Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Au Contraire, Matt Walsh: Decent People Do Support Planned Parenthood

Even though Matt Walsh passes on a reasonable definition of decent – “morally upright and respectable” – I have to dissent from his main point that If You Still Support Planned Parenthood, You Are Simply Not a Decent Person.

The problem, of course, is deciding what “decent” means, which leads us to determining what “morally upright” means.

As far as I can tell, the first thing most people think about decent people is that they write their grandparents on their birthdays, teach their kids to say please and thank you, pick up litter, salute the flag, do their jobs, mow their lawns and weed their gardens, vote, are hospitable, help neightbors in need, go to PTA meetings, more or less obey the speed limits, quarantine scatalogical language and sounds, cheer at patriotic events, respect and sometimes join the police and military, pay their bills on time, and the list (which is in no particular order) goes on.

If you say someone is not decent, they will go to that list and give proof that they do too fit the definition. I have had conversations that have followed just that path.

“There’s more to morality than just mowing your lawn,” I hear you say. Like what? “Like, like … respect for life, for Christ’s sake! When a Planned Parenthood worker pulls the brain out of a baby who is moving his limbs, that’s murder! Can’t you see it?”

Actually, yes, I can see it. But decent people don’t see it that way. I know, because I’ve talked to them. I can’t see their logic, so I won’t try to defend it, but I know they see it that way because they tell me they do, and they are indignant that I would impugn their basic human decency.

And not only do they dissect live babies, they blow them to bits and smash them in rubble with rocket-propelled grenades or Hellfire missles or other bombs. They burn their lungs with white phosphorus or their bodies with napalm. They maim them before they’re conceived with depleted uranium and Agent Orange. Or they just shoot them – oops!

For me to question their moral uprightness in these matters is to question their basic human decency. They are, after all, simply decent people trying to make the world a better place.

(I’m reminded of the unofficial motto of the prisoners at the prison in The Shawshank Redemption: “We’re all innocent here.”)

So I will relegate decency to the morgue for victims of what C. S. Lewis called “verbicide” and try to find another word for what I used to call “basic human decency”: leaving people and their property alone and telling the truth.

The kind of people who would surrender their “products of conception” to Planned Parenthood are not my people. When they do raise children, those children will stand for everything I stand against (and would want my descendants to stand against) – and worse, they will stand against everything I stand for – so the fewer of them there are, the better.

I can’t stop the Shiites and Sunnis from killing each other, nor can I stop the communists and their enemy du jour from killing each other, but every time they do, it’s one less enemy for me. Same for the baby-killer crowd, liberal and conservative.

I consider this small compensation for being forced to pay for the killing, but of course, both those who kill babies in the eastern hemisphere and those who kill them here in the United States consider my desire simply not to have to pay for those killings an assault on their decency.

Let me add, of course, that if they’d like to hear my ideas for how they can get what they really want out of life, I’m happy to tell them how to do it. One of the the first steps involves not killing babies. But once again, decent people kill babies. If you don’t believe me, just ask them.

Matt, maybe decency isn’t such a good thing.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Truck, the Motorboat, and the Helicopter

The idea for this message has been simmering in my brain for weeks. We know a young woman who has become a single mother. She seems to be trying to negotiate the way between her desire for her daughter to grow up in a home with both parents and her desire to be a Christian coming back from serious sin and obey the commandment not to marry a nonbeliever.

We were discussing this situation weeks ago, and at some point in the conversation she said that one problem she has bringing her boyfriend (for lack of a better term) to church or to hang with Christian people is that he does not want to hang around with people who think he's going to hell.

So I've been wondering since then how I would speak as a Christian to him if I ever had the chance. Fast forward to last week when my wife and I were returning from a missions trip with our church. We stopped on the way home to visit a friend and went to church with her. I thought his sermon applied to my situation so well I stole his main takeaway for today.

This is what he said: our goal is reconciliation not alienation; our purpose in interacting with nonbelievers is invitation not condemnation; we get people to accept the invitation by demonstration not accusation.

I need to set this up by making a parable out of a joke that was making the rounds a few years ago. It’s not theologically correct. It’s only meant to put a picture in your mind that I can refer to as I go along.

A guy is minding his own business fixing his car in his garage on a rainy day. After a while, another guy drives up in one of those monster pickup trucks, rolls down his window, and yells, “Hey! There’s going to be a huge flood. The bridges are out, but I can make it out with this truck. There’s room for you, but you can’t bring anything else. Come on!”

The guy in the garage smiles and says, “Thank you anyway, but God will get me through this.” After trying unsuccessfully a few more times to get the guy into the truck, the other guy drives off.

After a while the water level rises and water starts coming into the house, so the guy gets all his valuables up as high as he can. After a while he hears a motor boat outside. The guy in the boat says, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! It’s still raining upstream from here. There’s only room for you, but come on, get in!”

The guy in the house smiles and says, “Thank you anyway, but God will get me through this.” After trying unsuccessfully a few more times to get the guy into the boat, the other guy motors off.

After a while there’s no more room in the house, so the guy climbs up on his roof. As the water just gets to the top of the roof, a helicopter appears. The guy in the helicopter says, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! It’s still raining upstream from here. There’s only room for you, but come on, get in!”

The guy on the house smiles and says, “Thank you anyway, but God will get me through this.” After trying unsuccessfully a few more times to get the guy into the helicopter, the other guy flies off.

After a while, the water level is so high the guy can’t hang on to the house, and he floats off and drowns. When he comes face to face with God, he says, “How come you didn’t get me out of that flood?”

God replies, “I sent you a truck, a boat, and a helicopter. What were you expecting?”

