Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Should Kathy Griffin be "Locked Up"?

Recently, the comedian Kathy Griffin published a photograph in which she was holding a mask with the likeness of President Donald Trump. The mask was altered to appear she was holding the bloody, severed head of the President.  The image evoked a wide range of responses in the United States, ranging from outrage to defense.

While scrolled through Facebook today, I read a post by a conservative Trump supporter, which said, "[What Kathy Griffin did] should be a crime and she should be locked up..."  This begs the question:  was it a crime and should she be prosecuted? There are quite a number of nuances and angles to the reaction to the photograph, but I am going to focus on the question above.

Before I respond to that question, let me lay all of my cards on the table.  I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat.  I approach politics at arm's length from a post-conservative theological perspective. Also, having been a police officer and detective in the past, I am very concerned about how the law is applied. I am not a fan of President Trump, the person, but I do respect the office he holds and am willing to give him a shot (I felt the same about President Obama [see my other posts]).

From a personal conscience perspective, I find Kathy Griffin's photograph to be repugnant. The image she published was, as Chelsea Clinton said, "vile."  It reaches a new level of disrespect for the office of the President and the person, Donald Trump, regardless of a person's political perspective and personal feelings about the man. Sadly, Griffin is causing Trump supporters to generalize and lump all left-leaning citizens into Griffin's political and psychological location.

All that being said, I want to respond to the question at hand.  Really, there are five questions that need to be answered, and I will try to respond to them as succinctly as possible.

The first question is: Is it a crime? My response is no for a couple of reasons. 
  1. Intent.  Regardless of how repugnant the image, we have to ask ourselves what she intended by the photograph. For those who are defending President Trump and voted for him, the image is at least a personal insult and at worst a threat to the President's life. I do not, however, think she had any intent on actually causing the injury to the President depicted in the image. Furthermore, there is no evidence she has the means or opportunity to cause the injury. I do believe that the image reveals the depravity of Griffin's heart, but her intent was neither a warning to the President that what she planned to do to him what was depicted in the picture nor was it encouraging someone else to do this to the President. I do believe her intent was to protest the President, albeit in a disgusting manner. I do believe that she wishes something like that would happen to the President, but, like it or not, that is not unlawful. In other words, her intent was to offend, not physically injure the President. Thus, there is no criminal intent.  I will talk a little more about being prosecuted for our thoughts a little more below. 
  2. The Plan and Action. In order to be prosecuted for making a threat, there needs to be a plan and some sort of action toward completing that plan. There is no evidence that either of these exist.
The second question is: Should it be a crime? Building on my reasons above, my answer is no. Since there was no actual threat, no plan in place, no attempt to decapitate the President, and no actual injuries, my response is no, it should not be a crime.  Here is my reason:
  1. Thought Policing.  The basic question regarding thought policing is whether a person can be prosecuted for what they think. If there was no actual threat, no plan in place, no attempt to decapitate the President, it leaves simply her deep disregard for the President. In other words, it is simply her thoughts portrayed in a photograph. For some Trump supporters I have seen on social media, her thoughts should be criminalized. By that same reasoning, a Christian's thoughts would be criminal if he or she disagreed with a law or legal decision to, say, legalize gay marriage. 
  2. Overkill. Here is where I get a little theological. Humans have a tendency, when injured, to respond, not in-kind, but with retribution that exceeds the actual injury. Say, for example, that someone steals a bicycle from me. The actual loss may only be $100. But the emotional response tends to drive us to seek retribution far beyond the actual damages.  When someone steals from me, they offend me in some way. I am so angry, I want to punish the person beyond what they actually took from me. In other words, I want to take back more than what they actually took. When someone steals from me,  I turn into Al Capone in The Untouchables: "I want him dead! I want his house burnt to the ground! I want to go to his house and [urinate] on his ashes! I want him dead! I want his family dead! I want his house burned to the ground!" Yes, my illustration may be overkill itself, but you get my point. God knows this about humans, and in Old Testament set a standard in the Jewish ancient law, which we call the "eye-for-an-eye" principle. Some have misinterpreted this to mean the principle was prescriptive. In other words, they interpreted this to mean that the standard was the minimum basis for retribution, and the victim should automatically receive restitution for the actual damages. The problem with this approach is that it initiates retribution beyond the actual damages. Actually, the principle was restrictive. In other words, it was the most you could see in restitution for an injury, and, if possible, the victim should seek to forgive the offender (seems like I have heard that somewhere before). In regards to Kathy Griffin's photograph, to suggest that it should be criminal for what she did is overkill because her intent was to offend in the affective sense. To use the punitive force of the government to punish her for her offensive thoughts and photograph exceeds the actual damages caused by the photograph. 
This leads to our third question: should she be locked up?  Based on my reasoning above, my response is no. It appears to me that she is already receiving the punishment that she brought on herself. I don't know if she truly regrets that photograph or she is simply trying to ward off the negative onslaught of criticism, but she is reaping what she has sown.

