Wednesday, December 9, 2015

An Open Letter to the Republican "Leadership"

Good afternoon,

I am writing to encourage you all to take a step back, take several deep breaths, and look at a time horizon that is beyond November of 2016. It may well be that the fate of America's future does not depend on who is elected President next November. But it may also be that America's trajectory will be substantially altered by the outcome of both the campaign and the election.

Mr. Trump has certainly stirred the pot--especially with his recent threat to run as an Independent if he is attacked for his stated positions. My sense is that you all are concerned that if Mr. Trump makes good on his threat, then we will almost certainly be looking at Mrs. Clinton being elected in November. While you may be tempted to acquiesce in the face of Mr. Trump's threats, please hold your ground for three reasons:

First, even if Mr. Trump were to run as a Republican and win, does he really represent what the Republican party has become? If so, then the party certainly has bigger and longer term issues than who is in the White House for the next four years. If your desire is for a Republican to win the White House in 2016, then what good does it do for someone to win under the party's banner whose policies and approaches to governing are not what you believe that the party stands for. Surely you cannot primarily be committed to pursuing Mrs. Clinton's defeat at any cost.

Second, the more substantial "enemy" is not Mrs. Clinton, or ISIS, or extremists of any flavor. I contend that the greater danger is that of "winning" in the short run, but of sacrificing what America is and can be for the future. The United States of America that I love is a country where we are defined by the openness of our hearts and minds, and not by the closed-ness of our doors. Where every person enjoys the protection of the law, not just "people like us". Where we offer refuge and opportunity for the oppressed and downtrodden. Where we extend hands and words of hope to the hopeless. My greatest fear is not of terror attacks or of a second Clinton presidency, but of losing that which makes us an unique people and a nation to be proud of. If those qualities that have set the United States apart for the past 200+ years are lost or are meaningfully disfigured, it will take generations to recover our place in the community of nations.

Third, if indeed you believe that the Republican worldview is the better worldview and should be the worldview that leads our country to a better future, then I implore you to articulate the Republican worldview in terms of what the party is for and what the party will pursue and promote, as opposed to what the party is standing against. Let the people know what the party is for, not just what the party is against.

If Mr. Trump were to be elected and seek to govern under the Republican banner--and in keeping with his current rhetoric--then in my opinion the United States would be set back for the next 50 years in terms of being an influence for good in the world. Please do not sacrifice the longer term positive place in the world that the United States could have on the altar of winning in 2016. There is so much more at stake than a four-year term in the White House.

Best regards.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bad Things are Bad, BUT ...

For quite a while I have been tussling with God over His goodness in light of some very bad circumstances. He did not seem to be very kind or loving toward someone who is very dear to me and I have held that against Him. It has had a markedly chilling effect on my spiritual journey. But this weekend--a breakthrough. Driving to and from Ft. Hood for a bike race, I took time to listen to a series of messages from Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and it feels like an epiphany.

The most impactful was Keller's message, "A Christian's Happiness." In this message Keller examines Romans 8:28-30 and draws out three principles: 1) Our bad things turn out for good (v.28); 2) Our good things cannot be lost (v.29); and 3) Our best things are yet to come (v.30). Key for me was principle number one. With respect to Romans 8:28, Keller first noted that "all things" are a part of the Christian's life experience. In other words, Christian life circumstances are no better than anyone else's. On this point I think that I had drifted into thinking (wrongly) that because God is a good and loving God, then the life circumstances of His people should have fewer bad things and that the bad things that occur should be lower magnitude bad things--more like inconveniences. I feel like I had lost sight of that which is true and had instead superimposed my sense of what God "should" do and be like over what He has promised. I was trying to rewrite God's promises to suit my preferences. Ouch! That realization hurts.

Second, Keller observed that when things do work together for good, it is because of God. From Romans 8:18-20 we see that apart from God, all things fall apart--and that is normal. In a fallen world, which has been humanity's life circumstance at least since Genesis 3, things devolve and the natural order of things is toward chaos, disunity, dysfunction, and disorder.

Finally, Keller declared that although bad things happen, they are worked for good. Bad things are bad. Bad things are not good. Bad things are not "blessings in disguise." Yet, God will take the bad things and weave them into good in His totality. As an example, Joseph's betrayal and abandonment by his brothers was not good--it was bad. Joseph being falsely accused was not good--it was bad. Joseph being imprisoned was not good--it was bad. But God took those truly bad things and used them to rescue and preserve Israel--and to elevate Joseph. And even if He had not elevated Joseph, the bad would still have been turned to good in God's totality.

