The Faith of Jeremy Lin

The rise of Jeremy Lin in the NBA universe has been nothing short of meteoric.  One week he is sitting on the sofa watching the Knicks on TV. The next he’s occupying the last seat on the bench watching from the courtside in a Knicks uniform. Then, he’s given an opportunity to play and over the next few weeks he leads them to seven straight victories (136 points in first five games is an NBA record for a start). With some Michael Jordan-esque type moves, combined with a three point buzzer shot winning a game, a few breathtaking steals, and shooting foul shots under pressure; New Yorkers have been in “Linsanity.”  His #17 jersey has suddenly been sold out, and he’s the “talk of the town.”  Spike Lee sings his praise, Kim Kardashian wants a “date,” Michael Bloomburg says he’s “good for New Yorkers,” his twitter handle @JLin7 goes viral, etc.

The main story line is that he is undrafted (that’s unusual for the NBA). He’s a Harvard graduate (How many Harvard graduates do you know who can play basketball?). And he’s the first American player in NBA history to be of Chinese or Taiwanese descent (this is a league dominated by African Americans with Asians having few role models in the NBA).

Though the story which has not been told sufficiently, in my view, is that Jeremy Lin is a Christian.  He may not be quite as vocal as Tim Tebow, but he has made it clear that He gives God all the glory for his talents.  He has repeatedly given God the glory in the plethora of interviews in the last few weeks.  There is one statement he made recently which really struck me as a profoundly Christian statement. He was asked how it felt to be suddenly mobbed by hundreds, if not thousands, of screaming fans who follow him wherever he goes, asking for his autograph and even to get mentioned by the President of the United States.  None of that seemed to phase him.  Jeremy said, “I play for an audience of one, God – that’s it.”  Wow – what an amazing statement.  What a great summary of all Christian ministry.  We play for an audience of one…. God.  We live before Him, we preach before him, we pray before him, we serve before him.  If we remember this one lesson we will do well.  Thanks, Jeremy, for the reminder.  May your life not just bring glory to Madison Square Garden, but to the King of kings, Jesus Christ.

Pragmatism vs. Principle: Contraception and the 1st Amendment

This week the White House offered a compromise to the Roman Catholic church regarding the earlier health care bill’s requirement that all hospitals (including Roman Catholic ones)  be required to provide access to artificial contraceptives to their patients.  The White House compromise was, in effect, to mandate that the insurance companies pay for the contraceptives rather than the church related hospitals.  Predictably, the American Council of Roman Catholic bishops rejected this compromise because it failed to address the fundamental problem of religious liberty. Even the “compromise” failed to understand that religious liberty is not actually intended primarily to protect the budgets or even the teaching of some religious body per se, but the protection of individual believers who refuse to be coerced to participate in something which violates their religious conscience.

It is not a question, fundamentally, of “who pays for the contraceptives” but an actual point of conscience to those who serve in these hospitals (not to mention that quite a few Roman Catholic hospitals are self-insured, and the bill also mandates contraceptives which are abortive).  As I shared in my last blog, Protestants may not agree with the specific position of the Roman Catholic church about contraceptives, but we stand shoulder to shoulder with them on the larger principle of religious liberty.  (As an aside, the reason the Roman Catholics tend to have more specific guidance on matters like birth control, when compared with Protestants is that Roman Catholics, as a rule, tend to see issues from the widest possible lens.  They see the theological relationship between birth control, marriage between a man and a woman, prohibition against abortion etc.. as all part of one issue, whereas Protestants tend to separate issues and tackle each one on its own).

The first amendment to the constitution clearly says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  It is this latter clause which is at stake here.  The White House thought a pragmatic solution was all that was required because it would allow the Roman Catholic Church to participate in the program and not “lose face.”  What was not understood was this was not a technical problem which required a technical solution.  To say, “insurers pay, not the hospital” is a technical “solution.”  But, the issue is not technical, it is conceptual.  It has to do with religious liberty.  This is about the first amendment, not merely about who pays for contraceptives.

