Evangelicals & Politics: The Dangers Ahead

A group of evangelical leaders concerned about the future of evangelicalism, spurred by 80% of evangelicals having voted for Donald Trump in the last election, held a meeting recently at Wheaton College just outside Chicago.

Whenever I see evangelical leaders concerned about unstinting support for Trump and the potential problem of having the Christian witness tied to him, I am usually encouraged. But I have my qualms about the political direction of some of Trump’s evangelical critics.

Those who have read my blog on any kind of a regular basis know that I have written often with my own concerns about the presidency of Donald Trump. I did my best during the Republican primaries to warn Christians about his character; he received the nomination regardless of my warnings and those of others with a much larger audience than mine.

My concerns continue as his thin-skinned egotism and history of immoral behavior (which has really never abated) lowers the dignity of the presidential office. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did the same in their own respective ways.

Yes, Trump has made excellent judicial appointments that will hopefully reverse some trends, but I sincerely doubt if he knows any of those appointees who were recommended to him by a group of constitutionalists who see the dangers of an out-of-control judiciary.

Principle is in short supply with this president.

Christians are to stand for Scriptural fidelity and the purity of the Christian witness to the world. Neither are found in the character of the current occupant of the White House, and those with strong ties to him may eventually fall with him.

And I do fear that a fall is coming.

On the proverbial other hand, I have a similar fear with those who oppose Trump: that some of those who gathered at this meeting in Wheaton are not sufficiently grounded in Biblical precepts of government and policy, and they, in a similar fashion, are linking their ideas to the Christian witness to its detriment.

We’re informed by some that the younger generation of evangelicals don’t have the same concerns as the older generation, and that their cry is for “social justice.” Let it be known that I also believe in social justice, but the term has been so overused and misused (and you can feel free to apply over- and mis- to any other term you wish) that I shun using it myself.

If by social justice, one means that the inalienable rights God has given each person should be protected by government, then I am in agreement. The paramount inalienable right is that of life, which is why I am so supportive of the pro-life cause at both ends: unborn children and the elderly.

If by social justice, one means that no one should be treated differently due to external features such as skin color, again, you will find me on that side of the issue.

If, however, social justice is promoted as a semi-Marxist envy of those who “have” and is built on a bedrock of class conflict/warfare that seeks to take away from the haves to give to the have-nots, thereby classifying all “haves” as evil, then count me out. The history of the twentieth century was replete with those kinds of tyrannies, and they continue today regardless of the changes in leadership:

If social justice goes beyond the basic rights of all people regardless of color and insists on calling all white people evil (based on their color apparently) and foments an attitude of bitterness for wrongs both past and present, I will not be one of that number.

If it is true, as reported in a recent article, that 85% of black evangelicals identify with the Democrat party, I’m saddened. Why? Well, if you want to look historically, that was the party that defended both slavery and segregation. More recently, as the “champion” of minorities, it set up government programs (Great Society, anyone?) that have proved to be the catalyst for the destruction of the black family in America, leading to even greater degrees of poverty.

For evangelicals, in particular, the Democrats are the party that are wholesale on board with abortion on demand (which Planned Parenthood has always used to decimate minority communities), same-sex marriage, and, under the Obama administration, a large-scale attack on the religious liberties of Christian organizations who fail to fall in line with the “new morality.”

I want to ask my black brethren this: “How can you support a party that has set itself up in opposition to so much of what a Christian evangelical says he believes?” Democrats, in their present persona, are about as anti-Christian as a party can be.

Republicans give greater lip service to Biblical standards; their problem is hypocrisy. Yet, even with all that hypocrisy, there are some Republican officeholders who do remain faithful to their principles and their word. At least there’s some hope there, however slight.

To my evangelical friends who give unyielding support for President Trump, I urge you not to be unthinking cheerleaders. Recognize the danger to the Christian witness when we give ourselves to a leader unconditionally.

And by all means, don’t provide excuses for wrong behavior. Maintain your Biblical standard.

