Archive for October, 2016

Forfeiting Our Souls

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Those words of Jesus are in the forefront of my mind today as I survey what is happening in the presidential race.

Bill and Hillary Clinton had their eyes on the presidency ever since they were a young couple in Arkansas—probably even before that. Everything they have done has had one goal: gaining worldly power, even to the point of using their “fame” and high office to enrich themselves while offering favors to individuals and nations that have paid for those favors.

Hillary’s private e-mail server served one primary purpose: to hide what they were doing.

james-comeyBack in July, I was, along with millions of Americans, astonished that FBI Director James Comey could provide a laundry list of all the things Hillary had done that were obviously illegal and then follow that up with the conclusion that there would be no prosecution.

Political chicanery was evident, what with the “secret,” yet not-so-secret meeting Bill Clinton had with Attorney General Loretta Lynch in an airplane while both were in Arizona. Lynch, of course, is Comey’s boss.

Clinton Testifies Before House Hearing On State Dep't BudgetNow, as the FBI continued its investigation into the reprehensible Anthony Weiner, separated spouse of Huma Abedin, Hillary’s right-hand gal, we are told the investigation into Hillary’s e-mails has been reopened. Apparently, Weiner’s computer contains roughly 650,000 e-mails, some of which appear to have some connection with Hillary’s server.

Coming just a week before the election, this comes across as a bombshell exploding within the Clinton campaign and possibly affecting the outcome of an election that she thought she had wrapped up.

Naturally, Democrats are apoplectic over this development, accusing Comey, whom they have previously lauded, of playing politics. Strange, but isn’t that the same accusation Republicans have leveled at him since July? So which is it? Is he political or is he simply doing his job?

look-crooked

If this scenario makes Hillary look crooked, it might be because she is. And she’s not alone. We now know that Loretta Lynch tried to stop Comey from sending his letter to Congress informing them of the reopened investigation.

As Forrest Gump might say, “Crooked is as crooked does.”

Nothing about the content of these e-mails will be revealed before the election. Hillary supporters will dismiss the whole episode as irrelevant. In one sense I agree: this doesn’t add to Hillary’s corruption; she was already blatantly corrupt.

Trump supporters, meanwhile, are rejoicing, believing that this now opens the door to victory. They might be right. Polls seem to be tightening. Now, all of a sudden, after declaring that the election is rigged and all the polls are wrong, Trump and his minions are touting how accurate they are.

Nothing that comes out about Hillary’s corruption changes the way I view Donald Trump. This news doesn’t change who he is by one iota. Any honest survey of his personal history shows he has been just as crooked as Hillary to get his way in business. He has pulled the wool over the eyes of many people with his numerous failed ventures, chief of which, to me, was his fake “university.” That’s still coming to a courthouse near to all of us.

Nothing that comes out about Hillary’s corruption changes Trump’s over-the-top personal immorality and his arrogance. As I’ve said countless times, and will repeat again here, we have two unbelievably corrupt individuals seeking the power of the presidency.

There are those who are blinded to that fact. Here’s an interesting meme I thought I would share today:

how-i-see

The picture at the right of both rows is where I am. We are told we have to choose between two evil people and that we must go for the “lesser of two evils.”

I won’t do that because I don’t think the word “lesser” applies to this situation.

The result of this latest revelation may very well be a Hillary victory tainted by the prospect of an indictment:

stronger-together

That would be a low point for the republic.

It would be equally a low point to put into office a man whose moral core is no different than Hillary’s. Both are simply out for themselves.

The Republican party has chosen to hitch its star to the Trump hot-air balloon. To that I say, “What does it profit a political party to gain the whole nation and forfeit its own soul?”

And to Christians who have made that same choice, I simply ask, “What does it profit the Christian witness to gain a place at the political table and forfeit our own souls?”

Forfeiting our souls is never what God wants.

Lewis on Anger, Hardship, & Persecution

I thought that, in this election season where emotions are running high, it might be good to note a few select quotes from C. S. Lewis on the subject of anger. In one of Lewis’s poems, not published until after his death, he states simply,

Anger’s the anaesthetic of the mind.

When anger takes over, the mind goes numb. Rational thought becomes difficult. Has that happened lately? Doesn’t anger spur all too many in their politics on both sides?

c-s-lewis-15In his excellent novel, Till We Have Faces, Lewis has his character note this:

My anger protected me only for a short time; anger wearies itself out and truth comes in.

