When Billy met Richard: A cautionary tale

When Billy met Richard: A cautionary tale

It was the only whiff of scandal in the remarkable ministry of Billy Graham.

The year was 1972, and the evangelist was talking candidly with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. Unbeknownst to Graham, the now-infamous White House taping system was recording every word.

After an innocuous comment from Billy, the President launched into an anti-Semitic tirade. Such racist rants were not altogether unusual for Nixon.

But this one gained notoriety for the way Billy Graham joined in.

“They’re the ones putting out the pornographic stuff,”

Graham said of Jews.

“Their stranglehold [on the media] has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain.”

While saying such things, Graham also acknowledged that the Jewish community didn’t know his true feelings about them:

A lot of the Jews are great friends of mine, they swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I’m friendly with Israel. But they don’t know how I really feel about what they are doing to this country.

After denying the rumored remarks about “satanic Jews” in the diary of H.L. Haldeman (Nixon’s aid), Graham issued a heartfelt apology when the audio came out in 2002.

It was a great embarrassment.

THE AFTERMATH

In the aftermath, both friends and biographers tried to make sense of statements that seemed so out of character.

After all, Graham had been a longtime foe of anti-Semitism and racism of all stripes. During the civil rights movement, he had invited Martin Luther King Jr. to share the stage with him. And he had even gone publicly to bail the civil rights icon out of jail as a show of solidarity.

“There is not an anti-Semitic bone in his body,”

said Graham’s longtime friend Lewis Drummond.

Perhaps, some said, he was just speaking of a few unscrupulous Jews in the media.

Yet another view came forth from Charles Colson. As he suggested, such lapses in character were not uncommon in Nixon’s Oval Office. The President was a commanding personality–especially in that room–and it didn’t take long for his “advisors” to be conformed to his conspiratorial image.

Colson knew this all too well.

He was imprisoned for his own involvement in Watergate; he became a Christian in incarceration; and he would remain close to Graham for the rest of his life.

Colson knew how the audio haunted him.

WHY TALK ABOUT THIS?

But why dredge up this story?

Contrary to what some might think, the reason is NOT to tarnish the reputation of Billy Graham. While the comments were ugly, Nixon’s were worse, and we might ask how many of us would want our most confidential conversations broadcast for the world to hear?

Not I said the cow. Not I said this blogger.

On the whole, Graham’s marathon ministry remains a paragon of humility, integrity, and grace. He’s not Jesus, but along with names like J.I. Packer and John Stott, he gave credibility to the label “evangelical.”

We could only wish to have him as the custodian of that label today.

A LESSON

So, again, why bring this up?  The reason is that it provides a much-needed lesson for all Christian leaders, and now more than ever.

All of us have a tendency to become chameleons in the presence of the powerful—not just overlooking their vices (which may sometimes be required) but sanctifying them in the name of “access” and “the greater good.”

In such cases, we play the flattering court chaplain rather than the truth-telling prophet. And in so doing, we become agents of propaganda rather than ambassadors of the gospel.

For his own part, Graham came to recognize this danger.

In 1991, he told an interviewer that he regretted “the politics part” of his relationship with Nixon—and this was long before the infamous audio came out. After Watergate especially, he vowed never again to be a pawn for partisanship.

In these days—and regardless of who occupies the Oval Office—many would do well to remember this advice.

GRACE BATS LAST 

This doesn’t mean, however, that Christians must always adopt the posture of indignant prophets. Somehow, there must be a middle ground between the sycophantic sellout and the “clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13).

And most cases, Graham found it.

Imperfect leaders need spiritual support as well. And even after the embarrassment of Watergate, Graham showed grace to Nixon.

When Nixon died, in 1994, I remember watching Graham deliver the funeral sermon.

He began with a gentle reference to another gifted though unscrupulous leader: (ironically) a Jew, named Saul.

The great king of ancient Israel, David, said on the death of Saul, who had been a bitter enemy: “Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel.”

Somehow this managed (simultaneously) to pay respect and to acknowledge that there were things that needed forgiving.

As with Saul, there were faults that ought not be glossed over in the name of “access,” much less be baptized through emulation.

Thankfully, however, within the landscape of the gospel, such faults don’t get the final say. As Anne Lamott remarked recently, “Grace bats last,” and “Love is sovereign here.”

So Graham’s funeral sermon ended as it always did, with grace.

