Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Conference Recap: Biblical Mennonite Alliance Annual Convention

Last weekend my wife and I spent a good part of Saturday at the annual conference of the Biblical Mennonite Alliance. If you have known me for very long you know that I am a conference guy, I would rather go to a church conference than go to Disney Land. In the early days of my awakening into Reformed theology I went to any conference within driving distance but I haven't been to any in some time so it was nice to get the chance to go and bring my wife along. One thing I noticed right away was that there were a lot of women there which is a stark contrast to Reformed conferences where the audience is overwhelmingly male. At Together For The Gospel I would say, conservatively, that the audience is 90% men. So having a lot of spouses means couples that are learning together, even though some sessions were specifically directed at men and others for women.

I had initially hoped to meet some online friends there but they were not able to attend although I did get to meet someone I wasn't expecting plus some local friends we have known for a while. The BMA is pretty far down the spectrum of Mennonite practice on the conservative side. As I said, there were lots of women there and I don't think any were wearing pants and I only saw one with her head uncovered. The topic was "Suffering Love: The Way of the Kingdom”, a topic that is pretty timely. The event was held in Shipshewana, Indiana, which is home to a huge population of Amish so adding hundreds of BMA conference attendees means that this might be one of the most densely populated areas of Anabaptists anywhere in the world for those days.

I think that the Anabaptist descendants, especially those who have held more closely to the original tenets of Anabaptism, are uniquely prepared for a time when the church domestically will suffer more than most of us can imagine so I was glad to see this topic come up. I am not sure that the topic was handled as deeply as it could have been with appeals to history as a guide but I also missed a couple of the keynote addresses so I will need to go back and listen to them at a later date.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how much was going on in domestic and international missions from DestiNATIONS International, the mission arm of the BMA. If there is a criticism of "conservative" Anabaptists, I would say it is that they tend to be more concerned with protecting the flock than they are with spreading the Gospel. So seeing all of the places that they are reaching with the Gospel was great.

What sort of surprised me a bit was how unprepared some of the speakers seemed to be when it came to facing the hard questions that invariably come up. I could sort of sum it up by describing many of the speakers as knowing what they believe without really knowing why they believe it. When compared with other conferences I have attended the speakers just seemed like regular guys, which is a lot different than listening to someone like R.C. Sproul or Albert Mohler. In some ways it was a little frustrating for me but in other ways it was actually kind of cool. These aren't professional theologians, they are just everyday Christians sharing on a selected topic. I am pretty sure you can't stump Albert Mohler with a question on theology because the guys reads voraciously and spends a lot of time answering questions for a living. The guys speaking at the BMA conference probably mostly have just regular jobs so there was a noticeable lack of preparedness and polish. Again that has some positives and negatives.

The conference also reinforced and highlighted to me the sense of disconnectedness I feel. Everyone else had the name of their local church on their nametags, we just had "Indiana" on ours. While I am largely in agreement with the brethren in the BMA we just aren't really that connected with any local fellowship and that is really wearing on me. All conservative Anabaptist groups have, in my opinion, the same problem, namely that people who are exactly like them always end up feeling like they are on the outside looking in. You are either 100% in lockstep, specifically on issues like dress and technology, or you are not really part of the fellowship. There is no room for growth, no place for compromise. I understand the reasoning, one only needs to look to the left wing of the Mennonite spectrum to see how haywire things have gone but it still is difficult for people who are cautiously moving in their direction but not there yet. We may find ourselves just fellowshipping somewhere with the understanding that we really don't belong and that is an uncomfortable place to be.

Overall it was a nice time, I got to meet some people, spend the day with my wife without kids around, and hear some good teaching. Hopefully it will be close to home again next year and we can go again because it was definitely worth  the time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why Income Inequality Is The New Climate Change

For many years the farce known alternatively as "global warming" and then "climate change" was the favorite bogeyman of the left, the ill that had to be defeated to preserve life on earth. Just as the right always has a new foreign enemy that threatens our very existence and "American way of life", the left requires a domestic enemy to combat with endless rules, regulations and of course taxes to keep the bureaucracy employed.  By most measures the climate change farce is dying out. There have been enough cold winters and enough demonstrably bad and politically driven "research" to make most people outside of a few urban enclaves pretty much laugh off the whole thing, the recent encyclical by Jorge Bergoglio notwithstanding (and largely ignored by most Roman Catholics anyway). While "climate change" is still out there siphoning off resources to groups that are "fighting" against it, whatever "it" is, the latest bogeyman is "income inequality" and for the same reason, it sounds bad and it can (and does) mean anything so it provides great cover for any sort of new rule or regulation.

Income inequality is just like climate change for the simple reason that both are vague and they both defy definition such that they are incredibly useful tools for rhetoric. The climate is always changing, it never stays the same. I saw just the other day ominous warnings of a mini-ice age coming in the next decade or so, which seems weird because I though the earth was warming? Huh. Likewise income is always unequal, even in paradisiacal settings like North Korea and the Soviet Union there were those who had more than others. If you think that the dictators of Cuba, North Korea, etc. live in the same manner as the peasants, you are naive or nuts or both. The "problem" of "income inequality" is impossible to solve, thus it can be used as cover for just about any policy someone wants to push and how can you be against it? After all, who wants to be labeled as being in favor of "income inequality"?!

This is going to be a huge issue in the 2016 election. Presumptive Democrat nominee Hillary "Pay to play" Clinton is already banging the drum on this issue in her frantic attempt to squelch the rising distaste of Democrat primary voters who are giving Bernie Sanders a serious look. Of course no one has any specifics but you can be sure that whoever the nominee is, promising to act on income inequality will be at the top of their platform. It will be an effective tactic because the average American registered voter can't think much beyond their next Facebook status update and is likewise clueless about economics.

