talk a big game but do not practice what they preach is hardly a surprise to the followers of Christ, who warned his disciples to judge a tree by its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20).

When any politician – regardless of party – does something I judge to be right, I should be willing to say so. And when any politician – regardless of party – does something I believe to be wrong, I should be willing to say so. But I cannot ignore or excuse what is wrong simply because a politician is on “my side,” or merely because he happens to be really nasty to the people who disagree with me.

And it is especially important for Christians to hold preachers, elders, and other leaders accountable for their actions. Failure to do so not only compromises the testimony we present to the world, but  it also destroys the lives of those victimized by repeat offenders. The apostle Paul told Timothy-

Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. (1 Timothy 5:19-21)

“Keep these rules…doing nothing from partiality.” That is principle over personality.

I am not optimistic about where our nation is headed. I think the prospects for the maintenance of civil society are very dim. But I am most anxious about the cause of Christ becoming hopelessly entangled in the quagmire of tribalism. Christians are called to be transformed people, not conformed to the world’s way of thinking (Romans 12:1-2). We must resist the allure of the world to sacrifice integrity on the altar of unprincipled partisanship.

A Note on Job 2:3 – Did Satan Incite God Against Job?

This quarter I am teaching a class on one of the most difficult books of the Bible, the Book of Job. It is not a book filled with easy answers. Instead, it unflinchingly confronts the tension of evil and suffering in a world governed by God. One of the most puzzling verses in the book is Job 2:3-

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” (ESV)

What does this text mean? It almost sounds like God is saying that Satan bullied or cajoled him into doing harm to Job. Is that how we are supposed to understand this verse? Let’s take a closer look.

This is the second encounter between God and the one described in Hebrew as The Adversary (הַשָּׂטָן, haśśāṭān). In their first confrontation, God himself took the initiative in calling The Adversary’s attention to Job.

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (1:8)

But The Adversary was unimpressed.

Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (1:9-11)

Job’s Despair, by William Blake

The Adversary maligns Job by claiming that Job only fears God because of the material prosperity God has given him. According to The Adversary, Job does not fear God for “no reason” ( חִנָּם, ḥinnam), “for nothing” (NASB) or “for no profit.” So the key issue between God and The Adversary is, why does Job fear God? Does Job fear God because God is inherently worthy of this devotion or simply because God has paid him off?

To test Job’s motives, The Adversary challenges the LORD to “touch all that he has,” certain that once Job loses his material blessings he will “curse” God.

And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (1:12)

As this test unfolds, the narrator makes it clear that whatever The Adversary does to Job, it is only by God’s permission. There is no question who is in charge here. God alone is sovereign.

That brings us to Job 2:3. Once again the LORD confronts The Adversary, but this time to call attention to Job’s steadfast integrity in the midst of suffering. Simply put, The Adversary was wrong. Job did not curse God.

With this background in view, let’s look more closely at the specific phrase in 2:3 that raises questions – “although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” There are three important terms here. The first is the phrase “without reason.” But we have seen this before – this is the same phrase The Adversary used in his malign accusation about Job – “does Job fear God for no reason?” This is the narrator’s way of indicating to the reader that we must read 2:3 closely in connection with 1:9.

The second key term is translated in the ESV as “incite” (סוּת, sut). This word has a range of meanings from “instigate” to “allure.” And as we know from the first chapter, The Adversary did indeed instigate the challenge of Job’s motivation for serving the LORD (“stretch out your hand and touch all that he has”).

The third key term is “destroy” (בָּלַע, bl’). It means “swallow up, engulf.” It speaks to the sudden and overwhelming nature of Job’s losses, which did indeed happen in one day (Job 1:13-22).

Putting this altogether, we can draw some conclusions.

First, we should not read Job 2:3 as if to say that The Adversary lured God into some kind of trap to harm Job which God unwittingly fell for. Yes, The Adversary instigated the trial, but he did not manipulate God into doing it. God’s sovereign control is clearly emphasized throughout the book.

