November 22, 1963

JFK in DallasI remember the day vividly. Well, the entire four days, actually. On Friday, November 22, 1963, I was in my junior high classroom that afternoon. It was a little strange at first because the teacher wasn’t in the room; he was huddled with other teachers in the hallway just outside. They were listening to a transistor radio. I recall all the students were wondering what was happening. Then he came in the room and told us that President Kennedy had been shot. No one knew yet how seriously.

Gym class came next. We talked about how everything would be fine; after all, this was America, so there was no way our president would die. I don’t remember the exact moment reality hit, but it was shortly after that. Junior high optimism proved too optimistic.

Probably the entire country was glued to the television throughout the weekend and into Monday when the funeral was broadcast. Along the way, I somehow missed the live TV moment when Jack Ruby emerged from the crowd at the Dallas police station and shot Oswald. Other than that, though, I was a witness to history in the making.

Yet there were many things of which I was unaware. As I watched TV icon Walter Cronkite struggle to maintain his composure while reporting the developing story, I didn’t know that the man we were mourning had a stunningly false resumé handcrafted by a father whose primary purpose in life was to place one of his sons in the White House. Those bestselling books and that Pulitzer Prize Jack Kennedy had won were the result of a team of writers who then put his name on them.

While viewing the many tear-stained faces of grieving Americans, I had no knowledge of the way the Kennedy clan hid the president’s many health problems so the public wouldn’t realize he was dependent on painkilling drugs to get by. The public image, of course, was of robust youthfulness. Neither did I know the quack doctor administering those drugs had a nickname—Dr. Feelgood. I wonder if the nation would have felt good about that.

As I held back my own emotions when the widow and her children stood outside as the casket passed by, I was in the dark about the moral character of the man in that casket. If I had known at the time that he was a serial adulterer, aided and abetted by his own Secret Service, would those emotions I felt have been different?

JFK GraveAnd as he was lowered into the grave that even now has an eternal flame above it, my youthful ignorance kept me from knowing his very election as president was suspect. Massive voter fraud on his behalf in Illinois and Texas, much of that again orchestrated by his father, is what gave Kennedy the victory. Chicago mayor Richard Daley put his machine to work to dig up enough votes from the graveyards of the city to give the state to the Democrats in 1960. Texas, basically run by JFK’s running mate, Lyndon Johnson, also manufactured more votes in certain districts than actual voters on the rolls.

Many people today don’t know these facts. As a historian, I have no excuse; I have to be honest about what really happened and about the character of the man we remember on this 50th anniversary of his death. That doesn’t make the event any less tragic; the nation never needs a trauma like this. But it doesn’t help us as a people to remain ignorant of truth. We need to be clear-eyed about our history.

As awful as the assassination of a president always is, let’s keep some perspective. John F. Kennedy was not a heroic figure in his personal life. He made many mistakes as president, the Bay of Pigs fiasco being the most obvious. Even his achievements in the Cuban Missile Crisis are mixed. Yes, he forced the USSR to withdraw the missiles, but at what price? He pledged never again to help the Cuban exiles take their country back from the communist dictator Fidel Castro. That tyrant still lives today, and Cuba continues to suffer from the fallout of his stern rule.

Lost in the many documentary tributes appearing on TV this entire month is the real nature of the man being honored and the paucity of his accomplishments. I still experience many of the feelings others do about this tragedy; I saw it unfold myself as a child of twelve. One cannot forget the poignancy of those days and the grief that overwhelmed. Yet now I can step back and analyze it better, distanced somewhat from childish emotions.

Something else I didn’t know on November 22, 1963, was that another man died on that day, far away from my own frame of reference as a young boy in a small Indiana town. Across the Atlantic, in a Great Britain I had never yet visited, an author I had not yet read also passed away. His name was C. S. Lewis. His life and writings have, over time, proven far more influential than that of the man most people remember on this anniversary.

God has a different standard of judgment than the mass of mankind. He sees the heart. On that fateful day in November 1963, it could be that only one of those men who died awoke to find himself in the presence of the One he adored. I will write more of him tomorrow.

The Greatest Scandal of All

The word “scandal” is increasingly being used to describe a multitude of developments in this Age of Obama. I thought it might be helpful to define the term. After looking up a number of definitions, I think this one summarizes pretty well:

An action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.

