Sunday, January 21, 2018

On This Day In Church History: The First Anabaptist Baptism

On January 21st, 1525 Conrad Grebel baptized George Blaurock. Blaurock then baptized the other men present including Felix Manz and Grebel. This followed the disputation in Zurich where Zwingli disputed with Grebel and Manz over the subject of baptism. Although Zwingli was unsurprisingly declared the victor in support of "infant baptism", the brethren still chose to be baptized a few days later. This would start them on a path that would lead many Anabaptists to being murdered by the hands of the state at the urging of the religious authorities.

You might wonder why you should care if you are not part of an Anabaptist heritage group like the Amish, Mennonites or Hutterites. If you are someone who cares about religious liberty, this is a critical moment in the church when a handful of men risked their lives to take the rite of baptism out of state hands. The religious liberty we cherish and that is enshrined in our Constitution can be traced in part back to this courageous act of defiance almost 500 years ago. May God raise up more men in this day with the courage to stand fast on the Word of God against those who would seek to pervert it or use it to gain worldly power.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Are Reformed Christians Influenced By White Supremacy?

Desiring God, the online ministry of John Piper, is one of my "go to" sources on many topics. Some of the material published there is among the highest quality material for the Reformed Christian available on the net. For example, last Sunday they published Before You Believed, You Belonged which is one of the best things I have read ever. But then the very next day they publish something that I remarked to a friend was "terrible" and "counter-productive". The offending essay comes with the click-bait title: Providence Is No Excuse: Exposing a Reformed White Supremacist by Daniel Kleven, who is the director of admissions for Bethlehem College and Seminary where John Piper is chancellor.

In the pantheon of terms that are a) way overused and applied and b) are completely misunderstood, "white supremacy" is near the top of the list. I am not sure I can name an actual white supremacist today. Even well known people like David Duke and Richard Spencer are more properly considered white nationalists than they are white supremacists, in the same way that someone like Louis Farrakhan is a black nationalist advocating in part for distinct, racially homogeneous nations. People like Richard Spencer don't want to rule over non-whites, i.e. white supremacy, they want to live apart from non-whites. A subtle difference perhaps but an important one to understand in a climate where the term "white supremacy" is used to label almost anyone that doesn't completely adhere to the edicts of the racism-industrial complex.

Who was this White Supremacist that Daniel Kleven "exposed"? His name is Robert Lewis Dabney, a 19th century Southern American pastor and theologian. He was also a chaplain in the Confederate Army, a biographer of Stonewall Jackson and was a supporter of slavery even after the end of the Civil War. In addition to his biography of General Jackson, in 1867 he wrote a book with a lengthy title characteristic of that time, A Defense of Virginia, and Through Her, of the South, in Recent and Pending Contests Against the Sectional Party, as well as a number of theological tomes. You can be forgiven if in 2018 you haven't heard of Dabney or if you have, you have heard of him only in passing or via a one line quote in the writing of someone else. After all the man lived and died in the 19th century.

Why did Daniel Kleven choose to bring up Dabney? Is Dabney a particularly influential Reformed thinker? As someone who has been engaged in Reformed theology for many years, I know the name but he isn't someone I consider influential or even someone that I ever recall reading anything from. I have seen his name crop up here and there from time to time.

At Monergism, the gold standard for Reformed theology, there is a section where you can look up articles by the author. Some are obviously huge, John Calvin has almost 400 results. What about Dabney? He shows up 24 times. Compare that to someone like Francis Turretin, a fairly obscure reformed theologian with over 60 results, not to mention men like Charles Hodge with 90 results and Charles Spurgeon with over 1,200 results. Compared to modern Reformed writers like John Piper and R.C. Sproul, Dabney is barely a blip on the radar. If you were to poll people at a Reformed conference like Together for the Gospel and ask how many of them knew who Dabney was, I think few would know much more than his name. Asked how many had read anything of his and I am confident you would get a much, much smaller positive response. He just isn't a top-tier or even mid-tier theologian among the contemporary Reformed.

Even Doug Wilson, who endlessly finds himself forced to defend against (unwarranted) accusations of racism and being a slavery apologist and is one of the few people to regularly quote Dabney, describes Dabney as an "irascible slave owner". No one who knows much about him fails to understand that Dabney was a man of the 19th century with all that entails.

Yet he is referred to in this article as a champion of Reformed theology: "It’s hard to look racism in the face, especially when that face is one of a champion of Reformed orthodoxy". A champion?

Notice this introduction from Kleven's article and please note my emphasis:
In his time, Robert Lewis Dabney (1820–1898) was considered one of the greatest teachers of theology in the United States. Revered theologians such as Hodge, Shedd, Warfield, Bavinck, and Barth viewed him with appreciation and respect.
In the 19th century, he was considered one of the greatest teachers of theology. Other more widely known Reformed theologians, now long dead, "appreciated" and "respected" Dabney. So he had some influence over other theologians 100 years ago.

So I ask again, why did Daniel Kleven choose Robert Dabney to make the case that somehow contemporary Reformed types have a White supremacist skeleton in their collective closet? My only conclusion can be that Daniel wanted to write an article on this topic and went searching for someone, however obscure, to fit the bill. Unlike Hodge or Warfield, Edwards or Spurgeon, Dabney wrote some stuff that makes good fodder for this sort of article. It is an editorial form of eisegesis, predeterming that there are "Echoes in Our Day" of White supremacy. Of course the church has already condemned pro-slavery positions and the institution itself in unequivocal terms. For example, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has a historically valuable e-book on their historical website written by Thomas Cary Johnson that has this caveat:
Please note that this history is posted solely for its value as a historical document. Any statements in Johnson's book in support of the institution of slavery or in support of racial supremacy should be clearly and obviously understood to be rejected by the Presbyterian Church in America, by the PCA Historical Center, and by the Center's director. The book is posted here that we might learn from it as history, and that we might learn too from its errors, as well as its truths. It should continue to amaze us that highly valued leaders in the Church can be so very wrong about some matters while still holding to vital truths about the Christian faith. May God grant us the ability to see and repent from the sins we ourselves are blinded to by our own culture today.
It is pretty clear to anyone paying attention that the issue of slavery and "racial supremacy" has been condemned by the church, including the Reformed church. I don't know of any even semi-serious Reformed writers that promote racial supremacy or hold a pro-slavery view.

Dabney was a product of his times and while it is easy to cluck our tongues disapprovingly at what he wrote 150 years ago, it is not very useful. I am sure without bothering to look that there were men all across the religious (and non-religious) spectrum in the era leading up to and immediately after the Civil War that used language similar to, if not worse, than what Dabney did. Slavery was the law of the land and slavery, as we see in the Bible and elsewhere, has been practiced by humanity for thousands of years, by whites and blacks, Christians and Muslims. Men like Dabney can be brilliant theologians and still be terribly wrong on some issues and it doesn't diminish their value. Calvin made a horrendous error in his complicity with the execution of the heretical Servetus. Martin Luther made statements considered by some to be anti-semitic. Men are flawed, something that Reformed Christians understand perhaps better than others, and it certainly isn't necessary to put an addendum next to any quote from Calvin that he was complicit in the state execution of Servetus.

Mr. Kleven concludes his essay with the obligatory homage to Martin Luther King, Jr.
A true understanding of providence should lead us to act the miracle of change in pursuing justice.
Martin Luther King came closer to this in regard to racial justice than did Robert Lewis Dabney.
As impolite as it may be to point out, King was in many ways a deeply heterodox religious figure, someone who held positions that if they were held by someone other than a slain Civil Rights icon would be condemned by most orthodox Christians. Not to mention that King's personal life, including very credible evidence of serial adultery, brings into question whether he knew Christ at all.

