Wednesday, September 30, 2015

But for the grace of God …

Part of my job at my newspaper entails picking up criminal complaints from district justices, and I did that today. They're reminders of what people can do to each other.

But before I start thinking, “Well, I could never do that,” due to my own dysfunction I’m forced to admit, “Yes, given the right situation, I might.”

The reason I don’t?

That’s right — the grace of God that disabuses me of arrogance that I’m “above” doing such things.

I’m of course reminded of Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and tax collector, during which the former said, “I thank you that I’m not like [him].” Perhaps he was inconsiderate of the tax collector’s situation — perhaps he had to hire himself out for family reasons.

Don’t we often do that, with people prone to anger or addiction? (The former applied to me.)

You see, when you understand your own struggles you’re more sympathetic. During the Thanksgiving service at my church, about half the testimonies are around staying “clean and sober” — and although I’ve never personally had a problem with drugs or alcohol I rejoice with them. Such people understand the grace of God because they knew they needed it.

As do I.

Monday, September 28, 2015

I’m not Catholic — but …

Back in 1981 I had a conversation with a fellow student at the University of Pittsburgh whom I'd met at an evangelical campus fellowship and who came across as mature, spiritually committed and Biblically literate. He also said during that conversation that he would never leave the Roman Catholic Church, something that confused and surprised me, who grew up in a conservative Reformed church which didn't believe that Catholics could be real Christians.

Two years later I was invited to attend a meeting of the Greater Pittsburgh Charismatic Conference, which was taking place at Duquesne University, and a priest delivered a Biblically accurate homily. I was scratching my head at that — a Catholic priest? And at a Catholic university? (I later learned, however, that the charismatic movement in mainline denominations started on a retreat of DU students in 1967.)

Since that time — and I beg your forbearance for sounding arrogant or patronizing — I've become a bit more charitable toward Catholics, understanding that God has His people there as well.

During Pope Francis' visit to the United States over the weekend I noticed a number of people blasting the church as inherently unbiblical, but I had no use for those statements. I've come to appreciate its social teaching, which I hadn't even realized until about two decades ago pretty much mirrors mine — concerned with stewardship of the earth, consistently pro-life (that is, womb-to-tomb) but also opposed to same-gender matrimony. In that the pope could claim correctly that he wasn't a political liberal, at least by American standards.

I do have theological problems with Catholicism, too many to mention in this entry, and many of my friends who grew up there have left the church. But I'm reminded of something that Charles Spurgeon said about John Wesley, with whom he had serious, and perhaps irredeemable, disagreements: When one person asked him, "Will we see John Wesley in heaven?", Spurgeon responded, "I fear not" — in the context that Wesley's passion for and commitment to God far exceeded their own. In addition, theology is generally a man-made construct anyway and can be a substitute for knowing God personally.

Thus, far be it from me to assume just how God will work as well as the vessels that He uses to do it.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Life without John Boehner

Upon seeing an interview with Rep. John Boehner on “60 Minutes” after the 2010 midterm election, I knew he’d be in over his head. Boehner, then in line to become Speaker of the House, seemed to be talking out both sides of his mouth.

In one sense, I understand that because I think he understood his role — to try to govern the country and yet manage the then-ascendant Tea Party caucus, which would have been a difficult balancing act given the contempt that the caucus has for anyone who doesn’t share its views.

That Boehner announced last week that he was stepping down from Congress at the end of next month is thus less a reflection on him than on the tea-party movement, which is apparently more interested in doctrinal purity than running the country. It’s thus safe to say that he’s not so much failed in the end as set up to fail from to outset.

Keep in mind, however, that he won’t be the first victim.

That mindset, which first came about in the early 1980s, never had any interest in compromise to keep the country moving; it simply wanted its way. That came to light when Bill Clinton became president in 1993 and the right, fueled in large part by talk-radio, did its best to overturn the two elections simply because he didn’t support its goals.