The gospel is good news, but only to those who understand the bad news. The flood that is coming is God’s final judgment. We will all fail that judgment, just as there was no way that man could stay in his house, but God also sends us a way out of the flood. We’ll have to leave everything behind, but we will escape the judgment we deserve.

If you don’t believe it’s raining upstream, let me remind you of the commands we fail to obey, the charges we’re guilty of.

Deuteronomy 6:5: “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” This is what Jesus called the most important commandment, yet none of us loves God this way.

Exodus 20:3-17:

“Do not worship any other gods besides me. Do not make idols of any kind.” This means we are always to put God first – even before ourselves – in everything we do.

“Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God.” This means we are always to say about God only what is true about him and to attach his name only to those things of which he approves.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Self-explanatory, and we all go against the plain meaning of it.)

Honor your father and mother. This means we are always to show proper gratitude to those who have done good things for us.

Do not murder. Do not steal. This means we are always to do all we can for the well-being of others, to protect their health and their possessions.

Do not commit adultery. This means we are always to tell the truth to other people and always do what we say we will do.

Do not testify falsely against your neighbor. This means we are always to protect our neighbors' reputations.

Do not covet … anything … your neighbor owns. This means we are always to put down even the thought of harming our neigbors.

We fail in every one of these points. As a result, we are all alienated from God. For us to say we will stand before God on our own merits on judgment day is to be just as presumptuous as the guy in the story who said that God would get him out of the flood.

Don't forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders by birth. You were called "the uncircumcised ones" by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts.

(This is not to say Jews are bad people. The writer of this passage, don’t forget, was a Jew. It is simply to say that circumcision only affects the body.)

In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from God's people, Israel, and you did not know the promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. (Eph 2:10-22)

Notice those words: “without God.”

We are also alienated from each other. We see in the Bible that Cain killed Abel, Pharaoh and Abimelek abducted Abraham's wife, Esau threatened to kill his brother Jacob, Laban treated his daughters as pawns and almost killed Jacob, and that's in just the first half or so of Genesis! Outside the Bible we all know of families that don't get along; we’ve recently seen riots in our own cities, and of course there are always wars between nations.

God hates alienation. He does not want to be alienated from us, nor does he want us to be alienated from our neighbors. The question is, do we prefer to be alienated, or do we want to be reconciled to God and our neighbors?

To prefer alienation is to tell the guy with the truck “I don't need you.” And to tell the guy with the truck “I don't need you” – to refuse the offer of salvation in the gospel – is to prefer to be alienated from God and our neighbors to being reconciled to them. The choice is yours – make a good one.

Maybe you're not the guy with the house. Maybe you realized long ago that the flood is coming and you left everything behind and got in the truck. Or you fought it as long as you could and realized you had already lost enough that you decided staying around wasn't worth it and got in the boat. Or you were like the thief on the cross next to Jesus: you had nothing left to give up and so you got into the helicopter. You understand that it was Jesus' blood shed on the cross that paid for that truck or boat or helicopter.

No matter when you left your house and were rescued, you're now safe from the flood, but the flood is still coming, and there are still other people in its path. And the Lord who rescued you has given you a job: to get them into your truck, or your boat, or your helicopter.

Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. (Mt 28:19-20)

What's the best way to get them to come aboard?

Our tendency – well, OK, my tendency – is to go after people and tell them what bad people they are. That's easy to do because everyone is a rebel against God, and our rebellion against God hurts other people and we even hurt ourselves with it. And there is a time to do it. The guy with the truck does have to tell the guy at the house that the level of the water will be higher than the roof of the house. The problem with that is that he won't be telling the homeowner anything he doesn't already know.

The truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God. (Rom 1:19-24)

Now we all know how the guys with the truck and the boat and helicopter would talk to the homeowner. They can’t just harangue the guy and make him feel like an idiot. They need to invite him. They need to let him know he’s welcome to join them. Here how Jesus tells people to get out of the flood:

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light. (Matt 11:28-30)

Not only does Jesus welcome us to take shelter, he invites us to become part of what he’s doing in the world. When he invites us to take his yoke upon us. he's telling us he's going to give us work to do, but it will be work that God has designed especially for us. We don't have to do work that he has designed for others to do, but we expects us to do all the work he has assigned us, and he will be with us as we do it until the job is finished.

I didn't read all of the job description I read earlier. Here’s the rest:

Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matt 28:20)

And, of course, here’s the rationale for the church’s whole enterprise:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. (John 3:16-17)

Our job is not to condemn the world, but to invite the world to come to Jesus. Jesus paid the price of our reconciliation to God on the cross, and our job is to invite people to be reconciled to God.

Today the church has an image problem. As we've seen in the recent news cycles about gay marriage and Planned Parenthood, people outside the church tend to think of Christians as haters. We supposedly hate gays and lesbians and transsexuals and abortionists and women who get abortions. I might add that Middle East Muslims think we hate them too, seeing that in the last decade or so hundreds of thousands of them have died in the war we started and at least 16 million of them have been run out of their homes. If the invitation sounds like an invitation, one can understandably wonder what the invitation is an invitation to.

I mentioned that my wife and I went on a mission trip with our church. It was to the Cherokee Indian land in North Carolina. The expropriation of their land by Americans is still a sore point. Their language and culture were destroyed to a great degree by the American practice of taking Indian children to boarding schools and beating them if they spoke Cherokee or engaged in activities that looked too “Indian.” The motto of those schools was “Kill the Indian and save the man.”

