The Shack: Bad Theology-Good Theodicy

The Shack Movie

Recently, I took in “The Shack” at a theater in my hometown of Kernersville with a group from church. It had been some years since I read the book (authored by William P. Young) after its controversial release. When reading the book back then, I noted that there was much to disagree with from a theological perspective regarding the composition of God. I also was concerned with the Universalist perspective that seemed to be nesting within Young’s text. However, I also found that there was truth in its pages regarding the benevolence of God when the characters in the cast (mainly Mac) encountered the existential problem of suffering and pain. After viewing the recent movie, I observe bad theology yet good theodicy.

In the seminary topic of theology proper, a student will study the doctrine of God. Who is he? What is he composed of (spirit or a body)? What about the Trinity? Is the Godhead composed of three parts or is it one Divine unity in three persons? What about the metaphysical composition of Jesus? Was he simply a great human prophet whose ministry God blessed or was he God himself? In treating these questions, conclusions should be drawn from what is observed in scripture about God. In arriving at who God is (understanding that we cannot have a complete understanding of this because of a limited human perspective), an orthodox Christian perspective (or that perspective which supports the traditional understanding of Christianity from its historic roots) is gleaned from the pages of the Bible itself.

From this jumping off point (an analysis of scripture), we can make observations about who God is (in a limited sense of course). In “The Shack,” the Godhead or Trinity is figured prominently. We observe that the three persons of the Trinity are presented in the movie as three different human beings. I will assume that the reader will know the general descriptions of the three people portrayed as the Trinity in the movie and also the general plot of the movie. As God the Father is portrayed as an African-American female, the main problem is that God, the Father, has a human body. In Colossians 1:15-19, it states that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Thus, we observe two persons of the Trinity in this passage with the Father being invisible and that he (the Father) could/can be observed in the person of Jesus when he ministered on the earth and also now in heaven. So, God, the Father, is immaterial yet Jesus is God in the flesh. Thus, when “Papa” (the Father) is displayed in the movie with any sort of body, this would not be an accurate portrayal of God the Father from a Biblical perspective because God does not have a flesh and blood body. The same holds true for the character of Sarayu, who was portrayed by an Asian female who represented the Holy Spirit. The corporeity of Sarayu is also counter to the composition of the Holy Spirit as described in the New Testament as the Holy Spirit is immaterial and does not have a physical body.  Furthermore, in relation to our relationship with the Holy Spirit, Ephesians 3:16 describes the empowerment from the Holy Spirit within your being. Also, New Testament testimony of the immateriality of the Holy Spirit comes from the encounter of the disciples with the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter two where the Holy Spirit filled them with the evidence of speaking in tongues.

Of course, Jesus portrayed in the movie, as a middle-eastern man would be an accurate depiction of “God in the flesh” as portrayed in the New Testament. However, three flesh and blood persons as the Trinity is not an accurate portrayal of the Godhead as inferred from the New Testament.   I was encouraged that the movie cured some of the problematic Universalist and hierarchical concepts mentioned by the members of the Trinity in the book where there was no hierarchy within the Godhead and where all persons of all faiths would eventually get to God through Jesus Christ albeit many after death. The characters in the movie just did not discuss these heterodox topics so that was a big advantage that the movie had over the book.   Turning from the negative aspects of the movie to positive ones, the love and unity observed between the members of the Trinity resonated with the audience and me. Also, the love and patience with which the various members of the Trinity related to Mac (the lead character in the movie) was an attractive portrayal of the loving disposition of God towards humanity as observed in scripture (see below).

In contrast to the “fleshly nature” of God portrayed in the movie, I believe that the handling of the issue of theodicy (or one’s theory of the problem of pain and suffering along with the belief in a good God) was a success.  Dr. Eleonore Stump, who is the Robert J. Henle Chair in Philosophy at Saint Louis University, states that amidst the back and forth of scholarly discussion on the problem of pain and suffering, there really should be a discussion as to the emotional trauma that one experiences. She (Stump, 1991:197-198) submits that in discussing the problem of evil, one should go beyond providing “a morally defensible reason for God to allow suffering.” [1]   Why does a good God allow us to experience pain and suffering? In this way, I think that the movie is effective. The explanations that it gives for the reason terrible things can happen to good people and why God allows them to happen are a good start to explaining the disposition of God towards humanity from our perspective. In Mac’s accusation of God allowing the cruel death of his daughter, Missy, God tells him that he has an incomplete picture of things and even when Mac doesn’t understand things, God is working out things for his good. In further interaction with the Trinity, the Holy Spirit (Sarayu) asks Mac about his level of confidence in knowing for sure what is good or evil. With billions of people who believe that they are right on a particular topic, how is it that you (Mac) think you are a capable judge?

The Trinity further submits to Mac that the brokenness that manifested in the murder of Mac’s daughter Missy has been percolating since the fall of Adam. But then in response, Mac is wondering how God could have allowed Missy to experience this terrible death?  In reply, the Trinity states that it can work good out of terrible tragedies. However, in no way does it mean that It (the Trinity) caused them. Furthermore, God states that there never has been any promise of a pain free life but that while she was being murdered, God was with Missy (evil is here because of the fall but also God is with each one of his children when it befalls them). In a very moving scene from the movie, God, now in the form of a Native American man, leads Mac to find the body of his daughter. In this touching scene, Mac wraps the body of his daughter, in a sheet and as he is carrying her to bury her, he is chanting, “I forgive you” (referring to the murderer) over and over even as the Trinity is comforting and assisting him in this painful task. Earlier in the movie, the Godhead tells Mac that he needs to forgive the murderer and at this juncture in the movie, Mac takes their advice to heart. Throughout the movie, Jesus is working on some sort of woodworking project as he is a carpenter and at the end of the movie it is observed that the project Jesus was working on all along was Missy’s casket. The burial scene depicted the loving care of God for both Mac and Missy. In a subsequent scene, Mac is given the opportunity to see his beloved Missy and it is obvious that she is content and happy, playing with other children, and in the presence of Jesus (she is obviously in paradise/heaven).

Another positive aspect of the movie was the love that each member of the Trinity had for the other. This was portrayed well when Mac sat down with them for dinner in the early part of the movie. It was obvious that there was great affection amongst the member of the Trinity and also for Mac. I thought that a shared meal was quite a fitting setting for the movie-makers (and Young) to place the Trinity and Mac together. This dinner gathering to me was evocative of the marriage supper of the lamb where the children of God are brought together at a meal to celebrate their newfound entrance into heaven and union with Jesus (Revelation 19:6-9).

This resonates with me. Planned, special meals are normally those occasions that functional families look forward to the most. The birthday of a loved one or a special holiday meal are always occasions where goodwill is in abundance. This goodwill is amplified by the smells and tastes of special menu items. Also, another aspect about what makes these meals special is the person making it. Oftentimes, it is either mom or grandmother who are the loving chefs who create these memorable and delectable treats. Sometimes, granddad or dad grills the meat in his own special way. In this meal portrayed in the movie, it is “Papa” who is the loving maker of the meal. In this and other scenes in the movie, the movie cast/writers do well in portraying the love and care of God for humanity in their care for Mac.

Of course, I do not have some secret conduit of knowledge from God regarding God’s disposition towards those with who he is in relationship with. Rather, I look at scripture and observe that the words of Jesus and the other Bible authors lead us to similar conclusions as to what is portrayed in “The Shack.” In several different scenes, the dialogue and action of the movie portrays a God who is so personal with Mac, that He was intimately familiar with the details of Mac’s state of mind and emotional hurt.  This is in accord with the words of Jesus in Luke 12:6-7. God is intimately familiar with our circumstances and values us greatly (God knows us so well that the hairs on our heads are numbered). Also observed in Matthew’s Gospel is the injunction of Jesus to cast your cares upon him in order to receive rest for your souls (11:28). This speaks to God’s desire to carry your burdens for you. Similarly, God also desires to help you with your anxieties because of his love for you. God wants to lighten your load if you will only give them to him (1 Peter 5:7). Another scripture reference where the compassion of God is exhibited is in Psalm 46:1 where the Psalmist proclaims that God is our “refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.”  Similar themes are included in the following Psalms as well (3:3-4, 23:4-6, 55:22, 37:39, 40). In John 16:33, Jesus wants us to be of good cheer because he has overcome the world. The constant provision and protection for those who trust in God is exhibited in Deut. 31:6; Jos 1:5 where the well-known promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you” is located.  Similarly, the resurrected Jesus just before his ascension, proclaimed, “I am with you always (Matt. 28:20).” Similarly, the attentive nature of God towards his children can be discerned when Jesus mentions in Matt. 6:8 that the Father knows what you need before you even ask him for something in prayer. These various scripture references highlight God’s care and provision for those who are in relationship with him.

