Posts tagged ‘Politics’

When Politics Leads to Bloodshed

When 66-year old James Hodgkinson opened fire on a ball field in Alexandria, Virginia this past Wednesday, he seemed to be targeting Republican members of Congress, who were engaged in a friendly game of baseball.  Shortly before the shooting, the suspect asked two representatives if the congressional members playing that day were Republicans or Democrats.  When they responded that they were Republicans, he left.  But when he returned, he came toting a rifle, which he used to wound four people, including the majority whip for the House of Representatives, Steve Scalise, who sustained severe injuries.  He remains in critical condition at an area hospital.

Following the shooting, investigators sprang into action and quickly discovered that Hodgkinson had a sharp disdain for Republicans, posting many virulently anti-Republican messages on social media.

This is where we are.  Our nation has become so bifurcated politically that a difference in party can become a motive for attempted murder.

In general, recent times have not proven to be good ones for political discourse in our country.  From a magazine cover depicting a comedian holding a severed, bloodied head bearing a curious resemblance to the president’s head, to a modernized telling of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in a New York park that portrays the assassination of someone who, again, appears strikingly similar to the president, to the president himself joking during his campaign that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York and shoot someone and his voters would still support him, political discourse has, to put it mildly, taken a nosedive.

So often, such reckless political flame-throwing is defended on the grounds of the blessed freedom of speech that we enjoy in our country.  “If we can say it, we will say it,” the thinking goes.  Indeed, no matter what political views you may hold, it is likely that some in your political camp have said things about opposing political factions that, though they might be legal according to the standards of free speech, are certainly not moral according to the guidances of God’s good Word.  Free speech does not always equate to appropriate speech.  Perhaps we should ask ourselves not only, “Can I say this?” but, “Should I say this?”

Part of the problem with our political discourse is that so often, so many seem to be so content with ridiculing the other side that they forget to offer cogent arguments for the benefits of their side.  But when we define ourselves by how we belittle our opponent, we turn our opponents into nothing short of evil monsters.  We stop disagreeing with them and begin hating them.  And our political discourse turns toxic.

President John F. Kennedy, shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, gave a commencement address at American University where he called for a recognition of and an appreciation for the humanity we share even in the midst of stark political differences.  He said:

No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue.  As Americans, we find communism profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity.  But we can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements – in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture and in acts of courage …

So, let us not be blind to our differences – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.  For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet.  We all breathe the same air.  We all cherish our children’s future.  And we are all mortal.

President Kennedy had no qualms about vigorously defending American democracy against the dangers and evils of Soviet communism.  But he also never forgot that communists – yes, even communists – are people too.

The tragedy of this past Wednesday is a stark and dark reminder of what happens when we forget that our political adversaries are still our brothers and sisters in humanity.  To put it in uniquely theological terms:  our political adversaries are still God’s image-bearers.  This means a Republican has never met a Democrat who is not made in God’s image.  And a Democrat has never met a Republican who is not the same.  So may we guard our actions, guard our tongues, and, above all, guard our hearts as we engage those with whom we disagree.  After all, our hearts were made not to hate our opponents, but to love them.

Let’s use our hearts as God intended.

June 19, 2017 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Trump, Lavrov, Comey, and Flynn

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 4.55.21 PM

What a week it’s been at the White House.  Last week brought what felt like a one-two punch of political crises.  First, The Washington Post reported this past Monday that President Trump, in an Oval Office meeting, shared highly classified information concerning terrorist activity with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.  Because the information the president shared was first shared with us by one of our allies, the potential exists, according to some experts, to compromise our intelligence sharing relationships with these allies.  Then, the very next day, The New York Times published a story claiming that President Trump had asked the now former FBI director, James Comey, to end his investigation into the president’s fired national security advisor, Michael Flynn.  As soon as the story broke, many began to raise questions about whether or not the president potentially obstructed justice.  The president has since denied The New York Times’ report.

