Archive for the 'Church and Society' Category

#NeverTrump

[Sound of me, crawling out of Blogosphere Cryo...]

So, it’s been an interesting week, where (absent a delegate coup in Cleveland) Donald Trump has sewn up the GOP nomination, and Hillary is all but a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination.  There’s no way to put enough lipstick on this pig: The state of the union is at its nadir if this is the best the two major parties can puke up for the electorate to choose from.

As if it wasn’t already obvious to those paying attention, I’ve come out a #NeverTrump, #NeverClinton voter, and it appears that a veritable Who’s Who of Christian and conservatives have reached somewhat the same conclusion.  But there are those, including some friends of mine, who’ve written to me privately or publicly, who are perplexed. If I am #NeverTrump, does that mean I want the Wicked Witch of the West Wing to return to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?  If I am actively opposing the GOP nominee, am I not declaring that I am not (and, maybe, never was) a Republican?  Some even grant that the Donald Trump is indeed an odious individual, but if the only thing worse than President Trump is President Hillary, shouldn’t I vote for the lesser of two evils (or at least keep quiet about the whole mess)?  As a Christian, shouldn’t I do whatever I can to keep a crook and serial liar like Hillary out of office?  As a Christian, shouldn’t I vote for Trump and hope the best for him?

I’ve been praying about this for several months now, and hoping I’d never have to go this route, but that is the lot that was dealt.  In trying to figure out how to explain myself, I guess it was high time to log back in to PPP – where we have dealt with such questions in the past – and have a good go at a satisfactory answer.

So let’s roll.  And to get rolling, let’s start at the end.  In Revelation.

Dressed in White

In the past, I’ve written on the church of Sardis, in the book of Revelation.  The primary deity of that city in Asia Minor was Cybele (KIH-buh-luh), and one of the primary festivals that celebrated her was an NC-17 affair.  Men who were devoting their lives to Cybele would castrate themselves, place their family jewels on her altar, and then dance (?!?) down the main street, spraying/throwing their blood upon those along the parade route.  Everyone was dressed in white, and if you had the worshipers’ blood spattered on you , it was supposedly good luck.

And with this background, the Apostle John dictates Jesus’ words to the church in Sardis:

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.

And so it is, with this bit of backdrop, that I will explain why I am #NeverTrump, and why I will invite any and all to come with me on that particular path.

I Remember

I realize that many of my younger friends don’t much remember the 90’s, outside of TNMT and awful music.  But I do.

Bill and Hillary took over the White House in 1992, and spent the next 8 years reaping the benefits of the Reagan economic reforms, while using 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as their personal cash cow/brothel.  Even though the economy was good (thanks to nothing they had done), they were the most odious of individuals to have lived in those walls.  But much of the public was willing to turn a blind eye to the corruption and escapades, simply because times were good.  Sexual harassment of young interns?  That’s just a private matter.  Outright corruption (Whitewater, etc.)?  A vast right-wing conspiracy.  And on, and on.

But the one thing the critics of the Clintons’ generally had going for them was that their character, at least in the view of the public, was consistent and above reproach.  Because something that has historically differentiated Republicans from Democrats is the former’s unwillingness to stomach corruption within their own ranks.

When a personal scandal erupts with a politician with an (R) after their name, the other R’s will typically call for them to step down and take their punishment.  It goes right along with their law-and-order philosophy.  And, because they tend to go overboard in this regard, this is why the GOP sometimes is called “The Stupid Party”.

When a personal scandal erupts with a politician with a (D) after their name, the other D’s will typically circle the wagons, blame the accusers for pointing out the obvious, and cry “foul!” until the media narrative moves on.  And, because they tend to go overboard in this regard (paging Marion Berry…), this is why the Democrats are sometimes called “The Evil Party”.

Now, we’re on the verge of another Clinton administration. [Let's not fool ourselves.  There's no way, short of an indictment, that Hillary won't win the Electoral College by a larger margin that Obama in 2008.]  When that happens, only those who lived out #NeverTrump will have a leg to stand on when it comes to criticizing the corruption that inevitably follows the Clintons around, like flies in a junkyard.

All of those who voted for Trump will have white robes with varying degrees of blood on them.

Should a miracle occur and Hillary be indicted this time, we could end up with a President Trump.  He has already shown his ill temperament, his raging narcissism, and lack of judgment over the last several decades, and throughout the primaries.   When the rotten fruit of these fatal flaws come to bear, those whose robes have blood on them will be partially to blame, without a leg to stand on.  It’s not like they will have an excuse of “I didn’t know he was like that when I voted for him”.  Except for those who have drunk the Kool-Aid, it is as plain as the sun rising in the morning.

They will be no different than the people who voted for the Clintons in the 90’s, and turned a blind eye to their corruption out of reasons of economy and comfort.  And they will have blood on their robes.