All I can say is that I hope that comes true once we have put the election behind us.

Lewis also informs us in one of his essays,

Reasonableness and amiability (both cheerful “habits” of the mind) are stronger in the end than the . . . spleen. To rail is the sad privilege of the loser.

And a loser there will be. Some of us think that no matter who wins, the nation is the loser.

Many Christians are concerned about the possibility of persecution under a new presidency. However, maybe we ought to welcome it. I’m particularly distressed by how some Christians are treating fellow believers right now over political differences. Again, I think Lewis gives us some words that might provide perspective. In a letter to correspondent Don Giovanni Calabria, he says,

I could well believe that it is God’s intention, since we have refused milder remedies, to compel us into unity, by persecution even and hardship.

Satan is without doubt nothing else than a hammer in the hand of a benevolent and severe God. For all, either willingly or unwillingly, do the will of God: Judas and Satan as tools or instruments, John and Peter as sons.

Don’t misunderstand me, please. I do think it’s important what we decide in elections, and those decisions have consequences. But let’s never lose sight of the fact that the Lord can use even a bad consequence to push us in a better direction.

If hardship and persecution come, maybe we’ll finally discover that we need to love one another.

Anger, Bitterness, & an Election

Of all the consequences of this presidential election, the one that dismays me most is the rupture between those who have been friends and allies in a cause. It has happened in the political/cultural conservative camp in general and among conservative Christians also. The latter is the more grievous.

Some are now questioning whether the breach that has been created can ever be healed. I believe it can be, but I don’t know if it will.

angerI have been distressed from the start of the campaign, in the primaries, as I’ve witnessed so much anger being expressed through support for Donald Trump. It’s as if he became a magnet for many who have been so frustrated with the developments in the Obama years.

I understand that frustration. More has changed negatively in the last eight years than in previous decades combined. But it’s always a sign of danger when anger drives actions. It’s very dangerous when anger becomes the primary determinant in voting. When emotions control the mind, we usually go astray.

The Scripture deals directly with that problem. In James 1:20 we’re admonished,

But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

When we give vent to our anger, we may think we are doing God’s will, but James’s caution should remind us that He has a better way.

Anger that is allowed to fester goes one step further into a bitterness that spreads its malignancy to others, as the writer of the book of Hebrews, chapter 12, warns us:

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.

The first piece of instruction in that passage is that we are to do whatever we can to maintain peaceful relations with all. Shouldn’t that be especially true of brothers and sisters in Christ?

Second, there is a stiff warning about sanctification in the Christian life: without it, we may be cut off from the Lord. That, by itself, should stun us into being careful in our words, actions, and reactions.

bitternessThen the writer focuses on what he calls a “root” of bitterness. If bitterness does take root in our minds, it has the natural tendency to see all things through that bitterness. Not only will it affect our very souls but it will infect the lives of others.

The Biblical message is clear on this issue. Probably the best overall teaching on this is found in Ephesians chapter 4, in which the apostle Paul says,

Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.

screwtape-lettersPaul recognizes that anger is natural and not necessarily wrong; after all, God gets angry. However, one can be angry without the anger leading us into sin. There is a line that can be crossed, but must not be. When we cross it, we are giving Satan a playground of his own; it allows him the opportunity to destroy lives. For a quick refresher on that, I recommend C. S. Lewis’s masterful work, The Screwtape Letters, which exposes exactly how the hellish realm seeks to lead Christians on the wrong path.

Here’s the end of Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

There are times we are to speak forcefully about something, but it must always be in love. We can share our hearts about the issues we face in this nation, but we must never allow even the most earnest sharing to descend into name-calling and/or false accusations against another.

We are to speak the truth, and it can be with energy and urgency, but it cannot be spoken in anger, and we simply cannot let bitterness take over.

Perhaps we all need to check our spirits today. What are we communicating and how are we communicating it?

Principle vs. Pragmatism

This divisive presidential election has brought forth a discussion that has all too often not been as productive as it should be: the issue of what is principled and what is pragmatic and whether there is a line that should not be crossed.

In my courses, I give a definition of principle as follows:

The source or origin of anything; a general truth from which one can deduce many subordinate truths.

