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Category: Politics

The Anti-Gun Law Argument That Doesn’t Work

Many of the articles, social media updates, and blogs posted in the wake of another horrifying mass shooting will predictably be arguing from a full pendulum swing position. By that, I mean most opinion pieces work from a presupposition of either all-in support for gun control legislation or all-in denial that guns are a problem. It is rare to find a helpful opinion where the pendulum is in the middle.

Thus, I was thankful to find a link to a level-headed article written by former North American Mission Board missionary Scott Barkley, who helpfully offered this incredibly wise piece of advice:  “…a solution is going to require something that hasn’t happened yet. Each side – no matter where you stand on gun rights or funding for mental health or the importance of prayer – is going to have to consider what part of the equation they’re missing. Each is going to have to approach the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the other guy holds at least part of the solution.”  (Emphasis mine)

For me personally, I like to think my own position is fair and, I suppose, just common sense. I support the right of Americans to own certain types of firearms for sport and protection if a thorough, effective system of checks is in place. I also support the call for a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

However, my interest in this article is not to argue for my position so much as it is to point out forms of ineffective argumentation used by some who are against additional legislation for gun control. I’m not suggesting in this article that such a position is wrong, only that the following specific arguments against gun control do not work.

What I have primarily seen in response to gun control in the aftermath of recent mass shootings is most clearly typified in a tweet by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin a few months ago in the aftermath of the Las Vegas tragedy. (For what it’s worth, I have great respect for Matt Bevin and I’m thankful he is my Governor). Here is Governor Bevin’s tweet:

“To all those political opportunists who are seizing on the tragedy in Las Vegas to call for more gun regs…You can’t regulate evil…”

Bevin highlights the two most prominent rebuttal arguments in one tweet: those who support gun control are “political opportunists” and the idea of restricting gun purchases is pointless since you “can’t regulate evil.”

The governor is correct to say that evil will never be dispelled through laws. We know this from experience, but more importantly, we know this through the biblical witness of sin and death. But even though the premise is true, the argument absolutely fails (Ignoratio elenchi) for several reasons.

First, this is what is known as a “straw man” fallacy. A straw man is an argument that paints an incorrect picture of the opponent’s position and then attempts to push back against that erroneous position. I have never seen a gun control advocate argue that gun laws will regulate evil actions or will purge evil intentions from the hearts of men. So, any rebuttal attempting to demonstrate how gun laws will fail to keep people from doing evil things is responding to an argument that doesn’t exist. Gun control advocates are not so ideological as to think that laws will regulate or remove evil. Their hope is to reduce these specific kinds of evil actions.

Second, what is the logical conclusion to Bevin’s argument? If laws and restrictions and regulations will not keep evil people from doing evil things, then why have them at all? Bevin’s argument against additional gun restrictions could equally be applied to the forging of any new law or the strengthening of any existing law regardless of the issue. Such a position is, of course, absurd.  Laws are not written or modified with the expectation of comprehensively purging evil from society, but they are nevertheless important for the good of society. This too is a pervasive biblical theme and is a significant reason why God has issued laws for his people and why the law is an act of grace. (This is Luther’s “first use of the law”).

Third, the “political opportunists” phrase is an “ad hominem” fallacy and weakens the rebuttal. Is it possible that those who are in favor of gun control are legitimately broken and determined to see fewer men, women, and children dying from mass shootings? Yes, that is a very real possibility. Calling them “political opportunists” does not advance the argument, even if there are some seizing the opportunity to push an agenda. By the way, the same is absolutely true for the other side. Calling the GOP names on social media does not work or advance the argument.

Fourth, a type of “red herring” occurs when other ineffectual laws are brought into the argument. For example, drug regulations are often used to demonstrate the law’s inability to stop criminals from selling and using drugs. If laws do not keep people from selling and buying drugs, then why create additional gun laws? But again, what does this suggest? It only suggests that the Congress should make all drugs legal since laws do not stop criminals. Speed limits do not keep people from speeding. Should we forgo interstate driving regulations? And so forth. Additionally, this argument does not take into account the unknown. We do not know the impact of the drug culture on America if drug laws were not on the books.

