Posts tagged ‘President’

Disagreement and Division

In his book Love Your Enemies, Arthur Brooks argues for the often-overlooked value in disagreement using a template drawn from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics:

Aristotle wrote that there were three kinds of friendship: The first and lowest form of friendship is based on utility, wherein both people derive some benefit from each other … The next level of friendship for Aristotle is based on pleasure; both people are drawn to each other’s wit, intelligence, talent, good looks, or other attractive qualities … The highest form of friendship – the “perfect friendship” in Aristotle’s telling – is based on willing the good of the other and a shared sense of what is virtuous and true.

In the first two levels of friendship, Brooks explains, we carefully avoid disagreeing, because we don’t want to lose whatever it is we’re gaining from the other person. In the third level of friendship, conversely, we heartily engage in disagreement because we want what’s best for the other person, and, if they are heading down a path that is harmful or unhealthy, we are not afraid to call it out. In other words, disagreement can be helpful because disagreement can be revealing. Disagreement can be refining.

Disagreement can be good. Division, however, is something quite different.

In his letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul practically begs his readers not to fall prey to division:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

The Corinthians were divided over a whole host of things, including which spiritual leader they liked the most:

One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:12)

For Paul’s part, he finds the notion of division dangerous, asking, “Is Christ divided” (1 Corinthians 1:13)?

This past week, the deep political divisions that have long plagued our nation reared their heads in obvious and astounding ways. When the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, tore up her copy of the State of the Union address the President had handed her at the beginning of his speech, she – even if inappropriately – perhaps unintentionally acted out physically a deeper relational reality in our nation. There are certain groups of people who cannot stand – and indeed hate – other groups of people. There are parts of us that are torn apart.

I will not pretend that I can even begin to fix the partisan hatred that ails us. But it is worth reminding ourselves that, for those of us who bear Christ’s name, even if we can’t fix our world’s divisions, we can model a holy communion.

A holy communion does not just arise when we all agree with each other. Instead, it is also forged in how we disagree with each other. Do we truly listen to what a person is saying, or do we quickly move to caricature their comments? Do we assume the best in each other rather than the worst? Do we celebrate places of agreement, even as we hash out points of disagreement? And, most importantly, is our love for someone contingent on their agreement with us, or does it flow from the grace that God has first given us? If we disagree without love, we are left only with sore division. If we disagree with love, we can retain devotion to each other even as we dispute with each other. If we disagree with love, we can keep and reach people, even as we question their opinions and positions. And this is not just a way to avoid division. This is the Church’s very mission. May we carry it out faithfully by God’s grace and under His guidance.

February 10, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Celebrating Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Each year, in keeping with a personal tradition, I like to read one of the Thanksgiving Proclamations issued by one of our presidents. This year, I turned my attention to the Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1961, issued by President John F. Kennedy:

We have, as in the past, ample reason to be thankful for the abundance of our blessings. We are grateful for the blessings of faith and health and strength and for the imperishable spiritual gifts of love and hope. We give thanks, too, for our freedom as a nation; for the strength of our arms and the faith of our friends; for the beliefs and confidence we share; for our determination to stand firmly for what we believe to be right and to resist mightily what we believe to be base; and for the heritage of liberty bequeathed by our ancestors which we are privileged to preserve for our children and our children’s children.

It is right that we should be grateful for the plenty amidst which we live; the productivity of our farms, the output of our factories, the skill of our artisans, and the ingenuity of our investors. But in the midst of our thanksgiving, let us not be unmindful of the plight of those in many parts of the world to whom hunger is no stranger and the plight of those millions more who live without the blessings of liberty and freedom.

Like many presidents before him, President Kennedy is not short on his list of things for which he and the nation can be thankful. But what I appreciate especially about President Kennedy’s proclamation is that while he calls on the nation to be thankful, he also calls on the nation to be mindful of those for whom blessings may feel as though they’re in short supply. While many Americans gather around lavish feasts, others live with hunger and under oppression.  And these problems are not just international problems. They are domestic as well. A new study published by Dig Deep and the U.S. Water Alliance found that some two million people in the U.S. lack water and basic indoor plumbing. There are blessings that flow. But there is also need that is real.

