Salt, Light, & Truth

I’ve spent the past two days writing about the drift of our culture into acceptance of a type of sex God forbade. For many people, this whole issue is simply a matter of “democracy”—let the people decide what they want. When you introduce the moral element, they tell you that’s irrelevant. All that matters is that we are devoted to popular sovereignty. As a historian, I know that term well. The last time it was front and center in the political debate was prior to the Civil War. Popular sovereignty was supposed to solve the quandary of slavery. Let the people of the new territories decide for themselves if they want slavery or not. Stephen Douglas, the Illinois senator who championed this approach, infamously said slavery was not a moral issue.

Well, I can’t help but frame it morally. At its foundation, the push for same-sex marriage is a clear indication of our rebellion against the righteousness of God and His law. It is a perversion—and I use that word advisedly and with forethought—of the gift of sex. Only a people firmly rooted in Biblical truth can prevail against this headwind. Are we no longer that people?

Liberals/progressives, whose outlook is primarily secular, think opposition to homosexuality is foolish. Unfortunately, they are joined in this view by a growing number of those who continue to call themselves Christians. They adopt most of the progressive political agenda and attempt to stamp it with God’s favor. They are doing a disservice to the gospel, and the God, they claim to represent.

Then there are some conservatives who are abandoning the field of battle. Most often, that’s because they are little different than their erstwhile foes at the other end of the political spectrum. How can that be? They are basically secular also; their conservatism is not based on solid Biblical principles. So when the culture shifts, they have no anchor to hold them to their position. They attempt to mix political conservatism with moral relativism. It’s not a good mixture.

One particular strand in the conservative movement is more libertarian than conservative. That group has never been wedded to Biblical morality anyway. They don’t want the government telling anyone what to do in the moral realm. Many of them support the mislabeled pro-choice position on abortion and have no problem at all with homosexuality. Their presence in the conservative coalition waters down its moral foundations.

The only saving grace in modern American conservatism, and in our politics in general, is the part of our populace that brings its Christianity to bear on our culture and government. They are the ones Jesus was referring to when He said,

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Salt preserves; light shows the way. Those in the church who have succumbed to the spirit of the age are the tasteless salt; they are no good for anything in this struggle. The responsibility therefore falls on those who still understand that truth is truth in all ages, and that it never changes. We need to preserve whatever remains of goodness in this land, and we need to be the ones who shine a light on the right path to take. Are we up to the challenge?

Media Distortion & the Christian Response

Last week I wrote about the main problems I see in the church today, and why Christians aren’t making as much of an impact on the culture as we should be. I wanted to be sure we understand that’s where the greatest blame lies. We must always examine ourselves before pointing fingers elsewhere.

Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy, but there are other times when deliberate distortion of Biblical positions and those who espouse them takes center stage. Unfortunately, that is happening quite often now in the media, both the entertainment variety and the supposedly unbiased news media.

When 90% of those involved in the major networks and newspapers rarely go to church, let alone actually believe the Christian faith, what can one expect but bias? Those in our society who believe in nothing more than themselves or who have no clear belief system will be heavily influenced by the distorted presentation of Christians and Christian beliefs in the news. This has come into focus, in particular, on the “gay rights” issue where anyone who holds to Biblical morality is deemed hateful.

This approach carries over to all conservatism in America. Nearly every conservative stance is questioned in a way liberal positions never are—with the exception of Fox News—and it’s a double treat for the media if the conservative who is being attacked is also an evangelical. The over-the-top bias during the last election cycle was worse than ever. Stories that should have been extremely significant were relegated to irrelevance if they could in any way be a detriment to Obama’s reelection.

In fact, one might say, without too much critique even from the Left, that the media was pulling for an Obama victory:

Now, we can bemoan this unfair treatment and complain about the bias—which I am doing and will continue to do—but that can never be the last word. Christians—and conservatives overall, to the extent conservatism retains its Christian moorings—have to expect to be portrayed unfairly. We are bringing the light of God’s truth to a sinful world; people steeped in their sinfulness don’t like to be told they are wrong. Do we need this reminder directly from Jesus?

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

We also have this “promise” from the apostle Paul:

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Some promises are not as welcome as others. Yet Paul didn’t stop there. After informing his disciple Timothy what to expect, he proceeded to give him instructions on what he should do about this state of affairs:

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Paul didn’t leave Timothy with a negative. He encouraged him to move forward with what he knew to be the truth, to keep teaching, reproving, correcting, and training his hearers. I plan to follow the same sage advice, and I hope my readers will be edified by my continuing efforts.