What exactly was Kleven's point? Slavery and support for slavery was bad? Did we really need another essay about that? Or was this just an obligatory essay to mark MLK day?

So why was this essay terrible and counter-productive? It was terrible in that it presents a fairly esoteric figure in Reformed theology as a means to taint all Reformed Christians with the guilt of white supremacy and it fails to recognize the very real lack of white supremacist thought in contemporary times anywhere in America, much less in evangelicalism, even less so in Reformed circles. It is counter-productive because the essay itself is an exercise in virtue signaling, a term I recognize is overused but appropriate I believe in this case. The comments on Facebook that accompanied the original posting from Desiring God, including mine, exhibited that most people were not buying into this idea of white supremacy lurking just below the surface of Reformed Christianity based on one example of a man who live and died in the 19th century South. As someone who thinks and writes and tries to take seriously the question of race in the church and America in general, I found the essay far from enlightening and more accurately simply another example of clumsy guilt-tripping that accomplishes little but to make the author feel that he has somehow struck a blow for racial justice.

Self-flagellation over alleged racial guilt is the neo-Reformed version of the #MeToo farce, just in reverse. Instead of feeling left out because you weren't a victim, many feel left out that they have never actually oppressed anyone so they create some linkage from themselves to oppression, no matter how tenuous.

Those into racial guilt virtue signaling BDSM don't want to really have to ask hard questions and get into uncomfortable conversations. They simply want a sharp rap on the bum with a riding crop from Mr. Grey, leaving no lasting impact but giving that sense of feeling like you have been duly chastised for your latent racism and are now cleansed and in a position to scold others.

Essays like Daniel Kleven's are theological cotton candy, brightly colored but empty of any substance. It is a throwaway piece, generating a little heat but no light and just as quickly forgotten as it was read. Worse it deflects serious questions about race relations and even issues like the providence of God as it pertains to slavery in favor of vacuous references to relatively obscure figures in the church and breathless warnings about "white supremacy". Desiring God is a resource that often provides deep, meaningful, thought-provoking materials and it could do the same on questions of race. Instead we got a Huffington Post religion page level discourse. No topic in the church today is in greater need of clarity and soberness than race but all too often what we get instead are essays like Daniel Kleven's. I have come to expect better from Desiring God and I was deeply disappointed. Serious topics demand serious scholarship.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Occultism In A Methodist "Church" With Nary A Whimper From The UMC

A video was posted a few days ago that featured a Black Lives Matter speaker, Melina Abdullah, leading what can only be described as a séance in what is ostensibly a Christian church during a meeting aimed at raising support to stop the construction of two new jails in Los Angeles. The Daily Wire reports on what took place.
Dr. Melina Abdullah — a professor at California State University who also leads the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter — recently summoned the spirits of several deceased people to fill a Methodist church with ethereal energy, including Martin Luther King, several other slain civil rights leaders, victims of police brutality, and an African warrior named Shaka Zulu.
“This is not just a social justice, a racial justice, an economic justice struggle,” Abdullah told a crowd gathered at Hollywood United Methodist Church on Thursday night. “This is also a spiritual struggle, so it’s appropriate that we’re here in this setting. It’s also important that we summon the right energy into this space no matter what faith you are.”
The church was hosting a townhall organized to stop two new jails from being built in Los Angeles County. The meeting opened with Abdullah leading a ritual called the “pouring of libations,” which she defined as “a summoning of energy” in “the names of our ancestors.”
You can watch a portion for yourself, at least until the censors at YouTube take the video down. I have watched it and it does indeed contain what is described by the article.

Of note is the chant "Ase" after each name is uttered. Ase is a concept of animistic, pagan West African religion described as follows from Wikipedia:
Ase (or às̩e̩ or ashe) is a West African philosophical concept through which the Yoruba of Nigeria conceive the power to make things happen and produce change. It is given by Olodumare to everything — gods, ancestors, spirits, humans, animals, plants, rocks, rivers, and voiced words such as songs, prayers, praises, curses, or even everyday conversation. Existence, according to Yoruba thought, is dependent upon it.
In addition to its sacred characteristics, ase also has important social ramifications, reflected in its translation as "power, authority, command." A person who, through training, experience, and initiation, learns how to use the essential life force of things to willfully effect change is called an alaase.
Rituals to invoke divine forces reflect this same concern for the autonomous ase of particular entities. The recognition of the uniqueness and autonomy of the ase of persons and gods is what structures society and its relationship with the other-world.
If you think that sounds like a pagan, occultic practice and concept, you are correct. If you further think that the Bible condemns this sort of thing, you are also right. If you wonder why a "church" would agree to this going on, assuming someone from the church was there, you are on the right path.

It sounds as if this was a community event hosted by the church, not an actual "official" church gathering but on the other hand the "church" hosting this event, Hollywood United Methodist Church, proudly proclaims their "progressive" street cred in search results....

...and a "leadership team" features the obligatory female "senior pastor" and an open, "married" homosexual "associate pastor" as well as a couple of other homosexual staff...and a statement of "beliefs" that includes gems like this:
We believe in the Bible, interpreted through the lenses of our reason, experience and tradition, and wherever it agrees with the fundamental truth of God’s love and grace as revealed by the life of Christ.
Well that is just a deliciously nonsensical example of circular reasoning "We believe the Bible where the Bible agrees with Jesus!". Of course all we know about Jesus we get from the Bible so what this really means is that this "church" pre-determines which parts of the Bible they will agree with rather than being conformed to what the Bible says. Little wonder they have a woman senior pastor, practicing homosexuals on staff and host far left wing political events that feature a blasphemous séance and involving of an animistic religious practice. If I was a senior pastor and I heard about this going on in our building I would stop it. Or if I was a member. Or if I was a regular attender. Or if I was someone just wandering down the street and heard/saw a women pouring out libations, trying to summon the spirits of dead people and invoking animistic chanting.

I am not surprised to see stuff like this happening at a "church" but I do have to wonder what in the world is going on at the United Methodist Church headquarters that no one, as far as I can tell, has made a peep about something that has as much business being done in a building consecrated to the Christian faith as a goat being sacrificed to Demogorgon.

My real question is this. I know people that are in UMC churches that seem like pretty solid Christians that don't buy into this nonsense but yet are allowing themselves to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) that preach and practice rank heresy. When you are part of a church that is part of a denomination, you express some level of unity and solidarity with other churches in that denomination. If I became a member of a Southern Baptist church, I would understand that implies some unity on essential doctrines with every other Southern Baptist church. At what point do faithful Christians in United Methodist churches demand some action from the denomination to deal with wayward local churches or push their own local church to leave the denomination or failing that find some other church to attend?

I understand the power of history and tradition and loyalty but at some point you have to ask if you can be in fellowship, even from a distance, with a local church that allows an unbeliever to have a séance invoking the spirits of a Zulu pagan warlord and a Muslim Black Nationalist into a Christian church. Is the United Methodist Church so desperate to be seen as tolerant and inclusive that they will gut every single feature of the faith in order to appease the ever shifting sensibilities of the unbelieving world? I think recent history unfortunately assumes that they are.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Are We In A New Paradigm Of Race Relations?

Shelby Steele suggests we are in a brilliant new essay at the Wall Street Journal, Black Protest Has Lost Its Power. It is behind a paywall so you might not be able to see it but if you use your incognito/private browser setting you should be able to pull it up. 

