Government and Morals

Here’s a discussion question for today (and totally unrelated to Boo Boo the chicken). Does government have the right to enforce morality?

In Black Jack, Missouri, population 6800, a local ordinance says three people or more people may not live together in a single family home unless they are related by “blood, marriage or adoption”. Olivia Shelltrack and Fondray Loving, unmarried for 13 years and with two children, purchased a single family home and then denied an occupancy permit.

Local officials told the couple that the fact they were not married and had three children, one from Shelltrack’s previous relationship, did not fit the town’s definition of “family”.

The couple were then left with the option of getting married, packing their bags and leaving town, or putting up a fight, which is what they decided to do.

“I think the city wants to send a clear message that they don’t want children born out of wedlock,” Shelltrack told AFP in a phone interview. “It has become a moral issue for them.

After 13 years and two children, they probably ought to just get married, but that’s not the discussion question. Here are discussion questions for today:

  • Should governments enforce morality laws?
  • Does it matter if it’s a small town like Black Jack or a big city like New York?
  • Can the US government enforce moraility?
  • Should other governments like Saudi Arabia or France enforce morality?
  • All laws are basically enforced morality, like murder, theft, embezzlement, trash collection, hazing, slander, etc. How do you choose which laws are permissible to enforce and which ones should not?
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26 thoughts on “Government and Morals

  1. The main purpose of marriage is to maintain the stability of the family. Unfortunately a marriage certificate no longer does that. In the time that Olivia Shelltrack and Fondray Loving have been together, my cousin-in-law has been through 3 divorces and is on wife #4 she twice divorced. They met in church of all places. They each have 2 children. He from wife #3 as hers from each of her previous marriages.

    Who has damaged their family more? I’ll take the Shelltrack/Fondray family as neighbors any day.

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  2. I don’t think this is a case of trying to enforce morality, but protect property values. In this day and age, you often find homes occupied by several families, with 6 or 8 cars parked out front, producing trash and using other neighborhood services in excess of what was originally planned for a single family home. I know there are several cities who are enacting this type of ordinance, especially those in border regions where it isn’t unusual to find dozens of unrelated (and possibly illegal) folks in a small single family home.

    Where these people may see it as a morality issue, I imagine the city council originally had different motivation – despite the spin in the article.

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  3. Liz – how does a next door family with out of wedlock children strengthen marriage?

    Vox – If I understand what the city council did, they proposed a rule to redefine occupancy to allow 2 unmarried adults with 2 or more children, but the council voted it down. In otherwords, the “overcrowded” philosophy behind such a law, if it were ever there, is no longer the reason for keeping it. Basically, now it’s banning unmarried couples with children.

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  4. Some college towns have ordinances like this. This is especially designed for rent houses. When some friends and I tried to get one we were told that not only were we a liability to the house (4 college kids), we would be breaking ordinace by having cars parked on the road and no in the driveway or garage. Also, the risk of defaulting the rent tripled from one payor to 4. Plus the amount of garbage, water, utilities, and so on…

    It took a few years to see their point, which was about the same time a group of families (3 of them, sometimes 4) moved into a house across the cul-de-sac. We’re talking 5 cars, one of them belonging to a bass head highschool punk, who would bring his friends to his house, so 5 cars, plus 5 or more puts at least 8 too many parked along a 10 house road. It was nothing to have to go over there and ask them to move out of the way so you could leave or park. They either blocked you in, or used your driveway.

    So, yes, I can see where the ordinance would come into being…it’s unfortunate that seemingly honest folks are affected, but you can’t pick and choose who you are going to let break the law and not break the law. This is why Lady Justice wears a blindfold, carries a sword and totes a scale, so her decision will be met without prejudice, and thank God or your favorite Deity that she doesn’t wear a smock, carry a microscope, and tote a clipboard, we’d get less accomplished than we already do.

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  5. A family that has been together for over a decade without the marriage certificate is a more stable family than one that has been through at least one divorce in that same time frame.

    Again, the marriage certificate is supposed to keep the family together. I am all in favor of marriage. My point is that this family has stayed together longer without it than have many people I know who did get marrried.