Nevertheless, as we now near the centennial of Graham’s birth, and the inauguration of yet another (by all accounts, conspiratorial) President, such cautionary tales seem worth remembering.


For a biography that situates Graham’s ministry in its socio-political context, see here.

For Graham’s own–more spiritually enriching–autobiography, see here.

My favorite bio of the Nixon presidency is that of Reeves, see here.

After Rebuke of Russell Moore, some in SBC move to Censure John the Baptist Next

After Rebuke of Russell Moore, some in SBC move to Censure John the Baptist Next

Nashville, TN: One week after demanding the ouster of Dr. Russell Moore over his campaign-year criticism of Donald Trump (see here), a growing number of Southern Baptist leaders are now lobbying to remove (posthumously) the credentials of John the Baptizer, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

“Everyone calls him ‘the Baptist’,” said Kentucky pastor Cletus T. Ottweiler, “But I think it’s safe to say he doesn’t represent our values!”

According to reports, the reason for the proposed action stems from a Scriptural paper trail that links Moore’s political statements to those of John and several Old Testament prophets.

“We thought the problem started with Dr. Moore,” said former governor and SBC pastor, Mike Hucklebee. “But after consulting the Bible, we found the trouble goes MUCH deeper! Elijah, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah…— All these guys were WAY out of step with the people they were supposed to be representing. At some point ‘the base’ just gets sick of it. I mean, how can you hope to change a culture if you offend the most powerful people!?”

“Thankfully,” said Dallas pastor Mack Graham: “none of those Old Testament guys were officially listed as ‘Baptists’. So we’re focusing on Russell and John right now.”

In defense of John’s ministry, one source went so far as to say that “Among those born of women, there is no one greater!” Yet several high profile SBC pastors have dismissed this as the exaggeration of a close family member.

 

 

 


**The present post is an exercise in satire. For related (and probably funnier) material, see The Babylon Bee**

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy

An elegy is a lament for the dead.

And as J.D. Vance describes it, his is a memoir of a family and a culture that is (at best) on life support.

Hillbilly Elegy chronicles the plight of America’s working class whites through the saga of his own family, which was transplanted from Appalachia to a dying factory town in the Ohio Rust Belt.

vance
P: Naomi Mcculloch

The book skyrocketed to #1 on bestseller lists as it became apparent that Donald Trump had somehow swept these so-called Blue states. And while there are many reasons for this unexpected victory, much credit (or blame) went to the demographic Vance describes.

His memoir shines a light on Rust Belt poverty from the inside—and from the perspective of one who has both deep affection and scathing criticism for the culture of his youth.

I encourage you to buy it here.

FROM THE “HOLLER” TO THE FACTORY 

Like many hill people, Vance’s family left the “holler” to take well-paid factory work up north. Yet as times changed, the steel communities like Middletown, Ohio began hemorrhaging both jobs and hope. And with the addition now of rampant opioid addiction, the hemorrhaging continues.

As a boy, Vance never knew his father, and his mother was a prescription drug addict who rotated boyfriends and husbands more frequently than others rotate tires.

He was raised by “Mamaw”—a foul-mouthed, pistol-packing grandmother who got pregnant at age thirteen, and who had a soft spot for F-bombs and Jesus Christ (both the Savior and the curse word).

Despite her faults, Mamaw saved J.D., and he eventually went on to the Marine Corps, to college, and then to Yale Law School.

AN INDIGTMENT OF ENTITLEMENT

What I expected from the work was more an indictment of the Rust Belt’s failed economy: factories shuttered, jobs outsourced, pensions lost.

I anticipated stories about hard-working men and women who fell afoul of a changing world.

And there was some of this.

But more frequently, Vance pulled no punches in acknowledging the crippling laziness and entitlement that has besieged his friends and family. As he states:

This book is about reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible. It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it (p. 7).

People talk about hard work all the time in places like Middletown. You can walk through a town where 30 percent of the young men work fewer than twenty hours a week and find not a single person aware of his own laziness … the rhetoric of hard work conflicts with the reality on the ground (pp. 57–58).

To many analysts, terms like “welfare queen” conjure unfair images of the lazy black mom living on the dole. Readers of this book will realize quickly that there is little relationship between that specter and my argument: I have known many welfare queens; some were my neighbors, and all were white (p.8).