Many Christian missionaries made sure nothing Cherokee – language, music, or otherwise – came into the Christian church. As I explain in detail here, many Cherokee consider the Christian church simply an extension of the American invasion of their land.

In all these cases I've mentioned, Christians have attempted to use power – either raw military power or the velvet glove over the iron fist of the vote – to get their way. How different this is from at least one branch of the early church:

Don't ever forget those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail. When all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew you had better things waiting for you in eternity. (Heb 10:32-34)

The Bible does say there is a time for war as well as a time for peace, a time to kill as well as a time to heal, but all actions have consequences, and the consequences of actions Christians have taken recently and not so recently give me reason to question the wisdom of those actions.

I urge you in your online time to visit IcommitToPray.com and read the stories of people who are demonstrating what it means to call people to Jesus. Here's one of many stories on the main page today.

Hindu radicals in India beat Pastor Augustine Jayraj and two other Christian men and had them arrested by local police on July 23 because of their Christian outreach to a village. A group of 20 RSS members stopped the Jesus film partway through the video, locked the three men in a room and called police. The men were beaten, arrested and charged with forced conversions.

Our brothers and sisters were falsely accused as Jesus was falsely accused. They were beaten as Jesus was beaten. They were arrested as Jesus was arrested. This is the normal Christian life, at least in many places where the church is growing.

So we have come full circle back to the problem of alienation. Those who beat Pastor Augustine are alienated from God and from their neighbors. God calls us to be reconciled to them – to forgive them their trespasses as we expect God forgive our trespasses against him. We are not to condemn them or accuse them – though they do deserve condemnation and accusation, just as we do – but we are to invite them to come to Christ and to demonstrate Christ's character by being like him.

To repeat the takeaway I stole from the sermon last week, we pursue reconciliation not alienation; our purpose in interacting with nonbelievers is invitation not condemnation; we get people to accept the invitation by demonstration not accusation.

I'll close with some hard words from the Apostle Paul. Think of these as the words of the homeowner who chooses to get in the truck or the boat or the helicopter:

Everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God's law, but I trust Christ to save me. For God's way of making us right with himself depends on faith. As a result, I can really know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I can learn what it means to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that, somehow, I can experience the resurrection from the dead! (Phil 3:8-11)

Friday, August 14, 2015

“Are You Passionate about Jesus?”

“Henry, are you passionate about Jesus?”

The voice on the other end of the telephone line belonged to a young black man I had befriended years before. A former confessing evangelical, he had since come out as gay and had told me that he was planning to become a woman. After hearing that I had done everything I could to assure him that though I hoped he would change his mind, I would be his friend no matter what he did because I wanted him to know Jesus. I’m not sure how the conversation got to his question, but there it was.

I had been going through a very rough few years, the result of my own stupidity. But I was also feeling like I was getting spanked harder than was needed, so the right answer would have been no. But I felt like I needed to put up a good front – “his soul was at stake,” after all – so after a moment or so, I said, “I guess so. I mean, yes. I am.”

I’m not sure where the conversation went after that, but he never again answered an email or called me back after I left messages, and that was more or less a decade ago. The question has haunted me ever since. Am I passionate about Jesus? Do I love Jesus?

For twelve years I’ve been making a pest of myself at church whenever some church official stands up in the pulpit during congregational prayer and thanks God for “the men and women who are fighting to protect our freedom.” “Is there no reason to doubt that they are fighting for our freedoms,” I would ask, and the response was basically “we were attacked” with Romans 13 sauce.

Well, I think the truth has come out. It won’t make any difference to anyone, but I’ll lift it high in the sky, let the whole world know.

Let me quote a paragraph from an article that is designed to make the Republicans look like liars. (When I landed on the page, a popup asked me to join the Democrats in defending “a woman’s right to choose.” I declined.)

Last week, Jeb Bush stepped in it. It took the all-but-announced Republican presidential candidate several attempts to answer the most obvious question: Knowing what we know now, would you have launched the Iraq War? Yes, I would have, he initially declared, noting he would not dump on his brother for initiating the unpopular war. "So would almost everyone that was confronted with the intelligence they got," Bush said. In a subsequent and quickly offered back-pedaling remark—on his way to saying he would have made "different decisions"—Bush emphasized that a main problem with the Bush-Cheney invasion was "mistakes as it related to faulty intelligence in the lead-up to the war." And as his Republican rivals jumped on Bush, they, too, blamed bad intelligence for causing the war. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), insisting that he would not have favored the war (if he knew there were no weapons of mass destruction), commented, "President Bush has said that he regrets that the intelligence was faulty." And former CEO Carly Fiorina noted, "The intelligence was clearly wrong. And so had we known that the intelligence was wrong, no, I would not have gone in."

Read the last two sentences again. Do you remember what “the intelligence” at the time said? It said that our freedoms and even our physical lives were in danger unless “our heroes” went to Iraq, took out Saddam, and installed a democracy.

Now the article goes on to say that Bush and the others lied about the intelligence, and that the real intelligence said nothing like what we were told at the time. I’ll let someone else make hay with that one. I want to get back to the truth – or at least the notion – that lies behind Rubio’s and Fiorina’s words: the war was unnecessary because our freedoms were never in danger from Iraq. They can be based on no other premise.

If our freedoms had truly been in danger, Rubio and Fiorina would be defending the war like mother bears. That they are backpedaling (being sure not to step on veterans’ toes) tells me they know that our freedoms were not in danger. The war was unnecessary.

Hundreds of thousands of people died in that war, and countless more were maimed. Four million people were driven from their homes, including communities of confessing Christians who had lived in an uneasy truce with Islam for over a millennium. And now, without intending to, bigwigs in the Republican party let it slip that the war was unnecessary.

