Archive for the ‘ Politics & Government ’ Category

The Monuments & Memorials Controversy

Monument: “Something venerated for its enduring historic significance or association with a notable past person or thing.” Memorial: “Something, such as a monument or holiday, intended to celebrate or honor the memory of a person or an event.”

As a historian, I’m into monuments and memorials. I want historic events and significant people in history to be remembered. Sometimes, I want them remembered because they deserve honor; other times, they should be remembered as valuable lessons of what can go wrong.

Auschwitz is a memorial to those who lost their lives in Hitler’s Holocaust. No one of sound mind would consider it a veneration or celebration of a historic event. Yet it serves a purpose: a reminder that we should never allow this to happen again.

So even awful things that have occurred in history should be recalled for our benefit. We have to be sure, though, that we have the right reason for the monument or memorial.

Which brings me to the current desire of some to tear down monuments to those who served the Confederacy during America’s Civil War. A lot of heat has been generated on this issue, but a lot less rational thought.

A little personal history here. In my early days studying history, I had sympathy for the Southern position because I believe in our federal system of government that leaves most decisions to the states. My concern for overreaching federal power led me to think that Lincoln and the North should have allowed the Southern states to secede without intervening.

Then something happened: I studied more. I came to realize that the secession was illegitimate constitutionally; I eventually saw that the states’ rights argument, in this particular case, always revolved around defending slavery as a positive good; I saw more clearly the attitude of the South and its aggressiveness in seeking to spread slavery into more areas; and I read a lot of what Lincoln had to say and gained tremendous respect for his constitutional basis and decency as a man.

In short, I changed my mind about the Civil War. Those who took leadership in the South, both in its government and in the military, were in rebellion against the legitimately elected American government.

Now, I may have just lost some readers who continue to believe otherwise, but stay with me.

I don’t paint all Southern leaders with the same broad brush. I know that both Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson didn’t like slavery. I have respect for how Lee conducted himself once he understood the war was lost. He used his reputation to put down the suggestion that the South should continue the conflict through guerrilla warfare. He called for unity.

While I disagree with his decision to join in the rebellion, his personal character can still be admired despite the flaws in his thinking. So I can understand why some want to erect monuments to him. When it comes to character, his is far and above most of those who are now either promoting or protesting any memorial to him.

And the mania for tearing down all monuments relating to the South during the Civil War has gotten out of hand. Protesters in Durham, North Carolina, took matters into their own hands and tore down a statue without any authorization. They constituted a mob, and we don’t have mob rule in America.

When rational thought is dismissed, where will we end up?

Where do I stand on those Civil War monuments to the South? It depends. If they are simply memorials to those who lost their lives, I have no problem with them. They mark a tragic event in American history. If, however, they are there to celebrate those who openly rebelled against the government, basing their rebellion on how wonderful slavery is and defying the Constitution, I have no problem with their removal, especially due to the horrific memory of slavery and racial prejudice that affects so many today.

It also depends on the location of those monuments. For instance, when I visited the Manassas Battlefield, I took this photo of an iconic statue:

This marks the spot where Thomas Jackson stood like a “stone wall” and rallied his troops in the battle, thereby earning his nickname. It is appropriate to have this statue at this particular spot. It notes a significant historical event. Leave it alone. Learn from it.

So while I’m not a full supporter of keeping all such monuments, neither do I believe it is right to succumb to mobs and allow them to be torn down without regard to the rule of law. Consider each monument and memorial individually and make a decision on each, taking into account whether they advance historical memory in the right manner or if they inflame passions with the wrong emphasis.

There is also the matter of the slippery slope. Some are so exercised against what took place in history that they are beginning to promote the argument that the Founders, because some were slaveholders, ought to have their memory erased from our national consciousness.

Tear down the Jefferson Memorial, some would say. Destroy the Washington Monument. Rub off Mt. Rushmore. It gets silly, but also dangerous to real history. Even though some Founders owned slaves, those who know history also know their consciences bothered them about an institution that existed before they were born and into which they were placed. They thought a lot about how to end that institution because they believed it was detrimental to the nation.

Those who cannot make a distinction between the attitude of the Founders and those who later took up arms to defend slavery are too simplistic in their analysis. In most cases, I fear, analysis is lacking; emotion reigns.

Let’s revisit this issue of which monuments are proper, but do so rationally.

