Political or Spiritual?

Christians & PoliticsMy last post was my best attempt to explain why Christians have a responsibility to engage in politics and government, and that by doing so we are not diluting the Gospel. I received an e-mail response from a friend who has worked diligently in the public arena for many years now. He pointed out one very significant fact I failed to emphasize, one that I wish I had included. So, with his permission, here is his response. Read for edification:
As someone who is regularly criticized by my fellow followers of Jesus Christ for daring to apply my faith in the political arena, I thank you for your blog post.  It’s not that I need affirmation, but it is always good to read something insightful about what God has called me to do.
 
I would add one comment to your post.  When I am chastised for being involved with “political issues” that “drive people away from Jesus,” I always ask to which issues they refer.  Of course, the common responses are abortion or marriage or both.  To which I respond: No, I asked which political issues. Those aren’t political issues, they are issues of fundamental Biblical principle concerning who God is, who we are, His design for us and for social order.  Yes, they happen to be debated within the political realm, but that doesn’t make them political issues.  I believe Christians fall for that trap all the time.  We allow that which is spiritual in nature to be labeled as secular (or political) only to find ourselves then on the defensive when in fact what we are discussing is spiritual. 
Of course, the dichotomy is in and of itself, for the believer, a false one anyway, since there is nothing “secular” to God.  But good luck explaining that concept to most believers! 
 
Anyway, I say all that to say simply that I don’t deal with political issues.  I deal with spiritual issues that are being debated in the political sphere.  But, of course, if they are “political,” then they are open for debate and compromise.
He is absolutely correct, and I appreciate his amendment to what I wrote. The murder of innocent children is first and foremost a spiritual issue because it is blatant immorality. Marriage, as I noted, is a God-ordained institution, so any tampering with it is tampering with God’s order of things. Both are political only when politicians try to alter eternal right and wrong. Christians, therefore, cannot be silent when moral atrocities become ever more prevalent and accepted by society at large.
 
God simply calls us to be faithful and to take His truth into every corner of the world, even corners we would like to avoid.
 

Lewis : Willing Slaves of the Welfare State

C. S. Lewis didn’t write a lot specifically about civil government because that wasn’t his priority. Yet when he did write on the subject, he was lucid and devastating with respect to how government can become a terror to individuals. One of his essays in God in the Dock is entitled “Is Progress Possible?” but the subtitle really gets to the point of the essay: “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State.” He knew whereof he spoke, writing this in 1958 Britain, which was fast becoming a deadening welfare state at that point.

There’s so much in this essay that I’m going to divide it into two posts. This first one concentrates on the problem of what Lewis calls the “changed relationship between Government and subjects.” He begins with a dissection of our new attitude to crime:

C. S. Lewis 2I will mention the trainloads of Jews delivered at the German gas-chambers. It seems shocking to suggest a common element, but I think one exists. On the humanitarian view all crime is pathological; it demands not retributive punishment but cure. This separates the criminal’s treatment from the concepts of justice and desert; a “just cure” is meaningless. . . .

If society can mend, remake, and unmake men at its pleasure, its pleasure may, of course, be humane or homicidal. The difference is important. But, either way, rulers have become owners.

Note the clear insight that Lewis draws here: society is beginning to take away the idea of sin and personal responsibility—and punishment for evil actions—and replace it with the concept that all “evil” is just some kind of aberration that can be “treated.” And who is responsible for the treatment? Why, the government, of course. It will decide how to remake you in its own image.

Lewis continues:

Observe how the “humane” attitude to crime could operate. If crimes are diseases, why should diseases be treated differently from crimes? And who but the experts can define disease?

One school of psychology regards my religion as a neurosis. If this neurosis ever becomes inconvenient to Government, what is to prevent my being subjected to a compulsory “cure.”? It may be painful; treatments sometimes are. But it will be no use asking, “What have I done to deserve this?” The Straighteners will reply: “But, my dear fellow, no one’s blaming you. We no longer believe in retributive justice. We’re healing you.”

How contemporary as I survey the scene in America today, where Biblical morality is under attack as “hateful,” and where those who adhere to God’s standard are becoming subject to “re-education” directed by government fiat. Lewis saw this coming and shuddered at the loss of liberty attached to the new attitude:

This would be no more than an extreme application of the political philosophy implicit in most modern communities. It has stolen on us unawares. Two wars necessitated vast curtailments of liberty, and we have grown, though grumblingly, accustomed to our chains.

