Posts tagged ‘Hillary Clinton’

President-Elect Donald J. Trump

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Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

Whether you love him, despise him, believe in him, are distasteful of him, are worried about him, or are indifferent to him, Donald J. Trump is the President-Elect of the United States.  Regardless of which one of these categories you may occupy (or, perhaps, you’re in another category I missed), as Christians, there are a few things we are called to be during the transition from the end of Barack Obama’s presidency to the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency.  Perhaps you already know these things, but a little reminder never hurts.

Be prayerful.

The apostle Paul writes to Timothy:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Paul is clear that we, as Christians, ought to pray for our leaders.  But there is something I think we often miss in this passage.  Before Paul exhorts Timothy to pray “for kings and all those in authority,” he urges Timothy to pray “for all people.”  The category of “leaders” is a subset of the category of “people.”

Though this may seem painfully obvious, it is important to remember that our leaders are, in fact, actual people.  I say this because sometimes it can become far too easy for us to paint the leaders we don’t care for as soulless cartoonish villains, not worthy of even basic respect.

Regardless of what you think of President-Elect Trump, he is a person, made in the image of God and loved by God.  He is also a husband, a father, and a grandfather.  We should pray for him not only as a politician, but also as a person.

Be supportive.

Every person is sinful.  And yet, as Jesus puts it, even evil people “know how to give good gifts to [their] children” (Matthew 7:11).  In other words, just because no one is perfect doesn’t mean that everyone does everything wrong.  Instead, we are all mixed bags.  We do some things right and some things wrong.  We do some things that are good and some things that are evil.  Donald Trump, no doubt, will do some good things for America.  For instance, his promise to support the cause of life and minimize the scourge of abortion is vital not only to our national wellbeing, but to our human decency as well.  In cases such as this, Christians ought to graciously, thoughtfully, and humbly support that which is good and just. 

Be skeptical.

Even as sinful people can do good things for which they should be commended, they can also, obviously, do sinful things for which they must be confronted.  Christians should be willing to call sin for what it is regardless of the political party out of which it comes.  Certainly, President-Elect Trump has said some things that are not only not befitting of the office of President of the United States, but also defy basic decorum, decency, and truthfulness.  The warning of Jesus’ brother should ring in our minds: “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).  Reckless words may be legal in a society that has enshrined free speech, but legality does not equal morality.  Christians should continue to call President-Elect Trump, and all of our public officials, to account when their behavior turns ugly.

Especially because of the rancorous nature of this year’s election cycle, I would add that we should be careful not to allow a healthy skepticism to turn into a bitter cynicism.  Skepticism is honest that sin is constantly afoot and must be confronted.  Cynicism, on the other hand, finds a certain schadenfreude in another’s sin because it can sanctimoniously condemn it and boast over it.  Skepticism is wise.  Cynicism is hateful.  Let us not fall prey to the latter.

Be faith-filled.

Our nation is deeply divided, as even the statistical outcome of this election demonstrates.  Donald Trump won in the electoral college and, hence, has secured the presidency, while Hillary Clinton bested Mr. Trump in the popular vote.  As Christians, we have a uniquely unifying message because, in the midst of a division as deep as ours, we can point to a God who made us all and to His Son who sacrificed Himself for us all.  Christ is the One who can break down what separates us.  Now is the time to share Him.

Ultimately, whether you are satisfied with the outcome of this election or fearful because of it, remember to guard your faith.  Fear can lead us to lash out in anger as we try to forcefully and artificially rectify something we think is wrong.  Satisfaction can lead to gloating and glibness as we trust in a set of comfortable circumstances that will, finally, prove to be fleeting.  Both of these reactions can lead us away from Christ rather than toward Him.  A reaction of fear can refuse to trust in the peace Christ wants to give as it stews in its own self-righteous anger.  An enshrinement of comfort can minimize the provision Christ wants of offer as it lounges in its own self-sufficiency.

Thus, what we need now as the presidency of the United States shifts parties and hands is what we have always needed and will always need:

Faith.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.  When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God. (Psalm 146:3-5)

November 14, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Who’s Afraid of Election Day?

