The Lesser of Two Evils

There is no such thing.

Do you read and study the Bible?  Is that what you use as your standard for measuring truth?  Where, within its contents, do you find the place where it determines that some evil is worse than other evil?  On what page, or in what scripture reference to you find sin measured by degrees of its separation from God?

Oh, I’m sure there is some wording, some nuance of a phrase, or a prophet’s description of a concept that was difficult to put into words, where it might appear that God placed more weight on one kind of evil, as opposed to another.  Something that he called a particular kind of abomination, as opposed to just a regular abomination.  But that was in the interpretation, not the definition.  There’s that bothersome list over there in Exodus 20 that forms the crux of the Old Testament law and puts some definition to those measurements that God intended for us to know.

The other problem is that Jesus, in the other testament, makes a statement about being the one sent to fulfill the law, not abolish it, and introduces the concept of grace.  That really makes it tough to figure out different degrees of evil, because grace is simply and plainly grace, and if there are degrees of it, then it isn’t grace any more.  If grace is the remedy for evil, and it only occurs when there’s a need for it, then there can’t be evil that is more or less evil.  It’s evil.  It’s sin.  It’s separation from God, and if you are separated, you can’t be any further away than you already are.

This presidential election is giving me a headache, and causing a heartache.  Christians are valuing the secular power of a possible Supreme Court nominee, and their perception and perspective of other secular political positions against their own integrity and reputation as the church.  Christ’s church.  They are finding excuses to dismiss, or ignore, one candidate who has displayed evil, immoral behavior while vilifying another candidate for the same thing.  They are using arguments like “We’re electing a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief,” and “I have to support the lesser of two evils” as justification to endorse and support a candidate whose political position, demeanor and treatment of others, and moral life, is visibly contrary to the values and principles that define life in Christ, led by the Spirit.  At the same time, they are joining in the spewing of hateful, slanderous and often exaggerated rhetoric against the other candidate.  It looks like hypocrisy to me.  Frankly, it is.

“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.  The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.  You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors a bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”  Psalm 5:4-6. 

I spent too much time this week watching the RNC.  I don’t care what you think about Hillary Clinton, or her candidacy, or Barack Obama, or how passionate you are politically, there was absolutely no excuse for the kind of character assassination that took place during that convention.  It gives a whole new definition to the term “mudslinging,” which is actually no longer adequate to describe the experience.  I understand that Hillary Clinton is the opponent, but spending the entire week doing virtually nothing but attacking her says, in tones just as loud as the chants, that the Republicans have absolutely nothing to offer the American people that will change anything.  If they had something, they’d have invested some time in telling us about it, instead of how bad she is.

They gave a whole boatload of credibility to her claim that the attacks on her are a sign that the Republicans have nothing to offer.  The point has been reached where the constant beating of the drum is tiresome.  They are actually pushing voters in her direction, rather than convincing them to vote for their guy,  among independents, by almost a 2 to 1 margin.

I’m no big fan of Ted Cruz.  But the man has integrity.  That pledge he signed, to support the nominee, was made before the slanderous falsehoods were made by Donald Trump against his family, who should have been off limits for comments.  Trump’s statements released Cruz from that obligation, legitimately and morally.  And I believe that Exodus 20:16 trumps any reference to remaining loyal to an oath.  Sorry for the pun. Watching the convention turn on him, so quickly, and angrily was surreal.  Who are these people?  How in the world did they become the delegates to the convention of the party of Lincoln.

I’m sorry I watched.  But I won’t be sorry that the RNC nominee won’t get my vote.

Convention Watching

Some interesting observations.

The hurricane that cut off the first night of the GOP convention in Tampa in 2012 also cut out some important television coverage.  There’s still debate over whether than might have been a critical factor in Romney’s loss, though the results of that election, not nearly as close as some predicted it would be, indicate that it probably didn’t really hurt the candidate or the party.  But figuratively, the hurricane that blew through downtown Cleveland on the first night of the RNC 2016 was much more devastating from a political perspective.

The last thing you want to see is a floor fight over the rules, but that was characteristic of the first images of the convention.  Ultimately, the Colorado delegation walked out, and delegates from several other states, while not drawing attention to themselves, also left.  An NBC reporter sent to get comments from a Virginia delegate found their section empty well before prime time.  The lineup of speakers, while popular among some segments of Trump supporters, weren’t enough to draw viewer ratings anywhere near what was expected.  And then there was Melania.

Since Monday, we’ve gone from “there wasn’t any plagiarism, the phrases are common” to “well, she didn’t really go with the original speech that the writers came up with,” to “OK, she did plagiarize because she likes Michelle Obama and liked what she had to say, but its no big deal, really, is it?”

It’s a big deal.  Not just the plagiarism, but the attempted cover up.  Then they call Hillary Clinton a liar.  Really.

Then there was Pat Smith.  Wasn’t it the Republican party which leveled scathing criticism against the Democrats for trying to gain political capital by riding on the grief of mothers of young, black men who were shot by police?  And for using the grief of Eric Garner’s wife and family to try to gain political advantage?  I have a lot of sympathy for Mrs. Smith, and her family, but her blaming Hillary Clinton for the death of her son was not only way out of line, it wasn’t based on any factual information produced by the Republican party’s own investigations of Benghazi.  The accusation of the alleged “stand down” order has been proven false, as have the accusations that requests for increased security were “ignored.”  And in fact, the terrorists who attacked the embassy did indeed plan for their attack to coincide with the disturbances and protests in Egypt, in order to cause a deliberate distraction.  It wasn’t a good move, and from what I’m seeing in social media, and bloggers, it didn’t go over as planned.

