Archive for the ‘ Christians & Culture ’ Category

When We Subordinate Righteousness to Political Expediency

For twenty-eight years I’ve taught history at the university level, with some of those years being in a master’s program of public policy/government. Consistently, I’ve tried to communicate the message that Christians ought to be involved in the political sphere.

One of the first books I wrote, If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Biblical Principles and Civil Government, was an attempt to lay out basic Biblical concepts that should undergird all of life, including government.

In that book, I pointed out that Christians can’t expect society to trend toward godliness if we sit on the sidelines, which, sadly, many Christians did for much of the middle of the twentieth century. We are to be salt and light for our nation.

As I studied Biblical principles, I concluded that America’s early history demonstrated a fidelity to many of those principles. Then, as I surveyed the current political landscape, I realized that what we call conservativsm (in the American context) had a close affinity with a Biblical worldview.

Consequently, I have argued for the strong connection between orthodox Christian faith and the conservatism that was allied primarily with the Republican brand. This connection received strong support from my reading in American history—the ultimate source, for me, being the masterful explication of that truth through Whittaker Chambers’s thoughtful and admirably written autobiography Witness.

In that volume, Chambers traced his rescue from the false god of communism, which sought to place Man on a pedestal—man’s mind substituting itself for the God of all creation (even man’s mind).

I read Witness in the 1980s at the same time as I was living through the years of the Reagan administration. All of the reading I had done previously in the conservative magazine National Review came to fruition in the person of Reagan. The 1980s decade was crucial to the development of my worldview, especially when I returned wholeheartedly to my Christian roots after a period of spiritual wandering.

Another book I read at that time was George Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945. It provided all the background I needed to dissect not only the history of American conservatism, but also the various branches of it and how it all came together to place Reagan in the Oval Office.

Nash’s book, along with Reagan’s autobiography, An American Life, form the foundation now for a course I teach called “Ronald Reagan and Modern American Conservatism.”

Why am I spending so much time telling you about why I came to believe what I do? I want you to see that my beliefs are not based merely on transitory feelings nor an outgrowth of some kind of anger or resentment about the direction of America’s culture.

I don’t respond to the political world out of a motive of hitting back at those who are destroying what America should be. Rather, I come at this from a well-developed philosophy that rests, first and foremost, on my Christian faith and its application to government and, secondly, from a prolonged and intense study of what conservatism is and how it should be manifested in policy.

As a result, I’ve always promoted Christian involvement in government and politics and hoped that this involvement would make things better. Mind you, I’ve never adopted the fanciful idea that humans will create heaven on earth—the sinfulness of mankind prohibits that. But is better too much to expect if Christians live up to their responsibility?

Yet, I must admit, as many of you know from reading my blog over the past year and a half, that my confidence in the efficacy of Christian involvement has been shaken. Previously, I had an assurance that Christians would use their influence to help the nation become more righteous, and that we would lend our support only to those who were worthy of that support.

What I have witnessed instead is something else. I was shocked, frankly, by the rush (by conservatives in general and Christian conservatives in particular) to praise and vote for a presidential candidate who was an unrepentant serial adulterer, who came across as a crass, rude egotist, and who proved himself to be a consummate liar throughout the primaries.

Now, I know there are some distinctions to be made: some Christians only reluctantly cast their vote for that man after the primaries when it came down to a choice between two reprobates. How many times did I hear the refrain: “We need to vote for the lesser of two evils”?

Although I couldn’t, in conscience, follow that path, I understood why some chose it.

What I have never come to grips with, or have any sense of peace about, is the chorus of those who claim the Lordship of Christ, but nevertheless have become a cheering section for the president no matter what he does or says, regardless of how petty, egotistical, or outrageous his actions and words may be.

Where in Christendom, Whittaker Chambers once asked, is the Christian?

When we subordinate righteousness to political expediency, we become our own worst enemies and deface the true Gospel message. We destroy the Christian witness to the world; bearing that witness is our highest God-ordained task.

Lately, I’ve seen this erupt again with the Alabama senatorial race. Despite accusations against the Republican candidate that have credibility (especially coming from so many people who don’t know each other), I’ve seen Christians reflexively defend the candidate by accepting rather unbelievable conspiracy theories. If you are going to defend him, find more solid ground to do so and don’t shut your eyes and ears to evidence that goes against what you want to be the truth.

Is this what we’ve come to?

So what about me? Do I change my message and tell Christians to abandon the field and let politics run its course without us? As tempting as that may be, I cannot succumb to the temptation. What I can do, though, is make sure that my priorities are correct so that the purity of the Gospel is not stained by political expediency.