As mature Christians and also as Christian leaders, I believe that it is important to check out books and movies that have made an impact on culture. If we do not do this, then how can we speak prophetically into the culture that we live in? Understanding the controversial nature of “The Shack” after reading it years ago, when the movie came out recently, I wanted a young adult group that I am involved with now to see the movie for themselves in order to judge the merits of it. After seeing the movie as a group, we then discussed it during our next meeting. We discussed both the negative and the positive aspects of the movie. What was really productive about viewing the movie is that we did not only discuss the negative aspects of how God was portrayed, but this portrayal of God was used to discuss who God really is from our limited perspective. So, this was a great opportunity to discuss the Trinity and the various persons within the Godhead. This made for a great transition into the topic of “Who Jesus Is” and a discussion of how the identity of Jesus impacts us today and then on to other related topics. We also discussed the problem of pain and suffering and how the explanation within the movie did well as a beginning point to discuss this issue. So, I believe that movies like “The Shack” should be seen and discussed by the church at large. Relatedly, I do not believe that these movies should be shunned and dismissed merely because there may be some error within them. Rather, we should analyze movies like “The Shack,” we should discuss the negative aspects and the positive aspects of movies and books, and we should use them (popular movies and books) as aids to reveal what scripture says on relevant cultural issues and trends.

[1] Stump, E. 1991. “The problem of evil and the desires of the heart” in The problem of evil ed Adams, Marilyn. New York: Oxford University Press.

Link to “The Shack” trailer:


“Does the OT God Care About Social Justice?”

Sistine God
Photo of a depiction of God painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Public Domain.

Nobody likes a bully. We all know what bullying is from our past experiences. Someone who is small or weak is abused physically and mentally by someone more powerful or popular. Bullies often take what they want when they want it.  An example of institutionalized bullying is observed in the movie “The Help” ( where white women in a certain neighborhood mistreat their African-American maids. As you watch the movie, you are waiting for justice to be dispensed. To your delight, justice is eventually delivered to the cruel high society women depicted in the movie in an unexpected fashion. There are some today who accuse “the god of the Old Testament” as being the worst kind of bully. In the opinion of some prominent skeptics today, this god is portrayed as a villainous despot who dispenses his wrath wantonly on humanity. Richard Dawkins, an Oxford scholar known for his rants against religion, explains his view:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.[1]

Another skeptical scholar, John Loftus, agrees with Dawkins regarding his opinion of the God of the Old Testament:

What we actually find in the Bible is an extremely not-so-good, very bad God! Yahweh, the part of the Godhead in the Old Testament is very bad…He’s a God of war, a condemning bloodthirsty God of wrath.[2]

But does Dawkins’ vociferous indictment come anywhere close to an accurate portrayal of God as observed in the Old Testament? How about the opinion of Loftus? Does it match up with what is described in the OT about God?   If God is in fact one who relishes doling out pain and suffering for the fun of it, then maybe Dawkins and Loftus are right. Most people today do not approve of “heavy handedness” when they see it displayed.  After looking at passages not normally cited by skeptics, you may agree with me that God, as observed in the writings of the Old Testament prophets, is really interested in social justice; in providing for and protecting those who cannot protect themselves.

Recently, when reading through the OT prophets, I was looking for this bully God that Dawkins and Loftus were describing. Would I observe a tyrannical oppressor? In an earlier blog (, it seemed to me that God had a deep concern for those who had sold themselves into slavery. God was so concerned about the abuse of Israeli slaves at the hands of their fellow citizens that the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed the destruction of Jerusalem as punishment for their cruel treatment of these slaves.  As observed in Jeremiah 34:8-17, the activity of Yahweh on behalf of these oppressed ones gives us a hint at the disposition of God towards those who are deemed to be weak in society. He loves and defends those who cannot defend themselves. Jeremiah is not the only prophet who pens this divine concern for the downtrodden.

Widow with children
Fernand Pelez – Illustrirter Katalog der internationalen Kunstausstellung im Königl. Glaspalaste in München 1883, 4. Auflage, München, September 1883

As I made my way through the prophets, I noted others as well. In his era, Ezekiel also lists misdeeds committed by Israelis/Jews:

  • Citizens shed blood; the rulers shed blood
  • Unjust gain by the rulers
  • Orphans/widows mistreated
  • Many lie and look for reasons to commit violent acts
  • Having sex while practicing a false religion in public areas
  • After sacrificing their children to a false god, they come to the temple and desecrate it (23:39)
  • Many men having sexual relations with their mother
  • Adultery
  • Assassinations
  • Defrauding of the poor
  • Racketeering (threatening others for money)
  • Burglary and theft
  • Religious officials involved in corruption
  • Oppressing the poor and the needy
  • Abusing foreigners

After listing this long indictment against Israel/Judah, God pronounces judgment against them. God will allow them to be conquered and carried away by a more powerful nation. However, this is not the last word from Ezekiel (ch. 34) who then proclaims the mercy of God in the future. Furthermore, he states that after Israel/Judah are punished, corporate life will be restored again (ch. 37).

In the writings of the prophet Joel, he also speaks of judgment on Israel/Judah but then also proclaims that in the future they will be restored and blessed with abundance. In his OT book another prophet, Amos, discusses social justice at length. He shares with us not only how God is disgusted with the immorality of Israel’s leaders but they have also earned God’s ire because they won’t stop abusing Israelis who are vulnerable. Amos’s list of charges includes the use of dishonest measures, sexual depravity, the sacrifice of children, and selling fellow Israelites into forced slavery. Even as these abuses continue, the social elite live comfortably. As a result of this maltreatment, Amos proclaims God’s judgment against Israel will be served up by a swarm of locusts (ch. 7).

But interestingly enough, Amos continues with a different tone after announcing God’s punishment. Characteristic of the activity of Yahweh in the Old Testament, the future for Israel is full of mercy and redemption. God says through Amos that he will restore Israel to a place of prominence and blessing after their punishment is complete.  Even after all of these transgressions, Yahweh will remain faithful to Israel and forgive them of their corporate trespasses. In the book of Jonah, the prophet gets mad at God because He spared the Assyrians when in Jonah’s estimation they are worthy of punishment (Jonah 4:1-3). What about the other prophets?

In the Book of Micah, a new offense is being committed against the innocent. In addition to the general moral malaise of the country, Micah informs us that there are Israelis who are throwing rightful owners out of their houses and off of their fields (ch. 2). Not only are they committing these crimes but they are also dispossessing their fellow countrymen of their inheritances as well. Micah also mentions the worship of false gods as another reason why God is against Israel in his era.

A pattern is emerging as our survey of each prophet continues. From the perspective of Habakkuk, this prophet simply notes that there is social injustice all around him. Because justice no longer prevails in Israel, justice is coming against the wrongdoers in Israel. Even as Habakkuk announces impending punishment against Israel, he asks God to be merciful even as he punishes them. He further proclaims that Israel will be delivered from those who will conquer and carry them away. Again, judgment rendered but then mercy following the judgment.

In the writings of Zephaniah, not only is the worship of false gods given for the reason of God’s judgment, but also because of the violence and deceit that is ongoing in these pagan temples. Furthermore, Zephaniah refers to the belief that undergirds much of the debauchery and license observed; they do not believe that God is still active in the affairs of the world. In similarity to the pattern that we have observed with the other prophets, God is going to show mercy to those who acknowledge and cease their misdeeds.

In Zechariah, the Israelites ask him (Zechariah) if they should fast in order to obtain the blessing of the Lord for themselves. Zechariah is quick to censure them for their hypocrisy. In response, Zechariah warns them that instead of earning God’s favor by performing rituals, they would be better off practicing social justice now. Stop oppressing the fatherless, widows, and those who are from other lands that reside with them. Moreover, Zechariah writes that these people ignored his counsel and because of their obstinacy, they were going to be scattered by the wind. However again, in line with the other prophets, Zechariah foretells that God will be merciful to Israel by restoring them in the future. The Prophet Malachi echoes the other prophets with a short indictment, a plea to change or face judgment, and a future where evildoers are vanquished and the righteous rewarded (4:1-3).

So, what we see in the prophets is a God who is punishing because of the continuing abuse of the poor and needy at the hands of the powerful. He isn’t just causing people to suffer for sadistic reasons. Rather, he chastises the powerful (bullies) because they refuse to discontinue their exploitation of the poor and underprivileged.

After a reading of the prophets, it is clear that God is seeking social justice for exploited victims when he brings calamity to their oppressors.  Furthermore, the very fact that God sends His prophets to different nations shows his beneficence. He would rather that cruel oppression cease voluntarily and would rather abstain from bringing destruction to a nation. It was also demonstrated in the prophets that God will not only protect the vulnerable, but he will also grant mercy to their oppressors if they would only turn from their cruel ways. God is ready and willing to show mercy to these criminals if they stop their persecution of the weak. After my reading, the words of Dawkins and Loftus don’t align with what I observe in the writings of the OT prophets. Perhaps those who rail against the “God of the Old Testament” should read the prophets and consider God’s messages of justice and mercy. They should conduct a more thorough examination before they “go off on God.” Granted, they do not believe that He exists and are pointing out what they believe as proof that the Biblical god should not be embraced by anyone.  But they should consider all of the passages of the Old Testament before they hurl verbal missiles.

In Contrast to the words of Dawkins and Loftus, this kindhearted and patient God as portrayed in the books of the Old Testament prophets sounds to me like a shepherd who continually searches for his lost sheep and rejoices when he finds it (Luke 15). He cares for his sheep.  In opposition to the claims of these prominent skeptics, God always takes up the case of the oppressed and desires that the bullies of society cease and desist from their brutish ways. The “God of the Old Testament,” as portrayed in the prophets, is not a cruel bully who tortures for the sport of it. Rather, he is a caring shepherd who cares for the needy and punishes those who ignore/abuse the downtrodden.

