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.

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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.

The Lesser Of Evils?

Randy Alcorn has an excellent series of blog posts on the choices faced by Christians in this election. I don’t endorse all of his conclusions, but he has thoughtfully addressed some very divisive issues with a spirit of charity that is too often missing in political writing, mine included.

Reading through the series, I’ve found myself emphatically agreeing with some points, like the religious freedom/abortifacient issue and our individual responsibility to help the poor – and as emphatically disagreeing with others, like the justification of legal plunder for charitable purposes. The debater in me wants to post a fifty point response that no one but my sweetheart will take the time to read. The cynic in me wants to shrug and go do something else because most voters, Christians included, have a bit of a herd mentality and their minds are already made up. But another side of me hopes against hope that as the Republican Party (my party, by the way) abandons the last of its moral principles, the opportunity for evangelical Christians to rethink their perspective on morality and government will not be wasted. That side of me hopefully can respond to Alcorn’s most recent post with the same charity it reflects.

Alcorn asks the question, “Is it wrong to vote for the lesser of evils?” Although I’ve made that argument in the past, I agree with his conclusion. He correctly notes that “to vote for the lesser of two evils is to vote for less evil.” That’s certainly true, and it may even be the duty of a Christian in some cases. His basic objections to third party candidates are also legitimate. What is missing for me, and some other Christians I know, is the conviction that Romney is indeed the lesser evil.

To be sure, on the issues Alcorn has identified as critical there is little or no room for argument. The candidates’ rhetoric on abortion, religious freedom, and (to a lesser extent) welfare issues is widely different. Even if their past records show less of a distinction, Alcorn rightly notes that, given the choices, there is at least good reason to hope that electoral pressures and maturity would make Romney, on these issues, a better President.

So what’s wrong with the conclusion? It seems to take for granted that the issues Christians on the right and left argue about the most are the only issues that matter. But not all of us think so. As I’ve written elsewhere, there are many places where innocent human life is threatened besides in the womb. Alcorn makes the argument that “pro-life” refers specifically to the protection of unborn children. That’s fine, but it doesn’t change the reality that civilians, women and children in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran are equally innocent human lives and, when they are being recklessly killed at our expense by our public servants, have an equal claim on our responsibility.

I don’t like the fact that my tax dollars go to organizations that kill unborn children either. But reinstating the Mexico City policy won’t really help me to sleep better at night, because my tax dollars will still be paying for things like this, and this, and this. And while Obama has been appallingly indifferent to the lives lost in the pursuit of money and power, Romney has promised to double down, accusing Obama of being weak and timid when it comes to killing those who get in our way.

In that light, the choice between Romney and Obama becomes muddled to the point of insignificance. I’ve said for some time that if I vote for Romney (and I still may) it will be a consequence of Obama’s attack on religious freedom, because honestly, I don’t see a meaningful difference when it comes to life. And as a Christian, I’m not willing to limit my concern for innocent human life to the unborn.

By the way, Alcorn partially addressed this particular criticism in an earlier post, where he objected that “… every time I say something about the unborn, those people ask me why I’m not addressing war.” He is absolutely right that many on the “left” raise the issue of war to avoid talking about infanticide. I’m not objecting, however, to advocating for the unborn without simultaneously advocating for others. Obviously different Christians are called to different areas of ministry or feel especially burdened by different aspects of this broken world, and their focus will (and should) reflect that. But I am objecting to the argument that a candidate’s position on abortion should matter more than his position on just war.

I appreciate Randy Alcorn’s willingness to go on the record and his thoughtful approach to this question. But if we judge our standards of evil by all of God’s Word, the answer is not so clear-cut in my mind as it seems to be in his.