Monday, February 27, 2017

A moral center — or the lack thereof

Yesterday I watched the movie “Fences” based on the August Wilson play of the same name and which was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Denzel Washington, who played protagonist Troy Maxson, who worked as a garbageman for the city of Pittsburgh.

In both the play, which I saw in 1989, and the movie Maxson shared his story, running away from his Alabama home when he was 14, eventually ending up in prison, where he developed a love for — and, apparently, some skills at baseball but never made it above the Negro League level because major league teams weren’t interested during his youth. By this time he had become embittered toward the world and in the process driven away virtually everyone he was connected to, including his son Cory, whose football career the son believed he sabotaged out of jealousy; his wife Rose (in the movie, played by Viola Davis, who did with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) when he got another woman pregnant; and even longtime friend Jim Bono.

But while I did develop some sympathy toward Troy Maxson, I couldn’t but notice that he didn’t have a defined moral center. His whole life was based on what he could get at the time; while he demanded credit for taking care of a family, Rose Maxson noted that he had done a lot of taking — and taking people for granted. Eventually Cory ran away to join the Marines and Rose, after cuddling the daugher that resulted from Troy’s dalliance, told him, “You a womanless man.”

After watching the movie, it his me that the attraction to President Donald Trump by many of his supporters was tied to a similar lack of bedrock convictions, theirs as well as his — all that mattered was that they got what they wanted, meaning that folks they considered enemies were defeated. And it didn’t start with Trump, either, as they were willing to believe outright lies against Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the Democratic Party in general, the mainstream media and anyone else seen as liberal, whether true or not. Consider the name-calling they have to endure — “libtards,” “communists” and the like.

And this is why I consider Christian support for Trump problematic; folks clearly wanted someone who could win, preferably by domination, and to hell with the Constitution or consistent Biblical principles in the process. It should come as no surprise to anyone that our country is divided right now; while Trump didn’t cause the breach, he certainly exploited it for all he could get out of it.

The last scene of the play and movie was the impending funeral of Troy Maxson, with Cory Maxson making it home from the Marines but originally not intending to attend (and Rose reaming him out for even entertaining such a notion). I remembered that singer Wiliam DeVaughn performed a song, “Blood is Thicker Than Water” but also with the following line: “But nothing’s thicker than love.”

And that love was missing in the Maxson household. So it is in America today.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The real 'new world order'

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

     Revelation 21:5

For the last couple of decades we’ve seen fears of a “new world order” courtesy of the Federal Reserve Bank and the Rothschild banking family, complete with “one-world government.” Perhaps we Americans prize our independence from the rest of the world so much that anything that might challenge it needs to be opposed.

But if you look at the Bible, it’s clear that there will be a “new world order” with a one-world government — when Jesus comes to rule, as a local Christian talk-show host said over a quarter-century ago.

I suspect that we still want to hang on to our conspiracy theories because they give the illusion of power, but it certainly appears that we’re not trusting God to take care of us. And that insults him to the max.

The book of Revelation (more completely, the Revelation of Jesus Christ) represented a vision that the Apostle John, the last living apostle, experienced while he was exiled to the island of Patmos and was written to encourage Jewish believers who were experiencing persecution. The imagery was largely symbolic and thus not designed to be taken literally, which means that some of the “prophecies” that people have gleaned from it may be flat-out wrong.­

But more importantly, John’s audience was waiting for Jesus to return. Of course all Christians believe that, but it isn’t always clear what would happen beforehand. And that may not be relevant anyway.

So let’s focus on the main thing and not get off-track. New world order? Yep — at the top. The very top.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A "Cyrus anointing"?

Now I think I’ve heard everything …

There’s this doctrine in some charismatic Christian circles that President Donald Trump has a “Cyrus anointing.” I first heard about it right after the general election last year, but it was reinforced by a so-called prophet named Lance Wallnau, who was a guest on a TV show hosted by Jim Bakker. He was comparing Trump to the Persian emperor Cyrus, who allowed the Jewish people of that day to return to their traditional homeland in that Trump would, shall we say, set Christians free. (There are 20 mentions of Cyrus, in 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Isaiah and Daniel.)

