And To Dust You Shall Return

Here’s a sincere question for my conservative Christian friends: as we lined up to vote for George W. Bush in 2000, would any of us have believed that in a short 15 years, the favorite candidate of the “Christian right” would be a philandering casino tycoon and Clinton donor with four bankruptcies, two divorces and God only knows how many affairs under his belt; an outspoken defender of partial birth abortion, gun control and the abuse of eminent domain who became famous by objectifying women and successful by paying off corrupt politicians (and is shameless enough to boast openly about it); a man whose insincerity is as plain as the hair on his head and whose assumed “Christianity,” though of the shallowest possible type, still comes across as an implausible piece of bad acting? Be honest – would any of us have believed that story for an instant?

Church, the political “Christian right” was at its best a defective clone, conceived in the laboratory of human invention – a heartless deformity on life support. It has been dead for some time and by now it stinketh. Now that the Trump campaign has done us all the favor of a very public, very nasty autopsy on national television, can we just bury it and get back to the proclamation of the Word, with an extra helping of humility? It’s past time, brothers and sisters.

If Not Now, When?

Apparently this moment in time – when Ferguson is burning, Darren Wilson’s supporters are celebrating, and Obama is talking – is not the appropriate time to discuss police misconduct and the problems with our criminal justice system or to try to understand the causes of this horrible series of tragedies. At least that is what we’re being told. The reasons we are given by those who say that this is not the right time for those discussions are pretty diverse. I disagree with all of them – predictably, I hope. But let’s take a look at some of the best.

If we really cared about black lives we would be talking about abortion.

Back during the 2012 election season, Randy Alcorn complained that every time he addressed abortion, some liberal was sure to ask why he wasn’t also talking about unjust war. He was right, of course; anyone who has been vocal in defense of the unborn has been asked the same question. It’s almost invariably an attempt to either shut down the discussion, shame the speaker (under the assumption that they most likely have supported some pretty sketchy wars) or change the subject. It is an evasive tactic to avoid dealing with the injustice and immorality of one’s own position.

So is this one.

Of course we should be talking about abortion. Yes, it is a greater threat to black lives than police brutality. It’s also a greater threat to all American lives than gun control, or ISIS, or ObamaCare, or GMOs, or – you get the idea? Matt Walsh, next time you’re tempted to write something about Ebola, remember that abortion is an exponentially more serious threat to everything we hold dear as – as – as whatever we are.

There are any number of critical issues facing America today that desperately need to be held up to the light – the light of the truth, of the Gospel, of reason, of history. Unfortunately, I can’t write about all of them every day. I don’t post nearly as often as I’d like. Perhaps that’s a good thing. But speaking out on one important issue is not the same as denying, or even minimizing, other issues of equal or greater importance. Don’t try to pull this one; it’s the rhetorical equivalent of squirming in your seat – and it’s pretty obvious.

The real issue is that our society has rejected God; don’t get hung up on police brutality like those godless libertarians.

This one gets to me because it is presented as if all the rejection of God is on the part of the criminal, the protestor, and the victim. Sure, looting and burning, disrespecting police officers and calling for summary justice are all symptoms of society’s rejection of God. What doesn’t seem to occur to those who raise this as an objection? Systemic injustice, abuse of power, extortion, deception, gratuitous violence and murder by police officers are the fruit of the same tree.

More importantly, our modern society isn’t unique in that regard. I understand that many people simply mean to say that biblical standards of morality, once widely accepted, are now as widely rejected in our culture. That is true. But it’s hardly new. Society rejected God in the garden and has been living out that rejection ever since. I wonder if anyone said to John the Baptist, “Listen, John, the real issue is that the Jews have rejected God. Don’t get hung up on Herod and his incest; get out there and preach to the mob. They’re the ones who need to hear it.”

The police will always be dealing largely with sinners in rebellion against God. And guess what? The police will always be made up largely of sinners in rebellion against God. As Christians, we have a responsibility to speak truth to power as well as to everyone else. Sin is sin, violence is violence, murder is murder, regardless of legal sanction or lack thereof.

These black protestors are looting and destroying their own city? How can you support them?

Sigh. First of all, acknowledging and seeking to understand their grievances is not necessarily support.  Secondly, “The protestors” are a diverse group with widely divergent motives, agendas and goals. You cannot expect to be taken seriously by thinking people when you make sweeping generalizations about their actions and intents. Think about this for a moment. Who are the protestors?

