Archive for the ‘ Politics & Government ’ Category

Rule of Law & the Constitutional Convention

In our era, when the rule of law seems to be weakening, it’s instructive to look back at how our cornerstone document, the Constitution, came into being. The 1780s, under the Articles of Confederation, saw a loose-knit assemblage of states that were in danger of splitting apart permanently. Those with concern for the rule of law and who had a vision for a better system urged a meeting of all the states to address the governmental crisis.

Twelve of the thirteen states responded to that call—tiny Rhode Island excepted due to fear of being overwhelmed by any change in the government—and sent delegates to Philadelphia. They met in this building in the summer of 1787, newly called Independence Hall, the place where they also debated and passed the Declaration of Independence eleven years earlier.

Of the thirty-nine individuals who eventually signed off on the new Constitution, over half had some training in the law. Lawyer jokes aside, that’s rather important, and was doubly so at that time, since all of them perceived of law as emanating from God ultimately, and not man.

They held to the conviction that man’s laws had to be in concert with God’s laws; otherwise, they would be invalid.

Half of the delegates had either attended or graduated from college. While that might seem to be a low percentage from the perspective of the twenty-first century, that was a high percentage in that era.

Further, thirty-three had served in the Continental Congress during the Revolution, a mark of stability and experience in governmental affairs. This was not to be an assembly of radicals who wanted to change everything.

Then, by choosing George Washington to preside over the convention, they provided its deliberations a respectability that all Americans would have to take seriously.

One delegate showed up with a plan: James Madison, probably the best researcher in the nation on the issue of good and effective government, offered his Virginia Plan, which became the basis for the debate as the convention went forward.

Madison’s influence was strong throughout that summer. He spoke frequently (second-highest number of speeches) and kept a record of what everyone said. Later, after all the delegates had died, his notes were published, and that book is now considered one of the most valuable of all American historical documents.

Another man, too infirm to be a delegate at this time, nevertheless made his mark on the Constitution because he was Madison’s mentor. Rev. John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey, guided all of Madison’s intellectual pursuits. They had even worked together in the Continental Congress.

Witherspoon is credited, during his time at the college (later to be renamed Princeton) with graduating, along with the expected ministers, many men who later became governmental leaders. Four others at the convention, besides Madison, had studied under Witherspoon. Overall, the graduates during his tenure account for a future president (Madison), a vice president (Aaron Burr, but don’t hold that against Witherspoon), nine cabinet officers, twenty-one senators, thirty-nine congressmen, three US Supreme Court justices, and twelve state governors.

There is ample reason to accept the title many have bestowed on Witherspoon as “The Man Who Shaped the Men Who Shaped America.”

Some of what occurred at the Constitutional Convention will be the subject of a future post. Sufficient for today is the result: a system of government that gave precedence to the rule of law for a fledgling nation and that has helped that nation survive many tumultuous episodes. Regardless of our concerns with how our government may be functioning now, we can still feel some measure of confidence in its stability due to the wisdom of those who constructed it.

A New Year of Observations & Analysis

I’m settled into my comfy recliner in my study, surrounded by books and enjoying a unique kind of coffee (I won’t go into that). So I’m relaxed and ready to begin another year of observations about God, man, society, and life in general.

Most people probably have this particular view of the new year:

Am I concerned about all those things? Absolutely.

Am I living in daily fear of nuclear holocaust, the undermining of the Republic, or the societal trends? No, because fear is too strong a term. I’m deeply disturbed by societal developments, but that’s not the same thing as living in fear.

I have a promise from a Higher Authority that when all is said and done, He will still be the Sovereign whom we all must eventually acknowledge, either willingly or with great regret:

At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:10)

I also lean on this promise as well as I face whatever may come this year:

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. (2 Tim. 1:7)

I won’t be timid this year. I will speak clearly about the truth of Christian faith, the necessity of discipleship, and the faith’s application to our world’s woes.

I will also speak clearly about what I see happening in our government. There are those who say we should never involve ourselves with matters of this world since it is passing away. Yet I read that we are supposed to be salt and light.

The responsibility for being salt and light is to be honest about what we see. So not everything I write will be praise for the actions of those who wield the levers of temporal power. Yet I will strive to be fair.

Regular readers of this blog know full well my concerns about Donald Trump. I am gratified by many of the decisions being made by his administration, but I also know he can’t take credit for everything. Others work hard behind the scenes, thankfully, to do their best to correct his natural bent.

How I feel about the Trump presidency at this point is precisely what commentator David French explained yesterday. It’s a fair and balanced assessment. I offer it here for those interested.

I do want the best for Trump and for the nation. But there are the issues of character, ignorance of facts, and temperament to consider.

I pledge to pray for him and all those who work with him. That’s a commandment I take seriously.

