Archive for the ‘ Christians & Culture ’ Category

Losing the Culture

Eight years of Ronald Reagan didn’t do it. Massive congressional election victories in 2010 and 2014 didn’t do it. Despite conservative successes at the polls at various times, we see the nation continue to slip away from its Christian and constitutional moorings. Why is that?

David FrenchDavid French wrote an insightful essay the other day that points to the problem. He calls on conservatives—and Christian conservatives, in particular—to recognize what has transpired. He begins by saying, “We’ll often seek every reason and justification for . . . failure short of our own flaws before we face the truth.”

What truth? We have been living with the illusion that there is this vast conservative army out there ready to turn things around and we have focused on politics as the means for doing so.

That army, he says, does not exist in the strength we had hoped it does, and our focus on politics has blinded us to where the real battle lies.

Real conservatives, French believes, have proven to be “a minority within what looks increasingly like a minority party, at least at the national level.”

Yes, Republicans control Congress. Yes, Republican governors and state legislatures outnumber Democrats. If this is so, why has so little changed? Why are we further from our founding principles than ever?

French pinpoints the problem:

In hindsight, the reason for their error isn’t hard to discern. Indeed, it’s a reason that conservatives have been identifying for years. Conservatives have been competent at winning elections, but they’ve been terrible at influencing the culture. Thus, they’re good at holding down the right side of a leftward-shifting political spectrum, but they can’t arrest the broader cultural shift to the left.

Paul WeyrichIn spite of many electoral successes, the nation keeps marching Left. He then quotes an essay by Paul Weyrich, one of the founders of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, written back in 1999, which warned of the problem. Weyrich noted,

It is impossible to ignore the fact that the United States is becoming an ideological state. The ideology of Political Correctness, which openly calls for the destruction of our traditional culture, has so gripped the body politic, has so gripped our institutions, that it is even affecting the Church. It has completely taken over the academic community. It is now pervasive in the entertainment industry, and it threatens to control literally every aspect of our lives.

French then goes on to explain why he thinks this has happened. There is a real difference between conservatives and progressives. Conservatives vote for champions to go to Washington to straighten out the mess and then they return to their lives without infusing all their daily interactions with what they say they believe.

Progressives, on the other hand, “take their core values into every sphere of existence.” They don’t compartmentalize their lives; they want what they believe to affect everything.

That’s how you get local bar associations celebrating Earth Day, or third-grade classes doing a whole semester’s worth of art projects on climate change, or corporate HR departments running extended, celebratory profiles of transgender employees. It’s the agenda, always and everywhere.

We trust in politics to set things right. We are placing our trust in the wrong place. It’s the culture that drives a society, while politicians, eager to get re-elected, follow along in its wake.

I’ve often called on Christians to realize that their faith is not to be relegated to church activities. We are to take it into all spheres of life. When we shy away from doing so, it’s no wonder the culture becomes ever more depraved.

French concludes,

Until we’re willing to make at least the same commitment to our ideals that progressives make to theirs, we may still offer words of defiance, but our actions will show our true intent. Right now, the movement is busy dying. It’s time to get busy living.

I couldn’t agree more.

Third-Party Options?

With respect to my stated conviction that I will not be voting for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, I’m repeatedly asked about options. They are few, and yes, I understand that no one on a third-party ticket is going to win the presidency. Yet it’s worth looking briefly at what some consider to be third-party options—a place to go without violating one’s conscience.

Gary JohnsonMost of the third-party attention is focused on the Libertarian Party and its nominee, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson.

Johnson was the Libertarian nominee in 2012 and earned only about 1% of the vote nationally. Some are saying that could change this year due to the overwhelmingly bad poll numbers for Clinton and Trump. Polls that show which one is leading the other must be understood in the context that, for many, that choice is between two equally disliked candidates.

I once flirted with libertarian ideology, mainly because I was drawn to its commitment to the free market and limited government. I attended a libertarian conference two decades ago that gave me greater insight into the ideology. I saw that, even though I could agree with libertarians on economic issues, there were other serious deficiencies in their thought.