There are plenty of ways for those who are opposed to gun control to argue their position. But the aforementioned arguments do not work. Don’t use them. Use these steps instead:

  1. Make certain you properly communicate your opponent’s position. Couch it in language where your opponent would say, “yes, that is what I believe.”
  2. Consider the logical conclusion of your argument. How does this play out in the long run?
  3. Avoid personal attacks. It makes your argument weaker, not stronger.
  4. Stay on topic. Avoid making illegitimate comparisons that are actually red herrings.

 

Trump and the Judiciary

Pro-Trump conservatives rallied behind two key campaign pledges during the 2016 presidential election:  Pro-life legislation and judicial appointments. While many conservative Christian voices were expressing disgust at Trump’s repugnant moral character, Trump supporters would faithfully return to these two concerns. How could a conservative, especially a conservative Christian, vote for Hillary Clinton when her extreme pro-choice rhetoric was unlike any the country had heard before? Additionally, the potential for the courts to be filled with radical liberal ideologies through Clinton’s judicial appointments was used to garner support for Trump.

Almost a year into President Trump’s administration, the pro-life emphasis has been less than stellar. A Republican Senate funded Planned Parenthood and initially cut the tax credit for adoptive parents (they have since reversed that decision). Where the pro-life promises might have been absent, the commitment to conservative judicial appointments is in full effect.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, could confirm his ninth federal judge the week after Thanksgiving.  As a reference, President Obama appointed three federal judges his first year in office. But what I find to be fascinating is….no one seems to care.

In my news feed, virtually every article highlights a recent Trump tweet or the ongoing problems with the tax reform bill. You would think at this point the former would be a loser for the media; the election seems to confirm that the larger conservative population does not care what Trump does on Twitter, no matter how unpresidential he may come across. The latter is certainly newsworthy, but individual pieces of legislation and public policy initiatives pale in comparison to the long-term impact of judicial appointments. These are appointments to federal courts of appeals and the appointments are for life.

In very simple terms – the long-term impact on the shape our country is determined more by the judiciary than a short-term piece of legislation, such as tax reform. Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons said concerning the judiciary, “This will be the single most important legacy of the Trump administration.” The federal court of appeals has influence over virtually every area of policy, from social policy to gun rights to Presidential executive orders. It is impossible to comprehend how the Trump presidency will impact the future of our country. But it ultimately comes down to the courts.

Should Trump continue on this path, certain conservatives will support him in the 2020 election regardless of his future shortcomings. The courts have become the battleground. But no one seems to care.

The Pulpit And Political Speech: Why I Won’t Take The Bait

President Trump made a promise at the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast to repeal the law that prohibits political endorsements from the pulpit. The law is known as the Johnson Amendment and was established in 1954 to restrict tax-exempt churches and other entities from engaging in partisan politics. The language under the Internal Revenue Code reads, “all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” Trump signed an executive order today that, in part, focused on adjusting the Johnson Amendment in order to lift restrictions on churches and pastors.

On the surface, this sounds like a win for evangelicals. And there are some positive aspects of this executive order to be thankful for as a Christian, or as a person of any faith. Religious liberty is a non-negotiable bedrock of our democracy and is in my thinking one of the clearest non-partisan issues in front of the American people. Furthermore, for Baptists, religious liberty has been one of the pillars of our identity and our history. So, an executive order to re-establish a commitment to religious freedoms for every person of faith is welcomed, needed, and appreciated.

But as for me and my church, we will continue to refrain from political punditry and partisan endorsements as a church, regardless of the status of the Johnson Amendment. Here’s why:

The Misson of the Church
Although we tend to use the word “missions” when discussing the command Christ gave to his church, the reality is that the church has a singular mission – to make disciples. God’s redemptive decision before the foundation of the world to rescue rebellious sinners through the sacrifice of his only begotten Son is not merely one of several narrative threads woven into the biblical story. It is the story. And it is this story of Christ crucified that directs the church both in her remembrance of who she is, and also who she is not.

Politics, although designed for the social good of the people, is nevertheless a pursuit of power in order to realize a particular approach or theory for how a country should be managed. It’s an important mission. Just not the mission of the church. And entangled in the political mission of our government is an unavoidable trap to out-negotiate, to out-wit, to out-con, and to out-maneuver an opponent for the purpose of achieving greater power. This ever-present agenda of the political world simply does not mesh with an institution who is to be known for our humility, self-sacrifice, love of enemies, servanthood, and allegiance to a different kingdom. The church is to pray for those who are involved in the political game. The church is not to play it.

