Baltimore: The Deeper Issues

Baltimore is burning. What, exactly, is happening? There are many layers to this; most people focus on the superficial ones, the ones most clearly visible, but there are foundational problems that have led not only to this particular incident, but to an atmosphere like this that is sweeping our nation.

Freddie GrayThe top layer has to do with the arrest and death of a young black man, Freddie Gray. We still don’t have all the facts about what occurred. The investigation is apparently still ongoing. However, the lack of information is part of the problem. No one knows what led to his arrest in the first place. By all accounts, he was not actively involved in wrongdoing. Yet because he ran away from the police, he was arrested. While in the police van, something happened; he was so severely injured that he died shortly afterward.

Yes, that’s suspicious beyond question. Yet there have been no formal accusations against the officers, no explanation as to what took place in that van, and this gives the appearance, at least, of a coverup.

Stephanie Rawlings-BlakeProtests began peacefully, but by last Saturday, they began to change. As violence broke out, another top layer to this episode was added. Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, in her desire not to crack down immediately on the emerging violence, actually made a public statement that she had ordered the police to give “space to destroy” so that the protesters wouldn’t be harmed. Since when does a government provide a license to destroy? Later, she angrily insisted she hadn’t said what she really said, and that the media were misinterpreting her statement. Well, if that’s the case, the protesters who easily turned into rioters “misunderstood” her as well, and decided they had the “liberty” to turn this into large-scale violence.

Suspect Dies BaltimoreYesterday, that’s exactly what happened. As the school day ended, students, urged on by comments in social media, began to riot. Police were attacked, many were hurt, with one policeman described as “unresponsive.” I haven’t yet heard an update on his condition. Businesses in the community, largely owned by minorities, and the places that provide jobs for the people in the community, were torched. Police cars also were set on fire; wholesale anarchy prevailed.

The police simply weren’t prepared for this. Did that have something to do with the attitude emanating from the mayor’s office? We now hear they were told to stand down, to hold a perimeter, but not get too involved in stopping the looting, burning, and outright riots. Mayor Rawlings-Blake was missing in action for many hours before finally facing the media. Utter chaos reigned, and the entire city is now on a virtual lockdown.

Those are the facts of the top layer of the problem. But it all goes so much deeper.

Naturally, some want to turn this into a racial issue. Yet keep in mind that the mayor is African-American and the police force, unlike in Ferguson, Missouri, is nearly half-black, half-white. No, the problem is greater.

One has to know history and government philosophy to realize what has happened over the decades to lead us where we are today.

Losing GroundAs well documented in Charles Murray’s superb book that was published in the 1980s—Losing Ground—the black family was intact prior to the policies of the Great Society, which pledged to end poverty in America once and for all. Government largesse began on a large scale, making the government the source of sustenance for the underprivileged, and replacing the father in the home. Marriage in the black community was practically destroyed. Statistics now show more than 70% of children born in these minority communities grow up without a father. Some people don’t mind that; they think that’s an “improvement.”

They are wrong.

Poverty increases exponentially in single-mother homes. Lack of discipline in the lives of the children becomes commonplace without a stable environment that is based on a two-parent family. Couple this with an education system that no longer educates, and the problems increase.

On the political side, what is now occurring in Baltimore is hardly the fault of conservatives or Republicans. That city, as most cities in America, is, and has been for many years, controlled by the Democrats. What we see is the fruit of policies promoted by the philosophy of government championed by progressives. In one sense, Baltimore is the progressive utopia. It should be a lesson to us all.

Biblical WorldviewBut now go one layer deeper still. Why do we allow all of this? What is the root cause? It’s simply this: we have abandoned our Biblical basis for thinking and acting. Our culture—led by the media, the entertainment industry, the education system, and the progressive politicians—has rejected eternal concepts of right and wrong delivered to us by God. We have set up our own gods, devised our own morality, come up with our own “solutions,” and promised our own version of heaven on earth.