Most of the libertarians I have met and have read about since then are so adamantly devoted to their definition of liberty that it is more like licentiousness. On what are normally called the social issues—abortion, sexuality, marriage—most libertarians believe you should just let people do whatever they want. It’s fine with them to allow abortion as a “freedom,” to be openly homosexual, and to endorse same-sex marriage.

Johnson fits into that category of libertarians. He is opposed to abortion restrictions and announced that he will stop smoking pot while running for president. Really.

Johnson is on record as saying Christian bakers should be forced to bake cakes for same-sex weddings. In an interview on Fox Business Network, he even stated that Jewish bakers should be forced by the government to bake cakes for Nazis.

This is libertarian? It’s certainly not limited government on that issue.

Overall, I think libertarianism is in conflict with basic tenets of the Christian faith and the Libertarian Party is not one that should receive support from Christians. I’m as opposed to it and to its nominee, Johnson, as I am to Clinton and Trump.

Darrell CastleAnother option might be the Constitution Party. It used to be called the National Taxpayers Party. I recall meeting with an official of that party in the 1990s and telling him that the name was too narrow, that it seemed to indicate an interest only in economic matters, while the party itself stood for the Constitution. I encouraged him to push for a name change. I suggested Constitution Party.

Well, a few years later, that’s exactly what it became. Did I do that?

I’ve always been interested in this party and have hoped, over the years, that it might develop more. If you peruse the party platform, you find that it is staunchly pro-life and devoted to the original intent and meaning of the Constitution. The only part of the platform with which I’m not fully in tune is its more isolationist foreign policy that seems to discount even support for Israel.

However, I’m willing to live with the party’s foreign policy because of its overall perspective on government. It doesn’t say we cannot go to war; it simply seeks to follow the Constitution’s precise language that a declaration of war by Congress must come first.

Its nominee, Darrell Castle, is a lawyer and a former Marine who served in Vietnam. Interestingly, he trained under an officer by the name of Oliver North. He has been married to the same woman for 38 years. He and his wife founded a Christian mission to homeless gypsy children in Romania.

The problem with the Constitution Party is that it has never seemed to be able to garner enough support to be on the ballot in all states. I also have been looking to see if it will begin fielding candidates for Congress and state-level offices. Unless I’ve missed something, that isn’t happening. If it were to do so, could it be a possible successor to a Republican party that seems to have lost its way?

If the Constitution Party is on the ballot in Florida, I may very well vote for Castle. If it is not, then what will I do?

I’m not sure if the Florida ballot allows write-ins, but if it does, I will consider that. If neither write-ins nor the Constitution Party are options, I will simply have to decline to vote for anyone for president.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be voting. I will gladly vote for Marco Rubio as senator and for Dennis Ross, my current congressman and a man of integrity.

There is still talk of the rise of a protest party among conservatives. We’ll just have to see if anything comes of that. But whatever transpires, I have to follow my conscience before God.

If Donald Trump wins, the Republican Party may never be what it was, and I may have to cut ties if it becomes even more Democrat-light. If Donald Trump loses, there may be hope that the party has learned a valuable lesson and will regroup with a firmer commitment to its purported principles.

Christians just need to keep praying that God isn’t finished with this nation yet.

The Pence Pick

I haven’t said anything yet about Trump’s choice for VP, Mike Pence. What was Trump looking for in a VP? Apparently, he wanted someone who, unlike himself, had been in politics for a long time and knows how to navigate in Congress. He also needed someone who would bring conservative Christians and other “social issues” people on board. He hoped Pence would be a bridge to help bring unity (even though unity doesn’t seem to be his overriding preoccupation at any time).

Reach Out

Pence has a solid history as a constitutional conservative coming at politics from his Christian faith. As a congressman, he was tried and true on policy, particularly his 100% pro-life record.

As governor of Indiana, he certainly remained a conservative, but some cracks in the armor showed through, especially when the legislature passed a religious liberty bill that would ensure Christians in business wouldn’t have to violate their consciences and bow to the LBGT agenda. The bill was fine as it was, but the political pressure caused Pence to weaken it; he disappointed Christians with what looked like a caving in to pressure.