The Issues of the Church
The Johnson Amendment has no power to regulate the most important ecclesiological responsibility:  preach the word. There is no law on earth that would keep me from preaching the holy scriptures, and if the church is faithful to exposit the Bible, then the issues will be addressed. And if the issues are addressed, then the congregation will be shaped and formed by God to wisely choose the best candidate at any given time. Legendary pastor Adrian Rogers said, “if [a pastor] has done his job, his members will prayerfully and correctly use the standard of God’s Word to select the right candidate.”

And remember, the Johnson Amendment concerns a 501(c)(3) institution. It obviously has no power over the lives of individual Christians, even those who are most committed to the church, to support, endorse, debate, and oppose any candidate they choose. What we are addressing here are the actions of the church as a whole.

We do not need the Johnson Amendment lifted in order to speak to the most pressing issues of our time as a church. We need only the word of God and people who are called to preach it and teach it.

The Purity of the Church
Pastors and churches are human. I believe in the integrity of most churches to pursue only what Christ has established for his people and to hold to his moral authority alone. But we are human. And the purity of the church, both from within and the perception from without, would be open to attack like never before if we embraced a political agenda. The Johnson Amendment is designed to protect the interests of both the state and the church. Without those protections, political heads will quickly attempt to funnel money through our churches in return for a particular endorsement or plug. Need a new church van? No problem, just oppose Senator Smith and support Senator Jones and it’s yours. And by the way, ease up on the sexual purity rhetoric right now – Senator Jones is dealing with a few things and we don’t need that pressure on him right now.

You see? We might scoff at these ideas now as unrealistic. But within our own Southern Baptist Convention, we have already felt the power of political leanings in ways that have not only embarrassed us, but harmed the pursuit of our mission.

The Future of the Church
What kind of legacy do we want the church to have in 25 years? Surely it is to be like the apostle Paul, who would boast only in Christ alone. Our children and grandchildren need a church committed to the counter-cultural, risk-taking, gospel-centered message of a risen Christ without the dilution of a secondary political agenda. The church is not alienated from the political sphere, but the work she does carries an eternal future hope that extends well beyond the mere endorsement of a political party or piece of legislation.

Coram Deo
To live coram Deo is to live one’s life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, for the glory of God. And that is my approach to the church and politics. When our churches lead our people to “seek first the kingdom” and devote themselves to the undivided, unrelenting glory of God, then their influence in the world, including the political world, will be known and felt. And it will be felt in ways that are true to the church of Jesus Christ. Ways that are lasting. Ways that are commendable.

Christians should be thankful for any action that seeks to strengthen religious liberty in our country. I hope President Trump, and future presidents, will not stop pursuing, defending, and increasing the freedoms of religious people. But we must be careful to properly discern what true religious liberty looks like. And when churches walk through the door of political engagement in the name of religious liberty, they might find themselves on the verge of losing both.

 

 

 

And Then The Booing Started

On February 8 I was pleased to make my way to the Kentucky State Capitol to show support for Governor Bevin and his historic signing into law two pro-life bills. Senate Bill 5 prohibits the termination of a pregnancy after 20 weeks of gestation. House Bill 2 requires physicians to offer an ultrasound to women before having an abortion (this is not required, women can opt-out). These are two laws that seem, at least in my child-like thinking, non-controversial for pro-life and pro-choice advocates alike.

I was impressed and thankful for the large turnout of Kentucky Baptists and pro-life Kentuckians; the Capitol rotunda was filled. We all were waiting for Governor Bevin to make his appearance, make a speech, and ceremonially sign the bills into law. I saw a few Kentucky Baptist pastors at the Capitol and it was a terrific day.

One small incident, however, made me uncomfortable. About five minutes before the governor appeared, a female emerged from the second floor and quickly draped a long black banner over the balcony that unfolded three-quarters of the way down to the first floor. The sign said something to the effect of, “these laws hurt women.” The lady was wearing a surgical mask and raised her fist high in the air. It was a typical protest.

I was interested to see how my fellow pro-life citizens, including many Kentucky Baptists, would respond to the protest. I didn’t have to wait long. A very quick and very loud orchestration of boos filled the Capitol rotunda. Shouts of “you’re wrong” rose up from the crowd and one lady near me shouted, “go away, you’re not welcome here.” I couldn’t tell what happened, but the banner eventually fell all the way down to the floor and the lady disappeared.