The Lesser of Two Evils

But if Trump is the lesser of two evils, shouldn’t I support him, just to prevent the more evil of the two from getting into office?

Short answer: No.

Medium Answer:  The lesser of two evils can still be quite evil.

Longer Answer: “Of two evils, choose neither.” – Charles Spurgeon (and note – I am giving a positive quote of a Calvinist.  That says something.)  Since we are not compelled to vote – and there is no biblical instruction on “voting”, because no early Christians had a say as to who Caesar was – there is nobody forcing us to choose.  We can simply refuse to choose a Presidential candidate in November, or we can vote for a third-party candidate, or write in whomever we want.

Longest Answer: Trump has no moral center, aside from what is good for Donald Trump today.  So, whatever policy position he wakes up with this morning, be it good or ill, there will be MUCH more pressure on the congressional Republicans to cave to his wishes (because he is supposedly “one of them”) than if it was Queen Hillary proposing the same sort of nonsense.

Example: Yesterday, Donald Trump was suddenly for a higher national minimum wage (which – for the economically illiterate/ignorant – actually *hurts* the young and the poor), after months of being against it.  To this point, the Republicans have ignored Obama’s proposals to raise it to $9, $10, $12 or even $15 per hour.  They just say “yeah, I don’t think so.”  But if Trump were President and suddenly demanded the same thing, you know that 1) the press would have a field day with “will congressional Republicans block their own president’s ‘incredibly reasonable’ request?”; and that 2) the surrender caucus within the GOP, that would so love to be invited to the DC cocktail circuit, would immediately cave and give Donny what he wants, lest he take to Twitter and savage them and say mean things about them.

If you don’t know that this is true, you’re either a) not paying attention; or b) stupid.

So, honestly, a President Hillary – for all the damage she would do, especially to the court system – would be far better (and easier) to oppose than a Demon King from our own party.  This would be far more damaging than anything Herself would do, because we would be complicit in implementing the evil, and making it even more deeply-rooted, and hard to remove, from law.

To quote Alexander Hamilton:

“If we must have an enemy at the head of Government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible, who will not involve our party in the disgrace of his foolish and bad measures.”

It is because of this that some in the #NeverTrump camp have decided on #MaybeHillary, but I think that that particular route would also be a road too far, because it would still be voting for evil, but simply to serve our own purposes.

God before Country before Party

It’s kind of funny.  I’ve been a die-hard Republican my entire life, but I have been increasingly uncomfortable with many Christians who have conflated faith with party politics, to the detriment of both.  It’s like we’ve forgotten that our church was founded under persecution, without access to any levers of power, but once it tasted political power (see: Constantine), things have never been the same.  Our allegiance is first to God above country, and even then to country above party.   Somewhere along the line, we bought the lie that it was the job of the government to make people – Christian or not – to live as if they were Christians (by behavior).  While this might have made it more civilized, it has had unintended consequences.

It’s like Rich Mullins once said to me – “the problem with pagans today is that they are just too shallow“.  He went on to talk about how we’ve domesticated the pagans and taught them, by our actions, that Christianity is about sin management and good behavior.  And our demands of them have immunized them to seeing their need for a Savior.

And so it is that I’ve had friends in the last week question why “a good Christian man” with my “integrity” would want to do something that resulted in Hillary Clinton winning the White House.

As if God really cared or was not in control of the situation.

The truth of the matter is that Trump and Hillary are so corrupt and odious, each in their own way, that were I the deciding vote, I would abstain, and trust God to choose our poison via the flip of a coin.  Why on earth would I want to get blood on my robes for supporting either one of them?

If Hillary wins, I will be able to celebrate that Trump lost (and probably in spectacular fashion).  And then, in 2020, after 12 years of Democrats running the economy and society into the ground, perhaps the GOP can nominate a Christian man or woman with a sense of integrity, who should be in a position to easily turn the economy around by taking the boot of government off of the necks of the people and businesses.  And in the interim, I will be able to fight against 95% of what she proposes, to minimize the damage to clean up in 2020.

If Trump wins, I will be able to celebrate the Hillary lost (and probably be on her way to jail).  And then, in 2020, after 8 years of a Democrat and 4 years of an idiot savant running the economy and society into the ground, perhaps the GOP will primary the Orange One (if he hasn’t already switched back to his home party) with one or two good challengers (with anyone who ever supported Trump barred from running), since by then they will be embarrassed enough by his behavior.  And in the interim, I will probably be able to fight against 90% of what he proposes, because he will no longer have the need to pretend to support Republican policies.

Either way, the country will continue its path down the toilet – getting what it deserves from the leaders it has chosen – and the church will be there to help those hurt most by the decline, and – hopefully – will be less beholden to politicians in the next cycle.

What About Me?

A question I was asked: “As a Christian I would think that you would hope he succeeds. Instead you hope he fails.”

