Trump Misses the Point. . .Again

Trump hates to lose even the tiniest and least significant arguments. Yesterday he proved that once again by reminding us that there were “bad guys” on the left as well as the right in Charlottesville. He may well be right but that’s not the point. And that’s the point!

The important observation about Charlottesville is not that there were extremists on both sides but that one side, the White supremecists, represent one of the ugliest, most shameful, and most persistent wounds in American history.

As yesterday’s blog entry showed, Thomas Jefferson — while the US Constitution was being written with its tacit approval of slavery and while he himself held more than a hundred slaves — wrote, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever. . .” He knew slavery was wrong yet could not envision a way to stop it even on his own property. All he could do was naively hope it would disappear on its own.

Since Jefferson’s day, we have fought a terrible Civil War, been plagued by ongoing racism, and need as much as or even more than to fulfill our own ideals, which Jefferson himself worded so beautifully in the Declaration of Independence:

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. . .

Trump’s half-hearted and seemingly forced condemnation of the KKK and its ilk not only fails to provide leadership in the fight for America to become as great as our dreams but encourages the very enemies of that greatness. And that makes Donald an American enemy.

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Jefferson on Morality and Theology

Thomas Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia” is fascinating for a number of reasons, among which are his comments on morality — and theology! — in the period of the formation of the new United States. The following selection is the whole of one very brief chapter called “Manners.”


Notes on the State of Virginia (1787 published edition, based on a draft of 1781-82 found online at masshistorg/thomasjeffersonpapers/notes/pieceviewer.php?page= 98&piece=0&surface=fullpage. This version is in Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, Notes on the State of Virginia, Public and Private Papers, Addresses, Letters, Library of America, 1984, pp. 288f.)

Query 18 – Manners. The particular customs and manners that may happen to be received in that state?

It is difficult to determine on the standard by which the manners of a nation may be tried, whether catholic or particular. It is more difficult for a native to bring to that standard the manners of his own nation, familiarized to him by habit. There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people, produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see that, and learn to imitate it; for man is an imitative animal. This quality is the germ of all education in him. From his cradle to his grave he is learning to do what he sees others do. If a parent could find no motive either in his philanthropy or his self-love, for restraining the intemperance of passion towards his slave, it should always be a sufficient one that his child is present. But generally it is not sufficient. The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose to his worst of passions, and thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities. The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances. And with what execration should the statesman be loaded, who permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots, and these into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part and the amor patriae of the other. For if a slave can have a country in this world, it must be any other in preference to that in which he is born to live and labour for another: in which he must lock up the faculties of his nature, contribute as far as depends on his individual endeavors to the evanishment of the human race or entail his own miserable condition on the endless generations proceeding from him. With the morals of the people, their industry also is destroyed, for in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion in deed are seen to labour. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever, that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest. – But it is impossible to be temperate and to pursue this subject through the various considerations of policy, of morals, of history natural and civil. We must be contented to hope they will force they way into everyone’s mind. I think a change already [is] perceptible, since the origin of the present revolution. The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for a total emancipation and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation.

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The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Me

My cancer treatments had been a bit tough on my for while but things had been looking better, so I was looking forward to this weekend as a great test for how much strength I have.  Or have not.

Yesterday (Saturday) I was to be at our local Bonhoeffer Society meeting. Though I’ve handed over the reins to others, I wanted to be there. And this morning I was scheduled to teach an adult class at a local Lutheran Church. Then we were going to leave for a few days in South Dakota’s Black Hills, in part to celebrate our 50th anniversary. Which was yesterday.

Instead, I decided to spike a high temperature, get nauseous, and spend Thursday through Saturday in the ICU.

I’m mighty glad we had told our grown children not to plan anything for our anniversary! I figured I could be around a herd of bison more easily than a crowd of people.

So what do I say in the face of these drastic change of plans? The same thing I’ve been saying since my first cancer diagnosis more than four years ago: “This is the day the Lord has made; I WILL rejoice and be glad in it.” That verse (Psalm 118:24) has been a great anxiety preventer.

When the cancer returned after a couple of years of remission, I added another favorite verse to my daily affirmation: “To live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

When the prognosis was (humanly speaking) pretty grim, I added a whole passage (Romans 8:36-39): “As it is written, ‘For your sake, Lord, we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Some would say religion is just a crutch for the weak. Whether that is true or not, I don’t much care. All I know is that 55 years ago I entrusted my life to Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. I’ve spent my life trying (with limited success, I’m sorry to say) trying to be a good and faithful servant for him. He has been faithful all along, more faithful to me than I to him.

Shall I not now entrust to him my death as well? And my eternity?


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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.

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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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