We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves that the reason we’re not working is some perceived unfairness: Obama shut down the coal mines, or all the jobs went to the Chinese. These are the lies we tell ourselves to solve the cognitive dissonance—the broken connection between the world we see and the values we preach (p. 147).

FAMILY MATTERS

At the root of this problem were not just economic forces, but the wholesale breakdown of the family.

Our men suffer from a peculiar crisis of masculinity in which some of the very traits that our culture inculcates make it difficult to succeed in a changing world. … Virtuous fathers are in short supply in Jackson [KY], but they are equally scarce in the lives of my grandparents’ grandchildren.

When it came to motherly influence, Vance says things were not much better:

“I was nine months old the first time Mamah saw my mother put Pepsi in my bottle.”

As a teacher at my old high school told me recently, “They want us to be shepherds to these kids. But no one wants to talk about the fact that many of them are raised by wolves.”

In this environment, Vance claims that a stigma is often attached to those who try to better themselves. Thus they are “too big for their britches” and are ridiculed by friends and relatives.

HILLBILLY CHRISTIANITY

Another takeaway was the role that religion plays within this culture.

As Vance describes it: “[Here] in the middle of the Bible Belt, active church attendance is actually quite low.” And in the steel mill town that he grew up in, it was “about the same as ultra-liberal San Francisco.”

Most folks are nominally “Christian,” yet the faith is full of contradictions:

Mamah always had two gods: Jesus Christ and the United States of America. I was no different, and neither was anyone else I knew (p. 189).

For Vance personally, his own faith was ignited (momentarily) when he went to live briefly with his adopted father. This man had been divorced by Vance’s mother, and had now found God with a new family.

I devoured books about young-earth creationism, and joined online chat rooms to challenge scientists on the theory of evolution. I learned about millennialist prophecy and convinced myself that the world would end in 2007. I even threw away my Black Sabbath CDs (p. 95).

In my new church … I heard more about he gay lobby and the war on Christmas than about any character trait that a Christian should aspire to have. … Dad’s church required so little of me (p. 98).

As Vance describes it, this was “evangelical” theology. Yet for those of us who study such things, it is frustrating to note the way in which mindless fundamentalism has become synonymous with “evangelical.” Perhaps, as many now argue, the label is beyond repair.

Likewise, the result is easily predictable:

[I didn’t] realize that the religious views I developed during my early years with Dad were sowing the seeds for an outright rejection of the Christian faith (p. 99).

CONCLUSION

In the end, Hillbilly Elegy is an eye-opening look into a culture that (till recently) had gone mostly unseen by those of use who don’t live in it.

It is both love song and lament, both thank-you and Dear John.

Yet for those who want to understand what’s happening across the Rust Belt of this country, it is a required read.

Buy here.

See also, Strangers in Their Own Land (here)

When God establishes bad leaders: Reading Romans 13 on election day

When God establishes bad leaders: Reading Romans 13 on election day

As a college professor, one of the Bible courses I teach is Paul’s letter to the Romans.

And as luck (or rather: providence) would have it, the next passage on the docket—for the day after the 2016 presidential election—is none other than Romans 13.

It’s controversial, and it reads like this:

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. 

The text has been unpopular for ages, and it has sometimes been abused.

It also raises massive questions.

For instance: What about truly wicked or dishonest leaders (like Hitler, Stalin, or Bill Belichick* [*joke] )? Did God establish them? What does “established” even mean? What are the limits of Christian submission to authority? And while we’re at it, didn’t Paul get his head chopped off by one of these divine “servants” (Nero)?

All this takes on added significance in the wake of this year’s presidential contest/raging dumpster fire.

Because regardless of who wins (I write this on election morning), the majority of Americans will be very disappointed with the kind of person we’ve elected.

 

Given that, it seems fair to ask this question:

What does Romans 13 have to say to Christians?

A few thoughts:

  1. God is sovereign over nations, kings, and presidents.

It’s worth noting that Caesar Nero would have found this text troubling for the exact opposite reason as many modern Christians. Paul’s claim, if we read carefully, is that all earthly authorities (exousias) fall below a crucified Jewish carpenter on the “org chart” of the cosmos.

As Jesus said to Pontius Pilate “You would have no authority if it were not given to you from on high” (Jn. 19.11). And since the later Caesars viewed themselves as gods, Paul’s statement represents a big demotion. As N.T. Wright likes to say:

“If Jesus is Lord, Caesar isn’t.”