As politicians and pundits debate the consequences, the legality, and the constitutionality of the president’s alleged actions and their implications for our country, and as our political discourse continues down a path that seems to be increasingly marked by fear, distrust, and anger, here are a few reminders for us, as Christians, to help us navigate these heady times.

Pray for the president and for all our leaders.

Whether you love him, hate him, or are on the fence about him, President Trump needs our prayers.  Scripture commands us to pray for him along with all those who serve in our nation’s government: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  This means Republicans should be praying for Democrats and Democrats should be praying for Republicans.  Political leadership is not only geopolitically treacherous because of the power it wields, it is spiritually perilous because of the prideful temptations it brings.  Politicians need our prayers.

Love the truth more than you love your positions.

In February, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote a piece for The New Yorker titled, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds.”  In it, she cites a Stanford study in which researchers rounded up two groups of students:  one group that believed capital punishment deterred crime and another group that believed capital punishment did not deter crime.  Both groups of students were then given two studies, one of which presented data that showed capital punishment did deter crime and the other of which presented data that showed capital punishment had no effect on crime.  Interestingly, both of these studies were completely fabricated so the researchers could present, objectively speaking, equally compelling cases.  So what happened?  The students who were pro-capital punishment applauded the study that bolstered their position while dismissing the study that called it into question.  Likewise, the students who were anti-capital punishment applauded the study that agreed with their position while dismissing the other study.  These two groups were so entrenched in their positions that they dismissed, out of hand, any information that called their positions into question, even if that information was presented as factual.  In other words, they loved their positions more than they loved the truth.

Politics seems to be custom-made for the kind of thinking that is more interested in holding positions than in seeking truth.  I have seen several social media posts where people boast openly that they no longer watch this or that news channel.  Instead, they receive their news only from outlets that are sympathetic to their positions.  As Christians, we should humbly recognize that there is truth in all sorts of sources – even in sources that disagree with and call into question our political positions.

The nature of truth is that some of it will always make us uncomfortable.  Sin, at its root, is based on lies, which means that some lies will inevitably appeal to us more than some truth, for all of us are sinners.  Indeed, if some truth never makes us uncomfortable, then we are probably missing the truth!

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska offered a great bit of moral clarity on the subject of truth in political discourse when he said recently on a morning news show:

Both of these parties, going back a couple of decades now, regularly act like your main duty is to – if here’s the truth, and you think the other side’s going to say this – you think you’re supposed to say this to try to counterbalance it.  I think that’s a bunch of hooey … You’re supposed to say what you think is true and try to persuade people to come alongside with you.  You’re not trying to counterbalance one falsehood with another.

This is exactly right.  You don’t fight one political tall tale with a tall tale of your own.  Truth trumps political posturing.  In the words of the prophet Jeremiah, we are to “deal honestly and seek the truth” (Jeremiah 5:1).  We are not to blindly and sycophantically defend the positions of our favorite politicians.

Trust in the Lord; not in an earthly leader.

In politics, crises will always abound.  Politicians, after all, are fallen human beings who are prone to making the same mistakes we are and can, at times, even intentionally and malevolently sin.  This is why we cannot trust in them for deliverance from our plights and blights.  Only the Lord can deliver us from these things.

Perhaps the thing that disturbs me the most about our current political environment is not what our politicians do, but what so many of us believe our politicians can do.  So many of us seem tempted to fashion our politicians not as public servants, but as civil saviors. Sometimes, we can be tempted to believe our politicians can usher in a humanly wrought utopia (think of some of the hopes that rested on the chant, “Yes, we can!”) while at other times, we can be tempted to believe our politicians can repristinate a bygone America full of wistful nostalgia (think of some of the discourse that surrounded the slogan, “Make America great again!”).  As Christians, our hope lies not in utopia or in nostalgia, but in Parousia – the day when Christ will return and sin and death will be conquered by Him once and for all.  That is our hope.  He is our hope.  So let’s devote ourselves to proclaiming Christ, Him crucified, Him resurrected, and Him coming again.