Principled people believe in foundational truths that span all ages and circumstances. To be principled is to think and act consistently with those truths and to be willing to stand alone for them, if necessary.

Of course, one must have a proper understanding of what is a foundational truth and what is not:

self-indulgence-principle

Then there is pragmatism, which is defined in this way:

Truth is based on the usefulness of ideas (whatever works is true); truth is a process, constantly changing according to time, place, or personal experience.

Pragmatic people are willing to dismiss foundational truths in order to do whatever seems expedient to achieve some goal.

And then there’s someone like this:

pragmatists-idealists-1

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There is the crux of the problem, in my view.

This election has brought out a lot of pragmatism on the part of those who have decided to go with Donald Trump. Those who have made that decision will say that it is a principled one because it keeps the obvious wrong choice out of power. However, my question is what has been sacrificed by making that decision.

Here’s my rule of thumb:

A compromised principle leads to unrighteousness, but a principled compromise is a step closer to the principle’s ideal.

In supporting Trump, are we led closer to our principles or are we instead pulled down into unrighteousness? Some have answered that by keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House, we maintain our principles. While I understand that reasoning to some extent, I cannot accept it.

For me, putting Donald Trump into the White House rather than Hillary Clinton only gives us another model of unrighteousness in the highest office in the land. By supporting him, I believe I am compromising a principle of Christian character.

Now, those who disagree with me respond that I am promoting unrighteousness by allowing Hillary to take the reins of power. No, I see both options as unacceptable; both are deplorable, despicable, corrupt individuals who should never be in any position of authority.

Consequently, supporting either one would be, in my opinion, a compromise with principle.

There is no Biblical mandate saying I have to vote for one of those two. The Biblical mandate is to stand up for righteousness. That’s what I believe I am doing.

I will never question the genuineness of anyone’s Christian convictions if they decide to vote for Trump. I will critique that decision as unwise, but I will not challenge their Christianity.

It would be nice if those who question my decision would do the same for me.

Let’s keep our attitudes right toward one another. This election will soon be over and we will have to move forward together without sacrificing Biblical principles. I only hope we can agree on how to do that.

Taking a Stand Against Evil

Back in the 2008 election, I held an event on the Southeastern campus where I compared the Republican and Democrat platforms. Without saying anything myself about my own beliefs, I simply laid out the differences between the parties. Normally, that’s a very effective approach. At the very least, it makes people come to grips with the extremism on the Democrat side on issues like abortion. This year, the Democrat platform is even more extreme, pushing same-sex marriage also.

At the top of the Democrat ticket this year, we have a woman who is arguably the most corrupt candidate in presidential electoral history. New revelations about her come out every day.

hillary-scandals

The combination of her private e-mail server while secretary of state and her mingling of her high position with donations to the Clinton Foundation are an abomination.

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And should she be inaugurated as president in January, the oath of office might be unique:

do-you-promise

In a normal year, Hillary Clinton would be defeated handily. But this is not a normal year.

While it’s still valid to compare the two party platforms, the effect is not the same as it was for me back in 2008. I had my doubts about John McCain as the Republican nominee that year, and those doubts persisted when Mitt Romney was nominated in 2012, yet I still voted for them.

This year, we keep hearing a mantra that goes something like this: “There is no perfect person running for president. Both candidates are flawed. We just have to choose the lesser of two evils.”

I’m a little sick of hearing that. Here’s why.

It’s no big revelation that no perfect person is running for the office. There never has been one of those throughout American history. All candidates have some flaws, but there is a distinct difference between having flaws and being evil. I will never choose the latter.

Sadly, this year we have the latter. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump represent evils that I cannot stomach in the White House—nor any other political office no matter what level.

I love the Republican platform. However, the person at the top of the ticket is not someone who actually believes in that platform. I am for candidates who truly support that platform, which is why Republicans down ticket will receive my vote. The one at the top, though, will not.

There is a difference between being a flawed candidate and being a reprehensible one. McCain was a maverick who couldn’t always be counted on, but he adhered to most of the platform. Romney had the baggage of having introduced a prototype of Obamacare when he was governor of Massachusetts. Yet he was a decent man with a strong family who has always been faithful to his wife.

