Friday, September 1, 2017

"The Rich Young Senator"

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0757YWJ7R

The point of departure for this one entered my head many, many years ago.  I have a cousin who serves in ministry in North Dallas, and she once remarked to me that pretty much all of America’s churches – not just the high per capita ones – were filled with rich young rulers, referring to the common name for the original story in the gospels.

The schoolteacher or middle manager may not think of themselves as wealthy, but we as American Christians do in fact behave this way.  We definitely lay hold of our political rights this way. We have achieved such a level of ‘democratic’ wealth and spiritual/societal conscientiousness in our civilization, that we have adopted the attitude of a self-reliant, yes-I’m-doing-what-I’m-supposed-to, God-fearing lord or lady.  My cousin went on to explain to me that this material-driven self-righteousness was the true scourge of the church in our country today, much more than anything like false teaching, addictions, etc.

This conversation has stayed with me ever since.

This fall will mark a loose anniversary I have in my mind of when I officially became politically active.  It was this time of year in 1988.  Another cousin had roped me into being a yard sign distributor for Republicans in my home of Hunt County, Texas, owing to the fact that I had a newly minted driver’s license and my parents’ giant ’84 Suburban.  He himself was the official Hunt County coordinator for the George H.W. Bush campaign, and he moonlighted on Wednesday nights as our youth group leader.

One Wednesday night, our regular youth time overlapped with a conference call he had with the state campaign director for Bush 41.  My cousin brought in what was, at the time, a state-of-the-art desktop conference phone he had persuaded his dad, a propane retailer, to buy so that they could talk to all his drivers across East Texas at once.  After a shortened youth group lesson, my cousin dialed in a number as a couple of us huddled around the speaker set up on a table in our pastor’s study.  In a second, a 42-year-old George W. Bush came on the phone and gave a quick status report (I will admit that today I am older than this, but not by much).  The future Bush 43 began ticking through a list of all the county coordinators in Texas working for his father’s campaign.  Texas was still heavily Democratic then, and it was not a shoo-in for the Vice-President, especially with a popular U.S. Senator, Lloyd Bentsen, filling the other half of the Dukakis ticket.

“How are ya, Tim?” asked Bush 43, like my cousin was close friend.  My cousin was the only coordinator in that long list that was addressed by name.  In that instant, I was hooked on politics. Even as a sixteen-year-old, I immediately thought, oh, that dude just has a list in front of him with my cousin’s name on it, and he’s just playing off it.  But even that nascent cynicism could not the overcome the wildfire that was really ignited in my conscious.  I fell in love with the idea that if you just showed up when a connection asked you to, the rich and powerful would know your name, and that they might even listen to you if you stayed cool.

Twenty-nine years later, I realize this has been my modus operandi for every political deed I’ve undertaken, whether I was helping a complete political rookie get elected to the school board or was trying to persuade John McCain to his face that consideration of his amendment to preserve trade with Vietnam was protected by the Senate rules, and that Trent Lott was not out to get him.

I also realize now that I have been trying to be heard by the wrong people.  I have a touch of lament that this has taken twenty-nine years, but, like my cynicism, that is not more powerful than heaven’s conviction.  But if the Trump era has taught us anything, no matter how long he lasts, it is this:  the people very much run the United States.  It has always been this way.  Sure, the engagement level of that leadership may seem to come in spurts – but our nation is absolutely ruled by the Social Security check, among others.  We ourselves are the people who must listen to ourselves.  That is the true power structure of all of us rich young rulers.

What, then, of followers of Christ?  Should we be ruling?  That’s not what Jesus seemed to tell the young man in their encounter.  Or was it?

I hope this new little story will help us all think about this question a little more, and of course be entertained.  It is all G-rated for the most part.  But, there’s your money’s worth of violence (Also in high school, I spent too many weekends helping my orthopedist dad as his surgical tech not to sprinkle in a little gratuitous bloodshed here and there).  There is a tiny flicker of profanity, but it will make sense for the character who utters it.  I may be criticized for not allowing my inebriated journalist characters to use their normal barracks English, but I think the tale is otherwise plenty realistic.

You can absolutely read this book on any device once you perform a simple download (if even necessary).  You can read it on your handheld phone!  Thanks for taking the risk and time.

