Saturday, February 27, 2016

Why NOT Support Donald Trump?

RANT ALERT: The following is an expression of personal opinion, and not to be taken as representing anyone other than me as an individual.

Sigh. It has become obvious that too many "evangelical Christians" (as elastic as that term has become) are supporting Donald Trump for the Republican nomination for president. Frankly, I think too many people with brains are supporting him and I cannot understand why. Two posts ago, I gave my perspective as a Christian on the upcoming election and candidates. It was less pointed than this is going to be, as time has passed that makes heightens my concern for my fellow Christians in particular and our nation more generally.

To hear some talk, Trump's nomination is a "done deal" and now we have to consider whether we vote for him in the general election, vote for either Hillary Clinton (who has proven to be allergic to truth) and get more of the same as we have now or Sanders (whose single greatest qualification is that he is not Hillary) and get the same as now on steroids, vote for a third party candidate, or stay home.

I don't think we are there, yet. But let me offer a few thoughts about why I am hoping we don't get there.

When people say "evangelical Christians" are supporting Trump, take that with a grain of salt. There are plenty of such "evangelical Christians" who are duped by the prosperity gospel, so I can't be surprised that a rich guy would appeal to them, especially when he seems to know about the same amount of Bible as they do. But more importantly, more evangelicals are supporting Cruz, Rubio, and Carson (perhaps even Kasich) when their numbers are added together, and yes, there are evangelicals who are Democrats and aren't in this fight. The most alarmed voices I hear about Trump are coming from Christians, like Max Lucado (read his piece here) or Matt Walsh (click to read one of his many pieces). The president of Biola University (one of my alma maters), Barry Corey, has weighed in here, and Russell Moore of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission did so here, way back in September, 2015.  Yes, I know Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr., endorsed him, and I think he should be embarrassed by that (so should alumni). I'd much rather commend such men as Dr. Thomas White (president of  my first alma mater, Cedarville University), Wayne Grudem (professor at Phoenix Seminary and my favorite systematic theologian), and others who are serving on Marco Rubio's Religious Liberty Advisory Board.

Trump supporters like his theme, "Make America Great Again." But, by what measure? Does he mean as the most powerful nation? I believe we still are. Does he mean economically? Again, I think we have amassed enough wealth for first place. Does he mean as a moral beacon to the world? It doesn't sound like it, and his personal record of boasting in immorality would not equip him to lead that charge. Is he wanting everyone to be afraid of us? I think so, but he has also argued against intervening in foreign wars where American interests may be involved. It seems to be a line designed to make people long for something past, without explaining what "greatness" is. Back in the 1920s, Mussolini promised Italy a return to the grandeur of the Roman Empire, and in the 1930s, Hitler won on a campaign of making Germany great again, and we know how that went, So, "greatness" isn't necessarily something we can rally around unless and until we know what it is, and how it is to be achieved (and no, I am not calling Trump "Hitler,"--I'm pointing to the naked "nationalism" that his appeals have that are what Hitler and Mussolini appealed to. Nationalism is distinct from patriotism, but that is a discussion for another time). Greatness is not just having your name on big buildings, or associated with flamboyance and greed.

He wants to build a wall on our southern border and make Mexico pay for it. His companies build buildings and then can't figure out how to pay for them--see the numerous corporate bankruptcies they have taken. His buildings have been built by the labor he says he wants to keep out, and that he plans to deport. Does anyone think that this will happen? I'm a strong supporter of border security, but not dreams that another government will pay for it.

He has no clear plans for carrying out his pronouncements. He wants to repeal and replace Obamacare, and he wants a system that covers everyone, but other than allowing interstate competition among insurance providers (a genuinely good idea that most Republican candidates have endorsed), he is very short on details. He says he'll defund Planned Parenthood because of "the abortion business" but says they do "wonderful things" for "millions of women." Could he actually support that statement? Over and over he says he'll bring jobs back from China, Mexico, and other places, but not tell how. He acts as if the President of the United States has the power of "Deal Maker in Chief" and will just "do" these things. Is that realistic? As an historical reality check, Barack Obama had, for his first 2 years in office, a super-majority in both houses of Congress and still had to rely on a parliamentary trick to get his Affordable Care Act passed. For the past six years, he has had little legislative success and only been able to make large changes through court decisions going his way or executive orders. I don't say that to be "political," but it is true, and it has been the sad story of many presidents in both parties--Congress doesn't always play along. The Donald has never had to deal with people who could stop his plans simply by ignoring them.

Trump is appealing to those who feel that life has gone wrong, and that the country is being "beat up." He is acting like a combination miracle worker/benefactor/avenger--an American Messiah. He'll build that wall. He'll fix the economy, He'll bring good jobs back, and get rid of the new healthcare system and bring us a different new healthcare system so everyone will be covered and it will cost less. He'll beat up on China, and he knows how to make deals with Putin. And he'll "tell it like it is" about all those losers and wimps who don't agree with him. I think his supporters like having the bully on the street be on their side. And Trump's talk and demeanor certainly seem similar to a street bully.

The legions of Trump followers are right about life going wrong. It has--the gospel tells us that. But Christians who believe the gospel know that life doesn't get better by politics but by repentance and faith, and it doesn't get all better now, but later. Christians can (and should) look to biblical truth to guide the shaping of civil morality and the size and scope of governmental influence. Trump claims to be a Christian, and takes umbrage whenever his profession is questioned. He says he's being audited so much by the IRS because he's such a strong Christian, and NOBODY reads the Bible more than he does. But Trump's Christianity is the kind where he says he never asks for forgiveness but just tries to do better, and where he says his favorite Bible verse is "private."That has little resemblance to anything we find Jesus and the apostles teaching or encouraging.

