Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Looking for Angles

April 19, 2018

A curious read, this.

Noting the publication, it’s not surprising that the piece is critical of gun ownership and a congregation or pastor’s attempts to make sense of Second Amendment rights in a contemporary context.  And I believe I at least understand and can perhaps even sympathize with those who think that banning some or all guns will fix the problems in our culture that more and more regularly express themselves in violence.  And I can further understand an uneasiness with this particular congregation’s advertisement of guns on site.  The conversation about guns and the risks that gathering groups of Christians seem to increasingly face in our society is one being had in many congregations and gatherings of church leaders and workers.

I wouldn’t personally advocate for such a sign on site, even if I lived in a place where such a sign wouldn’t likely be legally challenged.  It reads too much like a challenge, a dare of sorts.  I could understand better an article that wanted to deal with the tone and the repercussions a sign like that might generate.

But the  article wants to be theological.  It wants to imply that this congregation, this pastor, is a lesser form of Christianity.  Unfaithful, even.  Specifically because of their stance on guns.  I think it would be more interesting if the author cast a wider net, addressing some of the other pastoral statements that the author refers to with a not-very-veiled derogatory perspective.

But the attempt to focus simply on gun control falls flat, theologically and otherwise.  The author wants to talk about Jesus and speculate on how He might have dealt with the issue, personally.  Without referring or offering an interpretation of Luke 22:36 (perhaps understandably, it is a very confusing statement!).  But also without referencing parables and other sayings of Jesus that seem to at least tacitly acknowledge the understanding of self defense (Luke 11:14-21, for instance).  Further, the author disregards passages in Scripture (such as Exodus 22:2-3) that do deal specifically with the issue of reasonable self-defense.  Not gun control per se, but what many opponents to revising or eliminating the Second Amendment point to – the right to protect themselves.

I often hear opponents to the Second Amendment claim that you can’t be Christian and support the Second Amendment.  I don’t often hear opponents of gun control arguing that it is unChristian to argue for gun control. But I do hear them arguing – along with non-Christian opponents of gun control – that gun controls or banning gun ownership is not wise.

As the author notes, things were already scary.  I don’t see a division between Christians and non-Christians as to whether things are scary these days.  I don’t see a division between gun control advocates and Second Amendment supporters as to whether things are scary today or not.  I’m pretty positive that most people would admit that there are some seriously scary things going on in our culture.

What we disagree on is firstly what those things are, and secondly how to deal with them.  I’d rather see pastors and theologians talking about that, rather than trying to vet another person’s faith through a political or social filter.  In the long run, changing our approaches is going to be a blessing to everyone.

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Easter Hit-Pieces

April 4, 2018

It’s that time of year again, when the smell of lily’s is in the air and a barrage of articles attacking the Christian faith or the Bible or the Church emerge just in time for Easter.  This is the one I was directed to this year.

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently with people about authority.  What is the authority in your life?  In mine, it’s the Bible.  Which means that to the best of my ability and despite my frequent failures, I acknowledge that what it has to say to me about my life trumps whatever ideas I might have about my life.  Whatever Scripture has to say about the world around me and my place and function in it gets priority over whatever the world says or whatever I come up with.  Every assertion, every idea has to run through the filter of Scripture first.

There are places where personal interpretation is necessary, of course.  And Christians have, of course, disagreed over a those areas over time.  But that’s different than discarding something the Bible says wholesale simply because you’d rather think about things or act on things or speak about things differently.

And that’s ultimately what’s at play here in the article.  It sounds sympathetic but it’s anything but.  This person who refuses to grant her fellow worshipers forgiveness, and would rather remove herself than have to deal with their obvious (by her definition) sinfulness.   A sinfulness she doesn’t apparently share and therefore can hold herself aloof and separate.  Despite Jesus’ rather pointed directive in Matthew 18:35, after an entire chapter devoted to radically reorienting our ideas about forgiveness.  I wonder if this author has read Matthew 18.