If you’re going to focus on magnifying allegations related to criminal investigations (which didn’t turn out like most Republicans wanted) it is probably not a good idea to use the New Jersey governor who is presiding over the most corrupt administration in that state’s history–and that is saying a lot–to be the one to deliver the charges.  With investigations of individuals he appointed going on for everything from corrupt bank and money deals, to cover ups of criminal activity, to Bridgegate, which is a big deal, it turned out to be the pot calling the kettle black.  Christie sounded, and looked, like a New Jersey thug.

Of course, by the time Christie got to the podium, prime time had passed, and many delegates had already left the hall, some in disgust.  Even as late as Tuesday night, there were efforts by Never Trump supporters, who seem to be a significantly large segment of the convention delegates, to overturn the rules and move for an open convention, including Colorado on Monday, and Alaska on Tuesday.

The apparent highlight of the convention up to that point was the speech by Donald Trump Jr.  He’s a good speaker, and he had a lot of good things to say.  Unfortunately, his speechwriter missed some quotes from a newspaper reporter, and failed to insert the citations.  Not as big a deal as Melania, because it was just a reporter, so there wasn’t any potential admiration of “the enemy,” but plagiarism is plagiarism, and he should have known better, or his speech writer should have.

I haven’t heard any talk about issues.  Maybe here and there, but this whole think is about attacking Hillary Clinton.  Perhaps the best strategy that the Democrats, and particularly that the Clintons, have had in their favor over the years comes from the exaggerations and accusations made against them.  As Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake said, it is “jumping the shark.”  It’s going to come back and bite them.

Ironically, the convention is meeting in Ohio, selected because of its visible importance to the electoral vote, and the state’s governor, along with its senators and congressmen, are staying away and not being seen.  What does that say?  And as I think about that, I wonder, given the circumstances of this election, how it was that the party of Lincoln nominated the reality tee vee guy, and not the lincolnesque, well reasoned, experienced governor of Ohio, who, looking at things now, would be a relatively easy walk-in to the White House.

The Silence of Jesus

If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.  But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?  John 5:46-47

Jesus didn’t address the issue of homosexuality directly, at least, not in the record of his preaching and teaching in the New Testament.  It is referenced in the Old Testament law, including Leviticus 18, among a whole list of sexual sins.  The argument against using this particular reference is that in the church today, we don’t literally follow the laws in Leviticus.  Yes, we do accept the principles that are found there, but we don’t execute unbelievers, or tear houses down because of mildew, or consider it a crime to wear clothing made from more than one kind of cloth.

Homosexual behavior is also referenced in the New Testament, most notably by the Apostle Paul, in Romans 1.  There is some disagreement over his use of the term “arsenokoites” in the passage, though in the context of the passage, the meaning seems pretty clear.  However, these are the words of the apostle Paul, and not Jesus, and therefore, at least goes the argument, they don’t constitute a conclusive doctrine on the subject.  Jesus himself didn’t address the issue, and that speaks volumes about whether or not homosexuality is sinful, and requires repentance and forgiveness like adultery, or other sexual sins do.

Jesus didn’t address a lot of issues.  However, his teaching is very clear, and the principles he taught are illustrated by parables and examples.   Of particular note are his words recorded in Matthew 5-7, in a body of teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount, in which he states that the purpose of his coming was to fulfill the law, and in which he lays out an interpretation that took the law out of the hands of those who had modified and adjusted it with tradition, and put it back into the realm of self-evaluation and soul freedom.   And the biggest change that he brought, the most radical shift in the practice of the Jewish faith as it had developed and evolved since the Babylonian Captivity, comes in that particular record of his words, most notably those statements which begin with, “You have heard that it was said…” and ended with “but I say unto you…”  But he never abolished the law, and in fact, he showed his acceptance of its principles, while at the same time going to a sacrificial death on the cross to pay its penalties on behalf of everyone else.

Marriage

Jesus isn’t silent on the issue of marriage.  In Matthew 19:4-6, he references the book of Genesis, citing a statement supporting the fact that marriage is between a man and a woman.  The context of his remarks are related to a question he was addressing regarding divorce, but that doesn’t change his reference to the Old Testament principle, which he clearly considers authoritative.  No other recorded statement of Jesus would support the claim that he also considers same-gender marriage legitimate.

The New Testament

While it is true that Jesus doesn’t mention homosexuality specifically, that fact doesn’t subtract from the authority of other Biblical authors, who were guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit, and who make statements under that authority.  Paul, who was an Old Testament scholar in his own right, spoke with spiritual authority when he penned the verses of Romans 1, describing and contrasting the wickedness of human unrighteousness with the truth that originates with God.  Romans 1:26 and 27 are specific definitions of depravity related to same-gender sexual activity, described in this passage, while in other places, I Timothy 10, and I Corinthians 6, the Greek word arsenokoites is used, and is translated to generally mean “homosexual.”

Paul’s apostolic authority comes from Jesus, whom he encountered on the road to Damascus.  It’s not contradictory to the teaching of Jesus, and who better than Paul would have an understanding of the Old Testament scripture and of Jesus’ interpretation of the role of the law in Christian faith?

What did Jesus Think?

Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin.  He didn’t abolish the law, he fulfilled it.  Paul explains how this works.  The law defines the boundary between human sin and God’s perfection.  Though it is impossible for fallen, sinful humanity to live up to it, salvation, and a relationship with God was once only possible through obedience, and when that didn’t happen, payment of the penalty through personal sacrifice.  Once Jesus did that for us, we were set free.  The law still defines sin, and sacrifice still pays the penalty.  We are obedient out of gratitude for the penalty that Jesus paid, not in an attempt to try to earn salvation or appease God.