Enjoy the story.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

RE: Confederate Monuments

The Confederate Soldier statue in Greenville, Texas

I have stated my views about the War Between the States and how to commemorate it before.  Although that article is more than two-and-a-half years old, my opinions are unchanged about this period in our history and the criticalness of remembering it and the people of it.  If anything, my thoughts have become more ingrained, especially in the sense of how we should study the subject and arrive at informed opinions.

What has changed is the wild-eyed Bastille-ism now affecting Confederate symbolism around the country.  I stated in the article that basic recollection of the war and its memorials were soon to fall off a cliff of ignorance, but I meant that in terms of simply knowing key nouns by anyone under the age of 40.  I did not predict the devilish glee a bunch of self-righteous revolutionary wannabees would be demonstrating around and toward various statues, etc.  The racist socialists on the one side are, of course, repugnant by any measure.  And the righteousness of the be-tolerant-or-die leftists to “stand up to white supremacy” and “right the wrongs of the past” is as hypocritical as their lack of direct involvement with the black community to start with.

In the face of this chaos, I will continue to be the voice of reason, no matter how weakly my voice may sound amidst the shrieking.  Accordingly, I will lay out what I think is a sensible way to address Confederate monuments – a policy that may surprise some of my brothers in arms – but I must first correct some publicly disseminated ignorance.

The non-profit Texas Tribune recently reported on an estimated 180 Confederate-named locations in Texas.  This list, as reported, used as its starting point a list compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Although some of their legal tactics against the KKK and Aryan groups have been effective, the Southern Poverty Law Center has its own questionable heritage, but that is another blog.  Suffice it to say the SPLC is primarily a fundraising organization which, like many of them regardless of the cause, end up spending more money to raise it than they do in supporting their stated purpose.

In terms of the SPLC list, I have uncovered a blatant falsehood, which I think proves that anti-monument people aren’t really interested in facts or, worse, the decisions that some communities have already made on this issue.  The error that the SPLC and, by extension, the Texas Tribune are making concerns a Confederate memorial in my own hometown of Greenville.  The reference is to Smithsonian American Art Museum inventory record #TX000782, the Confederate Soldier statue commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy Chapter 1236.  The Smithsonian record is not up to date (but why should the SPLC or anyone else care about accuracy?).

This statue was first put up on the Greenville High School Wesley Street campus in 1926 (the GEUS Customer Center currently occupies this space, for those of you in/from G-town).  The statue followed the high school when it moved to a new building built on Texas Street in 1951.  Then, the marble sculpture of a simple CSA infantryman moved again to a new Junior High School on Stanford Street in the 1970s.

Due to it being a repeated target for vandalism, the statue was moved to its current resting place on the grounds of the Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum along I-30.  Incidentally, I-30 is also named locally as the Martin Luther King, Jr., Freeway within the city limits.  Why was the statue vandalized?  Local race issues may have been a factor over the years, but more often than not it was simply teenage hooliganism.  Regardless, there could be no better, safer place for it than its Blackland prairie spot between the Ende-Gillard House (also relocated to the museum grounds to protect it from vandals) and our town’s awesome bronze statue of Audie Murphy.

And this is a prime example of why so much ignorance persists when it comes to memorials.  No one bothered to check on the true status of the statue before they pushed it on out as something that should be taken down (this is the push of the SPLC website; the Tribune may not overtly be advocating it, but their reliance on the SPLC for sourcing brings their objectivity into question).  I hold these organizations responsible for these details.  As researchers, they should have contacted the Smithsonian to verify that their survey was up-to-date; if they did, then the blame is on our esteemed national curation system.  NOTE:  I will be copying and pasting my blog address into the form the Tribune has provided for “monument reporting.”

And to further correct the constant ignorance that is being perpetuated on this issue, I will lay out what I think should be the solution.  It’s very simple, and it’s an idea recently referred to by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz as he referenced the monument situation at UT Austin:  let the community decide.  In other words, let’s try to go back to good ol’ fashioned local democracy and allow citizens to make their own choice.  And it can be done through a public comment system, a city council agenda item, or even a full ballot referendum; just let the people – and not a liberal, Orwellian elite – decide for everyone else, which is the path we are on.

