Gold Coast Bereans

Out of Ghana, West Africa; Christian hearts and critical minds seeking, speaking and writing the truth with love. This is a conversation of a group of friends, now living in the USA and the UK, who have known each other for more than 20 years.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

BALANCE, POLITICAL/MEDIA POLARIZATION and the CHILD of GOD

The recent discussion we had on the way we view the portrayal of Ghana in particular and Africa in general in the media raises several issues for me. There are some Americans who bristle at the pictures of Katrina that were shown around the world. I remember the President caught some flak for refusing help from Cuba (it seems this was real help because Cuba is very used to post-hurricane relief and was well located to help), but I can see how the President must have felt. A far cry from his reported statement a few years ago, that "Africa is a country with many problems."

I have often wondered about some of the "good" Bible people who had some of their most disgraceful acts recorded for us. David and Bathsheba, Judah and Tamar, and Noah and his daughters come to mind. And all the family dirt about the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is well documented in the Bible. Then there are those we may consider as "bad" characters like Onan. There's even a practice named after him. But maybe there was a lot more to his life than his unique copulatory style (the pleasure without the responsibility)- something a part of me sympathizes with ;) . Then remember Esau; you seldom hear his name without the comment: "he sold his birthright for a meal".

So when the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, AIDS researchers and even well-meaning Missionaries deliberately, mistakenly. unconsciously or subconsciously misrepresent Africa by selectively portraying the bad aspect in order to boost TV ratings, raise further grant money, raise more money for missionary work or simply to let the audience see/hear what they already expect, what should our response be?

Are we not also being dishonest if we selectively portray the nice side in our attempt to restore balance? Should we just crusade against their dishonesty, and how should we seek to expose their lack of balance keeping in mind the greater purposes of Christ's Kingdom which should supercede our ethnic or patriotic pride?

If we attempt to [counter] show only the good side of Africa, we will also be accused of dishonesty, and the average westerner will tune out and just not see those images, or they will disbelieve them. A possible parallel is the sweet "Cotton candy' messages which dominate Christian Cable Television. It rings phoney to anyone who knows the Bible well. Even Larry King, by no means a christian, pointed it out when he interviewed Joel Osteen, who is arguably the foremost apostle with a lower case "a" of this line of thought

One approach even tries to expose their hypocrisy or blindness by retaliating. It's not hard to find negative images here in the USA. I bet I could find pictures of roaches 2x bigger than any found in Ghana right here in central Phoenix. They are called sewer roaches. Huge monsters, frightening to adults and children alike. And I can tell you about other critters, including scorpions which climb into your bed and sting your wife at night! I could highlight the polygamy practiced to date in some places in this country. Some of these guys are married to a woman and her daughters. But such attempts and such a response is futile.

This retaliatory or sometimes condemnatory "in your face" approach also turns people off. They will be offended and not listen. You and I know that it is very unlikely that the Holy Spirit will soon be using the public utterances in Falwell and his ilk to convict any homosexual of sin. Likewise some prominent professed Christians in the public eye will never reach single mothers, blacks or immigrants that way.

In the secular world, the labelled left-wing press- Al Gore, Michael Moore, New York Times, and NPR ( I really do not understand why some label NPR this way but I am just an alien) and the labelled right wing press- daytime TV, Christian radio, AM radio and Fox News have become more and more polarized, with no-one listening to the other. Now even the audience of one doesn't generally listen to the other.

Soon, cable companies and other marketers will target these audiences separately. They will realize that you can sell cable packages more effectively if you bundle Fox with TBN- and incidentally the entertainment channels that go with Fox include some of the most sordid. And you can add NASCAR and wrestling, and market PCs, SUVs, American Automobiles Cars and drugs for Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy. :-)

On the other package you would have the History channel, Discovery, NPR, and then sports like basketball, soccer (including Mexican Soccer) and scrabble. And the advertisers there will sell Apple Mac computers, orange juice and the Toyota Prius. :-)

Writing as a prophet with a lower case "p". I want you to mark my words; this will happen. And it will polarize America more.

