Sunday, December 6, 2009


I used to believe that voting made a difference, that it was my duty to exercise my privilege to vote. The cry “No taxation without representation!” made sense. Today I would gladly give up my right to vote if I could be free of taxation, let alone the scads of other rules that govern, or threaten to, my private behavior.

Perhaps my first doubt about voting came after Enron collapsed, when I learned that Enron had made substantial contributions to candidates on both sides of more than one federal election. There’s no reason to believe that that is not common practice, and if it is, what good does voting do? Even if “my” candidate wins, he’s much more beholden to his big contributers than to me.

Another problem is sheer numbers: even if 99% of, say, Oregonians were to decide that abortion is murder and outlaw it, the Californians, New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, and Massachusettsites would overrule them at the federal level and force them to keep it legal. When a decision is made at the ward level, you only need to sell your idea to a few dozen people to get it enacted. If it’s made at the county level, you have to convince hundreds—if you’re in Malheur County; in Multnomah County, you’d have to convince hundreds of thousands. At the federal level, you have to convince dozens of millions. If, as Jesus promised us, our views will always be in the minority, we can pretty much guarantee that whatever is under federal jurisdiction will go against us.

On that basis, then, I have concluded that every vote for a losing candidate or referendum is a wasted vote. And if I can expect to be in the minority on almost every issue, voting itself is a waste.

The fundamental hurdle we Christians who love liberty face is theological. There are only two religions, Jesus and everything else, and those religions have two fundamentally different operating principles, grace and power, respectively. If this is so, then non-Christians are by definition power religionists. Government is always raw power; it cannot be gracious, though sometimes government officials operating ex officio can be.

People who believe in power look to control the most powerful entity they can so they can get their way; this is why they are always looking to expand federal jurisdiction and even trying to build a one-world government in their own image. And once in power, elected officials at all levels have every incentive to buy votes—always “for the common good,” of course: there is good evidence that all expansions of federal power, Democrat and Republican, have been enacted by elected officials who truly believed that they were doing what was right. If we are to reverse the erosion of our freedoms, part of our job is to show people that power politics is not the best way for them to get what they want out of life.

(I also need to say somewhere that our primary goal is not to free people from earthly bondage, whether to drugs, pornography, or tyranny. Rather, we are to be introducing them to Jesus. I like to think that showing them how grace and freedom work in everyday life would be a good way to till the soil for showing them their need for forgiveness from God and for his power to live life to the fullest, but God saves whom he will, and he has certainly saved many without tilling the soil my way.)

Unfortunately, too many Christians want to play the power politics game. For example, though government schools are power politics par excellance, Christians want to take control of them, specifically of the curriculum, rather than working to defund them completely. They want to sanitize Social Security, another product of power politics, by making it impossible for homosexuals and single people to designate the recipients of their benefits, rather than defunding it. As a result, we are seen as simply another bunch of baby birds, competitors for Artemis’ nipples, wanting to make others pay for our programs, instead of people who simply want to be left alone to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Ben Franklin, asked what kind of government he and his friends had established, replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Would he say we have kept it? If not, when would he say we lost it? If so, how is it that most of our fellow citizens think we’re “going the wrong way”? Either way, are we better off trying to gain control of a power structure that has run amok or declaring the whole thing illegitimate and working to get it out of our lives?

To declare our government legitimate because it is “a constitutional republic” or that it’s the best government the world has ever seen is to say that people are bound by contracts they did not sign: specifically, we are bound by a constitution that was signed before we were born, one that the politically powerful have the ability to violate at will.

And we should remember that the Declaration of Independence stated that the goal of the secession was that the colonies become “free and independent states,” not “a republic,” one nation, under God or otherwise. Franklin and his gang staged the most successful fraud in our history when they drafted the Constitution instead of revising the Articles of Confederation.

To declare it illegitimate is one step toward declaring lex rex: “the law is king,” and no one—no politician and no armed agent thereof—is above it; no one has the right to take the life, liberty, or property of another.

Not even by majority vote.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


Want to see two of my least favorite verses?

Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2Ti 3:12)

No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. (Jn 15:20)

Every time I read or hear about believers undergoing persectuion, I shudder. I’m a self-centered weenie, so my first thought is that if I were persecuted, it would hurt and I wouldn’t have the time or freedom to be able to do the things I want to do. I really wonder how long I would last even if I could get past the pain and inconvenience. Do I really love Jesus enough to endure weeks or months of hard labor, splinters under my fingernails, or inadequate food or sleep? For that matter, how long would I last in a 50-degree room wearing only a t-shirt before I said, “What do I have to do to get out?”