It is easy to complain about income inequality as long as you don't have to think about it very much. "How terrible that the CEO of company X makes 150 times more than the entry level worker! That is unfair!". Is it really? Perhaps wages are set by a system where the more responsibility a job has, the more experience and education it requires and subsequently the more scarce the pool of applicants for a job, the more a job does (and should) pay.  Let me walk through this notion. This is going to be a little long but stay with me.

For example. Jobs that pay $10/hour and under can be done by virtually anyone. I mean just about any functional teen-ager or adult can assemble a Big Mac or stock Cap'n Crunch on the shelf at Wal-Mart. Because anyone can do it and it requires essentially no skill other than showing up to work, it shouldn't pay much. No, it seriously shouldn't. That doesn't mean people don't work hard at their job, it just means that anyone can do it so it has little value and besides anyone who works hard at one of those jobs won't stay in that wage level for long. When you get to jobs making $10-$20, you are talking lower level supervisory jobs and some less skilled manufacturing. It is harder to do and requires more talent and experience. The pool of people to fill these jobs is smaller and the work is more demanding. Thus it pays more. $20-$30/ hour and you are in more professional office and medical careers, these require not just experience and talent but also investment in education. $30/hour and up, where I used to be a few years ago, requires substantial work, lots of experience, lots of talent (usually) and education. The job I did was very specialized, you couldn't take someone off the street and have them do it without first investing a lot of years in training them. It took me a long time to get to that pay scale and the job I was in absolutely was worth more than triple what someone who worked in an entry level service industry job. If I wasn't getting paid a lot more, I would not have put up with long hours (with no overtime pay), extensive travel, lots of stress, always being available to clients, etc. When you get much above that scale you are talking executive level leadership and professionals (accountants, doctors, lawyers), people who have a rare blend of talent and education. For example, I used to work for a couple of international financial services firms. They had assets under management in the hundreds of billions of dollars, in an extremely regulated industry with a complex organization that required someone who could manage a firm with tens of thousands of employees. I have met a tiny handful of people in my entire career who were even in the conversation for a job like that. People who are that driven and that skilled are a tiny minority of the population. I would say that I am a pretty smart guy and a better than decent communicator. I would never put myself in charge of an organization of even 25 people, much less 25,000. The vast majority of the population does not possess the basic intellectual capacity to even begin to run a company like Wal-Mart or Ford or Chase. The guy who runs Chase, Jamie Dimon, (and I used to work for Chase) seems like a pompous jerk but he can do a job that only a small number of people in the entire world are even capable of contemplating. Should be get paid as much as he does? I don't know, that is between him and the shareholders of Chase. Should someone who is at the top of a company with a quarter-million employees and revenue of close to $100,000,000,000 make 100 times what a teller does? How about 1000 times? It is silly to ask because I am pretty sure that not a single teller at Chase has the skill, drive and talent to run the company. As a bank manager for Chase I certainly didn't. I made a nice salary running a branch with 10-12 employees. Dimon runs an organization with a quarter of a million employees. I cannot even fathom the complexity of that and neither can you. Heck, Wal-Mart has over 2 million employees. I would think the CEO deserves a lot more than the stocker in Spokane, Washington. So yeah it is easy to get all outraged over "income inequality" and "pay disparity" but when you stop and think about it, it isn't quite so cut and dried. The fact of the matter is that we need people who are able and willing to do very hard, very high stress jobs and they should get paid more, a lot more, than someone with no skills and little experience. Making $250,000 a year is a lot of money but would Jamie Dimon run J.P. Morgan Chase for that amount? Not on your life. You might think you would but a) you probably couldn't run Chase for more than 15 minutes and b) if you could (or I could)  we wouldn't do it for $250,000 a year either.

As far as "what to do about it?", who says we can or should? What I make in my work is what people are willing to pay me for what I am willing to do. I have voluntarily cut my own pay by changing professions by more than half for the sake of my health. I have a lot of skills and experience but I am not using them fully in what I do now so I don't expect someone to pay me what I used to make. Besides, what someone else makes is none of my business. Not even a little bit and it isn't yours. If LeBron James or Taylor Swift or Jamie Dimon makes millions of dollars a year, how is that my business? Why do I have a say in how much they should be allowed to make or how much they should be allowed to keep? I don't buy tickets or merchandise for the NBA, I sure as heck don't spend money on Taylor Swift songs and I don't bank at Chase nor am I a shareholder. Like Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, to paraphrase, just go about your life and mind your own beeswax.

A lot of people in the church get up in arms about this but I think that outrage is misplaced. Greed is a sin but nowhere in Scripture do we see a mandate to go to Caesar and seek to have him use his sword to confiscate from some to give to others. God is indeed angry at greed but He will also deal out the judgment (for a graphic example see Luke 16:19-31). If someone in the church is in need, the church should help them out rather than going to Caesar. It is not loving, charitable, dare I say not Christian, to take from some by force and give to others. Someone who claims to be a peacemaker when it comes to going to war but has no problem with coercing some people to give to others doesn't really understand what being a peacemaker is all about.

