Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Category: Politics (Page 1 of 3)

Senator Rubio’s Instructions on Prayer

On Monday Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted

For the senator this was a good political move. It will stir his base and none can argue a prayer for peace. Points all around.

And yet this vexes because it plays into a common misreading of the psalm to which it refers, a misreading which often poisons evangelical political thinking.

The Psalms of Ascent, of which Psalm 122 is one, were hymns of hope sung by Jewish pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for one of Israel’s annual feasts. Jerusalem was their focus because it was where God’s house was.

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! (1, 2)

Jerusalem fills the psalmist’s heart not as a piece of real estate or civic entity but as the place where God is. It was a place of worship and a place of justice. It was held in his heart as the place where things are as they are supposed to be.

Jerusalem— built as a city that is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD. There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David. (3-5)

This is the psalmist’s vision, but it is an idealized vision. He is aware of the city’s inability to effect all he longs for and so his hope is seated in Jerusalem as a symbol of what God will and can do when he dwells among his people, not in the city itself.

The failure of the physical Jerusalem moved Jesus to tears.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)

Jesus did not weep for the city per se (cities don’t throw stones) but for the people the city represented. The city stood as the symbol of the people among whom God was determined to dwell, the people who bore his covenant promises. And so Jesus spoke of the destruction of the city (which came) and the consequent re-centering of those covenant promises in his church.

The psalmist is making a pilgrimage to a city which would fall under judgment and eventually be destroyed. But the hope his pilgrimage represented would not be touched. It would be relocated.

We all ache to be in that place where God is. The Jerusalem the psalmist longs for and is heading for and longs to be a part of is a society in which worship is unfettered, where judgment is rich with justice and mercy, and where God’s people are one. We long for the garden, for that deep impulse to be in naked fellowship with our God and with one another, and it is a longing that will be fulfilled. But it will be fulfilled by a city God brings from above, not one that is built on earth.

In the meantime, the hope and the prayers encouraged by this psalm are not for the protection of the residents and political stability of a city in Israel, appropriate though such prayers might be. The prayer this psalm encourages is for the peace of that people and that place where God’s worship is now centered, and where now God’s purposes of justice and unity are now worked out. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem is to pray for the stability, purity, and prosperity of the church.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this is not what Sen. Rubio had in mind.

Politicians Lie

Refreshingly, someone told me the other day that they did not care whether I was Republican or Democrat or Independent. I told them that I was simply disgusted, but I don’t think that is an organized party.

As I thought about it, it occurred to me that what I want in a political candidate of whatever level or stripe is someone who

1. speaks what he believes,
2. believes what I believe, and
3. tells the truth.

I might settle for anyone who simply could be counted on to tell the truth. Those are rare.

When I saw a bumper sticker on the truck of a sadly bitter driver (his whole tailgate was covered with similar sentiments) that said “Obama lied – deal with it”, my first flush of frustration at such polarizing sentiments was then matched with sadness. There is truth to the joke that you can tell when a politician is lying because his lips are moving. I don’t want this to be the case. I want there to be heroes, and I want my heroes to tell the truth.

The idea that politicians lie is such a part of our popular psyche that it becomes easy money for cartoonists and comedians.

Lawyers Liars

I suppose that Abraham Lincoln adopted the name ‘Honest Abe’ to differentiate himself from the political pack. I wonder if he was successful. George Washington confessed his wrong in The Incident of the Cherry Tree, but even that may have been a story made up to overcome the aged presumption that politicians, of which he was one, lie.

I want my heroes to be men of character who tell the truth, and there seems to be something about the political domain that dashes such idealism to the ground.

One of the striking things about Erik Larson’s superb book Dead Wake about the sinking of the British cruise liner Lusitania is the bulk of intelligence that warned of a disaster and the inaction of the British government to intervene in any way. In the end, the blame fell on the Lusitania’s captain William Turner, a blame he bore heavily but unjustly.

The government’s official line in its later investigations was that the ship was hit by two torpedoes and not one. That thoroughly untrue claim was designed to imply the inevitability of the disaster and to divert attention from the absence of British preventative measures.