The increasing complexity and precariousness of our economic life have forced Government to take over many spheres of activity once left to choice or chance. Our intellectuals have surrendered first to the slave-philosophy of Hegel, then to Marx, finally to linguistic analysis.

As a result, classical political theory, with its Stoical, Christian, and juristic key-conceptions (natural law, the value of the individual, the rights of man), has died. The modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good—anyway, to do something to us or to make us something.

Hence the new name “leaders” for those who were once “rulers.” We are less their subjects than their wards, pupils, or domestic animals. There is nothing left of which we can say to them, “Mind your own business.” Our whole lives are their business.

I challenge you to reread these excerpts again and see if a chill doesn’t rise up your spine at Lewis’s description of the modern state. We see his prophetic utterance coming to fruition in our day.

More on this tomorrow.

God’s Remnant in a Time of Spiritual Darkness

I’m in a more reflective mood today; perhaps pondering is the right word since it fits with my blog’s title. I’ve been thinking about how the society has changed in my 60+ years. Most of those changes, in the moral realm, have not been beneficial.

I grew up in a small town in northern Indiana, probably not more than 3500-4000 people. I knew everyone in my high school graduating class, to one degree or another, because there were only 99 of us, the majority of whom were in the same school for all 12 or 13 years of their educational lives.

I’m trying to recall how many of them grew up in broken families. I can think of 2, at least, although there must have been a few more. That was the exception; we all pretty much expected a mom and dad were in the home in nearly every family. I’m not at all sure any of the girls in my class had to leave school due to pregnancy; I don’t remember anyone in that situation, although, again, there may have been one I have forgotten. Once more, that was the extreme exception. Marriage was to come first.

No one in the 1960s talked much about homosexuality, let alone same-sex marriage. Out of sight, out of mind. Not on our radar. We had our share of sullen bully-types and those who reeked of rebellion and cigarette smoke, but if anyone ever was high on drugs, it wasn’t evident. That was for classes that graduated after mine.

Abortion was a word with which I had no acquaintance at all. I never knew anyone who had an abortion. Of course, it was illegal then; the floodgates had not yet been opened.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living in an alien culture today, a sort of virtual world that is an anomaly—this is not the way things are supposed to be. Families are not supposed to be disintegrating at the alarming rate we now see; marriage is in the process of being destroyed completely by the radical homosexual agenda; the number of abortions since Roe v. Wade—a staggering 56 million—defies all rational expectations. It’s absolutely horrifying, yet we are practically numbed by the immensity of the figure. In many people’s minds, the aborted babies are more statistics than real persons who have had their lives snuffed out. They are the most innocent victims of all; they never did anything to deserve such treatment.

As I pointed out in a post two days ago, we’ve even come to the place where the governor of New York says pro-life people, those who believe in the self-defense of carrying arms, and those who refuse to accept the movement away from traditional marriage are to be considered extremists who have no place in his state. I can’t imagine, as a high school student back in the 1960s, even with all the drama of Vietnam and the beginnings of cultural shifts at the time, that any governor would ever feel comfortable making a statement like that.

Statue of Bigotry

It’s easy to sense a deepening spiritual darkness, yet we cannot allow that to lead us to despair. We are the rays of His light in this dark world. Although I am sometimes stunned when I consider the plunge our society has made into new avenues of depravity, I have hope when I view hundreds of thousands congregating on the Washington Mall to show support for the sanctity of human life. It tells me there are many others out there who share my worldview. All is not lost. If we can encourage each other enough and work toward unity of purpose, we will give God something to work with.

God has never required a majority on His side to move a mountain. He will always honor the dedicated remnant. We must determine to be that remnant.

Reflections As We Begin a New Year

New Year's EveWelcome to 2014. As a historian, I see significance in the passage of time, but for practical day-to-day living, the distinction between one year and the next is artificial. What really changes from December 31 to January 1? Oh, yes, some new laws go into effect, but it’s all part of the continuum of time.