But here is my take and I believe this to be the good news. We must take the approach of the Bible. Seek the truth, and portray the dirt as well as the good with honesty, here (in the USA) as well as there (back in Ghana). Those who truly seek the truth (and we shouldn't worry too much about the others) will learn to differentiate our message from others out there. The time...now is, when the true worshippers will seek to worship Him in spirit and in truth, FOR SUCH THE FATHER SEEKS TO WORSHIP HIM.

My humble view. No doubt I am wrong in many places, and I would love your feedback.-Calorius

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

God's law, man's law, the visitor in a foreign land, etc

An expatriate working in Ghana recently shared on a blog I read how he had to make a “required” entry back into Ghana from Togo after his passport was stolen and an intransigent Immigration Officer at the border refused to allow him in. He spoke of being thankful to God for a safe arrival back into Ghana. I posted a comment , partly tongue in cheek, that even though I understood why he had to get back in, I would not attribute the manner of re-entry to Divine intervention. He responded and asked me a question about thanksgiving in such circumstances.

This issue is closely related to the discussion we had a year ago about breaking man-made laws, obedience to God and the liberties we take and justify, so I will share it here. The way I see it, he had a valid visa to be in Ghana in his missing passport and the only way he could get a new passport and have things sorted out would be to get back to Accra. I perfectly understand his circumstances. You can read his account at
http://liveafrica.blogspot.com/2006/08/14-hours-monday-31st-july-2006.html

A year or so ago, I posed the following question to my brothers and we had the ensuing discussion.
Is it a sin for a Christian from Ghana to work while on a three-month visit to the UK or USA? Is presumption to pray to God for a "live-in" job in Maryland while on such a visit knowing that it is against the letter of the law? Can we argue that this is one end of the spectrum of corruption and personal benefit under false pretences? Can an undocumented or illegal worker claim to be obedient to God in his daily life when he is working illegally? - Robbo



I honestly do not have a clear-cut answer to that questions. All I can say is that if I were a medical student doing electives in the UK or at the Bronx Lebanon hospital in New York, I would not pass up an opportunity to make some extra cash washing and packing dishes in a minimum wage job. If you can prove to me that I am robbing some one of a decent livelihood, then I may rethink that. It is honest work which no one else wants to do at minimum wage. Otherwise we will all be sinning when we go more than one mile per hour above the speed limit. – Gaius Texas



What are we to do with human laws? To answer this question I think we need to differentiate between categories of human law, namely:

1. Human laws that are in keeping with God's law.
2. Human laws that violate the letter or spirit of Gods law (sub classified perhaps, into those that by being obeyed affect us negatively vs. those that by being obeyed affect others negatively
3. Human laws that neither keep nor violate God's law but have some rational basis e.g. maintaining order, providing tax-paying citizens with jobs etc.
4. Human laws that neither keep nor violate God's law but appear baseless or entirely arbitrary.

I believe the degree of our obligation to obey depends on the category into which a particular law falls. In other words, I believe it is not always a simple matter of obedience/ disobedience (e.g. category 1). Instead I believe that often, particularly when dealing with categories 2 through 4, discretion and proportionality play important roles. There are many scriptural examples to support this view.

Rahab and the spies, the Disciples plucking corn on the Sabbath, healing on the Sabbath, the Apostles decision to continue preaching the gospel despite clear warnings not to, etc. –
Gaius Columbus



I find the above analysis very helpful. I think that even among God's laws, there are levels, so to speak. Jesus did say there was a First and greatest commandment implying that there might be a second, third, and by implication a last and least commandment.
The Apostle Paul however cautions that because of the infiniteness of Him who made the laws, one must be careful about even the little ones. In many lists of sins in the New Testament, stuff like malice, envy and gossip is placed along with murder, idolatry and witchcraft without any categorization.

Another way of looking at it was taught me in a medical ethics lecture: There are LEGAL laws, ETHICAL laws, and MORAL (in our case, Christian) laws.

