Politics as Usual: I Quit the Field in Disgust

So I am ending this series a little early, being disgusted by this latest scandal by the current Republican nominee. I may eventually put these articles along with others intended into a Kindle publication, as I did with the Positive Case for Christ, but this election cycle reminds me of why I have grown to prefer books on politics rather than the news media’s coverage or talk radio, and why I prefer political philosophy to the partisan debates of the moment, one must have idealism tempered by utilitarian concerns of how to make things work in politics, unfortunately, this does not describe modern America’s political diet, and to continue discussing political principles within the growing echo chambers based more on sound and fury is to be drowned out, particularly since I am not very good at marketing this blog.

I’m by nature of a man who makes arguments, who reasons his way to his positions, and then when he has crystalized those positions he will defend that rational with passion. But the timing of this release seems clear, we will no longer be discussing issues and political philosophy, instead, reason and wisdom will be crying in the streets abandoned until after November. I’m done for this year, and will only write a pair of articles defending my brethren; to explain why the question is not one of a hypocritical church, but a church in an imperfect and self-destructive society.

I have never been a Trump fan, back in January I wrote an article entitled, “Evangelicals and the Donald,” in which I noted it was unwise to support Trump during the primaries; latter an interesting article restored my thoughts that my brethren had not gone insane – reports of Evangelical support for Trump during the primaries was likely overstated. Yet, after the primaries it became apparent that Millennials, both inside the church and outside, viewed Evangelical’s who support Trump (whether in the Primary or the General) as “hypocrites” and as an argument against Christianity, and some made claims about the religious right as well (as if Trump could every be rationally described as a conservative of any stripe). Even many young Evangelical’s reacted when a Systematic theologian named Wayne Grudem argued that voting for Trump was the right choice. His argument was sound, but his word choice though was not great.[1] We have also been pilloried in the mainstream press, though this is nothing new, what is new, in a sense is the coming to age of Millennials. Some have suggested we vote third party or for Hillary because of the optics and the way millennials will perceive a vote for Trump; I’m sympathetic, but I’ve never made decisions based on what someone else thought I should do, and optics isn’t something I take into account in formulating my philosophy or theology. If the world thinks I’m crazy, well I’m in good company, they crucified my Master, after all. And yet, not explaining why a Christian might buck the trend to vote for someone with the personal manners of an oaf, of a man I increasingly think of as the Republican Bill Clinton,[2] is unreasonable as well, I planned instead to explain why as a Christian I take the stands I do. In the past, during elections seasons, I have done the obligatory posts on issues Christians ought to be concerned about, but because of these concerns Millennials have, I realized I needed to start defining why I take stands as I do.[3] Conservatives like to talk about principles, but they have long only spoken about them in snippets and soundbytes.


An Open Letter to Millennials

You are the reason I began this series, and the reason I may eventually make this material available elsewhere. My generation is often called, “Generation-X” was often dismissed as being educated, but foolish by many of my parent’s generation, meanwhile, many Gen-Xers became scornful of their predecessors, and became convinced of their own moral and intellectual superiority. As I’ve grown older, I understand my parent’s generation better, I’ve learned the weakness that the idealism of youth creates is that this idealism is often impatient and lacks the necessary tempering of wisdom. Young people (and truthfully many moderns in general), live in echo chambers, where they listen only to those who agree with them. This creates an inward arrogance on the one hand, and a tendency to dismiss others too quickly on the other. I am asking you to resist these tendencies for a moment. You have also grown up in a difficult time. In your college years, a questionable approach to epistemology (post-modernism) has dominated your instruction in ways I’m not even sure you understand yet. One of the side effects is you went to academic institutions that failed you, because to a post-modernist, only one side of an argument ever needs to be considered, that which has a view of a particular type of social progress.

Francis Schaeffer in his book The Great Evangelical Disaster noted that many of the cool, hip Christians of his day thought they demonstrated that they were “with it” because they wore blue jeans, missing the fact that blue jeans were not really a badge of anything since everyone wore them. Today, many millennials do the same thing with the phrase, “Social Justice;” I often hear your generation saying you are interested in Social Justice, but then, so is everyone else. The problem with Social Justice is not convincing people to be for it, the problem is how do we define it, and in the past century many different approaches have been suggested. The distinctions in our approaches are often less about ends than means; and while this does not end disagreement, the differences are important. One may bitterly oppose a racist and amiably, but vigorously disagree with someone about how to deal with racial inequalities in our society. Booker T Washington and W E B Deboise disagreed on such matters, but at the end of the day, their cause was the same, the full rights of citizenship.

I believe Trump is a lying, sexist, misanthrope who will say anything to get elected, whether he believes it or not. I abhor his treatment of women as sexual playthings,[4] I abhor that much of his money is comes from the gambling industry, an industry that hurts the poor. I abhor (as a Christian thinker) his tendency to misrepresent conservative and Christian arguments; his dishonesty and hatred of good men throughout the primary season, and I can go on and on; I have never liked Donald Trump. And yet, I also abhor much of Hillary Clinton’s intolerant rhetoric (the statements she made about those living in trailer parks in the nineties in my mind is just as bad as racism), the way she has attacked the character of women who have a history with her husband, including those who have made allegations that Bill Clinton raped them, like Juanita Broaddrick. I am angered that her husband’s administration, with her apparent backing, examined for political capital the FBI files of Republican donors, and I believe the evidence suggest that she took bribes through her husband’s speeches and the Clinton foundation while she was Secretary of State.