President Kennedy concludes his Thanksgiving Proclamation with this admonition:

Let us observe this day with reverence and with prayer that will rekindle in us the will and show us the way not only to preserve our blessings, but also to extend them to the four corners of the earth.

The president wanted the nation to give thanks. But he also wanted the nation to give away some of the blessings it had received. He wanted the nation to embrace the “giving” in “Thanksgiving.” Indeed, giving is how we can demonstrate our thankfulness to God. In the words of the preacher of Hebrews:

Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)

I pray that this Thanksgiving, you found many reasons to be thankful. I also pray that this holidays season, you’ll find many ways to be giving. These two things go together. For when you are thankful and giving, you provide others with the opportunity to be thankful and giving, too.

And our world could use more of both.

December 2, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Victory, Truth, and Politics

Trump Mueller

When there’s the potential for dirt on everyone’s hands, it is easy to turn that dirt into mud to sling against your political opponents.  This is what we are learning from the ongoing saga of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.  News broke last week that Mr. Mueller has interviewed some of the most powerful officials in Washington, including former FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Many are speculating that Mr. Mueller is close to asking for an interview with the president himself, and is moving beyond his initial collusion investigation and is now building a case for obstruction of justice against the Trump administration.

But it’s not just the Trump administration that is the subject of severe suspicion.  Mr. Mueller and the FBI are too.  Recently uncovered texts between two FBI agents who once worked for Mueller’s team seem to reveal a manifest “anti-Trump” bias.  Coupled with the fact that some of the texts between these two agents seem to reveal that the FBI intentionally tempered an investigation they were conducting at the time into Mr. Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, many people are becoming worried that something foul is afoot.  Calls are now coming to appoint a special counsel to investigate the special counsel.

None of this, of course, is good.  But neither is any of this particularly surprising.  Politics, after all, is a dirty business and can often evolve into nothing far short of outright combat.  It is also not surprising that, depending on your political convictions, you may find yourself rooting for one of these stories to overtake the other.  Democrats are hoping that the Mueller investigation will reveal something that will discredit and perhaps even destroy the Trump presidency while Republicans are hoping that the Mueller investigation itself will be discredited and destroyed by the anti-Trump bias that was apparently harbored by some of the FBI agents connected to it.

Sadly, in politics, there seems to be an ascendant attitude that victory over an opponent is more important than the truth about an issue.  Thus, overlooking shady dealings in the president’s administration if you’re a Republican, or ignoring serious questions of integrity in the FBI if you’re a Democrat, is simply an expedient necessity to achieve what many believe to be “the greater good” of their particular political party’s continued empowerment.

Christianity knows that real victory cannot be gained without a commitment to truth.  The two go hand in hand.  This is why, for instance, the Psalmist can implore God: “In Your majesty ride forth victoriously in the cause of truth, humility, and justice” (Psalm 45:4).  The Psalmist knows that victory from the Lord is inexorably connected to the truth of the Lord.

As Christians, our hope and consolation are that what has been written about Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil is actually true!  If it’s not, then there is no real victory.  Thus, in a culture and in a political landscape that can sometimes love victory more than truth, let’s love both.  Otherwise, we just might wind up with neither.

And that would be a tragedy.

January 29, 2018 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Persons, Nations, and Immigration

President Trump Meets With Bipartisan Group Of Senators On Immigration

What a week it has been in politics.  Immigration took center stage this past week with President Trump first holding a meeting with both Republicans and Democrats in front of the cameras, discussing everything from the DACA to a border wall to chain migration to comprehensive immigration reform.  This televised meeting, however, was quickly eclipsed by some comments the president allegedly made behind closed doors, where he expressed, supposedly in vulgar terms, dismay at accepting immigrants from places like Haiti and Africa and wondered out loud why the U.S. was not more interested in encouraging emigration from places like Norway.  The president has since denied that he made the disparaging remarks attributed to him, tweeting:

The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made – a big setback for DACA!

– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2018

Whatever the president’s actual remarks were, his alleged remarks, predictably, ignited a firestorm of a debate over how we should view other countries and the peoples from those countries.  Some found the president’s alleged remarks to be simply a realistic diagnosis of the awful living conditions that plague third-world countries.  Others decried his remarks as racist.  Is there any way forward?