So I’m playing the armchair martyr as I pass on gleanings from a dissertation I’m currently freelance editing that is written by a fellow from northern Nigeria, someone who has seen firsthand the burned churches, razed homes, and bereaved survivors of persecution. I knew I was out of my league when I read this in his first chapter (quoted with permission):

Of concern to me in this project is not the persecutors and their instruments of persecution but the theological evolution that is taking place as a result of the social, economic, psychological, emotional, and physiological tow the experience has had and is having on the lives of believers. I have observed ongoing efforts at reinterpretation of certain biblical verses with no exegetical or hermeneutical justification to align with the mood of the time; I have seen and heard of calls to arms by pastors and church leaders that encourage their membership to rise and fight back [emphasis added].

You read right. He thinks it’s wrong to resist persecutors and would-be persecutors forcibly, even though he knows his wife or children could be the next ones shot, stabbed, or burned.

Then he backs up his theological argument with the biblical examples of Abel; Lot (!); Elijah; Micaiah; Isaiah’s “Servant of the Lord”; Jeremiah and Uriah; Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel; John the Baptist; Jesus; Stephen; and Peter and Paul. None of these resisted persecution forcibly. His conclusion is that persecution is an integral part of the Christian life, and if we’re not being persecuted, we might not be living aright.

What must he think of us US Christians who, far from accepting persecution as inevitable, are willing to drop bombs on babies halfway around the world to avoid it? He can probably name people who would order and even carry out persecution of him and his loved ones, and he knows that his would-be persecutors have his Christian brethren outnumbered and outarmed, yet his dissertation shows no trace of fear or hatred of those persecutors. How unlike US Christians, who feel the need to send the most powerful armed force the world has ever known to chase down a few hundred dedicated “ragheads” at the cost of thousands dead and wounded, millions made homeless, and our grandchildren in debt to the Chinese to pay for it.

If Tertullian is right, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Yet the same US Christians who would nod their heads in agreement with Tertullian have wholeheartedly embraced the military-industrial-surveillance state to avoid martyrdom. At the same time, they have seen the church go from being influential in society to being something between irrelevant and a laughingstock. Could the two phenomena be related? It would seem that church growth is fine, provided it grows elsewhere, at least if it’s to grow through martyrdom.

If we are to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us, it would seem to me that a good place to start would be with al-Qaeda. Do they see the church as fools for Christ, unarmed servants of a dead Jewish carpenter trying our utmost to make friends with them for his sake and the sake of his kingdom? Or do they only know us as barbarians who drop half-ton bombs, depleted uranium, and white phosphorus on the women and children Jesus called us to preach the Gospel to?

I believe it was Mike Warnke who told of his conversion at the hands of a fellow soldier in the 1970s this way:

I told him, “If you mention Jesus one more time, after you go to sleep I’ll take my bayonet and carve you up like a Christmas turkey.”

And he said to me, “If you do, every piece will say, ‘I love you, Mike.’”

Would that work with al-Qaeda? Is it worth a try?

I say it’s time we get serious about church growth. You first.

Update: A correspondent reminded me that Mike Warnke has lost a certain amount of credibility lately and that therefore any reference to him might be suspect. I had heard the reports and so wondered if including the anecdote were appropriate. I went ahead only because I think most Christians in the readership would recognize the sentiments: when we really want people to know Christ, we're willing to suffer to share Christ with them. So yes, the story itself may be apocryphal, but I'm guessing it stands for many similar stories that are true.

A Whiff of Freedom

After work yesterday I was walking as fast as I could along Walnut Street in Center City Philly, hoping I wasn’t late for my train, when I started to wonder if that sweet fragrance was ...

It was. A portly, middle-aged black fellow in a wheelchair was down to his last toke as I walked by—less than a hundred yards downwind from a couple of Philadelphia’s finest. If I hadn’t been afraid of missing my train, I’d have gone back and said, “My friend, thank you for the whiff, and God bless you. May you enjoy many more.” As it was, I found myself thinking that stupidity is most exhilarating when it’s illegal.

Then again, pot’s analgesic properties, and if it were legal, it would put a big dent in Big Pharma’s. And my friend was in a wheelchair. Maybe he was wounded in one of Uncle Sam’s wars and dealing with chronic pain in one of the least unhealthy ways known to man. (And for which Uncle Sam would thank him by putting him in the slammer.) I’ll never know.

I don’t ever want to be in his shoes. Not in his chair, not toking on a joint. But it’s always a pleasure to see someone give Big Brother the finger.