At the end of the day, you should make what an employer feels your work is worth to that organization. If you think you deserve more, do something about it. The best way to combat "income inequality" is to free up capital for investment which in turn creates jobs and thereby increases competition for workers who will then make more money. The dirty little secret behind the calls for "income equality" is that most of the people chattering about it are millionaires already and have created their own tax shelters to hide their wealth. Meanwhile the suckers in the middle-class will end up paying high prices while their wages stay put, meaning that the ones who are going to really suffer are the most productive members of our society. It might just be that is the whole point of this exercise in the first place.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

All Human Lives Matter Especially The Smallest Of Us

Brit Hume crushes it when discussing the blood soaked merchants of death at Planned Parenthood and the grisly video where prices for the component parts of fellow human beings are being negotiated like the price of a new car. These modern day Josef Mengeles traffic and profit in the slaughter, dismemberment and sale of human beings. For those who have been speaking out against this crime against humanity for a long time, these revelations are not unexpected although the casual way it is discussed is still chilling. Hopefully those who blithely cover their ears and eyes and try to explain away the slaughter taking place every day in America and around the world by converting human beings into amorphous and ambiguous dehumanizing terms will be forced to face what they are doing and examine the position they hold so dearly. Let me be clear:

Calling a tiny human being "tissue" is no different than calling a human being "nigger".

It rips away their humanity and turns an image bearer of God into a thing, something distasteful and unworthy of consideration. Why not enslave blacks, after all they are just niggers? Why not tear apart a tiny human, after all it is just "tissue"? Why not herd millions of Jews into gas chambers, after all they are just vermin?

One can easily imagine a casual meal like the one in the released videos where the speakers are wearing the uniform of Nazi Germany and discussing rates for rail cars carrying Jews to Auschwitz.

So don't be fooled. This is not an anomaly. This is business as usual for our nation's premier serial killer, a murderous organization that is funded by the tax dollars of Americans and the payment for services of desperate women who have been convinced that an abortion is their only sensible choice and after all it isn't a baby, it is just "tissue".

Somewhere in the deepest pits of hell, Josef Mengele is applauding his modern day offspring as they go about their daily task of murder for hire. Watch the video in this link and be thankful that there are still voices who will not be silent about real injustice in America.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Musings

I have been off the grid for a bit this week. My absence was due to driving a group of Amish out to upstate New York, and that ended up meaning very little access to what was going on. That meant a lot of time to sit and ponder.

I decided that upstate New York is a lovely place and while it doesn't hold a candle to Northern Michigan in summertime it was nevertheless quite nice. It would be a great place to live if it were not in the same state as New York City. I was also bemused that people actually have Buffalo Bills stickers on their car and wear Bills jerseys. Seriously?

The decent weather and nice scenery doesn't really make up for the reason for the trip, taking a very elderly Amish mother and several of her children to New York state to bury her son. He was killed in a farming accident last week. I can think of nothing much worse than losing a child, no matter how old they are. Amish funeral rituals are kind of weird.

As someone who constantly is soaking up information and prides myself on being "in the know", it was a little disconcerting to not have access to the internet, or TV or even radio news (I don't usually have the radio on when driving the Amish). On the other hand it was also kind of nice, it allowed me to narrow down my focus to where I was and what I was doing instead of on what was going on in the world. I am glad to be back but that sort of self-imposed social media blackout might be a nice thing to do once in a while.

Quiet and stillness. There was plenty of both. I stayed clear of what was going on because it was a private moment for a private people. That meant I was sitting and not doing anything. It is amazing to just watch the world without the noise and chatter. I spent hours just watching birds, a mare and her foal, goats irritating the sheep by jumping on their backs and standing on them which is hilarious. The speed of our lifestyle means we miss a lot. A LOT.

Losing the language. The Amish I was driving are older, over 50 for the most part (since the mom is 91 that makes sense). They speak to each other almost exclusively in their form of German unless they were addressing me. Adults my age and younger tend to speak to each other in English unless they are saying something they don't want you to hear. But the Amish school aged kids speak English almost exclusively. Since their church services are are conducted in German they won't lose it entirely but I know it is a concern for a lot of older Amish, almost on par with the greater use of technology among the younger Amish.

More formal blogging to come.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Happy violation of Romans 13 Day!

My annual repost of A nation born of rebellion against God ....

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When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

With these words, the Declaration of Independence begins to list the grievances suffered under the despotic rule of King George over the English colonies in America. After a lengthy list of grievances, the Declaration declares that the colonies are no longer under the rule of England but are instead free and independent.

Powerful words. Solemn words. Words that, at least until recently, were taught to all schoolchildren and words that are part of our American lore. I am in awe of the power and eloquence of the Declaration and the subsequent Constitution that at one time was the law of the land in America. So that is great, we all agree that America is swell. So what is the point? Here is where I am going with this: Are these statements in the Declaration of Independence the founding words of a Christian nation, a country founded on "Judeo-Christian" values?

Simply put: No.

Why in the world would I say that?

Because America was birthed by an ungodly act of rebellion against authority.

Yikes! Stay with me here. This is a long one but I think it is important and thought provoking.

This post is not intended to bash America. I would not choose to live anywhere else in the world unless I was led to do so in God's providence. I love my country, in fact I love my country more than may be healthy as a Christian. I am also not saying that the founding fathers were wrong or that the end result is bad. Clearly America has been a force for more good than ill in the world. This statement is intended as a wake-up call to the church. Evangelicals must remember that being an evangelical Christian must of necessity take priority over being an American. I hear lots of lip-service to that effect but practically speaking our American upbringing impacts our doctrine and practice in some troubling ways. There are no special secular nations, even ones where the founding is full of religious overtones. I think this is important because there is such a blurring of the distinction between the church and America that it sometimes seems as if we are evangelists for American culture more than witnesses of the risen Christ. So if you will, please indulge me for a few minutes to explain why I would make that assertion.

