A Christian Response to the Election

Yesterday I tried to dissect the election results, offering along with those results a diagnosis of the malady we face as a nation. Today, I want to make it more personal. How should I, and how should all Christians who are disappointed with those results, respond?

Clichés run amok at times like this. There are two Christian clichés that I firmly reject: “This was God’s will” and “God is in control.” I know I risk alienating a portion of readers by calling these clichés, and certainly risk raising suspicions about my orthodoxy by rejecting these two tried-and-true comments. Let me explain why they are anathema to me.

Sin is never God’s will. Righteousness is always God’s will. If a decision made by the voters leads to greater sin, it is most assuredly not the will of God. By returning Obama and his minions to their offices, sin will abound. Abortion on demand will remain the goal of this administration; religious liberty will continue to be attacked via Obamacare; homosexuality will be celebrated and same-sex marriage promoted; the federal government will take over more of our lives, undermining the family, churches, and local control. I gladly admit I have no patience with the evangelical Left that sees no problem with this. I even have a profound disagreement with those who voted as I did coming out and offering their congratulations to the president for his victory. I would no sooner offer congratulations to Obama for his electoral success than I would offer congratulations to Hugo Chavez for winning the Venezuelan presidency. Both victories will lead to mass misery and greater acceptance for sinful policies. I must stand for righteousness.

Have you ever read the Lord’s Prayer with an eye to one particular sentence? “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We are to pray for His will to be done precisely because it usually is not being done. The normal mode for humanity is to do one’s own selfish will, not God’s. Only those who have come to terms with their sinfulness, repented of it, and received the forgiveness offered through the sacrifice of Christ are seeking to do God’s will on this earth. Most of what happens is contrary to God’s will; that is why we need to pray specifically that His ways will prevail.

That second cliché—God is in control—is not quite as bad, but it needs some context. If by that, we mean that ultimately He has the final say, I have no issue with it. He certainly can, at any time of His choosing, wipe out the ungodly or bring an end to human history. However, I think most people say this as a kind of narcotic applied to a bad situation. It makes them feel better to say it. It’s almost akin to “this was God’s will” in their minds. They rest in the assurance that somehow this will all turn out okay because “God is in control.” Look at history. Look around you. Most things do not turn out okay. Lives are destroyed every minute. Atrocities go unchecked. Selfishness, bitterness, and all evil attitudes wreak havoc on society. Retreating into a unthinking cliché may ease our anxieties, but it doesn’t change reality. Faith is one thing; delusion is another matter entirely. It’s dangerous to confuse the two.

I think the proper perspective is given to us in Romans 8:28:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

The promise is conditional. God will always be at work to bring good out of bad, to resurrect righteousness out of evil, but the promise is to those who are truly called by Him to carry out His will. It applies to those who are actively loving Him. The promise is personal; it applies to society at large only to the extent that it is fulfilled in our lives. This is not a blanket promise that everything is going to work out—don’t worry, be happy. No, it is a promise to those who are the redeemed who are living within His will and who are devoted to seeing that will being done on earth as it already is in heaven.

What does Romans 8:28 mean to me? It is a deep assurance from God’s Spirit that if I continue to love Him, I can depend on His blessing in my life and in the lives of those whom I touch. It comforts me to realize that no matter how surrounded I may be by evil, He is with me, encouraging me to be a light in the dark spiritual abyss that externally appears to be winning.

This deep assurance of His ongoing love and divine intervention in my life, despite the disturbances in the world, leads me away from bitterness, unrighteous anger [which is different than a righteous anger over how sin destroys everything that is godly], revenge, and despair. It tells me there is still hope because God has not abandoned me nor any of His true children. He seeks to work out His will on this earth through us.

On a practical level, this means I must continue to be engaged in the task He has given me. I am under obligation to speak, write, and act in ways that advance His kingdom. I have a responsibility to stay involved in the political/governmental sphere. I cannot cave when an election goes bad; neither can I wash my hands of the mess of politics and walk away. He has called me, and us, to be right there in the muck, doing all we can to clean it up. Isn’t that the essence of our calling as salt and light?

Some will say that what happened on Tuesday is God’s judgment for America’s sins. I won’t say I disagree. We are reaping the consequences of our ungodliness as a society. But until I know for certain that it is an ultimate judgment and that I am to shake the dust off my feet and allow it to fall without mercy, I will keep fighting for societal redemption. There may be a time when we will mirror the nation that the prophet Jeremiah addressed. America may, in effect, come to the point where it is in captivity to another nation—in submission to a stronger power and forced to do its will. It tears me up to consider this possibility, but with the current administration, we may be moving inexorably toward that end. Yet I will do all I can, under God, to forestall that nightmare.