Perhaps not, as she admits that her issues with the Church have been long-standing.  And again, on issues that at least to some degree or spoken to be Scripture, and therefore need to be addressed in that light if you’re going to claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, the ostensible Lord of your life.  And how do you get to enlarge your idea of God beyond what God himself has told you?  How can you do so reliably?  On what basis?  I’d argue that the Church is indeed necessary, but in a culture of plenty where you find others willing to agree with you it’s easy to forego worship and the Church – along with (God-willing) the teaching and training and study that helps to inform your understanding of God’s Word and ultimately your lived out life of faith.  But then if you don’t really want to listen to what the Bible says, then I can see how going to Church would get a bit frustrating.

I find the third paragraph from the end to be very interesting.  First off, she quotes Emily Dickinson as a way of defending her idea about not going to Church (interestingly, she doesn’t quote Hebrews 10:24-25 on the topic).  While I’m not an expert on Dickinson, I’d argue that despite human tradition (which may or may not be on target), observing the Sabbath and gathering for corporate Christian worship are two different (though historically related) things.  Frankly, I’m  all for worshiping the Sabbath at home or in the woods.  But that means going to church on a different day, since God’s original statements about the Sabbath don’t mention anything about mandatory church attendance.  I can agree with Dickinson and still say the author is misguided in avoiding worship.

Secondly, is Church primarily intended to summon awe and gratitude?  Is that the function of Church?  Since when?  Is that what Acts 4:32-37 is describing?  I don’t think so.  Certainly I personally find the Tetons a better source of awe, and time spent with my family a better source of gratitude.  I don’t assume the Church is trying to compete with those.  It isn’t.  Rather, Church and worship is an opportunity to inform me about how to receive these gifts of God and interact with them responsibly and appreciate them faithfully.  It’s there to teach and act as a resource to my life of faith, a place where I am mentored in the faith as I mentor others.  A place that challenges the ideas I’ve come up with at work or in college or in grad school and demands that I place those up against the Word of God to ensure that I’m not being led astray with allegedly good intentions.  Church is necessary to teach me that the proper response to God’s creation is not only awe, but awe to  the God who created them and who has placed his Word and his Spirit and, very specifically, his Son into creation in order that I might learn and live both now and forever.

No mention in the article is made of what Easter is.  The idea that Jesus was willing to die for a bunch of people who vehemently disagreed with him and were willing to utilize hate and violence to try and silence him.  That He was willing to die so that they might be forgiven.  That He could even say as they raised his cross into place, Father forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).  No mention is made of what God has done for the author, or that the author is in very real need of the same forgiveness from God that all those people at Church she disagrees with are.  No mention is made of the possibility that repentance, not arrogance, is the center of the Christian life, and that as we realize our own sins and shortcomings (instead of obsessing over the sins and shortcomings of other people) that we are changed in the process into people who are certainly willing to stand for what is right, but who are (ideally) also full of humility and grace and the willingness to admit that they might be wrong, but that the one place where that can best be sorted out is in Christian community gathered first and foremost in and around and obedient to the Word of God.

Authority matters.  And what (or who) our authority is ultimately is lived out and demonstrated in our lives and our decisions and the way we are with those around us. I’m glad the author was going to be at Mass on Easter morning.  And I pray that what she heard there reminded her of her own need for forgiveness and humility, as well as her duty to engage her voice in wrestling with Scripture as well as the ideas of the world to see how they work together or not.  I pray that she’ll be back again this week as well.  And the week after.  Forever and ever Amen.

Acting for Life

February 5, 2018

Each year there is a massive rally in Washington DC and all around the United States on or near the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in this country 45 years ago.  And every year, despite thousands and thousands of protestors nationwide, the national press is by and large silent on it.  Certainly far more silent than it was about the Women’s March last year, despite that march having very little cohesive purpose.  And despite presidential and vice-presidential statements of support to pro-lifers, the news media saw fit once again to by and large ignore the event.

One of the typical responses against these marches is to criticize Christians for wanting to force women to have their babies but not wanting to help these women in that process, implying that Christians don’t really care about the women, only about the baby.  Which is somehow less sensitive than caring about the woman by killing the baby.

Riiiiiggghhhtt.