Yet, even with that misstep, his addition to the ticket is a plus for those seeking some way to vote for Trump. It hasn’t swayed me, though.

My biggest concern is how a man of integrity could attach himself to Donald Trump, with the main task being to support him in every way. That’s quite a burden, and one that I and others would have problems carrying out. Apparently, it doesn’t bother Pence:

Next VP

The positive side, of course, is that now there is at least one grownup running:

Grownup

What is also bothersome (to me, at least) about Pence’s willingness to join with Trump is that it smacks of pure politics. Pence was going to be in a real battle for reelection as governor. Did he think he was taking on something easier by linking with Trump? If so, he might be surprised:

Pence Fire

So I do have some concerns about Pence’s decisionmaking in this case. Yet I would gladly support him if he were at the top of ticket instead of in the #2 spot. Unfortunately for us all, he’s not. Instead, in both parties, we have this:

My Life

Is there any silver lining here? Well, if Trump somehow manages to pull this off and become president (pass the Pepto Bismol, please), there are two scenarios that give me hope.

Scenario #1 is that he will be bored with the job and turn most of the responsibilities of the office over to Pence. After all, according to reports, that was what he promised John Kasich if he would bow the knee and become the VP nominee.

Scenario #2 is that Trump will be Trump and alienate so many people with his ongoing mental problems and policy swings that he might be impeached and removed from office. Then Pence can take over officially.

Well, I can dream, can’t I?

Why Do I Do This?

This is one of those mornings. I’ve written this blog for the last eight years. Why? What did I hope to accomplish? What have I accomplished?

There are times I simply want to walk away from it and never touch it again. Why bother with being called a racist because I accurately pointed to Michael Brown’s actions before he was shot in Ferguson? Why take the arrows of being considered bigoted because I warn against the homosexual agenda?

And lately, why do I continue to highlight the dangers of a Donald Trump presidency and then get accused of helping Hillary Clinton get elected? All this does is divide people who formerly were united, right?

I’ve always been uncomfortable with confrontations. I would rather write about things we all agree on and never ruffle anyone. But—what would those topics be?

Sometimes I want to give this up and let the world go its own way. My little scribblings in a blog that has a limited audience aren’t going to change anything big, are they?

JeremiahThe problem, though, is that I have a Jeremiah issue. That’s not to say I’m a prophet; God has never told me I have that gift. But I understand at least some of how Jeremiah felt at one point when he said in the 20th chapter of his book,

O Lord, You have deceived me and I was deceived; You have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.

For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, because for me the word of the Lord has resulted in reproach and derision all day long.

I mean, who wants to feel like that? But he continues,

But if I say, “I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name, then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.”

Jeremiah was calling his nation to repentance, yet he knew he probably wouldn’t succeed in that mission. He wanted to stop telling them they were going the wrong way, but the Spirit of God within him wouldn’t allow him to quit.

As I said, I’m no Jeremiah; my voice doesn’t go out to the entire nation; most have no idea who I am, and I don’t mind that at all. But God has called me to speak to whatever limited audience He gives me, and I am supposed to be faithful to that calling.

So, if you disagree with my warnings about our culture, the education crisis, and the political foolishness that abounds, that will just have to be. I will continue to write and say what I believe God has put on my heart.

If possible, though, I would hope your disagreements can be shared in a spirit of humility. My pledge is that I will never treat anyone who disagrees with me in an unchristian manner. I seek to communicate in the spirit advocated by the apostle Paul when he told us we are to speak the truth in love.

I guess I’m going to keep on writing.

The C. S. Lewis Conference: A Report

I had a wonderful weekend at the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s summer conference held at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Why was it held there? I’ll get to that.

As I did last fall, I presented a paper at the Academic Roundtable, a time for deeper thinking as a group of academics listened and discussed what each had to offer. The most interesting part of such a roundtable is getting perspectives from different disciplines. I was the only historian in the group; others were professors of theology, philosophy, and architecture.

