Four major social issues today are abortion, the LGBT movement, legalizing marijuana, and so-called "mercy killing" or euthanasia. In America, we could also add the "right to carry"—that is, to carry guns. You might wonder why we mention these issues. Don't we already talk about them enough? Actually, if we were to anonymously survey our membership, especially our teens, you might be surprised by what many think regarding each of these issues. Why?
We are all products of the world and culture in which we live. We may understand this academically, but often fail to realize how strong that influence is when we are actually put to the test. Those living today, from Baby Boomers to Millennials and "Generation Z," live in a world where political incorrectness and traditional values are presented as the greatest evils. Few realize or admit how much the world influences their thinking. This is true of those in the Church as well as those outside.
Our children are alarmingly immersed in this "good is evil and evil is good" cesspool, and they do not have the experience to fully evaluate what is happening around them. The Book of Proverbs is in the Bible "to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion" (Proverbs 1:4). Today's youth are not inherently more evil than previous generations. However, lacking the experience to compare and the wisdom to discern, they are taken in by ideas far more dangerous than some earlier generations were exposed to. This is why active parenting is so vital. Parents must counteract the influence of friends, school and all forms of entertainment. But if the parents are also absorbing the values of this world, how can they teach their children right from wrong?
What is it that makes an action right or wrong? Is it human reason? Is it majority vote? The answers to these questions may seem obvious, but are they?
Persuaded by Propaganda?
Political correctness today dictates that you cannot say, act, react or do anything that makes someone else feel bad about himself—unless that person subscribes to traditional or biblical values. Those people are fair game for anyone, including academia and the media, to insult, criticize and ridicule. Believing in a biblical standard of right and wrong is politically incorrect, and therefore unacceptable.
It is our nature to desire to fit in, to go along with the prevailing view, and few are willing to buck the tide and be different. Furthermore, there is a continuous propaganda campaign around us selling false values, and it is easy to be swayed by often-repeated clever reasoning (2 Corinthians 11:3; 2 Peter 2:19).
The worldview of those in God's Church ought to be radically different from that of those around us. We assume that those sitting with us each Sabbath share our worldview. However, those who have been with the Church of God for several decades probably remember how shocked they were at how quickly members abandoned the truth and leapt back into the world when heresies were introduced. Peter compares them to dogs returning to their own vomit and sows wallowing in their mire after being cleaned up (2 Peter 2:22).
One has to wonder how this could have happened. Were they never convicted of the truth, as we were? Or did they secretly chafe under God's law? Did they resent keeping the biblical Feasts? Did they disagree with tithing? Had they never given up the Trinity doctrine, inspired as it was by pagan Greek philosophers? During and following the rebellion of the mid-90s, many members said they disagreed with the Church's doctrines on these and other matters. What happened? In many ways the answer is found in Romans 8:7: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be."
The entire history of God's working with mankind shows how quickly people return to the world around them. Time and again, Israel abandoned the true worship of God by blending heathen practices with the ways of God. As Elijah challenged the people of his day, "How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him" (1 Kings 18:21).
This desire to live in two different worlds is a strong temptation. Many who grow up "in the Church" remind me of the 1950s television drama, "I Led Three Lives." It was based on the true-life story of Herbert Philbrick. All that his friends and family saw was his role as husband, father and white-collar worker, but he had two other lives. He also worked as a communist spy, and he was actually a double-agent working for the FBI as a counter-communist spy. He was constantly on guard to protect his credibility with whichever side was watching him. One can only imagine the stress this created!
Similarly, some members and teens live three lives. Friends and neighbors see one life. A second life is lived on the Sabbath, around the ministry and members who are viewed as solidly in the Church. Then there is the third life, away from the Church and around friends who are wrapped up in the culture of this world. Many young people describe their experience before baptism as having one foot in the world and the other in the Church. They desire the world, but keep a toe in the Church, just in case.
However, this article is not about young people only. It is about all members, and about those things we may stubbornly hang on to. What is it that you have not been willing to give up? Do you disagree with our stance regarding marijuana? Apparently, some do. Do you believe that so-called "mercy killing" is okay, even though one of the Ten Commandments tells us "Do not kill [commit murder]"? What about abortion? And do you privately believe that God made homosexuals and lesbians to be "born that way," that He put males in female bodies and vice versa? Or do you believe the Bible, that these abominations are choices people make (Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:18–32)?
Marijuana is an interesting case in point. In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many people still believe it is harmless and beneficial. Please note: We do not deny that there may be medicinal properties found in part of this weed, but the medical benefits do not generally appear to come from the hallucinogenic ingredient, THC. "But it's a natural substance!" some will say. "It's now legal!" So are poison ivy and tobacco! Is it not odd that at the very time when there is an all-out war against tobacco, there is a push to fill your lungs with another kind of smoke?