The famed poet Dorothy Sayers once wrote:

What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person.  A certain amount of classification is, of course, necessary for practical purposes … What is unreasonable is to assume that all one’s tastes and preferences have to be conditioned by the class to which one belongs.[1]

In the midst of a white-hot debate over immigration, Sayers’ insight is a good one for us to keep in mind.  The problem with making or defending disparaging remarks concerning whole countries with regard to immigration is that whole countries do not immigrate.  Individual persons do.  And individuals ought to be treated as unique, precious, and worthy of our consideration and compassion.

But, as Sayers also notes, this does not mean that we should dismiss any and every classification.  For instance, the Scriptures themselves use the classifications of “image” and “child.”  “Image” is a classification that applies to creation.  Every person, Scripture says, is created in God’s image.  “Child” is a classification that applies specifically to redemption.  When one believes in Christ, they are adopted as God’s child.  And though these two classifications are certainly not comprehensive, they can be instructive in that they remind us that the classifications we use, first, should be generous.  Disparaging classifications are generally not helpful or productive.

Scripture cautions us against both an arrogant individualism and a dismissive collectivism.  It is important for us to remember that we are not solely individuals who have only ourselves to thank for who we are.  We are who we are due in large part to our cultural backgrounds, our experiences with others, and the help we receive from others, among many other factors.  All of these things collectively shape us.  At the same time, we are still individuals, specially and preciously created and redeemed, one at a time, by God, and we are always more than the sum total of our cultural backgrounds, our experiences with others, and the help we receive from others.  This is why, in Christ, we come to realize that so many of the classifications we once used to define ourselves, and that others use to define us, are not ultimate or unabridged.  As the apostle Paul writes:

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:26-28)

In the middle of a debate over what does and does not constitute appropriate classifications for nations, let us never forget who we are as persons.  And, by God’s grace, let us treat each other accordingly.

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[1] Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 24-25.

January 15, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Charlie Gard and the Tenacity of Hope

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 5.49.30 PM

Credit:  Independent

There is a hardly a more compelling example of the ravages of disease warring against the hope for life than that of Charlie Gard.  Charlie is almost a year old now, born last August in the U.K.  Shortly after his birth, it was discovered that he had a rare genetic condition known as mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, which affects vital internal organs such as, as in Charlie’s case, the kidneys and brain.  At present, Charlie is being kept alive by a ventilator, but the hospital at which Charlie is staying asked a judge back in March to rule that life support should be discontinued, which the judge ruled in support of in April.  Charlie’s parents appealed the ruling, but did not get it overturned.  Both President Trump and Pope Francis have signaled their support for Charlie, with the pope even offering Charlie a spot at the Vatican pediatric hospital for continuing treatment.  Charlie’s parents have asked to have their son transferred to the U.S. for an experimental treatment, which has had some limited success, but the U.K. hospital has refused to do so, citing legal hurdles.

The issues in this dispute are legion.  Should a judge have the ability to trump parents’ wishes with regard to their own child, provided that the parents are seeking the genuine welfare and, in this case, the continued life, of their son?  Are Charlie’s parents seeking the correct course of action, considering their son is not able to live, at least at this point, apart from extraordinary and continuous medical intervention?  And what are the hopes for some sort of improvement or change in Charlie’s condition if he is moved elsewhere to receive treatment?

It is the last of these questions that is most captivating to me because it is the question that sits in the background of the first two questions.  The U.K. believes there is no real hope for Charlie’s recovery.  Charlie’s parents believe there is enough hope for, at minimum, some sort of improvement that they want to continue his life support and investigate an experimental treatment.  This battle royal, then, boils down to hope.

Over the course of my ministry, I have known more than one person who was terminally ill and, when presented with an option for an experimental treatment, declined and instead chose to go into hospice because they did not see any real hope for healing, even with the treatment.  This does not mean, however, that these people did not have any hope.  Their hope was simply located in a different place – not in a treatment, but in a Lord who can call even the dead to life.  Whether it is a temporary stay on death by means of a medical treatment, or an eternal resurrection on the Last Day by means of a trumpet call and a returning Christ, hope for life, it seems, will not be squelched.