My paper was on the distinction that we must make between liberty of conscience, which is a Biblically based concept, and pluralism, which is the more humanistic viewpoint—a viewpoint that attempts to push the Biblical worldview out of the public square. It seemed to be well received.

Plenary sessions were offered by excellent speakers. One of the most interesting to me was Malcolm Guite, a minister, theologian, professor, and poet at Cambridge University. He was a captivating speaker, is a songwriter and performer (he gave us some samples), and his poetry is the type that I actually love, which is saying something because I’m not naturally attracted to poetry.

Malcolm Guite

With his full beard, long hair, and short stature, he reminds me of a hobbit. That’s a compliment, by the way.

At a special faculty luncheon, Dr. Mary Poplin of the Claremont Graduate School spoke, and her personal testimony was both striking and stirring. She was a strident radical feminist and atheist (toying with Buddhism along the way) before God gave her a dream of standing before Jesus. That, along with other miraculous occurrences, led her to faith at the age of 41. Shortly after, she went to India to work with Mother Teresa.

Mary Poplin 1

Dr. Poplin also spoke at the final plenary session, outlining the four distinct worldviews that are in conflict. I was struck by how her presentation was very similar to what I do in the classroom, even starting with Colossians 2:8, one of my favorite scriptures:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Green Pastures-Outside 2I raised the question earlier as to why this conference was taking place in Massachusetts. The site was only about half an hour from a house that the Foundation has purchased and is planning to use as a study center. So one of the highlights of the conference was an excursion to that home in the town of Northfield.

Currently, a massive renovation of the home is taking place, with the goal of its being a place where students can come and discuss issues of faith and the Christian answer.

The Foundation already owns Lewis’s home, The Kilns, in Oxford, which it uses as a study center; the goal is to make this a place that can be used in the same way.

One of the dreams of the Foundation is to also establish a C. S. Lewis College in the town. It would be focused on the study of the Great Books and intensive discussion/argumentation (that latter word used in the best sense).

Green Pastures 1

A bonus on this trip was that just down the street is the birthplace of famous 19th-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody, which we also were able to tour.

Moody Birthplace-Outside

Included in the home was an excellent museum.

Moody Birthplace-Museum

I took a shuttle to and from the airport. While the shuttle was waiting for another person to pick up at Amherst College, I noticed a statue that I had wanted to see, so I was able to jump out and take a picture of it.

Amherst College started in the early 19th century as an institution to train ministers. One of its key founders was Noah Webster, who, as some of you know, was the subject of my doctoral dissertation (and the book that was published as a result of that). The college acknowledges Webster’s role.

Webster Statue-Amherst College

I have to admit to being disappointed somewhat by the statue. First, it barely resembles Webster; second, it seems to have been neglected. But there is a scripture on it, 2 Timothy 1:12, for anyone who might take the time to read it:

For I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.

Amherst College no longer exists for its original purpose, but a testimony remains for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Many thanks for the hard work and dedication of those who planned and carried out this conference. The Holy Spirit was evident in every aspect of it. A spirit of love and genuine fellowship prevailed.

Lewis & the Public Square (Part 4)

CSL FoundationHere’s the final excerpt from my paper (which I presented yesterday) at the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s summer conference. Lewis argues for standing on absolute truth in our interactions with the society around us. He also notes that we are to be faithful regardless of whether we are ultimately successful in our efforts to keep a society from self-destruction.

Lewis’s prescription for direct political involvement was the practical side of his approach, but it wasn’t pure pragmatism. All attempts to influence the public square had to be based on God’s absolute moral requirements.

In response to the hypothetical question as to whether some kind of permanent moral standard would stand in the way of progress, Lewis replied that without such a standard, no one would be able to measure progress. “If good is a fixed point,” he argued, “it is at least possible that we should get nearer and nearer to it; but if the terminus is as mobile as the train, how can the train progress towards it? Our ideas of the good may change, but they cannot change either for the better or the worse if there is no absolute and immutable good to which they can approximate or from which they can recede.” Absolute moral standards for society are society’s only hope, he concluded.