The irony is that by doing so, we would be returning to the original process that plunged the country into the Civil War in the first place and all its nightmare after effects:  popular sovereignty.  Abraham Lincoln split the country not because he was for or against slavery per se; he was, however, steadfastly against the people deciding about advancing slavery in new states, and this what drove the South to secede (in their racism, they wanted at least the option of extending human bondage all the way to the Pacific, as cotton could be grown in optimal conditions in Arizona).

True, much in terms of how America would view equality hung in the balance on these questions at the time, and I don’t want to minimize them.  But a step in healing of all the bad decades to follow would be to allow communities to wrestle with these issues themselves, today, independent of any kind of dictum, be it a law or attitude.

But it can’t be done with apathetic and inaccurate information.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Health Care Debate Gets Buried in the Swamp

Senator John McCain (Getty Images)

John McCain executed his sweet revenge on Donald Trump Thursday night by killing a shell health care bill written as part of the anti-Obamacare effort.  So called “skinny repeal” was the cancellation of the medical device excise tax that was passed with the Affordable Care Act.  In theory, all Republicans should express perfect unanimity over resecting a law that both puts a tax where there was none and stifles innovation in a technology field that makes lives better.  But, a Senator from a state that is totally dependent on Medicaid (Murkowski - Alaska) and a Democrat in Republicans’ clothing (Collins – Maine) apparently thought hanging together wasn’t the way to go with Mitch McConnell’s current strategy.

As did John McCain.  Two weeks ago, the Arizona Senator underwent a routine surgery in Phoenix to remove a blood clot from above his left eye.  A pathology report of this clot revealed evidence of glioblastoma, which is an aggressive brain cancer.  Why not slow down? was the gist of his speech in favor of moving ahead with debate earlier this week.  Slowing down would also prolong his torture of our instant gratification President, a man who insulted the former Vietnam POW for being shot down and captured.  When skinny-repeal died on the table, so did Trump’s campaign hype that the GOP would repeal Obamacare.  I promise you, this was as much in the Senator’s mind when he cast his vote at midnight yesterday morning.

As tragic as McCain’s revenge vote was, the greater crime in the Obamacare repeal movement has been that Republicans generally aren’t being true to themselves - even the so-called "heroic" ones like Cruz, Lee, Paul, etc.  This is because the President is not a true conservative, and cannot guide the members of the House and Senate accordingly.  House Speaker Paul Ryan is the closest thing we have to a market-oriented health care policy wonk on the repeal effort, but he is trapped in being from a state/district that ultimately thinks it needs some type of guaranteed health coverage.  As a result, his creativity is limited to inside-the-box thinking.

Republicans’ only hope at truly reforming health care, which Senator McCain yesterday claimed was his reasoning behind his no-vote (subliminal message: yeah, whatever), is to stop, yes, but more importantly, take a deep breath and remember their conservatism.  Here are the key ideas to remember, in case their political egos have also put their ideology on life support:

  1. De-couple health insurance from employment.  There are multiple ways to do this, including, if necessary, putting a 150% tax on corporations that offer it as part of a cafeteria plan, which will disincentivize.  This is arguably the second-biggest factor as to why we have such high premiums and therefore a lack of coverage among those who are younger and poorer.

    I don’t have the space here to elaborate, but think of it as car insurance.  Our car insurance is affordable because we have to go out in the marketplace and get it; most employers only offer modest discounts if it is any kind of work benefit.  Health insurance is high because insurers know that big companies have the money to pay the premiums, hence the micro-inflation in prices.
  2. Raise the enrollment age of Medicare to 72.  Americans, for the most part, are living longer because of better information about diet and exercise and market-led pharmaceutical therapies.  They are also in the workforce longer.  Put this population back into the larger coverage pool, and more payers will reduce premium prices.
  3. At the same time, take those more aged individuals with existing conditions and put them in either a regional or state-organized risk pool.  Certainly, more work needs to be done with risk pools to make them function correctly, but this is what states are for.  Let them use trial and error, if need be.
  4. Put a DNR on Medicaid – DO NOT EXPAND IT!  Move all the poor people into some type of CHIP program, and get them to start paying SOMETHING.  This must occur – there will be no modification of consumer behavior until they are putting money toward coverage of their families instead of into junk food and drugs.