There’s another factor that Christians must now take seriously. Throughout American history, Christians have either had the upper hand or have at least been protected and free to pursue their faith. That may change. Persecution may come. We have to prepare ourselves for that possibility. We have to come to grips with the fact that America today is not what America has been. Attacks on the faith may increase. We may be faced with hard decisions. Will we remain faithful or will we bow to the new caesar? Early Christians had to make that choice; we may soon join their ranks. Yet if that happens, we still have God’s many promises, not the least of which is Romans 8:28. We don’t have to worry about His faithfulness; the only question will be ours. Will we continue to love Him and carry out His purposes regardless of the circumstances?

Pray for one another, brethren, that our testimony will bring glory to His name.

Guest Post: Dr. Michael Farris

Dr. Michael Farris, the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College, posted in Facebook his exceptional explanation for how he came to a decision on how to vote in this current presidential election. Actually, what he outlines is a principled approach that I would recommend for all Christians and/or conservatives as we contemplate candidates. So often, we want perfection in our candidates, but that’s a rarity. I asked Dr. Farris if I could use his essay as my post today, and he graciously agreed.

As you read his explanation, you can see that he has a sharp legal mind—it comes to the forefront as he lays out the case step by step. I am deeply impressed by the logic of his writing and only wish I could be that clear as I try to persuade people to consider the things I write.

The essay is a little lengthy, but I predict that if you are honestly seeking answers, or if you are looking for a strong rationale for why you believe as you do, you will want to read it to the end.

Mike Farris: Principles for Christians as They Decide How to Vote

This has been the most unusual election season of my life. The chief reason for the difference is my very active participation in Facebook—which has thrust me into a wide-ranging discussion (and sometimes heated debates) in a format that is very egalitarian in nature. I can only hope that I have contributed to others as much as I feel that my FB friends have contributed to me.

But because of my background, I have been asked countless times for my views about the various candidates. And during the primary process I was very open about my inability to support the “front-runner” Mitt Romney.  In the context of a primary election, there is no doubt that I had to support someone who had views and a record much closer to my own views. I supported Rick Santorum.

But now it is general election time. And I have to say that I have been much slower to reach a decision regarding the General Election than any previous election in my lifetime.  I have heard the arguments about the inappropriateness of choosing the “lesser of two evils.”  I have taken these arguments very seriously.

I have spent as much time as I have had available thinking about the broader question: How should an American Christian make a decision in a general election? Asking the question this way helps to focus on both halves of the criteria that seem appropriate to me. There are factors which arise because I am a Christian and other factors that arise because I am an American. I look to both sets of factors.

First, and most importantly, I am a Christian. I need to do my very best to understand God’s standards from the Word of God. I reject the idea that God’s Word has nothing to say to us about voting. Proverbs 3:6 says: “In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.” There is no exception to this rule for politics. All means all. God has something to say to the Christian about every aspect of his or her life.  

In Hosea 8:1-4, God rebukes Israel for choosing Kings and Princes without His approval. And in Deuteronomy 7:14-et seq. God gives Israel the standards for choosing a King. God has something to say to us about our choices of political leaders.

But, even though I have been involved with the Christian-political world essentially on a full-time basis since 1980, and having read extensively in this area, I do not think that American Christian leadership has done a proper job of developing, justifying, and teaching a clear set of principles for this purpose from the Word. I have been tempted to develop my own set of principles. But, even though I think I could do a decent job on this point, I feel that it is arrogant for any individual Christian to attempt to speak in a normative way on this subject in an attempt to tell the whole Body of Believers what the correct standard is for making voting decisions. So I share with you my views but not with a claim that my views should control yours. Of all of the biblical conclusions I have reached about this election, I hold one view the strongest based on Romans 14:4: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

I have to confess that I have lost patience with people who seek to batter other believers into accepting their views about this election. There are many who feel compelled by conscience to vote for Mitt Romney because the alternative is so frightful to consider. There are others, not as many (but very vociferous) who think that voting for the lesser of two evils is a grievous sin. And they have concluded as a matter of conscience that they cannot vote for him.

Here is my statement to both camps. Leave each other alone. If you want to tell people what you have chosen to do and why, that is perfectly acceptable. But, I view it as a sin for any of you to attempt to override the conscience of another believer by the sheer force of your will. That is what Romans 14:4 teaches. Accordingly, I am instituting an immediate policy of deleting any comment that appears to me to be a violation of this rule. (I will not come to your FB page and seek to enforce this rule. Your wall. Your rules. My wall. My rules. I will insist on civility.)