Public Domain

[1] Dawkins, R. 2008. The God delusion. New York: Mariner Books.

[2] Loftus, J. 2016. Unapologetic: Why philosophy of religion must end. Pitchstone Publishing: Durham.

If I Were God, Would I Have Come?

Giovanna Bellini- Madonna col bambino, 1470-1475- Public Domain

As Christmas day draws closer, travel plans are finalized, menus are tweaked, and some are going out foraging for last minute purchases. At the “Hickling Estate,” even though we are newly made empty nesters, the kids (and one nephew) will be coming over to share Christmas day with us. Like many of you reading this article, we will have a “spread” composed of finger foods and will have some items that we do not normally serve at home (shrimp and cocktail sauce, etc). Even though the rest of the family turns its collective nose up at fruitcake, there will be a block of it cut up for me because I learned to love it as a kid when my father would serve it (more for me). But the big “shindig” will actually be when Andrea’s side of the family shows up the day after Christmas for the family Christmas party. We’ll have about 20 or so on the 26th. We’ll provide the meat and everyone else will be bringing in their favorite dishes. My waistline will not be happy but the taste buds will be very, very happy. With all that is going on now with family plans, church events, and various parties, I still try to find little bits of time here and there where I can pull away and reflect on Jesus Christ during this season when we celebrate his coming into the world. I’ve always liked to put on Handel’s Messiah or better yet, find a place where it is being performed and watch it in person. I also like to play Gian Carlo Menotti’s Christmas Opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors. I find that I worship anew each time I play these musical reminders of Jesus’s entrance into the world. When my mind shifts to the miracle of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, I ask the question, “If I were God, would I have come to the earth like Jesus did?”

Of course, this question may not be correct theologically as I am a fallen, lower being who is limited in his ability to make “Godlike” choices because of my metaphysical composition as a human being. Not having the qualities of God, how can I even attempt to engage in such an activity? Nonetheless, as the Christmas season rolls on, I still ponder this. When surveying other religious paradigms, it appears that there really were no other gods that came like Jesus Christ did. In Greek mythology, the gods did interact with humans and shared in some of their weaknesses even though they were immortal. For instance, these gods were known to be angry, vengeful, lustful, and have larcenous tendencies. These mythological gods would “come” and mingle with humans and were known for their superhuman powers. Sometimes the gods would help humans and at other times they would hinder them. On some occasions it was storied that they would make love to humans (such as when Mars had his way with a vestal virgin which caused the legendary conception of Romulus and Remus). Going back into ancient Egyptian religious lore, Osiris was the king of the netherworld. But did he interact with his devotees? When delving into the literature on Osiris, it is obvious that he had no relationship with those who relied upon him for their sustenance in the realm of the dead. He merely kept the disembodied spirits in the netherworld energized as he united with Ra to invigorate these departed souls. He never emerged from the netherworld to visit those who would rely upon him after their deaths.

The Chariot of Zeus- Project Gutenberg eText 14994- Public Domain

In examining the Muslim texts, it is known that the only time when Allah had actual contact with humanity is through Muhammad who received divine messages that were given to him by the angel Jibril. Allah is “wholly otherworldly” in these encounters. These recitations that Muhammad received from the angel Jibril supposedly formed the Quran. It is Muhammad alone who toured heaven during “Al Miraj” where he traveled atop “Al-Buraq,” a white animal with wings. But he still had no contact with Allah even when in heaven, but only angels, prophets, etc. In Buddhism, there is no personal god at all to have contact with but only the path to become one with the universe upon attaining “nirvana.” In Hinduism, striving with deeds to attain “moksa” or “being liberation” is the objective. As in Buddhism, there is no personal relationship with a god here either.

The Night Journey of Muhammad on His Steed, Buraq, Unknown Artist, 1514, Public Domain

In stark contrast to pagan Greek/Egyptian mythology, when Jesus Christ did come, he did not come with fiery thunderbolts (Zeus) nor did he descend into the realm of the underworld as king (Osiris). There was no worldly pomp or circumstance that accompanied the entry of Jesus Christ into the world. Rather, in contrast to the Allah of Islam, he knowingly humbled himself and took on the form of man (known as the kenosis or the emptying of himself). Jesus did not cease to be God when he came as a baby. Rather, he willingly veiled these attributes and submitted himself to life on this earth that eventually led to his death on a cross. This is plainly stated in Philippians 2:5-8 where, “Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

 The contrast of Jesus Christ with pagan gods is observed in His life as he does not seek to increase his powers, to subjugate those who he comes into contact with, or to develop consorts for his bedroom. Rather, Jesus, speaking of Himself stated, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).” Jesus did not seek earthly riches, power, or sensual experiences during his ministry here on earth. Rather, he willingly lived a meager existence, as he did not even possess a home. In contrast to the Allah of Islam, Jesus Christ came to the earth and did so meekly. In his earthly ministry, he modeled modesty and compassion. In his death and resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ modeled total submission to God. Even as he was waiting to be betrayed, Jesus taught about the coming of the Holy Spirit who would indwell every believer and who would be a guide that mystically dwells within. This is in stark contrast to Buddhism and Hinduism where enlightenment comes as these adherents strive to “earn” their salvation through their “good deeds” somehow. So, after a brief survey of various religious deities/systems, it is clear that Christianity is unique as God incarnates himself in order to meet the needs of each human in a personal way.

This Christmas season, the American atheists have displayed billboards trying to convince people not to go to church on Christmas. “It’s all just a fairy tale anyways so why waste your time?” they say. However, the life of Jesus Christ is no myth and is based upon well-documented accounts by those who witnessed his ministry, death, and resurrection. Moreover, what these brand of atheists fail to realize is that sincere Christians won’t go to church on Christmas Sunday to make themselves better Christians, to fulfill some sort of required duty, or become more holy by their attendance, somehow. No I, and many like me, will go to church this Christmas because we really want to go. Yes, I enjoy hanging out with my friends at church. Yes, I enjoy singing songs, appreciate a well-decorated sanctuary, and like to listen to a special homily. But why I am really there is because I am awestruck by the fact that the maker of the universe is so virtuous and kind. He demonstrated this when he lowered himself to take on a human form and lived a life of total sacrifice to include his tortuous death on a cross. All of this with the aim of making as many people as he can his family members (Rev. 21:3-4).

Ross Bible Pond

So, back to the original question about whether I would have come if I were a god; I can say that in my present state that I would not have come because I would not want to suffer. I am too comfortable and used to catering to my own needs. This is what makes the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus all the more believable. Jesus Christ coming as a baby makes sense. If God is holy and virtuous unlike me, then he would come humbly.  He would lead by example by coming among us. God would show us a way to live even through his own life. He would demonstrate and teach us how to live now, here on earth. God would also enable us to become more like him through relationship. He would not “take advantage of” humans like the pagan gods nor would he be aloof from humanity like Osiris of Egyptian lore and the Allah of Islam. He would not send us down pathways where our own good deeds would somehow meld us into the fabric of the universe with our own identities disintegrating as in the concepts of “nirvana” and “moksa.”

 Rather, he would reveal himself and demonstrate how we can live Godly lives right now. This virtuous way of living  would not be based upon some sort of ritualistic formula or “qualifying good deeds.” Rather, he would show us how a relationship with God necessarily involves an interconnection with others in helping meet their needs (as Jesus modeled for us). So, the incarnation makes sense to me. God, if he were wholly virtuous unlike me, would come humbly as a baby, would live among us, and would give all for us so that we could have relationship with him.

 So, the American Atheists have it wrong. It is not a burden for me to go to church on Christmas Sunday; something that I have to do in order to gain the approval of an imaginary deity. No, I go out of love and devotion to worship the God who willingly emptied himself and dwelt among us. The one who revealed himself, who showed us how to live by his own example, and who leads me now through this life by his Holy Spirit. No, I would not have come, but I am so glad that the one who spun galaxies into existence came as a baby long ago on that first Christmas night.

A Remembrance of Heroes: Desmond Doss and Patrick Carothers

Photo taken by DUSM John Hardy, E/NC USMS.

What motivates those who serve our country in the military and in law enforcement to willingly face the prospect of death? Over the Thanksgiving holiday break, I took in Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” for a second time. If you have not seen this movie, it is based on the true story of Desmond Doss.   Doss is a humble and simple man whose heroic exploits as a combat medic stun his comrades during some of the most intense fighting of World War II. Doss, who refused to carry a weapon during his field duties, saved the lives of 75 men during one bloody conflict against a hardened Japanese army that was burrowed into a bluff during the Battle for Okinawa. Upon conferring the Medal of Honor to Doss, President Truman recognized him for his heroism while facing extreme danger.

It was also near the Thanksgiving holiday that the nation learned of the death of Patrick Carothers of the U.S. Marshals Service, who died in the line of duty while attempting to apprehend a dangerous criminal who had holed up in a Macon, Georgia mobile home. The dangerous fugitive shot and killed Carothers while Carothers and and his fugitive task force team attempted to arrest him.  Again, why did Doss and Carothers knowingly place their lives in jeopardy?   What inspired them to put in harm’s way the thing that most people would say they value the most?