When a society abandons that which is designed to preserve it, last night in Baltimore is one example of the result. The Biblical principle still holds: we reap what we sow. And we have been sowing some poisonous seeds for quite some time.

So, yes, let’s do what’s necessary to handle the top layer of issues: indict anyone, policeman or rioter, who has violated the rights of another. But we cannot stop there; we need to return to our Biblical roots. If we don’t, we will only be putting bandages on the cancer that is eating away at us. We are a culture in distress, and only the pure Gospel message will change that.

My Ideal President

Presidential SealLet’s talk about an ideal world, where we have someone residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. that we can trust. Having the right president is not the solution to our national problems; those problems go much deeper, since they are spiritual in nature. But it can make a difference who the chief executive is.

What am I looking for in this ideal president? I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I’ve surveyed the field of candidates for 2016. Here are the characteristics that I want.

Dedication to Biblical Principles

This is the starting point. Our president should understand that God’s law is the basis for man’s law, and that anything in man’s law that contradicts God’s law is invalid and should be changed. He or she needs to be someone who honors God above everything else, realizing that public opinion is not the final judge of one’s actions.

This president would advocate for the sanctity of life, the Biblical definition of marriage, a limited role for government in our lives, and private property and free enterprise. The rule of law would be this person’s hallmark, overturning the rule of man that has characterized the current administration.

As I said, this is the starting point, but it’s not enough.

Christian Character

I could give a whole laundry list of character traits I would like to see in this president’s life, but I can summarize with these three, which I believe might encompass many others: integrity, courage, and humility.

Integrity means this president would be a person who does what he/she says, and acts with complete honesty, above board and truly transparent. This president must be a person who has the kind of courage that will tackle the knottiest of issues, regardless of the personal cost to one’s popularity, which is fleeting at best anyway.

As an aside, what we have witnessed the past few days in Indiana and Arkansas is lack of courage on the part of the governors in those states. The so-called Religious Freedom Restoration acts eventually signed into law in those states are worse than useless now; they actually may be turned against Christians’ freedom of religion. That kind of spinelessness at the national level would ruin us completely.

The courage I seek in the ideal president would be coupled with a genuine humility. This president needs to acknowledge that he/she is not the “savior” of the nation, but merely a servant who is fulfilling God’s command to do His will. There is no room for arrogance; pride leads to destruction.

Strategic Wisdom

It’s not enough to simply believe in the right things and have the proper character. This president must know how to make things happen to turn the country around. There might be any number of candidates who fit into the first two categories, but who lack the wisdom to carry out the correct policies. How do we get where we need to be? Not everything can be a frontal attack. Politics is a tricky business. This president will have to know how to manage the system for good without compromising principles or personal character.

Excellent Communication Skills

My ideal president will be a great communicator, in the style of Ronald Reagan, who knew how to connect with the people. Unfortunately, Republicans often choose a candidate who is marginal, at best, in being able to help citizens understand the principles that the country needs to be based upon and the policies that flow out of those principles. We need someone who can articulate those principles and policies clearly.

There may be other traits necessary, but if those four exist, I will be ecstatic. I think that kind of candidate can win this next election. Who is that candidate? I’m still evaluating the options before us. I see solid principles in some; I resonate with the character of many; I have opinions about the strategies they have used in the past and about their ability to communicate effectively.

One thing is for sure: the mainstream media will hold Republican candidates to a level of scrutiny that they will not apply to Hillary Clinton.

Media Bar

I’m holding the Republican candidates to a high bar also, but it’s not the same one the media is interested in. Let’s make our decision for the best candidate based on the kinds of traits I’ve listed above. This next presidential election could be the most crucial in our nation’s history.

The Wisdom of William Penn

William PennOne of the more remarkable men in the history of colonial America has to be William Penn. He was imprisoned in England for his divergent religious views: he was a Quaker. Yet he was granted a huge tract of land in the New World that eventually became the state of Pennsylvania. How does someone go from a member of a persecuted group to a crown-ordained proprietor?