May 22, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Tenuous Time

Church Steeple

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  As Christianity faded from prominence in the West, a secularized culture was supposed to emerge to take its place that was more tolerant, more enlightened, more harmonious, and less politically polarized than any other society in the history of the world.  But as Peter Beinart explains in an excellent article for The Atlantic, what has emerged as Christianity’s western influence has waned is nothing of the sort:

As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.[1]

Beinart goes on to explain how the traditional battle lines between conservatives and liberals have shifted in the wake of this irreligious surge.  Specifically, with regard to the spiritually skeptical alt-right, Beinart notes:

They tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation…

The alt-right is ultra-conservatism for a more secular age. Its leaders like Christendom, an old-fashioned word for the West. But they’re suspicious of Christianity itself, because it crosses boundaries of blood and soil. As a college student, the alt-right leader Richard Spencer was deeply influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously hated Christianity. Radix, the journal Spencer founded, publishes articles with titles like “Why I Am a Pagan.” One essay notes that “critics of Christianity on the Alternative Right usually blame it for its universalism.”

It turns out that as faith allegiances have crumbled, a universal concern for others in the spirit of the Good Samaritan has too.  Christianity’s cross-ethnic, cross-cultural, and international appeal has proven too much for the self-interested – or, perhaps more accurately, self-obsessed – spirit of our age.

As Christians, we must think through this irreligious political surge and provide a faithful witness in the midst of it.  We also must be prepared to live in a very tricky tension because of this surge.  As Rod Dreher explains in his newly released book, The Benedict Option:

Faithful Christians may have to choose between being a good American and being a good Christian.  In a nation where “God and country” are so entwined, the idea that one’s citizenship might be at radical odds with one’s faith is a new one.[2]

Dreher’s analysis of the tension between being a citizen of a nation and being a child of God is true, but it is also somewhat amnesic.  He is right that there is indeed an increasing tension.  But he is wrong that this tension is anything new.  Tensions between God and government have been longstanding, even in our society.  And these tensions should not surprise us.  It was a Roman governmental official, after all, who approved the request for Jesus’ crucifixion.  Government has, for a great portion of history, had a problem with God, especially when people put Him before it.

The New Testament understands that this tension between God and government will never be fully resolved, at least on this side of the Last Day.  While we may give to Caesar what is his, God also demands what is His, and when what Caesar wants contradicts what God wants, conflict ensues.  Just ask Daniel, or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, or the apostles.  Our calling, as Christians, is to resist the urge to comfortably resolve this tension, whether that be by condemning this world and cloistering ourselves off from it or by compromising our faith for the lucrative perks of political power.  Our calling is to live in this tension both faithfully and evangelically – holding fast to what we confess while lovingly sharing with others what we believe.

Beinart concludes his article:

For years, political commentators dreamed that the culture war over religious morality that began in the 1960s and ’70s would fade. It has. And the more secular, more ferociously national and racial culture war that has followed is worse.

Yes, indeed, it is worse – which is why we, as the Church, need to offer something better.  We need to offer something loving.  We need to over something hopeful.  We need to offer something reconciling.  We need to offer something that continually and conscientiously questions our nation’s nearsighted political orthodoxies for the sake of a time-tested theological orthodoxy.  We need to offer Jesus, unabashedly and unashamedly.  This is our mission.  I pray we are up to it.

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[1] Peter Beinart, “Breaking Faith,” The Atlantic (April 2017).

[2] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option (New York:  Sentinel, 2017), 89.

April 3, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Michael Flynn, Intelligence Leaks, and Ethical Questions

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Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP

When Michael Flynn tendered his resignation as National Security Advisor last week after only 24 days on the job, it marked the predictable outcome of what had become deepening concerns over some dishonest statements he made to the vice-president about the nature of a December conversation he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States and the potential his conversation created for his blackmail by Russian authorities.  In a political climate where dishonesty is often dismissed out-of-hand as part of the job, Mr. Flynn’s forced resignation is a sobering reminder that character still counts.