In truth, this does not dispel the vexing questions regarding God’s role in “establishing,” bad leaders. Then again, if you’re expecting this blog to resolve the mystery of divine sovereignty, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

  1. Submission doesn’t mean unqualified obedience, but it does imply respect.

When Paul calls Christians to be subject (hupotassesthō) to governing authorities, he does not mean that we must do everything they say. As the book of Acts makes clear, there will be times when “We must obey God rather than human beings” (5.29).

Still, Paul is clear is that Christians should not be tax-evading (vs. 6–7) insurgents (vs. 2) who take every opportunity to thumb their noses at the emperor.

In 57 AD, Nero’s tax policies had become massively unpopular. There were riots. And in Judea, anti-Roman zeal had reached a fever pitch. Several Jews had even started blogging (*sarcasm).

Yet in the midst of this, Paul’s advice was for the church to remain calm, to remain on mission, to be good citizens, and to be respectful to authorities.

As N.T. Wright goes on:

Rome could cope with ordinary revolutions, but a community committed to the crucified and risen Lord, living out his story and teachings—now that was dangerous! 

  1. Paul practiced what he preached.

It’s easy to be cynical about Paul’s claim that “rulers hold no terror for those who do right.” And indeed, the irony drips like the blood from the blade of Paul’s executioner. (Is not beheading the archetypal form of terror? Turn on the news.)

pauls-death

Yet like Jesus, Paul was willing to live out this non-violent and respectful posture even to the bitter end.

In Acts 23, the apostle lost his temper (which makes me feel better) and shouted at the Jewish high priest who was having him beaten without cause: “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!” (vs. 3). Then, after regaining his composure, Paul apologized:

Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: “Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people” (vs. 5).

Like many of us (read: me), Paul sometimes lost his cool when faced with the nonsense of political elites.  Yet in this case, he chose to respect the office, even when he could not respect the person holding it.

May we do likewise.

Why I’d rather lose my religious liberty than vote for Donald Trump

Why I’d rather lose my religious liberty than vote for Donald Trump

“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

And while Donald Trump said this of women, it’s been more true of his relationship with the Religious Right.

In short, Donald Trump has treated the bride of Christ just like the other married women in that disgusting audio recording. Yet unlike more honorable brides, some evangelical leaders have done nothing to resist his self-serving advances.

This, indeed, is a profound mystery. But I am talking about Trump and the church.

prolifememe

To be honest, I thought I’d written my last post on this subject.

Then came the audio of Trump bragging about his sexual assaults. And yes, that is the proper word for it (You just “Grab them by the p—y; you can do anything!”).

So here we are. Once more unto the breach.

In past posts (for newcomers):

  • I lamented the fact that democracy gives you the candidates you deserve (here);
  • I predicted that despite playing coy initially, evangelicals would ultimately flock to Trump (here) like moths to an orange and hairspray-fueled flame.
  • And I argued that choosing the “lesser of two evils” is not always a rule to live by (here).
  • I’ve also made it clear, that I am no fan of Trump’s main opponent.
  • And I suggested (here) that, for me personally, focusing my voting energy on local and statewide issues is a solution to the high-stakes game of “Would you rather…?” that is the Presidential race.

Along slightly different lines, I also appreciated my pastor’s wise advice to think for yourself, to think biblically, and to vote accordingly.

This post, however, is about a different topic.

THE “RELIGIOUS LIBERTY” ARGUMENT

As many of my Christian friends more-or-less concede, Donald Trump is a lecherous braggart with no serious proposals, the temperament of a toddler, and a penchant for racism and misogyny.

But… they say… We still must vote for him, because if we don’t, we’ll lose our religious liberties. And that “trumps” everything.

I respect people who say this.

And indeed, one of the things I like about academics is that we often disagree (even in print), not because we dislike one another, but because critique brings clarity, and that helps us all.

In fact, amongst esteemed professors, the way you honor someone is to gather their friends from around the globe, and publically critique their work. 🙂

And while that may seem strange, there is something beautiful about it too, because it says that even severe disagreement need not sever friendship.

(Now back to the issue.)

THE GRAIN OF TRUTH

As best I can tell, the logic of the “religious liberty” argument runs as follows:

Christianity is under attack. And if we don’t elect this admittedly horrible person, we will face further marginalization in the future.