It had to do with his father, Admiral William Penn, who was instrumental in bringing Charles II out of exile and installing him as king in 1662. When the elder Penn died, Charles still owed him plenty, both financially and in gratitude. That’s how the son came to be the recipient of the king’s largesse.

Penn immediately had a vision for a colony that would welcome all to worship God according to their conscience. He didn’t worry about some group of atheists congregating in his colony; they were few and largely silent. So he advertised throughout Europe, promising every persecuted group of Christians that they could come to Pennsylvania and not only worship the way they chose, but also have a say in the government.

Those kinds of promises were unheard of at that time. People flocked to the new colony: not only Quakers, but Mennonites, Moravians, what we now call the Amish, along with standard denominations like Lutherans. Penn would come to his colony now and again, and kept a watch over developments.

He also wrote a Frame of Government that laid out the following principles:

  • Civil government is necessary to keep in check those who refuse to be self-governed
  • Government is established by God to terrify evildoers and to protect those who do right
  • Free government requires the rule of law and having the people themselves be involved in making the laws
  • One of the keys to good government is to have good people running it
  • Liberty without obedience is confusion and obedience without liberty is slavery

I consider those principles to be rock solid.

I’m also drawn to a statement Penn made about how Christians should treat each other. He proclaimed the following:

He that suffers his Difference with his Neighbour about the other World, to carry him beyond the Line of Moderation in this, is the worse for his Opinion, even though it be true. . . .

Since all of all Parties profess to believe in God, Christ, the Spirit, and Scripture, that the Soul is immortal, that there are Eternal Rewards and Punishments, and that the Virtuous shall receive the One, and the Wicked suffer the Other: I say since this is the Common Faith of Christendom, let us all resolve in the Strength of God to live up to what we agree in, before we fall out so miserably about the Rest in which we differ.

Translation, if necessary: We have more that unites us as Christians than things that drive us apart, so let’s work together.

That view transcends all time periods, and is certainly applicable today.

The Virtual Reality of Obamaworld

Have you noticed that in the fantasyland known as Obamaworld, everything in the country has never been better? We’re constantly assured our president has directed us onto a new course that will achieve social justice and peace throughout the world. After all, he did win a Nobel Peace Prize, so that must mean he has guided us into this New Age.

Virtual Reality

However, those of us who are not living in his fantasyworld can see things more clearly. We realize he won that Nobel Peace Prize all on promises, not achievements. We see an economy that has never recovered, with more people dropping out of the workforce and on government assistance than ever before.

We witness the attempt to take over the healthcare industry—not very successfully at that, as Obamacare is now losing enrollees. We watch as he tries to overturn Biblical morality. We worry about the lack of influence our nation has in the world since his ascension to office, and we are now face to face with an increased terror threat.

No, this reality is nothing like the virtual reality our president lives in. We see disaster looming, made worse by a subservient media that tries to cover for him:

Lap Dog

As the elections approach, most predict a Republican Senate majority. That’s hardly a lock, though, as some Republicans seem to be playing it safe. That’s how elections are lost historically. Neither has the Republican party developed a national strategy; it seems to be relying on Obama-fear for victory.

Not wise.

Currently, Democrats are amassing more funds for their candidates than Republicans are. Now, some of that may be due to reluctance on the part of some conservatives to donate to the party establishment. We’ll see. The money total is not everything; voter intensity is crucial, and Republicans are more intent on voting right now than the Democrats, who have been trying to get their base on board. Will it work?

Firing Up Base

Of course, after these November elections, we’re already in the race for the presidency. Is Hillary Clinton a lock for the Democrat nomination? Who can challenge her? Joe Biden? Seriously? Has anyone been paying attention to his verbal gaffes over the years? How about just in the past week? I think she can waltz to this nomination.