This election has caused me to understand that there is a difference between “endorsing” a candidate and voting for a candidate.  Because of my leadership position, I have come to understand that there should be a very high standard that I should employ before I endorse a candidate.  As you will see, I have come to look at candidates in one of four ways: 1. Those who are very supportive of my views. 2. Those who will listen to my views. 3. Those who are indifferent to my views. 4. Those who are openly hostile to my views.

In the past, I have tried—more or less—to only endorse candidates who are in the first category—those who are supportive of my views. I intend to follow this standard very rigorously from this point forward. Accordingly, I will make no endorsement for President in 2012. This does not mean that I intend not to vote. I will vote for a candidate for reasons I describe below.

There is no candidate in this race who is supportive of my views on my five most important issues. This includes third party candidates and the possibility of write-in votes. Part of the reason that I say this is that I view experience and leadership as biblical standards that are an important part of the calculus for a voting decision. Concerning elders the Bible says, “Lay hands on no man suddenly.” 1 Tim. 5:22. And concerning the selection of deacons, “They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve.”  I believe that it is appropriate to apply these standards by extension to candidates for political office. I want candidates who have been tested and who have the experience to perform the task at hand.

Other than the two major candidates, I have seen no one who claims to be running for president who meets the test of life preparation and experience to hold this weighty office.

This conclusion, however, does not necessarily mean that I will automatically vote for the “lesser evil” of the two remaining candidates. The idea of not voting for anyone is something that I have seriously considered.

This test is akin to the test of personal character that is applicable to church leaders and I believe is essential for the evaluation of political leaders as well. I realize that on the issue of personal character we have limited information for both Obama and Romney.  There could be skeletons hiding in the closet for either or both of them. And in terms of their political lives, both men are subject to criticism for saying one thing and doing another. That matters. But, the area of character that is most visible to all of us is the marriage and family life of both men. In our society, marital faithfulness is passé for many. And giving some priority to your children is unfortunately rare.

In these areas, I would say that both men seem to be very good to their wives and their children. Whatever their other faults may be—and they are many—I have to say that I admire each of these men as it pertains to their family life.

Now we turn to the issue of the public policy positions of the candidates—as measured by both their speeches and their records.

If perfection is our standard for the evaluation of policy issues, we will never find a candidate to fulfill our wishes.  (Even I would not be perfect in the eyes of many since I hate chocolate and really don’t care for the Lord of the Rings movies.)

I have decided to evaluate the candidates based on the issues that are the most important to me using the four-standards I mentioned earlier.  Take the issue of abortion, for example:

1. Does the candidate enthusiastically agree with my pro-life position?

2. Is the candidate willing to listen to my pro-life position and work with people like me to move in the right direction?

3. Is the candidate indifferent to my pro-life position?

4. Is the candidate openly hostile to my pro-life position?

If a candidate is in the 1st or 2nd group for all—or nearly all—of the issues that are most important to me, then I am willing to vote for such a candidate.  If a candidate is in the 4th group (open hostility) for any of the positions that I hold to be most important, I would not be able to vote for such a candidate.

I admit that this is a pragmatic method of decision-making. But, I think that God tells us to use pragmatism in our long-range decisions. In Luke 14:28-30, the person building a tower was admonished to count the costs of the building project and to make sure that he had the money and materials to complete the project. The builder could have just “trusted God” to supply his needs. But, God does not praise that kind of presumption. He tells us to plan and to make sure that we have the materials to do the job. That is pragmatism.

This is not to say that pragmatism is the trump card for all matters—not at all. Rather, I read this passage (and others) to say that practical thinking has a role in these kinds of decisions.

Here are some of the components of my pragmatic assessment of the situation.

  • People who hold my worldview are not in the political majority.
  • Many who share my basic religious beliefs, have significant gaps in their worldview because of lack of training.
  • Many others have significant differences in their worldview because they have listened to voices that are not based on biblical presuppositions.
  • A great number of people who are likely to hold to the worldview that I believe are not registered to vote or, if registered, are indifferent to actually voting.
  • Christians, especially pastors, are responsible for these factors that have significantly diminished our potential influence in an election. If Christians were reaching our own with proper training and if our own actively participated, we would be a much more powerful force in politics.

 We need to face the pragmatic fact that we are a minority. Thus, if we cannot make alliances with people who are open to working with us, then we are doomed to lose everything that is important to us.

As a dedicated minority group, we can accomplish our highest public policy goals if we are properly engaged in the rough and tumble world of coalition politics. Homosexuals are a tiny minority, yet they have had extraordinary political success by becoming an integral part of the liberal coalition.  Homeschoolers are also a tiny minority and we also have had extraordinary political success by becoming an integral part of the conservative coalition.