(Note: I toned down the prior sentence in the editing process. Originally, it read: “orange-tinted sexual predator,” but I will not say that. Many others are saying it. I will not.)

And to be honest, there are bits of the religious liberty narrative to which I’m somewhat sympathetic.

It concerns me that our culture has confused “tolerance” with “agreement” (see here). And there are some areas in which liberty has been eroded.

The problem, however, is not just that the threat is sometimes exaggerated.

The deeper issue is the assumption that Christians should publicly join themselves with truly horrible individuals (and ideas) in exchange for promised “favors.”

That’s not prophetic witness. It’s closer to prostitution.

THE EVANGELICAL FUTURE

And my fear, which is rapidly materializing, is that American evangelicalism will suffer permanent damage for its shameful part in Trump’s doomed and degenerate campaign.

Here are just a few:

  • We will increasingly be seen as a “White’s only” movement – and if you don’t believe that, just ask my black and Latino students.
  • We will increasingly be known as a misogynistic movement, which has been a concern already, given the way certain evangelicals have tried to keep women from serving in leadership roles.
  • And we will increasingly be an “over sixty” movement, because one needs only to look at the Stats to see that my own generation has little stomach for Trump, or for those who try to force us into supporting him in the name of Jesus.

White guys. Over sixty.

That is not the kingdom of God.

But it is in danger of becoming “American evangelicalism.”

MY PERSONAL OPINION

So what’s my personal answer to the religious liberty argument?

Here it is:

As a Christian, and a father of two girls, I would rather lose every shred of my religious freedom than align myself with this truly vile human being.

In fact, I would rather have Christianity assailed from without (by liberalism) than corrupted from within.

As history shows, we can survive being marginalized. We can even survive persecution (though the “p-word” is sometimes overused by the Religious Right).

But we cannot so easily survive brazen complicity with the worst elements of human behavior. Nor do we deserve to.

So, yes, I still care deeply about abortion, the supreme court, religious liberty, and everything else.

But as Christ’s bride, I will not be treated like that married woman who Trump took “furniture shopping” in an effort to buy her body.

I did try and f— her. She was married. And I moved on her very heavily.

Some things are more important than “furniture.”

And some things are more important than political favors.

That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.


Now a brief addition to the original post to address a common critique:

I should probably clarify at this point, what I am NOT saying.  I am not saying (as some seem to think) that we, as Christians should simply “give away” our liberties or treat them lightly (Thus, the intentional use of the word “lose” instead of “give” in my admittedly hyperbolic title).

Since true liberties are given by God, they should not be encroached upon by anyone.  Period.  Nor should they be “given up” without right resistance. I’m not proposing that we stop caring about religious liberty–in fact, I explicitly state that I do care about it, and that there are areas of concern.

What I am saying is that the church should stay true to Christ and his values (which, for me, means saying “No” to both candidates). And if that means having to face further marginalization in the future, then we must face that also by staying true to Christ.

Nothing is gained by linking arms with a truly destructive and dangerous candidate simply because he promises certain favors to one particular group. In sum, I do not think this is a particularly controversial idea and there is ample precedent for it in the Scriptures.

 

 

Why the worst people won: a question worth asking

Why the worst people won: a question worth asking

“In a nation of 320 million people, how did we end up with these two?”

That’s the question I’ve heard repeatedly from both my Democratic and Republican friends.

It’s hard to fathom, and almost tragically funny. As if your football team deliberated for months and then used its only draft pick on William Hung from American Idol.

He bangs, you know, and he’s not part of that “Football Establishment.” 

~The Dallas Cowboys

So while many have thoughts on who is worse, I want to ask a different question: Why did the worst people win in the first place?

What is so wrong with our system (and ourselves) that we nominated two options that sound like a frightening game of “Would you rather…?”

DEFINING “WORST”

To be clear, in calling both Trump and Clinton “the worst” I do not mean that they are literally the worst people in the country. I don’t think that.

It is possible that you could find a more unsavory character, say, by

  • Playing “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” at Riker’s Island,
  • Or “Marco Polo” at a Kim and Kanye pool party.

Maybe.

Instead, by “worst,” I simply mean that they are—in my limited judgment—the worst people (in terms of character) set forth by their respective parties in the primaries.