    There needs to be a tax credit for long term care policies.  The biggest cost to state Medicaid programs are nursing homes.  If an employer wants to offer a low-cost benefit to its workers that’s health-related, make it this one!  Long term care policies work and will force nursing homes to adapt to market forces instead of walking up and down the halls of state capitols with their hands out.

These are just some of the core principles that Republicans need to “slow down” with and use to grade every other idea they have.  Of course, the Obamacare subsidies need a deep hole to be tossed into; it is this part of the ACA that many Republicans are hoping will tank the program.  But this is a game of chicken that will result in band-aid spending ad nauseum courtesy of the Democrats.  And obviously, the mandates of coverage must end – these are market perversions that will not make anyone “healthier.”  But above all, there has to be a return to smart, principled thinking, not just this partisan, that’s-a-stupid-idea attitude.

If not, all we get it is revenge drama and the pettiness writ-large that is refilling the swamp faster than it can be drained.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Hillary v. Trump: America Must Choose Between Mom and Dad


Early voting in Texas begins tomorrow.  If there are any Republicans in the older Metroplex suburbs, the rapidly changing Metro Austin area, or outlying wards of Houston, chances are you have the privilege of finding an office not too far down the ballot that is a simple, classic matchup between a sophisticated conservative and a truly ignorant Democrat.  For the rest of us across the state, we must suffer from our success in recent decades at hunting Ds to extinction.

And I do mean suffer, because all many of us Red people have left upon which to train our sights is this blankety-blank Presidential race.  Hillary “Rodham-got-deleted” Clinton versus Donald “Boy-named-Sue’em” Trump is like that troublesome pimple that blemishes a perfectly scrubbed face – and that can’t be gotten rid of even if we try to pop it.

Election Day ’16, for the nation, will be a day of ecstatic relief, no matter who is elected.  For me personally, I will glory in the liberation of my Facebook page from the dire, apocalyptic finger-raising of all my Christian brothers and sisters from across the political spectrum.  I recognize my jadedness – I have in fact embraced it many ages ago – and so I openly admit I’ve spent much of the year laughing and snarking at what people have written, posted and shared.  I guess I feel I should confess here and now the ridicule I’ve privately put on old friends.  I’ve watched good-hearted, rational folks, some very dear, turn into hysterical, hyperventilating, self-righteous lunatics these past several months as they’ve all picked their various hills upon which to die.  And yet at times my scrambled-idealism would burst through and I would consider joining different ones of them, depending upon who had the better cupcakes.

As Honest Abe said, “I laugh so that I must not cry.”  And that’s the true nature of the relief we will all experience some time the week of November 8 (I believe this year’s Presidential race could tangle up into a Florida 2000-type situation).  Week after next, we don’t have to make it ok anymore.  We can simply accept our misery.

A new, shadowy life will set in.  The judge’s gavel will fall, and the visitation schedule will commence.  One parent will bear the day-to-day, cash-strapped responsibility of managing the household while the other stews in bitterness and poisons us with it on the weekends.  We will resent the one who tries to take care of us and become detached from the other who goes emotionally adrift.  Worst of all, we will be told we will be ok because “children are resilient.”  On SNL last night, Tom Hanks – a mega-Hillary supporter – said as much in his opening monologue.

This all sounds really gloomy, I know.  But there is a silver-lining.  Some have asked me, a failed political hack, if I think this election will somehow “get it out of our system” – the “it” being this scummy and covetous rage against the Man/Establishment/Illuminati/Them.  Well, history is somewhat mixed in its record.  I actually think it will be cathartic for our country, though we will never be free of the envy that spawns conspiracies.

I believe Election ’16 will be a cleansing because it has forced many Americans to consider that their system of government may in fact have become a graven image of sorts to them.  There’s an expectation we’ve had for far too long that whoever’s in the White House, the Capitol, or state legislature should make us feel good.  The way we say this is, “I feel good about him/her being the X-representative” or “he/she is a true one-of-those, because I am a true one-of-those.”  Well, this year we’ve gotten a set of candidates that can churn different sections of our abdomens with gifted success.  What does this reflect?  That we have made an office holder’s ability to make us feel good our master – or mistress.