But Jesus still demonstrates respect for the Old Testament law, and still uses it to define that boundary between God’s perfection and human sin.

“And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God commanded, ‘honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘whoever reviles father and mother must surely die.  But you say, if anyone tells his father or mother , ‘What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.  So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” Matthew 15:3-7, ESV

So how does that apply to this discussion?  Jesus doesn’t set aside the law for human tradition.  The law emanated from God.  Tradition emanates from human wisdom.  Human wisdom is blind to sin, especially in itself, and can’t find the pathway to the truth, and to salvation.  Jesus gives us all kinds of ways to find the truth, including pointing to the scriptures in an authoritative way.  God’s eternal power and divine nature are observable in creation, according to the Apostle Paul.  The written word, which Jesus affirms, provides a lot of fine tuning when it comes to understanding God and his will.  So Jesus isn’t exactly “silent” on any subject, whether it is mentioned by name or not.

Beyond mere understanding

We need to pay attention to what Jesus taught.  Christians should be known by their love for others, but we are, unfortunately, more often than not, known for what we exclude, judge and attempt to change with our own power.  Probably nothing illustrates that fact more than the way most of us handle this issue.  Sin is the condition of fallen humanity, but we’re the ones that categorize it into degrees, and make some sin worse than other.  God doesn’t do that.

Many Christians aren’t comfortable dealing with this issue.  They lack understanding of those who struggle with it, and can’t empathize, so they condemn it as a character weakness or a choice, and then ignore those who are suffering as a result of it.  Others have somehow determined, through their own wisdom and reason, or from that of the cultural influences around them, that there is nothing inherently sinful or wrong with same-sex attraction, and think they are doing right by affirming the individuals who struggle with it.  Both of those positions fall outside the parameters of Christian faith, and not only fail to adequately address the issue, but they condemn gays and lesbians to spiritual death with their thinking.  Condemnation denies people the opportunity to hear the gospel, while affirmation bypasses the necessity of conviction and repentance which blocks the work of the Holy Spirit.

There are a lot of places where the Bible provides counsel on dealing with this, but John 15 is where I’d go.  The fact of the matter is that Jesus does prune our branches, so to speak, getting rid of those things in our life that need to be taken out in order for us to grow and develop in our faith, while nourishing and feeding those which are necessary for our growth and development.  Jesus will, in his own time, and in his own way, take care of the sin problem we all have, if we are willing to allow him to do so.

 

 

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE SBC REGARDING THE CONFEDERATE FLAG — Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr.

THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE SBC REGARDING THE CONFEDERATE FLAG From “Hearty Support” 1863 to “Discontinue the Display” 2016 BY WM. DWIGHT MCKISSIC, SR. At the near beginning of the 21st Century, The Southern Baptist Convention recently made the decision to address a heretofore unaddressed aspect of her history, and that is the SBC’s historic identity and […]

via THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE SBC REGARDING THE CONFEDERATE FLAG — Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr.

Be it Therefore Resolved: The Confederate Flag and the Southern Baptist Convention

“Then Peter began to speak to them: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.”  Acts 10:34 NRSV

“Our new government is founded… upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”–Alexander Stephens, Vice-President, Confederate States of America

An Arlington, Texas pastor, Dr. Dwight McKissic, is proposing a resolution for the SBC to consider at its 2016 annual meeting that would put the denomination on record as being opposed to the use of the confederate flag in public life.  Dr. McKissic states that his proposal is “not a move toward political correctness”, but is, rather, ” a move toward biblical righteousness.”  (https://dwightmckissic.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/response-to-requests-to-withdraw-the-confederate-flag-elimination-resolution-at-sbc-2016/)

If you know anything about the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, then you know that it came into existence because of the issue of slavery.  Some Baptists in the south objected to the restriction on serving as missionaries that was placed on slave owners by the existing Baptist denomination, and in 1845, met in Augusta, Georgia, and formed a separate denominational body.  Many of its churches, through the years, have practiced segregation by restricting membership only to Caucasians, and many of its institutions also did the same.  In recent years, those practices and policies have been reversed, African Americans have been welcomed into the denomination and into individual churches, and in 2012, the convention elected Fred Luter, an African American pastor from New Orleans, as its President.  As the churches have become increasingly diverse, African Americans, Latinos, Asians and others are being elected to, and serving on the Executive Board of the SBC, in state conventions, and in related institutions.  In 1995, the convention passed a resolution that essentially apologized for its past segregation and actions that were considered racist. (http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/899/resolution-on-racial-reconciliation-on-the-150th-anniversary-of-the-southern-baptist-convention)

The discussion about the use of the Confederate flag has come to the forefront because of the murder of nine people attending a prayer meeting and Bible study inside a Charleston, South Carolina church.  That prompted the state government there to finally remove the flag from the grounds of its state house.  Since the SBC has lagged behind most other Christian denominations in racial reconciliation, this resolution will be something which will allow it to be a prophetic voice on this issue.

At the beginning of this article, I cited a quotation from Alexander Stephens, who served as Vice-president of the Confederacy.  Stephens was not the only one who articulated this idea.  Jefferson Davis, the President, echoed those sentiments, as did other legislators and leaders of the Confederacy, and there is plenty of supporting legislation to indicate that this is a founding, core principle of that particular nation.  You cannot separate that from the symbolism of the Confederate flag.  And why would the flag be the only symbol that represents the historic culture of the American South?  The Confederacy lasted a mere four years, and was a relatively short period of time in its whole history.  There is a lot more “Southern-ness” that is unique to the South, but not connected in any way to the Confederacy, than its brief, troubled history.  Let the flag go, and use something that doesn’t have all of that baggage to be the symbols of history and culture.