Many people will immediately accuse me of defending Trump by making an argument from moral equivalency, but I am not defending Trump, I’m defending believers, and the only issue of moral equivalency would really be, in my mind, why is it when we have two candidates with such serious history of moral failings, dishonesty, and intolerance does the popular press only asks about the character of one of them – but this is a question for another day.

In short, I want to make a different argument, not why Donald Trump is good for the country, nor why Hillary Clinton is bad for the country, but why someone might think Donald Trump is less bad, this will be in part 2.

                  [1]Grudem argued that a vote for Trump was a morally good choice; but this assumes something about Biblical ethics I do not – that there is always a choice that is morally good, and a choice that is morally bad. I can agree with much of what Grudem has stated about the relationship of the Church and the State, I can agree with him on his discussions of the Old Testament, but I cannot argue that voting for Trump is morally good, I can only make the case that voting for Trump may be the least morally bad.

[2]My perceptions about the Clintons, as will become apparent, is not based in ideology, Bill made it clear he was no ideologue. After 1994, he abandoned his economic platform, blasted the Contract with America as extremist, but then adopted that contract as major points of his political accomplishments beginning with a speech during his re-election campaign, when he stated he had raised taxes “too much.” In a sense, I view the Clintons the same way I view Lucky Luciano, the man who organized the American underworld during prohibition into what we now call the Mafia. Luciano and the Clintons on the one hand are figures that are morally reprehensible, and solely interested in enriching themselves at the expense of the public, and yet, I find that I admire the genius of their ability to organize and sell their ideas, foolish sinful human being that I am.


Perhaps it is only me, but I often think of Bill Clinton as the man who stole what little honor the Democratic party had left. I can remember watching my father grow anger, the man who always described himself as a life long democrat, and then a Reagan Democrat finally said he did not leave his party, his party left him. I watched a man I had disagreed with, but at least respected, Dick Gephardt prove himself to similarly dishonor himself to protect a dishonorable man, and from the primaries that was precisely the worries I had for the Republicans, that a Trump nomination would discredit what was left of the party and take the country with him.

[3]There were originally two parts intended, political ideals (starting with my article on why Christians approve of democracy, and one last piece that as not completed, on the very notion of Social Justice) followed by a practical discussion on economics, race, LGBTQ, and if there was time immigration and poverty. I began the series with my usual tendency to clear what I consider the underbrush that makes it difficult to make a point, in this case, our tendency to make judgments based on perceptions about motives, rather than on facts and reasoning that can be determined, and I was then planning on expanding this for a Kindle release in 2018.

                  [4]To be fair, Trump has apologized, and the tape was 11 years ago. We play these odd games with apologies in this country and I do not want to engage it in. Trent Lott’s career was largely ruined when he praised Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrat campaign, as it was insinuated to be support for Thurmond’s segregationist stance. Meanwhile, various democrats, including the Clinton’s have faced no reprisals for their support for Senator Robert Byrd, former Klansman, who lied about the extent of his involvement with the Klan. There was a long standing tendency by Democrats to argue Thurmond’s repentance was not genuine, there was a long term tendency by Republicans to say the same thing about Democrats such as Byrd. Engaging in games such as this are petty, and something I wish to avoid playing these games, I can’t judge anyone’s hearts, and motives belong in God’s court, not mine.

But, what is clear, is that Trump has not mastered his tongue; I grant the possibility he could change over the years, but his language during the campaign does not support that assumption.

Politics as Usual Part 2: Defining our Choices

This election is a tragedy. It is easy to hear Donald Trump’s tape and immediately grow hot and angry, this is a righteous anger, but this is not how we should vote. Elections and voting is an act to the believer of Stewardship, it is something God has given us in society, and as a result, it should be done with wisdom and thought, not merely passion. Before making a decision, sometimes its help to consider one’s choices. We have five choices:

  1. Push Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton to drop out of the election.
  2. Move to another country or secede from the United States.
  3. Abstain from the election, by either not voting, not voting for the top of the ticket, or voting for a third party candidate.
  4. Vote for Hillary Clinton.
  5. Vote for Donald Trump.

Option 1

I have heard that the Republicans have no means of making Donald Trump drop out of the election, but many in the party are angrily withdrawing their support and calling on him drop out of the race in favor of Mike Pence. I am fully sympathetic with this action, but lets be clear, Trump is a megalomaniac, he isn’t very likely to drop out. Similar things are true of Hillary, she has no reason to drop out.


Option 2

Impractical for myself, though I suspect if our economic practices continue as they do, more and more of the wealthy will leave the country as their business produce more and more in Asia. But this requires both means, and a belief that one is not needed by the Lord in the United States. Secession is an extreme option, that will lead to war, and a great deal of human suffering; if a state or block of states were to choose to secede, people will need to make a decision on where they stand, but I think it unwise to push for that option until human lives are already at stake.


