Archive for the ‘ Christians & Culture ’ Category

John Jay: Christian Statesman

John Jay 1How about a little wisdom from one of America’s Founders today? Most people are not too familiar with John Jay, but he was central to almost every major event of the Founding. Jay served in the Continental Congress, was one of the principal leaders in the debates leading to Independence, was elected president of Congress at one point, and was appointed one of the peace commissioners who negotiated the end of the American Revolution.

Afterwards, he, along with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, authored some of the Federalist Papers, which today are still the best source for knowing how the Founders understood the nation’s new Constitution. Then, after Washington was inaugurated, he was chosen to be the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Later, Jay resigned from that position because he was elected governor of New York. As governor, he saw the fulfillment of one of his lifelong goals: he signed a law leading to the eventual abolition of slavery in that state.

When Jay finally retired from public service, he became president of the American Bible Society. His Christian faith was the bedrock of his life. This is seen in a number of his writings. For instance, in a letter to Rev. Jedidiah Morse, he opined,

Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.

Notice he considered America to be founded as a Christian nation—not artificially by legislative fiat, but as a matter of choice. The only way a nation can be truly Christian is if the people voluntarily consider Christianity to be the framework for their thinking, their culture, and their laws.

In that same letter to Morse, he commented on the Bible and how it fits into history:

It is to be regretted, but so I believe the fact to be, that except the Bible there is not a true history in the world. Whatever may be the virtue, discernment, and industry of the writers, I am persuaded that truth and error (though in different degrees) will imperceptibly become and remain mixed and blended until they shall be separated forever by the great and last refining fire.

As a historian, I can vouch for that. All histories are a mixture of truth and error, no matter how conscientious we may be. God’s Word, though, can be relied on as absolute truth.

Finally, here is Jay’s perception of the validity of Christianity:

I have long been of opinion that the evidence of the truth of Christianity requires only to be carefully examined to produce conviction in candid minds.

In other words, a clearheaded examination of the claims of the Christian faith should lead anyone with an open heart to the conclusion that it, and only it, is the true explanation of the condition of mankind, the nature of God, and the way to salvation.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a majority of our elected leaders had the same views and character as John Jay? Well, that’s up to us. As Jay said, it is the duty, the privilege, and the interest of the voters to select Christians for their leaders. If we don’t have those kinds of leaders, the fault lies with us.

Cultural Collapse & the Remnant

A friend shared an article with me that I read late last night. It can be found here: http://publicreligion.org/2014/03/leaving-religion-lgbt-issues/. It’s from an organization called the Public Religion Research Institute. The point of the article is that the millennial generation is rejecting the Christian faith at a record high rate, and that the main reason for it is what they perceive as “negative teachings about, or treatment of, gay and lesbian people.” The report, based on a survey, goes on to say,

Most Americans agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues. Nearly 6-in-10 (58 percent) Americans agree that religious groups are alienating young people, while roughly one-third (35 percent) disagree. Millennials remain most likely to believe that religious groups are alienating young people. Seven-in-ten (70 percent) Millennials believe that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.

I felt a wave of sorrow and anguish wash over me as I was reading it. Here’s how I responded:

We’ve had nearly two generations now raised on the premises of non-judgmentalism. I think the source of most of that training has been Rogerian/Maslovian self-esteem teaching that has permeated our schools. The old cliché about getting hold of the minds of the children is coming to fruition in our day. We are seeing the results of this idea that has seeped into every part of our culture.

The medium through which this has occurred is government-controlled education. I think we will see very soon a more frontal attack on all Christian education, from homeschooling to evangelical colleges. We will be called—even more so than today—narrow-minded, bigoted, and out of the mainstream.

We will no longer be able to be comfortable with a large swath of our culture; in a sense, there will be a separation between the sheep and the goats. A divide will occur between those who hold firm to Biblical truth and those who are tossed by every trendy wind that comes along. The good news in all this is that the truth will stand out more clearly than ever before, and some will be drawn to the Lord through those who remain faithful to the message.