As the action of “Hacksaw Ridge” reached its climax, Doss is portrayed covered in the mire of the battlefield as he utters the prayer, “Lord, please help me get one more.” He is speaking of his comrades who lay helpless and suffering from their wounds. Even as they lay there, Japanese soldiers hunt down and kill the injured American soldiers they encounter. Even though his unit has retreated, Doss remains to face the enemy, unarmed, as he continues dragging the injured GIs to safety one after another. After each rescue he prays, “Lord, one more” and then he continues through the night until the last possible moment. One evocative scene portrays Doss underneath a cascade of water as he takes a shower after the battle. The flowing, cleansing water carries the blood of those he saved down and off his body. I have to say that as the movie ended, I was in awe of what this simple man of faith did. Not only did it leave a lasting impression on me, it also left the same impression on those who went to see the movie with me. We were left almost speechless as the movie ended. Of course, Doss is only one of thousands of “America’s best,” our veterans, who have disregarded their own safety while protecting their country in battle. It is obvious to me that Doss was motivated by his faith in God to love his fellow soldier more than himself. This love was demonstrated when Doss, while being carried off the battlefield himself badly wounded, stopped those who were carrying him and insisted that another soldier be placed on the gurney in his stead. In recounting this incident, Doss would opine that he would rather lose his life so that someone else might live.

As I learned about Pat’s death, I could not help but draw parallels between his gallantry and that of Doss. When Pat died, he was a 26-year veteran of the U.S. Marshals Service. So, over and over again, like Doss, Pat, through his 26 years of service, must have uttered similar words. “Lord, one more, help me get one more fugitive off the street.” There is no telling how many dangerous fugitives Pat put behind bars in his long career. One fugitive arrest after another, Pat and his partners made our country a safer place. I am not privy to the details of the shootout but it seems to me that Pat must have been the first one through the doorway when the murderer opened fire. Pat was in a leadership position with the task force and yet he was leading his troops into battle. He was placing more importance on the lives of his teammates than on his own life.  He willingly risked his life over and over again for 26 years and eventually gave his life so that his country would be rid of still one more dangerous fugitive. But again, what motivated Pat to do this?

I had the privilege to work with Pat for a month during the late 90s. We had flown into Chicago from our respective offices to support the Chicago USMS office during the “Gangster Disciples” high threat trial. We hit it off immediately and so we were “hang out buddies” during our month together. It did not take long for me to realize one thing about Pat. He loved his partners. He was always looking out for their best interest and always made sure to check on them. Recently, I also had the privilege of attending Pat’s graveside ceremony before the family laid him to rest. At this gathering, his good friends also made sure to point out Pat’s great love for his family, his community, and for them. Pat’s pastor also spoke of Pat’s faith in God and how this relationship impacted him as a young man. It is clear to me that what motivated Pat was his love for not only his partners but also for his country. His selfless actions throughout his career and on the day he confronted this criminal demonstrate a man who was motivated by love.

As Jesus Christ awaited his betrayal, he is praying for those he is leaving behind. As the time is counting down for his arrest, brutal torture, and death, Jesus Christ utters these words. “Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” Not only is Jesus speaking to his disciples but also forward in time to those who would join in relationship with him. Jesus was motivated to undergo torture and death by love. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi tells us that Jesus “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (2:5-8).” Jesus Christ died so that all could be a part of his family (Rev. 21:3-4). It is hard to imagine how much Jesus suffered during his final hours. But Jesus led from the front and loved all completely by sacrificing his life. Jesus tells us of the “Parable of the Lost Sheep” in the Book of Matthew. This parable demonstrates that God, like a shepherd, hunts for even one lost sheep, and that he does not want even one to perish. God is saying in Matthew 18, “Can I find just one more lost person that I can save?”

This is the love that I see demonstrated by Corporal Desmond Doss and by Deputy Commander Pat Carothers. A love that is not concerned about ones own self interest. Rather, a selfless love for one’s fellow man and country. A love that is willing to sacrifice all on behalf of others. I am proud to have worn the same star as Pat (America’s Star). I am also proud to have known someone who was not only a warrior, but was also one that was motivated by divine love. So, in a season that is known for veterans and thanksgiving,  I pay tribute to my friend and colleague, Pat. Thank you for laying down your life for your country. Rest in peace, brother. I will see you again when we are both reunited in the presence of Jesus Christ.

The “Modern Hookup Culture”: What the Evidence Is Saying

Recently, I had the opportunity to share with the youth group at my church in Kernersville, North Carolina, regarding “God’s Way v. The Modern Hookup Culture.” I became interested in this topic after I was given a book entitled “Sex at First Sight: Understanding the Modern Hookup Culture” by Richard E. Simmons III that details the casual sex culture on college campuses across the country and the devastating consequences for those co-eds who engage in this now culturally accepted behavior. Prior to reading this book, I had a niece who informed me of some high school students who were brazen enough to engage in sexual behavior in the hallways of her public school. From every direction, teen and young adults are inundated with messages about the attractiveness of casual sex and alcohol usage. On a Sunday afternoon, you may be enjoying a football game with some family members and then it’s time for a commercial break. The screen quickly fills with images of scantily clad women dancing provocatively to a driving beat, with the most attractive of them holding a glistening bottle of beer. Before you are able to dive for the remote controller your preteens receive the message loud and clear…sex and alcohol together are glamorous and cool.

It is obvious that our media, with the proliferation of so many alcohol/sex driven commercials/programs, is portraying the use of alcohol in a positive light and that imbibing in that premium brand of beer will enhance your sex appeal. A paper published by the American Academy of Family Physicians conveys the implications of these broadcasts on the youth of America. Of this media barrage, the academy offers their opinion:

Although the alcohol industry maintains that its advertising aims only to increase market share and not to encourage underage persons to drink, research suggests otherwise. Alcohol advertisements overwhelmingly connect consumption of alcohol with attributes particularly important to youth, such as friendship, prestige, sex appeal and fun.

Another reason to share this message with teens is due to my exposure with fugitive sex offenders. In the last three plus years of my career with the U.S. Marshals Service, I had the opportunity to arrest/prosecute fugitive sex offenders who had absconded from various sex offender registries. Many of these fugitive sex offenders could not break free from their maladaptive sexual behaviors/crimes. It was obvious to me that many of these offenders no longer had real control of their lives as their particular sexual vice had a firm grip on them. They had been reduced to animals due to their sexual addiction. What I also found was that many of these fugitive sex offenders were not able to break free from a profound addiction to pornography. Oftentimes, when I caught up with them, they would have various types of pornography on their person or on their devices. In addition to my experience with sex offenders, I also found that alcohol abuse/drug abuse often played a part in the commission of crimes to include sex crimes and other crimes of violence.

So, because of these reasons, I believe that this message is an appropriate topic for the kids at church. Not to mention that everyone else is talking about sex. The students at school are talking about sex. The teachers are talking about sex. One of the main themes of television programming is sex. So, why doesn’t the church talk to our teens about sex (and alcohol abuse)? Why don’t we give them the tools they need to make good decisions?

Can a book thousands of years old be relevant today? The Bible gives advice on whether or not one should engage in multiple causal sexual encounters. In Matthew, 19:5, Jesus endorses the ancient description of monogamy mentioned in Genesis 2:24 as he mentions that “a woman and a man will become one flesh.” In addition to the words of Jesus instructing that one man and one woman should be together for life, Paul also discusses sexual morays in his first letter to the church at Corinth (7:1-3). In mentioning the problem of sexual immorality, Paul opines that a husband and a wife should fulfill each other’s sexual needs and that this should be within the bond of marriage. Further endorsing the view that a woman and a man should keep the “marriage bed undefiled” from adultery is the author of the Book of Hebrews. There is no doubt that these three texts from the New Testament are proclaiming the best way to engage in sexual relations is for one woman and one man to share it for a lifetime. However, is there any corroboration for this Biblical advice coming from scholarly research?

In Sex at First Sight, Richard Simmons III first describes the current state of sexual encounters among college aged adults and then delves into the data coming from studies regarding the mental/physical health of those who engage in the hookup culture. A “hookup” is a casual sexual encounter for the purpose of only pleasure without any sort of emotional bond developing. So, there is no intimacy involved nor any commitment to the one you have physically joined with. Furthermore, Simmons informs us of the disappearance of traditional dating across the country being replaced by this sort of “sexual freedom.” Again, the chief end of the hookup culture is to get as much pleasure as one can without regard for any other concern than what you get out of it for the moment.

What Simmons found in his research of those who were hooking up is that psychologists, who interviewed college co-eds, reported that these hookups were deeply wounding young men and women. Even though “locker room talk” and James Bond style movies would lead one to think that hookups are the way to live the “good life,” the research is telling a different story. The truth coming from numerous interviews is that men were ashamed of hooking up and that they really wanted to have dating relationships and emotional intimacy just like women do. After reviewing the research, Simmons opined that there is an emotional and chemical bond that is part of what God intended when two people physically unite. When the psychological aspects of sexual activity are ignored, there are devastating consequences. The data shared by Simmons shows that what the media suggests as living the “good life” is a mere illusion. Going from partner to partner only brings emotional turmoil to both  men and women.