U.S. Citizens Head To The Polls To Vote In Presidential Election

Credit: Darren McCollester / Getty Images

Tomorrow is the big day.  Tomorrow, we the people turn out to vote for the next President of the United States.  Though literally thousands of other politicians will be on the ballots that are cast tomorrow, the presidential election is the one that looms largest in the minds and hearts of most people.  Indeed, I’ve heard it repeated over and over again throughout the course of this political season that “this is the most important presidential election of our lifetimes.”  I honestly do not know whether or not it is.  I do know that Walter Mondale told a crowd in 1984, “This is the most important election of our lives.”  I would argue that history has probably proven him wrong.  And history, eventually, may prove today’s claim about the importance of this election wrong – or, perhaps, right.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

But whether or not voters and pundits prove to be historically correct in their estimation of the weightiness of this election, I do know that the immediate perceived importance of this election is enormous and is engendering deep fear in the minds and hearts of many.  I have had conversation after conversation with people who are scared of what has happened and what will happen to our political system and to our nation.

This past weekend, I listened to a sermon on the topic of this year’s election.  The pastor who preached this sermon argued forcefully, powerfully, and, at times, eloquently for what he believed about this election and even for whom he believed we, as Christians, should vote in this election.  But what struck me most about this pastor’s sermon was its closing.  He ended by talking about two fears that he has for the future of this nation.  First, he explained his fear that there may be too many of “them” and too few of “us.”  He sees postmodern secularism winning over the masses and driving Christianity to the fringes and he is worried that there is nothing we can do politically to beat it back.  Second, he expressed his worry that we may simply be too late to make any difference.  He thinks too many Christians have been too silent for too long, and now a day of reckoning has come.

Politically, this pastor seemed very knowledgeable.  Theologically, however, if I can be so bold to say this, as I listened to his sermon, I became more and more convinced that he missed something very important.  Here’s why I say that.

First, if anyone thinks that there are too many of “them” and too few of “us,” I would encourage that person to read the story of Gideon.  When God takes the army Gideon has mustered to fight the Midianites and reduces it in force from 32,000 men to 300 men – a reduction of over 99 percent – it looks like there is no way Gideon and his tiny army can defeat the massive army of a whole tribe of people.  But God specializes in doing great things when there are too many of “them” and too few of “us.”  God made a whole nation out of one man Abraham.  God redeemed a whole people from slavery through one man Moses.  God changed the whole course of human history through twelve men He deemed “apostles.”  And God brought salvation to our whole world in one man He calls His Son.  God can do a lot with a little.

Second, if anyone thinks it is simply too late, I would point that person to the story of Jesus’ friend Lazarus.  When Jesus learns that His friend has fallen ill, rather than rushing to see him, He waits for him to die.  Why?  Because, as Jesus says to Martha, He is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).  Even death is not too late for Jesus because He can snatch life from the jaws of death.  When the hour on our clock strikes eleven and we begin to struggle and scramble, Jesus can bring forth a new dawn that we never saw coming.

What struck me most about this pastor’s sermon is that although he issued a clear call to his congregation to get out and vote, he never explicitly reminded his congregation to have faith – to trust in the One who holds everything from your house to the White House in His hands.

Politics has a bias toward action.  Legislation gets passed when deals get made.  Public officials are elected when votes are cast.  Social change can be engineered when Supreme Court verdicts are rendered.  Action is important to politics.  But as Christians, we must remember that the centerpiece of who we are is not in what we do, but in whom we believe.  “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).  Faith is the centerpiece of our life in Christ.

I think it’s this that gets to the root of our fear.  Because if we get so stuck on the action of our vote and the action of our legislators and the action of some guy or gal who sits in an office that is shaped like an oval that we forget that our hope is nothing that we have done, are doing, will do, or can do, then we’ve missed what’s most important.  Because we’ve missed Jesus.  And you don’t get Jesus by action.  You only get Jesus through faith.  There’s a reason the Psalmist says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You” (Psalm 56:3).

So, if you are afraid of the outcome of this election and the future of this country, go ahead and vote, but don’t expect your vote to calm your fears.  Because your fears cannot be calmed by electoral majority.  Your fears can only be calmed by a Savior who died for you and me.

Trust in Him.

 

November 7, 2016 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Election Day Fear

clinton-and-trump

Credit: CNN

Last week, I was driving back to my office after teaching a Bible study at a local business.  I happened to be listening to a radio talk show when a lady called who took my breath away.  She was nearly in tears.  She had just seen a movie forecasting what would happen if a particular candidate was elected President of the United States.  She told the talk show host:

I am scared to death.  I don’t sleep. I’m an absolute basket case. I want what’s good for my children, my grandchildren, my family.  It’s all going down the tubes because, after watching that movie last night, all I saw was what’s coming down, what’s next, what they have planned.