In order to properly identify a scandal, there must first be a standard of morality that nearly all adhere to, and there must be a commitment to the rule of law to judge legality. To complete the definition, there must also be a sense of public outrage over the event or action. For me, and others who think like me, a lot of what has been transpiring around us clearly fits the definition. The problem is there are fewer people who think the way we do: the Biblical standard of morality that once infused our society is crumbling; the rule of law, which is closely allied to that morality, is falling with it; and the public outrage, which should be universal, never touches a large segment of the population.

People do get selectively outraged. Some individuals, by their over-the-top actions, create an atmosphere of general revulsion:

Mars Colony

There are times when a systemic problem encourages and abets inexcusable actions, such as the Ft. Hood killings. The general public might still get outraged over this one, provided the media cooperates in revealing the systemic problem:

Unindicted Co-Conspirator

Some things that should be scandals become acceptable over time—they slowly creep up on us and become part of the culture before most people realize it. Of course, those very people who are slow to realize it are the ones who voted for it in the first place:

Diet Plate

The scandals that have most recently gained our attention are only symptoms of the growth of government. What most people don’t understand is that they are undermining our entire system:

We the People

Anyone who votes for a party that seeks to ignore and/or destroy the rule of law is an accomplice in scandal. It’s hard for there to be general outrage over this when half the country votes for it. If we want to locate the basic problem, and the source of all our scandals, we have to look in the mirror.

What has happened to the American character? Rejection of God and His moral law is at the root of our current political, economic, and social distresses. We will never adequately deal with those distresses until we first return to God’s truths and proclaim our fidelity to them. If we continue to dismiss God’s perfectly reasonable morality, we can only expect things to decline further. And what’s worse is we won’t even be outraged anymore by the decline. That’s the greatest scandal of all.

Morality in Government: The Sanford Case

I argue constantly for Biblical morality to be the standard for our government, not only in its policies but also in the people who make those policies. One of the most poignant quotes I pass on to my students comes from John Adams, who warned,

We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge . . . would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.

When a nation’s morality plummets, so does the nation. This is particularly true when the citizens choose their civic leaders. I’ve often said our government is no more than a reflection of those who put it into power.

If I lived in a certain district in South Carolina this past week, I would have had to make a hard decision. Mark Sanford, the former governor of the state, was running for a congressional seat in a special election. Sanford has become infamous for brazen lying and adultery. As governor, he kept going on secret forays to Argentina to see a mistress while publicly saying things like he was out hiking on the Appalachian Trail. When the truth became known, he found himself the focal point of disdain and jokes.

Sanford, of course, is hardly the only politician with unsavory character. Give me time and I could come up with quite an extensive list of public officials no better than he. That, in itself, is the bane of our political life, and it is why some Christians shy away from any political involvement, thereby withdrawing their positive influence from our government.

This special election pit Sanford against Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a political neophyte and the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert. What went largely unreported in the media is the fact that she spent some time in jail back in the late 1980s for contempt of court while going through a messy divorce. I don’t know all the details of that incident, but it certainly should have been part of her resumé upon which the voters were to make their choice. The media—and this was a national event for them—simply ignored that fact. A good portion of the media saw this election as a harbinger of what is to come in the 2014 congressional elections. Many were hoping Busch would win as a sign that Democrats will take back the House next year.

Back to the question: what would I have done as a resident in this district? First, I believe in forgiveness, and that would apply to both candidates. However, forgiveness comes only after genuine repentance. That’s God’s standard, and it should be mine also. Busch, to the best of my knowledge, has no Christian foundation to her life or her political stance. She was heavily supported financially by Nancy Pelosi, a maneuver that apparently backfired on her in that conservative district. At least that’s some of the analysis that has appeared after Sanford’s victory.

What of Sanford? He spends a lot of time talking about God’s forgiveness, yet I have not seen any real repentance on his part. He never made a serious attempt to reconcile with his wife; as a father, he has now practically deserted his children, and his mistress is hanging around, ready to take on her new role, presumably, as the new Mrs. Sanford.

As a voter, what I would have before me is a choice between two very flawed people: the Republican who stood for family values and then hypocritically repudiated them; the Democrat who has some history of a run-in with the law and whose policies would be contributing to the overall decline of the nation. And that then becomes the crucial feature for me.

While I decry Sanford’s immorality and don’t want to see him rewarded for it, I know that another pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, pro-Obamacare member of the House helps destroy the entire nation. Sanford, at least, will probably vote the way I wish he would on most issues. Busch never would do so. She would help advance an anti-Christian, anti-family agenda that will do far more lasting harm than anything Sanford has done or may do. Consequently, as distasteful as it would have been, I would have had to cast my ballot for him.

