Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Perhaps not just the 'O'Reilly factor'

In light of the recent firing of Fox News Channel talk-show host Bill O’Reilly amid accusations of sexual harassment and large out-of-court settlements resulting from such, some folks have complained that what they might call “strong conservative voices” are being systematically removed from the airwaves.

I don’t believe that kind of comment has any basis in fact. Indeed, it may not simply be a problem with O’Reilly — recall that longtime chairman Roger Ailes was canned for similar reasons a few months ago, and Sean Hannity, another FNC pundit, had an accusation leveled against him just this week. With all this going around, it seems to be an institutional problem with Fox, which is now costing the network millions.

Why do I suspect this? Well, the book “Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative” by David Brock, formerly a right-wing journalist who probably appeared on the network but who worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign last year, made several references to “blond pundits” on Fox, several of whom he said “were not above reproach themselves, taking moral offense at adultery” in reference to President Bill Clinton’s tomcatting 20-some years ago.

In other words, you had a lot of pretty female faces on that network feeding that audience with red meat, likely with the intention to grab the attention of male viewers, but who Brock knew had, shall we say, improper relationships in their personal lives.

Does that kind of thing happen at other places? Oh, sure. But make no mistake: Money’s talking here, and when you lose too much of it heads have to roll. I sometimes wonder just how many of those “blond pundits” are being hit on by their bosses or coworkers just because of their beauty — and perhaps some even go along with it to keep their jobs.

We may be seeing even more of this in the future. Stay tuned ...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A campaign of resistance?

The pastor of my church has written “A Creed of Resistance,” which we’ve been reciting at the beginning of services. He has never mentioned President Donald Trump in his messages and the creed is itself theologically correct, but I can’t help but think that he’s making a statement. (He does nothing without approval of the board of elders, so he’s not acting as a lone wolf or an autocrat.)

We’re also engaged in an “expanded influence” campaign in which we’re trying to reach primarily other urban neighborhoods for Jesus.

The two may have more connections than is obvious.

Many evangelical churches often try to blend in, be “relevant” or make communicating “values” in the public square their focus. In doing so, however, they make the mistake of forgetting that Christians are a “peculiar people” who live by Kingdom values and should never pay homage to the status quo.

What brings people to faith in the first place is just that difference — I mean, what’s the point in adopting something if you’re not looking to make a change? It’s why the maintenance of “traditional Christian values” often ends up calcifying the true spiritual life.

And that’s the real reason much of evangelicalism’s embrace of Trump is not only problematic but also compromises its stated goals. In other words, rather than bringing people to Jesus it actually drives them away from Him because Trump has simply refused to adhere to any consistent moral standards, let alone Christian ones. That’s one part of the “resistance” in which we may be engaging in.

Some more liberal Christians have suggested that the church needs to act as a latter-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who engaged in active resistance against Adolf Hitler and paid with his life. As things stand now, however, doing so would be a little premature because the situations are quite different, especially since we have nowhere near the consistent nationalism that took place in Nazi Germany.

Besides, the focus of the church should be on maintaining its distinctiveness, never on “resistance” for its own sake. If resistance is part of that, all well and good, but the spiritual goals must be paramount. Always.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Pence's stance should be commended, not condemned

Recently Vice President Mike Pence was criticized for invoking the “Billy Graham rule” — that is, not being seen alone with a lone woman other than his wife in private, which the evangelist established in the 1940s. Now, I understand that his connection to President Donald Trump might make him sound hypocritical because of Trump’s rejection of similar decorum.

But, frankly, I think it’s a good idea, especially for a Christian man. It’s good to see someone take his marriage vows seriously not to give even the appearance of suspicion.

Those of you who remember the TV-evangelist scandals of 1987-88 would do well to remember what might happen when such safeguards weren’t in place. Remember, Jim Bakker ended up having an affair with PTL secretary Jessica Hahn, partially when he felt he was losing his wife Tammy Faye (and they ended up divorcing anyway). Then, Jimmy Swaggart was caught in a hotel room with a prostitute. Both men’s ministries collapsed as a result.

Pence has never been an evangelist to my knowledge, but even in Pence’s case — since he is a public figure — the same situation might apply; after all, he would get that tongues would wag were something appear not quite right. Besides, I’ve seen adultery in leadership of my present and immediate past churches and, especially in the latter, how it hurt the church.

Whatever you think of Pence’s politics, and I’m not crazy about them myself, you have to give him a hand for trying to be above board in his personal life. So please — don’t go off on him for, at least in this case, trying to do what's right.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The problem with "fake news"

In December, Edgar Maddison Welch, a 28-year-old North Carolina man, reacting to a story he had read online, drove to Comet Ping Pong, a Washington, D.C. pizzeria with a machine gun to confront an alleged child-sex ring supposedly involving Hillary Clinton.

When he got there he got a big surprise — the story that inspired him to take action turned out to be false, with no ring in sight.