Presidents, Polls, Professors, & the Public

Young America’s Foundation is an organization devoted to conservative principles in culture and government. While it doesn’t claim to be openly Christian—other conservatives are welcome—the concepts it promotes are consistent with Biblical principles. In the last few years, it has established the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara, where it holds a number of significant seminars and conferences. The organization also bought the Reagan Ranch in the mountains outside Santa Barbara, and is keeping it as Ronald Reagan had it when he lived there. I’ve visited with some of the leaders, both in Virginia and Santa Barbara, but haven’t yet had the opportunity to go to Reagan’s ranch. The last time I was there, I was told to just let them know ahead of time, and on my next trip, they would arrange a visit. Unfortunately, I haven’t been back since; not sure when I’ll be able to go again.

Recently, the Foundation commissioned a poll of college and university professors. They took the opinions of 284 professors on the ranking of presidents. Which presidents did they consider to be the most influential and/or most effective? What grade would they give each president? The answers may not surprise you.

Not one of these professors considered Reagan as his/her top choice. Sixty percent didn’t even put him in the top ten of all presidents. Overall, they gave him a C+ for his achievements, apparently overlooking the tremendous economic resurgence during the 1980s, his pivotal meetings with Gorbachev, and the ultimate demise of the Soviet Union, stemming from the combined efforts of Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II. In fact, when they were asked to state what they considered to be Reagan’s greatest accomplishment, nearly 1/5 of them could come up with nothing.

Here are some other indicators of how college professors view American presidents:

  • When asked to list their picks for the three greatest presidents, they mentioned FDR more times than George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison.
  • They mentioned FDR four times as often as Reagan.
  • FDR ranked in the top three presidents for 54% of these professors.
  • Overall, Bill Clinton received six times as many favorable mentions as James Madison, the Father of the Constitution.

From where does this stem? Well, three times as many professors identified themselves as liberal than as conservative. The review of this poll that I read doesn’t break down the professors by discipline, but I would suspect that most of them were history or political science professors, and the fact that there were three times as many liberals as conservatives only surprises me in the sense that I thought the divergence might be even greater, given the stance taken by national leadership for these disciplines.

Now for a counterpoint. In February of 2011, the Gallup organization polled Americans nationwide to determine their idea of who should be considered the greatest presidents. In that poll, Reagan came in first, 5 points ahead of Lincoln. Reagan also topped the list in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and ranked first or second in eight of the ten “Greatest President” polls conducted by Gallup since 1999.

I have my own critique of public opinion polls, and how they seem to fluctuate based on the public’s feelings rather than facts. I don’t always consider the majority viewpoint to be the most accurate. Yet I find this poll fascinating. What it indicates is that as time has gone by, people are looking back at the Reagan years with increasing fondness. I think they remember them, when compared to today, as solid, strong, and patriotic. They believe that America came back from the brink in the 1980s, after the disastrous events of the 1960s and 1970s. Reagan was the antidote to LBJ, Nixon, Ford, and Carter. He called us back to our roots, and that led to revitalization.

I believe America can be called back again, and I believe we can overcome the national disgrace of the Obama years. The only question is: will we do so this November? The future is not fixed; our decisions can redirect the ship of state as well as the drift of the culture. One more thing: Christians need to take the lead in this redirection. Now is the time to call us back to a humble dependence on the One who will bless if we come to Him in genuine repentance and a sincere desire to do His will.

The Etch-A-Sketch Candidate?

If you haven’t yet heard about the Etch-A-Sketch flap, you’ve probably been hibernating somewhere. It’s worth reviewing, however, as it provides a glimpse into the mindset of those who are running the Romney campaign. On Wednesday, the day after the Illinois primary, which Romney won, one of his senior aides, Eric Fehrnstrom, was asked on CNN if the primary had dragged Romney “so far to the right, it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election.”

Quick observation: I challenge anyone to find any interview anywhere on the mainstream media that includes a question to a Democratic candidate about being dragged “too far to the left.” Your search will be in vain. Such questions are reserved for Republicans only; the media is already so far to the left that anything mainstream appears to them to be extreme right.

Back to the question at hand.

Fehrnstrom caused a mini-firestorm with his response. He soothed the questioner’s fears by stating that this was a primary, and once it was over, Romney’s positions would change. Or at least that’s the way it came across. Specifically, Fehrnstrom said, “I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”

So is that how the Romney team wants to operate? Can its candidate simply change gears and become something else? The old concern resurfaces: what is this man’s core? What does he really believe?