Abraham Lincoln also wrote, concerning democratic principles, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.”  He put this on paper before the War and the 650,000+ Americans who would die as the result of his policies.

Can we find Lincoln's high-minded balance today?  Instead of spending the rest of our childhoods and adulthoods wishing things had been different, we can make a decision, with God’s help, to become better parents - and citizens - ourselves. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Caliphate of Illinois

Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College is named after the first President and houses both that office and the Political Science Department.  It has always been rumored that the basement was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

There’s nothing like controversy over Islam to commemorate Christmas.

I have tried to avoid commenting about the situation involving Professor Larycia Hawkins, Ph.D. up at my alma mater, Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.  I have no inside knowledge of whatever communication may be occurring between all the parties involved.  I do not know Dr. Hawkins at all, neither am I acquainted with the College President, Dr. Philip Ryken.  I only know the Provost, Dr. Stan Jones, from hearing him lecture a few times during my years on campus in the early Nineties (Dr. Jones is a psychology professor; I pretty much only hung out in the History Department, with Student Government or over at Arena Theater).  

What I am somewhat more aware of is the long progression of the small Wheaton College Political Science Department from a theory, international studies-oriented unit toward one that is more policy-oriented (this has become so in spite of the official department name).  Much of this change was needed.  For decades, Wheaton Poly Sci was kind of an unwanted step child that reflected the larger missions-oriented, evangelical view of politics generally, which was that it was a dirty business in which the Christian is not called to serve.  For example, the department was forced to share office space with other small humanities divisions.  More opinionated or activist professors found things awkward and tended not to stay long.  But in the past dozen years or so, a younger breed of instructor has been hired and helped shepherd the student body to think more about the practical application of their principles in the public arena.  This trajectory was aided by the rise of Wheaton alumnus, and the campus’ congressman, J. Dennis Hastert to the Speakership of the U.S. House.

Yet like the recent bizarre scandal involving the former Speaker, the unseemly sludge of bad decisions made in the past has erupted from beneath the surface of the Chicago West Suburbs with the Hawkins case.  The spillage has introduced toxins into the evangelical community on a national stage and is right square in the middle of the centuries-long War between the West and Islam, version 2.0.

I’m not going to comment on Dr. Hawkins and her views per se, here.  As I’ve read all the news articles and Facebook posts and considered what’s going on with her, the campus, liberation theology, universal salvation, etc., I’ve just gotten upset and unsettled and wrathful, and I am not going to write out of that place.  I think it’s more important to explain why this has happened.  The school leadership is to blame and is certainly guilty of high hypocrisy, but not for the reasons upon which leftist evangelicals and the secular media want to insist.

Twenty-four years ago in Jenks Hall I completed a political science course to satisfy my liberal arts requirement.  The professor was a gifted communicator who truly understood her field, but she was new both to being a full-time instructor and, by her own admission, the Christian faith.  I will never forget a comment she made one day in class which was telling to me about why she had been hired.  I forget the general discussion, but she made the remark that her hiring committee, which consisted of both board members and faculty, called her a “neophyte” when it came to understanding the traditions and doctrine of conservative evangelical faith.

The professor didn’t seem to take umbrage at this label, and she was quite respectful of her new community of believers.  She listened with fascination to her students when we would explain the political foundations and policy positions upon which we had been reared.  But subsequent to her remark about being considered a neophyte, I found out one of her prominent qualifications was that she brought a feminist perspective to her academic work.  For the Wheaton powers-that-were at the time, she filled the quota; her theological maturity was secondary to academic freedom and gender diversity.

This hire was made toward the end of a very centrist period in Wheaton’s history, during the presidency of J. Richard Chase – the only Wheaton President ever not to have had a Ph.D. in theology or Biblical studies (his was in Speech and Rhetoric).  The fact that two significantly more conservative former pastors have been hiring the faculty since then – Duane Litfin (came from the First Evangelical Church of Memphis) and Ryken (came from Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia) -- reveals just how much the Marxist-centered quest for multicultural diversity has infected American academia, statement of principles or no statement of principles.