Consider the relative success of these various components of the conservative movement:

  • The pro-life movement
  • The traditional marriage movement
  • The anti-pornography movement
  • The anti-tax movement
  • The anti-Federal Reserve movement
  • The anti-government debt movement
  • The homeschooling movement

The fact is that none of these causes, except one, have gained much ground. Homeschooling freedom has come a long, long way in the last 30 years. Accordingly, I think we need to look at this movement’s tactics to see what works.

It is pretty clear—we have been successful because homeschoolers have been willing to work with two kinds of politicians—those who fully embrace the idea of homeschooling (i.e. homeschooling parents and graduates) along with those who will listen to homeschoolers and are open to working with us to advance our goals.

If we had demanded that every candidate become one of us in order for us to work with them—homeschooling would still be illegal in 47 states (according to the government officials) rather than being recognized as legal in all 50 states.

Political success comes when we work with: 1. Our kind of people and 2. Those who will listen to us and work with us. That is the only way that a minority group can ever succeed.  And, again, we are a minority group on the broader range of issues that are important.

I wish we were the majority. But, we will have to tackle that problem on another day. For now, I will just say that it is going to take a revolution among pastors to turn our minority into the majority that we could become. (This revolution will require rethinking many things—the way we share the Gospel, the way we train our children, and the way we think about politics.) But for today, we are a minority and we have to act like a smart minority aiming for success rather than a misguided minority aiming for an all or nothing strategy. Before I turn to my analysis of the issues—I have to face my own rather strident comments toward Mitt Romney during the primary process.  Some may ask: What changed? Three things.

  • First, the Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare was a real surprise to me. I was convinced that it would go down to defeat and there was no chance that a new Congress would re-enact it.  If this law is not reversed before it is fully implemented we will never rid ourselves of socialism.
  • Second, the Obama administration made a very strong attempt to pass the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities—demonstrating an intention to fully enact the entire UN agenda. This is coupled with Mitt Romney’s strong position in opposition to this kind of use of international law. I cannot stress too strongly how important this is—at least to me.
  • Finally, I actually paid attention to the comments of my friends here on FB and elsewhere. I would have to say that the tenor of the comments meant as much to me as the substance. I became open to rethinking my views in light of these comments.  And that rethinking has led me to address the two candidates on an issue by issue basis.

So, what are the issues that are the most important to me? I am going to share my list. I do not claim that your list should be exactly the same as mine.

 1. Does the candidate support or oppose American self-government?

The reason that our Founders declared independence from England in 1776 was not because of religious liberty or tax policy—it was because they believed that the principle of American self-government was worth the risk of their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

Barack Obama is openly hostile to the principle of American self-government. He wants to seek ratification of every currently unratified UN treaty including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. These treaties would use international law to override American self-government on parental rights, abortion rights, homosexual rights, gun rights, and a host of other issues while fully mandating a robust socialist state. These policies are bad substantively. But, they are far worse when they are forced down our unwilling throats as a consequence of the primacy of international treaties.

Barack Obama’s hostility to American self-government makes all of his other bad policy positions seem like child’s play in my view. This is the biggest issue to me—and Obama is hostile to this central premise of American political life. He is strongly desirous of making America subject to the rule of international law under the UN.

Mitt Romney has told me in a one-on-one conversation that he fully agrees with my view that such UN treaties have no legitimate place in our legal system. He has sent me a personal, signed letter saying the same thing. This letter has been made public. There is nothing in his past to cause me to doubt his sincerity on this issue. So on this issue, I rate Mitt Romney as “one of us”—fully agreeing with our position. (This is the only issue where he gets this rating from me.)

2. The Right to Life.

Barack Obama is openly hostile to the right to life. He is absolutely committed to Roe v. Wade and the full support of Planned Parenthood. He will fight us every step of the way on this issue.

Mitt Romney has a checkered past on this issue. He claims that he has been converted to the pro-life position. I don’t feel convinced that he has fully converted. However, it is clear that he is talking pro-life talk and taking pro-life positions. I think he does this, at least in part, because he realizes that being perceived as pro-life is necessary for his political success. And I don’t think he thinks that it is just necessary to be pro-life until November of 2012. He wants to be re-elected. So, at a minimum, I think we can count on him to keep up this pragmatic approach until November of 2016.

This does not make Mitt Romney my enemy. I think it is fair to say that he is listening to pro-life people and wants to work with pro-life people. I give him a “2” on this issue. He is not one of us. But he listens and is willing to have us in his coalition and knows the necessity of advancing some of our pro-life priorities.

3. Marriage and same-sex issues.

Barack Obama again in open-war against our values on this issue. He could not be worse.