To my evangelical friends who are tempted to go the way of political progressivism, please stop and think about the ramifications. When you ally yourself with a worldview that is fundamentally antithetical to Christian faith, you taint the faith as well.

One report, focused on one evangelical college (which will go unnamed) notes that 80% of the professors there voted for Obama in 2012. This is the president who made the greatest strides toward marginalizing Christian faith in American society. How anyone could have supported him is beyond my understanding.

I’m trying to be a voice of Christian reason here, holding fast to fidelity to Scripture and hoping to make both sides reconsider where they stand. It’s not easy or fun being in the middle.

I sincerely love all who are truly in Christ, no matter where they come out on the political spectrum. However, I am urging all to put Biblical principles ahead of politics. If we do, we might find we agree on more things than we imagined.

Aggravate Schism or Heal It?

My study of C. S. Lewis’s correspondence has been primarily his letters to Americans. While one of my delightful projects for the future is to read all of his letters, I’ve only grazed the surface of those outside his American connections.

I have noted, though, some of his correspondence with his Catholic friend, Don Giovanni Calabria. The Anglican-Protestant Lewis kept up a lively and friendly interchange with that friend. Some of those letters deal with the divisions in the church universal. Lewis’s commentary on that is thought-provoking.

Is it sin that makes Christians divide into different denominations? Lewis offers this opinion:

That the whole cause of schism lies in sin I do not hold to be certain. I grant that no schism is without sin but the one proposition does not necessarily follow the other.

He then notes that both Catholics and Protestants deplore what some on their respective sides have done, using the friar Tetzel (who sparked Luther’s 95 Theses) and England’s Henry VIII (a Protestant only because he wanted a divorce) as prime examples.

But some don’t fit that characterization. Two martyrs—Thomas More and William Tyndale—both lost their lives under that same Henry VIII, but for different reasons. What of them?

But what would I think of your Thomas More or of our William Tyndale? All the writings of the one and all the writings of the other I have lately read right through. Both of them seem to me most saintly men and to have loved God with their whole heart: I am not worthy to undo the shoes of either of them.

Nevertheless they disagree and (what racks and astounds me) their disagreement seems to me to spring not from their vices nor from their ignorance but rather from their virtues and the depths of their faith, so that the more they were at their best the more they were at variance.

Lewis, of course, knew all about the Catholic-Protestant schism, having grown up in Northern Ireland. In another letter to Calabria, he tells of a coming holiday in his homeland, leading to more thoughts on the issue:

Tomorrow I am crossing over . . . to Ireland: my birthplace and dearest refuge so far as charm of landscape goes, and temperate climate, although most dreadful because of the strife, hatred and often civil war between dissenting faiths.

How does Lewis view this type of “dissent”?

There indeed both yours and ours “know not by what Spirit they are led.” They take lack of charity for zeal and mutual ignorance for orthodoxy.

I think almost all the crimes which Christians have perpetrated against each other arise from this, that religion is confused with politics. For, above all other spheres of human life, the Devil claims politics for his own, as almost the citadel of his power.

Let us, however, with mutual prayers pray with all our power for that charity which “covers a multitude of sins.”

As someone who has been actively involved in teaching students about government and politics for nearly three decades, I have to admit I don’t like Lewis’s conclusion that this realm of human activity is a special haven for Satan’s devices. I want Christians to know that government is established by God and that it has godly purposes.

However, I have to acknowledge that the Devil certainly knows how to use politics for his goals. Currently, the divide in politics is not between Catholic and Protestant, but between differences of opinion among Christians as to whom we should support in the political arena.

That divide is now beyond the simple liberal vs. conservative stances. Conservatives, after this last presidential election, are more divided than ever over how much, and in what ways, to support the winner.

We should be free to share our views, but in that sharing, we should never lose our charity toward fellow believers.

I like, especially, this caution from Lewis:

Disputations do more to aggravate schism than to heal it: united action, prayer, fortitude and (should God so will) united deaths for Christ—these will make us one.

We must never forget that, regardless of our views on the current state of politics, we are one in God’s kingdom. Lewis’s comment may be prophetic: we may have to suffer together unto death, and that will ultimately show us how petty the differences are compared to what we have in common.