There’s no apology forthcoming, of course. Love is never having to say you’re sorry, and the Republicans love the Iraqis, the troops, and the taxpayers who have paid for part of the war and will continue to pay for the rest for years. They would rather die than apologize. But they know they have to admit that the war was wrong if they expect to be in the White House to start the next unnecessary war.

Now we go back to the prayers in church for the war effort, and this is where I really struggle. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and I’m certainly not the most sanctified member of my own church, let alone the evangelical church at large.

So what am I to think when people who spend more time in the Bible than I do, whose lives reflect a humility and dedication and true concern for the people they see every day that I lack, and who I know have not done some of the stupid things I’ve done get something this important so horribly wrong? A stopped clock is right twice a day, and maybe I got the war right just by dumb luck.

Or was I on Jesus’ side all along? If so, how could people who read the Bible, pray, and hold each other accountable more than I do get it wrong? If I wasn’t on Jesus’ side, how can I love a God who can be snookered by the neoconservative cabal? And if I don’t really love God, am I not faking it to say I’m a Christian?

On the off chance that I got it right by virtue of principles that I believe but live up to imperfectly, let me state how I applied them in this case. You can decide if you want to adopt them and apply them yourself the next time “your freedoms are in danger.”

Love your neighbor as yourself. Do for others what you would have them do for you. Regard your neighbors’ bodies, property, reputations, and trust as sacred. Admit that you are a rebel against God and find forgiveness in Jesus’ death on the cross. Assume that anyone who says they have the right to violate others’ lives, property, reputations, or trust, even when they say they’re doing it on your behalf, and doubly so if they say they have some kind of divine mandate, is lying. Above all, seek to advance the kingdom of God through “deeds of love and mercy” and to acquire the righteousness that comes only from God through faith in Jesus.

The war was prosecuted by people whose actions before the war started showed me that they disagree with every one of the statements in the previous paragraph. So opposing the war was a no brainer.

But being right about principles is not the same as being passionate about Jesus. I think Jesus taught and lived up to the principles I listed, and I like that. But he also makes it clear that one cannot come to him without also coming to his people. If we are all rebels against God – me no less than others – and all God’s people are saved by grace – them no less than me – then being passionate about Jesus includes passionately loving those who in Jesus’ name supported an unnecessary war and will never apologize for doing so.

This time I know better than to try to fake it. I admit it: I’m not there yet.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Advice for Bernie Sanders

In what has to be one of recent history’s most memorable assertions of minority rights, less than one percent of a crowd at a park in Seattle was able to shut down a speech by perhaps the leading presidential candidate simply by showing up. They were unarmed and outnumbered by at least a hundred to one, but they shut down the event without firing a shot.

Amazing. How could this be? Furthermore, how could Mr. Sanders have kept this from happening? Where did things go wrong?

Let’s assume that being white was not his first mistake. In fact, let’s assume for the rest of the conversation that he was black

I would suggest that Mr. Sanders’ first mistake was to choose a public park as the venue for the event. This immediately meant that he was not longer in control of those who would keep order. Instead, order would be kept by the powers that be, ordained of God, rather than by those who had voluntarily chosen to serve him by keeping order. Once the powers that be determined that they would allow the disruption, Mr. Sanders had no way to restore order.

If the venue had been private, Mr. Sanders could have told his order keepers – let’s call them bouncers – “If any honkies show up, be sure you keep an eye on them. If they try to take the stage, you grab them and haul them out. If they’re too strong for you, tase them. If they threaten you or anyone else, shoot them dead. Understand?”

Actually, of course, the choice of venue wasn’t Mr. Sanders’ first mistake. His first mistake was not believing in the value of private property. Unfortunately, he hasn’t learned his lesson.

But you have.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

This Is America: Now Speak Cherokee

I recently took a week off work to go with a group from my church to visit the Eastern Band of the Cherokee people. The plan was for my wife and me to ask questions of key people about the status of uniquely Cherokee language and music among those still living in the traditional Cherokee area. We had been warned that the Cherokee language and music were all but dead, but my wife is an incurable optimist, and I would like her to be right, so off we went.

Say “Cherokee” to me and I think “Trail of Tears,” the forced expropriation of the tribe that included a march of thousands of miles in the dead of winter that killed thousands, so I went expecting to be made uncomfortable by what I heard from those we spoke with and hoping that the other white people at the camp would have their eyes opened.

Lest I think too much of my own innocence in the conquest of the Indians, God reminded me before we left of Jesus’ hard words for people like me:

Woe to you,...you hypocrites! You say, “If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets Indians.” So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets Indians. (Matt 23:29-31)

It got even more uncomfortable. We got to our base camp, and on the first morning I had my quiet time with the next psalm after the one I’d read the day before. If this wasn’t a providential opportunity to wrestle with an issue I thought was cut and dried, I don’t know what would have been:

We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago.
With your hand you drove out the nations Indians and planted our fathers;
you crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish.
It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory;
it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.
You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob white Americans.
Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes.
I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory;
but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame.
In God we make our boast all day long trust, and we will praise your name forever. (Ps 40:1-8)

Oy. How do you argue with that? If God isn’t ultimately responsible for the conquest of the Indians, who is? The church was almost the most important element in the American society of the day while the Indians were being dealt with, so how do we deny that God loved the conquerors? No exegete I would put my faith in would consider my crossouts and substitutions legitimate, but I have every reason to believe that what I did was precisely what was done in sermons all over the land at the time to justify what “our heroes” were doing to the Cherokee before Lincoln’s war, to the farmers of Georgia and the Shenandoah during it, and to the Plains Indians after it. If the success of the three conquests isn’t proof that their interpretation was the truth, what would be? It was the conquest of Indian country, even more than the enslavement of the blacks, that enabled the United States to become the economic envy of the world and at least at one time to support more missionaries and mission organizations than the rest of the world combined. Some Cherokee are Christians, and Old Glory flies in so many places on the reservation that one can only conclude that the Cherokee are patriotic Americans.

