So What's This All About?

In case you didn't know, I'm in the multi-year-long process of posting a Christian devotional at the TAWG Blog. The TAWG Blog is, and always will be, mostly apolitical. For the most part, Bible-believing Christians will find little to disagree with there. But I also firmly believe that God's word can--and should--inform everything in life, and this should include politics and popular culture. How should we vote? How should we respond to hot topics such as abortion, capital punishment, taxes, and other issues? Which party, if either, is closer to the Biblical ideal? Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, Evangelicals whose political leanings are on the Left, have made the case in several of their writings that God wants his followers to vote politically on the Left more than on the Right. At times, some of them have gone so far as to equate voting on the Left with obedience to Christ, either subtly or not-so-subtly contending that the converse is true as well: If you vote Republican, you're sinning against the Savior.
I don't agree. I think that to the degree they actually resort to the Bible, they're misinterpreting it. With a whole bunch of caveats, I think politically conservative positions are a lot more compatible with the Scriptures than the Leftist positions.
Just to clarify, I would never accuse people who disagree with me--especially siblings in Christ--of what they accuse me of. I don't judge my own heart, much less anyone else's, and I don't equate political disagreement with theological fidelity to God. I have no reason to doubt their love for the Lord and "for the least of these," but I believe that they're sincerely wrong.
So there are two main purposes for this blog. One is to make a case for my political beliefs based on Scripture. The other is a bit more vague, basically to work out my political beliefs and figure out what's based on Scripture and what's based on my own biases. I certainly don't have all the answers. Some of this stuff I'm still figuring out. And I'm certainly open to correction. As long as you make your case civilly and based on Scripture, feel free to make a comment, and I promise I'll post it and consider your arguments thoughtfully and prayerfully. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn a little something from each other.
May God bless our common striving together towards both the "little t" truth and "Big T" Truth. Our watchword here is a line from C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "Further up and further in!"

P.S. -- Below on the left is "Topics I've Covered" which lists everything I've posted topically. It's come to my attention that some people would like to see everything just listed for them. If that's you, you can get it here. Thanks to my friend Stephen Young for the tip!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Raison d'être

            I’ll get back to Ayn Rand eventually, but first I need to take a little detour. I kinda sorta got into this in the introduction up at the top of the page, but I think I’d like to share a few thoughts about the reasons behind this blog.
            I’ll confess, I thought long and hard about starting this blog in the first place. I’ve tried mightily to keep the TAWG Blog pretty much apolitical. The stuff I discuss there is waaaaaay more important than anything I’ll ever bring up here. I mean, I’ve covered salvation, the afterlife, the nature and mission of the Church, the nature of Christ and a whole host of issues which have eternal significance. If people only read the TAWG Blog and never read Intersections, I’d be fine with that. The only reason you might be more acquainted with Intersections is because right now I’m posting new material there instead on the TAWG.
            Let me add one more caveat, in line with the above paragraph. Nothing I talk about here is the main mission of the Bible. I believe with all my heart that the main message and purpose of the Scriptures is starting and maintaining and cultivating a relationship with Christ. Everything else is either a side-issue or just flows out of that purpose. This even applies to our basic treatment of each other. The Lord Jesus, when he was asked what the most important commandment was, he said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The second one is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you love God first and foremost, one of the main ways you express that love is by loving your neighbor. John expressly told us that if you don’t love your sibling in Christ, the love of God isn’t inside you. It’s completely impossible to love God and not love your neighbor. I’d go so far as to say that we love our neighbor and siblings in Christ because we love our Savior, and John seems to agree.
            So the main message/purpose of the Bible is starting, maintaining, and cultivating that relationship with the Lord. But just as much as I believe the above statement, I also believe that the Scriptures speak to every main area of life. I’m not that familiar with the theologian Abraham Kuyper, but he’s got one of my favorite quotes of all time: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”
            The Scriptures should inform your worldview, how you look at the world. Most Christians have no problem accepting that the Bible tells us how to view our possessions, marriage, children, business ethics, etc. My favorite book of the Old Testament is Proverbs, which is about as practical as it gets. Solomon and the other authors give us counsel about money, friendship, sex, how to raise children, our emotions, our speech, our work, and a whole host of other topics.
            But when we get to specific political issues, then Christians disagree, sometimes strongly and harshly. Does the Bible promote one economic system over another? Does the Bible give us any clues on whether to vote Republican or Democrat (or some other party)? How should we view military actions? How should we view government welfare?