My answer: “As a Christian, I would hope that the leaders we choose are people we could point to as good role models for our children, because their words and actions are Christ-like. Neither major party has nominated an individual like that.”  [And, in truth, if any of my kids grew up to be like Hillary or Trump, I would write them out of my will.]

As for hoping he will succeed.  I will hope he succeeds as much as I hoped Obama would succeed.  I would hope that he would follow a path of smaller, less intrusive government that allows its citizens to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness w/o persecuting its citizens for thought crimes.  But I kind of know that he won’t – the same way I knew Obama wouldn’t – in which case I hope he fails spectacularly (see: Obamacare’s current trajectory into a death spiral), so we don’t try something/someone so stupid again.

But the GOP is the Stupid Party and the Democrats are the Evil Party, so I kind of temper my expectations accordingly.

So, before this gets WAAAY to long, I’ve included some final Q&A about the particulars of the view I am following and I hope that thousands of others will, as well.

Q: So who am I going to vote for?

A: If the Libertarians field a decent candidate, I will probably push hard for them, simply because a strong Libertarian party (strong enough to get invited to the debates, hopefully) will pull the GOP back towards smaller government philosophy.  If I can’t support the Libertarian (who will probably be Pro-Choice – but so are Trump and Hillary, so it’s not like I have a choice there), I will probably write in “Mitch Daniels” or “SMOD” and get a good chuckle.

Q: If I’m pushing for #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary, why should I (or anyone who takes this position) vote at all?  Isn’t that just a waste of time?

A: Not at all.  We need good, principled people (i.e. probably not Democrats) to win the down-ballot races to prevent/minimize the damage that a President Hillary or President Trump would inflict on the country for the next four years.  Either one of them will be a disaster, and the more power they have to assert their will, free of obstruction, the worse off the country will be.  So the down-ballot races matter immensely in staunching the bleeding that is going to occur.

Q: If I am #NeverTrump, am I not really just aiding Clinton?  Isn’t a vote for #AnybodyButTrumpOrClinton really a vote for Clinton?

A: Have you read what I wrote above?  Choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.  Whoever wins, God will be in control, and my choosing not to support either monster allows me to sleep at night, knowing that God was in control all along, and I wasn’t complicit in supporting either repugnant, repulsive candidate.

Q: Hey Chris, I supported real losers put forth by the GOP – Dole, McCain and Romney – for the good of the party.  Why can’t you do the same for a change of pace like Trump, for the good of the GOP?

A: God before Country before Party.  I, too, held my nose and voted for Dole, McCain and Romney – even though I thought they were awful candidates.  They were decent men, who (generally) supported decent policies, and who lived by a higher set of standards.  Trump is an awful candidate with no moral center – besides himself – whose policies change from day-to-day, and whose lifelong inclinations, politically are anti-life, anti-freedom, pro-big-government.  It should have been obvious that the quality, tenor and demeanor of the #NeverTrump crowd has been far different than those that opposed past GOP candidates.  Opposing Trump, regardless of his winning the nomination, is easily a matter of principle I won’t lose any sleep over.

Q: You realize that the Libertarian Candidate will probably support legalizing marijuana and prostitution, right?

A: And I will oppose those policies, though if they passed, it would not be the end of the world, because I believe that the eventual backlash against such policies would “right the ship, itself”, and the coalition repealing them would not just be seen as “Christian busybodies”.  And either way, Trump and Clinton – even if they may not support these policies – have quite a few awful ones of their own.  But, chances are, the Libertarian candidate personal character wouldn’t be something I’d disown my children for emulating.

Q: What if Trump picks a good Vice-Presidential running-mate?

A: Whoever Trump chooses, if they accept his offer, is permanently barred from ever receiving my vote, because they will have shown themselves too stupid, naive, or corrupt to ever hold that office.  In my heart of hearts, I hope he chooses Kasich, and that the delegates (mostly Cruz & Rubio supporters who have properly consigned Kasich to Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell) reject Kasich and stick Trump with Palin, out of spite.  But that would be too much to ask for.

Q: Is there any scenario by which you would vote for the GOP presidential candidate in November?

A: Yes.  If the delegates in Cleveland are allowed the exception to “vote their conscience” on the first ballot, and they choose someone other than Trump or Kasich, I’ll gladly vote for the GOP candidate.  Heck, since Paul Ryan surprised me today by refusing to endorse Trump – the presumptive nominee – I’d love to see Ryan nominated.  The very fact that he would be good in the office, but is not seeking it, is a big plus in my book.  Or, if a strong subset of delegates walks out and holds an alternate convention that includes Indiana, I will vote for their candidate.

And so on.

Feel free to post any more questions in the comments, and I’ll be glad to answer them (and maybe add them to the end of this post, if they’re good enough).

Grace and peace to you.