Option 3

It has already been demonstrated why third party campaigns don’t affect elections in the direction their voters usually intend,[3] I will not regurgitate the argument. To vote for a third party or not vote is an abstention, a protest and to some an honorable one perhaps, but a protest that will have no impact on the national election, itself, or on society.

I have not seen any scientific surveys of Evangelicals, but I know a large number of them, many that are apologists, ho are choosing the option of voting third party. I will not denigrate them or throw stones at them for doing so. They are voting their consciences and it is not my place to judge them.

Options 4 and 5

                  I will treat these two together, I have noted a few Christians, friends, who have argued that Hillary Clinton is the lesser of two evils, many of them being conservatives. Their essential argument is that Trump’s blustery personality will cause us to be embroiled in wars, and will quicken the pace of America’s decline to the status of a banana republic, in some cases they step to far beyond what should be extrapolated from the evidence, at least in my judgment, but I can understand why they take that stand. I know a number of others who until today planned to vote for Trump, though recent events may have changed their minds. This is not an advocacy of their campaigns, it is not an endorsement of either Trump or Clinton, rather it is more often than not an example of voting for the lesser of two evils – we might very well wish for a president that would administrate the republic from a Christian worldview, but however desirable that might be, it is very unlikely to happen this year. In a sense, some may vote for Trump or Hillary as the lesser of two evils, let me give a defense of that position from history.


As a professor of mine recently noted about the #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary movements, issues of history and nations, sadly, aren’t that easy. In 1941 America supported Stalin over Hitler. Stalin was not the lesser of two evils, he murdered more people than Hitler did, his regime was surpassed (possibly) only by Chairman Mao in its damage to human beings. Stalin was also a more serious threat to the United States, and was aggressively expansionistic. Before America entered the war, the Soviet Union fought on the side of Hitler, and participated in the invasion of Poland (the invasion that brought France and England to finally declare War on Hitler) and the regime murdered numerous Polish citizens. Before leaving the side of the Axis, the Soviets invaded Finland in the Winter War, and Americans were as concerned about the Soviets as the Germans, and yet, Germany, while not the greater threat, was certainly the more immediate one. And yet, even before we were bombed by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, we were already providing war material to both Britain and the Soviet Union;[1] History would tend to indicate this was the best decision that could have been made at the time; Hitler lost the war, in large part because of the way he divided his forces between an Eastern and a Western front. Practically speaking, it was either support Stalin, or lose the war.

And yet, this was not a morally “good choice,” supporting the Stalinist regime would mean the surrendering of vast territories to the not so tender mercies of the Soviet Union, and as the war progressed this was something accepted by both the British and the Americans. Instead, perhaps, our entry into the war with the alliance we made wasn’t the good choice, perhaps it was just less bad. Similarly, perhaps believers voting for either Trump or Hillary are not making a case that they are good candidates, perhaps they simply believe it is the least bad choice.

                  [1] Nor were Americans before 1941 entirely sympathetic with the United Kingdom. The UK had a history of Imperialism, something that few American’s favored, and most Americans felt that the British had tricked us into footing the bills for the first World War.

[2] See Michael Medved, The Ten Big Lies About America.

Politics as Usual Part 3: Marching to Judgment, unless


Politics as Usual Part 3: Marching to Judgment, unless

But besides looking at our choices, then there is another thing to consider. Why are the five choices I listed in Part 2 the choices we have? The answer isn’t because they were the candidates supported in the primaries, this was the proximate cause, not the ultimate one. Trump was heavily supported by independents in early primary states, and he has attracted massive crowds, and while the tapes are shocking in their details they should not be.

In a democratic republic, the government ultimately reflects the people. I had a female coworker today state she was not upset by Trump’s comments because many men make such comments all the time and many women do the same thing to men, or to other women. She is partially right, the problem isn’t that Trump is a sexual deviant in a land of the sexually pure, it is that Trump openly lives the life that many men would live if they could. Trump in many senses in his callous disregard for others represents the callous disregard of the modern world, which cares about people in the abstract, but engages in backbiting, gossip and the spreading of dissension with coworkers, “friends” and families. Trump, in short, is us, and as we should respond to the ugliness of the man as we would respond to the ugliness of what we see in the mirror – by realizing its time to make some changes.

I have heard it said that Whitaker Chamber’s was asked why he wrote about the problems of Communist infiltration of the Government, Chamber’s noted he did it to save the country, and the retort was the question of the hour, is America worth saving. I must confess, I do not believe, as a nation, that we deserve saving. I have not been able to say “God bless America” in more than a decade; I beg Him for mercy, but there is something wrong with asking for blessing on the cesspool of entertainment we have created for ourselves, the millions we have slaughtered in abortion mills, and there is no repentance in our hearts. There was a time when America engaged in soul searching over the evil’s of slavery, but such soul searching would mean taking time away from whatever trivial thing has engaged our minds at the moment. Entertainment is no longer recreation to recharge the batteries, it’s the central element of human life; the Creator God has been replaced by the court jesters, whom we now treat as wise, compassionate and learned men.