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  6. Good point, Chris, but if that’s really what the town wanted to do, couldn’t they have simply passed a law restricting the number of cars and the number of people without regard to their marital status? From the article, it doesn’t appear the town would be willing to do that.

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  7. two things:

    1. It seems to me this might also be construed as an anti-gay ordinance, since it would make two partnered men or two partnered women and their adopted children illegal as well. You’re right; if the town really wanted to prevent the kind of “nightmare neighbor” scenarios some of the commenters have mentioned, it would have been easy to draft an ordinance actually tackling front lawns as parking lots. So I wonder if this might have originally been an ordinance to keep gay families out.

    2. Aren’t these two adults now actually common law spouses? I wonder if that makes any difference in Black Jack?

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  8. I don’t agree that legislation enforces morality. It is about rights. Murder affects someone else’s right to live. Theft affects the victim’s right to their own belongings.

    So, let me ask this question- how does a committed, umarried couple affect anyone else’s rights?

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  9. Rebecca – I would think in Texas they’d be considered common law spouses, but I don’t know what the laws are in Missouri.

    Courtney – Your question is more on target and related to my original question. Let me ask you a similar question. If your neighbor parked an RV out front of his house and a boat in the middle of his yard and rusted, abandoned cars all over his lot, how does that impact you? If your answer is “my property values are affected,” I’d counter that his property doesn’t directly affect you, it’s indirect. Would you be in favor of gays with children next door? A commune of hippies? Farmers with pigs?

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  10. A rusted RV or a farmer with pigs you can see or smell. A marriage certificate you can not. I can’t tell from looking at my neighbors property whether or not they are legally married.

    As far as a gay couple moving next door, they have a tendency to keep their property very nice and as a result propery value tend to go up.

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  11. A gay couple you can also see. (Presumably you can smell them, too.) If you don’t want your children to see gay couples, is it acceptable for a community to restrict occupancy?

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  12. I have farmers as neighbors and a rusted old truck in my front yard. My property value went up this year. Need the boat!

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  13. Now let me play devil’s advocate here.

    This whole thing is being presented as a marriage related isue, and it most assuredly has that aspect. But let’s be honest — such occupancy ordinances commonly exist in that part of the country, and are enforced in a variety of circumstances. The goal is to keep single-family dwellings as single-family dwellings, and to make sure that local housing does not become over-crowded. One could therefore frame this debate very differently.

    1) Should government be restricting the use and occupancy of private property by property-owners?

    2) Does governemnt have a legitimate interest in ensuring that esidential neighborhoods remain residential in character?

    3) Does government have an interest in making sure tht the character of a community is not changed by new residents?

    4) Do new residents (or even a small minority of old residents) have the right to demand that a community accommodate and sanction their lifestyle choices?

    5) Is a law valid if it is facially neutral in terms of definitions, even if it has a disparate impact on certain groups based upon lifestyle choices?

    Framing the questions in that manner might produce a very different set of answers, wouldn’t you agree?

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  14. Yeah, Stephen… but are those farmers married? 😛

    Rhymes, while I think #1 is a given, #2 and #3 raise the same question I did. It’s government-sanctioned morality, which is great as long as the government is sanctioning *your* morality.

    #4 is harder. I think residents ought to have a say in what type of neighborhood they live in. And #5, if by “disparate groups” you mean the very people the law was designed to prohibity, is that what you mean?

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  15. Should governments enforce morality laws?

    The difficulty with legislating morality is that laws will always be ambiguous due to who gets to define what morality is. In a free society, morality is different to everyone. And laws written with a moral intent can and will be used and twisted by individuals and communities to conform people of one moral type to another, thus, the legislation of morality has the potential to lead to discrimination and segregation.

    So, in America, which is founded on the Bill of Rights, to be fair to all, the governement should only enact legislation that finds the balancing lowest common denominator that is fair to all people of diverse moral beliefs. That is to say, that, the government laws should be done to defend people from harm from others through acts of murder, theft, injury, and discrimination. Any moral legislation beyond these common denominators that we all can agree upon is purely subjective, and speculative.