Not only did Simmons share the emotional havoc wrought by the hookup culture, but he also shared about the physical consequences multiple sexual encounters can bring. Not so long ago there were only two STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) to contend with. Today, there are at least 25 forms of STDs that are being passed around today and the college campuses are seedbeds for their transmission. Simmons reported that a recent study revealed that 43% of female students on the UCLA campus are infected with an STD. Another effect of the hookup culture is that many become depressed. Simmons shares that the release of dopamine into the blood stream after having sex causes an emotional bond and deep attachment between the two partners. This is the beauty of sex within the confines of marriage. Two partners for life form a bond, both physically and emotionally, that will hopefully last a lifetime. However, when the emotional bonds that come with physical attachment are broken, then depression often sets in as a result of the shattered relationship. The hookup culture turns a thing of great joy into a chronic source of heartache and pain. Simmons ends his tome with several psychologists offering words of advice. In general, sacrificing pleasure now will mean that you are investing in your future sex life. Giving up something of lesser value now in order to obtain a greater good later is what Simmons recommends. Waiting for the love of your life and sharing physical intimacy with only that “special one” will cause your sex life to be hearty and satisfying. So teens and young adults don’t buy the lie. Following the advice of a book that has been around for millennia will result in a great sex life. Yes, that’s right, the research shows that you will have more fun and sexual satisfaction throughout your life if you invest now and do it God’s way.

And finally a message from Solomon to today’s single teens/young adults

Proverbs 5:

15 Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
16 Should your springs overflow in the streets,
your streams of water in the public squares?
17 Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers.
18 May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.



"Old Glory" posted over Ground Zero 15 years ago
“Old Glory” posted over Ground Zero 15 years ago

When you get a little older, your nose supposedly grows larger along with your ears, you get up in the night more often, and you can’t keep up with the “young you” that could go for days and days without much sleep or other care. Some of us who get older (me) look like raisins topped by a little tuft of cotton. I recently had a little cancer removed from my face and you really can’t tell very well where the scar is because of all of the other wrinkles!

Developmental psychologists share that as you get a little older, it is natural for you to reflect on your past life. Did I live a good life? If you have lived a good life, then as you age, you are content to look back at a life well lived. No matter whether you’ve amassed a lot of wealth or have become very powerful, it is important to pass on your story to the next generation. As senior member of your tribe, you are in the stage of life when you reflect, the Lord willing, on a life well lived. Men go from warrior, to king, and then to philosopher. So, that is why I am going to write down a memory or two for you this evening. I wanted to share a couple of memories from my time surrounding 911 fifteen years ago. Hopefully some of you will enjoy sharing in my stroll down memory lane.

Foremost in my reflections I wanted to keep front and center, the gallantry of those who not only risked their lives, but also ultimately gave them willingly on behalf of their beloved brothers and sisters who were in crisis. To the men and women of the New York area fire, police, and paramedics, my utmost respect to you as we commemorate fifteen years since that fateful day that changed America. In addition to these heroes in the NY Metro area, I also wanted to pay respect to all of those who responded to the Pentagon and to the PA crash sites. God bless you all for your service and dedication. Of course, not to mention all of those innocent victims who perished and left behind so many grieving family members and friends. My thoughts and prayer go out to these who have gone yet another year missing their beloved ones.

On September 11th, I was working out in the AM at the U.S. Marshals Service gym in Norfolk, VA. The television was on and I saw the first report of the plane colliding into the first tower. Maybe it could be an accident? Then there was the report of the second attack on the remaining tower. No accident for sure as we saw the shocking video that is etched in our collective memory. The first thought that came to mind was of course the shock of so many innocent lives being senselessly snubbed out but then the reality that I just saw on television the first act of the next World War. I think that is what happened as we are still fighting the war on terrorism to this day. The reality was that the war was already being waged against us but we really didn’t become engaged in it until 911.

On 911 at the Norfolk office, we went on alert status with the federal courthouse in Norfolk. A man of Middle Eastern dissent seemed to be testing the security at our front entrance but the man quickly left after the security force at the front checkpoint picked up on his odd probing. As we increased our security around the courthouse the enormity of the event sunk in. Numerous USMS assets and personnel were being deployed to sensitive duties around the country.

One of those duties was taking over security for the major U.S. airports. The day after the attack I was ordered by then Chief J.H. to respond to the Reagan National Airport in Northern Virginia along with other DUSMs from the Eastern District of VA. President George W. Bush gave the USMS authorization to do this. It was unusual to say the least when I went with other DUSMs to the security office where we introduced and identified ourselves. After doing this, a copy of the executive order from GWB was given to them and we said in effect, “we are taking over security here.” The airport officials were very understanding and the reality was that we were merely an augmentation of what they had in place. We just beefed things up with our presence.

The next day we began high visibility patrols of the airport. However, during the day, I received a call from the USMS national peer support team leader L.K. that I was needed to assist the USMS office in Manhattan in regards to conducting critical incident stress debriefings of their personnel. Many of the peer team members could not make it there but because I was on the East Coast and relatively close to Manhattan, I was given the call to respond with other team members who were getting there however they could. So, I packed my gear up and began my drive to Manhattan in my older model Chevy Tahoe. This Tahoe had a heavy, lifted suspension so it sat higher in traffic than most vehicles as well as had a very fast idle. So, it was interesting and sometimes humorous to maneuver in stop and go city traffic because the braking was always exaggerated to get it to stop. This vehicle was a civil seizure from a criminal and the USMS drove many of these vehicles in this time frame.

As I drove the Tahoe North towards Manhattan, I began noticing the solitary pillar of smoke rising seemingly as a memorial to the tremendous loss of innocent life that had occurred only days before. I could see it from a great distance and it took hours before I finally was able to get to Manhattan. Whenever I responded to similar crises in years to come, I always used my travel time to pray for those that I was going to serve. I was doing that on this occasion. Upon finally going over the bridges and through the tunnel to Manhattan, I ended up at Ground Zero after checking in with our staff there.

It is hard to express the emotions that I felt when I arrived there. It took me back six years earlier when I had been a part of the USMS response to the domestic terrorist attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Building. Viewing the Murrah Building bomb blast site for the first time was a profound experience filled with negative awe as I observed the devastation to the Murrah Building and the other damage surrounding this site. But the swath of destruction that leveled this part of the Manhattan skyline was far greater than that of the Murrah Building site. Mangled steel, concrete, glass, extended for many blocks in every direction. It was unsafe wherever one would tread as glass and other debris were still falling from the damaged buildings. So all who worked in the site wore hard hats. Busy at work were many in “bucket brigades” trying to sift through many seemingly inestimable mountains of debris. Could this ever be cleaned up and sifted through? I ended up on several occasions in one of these “bucket brigades.” The chaotic nature of the scene was still evident in the first few days as there was still hope that survivors would be found amidst the rubble. This reminded me of the pace of the Murrah building response in OKC. There was always hope of finding yet one more survivor in those early days. But as the days went on, it became apparent that it was changing from a rescue mission to a recovery mission. I won’t say more about this aspect of things save that many of these dedicated recovery workers suffered emotional trauma from their duties in this regard.

Ross with USMS partner at Ground Zero
Ross with USMS partner at Ground Zero

Even though I spent several nights on bucket brigade duty, this was not really my mission in Manhattan as a peer support team member. The team had come to support the USMS family there in Manhattan and eventually in other areas of NY as well. We had come to aid our brothers and sisters in need. We were there to help them in any practical way that we could. A lot of what we did was to check in with everyone to let them know we cared for them. We were there to show good will and to really let them know in practical ways that we loved them. One of the ways that we did this was to conduct team debriefings of those who had similar experiences. It was healthy for them to do this in order to process and come to grips with what they had just been through. They would also gain new insights from the experiences and feelings of others that they listened to in these group settings. We also had the opportunity to check in “one-on-one” with those who might have experienced something more out of the ordinary than others.

Often, we would just hang around the office and chat with different people we encountered. All the while, the office was sending DUSMs down to Ground Zero as part of the recovery effort there. So, it was important for us to check in with the DUSMs when they came in after their shifts. After hearing of many of their experiences, it was apparent to me that many of the DUSMs that I got to know were heroes themselves. Many of them had responded on foot to the twin towers and began actively rescuing those who were injured at the scene. One of these valiant DUSMs was pictured on a national magazine cover carrying a victim in his arms. Other DUSMs told me of their response and their heroic actions. Several DUSMs described how they barely escaped with their own lives as the second tower collapsed and the debris flowed like a deadly river down various streets. One DUSM described how he had never run faster in his life than when the collapse and ensuing debris from the tower was literally chasing him down the street. Another DUSM felt fortunate to escape the debris flow by quickly ducking into the door of an area business only to observe the lethal stream of debris flow past where he had been standing only seconds before.

Many of the administrative employees told of their harrowing journeys of trying to make it home by whatever means they could. Many spent hours upon hours getting home by walking long distances and by enduring many other hardships. Many knew people who were victims and they were sharing their grief with us. So, even as I listened to their stories my respect grew for my colleagues in NY. Many were heroes in my book and it was my honor to be amongst them. In the years after 911, I would have the honor to serve there on a number of other occasions as crises would arise. Aiding my brother and sisters in NY was one of the high points of my career. They might not remember me, but they sure did leave a lasting impression on me.