Second, the LORD’S use of the word “destroy” indicates that God is very much aware of the shocking set of losses Job has experienced. This isn’t some kind of trivial game of checkers for the LORD. His great servant has suffered tremendously.

Third, when God says that he has destroyed Job “for no reason,” he does not mean that this test was pointless or futile. There is in fact a very important purpose for this trial – to demonstrate that The Adversary is wrong. The Adversary claimed that this test would lead Job to renounce God. But what did The Adversary gain by the test? Nothing. As John Hartley writes:

The use of without cause here sets up a point of tension with the Satan’s use of this phrase in the first scene before Yahweh. Whereas the Satan had conjectured that Job’s fear of God was not without cause, i.e., Job feared God for selfish reasons, Yahweh in turn rebuked the Satan with the assertion that Job’s trial had proved to be without cause, i.e., the Satan’s accusations about Job were groundless. Thus the test has proved that the Satan’s accusations against Job were “without cause” or had no inherent worth, and that Job feared God “without cause”—Job trusted God with a pure heart filled with love for God, not for the benefits God had bestowed upon him. The Satan’s skepticism about Job’s character had proved to be completely wrong. (The Book of Job NICOT, p. 80)

Here then is my interpretative paraphrase of Job 2:3-

Adversary,  you instigated the idea of a test to prove Job’s motives. I permitted it – in fact, I permitted you to overwhelm him with suffering. I take ultimate responsibility for this. But in spite of this test, your accusation proved worthless. Job still holds fast his integrity!

One final point. The New Testament recommends Job’s example as one for us to follow. The very reason Job is commended to us is not because God promises us a life free from trials, but because he promises to be merciful to us in the midst of our trials, so long as we cling to him.

As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:10-11)

And as we remain steadfast, we continue the legacy of subversion of The Adversary. His slander always amounts to nothing in the face of faith.

 

 

 

Hugh Hefner, the Vegas Shooter, and the Meaning of “Judge Not”

Sunday night as I scrolled through Google News, reading one horrible story after another, I thought to myself that I should really stop doing this just before trying to sleep. And then I awoke to the news of the Vegas shooting, a real-life nightmare. My heart breaks for the many families who will live this nightmare the rest of their lives.

As of now, no one understands what motivated the shooter (who does not deserve to have his name mentioned) to perpetrate this massacre. But everyone agrees with Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman: “This is a crazed lunatic full of hate.” And this sentiment cuts across party lines. President Trump referred to the crime as “an act of pure evil.” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was a “particularly despicable” act, transforming a festive musical performance into heartbreaking tragedy.

But you know what I haven’t heard? So far as I know, not a single news analyst, public official, or even Facebook friend has challenged these condemnations. No one has demurred, “Who are we to judge?” I haven’t seen anyone quote the words of Jesus, “Judge not lest you be judged,” in an effort to mute the vilification directed toward the shooter. In this case, everyone seems quite content to call evil evil.

This is in contrast to what happened last week with the passing of Hugh Hefner. While many celebrities and columnists celebrated his life and legacy, others deplored the deviancy and exploitation he gleefully promoted in his long career (none with more devastating effect than Ross Douthat).  These negative appraisals raised the ire of some of my friends on Facebook, who pushed back with criticisms about judging others. One friend said of Douthat’s column:

Its tone and content sounded like a condescending prude willing to earn a check by speaking ill of the dead. If he’s speaking from some moral high ground, how did he overlook the Bible’s views on sitting in judgment of others?

Another friend said:

I know that most of you wouldn’t pass judgment unfairly, so why don’t we leave the dead alone?

These objections almost sound pious – almost.

Except that in the aftermath of the Vegas shooting, I haven’t seen similar rebuttals from these friends regarding the judgments made about  the murderer.  No one has dismissed those who depicted this as an act of evil as “prudes.” And no one has (to my knowledge) spoken up in defense of moral relativism (“I think mass murder is wrong, but that’s my truth, and I don’t have a right to impose it on others”). In this case, everyone seems to believe in moral absolutes, and everyone seems to think it is appropriate to condemn those who violate those absolutes.