This represents another case of violence being done to the Word of God to justify supporting a clearly ungodly man, let alone a divisive one.

It’s important to note that when Cyrus was on the throne God had sent Israel into exile for 70 years due to disobedience (it had been in the land for 490 years but failed to observe the Year of Jubilee in that time), and it’s thus quite likely that the “remnant” that was left was somewhat repentant. But I see no repentance among Christians for their disobedience, so it doesn’t apply there.

Moreover — and this is probably the key issue here — Christians are not being persecuted in this country because of their support for Trump. Let me say that again: Christians are not being persecuted. If there’s any persecution going on, it’s being directed toward those Christians who came out against him (Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention has had his job threatened for speaking out against him, and, according to an article in a recent issue of Atlantic magazine, other believers have lost ministry opportunities for not toeing the line).

Of course, Trump gained favor with evangelicals by saying that he would grant them the special status that they’ve often craved. But there’s a price to be paid for that, and I don’t want to know what that will be. This much I do know: The idea of Trump having any kind of “anointing” is ludicrous.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Churches, don't allow yourselves to be suckered

The New York Times is reporting that President Trump has said that he wants to overturn the Johnson Amendment, enacted during the 1960s, that disallows churches from being active directly in the electoral process at the risk of their tax exemptions.

If this actually happens, I hope to God that church bodies would still remain outside of partisan politics.

In fact, the only thing the amendment actually does is to keep churches from endorsing or opposing, including working directly for or against, specific candidates — that’s all, and any other interpretation is simply inaccurate.

Many Christians believe that the law keeps them from speaking out on social or moral issues. They haven’t been to my church because that’s happened occasionally there, and most other evangelical churches do. In fact, much of the social action that has taken place over the past 40 years has come from churches, and few complain about that. Further, occasionally pastors have endorsed candidates from the pulpit (this is seen mostly in African-American churches, which often lean Democratic).

The real danger here is when churches and Christian leaders start saying “God endorses (or opposes) _________” when in fact He’s much bigger than that. On top of that, they often give the wrong impression that, to be a Christian, you have to believe X politically, never mind one’s personal relationship with God. Such groups tend to cherry-pick Bible verses to use as prooftexts for their respective positions.

Even worse, if a church does become politically involved to that extent doing so threatens its true mission — to bear witness to an unseen world. It should seek to live by alternative Kingdom values in a world that not only doesn’t agree with but even opposes them, and to think that such Kingdom values would ever be accepted, let alone become dominant, in a fallen world makes absolutely no theological sense — in such a scenario the Christian faith by necessity becomes watered-down.

Yes, that’s right. Liberal. 

The scuttling of the Johnson Amendment is seen as a sop to the “religious right,” which has always sought religious privilege. But if it wins this battle it cannot win the war — for the souls of men. And women.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What conservatives do get right: A theology of war

Many of my fellow “lefties” tend toward pacifism and, it seems to me, seek peace at any price. They often declare war inherently immoral and try to avoid it wherever possible — even the language of war they see as contributing to the culture of militancy. Some have even tried to have the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” which I sang as a child, removed from hymnals.

On this one, however, I do agree with my conservative brothers and sisters, who subscribe to what might be considered a “theology of war.”

Reason? It should be obvious: We do have an unseen Enemy who, in the words of the classic hymn, “doth seek to work us woe,” ought to be accounted for and, like God, never quits. And one way he works is by trying to deny his own existence because if he were discovered for what he is he’d be out of luck.

And in many cases, that war is internal — that is, against sin, pride or anything that would turn one’s focus away from God. (Note: This is the original context of “jihad,” which in Arabic literally means “struggle” though in common usage today means “holy war.”)

Anyway, we’re instructed to resist the devil, to stand firm against his schemes — and let’s recall that the Apostle Paul occasionally uses military imagery (“Put on the full armor of God”). What do you need armor for if you’re not going into a place where your very life is in danger?