But it struck me that one of the problems with this attack on the Christian response to helping women in pregnancy is that it is increasingly difficult for the Church to do this, and the source of this increasing difficulty is the very State that seems determined to maintain the status quo on abortions.  Adoptions, for instance, are a highly regulated issue it turns out.  This is good in some respects – the potential abuse of women and babies by selling babies to the highest bidder or other such exploitation demands there be some rules on what constitutes a legal adoption.  Other regulations are not helpful – demanding that adoption agencies provide adoption opportunities to any potential couple including same-sex couples – something which violates the faith basis of many Christian organizations and has resulted in actually shutting down Christian (mostly Catholic) adoption agencies that refuse to comply with such regulation.

In other words, adoption is a political issue just as much or more so than abortion.  People who want to criticize Christians for not being helpful to young mothers also want to demand Christians violate their religious beliefs to help young mothers.  Problematic at best.

The other aspect to this critique is that as church participation declines in America in favor of some vague, inactive spirituality (even Christian spirituality), many young women have no church community and are therefore lacking in resources to assist them in dealing not only with their sexual development but with unexpected pregnancy.  I’d like to think that a congregation would try to help a member who found themselves in such a situation, though I’m sure many congregations have been guilty rather of ostracizing and casting out the person.

I pray that Roe v. Wade is overturned.  Sooner rather than later.  I pray that everyone will come to understand that freedom which requires the death of the most vulnerable can hardly be thought of as a freedom.  But discussion also needs to focus on how much State regulation actually prevents Christians from doing what their critics chastise them for not doing.

 

True Dat

January 9, 2018

“Politicians and statesmen, instead of trying to solve the problems of the populaces, are continually busy aggrandizing issues and blaming the other side for it.”

Great quote, isn’t it?  It comes from a political analyst, and I’m willing to bet most folks would agree with it completely.

Instead of holding our lawmakers accountable and responsible for having the laws of the land match the will of the people, we allow ourselves to be characterized as liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional.  We are set at odds with each other while the laws remain law and our representatives do nothing other than try to ensure that their party maintains power (and by extension they themselves remain in office).

Don’t like immigration policy?  Demand that our lawmakers revise the immigration laws on the books, don’t bite and stab at each other for either supporting or not supporting the enforcement of said laws.  Don’t like the tax situation?  Demand that our legislators rewrite it.  Don’t like that we’re recognizing Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel?  Then demand that the laws on the books that acknowledge this be rescinded.  Don’t re-elect legislators if you don’t like what they did (or didn’t do).  Demand a balanced budget and keep electing new legislators until you get one.  Quit paying attention so much to the party ideologies and start electing people who will work to get things done.  If we don’t do this, we can’t be surprised that our legislators quit listening to us and do whatever they want.

The funny thing is that the quote above isn’t in reference to the United States.  It comes from an Iranian political analyst (Amir Mohebbian), as quoted in the current issue of Time in regards to the brewing discontent and protests in Iran.

Funny how easy it is to see the splinter in someone else’s eye while ignoring the log in your own?

More Tax Fun

December 11, 2017

Just in case the Congressional tax plan hasn’t been interesting enough for you, you might be interested to learn that in October a judge (for a second time) ruled that the clergy tax exemption on income designated for housing is unConstitutional.  This has enormous repercussions for religious organizations of every kind, as all are blessed to have the income their religious leaders spend directly on housing-related expenses excluded from taxes, saving religious groups a considerable (though probably not outrageous) amount of money.

The judge ruled that the clergy housing allowance is unfair in that it essentially is an endorsement of religious organizations (while not an endorsement of a particular religion), and as such is unfair as secular organizations and individuals do not receive a similar or equal benefit.  The ruling has been appealed, and defendants will argue that this is more an issue of preventing complicated and unnecessary entanglement of the State with religious organizations, which could lead to a breach of the separation of Church and State.

Certainly there are plenty of folks who think the status quo is Constitutional and should withstand this legal challenge.  Recommendations are that congregations continue to designate housing allowance for 2018 onwards until the case is finally resolved by an appeals court or the Supreme Court, recognizing that if the appeal is unsuccessful, it is possible (if not likely) that housing income will become taxable retroactively to the October ruling, as opposed to being implemented effective of the final court outcome.  This would place ministers of religion in a painful financial situation in having to pay back taxes on perhaps multiple years of housing allowance.