I will stand with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters just like I did with our Islamic friends when they wanted to build a mosque near the site of 9/11.   Even if you use contraceptives or, like me, you long for the day when Muslims recognize the Lordship of Jesus Christ, that is not the point.  It is a question of religious liberty.  If the government can tell Muslims where they can and cannot build a mosque, or tell Roman Catholics that they must provide contraceptive services, then none of us can expect to enjoy for long the “free exercise of our faith.”


Should Protestants be Concerned about Roman Catholic convictions regarding Birth Control?

The new health care initiative, popularly known as “Obama-care,” has been one of the most controversial entitlements in recent memory.  A few months ago the debate was about whether it was constitutional for any government to force someone to “buy” anything, whether it be a lawn mower or a health care policy.  In the last week, the debate has focused on the mandate that all hospitals (if they are to receive any government funded health care) must provide access to birth control for those under their care.  As is well known, artificial contraceptives are not accepted by the Roman Catholic church.  This particular provision in the health care bill has created an uproar among Roman Catholics around the nation.  Letters from several prominent bishops were read in Roman Catholic pulpits across the country decrying this provision.

Historically, the Roman Catholic church has always opposed all artificial contraception or, for that matter, any orgasmic sexual act outside of marriage between a man and a woman.  Roman Catholic theologians have long argued that the church should guard against a wide array of disfiguring distortions of sex by insisting that sexual acts be, at least potentially, both unitive and procreative.   Protestant groups have generally made the use of artificial conception a matter of conscience for married couples, so we may not be following this particular struggle between the White House and the Roman Catholic church very closely.  So, let’s ask the question, “Should Protestants support our Roman Catholic friends in this struggle?”

The Answer is yes.  There are several reasons why we should support them in this fight. I will mention only two of them.  First, the Roman Catholic opposition to birth control is part of a much larger theological argument which links artificial conception to the sanctity of life and the sacredness of marriage.  Though we may argue the particular case of birth control differently, we do share with Roman Catholics their deep concern for the sanctity of life and the importance of understanding marriage as between a man and a woman.  Don’t forget that some contraceptive devices are abortive and the heart of the same sex marriage debate is built around a view of sex with is neither unitive nor procreative.  So, it is not as easy as one thinks to separate these issues into tiny pieces.   Second, the deeper issue behind this struggle is the tension between personal freedom and religious liberty.  In the last few decades Americans have primarily focused on- and, indeed, have championed – personal freedoms.  However, America has historically protected personal freedom AND religious liberty with almost an equal fervor.  Today, the former has trumped the latter.  As Christians, it is important that we not forget the important principle of religious liberty.  Churches have the right to define their own boundaries and police their own borders.  The moment that is taken away, it is a sad day, even if it is done in the name of personal freedom.  It is wrong for the government to force the Roman Catholic church or Methodist or Presbyterian or some other to compromise a point of conscience which we consider part of our faithful Christian identity and witness.

Thus, although the United Methodist church officially supports “adequate public funding for family planning services” this should not be construed (in my view) as standing against our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in this time.  So, even if one might not agree with the Roman Catholic view on this issue, we can agree on the principle of religious liberty.  Contraceptives are, in fact, widely available for those who want them. It is hard to press this issue entirely into a “freedom of universal access” right.   Thus, I support the Roman Catholic church’s opposition to this provision in the health care bill and I hope that the government has the wisdom to understand the difference between personal freedom and religious liberty regarding this issue.

The West as the “fastest growing mission field in the world”

Some readers of this blog may not know that I had a life as a missiologist before I became the President of Asbury Theological Seminary.  I had the privilege of teaching in the area of missiology for nearly two decades.  I have a long appreciation for the significance of the emphasis on unreached people groups and the transition from seeing missions as about “going to places” to “going to peoples.”  With the exponential rise in global relocation (both immigration and emigration) it is increasingly difficult to tie “peoples” to “places” as we once did.  It is therefore difficult to speak with a singular voice about the state of the church in a particular place, especially the United States which is marked by such diversity.  Certainly the ethnic churches in the United  States are among the fastest growing churches in this country and, by any standard of measurement, quite a few of these church planting movements could easily be declared to be “vibrant”…..

(Dr. Tennent’s full post can be seen here on where this post has been featured. It has been featured on Seedbed because Dr. Tennent has become the first of the Seedbed Sponsored Blogs.)