TruthUnless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we perish. . . . If we believed in the absolute reality of elementary moral platitudes, we should value those who solicit our votes by other standards than have recently been in fashion.

While we believe that good is something to be invented, we demand of our rulers such qualities as “vision,” “dynamism,” “creativity,” and the like. If we returned to the objective view we should demand qualities much rarer, and much more beneficial—virtue, knowledge, diligence, and skill.

“Vision” is for sale, or claims to be for sale, everywhere. But give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his job.

Just how optimistic was Lewis that Christians taking up the challenge of the public square would make any real difference? In an address given at his own Magdalen College during World War II, Lewis dealt with the question of the futility of human endeavor. He wanted to make it abundantly clear that we, as Christians, do our duty, regardless of the success or failure of our efforts.

“I am not for one moment trying to suggest that this long-term futility provides any ground for diminishing our efforts to make human life, while it lasts, less painful and less unfair than it has been up to date,” he insisted.

FaithfulnessThen drawing on an illustration, he continued, “The fact that the ship is sinking is no reason for allowing her to be a floating hell while she still floats. Indeed, there is a certain fine irony in the idea of keeping the ship very punctiliously in good order up to the very moment at which she goes down.” If we are living in a world that is sinking, we nevertheless have an obligation to make it less of a hell than it would be without our influence.

He concluded, “If the universe is shameless and idiotic, that is no reason why we should imitate it. Well brought up people have always regarded the tumbril and the scaffold as places for one’s best clothes and best manners.”

As long as a public square exists and Christians are not banned from it, the responsibility to speak out for truth remains. If the Christian worldview and the morality that naturally emanates from it is rejected by the society at large, Christians must remain faithful to God’s command to be His voice, even if the world attempts to drown out that voice.

Lewis & the Public Square (Part 3)

I’ve been sharing some of the paper I’m going to present at the upcoming C. S. Lewis Foundation summer conference. The theme of the conference is on how Christians can participate in the public square. The last section of my paper draws on Lewis’s insights on that matter.

In my previous excerpt, Lewis was writing about some of the pitfalls of democracy. He continues in that vein:

Lewis Letters Volume 3Lewis had an exchange on this issue with one of his regular American correspondents, Mary Van Deusen, who had raised the concern about communists infiltrating the government. Lewis responded that that raised the whole issue of one of the problems of a democracy.

A democratic form of government, he explained, rested on the will of the majority. What if, he queried, a majority should someday introduce communism, or even devil worship or human sacrifice? How should we respond in such situations? “When we said ‘Govt. by the people’ did we only mean ‘as long as we don’t disagree with the people too much’”?

He concluded, “Of course there is no question of its being our duty (the minority’s duty) to obey an anti-God govt. if the majority sets it up. We shall have to disobey and be martyred. Perhaps pure democracy is really a false ideal.”

To forestall that terrible scenario from becoming reality, Lewis encouraged Christian involvement in the public square. When Van Deusen wrote to him about some very good people getting positions in the American government, he was pleased. One of his greatest fears about America, he shared with her, was “that politics were not in the hands of your best types and that this, in the long run, might prove ruinous. A change in that, the beginning of what might be called a volunteer aristocracy, might have incalculable effects.”

In fact, Lewis, in another of his essays, comes out strongly in favor of specific political activity with regard to appealing to legislators. While rejecting the idea of setting up a Christian political party, he nonetheless proposed what he called an “interdenominational Christian Voters’ Society” that should operate as a kind of pressure group.

If a political party sought the support of this society, it would have to pledge first its support for the society’s goals for the nation. ‘“So all it comes down to is pestering M.P.’s with letters?’ Yes; just that. I think such pestering combines the dove and the serpent. I think it means a world where parties have to take care not to alienate Christians, instead of a world where Christians have to be ‘loyal’ to infidel parties.”

Lewis’s insight here has something to offer American Christians as we look toward our next presidential election. What matters most, loyalty to a party or to our Christian convictions?

I’ll share the final excerpt next Saturday.