If this sounds too pessimistic, maybe I’m just revealing my affinity with Whittaker Chambers. Yet, as always, I believe the Lord can be seen in the dark times, and He can bring good out of evil if we stand with Him.

On the homosexual issue, I tend to agree with those who say the battle is already lost. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to shine the light in this darkness. We just have to be prepared for the consequences.

I truly believe we are at a tipping point.

So was this response the result of staying up too late and being too tired? Am I too negative? Or have I caught the drift correctly? I do sense our culture is on the verge of collapse; I also sense that Christians need to wake up to this looming collapse and not pretend it’s all going to turn out alright. Can it be reversed? I don’t know, but my hope is that the Lord will once again use a remnant to make the difference, and what I do know is that I’m going to be part of that remnant. I hope you join us. Perhaps God will be able to show mercy to our society once more.

The Witness of Whittaker Chambers

Chambers at DeskEvery other year, I have the opportunity to teach a course I call “The Witness of Whittaker Chambers.” I’m teaching it again this semester. Chambers is not well known to most of our generation, but he was to an earlier one. Product of a dysfunctional family, devoid of any Christian upbringing, hit hard by life and seeking answers to the crises of the world after WWI, he turned to communism as the solution. Eventually, he became part of an underground cell that worked to place communists in key positions in the American government and pass secrets on to his master, Stalin.

Chambers finally came to realize the horror he was supporting and broke away. He then had to come to grips with the God he never knew. When he made the conscious decision to turn to God, his worldview was revolutionized. In his bestselling autobiography, Witness, he explained what happened when the transformation took place:

WitnessWhat I had been fell from me like dirty rags. The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind—the luminous shroud which it has spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God, denying in the name of knowledge the reality of the soul and its birthright in that mystery on which mere knowledge falters and shatters at every step.

He now saw things in a new light and realized the connection between the spiritual and the political:

External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom. . . . Hence every sincere break with Communism is a religious experience.

His masterful autobiography is filled with memorable quotes. One of my favorites is this one:

There has never been a society or a nation without God. But history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that became indifferent to God, and died.

Perhaps it’s time we heeded these wise words uttered more than sixty years ago. His insights are more apropos today than they were when they were written. Will we ever learn?

Chambers was not too optimistic about our society’s openness to the truth. In one of his essays in Time magazine, “Ghosts on the Roof,” he commented through the imagery of the Muse of History,

I never permit my foreknowledge to interfere with human folly, if only because I never expect human folly to learn much from history.

While I tend to agree, in the main, with that sentiment, I still hold out hope for a solid remnant who will cling to truth and make a difference in our culture. Those who know the One who is the Truth have both a deep responsibility for spreading the message and a reason for hope, not only in the next world, but also in this one. We need to be faithful to the task to which we have been called.

The Romeike Reversal

German Homeschooling FamilyMany of you, I’m sure, have heard that the German homeschooling family seeking asylum in the U.S. has now been told it can stay. In an amazing turnaround, the Department of Homeland Security contacted the Romeikes to inform them they have been granted “indefinite deferred status,” which is bureaucrat-speak for permission to remain as long as they don’t break any laws. I am delighted for them, as are a whole host of others. They never should have been threatened with deportation in the first place.

This decision came less than 24 hours after the Supreme Court refused to review their case. Michael Farris, their lawyer and advocate, ascribes this unexpected reversal to God’s intervention, perhaps helped along by the administration’s concern over negative publicity. After all, what did this family seek other than the right to educate their children according to their faith and to be grateful residents in a country that would allow them that freedom?

While I applaud the DHS decision, I don’t see this as a reason to have increased confidence in the Obama administration’s approach either to parental rights or fidelity to the rule of law. Any administration that promotes abortion on demand—and praises Planned Parenthood for its endeavors—and refuses to follow the law with regard to the definition of marriage cannot be depended upon to make correct decisions in the future.