__________________

EDIT: Cleaned up a bit of the language (feedback from the Mrs.), and corrected some typos.

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If you are in the Christian church you may have heard a lot of voices in the past few years lamenting the inability of the church to connect with young adults who are passionate about justice and mercy and who are tired of legalism and a culture that stifles searching and questions. These things are all probably true for a lot of people.

But there’s a terrible and frightening irony here. The voices are coming from the middle-aged. No, not the people who think they’re middle-aged. Those people are my parents generation. That’s the generation in the church who taught us to fight with each other for what we wanted. That’s the generation that taught us that leaving to find (or make) something after our own image is the right way to handle disagreement. Because, really, don’t we all agree that divorce isn’t so bad as their parents made us think? And isn’t starting a new church across town that makes me comfortable how the church should grow? That’s the generation that taught us how to shop around for lovers, friends, churches. That’s the generation that shaped our values, both good and bad. It is their behavior that helped shape how we live because we adopt what has been modeled for us and we react against the ways in which they were overbearing.

No, these voices of the middle-aged are my generation (and older as I still consider myself pretty young at the age of 32). I’m about the age of Jesus when he was leading men and women into the Kingdom of God, teaching and training them how to live the way He lived. But we like to think we are younger than we are. We aren’t. For many reasons, we haven’t matured in ways we should have, but neither has our parent’s generation. I think we inherited that from them as well. Most of us are of the age to have great and/or terrible influence over what is accomplished in our congregations, communities and families. We are the ones shaping the world around us. We’ve labeled our parents generation as irrelevant in the church but we still cry out, “Woe are we who are young and oppressed by the leaders of the church.”

We certainly desire and seek out values that are good and in opposition to this behavior… stability, community, trust. But we do it through learned behavior. We leave. And we do it quickly because we saw the bickering and fighting and we don’t want it and we can’t handle it. We are sick of it. So we leave at the first sign of trouble. Many of our generation left the church because of fighting in the church at large, or fighting in their congregation, or fighting in their family, or fighting with what they were taught vs. what they observe. I’m not blaming the previous generation. In fact, my point is that we need to understand where we have come from and where we are so that we can take responsibility for ourselves.

Here’s the terrible and frightening irony: We are now the leaders in the church. Regardless of title or position, for better or worse, our generation is doing the leading. What we are crying out against is a phantom–a memory of our formative years and we are crying out against our own creation and influence. In the words of Walt Kelly, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

I, too, try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what is best for me; I do what is best for others so that many may be saved. And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:33-11:1

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 (emphases mine)

A gloomy “slouching toward Gomorrah” view of culture leads, I think, to meanness. If we think we are on the losing end of the arc of history, we slide into outrage. If we see ourselves, though, as part of a kingdom that is triumphant in Christ, we ought to display a kind of provocative tranquility. We see those who disagree with us not as threatening to us or to our gospel, but those who, like all of us were, are held captive to an accusing power. We speak with convictional kindness because we love our neighbors, and because we are confident in our gospel. If the gates of hell won’t prevail against Jesus’ onward march, then why are we terrified by Hollywood or Capitol Hill? — Russell Moore

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A friend of mine pointed out this article today. It’s the story of the friendship between Shane Windemeyer (an LGBT leader) and Dan Cathy (president of Chick-fil-A) as told from the perspective of Windemeyer. It’s a bit long, but not nearly as long as the time that Cathy invested in building the friendship.

Go ahead and read the article (don’t bother with the comments) and then come back here for some random thoughts.

  1. How cool is it that Cathy took the time to do this?
  2. Imagine how hard he worked to make Windemeyer understand the distinction between his strong beliefs and his view of a person.
  3. I’m grateful that Windemeyer saw (and noted in this article) that Cathy was also taking a great risk by going public with the friendship.
  4. Remember the story that Windemeyer related about the frat boys displaying hate in the name of Chick-fil-A and how it bothered Cathy? Now substitute “professing Christians” for “frat boys” and “Christ” for “Chick-fil-A”. How do you think the Guy that runs that “brand” reacts to the same kind of actions?

There’s a wall of stereotype of how members of the LGBT community view Christians. Now let’s be charitable to the Christians and assume that the entirety of that wall is the fault of the LGBT community (that Christians have done nothing to contribute to the building of the wall) and that everything that comprises the wall is fallacious.

(Personally, I think that’s nowhere near the truth, but we’ll go with it for the sake of argument.)

Regardless of Christians’ involvement in the building of the wall or the veracity of its content, we have done extremely little to tear down that wall. And so, in order to form a friendship with Windemeyer, Cathy had to tear down the piece of that wall that was between those two men. And Cathy did indeed take a significant risk in going public with the friendship.

Why?

Because some people on his side of the wall would be upset that he was tearing down some of it.

Which pretty much destroys the charitable assumption that it’s all “their” fault. Oops.

