Unplanned hiatus, post-election thoughts

I’ve already mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook, but due to an equipment failure unfortunately production on future episodes both of this and the Morning & Evening podcasts are on hold for the time being.  My laptop was apparently damaged somehow in transit while I was on a business trip and the screen no longer works.  If I can’t fix it, I’ll have to replace it, which probably means next month some time.  Apologies to everyone, especially those of you who have been so encouraging through the production of the M&E podcast at Theology Mix (and to the other guys who have produced recordings for it).  I will update as soon as I am able to get everything back up and running.

I have really, really been thinking about if I even want to say anything about the election.  Friends who know me from years past are probably amazed, because they know me as a guy who was always up for a debate, always reading and engaging.  But this election has been absolutely off-putting and bizarre for a lot of reasons, and I do want to enumerate at least a few of those, as well as give a few thoughts on how I want to move forward, as a Christian and as a man who has often identified himself as a conservative and a Republican in one form or another.

This was probably the biggest disaster of an election I could have ever conceived of.  I made the comparison several times on Facebook that for Christians, this election was the equivalent of the infamous Kobayashi Maru scenario from Star Trek.

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On the one hand, you had a candidate who was overtly antagonistic to Christians, whose leaked emails revealed a campaign with not only no regard for believers but who openly opposed them, and intended to continue the Obama administration “pen and phone” efforts to force leftist social changes onto the country.  And on top of all that, before the campaign even began she was carrying enough scandalous baggage to make Richard Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln.  So for a lot of Christians, trying to avoid the consequences of Hillary’s victory was a major issue.

On the other hand, however, you had what amounted for many Christians to a big question mark.  Donald Trump mouthed a lot of the right platitudes and shook hands with the right people, he was photographed bowing his head and closing his eyes with American evangelical leaders…but he had a long and unsavory history of being after number one more than anything else, of doing whatever it took to squeeze the last penny out of a business before jumping ship and letting whatever was left sink in bankruptcy court.  And of course there’s this:

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“This,” for the record, is Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife Becki with Donald Trump…and in the background over Becki’s left shoulder is a framed copy of an issue of Playboy featuring Donald Trump.

“So what?” a lot of people said.  “Who cares if Donald Trump isn’t some perfect Christian, we’re not electing a pastor.”  “He’s repented of that and we should forgive him,” others said.  And above all, the droning repetition of “We have to stop Hillary.  If you oppose Trump you support Hillary.  You don’t want her as president, do you?”

But by supporting Trump, many evangelicals stood completely at odds with their own positions on presidents with similar records of debauchery, infidelity and covenant-breaking…who happened to have a D after their names.  Well, name, because we all know who I’m referring to–the husband, ironically, of the candidate who claims to be running to defend the rights of women, who has made a name for himself as a serial cheater and possible rapist.

And so, we have the Kobayashi Maru.  We can enter the neutral zone and find ourselves the targets of Klingon torpedoes with #ImWithHer emblazoned on them, or we can just be on our way and support a man whose behavior and political positions up until recently have really not set him apart at all from Hillary’s husband and…hope for the best?

For the record, I did not vote for either of them.  I have found myself saying many times over the course of the last few elections that my hope does not lie in votes or candidates, and this election perhaps more than any other has forced a realization of the truth of that statement.  In an absolutely stunning turn of events and against all expectations, Donald Trump won the presidency, and my social media feeds have exploded with a lot of different messages.  I have friends all over the political, social and religious spectrum, going back to school days in Minnesota up to today in work and church.

What I have heard has been a range of fear, anger and frustration on one side, and hope, happiness and even some optimism on the other.  What  I don’t see much of, though, is any meaningful interaction between the two.  I don’t say, no interaction at all, because there has been interaction–it’s just been pointless.  One guy going into a thread to call someone else a “libtard” or someone else posting angry screeds on someone else’s wall telling them that they’ve chosen racism and hatred over being a good human being does not make for thoughtful discussion.  It makes for building up walls, it makes for simply digging in deeper to preconceived opinions, and it certainly made for more anger for everyone involved.  Anger from my friends on the left as they continue to perceive their political opponents as racist, hate-filled, and irredeemable.  Anger from my friends on the right as they see their political opponents as completely entrenched and unwilling to think beyond a media message.

