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Dr. Rodney Plunket

"Rise Above"

A Topical Sermon

Columnist John Leo in the June 26, 2000 issue of U.S.News & World Report has an article entitled "Double Troubles: Let’s have the same standard for everyone." In that article Leo notes examples of contemporary double standards. He draws attention to the efforts "to drive Dr. Laura Schlesinger off the air for her religion-based opposition to homosexuality" at a time when almost no one raises objections "when today’s most popular rapper, Eminem, makes angry and violent references to [homosexuals using terms that are too objectionable to repeat]." He notes that "The bus and subway system of New York . . . [have rejected] antiabortion ads, though the system has been accepting pro-abortion ads for years." He refers to "a popular feminist show" that portrays the statutory rape of a 13-year-old-girl and how almost no comment has been made about that rape. The reason? "The fictional perpetrator was a lesbian, age 24. So the all-female rape is described by the victim as ‘a good rape.’" When "a new conservative columnist at the Hoya, Georgetown University’s student newspaper" asked, "‘Why is rape only wrong when a man commits it?’ . . . . His column was killed, and he was fired" (page 12).

Leo also refers to a book entitled, The Shadow University; a book which describes the way double standards operate on some of America’s college and university campuses. That book was written by Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silvergate in 1998, and the tenth chapter gives detailed stories of double standards operating in academia. Events that are a matter of public record, some of which have had to be recounted in a court of law, reveal that at least some campuses protect even the most offensive language and behavior targeting Christianity or Christian belief but these same campuses will abide not even the mildest comment from anyone who opposes abortion or homosexual behavior. Let me briefly illustrate what I mean by noting the story of Professor James Aist of Cornell University.

Aist is a professor of plant pathology, a born again evangelical, and very active in the Christian community outside of Cornell. He believes that homosexuality is a sinful behavior that can be "cured." He also advocates equal rights for gays, and he accepts Cornell’s policy of nondiscrimination against gays.

The treatment that Aist received simply for putting up posters "on public bulletin boards" at Cornell is very troubling. Those posters simply said,

If you, a friend, or a relative would like to find out. . .

    • What most of the scientific research and clinical results have shown about the nature and root causes of homosexuality
    • What the Bible says about homosexual behavior
    • Which reparative therapy programs have achieved success rates of 65%–75% in reversing orientation
    • How ex-gays have walked away from homosexuality
    • Where qualified help is available nationwide for those who want to change

––You can request a free copy of documented, verifiable literature from any of the co-distributors below.

That mild poster and the accompanying fliers precipitated an extraordinary effort to have Aist fired from Cornell. The case dragged on for six months. Aist finally sought and received legal counsel who threatened Cornell with litigation due to their stifling of Aist’s free speech rights. The relevant body at Cornell "at last delivered a judgment of ‘No Finding’ on all the charges against Aist." His legal representative issued a press release that said, "It is shameful that Cornell, an institution which prides itself on tolerance and freedom, should even consider Professor Aist’s action harassment." (Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silvergate, The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses [New York: The Free Press, 1998], 255-58).

We Christians get pretty upset when persons are mistreated for beliefs which grow out of their deep faith relationship with Jesus Christ. And we should get upset. We should hurt with them and for them. And we should cry out when those who dish out the mistreatment are people within a system who are not acting according to the stated principles of that system.

But let’s get real; we Christians are not always very good at living according to our principles either. Just this week, Darva Conger hit the news again. Many of you will know that she is the one who, back in February, was selected by Rick Rockwell to be his bride on Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire. She then decided that she had made a mistake, refused to be Rockwell’s wife, and has been covered by every form of media since. Darva Conger professes a Christian faith, but recently agreed to pose for a pornographic magazine. This week Matt Lauer of NBC’s Today Show asked her how she squared that action with her Christian faith. She "conceded that she was ‘in conflict with God’ over her appearance in [the magazine] but she believed God would forgive her. ‘I believe in a forgiving God who sees in my heart. I will take my chances with Him forgiving me because I think He is more accepting and forgiving than the rest of the public,’ she said." Conger also said that "her elderly mother ‘loved the pictures.’" Well, isn’t that special? Ms. Conger’s view of God turns divine forgiveness into license and causes the watching non-Christian world to discount the whole notion of a real faith that transforms a believer’s life. She gave support to those who believe that Christian faith does not change the human predisposition toward love of self and love of money. It is estimated that Conger was paid about half a million dollars (Link).