If the Confederacy was, indeed, about states rights, as some of its historical apologists claim it was, then it turns out that such an approach was a failure when it comes to building a nation.  The Confederacy abandoned the balance of powers between states and federal government in the United States in favor of a very weak central government, with states that almost functioned as independent countries.  The military goal of the Confederacy was not to conquer and occupy the Union, but to fight long enough and hard enough to hold on to their territory, and make the Union quit, in order to preserve itself.  But it was not able to achieve that goal because its central government was not able to function.  It couldn’t levy enough taxes to provide adequate supplies.  It had difficulty planning an organized military strategy because individual states could veto plans, or simply not provide the necessary troops.  While Grant was marching on Vicksburg, and Sherman marched across Georgia, some states held their militias, and their supplies, back to protect their own territory, allowing the Union forces to concentrate on defeating the larger, more effective Confederate forces.

The primary right of the states that the Confederacy aimed to preserve was legislation which allowed whites to own negroes as slaves.  Historically, there is no evidence that anything else rose to the level of inciting rebellion against the United States.  Not all of the states that allowed slavery opted to rebel, by seceding, which makes the issue of what the Confederate flag stands for even less related to Southern culture than it should be.  The flag represented a government in rebellion, with a perspective on humanity that was different from the “all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights” of the Declaration of Independence, codified in the constitution’s Bill of Rights.  It did take a while for Americans to come to a resolution of the application of that Biblical principle, at least from a government, legal perspective, though we still have a way to go socially.

I have ancestors who fought, and died for the Confederacy.  I understand the historical context of the Civil War, and I understand what the Confederate flag stood for.  Robert E. Lee signed the surrender at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865.  The Confederacy ended, and its flag should be retired.  And beyond a resolution which addresses its use in public life, the SBC should continue to renew its commitment to Biblical righteousness.  It is a denomination which is recognized for its heart for global missions, and that heart needs to extend to reaching into the cultural diversity that is America.

 

 

 

A Visit to Hiroshima, and some other places…

You shall not murder.  Exodus 20:13, NRSV

Set the politics aside for this one.

The President’s historic visit to Hiroshima, something which was long overdue and needed to happen, was not an apology.  That’s been a common criticism, but the critics need to set aside their politics and pay attention to what happened, and what was said.  Criticism of, and obstruction of this President has become so commonplace, that reason has been a hard goal to reach in discussing events such as this one.  I watched the entire event twice.  Let it be what it was.  It was a well stated position which, more than seventy years after the fact, recognizes the bombing realistically, set in the perspective of the most destructive conflict in human history, and points to the need for peace and away from war as the means to resolve problems between nations.  Any of the last four Presidents could have done the same thing, and would most likely have made similar comments.  President Obama’s visit was non-political, and its significance needs to be considered in light of what it really was, and it’s not about whether you like his politics or agree with his presidency.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki taught humanity a lesson.  We were at the end of a long, drawn out, and costly war, costly not only in terms of resources, but in terms of the number of lives lost, and the especially high percentage of civilian, non-combatant casualties, mostly due to the air war.  Initially, there was fear that Hitler would push his German scientists to build what his propagandists constantly promoted as “wonder weapons.”  The Germans were much further along in the nuclear development process than either the Americans or British, and if Hitler had got his hands on an atomic bomb, it would have been a very critical and grave situation for his neighbors.  As it turned out, his racial policy and his hatred of Jews drove out many scientists who came to the United States and helped accelerate our development of it.

Building the atom bomb was certainly not without consideration of what might happen if it should be used.  No one really knew.  The escalation of a long war against dictators who were committed to the principle of “total war” pushed development of the bomb, and limited speculation about what would happen if it ever were used.  Those who are quick to criticize need to understand that for the better part of the four years that the US was engaged in World War 2, the prospects for an Allied victory were not great, and no one really knew what the outcome would be.  The development and almost immediate use of the atom bomb were just an extended progression of horror, and advancing a threshold that had been moving in that direction for years.

In all fairness, the thresholds of morality and ethics when it came to dropping bombs on civilian non-combatants behind the lines in cities were broken by the dictatorships early on in the war.  The Japanese built a bomber fleet with the intention of using it against designated enemies to build their “Co-Prosperity Sphere” in Southeast Asia, and had been dropping explosives and incendiary firebombs on the Chinese for several years before the Germans copied their air force strategy, building a heavy bombing fleet instead of a fighter force, and turned it loose on Poland in 1939.  Several hundred thousand civilians had died, and acres and acres of cities in China and Eastern Europe had been laid waste before the Japanese navy sent their aircraft carriers west, and destroyed Pearl Harbor.  Technology changed the rules of war, and the change happened at a time when madmen had the power to change it.

War is a symptom of a fallen world.  Think about it.  As far as human civilization has advanced, by the time World War 2 came around, even with the experience of a previous war that had been more destructive than any prior to it, the same old, unresolved human problems were still seething beneath the surface.  Unfortunately, human advances in science and technology had gone further than human wisdom was able to handle.  Prejudice, jealousy, oppression, and hatred were fed by selfishness and greed, and the technology became a weapon to be used with the deadly intention of forcing people to bend to it.  You don’t have to look any further than the Second World War to see that humanity is fallen, as the Bible’s writers reveal.  The fact that the most destructive and brutal war in history, caused by greed, inhumanity and racial and social prejudice, occurred at a time when most people would think that human civilization had advanced to its highest point is proof of that point.