The fourth question, which I am sure someone will raise, is: what if a person is "inspired" by Griffin's photograph and attempts to injure the President?  Is Griffin responsible?  It depends on if there was collusion on the part of Griffin and the person. But, again, there is no evidence that she seeks to inspire this type of violence. She simply wants to offend the sensibilities of those who support the President.

The final question and response are genuinely pastoral:  how should the sincere Christian respond to Griffin's photograph? I am deeply troubled by her photograph. It is indicative of the widening division occurring in our nation and in the Christian church. Instead of using the influence of her career to bring unity, that photograph only enrages and divides. I don't want to discourage anyone from participating in exercising their Constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of religion, and the right to vote. Be involved.  Do your civic duty. As Christians, however, we have a mandate to not confuse being an American with being a citizen of the Kingdom of God. We have a calling to act like Jesus:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus... (Philippians 2:1-5). 

Furthermore, a sincere Christian's response should driven by the fruit of the Spirit, not a blind commitment to a political party.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"The Real Roots of the Emergent Church"

A video, obviously, from a conservative viewpoint on the Emergent Church...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Good Read

Here is a blog I found that may be helpful for some of us pastors...

Seven Reasons Why Pastors Quit...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"Where is the house you will build for me?"

Isaiah 66.1-4:
"This is what the Lord says: 'Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?' declares the Lord. 'This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.'"

What folly! Did you honestly think that you were going to be the one who builds a church institution and church building that could contain the Lord over all creation?  What folly! God will not esteem you or be in awe of any grand gesture of your hand! You are obsessed with creating something that validates how great you are. Did you honestly think you were going to "Wow!" God?  You acted as though God needs you so you can build a house where he can be safe. Ha! What folly!  Pride!

The one who God esteems is humble and is poor in spirit - the one who grasps the omnipotence of the God of all creation. The one who God esteems is the one who humbles himself or herself in contrition and worship. He or she knows God's word and trembles.

Notice they were doing all the things required by the law. They were worshipping with the practices prescribed. But, "The most sacred exercises of true God-given religion are like the worst sins when they are divorced from humility of spirit" (NIV Bible Commentary 1145).

Monday, February 25, 2013

Corporate Worship Values Survey

I wanted to provide everyone with the results of the survey I posted on Facebook.  There are four things that I am going to give you.  First, I am going to provide the percentage results of the responses.  Second, I will give you a visual graph of the responses.  Third, for the value questions, I will give you the values points awarded and the value rating for each category. I hope this generates some discussion.  I would love to hear your interpretation of this very basic data. So, lets begin with the demographic stuff:



Association to the Church:

For those respondents who are pastors:


Ok, let's start looking at the value sets.  These were the instructions: "You are being asked to participate in a worship values clarification survey. For each question, you are provided four ratings at the top of the rating scale for two value options. Please select along the rating scale which option you value more compared to the other item. For example, if the two options were Chocolate & Vanilla, you will rate which you value the most compared to the other. If you choose "3-Chocolate" you are saying that chocolate is a "3" and Vanilla is a "0" (you don't value vanilla at all). If you like chocolate a little more than vanilla, you would choose "2- Chocolate". If you value vanilla a little more than chocolate, then you would choose "2-Vanilla." If you love vanilla and would not value chocolate at all, then you would choose "3-Vanilla."