Mitt Romney has a very troubling record on this issue–so troubling that I have a difficult time believing that he is a “2” on this issue. He now says that he is against same-sex marriage. But his rhetoric and record is so mixed on homosexual rights issues that it is hard to know what to expect. But, he is not openly hostile to our agenda. I conclude that he is someplace between a 2 (listening to us) and a 3 (indifferent to us). 

4. Religious freedom.

Barack Obama is batting four-for-four. He is an enemy of religious liberty. Only those religious groups that do not challenge his worldview should be allowed to have freedom. Pro-life religions are not tolerated. The name of Jesus cannot be prayed in military ceremonies.  He is worse than any American president in history on this issue. Bill Clinton actually supported religious liberty. I would give Clinton a 1 on religious liberty (back when he was president, not now.) I give Barack Obama a 4. I do not mean to suggest that President Obama is actively rounding up Christians to arrest us for our views. However, there is a systematic pattern of favoring government power whenever religious people bump up against the politically correct thinking of the left by refusing to fund insurance for abortion services or by insisting on praying to Jesus as a military chaplain.

Mitt Romney supports religious liberty in a robust fashion—today. Some people claim that some components of his record in Massachusetts demonstrate an indifference to our view. From what I know, these examples are pretty few in number. But, today he is saying all of the right things on this issue. Has he fully changed? I don’t know. If he had fully changed, I would give him a “1”—being one of us—but, because of my doubts on his changes, I give him a “2”—he listens to us and is open to advancing our viewpoint on religious liberty.

It is highly relevant to note that the LDS Church has an exemplary record on the issue of religious liberty for a long, long time. I think that Mitt Romney will listen to voices of religious liberty.

5. The Scope of Government (taxes, spending, etc.)

Barack Obama advocates a socialist state. Anyone who doubts this has never read or digested the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Obama not only wants government services for their own sake, he actively believes that the redistribution of wealth is the morally appropriate policy. He is an enemy of those who believe in a government based on liberty, not socialism.

Mitt Romney will spend way too much money and will promote programs at the federal level that properly belong to the states. But, unlike Barack Obama he does not believe in the redistribution of wealth as a moral imperative.

Accordingly, I give Obama a 4 on this issue and Romney a 3. He is indifferent to small, government conservative views on spending, but he is not an enemy of private property that is inherent in those who believe in the redistribution of wealth.

Those are my five issues. Obama is openly hostile to my views on all the things that I believe are the most important. Romney is “one of us” on the issue of American self-government and listens to us on most of the others and is truly indifferent to our views on only one.

With this in mind, am I giving into an improper “lesser of two evils” argument?

I don’t think so. Every election is a contest between two sinners—so it is always a question of the lesser of two sinners.

I think the more relevant analysis boils down to the question of whether both candidates are our enemies. If both are our enemies, then neither should get our votes. But, if one is clearly an enemy of our deeply-cherished values, and the other is (on average) open to listening to us and working with us—this is not merely the lesser of two people in the same category.

While he is not “one of us”, Mitt Romney is not our enemy. He wants us in his coalition. Barack Obama strongly opposes our most important values.

Only an all-or-nothing approach views these two choices as equivalent. All or nothing is not the way homeschoolers have achieved victory. And I aim for victory on the issues I believe in.

It is the American self-government issue that is the most important to me. If we retain American self-government we live to fight again on all the other issues. Obama is going to eliminate self-government through the use of UN treaties. I view this moment as do or die for American self-government.

I am going to vote for Mitt Romney.

However, I would say that if Mitt Romney gets elected president, it will be the job of every loyal American to make sure that he lives up to the promises he is making to us now. I am hopeful he will do the things he promises. But, I will be watchful and ready to call the alarm.

 

The Love of Learning

There are a number of different critiques of the state of American education. Some are most concerned about the lack of discipline in the schools. Others decry the dumbing down of the standards. They point to the decline in scores on standardized tests such as the SAT. A lot of that decline has been hidden by the trick of “centering” the scores. For instance, a 1200 on the SAT today means a whole lot less than it meant in 1963. Then there’s the grade inflation technique, powered in many instances by adherence to self-esteem philosophy. We wouldn’t want our students to feel bad about their lack of knowledge. We need to understand, however, that eliminating the idea of failure also undercuts success. How do you measure the latter when the former is not allowed? All of this has led to a dumbed-down society.

The problem is deeper, though. It has to do with the desire to learn. Most students, at least in my personal experience, have never developed a love of learning. This malady has multiple causes: broken families, uninspired teachers, an educational bureaucracy more concerned about its perpetual existence than the good of students [this includes the teachers’ unions], and loss of purpose in teaching. When we dismiss the Biblical worldview, we no longer have a reason to learn beyond the mundane desire to make a living. We become earthbound creatures with no vision of the heavenly.