“Defending righteousness makes us feel virtuous, even as we undertake that which is utterly lacking in virtue.”  Phillip Gulley, “Living the Quaker Way”

The Nazi government of Germany, and the military dictatorship of Japan were both driven by “master race” philosophies.  In their own way, connected to their own culture, they believed, and used their resources to promote and teach, the superiority of their own national and racial heritage over others who were considered inferior.  It was a driving force in the actions of both countries which led to the initial start of the war.  The United States initially stayed out of the conflict, in both Europe and Asia.  The American people were frustrated by the Allied Powers’ lack of objectivity, and insistence upon feathering their own economic and political nest with the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I and had adopted a policy of isolationism as a result.  We largely ignored the Japanese invasion of China, and continued to sell oil and scrap metal to the Japanese military.  When war broke out in Europe, President Roosevelt was far sighted enough to realize that the conflict could escalate, and that Nazi expansionist policy would eventually threaten the United States, but the people weren’t ready for another “European fracas.”  By late 1941, the way things had developed had indeed rung the alarm bells, but even while the United States was contemplating “undertaking that which is virtually lacking in virtue,” that is, figuring out how to get into the war and answer the desperate request of the British for military help, the Japanese resolved the issue by attacking Pearl Harbor.

We must not make the same mistake by giving in to the philosophical mess that led Japan and Germany to believe the rest of the world was inferior, and to use that to motivate their people to support a global war against their neighbors.  It’s tempting to justify acts of war by weighing the value of one race or nationality of humanity against another, but that is wrong.   The American ideal that “all men are created equal” is rooted in scripture.  America itself is a melting pot of culture, ethnic and racial diversity, national origin, and even religious belief, and that fact is a strength that has proven to be far more powerful in building national unity than any “master race” theory ever could.  Yes, we suffered in World War 2.  Somewhere around 420,000 Americans, almost all of them military personnel, were killed, and about 12,000 civilians, mostly merchant marines, also died.  But there’s no quid pro quo here.  Comparing the value of American lives to those of the Japanese or Germans, or any other enemy, puts you in the same philosophical category as the master race theorists.  One of the lessons we’ve learned from Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that we can’t go there.

The other lesson is, perhaps more valuable.  Technology is moving forward with science, and with it has come the development of even more powerful, dangerous, and horrible weapons.  The first atomic bomb leveled most of a large, industrial city, and killed 130,000 people within a few seconds of the flash of its explosion. Nagasaki fared better, because the hills that enclosed its city center protected most of its residential neighborhoods from the blast.  But we have bombs available now that can travel on rockets to anywhere in the world in about 15 minutes time, and can wipe out whole metropolitan areas, destroy infrastructure, and create a wasteland that won’t support human life.

These things are in God’s hands, but he has given us his wisdom, and from it there are principles that we should be able to discern, regarding our very existence.  One of those principles is that the weight of the value of human life, created in the image of God, is far greater than the ability that we have discovered which has the capacity to destroy us.

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”  Matthew 5:44-45, ESV

 

 

 

 

 

Sic Em’ Bears. It’s not just about the coach.

The scandal swirling around the football program at Baylor is very disheartening for the school’s alumni, students, and constituents.  After years of suffering through football seasons that brought less than mediocre performances, and a move to the Big 12 that initially added teams like Nebraska and Oklahoma to the regular schedule, Baylor hired Art Briles, and conquered the conference.  Once rare wins over Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech have become not only commonplace, but some of them have been lopsided in the Bears’ favor.  The Bears won just two Southwest Conference titles under legendary coach Grant Teaff, but have produced two Big-12 titles under Briles.

With talent ready and poised to win another conference title and content for a national championship playoff slot, the program blew apart when it was revealed that football players had sexually assaulted students, and were shielded by coaches and athletic staff members from consequences, whether legal or otherwise.  On the verge of winning another conference title last season, key injuries, particularly to quarterback talent, kept the Bears from their goal.  With the key players returning this season, anticipation of a great season has turned into colossal disappointment.  The coach will be dismissed.  The athletic director has been suspended, and the university president has been relieved of his duties and assigned responsibilities away from university operations as chancellor.

Baylor was founded by Texas Baptists, primarily as a place to train preachers.  It still does that, and it still claims some connection to its Baptist roots, though it has allowed non-Baptists to occupy board seats, and Texas Baptists no longer elect its trustees.  Some may think that the drift away from its roots is the problem, and in some ways, and to a certain extent, that does have something to do with it.  But big time college football doesn’t happen on very many campuses of universities with Christian roots, or Christian ownership.  Baylor is one of the few.  At least one of the others, Southern Methodist University, whose campus is probably less than a two hour drive away from Baylor, also felt the pressure required to be competitive, and became the first NCAA school to undergo the “death penalty” for rules violations.  It’s football program never recovered.  And in the last twenty years or so, only one Division 1, church related school has been able to compete at the same level Baylor achieved under Briles, and that’s Notre Dame.

The bright spot in this is that once all of the facts came out, the board did what it needed to do, especially to state that the school still desires to respect and follow the Christian heritage that birthed it.  The university has a chance to demonstrate that it does indeed care about its students, and it can work to make sure that there is acute awareness that sexual assault by anyone on the campus will be handled correctly, and without preferential treatment for those involved in athletics.  Those days are gone, and Baylor’s reputation and future is on the line.