The Washington Examiner‘s Phil Klein accurately expressed the feelings of many conservatives when he wrote:

This is an incredible admission and a window into the way Romney views politics. Romney ran two races in Massachusetts as a moderate, and even a self-described “progressive,” before changing his positions in the run up to his first campaign for president. Just last month, he described himself as “severely conservative” at the Conservative Political Action Conference. But as Fehrnstrom’s statement suggests, Romney’s appeals to the right are simply a matter of positioning rather than principle, something that can easily be changed once the target audience changes. If Romney’s fiercest critics wanted to come up with a way to describe Romney’s approach to politics, I don’t think they could have come up with a better analogy than Etch-A-Sketch. The fact that it is coming from one of Romney’s longtime aides is stunning. An even scarier thought for conservatives: if the Romney campaign is willing to take them for granted before even clinching the nomination, imagine how quickly Romney would abandon conservatives if he ever made it to the White House.

Romney supporters are quick to say that this is only prudence, that any candidate would have to switch gears to win the general election because the moderates need to be won over. That’s conventional wisdom, to be sure. But what about the base? Will the candidate win if he alienates those who form the foundational support for his candidacy? If Romney is a conservative, he’s always had a strange way of showing it. The Etch-A-Sketch controversy only adds to the consternation of conservatives.

I will continue to entertain my doubts as to Romney’s genuineness. He has not won me over, and I’m sure I can speak for a significant segment of the Republican base.

A Rising Tide?

The latest poll of Republican voters shows that Rick Santorum is now tied with Mitt Romney with 30% each. It’s a stunning shift as Santorum has risen thirteen points very rapidly while Romney has dropped a couple. Newt Gingrich appears to be fading. The big question is whether Santorum can sustain this momentum.

Critics say that this is no different than what we’ve seen throughout this primary season. Rick Perry rocketed into first place when he entered the race. His fall was followed by Herman Cain’s meteoric rise, and then when he ran into his troubles, Gingrich was the beneficiary. So, in all, this makes Santorum the fourth candidate to equal or surpass Romney at one point or another.

My response is that while this also could be transitory, Santorum would only fall back due to some major misstep. Unlike Perry, he has come across as knowledgeable in the debates, with many believing he was the outright winner of the second one in Florida. Unlike Cain, he is more tested and has political leadership experience. And unlike Gingrich, he has no real personal baggage or history of constantly changing positions. He is who he is, and he’s been pretty consistent over the years.

I wasn’t at CPAC, but all the accounts of his appearance there indicate there is a rising tide. So many showed up for his speech that not everyone could get into the room. The accounts I’ve read say he got a standing ovation for his comments. Earlier in the week, when he showed up at Oral Roberts University, they had to change the location to the large arena because they expected perhaps 2000 would be attending. Instead, 3500 came to hear him.

Romney, meanwhile, in his speech at CPAC, seemed determined to convince the audience that he was a true conservative. He used the term “conservative” or its derivations twenty-six times in a speech with the same number of minutes. He even called himself the “severely” conservative governor of Massachusetts. Severely? How does that adjective fit? It’s oddly out of place to use that word in that context. It’s as if he is almost desperate to showcase his conservatism. But when you are that desperate, you have to understand why some might question your authenticity.

The real test of the trajectory of this race this month will come down to Michigan and Arizona on the 28th. Maybe those contests will clear the air. If not, March’s Super Tuesday will be the one to watch.

Marriage & Family: They Really Do Matter

Back to Rick Santorum’s book It Takes a Family.

Chapter four, entitled “Families and the Common Good,” is probably the foundational chapter for the entire book. Up to this point, Santorum was describing the general divergence of the liberal and conservative visions. Now, with laserlike focus, he establishes healthy families as the key to the success of the entire society. And by “success,” he doesn’t mean just economic success. That will be part of it, as another section of the book relates, but he’s talking about genuine happiness and security, especially for children. Here’s how he explains it:

Marriage matters because children matter. Without marriage, children suffer. There is simply no better investment parents can make in their children’s future than a healthy marriage. For my wife Karen and me, marriage is a sacred vocation. We give ourselves to each other: mind, body, and soul. Nothing in this world is more important to me than the happiness and well-being of my wife and children. It is my most important job. All of my strength comes from my love for them and God’s love for me. When children live with parents who love each other, sacrifice for each other, and are committed to each other, they are given a real head start on life.

