Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Avoiding politics and getting rolled

President Donald Trump once admitted, “I didn’t know that health care was so complicated.” He certainly knows it now.

For the third time his “American Health Care Act,” designed to replace what is officially the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly disparaged as “Obamacare,” has failed to pass the U.S. Senate.

And this is because the Republican Party simply didn’t want to play the political game; during discussions on the ACA its supporters didn’t bargain in good faith with the other side (and still wouldn’t today). Yes, that bill passed with no Republican votes, but it wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of President Barack Obama, who allowed about 100 amendments.

But this goes to the mentality of the political right, which concedes nothing and simply tries to roll over its opposition. Several senators refused to support the ACHA because, correctly, that it ended up cutting coverage; however, one, Rand Paul of Texas, opined that it didn’t go far enough in repealing the ACA. 

And when you have that inability to split the difference, without which governing is impossible, that’s precisely what you end up with: Nothing. An unforeseen complication was that, despite its flaws, the ACA actually worked as intended, so even in rural areas that went for Trump folks wanted to keep it.

One of Trump’s problems as president is that he can’t stop campaigning long enough to engage in the hard work of governing. Thing is, however, his base demands that he continue to assert his authority, so he’s caught in a vise basically of his own making.

That’s less a failure of “Trumpism” than of the conservatism that defines the modern GOP. I suspect that they’ll lose a few more battles before reality sets in.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Christian silence on Trump

I ask the following, with apologies to Sarah Palin, of my Christian friends who are unabashed supporters of President Donald Trump: “How’s that ‘Cyrus anointing’ working out for ya?”

I’m not trying to be snide or anything, but I can’t help but wonder just how they feel he’s improved the country morally or spiritually since being inaugurated, especially with scandal after scandal being unearthed, most recently revelations that his namesake son, interested in getting dirt on Hillary Clinton, met with a Russian lawyer. That’s leading many, primarily but by no means exclusively on the political left, to believe that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to throw last year’s election.

Indeed, according to conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, “[W]e know now that Donald Trump’s son, his son-in-law and his campaign manager all took a meeting in which it was explicitly promised that damaging information on Hillary Clinton would be supplied as ‘part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.’ ” 

And yet, a photo appeared last week with a number of pastors laying hands on the president. Indeed, recently Pat Robertson interviewed him, and during that interview he said that Russian president Vladimir Putin would have preferred her. (Which is false on its face — when she was Secretary of State she actually told him off.)

This isn’t “fake news,” my friends — this is the real deal.

I would think that a man interested in governing by consistent Christian principles would focus on making things better for everyone, not just his side of the political fence, and adhere to the rule of law in the process. But even conservative commentators have mentioned, among other things, his contempt for an independent judiciary and the Constitution, with some (who, to be fair, were never on his team to begin with), taking him to the woodshed.

This is not just an ongoing political crisis, although it certainly is that.

So he appointed a Supreme Court justice who might overturn Roe. v. Wade. Was that sufficient reason to ally with someone who cannot otherwise but sabotage Christian witness for years down the road? (Court decisions can be reversed, you know.)

I don’t see Trump being impeached anytime soon; it would take a Democratic-majority Congress for that to happen and of course that’s no guarantee. But I would hope that one of his major Christian supporters has a change of heart and say, publicly, “I was wrong”; doing so would likely do more for evangelistic efforts and the Kingdom of God more than demanding a “return to our Christian roots.” It seems to be, as things stand now, a case of winning a battle but losing the war — in this case, for the souls of men.

Monday, July 10, 2017

An unseen world

Of late I’ve been ruminating about a relationship that failed in 2001, and that collapse was connected to our respective and conflicting philosophies about the ultimate purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ.

My then-girlfriend wanted to marry me but, in the process, for us to attend her church, which happened to be across the street from where she lived, as a family (she had three sons by previous marriages), insisting that people should attend church in their own neighborhoods. Trouble was, I did visit once on a Sunday morning — I’m in the music ministry at my large, metropolitan church, which I would eventually join officially, and had that week off — and, at that service, received word from the LORD not to go there.