My year of observations and analysis, though, will not be dominated by politics. If you have been following this blog, you may have noticed that the number of posts devoted to politics has lessened. I believe the Lord is directing me more toward other reflections. We’ll see how that plays out.

So as we enter into the tempest of 2018—for that is undoubtedly what it will be—may we do so with full confidence that if we have submitted our lives to Him, we can be sure He will direct our path.

I leave you today with this bit of encouragement:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)

Here’s What Concerns Me

It’s a very easy thing to loathe politics; it can be a very loathsome thing, exposing as it does the basest of human interactions: petty jealousies, outsized egos; personal insults; the precedence of expediency over principle.

I do understand why people want to avoid it.

All along the political spectrum there are people who operate at the lowest level of morality and who seem to delight in tearing down those with whom they disagree. Some of those people do so purely for their own personal gain—it’s primarily just a selfish thing.

But there are others—true believers in a cause—who all too often get so wrapped up in their cause (and it can be a righteous cause) that they cast caution aside and act in ways that are actually detrimental to what they hope to achieve.

Frankly, I’m distressed over the turn politics has taken on the conservative side. Wait a minute, what about those liberals and their unsavory tactics? Are you ignoring them? Only someone who has never read this blog over the past nine years could think that. Yes, the liberal/progressive approach has almost always been loathsome.

What concerns me is that some conservatives now think they have to copy that loathsomeness in response. Whenever we do that, we lose—our principles, our character, and our long-term influence.

Need I say that it is also unchristian to act in that way?

I find history to be a guide. When the communist threat was very real back in the late 1940s, Whittaker Chambers sacrificed his great job, high salary, and reputation to expose what he knew from his time in the underground. He was actuated by the need to tell the truth, but he did so, as he noted, with pity and remorse. He didn’t hate anyone on the other side; he simply wanted to make sure the nation knew what was happening, so that the nation might respond appropriately and survive.

Then along came a man by the name of Joe McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin. He jumped into this fight with communism, but not with the Chambers attitude. While Chambers certainly fought with all he had against the evil of communism, he did so with the goal of restoration. McCarthy merely wanted to bring down the other side (and burnish his image in the process, of course).

We have, in letters Chambers wrote to William F. Buckley, a commentary on McCarthy’s approach to the communist threat. He felt McCarthy would ultimately fail. Why? Here are some excerpts:

As the picture unfolds, the awful sense begins to invade you, like a wave of fatigue, that the Senator is a bore. . . .

[McCarthy’s approach] is repetitious and unartful, and, with time, the repeated dull thud of the low blow may prove to be the real factor in his undoing. . . . He lacks variety, and, in the end, simply puts the audience to sleep.

I used to listen to and watch a number of conservative programs because it was refreshing to hear someone who believed what I believe—fresh voices in a media dominated by liberalism. After a while, though, I saw what Chambers saw in McCarthy, which is a tendency toward laborious repetition that numbs the soul. I don’t pay much attention to those programs anymore.

Chambers continued,

He is at bottom a naive and simple-hearted man. . . . I said long since that the crucial question about Senator McCarthy was not whether his aims are ultimately good or bad, but whether his intelligence is equal to his energy.

There are many conservatives who are simple-hearted (that part is good) with admirable aims, but I also wonder if their intelligence is equal to the task.

Chambers’s analysis of McCarthy included this gem:

It is more and more my reluctant opinion that he is a tactician, rather than a strategist: that he continually, by reflex rather than calculation, sacrifices the long view for the short pull.

Certain tactics may get you a short-term win, but at what price? Does anyone see a current example of this?

Finally, there was this warning that Chambers sounded, a warning that became prophetic because it went just the way he warned:

All of us, to one degree or another, have slowly come to question his judgment and to fear acutely that his flair for the sensational, his inaccuracies and distortions, his tendency to sacrifice the greater objective for the momentary effect, will lead him and us into trouble.

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long while to come.

That’s exactly what happened, and the term “McCarthyism” has never left our political vocabulary; it’s always whipped out to taint conservatives whenever we try to point out the evil nature of socialism/communism or any other threat to the nation.

Why do I write this at this time in our history?

I have the same fear that Chambers expressed in those letters. I see conservatives (and Christian conservatives as well) throwing away principles and embracing expediency, going for the short-term gain while blinded to the long-term loss of using those tactics, and eventually discrediting all efforts to return the nation to its basic Biblical morality and constitutionally conservative concepts.

We are not to be like the other side. We are to be the calm, reasoned voices, calling people back to the only truths that will sustain a culture.

Will we fulfill that calling or succumb to the temptation of typical politics? Frankly, I don’t know the answer to that. All I can say is that I’m seriously disappointed in the trend I now see.

May God have mercy on us.

No Winner in Alabama

The Alabama Senate race is finally over, and the result was a foregone conclusion: there is no winner. No matter who was going to come out on top, it would be a loss for America.