Of course, in this story, there are not only ethical questions raised by Mr. Flynn’s clandestine conversation, there are also critical ethical questions that must be asked about the leaking of his conversation by shadowy intelligence officials to the news media.  After all, unethically leaking the fact the National Security Advisor unethically lied to vice-president seems, well, just all-around unethical.

Sadly, in our hyper-politicized climate, it is difficult not to filter this story through anything other than a political lens.  President Trump certainly filtered it this way, at least in part, when he complained on Twitter:

The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by intelligence like candy. Very un-American!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017

Yes, intelligence leaks are indeed scandalous – and dangerously so.  But dishonesty by the National Security Advisor with the vice-president is also scandalous.  Both sides of this scandal need to be addressed.  Sadly, most politicians only see fit to address whichever side furthers their own political purposes.

The problem with politicizing scandals like these is that we often overlook the sins of one side conveniently while decrying the sins of the other side forcefully.  Our argument becomes not that one side is truly good, but that the other side is really bad.  In this way, we justify one side’s sins by the sins the other side.  But when we address ethical scandals like this, we only wind up creating a circular firing squad, with everyone squarely aiming their barrels at everyone else.  We settle for hurting whoever happens to be our political enemy rather than holding onto what is actually right.

Jonathan Bethune, in an article for The Federalist, captures and summarizes our political zeitgeist well when he explains:

There can be no meaningful dialogue premised upon shared values if both sides only apply those values when it lets them score points. The class of moderately intelligent politically aware people are those most affected by this trend. They have become partisan ideologues.

An ideologue is at least consistent in his belief in specific policies. A partisan openly supports his gang above all else. But a partisan ideologue is worse than both. He is a Machiavellian creature: a supporter of “ends justify the means” approaches to pushing an agenda. The gang must be defended that the agenda might be defended, even when the gang violates core tenets of the agenda. Partisan ideologues are dishonest by nature. Worse still, they often cannot even tell when they are being dishonest.

Mr. Bethune is onto something here.  He understands that a politics that is more partisan than it is principled can only become pathological.  And when this happens, politics becomes a sinister force for moral decay rather than what Aristotle envisioned politics at its best to be – a guardian of societal good.  Such pathology in our politics not only points to a problem with Mr. Flynn and with dangerous intelligence leaks, it points to a problem with us.

Perhaps it is time, then, to look not only at the news, but in the mirror.

February 20, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

An Executive Order and an Immigration Debate

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When President Trump issued an executive order two Saturdays ago putting a 90-day moratorium on all foreigners entering the United States from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen and a 120-day ban on all refugee admissions, the reaction was swift and splenetic.  Protests erupted at airports across the country.  Democratic politicians decried – and, quite literally, cried at – Mr. Trump’s executive order.  And now, a federal judge in Washington has temporarily blocked enforcement of the president’s immigration stay.

Though much could be saidand has been said – from a policy standpoint about the president’s executive order and the heated debates that have ensued, it is worth it for us, as Christians, to use this moment as an opportunity step back and consider how Scripture frames the broader issues involved.  After all, long after the embers of the fight over this particular executive order have cooled, the contentious disagreements that have bubbled to the top in this debate will remain.  So here are a few things to keep in mind.

Safety and Sojourners

One of the roles of any government is to protect its people by punishing wrong and standing up for what is right.  This is part of the reason Joshua led a conquest through the land of Canaan.  This is also why the apostle Paul writes:

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.  (Romans 3:4)

The preamble to our Constitution echoes this sentiment when it explains the very need for such a document thusly:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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.

Likewise, President Trump, when his executive order was met with fiery backlash, defended it by saying that his order was about “terror and keeping our country safe.”