The Roman Republic became the Roman Empire because a number of Demagogic politicians sought to use the pains and sorrows of the people of Rome as a means to elected office, and they used the powers of those offices to expand their own roles in the cities, in part by ignoring traditions of term limits. Eventually, Octavius, humbly accepted control of the empire from the Senate in an act of Political theater, and in the name of saving the republic. Dictators, at least initially, come to power because the people choose to allow them to do so. I believe America is on such a path, but as a believer, I believe that such a path is in part the justice of the Creator, whom we have ignored, and He can change our hearts.

I believe the real answer to these questions is ultimately to remember that the Church’s power is not found in politics, marketing strategies, or in the things of this world. It is found in the work of the Spirit through the Church, something I am afraid the modern Church has forgotten. I am not one to fight battles over things like music, but I find it questionable that the major arguments for these things is the need to attract people to the faith, and I believe, in a sense, we are trying to do the Holy Spirit’s job for Him. We cannot find relief for spiritual problems in political solutions, whatever political theory we may espouse. Politics may be important, but it is not of ultimate importance.

Except the LORD keep the city, the watchman watches in vain.

A Christian Defense of Free Speech

            One of the great torrents in our society is the debate over free speech in our university culture or, rather the use of speech codes based on European rather than American conceptions of free speech. Thus, we have discussions of various issues, such as trigger warnings, free speech zones. Events at Missouri State university and Yale last year, along with the famous “Chalkening” at Emory have made this a national issue. Books have been written on this topic, most recently by Kirsten Powers.[1] It is not only Liberals, however, who challenge this policy, while Powers writes about the American Left on University campuses today, it was the right who opposed free speech on campuses during the Vietnam War protests. Recent statements by San Francisco forty-niners Colin Kaeperick for not standing during the national anthem reveals that many social conservatives have similar weaknesses on the principle of free speech as many liberals do in questions regarding the Dallas Cowboy’s desire to support police with a decal on their helmet.

            But why should a Christian, or anyone else, for that matter, care about free speech? From a practical standpoint, because it is a necessary element for a democracy to function; In a democratic, constitutional republic, one of the necessary prerequisites is a society that agrees to settle its differences by force of argument rather than force of arms, and thus it becomes necessary to allow all comers to make their case. In a sense then the arguments for democracy of separation of powers are therefore arguments for free speech.

            For many Evangelicals, the points I made in discussing freedom of religion would demonstrate freedom of speech as a corollary. If man has free will, and can accept or reject God’s plan of salvation, then it seems one must also allow them access to the arguments both for an against His plan. There are three major points where Christians can be accused of hypocrisy on this issue, and one major modern assault.  Let’s look at a Christian response on all four.


            Christians have long been opposed to pornographic material, and in many cases by legal suppression, so is this a violation of the principle of free speech? The answer is simply, no, because pornography is not speech. Speech is quite simply the ability to communicate an idea, principle or idea. Similarly, when the constitution refers to expression in the first amendment, it refers to word choice, genre, and other elements of “written expression,” which are means to the end of communicating a point. Pornography, however, doesn’t seek to communicate an idea at all – not even ideas about human sexuality – rather it is about exciting the libido. Speech requires thought, pornographic material is antithetical to thinking.[2]


            A second and related issue is the question of access to speech by minors. But, then, we have never understood minors to possess full access of their constitutional rights. For example, even the staunchest proponent of the most expansive interpretation of the second amendment (say someone who argued citizens should be allowed to buy surface to air missiles) would not argue said right applies to a toddler. Similarly, the right to access speech have long been understood to be filtered through the minor’s parents. When Christians and others argue that the public square should have some elements that are child friendly, or family friendly, what is really being argued is that society should not seek to make end runs around the parent’s obligation to serve as a guardian and protector, or developer of a child’s mind and spirit.

Christian Campuses

            Some have also argued that Christian institutions stifle free speech by imposing speech codes on college campuses. This was an important discussion when the Liberty University Young Democrats club was disallowed recognition as an official club at Liberty University (mysteriously, when Liberty’s subsequent decision to do the same thing with the Young Republican’s club did not create the same stir among the popular press).  This goes back to one of the major flaws in modern thought, it seems we assume an institution is either an educational institution or a religious one, I would assume many, if not most are both. The reason, however, why Christian institutions are not enemies of free speech, even when they impose codes involving speech or restricting education to those signing doctrinal statements is that these are decisions made by the student and staff at those institutions before signing those statements. It should be assumed, if a student signs a statement such as that of the creed I regularly signed at Bob Jones University, they do so not because they are being bullied into the decision, but rather because they already agree with the positions espoused. In accepting the limits to a certain breadth of opinion, the theological student at such an institution gains a greater depth of understanding of Christian theology and thought, something a believer may very well prize, similarly, since these institutions serve in part to train pastors, they provide an to associated churches credentials for pastoral ministry, something that requires a doctrinal commitment of some kind. Nor is this uncommon in other fields; an Evangelical systematic theology class begins with the assumptions that Evangelical Christianity is true (it is in a sense, post apologetic and post conversion), this is similar to the physics professor who does not bother trying to prove that the universe we exist in is actually real.