Truth vs. Meaning

1.  The first values clarification question I asked was: "Which is more important to you, the preacher proclaiming the 'Truth' in scripture or the preacher guiding you to find 'meaning' in scripture for your life right now?"  Here are the responses:

33.3% of respondents value "Truth" in preaching from scripture and assign no value to discovering meaning.
33.3% of respondents assign value to finding "meaning" in preaching from scripture but feel that the proclaimed "Truth" of scripture is more important to them.
20.8% of respondents assign value to "truth" but feel that finding "meaning" in scripture through preaching is more important.
12.5% of respondents value finding "meaning" from scripture through preaching and assign no value to "Truth."

Value points:  Truth - 96 Points
                     Meaning - 34 Points

Value Differential- 62 Points in favor of truth

2.  The second values clarification question I asked was: "Which do you value more compared to the other option: a worship service that appeals more to those outside of the church or a service that appeals to those that are already members/regular attenders of the church?" Here are the responses:

12.5% of respondents feel that a worship service should be designed sole for the purpose of appealing to outsiders.  They assign no value to designing a service for members/regular attenders.
25% of respondents feel that designing a service to appeal to members/regular attenders is important, but feel that it is more important to design the service to appeal to outsiders.
47.9 % of respondents feel that appealing to outsiders is important, but it is more important to design worship services to appeal to members/regular attenders.
14.6% of respondents feel worships services should be designed to appeal solely to the members/regular attenders of the church.  They assign no value to outsiders.

Value points: Outsiders - 65 points
                    Members/Regular Attenders - 79 points

Value Differential - 14 points in favor of members/regular attenders

3.  The third values clarification question I asked was: "Which do you value most, spontaneity (flowing in the Holy Spirit) in a worship service or an orderly, pre-planned worship service?"  Here were the responses:

 22.9% of respondents value spontaneity in worship and assign no value to order in worship.
37.5% of respondents feel that order in worship is important, but it is more important to be spontaneous in our worship.
29.2% of respondents feel that spontaneity in worship is important, but it is more important to have order in worship.
10.4% of respondents value order in worship and assign no value to spontaneity.

Value Points: Spontaneity - 83 points
                     Order in Worship - 61 points

Value differential - 22 points in favor of spontaneity in worship

4.  The fourth value clarification question I asked was: "Is it more important to you to have people in the church band/orchestra that are willing but not necessarily skilled or is it more important to have skilled singers/musicians?"  Here were the responses:

This is an interesting one, because there is no differential in value.  The respondents are divide equally on this issue:

12.5% of respondents value the willingness of individuals to be in the church band/orchestra.  They assign no value to skill in music.
37.5% of respondents feel that being musically skilled is important, but it is more important to allow people in the band/orchestra due to their willingness.
37.5% of respondents feel that being willing but not necessarily skilled is important, but it is more important to be a skilled musician.
12.5% of respondents feel that it is important to only have skilled musicians in the band/orchestra and assign no value to willingness.

Value Points: Willingness - 72 points
                     Skill - 72 points

Value differential - 0 points

5.  The fifth value clarification question I asked was: "Is having a powerful altar service more important to you or is having preaching more important to you?"  Here are the responses:

6.3% of respondents feel that a powerful altar service is very important and assign no value to preaching in a worship service.
18.8% of respondents feel that preaching is important, but it is more important to have a powerful altar service.
47.9% of respondents feel that a powerful altar service is important, but preaching is more important.
27.1% of respondents feel that preaching is most important and assign no value to an altar service.

Value Points: Altar Service - 50 points
                    Preaching - 94 points

Value Differential - 44 points in favor of preaching

Now, let's compare the value differential for the highest value categories:

So, there you have it.  Now, let's hear some of your interpretations from this simple survey...