Steele's basic premise is that the fizzle of the NFL anthem protests is heralding a change in race relationships. The NFL players are trying to recapture the bygone era of protest when there was actually something to protest about but are doing so in an era when blacks are free or as he writes: "The oppression of black people is over with.". In doing so they have seen an enormous backlash in the form of public anger and financial hits to the league that pays them millions to play a children's game. What we might be seeing is what Steele calls a new "fearlessness" from whites. No longer cowed by the threat of being labeled "racist", conversations are starting to happen that were once forbidden but are long overdue. I hope this is true. If you want to know why groups like the alt-right have suddenly burst on the scene, it is largely because conversations in this country have been submerged under political correctness for decades and people are sick to death of it. Anyone who speaks honestly and unapologetically is going to get a hearing in this atmosphere. If you don't like what the alt-right is saying, you better (to borrow a nonsensical phrase) "create some space" for honest and open conversations about race. Otherwise you are simply abandoning the rhetorical battlefield to the meme warriors.

One place where I see the old paradigm of endlessly staring back at the past, where race relations are always stuck in the pre-Civil Rights era, is in the church. The amount of navel-gazing, hand-wringing and guilt-tripping is unhelpful and unhealthy. In spite of the magnitude of apologizing for racial wrongs from people that really have never significantly wronged others, I see a disturbing trend of black evangelicals that were once solidly orthodox moving quickly away from the Gospel and embracing the "gospel" of racial antipathy. We are in desperate need of honest conversation in the church about race but what we mostly get is an endless rehashing of past grievances and an similarly limitless litany of platitudes and nonsensical phrases. The sheer fragility of so many people in the church when it comes to this topic is embarrassing.

I thought Steele's essay was magnificent, just about the perfect combination of honesty, bluntness and awareness. If there is one thing he seemed to overlook a little, it is the power of the racism-industrial complex to perpetuate the cult of victimhood. I wrote on Facebook in response to the person that originally posted this:
While I mostly agree, the other problem is that perpetuating the cult of victimhood is big business and it is why race relations conversations so often are endlessly rehashing the past instead of truly examining the present and exploring the future. Slavery, Jim Crow, sharecropping, back of the bus, all of these inform where we are but they are not the deciding or even significant factors in the current ills of the black population in America.
I stand by that. There is a lot of money and power and influence to be exploited by perpetuating the cult of victimhood. That is precisely why voices like Shelby Steele are given little attention in topics on race relations and why Detroit is trying to find a way to change the name of the Dr. Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine because although Dr. Carson is a magnificent role-model for any young black man, his refusal to embrace the cult of victimhood makes him a threat to those who profit from racial animus.

In case you can't get past the paywall, I selected a few key quotes here for your perusal but make an effort to read the whole essay because it is one of the best things I have read in a long while.
Watch out that you get what you ask for, the saying goes. Freedom came to blacks with an overlay of cruelty because it meant we had to look at ourselves without the excuse of oppression. Four centuries of dehumanization had left us underdeveloped in many ways, and within the world’s most highly developed society. When freedom expanded, we became more accountable for that underdevelopment. So freedom put blacks at risk of being judged inferior, the very libel that had always been used against us.
That’s why, in the face of freedom’s unsparing judgmentalism, we reflexively claim that freedom is a lie. We conjure elaborate narratives that give white racism new life in the present: “systemic” and “structural” racism, racist “microaggressions,” “white privilege,” and so on. All these narratives insist that blacks are still victims of racism, and that freedom’s accountability is an injustice.
We end up giving victimization the charisma of black authenticity. Suffering, poverty and underdevelopment are the things that make you “truly black.” Success and achievement throw your authenticity into question.
For any formerly oppressed group, there will be an expectation that the past will somehow be an excuse for difficulties in the present. This is the expectation behind the NFL protests and the many protests of groups like Black Lives Matter. The near-hysteria around the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and others is also a hunger for the excuse of racial victimization, a determination to keep it alive. To a degree, black America’s self-esteem is invested in the illusion that we live under a cloud of continuing injustice.
When you don’t know how to go forward, you never just sit there; you go backward into what you know, into what is familiar and comfortable and, most of all, exonerating. You rebuild in your own mind the oppression that is fading from the world. And you feel this abstract, fabricated oppression as if it were your personal truth, the truth around which your character is formed. Watching the antics of Black Lives Matter is like watching people literally aspiring to black victimization, longing for it as for a consummation.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Confused Ecclesiology Creates Barriers To Service

The Atlantic ran a piece recently on the struggles of churches in low-income areas making ends meet, Low-Income Communities Are Struggling to Support Churches. The article focuses on Yoan Mora, who is the senior pastor of Primera Iglesia Cristiana in San Antonio but what is really telling about the article is that it reinforces the most common misconception of the church, specifically that to have a "real" church you need a paid clerical staff and you have to own a building. Even the picture leading the article feeds into the stereotype...

The pastor, who in this case is bi-vocational, wearing a suit is leaving their building while another guy locks up the building including a metal gate over the door.

This being the Atlantic, there is the obligatory class-warfare slant to the article:
Churches are not just faith institutions; they are economic institutions, too. And church life in general seems to be falling along economic lines: Churches of all sizes proliferate the suburbs and the tonier parts of America’s urban cores, while in lower income, economically stagnant neighborhoods, churches tend to be very small, very old, and in general, not as active in their community.
I am little surprised there was not an overt call for income redistribution, although the topic was brought up in a roundabout way (Primera Iglesia Cristiana was apparently a church plant originally and has in the past received financial support from a more affluent White majority church). I also found it interesting, but not at all surprising, that the author chose a Spanish speaking urban church but didn't bother to mention or look into the very real struggle of local churches in rural areas that have the same economic problems but also struggle with an aging membership and a shrinking pool of potential congregants as more and more rural Christians commute long distances to get to suburban churches that offer church services with more polish and pizazz and better youth programs. I am pretty sure that the fact that members of rural churches tend to be White and probably deplorable, gun-and-religion clinging Trump voters and that members of churches like Primera Iglesia Cristiana tend to be the opposite was a primary motivating factor in the Atlantic's choice of pastors to interview and churches to focus on.

The Atlantic sees the church in the same ways a lot of Christians do, although in slightly different terms. With barely a passing mention of the church as "not just faith institutions", most of the article focuses on things like keeping kids out of trouble, helping with the rent and job training. In other words, more of an economic and social institution like any other with a little religion thrown in. On the flip side, your average evangelical sees the church as an economic institution as well, a place where you can come as a Christian, invest an hour or two a week, donate some money and pay other people to do what you frankly can't be bothered with in your own busy life.

Patton Dodd who wrote the Atlantic piece sees the church primarily as a social welfare organization, somewhere for poor people to get food or help accessing social welfare services (that is a legitimate role for the church, just not the primary role). Most Christians see the church as a proxy to carry out on their behalf their calling as Christians in preaching and teaching and serving the church. In either scenario, there needs to be a critical mass of people (i.e. givers) who can pay for the building, pay for the programs, support the missionaries and of course pay the pastors. Inevitably that turns congregations into economic units. The article shows how this works:
Yet Mora knows that church growth will not necessarily change his own economic situation. The median income in 78207, the zip code where Primera Iglesia Cristiana is located, is less than $25,000. If the church is a raging success someday, with, say, 150 members, and 100 of those members are adults earning the median income, and all of those members tithe a full 10 percent of their pre-tax earning (most churchgoers give far less), it would have a budget of $250,000. That budget would need to cover potential employees, insurance for the building, plus upkeep for the aging structure, and a slew of events, including food and clothing drives, among other things.
If Mora is able to manage all of that, he’ll also need to pay himself. This year, the church increased his salary to $1,000 per month, from $600. Mora is grateful, but he gives a Come on, man look as he cites the figure. “What are you going to do with $1,000 monthly? With a daughter, 17 years old? Another one 12 years old? Three ladies at home!” he says, laughing.
He’ll be keeping that accounting job.
X number of church members making Y amount of money that donate Z amount of "tithing". That sort of ecclesiastical math goes on in a lot of local churches. I don't blame Mora because that is what we have all been taught. To really serve the Lord you need to be "fully supported" by your church. It is inevitable that you see a new family as a potential donor. It is difficult but whether you are talking about a small urban church or a small rural church where funds are tight in either place and that situation is not going to change, the strategy should not be to chase that ever elusive critical mass where your pastors can go "full-time", it should be to cultivate "lay leaders" who are self-supporting apart from the church. While none of them alone can lead the church, together they can share the burdens of leadership and lead the church without having to depend on the donation plate. I have written ad nauseam about the plurality of functioning elders, so I won't reiterate it here but if you are interested you can read my posts with the elder tag. The bottom line is that the dream of Yoan Mora to be fully supported is likely to never happen so he should be laser focused on training up elders to help him. Maybe he is, the article doesn't really say, but if he isn't he had better start.