Which, in turn, means that those who would be upset are either perfectly cool with the existence of a wall of falsehood or they actually believe the falsehood themselves. Neither of those scenarios put the Christian in a good light.

In Matthew 5:14-15, Jesus said:

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

We often cite this passage in conjunction with the first clause of Romans 1:16 (”I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ”) and decide that the light represents — and the gospel is comprised of — solely our beliefs. But then we hide under a basket the fact that Jesus hung out with the most reviled people of His day. And we hide under a basket the fact that the apostles busted their butts to reach out to people who had never heard of this Jesus guy (or worse yet, had a completely incorrect view of Him).

Worst of all, we hide under a basket the fact that God became man to bring about reconciliation. He had to radically change His being to accomplish what He believed was necessary.

We don’t have to do anything that drastic. All we have to do is tear down a stupid wall.

The next verse in Matthew 5 says:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Our actions are supposed to turn people to God. And not just that, but actually cause them to glorify Him.

Why are the words “epic fail” ringing in my ears?

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I recently sat in a church that spends more money on its Christmas and Easter programs than it does on its benevolence fund. I know because they are kind enough to post that information publicly.

Five Thousand dollars a year for the poor. Almost twice that for productions. The sermon was full of the easy to hit sins, cute phrases and “rah rah, go team!” rants. Diversity didn’t seem to be a major concern to the congregation or the pastor. It was like being transported back to the early 90’s.  The alliteration of his points was flawless. Seriously, almost every point started with a D, including the sub points. From one perspective, it was simply amazing. Eighteen Christmas trees adorned their stage.

It actually occurred to me that I could be attending a convention of retired CIA agents. Three piece suits, long rain overcoats.

The church was about conservative exclusion. Keep the other kids out of the sandbox so to speak.

I also sat in another church recently. This one went the other way. Invite everyone. Put a ton into the production of the show. Change sharing your faith to inviting people to church. Play with the lights to match the beat of the music. Dim the lights, pump dry ice through the air. Do a rah rah message. By rah rah, I mean read one maybe two verses, and then talk for forty minutes about things that have nothing to do with the verses read.

Lament the fallen state of mankind and the world. The sermon was a mix of self-praise for the preacher, his family and a group therapy session. As a therapist, I know a little bit about group therapy. Just sit in the people’s misery.

Never actually offer real hope. How does one move out of their crap?

I’m afraid we’ve lost our way.

We think we need to protect the message.

We think we need to make the message a show. We need to drum up excitement for it. We offer things that are never promised in the Text. (Those will be a different post).

We have lost our way.

The message is simple. And it’s amazing. Here it is:

God wants to have a personal relationship with you. The God of the universe wants to walk through life with you. He wants to offer you the best way way to live. That’s it. Love God, and love people.

We don’t need to make it better. It doesn’t need to be “made better.” It just needs to be repeated in words and in deeds.

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[Note: I originally published this at my personal blog. I'm reposting here because I'm vain like that.]

I can still remember the day, back in 1988, when I was encouraged–along with my entire Senior government class–to register for the vote. There was an election that year. It was George H. W. Bush (R) versus Michael Dukakis (D). Our government teacher, Miss Lynch (and I have great respect for her, so this is not to disparage her in any way), helped us to get registered so we could vote in the primary. I was certain I would be voting Democrat. If I recall correctly, Jesse Jackson was also a Democrat primary candidate. I was loud enough in class to assure our teacher that I would vote for Jackson in the primary. I don’t remember if I voted in that primary or not (I graduated when I was 17 and I just do not remember.)

Several months later, there would be a presidential election. I was at Parris Island South Carolina, completing my training as a recruit in the USMC. I was one of two recruits during basic training who received absentee ballots. I recall very the very distinct and piercing voice of SSgt Aronhalt telling us, “If you still want to be allowed to carry a gun, you better vote for Bush.” I voted for Dukakis. Probably just to spite SSgt.

Here I am now, twenty some years later, and it is time for another presidential election. This past Sunday I was at worship. We were invited, as we are every Sunday, and as we are commanded in Scripture, to pray for our nation’s leaders. Someone prayed something to the effect of, “Lord, please send us the right candidates.” It struck a raw nerve with me. It’s one thing to pray for leaders, generically; it is quite something else to pray for the ‘right candidates.’ I gnashed my teeth. I have no right to feel that way about someone else’s prayer to God. But I did, and I do. Four days later, that prayer is still bothering me.

I grew up idolizing my grandfather. He had strong political ideas that mostly revolved around Democrat politics. He was a politician and perhaps could have done more with his political ambitions had he not also had ideas that mostly revolved around Miller beer. I knew, from a very early age, that Democrat was the only way that I would ever vote. Die-Hard Democrat: “Democrats stand for the working people; Republicans for the Rich” was the story he told me. With wide, saucer-like eyes, I listened in awe. Of course I voted for Dukakis–as much out of respect for my grandfather as to spite Ssgt Senior Drill Instructor Aronhalt.