            A second consideration is the false idea that students in Christian colleges are not being exposed to the breadth of scholarship, simply because the facility is an Evangelical one. While at the Bob Jones Memorial Seminary, I read Bultmann’s New Testament Theology, various pieces written by Karl Barth on the Bible, various writings by Catholic scholars (often in areas where Evangelicals and Catholics disagree), a textbook on Church history written from a decidedly non-Evangelical basis. In short, the marketplace of ideas is perhaps an old fashioned idea, in reality we have an internet of free speech, and even those in Christian research universities interact with those outside of Christianity. In a sense, the Evangelical university and seminary serves as Christian think-tanks, interacting with the philosophical ideas and worldviews of their non-Christian counterparts.

Racism et al.

            An argument often raised for abandoning the American concept of Free Speech for the more limited concepts of Europe is the belief that harm is done by allowing racists and others access to the market of free ideas. But of course fails to reckon with the importance of the civil society underlying the First Amendment. In reality, while the law is extremely important in governing a society, if the civil society does not support the rule of law, then the rule of law ultimately will not matter. Take for example the various racially inspired lynchings in the South (and in a few cases in the North as well, though we seem less willing to note the serious issues with racism above the Mason-Dixon line). Technically, such acts were illegal, but when the Klan hung someone, local law enforcement often looked the other way, and if there was any interference in Klan business, jury nullification would prevent justice from being enacted under the rule of law. A civil society that accepts the basic principles of a constitutional republic is a prerequiste for the actualization of any freedom.  

            Freedom of speech is not the freedom to be heard (I have the right, after all, to choose what radio stations to which I listen, what news programs I choose to watch, and what books I choose to read), and it is not the freedom not to be offended (otherwise, I suggest that the Beverly Hillbillies should be taken off the air on the same grounds that one might show disapproval of minstrel shows[3]). Freedom of speech is the right to make a case for my position. The thing is, human beings will make a case for what they believe even if illegal, and if racially insensitive speech is made forbidden, then the Neo-nazis and others from their off shore websites, will simply make the argument that the reason why the government forbids them the right to speak is because the government cannot answer their objections. Of course, when allowed access to the market of ideas, such groups usually find themselves out of favor – the problem with racism isn’t that it is unpalatable, its that it is certifiably wrong, and the pseudo-scientific reasoning of the early progressive movement will not find lodging in an era where their ideas are known to be false.

            The second and larger problem, though, is that defining hate speech can be made so broad it becomes idea suppression, in the guise of protecting minorities. One problem with racism is that, for many[4] the accusation of racism is not handled as we do accusations of other things: it is  usually the accuser and not the defendant who has the burden of proof, but with allegations of racism, this is often reversed. Thus, one can simply argue that certain ideas do not have the right to be in the market place of ideas because of some suspected hint of racism, or because someone who was a racist might have advocated something similar at some point in American history. Thus, we have events like the “chalkening” at Emory university where pro-trump messages were written on college campuses were something the student body demanded to be suppressed, on the grounds that it was racially insensitive. One may well oppose the current republican candidate on many grounds, including insensitivity (a case he seems quite capable of making on his own, without the assistance of the students of emory), but to argue that only Bernie Sanders[5] or Hillary Clinton signs should be allowed on campus means only one party’s platform is given room for actual debate. Similar things are true in debating tax structures, welfare reform and many other modern political discussions when someone is always willing to somehow use race to try to attack the character rather than the arguments of their opponents.

            Americans for years used to say, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death to defend your right to say it.” This is something we have lost, likely because without something like protestantism’s emphasis on the freewill of man, one has very little to actually ground this principle in. As noted previously, Christians view mankind as having dignity because they are made in the image of God; the modern atheist has no such basis to ground his desire for dignity, and forever faces the conflict of his worldview. I suggest the wars over free speech are simply a symptom of the deeper elements of the culture wars.

            [1]Kirsten Powers, The Silencing: How the Left is Killing the First Amendment.


            [2]This, of course, means great care must still be used in discussing pornography, the Supreme Court is famous for noting difficulties in defining obscenity, and such care is reasonable from a legal perspective.

            [3]I have noticed American leftists are highly selective in what acts of stereotyping they considered objectionable, I have yet to hear Clinton era democrats reprimanded for their derogatory discussions of those living in trailer parks from those who seem to delight in referring to any reference to violence in the inner cities as inspired by some hidden racism.

            [4]I say many because, as noted in the previous footnote, Americans are highly selective in their outrage in this area as well. Joe Biden has made comments about minorities that ought to make American’s cringe, and when Hillary Clinton was accused of anti-semiticism by important democratic party donors, little was discussed by the mainstream press. The same persons who insinuated that Reagan’s discussions of state’s rights was an appeal to racists rarely asked how many lynchings Robert Byrd of West Virginia assisted with while a member of the Klu Klux Klan; he was considered repentant meanwhile, Strom Thurmond’s repudiation of racism was generally considered suspect.

            [5]In a bit of mischief, I could easily compare Bernie Sander’s platform to Hitler’s 25 points, it would be a fallacy, but no one today seems to understand great care should be used in comparing candidates to Hitler. Still, if I did so, I doubt I would be given the same audience as the anti-Trump crowd.

When God is unfair

On my way home from school today, I saw the inelegant statement written on a bathroom wall: “I asked god [sic] for bread, and he gave me a stone; I asked him for a fish and he gave me a serpent.” I do not know who wrote these tortured lines on the bathroom wall, but I can identify with the sentiment, perhaps we all can. Its easy to take the route I would have taken in my younger days, to simply bypass the argument, condemn the scribbler on the wall; and in a sense, my analysis would have been correct, but in a sense, it would miss the entirety of the human dilemma, the sorrow that so often accompanies this life.