I really didn’t know what to think. My first thought went to the protester. She was on the second floor and I was in a small hallway on the first floor. I wondered where she went, if anyone spoke to her, and if anyone expressed kindness to her. Then I thought about the booing itself. I wasn’t entirely sure how I should feel about what I just witnessed. I thought about the American democratic process. If, for example, a different governor was signing a different set of legislation into law that advanced the pro-choice agenda, I’m assuming some of us would want to arrive at the Capitol to express a different viewpoint. And my hunch is we would not want to be booed or shouted out of the capitol building. Maybe I’m too naive or too ideological. Maybe I need to understand how the world really works. But I don’t think so.

I think Christ called his followers to, in most cases, do the opposite of what seems normal. To do the opposite of our instinctive human response. Because the normal, expected, instinctive response would be to boo this lady out of the building. But isn’t it difficult to love your enemies while booing them? And is this even our enemy? I certainly do not understand how a Christian can affirm a pro-choice position, but I certainly do not think only pro-life people are Christians.

I believe evangelicals should be actively engaged in the political process. But as soon as our political activism corrupts our personal evangelism, we lose.

Kentucky Baptists and pro-choice Kentuckians won a great victory on February 8. I hope there is more like it to come. But for a moment – a brief moment – the sweet taste of victory turned just a bit sour.

 

 

 

 

“The Bible Clearly Says…” – The Fundamentalist Spirit In All Of Us

Chuck Colson once urged Christians to avoid the unavoidable mistake of using our opponent’s weapons against them. As soon as you do, he said, you “become the thing you hate the most.” We all do it. We all, to some degree, have a fundamentalist spirit.

Today, the term “fundamentalist” is typically used as a pejorative to describe a religious fanatic who holds to a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible, reads only the King James Version,  and has a bumper sticker that reads, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!” Although that is hardly the definition for which the term was originally coined, to be labeled a fundamentalist today is something most want to avoid.

But I’m using the term in a more primitive way. At its root, fundamentalism is an attitude that demands a strict adherence to a set of principles or convictions or doctrines. At some level, we all fit that description, and it has never been more noticeable than in today’s Amercian political climate. Sometimes the demand for acceptance of a particular viewpoint will lead to unintended consequences, such as becoming the thing we normally fight against.

The “right-leaning” spiritual and political group on my social media accounts (of which I am one) have partially embraced the rhetoric and argumentation of the left. The “left-leaning” spiritual and political group on my social media accounts (of which I have many friends) have partially embraced the rhetoric and argumentation of the right. And the beauty of this is so deliciously wonderful – they will both adamantly deny it. You see, I am writing a blog article that no one will agree with. That either makes me incredibly correct in my assessments or incredibly wrong. I’ll let you decide.

I’m going to highlight one clear example from both sides that I find to be indicative of Colson’s warning.

I’ll start with my own camp – evangelical conservatives.  The centrality of character has been the hallmark of Republican-leaning conservative Christians since the age of Reagan. The unwillingness of the left to acknowledge sin and its consequences have been the things we have rallied against for years. Conservatives have rightly rolled our eyes when the cliched response of “we need a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief” is used to defend the defenseless actions and character of a politician. In his recent book “Reclaiming Hope,” Michael Ware describes the Senate race between Barack Obama and Alan Keyes. At one point Keyes said that Jesus would not support Obama because he “voted to behave in a way that is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved.” At the time, Obama replied by saying that he “was running to be the senator from Illinois, not the minister from Illinois.” Years later, disappointed with his comment, Obama described it as the “usual liberal response.” Conservatives have been right to highlight the character of our leaders.

And so it is that just a few days ago, Franklin Graham described the rainfall at the inauguration of President Trump as a “sign of God’s blessing.” Such a statement is condemnable for multiple reasons. The only way a conservative could say such a thing is by drawing a line between character and political ambitions – the very thing we have loathed for years.

I do not condemn Christians for voting for Trump. But the way we defend our vote will speak volumes.

And now to the moderate and left-leaning camps. In a fascinating turn of events, the Bible suddenly speaks truth clearly and propositionally in matters related to government and politics.  Proof-texting and rhetoric such as “the Bible clearly says…” have historically been vehemently opposed by the left, especially when it applies to American politics. After all, Christianity, they say, is not the official religion of this great country, so the use of Scripture to affirm or deny American policies is antithetical to the principles on which our country was founded. Until now.