I would soon learn just why — based on a number of situations that she couldn’t see but I couldn’t miss, I discerned that her church harbored some latent racism that would likely have flared up had I begun going. (My own church, where I still attend, had already addressed that issue beforehand and is now “rainbow.”)

You see, she apparently believed, and probably still does believe, that the primary purpose of the local assembly was to maintain “traditional” morals and values and thus perpetuate itself and its own standing in this world. I believe that to be wrong.

The church exists to bear witness to a world that’s generally unseen as things stand now but will eventually be clear to all. It doesn’t — or, at least, shouldn’t — operate according to the world’s value system and thus has no reason to perpetuate itself as such and live by that; it should take its orders directly from the LORD.

This is not to say, of course, that it can’t do diaconal or prophetic ministry; indeed, it should but only to His glory, never for the sake of its own name. Helping the poor, ministering to the suffering and challenging the powers that be are good and necessary but only in the context of the ultimate message, “Hey, world, we get it right, and here’s why.”

I heard that one of the local suburban megachurches held a Fourth of July celebration with films of flying military aircraft and American servicemen (and women) literally marching through the sanctuary. The message was clear — we’re strong because of our military.

I can understand folks wanting to do that, but such demonstrations don’t belong in a church. Yes, we Christians are soldiers in one sense but don’t use that kind of weaponry; the first Christians, among other things, refused to serve in the Roman army due to what they considered emperor worship. Indeed, saying “Jesus is LORD” was often tantamount to a death sentence because they were operating from a higher perspective.

And it’s that “higher perspective” that the church needs more now than ever, as the “good news” that Jesus brought was one of reconciliation — first, with God through His death and resurrection and, second, with each other. Were these two items made paramount the rest will fall into place, because the world has no answer to that, which is what makes us distinct and without which the values and morals that we often promote have no ultimate meaning.

I left the above-mentioned relationship when I realized that I’d never be the spiritual leader of that household — I would lead it into a place where the rest didn’t want to go. It was less about a local church than God’s intent as to what He wants from His followers, to which I was, and still am, committed. I figured it was better to be single than betray the LORD by marrying someone not willing to conform to that unseen world.

Monday, July 3, 2017

'Make America Great Again ' — in song, or whatever

"Make America Great Again" was the motto of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump during last year's campaign. The motto conjured up elements of racism and xenophobia, not just the "patriotism" that his supporters insisted that it signified.

Now, however, it's gone too far. The music ministry of First Baptist Church of Dallas two days ago premiered a song by that name, composed and arranged by a former member of its staff, and I understand that now-President Trump was pleased. Not only that, but it has obtained a CCLI license, which allows it to be performed in other churches that have such an agreement.

Somehow, however, I don’t think the LORD was. Remember, this is a church, which is supposed to declare total allegiance to Jesus Christ, not any nation or political candidate.

I’m sure that performing the song — and, yes, I’ve seen the lyrics — will be justified by saying that “as long as we acknowledge God America will be blessed.” In what fashion, however? And what does it mean to “acknowledge God,” anyway, and what kind of blessing? Seems to me that He’s simply being used — again — to support American civil religion, which inherently falls short of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As such, at some point He will put a stop to it.

Knowing my church as I do, I seriously doubt that it would consider performing the song, and I wouldn’t do so if it were placed in front of me (I’ve been in its music ministry for nearly two decades). The lead pastor has said, “I love my country, but it is not the Kingdom of God!” I would say that, in this context, "Make America Great Again" represents not just idolatry but even approaches heresy.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Where — and why — Erick Erickson misses the boat

Some of the howls of rage concerning what some have referred to as a miscarriage of justice in the Philando Castile case, during which a police officer shot him to death but found innocent of murder, have come from unlikely places. One of those came from activist Erick Erickson, who on the blog “The Resurgent” went through a litany of examples of what might be called “microaggressions” that social-justice warriors would have applauded.