So who am I to speak against what God has so clearly endorsed?

Maybe I need to let a Cherokee answer that. We campers from seven churches throughout the east were gathered to get a Cherokee-eye view of our work from a tribe-appointed cultural resource person. Having already heard from Cherokee and white alike that the Cherokee church is weak, we wanted to know what a non-believer thought we were up against. The speaker explained what it meant for them to have Americans make treaties and break them, to have them “kill the Indian and save the man” by taking children to boarding schools far away and forbidding them under penalty of beatings to speak Cherokee, and for missionaries to condemn almost everything about them that made them Cherokee.

As he spoke, it became apparent that he didn’t really understand the Christian message. A dear older saint attempted to expound unto him the way of God more accurately, as it were, to which the speaker replied, “Here’s how I understand Jesus. The New Testament tells how he came to his own land, and he spoke about God’s love. But when he came here, he came with a gun.” Remember, this is almost two hundred years after the Trail of Tears. And I don’t think he’s alone in his view of American Christians.

There are some Cherokee Christians, as I said, but does that mean the Great Commission has been fulfilled among them? If so, we can dust off our hands and move on, and the missionaries currently being sent there can go do something more useful elsewhere. But if not and we are to fulfill it, do we do it best as white Americans who play on Cherokee red-white-and-blue patriotism, or as unadorned Christians who “know only Christ and him crucified”?

Because our forefathers had irresistible force on their side, they considered themselves justified in making the rules in Indian country. For example, a phrase we heard often during our culture lesson was “restoring the balance.” One application of that if I’m an Indian is that if one of your people kills one of my people, our people kill that person. If he can’t be killed, then someone from his nuclear family is to be killed. If we can’t get one of his nuclear family, then we go for his extended family and so on until we restore the balance by killing someone from his side. This is Moses, ¿nó? “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. Life for life.”

Even I can figure out how if ten Indians and two whites are killed in what the whites would consider a “fair” firefight (i.e., one in which the whites have the superior firepower), the Indians are going to restore the balance by killing eight whites somewhere, and not in a “fair” firefight (that they’re bound to lose) but by guerrilla tactics (the same ones used by the American colonists against the British and celebrated in Mel Gibson’s movie The Patriot). But because the whites had the superior firepower, they were able not only to win the battles but afterwards to “treat the Indians as the despicable scum that they were,” Moses, let alone Jesus, be damned.

Does this sound like anything we hear today? About whom is it said, “They don’t wear uniforms?” What is the American view of those who fight with improvised explosive devices? In short, could it be that we’re making the same mistake in the Muslim world that our forefathers made in Indian country, that we’re winning the military war and alienating people from the kingdom of God, not only those people alive today but their five-times-great grandchildren?

I’m sure those soldiers who escorted the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears were otherwise decent guys who wrote their parents and tithed to their churches. And maybe God was with them and considered them kingdom builders. But they made life difficult for those who would build God’s kingdom even today. And no, I don’t pretend to know what it was like to be them at those times. But I would like to think an omniscient God who cannot bear to look at sin could have come up with a way for them to meet their immediate needs without muddying the water for those who have come after them, and the same goes for us today.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Sincere Cheers for Jerry Falwell

