Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel has resigned. His program is under investigation for violating NCAA rules. It appears (and Tressel has admitted) that at a minimum he looked the other way when players received benefits and gifts that were against the NCAA rules.

Many of my fellow Michigan (and MSU) fans are jubilant. OSU is going to be a weakened program. They are going to lose scholarships and be much more beatable. Just as Michigan appears to be on the rebound. But I am sad. I am sad because Tressel, by all accounts, takes his faith seriously. A few years ago, he got attention for handing out religious tracts in Columbus. He emailed players psalms. He made a point to talk about God at any given opportunity. His two books were about faith and integrity.

Which brings up the issue of ethics. I can’t speak to Tressel’s mindset but I am sure he justified his actions. He didn’t break any laws. Further, in sports, rules are often part of the game to be broken when possible. In basketball, fouls are when you do something against the rules (bump a player, slap a hand etc) but part of the game is that you have fouls “to use”. Good players use most of their allowable fouls at opportune moments in the game. Is this unethical? Of course not. Similar thought can be given to acting on the field of football. Kickers often go through great theatrics to make sure that the referee notices that they were touched by a defender (a big penalty). Similar actions are found in almost every sport (fighting in hockey, arguing with umpires in baseball, and etc). It is possible that Tressel put his actions in this category. Don’t break any laws but stretch (or break) the NCAA rules understanding that consequences are clear and fair if you get caught. I don’t know this is the reason but it is one way that a Christian in good conscience might convince himself that such behavior is ok.

With that being said, whatever justification Tressel made in his own head, he was wrong. What he did was not part of the game. He has brought shame upon himself, he has brought shame upon his school, and most importantly he has brought shame upon the faith. I listen to sports talk sometimes and I cannot tell you how many mockers (both hosts and callers) have noted Tressel’s faith and laughed at his fall as hypocritical and “typical of Christians”. Whatever justification, it is clear that only Tressel saw it that way (an indication that he misjudged things).

This brings up the issue of ethics and Christians. It is important that as we go through the world that we not only justify our actions by judging them in accordance with the Bible but also that we live in such a way that we are beyond reproach. This means going beyond proof texts and understanding the culture around us. How will our actions be perceived by others? How will our actions reflect on the faith? Would God be honored if our actions were reported in the newspapers?

And realize that, if we are open about our faith, we will be held to a higher standard. This may be unfair and difficult but it is actually a good thing. When Christians have a reputation for honesty and fairness, God is glorified through our lives.



October 24, 2010

Sorry for the Silence

August 17, 2010

I am in the process of moving (to north Ann Arbor)…..I will be out of commission on the blog until Friday. Talk to you then.

Which God?

May 16, 2010

Wait, we were praying to Zeus??

Wayne Baker continues his series at AnnArbor.com regarding prayer at public universities (and separation of church and state in general). He makes some very interesting points. His conclusion is that those who are fighting for the radical separation of church and state (to silence and remove any prayers or vestiges of religion) are misunderstanding the intent and purpose of the constitution. His conclusion is:

The Religion Clauses in the Constitution were meant to prevent state-sponsored religion and to grant freedom for religion. But their intent was not to eliminate state support of religion’s role in civil society. The high court’s focus should be distinguishing between theological religion and civil religion, refusing to support the theological side but promoting the civil side of religious organizations.

I thought that this was  a very interesting analysis of the intent of the founding fathers and the meaning of the first amendment. I have no doubt that this is a good historical analysis as it makes sense of the fact that many of the people who established the constitution also allowed prayer and other religious activities in public institutions.

With that being said, I would like to get back to a biblical framework for Christians to view these things. I would like to reference Oxford New Testament Scholar N.T. Wright about the use of the word “God” for Christians and examine the constitution as Baker interprets it and then evaluate how Christians should interact.

Wright, in the preface to his brilliant tome, ‘The New Testament and the People of God’, makes that case that we must be careful when using the word “God” as though everyone is talking about the same thing. In the first century (that the New Testament was born out of) there were thousands of gods. Some were good, some were angry, some were sexual, and some were chaste. In the first century, if you were going to say, “God” you would probably need to clarify which god you were talking about. This is why we find the Bible writers usually use phrases like, “The God of Israel” or the “God of gods”. Wright says, “I have often preferred either to refer to Israeli’s god by the biblical name, YHWH…In a world where there were many suns, one would not say ‘the sun’.” He goes on to explain that even in our own time there are some pretty dramatically different conceptions of God.