I confess, I have been enjoying myself while reading the argumentation of the moderate and progressive-left as they employ proof-texting techniques to demonstrate the illegitimacy of President Trump and his policies. Let me be clear, much of what they are saying is good material. But they seem largely ignorant of the hypocrisy of their arguments. In their mind, conservatives are apparently quick to proof-text the multiple passages that clearly and unequivocally condemn homosexuality as a pleasing relationship before God. The same is true for the doctrine of hell. Or the exclusivity of Christ. Conservatives don’t take into account the immediate historical context, the theocratic state of OT Israel, the “trajectory” hermeneutic, and a multitude of other reasons why our reading is wrong. But when someone as repugnant as Donald Trump comes along, things change. The left are now willing to attack Trump’s character based on verses from the sermon on the mount and malign his policy decisions by highlighting words from the Old Testament.

And the attacks are not limited to Trump. The aggression I have seen from the left in responding to conservatives who disagree has been enlightening, even calling into question the depth of their faith. That is the very thing the left abhors from conservative evangelicalism.

“Yeah, but this is different” they will say. Of course it is. It’s different because it is a topic they passionately believe deserves a strict adherence. A fundamentalist spirit.

I do not condemn Christians for speaking out against Trump’s policies. But the way we defend our positions will speak volumes.

All of this is to say that it’s hard to be consistent. If we see an open door that will support our opinions and biases, the temptation to run through them is often too great. Even when we become the thing we hate.

My Simple Post-Election Thoughts

I recently wrote four simple thoughts before election day and now I will offer three simple thoughts in the wake of a Trump victory.

Media and America
Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan critiques her profession and says, “In the end, a huge number of American voters wanted something different. And although these voters shouted and screamed it, most journalists just weren’t listening. They didn’t get it.” The past eight years of the Obama administration has brought significant change to the social and cultural landscape of our country. Issues that are primary for many urban-based, liberal-minded Americans, which constitutes most journalists, received unprecedented attention and action. For the first time, issues related to the LGBT community were not just rhetorically batted around but actual policies were implemented. For the first time, universal healthcare was not just a wish to be discussed among fellow dreamers but became the hallmark of President Obama’s leadership. And so forth.

In light of these radical changes that occurred over a relatively short amount of time, I believe there has been a reluctance at best and a refusal at worst to remember the millions and millions of working-class  Americans who fundamentally view things differently. It is as if any voice other than the progressive voice of a specific social agenda is barbaric, reflecting an ancient time where people were less educated and ill-informed. Surely America has moved on from those dark ages of our political past and  surely their voice is not one we have to worry about, right?

Well, it seems the media has received a wake-up call on the power of every American voice, not just those who fall into a certain ideological camp. Sullivan summarizes her thoughts and says, “although we touched down in the big red states for a few days, or interviewed some coal miners or unemployed autoworkers in the Rust Belt, we didn’t take them seriously. Or seriously enough.”

The Conservatism of Trump
I’m not very good at predictions. I would have made a terrible biblical prophet. But here is my prediction – in addition to the plethora of character concerns related to Donald Trump, those of us who identify as politically and spiritually conservative have been questioning his conservatism from the very beginning. I can’t help but think that on several key issues for conservatives, such as the right to life, Donald Trump will backstep into the shadows where he hopes conservatives can’t see him while he politically moves toward the center. In this way, I wonder if progressives might find his administration to be rather kind to many of the social issues for which they and President Obama have been advocating. Having said that, there are still other areas where Trump seems to be determined to go the other direction from Obama, such as climate change and universal healthcare. So, we shall see.

President Obama
I really like President Obama. I really dislike most of his policies. But he seems like a great man who loves his family, loves children, and loves our country. I respect President Obama because he had a clear agenda in 2008 and for the most part, he achieved what he set out to do. Conviction – Vision – Implementation. Now, it just so happens that my convictions and his convictions are usually polar opposite from one another and I grieve the impact over many of the laws that have been established by the President. But here’s the thing…

Whether or not I might be happy if some of President Obama’s policies are repealed by President Trump, I can nevertheless empathize with President Obama. Can you imagine what it would be like to have worked a significant part of your life to make something that millions of people told you was impossible become the law of the land? In the process, dealing with attack after attack after attack. And finally, when your life goal is met, it could very well all be undone with a stroke of a pen by the next President. That is brutal. Again, I’m not commenting on whether it is politically correct or best for our country. I’m simply saying that from a human-to-human standpoint, I feel bad for the guy if a big part of his presidential work is undone with a signed document. That would be hard to take.