I watch the revelers on New Year’s Eve and see mostly drunks and people who could easily lay claim to an award for brainless activity and superficial happiness. Of course, those are the ones focused on by the media, as they attempt to portray “joy” in the worldly sense of the term. I realize there are those who soberly and with gratitude to God for another year, give thanks for their blessings. Yet that kind of recognition for the grace of God pales in the public mind when compared to the temporary rejoicing in Times Square. The latter takes priority.

Do I sound like a downer today? I’m not trying to be the Scrooge of New Year’s, but my frame of vision differs quite a bit from the norm. I’m not alone, or at least I hope I’m not. All genuine Christians should stand apart in their perception of reality. They should have a distinct perspective on sin, mercy, and grace, and they should be about their Father’s business in displaying it to the world.

That’s what inspired me back in August 2008 to begin this ongoing commentary on life. From the start, I wanted it to be set apart somehow from the onslaught of the multitude of bloggers, particularly those who offer little more than shrill screeds, lashing out with intemperate words toward everything they despise.

I decided to call this daily commentary Pondering Principles because I want the basic truths God has given us to be the basis for everything I write. While I don’t intend to stir up controversy for the sake of controversy, I also realize that those things I call basic truths are rejected by a good part of our age. To write in favor of God’s law—righteousness across the board in morality—now makes one controversial whether one desires it or not.

There are times I tire of writing. What atrocity do I have to talk about today? Which sin needs to be illuminated? What new stupidity has the human race discovered now? That’s why I try to make sure I balance those types of posts with the message of God’s love and His heart for salvaging as many broken examples of humanity as possible. It’s why I include a large number of cartoons to add some humor to the unfolding of our societal foolishness. It’s why I devote weekend posts to insights from C. S. Lewis and Charles Finney, hoping to escape the daily grind of political folly for at least a few days.

JeremiahI never intended to be another Jeremiah, the Weeping Prophet of the Old Testament. But neither did I anticipate the rapid decline in our national morality that has occurred since I began this blog in 2008. Jeremiah had a strong message, speaking, in this passage, for God:

For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

He got tired of delivering his message, too, and all the reproach he received from those who rejected what he said. At one point, he cried out in anguish,

But if I say, “I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,” then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.

He remained faithful. He felt compelled to complete his mission.

I am in no way a replica of Jeremiah. I’ve not suffered major derision or persecution personally for sharing my views. Yet I can empathize with his emotion. Sometimes, I just want to walk away from writing anything more. I find myself thinking that all these words I write accomplish very little. Why submit to the inner drive to continue? Life would be easier and much more pleasant if I didn’t have to think of something to say every day. Some days I’m dry; there’s nothing worth saying. Or at least that’s how I feel.

Yet whenever I think of stopping this commentary, I find that same burning within that Jeremiah described.

I don’t really know what I’m accomplishing with Pondering Principles. Perhaps far less than I hope. Yet I also know, deep in my heart, that God merely calls us to be faithful, and we’re to leave the results with Him. Therefore, I will be like Jeremiah in at least one respect: I will remain faithful to what God has called me to do.

Those are some of my reflections at the beginning of a new year. May we all reflect regularly on God’s calling and our commitment to Him.

November 22, 1963

JFK in DallasI remember the day vividly. Well, the entire four days, actually. On Friday, November 22, 1963, I was in my junior high classroom that afternoon. It was a little strange at first because the teacher wasn’t in the room; he was huddled with other teachers in the hallway just outside. They were listening to a transistor radio. I recall all the students were wondering what was happening. Then he came in the room and told us that President Kennedy had been shot. No one knew yet how seriously.

Gym class came next. We talked about how everything would be fine; after all, this was America, so there was no way our president would die. I don’t remember the exact moment reality hit, but it was shortly after that. Junior high optimism proved too optimistic.

Probably the entire country was glued to the television throughout the weekend and into Monday when the funeral was broadcast. Along the way, I somehow missed the live TV moment when Jack Ruby emerged from the crowd at the Dallas police station and shot Oswald. Other than that, though, I was a witness to history in the making.

Yet there were many things of which I was unaware. As I watched TV icon Walter Cronkite struggle to maintain his composure while reporting the developing story, I didn’t know that the man we were mourning had a stunningly false resumé handcrafted by a father whose primary purpose in life was to place one of his sons in the White House. Those bestselling books and that Pulitzer Prize Jack Kennedy had won were the result of a team of writers who then put his name on them.

