A Little Farther Down the Path: Broken Words—The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics

As you know, if you read this blog at all regularly, for my Lenten discipline this year, I selected fourteen titles from my “New Books” shelf and will devote a separate blog post—two per week across the seven weeks of Lent—to each of them. This post is number ten in the series.

In choosing these fourteen titles, I left twice that many on that same “New Books” shelf (yes, I buy books much faster than I read them), but I have derived such benefit from this exercise that I may continue the practice, at the rate of one book/post per week, even after Lent is over. I’m thinking of calling that weekly post “Library Friday.” I’ll of course let you know if I decide to undertake a schedule like that, and if I do, I’ll publish, in advance, a list of the titles I plan to read and write about over the next few months. Continue reading

A Little Farther Down the Path: Hillbilly Elegy

In a way, Hillbilly Elegy could not be a more appropriate place to begin this literary journey through Lent by way of fourteen titles that have recently moved me “a little farther down the path” on my personal pilgrimage as a follower of Christ. (For the significance of that imagery, see yesterday’s post on this blog.)

At every Ash Wednesday service, marking the beginning of the season of Lent, when ashes are “imposed” on the forehead of each worshiper, the officiant intones the words, “Remember that you are dust (or dirt), and to dust (or dirt) you will return.” There were times while I was reading the book that I really felt like dirt. Continue reading

The Dream Must Never Die

In his first address to the nation as president, following the resignation of Richard Nixon, who had been forced out of office by the Watergate scandal just ahead of likely impeachment, Gerald Ford opened with these words: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

I was a twenty-four-year-old fundamentalist pastor at the time, and like everybody I knew, I had voted for Nixon when he was elected to a second term in 1972. I had followed the Watergate hearings on TV, sort of, and I knew that all the “chattering class”—politicians and news analysts especially—regarded the matter as a constitutional crisis with the potential to destabilize our government, weaken our economy, and jeopardize our international influence. It would be years, however—after I managed to disentangle myself from that intellectually restrictive thought system—before I would understand just how serious the crisis really was and how much of a national nightmare it had really been. Continue reading

Who Do You Think I Think God Is?

I am the first to admit that I don’t fully understand the concept of prayer. I do pray, and most of the time I feel better because I have prayed, but when I stop to consider what my praying implies about God, I am a combination of confused and embarrassed.

Do I really believe that the God who created the universe is not going to heal somebody or intervene in some situation or open some door of opportunity unless I ask God to do that? Or do I believe that God will allow a calamity to unfold unless a certain number of people beseech God to stop it? And if so, what is that number? At what point does the volume of prayer and the number of people praying about a particular matter reach “critical mass” so that God is required to respond by answering those prayers in the affirmative? Continue reading

Let Hypocrisy Roll Down like a River and Political Expediency like a Never-Ending Stream

As I sit down to write this morning, the news is all about two destructive forces unleashing pain and calamity on our nation—one meteorological, one political. Hurricane Matthew, a monstrous storm that caused widespread damage and loss of life as it swept across the day-9Caribbean and posed a major threat to the southeastern U.S., seems to be losing steam and veering away from the coast with much of its ruinous potential unrealized. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the Republican candidate for president.

As everybody knows by now, an audio recording has surfaced from 2005 in which the Republican candidate made vile and vulgar comments about women and spoke of his attitude and behavior toward them in terms that can only be described as predatory and demeaning. It is simply one more example, as though one were needed, to show that every time that man speaks, he hurts somebody. Continue reading

October Journal: Racism’s Last Gasp?

I am not a medical person, so I don’t know if this analogy works, but I’m going to try it anyway. Imagine a disease or condition which comes on slowly with symptday-4oms easy to overlook. Eventually, however, the symptoms are so gross and the patient’s condition so degraded as to require extreme and/or radical treatment.

The treatment appears successful, and symptoms abate, only to reappear, and sometimes maliciously so. Each recurrence, however, surrenders to treatment and the benefits of overall improving health. Continue reading

Prudent Politics

I am, by nature, an advocate. I tend to develop convictions thoughtfully, and then, having arrived at a conclusion, I want to encourage those with whom I agree and convince my opponents of the error of their ways. I have made a few enemies as a result of yielding to that tendency, especially when convictions which I developed later in life required the amendment, if not the abandonment, of positions I had earlier held.

Seven years ago I underwent a dramatic transformation of my political views. Almost overnight I changed my mind about a host of issues concerning which, I had previously assumed, my positions were set in stone. I was first eligible to vote in the general election of 1972. For thirty-three years I had consistently cast my vote for candidates representing one particular political party (except for 1980, when I voted for the third party candidate, and 1984, when I sat out the election and didn’t vote at all). All of that changed in 2005.

I’m not going to tell you, at least not in this post, how I changed politically—not the old positions that I abandoned nor the new viewpoint that I embraced nor the factors that influenced the change (although I know what they were, and I may address that in a future blog post). I mention my political transformation for two reasons. First, my experience is evidence that you can indeed “teach an old dog new tricks.” (I was 55 years old in 2005.)