Which explains Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich, who became speaker in 1995 after spending his Congressional career in the late 1970s as a backbencher, was likely seen as someone who would defeat Clinton — that’s why he ascended to that leadership post in the first place. Trouble was, Clinton was seen as outfoxing Gingrich on the 1995 budget that resulted in two government shutdowns, and while on an agenda level Gingrich won, he lost the public relations battle and Clinton was reelected with relative ease, effectively ending Gingrich’s political career. (He left Congress after he directed the Republican Party to spend heavily on anti-Clinton ads focusing on his upcoming impeachment — and the GOP subsequently lost five seats in the House.)

That history is why I see a post-Boehner House being immediately more fractious than before. And depending on how the Tea Party caucus behaves, his successor won’t have that post for very long.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Dr. Carson's historical faux pas

Recently Dr. Ben Carson, running for the Republican nomination for president, suggested that a Muslim might not be sufficiently American to become such. I wonder just what he meant by that — seriously. Apparently he believes, or is simply signaling his potential voters, that only Christians, or perhaps Jews as well, can be true Americans.

Perhaps Dr. Carson ought to remember that Islam has a history in the United States that goes back to its founding. Yes, that long (in those days, Muslims were referred to as “Musselmen”).

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, in addition to his “edited” Bible, also owned a Qur’an. In addition, if I have my facts straight, many of the Africans brought forcibly to these shores were also Muslims (though we don’t know if they continued to practice once they got here).

And then you have the large number of homegrown Muslims in the African-American community who began embracing Islam in the 1950s as part of a revolutionary ethos thanks to Malcolm X and the then-nascent Nation of Islam, which orthodox Muslims consider a heretical cult. In 1964, in part for that reason, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam, which especially after the death of sect founder Elijah Muhummad collapsed. (Louis Farrakhan revived it, but it doesn’t have the strength it once did.)

We all understand that Muslims perpetrated the terrorist attacks in Sept. 11, 2001. But Muslims also died in those attacks, and in their aftermath an imam in New York immediately and strongly condemned them, even founding Cordoba House, a “Muslim Y,” as an attempt to heal the wounds. In addition, an estimated 10,000 Muslims live in the immediate area.

And I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of them are Americans.

A Muslim group has demanded that Dr. Carson remove himself from the race, but I doubt he will — or even apologize — because of the Islamophobia on that side of the political aisle. But in this country we no longer have religious tests for political offices (some states did at one time, however). Moreover, it seems unfair to brand a particular religion as un-American when it actually has a long history here, so Dr. Carson’s remarks were out of bounds.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Where — and why — Kim Davis’ stance contradicts the Bible

Kim Davis, a clerk in a county office in Kentucky, of course has recently been in the news for refusing to issue a marriage license to a gay couple — and doing so based on “God’s authority.”

Such a stance sounds courageous to culture warriors determined to stamp out same-gender matrimony in response to a Supreme Court ruling allowing it in all 50 states. In fact, however, she actually exceeds it, making herself into God.

Frankly, I can’t see Jesus doing such a thing — and He was God. He never told people to take civil authority, especially in a day where doing so was an endorsement of the powers that be. Trouble was, however, that many of the Jewish people wanted to kick out the Romans in the same they were able to defeat the Greeks about a century ago.

Basically, the early church refused to participate in situations it deemed “worldly,” realizing that it didn’t have the power to change things politically. Members wouldn’t serve in the military or participate in plays, for example, due the concern that doing so would cause them to participate in emperor worship. Gradually, however, the church even outlasted the Roman Empire, and only then did it have power. (But, sadly, like anyone else, it abused that power.)

On top of that, you really can’t quote the Bible in opposing “gay marriage” — gay sex, to be sure, but when the Bible was written the idea of two men or two women being joined in the capacity was so far-fetched and ridiculous that it wasn’t even considered. Only when marriage became about individuals and not the community did it become a possibility, and that only in Western society and only over the past few centuries.

Though I myself don’t agree with gay marriage, I say she’s overstepped her bounds; thus, if she feels she can’t carry out the duties which she was sworn to carry out, she should quit. (I would if I were in her shoes.) People may say that they don’t want to live in a licentious society, but it will always be that way until Jesus returns.