Joe

If Republicans aren’t careful, the nation may be stuck with this image for years to come:

American Gothic

The image actually gives me a chill. That’s all we’ll need for a complete meltdown. The virtual reality would continue under this regime.

It’s time to reaffirm Biblical principles and support individuals who stand firm on those principles.

Learning How to Think

Just a quick commentary today on education. How many times have you heard educators say, “Don’t tell children what to think, but teach them how to think”? I understand the concept, really. I want my students to learn how to think also. Yet aren’t there some things we have to tell them first? Aren’t there some building blocks that must be in place before they can launch out and do their own thinking?

How to Learn

This is applicable at the college level as well. When I teach an American history survey course, I don’t start off by asking students what they “think” about certain people or events in American history. Why? Because most of them don’t have any thoughts about either the people or the events.

That’s why I concentrate on giving them the basic facts, along with Biblical principles, so they are ready to think more deeply about our history and its application to our society today.

There are far too many educational clichés making the rounds. Examine each one carefully before adopting it. In other words, learn to think for yourself.

Why “Pondering Principles”?

Every once in a while, I like to remind readers of this blog just why it’s called Pondering Principles. A principle is a general truth from which one can begin reasoning to proper conclusions with respect to God, man, and society. One must make sure, of course, that the principles one espouses are valid.

Self-Indulgence Principle

Here are some principles I believe are demonstrable in Scripture, and that are confirmed throughout history. These form the basis for all my commentary, whether on faith, culture, education, government, or a score of other subjects:

  • We all bear the image of God within us. We are inherently valuable because of that image. Each of us is distinct and unique, called by God for the purpose for which He created us. That’s why I am strongly pro-life in my views. To destroy innocent children who never have made any choices in life is to destroy someone made in the image of God. The same applies to the handicapped, the seriously ill, and the aged.
  • We were created with free will, and therefore accountable for our actions. God expects us to govern ourselves according to His precepts. We have the capability to make right choices. Sin is a voluntary rebellion against the reasonable and righteous commands of God. This ability to govern oneself extends as well to families, churches, various voluntary organizations, and civil government.
  • The model for civil government can be found in the basic principles God established for ancient Israel. Contrary to popular perception, He didn’t ordain kingship, but instead gave His approval to a system that allowed for representation, the separation of powers, and different levels of government authority. Totalitarianism, in whatever form, is not God’s goal because it violates the first two principles mentioned above.
  • God has given man property, both internal and external, over which He wants us to exercise control. Internally, we have the ability to think, feel, and choose (as already noted), and we must never go against our conscience, which informs us of basic right and wrong. Externally, He has ordained private property of various types so we can learn how to manage things properly. Any economic system that denies private property hinders us from learning in this “school of accountability.” Therefore, I believe that a free-market, private-enterprise system is what this principle supports.
  • Due to that free will given by God, we are to enter into cooperation with others voluntarily. All external unions should be based on internal unity. Forced unions without unity will eventually fail. This applies to marriage, church, all clubs and associations, and even civil government. The United States is the prime example of a government that was deliberated, ratified, and established by the voluntary consent of its citizens. All collectivist forms of government, whether called socialist or communist, destroy the inherent, God-given value of the individual and violate self-government and the voluntariness of union.
  • Only by taking on the character of God, i.e., becoming Christlike, will this world operate in the way God intended. Every deviation an individual makes from the righteousness of God has a ripple effect throughout society. When a society accepts sinful actions as normal—abortion, homosexuality, theft, racism, etc.—there will be disastrous consequences. This flows smoothly into the final principle, which is . . .
  • We reap what we sow. If we sow Biblical principles in our society, we will reap blessings. Conversely, if we sow unbiblical, humanistic seeds, we will suffer the bad effects of those corrupted seeds. In my view, the wide acceptance of evolutionary theory spawned a wide array of evil applications in America. Biological evolution morphed into a social Darwinism that has led us away from God’s path. The key to any sowing of seeds is the education system. When it is controlled by government (first mistake) and then an unbiblical philosophy is inserted into it (second mistake), we create a society that ultimately rejects Biblical truth and the morality that stems from it. This is why I write often about education and its failures.

