Sunday, September 23, 2012

The 3 - September 23, 2012

This week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, includes a story that has garnered some response in the Christian community - a centuries-old fragment that makes reference to a wife for Jesus.  Also, religious expression is at the heart of a debate over football game banners in Texas.  And, the top story involves more media coverage for a large restaurant chain built on Christian values - and it's more than just commercials featuring cows saying "Eat Mor Chikin".

3 - Fragment reportedly shows a reference to Jesus' wife, Christian leaders respond

There has been quite a bit of coverage this past week, as well as discussion, about an archaeological fragment which contains 12 lines in Aramaic.  In one of those lines, there is a report of Jesus referring to "my wife".   Gary Manning, a professor at Biola University, wrote a compelling background story on The Good Book Blog.   He basically said that even though it's too early to tell whether or not the fragment is authentic, it does point to some of the Gnostic writers of the day.   The discovery was released, in fact, by a modern-day Gnostic writer named Karen King, who teaches at Harvard.

Manning writes:
The Gnostics wrote a number of short collections of sayings that they attributed to Jesus: the Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Judas, Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and others. Technically, these are not really gospels, at least when compared with the canonical gospels. The four gospels in the New Testament are full biographies of Jesus, directly tied to eyewitness accounts, and written within 25 to 60 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Gnostic gospels, in contrast, are short collections of sayings, with little or no biographical material. They are written by people more than a century removed from Jesus, with no connection to the eyewitnesses. Generally, these works are easily identified because they try to make Jesus sound like a Gnostic. This newly discovered fragment has a few lines that sound like the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.
A piece on the Religion Today website features commentary by other Christian scholars.   Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary is quoted as saying that, if this papyrus was authentic, it would be the only text among many to suggest that Jesus had a wife.  He said that, "It represents "a very small minority in a much later period than original Christianity...It is a fourth-century text in a fringe gnostic group that is not representative of the larger groups that are [part of] Christianity."

Dr. Joel B. Green of Fuller Seminary said,  "We have no evidence at all of any debate among the earliest followers of Jesus regarding Jesus' martial status. This debate surfaced later. It's important to put this in context. Popular literature (say, from the third and fourth centuries) made all sorts of claims about Jesus ... These claims really don't tell us anything about Jesus of Nazareth, the historical person who lived in the first third of the first century."

And, the Culture and Media Institute of the Media Research Center took the media to task for trying to portray this non-traditional discovery as something more genuine than it has actually been proven to be.   Here is their piece on the coverage.   One of the lines in the piece says that some media outlets failed to mention that there are several places in the New Testament where the church is referred to as the bride of Christ.

What does Gnosticism teach?  According to Watchman Fellowship: 
The Gnostics promoted three basic teachings: 1) matter is evil, and thus Jesus only appeared to be a man; 2) because the Bible teaches that God created matter, the God of the Old Testament Jews is an evil deity who is distinct from the New Testament God, Jesus Christ; and 3) ultimate Truth is a mystery that is available only to those who are initiated into the secret teachings and practices of the Gnostic groups. 
Gnosticism has seen a resurgence since the mid-20th Century with the 1945 Egyptian discovery of the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of Gnostic writings.  Modern Gnosticism teaches that Truth can be found by combining the beliefs and practices of numerous religions.  Interestingly enough, Karen King has written a book called, What is Gnosticism?

Truth is, there are many today who are attempting to paint a different picture of the Jesus portrayed in Scripture.  That is why it is so important that we as believers in Christ stay grounded in the Scriptures, firm in what we believe, and making sure that we are walking in discernment.

2 -  Texas cheerleaders hold the line on Scripture banners, FFRF faces pushback

The cheerleaders at Hardin County High School in Kountze, Texas have a proud tradition of holding up banners for the football players to run through prior to their games.  Part of that tradition includes the display of Scripture verses, such as Philippians 4:13, on them.   Last week, in response to a letter of complaint by the (you guessed it!) Freedom From Religion Foundation, that appears intent on disrupting time-honored forms of religious expression, especially at school football games, the cheerleaders were told by the school superintendent that they could no longer display those signs.