Safety is indeed a noble goal.  But Scripture also has much to say about welcoming and helping sojourners.  God commands the Israelites:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

One of Jesus’ most famous stories – the Parable of the Good Samaritan – has as its centerpiece a call to be kind to foreigners.  In this day, for a Jew to talk about a “good Samaritan” would have sounded oxymoronic.  The Samaritans, after all, were the ones who broke into the Jewish temple during Passover and desecrated it by scattering human bones through it.  Jews did not consider Samaritans “safe.” But in Jesus’ story, a Samaritan ends up saving the life of a Jew.

As Christians, then, we are called to be concerned both with the safety and security of our families and nation as well as with the plights of others, such as Syrian refugees, doing whatever we can to welcome and care for those who need our help.  A concern for safety and a love for sojourners are to go hand in hand.

Local and Global

Donald Trump’s short tenure as president has been marked by the theme of putting America first.  In what was perhaps the most memorable line of his inauguration address, the president declared, “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.”

Addressing concerns and challenges close to home is important.  Charity, the old saw says, begins at home.  Scripture echoes this theme when the apostle Paul encourages believers to take care of those closest to them: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).  In this same letter, Paul also wonders out loud how a pastor who “does not know how to manage his own family…can…take care of God’s church” (1 Timothy 3:5).  At issue here is a principle of subsidiarity, which encourages a focus on local affairs first.

But once again, as important as local affairs are, they are not the only concerns we should have.  President Trump’s call of “America first” must never become that of “America only.”

Rodney Stark, in his seminal work The Triumph of Christianity, notes that Christianity is unique not only because it is:

…the largest religion in the world, [but because] it also is the least regionalized.  There are only trivial numbers of Muslims in the Western Hemisphere and in Eastern Asia, but there is no region without significant numbers of Christians – even in the Arab region of North Africa.[1]

Christianity is decentralized because the faith’s founder gave His disciples a global mission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).  In the book of Acts, Christ encourages the Church to have both a local and a global vision for mission: “You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

As Christians, then, though we are to tend to the affairs of our families, communities, and country, these cannot be our sole concerns.  A world that is hurting is a world that needs our compassion, interest, and engagement.  We are called to have eyes for both that which is local and for things which are global.

Government and Church

As Christians, we must remember that the affairs of the government are not always coterminous with the mission of the Church.  Governments have a specific role to play.  They are God’s servants, on a civic level, to promote and defend that which is right and to dissuade and punish that which is wrong.  Likewise, the Church has a specific mission to carry out – to reach the world, in both word and deed, with the gospel on a personal level.  Thus, while a government may seek to protect a nation, the Church continues to go forth to reach the nations.

As Christians, then, we live in two worlds.  We are both members of Christ’s body, the Church, and citizens of an earthly nation.  In such a politically-heated environment, however, it can be tempting to exalt the partisanship of politics over the community of the congregation.  Indeed, one of the saddest aspects of our current crisis is that the millions of Syrian refugees who have been displaced from their homes and families have become, in the words of Pete Spiliakos:

…footballs in our partisan scrimmages. We insist on certain standards of hospitality to refugees, making those standards a test of “who we are,” opportunistically – when it is useful to our side.

In other words, we do not charitably welcome refugees while carefully stewarding our own national interests because it is right thing to do, we pick either the reasonable concerns of our nation or the sad plight of international refugees and turn one into a cause célèbre at the expense of the other because it is politically expedient.  This is wrong both civically and ecclesiologically because it reduces people to pawns in a game of thrones.  We are less concerned with doing justice and more concerned with wielding power.

In a debate that has become increasingly either/or, we, as Christians, have a message that is both/and.  We can both seek the safety of our nation and be hospitable to sojourners.  We can both address our local contexts and keep an eye on global crises.  We can both live as responsible citizens and work as members of Christ’s body.  One thing does not need to trump the other thing because, ultimately, over everything is Christ.  He is the One who ultimately both keeps us safe and welcomes us into His kingdom as sojourners from this corrupt age.  He is the One who both loves each of us locally and dies for the world globally.  He is the One who both rules all rulers and is the head of His body, the Church.  He is the One in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

As we seek to process today’s troubles, then, let us never forget who we are.  We are not merely useful political plodders.  We are the children of God in Christ, which means that we trust in Him, live with Him, and love like Him – both those who are near and those who are halfway across the world.