Winston Churchill, by all measures a political hero, was at the time eager to get United States involvement in WWI, and so he turned a blind eye to the fact that the Lusitania was sailing into a trap. He would forever claim, against the contrary evidence, that the attack was unexpected and the government was unaware. Both were fictions. Larson comments:

“The final humiliation for Turner came later, with publication of Winston Churchill’s book, in which Churchill persisted in blaming Turner for the disaster and, despite possessing clear knowledge to the contrary, reasserted that the ship had been hit by two torpedoes.” (page 347)

Lies are hard to prove, and I generally want to give people, even political people, the benefit of the doubt. But when politicians’ lips move, history suggests they are at best, ‘redistributing the facts’.

The Right to Remain Silent

Note: I wrote the bulk of this some time ago and it never was posted. Nevertheless, the sentiments expressed do seem to me to be worthy of consideration and so I am posting it here even though the issues and events referenced are dated.

Men and women facing arrest have the right to remain silent. Preachers, apparently, do not.

For some Christians alarms ring constantly on the cultural front and if preachers do not preach to that alarm we are cowering in fear and shirking our God-given calling.

There are many ways I fail in my calling. I question my fitness for ministry weekly, if not daily. But do I fail as the alarmists tell me I do when I do not speak to every cultural issue or crisis? I don’t think so.

A couple years ago, I addressed this subject, and so to cover the same territory is redundant. And yet the demand that preachers preach “to the current crisis” continues to surface.

There are many reasons to resist that demand, not the least of which is the ignorance that often swirls about issues when they first break onto the scene. Lack of information should breed care. It often does not.

We have this week alarmist fingers pointing at Houston, Texas, where, we are told, government is flexing its authoritarian muscle in subpoenaing sermons from pastors. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission, a man with the ears of many and at times good insight, says that

A government has no business using subpoena power to intimidate or bully the preaching and instruction of any church, any synagogue, any mosque, or any other place of worship. The pastors of Houston should tell the government that they will not trample over consciences, over the First Amendment and over God-given natural rights.

I’m stunned by that. Absent from his post is the reality that the pastors in question SUED the city of Houston, and the subpoena is simply part of the discovery phase of a legal proceeding that the ministers themselves initiated. One may still find the city’s reaction an over reach. But we do no one any favors, and especially those who are looking to our leaders to be thoughtful men, when we leave out pertinent details in our reporting of it.

Just this morning news broke that a city in Idaho was threatening to fine or jail a couple of ordained ministers for their refusal to perform a gay marriage. Again, this is an issue worth watching. The implications could be broad. From some posts (an example is here) one can easily get the impression that the city is going after all Christian ministers. But the couple in question do not pastor a church but a for-profit wedding chapel. They are a business. Again, issues abound, but the alarmists do us a disservice in screaming loudly in our ears and omitting information crucial to the issue at hand.

And if we all do not feed out of their hands and march to their drum, our very credentials as faithful men and women are questioned. That is wrong.

We were told on Twitter this week by one respected evangelical writer, Eric Metaxas (@ericmetaxas), that

Every pastor in America should preach about [the Houston subpoenas] on Sunday. If your preacher won’t, find another church. This is real.

I get that Metaxas’ has a thoughtful perspective on history. Though his book on Bonhoeffer was awful (I seem to be the only one on the planet who thought so), he has thought deeply about how Christian leaders should respond to government’s power. But men of good conscience will disagree on this. To lay down a litmus test of fidelity to my calling on this issue is grossly irresponsible.

Biblical preaching will often intersect with issues of public debate. And it should at times stimulate public debate. But the degree to which public debate influences the nature of one’s preaching will be effected by far more than what the alarmists find alarming.

Often I’m silent because I don’t know enough about the current crisis to speak intelligently about it. But mostly I’m silent because the issues are ones on which good people differ and which do not strike at the heart of my calling to preach the gospel.