I also will continue to call Christians back to that top priority. I hope some will heed the call. Government will never be our savior. Jesus Christ is the only Messiah, and our lives must be a reflection of His righteousness.

An Exclusivity Available for All

I’m an exclusivist. That doesn’t sound good, does it? If someone says that, the image of “elitist,” “snob,” or “self-righteous” might present itself to the mind of whoever hears such a statement.

Yet I’m an exclusivist without being any of those other things. In fact, God calls us to attach ourselves to His exclusivity. The Christian faith is an exclusive faith. It makes the outrageous statement (outrageous to those who don’t like to hear it) that there is no other way to have a relationship with God and to attain to an eternal life in His presence except by believing that Jesus Christ is the only Way, Truth, and Life.

Jesus Himself said that. It didn’t originate with me. And it’s affirmed throughout the entire New Testament. For instance, in the book of Acts, we’re told, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (4:12)

That rankles many. They want to believe instead that all paths ultimately lead to God, that we all will end up at the same place in the end. They have this rosy picture that everyone, or nearly everyone (we must exclude Hitler, of course) will enter the celestial gates into heaven (and their concept of what that is will vary considerably).

I am an exclusivist. I believe instead that those celestial gates are not the final destination for everyone who passes from this life. What leads me to believe that? It comes back to another statement from Jesus:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt. 7:13-14)

That’s a sad truth, but it’s not because God wants it to be that way. His offer of salvation is not limited to those few who find the small gate and the narrow road.

[God our Savior] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus. (I Tim. 2:3-5)

[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9)

So, even though the Christian faith makes the most exclusivist of all claims—that there is only one way to God—that way through the Cross is available to all. Forgiveness, the grace to live righteously, and the promise of heaven are realities. He has done everything for us; it simply remains for us to respond.

Sexual Harassment: The Christian Response?

What began with Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has turned into a daily report of the latest sexual harasser: Roy Moore (I’ll come back to him further down in this post); Al Franken; Charlie Rose; a New York Times reporter I don’t know; indications of a $17 million slush fund to bail out congressmen who are accused of sexual improprieties.

That last one is the news I woke up to today. Democrat Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, who has been in the House for 50 years (you read that correctly) has habitually used his office to press women for sexual favors. Color me not surprised.

People who get into positions of power often try to use that power for their own personal desires. That’s as old as the entire history of mankind. It’s called sin.

As a Christian, while I’m grieved that so many are being exposed as abusers of their power, I’m also gratified that they are now being called to account for what they have done. The politicians among them, though, may not suffer as much as those in the private sector who are being snared. Will Al Franken and John Conyers really have to resign, or will their Democrat colleagues circle the wagons to protect them?

In my view, all politicians who are caught in any kind of wrongdoing should step down and let someone else take their place. Of course, I’ve said that all along, as it should have happened nearly twenty years ago with a sitting president:

Now, when it no longer counts, some Democrats are speaking openly about how Clinton should have resigned. What’s the reason for this newfound courage? Could it be that Clinton, Inc. is no longer the power base it once was? It’s safer now to critique the Clinton brand after Hillary’s latest humiliating loss.

Let’s be honest: Bill Clinton was and is a man who has never said no to his sexual appetite. And while the country has been fixated on a different Southerner, there has been a case of historical amnesia about the former Southern president.

Now I must talk about Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the Senate from Alabama. I’ve been silent in this blog about the allegations swirling around him, waiting for the dust to settle and to give him whatever benefit of the doubt I can.

In the nine years that I’ve written this blog, I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned Moore. He made a name for himself as a staunch defender of the Ten Commandments being displayed in his courtroom and as a judge who said Alabama doesn’t have to abide by the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.

As a result, he became a champion of Christian conservatives. Many Christian leaders in the conservative movement have counted him as a friend. All of these reasons are why I’ve been hesitant to write about the allegations.

Yet while I certainly am not the final word on Roy Moore’s guilt or innocence, I’ve followed the story closely and feel compelled to say that the accusers are credible and Moore’s defense, such as it is, has been less than stellar.

Even in an atmosphere where the questions were not from the mainstream press—how can anyone in the Trump tradition find a more friendly interrogator than Sean Hannity?—Moore couldn’t come right out and say that he never dated teenagers when he was a man in his thirties.

His entire defense is simply a misdirection: it’s all a vast conspiracy by the Democrats and their media allies; ignore all the evidence backing up the accusations; they’re just out to get me.

That sounds pretty Clintonesque to me, shades of Hillary’s “vast right-wing conspiracy” back in 1998-1999.

