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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

Discerning Good & Evil

The Book of Hebrews has always been one of my favorites. I’ve been reading it again on my path through the whole Bible. Two passages in chapter four stand out to me, the first reminding me that in a world filled with selfishness, duplicity, and enmity toward God and His ways, He is still the One who sees everything and takes it all into account:

swordFor the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

The first application of any Scripture needs to be personal. I must keep in mind that the Lord is constantly seeing what’s in my heart. He knows my intent in everything I do. In one sense, that’s sobering, but in another, it’s a spur to keep my heart right out of love for Him and all He has done for me.

The second application is to the world in general, in which I can rest in the assurance that He does know the truth about everyone and that, in the end, things will be made right: those who deny Him and His truth and who may seem to be “winning” will have to give an account to Him ultimately for their intent and their actions.

Later in the chapter, there is a challenge to those who say they are His disciples to prove that they are disciples indeed.

good-evilFor though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

The message of that passage? Grow up.

One of the things that is most troubling to me is that so many Christians seem to believe the lies the world tells us, all the way from excuses for sinful behavior in society to the bald-faced untruths emanating from the mouths of politicians eager to puff up themselves as our “saviors.”

Sins as described in the Bible remain sins today regardless of the trends we see around us.

No politician is the answer to our myriad problems. No one should ever say he or she alone can set things right.

God wants to work through us to set things as right as possible in this unsettled and topsy-turvy world, but we must grow up first if we are to make a difference. We can’t stay in the infant seat, wanting all our needs met. We must discern good and evil and be steadfast in our determination to stand for the good.

God’s righteousness in our own lives and in our society must be our twin goals.

David French: A Principled Man

David FrenchDavid French is an outstanding man. Not only is he a constitutional lawyer who has stood firm in defense of religious liberty, but he’s an Iraqi Freedom veteran who won the Bronze Star, is a bestselling author, has a fine Christian testimony, and has a wonderful family that includes an adopted African American daughter.

For the past week, French contemplated an independent run for the presidency simply because conservatives have no real choice in this election. Last night he announced that he would not make that run, for various reasons. I honor that decision, even as I would have honored the opposite decision by voting for him with a clear conscience.

What he left us with, though, was a thoughtful and direct statement of where we are as a nation, given that the presumptive nominees are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. First, French explains why he even considered making the run:

I gave it serious thought — as a pretty darn obscure lawyer, writer, and veteran — only because we live in historic times. Never before have both parties failed so spectacularly, producing two dishonest, deceitful candidates who should be disqualified from running for town council, much less leader of the free world.

If Trump supporters don’t like to hear words like that, they should remember that one of the reasons they say they support Trump is because he “tells it like it is.” Well, French is much better at telling it like it is than Donald Trump.

Having provided the overall perspective on why he considered running, he then zeroed in on those two candidates, beginning with Clinton:

Hillary Clinton lies habitually and changes position on virtually every public issue except for her pro-abortion extremism, and she has a suspicious record of making public decisions that favor donors to the Clinton Foundation. Her signal foreign-policy “achievement” was helping launch a war in Libya that not only cost American lives in Benghazi but also helped transform the nation into ISIS’s latest playpen.

To add to all that, she’s in the middle of an active FBI investigation. If I had handled classified information the way we know she handled classified information, my career would already be over, and the single goal of my life would be persuading the prosecutor to reach a lenient plea bargain.

In other words, Hillary Clinton should be disqualified from the presidential ballot for things that would end other people’s careers. But, of course, she’s a Clinton, so there are different rules for her.

French then laid out some truth about the other party’s nominee:

Donald Trump also lies habitually (sometimes minute by minute), and changes position based on his moods. In one breath he claims to support working men and women, and then with the next breath he threatens to destroy our economy through trade wars or by playing games with the full faith and credit of the United States.

He believes an American judge — a man born in Indiana who spent months hiding from drug cartels after they’d put a “hit” on him – can’t rule on a case involving Trump University because the judge’s parents emigrated from Mexico.

His supporters believe it demonstrates “strength” when he mocks the disabled and bullies women. He has attracted an online racist following that viciously attacks his opponents and their families — including my wife and youngest daughter.

Shoot Him

French then offers some hope for the future:

I believe with all my heart that there is an American movement ready to both resist the corruption, decadence, and dishonesty of the American elite and restore the promise of the American Dream. But that movement may not emerge for some time, and it might emerge only after further heartache and pain.

What this nation needs might not come to fruition immediately, but we should continue to work toward the goal of righteousness. And for those who would demean the efforts to provide an alternative to the two presumptive nominees, French adds,

Let me also say that each person involved in the effort to recruit an independent candidate is a patriot. They are standing strong on principle when the GOP leadership — in lockstep — now marches to Trump’s beat. I admired them before this process began, and I admire them more even now.