I want to reflect on one aspect of being a career LEO (law enforcement officer). Other than on special ceremonial functions, it was rare that anyone was happy to see you. A notable exception to this was the “court family” whose members always were very good to work with. Not only did they appreciate us but we also appreciated the great working relationships that we had with them. This “court family” included judges, probation officers, public defenders, defense attorneys, prosecutors, clerks, and many others. However, aside from this great working environment, whenever my partners and I hit the street, people were by and large not happy to see you and really did not appreciate what you were doing. This extended from my local position as a Portsmouth, VA police officer to my time with the U.S. Marshals Service. Oftentimes, as a local police man/detective we would find ourselves trying to make arrests while glass bottles rained down upon us or while a mob would encircle us.  At one massive riot scene in another city, we were greeted by a mob of thousands who were chanting “fight the power, f*$@ the police.” In smaller measure this would be the reception that we would get from many in the high crime communities that we worked in even though many would work with us secretly to combat crime in these areas. We were always doing the work of the citizens yet the citizens that we were encountering were the unruly and criminal element.

With the USMS, when going to talk to a person you knew was harboring your fugitive or when someone was obstructing your path to the fugitive who was hiding inside, the contempt of those we came into contact was always palpable with some form of epithet being thrown our way. However two notable exceptions to this normal contempt was my duty at the Murrah Building and my time working at 911. In Manhattan, I remember that whenever a fire truck or police car drove by, people were actually cheering. On several occasions, I actually had a citizen pick up the tab for several of my meals. I was pleasantly surprised by the shift in public sentiment that I felt there. They actually liked seeing my partners and me for once.

Another memory for me was of the sorrowful postings that were scattered along the fences and walls. In addition to these were many makeshift memorials of lost loved ones. Many of these notes were in the early days where people would post notices trying to find missing loved ones. “My loved one is missing, please help me find him/her” was the gist of most of these notes with photos of the loved one included. But as mentioned earlier, there were also touching memorials to departed loved ones that were posted as well along with flowers. In many of the squares of Manhattan, there were candle light vigils being held for the victims and their families.

In some ways, this evil attack on our people had some positive effects. It was as if we discovered anew the intrinsic value of every human being. It did not matter what community our brother and sister were from. They were of great value. As Manhattan and the rest of the country suffered through this tragedy, we realized our need for each other, we realized our need for community, and we realized anew our appreciation for God. “God bless the USA” was the refrain often heard wherever you went. In addition to rediscovering God and our brothers/sisters, there was also a renewed respect for the American flag. You would see it wherever you went. It was adorned on buildings, on fire trucks, and EMS vehicles. It was everywhere. It also covered the caskets of the many heroes that perished in the attacks as they were honored at their funerals. This reliance of our flag as a rallying point was evident as one surveyed Ground Zero and what would be posted on top of a mountain of debris where people were furiously burrowing? The Stars and Stripes were prominently displayed as a rallying point; as an inspiration to all who were working. The love for our country was evident even as the rescue workers tediously worked amidst the rubble.

One of many posted notices during the 911 time frame.
One of many posted notices during the 911 time frame.

So, even in these dark moments, “Old Glory” inspired all. My comments about the American flag are all the more poignant when in recent days, some who shall go nameless, disrespect our flag that has inspired so many selfless heroes through the years. In many crises when our country was facing down tyrants and fighting for its very existence, the flag was our rallying point. How poignant it is on 911 to honor this hallowed national symbol even as we honor those heroes who gave all to include the police officers who perished. Ironically, American heroes who died protecting the flag died so that those of lesser character have the right to disrespect it. Their freedom to disrespect the flag was bought with the blood of countless martyrs who defended it and the people it represented.

Even though these malcontents rail against our beloved flag, the vast majority of Americans who love “Old Glory” have the right to register their contempt for those who would sully our flag by their public and disgraceful conduct. Yes, our country is not perfect (not that I agree with the odd and anti-law enforcement stance of these high profile celebs). But I love this country and “Old Glory” that is its standard. So, I register contempt for you who dishonor the “Stars and Stripes,” the flag that motivated and inspired so many on 911 fifteen years ago. The flag that covered the caskets of so many fallen heroes you defile by your ill-conceived actions. The very ones that you complain about died en masse fifteen years ago for their brothers and sisters. On this day, you who will remain nameless and others like you with short memories, will not even give a second thought to the sanctity of this day and the blood that was spilled by all these heroes you defame.

Shifting gears, as I get closer to the end of my recollections, other special moments for me were taking part in a memorial service for the USMS family. I had the privilege to sing a song that I had written in memory of a USMS family member who had perished in the Murrah Bomb blast. How appropriate it was to sing this song at a memorial service held at a catholic church in Manhattan! After weeks in Manhattan, I rotated out of my duty there and drove back to Northern VA where I served as part of a protection detail for several more weeks. It was a long and monotonous detail with long hours. Of course, by this time I was really missing my family.

I remember the excitement of finally being free of the protection detail and able to head back home in October. As I drove back from Northern VA, my route took me past the pentagon for the first time. This was another profound moment as I was able to survey the devastation wrought for the first time. Heading South on 95, I was greeted by a great travel day. It was very sunny and the fall foliage was ablaze in color. This vista was in vivid contrast to the mangled steel of Ground Zero and the dim confines of the protection detail. The trip sailed by and I was reunited with my young children and wonderful wife. I was honored to have been part of the response to Manhattan. I was honored to serve amidst heroes. No, these men and women do not haul in multi-million dollar bonuses. They are real people whose characters are worth much more than any sum. Those cut out of the same cloth as the heroes of 911 still serve today in cities, counties, and towns across our great country. I am thankful to have served with them and now that I am retired, they are always in my thoughts and prayers.

On Racial Strife: New Testament Style Goodwill Needed Today

By Rufino (hermandad - friendship) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Rufino (hermandad – friendship) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

It is no secret that the United States has been in the middle of a racial maelstrom for several years now. Most of the strife has centered on what some view as a racist police establishment that seeks to victimize young African-American men. Others, including myself, have pointed out that those holding a view that all white police officers are racist in their interactions with African-Americans are racially stereotyping white police officers. Surely not all white police officers are racists. Unfortunately, the stakes are pretty high as many police officers have been victimized themselves by what appear to be racially motivated, terrorist-style executions. The enormity of the problem facing the USA cannot be overstated as images of flaming cars and mayhem in our streets are common fare on national media outlets. Can persons who lived and wrote several thousand years ago give good advice to us today?

Samaritan Woman

In John’s Gospel, a trip through Samaria is recorded where Jesus Christ encounters a Samaritan woman at a well. During his journey, he is in need of a break and even as he does so he “breaks” down a racial wall as Jews were known to despise Samaritans. In this short interlude, he says many profound things to this woman.  After Jesus reveals that he knows of her personal affairs, the woman recognizes that he is no ordinary man, but a prophet. After stating this, she speaks to “the elephant in the room” or the racial tension between Samaritans and Jews mentioning her ancestors who worshipped on “this mountain” (4:20). In response to the woman,  Jesus stresses the obsolescence of religious ritual and a new paradigm of devotion from a sincere and earnest spirit. Jesus Christ, as God incarnate, does not esteem one region’s religious customs over another region.  As the encounter with Jesus continues, the villagers implore Jesus to stay with them two days and he does stay with them. The initiative of Jesus to bring the message of salvation to the Samaritans and then to stay with them for two days reveals that God is not concerned about one’s racial identity but rather looks at the heart of each individual person. Jesus breaks religious customs and ministers to and fellowships with a group that is considered “less than.” Jesus leads from the front in regards to displaying God’s goodwill towards a people group different than his own.

The Good Samaritan

In addition to this example of racial unity, Jesus also shows the importance of one’s heart attitude over racial identity when he commends the Good Samaritan for caring for a Jewish robbery victim expecting nothing in return (Luke 10). In this parable, the Samaritan renders care for this injured traveler while other “more righteous” ones ignore their obligation to care for him. Jesus points out that one considered “less righteous” is actually the one who does the will of God and has his approval.   In similarity to the ministry of Jesus to the Samaritans, Jesus’s parable points out that a merciful heart is more important to God than one’s racial identity. In addition to this well-known parable, God’s mercy towards all people is observed in the most well known Bible verse (John 3:16). God’s gift of salvation is not for those of a certain class, race, or sex but for “whosoever believes.”

After Jesus Christ ascends and the Holy Spirit is made manifest to the church, racial unity of the members of the early Christian church is also observed even though it is tested at several points. In the Book of Acts, God orchestrates the meeting of the Apostle Peter with Cornelius, a Roman centurion who is a righteous believer. After Peter has a dream, it is clear to him that God is breaking down a cultural barrier related to food and proclaims this new truth to those gathered at the centurion’s household. Summarizing what has happened as a result of the dream and his visit to the household of Cornelius, Peter states, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right (10:34.35).”  Peter then stays with Cornelius for several days. God again displays impartiality between those of different races and Peter models racial unity by staying with the centurion for several days.

In addition to these instances of God showing his acceptance of all races, Paul also teaches about the unity of believers in Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians, Paul discusses the body of Christ being one body composed of many members. In his teaching, Paul discusses that this unity in diversity extends to racial matters. Paul teaches that all were baptized and given the Holy Spirit upon conversion “Whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free. (12:13)” To Paul, there is no differentiation between these groups. Paul also discusses the unity of believers in his epistle to the church at Ephesus. In chapter two, Paul emphasizes the reconciliation of the Jews and Gentiles through Jesus Christ where Jesus Christ “himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…consequently you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household. (2:14, 19)” Again, the person and work of Jesus Christ breaks down racial barriers between people groups and provides a foundation for racial unity.