Well, says Moore, I never dated anyone that young without asking permission of their mothers first. How about not dating anyone who is underage? Did that ever occur to him?

Frankly, I find it nearly impossible to believe his protestations. Two of his accusers say they voted for Trump; others who know them attest that they have told their stories over the years but were afraid to stand up publicly against Moore because of his high position in government; many others in the community where he lives are now going public with his old habit of cruising the mall and restaurants, looking for teens to date.

The Republican party, cognizant that he is a drag on the image of the party, has largely abandoned him, and I don’t blame the leadership at all for doing so.

What pains me the most is the cavalcade of Christians who stand by Moore for no other reason than they are more attracted to the conspiracy theory he’s spinning than the actual facts that are coming out about his past.

Well, I’m told, we all have things in our past. He’s changed. My response? First, one of the accusers, who was not one of the teens targeted, notes that her bad experience with him was in 1991, after Moore was married. Further, if he’s truly a new man in Christ, why not come clean and simply say that was his former self? No, he just sticks to the conspiracy story.

My biggest concern in this Moore controversy is that Christians come out of it with their integrity intact. I feel the same way about what is happening now as I did with Christians boarding the Trump train.

How much are we willing to put up with before we realize we are supposed to stand for righteousness?

Life Has Never Been Normal: Lewis on War

World War I devastated Europe and decimated the male populations of Britain and France. C. S. Lewis served in that war, even though, having grown up in Northern Ireland, he wasn’t required to do so. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he doesn’t spend a lot of time describing his wartime experience, but what he does relate is striking:

The war—the frights, the cold, . . . the horribly smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass, the boots worn day and night till they seemed to grow to your feet—all this shows rarely and faintly in memory.

It is too cut off from the rest of my experience and often seems to have happened to someone else. It is even in a way unimportant.

How can anyone have seen what Lewis saw and yet say that it was, in a way, unimportant?

He published his autobiography in the mid-1950s; prior to that, he had laid out his philosophy of the significance of war in an essay called “Learning in War-Time,” spurred on by those who thought the intellectual activities of the universities should cease during such a harrowing time. Lewis disagreed and offered this perspective:

War creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.

Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself.

If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.”

Life has never been normal.

I remember the first time I read that. It struck a chord deep within me. I, along with probably most of humanity, yearn for the normal. Yet what is ever really normal? We have in our minds the concept of normal (always peaceful, never disturbed by trials and tribulations, unceasing happiness—or at the very least, the avoidance of any genuine pain). Yet how often is that the case?

Lewis continues in that essay with a thought that is so commonsensical that it shouldn’t shock us, but the way he states it does give a jolt:

What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent: 100 per cent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased. . . .

Does it increase our chances of painful death? I doubt it. . . . Does it decrease our chances of dying at peace with God? I cannot believe it. If active service does not persuade a man to prepare for death, what conceivable concatenation of circumstances would?

As we’re told in the book of Hebrews, we all have an appointment with death, it will happen only once, and afterward we face judgment before the Throne.

A few years after writing that essay, Lewis gave the world The Screwtape Letters and, in a different format, made the same argument. Screwtape scolds his trainee, Wormwood, for being so delighted that men have started another war. There is a danger to satanic plans in the midst of war, he warns him:

How disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In war-time not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.

Screwtape, of course, is referring to living forever in this world. By God’s grace, though, we will live forever in the new heaven and new earth.

In the meantime, though, it would be best for us to take to heart that life has never been normal, is not now normal, and we will not awake tomorrow to the kind of normality our flesh seeks. Yet, with the Holy Spirit as our Guide and Helper, we can navigate this absence of normality (as we define it) and see God’s hand at work in all the abnormality we must face day by day.

Evangelicals, Morality, & Politics

I came across a new poll yesterday that I wish could have surprised me more than it did. It’s only one poll, but, sadly, it mirrors what I have been observing in recent years, especially since the last presidential campaign. It’s about people like me: white evangelicals. Here’s what it shows:

I can hear the response already: well, God can use people in public office who are not Christians. I agree. He can. But please show me any Scripture that encourages Christians to actively promote ungodly, immoral people as our political leaders.

My greatest concern is not for our national politics; rather, it’s for the witness we are supposed to be to the world. We are supposed to be the salt that preserves what is righteous and good. We are supposed to be lights that reveal the path God wants all to follow.

I’ll just let the apostle Paul end my blog today. Chapter 5 of Ephesians says what I think we need to hear:

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. . . .

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.

But all things become visible when they are exposed to the light. . . .

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil.

