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.

Man-Made Utopias: A Lewisian Assessment

The Almighty Mind of Man can do anything, we’re often promised. Every age has its share of utopians who believe that societal perfection lies at the other end of that proverbial rainbow (if only we could ever find the location of the “end”).

Karl Marx was positive that his scheme would usher in the perfect society where there would be no more government, no more religion, no more philosophy, and no more family.

The Age of Aquarius, that illusion of the generation in which I grew up, is no closer to reality now than it was when the Fifth Dimension sang about it so enthusiastically.

Dreams of a man-made utopia have always been with us, and I feel sorry for those who put their faith in those wisps of smoke. A more sober assessment, one based on Scripture, needs to take root. C. S. Lewis, in his superb essay, “Is Progress Possible: Willing Slaves of the Welfare State,” offers such an assessment:

[By] the advance, and increasing application, of science . . . we shall grow able to cure, and produce, more diseases—bacterial war, not bombs, might ring down the curtain—to alleviate, and to inflict, more pains, to husband, or to waste, the resources of the planet more extensively.

We can become either more beneficent or more mischievous. My guess is we shall do both; mending one thing and marring another, removing old miseries and producing new ones, safeguarding ourselves here and endangering ourselves there.

The Christian message is clear and forthright: all have sinned; sin destroys; mankind will never save itself; there will be no human utopia; salvation comes through One only; the genuine utopia is a place called Heaven, which will be established by God, not man.

While we work to make our existence on this small planet better, we must never lose sight of those Biblical truths. There are limits to what will be achieved, and we must understand those limits.

Each emerging generation seems to think it can achieve what no other generation has achieved, yet the message of the book of Ecclesiastes still rings true: there is nothing new under the sun.

Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and 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.

Defusing the Newburgh Conspiracy

The American Revolution was essentially over. British General Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781. Yet George Washington still had to keep his army together until a peace treaty was concluded. That didn’t happen until 1783.

Many of his officers were angry with Congress. They hadn’t been paid for a long time and were contemplating open mutiny, even to the point of marching on Congress, guns in hand.

They knew Washington wouldn’t approve their potential plans, so they turned to Gen. Horatio Gates, the supposed hero of Saratoga. He really wasn’t the hero (that honor actually belonged to Benedict Arnold, prior to his turning traitor), but public perception is sometimes everything.

Gates had humiliated himself at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina, not only losing the battle, but being in the forefront of the hasty retreat. Yet there were some who still clung to the false idea that he was a leader, so they looked to him to “lead” in this mutiny.

The army was encamped in Newburgh, New York, in March 1783, and that’s why this episode is called the Newburgh Conspiracy. The mutineers called a meeting to discuss how to proceed with their plans. Gates was in charge.

Then, unexpectedly, Washington appeared at this meeting. He knew what they were plotting, totally disapproved of the movement, and hoped to soothe their anger over how they had been treated.

Washington had not only led the army all those long years of the war, but he had carried on another “war,” so to speak, the entire time—trying to get Congress to follow through on promises made. He was in constant communication with the Congress and came into this meeting to let the officers know about the latest exchange with the political leaders.

Some have called what he did next “political theater,” but to me, it seems genuine enough. One account describes what happened this way:

With a sigh, he removed from his pocket a letter and announced it was from a member of Congress, and that he now wished to read it to them. He produced the letter, gazed upon it, manipulated it without speaking. What was wrong, some of the men wondered. Why did he delay?

Washington now reached into a pocket and brought out a pair of new reading glasses. Only those nearest to him knew he lately required them, and he had never worn them in public. Then he spoke: “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”

This simple act and statement by their venerated commander, coupled with remembrances of battles and privations shared together with him, and their sense of shame at their present approach to the threshold of treason, was more effective than the most eloquent oratory.

As he read the letter, many were in tears from the recollections and emotions which flooded their memories. As Maj. Samuel Shaw, who was present, put it in his journal, “There was something so natural, so unaffected in this appeal as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory. It forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye.”

Finishing, Washington carefully and deliberately folded the letter, took off his glasses, and exited briskly from the hall.

Immediately, Henry Knox and others faithful to Washington offered resolutions affirming their appreciation for their commander in chief, and pledging their patriotism and loyalty to the Congress, deploring and regretting those threats and actions which had been uttered and suggested. What support Gates and his group may have enjoyed at the outset of the meeting now completely disintegrated, and the Newburgh Conspiracy collapsed.

I share this story for two reasons: first, I want to showcase again the character George Washington brought to his public duties; second, I want emphasize that history sometimes turns on the actions of one individual.

Let’s never forget that our actions do have consequences. By being obedient to what we know is right in God’s eyes, we can truly make a difference in this world.

God’s Peace in a Nuclear Age: Wisdom from Lewis

I grew up with the nuclear threat; it’s always been there. C. S. Lewis didn’t. He was 46 when those bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending WWII. So one might expect a different reaction from someone in his generation. As he surveyed the response to this new weapon, he saw that many were nearly beside themselves with fear; yet he continued to offer clear thinking on this subject (as he did on all subjects).

Three years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he authored an essay called “On Living in an Atomic Age.” “In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb,” he argued. Many were asking, “How are we to live in an atomic age?”

I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

We should not “begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation,” he counseled. We need to keep in mind that all people “were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented,” and in case we are living in a fantasy, he added, “and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways.”

“Death itself,” Lewis reminds us, has never been “a chance at all, but a certainty.”

Then he gives this sound advice:

If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (any microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

I find Lewis’s perspective to be in accord with Scripture. Here are a few samples:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. –I Peter 5:6-7

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. –Psalm 23:4

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. –Matthew 6:34

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. –John 14:27

May the peace of God be with us all this day.

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?

A Speech Etched into America’s Memory

Yesterday, November 19, was the 154th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, one of the most significant and poignant speeches in American history—and also one of the shortest.

The battle at Gettysburg had occurred in July of 1863, three days of some of the most awful warfare the nation has ever endured. It was particularly awful because those who died were all Americans, fighting one another. It took from July to November to clean up the battlefield of all the dead. The carnage practically defied description.

Abraham Lincoln went to Gettysburg to commemorate the victory by Union forces. He wasn’t even advertised as the primary speaker that day—the renowned orator Edward Everett had top billing. Yet no one recalls Everett’s words now. Lincoln’s concise two-minute address has come down to us as one of the most eloquent ever delivered. It doesn’t take long to read, so I offer it to you here:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The photographer at the event figured he had time to make the changes necessary to the camera and still catch images of Lincoln’s speech, but he wasn’t prepared for one that short. The only photograph we have of that special occasion is one of Lincoln sitting down right after delivering his comments.

Lincoln’s only error in the speech was in saying that the world would not remember what was said there. At the time, newspapers mocked the president’s address, calling it embarrassing. Speakers were supposed to go on forever, thrilling their audiences with decorative flourishes of oratory. Lincoln instead opted for directness, simplicity, and heartfelt gratitude for those who died.

Most people don’t know that Lincoln was feeling ill at the time. It turned out he had contracted smallpox, although not a virulent strain. When I was last at the museum in Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC, I noticed this plaque that I thought was a splendid example of Lincoln’s sense of humor:

The Civil War was a constant strain on Lincoln, yet he learned how to handle the heavy burden placed on him. Evidence is strong that the trials he suffered led him back to Christian faith. The Gettysburg Address and his subsequent Second Inaugural Address give testimony to that faith.