There is the Deist god (this would have been the god that many of the founding fathers believed in). This god is hands off (for the most part anyway). He had a role in the creation of the universe (possibly setting the constants in place) and he has a role in providence but generally doesn’t intervene in the day to day. This god is quite different than the god of the Bible (that is seen being hands on in almost every detail of our lives – see Psalm 139). There are other gods such as Pantheist and Panentheist gods. These too are quite unlike the Creator-god of the bible. There are the gods of the Hindu faith and the gods of tribal religions throughout the world. Further, in our society there appears to be a personal god of many people. When discussing scripture with people I often hear the phrase, “My god wouldn’t do this or that.”

If Baker is correct in his interpretation of the Constitution, my question would be: does the constitution require us to intentionally remain reticent as to which god we are worshiping, praying to, and acknowledging? If so, this seems very problematic to me. I don’t think that the Christian religion, as conceived in the bible,  lends itself to intentionally being ambiguous about the God that is being worshiped. In fact, it appears to command us not to do this (Exodus 20:3).

Not sure how this plays out in real life but I do think that this is something that needs to be considered by Christians as they explore their faith in relationship to governmental institutions.

Quick, say the prayer - the cops are coming!

AnnArbor.com has an interesting series going on right now by Wayne Baker, a sociologist at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. I attended Ross (MBA, 2006) but never met or had a class with Prof. Baker. There are three posts in the series so far (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). The subject of the series is ‘Public Prayer’ at Public Institutions and what is permitted by the US Constitution. Baker is particularly focused on prayers at graduation ceremonies. Baker’s series doesn’t make a definitive argument on either side of the debate and instead provides information and questions to encourage thought.

But…I have some thoughts.

The question is not really about prayer. It is about the relationship between the State and the Church. Most people start such a discussion with the Constitution but let me go back a bit further. The question of Church and State is a biblical one.

Most of the epistles in the New Testament provide instruction for the Church. These letters tell followers how to live, how to interact with the world, what the rules are and etc. But though most biblical commands are for the church, there are commands for the state. The state is given its purpose (Roman 13:4). It is given authority over the people (1 Peter 2:13). And the State is given instructions on how to act. Isaiah 1:16-17  says “Stop doing wrong,  learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Jesus told the ruling authority of his day, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. (John 19:11).”

So we learn from the Bible that the state’s authority is not in contrast to the Church’s, they have different roles. But both the State and the Church are under God’s authority. The State is not in a position to tell God what to do. Nor can the State countermand God’s instructions to the Church – it’s under God’s authority and that would be overstepping its bounds.

So, now let’s look at the idea of “separation of Church and State”. In some sense the Bible commands a separation. It is never right for the Church to take up weapons and go to war. The Church’s role is a declarative one. This is not pacifism. Christians can serve in the military and police but they would be acting as part of the State in that role.

The State must not use the sword to do the roles of the Church. It is never ok for the state to make doctrine. The state may facilitate the Church but it must not control it.

So, coming at the issue of public prayer. Is it within the rights of the State to control believers in this way? Is the State properly using its God given authority to tell people that they can not publicly acknowledge or offer thanks to God? I think it is not within the realm of responsibility of the State to do this. I think the State is acting in a way that goes beyond its rights.

But what about the Constitution? What about people who disagree with the Bible? I will discuss those questions in future posts. But let us conclude that from a Biblical standpoint, the State appears to be overstepping its bounds in this situation.

Don't ask me how to set up a facebook account....but the other stuff? Oh yeah.

I just read this article on annarbor.com. It makes the case with research that as you get older you become more capable “in knowing how to deal with conflicts and accepting life’s uncertainties and change”. I love this. I have held to this position for most of my life. I know that so many younger people completely discard the opinion of the elderly but I have always felt that this is ignorant of the wealth of wisdom and experience available there. Next time you can’t figure out what to do? Try asking grandma.

Leviticus 19:32   “‘Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.”


March 7, 2010

One of the professors at Michigan’s Ross Business school gives a Christian witness at the conclusion of the last class each semester… very cool.

Name withheld for obvious reasons.