That is not to say that you cannot faithfully function when you have a sufficient budget to have a paid staff and own a building, most local congregations do and those traditional churches are where most disciples are made, most adults and kids are taught the Way and where Christians find their identity. But when you hold that model up as the only way that the church can function it creates a huge disincentive to church planting and it creates a sense of expectation that will only get harder to meet in the future.

The greatest barrier to church planting is not a lack of funding. The greatest barrier is an institutionalized ecclesiology. Church planting is often a financial transaction. You need X amount of support monthly to pay for a place, to pay your pastor and if you aren't there, that is your main goal. Our faulty ecclesiology trains men for service in a traditional setting with a salary and a building and those are simply not going to be as common in the future. If magnet hub churches would train men that live in more rural or urban areas to plant congregations that don't depend on having paid clergy and a building, we could reach a lot more areas and a lot more people but that would then mean taking the "best" people from a local church and sending them elsewhere, and often the people who serve the most also give the most faithfully. That economic circles goes on and on.

The greatest ecclesiastical priority for the church right now is not "expository preaching" or better programs. It is to change our mindset regarding how the church looks and operates in the future. We need to stop seeing people as giving units and start thinking about how the church can operate without being so dependent on offerings that will only shrink in the future. The power in the church is not found in our bank accounts, it is in the Holy Spirit working through God's New Covenant people. Recovering that vision is the most important task of the church now in order to enable us to continue preaching the Gospel in the future.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

There IS A Race Relations Problem In The Church But Maybe Not Where You Think

More and more it seems that prominent, once orthodox, black evangelicals or Protestants are abandoning the Gospel which has the same message for all men regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, and begun embracing identity politics dressed up in religious language. I have already mentioned men like Lecrae and Thabiti Anyabwile who have turned their back on "White evangelicalism" or have scolded White evangelicals for supporting Trump while at the same time proclaiming their support for pro-infanticide career criminal Hillary Clinton. Now there are two more examples that are deeply concerning. The first comes via a tweet from Anthony Bradley.

According to Bradley evangelicals, which presumably he defines as White, conservative Protestants, have never had  the Gospel. Ever. As someone who qualifies under virtually any definition of "evangelical" that statement says to me, as someone born again more than 15 years ago who has in my own feeble way been studying the Gospel ever since, that I don't really have the Gospel. Does that mean I am not justified before God in the eyes of Mr. Bradley and the "black church"? There exists no justification apart from the Gospel so if Anthony Bradley thinks that as an evangelical I have yet to "embrace the Gospel for the first time ever" he must therefore be saying that I am unsaved. Not just me but millions upon millions of my fellow evangelicals that have been told in no uncertain terms that we have never embraced the Gospel, that apparently only those who see the Gospel from the "black church perspective" have a true understanding of the Gospel.

That begs the question: What exactly is the "black church"?

From what I am seeing and hearing from Mr. Bradley, Lecrae, Jemar Tisby and others is that blacks in America and around the world have a unique and distinct view of the Gospel. That in itself is fine but there is also a further suggestion that their view of the Gospel trumps all others and seems to also delegitimize the views of people that don't share their view of the Gospel. To me, you can have culturally distinct lenses to view the Gospel from just so long as you don't alter what the Gospel is but when something like this causes controversy, I suspect that the Gospel some of these men are talking about is actually "another gospel" (Galatians 1:6-10)

There isn't a race specific aspect of the Gospel in the New Testament. The struggles of the descendants of black slaves, the persecuted Irish during the Potato famine, the starvation of Ukrainians during the Holodomor, the killing fields run by Pol Pot, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict all have the same message from the Gospel. Repent and believe in Jesus Christ. How that looks might be a little different but those are secondary concerns. The Gospel, as Keller rightly puts it, is primarily about the forgiveness of sins, something all men stand in need of regardless of their race.

I have expressed on many occasions my own concerns about a myriad of issues with American evangelicalism, sometimes pretty stridently, but I don't drum the entire evangelical church out of the Kingdom because I have some concerns over the way they apply the Scriptures to specific contemporary situations. I have lots of issues I disagree with my Presbyterian brothers about but I don't sweepingly declare that they have never had the Gospel because I disagree with them on the issue of baptism.

When someone says that only their specific stream of Christianity has the "True Truth™", my cult alarm starts going off. Mr. Bradley is not speaking in a "all things to all people" sort of way (1 Corinthians 9:22) where we speak the universal Gospel to people in their specific cultural context. No, he is writing out of the Kingdom everyone that doesn't share his "black church perspective".

Dr. Anthony Bradley is a featured speaker at the Gospel Coalition's upcoming conference celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who is widely understood to be a plagarist and serial adulterer along with holding to some heterodox beliefs that would have been condemned in better days from TGC.

This should be a moment of truth for the Gospel Coalition. According to the founding documents of the Gospel Coalition, they are:
We are a fellowship of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures.
But according to Anthony Bradley evangelicals have never had the Gospel. Kind of weird that a Gospel Coalition would hold a conference including a speaker that accuses them of never having the Gospel in the first place. Also weird that Bradley would want to speak to a group that doesn't have the Gospel, unless he is only going to lecture the White audience. I replied to Bradley's tweet but I don't expect a reply in return.

So I would ask the leadership of the Gospel Coalition, men like Albert Mohler and Don Carson and Mark Dever and John Piper, men who I consider giants of the faith who have each helped me to better understand the Gospel, if they agree with Bradley's assertion that they have never had the Gospel. As for me I am confident that Al Mohler and John Piper have and understand as well as any human being can the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am not at all confident and am in fact quite skeptical that Martin Luther King, Jr. ever had the Biblical Gospel.

Anthony Bradley is also a research fellow at the Acton Institute, which has an all White executive team and a  mostly White team in general. The Acton Institute is headed up by a White Roman Catholic priest, Robert Sirico. I wonder if Anthony Bradley thinks Sirico has the Gospel? I intend to reach out in multiple ways to the Acton Institute to see if they agree with the assertion from Bradley that evangelicals have never had the Gospel.

Then I saw a Facebook post from Eric Mason where he used the term "cooning"

Notice that Eric applies Titus 3:14 specifically to the "black & African diaspora", not to the church in general but to the "black & African diaspora". I would think that a lot of the black & African diaspora in places like Haiti and Africa are happy that white Christians apply Titus 3:14 to the entire church in need, not just toward people that share their racial/ethnic heritage.

Eric is a pastor and author of several books, including one I own, Manhood Restored: How the Gospel Makes Men Whole. Eric was once considered part of the small but important core of black Reformed ministers that were seeking theological reformation in the black church but he seems to have abandoned that as have many others.