A Tale of Evil, Incompetence, & Heroism

Few people who go to church on Sunday expect to encounter mass murder. We think we are in a safe place. Yet sin abounds, and there is no place that is 100% safe. Last Sunday, a presumably safe place in a small Texas church turned into a scene of terror.

Details are now emerging about that killing spree. We see a combination of evil, incompetence, and, as we more recently found out, heroism.

The evil was in the heart of the perpetrator, Devin Kelley. We now know that he was a wife and child abuser, more than once. While in the Air Force, his actions of domestic abuse landed him in confinement for a year and he received a bad conduct discharge.

The incompetence focuses on the Air Force, which somehow forgot to enter his name into the National Criminal Information Center database, which would have disallowed him from purchasing guns.

Kelley was also an outspoken atheist, ranting against God and Christians on Facebook.

In a press conference yesterday, it was revealed that Kelley had a dispute with his mother-in-law who goes to that church, so the official claimed Kelley’s actions had nothing to do with religion; it was simply a domestic issue.

If that’s all this was, why try to kill everyone in the church?

No, this is deeper. This is rebellion against God and everything the Christian faith stands for. Kelley hated Christians, with his mother-in-law representing an outlet for his hatred.

The words of Jesus at the Last Supper recorded in John 15 come to mind:

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. . . . If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. . . . All these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.

Christians have been and are persecuted and attacked worldwide. We’re only now coming to grips with what might happen in America in the future. We’ve felt “safe,” but that safe feeling may be ending.

I mentioned heroism. It turns out that a neighbor heard the gunshots, grabbed his gun, and engaged Kelley, wounding him. He then followed Kelley all the way to the place where he apparently committed suicide by ramming his vehicle and overturning it.

The man who confronted Kelley, Stephen Willeford, is a former NRA instructor. Contrary to what some might think, that means he trained people to use guns wisely and carefully. He followed his own advice. And because of that Second Amendment right, more lives probably were saved.

Willeford says he’s no hero: “I think my God … protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done.”

That kind of humility and dependence on God is actually a mark of genuine heroism, the kind God rewards.

Lewis on the Ancient vs. the Modern

C. S. Lewis exchanged Oxford for Cambridge in 1955. He never received the recognition he deserved at Oxford; Cambridge offered him a special professorial chair designed with him in mind. It was a major event when he gave his inaugural Cambridge lecture, speaking to a full house about the distinctions between the ancient and the modern.

It’s in that lecture, De Descriptione Temporum,” that he made his oft-quoted comment about being a dinosaur because he was an Old Western Man, a type he claimed would not be around much longer.

Another passage in that lecture that is well worth contemplating is the part where he critiques the idea that just because something is new it must naturally be better.

“How has it come about,” he queried, “that we use the highly emotive word ‘stagnation,’ with all its malodorous and malarial overtones, for what other ages would have called ‘permanence'”? He continued,

Why does the word “primitive” at once suggest to us clumsiness, inefficiency, barbarity? When our ancestors talked of the primitive church or the primitive purity of our constitution they meant nothing of that sort. . . . Why does “latest” in advertisements mean “best”?

Acceptance of Darwinian evolutionism as applied to all aspects of society was one answer, he affirmed. We are all supposedly evolving and getting better all the time. But along with that, the coming of the age of the machines helps explain it more fully.

It is the image of old machines being superseded by new and better ones. For in the world of machines the new most often really is better and the primitive really is the clumsy. And this image, potent in all our minds, reigns almost without rival in the minds of the uneducated.

Technological improvements, Lewis opined, become milestones in people’s lives. He used examples from his day: the development from an old push-bike to a motorbike to a car; from gramophone to radio to television. Today, we can use other examples: the latest I-Phone simply must be purchased because it’s so much better.

This way of looking at things—this approach to life—has left “footprints on our language,” Lewis asserted, and is the very thing “that separates us most sharply from our ancestors and whose absence would strike us as most alien if we could return to their world.”

What if those ancestors could somehow make a trek into our modern world?

Conversely, our assumption that everything is provisional and soon to be superseded, that the attainment of goods we have never yet had, rather than the defence and conservation of those we have already, is the cardinal business of life, would most shock and bewilder them if they could visit ours.

As a historian, I love Lewis’s analysis of the differences between the past and the present. I agree that we have changed our language and definition of terms sometimes in a downward direction.

As a Christian, I resonate with his attachment to the permanent. Our society lives for the new, the more advanced, the latest novelty. Yet our society has little regard for that which needs to be preserved—ideas that permeated an earlier era: we are all made in the image of God; there are moral absolutes given by God; man, in society, needs to get as close to those absolutes as possible, and attain the moral character that they embody.

Will we see that kind of society again? It’s an open question.