Which means that all of those objections to “judging” someone like Hugh Hefner because we should “leave the dead alone,” and all of those complaints about “sitting in judgment” on others, were pure moonshine. Everyone believes there is such a thing as evil and that it is appropriate to condemn it. The only real matter of disagreement is determining what behavior constitutes evil, and what standard we should use to make such judgments.

When Jesus said in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged,” he was not prohibiting all judgments about right and wrong. In the very context of this statement, Jesus called upon his followers to make judgments. Just a few verses later Jesus said:

Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. (Matthew 7:6)

We must make judgments between those who are respectful and responsive to the truth and those who are disrespectful and antagonistic toward the truth.

Similarly, Jesus urged his listeners to distinguish between true and false paths to follow:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

This requires making discriminating judgments.

And immediately following that, Jesus commanded his disciples to make judgments about false prophets:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)

So if we are to judge between those receptive to the word and those opposed to the word, and between the broad way of error and the narrow way of truth, and between true prophets and false prophets, then what did Jesus mean when he said, “judge not”? Let’s look at the passage in its context.

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

First, it is clear from the illustration Jesus uses that the issue here is not a flat prohibition against criticism of someone else. The problem is not in trying to remove “the speck” from the eye of a brother. In fact, Jesus wants us to do this, as verse five plainly shows: “then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

The problem is attempting to remove specks from someone else’s eye “when there is a log in your own eye” (verse four). In other words, what Jesus is condemning here is not judgment per se, but judgment that is hypocritical. If I criticized Hugh Hefner for profiting from degeneracy while at the same time I was using pornography, then I would indeed be guilty of the sort of judgment Jesus described here. But to use this passage as a blanket condemnation against all judgments about conduct is a gross distortion of what Jesus meant.

“But who among us has never made mistakes?” Well, no one, of course. But that isn’t the point, either. In fact, the very scenario Jesus describes in Matthew 7 involves someone who indeed had enormous problems (a log in the eye!), recognized the problem, dealt with the problem (took the log out), and then removes the speck from a brother’s eye. THAT is not judging; that is love.

Hugh Hefner richly deserved the scorn he received from many quarters because there is no evidence he recognized the vile nature of his life’s work. The fruit born by the tree of his work (pornography, sex addiction, drug abuse, exploitation) revealed him to be a false prophet of liberation. And if anything, his arrogant and defiant pursuit of degeneracy proved him to be the very sort of person Jesus said was unworthy to cast pearls before. The fact that many people in our culture have chosen the broad way of hedonism rather than the narrow way of virtue only heightens the need to speak out clearly about good and evil.

“But surely you are not equating Hugh Hefner with the Vegas shooter!” Of course not. The flesh trade, as vile as it is, is not as heinous as mass murder. But notice – to agree that murder is a greater evil than sexual deviancy is also a judgment. Moral judgments are simply an inescapable part of the real world.

And unless you are willing to demur that no one has the right to judge the Vegas shooter, then the reality is that you believe there is a time and place for speaking out against evil as well. Our only real disagreement is what standard we should use to make such judgments. In my case, I believe the standard of judgment is God’s law, revealed in nature and Scripture. That standard condemns murder, and it also condemns sexual immorality.

“But only God can judge the eternal destiny of Hugh Hefner!” Of course. And indeed, I hope that before he passed away, the gospel came into his heart and he responded to God’s grace. As impossible as it is to imagine, I would hope that the same happened for the Vegas murderer, whose eternal destiny God alone will judge. But that has nothing to do with acknowledging the reprehensible conduct of each.