The ostensible winner, Democrat Doug Jones, is a far-left radical who doesn’t believe there is any right to life until a baby comes out of the womb. He is an Alabama anomaly who never had a hope of winning this Senate seat until Republicans chose the only person he could beat.

If Roy Moore had won, the republic wouldn’t have been in much better shape, and Republicans would have had the Moore albatross around their necks for the next two years.

My objections to Moore go beyond the sexual allegations, which are serious in themselves and which he not only never really answered, but about which he kept changing his story: at first, he declared he never dated anyone without asking the mother’s permission (that can only apply to minors), then switched to saying he never dated any teen when he was in his thirties; he knew some of the accusers, then he didn’t. His entire defense was “Look, media conspiracy!”

This is especially sad to me because so many Christians were pinning their hopes on Moore, much as they did (and continue to do) with Trump.

Beyond the sexual allegations, Moore also wasn’t all that knowledgeable about the issues, from what I have read. He’s an unabashed Obama birther (I know, some of you still cling to that, but it’s untenable), didn’t know what DACA meant when interviewed, and frankly, wouldn’t really have been that reliable a conservative vote on a number of policies.

Shall I continue?

Moore made his mark in Alabama by standing against the removal of the Ten Commandments from his courtroom and for refusing to accept the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage.

I agree with Moore on both of those issues, yet his public persona came across as grandstanding for personal celebrity. That was my opinion even before all the new allegations surfaced. I was never comfortable with him because I doubted either his genuineness or his wisdom—I wasn’t sure which. Maybe both.

So where are we now, those of us who want Christian principles and morality to be the hallmark of our politics?

Look for the silver linings.

First, Moore will no longer be the main topic of conversation on the national political scene. That’s a plus.

Second, Jones will have this Senate seat for only two years, as it’s merely the remainder of Jeff Sessions’s term. That means the Republicans, if they have learned their lesson, just might nominate someone who can win that seat back. it shouldn’t be hard, as Alabama voters, without Roy Moore on the ticket, are reliably conservative.

Third, prospects for Republicans gaining Senate seats in 2018 still look good since Democrats have more vulnerable seats coming up in that election.

Fourth, Moore will no longer be the main topic of conversation on the national political scene. Wait, did I already say that?

My fervent prayer this morning: God, please bless America despite our many sins and our attempt at national suicide. Spare us. We fall back on Your mercy, which is our only hope.

The Latest News Roundup

Republicans have almost accomplished something—almost because the House and the Senate still have to iron out differences—but it looks like a tax cut bill is ready to become reality.

Democrats criticized the Senate version as being cobbled together at the last moment, thereby not giving enough time to study it. Does that concern jog anyone else’s memory?

Yes, they didn’t exhibit this type of concern back in the Obamacare days.

One feature of the bill is something Ted Cruz added to it. I’ll let him explain:

The Senate also voted to adopt my amendment to expand 529 College Savings Plans to include K-12 elementary and secondary school tuition for public, private, and religious schools, including K-12 educational expenses for homeschool students.

I appreciate Cruz’s concern for families, and that it extends to Christian schools and those who choose homeschooling. The Democrats’ reaction to the Republican bill is perhaps best expressed by their Senate leader, Chuck Schumer:

What else has been happening? How about the wheels of justice in a place like San Francisco, where the illegal immigrant who was deported five times and then shot and killed Kate Steinle was acquitted by a jury of San Francisco citizens?

I think most of America has a different verdict to offer to the denizens of that Far Left enclave:

Also, the Mueller probe continues, in which former Trump advisor Michael Flynn has now accepted a guilty plea for lying to the FBI. I don’t condone Flynn’s actions nor his sometimes shady activities, but the glee on the Left reached new heights when ABC reporter (?) Brian Ross, citing a single anonymous source, declared that Flynn was prepared to testify that Donald Trump, as a candidate for president, told him to contact Russians.

The glee turned gloomy when the report turned out to be false. Ross has now been suspended for four weeks and has been informed that he will not be allowed to cover Trump news.

Lest you think everything has been rosy for the president, don’t forget that he tweets. He’s now claiming that the voice on that infamous NBC tape in which he boasted about how he could do pretty much anything he wanted with women due to his celebrity—you know, the tape that almost brought down his candidacy—is not really his voice at all.

Really.

We’re supposed to ignore the fact that he acknowledged back then that it was indeed his voice and that he offered somewhat of an apology for those words. I say “somewhat” because apology is not part of his vocabulary.

Even when things go right for Donald Trump, he is capable of ruining good news.

I shouldn’t neglect to mention that North Korea keeps firing missiles. It appears that rogue nation now has the ability to send one directly into the heart of America. What’s the next step for us in response to this threat?

I really hope we come up with something better than that.

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.

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?