More importantly, however, I draw attention to my political “conversion” to introduce the real point of this post. Once it became clear to me that I needed to rethink some of my earlier points of view, positions I had maintained and advanced with evangelistic fervor, my first inclination was to promote my newfound convictions with equal enthusiasm. Fortunately, the one truly beneficial characteristic of growing older, i.e. wisdom, kicked in. I was not only older, I had grown a bit wiser over the years as well.

I’m not proposing that the change in my political perspective is, itself, a product of my increasing wisdom. (I believe it is, but that is a case I will need to make at a later time.) I’m suggesting that the wisdom and maturity that accompany growing older have tempered my youthful exuberance.  As much as I wanted to share my newfound “enlightenment” with my still-benighted friends in order to persuade them to change their ways, the better part of wisdom called for self-restraint and patience.

I had come to the conclusion that some of my earlier views were wrong. I had not considered the issues carefully enough. I had not taken time to hear the voices of people who, although they advocated political positions which I found objectionable, were nonetheless as equally committed to Christ as I was. I had to repent of my arrogance and intransigence and admit that the perspective with which I had been brought up might not be the only one a citizen of the Kingdom of God could support. Coming to that recognition, I felt both liberated and admonished. I recognized that, if I had been wrong before, I might be wrong again. I don’t think I am, but I hold my convictions more gingerly now. Temperance and a bit of humility have replaced doctrinaire self-confidence.

In private conversation, under particular circumstances, I can be as forceful and aggressive in the advocacy of my political points of view as I ever was, even though I have undergone dramatic changes in my thinking. But in public, I have determined that, particularly in the current political climate, it is better to maintain a more discreet, more prudent approach.

I spent several hours earlier today reading the official platforms of both political parties. I find much in both of them to applaud. I find much in both of them with which I take exception. That is what prompted me to write the comment which I posted on my Facebook wall today:

The values of the Kingdom of God do not align with either political party. The King of Kings is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He would find Himself in prophetic tension with both parties. Political ideology should not be a mark of Christian orthodoxy, whether from the right or the left.

I am a person of deep convictions in many areas. I believe firmly that my faith in Christ and my devotion to the Kingdom of God have a direct and practical impact on the way I relate to the culture and society of which I am a part. I believe Christians should care about the “public square,” should involve themselves in the political process, and should know why they hold the convictions that they do. I also believe that there is seldom a single point of view on any issue that can be regarded as the correct position which must be embraced by all true Christians.

One of my very best friends, a Christian brother whom I have known for more than thirty years, holds political convictions which, in many cases, reflect the opposite end of the political spectrum from my own positions. We recognize our differences. From time to time we actually broach them in one of our frequent telephone conversations. But they have not presented an insurmountable barrier to our friendship, and they have not posed an impediment to our common commitment to Christ and His Kingdom.

Unfortunately, I cannot say that about all those who have known me both before and after my political “conversion.” Many have criticized my change of heart as a departure from the true faith. One even suggested that the clerical collar I now wear is too tight and impedes the flow of oxygen to my brain. (If only he knew that most of those who wear this collar, among my colleagues anyway, would share his disdain for my politics.)

I publish this post in the hope that, during these final three months of a seemingly interminable election season, we Christians can tone down the rhetoric a bit and give one another the benefit of the doubt. I may differ with you on some political issues, but if we both acknowledge the lordship of Christ, I am not your enemy. We may be convinced that those with whom we disagree are wrong. If they are fellow-believers, however, we must never regard them as evil.

My grandfather used to tell me not to judge another man’s actions or motives until I had walked a mile in his shoes. After more than six decades of life, I have learned that almost nothing is as simple as the loudest voices, of both proponents and critics, would have us believe. In future posts, I’ll attempt to illustrate how that plays out in the shouting matches between fervent advocates of opposing political viewpoints.

In the meantime, I hope we can be more civil and less caustic, more prudent and less strident.  If we can’t, we may shore up our respective bases and generate a chorus of “Amens” from the choir we’re preaching to. But in the process we may succeed only in further alienating those who have not yet come to faith in Christ. Too many of them already believe that Christians are narrow-minded and mean-spirited. And when you consider how we speak of those with whom we disagree, even within the household of faith, can you blame them?

[And now a postscript. Some of the most astute among the readers of this blog may already be thinking, “Hmmmm. He had a dramatic political conversion seven years ago. Wasn’t that about the same time he transitioned from Anabaptism to Anglicanism? I wonder if there is a connection?”

I can assure you there is virtually none. The timing is purely coincidental. The factors which ultimately influenced my identification with Anglicanism had been taking shape in my thinking for several years before I first visited a liturgical church. The factors which influenced the changes in my political perspective emerged rather suddenly, in conjunction with a course I was teaching at the time. These experiences came about exclusive of each other. Neither was dependent upon nor occasioned by the other. But thanks for asking.]