Response was swift and sizable - a Facebook group was started, that, as of this writing, has almost 42,000 members - it's called "Support Kountze Kids Faith".  (You can request to join it, if you like.)  And, the cheerleaders enlisted the support of attorney David Starnes and legal advocacy group Liberty Institute, which went to court.   On Thursday, a Federal judge handed down a temporary restraining order, allowing the banners for 2 more games and giving the Hardin County Independent School District until October 4th to explain why they have outlawed the banners.   Here is the play-by-play by CBN News.

Liberty Institute President Kelly Shackelford is quoted as saying:
"These government school officials will never learn that students' religious rights are protected"..."We have successfully passed state laws protecting student religious speech and have won restraining orders to final judgments protecting student religious speech."
FFRF has made a practice to contact school officials in a variety of districts about such common practices as prayer before football games and other forms of religious expression.   And, there are just a handful of cases in which they get involved that actually go to court.  In some cases, a school district or government officials will capitulate.   But recently, we've seen where officials have stood strong against their tactics.   Last week, for example, the Chancellor of the University of Tennessee rejected a challenge to pre-game invocations at UT football games.   And, we've seen other instances where school and government officials have realized that attempts to restrict religious expression, primarily by FFRF, are not valid.

Students have a chance to participate in legal, Constitutionally-protected prayer at their school flagpoles this Wednesday, September 26th - it's See You at the Pole, with this year's theme, "Awaken".

1  - Gay activists play media game of "chicken" with Chick-Fil-A

The storyline came so quickly, and a number of media outlets bought the statement out of Chicago, where a group called The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) issued a report that Chick-Fil-A, a company that was founded on Christian principles and continues to operate on those premises today, had issued a statement that included language stating that it would be considerate of all customers, regardless of sexual orientation.  This is actually a position that the company has always held, and was stated even before Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day on August 1st, where thousands visited local restaurants to show support of company president Dan Cathy's views on traditional marriage.  The statement also suggested that Chick-Fil-A would re-evaluate its financial support of organizations that had a political or social agenda.  The coverage began to take a life of its own, and the storyline emerged that CFA would no longer support groups that have been described as so-called "hate groups", such as Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage.   These are groups that have been supportive of the Biblical definition of marriage.

This story caused quite a stir in the Christian community, who felt that (as some reports suggested) that CFA had "caved" to gay activist groups just to place a restaurant in Chicago.   The problem is that the reports were not true, and Chick-Fil-A moved to issue a statement on Thursday setting the record straight.  Cathy later posted a statement on Mike Huckabee's website saying that "we have made no concessions".

Baptist Press, which closely followed the story of reaction to Dan Cathy's earlier comments on his support of traditional marriage, had an excellent, timely report.   In it, Cathy is quoted as saying:
"There continues to be erroneous implications in the media that Chick-fil-A changed our practices and priorities in order to obtain permission for a new restaurant in Chicago. That is incorrect. Chick-fil-A made no such concessions, and we remain true to who we are and who we have been." 
Chick-Fil-A has also stated its dedicated to supporting marriage enrichment programs through its WinShape  Foundation.

Of course, we recognize that supporting traditional marriage and holding to a Biblical view of homosexuality does not make someone anti-gay, bigoted, or intolerant.    Those are our deeply-held convictions based on our study of the Scriptures.   People are welcome to disagree with those beliefs, and make their case, without resorting to name-calling and distortion, which Chick-Fil-A, as well as a host of Christian ministries, continue to be unfairly subjected to.  Pray for the Cathys and Chick-Fil-A as they navigate through this difficult area of cultural involvement.

CitizenLink, the public policy affiliate of Focus on the Family, covered the story well.   Stuart Shepard of CitizenLink appeared on The Meeting House on Friday, and here is that conversation, including extensive coverage of the Chick-Fil-A flap.

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