And me?  I don’t believe either candidate deserved the position.  My thoughts on this entire matter are probably summed up best by this quote from the 16th century reformer John Calvin:

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Biblically this is certainly true.  God turned the Israelites over to evil rulers, kings and governors and conquerors when they would flee obedience and seek after their own desires, until they repented and He would set them free.  When Jesus came, the Jewish leaders chose to turn Him over to the Roman leaders as an accused opponent of the Roman emperor rather than follow after Him as the true King of all.  And we still see this happening throughout history, as nations embrace the boot that crushes them so many times, before the glimmer of first hope shines in repentance.

So from my perspective, even more so there was no winning with either candidate.  No matter who won, we had a leader who was not a servant of the people, but a ruler who wanted what he wanted.  The only question was which flavor of tyranny the people would choose.

But even with that I have to be careful, because the temptation is to dive headfirst into cynicism and disconnection, from people and from loving others.  The challenge grows ever greater for a Christian who takes the faith seriously to remember: this is not about winning elections.  This is not about “saving the culture” or “advancing an agenda” or any of the other myriad of things people say about political action.  Our goal as believers, saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ, is to serve, to love and to preach the Gospel faithfully.

If you are afraid, if you are hopeful, if you are simply ambivalent, I’ve found representatives from all these camps in Christ.  And for all of us, the same truth remains:

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I can’t tell you “Feel this way.  Don’t feel that way.”  But I can say, trust your Father, and know that even if what we are seeing is His judgment on a wicked nation, it is a judgment that is happening with us here to continue serving as ministers of reconciliation, to carry the Gospel forth and to love our neighbors.  If you are afraid, remember that not a sparrow falls without your Father knowing it and reigning over even such small consequences.  If you are excited, remember that your God is the one who sets up and casts down kings, and let your worship rest on Him, not on the tools He uses.  In all things, let’s love our neighbors and our enemies, and do good to the ones who curse us.

I need to remember that myself more than anyone.  Friends, I pledge to you that I will do my best to avoid mocking, belittling or ignoring in any way.  That does not mean that I will agree with you, but I will listen to you, and I hope that in the end what we find is a chance to overcome needless division and find peace.

Hard questions part 1: When evil strikes

Photo credit: Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP

My wife came up to me yesterday and asked me, “Does the Bible say we should kill gay people?”  I was rather taken aback, since this subject doesn’t exactly come up on a regular basis.  But as we discussed the issue, about what Scripture says and what a Christian response to an evil act like the Orlando nightclub shooting looks like, the discussion turned more to the responses she had seen on Facebook.  And there are many understandable ones: What kind of person does something like this?  How can we hope to stop this from happening again?  Then there are ones that ask very pointed questions of Islam, as the shooter was a claimed adherent of Islam and, according to police, called 911 before or during the shooting and pledged allegiance to both ISIS and al Qaeda.  Then there were some responses that involved Christians, both from the Christian side (such as “How should we be serving these people in their time of pain and loss?”) and from the secular side (most pointedly, “How can you say you love these people and pray for them when you say they are living in sin and condemned to hell?”)

I think these all deserve discussion from a Christian point of view.  Most especially, they deserve discussion because when those around us experience pain and suffering, we should be ready to engage with them meaningfully–not with a pat answer and phony Christianese sunshine, but with the only real answer that matters, the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope it provides even in the darkest moments.  I don’t intend to make this “the definitive Christian response” but I want to do my best to answer questions I know many of my friends have.  I highly recommend listening to Dr. Albert Mohler’s excellent Briefing podcast episode from yesterday, as he calmly yet lovingly discusses some of the specifics from this issue.  The Gospel Coalition also has some excellent posts, including one by Nabeel Qureshi, who converted from the Ahmadiyya denomination of Islam and is now a Christian apologist working with Ravi Zacharias’ ministry.

I’ll be putting up several posts over the next couple of days.  I want to let this series of posts stand as a place to discuss the questions, responses, and frustrations of many, both Christian and not.  I may update it as time goes on.  Please feel free to post your own thoughts and anything you would like to see addressed in the comments below.  I do moderate for spam and trolling, but I will never turn away honest and heartfelt questions and disagreement.

I want to divide this up into sections, beginning with the subject of the shooting itself and branching out to broader issues.  For example:

  • What kind of man could do something so horrible to people who have never hurt him?
  • The shooter claimed to be a Muslim–was he really Muslim?  Do all Muslims have to act like the shooter? 
  • Does the Bible say we are supposed to kill homosexuals?
  • How can you say that you are praying for the victims and that you love them, when you condemn them and say they are in sin?

This is my prayerful and thoughtful attempt to bring a meaningful gospel response to a horrific and wicked act.  I hope my readers can recognize this, and are willing to engage in that spirit.

Read on…