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.

Advertisements

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.

Who Deserves Due Process?

Rebecca-Nurse-Salem-Witch-Trials-Memorial-MarkerYou may have heard of a horrific case in southeastern PA this week, involving a single mother, her boyfriend and her murdered 3-year-old son. I’m not interested in reviewing the horrendous details of the alleged crime. The accused are both facing the death penalty, and rightly so. What concerns me is one aspect of the public’s reaction and what it says about our society, our freedom and values and, ultimately, the apparent demise of intelligent thought in America.

The reaction I’m speaking of has been and is being expressed in many places and many forms, but it’s encapsulated nicely in this gem from a commenter on the Daily Local website: “Any lawyer that defends these sub humans [sic] is not fit to live.” Generally speaking, comments on news websites aren’t worth a response, but this sentiment is dangerously widespread and, I think, is evidence of a deeper problem. It is the same mentality that justifies drone-launched “signature strikes” or the waterboarding of terrorism suspects because “terrorists don’t deserve due process.” It is the same mentality that excuses police officers for the shooting of an unarmed man, or the deliberate use of a Taser on a handcuffed woman, because of the victim’s past criminal record. In essence, it is the entirely irrational view that the legal protections and procedures we call due process are too good for some criminals.

Why irrational? Because due process protections aren’t for the criminals, they are for the innocent. Of course terrorists don’t deserve due process. Neither do people who slowly murder little children. Neither, I might add, do people who quickly murder old men, or rape, or enslave, or commit any number of other evil crimes against their fellow creatures. They deserve justice. But there is the rub: due process matters if justice is to be done, because only through the meticulous pursuit of the truth in the context of presumed innocence can we avoid the double tragedy – the crime of crimes – that is committed when the law punishes the innocent instead of the guilty.

Do I really think that this couple might be innocent? No, I don’t. In this country, the likelihood of police, prosecutors, medical workers and media conspiring together to invent such a horrific tale is next to nil. But why? In many countries today, people are regularly accused, condemned and imprisoned or executed on bare, unsupported allegations from those who have much to gain by it. In this country, not that long ago, enslaved blacks were frequently punished for crimes they did not commit – even could not have committed – because they were excluded from the due process protection of the law. We look back with horror, appropriate horror, on legal abuses like the Salem witch trials, the horrific anti-treason laws in seventeenth century England, the reign of terror in post-revolutionary France, or the mass murder of Stalin’s collectivization program in Ukraine. Those things are not happening in America today because of a legal system that, while far from perfect and strongly skewed against the accused, still presents formidable obstacles to systematic, widespread miscarriages of justice like these.

The person who posted that comment is absolutely certain of the accused couple’s guilt. But they knew nothing of the case except what they had just read. Their confidence is probably justified precisely because of the system and the defense lawyers they so despise. If we as a society are willing to waive due process and presumption of innocence in cases where we feel the accused are undeserving, we open the door to unspeakable crimes under the color of law in the future.

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?

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.

Freedom, God and Right?

My five year old son loves to sing Men of Harlech. He fell in love with the Welsh anthem after hearing a stirring rendition by folk singer Charlie Zahm. He requests the CD every time we get in the car together, and randomly belts out the first verse without hesitation and, generally, without mistakes:

Men of Harlech, in the hollow,
Do ye hear, like rushing billow,
Wave on wave, that surging follow
Battle’s distant sound?
‘Tis the tramp of Saxon foemen –
Saxon spearmen, Saxon bowmen;
Be they knights, or hinds, or yeomen,
They shall bite the ground.
Loose the folds asunder-
Flag we conquer under!
The placid sky, now bright on high,
Shall launch its bolts in thunder!
Onward! ‘Tis our country needs us;
He is bravest, he who leads us!
Honor’s self now proudly heads us –
Freedom, God and Right!

Here it typically devolves into Daaa na naaa na naa naa naa naa – which, considering the gory detail of the second verse, is good enough for a five year old boy. I’m in no hurry to shatter his innocence with the realities of war. For him, Men of Harlech is just his favorite “marching song.”

It happens to be one of my favorites as well, though in a more complex way. I have never heard it sung without having to fight back tears. Men of Harlech is a story of tragedy on so many levels. The image of common citizens rushing to the death against an invading army in defense of their homes and villages is always powerfully moving. From an historical perspective, knowing how the story ends (in a long siege and the ultimate defeat of the Welsh) doesn’t help. For the Christian, the violence anticipated in the second verse is a chilling reminder of the depravity of fallen humanity and the brokenness of God’s once perfect creation; for one who loves his fellow man, it is an equally chilling picture of the effects of war on the better instincts of human nature.

Rocky steeps and passes narrow
Flash with spear and flight of arrow;
Who would think of death or sorrow?
Death is glory now!
Hurl the reeling horsemen over,
Let the earth dead foemen cover;
Fate of friend, of wife, of lover,
Trembles on a blow!
Strands of life are riven,
Blow for blow is given
In deadly lock, or battle shock,
And “mercy!” shrieks to heaven!
Men of Harlech! young or hoary,
Would you win a name in story?
Strike! for home, for life, for glory!
Freedom, God and right!

But what saddens me the most every time I hear this song is the repeated line, “Freedom, God and Right!” Oh yes, these are things worth fighting and giving one’s life for. But how often these words are subordinated to a self-interested agenda that has nothing to do with them! How many American soldiers have died thinking they were defending our freedoms, when in reality they were pawns in a global chess game? How many are killing and being killed in the Middle East, believing that their actions and sacrifices are saving the lives of Americans here at home, when in fact the terrorist threat against us only intensifies? How many soldiers know the obscene amounts of money being pocketed by businessmen and politicians as a result of the wars they are called on to fight? How many American taxpayers believe that the daily killings carried out at our expense are somehow connected to our freedoms, or the survival of God’s chosen people, or whatever cause the war lobbyists have appended to their latest scheme?

Then, too, I can’t help but note the contrast between the circumstances of the Welsh peasantry and America today. The Welsh, like America’s founders, fought an invading army on their own doorsteps. But these days our country is too often the aggressor, making insolent demands of other nations while benevolently extending the twin inducements of billions for the compliant and bombs for the recalcitrant. The America that once was a beacon of hope and a symbol of freedom is now a global exporter of death. The America that went beyond any nation in history to limit executive and military power now claims a lawful right to invade anywhere it sees fit, without even declaring war; to assassinate anyone it sees fit, even its own citizens; to execute citizens of another nation en masse, in peacetime, on their own soil, without even an illusion of due process to protect the innocent.

That, for me, is the foremost reason this song evokes such an emotional response. I can’t help but grieve that America has lost, or rather abandoned, her historic place in the world. Sure, she is still a “world leader” – a superpower – for whatever that is worth. But it was freedom that made America great, and it was a distinctly Christian view of law and government that made America free. Her greatest influence for good in the world preceded, rather than followed, her superpower status. Today, even as America daily trashes her founding ideals, most Americans seem to care only about remaining great. But at what cost? We’ve collectively abandoned the moral foundations, the respect for life, liberty and property, that made self-government possible. We have rejected the proposition that all men are created equal, in favor of arrogance wrapped in red, white and blue. That arrogance, sooner or later, will bring this nation to her knees more effectively than any number of terrorists ever could.

So what of these powerful words? When we think of “Freedom, God and Right” do we think of moral standards by which we should measure our actions on the world stage? Or are they slogans that we get to use because we are America? Do we seek to be right and to do right, or do we presume to define “right” to our liking? Like many empires before us, I fear we are guilty of the latter. That is a tragedy, not just for us, but for the entire world.