Theologically, the irrepressibility of hope for life makes sense because, in the beginning, death was not part of God’s plan.  Contrary to Yoda, death is not a natural part of life – and we know it, even if only intuitively.  Death, Scripture says, is an enemy to be defeated.  And though Charlie’s parents cannot conquer death like Christ, they do seem voraciously intent on confronting death through the very best that medicine has to offer their son.

It does unsettle me that a judge would arrogate to himself the prerogative of telling two parents whether or not their son can receive a potentially life-saving treatment.  I will confess that, according to the information at hand, the hospital is probably correct in its estimation of Charlie’s recovery prospects.  But hope has a funny way of looking beyond the information at hand to divine intervention.  And that is a hope that is worth holding on to.  Indeed, as Christians, we know that is the hope Jesus died to give and rose to secure.  I hope the hospital and the British legal system can respect that hope.

July 10, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

An Executive Order and an Immigration Debate

trump-executive-order

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

inauguration

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

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

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

A Pastoral Response to Mormonism in the Public and Political Square

With the election cycle kicking into full gear, politicians, pastors, and pundits are beginning to offer endorsements with regard to who they would like to see elected President of the United States.  At the Values Voter Summit, in an endorsement for Rick Perry, a Republican candidate for president, Robert Jeffress, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, asked, “Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or do we want a candidate who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?”[1]  Following his remarks, Pastor Jeffress was asked to clarify his comments and explain specifically what he thought of Rick Perry over and against another frontrunner candidate, Mitt Romney, to whom he seemed to allude when he spoke of a “good, moral person.”  The pastor replied, “Rick Perry’s a Christian.  He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.  Mitt Romney’s a good, moral person, but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity.  It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”[2]  These remarks sparked a firestorm, with many voters and reporters alike indignant that the pastor would designate Mormonism as a “cult.”

Because of the attention and ire that Pastor Jeffress’ comments have drawn, we have received many questions concerning the Mormon Church[3] and its relationship to mainstream Christianity.  In light of these questions, we thought it would be appropriate to briefly address the teachings of Mormonism theologically, the status of Mormonism religiously, and the duty Christians have as voting citizens vocationally.  Here is a broad overview of what is to follow.

First, we will discuss how Mormonism cannot be considered a part of historic, orthodox Christianity.  Its teachings concerning the Trinity, the nature of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are far removed from biblical and historical Christian teaching.  Mormonism does not confess the Trinity nor does it believe that a person is saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone.  Rather, Mormons believe they are saved by grace and their works.

Next, we will tackle the question du jour, “Is Mormonism a cult?”  Theologically, we can say that Mormonism is a cult, for it claims new, advanced, divine revelation in addition to the Bible. Psychologically and sociologically, the validity of calling Mormonism a cult becomes less clear.  A cult, as the word is used in its secular sense, denotes a body which is explicitly psychologically and sociologically subversive.  Mormonism does not necessarily bear this hallmark of a cult.  Thus, when we call Mormonism a “cult,” it is important that we define the term.

Finally, we will ask the question, “May Christians vote for a candidate who is not a Christian?”  In this section, we will discuss how because those in political offices rule in the kingdom of the world and not in the Kingdom of God, they can be competent to rule even if they are not Christian.  Christians are free to pick the most competent candidate, even if he is not a Christian candidate, for political office.

With this overview, we now move to discuss each of the above points in more depth.

The Teachings of Mormonism

First, we turn to the teachings of Mormonism from a theological perspective.  As stated previously, theologically, we must understand that Mormonism cannot be considered a part of historic, orthodox Christianity.  Indeed, Mormonism explicitly rejects claims that it is part of the Christian tradition.  Mormonism teaches that before May 15, 1829, there was no true Church on earth.  It was on this day that John the Baptist allegedly visited Joseph Smith and conferred upon him and his friend, Oliver Cowdery, the Aaronic priesthood.  Before this prophetic encounter with John the Baptist, Mormons claim, “There was no one living in mortality who held the keys to this Priesthood.”[4]  In other words, before this time, Mormons teach that no one had the priestly pedigree to be a part of true Christianity.  It had been completely lost from the days of the apostles.  Thus, according to their own statements, Mormons claim to be the restoration and repristination of Christianity and not a part of the history or orthodoxy of the Church over the past two thousand years.  Therefore, we should take Mormons at their word and not call them “Christians” in any historic or orthodox sense.

