Evangelical convictions for sale

This should be my last post on this tragic election cycle. I am definitely ready to focus on other subjects! But a report has been released that I find profoundly disappointing and disturbing, though not that surprising. People were asked whether an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life. This survey was conducted in June of 2011 and again last month. Here are some of the results:

73851As you can see the biggest change—by far—was in the responses of white evangelical Christians. In 2011, only 30% of white evangelicals agreed that an elected official could commit an immoral act in private but still behave ethically and faithfully fulfill their duties. In 2016, that percentage flip-flopped by 42%. We went from being the demographic with the fewest yes answers to this question to the one with the most (even more than Democrats, who were at 61% yes answers).

As you might have guessed, the media are widely reporting that the moral character of political candidates is no longer an issue for white evangelical voters. And one would be hard pressed to fault them for observing this. What caused such a dramatic change in evangelical convictions this year? Donald Trump.

In 1998, it was revealed that Bill Clinton had been conducting an adulterous affair (amid widespread allegations of many more). Conservative evangelicals were virtually unanimous in their condemnations of these actions. A common refrain at the time was: “If he’ll cheat on his wife, he’ll cheat on the country.” In September of 1998, prominent evangelical leader James Dobson wrote a letter publicly expressing his concern for our nation. Here are some excerpts:

“As it turns out, character DOES matter. . . . How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don’t respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible. . . .

“I just don’t understand it. Why aren’t parents more concerned about what their children are hearing about the President’s behavior? Are moms and dads not embarrassed by what is occurring? At any given time, 40 percent of the nation’s children list the President of the United States as the person they most admire.  What are they learning from Mr. Clinton? What have we taught our boys about respecting women? What have our little girls learned about men? . . .

“I am left to conclude from these opinions that our greatest problem is not in the Oval Office. It is with the people of this land! We have lost our ability to discern the difference between right and wrong. . . . We are facing a profound moral crisis — not only because one man has disgraced us — but because our people no longer recognize the nature of evil. And when a nation reaches that state of depravity — judgment is a certainty.”

James Dobson
September, 1998

Stirring words, aren’t they? Many of Bill Clinton’s defenders tried to downplay his moral problems by insisting we are “electing not clergy but political leaders.” Dobson quoted them in his letter, and made very clear he didn’t buy this defense. Now compare Dobson’s strong moral stance then to what he says about Donald Trump now:

“I don’t vote for candidates . . . Policy is what matters. . . .

“His rhetoric has been inexcusable, and I don’t defend it. . . . There are obviously characteristics of Trump that I wish I could change. However, I believe he is the best candidate available, period. . . .

“I’m not under any illusions that he is an outstanding moral example . . . It’s a cliché but true: We are electing a commander-in-chief, not a theologian-in-chief.”

James Dobson
September, 2016

Since the tape was revealed—with Donald Trump grotesquely boasting of sexually assaulting women—Dobson has affirmed his endorsement of Trump. But is he the only one who’s relinquished their previous standards?

Pat Robertson condemned Bill Clinton as being “debauched, debased and defamed,” said that resignation would be too easy for him and that, “We need to prove to the American people that our elected officials have the courage and the love of country to do what is right for America [referring to impeaching Clinton].” And what does he say of Donald Trump? Three days ago Robertson told Trump, “You inspire us all.”

Ralph Reed and Gary Bauer both led the charge against Bill Clinton because of his lack of character. Both are now publicly supporting Donald Trump. They, and many other evangelical leaders, made strong statements opposing Bill Clinton because of his lack of moral character. So it’s fairly easy to compile a list contrasting many of these evangelical leaders’ opposition to Bill Clinton because of his character with their current support of Donald Trump despite his character, often using the very same arguments used by Bill Clinton’s defenders. (The press has already published a few such comparisons, and you can be assured more are on the way.)

Of course, a great many evangelical leaders are refusing to change their views:

“If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president, I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.”

Al Mohler
June, 2016

But, in their support of Trump, many others have gone from saying ‘yes, poor character disqualifies a person from elected office’ to saying ‘no, it does not.’ Ed Stetzer clearly diagnoses this problem:

“That’s the definition of selling out.”


28250-fullBut, why?

Many evangelical Christians see this current race as a “must-win” election . . . and that’s a problem. Because—as those who have placed our faith and trust in the hope of the world, Jesus Christ—there is no must-win election. The only must-win battle has already been won. Victory is assured. Christ will enact the victory when he returns. And let’s remember just what this victory entails. This victory isn’t merely about going to heaven or hell; no, this victory is the answer to everything wrong with our society now. Christ’s victory is the answer to injustice and corruption and immorality and fear. It’s the only real answer, the only real victory. That’s why it’s good news.

Does this mean we shouldn’t try to make things better in this life? Of course not. We’re to be salt and light. We should seek to make positive change wherever we have opportunity. But we must never expect that we are the ones who will make everything right. And we shouldn’t presume that God intends to win the victory now through us. We are to faithfully shine the light in the darkness, but we are not the ones who conquer the darkness. That is neither our responsibility nor our role.

God has placed us behind enemy lines. We are in the world. And don’t forget the United States is not a part of the kingdom of God; it’s a part of the world. There will be times when we’ll have a positive influence for good in our nation, and that’s a cause for rejoicing. But we shouldn’t be surprised or disheartened if the darkness is sometimes resurgent. It’s not our job to defeat the darkness, but to shine the light within it.

Could God put a stop to abortion immediately?

Could God put a stop to abortion immediately? Of course he could. Just as he could immediately stop all injustice, all corruption, all pain and suffering. Why doesn’t he? The extremely short answer is that he has a plan. His plan leads to victory over all evil. But at this time he allows the world the freedom to destroy themselves. This can be almost unbearably ugly and heartbreaking. So we do what we can to influence our society for good, but we realize these micro-victories are fleeting and easily undone. We know our victory will not be won now. Even in our sorrow for our society and for those who are horribly mistreated, we are not distraught or despairing. We don’t act out of frenzied desperation. Because our hope is not a temporary, heavily-contested victory now. Our hope is not in the latest “must-win” election. No, our hope is in God, in his plan, and in his victory.