It’s a cold night in Boise, Idaho, in the late autumn of 1972. I’m living in a Christian commune, a crash pad for trippers hitchhiking around the country; they come to eat and sleep, we try to communicate the gospel to them. The house pastor accepts an invitation to go a bit out of town to a Baptist church to hear a presentation by some radio evangelist or someone.
We didn’t know who it was, but going seemed like a good idea, so off we half-dozen or so scruffy counter-culture types went.
All I remember from that evening were the crewcut men in ties, the matching navy blazers with emblems, the refrain from one song that went “I am thankful to God for allowing me to be an A-mer-i-cuhn,” and the names Jerry Falwell, Thomas Road Baptist Church, and Lynchburg Baptist College. And the time in the presentation when this Falwell guy was asking what denominations people came from (our crash house was part of a chain, but we were not, thank you kindly, a denomination); when he asked, “And how many of our Mormon friends are here?” we looked at each other and wondered if he knew what a Mormon was.
(For those outside the evangelical fold, we consider the Mormon cliché “What man is, God once was; what God is, man can become” to be irreconcilable with the distinction between Creator and creature that underlies our world view.)
Fast forward a few years to the Moral Majority days. While I did not totally agree with the jibe at the time, “the Moral Majority is neither,” I could see why people said it, and I found false dichotomies like “Should evolution be taught in our schools?” that appeared in MM advertisements less than helpful. More than once I found myself saying, “Can’t this Falwell guy just shut up?”
He partially redeemed himself in my view when I overheard a radio broadcast about that time in which he confessed that he would look out his chancellor’s office window at students at what was then Liberty Baptist College, many of whom he knew by name, and try to predict who would be the leaders and who would be the flounders once they graduated. He said he was one hundred percent wrong. While I took that as evidence that he should indeed shut up, I could also see it as a brave admission by a man who makes his living convincing others that he can change the world through the students he is educating.
All of this is to say that I’m no particular fan of Jerry Falwell. But I found out some things today that are making me reconsider.
When I attended that Falwell fundraiser in 1972, I was part of the subset of Christians who expected the world as we knew it to end any day. How many times did I tell someone I was witnessing to “The Lord could come back before I finish this sentence”? (How I expected a statement that was proven false as soon as I finished making it to convince people of the truth of the gospel I have no idea.) After a while, I decided that the Lord couldn’t come back until the world as we knew it had fallen apart and there had been seven years (that’s 2555 days, probably give or take ten percent) of supernatural “tribulation.” But totally beyond anything anyone was saying for almost the first decade after I came to Christ was that Christians could build institutions that would have an impact on the world.
Meantime, Jerry Falwell was building what had become Liberty Baptist College. He had also been instrumental in helping a washed-up actor named Ronald Reagan become president. (Though I have regretted it ever since, I even voted for Reagan in 1980; I will never again vote for “the lesser of two evils.”)
In 1981, from reading the first edition of David Chilton’s Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators, I caught the vision of building educational, medical, and other institutions apart from the world system – and better than those of the world system – that would be visible evidence of the wisdom of God’s ways and visible communities into which we could invite nonbelievers.
The most obvious of such communities would be Christian schools: as humanist educational theories dumbed the schools down and turned them into moral cesspools, so the idea went, Christians would build schools where excellent academics met superior ethics, all with a mind to inviting anyone who would pay the bills and obey the rules to be part of it, learn from Jesus, and eventually surrender to him.
My children had what I would consider the inestimable privilege of attending just that kind of school: the faculty was all committed Christians, but the student body was “whosoever will.” While Bible courses were required, conversion was not: our last year there, the valedictorian was a Sikh from India.
Yet in three and a half decades of sharing the vision of evangelistic schools with others, I don’t know that I have pulled even one Christian into my camp: those who supported government schools still do, and those who supported Christian schools still want to require all students to have at least one Christian parent.
Guess who I found out today has put that vision into practice? Yup – Jerry Falwell. (Well, he’s off to Glory, so it’s really his successor as head of the family business, his son.) Liberty University, of all places, is open to anyone who is willing to pay the bills and obey the rules. I suspect that like any Division I school it receives more applications than it can possibly accept, but lack of Christian commitment is not a deal breaker. And apparently, no surprise, students are coming to Christ. Who’da thunkit?
Another neat thing I noticed was the flagpole collection at the entrance to the football stadium. Or maybe it was the entrance to the campus. Anyway, there were half a dozen or so flagpoles, but only one flag flying. And it wasn’t Old Glory. It was the “Christian flag.” While I have little use for the “Christian flag,” its presence alone among the flagpoles gives me hope that the best days of Jerry Falwell’s legacy may be in the future, and that his students will sing first and only that they are thankful to God for allowing them to be Christians.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


I was enjoying an evening in the 1990s with family and friends when the talk turned to politics, probably with a little help from me. I had a chip on my shoulder; I was looking for one of those “And how would your little imaginary fairyland work in real life?” smirks in response to some statement that voluntary interaction is better than coerced “compassion.” I won’t slander my interlocutors, one of whom reads this blog, by saying that they extended me the discourtesy I was looking for – in fact, I remember being rightly upbraided for my own lack of civility (imagine that!) during the conversation – but I did eventually find what I was looking for, probably in the form of something like “we support government because we really are peaceable people and we want what is best for everyone.”
At that point, the Keystone Kop sprang into action.
“Peaceable? Really? If a bunch of us got together and bought outright the least valuable square mile in the United States and asked if we could please, pretty please, pretty please with sugar on it [I probably didn’t say this, but it’s the best I can reconstruct] just be left alone to try life without government ‘benefits’ like ‘free education’ and Social Security and retirement, etc., in exchange for not paying taxes, I can guarantee that the feds would be out in force to shut us down. They would meet any forcible resistance on our part with greater force and kill us if they felt they needed to. In fact, no matter where we go in the world, there will be people like you there to force us into your system.”
(A good friend recently loaned me a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People. How do you suppose he knew I hadn’t already read it?)
I didn’t know it at the time, but that that was precisely what the US government had done in Waco to the Branch Davidians a few years before. Reasoning that the children in the Davidian compound were in some kind of danger, federal troops surrounded it and firebombed it, barbecuing the children they were supposedly rescuing.
A more recent example of what I was talking about has come to my attention, and I’m here to share it with my vast readership.
It seems that the Danube River, as it wends its way between Serbia and Croatia, has changed its course many times over the years. The border between the two countries goes back decades, if not centuries. When the river changes course, land that was on the Serbian side of the river is then on the Croatian side of the river, and vice versa. You can see this on the map. 

Do you see the green section called Siga? This is what seems to be formerly Serbian territory now located on the Croatian side of the river. As you might imagine, it’s not particularly valuable land. Here is a satellite view of the area outlined in black on the first map and a detailed view of Siga itself.

It looks to me like land that is susceptible to flooding, good for growing scrub trees and that’s about it. While the Danube is international water, it’s a really long way from Siga to the mouth of the Danube, so even if the river is navigable that far, shipping does not seem to be a good way to get goods there.