Of course, these instructions from the word of God are the way things should be but when humans are involved, we are going to get it wrong because of our fallen nature. Because of our brokenness as humans, we are going to have prejudices that crop up and need to be addressed. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul shares where he noticed that Peter had begun to discriminate against the Gentile brothers and sisters when Jewish Christians were around. When these Jewish believers traveled from the church in Jerusalem to the church at Antioch, Paul noticed that Peter no longer dined with the Gentiles but began eating only with the Jewish Christians. Barnabas also joined in with this hypocrisy along with other Jewish believers. In response to this prejudicial behavior, Paul opposed Peter and rebuked him for his bigotry in front of all assembled (2:11-15). This is instructive to us today. When we see others behaving badly towards those of a different people group, we should confront those who are fomenting ill will. If there is a police officer that is victimizing someone of a different race, then he should be disciplined in measure with the severity of his offense. But this “calling out” of prejudicial or bigoted behavior need not only to apply to just police officers. If some members of the community make blanket statements that all police officers are racist or support groups that execute police officers, they should be “called out” as well for their bigotry and ill will.

It has been my experience that when I have extended goodwill to others from other ethnicities, then it is almost always reciprocated. It is my belief that when goodwill is extended, God will bless this activity. As a narcotics detective in Portsmouth, Va. and when working in high drug areas, I would try to find opportunities to share goodwill with the residents there. Sometimes it meant telling them the truth but most of the time it was just being friendly to those on the street. Doing my job but trying to be kind when I could be kind. On one occasion, our narcotics street squad decided to set up a traffic checkpoint at a high drug area in order to discourage those who were driving in to purchase drugs. We also decided to bring a football, a boom box, snacks, and some soft drinks. What we found out is that those who resided in this neighborhood really responded to the good will gesture and we ended up playing football and sharing our snacks and drinks with not only the kids but also the adults. Instead of being strangers, they became people that we got to know.

Ross in Ecuador with Kids 2

When working on mission trips in Ghana, Costa Rica, and Ecuador, the fellowship was always great because I got to know those who were totally different from myself. Yet, amidst all of the differences in culture and language we had this genuine goodwill/love that covered over these major differences. It was always the case that I had intended to give my all during these times abroad. However, I realized that by the end of my time in country, I had been “out-given” by those that I was ministering to. The goodwill evident by all was palpable and goodbyes were always tearful yet joyful (if that makes sense). Within the USA, my past experiences when visiting African-American churches were also memorable for the great fellowship experienced as well.

Ross In ecuador with kids

When on a work detail in Savannah, Georgia a number of years back, I visited one of the oldest African-American churches in the country by myself (First African Baptist Church- Not sure of the starting time of the church service, I walked into the sanctuary. It was then that I realized that it was before the main Sunday service and there were several Sunday school classes meeting in different parts of the main sanctuary one of which was a men’s class. I sat down in the sanctuary but as I sat down, one of the African-American men in the class eagerly invited me to be a part of their group. What a joy it was to be included in their class! There was plenty of goodwill being displayed by this dear African-American brother and I thoroughly enjoyed the Sunday school class and the service that followed. I could go on with other examples but this article is long enough already.

What is needed today is an injection of New Testament style goodwill as modeled by Jesus Christ, Peter, and Paul. The words and actions of Jesus Christ, Peter, and Paul display a disregard for race/ethnicity when it comes to acceptance before God. God is more concerned with the state of one’s heart than he is with one’s skin color.  After all, the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the ultimate displays of goodwill for “whosoever believes” as proclaimed in John 3:16. Therefore, in keeping with these examples, the church should blaze the way in displaying this godly love.  We should fellowship with and minister to/with others of other ethnicities. White, Hispanic, and African-American churches should seek out opportunities to fellowship and work together.  Moreover, I have a vision where people from various races join together to speak out against prejudice, bigotry, and violence no matter where it comes from. When our communities are committed to displaying goodwill towards others and speaking out against violence/bigotry, only then can our nation make strides against hate based violence and rhetoric irrespective of its origin.

Observation of a Xenophobe: People of Organized Religions are Xenophobic

Ross Bible Pond

One of my Facebook friends recently posted a link to a page entitled “The Big Think.” This page is a collection of videos and articles from well-known and influential people. The link posted on my friend’s Facebook page was a short monologue given by Dr. Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and author. The topic Krauss chose to speak on was “Is Xenophobia Inherent in Organized Religions?” Right off, I was puzzled by the title of the clip because he is a theoretical physicist so why would he be speaking about socio-cultural matters? My guess would be that he would want to talk about what is in his area of expertise, say maybe… “physics?” Of course he can talk about anything he wants to but a curious choice, nonetheless. However, he is listed as an expert on the page. Is he an expert in culture/religion?

Nonetheless, as I watched and listened to him speak, it is clear that he has a gift for communication, has a pleasant appearance, is intelligent, and is very engaging. However, when I actually listened to the content of what he was saying, I was humored in one sense because he seemed oblivious to the irony of accusing most of the world’s population (those who are of organized religions) of being xenophobic while totally missing that such a statement is xenophobic in itself. My other reaction was concern because charming and influential people like Doctor Krauss are saying things that in my opinion are quite alarming.

Before I discuss Krauss’s perspective any further, I want to make a distinction between atheists and “radical” atheists. I have known and worked with atheists through the years and found them to be very good associates and acquaintances. Of course, true tolerance endorses the right for all to hold their opinions and express them freely. So, naturally, people of good will who hold to any belief system will be tolerant of one another’s perspectives. This is a foundational principle of democracy (even though this tolerance seems to be waning in recent years). But what I realized when listening to Krauss is that he is of the new variety of “radical” atheists who believe that religion is a negative and subversive force in culture and that it is basically the root of all evil, thus no real tolerance for Christians and other religionists from Krauss. He is not just a person who endorses atheism but aggressively goes after other groups of persons pinning the woes of the world on them.

During his short monologue, he went into the usual radical atheist rant about the subjugation of women by religionists (I guess he really did not read Paul’s letters too closely or realize that Western culture actually does pretty good in this area-not that we are perfect), or question why anyone would believe in something that was created by iron age peasants (I guess he forgot that most of the major scientific accomplishments throughout the ages were accomplished by religionists such as the great, ancient Babylonian astronomers, the Greek scholars/theorists/astronomers who were pagan religionists, and the long procession of great Western astronomers who affirmed belief in God, etc.), and that religionists always want to kill, ostracize, and send people to hell (I guess he forgets about the great genocides of atheist regimes of the 20th century, and the fact that Christians are charged to love other people even their enemies, not condemn them to hell). Surely, all people who are a part of organized religions are not contributing to the demise of the world? In that he paints all persons from organized religion with a broad brush, he commits religious bigotry and seems totally unaware he is doing it.

In addition to his hostility towards those of organized religions, it seems that Krauss thinks that the only domain for real truth is found in a test tube. But how can you come to the conclusion that the universe came into existence by itself or by chance in a laboratory? How come truth cannot come from domains other than science, say from logic, philosophy, principles of investigation or heaven forbid, from even religion?  What about the professional geneticist who I recently had breakfast with who described the amazing complexity of the cell and that as time goes on and with the advancement of scientific technology to look at the cell, new layers of complexity and design are constantly being discovered? This led this geneticist to proclaim awe in the design observed in just one cell and the belief that a super-intelligent mind must have designed it.

Does Krauss really know any of those he speaks against? Has he dined with any religionists? I really think that is part of the problem. Instead of demonizing those who don’t agree with you, why don’t we seek to try and know them as persons? Why doesn’t a Christian invite a Jew to lunch? How about an atheist and a Hindu go out for coffee? Perhaps, we would be less willing to think of each other as evil entities if we just realized that those of other religious perspectives (radical atheists are religious too) are just people. I am not saying that we should compromise our core beliefs at all. But I am saying that we should try to have relationship with those that we disagree with. I am someone who could do better at this.

It seems to me that Krauss is hostile towards anyone who holds to a standard of truth other than his own. It is obvious that Krauss believes that one is intolerant and xenophobic if one does not view things the way that Krauss does. This is where a brilliant man like Krauss is toxic in condemning billions of people who are not like him. In Krauss’s case, his video clip should not be on a site named “The Big Think.” A more appropriate name for a site with this clip would be “The Bigot Think.”

Link for Krauss Clip here:

Unjust Treatment of Slaves and God’s Response

Charlton Heston

Atheist scholar John Loftus asks this question, “So again, why didn’t God tell his people, ‘Thou shalt not own, buy, sell, or trade slaves,’ and say it as often as he needed to ?1  One of the accusations that skeptics make against the God of the Bible is that he was “pro-slavery.” This topic came up for me recently as I was reading in the book of Jeremiah and he was discussing slavery in chapter thirty-four. What does Jeremiah have to say about slavery? Reading him would be a good place to start to see if God was/is, in fact, “pro-slavery.”