I have a “truism” I share in class that goes like this: “Ignorance can be corrected, but apathy makes learning impossible.” I was sadly amused recently when one of our culture’s iconic comic strips captured the spirit of apathy perfectly:

One of my goals as a professor is to help students develop that essential love of learning. Christians should have it naturally. After all, who created the mind? Who gave us the ability to reason? If God went to all that trouble to make people who aren’t simply marionettes, shouldn’t we explore the grand design He established? Some of my favorites Scriptures along this line come from the book of Proverbs:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. . . . The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Fear—reverence—for God is the starting point for all knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. If we have that reverence, it opens the door to a wide field of knowledge, a proper grasp of the significance of that knowledge [understanding], and the application of that knowledge to one’s life [wisdom]. What better rationale could ever be provided for developing a love of learning?

Most education in America ignores God. By doing so, it robs the individual of any solid basis for wanting to learn. Only by restoring reverence for God in our education will we have any hope of restoring education itself.

A Few Statements about God, Truth, & Life

Nothing fancy today . . . or long. I just want to make a few statements to help provide some understanding for why I am so dedicated to speaking out about righteousness in government and culture. I don’t do so from some position of presumed authority or because I think I’m the fount of all wisdom. In fact, it’s precisely due to the failures in my own life over my 61+ years that I feel called to write and teach.

When I was 25, I knew everything. I wouldn’t have said so at the time—who would be that foolishly bold?—but as I look back now, I see that I thought I had captured most of the truth about God and life. That confidence was shaken, though, when I went through a time of estrangement from the Lord. I walked away from the faith and tried hard to find another way. God’s grace, however, prevailed as He allowed me to follow a path that led to a dead end.

At the end of that path, I had nowhere to turn but back to Him, and for that I’m eternally grateful. He gave me a second chance. He showed me the devastation of sin in one’s life, the cleansing nature of repentance and faith in His atonement, and hope for a new start—a new path. I’ve traveled this new path with Him now for about 25 years. It has not all been easy. I’ve had to live with some consequences from that period when I wandered, and the path has contained some rather large potholes, some of which I navigated successfully, others into which I fell. Yet even in times of near-despair, He has shown me His faithfulness.

I am more attuned to some things now. Sin is uglier than ever to me. A culture awash in sin makes me grieve. The politics of hypocrisy and self-centeredness brings pain to my heart, even as I know it does to God’s heart. Falsehood, whether in theology or political philosophy, brings the response of wanting to correct all such falsehood with declarations of truth. As a teacher, which is God’s calling on my life, I have a natural tendency to discern error and counter it with Biblical principles.

Yet I am also more attuned to God’s mercy. He showed mercy to me when I deserved judgment. Even as I point out error and talk of God’s potential judgments, I must leave room for His mercy, particularly toward those in the culture and government who are deceived and are deceiving others. God’s judgment may fall, but I will continue to pray that it be forestalled and that spiritual renewal may increase.

We are to judge. That is Biblical. We are to evaluate men’s hearts and actions. We need to do so, though, only when we have first taken the beam out of our own eye.

A couple of sentences from a small devotional book that I’m reading stand out to me today. The first deals with sin:

It is no secret that when a man sins he ever so rarely does anything unique or original or new or different. Sin is monotonously the same, generation after generation.

My sins were not unique. God’s forgiveness is not unique. But it was uniquely applied to my life. It gave me a new life.

The devotional also noted this:

There is a perpetual power of renewal in the Christian religion. It is forever producing prophets and saints who keep calling it back to the heart of its message.

I have been the recipient of a renewal. God continually calls me back to the heart of His message. My goal is to spread that message in any way I can. This is why I write.

Education & the Corruption of Principles

Chicago public school teachers are out on strike. They’ve been treated so unfairly there was just no other option. After all, in a city where the median income is $47,000 per year, they make only $76,000. Sure, they get all their benefits on top of that, but since they are the most important people in the city, they deserve more. So you can understand why when they were offered a measly 16% raise, they hit the roof. How insulting. Wouldn’t you be insulted if you were given only a 16% raise? Surely you can feel their pain.

The other indignity they’ve been forced to suffer is the threat to evaluate whether they are doing their jobs well. I mean, what other profession has to worry about that? They are being singled out, and they know why. Reports are that 79% of eighth-graders are are not proficient in reading and 80% are not proficient in math. But is that their fault? Absolutely not. It’s an unreasonable expectation to demand results to match one’s salary. No wonder they have decided to strike. Life is the pits for Chicago teachers.