Again, it’s pretty much mud and scrub brush, as can be seen in the last minute of this video:
And literally no one in either Serbia or Croatia had any plans to do anything with it.
Enter Vít Jedlička, a Czech national who wanted to have his own “little imaginary fairyland” (not his words) off where he could live as a free man and literally be no bother to anyone. He wanted to develop the three square miles of Siga, land no one else wanted, into what he calls the country of Liberland.
As I predicted lo those many years ago would happen in such a context, once he went through normal channels to obtain title to the land and establish diplomatic relations, the Croatians suddenly became very interested in the land. They have blockaded the entryways and arrested people trying to enter, even if they enter by crossing the river from Serbia. (Note that the official boundary places Siga in Serbia.)
Look again at the larger context of Siga. Look at the size of Serbia and Croatia compared to Siga.
What would a country as large as either of them have to fear from a rebel group based in Siga that was sworn to overthrow them? That would be the stuff of Leonard Wibberley’s The Mouse that Roared. So why are the Croatian authorities so afraid of a few dozen idealists whose motto is “To Live and Let Live”?
They clearly have nothing to lose if he fails, so they must be terrified that he might succeed. They are afraid that Jedlička, beginning with nothing but a bunch of mud and scrub trees, will show the world that a just, free, and prosperous society can be built without all the pretense and fraud, not to mention the theft and murder, that have characterized the state since Nimrod. And once Toto pulls the curtain back and all can see what frauds those who pull the levers to frighten the ignorant with smoke and fire are, the loss of their gravy train may be the least of their worries.
Do you think the response in Washington, capital of the “land of the free,” home of Operation Jade Helm, whose motto is “Master the Human Domain,” would be any different?
As the saying is these days, Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Best Thing About Gay “Marriage” (And How Christians Helped Make It Possible)

As we continue to recover from Obergefell and prepare for the horrors yet to come, let us once again remind ourselves that the move to bring the state into the issue of marriage was to prevent “miscegenation,” interracial marriage. Whether it is a good idea for a white person to marry a black person (or vice versa) is a separate question – I would expect that there are millions of black women who are better off for not having married me – but again, given the lack of evidence that any of the family of faith in the Bible (except Joseph, possibly Daniel, and Esther, all rather enigmatic figures) involved state functionaries in their weddings, it would appear that God’s people can marry quite nicely without blessings from those who wield the sword.

Christians seem to have been silent when the state arrogated to itself the right to legitimate marriage. To the degree that we are to defend what is sacred, that was dereliction of duty. Once the state is allowed to define marriage, marriage will become whatever the politically powerful say it is. Since Jesus never promises political power to his followers, even a porcupine of little brain can infer that the definition of marriage will eventually be turned against us.

This is a time for acknowledging, even if it’s too late to change anything now, the plank in our own eye so we can warn our grandchildren to warn their grandchildren that if they ever have the chance to put their hands on the levers of power, not to take the shortcut of granting the state sovereignty over the family.

Moving on, as Ma Ingalls used to say, “There’s no great loss without some small gain.”

In this case, the small gain is that now I have a response for the statist who insists on referring to chaos (even that brought about by the state) as “anarchy.” (I realize that this “gain” and four quarters will get me anything I want at the Dollar Store only where there is no sales tax.) I can now say, “If you want to know how I feel when you refer to chaos as anarchy, just think how you feel when you hear ‘gay marriage.’”

Somehow I don’t expect to be able to use that on anyone until we’re sitting in the same prison cell awaiting “enhanced interrogation,” and by then we’ll have other things on our minds.

Friday, June 26, 2015

How's It Working for You Now?

The Supreme Court has just found that homosexuals have a constitutional right to marriage. Whether you think queers can or should marry is now irrelevant: you will be paying Social Security benefits to the beneficiaries of queer marriages. Congratulations!
Frankly, I don’t care who you live with or under what circumstances. If you want to have a hands-off relationship with a roommate of the opposite sex, or you want to have a hands-on relationship with one or more members of the opposite or the same sex, or with a non-human, I don’t want to know. Don’t tell me. It’s none of my business.
The Bible tells us what kinds of relationships God approves of and what he doesn’t, and if you want me to tell you what the Bible says, I’m happy to tell you. If you invite me to visit you in your home or place of business, I’ll consider it on a case-by-case basis. Same for if I want to invite you.
But I have no right to dictate the terms for your household, and I would appreciate you extending me the same courtesy. Except now, of course, courtesy of the Social Security system, if you were queer, you couldn’t extend me the courtesy of not caring what you do if you wanted to. Uncle Sam taxes, and Uncle Sam distributes, and whether I like someone’s arrangement or not, I pay for it.
Thanks heaps, conservative Christians. I would like to get the state out of the marriage business altogether. No state married Abram and Sarai, or Isaac and Rebekah, or Jacob and Leah and Rachel, or David and his dozen or so wives, so I would assume that marriage precedes the state and therefore the state has nothing to say about marriage.
But you put Romans 13 over even marriage, and here you are now, subsidizing queer marriage. How my view of things could have worse results than this I can’t imagine.
“Yes,” you say, “but if we can just get the right people in positions of power, we’ll fix this mess.” To which I say, you’ve been trying hard for thirty-five years to get the right people in power. How’s it working for you?
Now that queer marriage is the official policy of the United States government, are you still going to fly Uncle Sam’s flag in your sanctuary? I suppose that by some sort of postmodern feat of transubstantiation (and 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 Trinitarian theology) you can say that that flag really represents Christian family values, but anyone who thinks 2 + 2 = 4 is going to reply that what it officially stands for now is queer marriage.