    You might say that a community has the right to create local ordinances that reflect the moral fibers of the residents. Howrever, I must warn you, to enforce, and expand this endeavor will lead to the possiblity of let’s say a community of a majority of Muslim people can enact laws based upon the Quran, or people that associate with bigamy to create ordinances allowing multiple spouses. You open a can of worms of good and bad when you move in this direction of legislating morality

    Does it matter if it’s a small town like Black Jack or a big city like New York?

    As I sad above, if you deviate from the center, you may at first think it is wise, but you will create precedence for other communities to develop that may come back to haunt you. The beauty of the system is that if we only enforce moral legislation based upon what we all can agree upon, at any level of governement, local or federal, we do not allow segregation and discrimination to occur, yet we can fight the fights that need to be fought, like child pornogrpahy, slave labor, hate crimes, and more abusive physical threats against our population.

    Can the US government enforce moraility?

    Again, the path the must be tread is the common denominator that we all as a free people can agree upon, that is acts of murder, injury, theft, abuse, and discrimination. Anything more risks going too far and will begin to tread upon individual freedoms.

    Should other governments like Saudi Arabia or France enforce morality?

    A governement is formed from the people and must reflect there state of mind. Our stance as Americans is that we should lead by example, not force. If Saudi Arabia or France runs their governement in a specific way, we must respect their wishes, that is unless it directly threatens us with harm or theft. If humanity is to grow as a Civilization, this must be respected, and people of diverse ways of life should attempt to come together through peace, and for one Nation to impose a moral standard on another risks stepping into the realm of hypocrisy, for no one has the right to cast stones. Every country is guilty of defying their own moral standards from time to time. Our morals are not their morals, and thus any attempt if imposing them would be answered with defiance.

    All laws are basically enforced morality, like murder, theft, embezzlement, trash collection, hazing, slander, etc. How do you choose which laws are permissible to enforce and which ones should not?

    This is not a black and white issue, but one of many shades and colors. Morality is as diverse as our population, and what one defines as morality is different from one’s neighbor. America is the Great Experiement where we as a people have decided for better or for worse, to create a society that is based upon freedom for all. We were the first to take this step, and as a result, have many issues that other nations do not in regards to America being the most diverse and free Nation on this planet. For all the good that has come of it, it is still a work in progress.

    How does one define morality far enough to protect people from physical harm, and theft, and protect their freedoms per the Constitution and not go so far as to impede upon those freedoms and plunge that diversity into segregation and discrimination. It is a fine line we tread.

    How do we do it? Well, what comes first and foremost is the freedoms we all enjoy based upon the Constitution. That is what all moral legislation must reflect and defend those freedoms. Secondly, we must look for what we all can agree upon, and that would be laws to defend the individual against pain and suffering, as well as theft and murder. These are moral crimes againt the freedom to live and property rights. Also, moral laws must defend against discrimination and segregation, including hate crimes. These are moral crimes against the freedoms we all enjoy.

    I feel any laws that go beyond this risk becoming opinionated, and subjective, and based upon differing moral beliefs which can lead to discrimination and segregation which are moral crimes that would take precedence over any deeper moral laws.

    Now, the ordinance that has been in violation with this case shows signs of discrimination and segregation. The community can defend and validate the ordinance as protecting the community from multiple families moving into a single residence, which really comes down to the local government loosing tax revenue from that second family that should be in a separate house hold. However, to break-up a family based upon this ordinance simply because the community wants to enforce moral laws is different.

    If this is the same story I am familiar with, is it an issue that the couple is of different races, or is it because they are un-wed. If they are not harming their neighbors, nor being a nuisance, and are acting morally based upon my defintiion above, I feel that this family is being targeted based upon a clash of moral beliefs that are either religious motivated, or racially motivated. This goes against a higher moral standing, and that is freedom from descrimination.

    The ironic thing is that I believe it is the man whose last name is Loving?

    Morality always need to be weighed against Freedom of Rights.