Last night the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” aired a segment about “fake news,” during which unverifiable facts are spouted as news designed to smear someone. It’s not news, as this kind of thing has been going on for some time, but it shows me that folks simply aren’t using discernment.

I first began to notice this in 1992, when conservative media began attacking Bill Clinton when he was running for president; I eventually learned about the conspiracy in the fall of 1995, which was actually reported in legitimate media. Things have gotten worse since, with the focus on online media that report “what the mainstream media won’t.”

Which is true — for a good reason: Real news outlets check, double-check and triple-check their sources. These fake sources don’t even bother.

Last week I confronted someone online whom I know to be a Christian about his posting a video on “Pizzagate” and told him to take it down because I knew it was false. He refused, insisted that it was true and tried to blame me for being “partisan.” (That was beside the point.) When we Christians engage in gossip for the purpose of hating someone for political reasons we compromise our witness.

Solution? We need to come out of our bubbles and not always listen to people who tell us what we want to hear. These days that’s a tough sell — but needs to be done.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A failure to govern

I wonder if President Obama is chuckling now …

Since it was signed into law in 2010 Republicans have been determined to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The complaints were legion — that it didn’t cover everyone, its costs were too high and — falsely — it would lead to a government takeover of the health care system.

But in its haste to repeal it with the election of Donald Trump as president, the GOP didn’t count on a few things.

One, it actually did help a lot of people, ironically many of whom live in rural areas and voted for Donald Trump for president last year but who want to keep it. (They were told that they really wanted to repeal “Obamacare,” not realizing until it was too late that they were the same.)  Two, the “American Health Care Act,” coming from the Trump White House, jettisoned several key planks in the ACA, including the mandate for coverage, as well as not being anywhere near as comprehensive and thus rendering it virtually ineffective. Three, the GOP’s “Freedom Caucus” has never wanted any bill at all no matter which side proposes it and are opposing the AHCA on what they call principle.

What we have, and have had for decades, is a failure to govern properly on the part of the Republican Party. It has told people for years “This is what is good for you” rather than listen to people with open ears, its “donor class” often drowning out those voices. That has led to the present stalemate in Washington.

You see, this is what hate does — folks were so determined to rid themselves of the legacy of a man they despised that they didn’t think long-term about what they were doing and whom they were doing it for, and now it’s coming back to haunt them.

I said seven years ago that GOP leadership was green with envy when it came to the ACA, and that resentment is coming full-flower now. Some differences simply cannot be split to benefit everyone; at times hard choices need to be made for the good of all even though some might complain, because when you try to please everybody you usually end up pleasing nobody. Obama understood that in pushing through the ACA, but apparently his critics didn’t. And still don’t.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Here we go again ...

It has always puzzled me how and why President Trump, who has never pretended to embrace the basic doctrines of the historic Christian faith, could receive so much support from evangelical Christians. An article I read today shed light on that phenomenon, focusing on one fast-growing group.

Writing in “The Conversation,” Brad Christerson, a professor of sociology at Biola University; and Richard Flory, of the University of Southern California, identified a group to which they referred in their book “The Rise of Network Christianity” as “Independent Network Charismatic,” which focuses not on building churches but “in spreading beliefs and practices” and that has close ties to conservative U.S. politicians, including Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and more recently the president.

The article says that INC leaders have identified "seven mountains of culture" to be surmounted that would include business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family and religion. “In this form of ‘trickle-down Christianity,’ ” the article says, “they believe if Christians rise to the top of all seven 'mountains,’ society will be completely transformed.” It sounds good and wonderful for those who subscribe to the “culture wars.”

Don’t be fooled in the least, however, because it actually represents nothing more that just another demonic deception. If that sounds arrogant, consider the devil’s only real goal — to keep people from knowing and recognizing Jesus as LORD, and he will misuse even “Biblical principles” to do it. 

Yes, I chose the term “misuse” carefully and deliberately. If you have the “principles” and the resultant cultural power, what do you need God for? You’ll have to excuse me if this appears to be the 1980s redux, complete with organizations that answer to no one — not even to God.

It seems that people just don’t learn from their mistakes. The kind of revival such groups and their supporters want is possible only through local churches and comes from the bottom up, not through major campaigns from para-church groups that try to impose an ideological agenda from the top down. What we’re seeing here is yet another attempt to impose Christian values on society without the bother of spiritual warfare — which, of course, is hard and doesn’t get the quick results folks want because they don’t want to address the transformation of hearts. (That, of course, would include their own in the process.)

Moreover — and here’s the dangerous point — those Christians willing to do things “the old-fashioned way” and not go along with this movement, let alone speak out against it, will have their faith questioned. We know this because that’s happened in the past.

This appears to be yet another occasion for Jesus to say at the final judgment, “I never knew you.” I don’t see INC as having sanction from the Holy Spirit and, as such, failure is guaranteed.

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.