I never missed an election cycle–local, state, federal for twenty years. Ever since Miss Lynch encouraged us to register. Voting was my right, responsibility, and privilege. People had ‘died so that I could vote’ or ‘voting freely is what makes America great and unique’ are the mantras I grew up listening to in classrooms and around cans of beer.

Here I am twenty years later and I just do not care any more. My conviction is born out of a heart that has come to the conclusion that it simply does not matter what I do inside that small curtained room. It’s like there’s a giant floating head hovering above us, clothed with smoke and fire, shouting to the candidates, “Don’t pay any attention to that man behind the curtain.” Word. That’s how I feel every time I go to the church building where the polling stations are set up. Ironic, I know, but true nonetheless.

Frankly, I think my conviction is born mostly out of my faith. On the one hand, I have no faith in the ’system’ (I wish I never had any to begin with, but that’s another story) any longer–I’m not so young and naive any longer; my grandfather is dead; I haven’t seen SSgt Aronhalt since November 9, 1988; and Miss Lynch can no longer issue me a detention slip. On the other hand, my faith compels me to neglect the handing of power to the power brokers, power mongers, power feeders, power graspers, power (insert favorite verb)  of this world. Since voting no longer matters, and since I no longer care, I’m not doing it again this year. Not one of those people running for office speaks for me, represents my view, or hopes to accomplish things in the way they should be accomplished. All they can do is throw more money at problems. They do not have in mind the Kingdom of God; they have in mind power: “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over their subjects.” Indeed.

In every way imaginable, in every conceivable way, government is the antithesis of the Kingdom of God whose King Jesus is.

My conviction is that I will live with those who are chosen to lead, but I will have no part whatsoever in pushing them into power. I will not live in fear of those whose political opinions are diametrically opposed to mine and I will not worship at the throne of those who happen to share similar views. This is faith: that politics carries as much weight as we give them and I refuse to give politics any credibility at all. I refuse to invest my time in their power–it’s bad enough they get my money. I will endeavor to do my best to ignore them, their promises, their threats, their speeches about hope and unity and a ‘better America,’ or, worse, ‘a better tomorrow.’ Frankly, I do not want the sort of hope that is provided by politicians and government. Their hope is no hope at all. They can keep it, and I’ll keep my vote, my money, and myself.

But the worst part of all this? I know when I go to worship on Sunday I will hear something about this insipid political game we play every couple of years–does anyone ever even consider how much damage politics have done, how it destroys the unity of the body of Christ–and precisely because we are invited to pray for our leaders? (Prayers are never so unbiased as to avoid a short sermon or two in between thanking God for our daily bread and delivering us from evil.) I’m waiting for that one sermon that reminds me of what politicians are really like, what they are really about, and what they really hope to accomplish with their power: “But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison” (Luke 3:19-20).

Politicians do not have the best interests of anyone in mind but themselves. Their life and their work is to preserve the continuity of power in the hands of a few. I will no longer play a nice part in the perpetuation and consolidation of power. The Scripture says, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). So if Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities, what on earth could compel me to pick up those arms and willingly hand them back to the power-hungry leaders of this world?

I think the most Christian thing I can do in America right now is NOT vote in the upcoming presidential election.

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[Note: I am slowly working my way back into the blog world and this post marks the first in a series of posts I will be doing called "Curiosity". All I hope to accomplish is to provoke conversation about Jesus and the Scripture and discipleship.--jerry]

I am curious about a great many things that are found in the Bible. I find myself more and more curious about them the older and older I get. And the more and more I become detached from American Churchianity and become more and more attached to the Jesus of the Bible, the more I find myself curious about this Jesus I read of in the Bible. He was strange and did things that were very un-Christian-like—well, at least if American Christianity is any sort of guide as to what it means to be Jesus.

It’s an old cliché, but I’m sure if Jesus applied to be the pastor of a local church he wouldn’t even get the courtesy of a rejection letter. The good church folk would take one look at his cover letter, read something like, “Oh, and I think it is the essence of Christianity that the people of God take part in the practice of holiness…and participate in bringing healing to the sick and afflicted.” Or, “Someday you will reign with me and partake of the tree of life—whose leaves are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2, 5). Oh, the wise old elders would have a field day with that—and once the old ladies got a hold of it, well….I choose not to think of Jesus’ resume in the hands of old ladies considering that I know what some of them have done to Jesus himself.