True, Bernie may have been more progressive than Hillary, but he was also more honest. And yes, Ted Cruz may have been voted most annoying by pretty much everyone he’s ever met, but he did not accuse an opponent’s dad of killing Kennedy, or insinuate that a disproportionate number immigrants are rapists and murderers (etc., etc…).

In that regard, the worst people won.

And our question should be “Why?”

THE OBVIOUS ANSWER

The obvious answer is simple: we voted.

Somehow, more people thought these were the best options. And while I respect that, I also think it sits among the worst nominations since Caligula tried to make his horse a consul.

But instead of blaming individuals, perhaps we should examine some broad issues that may be propelling unsavory individuals to new heights.

Because whatever we did, we’ve got to do differently next time.

Five thoughts:

1.BOTH PARTIES HAVE BEEN RADICALIZED

Few can deny that both parties have moved toward the extremes of their respective bases. This is where the energy is. And candidates lurch this way to win their primaries. It’s always been this way. Still, it does seem that the “baseness” of the base has increased in recent years.

When this happens, fortune favors the shrill, anger is confused with wisdom, and none of this bodes well for reasonable candidates.

2.THE MONEY MANDATE ENCOURAGES SOUL SELLING

A second reason we might call “the money mandate.” These days, a successful presidential campaign costs around one billion dollars. And with slippery finance laws (“corporations are people, my friend”) and SuperPACs, it seems that some level of soul selling is almost required to amass the needed capital.

Thus while billionaires like Trump are set, for all others, the money mandate propels candidates who are willing to be bought by special interests, corporate giants, and foreign powers. Thus “the worst” have a distinct advantage.

3.PUBLIC DISCOURSE HAS BEEN REDUCED TO “MEMES” AND MEANNESS 

A recent study showed that in his speeches Donald Trump speaks English at a fifth grade level. That’s not an insult, it’s an algorithm. And it’s far higher than his “Tweet-level.”

For some, this was proof that the other (losing) Republican candidates were simply talking over the heads of voters, while Trump was, in the words of one supporter, “talking to us not like we’re stupid.”

Still, the real problem is not grammar or intelligence.

A deeper issue is that many have bought the myth that “straight talk” is the ability to pair insults with exclamation points. It is not. And the solution will be slow in coming. Somehow, we must teach our kids that decency matters, not just in one’s personal relations, but in campaigns and on social media. We much teach logic, critical thinking, and fact checking. Because only a thoughtful and virtuous electorate will shun thoughtless and unvirtuous candidates.

4.CROWNING ROYAL FAMILIES IS CROWDSOURCED NEPOTISM

Once upon a time, the American colonies threw off the yoke of monarchy, and with this, the idea that being related to a leader qualified you to be one. In royal families, power is gained by “waiting your turn,” but not so in democracies.

Thus it seems odd to claim that one candidate should win, because she “waited” for years.

To be sure, defacto royal families are nothing new in American politics. And few would disqualify an FDR simply because of uncle Teddy. Yet both of these men were trusted, charismatic, and brilliant in their own ways. So it wasn’t merely that they “waited their turn.”

For this reason, both parties could seriously benefit from a crop of young leaders whose names aren’t Bush or Clinton.

5.THE WRINGER RUNS OFF DECENT PEOPLE 

To go through a presidential campaign means submitting one’s self and family to “the wringer” of public scrutiny and character assassination (especially if one is running against Donald Trump). Thus we might ask if the sheer scrutiny of our political process scares off the decent people, while a disproportionate number of egomaniacal narcissists fill the void. 

As Shakespeare put into the mouth of Richard III:

“Conscience is but a word that cowards use” (5.3).

And sadly, it is not difficult to picture one nominee nodding inwardly at this, while the other retweets it. #strongleader #Shackspeer 

CONCLUSION

If this sounds bleak, it’s not meant to be.

There are good people out there, and we must find them both now and in the future.

Yet in the meantime, perhaps we should pause from our debates over who is “the lesser of two evils” and consider how we got here.

Then maybe next time will be different.

Till then, there’s this. 🙂


If you enjoy these posts, click the green “Follow” button on the home page.

Comments (and disagreement) are welcome, but please do so under your actual name, and please keep it respectful for all readers. ~JM

 

 

When patriotism goes too far

When patriotism goes too far

Confession:

When I was in second grade, my favorite song in the world was the patriotic power ballad by Lee Greenwood: “God Bless the U.S.A.” I still remember singing it, with a lump in my throat, while reverently cradling my glued-together replica of an F-14 fighter jet.