This ruling – at least thus far – applies only to housing allowances, cash given to ministers of religion to secure and maintain housing arrangements.  It does not affect a church that owns a home which it allows the minister to use (a parsonage).  Should the revocation of ministerial housing allowances stand, I’m sure there will be a massive upswing in the number of congregations that provide parsonages rather than housing allowances to their ministers.

All of which would spell the end of many small religious groups unable to cope with the additional burden of needing to pay their ministers enough additional income to offset the negative tax impact.  None of this is surprising given our cultural climate and the sudden reduction in the perceived benefit of religious organizations to society and culture as a whole.

Inconvenient Truths

October 28, 2017

Common sense says that a child needs their parents.  Common sense says that a child would have a special bond with the mother that has carried him or her for nine or more months.  Common sense would say that this bond is unique and special and should be honored.

Common sense is really inconvenient to ideology, however.  And sometimes, so is science.

The author of a book detailing how important it is for mothers to be primary caregivers for the first three years of their child’s life is being shunned by liberals dismayed at her scientific findings.  No matter that the author herself is ideologically liberal.   The problem is that she validates an inconvenient truth in the continuing war on motherhood (and parenthood in general).  Parents matter.  Mothers matter.  Mothers and fathers are not created equal but both are necessary in order to provide children with the best possible circumstances in their most vulnerable years of life.  Replacing mothers and fathers with younger and younger pre-school and early childhood caregivers has potential long-term consequences that have nothing to do with the collective good intentions of all involved but everything to do with how we are created.

 

If You Give a Moose a Muffin…

September 22, 2017

I couldn’t help but be reminded of this children’s book while after reading this blog post.  Apparently a news reporter interviewed a Nazi who was publicly assaulted, and the writer of the blog post was angry that they did so because it could make Nazism sympathetic and end up leading others to follow that ideology.  The alternative, the author insists, is that you never give a Nazi a platform.  Never allow their message to go out.

At first it makes sense.  I don’t like Nazism.  As a student of history I’m well acquainted with the evils perpetrated by that ideology.  I don’t want there to be more Nazis.

But the more I thought about it, I realized why this approach didn’t sit well with me.  It presumes that the hearers/viewers are helpless, passive, and incapable of understanding either the context of the interview or the ideology that the Nazi might espouse.  It presumes that viewers/hearers need to be protected less they fall under the sway of this virulent ideology.  It reminds of the way some conservative Christians choose to raise their children – by trying to shelter them from the junk in the world and never expose them to anything that hasn’t been thoroughly sanitized.

In both cases the result is the same.  By failing to prepare people for the ideologies they will encounter in our increasingly hyper-connected world, we make possible our worst fears.  The way to protect people against whatever charm Nazi ideology might utilize is to teach them about Nazism.  Teach them about history.  Teach them about the Holocaust.  At the same time teach them about democracy, and in particular teach them about the beauty and value of free speech.  Then, if they view or hear a Nazi who was the victim of a crime talking about their ideology, they will be able to distinguish the value of free speech and protection from assault from Nazism.  They’ll be able to say I disagree completely with what this person espouses, but at the same time they deserve protection under the law and the right to speak, because that is the democracy we live under.

Which is different from the censorship that the Nazis used to control what people thought, and which mirrors, ironically enough, what the blog author espouses.  In a democracy people should be educated so that they can make good decisions.  Not everyone can or will.  But it is better to risk that some should not make good decisions, than to deny everyone the freedom to make a decision.  An educated nation will be able to reject ideas and principles that are incorrect.  Maybe not immediately, but eventually.  Hopefully.  But that requires education.  It also happens to require a strong moral common ground, something that has been decimated by many folks who also argue that some groups shouldn’t be allowed to speak freely or aren’t entitled to the same rights that they themselves are.

Reject Nazism.  But don’t destroy democracy in the process.  Nobody is better off with an insulated, poorly educated population who relies on censorship to keep away things that they would prefer not to deal with.  Nobody is better off under such circumstances.  Other than those who happen to be championing them and insisting that their ideology is the one that should be implemented.