I’m well aware of the passages in Scripture about turning swords into plowshares, “nor shall they train for war anymore.” That’s in the future — but, sadly, not today.

I will admit that sometimes the conservative bent toward warfare can go, and often has gone, too far, particularly when it comes to people who disagree. I didn’t quite understand the 1970s “Battle for the Bible” because I wasn’t a Christian at the time, and the culture war I saw reheating in the 1980s I refused to participate in. Too often that comes as the result as what I call “playing both ends against the middle,” both sides fighting each other but inspired by the devil.

As for me, I want to keep my eyes on God — and, in the process, fight the real enemy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The imminent revival, part 7 — why supporting Trump won't bring it about

Apparently many evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump for president because they sought “religious freedom” (read: cultural dominance) and possibly considered his election the key to a religious revival.

I have some sobering news for such people: If there is to be a spiritual awakening, it will happen despite, not because of, him.

Reason? Because in history, spiritual awakenings start from the bottom up, not the top down. Trouble is, many religious leaders don’t understand that, insisting that “electing Godly leaders” is the key to staving off moral decay and, not coincidentally, raising money in the process. Trouble is, they seem to have set themselves up as leaders — similar to the 1980s, the “golden age,” shall we say, of media ministries but hardly effective for Christ in the long run, in large part due to financial and sexual scandals that some of the larger ones suffered.

What’s really required in any spiritual awakening is a desire for change, not primarily in society or the world but first in one’s heart and church community. And priority number one is, was and always will be a desire to abandon any and all known sin regardless of what it is.

The civil-rights movement, to give one example, came about because of prayer meetings in conservative African-American churches in the 1950s. (I believe that one reason it has had little power since is because of its abandonment of its overtly Christian roots.) Another is my own church, less than two generations ago white and racist though located in a largely African-American neighborhood but, after “concerts of prayer,” broke down those walls and is now rainbow. It has never sacrificed doctrine in the process, however.

Bottom line, revival will happen not when they get it but when, and only when, we realize that we don’t have it. There’s no other reason to seek God in such times except “Maybe we’re missing something.” I don’t see that happening here. 

Franklin Graham and James Dobson, two Trump supporters, were likely hoping that electing Trump would kick off the revival. But making abortion illegal — which I do support — and driving gays back into the closet, among other things, won’t do it because fighting the culture war with carnal weapons can never work.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The biggest losers

A lot of people are trying to determine the “winners” and “losers” in November’s presidential election. Conventional wisdom holds that the Democratic Party, the extreme political left, women and people of color suffered an ignominious defeat due to their connections, real or perceived, to “liberal √©lites.” That may be correct.

But only to a point.

I see an arrogant conservative élite, representing think-tanks and media who also took a stand against Donald Trump as being not being sufficiently conservative, as taking a major hit as well. A number of them, including Rich Lowry of National Review and several writers for the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal as saying that a Trump victory would end the conservative movement as we know it. And, in one sense, they were right.

Because they too were out of touch with Trump voters.                                                                                                                    
Only recently did conservatives admit that income inequality, globalization and other issues plaguing much of the white “working class” that overwhelmingly voted for Trump was major. However, they still remained committed to cutting taxes on the rich as a key to economic recovery even though it absolutely never worked. During the campaign Trump also leaned toward protectionism, also anathema to conservative think-tankers. Others, and rightly so, were put off by his insulting those who disagreed with him.

But he blew away the rest of the Republican field, virtually all of them more conservative than he.

What that has demonstrated is that people really weren’t buying what they were selling after all. Still trying to channel Ronald Reagan, whom Dinesh D’Souza inaccurately insisted had “the winning agenda,” they don’t seem to understand that Reagan brought them to the table, not the other way around. And Reagan got to the White House with equally flowery promises, albeit much smoother and more polished, as well as scapegoating others, in his case the poor and African-Americans.

Many if not most Republican politicians dutifully lined up behind Trump, if for no reason than to save their own skins. And that strategy worked.

I haven’t heard just how the “never Trump” movement on the political right is dealing with the new reality. Perhaps it’s still trying to figure out just how it went wrong — because it certainly did.