I wish that was the only example I knew of Christians failing miserably to live according to biblical values. A few weeks ago I preached a sermon against pornography. After that sermon one of our members told me of a songleader in a west Texas church of Christ who, with the enthusiastic assistance of his wife, was compiling a complete collection of every Playboy magazine that had ever been published. After reading of how many sexual addicts began by looking at that very magazine, I was both shocked and angry.

But I know that some Christians are as likely to laugh at and pass on an obscene joke as a non-Christian. I know that Christian businessmen are all too often found to be no more honorable than their non-Christian counterparts. I know that the divorce rate among Christians has recently been found to be slightly higher than in the American population as a whole.

And I remember an event in the congregation in which I grew up. I remember the day that the great African-American evangelist, Marshall Keeble, came to speak. One of the elders saved the back rows in our church building to make sure that all of our African-American visitors were kept back there out of sight and out of mind, away from all of us white folks. We got to sit up near the front where we could see better. This elder was known for his racist attitudes but, in spite of that fact, was the most public and one of the most influential elders in that church.

Yes, we have every right to cry "foul" when Christian views are not allowed the same freedom in American public life as are other views. But I know that our cry of "foul" is nothing in comparison to God’s cry of "foul" when we blatantly affront the teachings of our faith. Sisters and brothers, we must not be a people of double standards. We cannot look all sanctimonious when our secular nation is being taken to task for its failures if our lives are in open rebellion to the moral values we profess. That is hypocrisy, and Jesus reserves His most stinging comments for hypocrites.

One of our most common lapses is the refusal to extend to others the forgiveness that God has given us through Christ. I hear all too often of Christians who avoid contact with other Christians because of something that one or both parties have been unable to forgive. Jesus makes very clear that to rely on a forgiveness that we do not extend to others is a very dangerous business. Read Jesus’ words at the conclusion of The Lord’s Prayer and read His Parable of the Unmerciful Servant if you do not believe it. We preach forgiveness. We rely on forgiveness. We will only be saved by forgiveness. We must find ways to reconcile with one another and to create a community which shines to God’s glory because of the forgiveness that powerfully shapes us. Otherwise we are operating with a double standard more objectionable than any double standard in the world, more objectionable because it brings dishonor to the Name of Jesus.

I want to read a statement from a minister named Gordon MacDonald. MacDonald has been a high profile Christian leader in America. In the mid-1980’s, MacDonald was the president of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. But in 1987 he publicly admitted to an adulterous affair. After working through the sinful mess in his life MacDonald returned to ministry at Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA. Now I am going to tell you something about Gordon MacDonald that will upset some of you more than his adulterous affair. MacDonald is one of President Clinton’s spiritual advisers. MacDonald became one of the President’s advisers after the President’s admission of the relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Due to his relationship with the President, MacDonald, on September 13, 1998, made a rather lengthy statement at Grace Chapel. I want to read a portion of that statement, because I hope it will provoke us to think more deeply about the double standard of being saved by divine forgiveness and yet being unwilling to extend it to others. MacDonald’s statement particularly relates to the confession that the President made at the Religious Leaders Breakfast. You may recall that the confession on that occasion was the fuller confession that many of us wished the President had given at the outset. MacDonald refers to that confession at the Religious Leaders Breakfast and says,

For many there have been two inadequate reactions to what the President said: the one has been to engage in the offer of cheap, swift grace, a forgiveness that comes so quickly and freely that it provides no justice nor healing and spiritual redemption to the sinner. The other inadequate reaction has been that of dismissing the statement with a wave of the hand and assuming that it is a matter of political theatrics and manipulation. To this latter reaction I have to say with all candor, Christ-following people have an obligation to treat seriously any attempt by a self-proclaimed sinner who asks for forgiveness. If the President’s repentance is false or short-termed, that will show in time, and we will have to swallow hard and admit that we were taken in. It wouldn’t be the first time nor the last that the Christian community extended its hand of grace and had it bit off.