He also uses a curious and ugly term: "cooning". So what exactly is "cooning"? It is a term I have heard before, defined in the Urban Dictionary as follows:
Cooning is a verb derived from the word coon. A coon was/is a person of african decent whose sole purpose was/is to entertain white people. These 'coons' started out as wearing black face, characterized by haveing big eyes and painting big red lips on their face. These people would tap dance, play instruments and sing. 
Modern day coons are blacks who play stereotypical roles and black entertainers that promote ignorance. 
I have heard this pejorative term used before and as someone that lacks "perspective" it sounds to me like the all too common practice of blacks shaming other blacks for not acting sufficiently "authentic". In other words, it describes a black that is acting "too white". It creates a monoculture where only one manifestation of black culture is considered authentic and acceptable. Pardon my language but the only equivalent I can think of from a white perspective is a term that was in vogue in the 90's: "whigger", which as you can guess is a combination of "white" and "nigger" and was used to describe a white kid that tried to act black.

Of course I am coming at this from a White perspective so my opinion isn't even heard. It is a pretty clever rhetorical device. You stake out a position on race relationships and then declare that anyone black that doesn't fall in line is a coon and anyone white that speaks up on the topic isn't even worthy of being heard. At all. All that is left is a singular view from one narrow perspective that is above reproach. Like I said, a pretty clever rhetorical device. On the other hand I wonder why it is that black Christians can feel free to lecture white Christians and even question their salvation as a group and we are expected to meekly stand there and take it but on the flip side white Christians are not even worthy of being heard by black Christians simply because we are speaking "from a white space".

What this really boils down to is a black version of kinism. The logical conclusion of what Bradley, Lecrae and others are proposing, a unique and exclusionary racial identity that trumps shared identity in Christ, at least on a practical level, is not functionally different from what is proposed by white kinists. Instead of being a Christian that happens to be black, you are a "black Christian". Rather than a local church that happens to be compromised of mostly black people, you have a "black church". This calls for a segregated worship, a segregated community, a segregated theological system. It even, as above with the reference to Titus 3:14 sees good works as being racial segregated in the church!

If you can reconcile a belief that White kinism/ethnonationalism is a terrible thing but that the opposite, a "woke" church hermeneutic that examines the Bible in every respect through the lens of past racial grievances and condemns the entirety of the White evangelical church for being "captive to Western culture" and utterly absent the Gospel itself, you are a far more creative thinker than I am.

I understand that the church in America is dominated by white, European expressions of the faith that are grounded in Western culture. That is because America has long been a nation that was overwhelmingly populated by white people of European descent. I have yet to see, although it may be out there, anyone criticizing the church in Africa for being to "Afro-centric" or the church is Asia being too Asian. Thanks to the First Amendment blacks have the right to worship among themselves as they please, a right recognized and codified in law by the white Founding Fathers and many blacks have benefited enormously from this, including Mason and Bradley. Eric Mason was educated at the graduate level at Gordon-Conwell and Dallas Theological Seminary, two schools founded by whites in the tradition of Western, European culture. Anthony Bradley graduated from Clemson and teaches at The King's College, institutions that likewise bear the "taint" of unbearable whiteness. I have to assume that the audience and financial support for the Acton Institute is overwhelmingly white but that doesn't stop Anthony Bradley from being a research fellow there which gives his work greater exposure. The board of directors for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is made up of 100% white men but I am sure Eric Mason didn't return any of the royalties for his book that they promoted multiple times.

It might be blasphemous in some circles to say this and deeply unpopular in many others but I think that a huge amount of blame for the current problems with race relations in the church in America can be laid at the feet of the public leaders of the "black church". The permitted narrative is that race relations are terrible and the blame for this is only on whites, even whites that have never done anything to impede the success and happiness of a single black person. In too many cases there seems to be a new, different and false "gospel" that is being adopted to replace the Biblical Gospel of the Good News of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It is a "gospel" of racial grievances, both real and exaggerated; of historical myopia where it is perpetually pre-1964 in America; of left-wing economic policies; of blame placing and responsibility avoidance; a "gospel" that is overly focused on the last 150 years in America and not focused enough on eternity.

As long as leaders of the "black church" are unwilling to stop lecturing long enough to have an honest and real dialogue and as long as they refuse to even "hear us at all" if we don't cede the entire conversation before we begin, then there is really little reason to try. If black leaders are going to call other blacks "coons" and arbitrarily claim that evangelicals have never had the Gospel and that our opinions are irrelevant and unworthy of being even heard because they come from a white man, then I really don't have time for them. I will do what I can for those in the church in need, regardless of race, and I will share the Gospel as I have opportunity, regardless of the race of the person I am witnessing to. What I will not do is be silenced or let accusations and slander in the public square go unchallenged, regardless of the respective races of those accusing and being accused.

Race is still one of the most fraught topics in America and it doesn't help when men who are elders in the church fail to exhibit the wisdom and temperance that their calling demands of them. If the "black church" and evangelical leaders won't call them out for their slander and foolishness, then I will.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Well Done Good And Faithful Servant

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:21)

Ligonier Ministries shared the news a few minutes ago that Dr. R.C. Sproul has gone home to be with the Lord....

Dr. Sproul is a teacher I have never met in person but for over a decade his teaching via writing, books, videos, audio and in person at T4G has had an enormous impact on me. He had a real talent for weaving the teaching into an accessible but deep material for people of all levels. He was one of the least Cage Stage Calvinists around, someone who was firm on his positions but never angry about it. Perhaps no other teacher did more to help me flesh out my early Calvinism than Dr. Sproul. 

I had my differences with what he taught, most notably on the proper recipients for baptism, and I have my concerns about some aspects of his ecclesiology but I always knew that Dr. Sproul would be fair and Scriptural in his positions even when I disagreed with his conclusions. I am terribly sad about his passing and not a little envious of his presence now with the Lord. Oh to hear the voice of our Lord: "Well done good and faithful servant".

Here is one of my favorite talks from Dr. Sproul from Together for the Gospel in 2008. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. I can truly say to Dr. Sproul "rest in peace" and I look forward to seeing you one day soon at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Save me a good spot.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Real Winners In Alabama Last Night Weren't On The Ballot

In a not terribly stunning upset Doug Jones, an absolute nobody that was a far Left sacrificial lamb in a deep red state, right up until the moment that the 40 year old, unproven and unprovable allegations against Roy Moore surfaced, won the Senate seat formerly held by Jeff Sessions. It is noteworthy that in 2014 when Jeff Sessions ran for re-election, he was so heavily favored that he ran unopposed and garnered over 97% of the vote. So this was supposed to be a safe seat. Then the media stepped in, these accusations were assumed to be true and constantly hammered into the voter's minds for a month and just like that Alabama flips to the Democrats and the Republican lead in the Senate shrinks to almost nothing.

So who really won last night? It wasn't Doug Jones. Unless something drastic changes in the next three years, he should be crushed handily by a more mainstream Republican in 2020 when Trump is at the top of the ticket in Alabama. Like my Senator Joe Donnelly, who is I believe the only Democrat holding state-wide office in Indiana, Jones is destined to be a one-term Senator, and an abbreviated term at that. A Soros aligned pro-abortion Democrat doesn't have much of a future in Alabama politics, especially once he starts voting in lockstep with Chuck Schumer.

No, the real winners are a mixed bag.