I have been working at my church for 5 years to establish a culture of gospel-minded discipleship. To help our congregation see the power of the righteousness of Christ in them (we are hidden!). To help them view the bigness of God like never before and desire to be fed by the Bible. I have worked with my staff and volunteers to implement ministries to achieve these things, to adopt language for our church that signifies these things, and so forth. I can only imagine what it would be like if a pastor came in behind me and essentially tore it all apart. That would sting.

So, depending on what President Trump does the first year in office, I could anticipate President Obama having the wind knocked out of him as he watches much of his life work erased away.

Grace and peace to you all, and remember, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God first. Always and forever.

 

 

My Simple, Last Minute Election Thoughts

This past Wednesday I shared a few simple thoughts on the upcoming election with Graefenburg Baptist Church. Here are three points for your consideration.

Two Extremes To Avoid
Two potential mistakes for evangelical Christians concerning the election involve one of two extreme views. The first view points to the sovereignty of God and says since his will cannot be stopped, thwarted, or confused, Christians need not be concerned about Presidential candidates or the election. Although it is true that God’s sovereignty is absolute, we must not deny the role God has given humans as he works out his purposes. Since the garden in Genesis 1, God has used humans as his primary means of fulfilling his will. And even though things have been accomplished precisely how God has ordained from eternity past, humans are still commanded to be diligent in working toward the well-being of others. Despite the obvious tension between God’s control and human choice, the Bible does not provide for us an escape from personal responsibility, and to suggest it does is a perversion of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

This is also the view utilized to “Jesus Juke” unsuspecting social media accounts with a “holier-than-thou” attitude, for nothing is easier or more satisfying than to reply to a person trying to sort out this election mess by saying, “Don’t you know God is in control and everything is going to be fine?”

The second extreme view says that if Christians do not vote “correctly” in this election, then the United States of America is going to crumble, the sky will fall, and spiritual revival will be impossible. Those who dwell in this camp tend to have an overinflated view of the political system and its connection to biblical spirituality.  I believe religous liberty is a critical issue in this election, but I do not pretend that either candidate is somehow going to usher in a new era of spiritual awakening. Revival will spread when the people of God stop making their career and their bank account and their reputation their first priority and instead start boasting only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, this view is the opposite of the first. In this view, we put entirely too much faith in the political system as the means through which our country will return to the things of God.

Character Matters. Issues Matter.
Let’s start with character. If evangelicals want to have any credibility with the next generation of Americans, then we cannot do an about face on the character issue. I have been stunned and grieved at evangelical leaders who have come to the defense of Donald Trump’s words and actions, even using rhetoric such as, “we vote in a commander in chief, not pastor in chief.” That is a nice cliche, but we didn’t believe such a thing just a few years ago when a Democratic president was caught in a moral failure. Evangelicals at that time were calling for his impeachment because, well, character matters. That we have now, in such a short amout of time, abanonded our most deeply committed principle concerning the quality of a candidate’s character is chilling. That says to me that evangelcials have become so entrenched with a particular political party that we are willing to publically display the most blatant form of hypocrisy.

But wait, you may say, Clinton is no better. Indeed, she is not. But evangelicals aren’t coming to the defense of Clinton’s actions. Let me be very clear – my concern is not that a Christian might vote for Trump (I will address that more in my next point). My concern is that an Christian might vote for Trump while making excuses for his inexcusable behavior, especially when the issue of character has been the defining issue for evangelicals year after year.

Now, what about issues? Character and issues are inseparable because it is the character of a person who will follow through on their committment to the issues. A promise is only as good as the one who makes it (which is why God only takes an oath on his own name! Hebrews 6:13). Nevertheless, we must take a long, hard look at the positions of the candidates on critical issues. And in order to do that, I recommend you read both the Republican and Democratic platforms. They will provide much greater detail on the issues than the jumbled up mess you hear at the debates or the talking points on your cable news show.