MacDonald, later in this statement, refers to a phone conversation that he had with the President a few days prior to the President’s confession at the breakfast. He says,

When we reached the end of our phone conversation, the President invited me to come to Washington on Thursday, the night before the Religious Leaders breakfast. I had been invited to the breakfast, but now the President sought a personal conversation. On Thursday night it was my privilege to spend the night at the White House and to join the President and the First Lady for several hours of discussion. The President and I sat alone late into the night talking about the future, not in political terms but spiritual. The content of that conversation will be for the most part, totally confidential. From that conversation and one which he had the next morning with Tony Campolo, came the frame of the speech which Mr. Clinton gave on Friday morning.

Now I want to read a longer portion of MacDonald’s statement, because it clearly reveals the power and the challenge of forgiveness.

It is no secret that the President has been disliked from the start by a majority of Evangelical Christians. His stand on abortion and homosexuality were the lightening-rod issues, and most people have taken an adverse posture ever since.

I have been seriously troubled when I have listened to people talk about this President––not in the civil discourse of acceptable political and philosophical adversity, but rather in terms of hatred and vengeance. It has been easy for some to say that God’s judgment will be upon this President. But will God’s judgment not be upon a group of people who call themselves Biblically-oriented but who permit such rancor in their hearts?

I have chosen to believe that every word of the President’s speech on Friday was out of a genuinely contrite heart. I have seen his private tears, heard his personal words of remorse. And I have chosen to embrace this man, as a sinner in need of mercy. I have received him as I would try to receive any of you should you find yourself in similar circumstances.

Have I worried about being used? Of course. Have I worried about those who might turn against me? Again, of course–– and painfully so. Do Gail and I worry about seeing our names once again in print, as it was in Newsweek two weeks ago, reminding us of our own brokenness and shame eleven years ago. Again, of course.

Am I endorsing this President? No; that is not my intention in this statement. I have tried to keep this pulpit which I love free of political endorsements of any kind––much to the consternation of some and the suspicion of others.

In 1988 this church, called Grace Chapel, held a most remarkable service called a Service of Restoration. It was a recognition that church leaders were choosing to encourage my return to the ministry of preaching the Bible. As part of the service, my dear, dear friend, Dr Vernon Grounds challenged me to be a carrier of the Gospel of the "Second Chance." He reminded me that Jesus was noted as a friend of sinners. And that the friends of Jesus are our friends. The congregation approved of his challenge enthusiastically. But no one would have imagined that that ministry of the "Second Chance," a friendship with sinners, might be focused on a President of the United States.

Over the years since that service Gail and I have made ourselves available to literally hundreds of men and women in leadership whose lives have been dashed to pieces by their sins and mistakes. Hardly a week goes by that either Gail or I are not contacted by someone in the country who begins the conversation in words like these, "I don’t know where to turn. No one around me knows how to handle the mess I’m in." We have come to love the subject of grace because along with repentance it changes lives and refuses to permit Satan the ultimate victory. (Note from RP: I apologize for having to report that I can find no public access to this message from Gordon MacDonald. It came off of the Internet in 1998, but that is all I remember).

"We have come to love the subject of grace because along with repentance it changes lives and refuses to permit Satan the ultimate victory." Do we believe that? Do we believe that grace and repentance really do change lives? If we do, then we take repentance seriously. If we do, we become like God who in Exodus 34:6-7 says I am "a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin."

Sisters and brothers, God has called us to be a people who are salt and light in the world. That function is negated when we fail to shine with the nature of God to the glory of God. Then we are good for nothing; we are just like salt that has lost its saltiness.

Michel Quoist’s wonderful collection of prayers has one prayer that begins with these words,

I would like to rise very high, Lord;

Above my city,

Above the world,

Above time.

I would like to purify my glance and borrow your eyes.

When I try to look at the world at our nations with the eyes of God, my eyes keep being drawn to the people of God within the world, within our nation. Yes, I want America to be more filled with the spirit of Christ. But I do not see how that can happen until the people of Christ provide a biblical alternative that is powerful because shaped by the Word and will of God. A couple of our brothers are going to come to the microphone now and lead us in prayers based on the needs that are so evident among God’s people and the needs of the nation that we love. Jeff Day is going to lead us in a prayer that asks God to open our eyes as believers to the double standards in our own lives, and Jeff is going to ask God to cause us to be more radically Christian so that we really will be a light to this nation. Rusty Ladd’s prayer is going to grow out of the awareness that our beloved nation is not known in the world for righteousness. He is going to ask God to transform our nation into a light of righteousness to God’s glory. Let’s pray.

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