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


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 ....

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.