The core issue here is one of submission. Submission gets a bad rap in the church in America because it is either tip-toed around or it is used as a club. Americans don't like to submit to anyone for any reason. The Founding Fathers decided that at some point they no longer wished to submit to King George, to pay his taxes without representation. I think most historians would agree that King George was a poor ruler. So it is little wonder that the colonies eventually revolted. The question we are pondering here is a dramatically different one: Is our submission to authority based on the worthiness of the one in authority? That is an important question because we are called on to submit all over the place in the Bible, a subject we looked at yesterday when the church gathered.

Let's take a look at what the Bible says about submission to authorities and it says a lot.

The first place I want to look is at the third chapter of Paul’s letter to Titus.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:1)

Paul is somewhat vague here. He exhorts Titus to remind Christians to be submissive to authorities. Who these rulers and authorities are doesn’t get much clarification but I certainly think that Paul is at least implying governing officials. The following sections of Scripture reinforce this idea quite powerfully.

Next we have a powerful statement from the lips of Christ Himself. Pay careful attention here.

He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:10-11)

Here is Christ, mere hours away from His death on the cross, telling Pontius Pilate that he has no authority (including the authority to condemn Christ to die) except that which he has received “from above”, i.e. from God. Stop and think about what Christ is saying here. Pontius Pilate received his authority from Caesar. So by proxy Caesar has been granted the authority by God to put Jesus Christ to death. I can’t overemphasize this point that the most unjust and tyrannical government ever faced by Christians was given its authority directly from God and it used that authority to crucify Christ and persecute the church for the next three centuries. Roman Emperors like Nero and Caligula make King George look like Mr. Rogers in comparison. Ponder that as we move forward.

Next, a look at what Peter wrote regarding this issue. I think this is important as well because this is not a “Paul-only” doctrine. It is something found in the words of Christ and Peter as well as Paul. Just once in Scripture should be sufficient but for purposes of staking a position I think it adds even more weight when there are multiple sources.

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Please note a few things here. Be subject to every human institution, emperor and governors. Not to be subject to only the just rulers or those you voted for. Remember again as a frame of reference that when Peter says “emperor” he must be referring to Caesar and when he refers to “governor” that likely refers to men like Pilate. Verse 17 is especially telling; we are to honor everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God and honor the emperor. Honor Caesar? Absolutely.

Next up is Romans 13, the seminal passage on human governing authorities.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13: 1-7)

There is no authority other than those God has instituted. That would obviously include the Roman empire and of course the good ole United States of America. Wouldn’t it similarly include Nazi Germany? The Stalinist Soviet Union? Castro’s Cuba? North Korea? England under the reign of King George? Lichtenstein! All of the above. So Paul is saying that by resisting the authorities placed over us, we resist God and bring judgment upon ourselves. We are to submit and pay taxes, whether we consider them just or not.

Look at what precedes Romans 13, keeping in mind that the chapter breaks are not in the original. What Paul wrote right before this passage is vital to understanding Romans 13: 1-7.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12: 14-21)

That is important to remember. Christians in Rome would be facing persecution just as Paul himself, a frequent guest in prison cells, was subjected to. In the face of such injustice, the natural response as an American is to overthrow the scoundrels, the whole refresh the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants and patriots thing. Paul is saying just the opposite and we must consider the end of chapter 12 and the beginning of chapter 13 as one continuous thought. Is the government unjust? God will judge that nation. Are the rulers despotic? God is the one who will avenge their injustice, either immediately (see the death of Herod in Acts 12: 20-23) or at the Judgment seat. “Don’t tread on me” is not a concept that would be understood by Paul.

What is the overarching message here? It strikes me that God is sovereign over all nations, not just Western democracies but all nations, and that God will judge those nations. We all understand this and accept this, at least in theory. Submission is an easy topic to talk about but when you apply it as a practical matter, it gets messy and sometimes flies in the face of certain ideals that we hold dear. This issue is one that is easily turned from “Scripture says” to “Well, I think”.

So that brings me back to my original point. Was the founding of America a “Christian” action? I have to say “No”. No matter that the lofty ideals espoused by the Founders sound pleasing to our ears or that we can argue that no secular nation on earth is a better one. The notion that America was once a “Christian nation” and needs to return to that state is demonstrably false because the very founding of America was done as an act of rebellion against the very authorities that God had ordained.

Am I missing something here? Is there anything in the New Testament that would lead a follower of Jesus Christ to think that we are called to overthrow unjust rulers? Should we pray for our leaders? Well certainly we should and that is perfectly Biblical. Should we take up arms to overthrow them? Absolutely not, not even if they force high taxes on us or unjust laws. Not even if they persecute the church and not even if they put Christians to death. God will avenge, not us and we are never called to return evil for evil, even when we are sure that our cause is right. We shouldn’t turn to George Washington and Patrick Henry to form our beliefs regarding human government. Our model for how we should relate to the government is found in Scripture, in Paul and Peter and most especially in Jesus Christ.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Book Review: Clinton Cash

It is no revelation to point out that most politicians seem to be at least a little crooked. Maybe not overtly but certainly influenced by those who fund their campaigns and in turn those they extort money from for political favors. The entire American system of government is a huge cash cow and there are plenty of people lined up to get a piece. Even in a corrupt system there have always been those who have taken it to a new level, some who get caught and many others who never do. At the top of this festering pile of corruption there stands a pair of political hucksters like no other, one a former President and one who has a very decent chance to be the next President. No one has learned to game the system and avoid prosecution quite like Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Enter Peter Schweizer, author of Extortion (see my review here) with his new, heavily documented book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich. This is a convoluted tale that reads like a somewhat predictable summer thriller, full of shady characters and international intrigue but sadly this is not fiction, it is the record of two people who claimed to be "dead broke" before parlaying their extensive influence, foreign fan base and continuing position of power in the heart of American politics to enrich themselves beyond the imagination of most people. Worse, as Schweizer shows conclusively, this personal enrichment came not from domestic sources but largely by using Hillary Clinton's position as Secretary of State to apparently trade U.S. foreign policy favors to foreign nationals, often of the most unsavory kind. As Schweizer alludes to, it hardly seems that there is a nefarious Third World dictator that didn't purchase influence from  the U.S. government by paying Bill Clinton exorbitant speaking fees (half a million dollars and up) or by enormous contributions to the Clinton's "charitable" foundation which appears to be little more than a way to funnel money around the world and provide employment to former Clinton staffers and loyalists.