Then he takes on the Republican establishment—you know, that entity that Trump presumably abhors:

Last week, Reince Priebus said that those involved in the independent effort were “embarrassing themselves.” But what is more embarrassing? Is it doing your best to defend the nation you love from two people who are unworthy of its highest office? Or is it using your God-given gifts and talents to advance the interests of a man who cares only for himself and who rejects the very values you’ve long claimed to uphold?

He then ends with a personal word and a Reaganesque statement about America’s future:

To those who prayed for me and my family, I’m grateful beyond words. To those who defended my wife and kids from vicious attacks — engaging in a fight you didn’t seek — I’m forever in your debt. To those I’ve disappointed, I’m sorry. It is your devotion and integrity that help keep America great, and I believe you will ultimately prevail.

What a system we have that puts forward a Clinton and a Trump as our choices, but relegates principled men and women to the back burner. We only have ourselves to blame; the voters have made two utterly unqualified people the nominees for the major parties.

I’m not sure I have the same hopes French does for the eventual direction the nation will take, but I would like to think he is correct. I appreciate people like David French whose lives are built on the solid rock of faith in Christ and in the principles that flow from that faith. May that number be multiplied. That’s our only real hope.

If the Foundations Are Destroyed?

I have taught Biblical principles in my courses for the past twenty-seven years. I’ve wanted my students to understand that we must look deeper than outward appearances when we scrutinize historical events.

A principle is a source or origin of anything; it is a general truth, that is, a truth that is so broad and sweeping that many other truths can be considered off-shoots of it.

The idea of general truths that apply to all of society formerly had wide acceptance in America. The key word is formerly. So my goal has been to reintroduce those principles as best I can through my teaching and writing.

FoundationsThat’s why, back in 1993, I published a book based on the principles I teach in the classroom. I’ve revised it a few times along the way.

If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Biblical Principles and Civil Government is a primer on the principles that I believe come out of Scripture and ought to be applied to everything in our society.

The onset of evolutionary philosophy and the pragmatism to which it has given birth have led us to think more in terms of expediency than principle. People sacrifice principles to that which is less troublesome.

Standing on principle can be wearying when no one else seems to care or understand what you are doing. Yet God calls on Christians to make His principles the foundation of all they say and do.

Christians get in trouble when they conform to the world’s thinking and ignore principles. They are tempted not to cause waves, forgetting that the world already is a turbulent place and that men are seeking—whether they realize it or not—for the stability of fixed principles.

America has always had those turbulent times; historians probably understand that better than most. There was a presidential election in 1800 that was quite controversial. Leading up to that election, one man, Jedidiah Morse—a Congregational minister, the compiler of the first American geography book, and father of Samuel F. B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph—preached a sermon that issued the following warning:

Jedidiah MorseOur dangers are of two kinds, those which affect our religion, and those which affect our government. They are, however, so closely allied that they cannot, with propriety, be separated.

The foundations which support the interests of Christianity are also necessary to support a free and equal government like our own.

To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness, which mankind now enjoy. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief, or the corruption of its doctrines, or the neglect of its institutions; in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom, and approximate the miseries of complete despotism.

Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.

If that dire warning was applicable in 1799 when Morse preached that sermon, how much more so today?

America may be more bitterly divided now than it has been since the Civil War, and there is no guarantee that Biblical principles will gain the ultimate victory in this earthly realm. But God does reward and protect those who serve Him with a whole heart. He is looking for faithful individuals through whom He can work to make changes.

Jesus asked the best question for our times: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

The book of Hebrews says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That is the kind of faith He seeks; it is the only kind of faith that will make a difference. May it be the faith that He finds.

If you would like to peruse the principles in my book, you can find it at Amazon by clicking here.

My doctoral dissertation was on Noah Webster, widely considered America’s first schoolmaster. His Speller taught generations how to read; his 1828 Dictionary was unique, not only in its being the first produced by an American, but in its Biblical basis. Webster’s illustrations for words included Biblical citations and short homilies on the significance of some key words. His influence in early America was great.

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I’m highlighting him today because he offered insight to his generation when it came to choosing political leaders. His words are timeless; they apply to our current situation.

“In selecting men for office,” Webster urged, “let principles be your guide. . . . Look to his character as a man of known principle, of tried integrity, and undoubted ability for the office.”

To ignore lack of principle and integrity in a candidate is to violate the sacred trust given to us as citizens:

When a citizen gives his vote to a man of known immorality, he abuses his civic responsibility; he not only sacrifices his own responsibility; he sacrifices not only his own interest, but that of his neighbor; he betrays the interest of his country.

Webster continued: “If rulers are bad men, it is generally the fault of the people.” After all, who puts men of depraved character in office? We can too often be deceived by them, he notes, but often we vote them in simply because they belong to “our” party. Here’s how he framed it:

Noah WebsterThey choose men, not because they are just men, men of religion and integrity, but solely for the sake of supporting a party [emphasis mine]. This is a fruitful source of public evils.