We don’t have to win now.

But we do have to be faithful now, to remain who we are, to remain salt and light . . . to remain true to our convictions.

We must never sacrifice our convictions.

Not for anyone.

Political idolatry?: Proposing a new single-issue voter

images-washingtonpost-comTwo days ago, I posted a link to a recent Christianity Today editorial (Speak Truth to Trump). Christianity Today, established by Billy Graham and other evangelical leaders in 1956, is as close to an official evangelical magazine as you can get. Andy Crouch, writing for the editorial board, begins by noting that Christianity Today has always remained neutral in past elections. But, like many pastors and leaders, they feel the need to speak out this year:

“Just because we are neutral, however, does not mean we are indifferent.”

He describes the absolute rulership of Christ, and the implications for his followers:

“The lordship of Christ places constraints on the way his followers involve themselves, or entangle themselves, with earthly rulers.”

Crouch reminds us of the danger of being so involved in worldly rulers that it becomes idolatrous.

The editorial then briefly reviews the problems with the two major party candidates, beginning with Clinton and then continuing with Trump. Crouch observes that, while criticism of Clinton is very common among evangelical Christians, many have not “shown the same critical judgment when it comes to the Republican nominee.” He lists again some of the obvious red flags regarding his character (which I’ve briefly described here, here, and here), and then concludes of Trump:

“He is, in short, the very embodiment of what the Bible calls a fool.”

Crouch notes that most Christians who support Trump are doing so “with reluctant strategic calculation.” This strategic calculation is focused on the appointment of Supreme Court justices and the impact on vital constitutional issues such as the sanctity of life and marriage, and religious freedom. Crouch then returns to the danger of idolatry in our current situation. This key point is so crucial, I’m going to quote the entire paragraph. I would encourage all of us—especially evangelical supporters of Trump—to consider this carefully:

“But there is a point at which strategy becomes its own form of idolatry—an attempt to manipulate the levers of history in favor of the causes we support. Strategy becomes idolatry, for ancient Israel and for us today, when we make alliances with those who seem to offer strength—the chariots of Egypt, the vassal kings of Rome—at the expense of our dependence on God who judges all nations, and in defiance of God’s manifest concern for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed. Strategy becomes idolatry when we betray our deepest values in pursuit of earthly influence. And because such strategy requires capitulating to idols and princes and denying the true God, it ultimately always fails.”

A question I have repeatedly asked is: Does God need Donald Trump? By insisting that we must vote for Trump for the sake of the unborn children (and to preserve religious liberty), are we not implying that—at this time—Donald Trump is necessary, that he is needed? Are we claiming that unless we vote for this morally vile candidate, there is no hope for the children or the church? What does this say about our trust in God?

Are we claiming that unless we vote for this morally vile candidate,
there is no hope for the children or the church?

What does this say about our trust in God?

Here’s the view of the editors of Christianity Today:

“Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord. They see that some of us are so self-interested, and so self-protective, that we will ally ourselves with someone who violates all that is sacred to us—in hope, almost certainly a vain hope given his mendacity and record of betrayal, that his rule will save us.”

Please notice the wording in that last sentence. If voting for Trump is imperative for evangelical Christians, then we are putting our trust in his rule. Such trust is tragically misplaced. And as these editors, I, and many others have warned, this will have devastating consequences to our witness to the world. (Anyone paying attention to social media will see that it already is.)

A new single-issue voter

Many readers will be familiar with the concept of a “single-issue voter.” These aren’t people who are concerned with only one issue, but those who view one issue as of paramount importance. This doesn’t mean hasn’t meant they’ll vote for just anyone who expresses support for their key issue, but they refuse to consider someone who doesn’t share their viewpoint. Not supporting their position on this single issue is seen as a deal-breaker, distinguishing candidates they can support from those they cannot. For many evangelical voters, this single issue has been the sanctity of life and opposition to legalized abortion.

I’m proposing a new single issue. I say we shouldn’t even consider supporting a candidate who doesn’t have a basic personal decency, who isn’t an essentially moral, trustworthy person. Bad character should be automatically disqualifying regardless of the positions the candidate claims to support. If a candidate seriously lacks good character, their claimed positions are worthless. Treating the claims of dishonorable, unprincipled people as if they are worthy of serious consideration—even defending them!—lends credibility to unscrupulous people and makes us co-conspirators in their duplicity. I say if a candidate is someone who even the world widely views as a person of poor character, then we should not even consider such a candidate as worthy of evangelical support . . . . . . unless we are more trusting in the American political system to protect us and bring about societal change than we are the power of God.

In times of trouble, Israel often looked to earthly powers for help rather than relying on God—and God judged them for it. Christians have also misplaced their trust in worldly rulers before, whether it was the early church putting their trust in Constantine or German churches putting their trust in Hitler in the 1930s. We need to be very clear about our Christian priorities, and with whom we can and cannot ally ourselves. As Peter Berger once wrote: “He who sups with the devil had better have a long spoon.” Or as Scripture itself makes so clear:

Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers.
How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness?
How can light live with darkness?

2 Corinthians 6:14

Are God’s people trying to advance the light by partnering with darkness? May it never be!

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.

Psalm 20:7-8

Speaking truth to [and about] Trump (from the editors of Christianity Today)

This morning I reread this excellent editorial from Christianity Today (long considered the flagship publication of the evangelical movement). These thoughts are timely ones for us to consider as we draw closer to this election.

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Patrick Semansky / AP

As a non-profit journalistic organization, Christianity Today is doubly committed to staying neutral regarding political campaigns—the law requires it, and we serve our readers best when we give them the information and analysis they need to make their own judgments.

Just because we are neutral, however, does not mean we are indifferent. . . .

Finish this article here:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/october-web-only/speak-truth-to-trump.html?share=8zSGgP1pMb8F3tcGaT86AnjYoxtbEmnx

For my thoughts on this article and related issues, see my next post.