What was perhaps the most infuriating was the chapter on Haiti. Having been to Haiti and caring deeply for the people there, I used to have some respect for the Clinton's for their apparent concern about the nation and people but from what I read in this book it looks like Haiti was just another way for the Clinton's to sell influence and gather wealth and power.

I doubt many people will care about this. Those who will read it already are unlikely to vote for Hillary anyway and her rabid "it's time for a woman president no matter how dishonest and corrupt!" fans in the media and popular culture will do their best to squelch this, just as they have so far managed to do with her Byzantine system of hiding and then selectively releasing emails sent and stored away from the prying eyes of the few reporters still out there and out of range of the Freedom of Information Act. I do hope that some people who think of Hillary as a champion of the middle-class and someone who can trusted to be the leader of the free world will at least give this book a chance. What is detailed is not surprising but it is still shocking and proof that the most powerful couple in politics have no shame and no concern over being caught. Thus far they have been proven correct as their corruption, influence and wealth spreads.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Being A People Of Peace In A Land Without Laws

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.  (1 Thess 4:9-12)
These words from Paul were sound 2000 years ago and are just as valid and timely today. Christians of those days lived in a lawless land and yet they survived, thrived and multiplied in spite of that as well as the very real persecution they suffered, indeed perhaps they thrived precisely because of it. Very few people are looking to get themselves persecuted but it isn't like the Bible is silent on the topic. In the middle of this persecution, Paul's words seem counter-intuitive, as they so often do. Work quietly. Mind your own business. The reason was also clear. So that we as  the church may walk properly before outsiders and not be dependent on anyone. His language is interesting. He describes those who are not the brethren, i.e. not part of he church, as outsiders. Coupled with his previous admonitions for purity and avoidance of sexual immorality in 1 Thess 4: 1-8 (an interesting comparison can also be made for today), Paul seems to be setting out very, very clear instructions for marking out the boundary between the church and not-the-church. Loving our brothers included being self-reliant, living quietly and living distinctly such that no one mistakes us for the world and vice versa.

Back to the title of the post. Make no mistake, this is a lawless land. That doesn't mean that there are no laws of course, we have enough laws to keep a billion lawyers happily employed. It just means that the average American has no say in the law of the land. The government can take your money, your property, your children, even your life and you can't do a thing about it. If the government comes onto your property and decides it is a "wetland" you are just out of luck, the 5th Amendment not withstanding. If the government decides that your kids are being mistreated, they can take them away by force and leave the burden to the parent to try to get them back. As we have seen time and again the democratic process is defunct and the Constitution is null and void. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote regarding the ridiculous Obergefell decision: A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy. Of course for the better part of a century this country allowed the enslavement of an entire race of people so our overall record as a land of laws is not exactly stellar.

In a land where the church dwells as part of a mass population ruled by a bureaucratic oligarchy we can look back to the early days of the church and the words of Paul ring true. The illusion of "we the people" is gone and the once comfortable perch the church sat on as the useful idiot and tame pet of Caesar has been knocked over. Caesar doesn't need us anymore and certainly doesn't want us. We are not going to regain that standing and we shouldn't try to. What matters now more than ever is not our influence but our witness. Our commitment to marriage and our embrace of a Biblical understanding of gender is a big part of that. Our love for our neighbor and especially one another is an even more important part. As Paul writes we should be a quiet, loving people who rely on each other. Our distinction from the world should be crystal clear, especially when the world is caught up in immorality.

This is one of those places where the broader church can learn from the Anabaptists but also be cautioned by them as well. The "conservative" Anabaptists have done a great job of being distinct from the world, normally a quiet and industrious people that rely on each other. They have not done such a great job being a witness to the world because they really don't want people to join them. Somewhere in the middle is probably the right way for the church. We should be very clearly distinct but that distinction should also serve as a witness and invitation. Something makes us different, we would love to tell you about it! Come share a meal with us, come spend time with us, come learn why we are different and not just learn all the ways we are different. In a world that is progressively (pun intended) more acrimonious and angry, we ought to be a quiet people of peace, bold in the Gospel but gentle in our lifestyle.