They know the solution to the problem:

And they certainly deserve to live a more luxurious life; they’ve had to scrape by much too long:

I’m sorry. I can’t go on. I’m just so frustrated by the poor treatment these teachers are receiving. My empathy for them is boundless. I’m going to continue to teach at the college level where we make sure our students are well-rounded individuals who are fully aware of their heritage:

Yes, I’m being sarcastic, but only mildly, in as good a humor as I can generate. We are in a mess educationally. There are many particulars we can examine to determine why that is, but I believe Noah Webster, back in 1837, clearly described the root of the problems we face—an insight that applies universally, whether the year is 1837 or 2012. He stated to a correspondent,

Principles, Sir, are becoming corrupt, deeply corrupt; & unless the progress of corruption, and 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.

Wisdom from our Christian heritage. If only our politicians, teachers, and students could be well-schooled in it.

9/11 & the Two Visions of America

Can anything new be said on the anniversary of 9/11? Maybe we don’t need to hear anything new; perhaps we just need to be reminded that there are those out there who hate us. However, what is meant by “us?” America, you say? Yes, in the abstract, but what comprises America anymore? Do I with my Biblical worldview represent the true America, or do Planned Parenthood—as one example—and Barack Obama constitute the real America?

On 9/11, eleven years ago today, members of Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang together. At the moment, I can’t recall if they sang “America the Beautiful” or “My Country Tis of Thee” or another similar tune. That specific memory eludes me. But sing they did, although some commentators noted that the Republicans seemed to be leading it and a good number of the Democrats looked reluctant to add their voices to the chorus. What a wonderful image it presented: a united nation.

But it was a false image.

It played well for the camera, but the camaraderie was short-lived. The chasm between two very different visions of America is too deep and wide to be bridged for long, even with a common enemy. After the initial shock of the attack, the progressive visionaries began to downplay the severity of the terrorist threat. They even began seeing in their minds’ eye, though not in reality, a kind of pogrom instituted against Muslims in the U.S. All of a sudden, we were the problem, not them. We weren’t sensitive enough to the way they had been treated; we had brought this on ourselves.

That vision of an America that was too big for its britches, and that needed to be slapped down, clashed with the other vision—that of an America that, while often making mistakes in foreign relations, nevertheless had attempted to do the best for others most of the time. It’s the vision of an America that has helped rid the world of truly evil dictators and totalitarian movements such as communism. It’s the vision of an America that retains basic moral values stemming from its faith in God.

These two visions cannot mesh; they are too opposed to each other.

For too long, we have tried to ignore this massive chasm and assured ourselves that we are all Americans who will pull together despite our differences. We need to face reality.

There is no real external union without internal unity.

These two separate visions of America stem from two contrasting worldviews. One is Biblical and God-centered, while the other is secular and man-centered:

  • Beliefs are different on both sides of this divide
  • Purposes/goals are not the same
  • Christian morality battles humanistic immorality
  • One holds to the sacredness of life while the other aborts it
  • One supports traditional marriage and the family while the other redefines sexuality and the very nature of marriage
  • Limited government and constitutionalism inspire the one, whereas a socialistic welfare state is the dream of those who would transform our society and make it into something neither God nor the Founders ever desired

It would be a fascinating object lesson to be able to separate these two groups and let them have their way completely—two entirely distinct nations with two distinct worldviews—and then compare the results. One would go the way of every socialist/communist experiment that has ever been tried, while the other would be an energetic, thriving society where innocent children would be safe in their mothers’ wombs, the family structure would dominate, Biblical morality would be enacted into law, and the government would not be overseeing all aspects of one’s life.

But that won’t happen; we cannot separate the two; we have to make it work somehow the way it is.

What have we learned, eleven years later? Unfortunately, we’ve learned we are not really one people. We are not united. Our foundations are crumbling and we are in danger of turning our backs on the God who gave us life and liberty. If we choose that path, we are lost.

God didn’t make 9/11 happen. It was the brainchild of perverted individuals. Yet when sin abounds, He seeks to use the consequences to get our attention. He will use every circumstance to try to reach into a people’s hearts and lead them to repentance. By all means, may we never forget what happened on 9/11, and may we honor those who displayed great courage on that day. But the best way to honor them is to return to the truth, and to the One who is Truth. That is our only hope.

David Barton, Thomas Jefferson, & Historical Accuracy

Those who know me know I’m convinced America’s roots are fundamentally Biblical. I deplore efforts to wipe out Biblical influence in the Founding of this country. However, I also deplore any effort to force a Christian interpretation on certain events or individuals. We must be honest with the evidence.

The drive to reestablish the basis for our Biblical roots, at least in more popular Christian reading, probably began with Peter Marshall’s The Light and the Glory, which appeared in the 1970s. I read it at the time and was impressed, although I also was slightly disturbed by how the author concocted conversations between historical figures. Literary license, I guessed. Since then, many have entered the field, trying to augment what Marshall began.