A brief survey of Mormon beliefs reveals that Mormons are indeed far removed from traditional and foundational Christian doctrines.

The Trinity

To begin with, Mormons reject the doctrine of the Trinity which states that there is one God, consisting of three co-equal and co-eternal persons:  “Latter-Day Saints reject the doctrines of the Trinity as taught by most Christian churches today.”[5]  Mormons also have beliefs about the individual persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that are at wide variance with traditional Christianity.  For instance, they teach, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.”[6]  It should be noted that this flatly contradicts the Scriptural witness that “God is spirit” (John 4:24)[7] and “a spirit does not have flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39).  Moreover, Mormons teach that God was once a man:  “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!”[8]  This, of course, denies the immutability and the eternality of God (cf. Malachi 3:6, Psalm 90:2).

Christology

As for Christ, Mormonism teaches that Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer.  Mormons espouse that when the world was in need of a Savior, both Jesus and Satan presented their cases before the Father as to who would make the better Redeemer.  Then, “after hearing both sons speak, Heavenly Father said, ‘I will send the first.’ Jesus Christ was chosen and ordained to be our Savior.”[9]  Certainly this fanciful meeting between the Father, Son, and Satan is far outside the pale of biblical Christianity.  Jesus is consistently referred to as God’s “only Son” (John 1:14, 3:16, 18, 1 John 4:9) and, as such, was not chosen to be the Savior over any other Messianic contenders, especially Satan.  Instead, God planned our salvation in Christ from “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).  Salvation in Christ was God’s original and eternal plan.

Salvation

With such a skewed Trinitarian theology and Christology, it is no surprise that the Mormon gospel of salvation is really no gospel at all.  For Mormons, salvation is two-fold.  First, salvation is a person’s personal progression to divinity.  That is, Mormons believe humans can become gods.  Joseph Smith explains:  “Here, then, is eternal life – to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves…To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of God, and ascend the throne of eternal power.”[10]  This is not only an untrue statement, but resonates all the way back to the Garden of Eden where Satan tempted Adam and Eve to believe they could usurp God’s position and prerogative.  This is why he says to Adam and Eve, when he is trying to entice them to eat God’s forbidden fruit, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).  Mormons jettison a fundamental distinction of Christian theology:  the distinction between the created and the Creator.  They imagine that creatures can become like the Creator.  This is flatly false.

Second, Mormons teach that salvation is ultimately a product of a person’s moral progression.  Though Mormons believe that humans are saved by grace, they do not believe they are saved by grace alone.  A famous and oft-quoted passage from the Book of Mormon makes this clear enough:  “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”[11]  Contrast this with the apostle Paul’s famous words concerning God’s grace: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this isnot your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Jesus’ work on the cross for our salvation is complete.  There is no work we can do to contribute to our salvation.

This is only a small sampling of the false teachings promulgated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Other teachings, as well as the historical and moral veracity of Mormonism’s sacred writings, are highly suspect as well.[12]  Therefore, whatever one may believe about Mormonism’s moral value or theological worth, it cannot be said that Mormonism is “Christian” in any traditional sense of the term.  Albert Mohler summarizes the problem with Mormon theology well:

Mormonism borrows Christian themes, personalities, and narratives. Nevertheless, it rejects what orthodox Christianity affirms and it affirms what orthodox Christianity rejects. It is not orthodox Christianity in a new form or another branch of the Christian tradition. By its own teachings and claims, it rejects any claim of continuity with orthodox Christianity. Insofar as an individual Mormon holds to the teachings of the Latter-Day Saints, he or she repudiates biblical Christianity.[13]

In short, Mormonism is not Christianity, nor is it a branch or part of Christianity.  If you’d like to learn more about Mormonism and its theological teachings, you can find a wealth of resources at http://www.evidenceministries.org.[14]

The Status of Mormonism

Having addressed the teachings of Mormonism theologically, we now move to discuss the status of Mormonism religiously.  Pastor Jeffress called the religion a “cult.”  Is it?

In its original context, the word “cult” did not carry with it the negative connotations it has today.  The word comes from the Latin cultus, originally describing merely the worship of a deity.  Today, however, this word carries with it a wide variety of definitions, many of them sounding sinister.  For the sake of brevity, we will examine two definitions of this word – the first being theological in nature and the second being psychological and sociological in nature – and evaluate the status of Mormonism as a cult accordingly.