The Christianity of the coming years in America will of necessity be a less powerful Christianity as the world understands it but that doesn't mean a less powerful witness. Our weakness will be our strength, our quiet lives will be our loudest voice. When the church is interdependent and internally reliant we won't care about tax exemptions. Our love for one another will speak to the world that we are disciples of Christ far better than our opulent religious temples. We must rely on one another and we must therefore be willing and eager to support one another, even (especially) financially. Our American economic system is about the best we can hope for in a fallen world but it is completely inadequate for the church. I think there is a lot to be said about the church and how we function in the economic system, how we make a living, how we allocate our resources and how dependent or not we are on the surrounding economic system but that will have to wait for another post. Above all we must remain a people of peacemaking even when the world itself seems to be at war against us.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Caesar Giveth and Caesar Taketh Away

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it provided that we continue to be able to make tax deductible contributions to local religious organizations. (Matthew 16:18, Post-Christendom Standard Version)
The initial fallout over the tyrannical imposition of "gay marriage" on America is largely past. The playground chest thumping from Trash-Talker-In-Chief Obama has run its course and social media has moved on to other issues for the most part. Behind the scenes however, this is still a live issue. Both sides are already bracing for the next steps, homosexual activists breathlessly imagining what else they can do to quash dissent and religious conservative girding for the next battle that they are going to lose. I was writing a little longer post on my thoughts for the church in the days to come but I came across a post from Denny Burk at The Federalist, Ending Tax Exemptions Means Ending Churches, that I thought worthwhile to comment on. His driving point was a premature call to end tax-exempt status for religious organizations in the New York Times. I don't think the judiciary has the stomach for that just yet but it will.

I also think a lot of confused liberal Christians and religious "progressives" are in for a shock when their presumed buddies in the "gay marriage" movement turn on them as well and their "progressive" churches also lose their tax-exempt status but maybe they don't care since they have already been doing a great job of committing religious suicide over the years anyway. If there is no one there to put money in the plate, does it really matter if the nonexistent contribution would have been tax-deductible?

Burk is correct that "gay marriage" was never the real point of this entire fight but his response to the next inevitable step of the homosexual movement and the dream of the progressive Left forever, the elimination of tax-exempt status for churches and other religious groups is more telling than the actual topic itself. According to Burk, "After I posted a link to his article on Facebook, a pastor friend commented: “I’m not sure our small church could survive.”' What a sad commentary on the church that love and fellowship is not enough, we rely on tax-exemptions to survive. Burk goes on to say:
No, the real intent of removing tax-exempt status is to cripple the institutions that continue their dissent from the sexual revolution. When tax exemptions are removed, donors will give far less than they are giving now. Churches will become liable to property taxes. That means that many churches will have to forfeit their property to the government because they won’t be able to afford the taxes they have to pay on it. Many of them wouldn’t be able to pay them now. If donations went down, they would be that much further from being able to pay them. As a result, churches that reside on valuable properties in urban locations would be immediately vulnerable. Eventually, so would everyone else.
As I said, I agree that is one of the next steps we will see in short order but I see it somewhat differently. That statement exposes one of the major flaws in organized religion, namely that it is primarily focused on self-preservation. How in the world did the church survive without preferential tax treatment and still care for the poor and the widow? Well it did so by not saddling itself with debt, expensive property and permanent salaried staff. Burk is part of the religious establishment that churns out "ministers" that need jobs, jobs that are funded by the tax-deductible contributions of Christians and other religious folks. If he is correct, and I am certain he is, and donations to local religious organizations rapidly dry up when they stop being tax-deductible, that probably will mean fewer "churches" and commensurately fewer jobs for ministers, which more bi-vocational ministers who enter the clergy later in life and are less likely to seek formal theological education and even more purely voluntary church leaders who have regular jobs and don't depend on the church for a living. That is probably bad news for the Religious-Industrial Complex known as the seminary system, especially the numerous degree mills that church out worthless M.Divs, but I don't think it is all that bad for the church.

It is hardly the end of the church if we have to sell off our expensive property that sits empty most of the week and the clergy has to get regular jobs instead of depending on checks from widows. Quite the opposite. For a church in the wilderness, on the margins of society, it is far more healthy. People are less than interested in our religious rituals, our crappy pseudo-pop "praise music" and our carefully sanitized "church" experience that seems like a religious version of a theme park ride. It is going to take some getting used to but being a peculiar, distinct people within a broader society is going to be wonderful because it will of necessity require us to depend on one another and I for one would rather stand next to my brother in the face of persecution than face off against my brother in our competition for "members" and money.

I have more, a lot more, to say about this but that will have to wait for my next post (unless something else more interesting pops up first!)

Friday, June 26, 2015

So now what?

That is the question a lot of people are asking today. With the stroke of a pen the Supreme Court added by judicial fiat the "right" of two people of the same gender to "marry", placing Obergefell v. Hodges alongside Roe v. Wade, with the "right" of a woman to murder her child in the womb, in the pantheon of "rights" made up out of thin air by the court outside of and in opposition to the legislative process.

From a legal standpoint this was going to happen anyway. The tides of the culture were already moving in this direction and within a few years the entire nation was going to have legalized "gay marriage". Having the Court step in to circumvent the process is simply the latest dangerous precedent where the Court makes the law and there is not much you can do about it because that same Court interprets the law. It is somewhat akin to a baseball umpire getting up in the middle of a game and rearranging the scoreboard to achieve whatever outcome they want rather than ruling on balls and strikes. The American system of governance does not work when one branch stops being a checks and balances branch and becomes the de facto rulers of the nation.

The decision was as predictable as the sun rising in the east. The same court that ruled in favor of Obamacare a day earlier because the law is a mess and they decided not to make it worse, rather than sending it back to the legislature to fix like they are supposed to, was certainly going to have at least 5 members rule in favor of "gay marriage" no matter what the arguments were for or against and certainly without bothering to consult the Constitution. So there it is. America is not a "marriage equality" nation, to our shame and national degradation.

So what next?

If you think that those who pushed for "gay marriage" are going to be satisfied that they got what they demanded, you are delusional. There is always a next step. You need proof? Check out this tweet from our esteemed Commander-in-Chief:
A "big step". That implies there are more steps to come. Having won the "right" to get married, now comes the push to silence those who disagree and force at least external acceptance of homosexual unions. The institutional church is going to bear the brunt of this because that is where the money is and lawyers and activists always chase the money.

