A Central Corruption of the Spirit

Andrea Mitchell, veteran Washington reporter, said this today:

“I’m an optimist. I have never been as discouraged as I have been this week about our country, not the people of our country but the leaders of our country. There is a central corruption of the spirit at the core of all of this and people have overlooked a lot of the financial self-dealing and a lot of the other things along the way. But when you keep making excuses you get to the center of it and there is, as Peggy Noonan was calling for love, all I see is self-love, and that is not leadership. So I don’t know where we go here.”

Her analysis is right on target: “There is a central corruption of the spirit at the core of all this. . .”  The political dimensions of the mess in Washington are just the tip of the iceberg. The real issue is spiritual. America no longer produces, no longer raises up leaders with a spiritual foundation. 

It is in part the fruit of the hubris that has gripped America for about a century. We are so strong and so smart that we don’t need the shackles of religion any more. And it is in part a result of the advertising, marketing, and entertainment industries, who spend billions of dollars each year inculcating false values.

But most of all it is a failure on the part of the church. From 1875 through 1925 (roughly speaking, of course) we tore ourselves apart with the battles between the Fundamentalists and the Modernists. Then after World War II we basked in our new-found popularity and relaxed, counting on momentum to carry forward America’s habit of letting the church set the moral bounds of political and social realities.

We can’t march on Washington and demand of our leaders, “Get spiritual!” First we have to reset our own spiritual foundations and raise spiritual young people to be tomorrow’s leaders. This will not happen so long as popularity remains one of the primary values of the American churches.

Then we go to Washington and remind them that, as the Founding Fathers knew (whether they were Christian or not), we are accountable to the eternal, righteous judge of all mankind.

We must never forget that the central expression of the American spirit is the Declaration of Independence, which is grounded in a specifically theological statement:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. . .

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Am I an Evangelical?

Yes, I am an Evangelical Christian, a retired pastor. Or am I an Evangelical? It’s hard to tell these days. I don’t really care much which labels are applied to me except “Christian” and “biblical.” I have always wanted to be a biblical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ who thinks and lives in harmony with the biblical mindset.

That’s not as easy as it sounds, since it doesn’t take long to discover that in fact there are many mindsets reflected in Scripture. It is not a simplistic book! Nonetheless, I am as much at home in the opening chapters of Genesis as in the Gospels, as much in Deuteronomy as in Acts, and as much in Isaiah as in Romans. True, I am convinced that the New Testament fulfills the Old and therefore is to be given interpretative authority in our reading of the Old Testament. Nonetheless, if I had only Genesis 1-3 to study for the next few years, I would revel in all those few words reveal of our Lord.

In my biblical foundations I don’t believe I have changed in my 55 years as a Christian. I’ve certainly learned new things over the years but my commitment to being biblical was formed in my first year and remains just as strong after all this time.

After the university, I went to Fuller Seminary, rejected by the Fundamentalist as too liberal and by the Liberals as too conservative. that made it just right for me. I was on the campus staff team for ten years with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a fellowship for which I remain deeply grateful because they made me acutely aware of the importance of studying the Bible rather than merely using it as a resource for my own pet ideas. And, most of all, I am thankful to God for InterVarsity because in that fellowship I found myself amidst a great number of people who truly and deeply exemplified Christlikeness of character.

But am I an Evangelical? The word itself has changed in the last half century. Read the article I cite below and you’ll see what kind of Evangelical I am not. Notice, for example, this line in the article: “Religious [i.e., Evangelical] leaders, meanwhile, may be more likely to see their role in private terms.” Those called Evangelical these days lack a social/cultural dimension in their worldview.

http://www.npr.org/2017/08/18/544531424/trumps-evangelical-advisers-stand-by-their-man?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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Doubling Down on Ignorance

It is sad to see a person making a fool of himself. Doubly so when he is corrected by others and refuses to learn. And even worse when he then shouts his ignorant foolishness all the louder.

That fool, of course, is our president. His ego blocks him from admitting or even seeing any flaws in himself or any mistakes he has made. When caught, he simply shouts louder.

Today he has said this concerning Charlottesville:

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!”

“Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

He has, with an incredible degree of foolishness, simply bought the phony Southern rationalization that Robert E. Lee and the other Confederate heroes are symbols merely of the Southern “way of life.” In one sense, that is true, if you understand that the Southern way of life was built squarely on the backs of slaves who were subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment.

I am, of course, being kind in saying Trump is merely a fool. In fact, I very strongly suspect his problem is much deeper than that. He may well be a man who has sold his soul to the devil and is, among many other serious flaws, deeply racist.

Concerning his question, Who’s next?, we must observe that there is a clear distinction between Washington and Lee, Jefferson and Jackson: Two of those men worked very hard to create a country which they themselves was destined to be better than they were. And two of them sought to destroy that country and create in its place a nation which continued to be founded on evil.