Wow.  What palpable fear.  What genuine terror.  What a heartbreaking phone call.  Fear can wreak a lot of havoc in a person’s heart and life.

I know this caller is not the only one frightened right now.  It seems as though every time a presidential election comes around, people’s fear becomes more and more acute.  So here’s a gentle reminder:  fear is not helpful.  There is a reason why the most common command in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.”  There is a reason Jesus says, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34).  Fear is like an infection.  Left unchecked, it can destroy people spiritually, emotionally, and relationally.  So if you’re tempted toward fear, especially as it pertains to this upcoming election, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Fear tends toward hyperbole.

Every four years, I hear the same refrain from candidates and political pundits alike: “This is the most important election of our lifetimes.”  Of course it is.  That is, until the next election comes along.  This claim, of course, is usually accompanied with dire predictions of what will happen if the wrong candidates get into political office.  Of course factually, this claim cannot stand up under scrutiny because logically, this claim cannot be true more than once in a generation.  And yet, it is assumed as true every four years.  How can we believe a claim that is so logically ludicrous?  Because we are afraid.  And fear tends to look toward a certain point in time, such as an election, and wonder with worry:  Is this the moment that will serve as the linchpin for the rest of history?  Is this the moment when everything changes?

Christians have a confident answer to these questions.  And our answer is “no.”  We know that history’s linchpin moment has already come with Christ.  No moment or election can even come close to comparing with Him.  Indeed, I find it interesting that the primary way we know about political figures from the first century such as Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, and even Caesar Augustus is through Scripture.  But all of these men serve as paltry footnotes to the story of Jesus.  It turns out they weren’t as important as everyone thought they were back then.  Perhaps our leaders won’t be as important as we think they are right now.  So why are we afraid?

Fear fosters self-righteousness.

It was Reinhold Niebuhr who wrote:

Political controversies are always conflicts between sinners and not between righteous men and sinners.  It ought to mitigate the self-righteousness which is an inevitable concomitant of all human conflict.[1]

Niebuhr notes that, in politics, no party is completely right because no person is completely righteous.  So we ought to be humbly honest about our sins rather arrogantly defensive in a smug self-righteousness.  The problem with fear is that it tempts us to overlook the sins of ourselves and our party while gleefully pointing out the sins of the other party. Or worse, fear will justify the sins of our party by pointing to the purportedly worse sins of the other party.  In this way, fear surrenders moral credibility because it puts itself through all sorts of intellectual and ethical contortions to make that which is self-evidentially wrong look right.  This, by definition, is self-righteousness – something that Jesus unequivocally condemns.  If Jesus condemns it, we should stay away from it.  So do not let fear lead you into it. 

Fear clouds decision-making.

Psychologists have long noted that fear is a great motivator.  But fear has a funny way of impairing judgment.  Just ask any deer who has been paralyzed by the two big lights that are barrelling toward him at a rapid rate of speed.  Fear may promise to lead to rescue and safety, but, in the end, it leads to death.  So why would we settle for election cycles that are continuously driven by fear?

Decisions made out of fear tend to be Consequentialist in nature.  Consequentialism is a theory of ethics that says an act is good if it brings the least harm to the most people.  The problem with Consequentialism, however, is twofold.  First, because no one can fully predict the future, decisions based on future predictions, including the future predictions fueled by fear, usually have unintended – and often undesirable – consequences.  Second, Consequentialism tends to degenerate into deep sinfulness as people become willing to excuse increasingly terrible acts to achieve some desired result.  Consequentialism, then, may go after one good thing, but, in the process, it surrenders to and sanctions a bunch of bad things.

Decisions are much better made on principle rather than out of fear.  Decisions made on principle allow the one making them to look at all facets of a decision rather than just an end result.  They also place a high value on integrity rather than wantonly sacrificing that which is right for that which is expedient.  Decisions made on principle are, ultimately, better decisions.

I know that eschewing fearfulness is much easier said than done.  But fear must be fought – especially as it pertains to this upcoming election.  Fear about this election and about the future solves nothing.  It only manages to make the present miserable.  So take heart and remember:

The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?  (Psalm 118:6)

Mortals cannot do nearly as much as we sometimes think they can, even if one of them becomes President of the United States.  Things really will be okay, even if sinfulness does its worst.

Do not be afraid.

______________________

[1] Reinhold Niebuhr, Reinhold Niebuhr:  Theologian of Public Life, Larry Rasmussen, ed. (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1991), 248.