So despite their flaws, I could vote for them. Trump goes beyond simply having flaws. His character is absolutely despicable. I won’t repeat the litany of horrible words and actions throughout his life (and continuing today, not just somewhere in the distant past). Almost daily, he reminds us how despicable he is.

Trump went to Gettysburg to deliver what was supposed to be a serious speech about policy. Instead, he made other headlines by using that august forum to declare he’s contemplating suing all those women who have come forth to tell of his unwanted sexual advances:

seven-accusations-ago

His campaign has been a disaster (to use one of his favorite words). Many Republicans now have had second thoughts. Too bad they didn’t have first ones.

results-of-primary

Yet, despite everything Trump has done, and despite the latest round of evidence that he is a moral reprobate, many evangelical leaders have reaffirmed their support for him. I find that incomprehensible.

Fear of Hillary Clinton has led people who used to stand for Biblical principles and Biblical morality to abandon that stand. I know, they think they are doing the right thing by keeping Clinton out of office. But putting Trump is that office is not the right thing either. He’s a petulant man-child who will not follow through on his promises.

I want a good Supreme Court as much as anyone. Trump will not deliver it. Even if he should offer a solid nominee, that nominee will not make it through the Senate. He will then compromise with the Democrats and nominate someone they can like. Mark my words. Hanging everything on Supreme Court picks is a false hope.

I will not choose the lesser of two evils. I will not willingly choose blatant evil. Both candidates qualify as evil.

united-states

accept-the-results

However this turns out, we will have no choice but to accept the results. Here’s where real Christian faith comes in. Can we still believe that God is working in ways we may not see? Do we maintain the confidence that the best way to assure God hasn’t given up on us is for us to stand apart from the evil choices before us?

The Lord will work through His people if they stand firm against all types of evil. By giving in to evil, we short-circuit much of what He might do to extricate us from that evil.

It’s time to take that stand and then see what the Lord really will do in spite of the circumstances we now face. I am taking that stand.

Lewis on the Old Books

“Every age has its own outlook,” C. S. Lewis instructed. “It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes.” Amen to that. “We all, therefore,” he continued, “need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

Image: Dublin Library. The WSRL is a humble and intimate gathering ...Was Lewis saying that only old books are worthwhile? Was he so anti-modern that he believed nothing written in the last century could conceivably offer us wisdom? After all, in his inaugural lecture at Cambridge, he famously referred to himself as a “dinosaur,” one of the last specimens of those who live comfortably in their native land of previous epochs.

That’s hardly his intention. What he was doing in this quote was attacking the oh-so-modern fallacy (found in every age, by the way) that we have progressed so far that we understand things much better than previous ages and generations.

I teach historiography. Part of the course delves into different schools of historical interpretation. One common mistake for historians is to believe that progress is inevitable, that each succeeding generation is wiser than the last one.

I ran into this perspective in my doctoral program. One book used in a course on American colonial history was infused with a sneeringly condescending attitude toward those so-called primitive early Americans. They were just so backward, the book implied. Not like the new generation that has come so far.

Of course, in the view of that author, to “come so far” meant that we have set aside all those outmoded ideas about God that seemed to drive many of the early settlers. The hubris in the book was astounding.

c-s-lewis-2All Lewis was saying in this quote is that each era has its truth emphases and each also has its own characteristic mistakes and/or falsehoods that it believes. How do we guard against this arrogance? Return to the thoughts and beliefs of earlier times and keep in mind that whatever faults they had, they also might have contained truths that we, in our pride, have foolishly abandoned.

The “old books” are not error-free, but they do put a check on our runaway love affair with ourselves. They remind us of things we may have forgotten as a society.

There is one old book, though, that is error-free and never leads us astray. If we take it seriously, our pride is leveled and we recognize our true place in the universe.

As I survey the mess our current society has devolved into, I’m reminded of another Lewis quote: “Moral collapse follows upon spiritual collapse.” If we are disturbed by what we see happening morally in our day, we must acknowledge the real reason for this development. We have allowed our Christianity to be compromised to the point that it no longer is the salt and light it was intended to be.

We must return to the one Old Book that puts things right again.