The people teaching us after high school have become so conditioned by the multicultural mindset – it is seen throughout corporate America, to say nothing of both political parties (Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina reflect this in the GOP) – that it might be the left’s single greatest achievement today.  Forget untrinitarian monotheism, hijabs, burqas or beheadings; the intellect of our society has now become enslaved to a caliphate of thought.

Accordingly, Dr. Hawkins (hired in 2007) shouldn’t be blamed for the current controversy and standoff over her job, any more than the ocean should be impugned for being salty.  Upholding theological truth, as well as just sticking with plain ol’ principles, requires more than just an annual signature.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Elders on the Ridge


 Roger Williams arrives in Massachusetts Bay

NOTE TO READER:  This blog entry has a focus on events at Ridgecrest Baptist Church, where I attend.  If you find internal church politics boring…well…you don’t know what you’re missing.


My church family is scheduled to vote on whether or not to amend our constitution for the purpose of creating the office of elder.  This vote will occur on September 20 during our business meeting.

I joined Ridgecrest six years ago by letter when I moved back to town.  Although I had been active in an independent church with an elder structure before leaving the Metroplex, I joined the Southern Baptist tradition in 2000 by baptism at First Baptist Church of Alexandria, Virginia.  Prior to this, I had always been involved in a church with elders, principally in the Presbyterian tradition.

So, by way of full disclosure, I wholeheartedly endorse the amendment to Ridgecrest’s constitution.  Not only do I believe it will bring our church family into fuller obedience to God’s word – an exposition of which our pastor, Matt Beasley has carefully laid out -- but such a change in structure has many practical benefits that will make our local body of Christ healthier.  True, all elders are human, but any possible negative consequences are outweighed by the positive.  The Ridgecrest amendment, in particular, is a biblical complement to the great Baptist traditions of congregationalism.  This is because the amendment assigns elders specific roles independent of the deacons, term limits them, and still requires the church membership to approve motions.

Having said this, I realize the e-word puts a bad taste in the mouths of many of my brothers and sisters.  There are basically two camps of opposition:  those who are opposed because elders are not historically a part of the Baptist tradition; and those who sympathize with this group.  The basic argument of this last group is itself sympathetic and understandable:  why alienate anyone, especially our truly elderly members who have been faithful for so long, and cut a rift in the unity of the body?  Believe me, I get this.

My purpose in writing is to respectfully ask my brothers and sisters to reconsider their position if in fact they are in one of these camps.  I also want to try and move the rest of us up out of a touch of apathy that seems to surround the topic.

I will attempt to do this, of course, by giving a history lesson.

Why do Baptists not have elders, given the overall unwavering commitment of the tradition to the teachings of Scripture?  Further, why do many of us harbor a quiet disdain toward the very idea of elders?  The answer, as is often the case, lies in the denomination’s founding.

The founder of the Baptist church as we know it in America today was the Puritan preacher Roger Williams (1603-1683).  He is a compelling figure from any part of American history, let alone the Colonial period.  He was exceptionally articulate even in an age of gifted preachers.  He was passionate and persuasive, kind and charismatic.

But he was also contrarian and often obnoxiously self-righteous.  In a time and place when Christian teaching emphasized the attributes of God and how they manifested themselves in the pious life, Williams’ sermons regularly mixed in social, political and anti-royal rhetoric rooted in opposition to most forms of man-made authority.  He believed intensely that God was the only real authority, and human beings accountable only to the Lord through their own consciences.  Williams’ sermons demanded this extreme, direct repentance, action and justice in the face of illegitimate authority.  Although certainly devout and committed to Christ, Williams seemed to elevate the right of an individual to his conscience over pursuing Christ-likeness among brothers (James 5).

A key reason for this was the unique status of the church shortly after the first New England colonies were founded.  Rarely in Christian history has Bible-based church governance been so closely intertwined with a civil structure than it was in Puritan New England.  Ironically, the Puritans had left England, where religious dissent was often met with being burnt at the stake, also with the hopes of finding “the pure church” and establishing their famous “City on a Hill” (Matthew 5:14).

But their priorities were religious freedom over individual conscience.  This religious freedom was upheld by a community of believers while conscience was called upon to be administered in accordance with Paul’s teachings on Christian liberty (Romans 14).  True, the Puritans got a little crazy on a few things, but this basic idea of what a Christian community should be was at the heart of their faith.