I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to that, but it’s a sobering reminder that we should be focused on the eternal above all else.

Compromises at the Constitutional Convention: Principled?

When is compromise right? When is it wrong? When I look at historical compromises, I try to apply this rule:

A compromised principle leads to unrighteousness, but a principled compromise is a step closer to the principle’s ideal.

Let’s take the Constitutional Convention as an example.

The delegates who comprised the convention that led to our current Constitution had to grapple with a number of controversial issues. The two most prominent were how to carry out proper representation and how to incorporate the existence of slavery within the document.

On the issue of representation, states with greater population argued that they should have more say in the making of the laws. After all, they had more people, so it only seemed fair to them.

The smaller states, however, fearing that they would always be outvoted on matters of concern to them that might not concern larger states, called for equal representation in the newly proposed government.

Who had the better argument?

In this case, both were making good points. Both arguments had validity.

Consequently, a compromise was forged that led to setting up two houses in the national legislature (as opposed to one in the Congress established by the Articles of Confederation). The House of Representatives would be allotted a proportional number of members based on each state’s population while the Senate would have two members from each state, thereby providing a chamber where the smaller states had an equal vote.

In my view, this was an acceptable compromise that answered the concerns of both parties. No one sacrificed a principle.

The other thorny issue was whether to count the slaves as part of the population of a state. If all slaves were counted, that would definitely give slave states a higher number of representatives in the House. The Southern states, therefore, favored this position.

Northern states, many of whom had already abolished slavery while others were in the process of doing so, thought that would be unfair. After all, as Gouverneur Morris of New York postulated in the debate,

Are they men? Then make them citizens and let them vote. Are they property? Why then is no other property included?

Fair question. What was to be done?

The convention came up with this compromise: count 3/5 of the slave population toward a state’s representation (not all the slaves, as the South desired); allow the Congress, twenty years hence, to pass a law that would prohibit the importation of more slaves into the country.

That latter provision was based on a sincere wish that most of those delegates had: the eventual elimination of slavery in America. They hoped that such a law would dry up the slave population over time.

Incidentally, twenty years later, Congress did pass that law.

Was this an acceptable compromise? People are divided on that. Personally, I would have welcomed a stronger stance against slavery, but I also understand the tenor of the times and the limitations on what that convention needed to accomplish.

The Constitutional Convention couldn’t hope to achieve unanimity on the issue of the continuance of slavery. What it could hope to achieve was to set up a working government that could then deal more fully with the issue.

That was accomplished. The sad fact that Congress, over the next few decades, didn’t come to grips with slavery as it should have is not something that should be laid at the feet of those at the Convention.

In fact, based on what they knew at the time, there was good reason to believe slavery was already on its way out. It was not as profitable as expected.

What changed? How about the invention of the cotton gin seven years later, which made slavery far more profitable?

Let’s not play a blame game that holds people responsible for something that happened seven years in the future. That would be like holding people in 2018 responsible for something that will occur in 2025 that alters the whole perspective of an issue.

We’re not really all that good at knowing what the future holds, given the millions of individual choices of citizens that will be made along the way.

It’s possible, therefore, to consider even that slavery compromise as a principled one, despite the disrepute it has earned over time.

The main lesson here, I believe, is to work toward compromises that move the ball toward what one wants to see eventually. Any step in the right direction should be welcomed.

The Lincoln Tragedy

On this morning, April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln died in a house across the street from Ford’s Theater. The pandemonium of the night before still resonated through Washington, DC, and the news would soon spread throughout the country, both North and South.

John Hay, Lincoln’s personal secretary, recalls hearing these words from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton:

The nation mourned, and it wasn’t just the North that did so. Many in the South knew this was a tragedy for them as well. Lincoln had mapped out a policy of forgiveness and reconciliation with the transgressing states. His main hope was a peaceful reunification without rancor. He stated his position eloquently in his Second Inaugural Address.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

The portrait painted by some today, that Lincoln was a tyrant who trampled on the Constitution and abused his office, is inaccurate. I won’t go into all the details in this post, but suffice to say that I was one who leaned in that direction early in my career. I don’t believe that now. Why the change? Let’s just say that more historical research proved to me the opposite.