Imagine this scenario. Church X is a moderately conservative Southern Baptist church with a beautiful sanctuary. The family of Guy A are lifelong members there and Guy A went to church, youth group, was baptized there and accepted into membership as a youth. In his adulthood he decided he liked dudes and found "the one". So Guy A and Guy B want to get married and Guy A wants to have the ceremony in Church X because he is a "member" there and it carries deep emotional significance for him. Church X declines. Guy A feels upset by this. Do you seriously think that Guy A can't and won't sue to demand that they accommodate him and do you seriously think that he won't win?

Or, as many have predicted for some time, the courts are going to be inundated with appeals from polygamist groups. Given the complete lack of Constitutional interaction there is no reason that the same reasoning doesn't apply to polygamist groups. As the dissenting justices wrote: "The majority's decision is an act of will, not legal judgment." The five justices wanted something, so they did it. Simple as that. Justice Roberts has already made this point in his dissent:
One immediate question invited by the majority’s position is whether States may retain the definition of marriage as a union of two people. Cf. Brown v. Buhman, 947 F. Supp. 2d 1170 (Utah 2013), appeal pending, No. 14- 4117 (CA10). Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective “two” in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world. If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one. 
It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage. If “[t]here is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices,” ante, at 13, why would there be any less dignity in the bond between three people who, in exercising their autonomy, seek to make the profound choice to marry? If a same-sex couple has the constitutional right to marry because their children would otherwise “suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser,” ante, at 15, why wouldn’t the same reasoning apply to a family of three or more persons raising children? If not having the opportunity to marry “serves to disrespect and subordinate” gay and lesbian couples, why wouldn’t the same “imposition of this disability,” ante, at 22, serve to disrespect and subordinate people who find fulfillment in polyamorous relationships? See Bennett, Polyamory: The Next Sexual Revolution? Newsweek, July 28, 2009 (estimating 500,000 polyamorous families in the United States); Li, Married Lesbian “Throuple” Expecting First Child, N. Y. Post, Apr. 23, 2014; Otter, Three May Not Be a Crowd: The Case for a Constitutional Right to Plural Marriage, 64 Emory L. J. 1977 (2015). 
I do not mean to equate marriage between same-sex couples with plural marriages in all respects. There may well be relevant differences that compel different legal analysis. But if there are, petitioners have not pointed to any. When asked about a plural marital union at oral argument, petitioners asserted that a State “doesn’t have such an institution.” Tr. of Oral Arg. on Question 2, p. 6. But that is exactly the point: the States at issue here do not have an institution of same-sex marriage, either.
Precisely.

As I have been saying for a while now, the church needs to disentangle itself entirely from civil marriage. Let the state do whatever it wants. The church will not recognize nor perform nor act as agent in civil marriages. Marriages in the church are marriage in the church alone. The state never should have had any sort of relationship with the church when it came to marriage and it is time to end our unequal yoking. For once let's be ahead of the curve and tell Caesar to take his marriage licenses and stick 'em. The church needs to focus on marriage and gender as God has designed and defined as a witness now more than ever. We have tried to play the respectable patsy for the culture for long enough and all it has gotten us is a smack on the hand when we got out of line. God intended marriage as not merely a sexual union with procreative results but also as a witness to the world. It is time for that role to be front and center for the church.

Slow Down A Bit Here

Reading/watching the news is usually a grim way to spend time. I was driving some Amish last night and in passing a church with a sign showing solidarity for the church in Charleston they asked me what happened because they had no idea. They were duly horrified when I explained. While I like to be informed, sometimes I wonder if it is healthy to be too informed, too caught up in the day to day stuff that is almost always negative.

I have been thinking about this sudden and visceral backlash against the Confederate flag or the "Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag" as some like to point out, which is accurate but come on, the people who fly it are 99.99% not aware that it is not the actual flag of the Confederacy. I have no dog in this fight. I was born, grew up in and lived almost exclusively in Northern states. I never understood someone in northern Michigan would have a flag representing the Confederacy in the window of their pick-up truck. I always wanted to ask them if they knew that Michigan was on the other side in that war. To me that flag was the flag of the losing side and was only flown to preserve "Southern heritage" which was a less than subtle reference to "the good old days when we went to war to keep people enslaved". Like I said I am a Northerner through and through and there is plenty of racism in the north but I don't think the problem is that this is "a Southern thang, y'all wouldn't understand". No, I understand all right, I just think it is juvenile and disgusting. No offense intended to my Southern friends and readers but I have never found anything praiseworthy in the history of the South from that era. I don't find the great leaders of the Confederacy to be all that great because no matter how you nuance it they were fighting to keep slavery, just as I don't care if Erwin Rommel was a swell guy. To make matters worse, going to war over this particular issue once and for all skewed the question of state's rights versus Federal rights in favor of the Federal and forever tainted the conversation about state's rights with the enslavement of human beings. I think you can point back to the Civil War in any conversation about the grotesque reach of the Federal government today.