Should Christians celebrate Halloween? (part 2)

trick-or-treatSo, we’ve seen that the history of Halloween is not as neat as we might have thought, and that we can’t blame all the macabre elements of Halloween on the pagans. But, as Christians living hear and now, how do we deal with Halloween? Let’s look at some biblical principles and how they might relate to this issue.

In the world, but not of it

Jesus said that he wants us to be in the world, but not of the world (John 17:14-15). Some Christians avoid Halloween because they say it has pagan origins. But (assuming this is true) to consistently live out this standard, we must also get rid of most of our Christmas traditions (which have pagan origins). We would need to stop using most of the names of the months, and stop referring to our English names of the days of the week, etc. We definitely couldn’t worship on “Sunday” because of its pagan origins. The problem in trying to follow this approach is that God intentionally put us into this fallen, pagan world, and we shouldn’t seek to remove ourselves from it. We are to be in this world without being of this world. And working out the balance of this requires wisdom.

In the 1st century church, some Christians were concerned about meat that had been “sacrificed” to idols. (Meat was routinely presented to idols and supposedly blessed by the god or goddess.) Some felt this meat was now unacceptable because it had been tainted by pagan association. In  passages such as 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, Paul shows that this pagan blessing by some “god” was meaningless, that there was nothing inherently wrong with the meat, and nothing wrong with Christians eating the meat. But, he added, they should be sensitive to Christians who had a weaker conscience in this matter and not encourage them to sin by doing something they believed to be wrong. This shows us that an alleged pagan association is not a solid reason, by itself, to avoid something.

Respecting matters of personal conscience

In Romans 14, Paul addresses disputable issues that are a matter of personal conscience, and also the liberty we are to give each other regarding these issues. In the Bible, there are some things believers are clearly instructed to do and other things that Christians are unambiguously instructed not to do. But, for many issues we have no clear, scriptural guidelines. How we handle these matters is between each of us and God—and we are to respect the freedom God has given his people in these areas.

So: Should Christians watch TV? Should Christians listen to secular music? Should Christians drink alcohol? Should Christians dance? If you answered “yes” or “no” to any of these questions, you’re missing the point. Biblically, these are not yes or no questions. If we try to answer these questions for all believers, we are taking away the liberty that God has given us to make these decisions (between each of us and God). We are replacing the authoritative place of the Word of God in the life of Christians. The Bible doesn’t give believers a clear answer to these questions, so we take it upon ourselves to come up with answers—and by doing this we make ourselves the authority for others. We take on ourselves the role of God.

Establishing rules beyond what Scripture establishes is called legalism. Legalism isn’t wrong just because it’s harsh or unpleasant. Legalism is fatal to Christianity because it changes the gospel into something else, and because it becomes idolatrous—giving ourselves authority that only God rightly possesses. Should Christians celebrate Halloween? This isn’t a yes or no question. It is not an issue we can decide for our brothers and sisters.

Avoiding evil

Let’s clear up a common misunderstanding. Some people quote 1 Thessalonians 5:22 (from the King James Version) that we are to “abstain from all appearance of evil” and say this means we must avoid anything that even appears evil. But this isn’t what the text is saying. We’re to stay clear of everything that is genuinely evil. Christians disagree whether some things are evil. Some feel that television and dancing are inherently evil; some do not. Some feel reading Harry Potter books is evil; some do not. This is why these kinds of issues are called “disputable matters.”

zillow-halloweenSome Christians can’t understand why a believer would celebrate anything on October 31. Others think it’s fine for kids to enjoy alternative church parties, but not to trick-or-treat. Other Christians feel it’s okay for their kids to trick-or-treat dressed up as cowboys or princesses, but not as witches or ghosts. Others point out that ghosts and vampires are no more real than fairy princesses, and their kids’ witch costumes have more in common with The Wizard of Oz than they do real witches. For centuries Christians have disagreed about whether we should fear and shun the darkness, or laugh at it and have fun at its expense. As with other matters of personal conscience, we don’t have the authority to establish one official Christian approach to Halloween.

The greater danger

I’ve known many Christian families who have taken different approaches to Halloween. But I’ve never meant anyone who was drawn away from the Christian life because they went trick-or-treating as a child (even those who dressed up in scary costumes). I’ve talked to many people involved with witchcraft; I’ve never heard of a Christian child being attracted to witchcraft because of a Halloween costume or party.

However I have known many people who were raised in a religious culture of overly oppressive rules and regulations, who ran from their faith as soon as they could. For many, they weren’t offended by the Bible’s moral teachings per se, but the way Scripture was twisted and taken out of context to support the extreme ideas of certain groups, churches or families. Yes, some people reject the authority of God and his Word. This is true. But what is tragic is that many whose hearts are soft to God become confused and estranged from the church because of modern day Pharisees who take on authority that belongs to God alone and seek to define for all Christians what is acceptable and unacceptable.

What kind of spirits?

Many people become obsessed with the spooks and spirits associated with Halloween. But what about us? What kind of spirit do we have? Do we have a condemning spirit?

After Jesus’ baptism, he spent 40 days and 40 nights fasting, praying and resisting the temptation of the devil. That must have been an incredibly spiritual experience. What’s the next thing he did? He went to a wedding celebration (John 2:1-12). And when the guests had drunk all the wine, he provided more for them by turning water into wine. Was Jesus looking for things to condemn? Or was he seeking opportunities to bless?

How about us? Are we obsessed with seeing Satan and demons behind every corner? Or are we busy looking for how God is at work, revealing his love and truth even in surprising ways? Are we looking for evil, or for what is good? Is our first instinct to condemn . . . or to bless? Are we looking for reasons to reject people and activities . . . or reasons to participate (unless we simply can’t with a good conscience)? Do we accept everyone and everything, unless we cannot as Christians? Or do we reject everything and everyone, except what Scripture says we must accept? Which approach is more like Jesus, and which is more like the Pharisees?

Halloween is the one time of year strangers willingly visit our homes.

best-trick-or-treating-cities-ftr

What kind of reception do they receive from Christians?