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  16. Does your advice change if the vast majority of the affected people agree to the enforced morality? For instance, nearly all religions (Catholic, Muslim, Hindu) would oppose unwed parents living together. And while the idea of unwed parents living together has grown in acceptance among secular Americans in the last 30 years, it’s still a minority.

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  17. Does your advice change if a majority of the population desires to enslave a race of people, and use the Bible to validate their actions?

    Quote: “For instance, nearly all religions (Catholic, Muslim, Hindu) would oppose unwed parents living together.”

    And luckily, they live in a country where they are allowed to raise their OWN families accordingly and do not have to fear someone taking that right away from them, or be discriminated against for that belief.

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  18. Well, hey, no need to be rude. The bible does not enslave, it frees one from sin. Those that would enslave another will misuse any tool to achieve their own ends.

    What about the right of a family to raise their child without the influence of what they consider amoral behavior?

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  19. Sorry Michael, just keeping it real. Living in the South, in the heart of the old slave territory, I know full well that slave owners used the Bible to validate their actions pulling mostly from Saint Paul in the New Testament, though the verses escape me at the moment, I can find them if you would like. But they also came to associate all slaves as descendants of Noah’s son Ham who after Noah found out Ham ridiculed his nakedness while Noah was drunk, was told by his father, “Curse Canaan, a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”

    “What about the right of a family to raise their child without the influence of what they consider amoral behavior?”

    You have to be careful here because though, from your side of the argument, that seems reasonable, it opens up athiests view that they wish their children not to be influenced by the words, “Under God” or “In God We Trust” in the pledge, and on money respectively.

    And, as I pointed out in my comments on Romans and not judging others less we be judged, if you do this in the wrong way, it will come back to haunt you. And even though you may see what an Athiest activist or Homosexual activist is doing something as an attack on your way of life, know that they are only responding to what they feel is an attack on theirs.

    Families have every right to raise their children any way they desire. It is their right. But they must also understand that others have that right as well, and what they may consider amoral, may not be to others in a free society. It is the price of Free Will.

    However, is it better for the children to be shielded from amoral behavior, and taught hatred towards those that behave that way, or is it better to allow them to bear witness to it, but use that opportunity to teach them our point of view that is free of prejudice and judgement and will not perpetuate fear, hatred, and segregation, but rather understanding. WIll not the second child fare the weathers of society better as an adult, with the ability to see beyond sin towards the divine rather than see only onto the surface, judging a book by it’s cover?

    Yeah, it’s tough, but enlightenment is never easy.

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  20. If you wish to “keep it real,” you would also note the role of Judeo-Christian values as the driving force behind ending slavery, even while some tried to use the bible to justify their actions.

    You’ve also made an assumption about “my side of the argument” because I haven’t presented my side of the argument. I’m only asking questions. I disagree with your contention that teaching children to avoid amoral behavior leads to hatred though.

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  21. Exactly, but healing can only be achieved in understanding that Judeo-Christian values sarted and ended it. But also do not think that Judeo-Christian values were the only factor in both ways. I am not against Judeo-Christian values, but I am against them having a monopoly, for no matter how much one may believe in a moral belief system, there will always come an acception to the rule.

    What do you do when two moral beliefs come head to head? How do you decide? What takes priority?

    For me, I weigh everything against Free Will. I believe that to be one of the Cardinal Universal Laws that even God cannot interefere with, or Creation will collapse.

    But to answer your beginning questions before I rudely interupted us, of which I apologize for, but here, I love fire. :-), which was:

    Does your advice change if the vast majority of the affected people agree to the enforced morality? For instance, nearly all religions (Catholic, Muslim, Hindu) would oppose unwed parents living together. And while the idea of unwed parents living together has grown in acceptance among secular Americans in the last 30 years, it’s still a minority.

    No, not if the enforcement of that morality interferes with peoples freedoms, and leads to forms of discrimination and segregation.

    Yes, some unwed parents do not always act parently with their children, but what about the one’s that are. The one’s that are. I am more for guilty being free than innocent being condemned.