Eric Holder’s DOJ has been particularly remiss in upholding the rule of law. He refused to prosecute Black Panthers who intimidated voters in Philadelphia. He said the DOJ would not be supporting the Defense of Marriage Act, despite it being a federal law passed by Congress and signed by none other than Bill Clinton. He now has informed state attorneys general that they don’t have to carry out any state laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Add to this the reprehensible conduct of his IRS toward conservatives and his lackadaisical attitude toward investigating those abuses, and we have an attorney general, responsible for ensuring the law is followed, doing just the opposite. He only follows laws he likes:

Enforce Me Not

So, while I rejoice for the Romeikes, theirs is a victory for one family. It’s not a guarantee that all of America’s families can breathe a sigh of relief. We must remain vigilant.

Parental Rights & Obama

According to the Supreme Court, the battle is over for the Romeike family. The Court denied the request for a review of their case. The Romeikes, for those who may not know or have forgotten, are a homeschooling family from Germany who came to the United States for the freedom to teach their children in the way they believe God intended. They were fleeing their native country because Germany has a law that requires all children to attend government-sponsored schools. The parents felt those schools would be detrimental to their Christian faith and sought to homeschool instead. For that basic human right, they were threatened with having their children taken from them.

When they first came to the U.S., they were granted asylum. Then, out of the proverbial blue, the Obama administration, via its Department of Justice—known more often lately as the source of a string of abhorrent injustices—singled out this family for deportation back to Germany where they almost certainly will lose custody of their children.

Farris & German Homeschooling Family

My friend Michael Farris has served as their attorney throughout this long legal battle. Yesterday was a discouraging day for him as all his effort seems to have been for nothing. Well, it’s never an effort for nothing when you stand for the principle of parental rights, but this is a disturbing result nonetheless.

The argument that won the day for the DOJ is that the German law isn’t targeting this family in particular; rather, it applies to every German citizen. Therefore, the argument goes, it is not a basis for asylum. Never mind that the law is unjust to begin with; never mind that it tramples on the basic right of parents to raise and educate their children as they see fit; ignore the fact that this law puts the state in charge of all children over the natural rights of parents. As George Will commented last night on Fox News, the Court may be technically correct, but why did the Obama administration go to such lengths to single out this family?

Charles Krauthammer, normally a commentator of profound insight, couldn’t grasp how this could be perceived as persecution since, he said, the majority of Germans are Christians and don’t find any problem with this law. All that reveals is that Krauthammer, who is an agnostic, has no understanding of what constitutes a genuine Christian. For him, it’s primarily cultural. Yet even Krauthammer sympathized and argued there has to be some way to allow them to stay in America.

So why did Obama and his lackeys target this family? I think it has a lot to do with their own biases against a dedicated Christian family asserting parental rights. In the process of this deportation, the DOJ argued that parents don’t really have the right to homeschool their children; the government has the final say.

Well, some contend, that was only in the context of the German family and doesn’t apply to American citizens. No, it was a broad statement, and even though it is not currently being applied to Americans, it gives a giant hint as to what the Obama people believe and how they would like to proceed, given the opportunity.

Others will attempt to gloss over this attitude by saying they wouldn’t dare cross that line. We would never see a law in the U.S. that bans homeschooling. Why, that would be almost as absurd as believing that someday the government would put its stamp of approval on same-sex marriage.

Oh . . . wait a minute.

Oscars & the Celebrity Culture

Last night was the Oscar extravaganza. I see a lot of comments about it on Facebook this morning. That, and other news reports, is how I’ll get my info on what happened. I stopped watching this Hollywood self-congratulation “look-at-us-we’re-stars” self-esteem movement years ago. No, I’m not a film curmudgeon, but there’s enough smugness in the world without spending an entire evening viewing the preening and self-admiration of a largely narcissistic community.

Actually, I love movies. My first degree was not history, but radio, television, and film production. My first job was in television, followed closely by radio. I remain fascinated by the potential for film to convey God’s truths, whether in a direct way, as in the new Son of God, or in indirect ways. A well-made movie earns my respect, as can be shown by the number of movie reviews I’ve written on this blog over the years.