So should I (or my kids) celebrate Halloween?

By now, you hopefully understand why I can’t answer this question for you. And neither can anyone else. We are to be in the world, but not if it. And, for a great many questions, we each have to work out the wisdom and balance of this for ourselves and our children. I hope these posts help you make an informed decision (rather than a superstitious or merely traditional one). It’s fine for us to discuss these things and even compare how we approach various issues. But the answer to how you should approach these disputable issues is between you and God alone.

Should Christians celebrate Halloween? (part 1)

800px-friendly_pumpkin‘Tis the season for these kinds of questions. And there are sincere Christians who would give us very different answers. Unfortunately, much of the discussion seems based more on personal preference and opinion than on solid biblical principles. So I’ll present (in the next post) some principles I think directly relate to Halloween and similar topics. But first, some historical context:

A brief history of Halloween

Many people have a vague idea that Halloween was an attempt to “convert” a pagan holiday, similar to the “conversion” of December 25 into the Christian Christmas. The reality is a little more complicated. As the early church developed more of a focus on ritual and tradition, they began to hold an annual feast in remembrance of the martyrs who had died for the faith. This slowly evolved into a day commemorating all the saints, known as “All Saints’ Day,” “All Hallows’ Day” or Hallowmas. As with many other feast days, this was preceded the evening before by a vigil, known as “All Saints’ Eve,” “All Hallows’ Evening” or (in Old Scottish) Hallowe’en.

The people in different areas celebrated this feast on different days. Eventually, November 1 was designated as the official day to celebrate All Hallows’ Day (making October 31 All Hallows’ Eve). This day was intentionally chosen in order to convert or co-opt pagan folk festivals that celebrated the end of harvest season and the impending “death” of winter. Now, one might guess from all this that the holiday name may have come from Christian tradition but everything else came from pagans—but that wouldn’t be quite right.

Christians historically shared a fascination with death and the deceased that many today would find morbid. You can still see in many medieval churches artwork depicting the Danse Macbre, with people from every station of life (often including children) dancing with skeletons. This reminded the people that death is inevitable for everyone, even emperors and popes.

bernt_notke_danse_macabre

Bernt Notke, 15th century, St. Nicholas’ Church, Talinn, Estonia.

The Danse Macabre became a common pageant performed in towns and villages. They naturally held these pageants during All Hallows’ Eve, their time to remember those who had died. The intense images were intended to scare the people into renewed faithfulness, but it seems the people began to enjoy the holiday and the fun of dressing up and scaring one another.

Pagans believed that during the transition from harvest to winter (life to death), the spirits or fairies could cross over to this world. The people would build massive bonfires and carry torches outside to protect themselves from the spirits, and they would hold grand parties inside and play games. Pagans and Christians held similar superstitions regarding the souls of the dead wandering the earth until this particular day of the year.

Some Christian feasts involved groups of people slowly going from house to house. The owners of the houses would invite them in for refreshments or sometimes entire meals. Some Latino countries still observe these kinds of practices during the Christmas holiday season. The tradition of Christmas caroling—and the reward of hot chocolate, cider or desserts—comes from these earlier customs. On All Hallows’ Eve, many Christian children would go out souling. The women would bake special “soul cakes,” and then give them to the children as they stopped by the different houses. In exchange for the soul cakes, the children would pray for the departed family members of the homes they had visited.

Over the years, many of these traditions were blended together into a holiday that gradually lost its religious significance and became more of a common, festive event. With the increasing involvement of American corporate marketing, the holiday has become incredibly commercialized and sensationalized (and loved by children).

So, how should Christians respond to this cultural phenomenon? We’ll discuss this next.

2016: Destroying our witness

jerry-falwell-jr-1-700x475

For an introduction to these articles on the election, see here.

For a description of why both major party candidates are dishonorable choices, see here.

So, why should evangelical Christians support Donald Trump? Here are the reasons I’ve heard:

“He’s not Hillary Clinton.”
Some people despise Hillary Clinton so much, they’re willing to do just about anything to prevent her from becoming president. But just because a candidate is throughly corrupt and deceitful, this isn’t a good reason to support another corrupt, deceitful, morally bankrupt candidate. This is similar to another defense we’re hearing more and more:

“Bill Clinton was worse.”
Maybe this is true. But it’s entirely beside the point. Even if Bill Clinton is Satan himself, that doesn’t magically turn Donald Trump into a good person or an acceptable candidate for president.

It’s ironic that in the days before this most recent scandal became public, the Trump campaign was focusing on the women from Bill Clinton’s past to try to discredit Hillary. They insisted that these stories were still relevant even though they’re decades old, and that victims should always be believed (despite Trump himself insulting and demeaning these victims of Bill Clinton back in the 90s). Now Trump and his people have completely flip-flopped. They now insist that the accusations about Trump are too old to be relevant, the women (more are going public all the time) are all liars who can’t be believed, and this is part of some vast, global conspiracy.

“If you don’t vote for Trump you’re voting for Hillary.”
What’s amusing is the other side says the same thing, that if you don’t vote for Hillary you’re voting for Trump. So, apparently by voting for neither, we’re voting for both! The fact is, voting for Trump is not just voting against Hillary Clinton. If you vote for someone, you share responsibility for what they will do as president—especially if we have clear warning now of what kind of person he is and what he will do with real power.

“We’re not electing a pastor/Sunday school teacher/pope.”
Everyone knows this. No one is suggesting that presidential candidates should be held to the same standards as pastors. But does this mean that character somehow doesn’t matter? Don’t we still have the responsibility to support a candidate who is trustworthy and has good character? And if character isn’t an issue, why is Hillary Clinton so despised? Does character only matter for her but not for Trump?

“But Trump apologized.”
Did he really? Trump said he was embarrassed. He apologized to those who were offended by what he said, and then immediately and repeatedly dismissed his words as merely “locker room talk.” (In other words, ‘I’m sorry if that offended you, but it’s really not a big deal.’) And he kept pointing to Bill Clinton during these “apologies,” saying that Bill Clinton was worse than him.