Looking down at my young son, you see, I had the incredibly selfish thought that my dream of returning to full-time ministry is now harder, and questioning whether I can continue to work a swing shift job, be a good father, attend school, and try to do something to become known enough in my field that I can leave the mind numbing secular job that I hate. And yet, this isn’t wholly the selfish thought it seems at first glance.  After some e-mail exchanges with a former New Testament professor, I thought about abandoning the dream of full-time ministry, but realized to do so would be to bury my talent in the sand and whatever grief it has brought me, my goal of ministry was, I still believe, a calling. Whatever else I may be, good or ill, I will always be first in my own mind a failed pastor.

Its easy to start looking at the pains along the journey, its easy to start second guessing. What if I had attended a school that cared about its graduates? What if I had asked better questions before taking a pastorate in Wisconsin? What if I was actually a good blogger? What is wrong with me that all those men I have asked for help in getting back into ministry have failed to assist in any meaningful way? And yet, these questions are the tantalizing irritants of a tortured soul; hope deferred, the proverbs tells us, makes the heart sick, and we can all understand Solomon’s point here, we have all had that hope deferred. Our scribbler on the wall, reveals something of the true nature of what apologists call the “problem of evil” (or as I prefer to address it, as the problem of suffering). The problem is at root personal not merely academic. This issue reveals one of the true agonies of these existential dilemmas: our fears that God has abandoned us. Unbelievers will discuss this in terms of seemingly clinical logic (called “the deductive problem of evil”), or in terms of hot outrage for God’s alleged victims but I believe in reality it is our own pains, inadequacies and sorrows that motivates the various arguments underlying “problem of evil.”

But what our wall writer has missed, (as I have as well in times past), when we declare God to be unfair is the more basic problem and question: do we have the grounds to say that we really deserve better? The point constantly overlooked so easily is our own sinfulness, our own inadequacies, our own failures. To accuse God of being unfair, we forget that he is also a judge, and that we stand before the bar guilty, we are, as the prisoners I used to hold bible studies with in a detention center: we are simply the guilty complaining that our sentencing is unfair; our complaints are a (at times sophisticated) self-deception.

And yet, for the believer, as I noted recently, the problem of evil isn’t ended in discussions of punishment, no matter how richly we deserve it, (and we admit to this desert when we turn to him in repentant faith). God takes the pain of the moment to build Christians into something more, we call this the “soul building theodicy,” to wit, God ingeniously is interested in taking the evils spread into the world after the fall, and using them for His children’s benefit, but this process takes time, and often suffering. It took time, after all, for Joseph to change from the boy boasting of his family bowing down to him, to becoming the man that would be used to save his family from disaster, suffering slavery and wrongful imprisonment along the way.

And over time, what our scribbler misses is that our experiences and the painful ones at that, often don’t deter us, but redirect us. Let’s go back to my “selfish” thought, for example. I could think of my son as the end of a dream, but in reality he is a motivation to continue. You see, I turned to apologetics because it was an area I thought I could be useful, because so many young people ask questions about the faith, and many sadly abandon it, at least for a time. In a sense, he is a reminder of why what I do is ultimately important; I look at him and think of the legacy I would leave for him. The answer then in life is not to give up, it’s not to quit, even when we often feel we should. Its to remember that God is righteous, and that we will reap, if we faint not, and what we hope ultimately to reap is to be more like Him; we simply have a tendency to look at things too much in the short term.  The problem in truth, is not that God is unfair, the problem is my faith is too small, my vision too limited and my understanding to dim.

I hope someone will tell our scribbler this, because the issue for the problem of suffering is one of the human heart; easier to discuss in a classroom than to apply to one’s own life.

Christians in Politics: Do Christians really want a Theocracy?

One of the common statements brought up in politics where Christians are concerned is the bugbear that Christians are interested in turning America into a theocracy. To be sure, there are a few Christians, even some evangelicals who believe in building a theocracy most notably those associated with radical reform theologian Rousas Rushdoony (Christian Reconstructionism) but these approaches are few and far between. There are a few different ways Christians have answered this common argument, and I plan on answering this from two angles, the first is a fairly standard, historical approach, and the second is more distinctly baptistic.


In a sense, the argument that Christians want a theocracy is a version of the Argumentium Ad Hominem I noted in my first two articles in this series. That is, rather than answering the points and arguments Christians raise, instead one attacks their character through their motives.

The History of the First Amendment

The first amendment states (in part), “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” One of the major issues with the first amendment was establishing language that would prevent the development of a national church on the one hand, without disestablishing various state churches on the other. While most Americans in the colonial period considered America to be a Christian nation, it was Christian in the abstract without specific denominational ties,[1] as reflected by state churches (for example, Roman Catholicism was the established church in Maryland, as opposed to the Congregationalist denominations in New England). The point of the first amendment is to keep the federal government (and with the passing of the fourteenth amendment, many would argue the state governments) from interfering with religion; this was not to argue that religion was unimportant but that the government should support and promote religion by leaving it alone. Nor were all state churches theocracies persay, or at least not in the degree known in Europe in the past. For example, I am unaware of any examples of Churches in the colonies issuing mandatory wage and price guidelines as the Roman Catholic Church had done in the middle ages. Nor do Christians common subscribe to these principles in the United States today, largely because the of theological development; we often think of the reformation and Protestantism as something that was a single generation’s work, but in reality, the ramification of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fida would take a longer period of time to work out, the connection of the Church to the State was simply one of these issues. Thus, the first amendment is not an argument to remove religion from public life, nor an argument against Christians voting their consciences as it is misrepresented today.