Some are professional civil rights activists. For the most part, they aren’t from Ferguson. Some of them are no doubt sincerely hoping to help focus the nation’s attention on serious problems of injustice in the judicial system and police culture. Others, to put it bluntly, are constituents of racism; they profit from racial tension and, while they probably aren’t burning buildings or overturning police cars, they will do what they can to inflame the situation and seize the limelight.

Some are anarchist troublemakers, career agitators, rebels without a cause. They aren’t from Ferguson either. They live in their parent’s basements, playing video games, watching InfoWars and posting inflammatory, obscenity-laced comments on the internet until unrest somewhere presents an opportunity to riot. I know because I’ve dealt with them first hand. Some are better organized, like the Black Bloc (“black” here refers to their clothing – they are almost all white) while others are just losers seeking a thrill. My guess, based on observation and experience but without personal knowledge of the situation in Ferguson, is that they are less than ten percent of the protestors and responsible for ninety percent of the destruction.

Then there are the locals – the people of Ferguson. They aren’t a monolithic group either. Men who have been systematically harassed by an out-of-control PD; mothers and fathers who fear for their children’s future; youths who have grown up without a parent; respected pastors and community leaders; elected officials; business owners. The angriest of their young men will find justification in the rhetoric of the activists, sympathy and incitement in the anarchists, and satisfaction in joining the destruction. But for the most part, the locals are the last ones to blame for the rioting, the looting, the wanton destruction of property. Yet they are the ones who will bear all the blame, as well as all the burden of recovering from the devastation.

The least we can do is to acknowledge the reality of their grievances, to stop excusing violence and crime when it hides behind a badge. We can recognize that even if Darren Wilson was perfectly justified – and he may have been – officers who abuse their power endanger those who serve honorably as much as themselves. We can use the opportunity presented by this horrible tragedy to change the way society thinks about crime – to challenge the deification of the State and give God’s law, not man’s, the highest place. We can at least seek to make the law respectable as we call on our fellow citizens to respect it.

Is Nothing Sacred Anymore?

I just heard another news segment sympathizing with poor Francois Hollande over the “completely unexpected kiss-and-tell revenge memoir” published three months ago by Valerie Trierweiler. “Yes,” I thought, “poor Francois indeed. What is the world coming to, when even something as sacred as a non-committal relationship with a scorned mistress can be exposed to the prying eyes and sordid gossip of an unholy world?”

Seriously now, I don’t exactly sympathize with Ms. Trierweiler either. It should have been no surprise that a relationship, begun in betrayal on both sides, should have ended in betrayal on his. But if we are indeed entering a troubling new era for men like Hollande – if society’s casual indifference to marriage commitments is spreading even to the use-and-discard relationships he seems to favor – if even a scorned mistress cannot be trusted to keep the secrets of her scorner’s bed – and if, for whatever reason, this is all catching Don Juans everywhere off guard and leaving them unsure of just how to avoid becoming the next statistic in the growing trend – then perhaps a few suggestions from long ago and far away will not be out of place.

(Disclaimer: these ideas are not original. This post has not been inspired by my impending anniversary. Any credit for the success of my own marriage belongs to God and my wife. I offer these tips in my usual role as a helpfully obnoxious history buff, not as a relationship expert. Following this strategy will not guarantee marital bliss; over the centuries, however, it has proven a highly effective way to protect men from becoming victims of the revenge memoir.)

Choose one (1) woman. (If you haven’t yet taken this step,  then choose carefully. If you have, never look back.)

Convince her that you are worthy of her.

Commit yourself to her for life. Marry her.

Love her like there is no tomorrow. Love her because you chose her.

Never, ever compare her to another woman. You chose her; now keep choosing her, every day. Make sure she knows that she will always be your choice.

Don’t stop. The best things in life are never easy.

If you do this, and she still blindsides you someday with a “revenge memoir” I promise to feel very sorry for you. But the odds are that she won’t.

A Protest That Is Also Prophecy?

I don’t endorse all of his politics, but the world today gives Edwin Markham’s classic poem, Man With a Hoe, an eerily prescient ring. He wrote it after seeing the renowned painting by Millet.

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?

Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the Dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the stretch of Hell to its last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this —
More tongued with censure of the world’s blind greed —
More filled with signs and portents for the soul —
More fraught with menace to the universe.