The Alt-Right Isn’t Right

I would like to gently—okay, forcefully—make a point today about a mischaracterization being promulgated in the media. It’s also prevalent in academia. It has to do with how the political spectrum is explained.

We all know, since the Charlottesville episode, that the so-called Alt-Right has come under greater scrutiny. This is a group that, although it claims not to be Neo-Nazi or part of the KKK, nevertheless finds ideological companions in those detestable movements. In reality, the Alt-Right is just as much an extremist, fringe group as those, and let’s not forget one of their counterparts on the Left.

What I object to is the term itself, somehow aligning the Alt-Right with genuine conservatism. This is an error that shows up constantly, and it didn’t begin with this Alt-Right fiasco. The typical way the political spectrum is displayed by liberals is something like this:

Notice in this diagram how conservatism is positioned on the spectrum as a step toward the Nazis and other political parties considered by liberals to be “right-wing” fanatics. And what do we find in the center of this line as the “perfect” place to be? Why, liberal Democrats, of course, who apparently have no real connection to socialism/communism.

How one draws a line like this is dependent on the assumptions one starts with.

From my own assumptions, I would redraw the line this way:

Why do I consider this more accurate? First, the spectrum is based on how much control government has over the lives of its citizens, which I believe is a better way of approaching an explanation of beliefs.

As you can see, on the extreme Left of the spectrum one finds not only socialism/communism, where they truly belong as totalitarian systems, but also the Nazis. Historical fact bears this out. We’re so used to using Nazi as a shortcut for the full name that some may not be aware that it was the National Socialist German Workers Party.

Why, then, some may ask, did they oust the communists in Germany if they were so close in beliefs? That’s easily explained. First, Hitler saw the communists as competitors politically; they had to be excised so he could achieve complete authority. Second, communist ranks were filled with Jews, and Hitler’s socialist movement was centered on racial purity—no Jews allowed.

What liberals love to do is associate conservatism with the desire to control other people’s lives through government. Nothing could be further from the truth, at least in American conservatism.

I’ve been a political conservative all my adult life. I teach a course on the development of modern American conservatism and have examined all aspects of it. Even though there are different types of American conservatives, there are threads of belief that all hold in common:

  • Limited government control over the lives of citizens—personal liberty to be safeguarded by government.
  • Deep respect for the rule of law—not only are everyday citizens held to the law (legislated by their own chosen representatives) but government officials are as well, thereby guaranteeing that government doesn’t trample on anyone.
  • Individual rights that come from God, not government—in America, that’s why we have a Bill of Rights in the Constitution.
  • Freedom of political speech, so that no one can be prosecuted for disagreeing with the government’s policies.
  • Religious liberty, because it’s not the government’s job to tell us what to believe; we all must answer to God directly for that.
  • Free market capitalism based on principles of right conduct toward others, which leads to economic prosperity.
  • Abhorrence of all forms of totalitarian government because such governments violate everything I’ve detailed above.

Genuine American conservatives have nothing in common with the Alt-Right digression from reality. To lump that group in with conservatism is a gross deception gleefully promoted by those on the Left. It serves their purpose nicely: undermine the credibility of conservatism by linking it to racism.

That’s dishonest. It’s a distortion of what conservatives actually believe. It needs to be called out for its dishonesty.

The only real remedy for extremism in all forms is a society based on Biblical principles and an attachment to constitutional concepts that flow from that Biblical basis.

Don’t be misled by those who have an ideological ax to grind. True conservatism in America is the bedrock of liberty.

Charlottesville: A Christian Perspective

The rally and subsequent violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend has dominated the news. I want to comment on it as I trust a Christian should, starting with some overall statements about groups in general, then on to some specifics.

First, there is no place in a Christian worldview for beliefs about racial superiority or inferiority. Any group claiming to be Christian while simultaneously promoting racial division is not really Christian; it’s merely using Christian cover for its sinful purposes.

The “white supremacists” who staged the Charlottesville rally, ostensibly to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, but actually devoted to racial hatred, are a moral stain on the nation. Neo-Nazis and the KKK were prominent in their ranks.

They should be called out for what they are: immoral, hate-filled hypocrites.

Second, there is no place in a Christian worldview for those in a minority group to rise up and call for violence, regardless of the treatment they have received. Members of Black Lives Matter, spurred on by their own bitterness, have promoted violence against law enforcement officers, painting them all with the broad brush of a stereotype—which is the very thing they claim to be opposed to.