The modern version of this argument fails to grasp that the First Amendment is not an argument that Christians should not vote their consciences. Thus, for example, they will say that I should not even consider my religious concerns when it comes to discussions of abortion, as if it were possible to divorce oneself from one’s ethical beliefs, if abortion is murder, then it must influence the way a person votes. Its rather interesting how someone will quote John Stuart Mills in support of their political opinion argue I should not quote Paul, but how is quoting Mills really different than quoting Paul? Someone might suggest not everyone is a Christian, and while this is true, not everyone is a Utilitarian either, so why do we not argue that it is morally wrong to impose one person’s utilitarian views on another? Nor is it sufficient to simply note that utilitarianism isn’t religious, but Paul is; on what grounds, precisely, would we treat theistic worldviews differently from atheistic ones in the public square?

The Separation of Church and State

And yet, when we discuss the separation of Church and State, as a Baptist, I have a certain affinity with the argument. It is not accidental that the phrase began to be used in constitutional discussions is sourced in a letter between Thomas Jefferson and a Baptist association – the statement itself is one of our denominations distinctive beliefs.[2] Bizarrely to some, this separation of Church and State has often been an impulse pushing Baptists into the public arena, partially due to persecution and imprisonments, but often more importantly they pushed for freedom of speech and freedom of religion.[3] Like all worldviews, the Baptistic slant on Protestantism will inevitably influence one’s political philosophy.

And yet, an appeal to the separation of Church and state doesn’t answer most of the actual questions involved in discussions today. If my boss took my car keys, and attempted to use my car for company business, he could not defend his actions by arguing for a distinction between corporate property and personal property – such an appeal would convict him, since the car is not corporate property. If we argue that there is a separation of Church and State, it is as much a concern to limit the State from interfering in discussions of ethics and/or worldview questions as it is for the Church to request a role in the appointment of public officials. It is not so much that morality has no bearing on legislation, the moment a law is passed against murder and theft, morality has been legislated, nor can these laws simply be put forward as means of utility; utility is an important qualifier in discussing means not ends. In the case of democracies and democratic republics, the ethics or lack of ethics in government reflects the spiritual and moral sense of the nation.

In a sense, the real problem is that in so many issues, including discussions in California to try to influence Christian colleges disciplinary practices on issues related to LGBTQ students or the uneven enforcement of laws concerning businesses giving public access to all services, as George Yancy has recently noted. In a sense, I believe as a Christian, it is not the Church intruding on the domain of the State, but the State becoming like a river that has overflowed its banks, meddling in that which is not properly within its domain. The State essentially seeks to prevent the Church from fulfilling its proper role as being salt and light, and within the confines of a democratic republic, in restricting access to the Christian worldview to favor other worldviews; thus the state is declaring what religions are legitimate and which should be suppressed. When a government gives tax-exempt status to private, secular universities but denies it to religious ones, on whatever grounds, it is choosing to advantage religious naturalism over theistic beliefs. In short, the separation of Church and State is an argument for limited government, something that is losing its appeal with the very persons most often citing these issues.

Within the confines of a formal separation of Church and State, even most Baptists will recognize certain informal ties between the two, for example, Church buildings are not exempted from fire codes. So what is the Churches proper role in politics? Might I suggest it is in educating the conscience and minds of the electorate, or at least of believers within the electorate, this is one of two reasons[4] why I oppose rules restricting churches in regards to “political” speech.

Evangelicalism as the grounds for Religious Freedom

What is often missed, however, is that traditional Protestantism, what we today, for lack of a better term call “Evangelicalism” is ultimately the grounding for principles of religious freedom. Evangelicals believe that salvation comes through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that the merits of Christ’s atonement are gained for the individual through personal faith in His work. Yet, personal faith is not something that can be forced by others, one might coerce conformity to outward standards of behavior, but not the heart. And thus, the believer assumes that mankind has a choice to make, to follow Jesus Christ, or to reject Him. Paul noted that he persuaded men, he did not note that he compelled them. The sad corollary to salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone is that mankind has the right also to reject the Creator, at least for the moment in this life.

[1]Many have argued that America was founded on Deism. As I’ve noted in the past, this is an argument that has several major issues. First, its established either by referring to statements from Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson (who likely were deists) as if these sentiments were universal to the founders. But there does not seem to have been such a universal sentiment at all. Secondarily, often discussions of about the founder’s use of Locke is used as evidence, but there are significant debates as to whether Locke himself was, in fact, a deist and it should further be noted that Locke’s political philosophy is not derived organically from his epistemology. The mayflower compact is a very “lockian” document in some senses (it is explicitly a social contract) despite being pre-Lockian and many Christian philosopher’s before Locke, particularly within the reformed tradition held to similar views.


