Archive for April, 2018

What Alfie Evans Should Mean to Us

Alfie Evans is now with our loving God. That’s what I believe. More on that later in this post.

But that doesn’t excuse how he was treated by a callous society.

Some have commented that this despicable treatment cannot be laid at the feet of a socialized healthcare system, that it could have happened simply by any insurance company in the private sector refusing to provide further aid to a child they deemed unlikely to live anyway.

While it is true that an insurance company could have come to the same decision as the British National Health Service, the latter has far more power to make that which is despicable even more despicable.

A government entity can do what a private insurance firm cannot: deny the parents their parental right to remove their child from the system and choose to go elsewhere for medical help. In Britain, the courts ruled that the parents had to step aside and obey what the government decided: your child, in essence, belongs to the state, and the all-knowing, all-wise state will determine whether that child will live or die.

And if you speak out against that determination, be warned: you will be liable to prosecution.

No private insurance company can do any of that. It can only occur when government takes the reins and says it is the final judge of who is worth saving.

That is a moral degeneration of the most horrendous sort. When some in America warned of death panels with the passage of Obamacare, they were ridiculed by the system’s supporters. That would never happen, they retorted. Don’t be so alarmist.

Perhaps some of those deniers will now have second thoughts? I hope so.

My belief that Alfie Evans is now in the presence of his Creator, Father, and Lover of His Soul is the ultimate comfort in the midst of this heartwrenching action by the government.

So, if that’s my belief, some might say, why are you so concerned about what has happened? After all, Alfie is certainly in the best place possible.

My concern is what this says about us, what it means for nations like Britain and America. It reveals a seared conscience that doesn’t allow the sacredness of life to guide our thoughts and actions. It leads to a horrible dehumanization of humans, a devaluation of value implanted by God in each individual.

We are made in God’s image. But ever since the introduction of abortion as a mechanism to remove an unwanted human being from our lives—too inconvenient to raise a child right now, or that child has too many problems (Downs Syndrome as one example)—our disregard for that image of God in each of us has hastened our fall into the pit of hell as a people.

It began with abortion. It increasingly extends to those at the other end of the life cycle—they are too expensive; they don’t contribute anything anymore; let’s rush them into death. Now, as with Alfie, infanticide is becoming more accepted, more “natural.”

God’s love leads a society in an altogether different direction, a direction that values the life of all people, but especially those most vulnerable, the ones who cannot defend themselves.

Are we on a slippery slope that cannot be reversed? Will we descend into greater depths of callousness and depravity?

Those who name the name of Christ and declare Him to be the salvation of the world need to stand strong in these times and be that proverbial “sore thumb” that bothers the consciences of those who are on that slope. The Christian witness is the only hope for changing men’s minds and hearts.

God is currently blessing Alfie Evans. May we help spread His blessings to this needy world.

The Real Church of Jesus Christ

The Church of Jesus Christ consists of all those who have received the truth about themselves and their relationship with God. It consists of those who have seen the awfulness of their sins, who have come to the Cross in repentance and faith for the forgiveness of those sins, and who have thereafter dedicated their lives to serving the One who gave His life for them.

Those who have done so are the actual Church, and that Church has only one real purpose, as explained succinctly by C. S. Lewis:

The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.

God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.

We, the Church, divide ourselves into different segments, which we call denominations. All too often, we look down on those not of our particular segment and miss the true spirit of the Holy Spirit. Yet, those who are truly His recognize the essential unity we all share regardless of where we choose to worship.

We may have different ideas on specific doctrines, but, as Lewis reminds us, we have a lot more in common than we may realize:

It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion [denomination] is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine.

And this suggests at the centre of each there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.

In my lifetime thus far, I have been associated with the following denominations: Lutheran, Assemblies of God, Mennonite, Wesleyan, Nazarene, Episcopal, and an assortment of independent fellowships that claimed no specific denominational ties. In all of them I found sincere Christians who desired with all their heart and soul to glorify God in Christ.

“The Church,” Lewis says, “will outlive the universe; in it the individual person will outlive the universe. Everything that is joined to the immortal Head will share His immortality.”

All of these thoughts today lead me back to one of my favorite Lewis quotes, taken from his wonderful sermon, “The Weight of Glory.” Near the end of it, he tells us what our attitude should be toward one another, how we should view one another in the light of immortality.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

If that is true, as I believe it is, it should be the very guideline we follow as we interact with one another, and all our interactions should be aimed, ultimately, at helping others to become one of those everlasting splendors God wants to fashion. For the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs.

The Ongoing Comey Saga

Former FBI chief James Comey entered most of our minds for the first time back in the summer of 2016 in the heat of a presidential race.

I listened carefully as he held a press conference to share the bureau’s conclusion concerning the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail fiasco. He came across as professional and, as he proceeded to lay out all the reasons why she should be indicted—and those reasons were substantial—he then startled me, and probably most who were watching that press conference, with the assertion that she had done nothing that called for an indictment.

The case he presented and the conclusion he came to were diametrically opposite. The veneer of professionalism seemed to melt into what appeared to be either a fear of going forward with the prosecution of a Clinton due to pressure from Attorney General Loretta Lynch or some kind of political bias on behalf of the Democrats.

Or perhaps both.

Then, just a few weeks before election day, Comey re-emerged with the astounding news that the investigation had been reopened due to further information that needed to be followed up. At this news, the Clinton camp screamed while Republicans rejoiced.

Within a few days, that matter was settled, but many Democrats blamed Comey for Clinton’s loss.

After Trump was inaugurated, and Comey was still the head of the FBI, rumors surfaced that he and Trump were not seeing eye-to-eye on very much. Reports indicated that Trump wanted some kind of statement of loyalty from the FBI chief and that he refused because his primary loyalty was to his job and the Constitution.

Trump, concerned about the ongoing Russian collusion investigation, summarily fired Comey, thereby stoking another “fire” when the DOJ appointed Robert Mueller as a special counsel to carry on that investigation.

Along the way, Comey has raised the ire on both sides of the political divide, depending on his latest action:

After his firing, Comey didn’t disappear. He was called on to testify before Congress and made it clear he passed on information to someone else for the express purpose of having it made public so that a special counsel would be appointed. That admission in itself raised many eyebrows.

But that wasn’t the end of James Comey’s public persona. Recently, he came out with his book (doesn’t everyone in the news come out with a book eventually?) that purports, by its very title, to show that its author is above politics. He claims that he has a higher loyalty to truth, and that he has maintained that high standard.

I certainly agree that we all have that responsibility to put truth ahead of loyalty to any one person, and that someone in the position Comey once held has a particularly heavy responsibility to do so.

The question is whether the book actually backs up its title. Comey has been everywhere lately, interviewed apparently by anyone who has a camera, attempting to make his case that we should believe in his integrity.

Many, though, on both sides of the political aisle, have been less than convinced by his manner. To many, he appears primarily to be self-consciously casting himself as some kind of modern hero standing up to the powers-that-be. Could this book be more self-serving than nation-serving?

Political cartoonists seem to think so. Here’s a litany of their responses thus far:

Comey’s book has sold well, but how much of it is truth and a commitment to a higher loyalty, as the title claims, and how much is mere egotism? That’s your call.

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.