Third, there is another group out there calling themselves “Antifa,” which is supposed to mean they are anti-fascist. The strange thing about them is that they use fascist tactics to make their point, thereby becoming in practice what they say they oppose in theory. They were part of the violence in Charlottesville, although you don’t hear much about that.

Interestingly, though, a New York Times reporter at the scene did tweet this: “The hard left seemed as hate-filled as alt-right. I saw club-wielding ‘antifa’ beating white nationalists being led out of the park.”

This movement also is anti-Christian and should have no place in the heart of anyone calling himself/herself a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Now, on to the specifics.

The primary blame for what occurred in Charlottesville rests with the white supremacists. They staged the rally, knowing full well it would spark a counter-protest. They wanted a reaction from the extremists on the other side to try to make their point more pointedly.

They succeeded, if indeed you can describe what happened as a success.

Moreover, this group of sinful racists (a tautology, I know) tried to carry out this rally in the name of Christian faith, political conservatism, and as an arm of what many see as the Trump agenda.

It was not Christian, it was not representative of true conservatism, and Republicans nationwide have denounced the actions of these racists. That won’t stop the media, however, from constantly trying to make those connections.

The only sliver of accuracy here is that Trump did rely on their votes as a segment of his support in the campaign. Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, when he ran the Breitbart website, actually referred to it as a platform for the alt-right (the term used to incorporate such racists and others who sometimes lend them credibility with their “America First” ideology).

David Duke, one of the more prominent white supremacists in America, spoke at the Charlottesville rally and said the following: “This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take this country back. We’re gonna fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump because he said he’s going to take our country back.”

Please note that I’m not saying Trump is a racist; I’m simply saying that many white supremacists see him as their hope to fulfill their racist fantasies.

Trump’s response to the violence was technically accurate: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides.”

I can read that and say I agree. But I can also read that and wonder why he refused to single out the one “side” that created the problem this time. It’s as if he doesn’t want to go the entire way and point out that white supremacists were the real culprits in this particular event.

Usually it’s Trump’s words that get him into hot water; for the first time in my memory, it’s now what he didn’t say that’s causing the problem. Trump has this uncanny ability to make things worse.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, chapter 3, says explicitly what our attitude must be. He tells us to put aside “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech” from our mouths. He then goes on to say that through Christ we are being renewed:

A renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

He concludes the passage with these positive words:

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

The groups I mentioned in this post are opposed to forgiveness, choosing instead to highlight their grievances. Nothing about any of them is remotely Christian, and it’s incumbent upon Christians to be clear about that. We cannot allow a false image of the faith to gain predominance.

Who Was Harry Freeman? And Why Should You Care?

Harry Freeman is not a household name; most Americans have no idea who he was. Why should anyone care? Well, Harry Freeman was an example of just how devoted someone can be to a political party regardless of the drastic changes that might occur.

Whittaker Chambers knew Harry Freeman. When Chambers joined the open Communist Party in America in the late 1920’s, he worked alongside Freeman at the party’s newspaper, The Daily Worker.

Allow me to draw from what I’ve written in my book on Chambers and Reagan:

Freeman was the perfect communist in his responses to the party line. As Chambers relates, “No matter how favorable his opinion had been to an individual or his political role, if that person fell from grace in the Communist Party, Harry Freeman changed his opinion about him instantly.”

Others in the party also shifted their viewpoints to match the leadership, but Freeman was unique because he would do it “without any effort or embarrassment. There seemed to vanish from his mind any recollection that he had ever held any opinion other than the approved one. . . . More adroitly and more completely than any other Communist I knew, Harry Freeman possessed the conviction that the party line is always right.”

Freeman, after he left the Daily Worker, went on to become the managing editor of the American Bureau of Tass, the Soviet news agency. In 1976, two years before his death, he received a special award from the Soviet leadership—the Order of Peoples Friendship. His achievement, according to the Soviet government, was his devotion to strengthening cooperation between the peoples of the Soviet Union and the United States. Freeman’s commitment to the communist cause was total.

Chambers, for all his devotion to communism, could never be a Harry Freeman. He could not stomach the politics within the party, and when Stalin initiated a purge of the American leadership, Chambers saw it for what it was—a power struggle unrelated to whether or not a person was a genuine communist.