So this is my curiosity for today: Revelation 22 clearly pictures a time when things are not the same as they are now—at least not entirely. It clearly pictures a time when we—or someone—has re-entered the garden of Eden and are living in the presence of God. But something is strange about what is going on in that land of bliss: “And the leaves are for the healing of the nations.” Well, I don’t understand. If Revelation 21 says there is a new heaven and a new earth, a new Jerusalem, no more death, no more mourning, no more crying or pain for the old order has passed away (21:1-4), and Revelation 22 says there is no more night, no more curse and that someone (we?) is living in the presence of God (22:1-5), then what does this sentence mean, “And the leaves are for the healing of the nations.”

What nations? What needs healed? I mean, if God is ‘making everything new’ (21:5), then what healing remains that can be, should be, will be cured by the leaves on the tree of life?  I am curious as to what this might mean—and please spare me the ready-made, wrapped with a bow, answers from commentaries or the Left Behind books. I’m serious. After God makes all things new are we to expect that there might still be work to do in this new heavens and new earth? What do you think? Who exactly are these nations that need healing in this place God has created where ‘there is no more death’? And what role will we play?

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Lost in the furor over hell (primarily) and heaven (secondarily) in last year’s Love Wins, by Rob Bell, (and its excellent companion volume) was the underlying thesis about God’s love, and its primary quality evident in man: libertarian free will.  What differentiated man from the angels, and the primary evidence of God’s love for man in His creation of him was the true gift of free will: the permission/ability given to man by God to choose whether or not to accept or reject Him.

As Paul writes:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Throughout the Christian Scriptures, Jesus and his Apostles make clear the fundamental difference between the Law and the Spirit.  Jesus’ primary beef with the Pharisee party was that it had built up a series of regulations, or “hedges”, around the law to prevent anyone from possibly breaking it.  Yet, in doing so, even though they followed the letter of the law, their hearts were not changed.  The Law, itself, was not evil, but it could not change the hearts of men.  Jesus’ teaching on the importance of loving God with all of oneself, and loving their neighbor was one of freedom, not coercion.  Later, Paul noted that what we eat does not make us sinful, but if we abuse our freedom in a way that hurts others, we are sinning – not against a law, but against God’s desire.

And so, we have freedom – liberty.

It is God’s desire that we should love Him, but we can also reject Him.

It is God’s desire that we should care for the poor, but we can insulate ourselves and never even meet them – or, at best, send them a check.

It is God’s desire that we should be generous, but we can keep our blessings for ourselves.

It is God’s desire that we should have joy and contentment in Him, but we can be dissatisfied with what we have and covet.

It is God’s desire that we should be open and honest, but we can be insular, closed and secret.

It is God’s desire that we should care for our earthly bodies, but we can abuse them, to our own detriment.

It is God’s desire that we should love our neighbor, but we can despise them because they are different that we are.

The aim of God’s desire cannot be legislated, because the heart cannot be changed by a law.  Compliance is not acceptance.

America the Free?

For all of the things they got wrong, the founders of America got at least one primary concept right – an underlying principle that eventually eroded the most glaring error of those fathers: the allowance of slavery

That principle was this: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty

The only rights held by men were those given by God, not the government.  The purpose of the government was to protect those rights, not to grant them.  Those rights, given by God, would allow free men to choose whether to do good or to do ill.   The laws of the land only existed to prevent people from depriving other people of those God given rights:

Freedom of expression – whether in support of God or against Him.

Freedom to worship God – or to reject Him.

Freedom to associate with anyone else – or to reject them.

Freedom to own property – whether or not one was a godly steward with it.

Freedom to live and to work – or to be lazy and die.  The freedom to succeed, or to fail.

These freedoms, given by God, as we all should know from our own experience, do not guarantee outcomes.  An evil person may prosper and a good person may suffer.  Even so, it is the freedom, itself, that is a gift and is a reflection of the Spirit of the Lord.

Pharisee Nation

Recently, I’ve read The Tragedy of American Compassion, by Marvin Olasky, which traces the roots of charity in America and its drifting from its original purpose (to help those in poverty to help themselves in escaping those conditions) to its present manifestation (which actually enslaves those it desires to “help”).  Olasky points out that charity is shared, personal, one-to-one suffering with those who are in need, not blind handouts, and that for almost a century and a half, the church managed the care for the poor far more effectively that the government could do, or has done since.

One of the things most clear to me, in reading it, is that many of us have shifted our reliance on God as the source of rights to reliance on the government to secure our rights.  While the Spirit of the Lord only guarantees us freedom, government seeks to guarantee our success and to outlaw failure.  In doing so, it has enslaved many – even in the church – and is doomed to fail, in the name of “compassion”.

We have taken the words of the Psalmist:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

And we have altered them to be:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?  My help comes from Washington, the righter of wrongs.

And we now suffer for it.

The church used to care for the poor and the sick and the needy.  (How many hospitals are named after various Saints?)  Now we don’t need to, because Washington has it taken care of.

The church used to care for widows and orphans, but now the government has it taken care of.