Theologically, a good definition of a “cult” can be found in the book, The Future of Religion:  Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation.  In this work, sociologists Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge define a “cult” thusly:  “The cult is something new vis-à-vis the other religious bodies of the society…The cult adds to that culture a new revelation or insight justifying the claim that it is different, new, ‘more advanced.’”[15]  According to this definition, Mormonism clearly qualifies as a cult.  It is a new revelation and religion which objects to the historic, orthodox Christian position as something corrupt and apostate.  Indeed, the very byline of The Book of Mormon, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” is a claim of additional, peculiar, and advanced revelation.  In this sense, then, Pastor Jeffress is correct.  Mormonism is considered to be a cult by most major evangelical denominations and is often called a cult within our own church body, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.[16]

Psychologically and sociologically, we can use a definition of a “cult” from Louis Joylon West:

A cult is a group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g. isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it, etc.) designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders.[17]

According to West, a cult is that which is explicitly psychologically and sociologically subversive.   It brings to mind people such as Jim Jones and David Koresh and their movements rather than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.[18] Much of the outrage in the media over Pastor Jeffress’ words calling Mormonism a cult would seem to stem from defining the word “cult” psychologically and sociologically rather than theologically.

As Christians, who are called to think theologically about issues such as this, we can indeed call Mormonism a “cult” because of its claim to additional revelation apart from and outside of Holy Scripture which results in the maligning of Christian theology.  This designation, however, does not necessarily imply that Mormonism has all the psychological and sociological hallmarks of a cult.  A Christian’s designation of Mormonism as a cult is primarily a theological rather than a psychological and sociological one.

Our Duty as Christians

Lastly, we move to consider how we, as Christian citizens, can respond to this controversy vocationally.  The word “vocation” is from the Latin vocatio and means “calling.”  The doctrine of vocation states that all Christians have been called by God to serve in different stations in life – whether that be the station of an employee, an employer, a husband, a wife, a mother, a father, a child, a volunteer, etc.[19]  One of the vocations, or callings, God has given to Christians is that of “citizen.”  On the one hand, we are citizens of God’s Kingdom by faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:19).  On the other hand, we are also citizens, either by birth or by naturalization, of a particular country.  This earthly vocation of citizen, in turn, comes with both duties (e.g., Luke 20:21-25) and privileges (e.g., Acts 22:25) as determined by governing authorities which are themselves instituted by God.[20]  One of the duties and privileges United States citizens carry is that of voting for the country’s president.  As Christians, the question arises: “How can I vote in a way that is faithful to God while also seeking to elect a person who will do the best job leading the country?”

It must be noted that there is no easy – or singular – answer to this question.  Nevertheless, there are some guiding principles which can help us cast an informed vote.

First, it is important to understand that, while we, as Christians, live in two kingdoms – the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man – the leaders we elect rule over only one kingdom – the kingdom of man.  Thus, our primary concern should be with their competence to lead in this kingdom.  This means that when we vote, we should consider a candidate’s familiarity with our Constitution and laws and his ability to navigate the intricacies of our legislative process.  If he is inept in either of these areas, this should give us pause.  A public official’s inability to operate effectively inside our nation’s governmental system can spell disaster for our public policy and welfare, for the official will be unable to execute the demands of his office.  Competence is key.

Second, we must also understand that some of the spiritual concerns of the Kingdom of God are part of the natural, moral law which God has placed in this world and thus pertain to the political and public policy making of the kingdom of man.[21]  Issues such as abortion, which pertains to the natural, moral duty we have to uphold human life (cf. Exodus 20:13),[22] homosexuality, which goes against the natural design of creation (cf. Romans 1:26-27), and care for those who cannot care for themselves, to which we are naturally inclined despite our depravity (cf. Matthew 7:9-11), ought to be taken into consideration as we decide for whom we will vote.  If a candidate runs a platform contrary to natural, moral law, this too should give us pause, for this candidate can potentially do harm to our nation’s citizens.