Even here, I am told that I am wrong. When World Vision some time ago first agreed to offer employment to partners in gay relationships and then immediately reversed itself, I felt that there were a couple of ways of assessing that decision from a Christian point of view. Russell Moore, however, could see only one way and stated (quoted by Justin Taylor)

At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Really? That is, quite frankly, absurd. (Sometimes I wish my sense of propriety would lose its grip on me and allow me to use a stronger word. Such a comment deserves a stronger word, an expletive, even.)

Give your pastors the right to remain silent. Give them the promise of your prayers and your support. Pray that they would be wise and courageous. Be there when they preach, love them in their brokenness, and accept their gentle shepherding. But don’t demand that they follow the alarmist herd.

Islamaphobia

A helpful take on the recent flare up in Muslim relations with America by Brian McClaren.

In recent days, we’ve seen how irresponsible Muslim media outlets used the tawdry 13-minute video created by a tiny handful of fringe Christian extremists to create a disgusting caricature of all Christians – and all Americans – in Muslim minds. But too few Americans realize how frequently American Christian media personalities in the U.S. similarly prejudice their hearers’ minds with mirror-image stereotypes of Muslims.

I encourage reading the whole.

Presidents and Kingdoms

At the outset of one of the best expositions of the Bible’s teaching on the centrality of the Kingdom of God (which all Christians are to ‘seek first‘), Richard Lovelace in his wonderfully helpful and concise Renewal as a Way of Life: A Guidebook for Spiritual Growth has a healthy reminder for us during a presidential season.

One of the ruling passions of humanity is the search for a righteous government. The poor and the disadvantaged contend against “the system” with the conviction that another economic order will make the world livable. Every four years the American people elect a new president with the hope that somehow this will make things better. Economic downturns, crop failures, moral declines and worsening international conditions are all blamed on presidents — who in most cases have little control over events. In the hearts of the people is a groping, inarticulate conviction that if the right ruler would only come along, the world would be healed of all its wounds. Creation is headless and desperately searching for its head. (pages 40, 41)

The search is a proper one. To see the solution that Lovelace proposes, you should read the book, or at least its second chapter. His direction is wonderfully captured in this brief revelation:

Every time we come across the phrase “Jesus Christ,” instead of hearing “Jesus, the king who was promised to Israel,” all we hear is “Jesus” followed by a meaningless syllable. For most, probably, the phrase means “Jesus, who saves me from my sins.” This is certainly true, but it falls far short of saying “Jesus, the ruler of a whole new order of life, who has delivered me so that I can be a part of it.” (page 47)

Pro-life?

The tragic shooting in Aurora, CO precipitated predictable responses. Those who have long been in favor of limiting access to firearms returned their arguments to public attention, and those wanting to protect access resumed their defense of the 2nd Amendment. In this debate, conservative Christians typically align themselves with the “defend freedom” rhetoric of those defending open access to guns instead of with the “protect life” rhetoric of those wanting to limit that access. I find this a peculiar irony.Bears

Regardless of the truth or falsehood of the refrain “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” the fact is that people are still getting killed. Would not logic suggest that those who in every other way bill themselves as ‘pro-life’ would be taking the lead in finding ways to reduce the the numbers of those getting killed, whether by guns or people wielding guns?

I am not proposing that the answer to any of this is stricter gun control legislation, although I’m willing to entertain arguments that suggest that. What I am puzzling over is how the abstract idea of ‘freedom’, an obscure notion in Scripture, became something which animates Christians more than that of preserving life, for which we have a commandment. No doubt Old Testament homeowners chafed under the legal demand for a parapet as an infringement upon their freedom. But the “pro-life” link would be clear to them.

As David Brooks wisely noted in his NY Times column, legislation is not the answer to something as tragic as what happened in Aurora. But in the bigger argument over the relationship between “rights” and “life” I question the pro-life consistency when Christians automatically elevate the former over the latter.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

In Manatee County, Florida, years ago a man running for an open spot on the local Mosquito Control Board (yes, there really is such a thing) adopted a convenient nickname to use in his advertising in order to help his chances for election. He gave himself the name ‘Skeeter’. The board of elections was not amused and disallowed its use on the ballot.