“It seemed to me,” Chambers wrote years later, “that the party, of which it had been said in Lenin’s time that it peopled the jails of Europe with philosophers, had simply gone insane. … I thought: ‘The pigmies have taken over.'” He refused to play along with this political game and dropped out of the party for a time. This made him a pariah, someone not to be trusted.

How many Harry Freemans, I wonder, exist in America today? The Harry Freemans of today are those who hold to the party line, regardless of which party, no matter how that party may shift and bend itself out of shape.

The Democrat Party in our day is not the Democrat Party of yesteryear when it had a strong anti-communist center. It never dallied with changing basic morality with respect to the right to life and marriage.

The Republican Party of 2017 has morphed also. It’s no longer the party led by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Its purported leader has little in common with Reagan’s sunny disposition, his devotion to constitutionalism, and his thorough knowledge of the conservative philosophy.

I’m concerned because I see Harry Freemans popping up all over the place. I see supposed conservatives, for instance, jettisoning basic conservative/Biblical principles for pure pragmatism.

My goal in this post is simple: it’s a warning—don’t be a Harry Freeman. Stay faithful to what you know is true and don’t bend yourself out of shape to keep up with whatever the “party” wants you to do. Maintain your integrity.

Kelly Taking Over

I avoided writing about Anthony Scaracmucci last week when he was unceremoniously escorted off the White House grounds by security. He lasted less than two weeks as Trump’s new director of communications. In fact, he hadn’t even officially begun the job; he was just taking advantage of the notoriety by being very public with his statements.

Those statements are what led to him being shown the door, a particular White House door that a number of staffers have gone through lately.

Upon hearing of Scaramucci’s quick exit, I joked (well, maybe it was only half a joke) that I wouldn’t comment yet because I wanted to be sure first that new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly still had his job after a couple of days had elapsed.

Kelly’s arrival at the heart of the Trump administration is coming at a crucial time. Reports of internecine fighting within Trump’s troops are not all fake news. Major disagreements have surfaced between factions vying for prominence.

It’s also becoming increasingly clear that Trump lacks any real managerial skills, despite his bravado. He’s far more concerned with his personal image and making grandiose claims about how great he is.

The latest example was his declaration that the leader of the Boy Scouts called to tell him his speech before the organization was the best speech ever delivered to them. That was followed by a strong denial from the organization that any such call had occurred.

Who’s the one putting out fake news now?

Unfortunately, Trump tends to surround himself with people just like him. That makes for extreme dysfunction.

Now that Kelly is in control (well, we’ll see how much he can truly control), perhaps things will run more efficiently.

As a highly decorated general, he knows what it takes to achieve difficult goals.

This may be his hardest task yet. All the best to you, Chief of Staff Kelly. There are many of us out here who want you to succeed.

Speaking Truth to a Sinful Culture

I was born in the 1950s, became aware of the larger world and moral issues in the 1960s (subjected as we all were during that era to the so-called sexual revolution), solidified my Christian faith in the early-to-mid 1970s, slipped away from Christian reality for a while after that, only to return to faith in the late 1980s with supreme gratitude to God for His patience and willingness to forgive my stupidity.

I was blessed to be brought back from the brink of spiritual destruction. As a result, I speak earnestly and forcefully (with love, I trust) about the need to hold fast to His truth and not allow slippage to occur, both in the individuals I have the opportunity to influence (students, in particular) and in my ongoing concern for the Christian church’s witness to the world.

When the church—which is comprised of all those who have come to the foot of the Cross, repented of sin, and received the forgiveness and grace only offered there—stops being the voice of God on moral issues, the culture degrades in proportion to the church’s apostasy.

This hasn’t happened on all issues. Take abortion, for instance. Despite the efforts of those who want to see abortion accepted as normal, great strides have been made by Christians in our nation to stem that tide. Regardless of the government’s promotion of abortion via the Supreme Court, the attitude of Americans on that issue is shifting more and more toward rejection of that horrific act.

Not so with homosexuality, unfortunately. This has become the primary issue now with the government and the culture in general (entertainment media, especially) in an attempt to overthrow Biblical morality.

Those of us who grew up in the 1950s-1970s era look around us and almost can’t believe what we see. What was once considered abnormal and not even to be mentioned publicly has become a celebration of “diversity.” Those who oppose the gay agenda are singled out as “haters,” “bigots,” and “narrow-minded.”