With these two criteria in mind, then, we have a Christian duty to vote for candidates who, on the one hand, are capable and competent to rule in the kingdom of man, for this is what they are called to do, while, on the other hand, are at the same time aligned with those concerns of the natural, moral law of God which pertain to the political and public policy making in the kingdom of man.

All of this is to say that a candidate does not have to be Christian to be a suitable candidate for public office, though we can certainly be thankful that there are Christians in public and political offices. Ultimately, Luther would advise us to vote for a competent candidate, even if he is not personally moral or Christian:

The reasonable question has been put whether it is better to have a good but imprudent ruler…or a prudent but personally bad one.  Moses here certainly calls for both [ref. Deuteronomy 1:13-16]: a good and prudent ruler.  However, if both qualifications cannot be had, a prudent ruler who is not personally good is better than a good one who is not prudent, because a good one rules nothing but is only ruled – and only by the worst of people.  Even though a prudent but personally bad ruler may harm the good people, he nevertheless rules the evil ones at the same time; and this is more necessary and proper for the world, since the world is nothing but a mass of evil people.[23]

Because a politician rules in the kingdom of man, his competence to do so should be the primary criterion used in discerning his fitness for office.  If he is a Christian, great!  If not, it is better to have a competent ruler who is not a Christian than an incompetent ruler who is a Christian.

Finally, Christians, out of theological conviction and consecrated consciences, can and do vote for different candidates.  Because we live in a sinful and fallen world and, as such, we vote for sinful and fallen candidates, Christians come to differing conclusions as to which candidate would best serve in a particular public office.  Christians’ consciences need not be unduly bound in such decisions.  The pastors of Concordia believe that, given the choice between two candidates of equal competence, if one is a Christian and the other is not, wisdom instructs us to vote for the Christian candidate because he will not only serve his country skillfully as a politician, but faithfully as a Christian as he seeks God’s guidance.  This guidance will make his leadership in public office all the more effective.

Pastor Jeffress has endorsed Rick Perry for President of the United States.  As a citizen, he is certainly free to make this endorsement.  As a pastor, however, he must be careful speaking on behalf of a political candidate in a public forum such as the Values Voter Summit.  For his primary vocation as a pastor is the faithful stewardship of the gospel.  Anything that jeopardizes this stewardship is to be rejected.  The Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod explains: “The church is a precious institution for us, which dare not be jeopardized by immersion in secular politics.”[24]  We, as Christian citizens of this country, are also free to endorse and vote for our preferred candidates.  However, our preferred candidates need not be the same as Pastor Jeffress’.  Each Christian can come to his own conclusions concerning for whom he will vote.

As citizens of this country, we are free to vote for whomever we want.  As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we are free to vote in accordance with our consecrated consciences.  Thank God for both freedoms.


[1] Robert Jeffress at the Values Voter Summit, October 7, 2011, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700186158/Video-of-Pastor-Robert-Jeffress-at-Values-Voters-Summit.html.

[2] Associated Press, “Perry Backer: Romney in a ‘Cult,’ Not a Christian,” http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/10/07/perry-backer-romney-in-cult-not-christian/.

[3] “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” is the official and legal name of what is colloquially called “the Mormon Church.”  Both names are used interchangeably throughout this statement.

[4] Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1922) 68.

[5] Daniel Peterson and Stephen Ricks, “Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity” (March 1988) http://lds.org/ensign/1988/03/comparing-lds-beliefs-with-first-century-christianity?lang=eng.

[6] Doctrine and Covenants, 130.22, http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/130?lang=eng.

[7] Scriptural citations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2001).

[8] Achieving a Celestial Marriage: Student Manual (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1992) 129.

[9] Gospel Principles, Chapter 3, http://lds.org/library/display/0,4945,11-1-13-6,00.html.

[10] Joseph Smith cited in R. Philip Roberts, Mormonism Unmasked (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1998) 55.

[11] The Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1981) 2 Nephi 25:23.