We Must Show Charity To One Another
Friends, there are simply no clear choices for many of us in this election. Some of you will vote for Trump. Some of you will vote for Clinton. Some of you will vote for a third party candidate. Some of you won’t vote at all. If we have considered the character of the candidates, looked at the issues, reflected on the larger kingdom in which we serve, and vote our conscience based on the word of God, then we must be charitable with one another. There is absolutely no room for broken relationships, divided church members, and hurt feelings over who a friend or family member might vote for. We are all in this together, searching for anything that might help us leave the voting booth without a guilty conscience. Neither candidate makes that an easy task.

So, grace and peace to you all as you vote. Soli Deo Gloria!

Do Not Vote For Trump

I have been in full time pastoral ministry for 17 years. During that time I have never endorsed a political candidate during an election year, including Presidential elections. That is a pattern I intend to keep during this 2016 Presidential election cycle. However, for the first time in my ministry, I am going to use whatever small amount of influence God has granted me to convey great concern toward a specific Presidential candidate and humbly ask my readers to consider moving their allegiance to a different Republican candidate during the primaries.

My friends, do not vote for Trump.

For several months I have been perplexed by the support Donald Trump has enjoyed and have been patiently waiting for our wonderful country to come to its senses. It just can’t be, I would tell myself, that this is actually happening. How can a man who has behaved the way Trump has behaved and spoken the words Trump has spoken not only be in the primary race, but leading the charge? How can a man who has a long, public history of building his ego and wealth on the backs of others, of making a name for himself in ways that should break the hearts of evangelicals, be leading among the evangelical vote? How can a man who has paved a road for himself with wholly non-conservative values be winning the conservative party?

Since Trump provides no real information to demonstrate he has a strong understanding of the nation’s most pressing issues and policies, I can only assume conservatives are attracted to him because he “says it like it is” or “isn’t afraid to say what others are thinking.” Let’s examine this sentiment a bit closer.

First, what is the biblical support for defining strong and effective leadership solely in terms of “telling it like it is?” There isn’t any. On the contrary, the Bible speaks of the power of the tongue and the need to use it in ways that edify and not tear down (Ephesians 4:29), and more importantly, we learn from Jesus how the heart is the ultimate source for our words. It is out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). This should be troubling for evangelicals as we listen to Trump; a man who seems to relish demeaning others and is remarkably thin skinned when being challenged himself. Christians are certainly called to speak the truth, but we are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

But I would take it a step further and suggest that our eagerness to support a candidate primarily because they “tell it like it is” is more a reflection of our own shortcomings than it is Trump’s political savvy. What I see, generally speaking, are evangelical conservatives who have become so embittered with the political, social, and spiritual direction of our country that we are willing to forgo the integrity of all three in favor of a candidate who sounds tough and speaks his mind, regardless of the manner or means by which he does so. By taking this approach, we allow our disillusionment with the entire political system to move us in a direction contrary to our faith and the gospel. In a bizarre way, Trump has become a political idol on which we gaze, dismissing the multitude of ways he is an oppressive voice to our gospel witness.

Second, although Trump has enjoyed much success as the candidate who usurps political correctness, saying what everyone is thinking does not defacto make one qualified to act on those beliefs. Running the country effectively requires a skill set beyond mere tough words. If you support Trump because he speaks his mind, have you really been convinced of his ability to implement policies and ideas to back up his strong rhetoric? I can’t imagine anyone answering “yes” to that question.

If you are drawn to Trump simply because he speaks his mind, please reconsider your vote. It is perhaps fine to admire his boldness, but it is an altogether different issue to vote him in as our Republican nominee.

My list of more specific concerns (and utter disbelief) toward Trump’s candidacy is rather long, but here are a few highlights for your consideration.