While viewing the many tear-stained faces of grieving Americans, I had no knowledge of the way the Kennedy clan hid the president’s many health problems so the public wouldn’t realize he was dependent on painkilling drugs to get by. The public image, of course, was of robust youthfulness. Neither did I know the quack doctor administering those drugs had a nickname—Dr. Feelgood. I wonder if the nation would have felt good about that.

As I held back my own emotions when the widow and her children stood outside as the casket passed by, I was in the dark about the moral character of the man in that casket. If I had known at the time that he was a serial adulterer, aided and abetted by his own Secret Service, would those emotions I felt have been different?

JFK GraveAnd as he was lowered into the grave that even now has an eternal flame above it, my youthful ignorance kept me from knowing his very election as president was suspect. Massive voter fraud on his behalf in Illinois and Texas, much of that again orchestrated by his father, is what gave Kennedy the victory. Chicago mayor Richard Daley put his machine to work to dig up enough votes from the graveyards of the city to give the state to the Democrats in 1960. Texas, basically run by JFK’s running mate, Lyndon Johnson, also manufactured more votes in certain districts than actual voters on the rolls.

Many people today don’t know these facts. As a historian, I have no excuse; I have to be honest about what really happened and about the character of the man we remember on this 50th anniversary of his death. That doesn’t make the event any less tragic; the nation never needs a trauma like this. But it doesn’t help us as a people to remain ignorant of truth. We need to be clear-eyed about our history.

As awful as the assassination of a president always is, let’s keep some perspective. John F. Kennedy was not a heroic figure in his personal life. He made many mistakes as president, the Bay of Pigs fiasco being the most obvious. Even his achievements in the Cuban Missile Crisis are mixed. Yes, he forced the USSR to withdraw the missiles, but at what price? He pledged never again to help the Cuban exiles take their country back from the communist dictator Fidel Castro. That tyrant still lives today, and Cuba continues to suffer from the fallout of his stern rule.

Lost in the many documentary tributes appearing on TV this entire month is the real nature of the man being honored and the paucity of his accomplishments. I still experience many of the feelings others do about this tragedy; I saw it unfold myself as a child of twelve. One cannot forget the poignancy of those days and the grief that overwhelmed. Yet now I can step back and analyze it better, distanced somewhat from childish emotions.

Something else I didn’t know on November 22, 1963, was that another man died on that day, far away from my own frame of reference as a young boy in a small Indiana town. Across the Atlantic, in a Great Britain I had never yet visited, an author I had not yet read also passed away. His name was C. S. Lewis. His life and writings have, over time, proven far more influential than that of the man most people remember on this anniversary.

God has a different standard of judgment than the mass of mankind. He sees the heart. On that fateful day in November 1963, it could be that only one of those men who died awoke to find himself in the presence of the One he adored. I will write more of him tomorrow.

The Greatest Scandal of All

The word “scandal” is increasingly being used to describe a multitude of developments in this Age of Obama. I thought it might be helpful to define the term. After looking up a number of definitions, I think this one summarizes pretty well:

An action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.

In order to properly identify a scandal, there must first be a standard of morality that nearly all adhere to, and there must be a commitment to the rule of law to judge legality. To complete the definition, there must also be a sense of public outrage over the event or action. For me, and others who think like me, a lot of what has been transpiring around us clearly fits the definition. The problem is there are fewer people who think the way we do: the Biblical standard of morality that once infused our society is crumbling; the rule of law, which is closely allied to that morality, is falling with it; and the public outrage, which should be universal, never touches a large segment of the population.

People do get selectively outraged. Some individuals, by their over-the-top actions, create an atmosphere of general revulsion:

Mars Colony

There are times when a systemic problem encourages and abets inexcusable actions, such as the Ft. Hood killings. The general public might still get outraged over this one, provided the media cooperates in revealing the systemic problem:

Unindicted Co-Conspirator

Some things that should be scandals become acceptable over time—they slowly creep up on us and become part of the culture before most people realize it. Of course, those very people who are slow to realize it are the ones who voted for it in the first place:

Diet Plate

The scandals that have most recently gained our attention are only symptoms of the growth of government. What most people don’t understand is that they are undermining our entire system:

We the People

Anyone who votes for a party that seeks to ignore and/or destroy the rule of law is an accomplice in scandal. It’s hard for there to be general outrage over this when half the country votes for it. If we want to locate the basic problem, and the source of all our scandals, we have to look in the mirror.