The mainstream media is a big winner. They found a tool to use against untamed Republicans like Roy Moore, a perfect accusation in this climate of sexual harassment and "assault" that occured four decades ago. In a world of #MeToo accusations of sexual misconduct are as good as a death sentence. I don't think the media quite understood what they unleashed and as Democrats like Al Franken and John Conyers go down in flames it sort of seems like this victory might be a Pyrrhic one but they still got their winning tactic. I expect to see variations of this trick employed again, probably as soon as 2018, with an unprovable accusation is used to undercut conservative candidates. The media in the urban enclaves of D.C, New York and elsewhere despise people in places like Alabama and Indiana and by defeating Roy Moore they feel a sense of getting even for their humiliation on election night 2016.

Another big winner was the "Never Trump" style "conservatives" that hate Trump and hate his right hand man during the election, Steve Bannon. Over at once reliably conservative but now mostly irrelevant National Review, David French crows that "conservatives" that stayed home, wrote in candidates or even voted for radical Leftist Doug Jones were "taking a stand". People like French and the loathsome Bill Kristol are of the old school Republican establishment that don't care about vulgar things like winning elections and passing legislation. They just care about their cushy positions at think tanks and their status as pet, tame "Republicans" that get invited to appear on CNN and to write for the New York Times. These champagne conservatives are like their neighbors in the media that occupy the fancy zip codes around D.C. and New York in that they don't like, don't trust and often are openly ugly toward the very people Republicans rely upon to win elections. Roy Moore epitomized every caricature they have created about Republican voters in fly over country. They hated him from the get-go and the accusations of misconduct decades ago were as welcome a gift to them as they were to the media.

Some really big winners last night were RINO "Republicans" like Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. With the GOP lead in the Senate down another vote and with only a razor thin majority in the Senate, the demands of big government Republicans like Collins will be overwhelming. They will be able to demand huge concessions for their votes and with no margin of error they will get what they want. I don't expect anything positive like national concealed carry reciprocity or real immigration enforcement reform to be enacted until after the 2018 elections but you can bet Susan Collins, Flake and others like them in the squishy Republican middle will be getting all sorts of attention and money from lobbyists and special interest groups for the next year or so.

A surprising winner in this is the Alt-Right. That may seem counter-intuitve given silly essays like this one from Douglas Schoen where he mentions that this election was a blow to Steve Bannon and the Alt-right, especially since Bannon isn't Alt-Right by any definition of the term. But look a little deeper at the numbers. We once again see a huge racial disparity in an election. According to CNN, 96% of blacks in Alabama voted for Jones and they made up almost 30% of the voters even though they are only around 17% of the eligible voting population. Whites voted pretty overwhelmingly for Moore, almost 70%. Every kind of White voted as a majority for Moore, even White college educated women that presumably were swayed by the sexual harassment allegations, voted for Moore by a narrow margin:

From CNN, accessed 12/13/2017

The electorate is increasingly divided into White Republicans and Black/Latino Democrats. This plays into the racial self-interest message of the Alt-Right: all politics are identity politics and you had better start thinking about protecting your own racial identity because everyone else is thinking about theirs. The Alt-Right wasn't on the ballot in Alabama but you can bet they will use the results above to advance their message.

This is what I wrote on Facebook in response to a post from Robert Gagnon regarding the David French post I mentioned above.
The election itself was just a sideshow for a much larger struggle for the heart and soul of the Republican party. People like David French, Bill Kristol and NRO in general represent the old school Republican party that is happy to lose as long as they preserve their sense of genteel respectability and keep getting invited on TV. Moore was a flawed candidate, as they all are, but the efforts to suppress the Republican vote from NRO and others speaks volumes about the loyalty of those old school voices of pseudo-respectability that once dictated what it means to be conservative.
The 2017 Alabama Senate special election was a huge proxy fight that got out-sized attention from the media that normally doesn't care about Alabama one way or the other. It has also been an absolute circus. Now all the effort and attention will shift to the 2018 mid-term elections where a lot of Democrat Senators like Joe Manchin (WV) and Joe Donnelly (IN) are very, very vulnerable. Given that Democrats have a lot of vulnerable seats to defend and three quarters of the total seats up for re-election to defend in general which will strain their resources, not to mention the general fatigue over Trump bashing in the media, the booming economy and stock market and the absolute inability to make any charges stick to Trump and we could see a major shift in the Senate make-up come January 2019 which only a little over a year away from now.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The State of Discourse and The Free Media As 2017 Comes To A Close

It is without reasonable argument that the state of the media has reached a low point in American history. At the same time, the level of discourse in our country  has devolved to a point that is often one step removed from preschool tantrums. This is a dangerous state of affairs as our free and open liberal republic relies in large part on the free exchange of ideas. To make matters worse, the line between civil discourse and political violence has gone from fuzzy to non-existent in just a few years, accelerating into what often appears to be virtual open warfare on our streets and on our campuses. I find myself nostalgic for the good old days when we only dealt with the Robert Bork confirmation hearings and the impeachment of President Clinton. Now speakers on college campuses are routinely assaulted, free speech rallies are met with thuggish street violence that would be at home in pre-Third Reich Germany and your average banana republic, and people sever friendships and even family relationships over political differences.

I came across a perfect example of this just last week. I stumbled across an article about one Debra Messing. I sort of knew the name but I wasn't sure who she was until I read the article, apparently she was one of the stars of Will & Grace, a show I am pleased to report I have never watched. Ms. Messing apparently is mad at the New York Times and has canceled her subscription. I couldn't care less about a washed up actress and her newspaper subscriptions but the reasoning was interesting. She is mad at the New York Times for running what she and others thought of as a puff-piece about a far right, "Nazi-sympathizer" named Tony Hovater. I was intrigued so I read the article for myself.

The first thing you notice is what a soft and gentle headline graced the article: A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland. That is clearly a sympathetic headline, right? The article itself was actually quite balanced, and featured some actual journalism where the story was not entirely pre-ordained before the first word was typed. Tony Hovater is on the surface a pretty average 29 year old guy, recently married, working at a grill and doing contract work as a welder. I think what really incensed people is that the article didn't go out of the way to paint him as a lunatic, but rather a pretty run of the mill guy who had adopted what are considered to be very extreme views. Richard Fausset, the author of the piece, wrote a follow-up based on the vitriolic feedback to his article where he wrote his reason for the article:
Why did this man — intelligent, socially adroit and raised middle class amid the relatively well-integrated environments of United States military bases — gravitate toward the furthest extremes of American political discourse?
That was the real crime, suggesting that this ideology might appeal to a regular guy and not responding with a caricature. If I was some leftist living in Manhattan, terrified of the scary alt-right types living out in fly-over country, it would seem to me that I would want to understand where they are coming from, the old "seek first to understand and then to be understood" thing. I am not sure how well this article accomplished that but at least he tried. Mr. Hovater is not some drooling, knuckle-dragging mouth-breather who just hates him some colored folk. This is someone who reads the works of Murray Rothbard and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, two writers I also read, and who speaks clearly and intelligently, even if you disagree with him. But that isn't what the readers of the New York Times, people who fancy themselves as smarter and more worldly than the rest of us subscribe to that paper to get. They want red meat (fair trade, vegan, locally sourced, gluten free, soy based red meat of course), just as the readers of Breitbart want red meat. They didn't get it here and while no rational person would see this as a soft sell of far right ideology, that didn't stop readers of the Times from accusing them of "normalizing" neo-Nazi beliefs, an ironic charge given the title of the article and the reality of Tony Hovater being a pretty average guy with un-average beliefs. Kudos to Marc Lacey and the editors of the NYT more or less standing by the piece:
We regret the degree to which the piece offended so many readers. We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story. What we think is indisputable, though, is the need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them. That’s what the story, however imperfectly, tried to do.
The aftermath to the story is as predictable as the sun rising in the East. Simply disagreeing and explaining why you disagree is no longer good enough for the Left in America. People figured out, not a difficult task, where Mr. Hovater and his new wife lived and worked. The Washington Post reports that Mr. Hovater both lost his job and is being forced to move: Nazi sympathizer profiled by the New York Times says he lost his job and — soon — his home.
The restaurant’s owners said in a statement Wednesday that they did not know of Hovater’s white nationalist views until the Times article was published. They said the article illustrated “some very disturbing images and thoughts” that they do not share.
The owners also said that they and their other employees have been bombarded with threatening and intimidating calls and social media messages since the article was published. That prompted Hovater to suggest to the owners to “release him from employment,” the statement said. They did so and also fired Hovater’s wife and brother-in-law shortly after.
This is what has become normalized in America. Someone on the right, whether someone as extreme as Tony Hovater or as mild as academic Charles Murray, speaks out and rather than being engaged in the battlefield of ideas they are attacked and threatened with violence. How about a "big statement" in response to that:
People who are willing to threaten and often carry out violence against political views they dislike are far more dangerous to this nation than all of the White nationalists put together.
I sometimes worry a little about this, about whether something I write about homosexuality or gender or immigration will trigger the seemingly limitless ranks of unhinged people on the Left and they will threaten me or my family with violence. This is not an unreasonable concern. I have run into cultists online that I think are dangerous enough that I stopped interacting with them out of concern that they would come after my family. It is way too easy to find out about someone and where they live with a quick search online and while I can take care of myself, my family shouldn't be threatened by lunatics.