(I don’t make these things up.)

Election to political office has to be tough, especially when one’s gifts may lie elsewhere than in the art of campaigning. And so I understand that name recognition often means the difference between victory and defeat. I confess that I really know of no one running for Seminole County judge other than the guy billing himself as “Big” Hass on his campaign posters. And I only know one name of those running for the state legislature in nearby Orange County and that is a guy whose placards refer to him as “Coach P”.

I understand that in the drive to get elected these names are effective. But in the drive to have respect in office, won’t such names get in the way? Knowing nothing of the qualities of these candidates or their opponents, I really don’t want a judge named “Big” Hass or a legislator named “Coach P”.

I might, however, have gone for “Skeeter” on the Mosquito Control Board.

Boycotts and Power

Getting older does give one a sense of historical perspective.

I’m old enough to remember when Christians were supposed to boycott Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ giving it well needed extra publicity but accomplishing little else.

Then there was the angst among those planning denominational meetings when Holiday Inn began allowing the purchase of pornographic movies in units which were to be inhabited by their attendees. Boycott’s were called for, which was tough for the planners to heed.

And I can remember a national assembly of my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, meeting in Florida the year the Southern Baptists approved a boycott of Disney. As the PCA debated whether to support that boycott, one beleaguered delegate pleaded that if the assembly were to approve the measure that its effective date be put off a week, as he’d brought his whole family to Florida with the promise of a Disney treat.

I’ve seen boycotts come and go with no positive impact. And so when asked by a member of my church to respond to a current drive to hold Starbucks accountable for it’s position on marriage, I answered very quickly:

I tend to ignore such things for several reasons.

1. If I chose products based upon the political activities of the company, I’d have a pretty narrow range of products available to me. I’m pretty sure Apple would go, as would Disney, and probably the NYTimes, a primary news source for me, down to the products I buy in the grocery.

2. And then I’d have to determine which political causes would be worth opposing. SBUX perhaps for its liberal social views; but then perhaps WalMart for what it does to small town economies. Where would I draw the line? Amazon sells some pretty lousy stuff, as does Books-a-Million. It’s kind of hard to make all one’s economic choices in this way.

3. A strategy is only so good as its prospects for success. If one wants to fight SBUX’s political views, pulling out in protest will gain little. Bearing a case up the chain as a loyal and supportive customer is going to have, relatively, greater impact.

Anyway, I am taking the time to respond only because I, as have you, have seen dozens of these protests come down the pike over the years, and as well intended as they are, they have little success.

I see now that my response was very pragmatic, though I stick by it.

Crossing my desktop this morning, however, was a much more theologically perceptive and reflective response by Russell Moore. His post digs deeper into the reasons why boycotts are not a fit vehicle for the Christian message.

But we don’t persuade our neighbors by mimicking their angry power-protests. We persuade them by holding fast to the gospel, by explaining our increasingly odd view of marriage, and by serving the world and our neighbors around us, as our Lord does, with a towel and a foot-bucket.

We won’t win this argument by bringing corporations to the ground in surrender. We’ll engage this argument, first of all, by prompting our friends and neighbors to wonder why we don’t divorce each other, and why we don’t split up when a spouse loses his job or loses her health. We’ll engage this argument when we have a more exalted, and more mysterious, view of sexuality than those who see human persons as animals or machines. And, most of all, we’ll engage this argument when we proclaim the meaning behind marriage: the covenant union of Christ and his church.

I encourage your reading the whole.

The are occasions to make stands and to suffer the consequences. But an economic boycott aimed at strong-arming a position is not one of them.

Interesting Things

A couple more items worth noting from this week’s news:

Winners or near winners of the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search have, as this article says,

…gone on to win seven Nobel Prizes in physics or chemistry, two Fields Medals in mathematics, a half-dozen National Medals in science and technology, a long string of MacArthur Foundation “genius” grants — and now, an Academy Award for best actress in a leading role.