[12] For instance, The Book of Mormon makes an inaccurate historical claim that Jesus was born in Jerusalem (Alma 7:10).  He was born in Bethlehem.  The Book of Mormon becomes morally suspect when one realizes that Joseph Smith plagiarized large portions of the King James Version of the Bible and inserted them wholesale into his work (e.g., compare Moroni 10 with 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, 2 Nephi 14 with Isaiah 4, and 2 Nephi 12 with Isaiah 2).  Moreover, Joseph Smith claimed to have translated The Pearl of Great Price, part of the Mormon canon of scriptures, from Egyptian scrolls which he explained, “Contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc.” (History of the Church 2:236).  Egyptologists have since found that these papyri are nothing more than standard Egyptian funereal documents, speaking of Egyptian gods and goddesses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Abraham).  Richard John Neuhaus says of Mormonism, “There is…the surpassingly awkward fact that not a single person, place, or event that is unique to the Book of Mormon has ever been proven to exist. Outside the fanum of true believers, these tales cannot help but appear to be the product of fantasy and fabrication” (http://www.irr.org/mit/neuhaus.html).

[13] Albert Mohler, “Mormonism, Democracy, and the Urgent Need for Evangelical Thinking” (October 10, 2011) http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/10/10/mormonism-democracy-and-the-urgent-need-for-evangelical-thinking/.

[14] If you would like to know more about the religious worldview of the Mormon Church, click the third slide on the Evidence Ministries home page. This article was written by the Mormon Church and appears in one of their official teaching manuals. In the opinion of Evidence Ministries, it is the best thing a Christian can read in order to understand the clearly non-Christian nature of Mormonism.

[15] Rodney Stark & William Sims Bainbridge, The Future of Religion:  Secularization, Revival, and Cult Formation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985) 25-26.  Surprisingly, the authors later assert that Mormonism is not a cult, even though they admit that, according their own definition, Mormonism qualifies to be classified as such: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints presents problems of classification.  Clearly it is not just another protestant sect….The Mormon Church has added so much novel doctrine to the Christian-Judaic tradition that it represents a new religious tradition in its own right, and there can be no doubt that this tradition is deviant….Clearly, Mormonism fits our definition of a cult.  However, because the Mormons succeeded in building their Zion in the empty deserts of the West, most Mormons do not experience life as members of a religious minority.  In Utah, Mormonism is the dominant religious tradition, and this feeling sustains Mormons in nearby states as well.  For this reason…we classified schismatic Mormon groups in Utah as sects, coding such groups as cults only if they developed outside of Utah” (245).  Stark and Bainbridge do not classify Mormonism as a cult simply because of the number of Mormons in some western parts of the country.

[16] For instance, Edgar P. Kaiser’s short book, How To Respond to the Latter-Day Saints, is filed under “Cults” in Concordia Publishing House’s cataloging system.

[17] L.J. West & M.D. Langone, “Cultism: A conference for scholars and policy makers. Summary of proceedings of the Wingspread conference on cultism, 9-11 September” (Weston: American Family Foundation, 1985).

[18] It should be noted that Joseph Smith was known to be quite coercive, threatening damnation on young ladies so that he could procure them as his wives (http://www.irr.org/mit/neuhaus.html).  In this sense, Mormonism, during its formative stage, displayed some cult-like tendencies as they are defined above.

[19] For more on vocation, see Gene Veith, God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002).

[20] Lutherans have always affirmed a legitimate role for government in the kingdom of this world.  Accordingly, we ought to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2).  For a good discussion on the government’s role in the Christian’s life, see Render Unto Caesar…A Lutheran View of Church and State, A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (September 1995) http://www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=465.

[21] Whether or not a person is a Christian, the Bible reminds us that God has instilled in each human being a natural, moral compass:  “For when Gentiles [i.e., pagans], who do not have the law [of God], by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law.  They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:14-15).  These verses remind us that there are basic moral strictures incumbent on every human being whether or not they are Christians.

[22] Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder,” is one of the Ten Commandments.  Lutherans have classically understood the Ten Commandments to be an expression of natural, moral law.  “The Ten Commandments had spread over the whole world not only before Moses but even before Abraham and all the patriarchs” (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 47, J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, eds. [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999] 89).   “In some way human reason naturally understands the [Ten Commandments] (for it has the same judgment divinely written in the mind)” (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Paul McCain et al, eds. [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005] Ap IV 7).

[23] Martin Luther, What Luther Says, Ewald Plass, ed. (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1959) 582.

[24] Render Unto Caesar…A Lutheran View of Church and State, 91.

October 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm Leave a comment


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