What has happened to the American character? Rejection of God and His moral law is at the root of our current political, economic, and social distresses. We will never adequately deal with those distresses until we first return to God’s truths and proclaim our fidelity to them. If we continue to dismiss God’s perfectly reasonable morality, we can only expect things to decline further. And what’s worse is we won’t even be outraged anymore by the decline. That’s the greatest scandal of all.

Morality in Government: The Sanford Case

I argue constantly for Biblical morality to be the standard for our government, not only in its policies but also in the people who make those policies. One of the most poignant quotes I pass on to my students comes from John Adams, who warned,

We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge . . . would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.

When a nation’s morality plummets, so does the nation. This is particularly true when the citizens choose their civic leaders. I’ve often said our government is no more than a reflection of those who put it into power.

If I lived in a certain district in South Carolina this past week, I would have had to make a hard decision. Mark Sanford, the former governor of the state, was running for a congressional seat in a special election. Sanford has become infamous for brazen lying and adultery. As governor, he kept going on secret forays to Argentina to see a mistress while publicly saying things like he was out hiking on the Appalachian Trail. When the truth became known, he found himself the focal point of disdain and jokes.

Sanford, of course, is hardly the only politician with unsavory character. Give me time and I could come up with quite an extensive list of public officials no better than he. That, in itself, is the bane of our political life, and it is why some Christians shy away from any political involvement, thereby withdrawing their positive influence from our government.

This special election pit Sanford against Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a political neophyte and the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert. What went largely unreported in the media is the fact that she spent some time in jail back in the late 1980s for contempt of court while going through a messy divorce. I don’t know all the details of that incident, but it certainly should have been part of her resumé upon which the voters were to make their choice. The media—and this was a national event for them—simply ignored that fact. A good portion of the media saw this election as a harbinger of what is to come in the 2014 congressional elections. Many were hoping Busch would win as a sign that Democrats will take back the House next year.

Back to the question: what would I have done as a resident in this district? First, I believe in forgiveness, and that would apply to both candidates. However, forgiveness comes only after genuine repentance. That’s God’s standard, and it should be mine also. Busch, to the best of my knowledge, has no Christian foundation to her life or her political stance. She was heavily supported financially by Nancy Pelosi, a maneuver that apparently backfired on her in that conservative district. At least that’s some of the analysis that has appeared after Sanford’s victory.

What of Sanford? He spends a lot of time talking about God’s forgiveness, yet I have not seen any real repentance on his part. He never made a serious attempt to reconcile with his wife; as a father, he has now practically deserted his children, and his mistress is hanging around, ready to take on her new role, presumably, as the new Mrs. Sanford.

As a voter, what I would have before me is a choice between two very flawed people: the Republican who stood for family values and then hypocritically repudiated them; the Democrat who has some history of a run-in with the law and whose policies would be contributing to the overall decline of the nation. And that then becomes the crucial feature for me.

While I decry Sanford’s immorality and don’t want to see him rewarded for it, I know that another pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, pro-Obamacare member of the House helps destroy the entire nation. Sanford, at least, will probably vote the way I wish he would on most issues. Busch never would do so. She would help advance an anti-Christian, anti-family agenda that will do far more lasting harm than anything Sanford has done or may do. Consequently, as distasteful as it would have been, I would have had to cast my ballot for him.

One of the more comical aspects of this whole affair, so to speak, is how concerned Democrats suddenly became over moral issues. When it works to their advantage, they will trumpet the moral failures of Republicans. But there’s one thing to remember, illustrated quite well, I believe, by this classic political cartoon from a number of years ago:

It’s not hard to clear the bar if it is set so low to begin with.

Meanwhile, what of Sanford? I presume he’s looking at his newly won congressional seat as a political comeback.

Outwardly, this is a comeback, to be sure. But redemption is not primarily external. True redemption occurs in the heart. Unless Sanford experiences that true redemption, I would urge Republicans in his district to begin looking for a suitable challenger in the primary next year. Putting moral people in government should remain a top priority.