Keller closed the entire message on the principle of "Our best is yet to come" by focusing on the greatness of God's glory. He said, Only God's extraordinary glory can deal with the hurts of our hearts, our grief, our losses, and our suffering. Somehow that gives me comfort, hope, and the start of a renewed, and hopefully revitalized, spiritual journey.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Religious Liberty AND the Law

I initially thought about entitling this post "Religious Liberty vs. the Law", but that just didn't say it quite right. There are many who seem to be setting up the religious liberty arguments as unduly adversarial and overarching--that my expression of religious liberty should trump all other considerations. But that is no way to live in a pluralistic and civil society. In fact, the only way to guarantee everyone's full and complete expression of religious liberty is for each individual to live in geographic and geopolitical isolation. Within the context of a society built on the rule of law, I believe that we must strive to protect each individuals' right to religious freedom. But religious liberty must fit within the context of a civil society.

Does the elected county clerk in Kentucky have the right to refuse to issue marriage licences to gay couples? At a personal level, yes, BUT NOT if she wants to keep her public job. As an elected official, she must choose whether or not she will do her job--plain and simple. If not, then she should be honorable and resign--not be obstinate and go to jail for contempt. By the way, it is VERY important to note that to the extent that she is prosecuted or jailed it is NOT about marriage licences; it is about failing to abide by a lawful Court Order.

If this involved a different underlying issue, we would not be having these discussions. If a state-employed cafeteria worker refused to serve an overweight patron his double cheeseburger, fries, and a shake because gluttony is a sin, there would not be any discussion of religious liberty. We would simply shake our heads and the worker would be unemployed. But in the bigger picture, the Kentucky situation is not about anyone's views on gay marriage; it is about how people will live together in a multi-faceted and non-theocratic society built on the rule of law.

And what a great society we live with. If there is a law that I do not agree with and that I believe is wrong, then I have free access to the legislative process to change the law. If I prevail in changing the offensive law, then good for me. But as a member of this society, I have a duty to abide by the laws that are in force; or to remove myself from their jurisdiction--or face the consequences.

The law is not antagonistic to religious liberty. In fact, without the rule of law, we would have no hope of continued religious liberty. What I believe is missing in this cultural dialogue--and would love to see and hear--is guidance and discussion from our religious leaders about how to live and love well in a multicultural, multi-faceted, and non-theocratic society where others' views and beliefs often differ from my own. The way the discourse seems to be going, I am not going to hold my breath. (Of course, I would also like to see a reasonable and electable presidential candidate--and world peace.)


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Religious Freedom Restoration?

Merriam-Webster defines "restoration" as:

: the act or process of returning something to its original condition by repairing it, cleaning it, etc.

: the act of bringing back something that existed before

: the act of returning something that was stolen or taken.

By this definition I cannot understand what "religious freedoms" are being "restored". In the United States of America we live in what is surely among the most religiously free countries in the world. To get to my chosen place of worship, I drive past a variety of other places of worship (of various faiths)--each of which is "subsidized" by our society by not paying property taxes and having participants' contributions receive a favorable tax treatment; and each of which is allowed to open their doors to the public any time they want. So what needs to be restored? What has been stolen or taken? What needs to be repaired or cleaned to be returned to the original? What no longer exists that needs to be brought back?

Some might point to the general lack of vitality in the American church as something that needs to be restored. While I would tend to agree with that assessment, recent legislation has nothing to do with the renewal of people of faith. Recent legislation seems to be directed at allowing "people of faith" to disrespect those who hold a worldview or value system that at one or more points diverges from their own, under the guise of religious freedom. At the very least, it is the inconsistency that makes my blood boil.

The Indiana pizzeria that is representative of this issue refused to cater (provide their publicly-available, secular business service) a wedding for a same sex couple. The reported rationale was because the Christian business owner believes that same sex marriage is sin. Query: Does the pizzeria owner refuse to serve fat people? Isn't gluttony a sin? Does the pizzeria owner refuse to serve non-Christian people? Isn't not believing in Jesus a sin? Does the pizzeria refuse to serve adulterers? Drunkards? Greedy folks? All sinners in the pizzeria owner's worldview.

Looking back a couple of thousand years, did Jesus refuse to associate with (his publicly-available business service) sinners? Not at all! It seemed like wherever he went he was engaging with sinners (being cordial and civil) AND religious folks (being confrontive and even harsh). Might it have been that Jesus expected or hoped for higher and more noble actions from those who claimed to be people of faith? Sometimes I wonder what things would be like if people of faith spent as much time developing, growing, building, and living out their faith as they do attacking the thoughts, beliefs, and actions of those with whom they disagree.

We Americans do not live in a theocracy--never have and most likely never will. Even if our Founding Fathers were people of faith or were influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition, they did not set out to establish a nation built on a particular religion. They set out to form a democracy that included and had a vital place for people of any faith or no faith. We need look no further than the Bill of Rights -- the behaviors and actions described here are the basis for a civil society, not a Christian, or Muslim, or [fill in faith tradition] society. As a multicultural and multi-faith society, rich and strong in its diversity and variety, we must all maintain a higher level of civility and respect of each others' thoughts and values.

Only then can all of us--those of one faith or another or of no faith--live out the Apostle Paul's words:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18); and

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3)