It is time for Baylor to look to its heritage, and its Baptist, Christian roots, and draw the strength that it needs to make the right decisions, as well as to set a good example in putting its football program back on the right track.  Many of the players on the team are also Christians, who chose Baylor because of its Christian influence.  And while coaching is important, no individual coach is more important than a whole team.  Many of its current players are planning to return, and there will be a lot of attention paid to what happens there in the fall.  The school has an opportunity to redeem itself and its reputation, and still put a winning team on the field.

It can be done right.

Hate Evil, Love Good, and Establish Justice…

“Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts will be with you, just as you have said.  Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”  Amos 5:14-15 NRSV

The combination of financial and material prosperity with a lack of spiritual guidance and influence isn’t a good one.  Amos, a prophet from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, was sent into the Northern Kingdom, Israel, to deliver a prophetic word against what was happening in that nation.  They were prosperous, and fairly secure.  They were also separated from their spiritual moorings, and were ruled by a series of Kings described in the Old Testament as “doing evil in the eyes of the Lord.”  The poor were being oppressed, and cheated, kept poor as a means of increasing the wealth of the rich.  They had no advocates.  It was an unjust system that was perpetuated by those in power, right up to the throne of the King himself.

Prosperity isn’t a sin, in and of itself.  There are plenty of legitimate ways to become wealthy.  Considering that wealth as a blessing from God, there’s an expectation to use it to be a blessing to others.  But wealth acquired by cheating, breaking the rules, or taking advantage of others is sinful.  Humans are created in the image of God, and loving others in the same way that we love ourselves is a core principle of both the Jewish faith of the Old Testament, and the Christian faith in the New Testament.  Jesus taught this principle when he said that “Love your neighbor as yourself” was one of the two greatest commandments.

God’s judgment on Israel was destruction.  “The end has come upon my people Israel;   I will never again pass them by.” (Amos 8:2b, NRSV)  Ten tribes of a prosperous nation, given over to their enemies who, for generations, had been kept away and from whom they had been protected.  At the heart of what was happening in the country, the selfishness was at the top of the list.  Prosperity separated people, and became the thing which allowed the prosperous to turn their backs on those who had less, and then oppress them in order to become more prosperous.

It doesn’t just have to be money that separates people, and brings about injustice, though.  In our culture, it has been many things, from national origin, language spoken, color of skin, religious beliefs, and a whole host of other things used to create a privileged class of people who can then use privilege to justify oppression.  Fear also helps us seal off the ability to see others as God sees them.  Self examination is not enough, since we are not really capable of seeing others as God sees them.  We can only do that with the help of the Spirit.  And even then, it’s not easy.

The world would be a different place if those who place their faith and trust in Christ were more focused on this core principle, “loving your neighbor as yourself,” than on the whole host of other things that attract our attention, including our insistence on demanding our own rights and freedoms.  Behavior change requires a spiritual change, and things happen when Christians are invested in ministry.  That’s why God sent prophets to his people like Amos.  The times are different, but the message is the same, and so are the problems.

 

 

The Disintegrating Republican Party

“The Republican Party is made out of sugar, and it’s raining.”  Rachel Maddow

Here’s one of the places where an MSNBC commentator gets it right.  Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party.  He rallied a small but tight group of frustrated, angry voters, most of whom have no concept whatsoever of a republican form of government (which is ironic considering the name of the party they joined) and succeeded in exploiting the cracks, divisions and weaknesses that existed in the Republican Party in order to secure the nomination.  Yes, his percentages of the vote grew as the primary season progressed, but the numbers really didn’t.  The percentages went up because more and more Republican voters stopped showing up as each succeeding candidate dropped out of the race.

The Republicans will not unite or coalesce behind Donald Trump’s leadership.  That’s crystal clear.  Too many of them have burned that bridge with statements they have made during the campaign.  One of the Clinton campaign PACs is now running a commercial which features nothing but disparaging, damaging remarks made by the GOP field against Trump during the campaign.  Oh, yeah, a few of the candidates in the field, like Chris Christie, and Ben Carson, turned around and endorsed Trump when they dropped out, but I don’t think those endorsements helped much.  By the time they dropped out of the race, they were getting close to single digits in terms of number of supporters that they had.  But most of the rest of the field has distanced themselves so far from Trump that there will be no coming back.  And the fact of the matter is that most of them, and many of their supporters in the Republican party, won’t support Trump.  Period.

Is this the effect of reality television?  I think that’s had something to do with it.  People seem to want to live in a state of pseudo-reality, a fantasy world that flits in front of a camera and gives us sound bytes and flashes.  What’s remarkable is that just about everything involved in his candidacy is diametrically opposed to the principles and values that the Republican party has adopted and has been promoting for decades.

I joined the Republican party in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was running, much to the chagrin of my Dad, who had been a lifelong Democrat, going back to Roosevelt, and a union member.  There were a lot of reasons for that, among them the patriotism and the apparent embrace of Christian values which I shared.  I believed we needed a change, and Reagan, while certainly not perfect, looked like he could pull it off.  And he did, using compromise and negotiation, with bipartisan support, to build a strong consensus around the key issues that he wanted to address.  Donald Trump is about as far away, and as much of an opposite to Ronald Reagan as you can get.

The “lesser of two evils” rationale usually means I’ll just vote along partisan lines and excuse my party’s guy for its sake.  That doesn’t necessarily have to be your option.  There will be several third party candidates who are running, who have a high level of integrity but are simply not endowed with the kind of money and notoriety it takes to win a national general election.  And I don’t buy the rubbish that if you vote for an independent, you’re simply voting for the favorite, which is in this case at the moment is Hillary Clinton.  It is a cherished American right to cast a ballot for whomever you choose, and doing so means that you are not casting a ballot for anyone else.  That’s simple enough to figure out, and it trashes the garbage about what such a vote means or does.  But there’s another reason for that.  It is only the electors who actually cast ballots for the Presidential candidates.  The popular vote is only taken to determine, state by state, who gets those electoral votes.  So a vote for the candidate of your choice is not, in any way, shape or form, a vote for someone other than the person whose name is beside your X.  That’s just political rhetoric from people who think other people are dumb enough to buy it.