On Rigged Elections

This election is rigged. That’s been Donald Trump’s theme for a couple of weeks. Is that possible? Accusations of a rigged presidential election are rare, but there are a few examples.

john-quincy-adamsIn 1824, John Quincy Adams won the presidency after no one got the majority of the electoral votes and the decision was thrown into the House of Representatives. Henry Clay, Speaker of the House, was later chosen by Adams to be his secretary of state, considered at that time to be the stepping-stone to the presidency. Andrew Jackson, the loser even though he started with a plurality of the electoral tally, charged that it was a corrupt bargain. He lost the election, he said, because it was rigged against him.

What Jackson didn’t allow into his thoughts is that Clay, who undoubtedly used his influence as Speaker to put Adams in the presidency, felt that Jackson was unfit for the office and gave his support to Adams because he believed Adams was the better of the two men. That, of course, never stopped Jackson from thinking he was cheated out of the office and he held bitterness over it for the rest of his life.

rutherford-b-hayes-2The 1876 election was one of the most controversial in American history. Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but neither he nor Republican Rutherford Hayes had an electoral majority due to claims of voter fraud in some of the Southern states. This was after the Civil War and the rancor of Reconstruction.

A special commission had to be set up to determine the winner. It took until just a few days before the March inauguration to solidify Hayes’s victory. The only way Democrats accepted Hayes as the legitimate president was after he promised to serve only one term and bring Reconstruction policies to an end. Still, some Democrats refused to acknowledge Hayes as the legitimate president.

jfk-nixonThen there was 1960. Everyone knows John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon, right? Well, that’s not necessarily true. Most historians admit that voter fraud was so plentiful in Illinois and Texas that those two states should have gone to Nixon, thereby making him the next president.

Chicago has been a source of voter fraud continually; it’s amazing how many dead people vote there every time. Texas was Lyndon Johnson’s home state, and he made sure there were enough votes counted to gain the victory there, regardless of how many actually voted.

Nixon was aware of the fraud and many in his circle encouraged him to challenge the result. Tempting as that was, Nixon instead chose to step back from any challenge for the good of the nation. He felt it would be damaging to the country, especially at a time of Cold War tension with the Soviet Union, to disrupt the government in that way.

Most people don’t know about Nixon’s selfless decision; all they ever think about is Watergate.

So, yes, voter fraud might take place. In fact, I’m convinced it does on a regular basis. However, here’s the real question: could it be massive enough to make a difference this year, as Trump intimates?

First of all, it would only matter in a very close vote within a state. Consequently, you can dismiss any issue of damage to the Trump campaign in states that are going for Clinton by wide margins. California, New York, and Illinois are lost causes for Trump anyway. Even if we were to wipe out all of Chicago’s graveyard votes, he will still lose Illinois.

The only real possibility of voter fraud affecting this election would have to focus on Texas or Florida, yet both of those states are controlled by a Republican majority who will guarantee that Trump won’t be trumped by Democrat tricks.

Let’s be real. Voter fraud, while always a concern, is not going to be any kind of determining factor this year. The determining factor is Donald Trump, pure and simple. Well, he’s simple, at least.

Donald Trump Addresses GOP Lincoln Day Event In MichiganHave you noticed that every time Trump loses, he has a scapegoat? Recall the Iowa caucuses. Why did he lose there, in his mind? Ted Cruz cheated. “Lyin’ Ted” cost him Iowa. That was his story and he was sticking to it. He pretty much used the same mantra wherever he lost.

Why? Because Trump believes he is a winner. Remember that he told Republicans he was going to win so much that they were going to get tired of winning. If he loses, it can’t be his fault; it has to be some kind of “rigged” election.

Much has been made of Trump’s comment in the last debate that he will wait and see if he will accept the results of this election. Some feel he is destroying the American electoral system by saying that. I don’t go there. I know there can be fraud, and I use 1960 as a prime example.

However, what really bothers me is what it reveals about Trump’s character. His ego is so huge and vast that he cannot even imagine losing due to his own uneven temperament, lack of knowledge of the issues, and moral turpitude.

He’s also preparing the context for his loss. You see, he didn’t really lose; the election was stolen by “Crooked Hillary.” By the way, she is Crooked Hillary, but he’s “Delusional Donald.”

He will never accept the hard truth that he is his own worst enemy. Rumors abound that once he loses, his next venture will be a media network to promote his views (whatever they may be next year).

Lose he will, and probably “bigly.” And it won’t be because of voter fraud. It will be because he is the worst candidate the Republicans have ever chosen as a standard-bearer.