One of the more comical aspects of this whole affair, so to speak, is how concerned Democrats suddenly became over moral issues. When it works to their advantage, they will trumpet the moral failures of Republicans. But there’s one thing to remember, illustrated quite well, I believe, by this classic political cartoon from a number of years ago:

It’s not hard to clear the bar if it is set so low to begin with.

Meanwhile, what of Sanford? I presume he’s looking at his newly won congressional seat as a political comeback.

Outwardly, this is a comeback, to be sure. But redemption is not primarily external. True redemption occurs in the heart. Unless Sanford experiences that true redemption, I would urge Republicans in his district to begin looking for a suitable challenger in the primary next year. Putting moral people in government should remain a top priority.

Our Departure from the Laws of God

Four people died in the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt. Four people died in the Benghazi terrorist attack. We had wall-to-wall coverage of the first, virtually nothing on the second, although that may be changing. Hearings this week will highlight whistleblowers who have tales to tell about this administration’s attempt to cover up its incompetence and failure to act. That failure seems to be the result of lack of desire to call out Islamic terrorism for what it is and to ensure reelection by shoving the event under the rug. As the pressure mounts for the truth to be known, how does our president spend his time? What does he consider worthy of attention?

The NBA player is being hailed as a “hero” for coming forward with a declaration of his homosexuality. It’s kind of an upside-down world when that is celebrated and a solid Christian faith is not:

Here’s another example of how backward we have become morally:

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on Kermit Gosnell. One has to wonder if justice will be served there, given the moral state of the country. Who are the jurors? Will they realize the immensity of the depravity on display? Four died in Boston. Four died in Benghazi. Thousands died at the hands of Gosnell. He is the face of the entire abortion industry, which has rightly been termed the New Holocaust. As with Auschwitz, perhaps we should make Gosnell’s facility into a somber reminder of our departure from the laws of God:

Hope in a Deteriorating Culture

The culture shift of the past forty to fifty years has been astounding. I remember the late 1960s when it began in earnest. Being in college from 1969-1973, during the height of the Vietnam War, meant interacting with that shift constantly. Yet, even in the midst of such influences, my Christian faith was confirmed and became more real than ever.

This is what gives me hope.

Today, those influences are more in-your-face than before. We’ve seen radical changes in the acceptance of what was before deemed immoral sexual behavior. It now threatens basic organizations that used to promote values consistent with Biblical faith.

That cartoonist was taking a chance by clearly calling homosexuality a sin. I applaud his willingness to stand up for truth and accepting the consequences that may follow. How much longer will his syndicate put up with those views? We still have freedom of speech technically, but the pressure is being applied to bow to the “new wisdom.”

The family structure is breaking down. We now consider almost any arrangement to be a family. And parental oversight of their children? What has become of that?

When 70% of inner-city children have no father, we shouldn’t be surprised at the outcome. Another factor in the deterioration of morality is the steady diet of violence to which children are subjected. I’m not saying all violence needs to be censored, but there’s a way to portray it within a moral framework. Unfortunately, that is no longer the norm:

Then we attempt to fool ourselves into believing it does no harm.

Yes, things are demonstrably worse now than in my early years. Yet the remedy remains the same: the application of the gospel to individual lives. If enough lives are changed by the God who reaches out to the lost, a society can turn around. I’m not a wishful thinker; I see the reality. However, I see a deeper reality behind what the world sees. Until God gives up on us, I’m not going to give up either. That time may be coming, but until I’m convinced we’ve come to that stage, I will continue to speak up for the One who is the truth. If those who know Him are faithful to that calling, you never know what can happen.

Media Distortion & the Christian Response

Last week I wrote about the main problems I see in the church today, and why Christians aren’t making as much of an impact on the culture as we should be. I wanted to be sure we understand that’s where the greatest blame lies. We must always examine ourselves before pointing fingers elsewhere.

Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy, but there are other times when deliberate distortion of Biblical positions and those who espouse them takes center stage. Unfortunately, that is happening quite often now in the media, both the entertainment variety and the supposedly unbiased news media.

When 90% of those involved in the major networks and newspapers rarely go to church, let alone actually believe the Christian faith, what can one expect but bias? Those in our society who believe in nothing more than themselves or who have no clear belief system will be heavily influenced by the distorted presentation of Christians and Christian beliefs in the news. This has come into focus, in particular, on the “gay rights” issue where anyone who holds to Biblical morality is deemed hateful.