It’s hard to say where this will go.  Clinton has a lot of baggage from years in the political establishment, and politically initiated investigations into Benghazi and her email server keep the radio disc jockey talk show hosts in material, though there is obviously not anything in either investigation to warrant an indictment, if you thought one might be coming.  But Trump is a liar, a xenophobe, a religious bigot, a racist, an adulterer, and there’s no guarantee that he will keep any of his promises, given his record in that department in his business dealings. He can’t release his tax returns because they are being investigated by the IRS.  He’s run up a cost into the multiple millions of dollars to the taxpayers for bankruptcies.  Is this a guy you want to have control of the nuclear codes?  The IRS?  And are these the values you want associated with your party?  Because if Republicans roll over and accept this as politics as usual, and those who have been moving heaven and earth to stop his run to the nomination decide its just time to support the party nominee, then they will wind up owning everything that is corrupt and bad about Donald Trump.  Everything.

Where did all the Evangelicals go?

“Evangelical Christians” have been considered a constituency within the Republican Party ever since the days of the Moral Majority and the Reagan years.  Prior to that time, they were not really considered a voting constituency, and it was widely believed that many of them shunned the political process because they viewed it as potentially corrupting, or that it was something that was better left alone, “rendering unto Caesar,” so to speak.  Ironically, the awareness of the presence of “Evangelicals” was heightened by Jimmy Carter, whose self-identification as a “born-again” Christian attracted a lot of interest and attention, as well as criticism, from the media.  However, it was the entry of “Evangelical Christians” into the electorate that turned the margins, particularly in the Presidential elections of 1980 and 1984, opening the door for Reagan’s election.

Since that time, the turnout of Evangelicals has been credited with victories for some, and the lack of turnout has been blamed for the defeat of others.  It has become clear that a majority of self-identified Evangelical Christians tend to support Republicans, and that core of support, which is estimated to be somewhere north of 60% of those who fall into that classification, has become one of the most influential constituencies in the GOP.

The failure of Evangelicals to turn out in large numbers in 2012 is one of the main reasons cited by Republicans for Mitt Romney’s defeat.  The claim is that about 4 million fewer Evangelicals turned out in 2012 than in 2008, failing to support Romney because of his Mormon faith, or because he just wasn’t really “their” candidate.  That’s not really consistent with what the exit polls showed, but that’s the claim.  And one candidate, Ted Cruz, has even suggested that 54 million Evangelicals still don’t vote, and somehow need to be activated for the GOP to win in 2016.

I’m not sure what sources he uses for his numbers, but I don’t think he’s anywhere near the ball park.  In fact, as the polling data, and religious survey data both show, the number of people who identify as members of Protestant churches in the US is in decline, as is the number of those who are identified as “Evangelicals.”  And my point here isn’t so much to lament the decline of their political clout as it is to point to some inherent problems that are indicating a decline of church participation in the country in general.  There are several reasons why Mr. Cruz’s numbers don’t add up.

How is the term “Evangelical Christian” defined? 

The Association of Religious Data Archives says that there are 26,344,933 people who are members of churches that are considered part of Mainline Protestantism in America, and 39,930,869 members of churches that are considered “Evangelical” Protestants.  The means of distinguishing the two is primarily related to the emphasis placed on the “social gospel,” with Evangelicals being somewhat critical of those they consider “Mainline.” Evangelicals are much more involved in activity which they see as witnessing, and preaching the gospel aimed at getting people to convert to Christian faith, while Mainline churches are more involved in activity which is aimed at addressing social problems and not necessarily involved in winning converts.

Many Evangelicals are involved in non-denominational churches and groups that don’t show up in religious surveys or censuses.  Non-denominational churches that identify as either conservative, or Charismatic, have a collective membership of about 12 million that is probably not all added into the figure reported by ARDA.  If that’s the case, then those who are identified as “Evangelical Christians” among Protestants in America, probably number somewhere around 50 million.  And if they are registered to vote at percentages that run 8 to 10 percent higher than the general population, which is what the surveys and polls show, that means there are about 32 million voters who are classified as Evangelical.  And that number is consistent with the percentage of the electorate that self-identified as “Evangelical Christian” in exit polling in 2012.

More Evangelicals Voted in 2012 than in 2004, or 2008

According to Ralph Reed, head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which would probably be the top Evangelical PAC in the country, the number of Evangelicals who turned out in 2012 was a record, higher than the 2008 percentage that turned out for John McCain.

“Evangelicals turned out in record numbers and voted as heavily for Mitt Romney yesterday as they did for George W. Bush in 2004,” observed Reed, the day after Romney’s defeat.  “That is an astonishing outcome that few would have predicted even a few months ago.”

So where will Cruz get more Evangelical voters?