    In speaking of minorities, if we did not make places for them, then we are doing an injustice to ourselves. Handicapped people are a minority, yet we make room for them. Personally, I love diverse views of life, because no matter what that life is, I can see God peeking through them. The more views of God, the better for me, because I can see all of God’s Glory, in the majority, and the minority, and can love unconditionally, though, as with all humans, I slip at times. 🙂

    I’m not against people being Christian because they have a right to be. I just get angry when I feel that my right to be is being infringed upon by Laws that have a Judeo-Christian flavor I may disagree with, and I don’t agree with ALL of them.

    SO, to live in a free society, our moral laws must be accepted by ALL people, even minorities, otherwise, we are not Free. That is the real price of freedom, to be understanding of our differences, and fight the fights that should be fought, like improving education, creating programs to help people get off welfare, eliminating our dependancy on oil, take a real look at why the Earth IS warming now, getting our economy off of shaky ground, improve our international relations our Ego harmed, a better health care system, eradicating world hunger, condemning the atrocities occuring in Africa as we speak. Leave governement out of the home unless it deals with physical harm and abuse, and theft, but don’t use the law as means to propel religous morality.

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  22. What do you do when two moral beliefs come head to head? How do you decide? What takes priority?

    Heh. That doesn’t happen when you have only one moral aurthority. 🙂

    For me, I weigh everything against Free Will. I believe that to be one of the Cardinal Universal Laws that even God cannot interefere with, or Creation will collapse.

    In other words, you’ve appointed yourself your own moral authority. You alone decide what’s right.

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  23. “Heh. That doesn’t happen when you have only one moral aurthority.”

    Nice one. 🙂 And I can reflect that comment. It is just my moral beliefs are different then yours. You think I am wrong, and I think you are wrong. We can only resolve that for ouselves independently. Which lead me to….

    “In other words, you’ve appointed yourself your own moral authority. You alone decide what’s right.”

    Of course, when it comes to my relationship with God, and my spiritual evolution, I am the one that needs to make the choice about how I conduct my life. I take full responsibility for my actions, and how I relate to the world. It is I that must surrender to God, and make the pact that I will not allow anything that is destructive or harmful to the world, and those within it. I follow the path of creation, that is, I create by the grace of God.

    I also respect that right of others, as I respect your desire to be Christian, and I admire that in you. However, I feel that it misses the mark on many things I require within my spiritual path. Even though Christianity was at first very hostile towards Yoga and meditation practices, they have come around, but not fully embraced them yet. Also, the religion could benefit from open discussion with other religions. You are all in the same boat, striving for the same thing. For one, the concept of what suffering means in the Buddhist path. Or the meaning of karma, and what it means to greet people using Namaste. Personally, I don’t feel God would limit himself to within a single faith. It doesn’t make sense.

    When I stepped away from Christianity, it wasn’t because I despised it or I felt that was wrong. I felt there was more. And for me there was. I found a better understanding of humanities differences, and finally understood what The Tower of Babel story really meant, at least to me. To me, religions are like languages of God. And God did not want humans focused within a single faith, but wanted to see diversity amongst us of his glory. God did not create us on a whim or for no reason. WE were created so God can experience himself, and God wanted diversity, so he seperated us into faiths, because God knew that it would be through our differences that we would trully understand him.

    In my opinion, I feel God desires us to create a kingdom of peace and prosperity on Earth, and I personally feel that that will never happen if every religion is taunting the other stating that they are right and the other is wrong. That wars are started over semantics.

    If the Day of Judgement comes like Christianity says it will and God disposes of all those that don’t follow Jesus Christ, even if they lead the type of life God speaks of, then that is nonsense. And this whole charade was for naught, and we learned nothing from the fall. Evil will not be understood. Just because one can notice it and sweep it under the rug does not mean one understands it.

    Also, please know I am not condemning the religion, just pointing out what I feel are the wrinkles in the tapestry.

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  24. If Christianity does not embrace alternate spiritualities, then that is a strength of Christianity. New Age transcendental meditation focuses on the individual; Christianity focuses on God. Yoga as an exercise is great; yoga as a religion only takes away from the glory of God, as does anything else that doesn’t focus on God.