October 17, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Politics, Power, and Sacrifice

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Originally, I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to watch last Monday’s presidential debate.  But my curiosity got the best of me, so I turned on the TV.  I have seen many on social media bemoan the state of our politics in this presidential election and, I suppose, I would sympathize with their chorus.  The tone of this election is grating.  The discussion about this election often borders on and even ventures into the banal.  And the goal of this election appears to be little more than an undisguised race for power.  People across all points on our political spectrum are desperate to see their person in power so their interests can be furthered while others’ interests are overlooked, or, in some instances, even crushed.

Power is a funny thing, in part because it is such a dangerous thing.  In the famous dictum of Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”  Power ought to come with a warning label: “Handle with care.”

Power, of course, isn’t always bad.  God has plenty of power – indeed, He ultimately has all power – and is quite adept at using it.  But it is also important to point out that God’s power always comes with a purpose.  He uses His power in order to sustain the world.  He uses His power in order to constrain evil.  He uses His power in order to rescue us from hell.  Power, for God, is a means to some very good ends.

The concern I have with so many in our political system is that power has become the means and the end.  Politicians want power because, well, they want power!  And this means that when they get power, they often use it in a most detrimental way – not to help others, but to help themselves.

Yoni Appelbaum discusses this reality in an article for The Atlantic titled, “America’s First Post-Christian Debate.”  The way he describes America’s situation is jarring:

Civil religion died on Monday night.

For more than 90 minutes, two presidential candidates traded charges on stage. The bitterness and solipsism of their debate offered an unnerving glimpse of American politics in a post-Christian age, devoid of the framework that has long bound the nation together.[1]

He goes on to describe how traditionally Christian-esque values were not only not extolled in the first of our presidential debates, they were proudly repudiated.  Virtues, Appelbaum says, were reframed as vices.  Altruism was painted as a sucker’s game and sacrifice was left for those who are losers.  “The Clinton-Trump debate,” he concludes, “was decidedly Marxian in its assumptions – all about material concerns, with little regard for higher purpose.”  Yikes.  I hope he’s wrong.  But I couldn’t help but notice that not one transcendent concern made an appearance during the debate.  We, as a nation, have become so obsessed with the exercise of power in the material realm that we pay little regard to the transcendent One who gives power as a gift to be stewarded rather than as a weapon to be wielded.

When the high priest of political pragmatism sirens us into trading cherished values like altruism and sacrifice for the formidable forces of power and control, something has gone terribly wrong.  Such a trade fundamentally undermines the very purpose of power – at least in any Christian or morally traditional sense – in the first place.  Power is to be used for the sake of altruism, not to dispense with it.  Power is to be used in concert with sacrifice, not to insulate oneself from sacrifice.  Any of the men and women in our nation’s Armed Forces can tell you that. Jesus certainly expressed His power in sacrifice.  The cross was a place of no power and great power all at the same time.  On the cross, Jesus gave up all power, even power over His very life, as “He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).  But through the cross, Jesus exercised great power, conquering sin, death, and the devil.  Jesus’ power, to borrow a concept from the apostle Paul, came through weakness (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:10).

Political power might not involve dying on a cross, but it sure would be nice if it involved taking one up.  It sure would be nice if politicians used their power to do the right thing, even if it involved some measure of sacrifice.  It sure would be nice if politicians fashioned themselves more as public servants and less as demiurge saviors.  It sure would be nice if voters stopped cynically leveraging the power-obsessed sins of an opposing candidate to minimize and rationalize the power-obsessed sins of their own candidate.  A willingness to see sin as sin, even if it’s sin in the politician you happen to be voting for, is a first step to an honest and healthy analysis of our problems politically.

I understand that politicians are not always Christian, and I understand that non-Christians can be competent politicians.  I am also not so naïve as to think that every politician will see his or her elected office as a cross to bear rather than as a career to manage, even if they should.  I furthermore understand that the civil religion of which Appelbaum speaks in his article is not coterminous with – and in many ways is not compatible with – Christianity.  But the virtues of Christianity it promotes – charity, selflessness, and humility, among others – are good for our world even as they are good in the Church.  We need them.  We need them because, to quote another proverb from Lord Acton, “Despotic power is always accompanied by corruption of morality.”  The curbing of despotic power may not be the ultimate reason to foster and preserve Christian virtue in our political system, but it sure is a good reason.