But as surely as there is a God in heaven, who exercises a moral government over the affairs of this world, so certainly will the neglect of the divine command, in the choice of rulers, be followed by bad laws and as bad administration.

I trust you know why I chose to emphasize that one phrase in the quote above.

By 1837, Webster was becoming distraught by what he was seeing in the culture and politics of his nation. He wrote to a friend,

Principles, sir, are becoming corrupt, deeply corrupt; & unless the progress of corruption, & perversion of truth can be arrested, neither liberty nor property will long be secure in this country.

And a great evil is, that men of the first distinction seem, to a great extent, to be ignorant of the real, original causes of our public distresses. Many of our greatest men are making vigorous efforts to remove present evils, but not an effort is made to correct the radical cause of our political calamities.

Webster’s concern in 1837 should be our concern today. Our principles have been corrupted; integrity is discounted; truth is being perverted. Yet we don’t address those fundamental issues. Instead, we rally to someone who either promises free stuff or who pledges to build a wall.

Webster’s prescription for the ills in our society is a return to Biblical principles and integrity of character. I agree with that prescription. That’s why I will never vote for anyone who lacks the very rudiments of those qualities. That’s why I will not vote for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump.

WebsterNoah Webster was a man of his time, but the ideas he fostered are based on the Book that applies to all men at all times. If you wish to know more about Webster, his views, and his influence during his lifetime, my book, Defining Noah Webster: A Spiritual Biography, is available. You can find it on Amazon right here.

We are faced with virtually no good choice in this coming presidential election, so let’s keep in mind that government is not our savior. There is only one Savior. Our responsibility is to be faithful to Him and maintain our integrity. Stand for righteousness, then stand back and see what God will do.

Obama’s Worldview & the Transformation of America

One’s worldview definitely matters. Take Barack Obama, for example. When he said he wanted to fundamentally transform America, he wasn’t kidding, and his inspiration for that goal is his radical worldview.

I believe that Obama’s vision is fueled by a fury against those he perceives as “oppressors.” He has an undercurrent of anger toward an orthodox Christian understanding of truth and the faith’s stance on morality. In his mind, Christianity provides the foundation of oppression.

That’s why he turns a blind eye to Muslim atrocities; they are an oppressed people simply getting back at a Christian-dominated culture that has unjustly kept them down.

That’s why he has turned morality upside-down, beginning with approval of homosexuality, followed by promotion of same-sex marriage, followed by a focus on transgenderism, leading to his decree that all public schools must allow any student who feels trapped in the wrong gender to use whichever restroom and locker room that student desires.

We Don't Care

Before proceeding, I can already imagine an objection, the tired old claim that Obama is a Christian. Well, using trendy terminology, I would respond that Obama may “self-identify” as a Christian, but his idea of Christian is more aligned with a radical, Marxist liberation theology, which is, at heart, anti-Christian. And his agenda has had the effect of putting long-recognized Christian morality on the defensive, hinting (and in some cases more than hinting) that those who hold to such ancient concepts of morality are rather bigoted and driven by hatred.

No, I don’t accept Obama’s self-identification as a Christian as legitimate.

I have two problems with Obama’s latest decree: the first is moral; the second is constitutional.

There are some people who are genuinely confused over their gender due to genetic disorders of some kind. That’s a purely physical cause, not a moral problem. But the percentage of the population in that situation, according to what I’ve read, at least, is about 3/10 of one per cent. What the Obama agenda requires is that we now reorient our entire society around those individuals.

And we all know his decree will be applied far more generously than that. Anyone who “feels” confused about gender identity will be allowed to use whatever restroom or locker room they choose. It’s a wide open door to sexual abuse; in a supposed move to be “fair” to a hypothetically discriminated-against segment of the population, the rest of the population will be forced to bow to the new morality.

It’s a certain Biblical passage now being manifested before our eyes:

Isaiah 5

Then there’s the constitutional side of things. Where, in that document, does one find the authority for a president—any president—to simply declare what will be the policy for all public schools nationwide?

Where, in fact, in that document, is there any authority whatsoever for the federal government to be involved in education at all?

Shot Constitution

I submit that no matter how long or how deeply one inspects the Constitution, such authority never will be found there. What we are seeing now is perhaps the most dictatorial action, among many other dictatorial actions, that Obama has ever attempted.

This is a clear case where states have all constitutional authority to rise up and say, “This will not happen here.” I applaud those state leaders who have spoken up already and sincerely hope more will join the chorus in the coming days.

We are supposed to be a nation operating by the rule of law, not by the whims of one man—and his party—who seeks to destroy all semblance of the rule of law.

We are a country at a serious crossroads right now. Is Biblical morality to be forever banished from our public policy? Are we finally going to kill whatever is left of our Constitution and give it a decent burial?

Or are we going to stand up for Biblical truth?

Answers to those questions are still forthcoming.