Calling evil evil is part of the ministry of mercy to its victims. Otherwise, what are they victims of? Pray for God’s strength and wisdom to minister to the victims of the evil of the Vegas shooting. And pray for God’s strength and wisdom to minister to the victims of the evil of moral profligacy. But to pretend evil doesn’t exist, or that we should never name it, is insulting to God and grossly disrespectful to its victims.

 

Book of Job Roundup

Job’s Despair, by William Blake

I thought I would place all of my blog posts on the Book of Job in one place in case any of you missed one of them. I would also like to recommend this commentary by Gerald Wilson, and this series of blog posts by John Mark Hicks. Both are helpful guides through the book.

 

Part 1: Reaping What You Sow

Part 2: The Key Question of the Book

Part 3: Are God and Satan Playing a Game with Job’s Life?

Part 4: The “Triangle of Tension”

Part 5: Job’s Breakthrough

Part 6: What Job Wants

Part 7: What To Do with Elihu?

Part 8: The Lord’s First Speech

Part 9: The Lord’s Second Speech

Part 10: Did Job Repent, or Was Job Comforted?

Part 11: The Conclusion of the Book

Rapture Theology – The Underlying Cause of Mistaken End-of-the-World Predictions

Last Saturday we were supposed to witness cataclysms signaling the start of various end-time events according to a writer named David Meade. This did not happen. When such predictions fail, the errant prophets usually try to cover their tracks by redefining what sort of events actually took place (“the signs were spiritual, not literal”), or they hedge on the certainty of their predictions (“I only said it was possible this would happen”), or they admit a slight error in their calculations and produce a new date (“the terminal generation began in 1967, not 1948”).

But underlying virtually all of these sorts of predictions is a novel theory about God’s plan for the end, a doctrine known as the rapture. In this post I want to explain what the rapture theory is, why it leads to such predictions, and why it is unfounded in Scripture. Continue reading

Does the Bible Predict When the World Will End?

According to the calculations of a writer named David Meade, several prophetic passages from Scripture point to the impending destruction of the earth by a planet called Planet X (or Nibiru). Technically, Meade says that there will be signs from heaven on September 23, but that the “great tribulation” marking the beginning of the end will likely take place on October 15. You can learn more (and see the other conspiracy theories he holds) by checking out his website. Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 11 – The Conclusion of the Book

While the dramatic climax of Job is the Lord’s appearance, the narrator concludes the book with an epilogue (just as he began the book with the prologue of the first two chapters). This final section of the book raises several interesting points. Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 10 – Did Job Repent, or Was Job Comforted?

 Then Job answered the Lord and said:
 “I know that you can do all things,
   and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
 therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6, ESV)

One common understanding of the dramatic conclusion of the Book of Job is that God’s speeches are a rebuke of Job’s impatient and presumptuous challenges to God to defend himself in a lawsuit. According to this view, Job’s response is contrite repentance. God is all-powerful and all-wise, Job is not, and Job learns to be quiet.

I have already indicated that I believe this understanding is inadequate. Continue reading

“The Dogma Lives Loudly Within You” – the Brazen Attack on Religious Freedom Continues

Professor Amy Coney Barrett

News coverage of Hurricane Irma obscured the growing threat of another kind of storm in our country, the subversion of religious liberty. Last Wednesday, Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a nominee for the federal appellate bench. Senator Diane Feinstein quoted from a journal article Professor Barrett wrote some time ago in which she and her co-author discussed under what circumstances a Catholic judge should recuse herself from a death-penalty case (given the objections held by many devout Catholics regarding capital punishment). Feinstein remarked:

“Dogma and law are two different things. And I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.”

“The dogma lives loudly within you.” Continue reading

Reflections on Job, Part 9 – The Lord’s Second Speech

The first speech of the Lord drew Job’s attention to God’s constant wisdom, power, and care for creation. Job feels abandoned by God, but the Lord’s survey of his providential care for even the most isolated of animals showed Job that he was wrong in assuming God was no longer watching over him. This leads Job to retract his “lawsuit” against the Creator- Continue reading