Same-sex marriage, from a Biblical standpoint, is an absurdity. Probably more than 90% of Americans would have said the same thing a mere twenty years ago. Now, even Republicans—you know, the “conservatives”—are on the verge of accepting it as normal. A recent poll revealed that nearly 50% of Republican voters no longer have a problem with it.

While that certainly concerns me as a conservative, the more pressing problem is the change occurring with those who claim to be Christians. The shift within the supposed Christian community is disheartening.

One Christian professor at a Baptist seminary has come up with a sad, yet from my perspective, accurate description of what is happening. He sees evangelicals moving toward the same acceptance of same-sex marriage as the overall culture.

Here are the stages he outlines.

(1) Oppose gay-marriage: Every evangelical starts here, or at the very least they appear to start here.

(2) Oppose taking a stand on the question: Persons in this stage are becoming aware of how offensive the traditional view is to those outside the church. Their initial remedy is to avoid that conflict by not talking about the Bible’s teaching on this subject. In Brian McLaren‘s case, he urged evangelicals to observe a 5-year moratorium on talking about gay marriage. For Jen Hatmaker, she advocated going “into the basement,” where we don’t talk about these things but just love people. Choosing to avoid the question is never a final answer for anyone in this stage.

(3) Affirm gay marriage: At some point during the “we’re not talking about this anymore” stage, those who used to oppose gay marriage find grounds to affirm it. Some do it by questioning the Bible’s truthfulness. Others do through revisionist interpretations of the Biblical text. In either case, proponents end up affirming what the Bible forbids.

(4) Vilify traditional marriage proponents: Persons in this stage not only affirm gay marriage. They also view traditional marriage supporters as supporting invidious discrimination against gay people. They will adopt the rhetoric of Christianity’s fiercest critics to describe believers who hold to the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.

The professor then goes on to state that while it may take some time for people to go from stage 2 to stage 3, once they hit stage 3, they quite often go rapidly into stage 4.

I teach at an evangelical university. During the Obama presidency, we, along with other evangelical universities, experienced pressure to change our public stand on this issue or else our students would be cut off from getting education loans and our accreditation might be withdrawn over time.

Some may think that just because we presently have a Republican Congress and a president who curries favor with evangelicals that we are “safe.” Believing that all is back to “normal” would be the height of wishful thinking.

It is crucial for those who truly know what it means to be brought out of the pit of sinful destruction and receive the mercy and grace of God to stand firm at this time on Biblical teaching about sin.

Many will twist my words, saying they are hateful. They are just the opposite. I want everyone caught in a sinful life to be set free. I needed that in my life at one point and God graciously gave me a new life. I seek the same for others.

All sin—homosexuality included—leads to chains that bind us. When we are in those chains, we get used to them and our consciences become seared. The Christian’s responsibility is, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, to break through that seared conscience with the twin weapons of Truth and Love so that those caught in the trap will see their need and respond to God’s mercy through Christ.

To be faithful to God’s truth and to speak to our society about that truth is the most loving thing we can do.

A Bitter Deal

All the drama in the Trump administration and in a dysfunctional Republican Congress has overshadowed the effort by Democrats to re-energize their base and try to figure out what regular Americans are really like. Perhaps the best development in the six months of the Trump presidency has been the irrelevance of the minority party.

As if to emphasize their irrelevance, they’ve concentrated on coming up with a new slogan, one that’s supposed to provide confidence for voters that they know what they’re doing. And what did they come up with?

What is it with Democrats and “deals”? Apparently, they think the public will look back fondly on FDR’s New Deal and Truman’s Fair Deal and fall in love with this rehashed slogan.

Somehow, I doubt it. Those of us with some historical context might see a different connection:

If you think that worked out just fine for Russia, you probably are thrilled by the slogan. Individuals with active brain cells, however, might not see it that way:

All of this sloganeering, of course, has as its primary goal to return Congress to Democrat control in 2018. The party is hoping to attract candidates who can win, although I can understand why some might be reluctant to board this ship.

Actually, the only thing Democrats have going for them in the next election cycle is the incompetence of Republican leadership, both in Congress and in the White House. If that can be turned around, Democrats will remain the minority party. But that’s a big “if.”