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[1] Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Christianity (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 2011), 392.

February 6, 2017 at 5:15 am 3 comments

The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump

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Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

It’s official.  As of last Friday, just after noon Eastern Standard Time, Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States.

Though our nation has a new president, old partisan divides and rancor remain.  Representative John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement, questioned the legitimacy of Mr. Trump’s election and promised to boycott his inauguration, which prompted a fiery response from the president via his Twitter account.  Project Veritas uncovered the aspirations of a radical protest organization to detonate a butyric acid bomb at the inaugural ball.  And then there were the protests just blocks away from the inauguration parade that erupted into riots.  Indeed, there is no shortage of division in our society.

At this watershed moment in American history, it is worth it to take a moment and remind ourselves how we, as Christians, are to conduct ourselves in a world full of violence, threats, political infighting, and social media rants.  So, as a new man settles into the world’s most powerful position, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Rulers come and rulers go.

Last week, a friend sent me a picture of the “Donald Trump Out of Office Countdown Wall Calendar.”  It extends to 2021.  Apparently, the calendar is not only counting down Mr. Trump’s term in office, but making a prediction about the next presidential election.  Whatever you may think of the new president, and regardless of whether or not you hope he is elected to another term, this wall calendar provides an important reminder:  Mr. Trump’s presidency will not last forever, just like all the presidencies before his did not last forever.  Indeed, it is always interesting to hear discussions of how “history is being made” every time a new president is elected and inaugurated.  We seem to know, even if only intuitively, that the present is only the present for a split second.  It quickly becomes history – a past that is no longer pressing.

If you are concerned about Mr. Trump’s presidency, then, remember:  it will not last forever.  And if you are ecstatic about Mr. Trump’s presidency, remember:  it will not last forever.   This is why the Psalmist instructs us not to put our “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” (Psalm 146:3-4).  The reign of any earthly ruler never lasts.  Every reign ends; every ruler dies – that is, except for One.

Rulers have limited authority.

No matter who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue, a contingent of the electorate is always apoplectic, convinced that whoever happens to be president at the time will surely spell the end of American democracy, if not world order, as we know it.  The reality of a president’s – or any ruler’s – authority is much less impressive.  Scripture reminds us that every human authority is under God’s authority.  The prophet Daniel declares that God “deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2:21).  The apostle Paul tells masters of slaves in the ancient world that One “who is both [your slave’s] Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him” (Ephesians 6:9).  No matter how much authority one person may have, no human authority can match God’s ultimate authority.

This should bring us peace and give us perspective.  Leaders, ultimately, do not control the world.  Instead, they simply steward, whether faithfully or poorly, whatever little corner of the world God has happened to give to them for a brief moment in time. It is never wise, therefore, to put too much faith in leaders we like or to have too much fear of leaders we don’t.  Their power is not ultimate power.

Rulers need our prayers.

When we no longer put too much faith in our leaders or have too much fear of them, this frees us up to pray for them according to Scripture’s admonition: “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).  I find it especially striking that making it a common practice to pray for our leaders – no matter who they might be – is commanded by Paul not only because of the effects these prayers have on our leaders, but because of the effects these prayers have on us!  When we pray for our leaders, Paul says, this leads us to peaceful and quiet lives even when the world around us feels troubled, and godly and holy lives even when the world around us seems to be careening into moral rot.  When we pray for others, God strengthens us.

As Donald Trump assumes the responsibilities of the President of the United States, he needs our prayers.  So keep President Trump and his family in your prayers.  And while you’re at it, keep other leaders, be they on the national, statewide, or local levels, in your prayers as well.  As a practical admonition, perhaps consider writing a note to one of your public servants asking how you can pray for them.  Your note just might be a big blessing to them and encourage them to become a better leader.  And that’s something our nation can always use.