This approach carries over to all conservatism in America. Nearly every conservative stance is questioned in a way liberal positions never are—with the exception of Fox News—and it’s a double treat for the media if the conservative who is being attacked is also an evangelical. The over-the-top bias during the last election cycle was worse than ever. Stories that should have been extremely significant were relegated to irrelevance if they could in any way be a detriment to Obama’s reelection.

In fact, one might say, without too much critique even from the Left, that the media was pulling for an Obama victory:

Now, we can bemoan this unfair treatment and complain about the bias—which I am doing and will continue to do—but that can never be the last word. Christians—and conservatives overall, to the extent conservatism retains its Christian moorings—have to expect to be portrayed unfairly. We are bringing the light of God’s truth to a sinful world; people steeped in their sinfulness don’t like to be told they are wrong. Do we need this reminder directly from Jesus?

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

We also have this “promise” from the apostle Paul:

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Some promises are not as welcome as others. Yet Paul didn’t stop there. After informing his disciple Timothy what to expect, he proceeded to give him instructions on what he should do about this state of affairs:

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Paul didn’t leave Timothy with a negative. He encouraged him to move forward with what he knew to be the truth, to keep teaching, reproving, correcting, and training his hearers. I plan to follow the same sage advice, and I hope my readers will be edified by my continuing efforts.

Happy New Year? Why Would We Think So?

On January 1st each year we fall into a pattern long emblazoned on our psyche of saying “Happy New Year!” I realize it’s mostly a hope that we hold out, expecting that things certainly have to be better this time around. But on what basis do we hold to such a hope? Is there a solid reason for hoping, or is this more a shadowy, wispy type of wishful thinking?

For me, on a personal level, I have what I consider to be a well-grounded hope. Having been salvaged from a life of despair and purposelessness by the grace of God, hope is real. Yes, I will be affected adversely by circumstances in the world around me—by culture rapidly losing its Biblical underpinnings and a government in the process of destroying basic American liberties—but even if the worst occurs, I will still have the faithful God who gives the promise of eternity in a much better place.

It’s our society on the whole that concerns me. What is happening right now that would give anyone a reason to hope that things will improve? As I noted above, the culture is changing for the worse and needs to be turned around for anything to get better. There are a lot of reasons for that change; some can be seen in this political cartoon’s depiction of our current situation:

The cartoonist used the image of the Newtown murders as one manifestation of how our culture has been debased. Then the media and the politicians come along and make matters even worse by blaming the wrong people. One newspaper decided to show a map of the homes of all those in its county who have legal gun permits. The goal, according to the paper, was to increase “awareness” of the gun problem. Excuse me, but the legal ownership of weapons is not the problem. Yet now those who have followed the law, and have always done so, are being targeted [the use of that word is intentional].

The other focus of news reports at the moment is the so-called fiscal cliff. Few, though, are the news outlets that are willing to expose the real issue: it’s not a revenue problem; it’s a spending problem. The media are in protection mode—ensuring that the One is not blamed. Of course, he has made blaming others into an art:

The next fiscal controversy will be the debt ceiling, which Obama seeks to have removed altogether. He wants the power to spend whatever he desires, without any constraints. The result would not be difficult to foresee:

And what of the loyal opposition? To what extent are Republicans willing to go to stand for sound principles, regardless of the political fallout? There is a segment of the party that mirrors the old Republican lack of vision that dominated pre-Reagan: never challenge the roots of the problem but just try to be a little more moderate than the Democrats:

That approach has always led to defeat.

So, I ask again—on what basis can we hold out hope that anything will improve this year?

In my view, the main reason we are where we are as a society is that the church of Jesus Christ has not fulfilled its obligations as the salt and light of a nation. There are a number of areas in which we have failed, but let me acknowledge three that are paramount:

  1. We have watered down the message of salvation in the desire to draw more people to the faith. A watered-down message leads to a weak faith, or no genuine faith at all.
  2. We have deviated, to some extent, from Biblical morality and do not grasp how Biblical principles apply to a proper understanding of the limitations on civil government, the primacy of the rule of law, and how economics really works.
  3. We have abandoned control of our children’s education and turned that task over to the government, thereby making the problems worse with each succeeding generation.

Those are the three areas I want to address the rest of this week.