That a candidate like Trump can get support should not surprise us. The rich, demagogues, and political radicals have often gained followings in American politics--names like Huey Long, Strom Thurmond, Henry Wallace, George Wallace, and Ross Perot come to mind (you who don't like American history can google them if you want). Christians has often been just as complicit in their rise then as they are now with Trump.

Will he win? I don't know. I hope not. But the Bible makes clear that God is in control of who's in control (I heard Larry Osborne say that recently, and I like it), and if he wins, God has not somehow been either defeated or hoodwinked. Perhaps God is looking at a nation that has squandered more gospel knowledge and providential blessing and protection than any nation around it during its entire history: a nation that kills its young for personal pleasure and convenience, that chooses to call evil "good" and vice versa, and celebrates many of the things that Romans 1 says are the results of being under God's wrath, and is deciding to simply give us the government we richly deserve. We shall see. What we get does not change our calling or diminish our hope--both are anchored in Jesus Christ, not politics.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ashes, Ashes...

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday. Ashes that are from the palms used the previous Palm Sunday are used to mark the observant on this day. My friend Arby up at the Presbyterian Church in Clifton invited me (perhaps a bit tongue in cheek) to come up and receive "the imposition of ashes" today. I don't think I'll make it. But I know that many of us who did not grow up with Lent wonder what it's about, or whether we should be observing it (I don't say "celebrate," because it is a fast, not a feast, and meant to be a time of self-denial). If you grew up, like I did in my elementary years, in a predominately Roman Catholic town, you may have seen people with ashes smudged on their foreheads, and heard people talk about what they were "giving up" for Lent--it could have been a significant fast-type sacrifice (no meat other than fish was not uncommon), or it could have been much less ("no chocolate," "no TV," and "no booze" were three I remember hearing from people).

Why observe Lent? Or why not? While thought of as belonging to the more liturgical traditions, more evangelicals are choosing to use Lent as a part of their church calendar--some use it only "devotionally" (with a focus on the end of Christ's earthly ministry) while others include the self-denial/fasting aspects as a means of focusing one's thoughts and heart on the upcoming remembrance of the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ.

Where did Lent come from? According to Irenaeus and Tertullian (church fathers from the later 2nd century) there was fasting before Easter for periods from one day to forty hours (believed to be the amount to time Christ was in the tomb). This Easter fasting grew to include the whole of the week from Palm Sunday (often called Holy Week) and after the Council of Nicea, a growing trend took hold to extend the fasting out 40 days before Easter (there were variations over time and geography, but often modeled after various 40 day fasts in the Bible, including that of Jesus in the wilderness). It was also common to fast before one's baptism, and Easter was a popular day for being baptized, so that also may have figured in to the observance. By the end of the first millennium after Christ, all Christians observed Lent. Only in the Reformation did the issue begin to be re-examined, as questions of church traditions were examined in light of Scripture.

Luther and Calvin both saw Lent as something that could be used well when it sprang from a heart of gratitude toward God, when it was not practiced superstitiously as a "work" to earn God's favor, and when it was following the Lord's example of fasting for spiritual purposes. Zwingli felt the same, but is noted for supporting those in his congregation who chose not to fast (exercising Christian freedom) in an environment where everyone fasted out of a sense of obligation and under what was then church law.

As Reformers of a more radical bent came along, practices that were not explicitly spelled out in the Bible came to be rejected. For these later Reformers (including English Puritans and early Baptists) all church feasts and fasts were seen as unnecessary and superstitious, and were eliminated (including Christmas and Easter celebrations). Only Sunday as "the Lord's Day" and church ordinances/sacraments were kept. Even the church's liturgical calendar, that had guided regular readings of Scripture in all churches, was widely abandoned.

Over time, however, many Protestants who came from such radical roots began to moderate their objections over these once-rejected "Romanist trappings." The use of Christmas and Easter as both celebrations and witnesses to gospel truth became accepted and now preferred. Advent (the season of preparation for Christmas) has had a resurgence, as has the use of various church calendar holidays (Pentecost Sunday for example). And even Lent has made a comeback among those among whom it was once mocked.

As one who has a great appreciation of church history, I welcome a closer examination of ancient practices that many used for spiritual edification and growth. There were some important reasons why the early church encouraged fasts and feasts, and why they took seriously the need for both self-discipline and corporate expressions of devotion. Our contemporary approaches to spiritual growth could benefit from both as well. However, I also know that there were some incorrect ideas that show themselves early in church history (like all the confusion over who should be baptized and how) that reminds me that old errors are still errors, and many things that are "ancient" in their origins were rejected for a reason.

My conclusion? If something can be Gospel centered, Christ exalting, biblically faithful and informed, and profitably used, then whether ancient or contemporary, it is available to us for personal or corporate edification. But here I would also agree with the earlier Reformers that either banning or legislating such things would be unwise and might strike at the heart of Christian freedom.

So, if you choose to use Lent as a personal time of reminder and reflection in preparation of celebrating Christ's resurrection--may the risen Lord bless you in it. Today is the day to get started! And if your church does this as a corporate experience, may your congregation be strengthened together in your faith and devotion to Jesus. And if, like me, you (and your church) do not observe it, may each day still be a day when the risen Christ's life and power are your focus and your strength.