So, let me be clear on this subject. We will not hold back from telling the truth to the world and to the Church!
Recreational marijuana is of this world! It falls into the category of the "lust of the flesh," and God instructs us through His Apostle not to love the world (1 John 2:15–17). All this talk about "medical marijuana" is a smoke screen for legalizing a substance people use to get high. Are any of us so lacking in discernment as not to recognize that (Ephesians 2:2–3; 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:5)?
Our booklet Marijuana: What They Aren't Telling You lays out the facts, but if someone is hell-bent on using marijuana, even this fine booklet will not convince him or her otherwise. Neither will the fact that we give examples of how marijuana has shattered marriages, destroyed lives, and led some to go further into a drug culture with disastrous effects. The problem with this is that facts do not change the heart, and as we learn from Jeremiah, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).
When people think the world is ahead of God and the way He leads His Church on an issue, there is something wrong with their thinking. It is God and the laws of God that spell out proper behavior. That is the only standard that counts when discussing right and wrong.
Why the Law?
Jesus summed up the law with two statements: You shall love God with all your heart, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–39). Both come from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:9–18). This tells us that the foundation of God's law is love. We understand that love is outgoing concern. This is another way of saying that we are to treat others with the same care and concern with which we want others to treat us (Matthew 7:12). This does not mean we must agree with, accept, condone, support or celebrate every act or behavior.
Today we are expected to agree with the LGBTQ community. If Johnny wants to be JoAnne, we are expected to encourage him. "Yet," as Dr. Paul McHugh, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, explained in the Wall Street Journal, "policy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment and prevention. This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken—it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes" ("Transgender Surgery Isn't the Solution," June 12, 2014).
Dr. McHugh does not set the standard for right and wrong, but his comments demonstrate that there are knowledgeable voices (he is not alone) who agree with Scripture on the issue. As he explains in this same op-ed article, gender confusion is a form of body-image dysphoria, a state of dissatisfaction with one's body. Another example of dysphoria is the anorexic or bulimic person who thinks she is fat, when in fact she is dangerously underweight and malnourished. To encourage her in her confusion would border on the criminal, so why should we encourage the individual who denies reality in terms of his or her sexuality? As Dr. McHugh says, we "are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered."
Dr. McHugh explains that Johns Hopkins was the first hospital in the United States to do sex reassignment surgery but discontinued the practice ten years later in the mid-70s. A 2011 study at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden supported that decision. As he explained, "The study revealed that beginning about 10 years after having the surgery, the transgendered began to experience increasing mental difficulties. Most shockingly, their suicide mortality rose almost 20-fold above the comparable nontransgender population" (Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2014). These facts, rather than defining right and wrong, merely reinforce the truth laid down by our Creator.
Sexual confusion is not new. More than 3,400 years ago, it was written, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination" (Leviticus 18:22). And nearly 2,000 years ago we find that there were women who acted as men and men who acted as women (lesbians and homosexuals) (Romans 1:21–22, 24, 26–28). Not only does God condemn these behaviors, but also those who "approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:32).
As with sexual confusion, many psychological problems also arise when we take the life of another. Articles on abortion in Tomorrow's World magazine and the telecast "Tiny Fingers and Toes" give ample evidence that many have serious regrets, sometimes years later, for taking the life of the most vulnerable. God understands the natural consequences of destroying life within the womb (Exodus 21:22–25).
"Mercy killing," or euthanasia, may appear to be mercy, but to deliberately take the life of or assist in the suicide of an elderly, depressed, or critically ill person, neither takes into account the Sixth Commandment (Exodus 20:13), nor considers God's ultimate destiny for mankind. While God does not require us to artificially prolong life, and there is nothing wrong with palliative care, at the same time we understand that there is purpose in human suffering (Romans 8:16–18). Even Christ suffered in this life (Hebrews 5:8). We should neither take the life of the tiniest among us, nor artificially shorten that of the oldest, no matter the human rationale. Yes, there may be suffering related to death, but when God tells us not to do something, we should not reason around His command. He knows what is best for the long term.
Living in Light
Why is loving God and loving our neighbor right? The answer is found in the difference between light and darkness. The commandments enlighten us. They give us understanding (Isaiah 8:19–20). Demonic spirits do not bring light, nor does human reason, unless it is aligned with the word of God. The source of that light is God and Jesus Christ (John 1:1–9). We see the connection between the light of the law and its source in 1 John 1:5–8.
In other words, who God is determines what makes certain things right or wrong. The precepts of God are merely statements of who He is. God's law arises from His holy, righteous character. To put it another way, we learn about Him through His law. The law instructs us on His value system. God is love, and His law teaches us what it means to love.
This world is filled with hate, often disguised as love. We have ample warnings against these worldly deceptions: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8) and "do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2).
The truth is too precious a possession to trade it away for lies!