If anything, the response from much of the Left simply reinforces the beliefs of people on the far-right, namely that people on the Left are intolerant and prone to violence. It also reinforces my personal belief that we have walked too far out in the desert as a nation and the only way for us to survive peaceably is to divide up now. I agree that ideas can be dangerous, ideas like socialism and communism have been responsible for over 100,000,000 deaths and misery for untold tens of millions more, but I don't see it as my job to combat communism by threatening the lives of communists or actually attacking them. I will argue against them by reason and logic, I will troll and mock them mercilessly but I don't advocate shooting up my political opponents while they practice baseball or jumping them while they are mowing their lawns. Resorting to violence to suppress political speech is the hallmark of brown shirts and Bolsheviks, not free people. If you are really worried about the incipient rise of a resurgent fascism, ask yourself which political movement today is engaged in the sort of behavior that presaged the rise of fascism, communism or other totalitarian movements. It isn't the 29 year old who works at a restaurant and reads Julius Evola.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Nonresistance In An Era Of Church Shootings

June 17, 2015 a young White man named Dylan Roof opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlestown, South Carolina. Roof killed 9 black parishioners and was clearly motivated by a desire to ignite racial violence.

September 22, 2017 a Sundanese immigrant Emanuel Kidega Samson opened fire at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee. One person was killed and a number of other people were wounded

November 5, 2017, Devin Kelley, a dishonorably discharged Air Force veteran and militant atheist, enters the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing over two dozen people, including a number of small children.

These are three examples of mass shootings that have occurred at churches over the last two years. I am sure there are others but these are the ones that come to mind.

Now more than ever I am seeing a lot of American Christians asking the question “Is it time for me to arm myself when gathering with the church?” and it is a perfectly understandable question and one that needs more than a simplistic response. My viewpoint on this has been maturing, I hope, over the last year.

First things first, we need to start with some definitions. There are three categories of legally legitimate lethal violence as I see it.
1. Violence in the cause of a nation or state, typically as a member of the military or law enforcement, although I would stipulate that the police often would fall into the second or third categories below.
2. Violence in the defense of one’s self, as an act of self-defense against an aggressor.
3. Violence in the defense of another, such as the shooting of Devin Kelley by a neighbor, an act which likely prevented Kelley from killing even more people.

I have been an absolutist when it comes to nonresistance, in large part as a response to the unquestioning acceptance of violence, including lethal violence, on the part of the church. The church in America has a serious issue where it comes to our love affair with the American military and that is deeply unhealthy.

In practice this means that I have generally treated all three types of lethal violence above in the same way. If it is wrong to kill as a soldier it is wrong to kill in self-defense and it is wrong to kill to defend someone else. It is simpler to look at it that way because it helps neuter some of the “Oh yeah, what about...” gotcha questions.

Looking at each in turn and treating them as distinct although closely related issues gives us a slightly different view.

State Sanctioned Violence, Especially The Military

The first category is, in my opinion, the easiest to reject from a Scriptural and practical sense. It is also one of the hardest to address in the church in America because of our unhealthy love affair with the flag and the military. While war is a reality of human existence, one that will not go away in my lifetime or prior to the return of the Lord, and while Scripture teaches that the sword is placed in the hand of the government as represented by Caesar, that doesn't mean that war is inherently noble or something Christians should engage in.

Very few wars would qualify as a truly justifiable war in American history. Not Vietnam or Korea or World War I. Not even the Civil War which was absolutely not fought to rid America of slavery but instead was fought to keep the Union together. Our wars are generally not defensive in any sense and usually were fought over territory, empire or some sense of misplaced national pride.

Even in the case of World War II, the United States both engaged in atrocities like the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo in addition to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that were all designed to strike terror into the civilian population and sap the will of the government to continue the fight, as well as the complicity of the United States in allying ourselves with the brutal totalitarian government of the Soviet Union, whose forces engaged in all sorts of inhumane behavior and who enslaved and murdered millions upon millions of people in Russia and Eastern Europe for decades after Adolf Hitler was dead. Our “good war” which serves as the trump card for pro-military Christians was hardly a flawless war and was arguably the extension of our foolish intervention in World War I.

In summary, Christians should not be involved as participants nor should we support wars of aggression, wars where you are being sent at the command of Caesar to kill either fellow Christians or the people you are supposed to evangelize. While I can make a weak case for Christian involvement of a sort in defensive wars, there have been very few of those (the war of 1812?) and in general soldiers don't get to pick and choose which wars they get to fight in. The soundest policy for Christians is to not serve as soldiers for Caesar.

Violence In Self-Defense

The second category is a little harder but still for me ultimately is an area Christians should adopt a nonresistance/nonviolence position and that is using violence to defend yourself, specifically defending your life.

The New Testament is replete with what appear to be admonitions to not use violence to defend oneself. In Matthew 5:39 Jesus says "Do not resist the one who is evil". We are told to overcome evil by doing good to those who wrong us (Romans 12:21). Jesus Himself stated: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28). Paul saw dying for the sake of the Gospel as far better than remaining in this world:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:21-23)
So killing someone else to preserve my own life seems counter-productive to me. There is an argument to be made that my family needs me for a variety of reasons that would support self-preservation but compared to the commands of Christ and Paul it is a pretty weak argument.

Violence to Protect Others

The third category is where my absolutist convictions waver. Protecting your friends or family or even strangers when they are in danger from an evil person is hard to argue against. It goes against our nature to stand by when someone is being hurt, especially as a man. I understand and have argued on many occasions that there are other options besides pulling a gun or standing meekly by but in some cases there are just not many options.

I have a solemn and sacred obligation to my family which includes providing for them (1 Timothy 5:8) and educating my children. It is hard to not feel that protecting them from evil doers would fall under my obligations as a father and husband. If someone was threatening my wife and kids and I have the means to stop that someone from harming them, whether that means tackling the would-be assailant or punching him in the nose or hitting him with a baseball bat or pulling a trigger, it would seem to be the lesser of two evils to stop an evil man by violence rather than let him hurt my wife and kids. The counter-argument, which again I have used, is that the lesser of two evils is still evil but then again the alternative is also evil and the greater of the two. Sometimes there just isn't a good option. I am not talking about seeking out an opportunity to shoot someone but evil men can and do seek people out, whether in homes or a school or a church.