So let me ask you parents, would you accept this kind of “apology” from your child? Would you allow them to get credit for apologizing while they continue dismissing the seriousness of what they did, and point their finger at someone else who is supposedly worse? And what about apologizing for all the other horrible things he’s said and done to people? We haven’t heard any apologies for the rest of Trump’s reprehensible behavior. Do we really want to give him kudos for this kind of childish nonsense?

“What about grace?”
It’s certainly true that we are all sinners forgiven by the unmerited grace of God. And we should be ready to forgive anyone. But Donald Trump hasn’t shown any real remorse for what he’s done or any real desire for forgiveness. And just because we sincerely forgive someone, doesn’t mean they’re suddenly qualified for any job. If you forgive someone who’s mean to your kids—but you don’t hire them as a babysitter—does that mean you’re unforgiving? Is that a lack of grace? Just because we should forgive Trump (if he ever actually asks for forgiveness), doesn’t mean he’s suddenly a good choice for president. There’s grace, and then there’s gullibility.

“Trump is the only one strong enough to do what’s necessary for the country.”
If anyone seriously mistakes the bluster, boasting and bullying of Trump for real strength, then nothing I say will change your mind. Apparently, you must think Jesus was a real wimp. The idea that, “Sure he’s a total jerk, but he’s our jerk” just doesn’t work for followers of Jesus Christ.

“It’s all about the Supreme Court justices.”
This is the only argument that has any merit to me. Hillary Clinton will almost certainly appoint justices who will continue to protect abortion rights and erode religious freedom. Donald Trump has said he will appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. Isn’t this a good enough reason to hold our noses and vote for him? Here are some reasons why I don’t think this argument works:

We have no reason to believe that Donald Trump is sincerely pro-life.

As many have pointed out, Donald Trump is not really a Republican or a conservative. He hasn’t given any reason why he suddenly switched from being pro-choice to being pro-life (except his decision to run as a Republican). He hardly ever mentions abortion. The one time he said much about it, he seriously botched it and caused all kinds of problems for pro-life groups. He’s made it pretty clear that he doesn’t even understand the pro-life position. He defends Planned Pregnancy and makes the same exceptions for the health of the mother that Democrats routinely make. He also seems to lack any real awareness of the issues regarding the preservation of religious freedom.

Donald Trump is no “constitutionalist.”

Trump has an extremely poor grasp of the US Constitution, as he’s displayed many times. And he’s shown again and again that he intends to subvert the constitutional separation of powers, and meddle with the legislature and judiciary. Should we expect someone who’s expressed an intention to abuse constitutional power to appoint real constitutional conservatives to the Court?

We have absolutely no reason to trust Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is a flagrant, unrepentant liar. He lies about his past positions on issues. He lies about his business history. He lies about the amount of money he donates. He lies about his lies. He flip-flops on issues when it’s convenient for him. He bails on his businesses, protecting his own interests, and leaving others to hold the bag. He even said he might appoint someone not on his touted list as a Supreme Court justice—and he said this almost immediately after releasing the list! He has demonstrated over and over again that he is completely untrustworthy. So I ask those who will vote for him: Why should we trust him?

And let’s consider how this would realistically unfold. Even if they manage to retain a majority, the Republicans will certainly be weakened in the Senate. So let’s say Trump surprisingly honors this commitment, and appoints a real conservative, say another Robert Bork. And let’s say, as is very possible, that his first choice is shot down in the Senate. At this point, all bets will be off. I tried to appoint a conservative; it didn’t work. He would then be free to appoint anyone he wanted. We would have sold our political souls for . . . nothing. Of course, this is if he actually tries to fulfill this commitment, which, again, I see no reason to believe.

This is ‘the end justifies the means’ thinking.

Are we really supposed to support an immoral, reprehensible, dangerous candidate for president of the United States, just because he mouths support of a position that he doesn’t even understand?!

How gullible are we?

And how low will we sink?

Will we support anyone if they pay lip service to our cause?

How bad does someone have to be before we finally say:
“No, I can’t be part of this”?

Does God need Donald Trump?

Would we vote for a Hitler or a Stalin if they promised to end abortion? If Bill Clinton had been pro-life, would we have defended him in the 90s? A huge number of evangelicals were outspoken in their opposition to Clinton, proclaiming loudly that his poor character had disqualified him from serving as the nation’s president. Now some of these same evangelicals are defending Donald Trump, using the same excuses Clinton’s defenders used, excuses these evangelical leaders ridiculed 20 years ago! How is this not hypocrisy? Do we have any convictions that aren’t for sale?

We’ve seen the hypocrisy of Republican leaders. Many finally spoke out against Trump after this vile tape was made public. But then—after his stronger showing in the second debate—they reversed their reversals. Apparently, it’s okay for the party’s standard bearer to be someone who sickeningly boasts about sexually assaulting women . . . as long as he looks like a winner!

When Trump supporters tell the rest of us to put on our “big boy pants” and support Trump too, what they’re saying is that we need to grow up and play the game like the rest of the world. When in Rome, we need to be like the Romans. (I seem to recall someone trying to persuade Jesus to put on his big boy pants and play the game like everyone else.) No, we follow Christ. And he instructed us to be in the world, but not of it. We do need to grow up, put on our big boy pants and take the harder path of resisting the pressure to be like the world.

Should evangelicals be guilty of the same hypocrisy we see in the Republican leadership? Shouldn’t we stand up for what we say we believe in? Students and faculty of Liberty University have finally had enough. Their president, Jerry Falwell Jr, was one of Trump’s earliest evangelical supporters, and defends him still. He recently said on television that even if he knew these accusations to be true, he would continue to support Trump’s candidacy. So these students and faculty-members had to speak out. Sickened at the thought of the reputation of their school, and their witness to the world, being ruined by association with this evil, they put out a public statement strongly repudiating both Trump and the inappropriate stance of their president.

