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Do you find it offensive?

August 13, 2013

Did you see the article in the news this week where a judge in Tennessee, while hearing a case on a dispute between the parents as to which last name a baby would have, decided that the child’s first name needed to be changed?  It seems that they named the little tyke “Messiah.”  This offended the judge who said “The word Messiah is a title, and it’s a title that has been earned by only one person and that person is Jesus Christ.”  She then ordered a name change for the baby.

OK, as a Christian the word Messiah means a lot to me.  Given my druthers I’d rather not see that name popping up on baby name lists.  But the key question here is not what I wish the baby had been named but whether anyone except the parents gets to choose the name.  Clearly this name offended this judge and she thought she had the right to change that name.  As the mother is appealing I am sure we haven’t heard the last of it.

More broadly, the question is this – at what point do we Christians (or for that matter anyone) have the right to use the power of the law to eliminate, curtail or regulate attitudes and actions we find offensive or fear may be harmful to our faith or even our view of how society ought to be?  This is the foundational question of “the culture war.”  Christian culture warriors point out all sorts of horrible things and call fellow believers to “take a stand.”

Clearly this judge thought giving babies the name Messiah was a place that she wanted to take a stand.  I suspect that most believers would rather stand somewhere else.  We may not like the name being used but we simply don’t see this as a war issue.  However, if recent history is any judge, we will probably see other Christians feeling compelled to go to war.  Negative reaction, which is already well started, will be portrayed as an assault on our faith.  Complaints will arise that it isn’t fair that we can’t insult other religions in any way but it is OK for folks to insult us.

Sigh.

Here are some questions that I think we ought to ask ourselves before going to war.

–          Who is picking this fight?  The government reports that there are already several hundred kids out there named Messiah.  The judge picked this fight.  Is the issue that offends us so important that we want to start a fight where none exists?

–          What are the consequences of not fighting?  Set aside the predictions of the end of faith as we know it.   We’ve seen too many of them.  Remember the Christian furor over the DaVinci Code?  Well, the book came out, the movie was made, and none of the horrible predictions came true.  In a world where millions of Christians live under persecution daily, where does this issue rank?

–          How will the fight impact the way the world sees us?  Please don’t get in a huff over that question.  My point is this – in the world today many of the issues we fight over are almost incomprehensible to large segments of society and that matters.  I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had about faith that get shipwrecked on issues like this.

–          If we must go to war we need to do a better job of explaining why a war is needed.  When I was in business I used to supervise engineers.  I always heard all sorts of urgent requests for costly and time-consuming needs I could barely understand.  My rule of thumb was “If you can’t explain the need to me in a way I can understand you probably don’t need it.”  We get offended because we’ve often failed to explain our faith to our pluralistic society.  The problem is us, not the culture.  Want proof?  Look at Vietnam and Iraq.  Today years, or even decades, after these wars people still are confused about why we fought them.

For the most part, I consider myself a conscientious objector in the culture war.  I want people to share my values, not be dragged into reluctantly obeying them.  The only thing that will stop people from naming babies Messiah is to have a love relationship with the real one

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