Lincoln was a man who was drawn steadily back to the Christian faith after years of agnosticism. The trial of the Civil War deeply affected him and forced him to turn his eyes Heavenward.

His speeches and letters during that awful war reveal a man who is in the throes of a great spiritual introspection—an introspection that exhibited itself in both his Gettysburg Address and in that Second Inaugural.

The heart of the Second Inaugural—and the heart of Lincoln himself—can be found in this short excerpt:

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

“Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.”

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

The loss of Lincoln at that critical point in American history was huge. Reconciliation did not prevail at that time; it took far longer to heal the brokenness and the racial attitudes than it should have.

We still bear those scars today.

A Society with No Sense of Sin & Guilt?

What’s perhaps the biggest deception in our day that keeps people from getting their lives right with God? I want to draw from three C. S. Lewis writings to offer one possibility—a possibility that I think is far closer to a probability.

In Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity, the path to establishing a relationship with God is clearly laid out:

Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know that they need any forgiveness.

It is after you have realised that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power–it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk.

When you are sick, you will listen to the doctor.

But not until then. And our age is awash with people who have no sense of estrangement from God because they have been indoctrinated away from the guilt they used to feel.

This makes us different from earlier ages, Lewis posits. He explains this in his “Christian Apologetics” essay in this way:

A sense of sin is almost totally lacking. Our situation is thus very different from that of the Apostles. The Pagans (and still more the metuentes [i.e., the God-fearing Gentiles]) to whom they preached were haunted by a sense of guilt and to them the Gospel was, therefore, “good news.”

What has changed?

We address people who have been trained to believe that whatever goes wrong in the world is someone else’s fault–the Capitalists’, the Government’s, the Nazis’, the Generals’ etc.

They approach God Himself as His judges. They want to know, not whether they can be acquitted for sin, but whether He can be acquitted for creating such a world.

In other words, we have turned the tables on reality. We, in our arrogance and pride, demand that God answer to us. We are not to blame—God is.

Lewis makes the same point in another essay, “God in the Dock,” in which he diagnoses the problem he has faced speaking to certain groups:

The greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin. This has struck me more forcibly when I spoke to the R.A.F. than when I spoke to students.

Given the state of events on university campuses today, I suspect if Lewis could return to speak in that venue, he might have to revise that statement. He continues:

Whether (as I believe) the Proletariat is more self-righteous than other classes, or whether educated people are cleverer at concealing their pride, this creates for us a new situation. The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers, whether Jews, Metuentes or Pagans, a sense of guilt. . . .

Thus the Christian message was in those days unmistakably the Evangelium, the Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick.

We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.

We are now in a society where a large portion of the citizenry have consciously pawned off their own personal sin and guilt to anyone or anything else in an effort to ignore what their consciences, prior to their re-education, always told them.

We are not guilty; we are victims. Our parents are to blame; the hypocrisy of the church is to blame; the rich are the oppressors; the government causes all the problems—the list of blameworthy entities is virtually unending.

Yet each individual must come to the place of recognizing one’s own sin and the justification for the guilt that accompanies it. We must stop playing the victim card. We must face the reality of our rebellion against a loving God who is always willing to forgive.

But that forgiveness is conditional: sincere repentance, faith in the Son of God who gave Himself for us, and obedience to His commands.

On Youth, Foolishness, & Mortality

I was reading in Psalm 39 this morning and this section jumped out at me:

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.

You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.

Thinking about my mortality has become more prominent lately. Not that I’m in bad health or anticipating an early demise, you understand, but it’s only right that someone my age—I just turned 67—should take that possibility seriously.

I reflect back on what it was like being young, that time in life when you rarely consider the end of days on this earth; after all, one’s entire life lies ahead. What great things one will do!