Additionally, Deism is a much broader system than many moderns seem to appreciate, and some seemed to view themselves as something of a modified Christianity, few seemed to fit the Webster’s definition of deism as believing God made the world, but no longer interacted with it. Franklin, who was almost certainly a deist, viewed the United States as the product of God’s providence.


For further reading see Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto; and James Sire The Universe Next Door.

                  [2] To understand this phrase, you need to go back to a debate that was very common in the early period of the reformation, discussions of the “fall of the Church.” The fall of the church was premised on the question, if salvation by grace through faith is so plain in the epistle of the Galatians and the epistle of Romans, why was the doctrine become so lost in theological discussions? This question is not as common as it once was, in part, because it is generally assumed that the causes are more complicated than they initially seemed. From the beginning, however, Baptists and a few other groups argued that the fall of the Church was in the connection between the State and the Church during the time period of Constantine the Great and afterwards, in part evidenced by he and his son’s persecution of Trinitarian leaders during the turbulent years of the Trinitarian controversies.


From this principle, early Baptist’s argued for a formal separation between religious organizations and the government, and in fact, Baptists faced as much persecution from Protestants as from Roman Catholics. For example, John Bunyan, author of the Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, spent an extensive period of time in English jail cells, because he refused to recognize the right of the Anglican Bishop to issue licenses to preach to dissenting preachers. Baptists, in fact, were often jailed in many of the American Colonies, and one of the earliest discussions of the Separation of Church and State began when Baptist leader (at the time) Roger Williams wrote The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience, Discussed in a Conference between Truth and Peace, which began a war of pamphlets with Massachusetts leader Puritan Leader John Cotton.


This position has also found modern support, for example, in Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts, and the End of Slavery builds largely on this point by discussing the Medieval church’s structure into two categories, the church of piety and the church of power, and he argues most of the popes during the Medieval period were a part of the church of power. These do not necessarily correspond to the Evangelical treatment of the subject, the church of piety is, in Stark’s view, centered in monasticism rather than calls for free grace, but his work does raise significant questions for earlier periods.

[3] One of the most important allies of the democratic republicans and the anti-federalists in Virginia were the Baptists of the era, most often noted by means of Baptist leader John Leland.

                  [4]The second, and more mundane issue, is that such laws are often unevenly enforced, and there is some evidence to suggest Evangelical groups are more likely to be targeted than other denominations. This is similar to discussions of other elements of discussions involving free speech, for example, it is often noted that some presidential administrations used the various “equal time laws” or more recently the issues involving Lois Lerner’s attempts to use the IRS to selectively intimidate religious and tea party groups.

The Boogieman Wears Green Scrubs

My wife and I are spending a rather eventful and sleepless night with our newborn infant, who has had a very exciting first day and a half in the world, starting with a man in a green smock malicious pulling of his body from the nice warm ecosystem he had inhabited for his entire life. Soon after, he had a chance to rest with his mother, until a woman with green scrubs stole him, smeared goop into his eyes, and then cruelly stuck needles into his thigh. After being returned to his mother multiple women in green scrubs stuck a cold probe under his arms. His first morning after delivery, another woman in green scrubs took him to the side to stick something in his ear and make uncomfortable noises, another took him to a separate room  where the doctor cut him in a manner so sadistic it is not mentionable, suffice it to say his diapers now cause pain and he is still recovering.  Yet another of the medical menaces stuck a needle in his heel and cruelly squeezed the heel repeatedly to make it bleed.

It is clear that those people wearing green scrubs are evil incarnate, the boogie men of nightmares who live to torture little boys; except, of course, we know they aren’t. What the baby doesn’t know, and does not yet have the capacity to understand, is that these are compassionate doctors, nurses and lab techs (the only ones wearing scrubs some other color than green), who are putting the baby through painful procedures for his own good, and while his parents do their best to console him, he does not at this point understand.

One of the big questions raised against Christianity is the problem of evil, there are a number of complicated books answering this topic in part because there are number of significantly different, but related arguments and the answer to one, does not answer another. And yet, there are a number of different components found in a number of arguments. One of these is known as the “soul Building theodicy.” The soul building theodicy asserts that God allows pain and suffering in the universe, but that He chooses to use pain and suffering to build human souls; from this angle my son’s experience of the world is a perfect example. The doctors are trying to keep him well, and safe and yes, he will suffer for that to happen; the suffering instead is a byproduct of what God intends.

But what about Hell? Well as I noted there are a number of different components to the various answers to why God allows evil in the universe, but let me suggest that if man has free will (another component in most answers to the problem of evil), then men may very well respond incorrectly to suffering. City governments build stoplights to promote safety, and enforcement (pain and suffering) to ensure good behavior, and yet this theoretical goal is not always reached and some drivers lose their licenses from running red lights too regularly.

I’ve also noted in the past there are formal discussions of the problem of evil and what is called the problem of natural evil, and this is sometimes confused with an emotional argument from suffering. Might I suggest as believers, as we suffer we should view this as the potters refining, and the clay that is thrown aside does so because it refuses to be directed by the potter’s hand; as the hymn writer began, “Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear.”