The lyrics epitomized my second grade existence:

If tomorrow all the things were gone

I worked for all my life

And I had to start again

With just my children and my wife

I’d thank my lucky stars

To be living here today

‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom

And they can’t take that away!

That’s right! Try and take it Commies!

Later, I learned to play it on my saxophone.

And around that same time the Iron Curtain fell.

Coincidence?  You tell me.

The point is: I was VERY patriotic.

And in certain ways, I still am. I remain tremendously grateful to those who have sacrificed so that I can live in relative safety and freedom. And I am reminded of what a rare opportunity I’ve had to better myself through education, despite the fact that my family was not wealthy by American standards.

Yet as I grew older I began to grow more wary of certain forms of “patriotism,” and especially as I came to view the Christian gospel differently.

WHEN PATRIOTISM BECOMES IDOLATRY

In short, the problem occurs when patriotism becomes nationalism.

For sake of clarity, Ryan Hamm defines the terms like this:

  • Patriotism is simply love of country.
  • Nationalism is a love of country at the expense (or disrespect) of others.

What’s more, I’ve come to believe that the idea of a “Christian nationalist” is an oxymoron.

So here’s the question: When exactly does patriotism become nationalism, and what are some clues that Christians can use to recognize when our love of country has become an idol?

Four points:

  1. When we fail to see salvation as a change in citizenship.

The contradiction of a “Christian nationalist” is contained within the gospel itself.

To be “in Christ” according to the Scriptures, is to undergo change in primary citizenship.

As Paul argues, “our citizenship is now in heaven” (Php. 3.20). And we exist now as strangers, foreigners, and sojourners in our home countries.

To be sure, this did not change the fact that Paul himself remained a Roman citizen. Yet this identity (as with his Jewishness) was clearly secondary. Thus it is hard to picture him chanting “Roma! Roma! Roma!” while gladiators reenacted Caesar’s Gallic wars.

His primary concern was not to make Rome great again (let’s be honest, Nero was no Octavian), but to serve the King of kings.

Number two:

  1. When we get angrier at unpatriotic actions than at ungodly ones.

You can sometimes tell your idols by what makes you really angry.

In recent weeks, the internet has practically overheated over a football player who refused to stand for the national anthem as an act of protest. And while I’m not endorsing this behavior, I can’t help but notice that many Christians seem far angrier over this than over the spate of players who have been busted for serious crimes including rape, child abuse, and domestic battery. Why is that?

The point is not to endorse a lack of national pride, but to issue a word caution: When you get angrier over things that are deemed unpatriotic than over things that are violently ungodly, you’ve got a problem.[1]

  1. When we feel more kinship with unsaved countrymen than with Christians from around the globe.

While I don’t always agree with John Piper, I think he’s right in this:

Whatever form your patriotism takes, let it be a deep sense that we are more closely bound to brothers and sisters in Christ in other countries, other cultures than we are to our closest unbelieving compatriot or family member in the fatherland or in the neighborhood. That is really crucial … Otherwise, I think our patriotism is drifting over into idolatry.

The issue, once again, is one of primary citizenship.

Last point:

  1. When we are blind to the sins of our nation while being acutely aware of those of others.

Every culture and country has uniquely beautiful and uniquely broken aspects.

In America, I’m proud of our general respect for things like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and democracy. I also celebrate our “can do” mentality, our constitutional design of a balance of power, and our stated belief (not always lived out) that all persons are created equal.

Yet a danger in patriotic pride is that it would overlook the uniquely broken aspects that are there as well. There must be a balance.

On a recent TV show, I watched a correspondent ask a group of political convention-goers to name a time that America was truly great. The responses were hilarious and deeply saddening.

It was amazing how many individuals took us back to the era of slavery or segregation as the time when America was really “nailing it.” To be honest, most of these folks were not intending to condone such acts, but they did portray a startling historical amnesia.

CONCLUSION

In the end, the solution to patriotism gone wrong is not national negativity but the power of the gospel.

In short, Christians must come to see salvation not just as a change of mind, a change of behavior, or even a change of final destination. In addition, it also a change of primary citizenship.

And (on a lighter note) for those still wondering if a man and his saxophone can change the world, I leave you this, and rest my case.

 

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[1] Credit for this point goes to a former student, Matt Atwell, as he noted in a post last week.