Teaching the current university-aged generation is also a constant reminder of the passing of the years. I could be their grandfather, which is a fairly new and sometimes startling reminder of how quickly time goes by.

Yesterday, I was teaching them about the 1960s, that woebegone era when youth believed they were charting a new course for civilization that no one had ever thought about before. How silly so many of my generation were:

Each new generation, particularly the members of it that end up in college, always seems to think it’s smarter than the previous one, and the atmosphere in which they thrive is all too often one of promoting radical change, often without real understanding:

Far too many of the current crop of students are ignorant of history, which doesn’t bode well for the future of the nation:

As that last comic intimates, many students are being indoctrinated in the latest trendy social thought more than the basic knowledge and principles they need for life.

This has come to the forefront again recently in the reaction of many students to school shootings. Adults (so-called) are prone to present the students as the wise ones, the ones we need to listen to:

I was young once. I thought I had all the answers. I was wrong. I was immature. Immaturity is a feature of being young and inexperienced. A phrase bandied about (but probably not said in these precise words by anyone in particular) is “Youth is wasted on the young.”

This post is not meant to be a slight on young people. I love my students. It’s just that I know what being young is like. I look back on some of the decisions I made, even as a young Christian, and just shake my head, asking myself, “How could I have been so foolish?”

Psalm 90:12 is a fitting final thought for today:

So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

May it be.

Seeing What Is Unseen

All Scripture is inspired by God. When you read it with an open heart, God’s Spirit can speak directly to you. What’s even more remarkable is that passages that you have read often can sometimes stand out in a rereading in a way they didn’t before.

That happened to me recently when meditating on chapter 4 of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Let me see if I can convey why this section was so meaningful this time.

Since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Paul has just commented on how the Lord will transform His people into His image. If we are really Christians, we are open and honest in all our ways. We don’t try to “get by” with sneaky practices and attempt to deceive anyone.

Neither do we distort—twist into a different shape—the truths God has given us. We don’t change the Gospel message to fit into modern trends. The “church” is overflowing with those who who claim to speak for God, yet alter the truth for their own devious purposes.

And we have integrity. When we speak God’s truths, all should be able to see the genuineness of our motives.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Satan cannot blind people who are truly seeking God. He can only mislead those who already have a heart of unbelief. It’s never God who keeps the truth from them; they themselves choose to reject the message.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

Be alert to anyone who says he speaks for the Lord but whose message is centered on self. We are mere servants, not to be confused with Jesus our Lord, who is the Light shining in a dark world. That Light is to shine through us.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Have you ever considered yourself a mere jar of clay? Yet God chooses to use such plain and unassuming vessels to hold the treasure of His Word. What a privilege we have.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Paul makes it clear that this life will be filled with troubles. Being a messenger of God’s truth won’t be an easy life. We will be hard pressed at times, perplexed, possibly persecuted and struck down. Yet God is always with us. Regardless of the troubles, we will not be crushed, in despair, abandoned, or destroyed, even though we may feel like it.

As His spokesmen, we have to be willing to die to ourselves; that’s the only way for Christ to shine through us.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Faith leads us to speak boldly in His name. And the reward is fantastic: even as Jesus was raised from the dead, so too will we be raised and be presented to the Father on That Day.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

These verses are ones I memorized early in my Christian walk, but they mean more now with the decades that have followed. I now realize in a way I couldn’t when I was younger and more robust, that the body certainly does waste away. No longer can I trust in my own strength (although I never should have done so at any time).

No matter what troubles we experience, we are to see them as temporary. They will all pass, and we will have an eternal experience of glory in His presence. We will then consider those troubles as having been light and momentary.

The final verse is where we need to consciously put our minds. We are to “fix our eyes” on what we cannot currently see. This confounds unbelievers. How can anyone see what cannot be seen?

Through the eyes of faith, given to us by God because we have surrendered ourselves to the Lordship of Christ, we now have spiritual eyes that can see what is eternal.

And that which is eternal is far more real than what we see with our natural eyes.

I hope this short meditation gave you something significant to think about. Open your spiritual eyes and view the glory of God.