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time’s tragedy is in the aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned, and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world.
A protest that is also prophecy.

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream,
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands
How will the Future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings —
With those who shaped him to the thing he is —
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world
After the silence of the centuries?

Who’s Leaving Who Over Gaza?

Writing for The Hill, Niall Stanage wondered earlier this week whether the Obama administration’s impotent criticism of Israeli actions in Gaza could finally cause the oft-predicted,  never realized shift of American Jewish voters toward the GOP. The answer, I suspect, is no. But while he and others are worrying about shifting opinions and demographic trends among potential voters, perhaps they should take a look at what is already resulting from Israel’s actions.

Evangelical Christians, especially in America, have arguably been the Republican Party’s most dependable group of supporters. There are lots of reasons for this, but the two most important are the GOP’s perceived opposition to abortion and unflinching support for the Zionist element of Israeli politics. These two factors – being pro-life and pro-Zionist – are increasingly at odds. The prevalence of a novel and unbiblical view of Bible prophecy has so far led to the Israeli government getting a pass from American evangelicals, but among younger evangelicals that is no longer a safe assumption. While Jewish voters in the next decade or so aren’t likely to leave the Democratic Party over a bit of meaningless criticism of Israel, the loss of evangelical Christians as an assumed base of support is much more likely to result from Republican support for Israel’s wholesale slaughter of Gazan civilians.

Is The Gospel “Endangered?” Liam Goligher Answers

This past Sunday morning at Tenth Dr. Goligher had this to say:

The end of Christianity has been trumpeted from the beginning of Christianity. People probably imagined that once the apostles were dead – those men who had been the eye and ear witnesses of the risen Lord Jesus – that would be the end of this nascent Christian movement. When Diocletian launched his assault on Christians, people might have thought that systematic persecution by the Romans would have been the end of Christianity. And when, during those long years of the Middle Ages … the Gospel was eviscerated of its core message [and] evangelical dynamism was lost for that period … you might have wondered whether the Gospel was lost. In the era of the Reformation with the banning and the burnings … you might have thought, “This is the end of the Gospel; it’s going to be lost.” And then in the era of rationalism, and evolutionism, and atheism, and (currently) secularism, you may throw up your hands in horror and say, “The Gospel will be lost!”

Paul is saying here that [the Gospel] will never die. Rome came and went. The Middle Ages and the medieval Church came and went… Rationalism, and evolutionism, and atheism and secularism are already in the process of becoming undone, if only you read the literature. Our western society, which has rejected Christianity (and its own history in doing so) and is trying to purge from memory all traces of that former influence, is well down the road to disintegration and becoming a footnote on the pages of history. But the church, and the Gospel, survives. It will survive the seminary professors who no longer think it credible. It will survive the pessimistic pastors who no longer think it culturally cool. It will survive the popular media that have declared it passé. It will survive!

(Emphasis mine. Listen to the entire sermon here.)

Wow. There is so much to think about here. On one hand, how encouraging it is to be reminded that Divine Providence still rules history, and always will. On the other, what a powerful antidote to the national arrogance that pervades American culture and policy today. I’ve always been bothered by the tendency of many Christians in America to dismiss any concern for our national direction with the airy remark, “God’s in control! I’m sure it will all work out.” Yes, He is in control, and it will work out according to His will. As a Christian, I find that infinitely encouraging; as an American, however, it is rather terrifying. I find no cause for comfort in the squandered blessings, rejected truths and despised boundaries that litter our nation’s recent history.

As I’ve considered these words, I’ve recognized an error in my own thinking. I’ve argued for some time that the unholy alliance between the evangelical church in America and the war lobby (and, of course, the bad theology and worse eschatology on which this alliance is founded) is a grave threat to the global spread of the Gospel. I’ve been wrong. Such a view underestimates the permanency and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not the Gospel, but the evangelical church in America, that is threatened by our willingness to combine and corrupt our message with an immoral political agenda.

Perhaps this seems a rather dark and dismal response to an incredibly uplifting and encouraging message. But in the end, I am encouraged, and thankful as well: thankful for the Gospel; thankful for the Sovereign God who orders history and will preserve His Gospel and His church; and thankful for Liam and his faithfulness to “guard the good deposit entrusted to him.” God grant us more men who are willing to speak out for the Gospel and stand unashamed in the face of this hostile culture.