            For a loooong time, at least for several decades, we’ve heard mostly (sometimes only) from fellow Christians whose practical answers to those questions were much more on the Left or Democrat side of things. If you expressed any doubts about government welfare, then you didn’t really care that much about "the least of these." If you believed in strengthening the military as it stood against Communist aggression, you weren’t paying attention to Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek. If you didn’t believe in unilateral nuclear disarmament (meaning we disarm whether or not the Communists do), you didn’t care about people and were a war monger, the opposite of a peace maker whom Jesus blesses. To the degree you voted on the politically conservative side of things, you were being disobedient to Christ.
            But around the mid to late 1970’s we saw the rise of the “Moral Majority.” This was a bunch of politically conservative Christians who looked at their Bibles and interpreted it slightly differently from Ron Sider and Jim Wallis. They didn't believe that the Bible commands us to vote to expand the welfare state. They saw people who took up arms to protect us from Communist tyranny as doing a good thing. They didn't see people who protested against raising taxes as being necessarily greedy or sinful. They didn’t see business or making profit as sinful. They didn’t see rich people in general as being necessarily disobedient to God. The Moral Majority as an official group faded into the background and eventually disbanded, but the Christian Right as a movement was here to stay.
            And suddenly, in proportion to the rise of the Christian Right, those on the Christian Left started changing their tune. They started making the argument that “Jesus is not a Republican or a Democrat” (Tony Campolo published a book with the title Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat?, and the expected answer is neither). In other words, suddenly it was illegitimate for Christians to claim to know how God wants Christians to vote. They had absolutely no problem--for decades—in accusing us on the Right of sinning against the Lord based merely on our political beliefs and views on economics. But once politically conservative believers starting gathering together and gaining political influence, our brothers on the Left suddenly started claiming that it’s presumptuous to know how the Bible should inform our voting choices.
            I don’t accept that. While I don’t think that either political party has a monopoly on the will of God, the basic political philosophies of conservatism (as it’s expressed today) vs. liberalism (same thing) are different. If they're mutually incompatible (as I see them), then they can't both be right. Now, it's entirely possible that they're both partially wrong, and that the Lord doesn't agree with either side. Someone might claim that the Bible has absolutely nothing to say about controversial political topics. But we have God's mind on a lot of things--besides just eternal matters--revealed in his word. Having examined and studied it for years, I firmly believe that—given the choices between the two—that political conservatism is a lot closer to the Biblical ideal than to political liberalism (or Leftism or Progressivism, whichever they prefer). This blog is where I'm making the case for that. 
            Does that sound arrogant? Does it sound prideful that I think the Bible (which is God’s expressed will to mankind) smiles more on one economic/political paradigm than the alternative? Let’s examine it.
            First and foremost, to be quite frank I really see this criticism and urge towards political neutrality mostly (about 95%) directed towards the Right. This accusation of purposefully “reading” my political philosophy into Scripture was/is rarely, if ever, leveled against my siblings on the Left. Very few people told Ron Sider or Jim Wallis “You know brother, the Bible doesn’t really give us direct instructions on an economic system. It really doesn’t tell us exactly what tax rates to level on people. You can find arguments for the death penalty as well as against it. People who study the Bible just as much as you do disagree with you about the U.S.’s military policy in the world.”
            Let me illustrate. On any given Sunday, pastors and preachers from multiple denominations feel free to preach sermons which harshly criticize the FMS (or “capitalism,” as they call it). Or they preach against the death penalty. Or they preach against any scaling back of the welfare system as an “attack on the poor.” When it comes to hot-button political issues, they don’t feel any need to be neutral or allow how good Christians who believe the Bible can disagree and still love Jesus. But how often do you hear a sermon coming from the opposite point of view? What if we approached a hot-button issue the way they present their case?
             For example, what if someone presented a sermon outlining how the welfare system is not an expression of God’s will, and this hypothetical preacher either hinted or straight-out accused any Christian who disagreed of not really caring about the poor, only about assuaging his own conscience on the cheap? Or how's about capital punishment? How often have you heard a sermon about this topic, in which favoring the death penalty is presented as the only biblical response to the issue, either hinting--or outright stating--that protesting the execution of a self-confessed murderer is consciously sinning against God? I'd feel really uncomfortable with a sermon like that, since—unlike many on the Left—my default setting is to assume the best motives of those who disagree with me politically. My point is that it seems like only the politically liberal side gets to A) present its side of the argument, and B) assume that those on the opposite side must be doing so out of bad motives. I want to do A) but not B).