Natalie Portman is, it seems, a pretty smart gal in spite of the fact that she fell for Anakin Skywalker.

+ + + + +

To the rest of us, the political uprisings in the Middle East seem sudden and mysterious. But Thomas Friedman had some interesting observations on what lay behind these uprisings, other than the contribution of the 83 year old former Harvard professor whose booklet on toppling dictators seems to have been influential.

Among his suggestions are geeky things like Google Earth:

On Nov. 27, 2006, on the eve of parliamentary elections in Bahrain, The Washington Post ran this report from there: “Mahmood, who lives in a house with his parents, four siblings and their children, said he became even more frustrated when he looked up Bahrain on Google Earth and saw vast tracts of empty land, while tens of thousands of mainly poor Shiites were squashed together in small, dense areas. ‘We are 17 people crowded in one small house, like many people in the southern district,’ he said. ‘And you see on Google how many palaces there are and how the al-Khalifas [the Sunni ruling family] have the rest of the country to themselves.’

Read the whole. Like I said, interesting.

Let’s Be Honest

Few news organizations have as many people in as many places covering as much stuff as the New York Times or National Public Radio, and so I trust them as sources of good and relevant and accurate information. And yet try as they might to be objective, and they do try, that they cannot succeed should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about the strength and blindness of human bias.

Several articles in the NY Times lept out at me this past week or so as revealing this blindness. Two address the recent efforts of the majority Republican US Congress to reduce spending. One is an op-ed piece about those cuts whose headline is “The G.O.P.’s Abandoned Babies”. The other is an editorial headed “The War on Women”.

In both, the pro-life tilt of the Republican party is used as a foil against which to portray the party as having no compassion for children or women. They are, the author of one says, “pro-life before birth and indifferent afterward”. Their efforts to restrict federal funding of abortion services are nothing less than misogynistic.

This is, of course, no better than a conservative paper trumpeting the extension of abortion rights as “The War on Babies”. And it does not matter who is in power and who is making cuts, when budgets get cut, those cuts are made as carefully as possible to effect those with the fewest number of votes. As David Brooks pointed out, in the same publication, the problem does not lie with ideology or party, but with politicians unwilling to face their difficult task.

So, pardon me, Mr. NY Times, your biases are showing. I know these are opinion pieces. But the headlines you gave to them suggest the tilt.

Ironically, the Times this week as well ran a story about the New York City Council being incensed that crisis pregnancy centers in New York do not advertise themselves as ‘not providing medical or abortion services’, ‘tricking’ women into walking into their ‘trap’ and then feeding them loads of mis-information, contrary to honest service providers like Planned Parenthood.

Okay, I know that there are crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) whose operational practice is less than stellar. But they are rare. If I might make an observation on those that I have had the privilege of being associated with, their whole goal is to give the information that Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are denying women. The mis-information is not on the CPC side of the street, but in the halls of the abortionist who will not provide the woman an ultrasound to see the baby’s beating heart to make sure she wants to go through with a procedure that will stop that beating heart. The ‘war on women’, rests with those like Planned Parenthood who happily support efforts to get pregnancy centers to fill their advertising with disclaimers, but staunchly oppose bills to require that THEY THEMSELVES give accurate information to the women whose abortion fees fund them.

I’m all for civility. But I treasure honest clarity as well. Not seeing a whole bunch of it here.

And finally, in the Irony of Ironies Department, Life Division, NPR ran a story this week on Republican efforts in the House to alter EPA funding. One concern is that changes in the regulatory power of the EPA will reduce the agency’s ability to control mercury emissions, a pollutant particularly dangerous, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “for young children”. To raise awareness of this danger, the Environmental Defense Fund is running a television ad stressing this danger by using footage of an ultrasound of a fetus. The same ultrasound that Planned Parenthood refuses to show their patients, unconcerned, it would seem, about an abortion’s danger for “young children”.

The human heart is incapable of impartiality. Read. But read with discernment.

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