These principles don’t necessarily cover all of God’s truth, but they are a good start. They form the basis for all of my thinking about how Godly principles should apply to us individually and to our society as a whole. That’s why this blog is called Pondering Principles.

Liberty vs. License: Where I Stand

Comments from one reader of yesterday’s blog post leads me to want to explain something further. Yesterday’s post was concerned with the rush to judgment in Ferguson and the possibility that the greatest potential victim in this entire episode is the death of due process. There has been, in my opinion, too much pre-judging taking place. You saw it in the many nights of protest that included looting and rioting. You saw it in the statement of Missouri’s governor when he said a vigorous prosecution had to go forward. You saw it also in the arrival on scene of Eric Holder, who made it clear he empathized with the protesters. I questioned whether the DOJ would really conduct a fair and balanced investigation, based on Holder’s public position on the event.

Yes, I have serious doubts about the storyline being promoted by Michael Brown’s defenders. First, the main eyewitness was Brown’s partner in the manhandling of a store clerk and the robbery of the store just prior to the fatal incident with the policeman. Is this a trustworthy witness? There are also accounts of the policeman who fired those fatal shots being attacked by Brown. Who is telling the truth? All I’m asking for is an approach that gets all the facts first, then makes a judgment as to guilt afterwards.

I was asked by one commenter if I wasn’t concerned about how the police acted, and that this might be an indication of statist control of society. Let me be very clear here. Anyone who has ever read this blog on a regular basis cannot fail to understand that I sound the alarm on statism constantly. I firmly believe in the rule of law. The end-run the Obama administration always tries to make around the Constitution is a genuine threat to liberty.

That word “liberty” requires some explanation as well. Some people have a terrible understanding of what liberty actually comprises. It is not licentiousness. That’s why I can never be a libertarian politically. Ideological libertarians want nearly a non-existent government, not only in the economic and educational spheres (where I have substantial agreement with them), but also in the moral sphere (where I disagree with them vehemently). They replace the God of the Bible, who has ordained civil government for very specific purposes, with the god “Liberty.”

True liberty always includes personal accountability and a framework, in society, for order. Liberty to do whatever one wants is not true liberty, but license. What I saw on the streets of Ferguson, as business owners had to defend their private property from those who wanted to just grab things for themselves, was license. A police force must stand against those actions. The responsibility of the police is to protect the innocent from those who are out to hurt and destroy.

Did the Ferguson police go too far? There is an honest difference of opinion on that. I suspect that some of those business owners wish the police had been more of a presence than they were. Did the police charge the protesters, killing and maiming everyone in their way?  I didn’t see any footage like that, did you? In fact, they seemed rather tentative at times, worried perhaps about the reputation they were getting. That never would have stopped Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Castro. We are hardly on the verge of a police state, at least at the local level.

Now, does that mean I have reached a definite conclusion about the events of that night when Michael Brown died? Regardless of my leanings, which are based on what I have read and seen thus far, I nevertheless would have to continue to suspend any final judgment. If I were a resident of Ferguson, I would have a clear conscience sitting on a jury to decide this matter. I would look carefully at all the evidence and make my final judgment only after reviewing the facts as presented by both sides.

But there are some things that are clear to me:

  • Scripture requires an orderly society based on the rule of law.
  • Government is not a necessary evil, but an institution established by God to restrain evil and maintain order.
  • Rioting and looting are sinful actions that need to be met with the force of the government and put down with a force equal to the sinful actions themselves.
  • Guilt or innocence will be decided in a court of law, not in the media or on the streets by the loudest voices.

This is where I stand, and I make no apologies for my stance.