Paul admonished the Corinthian church for approving behavior that even unbelievers condemned. Now, we see an almost universal abhorrence of Donald Trump’s vile abuse of women, and it’s evangelical leaders who are defending him on national television! Fortunately, most evangelical pastors and leaders are opposed to Trump’s candidacy. But a surprising number of evangelical Christians are supporting him. If, through our support, we associate the evangelical faith with this morally bankrupt candidate—who the world recognizes as reprehensible—we will destroy our witness for years to come. In the eyes of our society, we’ll be tied to Trump’s moral filth, and we will have no credibility.

So what do we do?

Donald Trump uses women and then discards them. He’s done the same thing in his businesses. He does the same thing to those who help him politically—he uses them and then discards them. He loves them when he needs them. They become ‘his African Americans’ or ‘his evangelicals.’ But we do not belong to Donald Trump or any other politician. We need to send a strong message that, as followers of Jesus Christ, our votes are not for sale. We can’t be seduced by lame lip service or a few insincere statements.

Imagine if a huge number of Americans vote in this election, but they don’t vote for either of the major party candidates. Imagine if the experts in the press discover that it was the evangelical Christians who refused to support these unthinkable candidates. We would be sending a very loud message to the political parties that we cannot be taken for granted. We’d make it very clear that believers in Christ will not vote for shameful, dishonorable candidates no matter which party supports them. Then they would know—and we would know—that we will not sell our birthright for a bowl of lies and corruption, even with appealing but fake promises sprinkled on top.

If we vote for this man, we share responsibility for him. And evangelical Christians must not be even partially responsible for Donald Trump. Our mission is too important and our witness too valuable to waste on a madman.

 

 

Once again:

Any vulgar, hostile or demeaning comments will be deleted. We are not seeking to merely win arguments or vent anger, but to challenge and encourage each other in edifying ways. If you can’t comment with a loving attitude, do not comment here.

2016: Shaming our nation

Clinton, Trump pick up big wins

For an introduction to these articles on the election, see here.

By now you’ve heard all kinds of views on the election. Many pastors and leaders are claiming neither candidate is an honorable choice for evangelical Christians. So what’s wrong with these candidates? Let’s take a look. (Note: I’ll only be using well-known observations about both candidates, and briefly at that. If you need documentation or more details, you can find plenty online.)

Things they have in common
Both candidates are plagued with scandals that would ordinarily sink any campaign. Both are obsessively secretive about things the public has a right to know. And both blatantly and repeatedly lie about practically everything. They lie about their past positions. They lie about what they said; they lie about what they didn’t say (even when we have recordings of their statements).

Some might cynically reply that all politicians lie. But this kind of deceit goes far beyond anything we’ve seen from others. Hillary Clinton has been described for years as a habitual liar (even by some of her associates). Fact checkers have awarded her an unprecedented number of “Pinocchios” over the years, showing her difficulty with the truth. Unprecedented, that is, until Donald Trump came along, who is decidedly now “winning” in this particular competition.

Even by itself, such obsessive secretiveness and blatant deceit should be sufficient cause to reject a candidate. It definitely means no Clinton or Trump supporters should be pointing their fingers at the other candidate and calling her or him a liar or questioning their integrity. To do so is hypocritical. Both are lacking the basic integrity we look for in a political candidate.

US-VOTE-DEMOCRAT-HILLARY

HILLARY CLINTON

What else is troubling about Hillary Clinton? Other than the huge integrity issues noted above, there are four issues that raise grave concerns. She was at the center of the Benghazi fiasco, and then lied to the American people and to the families of the victims about the nature of the attack. She knowingly and secretively violated US law regulating the handling of classified information while she was serving as Secretary of State, recklessly putting national security and human lives at great risk. The financial dealings of the Clinton Foundation are highly suspicious, showing a likelihood of political favors being given to donors, even from potentially unfriendly nations. Any of these scandals should have effectively ended any chance of Clinton being elected. Of equal or greater concern to most evangelical Christians is Hillary Clinton’s outspoken support of abortion rights.

Donald Trump Addresses GOP Lincoln Day Event In Michigan

DONALD TRUMP

Because more evangelicals seem to be struggling with whether to vote for Donald Trump, I’m going to spend more time describing what is unsuitable about Trump as a candidate for president. Because Trump is running as a Republican, I’ll weigh his positions from a Republican perspective. And, again, this is in addition to the lack of integrity I noted above.

Business history
This may seem like a strange thing to start with, but the more I’ve read about Trump’s so-called business acumen, the more I’m appalled at the idea of him as president. Trump is a master at self-promotion, blustering his way into getting a lot of press, but he has a very checkered past when it comes to any true success at running healthy businesses. If you think he’s a good businessman, you need to do your “due diligence” and check him out a little more thoroughly. His business practices have been unethical and hurtful to a great many people.

National security
This is a key responsibility of the president, and Donald Trump is already making us less secure just as a candidate. His extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric is inflaming Islamic radicals and alienating friendly Islamic nations. His irresponsible statements concerning NATO, Ukraine, Japan, South Korea, etc. are deeply concerning to our allies and threaten US leadership in world affairs. His admiration for Putin is alarming, and he seems to have taken on a role as Putin-apologist. He disagrees with his own running mate about the right approach in Syria (and virtually every Republican leader agrees with Pence about this). There’s a reason why an overwhelming number of Republican foreign policy experts have warned us in the strongest terms of the dangers of a Trump presidency.

Economic policies
Donald Trump is going to magically lower taxes, increase spending, and lower the debt, all while threatening devastating trade wars with our trading partners and refusing to address entitlement spending. His economic policies bear little resemblance to those of the Republicans who are supporting him.

Lack of political principles
As many have observed, Donald Trump could just as easily have run as a Democrat. His candidacy has never been about policy. He ran from the beginning as a populist, a George Wallace-style demagogue who coined catchy phrases that got the people to cheer, but who couldn’t be bothered with discussing policy details. He’s not interested in being enlightened by those who are knowledgeable on the issues, but arrogantly insists he knows more than the experts, while often displaying an appalling lack of awareness of these issues.