Having said all that, the response to this act of terror by a lone, disturbed, young man who was on psychotropic drugs like so many mass killers has been breath-taking and more than a little worrisome. I don't think the presence of the rebel flag on the grounds of the state capitol in South Carolina was the trigger that set this guy off, although I don't know why it was flying there in the first place. I imagine this kid was a) mentally disturbed in the first place, b) was on mood altering drugs and c) was probably fed racist drivel and then sought out every nutcase who thinks that shooting up a church full of black people worshiping was somehow going to strike a blow for the white man. I also don't understand why Wal-Mart and Amazon and places like that carried merchandise with the rebel flag in the first place other than it was a way to make a buck. I do know why they yanked everything so quickly while leaving Nazi memorabilia for sale, simply because corporate America as a whole is a risk averse enterprise that is terrified of bad publicity to the point of knee-jerk reacting to any event so as to avoid bad press. Our tendency as a culture to overreact to anything and everything is going to come back and bite us. Sure the Confederate flag is low hanging fruit, it is hard to defend in the first place so it easy to try to erase it from our culture. What if Dylan Roof had prominently been wearing a crucifix around his next? Would these stores stop selling selling? Would we see crucifixes pulled down in religious buildings? Before you laugh that off, let me have you talk to me ten years ago and explain that the Supreme Court of the United States just created a "right" for homosexuals to marry. Nothing is off the table these days. More on that later.

At some point we need to remember that we are allegedly living in a free society, although it is harder to make that case by the day. You do not, as a citizen of this republic, have a right to not be offended. In fact just the opposite is true. Part of living in a free society means we tolerate all sorts of offensive nonsense all the time. I am not calling for anyone to lock up Louis Farrakhan no matter how much dangerous nonsense he spouts off. I am not calling on anyone to banish the entire Palin family to a remote island, even if doing so would benefit society as a whole. Free speech, free expression and free association include dumb speech, dumb expression and dumb association.

The point I am trying to get to here is that we as a people might need to tone down the outrage meter and think a little bit before we act. The real reasons behind these senseless murders have little to do with a Confederate flag and taking it down from state capitol buildings and not selling merchandise with the Confederate flag is not going to stop these sorts of people in the future. In fact it likely is going to embolden them by reinforcing their conspiracy theories. Likewise the calls for gun control that invariably follow tragedies like this do nothing to stop the problem. What is needed is a discussion of what is really going on, why people feel emboldened to gun other people down. What is needed is a real conversation about the mass murder on a daily basis of black babies by "doctors". What is needed is an honest discussion of young black men killing young black men on a scale that makes Dylan Roof look like the punk he is. In our rush to "do something" we end up not doing anything and look as confused the next time this happens. Sadly I am not sure that we in America as a people are intellectually capable of doing much more than pulling down flags and ending the sale of "General Lee" model cars. So ignorance will continue to rule, people will die and the masses will ask "why?".

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Headcovering: Now More Than Ever

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)
This is a weird passage for a lot of Christians, one that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It deals with a couple of awkward issues, like submission and a command to wear something on your head. You can see this awkwardness in the general way that it is treated in most sermons when the pastor comes to this passage and generally skips past it as fast as he can, The typical treatment of these verses is to dismiss them based on an alleged, unspoken cultural question that really has no bearing on the church today in our enlightened age. In general it is dismissed as a quaint, kind of confusing cultural relic that has no place in our modern church.

I would argue just the opposite. My wife has covered for many years, even when she was the only person in a gathering who did so. The practice kind of was in vogue in some circles a few years back and I blogged a bit about it but seems to have cooled off. Here in 2015 I am hoping to revive this conversation because if ever there was a time when the church needed it, it is now. I am not going to go back through and review the arguments for an actual covering versus long hair or a covering being replaced by a wedding ring, I have posts on those topics already if you are interested.

A covering is more than just an external sign of a submissive heart, although it is not less than that, The covering is also a quiet act of subversion against the culture that tells us that gender, like race, is whatever you want it to be, whatever you feel like at that moment. The covering reminds us that God intentionally made man and He intentionally made woman, He made them in a specific way and order and He made them to be distinct, interdependent and complementary. The two genders and how God designed them to relate with one another is integral to God's design for humanity and even for His plan of salvation. When we read the opening of the Gospel according to Matthew we see the genealogy of Jesus Christ, generation after generation. When we see the curse in Genesis 3 we also see the promise that would be fulfilled in Christ Jesus through the seed of the woman. When we see the promise to Abraham we know that it is fulfilled in the children of the union between man and woman. The covering is a critical, external symbol of recognition of the pivotal place of gender. Absolutely the heart is even more critical in this equation but you simply cannot negate the external sign commanded in Scripture, just as Christians are called to actually be baptized in water as an external sign of an inward reality.

As I said, the covering is a subversive statement today, a counter-cultural act that quietly witnesses to and stands in defiance of the prevailing culture. The culture says "be whatever you want to be, feel free to mutilate the canvas of your flesh". The cover says "I am a daughter of the Most High, made as a woman in His image and by His design and for His glory". The culture says "Men and women are indistinguishable and interchangeable" , the covering says "I am unique and irreplaceable as a woman and I have no desire to be a man". A woman with a covered head leaves no doubt as to the nature of men and women and her embrace of how God has made her. A husband blessed to have a wife at his side with a covering is a witness to the complementary nature of the genders and a recognition of his own incompleteness apart from his spouse. I don't want a woman who looks and acts like a man, I want a woman who is "a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18).

The culture wars are over and the religious right lost. The casual immorality and confusion we see all around us speaks this truth loud and clear. Now is the time for the quiet way of the cross, a way that does not shout or seek power but also does not seek to hide or accommodate. Rather than seeking to blend in through capitulation or fighting for the last vestiges of political coercive power, we instead can follow a third way of quiet subversion via witness. The covering is an ancient symbol but one that carries with it powerful ramifications and a similarly powerful witness without saying a word. It says to the world that no matter what the nonsensical, ignorant chattering heads on The View or the writers of People magazine have to say, God has already spoken definitively on the question of men and women.

Sometimes the ancient practices are the best response to the modern errors.