In a handful of separate colonies across Massachusetts, the Puritans had moved away from the bishop-vestry style of their own Anglican tradition and used the New Testament Elder-Deacon model to govern both church and village.  Religious authority and civil government were one and the same in 17th Century Massachusetts under the Puritan elders.  You could be punished if your neighbor overheard you speaking abusively toward your spouse within the confines of your own home.  You could be put in stocks for leaving the church service early…and they lasted three hours on a narrow wooden bench!  One Puritan man was even brought before the church to be disciplined for “not fulfilling his husbandly duty.”  His wife brought the charge.

Relative to the Puritan leadership in Massachusetts, Williams would have been considered religiously “libertarian,” or even liberal by today’s standards.  Williams’ contrarian nature and his never-satisfied pursuit of what he called “the pure church” put him at odds almost immediately upon arriving in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631.  A group of men governing not just doctrine but also the religious correctness and everyday affairs of a community offended Williams’ radical views on the Lordship of Christ.  He was the first American to introduce and wrestle with the idea of separating church and state and what that looks like.

Making things worse for the Puritan elders was how Williams chose to approach the Indians of New England.  He did so with an open mind, unlike most of the pastors of the region.  Williams, along with more enlightened missionaries like John Eliot and the Mayhew family, felt that the more effective means of evangelization of Native Americans was to understand them culturally.  Today, modern missionaries would refer to these missionaries’ efforts as early forms of contextualization.

At the time, the prevailing view of most Christians was that the only sincere faith was one that at once rejected an individual’s pagan ways and immediately embraced not just the Lord Jesus as Savior but also European culture.  This view was upheld, often in courts or court-like settings, by the Puritan elders.

Understandably, Williams and others became indignant when many elders began to put up roadblocks to church membership against the very Indians they had converted.  And it’s true that the things these Puritan elders did were petty and reproachful to some of Scripture’s most basic teachings, such as the doctrine of equality in Christ found in Galatians 3:28.  In the case of some of John Eliot’s converts, the Indian men went all the way in wearing English clothing and cutting their hair, only to be told by the elders that they could not worship in the same building as the white people.

Moreover, when many of these Indians began to have land disputes with the ever-migrating colonists, things wouldn’t go their way in the church/colonial courts.  Often their lands got appropriated without clear title or just compensation.  Williams began to speak out against the elders in these cases, and he began to lump the Bible’s teaching about elders in with ideas about the establishment and corruption.

Williams’ agitation resulted in his expulsion from the colony by the Massachusetts leaders.  Unlike people like Eliot, Williams chose to antagonize those in authority instead of work with them.  He struggled with New Testament passages like Romans 13 and 2 Peter 2.  By the time Williams found safe haven among the Narragansett Indians in what would become Rhode Island, the minister and his followers had decided that anything resembling a church hierarchy was detrimental to God’s people.

Williams and others in the region, notably Anne Hutchison in Connecticut (who had also been banned for crossing the elders) hence promoted congregationalism as the purer model of church governance.  And because they also rejected the infant baptism practiced by the Anglicans (Church of England) – they thought it was too much like Roman Catholicism, which they truly HATED – the more open, loosely structured tradition of the Baptist faith rooted in believer’s baptism was born.

Over time, the self-governing sensibilities and capabilities of Americans generally seemed to bless the Baptist church structure.  To this very day, many Baptists seem to struggle in separating Pauls’ teaching on church governance from our own sacrosanct views about democracy and self-governance.

All of this is to say that we might resist the idea of elders in a Baptist church for some very understandable cultural reasons.  But Roger Williams should have been careful not to throw the baby out…well…with the holy water.

I hope my dear brothers and sisters at Ridgecrest who I love with all my heart will consider my opinion as to what might be animating any opposition to our upcoming amendment.  I have a dream that this blog post will set off a vigorous and loving debate prior to the vote.  In a time when God’s people are under withering attacks corporately, when ministries within a church can become personal carve-outs and when often the most basic tenets of God’s truth go unfollowed, I believe an amendment like ours is that much more important to strengthen us against the wolves.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 17, 2015

When Faith Reaches Its Limit


Over the years, I have heard the difference between God and humans described repeatedly as a “gap” or “chasm.”  The two best illustrations of this concept which come to mind are from David Gregory’s Dinner with a Perfect Stranger and C.S. Lewis’ The Pilgrim’s Regress.