Before going into that, yesterday, I was reading the family history and saw where one of my English ancestors, George (b. 1770) was sold by his father (also named George) into indentured servitude in order for the son to become an apprentice as a turner (machinist). There was a contract that was drawn up showing the amount paid to his father and for the time period of the indentured servitude. Also, the “master” (the turner) would be responsible for George’s upkeep. But aside from that, the “master” had control over George for a period of seven years and in return George would work for him as a turner’s apprentice. So, my ancestor was willingly sold into servitude in order to learn a trade.

Going back into ancient history (6th century BC), the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar was conducting a military campaign against Judea, in particular, Jerusalem. Nebucahdnezzar had laid siege to Jerusalem. During this campaign, King Zedekiah, ordered that all of the Hebrew slaves be released. In turn, the people released all of their slaves but after a short period of time, they forced the Hebrew slaves back into bondage. In response to this, the prophet Jeremiah delivers a prophecy against Jerusalem. Here are the verses from chapter 34 concerning these slaves:

8 The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to proclaim freedom for the slaves. 9 Everyone was to free their Hebrew slaves, both male and female; no one was to hold a fellow Hebrew in bondage. 10 So all the officials and people who entered into this covenant agreed that they would free their male and female slaves and no longer hold them in bondage. They agreed, and set them free. 11 But afterward they changed their minds and took back the slaves they had freed and enslaved them again.  12 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 13 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I made a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I said, 14 ‘Every seventh year each of you must free any fellow Hebrews who have sold themselves to you. After they have served you six years, you must let them go free.’[a] Your ancestors, however, did not listen to me or pay attention to me. 15 Recently you repented and did what is right in my sight: Each of you proclaimed freedom to your own people. You even made a covenant before me in the house that bears my Name. 16 But now you have turned around and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free to go where they wished. You have forced them to become your slaves again.  17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says: You have not obeyed me; you have not proclaimed freedom to your own people. So I now proclaim ‘freedom’ for you, declares the Lord—‘freedom’ to fall by the sword, plague and famine.

What is of particular interest to me is what Jeremiah states regarding how the slaves came to be slaves in the first place and the requirement to release them after a short period of time. In verse 14, it states that the slaves “sold themselves into slavery” and also as provided for by the Mosaic law, they were to be released every 7 years. Therefore, because the slave owners reneged on their agreement to release the slaves, God was going to punish this injustice by the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians.

So we find in these verses that the slaves sold themselves into servitude and that they were to be released after six years which reveals that God was compassionate towards slaves. What is also striking is how bad of an offense God thinks it is. Injustice towards these slaves is so bad in God’s opinion that he will permit the destruction of Jerusalem as a result of this offense. So, it is clear that in these verses from Jeremiah that God is very concerned with social justice, that God is compassionate, and that he is concerned about the victimization of the innocent. There is a lot more to be said in the pages of Jeremiah about the abuse of the vulnerable at the hands of the powerful (actually a recurring theme in the OT) but odds are that you won’t read the rest of this article if it is too long so I’ll end now. But suffice to say that Jeremiah shows us that the “God of the Old Testament” was not an ogre at all as some would have you think. Rather, he cared and still cares for those who are not in a position to protect themselves.



My Take On GND2

gods-not-dead-book-2Recently, I saw “God’s Not Dead 2” with my friend, Brian.  I did enjoy the movie and I wanted to give you my thoughts from my perspective as someone who has watched numerous trial proceedings and testified on many occasions in a courtroom.  Before going into that, I really liked how they portrayed pastors in the movie.  In being an elder at a church here in Kernersville, I see how pastors are unsung heroes in many ways.  Yes, you see them running around in church on Sundays smiling and shaking hands.  But during the week, what a lot of people don’t see is the tough work they do helping people with their problems in so many different ways.  We did see this in the movie on several occasions when the two pastors (Revds. Jude and Dave) made themselves available to help some of the characters who were having “dark nights of the soul.”

Regarding how the action in court played out, there were many dramatic moments in the movie that would not have been allowed to occur in the federal courts (and I assume local courts as well) that I operated in.  For instance, when Brooke Thawley, the teenaged “victim,” burst into the courtroom and blurted out her support for her teacher (the defendant-Grace Wesley), I am pretty sure that a mistrial would be declared by the judge on the grounds that the jury would be unduly prejudiced for the defendant by the outburst.  There were also several other dramatic surprises in the movie as well.  Mention was just made of the teenager bursting into the courtroom. Another dramatic surprise was when Grace Wesley was forced to testify on the stand by her own attorney.  In a real courtroom, if a defendant, one who is charged with an offense or one who is accused of wrongdoing, does not wish to testify, she is not going to be forced to testify.  This protection against self-incrimination is covered under the fifth amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  So, Grace Wesley would not have been “forced” to testify near the end of the movie like she did unless she desired to do so.  Even in the case that she wished to testify in the proceeding, the judge would question Grace to make sure that she understood what she was going to do before she did it (that she understood her fifth amendment right against incriminating herself).

So, a rule of thumb for federal courts is that federal judges do not like surprises in their courtrooms.  There is an orderly way of doing business that attorneys who practice in federal court on both sides of the bar, are familiar with and adhere to.  These are contained in local rules of the court and also in the federal rules of criminal procedure.   For instance, if the defendant’s attorney (the lawyer of the teacher Grace Wesley), wanted to put witnesses on the stand for the historicity of Jesus, then they would have to notify the court and the attorney for the plaintiff (the side bringing the case) that they were going to make this argument well before they intended to do it.  They would also have to inform the court and the plaintiff’s attorney exactly which witnesses they were going to call to the stand to testify and what these witnesses are going to testify about.  The court would also allow the plaintiff’s attorneys time to examine the new material in order to properly prepare to cross-examine the defendant’s witnesses.  So, there would have been a pause in the trial proceedings to allow for this process to occur.

The two witnesses for the historicity of Jesus called by the defendant were author/educator, Lee Strobel and retired Torrance, CA homicide detective, J. Warner Wallace.  Even though Lee Strobel offered good evidence for the historicity of Jesus, his testimony would not be allowed to come in as evidence in the proceeding.  In order to get the evidence in, the defendant’s attorney would have to offer and authenticate the documents that Strobel referred to.  So, the documents of those non-biblical sources that Strobel spoke of would have to be brought in as evidence through introducing the documents themselves through witnesses who maintain them.  This would be an arduous process because there would be numerous ancient documents that would need to be authenticated by different witnesses who possess the ancient documents.  Most likely, because of the fragility of the documents, an alternative arrangement would be made so that the jury and the plaintiff’s attorney could review these ancient documents outside of court.  So due to these complications, I see why the makers of the movie had Strobel do a summary of these proofs.   However, in a real courtroom, Strobel would not have been allowed to testify in this manner especially when he offered the opinions of others (He would not be able to testify about what others say- hearsay- Gary Habermas, etc.).

Jim Wallace was a natural on the stand and the information he testified to is also very good evidence for the truthfulness of the New Testament.  When he testified on the witness stand, I appreciated his forensic analysis of the account of Jesus before Caiaphas as he analyzed the same account from three of the four Gospels.  Two Gospel authors unwittingly verified the details from another Gospel author (Mk. 14:65; Luke 22:64 confirm Matt. 26:67-68;).  This is good confirmation of the accounts being truthful.  He also offered good circumstantial evidence for the veracity of the NT and by extension the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ when Wallace discussed the fact that all of the apostles died as martyrs for their faith.

In my opinion, the most effective way to show the veracity of the New Testament in court (and by extension the historical Jesus) would be to authenticate the various gospels by presenting the early manuscript copies that exist, demonstrating the evidence for their early authorship, presenting evidence for the authorship of each Gospel, and by showing the “chain of custody” in which the New Testament comes to us.  Additionally, the defendant’s attorney could also call those who have possession of ancient copies of documents of the early church fathers (those 1st and 2nd century church leaders who confirm the authorship of the various NT books) who wrote about the various books of the New Testament and their authors.  However, this would be a tedious process.  This is probably the reason that the makers of the film condensed this process by calling both Strobel and Wallace to the witness stand to summarize this evidence. In much more detail than GND2 permitted, Jim Wallace makes a great case for the authenticity of the New Testament in his book, Cold Case Christianity.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in studying the evidence for the veracity of the New Testament.

Another point to mention regarding the testimony of Wallace and Strobel is that the plaintiff could call witnesses to refute the testimony that they both offered on the stand.  However, in the movie, the plaintiff did not call his own witnesses in order to refute the claims of both Strobel and Wallace regarding the historicity of Jesus Christ and the NT accounts.  If skeptical scholars gave their testimony against the veracity of the NT, they would most likely offer arguments such as “the gospels contradict each other,” and “the mythical Jesus comes from pre-existing pagan myths.”  Regarding these two skeptical arguments, I believe that I have successfully refuted them by showing that they do not rely upon accepted principles of evidence but merely conjecture (see blog articles

So, all in all, I do believe that GND2 does offer good evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ from a historical vantage point. I also believe that hostility towards the free expression of religion on public school campuses, as portrayed in the movie, is a real and serious issue that Christians face today (as observed in the law suits listed at the end of the movie).  Finally, even though an actual court would not operate like the one depicted in the movie, the makers of the movie were able to summarize some of the great evidence for the historicity of Jesus in an entertaining way.