Legal laws are the ones made and enacted by government, including all civil laws, municipal codes, home-owner's association bye-laws, international law, common law, case law, traffic laws and codes, and the rest. (Including for Robbo’s benefit- copyright law ;-)

And then there are ethical laws, which are defined in this system as those codes of behavior which are held by people of a certain profession, group or association. For example, the practice among doctors not to abandon a patient who loses insurance, or not to date someone they have taken care of before. These are not illegal things to do.

Finally there are moral laws, which are the principles that individuals have on a more personal basis, based on their own internal conscience, religion or beliefs. In a perfect society, such as Thomas More’s Utopia or Marx's Socialist state (please don’t shoot me, I have said it) these three laws will coincide. But such a society does not now exist, and we Christians believe it will not exist until the Millennium or in heaven (or some other future dispensation).

Therefore we live in a time when the three laws can be different, or sometimes will even clash That is why God says in Deuteronomy (describing the current time) that He would implant His law upon the heart (thereby making it a moral code) so as to make the legal (it was a theocracy at that time) code and the ethical code (added by Scribes, Pharisees, and Moses, etc) irrelevant.

Divorce is an example, expounded by Jesus Himself: "because of the hardness of your hearts Moses gave you this law, but from the beginning it was not so." Other examples are in Matt. 5, the Sermon on the Mount, where our Lord Jesus lists a number of legal and/or ethical laws, like an eye for an eye, etc, and teaches that FOR CHRISTIANS and for HIS DISCIPLES, the moral code is SUPERIOR.

My own guide is a paraphrase of Achimota School rule number 1 which I will put as follows "Every breach of the Holy Spirit's prompting is a breach of God's law." - Calorius


So in what G Columbus Category (1,2,3 or 4) do you guys place my questions? specifically is it presumptuous to pray to God prior to one’s visa interview in Accra, that the Consular official will grant your application so that you can go on a visit to UK for three months during summer break from school during which time you might find yourself stocking the shelves at the Tesco in Tooting Broadway? – Robbo (former McDonald’s UK trainee)



In the absence of compelling reasons to do otherwise, I think it is unlawful/sinful to work while on a visitors' Visa. However, because this is not strictly a moral law as Calorius has explained I do believe that there will be situations, perhaps rare, in which this rule may be justly subordinated to others. The specific circumstances will determine when it is right to do so.

For example, it may be okay to work if survival literally depends on doing so (e.g. working 'illegally' to meet dire financial needs or to pay for costly medical care of a sick family member).
Alternatively, at least theoretically, it may be okay to work if obedience to immigration law means violating another law. The harder question is what to do when our reasons for breaking the rules are good but not compellingly moral.

I think we struggle because we know that this activity is essentially harmless (Americans are not clamoring at the gates for these menial jobs). Thus while a person's survival may not be the issue, these jobs offer the potential to make his (or her) life and the lives of his family back home in Ghana a little better.

I do not believe that there are simple answers to any of these questions. It may seem that I am promoting situational morality but there are situations for which actions are neither unquestionably right nor wrong but instead depend critically on the circumstances surrounding them. Is this a little like the disciples plucking corn during the Sabbath because they were hungry or is that the wrong analogy?

A person who works in this country to take care of his family and does not disadvantage Americans is probably not breaking the spirit of the law. Other difficult scenarios apply when human laws are applied unequally or are motivated not by justice but by economic advantage, not of the people, but of special interest groups.

An example is the severe restrictions placed on foreign physicians (J-1 visa holders) wishing to immigrate to the US, a policy guided more by politics (the AMA wishing to unfairly maintain a monopoly over the job market) than by principle (need). These are difficult issues and ones perhaps best addressed by weighing the unique circumstances surrounding particular problems. However I believe that as a general principle we--Christians--are to obey all laws unless there are compelling moral (I include survival) reasons not to do so. Incidentally there is an entire field of scholarship called casuistry (originated in several centuries ago in the church) that is devoted to tackling such thorny moral issues. – Gaius Columbus

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