Mind the Collar

September 12, 2017

There was a brief flurry of comments about the young man who appeared at the MTV Music Video Awards in his clerical collar to denounce racism.  This got him into a bit of trouble with his congregation resulting in him offering his resignation.  This is his letter explaining his actions and the results.  Where to start with this?

Let’s start with his congregation’s concerns about his actions.  Is this warranted?  Of course it is.  The young man expresses surprise that his congregation has a problem with what he did.  Their reaction was”deeply hurtful” to him.  Perhaps he can understand then why his actions and words were “deeply hurtful” to some in the congregation.  He mentions his “right to free speech”.  But his right to free speech ends when he puts his clerical collar on.  Once he puts on the garb of a minister, he is voluntarily giving up his civil right to free speech in recognition that he is formally representing the Church or at least his congregation.

Did he consult with his leadership regarding whether or not appearing on a show broadcast around the world was a good idea?  Did they approve the specific statement he issued in that venue?  Did he honor his congregation by verifying that this was something they wanted him to do beforehand?  He specifically states that he is speaking “as a pastor”, but a pastor has a context.  Without ensuring that his congregation supported his statement, he should not be surprised that some were hurt by the publicity and offended at certain aspects of his remarks.  If you want to appear as a private person, without a collar and without reference to your vocation of pastor, that’s one thing.  But if you want to wear that mantle, you accept the restrictions that go with it.

Regarding what he said specifically, I have a few issues.  His designation of racism as “America’s original sin” has a lot of theological implications when he speaks in the uniform of and under the title of pastor.  I’d be curious how he reached this conclusion.  What is the exegetical basis for this assertion and again, how is it that he decides to publicly assert this as a leader of part of God’s Church?  It sounds a lot more like personal interpretation and exegesis to me, regardless of how many others might share in his viewpoint.  How does this become the country’s original sin given that it was not a sin universally engaged in?  At what threshold does can a sin be attributed directly and personally to everyone, if everyone does not directly or personally engage in it?  Slippery stuff, there.

I agree that racism is a sinful thing that should be confronted as such as necessary.  What about white supremacy, though?  How is this defined?  Does the demographic preponderance of whites automatically equal white supremacy?  Is it the particular ideological assertion that whites are inherently superior to other ethnicities?  That’s a big term to throw around without defining anything.

Most egregious, however, is the fact that when referring people to inspirations for confronting racism and white supremacy, Mr. Lee mentions only contemporary political movements and persons with extremely limited scope and questionable ideologies of their own.  I would think that if he wants to don the garb of a pastor and speak as a pastor, then he should have at least referenced Scripture as the first and foremost inspiration and power for confronting sin in all of it’s many facets.  Was he requested not to mention Scripture, or did he simply not think of it, or did he specifically choose not to mention it?  Curious.

So yeah, I understand why some of his congregation was upset.  And I find his rather immature surprise and hurt at this to be just that (hopefully) – immature.  His letter smacks of a self-righteousness that still doesn’t recognize the hurt that he caused, preferring to focus on the hurt he has personally experienced.  I pray for his sake as well as for the sake of his next congregation that this is a time of growth and maturation for him as a man and as a pastor.  I pray that he finds good, wise folks around him to help him in this process.

I pray this for myself.  I’m pretty sure it’s a good prayer for everyone, which might minimize the frequency of these sorts of public problems.

 

Vocationally Challenged

September 6, 2017

Talking with your kids and grandkids about what they want to be when they grow up is a cherished, necessary and important task of family.  These days, however, make sure that you’re providing them with some good perspective on what vocations are going to be challenging for them in the future.   The cultural landscape is shifting rapidly, and if you hope that your family member will remain firmly rooted in Christ, yet still be able to avail themselves of the career options that were once so open in our country, I have bad news for you.  At the very least, it’s sobering news that needs practical application.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein today criticized a nominee for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals because of her Catholic faith, something which Senator Feinstein basically stated was a stumbling block for conflicting with the ideologies of others.