            Second, I’m trying—as best I can—to let the word of God inform me (with at least basic principles) on just about every area of life. I want it to form my worldview. That means it should affect how I view a lot of things, like taxes and capital punishment and the military. If I believed that the Bible is against the death penalty, I’d have no choice but to oppose it. 
            Let’s try to think clearly here. On any issue you can think of, if I strongly believe I’m right, then by extension I have to say that people who disagree with me are wrong. To lower the temperature, let's take it out of the political arena into a purely theological one. For example, I believe in baptism by immersion for believers only. It doesn’t mean I think that people who disagree with me are bad people or disobedient to Christ. But it means that where they and I disagree, I think they’re wrong. I think they’ve misinterpreted Scripture. R. C. Sproul Jr. put it eloquently: "To always think I’m right. . .is nothing more than to think. It is to believe what we believe. In addition, that I believe something has no bearing on whether it is true or not. That I always agree with me, just like you always agree with you, doesn’t make me arrogant. It merely means I don’t have a split personality. No one ever said, 'I believe X, but I think I’m wrong.'"
Let’s bring it back to politics. Being a conservative, I’m free to accept the good intentions of those who disagree with me. But if I’m right about the goodness of the Free Market System as opposed to any alternatives, then people who disagree with me are wrong. If I claim that the Bible supports the FMS more than, say, Socialism or Communism or a “mixed” economy,” then by extension I have to say that people who disagree with me on this are mistaken in their interpretation of the Bible. Why should I feel reticent about that?
            Third, as I’ve pointed out before, we disagree about means, not ends. Every faithful Christian wants people lifted out of poverty. I mean, even atheists don’t want to see children starve. If you look long enough and hard enough, you can find portions of the Bible which don’t address God’s concern for the poor and downtrodden and oppressed, but you have to put some effort into the search. The Torah, the Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, the Gospels and the Epistles are filled with God’s concern for the poor. We all accept that Christ expects us as his followers to “love your neighbor.” But how best to love them? We on the Right believe that, based on God’s word, that the best way to take care of the poor is through 1) family first, 2) the Church second, and (in exreme circumstances) 3) the State. To the degree that the Left even engages us in this debate, it seems to claim that since 1) and 2) have failed in some situations, the State needs to pick up the bulk of taking care of the poor. Most of the time—again, I have to be frank—they don’t seem to think too deeply over this. When Paul or Jesus or Moses tells us to take care of the poor, my siblings on the Left seem to blithely interpret that as “The government.” We on the Right would interpret that as “Me.” Or “my local church.” Or maybe “the Church as a body.”
            Does it make a difference whether or not the “love” I show for my neighbor either helps or harms him?  To even ask the question—I believe—will lead a fence-sitter more onto the conservative side most of the time. And if the “love” I show my neighbor harms him, and I see in every instance around me that this brand of “love” harms most everyone it’s supposed to help, then at some point I need to ask myself if I’m really showing love. Good intentions are not enough, especially when you can see what works and what doesn’t over time. I’m commanded to love God with my mind, and I think I need to love my neighbor the same way.
            That’s why I love the FMS. That’s why I believe in capital punishment. That’s why I believe in a strong military. First and foremost I believe that Scripture supports it in general. Furthermore, I honestly believe that a politically conservative viewpoint is not just more Scripturally sound, but that it's far more beneficial for individuals and society as a whole. It's better than any alternatives anyone's come up with. Should I be silent on that?
            As I quoted from Jay W. Richards in the latest Thought For The Week, the facts are in. In dealing with individual cases of poverty, individual or Church charity is the best means. When it comes to dealing with huge emergencies (like an earthquake or flood), there might be a place for the government to lend a hand. But if you want to lift entire societies or huge swaths of people permanently out of poverty, out of barely living at a sustenance-level, then there’s only one thing that’s worked. There’s only one game in town. It’s worked in India. It’s worked in China. It’s worked in Japan. It’s worked in Hong Kong. Everywhere it’s been tried, it’s worked. Everywhere it hasn’t been tried, people have stayed at or near starvation-level poverty, just as they have and their ancestors have for thousands of years.
            If we really want to love our neighbor, it seems to me that these are things to consider. 

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