There are many good things to be said about Lee but the one truth which shades all the others is that he chose his state of Virginia over the United States. He thought Virginia’s right to build its economy on slavery was worth the death of thousands and thousands of men.

Yes, Washington and Jefferson were slave holders. It is to their shame that they lacked the courage and wisdom to be counter-cultural in running their own economic interests. But they didn’t send thousands of men to their deaths to defend slavery.

Jefferson wrote, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.”

And Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness . . .”

Jefferson articulated the ideals of the American nation, even though he failed to live up to them. Lee chose to reject those ideals and to become the enemy of the United States.

No, Trump, statues of Washington and Jefferson are not next. You are.

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Charlottesville: Asking the Right Question

The controversy over the deadly conflict in Charlottesville has once again pointed out the importance of asking the right question. Or at least both sides trying to ask the same question. Or at the very least both sides hearing the question of the other.

The president is stuck on the question of violence, asking who was responsible for the violence. The press is stuck on the question of white supremacy, asking the question, Should we not confront white supremacists and white nationalists and new-Nazism and anti-Semitism wherever we find it?

The president’s answer to his own question may be right. Perhaps both sides were equally responsible. But his question badly misses the point. The real issue is that America is still the home of a great many people who reject the very ideas on which our nation was founded, such as:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (Declaration of Independence)

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (US Constitution)

They also reject the greatest American speech ever given, Lincoln’s Gettysburg address:

  Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.    Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. . . .

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

And just as certainly they reject the Pledge of Allegiance:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands; one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Quite aside from the moral issues — which to me are even more important — it is clear that those who reject the very ideas of freedom, equality, and justice are enemies of the nation and, while given equal voice, must be opposed by every American, especially the president. Trump’s failure to do so except begrudgingly and under great pressure is a profound failure of all his office represents.

As I listened to his Tuesday press conference, I found my self asking a question at two different levels: To whom has he sold his soul? On the one hand, it is obvious that he is beholden to a great deal of Southern money but, on the other, it seems much more serious than that. Has he sold his soul to the devil?

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Trump Picks Rotten Supporters

I’ve long been tired of pointing out Trump’s obvious and awful flaws but one remains which — so far as I recall — I’ve not mentioned.

How many people has Trump chosen who have refused him? We’ll never know. How many have accepted his invitation only to resign or be fired after only a short time? I was starting to count but ran out of fingers, so I’ll just say it is an alarming number. Not only does it suggest that the Trump administration can’t get off the ground but it makes clear that Trump has no notion of how to pick a staff. When choosing family or military people, he does okay.

His business experience, however, has not prepared him for the task of recognizing talent  He only knows how to choose yes- people, toadies. People say he was a successful business man and CEO. If by “successful” we mean nothing more than rich, then, yes, people like Trump and Al Capone are successful. Frankly, I can’t think of any morally respectable way to take wealth as the measure of success. trump is just a rich crook.

An experienced CEO? No, he was never that. A tyrant in a family business is not at all the same as a CEO. And now we see on a daily basis how incredibly incompetent he is. And we’re all paying the price.

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Continuing the Civil War

Another battle in America’s Civil War is being fought today in Charlotteville, Virginia. The War began in 1862 and formally ended in 1865. Spiritually and emotionally, the War has never ended. Today’s ruckus in Charlottesville is just one more battle along the way.

Oddly, the issues have remained constant over the 155 years since the War began. Slavery and States’ Rights, both thoroughly entangled with one another, were the issues then, while racism and States’ Rights are the issues now.

The South — and racists living anywhere in our country — have never accepted the loss of the War because that loss was a repudiation of all they stood for and stand for. They cannot see that slavery was a severe moral corruption which has continued to be a crippling moral blight on our people to this day.

The South’s entire economy was deeply dependent upon the cheap labor provided by slavery. And the majority of Southerners valued the economy more than such ephemeral moral imperatives such as freedom, equality, and justice.

There is an important lesson for us in all this, of course. In fact, there are many. One of the most important of which is that the greatest, deepest, most essential values are very fragile and can be violated easily. Therefore, they must be cherished and guarded diligently and firmly.

Unfortunately, racism has become embedded in the Republican Party of our day, led by our vaguely Republican president, who has been a great encouragement to White Supremacists.

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Worst Case Scenario: Trump v. Kim Jong Un

What an awful position the world is in when one unstable leader gets into a war of words with another unstable leader. We know how easily Trump turns to mindless retaliation, which means all Kim Jong Un has to do is insult Trump’s tiny hands and the war is on.

It seems our only hope is that the military men in Trump’s cabinet will remain saner than Trump himself, up to and including refusing to obey foolish orders.

In truth, however, there is a deeper, more solid cause for hope. The Creator and Sustainer of the Universe can guide of through this dangerous time. He is the Lord of History. He can keep us within bounds if necessary. And these do seem to be necessary times!

The lives of hundreds of thousands of people are in the hands of Trump and Kim John Un. if that is not scary enough to move us to prayer, nothing will.

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