Instead of policy content, Donald Trump seems to rely on . . . conspiracy theories. Remember, this is the man who gave us the birther movement. He’s also floated conspiracy theories about Obama being a Muslim, Scalia being murdered, Fox News being in cahoots with the Saudis, and, of course, that Ted Cruz’s father was part of the Kennedy assassination (not to mention scores of other conspiracy theories).

Lack of personal character and judgment
Pat of the problem is that we’ve become so familiar with Donald Trump we forget how shocked we should be at his behavior. The recent outcry over his lewd and abusive tape is understandable, but some of it is a little disingenuous. Is anyone really surprised? This is just Donald Trump being Donald Trump. This is the man who’s been married three times, who boasts about how many adulterous affairs he’s had with married women, and who divorced his first wife because her breast enhancements “didn’t feel right.”

To the people who are now suddenly outraged, why were you not outraged when he cruelly and childishly mocked a handicapped reporter? This would have ended anyone else’s campaign, but Trump’s supporters just cheered him on. Why were you not outraged when he crassly and demeaningly insulted other women (calling them “fat pigs” and worse), or insulted Hispanics, Blacks, his political opponents, his opponents’ families, journalists, judges, etc., etc.? Trump displays the behavior of a weak, insecure playground bully. His pettiness and immaturity would be unacceptable in an elementary school. You wouldn’t allow your children to act this way. But Trump casually insults people in the most cruel and immature ways . . . and we laugh? . . . admire him for ‘not caring what people think’?

Trump’s approach is not to win with sound ideas and logic, but through intimidation, outshouting anyone who opposes him, and even encouraging violence. This is someone who can’t seem to resist a feud, no matter how petty. Remember, this is the man who got in a very public war of insults with Rosie O’Donnell. Do we really want a cruel, childish, bullying, reality TV drama king as president of the United States? Coupled with his expressed interest in actually using nuclear weapons(!), the possibility of this man becoming president is frightening.

Racism
Trump’s campaign has fanned into flames a resurgent racism that is evil and ugly. And, as many of us warned during the primaries, this is affecting our children. Educators are now talking about the “Trump Effect” that is becoming more and more widespread in our schools. A high school from a predominantly Latino community sent their basketball team to play a mostly white school in Indiana. They were greeted by Trump signs and belligerent chants of “Build the wall!” In Virginia, two third-graders were singled out by classmates as “immigrants” because of the color of their skin, and told that when Trump becomes president they would be sent back home. These are not isolated incidents, but are becoming epidemic.

The anti-Semitic tone has also become rampant. Many Jewish people who dare to oppose Trump are being bombarded with phone calls and online messages threatening to “throw them in the ovens” or to send them to “Camp Trump,” with photos of Auschwitz attached. Conservative Republican Jews who refuse to support Trump are being ridiculed as “Kikeservatives.” This anti-Semitism is being fueled by Breitbart, an anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, pro-white “news network” controlled by Stephen Bannon—whom Trump chose as his Campaign CEO.

Divisive and destructive
In 1996, when it became clear Bob Dole couldn’t win the election, the Republican Party began focusing on the Senate and House of Representative races. Dole understood and supported this decision. Now some have suggested the GOP should focus on keeping both houses of Congress and not allow their leads to be lost. Donald Trump has responded by petulantly declaring war on the Republican leadership. He has destroyed company after company (and many lives along the way), he is in the midst of destroying the Republican party, and he wants us to entrust the leadership of the nation to him? With his repeated claims the election will be rigged, he is already recklessly endangering the nation.

Obsessed with power
Donald Trump frequently sings the praises of thugs and dictators. He admires the way the Chinese government brutally crushed the protests in Tiananmen Square (what most call a massacre), he tweets quotes from Mussolini, criticizes Mikhail Gorbachev for not being firm enough, compliments Saddam Hussein, and repeatedly praises Vladimir Putin, even defending Putin’s killing of political opponents and journalists. Which leads to the next point:

Abuse of power
Many people are so offended by the lewdness of the recently released Trump tape, they miss another disturbing aspect of this recording. Trump shows a cruel enjoyment of abusing his power as a celebrity—kissing women without their consent, grabbing them in grotesquely inappropriate ways. This isn’t just about juvenile, frat-boy over-sexed, filthy language; it’s about his delight in abusing power, about doing to women whatever he wants to whether they want it or not. Is this an anomaly, a phase he went through as an immature, 59-year old man?

Trump has openly expressed his intention to abuse power. If soldiers won’t commit the war crimes he demands, he’ll make them. He says that as soon as he has the power, he’ll exact vengeance on those who’ve crossed him: political opponents (most recently Paul Ryan), the judge who wouldn’t dismiss a case against him, journalists who wrote articles he didn’t like, etc. He hasn’t hidden any of this,  openly planning to corrupt his role as Commander in Chief and violate the constitutional separation of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, as well as the constitutionally protected freedom of the press.

Regardless of our political views, we must be very clear about this:

Legitimate leaders of democratic nations do not threaten the freedom of the press.
Leaders of free nations do not threaten to imprison their opponents.

(This actually sounds strangely like Putin, who Trump admires so much.) If Trump is somehow elected president, no one should be shocked when he does exactly what he’s always said he will do.

Extreme egotism
This is another case of us becoming so familiar with Trump we might shrug off statements that should serve as huge red flags to us. Over and over again, he’s told us that he is the only one who can save America, he is the only one who can make us great again, he is the only one smart enough and strong enough to get the job done. He keeps telling us we need to believe him, to trust him, that he knows. And this is exactly what Ronald Reagan warned us about when he accepted the nomination as Republican presidential candidate:

“Trust me” government asks that we concentrate our hopes and dreams on one man; that we trust him to do what’s best for us.  My view of government places trust not in one person or one party, but in those values that transcend persons and parties.

Ronald Reagan (July 17, 1980)

Donald Trump is not about transcendent values. Even his own team-members debate what he actually believes in. Donald Trump is about one thing—Donald Trump. When you put together the bullying, the obsession with power, the cruel delight in abusing power and the extreme egotism, what you come up with is not a great leader. It’s a perfect recipe for either a cult leader or a dictator.