He then gets into some statistics that reveal the following:

  • Children, ages one to four, born to unmarried parents are at greater risk of dying from an injury
  • Children living in single-parent homes are twice as likely to suffer physical, emotional, or educational neglect
  • The rate of child abuse rises in a single-parent home, is lower in a home where there are two parents who are not married, but much lower in a home where the parents are married
  • Children in single-parent households have poorer grades, poorer attendance records, and higher dropout rates

Santorum concludes,

The social science evidence, four thousand years of human history, and common sense have long settled the question. In a decent society, every child should have the best shot at growing up to be a healthy and successful adult. That opportunity is found in healthy, married, mom-and-dad families. The traditional family is not about some “special interest.” It’s about the rights of parents and children, and ultimately it’s about the common good.

Government policy works against marriage. If a couple has a child out of wedlock and then is considering marriage, they learn they can’t get the same help from social workers that they would if they stay unmarried. He also points the accusing finger at churches who have given up hope on salvaging the institution of marriage, particularly in the inner cities. Many don’t even try to help anymore.

At the end of the chapter, Santorum returns to the problem of the liberal visionaries, but also takes aim at conservatives as well:

We’ve wasted decades and countless lives under the direction of the village elders trying to build bureaucracies to aid the poor and marginal in our society, while ignoring the central importance of the traditional family. We must stop pretending that the health of the mom-and-dad family isn’t really important. Conservatives always knew this was a mistake, but, to be quite candid, failed to offer an alternative vision; now, thanks to the social science evidence, we all know that this was a mistake. We need to spend the coming decades working to build up traditional families. What is it that stands against us in this effort? The village elders and their well-funded special interests—and they will not go away quietly.

For Rick Santorum, the centrality of the family is not merely a political prop to win higher office. This comes from his own experience. If he should have the opportunity to attain that higher office, those of us who believe as he does about this can be secure that the nation is in good hands.

No-Fault Freedom vs. Responsible Liberty

“Conservatives,” says Rick Santorum in his book It Takes a Family, “are the caretakers of a precious inheritance.” That inheritance rests on stable families. Yet the “village elders,” a name he gives to the liberal social engineers who operate in the spirit of Hillary Clinton’s tome It Takes a Village, don’t really care about stable families. It the family structure were to prevail, it would rob the village elders of their self-appointed role as the redesigners of America from on high.

Santorum confesses that one of his fundamental beliefs about American politics was wrong. He had always believed “that conservatives and liberals had the same vision of America, but just had different ways of getting there.” Both wanted the poor “to achieve economic self-sufficiency,” but, he admits, “I don’t believe that anymore.”

Liberals, he notes, have an entirely different definition of freedom. He calls it “No-Fault Freedom” where people can do whatever they want, practically without limits—“all the choices, none of the responsibility.” Conservatives, on the other hand, prefer the word “liberty,” which couples freedom with responsibility “to something bigger or higher than the self. It is the pursuit of our dreams with an eye toward the common good.” This is a definition based on Biblical roots.

The foundational social unit that instills a devotion to such liberty and that stands against No-Fault Freedom’s toxic effects is the traditional family. Strong families generate values and virtues. They are moralistic, and so they are moralizing. They teach right from wrong. Healthy families are our first strike for what is right and our first defense against what is wrong in America today.

The crux of Santorum’s argument is that only through selflessness as learned in families will this nation be strong and liberty protected. What he offers is the opposite not only of liberalism’s big government approach, but also of libertarianism’s atomistic individualism that promotes selfishness. Santorum doesn’t throw libertarianism into the mix at this point in the book, but I added it because I believe it is also a major problem, although not as pervasive as liberalism. Liberals, he explains, “don’t believe in the importance of strong, traditional families.”

For a raft of reasons, the village elders view the strong, traditional, married-mother-and-father family as contrary to their social agenda. They think of society as fundamentally made up of individuals guided by elite and “expert” organizations like government, not the antiquated, perhaps uneducated, independent family. The village elders want society to be individualistic, because a society composed only of individuals responds better to “expert” command and control. Your father or your grandmother (or your priest or rabbi) may give you advice that contradicts the latest “expert” wisdom. The village elders just don’t want such competition.

I like Santorum’s perspective here, and I will come back to it, and to a fuller discussion of the significance of families, in a future post.