The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation’s largest Evangelical denomination, and counts among the members of its cooperating churches Republican Presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and former candidate Lindsay Graham, as well as John McCain.  My friend and fellow blogger Bob Cleveland, who writes Eagle’s Rest (http://www.mightyfowl.blogspot.com/) has pointed out on more than one occasion the SBC’s irregularities in keeping track of its membership.  The SBC reports that it has 16 million members in approximately 45,000 churches located in all 50 states, but primarily in the South.  However, on any given Sunday, the collective worship attendance of those churches is between 6 and 6.5 million.  In addition to that figure, the SBC reports that more than 7 million members of its churches are considered “non-resident,” that is, they have an address not in the same general area as the church to which they belong.  Most are probably not active in church, and many are, at this point, probably either dead, or just phantom numbers that can’t be connected to a name.   Bob’s guess is that about 60% of the membership of most Southern Baptist churches is inactive, not attending, and generally not supportive of the denomination’s ministries.  He compares that with other churches in other denominations, in which 50% of the membership falls into the inactive category.

If Bob’s figures are correct, and I see a lot of evidence to support what he says, then the number of Evangelical Christians in America is probably closer to 30 million than it is to 54 million.  If you figure that among the 30 million is a percentage of children not yet old enough to vote, and calculate a slightly higher percentage of registered voters among the eligible membership, you get a figure that supports the claims of the Faith and Freedom Foundation, and that is consistent with what the major network exit polls indicated in 2012.

Mitt Romney got a higher percentage of the evangelical vote in 2012 than any candidate since George W. Bush in 2004, and a higher percentage of the white vote than any candidate since George H.W. Bush in 1988.  He lost.  In both the exit poll analysis, and in the Faith and Freedom Foundation’s Analysis, the increase in the number of younger voters under 35, and the percentages in which they supported President Obama, made the difference in 2012.

That makes a couple of statements.  From a political perspective, the number of younger voters continues to increase, and they have become the new constituency for the Democrats that Evangelicals once were for the Republicans.  But that’s not as concerning as the fact that there are relatively few people in that particular age demographic that consider themselves Evangelical Christian.  That’s the alarm bell that should be ringing, and its more important than figuring out how to get more Evangelical votes in an election.

Notes:

1.  The figures provided by the Faith and Freedom Foundation reflect their definition of “Evangelical,” and there’s no specific information included to determine how they arrived at that definition.  Given the percentages that they report in support of Romney and Obama in 2012, it is likely that they are excluding the membership of historically African American denominations in that total.  While those denominations are generally more conservative theologically than their white counterparts, and because of their intricate involvement in the African American community, produce more converts per capita, they are also highly involved in social action, which, in the opinion of those within Evangelical political organizations, categorizes them as Mainline, or separates them out as a different category of “Historically African American, rather than Evangelical.  The largest African American denominational grouping is Baptist, most of whom would be considered Evangelical from a doctrinal and theological perspective, along with another large African American denomination that is Pentecostal, the Church of God in Christ, while the other large denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, is Mainline. With 96% of the African American vote going to the President in 2012, that explains the discrepancy between the high percentage of “Evangelical” voters going to Romney in 2012 as reported by the Faith and Freedom Foundation, and the lower figure that virtually all of the major television networks, including Fox News, reported. 

2.  There is an observable perspective among conservative candidates like Ted Cruz in particular, that because there is a clear majority of support for their political position among those in the Evangelical constituency, the minority that doesn’t support them is “wrong.”  Almost every philosophical argument comes down to the Republican platform’s plank regarding abortion.  The insistence that this issue trumps all others, and that somehow candidates are going to be held accountable to the platform hasn’t worked out in practice.  Many Republican candidates simply ignore the pro-life issues once they get into office, and some of them are outspoken opponents of it.  There’s no party apparatus that makes candidates tow the line on issues.  The voters do that, and there are many pro-choice Republicans who are in office because Evangelical voters cast ballots along party lines, instead of examining the candidate’s views.  The next big issue with religious overtones is that of same-sex marriage, which many Republicans also support.  Many Republican candidates for office openly cite the fact that they know Evangelicals are one of their most reliable constituencies, and that they can pretty much take their support for granted.  And they do.

3.  I believe that the decline in Evangelical membership and participation, which is getting close to the percentages that Mainline denominations have been experiencing for years, is due in part to the corner that they have painted themselves into from a political perspective.  It’s hard to expend the kind of energy and support for political issues that Evangelicals have spent, and continue to maintain commitments to missions and evangelism.  It’s also much harder to reach people who think that your primary purpose for conversion is to convince them that your political perspective is the right one.  Whether Evangelicals are directly involved or not, the kind of language and approach that is taken in politics by many conservatives, including vitriolic personal attacks, name calling, the “our view at all costs” approach, and all the mud-slinging, is a turn-off for most Americans.  The majority of the country’s population doesn’t attend church regularly, or at all, and depending on whose research you look at, between half, and two thirds of today’s Millennial generation has no connection to a church or faith at all.  But the church isn’t having any success at all in reaching into that population.  The data, whether secular polls or religious surveys, points to a shifting here and there within the church, but to a downward trend in winning new converts and gaining members.  Churches are not even able to hold on to most of the children raised within their walls.  In the 1980’s, the figure was 70% of those raised in church, and active in their childhood and youth years dropped out by the time they were 30, and only about half of them came back.  That figure is now up around 80%, and the return rate is fractional.  They are not coming back. 

I’m not opposed to Evangelical or Christian involvement in the political process, and in fact, I believe that it is essential for the survival of the Democratic Republic that is the United States of America.  But a partisan expression of that causes polarization, and limits the effectiveness of the church as it remains true to its mission and purpose.  Evangelicals, and those who see that a secular, humanist government is also opposed to the social gospel, operating as an independent political entity, would be a powerful force, influencing the government from both sides.  As long as most of the American church resides in a polarized, political climate, it will continue to experience decline.  And while I’m not a prophet, it’s not really hard to see what will happen as the current generation reaches adulthood, with somewhere between 8% and 12% of their number counted among active church membership, as they raise the next generation.