But the most jarring part of his piece was this bit of naïveté: “But I am a conservative and I oppose judging any person based on a group. Each man is entitled to his own dignity, not the dignity he gets by virtue of being a part of some group. To think otherwise is not conservative.”

It’s naïve because everyone belongs to some “group” — and yes, I mean everyone. In fact, we all belong to several groups, whether racial, ethnic or cultural and all with some kind of history (which often includes some social injustice in which the wounds have yet to heal). I have to admit that I didn’t appreciate that myself until I was a teen because I’ve been crossing racial and cultural lines since I was 6.

And it’s that history that Erickson ignores. Indeed, the vast majority of Americans have ancestors who emigrated from other countries and in many cases, especially in major cities, have kept those respective heritages alive.

Of course, when you don’t acknowledge someone’s heritage you don’t get an idea of his or her thought process, which might differ from yours — which is why we’ve needed a “diversity” movement in the first place but that, I suspect, Erickson fears. In other words, the basic message is that “We don’t want or intend to change our views,” which is a major issue.

During my first year of college I read an article in the now-defunct HIS magazine, published by the Christian missions-focused ministry InterVarsity. The article’s subject was racial and cultural diversity in South Africa, and one white South African student was quoted as saying, “You must have your own culture — and love the other one, too.” I didn’t appreciate it at the time but certainly do today, and I hope Erickson gets that someday.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hating the 'left'

If you’re wondering why worshippers of President Donald Trump are really encouraging the rollback of environmental protections, the repeal of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and other things since Trump’s inauguration, Brian Beutler of The New Republic and Paul Krugman of The New York Times have both summed it up nicely.

This clause by Beutler about the ACA should explain it: “Republicans simply stapled together whatever set of measures they needed to pass a bill in the House, because the claim to having dismantled something important to Obama and liberals matters more to them than the underlying state of the U.S. health care system.”

Krugman has written that the opposition to the Paris Accord in particular and climate change in general “is largely driven by sheer spite.  [M]uch of today’s right seems driven above all by animus toward liberals rather than specific issues. If liberals are for it, they’re against it. If liberals hate it, it’s good.”

This is the reason our country is so divided — the contempt those on the right have for those perceived as left-leaning.

It started as far back as 1980, with the negative advertising against Democrats resulting in the first “Republican Revolution” and even some evangelicals referring to those more on the left as dangerous; since-disgraced evangelist Jimmy Swaggart once referred to liberal politics as “akin to Communism.” Later on conservatives did their best to have President Bill Clinton — who really wasn’t all that liberal, truth be told — removed from office, activists during the 1992 presidential campaign filing suit in Federal court to have him removed from the ballot and, failing that, setting him up for a failed impeachment.

Some years ago the evangelical ministry Sojourners that has always focused on social justice set up a blog, “God’s Politics,” after a 2004 book by the same name by founder Jim Wallis. Almost immediately conservatives started denouncing it, some of them making snide comments and others personally attacking folks who dared to disagree with them. Sojo tried everything to lower the temperature, even going to a Facebook-based commenting system so that people simply couldn’t anonymously flame others for disagreeing.

Not even that worked, as I suspected that it wouldn’t. The hate proved to be just too deep.

Recently I read an article online about narcissists, who exhibit the symptoms of “gaslighting,” projection, changing the subject and desiring control, and recognized that such typify many Trump supporters. They simply refuse to be confronted on their behavior, just like the object of their worship (and I don’t think I’m exaggerating, either). I don’t see liberals acting the same way; the few that do are basically on the margins and have little, if any, power.

All this flies in the face of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is at heart about reconciliation — with God through His cross but also with each other. That in America the Christian faith is often considered synonymous with right-wing politics thus should be problematic, and some churches I wouldn’t even attend if it displayed conservative literature.

I would hope that those of us who are followers of Christ develop the humility to learn what any opponent is thinking and how he or she comes to his or her convictions. Perhaps we all could learn something.