The most successful writer in this genre has been David Barton. I’ve read a number of his books and have appreciated the fact that he has tried to unearth documentation that others might have missed. In fact, I was pleased when he admitted that one supposed James Madison quote everybody was using to show that the Founders based our government on the Ten Commandments was, in fact, spurious. That displayed honesty, and I always seek that in someone who names the name of Christ. We must be honest above all.

Barton’s latest book, The Jefferson Lies, was published by Thomas Nelson, a respected Christian publishing house. I admit I haven’t yet read the book, but that’s going to be a moot point very soon. Thomas Nelson has ceased its publication and pulled it from the market. Is this a case of pressure from the historical profession, which is so secular it doesn’t want to give Barton’s views a chance to be heard? If so, why are conservative Christian historians critiquing it? Have they gone over to the dark side?

One of the goals of the book is to establish Jefferson as a Founder who didn’t really abandon Christian orthodoxy, among other presumed lies about the third president. There’s only one problem with that: Jefferson did indeed desert orthodox Christianity and considered it a superstition. All one has to do is read many of his letters to John Adams, another of the Founders who fell away from the faith. In one of my earlier blog postings, I pointed specifically to a letter Jefferson wrote to Benjamin Rush, a fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence, in which he stated he was a Christian, but only in the sense that he was following a Jesus who never claimed to be anything other than a man. In other words, Jefferson admired Jesus’ moral teachings, but didn’t consider him to be God.

Then there’s Jefferson’s Bible. Yes, it was meant to be used to help spread civilization to the Indians, but it was never, in Jefferson’s mind, to be used to convert them to orthodox Christianity. He really did reject the miraculous in the gospels, declaring them to be later insertions by Christians who wanted to make Jesus into more than He really was. That’s why he omitted miracles—even Jesus’ resurrection— in his version of the gospels. There’s just no getting around those facts. They are well established by solid research, and as a Christian, I have to accept their validity.

I certainly don’t mean to speak ill of Barton. I can sympathize with his desire to highlight the role of Christian faith in our Founding. But we do the Christian faith a disservice when we go beyond what the evidence reveals, thereby undermining whatever good we may do otherwise.

Are there historians who denigrate Christianity’s influence in our formative years? Absolutely. Some will ignore vital evidence that points to that influence. Yet the antidote is not to commit the same error on the other side. While I don’t think a non-professional historian like Barton should be dismissed simply because he hasn’t jumped through all the hoops to earn a doctorate, nevertheless, some of those hoops are valuable. I’m glad I had to learn research methods and read widely on the various eras of American history. That training, in itself, is not secular; it all depends on how it is used.

I’ve taught American history now for more than twenty years. When I teach my introductory course that focuses on America from its colonial beginnings to the aftereffects of the Civil War, I begin by showing students that different schools of historical interpretation exist. I take them through a school of thought that believes all the good of America’s Founding came from the Enlightenment’s embrace of human reason. Historians from that school summarily dismiss the Pilgrims as a group hardly worth mentioning and portray the Puritans as harmful for their autocratic ways and doctrinal dogmas.

After that, I tell them about those who are so focused on the existence of slavery during this era that they assume the Founders are all hypocrites who offer us nothing valuable as a study. At the opposite extreme, I say, are those who view the Founding as a Golden Era, almost a utopia, where all things were Christian. I then let them know I have issues with all three of those schools of interpretation.

Finally, I present where I’m coming from as I look at American history, particularly its Founding Fathers. I believe it’s important to inform students where a professor stands on major interpretational issues. No one learns in a vacuum. I tell them I see the Founding era as one based on Biblical principles. This means the consensus of the society at that time was Christian, and human laws were based on a Biblical concept that God’s law was supreme and eternal, and that societal laws had to be in accordance with God’s law. Not everything was perfect and/or Christian; neither were all the Founders. Yet there was a general agreement that society functioned best when Biblical values were incorporated into it.

Some Christian historians don’t agree with me. They don’t see the influence of the faith as readily as I do. That’s their prerogative. Yet I must be sure that my arguments for my views are as historically sound as possible. I cannot try to prove that which is demonstrably untrue. I’m afraid David Barton fell into that error this time. I sincerely hope, for his sake and for the sake of accuracy in Christian historiography, that he will reconsider what he is attempting to prove. I want nothing but the best for him personally; that starts with acknowledging he has misstated the historical evidence in this case.

Meanwhile, I genuinely hope that my fellow historians will be just as eager to hold their more secular colleagues accountable for any inaccuracies they espouse. The critique needs to apply equally.