    The rest of your post indicates some personal religion you have found. Religions are *not* the language of God when the son of God says they are not. They are incompatible with each other. If you “personally feel” different, I’m happy that works for you. But the Truth, the Light, and the Way says otherwise.

    Hebrews 13:8-9
    Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.

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  25. “If Christianity does not embrace alternate spiritualities, then that is a strength of Christianity.”

    The problem I have is that this tells me that you feel that Christianity is so perfect, that you don’t even need to look anywhere else ot even listen to anyone say anything about something else. And because Christianity segregates itself from everything else, they critique other forms not in the positive but in negative stereotypes like this:

    “New Age transcendental meditation focuses on the individual; Christianity focuses on God. Yoga as an exercise is great; yoga as a religion only takes away from the glory of God, as does anything else that doesn’t focus on God.”

    This shows me you know nothing about any of this, and basing judgement sterotypically. All of it does focus on God, it’s about embracing God.

    “Religions are *not* the language of God when the son of God says they are not.”

    Metaphor my friend. But, if you really study them, you do find a similarity to the evolution of religions similar to that of languages. So many times, semantics can lead to holy wars that aren’t necessary.

    As for:

    “They are incompatible with each other.”

    You probably haven’t looked further then the surface of things, but being CHristian, I guess you do not need to. You are perfect.

    “But the Truth, the Light, and the Way says otherwise.”

    Again, your words, as with the words of the Bible are filled with arrogance. Don’t worry, Christians can’t help it, it is bred into you.

    Anyway, I tried to have a discussion with you, but it is impossible for you. Your approach is too individualistic. Not once did you request knowing about my faith, or what I believe, or why I believe it, nor approached it with an open mind. Rather than discuss, you just fell back on the Bible. In fact, I don’t think I heard any honest original thought come from you. You are a clone and a slave. But if that is the way you choose to live life, I must honor it. But all I see down your path is darkness. And the world you describe to me sounds like a living hell. I am glad I broke free of it.

    Do not feel the need to respond, I will not be reading it. I needed to see one last time for myself what Christianity is like, and there is no way a Loving God, that is the Creator of all can be only of your religion. The God you describe to me sounds more like the Devil. Absolute. And unyielding. It trully is sad. I also know you don’t hear a word I am saying, but I am not writing this for you. It is my farewell to Christianity. Your church is the church Jesus came to warn us about. You have become the Jews. Ironic, isn’t it.

    Fare well.

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  26. The problem I have is that this tells me that you feel that Christianity is so perfect, that you don’t even need to look anywhere else ot even listen to anyone say anything about something else.

    Thank you. God is perfect. I suspect any other system man comes up with won’t be able to improve on that.

    Note that faith in the Lord through Jesus Christ is perfection. Various Christian systems, churches, and the application by man may certainly be imperfect. Depending on anything other than Jesus (yoga, hypnotism, money, materialism, secular humanism, the tooth fairy, and/or transcendental meditation) fails because they deny that we must yield to Jesus as soveriegn in our lives.

    I do not believe my words are arrogance when I quote the Truth from the bible. I acknowledge I may err in application, but not by quoting. When you tell me you are trying to have a “discussion” with me, are you not content to leave me to my faith in my Lord? Is if only a “discussion” if I waver? By that definition, you have not tried to have a discussion with me, and for the exact same reasons. You have refused to see Jesus as the only way, you have had no original thought, you are a clone and a slave and a whole host of other insulting things.

    The God I describe is a God of love and perfect justice, and I leave it up to Him to deal with you and me as He sees fit. Needless to say, I disagree with your assessment and it is faith through Jesus that shines a light on the darkness men love. And as I said in the very beginning, it is not my job to convert you, it’s only my job to share and let the light of the Holy Spirit work in all of us. You see to think you failed because I won’t budge; I think I’ve succeeded because not only did my faith in Jesus not waver, but I’ve had several opportunities to share the Word of God with you. And except for your little insults like “clone,” “slave,” and “devil,” you were mostly civil and I enjoyed sharing my faith with you.

    Should you wish to “discuss” my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ again, you are welcome to return. May God bless you in your journey.

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