At this period in history, the Republican party needed leaders with the conviction and resoluteness of Winston Churchill. What they have instead (with a few notable exceptions) is a party of Neville Chamberlains. So they are reaping what they have sown and their party is being ripped apart.

The future doesn’t look much brighter for Republicans. They’re beginning to hear of conservative young people who ordinarily would become Republicans, but are instead looking to the Democrats or considering themselves independents. They say it’s because they won’t be associated with Donald Trump or leaders who put party interests above the good of the country, weakly acquiescing to a destructive madman rather than having the courage to take a stand even if it costs them an election. It’s been sad, but educational, to see Republican leaders attempt all kinds of logical contortions to suddenly support positions they always vehemently opposed. And this just confirms that if the Republican party won’t stand up to Donald Trump now, there will be no one to stand up to him if he’s elected president.

So why do some evangelical Christians still say we should support Donald Trump? We’ll look at some of their reasons next.

 

 

Again, I’ll note this even though I shouldn’t have to:

Any vulgar, hostile or demeaning comments will be deleted. We are not seeking to merely win arguments or vent anger, but to challenge and encourage each other in edifying ways. If you can’t comment with a loving attitude, do not comment here.

2016: Who do we vote for?!

confusionLast year, my wife and I returned to California after almost 14 years in Puerto Rico. As residents of Puerto Rico, we didn’t pay federal income tax, but we also weren’t represented in Congress and we couldn’t vote in presidential elections. Before moving to PR I hadn’t missed a single election, so I was excited to be part of the process once again. Soon after we moved back, someone asked me what I would do if the choice was between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I laughed and said I’d see that as a definite sign of an impending apocalypse!

And now here we are. Americans are faced with an abysmal choice, two candidates distrusted and despised by most US voters. The Republicans have nominated possibly the only candidate who could lose to an incredibly vulnerable Hillary Clinton. And the Democrats have nominated possibly the only candidate who could lose to Donald Trump. It’s as if the World Series featured the worst two teams in baseball. It might be darkly entertaining if the consequences weren’t so terribly serious. Many Christians are dismayed to find themselves in this kind of dilemma. What in the world are we going to do come November? How should we vote?

As a pastor, I’m careful not to publicly promote any political party or ideology. Until this election cycle, I had never publicly commented on specific details or candidates during an election. But earlier this year, during the primaries, I—along with other evangelical leaders—appealed to and challenged evangelical supporters of Donald Trump. We were so concerned, we felt it would be irresponsible for pastors and leaders to not speak out. (I also expressed these concerns from the pulpit.)

In the months following the parties’ conventions, people have asked me if I still feel the same. I’ve been intending to write on this for some time, but my time has been consumed with the revitalization process of the church we serve (The Orchard). But even after the recent vile revelations concerning Donald Trump, there are still evangelicals defending Trump and urging the rest of us to support him. So . . . I’m writing. I’ll address this issue, as best I can, in two separate posts:

 

I shouldn’t have to write this, but I will:

Any vulgar, hostile or demeaning comments will be deleted. We are not seeking to merely win arguments or vent anger, but to challenge and encourage each other in edifying ways. If you can’t comment with a loving attitude, do not comment here.

The Orchard: Emerging from our chrysalis

030616As some of you know, earlier this year Kelley and I moved to the Sacramento area to help a church here begin a process of replanting and revitalization. We’ve been calling this our “chrysalis” phase. Sunday, September 28, we officially “emerged” from our cocoon! This is what—in church planting parlance—is known as a soft launch. We haven’t yet held any large events, but we have signs posted, we now have a public presence and we’re seeking to make ourselves known in the community. (You can check out our new website here.)

I hope to get back to blogging here in the not-too-distant future. But please be patient! At times, I’ll be teaching as much as 7 times a week. We’d deeply appreciate your prayers for needed team members, teachers and leaders. And especially pray that we’ll be faithful to reach out as missionaries to our community and effectively share the truth and love of Christ. Thanks!

Core commitment 4: Focused on making disciples

UnknownWe will remain focused on our mission of helping people become and continually grow as disciples of Jesus Christ:

  • We must live as missionaries in our communities, workplaces, schools, etc. We must be real, seeking to live authentic, Christ-like lives that will be witnesses of God’s love and truth. We must strive to truly understand the culture around us, so that we can more effectively communicate and live out the gospel in the context where God has placed us.
  • While we want everything we do to be well-organized and done with excellence, our priority must be what is most edifying spiritually, rather than what is entertaining or impressive.
  • We must follow and apply the consistent New Testament emphasis on teaching in the church. Our criteria for all ministries must be what best facilitates real worship and real learning and spiritual growth, rather than what is entertaining or impressive.
  • We must provide opportunities for genuine learning and spiritual growth for every age and level of spiritual maturity—from young children or non-Christian seekers to experienced believers who are biblically knowledgeable, and everything in between. Everyone in the church should be part of a process of growing as a disciple of Christ.
  • Every believer is spiritually gifted and has an important part to play in this transforming, multiplying life of the church. We must help the people understand their gifting, provide training in how to develop their gifting and opportunities to use their gifts to love and edify others.
  • The whole body does the work of ministry, not just the leaders. We must maintain a joyous expectation that every Christian be part of ministry. We must ensure they are not merely filling a needed ministry slot, but serving according to their gifting and passion. This is an integral part of the discipleship process.
  • We must be faithful to provide substantive, effective, ongoing training and equipping for leaders and teachers in the church. This too is an integral part of the church’s discipleship process.
  • We must intentionally foster a culture of discipleship (including evangelism) in the church. This should be a natural, organic part of everything we do, whether through structured classes or more relationally through informal fellowship.
  • We must design our church gatherings and ministries in ways that most effectively produce real learning, real spiritual growth and real disciples of Christ. We must be willing to reevaluate and change anything we do to make us more effective at fulfilling this vital, biblical purpose.