In Gregory’s punchy, one-sitting book, the guest who is eating at an Italian restaurant with the business-suit clad Lord Jesus has the gap between him and his host described as “a tear in the universe” similar to one discovered by the USS Enterprise in a Star Trek episode.

In Lewis’ allegory, the first-person hero makes a journey through various theological concepts, all of which slake a thirst for truth but which ultimately fall short, literally, when he arrives at a massive, bottomless canyon that separates him from his desired goal.  Nevertheless, he tries to make his way down the canyon walls, only to falter and become hopelessly stuck.  At just the right moment, a character he refers to as “A Man” comes and lifts him up, not only from his perilous grip along the canyon wall, but also out and across the chasm.

I think for all people just coming to faith, these pictures of their separation from God make perfect sense.  But to the sojourning Christian, weary with one trial, test, hardship or even sin catastrophe after another, discovering yet another ravine ultimately makes no sense.  Hitting that chasm, or seeming to circle around to the same gap, again and again make the faith of the journey seem absurd.  Doubt sets in.  Doubt takes hold.

But the plain fact is that faith cannot get across the gap any more than the human will.  Faith is, truly, a human act.  It is something humans do.  At most, God may give specific types of faith (including what the Reformers called miraculous “Saving Faith”), but it is incumbent on the human to yield to its saving power.  Scripture likens faith to a soldier’s shield, which of course is designed for the specific purpose of combat and the will required for fighting.

So what are we to think of the Christian soldier who arrives at a chasm in life only to realize he is woefully ill-equipped to cross it?  What is she to do when it dawns on her that her faith has reached its limit, and the bitter thought of “why have I been lugging this useless thing around” is spoken into the mind?

Massive fault lines may rip across one’s path, shaking one’s faith into a crumbling theory that it might be good for something, but it sure doesn’t look like it right now.  Crying out to God for help is reduced to a feeble technique rejected in a state of exhaustion.  The heart one once had to trust has become a burnt out cinder of tension and pain that literally shrivels the shoulders forward, fearful of the next blow.

Sometimes faith may seem as empty as the gap you’re staring into.

Is there anything to meet the limit of faith?  I have concluded there is truly nothing within a human heart when it finds itself staring into the canyon.  But there is something outside it, yet it may surprise us when we realize what it is.

Ironically, what meets us when faith hits its limit is the faith of others.  This is the essence of any spiritual group.  The faith of others that things will change or improve is what has been given to an individual whose faith may have become empty.

It is the faith – not the sympathetic ear – of the friend who sits at Whataburger, fighting an illness himself, who asks how your kid is doing because he knows God will help the child.  It is the faith of the aunt who has applied her faith in prayer for you, and is then simply happy to see you trudging into the worship center.  It is the faith of the mother who can block out the temper tantrum of a 40-year-old and verbalize what God can do.  A person’s connectedness to these resources of faith is a dependence that produces hope even if the pain makes things too cloudy to see God.

Remember the pronoun that the gospel writer used in describing how Jesus healed the paralytic lowered through the roof:  “And upon seeing their faith…” (Mk. 2:5).  Jesus forgave the sins of the paralyzed man and ultimately healed him because of the faith of others.  The man was paralyzed more than just in his limbs; he was also flat on his back in his heart.

Faith, working through his friends, put him in front of a gospel that made him walk again.

British author George MacDonald notes that in all of Jesus’ miracles, there is a moment where the recipient must act or respond to Jesus’ words in order for the healing to actually occur.  In the case of the paralytic, he had to “get up, take up [his] pallet, and go home” (Mk. 2:11).  And the man did so, to everyone’s astonishment.

A deeper thought about overcoming this limit of faith is whether or not the commands of the Lord Jesus could even be disobeyed.  Would the paralyzed man have been able to remain in his horizontal mire, his faith weakened that much or his will broken in hostile resistance?  If God is God, can his commands even be disobeyed?  I think the answer is no.

I’m willing to take that on faith.