But that doesn’t negate the problems associated with many who immerse themselves in the Hollywood culture. Whether producers, directors, or actors, there is a great temptation to puff up oneself beyond recognition and begin to take oneself too seriously. And when politicians take actors too seriously, they even have them testify before congressional committees on some subject in their latest film. Excuse me, but acting in a film doesn’t necessarily make one an expert on the subject of the film.

Sadly, all too often, celebrities are more well-known for their expertise in other areas:

Hollywood Celebs

And when one dies of a drug overdose, as Philip Seymour Hoffman did recently, we are treated to days of praise for their talents, with very few comments on their character. Or if character is addressed at all, the entertainment-news talking heads will downplay the role of their poor choices that led to their demise:

Glowing Obits

No, most Hollywood types are not exactly role models. Maybe there’s one redeeming feature that can be appreciated from these various awards ceremonies—we haven’t yet created one for politicians:

Fooled You

The Sabbatical Year

I received a tremendous blessing recently: Southeastern University awarded me a sabbatical for the upcoming academic year. Once the current spring semester ends in May, I will have until the beginning of the fall semester in August 2015 to research and write. In tandem with a colleague in the college of religion, I will have the opportunity to delve into the subject of spiritual advisers to presidents. Our goal is to begin with a couple of articles on the topic, then, hopefully, into the authorship of a series of books, each one dealing with a specific president.

My task, as the historian, is to gather as much evidence as possible on those who had the ear of presidents and offered them spiritual advice. We will try to answer questions such as “How much influence did these individuals have on the presidents?” “Were they primarily pastoral in their dealings or did they in any way interact on policy issues?” “What is the proper role of a spiritual adviser?” “What are the pitfalls of being so close to political power?” “Did these spiritual advisers remain true to their calling or become too political?” “Were they respected advisers or merely being used by politicians?”

We can’t do all presidents, at least not for the moment. We’ve decided to concentrate on presidents after WWII. That seems a propitious place to begin for a couple of reasons: the public is more familiar with them; we have one huge example of a spiritual adviser during this era who touched the lives of every president—Billy Graham.

Reagan LibraryThe research cannot all be done via books, articles, and internet searches. Personal papers are essential to get to the heart of the matter; therefore, I will need to travel to a number of presidential libraries. My favorite, naturally, will be the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. I’ve been there twice before for research and rejoice at the opportunity to return. I’m also going to look into the possibility of visiting the Reagan Ranch while I’m out that way. I know this is supposed to be academic research, but I trust I’ll be forgiven for actually enjoying what I do.

While I’m in California, I’ll also need to go to the Nixon Library, which is not too far from Reagan’s. Other presidential libraries on the itinerary for the year are Eisenhower’s in Kansas and three in Texas: Lyndon Johnson’s, George H. W. Bush’s and George W. Bush’s. We’ve chosen to start with those particular presidents because Graham was closest to them.

Billy GrahamIt would be difficult to exaggerate the role Billy Graham played in the lives of those presidents. As I’ve begun my reading on his ministry and influence, I’ve been amazed at the access he had to them. So I’ll also need to examine Graham’s personal papers, which are housed at Wheaton College in Illinois. My colleague and I also entertain the hope of interviewing some of Graham’s children and associates in North Carolina.

This may sound like books just on Billy Graham’s relationship to the various presidents, but it won’t be. He’s merely a fine starting point. There are other spiritual advisers who will need our close attention as well. By the time we’re finished, we hope to have a well-rounded portrait for each of the presidents listed above. If all goes well with those, who knows, perhaps we can continue the series with others. I can overcome my own personal feelings about such men as Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy to continue this valuable research with them also. Personally, I’d eventually like to delve further back and deal with Abraham Lincoln and others who have evidence of Christian faith in their lives.

The next step is to get the funding to accomplish all the travel necessary to complete the research. We are in the process of applying for a grant, having identified a number of private foundations that typically fund research of this type. Prayer for success on this front is always appreciated. I pledge to keep regular readers up to date with progress reports from time to time.

How do I adequately express my excitement over the prospect of being able to devote my life over the next year to this project? Well, maybe I’ve already done that with this blog today. Thanks be to God for His many blessings.