I wouldn't want to drive people away with an absolutist position that leaves no room for discernment. There is something deeply distasteful about being in a position to protect your family and not doing so. I might be able to craft a fancy theological argument in favor of nonresistance in that situation but in real life if someone was seriously threatening my wife or kids I am pretty confident that those arguments would fly out of the window and I would do anything in my power to keep them from harm. Anything. I am just as sure that even the most dyed in the wool pacifist would do the same thing if push came to shove and claiming otherwise seems sort of dishonest to me. That isn't really a failure to trust God, I have always worked for a living so I could pay for food to feed my kids instead of sitting around the table waiting for God to provide food in a manna in the desert manner. It is the reality of living in a fallen world. Some of my kids have not professed faith in Christ yet (and may never do so). My wife deserves my protection and my kids need their mother. To let someone harm them when it is in my power to prevent that is just not something I am sure I can argue in favor of anymore.

This is not an easy position to come to. I still find myself arguing internally even as I type these words. But I also have to wrestle between an "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" argument and what I prayerfully feel I am obliged to do in the event of a threat to my friends, family or innocent strangers. I also realize this is a largely theoretical discussion as it is extraordinarily unlikely that I or anyone reading this post will ever have to choose between two highly distasteful and disturbing options. Furthermore I am still hashing this question over and I have been for some time but the recent shootings in Texas and the chatter on social media in response prompted me to take this conversation public. So this is where I am right now. I sincerely pray that God will never allow me in a place where I have to put this to the test.

So ought Christians come to the gathering of the church tomorrow armed in case they need to stop an armed assailant bent on murder? I am not going to but I am also not going to condemn those that do. This is not an issue where one can defend the practice by pointing to the two swords conversation in Scripture or by the appeal to the "live by the sword, die by the sword" argument as both sides of that coin have specific redemptive-historical meaning that defies simple pigeon-holing into a marginally related issue. I think this is a serious question to ponder because as we see violence escalating, especially from people who have religious or political reasons to attack Christians, it is not going to diminish. I would not be surprised to see copycat attacks over the rest of this year. So it is a conversation we need to be having in humility and charity toward one another. That is a pretty tall order in this day and age but that is something the church, if nowhere else in our society, should be able to do.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Election That Never Ended

One year ago on November 8th, 2016, the day started as so many other election days have for me since my earliest recollection of an election, the 1980 landslide of Ronald Reagan that I watched with my die-hard Democrat grandparents (they didn't have a good night). As I have in every significant election since I turned 18 I went to the polls and as I have in most elections since 1992 I went to the polls with my wife. I cast my vote for Gary Johnson, as I did in 2012, because I simply couldn't pull the lever for Trump, partly for reasons of character and partly because he just isn't terribly conservative in any traditional sense, although in the last twelve months I have found myself less and less identified with traditional conservatism as well.

I am a pretty skeptical/cynical person on almost any topic and especially when it comes to the media but I admit I bought into the polling data. It was so overwhelming and so uniform and I have such a low opinion of many of my fellow Americans that I assumed that a woman who should be on trial would instead be elected and become the first female President of the United States. I actually was feeling kind of poorly that evening so after dinner I went upstairs to lay down for a bit but my wife and kids watched the returns. I came back down late in the evening when things were a toss up still and we watched the returns on the network news and PBS as well as on the internet. Watching the mostly leftist media talking heads slowly melting down online was pretty funny and at the end of the night, in the middle of the night in fact, I watched the Trump victory speech.

What has transpired since has been nothing less than surreal. The pundits who assumed Hillary would win warned about the danger of violence from Trump supporters when he inevitably lost and a refusal to accept the results in spite of the evidence to the contrary. Since the election there has been plenty of denial, hysterics and violence but it has been almost entirely one-sided from liberals/progressives. From the rise of the antifa to the Jill Stein led recounts to the endless searching for any ties between Russia and the Trump campaign to the relentless negative press and made up stories, culminating recently in the blatantly edited video of Trump dumping food to koi immediately after the Japanese Prime Minister did the exact same thing, the assault on Trump and the electoral process has been vicious and unending. The difference between the way Trump supporters and others on the Right view the election results and the way progressives and far Left voters view it is proof positive that we live in different worlds. We have experienced some of this with family members "unfriending" my wife and I on Facebook because we didn't support Hillary and our experience is far from uncommon. The nation is incredibly divided and ironically but not unexpectedly that division is being driven by those most likely to call Trump divisive.

From calls to arbitrarily abolish the electoral college to articles of impeachment being drawn up for no other reason than political posturing, not to mention the endless primal screams for attention from Hillary Clinton who unsurprisingly lacks the grace to quietly accept she lost and move on with her life, we are in a Ground Hog Day scenario where the election seems to be replayed over and over.


A year later the election is still contested in some corners, like the ridiculous fail last weekend where the antifa were going to come charging out of their parent's basements and overthrow the "Trump regime" which ended up being a handful of tiny protests that no one paid any attention to. There has been a great deal of political violence, again almost entirely from leftists. People were assured that the rise of Trump would lead to a wave of "hate crimes" and when that didn't materialize we have instead been treated to a lengthy series of hoax hate crimes that are breathlessly reported on by the media when first announced and then conveniently forgotten once they are shown to be self-inflicted or otherwise hoaxes.

Meanwhile the Trump presidency has been what you would expect. Twitter fights with people, brashness, chaos. What I didn't expect but should have is how much pushback Trump would get from other Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Jeff Flake not to mention faux-conservatives like Bill Kristol and most of National Review. I figured the Left would fight Trump tooth and nail but I didn't expect the level of petty suicidal political shenanigans from the GOP. It is apparent that many Republicans like the former Presidents Bush would rather have had a liberal Clinton White House as long as she didn't upset the establishment apple cart. If nothing else Trump deserves credit for exposing as phonies most "conservatives" in D.C., plus his nomination of Justice Gorsuch to the Supreme Court who appears to be a slam-dunk.

While most of the elections since last November have gone the way of conservative and populist Republicans, Democrats did win the governor's races in blue state New Jersey and in Virginia last night, both races that would have been easy wins but for the ridiculous truck video in Virginia. The media has been desperate for a win to pronounce a backlash against Trump and I am sure they will latch on to two elections that were almost a given to say "See, see! People are turning against Trump!" when in reality the same people that told us Hillary had a 90%+ chance of winning the day of the election are also telling us that people they clearly don't understand and truthfully despise are turning on Trump. Color me skeptical.

The real test will be next November when a ton of vulnerable Democrat Senators are up for re-election including my own Senator trying to win reelection in a state with essentially no state-level Democrat elected officials. If it goes as I expect, we should see a substantial gain for the GOP in the Senate which would be better news if Mitch McConnell wasn't the majority leader. If Trump has a larger majority in the Senate to work with and the economy keeps chugging along, and if we get the wall built and avoid any new wars, I think Trump is in a good position to be re-elected in 2020, especially if the Dems nominate some crazed liberal that makes people nervous.

I am starting to see some fatigue, the reduced enthusiasm of the protests and the general fizzling out of the anger against Trump after a fever pitch for a year. It would be interesting to see what Trump could get done if he didn't have to fight with the media (and his own party) over every single issue and koi pond but the ideologues in the media are so out in the open in declaring war against Trump that I don't see that happening.

As I said, it has been a surreal year since the 2016 election. It will be an equally crazy ride over the next twelve months leading up to the 2018 elections, especially if there is a war or a Supreme Court vacancy. You better buckle up, it is going to be a bumpy ride!