January 23, 2017 at 5:15 am 5 comments

The Real Truth About Fake News

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Recently, I came across a New York Times feature piece bemoaning the increase of what are deemed “fake news sites.”  These are websites that purport to share what which is newsworthy, but regularly play fast and loose with the facts, usually to further a particular political agenda.  For instance, days before the election, a news story from The Denver Guardian received hundreds of thousands of shares on social media:  “FBI AGENT SUSPECTED IN HILLARY EMAIL LEAKS FOUND DEAD IN APPARENT MURDER-SUICIDE.”  It sounded salacious – and terrifying.  There was only only problem:  it was completely fabricated.  For starters, The Denver Guardian did not exist before this year.  Moreover, the article contained misspellings and demonstrably untrue details, such as a reference to the “Walkerville Police Department” in Maryland.  Walkersville does not have a police department.  It should also be noted that no other noted news outlets picked up this story, which, if true, would have caused a stir among at least certain corners of the media.  Still, this article was shared more than half a million times on Facebook alone.

Of course, fake news is nothing new.  Tabloids have been around for a long time and have managed to prove very profitable precisely because they are more concerned with feeding readers titillating stories than true ones.  Indeed, each year, Oxford Dictionaries names a “word of the year.”  This year’s word is “post-truth,” because it seems “to capture the English-speaking public’s mood and preoccupations…where people lived through divisive, populist upheavals that often seemed to prize passion above all else – including facts.”

This particular surge of fake news fury seems to have been fueled not only by political passion, but, at least in part, by what many perceive to be the bias of traditional news outlets.  For example, the Pulitzer Prize winning website politifact.com has been widely panned because, though it purports to check the truthfulness of what politicians say in public forums, it has been shown to rate what some politicians say – especially those who are more conservative – as “false” even though some of the statements in question could reasonably be considered as true.  In other words, a website that claims to be devoted to uncovering the truth has been shown to be, in some instances, clouding it.

Christians have long held the truth in high regard.  We do, after all, follow a man who not only claims to “tell the truth,” but actually to “be the truth.”  This is why it is so incumbent on us to watch what we say, what we write, what we teach, and, yes, what we post on social media.  We have not always been the best at the this.  For instance, have ever you heard it claimed that Christians divorce at the same rate as non-Christians? This may sound alarming.  But it shouldn’t be.  Because it’s not true.

One interesting trend in churches is that of fact-checking sermons.  Many folks will now Google a statistic that a pastor cites or a publicly available anecdote that a pastor shares to check whether or not it is true.  Can you imagine the damage done to the Christian witness if a pew-sitter finds that some of what a pastor is saying is not, in fact, true?

A willingness to be less than concerned with the truth can often be symptomatic of a deeper disease.  On the one hand, it can be symptomatic of an intellectual laziness.  With so many competing facts and figures floating around, sometimes it takes time to chase down what is accurate and what is not. Some people simply do not want to be bothered.  It’s easier to take the first thing you find and run with it.  But if you want to put in a little extra work to verify what you read, this terrific (and funny) article by Matt Masur offers some simple suggestions on how to fact check that Facebook post that raises your hackles.

A lack of concern with the truth can also be a symptom of a desperate desire to bolster a particular argument, even if that comes at the cost of the integrity of reality.  That is, whether it is posting a cagey news story on social media or citing a suspect statistic in a sermon, some people simply cannot resist the kind of “slam-dunk” affirmations these kinds of stories and statistics provide.  Unfortunately, once they are shown to be false, they can actually undermine the very argument they seek to make.

If we truly believe in whatever arguments we make, the truthful versions of these arguments ought to be persuasive enough.  If we don’t think they are, we don’t need a sensationalistic zinger to make our case.  We need different arguments.  After all, Jesus is quite clear that deceit comes from only one place – a place that is the antithesis of the kingdom of God.  The truth is enough.  So let’s stick with the truth, celebrate the truth, and traffic in the truth.

November 21, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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