Senator Feinstein criticized and questioned Amy Coney Barrett because of religious writings and lectures she produced as a Law Professor at Notre Dame.  Feinstein specifically questioned and challenged Barrett’s actual adherence to and defense of Roman Catholic theology that Feinstein correctly assesses to be at direct odds with the prevailing spirit of the day.

“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.” (And let’s ignore that large numbers of people have fought against some of these big issues.)

In other words, any dogma that challenges the status quo dogma is dangerous.  And to protect against any such outside dogmas, we’re going to pretend that dogma is not permissible to a judge.  Unless of course the dogma is in complete agreement with the spirit of the day.  So if you are against abortion on theological grounds, you shouldn’t be a judge because judges are supposed to support abortion because it’s been legal for almost 50 years.  Since we can’t legally – yet – prevent someone who disagrees with abortion from being a judge, we’re going to pretend that anyone with a strongly held belief is ipso ex facto inacceptable as a nominee.  Unless, of course, they happen to agree with abortion, in which case we’re totally fine with that because it’s not really a dogma.

So if your little darling wants to go into law, and hopes to one day be a judge, and may aspire to be an important judge, they may have to decide whether they would rather be an important judge or an actual follower of Jesus Christ.  Because if they’re going to practice what is preached to them, they might not be allowed to progress up the vocational ladder of judge-ness.

Isolated and unique situation, you say?

  • What about pharmacists?
  • What about if you believe that sexuality and gender confusion can be clarified and resolved through therapy?
  • What if you want to be a teacher?
  • How about a doctor?  Are you going to prescribe your patient enough medication so they can kill themselves if they choose to?  Doctor-“assisted”-suicide is legal in several states today.

The reality is that in more and more fields, being a committed Christian is being defined as a career liability.  And parents and grandparents and other key people need to be aware of this to help young people make sense of the rapidly shifting career landscape.  Especially before you take out $100,000 of student loan debt to achieve your goal, only to find you aren’t employable.

 

 

 

 

Select Who to Protect?

August 28, 2017

In case you missed it, that shining star of intellectual prowess and liberty, Berkeley, just had another stellar moment yesterday.  You might remember back in February when demonstrators against conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos ended up causing $100,000 in damage to the UC Berkeley campus and causing him to cancel his talk.  Yesterday, Berkeley police opted not to prevent armed alt-left antifa protesters from entering a park and assaulting at least five conservative protesters.

How should a city deal with perpetrators of violence – regardless of their ideological creed?  Apparently Berkeley’s mayor thinks the best way is to capitulate and hope they’ll play nicer.  Berkeley’s mayor requested UC Berkeley to cancel future planned speaking engagements by Yiannopoulos and other conservatives.  Fortunately, at least so far, the university has refused.

And rightly so.

It shouldn’t take a genius to recognize that you don’t end violence by giving violent protesters what they demand.  Our nation has enjoyed a long history of mostly peaceful demonstrations for various causes and ideologies.  Some of them are or were appealing and beneficial.  Others not so much.  But the important hallmark of America’s freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is that, so long as they are peaceful, they are allowed.  That such a tradition, and such liberties, should be usurped by any group using violence and intimidation ought to be repugnant to every American, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.

Frighteningly, though, it doesn’t seem to be repugnant to everyone.  While President Trump was excoriated for his perceived inadequate response to neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, there has been far less call for such repudiation of the antifa movement by Democratic leadership, and far less criticism of them for failing to do so.

This is how freedom dies.  By police deciding not to enforce the law.  To wait until after the violence to make arrests rather than standing strong and calling for backup.  Were the police worried they would be overrun by masked street thugs?  Better that the police be overrun, that they call for backup, that they show these cowardly extremists for who and what they are, than allow citizens to be brutalized and the event to be passed off as a conflict between liberal and conservative ideologies.

It’s scary enough to realize that politicians and media are so painfully biased.  But it hits closer to home to think that the police might demonstrate such a bias as well.  That they might choose not to protect you and your family.  This is how freedom dies.  I hope that others will join in criticizing the decision by the Berkeley police to stand down and allow unarmed citizens to be attacked, rather than fulfilling their sworn duty to serve and protect.  Such an ideological decision is a black eye on law enforcement, one that I hope law enforcement leaders around the country will denounce.