  • Trump is not pro-life. Currently he is maintaining a pro-life position, but history demonstrates he is not passionate about the sanctity of life. For evangelical Christians, this must be a central issue, in fact, it should be the issue. Trump has repeatedly defended Planned Parenthood and will quickly flop on his pro-life position.
  • Trump does not fully support Israel and has expressed “neutrality” between the Israelis and pro-terrorist Palestinians.
  • Trump does not have a clear set of ideological values. In other words, he is not a conservative, and doesn’t want to be.
  • Trump knows very little about policy. Republicans just don’t seem to care that Trump, almost unapologetically, knows or cares very little about the actual policies of our country.
  • Trump repeatedly mocks and makes fun of people. It is embarrassing. This is who we want to be our President and represent our country to the world?
  • Trump is offensive to women.
  • Trump has shown little interest in people who look different, talk different, or think different than him.
  • Trump thrives off power, not service.
  • Trump is where he is because of the mainstream media. If he gets the Republican nomination, they will turn on him and will turn on him fast in order to elevate Clinton.
  • Trump currently has a favorable/unfavorable electability rating of 34/58. That means a toaster could run in the general election and have as much of a chance of winning. To put it in context, Jimmy Carter was destroyed by Ronald Reagan in 1976 – Carter’s rating was 33/58. So, if Trump is the Republican nominee in the general election, he has no chance against Clinton.
  • Trump is gaffe prone unlike any candidate in presidential history. This has been overlooked up to this point, but it will not be overlooked during the general election.

My friends, one of the great benefits of living in this great country is that we are able to consider the pertinent information and make decisions for ourselves. For those of you who support Trump and disagree with me, I respect your decision. But I am bound by my conscience to offer this one appeal to you; an appeal to reconsider your support for Trump and take another look at the other candidates. Then, you must vote for who you believe will best lead our country the next four years with the values of our Christian witness. I do not believe that person can be Donald Trump.

May the grace of God be with you all.

Woodrow Wilson’s War Message To Congress

When the European theater entered into World War I during the summer of 1914, Americans were less than enthusiastic about sending their sons and daughters to engage in the conflict. This position was mirrored by President Woodrow Wilson who intended to remain neutral in order to increase America’s potential as a negotiator of peace between the belligerent nations. However, by the spring of 1917, the President’s position had changed. For various reasons, including the Zimmerman telegram and Germany’s decision to engage in unrestricted submarine warfare, President Wilson gave a speech to congress asking for a declaration of war. The speech was on April 2, 1917 and is one of my favorite speeches in American history. (For what it’s worth, Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address is my favorite).

Two significant aspects of the speech stand out.

First, President Wilson beautifully acknowledges the unique and obligatory role the United States must play in securing the freedom of nations to determine for themselves their future direction. However, he manages to highlight the significance of the U.S. in this endeavor without suggesting superiority over the other world governments. He outlines how America must enter into the conflict “for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy.” But to dispel any notion that America would be the boastful, independent hero of the war, Wilson emphatically announces how “our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion.” What a remarkable statement.

I find this balance to be extraordinarily important and challenging in leadership of any kind, and for my purposes, pastoral leadership. On the one hand, a person or a nation needs to understand the role they play, perhaps a significant role, in guiding the direction of the people. Undermining or downplaying the influence of a leadership position is not in the best interest of anyone. On the other hand, the single greatest characteristic of a leader is humility. From a biblical worldview, Jesus Christ was the greatest leader the world has ever known. And the greatest servant.

Wilson managed to assert the United States’ necessary role in the war without communicating an oppressive elitism. His determination to use the military power of the United States for the good of all people is a philosophy that has shaped foreign policy ever since.

Second, President Wilson was concerned the war effort might harm the relationship of the United States with the people of Germany. Knowing the world would be listening to this war message to Congress, the President spoke with a touching concern for the German people and viewed them in a different sphere than the evil government under which they were controlled. Perhaps even more important, Wilson wanted to make sure Americans were listening to this distinction. I believe his foresight into the potential fear that lurks in the hearts of humanity, a fear that can lead to immoral decision making, is to be recognized and commended. Several years later, a disastrous decision to relocate and incarcerate Japanese Americans during WWII would go down as one of the darker moments in U.S. history. To avoid this kind of mistake, Wilson make these incredible remarks:

“It will be all the easier for us to conduct ourselves as belligerents in a high spirit of right and fairness because we act without animus, not in enmity towards a people or with the desire to bring any injury or disadvantage upon them, but only in armed opposition to an irresponsible government which has thrown aside all considerations of humanity and of right and is running amuck. We are, let me say again, the sincere friends of the German people, and shall desire nothing so much as the early reestablishment of intimate relations of mutual advantage between us — however hard it may be for them, for the time being, to believe that this is spoken from our hearts”

There are certain presidential hopefuls in this current election cycle that it seems would not have this kind of insight or moral urgency to their decision making.

As with all presidents, Woodrow Wilson had his share of faults. But this speech to Congress in 1917 is one that deserves another reading from time to time. To read the entire speech, click here.

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