We the people should expect of our politicians – and of ourselves – something more than a blunt exercise of power, even if that power happens to promote our interests.  We the people should expect real virtue, both in the people we elect as well as in ourselves.  Do we?  If we don’t, there’s no better time than the present to change our expectations.  Remember, the people we elect to public office are not just products of a corrupt political system, they are reflections of the values we celebrate and the vices we tolerate.

Perhaps it’s time for us to take a good, long look in the mirror.

__________________________

[1] Yoni Appelbaum, “America’s First Post-Christian Debate,” The Atlantic (9.27.2016).

October 3, 2016 at 5:15 am 4 comments

Our Leadership Lacuna

Screen Shot 2013-05-15 at 5.13.27 PMThe headlines speak for themselves.  “Exclusive: Benghazi Talking Points Underwent 12 Revisions, Scrubbed of Terror Reference.”[1]  “IRS Admits To Targeting Conservative Groups Over Tax Status.”[2]  “Gov’t Obtains Wide AP Phone Records In Probe.”[3]  It has not been a good week for our nation’s leaders.  And there has been much shock and dismay expressed from people of all political persuasions and stripes.  And yet, no matter how large these scandals may loom, there remains a subtle subtext that underscores these immense ignominies.  To quote the words of the great George Strait in summary of this subtext:  “I’ve come to expect it from you.”  This, sadly, is the kind of behavior that we expect from our leaders.  It may be scandalous, but it isn’t all that surprising.

So how does the general public respond to these salacious, but unsurprising, scandals?  Consider this from TIME’s  Zeke Miller and Michael Crowley in response to the AP phone records story:

Conservatives are not often fierce defenders of the media. But Monday’s news that the Justice Department obtained phone records for several Associated Press reporters as part of a national security leak probe raised a furor on the right, causing numerous Republicans to harshly criticize the Obama administration. While some may have genuine concerns about First Amendment protections, the right’s response also spotlighted an emerging Republican critique of Barack Obama as a Big Brother-style tyrant in charge of a power-abusing surveillance state…

Conservatives are now in the odd position of implicitly defending the media’s rights against the imperative of national security secrecy, a cause that didn’t interest them much when the FBI sought media phone records during the Bush years.[4]

Miller and Crowley’s argument runs like this:  Republicans defended their own when President Bush went after media phone records, so Democrats may do the same with President Obama.  After all, every president and politician bends the rules and compromises on ethics.  We simply have to accept this and then back the horse of our own political persuasion while also working to discredit the opposition.  After all, that’s the formula for winning elections.  One need look no farther than the recent victory of Mark Sanford, just sworn in as South Carolina’s newest Republican congressman, even though a few years earlier he engaged in an illicit affair with an Argentinian woman, insisting that she was his “soul mate,” all while serving as South Carolina’s governor.

Hopefully, a Christian can see right through this kind of shameful political jockeying.  As my mother used to tell me, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”  You can’t justify your group’s bad behavior by pointing to the bad behavior of another group.

So then, how should the Christian react and respond when corruption and scandal among our rock our nation’s leaders?  First, no matter what our political persuasion, we can honestly, but also compassionately, call these types of scandals what they are:  sinful.  Second, rather than buying into the talking points, spin rooms, and damage control strategies, we can honestly, but also compassionately, call for repentance from our leaders.  The best way to deal with sin is not to minimize or excuse it, but to confess it!  Finally, even if our leaders in Washington are not the kind of leaders our nation and world needs, we can be the kind of leaders our nation and world needs.  We can lead in our sphere of influence with integrity and character and with repentance when we falter and fail.  We can seek to lead the way King David sought to lead Israel:  “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (Psalm 78:72).

Even though we cannot control how our leaders lead us, we can control the way we lead others – and ourselves.  With God’s help, may we diligently guard the quality and character of our leadership.  Our world needs all the faithful leaders it can get.


[1] Jonathan Karl, “Exclusive: Benghazi Talking Points Underwent 12 Revisions, Scrubbed of Terror Reference,” ABC News (5.10.2013).

[2] Zeke J Miller & Alex Altman, “IRS Admits To Targeting Conservative Groups Over Tax Status,” TIME Magazine (5.10.2013).

[3] Mark Sherman, “Gov’t Obtains Wide AP Phone Records In Probe,” The Associated Press (5.13.2013).

[4] Zeke Miller & Michael Crowley, “The New GOP Case Against Obama: He’s Cheney!TIME Magazine (5.14.2013).

May 20, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments


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