The church used to care for the elderly (and to instruct families to care for their parents and grandparents), but now we’ve got Social Security and Medicare to take care of that for us.

The church used to help those who suffered from failure.  Now we have Uncle Sam to bail us out:

Banks fail, but don’t worry, Washington will bail them out.

Car companies fail because they churn out crap cars with overpriced labor governed by byzantine rules, but don’t worry, Washington will bail them out.

People who bought houses they couldn’t afford with money they didn’t have go bankrupt, and we cry out to Washington to bail them out, as well.

All in the name of “compassion”.

But really, now, let’s get a clue.  There is absolutely no such thing as government “charity” – Charity is something freely given in direct accordance and relationship with the person receiving it.  Taking money from Peter, under coercion, for the sake of “compassion” on Paul is an abomination that sets up the agent of “compassion” as the true god of those who support it.  At that point, God is no longer the guarantor of rights.  He is now absent from the transaction.

And we all suffer for it.

But the church can’t handle the need is a cop out and an utter lack of faith in a God who parted the seas, ruptured the grave, fed the masses and rescued the lost.  It is the voice of despair from the acolytes of the church of man in support of a system that is doomed to failure.  “But the church can’t handle the need” is the cry of the Baal worshiper in the face of Elijah.   It is a story nearly as old as the Bible, like the prophet of God, Balaam, who sold out to His enemies because he thought he was choosing the winning side.

We have become a Pharisee nation, where we feel we must regulate the hearts of men, lest they make a bad decision.

Smoking is bad for you, so we must ban you from smoking.

Trans-fat is bad for you, so we must ban you from eating it.

Wearing a seat belt is good for you, so we must require you to do it.

Health insurance is good for you, so we must require you to buy it.

And on and on.

The only help the church and the people of America need from Washington is for it to become utterly inconsequential in their lives.  Allow the church to become the church and stop trying to regulate away failure and legislate the hears of men.  It won’t work, so stop trying.

I don’t believe that God chose you, and blessed you so that you could heap those blessings up upon yourself. I believe God chose you, and you, and you, and every one of you others because He wants to make a difference in this world. And you know what? what I think is scary about God is He didn’t come up with any ‘Plan B.’ That He left the Church here, and the Church is the only group of people, and the Church is the only institution in the world that can bring about a change. This government cannot do it, so stop depending on the government. Educational systems cannot do it, so stop trusting educational systems. The Church was chosen by God to make a difference. – Rich Mullins

Amen.

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In Christianity Today, Eric O. Jacobsen writes about how we understand the new creation

A key to this significant paradigm shift has been a reconsideration of the provocative text in the second half of 2 Peter 3:10. As the King James Version has it, “The earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” One common way to understand this text is that the earth and sky (heaven) will be completely annihilated, then later replaced with a brand new heaven and earth.

However, another possibility—and the one that some of the more contemporary translations use—is that the earth and everything on it will be disclosed or laid bare. That is to say, the fire will not annihilate the entire earth, but will refine it by burning away everything that is unworthy (Malachi 3:2-3). This newer translation seems to fit the context better, as the author had just made a parallel reference to the destruction of the Flood, which wreaked havoc on creation but didn’t annihilate everything.

We’ve talked about and argued about this with each other and our readers in the past. We’ve all been up in arms over various doctrines that we are passionate about. And while I believe that our doctrine shapes and defines how we live our lives, I have a hard time believing that we’ve got it all together. Or that those of us who have argued for a refiners fire have let that belief shape us enough. We look at the evil around us with sadness but do nothing to participate in God’s redeeming work. Well, I don’t really think that. I’m sure you do something to that end, but when I see stories like this -

I wonder about the work that the church is participating in. I live an hour away from Indianapolis. Sex trafficking has been on my radar as a problem the church in the U.S. needs to be aware of and working on. We’ve done nothing. 11 Catholic churches worked on this effort. A lot of our churches are invested in a lot of good and Godly work around this world and in their communities. I get that. I encourage that. But this isn’t another tax seminar, or specialized conference, or study series, or the latest book that can be ignored because there is something better to do with our time. This is mercy for the hurting, justice for the abused, humility for the proud.

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

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Slavery is nothing new.  Check out this blog post by Michael Bird on the early church and slavery.

Slavery is also not just something that happened in the past…. or something from third world countries.

Click to go to their website and read details on each report of human trafficking.

Yes, that’s Richmond, IN with a report. As well as Cincinnati, Dayton, and Indianapolis. Think of all the occurrences that haven’t been reported on that website. I recommend checking out NotForSaleCampaign.org as they have some powerful stories of human trafficking in the U.S. (and around the world).

I love this question from Bird’s post I linked above, “So what the smurf did you do after church last Sunday? Go out to a restaurant for lunch, went home for a nap, did some light shopping, or mounted a rescue mission for slaves?”

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