If Uncle Sam is God, serve him and pledge allegiance to his flag. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Outsourced: Putting Hinduism’s Best Foot Forward

(Warning: Spoiler)
Todd Anderson, the typical monocultural American, comes to India to show the ignorant natives how it’s done – “this” in this case being how to run the call center to which the call center he has been running in Seattle is being outsourced. Attributing their inability to deliver a quality product on time to their ignorance, he tells them that they need to learn about America if they are to do the job right.
Soon he finds the shoe on the other foot and is told by one of his trainees, Asha – who, no surprise, turns out to be the romantic interest – that his success depends rather on his ability to learn about India. Bewildered by local customs and frustrated at his inability to get his trainees on track, he has a chance meeting with an American resident expatriate, who tells him that he can either choose to let India stand for “I’ll Never Do It Again” or learn to enjoy it as it is. He accepts the challenge and makes the change, symbolized by his self-baptism by immersion in the local bathing spot on the Day of Holi. (“Holy what?” he asks. “Just Holi. Change of seasons. Celebration of color,” comes the reply.)
Todd’s enlightenment includes a truly poignant scene in which the poor man to whom he has almost anonymously been giving alms invites him to his house for dinner. They wend their way through poverty unimaginable to anyone who hasn’t seen it firsthand (I suspect what I saw was heavily sanitized) to a hole in the wall where the family sits outdoors around a cloth and waits for the matriarch to dole out a small helping of rice, watery who-knows-what sauce, and some kind of pancake. Todd, of course, is given the lion’s share, which, now that he has learned not to eat with his left hand, we are to understand he eats in a way that compliments, rather than insults, his hosts.
Todd eventually comes close enough to mastering India that the call center exceeds performance standards and he gets to screw Asha. Yessir, learning India isn’t easy, but the rewards are fantastic.
Unfortunately for Todd, the rose has thorns.
The theme of deception is introduced early by Todd himself as he teaches his trainees to imitate American accents and to tell the callers that they are in Chicago. It is Asha who tells him,
“When I was hired to do this job, I was told I would be selling products to a customer on the telephone. I did not know we would have to be deceptive.”
“A lot of Americans are upset about outsourcing.”
“But sir, most of the products they are buying are made in China.”
“Uh, OK, … we’ll continue this tomorrow.”
His boss also encourages him to lie to the Indians, which he refuses to do, only to find that his boss has been lying to him: the operation in India is to be shut down and the work outsourced to China.
The Indians become adept at American accents, but not enough to fool some Americans. In an especially adept bit of diplomacy, Asha parries the anger of an American who had lost his job to outsourcing by offering him the same product made by Americans. The American is soundly defeated when she informs him that the American-made product costs significantly more than the Chinese product sold through the Indian call center.
Did such a product really exist? We do not know, and what we know of Asha at that point would lead us to believe not.
Earlier in the movie, after a bit of deception on the part of a stranger, Todd and Asha find themselves in the Kama Sutra Suite of a hotel in another city. Though it is cast as an answer to a prayer offered to Kali, the goddess of destruction, nature takes its course, and Todd finds himself the happy boyfriend of a girl whose beauty only he fully knows.
After they return to work, however, he finds out that not only can he not tell anyone about their tryst or show her any public affection, but also she has been engaged to be married. She goes on to explain that premarital affairs are not uncommon. How she expects her husband to think he is first in line with her when that marriage is consummated isn’t dealt with, but if premarital affairs are indeed common, the men who snack on others’ fiancées must be willing to take what they deal out.
Asha lies again in the final scene to arrange a farewell tryst before Todd’s return to Seattle, and we are led to believe in the epilogue that she has gotten out of the engagement and made her way back into Todd’s life.
Whether the film was intended to be a course in cross-cultural sensitivity or not, it does a such a good job of teaching it that at least one university has used it as part of a course on the subject. As I’ve said already, one of the big themes is that Americans have a lot to learn from India; India, Indus (the river), and Hindu are all derived from the same linguistic root. Outsourced seems to regard the overlap as pretty much total.
Americans have no corner on either truth or truthfulness, as the movie points out. Neither, for that matter, does the Quill Pig, nor does his alter ego. Humans are by nature liars, and to be otherwise requires a concerted effort over a lifetime. But it is striking to see deception praised as a virtue as it is in Outsourced.
The evangelical author Don Richardson made a name for himself in the 1970s with Peace Child, a book about a tribe of New Guineans who had also made deception into an art form: they considered earning the trust of an enemy and then betraying and killing him the crowning achievement of a lifetime. I would suggest that the reason Richardson records no efforts of self-betterment that involved more than a handful or two of people (e.g., building houses or canoes, etc.) is that no one could trust anyone else: foreign policy, in this case the deception of enemies, became domestic policy, relationships with less-favored members of one’s own clansmen.
We see the same thing in the US: the foreign policy of breaking down doors to find insurgents in Baghdad came home to Watertown, Massachussets, after the Boston Marathon bombing and is repeated over a hundred times per day throughout the US. To the degree that those SWAT raids are truly needed, I have to ask what it is that makes so many people “proud to be an American.” Needing storm troopers with jackboots and machine guns to keep us in line is something to be proud of?
Is the future of America the past of the Sawi?
But I digress.
Outsourced makes India and thus Hinduism warm and fuzzy, like Asha. Oh, she may have lied to win Todd, but that was all in good fun. To ask how he’s supposed to keep trusting her years later when the sheen has worn off their relationship is to be a stick in the mud.
I think the reality is more like Johnny Cash and June Carter sang in the 1960s:
We got married in a fever
Hotter than a pepper sprout
We’ve been talking ’bout Jackson
Ever since the fire went out.
I’m goin’ to Jackson,
I’m gonna mess around …
So what will keep a lying mess-around from lying and messing around after the fire goes out?
Well, I had a good friend awhile back who had a tool shop that he allowed anyone to come and use anytime. On one wall was a birdhouse façade with a door that took up most of the façade. On the door was written “Rules and Regulations.” When you opened the door you saw an artist’s rendition of Jesus.